And Again, with More Feeling

From a writer’s perspective, I’m trying to watch the world unfold around me with the prerequisite distance to learn from it, rather than be caught up in the emotions of the moment. We are too close for objectivity, and will be for some time. Besides which, we need logic, not emotion, at the moment. It’s a learning experience, and like most of those, it’s going to hurt a bit. But what it will not do is kill us all, which means we can learn from it.

This is hardly the first time that civilization’s light has dimmed. How did our ancestors get through it? What can we learn from looking in the history books…? I recommend history books that have the perspective of time, by the way. Nothing published in the last fifty-odd years since the long war on personal liberties began. The people think they want the Nanny state. The people are sadly misinformed, and if you want to know how that happened, flick on the news or open a history book from a public school.

But here’s the thing. Preachy messages look and sound like, well, preaching. People may be dumb and panicky in a mob, but those don’t last forever. When we reach a time for quiet contemplation – and we will, you can’t keep humans frothed into a state of rage forever – then the individual person will start to see the cracks in the facade. This is where the learning can begin.

There’s a technique called reverse engineering, if we are going to be polite. It has been called other things. Stealing from only the best, really. What it is, is taking someone else’s experiment and remodding it as your own. If, then, the Great Experiment has failed, we can do it again. We have seen that it worked, for a long time. Far longer than anyone in 1776 thought it would. There’s been a look at liberty, human rights, and a higher standard of freedom than has ever existed. I do not believe that it will simply slip back into the darkness of obscurity entirely. The Dark Ages were not as dark as your history book led you to believe.

So what now? I have no intent of writing message fiction. What I will do, and have done, is write egalitarian societies. Characters who ask questions, freely and without punishment. We are slipping into a society where dialectics are frowned on. But children ask questions. And when they are promised answers that are not forthcoming, they begin to wonder why those questions aren’t allowed. What are the silencers so afraid of? What if…

We can, in fiction, explore all the possible worlds. We can spark the imaginations. We ought to, and we will. We can model the ideals, knowing that they might not be achievable, but for a time, a longish time, we got really darn close. Get up, dust ourselves off, tweak the engineering a bit, and let’s give it another go, what?

Can’t stop the signal, Mal.

29 comments

  1. “This is hardly the first time that civilization’s light has dimmed. How did our ancestors get through it? What can we learn from looking in the history books…?”

    It’s a good time to read some and find out, methinks.

    1. It is. There are some modern books that aren’t bad, if you don’t have access to antiques as I do. 1177 is one – more for the insight into civilization in its nascent stages than anything else.

  2. — There’s a technique called reverse engineering… —

    I think what you have in mind is more like “debugging.” The original American experiment, as expressed in its Constitution, was highly promising at the outset. For some years it looked almost perfect. It took a while for the flaws in the design to become visible. The consequences of those flaws are what bedevil us of today.

    However, fixing the design and contriving a new and sturdier implementation would be supremely difficult in an era in which the divisions among us are so dramatic and so deep. It might require a diaspora like the one that first brought European colonists to this continent, so that we can separate into smaller groups whose members are like-minded. If so, we could be waiting for quite a while yet.

    1. To the Stars!

      I’m not as familiar with software terminology. But I have taken a look at a device or design, and then been able to replicate it more-or-less based on what I could see.

      The divisions are somewhat artificial, driven by the overreliance on mainstream media. I for one have decided I shall propagate a message of hope, encouragement, and a steadfast dream of liberty. It’s all I can do, but it’s not useless.

      1. The loud minority are driving many of the divisions, I suspect. Sort out how best to get around them, and how to work around the people who profit from division and suspicion [there’s overlap, I’m sure], and we can rebuild a lot more easily. However, at the moment, loud gets all the attention, in part because they have the microphone (Social Media, TV media, Big Four publishers).

        1. Which is why our small platforms like this blog, my personal one, and so forth, are that much more important. When the cracks show, we can be lights in the darkness speaking sense in an insane world.

  3. If we were as weak and spineless and oh-so-dainty as the woke would have us believe, we would have never made it down out of the trees.

    Humans are tough. It’s how we colonized every speck of dirt capable of keeping us alive.

    Histories are great to read. Times have been far, far, far worse than this but you’d never know it. History is also far more complex and messier than our elites would have us know. It’s not neat little boxes with clear well-defined edges.

  4. Don’t just start with 1776. Start with an Enquiry into the Wealth of Nations. Metaphorically, that book is not for everyone but I’m going to reread Thomas Sowells ‘societies’ series and then I’m going to check out some British history. Because, although we split with England, we actually left behind what was actually a representative government, albeit more in theory than practice. So the 200 year experiment, if you include both sides of the Atlantic is actually more than 200 years old. IMO. Magna Carta anyone?

    1. T. H. Breen’s US history works, especially his earlier ones, are good. His next-to-last two are heavy on the statistics. Gordon S. Wood is another for US history. He’s pretty Olde School.

      Peter S. Wells is very good for Late Antiquity and the idea of continuity from Rome to the Carolingians, especially his little book “Barbarians to Angels.”

  5. “From a writer’s perspective, I’m trying to watch the world unfold around me with the prerequisite distance to learn from it, rather than be caught up in the emotions of the moment.”

    Yes, no kidding. It’s pretty hard too. Watching people flat-out lie about a fairly meh event that we’ve got a ton of video for is making my teeth itch. My brain keeps trying to make rules to cover what’s happening, but I’m obviously blind to more than half of it.

