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Passion, inspiration, leadership, fandoms

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(Michael Hrenka) #1

This is going to be a weird post that pretty much looks like a very mixed bag. Nevertheless, I think it is important, because it aims to connect to what actually drives us to do things that go beyond the mere upkeep of our existence.

First of all, let’s start with some videos from the brony fandom:

Why? Because they are awe inspiring fan made animated videos that display the creative power of that particular fandom:

What is especially astonishing about the last video is that it was a project that took 2 and a half years to complete! For a single 7 minute video! The required level of dedication for such a project that is essentially a free spare time project speaks volumes. What drives people to do things like that? Such actions are certainly indicative of a very high level of passion and intrinsic motivation.

The Brony fandom is certainly not unique in that is inspires a whole lot of creative output like fan fiction, or videos. The Star Trek fandom is another amazing example that demonstrates impressive displays of skill, ambition, and passion. Let’s consider two examples of fan made videos:

For fan made projects their quality is simply insane. Those videos could well have been part of the official Star Trek productions, but they were actually made by fans on a tiny budget.

Those fandoms are obviously deeply inspired by the respective original productions. But what made the seemingly different Star Trek and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic so inspiring after all? Vision! Both original works can be seen as works belonging to the general category of speculative fiction, which encompasses science fiction and fantasy.

my thesis is that both worlds provide a positive social vision which makes them emotionally very compelling! Let me start with a meme that has been running around Facebook recently:

Star Trek has amazing technology, but that is not the point. The point is that this technology is used to transform not only society, but also be motivations, aspirations, and behaviour of people. The Federation is post-capitalist and people are really mostly motivated by pushing the boundaries, both their personal boundaries of skill and humanity, and the boundaries of exploration of outer space. The characters in Star Trek have moved beyond petty squabbles about belongings. And they are inspired by the great vision of peace between different civilizations and alien cultures.

Which indeed has parallels in the world of Equestria, the pony kingdom of MLP: FiM. Equestria is populated mainly by earth ponies, pegasi, and unicorns, which live together in peace – along with a few donkeys, zebras, cows, and griffins. In that sense, Equestia is similar to the Federation in Star Trek. And it’s not only the appreciation of peace and diversity that is common in both worlds. The focus of people in both worlds is really being the best version of yourself that you can be. The ponies in Equestria have “cutie marks” which are a graphical representation of their special personal talents. Ponies typically love living put their (sometimes magically reinforced) talents.

In both worlds, people are mostly intrinsically motivated! External rewards play a minor role. There is no poverty in both worlds, and very little estrangement. Peace and friendship are strong forces in both worlds. Though there is conflict, it often gets resolved by cooperation and mutual understanding.

Even though there are other very remarkable original works of fiction, few fandoms reach the level of common inspiration of the trekkies and the brony fandom. And the positive social vision is probably the reason for that. The Lord of the Rings is a totally amazing and popular work of fiction, but it hasn’t spawned such a popular and visible fandom as Star Trek and MLP: FiM. Why? Because it’s too dark! Sure, LotR is very moving and inspiring on a personal level when it comes to the characters of LotR, but the social vision is at best limited to the Shire, in which Hobbits live in relative harmony until the conflicts of the surrounding world engulf it in shadows. Of course, the Shire could have been taken as inspiration that the LotR fandom could have used for creative works. But the Shire is not the focus of LotR, it is merely the idyllic background to provide a contrast to the threat of war and destruction by dark forces. LotR is a story about personal struggle with those dark forces from without and even within, but it’s not a setting that focuses on a positive social vision.

Now, let’s come to two quite different movements: The Pirate parties and the transhumanist movement. It is really amazing that the Pirate parties have had a lot of quick successes. Going from inception to sending politicians to the European parliament within a few years is a great feat by any standard. How could that be achieved? Vision, passion, leadership, inspiration!

