Things to ponder
Several articles caught my eye recently. Some are only tangentially related to writing and publishing, but all have a bearing on it to a greater or lesser extent. Here goes with a roundup. The title of each article is a link to the original.
1. “The Great Inversion“. Eric S. Raymond discusses how socialism has developed from a working-class movement into a managerial and pseudo-intellectual one, where those adopting it actually look down on the working class. There are strong echoes of the “gatekeeper” phenomenon we’ve seen between traditional and independent publishing. For example:
The working class increasingly found itself trapped in dying towns. Where it wasn’t, credentialism often proved an equally effective barrier to upward mobility. My wife bootstrapped herself out of a hardscrabble working-class background after 1975 to become a partner at a law firm, but the way she did it would be unavailable to anyone outside the 1 in 100 of her peers at or above the IQ required to earn a graduate degree. She didn’t need that IQ to be a lawyer; she needed it to get the sheepskin that said she was allowed to be a lawyer.
The increasingly internationalized managerial-statist tribe traded increasingly in such permissions – both in getting them and in denying them to others.
. . .
In this and other ways, the internationalized managerial elite grew more and more unlike a working class for which both economic and social life remained stubbornly local. Like every other ruling elite, as that distance increased it developed a correspondingly increasing demand for an ideology that justified that distinction and legitimized its power. And in the post-class-warfare mutations of Marxism, it found one.
2. “An Overview of the Dunning-Kruger Effect“. Again, consider this in the light of the “gatekeepers” of traditional publishing: but also think about it in the light of authors who can’t or won’t be told when they’re screwing up monumentally, and insist that they know better than their critics. (Remember “the book that must not be named“?)
The Dunning-Kruger effect is a type of cognitive bias in which people believe that they are smarter and more capable than they really are. Essentially, low ability people do not possess the skills needed to recognize their own incompetence. The combination of poor self-awareness and low cognitive ability leads them to overestimate their own capabilities.
The term lends a scientific name and explanation to a problem that many people immediately recognize—that fools are blind to their own foolishness. As Charles Darwin wrote in his book The Descent of Man, “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”
3. “How computers will eventually steal jobs from white-collar workers“. This article points out that artificial intelligence systems are no longer slavishly copying human ways of doing things. Instead, they’re increasingly performing tasks in their own way, learning from themselves, and coming at even creative tasks with a novel approach (you should pardon the expression) that bypasses much of our accumulated knowledge and experience. As writers, we’re far from immune to this.
… last month, DeepMind, an AI company owned by Google, announced the development of a system that can outperform human specialists in breast-cancer diagnosis. How does it work? It does not try to replicate the instinct or judgment or intuition of a doctor. In fact, it knows or understands nothing about medicine at all. Instead, it exploits recent advances in processing power and data analysis to run a pattern-recognition algorithm through thousands of past cases, hunting for similarities between them and the particular mammogram in question. Technological progress means it no longer matters that human beings cannot explain themselves.
This is increasingly true for a great many other white-collar activities: There are systems that can predict the outcome of legal disputes, compose beautiful music, design remarkable buildings and write articles much like this one — not by copying the way a lawyer, musician, architect or journalist might do it, but by using recent technological advances to work in a fundamentally different, entirely un-human way.
The lesson, then, should be clear: Not all white-collar work is as complex as commonly supposed, and even more complex activities are increasingly within reach of machines. For those reasons, it would be a grave mistake to think that white-collar workers are somehow immune from current technological change.
4. The Atlantic moves into the online short fiction market. Given that outlet’s notoriously left-wing perspective, I suspect those of us who don’t share it may not get much of a look-in; but who knows? If you write short stories, this is a potential new market that may be worth pursuing.
Contemplative reading might be viewed as a minor act of rebellion in the internet age. At a time when every available surface is saturated in information, it sometimes seems as though facts are absorbed osmotically, even accidentally, just by moving through space and time. And although the internet is not the perfect opposite of the novel, as some people have argued, it makes fairly efficient work of splintering attention and devouring time. Literary reading—of fiction and of poetry, the kind of reading that commands moral and emotional reflection—is far too easily set aside.
In addition to the several short stories that appear in the print magazine each year, we’ve decided to create a new destination for those who seek the intellectual nourishment that fiction provides.
5. A writer of transgender fiction recently ran afoul of the politically correct brigade. Reason magazine reports:
Clarkesworld, a well-regarded science fiction and fantasy web magazine, recently published first-time author Isabel Fall. The title of her story, “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter,” alludes to a meme typically used to delegitimize transgender people. But the tale is anything but anti-trans: It’s a surreal, mind-bending war story that turns the meme on its head. It was read and approved by sensitivity reviewers—some of them trans. Its author, Fall, is herself trans.
As far as I can tell, most of the social-media reaction to the story was positive. But a small number of militantly unhappy people attacked the story for offending them. Their harassment of Fall was so unpleasant that she asked Clarkesworld to un-publish the story, and the editor complied.
It’s a typical example of wokescolds at work. Whilst I don’t sexually objectify (or subjectify, for that matter) attack helicopters in any way (the ones I saw in my younger days, I was usually trying to shoot down!), and I’m more of a transgressor than a transgender, I nevertheless sympathize with the author. The Right Geek agrees, and regards the outcome of the incident as fundamentally immoral.
Allowing the loudest complainers to control what art gets made will lead to bad, boring art. But beyond that, bending the knee in this way is fundamentally immoral. Why? Because it stomps on the individual freedom of your creators — and because it allows the unreasonable few to dictate to the many what they may read and what they may watch. Nobody, no matter their political sympathies, should be permitted to wield such power over others.
6. Finally, there’s “The Top Ten Publishing Industry Trends Every Author Needs to Know in 2020“. Some that I found interesting included the following (more details at the link above):
2. More indie authors will collaborate on marketing.
3. We’ll see more published works from author groups.
4. Organic reach will decline.
5. Running ads will become a requirement.
6. Big five publishers will start using KDP Select. (I’m already seeing this with authors I enjoyed in the 1960’s and 1970’s, many now deceased. Their back list is beginning to appear on KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited, put there by their publishers. One does wonder whether the original author contracts allowed this . . . or whether the publishers are taking a chance on no-one in their families complaining or caring, so long as at least some royalties are paid.)
10. Creative indies will experiment with new ways to make money.
Well, there’s your reading matter for today. I hope you find it as useful and/or thought-provoking as I did.