John Lennon’s Tooth and The Machineries of Fate.

It is a given fact that you guys like to disturb me. I don’t know why that is. I’d take it for granted that, in fact, life disturbs me enough. Take taxes, for instance — oh, wait. Los Federales already did. They have great need of money to eat it or something. Never mind.

Perhaps in an effort to distract me from running around the house repeating RAH’s dictum that you should be wary of strong drink: it might make you shoot at tax collectors and MISS, one of you told me about this dentist in … Alberta? Who bought one of John Lennon’s teeth (who even sells that?) and who plans to “clone John Lennon.”

Okay, as publicity it might be okay, though – I don’t know about you – I’d be hesitant to go to a dentist – any doctor really – who is into macabre souvenirs.

But the idea…

My answer to the reprobate who told me about it was to point out that we already have plenty of broken misfits around. I think he was a little taken aback, so I had to explain.

This is not the case with every one, of course, but speaking for me and a lot of other writers I know – and Lord help us, plastic artists are WORSE – art is what happens when you break somebody, then put them under unbearable pressure. Imagine if you will living, animated, sentient coal, and you’re trying to make diamonds. You apply enormous pressure…

And sometimes you’re going to get the diamond. The misfit will reorganize, re-integrate, find an outlet, and the result is something rarer and far better than mere human coal. But this being humans, most of the time you’re just going to get coal dust or perhaps diamond chips.

The resemblance between artists and madmen has been noted through history, but it’s slightly sideways from the truth. The truth is not that artists are mad, but rather like they achieved a state supra-madness where they function fine because they have that artistic outlet.

Now, I’m not quite that way, but then as you know I’m more craftswoman than artist.

Anyway, what shocked me about that story is that artist or not, Lennon’s success; his fame; his contribution to the world of music and the performing arts, is even more dependent on chance, on just how high that pressure was turned, when.

Regardless of what you think of his solo career it came after the Beatles, and might never have been what it was without the Beatles, and besides the Beatles is arguably his greatest contribution. What I mean is, absent the Beatles, he’d never have been the John Lennon he was, for good or ill. (This is something I tried to capture in Superlamb Banana. And yes, oh my, that does need another cover. Sigh.)

And that surely isn’t expressed in his genes. Unless you think of genes as sort of a magic destiny, the sort that the fairygodmothers used to give people over their cradle.

You might, of course. It’s a new and popular theory. Everything we are and everything we achieve is supposed to be there, in our genes, ready to happen. This Calvinistic (but not religious) view of humanity of course presupposes that the future is pre-written. We are, if you will, lines of code in a program we can’t help follow.

This is very similar to the Portuguese idea of fate which, Portugal being heavily influenced by Islam, is still central to the culture. You hear even educated people say things like “We all follow our fate.”

And it annoys me. It is, if you will, part of the Widgetization of humanity.

The left is going for this in a big way, without ever admitting it’s what their doing, just their their assumption of culture being genetic is never admitted to be full on racism. (It is. What else would it be? White people are endlessly protean, but if you are an interesting sub-race/culture, then you have to follow a script and know your place? Straight up racism!)

They’re going for this fate and pre-ordained thing in a big way because it’s a logical follow on their idea that nothing is your fault. If everything is scripted, its’ wrong to hold crimes against criminals. It also fits right in with the number of extreme left people who are radical losers. You might have an IQ of 180 and be living in a trashy apartment and raiding trash cans for garbage, but it was all planned, and it’s not your fault. Oh, yeah, and you can’t escape, so making the effort to actually integrate into society? Not possible. It will only fail.

Of course this destroys human freedom.

I’ve said of this before, that even if it were true (and if it were, we couldn’t prove it, barring proving the entire universe is a computer program) it would be evil to believe it. It would rob all existence of meaning and all humans of individuality. However, what we know seems to show it’s not true. I mean, maybe someone scripted me to have my particular life so far, in which case you have to wonder if they were sane (sorry) but I, like all of us, can see the errors, the failures, the slips – and what might have been. And it was not forbidden to me.

Of course, the jokers who believe this bilge then say that you don’t really think: you just follow a script, and then rationalize your actions.

While a lot of people do this, and a lot of us do it at times in minor stuff — like we forget we were going to make a cake and when we’re halfway through making a soufflé, we do the cat thing “I meant to do that” — I beg to differ. Major decisions are usually weighed by everyone but the very infantile, and the ones who believe that they can’t help themselves.

Again this is the widgetization of people. It’s making people things who would all act the same way given certain genes. Yeah, some twin studies purport to show that, to an extent, but I always wonder about the ones that don’t make cute lifeline stories. Oh, sure, the tendencies are in your genes. But what you make of them is your choice.

You’re not the sum of your ancestry. You’re not a widget. You’re not the slave to the culture you were born in. The future is yours to mold.

And as for John Lennon, poor man, who the heck needs another kid with funny glasses, a lot of uncontrolled aggression and some musical talent? He left children, in the normal way of mankind. Let that be enough for his contribution, and let him rest in peace.

 

Post Tomorrow Morning

Meanwhile could I get those of you who’ve bought The Musketeer’s Mysteries, now that they’ve been re-released to leave some reviews, because, ick, the house, well… (That and I was burned out, so I didn’t notice things in page proof.  And I made what I thought were jokes.  Don’t even ask.  They were worse than the puns around here).  And oh, yeah, The Musketeer’s Inheritance is out.  This is the cover:

the musketeer's inheritanceAnd if you guys come back with the old “why don’t the musketeers have any muskets, be aware it’s like asking Wyoming Knot “Why Not?”  It was never funny — they did have muskets, in combat, not in dueling because the d*mn things had no accuracy — and everyone who thinks they’re going to be funny says it.

Actually, because these days I just tend to get rude when people say it, does any of you have a better one liner I can answer with?

And of course — I’ll be sending out the clean copy of Witchfinder soon (sorry, was battling Create Space.

witchfindercoverfinalI’ll post tomorrow, but probably around eight my time.  Those of you on the East Coast I hope will forgive me.

 

 

Memes for Good or Evil – A Guest Post By Kate Paulk

Memes for Good or Evil – A Guest Post By Kate Paulk

 

The Husband and I often have the kinds of conversations that scare normal people. You know, the kind of thing that’s standard discussion fodder at Hoyt’s Huns. It worries the folks at the next table of the restaurant, though. We hit ethics, politics, religion, and enough hot buttons to make a grill, all without going anywhere near any of the standard pre-digested platforms we’re supposed to be following (if you asked the media).

 

Today it was about memes, specifically the ones that proliferate on Facebook and similar places, where there’s a picture, a snappy or snarky caption, and usually a subtext that you, the reader, is not supposed to question this thing. This conclusion the image demands you draw.

 

He’s right, of course. The things are being used as buckshot in the war for people’s minds. Scatter a crapload of them around, expecting that enough of the people who identify with the ’cause’ in question will forward without thinking about it, perpetuating the notion that if someone supports X they must also automatically support Y (And Z and the rest of the alphabet’s worth of whichever platform is involved). In short, a conformity enforcement tool.

 

A few words on the term ‘conformity enforcement’. This is one I picked up from Howard Bloom’s magnificent books, The Lucifer Principle (http://www.amazon.com/The-Lucifer-Principle-Scientific-Expedition/dp/0871136643), and Global Brain (http://www.amazon.com/Global-Brain-Evolution-Mass-Century/dp/0471419192). Both are very dense reading, but well worth the effort for a cross-discipline examination of the scientific underpinnings of evil, community, and group dynamics.

