Monday, November 12, 2018

The Funny Thing About Names


Today's blog be all like...


I will share a story that illuminates not one of my finest moments.

My wife was sharing with me one of her short stories she wrote in high school (as a part of a project or fun, I can’t quite remember). She told me that she picked out the names of the characters very purposefully throughout the creative process, cross-referencing names with meanings and origins that illuminated aspects of the plot. Truth be told, I did the same thing in high school, writing a many-part story called “Heavy Metal Dawn,” for which I labored months without any consideration for what I would do with the story at its conclusion. I think it is for this reason that I ultimately gave up on it. Anyways, I did the same thing as my wife. Taking Japanese words and appropriating them as “names” (ie. “Guita Watarimono,” or “Guitar Wanderer”), I achieved nigh epic heights of weeaboory (IPA - wiːəburē). And I think it is for this reason, now that I’m older, that I remember that moment, cringing. Names don’t mean anything. They are just things that we call ourselves, because our parents made the choice for us.

This is a postmodern idea, that meaning is fluid and ever changing. It is why gender, politics, race, and religion are all relative and mean nothing anymore. Naturally, then, I would scoff now at an idea like a name and a meaning behind it somehow appending certain virtues and traits. For instance, my name is “Stuart.” Stuart derives from an Old English portmanteau of stig ("house") and weard ("guard"). The later British equivalent is “Steward” and the Anglicized version is “Stuart.” My surname, “Warren,” is eponymous of (what according to Google Dictionary is) “an enclosed piece of land set aside for breeding game, especially rabbits.”

Right from the get-go I am at odds with this. Though I am trustworthy, capable of taking tasks and endeavor to please those I meet, I am not a leader. In fact, growing up I was an outcast. My name, for the most part, has hung around my neck as an albatross since my birth as a sign of my failure to live up to my name’s meaning and import. And while “Warren” maintains some regal quality to it, I hardly imagine myself to be equivalent to a labyrinthine network of burrows, or a hunting ground for rabbits in the middle ages. Patronyms also create names by just combining the name of your father and your sex (Angason for boy or Agnadóttir for girl, in Icelandic). But what if your father was an asshole? Your name is now anathema to any prospects going forward. In any case, I must hate first names because I’m salty as a motherfucker, I guess…

While a first name like “Agni” may confer the legacy of a legendary Swedish king or a Hindu fire deity, the surname was typically an embellishment of the first name. In English traditions, last names were conferred based on the profession of your father, like Smith (From Wikipedia: refers to a smith, originally deriving from smið or smiþ, the Old English term meaning one who works in metal related to the word smitan, the Old English form of smite, which also meant strike.) or Cooper (from Ancestry.com: “a repairer of wooden vessels such as barrels, tubs, buckets, casks, and vats, from Middle English couper, cowper.”). But does one want to be their father? Or take their father’s profession? That is more of a problem for today. Back then, there was no choice in the matter. A trade brought in money that paid feudal dues.

When it comes to writing, in light of the above, I take a different approach. Names aren’t as important to me as the experiential quality. Living with a character throughout a story, a name like “Roberto” will imbue whatever quality you desire. In Umberto Eco’s book The Island of the Day Before, Roberto’s character evolves over the course of the story, so any preconceptions about the name “Roberto” quickly fade away. Because of this experience I have with reading, I spend no time consulting with reference materials to find “appropriate” names for my characters. Instead, I choose names arbitrarily (most of the time). Because that is what life is like: random and chaotic. I know someone named “Tabitha,” which is a traditional name. But she exudes an eclectic style that seems in conflict with her name. Likewise, I have heard stories of POWs and veterans naming their children after their fallen brothers, as a way of immortalizing their memory, though their children will live their own lives, without the experiential import of their naming. So the use of naming, to me at least, isn’t very important.

Despite all that I’ve said, we did name our daughter “Eowyn,” which is a fictional name invented by J.R.R. Tolkien, invoking the Old English naming methodologies. Tolkien applied this name to a character in his Lord of the Rings trilogy, who stands down a demon king, fulfilling an ancient prophesy to smite evil. Do I necessarily want my daughter to challenge a demon to mortal combat? Not really. But we chose the name for her because it embodies what we wish her to be: strong, confident, and assertive. So, at the end of all this, I’m just a hypocrite. But who isn’t? The defining difference here is that the meaning of names in writing can be more effectively determined due to the innate determinism that defines writing, as opposed to real life, where meaning is in constant flux. And to reject that determinism, in my opinion, makes the work more true to life. 

Monday, October 22, 2018

What I Learned About Puberty Playing Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines




To be honest, I was shooting blanks this week. There’s a lot going on in my life right now, so it’s difficult to focus on one thing at a time. Right now I’m studying for a Networking Certification (for IT) and my daughter just got into Montessori Preschool (awesome) that will cost an additional $250 a month than what we are paying now (not awesome). But that’s an investment I’m willing to make in my daughter’s future, so whatevs’.
                But yesterday, in a moment of tongue-in-cheek amusement, it dawned on me that this one PC game I had fun playing back when I was in Middle School/High School, seemed to carry with it a deeper purpose, one that personally resonated with me. Truth be told, I am not much of a gamer anymore, unless there is a very directed and interesting story running through the game. (I’ve always believed that video games are a contemporary form of pulp fiction entertainment. Readily available and easily discarded.) For instance, The Witcher 3 is a masterclass of interactive storytelling, with a fascinating intertextual analysis of both Fantasy and Science-Fantasy genres existing in the same world. (Portals, guys!). The Stanley Parable also is an interactive discourse in determinism and the illusion of free will presented in videogames in general. (The player feels in control of their destiny, but in reality they are being tricked into running a predetermined maze built on the foundation of mathematics, code, and scripted sequences.) These two are among many examples of incredible storytelling in the gaming medium, but that’s not what this entry is about. It’s about the cartoonish and willful depictions of Vampire clans in pop-culture and roleplaying, specifically how they are rendered in the gameplay of Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodliness (a PC iteration of the world-renown tabletop RPG) and how these clans embody the fantasies of young adult society.

The following is an individual treatment of each clan, all of which I had an opportunity to play through the story of Bloodlines about 15 years ago (good god, I’m old…). The central thesis of this entry was listed above and the below serve to establish it..
From Left to Right: Two Brujah and One Malkavian

One of the easier clans to play as in Bloodlines is the Brujah, because of their favoring strength and less-than-diplomatic resolutions to puzzles and conflict. In gaming terminology, you could call this class a “tank,” meant to absorb damage and draw conflict away from more surgical players exercising specific, high power abilities with long “cool-downs” (aka, the time required to elapse before an ability can be used again). The Brujah are described in the game as anarchists, those against the system, passionate about causes that benefit the disenfranchised. I am keenly aware of the youthful rebellion associate with puberty, and the Brujah epitomize radicalization, independence, and strength. It’s the ideal class for any pasty kid with angst for days and a mom and dad hell-bent of getting them to go to church on Sunday mornings. The need to feel like you have a voice in a crowd, and be loud enough to shout them all down, is such a desire as a young kid going to high school. This game capitalizes on that fervor with profound alacrity.

