Maetel: Divine Mother or Demigoddess?

By Jin-yeong Yi

Maetel (1)

“Mother is the name of God in the lips and hearts of children.”

—William Makepeace Thackeray

That one can be captivated by a person who does not exist—while being fully aware that that person does not exist—is a testament to the power of fiction. From the age of seven or eight or so, I found myself allured by Maetel, the mysterious and elegantly beautiful heroine of Galaxy Express 999.

Maetel, which appears to be a mistransliteration of mēteru, is the Japanized form of mater, which is simply Latin for “mother.” Here’s the million dollar question (or hundred million yen question, if you like) for today: does Maetel qualify for divine motherhood? Does she possess the credentials necessary to enter the august pantheon occupied by the likes of Mary, mother of Jesus; Maya, mother of Buddha; Devaki, mother of Krishna; and Isis, mother of Horus?

Maetel (2)

Maetel is, from the get-go, a curiosity. A woman with seemingly Indo-European features, who speaks only Japanese, but has a name that is neither Indo-European nor Japanese, and, as it turns out, wasn’t born on Earth?

She is not Tetsuro’s dead mother, but she is the spitting image of her. And we learn that this is no coincidence: physically speaking, she is Tetsuro’s mother. (She is essentially an ageless soul without a permanent physical form, switching bodies when one begins to grow old. She happened to be occupying a copy of the body of Tetsuro’s mother during the events of Galaxy Express 999.)

However, Tetsuro is, of course, not a god-man, but an ordinary human placed in extraordinary circumstances. Even if he were God incarnate, it wasn’t Maetel who gave birth to him, despite the fact that she inhabits the body of the woman who did.

Furthermore, her relationship with Tetsuro is ambiguous. While at first glance she seems to comfortably fit the role of surrogate mother, the fact that she kisses Tetsuro on the lips when they part ways for the last time cannot be overlooked. However, the kiss is ambiguous as well, in part because it is unknown what exactly the cultural connotations of kissing were on the planet she was raised on.

Finally, unlike the aforementioned Divine Mothers, Maetel cannot intercede for humankind. It is also unclear what kind of deity or deities she believes in, if any.

Maetel (3)

In the end, one is forced to admit that Maetel does not qualify as a Divine Mother, or a demigoddess, or even a Divine Lover. Though of royal lineage, she is, in the last analysis, very human. But perhaps that is why I adore her so. She is as much of a goddess as a woman can be without actually being one.

Odes to Maetel[1]

“Blue Earth”

by Jun Hashimoto

I shut my eyes and remember my mother’s vestiges
O distant blue earth, sleep in peace
Maetel – another star fades away
Burning red, red
As if it were flowing through the galaxy
As if it were flowing through the galaxy

Her lonesome smile resembles that of my mother
She is calling out to the stars scattered far across space
Maetel – someday you shall find happiness
As if your hotly, hotly burned
Life were shining
Life were shining

Maetel – you seem to be looking at my mother
Within your pallidly, pallidly clear eyes
Courage wells up
Courage wells up

“My Dear Maetel”

By Jun Hashimoto 

It is said that there is a sad star
That is as pale as ice
It is said that people looking for happiness
Are waiting for you
Maetel… my dear Maetel
My dear, sweet Maetel
Like an angel innocent of corruption
Comfort those who are lonely

It is said that the call of wanderers
Will become twinkling stars
You gaze gently at the light lacking in happiness
Maetel… my dear Maetel
My dear, sweet Maetel
Your cheeks are wet with tears
As if you were an angel stripped of her wings
Maetel… my dear Maetel
My dear, sweet Maetel
Resembling an angel traversing the galaxy
Your sleeping face is so beautiful

Notes

[1] Translations mine.

Of Id and Identity

By Jin-yeong Yi

Phineas Gage with tamping iron

One time I was chatting with a cousin who had a religious worldview that appeared to be a hybrid of Christianity and Buddhism (belief in the Christian God + samsara/moksha). At one point I asked, what is it about the individual that remains constant from one life to another? He replied: “Craving.”

