What Games Should You Be Playing for Halloween? (PC version)

gdvb

Halloween is my favorite holiday. I’ve had a Baba Yaga wallpaper up for over a month, and my house is fully decorated! Last year, we threw a party for the occasion, but unfortunately, this year our jobs got in the way for various reasons. But that won’t stop me from watching scary shows/movies and playing creepy video games. So, I thought I would share some recommendations about games you could play this Halloween, if you prefer an interactive spooky experience! As an aside, if you prefer a haunted house, and live anywhere near Sandusky or Cleveland Ohio, I highly recommend visiting Elyria’s Hauntville. It’s one of the best haunted house experiences I’ve had because they let you go in with just the people you came in with (even if that means just two of you!). Personalized spooks! Now, on to the games….

(note: these are PC games, though some might be on console as well. Most links are to Steam, but Anchorhead is free to play online. Also, Steam puts games like this on sale for Halloween, most years.)

Grim Dawn– This is what I’m playing the most right now. Made by Crate Entertainment, which is made up of a bunch of the people who made the Titan Quest game, this is a fantastic action RPG in the Diablo mode. The setting is gri…..uhhh, dark. It’s otherworldly demons and zombies and mutated beasts, and it’s always nighttime, and gothic. It feels a lot like the first Diablo game, which in my opinion had the best atmosphere. The setting reminds me a bit of the Duskwood zone in World of Warcraft, if that gives you a reference. Gameplay is solid. These guys know how to make you feel like you are really hitting things. If you played Titan Quest, the gameplay and skill trees will feel familiar. The setting is very different, however, and it has some neat updates to the model. Highly recommended.

Anchorhead– This is an interactive text game, which means that it’s all reading and trying to solve a mystery by typing things like ‘get lantern’, ‘light lantern’, and ‘start crying’. These games can be difficult if you haven’t played one before. But if you gamed back in the 80s, you remember Zork, Hitchiker’s Guide, and a bunch of other great text-based games like this. Anchorhead is set in the Lovecraftian town of Anchorhead Maine, where your husband has inherited a new, creepy house from a distant relative….be careful! This is really well written; a great example of the genre, and a nice atmosphere for Halloween.

Vampire: Bloodlines– For a brief number of years, Troika was my favorite developer. Made up of former Black Isle members (Black Isle made the Icewind Dale games), Troika made Arcanum, Temple of Elemental Evil, and Vampire: Bloodlines. These were all very buggy at release, but also fantastic once fixed. All three hold up well, but Vampire takes the White Wolf tabletop RPG and turns it into one of the most atmospheric first person action RPGs you’ll ever play. Worth the price of admission for one scene in particular, which is famous among gamers and perfect for Halloween. Either way though, you’ll be playing as a vampire, tasked with walking the fine line between human and beast in a gothic modern day setting. GREAT music in this one (for example: Cain, by Tiamat).

Amnesia: Dark Descent– First person, atmospheric, survival horror game. This one is the most straight up scary game on this list, most likely. It’s meant to frighten you, though. That’s it’s whole job, and it does it well. Journey into the underground to solve a mystery. Turn off the lights for this one.

Dead Space– How about a similar game in space? Actually, Dead Space is more of a shooter than Amnesia is. You’ll be killing most of the monsters you find here. Plenty of jump scares and atmosphere though, as you find yourself on an abandoned space ship trying to figure out what happened. Not quite as good as System Shock 2, which has a similar premise, but it’s a newer game. SS2 is still well worth playing, especially if you use texture updates. But Dead Space does a pretty great job too! This one is available on consoles too, if you prefer. In fact, that’s how I played it, and it’s great on consoles.

System Shock 2– Since I mentioned it, I might as well list it. This is one of the best games of all time, regardless of theme or genre. It’s a fantastic experience that uses sound better than any game out there, in my opinion (the Thief games, which were made by the same company, come close though!). Definitely play this one….then play it again in a few years. Never gets old. The linked version has the updated textures.

Darkest Dungeon– Here’s an indy gem of a game. Part RPG and part management/survival game, DD is set in a Gothic, Victorian, Steampunk type world. Oooooozing with atmosphere and cynicism. Your characters go insane at the horrors they witness. The developers must love the Cthulhu game. This game has a ton of content for the price, too. High replayability, since it’s a bit of a rogue-like as well.

