A website suggested finishing the main quest in Destiny 2 rather than doing all the side quests, so that when you do get to them, they give you better gear. So, OK, I finished the main quest. Only now I think I’m done.

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Destroying the Death Star with handheld weapons

The main story is, I dunno, about 20 hours? It includes one mission I absolutely hated, because of the damn tank. Its controls are horrible, so I spent half the time driving it into walls and trying to extricate myself… you can call new tanks, and not infrequently I ran to the next spawn because that was easier than getting the old tank pointed in a reasonable direction. Plus I kept dying in one particular location, till I realized there was a separate fire mode I needed to be using.

But! The last few missions are actually pretty good! You have to eliminate the Legion’s Deathstar, you see.  So you go to a Legion base, fight your way through the absurdly chunky structures favored by these space fascists, kill a big bad, and steal his key codes and his ship. This apparently isn’t noticed at all, so you can fly to the Deathstar and cause havoc.  You blow it up and then head back to Earth to take out the biggest bad, old Ghaul the Inexplicable.

As I mentioned, you’re a mute unkillable zombie with no civilian applications, and that’s your secret weapon.  They can’t kill you.  So you get into a rhythm of shooting bad guys, hiding behind walls while you recover heath, and shooting some more. And occasionally ulting the hell out of them. (I still think the ults are doled out too sparingly, so you can never quite count on them. But if you think of them as a treat rather than an ability you should have, you’ll feel better. Plus, in the final battle they actually give you extra ults, so for once the final fight is kind of fun.)

There’s one brief section where you have to go into space. Now, the Deathstar is at the orbit of Mercury, so it’s hot. So you have to jump from shadow to shadow, while shooting enemies… or letting them fry as they cross the sunlit parts to come to you. This was pretty damn neat.

(The game, with its gift for astounding scientific illiteracy, calls this mission 1 AU.  That of course is the orbit of Earth; Mercury is at about 0.4 AU.)

So, Ghaul doesn’t get to blot out the Sun, plus he’s dead. After this, the game lets you back in the Last City, suddenly filled with other players.  Plus you get an engram, finally, which turns out to be a coupon for one piece of gear, and you can join factions, and you get a new spaceship, and the major NPCS have some gifts for you. And you can go back and do all those side missions.

I might, but it turns out killing Ghaul has done a number on my motivation. Look, I just saved the Sun and the entire solar system, rescued the Traveler, and now everyone’s got the Light back rather than just me. And you want me to go fight some straggling aliens here and there? You got thousands of Guardians now, let them do it.  I still have to go murder more of Ancient Greece.

I still don’t know what the other currencies are, and I think I only spent half my skill points. They have a dumb system where new skills replace the old ones– e.g. you can have three different types of grenades, but only use one kind at a time.

If I’d paid $60 for the game, I think I’d be a little disappointed… but for free, it’s a great diversion. It’s beautiful, it gives you plenty of things to shoot, and it has its moments (such as that run in the sun, or Nathan Fillion’s character). But it’s also rather clunky and confusing, it never quite knows what to do with its ideas, and it’s huge without being diverse.  And the story is overblown, throwing in threats like “destroying the sun” without having this either make sense or have any real impact.

An example of the “ideas” problem: the enemy aliens are all just murderous things with red health bars. Only two of the Legion even have voice lines, and there’s not a moment where anything they do inspires respect or sympathy. Within the same company, you could look at, say, World of Warcraft, where a lot of effort has been put into making the Horde an interesting rather than just eeeevil; or Overwatch, where the villains have something to say for themselves and the heroes may be questionable.

Another example: the game is set all over the solar system, but they don’t (say) play with gravity, or distance from the sun, or atmosphere, or temperature. The surface gravity of Titan is 0.14 that of Earth; that’d be pretty interesting.

