DOES Everybody Know It?

I’m an American, so there are some things I believe at almost a religious-faith level: I believe in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

I believe a miracle occurred in Philadelphia.  I believe freedom is better than slavery.  I believe in an honest day’s work.  I believe there is no challenge we can’t surmount if we just get off our duffs and roll up our sleeves.  I believe we have the ingenuity, the know how and the sheer cussedness to overcome any trouble – if we only want to.  I believe the future is better than the past.

What I don’t believe is ninety percent of what is thrown at me by media, entertainment, schools or “experts.”  Why not?  Because all of these people have been lying to us since mass media has been mass media.

Oh, come now, Sarah – you say – do you think there is some giant conspiracy where all these people get together and decide what lies they’re going to tell?

No.  I’m disinclined to believe in massive conspiracies.  I think when those exist they come out sooner or later.  Although lately the discovery that some massive conspiracies had been going on – jornolist, hide the decline – and kept secret to an amazing degree has made me wobble a bit, but no, I don’t actually think there is a massive conspiracy to lie to us.  Not in the sense that they get together and get directives from somewhere on what to tell us every morning.

There might be a core of that going on, here and there, in some places – editorial boards, both journalistic and in fiction, might actually decide what’s acceptable and what isn’t as an opinion.  A core of teachers of education might get together and decide what to put in books, what to say in curricula.  Some scientists with access to publications might decide that it’s a good idea to twist the results a certain way and discredit everyone who disagrees.

In fact, to some extent we know all of this happens.  We can point to instances.  I’ve been present, for instance, at a meeting in a con, years ago, where three chance-met editors were discussing a story they’d all rejected but which ALL OF THEM still remembered and which they all agreed had been very well written, even though the author was an unpublished nobody.  Now, none of them came out and said that they’d rejected it for politics (even though none of them knew I could hear them.  It was one of those sitting arrangements of hotel lobbies where I – sitting quietly and waiting for Dan to come back from going to get the book for my reading – was practically invisible.) However, there were tells, phrases like, “I tried to tell him we couldn’t publish it. I mean, it’s not the sort of opinion we promote.”  “It was over the line, of course.”  “I wouldn’t even dare take it to meeting.”  AND the final, big tell, “I dared to suggest he might want to try– ” voice drops to a whisper, shocked at itself.  “Baen.”

So these people were discussing a book that was so great they all remembered it, even though it had come through slush and the name, therefore, was unknown to them.  But it never occurred to them that the reading public might want to read it.  Or if it did, it was a thought so forbidden it wouldn’t be mentioned.  As for the reason the book was that offensive?  Well, they’d suggested the only house that publishes every political opinion.  (BTW to this day I wonder who this was.  The book’s title and the author’s name were not actually ever mentioned in my hearing.  I hope he found his way home, as it were.  Hey, maybe it was Larry Correia.)

I’m sure my friends in journalistic, academic or scientific fields can point to instances of the same thing.

But these are no grand conspiracy.  In fact, these are downstream from what causes the problem.  Group-think isn’t caused by conspiracy.  Conspiracy is caused by group-think.  These people trying to work around logic, self-interest and self-preservation – like the editors I mentioned – are in fact not able to think about things clearly.  Group think has edged their mental map with “do not go” areas.  They don’t dare consider, for instance, that other than the “approved” opinions might be okay to hold.  They don’t dare consider that other than the “approved” opinions might be allowed to go out to the public.  No.  They can’t think about that, because then they’d have to think about how people hold these opinions.  They’d have to think whether they make sense.  And that would risk them falling into apostasy and being shunned by their group.

Better to pass up on a bestseller.  Better to commit what even they must have known was gross injustice and pass up on major talent and buy instead the mediocre and safe that they can make a bestseller by investing tons of money.  Better to stay in the group.  Better to echo what everyone in their group believes.

That’s what is at the center of it all.  People, you see, are social animals.  People want to fit in.  Throughout history we’ve had astonishing examples of people doing the most bizarre things to fit in with their group, from sacrificing their first born, to cranium deformation, to giving up washing, to voluntarily giving up on reproduction.

