Final Fantasy and Philosophy: Gaia and Environmental Ethics in The Spirits Within

Good God, what is this book’s obsession with the Spirits Within? It came out in 2009! We all knew the movie was terrible since it came out in 2001! Photorealistic CGI wouldn’t be ready for prime time for at least another decade! Granted, that doesn’t mean it can’t be philosophically relevant, but most of its philosophical concepts also come up in Final Fantasy VII, which is far better regarded.

The inclusion of this essay is particularly egregious, because it’s basically just The Lifestream, Mako, and Gaia but much stupider. Take this description of the philosophy referred to as “mechanism” in that essay:

[General Hein] espouses a view that is often criticized as a short – sighted, male conception of nature. Hein views nature at best as a collection of inanimate objects subject to humanity ’ s desires and, at worst, something hostile to the human species that needs to be dominated and made to conform to humanity ’ s will.

Thus essay author Jason P. Blahuta has become the eighteen billionth nominally feminist writer to discuss how awesome gender roles are. Bonus points: Jason is a man (confirmed in the contributors section), and his own opposition to the perspective he describes as a “male conception of nature” fundamentally proves that it’s not somehow inherent to maleness. Anyone who thinks he might have been a closeted transwoman back in 2009 when transgender people had basically no popular acceptance at all is going to be disappointed by his current faculty page at Lakehead University. Another gem from that page verifies for us that his interest in Machiavelli isn’t because he’s one of those “literally every book Machiavelli wrote except for one was about how great republics are” people, but because he’s one of the edgelords who thinks the Prince should be taken seriously.

That quote isn’t the last time when Blahuta brings up gender issues despite their being completely unrelated to the subject of his essay. And I don’t mean that he goes into a random digression on gender issues in the way that, I dunno, male General Hein interacts with female Dr. Aki (this probably wouldn’t be much of a contrast anyway – good guy science team is made up of not only female Dr. Aki but also male Dr. Cid). He just randomly asserts that holistic views of the environment are more feminine or feminist or whatever. There is never any support for why this reinforcement of gender roles is in any way relevant.

Even from the paradigm that gender roles are valid, Blahuta hardly seems to be arguing for any set of gender roles other than the one we’re familiar with: Men as aggressive and enterprising, women as demure and compassionate. He’s flipping the script and saying that the female perspective is superior to the male, but so far as this essay reveals he stands by the traits associated to each gender. And yet, when discussing the last essay, I somehow managed to give a very aggressive defense of holism without bursting into flame:

[H]olism posits that people die when you remove their vital organs, even if their brain is completely unscathed, which is obviously true, and mechanism posits that this for some reason doesn’t apply to any complex systems except human bodies (and also anything else that obviously works holistically).

Blahuta’s incapacity for clear reasoning is evidenced elsewhere in the essay:

The Gaia hypothesis maintains that humans (and not only lawyers and politicians) have no more moral worth than does any other member of the biotic community, maggots included.

No it doesn’t. Nothing about thinking of the Earth as a giant super-organism requires valuing maggots the same as humans. Gaia hypothesis is a hypothesis, not a moral philosophy. It doesn’t state anything about the value of human life. It does implicitly push an environmental morality in which being capricious with nature is unwise because we need it to live, but only because the presumed audience is human and therefore cares about humanity’s survival.

Really, the consistency with which Blahuta likes to paint demographics he is personally a member of as less worthy or having less moral worth than is typically assumed is coming across as resulting from either self-loathing or fetishism.

Particularly noteworthy how he actually calls attention to non-human threats to Gaia that humans are able and naturally incentivized to thwart:

[I]n the long run Gaia is doomed anyway. Gaia and all of life that she makes possible will die in about five billion years when the sun dies, and that’s assuming her ability to self – regulate is not destroyed first by a gamma ray burst from a nearby star going supernova or maimed by a massive meteor impact.