 

Bloom identifies five core elements of any groups, and sees them in everything from bacterial colonies to nations:

  1. Conformity enforcers – the members of the group that protect the group identity by ensuring that every member of it keeps common traits. This is probably the single most common element in any group
  2. Diversity generators – the members who innovate, who explore and differ from the norms. They’re generally an unwelcome minority until there’s a need for their difference to ensure the group’s survival. These are the members who allow the group to adapt to change.
  3. Inner-judges – the individuals and/or dynamics that decide the worth of something to the group, as an aspect of a group or as an individual within a group choosing not to do something that will have limited value to the group as a whole.
  4. Resource shifters – the members of the group (or the group dynamic) that rewards success and penalizes failure.
  5. Intergroup tournaments – the competitive mechanisms that provide each group with an external rival as well as forcing each group to continually adapt and adjust to circumstances. At the human social level they can be formal or informal, range from games to wars and include elections and – inevitably with the Internets – meme wars.

 

And that’s where the political meme thing comes into play. Each one of the damn things encapsulates some aspect of one of the competing political viewpoints. Just take a semi-random stroll through http://politicalmemes.com/ and see how much of a “this is so obvious. If you don’t agree you must be stupid/evil/crazy” subtext you can see (rather a lot). This is, in short, using memes for evil: to enforce conformity without any thought to the validity or benefits of differing views.

 

It’s using memes to suppress dissent and create the illusion that all proper group members believe this thing as a matter of course no matter what “this thing” might be, or how valid or otherwise the sentiment is.

 

Blaming the left for the memeification of dialog is a lie. The right (especially the establishment right who mostly want to be part of the power) does the same thing. Just – usually – not as effectively. It’s on the same general line as how one of the few things communists ever did well was the propaganda. They were – and still are – bloody good at finding a catchy phrase that shuts down thought and implies that their way is all there is. The other thing the bastards do well is shut down public discourse, forcing it underground so the only way people who aren’t in the middle of things know there’s a problem is when the leadership and party line changes overnight and they’re suddenly supposed to believe the opposite of whatever yesterday’s beliefs might have been.

 

The right still airs its dirty linen in public and still has open dissent so they look a lot less effective – but the power hungry bastards are trying to shut this down and force everyone to stick to the same line no matter what. And there are memes in plenty that are nudging people along that path.

 

My facebook list covers the entire political spectrum, with everything in the left-right range as well as the “oh hell no, I don’t want to see politics” through “politics is my lifeblood” range and quite a few other oddities as well. I see bad memes from both sides. I see hilariously miscued memes (I share these and mock). I see a few good ones (particularly the ones that are thought-provoking and a bit on the unusual side). And of course, a whole lot of cute kitty ones because who doesn’t like cute kitties? (If you don’t, kindly don’t tell me. The three cute kitties that generously permit me to share their house might get upset).

 

With the political memes, I’ve started trying to use them for good. To share them with a snarky (usually) comment that I hope will prompt a few people to think. To look past the obvious and see the implications behind. It won’t sway the true believers (on either side) but those who agree with part of a party line may see that there’s more out there and it’s not necessary (or desirable, but that’s another story) to follow the whole thing because you agree with part of it.

 

Unlike the curate’s egg, it’s possible for a political platform to be genuinely good in parts. It’s even possible for a person to agree with some things and think others are the worst idea to ever go wandering around unsupervised. I certainly do… my personal position is somewhere in that no-man’s-land where “I believe” is not necessarily a precursor to “the Government should” and where there is room for debate on the best way to do things as long as it’s real debate not just endlessly restating the same things.

 

What I wouldn’t give for a talking head who’d listen to all the nonsense a politician spouts then say, “Thank you. Now would you please answer the question?” That would be a meme for good.

I Need a Secret Lair. And Minions. And Piranhas.

Sorry guys, but things just got serious. I’m going to need an underwater lair, piranhas and five trillion dollars in unmarked coins or I’ll destroy the entire world.

(Note that it’s very important to make sure that the lair is in an extinct volcano, not an extinct Vulcan. Because when you set the Vulcan on fire, he gets all upset, and when you try to douse him with water, someone is going to end up Vulcan nerve pinched and it ain’t gonna be him. Just saying. And I warn because I love. Also, because I also make that mistake. ALL the time. – Weirdly “The Vulcan is erupting!” just gets people looking at you funny. Probably the problem in Pompey.)

Here’s the thing, I love Larry Correia like a brother, but if he thinks I’m going to give him my world’s worst person trophy he’s got another thing coming. It’s bad enough I have to share it with Kate Paulk. I’ll spend my half of the week polishing it and shining it and getting it positioned just so on the mantelpiece and then I have to give it to Kate, and it comes back all encrusted and smelling fishy. I think she’s using it as a cat food dish. At least I hope that’s it.

So, if they think I’m going to share it three ways with Larry, they have another thing coming. He has small kids. Heaven knows what it would come back all encrusted with – Ovaltine, if I’m lucky.

But there goes some critter named Damien Walter, in this outmoded tabloid that Brits seem to think is a newspaper – something called Al The Guardian though heaven only knows what they’re guarding and if they think it’s the right to say who’s the world’s worst person, I want them to tell me they and whose army – calling Larry all sorts of things, accusing him of hate, and furthermore putting words in his mouth that Larry didn’t say.

Of course Larry doesn’t need me to defend him. Last I checked he was the Master of Fiskishness and High Lord of the Burn.

Even if he needed me to defend him he wouldn’t need me to defend him against someone so out of it as to proclaim that “The Future Is Queer.”

Even given that we have all sorts of reproductive assistance, most babies are born because they happen to be made. Make it absolutely volitional and not coming naturally from what people do for fun, and the future is mostly short. Beyond that, why in heck would the future be “Queer”? No, seriously. Why won’t the future be… Mediterranean?  Or purple?  I mean, if we’re just to randomly throw out “the future will be”.  I say the future will be pointillist, and I say to h*ll with it.

Okay, I understand from Damien’s sniveling about how people used to tell him to cut his hair and man up (like he’s the only one who was ever told to man up. I was. Still am at times. Then I shrug and do it. It’s an expression, not an actual literal order. Maybe all these people are in the autism spectrum?) that it’s likely a reflection of what he thinks is his orientation No, I’m not saying he might not be gay. He can be whatever he wants. And I never question people’s self definition even when they start looking at the other flavor after three glasses of beer. I’m saying his concept of “Queer” is weird. I have friends of various sexual definitions and some who haven’t decided yet and not a single one of them would take offense to the injunction to “Man up” much less think it was some sort of heterosexual oppression. As for their hair, if anyone told them to cut it or grow it or do anything to it they didn’t want to, they would just give the advising entity the middle finger. Because that’s what my gay, straight and totally confused friends are like. To assume someone is a sissy for being gay is stupid, so Damien, poor chap, is already on my bad side.

But the fact that he then goes to say gender is entirely a social construct, puts him… No, okay, it doesn’t put him anywhere except on the side of the painfully ignorant. It puts me in the position of fixing my desk after I dent it with my forehead. And that doesn’t make me happy, because it’s a nice oak rolltop desk, and sooner or later the putty will show.

