Beware the Loner

“Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual. Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god. ” Aristotle

Who can argue with the great Aristotle? Doesn’t our own society show us how potentially dangerous the loner is? From regarding the non-social student as a future mass shooter, to the inane preventive measures like #walk up not out, anyone who stands out simply by not being a member of the group is being increasingly demonized. It’s bad enough that befriending a loner is considered a good deed (whether they are or aren’t interested in being befriended), but the most recent angle tossed out by some alt-right idiot is that the Parkland massacre was the fault of the survivors, who are en masse being blamed for bullying the shooter.

The bias — if not outright fear — of loners is everywhere lately. In an article entitled Can There be an Atheist Church, I find the statement: “…the church answers to another deep human need—the need to identify and belong.” It’s become almost a mantra that everyone repeats endlessly and mindlessly. Human beings are herd/group animals. They need to belong. The individual who’s not part of a group of some kind, even if it’s just immediate family, must necessarily be depressed, miserable, lonely, and potentially dangerous.

So strong is the perceived connection between failing to be part of a group of some kind, and loneliness, that Britain has arrived at the solution: a minister of loneliness. In fact, loneliness is now considered an epidemic. Granted that social change, among other factors, means that connections may be easier to lose, and more difficult to create, and is a problem that particularly affects older people. But there seems to be no interest in inquiring as to the difference between those who are alone and miserable and those who are alone and happy, or at least comfortable with their situation.

Whether it’s the young (usually male) loner who we are being taught to look at with suspicion, or the oldster whose only companion is the tv, we are failing to look beyond the simplistic idea that humans are (all) group animals. Maybe what we are overlooking is the possibility that people need to learn how to live with themselves, as individuals.

 

Almost as Disturbing as Bullets

Depend on me to ask questions that no one else is asking. Maybe there’s something about the handling of evacuations from shooting sites that makes sense in terms of safety or law enforcement. I’d just like to know what it is. Because the videos of students either with their hands in the air, or on their heads, or walking in a conga line with their hands on the shoulders of the person ahead of them, just adds to the horror. Maybe I’m too steeped in the awfulness of our system of criminal justice, but to me, those children appear to being treated as if they are criminals.

Or the prisoners of a military force. The sight echoes photos of lines of prisoners from WWI or WWII. Is this the normal future for the generation now growing up?

Story Ideas — 50 Shades of Transphobia

Whenever there’s something you don’t like, don’t want to deal with, would prefer that it doesn’t exist, one perfect solution is always available: sweep it under the rug. Americans are good at that. Poverty, human trafficking, environmental degradation, political corruption — the list goes on, getting longer all the time.

Transphobia — the denial that gender is more fluid than we have traditionally believed, and would prefer to go on believing — might not be the most world-shaking issue we could be dealing with, but since it’s about humans and their well-being, about their very existence, we should at least give it an honest nod. Instead, South Dakota, along  with several other states, is going to have a go at sweeping it under the rug.

It’s easy — just forbid any mention of transgender issues in school until the kiddies are in the 8th grade.  “…under Jensen’s bill, a transgender student would receive no institutional support. Educating students about the trans student’s identity and why it’s inappropriate to bully them would be prohibited under law. The many books that help explain these issues to young children, like I Am Jazz and My Princess Boy, would be barred from classrooms.”

So, what happens to the children who wrestle with a sexual identity that they know very well doesn’t fit them? How will they manage to grow up into adults who have painfully survived years of bullying and endless attempts by adults to “straighten them out?” Or not survived, as the case may be, considering the high rate of suicide among transgender children and teens.

Looking for story ideas? Be my guest.

Is Resistance Futile?

If you still have the capacity to read something that takes more than two minutes to get through and actually requires that you get your thought processes into gear, I recommend one of Charles Stross’s recent blog posts. It’s actually the transcript of a speech he gave, and provides more than the shallow analyses of social media, tracking, privacy issues, etc., that are calculated to make you gasp with horror for a moment or two before you go on to the next trivial pursuit.

Dude, You Broke the Future!

The question that always comes up (for me, anyway) when reading articles like this, is: is there any escape from the negative effects of current technologies that run the internet?