And yet a few paragraphs later, this is his concluding statement:

[H]umanity is little more than a cancerous tumor inside Gaia, and the fate of the species depends on whether we choose to be a benign or a malignant tumor.

This puts me in the weird position of having already delivered an impassioned rebuttal to this essay in my last post, which leaves me with not much to do except to point out that this conclusion has not only overlooked the fact that we are Gaia’s only hope of surviving major cosmic extinction events like gamma ray bursts or the expansion of the sun, Blahuta actually explicitly brought up exactly those threats and somehow it never even occurred to him that humanity is not only theoretically capable of defending against them, but actively working towards doing so. So I again bring up how relentlessly Blahuta hates on demographics that he is specifically a part of, and how this colors his perspective on the world far past the point of reason.

Final Fantasy and Philosophy: The Lifestream, Mako, and Gaia

Jay Foster opens up this essay by talking about the Lifestream from Final Fantasy VII, but don’t be fooled. He’s mostly here to talk about the Spirits Within.

Jay Foster’s name is so generic as to make him practically ungoogleable, but the contributors section identifies him as “teach[ing] in the Department of
Philosophy at Memorial University of Newfoundland,” so this is one of our professional type philosophers. So was JK Miles, the mind behind Paragons and Knaves from Dungeons and Dragons and Philosophy, so my expectations aren’t necessarily all that high. In this essay, he uses Final Fantasy VII’s Lifestream and the Gaia spirit from The Spirits Within to discuss environmental philosophy.

Gaia Theory in the actual real world is the idea that the entire planet is a single organism. We refer to humans and antelope and whatever as organisms because although we are made up of distinct organs, only collectively are those organs able to survive. Our kidneys clearly have a wholly distinct anatomy and metabolism to our heart, but the fact that our kidneys can only survive when physically plugged in to the rest of our body is what causes us to describe it as a component of an organism rather than an organism unto itself.

Like many definitions attempting to describe the natural world, this one runs into some edge cases where we basically say “okay, but it’s close enough.” How many organisms is a single starfish? You can slice one in half and two new starfish will regrow from the fragments. Does that mean it was actually two organisms all along? Aren’t there better ways to define an organism, like “a mass of organic material that is continuously connected and capable of reproduction?” Maybe (yes), but what’s important to this essay is how accurately that definition describes organs in relation to organisms rather than organisms to each other. An organ is an organic component of an organism unable to function or even survive without being attached to the organism. You can remove a kidney from a human and the human will live (you’ve still got the other kidney), but unless attached to a different human, the kidney will die. Small amounts of tissue die pretty quick when cut off from the rest of their organism, but are such a non-threat to the organism as a whole that nobody thinks anything of taking a tissue sample whenever it would be helpful to diagnosing a medical problem. That’s not a risky procedure to the organism at all despite being 100% fatal to the removed tissue.

Which brings us to Gaia Theory: Humans are each individually a component part of the world, and if you remove a single human from the world, the Earth’s greater ecosystem will not notice, but the human will rapidly die unless transplanted to another world also capable of supporting human life, like the kidney transplanted to a different human body. A colony on Mars or Luna would allow us to safely leave Earth, but only for specific destinations that have artificially been prepared to support human life in Earth-like conditions – no different from an artificial human shell created to keep kidneys functioning indefinitely when removed from a body. If your end goal is to keep as many kidneys alive as possible, it’d make sense to build as many of those as possible and transplant kidneys from dying humans into them, but it doesn’t change the fact that the kidney can’t survive without a compatible organism, or else an artificial replacement intentionally engineered to keep the kidney alive as though it were a compatible organism.

As such, could it not be said that humans are organs or tissue, a component part of the Earth’s ecosystem as a whole?

Continue reading “Final Fantasy and Philosophy: The Lifestream, Mako, and Gaia”

Final Fantasy and Philosophy: Judging the Art of Video Games

Alex Nuttall delivers this judgement mid-way through his essay:

Interesting characters, plots, and art design are found throughout the Final Fantasy series.