Well, that’s my list of games you should be playing for Halloween this year. It’s far from complete. You ought to look into the F.E.A.R series as well, especially if you like movies like The Ring, with creepy ghost girls turning your world upside down when you are just trying to engage in some paramilitary combat. The S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games are great for a feeling of desolation and exploration around Chernobyl. I hear Outlast is good, but I haven’t played it, so I can’t say. If you have some other recommendations, let me know! I love scary games.

Oh, if you like console games, give the Fatal Frame series a shot. All of them are great games in the survival horror genre and will help you reconnect to the feelings you had when playing the first Silent Hill game….hopeless terror. Enjoy!

Approaches to Liberty in the 2016 Presidential Election

trumpandclintonwithkids

(image from scholastic.com, used from Fair Use, and to give you a pleasant side of both candidates!)

In the first part of this three part series on the types of liberty, I discussed the two broad categories of negative and positive liberty. In the second part, I showed how the two major U.S. political parties tend to fall with respect to these two versions of liberty. In this final installment, I will apply all of this to the current 2016 Presidential Election, as a way of helping people understand the options.

Before I break down Clinton and Trump, I want to address the two main alternative candidates this year: Gary Johnson and Jill Stein. I’ll be honest. I’m not a fan of either candidate for reasons that go beyond their parties’ platforms. In my opinion, neither is remotely qualified for the job of President. They have no political experience at all, and running companies or being a medical doctor is in no way related to what happens in politics. I understand why some people might want an outsider to come in and shake up the system, but doing this from the top down, by electing an unqualified POTUS, is a big mistake. Neither party has any foothold in Congress, or even state level political entities. That means none of their proposals can actually happen. If either party is serious about changing U.S. politics, they should get involved in local elections first, then state, and then show that they are elements for real, substantive changes. I personally think that both candidates are benefiting from a general cynicism about the two major political parties, and I understand that cynicism. But I don’t think people should let it get in the way of the practical realities that neither Johnson nor Stein can do any of the things they have promised. Nor are their plans well considered.

But this article isn’t about Third Party candidates. If you want to know my thoughts about them, ask, and I will write such an article, or tell you directly.

So, let’s turn to Clinton and Trump. In a very general sense, these candidates will line up with the approaches to liberty that I showed in the previous article. As a Democrat, Clinton will tend to support negative liberty approaches to social/moral issues, allowing people to pursue their own beliefs, while pushing for positive liberty by increasing social safety nets for Americans. As a Republican (loosely), Trump will tend to support negative liberty on economic issues, while trying to increase the feeling of safety in America through stronger immigration laws and policing powers, which is loosely positive liberty. As usual, however, the devil is in the details.

Let’s start with Clinton and look at a few proposals she has made. Clinton’s plan to help solve the growing deficit is to increase taxes on the wealthiest Americans to increase government revenue. According to the Tax Foundation (which is not at all a liberal organization), Clinton’s plan would increase taxes on the wealthiest Americans, including estate taxes (for estates worth over $1billion). All things being equal, this would lead to $1.4 trillion in government revenue over a ten-year period. Of course, things are not always equal, so the Tax Foundation accounted for the fact that increasing taxes on the wealthy could lower the GDP a bit. Once that is accounted for, the revenues are closer to $663 billion, which is still a sizable amount. There are many, unpredictable things that could increase or decrease that number in reality, but this is the closet prediction we are likely to get.

This increased revenue would presumably be used to increase social safety nets, or perhaps pay for the college plan I shall discuss next. Both would be increases in positive liberty for some Americans. However, even Clinton should admit that increasing these taxes will result in lower negative liberty for the people being taxed more. They are now forced to give up more of their money to the government, which means they are not free to spend that money. Any time government gets involved in trying to increase positive liberties, there are most likely going to be some costs in negative liberties. In this particular case, though, that cost only affects a very small number of Americans. Most Americans will see their taxes stay about the same, or lower slightly.