A clan that I personally identified with was the Gangrel. Gangrels are loaners, wild things that like to do what they want to do and don’t care about the trappings of social commitments. They are content to run free in the forest, transforming into animals and vaping THC oil. Gangrel are depicted in Bloodlines as stoners meshed with furries out of costume. While they are more likely to embrace bestial instincts, its more because they just want to be left the hell alone. I mentioned that I personally identified with this clan, primarily because I didn’t subscribe to any institutions growing up. I didn’t play organized sports (and if I did, I never stuck with one), I didn’t participate in social clubs, and I didn’t have friends at all really. I was content in my own world, which for a lot of kids growing up, is enough. Adolescence is the critical period for finding your identity, and for some that time hasn’t arrived yet. That’s why there’s college.

The Malkavians is one of my least favorite clans in Bloodlines, despite having some of the best dialogue options in the game. This clan in essence is grounded in utter insanity, and the traits demonstrated in the game favor those with unique resolutions to quests or puzzles in general. I don’t like this clan because there’s certain people in High School that I despised that readily subscribe to the modus operandi of the Malkavians, in that they didn’t ever shut the fuck up. Giggly teens constantly talking and pretending that they (and their antics) are god’s gift to the world are incorrigible and irritating as fuck. In the game specifically, Malkavians demonstrate a certain prescience and ability to have insight into potentially ambiguous situations. I find this unendingly amusing, because anyone who is crazy believes that they are the only authority on everything. This manifests in the professional world in the form of “one-upmanship,” where you might be talking to a co-worker about how you found a really great deal on chicken breasts at Sprouts, and this motherfucker comes in and says, “oh yeah? This weekend I went to ONE THOUSAND STORES.” And you just want to punch them in the throat, but can’t because medical insurance.

From Left to Right: Malkavian, Nosferatu, and possible Kuei-Jin (Asian Vampire)
In High School, I was very sensitive. Constantly unmoored by love and it’s entanglements. I did a lot of stupid things back then because I just wanted to feel loved, by someone, anyone. In Bloodlines the Toreador clan emphasizes a lot of these romantic tendencies of young adults. If Romeo and Juliet were vampires, they would be Toreador, because they saw each other for an instant and fell apocalyptically in love with each other. Like calling your girlfriend/boyfriend on the phone and talking to them for hours about stupid shit and then having a game of chicken at the end to see who will hangup first. The Toreador clan fulfills the fantasy of passionate, sensual love to every teenager. They are obnoxious like everyone in the Twilight franchise. And they have the power to seduce and charm, a power that every awkward middle schooler wished they had the ability to exercise on command, instead of just hanging out by the snack bar on hay bales waiting for dance to be over. If the Toreador clan was a philosophical movement in history, they would be the embodiment of the Romantics, in essence.

The Tremere, a clan of blood sorcerers and adept followers of magiks, I have difficulty placing into my paradigm of “clans analogous to middle school and high school experiences.” I will say that at my highschool there was a lot of people involved in new age pagan movements, such as Wicca and Asatru Paganism. (In matters of religion I am less vitriolic than I was in college.) Suffice to say, the art of divination and extispicy garners it’s coarse reputation by established religious norms, because magic (at least in Judeo-Christian religious tradition) is seen as a means of hacking reality or rigging the system. In essence, the practitioner is unhappy with the current state of reality and endeavors to change it. So, maybe the Tremere represent a sophisticated symbol of my desire to cheat on my math tests? Otherwise I think it’s safe to say that the RPG developers of Masquerade were like, “fuck! We need wizards,” and voila.

 Oh boy. The Ventrue. Those destined to be hated because they live on top of the social ladder. The Ventrue are the elite bourgeoisie of vampire culture. To be one of them, is to be adored. To not be one of them, it to jealously admire them from a distance. In High School and Middle School, everyone wants to be popular. Popularity is both a tool of power and affection. Power is an active principal, typically a force moving outward on to other people. (ie. Using your status to gain favors or influence certain social politics.) Affection is a passive principal. The adoration of those below you who desire to advance their own social position is gratifying in two ways. First, you feel like you are royalty, which implies you have a good life. Second you have the power to dictate the social hierarchy. The Ventrue idealizes a foundational desire in young adults to feel like they can move up in the social hierarchy. Moving up allows us to get better friends, or access a promotion and perks. Popularity is the ultimate distillation of the Ventrue. And the favors afforded by them are so morally compromised, you might as well sell your soul to the devil.

Last, but not least is the Nosferatu clan, who apparently live in the sewers because they are so ugly that just seeing them would expose the Vampire Illuminati. Those that feel completely isolated from society because of their looks or because of their circumstances, identify well with the Nosferatu. Their external appearance (sociological or physical) would compel these individuals to the heights of critical acclaim, like a scorned nerd in high school growing up to manage a tech empire and marry into a harem of trophy wives and extramarital partners. The Nosferatu are resourceful and adept at gathering intelligence. In other words they are indispensable lackeys. I didn’t know anyone like this in High School, truth be told. So maybe the Nosferatu is the AV Club?
                
So there you have it, my wild hair-brained theory. 

All in jest of course.


Friday, October 5, 2018

King of The Hill’s Legacy as THE Animated Sitcom




Earlier last year my boss gave me the first six seasons of King of the Hill as a gift, but I’ve had a longstanding admiration for the show and had seen most, if not all, of the episodes. Re-watching the show uncovered old memories and reflections that compelled me to write what you are about to read. I was exposed to the show both when I was a young kid and an adult, first watching the episodes on Fox during the celebrated Sunday night lineup, and catching re-runs on Cartoon Network’s adult programming block, Adult Swim. For those not familiar with the premise (heaven forbid it), the story is centered around the Hills, a family living in a Texan small town called Arlen, based off of other cities found in the DFW Metroplex. Even though the population is around 140,000 people, local tradition is defiantly proud, with many people out on their doorsteps supporting parades, high school football games, and patronizing local business, all centered close to the town. Outside the city limits, other small towns with their own traditions and cultures staunchly enforced, rival that of Arlen, the chief being the town of McMaynerberry. The entire show focuses on the rural life of Middle America with a comedic, astute level of detail. The show’s creator, Mike Judge, who grew up in Texas in a town very much like Arlen is privy and intimately familiar with the regional attitudes and customs.
                Of course, the show’s titular character, Hank Hill, is the star of the show, depicted as an idealistic, naive, suburbanite with unapologetic moral character. And though the first season depicted Hank as coarse and stereotypically conservative, the depth of his character comes to light in subsequent seasons, as writers of the show created the portrait of a man that is principled yet capable of easily misunderstanding the changing world around him. Hank is exposed to modern elements of the world (cosmopolitan, postmodern ideals, “liberal” ideologies, unique subcultures, and various ethnicities) throughout the show’s duration, often following a plot like the one below:
  1. ·         Hank encounters a subculture
  2. ·         Hank struggles with the values of that subculture.
  3. ·         Hank ultimately accepts or rejects the subculture (by reasoned or arbitrary means).
The tension between tradition and new thought is constant, ultimately striking a perplexingly palatable middle ground. In this regard, Hank truly is the archetypical American male acting as an ecumenical bridge between liberalism and conservatism. 
                The supporting characters in the show are varied across different socioeconomic backgrounds and ideas. Hank is supported by his wife Peggy and his son Bobby. (Their relationship I will elaborate on later.) Hank’s neighbors, all of whom are developed throughout the series, are colorfully nuanced. Dale Gribbel, Boomhauer, and Bill Dauterive serve to contrast Hank’s ideals. Dale is a conspiracy theorist, paranoid and unsettled. Opposite of Dale is Bill, a hopelessly naïve and sad individual, willing to believe anything if the result is his own gratification. Boomhauer is the least developed in the series, but strikes a moderate balance between Dale and Bill while still retaining faults and complexity.