Yes, I know Damien is European, and I know this ridiculousness is taught in Europe, but for heaven’s sake, he can’t be in the fourth form. He actually is paid for writing for the Guardian. (At least I hope he is. Left Wing Publications and web sites tend to get funny about that, and heck, no one should spew this much goofiness without getting paid.) Presumably he has internet access. Presumably he can check out how boys born with crypto orchicism and raised as girls are profoundly unhappy, or he’s figured out why we no longer give babies sex changes at birth.

THE EXPRESSION of gender might be a social construct. To an extent. BUT gender is chromosomally determined.

What does this mean, exactly?

Well, it means if you’re a male in a certain class in the Western world, you’ll like fast cars and sports, while in tribal Africa you’ll like hunting lions. And if you’re a woman in a certain class in the Western world, you’ll like the shopping network, while if you’re a woman in the Amazonian jungles, you’ll like berry picking and gathering.

Now, is this a hundred percent iron clad? Well, no. Humans are individuals, which means you can’t make them into widgets. Some women probably like going hunting with the guys, and some men would probably be much happier berry picking. (And they’re both, in general, out of luck, since, unlike the dreams of the vile progs, tribal societies are usually a lot more rigid than anyone in the west can even imagine – though in extreme cases they might make accommodations, which are usualy both humiliating and restrictive.)

Does this invalidate gender? Oh, my no. Gender is a statistical distribution, not a box. (I still think a lot of these people’s issues are caused by never having sucked on an unsterilized spoon and never having eaten anything that came without a label. They literally think of “gender” as a label, and if you’re a girl, you’re supposed to like pink and play with dolls and if there’s any variation, that invalidates the entire concept. This is a lovely idea, except it fits nothing human, ever. They are Pratchett’s auditors, trying to understand people.) What your gender is is a major, blinking clue to where you’ll fall on the spectrum.

Pretty much everywhere in the world, if you were born with an outie (and aren’t some genetic freak) you get to do the risky, strenuous, outdoor labor. And if Western civilization has robbed you of this then you get to be obsessed with risk, strenuous, outdoor sports, mostly vicariously.

And if you were born with an innie (and it’s not a birth defect) you get to like detailed, often monotonous but also often social activities, which explains all my friends who are good housekeepers.

Now some people fall so far on the opposite end of the spectrum to where they should naturally be that they decide to surgically rectify the situation. It’s an imperfect solution, and it will be until we get a way to make the change real and fertile, instead of cosmetic. That’s life. I’m fairly sure that the peasant dying of consumption in the middle ages because there was no treatment for TB and no antibiotics had a harder lot. But what do I know? I’m not either of those cases. I just get to feel sorry for both, and wish we had better options for them. (Okay, for the peasant it would involve a time machine.)

BUT the extremes don’t invalidate the whole distribution. Sure, if all I know about you is that you’re a guy, I might be wrong in assuming you like fast cars. OTOH the way to bet is that you WILL like fast cars.

All of these are known facts. As I said, we used to think otherwise, which is why babies got sex change operations in the seventies. Now we know there is more to gender than social construct, that there are biological factors like the hormone baths in the uterus which depending on your gender change your brain, so that if you’re XX or XY determines how the thoughts behind the eyes go. (Even if there is a wide distribution and, again, you individually, might be closer to the other side.)

To pretend otherwise is vile, because parents who actively counter their kids natural inclinations or try to force them to be “gender neutral” are committing child abuse. They’re also going to reap interesting rewards, but that’s their lookout.

So, Larry doesn’t need to be defended from Damien Walter, even though Damien Walter put words in his mouth, like Larry saying if you write a book with a gay character, it will be less commercially viable.

I want to note right now that Larry helped me pimp both A Few Good Men and Witchfinder and never told me they’d be less commercial because one has gay main characters, and the other a strong secondary gay character. (I almost wrote that as a strong gay secondary character – but I don’t even know what “Strong gay” is – and no, I don’t want explanations. This comments section is enough of a mess, already.)

I read Larry’s post that set off this hissy fit, and here’s the thing, Larry said that science fiction books that are all about being gay are less commercially viable. DUH. People buy books because they want stories. If you let some part of your story become so overpowering that it consumes everything (say, because you were told to cut your hair and pull up your socks as a little boy – is this where I tell everyone that my brother (built like my kids. Picture that) in Portugal in the seventies, got told to cut his hair ALL the time. This didn’t make him feel queer or like people were gender intolerant. It made him feel superior and smug, because he matched the fashion abroad, and was therefore more enlightened. But that’s a conversation for another day, right? Also, he did it to get the foreign chicks.) and that part of the story isn’t an obsession of the majority of the population, your work will be less commercially viable.

I teach that in workshops all the time. Be aware of which of your obsessions are commercially viable. Take Larry’s. He likes guns. This means in the US (and much of the world) he has a built in market. Take me. I like Shakespeare. No, I REALLY like Shakespeare. If I let my obsession take over (cough, the Shakespeare trilogy, cough) I’m writing for the ten people in the world who are as crazy as I am. So I learned to control it, because I want to be a commercial writer. I don’t take to the pages of a newspaper to whine that the future is Shakespeare and that people should be forced to listen to my obscure jokes, like the page where Marlowe and Shakespeare talk exclusively in each other’s lines.

(Oh, sure, all ten of those people sent me gushing fan letters, but one can’t live on $5 a year.)

Allowing the mind to become clouded when one is defensive about one’s orientation is no excuse for saying that readers should be bored and like it.

Anyway, now that I’ve spent three pages not defending Larry, we get to the meat of the situation:

Why is it that when a vile prog disagrees with anyone they call the person a hater?

Note that Larry and I, or any of my friends when we dissect some piece of strangeness, don’t call the person a hater. We might call their thoughts silly or vile. We might call the person infantile (they so often are) but we cast no aspersions on their intentions and character. We don’t say “they’re evil” or “they are haters.” And we never say they should shut up. For one, how much fun would that be. No fisking fodder! For another, as strange as we find them, we don’t wish them to shut up because we know our ideas can trump theirs.

So, what is with the side that pins the “tolerant” medal on their own chest going around calling people “The worst person in the world.” I mean, seriously, I was awarded that for saying that wishing to kick someone out of the human race is a bad thing. Let’s suppose what I said is terrible (though I still don’t understand why, because well, common humanity is what keeps us from killing each other just because there’s nothing good on the telly. Well, keeps most of us.) Let’s suppose I’d said something really vile like “All witches should be burned, and that includes aunty Witchy Pooh who reads tarot and hangs her house with crystals.” How would SAYING it make me or anyone the worst person in the world. Or even a bad person? I have said all kinds of stupid things I didn’t mean in my time. Like yesterday, after I had a sneeze fit caused by cat hair up the nose, “I’m going to kill that cat.” Does this make me a cat hater?

Let’s suppose I meant what I said, or at least wish to burn Aunt Witchy Pooh for more than her really sucky taste in home decoration. Does that make me a bad person? Oh, h*ll no. Not unless I act on it, or form an association dedicated to burning people that hang crystals where they have no business being. And does it make me the world’s worst person? Kids… I think if you stack me up besides Maduro, my crimes are much smaller. And if you allow for all of history, I don’t even rate against Caligula, and he was a piker stacked up against Mao.

So why the desperate need to call us, not just wrong, but evil?