Arthur Schopenhauer, who apparently was very much a Buddhist himself, once wrote:

“The character of man is constant: it remains the same, throughout the whole of life. Under the changeable shell of his years, his relationships, and even his store of knowledge and opinions, there hides, like a crab under its shell, the identical and real man, quite unchangeable and always the same. Only in respect to direction and content does his character undergo apparent modifications, which are the result of differences in one’s age in life and its needs. Man never changes; as he has acted in one case, so he will always act again—given completely equal circumstances (which, however, includes also the correct knowledge of those circumstances). A confirmation of this truth can be gathered from everyday experience. But one encounters it in the most striking manner when after twenty or thirty years one meets an acquaintance again and soon catches him doing the same silly things as formerly.”[1]

In The Believing Brain, Michael Shermer recounts a humorous exchange he once had with Deepak Chopra:

“When I asked what happened to little James Leininger’s soul if his body was now occupied by the soul of a World War II fighter pilot, Chopra offered this jewel of Deepakese: ‘Imagine that you’re looking at an ocean and you see lots of waves today. And tomorrow you see a fewer number of waves. It’s not so turbulent. What you call a person actually is a pattern of behavior of a universal consciousness.’ He gestured toward our host. ‘There is no such thing as Jeff, because what we call Jeff is a constantly transforming consciousness that appears as a certain personality, a certain mind, a certain ego, a certain body. But, you know, we had a different Jeff when you were a teenager. We had a different Jeff when you were a baby. Which one of you is the real Jeff?’ Jeff Probst looked as confused as I felt.”

Mind-body dualism or no, universal consciousness or no, I think Dr. Chopra actually brought up an interesting point. What exactly is the self?

I think Ray Kurzweil has a pretty good definition:

“…I am principally a pattern that persists in time. I am an evolving pattern, and I can influence the course of the evolution of my pattern.”[2]

Richard Carrier’s definition isn’t shabby either:

“In reality, [a person’s name] is a synonym for a particular collection of character features, values, desires, beliefs, and memories, all of which are necessarily involved in the chain of causation from the initial call for a vote up to the rise of the desire to vote one way or another.”[3]

Oliver Sacks’s definition is also worth considering:

“Each of us is a singular narrative, which is constructed, continually, unconsciously, by, through, and in us.”

From my notebooks:

One’s predilections can change; one’s opinions can change; one’s desires can change; one’s very personality can change; but one’s past cannot change. Therefore, a person’s identity is who they were yesterday, who they are today, and who they will be tomorrow.

If this is true, then personhood is an ever-dynamic process that is always unfolding. The typical individual is constantly changing physically and mentally. He starts off as a single cell and then goes through several major physical stages as he approaches decay and death. By the time he is an old man, he will have gone through not only numerous changes in body shape, height, and weight, but also numerous changes in opinions. His views on religion, his politics, his manners, his attitude, his tastes, his interests, his desires—many of these will have changed dramatically throughout the years. Reviewing his personal history, the individual cannot point to the person he was at such and such a point in time and say, “That is who I really am. That is the quintessential I.” In other words, the self is not any one of the contradictory persons that an individual was at a certain point in his life.

What, then, is the one thing about an individual that remains constant? Their history, for all history is written in stone. If anything, the self appears to be nothing more or less than an individual’s history of physical and mental development and change.

Notes

[1] Essay on the Freedom of the Will

[2] The Singularity is Near

[3] Sense and Goodness Without God 

Long-Awaited StarCraft Writeup Released

By Jin-yeong Yi

Ma Jae-Yoon salute

Part 2 of Ver’s writeup on sAviOr (Ma Jae-Yoon), “God of the Battlefield,” was released last Wednesday, ending a wait that lasted nearly 2 years.

If memory serves, Ma Jae-Yoon, perhaps the most popular and successful Zerg player of all time, has been compared to Adolf Hitler on a number of occasions, not only on account of his career as a ruthless Zerg warlord, but also on account of his appearance. Given his role in the notorious match-fixing scandal that may have been the primary reason for the decline and fall of the professional Brood War scene, one might say that the comparison was only made all the more fitting.

In 1945, the Norwegian novelist and Nobel laureate Knut Hamsun wrote an infamous obituary for Hitler:

“Adolf Hitler
I’m not worthy to speak up for Adolf Hitler, and to any sentimental rousing his life and deeds do not invite.
Hitler was a warrior, a warrior for humankind and a preacher of the gospel of justice for all nations. He was a reforming character of the highest order, and his historical fate was that he functioned in a time of exampleless [unequalled] brutality, which in the end felled him.
Thus may the ordinary Western European look at Adolf Hitler. And we, his close followers, bow our heads at his death.
Knut Hamsun”

In 1977, American paleoconservative politician and political commentator Patrick Buchanan praised what he regarded as Hitler’s redeeming qualities:

“Though Hitler was indeed racist and anti-Semitic to the core, a man who without compunction could commit murder and genocide, he was also an individual of great courage, a soldier’s soldier in the Great War, a political organizer of the first rank, a leader steeped in the history of Europe, who possessed oratorical powers that could awe even those who despised him… Hitler’s success was not based on his extraordinary gifts alone. His genius was an intuitive sense of the mushiness, the character flaws, the weakness masquerading as morality that was in the hearts of the statesmen who stood in his path.”[1]