                Dale and Bill are easily my favorite characters in the show due to their co-dependency featured throughout the show’s run. Despite being characterized as a conspiracy theorist and always suspicious of the world he occupies, Dale often makes inaccurate assessments of his surroundings. And despite the trouble he gets into, Hank sees him as a friend that he can confide in, even though Hank’s father, Cotton Hill (an embittered war hero), continually presses Dale to antagonize Hank. A prominent plot point featured in the show is Dale being cuckolded by John Redcorn, an Anasazi descendent that drives an open top Jeep blasting 80s metal. Dale is entirely unaware that his son Joseph, with dark, rust colored skin, is not his biological son. Yet, despite being completely unaware of this, Dale continues to be a good father, immersed in his own male fantasy of charisma and sexual bravado.
                Dale’s opposite, Bill, I believe acts a foil. Where Dale initiates conflict, Bill participates willingly because he is so morosely depressed. Bill’s background is that of a well-to-do football athlete of rising acclaim. Once possessing the bravado and popularity as a record-holding high school senior, Bill’s strength is reduced by a manipulative woman (Lenore) who utterly ruins his life. Bill makes me laugh the hardest, as I watch this picturesque, sad individual constantly undercut himself. Bill’s character is a catharsis to his friends who have, for better or worse, moved on from their high school legacies and embraced domesticity. Bill’s talent as a barber, however, unites him with Hank, as he is the only one capable of giving Hank his signature haircut. But even before this, there is a resounding love Hank feels for his friend Bill, and he is always willing to cheer him up, if only to distract Bill from how depressing his life is.

                Cotton Hill, Hank’s father is a WWII veteran who was crippled by enemy fire in the Pacific Theater. Often prone to exaggerating his stories, Cotton hangs his suffering over the heads of all he meets, his son Hank foremost, and Peggy as well (who Cotton only refers to as “Hank’s Wife” in a chauvinistic and demeaning tone).The conflict between Hank and his father dominates the show throughout its run, ultimately ending with Cotton’s death. Mostly this is by contrasting vitality. Hank, who is getting older and struggled to conceive his son Bobby with Peggy, observes his own father (easily in his mid-seventies) impregnate a trophy wife and who then gives birth to Hank’s uncle. Hank’s insistence on “manly” activities and hobbies does not compensate for the deep unreciprocated love he feels for his father. Cotton essentially serves as Hank’s bully in the many flashbacks to Hank’s youth. Still, Cotton is outrageous and principled, nearly making up for his deficiencies as a husband and father. In one episode, Cotton is forced out of a home that he can no longer afford. After a failed attempt at rejoining society, Cotton contemplates suicide, so that his wife and newborn can benefit from a large life insurance policy. And as Hank realizes what his father is about to do, he discovers his father teaching his newborn how to shoot in the attic of the VFW. And Hank, relieved, is able to convince his father to accept financial assistance, which Cotton begrudgingly accepts. Like the entire cast of King of the Hill, Cotton is portrayed as a flawed individual with little to like about him as a person, but can be endearing for his severe independence, as appears in the following recounting of his war exploits against Imperial Japanese soldiers:
“I was fourteen, just a little older than Bobby. But I knew Uncle Sam needed me, so I lied and signed up. We had beat the Nazzys in Italy, and they shipped me to the Pacific Theater. A Tojo torpedo sent our troop ship to the bottom. I could only save three of my buddies: Fatty, Stinky, and Brooklyn. They were kind of like you fellas [to Bill, Dale, and Boomhauer], only one of them was from Brooklyn. Out of the sun came a Tojo Zero and put fitty bullets in my back. The blood attracted sharks. I had to give 'em Fatty. Then things took a turn for the worse. I made it to an island, but it was full of Tojos! They were spitting on the U.S. flag! So I rushed 'em, but it was a trap. They opened fire and blew my shins off. Last thing I remember, I beat 'em all to death with a big piece of Fatty. I woke up in a field hospital, and they were sewing my feet to my knees."
                Without any hesitation, I can say definitively that Hank and his son Bobby’s relationship is a definitive study in character development in the medium of television. What I find so charming about Bobby is how different he is from his father. While Hank is very aware of who he is and what he wants to be, Bobby continuously vacillates between hobbies, others characterized as bizarre and unconventional. Bobby’s tenure includes stand-up comedy, professional dog dancing, being a magician and ventriloquist, playing soccer, and adopting a feral raccoon. Each of these bizarre hobbies, of course, irritates Hank, yet the ultimate result is Hanks’s acceptance of his son. This constitutes a dynamic relationship underscoring Hank’s prejudice, but also his willingness to challenge his beliefs because of the love he has for his son. Oftentimes the end result is Hank “winning Bobby over” with his conservative values, but the progressive attitude of Bobby opens Hank’s mind to new experiences and beliefs, chiefly with his relationship with his neighbor Kahn Souphanousinphone’s daughter Kahn Jr. (alluding to Kahn’s own disappointment that he had a girl, instead of a boy).
                I hope I still have you with me. (I love this show!) Suffice to say, I will leave you with this final picture of how King of the Hill masterfully completed its arc in the concluding season of the show. In the final episode it is revealed that Bobby is very adept at grading butchered meat, and he takes his talent to a national competition where he ultimately wins. The closing shot of the show is Bobby and Hank grilling together (as Hank is an enthusiast of “propane and propane accessories”), finally united by a complimentary hobby. It’s a beautiful moment of unification, where opposites attract and Hank is truly, without pause, proud of his son. 



Tuesday, September 11, 2018

On Conspiracy Theories


“Yes, there is a conspiracy, in fact there are a great number of conspiracies that are all tripping each other up. And all of those conspiracies are run by paranoid fantasists and ham fisted clowns.” 

“The truth is, that it is not the Jewish banking conspiracy or the grey aliens or the 12 foot reptiloids from another dimension that are in control. The truth is more frightening, nobody is in control. The world is rudderless.” —Alan Moore

