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.

Mid-holiday Ramblings

I don’t do holidays, so that title up there is just a convenient label. I spent The Day by myself and had macaroni and cheese for dinner. All quite voluntary. I could have had a big dinner and spent time with the family, but have less interest with every year that goes by, in breaking out of my comfortable hermit’s habitat.

Add to that reluctance, my hatred of extreme cold and our plunge into the second cold snap (even more severe than the last one) of the winter. Waking up this morning to -1 with a windchill of -7 doesn’t exactly tempt me to take delight in the great outdoors. We’ve already had more snow than we had all last winter, and the arctic temps forecast for the next week or more are making up for the nearly basky previous winter.

Writing has been off the table for some months now, except for jotting down notes and fragments. Most days, it has felt like a rather permanent end to my short career as an author. I look at the unfinished works and wonder where the enthusiasm went. But not just the enthusiasm — the belief that there is some reason for writing has escaped me.

So what have I been doing? Reading. Lots and lots of reading. My library is swollen with important or interesting-looking books picked up for pennies at the Salvation Army store. I probably discard more than I read through, and have discovered that literary fiction is the most likely to be put in the recycle pile. I just do not give a damn about the details of ordinary characters’ lives. Maybe I unknowingly satisfied my curiosity in my teens and 20s, reading all those classics. Maybe it’s just that most families, and most individual characters, seem so interchangeable, no matter how well they’re written. Their lives are of no more consequence than my own, which, even to me, seems to have had no particular reason for having taken up some space in the world for a short time.

I know all this must seem terribly sad. I must be dangerously depressed. There are days when it feels like depression. But most days, it’s a state of calm objectivity. That’s the way things are, so why cry about it? There are certain normal human feelings that I’ve always lacked, so it may be that the others get more playtime than would be considered healthy.

But I just made a loaf of bread, and I have one of my writing projects open. “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” There was a time when that homily by Julian of Norwich was my mantra. Funny, considering that I’m a lifelong atheist, but I take wisdom where I find it.

 

An Observer’s Notes

It’s a shame, really; they had so much potential. Still do, as a matter of fact, although it’s nearly submerged now in the detritus of their civilizations. My colleagues insist that there were very few, out of the historical billions that populated this planet, who actually possessed any potential. As much as I would like to argue the point, I can’t, not if I don’t wish to join the nearly extinct species in the very delusions that inexorably steered them in the direction of self-destruction.

Yes, it’s a pity. Just one more of the universe’s failed experiments. But the majority have always been failures, haven’t they? It would almost lead you to believe that the universe is conscious, blithely mixing and stirring, just to see what the results might be, the failures and successes of equal disinterest. That the failures suffer along the way to their extinction isn’t any concern of the universe. That my own people have succeeded isn’t any more its concern than if we’d failed. For, after all, our sun will eventually go out, as they all do, bound by the laws that structure birth, death and decay in all its manifestations. In that sense, we are no more successful than these pitiful remnants on the planet home its inhabitants dubbed Earth.

We’re going home soon. When the last human has succumbed to the fouling of earth, air and water, to the near-death of earth itself, we will leave the planet to its own resources. When it’s deemed time enough, another group of observers will make their way here, to watch, to hope, to see what arises from the ruins.

Year’s Best Books in the Age of the Selfie

“Best of” lists are inevitable and unavoidable at the end of every year. I can’t think of any good reason for the existence of these lists other than as one more way to inspire “holiday” spending. But they can be interesting. Take this one, published today (December 18): Electric Literature’s 15 Best Nonfiction Books of 2017.

In a year which has seen multiple serious issues come to the foreground, what did Electric Literature’s staff and contributors name as their”favorite factual writing?” Three are concerned with topics of substance, two or three with significant cultural issues that, while currently in the spotlight, are, on the somewhat ephemeral side. The remainder are either partly or wholly concerned with the author’s lives — memoirs.

In the main, this particular list is dominated by “me” as a subject of all-consuming interest, at least to their authors. It’s a bias I see everywhere on the internet: the apparent belief that the author’s life with its confessions, revelations, and angst is fascinating to readers. That’s as true of the essays that fill book review sites, sites like Medium, and even news sites, as it is of the year’s production of books.

