I will disappoint you

I’ve been meaning to write this post for the past five or so years, it’s just that I’ve either had more pressing things to consider, or I’ve had trouble working out what I wanted to say exactly. Enough of that. I’ll get around to it now and get it out of the way and done with.

To be clear: Like an awful lot of bloggers, I’m a political person. I’m entirely ordinary in this respect; unapologetically normal. Not. Special. At. All.

I may have briefly been paid to do advocacy work, but that’s a long time ago now, in a different setting, and in a pre-social media world. Nobody’s paying me to do politics now, so I’m my own boss. I’m my own editor.

There are camps, and ideas, and sentiments I’m more closely aligned with than others. But, this blog is not the property of any political organization or clique. I’ve sworn fealty to no-one, despite people having occasionally expected it of me during the past few years. The look of shock when I don’t follow through on a promise I’d never make: galling really.

Towards the start of this decade someone had the bad idea of referring to me as their “knight in shining armour”. This was in the atheist scene, and despite the lingering trope of the “white knight” male feminist, it was before “Elevatorgate” too. It made me cringe. It still does.

I really don’t think some people understand how independent political writing is supposed to work.

Sure. I’ll criticize misogynists. I’ll criticize racists. I’ll laugh at libertarians and I’ll groan at naïve liberalism. Conservativism? No thanks. But I’m not your guy, left. A comrade isn’t a piece of property.

I’m not trying to impress feminists or appear woke, so telling me I’m not cool in this respect is really going to be insufficient as far as I’m concerned. I reserve the right to criticize anything I see fit to, the only promise I make in this regard being to attempt to do so in good faith. But that’s more about what I think makes for good writing than about making friends and allies.

If you don’t like me, that’s okay. You don’t need my permission to not like me. Go right ahead and not like me.

Am I a “good ally”? I don’t know. I’m not going to incorporate any of the listicle hot takes on the issue into my writing goals, so maybe not. It depends on what you mean by “good ally”. I have any number of problems with the term, depending on the specifics or the lack thereof. So what? It’s not a crime, that much is clear.

I’m not young anymore, and part of that entails not needing the kinds of social re-assurance and reality checks younger people calibrate themselves with. Maybe you’re young. Maybe you’re unaware that you do this. That’s okay. That’s normal. You’re doing fine. But that’s not me now, and it may not be you in future, and we’d both be better off coming to terms with it as it unravels, rather than letting it unravel us.

I may check in with people from time to time because I think they have some kind of interest or propriety, but I’m certainly not going to ask you for approval if I don’t think it’s something you personally have authority over.

Ask yourself, why do you read political writing at all if you expect it to conform to a number of rote points? If those rote points are sufficient, and you already know them, how much more do you need to read? Surely you could just get the facts regarding new cases from a more neutral source and apply the rote rules yourself, if the rules are sufficient.

Political writing would be made largely redundant. Why read this blog at all? Why read this post? Why be bothered with anything I write if that’s the case? Surely I’d be irrelevant and not worth you time to begin with. What are you doing here?

“I’m trying to help you understand…” No. I’ve long since learned to recognize passive aggression.

The role of a serious political writer to my mind, even if not a professional, is to mine new veins of political truth. This carries an increased risk of error due to the unavoidable lack of precedent. But if it’s done well, it’s ultimately worth it, and the errors made in the enterprise, if not too serious, can be examined and corrected for later. If too serious, well, you can work out the sanctions.

Maybe I’ll fuck something up. Maybe I’ll double down on it. Or maybe you’ll be wrong and I’ll double down on something you’re just not understanding. If a political writer doesn’t risk doing this, they’re doing a shit job, and the only way to deal with the inevitable fallout is in hindsight, with analysis and possibly apologies, not cowardly acquiescence. At all points, being candid is key.

I don’t expect you to like this. I know that it’s not always pleasant. It’s not entirely comfortable at my end all the time either. But if you can’t accept it as a cost of political reality, then I don’t care for your lectures, thanks. I’ve come to terms with it and I don’t care if you haven’t. But you need to if you want me to take you seriously.

Feel free to apply hot take logic to anything I write, and to condemn me if you want. But don’t expect me to be a part of your audience, or to grovel for your approval. It won’t happen because short of being dragged before a court or statutory authority, I don’t need to comply.

If you project your hopes on me, if you adopt the expectations of some political clique I’m not a part of and not understand that I’m not bound by those conventions, then I’m bound to disappoint. But I’m not under any illusions that I’m here to be anyone’s saviour. I’ve got plenty of horseshit issues, just not that one. I know I’m nobody’s knight. And I’m not an angel either.

But if you can handle this, then I think we may be all good. Possibly, this is the hardest obstacle to deal with in dealing with me. Well, that and perhaps wondering if it’s all worth it after a while – but that’s pretty much par for the course with anyone writing about these things, frustrating as they are. And like I said, I’m not at all special in this respect.