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the effects of fake news, howit spreads, and why we should know better than to believe it. The two above quotes by Alan Moore speak to the detrimental effects of conspiracy theories. And while fake news and conspiracy theories are two different things individually, together they supplement each other. Fake News supports conspiracies and conspiracy theories beget Fake News.
                The two quotes, read in the order presented, could very well be one statement, but I believe that they were uttered on two different occasions. The latter idea is more credible because Alan Moore, while believing in wild and esoteric things, is also strangely rooted in the traditions of Modern Skepticism. He’ll satirize power structures and lampoon the uptight, puritanical sensibilities of Jacobean England and be just as willing to promote, at length, hermetic traditions which, just like any political party or established religions authority, have their own standards and practices, orthodoxy and orthopraxy. He’s an odd bird, but very pragmatic in presenting his schismatic ideas.
                The first quote presents conspiracy theorists, very plainly, as idiots. One may only need to read the twitter feed for the Flat Earth Society to gain an appreciation for their dedication to believing lies and fables as old as recorded human history. The idea also that there are competing theories, that there are many in the running is interesting. How we see the world (aka, our worldview) defines every detail and contour of our experiences, from tactile to emotional. They mean a lot to us, and we have defended them historically, even killing other human beings to preserve the purity of our worldview. A conspiracy theory is like a worldview, except that the phrase “conspiracy theory,” without any additional context, is typically pejorative. “Conspiracy theory” could also be interpreted with a slight bias invoking edginess such as books like “The Divine Conspiracy,” by Dallas Willard which is a title that invokes how Christianity has been under-appreciated / misunderstood, and that traditional viewpoints on Orthopraxy and Orthodoxy are not what they seem. Still, Willard wants to spread the gospel and be a good servant for Jesus, which leads me to believe that he wants the exact opposite what a conspiracy theorist wants, which is mainstream acceptance. Part of what makes conspiracy theories so great (to the adherent) is that they enjoy the taboo aspects of conspiracy theories. It is the hidden knowledge that is only privy to a select few. It is the weightiness of the knowledge that, if accepted, would invert society and cause chaos. It is almost power over someone else that doesn’t know. Which brings me to my next point…
                “The world is rudderless,” in Moore’s words is the dissembling assessment for a conspiracy theorist. People desire, innately, to control others through knowledge. (I feel the same way sometimes.) But what people also desire are explanations for the things in their lives that aren’t capable of being understood. It is a psychosis that infects the mind and allows a conspiracy theorist to look into every minute detail of the world and link it to an underlying cause, sinister or otherwise. Alex Jones is a popular example of this. His positions and beliefs on certain issues are dumbfounding. And whether or not he truly believes what he says, the content he presents consistently malevolent. His opinions and positions become the salve of those who are already afraid, who now have their explanations for their inexplicable fears. That I have met people who think that JFK was ordered to be killed by the CIA (or Deep State, or whatever), that reality is a comfort to them, more so than the reality: that he was shot by a disturbed individual, or a spy for the Russian Government. That there are people who believe Barack Obama is a Muslim and from Africa, that is a better explanation to them of reality than the real one: that it is possible for an African American to rise the ranks of society to a plateau of great intellectual capacity and statesmanship. The key ingredient in conspiracy theories is fear. Everything else follows after: anger, hatred for the Other, confusion, desperation, and self-alienation.
                Now the irony is not lost on me that, after saying all these things, I would assert, still, that I am a Christian, despite that many Christians around the world are the chief offenders at succumbing to conspiracy theories, or the fears that predicate them. The best I can say is that the orthopraxy and orthodoxy of Christianity is firmly laid out in the example of Jesus, and to differ is folly. And those that would twist His words to satisfy their unjustified fears and prejudices are more willing to fabricate an accommodating false reality than adhere to the very things they claim to believe. We believe that the world is directed by the sovereignty of God and not “rudderless” as Moore asserts. However, if I’m wrong and there is no god, then the world is indeed without direction. Hopefully, however, that direction is toward progress instead of toward the erosion of everything we've achieved.

***PS,

That this is coming out on  September 11th, a day that will live in infamy, is coincidental. I'm aware of dozens of conspiracies asserting the twin towers attack was a work of mischief. All of them are bullshit. And anyone who believes them should be revoked of their citizenship. 


               


Monday, September 3, 2018

Why I Don’t Do Regular, Scheduled Content


Just a brief aside, something that I should really just pin somewhere, but I wanted to clarify it. I’m sure by now it’s obvious. Just looking at my previous posts, and the time that they are posted, should indicate what I’m about to admit.
I don’t practice the art of regularly scheduled content.
In 2012, I was encouraged to start a posting regimen for this blog, which used to have a long complicated name and bears not repeating. The motivation in doing so was so that I could start making a name for myself as an author, because at that time I was finishing up Spirit of Orn and getting ready to submit it to BookBaby. Between 2012 and 2014, I maintained a regular posting schedule until I had a nervous breakdown and wasn’t able to continue. (Don’t overwork yourselves kiddos’!) Being over worked isn’t my primary rationale for not posting a strict Monday-Wednesday-Friday blog at 10AM, but the stress of having to produce that much did weigh on me constantly
                Regularly scheduled content is great for illustrators and photographers, not so much for writers, that is unless their work relies/focuses on current events. This is at least what I discovered. And though the regimen of producing content at that frequency for so long actually taught me the invaluable skill of writing on command, the content was not always great. Worse, it was not always inspired, a lot of times featuring filler and redundant, petty topics.
                Most authors only have one or two good things to say. The rest is just repetitious intersection with these previous, core ideas. (ie. Stephen King with his english teachers and librarians) I’m no different, and I think that the greatest challenge when writing is to keep up the artifice of originality.
                All this to consider, I wanted to let you all know that, even though I’m not regular, I write when I feel inspired. I never like phoning it in. Typically you can expect from me a piece of content about twice per month and a book every two years. Obviously, I could—and would—love
 to write more often (1-2 books per year), and produce an income able to support myself and my family, but I also work 45-50 hours per week and have a daughter to raise. I no longer have the luxury of casting all things to the wind and writing full-time, though I wish it so. Despite all odds even, I am able to still produce content without having to be independently wealthy. Bottom line: I love what I do. My time is limited. And I love to use whatever time I have available to continue my stories. My Saturday morning writing stints at Starbucks are always productive and my books come along quickly despite everything in my life.What more could I ask for?
                Someday, maybe in 20 years I’ll make it. By then I could probably produce a book every 6-10 months (assuming I have 40 hours a week to write a good story and if I have improved). Either way, the work life balance continues. I’m sure you all can relate.

Until Next Time Folks!


Monday, August 27, 2018

Another Book Finished: The Prague Cemetery


Finishing The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco was not nearly as satisfying as The Name of the Rose and Foucault’sPendulum. I don’t mean to say that it wasn’t good. It was fantastic! But the end result of finishing the book was gaining a keener understanding of Antisemitism in the 19th century, specifically in Italy and France.
                Eco intentionally wrote into the story a truly despicable protagonist. Captain Simonini engages in all kinds of espionage, dealing with terrorists and pedophile priests, not unlike the intelligence services continue to do today. The main difference seems to be that organized religion no longer has the sting it once did. The pope is no longer a temporal figure, but a spiritual one, and has no sway in political matters like predecessors did in the medieval period. So maybe an equivalent story today would involve the ubiquitous corporate presence of a popular brand, instigating a civil war in a developing nation because the cost of bananas went from fives cents to six cents apiece? Who knows…
                The most disturbing aspect of the book, which is billed as a “thriller,” is that it is told from the first person point of view of Simonini (as well as a morally conflicted split persona and an unnamed narrator). The false narrative of anti-Semitism, the descriptions of the Jews from the mouths of racist newspaper editors, the internal investigations of the state into the finances of citizens, culminates into a believable lie. That the story is a cohesive conspiracy theory, there is a degree of credibility throughout, despite the fact that this story is actually a satire and deconstruction of the paranoia that gripped Europe at the time. Traditional ideas like the Divine Right of Kings and the supremacy of the Catholic Church were eroding exponentially, and in the vacuum a new middle class was rising to take back control of the state. In an effort to foil this new class and restore faith in the despotic European nations, anti-Semitism is leveraged to turn a sequestered community into the scapegoat for all of Europe’s woes.
The crux of the book is the development of The Protocols of TheElders of Zion, a supposed recording of the minutes of a Jewish council gathered in a cemetery at the turn of the 19th century, where leaders representing the twelve tribes of Israel conspire to corrupt gentiles through entertainment and proliferation of liberalism. Even though the document itself was debunked a century ago by a British newspaper, pointing out that several sections were extensively (and poorly) plagiarized from an existing polemical work pointing out the injustices of Napoleon the III (I think it was Napoleon the III…), it became the source text for the Nazi Regime and a tool for implementing what would be known as the “Final Solution,” that is the extermination of the Jews in Europe.
It sounds so fantastic that it can’t be true, but all the characters in the story except for Simonini are real people. Eco is just weaving together a plausible explanation for the underlying force that moved the racial tensions forward. The book is an application of Eco’s philosophy of creating enemies and the paradoxical relationship between intangible words and demonstrable change in the hearts and minds of people. And this is why the work is so persuasive.

