*I was going to write about how you shouldn’t be depressed at our appalling candidates, because they’re all appalling, and we ain’t dead yet, then I remembered I had written about it before. Isn’t that lucky? I’m working on Darkship Revenge and rather not take my head out of fiction just now.- SAH*
We Aren’t (Even) Mostly Dead – A Blast From the Past from March 2013
I am, by nature, a depressive. This means that left to its own devices, what passes for my mind (it’s not much of one, but it suits my simple purposes) automatically picks out the darker tones of a painting, the darker notes of a melody, the worst possible signs in the surroundings.
You could blame it on my infant sleep being rocked to Fados, G-d’s way of keeping Portuguese from being irrationally exuberant (He has Brazilians for that) but there are signs this is innate and hereditary. Some studies have shown it, and besides depression seems to run in dad’s maternal side.
I am aware of this, though, and I compensate. It’s like when your car’s alignment is slightly off, and “pulls” to one side and you know it, you can compensate and still drive fine. However, like the car pulling, it still trends a bit to that side, and ends up having to be given a sharp pull now and then. So, most of the time I trend pessimistic, with occasional corrections that come with the tone of a two by four to the back of the head.
But even in the corrections… well, let’s put it this way – I’m lucky if I reach “normal.” I’m the person who starts worrying about being broke when the reserve account dips below two month’s wages. I’m the person who worries about a potential job loss six months ahead of time (unfortunately this time probably right.) I’m the person who worries about the potential laydown on a book the day I deliver it. I worry about the kids’ finals the day they enroll (even for the kid who tests well, I become terrified he will have a bad day. Even though in 21 years it’s only happened once.) And I think this is the first time in my career – partly because I’ve cut back to Baen and Indie – that I don’t feel like I’m running scared and standing at the edge of an abyss, which – of course – makes me feel like everything is about to go wrong, and makes me run scared again.
Taking that into account I wanted to let you know that even I – and I “pull” depressive most of the time – don’t think that the USA is dead. Or lost. Or hopeless. Hell, we aren’t even close.
I don’t remember which Republican it was during the campaign (it might very well have been Romney) who was pounded by the right for saying that the fundamentals of the country were all right.
I’m not sure what he (whoever he was) meant, and of course if by fundamentals he meant the structures, the regulations and the convoluted mess of payola by the government we got ourselves into, he was wrong.
But if he was talking about the fundamental fundamentals, he was okay. The American people are all right.
Yes, I know – I can hear you – shouting “Sarah, how can you say that?” And “Sarah, do you read what you wrote two days ago? Can’t you see our school system is collapsing? How can we survive that? How can we survive massive voter fraud? How can we survive regulations that keep us starved of energy?”
Sometimes… you need a collapse. If you’re having a fever dream, sometimes you need to fall off the bed and wake up.
No, I’m not ADVOCATING for a collapse, certainly not in the sense that both communists and large L Libertarians want it because both believe their preferred form of government will arise “spontaneously” out of it.
Heck, I don’t even believe my preferred form of government will arise spontaneously under ANY circumstances. Within that too, I don’t even believe in one form of government in all circumstances, or everywhere, or in every association of humans. For instance, it might interest you to know that this household is a dictatorship. My husband and I are joint dictators, each with absolute power over SOME areas of the household. (Though in a conflict of power and by mutual agreement, he wins, since I – voluntarily – promised to obey him in our wedding ceremony. I did this because I know myself, and that was the only thing that would make me knuckle under. And as for the necessity of knuckling under, in an emergency or an extreme situation, having SOMEONE make a decision is better than having two people argue over it. No matter how bad the decision. That vow of obedience saved my life in the one circumstance it was called up.)
It might also interest you to know that in Portugal I voted Monarchist. Now, look, I don’t need you to tell me: the chances of Portugal restoring monarchy are about as high as of the US going pure Libertarian.
It was a quixotic vote, partly motivated by the fact that at the time the “right wing” by which you should read “not explicitly militant socialist” parties managed to hit me wrong on both fronts, economic and social. They wanted to legislate Catholic rules of conduct, and they wanted to … well… legislate liberation theology in the form of soft socialism, too. It was in fact like very young people here voting Libertarian because they don’t want to sully themselves and/or because they think we’re doomed either way otherwise.
