I just listened to all of Locke’s Two Treatises of Government, and I have to say that I really enjoyed them.
However, while the First Treatise is interesting to me as an historian of ideas and an instant fan of Locke’s sardonic style, the Second Treatise is clearly the one that is most relevant to the modern day.
In Locke’s Second Treatise, he lays out the foundations of what became classical liberalism. While many of his arguments and his final conclusions doubtless seem strange in 2021, it’s easy to see how later thinkers agreed with or drew upon Locke.
As someone who’s familiar with Mill, I have to say that there are parts of Locke that seem interesting as a precursor to classical liberalism, especially since there are things in Locke that seem distinctly backward to us.
I kind of enjoy Rothbard’s writing, so I checked out his economic history of the Great Depression because I figured that he would have an interesting perspective as an economist.
I found America’s Great Depression lackluster compared to Rothbard’s other work. It’s a fine book and a herculean effort of scholarship, but it’s neither Man, Economy, and the State in its provision of economic details nor Conceived in Liberty in its flow and appeal. As an economic history it’s less concerned with people than the events that shaped the markets and economic crisis, so the dryness of the text is to be expected.
If there was one thing 2020 taught me, it’s that there’s a value to having boundaries.
The great crises of 2020 made the world collapse inward. Interactions and daily life moved to the internet in a way that even people like myself–no stranger to the digital world–found disruptive.
The internet is a land without boundaries. People have fought back against these boundaries, doing digital detox routines and leaving smartphones turned off during daily life, but 2020 made that even less feasible than it had been in an increasingly connected world.
Land of Hope is a survey of American history written from a conservative perspective. Despite this, it is far from propagandistic, avoiding that tendency which has become vogue in the age of Howard Zinn.
What Land of Hope derives its conservative perspective from is its focus, rather than its presentation. It avoids painting America in an overly glossy light or arguing to justify its failings, but it draws out the strengths of the American political system.
As a broad survey of American politics, Land of Hope moves quickly, though not so quickly that it neglects important details. Its coverage of the Progressive Era is an example of how McClay can draw out threads in a way that assesses the ideas, culture, and practices of a particular point in time. While he opposes many of these developments and highlights their flaws, he presents them in an even and balanced way as part of America’s developmental history.
A Brief History
To my knowledge, it is only in history that we can term a 500-page book brief, but Land of Hope is that sort of book. It straddles the line between textbook and popular history, providing enough information to let readers draw their own conclusions and build a picture of the sequence of events.
However, one way in which it differs greatly from a traditional textbook is in its strength as an engaging text. McClay takes a laser focus to his subject. Repetition is rare, used only as a tool to provide readers with reminders of events or to emphasize importance.
McClay covers American history from pre-colonial times to the modern day. Someone familiar with the history of any given section will notice omissions of figures who are on the fringes of mainstream historiography, but the strength of the book stems from its ability to capture the spirit and key events of each period.
The Conservative View
While it’s probably fair to say that McClay’s goals are conservative, he is careful not to embellish or gloss over history.
A good example of this is in his approach to the Civil War. He points out that the arguments that emerged as common knowledge about American history are justifications after the fact.
McClay goes to great pains to point out that the Union’s interest in the Civil War was not the abolition of slavery from the very beginning, using examples from Lincoln’s own public statements and correspondence and other contemporaries. He also builds a case that the Confederacy’s arguments that they were simply seeking independence don’t match their own actions in the years prior to the Civil War, when they were using the law to force citizens in free states to conform to their desires.
Despite this, McClay never treats his subjects as Zinn-like cynical and self-interested villains. Even when they engage in acts which McClay himself openly considers immoral and abhorrent, he gives them the dignity of an examination. When they cannot live up to the standards of today, they do so based on their failings and not the desires of a storyteller to create figures in a play.
Rather, he points out that what we hope for our heritage as Americans to be is largely a projection. We should not expect others to be less flawed and compromising than we are, and he accurately disabuses people of the hero worship that surrounds many figures.
McClay makes it clear that many of America’s great failings are because of the unwillingness of people to take action that they know is necessary. For instance, Jefferson’s writing against slavery does not comport with his actions in holding slaves.
His approach clarifies that while Jefferson would have had difficulty in emancipating his slaves, it would have been the only principled action to take.
The Overall Picture
One weakness of modern historians is that they often try to construct narratives where none exist, and while McClay desires to show America as an institution that has shifted and changed over the years to become what it is today he does not provide the comic book simplicity of a Zinn.
