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Unthinkable

Hopkins: In all my years, I never seen, heard, nor smelled an issue that was so dangerous it couldn’t be talked about. Hell Yes!! I’m for debating anything!! Rhode Island says Yea!” – 1776, the Musical

My life is a well written novel, with careful attention paid to the threading in of sub-plots and themes. Or perhaps my being human (shuddup. I checked.) I notice things in clumps that make sort of sense together. (Since whatever else the human brain does, every human brain is really good at discerning patterns.)

Kate’s post on Monday happily stomped into “forbidden territory,” i.e. the idea that human behavior might be shaped by heredity and that, in turn, by selection.

Although I disagree with her in the particular instance of the American population with more African ancestry being shaped in a certain way, she could be right. I mean, I think she didn’t take some factors into account and also that this population has more in common (genetically) with the white population here at the time than is acknowledged. (Not that I disagree both populations were affected by natural selection – duh – just the extent of it and how long it takes for such effects to be visible.)

But the important thing about this is that I don’t know, and neither does Kate. Why not? Because there are no large scale population studies, not even at the most rudimentary level.

This is almost astounding, given that we have the capacity to sequence the human genome and how many private individuals are paying for a report of their “deep ancestry”.

You’d think someone with a grant would already have waded in and there would be something like “x percentage of American people descended from African slaves also have significant/more than x percent genetic material from Northern Europe.”

If those exist, they’re buried so deep in geneticists journals that no peep has leaked into the popular science publications. And I have trouble imagining those wouldn’t hit the papers, either as evidence of the “rape” of African populations. (Wags hand. Debatable. Morally rape, perhaps, since there was a strong imbalance of power, but if we’re going to use that gage, then almost every human copulation is rape, since there’s never a perfect balance of power. And women are hypergamic, so they gravitate like magnets to the most powerful man around.) or as proof that ebony and ivory should live together in perfect harmony, or that it’s time to avenge past wrongs, or what have you.

Either the lack of such reports or their being buried deep would come from the same issue: race as a genetic factor, and not as a collection of physical characteristics; race, particularly as it might affect cognitive or genetic characteristics is a huge, horrible taboo.

Part of this is the fear of eugenics, the fear of the human brain assigning a value judgement to statistical racial characteristics.

At the same time, Marxist dialects requires that there be classes of people that struggle against each other, and modern Marxism has substituted races and some cultures for “classes” (the whole third world model of Marxist revolution which turns the people of the “underdeveloped” nations into the proletarians that so disappointed the Marxists.) You’re supposed to be interchangeable with anyone the same race and sex (sex as a class exists, of course. As everything else it’s a “construct” – a biologically illiterate perspective that denies science and also a contradiction that makes my head hurt) and stand in solidarity with them. (This is the basis of calling people race and gender traitors, because you’re enlisted into these neat little armies at birth. I really think progressives suffer from self-induced profound Aspergers. Kind of the opposite about how many people in the spectrum study to appear and be normal. They study on how not to understand human individuality and see only categories and ranks. Go figure.)

Imagine the disarray to this theory if you figured out that those neat races, regardless of expressed characteristics, are not anywhere near as uniform as you’d think. Some people might look like they belong to a race and have more genetics in common with someone of another apparent race. Horrors! Confusion! It would be the proving planned economies are inferior to free ones, all over again.

Anyway, so the same day that Kate broached this “forbidden” topic of genetics as they touch behavior, I happened to traipse onto a forum on a subject I’m marginally attached to (would you believe crochet?) and found a micro-cosmos of the battles in Gaming and Science fiction.

A more subdued micro cosmos, mind, in that someone had stated an “unacceptable to the left” opinion, and this was spreading in ripples through the community.

I don’t know anyone in the community, and the opinion was mild (that 19th century designs are superior to the modern ones) but the pattern of behavior was clear. (And if I could remember the fargin site, reached after searching for one particularly pattern of cherubs and birds which I lost two moves back, I’d link it.)

Someone had said something unacceptable and people who I presume are extreme left (since who else would bring up European “aggression” and “colonialism” in conjunction with filet crochet) were not only denouncing the person who said it, but also denouncing everyone who was INSUFFICIENTLY VITUPERATIVE while referring to this person.

It made me blink, and stare at it. I’ve seen it often enough, of course, and many times I agree that the ideas stated are incredibly repulsive. I always tend to have trouble denouncing the PERSON saying it though, and I often will say something like “Yeah, but the person is just bringing it up for discussion” and thus I end up getting lumped in with the “insufficiently vituperative.”

This of course happened with the blog that shall not be named and the misnamed organization (unless the initial S stands for Socialist-Fiction.) I can’t get anyone on the other side of politics to UNDERSTAND that there are no unacceptable thoughts, and there are no unacceptable words. There are unacceptable actions. But that’s something else. Words, no matter how horribly offensive are not in themselves a crime. (Also in that particular case, if you’re going to criminalize certain class of words you have to do it regardless of who says them. Or in that particular case, if you’re going to throw one of the sides of a stupid argument out, you throw out both of them.)

It’s very important to me that there be no word-crimes and no thought-crimes.

Before you say “but you block some people for saying certain things.” Why, yes. My blog is my living room, and the commenters are my guests. To allow certain discussion in this PRIVATE venue, owned by me, is to invite the sort of chaos and unpleasantness that will drive off decent and well behaved commenters whom I prefer to have around.

OTOH the things I ban people for aren’t things I think it should be illegal to say in public venues, or to promulgate in one’s own blog.

Look, it’s not that I don’t think there are ideas so horrible, so evil that my mind shies away from them. Say child-rape. I think it’s a horrible, atrocious idea which makes me cringe and which I frankly don’t want to listen to.

It was also a “respectable” psychological opinion in the seventies, in Europe at least. If you read psychological journals at the time (yeah, I was an odd kid) you’d come across the idea that having sex with adults was good for children.

The root of it wasn’t hard to find, either. If you were serious about the various bastardized versions of Freudianism and believed that most neurosis came about through sexual repression much of it pre-puberty, you’d believe that helping the children not be sexually frustrated was good for them.

In various ways, and sometimes painfully, we’ve since found this was very, very wrong and the results of such things horrific.

So, should the topic not be discussed at all and no studies ever done on it? No.

Part of the reason that this became an acceptable “scientific” theory was that sex has always been sort of taboo so no serious studies/literature had accrued to it, and so it was easy for the bastard children of Freud to tell just so stories about ‘sexual repression’ being the font of all ills.

As horrible, as evil as the topic is, I don’t think it should be shut down, particularly if it’s a topic of discussion, not endorsement. If it’s a topic of endorsement, provided the person endorsing it is not acting on it, it too is not a reason to shut the person down.

Yeah, it’s horrible. Yeah, it would offend me. Yeah, it might convert some soft custard-heads into thinking it’s a reasonable thing. BUT it gives the sane people a chance to counter it, and, more importantly, to sharpen ones arguments against it.

If it’s never discussed, then in a hundred years it will be all new again, and no one will have any ready arguments or examples against it.

To the extent that science fiction (as opposed to fantasy) serves a useful societal purpose (not, understand , that I believe literature has to be useful to be good. That’s a stupid Marxist concept. Literature has to be felt at a deep, resonating and universal level to be what I consider good, but it doesn’t have to “be good for society” or “the community” to be good. Mostly because, who the h*ll judges what is good) it is the examination of these, otherwise difficult topics in a construct that allows people to think of them as they would not be able to otherwise.

In science fiction you can examine such things as “would the involuntary sacrifice of some individuals be worth it if it bought happiness for all other people?” or “Would an alien species have the moral right to replace humans with something more acceptable?” or “Would it be acceptable to eliminate all males/females in the cause of universal peace?”

All of these ideas are or should be difficult and repulsive to many people, but all of them involve moral judgements that each generation needs to stay clear on.

Because when you stop talking about evil, it sneaks in in another way, wearing moustache and sunglasses. Our obsession with (great) evils of national socialism, for instance, allowed many to blind themselves to the equally great if different evils of international (which somehow always means Russian-national) socialism. Our horror of eugenics allows things like abortion which targets certain ethnic neighborhoods to fly under the radar.

I don’t think there is any circumstance under which child-rape would be considered good. Now maybe future humans will think this is my own cultural blindness. I’m fine with that. I don’t think there is any way to consider it good and would be deeply suspicious of any society that endorsed it.

But not barring discourse on it makes it possible for us to keep our thought on why it’s evil sharp and prevents that (imho terrible) child-rape-condoning civilization from arising.

It’s curious that the left thinks it should not only disapprove of but shut discussion on anything they disagree with. It’s curious that they suffer the totalitarian impulse to persecute people for “thought crimes.”

It is almost as though they believe their ideas are a fragile construction that will only survive so long as it doesn’t come in contact with opposing opinions or even with any evidence that reality might, in any way contradict them. And that they’re so hyper-sensitive to it that they wouldn’t allow even discussion of things in which they are probably right, as according to a vast swath of rational thinking people.

Because, you see, robust philosophies with broad contact with reality and how things work, encourage discussion which can only prove them right.

It is lies that are so frail the slightest breeze of dissent will blow them away.

As though they’d never been.

Go Read This

It’s already been a morning, and I’m running late.  There will be a post, but meanwhile, go read this.

http://ashbrook.org/publications/onprin-special-schramm/

This is why I came up with the Usaian religion in my books.  And this is why we cannot let the light go out.  We cannot.  Else, the world will be plunged in darkness.

What the forces of evil (eh) don’t get is that the light is not a government, or a place.  It’s the beliefs in each of our hearts.  And as long as one of us lives, here or abroad, the light won’t go out.

What We Are Made of

When I sit around thinking of silver linings in History and indulging the all-too-human tendency to think that “everything happens for a reason” and “this is the best of all possible worlds” (and honestly, I do know it’s a mirage, like seeing a face in a random pattern on a cliff face) I tell myself the best thing about WWI is that it led to WWII which in turn put paid forever to the idea of eugenics as an open thing that you can just use to support your theory.

Not that eugenics is a wrong idea, precisely, at least not with non-human populations. Men have applied this idea to their domesticated animals since ever, though it turns out there isn’t that much genetic difference between wolves and dogs. But the difference there is has meant a co-evolution history for men and dogs for millennia.

And anyone who has kept livestock knows that yeah, you can reinforce good traits, provided you are totally heartless with culls. Something my grandmother never was, and some day I’ll talk of the collection of mutants we had among both chickens and cats. Not that cats were bred PRECISELY so that brings us to humans.

My grandmother’s cats weren’t bred because they were not confined. They were mostly barn cats and whatever litters of kittens people threw over her backyard wall. They’d be “feral” except they all had names, came when called and she fed them and petted them. But the mechanics of genetics were close to feral. This meant sometimes a litter of kittens grew up to take a sophisticated interest in dear old mum. Since there was usually only one female alpha (I suspect she ran off or killed the other females) this meant that we had litters of eyeless kittens, for instance. Okay, they usually didn’t live long, but we were into Egyptian-dynasty dysfunctional.

What does this have to do with humans, except that way back in the mists of history in the fertile crescent some of those bloody stupid matings were considered “sacred?” (If you want humans to act totally irrationally, tell them that the gods – or history, or progress – will it.)

Ah.

What it has to do is that humans like unconfined, unaltered cats are sneaky and self willed. It’s hard to breed humans for the same reason it’s hard to control the breeding of feral cats. You might think you arranged things just so, and then… Next thing you know there is a Persian who got in in the mix of your perfectly healthy street cats.

Then there is the fact that I believe in humans. I believe in individuals. I believe variety in the genetic sense is literally strength.

We know that in the past there were only thirty some individuals left to carry on the species (we are that inbred, as humans, so please, stop squabbling about races, already.) Fortunately they appear to have been of very varied backgrounds (and no, I don’t want to think how people of very varied backgrounds, in a primitive culture, just happened to be the ones to survive some unnamed cataclysm and to be close enough to each other to breed. It makes my head hurt. I can give you three sf answers and one fantasy one, but I can’t give you any scientific/historical/logical answers.)

That is precisely the point. The more genetic variety, the better chance we have of surviving the next plague/asteroid-winter/whatever. And sometimes – often – harmful genes in humans are coupled with beneficial genes. (It should be noted here Mother Nature is a b*tch. She doesn’t care if you have the dread awfuls after you’ve had your kid, just that you be good to have that kid. And yes, what I mean by this is that there is no one at the controls there, and if your condition doesn’t manifest till after 30, then fine. There is some – not a lot, these things are hard to research – evidence that people with early onset Alzheimer’s are brighter and more attractive when young. Which means the gene will keep being passed on.)

What this means is that any culling done by humans (particularly culling done for bloody stupid pseudo-archetypal traces of a mythical race [No, really. There are Arians. They’re Indian, though, not blond, blue eyed perfect-bodied barbarians of the Germanic forests] which will probably eliminate all sorts of useful stuff to no purpose) in the end will turn out to be bad news.

Besides, as a person of a faith and a libertarian, I believe in the inherent value of each individual, value which might not be visible to mere human eyes.

So, when I think of the bloody mess of Europe’s long war (the one in the 20th century. They’ve had so many) I think that the only good thing to come of it was to make eugenics a not-respectable theory, at least not openly. (Though there is an awful lot of it in the covert areas of “the right people” and “the best” getting to rule us.)

Yeah, you have to get this deep in for me to say that while I agree with the general thrust of Kate’s essay yesterday, I disagree with the specifics about selection of human populations leading to certain traits.

This is not Kate’s fault, but she’s been in the US a shorter time, and I don’t think has done much reading in the history of the last 100 years or so. And I have clue zero how much she’s delved into the history of slavery as it connected to transport to the Americas.

First, American history:What has happened to America’s ethnic populations (not just black, it’s having the same influence on Latins) is not genetics, but politics. In the comments, mention was made of what happened to Germany under communism, and how East Germans, after just three generations (not really enough for a genetic cull) are a completely different breed from West Germans. (And towards the end of my life, I get to see how that emulsified.)

The Germans are particularly interesting, because – coming to industrialization late – they used to be considered the sloppy and slapdash part of Europe. I found this of all things reading an history of the culinary art in Europe, and the disparaging comments made on the German ability to organize, even in the eighteenth century when this thing was written, would give a cold shock to any 20th century and later human.

Then there is the selection process of black slaves to send to the Americas done in Africa. Contrary to the romanticism of Roots, most slave hunters were not white. Look, even the Portuguese, (which apparently had malaria in the eighteenth century, running rampant through the peninsula, to judge by the memoirs of the Napoleonic war soldiers both French and English, which in turn make me raise my eyebrows about climate change) were too subject to malarial fevers to penetrate very deeply into Africa. Most settlements until the twentieth century were coastal.

So most of the slave hunting was carried on by ancient networks of natives and Arab traders.

Now someone in the comments said that native Africans now have a myth about having sent us their laziest, most passive elements. Yeah, they would.

Uh. Ah. Or they could have sent us the trouble makers. Like Europe did. Like I suspect China did and does.

This actually DOES get us into the waters of natural selection, but not the way you’d expect.

For now let us say that a lot of the people shipped over were defeated tribes (not all of them un-war like) and those who were burdensome in their own families, often because they had sharp tongues or argued with the elders.

In other words, the Africans shipped over, except for more genetic variety and the fact that most of them as opposed to some of them came in chains were basically like the Irish and Scots that came over, either through starvation, losing wars, or being too fractious to fit in in their tribe.

And until Marxism intervened, black people in America were on their way up, despite having started really low and despite suffering more at the onset than most newcoming groups. (Not a lot more, though. I mean, a lot of other groups got treated as subhuman, Irish, Italians, etc.)

What happened to the African (mostly. I understand that the melting pot has melted and that the correct race for Americans with dark skin is “Caucasian” due to all the interbreeding that has gone on. I heard this from among other people real-stone-cold South African racists in the time when an abandoned baby was a critter who must be typed as to race before being taken care of. For instance, most Americans of somewhat African ancestry have blue eyed babies, which is one of the “marks” of Caucasians. [Which also means older son is, but younger son isn’t. Genetics are funny that way.])

We’re treading in un-researched waters here, by necessity, and partly because of the long war of the 20th century. And I have stuff to say about that.

And partly because humans are a mess. I mean, partly, yeah, we’re genetic beings. I’ve seen in my own kids things I couldn’t even guess were inheritable, habits and traits I don’t have but which my parents have/had. My kids have spent maybe a cumulative total one month with my parents, and they don’t have a common language. And yet my younger son and my dad might be the same man, separated by 60 some years. Not just looks, either, but interests, habits of mind and casual behavior.

Then there’s nurture. Cultures are not as plastic as the left likes to think, but they are incredibly plastic. What I mean is that shaping culture is kind of like breeding cats. You might try to breed for a trait and get others – eyeless kittens, instead of good mousing – the mistake of the left is NOT thinking you can change humans through culture, but thinking you can control the change and change it in the way you wish.

One of their biggest mistakes is to think that what you tell people is what they “get.” IOW the root of the whole self-esteem thing: if you tell people they’re good and worthy then they’ll work harder.

They think this because, being largely people who live by theory and are devoid of empathy, (a problem common to academics of every stripe) they don’t understand anyone is NOT like them.

If they felt better about themselves, they would be more daring and take more risks, and work harder. So everyone must be the same.

The problem is that most people aren’t. If you tell a kid he’s already perfect, with no effort, what happens is unfounded self esteem which keeps the kid from changing in the way needed to succeed.

In the same way, if you tell entire “ethnic” (and these are funnily defined. The only reason that “Latins” got caught in this was date of arrival. Fifty years earlier it would have been Italians and thirty years before that Irish) populations that they’re exploited, there’s nothing they can do, that racism against them is so ingrained even those who think they don’t have it, have it and that the world is out to get them, but the government will, in compensation, make them some small payment to keep them from dying off, you’ll get dysfunctional populations, sure they deserve compensation for every slight real and imaginary, and incapable of integrating/achieving anything on their own.

Because their “ethnic” identity is ALL they have, they’ll cling to the trapping of it, even when those trappings are imposed from outside, and even when they are contra productive.

As Stephen Green reminded me – and I knew, because it’s one of the areas older son tastes very well on, and the test is administered through music – musical talent is ALMOST fully covalent with mathematical talent. Absent the disdain of “acting white” and the poisonous self-hatred of western culture we could have hundreds of thousands of brilliant mathematicians and physicists coming out of the black communities in the US. That we don’t shows criminal neglect and willful poisoning of the well by those who think people are widgets defined by melanin content.

And now you say “but you’re saying there are genetic traits to populations.”

Yeah, granted, but it’s complicated, because of us being social apes. People can and do turn themselves inside out to “fit in” particularly since human populations have an habit of pounding to a pulp any individual who sticks out too far (metaphorically or physically.)

So, though there are genetic traits to various populations, there’s also culture. For instance, Portuguese wherever they go, often end up as grocers and more often as merchants. Culture or heredity?

Well, partly heredity in the sense that at least remotely there’s a lot of Phoenician in Portuguese, and those were merchants, mostly. Partly culture, because if your father was a merchant and if your cousin who immigrated is a grocer, you’re likely to know how to set up a grocery store, or have advice, at least.

Or take my family, which runs to doctors and engineers. My kids, completely cut off from it, and without help getting there, aspire to the same professions their ancestors have been following time out of mind. My (paternal) grandfather was the youngest of several brothers, at least one of whom ended up a doctor, and one an engineer. Grandad probably had the same problem younger son had when younger. It manifests in slower reading and an inability to concentrate on written stuff. At the time this meant he was “dumb” and so he was trained as a carpenter. HOWEVER his sons, a couple of them with no schooling supporting it, ended up working as engineers, and the grandchildren and great grandchildren have the usual medicine/engineering admixture. Since we had very little contact with grandad’s family (I think they were slightly embarrassed by him) this must be because something inborn pushes us that way. The incidences are way above statistical probability particularly since we’re spread out over the world.

OTOH it is possible when the culture is clamped down on hard, to change those inate tendencies into something else, completely different.

I think, for instance, that Africa itself has suffered from sending all its troublemakers off since the Neolithic. I think that the stagnation and tribalism of the continent before colonization was the result of this millennia old culling of troublemakers. (The point being that this kind of natural selection, at three generations per century or so, takes millennia.)

However note they still had enough troublemakers to ship over to the Americas.

Because the human tendencies reassert themselves, even when selected against. Culture and circumstances can twist it, but they’ll come back.

So when I think of the long wars of the twentieth century, and shrug and go “if they were going to give Europe to Germany, wouldn’t it have been easier to roll over in WWI?” I like to console myself that at least it made eugenics unviable as a government strategy.

However – and this is why I’m so glad that Kate wrote about it yesterday – the downside of THAT is that it made everything genetic about humans unthinkable.

This is a massive problem, and one that is about to ram up our nose (as a species) as we decode more of the human genome and start realizing what some of that stuff does.

Not being able to think/talk about such things as genetic selection in humans leaves us curiously vulnerable to bad ideas.

If you can’t discuss what is culture and what is race, and race is the ultimate uber-taboo subject, then younger people are going to assume the differences ARE due to genetics and race. This will actually resurrect a racism that only exists (mostly. It’s a very old human instinct and impossible to eradicate. And by this I don’t mean racism in the sense only whites can be racist, I mean “it’s different from me, ew” instinctive racism. When I was very young I was afraid of blond people. I’d never seen them) in the fevered imaginations of “studies” professors.

Worse than that, if you can decode and manipulate the human genome and people assume most differences/tendencies are genetic (because there are no rigorous studies of genetics and culture and the link between the two) we’re going to do some really stupid things to ourselves. No, I don’t mean we’re going to manipulate the genetics of humans. THAT’s a given. Rail as you will; make it illegal as you will, we are curious monkeys. If we can do it, we WILL even if it’s quite evil.

The question is “how will we do it?” and “How much genetic diversity will result” and “if you pull that lever will it destroy that cog we didn’t notice, but which is vital.” And also, ultimately “will we consider all humans widgets genetically determined?”

This is all very possible if we can’t talk or think about it.

Eugenics is an evil theory that treats humans as things. So is Marxism. They both have extensive histories of failure where it counts (bringing about a society that allows freedom and comfort to the majority of its citizens).

But if we can’t discuss race, we can’t discuss genetics, we can’t discuss culture, we can’t discuss what parts of us are nature and what are nurture, we’re just going to bring all those ideas back, stealthily, under other names, and now with the lure of the forbidden.

There are studies that must be done. There are things that must be discussed.

Let’s start from “no human being is a widget” and even if you come from a population group that has certain strengths/weaknesses, you are you, not “a member of the group.” (One of my black friends has less musical talent than I have, and guys, that takes TALENT to be that bad.) Let’s start from “no race is uniformly superior” – particularly when race is defined as “skin and eye color” or “language group.”

And let’s find out how this race/culture thing works. Not with an intent to manipulate, because that always ends in tears, but with the intent of appreciating the panoply of different talents and cultures in the human race.

To combat the bad ideas when they come. And to maybe bury once and for all the idea that humans – any humans of any race – can be made into “ideal” creatures be they homo sovieticus or the arian youth.

Study, not dogma.

Barring us going to the stars and evading the tinkerers, knowing enough about ourselves that it’s not black and white or clear cut enough to encourage megalomaniacs trying to create themselves a new people, is our only hope of surviving our own fatal tendency to mess with ourselves.

The barring of the idea of eugenics as a respectable political philosophy is the best thing to come out of the long war. The barring of any thought about human genetics and culture and the poison of multiculturalism are the worst.

Sliding Back To Slavery – Kate Paulk

Sliding Back To Slavery – Kate Paulk

Before I get to the meat of this, I should probably mention that if there’s anyone in the entire universe who won’t get pissed off about what I’ve got to say they probably don’t have the capacity to understand it. It has to do with things we in the USA and most of the rest of the Western world have been taught are forbidden.

And no, it’s not racist. It just steps on a lot of the fences that have been built around the concept of racial bigotry so people can’t accidentally be racist. Sarah’s mentioned the way humans everywhere do this: if something is taboo, then a whole ring of related things also become taboo so nobody accidentally breaks the original taboo.

The problem with that is that eventually you run out of taboos and wind up in the realm of “Everything that isn’t permitted is forbidden” instead of where we of a more freedom-loving bent prefer to be, “Everything that isn’t forbidden is permitted.”

Okay. So, that said, we Odds are among those fighting the slide of the USA (and with it, the rest of the Western world) back into the bad old days where anyone who wasn’t in power was functionally owned by their nation/state/kingdom/whatever. I’ve seen the confusion over why people keep wanting “the government” to take care of things without realizing that in doing so people are giving up their freedom.

The simple fact is, the USA is an outlier nation built on the backs of some truly extraordinary outliers.

“Normal” humans (by this I mean “pick a random person from anywhere in Europe, Asia, or Africa”) are tribal. If we were using animal terminology, we’d be either pack or herd animals, to the extent that most people (at the 90% or higher kind of range, the last time I was looking at the research) would rather remain at the bottom of the pecking order in a social/societal hierarchy than attempt to exist without one. In short, they’d rather be slaves with a more or less predictable existence than be free without any of those certainties.

In the USA and the other colony nations where the percentage of people descended from colonists and willing immigrants is markedly higher than any other demographic (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, etc.) there is a much stronger interest in and desire for individual freedom. The entire Anglosphere tends to value individual freedom more highly than most other cultures.

Now, here’s the fun part… Those Americans whose ancestors arrived in the USA as slaves are observably more inclined to follow the lead of their “tribe”, whatever they consider that tribe to be. Why? To start with, the African tribes who raided other tribes for slaves chose the more passively inclined tribes as their targets (who wants a rebellious slave?) and sold them to the Islamic slave trade initially. At least one tribe practiced human sacrifice on a scale that reputedly made the Aztecs look like pikers – and most of the sacrifices were slaves taken in raids. Guess where the more rebellious captives wound up?

You got it.

Then, of course, the nature of slavery favored people who accepted their current position at the very base of the social structure (although this apparently wasn’t the case: many slaves considered themselves better off than poor whites in the region who didn’t have their security – the poorest whites often had less to eat and weren’t able to dress to the standard even field slaves got). The rebellious and difficult died. The ones who accepted their situation and behaved lived and had children.

Add to that the way outliers when left to themselves tend to revert to the mean, it’s not that surprising that the USA is slowly (trust me, this is slow. One law at a time, as it were, not least because if we don’t realize what’s happening we’re not going to kick up a fuss over it) reverting to the historical mean of rule by force, where the Party boss or the Lord or whatever you call him gets the bulk of the goodies and the freedom and the rest of us get to work and have a mostly-secure life as long as we don’t step outside our protected (but is that barbed wire to keep the world out, or us in? You know the answer, Comrade, but you know it’s a very bad idea to let anyone else realize that you know) compound.

In this, the left is the party of Big Brother Government, and the right the party of “We’re making out okay, what the hell do we know about this shit anyway?” (largely, I think, because the left is pushing the Party-above-all model onto its membership, where the right still seems to feel that forcing party unity is somehow dirty – and thank your deity of choice this is so, because the Republican power brokers clearly don’t like it that way).

There are battle lines being drawn all over the nation, all over the world. Sometimes the choice is between one form of slave-master and a different kind. Sometimes freedom is an option. Sometimes even in the USA.

Until the plantation gates close and there is nowhere that offers freedom as a choice, we Odds have hope. The tension between the human desire to belong to a tribe, the tribal need for its members to conform to norms, and the need for the tribe to accept its Odds if it is to flourish instead of stagnate will always exist. We Odds will always be fighting for the freedom to be ourselves.

As long as the fight is one that we can win, I’m good with that. I might be Odd and a bit scary (at least, people tell me I’m scary), but then, so is freedom. And having experienced it, I say it’s worth fighting for.

The Privilege Of Not Caring

So, recently I’ve been getting really tired of the word “privilege” mostly because it’s being twisted to mean things it never meant.

I’d even be more or less okay with the idea that “white privilege” is not having to define yourself according to a race/ethnicity stereotypes.  It’s a stupid idea, but it’s at least understandable how people got there.

They got there through a total lack of empathy, is how they got there.  They assume that the pressures put on them to fit the pictures in people’s heads only exist because they tan an interesting color, have female parts or whatever.

This is a stunning lack of empathy because in fact, the pictures in people’s heads are there because they’re human and the subject they are examining must fall into a pattern of heuristics that allows them to make a quick decision.

In other words, particularly when evaluating other humans, everyone has prejudices.

I’ve told before the story of how my husband and I went car shopping and took along our best friends, both taller, blue eyed, and one of them blond. Inevitably, at whichever dealership we landed in (this was a lazy Saturday pursuit. You know what I mean) the salesman gravitated towards our friends who a) weren’t shopping for a car. b) were far less financially solvent than we were.

Racism? Oh, heck no, heuristics. Dan might or might not be as white as advertised, but outwardly he’s all white (nickname Count Dracula due to his inability to tan.) (Well, maybe the eyes give some clue to other genetic origins as in Portugal everyone assumes he’s from Macau and some level of cross breed. Meh.) And I can pass provided I haven’t been outside in a couple of weeks and don’t open my mouth. So, racism was highly unlikely. But we’re both short, overweight, dark haired, and were dressed almost terminally relaxed. Our friends fit the “double income” couple look better than we did, so salesmen gravitated to them.

Privilege? No. We got the chance to poke around at cars while our friends distracted pushy salespeople. BUT prejudice? You bet. Even though the two couples were superficially “white” you bet the sales people had an image of what “affluent” or relatively affluent (it was used dealerships) looked like, and it wasn’t Dan or I.

Flip it around. Imagine you were born tall, blond, blue eyed. Are people not going to judge you as you go anywhere? Ah! I’ve noted a tendency to assume such people are wealthy patricians (I blame the media, since if this was ever true in America it was in the nineteenth century at the latest.) And that comes with a degree of hostility from everyone who isn’t, a degree of expectations from people who truly are racists, etc. All of which can be really annoying if your blond hair and blue eyes came via Scots-Irish from Appalachia, right?

Oh, and let’s go to another branch of “white privilege.” I confess to a minor perversion, other than my liking mathematicians. Dan isn’t perfect because he doesn’t have a Southern US accent. I go weak at the knees when a Southern male starts talking. It’s the world’s sexiest accent.

However I’ve realized long ago that a white southern male opens his mouth and most people place him in “dumb hick.” This happens even when he has multiple graduate degrees. Some white privilege, right?

So people who think that “White privilege” is never having to conform to a stereotype or never being judged are totally lacking in empathy and imagination.

They are also rather strange, since all you need to acquire the privilege of not thinking how you should be based on your color/gender is DECIDE you’re not going to think about it. I’m here to tell you it works. I’m aware a lot of people will judge me based on stupid stereotypes (really stupid. An old boss for instance thought Portugal was a city in Mexico. Marshall’s kindergarten teacher thought I and Dan (???!!!!) were first generation Russian immigrants. A couple of people have thought we were immigrants from Israel) but I don’t let that control me. I’m me. Yeah, some people will act stupid around me. Some people act stupid around everyone. And there, with that decision I free myself. You know, most people don’t even make a mention of the horrible accent. I’m sure they notice it, and heaven knows what they think about it. But they don’t mention it.

The ones who mention it prove the “importance” I should give their opinions by agglutinating Dan or the kids to wherever they think the accent is from. I.e. they HEAR my U.S. born and bred sons and husband speaking with the same accent I have. The latest one asked Robert if HIS accent was from Poland. (Rolls eyes.)

What in heck should you care for such peoples’ opinions? What say do they have in your life?

Then there are the charming SJWs (no, it’s not an insult. They called themselves Social Justice Warriors. They don’t get to escape the name when it turns out everyone knows how stupid it is) in my field who call me a race and gender traitor. Children are confused like that. How can you be a traitor to an allegiance that doesn’t exist and which you never swore fealty to.

Doesn’t exist, you say? But race! Gender! Well, they SAY gender is a social construct and as for race, I know enough history (if they don’t) to know it’s a cultural construct. In the nineteenth century they talked of “the Portuguese race” and the “British race.” I understand that under the microscope, absent some kind of marker like sickle cell, you can’t tell anyone’s skin color. You can, interestingly enough, at the cellular level, tell the sex of the cells. But the SJWs tell us it’s a social construct, and they are honorable women and girly men.

Actually what is a social construct are the archetypes they push into those things: females and other races as archetypal oppressed races. As a Samoan e-friend put it, her people weren’t oppressed by whites. They didn’t care what whites were doing. The Portuguese might have been oppressed by the whiter parts of Europe, kind of sort of. I mean, at various times English Literature referred to them as a vile race, the French did whatever the French were doing, and the Germans tried to organize the study of Portuguese literature (among other things.) But in the end, the Portuguese were too busy fighting their eternal enemies, the Portuguese, and occasionally distracted enough to fight the Spaniards, to care overmuch about more remote European countries.  They were rather busy not being eaten by Spain, as every other country in the Peninsula was.  (Well, technically not being eaten by Castile, but…)

Here do I get oppressed by non-Latin people? Meh. I’d like to see the idiot with enough gumption to try to oppress me. Sometimes they stereotype me and are rude to me, but I ignore them and that works.

So who am I betraying by not conforming to the baneful Marxist stereotype of who I should be? Oh, right, the SJWs. That’s okay, I’m fine betraying them. Or at least fighting them. Hard to betray what you never belonged to. And, you know, most of them, even those with exotic names and claiming exotic identities (rolls eyes) are pasty-assed white people with real privilege as defined by having money and having attended the best universities and hanging out with all the “right” people and having the “right” (left) opinions. If they knew the meaning of the word privilege, they’d see it all over themselves.

But there are more egregious definitions of privilege. You see “check your privilege” is a tool of would-be elite whites to keep competition and challengers in check, while riding to glory by defining themselves as champions of the downtrodden. (It’s an old game, in place at least since the French revolution, but it’s the only one they have. Remember they lack both empathy and imagination. And since they have more or less overtaken the press, no one on the street realizes how old and tired this “clever” gambit is.)

However, when that hits academia, it becomes something even more poisonous.

Recently I heard someone talk about a difficult (as in very poor, with two working, Asian immigrant parents barely scrabbling to get by) childhood and say that as they always had books and were pushed to succeed they had “tons of white privilege.”

This person was a graduate of an ivy league school. So, of course, he had internalized the definitions of “white privilege” as meaning “doing that which brings success.”

This is sort of a self-defeating thing. If you want to have a voice in politics, you avoid “white privilege” which means if you want to have a voice in politics, you must not display those traits which logically lead to success in the culture. (You see how this is a tool of the white overclass to avoid competition from anyone else.)

This poisonous, totally unwarranted view of privilege serves only one purpose: to keep everyone else floundering and mute while these not-very-competent, credentialed, correctly-connected, politics-as-a-social good, lacking in empathy, totally devoid of imagination, largely white would-be-aristos lord it over us.

Sigh. Hey, guys, privy-lege means “private law.” You know, private law which allows your not-very-competent asses to hold on to positions you’re not qualified for just because you make the right noises. Private law which means your politicians don’t get even rebuked for incompetence and malice that would crucify any one else. Private law means you can enrich yourself while playing at caring for the downtrodden. Private law means you can be an old woman with no accomplishments to your name except marrying the “right” man and then claim to speak for women and youth. Private law means you can play life on the easiest setting, while rebuking everyone with your melanin content (or more) for doing the same, whether you know what they’ve overcome or not.

Privilege means arrogating to yourself the right to judge others, not on behavior, not on their choices, not on their competence or their intelligence, but simply on whether they disagree with you. And to scream “off with their heads” if they don’t.

Privilege means the right to tell people what they should think or feel, and telling people whom they should blame for their plight, even if the people themselves disagree.

Privilege means voting yourself accolades, awards, encomiums, and then relying on your buddies in the press to make you smell like a rose, despite the garbage you roll around in.

Privilege means destroying people and gutting the culture for the privilege (ah!) of standing on top the smoking pyre, being king of the dunghill.

Privilege means being aristos unaware the masses are in pain and – like Antoinette never said – telling them to eat cake.

It’s short lived, though, this sort of privilege, because it destroys that which it feeds upon. And it’s even more short lived in a time when technological change undermines you.  For instance, I don’t think the press can shield these aristos much longer. It might last the bastions of the left until the present generation (older than I) retires. Those younger than I, though, banking on it are playing a mug’s game.  (Or are simply stupid and as we’ve said, lack both empathy and imagination.)

Long before they inherit, the inheritance will be ashes in the wind.

And the rest of us, the ones who understand the cold equations of economics and culture, of knowledge and power? We’ll be here.

Ça Ira.

Promo Post and Musings

The promo is by Free Range Oyster, the resident ambulatory mollusc.  The musings are mine.  And since this is my blog and I muse if I want to: musings first.

My main musing is on the subject of work. Yesterday on Facebook someone told me I do two daily blogs and all the rest.  This is, of course, not true.  I barely do this blog daily, if I can con one or two of you into doing guest posts a week.  (Actually I’ve found the ideal number of weekly posts is three.  After that it starts eating into the fiction brain.  Yes, I could cut down to posting on designated days, or I can let some of my friends talk too.  I like the second better.  Now that younger son is taking (only) a couple/three summer classes — needed when you’re taking two and three half degrees in six years — he has also promised me a weekly post.  After all, he’s a Hoyt and this is According to Hoyt.  Of course you guys will accuse me of making him up, because of the three guys, he’s the one who sounds most like me.  Okay, without the occasional naughty snark.  He’s an embryonic engineer.  Someone left the naughty out of him.)

However, this musing is on the subject of work, backbreaking work and joy.

I’m not going to say writing isn’t work, or hasn’t been work more times than I can say.  For instance, as I’m editing a collection to put up (usually editing it at night, when I’m almost asleep, but never mind.  Oh, yeah, remind me I need to make an eyeglass appointment on Monday, because right now I can see clearly up to the tip of my nose, and the rest is an educated guess.  Which gets tiring when editing. It’s not all absent mindedness, I was waiting for the hormones to settle after surgery.  When you’re astigmatic, hormonal confusion affects your eyesight) and one of the stories I put in which I remembered as being pretty decent is Oh, My Lord.  As in, you can feel me pushing every word into place with a crow bar.  Which is exactly what it felt like at the time.  It felt like I was locked in a walled-in, silent room and could only pass words out, one at a time, through a crack only big enough to admit a fortune-cookie sized paper.

More importantly, I couldn’t “feel” the worlds I was writing (okay, okay, see them and hear them, at least mentally.  Before you call the men in white coats, I suggest you remember that if they cure me you get no more books.  Yeah, that’s right, put down that phone.) This meant that every development in plotting, every new character had to be thought out carefully.

This is, btw, why the serialized novels came to a halt, because otherwise I’d have had to spend the whole week working on a chapter (I suddenly feel empathy for those of my colleagues who write very slowly) and I have other work.  Yes, they will resume, just let me figure out the mash I made of those plots.  My goal right now is to finish them at the end of Summer, and bring them out around September.

It’s been like that, but increasingly worse for the last three years, or if you want to get technical, it’s been like that for 20 years slowly worsening, until it reached critical mass 8 years or so ago (the Nebulas in Arizona) and since then it’s been a race to shut down my brain and it’s weird that it no longer is.  I talked to friends back then and they diagnosed burnout. It seemed right.  I read books on burnout, but the prescriptions were either impossible or didn’t help.

Well, it wasn’t burnout, though it behaved like it.  It was the multiple complications of a relatively simple but messy internal problem.  So.

So, what now?  Where do I — and more importantly for you guys — my writing go from here.  D*mned if I know.

Let’s take it as written that when I broke in 15 years ago the effects of the cr*p going on in my organs were minor.  I was writing four novels a year (one sold.  Eh.  I was learning) reading six books a week and writing a short story every weekend.  Then again I was also thirty and change, not fifty two.

Let’s take it as written too that I am not fully up to strength yet.  H*ll the doctor hasn’t given me the all-clear yet.  Appointment on Wednesday.  Keep your fingers crossed, because I think she’ll have a nervous breakdown if I’m not healed.  She was halfway there last time.

Also, brain-curious (he’s been reading articles on brain science since he was 10.  What the heck would you call him?) #1 son-san tells me that the brain recovers from the bottom up.  I mean, whatever my body was doing (beyond trying to die) shut my brain down from the top down, meaning that story (not, thank heavens for a Baen anthology) that offended me was written with the brain stem, which sounds about right. It is recovering from the bottom up, which means my dinkum thinkum (eh) feels perfectly normal now, and all back, but I doubt it is.  (OTOH I can read books I haven’t read before without forgetting what I read ten minutes ago.  On the third hand, I’m only reading two a week.  Oh, and if you were waiting for me to mail you something and it’s late (derp) that’s not the brain, it’s my notorious aversion to the post office, which usually has a three hour line.  I swear to you next time I take the clip board and edit in line. Or take the eee and write.  For maximum spookiness, I should take the recorder and dictate a chapter.)

So, right now, on the hopper and of concern to you: I’m editing a collection of the short stories published since 07, a couple of them published in very limited venues.  It will be near 90k words of collection, and I’ll be putting out [pardon the Freudian slip.  Only if the doctor gives me the all clear.  CORRECTION:] putting it out at the end of the week.  I’m going to put it up for 2.99 introductory price for a week, shall we say starting memorial day weekend, so people have a chance to buy something to read during their time off.  It will be called Here There Be Dragons.

Also nearing completion (it was sort of written, only a dog’s breakfast, because I wasn’t functioning) is the Yaish (shut up, totally a designation) novel coming between Witchfinder and Rogue Magic.  It’s getting fixed up between breakfast and whatever time we haul *ss to go to the other house and paint.  (Family are not early risers, and I’m usually up at six.)  It changed names, because The Haunted Air never fit, and it’s now Witch’s Daughter for the kid that Michael Ainsling, youngest son of the *sort of* late Duke of Darkwater falls for.  Kid is a manner of speaking, as she’s 16 and he’s 17, but you know…  He shows his family’s propensity to fall for the most innapropriate woman  person critter available.

In the afternoon, after painting the other house and before I deal with dinner, I’m trying to finish Darkship Revenge.  Which would be way easier if Bowl of Red weren’t trying to come out at the same time.  I’ve informed Bowl of Red it’s not under contract and it can wait.  It’s not listening.

Thing is, and this is the weird part, this is not a weird brag about how hard I work.  Because, listen to this, work is not supposed to be this much fun.  So “hard worker” is relative.  This is why I took so much time/effort to make sure the boys really want to do what they say they want to do.  It is important to do the sort of work where you’re having fun, to the point you go “A trip to the amusement park?  But I was writing!”

Mind you, I still love trips to the zoo and the natural history museum with my kids (and Dan) but those tend to turn into plotting trips anyway.

So, those are the good news.  At least I hope they’re good, though I’m starting to have a sneaky suspicion I’m going to be very hard for my guys to live with.

Maybe.  They’re not all there, either.

Oh, yeah, and before I give the floor to the mollusc (1500 words, really?  I’m just blathering!) Ill Met By Moonlight, the first novel I sold, which came out Oct. 2001, (yeah, I have ALL the luck!  Not.  Well, more than the poor people who died, so…) is up for sale at 2.99 till Monday some time.  (Will get changed Monday morning, but it takes a little while to take effect.)  So if you, your friend or your distant cousin needs an e-copy this is a good time.

Next up on sale is either No Will But His or Death of a Musketeer, and I take votes.

Remember the book promo Friday Saturday is the books you send us to promote, and not personal endorsements.  Download the sample and read it and if it interests you buy the book!  Oh, and send oyster your upcoming masterpieces.  Void or limited where prohibited by law.  No coupon, no excuse.  You’re responsible for all the taxes including mine (what?  No?  Sigh.  The IRS done looted our bank account again this year and I was hoping.)

Have a fun Saturday.  I have stuff to write.

And now, without further ado, Here’s Oyster or at least Oyster’s promo post! Put your hands together for the hun that’s got none, and give him a warm ATH welcome, butter optional.

Amanda S. Green

Sword of Arelion

Sword of the Gods Book 1

War is coming. The peace and security of the Ardean Imperium is threatened from within and without. The members of the Order of Arelion are sworn to protect the Imperium and enforce the Codes. But the enemy operates in the shadows, corrupting where it can and killing when that fails.

Fallon Mevarel, knight of the Order of Arelion, carried information vital to prevent civil war from breaking out. Cait was nothing, or so she had been told. She was property, to be used and abused until her owner tired of her. What neither Cait nor Fallon knew was that the gods had plans for her, plans that required Fallon to delay his mission.

Plans within plans, plots put in motion long ago, all converge on Cait. She may be destined for greatness, but only if she can stay alive long enough.

John Van Stry

Of Temples and Trials

Portals of Infinity: Book Three

With the first of what he suspects will be many favors completed, William finds himself busy with important tasks back at his home on Saladin. Queen Rachel has several jobs she needs him to do, and Feliogustus has similar tasks in mind for him as well. All in all, it seems easy enough to Will, it’s not like he’ll be fighting in any wars, or traveling across the infinite on a strange quest after all.

But things aren’t always as easy as they might seem, and both politics, as well as the other gods, aren’t going to ignore Will, or the tasks he’s been set to complete. And is if dealing with that isn’t problem enough, when the time comes to do some serious diplomacy between Hiland and a neighboring Kingdom, a deadly problem comes from a most unexpected quarter, forcing Will to take immediate action to payback both his, and his God’s foes.

James L. Cambias

Corsair: A Science Fiction Novel

In the early 2020s, two young, genius computer hackers, Elizabeth Santiago and David Schwartz, meet at MIT, where Schwartz is sneaking into classes, and have a brief affair. David is amoral and out for himself, and soon disappears. Elizabeth dreams of technology and space travel and takes a military job after graduating. Nearly ten years later, David is setting himself to become a billionaire by working in the shadows under a multiplicity of names for international thieves, and Elizabeth works in intelligence preventing international space piracy. With robotic mining in space becoming a lucrative part of Earth’s economy, shipments from space are dropped down the gravity well into the oceans. David and Elizabeth fight for dominance of the computer systems controlling ore drop placement in international waters. If David can nudge a shipment 500 miles off its target, his employers can get there first and claim it legally in the open sea. Each one intuits that the other is their real competition but can’t prove it. And when Elizabeth loses a major shipment, she leaves government employ to work for a private space company to find a better way to protect shipments. But international piracy has very high stakes and some very evil players. And both Elizabeth and David end up in a world of trouble.

The Great Talent Hunt — A Blast From The Past Post 4/2011

*Yes, I’m rolling on a theme.  Indulge me. – SAH*

 So I won’t be misunderstood let me make clear at the outset that yes, I believe individuals are born with different capacities for different things. Let alone the capacities one sees in oneself which might or might not be observed objectively, it’s impossible to watch a kid growing up and not to know some things come more easily to people than others.

Take words, for instance. I rarely, if ever, struggle for words. Oh, on some days when I’m ill or insufficiently caffeinated, I’m capable of saying a sentence the wrong way around, but just a glance at it will show me my error. I find it almost alien to imagine fighting for each word as you write, having to work at translating thoughts/images/feelings into words. And yet, people I have reason to trust, like my husband, who has nothing to gain by lying, tell me that this is possible – that it is in fact a condition of vast swaths of humanity.

So, we’ll establish that people are wired differently, whether due to genetics, epigenetics or environment at a very early age.

That’s fine.

What this means is that you have a “gift” you get for free. So far as it applies to fiction writing I’ve identified the following gifts: a gift for language (arguably the least useful except in limited and specialized circumstances); a gift for characters; a gift for plotting; a gift for theme.

Usually a person will get one of these almost at an instinctive level. Sometimes, they’ll get two or more. It could be argued I got two: language (though I made things difficult for myself there by being a non-native speaker, which added some years to my journey) and characters. Is this enough to publish salable (let alone good) fiction. I wish.

Take my friend, Dave Freer, who tells me started with only plot. Was this enough to produce salable fiction? Well, he sold earlier than I, but that was influenced by so many factors that it might or might not mean anything.

Writing draws on all the talents above, plus some other, unspecified. To make it, in addition to all that, you need keen business acumen, an ability to spot trends, a thick skin that allows you to persevere in face of rejection, enough mental health to be able to withstand one of the most uncertain careers you can embark on, and enough insanity to want to do it. Talent, as such, is not there anywhere.

And yet, over and over again, newbies showing me their work ask “do I have talent?” Or “have I got it?” with the it being the mysterious force that allows creation.

Part of this is the myth of talent and genius our society has spun. We read about DaVinci and Einstein and Mozart with a sort of mystical awe. There is genius, we think. There is talent. And we imagine these people plunging into their field of endeavor effortlessly and fully formed.

Do I need to tell you it’s not true? I doubt DaVinci walked up to a canvas and effortlessly drew a Madonna. In fact, we know he didn’t – we have bits we believe were done by him as an apprentice and – whatever Dan Brown thinks (rolls eyes) – most of his notebooks were taken up with practice sketches and notes to himself on this and that. We know Mozart’s story as well and though I’m not as familiar with Einstein I would wager that though he might have been a mediocre student, he probably explored math and physics extensively on his own to the limits of availability. (I’m “gifted” with a child of the same stamp, and trust me, sometimes I’m amazed at how hard he works on his own time, provided it’s something that interests him. Which often has nothing to do with what the school thinks he should be studying.)

Even the language we use on this is wrong. We talk of “gifted” children and of having a “gift” for this or that. Other than at an almost elemental level (it could for instance be argued I have a gift for language. This is not true as I have to work harder than most at learning foreign languages. I did have an easier time of English than almost anything else, but I still worked very hard the first year. Much harder than my classmates. BUT I am a verbal learner, which means once I conquered the language, words come easy.) This is not true. Scratch a “gifted” child and you almost always find a kid who is working twice as hard as the others. The fact that this work is often “play” for the kid doesn’t change that. The gift the child has might be something completely different – i.e. what he got for free is probably something more elementary – like the capacity to concentrate earlier and more intensely than other children, or the capacity to visualize his adult ambitions and use them as a driver to his motivation.

Add to that that writing is an uncertain and odd career. When you start, you often know nothing of how the field operates or how one gets even one toe in. (Okay, that’s getting easier with the internet.) By the time you figure out how difficult it is you’re often fully committed… And your friends, relatives and strangers on the street think you SHOULD BE committed. They don’t hesitate to tell you so, either. (If you write science fiction and fantasy you add another layer of weirdness, as a lot of people can’t understand why you’re writing about spaceships or fairies. “But this stuff doesn’t exist!”) You find yourself coming home from a day job, or stealing time away from familial duties to work relentlessly at an avocation that might or might not ever bring you even the barest level of recognition (defined as a couple hundred people reading it and liking it) let alone monetary reward.

Of course people setting out on this uncertain sea – the pen is a harsh mistress. Eh! – will want to know they’re destined to do this, that there is a reason they’re so oddly afflicted, that there is a chance they’ll make it.

I understand all this, but unfortunately I can’t tell anyone they’ll make it. There are so many factors going into making a success of your writing endeavors, that unless I know you personally and have seen you in action throughout the years, I do not know how far and how fast you’ll go. I’ve been known to be wrong, too. Some people I dismissed as “pot boilers” who would stick at a certain level the rest of their lives, suddenly shot way up. Other people who to my eyes had it all together have spent the last twenty years working at one or two books and never selling.

I don’t know your religious or metaphysical beliefs, nor are they any of my business. However, for the purpose of writing, it helps if you start off believing there is no destiny.

If you want to write, if it truly is what you want, you’re no more guaranteed success than if you want to make shoes or to make and sell neat medieval toggery at cons. (You probably have less chance of succeeding at writing, in fact, since what I’ve found is that it takes an inhuman amount of work, concentration and planning.) Would you think it was your destiny to make shoes? Or to sell neat stuff at cons? No. Of course not. (And yet it might be, as much as to write books.)

So, start from there. There is no destiny. I don’t care what your momma told you, you don’t have to do this. If you can, walk away now and save yourself.

Those of you who remain, now, examine your assets. What’s the part of writing that’s easiest and most pleasurable? The part that people tell you “wow, I really like” – right, that’s your gift. Stop fussing with it, and start learning the other parts of a story. Read a few books you really like and try to separate all the elements that go into it. Be warned that if your gift is “language” people will routinely over estimate you.

They’ll tell you things like “you’re such a great writer” – but they won’t finish the story, because there is no story beneath the great words. You have to be alert to that sort of thing. Absent an ambition to write poetry; the sort of recherche short-shorts that get published in college magazines; or plotless and acclaimed novels no one ever reads, language is well nigh useless. It helps you write faster, I think, but you also have to stay on top of it. If I give my language full rein, I can easily smother the story-telling under a blanket of prose. People who stop to admire my vocabulary will get popped out of the story as easily as if I’d made a crude grammatical mistake.

Suppose you examined your “gifts” and realize you don’t have any. Can you still be a writer? Of course you can. Again, other writers get one or two elements for free and those might frankly be an hindrance, as they then think everything else should come that easily.

If you still want to set out on this uncertain route, with no guarantee of success ever, then start learning. Your best textbooks are the successful novels out there. No, they won’t contaminate your style (don’t make me come out there and hit you with a dead fish.) If only it were that easy to acquire the style of the masters. They will simply point out a “route” for you to follow. In the same way “how to” books can be useful. I found a very few truly useful, Dwight Swain foremost among them.

The caveat here is you must find the books that are useful to YOU. Even from Swain, my husband found the character book useful, while I could never finish it because it annoyed me and interfered with my character creation, which I do at an instinctive level. Conversely, even though most new agey writing books (just bought one by accident) drive me to screaming fits, at a particularly dispirited and low time in my life when I thought I’d never get published, one of these books that regarded writing as a “practice” like praying or meditating, allowed me to write again.

The reason this is important, is that some people feel an almost pathological need to write – I’m one of those – and if they’re not doing it, they get very unhappy. I’ve known people – not me, thank heavens – who get suicidal during prolonged writing withdrawal.

If you’re one of those, and if you feel a need to write, even though you know you might never get published, even if you don’t have a single of those gifts for “free”, work on acquiring them. If you’re going to be writing, you might as well make it salable and give enjoyment to others.

But don’t worry about talent. Chasing “talent” is an endless snipe hunt that has ruined more potentially great writers than anything else.

Start by assuming you don’t have any talent. Now, do you have courage, determination, a thick skin and just a touch of divine madness?

Work it, baby, work it.

On Gifts and Returns

So, Tuesday I mentioned in passing that I think Talent is a myth, and of course I got the usual answers “no, I met someone very talented at x or y.”

Which brings us to this post and why I hate the “classification” that schools do in “gifted.” And this is not just because in schools gifted normally means “does what I tell her to do, no matter how stupid, promptly and without complaint.” I mean, that is part of the problem. I had the hardest time convincing them that the sons were underperforming because they were bored, not because they weren’t capable. (There is something profoundly insulting to teachers who think that whatever they assign the first grader, even if it’s putting round pegs in round holes, is the most fascinating thing that kid can learn to do. Ditto for third grade teachers who only have picture books in their classroom and who think your child isn’t reading them because he is “learning disabled” not because he reads Roman history in his spare time at home. [Granted in middle school aimed books, because I, personally, preferred not to be responsible for his learning the less savory stuff Romans did. I kept that stuff in the locked bookcase. Yes, of course he read them too, though I only found out his bookcase opening trick years later.] And right now you’re going: see, your kid was “gifted.” Hold on to that thought.)

I hate the classification of “gifted” even when accurate because of the meaning behind it. This is something you were given, something you were born with. You’ll always be gifted, even if you choose to be a total dumb*ss, and they treat it like it’s important and relevant and makes you soooo special. (And for those ready to say this is envy: I was in those classes too. Mostly because normal class teachers wanted me out of their purview ASAP due to a nasty tendency to argue every point into the ground. [And it was nasty. Had I had to teach myself, I’d have hit the little pest in the head with a heavy dictionary first day.])

I don’t object to stratifying classes by ability. In fact, I think the places and times that did it made life easier for both the child and the teacher, provided they have some means of deciding who goes into the pool that isn’t based on “She dresses so nicely and does everything I tell her.”

In my time and place, because it was illegal, (revolution abolished such things) they did it only for extreme cases and in self defense. So in my second year in high school (which starts in seventh grade) I found myself in a form that collected every single best student of their forms the year before, save for those who went into our rival form. (And you know, these many years after, I remember we were N and locked in mortal combat with form M. Grades are posted publically, and it was a horrible humiliation if they had more As than we did.)

Certainly extreme ability should be stratified out, as should extreme disability. There are things that no amount of integration are going to equalize and you can’t teach “genius” and morons at the same time with the same material. If you try you get the mess our schools are today. That said, and see as before, I don’t trust the schools ability to decide who are genius and who are morons. (Younger son is certified genius [certifiable too] and I had to fight more than once to keep him from remedial h*ll, because he had a speech impediment, an odd sense of humor and was bored spitless.)

And now you’re saying “But Sarah, you just admitted there are geniuses.” Drat. Will you wait. All shall be explained.

So, anyway, I hate the word “gifted” to apply to those who are smarter than the average bear, because it implies they were handed this “packet” of genius, and there’s nothing else they need to do to succeed and do well in life. In fact, one teacher, explaining why the school spent so little time and money on the smart kids told me “your kids are gifted, they’re going to do well in life no matter what.”

Oh, boy. I know several high IQ people. Genuine high IQ – say, top 2% of the population – and though many of them have multiple degrees, the “average” job is retail clerk somewhere. The others are in perfectly average jobs. The ones who are in exceptional high-authority/high-pay jobs are probably the same proportion as from normal-smart people.

Intelligence doesn’t equal focus, doesn’t equal aim, doesn’t equal understanding of the world as is, and it almost correlates inversely to the ability to get along with people.

And this is why I hate the term “gifted” and the whole idea of genius.

The idea of genius runs through western civilization, and we’re soaked with it, to the point we don’t think very clearly when the words “genius” or “prodigy” come up.

We think “genius” and we think Leonardo DaVinci. We think polyvalent and able to do everything well. And most of us don’t know enough about his biography to know that it too was pretty much like that of the geniuses I know. He succeeded despite a string of unfinished works and dropped commitments, as a wild hare hit him and he went off to do something else.

His achievements while impressive, are a fraction of what you’d expect from his “genius.” And even with his genius, he was apprenticed and learned his trade.

What I despise about the myth of genius and the myth of talent is the lack of acknowledgement these people are born with the tools to learn (some things) optimally. They are not born with all the tools they need to complete their task. Genius is usually focused and saltational (as to specific abilities, not meaning that geniuses focus well. Trust me, I don’t mean that.) By which I mean that you’ll be a genius in one area: say your verbal processing. And by saltational I mean that often, for whatever reason, even in the area of their greatest ability the geniuses start below normal level (another reason it’s hard for schools to identify) and focus on it until they excel to prodigious amount. It’s just that the process of getting there is weird. It’s like a car who does zero to 60 in 2 minutes, but spends the first minute and a half idling then gets to 60 in half a minute, and then gets to 600 in the next half minute. (I.e., saltational = it jumps.)

Now for some relatively simple tasks, say running you might have the ability and have acquired the skill while doing normal every day things, so the first time you try to run a marathon, you present as a “natural.” This is mostly true for physical skills but not always. Younger son has always been able to do calculations in his head. Well, since he deigned talk to us. I think it’s the visualization talent, plus a natural knack for numbers.

But take a more complex “talent” one of those we associate genius with. “A genius for business”, or “a genius for art” or “a genius for music” or writing…

I’ll focus on writing, because I know the most about that, but I’ll say in passing that I think the myth of genius has destroyed modern art. If you’re a genius your untutored scrawls are gold seems to be the idea. And thus it all becomes about interpretation and spin and, in the end, makes art into a game of “the critic goes naked.”

In writing, where I know the road because I walked it at least twice, barefoot, in snow, both ways, talent might actually stand in your way of making a career out of this. The best natural writers I know, whose first works were perfect and clear and detailed are neither of them professionals.

I tell beginning writers that we each get a talent for free. This is not necessarily true. I’ve met some people wanting to be writers who really don’t seem to have a talent. But maybe it is because their words are so bad I never get to their exquisite plotting. (I’m not being snarky. Some of the best plotters I’ve read make me cringe over their word choices, so it’s possible.)

I got lucky and got two. One was a gift of words. Still have it, though I try to reign it in, because otherwise I send people to the dictionary and that tends to break the spell of the story. The other was a gift for characters. With rare exceptions, my characters show up fully formed, with their own history and their own voices. (This is good and bad. Some of the people I get stuck with! And you should see the ones I outright turn away.)

This is good, right? Well, it’s helping me, particularly in terms of saving time when the writing is going. And now, I’m experienced enough I know how to match the other elements of the story (sort of) to those two.

But when I started out, those gifts could have counted as hinderances. Because I had a word-gift, words were all I saw, and I tended to obsess about them and never finish anything, or else beat the life out of it by polishing every minor word. And once I got over that (if you like my work, bless Dean Wesley Smith, who told me my words were fine, stop obsessing on them and that was an order) my character definition was so much better than my ability to plot which was “early workman” that people tended to tell me my plotting was horrible. It wasn’t, it was normal for beginner pro, (though I had clue zero about foreshadowing until Dave Freer applied a Gibbs Slap) but in comparison with fully formed, actuated characters it looked shoddy and all patches.

In fact, to the extent that my “gifts” did anything, and while I appreciate them now, when they allow me to coast a little, they hindered my becoming a professional, because I had no clue how to acquire the skills I lacked. I mean, I’d never worked to get the ones I had.

(Well, I’d never worked on them consciously. And here, we must get to environment. Yes, there was capacity there, but my dad’s fascination with words and poems, even in another language didn’t hurt, nor did my tendency to read everything that stood still long enough. As for characters, I was as most of us here are somewhat clumsy with people, which is deadly in a village where at any time there are a hundred feuds running through and a wrong word to the wrong person will destroy your reputation or your family’s business. So I had to learn to “read” people and because it was difficult, I devoted a lot of time to it. Also, let’s not forget the inestimable contribution of mom’s and grandma’s favorite hobby: gossip. And not just gossip but gossip with family history. They or their cronies would start on “Bob never can keep a job.” And then go down the list of reasons his grandfather had also been a ne’er do well. Most of these women were sharp (and bored) so while eating breakfast I was likely to overhear three masterful character sketches.)

Which bring us back again to “gifted.” In some old traditions, including medieval court etiquette, if you got a gift, you had to give something back of equal or greater value.

If you have a “gifted” child, treat them that tradition. So they got something for free, yay. But now they have to put in equal work on everything they intend to do, to supplement what they got for free. They have to give back equal or greater value in talent, in concentration and in effort.

The myth of the ‘fully formed’ genius is just that, a myth.

Being “gifted” means your challenges are different, not that there are no challenges.

So, if you were born with gifts, give equal value back.

Show Me on the Trilogy-David Pascoe

Show Me on the Trilogy-David Pascoe
I love Star Wars (unlike Her BbES Highnessness, who I’m more or less convinced just doesn’t like the competition). It was likely the most formative milieu of my early youth, and remains an easy place to rest my thoughts. My father had, at some point in the misty, murky passages of pre-time, acquired an LP of the Empire soundtrack, and before we had a VHS player, I used to listen to it for hours while trying desperately to get my Legos into the right configuration for an X-Wing or a TIE Fighter. (Couldn’t happen; they didn’t have all the nifty pieces they’ve since created. Back in MY day, we had to put our Legos together barefoot, backwards, both ways, in the snow AND the dark. It was a rough period in my life. Now, of course, I just can’t afford all the sets I deserve. /sigh)

My father introduced me to that long time ago, in that galaxy far, far away at a formative point in my childhood, and I immediately incorporated the mythos into what went on in my head. Space wizards and heart-of-gold smugglers, inhuman (literally) bounty hunters and brooding over it all, the Big Man in his black mask. His first scene, where the stormtroopers breach the door onto the Tantive IV, and he steps through after they’ve slaughtered the rebel scum? Used to make me jump. Every time.

Since then, I’ve learned about Joseph Campbell, and developed a fair sense of story and how to go about putting a universe together for others’ enjoyment, and I’m morally certain that Lucas screwed up a few things. Now, admittedly, many of those only become glaringly, painfully obvious once the two prequels were released in theaters (I’ve heard there was something that came between the original trilogy, and the two others, but I have it on good authority that it’s a poorly done fanfic of a film, and that an otherwise excellent cast did the best they could with what they were given. Which halfway applies to the prequels, as well. It’s knotty). The joke became, “show me on the trilogy where George hurt you,” and it was painful to watch a lot of it. Of course, half of that pain was the Big Bad Guy being a whiny adolescent. Something to look forward to in about a decade and change, when Wee Dave goes to the Dark Side.

But there are some kinda messed up stuff about the Star Wars universe. The Good Guys use the Force to cloud men’s minds “influence the weak minded,” in the words of one prominent Jedi master. They are an unelected elite, super-powered by reason of an accident of birth, and given the authority to judge their fellow sentients. In one scene, the oligarchy at the top of the Jedi Order actually discuss (and then attempt to implement) what amounts to a military coup. And we’re told these are the good guys.

On the other hand, the Bad Guys are, well, pretty bad. Working to topple a corrupt and oppressive government that is so weak as to fall prey to the guilds and unions of the hyper-wealthy. The government of a polity so loosely aligned that its internal politics are dominated by a few major players; whose elite work toward their own ends, rather than what will benefit those who owe them allegiance. (Wait a sec, that sounds like American politics…) And it’s not like these Darths are exactly working toward reformation, except in the sense that galactic society will be reformed according to their will.

Murder, intrigue, subversion, all are legitimate tactics in pursuit of their goals. We even get to see an innocent and carefree (*cough* for a slave *cough*) young boy grow into a whining and petulent adolescent twisted into one of the most recognizable of villains in pop culture through the machinations of a single, powerful Bad Guy. A bad guy who thinks nothing of throwing whole systems into chaos. He manipulates millions to fuel his rise to power. Wars are fought, entire species enslaved, all to put one man on a throne. And eliminate those pesky Jedi, of course.

And there’s messed up, and then there’s messed up. How does the economy of the Old Republic work, actually? There are a few things known about specific corporate entities. Han Solo wields a BlasTech pistol. Crime lords have enormous power, albeit on the outskirts of otherwise “civilized” space. Free traders seem rampant, and the space pirates who prey on them. What about governance? There is, presumably (it’s mentioned a couple of times) an extensive bureaucracy, but the audience never actually sees much of its influence. Obi-wan Kenobi never has to show up to traffic court to explain that midnight chase through the air-lanes of Coruscant. Did he even have a valid driver’s license?

And what about the Empire? Is it a command economy, as seems reasonable from the autocratic and militaristic nature of that particular beast? We have no idea, as such details are missing from the films, and the canon lore is in a constant state of flux (thanks, Disney). How does the Rebel Alliance function, logistically speaking. They seem to have sufficient resources to wage war on a galactic hyper-power. Do they control whole systems? Is there some kind of shadow economy funneling them money through donations to popular charities? Save the Aquatic Gundark, perhaps? Keep Dantooine Green?

Speaking of rebel scum, how are they freedom fighters, instead of terrorists? Dialogue from Episode IV suggests they regularly engage in espionage against military targets. What about the Luke Skywalker guy? Celebrated Hero, or mass murderer? How many lives must have been snuffed out when he destroyed the Peace Star?

There’s a lot to learn from the series of five films, and assorted additional source material. Or at least a lot of speculation possible, which, to be fair, is the more likely. Especially for a writer. Especially for a writer of space opera. I’ll be digging through George’s magnum opus in the coming weeks, and I look forward to your thoughts.

Of Trust and Processes

So apparently this antibiotic I took was so strong as to ALMOST be an anti-Sarah, which means as I stopped taking it, I came down with an epic head cold. I finally got tired of it yesterday and spent most of the day curled up with books or sleeping, and then went to bed at nine, which means I slept almost 12 hours, on top of all I’d slept during the day.

I keep forgetting that this works to cure colds. My aunt (mom’s younger sister) used to think Port Wine cured colds, because you drank as much as you could stand, then woke a day later without a cold. But I find for me it works just fine without the Port Wine in the equation. I’m still a little snuffly, but there isn’t that feeling I’m trying to think through cork.

And this morning I thought I never remember this works, because logically, in my head, it shouldn’t work. Yes, yes, power down and give your body a chance to fight the nasties, but it’s an infection, and sleep – by itself – shouldn’t cure it.

There are things like this that you think shouldn’t work, but do. And because you don’t really believe they will work, you tend to forget it. Or you never believe it.

Take for instance when I first took the Oregon Writers’ workshop and Kris and Dean told me to “trust the process” – that is to believe that just doing a thing over and over again makes you better at it. It’s not sense. And we probably all know people who have been “trying” for years to be writers, or musicians or basketball players and still suck at it.

But then if you look at it closely, all of these people “trying” aren’t trying very hard. Even for me, it took 13 years to publication, because I’d get discouraged and wander off to do something else (mostly bake carrot cake. Don’t judge me.) I kept coming back to it, and pushing, but then I’d go off for months and lose all the progress I’d made. And most people who try for years and never succeed usually have that pattern, or have some issue that makes it impossible for them to succeed in that field. For instance, it would be insane if younger son decided to become a musician and he couldn’t succeed without specialized classes, because he has sensory issues. So just trying and trying, when you can’t “hear” what you’re aiming for wouldn’t work. It would be crazy if I tried to be a basketball player. No amount of game could overcome the fact I’d be much shorter than everyone else who plays basketball.

For writers a peculiar temptation I’ve mentioned before is to become so immersed in your world and your characters you spend your whole time dreaming it, instead of writing it. And writing it is a painful process, since you have to introduce to your readers these people you know so well, and to mention details you think are obvious because you’ve lived with them so long. So the dream is super-seductive and will actually prevent you from writing.

So, yeah, you can spend years ideating your world and never write, but that’s not the process you should trust. You should trust the simple, dumb process of putting words down, and trying to write the best you can. Yeah, you’ll make a lot of the same dumb mistakes (and it will hurt you because you can see them) but eventually something breaks and you hit another level. This is of course, assuming you continue to read and study the masters of your craft. (Or listen to, or look at, or whatever your craft involves.)

My older son was talking to me, while painting walls, about the distinctive quality of Heinlein’s juveniles. His main characters, son said (and is right) are not particularly gifted. They’re not the chosen ones. Instead, they find themselves in a situation, or want to learn something, and very often have to work harder than anyone else. Think of Rico and his mathematical boneheadedness. Or Torby learning to scan for raiders before they come out of whatever they called warp drive (it’s been a year or two and my memory drops details.)

But they work hard and then they succeed.

This is very different from just about every other YA. Even Harry Potter. While he’s not the fastest or the smartest, he’s the “chosen one” and he’s a naturally good quiddich player. (Think how likely that would be.)

Even in Diana Wynne Jones, the kids are usually fated to be something or other, endowed with abilities to be something or other, and the book is a process of discovery.

Of course, those YA are drawing on a much older tradition, the tradition of folk tales and fairytales, in which you were born special or you weren’t.

But that tradition tied in to a society in which you were born special, or you weren’t.

Heinlein was writing for a (at least envisioned) society in which you were born equal, and those willing to strive harder (whether or not they had the gifts naturally) to do what they wanted to do came out on top.

Which btw, sounds like Heinlein felt about it sort of like I do. “Talent” is a myth. Some of us have a component of what we want to do for free. In my case, heaven help me, it’s words, which in the quiver of writing arrows is the least important. The rest I had to learn, by writing and writing, and writing, and trusting the process. But no one is born with the full panoply of talents to become an extraordinary writer. Even good beginners grow if they continue in the art. And this makes sense, of course, because why would someone be born with all that’s needed for a profession that didn’t exist when our ancestors were adapting to new conditions?

But there is a pernicious idea – weirdly amid those who don’t believe in anything more than the physical – that humans are “born” to do this or that. It was after all part of the package used to sell us a freshman senator from Illinois. He was “born” to this. He just naturally had “more game” than everyone.

We’re learning slowly and painfully he was born with the ability to impress people for a limited time, and in things requiring a not very deep analysis. Which is an ability people can be born with – like facility in the use of language – but the rest of the job takes time and effort, and might be too much for on-the-job training.

Getting away from politics, this is why we both have a poisonous fascination with degrees from the “right” institutions and those institutions continuously water down their curriculum. Because really, they don’t believe they have to TEACH anything, just credential what’s already there.

Which brings us again, like water circling the drain to the d*mn idea of the noble savage. It’s a long, long idea in our society, though it used to be believed because G-d endowed “innocents” with special insight.

So, for instance, when the babe at the mother’s breast, spoke for the first time to proclaim the true king (I must use that in a story!) it was G-d speaking through him. But we dethroned G-d and kept the innocent.

This is why any victim-of-the-week has “unique rights” to criticize western civilization and “speak truth to power.” (Mostly speak truth to people who want to prevent those with the real power – i.e. the government – from giving the “victim” whatever the “victim” wants.)

This includes people who arrived in the US yesterday from some h*ll hole, but who supposedly can see everything wrong with the US, because they’re endowed with the special sight of the noble savage. (As someone who went through acculturation, it will take them years even to see what’s really there, and not what they learned to see in their homeland.)

If we want sanity, if we want a meritocratic society, if we want to save representative government, it is time to get away from this very romantic idea that people are born to do this or that. Sure, they can have a set of characteristics that makes the learning easier, but in the end, they have to trust the process and work through it.

So if you really want to do something, don’t fool yourself that it will take no work, and don’t excuse yourself that you’ll never succeed because you weren’t born with it.

I’ve seen people fail for both those reasons. And succeed despite all sorts of handicaps if they keep working at it.

So, work hard, trust the process and never, ever, ever trust the man on the white horse, i.e. the man who was just “born” to take power and do a difficult job without learning process.

That way lies kingship and slavery.