Ma Jae-Yoon, who was once one of the most beloved StarCraft progamers in the world, is now one of the most despised and reviled progamers in the world. Many if not most fans turned their backs on him after the scandal. But few, if any, deny his achievements and legacy. What if there was a parallel universe in which Knut Hamsun and Patrick Buchanan were Brood War fans and sAviOr devotees? It is quite easy to imagine what these two men might have said in defense of the Maestro:

Knut Hamsun:

“Ma Jae-Yoon
I’m not worthy to speak up for Ma Jae-Yoon, and to any sentimental rousing his career and deeds do not invite.
Ma was a warrior, a warrior for the Swarm and a preacher of the gospel of justice for all Zerg. He was a reforming character of the highest order, and his historical fate was that he functioned in a time of exampleless [unequalled] avarice, which in the end corrupted him.
Thus may the ordinary StarCraft player look at Ma Jae-Yoon. And we, his close followers, bow our heads at his ejection.
Knut Hamsun”

Patrick Buchanan:

“Though Ma was indeed unprincipled and avaricious to the core, a man who without compunction could commit fraud and embezzlement, he was also an individual of great courage, a Bonjwa’s Bonjwa in his prime, a tactical organizer of the first rank, a leader steeped in the history of StarCraft, who possessed strategical brilliance that could awe even those who despised him… Ma’s success was not based on his extraordinary gifts alone. His genius was an intuitive sense of the incompetence, the mechanical flaws, the weakness masquerading as prowess that was in the hearts of the progamers who stood in his path.”

“God of the Battlefield: Part 2” seems like a fantastic read, by the way. Not that it’s any surprise; Team Liquid writeups, while free, are of such quality as to be fit for commercial publication. Take a gander at the final two sentences:

“For Savior, there somehow always seemed space for something special, something solid, something stable. He saw that the spectacular, the stunning, and the striking are rooted in simple, subtle movements.”

Whew, how’s that for some alliteration? The man sure knows his English—and his StarCraft.

Cheers to all sAviOr fans!

Notes

[1] “A lesson in tyranny too soon forgotten” by Patrick Buchanan

Fear and Fatalism

By Jin-yeong Yi

“Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free.”

—Jim Morrison

“I was not; I have been; I am not; I do not care.”

—Epicurus

About a month ago, I found myself aboard a starship. It was eerily quiet. All of the crew members were long dead. Pools of blood and stiff bodies marked my path as I walked around in circles, searching for weapons and any clues that would help me to escape to safety.

Every now and then, I would look outside of a window and be met with the vast, starry abyss of space, wholly indifferent to my predicament.

Since my brain was equipped with functional amygdalae, I was naturally apprehensive. What was lurking in the shadows? Will I have time to react? Will I end up like the others?[1]

Then something occurred to me: Why this obsession with survival? Death can only be delayed, not stopped. The Grim Reaper will come for all, whether at eighty years or eight minutes.

Why should I be afraid? Because I want to live. Why should I fear what is inevitable? Because, because—

Notes

[1] In case you haven’t guessed, I was speaking of System Shock 2.

We All Live on The Rack

By Jin-yeong Yi

Torture of Cuthbert Simpson

“Life is algid, life is fulgid. Life is what the least of us make the most of us feel the least of us make the most of. Life is a burgeoning, a quickening of the dim primordial urge in the murky wastes of time.”

—W. V. Quine

“LIFE: To be born in imbecility, in the midst of pain and crisis to be the plaything of ignorance, error, need, sickness, wickedness, and passions; to return step by step to imbecility, from the time of lisping to that of doting; to live among knaves and charlatans of all kinds; to die between one man who takes your pulse and another who troubles your head; never to know where you come from, why you come and where you are going! That is what is called the most important gift of our parents and nature. Life.”

—Denis Diderot, L’Encyclopédie

I think a lot of people would agree that life is neither sweet nor bitter, but bittersweet. But just about everyone would agree that to live is to suffer.

Life is a great tornado, a maelstrom. It is a monster that chews on you until your last days. You have no way of knowing whether you’ll still be in one piece when it finally spits you out.

One of my favorite songs by Asphyx is “The Rack,” which is the final song on their debut album. The lyrics are about medieval Christian torture, but to me the song means much more: both the lyrics and the music describe the human condition itself. The world is a torture chamber. The world is The Rack.