If anyone needs to know why the issues that matter receive so little attention, they only have to observe the superficiality of our current “literature.” If a person’s talents don’t extend as far as writing even a long-form essay, they can always publish their selfies. My life, my opinions, my face. What could possibly be more important?

Random Bits

Just washed out the bread machine, (instead of wiping it down) and while I’m waiting for it to dry, here are some odds and ends on my mind today.

Currently reading Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others, by David Livingstone Smith. It’s a subject that has puzzled me all my life. Once you get beyond all the theories, all of which, when true, are still only part of the answer, the full answer is that the human brain is built that way. From my fly-on-the-wall position in life, I have to say I haven’t seen any improvement in the 3/4 of a century I’ve been alive so far.

To point that up in the most searing way (as if the current president’s political position isn’t enough to make its own contributions, one of the news sites I read daily had this article this morning: Libya is Home to a 21st Century Slave Market and the UN Security Council Won’t Act.

As with virtually all human rights causes, small battles are won, as this one may be, eventually, but the larger war is always lost. Slavery has always, existed, in many forms. I have no doubt that it will continue to exist. One of the stories I work on now and then involves the return of legal slavery to the US, along with an inherited political strata, much like England’s House of Lords.

My stories endlessly tug me between them, so for the moment, I’m back to trying to complete Bentham’s Dream, while still plugging in notes and occasional text fragments for A Well-Educated Boy.

Bread machine is almost halfway through its cycle. Fresh warm bread for lunch!

Solutions Out of Nowhere?

Has my obsession with A Well-Educated Boy finally reached a tipping point or is it just the pressure of an upcoming deadline — November 1 and NaNoWriMo? Whatever the cause, solutions to problems and answers to questions are now turning up with fair regularity. Three major plot points resolved within a week? That’s phenomenal.

Not that it’s going to make the actual writing much easier, except that I’m developing a bit of confidence that this can be done. When you’ve been mulling over a story for five years and are still faced with problems involving major issues, it’s natural to have a few doubts. And when those doubts are rumbling around against a background of questions about whether there’s any point to writing, at all, well then…

Every iota of common sense tells me that nothing I can write will make the slightest difference in how the earth spins. That it may very well be spinning without the company of humans within a century or two — or maybe far less if we’ve entirely failed to grasp the potential costs of tampering with the earth’s systems of operation. In the face of such a sweeping possible outcome, not even Ozymandias’s arrogance and eventual oblivion can serve as a lesson in unjustified pride. Someone once said something along the lines of we are but worms crawling along the surface. I think that’s true. Further, over a long lifetime, I’ve learned that being aware of all this is not the design for a happy or contented life. And if you have the good fortune — or misfortune — to live a long life, it necessarily has to come around to that question — what difference has my life made in any sense that matters?

So, the writing has to be its own reward, and only to me.

Russell Blake: The Philosophy of Being a Hack

I haven’t read anything by Russell Blake, but even if I’m not interested in the genres he writes in, or in writing full-time, this is a post worth reading. It’s rather alarming that he writes a novel about every five weeks, but he does it for a living, and writes for a popular audience. Whether you believe that he is truly a hack, and that his books are crap, both of which he acknowledges with tongue in cheek, he makes some very good points. Mainly that the correlation between sloooow writing and quality is false. It came out of the publishing industry’s limitations and schedules, not out of the reality of professional writing.

I do have a caveat when he says, as so many writers do, “Just write.” The more you write the better you’ll get at it. That isn’t always so. You can’t get better if you don’t know what you’re doing wrong. And that generally takes some outside reality checks.

I have to agree when he says, “I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a business where there’s so much poor advice or lousy, limiting thinking than the writing business, nor so much misinformation.”

This fits in with the misinformation about National Novel Writing Month, which I’ve blogged about in the past — the attitude that if it’s fast, it can’t be good. Obviously, if it’s your first book, or maybe even your second, fast is probably going to result in a big fat mess.

http://russellblake.com/the-philosophy-of-being-a-hack/

 

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.