Suppose, like me, you don’t use any of the social media sites — no Twitter, no Facebook, etc. You don’t have a smart phone, or if you do, you don’t use any but the most basic apps — the ones that enable communication between two people in the form of speech or text — no internet, no movies, no social media, etc. You use an online-only name, have an avatar in place of a photo of your face, and you either ignore or anonymize demands for personal information.

Does WordPress attempt to pin down my likes and dislikes, my needs as a writer or a possible customer? I have no idea. But Amazon surely does. To a certain extent that makes Amazon my achilles heel, but there’s still very little they can do to direct my attention to consumer items they think I’d want to buy. Part of that failure is based on their having no idea exactly why I might look at items. Thus they have no way of anticipating whether I will or won’t look at them again and eventually make a purchase.

That’s the failure of algorithms that can’t deal with motivation, whether it’s about stuff to buy or how to vote. It’s also the failure of algorithms that are set up as nags, in the belief that sooner of later you will succumb to the demands, such as whitelisting sites rather than blocking their ads, because you’re guilted about using them without supporting them.

Escaping the all-seeing eyes is probably impossible unless you live in the woods and don’t use the internet or a cell phone, but you do have discretionary powers if you care to use them. If you choose not to, then you will have no right to complain when you find your ability to function as a free human being rated and limited by algorithms similar to those now being put in place in China. The United States is on the cusp of becoming an autocratic semi-dictatorship. The choice is to acquiesce or resist.

 

 

Britain’s New Minister of Loneliness — WTF?

No, it isn’t a joke.Britain has appointed someone to help combat the “epidemic” of loneliness, which has come to afflict millions of people. And, according to the endless stream of articles that’s been popping up lately, it’s a scourge in the US also, and in the “rich” nations generally.

While it’s true that many, many people live alone these days, as a result of loose family ties or, heaven protect us, no family ties or friends, there’s a difference between loneliness and being alone. This isn’t a new issue at all, and may be more widespread than in the past, but it seems to have always existed. I first learned about this “problem” 30 or 40 years ago when I read Anthony Storr’s Solitude: a Return to the Self, first published in 1988.

Solitude was seminal in challenging the psychological paradigm that “interpersonal relationships of an intimate kind are the chief, if not the only, source of human happiness.” Indeed, most self-help literature still places relationships at the center of human existence. Lucid and lyrical, Storr’s book argues that solitude ranks alongside relationships in its impact on an individual’s well-being and productivity, as well as on society’s progress and health.

Call me naive, but what amazed me about Storr’s premise was that it was considered some kind of breakthrough in psychology, that it even needed to be said. Of course, I’m an extreme introvert, but that it was (and still is) normal to equate loneliness and solitude was hard to grasp. With a few decades of experiential wisdom at my fingertips, though, I’m much less surprised at the recent rise in concern. If loneliness is considered an epidemic these days, Storr’s book hasn’t changed anything, just as other such books fail to change anything.

Humans are considered herd animals, so their upbringing and education treats them as herd animals. Proper socialization is at the heart of how we bring up our children, so if everything’s going as it should, they have no time to themselves, no way to appreciate the benefits of at least moderate periods of solitude, no opportunity or incentive to look into themselves and discover who they are, as individuals.

Maybe the real problem with social media and smart phones is not selfies, sexting, and addiction, is that they guarantee that no one is ever alone.

Britain now has a minister for loneliness

People in rich countries are dying of loneliness

 

 

 

January 3, 2018 — Irrelevant Nonsense of the Day

Table for One: the Controversial Art of Dining Solo. Think that eating alone, either in a restaurant or at home, can’t be turned into a hot subject for people with nothing better to talk about? “The stigma around solo dining is fading. Is this a hard-won victory for solitude, or a damaging form of isolation?”

Pay attention folks; this is important to your well-being, according someone who calls himself Keff. “…the stigma is there to prevent the long-term costs for human happiness and health that come with this kind of anti-socialization. ‘The more you eat alone, the more out of touch with humanity you become,'”

I could post stuff like this every day and never run out of topics.

Taking a Knee — What the Hell?