Well, we’re back to never having sucked on an unsterilized spoon. That’s part of it. These people are very up on the idea that if you say something they don’t like you’re a “bully” and therefore you’re in the wrong and you’re evil (possibly because the worst evil they ever faced was a playground bully. No unsterilized spoons, after all.)

But there is a world of difference between criticism and bullying. Bullying is running after you berating you with exaggerated claims about you (or outright made up ones.) Bullying is a tactic to make you fall in with the group.

Legitimate criticism is telling you that you’re being an infant, or an idiot, or a bully – if you really are being those things.

I don’t care how much Damien resented it. Maybe he really needed to pull up his socks and man up. Believe it or not some of us on being told that examine the claim and sometimes (about fifty percent of the time on this side of the screen) find that what we really need to do is pull up our socks and man up.

Telling a person that isn’t bullying.

On the other hand telling someone they’re the world’s worst person or a hater for an opinion that doesn’t involve setting fire to anyone, or beating anyone, or in fact hurting anyone or taking anyone’s stuff, just might be …. Bullying.

Because it’s a tactic designed to make the outlier fall in with what the speaker believes to be the group majority. And also, because it’s not designed to correct individual behavior but to enforce conformity with exaggerated or erroneous claims.

You don’t have to be a big hulking male to be a bully. Tiny girls can manage it with aplomb.

So if you’re screaming slurs on other people’s fundamental character (telling you to grow up is not a slur. It doesn’t mean your whole character is flawed. Calling someone a hater is a slur) and saying they should shut up or go away (or in the case of the SFWA kerfuffle, die) perhaps it’s time you looked in the mirror and realized you ARE the bully. And an ineffective one at that.

Now, pull up your socks and examine your assumptions.  We’re not going to shut up.  Learn to argue like an adult, or we’ll mock you again.*

 

*Well, I won’t.  I have a book to finish and also I tend to go all serious and barely refrain from quoting Shakespeare at you.  But Larry will.  And then you’ll declare him the world’s worst person again, and then I’ll have to share the trophy. And I’m not having chocolate milk in my shiny trophy, so you’ll just have to learn to argue like an adult.  Sorry.

 

 

 

Okay, Okay, There IS No Cake

Sorry, guys, still dealing with various things, starting with my having had to get up at six am to get some stuff done that had to be done by nine.  LONG story, and not for here.  Nothing bad, but some things just have to be done…

It also ended up taking most of the day, so even Through Fire was barely dealt with today.

I hate to do this, but I REALLY need to go back and fix Rogue Magic before I continue it.

Here’s a question for you: when I do — and it should be next week — should I change it to multiple third person?  I’m concerned the “voices” are not very different.  Also, multiple first person tends to be market death.

Anyway, I don’t want you to worry about me.  I’m fine, really.  It was just a very busy, kind of scattered day and I wasn’t even allowed to buy pants for #1 son.  (Yes, he needs them, but there’s only one thing he hates more than buying clothes, and that is spending my money.  Yes, he’d rather spend his, but he doesn’t want to do that right now.)

And, oh, yeah, Musketeer’s Inheritance is up.

 

Pimping Readers and SELF

Before the oyster on the almost complete shell does his thing, Musketeer’s Inheritance should now be up on Amazon and possibly B & N and Kobo, though they take longer.  This is the reissue of A Death In Gascony under the name it should have had.  if I’m continuing the series, it’s going to have proper names.  This is the fourth musketeer mysteries book.  I’m sorry I don’t have a link yet, as I’m posting this late at night.  I’ll look in the morning and link.  Also, An Answer from the North is now free on Amazon  and will stay through the 15th. Don’t say I never give you anything nice.  Okay, it’s an odd story, as it was written in a fugue state and came out ALMOST prose-poetry.

As this week progresses, I’ll be reloading the other musketeer’s books, with links to the next one, if that makes sense.  Also, some (minor at this point) cover changes.  I’m waiting on the printed proof of Seamstress, and Witchfinder is ALMOST ready to go up on paper.

That’s all for now. There will be chapter later today, but we have household things till early afternoon, so it might be late and/or odd.

Happy Saturday, y’all! We’ve a modest collection for you this week, with a classy dash of poetry. Also, fascinating science fiction for you fantastic fiends. Er, friends. Yes, of course that’s what I meant! *nervous laugh* So go, commit commerce, and make sure to leave reviews if you like them. If not, well, just keep it to yourself! :D As always, future entries can (and should!) be sent to my email. Happy reading!
Jason Dyck, AKA The Free Range Oyster
Code Monkey, Mercenary Wordsmith, and Watchman For Hire

Pam Uphoff

Outcasts and Gods (Wine of the Gods)

Outcasts and Gods

*First book* of the Wine of the Gods

Genetic engineering. First they cured the genetic diseases. Then they selected for the best natural traits. Then they made completely artificial genes. As the test children reached puberty, abilities that had always been lost in the random background noise were suddenly obvious. Telepathy, telekinesis. At first their creators sought to strengthen these traits. Then they began to fear them. They called them gods, and made them slaves.

Wolfgang Oldham was sixteen when the company laid claim to him. He escaped, and stayed free for three years. When he was arrested, identified and returned to the company, they trained him to be useful. They didn’t realize that they were training him to be dangerous.

Lost Boy

Lost Boy

Kids these days! What is a social worker to do with a boy who claims to be a Neanderthal running away from his father’s secret base under the Antarctic ice? His father and grandfather had accidentally changed the future, but that didn’t stop him from wanting to find a place in it.

Cyn Bagley

A Flicker of Hope: Poems Written by a Wegener’s Granulomatosis Survivor

A Flicker of Hope

In January 2003, I spent five weeks in a German hospital after my kidneys failed. It took two weeks for the doctors to diagnose me with a vasculitis disease called Wegener’s Granulomatosis. These poems express what I feel about having a rare chronic illness.

Also available from Smashwords

It Ain’t what We Don’t Know . . . by Alma Boykin

UPDATE:  Ladies, Gentlemen and potato weevils, An Answer from the North is now free on Amazon 

*Huns, Hoydens, Dragons, butterflies and Purple Unicorns, put your hands together for the erudite, the extraordinary, the one and only…. Alma Boykin!”

It Ain’t what We Don’t Know . . . – Alma Boykin

 

It’s what we know that ain’t so. Because everyone knows that. “We’ve always known that. We’ve never found [thing] mentioned in old books, and never found bits of [thing] laying around the ruins, so [thing] didn’t exist back then.” That is, in a nutshell, the history of a great deal of ancient and medieval technology, prior to the late 20th and early 21st Centuries. The trouble is, we’re only just now learning what we didn’t know, and discovering that even now, we still might not know it!

[Caution! Simplifications and generalizations ahead!]

 

For the past three weeks or so I’ve been reading about medieval and Roman technology and water supply systems, as part of the research for Fountains of Mercy and Circuits and Crises. If you need to understand how a pure gravity-flow water supply system works, how to build one, how to tunnel without modern tools and GPS, and what options you have as far as water sources, the Romans are the place to start. Yeah, the Persians and eventually the Chinese developed systems, especially for irrigation and transportation (Chinese). The water-sweep (shaduf), ground-water tap (quanat) and water-lift wheel (noria) appeared in Persia and Northern Africa as early as 800 BC(E), along with some pretty decent (as in 60 km long) aqueducts in Assyria under Sennacherib (great civil engineer, bad judgment in picking enemies). The Greeks also had aqueducts, notably in Asia Minor. But the Romans really got things organized and applied what other people had thought of, but on a grand scale.