~ Bruce

The spokesperson and the punters

A number of years ago I attended a book launch by a local, self-published author with a disability. While I hadn’t known them for very long, being new to local writing communities, I wanted to see what was up, and on some level show support. At this juncture, I was still denying that inner voice that was telling me that something was wrong, and instead telling myself that the odd quirks and signs of passive aggression were not worthy of consideration.

So what? Some people are weird. Artists particularly, right?

Besides, if their work was serious enough to attract an arts grant in the first place, it couldn’t have been all that bad, could it? (Stop laughing.)

Initially I had a little trouble mentally digesting what I saw. Precisely nobody in attendance acted as if anything was untoward. There wasn’t so much as an awkward shuffle in a seat. And if there’s been a word of criticism voiced anywhere by anyone I saw in attendance, it’s been behind doors or somewhere else where us normies aren’t free ranging.

What resulted from this book launch I’d later incorporate, along with other displays of cynicism from local wannabe “activist” artists, into a mental architype of the cynical, neoliberal spokesperson who co-opts progressive language purely for marketing purposes.

“Nobody notices your artifice, or at least, if they do, they don’t want to be the only one who’s calling you on your shit – that’s a one way trip to lonely-town. ”

(‘Tricks in Neoliberal Culture #001: Affirming Values Through Compliments’, 2014)

It’s possibly worth noting that while this piece was well received among a number of friends in the “scene” at the time, aside from those I’ve confided in, all guesses as to who I was talking about have been wrong. People have assumed I was writing about an activist/artist that they just happen to hate. One activist/artist wrongly assumed that I was writing about them – although in that case I’ll take it as a confession. The truth is, the architype was a gestalt of a number of local artists/spokespersons; of both sexes, all middle-to-upper-middle class, all white, and all so incredibly vain.

But back to that book launch.

So, what would you expect from a book written by someone with a given disability, spruiked as the work of someone who was a spokesperson for others with that same disability? What would you expect if the point was made in the lead-up that said spokesperson had lead discussion in focus groups?

You’d expect discussion of the interests of that group of people, right?

Well, the book it turned out, was a memoir, and the perspectives of others with the disability in question – a disability known for its capacity to manifest different symptoms and difficulties from person to person – were completely absent. Moreover, the memoir made it clear that the author was actually living the good life; no economic hardship; good quality of life; excellent prognosis.

What policy exactly would one feel inclined to support after hearing this “advocacy”? Your guess is a good as mine. And probably as good as the guesses of all those folks in the focus groups who’s views weren’t represented in the final product.

Notably, the launch was presided over by a chap from the state government, who praised the author for the high quality of their advocacy work (without providing a single example of said work). You have take a bit of time out to consider what the guy’s interest was in all of this.

Serious advocacy for people with a given disability, by rights, should make people responsible for relevant government services at least a little anxious. Yet the content of the book, and all discussion at the launch, was completely absent of any discussion of government involvement, other than in its role in complimenting the author.

I’m not saying the bureaucrat should have been harangued or abused. There is, for example, no need for activists to call him names or leave a turd in his letterbox. But serious activism is going to raise questions that on some level people like him are going to feel uncomfortable with being raised, if only because it invites consideration of existing efforts.

If all advocacy consisted of such fluff as was on display at the launch – if it were all just solipsistic memoirs from people who are doing fine, actually – government would certainly have a much easier time.

“Hey, we’re cutting back disability services. Could you distract people by talking about what you name your socks again? Thanks! We love your advocacy work! Love, The Government.”

So no, there’s no salacious tale here. Just an anecdote about banal self-regard dressed up as disability activism, and the role and interests of state power in promoting it instead of discussion of actual, material problems.

This is a problem. Tell anyone who’s material issues are being distracted from on account of this kind of thing that it isn’t, and I hope they give you a serve.

Asking around those in more pro-active roles, revealed that it was a given that author was a flake. “Flake” was literally the word used. There was a repeated inference of “why bring it up? It’s so obvious. It’s no secret!”, as if author/spokesperson was a well-known running joke.

This was obviously true. It wasn’t a secret. And it’s not like I expect people to obsess over it either (if I did, I probably would have addressed it more directly, sooner, and then banged on about it ad infinitum).

I can’t fault people for laughing, and then getting on with their lives either.

Only, if you raised this issue with the rank and file members of a number of local writers groups, there’d be gasps, and silence, and people shocked at your audacity, and a whole heap of gossiping about you behind your back. How very well dare you?

Depending on which group you wind up in – some are better than others – you may very well be required to ignore the evidence of your eyes.

“Nothing is wrong! Why, there was even a man from the government saying it was all wonderful! Has a man from the government ever called you wonderful? No! *Sniff*”

There’s no master list of which writing groups to avoid, and arguably there shouldn’t be. But you have to feel, especially for the younger ones, those with a chest full of energy and a head full of good intentions, who go into these things not realizing the nature of the culture they’re immersing themselves into, only for them to find out the hard way.

Meanwhile, the self-regarding, disingenuous sorts remain an almost protected species.