The underlying vision of the Pirate parties was that of a post-copyright world in which people were free to download whatever they want for free without being politically prosecuted for doing so. It turned out that this vision was very inspiring and resonated with the passions of people. But still, without the inspiring leadership of people like Rick Falkvinge, the founder and leader of the Swedish Pirate party, the movement couldn’t have won its victories as quickly as it has done. Fortunately, Falkvinge even bothered with writing down a manual for how we did that: Swarmwise: The Tactical Manual To Changing The World, which is available for free!

The Pirate parties are not fandoms, but basically activist groups. Still, both are motivated by passion and inspiration. Those elements are also present within the transhumanist movement. In some sense, the transhumanist movement is both a fandom, and an activist movement. Its aspects as fandom become clear when considering some prominent transhumanist leaders: The fist is futurist, inventor, and entrepreneur Ray Kurzweil:

Kurzweil promoted positive technological visions in his books, perhaps most brilliantly in his seminal book The Singularity is Near:

His company Kurzweil AI has a website that presents cutting edge technology news, and also allows people to discuss those news and his ideas in the forums on that site. Many people there see themselves as fans of Ray Kurzweil and his visions. They aren’t very visibly creative, but they discuss very futuristic ideas freely.

The second example of a fandom within the broader transhumanist community is the rationality community Less Wrong that was founded by Eliezer Yudkowsky. Yudkowsky is certainly an intriguing and controversial leader. He tries saving the world by making people more rational and by creating “friendly artificial intelligence”. At times, the Less Wrong community can feel like a cult around Yudkowsky, due to the extensive use of “rationality slang” that was coined in large part by Yudkowsky himself. In contrast to the Kurzweil AI community, Less Wrong can actually be seen as creative fandom that actually produces remarkable works of fan fiction which are set in, among others, fantasy worlds of Harry Potter, MLP: FiM, or Deathnote. These works of fan fiction are however inspired by the mission to teach people how to become more rational. Behind this, there seems to be a vision of a more peaceful and prosperous world enabled by rationality and friendly artificial intelligence. So, even in this situation, a positive social fiction seems to inspire a fandom to become wildly creative and motivated.

Now, let’s come to the activist aspect of the transhumanist movement. More specifically, the very new Transhumanist parties in the US and UK lead by Zoltan Istvan and Amon Twyman respectively. Istvan is the person who started the whole endeavour of political transhumanism. He did this on the basis of his highly successful and controversial science fiction novel The Transhumanist Wager.

There does seem to be a positive social vision presented in his book, but it seems to be a rather cold and ruthless one, based on a wild mix of anarcho-capitalism, temporary dictatorship, and a minimalist philosophy called “Teleological Egocentric Functionalism”. In the book, the main protagonist manages to create an independent nation called Transhumania which is based on his rule and working towards creating a transhumanist world ruled by cold reason, enlightened egoism, and advanced technology.

Although Istvan has distanced himself from his novel to some degree, it is clear, that he is at least party inspired by his vision of a transhumanist future. What is really remarkable, however, is how he used his candidacy for the office of the President of the USA to gain a surprising amount of media attention. This, in turn, has triggered people around the world to create Transhumanist parties, though all of them are still in their very infancy. Istvan’s initiative, passion, and media strategy have inspired people around the world to step up and become politically active for transhumanism.

What still seems to be missing for the global political transhumanist movement, though, it a common positive social vision. Neither Istvan’s novel, nor the rationality movement around Eliezer Yudkowsky provide a common vision for the whole of the transhumanist community.

But to become at least as successful as the Pirate parties, the Transhumanist parties need to provide and sell an emotionally compelling vision. The visual artist Jason Silva is certainly trying to inspire people for the possibilities of transhumanism on his YouTube channel Shots of Awe, but a clearly tangible and coherent social vision doesn’t necessarily emerge out of his works.

What the transhumanist movement needs most is an equivalent to the compelling positive social visions of Star Trek and MLP:FiM. If it can come up with that, then it can succeed greatly. If it fails providing such an inspiring vision, then its practical impact on the world may remain marginal for quite a while.


