You blogs, you stones, you worse than senseless things

You blogs, you stones, you worse than senseless things

declaration

 

“And why should Caesar be a tyrant then?  Poor man!  I know he would not be a wolf but that he sees the Romans are but sheep.  He were no lion were not Romans hinds.  Those that with haste will make a mighty fire begin it with weak straws.”

Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene III

 

Hello, good morning, happy Thursday, and for those in the United States, Happy Independence Day!

This is an important holiday which has lost some of its meaning over time.  In saying this, I might sound a little like those who bemoan the commercialization of Christmas, but I mean it quite seriously.  The date—the 4th of July, of course—is the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and the more-or-less “official” birth of the United States of America…though I think it might more appropriately be called the conception of the USA.  The Constitution’s ratification thirteen years later was the true birth of the United States of America.

As the first truly secular Constitution in the world—it only mentions religion to state that no religious test shall ever be required for government office, and that there shall be no establishment of religion nor prohibition of its free exercise (the former in Article VI, clause 3, and the latter in the 1st Amendment)—it was groundbreaking.  At the time, this secularity was somewhat scandalous, but the founders of the United States were well aware—through personal experience and through the lessons of history—of the corruption, persecution, and violence that tend to arise when religion and government are entangled.  This is an important point, and it is not clearly understood by many modern Americans.**

In a broader sense, I think it’s worthwhile to remind modern Americans how revolutionary it was to institute a Constitutional Republic whose government’s power, as stated explicitly and implicitly in both the Declaration and the Constitution, derived solely from the consent of the governed, not from any other authority.  The idea was—and should still be—that our representatives, our senators, our presidents, etc., are our employees, our servants.  They are certainly not our “leaders”.  They, like our military and our police forces, exist in principle to serve our greater good, to the best of their ability and to the best of our ability to hold them true to their duties.  We would do well to emphasize this notion to ourselves on a regular basis, because it’s all too easy for humans to fall prey to authoritarianism, and for would-be authoritarians to take advantage of that tendency.

It’s worth remembering the historical (and literary) lesson of Julius Caesar, for it is all too easy for a popular strongman to turn a Republic into a totalitarian regime that can endure as such for centuries…even after the initial strongman is ousted or assassinated.

It’s said that the price of freedom is constant vigilance, and I agree, but I would go even further:  The price of survival is constant vigilance.  Quite apart from the need to sustain yourself physically in a rather heartless universe, if you give up your freedom then your very survival itself is no longer in your hands.  You live and die—and you thrive or suffer—at the whim of those you have allowed to have power over you.  And no one else can be ultimately responsible for your personal survival and freedom if you are not.

It’s for these among other reasons that I bemoan the fetishization of the American flag (on which topic I’ve written previously, here), and its glorification in our national anthem.  Don’t get me wrong; I’m a fan of the flag.  And I understand that children find bright patterns in primary colors engaging.  But remember, the design of the flag was and is arbitrary.  It has no real, deep meaning.

The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, on the other hand, are neither arbitrary nor shallow.  They are expressions of great and important ideas and ideals.  They are the soul of the United States.  The flag is, if anything, just our hairstyle or our eye color (if you will)…and fireworks are, perhaps, just glints in that eye.***

It’s true that the founders of the USA fell well short of the noble ideals they expressed so well…and it’s pretty clear that they knew that.  That’s part of why they made the Constitution amendable and included the Bill of Rights as the first ten of those amendments.  We have far exceeded the founders in realizing some of the notions expressed in the Declaration of Independence, including a greater implementation of the notion that “all [people] are created equal.”  But we have fallen far behind them in other respects, and such backsliding is dangerous.

We’ve become more parochial and more provincial, ironically; we are undereducated in certain crucial areas (including the very recognition of how absolutely essential education is for the survival of a republic such as ours); we’ve fallen too far into the glorification of “leaders” and the worship of symbols rather than the exploration and elevation of ideas and ideals, which must be constantly submitted to testing, criticism, and exploration if they are to endure and improve.  And we must strive constantly to improve them—rigorously and meticulously, not haphazardly—in the spirit of the acquisition of scientific knowledge, with distrust of arguments from authority and with constant vigilance, especially against our own biases and failings.  For if things do not improve, then it’s more likely that they will deteriorate than that they will simply remain static.  After all, there’s only one zero point on the number line, but there’s an endless expanse of negatives.

