What Has Gone Before Us

So yesterday I was drop-dead tired (after moving the boy the weekend was a wash and then I went and waxed floors at the other house in the afternoon — don’t yell at me.  It’s ALMOST done but it’s been dragging because I was so tired I stayed home a few days) by the time I got to bed, and I was reading on my kindle.  These two circumstances are very good.

When I hit the wording that would have made me want to throw the kindle against the wall, I was too tired to do it immediately.  And then I realized I was reading on the kindle and refrained.  (This is good because paperwhite?  Couldn’t replace it now.)

This was  Kindle lending library mystery, indie, and honestly, who in a sane mind has a detective in the middle ages say he wants to send a wrong-doer to “club fed”?

Let’s suppose they had maximum security prisons for murderers (they didn’t. long term imprisonment had more to do with your station in life than the gravity of the crime) what does the fed refer to precisely?  Oh, yeah, I know Federal penitentiary.  So, first your detective gets in a time machine…

Not that I’m picking on indies particularly for this.  I mean the last mystery that figuratively speaking went against the wall was a reprint from Prime Crime and it had way worse problems than wording.  In Regency England — not in la belle France before the revolution — it had a nobleman shoot a peasant in the street (not only a nobleman, but a guardsman) and get away free because “he was just a peasant.”  There were other issues including a character who was supposed to be a man but “felt” like a girl in drag.  Because, layers and layers of fact checkers and stuff.

But the wording thing can still annoy.

I am not a word purist.  Then again, maybe I am another way.

What I mean by I’m not a word purist is that if I know the concept was around in the time I’m writing about, I don’t worry if the wording is “too modern.”  I’m not one of those people who go through to figure out when the word came into use, because not only do I believe in not calling a rabbit a schmerp (if the concept is the same and describing something in the reader’s head, then you should use the word that will get you most directly into that image without making the character work harder for the story than they have to.) As someone trained in science fiction, I believe in the most direct route to the thought.  I believe in transparent pose.

Which is why, for instance, when my editor on the musketeer vampires (Sword and blood) insisted I change “Pony tail” for “Queue” because “Pony Tail” only came into use in the 20th century, I rolled my eyes so hard they almost fell out.  (Yeah, that book is back and will be reissued, but the thing is though book 2 is also done, I need to change some stuff, and then I need to do the third before it goes up, and first there’s darkship revenge and the dragons series.  And fortunately REALLY the house will be done this week.  (Had to wait till now, there’s repairmen doing things I can’t do.)

So, why did I dislike the change above?  (Which I ended up allowing because I couldn’t stop these people from thinking that when a word “came into use in the US” was vitally important? And I couldn’t stop them.) Because pony tail as a concept is the same (that I know of) in Portugal and France, and while I can’t check on when “it came into use” i.e. appeared in print, I can guarantee a horse-intensive culture couldn’t help have the image.  I mean, trust me, there were more horses than cars around when I was little, and we knew the concept.  It just looks like it.

Meanwhile queue is not only factually wrong — in the book the character didn’t braid his hair, he tied it back — but has a whole cognitive freight of tradition and culture.  CHINESE tradition and culture.  And so every time I hit the d*mn thing in page proofs, it popped me out of king Louis XIII France and into China.

But they had their little etymological dictionary that told them this was a term not used (in print) before the fifties (I think.)  And so it must be.

What I mean by this is that words can be “correct” by definition and appearance, but you must keep track of the “flavor” of them.  Or you must if you’re aiming to be a decent writer.

And sometimes it’s better to be wrong, if it conveys your meaning better, than to be “right” and pop the reader out of the story.

I mean sometimes wrong is just wrong.  I had to explain to a copy-editor once that you don’t say someone in the musketeers’ time knew something subconsciously, because there simply isn’t a concept of subconscious in the characters’ mind at the time.  So you have to use a lot more words to get there.  But if the concept was there, find the simplest way to describe it that won’t pop the reader COMPLETELY out of place and time, like Club Fed, for a medieval, monarchic society.

But even before that the book had been bothering me.  It had been bothering me because the inside of the character’s head wasn’t medieval.  He was thinking about things like money in a totally modern way.

Which brings us to a discussion about romances, yesterday.  Like apparently most people who read Regencies I’ve become aware of a tendency for them to read more and more like modern romances than like something set in that time.

Someone nailed it for me by pointing out that female characters have been getting more modern.  For instance, they will do things like not want to marry UNTIL they have sexual experience, so they’ll be engaged and go out to find someone to sleep with them: in a time without either contraceptives or anti-biotics and in a time when a unwed pregnancy would ruin not only the woman but all her relatives.

Or they rebel against being the one who was supposed to marry to make the family fortunes.  I’m not saying a woman might not wish to marry someone else rather than make the family fortunes, but it would present in her own mind not as resentment to lifting the family out of debt, but as “I’m madly in love with the stable boy.” or whatever.  And if a woman was thoroughly opposed to married, it often manifested (at least in Catholic countries, granted, not England) as a “vocation.”  What it didn’t manifest as was “I want to pursue a career.”  Women married, or if they were unmarried stayed around the house helping with the nephews and the running of the house.  If they had the means they might set up household with a companion.  But only the poor worked, (even for men “having to” work was a downcheck on status.) If you were a governess or a nurse, it wasn’t for a “career” but because you were desperate.

Oh, and please save me from all the women running philanthropic organizations.  While there were of course a number of these run by women, it wasn’t every other woman as seems to be in today’s regency romances.  And charities for unmarried mothers would be very heavy on the preaching and getting them to give the baby up for adoption.  Not telling them they’ve done nothing wrong and “affirming” their choices.  Again, no contraceptives, no antibiotics.  Sex and its consequences were serious business PARTICULARLY for women who make more of an investment in reproduction.

Which gets us to why these romances of people sashaying around in costumes while being 21st century moderns go against the wall: It is the perverse and self-aggrandizing view of history of the modern Marxist.

Because their religion is all pervasive, it projects itself into the past.  Forget that there was no contraception, there was no modern medicine and the deaths in childbirth were shockingly high and that it was for women eventually a number game: have children often enough and you will die of something going wrong with the pregnancy and the birth. Women are just like men in their view and as “entitled” to consequence free sex.  Everything else would be an injustice.

In the same way everyone is “entitled” to being supported while doing whatever they please, be it painting or rescuing unwed mothers.  Anything else would be “unfair.”  And since they all froze in kindergarten when “unfair” was the battle cry that would bring the teacher down, they think that complaint trumps EVERYTHING.

So they know those people in the past were just pretending at being unenlightened, but really were doing wrong ON PURPOSE.  Which is why they hate the past and keep trying to remake it into the current-day-Marxists shining idol image which is always of themselves.

Heinlein didn’t have gay characters in his juveniles, at a time when having Jewish and Irish characters not played for laughs was already pushing the boundaries?  Well, crucify him then.  He knew of course — because everyone in the past thinks like a modern day SJW, they just did wrong ON PURPOSE — what was “right” and was just being sexist and racist and homophobic, by not following this year’s revealed wisdom.  How dare he?

Yes, I do realize some adjustments must be made for modern audiences.  I don’t have the musketeers beat their servants, for instance, because the impact of such a thing on a modern audience would be different than when Dumas was writing.  But that’s a minor adjustment, not changing the internals of the character utterly.

If you’re writing in the past — or even if you are just living in the present — you should have an idea of how the past was different, and the factors that shaped that.

If you assume the past was just like the present only less “enlightened” you’re presupposing history comes with an arrow, and that today is of course more “advanced” than the past.  While this is true of science — of course — it’s not always true of what was inside people’s heads.  In many ways because even the poorest of us struggle less than in the Middle Ages, it’s become easier to develop mental habits of laziness and other “rich person” vices.  What you think is enlightenment might be considered sheer nonsense by your descendants.  For instance the enlightened thing at one time (even Heinlein has a whiff of it) was genetic culling.  Now we’re finding that what we know about genes isn’t that straightforward.  Throw in epigenetics and someone with a gene to be a “moron” can turn out to be a genius.  More, even overtly bad disease genes are linked to genes we need and can’t survive without.  BUT the enlightened opinion in the early twentieth century was to improve humanity and save human suffering by culling out the sick and the lame and the “inferior races.”  (No, Hitler didn’t invent that.)

Some of our concepts (and I’m not going to name any because it’s a fight I don’t need, but I’m sure you can think of some) will prove just as monstrous to our descendants.

If you don’t have a sense of that, you don’t have a sense of the past, which unfortunately means you don’t have a sense of the present.