Friday, August 17, 2018

The Characters in Our Lives


Characters, according to lectures I’ve observed on creative writing, are evocative yet simple. Real human beings however demonstrate a complexity that is impossible to record in the written word. Writing can approximate this level of detail through techniques like “stream-of-consciousness,” but what is presented is, ultimately, supplemented by our own imaginations. That’s why two people can read something and have disparate takeaways.
                So, occasionally, I daydream and try to come up with stock characters. Typically, a good stock character is modular. I can take a shell (scoundrel, hero, novice, adept, anti-hero, tyrant, outcast, etc) and fill it out with contextual details that fit with whatever I am writing. For instance, I can use the scoundrel character and add to the framework characteristics like “auto mechanic,” “drunkard,” “self-conscious,” “experienced,” and “socially flawed,” letting the reader fill in the gaps and create a mental picture in their mind of a complete individual beyond anything that I could have designed. Life experiences will affect this visualization, creating this tangible person that wasn’t there before. So even though the character I created has no history or extant context at the beginning of the story, their totality is fleshed out before they even speak their first word of dialogue.
                This can be applied to life in general. People everywhere are strangers to us. Just imagine when, driving on the freeway, there are at least a thousand people driving along at the same time, yet we know nothing about them. The truth is that each driver has a lifetime of experiences and stories, but we, and they, are pushed back by the fear of unfamiliarity. Technology, didn’t promote dissociative tendencies in people. The truth is that we must attenuate our communities deliberately, otherwise the world would be too much for us to handle. So, we identify shells, then apply details to create a narrative that suits our perspectives; also known as stereotyping, identifying the Other, and, by proximity, casual racism.
                I enjoy reading partly because I like to take pause and wonder how derivative the character is based on the experiences of the writer. There are details to be extracted and beliefs to be mined from the stories we read, and how obvious/obscured they are demonstrates the talent of the writer. My personal pet peeve is writing that is utilitarian, specifically in shows like Family Guy where each episode is a thinly veiled treatment of the writer’s personal opinions. I think this violates the autonomy of the characters in the story. Good fiction ought to organically prompt discourse and debate, but what you see in Family Guy and similar programs, like Futurama and the Simpsons, are one sided debates with no countering equivalent. On the other hand, South Park once had an episode about Mormonism where Stan is dumbfounded why his father is taken by a religion conceivably founded on fabricated beliefs. Ultimately the clash occurs at the end of the episode when Stan is confronted by Gary, his Mormon counterpart, where the alternative perspective is offered: that despite believing in something incredulous, Gary lives a happy life with a loving family and is surrounded by a community of people that support each other. Tit for tat, an argument is made, a counter is offered, and it’s not cynical. The interaction preserves the autonomy of the character and the topical discourse is received by the viewer as genuine.
                Something to consider, then?

***

Per usual, work on my third book continues. Life continues. I'm studying for an exam on IT Network+, an introductory course on IT management techniques. #DayJobThings... My daughter has been walking for a little while now and loves to listen to progressive metal.

Sorry, I realized that I hadn't given anyone an update in a while. I hope your lives continue swimmingly!

Best,

Stuart

                 

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Fake News in the Wild


With all the hyperbolic whining about “Fake News” from both conservative and liberal alike, I had the opportunity to witness a real-world example of Fake News and see just how pervasive it’s effect had on witless people.
               There was a post going around on twitter advocating pedophilia and the inclusion of pedophilia as a part of the protected status of the LGBTQ community that had gained the attention of a "Christian" personality on facebook. The later shared this post, therefore making it viral. Though it was not the post that I have below, it was something similar to it, or at least in the same spirit.

 
               When you do some digging on the original twitter poster however, the user had less than 5 followers, and only two or three posts. It was the solitary post that was picked up by this Christian blogger to be “exposed.” Subsequently the Christian poster garners the attention of the most dank memes on the internet, gaining thousands of shares and likes for this call to action.
               Now I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that the initial twitter post and the poster’s account were fabricated. For one it seems odd that there would be an advocate for pedophilia on twitter with little notoriety or following suddenly being discovered. (Search engines use algorithms to find content based on relevancy, which includes the amount of times someone’s page has been accessed. This is why my twitter account of 150+ follower fame will be passed up when someone google searches “Author” when there are hundreds more with 10,000+ followers.). Also, the fact that the post was engineered to spark moral outrage was made so transparently clear, seems fitting for Christian advocacy groups everywhere, which constantly are mining information for the link between being gay and committing acts of sexual deviancy. And, lastly, Facebook can only share links and pictures. Facebook, as of yet, does not allow the embedding of twitter posts that you can interact with. So anyone can produce a screen shot of something like Twitter and have people take it as the genuine article, despite going through all the effort in my case to make the poster seem legitimate.
               The use of moral outrage to polarize and divide has become so commonplace that seeing this in action was almost banal. The fact of the matter is, however, that this “Christian Advocate” (who could be a fake account as well) successfully polarized both Christians and non-Christians, did not advance the gospel of Jesus Christ, and advanced a precedent that is not true of any LGBTQ community. While there is a historical period of Hellenism (a zeitgeist of Greek thought advanced by Alexander the Great prior to the rule of the Roman Empire) that practiced and advocated pedophilia and homosexuality as a virtue, advances in common sense across all cultures and countries have uniformly decried it and outlawed it, despite Roy Moore’s most recent attempts to make “Underage Sex Great Again.”
               What I think made my nose curl at this stench so intensely I can reiterate here. While I am a Christian, and while I think that Homosexuality is a sin (just like watching porn and being straight is a sin), I also believe that members of the LGBTQ community are human beings deserving of respect and dignity. And while I do not accept what they preach, their narratives should not be persecuted, if not singled out, simply because they conform to values different than ours. (I don’t ever recall a time when Hindus couldn’t be married because their values and ideals strayed from the Judeo-Christian norms.)
               Lastly, I think that it’s silly that we (especially Christians) are not more equipped to discern what is useful for building up and what is not. Given to how much we read, cite, and source, yet cannot do this outside of the bible with accuracy or conviction is confounding. Fake News is a real threat, and there is so much opportunity to be kind and loving to everyone affected by it. 

