Sherlock Holmes, Moriarty, and the Devil

In the three most recent adaptations of Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock, Elementary, and the Game of Shadows) at crucial moments Holmes is deceived by Moriarty into making a tactical error and in the mean time a song about demon forces is played.

There Are Spoilers Below

In the movie, Holmes is fooled into thinking Moriarty intended to bomb an Opera house during Don Giovanni. Upon Holmes’ arrival, the chorus of demons is played as the main character is received into Hell. 

In the American procedural, Holmes is fooled into thinking a serial killer is Moriarty (when indeed the real Moriarty’s identity remains opaque to him) and Gil Scott-Heron’s, Me and the Devil, plays:

And in BBC’s version, Sherlock rides to the court house to function as an expert witness, and Nina Simone’s Sinnerman plays in the background:


Now, is this all just a coincidence or does something in the source material lend to this interpretation? No, it is not a coincidence. Yes, there is one reference to Moriarty as an evil on a diabolical level:

“[He] has, to all appearance, a most brilliant career before him. But the man had hereditary tendencies of a most diabolical kind. A criminal strain ran in his blood, which, instead of being modified, was increased and rendered infinitely more dangerous by his extraordinary mental powers. Dark rumours gathered round him in the university town, and eventually he was compelled to resign his chair and to come down to London…” – Sherlock Holmes on Moriarty in The Final Problem


I doubt that anybody I know was interested enough in that confluence of media and Sherlock Holmes source material. I had wondered to myself, “why had they utilized that sort of theme in these modern versions of Holmes, particularly when he’s portrayed as an atheist in two of them?” Since I hadn’t read the Final Problem in a while, the answer was unknown to me. When I went back to it, there it was.

I think part of the appeal of Holmes today is that his intelligence is used in fighting evil, I hope people go back to the books and read them though. Holmes is portrayed more humanely, more philosophically, and though I love the modern adaptations, more excellently in the originals.

Hugh Hefner and the Problem of Sexual Non-Polarity

Ross Douthat opined on the death of the arch-pornographer:

Hugh Hefner, gone to his reward at the age of 91, was a pornographer and chauvinist who got rich on masturbation, consumerism and the exploitation of women, aged into a leering grotesque in a captain’s hat, and died a pack rat in a decaying manse where porn blared during his pathetic orgies.

Hef was the grinning pimp of the sexual revolution, with quaaludes for the ladies and Viagra for himself — a father of smut addictions and eating disorders, abortions and divorce and syphilis, a pretentious huckster who published Updike stories no one read while doing flesh procurement for celebrities, a revolutionary whose revolution chiefly benefited men much like himself.

That’s a great paragraph. Hefner contributed, in his own way, to the dissolution of the very foundation of American culture that made innovations like spaceships, smart phones, and breast implants (central to his lurid industry) possible. But to refer to him as “a father…of eating disorders…” is ludicrous.

There is almost no research literature supporting the claim that media portrayals of thin (or overly thin) women influences eating disorders. Women weigh, on average, as much now as men did in the 1960s, and men are fatter too! Just looking around in the 1940s-1980s one would see more thinner people than one would likely see on television now. So, unless Douthat wants to argue that publishing air-brushed photographs of women with low BMI causes mass binge eating disorder, that element is flatly false. 

It matters that it’s false. Implicit in the idea that media portrayals of thin women create disordered eating is the notion that the male preference for certain body-types in their sexual partners is a form of exploitation and oppression (see The Feminine Mystique). 

But Hefner, for all his evil, didn’t create sexual preferences any more than 50 Shades of Gray did. He exploited them.[1]The idea that the general male sexual preference for reproductively viable partners is a uniquely evil invention of the modern American man is a pox on our modern worldview that contradicts biology, the history of literature and art, as well as an implicit attack on the value of sexual polarity in the first place. Douthat, apparently buys into that.

Hefner’s influence is so rotten, not because his wares imply the notion that a beautiful woman can catch the eye of a man and procure resources from him, that’s part of what marriage is! Instead, Hefner’s whole industry is so dastardly because it exploits sexual polarity in order to undermine it all together. How? When sex is reduced to actors acting and individuals watching, the immediate motivator for sexual reproduction and competition is rendered void. When men who have normal sexual desires find themselves more motivated to masturbate to porn than to make money, invent the future, and raise families, civilization loses. But not only does civilization lose, when men and women do not engage in the dance/war of dealing with the fact that they are practically different species from one another, they lose an essential component of meaning in their daily existence. 