~ Bruce

Draft manifesto: The No Drama Lit. Group

800px-Stipula_fountain_penPreamble

Two annoyances we may share: Grandiosity in writing groups, and grandiose manifestos. If you’re like me, then you find these things devastatingly de-motivational. You can’t write well with this confected flamboyance echoing around in your braincase.

Histrionic name-dropping, narcissistic limelight stealing, affected wokeness, he-manly pigeon-chesting and over-confident didacticism: who needs that kind of stuff, right?

Now the Internet: It has no shortage of manifestos that are self-important beyond all perspective. You probably don’t want to risk reading just another “Transcendental Black Metal: A Vision of Apocalyptic Humanism”. The publication of yet another Internet manifesto clearly flirts with a well established tradition of bumbledom, banality and pretense.

The following could all just be an attempt at putting out fire with gasoline. Still, I’ll persevere and hope you find this a worthwhile take on treating what ails any number of literary communities: Drama.

The text portion of this post is published under a Creative Commons 4.0 – Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. Feel free to adapt for your own non-commercial purposes with reference to this post. (You don’t need to ask first, although I’d be interested if anyone other than myself tried to see this manifesto implemented).

***

The No Drama Manifesto

Purpose

The No Drama literary group is purposed towards the love of reading and writing, and to its candid sharing with similarly disposed human beings. To that end, it seeks to provide its members with a community that allows them to be open without that vulnerability being taken advantage of; a community where quiet confidences and new ideas can be grown and built upon without interruption by undue drama.

Ethos

Environment

1. We’re here for the words. For whatever reason, even if at times the relationship has its ups and downs, we each have a love of the written word. Whether it’s a fetish for fonts, a nose for prose, or a want to reproduce that feeling we had the first time reading an certain author, the writing and the reading are what it’s all about. All other objectives are down-prioritized to varying extents, depending on their capacity to disrupt or serve the functioning of the group.

The No Drama group seeks to facilitate those moments when a piece of writing really clicks, even if those words and the people writing them are ultimately forgotten by history. Posterity into the future should play second fiddle to poetry and prose in the here and now.

2. No Drama. This would be the ideal, at least. Ego-driven entropy may be the driving force behind some forms of art, but it can be utter chaos for a lot of people, and it’s not like there’s a relative shortage of outlets for the ego-driven entropist anyway.

Now sure, keeping the histrionics at bay may itself generate a degree of drama, but consider the refrigerator. Despite it’s name, the refrigerator heats its environment, and yet we still don’t consider refrigerators futile. We use them because there is a useable space kept relatively cool.

Similarly, the No Drama lit group seeks to create a usable space relatively devoid of egocentrism, purposed to the creation and appreciation of literature. That this may cause a small net increase of drama in the wider universe does not invalidate the venture.

Those affirming this manifesto do not accept that writers and bookish sorts are either necessarily or in large part egocentric. Rather, where there is an overabundance of ego, it is largely due to the initial attraction to egoists, and subsequent repellence of more ordinary folks.

3. Comradery. With allowances made for individual meekness, genuflection is discouraged. The least published member will never be expected to simply defer to the most published, and the most published member will be expected not to expect deference. Self-importance should be checked at the door.

4. Respect the work. It’s one thing to throw deference out the window, and another to disrespect hours, or even a lifetime’s worth of work undertaken in good faith. A bachelor of arts and a cursory reading of fad diet materials isn’t sufficient grounding from which to lecture a biologist on their writings on daily protein requirements. An overconfidence in one’s own rationality and a prejudicial dismissal of the literature is no basis from which to critically engage with well-read feminists on feminist texts. This isn’t simply the absence of deference; this is the presence of arrogance. The message is this: Don’t genuflect to individuals, but do respect real efforts made in good faith.

5. Friendly, but with boundaries. Ask yourself; have you ever been in a public space along with any number of strangers, looked around and then felt any kind of general affection for humanity? If so, would you have there and then, on the basis of that affection, agreed to let those strangers just walk into your home, or use your bed, or watch you shower? “Yes” and “no” respectively? Being well disposed towards others does not require you to surrender your privacy or your private life.

Personal boundaries and personal preferences aren’t something you ever have to apologize for, and the context of a reading or writing group is no exception. You don’t have to date other members. You don’t have to invite them to your birthday. You don’t have to become their friend on social media. That’s your own business, not the group’s.

6. Critique is crucial. Some writing groups ban criticism. This is sometimes done in a potentially misguided attempt to stave off abuse, which is itself a serious but ultimately separate matter. Elsewhere it’s done so as not to alienate those with poor confidence, even when it isn’t at all clear that criticism is scaring people off in the first place. Not everyone has a full creative sense of self at all times, and friendly criticism provides information a writer can use to re-orient themselves. Group members should aspire to accept criticism in good faith, and to provide quality critique themselves. Good critique is usable critique, and the process of justifying your writing decisions, even if only to a friendly audience, will help make you a better writer.