Possibly our strongest instinct is to fit in with our family, our tribe, our group.

And mass media, mass communication – such as it existed in the early twentieth century – made this a dangerous instinct.

Where the great dystopians of the twentieth century failed was thinking there needed to be constant surveillance, that big brother needed to watch you.  Pffffff.  Big brother might need to watch one or two or ten of the more influential people and remove maybe a hundred trouble makers.  Then all he needs to do is convince people that this is what every sane person believes.  Who wants to be thought insane?  They’ll fall in line of their own accord.  They’ll police each other.  They’ll police themselves and every word coming out of their mouths.

I know.  TRUST ME.  I went through school, in the humanities, at a time and in a place where even questioning one of the shibboleths of Marxism would get you failed and routed out of the educational system and into “manual apprenticeship.” Not that the teachers were bad people, but they all knew Marxism was true and socialism the perfect society, so if you didn’t believe that way you were too dumb to be in school.  Later, holding the opinions I do, I survived in publishing in the bad old days, I KNOW.  So does anyone who has ever lived in a totalitarian regime.  Or who has ever worked in corporate America or in the entertainment-industrial complex.

It’s all social pressure and the influential few, and the “cool kids” whose opinions are the same we hear repeated everywhere.

It’s gotten so that if something is anything “everyone knows” I doubt it.  We talked yesterday in the comments of the Red Scare and McCarthyism.  These are words that we’ve been trained to hiss and boo at.  Why, Hollywood has made movies about how bad it was.  And yet, all I can say about it is: I don’t know what the truth was, but I doubt it was anything as it is depicted.

Why?  Because if it were anything as is depicted it wouldn’t now be depicted that way.  Look, in the entire time I’ve been aware of that period of history, I’ve heard exactly one dissenting opinion about it.  Mind you, that opinion was a doozy.  Robert A. Heinlein, no lesser person, let drop in the middle of an essay he had no problem with McCarthy.  We were at war and what he was doing was no more than was required to identify the sixth column among us.

This had all the more strength since for much of his early life Heinlein was a sympathizer with many of the goals of international communism, including one-world government and a controlled economy.  (Yes, this changed.)

However by that time I was already getting an uneasy prickle at the back of my neck because… look, Hollywood is as much moved by group think than anyone else.  More so.  They’re cultural showboats with very little substance who want to be admired for the courage they don’t have while they take absolutely safe positions.  If it was safe to talk about how evil McCarthy was then enough people whom he had “persecuted” must have survived in the machinery of power to make being against him the safe position.  (You’ll know we’re living under tyranny when Hollywood falls in line to kiss the tyrant’s boots.  No?  Have you ever HEARD them criticize a tyrant?  Castro?  Lenin?  Where are all the movies about Stalinist errors?  Oh, Hitler.  Sure, Hitler is the safe one to attack the designated hit.  But why is Black Fascism the source of all evil and Red Fascism is almost idolized?  And there’s, btw, another indication that maybe there wasn’t a red under every bed – but there were enough reds to make the despicable horrors of communist regimes “cool.”)

I’m a libertarian.  I believe in freedom of opinion.  I get a creepy-crawly feeling about anyone being interrogated about their beliefs.  But I’m realistic and I grew up during the cold war.  I get a creepy crawly feeling about Americans, born free, choosing to betray their own to international communism – a beautiful mirage that brings only death.  So, was Joe McCarthy as bad as they paint him?  I’ll tell you one thing – he was ineffective.  For all the rest I’d have to do primary sources research which I don’t have, so I’ll withhold opinion.

More and more I feel that way about what everybody knows.  Most of the idiocy is so in your face, so obvious, that all you need is to ask yourself a few questions.  Of course, if you do you will fall into apostasy.