Later people knew about the Roman water systems. It is rather hard to miss things like the Pont du Gard in France, or the Baths of Caracalla in Rome, the still-functioning aqueducts in Rome and other Italian cities, and the baths and bridges north of the Alps. Over the years a number of the systems stopped functioning because of lack of maintenance, wonton destruction, or due to earthquakes: the last functioning Roman bath in Germany only fell into disuse after an earthquake in 1356 disrupted the hot springs that fed the baths. Once the water stopped flowing, people reused bits, or changed the plumbing to match their current needs and repair abilities. But everyone knew that yes, the Romans had been great engineers. During the Renaissance and Romantic eras writers and artists sighed over the Glory That Was Rome and castigated the people who came after for not measuring up to the Roman standard.

But for all that, according to what I learned as a kid and in college, the Romans never advanced any farther because they had no machines, or very, very few, and those were just toys. Instead they relied on slave labor and animal power. Rome stalled out, grew decadent, and starved, or would have if the barbarians had not gotten there first. Or they wasted away from lead poisoning from those water pipes and couldn’t fight off the barbarians. Either way, Rome fell.

Also according to what I learned growing up, the Dark Ages were smelly, dirty, and superstitious because monks thought bathing was sinful. People used perfume to cover their BO because everyone knew that washing made you sick (and a sinner), and people ate half-rotten food (covered with spices) because they were primitives who didn’t know any better ways to preserve things. Then along came the water wheel, and water mill, and windmill, and the cam and trip-hammer, and gears and the screw and pulleys and clocks and SCIENCE! And G-d created Thomas Edison, Marconi, and Henry Ford, and it was Very Good and we moderns are so much more enlightened and wiser than those superstitious monks and imperialist Romans.*

Except those monks had running water and flush toilets. And the Romans had water wheels (three different kinds in four mountings) and water towers, and filtration systems, and knew that water should be boiled to make it safe. And they mass-produced bricks and red tableware (until the Gauls undercut them with cheap knock-offs that sold like gangbusters north of the Alps). And Roman iron technology and distribution systems made hay meadows and the invention of the iron-shod plow possible. Roman commercial bakeries used kneading machines to process grain from water-powered mills. Roman laundries used waterpower to pound and scrub the cloth. And they invented some pretty darn complex surveying and measuring tools, as we are just now (as in, the last fifteen years) discovering. Oh, and those monks with the toilets? Their drains, wash basins and baths sometimes ran into fishponds to use for growing fish for fast days, or for doing laundry, and the monasteries helped provide the municipal water systems for some towns. In Italy and France, a few water supply systems continued in use from Roman times straight through to the 21st century.

We moderns didn’t know that we didn’t know. When all you have are bits of literary sources that were saved (two works on architecture and water system management), Gibbon, and the remains of aqueducts, all you know is that Rome had aqueducts and the Medievals didn’t. Thus, since everyone knows that Rome was the pinnacle and the Dark Ages the nadir, and that Roman stuff was so good, obviously the Medievals actively rejected Rome. And the Moors brought their water systems to Iberia, because either the Romans didn’t, or the smelly Christians had torn up all the Roman stuff to use the lead in their churches. And so people forgot about Roman stuff, and had to reinvent everything, so that it was only by the late 1700s or even mid 1800s that civilization had returned to the Roman levels. Because that’s what we had from the text sources and from later European commentators.

Then archaeology happened, and a touch of anthropology, and people really digging deep into archives, looking at monastic papers. And more than just the monastic chronicles and saints’ lives, but other day-to-day stuff that had been skipped over. Things like bills for plumbing work, and plaints about frozen pipes, and Brother James accidently dropped his scapular in the privy and clogged the outflow. And law suits over pipe and aqueduct right-of-way. At the same time, archaeologists began digging into things that had been skipped before, or that had been mis-interpreted, or simply unavailable for various reasons and found that, wow, Romans had gristmills. Lots of them, all over the place, using side-mounted wheels, as well as the more familiar overshot and undershot wheels. And more underground aqueducts than previously thought, and better agricultural practices than people had guessed. Roman livestock was larger and healthier than medieval stock, for example, or so the bones and sales records suggest. Romans raised deer in commercial deer farms to sell as venison. And they ran out of fuel in the Mediterranean because they’d pretty much deforested the basin, leading to a shift in where pottery and metal work were done.

All of a sudden we’re discovering that what we knew wasn’t true. Which raises all sorts of interesting questions about why Romans did or didn’t do certain things, how they could have slavery and mechanized manufacturing side-by-side, and why didn’t more places have running water? Turns out that some of those Moorish water systems in Iberia were Roman. And that Medieval people boiled their water, or brewed with it, because they knew that drinking from cisterns or from downstream of town tended to make your tummy very unhappy. Just like the Romans did. No one saved Roman engineering manuals, so we don’t have them, but given the standardization of certain practices from Iberia and Britain to Galicia in Asia Minor, the odds are pretty good that they had “Aqueducts and Plumbing for Dummies” or “Building Mills the Roman Way.”

In the 1950s we didn’t know because we couldn’t know. Archaeological technology had not reached the stage where we could identify the remains of the wooden workings of mills or of wooden pipelines. The monastic archives had not been opened, and people had not sifted through all the minutia to find the tiny bits of daily life that reveal big things about medieval water and sewage systems. Now, we can know, and it knocks over some long-held and cherished ideas about the past and the people who lived them. We’d say that the Romans wasted water because their systems ran 24/7. They’d say, “Of course we’re running constantly. How else can we keep pressures under control and the mains flushed and open? Blowing the pipes apart is what’s wasteful.”

What else might we know that ain’t so?

 

*Setting aside the eeeevil environmental damage started by the Romans and then capped off by modern environmental sinners. In which case the Romans were the snakes in the garden, offering Eve a flush toilet and a hot bath.

How The Writer IS

Okay — so I figured it was time for another update on this weird thing that is the life of a writer.  I’ll admit part of this is because I’m not in the mood to do much or deep thinking.

It’s been an interesting week.

As you know, I brought Witchfinder out this week.  I also put a link to it in the sidebar after one of you nagged me enough — you know who you are.  And, oh, thanks.

Of course, under the course of indie publishing can never run smoothly, so I have not yet uploaded the files for the book version of Witchfinder.  I’m hoping to do it tomorrow morning, before starting work on Through Fire.

I’ve figured out what is wrong with Through Fire — no.  That’s not exactly right.  I found out what was wrong with Through Fire two weeks ago, and I know exactly where it’s going.  The block broke too.  It wasn’t block, apparently, but the final recuperation from whatever last year was (a breakdown seat to music?  No, wait, there was no music.)  It seems — she says in some surprise — that when I run myself down tot he point that I’m getting continually sick, I can’t write, or at least I can but there’s no emotion in it.

Another point of problem with Through Fire was that in chapter three the viewpoint character has … well, a conference with Lucius.  I knew Lucius needed to be an outright b*stard to her, and a manipulative one at that, but after a full book spent in his head and knowing his motives, this was really hard.

Never mind.  that’s been conquered, and all of the beginning has been rewritten, and I know exactly how and where this book is going to go.