Clinton’s tax plan also increases various deductions (or adds credits) for people with children, including child care expenses. This should result in more negative liberties for those people to spend that money as they wish, rather than having it tied up in childcare. The estate tax exemption will be lowered a bit for individuals and couples, which will affect estates worth $3.5 million for individuals or $7 million for couples, resulting in a loss of negative liberty for such estates to distribute their wealth as they see fit. However, small businesses will see increased deductions and an expansion of ACA benefits, which will increase their negative liberty to spend funds and perhaps their positive liberty to provide healthcare for employees.

One thing that Clinton plans to do with the increased revenues is provide various support programs for people who need help going to college. Her plan does not go as far as Bernie Sanders’s plan to simply make college free, but that plan would have radically changed higher education in the U.S. in unforeseen ways. It also faced an almost impossible uphill battle in Congress. Clinton’s plan may face similar hurdles, but is more layered and nuance. You can view her plan on her website, but in general it is an attempt to use the tax plan above to provide positive liberty for more people to go to college.

Ok, let’s turn to Trump’s tax plan, again using the Tax Foundation website. Trump’s plan aims to stimulate the economy by reducing taxes, especially on the wealthy and corporations. The theory here, which is often called trickle-down economics, is that when wealthier individuals and the corporations they run pay less in taxes, they reinvest the money saved back into the economy. This, in turn grows the economy, which helps everyone, and can (in some cases) increase tax revenues through the greater GDP. Unfortunately, Trump’s plan will lead to a loss of revenue to the government of around $5 trillion, give or take a trillion. That’s if everything stayed equal, but as I noted above, things are not equal. His plan could increase GDP. Once that’s taken into account, the loss of revenues is between $2.6 and $3.9 trillion dollars. A reminder that the Tax Foundation is not favoring Clinton here. It’s just analyzing the plans as they are presented. The top 1% of Americans will see a 10% or more growth in their income.

As noted above, more income in pocket means more negative liberty spend your money as you wish. Arguably, it also means more positive freedoms, as those with more income can accomplish more. However, this is not the same as positive liberty, which is about government aiding people in achieving goals. In fact, Trump’s plan will lower tax revenues, which means government spending must be cut in order to avoid raising the deficit even more. Those cuts are likely to go to safety net spending, though he could reduce military spending to achieve the needed cuts. In any case, cutting government spending lowers positive liberty by definition, since the government can no longer provide the services that rely on that income. Whether that is a good or bad thing depends on your views on government.

Trump has argued that his plan will increase American jobs, which would be a big benefit, if true. You can read about this claim, and its skeptics in this PBS article. Trump has also said that he plans to eliminate some of the international trade deals that have been created in the last couple of decades, again in order to boost American businesses. Whether this will work depends on your view of the current global economy. Can the easy flow of international goods be constrained at this point in history? I’m personally skeptical that it could, or even that it should. However, I absolutely sympathize with Trump’s view that American companies are finding it hard to compete with the lower labor costs found in other countries. Whether a President can solve that problem through tariffs, embargoes, taxes, or whatever other methods Trump might intend to use (he’s often secretive about the specifics of his plans) is dubious, in my opinion. However, if he did pull this off, it would be an increase in job opportunities for Americans, which is an increase in positive liberties. Government policies would then be aiding Americans in finding meaningful work. I just don’t think it will work.

At this point, my own biases are probably pretty clear, but I want to note that I do not inherently disagree with the Republican view of economics through deregulation. Historically, we have good evidence that trickle-down economics doesn’t work, but I am sympathetic to the view, first posited by Adam Smith, that government interference in the economy often has unforeseen negative results. I’m skeptical because I don’t think Trump has ever read Smith, or any other economist, for that matter. I’m skeptical because I don’t think he is even listening to the GOP anymore, or his advisers, or anyone else. I’m skeptical because as far as I can tell, Trump has made a career off of false promises and cheating other people out of their money.

As a result, this particular entry in my three-part series is probably off the rails. I’ve tried to be balanced between the two candidates on these liberty issues, but I would find it a lot easier to be balanced if I were writing about Romney or McCain as the GOP candidate, because those candidates had viable plans that were grounded in reality. I might not have agreed with all of their plans (I don’t agree with all of Clinton’s, either), but I understood them. I don’t understand Trump’s plan (go to his website, and figure it out for yourself), and neither does the Tax Foundation, as far as I can tell. It’s baffling.

