When There’s One More Thing to Clarify, Composing, 31/07/2017

I wasn’t on the blog much, but I actually had a really productive writing weekend. Since I’ve caught up on my marking at the college, I had some time this weekend to get back to that project for the Reply Collective that I was telling you about a while ago.

The blog is, once again, moving on from considerations of Mt Pelerin
Society philosophy, writing, and communications. But those Mt Pelerin
views are seriously unforgettable. This image came from some dude
who lives near there selling his duplex apartment.
So that draft is finished, and I’ll probably give it a polish later this week before sending it up to the editors in Virginia to go in the publishing queue. It’s not as openly experimental as some of my other articles, but I think that’s for the best.

I’ve had my period of playing around, and this is an essay where I wanted to get serious. It’s called “Beyond Socrates: The Philosopher as Creative Craftsperson,” so the topic has a pretty wide scope.

It rides on a few contemporary examples and responds to a half-recent essay by a fellow SERRC member to further develop my philosophical challenge to the philosophical community – Get your conversations out of musty overpriced journals and get them online and into the streets.

Most important to encouraging that profound worldly engagement for philosophy, is writing your conversations in language that’s more accessible to people. I’m not talking about anything so pedestrian (or loaded with the opposition’s meaning) as “dumbing down.” I mean write in the common styles of intelligent discussion that you see in high-quality feature journalism.

Except you’re writing about concepts. Ideas in action through life in society. You’ll find out in more detail soon enough. I’m excited about that one.
• • •
While searching for images to go along with this post, I also discovered
this one of Friedrich Hayek relaxing and having a laugh like an
ordinary human being, instead of staring seriously and portentously
into the camera.
Here’s something else I’m excited about – moving on from writing about Milton Friedman on the blog. I went to Capitalism and Freedom because I was thinking more about how I’ll discuss the dystopian utopia of Earth’s current political, economic, and ecological clusterfuck in Utopias.

I realized that I wanted to get more material on the ideas of Mt Pelerin libertarianism than I had from looking into Hayek. Friedman’s book – and the responses to my posts from other friends at SERRC – helped me wrap my head around an interesting angle about that libertarianism.

Here’s the short version. The original philosophical texts of Mt Pelerin libertarianism – key examples being Capitalism and Freedom and Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom – were (most of the time) very nuanced, well-thought texts. But the modern politics of libertarian right-wing activists are brutal, dogmatic, and significantly meme-based.

Where’s the disconnection? You discover that through media analysis of the online social networking platform. Where’s the connection? It’s in the tells of those popular books, the spots where they reveal a blindness.

It also fits the theme of my last post about my Capaldi Years Doctor
Who book project, that my research recently is mostly about
returning to ideas that I studied a few years ago to update my
All the time, it’s a blindness to the systematic and community-level processes that help constitute individual personalities. The individual and his liberty is, ontologically speaking, such a fundamental unit of moral and political analysis for the Mt Pelerin thinkers, that the interdependence of social and individual drifts out of their philosophical view. Same with systematic effects on individual liberty.

I still feel like I’m not quite saying it right. but I’ll get back to it eventually.

After reading Friedman, I switched tack in my research to fill in some more ideas that I wanted to revisit. That’s my uptake of Antonio Gramsci’s ideas. Thanks to some nerdy tweeting from Jeet Heer, I discovered a few Perry Anderson books, and it made for wonderfully pleasurable and productive reading.

I’ll talk more about my engagement with Anderson’s ideas and interpretations over the next couple of weeks. Here’s basically what he helped me clarify.

The integration of ideology and military power in international hegemony. The complexity of the marxist tradition, which absolutely contradicts all the popular discourse about marxism today. Most of that popular discourse is uninformed far-right smears of all progressive politics as “cultural marxism.”

I'm also closer now than I was three years ago to a really detailed
outline of what Utopias will actually cover, so I wanted to clarify
some of the outstanding questions about Gramsci's ideas about
the material possibilities of an activist's life before I put any more
flesh on that manuscript's skeleton.
Well, Anderson’s helped me get another good handle on why this idea is such an incredible misfire and mistake. If anything, I think a better understanding of real marxist traditions – and particularly, practice – can do some real good to shutting down the resurgent fascism of our era.

He also wrote a really good book about caste politics in India, but that’s for another post entirely.
• • •
So I’m going to throw a link to this post up on my Patreon a few hours after it goes live today. Since it works as a general update on my writing projects, and it’s posting on the same week as my patron payouts, I figure it’s a good place to throw it.

If you like hearing about any of these projects, think of pencilling in a couple of bucks each month to support more publications. I’m taking part this year in one really amazing artistic project that could seriously use some Patreon support.

I can’t say anything about it yet, because it’s too early in the production process. The people in charge aren’t me, so I can’t just start yammering on social media yet about its details. But it’s going to be pretty awesome.

That said, its commercial potentials aren’t that great. Which is why I’m blatantly asking for more Patreon support. So if you like sci-fi, and you like the kind of sci-fi I write, and you can spare maybe two dollars each month, hit my Patreon and throw some cash on there.

You'll be helping me produce more super-trippy writing projects. You know you want to do that.

A Simple and Inescapable Blindness, Research Time, 28/07/2017

Yesterday’s post was an attempt to express an idea that I’ve been jamming through my head whenever I read modern conservative thought. Right now, there’s a strong racist nationalism in American conservatism, one of many ideological strains.

My question, when I consider these texts and ideas, is how much that racism slides into those other ideologies. Racism appears in the online communities most frequently, especially in the cesspools of anonymous meme exchange. “God Bless George Zimmerman” and all.

There’s enough plausible deniability in the philosophical writing that you can say that the racism is incidental. Yet it remains so ubiquitous – awful shit about black, Hispanic, Muslim, and Asian people is everywhere in these conversations.

That doesn’t even mention the terrible shit people in conservative circles say about women, non-straight people, and trans people. But I want to keep this one short, and since I’m writing this at the end of yesterday, I don’t want to go to bed feeling depressed.

"I don't see race. I don't see colour. I hate everyone equally, so when I
discover that someone is from a marginalized group, it just gives me
more ways to hurt them."
Milton Friedman – writing Capitalism and Freedom in the early 1960s – doesn’t say anything openly racist. What he says is no more problematic than any of the things said about black people by any old men you might know who’ve never known a black person in their lives. Occasionally awkward as hell, but his heart’s in the right place.

Some more examples I took a couple of notes on from chapter seven. Friedman speaks totally ahistorically about racism. Even a few days of history doesn’t enter his thinking. He discusses racism only in terms of isolated acts – a word spits out, one customer is turned away, one unlawful arrest.

Never in a context of a society’s own history. Not even really in the context of an individual’s own biography. Not even in terms of aggregate effects.

Friedman says that there should be no preference of race given in the classic scenario: Two job applicants, a white man and a black woman, are equally qualified. He brings up this exact example – typical in the diversity hiring clause of many company policies and collective agreements. Including one negotiated by my own mother.

Milton Friedman says that you’re being just as racist when you hire the black woman because of ethnicity or gender, as when you hire the white woman because of ethnicity or gender. We will stop discrimination on the basis of race when we stop discriminating on the basis of race.

The reason you push to hire the black woman in that scenario is to create aggregate effects that only become visible at the societal scale. By encouraging more companies to hire someone from a marginalized or racialized group when considering equally qualified job applicants, you change the overall diversity of that rank of position in your whole society.

They’re inconsequential acts when made, and often look like the fabled “reverse racism” to some. But their purpose appears on a macro scale while it’s still invisible to our micro scale of one individual job.

It’s a profound irony I find in a lot of the model libertarian economists. Their entire science largely depends on statistical mathematics. But when they talk philosophy, they can never conceive of any purpose beyond the individual scale.

Concepts Become Slogans Become Wriggling Globs of Pus, Composing, 27/07/2017

So I got some really good feedback on yesterday’s post from my SERRC colleague Steve Fuller. He identified a tension in my own approach to right-wing ideas.