This nonsense about sports figures refusing to pay the correct  respect to the national anthem seems to be swelling out of any reasonable proportion. But that’s true for jusrt about any slightest violation of acceptable and accepted patriotic protocols. What bothers me about the whole thing, as someone who stopped rising for the morning salute to the flag way back in high school, is that the whole “taking the knee” as a sign of resistance is purely laughable, and a pretty good illustration of typically American well-meant ignorance.

What does it mean to take the knee? It’s a sign of respect, even of submission. Let’s call it what it is — kneeling. And far from being an indication of resistance to anything, kneeling to anyone illustrates their superiority over you, and their right to demand loyalty or some kind of service from you. Of course, a song isn’t a person, but the demand for loyalty is implicit and well-understood, whether it’s the flag being raised or a terrible song that strains the abilities of most singers, so kneeling to either one is so far from being an act of resistance that its acceptance as such should be a subject for parody and satire rather than outraged political sensibilities. If you really want to protest, just sit down and keep your mouth shut. Kneeling is American ignorance on display, and I would really love to see some European commentary on the whole affair.

September 10 – Weekend Notes and Rants

I drop by Medium every now and then, hoping to find something interesting to read, something that isn’t just a personal whine, or even worse, a personal how-I-do-it-and-you-can-too. So this morning, what to my still sleep-sandy eyes should appear, but yet another of those essays on how the author writes 10,000 words a day, every day.

I don’t doubt it’s possible. I don’t doubt that he does it. But all his good advice about how you can do it too leaves out one crucial fact (they all do): you have to be physically capable of typing fast enough to accomplish that goal. If, for any number of legitimate reasons, your hands don’t work that fast, 10,000 words a day is not a goal, it’s  a red rag waved in the face of your self-esteem. Unless you just don’t give a damn. And that’s the only sensible response.

~ ~ ~

Why I read mostly indie books. I finally took a look at the description for Red Rising, an SF novel that seems to be on the top of everyone’s list. I tend to skip over series, even when they look interesting, knowing that I’m not likely to pay and pay and pay for a series that could probably just as well be confined to two, or three volumes. I rarely even bother with series that do manage to say everything that needs to be said in more than one or two volumes.

$5.99 for the first volume of Red Rising seemed reasonable, but it was when I scanned over the listing for the rest of the series that I realized that the publisher is milking readers for everything they can get. Volume 2 costs $9.99, Volume 3 is $11.99, and the forthcoming Volume 4 will be $14.99. No thank you! Will that even be the end? I have no idea, but I definitely won’t be buying Volume 1.

~ ~ ~

Since Florida is big in the news today, it’s only appropriate that I discover an article that somewhat dampens the Chamber of Commerce view of the state as a tropical paradise. It’s a fascinating read:  A Requiem for Florida, the Paradise that Should Never Have Been.

My family moved from New York to South Florida just in time for us to experience a whole season of hurricanes. It’s an experience you can never forget. I moved away as an adult and then moved back years later. By that season of my life, any charm Florida had for me as a child had worn off, and I saw it more as a hell hole than a paradise.

The hordes of visitors who spend their time on the beaches and in their air-conditioned hotels are unaware that Florida has three kinds of poisonous snakes, dozens of varieties of poisonous insects, including the swarms of mosquitoes that are just a normal part of life there, and the nonpoisonous but scarily awesome kinds like the giant flying cockroaches (palmetto bugs). Add in intense heat and humidity that are productive of unstoppable mold and mildew, and you have a nightmare behind the scenes of paradise.

Ordinary sea rise will eventually return Florida to what it was before the swamps were drained, but hurricanes like Irma will give that process a big push. Florida will once again be “swampy, low, excessively hot, sickly and repulsive in all its features.”

Prompt Me No Prompts

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I don’t understand how or why people who can’t come up with ideas for stories want to be writers. Do they really want to write but have little or no imagination? Do they think that all that’s necessary to be a writer is to come up with an idea? Do they have any idea at all how many millions of books are written that are either never read or fall into obscurity almost immediately? It would be a fascinating study to explore the many reasons why people without a single idea in their heads want to be writers. But in the end, who cares?

