Come, you spirits that tend on mortal blogs, unsex me here

Come, you spirits that tend on mortal blogs, unsex me here

Jim and John

Hello, good morning, and welcome to another Thursday, that day of the week of which Dent Arthur Dent never could get the hang.

I was listening to my Spotify playlist the other day, and in brief succession—though not one right after the other—I heard the songs People Are Strange by the Doors, and Girl by the Beatles.  It struck me, because of whatever peculiar frame of mind I was in, that both songs presented interesting insights, at different levels, about powerful and important aspects of human character and the nature of civilization.

Seriously.

I love it when art reflects on deeper facts of reality or can be interpreted as such.  It’s not necessary that art do this for it to be good or beautiful or worthwhile.  By no means is it necessary.  But it’s wonderful when it does.

We shouldn’t be surprised, I suppose, that powerful insights are to be found in the lyrics of two of the most artistically sophisticated, groundbreaking, and iconoclastic bands of the sixties, but it’s pleasing to find, nevertheless.

The most straightforward of the two thoughts arises in a simple line from People Are Strange, specifically: “Women seem wicked, when you’re unwanted.”  This is a powerful observation, often lamentably true, about the character of men, rooted in biology and focused by the lens of thousands of years of cultures largely dominated by men.

It is a biological fact that women are, if you will, the gatekeepers of the next generation, and since getting into the next generation is one of the most powerful drives enacted by our genes (since organisms that don’t have that drive don’t tend to get into the next generation), this sets up seriously powerful forces that have acted continuously over the course of eons.

It’s a lot more directly costly for women to get their genes into the next generation than it is for men, so they tend to be a lot choosier than men need to be, all other things being equal.*  But of course, this puts any given man in the position of having to compete for the favor of, or some other means of access to, women in order to reproduce.  For men who find themselves by nature easily attractive to women, this is not a big problem.  In those cases, it’s more often a problem for women.  But such attractiveness is rare, and most men find themselves in bitter competition with other local men (in the modern era, “local” can refer effectively to millions and even billions of people).  For a man who’s having trouble finding a woman who finds him suitable, this can engender tremendous frustration (biologically, psychologically, and socially), as this powerful ancestral drive finds itself unfulfilled.

We humans don’t deal with frustration well; we have a hard time thinking about it clearly.  We have a hard time looking at ourselves and saying, “Well, maybe I’m not that obviously promising a person with whom to pair one’s genes in the trip to the next generation.  Is there anything I can do to make myself at least seem more promising?”

Instead, many men start to think that women are wicked.  Perhaps “think” is too lofty a verb for the process; “feel” might be more accurate, since logical thought is rarely involved, and is more often used in post hoc sophistry than for careful evaluation.  We associate our frustration with women, especially with highly attractive women, and we lose sight of the chain of causality.  We just blame the women for the feeling, instead of recognizing that it comes from us and our own circumstances.  We fail to recognize that women are no more to blame for wanting to be choosy about their partners than men are about wanting to posture and show off in order to maximize our own perceived attractiveness.

From this collision of drives and barriers is born all manner of misogyny, including whole cultures that require women to be covered in public so as not to “inflame men’s lust”**  It’s part of the what drives men to create societies that subordinate women, that effectively (or actually) enslave them.  Women are described as wicked and are blamed for the frustrated lusts and behaviors of men, partly because it’s easier to “justify” mistreating someone when you demonize them.

This frustration turned to malice and revenge is almost certainly contributory to the push in certain modern communities to ban abortion even when pregnancy is the result of rape.  After all—looking at things in horribly immoral but nonetheless depressingly real terms—this leaves open one means by which to circumvent the biological gatekeepers.  Or, rather, it is a means to break down the gate, and an option that such men, consciously or subconsciously, might want to leave open for themselves.

Maybe I’m being uncharitable.