As for the hugeness, I think the best open world games don’t just give you things to shoot, they add other stuff.  The Arkham games give you Riddler puzzles; Mass Effect has its romances; Beyond Good & Evil 1 throws in races, photography, and space pool; Fallout 4 has settlements; Saints Row lets you play dress-up and listen to the radio.

So, again, not a bad game. But, I dunno, it feels like a 20-hour game that thinks it’s a 200-hour game.

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Blizzard gave me a free game!  Well, me and everyone else, but it’s still nice to get a message that you have a gift.  It’s also huge, 80 gigabytes… well, sorry, Team Fortress 2, it was finally time to uninstall you.

So, Destiny 2.  First impressions: it’s like Borderlands without the cel shading or the southern fried attitude. And weirdly rough around the edges.

destiny2-nessus

You have learned the Gek word for genocide

The story– did you know it had a story?– is that Earth is in the middle of a bunch of interstellar war. Humans are almost extinct; they live in one last city, called the Last City (names are terrible in D2), until some interstellar fascists called the Red Legion show up and destroy it. Their leader is called Dominus Ghaul and will make you miss the more caring, friendly nature of Zinyak.

You are a mute, frightening zombie.  This isn’t perhaps what the PR guys say; they call you a Guardian. But: you have a little floating robot who can resurrect you, and this is an explicit part of the story, not just a gameplay thing. You’re a fighting machine and you never talk– the robot talks for you. Clearly he’s not your “helper”, he’s the actual intelligence controlling you, and you’re a zombie.  Nonetheless, you’re humanity’s last hope.

It really does feel like a more serious Borderlands. You go on pretty linear routes, killing everything in your path– monsters named the Legion, the Fallen, the Vex– look, names are not the game’s forte. They thoughtfully drop guns and armor slightly better than your current ones. Occasionally you level up and get points to increase your superpower.  I’m a Hunter, so basically I dress like Reaper and my ult is Genji.

OK, positives:

  • I really like Borderlands, so the whole concept is pretty nice.
  • It’s very pretty, for post-apocalyptia. I mean, there’s nowhere left with a good restaurant and even the hubs are full of monsters, but it looks great.
  • Do you like Firefly?  They got most of the actors here somewhere.
  • In the hubs you can run into other players, and fight the monsters with them.
  • You can play co-op, but I haven’t yet.
  • You can triple-jump, which is 50% better than a double-jump.
  • Inventory management is pretty streamlined… it’s generally really clear if a piece of gear is better. This is actually an improvement over Borderlands where you had to do calculations in your head to find the actual DPS given things like round size and reload speed.

Negatives:

  • It’s full of stuff it doesn’t bother to explain. I have no idea how one should upgrade a character, or what the three different currencies are. I get messages that I’ve acquired something and can’t find it, nor do I know what to do with it. There are whole mechanisms– emblems, engrams, triumphs, gear customization– that are referred to but don’t seem to exist for me. (I get messages that I have a “triumph”, but the character screen says I have 0.) My character is an “Awoken” and there’s no explanation; they seem to be basically Dark Elves.
  • It seems buggy in places. Twice I’ve had to quit because enemies didn’t appear and nothing happened.
  • There’s an annoying, punishing half-attempt at platforming. Get the timing wrong, or fail to invest in that triple-jump, and you die. Come on, games, this was solved by Arkham Asylum in 2009.
  • The ult is really powerful, but they dole it out so slowly that you never know whether to use it, or save it for the next boss.
  • You have powerful grenades, and they’re on an over-long cooldown too. Devs, if you’re terrified we’ll actually use the powerful tools, maybe make them a tad less powerful rather than not letting us use them?
  • I know, suspension of disbelief, but I’m kind of put off by an utter disregard for physics. The story has the Legion wanting to destroy the sun, which makes little sense… they don’t even bother to provide a reason, or even explain why they’d do this while their own troops are scattered over the solar system. Plus, firing lasers at a star won’t make it go supernova and stellar explosions can’t go faster than lightspeed. You visit an asteroid named Nessus. A planetoid of under 100 km diameter out by Uranus would be a rather interesting setting, but in the game it’s a lovely warm planet with plants and running water and breathable air and Earth gravity.