Rather, McClay focuses on the big ideas, but does not force them to conform. For instance, he does not pretend that the Progressive Era involves the same thrust for liberty as the Revolutionary War, though he raises the point that the progressive political philosophy operates on what we might now consider a Rawlsian approach to liberty.
This is far superior to the modern critical theories, and necessary to provide a view of American history as something that is both distinctly American and tied to the currents of the world at large.
A good comparison here would be to compare McClay to Rothbard. Rothbard takes an almost Hegelian approach to the struggle between liberty and power in Conceived in Liberty, but McClay does not enforce dichotomous structures on his presentation of history.
The strength of McClay’s approach is its clarity. Because it abandons the pretense of a march of history and draws on his strengths as a writer rather than embellishment and flourishes, Land of Hope doesn’t need to fabricate a story to keep a reader going.
I’d strongly recommend Land of Hope as an introduction to American history.
Because of its length relative to its breadth, it’s not a book that goes into details, though McClay does a good job of keeping a perspective that can make it fresh for people who have some background in history but want an overview for a refresher.
One of the original purposes of the book was to create a textbook that would be suitable for classrooms as an alternative to Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. While it’s clearly got some conservative leanings, McClay’s work comes from an examined patriotism rather than blind nationalist fervor, and is free of many of the shoddy historical practices that plague Zinn’s work.
I listened to Land of Hope on Audible, and while the audio is good, I often wanted to reference things in a way that’s more feasible in text. I’d recommend it on Kindle (affiliate link). It’s three dollars over there right now, so that’s a heck of a bargain for a book of its caliber.
I have an addiction to voluminous history books and Conceived in Liberty promised to scratch that itch from the very start. The five volumes span American history from the first colonial times to the immediate aftermath of the Revolutionary War.
Conceived in Liberty has the distinction of being much more detailed than a similarly sized historical survey of general American history, and a little less detailed than one would expect from a highly topical work (e.g. Stephen Kotkin’s Stalin biography in three volumes).
Combine this with Rothbard’s revisionist approach to American history, and Conceived in Liberty is interesting.
That sounds very dramatic, but I think in the past I’ve hit something like 600,000 words in a year (I didn’t keep strict track), so I’m looking forward to it.
Well, as a writer I want to be growing and evolving.
The best way to do that is to write enough to make a difference.
A million words in a year will take somewhere around 2700 words a day. My writing pace is somewhere around 30-60 words per minute, depending on the subject, how rested and prepared I am, and what I’m writing.
I still sometimes hit a wall, but ideally that means that I only really have to spend an hour and a half writing during my bad spots, and maybe even less once I get back in the swing of things.
Because the point of this is self-improvement, I won’t count just any words. I’m sure there’s some program I that would count the number of times I hit the space bar on my computer and give me a number, but that’s not valuable.
Instead, I’ll count three things:
Blog posts, since I need to get good about building up profiles I’ve permitted to fall.
Any text added to a manuscript.
I wrote almost two novels (one finished, one just needing a couple linking scenes) and a chunk of a non-fiction book last year. They need editing, and the revision process will probably involve more words for both.
Any book, game, or script I write will count, even if it doesn’t get published in 2021.
Anything I write for freelance clients or as part of an instructional program.
And here are the things I won’t count:
Correspondence and social media posts (barring long-form stuff like what I do on Hive).
My bi-weekly newsletter for my author’s site (kwilleywrites.com) except for the extra post I write for it, which I’ll count separately.
Anything I write as part of employment to fulfil the obligations related to my employment. Since I’m hoping to pick up a teaching job once I finish my degree, that means no lesson plans or course material.
I won’t be writing daily updates, but I’m using NaNoWriMo’s tracker, so viewing my profile there will be a place to go for somewhat up-to-date progress. I’ll probably write occasional reflections over at my author’s site, if you’re interested in following them.
Finding the Words
I’ve got several ways for people to find my content.
All my blogs are cross-posted to Hive; either to @loreshapergames (content here is exclusive to Hive), @kwilley, or @kwilleywrites, depending on whether they’re game-related, semi-personal, or writing-related.
Cyberpunk 2077 came out a while ago, and I’ve had time to play through something like 90% of the game’s content. It’s an interesting game to review because it wears a bunch of hats.
My initial impression of 2077 was that it was stuck between two worlds; the current generation of video games and the next generation. Running on my PC, the graphics are excellent, and I’m running on a GTX 1080-sporting rig that’s inferior to the next-gen consoles and sometimes competes unfavorably with even the PS4 and Xbox of previous generations.
Stability and Bugs
Cyberpunk 2077 is not polished.
Stability was a major issue, though a patch a couple days after release saw major improvements. Despite having a dozen crashes to desktop, and a couple times I had to reload a save because of glitches, the patched experience was tolerable.