I first became interested in learning more about right-wing philosophy when I reconnected with an old friend from middle and high school. Since that time, I’d gotten a PhD in philosophy and started working for an editing company.

Every photo I'm running with this post is a cheap shot. An
increasingly horrifying cheap shot. Here, we have a cheap shot
about the hypocrisy of affluent hipster libertarians that can also
function as a cautionary tale for how democracy sows the seeds
of its own destruction.
He'd become a radical libertarian. Collected guns, thought Barack Obama was a socialist, thought George Zimmerman was totally in the right to shoot that teenager. Every conversation we had carried this powerful, personal desire on his part to convert me to radical libertarianism.

They had swallowed the dogma, lived and breathed every witless aggressive meme like it was a hit of pure oxygen, swore they weren’t racist because black people had been bred into criminality and laziness from their generations-long dependence on government handouts.

So with the experience of this two years of online friendship with folks in this extremist society in mind, I sought out the classic popular outreach texts of the founders of modern libertarian philosophy.

I was also coming out of my first major research project, which became Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity. I was moving into a more explicitly political direction, thinking about the shape of a new book about the human drive for utopias.

When I consider how people think about and live their political ideals, I see this wrenching contrast, especially among the right wing, but it’s present in all political thinking. There really does seem to be a disconnect of the nuanced arguments in the core philosophical books of a tradition and the sloganeering bludgeons of too many popular activists.

Seriously, my libertarian friends G & C used to get so aggressive
arguing over George Zimmerman's legal right to shoot a teenager
in the chest, entirely talking about responsible gun ownership
and the right to self-defence. Yet you can't turn away from the
existence of jokes like this and what they imply. Don't think you
can write this off by saying, "It's just a joke."
Democracy is my ideal, but I want to figure out where the nuance of thought breaks down into a baseball bat. I’m looking at this most frequently at libertarianism and right-wing ideas because these are the ones that have been most successful in my generation, and are having the most destructive effects.

Here's what Steve had to say yesterday.
The problem with your argument comes at the final hurdle. Libertarians like Friedman aren't imagining the state playing any role in these decisions to sell -- or not -- to people of whatever race. So the totalizing conclusions you reach don't necessarily apply.
He's imagining that even if some sellers are racist, it will be to the advantage of others not to be racist because they'll get the discriminated people's custom. Yes, you might end up with a 'separate but equal' sort of society, which is 'racist' in the sense that not all vendors are available to all buyers. But there will be at least one vendor available to all buyers.
In fact, that one vendor could become quite rich, if the other vendors stick to their racist guns. The state simply observes all this stuff, but doesn't adopt an ideological position. I don't endorse this view, on either normative or practical grounds.
But it's more sophisticated than your cartoon version. Specifically, Friedman's point is that you would actually need the state to intervene in the market to bring about the sort of totalizing racism you're railing against. You should be thinking about arguing against a 'separate but equal' position, which is allowed by Friedman's thinking.
Yeah, because none of this is racist at all. Nope. Nothing to see here.
I have my own responses to some of these arguments.

One is about how a free market will prevent injustice from racial discrimination because some other business will serve the discriminated group. But that presumes that a totally free market is even possible. Frankly, I don’t think people’s self-interests are enlightened enough to provide the fully rational behaviour needed for a genuinely free market.

Even the free market solution of a ‘separate but equal’ economy isn’t a real solution to the problem of racism. The widespread social rejection that racializes a minority erodes any real equality that would have developed from that separate position. There’ll always be the sneers, the insults, the rocks thrown through windows, and the thickly humid atmosphere of popular disgust.

Despite those counter-arguments, there’s a lot of valuable ideas in these works that are so central to libertarian thinking. But there are also those passages that – like those context-free literally-understood passages from the Bible justifying a whole new regime of racializing discrimination – encourage an activist extremism that you can rightly call cartoonish.

Then they drop a piano on your head.

Freedom to Be a Villain, Research Time, 26/07/2017

Yesterday evening, the GF and I were talking about the widespread famine and food shortages throughout Africa and the Arabian peninsula right now. Caused by drought crisis and exacerbated by war and less official political violence, there are serious food shortages in Nigeria, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, and Yemen.

The Jewish community of eastern Uganda, the Abayudaya, is currently
at risk from drought and food shortages.
Those are only the countries suffering most from famine – millions across the continent are at risk. The famine doesn’t have much mainstream media attention – Donald Trump succumbing to dementia at a Boy Scout Jamboree seems more important to Jeff Zucker and his ilk than actually informing the public about life-or-death issues.

Now, I want to ask you, reader, a question. If someone asked you to donate some money to a famine relief activity for one of these areas – say, for a community in eastern Uganda – would you do it?

A follow-up. Say you give them a few dollars. Not much, but what you can spare. Would you consider it your free choice? I think so. Someone explains the famine and what their organization was working on to help people, follows it up with a request for a donation, and you give some money. You’ve considered it, and chosen to do so.

But what if you decide not to. Same scenario – explanation of the famine and the organization’s relief work – but you say no. That would also be your free choice.

Now, one last question. Is the person who would help a community in such distress a better person than the one who wouldn’t?

Peter Singer is one philosopher, quite popular in the circles where I did
my doctorate, who has advocated that we have a moral duty to give to
charity and overcome unjust inequalities.
It’s reasonable to say yes. Someone who wants to ease the suffering of others and help people in need where the opportunity presents itself is a decent person. Someone who turns away from others’ pain and cares only about his own desires is, at minimum, a bit of a douche.

Yes, you’re free to be a douche if you wish. But why would you wish it?

I bring up this example because I want to discuss this point from Milton Friedman in its context. Someone who makes even a small gesture to help others in need is a better person than someone who won’t. It makes you a good person to want to improve and heal the world.

Contributing to your society’s overcoming racism is one way to heal the world. Friedman considers free markets themselves to do this, because of the inherently anti-racist character of a totally open economy. This does make sense.

When you open your society and economy to people of all ethnicities, cultures, castes, and religions and refuse to racialize any of them into an underclass, you’ve made a better society and a better market. You don’t cut anyone out of the market for any reason other than incompetence. You’ll become a customer of any business that gives you a fair deal on what you want, regardless of identity. That’s great.

When I grew up, everyone in my education system – formal and
informal – spoke about segregation as a terrible crime against
human dignity. Now, mainstream conservative politicians across
the United States and in Canada want to enshrine the right to
discriminate and economically marginalize others
as an
essential human freedom. Fuck you.
Unfortunately for Friedman, his argument about racism in a free society in Capitalism and Freedom doesn’t stop there. He follows up this very insightful point about how economically ridiculous racism is, by defending our right to be racist.

The right to be racist is an aspect of the human right to liberty. Here is Friedman doubling down on the paradox of liberty – if my freedom includes a liberty to reject others from my society, then my inviolable liberty includes the freedom to violate others’ liberty.

If the members of a community all freely choose to run their businesses without hiring or selling to a racialized group, then that is their free choice to do so. The freedom to be racist should be respected as an uncomfortable but necessary element of liberty.

Here’s a paradox that popular libertarians can’t seem to escape. If our freedom includes the liberty to be a racist jackass, then we can freely marginalize and suppress the freedom of others.

Any business owner can choose not to allow someone to be their customer for whatever reason they want. The liberty to force someone else into exile? Into penury? Into poverty? Into the destruction of their dignity? Can liberty without obligation stand?

I don’t think so.

Lives Deprived of Flesh, Research Time, 25/07/2017

Yesterday, I wrote about an article I’m working on to be published at the Reply Collective. It’s a rather complex study of what philosophical creativity is. It includes an analysis of Rebecca Tuvel’s article on the possibility of transracial human existence.

I read the article, and I didn’t actually think it was very good. I think Tuvel had the right to write the article, contrary to a lot of the more intense opposition to her work. See, Tuvel’s critics made the mistake of thinking that her goal was ever to write anything at all about real transgender people’s experiences.

Tuvel’s article doesn’t ever discuss real experiences, and if her approach there accurately reflects all her work, she never does. She practices an entirely abstract conceptual analysis.