Applying the Two Concepts of Liberty to U.S. Political Parties

libertybell

In the previous article, I discussed the two concepts of liberty in a political context: negative liberty, which is when there are no political obstacles in the way of our choices, and positive liberty, which is when the state aids us in achieving our goals. Like any quick definition, I’m oversimplifying both concepts a bit, for the sake of clarity and concision. But the basic concept holds and shows the difference between being allowed to do something versus being able to do something.

As a quick reminder, then, most of the Bill of Rights are negative liberties, which tell us things the government cannot do. It cannot arrest us for speaking our minds; it cannot prevent us from bearing arms; it cannot force us to incriminate ourselves in court. Positive liberties in the U.S. also takes many forms: public education gives us the tools we need for a successful life; public roads give us ways to get places; federal grants and student loans help us go to college.

Unfortunately, some of these liberties may conflict, both with each other, and with other values that we hold dear in society. For example, you might feel that you have a right to keep your children from hearing certain viewpoints, with which you disagree, but those children also have a right to public education, which might include some of those viewpoints. A fairly recent example that is still causing controversy is freedom of religion versus tolerance of alternate lifestyles. On the one hand, people with deeply held religious convictions believe that the First Amendment should allow them to deny services to others on religious grounds (the obvious example is denying services to homosexual couples because of a religious belief that homosexuality is a sin). On the other hand, the people being denied these services see themselves as being discriminated against for something that is a critical part of their identity, something they cannot simply change.

Resolving these conflicts can be very difficult, because any compromise will involve one or both sides feeling that their liberties have been violated. Isaiah Berlin, whom I discussed in the previous post, believed that some of these conflicts cannot be resolved without loss. In other words, he thought that we are constantly making hard choices among our values in cases of conflict. Such decisions result in a tragedy of sorts; we cannot maximize all of our values at the same time. We must make sacrifices.

But those sacrifices become especially problematic, politically speaking, in cases where the conflict is not within a single person or group but between individuals and groups. And this is where political divide emerges. One political party promises support for one group, while the other sides with the other group.

We can see this pretty clearly in the case of religious freedom versus tolerance for homosexuality mentioned above. For the most part, the Republican Party has found itself on the religious freedom side of the debate, which pleases the Evangelical segment of its base. The Democrat Party has tended to side with the LGBTQ community in opposing legislation that allows discrimination based on religious belief.

If we put this debate into liberty terms, we can see that both sides are fighting for liberty, while accusing the other side of trying to deny liberties. And both sides are right about that….to an extent. Whatever decision we, as a society, reach here, some people will have their liberties reduced and others will see their liberties protected (or expanded).

So let’s look at a few key social issues that are happening in the U.S. right now and try to categorize how the parties view these issues in terms of negative and positive liberties. A few of these will be obvious, but others might surprise you (check the abortion one, for example). As always, these are my views/observations. In each case, I have tried to present the position from the perspective of that party. I am not saying the party is right or wrong; I am only putting their view into negative or positive liberty terms. You are free to disagree with my categorizations in the comments. Just explain why, please! (note that I included ‘Libertarians’ in order to get a third party involved; I chose them over the Green Party because they tend to get more of the vote and because they’ve named themselves after liberty!)

 