In between: game devs, it’s not that hard to make a multiplayer game with a single-player story that does not contradict the multiplayer. Conan Exiles or The Secret World or DC Universe Online all managed it: they came up with stories where the player is not the Chosen One; rather, lots of people have these neat powers. Destiny 2 does not manage this– you are apparently the only Guardian who can take on the story missions. Yet you see other players and can play other missions with them, or even run PvP sessions. It wouldn’t even be hard to fix this up: oh look, we have a corps of Guardians.  They seem to outnumber the civilians, since the writers insisted on near-genocide, but since the Guardians are immortal zombies, perhaps it makes sense that their numbers would accumulate.

Anyway, it looks like I’m more than halfway through the story, so I expect I’ll finish it.  Googling, it looks like the thing I found and couldn’t identify was a Relic which unlocks more powers, which requires, astonishingly, killing more monsters.  Well, OK.

Does it sound like I don’t like it?  I don’t think I dislike it. The price is right, and it’s not actively tiresome, like say Agents of Mayhem. I wish it were a little more comprehensible, though, and maybe that the story went beyond apocalyptic space opera.

Update: Rest of review, after finishing off Ghaul.

Tricksy move: write a whole book about a single day of Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy. That’s the one pulled by Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden in How to Read Nancy: The Elements of Comics in Three Easy Panels (2017). The bulk of the book is devoted to the strip for August 8, 1959, shown below.

nancy

I’ve purposely shown a view of the strip among other strips, on faded newsprint, rather than the big clean black & white version, in order to help make the authors’ point: Nancy survives poor sizing and reproduction intact. It’s a fast strip to grasp: bam, bam, gag. Bushmiller is a master of minimalism; the drawing and the text are just enough to carry the gag and no more.

The book reprints the strip 43 times, highlighting something different each time. The gimmick is a little misleading— e.g. one highlight is on the character of Nancy, which really covers her personality and appearance over the life of the strip. Another is devoted to the copyright notice and date, as a digression into the business of comic strip creation. (Like most strips of the time, Nancy was owned by the syndicate; Bushmiller was technically just an employee.)

The book is a pretty good primer on Nancy; as a bonus it includes about 200 full strips, plus a retrospective of Bushmiller’s career. Fun fact: he started out as a copyboy at the New York World at the age of 15, hung out with the cartoonists and started doing graphic odd jobs, such as drawing the lines for crossword puzzles; he was publishing a strip by the age of 19. When he was just 20, in 1925, he took over Larry Whittington’s Fritzi Ritz, a comic about a ditzy flapper, itself an imitation of the similar Tillie the Toiler. Fritzi was quite successful, though even then Bushmiller preferred single-strip gags to any sort of ongoing story.

Occasionally a kid cousin or nephew or niece would show up and invariably be smart-alecky— always flustering Aunt Fritzi— and in 1933 one of these was Nancy. There was something about her that outshone the other kids; she stuck around, and in 1938 the strip was rechristened Nancy. And so it went till Bushmiller’s death in 1982.

Now, Nancy used to be the comic strip sophisticates cordially hated. The 1976 World Encyclopedia of Comics complained that it seemed to be made by “some guy with Joe Miller’s Joke Book and a set of Nancy and Sluggo stamps”, and dismissed it as “the last thing the Lawrence Welk generation read and liked in the comics.” Well, 1970s hipsters, the joke’s on you: the next generation of hipsters developed a deep appreciation for Nancy. 

There’s something to be said for it, especially with Karasik and Newgarden’s help. Nancy is above all honest. It’s a half-century-long paean to the gag and nothing but the gag. It has no satirical import, no story, no pretensions to be a Graphic Novel. Based on the comics reproduced in the book, the gags are rarely LOL funny, but they’re amusing and harmless, and not tiresome in the way of Beetle Bailey or Marmaduke. (Ha ha, Sarge is beating up Beetle again.) There’s even an appealing dash of surrealism, such as a strip where Nancy and Sluggo exchange heads. (Though it’s kind of ruined by Bushmiller lampshading that it’s April Fool’s Day.)