Amphi Festival 2017 Review
FedCon 2017 Review
Creative expression impresses, inspires, motivates
Eurofurence 2017 Review
Galacon 2017 Review
The Effectiveness of Narratives
(Michael Hrenka) #2

I’ve been positively surprised by a fan made Star Trek film called Star Trek: Horizon that seemingly came out of nowhere, at least compared to Star Trek: Axanar.

It plays in the “Enterprise” universe, but on the Discovery, a ship of the same type as the Enterprise, which also appears in the film. The quality of the film is unusually good for a fan production, even though the acting could have been better. Also, I don’t like the villain in Star Trek Horizon.

This film is a testament to what communities can achieve, when they put their efforts together. It’s fascinating to see that Star Trek has this kind of inspirational effect.


(Michael Hrenka) #3

Galacon 2016 review

I’m posting this review in this thread because it fits to the general theme about fandoms. So, I’ve been at the 5th Galacon last weekend. It was a Brony convention in Ludwigsburg, which is conveniently close to the place where I live. This convention has been the first fandom related convention I’ve ever visited. Usually I don’t identify with fandoms enough to bother visiting conventions, but I wanted to do more crazy things, so this opportunity looked like a reasonable option. Of course I was curious about how bronies are in real life and how these conventions and fandoms work.

Interesting observations

First of all, the location of the con was pretty nice. The convention building had a really unusual and artistic architecture. That made it slightly more difficult to find out where the events in the convention actually were supposed to happen, but especially the main hall was an aesthetic pleasure to experience.

There weren’t a lot of negative things to say about the event. The staff did a very reasonable job at making the con appear and work quite professional. Almost everyone was really nice, which is something that is at least somewhat unusual, since nearly every demographic has its fair share of douche-bags. Only by researching the con in the aftermath, I found out that there has been a slight subversion of the charity auction event that caused some people getting banned from the con, at least for that year – for the usual visitor this irregularity wasn’t really noticeable, because the staff did such a good job at making everything look normal and planned.

My hopes that the overlap of communities and fandoms would show up on the convention were fulfilled. I’ve noticed:

  • A Japanese anime cosplayer
  • Other cosplayers, for example Gordon Freeman (from Half-Life), and the Joker
  • A non-pony fursuiter
  • Some LARPers with large cardboard weapons
  • A lot of Pokemon merchandise (but why? Did they try to cash in on the Pokemon Go hype?)
  • A guy from the effective altruism community who was quite effective at cooperating with the con organisers
  • Pony collectible card players (yes, there’s a MLP: FiM CCG) who held a tournament at the convention
  • One guy who meditated at the outskirts of the con area (well, I don’t consider meditators to be a coherent community, but I found him quite notable nevertheless)

In accordance with the “love and tolerance” motto of the Brony community those people were nicely accepted, and even positively appreciated, on the con, at least as far as I have noticed.

Of course, there were about a dozen pony fursuiters on the con, with about half of them representing actual characters from the show, and the other half being made up characters (“OCs”). Sometimes there wore horseshoes that made the typical “clop” sounds. Those fursuiters had a preference for sticking together, but you could also see them on their own. What’s really astounding is that little girls were present at the convention, but in apparently smaller numbers than fursuiters!

What about the overall gender composition of the attendants? My rough guess is that about 85% of all con visitors were male. So, it might just be slightly more balanced than the transhumanist community, but I’m really not sure about that.

It’s worth mentioning that there was a lot of very original pony merchandise, including posters of ponies in “suggestive” poses. Of course there was no actually explicit material, since it was a convention for visitors of all ages (though the largest age group were those visitors between 18 and 25 years). What really surprised me was the abundance of pony plushies, and especially the large prices even the small ones were sold for. It was actually hard to find plushies that didn’t cost hundreds of Euros! Convention visitors showed the plushies they owned proudly and visibly. That felt both very cute and very unusual.