However, writing it is still being way too hard.  And I figured out why.  My issue is that I’m between steps again.  How do I put this?  Visualize writing as a staircase.  When you’re between steps, you can see the step below and everything that’s wrong with it (has no one dusted this staircase?  And what’s that cat fur?) but you can’t see the step above, yet, and you’re feeling tentatively for it with your foot, so… it’s an adventure.

But i is getting done.

And in my spare time, because you know what the last few years have been job-insecurity wise (for once not for me) I’m trying to get as much of my back list up there as humanly possible.

Orphan kittens is waiting to be published.  It will probably wait till I finish all three books I want to send to Baen ASAP.

A Death in Gascony to be republished under its original title of The Musketeer’s Inheritance, is edited and in my hands, but I haven’t had the two hours to go over it.  Hopefully I send Through Fire to Toni by Monday and then I do that.  (Or might be Wednesday, because the final typo hunt always takes a couple of days longer than expected.)

So… Where is the writer?

Well… Witchfinder has sold, to date 225 copies.  Not amazing, but we’ll see how it does going forward.  I’ve always been aware the initial push would wear itself out, and then as people read it and word of mouth (and some reviews — if you have a blog and want to review it, I’ll send you a clean copy!) hits, the sales will pick up again.  I’d very much like to see 1k copies in a month among other things because it would make this moving project much easier.  But of course, I have no way to force that.

Oh, wait, there’s a way to goose it — maybe — and tomorrow I’ll have An Answer From The North for free on Amazon.  When it hits I’ll link here, so ya’ll can get it if you wish.

Of course, I set it to go for free, and then looked at the cover.  Tore my hair.  Made another cover.  Then fixed the interior.

When number one son comes on vacation, I’m going to teach him the publishing routine and programs, so he can replace the horrible covers of my early short stories.  It’s an endeavor that really doesn’t need my time spent on it, but… should still be done.

Again, though, a free story doesn’t guarantee sales for other things (though for me, at least, it usually works that way) but it’s worth trying.

And I’m working on Through Fire while Darkship Revenge tries to write itself in my head.

So, I’m very busy, which is my favored state — as you guys probably know.

Now, if I can manage to dig out from the accumulated pile of work from last year, maybe I can manage “busy but sane.”

It’s something to shot for.

One way or another, you guys get to watch it in real time.  If I start going nuts, I’ll yell for you to throw me a rope.

Let me know which way you’ll pull ;)

Stand UP

No, I don’t care if you are counted or not. This is not about voting, or the more open forms of citizenship – it’s just about not shutting up.

My parents, of course, would have it that it’s not that difficult for me to not shut up. It’s sort of what comes naturally. I used to go on continuously, about something or another, even if another was something I read. I’m better now.

But the truth is that for over ten years, I wasn’t talking. Or at least I wasn’t saying anything about anything that was important to me.

We’ve talked about it before, and to long time readers of the blog, it’s certainly no news that for years I kept my mouth shut for fear that if my political opinions leaked to the ears of my New York publishers, my career would be most sincerely dead.

It would be fatuous to assume I was wrong, too. In multiple conversations with various editors, I both heard libertarians referred to as evil people (not just wrong, but evil) and got told about authors who were not bought because “I think his politics were more suited to Baen. Just a feeling.” (Yes, that is a direct quote from an editor I worked with.)

At the same time, I was several times encouraged to amp up the social message. That I couldn’t do. In at least three cases I balked it, and yep, I paid for it with my career every time. But to do it, I’d need to actively support evil. And that I could not do.

It took me longer to realize I was passively supporting evil. That by staying quiet, by not making waves, I not only allowed people to presume things about me that weren’t true (I don’t know how many of them did. Clearly not enough to make me a protected darling.) But the public in general would assume it. And that was bad enough because it enforced a totalitarian presumption of uniformity of opinion. The famous “All good people think this way.”

This article is about the Eich affair.  Or at least the Eich affair was the precipitating incident for the article from the Federalist site. For those of you not acquainted with it, (You so very lucky bastages) this is where the CEO of Mozilla got hounded from his job not because he publically expressed opinions about gay unions but because he privately gave money to prop 8 years ago. (That it was leaked at all, is something else and one that sickens me.)

The article quotes extensively from Vaclav Havel on the “post totalitarian” state — the state we live in.

To explain how dissent works, Havel introduced the manager of a hypothetical fruit-and-vegetable shop who places in his window, among the onions and carrots, the slogan: “Workers of the world, unite!” He’s not actually enthusiastic about the sign’s message. It’s just one of the things that people in a post-totalitarian system do even if they “never think about” what it means. He does it because everyone does it. It’s what you do to get along in life and live “in harmony with society.” (For our purposes, you can imagine that slogan is a red equal sign that you put up on your Facebook page.)

The subtext of the grocer’s sign is “I do what I must do. I behave in the manner expected of me.” It protects him from supervisors above and informants below.

Havel is skeptical of ideology. He says that dictatorships can just use raw power, but “the more complex the mechanisms of power become, the larger and more stratified the society they embrace, and the longer they have operated historically … the greater the importance attached to the ideological excuse.”  We don’t have a dictatorship, obviously, but we do have complex mechanisms of power and larger and more stratified society.

In any case, individuals need not believe the lies of an ideology so much as behave as though they do, or at least tolerate them in silence or get along with those who work with them. “For by this very fact, individuals confirm the system, fulfill the system, make the system, are the system,” Havel says.

As most of you know, I’m a supporter of gay marriage. The reasons for it are complex, but mostly it boils down to the idea that if they can marry we won. We co-opt them into the bourgeoisie.

This doesn’t mean I’m at all divided in l’affaire Eich. What happened was repugnant and sickening. It was a discovery of someone’s private opinion and a hounding him for thought crime. (I will add that my gay friends are just as sickened. Of course, they are libertarians. And some of them are anti-gay-marriage for the same reason people here have mentioned: fear of having the ceremonies forced on the churches.)

I’ve heard a lot of stuff about how this means that gays should go back in the closet or other nonsense – but that will solve nothing.
You see, the issue is not gays. The issue is also not income inequality. The issue is not “War on women.” All of these are wedges the militant Marxists use to divide society and make causes both ubiquitous and repulsive to the rest of us. They both engage minorities to their side with “see, we protect you” and disgust the rest of us with the endless hounding of anyone opposed AND THEN they take the backlash and use it to tell minorities “you need us. They hate you.”

That this is bullshit doesn’t stop it from being remarkably effective. If it weren’t, the crazy gambit of “binders full of women” would not have worked, particularly as no one can precisely say what in hell that was supposed to mean or why it was supposed to be offensive.

And btw, as a fifty one year old woman, whose hormonal treatment is a form of the birth control pill (and it will tell you something about my system that I’m probably more likely to conceive while on it – though fortunately at my age that’s also not likely. Fortunately not because I wouldn’t welcome another child, but because I shudder at what my system would do to a pregnancy) I’m getting SO tired of everyone acting like, you know, if the pharmacy mentions what they’re giving me, the mobs of anti-birth control people will kill me, right there in the grocery store.

This b*llsh*t never happened before the stupid election campaign gambit about how Republicans wanted to ban contraceptives (a complete and bald faced lie.) BUT now my doctor and my pharmacist both whisper about that prescription and play idiotic games with my husband, who is signed in for ALL my privacy stuff. (As is older son, in case husband isn’t home and I crash into a semi.) We get the “Do you know what she’s taking? Can you tell us the name?” (No, he can’t. It’s a strange name, because it’s a form of pill only used for this type of issues.) So he has to call me at home and ask the name, and I have to find the old package, all so he can pick it up. He’s in all my disclosure forms. We’ve been married for thirty years. But the Marxists have this myth that hey, someone is going to pound me if they know I’m taking the pill.