Scanning my usual news sites this morning, I came across an article that triggered an idea for a nonfiction book. The article itself isn’t particularly significant. I could have read another and had the same idea pop up. I think it was just a matter of timing. The subject has been stewing for a long time. I say stewing rather than something like rolling around, because it’s a rather emotional topic. It was bound to come out sooner or later, and the article was just the trigger in the right place and at the right time.

The point of this rambling rant is that this is the way my mind works. It overflows with ideas, most of which I’ll never have a chance to develop, given the state of my health and my age. But it also means that my mind is alive, that it constantly engages, even if only from a distance, with the world at large. And I suspect, now that I think about it, that this might be the reason so many would-be writers have to ask for ideas: they engage with a very narrow world that involves primarily the people they know personally, and the limited extended world that the mainstream media allows them to see.

 

Battle of the WIPs

A Perfect Slave isn’t really a WIP since it’s complete, but needing some final editing. I’m halfway through that, but I should be just about done by now, almost ready to publish. It looks as if it isn’t going to happen. Why? Because A Well-Educated Boy has taken possession of my mind and won’t let go.

I always spend a lot of time in preparation before I start writing, but what’s going on right now is sheer obsession, or something very close to it. Over the more than a year since Boy made its appearance as a bare-bones idea, it has morphed and grown into something far from the original, rather simplistic, concept. It’s become far more complex, and it owes some of that complexity to questions that several essayists have proposed lately.

It seems that I’m not alone in thinking that science fiction needs to pull its attention from battles that are distant both in time and place, and consider where we are now and where we are possibly going in the near future. I’m far more interested in dystopias than in apocalypse, but the majority of dystopias in current science fiction are written as if they happened more or less suddenly, and as if the entire world (or nation) is in a monolithic state against which the heroes (usually teens) must battle.

That kind of dystopia is, to put it bluntly, a fantasy. Even if we accept that certain trends may converge from many points, as in the world-wide increase in bigotry and fear about the other: people of color, refugees, gender nonconformists, etc., that they could converge into one monolithic, all-powerful government is so unlikely that its possibility approaches zero.

But those fears, taken advantage of by powers already in existence: corporations and the military, could certainly lead to localized dystopias of various kinds. Many dystopias can exist simultaneously, and function in very different way. A Well-Educated Boy will be about two of those possibilities, both of which are actually possible today, and some features of which are already in place.

We are all living in a period of serious upheaval and transition. Most of that is invisible to us because it is taking place over months and years, slowly enough that we become accustomed to what is going on and accept it as normal. For instance, in spite of increased flooding and endless warnings from scientists about sea level rise, some 60% of home owners in S. Florida are unaware of or unconcerned about it. It wouldn’t be that difficult to write a dystopia that focuses on coastal cities and the long-term effects of climate change on lives and property.

Writing this more realistic version of utopia is more difficult, though, when the protagonist is a high school student. How do I avoid turning him into some clichéd save-the-world teen hero? How do I show his gradual realization that there’s little or nothing he can do to change the world, even his limited, local world, without ending the book in a state of despair and hopelessness? What can I give him as motivation for not giving up in the face of overwhelming power?

Books like The Hunger Games and Divergent speak to young people’s need to matter in a world that has very little use for them except as consumers. But how can we expect them to be anything but consumers when heroism and rebellion are presented to them as impossible fantasies with no basis in the real world? What can we give them that will keep them from being consumed by the bigotry and violence currently showing its face in Virginia?

Publishing a fantasy about slavery just doesn’t seem important right now.

Grow Strange With Me, the Test is Yet to Come

With apologies to Robert Browning, my version of his famous lines reflects the mashup up ideas rolling around in my head today. For those unfamiliar, and annoyed at having to resort to Google, the original is” Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made.”

Part of what follows, which is coming right off the top of my head, so please don’t expect total coherence, is inspired by a reread of an old blog post by James Wallace Harris: Aging and Reading Science Fiction. There isn’t much in it I agree with, but it’s one of those little essays that make you think more deeply than blog posts generally do. The other part–outliers–is also mentioned in his post, which is coincidental since it’s a topic I’ve been giving some thought to lately.