The economic, individual psychological, and evolutionary results of a vastly pornographic culture are worth further reflection in the future.

Camille Paglia, who wrongly assesses Hefner as a positive influence on our culture, has a much more realistic and controversial read on the allure of pornography:

The unhappy truth is that the more the sexes have blended, the less each sex is interested in the other. So we’re now in a period of sexual boredom and inertia, complaint and dissatisfaction, which is one of the main reasons young men have gone over to pornography. Porn has become a necessary escape by the sexual imagination from the banality of our everyday lives, where the sexes are now routinely mixed in the workplace. 


With the sexes so bored with each other, all that’s left are these feminist witch-hunts. That’s where the energy is! And meanwhile, men are shrinking. I see men turning away from women and simply being content with the world of fantasy because women have become too thin-skinned, resentful and high maintenance. 

And American women don’t know what they want any longer. In general, French women — the educated, middle-class French women, I mean — seem to have a feminine composure, a distinct sense of themselves as women, which I think women in America have gradually lost as they have won job equality in our high-pressure career system.

She’s probably right, but I’ll add two thoughts.

First, Hugh Hefner and those like him, by providing a fantastical world of unattainably attractive women has contributed to the collapse sexual polarity. Why be masculine if you can simply image having sex with the sort of people you wish loved you? And why by gracious and feminine when men live in pornworldtm

I would add that men themselves have become too boring, Christina Hoff Sommers wrote about how the public school system has contributed to this. But that is its own problem. To be a safe and good husband/father entails a bit of boredom, but to be too safe is to invite less attention from women [unless you’re tall or rich]. It’s stormy sea, but honestly it’s one that people have navigated in different ways that have been fun and fruitful for thousands of years. 

The question is this: what could you do to extract yourself from pornworldtm on the one hand, and utilize sexual polarity to enhance your virtue and sense of meaning on the other? 


[1] The research on sexual motivation vs sexual orientation is interesting. Here are a couple of paragraphs from a recent attempt at a theory of sexual orientation:

“…In our understanding, not all stimuli that are perceived as sexually arousing necessarily correspond to a sexual orientation. Instead, in terms of the chronophilias, it seems useful to differentiate between a relatively rigid sexual orientation for specific body schemas (in terms of sexual attractions as opposed to sexual behaviors and/or identities that are to a much larger extent malleable by cultural and social norms/expectations; Bailey et al., 2016) and relatively incidentally acquired (for lack of a better term) sexual motivations based on experiences of sexual arousal or gratification contingent to certain stimuli…


…If it was an evolutionary successful strategy to seek fertile females, modules that direct sexual attraction to visually accessible indicators of reproductive maturity and fertility should have reproduced with a higher frequency than others. As youth or maturity are social constructions rather than perceivable characteristics of potential mates, these modules should be sensitive to easily perceivable features…


Nevertheless, to fully understand why so many men turn out to be teleiophilic and heterosexual, it seems reasonable to assume that at least some of the building blocks of this sexual orientation are pre-discursively determined. [I know in academia you can assume nothing, but how was this not obvious?]

To the surprise of no sane individual, on a planet where seven billion people exist by means of sexual reproduction, men appear to be evolutionarily hardwired to be teleiophilic (attracted to the sexually mature) heterosexuals who prefer visible cues of reproductive fitness. But within the confines of sexual orientation, variances of sexual motivation occur due to choice, enculturation, and so-on.

The insidiousness of Hefner’s influence is not in that he created a sexual preference for certain alluring features (obviously, he sold what already interested the sort of people who buy porn). Instead, he contributed to the transformation of sexual motivation toward masturbation, which makes the hedonic release of orgasm easier than the process of finding a mate and setting out on life’s journeys together. Masturbation was always available, but in a more secular culture it is no longer associated with shame which might lead to trying to find a mate. It also never used to be performed in the context of access to millions of pornographic images and videos. As mentioned above, this deadens one’s sense of meaning on the individual and civilizational level. Hefner contributed to that. 

The rise in weight [from food availability and mass binge eating] and the consequent decrease in reproductive viability of men and women in the United States is an entirely different issue and to imply that sexual attraction is not tied to reproductive cues in the absence pornography is wishful thinking about the most fundamental market place.