However, I wouldn’t vote monarchist HERE, not even as a protest vote. That is because the scale of the country, the fractured cultural nature of the states (if you think CA and CO are the same, even with us being part Californicated, you’ve never lived in both; and I’ve experienced greater culture shock visiting my inlaws in Ohio than visiting my family in Portugal.) but also because the United States is not FUNDAMENTALLY monarchist. (No more than humanity is fundamentally monarchist.)
Portugal is a very odd country, culturally, both more law abiding than the US in some things, and incredibly more lawless in others. It comes in part from a fractured European identity. Being a very small country, it develops crushes on bigger/more important ones, and it hasn’t yet decided if it wants to be France or Germany when it grows up. (England seems to be somewhat out of style as a model.) It swerves between a passion for order and the certainty it can’t obtain it. In theory Portuguese police are respected, for instance. In fact, you don’t call them to the scene of an accident, because whoever pays the most graft is considered the aggrieved party. In the same way, Portuguese heartily back laws, but each individual has a serene certainty the laws and regulations don’t apply to them. (Even small ones, like what direction you should drive on the highway.) It was the first country in Europe to forbid child labor and most of my generation in the village was taken out of school at ten to work in the textile mills.
It was my understanding of the country when I lived there – and I still feel that way, but I’m now a foreigner so my opinion is not really valid – that the only type of authority Portuguese were likely to recognize was tribal/familial. So, a king fit that slot and might at least get the police to be a little cleaner.
Culture, you see, is a … tricky thing. You’re going to tell me the culture in the US has changed too much. We have too many immigrants. We’re not teaching the kids the fundamentals of what it is to be American we—
Respectfully: bullsh*t. I know it’s bullsh*t at a gut level, because my depressive self agrees with you, and my depressive self has a 100% wrong record. (Ask my husband how often my career has been going to “for sure going to end.” Yes, I’ve been right about his losing a job sometimes, but not about living under the bridge, in a box. Okay, we came close twice, but hey, didn’t hit it.) Another reason I know it’s bullsh*t is the Times headline about Obama’s second inaugural “fundamentally transforming America forever.” (Oh, yeah, you and whose army, bucko?) Which given the Times Magazine record for being right, makes me fully assured.
But the real reason I know it’s right is that I live here.
Yes, our education is beyond screwed up. BUT here’s the thing, fundamentally they’re not transforming anything. Fundamentally, the US is descended from or populated by people who said “I can’t take this anymore” and moved. That is a completely different stock from those who stayed.
Even the Mexican immigrants who are simply walking over the border, are different from the ones who stay. (In fact, our economy has caused a wave of returning immigrants who ARE fundamentally transforming Mexico – and good for them.)
I don’t think most Americans – or most colonials in general – FULLY realize how different. The tendency of humans is to clan: to stay near family and childhood friends. It’s also territorial. You cleave to familiar landscapes. The only way to get masses of people to move, normally, is famine or war.
Most of us and most of our ancestors (with exceptions) moved long before it got to that point. That it wasn’t to that point is attested to by the fact that most of our/our ancestors’ relatives stayed behind.
I come from a country of immigrants. I know the difference. My own family – grandma stayed, granddad spent his entire working life abroad and only came back because grandma refused to move – splits half and half into those who leave and those who stay.
Those who leave are the ones who are willing to take responsibility for their own well being, their own future. They are naturally more of the striver type. They “contrive.” And they are less likely to obey rules (which in Portugal, means they’re frighteningly unhinged. Yes, I’m one who left. What of it?) But when they break rules, it tends to be purposeful and in the service of improving their own and the conditions of those who depend on them.
That is where we come from and who we are, and this is why we are so often called “ungovernable.” It is also the only thing that explains stuff like my colleagues who are to the left of Lenin everywhere BUT their private life, where they are entrepreneurs who minimize their taxes and strive to make the most possible money. Or the fact that we are DIY capital of the world. (My parents are still very puzzled I can paint and refinish stuff and don’t call in “experts.”) Or that we’re still functioning despite our incredibly screwed up institutions.