If you value clear and direct cartooning, there’s much to learn from Nancy. Simple writing isn’t as easy as it looks, and neither is simple cartooning. As Wally Wood put it, “By the time you decided not to read it, you already had.”

The strip is still going on, and ironically, 2010s hipsters actually like the current incarnation, by Olivia Jaimes. We’ll probably be able to celebrate the strip’s centennial in just four years.

I think both the dismissal and the adulation can go too far. Bushmiller’s Nancy is workmanlike and reliable, but it achieves its effects because it sets a very low bar. It’s hard not to compare it with Peanuts, which matches it in minimalism but far exceeds it in variety, perceptiveness, and draftsmanship. Bushmiller’s cartooning is highly competent— and this goes double for today when almost all the nicely drawn adventure strips are gone, and almost the whole comics page is devoted to sketchily drawn gag strips. But his line is stiff, his facial expressions are stereotyped, and the characters barely attempt to be human. And though Nancy might make you smile more than you expected, it’ll never wow you or challenge you or inform you or shock you.

Karasik and Newgarden do great work in pointing out Bushmiller’s skill and simplicity, and pulling out lessons for cartoonists; but I think they could have gone much farther in recognizing that alternative approaches are OK too. You can go for better drawing, you can go for sketchier drawing; you can tell stories, you can be satirical or serious, you can draw five rocks instead of three.

Not content with playing Overwatch, I’ve been watching it– i.e., pro streams and games.

For the World Cup, Blizzard created a separate viewer, which lets you follow any player, and indeed control the camera. This is pretty damn neat, and I hope they’ll implement it for Overwatch League– heck, for any games.

You can also use it to look at the whole map in ways that you can’t when playing. Biggest surprise: the three-stage maps are really one map.  E.g., Lijiang Tower:

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I really thought these were separate maps with skyboxes to show the bits of the other stages that you can see.  But with the viewer you can fly from one stage to the next: everything is there, down to the last health pack. Note that you can see some of the player info– the actual gameplay is at Control Center, but we can see Night Market in perfect detail. (And note that the spaceship spawns are there, although this isn’t the current stage.)

Another example: here’s a view of the Busan map showing both the temple and the city. (There’s still some culling that goes on– if you pull back far enough from the city, it disappears.)

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And here’s a closeup on the hillside, showing that at this distance from the city, the trees
are just 2-d pictures on flat quads.  (You can see a bit of the city center to the right.)

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What about the actual pro play? Well, I really enjoy seeing Space or Emongg play D.Va or Zarya, or Surefour playing anything, or Fareeha playing Pharah. I don’t know if I learn much, but some things amuse me:

  • Pro players still destroy everything in spawn.
  • Space changes his players-to-avoid after almost every match.
  • His ult tracking is amazing.
  • Wait times for Top 500 are terrible: 5 minutes or more.  Nice for streamers: they can look at chat.
  • Top 500 players still complain about unbalanced matches.
  • If someone’s out of position, the callout is e.g. “Zarya feeding.”
  • Surefour sounds infinitely chill.

And speaking of Surefour, if you watch just one pro game, find today’s Canada-France game and watch the Busan map, especially the Meka Base.  He has some game-winning Sombra ults.

 

The second draft is almost done, so it’s time for a page on the book on my site.

Syntax-Front-Cover

What’s in the book?  Well, I just wrote a whole page on that, so just go read it!

I haven’t played an Assassin’s Creed since the first, and I never finished that. But touring (and murdering half of) Greece sounded fun, so I picked up ACO.

aco ships

Now how do you suppose I’m going to get a ship to go over there?