Issue Republicans Democrats Libertarians
Abortion Positive- seek to protect right of the unborn to become born (to live) Negative- seek to protect the right of women to choose whether to give birth Negative- could vary, but in general want govt. to stay out of it, and allow choice
Racial Equality Negative- believe the market should take care of this, and equality is up to those who want it. Positive- believe some minorities need extra aid to make up for disadvantage starting points Negative- again, want govt. to stay out of this.
Gun Control Negative- support the right to buy weapons with minimal restrictions Positive- support restrictions in order to protect people from gun violence Negative- seeing a trend here? Govt. go away!!!
Healthcare Negative- favors existing marketplace method, with private insurance Positive- favors public options to ensure that everyone gets access, regardless of wealth Negative- favors full marketplace approach, completely privatized in every way (in theory, no Medicaid/Medicare)
Gender Equality Negative- generally leaves this up to corporations, opposing govt. mandates and quotas Positive- promotes gender equality through various aid programs and restrictions against discrimination Negative- surprise! No govt. involvement at all; total merit based capitalism
Gay Marriage Positive- varies, but more likely to promote legal restrictions on gay marriage in order to protect sanctity of marriage Negative- govt. should allow any consenting adults to marry, regardless of sexual orientation (some include gender identity in this as well) Negative- similar to Democrats, but more likely to include gender identity as well; again, govt. shouldn’t decide this.
Marijuana Positive- favors restrictions in order to protect people from drug use, thus ensuring a better life Negative- varies a lot! More likely to promote loosened restrictions on certain drugs Negative- goes even further; would likely allow any and all drugs to be legal, but would still keep restrictions on DUI (at least Johnson would…his party is all over the place on this one)

Of course, couching all of these issues in terms of liberty, whether negative or positive liberty, is overly reductive. These are complex issues, with many facets. The chart above is meant to illustrate that each major party focuses on a mixture of what could be viewed as enhancing negative or positive liberty, depending on the issue. Libertarianism presents a nice contrast, because it’s a view that is focused almost solely on negative liberty. Basically, libertarians want the government to protect the country from external threats and protect citizens from direct domestic violence. Other than that, they want little or no government involvement.

If you disagree with how I have characterized any of these viewpoints, let me know. I am not asserting that any of these approaches is the correct approach to take. My goal is to help people understand the ways in which our politicians talk past each other and confuse issues by using the term ‘liberty’ in a very sloppy way. As Americans, we all value liberty; we just value it in different ways.

In Part 3 of this series, I’ll look at the specific issues that are happening in this year’s (2016) election. I know I can’t wait……..

 

There are Two Types of Liberty

libertybell

(image by historicphiladelphia.org)

As we near the November election and tensions continue to rise between the supporters of the two major U.S. political parties, one thing is increasingly clear. Most people do not fully understand what the term ‘liberty’ means. More importantly, most do not realize that there are different senses of the term. Many of the arguments I see online involve this basic confusion, and it was present in the first Presidential debate as well.

While many writers have discussed the nuances of the term ‘liberty’, the historian of ideas, Isaiah Berlin, has probably done the best job of explaining why we must be very careful with this term. In a speech he gave upon receiving a professorship at Oxford, Berlin presented his “Two Concepts of Liberty”, which was later turned into an essay on the subject.

Berlin believes that the term is easily misused because people often use it to represent two different notions of liberty, neither one of which is more right than the other, but each of which would lead you to very different conclusions about the role of government. He labels these two approaches ‘negative liberty’ and ‘positive liberty’. Before I explain each approach, I should note that ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ in this context do not mean good or bad. As you will see, ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ more closely resemble something like passive versus active approaches to helping people enjoy freedom in their lives. Also, for this discussion, ‘liberty’ will refer to the ways in which government affects the freedom of citizens. In other words, ‘liberty’ is a political issue, while ‘freedom’ is what a person or group of persons experience.

Negative liberty is “the absence of obstacles to possible choices and activities” (Berlin Four Essays on Liberty pg. xxxix). In other words, we enjoy negative liberty in a civil society when nobody and nothing are standing in the way of our potential choices. The state (government) can enhance negative liberty by creating rights that prevent the government from interfering in certain aspects of our lives.

Many of the Constitutional amendments found in the Bill of Rights would fall under negative liberty. For example, the right to free speech means that the government will not impede (i.e. put obstacles in the way of) our ability to say what we wish to say. The right to bear arms means that the government will not prevent you from purchasing weapons. The Third Amendment means that the state cannot force you to let military personnel stay in your home (I guess this was a big problem once!). Each of these rights creates a space within which you are free from government interference.

Of course, there could be other issues that prevent you from fully enjoying these liberties. The government may not prevent you from speaking, but that doesn’t mean anyone will listen to what you say. It doesn’t guarantee that you will have an audience, or that you will speak well, or even that you, personally, will be able to speak at all. If you are rendered mute by birth or accident, the First Amendment does not mean that the government must pay for medical procedures to correct that issue. Similarly, the right to bear arms does not guarantee that you will have the money to purchase or gun, or the ability to shoot straight!