Happy Saturday Everyone!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Memes of Racism


I was talking to my wife the other day about memes, which, if you’ve been living under a rock for the last 15 or so years, are captioned pictures of viral content that have taken on almost organic consciousness on the internet. Typically they are funny, or they comment on current events specifically. I mostly know them as pictures of “puppers” and “doggos” eating “chimkin nuggets.”

In human history we have recognized symbols either tangibly or abstractly. For instance Moses from the Old Testament is a symbol of Christ (of Type) as a mediator between God and Man. A cross represents, and points to, the specific time in history when Christ was crucified. The invisible hand imagines an intangible force based on the movement of wealth in a free economy, as put forth by Adam Smith in the Wealth of Nations. Or, the statue of the Shinto god Hachiman could represent either war, or the essence of the god himself when present in a shrine. Personally, I believe that memes today are the avatars of pessimism and cynicism, products of the mutable post-modern age. And at the risk of misusing “post-modern,” because even the word means nothing now, post-modern typically is a junk drawer term for any deconstructed position that critiques reigning epistemological authorities or traditions of thought / belief.
One of the original instances of Pepe.

What got me thinking about memes yesterday was the hijacking of one such meme, “Pepe the frog” and its use by neo-Nazis and white nationalists (AKA the Alt-Right). 

Iterations of the Swastica used in Eastern cultures.


A famous example of a neutral symbol being commandeered for hate is the Swastika, which originated in a host of Eurasian religious traditions. In Hinduism, the symbol was associated with luck and general wellbeing. While the origins of why the Nazis took this symbol escape me, I want to say that it had something to do with the belief that India was once known as a seat of a powerfully advanced race of Caucasians, but don’t quote me on that. Anyways, regardless of the origin of the Nazi belief, the symbol was taken and used as a hate symbol. Also, the image of the cross of Christ’s crucifixion has also been co-opted by White supremacists and the KKK by using it to intimidate African Americans by burning them on their lawns, or public places. I think it’s interesting then that people have taken Pepe, something so ephemeral in the grand scheme of things, and created a hate symbol out of him.

A cross burning, carried out by the KKK.

 
While the swastika was a symbol of fascism, memes are self-assigned their meaning. People view them and ascribe meaning to them. In marketing language, viewing an ad (image or otherwise) is called an impression. So when we view memes they are impressions that we encounter. Fascist symbols are ubiquitous and are widespread. They are typically put in public places, or on medals of service, but they are not however inside a person’s living area, unless the symbol was put there. In that respect the symbol can be avoided. I think what makes viral media so impactful is that you can’t avoid it now that the internet is integrated with nearly every aspect of our lives. Not only that, memes already are an expression of the cynical and apathetic zeitgeist we currently find ourselves in. That a meme places the viewer at a disadvantage by making opposition to the image seem petty or disproportionate in use context, the power of hate symbols spreading on the internet as memes are amplified. Furthermore, the impressions are personal, inside the four walls of home. They have penetrated the inner space of our lives, and we cannot escape.

As a creator of content, the reality that someone can insert meaning into something I’ve created is extremely compelling. My heart goes out to Matt Furie, the creator of Pepe, because his symbol has been effectively stolen from him. His resulting anguish is depicted in his response to the hijacking of his creation:




Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Justifying the Author

You can’t choose the formative moments in your life, the ones that warp your personality, for better or worse. It’s from these moments that creative expression is tinged. I’ve seen this is all my favorite authors. Eco’s novels are concerned with Semiotics. Grant Morrison with justifications of his alleged abduction into the “4th Dimension.” And Alan Moore copes with his abuse at the hands of DC.
Autobiographically speaking, my writing didn’t take hold of me until Post College. Even though I have written before (as early as ten years old) large novellas and attempted writing a serial/novel in Junior High and High School, these stories were regurgitations of pre-rendered material. I was imagining characters in my mind’s eye and throwing them into situations to see what would happen. Once I got out of college, I wrote a very poor novel, that would be re-written and overhauled significantly, until the end product would become my first book “Spirit of Orn.” During this time I discovered the truth behind the great lie that all of you (if you are near or around my age) heard in school: “Do good in school. Go to college. Live happily ever after.”
While I will not contest the value of college, why it’s incredibly important to be exposed to it, I will say that our reasons to going are catastrophically short sighted. It was my shortsightedness that brought me to all my formative moments. I was shown that we are not special (in the eyes of the controlling powers of world affairs), but that we are expendable, in an ever churning Nietzschean machine that compels us to become ubermensch, to escape intellectual poverty, only to subject our peers to that poverty and become tyrants to maintain our privileged superiority. (I’m speaking of CEOs, factory owners, Lawyers, Doctors, “professionals,” etc.) I discovered this at Apple, that despite my cognitive abilities, I was reduced to a brand mouthpiece for a technology giant. After leaving Apple for a short lived stint at a bank, which in hindsight was its own oasis from the horrors of corporate America, I “hit rock bottom” and had to get a job washing dishes for At Stone Brewing Company. I labored there for about 6 months, the bare minimum required to transfer to another position, and moved into production, the making and packaging of beer. Life was good, for a short while. But I soon became acquainted with the reality that every American factory worker faces: that we are not special, that we are unessential. My peers were systematic victims, culturally rich, but socially and financially impoverished. One of my own co-workers was killed in a forklift accident, and even though I did not know him, his death occurred during an incredible spurt of productivity and expansion that took it’s tool on all departments as we attempted to fill orders at breakneck speed. Around the same time, the boiler in the main brewhouse went critical, requiring the fire department to be called. I was told the boiler was purchased “used” to save money. But there was so much unreliable information communicated in the company that everyone was always ignorant of something. That too could have been idle chatter.
I struggled to be kind, I struggled to be sympathetic, I struggled to be forgiving because of my experiences at this brewery, and they inform my plots and characters to this day. I write about loss, about reputation, about intellectual conquest, and about exploitation. In most of my stories someone dies, in order that another might be saved. (This coming from my Christian worldview.) And I think all of this is important to be conscious about. Because when we realize this, we can grow deeper with our characters and plumb the depths of our experiences to make theirs more evocative and convincing. The Bottle Falls a short story featured in my recently released Tall Men and Other Tales is pulled directly from my work at the brewery. Some people read it and laugh because they know how much I complained about working there, but when they do they are missing the point: it was a traumatic experience in my life that made me into the egalitarian / socialist I am today, advocating education to anyone that can pick up a book and read, so that they aren’t taken advantage of a system designed to fuck us over.
So with me, other authors have been irrevocably influenced by their experiences. Understanding those biographical details helps readers to read between the lines, and get deeper insight into the story before them. There are many authors I could mention, but for time and space I’ll only mention those I am most familiar with.
When I was working for an academic press, Sequart Organization, I spent a year researching the works of Neil Gaiman, in hopes that I could write a book about his seminal work in The Sandman. My impression of Neil is one of a man acquainted with literature, not necessarily in an solely academic fashion—though he is very sharp—but as one with a profound love for it. Anecdotes, if my memory serves me well, place Neil in many libraries growing up, including a personal one, which inspired me to build one of my own for my children. There he would read endlessly, building his own literary acumen from a diverse pool of sources. The time he spent being a journalist put him in contact with real people of varying morality, social standing, religion, and status, and became an indispensable well for characters and creatures to build his world. I recall reading an article he wrote about staying in a Syrian refugee camp, and how he accidentally kicked over a water bucket in his tent that could only be refilled some distance away at a spigot used for the entire population. (I would append a link to the article here, but the BBC no longer has it on their site.) Also his being raised in the Church of Scientology seemingly had a profound effect on his philosophy of storytelling, though he has distanced himself from the church completely and no longer espouses to be a member, so I’ve heard. All these experiences distill down to Gaiman’s style and substance in his writing.
Umberto Eco, on the other hand is a different story all together. While I have digested his books slowly over the last two years I have discovered a man obsessed with meaning, and how duplicitous it can be. A typical postmodern as you would suspect, but also sympathetic to the medieval institutions that promised knowledge could be known. He is well acquainted with hermetic philosophy, and prone to make fun of it on many occasions. It was the subject of an entire book called, Foucault’s Pendulum. His awareness of traditions in epistemology and participation in academia place him in close contact with social issues and those in authority to make informed statements about them. My favorite collection of essays I’ve read of his are focused on aspects of truth and justice and their mutability (Inventing the Enemy). Even though I am a fan of the eponymous essay, his essay on the addition and subtraction of information as a form of censorship is still timely and speaks to how we utilize the internet to distract ourselves and, subsequently, dehumanize what we are as social creatures. Eco’s own personal library of approximately 30,000 books, comes through in his writing, which is encyclopedic in nature. And his proximity to anti-fascists and their protests during the 60s and 70s in Italy, give him a rebellious streak, though not one without wry deconstructions of the movements as just repeating the mistakes of their forebears.
          I had initially wanted to end this on the subject of Alan Moore or Grant Morrison, but I am still learning about their individual traits. Recently I’ve been attempting to understand Moore’s work, which is very unpredictable. His understanding of voice is profoundly accurate and can emulate the demeanor and mood of female characters better than any writer I have encountered. But his work is very moody, burdened by a history of being taken advantage of. He lacks the critical distance to see what he’s accomplished in his career, and prefers to downplay the contributions he’s made to the genre and the dozens of authors he’s inspired (Gaiman included). This figure that writes of apocalypses as transitionary events and not as catastrophes to be averted runs against the grain of Grant Morrison’s rock-star demeanor plots which are bombastic and playful, but also incredibly introspective and philosophical. His experience of being “abducted” has influenced every plot he has written since, continually through his creative artistry, attempting to justify his experiences as authentic and not the product of some drug fueled trip in Katmandu. Like Moore, Morrison fancies himself as an agent of the occult, with initiate knowledge into the hermetic traditions that have colored the history of Great Britain. Yet I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that, whereas Moore accepts the changes offered by cosmic upheaval, Morrison’s work describes events that are evaded, and any Lovecraftian horrors waiting to consume our universe easily assailable.
          My point is, after all this, is that the author continually justifies him/herself in their writings. Every piece of fiction is an attempt to convince you (the reader) that the world is operating on a certain schema. And it’s good to be aware of these things, as this ability to discern affects our understanding of world and current events as well. If you are brave enough, consider your own lives and identify the Acts that divide your growth from young to old and maybe things will get a little clearer. If not for me, for science!