In his defense, he had no way of knowing at the time how Final Fantasy XIII would turn out.

This essay is an examination of Hume’s belief in an objective method of measuring the quality of art through the lens of the three status effects traditionally inflicted by the malboro monster in the Final Fantasy series: Sleep, Confusion, and Charm. The concept of an objective measure of art likely sounds immediately stupid, and it is. Hume was foolish to take his views to the extreme that he did. But that doesn’t mean he’s entirely wrong. Consider the fact that it is obviously true that some pieces of art are more popular than others, and also that it is much harder to make a work of art one way than another. In other words, that an objective level of technical proficiency can be demonstrated by an art piece even if technical proficiency isn’t the final say on the subjective quality of that art piece. And the popularity of an art piece is correlated fairly strongly to its technical proficiency. Sure, the most technically proficient art pieces are rarely very popular, and it’s often true that the most popular movie/game/whatever on the market right now doesn’t have much technical proficiency, but pay attention to the general trend instead of the extremes and the overall pattern is that higher amounts of technical proficiency do correlate to more popular art. People seem to enjoy an impressive performance.

And consider also how near-universal the opinion, even if subjective, that someone who’s seen a larger amount of art in a certain medium or genre is better qualified to judge the quality of that art as compared to someone who hasn’t seen much at all. Everyone agrees that art is subjective and it’s impossible to measure whether one work is better than another, and yet everyone also agrees that a judgement of a work’s quality will be more accurate when coming from someone who’s seen more than just one or two other works in the same medium. Sure, people deride critics for being out of touch, but they also deride people who gush about the quality of the one book they’ve read or the one horror movie they’ve seen. People who read lots of books or who watch lots of horror movies are held to be a better judge of a book or horror movie’s quality than people who’ve only read or seen one, and that statement is only ever controversial when paired with the mutually exclusive statement that art is subjective and can’t be “more accurately” judged at all.

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Final Fantasy and Philosophy: Kefka, Nietzsche, Foucalt

This essay spends a lot of time talking about, as the title implies, Nietzsche and Foucalt. This is kind of unfortunate, since Nietzsche and Foucalt were objectively wrong. I don’t mean in the sense that their philosophical opinions were fundamentally invalid because I have unlocked the secrets of objective morality and can measure the ethicalness of a statement with the inarguable exactness of a ruler measuring length. I mean that they justify their philosophies using a history that never happened.

Let’s start with Foucalt. Foucalt describes an evolving opinion of madness in which, during the middle ages, insane people were considered to have some greater understanding of the universe that humanity was unable to grapple with, driving them mad. Sane people could thus learn by listening to them for scraps of intact wisdom that fell from their shattered minds. Then, in the Age of Enlightenment, reason become the ultimate source of good, which meant those whose reasoning was impaired became inherently evil, whence the insane asylum was developed.

The problem with this is that we don’t have a goddamn clue how the insane were treated during the medieval era, but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the insane asylum is not a new thing. The Royal Bethlehem Hospital is the oldest psychiatric institution in continuous operation, having been “treating” the mentally ill since at least 1403, at which time its inventory included multiple sets of shackles, stocks, and locks. No record explicitly states that these were used to restrain mentally unstable patients, but it’s hard to imagine what else a set of shackles would be used for in a hospital. There’s no evidence that treating the mentally ill like criminals regardless of whether they have actually committed crimes was an invention of the Age of Enlightenment.

Nietzsche claims that in the beginning, “good” simply meant “superior,” in the objective sense of being better at something. Like a sturdy chair being good compared to a flimsy one. Then at some point there was a “slave revolt” in which the weak ruled over by the strong grew tired of being subjugated and developed a morality in which “good” was associated with virtues like meekness and compassion. The closest you could get to such a “slave revolt” would be the rise of Christianity in the late Roman Empire, but that then led to medieval Christian kingdoms in which the strong subjugated the weak even more than they had under imperial Rome. Nietzsche talks of the “slave morality” as reigning over the modern world he lived in and only beginning to crumble during his lifetime, but he lived in 19th century Germany right amidst the great powers of Europe who were at that exact moment scrambling for Africa, and in so doing committing the latest in a long history of colonial atrocities against native populations across the world. The idea that the European powers contemporaneous to Nietzsche operated under any kind of morality that exalted meekness and compassion is laughable. The success of early Christianity had turned those concepts into moral buzzwords but powerful empires had never once followed them no matter how Christian they claimed to be.