In the same way the Marxist myths about gayness make me want to hit something. Or someone. For instance, there is the ubiquitous “gay bashing” which mostly happens in movies and tv shows. Oh, sure, gay guys can get beaten. If they go to a highly ethnic area in big cities. BUT that is never how shows, movies, books, or TV portrays it. Because that’s not part of the Marxist narrative.

And for the record I get pretty d*mn tired of the stupid equal sign, because it’s used INSTEAD of thought. If you’re going to support gay marriage, you should do it with open eyes, aware of the difficulties, aware of the issues it’s going to cause, including the fact some people will be shocked that legalization doesn’t mean mommy and dad now have to APPROVE. (Which a friend of mine says is why most gays want gay marriage.)

I LOATHE the equal sign, the same way I loathe stupid pat sayings like “Female shouldn’t be a pre-existing condition.” I loathe them because they mean nothing, really once you dig into them. They’re just a quack noise that says “I’m going with the opinion I perceive the cool kids to have.”

It’s the same reason I despise the intrusion of feminist issues into historical fiction. Hang it all, not everyone in the Victorian era was a suffragette or discontented with her lot. If they were, it would have changed much earlier. (In fact in women oppressing regimes, as in most of the third world, women are usually the enforcers of status quo.)

Making your main character a feminist is just a “look at me, look at me, look how enlightened I am.”

You can always tell in which direction the herd thinks it is moving, because people say things like “Grandma was a housewife with five kids, but now I can be a lesbian.” You never hear “Grandma was a lesbian, who had this one kid before joining a commune, but now I’m a housewife with five kids and perfectly happy.” I bet you there are as many of one as of the other (yes, there were communes in the early twentieth. And some of them were really odd sexually.) BUT you don’t hear it worn as a badge. People with that history might joke about it with friends, but they don’t blazon it forth as a “look at me, I fit. I’m moving in the right direction.”

All of this is herd behavior. Naturally humans want to fit in. (Well, some of us have given it up, right?) Outliers are punished, as they are in any social species. This is instinctive.

Except that Marxists or, as in the article quoted above, the “post totalitarian state” exploits that instinct. They want you to at the very least pretend to belong. Because every time you pretend, you lend credence to their lies. When you shut up, it allows them to say that all good/smart/bright/minority/purple/dinosaur people agree with them. And those in the crowd who disagree look and see what seems to be a united front and assume they MUST be wrong. After all, all these people agree…

That more than the threat of force makes cowards of strong and opinionated people. And that – that must not be allowed to continue.

It must not be allowed to continue because we know from history that even a majority of the good/smart/minority/cool people can be disastrously wrong. In fact, the history of manking is a stumbling from idea to idea, forever approximating truth, but never actually getting it.

There was a time when it was believed – to quote Pratchett – that a good stink was the only protection against illness. (Yes, I know not everywhere and not absolutely, but this is a metaphor for a type of wrong headed thinking, and I can’t think of another one just now. Don’t kill me.) This was, of course, wrong since sanitation, soap and regular baths have resulted in amazing decreases in mortality.

However, if people had said “everyone agrees, the debate is closed” and hounded out of debate anyone who disagreed, those weirdos who were into washing and soap and stuff, would never have got a chance.

It takes unmitigated hubris to believe that after centuries and centuries our time NOW has it absolutely right – that the best way to run a society is the way our progressives believe it should be run, and that therefore anyone who disagrees can not be motivated by pure reasoning or logic, or even a desire to protect someone.

The reason for that unmitigated hubris is mass media, and the uniform leftist grip on it. Insensibly, over the decades of the twentieth century, mass media and mass entertainment, and even books, moved more and more left – because the left captured gate keeper positions and they DO discriminate according to opinion. In their book you can only disagree if you’re evil, and would you hire/publish/produce an evil person – and no one dared speak, so everyone thought that was the way to be.

Now they see their goal – which is seizing society and making the herd obey them, NOT in case you were wondering women’s rights or gay rights, or purple unicorn rights, those are just the excuse they use – within reach, and they intend to seize it. Which is why they’re expanding their mau-mauing, scolding and general fit throwing. Hence Eich, the madness in SF, the madness in the gaming community and the general unpleasantness in society.

Which brings us back to “Stand up and be heard.” The counted doesn’t matter. One of us is enough to let a hundred people in the shadows know “yes, I’m not alone.” Imagine how much it would be if all of us came out of the shadows.

Yes, they’ll attack you. This is how I earned my world’s worst person trophy (half shares with Kate.) BUT that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because even as they attack you, they’re calling attention to the fact you exist.

Stand up. I’m here to tell you it feels better than lying down and being assumed to be part of the herd.

I know many of you have jobs and obligations that don’t allow you to stand up. I was there. But I commented on line under a thinly veiled identity. I was still speaking up. Not as powerfully as I am now, but speaking.

Don’t let them assume they’re dealing with a herd. We’re a pack. Don’t let them corral you. Talk back. Don’t apologize.

This is why I said yesterday that I think people should talk even if I disagree with them. People should talk, in particular, if they’re going against consensus. PUSH BACK.

In a way you’re saving them from themselves. They’re pushing for various idiotic things, because they think they’ve won.

But more importantly, you’re saving yourself and your children from living in a society where you have to go along to get along, and where you’re not allowed your own thoughts. Where even someone like me, who supports gay marriage, can be pilloried for saying “The equal sign is a stupid thing because gay marriage would never be “equal” as such. Also, it was promoted – true – by a communist front group.” And “If we gave the Marxists everything they want tomorrow, they’d just come back with more outrageous demands, because the end goal is to have the herd obey. In unison. And without back talk.”

Don’t give it to them. Listen to me.

If you can at all, in the measure you can, in small ways and big, stand up, talk back, argue. There is no consensus that is perfectly resolved in anything. Our society is not the end all and be all of history. There is no end of History, no perfect society. Marx was a weird man who smelled, a little hairy inkstained wretch who lived on the kindness of others. His perfect vision was more German mysticism than any science known to man.

We’re not standing athwart history saying “Stop.” History doesn’t run in any one direction. We’re standing in front the sniveling Marxists saying “Very funny. Now stop whining and listen to what I think. I have a rolled up newspaper, and it’s time you grew up.”

Stand up. Time to lie down and enough, once you’re in the grave.

 

Of Babies, Bathwater, and Blind People.

I always thought that the expression about throwing out the baby with the bath water was silly. I mean, who doesn’t know the difference between slightly soapy liquid and small human? Unless, of course, every adult involved in this is blind and lacks the sense of touch.

Now I’m not so sure, because I see people all around me do it. They mix up baby and bath water, and confuse signs of health and signs of decadence, and generally take the opportunity to bewail the current state of affairs as a sign of terrible things to come, and evil days ahead. And generally make me want to get my broomstick and crack some heads.

Look, I’m not going to say we’re in the best situation possible. I don’t lie to my friends. (I almost typed that fiends, which also applies: Sarah’s Fiends or Shall We Toss Out Baby is a title for a great Victorian novel.)

I have in the past – on this very blog – explained to people the mess we’re in. From the fiat currency in which no one with half a brain can put any faith at all, to the miserable state of underemployment, to the fact that most of us keep retrenching and still coming up short on money.