But take the fact that “women are better than men.”  There is nothing men can do that women can’t do and do better.  That’s a fact, right?  It comes at us via books, movies, news…  Everything.  The only reason women were kept in a subservient position for centuries was that men held them down.  Now they’re excelling beyond men because they were always better.  This is true right?

WHY?  Why would you believe that?  First there is the bare, open fact – what I like to call “your lying eyes” fact – that men are stronger than women in the physical sense.  Every profession that requires strength now admitting women has lowered its requirements.  No, I’m not saying that Suzie is not stronger than Bobby.  For a given Suzie and Bobby, Suzie can carry him under one arm.   I’m saying that if you pick the strongest men and the strongest women then pit them against each other in feats of strength, I wouldn’t put my money on the woman.  She’ll lose almost every single time.

Yes, okay, but that’s brute force, not of great importance in modern society.  What about intellect?  Women are smarter, right?  I mean, look at it, we removed the barriers and they’re getting into colleges in much greater numbers than men.

Except that, say, forty years ago, with no real barriers in place, men got into college in much greater numbers than women.

Oh, yes, you say, but that was discrimination.  The learning and teaching style was more geared towards men.  That’s cheating.

This is me looking at you.  This is me looking at you and inviting you to think why 75% of men succeeding is cheating and 75% of women is “just fair.”  Have you ever thought the learning/teaching style is now simply adjusted to favor women.  No?  WHY NOT?

The truth is that men and women aren’t equal.  One of the ways in which they are NOT equal is in neural development.  Another way is in learning styles.

I’ve herded two boys through the American school system as it is now, and let me tell you, despite the fact both of them test on the high end of IQ measurement, it was a slog.  It PARTICULARLY was a slog in middle school when most boys fall behind.  Part of this is that middle school directives as far as I know countrywide require a lot of putting tab a in slot b at precisely the right time.  I.e. teachers who claim they are teaching the kids “responsibility” set a homework turning in schedule and require it it to be turned in on the right days WITHOUT FURTHER REMINDERS.

If you’re nodding along with this, you don’t realize that girls develop – neurologically – earlier than boys, and that boys do not get the “future time schedule thing” till much, much older.  Like, around 18.

There are other issues.  Women are social learners.  They do best in groups.  Women are best at learning through repeated acitivies.  Men are better at the big concept, then trying it out.  Women are better at sitting still…

Look, the data is not top secret on this.  We know the relative IQ distribution of men and women.  Enough tests have been done.  Neither gender is smarter than the other on aggregate, but the distribution is different.  Men cluster at either end and women cluster in the middle.  This means men have more morons than women, but they have more geniuses, too.

(All of these are statistical – I for instance, learn like a male.  The American school system as it is now would have made me a sixth grade drop out.  It almost managed that with my boys.)

If more women than men are making it to college, we’re targeting our education to the learning styles and preferential cognitive modes of women. That doesn’t make women better than men.  It makes the game rigged.  And it can hurt us as a nation and as a species in the long run.

You don’t think so?  You would voluntarily throw away brilliant for “middle of the road” – WHY?  And what does it mean for humanity at large?  Who knows – but that’s what we’re doing, because everything from the media to books to commercials tells us girl power is the way to go and men are poopy heads.

Peer pressure can kill you.  The “truths” you don’t examine can kill you.  It can drives us to voluntary self-extinction.  I know several people who have voluntarily sterilized to avoid “overpopulating the Earth.”  First, this would only work – even if overpopulation were a threat, which as you all know, I don’t think it is – if some number of people all over the world chose to do this.  Second, HOW DO YOU KNOW THE EARTH IS OVERPOPULATED?  Do you have a couple of strangers camping on the sidewalk because there’s no other room for them?  Oh, food production.  Indeed.  This is why food is so scarce that…  No?  In fact in countries that aren’t run by the worst possible of Kakistocracies the problem is too much food?  THEN HOW IN H*LL do you know we’re overpopulated?

Oh, numbers.  Yes.  But as Mark Twain reminded us, there’s lies, damn lies and statistics.  Who collects these numbers?  Who writes them down?  What are their biases?  Do you trust them?