7. Editorial should be independent. What information a critic gives can be used by a writer as they see fit. Being open to criticism does not obligate a writer to simply obey their critic. Unless you have a contract wherein you’re actually someone’s editor or publisher, you don’t have a modicum of authority over what they write. Furthermore, should the group create its own publication, content should be keep editorially independent from committee, with the editor aiming to facilitate the free expression of group members in accordance with civil, democratic principles.

8. Professionalism. While not every member will be a professional writer or critic, some basic professional standards should still apply. Intellectual property rights, whatever the licensing details, should be respected. Plagiarism should be subject to a policy of zero tolerance. Membership in professional organizations, where possible, should be encouraged.

Training provided by the group needn’t be vocational, nor necessarily certified – people can learn simply for the sake of learning – but it should be provided by competent trainers with at least some meaningful background in the content being taught. Having a layperson turn up to a WordPress tutorial with the understanding that they can brush up on their CSS, only to find that the trainer doesn’t even know what CSS is, and has only six months experience with WordPress using it to sell herbal supplements, is not the kind of outcome the group should allow.

Exclusions

9. Welcoming, but not self-annihilating so. The word “inclusivity” has to some extent been fetishized beyond the point of its intended meaning, into an absurd and impossible categorical imperative.

If for example, you want your group to be inclusive of victims of domestic violence, then to some extent you’ve going to have to exclude domestic abusers. The logic at base is this: It’s an unavoidable truth that humans have conflicts of interests, and to be inclusive of any group of humans you may at some point have to exclude others. The point is not that you should be universally inclusive, but rather that you don’t exclude people arbitrarily.

Within reason, know what you want or need to exclude, why, and be open about it.

10. Not here to make you famous. Maybe you’ll make it big, but it won’t be because the group tried to make it happen. A love of writing is not the same thing as a love of celebrity, and a writing group that prides itself on its part in raising a member’s stature is a group that potentially does so at the expense of emphasizing the writing.

11. Not here to help make you an activist, per se. This isn’t to disparage activism, but rather to be clear about objectives. A lot of writers try their hands at activism. Writing obviously can be a means to an activist end, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But for reasons that should regarded as axiomatic, writing is in and of itself what a writing group is primarily about; it’s in the name.

Further, it’s cynical, if not pathological, to treat activism as a means to service one’s own status as a writer. Even though activism is not the group’s purpose, the group should not want to see worthy causes selfishly co-opted. Whether writing or activism is an individual member’s greater passion, all members should find hypocrisy in regards to either repugnant. Further, this brand of hypocrisy counts as drama.

12. Not here to help you push product. No multi-level marketing will be allowed.

13. Not here to help you harass. This should be a no-brainer, but abuse should not be tolerated at all and should be stamped out fast. If for example a victim of domestic violence joins your group, their abuser should not be able to follow them by joining. Leniency should not be afforded to abusers on the basis of their perceived righteousness – self-righteousness typically having a capacity to motivate and rationalize some of the worst behaviour humans are capable of. The No Drama group is not a “hunting ground” – members who use it as a means to follow others home, or sexually harass, should be kicked out in short order.

Governance

14. Committee work is a duty. The idea of committee work and in particular the politics surrounding it may fill people with varying proportions of awe and dread. But in many cases it’s necessary – depending on context, membership in umbrella groups, paperwork for grants applications and so on may require incorporation, which in turn will require a constitution, and a committee and so on.

So how to prevent too much drama in committee work? A lot of it comes down to how the group views itself and the purpose of its committee. Respect for the office of committee member, and for the executive decisions of committee are a must, but this needs to be counterbalanced. Committee needs to deserve this respect. Committee needs to not overreach, and a culture of reverence must be avoided. Committee members need to be viewed by normal members as being peers performing a few extra duties.

A good committee serves its members and isn’t be there for prestige or advancement.

14. Democratic. After the initial start up period, committee should be elected annually and held accountable by the membership. The membership must not be willfully kept ignorant of the state of the group’s operations. Committee must take reasonable steps to ensure the membership is kept apprised of policy formulation in a timely fashion. The group’s constitution should be published online, made available to members on request via email, and ideally a copy should be brought to all meetings by a nominated committee member.

15. Try before you buy. Prospective members should have to attend a small number of ordinary meetings before they can join as full members, and should only be able to attend a small number of meetings more before they have to become full members. This way both the group and the prospective member can get to know one another before any monies potentially change hands, and a degree of freedom to part ways exists prior to any party feeling overly obligated.

16. Minimalist. Committee, in addition to not editorializing in any of the group’s publications, does not have authority over the content of literature discussed within the group. While individual committee members can participate as ordinary participants, no act of committee should select a book for a reading group. No act of committee can tell a member what to write about.

Creative decisions on collective activities (e.g. themes for writing competitions) must come from the ordinary membership, with committee deferring to, recording and acting upon these decisions. Committee can only reject such decisions on legal grounds, or when they transgress the No Drama ethos, with any disagreements to be raised for discussion at annual elections.