Asphyx – “The Rack”

In the dungeon
Deep under ground
A morbid fear
Palpitations, unbearable pound
Footstep outside the stairway
Executioners’s arrival
A sinister procession
Grim macabre tribunal
Heretical pervert
Inexorable judge
The sentence is death
By the grace of the church
Inside the torture chamber
The smell of blood and pain
Iron is glowing in pits of fire
Instruments of the insane
The Rack: Altar of blood
The Rack: Altar of pain
Suffocate in blood
Bones pulverized
Mutilated tissue
Evisceration
Sawed off limbs
Emasculation
Human leftovers
A smouldering mess
Atrocious perfomance
Methods of madness
Inside the torture chamber
Instruments covered with stains
The rack has taken his victim
Beyond the boundaries of pain

Toward a Higher Standard (or, Why All Short Men are Losers)

By Jin-yeong Yi

Old news, but I couldn’t resist shooting a fish in a barrel.

A certain Korean lady apparently triggered an uproar by saying “Aren’t men below 180 cm all losers?”[1] on national television.

Depends on how you define “loser,” but I’m not sure why people were so upset. It’s her opinion, let her have it. Being well below 180 cm myself, I admittedly took some offense at it, but I also found it amusing and even a little interesting.

First we’re measuring human worth with IQ tests, and now this? It’s certainly a new one; I’ll give her that.

My answer?

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900): 172.5 cm

Friedrich Nietzsche

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890): 170 cm

Vincent van Gogh

Yukio Mishima (1925-1970): 155 cm

Yukio Mishima

Bruce Lee (1940-1973): 171 cm

Bruce Lee

Franco Columbu (1941-): 165 cm

Franco Columbu

Argument: refuted.

Notes

[1] http://www.teamliquid.net/blogs/viewblog.php?topic_id=321767

Nihilism and the Emotion Machine

By Jin-yeong Yi

Manga emotions

“Surely it is an excellent plan, when you are seated before delicacies and choice foods, to impress upon your imagination that this is the dead body of a fish, that the dead body of a bird or pig; and again, that the Falernian wine is grape juice and that robe of purple a lamb’s fleece dipped in shellfish’s blood; and in matters of sex intercourse, that it is attrition of an entrail and a convulsive expulsion of mere mucus. Surely these are excellent imaginations, going to the heart of actual facts and penetrating them so as to see the kind of things they really are. You should adopt this practice all through your life, and where things make an impression which is very plausible, uncover their nakedness, see into their cheapness, strip off the profession on which they vaunt themselves.”

—Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

“The Humean predicament is the human predicament.”

—W. V. Quine

In c. 1935, analytic philosopher A. J. Ayer wrote:

“[T]he fundamental ethical concepts are unanalysable, inasmuch as there is no criterion by which one can test the validity of the judgements in which they occur. So far we are in agreement with the absolutists. But, unlike the absolutists, we are able to give an explanation of this fact about ethical concepts. We say that the reason why they are unanalysable is that they are mere pseudo-concepts. The presence of an ethical symbol in a proposition adds nothing to its factual content. Thus if I say to someone, ‘You acted wrongly in stealing that money,’ I am not stating anything more than if I had simply said, ‘You stole that money.’ In adding that this action is wrong I am not making any further statement about it. I am simply evincing my moral disapproval of it. It is as if I had said, ‘You stole that money,’ in a peculiar tone of horror, or written it with the addition of some special exclamation marks. The tone, or the exclamation marks, adds nothing to the literal meaning of the sentence. It merely serves to show that the expression of it is attended by certain feelings in the speaker.”[1]

About 76 years later, literary critic S. T. Joshi echoed this analysis in his critique of Sam Harris’s updated scientific approach to morality:

All ethical judgments are expressions of a preference. They may be based on facts (or falsehoods), but they are not in themselves facts (or falsehoods).”[2] 

He also effectively explains how having preferences (i.e., not being indifferent to outcomes arising from cause and effect) is consistent with not believing in moral absolutes:

“D’Souza, in What’s So Great about Christianity, maintains absurdly that I would have no reason to object if D’Souza punched me in the face, because I would simply have to maintain that he and I share different moral standards based on our education, upbringing, etc. But my objection would stem from my preference that people not be punched in the face without reason; it violates my moral code even if that code is not itself a fact but a preference. I happen to like my preferences and, in certain circumstances, will go pretty far in defending them. 