If you think that there is an objective way to end poverty or stop drug use, or whatever, and it’s ONLY your way, and even your opponents think your way is right and are being villainous and “evil” by opposing it you not only shouldn’t be writing historical fiction, you definitely shouldn’t be voting.  You should find the nearest kindergarten and use it as a safe space.

Because out here in the real adult world, the past and the present and complicated places, with different modes of arranging life that worked with the circumstances at that time, even if they now set our teeth (or our hair) on edge.

If you can’t accept your ancestors were different from you, thought differently and responded to different necessities, you have no business preaching multiculturalism.

Because what makes a culture different is not the hairstyles, the dresses or what they ate, but how one must live to survive.  And yes, some cultures are factually worse than others at providing their people with the necessities (or the luxuries) of life. Arguably most past cultures were (barring our finding some atlantian high- developed scientific culture we’ve heard nothing about.)

That doesn’t give you the right to to stomp your feet and rewrite the past to justify your boorish self-regard in the present.

Your ancestors were both more and less enlightened than you in ways you can’t even understand, and your superimposing your beliefs on them is the act of a mental midget standing on the shoulders of giants and peeing down.

The Piper You Pay May Be Your Own

One of you made a comment yesterday about people who really care about science fiction, versus people who want to make it into some sort of status symbol or message conveyor (only.)

This was in praise of me, which might or might not be right, because I do what I do to help new and indie writers for two reasons, neither of them particularly praiseworthy.  First, because it comes naturally.  Second because “daddy” (Robert A. Heinlein) told me to pay it forward.  To which you might add, as a contributing factor to the second that I was helped by so many people coming up that I could never pay back, so forward is the only way to pay.

But to explain how I choose to pay it forward, first you need to understand how I ended up running away with the science fiction circus.

My dad is of a more literary bend than most (and yes, likes re-reading Three Men In A Boat, though that’s not his only favorite) and reads “well reviewed” stuff (whose quality has been getting worse in mainstream too, btw.  I mean, beautiful crafted but predictably nihilistic.)  For brain candy he reads mystery.  Out of what I suspect is a sense of obligation he also reads all the “great books” of the past.

Dad in fact reads everything BUT science fiction.  One of our few fights was over science fiction, in that he tried to convince me it was “trash” and I stuck to my guns.

I learned to read early, and our family was never particularly flush (until I moved out.  I swear I don’t EAT money) which combined with the Portuguese publishing’s penchant for no reprints and short print runs meant that I was perpetually starved for reading material.

I learned early it was useless to ask the older relatives for books (because I already had all of Verne’s and Wells, leather bound, three copies.  And yeah, I read them too, but they were never my favorite.)  And mom wouldn’t let me ask them for money for books.  My various money-making schemes afforded me about a book a month (sometimes halfsies with my brother) but that left … let me see… I read six books a day on slow months, so let’s say that left 179 books give or take which I couldn’t afford to buy.  Oh, Portugual has no lending libraries.  The public libraries are more like the library of congress.  The book fair, once a year, downtown, when publishers cleared their warehouses by selling books at 1/4 the price and sometimes less, out of tents, supplied some of the need (but I had to be careful not to go alone, because if my brother and I went separately, we came home with the exact same books.  It was spooky.)

I searched out grandma’s potato cellars for her mom’s copious collection, I surreptitiously borrowed books from a friend’s father who bought the equivalent of time life books (surreptitiously, you ask.  Well, my friend knew but her dad didn’t know.  Nor that I know of ever found out.  He didn’t READ the books.  He just bought them to look good on his shelf.  This is how I read the Iliad and the Odyssey and most classical poets in translation.), I borrowed all of my friends’ books, including crochet manuals if I was desperate, I made entire friendships based on how many books this person had to lend.

And then when I was eleven, my brother brought home science fiction.  His friend in first year electrical engineering had a real library.  You know, one of those with rolling ladders.  AND he and his father and his grandfather had collected SF as far back as it went.

My brother brought the books home, and I started reading them.  And I fell in love.  The whole concept of writing in times and places that hadn’t happened (yet) both puzzled me and enthralled me.

I ran away with the science fiction circus.  (Fantasy only came in in my early twenties and in some ways still puzzles me a little.)

So in terms of science fiction, when you get right down to it, though I write it now, the sf person inside me is that 11 year old girl wanting more books and wanting to go “oh, wow.”

There were times I grew disenchanted and grew away from SF, but I always come back, and I always want more.

My tastes are eclectic and I’m quite capable of loving literary SF, but I also like exploding spaceships.  Because I read stuff like my cousin’s bullfighter romances, I can enjoy sf with a bit of romance. And because of my early reading — dad had a lot of war memoirs — I like mil sf, too.

I just like science fiction, and not being able to find anything to read reminds me of the book famine days of my childhood.

Unfortunately, due to traditional publishing’s tendency towards lockstep-trends and chasing of politically correct boredom, there were years — shudders — where I couldn’t find anything to read.

I don’t want this to happen again.  Also, where the writer comes in, the more people working in science fiction, and doing well, and the greater the variety of voices in science fiction, the broader the reader base.  Given that I write everything from soup to nuts (one of my classmates in translation class back in the day translated this as almond soup.  Weird the things one remembers.  But then this was the girl who answered a history essay question about the bellicose nature of the 17th century by writing — inventing — ten pages on the nature of bell manufacturing in the 17th century. You have to be erudite to be that dumb.) the broader the reader base, the more chance they’ll read me.

Then there is the beginning writer inside me struggling to write and be read.  As people helped me, so I help others.

But mostly I help others so I have more stuff to read.  Because inside me I’m still that little 11 year old looking for books in potato cellars.

Ideally science fiction becomes a broad church, where everything from literary to exploding spaceships to sf romance has a place.

And I get to read all of them — oh, nom nom nom nom — well, at least when the boys leave the house and I have more time.

That’s what I work for.

Anyway

Something Promo This Way Comes

*The Free Range Oyster has collected the promo for the week, but meanwhile (says she) I’m just posting a quick update on the status of the writer.  We’re moving the older boy out this weekend, since medschool starts next week.  The emotions they are mixed. He’s afraid he’ll change and no longer be able to relate to us.  That doesn’t worry me so much.  He IS change, and has been since he was put on my tummy the day after he was born.  We all are change.  And his move is overdue and would have happened before, but for financial circumstances and our needing his help fixing a house.

What worries me is less palpable.  I’m looking forward to more time to write without the kids (since when house sells #2 will be leaving the nest to rent his own place) and at the same time I worry I’ll go into one of my writing fugues and emerge on the other side and they’ll be middle aged, and I’ll have missed decades of their lives.  OTOH that’s the dilemma of every relationship (and novel.)  Hold each other close and do nothing means the relationship (or the novel) dies.  Do something and make life worthwhile, but miss all the time of just hanging out with your spouse and kids.

This family has always been fairly hard-and-fast going.  And yet, we found the time to have fun together.  This might be a little more difficult as miles between us lengthen when the kids get jobs, etc, but… maybe it always be so, to an extent.

When I was dying (well, everyone said I was) in an ICU 19 years ago I realized the most fun I had in life wasn’t the expensive trips or the vacations, but going out on a Saturday with Dan and the boys with nothing much to do and ending up at garage sales, or the zoo.

I don’t know what form that fun will take in the future, but I think it will happen, and I look forward to it.- SAH*

Hail, well met, and welcome to the weekend! I hope you all have lovely plans for raiding and loot- er, relaxing and constructive activities before Monday comes skulking in again. We’ve a couple of intriguing new entries this week from OldNFO and TXRed, and some resubmissions from CJ Carella, who wanted (quite justifiably) to show off the lovely new covers. I’ve got to run – we’re receiving the final Oyster Clan refugees from the Glorious People’s Democratic Republic of California today – so go buy good books, read good books, hug your loved ones, and remember to pillage before burning.

As always, future promo post entries can (and should!) be sent to my email. Happy reading!

Jason Dyck, AKA The Free Range Oyster

Codemonkey, minion wrangler, and teetotal tippler

JL Curtis

The Grey Man – Changes

When Texas Deputy Sheriff John Cronin thwarts the Cartel’s plan to get paid to smuggle Muslims across the border, he becomes the target of the Cartel once again. One try fails, but the cartel isn’t about to give up. With his granddaughter, Jesse, still recovering from her last run-in with the Cartel and now far away with her Marine husband on a military base, Cronin only has to worry about the innocents around him.

One way or another, this old school law man plans to end this cat and mouse game for good. But, this time, the Cartel is playing for keeps; ending this war might just cost the old man his life.

Either way Cronin plans to go out on his feet, fighting tooth and nail.

Alma Boykin

When Chicken Feet Cross the Highway

The next-to-last thing Alexi Zolnerovich wanted to see on I-25 was the Little House on Chicken Feet crossing eight lanes of traffic. He survives the Interstate only to find his grandmother missing, and hints that trouble from the Old Country followed the family across the water.

Can a young man’s determination and North American magic stop Baba Yaga?

C.J. Carella

Armageddon Girl

New Olympus Saga Book 1

College student Christine Dark wasn’t happy. Her social life sucked, she spent too much of her time playing computer games or reading sci-fi novels (and the occasional paranormal romance) and she felt like she was missing out on everything.

Fate had something special in store for her, though.

Without warning, an unknown force drags Christine out of her world and takes her to a whole new universe, an alternate Earth where superhuman beings have existed since the end of World War One, a world filled with strange and dangerous characters.

Christine soon learns she too is more than human, and that her choices may save her new home… or bring about its destruction.

Doomsday Duet

New Olympus Saga Book 2

In the sequel to Armageddon Girl, Christine Dark and Face-Off must face their inner demons while they try to save Earth Alpha, a world where superheroes are real and danger is everywhere. Can a former gamer chick endowed with cosmic powers and a murderous vigilante deal with their differences – and their growing attraction for one another – and escape the shadowy forces hunting them?

Meanwhile, Ultimate the Invincible Man finds himself a wanted man, persecuted by his former colleagues; Condor and Kestrel fight for justice while indulging their twisted sexual desires; and Cassius Jones, the hero known as Janus, reveals the terrible things he discovered during his exodus in outer space.

Filled with action, adventure and romance, Doomsday Duet continues to explore a world filled with superhuman beings with all too human failings.

Apocalypse Dance

New Olympus Saga Book 3

The End Is Here.

Christine Dark and Mark Martinez face their greatest challenge yet. Captured by the Dominion of the Ukraine, where they face torture and death, they must find a way to outsmart the Iron Tsar, escape, and deliver the world from utter destruction. Meanwhile, other heroes and villains forge alliances or battle each other as the fate of Earth Alpha, an alternate reality where superheroes are only too real, hangs in the balance.

Jeff Duntemann

THE CUNNING BLOOD

Caught violating Earth’s Zero Tolerance for Violence laws, Peter Novilio is sentenced to a one-way trip to Hell, Earth’s prison planet in the Zeta Tucanae system. Hell is forever: Two centuries earlier its ecosphere had been infected with microscopic nanomachines that destroy electrical conductors, condemning its inmates to a neo-Victorian steam-and-gaslight society without computers, spaceflight, or any hope of escape.
Peter soon learns that he has been framed by Earth’s paranoid world government, and is offered a pardon in return for conducting a reconnaissance mission to Hell and back. There are hints that Hell is developing impossible technologies or has even neutralized the wire-eating nanobugs entirely. How he will return from Hell is a secret known only to his grim mission partner, agent Geyl Shreve of Earth’s shadowy Special Implementer Service.
But Peter has a secret as well: He is a member of the outlawed Sangruse Society, and in his blood flows the Sangruse Device, Version 9, the most powerful nanocomputer AI ever created. Although supposedly Peter’s protector and advisor, the Device answers to no one but the Society’s mysterious leader, and has reasons of its own for visiting Hell. Peter soon discovers that he is little more than a disguise, caught in a covert war among Earth, a revolutionary group bent on overthrowing Earth’s government, Hell’s ingenious inmates, and the deadly mechanism in his veins. For as fearsome as it is, the Sangruse Device itself is afraid—and the fates of whole worlds would be decided by the threat that the Cunning Blood has discovered outside of space and time.

Social Injustice – 60 Guilders

Social Injustice – 60 Guilders

One of the things that most people who aren’t hopelessly mired in conspiratorial thinking have figured out is that the Holocaust—referring to the whole 12 million dead—was a rather evil thing to do. However, some people seem to be confused as to why it was an evil thing to do.

Here’s what I mean. There’s this underlying tone, whenever you see people talking about the “Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy to destroy Germany” and the “stab in the back” theory of why Germany lost World War I, that the latter was come up with out of whole cloth by the German aristocracy and military while the former was Hitler’s own insane twist on the theory.

Unfortunately, neither one of those statements is entirely true. First, while Germany would have ended up losing World War I even without its internal issues, the fact of the matter is that the morale issues and general disaffection that led the German high command to sue for peace in 1918 were exacerbated by socialist agitation. The most obvious result of this was the Kiel mutiny, when the sailors of the German navy refused to go out and have a last “glorious” battle with the British and proceeded to set up a socialist-led soldiers and workers council, and eventually forced the German government to overthrow the Kaiser. In other words, the “stab in the back” happened—it’s just that it was more of a result of Germany’s loss of the war than the cause of it.

As to the “Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy”—well, the awkward thing is that a disproportionate amount of Jews were involved in leftism in this period. Many of the leaders of the Spartacus League, which was heavily involved in the 1919 Spartacist uprising that attempted to take over Berlin, were Jewish, as were many within the Bolshevik uprising in Russia itself. The reason for this, of course, was that a disproportionate number of Jews were intellectuals, and intellectuals are often attracted to leftism. Now, the emphasis on Judaism was part and parcel of a longstanding pattern of German and European anti-Semitism, while the destruction of Germany/the German people was a case of a toxic combination of “They believe, as I do, that their policies are bad for Germany” and projection.

However, it should be noted that both of these theories, like all the really powerful lies, had a little kernel of truth in them, and a lot of belief behind them. There had been a socialist uprising in Germany that served as the straw that broke the camel’s back, and there were a number of Jews involved in the German left.

This brings me to a particularly unfortunate book I was required to read in college called What About Hitler, which, in the process of attempting to claim that total pacifism was the only possible Christian way of thinking about war and violence, mentioned that Hitler, under just war criteria, was justified in his actions. I should note, in the author’s defense, that this was a dig at just war theory rather than a defense of Hitler.

Anyway, that just really seemed wrong to me, but I couldn’t put my finger on why. Then it hit me. Any sort of justification Hitler might have been able to scrounge up under even the most ludicrously loose interpretation of just war theory was thrown out the window when he decided to engage in genocide, because attempting to annihilate entire people groups—Jews, Germans—for the actions of a secret or not-so-secret cabal, is wrong, because almost all of them will have committed no crime except possessing the temerity to be conceived in the wrong woman’s fallopian tube. For that matter, this is why going after any sort of group of people based on birth characteristics—race, sex, parentage, and the like—is a bad thing.

Unfortunately, that underlying tone of “Of course what Hitler and the Nazis did was unjustifiable, they were wrong about what was going on around them” whenever the topic of the Holocaust is discussed implies that, if they had been right, what they did would have been, at least, justifiable. In other words, there’s an acceptance of the underlying logic of collective justice going on there, and when you put adjectives in front of justice, you almost never get justice.

Which brings us to the current brawl in SF/F and the wider culture. There’s a very large swathe, of Western society that has regressed, though they call it progress, to the idea that one should deliberately punish all members of a group for the actions, real or imagined, of a few members, and to the idea that because members of a group are overrepresented in a particular area that it is a deliberate choice on the part of the group, rather than an accident of history.

You see it nearly everywhere. The idea that SF was somehow filled with racist, sexist hatemongers until…well, as near as I can tell, around five years ago is ludicrous when you have H. Beam Piper writing stories where racial intermarriage has turned almost all of humanity a nice shade of brown and there are heroic characters with names like Themistocles M’Zangwe. But, even if that were true—what, we should stop reading (and buying books from) straight white male authors for an entire year? Because a bunch of people they never even met were theoretically jerks?

On a societal level, however, that’s not especially important. However, you see the same kind of thing with the recent controversies over Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Freddie Gray. Because white cops were involved (even if they weren’t the only ones there), and the dead men were black, suddenly all cops, particularly white ones, were evil, racist, brutal, Gestapo agents. For that matter, all of white America was somehow responsible for the supposed unfair targeting of black men by police, as well as the racial disparities in arrests. Because, apparently, all of white America is responsible for Ferguson’s city council kidnapping Lady Justice and whoring her out to Mammon, New York’s government deciding to be a bluenose, the crime-ridden sinkhole that Baltimore has become, and the weirdnesses of the American criminal justice system.

And if those don’t ring your bell, pick a controversial topic in our society today, and I will almost guarantee that it’s controversial because someone has decided that collective justice is something we as a society should engage in it. Confederate flags, stop and frisk, removal of tax exemptions, affirmative action…I could go on, but I am a guest here.

Now, the thing is, a certain amount of “collective justice” is inevitable—there is, to quote John Piper, a fine line between legitimate probability judgments and racism (fill in with whatever –ism you like). But it should not be a societal value, because when society starts tarring all members of a group with the actions of a few of its present-day members or members who the present-day members have never met, that’s when people decide it’s better to be hung for a sheep than a lamb.

In the best-case scenario for that eventuality, the fabric of society frays a bit more, and we’re all a little worse off. In the worst case, the crops are exceedingly well-fertilized the next year.

Slide In All Directions – A Blast From the Past Post, September 2012

Are you nervous?  Confused?  Distressed?  Don’t be!  Tune in for the next episode of Sarah’s blog.

Yesterday, at an ordinary get together between friends, we found that we were all waking up in the middle of the night with cold sweats.  Now, this being the type of gathering it was, most of our cold sweats centered on the election and since most of them do for a living this non-fiction thing I do sporadically and more intensely right now, we’re all dead-tired, hollow-eyed and walking into walls as is.

But there were enough people in other fields and who aren’t as intensely political present, that the sense of unease and discomfort, the sense that we’re standing on thin ice is not just politics.  “Something is going on here.”

What is going on here – and the reason I’m having cold sweats over the election – is ultimately the same thing that is going on in publishing.  It’s good and it’s bad, it’s exhilarating and terrifying, and the people who are terrified have declared war on it, and even those of us who’ve embraced it are scared.  Very scared.  You see… the future is not what it used to be.  In fact, it never was.

It’s impossible now to read the golden age of science fiction without getting two things: the confidence and the hopefulness.

The hopefulness I can fully get behind, but the confidence, the certainty that they knew what the future held – that baffles me.  Oh, not absolutely.  I’ve read enough of history and of the nonfiction writings of the first half of the twentieth century to realize they thought they had it all figured out.  (The only thing that confuses me is how they didn’t know how it had worked in the past.  I’m guessing they thought their technology was so extraordinary it made what had failed in the past possible.  Or perhaps it was simply the Soviet Union’s propaganda, making it look like it worked THERE.)

It is clear, even from Heinlein’s juveniles that they expected a world-wide government with tighter controls over people’s private lives than even we have managed to inflict on ourselves.  And it works because… because… because… Science!

In Heinlein’s books, because the man was aware of history, there was a hard science of psychology and also one of politics that made all this possible, if not desirable.  (Even in the early books, his characters strive to escape other people’s plans for them.)

People travel around the world, they fly to the stars, and all of it is overseen by variations on FDR’s regime – more or less benevolent – which makes the whole thing work.

I guess when the USSR had apparently pulled a medieval kingdom into the 20th century in a couple of decades – as far as the information coming out, at least – this made sense.

Of course, there was also how rapid and visible progress had been, and how we BELIEVED we had everything under control now.

Let’s say the USSR was very short of an advertisement and that any regime that tried to apply that to the whole world would be a sad, mad, fractured regime.  Let’s also say most of us know that now, at some level.

In many ways the wars of the 21st century so far have been wars against global communication.  Those who resent their people’s ability to see that they aren’t the brightest/bravest/most civilized in the world turn to religion and bitter, limiting beliefs and try to erase that which “offends” them by showing them their inferiority.  And I’m not JUST talking about Muslim countries.

It boggles the mind to read early 20th century books where travel across the globe was cheap and almost instant and there was no resistance to this modernity, this change.  Even the handwavium of “hard science psychology” can’t quite but leave us baffled.

We’re aware now that there’s more difference between cultures and religions than that.  (We’re also trying to claim those are genetic – well, not us, but the other sect of Luddites bedeviling us.  Never mind.  Jean Jacques Rousseau’s fault.  If I had only one bullet, and one time machine…  Never mind.)

Part of this was of course that the two generations before ours had seen their world change enormously – from horse and buggy to intercontinental flight – and embraced it, and couldn’t imagine anyone NOT.

But what they’d embraced was… a physical change.  Yes, machines could spin faster than humans, and that meant no childhood labor, but machines were still making the same goods in the same way.  They still had to be transported over distances.  You still had to go in to work every day.  Etc. etc. etc.

And their projections of the future, those things they so confidently embraced and foretold, were more of the same: people worked across the globe, but they went in to a physical location to work; they flew spaceships by being members of the astrogator’s union; and writers would maybe fax their work in, but books were still printed or somehow encoded in a physical form.

Turns out it didn’t work out as advertised.  Might it have?  Well, part of it was, I think, impossible from the beginning.  Like… the world cultures all effortlessly becoming a sort of ersatz 50s America for instance with their different customs so much décor.  (Weirdly I think that’s how most people who preach multiculturalism see it.  Part of this, of course, is that the future comes – always – from America and being a nation of immigrants who willingly abandoned their culture and keep only the… scenic portions, we fail to get that culture as a group experience is different.  I recommend one reads the parable of the crab bucket.)

But in the Western World we might certainly have had the population multiplying wave, and the strength of mind and purpose to NOW have colonies in the solar system.  Only… we didn’t because of the peculiar nature of the Boomer generation.  (Are you blaming the boomers again, Sarah?  No, not blaming.  But that they were in many ways the first generation in which even the poor were well off by other generation’s standards, that they were massive in numbers, and that they were the target of soviet agitprop made a difference.  How could it not.  And no, I’m not one of them.  Nor is anyone really after somewhere in the mid fifties.  That idea is a fiction they created to remain relevant.  Born in 62 I “got here afterwards” and to an extent at least early on defined myself in opposition to them.  To paraphrase P.J. O’Rourke, my generation turned its back on the sit-ins and love-ins, cut our hair and got jobs.  Someone had to.)  They not only didn’t have children early but they also went hook line and sinker for luddite nonsense rising to the levels of religious hysteria.  They turned on their own species, though I don’t think they were aware of that, and decided we shouldn’t leave this planet, because like Lord Byron we were “mad bad and dangerous to know.”  They, in fact, decided theirs was the pinnacle of achievement, and that life should be frozen just like this, with perhaps a little decay and population reduction, but never below the tech of the thirties, or above the tech of the sixties.  (I still think, btw, all this was Soviet Agit Prop.)  They would preside over the turning point into gentle decay, and the human race would live ever after like a contented dowager, taking up increasingly less room and reminiscing on her youth.

Only… change doesn’t work that way.  Nor does technology.  The bright minds who might have designed a better kind of rocket, finding themselves thwarted went into computers.  This was allowed because, after all, it was just improving what already existed.

Only it wasn’t.  And the people who are scared of technological change, of societal uncertainty, caught on too late.  In the nineties they scrambled to talk down the computer revolution, to pile on on online commerce as soul destroying, to guilt us into abandoning email and AIM.  The government, ever as clued as big publishing houses, lumbered around doing the bidding of the people who believed government was the future (because they are the ones who go into government careers, by and large) and kicking over sand piles with lawsuits against various tech companies.

And they were oh, so horribly inefficient.  They’re still trying.  The current front in this battle is the “Amazon is evil” moaning and beating of chests.

They won’t succeed.  And the quake of technology of which we’re feeling the first rumbles is going to make the industrial revolution seem like a storm in a teacup.

No?  Think.  What we’re seeing happen in publishing will happen in education and it will happen in every other field too.  Except for a very few jobs, jobs will get uncoupled from a place.  Now, instead of choosing from the best qualified candidate in your city, you can pick worldwide.  Outsourcing?  You ain’t seen nothing yet.

What will it do?  Even my mind boggles.  I think overtime all skilled people around the world will become comparable in salary, but that’s okay because cost of living will equalize too.

The way there will be …. Horrible in many places, and unsettling in the best of them.  BUT on the other side there’s a society where how far you get is limited only by how hard you’re willing to work.

I think the change that’s coming, and which my grandchildren might see the end of (though I’ll tuck away a hope that increased longevity will allow me to see the middle of it) will refashion the way individuals the world over think of themselves.  It might at that bring the triumph of the American way of life – once the present generation of doubters shuts up or disappears – because a constitutional democratic republic is the best way to manage a diverse and pugnacious society.

BUT my guess is what it will birth will not be a worldwide regime, but something far more complex, fractured and interesting.  People might at long last really be able to experiment with forms of government they believe in, (even if they are stupid, yes) by living near other like minded people, regardless of what they do or what natural resources the area has.

At the end of this I suspect we’ll have a sort of federalism writ large.  And the savings in time and manpower – from not having to fly containers of data around, for one – and the improvements in science from around-the-world instantaneous communication and better education-at-will; and the loosening of the grip of governments on economies (through distributed workforces) will  usher in an era of prosperity that WILL propel us to the stars.

I can see it.  It’s so close I can taste it.

So can the luddites.  Which is why they’re screaming and thrashing around like banshees and making use of 20th century communications tech to TRY to keep the future at bay.  It annoys me, because if they succeed the transition will be unnecessarily painful, unnecessarily bloody, and I might not live to see the other side.

What makes me wake up in the middle of the night is the fear that the land I love, and my children born here, will not live as an entity to see the other end of this either.

But that’s a personal and minor quibble.  Technology and knowledge, once they reach a certain point, cannot be wholly stopped.  You can change their course from what seems logical.  But eventually, to quote Leonard Cohen, “Things are going to slide, slide in all directions, Won’t be nothing you can measure anymore.”  And then… they’ll settle in a new pattern.  And move on.

Whether the future continues to come from America or someone elsewhere picks up the flag; whether it’s now or five hundred years from now – a more free world is coming, one that allows for more individual definitions of happiness and satisfaction…  for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

And the people now trying to stop it will be bumps on the road.

Perfect Justice

So, Jeb Bush — Jeb Open Mouth Remove All Doubt Bush — was running his mouth.  First of all he says his son gets teased for his skin color (in Florida?  Well, paint me purple and call me Edna, but are they living in another planet?) Then he said he explained to his son that our nation is not one of “perfect justice YET.”

Am I the only one who shuddered at that sentence?  The pursuit of “perfect justice” be it racial, economic or whatever has filled millions of graves.  Now, would Jeb Bush do that?  I doubt it.  Or at least I don’t think so.  He’s a soft-Euro-socialist not a Stalinist (which means yeah, in certain circumstances the lesser of two evils) but the phrase is still worrying for a demonstration of brain-rot and how lazy thinking gets into people’s minds and ejects reason and sense, and can cause horrible evil.

I confess I never promised either of my sons perfect justice.  And when people remarked on their “beautiful” olive skin, I said “thank you.”  (Though honestly, how does one take credit for skin tone.  “Yes, ma’am.  My family worked on that tan for GENERATIONS.”)

I also confess not only don’t I understand American attitudes to race, I don’t “read” race the way Americans do.  That is one thing in which I’m very foreign (or perhaps from another planet.)

Look, I’m not saying Portuguese aren’t racist, okay?  Like most Europeans not only are they more openly racist (they make jokes all the time) but “race” often means nationality.  My mom classified not just my kids as mixed race (arguably Dan almost for sure has Amerindian ancestry, though you can’t tell it by HIM as such) but also the children of my friend who married a Frenchman.  Oh, and “mixed” is bad.

I’m saying that unless it comes up (such as in a joke) or it’s rather obvious (like the friend who married a man from Africa and half her family didn’t show up at the wedding) they don’t mention it.  And various degrees of tan/African features mean nothing because… well… Portugal.  (I once made a cover for a friend’s romance and she told me she couldn’t use it because people would think it was about POC.  The girl she was talking about is a dead-ringer to my older son’s Godmother, and my 5th cousin or so, who never considered herself anything but Portuguese and white.)

Add to that that even in Portugal I felt like someone from outer space on that, as many other things.  Unless you had an accent and had arrived from Africa last week you were just “a little dark” as far as I was concerned.  Mostly because I can’t be bothered.

But people born and raised in America?  Ah.  That gets… fascinating.  When what’s his face said we needed to talk about race my reaction was “talk about?  Can we get them shut up about it ALREADY?

There is a delicate dance of race and racial stereotypes and implications in this country that I not only don’t get, but have no interest in learning.  And there is — as admittedly elsewhere — considering “race” what is in fact “culture” like Hispanic or Arab, even if all of us fall under various tan-lines.

So… part of this goes back to that perfect justice thing.

I tend to forget race exists. And I certainly don’t look at strangers’ faces and analyze them for racial characteristics.  I was mildly amused when older son was drawing me and drew me a shade darker and said “Wow, you look black.”

At which point I said “Oh, yeah when I was young and spent a month a year at the beach, and wore an affro” (Shut up, it was the seventies.  Also, no, you’ll never get to see pictures.  I think. I wore it tastefully pulled back with a thin blue ribbon, Roman style.) “people IN PORTUGAL referred to me as “the young lady of color” which in that time and place was the same as saying ‘that chick just arrived from Africa.'”

But it didn’t bug me one way or the other.

As for older son, well, he’s older son.  We have had indications before that people read him as racially mixed with a good dose of Africa, particularly since the teacher known to mess with kids with that ancestry made his life miserable in first grade.  But I mean… he’s a little darker than I and it’s a ruddy sort of dark, somewhere between Dan and I for tone.  (Unlike younger son who gets darker every year and is Mediterranean looking.)

So, while we were looking for an apartment for him imagine my confusion at getting delicate probing as to my husband’s race, and also clear indications that people of various levels of tanitude, including the extreme, assumed Robert was one of them.

And this brings me back to that perfect justice thing, again.  While looking at the cheapest and possibly nicest of all the apartments, it became clear to me I couldn’t let my son live there.  You see, unlike a certain SF/F writer who thinks it’s open season on her, I didn’t think my son was going to get killed because at first glance he might be identified as mulatto (the fact he helped me fix a balcony and a fence doesn’t help this perception.  I mean, in a day he looked like me after a month at the beach.)

I am, however, not a total moron.

Police in that area has been off the leash longer than the militarization of police.  Arguably they are now MUCH better than they were in the seventies.

And the areas are sketchy and often on the verge of outright warfare.  Which meant that putting my kid there, when he’s likely to come home at all hours, possibly wearing all black (scrubs) when he’s big and hulking and therefore looks like he’s menacing while standing still and smiling is NOT a good idea.

So, I told him we’d have to spring for the extra $300 to go to the next area up.  (I noted, btw, that all the students in that complex were thin, blond people.)

Perfect justice?  Oh, h*ll no.

However it is the neighborhood’s character, not its skin tone that lead the police to be trigger happy.  That the character is covalent with the skin tone is what might cause my kid to be misjudged.

And the character is admittedly not the police’s fault, even if they do get a little trigger happy.

It is the fault of a culture that tells kids of a certain tan that they are “made fun of because of their skin tone” (do you remember being in school?  You could get made fun of for standing still.  My cousins managed to tease my best friend because her name was Isabel which rhymed with papel.  So the taunt went something like “Isabel, she’s made of paper.”  Yeah.  Not much sense, but it hurt, anyway, because we were all kids.)  It is the fault of a culture that tells kids we’ll work to get them “perfect justice.”

What is perfect justice, short of paradise?  Who is like G-d, that he might stand above us and judge what justice is perfect for whom?  Who even can judge races in this increasingly mixed land of ours?

I mean, my kid is technically Latin, as am I, and I was prepared to have people react to him as Latin.  (He looks Cuban to me!) But people are reacting to him as mulatto, which he certainly isn’t and we never thought of.

How do you even judge racism in those circumstances?  (And I’ll point out we experienced none, since most of the people assuming Robert was mulatto were black.) How do you JUDGE?

But when you look at every little kid who is darker than average and treat them differently, you’re going to create a completely messed up culture.

And weirdly the people like Robert’s first grade teacher who are outright racists and thing the worst thing possible is to be mixed race, and who try to put mixed race kids in remedial classes and convince their parents the kids are slow, are NOT the ones doing the worst harm.

No, those are people like Jeb Bush, who think that stopping kids teasing other kids is “perfect justice” because what the kids are teased about is skin tone.  They are people who tell kids with a tan or African features or whatever that “the man is keeping you down.”  They are the people who tell minority (ah, whatever) kids that they are being “microaggressed” because someone looked at them funny.

We all experience (trust me) frustration and failure in life.  To give these kids the impression that not only is nothing their fault (and a lot of it won’t be.  That happens to everyone too) but that they can’t do anything about it until someone delivers “perfect justice” and that the world has it in for them is a way to create a community of crazy, aggressive, dysfunctional people.

This is how we end up with a woman who attended NYU and whose parents networth is more than ours for three generations COMBINED thinking she’s a victim and everyone is out to get her.

No matter if they endure more of the teasing and glaring than others, telling these kids “yeah, some people are *ssholes, ignore them” is ultimately the best course (and the one we followed, except with that teacher, where we had to get the kid IQ tests in order to ignore her because the school was backing her.)

Because going after everyone who in their heart judges my kids as a stereotype and treats them differently wouldn’t create perfect justice.  It would create… how do you say?  Oh, yeah, mass graves.

My husband who presents as very white (good thing he didn’t grow up with us.  His name is Daniel which also rhymes with papel, and I can see my cousins singing “Daniel, Daniel, white like paper.” :-P) also gets treated differently oftentimes because he’s short, or because he forgot to shave, or because he’s slightly overweight.  Does that fall under perfect justice, too?  Man, those mass graves are going to need bulldozers to fill them.

THERE IS NO PERFECT JUSTICE.  Unless you clone humans to all look perfectly alike, we’re all going to judge each other on color, height, size, expressions, features, etc.

Provided we revise those opinions on an individual basis, it’s okay.  It’s being human and coming from tribal social apes.  Identifying “my band” was rather critical to our ancestors, after all.  Other bands could eat you or worse.

Now, particularly in a multi-ethnic (not just multi-racial) nation like ours it’s important to consider “tribe” something different, like say “believes in the constitution.”

BUT people will still revert to default modes, because people are people.  And you can’t cure people of being people and those who tried are known as… oh, yeah, “History’s greatest butchers.”

Perfect justice is an illusion.  I’d love to pay $300 less per month, and admittedly, if my kid were skinny and blond I could.  But then if my kid’s size and coloration weren’t linked to “danger” in the cop’s heads, that neighborhood would be much more expensive.

So, “in a perfect world” is irrelevant, because there was never and there never will be one.

And if do-gooders like Jeb Bush stop trying to help us achieve “perfect justice” we’ll rub along as best we can in this one, ignoring the *ssholes and doing the best we can.  Provided we stop lying to children and excusing their failures and their occasional grievances, and teaching them that what matters in the end is to work hard and be the best you can, and that if you do that you’ll succeed despite your skin color or features.  Yeah, you might not achieve the moon on a platter, because luck comes in there, too, but you’ll do much better than if you never try.

Teach your children well.  Regardless of their tan-status.

ALL lives matter.

Dealing in Stereotypes

*Maybe the “I have no strength” is tiredness.  I’m fuzzy enough I almost posted half a novel here, instead of this blog.  Fortunately I noticed before I pressed publish.*

Sorry to be so late with this. I didn’t exactly wake up tired or in pain, which is an improvement over the last few months, just scattered and feeling rather as if I didn’t have any strength in my arms, which is odd.

So it took me a while to get to this.

Yesterday my friend Dave Freer blogged on stereotypes, and I’ve been mulling on what he wrote while I cleaned.

Stereotypes are of course a tool of the trade for writers. We have to know what the stereotypes are in people’s minds, and therefore use them to suggest things we can’t thoroughly describe. (No one can thoroughly describe everything, even in a long book. Nor would you want them to. It would get truly tedious.)

Sometimes I fail at this, the same way I have trouble picking fonts for covers, because the stereotypes in my head are not the same as in most of my readers’. Take Irishmen for instance. I actually know something about the stereotype here, because it’s all over the books everywhere. However, if I’d tried to write an Irishman (or woman) when I came here, and assumed that my readers knew to round out the character with extreme politeness, drive and organization, it would backfire, and at best people would think I was being creative. At worst it would be a “wait, what?”

I suspect the Portuguese stereotype for Irish tells you rather more than you want to know about Portugal, but also about the sort of Irish we got in Portugal. Here you go people looking to make a new living, perhaps not drawn from the higher echelons of society. There you got either rich people, or people who came over as upper servants to British residents. In either case, the unruly Irishman stereotype doesn’t apply, even if both agree on song and poetry.

In the same way I often disappoint on the Portuguese stereotype, because my family runs to relatively tall, I haven’t been in the sun much the last few years, and oh, yes, I fail to be outwardly and loudly pious.

Partly it’s because most of the Portuguese you get here are from the isles whose culture is about 100 years older than the continent. So my grandmother would be more like the rest of the Portuguese here.

For instance at Liberty con years ago, while I was sympathizing with a writer who is – I think – 1/6th Portuguese, I said my shoes were lovely but were killing my feet. (I have since ditched them. It’s a pity. Very steam punk, but painful.) She asked if my granny would have said I deserved it for my vanity and that it was the devil torturing me. I honestly can’t remember my grandmother ever threatening me with the devil for anything, and her only comment ever on vanity was that if I kept looking in the mirror I’d neglect the true beauty which was inside. (I was about five.) But more than that, if someone had said that, openly, in our circles, people would have looked at them like they’d grown a second head. It’s simply not something you talk about in public, unless it’s as a joke.

Anyway, so as with me picking fonts for covers, if I use national stereotypes I have to check that I’m not misfiring. (Historic fonts for me often read western or horror to Americans.) For instance, recently an Indian fan explained to me that yes, there is a stereotype for Indians in the US and it’s NOT as I’d have assumed from the ones who have worked with my husband “unholy intelligent, mathematically gifted, ambitious and hard working.” Who knew? I certainly didn’t.

So I’m not going to rely on stereotypes too much, of course. And sometimes the stereotypes I use are those of the character’s time, not mine. For instance a character in Shakespeare’s time would expect every Italian to be aggressive and possibly a poisoner.

However, as Dave put it, some stereotypes exist because they’re true. Not in the particular, of course, because each individual IS individual. But if you’re writing a Spaniard and make him small, black haired, voluble, and excitable, people will get some of those qualities even if not very well sketched out. (This leaves Jason Cordova right out, as he’s not like that at all, but again, it works in general.)

I prefer to use stereotypes for my secondary characters, which prevents my having to draw everyone fully out.

Anyway, so, what is this about other than writing?

The problem with stereotypes is not in writing – unless you populate your entire world with them, of course or use stereotypes only a few people share – it’s in life.

I find a lot of people think in stereotypes. I’d like to say it’s just the left, but you know that’s not true. Or at least I know. It took a long time for some people on the right to stop treating me like a leper because Latin, graduate degree in Liberal arts, writer. They KNEW I was one of them crazy European SJWs and they kept waiting for me to show it. (They probably are still waiting.)

However the left, particularly the left in my field, are particularly prone to stereotyping and completely unaware that they’re doing it.

It’s been somewhere between funny and sad to watch people like Madame Butthurt trying to fit me into their mental map. Having taken off after me, in the complete conviction that I was a white American woman who had never travelled outside the country (and a lot of them having made comments to that effect to me, Amanda Green AND Kate Paulk) she was thrown off base at finding I was Portuguese. Then she tried to say I fled to the US to escape the revolution and was therefore an evil fascist (which would have required me to pack really slowly, as I came over in 1985, at least permanently.) And then she wandered in circles, and for all I know is still wandering in circles (I don’t know. I have a life), making the perma Tourette’s-like accusations of “racist, sexist, homophobic.” None of which make any sense in my particular case, but never mind.

Then there are flowers like the persons who invaded my facebook page, the screenshot of one of which Cedar posted yesterday. First, the guy, who apparently has an history having managed SOMEHOW to make himself persona non-grata at HWA and who seemed to think that anyone not agreeing with his choice of (socialist) candidate for the presidency was a “fascist” and longed for a “fascist” dictatorship (Those libertarians, always longing for dictatorship.) He also seems to be a dyed in the wool anti-Semite (and here allow me to put on my stereotype hat and say “of course he is.”)

Then there was the woman who posted “Hilary 2016” and when I said “Yes, she does have a vagina and got where she is on the back of a man, what a fine example for our girls” she said what I’d posted was “ew” (really? I could be a lot more “ew”) which seems like the objection of a two year old, and as we piled on the reasons her skankiness the carpetbagger SHOULDN’T be president, she said we were very angry people and that she’d have to block us and ran away.

The second one is more indicative of the type of non-reasoning I see involving stereotypes. The people most addicted to stereotypes learned them in college (which is why they think they’re the truth and not stereotypes. Hint: Marxist classifications of victim classes are NOTHING but stereotypes.) They not only learned these stereotypes, like that anyone who doesn’t agree with them or their professors is “racist, sexist, evil, doubleplusungood” but they have learned that if they find themselves agreeing with those people on the slightest thing, then you become one of them.

And this is why my colleagues on the left try to find ways to dismiss me (“Oh, the Portuguese were colonialist” – um… yes, but not as bad as the Belgians. All human breeds were colonialists. “The Portuguese are just Europeans.” “Fascinating. Perhaps you should share that wisdom with the bars in France who as little as ten years ago had ‘No Portuguese or dogs’ signs.”) or ways to make what I have to say irrelevant. “She’s just angry” (yeah, and? I actually am not, or at least only at some specific publishers, and not for anything public. But what if I were. Since when is being angry a reason to dismiss someone. Take the woman who came to yell at my mom because I’d bit her son (for good and sufficient reason but never mind) if my mom had said “oh, you’re just angry” instead of explaining why her son had come by his just deserts, the fight would have escalated to blows. Yes, the woman was angry. She thought I’d attacked her precious son for no reason. Which, were it true, would make anyone angry.) Or applied to everyone who disagrees with them “You’re jealous. You’re a bad writer.” Even if we were – and honestly, give us evidence, please, evidence we can’t cherrypick out of your darlings too – why would that dismiss arguments that have nothing at all to do with envy or our quality of writing, such as when I say that most books pushed and promoted are boring and incredibly predictable to anyone who studied Marxism as much as I was forced to?

I am admittedly jealous of some people’s writing skill. I have for instance, been studying P. F. Chisholm’s way with an historic mystery, because that how I deal with jealousy of another’s craft. I learn.

I am occasionally a bad writer, particularly in these blogs, which are unproofed and often written early morning or late night.

None of which means my opinions on stories or writers are therefore invalid.

And if I say something in a repulsive way, it might make you recoil, but a reasoning human being won’t say “that’s just ew” and dismiss it that way.

People, however, who are afraid to see real human beings behind stereotypes WILL. Because they can’t think of real people or of issues individually. They see only categories. And they KNOW that if they step outside the reservation they’ll find themselves BECOMING the stereotype they dread.

When they call us names, it’s a sort of incantation to make the bad thought go away.

Which is why when they (by which I don’t mean liberals, but people so impaired in reasoning that they respond illogically to any challenge to their world view. Not all liberals are like that, and some conservatives are) produce art it tends to be flat and lifeless.

Piers Plowman by any other name.

Unmasking the Clown- Cedar Sanderson

Unmasking the Clown – Cedar Sanderson

I’m not only a writer. I’m also a student working on a science degree, but for fifteen years now, I have been a performer; an entertainer whose job was to amuse others, make children smile, and generally forget their cares for a short time. Although this was a long, slow development for me, and originally not my intent to do, I was thinking about it the other day as I put the red nose on.

We all wear masks. Most of us would no sooner go out in public without that barrier between us and them than we would walk out of the house in our underwear. My mask for performing is simply more visible than the intangible most people use. When you see a clown, with the nose and the smile and the silly clothes, you expect to laugh, be amused, and enjoy the show. Before I ever tried clowning, I was on the puppet team for a year, and was really hidden. The thing is, you can do things while you are hiding behind the mask you would never consider doing without it.

I have a touch of agoraphobia, and for me to just walk into a party as me, and start talking to strangers is impossibly difficult (agora = the marketplace, or the mall, in Greek. So, literally fear of the mall). But as a performer (even without the red nose, which I rarely wear) I can make an entrance, dominate the room, and keep them laughing until I’m ready to go.

It’s exhilarating, and exhausting. I was thinking about it the other day because I was so unprepared to be a clown that day. It had been a stressful week, capped with arguing on the internet, and the last thing I wanted was to walk into a room full of strangers. But I’m a professional and I can slip the mask down and go onstage at the drop of a hat. I pay a cost for it, though. It takes a lot of energy to do this, even though I’m not a physical performer.

I once watched a professional entertainer I worked closely with go through what once would have been called a mental breakdown. The audience never guessed. He’d get up and have them all in stitches, and go home to sit in the dark and contemplate ending it all. It was only when, very near the end, he was finally unable to force himself to go to performances that his clientele had any idea something was wrong. He didn’t end his life, but he did leave performing. It’s a huge part of your life, when you do this job.

The arguments I’d been involved with online – one direct and personal, the other tangential and more amusing than stressful – reminded me of these masks we wear. It seems to me that when we are online we forget that the masks give us a buffer. We leave them off, and with them, the manners and courtesies we would observe if we were in that roomful of people. Not that we are all clowns. Nor that introverts can, with enough training and given little choice in the matter, become clowns (although I am living proof of that).

Rather than attempting to understand the other, to put ourselves in their shoes, people unmask on the internet and focus only on their concerns. Presented with a statement they see as wrong, they instantly go on the attack. Presented with the opportunity to attack, they lose all empathy and forget that there is another person on the other side of the screen, with feelings, thoughts, and differences. The dehumanizing effect of unmasking and then attacking leads them into behaviours they would never consider if they were looking into the other person’s eyes.

Consider this. If you assume that everyone you interact with knows the same things you do, has had the same education, shares the faith and beliefs you profess, then you are impossibly naïve. But I see this online. It may happen in a more personal setting, but there at least you can read the body language of your audience. That confused puppy cock of the head, wide eyes, and mental ‘baroo?” reaction to an angry statement. Online, you don’t get that. If you react with unthinking anger, they can’t, in turn, see the assumptions you have made to reach the conclusions you did.

We risk much, by stripping off our masks and letting our inner selves show. We risk more by the loss of empathy that communications without body language bring. Unmasking the clown can show the depth of pain and anger that most of us have learned to keep in check. But it boils out when the mask is off and we don’t care what others see.

I watched this happen the other day. A knee-jerk reaction to a badly phrased statement. One forgot, or never bothered to learn, that the other didn’t have the background he did. He went on the attack, to the deep bewilderment of the person being attacked. But worse than the public attacker was another who kept on a mask, but in private went about spreading lies. Humans are all too fallible. Unmasked, they can be downright repulsive.

And then there are the trolls. I’ve written more than once about the fuzzy edge of normalcy. The internet can facilitate the person who is borderline incapable of living a normal life to contribute to society. It can also enable a person who is full of venom to prey on anyone weaker than themselves. Some trolls are capable of rationale, others make you scratch your head and wonder if they really do live in a cave or under a rock, they are that far out of touch with reality.internetexchange

I screencapped this conversation segment because it was literally jawdroppingly wrong. There are times you simply have to wonder how much of a mask they can put on, to hide behind? What did trolls do before the internet?

This exchange left me amused rather than angry. It’s fairly clear in the course of the conversation that something was seriously wrong with the mental workings of the mind behind the screen. This, I find, doesn’t upset me.

What upsets and angers me is the sort of mind that feels the need to bully those who are unable to fend them off for whatever reason. The first argument I referred to, the one where a person went off privately, that was a bully in action. They took advantage of another who was at a vulnerable point, goading them into going on the attack rather than directly confronting themselves. I have no sympathy for cowards.

I find that I am also upset by people who I liked and respected suddenly going off the deep end. Being able to have a debate sometimes means that not everyone will agree with you. If you cannot bear to be disagreed with ever, then you need to withdraw from social media. If you can disagree, except on that one thing… then you may need to stop before hitting send and decide if this is worth the fight.

And above all, we must learn to remember that there is another person on the other side of the screen. One that is, or isn’t, self. I was explaining the immune system to my son the other day, and how the body reacts to invaders that aren’t self cells. The angry inflammation isn’t caused by the invader, it’s caused by the overreaction to the invasion by the body’s systems.

I’ve seen that, in groups of likeminded people. Feeling under attack by those who are outside the group, for whatever reason, they overreact when their personal pet beliefs are prodded. Yes, they are tender, but they can’t realistically expect everyone around them to walk on eggshells. Stripped of their masks and vulnerable, they overreact and as I can attest, an out-of-control immune system can kill a person. So can the overreaction and immaturity of group members.

Moderation is key, I was taught as a girl, to everything. We put the masks on to moderate our behavior to suit the environment we enter. We must remember to moderate our reactions, or risk shocking and killing the support group that keeps us all functioning as a body.

But I don’t Wanna be cured – a blast from the past from April 2012

*Sorry to BFP you guys, but I had a horrible night.  I think I’m channeling Emily because for some reason my shoulders feel broken at night — I think my pillows are in bad shape, and I’m a side sleeper.  At least I hope that’s it — then the morning was full up.  So, here’s a post on addiction.  Enjoy.*

“The truth is, I’ve got a monkey on my back, a habit worse than marijuana though not as expensive as heroin.  I can stiff it out and get to sleep anyway……..  The fact is I am a compulsive reader.  Thirty-five cents’ worth of Gold Medal Original will put me right to sleep.  Or Perry Mason.  But I’ll read the ads in an old Paris-Match that has been used to wrap herring, before I’ll do without.”  Robert A. Heinlein, Glory Road.

My name is Sarah A. Hoyt, and I’m a reader.  Unlike my struggle with writing, which more closely resembles an unhappy love affair, where I’ve walked away several times, only to be pulled back by the stories that form spontaneously in my head, I can’t say I’ve tried very hard to give up reading.

This is weird, because any way you look at it, reading is expensive.  And like with any drug, once you’re good and hooked on a series, you’ll do anything to get the next fix.  Anything, including but not limited to spending the grocery money for the week because, well, you can live without eating for a week, but you can’t live without reading for a day.

You know you’re an addict when you face this dilemma and the little voice at the back of your head goes all helpful.  “Buy it,” it says.  “Think about it.  Food you can only eat once, but books you can re-read for years.  You are holding cumulative days of enjoyment in your fingers.  Buy it, I say.”  (If this were the little cartoon demon sitting on my left shoulder, he’d be wearing glasses and carrying his own little book.)

Part of it, as in any addiction, is habit.  I won’t say that I don’t remember a time I couldn’t read, because it’s not precisely true.  But it’s only not precisely true because I also remember learning to walk.  So I remember lying on my stomach on a sun-warmed patio with a stack of comic books and trying to remember what the words were that my brother had read to me when I last had that book in hand.  I know I was reading – and attempting to write – by four.  For this my brother – nine years older and with no resistance to nagging – is largely to blame, since he read me those same comic books over and over again.  It also helped that Portuguese is largely phonetic.  But most of the blame must go to my parents who had absolutely no concept of “age appropriate reading.”

When I entered fifth grade, I was shocked to find most of my classmates were still reading lavishly illustrated books with more pictures than words, and on subjects as exciting as “Anita” (the girl who did everything in Portuguese children’s books) “Takes an airplane trip.”  I’m not saying I didn’t read those too.  Of course I did.  Some of my less than clued relatives gave them to me for my birthday or Christmas.  I didn’t mind, except that of course, they didn’t last very long at all.  And by that time I was fully into Clifford Simak and Robert A. Heinlein and Asimov and Anderson and Rex Stout and Earle Stanley Gardner and Agatha Christie.

Actually birthdays and Christmas were a great source of annoyance.  You see, my parents didn’t allow me to tell the sweet old relatives that I just wanted money.  That was unmannerly.  But as short on money for books as I always was, the best I could do out of those festive occasions, should the relatives be informed that I liked to read  Science Fiction, was Jules Verne or H. G. Wells.  Until I was old enough to go to school in the big city nearby and discovered I could exchange books at the bookstores, I read all of Verne and H. G. Well, of course.  The problem was that they weren’t “real” science fiction.  Not about the future as I’d like it to be.  Also, the translations were often awful.  But I read EVERYTHING.

I read Dumas (yes, all of them, even the ones that appear to have been paid by the word) and Sir Walter Scott and Twain.  My parents eventually told my relatives that it would be easier to give me Portuguese Historical novels or history books.  And even later, they sort of gave up and started giving me money to buy books.

By that time my brother and I were on an equal footing as addicts.  Often the only money we could spare would buy us half of that month’s science fiction release (one book per month, yes.)  To this day he chortles that my marrying an American saved us the epic fight we’d otherwise have had over who got to keep those part-ownership books.

Portugal doesn’t have – or didn’t in my day – public lending libraries.  Not even subscription libraries as those found in Regency England.  It has a public library but it is more like our library of congress.  And every new school I entered had what they called a “library”, usually stocked by some well meaning lady in the previous century.  So, did I read the manuals of young ladies’ deportment and lives of saints that those mostly consisted of?  Duh.  They were print.  And any print is better than going without.  BUT being me and unable to leave well enough alone, I thought of all those kids who wouldn’t be so lucky as to come from a family of bibliophiles with hundreds of books laid by and hidden everywhere from the attic to the potato cellar.  Every school I ever attended I started a library club which held fundraisers to buy books, and which requested of the parents one book for the library, in commemoration of their kid’s graduation.  Even in college, I vastly improved the American Library.  Okay, at least I filled it with Science Fiction.  I think it was an improvement.  (I’ve wondered, if I can get the address, if we could convince Baen to donate to it.)

When I became an exchange student, in 12th grade, for the first time I entered a house with no books.  No, this is no disparagement of my host family.  My host mother, particularly, was very kind to me and responsible for who I am today.  But they weren’t readers.  Not really.  My host brother and sister read magazines, but that was about it.

So… my first day in the US, in Stow Ohio, I made them take me to a bookstore.  I bought Assignment In Eternity.  Then I found the public library.  You lucky sons and daughters, you don’t know how good you have it.  I volunteered at the library because then I could check out unlimited books.  And I did.

When I found myself newly wed and broke, we set aside 3 quarters of our entertainment money for books.  And like all junkies, we quickly discovered where we could get the most book for the money.

Now, when I’m hard pressed and under the gun, I might just reread the familiar, so that I can put it down and go back to work.  A riveting book can cost me five hours work time, you know?  I start it and then have to finish it.  Heck, I can only exercise to audio books, which is costing me a small fortune.

And yet, I don’t want to be cured.  Let them say we read this much because we can’t handle reality.  I say reality is for wusses who can’t handle fiction.

Argument and Offense

Lately I’ve been seeing blow ups not only in all my groups on facebook, but on my private email lists, blow ups between people who granted have bloody nothing in common beyond opposing socialism.

This is perhaps to be expected.  I mean we’re living through the crazy years, the mania for eating dirt spreads to the South East, the “serious” discussion in Sci fi is “Should you even acknowledge gender”, we’re financing Iran’s quest for a bomb, Donald Trump tops (a minor, but much publicized) poll for president (with 17%) cats and dogs sleeping together.  The end of the world.

As I’ve said before I can judge the general mood of the nation by how fricking crazy the drivers are on the road.  And right now they’re pretty crazy.  And just as at other points of high tension, arguments and screaming are breaking out over the stupidest things.

I hate it because right now I’m not feeling up to this kind of nuttiness.  Perhaps it’s envy I can’t join in the fights, who knows?  Right now berserking would about kill me.

BUT what struck me is what is the difference between genuine argument and argument by “I’m offended” which quickly devolves to mud slinging and name calling?

I mean, free speech and all, so we certainly need to know, right?

What I’m seeing to a great extent in mostly conservative-libertarian corners is people snapping over points of disagreement they SHOULD have known were there.  But they’re snapping because they feel attacked from all sides, even nominally their own.

This is silly.  Discussion is important otherwise we become like the SJWs.  It is also human.

So maybe we should lay down some rules for “disagreements with people who are roughly going the same way we are.”

1- It is important to remember you are a broad coalition with many aims.  Some of you are almost as opposed to each other as to the people on the left.  It is important to remember that’s fine.  Once we take the left’s corrupt and murderous hand from the tiller, you can feel free to fight with each other.  Until then, if you love the constitution, you’re going our way. LEARN strategy.

2 – So you’re in this forum and someone made a joke/comment/etc. part of which offended you.  Consider DO YOU NEED TO COMMENT?  Is this issue so fargin important that you just HAVE to start an argument?  Remember you know our coalition is broad and not homogeneous.

3- If you HAVE to speak up, be as specific about the instance of disagreement as possible (it’s that important, right?) and present proof.  Arguments might still develop over what you consider proof, but it is less likely to go toxic.

4- If you don’t have to speak up in public, but still feel offended, pm the offender, or just say “I’m hurt.” in private.

5- REMEMBER YOU DON’T have the right to NOT be offended.  I am friends who people who offend me at least once a month.  I have friends who believe things I find deeply offensive.  I understand why they’re coming from, why they believe that, and why taking offense is counterproductive: I’m not going to change their minds.  So I avoid the subject and talk of other things. And we’re still friends.  And largely speaking we’re “going the same way.”

6- When someone raises a hue and cry and you vaguely agree with them, don’t immediately jump in on their side.  See if they violated one of the rules above, and if they did, well, ignore the mess till it passes.  If they didn’t, run it through the checklist yourself to see if you need to jump in.  “Is this something I need to be public on? Is this something that’s going to change anyone’s mind? Is this just going to create bad feelings to no purpose?”

This is not aimed at anyone or any group or list in particular, but I’m tired of seeing pointless arguments flare up everywhere.

Being offended is a great tactic for the left, because they command positions of power and can “group shame” on an epic scale.

For us all it can do is tear us apart and allow those who would divide and conquer us to do just that.

Don’t fall into this habit.  Beware agent provocateurs.

In the end we win they lose, but we can’t just react without thought.