Happy July 4th!





Monday, June 25, 2018

Inventing Enemies

I realize that a writer’s blog should be memes and personable stuff, which I suck at. I really am a nice person. Promise! I’m just difficult to wrangle and coax out in person, let alone through the impersonal channels of the internet.
                But hey, I’m good at “being interesting.” This is what I’ve been told. So I’ve come up with a regurgitation of one of my recent reads that has really gotten be immersed in thinking.
                There’s an essay called “Inventing the Enemy” by Umberto Eco, a recent author in my collection that is occupying more and more of my time. Even now, in light of what is going on around the world, I thought the essay shows how anyone can create an “enemy.” An enemy doesn’t have to be someone were are at odds with in this scenario, just someone that we consider alien to us, or not of our kind, nationality, race, social standing, or otherwise. I wanted to give a birds eye view of Eco’s argument below. The essay is still  available in print and I highly recommend reading it, even if the language is stilted and archaic. (It was originally written in Italian and translated pieces can seem stale on the outside.)
  •         Eco states that enemies are first geographically different than us. They come from the outside. He cites the barbarians invading Rome at the peak and decline of the Roman Empire as chief examples. In today’s terms someone can be an “enemy” of ours if they reside in another country. We may never have met these people, or have had any long distance contact (i.e. wireless communication, internet chatting, etc), but they are someone removed from us. And their distance makes them the easiest target for creating an enemy for us to fight/oppose.
  •          Likewise, another degree of separation occurs with language. Eco cites the same example of the “barbarian” languages that invaded Rome, weakening the national identity of Rome. The word barbarian suggests a corruption of language (bar-bar-ian, like a stutter in speech). Those that we can’t understand, which requires us to have contact with them either personally or via audio message, we would reject as people we are against.
  •        After language comes those that live inside the city walls. Those that are strange to us are most likely to be immigrants. The United States has a long history of targeting immigrants, either 1st or 2nd generation, that have come from foreign lands to be with us and are at the beginning, or in process, of assimilation into the parent culture. These are people that are ESL (English as a Second Language) or they work less desirable jobs or they are having trouble finding a footing in a strange and new environment. They are easy to pick out in a crowd, maybe because their clothing is different, or because they live in ghettos where other fellow immigrants reside. We often make enemies of these people because they are easy to blame for things that are seemingly outside of our control. Crime, population density, government spending, and education burdens can all be easily blamed on the “immigrant” by the interior culture.
  •      Eco suggests, after his studying of Medieval history and philosophy, that those suffering from deformities would be the deepest layer where we could make our enemies. Assuming that the person on the outside has come in, learned our language, adopted our culture, and has demonstrably become essential to the community, those that are missing limbs, blind, mentally impaired, or suffering from congenital defects are seen as enemies because they lack on a fundamental level core abilities of other humans. This may not be as much an issue today as it was a thousand years ago, but an equivalent can be found in the homeless, who are dehumanized for their inability to care for themselves. They are seen as feral, unstable, and incomplete, therefore becoming an adequate enemy. Eco seems to have the most sympathy on this level of inhumanity simply because individuals of this strata are the easiest to blame and have few advocates.
I find the above really fascinating, and my synthesis of the arguments is limited by the amount of detail Eco lends to his argument. What is more sobering is his subsequent treatment, and potential explanation for the origins of antisemitism, not only because it is still fresh in our minds from the Holocaust but because of Arabs taking their place in the 21st century due to the events of 9/11. Despite dominating fields of medicine, law, finance, science, physics, mathematics, and humanities, Arabs encounter daily opposition for their skin color and religion simply because they are externally different or foreign within the parent culture of the United States.
                All these ideas are potent for discussion, but I’ve discovered personally that even with lengthy discourse there is still a degree of separation between theory and practice. We can talk about something in depth, but we can never see that we too make our own enemies on a daily basis, even subconsciously, and not even care about it.
                They key point Eco makes, the final conclusion he makes in his essay that is chilling to say the least, is that having an enemy, or maintaining a diet of enemies to consume and present, creates positive growth. I will leave you with these. I hope they make you think about the weightiness of his conclusions.




Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Unintended Effects of Capitalism


Earlier I wrote what I believed to be the downsides of socialism, despite aligning myself with socialist values and the contractual obligations we have to our fellow man and their well-being. Capitalism has always been decried by the disenfranchised and maligned from domestic regions to international ones, specifically implicating the richest and most powerful in a conspiracy to hoard the wealth of the middle and lower classes. Literally or figuratively, the idea is too amplified to take seriously. But maybe that’s just because we don’t live in areas where this exploitation is commonplace. This week, when I was reading Literary Orientalism, Postcolonialism, and Universalism by Abdulla Al-Dabbagh, it never occurred to me the postcolonial implications of globalism and its roots in capitalism. I would be remiss if I didn’t say that the fruits we reap today were long sowed by the shifting powers of continental Europe over the course of centuries, but where things lie now is the result of socio-economic Darwinism. The causal relationship between Rome and the colonization / administration of the known world created a template for colonialism that Western European powers would leverage to acquire sacrilegious amounts of wealth. Married with capitalism, the two are an unstoppable font of progress, but one made at the expense of literally billions of human souls. 
                The success of Capitalism is based on the price of goods, their overhead, and the materials that make them. If the price is right, we will buy it, even if we don’t need a Simpsons themed vibrator or a George Foreman grill. If the cost of making the product is less than the cost of selling, then the product has a longer shelf life of viability. And if the materials are readily available, production and shipping logistics will diminish turnaround time. This begets superfluous spending, ill treatment of underpaid workers in foreign countries, and built-in obsolescence, just to name a few of the ethical flaws of capitalism. Even the means by which stocks are traded, now executed by financial programs and automation software, are carried out with cold, logistical efficiency, eerily reminiscent of the bevy of apocalyptic science fiction films that depict machine uprisings. In this case however the enslavement is complicit and the effects subliminal.
                Those that come to the defense of Capitalism are typically those that benefit from its principals the most. Those that decry it, are likewise those that benefit least. And any supporter that preaches the benefits of the opposition are cuckolded. Free enterprise, free market, and reduced oversight proved to be the most lucrative years for the United States. Yet factory conditions were oppressive and deadly. We worked children 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. There is a fine balance that other countries struck in our stead, but the idea that we romanticize Capitalism is uncomfortable to me. The human soul is reduced to an asset of the company that can be sold off or liquidated at a moment’s notice. The employer has no responsibility to their employees, but rather the opposite is true. When I worked for Apple, employees were not given wages adjusted for their area’s cost of living, and only those that gave their life to the company line were given raises, promotions, and transfers. The atmosphere was religious, in a way, and much of the same goes true for other tech companies like Oracle. At one point we were given feedback on how to counter the effectiveness of the Microsoft OS, when my experience in the IT field proves overwhelmingly the opposite. Apple’s company culture was touted as the greatest of any company, while Chinese workers were committing suicide in their factories, because of an unrelenting wave-after-wave of product releases. Capitalism may be good for a small few, but these moguls depend upon a labor base to get that done.
                I take issue with how Capitalism is indicted on the world stage as an instrument of the West by way of product exposure. While it’s true that we forcefully engaged in trade with Japan, and other European Nations took their share of Southeast Asia, some have positioned that the dominance of McDonalds and Microsoft are tools of imperialism. Some argue, including Abdulla, that postcolonialism is an erroneous term, because the US is still moderating national trade and willing to engage in international conflict to secure assets. But I don’t believe that Bill Gate’s original program when deploying the first build of Windows was world domination. He exudes in many ways the rags to riches dream of Capitalism, the very same dream that many others have claimed. (Immigrants included.) Yet the ethical toll of Capitalism is far reaching and unstoppable. It makes me wonder if Adam Smith, on the publishing of The Wealth of Nations said, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” Progress is costly, when allowed to be free.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Enemy is Us


Here’s a thought:

Any view is defined from the opposing end of that view’s spectrum. The idea came to me, while I was entertaining guests at a birthday party for my daughter. I was able to “geek out” with a couple of guests, and in the pursuit of doing so I heard someone tell me that “most comics are left of center.” The context for the statement was that there was a particular group that was advocating “right-of-center” comics, but that they were met with fierce opposition from within the community. (I wasn’t aware of this, but I assume that all hell broke loose because of it.) I found the idea odd, that we need comics written “right-of-center.” No comic book writer/film critic/author writes content that establishes a worldview based on their enemy’s characterization of them—that is, I wouldn’t specifically write a book that was “liberal” because a critic of mine suggested that I was “liberal.” I would assume that they would write a story that reflected their own beliefs. I write stories that discuss things that interest me. I am not out to incite arguments. But I write what I write because I find that content interesting to me.
I find, that when someone (person B) characterizes your views (person A) as their opposite, what is happening behind the scenes is an instilling of existential competition, to validate beliefs of the original critic (person B) as valid, or more valid. I see this a lot in religion because I am a Christian and people are often insecure about their faith (myself included). I see instances where a layman witnesses same-sex marriage become validated by popular culture or reads about a scientific finding that sheds doubt on aspects of Christian orthodoxy, and their initial reaction is to characterize the supporters of those positions as being in opposition to his/her own. It’s therapeutic, ultimately, to be validated by creating an enemy. The stakes are higher now. And because enemies ultimately “lose,” we are invigorated when we read or hear something that sheds doubt on our opponent’s position.
The unintended effect is that we create our enemies as a toxic pursuit to escape our fears, rather than confront them and try to make sense of them.
What should we do, then, to avoid this?
Sorry, I have no idea. But I have thoughts.
See, going back to my opening point. If I write something that inadvertently challenges the worldview of another person, the onus is on that offended party to confront me and ask me in an understanding way why I have that position. Because I am not intentionally trying to offend someone. I’m, in most cases, just writing a story, or creating art, that resonates with me. The specter that we create of our enemies is a strawman that we sling mud upon rather than making an attempt to bridge the gap and attempt to understand any view different from our own.
Another interesting example: there was a time when I thought I was going to be a pastor of a Christian church. The unfortunate thing about this, was that I was very involved with the viewpoint of a certain pastor and I had purchased all his books and followed all his sermons. When I would confront a viewpoint that was different or, worst, in opposition to this pastor, I would write it off as poor scholarship on the opponent’s part. Then I was told an interesting anecdote as I was venting my frustrations our on my sponsoring mentor. If you read one author (his works in total), then you are a clone. If you read two authors, you’re confused. If you read three authors, you begin to develop an ecumenical understanding of knowledge pertinent to that topic.
This applies to everything: cooking, knitting, philosophy, politics, video games, religion, film, etc. What I don’t want you (reader) to take away from this is that your viewpoint is invalidated, or diminished, once you’ve reached this point of ecumenical understanding of your topic. What I desire you to take away is that people believe certain things because it’s personal to them, and there is a story behind that belief. When enough people are like-minded, they coalesce into a larger entity that takes core values (but not all of them) and synthesizes a new position that lacks the multifaceted explanations of certain beliefs.
In light of social media, I am convinced more and more that Facebook and other platforms are a cancer to our ecumenical understandings because they have condensed conversations and familiarity into statements and surface level understanding.
Chew on that for a bit.