So, that’s me on the soapbox for today.  By all means, of course, do enjoy the holiday for the fireworks, and for the cookouts, and for the time spent with friends and family.  But please, do also remember what it’s about, and how important it is always to be on guard—at least as much with respect to your own biases and errors as anything else—against the accidental or deliberate betrayal of the ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

As part of doing this myself, I refer to the holiday only as Independence Day, not just as “the fourth of July.”  It’s a little thing, but it might be worth doing.

TTFN


*The former in Article VI, clause 3, and the latter in the 1st Amendment.

**I highly recommend the recent book The Founding Myth by Andrew Seidel as an exploration of this topic.

***Apologies for the strained metaphor.

I am determined to prove a villain, and hate the idle pleasures of these blogs.

I am determined to prove a villain, and hate the idle pleasures of these blogs.

facial-reconstruction-Richard-III

Hello and good morning!  It’s the last Thursday of the month, which implies that next Thursday will be the first Thursday of a new month.  Unfortunately, this no longer means that I’ll release a new episode of “My Heroes Have Always Been Villains.”  More’s the pity, but they just didn’t seem to get many readers.  Perhaps people were put off by the title, or maybe people have a trained aversion to admitting that villains are not only necessary to good stories but are also, often, the most interesting and pro-active characters.  I’ve often noted that it is the villains in great stories who make things happen, who try to change the world (often in not-so-good ways, of course), whereas the heroes tend just to react to events.  In this sense, revered inventors, discoverers, and innovators have more in common, personality-wise, with the villains of our tales than with the heroes.

I don’t know what this says about human nature, but I do rue the fact that no one seems to quite get the notions that I try to express in “MHHABV.”  (I’ll rule out the possibility that I’m simply not good enough at conveying those notions.  Let’s not be ridiculous, here).  Thus, I find myself in the shoes of many a villain—the comic-book style ones, anyway—in bemoaning the fact that there seems to be no one else in all the world with the vision, the intellect, the greatness of spirit to recognize and embrace the grandeur of my design!

<<Sigh>>  It’s lonely being a supervillain.  Just ask Thanos, or Dr. Doom, or Hannibal Lecter (but I recommend asking politely).

Tangentially, it’s interesting to wonder if it’s possible to be truly happy and yet to move forward and make profound changes for the better in the world.  Buddhist monks rarely seem motivated to cure (or treat) terrible diseases,* or to invent new products or technologies, or to discover new sciences.  Not to say their activities aren’t worthwhile.  Some of them accomplish real insight into the nature of the human mind.  Still, it’s telling that the end goal of (at least some versions of) Buddhist practice is to achieve a state where you stop being reborn and can finally just frikking die and cease to exist when your time comes.  I can offer anyone with that goal a hugely step-saving strategy.

Of course, I’m caricaturing the teachings of Buddhism and Buddhist monks somewhat; I hardly think I have the final word on this subject.

Speaking of final words, just yesterday I finished the first edit of Unanimity.  Yes, that was just the first one.  Oy.  But still, it was a milestone.  I’ve already trimmed about eleven thousand words from the story, but there’s a long way to go before it’s in publishable form, with lots of little tweaks and corrections to be made.  It’s hard to write a half-a-million-word novel and keep everything perfectly consistent, especially with respect to trivia such as the receptionist’s name in a medical office, whom you forgot you’d introduced once before, and so when you introduce that person again, you use a completely different name, and perhaps even a different personality.  To take just one (purely hypothetical!) example.

Of course, to the surprise of no one who knows me at all, I haven’t come to any conclusion regarding the fate of “Iterations of Zero.”  I would be less conflicted about keeping it going if I could just find the time (and the will) to write in it, or to record “audio blogs”, as regularly as I write here.  But time and will are exquisitely finite resources, even for supervillains like me.  I have to earn a living, doing things that are not nearly so fulfilling, and which bring me into daily contact with…well, certainly with many interesting characters.  In this case, I use the word “interesting” as in the (supposed) Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.”  Or, in a similar vein (har), as I’ve often said to patients, “You should try never to be interesting to your doctor.”