(I would enjoin everyone who believes population numbers to look at the numbers of deaths from AIDS in Africa, and track if they’re shown in population figures – bet you they aren’t.  I’ve heard from friends in places like Mexico city that for them to have the population they supposedly do they’d need different water sources and much more of it. As in what they have now would permit the bare survival of about HALF the population they supposedly have.  Heinlein thought Moscow was much smaller than the population figures the Soviets gave.  Turned out he was right.  When the Sov Union fell we found that their population was in the process of collapsing, not expanding… and yet, I BET YOU those numbers were never revised down, and progression has been applied to expand them.  I don’t have time to poke into these things – not and write – but I bet you we are already contracting.  Incidentally, as a bit of specious reporting, someone in the news yesterday in The American Interest was banging the drum of “overpopulation and global warming” in reference to the present drought and the fact it will cause famine in poor countries.  No mention was made of the fact we’re burning grains to make ethanol to burn in our engines.  By government fiat.  Bah.)

I believe in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  And I believe it is every thinking human’s duty to poke behind what everybody knows.

Our society is too large, too distributed.  You could be doing something that will kill you or destroy your society in the long run because “everybody knows.”  So don’t.

Resist the group.  Dig your feet in.  Ask the inconvenient questions.  Useful ones are “Why?”  “How come?” and “When did this change?”

Now go forth and cause trouble.

(And if right now you have that uneasy feeling at the back of your neck that I’ve gone nuts, because how can I doubt that stuff? — Yeah, that’s how we’re all controlled.  It’s no grand conspiracy.  We’re monkeys.  We want to fit in.  Dare brave that creepy crawly feeling.  Examine premisses.  What everybody “knows” can kill you.)

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

After reading Kate’s post yesterday, something started bubbling up from the dark recesses of my mind (and, oh, let me tell you, my mind has dark recesses) and that was how the word respect started being shoved down my throat at every turn about… twenty years ago or so.

Respect the professionals; respect the training, respect the uniform, respect the office, respect the teacher’s position; respect the degree; respect the authority, respect… respect… respect…

And to all this I have but one thing to answer: WHY?

It was part of the argument of the blog-invasion by Desperate Teen Brownshirts (an upcoming reality series) “You should respect our teacher because she’s a TEACHER.”  They couldn’t explain to me why this was worthy of respect beyond how that teacher might do her job (or lack of respect beyond how that teacher might do her job.)  Nor could they explain why I should “respect” whatever she did, just because she was in a position of authority over them.  She was not in a position of authority over me and I will match my credentials with hers school room hour by school room hour and books read by books read – without even mentioning capacity for reasoning.  (Like the little worm Heinlein talked about, who bragged of being a brontosaurus on his mother’s side, a teacher who sends half-formed adolescent to defend her from a largely imagined insult by being rude and crude in public might not have anything else to be proud of.)

My children, of course, as soon as they entered school, (and because they’re mine from the top of their little horns to their little hoofkins, which they don’t got) started telling me “you know, when a teacher comes in demanding respect, you know he/she will have nothing – neither knowledge nor ability, nor even a lively teaching style to justify it.”  (This is different from a teacher who displays dignity.  They rather like those – teachers with enough SELF-respect to demand silence in the classroom during class and to teach as though they know more than the students do.  Their second least favorite teacher is “call me Joe.  We’re all friends here.  I’ll learn more from you than you’ll learn from me” idiot.  Interestingly those are also often the ones that flip and start yelling “you have to respect me.”)

But it went beyond that.  The very first cozy I wrote and submitted came back rejected because I had a funny policeman in it.  “You can’t have that,” the rejection said.  “The police are professionals.  You can’t make fun of them.”

I thought this was very odd, having grown up on the Saint and even on Miss Marple and Poirot and … all the others.  I thought “It’s this house.  They’re insane.”  And then I got books on how to write mysteries, and I found that the very FORM was being barred by decree from above.  “Cozies are not real mysteries, and besides they’re unbelievable.  How could an amateur be better than a trained professional?”  This from houses that claim to publish fiction.  At the same time, both written and TV mysteries tried to show policemen as near-infallible professionals who followed on clue upon clue.