Would you trust anyone who had a simple, clear answer for everything?
That kind of person is usually a con-man, whether he's wearing a
plaid leisure suit or a televangelist's perfect makeup.
She contrasts and analyzes a series of abstract arguments from principles and claims. These arguments are about what it would take to change genders and races. They have nothing to do with the actual experience of real transgender people – if they did, their ideas would be nowhere so clean, orderly, and simple.

Too much of contemporary philosophy mistakes this simplicity and clarity for a superior way of understanding the world because it’s so simple and clear. But the world isn’t easy – it’s a messy, difficult, painful place, and the truths of lived experience are hard to understand in all their curving, multifaceted dimensions.

Any conclusion that you come to easily, you should suspect. Just as you’d suspect a salesman whose pitch is too slick.

When I read Milton Friedman, I feel the same way.

Hell of a record scratch right there. But I see the same kind of reliance on the ease of abstract arguments, turning away from real complexities that would make your conclusions more difficult to hold. A philosophy informed entirely by the most simple, abstract arguments is completely inadequate to understanding any exceptions.

Here’s an example from Capitalism and Freedom that makes for a wonderful illustration of Friedman’s over-abstraction. It’s part of a larger argument about how education should work, and how people’s preferences for their children’s futures affect educational outcomes.

His writing on monetary policy and the role of
currency in national economies is genuinely
enlightening. When he stays in the boundaries of
his scientific discipline, Milton Friedman is a
remarkably insightful thinker.
Friedman considers why wealthy people have fewer children than poor people. His reasons are – what’s the word? – kind of ridiculous. He says that a central reason why wealthy people have fewer children than poor people is because the advanced education that wealthy people often receive is more expensive and requires greater investment.

Poor people, meanwhile, have more children because their education will be paltry. Poor people, after all, will only ever do simple work like manual labour or front-line service work. Since they don’t need as much education and training as the children of wealthy families who become doctors, engineers, and Ivy League university professors, poor families can produce more children at lower cost.

Yes, this is what he says. Capitalism and Freedom, chapter six, pages 86-7 of my edition. This is seriously Friedman’s argument in one of his most popular books. How on Earth did a man who would put this argument to paper win a Nobel Prize?

He abstracts away from the real, complex situation of actual families to focus specifically on his arguments for how to improve America’s education system. In doing so, he turns away from letting messy reality disprove his most infamous premise – that all people act optimally rational all the time and that all families are precisely planned.

Turning away from real complexity toward the simplicity and ease of an abstract argument makes your thoughts into lies of distortion. The simplicity of Friedman’s abstraction in this example erases the real injustices of education access and family planning capacities across wealth levels.

The simplicity of Tuvel’s abstraction in her paper this Spring erases the real injustice and suffering that transgender people face. Worse, it implicitly equates them with the deranged saviour complex of America’s most famous self-alleged transracial person.

The imperative to “Keep it simple, stupid!” does not always apply.

Here Let Me Give You an Example, Composing, 24/07/2017

So I've drafted an introduction and an outline to an essay I’ve been meaning to write for the SERRC since the end of May.

Between a busier than expected schedule at my new job, a documentary to arrange (and now finance), my work with the local New Democrats designing a policy survey for members, and actually being able to relax and have a life once in a while . . . I’m sorry, but what was I supposed to be doing again?

You get the idea. But I pitched an idea to Jim the coordinator of the SERRC, and he said bring it to me whenever you want. So I’m going to bring it to him by early August. Still less time for a response paper than the average academic journal would take to process.

I think the story of Rachel Dolezal blew up as big as it did because it
was a surreal, deranged kaleidoscope of fractal and fractured concepts
at the intersection of so many different contours of the most
polarizing ideas of our time. But it was so messed up that very few
people could actually understand it. Especially since the form of
most of our media means that people rarely get more than a sentence
at a time to argue for or against any idea or perspective at all.
So I’m writing a piece that responds to a short and fascinating essay Robert Frodeman published back in May. It probed, from another angle, the major theme in his work – the critique of disciplinary structures in the academic university system.

This time, he was looking at the tradition of philosophy, its academic and punk styles. There’s the tradition of Western philosophy – dominant in university circles – that it’s a knowledge discipline with particular ranges and subordinate ranges of expertise.

At the same time, there’s the conception of philosophy as a tradition of free-thinking rebels against the authoritarianism of thoughtless conformity. Think of the Sophists as the experts teaching lessons and Socrates as the freethinker critiquing all that received, common-sense wisdom.

The example that inspired him on this reflection was the dustup earlier this year over Rebecca Tuvel’s essay in Hypatia on the possibility of being transracial. Frodeman focussed on the aspect of the debate where everyone was fighting over who had the proper expertise to make the calls they did.

He was primarily concerned to fill in an alternate perspective on arguments like that. He asks whether philosophical knowledge can also be for provocation as well as instruction. For asking important and (therefore) uncomfortable questions as well as providing answers to inquiries.

My response to Frodeman will be, essentially, to tell him that there’s still more to be done – the duality of answers/expertise v questions/provocation isn’t enough to describe all that philosophy can do.

I wonder how many people who watched Eddie Murphy's old "Black
Like Me" sketch on Saturday Night Live understood that it was also
a brutal mockery of white fears of the black people who can pass as
white. I wonder how many of those people who didn't get it were
themselves white. You have to think of yourself as an identity to
conceive of your identity as under threat. Of course it's much more
fun to conceive of yourself as an identity and practice
miscegenation anyway. Miscegenation is fun, and the way of the
I’ll do that with a deeper example of Tuvel’s essay. Oddly enough, reading it provoked a question in me that made me understand that her essay and the controversy surrounding it* as an even better example to show the transformation that our boring, decadent academic establishment needs.

* And surrounding Rachel Dolezal, the woman whose demented appearance in the spectacular freak show of Western media provoked a popular conversation about the nature of transracial identity in the first place.

See, unlike most of the critics of Rebecca Tuvel’s essay about transracial identity, I actually read the whole thing. And it was dry, turgid, uninteresting prose. It examined the arguments about the possibility and morality of transracial identity in a didactic tone, and from a perspective completely detached from the visceral nature of reality.

Tuvel’s essay did everything in an academician’s playbook to suck the vitality from an intense, multifaceted political conflict. I contrast this with the most illuminating piece of writing I’ve ever read on Dolezal and her perspective itself, Ijeoma Oluo’s article in The Stranger based on their conversation.

You could call it the difference between armchair and field philosophy, to run with another of Frodeman’s terms. Tuvel produced a bloodless, tone-deaf consideration of fiery concepts from a position of total abstraction. Oluo analyzed what concepts Dolezal’s own personality and sense of mission expressed.

Oluo was a truly empirical philosopher. My own creative argument flows from this point.

Anything more would be telling.

At Least One Regeneration Ago, Composing, 23/07/2017

As you know from my posts on Patreon, Twitter, and Facebook, I’m going to spend the next six months or so editing my philosophical essays on Doctor Who from 2014 to this coming Xmas into a single volume on the Capaldi era as a whole.

But that means doing something that most writers dread – I have to read stuff that I first wrote nearly three years ago.

Back to the early days. Not that early, though.
It’s not painful, per se. But I can definitely see how much I’ve grown over the last few years as a writer. Especially as I got used to the norms and conventions of writing on the internet.

I’ve gotten a lot better through writing this blog at expressing myself clearly, in comprehensible chunks, still holding the argument together, with the kind of jabbing punches and weaves that the dynamics of reading online require. It’s a tricky balance.

I did a much better job of getting over the pretensions of academic prose than a lot of other phds. Probably because I always hated the most pretentious, pedantic, and long-winded hot air flaming up at me from the pages of those turgid, wretched journals. So I never wrote like them at all.

I tended to overlong sentences in the old days, as you can tell from pretty much any of the posts you look at before about . . . . oh, 2014 in the start of winter, I’d say. My business communications program was a big help, actually. It dunked me back into the basic skills that you need to write accessibly.