I’ve said before and I’ll say again – NONE of our large institutions, public or private is working. What is happening in the publishing industry is a mirror of everything else, from large corporations to the government, to our teaching.
Part of this is (probably) intentional in that all of the commanding heights of power were taken by the hard left over the last sixty years or so. (Some were taken later.) As was the culture which made hard left the “accepted opinions to have.” That accounts for none of them functioning. But what makes their failure more obvious is that the technology is “fundamentally transforming America” and the world, in ways they didn’t anticipate, and can’t figure out how to fight.
Look, I’ll be honest. If they’d managed this complete a control of press, government and every cultural and financial institution thirty years ago, they’d have succeeded in holding it for fifty years or so (or forty, in their crowing after the election!)
But it’s not thirty years ago. When I tell us to build under, I’m only telling us to continue what tech and the American spirit has already started. When the news got to the point that people were fleeing it in droves, blogs were there. (No. This is not universal. I have yet to find a Portuguese equivalent to Instapundit. The respect for credentials, you know?)
In Greece, in Spain, in Portugal, the people are demonstrating for more benes. Here we’re demonstrating to be left alone. (For those abroad, the tea parties were not racist – they were economic. In fact, in my local ones the majority race was Hispanic, as should be, given the composition of the electorate. In the same way the Occupy Wall Street movement was not grassroots. To the extent it wasn’t paid for – wanna bet? – it was formed by the children of the upper class.)
When the publishing industry got THAT bad, people found ways to escape. Yes, the means were at hand, but the impetus came from how closed shop and ideologically driven the industry had gotten, and how it served neither writers nor readers anymore. Because logically, yeah, writers would prefer not to have to worry about all that icky marketing stuff. BUT once they were doing it because their traditional publishers weren’t, well… the step was small.
I told you before and I tell you again, education is on the way there. I sympathize with my friend Dave Freer’s statements about how a country should guarantee education for all and provide it free or easy or…
However, right now our country isn’t doing that. Saying that to end the Federal Education programs is to make sure some kids go without adequate education simply means you don’t know that schools in America have become. Even if you consider sort-of-reading and reciting shibboleths by rote adequate education, places like Chicago, Detroit, and most other big cities are failing spectacularly at that PARTICULARLY for those kids at risk. Right now, abolishing national education might result in a net gain. Oh, sure the kids with completely DISCONNECTED parents might never learn to read or write enough to survive in the world, but the truth is they’re not learning that now either.
AT LEAST it would release the kids (mostly minority, mostly poor) whose parents are desperately trying to put them in private/charter/other programs and who are being held captive in the horrible schools.
Yes, to an extent I agree with Dave that we should have something available and at least strong encouragement for the kids from the least promising backgrounds to learn the basics. We don’t have that now. And we’ll never have it in the sense Dave sees it – I know what he’s seeing, because I know about the Great British Education project that extended halfway across the world and is responsible for India’s current flourishing.
It’s impossible in the US due to the NATURE of the people in the US. It might seem odd to say that the States are more different than Great Britain and India in the nineteenth century. It would also be wrong. We have a common language and a lot of similar ways of living, and our citizens move between states (even if some of us would like a moratorium on Californians. Any minute now, please?) BUT we’re more different where it counts – in how we view the future and the aims of education. And in holding on rather stubbornly to our differences.
My husband studied history in Maryland (his family having moved there from Connecticut when he was two) through fourth grade. When his family moved to Ohio he had to re-study history, because he’d learned it in “the south” and their version was different, Ohio said.
We don’t all believe alike, so having a system that molds everyone to a common ground (beyond reading, writing and arithmetic) isn’t going to happen. It just isn’t. It’s not happening now.
Yes, if you throw education to local control and a patchwork of charters, religious schools, homeschooling, charity schools and what have you, you will have kids who don’t learn at all. And? This is different from what is now happening, why?
But can we provide a system-of-last resort the kids are supposed to attend if they don’t attend anything else? Probably. It will be unholy expensive, (but think of what we’ll save on the other kids) not very efficient and something to be avoided at all costs, but probably better than what we have now.