This isn’t a history book, though, it’s a philosophy book, and while the digressions elucidating Foucalt and Nietzsche’s completely inaccurate histories take up plenty of space, they aren’t the ultimate point. Rather, the ultimate point is an existential one: Kefka’s omnicidal mania is not especially manic. After ascending to godhood, Kefka sees no meaning in the world and has therefore decided to destroy it. This perspective isn’t insane. It doesn’t defy reason. You can’t sit down and objectively prove that it’s morally correct for the world to continue to exist. Obviously, the overwhelming majority of people want to go on living and Kefka’s desire to end everything puts him in opposition to practically everyone he hasn’t already killed, but that doesn’t make him unreasonable. He has a terminal goal that’s different from everyone else’s.

Then it ends by speculating that Kefka’s near-annihilation of the planet was the best thing for everyone because the struggle to overcome him made the six-ish people in the party better, and apparently the untold hundreds of thousands of lives he exterminated along the way don’t count for shit. I’m not sure Kylie Prymus thought this all the way through.

Speaking of that guy, he was studying for a PhD in 2009 and now manages a game store. His education field claims he has a master’s in philosophy from Duke University, but nothing about a PhD, so I guess he never finished that thesis. This isn’t the first time someone with a degree specifically in philosophy has submitted an article that drops the ball on ethics to the tune of completely forgetting hundreds of thousands of innocent bystanders murdered, but it is the first time a degree from as prestigious a university as Duke has managed it. Achievement unlocked, I guess.

Final Fantasy and Philosophy: The Spiky-Haired Mercenary vs. The French Narrative Theorist

What you are reading is an emergency backup plan that should’ve been put into action eighteen hours before it actually was. This isn’t really the kind of thing I want to do while letting the LitRPG genre cool off, for two reasons: One, I think this blog would benefit from a new kind of content, and I did one of these books before, and two, a significant benefit of my reviews is that they force me to take a closer look at books in a genre I have at least some intention of writing in, and I don’t particularly plan to ever contribute to one of these books or start up a competitor series or whatever. But we’ve once again reached that point where I’m already behind schedule which means either I review Final Fantasy and Philosophy article-by-article in order to buy myself some time to figure out what I really want to do with my M/W/Th/Sa articles or else I just let those days lie completely fallow until I think of something. So welcome to the Chamomile review of Final Fantasy and Philosophy, where our motto is “at least it’s better than a blank page.”

Our first article is brought to us by one Benjamin Chandler, whom the contributors section at the back of the book informs is a creative writing PhD from Flinders University, Australia. Normally I try to dig up more information on these guys online, but with a lead that cold I’m not even gonna try. In any case, he falls firmly into the category of “not actually a professional philosopher,” so in context of this post, he basically exists solely to produce this one essay for Final Fantasy and Philosophy.

We get this paragraph towards the beginning of the essay:

The characters in FFVII possess two different types of signifiers. The first type is built into the characters by the game developers, so we might call them presets ; they are the fixed aspects of the characters: hair color, speech, age, and so on.
Cloud Strife is a spiky-haired badass, Aeris is an ill-fated Cetra, and so on.

So we can add Benjamin Chandler to the list of people who don’t get the point of Final Fantasy VII. Cloud Strife isn’t a badass, he’s a mook cosplaying a badass.