Oh, yeah, the other thing, if you disagreed with “scientists” – like the clowns who have for thirty years pushed a lethal food pyramid down our throats – you were “anti-science” because the “scientists are professionals.”  If you disagreed with your doctor, he’d ask you if you had an MD (and they don’t like being told “Well, no.  But I’ve had this here body for almost half a century, and you haven’t.”  And yet, it’s true.)

Suddenly the world was full of experts whose opinion was irrefutable because they were experts.  Listen to the experts, kowtow to the governor.  Kiss the baton.

The oldest civilizations known to men were all that way.  Perhaps it is a way human civilizations go, when we’ve been civilized too long.  Perhaps…

Or perhaps it was the result of an elite who knew they didn’t deserve their lofty positions and were trying to hold on with coordinated razzle dazzle, to change our culture, to make us into what we were not, so they might have power a little longer.  I read somewhere it started with the student revolts in the sixties – that these happened at all the better colleges, and students changed the curriculum and learned near nothing, and then when they move into life all they wanted was respect, so no one questioned the deep dark pit beneath the pretty paper.

I know that I, myself, was taught by post-sixties standards.  All the students who asked that things be thrown out as no longer relevant, like western classics, classic languages, long hours of formal training, extensive reading, modes of deportment, screwed my generation over.  We never got a chance at saying “but we want to learn that.”

Heck, because the immediately previous generation, at least in Portugal, were often our teachers, sometimes we didn’t get the opportunity to learn anything.  I spent an entire year of language arts painting a mural outside the middle school with my class.  (Because it taught us revolutionary… oh, BALLS! Because the teacher was barely literate due to all the “classroom occupations” and “student demands.”)

Were all the people of the generation before mine that way?  Oh, heck no.  Virtue isn’t generational.  But the bad apples did carry the day and make it bad for everyone.  My brother’s classes had so many “student strikes” that one year he almost didn’t have classes.

The rest of us, who weren’t striking or acting like loons could react one of two ways.  I’m not virtuous, either, but I am curious, and have an insatiable need to feed what Heinlein called The Elephant Child (in an allusion to Kipling.)  Oh, yeah, and I like reading.  So I set about to repair a lot of the omissions on my own.  It worked, sort of.  Or it is working.  I have holes in my knowledge, and besides math is a devil to learn on your own.  (However, for all the auto-didacts out there, Great Courses is the way to go.)  A lot of people did that.

A lot of others didn’t.  And going into the workforce – now two generations since the great burning of the mental tools of Western civilization – they were conscious that they could pretend, but the real knowledge wasn’t there.  And then they started talking about “respect.”

This is a simplistic explanation, and it doesn’t cover everything.  There’s also the growing power and scope of bureaucracy, and the desperate need anyone who even aspires to, much less has attained, a position of unwarranted power over other individuals, has – as a sort of reflex of their personality – to have you “respect” their ideas, their opinions, their very existence.

And then there’s those who, through luck, contacts, stealth, or the sheer fact that the people older than them thought they were ‘the future’ took over the commanding heights of art and mass communication and who, once secure, spent their entire time holding the political color line and keeping anything and anyone they disagreed with out.  Oh, and promoting this weird idea of respect for the position and that you had to have credentials to do things which, until recently, you didn’t even have to have formal schooling to do.

They had to know some of the people they were keeping out could outthink them and outcreate their darlings five ways from Monday.  So they created this idea that believing like they did was a sign of intelligence and therefore anyone who believed differently was dumb.  Just another cry for R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

And once the virus of “respect” is in place, we’re asked to respect all sorts of absurd things: symbols, pieces of paper, positions.