Pornography is Cultural Subversion

While at the most obvious level pornography exists as either an alleged celebration of the human form or as a trangressive method of making money by playing on a constellation of psychological issues: insecurity, loneliness, depression, and our need for immortality, the genre is less obviously meant for something else. Nate Abrams (a Jewish author) wrote:

Extending the subversive thesis, Jewish involvement in the X-rated industry can be seen as a proverbial two fingers to the entire WASP establishment in America. Some porn stars viewed themselves as frontline fighters in the spiritual battle between Christian America and secular humanism. According to Ford, Jewish X-rated actors often brag about their ‘joy in being anarchic, sexual gadflies to the puritanical beast’. Jewish involvement in porn, by this argument, is the result of an atavistic hatred of Christian authority: they are trying to weaken the dominant culture in America by moral subversion. Astyr remembers having ‘to run or fight for it in grammar school because I was a Jew. It could very well be that part of my porn career is an “up yours” to these people’. Al Goldstein, the publisher of Screw, said (on, ‘The only reason that Jews are in pornography is that we think that Christ sucks. Catholicism sucks. We don’t believe in authoritarianism.’ Pornography thus becomes a way of defiling Christian culture and, as it penetrates to the very heart of the American mainstream (and is no doubt consumed by those very same WASPs), its subversive character becomes more charged. Porn is no longer of the ‘what the Butler saw’ voyeuristic type; instead, it is driven to new extremes of portrayal that stretch the boundaries of the porn aesthetic. As new sexual positions are portrayed, the desire to shock (as well as entertain) seems clear.


Abrams goes on to ask what reason, if any, should anybody be ashamed of such a cultural influence. 

It would appear that pornography is not just a nihilistic use of pleasure to cynically pursue profit from the chronically lonely and undersexed, but it is (for some) a mode of cultural subversion in a ‘spiritual battle.’ The problem with secularists who engage in spiritual battles is that their lack of belief in spiritual things does not nullify the negative effects of “winning” on the side of evil. 

To win the spiritual battle against Christian-values/Christendom in their American iteration by using pornography has all of the measurably bad effects porn has. I think the one positive thing that porn has allegedly accomplished is that neighborhoods with higher porn consumption supposedly have less sexual assaults (it’s a study I’ve heard cited but have never found). All of its known effects and qualities: lower libido, social isolation, wrong sexual expectations, being generally disgusting, and requiring the enjoyment of the debasement of others are all observably bad for individuals and civilization.  

Anyway, American Christians should think of porn this way: it’s an attack on your soul, it’s a mocking of the past that brought you into existence, and it’s an attempt to cancel your continued influence on the world after you die (by dissolving the structures meant to help you raise a family). 

Porn sucks. Subverting the goods of civilization sucks. And I don’t believe in associating norms and self-mastery with authoritarianism. 

There was Ash

I prefer my songs to tell stories and it’s even better if whole albums can do it. For this very reason, one of my favorite bands is Murder by Death. Below is an album that is inspired by Homer’s Odyssey, but the protagonist is fairly evil and vicious. There are timestamps for the songs. I highly recommend “Ash,” but they’re all good.  

Their albums appeal to me because they tend to take epic tales (Dante, Milton, and Homer) and set them in small town North America. The dust, heat, and violence of the tales reminds me of stories shared around fires with my extended family as a boy. 

1. Comin’ Home 03:35 2. Ball & Chain 03:02 3. Rum Brave 03:06 4. Fuego! 04:11 5. Theme (For Ennio Morricone) 02:49 6. A Second Opinion 03:19 7. Steal Away 02:05 8. Ash 03:32 9. The Black Spot 03:21 10. ’52 Ford 02:25 11. Spring Break 1899 05:56

Classifying What Speech is Free

In an NYT piece, Lisa Barrett argued that:

By all means, we should have open conversations and vigorous debate about controversial or offensive topics. But we must also halt speech that bullies and torments. From the perspective of our brain cells, the latter is literally a form of violence.

But I would suspect that most people who accept her argument also tend to accept that freedom of expression applies to art, public demonstration, flag burning, and anti-Christian rhetoric of the sort utilized by atheists and hard-line feminists.

For instance, I would suspect that ‘from the perspective of our brain cells’ people who love their spouses being told that they are a part of an oppressive and regressive system called the patriarchy fell attacked. I also suspect that people who vote republican being called ‘Nazis,’ with the implication that they are morally reprehensible and ought to be destroyed causes them distress ‘from the perspective of their brain cells.’ 


Music Monday: When Bastille “Can’t Even!”