It’s one of the unfortunate paradoxes of how humanities education works today. We’re great at teaching students to write technical, disciplinary essays. But the typical undergraduate curriculums in disciplinary humanities programs train you to write like an academic. You have to go somewhere else to learn to write like a real person.

So what do I see in these old Doctor Who essays? Well, the very first one about “Deep Breath” is a bit of a grab-bag that focusses on several different ideas. But the most important one has to do with misdirection.

That narrative slight-of-hand that’s Steven Moffat’s most perfect technique. He makes you think a story will go in one kind of direction, but then it turns in another. When you look at the whole narrative, you see the setup for the turn just as you saw the setup for the expectation. But the evidence for the turn is hidden, while the expectation is broadcast and flashed for you to see blatantly.

Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, and Samuel Anderson made a
beautiful story together, unique in the history of Doctor Who. It'll
be a joy to revisit their story for this project.
Yes, literally narrative slight-of-hand.

When I start editing “Deep Breath” for the book, which I’ll probably get to around the end of August and into September, I’ll focus on this theme of narrative misdirection much more. The ways that it plays out in the main text of “Deep Breath” and in the promotional material surrounding the start of the Capaldi era.

As well, how that first slight-of-hand – that Peter Capaldi’s Doctor would be darker, somehow, than the previous portrayals since 2005 – shaped how the entire four years of his time would proceed.

A major aspect of the Doctor’s character in the Capaldi-Coleman period is the Doctor’s alienation from his human companions and friends. Yet, as the 2017 season shows us, that didn’t need to be how Capaldi’s Doctor worked out.

That’s a very curious tension in the character that I want to explore in my rewrites. This was a project that began on impulse, as something that I liked to do as I figured out what the next phase of my career would be. Now I get to add my own grand narrative to what at the time was an improvisation.

Should I?

Hunting for Hypocrisy in Right-Wing History, Research Time, 21/07/2017

Don't worry. I’m going to narrow down the scope. There’s plenty of possible topics I could cover about the hypocrisy of the last century or so of North American conservatism. Good Lord, almost all the history of North American conservatism is riddled with hypocrisy.

Gold! Always believe in your soul. You've got the power to know
you're indestructible. Always believe because you are gold.
I’m just talking about one little argument Milton Friedman makes about the Great Depression and the role of the Federal Reserve in it. There are plenty of extreme things said about the United States Federal Reserve on the 21st century far right.

There’s some seriously horrible shit. I’m going to be talking about something funny. Ironically funny.

Friedman uses a Federal Reserve decision that badly worsened the American economy during the Great Depression to argue that the Fed should lose much of its power. Sounds like it fits in with conservative orthodoxy. It would, coming from one of the men whose ideas pretty much invented America’s conservative orthodoxy today.

Wait for it.

One of the major causes of the spiralling death fire of the Great Depression was banks collapsing. They didn’t have enough liquidity to deal with a bank run – too many people were panicking and withdrawing their money, and the banks didn’t have enough cash on hand to give it all out and keep running.

The Federal Reserve at the time held to a very strict principle that the government should interfere in the economy as little as possible. So central bank leaders gave no assistance to the banking sector.

Yeah, I'm just going to walk into the bank with a car-sized rock of gold.
Those bank leaders were also largely trained on the gold standard. All major national economies on Earth, from the 1870s to the Great Depression, backed their currencies with gold. A citizen could go to a bank whenever they wanted and trade a constantly fixed amount of their currency for gold.

In 1933, England left the gold standard because bank runs were dangerously depleting the country’s gold reserves. In 1934, the United States did the same.

But before 1934, the United States was still on the gold standard. If the government were to give private banks liquidity assistance, they’d literally have to fork over huge amounts of gold from their own reserves to the banks.

Under the gold standard, it’s impossible to revalue currency by printing more. Because currency is linked to gold, only the shifting value of gold can change the value of currency. A central bank can’t change interest rates either, because the value of gold is stable no matter what an interest rate would be. So gold replaces currency in borrowing.

Since American currency’s value was pegged to gold, there was no way to introduce liquidity into the country’s financial system to prevent catastrophic bank collapses.

Because bank collapse was a central cause of the Great Depression, Friedman argues that the refusal of the Federal Reserve to inject liquidity into the banking system was a key cause of that collapse.

Yes, Milton Friedman argued for the actions Barack Obama would
eventually do fifty years later. Conservatives called him a
communist, but Obama was following – probably without knowing
it – the advice of a paradigm new liberal.
When I read this, I laughed out loud. This is the kind of liquidity that Barack Obama and Timothy Geithner injected into the American banking system in 2009 to prevent wide scale financial collapse. Milton Friedman is arguing in the 1960s for a decision that Barack Obama made 50 years later.

It’s an extra level of irony that Friedman makes this argument to show that the Federal Reserve needs less power. Central bankers, with their loyalty to the gold standard, should never have had the power to prevent the government from keeping the economy afloat in a dangerous time.

It’s an even more brain-busting intensity of irony that Friedman’s popular heirs in the 21st century, radical economic libertarians, want to return to the gold standard because they believe that it stabilizes an otherwise too-dynamic economy.

Getting painful to think about yet?

The Abject Humanism of It All II: The Problem With People, Composing, 20/07/2017

You want to know my problem with humanity? The poverty of our vision is the foundation of the poverty of people. Human vision is poor when, in this context, it collapses into a humanism.

Now, you can’t write in a philosophical context that you’re critiquing humanism without someone in the audience mentioning Martin Heidegger.* His “Letter on Humanism,” the most famous text where he engages with this concept. He spent virtually his entire career critiquing humanistic ways of thinking, in different words at different times.

* Usually an academic specializing in writing commentary on Martin Heidegger.

But Heidegger’s thinking can’t go far enough in the critique of humanism. His quietism, piety, and fatalism get in the way of understanding the most profound aspects of what humanistic thinking does in the world.

We consume our whole world as if it were a fancy meal in a restaurant.
This is humanity at its most pathetic – turning the cosmological into
a petty pleasure. Image by Brittany Jackson.
Consider this post a stab at my own critique of humanism. It’ll likely be translated into my full manuscript for Utopias eventually.

Humanism is, quite literally, understanding all experience as ultimately related to human ends. It universalizes human ends to all things.

That’s part of what Heidegger has to say. But his concerns are to restore a proper relationship between humanity and being in a sense very disconnected from the problems of suffering and destruction. Destruction – social and ecological – is for Heidegger a symptom of a greater ontological failure.

For me, the priorities are reversed – Actually no, not reversed. Merged. The Heideggerian way of thinking merges questions of being with social and ecological questions. But it subsumes the social and ecological into questions of being, because for him being is the paramount question of philosophy.

For me, screw that. If I could give my philosophical perspective a label – at least for today – I’d call it a pragmatist anti-humanism. We destroy our societies and our ecologies with self-absorbed humanist ideas that our chauvinist priorities are the only ones that matter for human action.

You want an example? Okay, go back to Friedman’s words about national parks. You can think of many reasons to create national parks and wilderness reserves.

As far as I’m concerned, the best reason to conserve significant tracts of wilderness is to keep complex ecosystems functioning. There’s a humanistic angle to this, because humans need complex ecosystems to maintain all the processes that keep us alive – atmospheric balances, dealing with air pollution, cleaning water, preventing erosion of our land, preserving the processes that keep our soil arable and our food growing.

But there’s also the priority of wanting more complex ecosystems because ecological complexity builds a robust biosphere. The complexity of our ecologies are literally what keeps the Earth alive. Earth is a body that literally dwarfs humanity, no matter how powerful we’ve become.

We’re one recently-evolved, self-destructive species on a remarkable planet 4.5 billion years old. Earth is a body with far greater dignity and majesty than humanity. Humanity are pests compared to the Earth. And we tend to be pests on the Earth as well.

Take seriously the material existence of cosmological majesty. Humans are petty, small creatures. We can do amazing things, and we have a lot of potential. Our science-fiction can be the vehicle of our ambitions to achieve our greatest potential. But we won’t achieve that potential until we understand our pettiness and purge ourselves of it.