I would love to write, etc., full time, and to produce more material of more varied nature, but money’s tight.  Of course, if my books were to become international best-sellers and were made into blockbuster motion pictures, that would help matters tremendously, but that’s not entirely up to me.  I’m too self-effacing (and often self-loathing) to be very good at marketing myself aggressively.  This is in ironic contrast to certain people (some of them in high office) who seem uniquely skilled and talented at polishing the turds that they are and selling those shiny pieces of excrement to people who don’t appear to know better…or who don’t want to know better, which is worse.

Thinking about such things too much can arouse real sympathy for the great villains of literature.

If there’s anyone out there who wishes I had time to write more and who has a lot of money or is brilliant at marketing and has some spare time and wants a challenge, you’re certainly invited to help make my nefarious dreams a reality.  In the meantime, I hope you’re all enjoying the summer.  While you do, though, as I’ll make clear in my short story Free Range Meat, you must remember never to lock your dogs in vehicles, especially on hot, sunny days.  Conversely,** if you encounter a situation in which it seems someone else has done such a thing, you may want to think twice before intervening too aggressively.  Not all is as it seems, and the road to real Hell, as we know, can be paved with the best of intentions.

TTFN


*Physical ones, anyway.  The argument can be made that meditational practices show real promise in treating some psychological maladies.

**Or is it inversely?  Or obversely?

For it will come to pass that every bloggart shall be found an ass.

Good day, everyone.  It’s that morning for which you all pine each week:  Thursday morning, the morning on which I (usually) release my weekly blog post.  Rejoice!  You can breathe again.

Okay, well, anyway…I hope everyone in America had a good Memorial Day on Monday.  I always try to avoid saying “a happy Memorial Day,” since the point behind the holiday is to remember with gratitude the many military personnel who’ve fought and died in wars, etc., especially in World War II, and that’s not really a happy thought.

Of course, in a certain sense, we should be happy that these people did what they did—it’s good that the Axis powers didn’t win World War II, even despite the many missteps and mistakes the Allies and former Allies have made in the years since.  On the other hand, though, we can surely all agree that it’s lamentable that such destruction and loss of life was ever necessary.  If you stop and think about it, we should all hope for (and whenever possible, strive toward) a world in which neither heroism nor leadership are necessary, since leadership and heroism are generally required only when things are not going well.  At least, it would be nice to work toward a world in which conflict, leadership, and heroism exist in sports, in books, in movies, and in video games, but not in day to day life.

Is such a world possible?  In principle, I think it is.  In practice, who knows if it will ever happen?  I wouldn’t lay heavy money on it, more’s the pity.

On to lighter, or at least more personal, matters.  I’ve been fiddling around with sound editing/recording/mixing software, and it has continued to distract me a bit from my writing tasks, but not completely.  Though I haven’t written any new pages of Neko/Neneko for over a week, I have been editing away at Unanimity, and I’ve been pleased to find that there are some moving moments in it.  One would hope this was the case in a long novel, of course, but I’ve read a few books in which there are no such experiences.  It’s nice that, at least for the author, the book has some poignant, and goose-bumpy, and thrilling passages.  Hopefully, future readers will agree with my assessment.

I continue to entertain the plan of releasing the three short stories from Welcome to Paradox City as individual Kindle editions, and—in sort of a parallel opposite act—of releasing a collection of my more recent short stories, and possibly doing all of these before Unanimity comes out.  And, of course, before any of that, I’m going to be releasing Free Range Meat, my latest short story.  That should happen fairly soon, as the editing on it is going well, even though it’s only one day a week.

