Society

As we return to serial experiments lain, the voice-over for Layer 07: Society tells us, “Just between you and me, let me tell you what’s happening, what’s beginning to take place in our society without you ever even being vaguely conscious of it.” In this episode, we’re introduced to Nezumi and his rad portable computer, as well as a few of the Knights. Alice talks to Lain on the school rooftop, again about her social withdrawal. The MIBs take Lain to a Tachibana General Laboratories office; they have a discussion about the Wired and he questions Lain about her identity.

Let’s start with Lain’s progress. At the beginning of the episode she notes that “the me in the Wired is […] becoming less and less like me.” She also comments that her sister has been acting strangely, though she doesn’t seem to connect it with the apparition of Mika she saw in the doorway in Layer 05. Anyway, at school Lain says to herself “The real world isn’t real at all,” having apparently internalised the Knights’ message to her. One nice touch in the following conversation with Alice is that she actually takes Lain’s hand, as a sign of friendship but also serving as a reminder to Lain that of course the real world exists – she can feel Alice’s hand right now. It’s the common sense counter to Lain’s digital solipsism.


Not that this lasts too long. At the end of the episode the Tachibana boss asks Lain seemingly simple questions like when her parents’ birthdays are, how they met, and when and where she was born, and Lain starts to panic when she can’t answer them. Interestingly, Lain’s personality changes at this point into the aggressive, irritable Lain of the Wired that we saw in Cyberia. She said at the beginning of the episode that this online version of herself is becoming less like her, yet she’s becoming more like that Wired version of herself. What seems to be happening is that Lain doesn’t like this persona and so wants to distance herself from it, yet as the boundary between the Wired and the real world continues to dissolve her personae unite rather than separate.

We can also gather that that line is dissolving because of the news report which tells us it may arrive “tomorrow, or possibly yesterday.” Even time is affected by the Wired.

As for Nezumi, I admit that I like this character a lot, even if he only lasts this one episode. He’s apparently skilled enough to get into one of the Knights’ discussion channels, but presumably they kill him because he’s too much of a crank to let in. He has that very human desire to be recognised and applauded by high status people, and the Knights are the highest status group on the Wired. Unfortunately, he’s merely an opportunist who’ll say or do whatever he thinks the Knights want to hear, and so they rightfully don’t want him. Of course, it’s wise for any organisation to carefully filter who they let in, especially if they plan to do anything of importance. Quality over quantity!

One last thing I’d like to address is a comment from the Tachibana boss. “Some say that the Wired doesn’t have political borders like the real world. But there are far too many nonsense-spouting anarchists or idiots who think that pranks are a revolution.” He adds that the Knights are not such a group and so are more serious, but his observation was certainly true in the techno-utopian 1990s and remains true today.

One excellent source of examples is Douglas Rushkoff’s 1994 book Cyberia (yes, this is where lain’s night club takes its name). In it, Rushkoff interviews several hackers who attack major corporations, or even steal debit card information from sufficiently well-off people. What, though, have they accomplished? Not a damn thing. All they did was annoy some businessmen and keep some IT departments busy.

They also discuss the promise of open communication and access to information that the internet could provide. However, today the internet certainly has its political borders in the form of various cliques and specialised websites, and these groups even wage war against each other in the form of memes (in the broad sense, not just image macros), trolling, DDOS attacks, and the like. This is especially true if one hangs around fringe groups, though cyberian warfare does occasionally spill over into normie territory.

Have these newer would-be revolutionaries, though, been any more successful than the people Rushkoff interviewed? Well, it’s actually hard to say. Dunking on someone on Twitter or getting a web host to drop service for an enemy site may not accomplish much on its own, but the internet is mature and widespread enough that it’s likely had some effect. For example, there was a lot of excitement around the alt-Right and how they supposedly helped elect Donald Trump in 2016 but this seems to me dubious, and the large majority of normies are only vaguely aware of any of the tribal warfare happening on Twitter, blog comboxes, and other places. However, there are also people who first became aware of non-mainstream political ideas through meme warfare. As entertaining as it is to watch someone have xir day ruined by some troll with an anime avatar (appropriately, sometimes even with a Lain avatar), whether that’s enough to make a long-term difference is still impossible to say.…

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Plato’s Dialogues: Menexenus

If you’re wondering how I managed to write up another post on Plato’s dialogues so quickly after the last one, the answer is that this is Menexenus, which is both very short (twelve pages in the Bollingen Series edition), and because it’s not quite like Plato’s other work. It begins with Socrates meeting an acquaintance, Menexenus, who is on his way back from the Agora. There is to be a public funeral soon, so a speaker must be chosen for the occasion. Menexenus mentions the short amount of time speakers have to prepare for these things, but Socrates points out that such speeches are often ready-made and easy for a decent orator to compose quickly. It’s also not difficult to win the audience’s approval, since this genre of speech typically involves praising the deceased and the city he came from. As Socrates puts it:

SOCRATES: The speakers praise [the deceased] for what he has done and for what he has not done—that is the beauty of them—and they steal away our souls with their embellished words; in every conceivable form they praise the city; and they praise those who died in war, and all our ancestors who went before us; and they praise ourselves also who are still alive, until I feel quite elevated by their laudations, and I stand listening to their words, Menexenus, and become enchanted by them, and all in a moment I imagine myself to have become a greater and nobler and finer man than I was before. […]

MENEXENUS: You are always making fun of the rhetoricians, Socrates; this time, however, I am inclined to think that the speaker who is chosen will not have much to say, for he has been called upon to speak at a moment’s notice, and he will be compelled almost to improvise.

SOCRATES: But why, my friend, should he not have plenty to say? Every rhetorician has speeches ready made; nor is there any difficulty in improvising that sort of stuff. Had the orator to praise Athenians among Peloponnesians, or Peloponnesians among Athenians, he must be a good rhetorician who could succeed and gain credit. But there is no difficulty in a man’s winning applause when he is contending for fame among the persons whom he is praising.…

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Kids

Time for another episode of serial experiments lain. The voice-over for Layer 06: Kids tells us, “If people can connect to one another, even the smallest of voices will grow loud. If people can connect to one another, even their lives will grow longer. So…” The episode proper begins with Mr. Iwakura watching Lain stare blankly into a monitor, but we then switch to Lain’s point-of-view in the Wired, where she’s having a nice chat with the Knights, though only her side of the conversation is audible. At school, Alice expresses concern that Lain is regressing to her old self, so they hang out after class. A few times in the episode we see children looking up to the sky with arms outstretched, and at one point see a figure of Lain in the sky.

Lain tracks down Prof. Hodgson, who she finds in a nice villa somewhere in the Wired. He explains the K.I.D.S. system, and that someone has figured out a way to use it to harness psi energy even without the need for K.I.D.S. hardware. Back in her room, Lain asks out loud to no visible audience what the point of it all is, believing it must be the Knights behind this. The MIBs return and when Lain goes out to confront them, there’s an explosion in her room, which they tell her was the work of the Knights.…

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Plato’s Dialogues: Euthydemus

I’ve been ignoring our friend Socrates lately, offering the excuse that I’m just too busy. That’s no way to treat a friend, though, so I’ve made some time to catch up with him and Plato, this time with the dialogue Euthydemus. It may not be Plato’s most insightful dialogue, but I do think it’s his most entertaining. Translator Benjamin Jowett even says that it’s “apt to be regarded by us only as an elaborate jest.” If you’re a fan of rhetorical gymnastics and watching people get verbally dunked on, then this is the dialogue for you.

Euthydemus is another work with a framing device, this time beginning with our old friend Crito asking Socrates who he’d been speaking with earlier that day; there’d been such a crowd gathered around that Crito couldn’t even get close enough to hear the conversation. Socrates had, it seems, met with the Sophists Euthydemus and his older brother Dionysodorus. After hearing them brag of their own wisdom, he, not quite seriously, I’m sure, asks them to teach his young friends Cleinias and Ctesippus, who were there with him. As Euthydemus begins to question Cleinias, though, Dionysodorus whispers to Socrates, “Whichever he answers, I prophesy that he will be refuted, Socrates.”

Say it with me, everyone:

It’s a trap!

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Distortion

Buckle up, because this is where serial experiments lain starts to get weird. Layer 05: Distortion’s voice-over says, “If you can hear it, then it’s speaking to you. If you can see it, it’s yours to have.” The first part is true enough. The episode proper begins with the disembodied voice of Eiri Masami lamenting that mankind can no longer evolve, and tells Lain that he’s “God.” Lain speaks to a series of apparitions of a doll, a mask, her mother, and her father, each of whom speculates on prophecy and the nature of the Wired. At school, Lain’s friends ask about a hack she apparently did of the city’s traffic system, but Lain has no memory of it. Mika keeps seeing the message “Fulfill the prophecy” and is replaced by a double at the end of the episode.

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Religion

Time for more serial experiments lain. In Layer 04: Religion the cityscape voice-over tells us, “I don’t need parents. Humans are connected to no one, nobody at all.” Mika, Mr. Iwakura, and Alice and friends all note in this episode that Lain has changed, as she’s both livelier and more obsessed with the Wired. Lain’s classmates discuss another apparent suicide, which we learn is connected to a game called Phantoma. The MIBs show up again, but this time Lain notices them and scares them off by destroying the shorter man’s lens, seemingly telepathically. There is also another sequence of speculation on the Knights and various rumours from the Wired.