Pettiness like Milton Friedman writing that the purpose of national parks and nature reserves is to provide good customer service to campers and hikers.

The Abject Humanism of It All I: Parks and Recreation, Research Time, 19/07/2017

So here’s something I came across reading Milton Friedman that I found really interesting. In the light of some contemporary politics and prosecutions around who has the right to do what on government-owned land in the United States, it’s worth thinking on.

He talks about the national park system in the United States, and how he thinks it should be privatized to individual businesspeople. So far, so doctrinaire. But think about the reasons why.

Friedman doesn’t position himself in any way like the activism of the Bundy family. He’s much more sedate, as benefits a professor rather than a cattle rancher.

He thinks national parks and federal nature reserves should be privatized because of general libertarian principle against government ownership of all that much. But he also thinks that private companies could achieve the same purpose much better.

Come on, son! You and your dad are goin' fishin'! Hyuk!
So what purpose does he consider national parks to have?

Camping. Hiking. Fishing. The enjoyment of the great outdoors. All that good old Outdoor Life Network stuff.

While outdoorsmanship may have been the original purpose of the national parks in Teddy Roosevelt’s mind, national park and reserve systems do a lot more than that now.

Friedman thinks about none of the ecological achievements of government or public trust in stewardship of the land. Setting aside at least some land from the reach of exploitation, if you do it with enough ecological knowledge and care, can mean the difference between a resilient ecosystem and total collapse.

Now, I don’t expect Friedman or that many other people writing in the early 1960s to have thought of this aspect of the problem. Rachel Carson was a lonely voice for a long time.

Even if you leave that critique to the side, there’s a blindness in Friedman’s thinking. It’s the blindness that anything in the world is only as good as its customer service value. No public service besides customer satisfaction.

That’s a world of incredible poverty. Maybe not poverty in terms of wealth and riches. But I mean poverty as a drab, trivial world. There’s too much of the human view in that way of thinking. Too much reduction. Too much humanity.

I think I’ll talk more about the problem of humanity tomorrow. It’s not like humanity doesn’t have plenty of problems.

Is Freedom Really Free? IV: Who Can Control You, Research Time, 18/07/2017

Make sure you notice that I didn’t write that subtitle as a question. I don’t want to ask the question – if you ask a question, it implies that you’d be satisfied with only one answer. No, call it an investigation. An investigation never really stops.

He wasn't a private investigator as a profession. He was a private
investigator as a person. He found himself in a weird and complicated
situation, and wanted to find out what the hell was going on. You
won't be satisfied with the first, easiest answer. The Dude isn't lazy
where it counts.
There's no mystery. Only a world to explore. That’s the secret of Sam Spade. And The Dude.

So let’s start with a fundamental truth about Milton Friedman’s moral thinking – what he thinks it fundamental to a just society. It’s about liberty, and liberty is defined as freedom from coercion. The perfect society is the one where no one can tell you what to do.

Primarily on economist, he’s most concerned about economic structures. What kinds of economic systems prevent the most coercion and violence? That’s the economic democracy of the free market. There, you’ll find potentially infinite variety of business, product, and service – whatever an enterprising huckster can produce with ingenuity and materials at hand.

A frequent argument – at least in the 1960s, when Friedman was writing Capitalism and Freedom – against a totally free market was that the state needed to have the power to break up monopolies.

Monopolies create situations of mass vassalage to a single company or small group of business magnates in an entire industry. Say an industry began as a bunch of little companies.

But some company makes a technological innovation that gives it an enormous advantage over competitors. Their technology disrupts the balance of the entire sector. It either buys up all their competitors or forces them into bankruptcy.

The entrepreneur is a truly virtuous man.
Once it’s taken over the whole sector, it crowds out or buys out new competitors and whatever innovations they’ve come up with, before they grow enough to challenge them. The smartest* companies roll out some version of their acquired competitor’s innovations among their own products.

* Or most diabolical, however you want to think of the practice.

Such monopolies, says Friedman, are never stable. Most of the time, they aren’t even true monopolies. Free market competition – some little upstart who refuses to be bought or contained – will overcome even the most aggressive big player.

No, to Friedman, the only true and stable monopolies are those supported by the government, or state-owned companies themselves. Or else, they arise through an unjust collusion, as industry heads conspire together to stifle genuinely competitive market relationships – price-fixing, or supply control.

Either way, it all comes back to the government. Because if a government doesn’t want to tolerate some kind of industry collusion or monopoly, they can smash it. They have gladly. So a government has to build a monopoly through a state corporation, colluding with business magnates, or turning a blind eye to the collusion of business magnates.

Well, that’s not really so true anymore. I think it may have been true, or at least the rule had few enough extensions to stand. At least it did in the 20th century.

You have to understand that people really used to look like that
when Monopoly the board game was invented.
But look at the examples I linked, and you’ll see how powerful technological disruptions enabled – if not monopoly – then the creation of an oligarchy. Oligarchy – gangsterish collusion among super-rich business magnates given the dignity of a technical name.

If you consider the economic conditions of 21st century Earth, you’ll see a situation where disruptions create real monopolies – or at least business models whose ultimate stated goal is to become a monopoly. That’s literally Uber’s corporate mission.

This is the ideal of fortune through disruption in Silicon Valley’s business culture. You develop a particular kind of technological disruption – a communications platform that lets you undercut the labour of an entire industry at once. Your profit is built on finding ways to lower labour standards legally, and pocket the entire difference yourself.

It’s a problem that I find libertarian concepts are inadequate to dealing with. If your labour conditions get worse and worse – more and more time on the job for less and less money – how can any contract between a pauper and an oligarch ever be fair?

Gather Around, Composing, 17/07/2017

So I’ll get back to the walk with Milton Friedman tomorrow. Today, I want to talk about yesterday, the film shoot for our documentary. Working title is Around One Table.

Sunday, Khalil and his family met up with Nancy and her family for a big vegetarian buffet dinner in Nancy’s backyard in East York. It was a tough shoot in some ways – technical difficulties, barking dogs interrupting interviews, rain, fear of rain, some typically Canadian social awkwardness. Well, really Ontarian social awkwardness.

Not only that, but the food was pretty damn good. Conceptually,
potato soup and spiciness could never really go together. But
they did it – I could tell it involved some strategically placed
chillies. I was impressed. 
But we had some beautiful moments that I think are going to make for a fantastic film. Let me tell you about some of them.

About a month ago, we filmed an interview with Khalil and his wife Samar while they prepared an iftar dinner and sent it along to a couple they’d met earlier through the Welcome Dinners program. Samar spoke about the meal she prepared, and shared happy memories of her early married life with Khalil and childhood in Syria.

Khalil gave us a long interview in Arabic, his first language, where he’s most comfortable.* So I sat with him while my co-director Maher asked the questions, and Khalil remembered for us what it was to leave Syria.

* He told me at the shoot today that I speak beautifully, but much too fast for him to follow what I’m saying.

I don’t know all the details. But he’d mentioned to me in English earlier that this interview would tell the story of his travel down the Road of Death. There are several Roads of Death in Syria, but this is the one leading out of Homs, eventually going through Damascus and into Lebanon.

So Khalil, in Arabic, told the story of how he jammed his wife Samar and their five kids into a car and chugged along a highway pockmarked with bomb craters, whose shoulders were dotted with the burned out – and sometimes still smoking – skeletons of cars and their drivers.

Families just like his run off the road, robbed, and slaughtered, as they were fleeing the mass air war that would pummel their city.

We recorded it in closeup, because you’d have to be a fool to tell that story in wide shot.

That interview was back in June, as we were shooting some meal exchanges our Syrian participants made with their partner / host families to celebrate Ramadan.

Sunday, we talked with Nancy and Tim, the hosts for Khalil, Samar, and their kids today. Nancy told me a story that wasn’t quite as harrowing as Khalil’s worst road trip ever. But it was a shock to her.