Amidst all these processes, one thing that I’ve fallen off on a bit—and which I was never terribly good about in the first place—is promotion.  Though I’ve never found it natural to advertise myself, I at least periodically used to boost some Facebook ads and the like, and I haven’t done any of that in quite a while.  It’s just contrary to my nature, at least as I am now, to shout out for attention, even when it’s perfectly reasonable, and even necessary, to do so.  Don’t get me wrong, I can certainly be pompous and arrogant in my own right (no, really!), but I’m not very good at talking myself up.  I usually feel that it’s rude to try to push myself into other people’s awareness.  This is not good, of course, for someone who’s trying to get other people to notice and read his books (or listen to his songs, or whatever).  And I myself often lament how much it’s the case that the assholes of the world make far more noise than the benign and positive people.

Of course, one ongoing way in which I do promote myself is by writing this blog (and Iterations of Zero, though that’s more esoteric).  But doing more than that is rather awkward for me.

I often envy the attitude expressed by a moment in “The Simpsons” when Marge flashes back to a two-year-old Bart walking down the hall, banging on a kitchen pot with a spoon and singing, “I am so great!  I am so great!  Everybody loves me, I am so great!”  And, of course, I’m well aware that a key principle of advertising is repetition, even to the point of irritation.  After all, if people are thinking and talking about how much of a pain you are, they’re talking about you.  But it feels like it’s all in such poor taste.

Then again, I write fantasy/sci-fi/horror, and in the latter genre, many things happen which quite a few people would say are in poor taste, or they would be if they really occurred.  Certainly, the fate that befalls the very well-intentioned and positively behaved main character of Free Range Meat could hardly be called a Capra-esque outcome.  Maybe Kafka-esque, but definitely not Capra, and definitely not tasteful.

Tasty?  Maybe.

There, that’s a little teaser for you to whet your appetite.  I can do this promotion thing.  Sure, I can.

Well, I could ramble on and on for much longer than I have, but I’ll save that for another time.  Always leave them wanting more, they say.  I wish for each of you the best of all possible outcomes from your point of view, with only the proviso that it not interfere with the best of all possible outcomes for others from their points of view.

And isn’t that the big problem of crafting a society even of thoroughly well-meaning people?

TTFN

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

Depression Can Be Powerful

“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”

-Kris Kristofferson

 

There’s a curious phenomenon I’ve sometimes noticed, wherein I find myself not exactly welcoming bouts of depression, but feeling as if they are normal for me—more truly me than other states of being.  There’s a dark familiarity that’s difficult to explain, along with a sense that my mind is in some ways clearer, saner, when depressed than it is at other times.  Certainly, my concentration often improves when I’m depressed.  I’m less easily distracted, whether by good things or bad things; it’s a curious phenomenon. Continue reading

Liberty, Independence, Rights, and Patriotism

I’m not planning on writing a great deal today, because I’m going to let other writers, of whom many of you might have heard, take up most of the space of this entry.  But I do want to preface that writing with a few thoughts of my own, some of which I may have articulated previously.

Next Tuesday is the 4th of July, on which, in America, we celebrate Independence Day, with much eating, drinking, and firework firing.  It’s a wonderful holiday, an opportunity to enjoy family togetherness in the summertime, and to celebrate the anniversary of the founding of the United States, a pivotal historical event.  However, it should also be, I think, a time for Americans to reflect upon the origins of our country, upon the ideas on which is was founded, and what we need to do to live up to the hopes of its founders, whose reach—as does our own—often exceeded their grasp. Continue reading

The good/evil number line

During the last presidential election (some of you may remember it) occasional memes floated through social media making pronouncements to the effect that choosing the lesser of two evils (e.g. Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump in these memes’ cases) is still choosing evil.  These memes seemed often to come from first hopeful, then frustrated, Bernie Sanders supporters, but it’s a notion that’s by no means confined to such groups.  Ideologues of all stripes, from the religious, to the political, to the social-scientific and beyond, fall prey to the classic mental fallacy of the false dichotomy—the notion that the world is divided into two absolute, opposite natures, and that if their own ideas are pure and good (and nearly everyone, on all sides, seems to believe this of themselves), then any choice other than the pure realization of their ideas in all forms is somehow a descent into evil.  Many people implicitly believe that even to choose the “lesser of two evils” is somehow to commit a moral betrayal that can be even worse than simply choosing evil for its own sake.

I hope to explode this notion as the destructive claptrap that it is. Continue reading