Look, I’m not a sans-coulotte, even though at various times when I look at policies being implemented, I’ve been known to mutter that we need more lampposts with arms, so we can hang the aristos from them.  I do respect some forms and some places – those that have a history worthy of respect.  I respect our form of government which sucks, but sucks less than all the others.  I respect the places where our history has been forged and the monuments that symbolize it.  I even respect the constitution of the United States (a work birthed by geniuses who produced it while half-dead of heat stroke in a place with almost no human comforts) to the point of respect extending to the paper it was written in.

But I don’t venerate the paper above the content.  And my respect for the oval office might or might not extend to the man in it – why should it?  A lot of the men in it have not respected the office either as a charge or as a location.

I wonder how it would all have ended without the internet.  (What a marvelous world this is, which has such electrons in it.)  Badly, I suspect.  Hell, it might still end badly.  We’ve now raised what?  Three generations? With this stupid idea of “respect for the position.”

But I don’t think so.  I don’t think so, because the establishment is on the run and the aristos are trying to hide behind walls of “you must respect me.”

I first noticed how the internet discomfited my older colleagues, the vaunted lions of a generation that has yet to produce a world bestriding giant of Asimov’s stamp – let alone Heinlein’s –  when one of them went into a spit-flecked rant about Amazon allowing “just anyone” to review books.  After all what credentials did these “reviewers” have?  Why should they be allowed to voice their opinion?

This was the first time I realized that not only were their amazing reviews in fact controlled by their publishers (yes, most of them WERE paid for) and the prizes they awarded each other hollow of any significance – but they KNEW it.  Meanwhile I, back then, as a completely naive beginner writer, was thrilled every time I got a new review because it meant someone else had read my words, and I treasured the good ones, even the dopey ones that praised characters who weren’t actually in the novel.  And, as a reader, I’d already found that those reviews, once you filtered out the obvious nuts (best exemplified by the buying of things other than books, at Amazon – you know, the review that says “this might be an okay coffee maker, but it doesn’t work at all as a steam shovel, so I’m giving it one star.”), were a much better guide of what I’d like to read than all the “expert” reviews in the world.

Now, of course, with indie publishing, the screaming has got deafening.  “Why are they allowed to publish anything?”  “Publishers are professionals.”

Other mavens of the establishment are going equally unhinged.  The “scientists”, say, whose emails got leaked, and who proved to be far less worthy of respect than the con men of my childhood who deceived the farmers with shell games but who at least were willing to work at it and perfect their crooked trade.  The “Journalists” whining that they can no longer change the national conversation – as though this had ever been part of their job description.  The doctors who sue someone for describing – on his blog – how he lost weight (which incidentally is how my husband lost over 150 lbs and is keeping it off) because it doesn’t accord with their doctrine.  The “businessmen” who apply to the government for subsidies because they’re too big to fail – after proving the only way they can run a business is into the ground.

All of them are screaming “RESPECT ME” at the top of their lungs.  Which is all the proof you need to have that they don’t deserve that respect.

Unearned, office-associated “respect” is something given to priests and shamans, to guardians of a mystery religion.  Respecting the “office” and the trappings of the office is a thing of ancient monarchy.  It is not something that should even be talked about in a free society.

In a free society, we respect those who have earned our respect.  To them I’ll give full measure of respect and brimming over.  Take Ric Locke – he went from wanna be to colleague with one book.  I have other friends and acquaintances who haven’t even had the success he had.  But I’ve read their work, and they’re my colleagues.  They earned it.  They don’t have the position, but they already have my respect.

The others?  The lords of empty pomp and circumstance, hiding behind their credentials?  Don’t make me laugh.

Whether they’re petty teachers demanding pomp and circumstance from their classes, or heads f publishing houses trying to impose their taste and opinion on a tired public* – they don’t deserve and they don’t get my respect.  For them I’ll paraphrase Marlowe: Heyla you pampered jades of the establishment!  We’re coming to get you.

*No.  Of course I DON’T mean Baen.  Baen caters to the public.  And has been called “lowbrow” for it.  And the grace with which they laugh their way to the bank HAS earned my respect. (Grin.)