So, the picture is not rosy. For any other country I’d say it’s impossible. But we’re not any other country. We’re Americans. We fix things. We do things. We built new things. And we have enough of an history of consistently pulling rabbits out of the hat (ours or someone else’s) that I expect we’ll do it once again. Maybe G-d does love children, drunkards and the United States of America. Or maybe we just aren’t good at laying down and dying. Who knows?

What I know is that I’m hearing bewailed as signs of our decadence (supposed. I think rumors of our decadence, like rumors of our death, are grossly exaggerated) aren’t.

I’ll start by explaining: I was raised in a very traditional society. The ah… state capitalism system I was born under (I’m not using “fascist” simply because the regime by itself was neither anti-Semitic nor allied with the Axis and if it stayed neutral in world war two it was more penury and the fact that Spain could have marched in any minute. But State Capitalist it was. Say like China today, if a little less ruthless) was a very traditional society. Very. Like most societies ruled from above by people who think of themselves as do-gooders, it behooved everyone to fit in as much as they could. It wasn’t a good idea, for instance, to shout out bad things about the politicians in charge or the country, or the countries history. And if you were a foreigner, it wasn’t safe to tell people how poor they were compared to the rest of the world. At any rate we already knew it.

There were certain advantages to the situation – no, I’m not actually joking. I’m not defending the regime either – in the sense that it almost stopped innovation, and that things were comfy and familiar. My childhood was better than my mother’s in that we had antibiotics and vaccines, and most of my generation didn’t die. (Though a substantial number did in one epidemic.)

Oh, we were poor as Job and there were no imported luxuries because things like coke were strictly forbidden (in fact the only – very expensive – soft drink I remember from childhood was orange soda. I got it as a treat once a month or so in summer. With peanuts.) And people were so destitute they stole clothes from the line. Also, people would unravel an old sweater, re-dye the wool and knit a “new” sweater.

But we also all lived more or less at the same level. And there were no surprises. No one suddenly struck it rich. No one became poor overnight.

When that changed (and the people who came in were another flavor of socialist but that’s a long story) people became panicky and started talking about things like it was the end of the world.

And I don’t mean political stuff, which sometimes was almost the end of the world, but society stuff. As in, “We now have coke in stores. This is decadence and misery.” Yeah. Because for some reason in humans’ heads the trigger for “Run and hide” is close to the trigger for “things are changing and I have to adapt to new things.”

The reason is probably because when everything changed and our ancestors were barely human, running and hiding was the only sensible thing. Right?

New tribe over the ridge? Run and hide. Earthquake? Run and hide. River dried out? Run and hide.

Unfortunately this doesn’t help in the current state of affairs.

Again, I’m not saying we don’t have reasons to worry. We have tons of reasons to worry. But I’d bet you dollars to doughnuts that most of the free-floating anxiety you feel right now has more to do with the fact that things are changing really fast.

Used to be you could look ahead and sort of predict where you’d be in five/ten years. And I don’t mean the fact none of us knows where he/she will be because, well, we don’t know how to survive in this economy just now. I mean…

Take my profession. In ten years, I have no idea what it will look like, or what things I’ll be doing. Take the launch of Witchfinder. It is not something I’d have even THOUGHT of ten years ago. Or five. Three, perhaps. Barely.

Things change. Fast. This scares us and we mumble of decadence and disorder.

Then there’s yeah, our education is for sh*t right now, partly intentional I’m sure on the part of education luminaries taught by Ayers. But that’s neither here nor there. Over the next ten years, people will find new ways of learning what they know. People are good at adapting. We’ll lose some percentage, but there’s no perfect system. We always lose some percentage. Right now, most of what school teaches is wrong, and do we want them better at teaching wrong things.

But of course what we get is “those illiterate kids! It’s the end of the world.”

And then there Americans’ acceptance of the oddball, the weird, the frankly strange. We have it, you know. All of us.

Look, that was the first thing I noticed when I came here, and remember I was in the North East which is a bastion of conformity, compared to the rest of us.

Anywhere else in the world, an adult with an accent is not just an oddity; he or she is someone to be shunned.

And I don’t know if it’s Portugal’s totalitarian heritage, or just a cultural thing, but I used to agonize about wearing the “wrong” length skirt. Because people care that you wear that year’s fashions and look like everyone else.

My first experience in the states reveled in oddities. The high school students who dressed (clearly) in their grandparents’ clothes. The kids who were pursuing a different course of study. The young people very serious about an artistic vocation and pursuing it without waiting the blessing of their elders.

All these were special to me, as were joke sayings on the teacher’s walls, or the fact everyone was so approachable.

To me it was like coming home. When my mom visited years later, she thought it was the end of the world and “anarchy.”

What I’m trying to say is this: the people – particularly on the right – who think the fifties were the last time this country was healthy should consider the regime then in many ways resembled that which I was born under: it was more conformist, more stultifying than what we have now. Not stultifying enough, though, to keep tech from progressing and when tech changes, society eventually changes. Not immediately, but like the snow flakes accumulating till there’s an avalanche. And when the avalanche hits, that’s when people think it’s the end of the world.

While the end of the world is more likely to come to a “stable” and “top down” regime.

It’s not that diversity is our strength so much – certainly not diversity of skin color which means nothing. It’s that our toleration for the odd allows us to import Odds from all over the world. And Odds, in the way of outliers everywhere, are often the most productive (and the least productive – sometimes the same person – people in the universe.)

Decadence might yet come to America, but it won’t be in the form of wild clothes, or people of different opinions (or sexual preferences, or…) not being afraid to be themselves. That’s rather a sign that we’re not decadent. (Those who have different opinions being persecuted is not so much a sign of people’s oddities or sexual preferences hanging out, it’s a sign of way too many Marxists around. Honestly, it’s high time someone made a spray called Marx Be Gone.)

It’s countries who are dying who do stupid things like pass restrictive laws on private behavior, to seem strong. Russia is doing this because it is dying and a society under stress can’t afford anyone who acts odd, at all. I’m not saying the wounded bear is negligible or that it won’t take a good chunk of civilization down with it. I’m saying that’s not a healthy civilization: birth rate, age at death, and the ever-present flight of women – all speak the dying bear.

We don’t need that. That would be throwing the baby out with the bath water. Next thing you know, as in Iran, we’d be policing haircuts, clothes, and making sure women are REALLY covered up. No, thanks. I’ll pass.

What I first fell in love with, in America, was the fact people could laugh – even at themselves – and that even odd ducks were accepted.

I’m an odd duck who can pass. (Not odd that way. But odd in this SF/F way we have.) But not having to pass frees energies for writing and other world.

And writing, btw, it would be really hard in Portugal, because who do I think I am? Here I think I’m me, and write me, and people buy it. And it’s good.

Which brings me to: don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. I don’t want to go back to the fifties and you know neither do you. The fifties the lamenters would like to go back to, never existed, anyway. They’re an artifact of looking back. In the fifties, with the kids all having automobiles and the break up of the extended family and the move to the suburbs – you know the world was falling apart and we were decadent.

We always are. And yet, we always remain standing while other countries fall. Because we reinvent ourselves, and, at the last minute, grab the baby of technological innovation and tolerance for the odd (and the Odd) and throw out the bathwater of division, forced conformity and dictation from above in all its forms.

Let’s do it again.