Negative liberties are labelled ‘negative’ because they are about the absence of interference. They tell us what the government may not do. In most cases, this requires no action on the part of the government. In fact, many of these liberties are guaranteeing you that the government will not act; think of it as a negation of action.

Positive liberty, on the other hand, is our ability actually to achieve our goals. Berlin associates it with the notion of self-mastery (very similar to Kant’s idea of ‘autonomy’, which is about self-control through following the rational will).

A civil state can increase positive liberty by providing citizens with various aids to help them achieve their goals in life. A great example of this in the U.S. is the public education system, which is meant to provide all citizens with the basic learning that is needed to function in our society and pursue a meaningful and productive life. Another example is roads, which allow us to get where we want to be more easily. More controversial examples would include things like welfare, social security, food stamps, etc. These safety nets and savings aids are meant to ensure that no American falls below a certain minimal state of living, since a complete lack of money, housing, or food makes achieving a decent life nearly impossible in our society.

If negative liberty can be thought of as non-interference by the state, then positive liberty can be thought of as those times when the state helps you achieve certain goals. In other words, providing positive liberty requires activity on the part of government. In most cases, this means it also requires tax dollars.

At this point, you are probably associating each approach to liberty with a particular political party. You might be thinking that Republicans tend to focus on negative liberty, while Democrats focus on positive liberty, especially since I presented welfare as an example of positive liberty. In many cases, that perception is not far off, but like any oversimplification, it is misleading.

Both negative and positive liberties are valued by pretty much all humans. We all want some degree of freedom to make our own decisions, but that freedom is pretty useless if we lack the means for carrying out those choices. The government isn’t stopping you from buying a home, but that doesn’t mean you have the money (or credit) to do so.

In practice, both Republicans and Democrats value both negative and positive liberty, just like their constituents do. However, they tend to focus on one or the other, depending on the particular issue. For example, Republicans tend to lean toward increasing negative liberties for businesses. They advocate for lower restrictions on businesses. Donald Trump, in the first Presidential debate, said that businesses are being stifled by government regulations, and he would remove many of those restrictions in order to facilitate a freer market.

On the flip side, Hillary Clinton emphasized the importance of economic equality, discussing ways in which government might help the less fortunate, such as inner city minorities, achieve their goals through education credits or other government aid. This is consistent with the view that Democrats lean toward positive liberty solutions to problems.

On the other hand, things get murky when we look at social issues. The issue of gay marriage is a great example for illustrating this. In general, Democrats have supported gay rights in recent years by arguing that members of the LGBTQ community should not be restricted in their rights to marry whomever they wish. That seems to be an increase in negative liberty. However, many conservative Republicans have argued that this violates freedom of religion, which is also a negative liberty. The question of marriage itself could be seen as a negative or positive liberty issue, depending on focus. Since the government gives certain tax breaks, and there are other social advantages to marriage, the ability to marry could be seen as a positive liberty, one that enables people to achieve certain goals, or as a negative liberty, where the government cannot tell citizens whom they may marry.

Whichever perspective you take on these matters, what remains true is that different people use the word ‘liberty’ to mean different things at different times. Both Republicans and Democrats believe in the value of liberty. It’s a concept that lies at the core of modern democratic thinking. But we need to understand how easily the term ‘liberty’ can fall into equivocation. Taxing one group of people to provide benefits for another group of people decreases the (negative) liberty of one group for the sake of the (positive) liberty of the other group. When the two senses of liberty come into conflict with each other, each side will accuse the other of devaluing liberty. However, in most such cases, each side is simply valuing a different type of liberty.

In the next installment of this three-part series on the two types of liberty and how it can help us understand this election, I’ll talk more about these conflicts, including how liberty can conflict with other values that we hold dear. I’ll also give more nuance to the different factions within the two major U.S. political parties and the ways that they view liberty. In the third installment, I plan to directly relate all of that to the policies being proposed by the major candidates, so that we can see which of elements of their platforms correspond to which approach to liberty and why. My goal is to help people understand the candidates in the election and what their approaches would mean for America, if implemented.