So many evils are born of or influenced by the fact that women seem wicked*** when you’re unwanted that it’s almost too depressing to accept or at least to look at closely.  But if we want to correct and prevent evil outcomes, we need to think about where they come from and how they became what they are.  Only by doing this we can counter such evils effectively and efficiently and produce a more moral and ethical civilization.  Unless and until we change the nature of our biology itself, at a very deep level, we’re going to be saddled with this tendency, this subjective feeling, so well and concisely encapsulated in the Doors’s seemingly throw-away line.

Oodles more could be said about this, of course, but I’m not trying to write a full article, let alone a book on the subject.  I welcome your input on the matter, though, whether in the comments or on Facebook or on Twitter.

And, of course, I clearly don’t have reasonable time or space this week to deal with the second song, Girl, so I’ll leave that for next time.  I’ll just provide a teaser by saying that I think this song—probably unintentionally and/or unconsciously—had much to say about addiction, and the parallels between it and the dramatic and poetic notions of romantic love.

In closing, a quick report:  I continue to edit Unanimity at a good pace, and I’m enjoying the process; this enjoyment will probably not last, nor should it, for I need to be as brutal and ruthless with my work as I can.

I also, just for fun, yesterday began writing (by hand, to try mitigate my natural verbosity) Dark Fairy and the Desperado, a story I’d originally envisioned as a manga, based on two drawings I did at separate times and for separate reasons, of characters who somehow just worked in my head when I threw them together.  You can see several renderings of them among my posted images on Facebook, in my personal account and I think on my author page.  There’s even a fanciful picture, drawn as a favor, of the Dark Fairy tormenting then-President George W. Bush.

How much more would the Dark Fairy have to say and do now, with our current president?  One shudders to imagine, and that shuddering is not necessarily entirely born of dread, but perhaps, rather, of antici…

…pation.

TTFN


*All other things almost never are equal, but we’ll leave that aside for now.

**Since most men, as a simple fact of reality and math, can’t stand out as plainly being above average relative to other men, and so are more likely to be frustrated in their “lust” than to have it bear fruit…so to speak.

***Let there be no misunderstanding:  this seeming is purely in the eyes of the beholder.

I could a tale unfold whose lightest word would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blog…

Well, it feels like the end of an era, but I’m able finally to be able to say that I’ve completed the first draft of Unanimity.  I say, “the end of an era,” because it feels as if it’s the longest I’ve ever worked on anything in my life.  This is not literally true; my horror novel, Vagabond, which I wrote through college and med school, took longer, but that was because I wrote it so sporadically.  I foolishly worked on it only when “inspiration” struck, whatever that even means.  And the first full-length (hand-written) novel I ever wrote, Ends of the Maelstrom, probably took longer as well, for broadly similar reasons.

There’s no denying, however, that Unanimity is the biggest thing I’ve ever written.  At 530,549 words, its first draft is longer than the published version of either It or The Stand.  I don’t know how many days of writing it’s entailed.  I took at least one fairly long hiatus during the middle of the process, to complete various other authorial tasks, but even given that…well, in length, at least, it’s definitely my magnum opus.  So far.

I had no idea when I began it that it was going to be so long.  I don’t often really think in such terms, which is probably good, since I tend to run off at the keyboard.  I love words, I love written language, I love writing stories…and I’m self-indulgent when it comes to those loves.  I hope you’ll be patient with me, but I’ll understand if you’re not.

So, Tuesday I finished the rather melancholy final scene of my novel, and then Wednesday, as you may have noticed, I published Penal Colony, my latest short story (It’s available for purchase in Kindle format, for less than a buck, American).  Having both things happen more or less contemporaneously makes them feel more momentous than they probably are.

Now I must try very hard to take a break from Unanimity, and not to do any rewriting or editing on it for the month of February.  Fortunately, I have two short story ideas eagerly waiting to be written, and I really should finish up In the Shade as well, so I’ll try to get most, or all, of those works done this coming month.  They’re all horror stories—no big surprise—but at least one of them is a slightly jokey, cynical horror story, in which very honorable, morally upright, and laudable impulses and deeds are used against a well-meaning, if slightly self-righteous, person by dark forces.

Such—all too often, and regrettably—is life.