Committee must restrict itself to the practical functions of running a lit. group, plus the duties inferred by the No Drama ethos.

Contact

If you want to keep me up to date on any attempt to implement the above, or you wish to discuss further efforts towards a final draft, or you’re interested in helping establish a No Drama group in Adelaide, feel free to send me an email at:

contact
Photo Source:
CC BY-SA 3.0 Antonio Litterio, 2011.

Easing into it

So, a small handful of people may have noticed that I’ve posted a few posts in relatively short succession, at least by my former standards. I’m hoping to maintain this pace more or less indefinitely.

After the next few weeks, after renewing my ASA membership and paying some bills, I’m hoping to commission a graphic for the page header, and maybe crop that down into a profile pic for the Facebook page (and for individual posts on Facebook). I already have an artist in mind, so I’m not looking for suggestions at this point (thanks all the same).

I do have to generate a new blogroll. Some of the larger blogs from back during my more active blogging years have gone and shut-down, and I’ve grown a bit distant from some of the authors. My connection to the rest of the Oz blogosphere, the atheosphere, and the left-end of online content has changed a good deal, and the blogroll will no doubt reflect this. I’m probably feeling this a bit more keenly than I should, maybe because tomorrow will be the 12th anniversary of the commencement of my blogging.

Things haven’t been fully tied-in with Twitter and Facebook yet – I still haven’t automated the posting of links to new posts with either. And I really do have to wake up and pay attention to the latest norms of social media publishing/aggregating/promoting.

A selection of older posts from past blogs will need to be imported, a short “About This Blog” page and a longer “Circling The Abyss” post will be nutted out in due course, and maybe I’ll forge something resembling a comments policy. Blog comments threads aren’t what they used to be, so I’m still debating with myself about this. Possibly a short comment in the sidebar would be adequate – something along the lines of AV’s reserving the right to be capricious, back on Five Public Opinions all those years ago.

Themes! So what will I be writing about anyway?

I haven’t delved into humanism as deeply as I’d have liked before, so there will certainly be more of that. My own humanism stems more from Dewey, than from Kurtz, which would potentially put me at odds with a number of Secular Humanists, if not cause at least a difference in emphasis. I’m entirely secular, but the focus Secular Humanism has had upon issues involving religion seems to me to have had the effect of subtly shifting Secular Humanism into a position of reaction; Secular Humanists are pretty clear about what they’re against where religion is concerned, but get them to articulate what they’re for, and how this may conflict with other secular viewpoints, and things sometimes get vague. There’s a lot to be written about here, I just have to work out what, exactly, and in what order.

I’m writing a book, presently, to shop around to publishers at a later date. It’s fiction. A lot of issues I wouldn’t mind writing about pop up in the work behind the scenes – especially regarding the subject matter. More on that another time though.

I haven’t regularly responded to goings on in the news for some time now. Even on my previous blog, where I posted a tad more frequently, analysis of the news wasn’t really a focus like it was before. I suspect this contributed to the decline of my traffic, which isn’t in and of itself a reason to alter my content, but still, a few more interlocutors attracted to discussion couldn’t hurt (provided they aren’t numpties). I should, if I can manage it, up my participation in this area.

I’ll probably cap off some of the more autobiographical threads I had running though Rousing Departures, albeit in as little an autobiographical manner as possible – abstract where feasible, generalize where it makes content relatable and relevant, and so on. I suspended my reservations about autobiographical writing a number of years ago, and while it served a purpose, long-term, with only a few exceptions, it’s just not my thing.

Maybe, just maybe in the midst of all this, I’ll throw in a little Linux or tech post here and there when Halt and Catch Fire, and Mr Robot are on air. That may be fun.

And hopefully, if I can really get off my arse, I’ll write a few reviews of gigs, albums, books and the like. I need to get into the swing of a regular system first, though.

Until then…

~ Bruce

10 Things To Consider When Reading That Progressive Listicle

As much as I’d like it to be otherwise, the reality is that listicles are going to be around for some time yet, and would-be progressives are going to use them in trying to get their message across. Rather than just condemn them outright, I’ll swallow my pride and raise some issues concerning the way they’re read, for the benefit of fans/addicts of the format – i.e. in listicle form.

1. Rote content isn’t geared for maximal moral comprehension because it can’t be. Listicles of the morally persuasive kind don’t have the space for complex moral calculus, counter-factual analysis, meta-ethics, interpreting statistical outliers or handling large arrays of case studies. Either a listicle is confining itself to simple issues people may have overlooked, or giving a limited glimpse at something more convoluted – it’ll never be the last word on serious ethical inquiry.

2. Gospel is for kids. Specifically, I’m referring to the “pre-conventional” to early “conventional” stages of Lawrence Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development.  Rote rules are more or less great for avoiding punishment… if you’re in kindy or a cult.