I am playing, of course, as Kassandra, because why wouldn’t you? A badass dude is boring; a badass woman is interesting. The voice actor, Melissanthi Mahut, even gives her a strong accent, which is a little unusual for the protagonist of a game.

Overall stuff: I’m not very far in (9 hours), but it’s fun so far.  Almost all of the baggage in the series– the Templars and Assassins, the future stuff, the assassination structure– has been downplayed.  It’s a lot like The Witcher 3, in fact.  Kassandra is a misthios, or mercenary, so your character, like you, wants to accumulate money and gear and murderate people. You work for various disreputable people, and there are plenty of side quests along the way. The game is absolutely gorgeous, and they’ve found a way to have quite a population of NPCs at any one time, so it doesn’t have the “three people represent a village” thing that many games have.

You can tell if a character is unimportant, because they’ll be speaking Greek. The handling of Greek seems inconsistent… characters pronounce the same word different ways (this is especially noticeable with drachmae), and it seems to me that some pronunciations are Hellenic and others modern. Definitely not classical: ph th kh are not aspirated, but fricativized. Kassandra seems to drop her h’s (Helios = Elios), but at least Kephallonia gets a [k] not an [s].

The writing is, well, serviceable. You start out doing errands for your disreputable pal Markos. Apparently you washed up on the beach as a young girl and he took care of you, but he’s a hustler and ne’er-do-well, kind of like Roman in Grand Theft Auto IV. He’s in debt to the local gangster, the Cyclops, who is the focus of the early missions.

Which is fine as a general setup, but if you look at any episode carefully, it falls to pieces. Markos owes a debt to Cyclops, and proposes paying for it by stealing a treasure of his. But you never actually sell it, and eventually– when you’ve advanced enough levels– you just murder him. Cyclops apparently has a ship, which is good because you want one. But instead of getting that ship, you rescue a ship-owner from Cyclops and he gives you his ship and crew. (For that matter, you’re also sent to talk to a shipbuilder, who quotes you an insane price.)

Now, Shamus Young would give you a 20-part series tearing all this apart, and probably will, but I’d just note that it all seems cobbled together to make the game work. We need an early infiltration mission, thus the theft; we need a ship, thus the rescue of the sea captain. Yet another mission is simply an excuse to meet Elpanor, the next quest giver once you’ve left Markos behind.

That’s all fine; it’s just an excuse to wander around being violent. The fighting is enjoyable, though I should really master the dodge mechanic. (You avoid damage if you parry or dodge, though if you fight people of your level– this is always clearly marked– you can get knocked about quite a lot before dying.) The stealth is more fun.  You can scout out an area with your eagle and mark enemies. You can parkour around, you can hide in bushes, and a stealth assassination is fast and powerful, more so than fighting.

Here and there you get choices which are apparently meaningful later. E.g. there are characters you can romance, though apparently this takes awhile.  (For reference, the first one is Odessa, who you meet on Ithaka.) I do like the climbing mechanic– Kassandra can climb just about anything. (There are high points you can clamber up, then use as fast travel points.)

One story thing that does bug me is that Kassandra seems to know little about her own home island.  She’s apparently known to be a mercenary, but the local thugs don’t fear her, nor does she work for them… what the hell has she been doing for her ten years on the island? There’s a burnt-out village a short walk from her house, and she doesn’t know about it. She doesn’t know that Odysseus’s palace is right there on Ithaka, the next island north, which she can swim to if she wanted. She also has a house, but she doesn’t seem to care about it and there’s nothing really to do there. It’s not even marked on the map; before leaving Kephallonia I found it again and made a note of the location:

aco my house

My record collection of ancient bards is there

I know, most adventure games don’t do this either. But they should! It’s nice to have a place on the map that’s yours, ideally customizable.