Having accepted that there are no intrinsic “ought”s, that there is no inherent reason to favor one outcome over another, one eventually arrives at an unsettling and uncomfortable conclusion: the emotions that drive us are not absolute. While there are natural ways to feel about some things, there is no correct way to feel about anything. We don’t need to feel proud when we overcome an obstacle or achieve something. We don’t need to feel guilty about lying, cheating, or stealing. We don’t need to feel indignant when someone slanders us. We don’t need to feel jealous when a lover or spouse cheats on us. We don’t need to feel envious when a friend wins the lottery. We don’t need to feel horrified when we hear of a murder, rape, or genocide. We don’t need to feel afraid when we are told that civilization will self-destruct tomorrow or next week. Indeed, we don’t need to feel uncomfortable about this conclusion in the first place. It is natural to have these feelings, and it is certainly not “wrong” to have them, but there’s no inherent necessity, no obligation, no reason why we “ought” to have them.

Three years after the end of the Second World War, philosophers Frederick Copleston and Bertrand Russell debated the existence of God on BBC Radio. At one point, the Jesuit priest drove the atheist humanist into a corner:

R: You see, I feel that some things are good and that other things are bad. I love the things that are good, that I think are good, and I hate the things that I think are bad. I don’t say that these things are good because they participate in the Divine goodness.

C: Yes, but what’s your justification for distinguishing between good and bad or how do you view the distinction between them?

R: I don’t have any justification any more than I have when I distinguish between blue and yellow. What is my justification for distinguishing between blue and yellow? I can see they are different.

C: Well, that is an excellent justification, I agree. You distinguish blue and yellow by seeing them, so you distinguish good and bad by what faculty?

R: By my feelings.

C: By your feelings. Well, that’s what I was asking. You think that good and evil have reference simply to feeling?

R: Well, why does one type of object look yellow and another look blue? I can more or less give an answer to that thanks to the physicists, and as to why I think one sort of thing good and another evil, probably there is an answer of the same sort, but it hasn’t been gone into in the same way and I couldn’t give it [to] you.

In the end, the absence of objective morality does not change the fact that we are driven by our strongest motives. We act on them and make choices not so much because we are somehow “obligated” to do so, but simply because—we do. Because we are emotion machines. To have reason and nothing but reason is to be a computer. To have reason and emotions is to be human.

Somewhere between the 17th and 18th centuries, the French Catholic priest and closet atheist Jean Meslier penned these words to conclude his antireligious manifesto:

“After this, let people think, judge, say, and do whatever they want in the world; I do not really care.
Let men adapt themselves and be governed as they want, let them be wise or crazy, let them be good or vicious, let them say or even do with me whatever they want after my death: I really do not care in the least.
I already take almost no part in what is done in the world. The dead, whom I am about to join, no longer worry about anything, they no longer take part in anything, and they no longer care about anything.
So, I will finish this with nothing.
I am hardly more than nothing and soon I will be nothing.”

To be indifferent is to be dead. To care is to be alive.

“It is obvious, that when we have the prospect of pain or pleasure from any object, we feel a consequent emotion of aversion or propensity, and are carried to avoid or embrace what will give us this uneasiness or satisfaction. It is also obvious, that this emotion rests not here, but making us cast our view on every side, comprehends whatever objects are connected with its original one by the relation of cause and effect. Here then reasoning takes place to discover this relation; and according as our reasoning varies, our actions receive a subsequent variation. But it is evident in this case that the impulse arises not from reason, but is only directed by it. It is from the prospect of pain or pleasure that the aversion or propensity arises towards any object: And these emotions extend themselves to the causes and effects of that object, as they are pointed out to us by reason and experience. It can never in the least concern us to know, that such objects are causes, and such others effects, if both the causes and effects be indifferent to us. Where the objects themselves do not affect us, their connexion can never give them any influence; and it is plain, that as reason is nothing but the discovery of this connexion, it cannot be by its means that the objects are able to affect us.

Since reason alone can never produce any action, or give rise to volition, I infer, that the same faculty is as incapable of preventing volition, or of disputing the preference with any passion or emotion. This consequence is necessary. It is impossible reason could have the latter effect of preventing volition, but by giving an impulse in a contrary direction to our passion; and that impulse, had it operated alone, would have been able to produce volition. Nothing can oppose or retard the impulse of passion, but a contrary impulse; and if this contrary impulse ever arises from reason, that latter faculty must have an original influence on the will, and must be able to cause, as well as hinder any act of volition. But if reason has no original influence, it is impossible it can withstand any principle, which has such an efficacy, or ever keep the mind in suspense a moment. Thus it appears, that the principle, which opposes our passion, cannot be the same with reason, and is only called so in an improper sense. We speak not strictly and philosophically when we talk of the combat of passion and of reason. Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.”

—David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature

Notes

[1] Language, Truth and Logic by Alfred Jules Ayer

[2] The Unbelievers: The Evolution of Modern Atheism by S. T. Joshi