Cyberpunk seems to attempt to autosave right before a crash, so the interruption was usually minimal. I’d say this happened for about 85% of my crashes, and after the patch I was never afraid that I’d crash or encounter a game-stopping bug and lose progress.
To be fair, part of this is that the branching stories meant that some small losses of progress were opportunities to try different approaches, something critical when the game locks you out of saving during dialogue (which is frequent).
With that said, there are plenty of bugs. For a game that feels like I wanted the recent Deus Ex titles to feel in terms of verticality, the physics are seriously questionable. At one point, V got tripped by a drone while walking down some stairs and literally died. Getting stuck in place while trying to navigate tight spaces was a repeat offender and the number one non-death reason for me to load a save.
It’s something I’d tolerate without comment in Skyrim, where I’d use the console commands to toggle collision and go about my day.
Vehicles are similar victims of physics. Though I never had a save-loading incident with vehicle physics, it’s clear the engine doesn’t like fast-moving objects colliding with each other.
And the cosmetic issues are pretty common, though some of this seems to be a function of FOV and my anemic system. When I was playing on GeForce Now, the game seemed to have far fewer issues, suggesting that lower end hardware may be partly to blame.
With that said, I feel compelled to mention the technical difficulties because I otherwise love Cyberpunk. They were not major issues for me as a player, but I know I have a high tolerance for stuff. I never had a moment ruined by bugs; they occurred mostly in the open world sequences and rarely went beyond a momentary frustration.
World and Story
CDPR has a reputation for building living worlds and great stories.
2077 largely succeeds on this point. I’ve seen complaints about how living the world feels, and it’s definitely true that in a gameplay sense there are definite issues with how NPC crowds work. NCPD officers teleport in when V looks away. Only a handful of buildings have interiors, usually ones with some story role.
But I don’t think these are major issues.
Every part of Night City has its own flavor. You feel different in the different parts of the game world, even if the changes are subtle. Different cars on the street, different fashion, different radio stations. Even going between built-up urban centers and the sprawling outskirts of Night City feels like a major change.
The story, likewise, has its own flavor. There are dozens of memorable quest-lines, though I won’t spoil anything here. The romance partners all offer major quests, even if they’re not interested in the player’s customized V, and I found them all highly engaging.
Further, the side-quests are great. They’re divided into gigs, which often have a surprising level of depth, and more story-oriented side jobs.
Gigs can basically be excuses for gunplay, but the side jobs all feature interesting characters. I’d be interested in seeing just how many different ways the stories can unfold.
The main storyline is good, though I feel like I need to put an asterisk in there.
All the emotional beats of the main thread of the story land strong. There are a couple places where individual lines of dialogue felt like they were referencing things or taking a tone that didn’t fit what had happened, but the actual story itself progressed logically.
The endings are where the problems come. While the unsatisfying endings are clearly foreshadowed, they definitely feel like a lot of decisions are unfolding outside your control. Sometimes the storytelling elements (e.g. camera cuts, in one case) feel overwrought and ham-fisted. Other times V just does things that I as a player wouldn’t do. Previous decisions theoretically lead in that direction, but things that are supposed to feel hardcore and cool feel like the last thing I would’ve done.
Or, in short: V doesn’t get the same connection to the world you do, and the post-finale actions they take aren’t really up to you, though the finale itself is. As a result, the game seems scripted to distance V from everyone not directly involved in the path the player chooses, even if the player wouldn’t.
Barring a little open world fatigue, I have zero complaints about the gameplay in 2077.
In fact, I’d actually say that the gameplay is one of the best parts of a game that has some real shining gems in other areas.
While it’s not really dedicated to letting you play a nonlethal and stealth approach to everything, Cyberpunk gives lots of options. Attribute and perk points make your chosen path much superior to the alternatives, so specialization definitely gets locked in at a certain point.
However, the organically leveling skills and honestly superb gunplay feel like innovations. Almost every major RPG or FPS seems to have played a positive role in the development of Cyberpunk’s gameplay.
Movement is fluid to where I’d often parkour instead of driving. Gunplay feels smooth. The guns themselves seem to be arbitrarily anemic for the first bit of the game, but by the second hour of gameplay I didn’t notice any issues with pulling the trigger and waiting for bars to deplete versus feeling like I was in a gunfight.
Quickhacks feel like the best part of EA’s failed Syndicate reboot, where you can do nasty things to your adversaries in lieu of or as a complement to gunfire and melee attacks.