However – however – even with our utterly failing system, I’m not despairing of our youth. For the same reason that even with our failing news, I’m not despairing of knowing what’s going on.
Americans are strivers. We contrive.
I’ve already seen this – particularly with boys – with friends’ kids. They come out of school appallingly educated. And then they learn. Now, they might learn only in their area of interest or they might learn strange stuff, but once the kids realize they need to know something to get somewhere, they set about to learn it.
It’s probably a shock to you but our system of libraries was unique to the US. I went nuts on it, when I was first here: not just the free books, but SERIOUS books on the shelves. Why, you could learn anything! NOWHERE else in the world was it thought necessary to provide specialized history books for public consumption, free of charge AND without having to prove you could understand it/had the prerequisites to understand it. The last is the most telling.
Yes, I know of the state of the libraries. But part of the reason for that now, is that the net has taken over. People CAN use the net to surf for porn and watch videos of kittens. All of us do some of the later. (Hey, keep your hands off my videos of surprised kittens!) But what is amazing is how often most people – even kids – use it to learn.
I’ve seen even functionally illiterate kids improve over time.
What we are losing, of course, is the bottom of the economic range. In that vein — How broken are our schools? Dan and I, in a moment of quixotic spirit, called our local inner city school and offered to provide their “disadvantaged” students with computers. At the time Dan’s employer was getting rid of something like a hundred computers about two years old, fully functional because they were upgrading. Giving them to students who didn’t otherwise have access would give the kids access to at least learning to use a computer and eventually to the net. The school wouldn’t let us. Why not? The computers were PCs and NOT brand new.
That is diminishing, though, as computers becomes old tech that trickles down. You can find computers on craigs for under fifty dollars. (We, ourselves, are downstream buyers, though not that far.)
We’re also losing the top range. The people who go to elite colleges and are thoroughly indoctrinated to the point of being unable to think. They are probably never going to be able to make up their educational deficiencies. And that’s too bad.
HOWEVER the vast majority of people, once the “collapse” – by which I mean the system getting so bad that its not being there would be better – starts, start working on alternatives for themselves and for others.
We’re American. We do for ourselves.
It’s already happened in news and in books. It’s underway in cinema, though it’s the very early rumblings of change. It’s underway in a big way in education.
Yes, I do believe our voting system is also broken and rigged – it’s the way the politicians act that gives THAT game away – but once that becomes obvious, something will be done about it too.
I’m not so sanguine on national defense. I do think we need a federal government for that, and its not being there is going to cost us a city or maybe two. But I also know that our country has the largest available army of combat-ready veterans and volunteers, practiced with guns that (possibly) the world has ever seen. And we’re Americans. We’ll contrive. Maybe not well enough not to lose anything, but well enough to survive. And to come back.
This is the thing: the people now in control are very confident in the truth of the stuff they were taught – even in the face of evidence to the contrary.
They will careen forward bringing the new tech and the old “progressive” ways into conflict more and more.
The old “progressive” ways never worked anywhere. But the new tech makes their failure more obvious. They can’t say “this is the best we have and it still doesn’t work.” We all know it’s not the best we have, and a cat high on catnip could do better. (And yes, I do mean in all positions of power.)
It’s possible our leaders are so desperately bad, because that’s NOT where power is anymore.
We’re Americans. We’ll manage it.
The Titanic of the blue state might have crashed, and yep, the Europeans (bless their hearts) are floating atop the grand piano and acting all superior.
But we are Americans, fergadssake. The grand piano isn’t good enough, and those d*mn bureaucrats provided two few lifeboats.
Which is why, in the time left, a few of us are building a paddle boat out of the deck chairs, the bandstand, the chimney stack and the dining room chandelier.
Come on and lend a hand, or at least get out of the way.
We’re Americans. We’ll survive this. And what’s more, we’ll do it big and splashy. American style.
Rumors of our demise are greatly exaggerated.
UPDATE: for writers, I put a post up about diagramming novels, at Mad Genius Club.
on the day I originally published this, but I put in a post about breaking into publication today. The Velveteen Writer.