Kohlberg’s stages are contentious – more so than you’d want to go into in a listicle, so I won’t – but one of Kohlberg’s points that isn’t that controversial is that literal obedience to commandments, in thought, is not indicative of fully-developed moral reasoning. You may have not have a choice in the matter, but if the limiting factor in getting beyond gospel is the way you think about right and wrong, then developing the way you read a given progressive listicle may be more important than the content of that listicle.

“BUT [THOUGHT LEADER] SAID! *Inserts link to unoriginal electronic pamphlet*” – Derpy McInternet demonstrating poor moral reasoning.

3. Discussion is important, and not everyone is as good (or bad, or mediocre) as you. At no level of ability is it going to help ethical discussion for a person to consider themselves the pinnacle of correctness. Even at the top end of ability, doing so models poor mental strategy, and it’s not as if the very best will ever be right about everything ever published on lists of right and wrong anyway.

4. “But Hitler!” It’s not hard for everyone in a group to be right about the Nazis. A lot of propositions concerning the Nazis are pretty easy. I’m not going out on a limb by saying that “don’t kill all the Jews” is pretty fucking good advice.  But if you think you need to share a listicle to trot off things that obvious, for your friends and family on Facebook, then you may have bigger problems to deal with.

Are your friends and family on Facebook really that bad, or do you just like stating the obvious?

5. Progress doesn’t magically equate with the future, or with youth. I’ve been seeing a few millennials taking it for granted that prior to the last few years, with Trump and all, things had been getting more progressive year after year. This is not to condemn millennials, it’s just that left-wing Gen-Xers have been bemoaning the shift to the right for decades now. Homelessness and poverty, among other terrible regressions, have been increasing across the board in English speaking countries, and in spite of increases in economic productivity. For years now, politicians have been treading on egg-shells around proto and neo-fascist elements, yet if you put the same fascist wankers in proximity to a 1980s Australian Prime Minister, there’d be fireworks. Some thing have become more progressive, others not.

“We are the future!”

Everyone fucking is up until the point they die. Please spare us this bullshit.

6. Progress is a work in progress. How arrogant do you have to be to think that a few abbreviated principles on a clickbait article positions you as the end-point of a discourse? Unless it’s something obvious like “don’t kill all the Muslims”, the odds are that people will have more to say on the matter, and that there are people other than you working on it; possibly even people who don’t learn their politics from clickbait listicles (they exist!) People socially adjacent to you will likely be at different levels of understanding at least on a few topics. Some, as smart as they are, will be years behind you, while others may very well see your sharing of “10 Wokey-Woke Things To Make You Uberwoke” as representative of where they were years ago.

This works at all scales – entire countries on average lag, and advance, accelerate and regress, changing in terms of progress on any given issue, relative to other nations (e.g. Australia used to be a world leader in environmentalism, and now we’re shit at it). And the discussions between and within are similarly stressed. Unless you are the most progressive person that can ever live, at some stage something’s likely to come at you from a place of relatively greater enlightenment, and it could come at you from any angle. A listicle won’t prepare you for these circumstances. Progress is messier than that.

7. This also means there’s a backstory. How much do you know of the internecine disputes that lead to a contentious position being articulated, and why those internecine disputes happened in the first place? Did you even know, for example, that sections of the left have been criticizing “identity politics” for decade upon decade, or did you just assume that “identity politics” was something only grumpy, white, male, racist retirees up in Queensland complained about? Are the different groups invoking the words “identity politics” even talking about the same thing as each other? What happens when two or more lefties from the same disadvantaged social group come along with differing analyses? Are you going to just “shut up and listen”? What then? How do you decide when there’s contradiction? How do you tell which one’s right on a given point (or less wrong)?

Here’s something to ponder; how do you effect progressive change without making decisions? Even if you’re entirely obedient, you’ll still have to decide who to obey. Is your beloved listicle apt to help you with this kind of quandary?

8. The medium alters the message, especially when the medium is the market. Sometimes it’s not profitable to tell the whole truth. Sometimes that’s because things like long form are more informative, but disengaging, and at other times it’s because the whole truth is wildly unpopular with exactly the demographic who needs to hear it. How much less confronting is it to tell white people to just not think about race, than it is to point out that they’re probably to varying extents the beneficiaries of structural racism? There’s a profit motive in not pissing off your audience, and not infrequently media outlets will moderate the truth not as an educational strategy, but as a marketing one. Further, if a social group, even a disadvantaged one, has enough money in aggregate, there’ll be some marketing asshole contriving ways of influencing them to spend it on baubles and bullshit, and some of those marketing assholes will be apt to sell those baubles and bullshit as liberatory.

If your listicle is published from an outlet with a profit motive, you may want to pay closer notice to the lexicon they use and the language they erase. (E.g. Keep an eye on that dematerializing “i” in GLBTi, while it fades away out of marketability).

9. Class matters, as uncomfortable as that may feel. It’s very easy for presumptive progressives from the upper middle class to say “I support a progressive tax structure and increased spending on services, infrastructure, health, education and welfare”, even when there’s actually a chance of it happening. It’s so easy, that even conservatives argue for it on occasion; just tick that box. Actually staring the consequences of class in the face is not so easy, for anyone. That shit’s ugly.