Once you get the ship, you can go and discover the wider world.  Naval combat is a whole ‘nother beast. Athens and Sparta are having a war, which you can join in, changing sides at will. The map looks intimidatingly large at this point… if it’s as full of things to do as Kephallonia, it could take weeks to finish. I don’t think games have to be this open-world; in fact, it can be discouraging to look at a huge map full of to-do icons. I think Arkham City is about perfect for the size and complexity of a map.  On the other hand, I’d like to think it works like a Fallout game, so I can choose to go to Athens or Sparta or Crete and just see what’s there.

One thing I absolutely don’t miss, by the way, is the future-world stuff from the first game. Or the Templars and Assassins, for that matter. There’s a cut-scene in the beginning that references the apparently interminable story, but it’s soon over; the game doesn’t even pretend to be interested in that stuff any more. (Maybe it does later.) I note in my review of the first game that it didn’t have a save command; in ACO you can save any time except in combat.

My one complaint, and it’s minor, is that the game can be short on guidance. There’s tutorials for fighting, but not for climbing. (You just use shift; I kept trying space, as in other games.) The fast-travel mechanic isn’t explained, though it’s quite simple (climb to the highest point, then you’ll finally get a prompt). Also, you can fail a romance– or at least it seems you can; with my first options Odessa ran off in a huff. So maybe save before trying to make it with someone.

I’ve already heard speculations on what other locations should get the same treatment. Well, duh, Three Kingdoms China. I would love to be able to pick a side and fight at Red Cliffs. Of course I’d be against Cáo Cāo, but either of the southern kingdoms would be a good client. I’ll even suggest a great protagonist: Sūn Quán’s daughter, who in fact is fascinated by war and has her own troop of female archers.

 

 

 

 

I just read Oscar Wilde’s The Soul of Man Under Socialism, mostly because The Whelk has been talking about it for ages. It’s a fascinating document, because it’s so far out of its time. For 1891 it was more or less an absurdity. For 2018 it’s a practical program.

Wilde shows no interest in the actual socialism of his day; he has no enthusiasm for collective farms or factories, or indeed for any work at all. His view is that property has caused the majority of humans to lead miserable lives, and without it they will not be forced to do so.

[T]here are a great many people who, having no private property of their own, and being always on the brink of sheer starvation, are compelled to do the work of beasts of burden, to do work that is quite uncongenial to them, and to which they are forced by the peremptory, unreasonable, degrading Tyranny of want. These are the poor, and amongst them there is no grace of manner, or charm of speech, or civilisation, or culture, or refinement in pleasures, or joy of life.

As George Orwell points out in an insightful review, Wilde was making the assumption that “the world is immensely rich and is suffering chiefly from maldistribution.” This view was often unreflectively held by socialists, but when they took over they found it wasn’t so: instead, they had a huge mass of peasants and urban poor to feed, and the gewgaws found in the tsar’s palace were of no help. Wilde foresaw and deplored their solution:

It is clear, then, that no Authoritarian Socialism will do. For while under the present system a very large number of people can lead lives of a certain amount of freedom and expression and happiness, under an industrial-barrack system, or a system of economic tyranny, nobody would be able to have any such freedom at all. It is to be regretted that a portion of our community should be practically in slavery, but to propose to solve the problem by enslaving the entire community is childish. Every man must be left quite free to choose his own work. No form of compulsion must be exercised over him.

With the soul of a contrarian, Wilde looked at the cooperative ethos of socialism and found it the seedbed of Individualism. Freed of economic want, people will do as they want— creating things, mostly. He grows lyrical:

It will be a marvellous thing – the true personality of man – when we see it. It will grow naturally and simply, flowerlike, or as a tree grows. It will not be at discord. It will never argue or dispute. …Its value will not be measured by material things. It will have nothing. And yet it will have everything, and whatever one takes from it, it will still have, so rich will it be. It will not be always meddling with others, or asking them to be like itself. It will love them because they will be different. And yet while it will not meddle with others, it will help all, as a beautiful thing helps us, by being what it is.