Given that I’ve been more or less an outlier in almost every area of my life, as far back as I can remember, I continue to find myself on the fringes both as a very senior citizen and as someone on the autistic spectrum. I’ve fielded my share of criticism for being too negative, too critical, too stubborn, too, too, too. But that’s what you get when you insist on seeing the forest as well as the trees, and applying logic to problems, large and small, that invariably provoke instant emotional responses (mostly negative) to any sensible approach.

Our lives are full of tests, which we tend to avoid as much as possible. So we’re constantly surprised when our failure to meet and deal with them results in our being slapped in the face with extremely unpleasant consequences. Global climate change is one. The current political chaos in the US is another. Those are biggies, which we have some justification in avoiding as too large and complex for our little minds to tackle. Then there are the small ones, or those that seem small until we find ourselves facing them. Like aging and death. Yes, that’s a biggie, but we have considerable free will in how we confront them.

My confrontation is as a writer, specifically a science fiction writer. Being close to the end of my life has changed my perspective in many ways. For one thing, I no longer expect that any major human problems will be solved before I shut my eyes permanently. And few, if any, of the wonderful technological dreams will be coming true. When the decades pile up enough so that you can look back and see a fairly good-sized chunk of history, and can add that to what you know of the history that took place long before you were ever on the planet, there’s little room for illusions.

One result is that when I write about current events and how they will affect the near and distant future, the only solutions I can offer are about surviving a future still being shaped by past and present errors that we choose to ignore. It doesn’t necessarily mean that all is going to end in gloom and doom. That may very well happen, but there will be survivors of the various forms of ecological collapse, just as there are always survivors of war. What bothers me is that there don’t seem to be many depictions of that process that don’t also show the survivors as having been reduced to something close to an animal state. It’s a world in which human society had been reduced to a primitive state of constant localized warfare where life is quite precarious.

Is there a way out of this gloomy view of the future, even granting that our grandchildren and their grandchildren are going to live in a more difficult world? The best example I’ve come across is Star’s Reach, by John Michael Greer. I’ve mentioned the book before, but now, having reread it several times, and viewing it from the perspective of current political chaos, it seems the perfect template (not to be taken literally as a template) for considering the future. Greer’s future is post-collapse, post-wars. His world is both stranger than most of us would imagine, and very familiar if you’ve learned anything about the natural world that we live in. It’s a world in which a small portion of humanity has survived disaster and learned to live more sanely and even joyously.

The test is coming. The time when it could have been avoided is long past. We had the chance to avoid it, and allowed businessmen and politicians, and our own willful blindness, to bring it about. Now is the time for science fiction writers to consider how we will deal with it.

Editing, Kitty Adoption, News

The revision of Privileged Lives is going well, although stuff got in the way yesterday and I only did about two chapters. Still… Cutting the fat, expanding scenes, combining chapters, all on the way to a final rewrite. It’s down to 29 chapters, from 38, and I’ll probably combine several more before I’m through. It’s kind of amazing how much I’ve learned since writing it back in the Spring of 2011. And it’s hard to believe it’s been hanging around that long. This is one of those cases where you have to decide whether a book that’s never sold more than a few copies is worth overhauling. It might still languish unread, but it’s worth it to me.

The “stuff” that got in the way of book work yesterday, was one of the massive shopping trips I go on almost every week with my son. Usually, it’s two grocery stores and one or two thrift stores. Yesterday’s started with the local Humane Society. I decided a month or two ago that I missed having a fur ball, so I kept checking out the photos on the HS site. The cat I’m adopting is a ten-year-old orange female who might not have found another owner at that age. She wasn’t exactly abused by her previous owners, but they put her in their basement because of their little kids (no details on that except her inability to cope), and lived down there for a year. She’s still skittish, but didn’t have any trouble with my petting her, leaned right in, in fact, so I think she’ll be fine once she settles down. We’ll probably go in tomorrow to sign the adoption papers and take Stella home.

As part of getting my life somewhat normalized, which used to mean being owned by a cat, I’m cutting way back on the news. I’ve accepted that things are mostly going to get worse as the new “president” lays about him with an axe handle. There’s nothing I can do about it except put my little bit of money where I hope it will do some good. I made a second donation to the Standing Rock Sioux this morning, even though I know that particular battle will probably be lost.

RESIST!