Saturday, April 13, 2002

Before I begin the body of this post, I'd like to say that I really like Empire Earth. The game does a remarkably good job of creating the impressionistic feel of historical combat - I say impressionistic because this is a game, like most RTS's, that is about as close to real combat as chess (yes, I'm aware of the fact that chess was supposed to simulate combat. That's the point). I am very fond of the idea of unit relationships: very fun, and I daresay very much in line with the calculating spirit of a genre that is essentially twentieth century chess. I would like to see the following ideas implemented, however:

1). Alternate weapons. I can think of very few military units throughout history that have been effectively armed with a single offensive weapon (e.g., Macedonian phalangites and - I would argue - modern infantry regulars). The idea of unit relationships could be made infinitely more nuanced if units had multiple attack types appropriate to their historical archetypes, and if it took time to switch between them. Napoleonic infantry should be able to fix bayonets and thereby resist a cavalry charge - but be made vulnerable to enemy infantry. Archers should be forced to use a secondary melee weapon when attacking at point blank range, thereby giving you an actual reason to charge them with - and to protect them from contact with - melee infantry. Tanks should have three - yes, three! - attack types: armor-piercing shells for engaging other armored targets, high explosive shells for engaging buildings and soft targets, and machine guns (good Lord, did somebody suggest putting machine guns on tanks?) for engaging infantry. (And as long as we're talking about machine guns, just once I would like to see a machine gun in a computer game that is more powerful than an assault rifle, with a longer range, better accuracy, and higher sustained rate of fire. To judge by most games, EE included, you'd think there was some sort of physical law that said there's an inverse relationship between projectile power and rate of fire). The list goes on and on. But wouldn't that mean that virtually anything could be conceivably countered by anything, you ask? Why yes, it would ... but before you go saying that's too complicated for today's gamers, ask yourself if the same statement applies to StarCraft.
2). Unit experience. One of the coolest things about LucasArts' Force Commander was the way they handled upgrading equipment. If you gave a rookie crew a top-of-the-line AT-ST with all the latest upgrade packages, they performed somewhat better than if you had given them a walker with no upgrade packages, but not much better. However, if you moved a crack crew from their stock walker to one with all the latest bells and whistles, you could really see the difference. I think this is a very cool way of saying "the machinery counts, but it's the men who push it to its full potential." That idea - that upgrades become more worth it the better your men are - is so cool that I count it a grave injustice that it was only implemented in Force Commander.

With that little rant out of the way, I'd like to move on to what I intended this post to be about. It's one of my favorite subjects and likely one of yours, too: girls. More specifically, dating girls.

I've finished I Kissed Dating Goodbye, and surprised myself by agreeing with pretty much all of it. A large reason for this, I believe, is the fact that Josh Harris is rather like me in that he's a hopeless romantic who just can't wait to sweep a girl off her feet. Well, ok, he's married now and presumably having a blast with his wife. But the point is that I Kissed Dating Goodbye was written by a guy who looks at the romantic world pretty much the same way I do, and that made me feel very comfortable with his book. It also immeasurably improves my opinion of him that (it turns out) he is not the man behind the courtship fad, and in fact views that rules-based approach to wooing a girl in a very negative light. As it should be, if you ask me. If I'm going to woo a girl, I want to woo her, as an individual!

The basic point of IKDG is this: if you're not in a life position to marry a girl, don't bother dating her. That has a very important corollary the following principle: that Christians should date to weigh the possibility of marriage and for no other reason. I stipulate "Christians" because both of Harris' books are written for Christians, and his arguments only have weight within the context of a Christian worldview. That doesn't mean that I don't think what he has to say is good advice for everybody - just that if you're not Christian, I doubt you'll care what my deity thinks about dating.

This is, of course, something that I already believe. It is not, sadly, a set of principles that I honestly followed in the only dating relationship I've had to date (which was a dating relationship in all the ways that are relevant for this discussion, even if I didn't call it that). For this reason I am glad that I read this book. It's a reminder to me that romance is not romance without common sense (my study of Greek has recently led me to the idea that the sense of the phrase "common sense" is universal sense; sense that is applicable to all situations in life). I certainly know people who would disagree with me about that, but none of them have marriages I respect and very few of them have marriages at all. Conversely, all the people I know who agree with me about that do have marriages I respect. For this reason I have chosen to conclude that real knock-your-socks-off romance requires common sense. That may not be true, but I hope you'll agree with me that given my data it's a logical conclusion.