I didn’t use melee combat much, but I enjoyed it when I did. Combined with the smooth movement and stealth mechanics, bonking enemies with a gold-plated baseball bat is an actual strategy.
Plus, picking up an HMG or special weapon feels like a real power trip. At one point I gained an anti-tank rifle with exploding rounds. Disassembling enemies from a city block away, even without investing many perk points into the rifle tree, was a marvelous experience.
Also, that V’s phone lets you call fixers and contacts without going to them directly is a welcome break from the usual side-quest backtrack. I think this can be a source of some frustration when you don’t get to have the personal face-to-face like Geralt would in The Witcher, but overall it’s a plus.
I mentioned GeForce Now earlier, because on a high-end system 2077 is absolutely beautiful. I played just a couple segments on Nvidia’s streaming service, but what I played was a phenomenal experience.
I’d roughly sum up my experience with the graphics by saying that on a moderate system the graphics are at average or above average quality. The fidelity is something that you’d expect from the coming generation if you leave out emerging technologies like ray-tracing and accelerated up-scaling that permit some neat tricks.
The one caveat that I’d add is that sometimes Cyberpunk pops and sometimes it doesn’t.
There are definite distinctions between the best and worst looking parts of Night City, and I’m not just talking about aesthetics.
Only technical issues might cause a noticeable quality decrease on the textures and models side, but the aesthetics and views just differ greatly.
The badlands outside Night City are an example of this, as is the night/day cycle. Daytime Cyberpunk can be beautiful, but there are times and places where it stands out better than others.
Some of this is just a natural consequence, sure. There’s something about rain at dusk that is perfect on-brand cyberpunk. It’s not the same as driving through the city on a clear day. I felt like all the story missions looked better than the open world gameplay, and this wasn’t because of any technical wizardry. It was just that they scripted the times and places to give the right feel.
With that said, the graphics for action are tremendous. Gunfire and smoke feel right. Dark places shine in particular, making stealth sections feel great.
And there’s perfect aesthetics almost everywhere. The outskirts of Night City could stand something of an overhaul (Mad Max proved this is possible!), but even there the scripted sequences shine. Arasaka corporate buildings, high-end clothing shops, urban sprawl, and even underwater areas feel right, though there isn’t much submerged action in the game to show them off.
The soundtrack for Cyberpunk 2077 is astonishing. I started listening to the excerpts of the soundtrack that released before the game, and since then I’ve been listening to the OST both in and out of game.
I don’t care as much for the radio, but that’s a matter of taste. It seems odd that a cyberpunk game wouldn’t embrace at least one synthwave station, but I preferred the radios as ambience through the world rather than accompaniment to driving around Night City.
And the sound really makes Night City come alive. It’s got the tailored feeling of a game, not real sound of a city with all the cacophony you might expect, but it’s got the right cues to place you in the scene.
Combat feels good, too. Vehicles sound right. It’s not something I’m usually particularly aware of unless it goes wrong, so I’ll cut this section short.
The technical issues didn’t bother me as I played through 2077.
The UI did.
There are lots of little nit-picky things. While aesthetically pleasing, the UI is often not particularly functional.
The inventory has some notable issues. I had issues previewing weapon stats, which would require me to open up the crafting menu to get full details on items. Sometimes deconstructing items wouldn’t result in a UI update. Weapon and armor mod effects were often not clear.
With that said, the basic functionality was intuitive, if limited in terms of usability as one plays through the game a lot.
Crafting is the biggest pain. Both making things (welcome to rare upgrade module crafting) and disassembling things suck. The lack of a batch function for crafting is notable, while the disassembly of lots of single items takes longer than it should, especially with the UI not being fully responsive all the time.
The UI sounds are tolerable, though by 50-60 hours they outstay their welcome.
Cyberpunk 2077 gets a solid 9/10 and change from me, and the remaining progress to a 10/10 is a fairly easy grab if future patches and free DLC deliver.
My number one complaint was that it was often over without closure. Once you complete a side-quest line, there’s no change in the world, no lasting relationship. By the end of the game I felt like V was alone in the world; calls went to voice-mail, I could walk through NPCs’ houses and apartments without seeing them, and the world became a ghost town stripped of places to interact.
Some of that was because I put every hostile NPC in Night City in early retirement, but it was still an eerie feeling. I rarely feel like random encounters improve an experience, but I would’ve given money to get jumped by scavs or stopped by a pleading NPC as the exclamation mark map points disappeared.
Shame: How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country came out in 2015, but it remains as relevant as ever as an analysis of race and the political divisions that have become inflamed in America.
