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.

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.

What freezings have I felt, what blog posts seen!

Hello, ahoy-hoy, good day, and Happy New Year to all.

In my neck of the world, we’re currently suffering through a cold front/cyclone system that’s battering the eastern half of the United States with bitter cold and snow; even here in South Florida it got down to 45 degrees (Fahrenheit), last night, and it may get colder tonight.  That probably doesn’t seem very impressive to anyone who lives almost anywhere else in the US, or in most of Europe, but it’s the coldest it’s been here since I moved to this part of Florida.  Remember, I’m at roughly the same latitude as Egypt here, at least according to a map I saw online.*

As you know, last week we released “I for one welcome our new computer overlords” as a 99-cent short story for Kindle (and yes, that is how I’m capitalizing—or not capitalizing—the title).  I’m very happy with the way it turned out, so I’ve already begun arranging the other two short stories which had previously been posted on this blog.

This brings me to an interesting point:  As some of you know, I’d already recorded myself reading the short story “Prometheus and Chiron” aloud, for eventual placement on the blog, but simply hadn’t edited it yet for that purpose.  Well, now it turns out that my procrastination has served me well, since I’m in the process of doing further editing of the written version of that story.  I can honestly say that “Ifowonco” benefited greatly from that extensive re-editing process, and I think that “Prometheus and Chiron” will likewise benefit.  So, of course, I’m going to need to re-record it, and will then prepare that new version for release on the blog.  I’d like to say, or to imagine, that my subconscious was looking out for me in keeping me from releasing the audio before, but I can’t reasonably or honestly draw that conclusion.  I think it was mainly luck.

In any case, “Prometheus and Chiron” is the short story that will be released next for Kindle, and then on audio on this blog, but it’s going to be at least a little bit before it’s available (though we are already working on a cover design for it).

Speaking of audio—I did a bit of ex temp recording yesterday, speaking my thoughts, stream-of-consciousness style, on the dangers of so-called Regressive/Authoritarian Leftism, and especially on the dangers of virtue-signaling, dogmatism about ideological purity, and the in-fighting, denouncements, victimhood hierarchies, and the general level of shrieking hysteria one finds these days in segments of the left.  Quite apart from the impediment such idiocy presents to real, honest, classical-style liberalism—which has much in common with what might now be called libertarianism—and the contribution it made to the loss of the last election for the Democrats (and the possible loss of coming elections, for similar reasons), I have longer-term, possibly more disturbing worries, and I discussed them in brief…with myself, I guess.  Specifically, I pondered historical occasions when such intolerant and dogmatic leftists achieved power, and how those occasions gave rise to such historical horror shows as the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror, the slaughter of the Czar’s family and the subsequent gulags and purges of Soviet Russia (and the conflicts between Stalin and Trotsky, which led, among other things, to Trotsky’s murder), and of course, the cultural revolution and the millions of deaths associated with Maoism.  I’m not sure how coherent my speech was on that subject—I just didn’t feel like writing about it at the time, even though writing is almost unfailingly more organized than free-associated speech—but I’m going to listen to it, and if it’s good enough, I’ll edit out the hems and haws, the misspeakings, the false starts, and so on, and release the audio on Iterations of Zero.  It’s an interesting experiment, in any case.

I do still intend to make use of audio in the future with some regularity, though I think I’m going to put the video notion on hold for the time being.  Maybe someday I’ll make videos out of my eventual audio files, attaching them to pretty, nature-oriented background scenes, with flowers, and birds, and bees, and sweet little children.  That way you can keep yourself alert by suppressing your urge to vomit, even as you listen to my riveting words spoken in the dulcet tones of my own angelic voice.

Believe me, it’s better than having to look at my face.

Of course, despite all these other projects, “Unanimity” is proceeding well.  Things have begun to fall apart for the main characters, as it were—though of course, they really began to do that near the beginning of the story, but no one realized it until now—and we are approaching various revelations, confrontations, acts of violence, and ultimately the conclusion.  I won’t quite go so far as to say that no one here gets out alive, but no one will get out unscathed.  The book should be released sometime this year, but I’m not sure exactly when, yet.  Much else is happening, currently, so my writing on “Unanimity” is going more slowly than it might otherwise.

Okay, well, that’s about it for announcements this week.  I haven’t yet begun writing my various “author’s notes,” nor have I decided whether I’ll put them on Amazon, but they will be forthcoming here.  Please stay tuned for them, and at the same time, stay warm everyone.

TTFN


*Upon subsequent investigation, I have confirmed that Florida is indeed roughly at the same latitude at Egypt.  In fact, Cairo is 2 degrees farther north than Orlando, Florida (30.04 degrees north, versus 28.53 degrees).  By comparison, the city in which I live is at 25.98 degrees north latitude, which is just south of Okinawa, and level with parts of Morocco, the UAE, and Oman, among other places.

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

The Idolatry of the American Flag

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The picture seen here is an edited Facebook posting by someone I know, and as you can see, it supposedly shows the face of a man who was brutally beaten – by a Marine, apparently – in response to having stepped on the American flag.  This would be bad enough in and of itself if it were an isolated incident or sentiment.  It isn’t.  It’s one of many expressions of desire by Americans (including, apparently the current President) that those who “disrespect” the flag should face consequences ranging from prosecution to out and out violence.

This is an obscenity, and an affront to the ideals upon which this nation was founded. Continue reading