What The Prisoner Demands

The Times Literary Supplement recently dropped an essay/multi-title book review by Julian Baggini on morality and ethics. (Baggini uses the two words interchangeably. Is this normal in such high-brow discussions?)

I was reminded of The Prisoner by a couple of paragraphs deep in the essay.


Many moral philosophers are at work in this space, trying to show that even if we can’t tidy up every inch, there are more or less rigorous ways of muddling through. One central issue that has preoccupied them for several decades is the possibility that there may be more than one set of legitimate moral values but that these sets might be inconsistent with each other. For example, there is a moral value in individual liberty and also in being bound to a community. Both might be equally reasonable forms of life but to choose one is to reject the other.


Tom Koch treads similar ground in Ethics in Everyday Places. Koch argues that we can’t always avoid “the queasy, inchoate feeling that arises when you’ve done everything right but know you’ve done something wrong”. For Koch, this is the consequence of the conflict between individual moral agency and the demands placed on us by employers, insurers, professions or the state.

Years ago I wrote a five part series of blog posts about The Prisoner, mostly about the AMC reboot, but with plenty of consideration of the original series starring Patrick McGoohan. I’m thinking mainly of McGoohan’s version here. The Prisoner extensively works themes of the mutual duties of the individual and society.

In reading this essay, and those paragraphs in particular, a thought about The Prisoner I hadn’t previously had came to me. The Prisoner is a strange show open to many, sometimes contradictory, allegorical interpretations. Among the most frequently seen interpretations is that, in the final analysis, Our Hero did not, in fact, destroy and escape The Village.

For whatever reason, somehow it never previously occurred to me that Our Hero might not have entered the village as a result of resigning and subsequent kidnap. He might have always been a resident. Or, maybe more sharply, The Village where the events of The Prisoner take place is a more intense version of the ordinary world, the world where we all must live.

In this reading, Our Hero–known throughout the series as Number 6–is, indeed, The Prisoner.

Historically, one of the very common assumptions about The Prisoner is that it is a loose sequel to Secret Agent (aired as Danger Man in USA), and that Number 6 is possibly (probably?) a continuation of that program’s main character, John Drake. There are episodes of The Prisoner which support this interpretation, of course. There is plenty of on-screen evidence that Our Hero was a spy, formerly working on behalf of Western powers, and that The Village we encounter is especially designed to debrief agents with special backgrounds. Additionally, there are strong hints that The Village serves this purpose for “both sides.” This aspect of service to both sides suggests the allegorical idea that The Village we see is a special case of a more general system. In this view, the purpose of The Village is to sustain the system, the network of players, rather than to serve the idiosyncratic  interests of the players. 

The general system is the real world. In the real world each of us has to make our best effort to navigate often conflicting societal demands, where we have to be uniquely ourselves and to subordinate the nearly continuous insistence that we owe the world everything that we do to our own actions when we choose, and how we choose, to acknowledge and support those demands.

Our Hero is the prisoner. When he resigns, one of the first explanations given in the show is that it’s a matter of conscience. This is often seen as a literal issue–he was a spy, didn’t like what his spying was about, and left the job. Then he was taken to The Village in order to clarify the matter more satisfactorily, at least in the minds of The Village’s overseers.

In the allegorical interpretation which popped up for me recently, Our Hero resigns. For a matter of conscience, he resigns. I accept this explanation. His conscience demanded he resign; something about his relationship with the world demanded he stand as himself. Something changed. He realized something, and he had to change.

He is The Prisoner, he is Our Hero. He chooses himself, at least in the timeframe between when he decides to resign and does so. For that time, he chooses himself over the demands of his social network. Then he prepares to travel, to undertake a new life. He will be enmeshed in a different set of obligations. These will be obligations of his choosing. Did he not choose the obligations from which he just resigned? In any event, those plans are waylaid when he is abducted, and brought to The Village. He is drawn back into the forms of his old social network, yet he resists. In The Village, he resists the unwelcome demands of his keepers. In The Village he suspects everyone. In The Village he also protects other people. He enmeshes himself.

The demands of conscience are inescapable, as are the demands of society.

Our Hero is The Prisoner.

Incel ctd. (nuance)

A good friend brought this profile from The Daily Beast to my attention.

It’s long. It’s worth reading because, in forcing the reader to look at a person who identifies as “incel” and is an active participant the the incel online conversations, the reader is forced to also confront certain liberal assumptions.

This reader did, anyway. Incel is abominable. It’s a way of thinking which devalues women utterly, and heaps scorn on men who are outside the incel fold, and then those inside the fold heap scorn on themselves. It’s loathsome from top to bottom.