It’s oft complained about; the spectacle of condescendingly telling a homeless or working poor white man that they have privilege. I don’t buy into the idea that it’s wrong, per se, for a middle class person to have a discussion with a poor person about privilege, where the middle class person may have the bulk of the theoretical content to impart. Rather, when it does goes wrong, I suspect the problem is that you have people who are usually middle class or better off, trying to curtail discussion of uncomfortable topics; functionally, valid concepts like white privilege and male privilege are being (mis)used as a bulwark against discussion of class – a diversion to protect middle class egos. Does your listicle do this?

10. It’s a heuristic approach. You’d possibly be helped realizing when you’re using a heuristic. A heuristic is a process, or rule, that while not able to be proven universally true, produces true results in enough cases to be usable. Anti-virus software uses heuristics – they attempt to locate viruses using a set of rules, rather than computationally intensive proofs, and when all is well and good, these rules will identify viruses correctly. Occasionally the virus checker won’t find a virus that is present, or it will wrongly identify desirable software as a virus, but as a rule, it’s still better to have a virus checker than not*.

The odds are, in dealing with things as complicated as social phenomena, and with the limited nature of listicles, the progressive rules you’ve adopted from listicles are heuristic in nature. Like the rules of anti-virus software, occasionally even well crafted listicle rules will turn out to be wrong. Like anti-virus software, progressive heuristics can date and be circumvented by malicious parties. Like anti-virus software, progressive heuristics can even occasionally be co-opted to become a part of the problem (again, the market is good at this).

These drawbacks make heuristics neither inherently good nor bad – it just means you have to be vigilant and know there are limits, and beyond those limits you need other, usually more demanding methods. Methods to spot tricky regressive ideas, and to fix the heuristics that fail to find them well enough.

If you’re busy, and you don’t have to time or resources to deploy such methods, then like a lot of other people, you’re in a pickle. You can either trust your heuristics or trust someone else who has the time to check them for you. The bind in this is that you’ll have to trust someone, or something, at some point, and it can be hard to know who or what to trust, such that’ll you’ll be bound to be disappointed at some point. Get used to it.

And it would probably help if you’ve learned your politics from listicles, to not pretend to be an infallible moral authority, above and beyond your fellow progressives. There’s a listicle heuristic for you.

~ Bruce

* This sentence is a heuristic as well; “it’s still better to have a virus checker than not” will likely be untrue in some cases, and possibly increasingly so as virus checkers fail to keep up with newer security threats.

What on Earth Have I Been Up To?

This is one, first and foremost, for the folks who’ve known me around the traps for much of the last decade of on-off blogging. They know who they are.

Backstory in brief

Five years ago, I got it into my head that I’d have a go at writing a work of non-fiction. This is a project I’ve mothballed indefinitely. Early on, it became apparent that in order to write effectively, and produce a piece of work I could actually be happy putting my name to, I’d have to get things right in my headspace. I didn’t anticipate just how much work that’d entail, or how much recovery was actually possible.

The past couple of days, a few supplementary frustrations not withstanding, I’ve felt great. I popped on an album from back in the days before depression bore down on me (George Harrison’s Cloud Nine) – only to experience sensations I haven’t been able to feel in decades. No sugary twee for me, mind you. It was bittersweet, albeit with a healthy absence of teen self-pity.

This isn’t about that though.

Nor is it about the resolution of a years of tension arising from the community most central to my sidelined non-fiction project. Four years ago, I’d grown tired of a number of atheist personalities, for reasons varying from individual to individual. Anticipating disputes falling along certain lines has been tiresome, but they’ve finally all erupted, and largely as expected. Nothing’s fallen on me though, so I don’t get to commiserate. I am though, oddly enough, more willing to engage now, no longer having to give the benefit of the doubt to anyone, said doubts either evaporating, or rendered irrelevant through the collapse of provisional arrangements. Presently, I’ve got nothing hanging on the word of people I can’t trust implicitly.

But again, this is not about that. I’m not returning to the non-fiction project quite yet.

The Project

What I have been doing is writing a piece of fiction. So far I’ve found it to be fun, and to be honest, somewhat easy. While I’ll doubtlessly make several future revisions and edits, I’m at least not left shaking my head re-reading my prose. There’s satisfaction to be had here.

While genre snobbery doesn’t appeal to me, neither does restriction to a genre niche, and not for the clichéd objections concerning “pigeonholing”. If, given the chance, other folks end up wanting to pigeonhole my current project, then fine. It’s just that I don’t conceptualise it that way.

What is this project?

For pigeon-holers, it’d be hard science fiction. For me, it’s a bit broader and blurred at the edges. For the blunt, it’s A Book.