Continue reading “Final Fantasy and Philosophy: The Spiky-Haired Mercenary vs. The French Narrative Theorist”

Dungeons and Dragons and Philosophy: “Others Play at Dice…”

The title quote (“others play at dice”) comes from Aristotle, and the essay is dedicated entirely to explaining Aristotle’s categorization of friendship through the lens of D&D groups and fantasy stories. So, essay author Jeffery L Nicholas intersperses the essay with examples from fantasy stories like Lord of the Rings and also from his own gaming group. Hearing about other people’s gaming stories is eye-glazing by default and Jeffery doesn’t have the talent to climb that hill, but he doesn’t lean on it too strong so it doesn’t hurt the essay that much.

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Dungeons and Dragons and Philosophy: Berserker in a Skirt

Today we’re talking about sex and gender in Dungeons and Dragons, so this oughta be a hoot. I’ll go ahead and get things started with this quote, not directly from the essay, but instead from Shelly Mazzanoble and which appears in the essay:

One of the coolest things about D&D is gender equality. As in real life, whichever gender you choose to play is a matter of personal preference but unlike the real world, female and male characters are equals.

So trans people willingly choose to experience discrimination and dysmorphia for, I guess, the street cred? We’re not off to a good start, here.

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Dungeons and Dragons and Philosophy: “Kill her, kill her! Oh God, I’m sorry!”

D&D didn’t used to be on podcasts, but now it is. If this is a YouTube video this is where I’d do the fake roll credits gag. That’s only slightly oversimplified. This essay spends almost its entirety talking about how D&D was the basis for some reality TV shows, kind of, and there was a cartoon, then later on popular video games like World of Warcraft gave mainstream gamers a few points of reference that made learning D&D easier, and then D&D podcasting took off and became a big deal. It’s worth noting that this history of D&D in other media doesn’t seem to be aware that the Gold Box and Infinity Engine games were a thing. This kind of “history of a hobby” thing can be interesting (although I didn’t find the text here particularly engaging), but it’s not philosophy. There’s no philosophical argument being made here, no real idea being played with. It’s just a brief history of D&D as portrayed in other media, and how that affected how easy it was for people who didn’t yet play D&D to get started. That’s not philosophy. That’s history. They’re different.

Having one of those trendy double last names, essay author Esther MacCallum-Stewart is pretty easy to track down…I assume. I’ve found staff pages for her at Staffordshire University and the University of West England, but not for the Digital Cultures Research Centre or the University of Surrey, the two places where the contributors page says she actually works. Maybe the last three years she’s taken a swerve a bit?

As abbreviated as this post is (it’s not even long enough to justify a page break), that’s kind of it? There’s no philosophy to discuss, it’s just an uninspired history of D&D in popular media.

Dungeons and Dragons and Philosophy: By Friendship or Force

This essay is by Samantha Noll, a doctoral candidate over at Michigan State University, where she is getting a PhD in animal ethics. This essay is about the ethics of summoning furry friends to do your bidding. In it, she examines a couple of different situations in which D&D makes use of animals as a game mechanic and whether or not such uses are ethical (from the perspective of in-game casters, she thankfully does not start a tedious conversation about whether or not D&D’s authors are evil for including the options in the game). In order to determine if they are ethical or not, she uses moral yardsticks provided by various other animal ethicists. Of course, none of these animal philosophers agree with each other on what constitutes an unethical action with regards to animals at all, so the ultimate conclusion is that every spell and class feature examined either is or is not ethical depending on who you ask, because that is how philosophy do.

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Dungeons and Dragons and Philosophy: Expediency and Expendability

This essay is about why labeling necromancers as inherently evil aligned is dumb. To summarize, since True Resurrection works whether or not the target’s original body has been turned into an undead, animating an undead clearly does not affect the target’s soul at all (also, in D&D souls are definitely real, so we don’t need to worry about that argument at all). In most editions of the game, mindless undead like skeletons and zombies are completely unable to act without the command of a necromancer. They’re given an evil alignment, but this doesn’t make any goddamn sense at all because they take no actions whatsoever of their own volition.

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