And also… the people who have this way of thinking are still people. I have, deep in this blog, some posts about the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, and somewhere in that material is probably a consideration of “the inherent worth and dignity of every person.”

And also… the core problem of incel is that it violates that idea. It is build up entirely on the idea that nobody is of worth or dignity, and only the incel is aware of this. The profile considers that the whole thing is deeply ironic and that the incel fold lets this color how they perceive everything. It also considers that the incel reaction is understandable in the face of interpersonal frustrations and abuse from mean people. The author, Mandy Stadtmiller, doesn’t let them off the hook for their odious views.

The point here is that I have a responsibility to engage with those willing to be engaged with. People. But I don’t have a responsibility to sympathize with their odious thoughts, and I don’t have to accept them being advocated in the public sphere.

Enjoying 5/4/every year

Coming to you, straight from your favorite over-exposed long-playing record jacket, a photo you might have a difficult time making out.


This moment of pop-culture graffiti hangs on a railroad overpass in West Michigan, in a place where the light is always bad, and this is today’s photo of it. It has been there since… 197something, I think. As long as I can remember, and I remember when Star Wars was a movie called Star Wars.

I also remember when there was going to be a second movie, and that a really skinny, really blond kid told me its name was going to be A Splinter of the Mind’s Eye. Then he told me about Darth Vader and the volcano. Then he did a magic trick with a ball and a lidded cup. I remember his name was Merlin, which it wasn’t. Probably. Memory is weird.


Incel isn’t about sex, it’s about power

It should not be that difficult to see that a self-identified group which defines itself as victims of ridicule, which denigrates everyone who is not in the group, and which uses the language of violence to outline its aspirations would turn to, and celebrate, violent actions.

This is the incel clique. Incel for involuntary celibate. Involuntary celibates, feeling aggrieved because they cannot find a sexual partner. These are men, aggressively. They are an off-shoot from the vile manipulation movement called PUA, for pick-up artists. PUA promises there’s a formula, a magic way of speaking and moving, which will impel women to have sex. They think they know this formula, and that it is OK, or even vitally important, to use this information in order to obtain sex.

They believe the consent of the women targeted is inherent in woman-ness.

The PUA mindset is bullshit, and incel is an understandable outcome. If you think of women as targets, targets whose sole meaning in the world is to provide sex for guys who know the secret of obtaining it, then–out in the real world–you will find that, no.

Secrets of the Love Ninja
Secrets of the Love Ninja–PUA Parody, The Harpoon, 1995

So when they encounter the inevitable no, they wind up celibate. Involuntarily.

Then, because this is today, they go online, and they vent. And sometimes they kill.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has a great roundup of what is going on in the male supremacy movement of which incel is a facet. It can be difficult to read, triggering language pervades the report because male supremacy is about power and abuse.

Not sex. Ross Douthat has a weirdly off-point response to the mainstream discovery of the dark incel mindset. He begins with a linked reference to Robin Hanson, economist, who looks at the surface obsession of incel with sex, and assumes that that the problem is one of scarcity. There isn’t enough sex to go around, and what can be done about getting more sex into the marketplace of sex so everyone can get all the sex they want? Because sex is a marketplace, you see.

Douthat then spends the rest of his opinion piece developing a “it stands to reason” style argument that, eventually, liberals will discover a right to sex, and use their AWESOME POWERS to force everyone into a sex marketplace. It’s almost as if these two guys think the incel response to reality arises from incels being actually not good at finding sexual partners, just like they’ve been saying all along. Therefore, they go on, the appropriate (or eventually acceptable) response will be to increase the availability of women (or woman robot surrogates) for misogynists who identify as incel. Because it’s about sex as activity.

But it is not. Orcs of New York get it a lot right in a lot fewer words.

"My uncle, back in the wastes, he is an incel. Wait, no, he is ... how do you say in Manflesh ... an asshole. These are synonyms, no?"
“My uncle, back in the wastes, he is an incel. Wait, no, he is … how do you say in Manflesh … an asshole. These are synonyms, no?”

Because for incel, it isn’t about sex as activity. It isn’t about sex as people choosing who they will select as a partner, and when they will select a partner. It isn’t about any sort of partnership. It’s about sex as an expression of the power of male supremacy.

Cast Iron Steak

Got a cast iron pan? Got a rangetop & an oven? Got some steak?

I tried this tonight. It worked quite well. 

Live-a-Little table red from Stellar Winery, South AfricaI had it with some of this, and that was a good pairing. Live-a-Little is a table red from Stellar Winery, South Africa.