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Cardinal Newman on Education and Journalism

Other obligations prevent me from writing up a full post this week, but rather than skipping a post entirely (other than the already completed lain20th series) I thought I’d turn over the blog to Bl. John Henry Newman. Below are a few excerpts from the preface to his excellent book The Idea of a University, in which he discusses the general purpose of education and, in particular in this section, contrasts it with those who have merely the appearance of an education.

[T]hese Discourses are directed simply to the consideration of the aims and principles of Education. Suffice it, then, to say here, that I hold very strongly that the first step in intellectual training is to impress upon a boy’s mind the idea of science, method, order, principle, and system; of rule and exception, of richness and harmony. This is commonly and excellently done by making him begin with Grammar; nor can too great accuracy, or minuteness and subtlety of teaching be used towards him, as his faculties expand, with this simple purpose. Hence it is that critical scholarship is so important a discipline for him when he is leaving school for the University. A second science is the Mathematics: this should follow Grammar, still with the same object, viz., to give him a conception of development and arrangement from and around a common centre. Hence it is that Chronology and Geography are so necessary for him, when he reads History, which is otherwise little better than a storybook. Hence, too, Metrical Composition, when he reads Poetry; in order to stimulate his powers into action in every practicable way, and to prevent a merely passive reception of images and ideas which in that case are likely to pass out of the mind as soon as they have entered it. Let him once gain this habit of method, of starting from fixed points, of making his ground good as he goes, of distinguishing what he knows from what he does not know, and I conceive he will be gradually initiated into the largest and truest philosophical views, and will feel nothing but impatience and disgust at the random theories and imposing sophistries and dashing paradoxes, which carry away half-formed and superficial intellects.…

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Psyche

Ready for more serial experiments lain? In Layer 03: Psyche the beginning voice-over tells us “There’s a girl named Lain. You may have heard of her. She’s on the Wired.” The episode proper begins at a police station, where an officer is questioning Lain about the incident at Cyberia. He tells her that no one at her house has answered the phone, and sh isn’t sure why. When she does get home, no one is there and it seems almost too neat, like a hotel room. Alice apologises to Lain, and the next day at school the girls are talking oddly lightly about what had happened, which Alice later points out as rather strange, considering that a man killed himself right in front of them.

This line of conversation is interrupted when Alice notices that Lain received an envelope in her locker, which turns out to be a computer processor. Lain asks her father what it is, and he (not quite believably) claims he doesn’t know, so she returns to Cyberia to ask Taro and his friends, who she’d briefly encountered in the previous episode. Taro, player that he is, says as payment for this information he wants a date with the “wild” version of Lain. That night, Mika encounters the Men in Black at the front door of their home; she tells her mother who, as usual, is unconcerned. Mika goes upstairs and finds Lain installing the Psyche processor, mostly undressed.

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Notes on the Odyssey

One notable thing about the Iliad is that it inspired a huge number of other poets and playwrights to use it as source material for their own works. Some filled in the gaps left by Homer, since he’d only addressed a relatively small part of the Trojan War, while others covered the adventures of the poem’s heroes after the war. The Greeks themselves were the most prolific and successful at this, but the Romans and even modern authors, musicians, and filmmakers have attempted their own additions and adaptations to the epic. I think it’s safe to say the most celebrated of these attempts was the Aeneid, making Virgil the world’s greatest author of fanfiction, but we’ll get to his work some other time.

Today, I thought I’d share some observations on the only official sequel, the Odyssey. This one needs less of an introduction than the Iliad, since it’s one of the few Classical works still commonly assigned to high school and college students, at least among Americans. I still won’t assume much familiarity – after all, I’m writing in large part for people who’ve finished schooling and are ready for an education. Since it is more accessible than the Iliad, though, I’ll talk about it less formally than I did about that epic and just offer a few observations about it.

So, as you might guess from the title Odyssey follows Odysseus after the Trojan War, whose trip home went about as well as every other hero’s – badly.

Very badly.

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Girls

Let’s continue to the next episode of serial experiments lain. Layer 02: Girls begins with another invitation from a voice-over on the Tokyo cityscape, “What is it you’re so afraid of? Why don’t you take a chance some time?” We’re then introduced to the Cyberia night club, where we see a guy buying and taking a drug called Accela, about which we get our first infodump later in the episode, as well as our first glimpse of Lain of the Wired. Alice and her friends see this alternate Lain and ask the real-world Lain if it was her, but she has no idea what they’re talking about. Alice, friendly girl that she is, invites Lain to join them at Cyberia that night, which takes some prodding. We also see one of the men in black for the first time. Lain’s new Navi is delivered, and she asks her father to set it up right away. At Cyberia, the Accela addict shoots up the place, but Lain confronts him and he kills himself.

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