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.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

The Internet Society

The other day I was at work and one of my co-workers sent me a link about the recent mass killing in Canada regarding self-proclaimed “incel” Alek Minassian, who praised the killing of students at UCSB by another “incel” named Elliott Rodger. I use the terminology in quotes because it’s a nonsense category of humanity, one that was created by malignant sociopaths and absorbed egomaniacs.
On Reddit, there was a forum dedicated to these kind of people. These who are faceless and plain, and take out their anger on the women who won’t sleep with them by writing depressing, bemoaning tracts of prose better suited to the stylings of a melancholy junior high on Deviant Art than a twenty-something still living at home with their parents. (My dig at Deviant Art comes from personal experiences, so there.) Fortunately this forum was removed from Reddit some months ago.
                This is a trend ongoing. There are many online forums that are steeped in this type of incestuous talk. What’s impressive is that I was introduced to this kind of thing long ago when I was a kid. I grew up with the internet, with 56K dialup, 4.5KB per second download rates, and simple HTML websites that took two minutes to load in Netscape Navigator. But there I was on forums, in AOL Instant Messenger, and observing first-hand the capricious and devilish stylings of some of the most despicable people I had ever encountered.
                Even I was the victim of online bullying.
                But that’s a story for another day.
                What I still try to understand is the phenomenon of “flame wars” and other types of vilification on the internet. We say a lot of things that we don’t mean, or we have the courage to do things that we otherwise wouldn’t attempt in the company of others. I think vloggers and youtube broadcasters are a great example of the latter: a group of people emboldened by the lack of social repercussions received from face to face conversation. In the right context, these people have become influencers and speakers in a larger conversation. (At the same time the lack of credentialing has led to a conflagration of unsubstantiated observations that bring the layman / laywoman to bad conclusions. This is also a conversation for another day.)
                Internet bullying is like a network loop. It’s recursive. Ego exits the speaker and enters the Other. The Other responds with ego and enters the Other. And on and on it goes. The internet is puzzling like that. There is so much good that the internet brings us. Open and constant information. Limitless education and tutorials in dozens of practices. Extending communication to those halfway across the world in seconds. And even exposing virtuosity for the least of our number to elevate them to incredible heights. But these are not really highlighted upon in the current climate. Right now the internet is a cesspool of thieves, blackmailers, bigots, terrorists, and sexual predators. Information is suspect and, in many cases, counterfeit, spread by people without qualifications. Unprecedented movements in communities lead to the deaths of others or, at the very least, their defamation.
                I mentioned the network loop before… People often say that charity is the best remedy for those needing a better reference. This is because, instead of thinking about ourselves and being trapped in a constant loop of self-preservation, we begin to see others as ourselves and the gap between “Us” and “Them” closes. This whole blog entry really has been about extremes, two sides with an immeasurable distance between them. Breaking the loop, in the context of the sociopath and the internet, is really bringing down the artificial wall of anonymity. When we are confronted with people that are different at a distance, it’s much easier to discredit them than if we are up close.
                So maybe the cure is to see eye to eye, face to face?

Friday, April 20, 2018

Thoughts on Ads

I’ve been up to some shenanigans lately with running ads for my books, finally after Spirit of Orn has been published for 4 years and I’ve begun to take current projects more seriously. Tall Men: And Other Tales inspired me to “go big or go home” and “big” I did, spending something like $180 on advertising via Facebook.

In light of Facebook’s recent controversy over the use of personal data to enhance the potential revenue stream from ads, I stand to gain from the system they architected, and I feel almost dirty after the fact. This has led to a lot of introspection, especially considering that I plan to run more ads as time goes on.  What I came to realize is that I’m not sympathetic to Mark Zuckerberg after all the suckerbergs he has made of us. However, I find his datamining incredibly powerful and worthwhile.

Here’s why:

To get a voice in the continual and tumultuous shouting contest that is the internet (and advertising in general), many have written tutorials and given seminars on marketing strategies to showcase and advocate for a product. The most effective way to do this is the “grassroots” approach. That is when a small minority of people become influencers. They loudly advocate, adding new converts to the product that they feel resonates to them on a personal level. I remember my days back when I interned at my local church where this model was depended upon exclusively. But, alas, I’m too busy to even get outside, unless it’s the gym or work. I have a full time job, a wife, a young , infant daughter, and any extra time I have available I invest in producing content. Availing myself to ads is then a great option simply to let people know that I exist, that I’m out there. So while I think large corporations leveraging personal info to invade our lives with their merchandise is by nature duplicitous, I am hopeful that people can be empowered to get relevant content out there and in front of the people that really appreciate it.  

Ultimately, by using ads I want people can get to know me. I’m not the most lovable person, but I’m passionate about what I do, and I enjoy sharing that passion with other people. Chances are, if you are reading this, you are one of the people that responded to my invite to like my Facebook page recently in my last marketing campaign. Though there will eventually come a time where I can’t reach out to everyone, at the moment you have my attention.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Monday, April 2, 2018

The Unintended Sins of Socialism

I’m not super political, despite what my posts may suggest. Though I touch on the current state of affairs (no pun intended) rather often my stance on American politics has always been the long term model: that either in my lifetime, or the lifetime of my future generations, America will fall as Rome did or be subsumed into a larger planetary entity, utopian/dystopian or otherwise, like Star Trek’s Federation of Planets or Warhammer 40,000. There are basic rights that every government promotes for the electorate, and regardless of which political spectrum one resides, the ends are achieved one way or another. The unregulated and anarchistic model of the fiscally conservative, remarkably similar to Mad Max (only with etiquette and manners in the slaughter of the innocent), is a favorite among most that already have wealth. Still, the basic principals of American free-market capitalism are ones deeply rooted in American traditions of entrepreneurship and free enterprise. There is elevated importance in the responsibility of the average citizen to “pay attention” and not “fuck up,” lest they willfully confine themselves to the proletariat strata for a generation or two.