Hey, White Supremacist. Do you want to get the fuck out of my
whimsical old-growth Canadian urban community?
So do you remember a few days after Donald Trump won the election to be President of the USA? And these posters asking white people to mobilize against multiculturalism appeared in a historic neighbourhood of Toronto in the East York borough?

Nancy teaches at a very ethnically and culturally diverse elementary school that was in the epicentre of that poster blitz. She was horrified. She ran exercises at her school to teach even the youngest children about our fundamental solidarity as humans.

She helped organize a group that distributed buttons reading “Unite Against Hate” for people to stick on their clothes and backpacks. Her neighbourhood is now covered in rainbow-coloured posters and lawn signs reading “Unite Against Hate” in English, French, and other languages like Hindi and Arabic.

It’s very easy to say that such actions don’t mean anything. But they’re communications that are constantly present in the community. They always blast the message that this is a community that stands against racism and embraces solidarity regardless of who you are, as long as you too embrace that same solidarity.

But they are also targets on every house. That same courage is at the heart of a community’s solidarity too.

Is Freedom Really Free? III: Fairness Peace and Fear, Research Time, 14/07/2017

When I was looking back through Antonio Negri’s Empire to prepare yesterday’s post, I found a beautiful line.
“Disobedience to authority is one of the most natural and healthy acts. To us it seems completely obvious that those who are exploited will resist and – given the necessary conditions – rebel.”
It’s a very deep truth about humanity. We rebel in the face of exploitation – we fight for our exit.

The very real division between libertarian-leaning and anarchist-leaning folks these days is over what constitutes exploitation. If you take Negri’s lead, exploitation is a matter of an entire economic system – the global network of relations that constrain the choices of millions of people into a series of shit deals.

One (among so, so many) humiliating result of
signing a contract with Donald Trump. I still can't
believe he's actually the President of the United
States. For fuck's sake.
The libertarian has a much narrower conception of where exploitation could arise. Look at Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, any of the trolling social media activists, and a lot of the popular communications coming out of the major liberal think tanks today.*

* Before you have any conniptions, yes, I do consider libertarianism the logical extension of liberal values about politics and economics. It’s the trajectory of any individualist logic. It needs leavening with values of community and universal brotherhood to avoid its own perversity.

Friedman, early in his great popular work of philosophy Capitalism and Freedom, describes the utopian liberal ideal. He describes a society where there’s barely a need for a government because the community can govern itself through free, voluntary associations and agreements.

That does sound genuinely wonderful. In a society where no one wanted to hurt each other and no one ever got hurt, we wouldn’t need government. The idea needs a whole hell of a lot of development. But that’s what the book is for. I'm writing a blog post well before I'm ready to get this thing written.

Instead, I want to focus tonight on a more critical question about Friedman and the libertarian perspective in general. Why does Friedman think it’s good to get rid of government? What’s the reason for his distrust?

Conveniently, it’s in his book. Yes, the most peaceful way to construct a society is through voluntary associations and agreements between all the individuals in that community. But he’s extremely pessimistic about whether an entire community of people can reach genuine agreement in real time.

No constitution is ever accepted by literally everyone. Not even the current (and second) United States constitution. The contemporary right wing in America may worship their dogmatic icon of this document with all the mystic rage of a prophet. There was plenty of opposition. Just read The Federalist Papers and you’ll see that.

But Friedman's focus on government as the only significant force
of constraint on people doesn't hold up to our individual
experiences. In everyday hypocrisy, everyday cruelty, we still
have to fight for our rights. Even if it's just the right to party.
Humans are volatile, changeable, and very different from each other in a lot of different ways – interests, culture, histories, positions, personalities. In all that diversity, agreement in real time at one moment is impossible.

So a society of humans can only be peaceful in a context where our variety is tolerated – everyone must be able to believe, do, and be whatever they want without any force trying to constrain them. Any force or movement that tries to make anyone agree to anything but tolerating disagreement is oppressive.

He counts among those oppressive forces the government. But Friedman also counts the bonds of community, family, and any kind of social solidarity for any purpose or ideal than leaving each other alone.

The existence of the state, says Friedman, is built on a false premise. That falsehood is the presumption that an institutional decree alone is all you need to produce harmony and peace in society. In reality, negotiation never finishes and will never finish.

In a sense, that’s true. That sense is at the heart of libertarianism’s and liberalism’s appeal to anyone who does value freedom. No matter how limited it might be.

Is Freedom Really Free? II: Exodus, Research Time, 13/07/2017

Is it really freedom if your only choices are between a cruel, abusive, barely-subsistence, dangerous job and starving to death?

The doctrinaire libertarian perspective states that this is freedom. When I say doctrinaire, I’m talking about the libertarian shock troops – the ordinary folks who provide the street and online activist core of the libertarian right wing as a political movement.

Demand better. One of a series of old posters from when we
thought the fight would be easier than it is now.
If a free market is only offering you barely-subsistence wages under terrible conditions or poverty and starvation, then that’s the choice you can freely make. Freedom is the right of exit from any negotiation before the promise is made.*

* Yes, I know there are many other dimensions of freedom as a concept in libertarian thinking, but I’m just sticking to this one for now! It’s a blog – I’m not going more than 800 or so words at a shot with this.

But is there an additional path to follow? Jokingly, in my reviews and posts about that show, I’ve described this ethical argument against the libertarian decision between two bad choices as Doctor Who ethics. When the system you live in offers you two unbearable choices, you break the system.

This is where I see the anarchist-leaning left providing a corrective to the libertarian right. Think of it as a helping hand. The libertarian, as I’ve described them, sticks with the choices you’re given. But you can also upend the table.

Milton Friedman called the right to walk away from a bad deal the right of exit. As he unfolded the concept, it was left with that vulnerability – You could walk away from any shit deal, even if your only alternative was an even more shit deal. You were still free.

The problem of following Friedman is that you may always be stuck with some kind of shit deal. Antonio Negri takes the right of exit farther than the libertarian model – literally an exodus.

One most brutal and blatant commodification of humanity was the institution of black slavery in the Americas. Labour was literally bought and sold, and there was a continual urge in the black population to escape. Negri makes this a starting point for the human drive to liberation.

Friedman stays at the level of the bad job offer – walk away and find something better. Negri carries this principle farther, as far as it can go and where the concept itself would actually lead you if you follow its logic to the end. The human drive for freedom is expressed in the act of walking away to find or create something better.

You keep moving until you can't go any farther. But you still have to.
You’re walking away from any form of exploitation, brutality, or generally horrible conditions of life. You could be walking into a much worse deal. One example. Ask any of the South Asian or African immigrants who come to work in the Saudi Kingdom or the United Arab Emirates.

Thousands once sailed across the Atlantic Ocean. Millions now move across Asia. And that’s just counting the economic migrants – the job seekers. The war refugees throughout the world are millions more.

But there’s also the people who leave their home countries – overpopulated, crushed by climate disaster, autocratic, or still stricken with grotesque inequality – and come to places like Toronto. People like some of my students who come to Canada in search of a better deal.

The best of them are coming here not just to ask for a better deal, but to build one for themselves. That’s the human desire for freedom – don’t just choose the lesser of two evils, but walk away and make the good.

Is Freedom Really Free? I: Walking Away, Research Time, 11/07/2017

I’m not going to continue with that last thread of ideas I was writing about Milton Friedman’s writing last week. Two reasons. One, after taking a few days off from writing about it, I realized it wasn’t the best way to start a longer train of thought. So I’m starting from a more fundamental and stimulating angle today.

The second reason? I hated that title I gave it.

Friedman’s insightful introductory remarks about the nature of contracts are a great way to begin. That conception of the freely entered contract between two equals is at the heart of so much new liberal and libertarian rhetoric today.

I’d hear it from my wacky libertarian trolls, my first long-running window into the world of the far-right internet. Reading this passage of Friedman, I remembered what C & G told me, because it seemed to come directly from the big man’s pages.