But what about all those factories and fields, who will maintain them? No problem, says Wilde: machines will do it. In the conditions of his time, a machine might do the work of 500 men, and 499 would be thrown out of work, while one man, the owner of the machine, profited. If machines were public property, the work is still saved, but the prosperity goes to everyone.

All unintellectual labour, all monotonous, dull labour, all labour that deals with dreadful things, and involves unpleasant conditions, must be done by machinery. Machinery must work for us in coal mines, and do all sanitary services, and be the stoker of steamers, and clean the streets, and run messages on wet days, and do anything that is tedious or distressing. At present machinery competes against man. Under proper conditions machinery will serve man. 

Orwell notes drily that this was not possible in Wilde’s time nor in his own time, sixty years later. “Wilde’s version of Socialism could only be realised in a world not only far richer but also technically more advanced than the present one.”

Wilde knew that he was being Utopian; but “a map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at.” Well, you don’t get anywhere if you have no goals.

Wilde couldn’t offer much besides hope in 1891. But let’s play with some numbers, 127 years later. The GNP of the US is $20.7 trillion; the number of households is 126 million. That’s an average per household income of $164,000. The actual median household income is $59,000.  So complete redistribution would be a vast improvement for literally 90% of the population. (To be in the top 10%, you have to have a household income of about $133,000.)

(Household income seems like a more realistic gauge of prosperity than individual income. If (say) you were designing a UBI, I hope you’d think twice about an individual allocation— that would just make large families the new wealthy, and single people the new poor.)

At a world level, things are not so bouncy. Distribute the world’s wealth and we don’t all get to live like rich Americans. But again, things are far better than they were in Wilde’s or Orwell’s time. The average level is no longer “starving peasant”, but something like “reasonably comfortable urban dweller”.

This doesn’t mean that we’re getting there tomorrow. (This will be a relief to some of you and a disappointment to others.) But it does mean that the socialist alternative can no longer be dismissed, as Churchill once said, as “the equal sharing of miseries.” Today, the socialist alternative is not bad, and it gets better as the machines do.

To put it bluntly, that $100,000 difference between median and average household income is the tax we pay to have plutocracy.  Whatever you think are the benefits to having plutocracy rather than socialism— are they worth that much?

There are positions in the middle, of course! We actually had a system, in the real world, that raised the income of all classes and that limited inequality— liberalism. It’s not quite fair to directly compare Wilde’s ideal with any existing system; ideals are unbounded and putting idealists in charge doesn’t mean you get the ideal state. And a fair question to ask any socialist who’s read Wilde is, did you read the parts about how authoritarian socialism doesn’t get you to that ideal at all?

Anyway, it’s a bit moot right now because it turns out the reactionaries aren’t as dead as people hoped. I could go on and on about this, but I’ll just note that though reactionaries can notch up victories, as they win they also lose. Their whole program has been to reverse the gains of liberalism; what they’ve forgotten is that perhaps the fastest path to revolution or national ruin is when reactionaries are put in charge.

If you read Wilde’s essay, you’ll probably be struck by how much isn’t about socialism, or about politics, at all. He spends long paragraphs talking about Jesus, about Louis XIV, about the novel, about the newspapers’ war on modern art. His view of art is probably the most old-fashioned part of the article: the artist is a sort of high-minded explorer who cannot be answerable to press or public. And that’s about the only role he can find for any human in his utopia. I think his imagination flags here; absent economic necessity, any number of other pursuits might thrive, to say nothing of popular art that a Wilde wouldn’t bother with.

(A final word for the people who have already tuned out and are writing their own rants about how you can’t just divide up GNP like that… as I said, it’s not happening tomorrow, and deep analyses on why are not needed. But as an ideal and a critique of plutocracy, it’s more relevant now than it was in 1891. If the alternative is “continue as things are going in 2018”, we can’t do that either; if it doesn’t end in war or revolution, then it ends in catastrophic climate change. Better start thinking about what the world should look like in 2100.)