 Any other government today seems to be defined and judged on the merits of the former model, that any other interpretation of continental Enlightenment ideals and French populism is somehow an incomplete or misinterpreted execution of the classical models of Adam Smith. I once heard a Libertarian say “of all the imperfect models, capitalism is the best possible of all evils.” I wanted to follow up on his spurious assessment with probing questions like, “Don’t you have NO JOB, working at a church off the tithes and offerings of others (aka Biblical Communism)?” or “So have you never taken advantage of paid-vacation, employer health insurance, 8AM-5PM workdays, or OSHA requirements to ensure manufacturing procedures are in place to ensure a safe work environment?” I needed to remind myself in the moment that this particular specimen of Americana was one that lived in a family of protesters and activists, generally a class of people that have no firsthand experiences of those they advocate for.

(All of my friends who advocate for raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour have never had the privilege of working in a factory or washing dishes in a corporate kitchen. Now that I make in excess of $15 per hour, I recognize that a McDonalds employee earning an income within spitting distance of mine is an insulting proposition, given the bevy of soft skills and advanced tasks that I exercise on a daily basis. If anything steps should be made to control the artificially inflated value of real estate, which is often the primary economic drain on a household income by far.)

Though during the 2016 election, there was a lot of talk about various aspects of what I would consider “Nordic Socialism” being proposed as new legislation, deploying such benefits such as paid maternity leave, single payer healthcare, and the raising of a minimum wage. Having been to Norway, learned Norwegian and studied social, economic, political, and religious history of the land, and not simply read or watched a two minute video on the wonderful-world-of-the-other to inform myself of a complex, yet rich history of nationalism in Norway (Syttende Mai, for example), I have a close idea of why the miraculous social systems work so well across the pond. I can also explain, or  approximate, the uncomfortable rise in Neo-Nazism, Extreme Nationalism, and the public awareness and subtle racism implicate in their multicultural programs and state naturalization bureaus.

Assuming first the fallibility and stereotyping inherent in television and media, on second reflection the television and film of Norway is very cognizant of the current issues plaguing Norway, many being existential in nature. Popular television programs like Lilyhammer depict Americans (ie outsiders) rigging the na├»ve and bureaucratic for their personal gain, employing spirited 1920’s era prohibition imagery to sell an overtly capitalist establishment operating under the nose of highly regulated and strictly monitored socialist businesses. A film, Troll Hunter, offers a similar satire of Norway’s turnkey bureaucracy, as well as the troubling and duplicitous stance the Norwegian government takes on conservation. (In this context, the trolls being rounded up and executed represent the bear populations in Norway—it is illegal to hunt bears (as they are protected) but perfectly legal to exterminate them if they wander to close to human settlements that are often being built progressively deeper into the countryside. Troll Hunter is a more subdued parody obviously. Lilyhammer, with its breadth of content (canceled after 3 seasons), more can be said of its self-awareness of the current political climate of Norway, which is schizophrenically tolerant and intolerant of refugees and immigrants seeking a better life.

According to Lilyhammer’s depiction of the Nye Arbeids og Velferdsetaten (colloquially known as the N.A.V.), Norway expends a tremendous amount of energy to invest in migrant populations, offering retreats, counseling, language courses, and eventual naturalization upon completion of the coursework. Whether or not this is fantasy, I have no idea. However the people that I chanced to meet with in Norway were directly involved with these programs, at least in the local municipality. To those that are tolerant, there is an expectation to help support the new arrivals. This attitude, often derided as “multiculturalism” by conservative Norwegians, indicates that there are non-vocal expectations for immigrants, namely that they assimilate quickly, and without retaining their original expressions of culture in favor of their new homeland’s values and traditions. More so, the popularity of asylum and immigration requests have created migrant communities that live in reasonably adequate housing projects, though with the attached stigma of being “the other.”

The unintended sins of socialism then beget racism, ethno-centricity, neo-naziism (in Norway’s case), nativism, aggressive nationalism, and homogenization of culture. The irony is that in the United States we exhibit the same tendencies but out of ignorance and generational gaps in thinking. The United States is a well blended, cosmopolitan nation with many segregated communities that in microcosm exhibit the inward focus of Socialist principals. (Socialism only works if the communities involved are small and tightly knit, with a common culture that unites the people with traditions and regional narratives.) We best see the signs of this when one culture oppresses another, or a dominant culture sequesters themselves inside self-styled ghettos (suburbs, gated communities, rural-agrarian homesteads).

Yet for all the complexities and difficulties implied in socialism (which we might as well acknowledge as bureaucracy integrated with society under the principals of social contracts), the benefits far outweigh the consequences. In a country so expansive and large, and having agreed reluctantly in the past to disband the Articles of Confederation, and other “state-centric” forms of government, the only sensible way forward is with the assistance of government oversight and regulation. This isn’t for the sake of touting an egalitarian system from person to person, but for repairing our roads and making sure our hospitals, residential buildings, and civic structures are built to code. Or, more importantly, insuring the safety of the food we eat or the air we breathe. Granted there are instances of bureaucratic complexity and red tape, but the benefit of being in a democracy is that these rules can be changed with active government participation. In other words we are without excuse. And if we don’t like it, then get the fuck out. Every citizen has a responsibility to advocate for the quality of life of their neighbors and community. That, in essence, is the spirit of socialism.