When I heard this song the other day, I thought it was a parody:

How can you think you’re serious?
Do you even know what year it is? 
I can’t believe the scary points you make 
Still living in the currents you create
Still sinking in the pool of your mistakes 
Won’t you stop firing up the crazies? 


This reminds me of Paul Graham’s wonderful essay What You Can’t Say. The very idea that ‘what year it is’ should determine what can, can’t, should, or shouldn’t be said is about as unamerican and certainly as illiberal an idea one can imagine. Here’s one of my favorite quotes from his essay:

We may imagine that we are a great deal smarter and more virtuous than past generations, but the more history you read, the less likely this seems. People in past times were much like us. Not heroes, not barbarians. Whatever their ideas were, they were ideas reasonable people could believe.  

A brief spiritual exercise from Genesis 1:26-31

In Genesis 1, the Lord makes the world insofar as it is experienced by humanity, as a place he considers good and very good. It is a composition of chaos and order and more fully, in Genesis 2, God makes a Garden to demonstrate to man how, as a being in his image, to subdue the earth in a way that brings more potential out of it rather than ordering it in a stifling way (think of a garden with no bugs…super orderly but no fruit!) or leaving it to pure chaos (a field with no edible food for humans, but covered in fire ants and fleas hiding in the weeds).

With this in mind, I think part of being God’s image is asking at the end of our days: “Can I look at what I’ve made of this day and say, with honesty, ‘this is very good?'” And if you can’t, then revise yourself.

Jonathan Edwards had a practice like this, though it wasn’t explicitly based on Genesis 1:26-31:

41. Resolved, to ask myself at the end of every day, week, month and year, wherein I could possibly in any respect have done better. Jan. 11, 1723.


Psalms 34:11-14 Genesis 1:26-31
Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD. What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.












Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
(Genesis 1:26-31)

Music Monday: The Highway Man

I’ve always thought this was an intriguing song/poem. I prefer Loreena McKennitt’s song to the poem, but it’s good. 

One reason I like it is that it raises that perennial question: why do people have relationships with people who are bad for them? For instance, dozens of women in the UK are married to men on death row! Also, in college, people with Dark Triad traits are more sexually successful (not defined in terms of ethics).

But I also like it because it’s an example of why self-control is so crucial. The highwayman loses his cool precisely when it’s time to calm and calculating and ultimately dies for it. The woman in the story is the man who dates jerks (in this case, he may have merely been a criminal, but not a jerk to her…hard to say). And the man is like King Solomon, who gave his strength to women (Proverbs 31:3). The archetypes are very real and something like this story happens frequently. People get into a relationship and catastrophically destroy one another while continuing to obsess over one another anyway. 

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The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes

THE wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees, 
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas, 
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor, 
And the highwayman came riding— 
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.


He’d a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin, 
A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin; 
They fitted with never a wrinkle: his boots were up to the thigh! 
And he rode with a jewelled twinkle, 
His pistol butts a-twinkle, 
His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky.


Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard, 
And he tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred; 
He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there 
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter, 
Bess, the landlord’s daughter, 
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.


And dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked 
Where Tim the ostler listened; his face was white and peaked; 
His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay, 
But he loved the landlord’s daughter, 
The landlord’s red-lipped daughter, 
Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say—


‘One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I’m after a prize to-night, 
But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light; 
Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day, 
Then look for me by moonlight, 
Watch for me by moonlight, 
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way.’


He rose upright in the stirrups; he scarce could reach her hand, 
But she loosened her hair i’ the casement! His face burnt like a brand 
As the black cascade of perfume came tumbling over his breast; 
And he kissed its waves in the moonlight, 
(Oh, sweet, black waves in the moonlight!) 
Then he tugged at his rein in the moonliglt, and galloped away to the West.



He did not come in the dawning; he did not come at noon; 
And out o’ the tawny sunset, before the rise o’ the moon, 
When the road was a gypsy’s ribbon, looping the purple moor, 
A red-coat troop came marching— 
King George’s men came matching, up to the old inn-door.


They said no word to the landlord, they drank his ale instead, 
But they gagged his daughter and bound her to the foot of her narrow bed; 
Two of them knelt at her casement, with muskets at their side! 
There was death at every window; 
And hell at one dark window; 
For Bess could see, through her casement, the road that he would ride.


They had tied her up to attention, with many a sniggering jest; 
They had bound a musket beside her, with the barrel beneath her breast! 
‘Now, keep good watch!’ and they kissed her. 
She heard the dead man say— 
Look for me by moonlight; 
Watch for me by moonlight; 
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way!