What people love about America is their freedom!
The fundamental bond of any economic relationship is the contract between two people doing business. It could be between a business owner and a worker, between two or more business owners, between a business and a client or customer. Whatever. All economic activity flows from these relationships.

Those relationships of contract formation are the core bonds of business itself. They come to be, says Friedman, as two private individuals reaching an agreement. Such an agreement is morally right if the contracting individuals are free.

Now, what do we mean by freedom? That’s not just a word you can appeal to without a fair idea of the concept itself.

Friedman uses freedom in the context of the conditions of contract formation. When two individuals are negotiating a contract, at any moment up to the signature that locks them both into their promises, they can walk away.

Freedom is the right to exit. That’s universalized over a lot of moral judgments new liberals and libertarians make about economic and business relationships.

Do you dislike your job? Do you feel that your boss mistreats you? Are you not paid what you think you should be? Do you find the conditions now more dangerous than when you agreed to work there? Then walk away from it.

The right to walk away – for the modern dogmatic libertarian, many new liberals, and quite a few traditional liberals – renders any of the protections that workers’ movements have gained people moot.

More details on the silliness of a frictionless, perfectly logical vision
of the world can be found at the link, on paragraph 107.
You want a minimum standard wage? Health insurance? Safety protections? Reasonable hours? Vacation time? Maternity or paternity leave? Then don’t force your current employer to give them to you if he doesn’t want to provide them. Leave, and try to negotiate it somewhere else. The right of exit trumps all else.

It seems perfectly reasonable when you’re only thinking about it in the abstract, through pure reason alone. But once the messy contingencies of the real world leak into this clean, frictionless vision, its logic begins to break down. This way of thinking faces problems that it actually can’t grapple with, so can only wave them away.

Think about some situations where you can’t really walk away from a job. Most of them amount to not being able to walk straight into an alternative job and risking destitution otherwise.

Maybe there’s a recession and there are far more job-seekers than positions. Maybe you’re in a low-paying sector and you don’t have the savings to support yourself while you look for a better opportunity. Maybe you can’t afford retraining and there are no free or loan-supported avenues for it.

In all those situations and any others along similar lines, the right of exit still exists, but it’s a terrible idea. The material conditions of a contract's writing smashes the balance between signatories for it to be a truly free agreement. If a person has the power to let another starve, then the one with power holds the other in his fist.

Even if you’re starving to death, my old libertarian friends used to tell me, you still have your freedom. But must you accept death as the price of freedom?

The Rankings: Peter Capaldi Year 3, Doctor Who Reviews, 09/07/2017

Sad to see the Peter Capaldi Doctor on his way out, but as far as I’m concerned, the future looks bright. Soon, we’ll see the rumours truly swelling and the name of the next Doctor announced this Fall – I and many others have high hopes for her.

What's interesting is that, as I take stock of the last Capaldi season, I find myself in a bit of a contrarian attitude about it. Maybe it was just the hangover from fandom’s major public love with Clara Oswald, but my sense of the consensus was that the 2017 season was a little underwhelming.

You've all done amazing work, everyone. Applause all around.
But I thought it was fantastic. In my immediate experience of watching and in my critical evaluations in retrospect, it’s on par with Capaldi’s near-universally loved first year in quality.

Here’s how the rankings themselves worked out. Stories with the same letter grade are arranged according to small gradations of quality, complexity, and dynamic aesthetic harmony.

Quality: How well a story is executed technically, its craftsmanship from idea to script to set to editing suite to screen.

Complexity: How many creative ideas across setting, character, narrative, and theme fit together.

Harmony: How well all those complexities interact to produce a philosophically thick final product – a text which always rewards you with new dimensions every time.

The Doctor Falls A+
World Enough and Time A+
Thin Ice A+
Extremis A
Oxygen A
Eaters of Light A-
The Pilot / The Girl With a Star in Her Eye A-
Empress of Mars A-
The Pyramid at the End of the World B
Smile B
Knock Knock B-
The Return of Doctor Mysterio B-
The Lie of the Land F

Whithouse didn't even include the most superficial parallels of the
Monks Trilogy in "The Lie of the Land," like a third version of
Bill's date with Ronke Adekoluejo's Penny. It would have been
nicely bleak, as fits the story. But he couldn't even manage that!
As I said in my review of the episode itself, “The Lie of the Land” was a profound screw-up of the highest order. It’s rare when I see a writer so profoundly fail to understand any of the interesting or innovative aspects of a story he’s commissioned for.

The Monks Trilogy was, in my view, the single most ambitious Doctor Who story Steven Moffat ever conceived and actually got on screen. But the messy realities of production meant that the worst writer in his whole stable got stuck having to stick the landing. Whithouse is the only writer in the current stable who’s gotten worse as time went on.

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a Doctor Who story crash and burn as badly. I think it comes down to the need to have split the entire Monks Trilogy over three different writers. If the whole story could have relied on the one writer who conceived of it being in charge from beginning to end, we would have gotten at least a consistent script from the whole affair.

I count “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” as part of Capaldi’s last season for a few reasons. It’s established Nardole as a companion, foreshadows Bill’s arrival, and most importantly marked the return of Doctor Who since its gap year of 2016.

The show’s absence for an entire year was a strange period – it evoked echoes of the 1986 hiatus, even though the earlier gap was the function of a production and aesthetic catastrophe.

Doctor Who took on the superhero sci-fi genre for the first time with
"The Return of Doctor Mysterio," but couldn't figure out how to
overcome that genre's most ingrained problem, its deep sexism
and refusal to question the ego of the fragile male characters that
make up so many of its traditional protagonists.
Doctor Who was assured a comeback, of course – it was still one of Britain’s most popular television shows domestically, and its leading global export. The contrast was the most jarring aspect of the 2016 gap year.

Two years before, the BBC sent Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman did a round-the-world tour in a week to promote the premiere of “Deep Breath.” Now the show was going on break for a year?

So it was wonderful seeing a story as fresh and fun as “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” kick off the return of Doctor Who. And it was a straightforward story of Doctor Who riffing on a classic sci-fi genre it had never tackled before, with a few questionable sexual and romantic threads woven in without question. A fun story that left an icky feeling in me for a few days afterward.

Speaking of icky feelings, “Knock Knock.” Doctor Who goes full Freudian horrorshow with a script that dropped the ball on comprehensive characterization. Despite this, it had some fine camerawork that evoked the classic late 20th century aesthetic of Hammer horror, haunted house films, and a pre-watershed riff on the slasher genre.

Smile” worked out the same way, but Frank Cottrell Boyce crafted a better story overall. The inventiveness of the setting and the nature of the Vardy robots were its best features.

Good work overall in a very creative story. Frank Cottrell Boyce is
becoming Doctor Who's go-to for the trippiest settings and kinds of
existence in the writers' stable.
The visual storytelling was wonderful as well, the contrast of the Vardy surface city and the human spaceship underground overflowing with thematic and conceptual meaning. Boyce seems to be one of the best in the current Doctor Who stable at developing radically different kinds of life.

It was also a great decision to make most of the story a two-hander that gives Pearl Mackie a chance to stretch Bill’s character – a fairly generic approach to the companion lets the actor find her own nuances in the performance. But the very ordinariness of the basic story and plot weighed “Smile” down a little bit.

Speaking of ordinary stories, “The Pyramid at the End of the World” suffered from that a fair bit. Peter Harness’ commission consisted of repeating all the general military action story styles of “The Zygon Inva/ersion” but in a thematic context so different that they’re all kind of empty. He even brought us back to Turmezistan.

That was the main problem of “The Pyramid at the End of the World.” The psychological terror at the heart of the Monks as a concept didn’t fit the story style and setting of the international military thriller. Other than that, Harness understood their core concepts very well.

With “The Empress of Mars,” we really get into the brilliance of this season. Mark Gatiss told a simple fable of the immoral, criminal, petty, chauvinist, cruel, hateful nature of the too-often romanticized British Empire. Not a word or even an image was wasted (even if Friday kind of disappeared from the story in the last act and he just gave up on integrating Nardole into the story).