Instead of the usual food the restaurant in the middle of the con building served event themed foods such as “hayburgers” (with vegetable patties, no actual hay). Fortunately, those themed foods were actually cheaper than the normal menu items, which was the exception to the rule that stuff at the convention was generally expensive.

Passers-by from outside the convention area (which was not strictly separated by anything except for the walls of the convention building) were usually quite perplexed about what was happening there, and actually trying to explain that to them was both hard, awkward, and not reasonably possible.

Many visitors came in groups of some kind, but there were also visitors which were apparently alone. In general, people seemed to enjoy the convention in any case, even though group members seemed to have more fun.

Notable events

There was a 3d printing panel with a couple of guys presenting how they create wireframe models of ponies in Blender and print them out with a 3d printer (unfortunately the little pony statuette they were printing live broke in half after the printer was done). It was mostly about the technical side of 3d printing, which was quite interesting. Apparently the plastics used in affordable 3d printers aren’t good at dealing with mechanical and thermal stresses, so you need to consider how to make your 3d models rather robust. After the panel the 3d printer continued being used by the presenters who had their own stand at which they sold their 3d printed ponies.

Later on, there was a cosplay contest which was quite fascinating. The vast majority of cosplayers didn’t have fursuits, and few of them had actually complete “costumes”. After the simple costume presentations there were a few acts that some of the cosplayers played. They were rather funny and made the audience laugh a lot.

On Saturday evening there was a party with no alcohol allowed. Yeah, that was a thing. Many people still seemed to have fun dancing.

In the end, the most memorable and impressive event was the charity auction. Hardcore MLP:FiM fans bid ridiculously high amounts on mostly unimpressive pony merchandise that was often signed by community celebrities. The better stuff that actually had high artistic value was usually sold for 400 Euro and more. What was actually most impressive was the performance of the two auctioneers (community celebrities) who managed to motivate and entertain the audience quite professionally. Daring bidders got a lot of applause from the audience. It seemed that while there were relatively few bidders overall, those who made bids actually had a lot of money to spend.

Conclusions

The brony community managed to organise a very decent convention. That’s no small feat. Without the online hype around My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic this would not have been possible at all! And the online hype would not have been possible if Lauren Faust hadn’t turned the My Little Pony franchise into something that could be enjoyed by a much wider audience by producing a show with quite impressive qualities. Creating such a show requires lots of money, talent, and passion. But the positive resonance from the community and the subsequent explosion of theme related creativity in the form of fanfics, music, art, and all kinds of YouTube videos is what actually makes the fandom alive and vibrant.

It’s worth noting that the futurist and transhumanist communities are not fandoms. They are communities and they seem to lack the creative energy that can be observed at fandom conventions. Those rather intellectual groups appear to lack the energizing and motivating force that can be found in true fandoms. Can that be changed? Yes, if someone could create a popular show that was at least as revolutionary and (socially) visionary as the Star Trek franchise and which put futurism / transhumanism into the limelight, a true maelstrom of creativity under the purpose of creating a better future might be unleashed. That would require brilliant minds and millions of dollars solely dedicated to the cause of creating such a show, however. Well, everything starts small and someone needs to make a start with something. It may very well start here in the Fractal Future Forum. Is anyone up to this task?


Galacon 2017 Review
(Michael Hrenka) #4

Another glorious MLP: FiM fanvideo with more than 1.7 million views by now:

The detail put into lip synchronization is impressive here.


(Michael Hrenka) #5

There are still great MLP: FiM fanvideos being made. The following video is an alternative scenario to the first MLP: FiM movie Equestria Girls. It’s pretty fast paced, and perhaps slightly confusing, but looks pretty nice:

It also has a background story that is depicted in the following video:

Activating English captions is highly recommended, in particular for the second video.


(Michael Hrenka) #6

I made a dedicated review thread for Galacon 2017: