Novella Out

Yes, yes, real post as soon as I’ve had tea.  I found out yesterday my “vitreous” is trying to part company with my eye and care must be taken to ensure it doesn’t take the retina with it.  It started with “hairs” across my eye, which got much worse by Thurs. night.  So yesterday Dan frogmarched me to the eye doctor, and now I’m not supposed to do anything that raises pressure in the eye.  It should resolve itself in five days, though, because part of what might be causing it is the auto-immune complex (and the fact I tend to take aspirin for the rheumatoid arthritis) being careful a while longer, like a month of two might not be a bad idea.

Anyway, as you can imagine this puts holiday travels in doubt (I was already more than doubtful on price.  Yes, mom says she’ll pay for the tickets, but it seems crazy) reduces what I can do (no bending/exercising heavily/sleeping without elevating my head) and makes me VERY cranky.

So while I go downstairs to get tea, here is the beginning of And Not To Yield a novella with Lucius Keeva which takes place about ten years after AFGM.  It is out in the novella collection 5×5 number 3.  Link at the bottom

And Not To Yield

 

Sarah A. Hoyt

 

The trial starts with a sad-eyed major sitting behind a desk. My desk. My office has been commandeered for my own martial court . We’re almost alone. The new laws require trial by jury – trial by twelve as the people call it – but that rule is for civil trials, not for military trials, where autocratic rule prevails. It’s not as bad as it was under the regime we overthrew, the regime of the Good Men, mind. You won’t get condemned and killed because one man, the sole, undisputed hereditary ruler of the Seacity, is having a bad day. No. Though there are two privates by the door, both fully armed, ready to shoot me down if I should make a run for it, I’m not treated like a criminal.

Instead, I’m presumed innocent until proven guilty, and I stand in my full uniform, with the colonel insignia at shoulder and sleeve, above the patch showing the legendary mountain from which my land gets its name. And I have a defense council, a judge advocate. He’s not a lawyer but an old friend, Royce Allard, looking hot under the collar and a little afraid.

He should be afraid. The procedures might be impromptu, the courtroom an office, but the results of this trial are full and binding and final. I stand accused of going AWOL in time of war, of disobeying the direct orders of my superiors, of unlawful kidnaping and assault and of “conduct unbecoming” which covered everything else of note. I guess military lingo didn’t have a term for going crazy and hurting important people. Then comes the bagful of minor sins, including theft, kidnapping, breaking and entering into a secure facility, menacing, risking important information falling in the hands of the enemy and risking being taken hostage, and a few other things, possibly including, but not limited to, using bad language and being seen in a ragged uniform. All together those are worth little. A few days in jail, a reduction in pay.

It doesn’t matter, because the major charges, if proven, will see me hanged by the neck till dead.

And they will be proven, because, you see, I am guilty.

***

War for me began ten years after revolution had freed Olympus Seacity; five years after I’d been made a colonel and head of our propaganda machine.

It is not war to pilot a desk. It’s not war to think up clever hollo-casts and sneaky methods to subvert the enemy’s carefully planted idea that their regime has given the Earth three hundred years of “peace and security”. It is not war to wait, to hope, to search the casualty lists every night, to pray to a God I wasn’t sure of believing in that his name wouldn’t be among the dead and missing.

Though we were both technically believers in the long forbidden Usaian religion, he was the believer, and I believed in him. And though both of us had been instrumental in the revolution that set the Seacity on the path to restoring the ancient principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the truth was that Nat – Nathaniel Green Remy – fought. I stayed home and planned and waited.

Home had been reduced to a small part of what had been my ancestral palace.

My name is Lucius Dante Maximillian Keeva. I was born to one of the fifty men who between them ruled all the Earth – the Good Men, as they were called — and raised as heir to Olympus Seacity and its subject territories. Or not quite. It turned out the intolerable rule of the man whom I have to call Father had other dimensions, other implications. Some of which led me to solitary confinement for fifteen years and to the raw edge of what I must for lack of a better word call sanity.

Nat – and his family – had hauled me back to life and humanity, and if what it cost me was surrendering power and position I never wanted and helping them install their government based on the principles of the long vanished United States of America, I could do that.

Two rooms in the house and the use of an office were all that would have been truly mine, anyway, had I ascended to rule as the Good Man of Olympus. The absolute ruler of that kind of vast empire is no more free than a slave. Oh, his particular whims and his odder tastes might be catered to, but like a slave he is the prisoner of his role, occupied with it from morning to night, his every minute poured into that role.

So, I wasn’t any the worse off for my change in roles, from would-be heir to the territory to officer in the revolutionary army of Olympus Seacity, which, with its allied territories and seacities comprised what we called The Freedom Army. And other people were happier. Probably. Almost certainly.

Only the Good Men had not let things go lightly. Authority and power are not surrendered willingly, unless it is meaningless and the rule of the Good Men was very meaningful indeed.

For ten years we’d been involved in a war; we’d lost countless people. Young people had been killed in the army, and people of all ages had been killed as the Good Men resorted to terror tactics on the territories; released bio-engineered viruses; destroyed crops and generally made the life of the citizens of Olympus and our allies hell. Against this Nat fought. Against this I composed a war of words, a concatenation of holograms to make it clear to the people under Good Men Rule that we were the better choice; that they should rebel and come to our side.

It worked. Sometimes. Entire cities and seacities had come to our side. But not enough to end the war.

Which meant Nat continued fighting, and I continued to check the casualty and missing list, every night, after a full day of work, and just before turning in.

This brings me to that August night. It was hot, and I was asleep, uncovered, in my too-large bed. My room was at the top of what used to be the palace, and the door opened to a terrace which in turn looked down all the way to the sea. That door was open, to a smell of salt air, and at first I thought what I heard was the cry of seagulls.

***

“How do you plead?” the sad eyed major asks, after the litany of charges against me is read. “On the charges leveled against you?”

“Guil—” I start. And my judge advocate is there. Royce’s hand clasps around my upper arm so hard that he will leave bruises. Which takes effort, since I’m six seven and built like the proverbial brick shithouse, and though Royce is not a small man, his hand doesn’t even fully go around my arm.

“Sir,” he says, and I am not sure if it’s to me or the major. “Sir,” he says, and this time he looks fully at the major. “Sir, Colonel Keeva pleads not guilty due to extenuating circumstances.”

The Major opens his mouth. For a moment I think he’s going to say I’d pleaded guilty, but of course he doesn’t. Instead, he closes his mouth and looks at me, eyebrows raised. Royce’s hand is like an iron band around my forearm. “Yes,” I stammer. “Not guilty due to extenuating circumstances.”

The Major nods. “Very well,” he says. “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?”

“Yes.”

The judge gestures, and one of the privates by the door, a young man who looks too young to grow a beard and too innocent to be in any military, comes forward with a small, dark box, which he opens. Inside the box is my piece of flag. Not the flag of Olympus, which is a blue flag with the representation of the mythical mountain, but THE flag, the one sacred to every Usaian. At some time in the twenty first century, after the fall of the United States of America, and after the founding of the religion based on the founding documents of that lost country, someone had put all the flags they could find that had once flown over American territory before the fall into a climate-controlled room. Since then every member of the religion got a little piece of the flag. Some were inherited within families. Mine had three stars, and a blood stain. The stain had been acquired when a past owner had been martyred to the faith. Another past owner, martyred to the faith, was my only friend growing up, and Nat’s uncle, Benjamin Franklin Remy. Ben has been dead for twenty five years. Which is good because he might very well think I’d disgraced him and our shared scrap of flag.

The young man hands me the flag. I know what to do. Usaians have sealed all their oaths with a kiss on their piece of the flag, that visible symbol of their allegiance, for centuries.

I press my lips against the flag, and then it is set on the desk in front of me. I look at it and mentally I ask Ben’s forgiveness. “I never meant to sully the flag or the Usaians by association,” I tell him. “But you see, I had to save Nat.”

***

The crying of a seagull resolved itself to the scream of a woman, and before I was fully awake, I thought I’d fallen asleep naked with the covers thrown away from me and some cleaning woman must have come in. I reached for the covers, pulled them over me, but the woman was yelling “Luce,” and shaking me.

I opened my eyes. The woman was Martha Remy. She’s a Lieutenant in the propaganda department, and my subordinate. But she’s also somewhere between my best friend and my sister. She is Nat’s twin, though she looks nothing like him. While Nat is tall and lanky and one of those rare brown-eyed pale blonds, Martha is short, softly rounded despite continuous exercise, and has mouse-colored hair. Only her eyes are the same as Nat’s, dark brown and deeply set, giving the impression of unexplored depths and something like an abiding and unshakeable sadness. They were filled with alarm now.

“Luce,” she said. “Did he contact you? Was there a change in plans?”

“Who?” I asked, sleep stupid, my voice slow, my tongue stumbling. And then, as my wits caught up with my wakening, “Nat?”

She nodded. “He’s five hours late,” she said. “I thought he’d come in. I thought he’d be– Did he tell you about changing plans?”

“I didn’t even know he was coming home,” I told her, and noted her surprise. It was hard to explain to her that our relationship didn’t work like that. He did what he had to do, and I was glad to see him when I saw him.

“He was,” she said at last. “He was flying back with … with something. Some mission. I’m not sure what it was, but he was bringing something from Field Marshall Herrera, I think to General Cranston, but he never arrived. They called me to see if I heard from him and I hadn’t, but I thought you might have.”

By then I was fully awake. I said, “If something happened to him, then his chip would have reported his status to headquarters, and he’d be on the casualty list. He wasn’t. I checked before going to bed. Unless his chip was deactivated because he was on some sort of secret run?”

“Not that I know,” she said. “But it wouldn’t show on the casualty list, anyway, not by last night, because I talked to him at twenty three hundred, and he hadn’t left yet.”

“Oh,” I said. “Have you checked now?”

She shook her head. “And it’s weird,” she said, babbling. “Why is Field Marshall Herrerra using Nat as an errand boy to someone of a lower rank, too? It makes no sense at all.”

I rose from the bed, taking care to drag the sheet with me, though as I said, Martha was like a sister to me, and she’d probably not have batted an eye if I’d got out of bed in my birthday suit. But I’d spent fifteen years in a cell, under constant observation by cameras. Had to have been, because all the times I’d tried to commit suicide they’d come and rescued me before I died. Now I relished my modesty, such as it was. I pulled the sheet around my waist, and dragged it behind me, as I got to my desk, and pushed the accustomed buttons to bring up the hologram of the latest casualty list. Early on, these had been compiled by the week, but now every one of our fighting men and women had a chip implanted in their body which transmitted on an encrypted frequency. If the transmission were interrupted, we knew what had happened. Or at least we could presume it, even if we’d been wrong a few times.

Knowing at all times that your relative or loved one wasn’t on that list and therefore must be presumed to be well made the war bearable.

As the hologram of names solidified in the air, in front of me, I closed my eyes and did what passed for prayer for me, “If he’s not on the list, if he’s well—” I didn’t finish the promise because it wasn’t needed. If there was a God he knew what I was willing to do for such a boon. Anything. Anything at all.

I opened my eyes. I paged down through the As and on through the Ps and Qs. To the Rs.

I blinked. There, midair, was the line I’d dreaded seeing for ten years. Gen. Nathaniel Green Remy, Missing, presumed dead.

Five by Five, Target Zone

Table Settings At The Cannibal Feast

So, this week Dan and myself went to the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop. There will be an after-action report on this, as well as my explanation of why I think this is is important, but first I want to talk about what happened elsewhere while I was busy learning about innovative methods of propulsion, theories of terraforming, and other fascinating subjects: that is, I want to talk about the incident that, somehow, in the realm of the internet, made me into a Lesbian, Thai, Social Justice Warrior.

How is that possible? You ask – I don’t know.

The whole thing had the characteristics of a nightmare where you’re walking along a familiar hallway and suddenly you realize that the hallway is not familiar at all, and that your tentacles are dragging along the wall. And then you think “tentacles?” which is when you wake up screaming.

Or perhaps the nightmare where you’re a little kid and go to the kitchen for some water, late at night, and mom is sitting at the table, having a midnight snack of live snakes.

You see, not only am I not a Thai, Lesbian, Social Justice Warrior, but I’d, in fact be more likely to become or pretend to be Thai or Lesbian than a Social Justice Warrior.

None of which saved me from being accused of being this uber-left social justice warrior who has been harassing our cultural adversaries by accusing them of secret hatred and of being insufficiently PC.

I’m still wearing my “Wait, WHAT?” face from when Amanda told me about the comment that said this troll – variously identified as Requires Hate and Winterfox and a two-part name I can’t even spell – must be me, because of the “similarity in our rhetoric.” I haven’t read the comment. It might magically suck me through the internet and I might find myself with my fingers clapped around this creature’s neck strangling him while demanding he explain what in heaven’s name he means. (Though I think I know, and I’ll explain later.)

Anyway, after this Requires Hate creature had abused them and called them names and caused them to grovel, and enlisted the cowed cooperation of Alex-no-binary gender and our old friend Damien so-dense-that-I’m-afraid-a-blackhole-will form around me, people started comparing notes and getting made, because they realized this creature was the same who under the two-name moniker had been sucking up to them. They also claim she had waged whisper campaigns to have them banned from conventions, that she tarnished their reputations with the same whisper campaigns and that she made some people give up writing altogether.

And of course their problem – as explained in this article – is not that she did all those things, but that she used the tactics against the “wrong people” i.e. fellow “social justice warriors”, people who want to eliminate patriarchy and who are sure white privilege is hiding under their bed, ready to pounce out as soon as they relax — People who think that everyone who doesn’t think like them commits thought crime and should be silenced.

That is, they are upset because tactics they sanction and use against people like us are being used against them.

As is said in the comments, in this Mad Genius post by Dave Freer, the revolutionaries are always surprised when the tumbril stops at their door.

It was that comment, and other comments in that post (which you absolutely should read) particularly the ones about how RH/Winterfox caused real suffering and about how some people are suffering from PTSD after being exposed to her tactics, and WHY her tactics worked with them, when they don’t work with us, that got me thinking about this post.

I quote Synova’s comment below on how pernicious accusations of thought-crime are, because she is absolutely right, and because it makes clear why communist societies (starting arguably with the French revolution as a pre-Marxist, but proto-communist attempt) eat themselves. It explains why the SJWs are inevitably headed for this same cannibal feast, why even if Marx’s cooky theories of economics worked – they don’t – the crazy attempt to build a “new man” free from the “capitalist taint” (they can’t – capitalism is inherent in being human. You can make it illegal and drive it underground, or you can allow it to lift all boats, but creating and trading, buying and selling is being human.) with its attendant tendency to criminalize thought crimes would still end in mass graves and mass misery.

Synova:

Some of the comments by people who had been subject to the full treatment just made me want to cry. I didn’t think it was funny because the guilty parties and enablers aren’t the ones who are hurt. Yes, we can scoff at Scalzi when he makes a rational counter-argument and is made, ultimately, to retract and abase himself and agree in public and start proselytizing in public that no… you really can’t trust your own brain and if something seems wrong to you or you feel like defending yourself it is simply proof that you’re guilty.

But there were people who reported rather severe PTSD type reactions to even sitting down at a keyboard to write because they were so terrified of offending… again. Because *rationally* they’d done nothing wrong the first time, but they were forced to an irrational acceptance of their guilt. So now they’ve “accepted their privilege” and “checked it” and confessed and repented (they could come to the Dark Side and be welcomed, but they don’t know that, and have been taught that the Dark Side is evil, and that’s why shunning is so very evil within closed communities… being exiled is a horrific punishment) but since they had NO IDEA how they could have done something wrong in the first place, they also have no idea how to avoid it the next time.

Imagine doing this to a child.

The kid is walking through a room doing nothing much and suddenly POW… and then you tell the kid… well that was YOUR fault. You screwed up. You stepped on that spot on the floor.

So the kid looks at the spot and it looks like every other spot. But the kid is told that, no, the fact that she can’t even SEE the spot is what the problem is. You can’t SEE the spot… that’s why it is YOUR fault. Also, a good child will try to learn. You’re a good child, aren’t you?

So the kid says, yes… it was my fault. I could not SEE the spot. Not seeing the spot makes this my fault.

Afterward, it’s still impossible to see the spots, and walking across the room becomes fraught with danger. Sitting down at the keyboard gives this very “good” person the shakes and panic attacks… where are the spots? She still can’t see the spots but she MUST agree and believe that those spots exist.

I have a LOT of sympathy for those who were hurt, just like I have sympathy for any abused person.

For reasons and in circumstances I’m not going to get into here, I often found myself EXACTLY in the position of that child, growing up. It’s crazy making and it took me years (20 and a good marriage) to recover from it.

Which is why it’s a particularly evil thing to do to a single person.

But in a greater sense, it is literally what certain kinds of revolutionary doctrines, be they religious or political can do to a human being.

Note, these are usually doctrines (again, religious or political) that not only think they can remake humans, but think they can remake them into flawless creatures. I was going to say they can come from the right or the left, but only if you accept that all religious extremism is from the right, which I don’t think makes much sense.

There is a certain tendency in conservative/libertarian circles (if that’s what we’re calling “right” this week) to assume that humans come with some natural flaws, one of them being a thirst for power, another being a need for recognition. There is also an understanding that life isn’t fair.

It is only certain feverish religious states (well, the sects call themselves Christian, I have issues with them, and no, I’m not talking about any recognizable mainstream Christian sects, though there were certainly some interesting heresies in that direction in past centuries) that partake the illusions of the left (itself a fevered religion, albeit a godless one) that you can infinitely remake humans and use that change to create a paradise.

Here is the thing: every society has rules by which its members are judged. Some are sensible rules and we can applaud them. Some are batsh*t insane rules, and we’re jaw-dropped about them. And some are indecipherable to our current mentality.

Some of the things that bring condemnation on characters in Jane Austen’s novels, for instance, I only understand are “bad” because I studied the period. I’m sure blundering into it, I’d make a million gaffes. I find the morality police that whips the ankles of women who show them in Saudi-Arabia repulsive, but it is a rule and the women know about it. I understand rules about things like not eating from other people’s plates, not insulting strangers, etc.

BUT and this is very important, the point is not that those rules are fair. The point is that if you grow up in those societies, you have a reasonable expectation of knowing WHAT the rules are. I.e. if I’m strolling in a mini-skirt in a Saudi Arabian souk and get whipped, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. It can come as an outrage, but not a surprise.

Revolutions like the US, which changed governance but didn’t presume to change the way people worked, in their minds and hearts, don’t turn into cannibal feasts. OTOH revolutions like the French, where people descended/aspired to changing the names of the weekdays and the months, in order to construct a completely different humanity, inevitably end up in a pile of blood-soaked corpses.

So do revolutions like the Russian and the Chinese, and others.

The difference is this: these revolutions make functioning as a normal human a crime. This requires changing your very thoughts and the way you process reality. And they presume to divine from your smallest actions, your most casual lapses, that you have commited a thought-crime.

This, of course, requires special people who can look into the actions and every day assumptions of others and tell them where they went wrong.

The process is bad enough when done by a minister or another nominally trained person. (I am not talking here of ministers in normal denominations, who are usually trained and don’t want to remake humanity, just get it to behave a little better.) In extreme cases, it creates Jim Jones. It is nightmarish when done by the left, which means it is done by people given power and authority to do this by the grace of totally arbitrary characteristics: where they were born/when/what pigmentation their skin has/what happens to be between their legs/whom they like to sleep with. This is not an exhaustive list, but it should give you an idea that none of these attributes is magical, and none of them should confer the authority to discern and judge the secrets of other’s hearts.

But the SJWs believe it does. They believe someone who is born with more victim cards, even if the person was in fact born very wealthy and never experienced a day’s hardship, immediately can judge them and tell them when they’re exhibiting “privilege” which is a taint that attaches to other seemingly arbitrary characteristics, no matter how poor or downtrodden people born with them are.

This sets them up to be abused in exactly the way that Synova describes. Worse, it sets them up to join the mob and wail for the blood of innocent people in whom one of these “anointed ones” discerned guilt. Not to do so, might mean they were tainted with the guilt themselves, after all.

By this process, they saddle themselves with psychopaths as leaders (yeah, some of the anointed ones are merely true believers, but that kind of power inevitably attracts psychopaths and sadists) and make any organization, place, country or government they take over into hell on Earth, instead of the utopia they imagine.

The state of irrationality is demonstrated by the commenter who thought I was RH because of our “similar rhetoric.” There are in fact not even mild similarities between an extreme leftist and myself. BUT both of us made him feel pain. So, therefore we are similar and possibly the same.

That means the commenter had the ability to think/react/avoid pain of a nematode, if that high.

I would enjoin those people caught in the vortex of accusation/appeasement/abasement to take a good look at what they’re doing.

A society where the rules have to be divined by special individuals (no? Would any rational human being think of “lady” as an insult, till the SJWs declared it so?) is not conducive to liberty. It’s not conducive to kindness. It’s damaging to the ability to think.

In the end it makes you animals, joining a mob to avoid being killed.

I suggest if you are caught in it, or suspect you might be, that you re-read Animal Farm. And then evaluate the goals of your movement. You can demand that women be given opportunities in business and art. You can’t get into anyone’s heads and demand that they never have a bad thought.

You can establish that pinching a woman’s butt against her will is bad. You can’t establish that men shouldn’t be allowed to look at naked women or wear art showing a naked woman. And you have to decide whether female nudity is empowering or demeaning, btw.

The rules need to be clear and well established. They can be changed, but if they are, they need to be proclaimed so everyone in the society/group/cult knows them.

And no one should be condemned by inference/whispers/accusation without a fair chance to defend him/her/dragon self and confront his/her/gerbil’s accusers.

That is how you stop cannibal feasts. You start by admitting humans aren’t infinitely perfectible, and that even the “anointed ones” can have flaws like a search for power.

The alternative is that you tuck your napkin under your chin and dig in.

Forever.

There Should Have Been A Time For Such A Word

This a post I did not want to write.

Some of you have heard about our friend Alan Lickiss, and in fact, he has commented in this blog, now and then, though not (I think) much in the last year.

We first met Alan and his wife Becky when we moved to Colorado Springs. Our older son was a toddler, and we knew no one in town, but one day Dan came home late because he’d been talking to someone who “reads science fiction” and “his wife wants to be a writer.”

To you kids, grown in the age of the internet this might seem like a trivial thing on which to build a friendship, but at the time they were the first couple we ran into where both read science fiction and both were interested in writing. In fact, before that, I’d only met one person who wrote at all, my friend Charles, who mostly writes horror.

A few days later, and I no longer remember the circumstances precisely, we picked Alan up somewhere because he had some sort of car trouble. I don’t remember who else was with us at the time, I just remember the car was very full, I was in the back seat, and Alan squeezed in the back next to me and Robert saying – in reference to the very tight space – “I’m sorry, we’re going to have to be very good friends.”

Over the next few years, we became very good friends. In fact, our kids grew up together like cousins in an extended family.

After the four of us got kicked out the city’s writing group, for chewing gum in church… I mean, for writing science fiction and fantasy, which puzzled the rest of the group, we formed our own writers’ group, which went on to meet over the next ten (?) years.

Alan was the first in our group to achieve professional publication, selling a story to Analog.

The four of us learned about writing conferences and sci fi cons together, and for many years, travel plans were made across the two houses, rides to the airport shared, and everything done more or less in a group.

Alan climbed pikes peak shortly after his son Jake (who is more or less the same age as my younger son) was born. He trained over a very long time, and then scared us all, who were sure he wouldn’t make it, but he did.

Becky and I sold books at the same time (a few months apart) to the same editor, which gave us another bond and source of gossip.

When 9/11 happened, and Dan was stranded in Virginia, Alan was the person who offered to drive with me to pick him up. And by “drive with me” I mean that he, who knew that I am very scared of driving, particularly highways, offered to drive the whole way. He said he liked driving anyway. We planned to rendez vous with Dan halfway across Kansas.

Now, Alan was one of the nicest people you’ll ever want to meet, but he had a temper. Usually you only knew this if you saw him behind the wheel, where he had trouble suffering fools gladly.

Since he was also a devout Mormon and felt really bad when he swore, on that trip to Kansas, after the first eruption, we settled on a division of labor. When someone cut in front of us, instead of swearing, he pointed at me, and I’d let loose with inventive forms of swearing. So, halfway there, I was hard pressed to come up with new swearing to make him laugh.

Other moments of our friendship come to mind, like the day his family and a couple other friends came to our house for thanksgiving. It was one of those days where everything that can go wrong does, plus a few other things you’d never think would go wrong. It started with our pipes bursting under the sink, then the heat went out. There was at least one other thing there, but I can’t remember what. So we packed the kids under a blanket in front of the tv with cartoons playing, and the adults went up to my office (highest room in the house) with a heater, and sat around, and told stories, and it was a good thanksgiving after all.

I think one of the last times we saw Alan before he got ill, we were gardening on the front yard when he and Becky came by and took us out to get ice-cream.

Shortly after that, we tried to start a writers’ group, but it sort of died in the bud, partly because Alan was unemployed and concentrating so hard on getting another job.

Concentrating so hard that he ignored his symptoms for too long. If I had a time machine…

We were in north Carolina, visiting our older son who was there on an internship, when we got word that Alan had collapsed – he was starving to death, due to a stomach cancer. It was already too advanced for a surgical solution.

For a while a new form of chemo helped him get somewhat better, and then stabilized him, with very few side effects. We had hopes that it would eventually, slowly, cure him But after a while it stopped working, and the treatments they tried next had limited effectiveness and sometimes made him worse.

We saw him dwindle into a shadow and age prematurely.

In the last year, when he as hospitalized and Dan and I went to visit, when everyone expected him to die over the next couple of days, he told us the next time he saw us, he’d be taking us out for ice-cream, because in heaven carbohydrates wouldn’t matter.

When we left on our trip to the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop on Saturday morning, we knew he was in the hospital and that the prognosis was grim. But he’d fought death off so often, we thought he could keep doing it.

When we came back from dinner with friends on Saturday, we had a phone call from our son, telling us Alan had died.

I, who am not very sure of anything after death, feel an unshakable certainty that he’s not wholly destroyed, and that we’ll see him again – and perhaps even will hold him to his promise of buying us ice cream.

The thing is, for him, the time will pass very quickly and, as interested as he always was in new experiences, like climbing mountain peaks or meeting all his favorite writers at conventions, and trying all the new electronics, he’ll be having fun.

It is us who are left here who will miss him, and suddenly come up against his absence like someone who takes a step in he dark and doesn’t find ground under his foot. It is us who will catch ourselves looking for him at a con, or thinking “we must call Alan and ask him if he wants to go see this movie” or “I wonder what Alan will think of this” and realize he’s not around anymore, and fall back, and say “oh” and feel the hole left in our lives by his departure.

I realized four years ago when he was diagnosed that I was not ready to have an Alan-shaped hole in my life. Turns out I’m still not ready.  I keep looking at the rose over at sff.net and feeling like I fell down the rabbit hole.  Alan can’t be dead.  A world without him makes no sense.

We can’t all have it our way, and sometimes ready or not we have to face absence and loss.  Or at least I do.

For him, as I said, it might be very quick till he’s greeting us again and showing us all the neat stuff he’s figured out since he’s been there.

For us there will be a long time of missing him.

Farewell my friend – may the journey be interesting, may you meet with kindness and love, and may we meet again in a better place.

 

A Tragedy of Manners – A blast from the past post from Nov. 2012

I think the first person I hated was also the first person who tried to teach me manners.

In retrospect, the poor lady – who died relatively young – was absolutely right.  At eight, when she met me, I had the vaguest hints of civilization overlaid on a willful personality and all the grace and gentleness of an untamed monkey.  In a country like Portugal, which only isn’t as formal and tradition bound as Japan because… well, it’s Portugal and people can’t do the same thing in the exact same way twice, I must have been an offensive creature and also something really hard to understand.

Though honestly, it shouldn’t have been that hard to understand.  My parents talked routinely of how bad my manners were and how by the time he was three my brother could be taken into any company and behave like a perfect gentleman.

I’ve never fully understood if this was part of their illusion that, because I was smarter than the average bear, I should be able to pick up things I’d never been taught – for instance, they were disappointed I couldn’t play the very first time I saw a piano, and they dismissed my art talent when I didn’t draw like DaVinci by five – or if it was because I was ten years younger than my brother, who, in turn, was the youngest of the extended family.

I think it was a combination.  In retrospect, I wonder how much they taught my brother his manners, and how much he picked up from the cousins who were just five or four years older, and who would have, in the way of kids, found it funny to teach the toddler.

Anyway, I came afterwards, and it had certain advantages, like the ability to learn whatever the older kids were learning in high school and college, by serving as checker of answers; like the inheriting of a vast library that had grown with each cousin; like not being taken very seriously and therefore being able to disappear for the whole day into the depths of the backyard with a book, and not having anyone do anything but be relieved you’re not tagging along and bugging them.

It had the same disadvantages, though.  Perhaps my parents thought that by letting me grow up as I wished, I’d pick up manners through observation.  In which case, they failed to note I had the world’s worst visual memory and lived most of the time in a world of my own that did not intrude on reality.

The lady who tried to teach me manners was probably in her thirties and childless – the friend of one of mom’s best friends – and she went about it entirely the wrong way.  In retrospect, I think she was a deeply conventional person who liked things in their proper places at their proper time.

The problem was not that she told me things like “You should say thank you when someone gives you something” or “The proper answer to ‘would you like some cake?’ is ‘no, thank you’ not ‘no’ or even ‘you should say excuse me before entering a room’ (a Portuguese thing.  Go with it.  It’s actually “do I have permission.”)  No, the problem is that instead of informing me of these rules, she assumed I KNEW the rules and was breaking them willfully, which was furthermore – in her opinion – proof of a low character.  So she accosted eight year old me in corners and hallways with such charming diatribes as “You are the rudest child I’ve ever met.  Why will you not ask permission to enter a room?”  Or “You are the most ingrate person in the world.  Why don’t you say thank you when someone hands you a glass of water?” or, my ever favorite “If I had you a week under my command, I’d teach you not to be such a vile, self centered little monster.”

As I said, I hated her.  I spent hours plotting horrible deaths for her.

Because I hated her, I extended my hatred to all manners.  For a while, in pre-adolescence, I did go out of my way to be as rude as humanly possible.  You see, I was wounded because I was actually full of good intentions.  The first money I earned I used to buy gifts for my family; I was always trying to think of ways to help the people I liked; I TRIED not to be a selfish little beast.  But here was someone telling me I was the world’s most self-centered person because I’d not thought to say “Thank you” when handed a glass of water I hadn’t asked for.

For a while I became like Rousseau and his ilk, full of explanations that the “natural man” was better than all this mannered and carefully cultivated society.

Fortunately, somewhere between eight and ten I realized I was wrong.  I think what made me realize it was leaving the village where people wrote off a lot of what I did because I came from an eccentric family, and going to middle school about ten miles away…  where people didn’t know me.

Also, my best friend came from an impoverished family of aristocratic background and I noted people – just common people, on the street – treated us differently.  It wasn’t her clothes or her looks, so it must be her manners.  For the next five years, I watched her family like a hawk, and studied to behave as she did, with all the little flourishes of manners and mode.

And it worked.

I never met the lady who wanted to teach me manners after I was about ten – my parents were probably afraid I’d kill her – but I ran into no one who commented adversely on my manners, after that.

So, what is this long disquisition?

I came to understand, particularly through changing cultures, that manners are more than a senseless form.  They are things people do to let each other know that they belong – that they are part of the group.

Humans are a social animal.  Little meaningless rituals are built in to us, as a way of saying “I belong in the nest, don’t throw me out.”  Also, while manners are slightly different in each country (for instance, I think Americans would think I was out of my raving mind if I asked “Do I have permission to enter this room” – except in SFF, where they’d probably stake me through the heart.  While Portuguese would find it bizarre for a shop attendant to thank them for buying something.) they are also not entirely meaningless.  They are things that get automated, at a trained-in level, so you don’t have to think about it and don’t unwittingly offend someone.  I could be dead tired, for instance, or in the hospital, but if someone does some minor favor for me, I’m going to say “Thank you” out of automated reflex.  And that thank you lets the other person – no matter how tired or dead on their feet THEY are – know their action was seen and appreciated.

As Heinlein put it, it makes things run smoother.  In the same way, I might not be aware of the shopper coming out of the store behind me, both arms loaded with parcels.  But I am aware someone is behind me, and at this point it is a reflex to hold the door open so they pass.  When I’m the one on the receiving end of this kindness, that manners-reflex is much appreciated.

Why this matters – since the sixties we’ve gone on something like my tantrum between eight and ten.  We have been worshiping the natural man, saying exactly what one feels, and the total lack of artificiality and “meaningless ritual” as a supreme good.

Where this is probably the worst is in politics, where one side tends to come from places where they were taught – or taught themselves manners – while the other side worships the “natural man” and is therefore free to throw tantrums and scream.  (Hint, only one side thinks papier mache puppets are a masterful political argument.)

For instance, no matter if I were sure that 90% of the people in a room were of my politics, UNLESS it was a political gathering, I’d never tell a convention dinner “Let’s hear it for so and so, our next president” – when the man wasn’t even there, and wasn’t called into the matter at any level.  And yet, a well known science fiction writer did just that in 2003 at the World Fantasy Awards banquet, causing those of you who didn’t want to clap and cheer for the – er… rather screamy – politician to feel deeply uncomfortable and wonder if our editors were marking our reaction.  (They were.  Probably.)

I wouldn’t do it, because it would be bad manners to make people who couldn’t escape (awards banquet) and who weren’t counting on this, were forced to withstand proselytizing with no means of countering or even saying “Yes, but—“.

Part of the problem is that those who worship the “Natural Man” tend to think that if you can control yourself, then you don’t feel strongly enough, and if you don’t feel strongly enough, then you can’t be “right” or, pardon me, “on the right side of history.”

Lately I’ve been wondering if I should have kept that reservoir of “manners are bunk” and used them over the last thirty years whenever I was ambushed by one of the Natural Men – particularly the female ones – in the most unlikely of circumstances.  I’m wondering if that would have made any difference – if puncturing the bubble of self-affirmation and these noises they make for group coherence, (Perhaps they’ve taken that instead of manners) or in the case of the deeper thinkers, questioning their principles, would have made a difference and not have got us where we are: in danger of destroying our kids’ futures because the Natural Man is sure the “Man” (those untrustworthy people who can control themselves and use manners to mask their worst feelings – and who also, occasionally, make more money) is hiding some mysterious stash that could get us all out of trouble and buy everyone a pony.

I don’t know.  I know at least half the people will say “No, no, we must not descend to their level” – but I think it is not a matter of levels, but simply a matter of not communicating.  Like my untutored self, they aren’t even aware that there are rules, or that the rules have any validity.  Instead, they’ve taken this ideal and these feelings, or always being “natural” with no disguise and no self control, and have elevated that to the center of “goodness.”

They get that from stories, of course.  Since at least the sixties, and for high culture before, stories have put “being natural” and “being true to yourself” as the highest good.

But because they get it from stories, unexamined, doesn’t mean we can’t make them examine it.  The problem is, we have to approach them not in a way that impugns their character – like the lady who assumed I was selfish and mean when I was simply ignorant – by saying things like “I won’t lower myself to your level.”

Instead, we might have to lower ourselves to their level – momentarily – and show them why the rules exist, and what they protect.  Unless, of course, we’re all very gifted teachers and can do it only with rhetoric.

Manners are an instrument of civilizational cohesion.  They haven’t been taught in three generations, and that cohesion has fallen apart, except where it’s been replaced by mindless repetition of slogans.

We can let it go on, but the thing is, mindless repetition of slogans doesn’t create a civilization.  Not one of free men.  Sooner or later things fall apart.

Or we can try at this late a date to bring the savage children into civilization and to explain the natural man is all very well in nature, but when dealing with other humans there is this thing called “signals of belonging to the band” and this thing called “Not offending people who don’t need to be offended.”  We need to explain to the wolf-boys and girls that there is such a thing as self control and that it not only can and should, but has to be exerted, unless civilization is to revert to a wilderness with everyone’s hand against everyone else’s.

I wish I had any idea how to do it.  Perhaps for now it is enough to know it has to be done.  Somehow.

Juvenilia: More Embarrassing than Saturnalia? A Muddled Meandering Through a Writer’s Early Work – Alma Boykin

Juvenilia: More Embarrassing than Saturnalia? A Muddled Meandering Through a Writer’s Early Work – Alma Boykin

 

How many of us have marvelous, breathtakingly grand stories tucked away, pieces we wrote during our salad days that will leap to the forefront of the Hugo, Nebula, Rita, Lariat, and Pulitzer nomination lists the day after we publish them? Me either. How many of us have cleaned out a desk drawer or hard drive, opened up the pages, and wondered how on earth (or any other habitable planet) someone could write dreck that bad? Repeat after me, “My name is [your name here], and I was once a juvenile writer.”

Twenty years ago I destroyed the notebooks of, ahem, rough, prose that I’d committed between ages 14-18. I still have some of the poetry. There were a whole bunch of Mary Sue, odes-to-dead-trees, when-goths-take-over-the-world, and when-I-and-my-battle-robot-take-over-the-world stories. What I recall, thankfully vaguely, were plot-less wonderings through “borrowed” fantasy or sci-fi worlds, lots of proto-grey goo stories about victims who wreaked bloody revenge on the bullies, or who fled to nice planets with friendly unicorns. In short, bad teenage fantasy writing. But, and this is the important bit, I was writing and practicing my craft, and learning what worked and what didn’t. And laying the foundation for characters that would return in a non Mary-Sue, decently plotted, form.

What do you do with your juvenilia? As I said, I destroyed mine. I needed the closet space and it wasn’t worth keeping. Some people have kept them, with explicit instructions that the writings (or sketches, or recordings) are to be destroyed, not published, and not performed. Others, well enough known, donate their work to academic libraries for future reference (sometimes with phenomenally complex restrictions on who can use the material and how). A few people have gone back and done a “little” polishing, then published their early works.

Should you? It depends. If you look back and find seeds of stories and characters, then yes, save them, mine them for materials and learn from them what didn’t work. Although I didn’t keep my early stories, bits and pieces hung around in my subconscious, fermenting and percolating, distilling into Rada Ni Drako and her worlds. The McCaffrey-esque dragon shrank and became a lot more interesting (and smarter). The unicorn? Well, that creature morphed into something teenage Alma would never have written, especially after an alpha reader started smelling a whiff of brimstone around the “unicorn.” That overly heroic knight-in-shining-armor who never suffers defeat no matter how large, evil, or foul the ogre/dragon/Big Bad? Maybe if he develops a few flaws (allergic to horses and sneezes at exactly the wrong time?) or succumbs to overconfidence and has to be rescued by the small, plain but brilliant lore-mistress and her botanist-ranger brother, you can rehabilitate him. Especially if it turns out that the dragon/Big Bad is a brewer who is poisoning the water system with bad beer in order to make it easier to carry off the peasants’ livestock. Now that’s a story with some promise, using the same base as your too-good-to-read original.

On the other paw, you may read over your earliest writings and decide there’s nothing there but a horrible warning, or that Sesame Street fan-fic really should stay in the drawer. Perhaps your depressed knight who can’t be bothered to save the shrill-voiced, helpless princess from the dyspeptic wyrm isn’t what your muse wants to deal with. (Although if you call it “ironic” and “Bergman-esque” you’d probably get two agents and a art-movie producer clawing at your door.)

What do you do if you have to rework something juvenile? I did, after writing over 140,000 words of fiction and non-fiction. My first reaction was “yearrrgh! How on earth did this get past the committee? Kill it with fire!” And I walked away for a day or two. I didn’t want to touch the thing except to cut out bits and use them elsewhere. But since in academia you pretty much have to publish your dissertation (liberal arts version, with a few notable exceptions), I girded my loins, pulled on protective gloves, and set to revising and rewriting.

First, tackle the most obvious problems. In this case I couldn’t change the plot (it’s a non-fiction book), but the flow and pacing needed improvement, as did scene and chapter transitions. The most obvious typos got fixed, as did some unfortunate word choices. I also toned down the most academic bits and buffed up the parts that a general reader would find interesting. Had this been fiction, I would have added more characters, in order to provide more views of the setting, and probably had two characters live long enough to see most of the story and to provide continuity. Or played up the environment as a character, like Mitchner’s Centennial, or Conrad Richter did with Sea of Grass.

Then I double-checked some details and sent it to the academic version of an alpha reader. The alpha suggested I flesh out the opening to provide more context (setting), tidy up a few more rough spots, and eliminate some repeating sections (how many times does your character do X? Is it part of the plot or filler?). Now, three years later, I’ve spent as much time rewriting as I did writing the original. If this were fiction, I’d have scrapped it a while ago after pulling out the few usable bits and written a completely new thing. You may discover a fatal flaw as you revise that leads to a complete gut and rewrite.

And in the end, you may put everything back in the drawer, to be revisited in a few more years just to see how far you’ve come and how much better your writing has become. There’s no right (write?) answer to “What do I do with my first writings.”

America, love it or leave it. – Amanda Green

America, love it or leave it. – Amanda Green

I first heard that saying when I was growing up. It was the time of the Vietnam War. It was a time when the Civil Rights Movement was gaining momentum and the anti-war protests were going strong. Think flower children, hippies and Haight-Ashbury. Peace and free love.

Until reality set in.

I won’t say that I support the Vietnam War but I do support the troops who fought in it. I resent like hell the way they were treated when they came home. If the Korean War vets were the forgotten ones, the Vietnam War vets were the maligned and hated ones. At least on the surface and by the vocal few.

Despite all we’ve seen and heard about the American public being anti-war during those years, that’s not exactly the case. Yes, there were a number of folks who were. But there were also those who supported the war, or who at least supported our troops. It was from these men and women I first heard the chant of “America, love it or leave it.”

Most of my life, that phrase has bothered me some because it is an all or nothing sentiment. It has often been aimed at people who might love America for the most part but hate one specific thing about it. Besides, America is one of the few countries where you can voice your opinion without fear of being jailed – or worse. (Yes, yes, I know there are exceptions and that our free speech has eroded but we still have more protections that most countries.)

However, the last few election cycles have almost made me change my mind. When I see pouty, whiny Hollyweird-types ranting that if their candidate for president doesn’t get elected, they will give up their citizenship and immigrate to Europe, I find myself saying, “Have fun. Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.” When I see media-types, especially those who grew up in one nation but have spent their professional lives here, making a living because of our free press guarantees, whining about election results because their party of favor didn’t win, I feel the need to suggest that those media mavens return to their countries of origin and see just how far their sort of “journalism” gets them there.

But today, when the initial crying as a result of the Republicans ousting so many Democrats on state and national levels should be dying down, I see a post from someone on Facebook lamenting how they are now seriously considering leaving the country and giving up their citizenship because of all the gun lovers and women haters here. Yes, the glitter is strong with that one.

And I am having a strong case of, if you don’t like the way the popular vote went – since the thrice-damned Electoral College wasn’t involved – then maybe you should move to another country. Maybe there you will find enough of the glittery ones to make a majority and give you your social justice warrior haven.

This person probably believes like another post I saw earlier this week that lamented the fact that Texas now has a governor-elect who has already promised to sign into law open carry as soon as it comes to his desk. For those in Texas – like me – who have no problem with open carry, we don’t worry about the opposition filling the bill with so many items Governor-elect Abbott can’t get behind that he would veto the bill. Why? Because the Texas governor has something the President doesn’t – line item veto. It really does solve a lot of problems. Although, as Governor Perry can tell you, it can also lead to a few.

Anyway, back to the post about guns. This person, and it wasn’t the same poster who wants to leave the country because of all the gun lovers and women haters, lamented the fact that so many more criminals would now be on the streets with guns. After all, the open carry states would mean all the bad guys would be packing. The solution? Why let’s outlaw all guns except for the military and law enforcement. Oh, but they went further. They wanted to limit those guns too. If we were to do that, they reasoned, then no bad guys would have guns and gun violence and violence against women would go down.

All right, quit laughing. It isn’t nice to make fun of those who are challenged in the critical thinking department.

The rationale, and I hate to call it that, behind the belief that making it illegal for a private citizen to own a handgun because then the criminals wouldn’t be able to have handguns eludes me. These are criminals. They are not going to follow the law. They will buy guns through the black market. They will trade them for drugs. They will have guns but the innocent won’t. And guess who will lose in that scenario.

But this person, so firm in their belief that those supporting Open Carry would bring about open warfare on women by every man – and I guess woman, although that wasn’t said – who owned a gun, is ready to leave the country. There is an evil here, or perhaps just an ignorance, they believe. We aren’t civilized enough. There’s too much testosterone.

No, what there is, is too much independence and independent thought.

Maybe I’m just getting crotchety in my old age, but I’m tired of folks threatening to leave the U.S. if something they don’t like doesn’t change. It reminds me of a kid on a playground stomping her feet and threatening to hold her breath until she gets her way. Well guess what, boys and girls, this is a country of individuals. That means there very well be things happen in an election you don’t like. It means you can even voice your disgust at what happened. That’s what Freedom of Speech is all about.

However, you don’t get to demand – and then expect – change to happen just because you don’t like something and say so. Your threats to leave the country have no impact except on those who care for you. What sort of example are you setting for your children when you talk about fleeing something that you don’t like instead of working to change it?

But wait. I forget who I am talking about. These are the folks who rarely consider the consequences of what they want. It makes them feel better to whine and whinge in public, joining their voices to their GHH and SJW sisters (of the male and female variety). They want things their way but don’t think about what would result if they suddenly got their wish. As much as folks make fun of the ideal of Galt’s Gulch, there are times when I’d like to see what would happen if the rest of us did just sit back and let the GHHers have their way for a bit. How long would be before they started turning on their own?

So here’s my advice. Think about what you’re saying before you hit that enter button on your social media site. If you whine about how America hates women and loves guns and then you say how much you have always wanted to live in NYC but are afraid to now, think. Right now, New York has one of the most restrictive gun laws in the nation. Under the poster’s rationale, that should make it an attractive place to live. But no. Because America loves guns and hates women.

If that’s the way you feel, I’m sorry for you. I happen to appreciate the fact that I live in a country where women can and do hold office. I appreciate and applaud the fact that I live in a country where I get to vote for those I want in office and all I have to do is show a photo ID. I don’t have to be a land owner. I don’t have to be male. I don’t have to belong to the “official state party”. All I have to do is get my butt down to the polling place and vote.

Of course, I won’t get started on the Electoral College because that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish as far as I’m concerned.

Let your voice be heard. But if all you’re going to do is whine and whinge about how unfair things are, then go inside and take a nap. Leave it to the rest of us who are willing to work for change to do so. Of course, you might not appreciate what we’re doing, but that’s on you for not standing up, rolling up your shirt sleeves and working just as hard as the rest of us.

Don’t like it. Leave it and try to find some place better. We’ll still be here when you decide to come back.

Do Not Engage – Jason Cordova

Do Not Engage – Jason Cordova

 

Sometimes people just need to come with a “Do Not Engage” tattoo plastered large upon their foreheads. People I once liked.

I, for one, dislike the trolls. I enjoy the people who can actually make an argument (coherently and without the use of the words “racist”, “cismale” and “Republitard” because I am only one of those) and form complete and understandable sentences. I cherish these people, for they are not the enemy, no. They are merely rivals, and rivals can be respected. Rivals can be friendly(ish). Hell, rivals can even be welcome (though they’re still not getting some of my Brownies of Doom. I’m not that nice).

But those people are too far and few in between these days. Divide and conquer was Napoleon’s turn of phrase, and politicians, ad writers, producers, network executives, idiots in general have all taken this phrase and used it against their rivals, who in turn use the same techniques back and turn rivals into enemies. Because it’s easier to shout at people than it is to discuss issues.

I watched the election results come in. I watched as the folks on MSNBC had a collective meltdown as the election results turned out far different than they had envisioned it. I watched as Rachel Maddow pretty much lost her sh*t on public television. And quite frankly, I felt bad for them, because somewhere along the line, they had transformed the opponent from “rival” to “enemy” in their minds, and the resulting emotional and psychological breakdown on TV became painful to watch. Okay, I gloated a bit. But still… their reactions were just mindboggling.

For example, let’s look at Mia Love, the newly-elected Representative from Utah. After she was declared the winner, a lot of racist comments were thrown out there. People attacked her because of who she is and her skin color, and pretty much showed just how ugly they really were. They called her things like “race traitor” and was subjected to personal attacks that left even me shaking my head in disgust (and everyone knows that I have a pretty high bar for things that are disgusting). The attacks came from members of the Democratic Party, the so-called party of equality, who continue to claim to be the party of minorities and the oppressed. These people, who were once merely rivals who we could have constructive conversations with, have changed.

These are people who should be reveling at the chance to have an opponent worthy of discussion and argument, and yet… the best they can do is race taunt, something that I thought was something that only “ignorant white people who vote Republican” did. Apparently, I was very wrong.

Somehow rivals turned to enemies, and have been branded (in my eyes) as individuals who shalt not be engaged. Not because I discourage discourse, far from it (oh… crap. I’m getting poetic. Sorry). No, it’s because a lot of people simply don’t want the psychological and emotional commitment to pounding on people who are the enemy because in the end, all you’re doing is feeding the trolls.

Even when you’re “winning” the argument, you’re losing, because the troll is like the pit of Sarlacc and will constantly feed upon every single argument you toss out there and come back for more. All the while, your former rival has turned into an enemy, and is a mere step away from becoming a troll.

That sucks, because they were once a regular human being. I miss that guy.

 

Ready, Debt, Go – BILL READER

Ready, Debt, Go

BILL READER

            In honor of the new Republican majority I would like to take today out to discuss— in basic and easily communicated terms— a favorite topic of conservatives everywhere. Today I devote to debt, particularly public debt, and the problems therewith. And while virtually all of Sarah’s readers except for trolls are probably already well-versed in this issue, my goal here is to sum it up in sufficiently plain and direct terms that it can only be misunderstood with great effort. Granted, there are layers of unexplored obtuseness out there that assure no one can get through everyone’s head, but I’m going to give this my best shot.

The thing to bear in mind in the ensuing discussion is this: not only are Democrats not serious about combating public debt, but they are ideologically and structurally interested in its expansion. Understanding that fact makes it very easy to comprehensively predict and contextualize the entire response of the left to debt.

With that said, let us start by discussing the basic dynamics of US debt. Economists generally agree that debt accrued by the United States is different from other debt. Leftist economists try to use that fact to excuse virtually any fiscal behavior— at least, provided they like the politicians doing it. But in the basics, US debt is actually very similar to debt you might owe yourself, to a local business or another person. The difference is largely in scale and inertia. Scale is obvious. Even if you had a vaunted Amex Black, you’d be hard pressed to borrow a trillion-with-a-T dollars. Inertia is a little more complex. It refers to the fact that things that would happen very quickly in dealing with your debt happen quite slowly on the scale of nations. For example, you, individually, as a person, have a credit rating. So does the United States, except that it changes more slowly to reflect the general attitudes of the electorate driving the borrowing rather than the personality of an individual. That’s a driver of inertia. It’s also rated by several independent agencies, rather than one single one, meaning in any scenario that there will always be an agency that reacts first and an agency that reacts last. That’s also part of inertia. And because loans are made government to government, a massive bureaucracy has to request the money and another, probably even more massive bureaucracy has to give it. Signing this vast sea of things in triplicate is yet another contributor to inertia.

This much is still true, however, and whatever Paul Krugman says about the matter. People who loan you money always do so with an expectation of being paid back. There is no such thing as infinite credit. China does not loan us money out of the goodness of its heart and regular interest checks, sizeable as they are, pale in comparison to the scale of the debt we’ve accrued. If the country is run as Democrats want it to be, with debt run up infinitely, at some point the countries loaning us money realize we have no intention of ever paying back the principal. They realize it partially because credit rating agencies explain it to them in detail, with graphs. When that happens, other countries stop loaning us money. The reason it hasn’t happened yet is because, as I said, this process is considerably slower with countries than with people (though, mark you, we have already had one credit downgrade under Obama). Democrats would like you to believe that, because it happens slowly, we can round up and say it doesn’t happen at all. In the grand scheme of things it’s like swearing the sun doesn’t exist during the nighttime. Tomorrow does eventually come. In fact, I can tell you precisely what it will look like.

If other countries stop loaning us money then we stop being able to cover our debts, whether the people in government like it or not. Likely as not, they’ll blow on the gravy train’s caboose with a huge round of inflation to get a little past that point. That is to say, they’ll print money that isn’t representative of any equivalent creation of value in the world and explicitly hope that the people cashing those checks are fooled into thinking it’s real money. Which they will be, for anywhere between a day and a month. And then after that the currency is devalued and the checks from your favorite entitlement program just stop cold. At around which time the Democrats would blame the collapse of the government on a 0.001% decrease in the budget won by the Republicans after months of bitter arguing a year earlier. And because knowledge of these simple economic facts is shockingly rare, if not actively obscured by the, ahem, media-governmental complex, an embarrassingly large number of US citizens will believe it.

Largely this is done because anywhere that large amounts of money are being thrown around there is opportunity. As we saw with Soylandra, and Obamacare waivers for lobbies, government officials tend to give the money to their friends. And given that an accepted way to make friends with a Senator is to write him a large check, that money is not going only one way. This is one reason Democrats like debt. In directing how the debt is spent they can put away a tidy retirement. They estimate, probably correctly, that no one will ever stick them with the bill for any debt they run up, and in the meantime they can leverage what they make to buy tangible assets that keep their value.

Of course, not all Democrats are planning to loot the stream of income and leave a smoldering ruin. Sometimes their goal in spending money is predicated on a desire to bring the rich low. Particularly in those more versed in the class-warfare doctrine of liberal politics, the theory runs thus: all money, by right of dollar bills being printed by the government, belongs to the government (these are usually the same politicians who are fuzzy on the difference between fiat currency and the value it is meant to directly represent). And the rich are evil, by right of being rich. This is because, in their view, all wealth is accrued by charging someone more than something is actually worth and pocketing the difference. The idea that the value of an item is actually increased when a place like Wal-Mart makes it available in your neighborhood, rather than making you drive to the production plant in Boise, Idaho, usually never occurs to them. (Or, if it does, then they believe there is some other way of measuring the value of the item than the price people are willing to pay for it in a competitive market, usually relying instead on the gas and labor put into moving the item to a new place. That Wal-Mart deserves money for arranging for this gas and labor to be put into moving the item is still totally alien to them. But I digress). Wealth is therefore, to them, an accounting of how many times you’ve ripped off someone (their own wealth, miraculously, always excepted). Consequently they feel that emptying out the rich is a noble end in itself and are fairly unscrupulous in the means. There is a significant contingent of the left that believes in massive spending not in spite of the fact that it will bankrupt the country, but because of it. They hope that, if the country is made sufficiently broke, it will turn in on itself, strip the rich of their property, and use it for the public interest. Usually they believe this is the first step of a larger social transformation into an egalitarian society. As to the opinion of history, that is to say, the track record of reality, while a country can indeed be driven to the point of eating the rich, the promised transformation into an egalitarian utopia has never been seen. Also, as can be very easily proven by anyone wishing to go do the math, the amount you get by robbing rich people is always a tiny blip next to the debt accrued in forcing it.

A cynic might be quick to point out that the United States has one other way of ensuring credit, in the form of its military. Stupid as it sounds, we wouldn’t be the first to try using war to escape debt. We may have an example as recent as World War II. I’ve heard people argue that the construction of Nazi Germany was in part enabled by the sheer scale of the reparations demanded following WWI. The theory goes that one of many perverse incentives set up by this was that it made more sense for Germany to attempt to conquer the world than try to pay down its impossibly large debts. Of course, implicitly that means that when people bid for the US to lean on its military might as a way of securing its debt, they are bidding for the United States to become embroiled in (if not initiate) another World War.

I say all this as support of one, single point. When Democrats call for more debt they aren’t really doing it out of the compassion they state. And when Republicans, and conservatives in general, call for austerity, we do not do it out of personal dislike for the people dependent on government programs. Quite the opposite. If (really, when, unless we turn things around) the country suffers bankruptcy, massive inflation, war, or all three, as a result of these benighted fiscal policies, it will be the people most dependent on them that are hardest hit. Reduction in a controlled way is the less painful path. Now yes, I, personally, as a Libertarian, feel these programs should eventually be removed entirely, being wholly outside the federal government’s jobs of representing the United States as a whole to other nations and moderating interactions between states, I appreciate there will never be political capital to make such a move in one fell swoop. Gradual, long-term change is the only way to get such things done, at least in a way that sticks.

Nor is there any way of reforming the debt without cutting back on entitlements. In 2013 we spent a quarter of our budget on Medicare and Medicaid, and almost another quarter of it on social security. Defense, meanwhile, constituted less than a fifth, barely more than the amount we spend in Non-Defense Discretionary spending, which is to say, the government slush fund. Furthermore, defense of the country is explicitly a job of the United States government and an appropriate role of the federal government under the duty of “representing the United States as a whole to other countries”. The entitlement programs, just the two most prominent of which now represent, I must emphasize, almost 50% of the US budget, are not a legitimate role of government under that standard. And indeed, Democrats argue to cut defense not because they have any rational or constitutional reason for it but, once more, almost precisely because they do not. By that I mean that conservatives, who support defense spending because it’s one of the things government is actually supposed to be doing, are therefore loathe to cut it. Democrats hence propose cutting it mostly on a political basis, probably with little or any desire to get what they’re asking for. Rather, they realize that asking for defense cuts incenses Republicans, shuts down discussion by starting arguments, and thereby blocks cuts to the programs that actually are ballooning the budget. Hence, for whichever of the reasons driving their vested interest in expanding the debt, they enable it to continue expanding. The commitment to entitlement programs specifically is another sign that expanding debt is an end in itself. Entitlement programs have been noted since the days of bread and circuses to be notoriously difficult to get rid of, because people grow accustomed to the money and eventually find it impossible to live without. If your goal is creating an institutional debt problem they’re consequently the perfect tool. They also have the added advantage of often being redistributionist in nature, so they feed the doctrinaire Marxists too, by giving them lots of opportunities to draw battle-lines for class warfare. Something for everyone!

Democrats can do this without publically seeming unreasonable, because the army is the part of the federal government’s legitimate roles that is least visible in people’s day-to-day lives. Politically they also get to paint the Republicans as warmongers, which is a tasty bonus (Parenthetically, this is not to say that defense spending is always sane or efficient, or that we do not overspend on defense. It is to say that the Democrats really don’t care about that, except for a couple of died-in-the-wool idiot peaceniks. The rest pay it lip-service because it’s a convenient pretense.).

In the end it really is just this simple: Money has to come from somewhere. The left tells you otherwise only so they can direct the excess to themselves and cronies out of greed, or else act upon irrational ideological vendettas. To this end they work politically to ensure that debt is always being run up, especially in entitlements. Being foolish enough to believe the façade of political correctness overlaying this fact will lead to dire consequences, and indeed there is no world in which the free money does not, eventually, stop. It’s just that in some it stops the “easy” way, through controlled and managed expenditure reductions of the kind conservatives recommend, and in many it stops, well, the other way.

And for the most part, Democrats know it. They just find it more profitable to lie about it.

And so it’s come to this…

When I was young I was a liberal.  Well, not by the standards of where I lived, but by the standards of the US.  Impossible not to be a liberal when you’re raised in Europe.

Here are some of the things I believed from an ESR post which you should definitely read in its entirety:

    • There is no truth, only competing agendas.
    • All Western (and especially American) claims to moral superiority over Communism/Fascism/Islam are vitiated by the West’s history of racism and colonialism.
    • There are no objective standards by which we may judge one culture to be better than another. Anyone who claims that there are such standards is an evil oppressor.
    • The prosperity of the West is built on ruthless exploitation of the Third World; therefore Westerners actually deserve to be impoverished and miserable.
    • Crime is the fault of society, not the individual criminal. Poor criminals are entitled to what they take. Submitting to criminal predation is more virtuous than resisting it.
    • The poor are victims. Criminals are victims. And only victims are virtuous. Therefore only the poor and criminals are virtuous. (Rich people can borrow some virtue by identifying with poor people and criminals.)
    • For a virtuous person, violence and war are never justified. It is always better to be a victim than to fight, or even to defend oneself. But ‘oppressed’ people are allowed to use violence anyway; they are merely reflecting the evil of their oppressors.
    • When confronted with terror, the only moral course for a Westerner is to apologize for past sins, understand the terrorist’s point of view, and make concessions.

Okay, I never believed that first one.  For some reason I had a burning passion for the truth.  That whole thing about hungering and thirsting for justice?  Well for me, raised in a village, and seeing people’s characters distorted by malicious gossip, the first and almost the only aim of justice was to re-establish the truth.

There is a story I was told as a child — those not raised in Catholicism, please bear with me — of a man who was a murderer, a thief, a blasphemer, and who died.  As he was plunging into hell, a chain caught him by the leg and held him up.  He noticed the chain had beads and, looking up, heard a voice say they were the beads of the rosary.  You see, even though he didn’t believe, in the rosary or in religion at all, he prayed it every night, because his mother had asked him to.  And that single virtue had saved him.

In the same way, what saved me was that single quest for truth.  It’s impossible to look at those statements above and not think “wait a minute.”

I read the Gulag Archipelago at 14 and I thought “no, you can’t say the anomie of capitalism or the heart break of the downtrodden in capitalist societies is like that.” Yes, they can sort of, compare Dickensenian England (and having read other stuff, Dickens was just another left partisan selling us a bill of goods, sorry) to the communist system, but that wasn’t even capitalism as such.  That was capitalism under a monarchy in a time when the technology was just efficient enough to be brutal.  Capitalism had moved on from the early twentieth century.  It was communism that hadn’t. And worse, they kept pretending the happy people of Brutopia were all happy and stuff.

I couldn’t stand it, and that set me on a quest to figure out the truth of all these received shibboleths so deeply embedded in the culture by the late sixties that they seemed to be divinely ordained.

There were things  that looked at in the light of day were laugh-inducing.  No, seriously.  Like America being just as bad as any place else, while multitudes were going broke trying to get here.  Just get here.  And not always for the money, either.  I knew a high school teacher who was trying to get here (legally.  She’s probably still waiting) just for the chances to be and become and learn.

And that one about Europe being rich because the third world was poor?  A neighbor tried this one on me.  He was communist, see.  And what he used instead of the third world was Portugal.  He must have got hold of the wrong leg of the lizard at some point, because “Portugal doesn’t create its own computer, because America won’t let them compete with IBM.”  Well, I was fourteen, and I wasn’t stupid.  America couldn’t make laws in Portugal, and Portugal had — in fact — expropriated the property of American citizens during the revolution.  So that was not what he meant.  If he meant because IBM was there already, that’s nice, but given how Portuguese patent and copyright laws are about as enforced as China, that too didn’t make sense. So what was the difference?  Well, Portugal had the highest number of national holidays in Europe at the time.  It averaged to two or three a month.  And I knew that — sheer application — was part of the issue.  But not all of it.  Portuguese are clearly not lazy, because those who emigrate work like mad. So I came to the conclusion it was the combination of a dysfunctional culture where you were treated with derision for doing something outside your class and where work was not ennobling and so being seen to work was a bad thing.  (While among foreigners you could do it.) Add to it a tradition bound teaching system as reliant on memorization as China or the Arab countries, and a built in respect for “the way things are done” which extends to the regulations, and even geniuses ended up just working for the government because it was easier.  (From what I hear of writers in Portugal, it still is.)  What all this had to do with America was beyond me, except that America was easy to blame and that kept Portugal from doing the incredibly hard and perhaps impossible (these things are very difficult) work of retooling its culture into something more functional.  It could go on being proud of its history and saying it was the best ever, and not examining itself in the critical light of day, beyond the “revolution” (actually a series of them) that changed the old boss for the new boss and made some adjustments (some of them very beneficial) but did not unleash Portuguese productivity or creativity.  (Just made them into another tired Euro country.)  I can’t imagine that the third world is any better.  In fact, having family in several of these “downtrodden” countries, I knew they were, on all counts, far, far worse.

Yes, America propped up some dictators now and then.  FORTUNATELY I’d read history which means I knew two things: the dictators that America propped up were no matter how bad superior to the communist ones*.  And in a cold war all nations do that sort of thing.  It’s not moral from an outsider, floating above point of view. But it is moral from the point of view of protecting your own people and allowing them to survive.

As for criminals being victims of society — pfui.  I was fortunate (!) to spend fifth and sixth grade in a school where a lot of what we’ll call for lack of a better word the “feral underclass” attended.  There was no virtue.  They were not victims.  They were enjoying themselves terrorizing the law abiding.  I could spew this stuff on command in essays for Portuguese class, but it was not true and I knew it was not true. One of my own cousins belonged — by choice — to the feral underclass. He was still in sixth grade at 14 and his parents asked me to tutor him.  Tutor him?  He hadn’t any problems learning, but he was having so much fun beating up teachers after school and stealing money from little girls who wouldn’t fight back.

Was he a victim?  Sure he was.  He was a victim of doting parents, so enthralled of the fact they’d finally produced a son that he could do no wrong (in terms of the deep culture that we talked about here before, that passes in families, there might have been reinforcement since her mother — from place of birth and names in family– came from moorish traditions.)  They’d failed to instill in his the virtues that would have allowed him to thrive in a free society.  So he was a victim all right.  Of his family.  What the rest of society had to do with this is beyond me.

But though he came to grief later, particularly after his father died, yeah, he was having a good time.  He was nobody’s victim.

Those two years also were the ones I got put in “coventry.” For social and political reasons no one at that school spoke to me in public.  (I did have a friend, but she was on afternoon classes, while I was on morning classes.) Well, no one till I accrued a cottery of real victims. They were the deformed and the small, the poor and the despised.  I’d beat up their tormentors and they clung to me.  That was fine, (and some of them learned to fight back.  Beware the frightened rabbit in a pack) but they weren’t especially virtuous.  Some were very nice people, but some weren’t (being ostracized for that long twists you) and none of them would have benefited from staying victims.  That’s just stupid talk.

So I came to doubt all of those shibboleths, which is a good thing because it turns out, as ESR explains in the article, that we have proof all of these were dreamed up by soviet operatives (Stalinist) and implanted in our culture amid the idiot fellow travelers, in order to corrupt and destroy the west.

In that sense it is literally malware uploaded to a healthy culture, to destroy it from within.

Those of you who are computer programmers know what must be done with malware — it must be uprooted, root and branch.

Now, the problem is that it resides in everyone’s heads by now, even our own, having been propagated by our art, our culture, our news, even, which we trusted to be neutral.

And we don’t want to trash the infected sectors, i.e. get rid of the people running the zombie program of dead Stalinists.  We can’t, because all of us are infected, to an extent.

It might come to a blood bath, but if it does the system will be permanently crippled and diminished — and because we’re humans, not bits and bites, it’s worth mentioning some of the more infected bits are our friends, our neighbors, our family members.  So it might come to a blood bath.  In fact, I’m very afraid that’s the path we’re on, but we as free men and men of good will, owe it to ourselves to do what we can to avoid it.

So, our path is more difficult.

For years, my husband has despaired of watching movies with me, because I have that truth-checking program in my head.  Hit three or more of those pat “everybody knows” above, and I leave the room, no matter how engaging the romance wrapped around it.  You see I grew up, literally, in a socialist country, surrounded by propaganda at all times.  It was so heavy handed you couldn’t help but see through it.  And I did.  Which means like someone who’s been immunized, I’m sensitive to the virus and anti-bodies deploy.

The funny thing is in the age of Obama, he’s started seeing some of it too, with the result that his favorite romcoms right now are Japanese and Korean.

For years, to, it qualified my enjoyment of books.  I can stand more in a book than in a movie, but hit me too many times with the “everybody knows” or the mini-truths being propagated from above (like “Obama care rescued us all from death, hallelujah” which I’ve been seeing in movies and some books. Or “everyone who opposes Obama is racist”) and the book takes flying lessons.  The same for the horrible oppression of women, and how all women in the regency were secretly suffragettes and PROBABLY hankered for abortions.  (Okay, it’s not that bad, but I’m tired of how in regency romances every female runs a shelter for abused women — rolls eyes.  Yes, there was a lot of that, but not THAT much.)

Look at those points above that ESR was so kind as to compile for us.  Memorize them.  Part of fighting the malware is knowing its code.  When you find it in your own head, eradicate it.

And write books that mirror how the world really works (to an extent.  You can’t do exactly because stories have to be more plausible and cohesive than reality) and propagate them.  If you can, homeschool your kids.  If you can’t, teach them to see through that propaganda in our culture.  Tell them the truth.  The enemy died of its dysfunctional culture, but these errors it “uploaded” in our system are designed to kill us.  Don’t let them.

It took over 1oo years to come to this.  We can’t recover in a year.  We’re going to have to take incremental steps, with infinite patience.

Fortunately we’re now at the point that the people most outright running this malware have gone a little nuts, to the point everyone else can see it, and there are pockets of resistance and of just ignoring and cutting off the diseased parts (like gamergate, or what we’re doing in science fiction and fantasy which is go around them with a brief pause to laugh and point.) (Note that second link has a lot of  antisemitism and outright racism in the comments, which I am in no way endorsing.  Note also that there is a lot of this, because when you realize your society is running on lies, you’re going to turn the absolute other way.  And not realize that’s just different lies. Our rescue efforts for society have to fight both the ones running malware and the ones trying to rid themselves of it by flipping the code.)

So it’s come to this.  It won’t be easy.  I think it’s doable, because their worldview in no way reflects reality and is collapsing in shards all around them.  But it won’t be easy and it won’t be fast and a lot of it will feel like, in Dave Freer’s colorful phrase “Taking on hell with a bucket.”

But then easy battles have no glory.  Go forth.  Fight the lies in your head, so you can fight them in others’ heads.  Write compelling stories and teach your children well.

Our culture can be saved. And we’re the only ones who can do it.

Now go.  In the end, we win, they lose. Make it so.

*This is because all communist dictators in fact became puppet viceroys of Russia.  But, you say, weren’t their counterparts American puppets?  Well, usually no, because America is REALLY bad at it.  It wins a war, it gives the country tons of money, but allows the enemy free rein to talk and subvert the peace.  No.  But even if it were, the problem is that the  Soviet Union, which, btw, ultimately meant the Russian Empire, was incapable of producing most of what its people need.  So when they acquired these new territories, they became places to be exploited, their people slave labor and their product sent to Russia at a loss.  When America acquired sway over a country they wanted to sell them stuff and develop factories there while the cost of living was lower.  (No, that’s not the same as Russian slavery, because it allows the country thus “occupied” to catch up, see Japan and to an extent — hampered by its stupid communist/fascist regime, China — which of course brings up the anomie of capitalism which is literally worse than the gulags.  (If you think that think shame on yourself.))  If you want to know how much worse it was for a country to fall under the sway of Russia than of America, talk to Peter Grant who saw the destruction of the Portuguese colonies in Africa.  Be prepared.  He’s a GOOD man but not always a nice one.  Particularly to morons.

Cultural Narratives

At one time, when I was very young – probably early teens – I came across an interview from someone or other in the French glitterati circles talking about how it was a shame that until the Asterix comics little French kids knew more of the history of the little Jesus than about their ancestors the Gauls.

To this day I’m not a 100 percent sure about why this is a bad thing, precisely. I mean, you have to think there is some sort of virtue to what is linked by blood over what is transmitted by choice.

It is in a way – or was, since this must have been in the middle seventies, in embryonic form – the argument of the multiculturalists: all cultures are the same, and all cultures being the same, one should be true to the culture of one’s ancestors.

Of course later the multiculturalists get confused and decide that culture is transmitted from one’s ancestors, somehow, in the blood. Which then leads to calling anyone who criticizes any culture “racist,” something that makes no sense whatsoever in any other terms.

So, are all cultures the same, in some ethic sense?

Depends. How are you going to judge them? I propose the only way to judge a culture is how comfortable its people are and how successful it is in raising the humans who participate in it from the brutish/short lived/nasty state of humans on their own.

Note that this is not the only way to evaluate a culture. A lot of the multiculturalists seem to evaluate a culture on a scale of “quaint” – “quaint dress/clothes/custom/religion” – in which quaint means “not like the native culture I actually know.” They often know nothing more than those externalities, but even so declare every other culture vastly superior to their own. (And if you’re going to say this is not true, I’m going to counter with every freaking multi-culti warrior who, knowing nothing more about Portugal than a vague sound that might mean South America and that I came from there informed me that it was vastly superior to everything in the US.)

There is also the way to evaluate a culture by SJW standards, in which “highly advanced culture” means “would have a distinguished place for people like me who can do nothing but generate blather at a high rate and explain how Marx keeps my breath minty fresh.”

I prefer to evaluate it my way, because if you evaluate a culture under “makes the greater number of people well fed/materially secure and (relatively) health” then culture, with some disgusting hiccups, behaves as an organism, in which the overtaking culture is always superior to the previous one.

This is sometimes masked by the fact that when two cultures clash the one that prevails by force of arms is not the one that imposes its culture and by the fact that, like anything pertaining to humans, it’s not always a straight progression, but there is the occasional disgusting hiccup.

For instance, take the barbarians taking over Rome. Did it make the Roman colonies (largely) less comfortable and secure? Sure. But for the barbarians, whose culture largely became subsumed in Rome, it was a huge step up.

But beyond all that, what drives me nuts about all this is what Richard Fernandez talked about in his column two(?) days ago.

To put it bluntly, there is no reason that little kids should know more about their Gaulish ancestors than about the early Christian church.

Leaving aside morality and a religion that freed people from the terrors of vending machine gods, there is how the past culture is passed to the future.

It’s not in any way a straightforward thing, not even in these days when we have written communication and more time to spend telling each other stories.

My husband was surprised recently to find his maternal grandmother had lived in Chicago as a young woman. I only discovered about three years ago that my mother is not the middle daughter, as I always assumed, but the oldest one. You see, everything from their little-girl pictures to my memory of my aunts led me to believe my aunt was older than mom. Turns out no, she’s just the blond and tall sheep of the family. These are all people I’ve known my whole life, and yet I had that startlingly wrong.

In the same way, my older son thought I was the youngest of three, like his dad, because my cousin who was raised with us is treated as a sister and called “aunt” by them.

These are small things, practically irrelevant, but bigger things are lost too. It doesn’t even take a lot of time.

We’ve talked here about how my kids simply can’t read an analog watch. They learned to, but they never used it, and the knowledge was shed.

In the same way, my Portuguese is – to put it mildly – a mess. I still understand it, but can no longer speak it with any semblance of fluency. Because I don’t use it.

How about the every day actions and rituals that constitute a culture?

Well, mom might still know how to cook a full meal over a wood fire, as she did when she was young, but I very much doubt it. In the same way I’m sure that many of the things she did/thought about every day as a young woman have passed from her memory. I know many have passed from mine.

And the stories, passed from generation to generation? People mishear, misconstrue, and think their parents surely meant x because y made no sense.

I like this both in the sense of building a world when you write, and in the sense of just liking it. Like a polished fragment of a seashell found on the beach, you can’t tell what the whole thing looked like, but there’s a beauty all its own in the fragment. And being a writer I tend to make up stories about what these things are/look like and why.

For instance one of the songs with which I was rocked to sleep is the sad story of a single algae left behind by the tide, while its sisters dance back to sea. A fisherman captures it, and of course it turns into a beautiful woman whom he marries. If you go by his hut, you’ll hear her singing sad songs about the sea.

Wait, what? She started out as a piece of SEAWEED?

My theory is that this song is very, very old and comes from a language that in the translation to what is Portuguese now changed seal to seaweed. (Aided by the fact that in medieval times no one in the working class in Portugal would have heard of a seal.)

I could of course be totally wrong. This could be a song heard from British sailors and when a translation was asked for, that mistake was made. Or mom could have learned it from the radio, where someone wrote it because they thought it sounded cool.

Culture? What culture?

And this is now, when we’re living longer, and we can ask our parents (I did. Her answer was “I don’t remember.”)

In the days when people died while their children were barely pubescent, what got passed? What got explained? How many of the customs involved the equivalent of breaking the roast in two because it had always been done, when it turned out it’s because great grandma only had two small pans and not a large one?

And then a new religion, a coherent and cohesive narrative comes along… people will latch on to the narrative.

Culture is not genetically inherited. It’s only partially intellectually inherited in day to day life. It’s transmissible through the narrative that allows us to see ourselves and our place in the world.

Christianity provided such a narrative, and therefore displaced less successful stories.

Unfortunately for us, right now, due to its internal consistency (even if lack of reference to anything external) Marxism is overtaking our cultural narrative. It’s taught at schools, and it’s such an easy narrative to insert oneself into and it “explains everything.”

It also has the virtue of assigning guilt and merit by things like gender and skin color, so you don’t have to make complex moral judgments.

It’s also completely drawers and at odds with reality. And in the end it spells doom for the societies it infects. In “societal software” sense, it’s malware.

Yes, I know what I said above, but remember the thing about “disgusting intervals”? I’d much rather our society didn’t go down into one of those.

So, what can we do?

I think in the end the “superior software” – i.e. the set of stories that better manipulates reality and allows humans to survive in it – wins.

What can we do?

We can come up with compelling narratives about who we are as humans, and what the future holds. Not just religious – though religious ones are permissible. The reason they are in retreat is that they became too opaque to outsiders, too hard to interpret, unlike, you know, the idiotic simplicity of Marxism – but moral and situational and… well… stories of all kinds.

We need to write a song of freedom.

Because it would indeed be sad if the descendants of Americans knew everything about Marx and nothing about their ancestors’ liberty.

So, go forth and dream coherent and vivid dreams.

In the end we win, they lose. I’d rather cut out some thousand years in the mud, though.

Dream, create, tell stories. Don’t worry about authenticity, worry about their being compelling.

Be not afraid.