I'm kind of glad Mark Gatiss will probably never get to play the Doctor
officially, but he's already made a significant historic contribution to
the franchise in so many different ways. His work has only improved
as his time with Doctor Who has gone on.
He did it while expanding the culture of the Ice Warriors in creative and fruitful directions, so future writers have plenty of new places to take these creatures so deeply embedded in Doctor Who. This and “Sleep No More” were his most creative and ambitious stories.

Whether or not he writes for Doctor Who in the future, his best work is probably in front of him, and that’s fantastic.

The Pilot” was of similar quality – Steven Moffat can write tightly-structured, thematically-deep, characterization-rich companion introduction stories in his sleep by now.

Eaters of Light” is the best of the stories of A- rank because it was the story that best-balanced the TARDIS team of the Doctor, Bill, and Nardole in an everyday setting. It was also another stellar contribution to the general theme of this season, Doctor Who’s rejection of Brexit morality.

Like “Empress of Mars,” “Eaters of Light” was fundamentally about the rejection of militarism, imperialism, and nationalism to embrace a plural society whose powers are stronger for their diversity and mutual respect.

Its only real flaw was that the story structure of splitting the main cast up to explore the world efficiently through parallel adventures doesn’t have room to breathe in a single 45 minute episode. It was well-suited to the classic series, where stories were 100-150 minutes long. But now, it’s too rushed.

"Oxygen" was one of the few stories this year to make good use of
the three-person TARDIS team, involving Nardole significantly in
the action as well as Bill. I think a lot of Doctor Who writers don't
have the skill to weave a TARDIS crew of more than two people
into a story effectively, simply because most of the show has
featured only a two-person TARDIS crew. Future writers of a
three-person main case should study this episode, "Eaters of Light,"
this season's finale, and the Pond family era.
Oxygen” is a grade above because its story was perfectly in tune with the possibilities of the 45 minute episode. It was a simple setting – a base under siege – which the Doctor and Bill explored in a clear linear order, where each event revealed more about the central mystery of the story.

It carried another aspect of the anti-Brexit political message of this year’s Doctor Who with an intensely punk fire – a world that opens everything to be bought and sold as a commodity robs all dignity from people’s lives. Their own existences are only as good as their short-term profit margins – we aren’t lives, but assets to be managed or replaced.

Extremis” was the only part of the Monks Trilogy that carried off its core themes and ideas without a hitch, because the person who conceived it is also the one who wrote it. Steven Moffat’s most ambitious story perfectly designed and executed.

Thin Ice” was the clearest and best-executed story that carried Doctor Who’s opposition to Brexit ideology. It firmly punctured the Brexit myth that British isolation was a time of cultural, moral, and political greatness.

Bill visits a world where a petty, self-absorbed racist aristocrat has become an energy industry oligarch by enslaving an alien creature. Here’s a story where poor orphan children, a black lesbian, and an anarchist professor overthrow a repressive business leader and steal his fortune.

Most of the time in "The Doctor Falls," John Simm's Master is part of
the storyline focussing on that character. But it made for a fantastic
moment when he stepped into Bill's storyline to show, univocally,
what a wretched monster the Master is. His taunting her was a
collision that showed the high stakes and radical shift the current
Master was undergoing.
The finale was the pinnacle of this season’s success, however. “World Enough and Time” was a perfectly-made story that assembled a complex script built on a brilliant scientific conceit. Its time dilation narrative hook returned to the 54-year-old mandate of Doctor Who for popular children’s science education.

Meanwhile, that hook was also the lynchpin in a terrifying story of cybernetic body horror – the haunted hospital of living monstrosities, perversions of humanity, and manipulative villains in disguise.

But “The Doctor Falls” was where everything came together with such wonderful perfection.

Its three core stories – Nardole integrating with the Mondasian community, Bill adjusting to her existence as a mutilated Cyberman, and the Master’s ethical redemption – played in parallel with perfect balance. All the performances were at their A-game, perfectly fitting what was necessary for each of their central moments.

Pearl Mackie played her bombast at the epic scale it required – and Rachel Talalay shot it perfectly, cutting between Pearl and Cyber-Bill at just the right moments to maximize her story’s power. But Michelle Gomez gave the best performance of all, because of the subtlety and complexity of her own performance.

In the whole history of the Master's character, from 1971 to today,
46 years later, Michelle Gomez was the most epochal.
Pay close attention to her face and speech in the final confrontation between the Doctor and the two Masters. It tells you all you need to know about how radically the Master has transformed, all in the smallest details of facial expression and voice.

Ultimately, it was a tale of redemption, which is a narrative central to Doctor Who – there can always be a better way forward, even when there isn’t. There’s no better way to have ended the Capaldi years.

So this Xmas is going to have a lot to live up to.
• • •
How does all this stand up to previous Capaldi seasons? His second year was probably the most problematic. Several stories were excellent, particularly “The Zygon Inva/ersion” and “Face the Raven.”

“Heaven Sent” was a revolution for the show, a moment where Steven Moffat brought such talent and concentration to a story that it put an episode of Doctor Who on the same level as the best works of Philip K Dick or Ursula LeGuin.

But Capaldi’s second year suffered from Toby Whithouse’s worst (and now second-worst) script. Plus, there was a lack of thematic unity that led to a kind of scattershot unfolding.

At this point, the arc from "The Doctor Falls" to the Xmas Special is a
serious contender for the best regeneration story in the history of
Doctor Who. If you're going to go out, leave them wanting more.
Even after eight years.
Ashildir’s story was closest to supplying the unity that contemporary Doctor Who seasons need, but it often danced around the potential of her character, staying ultimately at a very superficial level.

The deepest she could explore her isolation was in the joke of naming herself Me, a few scenes of crying in “The Woman Who Lived,” and some bemused indifference in “Hell Bent.” It wasn’t due to Maisie Williams’ performance – she did very well with writing that had trouble grappling with the real existential depth of immortality’s horror.

“Heaven Sent” is where you go for that horror. But the season overall was a grab-bag of mostly disconnected stories with a few ideas – Clara’s recklessness, the experience of immortality – that recurred now and then. Would have been a brilliant construction in the classic era, or even the Davies years. But Moffat has raised the standards on season arcs too high for us to stay with this.

Capaldi’s first year was the tightest story – something of every episode contributed to developing the Clara-Danny love story and the Doctor’s role in it. Its conclusion in “Dark Water” and “Death in Heaven” was beautiful in its power.

But the season itself was so tightly bound to that story, even stories that had little to do with it like “Flatline” found themselves shoehorned in. So there are benefits and problems to that approach.

When it's all over, but not quite yet.
Where does the Capaldi era break down? What was the best season? Well, I can give two answers. One is just with math. Let’s count the number of A-level stories in each season and see what they are as a percentage of the whole.

I’m calculating Capaldi Year One simply as the main Fall run from “Deep Breath” to “Death in Heaven,” counting “Dark Water” and “Death in Heaven” as a single story. Both the Xmas specials “Last Christmas” and “The Husbands of River Song” are part of Capaldi Year Two because they serve as prologue and epilogue to that season’s main run.

Year Three is as I listed above, with a caveat that its score would change depending on the upcoming regeneration story. So the scores.

Year One: 7/11 64%
Year Two: 5/10 50%
Year Three: 8/13 62%

What’s my second answer? It’s about progress. How does each season innovate in what Doctor Who can do? Frankly, I think Capaldi Year Three did the most.

The show developed a strong, principled aesthetic and ethical response to the explosion of Brexit nationalism. In the Monks Trilogy, Moffat crafted his most ambitious piece of writing in a career in which he’s refused to stop pushing himself creatively (even if it did fall flat at the ending).

This season also completely rejuvenated and transformed the character of the Master, so that now the character will be defined by its pre-Gomez and post-Gomez nature. A snarling, cackling villain has now become a nuanced parallel to the Doctor’s own complexity.

That’s what we want Doctor Who (and all our storytelling) to do, right? Spin me a narrative that I haven’t quite heard before.