It may surprise you to know that my reading of Robert Heinlein has dovetailed quite nicely with my reading of Joshua Harris. But it has. Twilight once suggested, only half in jest, that if I wanted to know whether or not I'd get along with someone I should ask them what they think of the works of Robert Heinlein. Time Enough for Love is essentially about the sanctity and the utility of marriage. I believe that both books (properly read) strongly reinforce the idea that a girl should only be pursued if you're prepared - not just emotionally and physically but circumstantially - to take it all the way through to marriage. Heinlein adds, though not in so many words, that if both parties understand that it's just for fun that's ok.

That last is certainly a principle I have been living by up here, but what about it? Let's apply another of my life principles and try to tear that one down (this principle being that if you can't defend a belief you hold then you don't have any business holding it). Harris would probably say that flirting for fun is awakening love before it pleases (c.f. Song 3:5 and others like it in that book). I would counter that it's impossible not to awaken love before it pleases (more on this below). At that point I would bust out two more life principles, two of my most deeply held:

1). You have very little control over your feelings. You have complete control over your actions.
2). Feelings never necessitate action.

To return to my former track, then, I would say that if love gets awakened all by itself that's fine and doesn't mean anything. By principle 1)., God's charge in the Song of Solomon doesn't mean that I should never be attracted to a girl. That's not going to happen and in any case attraction is merely a feeling. However, evidently I have been charged not to tailor my actions that they encourage attraction in me before I'm prepared to act on that attraction by marrying its object.

In short then, I conclude that it is not fitting for me to hold the principles I hold and also believe that flirting for fun is perfectly innocent. One or the other must go, and I choose the latter. And I have the added proof of God speaking to my heart about this for several months now, using strong language that I choose not to post here.

This does not mean that I refuse to snuggle with girls any longer; nor does it mean that I refuse to give or accept backrubs. The reason for that is that those activities have legitimate purposes in my life other than awakening or expressing attraction. It does mean that I choose to go overboard and no longer initiate such activities with girls who are not in my nuclear family.

This is another principle that Harris has reminded me I believe: that it is worth it to go overboard if that's what it takes. He gives the example of Billy Graham and his cabal of evangelists, who made it a rule early in their careers not to be alone with a woman in the same room. Not because there's anything wrong with being alone with a man being alone a woman, but because people at the time had a very poor opinion of the sexual habits of televangelists and their ilk. Graham and his folks did what they did because it was the only way they could get people to believe that they weren't like that.

Finally, about the idea that it is impossible to not awaken love before it pleases - i.e., to not become attracted to a girl before you're ready to marry her. The obvious reason for this is because guys are built to be attracted to girls. If you're a girl and you're in my presence, there is a non-zero chance that I will become attracted to you by reason of your existence. That's nobody's fault; it's just the way things are (see above for why I don't think this is sinful).

But how can you, as a girl (if you're a girl) help me, your brother (if you're my sister) to not awaken love before it pleases? I don't really think you can. As I see it there are basically four broad options for how you can behave towards me.

A. You can be sexy. Traditional Christian views will reject this option but I suggest we keep it open for consideration. I believe that Heinlein rightly points out that the essence of this kind of sexiness is that it makes a man happy. If you're doing something sexy because you know it will delight me and you want to delight me (and I do mean delight), then I thank you. Assuming that you're not doing something that will cause me to lust after you, in which case I definitely do not thank you! To give you an idea of something sexy that makes me happy but is unlikely to make me lust, take hair: I really like hairstyles that are mostly down but have some hair (or better yet, little braids) swept back to form a kind of circlet.
B. You can be chaste. I consider the Hawaiian to be the best personal example of this. Someone who loves God, serves others, dresses modestly, speaks circumspectly, the whole bit. That's all well and good. But in case you didn't know, ladies, I should tell you now: chastity is sexy. Sexiness is, I think, about congruity of implied beliefs. That is, the things I find sexy are things I like. I like skirts, for instance. I think it's sexy when a girl wears a skirt. I also like Jesus. I think it's sexy when a girl likes Jesus.
C. You can go out of your way to be repugnant to me.
D. You can forget trying to tailor your behavior with an eye towards my existence.

I'm sure none of you will choose C, and probably if you're reading this you love me too much to choose D. Which means that basically whatever you do, I'm going to find some of it sexy. I don't think that's a bad thing, and the responsibility for acting properly in light of your sexiness is on me. However, if you wish my advice about whether to choose either A or B most of the time, I recommend B. It will be better for you than A. Moreover, a girl is at her sexiest when she's not trying to be sexy. So B is better for you and ends up delighting me more, and we all win.

Well, that was rather long. I probably shouldn't post for a while to let you all read that.

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