Shame is autobiography interspersed with historical and political context, making it a book that is more interesting, though perhaps less dryly academic, than the work of many others like Thomas Sowell (in, for example, The Quest for Cosmic Justice).
Steele follows a similar trajectory to Sowell; starting out as a young black man in America and then experiencing a world that had prejudged him. Steele’s account of racism shows how even those who perceived themselves as enlightened took part in bigotry and were unwilling to make personal sacrifices to reach the proper standard of just behavior.
And like Sowell, Steele brings his concerns with the political machinations of the modern left to the table. As a staunch advocate of individual rights and reforms, he argues that the philosophical and intellectual leaders among the conservatives have undertaken a noble quest to remove injustice and create a more perfect system.
He compares this perspective–the perspective of his father–with the modern belief that the past oppressions of America have shown it to be unfit and that only radical changes can improve society.
In 2015, this might have been derided as a strawman of the left, but recent events have shown Steele’s judgment to be eerily prescient.
His experiences with student radicalism and the Black Panthers in exile play a prominent role in forming his perception of the left, and one of the fundamental distinctions that he cites is the question of American exceptionalism: the idea that something novel about liberty, freedom, and self-reliance has been responsible for America being distinct from other countries.
Steele is less focused on the nature of American exceptionalism–he discusses it only in passing–but it is the divide between the political right, who see the exceptionalism as something that makes America worth preserving, and the political left, who are cynical about whether it even exists that forms the underlying foundation of the work.
Although it is less academically rigorous and more anecdotal than some other books written by prominent conservative voices on race in society, Shame is an important contribution to the corpus. Perhaps it is exactly the personal nature, the intersection between the world and the man, that makes it as powerful and valuable as it is.
For the kids: It’s not a light text, but it blends personal interest and useful information. Shame includes accounts of real events and quotes that might trouble younger readers.
Who will enjoy it?
Conservatives seeking an answer to Critical Race Theory-derived views on the American history of race. People who like biographies with a touch of extra cerebral material. It’s well-written enough to hold broad appeal to audiences as a relevant text to understanding the American experience.
Thomas Sowell is one of the most prominent American conservatives, and his The Quest for Cosmic Justice is a testament to why he’s achieved that status.
Sowell breaks down the distinction between what one could call the conservative (e.g. Austrian economics, universalist theories of law) plan to improve the lives of all Americans and the progressive (e.g. Keynesian/Rawlsian) method.
He focuses primarily on the concept of justice, and where he feels that progressives have gotten things wrong.
I will not seek to replicate Sowell’s argument, but the points that stood out to me are:
The statistics and factors that lead into poverty (and why the Rawlsian approach should not be applied in particular to race and gender, as is in vogue with progressives)
The distinction between traditional justice which seeks redress for grievances regarding crimes committed by individuals, and cosmic justice (which is more in line with modern “social justice” theory) which seeks to balance outcomes across a broad variety of people.
The hazards of creating power structures required to seek cosmic justice; both in their propensity to create unintended consequences and tools for people who seek to abuse power.
Sowell’s work is brilliant at building a case and offering a well-read insight to social and political philosophies. However, if you want vibrant delivery, you may find his lectures, debates, and interviews more engaging.
In Sowell’s defense, the reason for the dryness of this book is that it is short for the level of content it delivers. While much of the book has interest, it relies more on the logic of its arguments and high-level analysis. This is not to imply that it leaves out key details. It just doesn’t have Hayek’s fervor or Steele’s personal connection that can bring some more engagement to a reader-unfriendly subject when it delves into economics.
With that said, I have more than a passing interest in economics, political philosophy, law, and cultural issues, which makes me the ideal target audience for Sowell’s work.
One note for audiences in 2020 might be to point out that Sowell refers to progressive thought primarily in the Rawlsian sense. While modern critical theorists build on this foundation, they have philosophical distinctions. Sowell’s arguments are still valid regardless, but you might find that postmodernists have different values than Rawls did.
For the kids: If they have an interest in the subject. It’s not the most engaging and thrilling read, but it’s good solid stuff.
Who will enjoy it?
Political philosophy types, economists. If you’re a fan of Sowell, this is a classic work of his. It’s in the vein of Hayek’s blend of economics, political theory, and philosophy as seen in The Road to Serfdom, with a stronger emphasis on America in specific.
Snow Crash is a book as old as I am. Cyberpunk is a genre noted for capturing a certain zeitgeist, the ennui of the late 20th century measuring up the anxieties and hopes of the digital explosion. We’re about three decades late for it.
I find myself hooked with the first paragraph.
Teenage rebellion. High-speed, high-octane identity crisis. Swords. It plugs straight into adrenaline and plenty of it.