She twisted her hands behind her; but all the knots held good! 
She writhed her hands till her fingers were wet with sweat or blood! 
They stretched and strained in the darkness, and the hours crawled by like years, 
Till, now, on the stroke of midnight, 
Cold, on the stroke of midnight, 
The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!


The tip of one finger touched it; she strove no more for the rest! 
Up, she stood up to attention, with the barrel beneath her breast, 
She would not risk their hearing; she would not strive again; 
For the road lay bare in the moonlight; 
Blank and bare in the moonlight; 
And the blood of her veins in the moonlight throbbed to her love’s refrain .


Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? The horse-hoofs ringing clear; 
Tlot-tlot, tlot-tlot, in the distance? Were they deaf that they did not hear? 
Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill, 
The highwayman came riding, 
Riding, riding! 
The red-coats looked to their priming! She stood up, straight and still!


Tlot-tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot-tlot, in the echoing night! 
Nearer he came and nearer! Her face was like a light! 
Her eyes grew wide for a moment; she drew one last deep breath, 
Then her finger moved in the moonlight, 
Her musket shattered the moonlight, 
Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him—with her death.


He turned; he spurred to the West; he did not know who stood 
Bowed, with her head o’er the musket, drenched with her own red blood! 
Not till the dawn he heard it, his face grew grey to hear 
How Bess, the landlord’s daughter, 
The landlord’s black-eyed daughter, 
Had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.


Back, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky, 
With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high! 
Blood-red were his spurs i’ the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat, 
When they shot him down on the highway, 
Down like a dog on the highway, 
And he lay in his blood on the highway, with the bunch of lace at his throat.


And still of a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees, 
When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas, 
When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor, 
A highwayman comes riding— 
A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.


Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard; 
He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred; 
He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there 
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter, 
Bess, the landlord’s daughter, 
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair. 

Paul Graham on what can’t be said

I love ideas, data, speculation, experiments, and plans.

I also love arguments, refutations, and attempts at persuasion.

And I think what I love the most about the United States is the general legal consensus that outside of inciting people to acts of terrorism, one is allowed to say what they wish without government censure. In this sense, I am and have always been a free-speech absolutist. If somebody wants to make the case that a grave sin is actually sane and good, I’ll hear it. If somebody wants to claim that mega civilizations can control galaxies for energy and call it science, I’ll listen to Michio Kaku:

But, how free speechy (I think I made that up) are we?

Paul Graham suggests a test for your own free speech absolutism by positing a test for moral fashions:

What scares me is that there are moral fashions too. They’re just as arbitrary, and just as invisible to most people. But they’re much more dangerous. Fashion is mistaken for good design; moral fashion is mistaken for good. Dressing oddly gets you laughed at. Violating moral fashions can get you fired, ostracized, imprisoned, or even killed.

If you could travel back in a time machine, one thing would be true no matter where you went: you’d have to watch what you said. Opinions we consider harmless could have gotten you in big trouble. I’ve already said at least one thing that would have gotten me in big trouble in most of Europe in the seventeenth century, and did get Galileo in big trouble when he said it—that the earth moves. [1]

It seems to be a constant throughout history: In every period, people believed things that were just ridiculous, and believed them so strongly that you would have gotten in terrible trouble for saying otherwise.

Is our time any different? To anyone who has read any amount of history, the answer is almost certainly no. It would be a remarkable coincidence if ours were the first era to get everything just right.

It’s tantalizing to think we believe things that people in the future will find ridiculous. What would someone coming back to visit us in a time machine have to be careful not to say? That’s what I want to study here. But I want to do more than just shock everyone with the heresy du jour. I want to find general recipes for discovering what you can’t say, in any era.

This particular test is useful. Are my ethical standards determined by the cultural fads or careful reasoning? Christians have a tendency to feel that the Holy Spirit and deep study have prompted them toward some new ethical insight that really is just a way for them to stop being at odds with the dominant culture (sad). But my version is this:

Could you listen to the views of somebody from any time period or culture, insofar as they are not inciting terroristic or mob violence, and not want them silence, jailed, or executed?  

Obviously, this is context specific. Church services aren’t the place for giving heretics a voice, children’s classrooms aren’t the place for letting philosophical cases for sexual deviance be made, and so-on. But I think this test for free-speech absolutism is key. Am I, then, a free-speech absolutist?