    To avoid preaching, I hand the characters the Big Problem that commonly gets solved by “killemall!!!!” and a big combat scene. But then I say to myself, what’s the solution if this character -isn’t- an asshole like all the other characters in SF/F seem to be? What’s the high road here.

    Which, frankly, is pretty hard. I have to think about it, sometimes for a long time measured in months, and figure out what the Superior Man would do. And then I have them do it, despite the cost and the risk. And then they win, because doing the right thing is more effective than doing the expedient thing, or the cynical thing, or the easiest thing.

    Much easier to have the Good Guy punch the Bad Guy in the face and then throw him down the volcano. But not very practical really, as no one has ever done that really except in the comics. I’m also not a fan of the “Good Guy” lying, cheating and stealing his way to defeat and then crawling away, barely escaping the Forces of Eeeebill as they kill everything in their… you get the idea.

    The difficulty of solving the problem is probably a pretty good reason why most dead-tree writers stay with the boilerplate. But, on the plus side, it makes the writing more fun for me and the result more fun to read, with no preaching. Because the right thing -is- the solution, not the thing you scold the reader about and then throw the bad guy in the volcano anyway.

    This is why I hate these “moral dilemma” narratives. Everything is not grey. Usually the right thing to do is obvious. Just not that rewarding, short term.

    1. I have restarted work on a book titled Wings Like A Dove’s — after the psalm. I think there are some fairly reasonable grounds to suspect that some wishful thinking is inspiring the muse.

  6. Amazon AWS/cloud services is killing Parler from its servers. (Gab bought their own.)

    How do I help writers if I can’t bring myself to use Amazon anymore? And not doing so will hurt like hell, so many kindle books, KU, prime, and odds and ends I have trouble buying anywhere.

    What can writers do?

      1. We’re going to need a new approach. It must be multifarious. Here’s my top-of-the-head notion:
        1. A peer-to-peer network, independent of any central control that could be used as a chokepoint;
        2. Reversion to an “honor system” retail model;
        3. Mutual assured promotion.

        If you remember Napster or Kazaa, you know what I mean by #1.
        “Honor system” retailing works like this: Anyone can download your book(s) from your site. If he likes what he’s read, he sends you some money (he decides the amount). And we all grit our teeth about such matters as “reviews.”
        Indie writers must become aggressive about promoting one another. Each of us has a few friends and a few fans. Let them know about your friendly competitors! If you go “honor system,” it won’t cost you anything.

        There may be another way, but this is what has occurred to me. Thoughts, anyone?

        1. I have the ability to sell ebooks through my existing web commerce shop on my website. I’m not sure what the honor system gives us: it works for a local farm stand, I’m pretty sure on a global Internet scale it would be a disaster.

          I already do promotion for fellow authors, without looking to see if they are Indie, or what. I plan to continue with that. I’ll need to figure out a new way to be notified of their releases, as the Avenue we were using is a small private group on Facebook.

          1. Payment processors such as PayPal have proved hostile to the Right, which is why I think we’ll eventually be compelled to go “honor system.” They’ve already cut off the major free-speech alternatives to Facebook and Twitter (e.g., Gab.com). I could be wrong about this, but I’m moving in the direction of “better safe than vulnerable.”

    1. I use Draft2Digital and go wide. But there are many who prefer Kindle Select for the money. . . .

      I note that you can still go wide with a print edition if you are in Kindle Select.

  7. Yesterday, my first reaction was that my current main project is a really bad fit for me now. I could not tell how much was immediate emotional fall out of last week, and physical sickness. I came up with main project after the 2018 cycle. Key assumption includes a blatantly pro-PRC candidate winning fairly in 2024, and the opposition conceding without civil war. Action takes place in Japan, because I didn’t want to think about the problems the plot describe (boog and massive loss of confidence in government institutions) happening in America. In universe I assume that the Republic is strong enough for the opposition to wait for 2028. The whole project is badly designed, and feels like it might be impossible purely for being more ambitious than my ability, so if it is shut down by emotions it would only be the final straw.

    Had a better sleep cycle, and one of the results was a dream about a project that I’m more emotionally capable of taking on now. Supervillain is released from prison, goes straight, and the only thing local Spiderman knock off can do to stop him is discover a flaw in the business serious enough that the supervillain is perfectionist enough to shut down over. (Authorities would have shut him down eventually, anyway. But state or county, not feds.) So, basically set in days when America is at peace. and the dark trade offs were not there or seemed reasonable.

  8. “Theoretically we can’t exist, and if we do exist we can’t operate – but we do. We are the rats in the wainscoting of society – we operate outside of their barriers and outside of their rules. Society had more rats when the rules were looser; just as the old wooden buildings had more rats than the concrete buildings that came later. But they still had rats. Now that society is all ferroconcrete and stainless steel there are fewer gaps between the joints, and it takes a smart rat to find them. A stainless steel rat is right at home in this environment.

    It is a proud and lonely thing to be a stainless steel rat…”

    — Harry Harrison

  9. Can’t stop the signal, Mal.
    Didn’t the guy who said that end up being killed?
    Amazon AWS/cloud services is killing Parler from its servers.
    That is super depressing. I really like KU. I would much prefer to give up Prime than KU. That said, I will go to where the books are. This is my “hook” into author-land to find out where that might be. I do have input into cloud service decisions at the day job. I will be mentioning the fact that AWS includes an “as long as we like you” clause in their Terms of Service (after verifying that).

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