Hopefully, though, we won’t let that stop us.  Dark things and dark people are generally a lot noisier than good things and good people, so sometimes it feels as though they dominate the universe.  Yet the fact that civilization has survived at all, and continued to advance, seems to be mathematical proof that good and creativity are stronger than evil and destruction.  After all, it’s simpler by far to destroy than to create, and yet creation—in the human world—vastly predominates over destruction.  QED.

Sorry about that little digression into philosophy, but I thought it might be warranted.  It would be all too easy, I know, based on the types of things I write, for someone to imagine that I’m a pessimist about human nature, or the universe in general.  I’m not.  Though the second law of thermodynamics is as inescapable as any other mathematical principle, it’s also the source of life, and of our experience of time.  Life—certainly as we know it—can’t exist except where entropy is going from lower to higher.  I’m very much on board with the ideas David Deutsch describes in his wonderful book The Beginning of Infinity There is no guarantee that humanity and our descendants will go on to achieve a cosmic-level civilization, but there doesn’t appear to be any reason it’s not possible.  Whether or not it happens is entirely dependent upon our actions (and a lack of local astronomical catastrophes, of course).

And that’s about enough of all that for now.  I’ll leave you to the rest of your day.  It’s bitterly cold up north, I know, and it’s even relatively chilly down here in south Florida, so wrap up warm, all those who are affected.  Curl up by the fire in a blanket.  Drink a mug of tea, or coffee, or hot chocolate, and read a good book, if you get the chance.  Listen to that cold, bitter wind howling outside, with a chill that seems more than capable of freezing the very flesh from your bones.  It sounds almost alive, doesn’t it?

It sounds almost…hungry.

TTFN

You can ONLY get “Ought” from “Is”

There’s a notion held by many intellectuals—or at least those who are educated beyond some minimum level—that one cannot derive any moral “ought” in life from any “is” about nature.  This notion is attributed to David Hume, the famous and by all accounts extremely intelligent 18th century philosopher, though I haven’t read the original source material (and if I’m doing his ideas a disservice, I apologize profusely to his memory).  In general, the “Humeans” seem to accept the apparently dogmatic notion that the realm of morals and ethics is divorced from the realm of our understanding of the natural world, and that nothing that we could learn about the objective facts of reality could ever give us the answers to what we ought to do—ethically, morally—in our lives.

I don’t understand how so many otherwise intelligent people, Hume among them, could ever have accepted such a patently idiotic idea. Continue reading

A Brief Update and a Report of a Wildlife Encounter (without pictures)

I thought I’d give you all a brief update on my latest story.  Then I chose to act on that thought, and so here it is:  I am almost through with the editing of my new short story, “I For One Welcome Our New Computer Overlords.”  I call it a short story only because it’s really too short to be a novella, but it isn’t very short, just so you know.  I expect to publish it here early next week, so for those of you who are interested in reading it, keep your eyes open for the announcement.  I’ll be posting about it on Facebook and Twitter, so those of you who follow me on those social media outlets should know shortly after it’s released.

On an utterly unrelated note:  Yesterday I was at the park behind my office during lunch (I don’t eat lunch there…I don’t usually eat lunch at all, come to think of it), and I saw a shape break the surface of the water.  It was too big to be a fish, and I thought perhaps it was an errant sea turtle that had found its way into the intercoastal waterway.  I watched for it to appear again, and soon it did.  I saw a snout and a pair of big, round eyes pop up briefly, and I recognized what I had seen; it was a young manatee, roaming about in water that would have been too shallow for one of its fully-grown co-speciesists ( that’s a neologism I just invented).  I don’t know why it was there alone, but it seemed to be in good health, and was wandering though the sort of lagoon by the docks, presumably eating at the plants that grow near and into the water.  The park is almost a mangrove swamp in that area.

There was no sign of the manatee today, more’s the pity, but I did feed a few puffer fish, which is always kind of fun.  They’re surprisingly aggressive.  The young barracuda that I see never give the puffers any cheek.

Well, that’s about all for now.  I’m waiting for the train to carry me homeward for the evening, and won’t be doing very much exciting other than some further editing on my story.  I wish you all the best!

TTFN!