I abhor the tropes of pop-sci-fi, largely because I loathe tropes in general, but also because the often seem lazy and/or dull above and beyond the hackneyed conventions of other genres; Space lasers! Space princesses (to be rescued)! Space calendars and space dates that uniformly adhered to by inter-stellar civilisations; faster-than-light travel allowing for interstellar soap opera, rather than faster-than-light leaving the protagonist alienated from, and out-of-time with, planetary surface dwellers; political jurisdictions that span multiple star systems, despite not being enforceable at such distances and time frames; harsh existential realities of the void, circumvented much the same way that special effects often negate the silence of space. 

First thoughts on reading this may leave folks thinking along the lines of Stephen Baxter or Larry Niven, and I’d be lying if I said there was no influence there.  Certainly, both authors have a penchant for oblivion that I appreciate.

Still, both can get a little more apocalyptic than what I have in mind. While the heat death of the universe, or alien life on the surface of a neutron star may provide imaginative and extreme perspectives, I want to keep the extreme beyond reach, while exploring and accentuating the relatively untapped absurdity of the near-universe. Camus used the conflict between human values and an uncaring but Earthly universe for his source of absurdity. I want to get away from Earth, to where nature is inimical to humanity, but not yet to all matter. My scope for absurdity then, is somewhere between Camus and Baxter.

What to do with the extremities of deep time and space then? These things not being directly accessible by humans, positions them as entirely alien, and I do want to employ a Lovecraftian fear of the unknown. This will be alluded to – inferred by the story logic, and occasionally hinted at implicitly. The project will have something of the Weird Fiction about it, although I hope to avoid what I consider the overwrought and contrived history of the Lovecraftian mythos.

In the story logic, the deeply alien may have visited Earth, but it didn’t put life-forms here, alter the history of evolution, insert genetic material into the germlines, build cities or pyramids, or live on the planet. There certainly won’t be a history of multiple visitations by every Tom, Dick and Cthulhu. For the most part, aside from a few key indirect interactions, the deeply alien will be poorly interacting with humanity. It may very well be in-frame at any given point, but unless explicitly stated, the reader likely won’t know it without my notes. The scope of experience of humans, and that of aliens persisting through geological time, are just too far divorced from one another for mutual recognition to come naturally. Think of the microbe that crawls across your face – how aware of each other could you possibly be?

I have a fondness for Michael Moorcock’s work, although without going as far as dismissing his material from my influences as too pulpy – if only I could churn out books the way he has – his characters are hyperbolised further than I’d want to go myself. I want a tad more realism, while maintaining the convention-breaking with regards to types. Looking to Vonnegut for clues in this respect may turn out to be productive. I will say this of Moorcock’s work though – the alien morality of his more far-flung representations of humanity sometimes come across as more plausible than many realist depictions of futuristic morality (compare the antics surrounding Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius to that of the inhabitants of Star Trek’s Risa colony, the latter coming across as entirely affected).

On a brief note, there’s a necessity for looking into cyberpunk given some of the technological themes I’ll be touching on, which for the most part for me so far, has been an exercise in risking re-inventing the wheel. On the one hand The Project has AIs, sentience and mind-body issues, while on the other I have a heaping of Gödel, Escher, Bach. I’m not sure I’ll look to Turing. I’m not overly aware of the ins-and-outs of cyberpunk, and I’m not actually sure this isn’t a good thing, but I’ll need to check, not too soon so as to potentially extinguish my imagination, but eventually, in order to compare notes.

As for my protagonist; she’s a supporting protagonist; an “audience surrogate” to some extent, but not so far as to “hold test tubes” and tell a main character “how brilliant he is”. The character she’ll be interacting with the most, will almost serve as a false protagonist, although I certainly won’t be bumping him off. While identifying to some extent as human, my near-false protagonist will become increasingly alien over time, in the sense that he’ll become less relatable to (although not in the sense of The Fly, or any other b-movie transformation). This, I hope, will have the effect of rendering my protagonist as both more central and crucial for the reader.

The near-false-protagonist is a character I don’t want to fall into the trap of fetishizing. While not a hero like The Doctor of Doctor Who fame, I think The Doctor has been fetishized far too much by Stephen Moffat, to the extent that the character’s quirkiness has been repeatedly regurgitated as trope at the expense of the development of other characters. I mean, that fucking guitar in the last season – why? – so the audience can gawp at the same joke yet again? The point of The Doctor is to be a vehicle for the audience surrogate – the means by which they, and hence the audience, are drawn towards the conflict in the narrative. We aren’t supposed to worry about the Doctor’s midlife or existential crises, so much as we should worry about the companion’s anxieties about the Doctor’s inner workings, the tensions brought about by space-time travel, and where this is ultimately leading them. This keeps The Doctor alien, and the conflict relatable. Or at least, this is my opinion. It’s Moffat’s show (for the time being).

In my own meagre project, I’m intent on not repeating what I consider a mistake.

I could say more, such as on the topic of identity labels and neologisms centuries into the future, my exclusively male list of author citations in this post, about my use of the Scrivener software, or any number of other things, but I’ll save these all for other times. It’s time for me to get back to the coalface.

~ Bruce