Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Dear Fandom: We're Here. We're Conservative. Get Used To It.

Given the serious issues we in the Western world are facing at the moment - migrant crises, terrorist attacks, widening gulfs between the classes - you would think people would find better things to worry about than a trivial joke at a US Senate confirmation hearing. You would think that, but you would be wrong. As you've probably noticed already, we live in the Crazy Years, which means everything - and I mean everything - has to be an official outrage. And if you've been a fan over the past few decades, you no doubt will not be surprised that mainstream pop culture publications are getting in on the act.

"Senator Ted Cruz Has Forever Tainted The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy!" screams a headline at io9, a purported news center for all things geek. The writer of this particular piece of "legitimate" cultural journalism is upset that Cruz and Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch traded banter about the meaning of life at the start of the aforementioned confirmation hearing. Of course, in reality, there's no rational reason this should exercise anyone. Gorsuch is a highly qualified jurist who comes recommended by folks on both the left and right; the fact that Donald Trump nominated him does not, in fact, count as an automatic disqualifier. But Trendacosta is all a-flutter about Cruz's supposedly cheapening the process by "humanizing" a gentleman who, she is convinced, is the boogeyman.

It's typical left-wing Trump Derangement Syndrome for the most part, but I want to address the specifically fannish aspect of this story because it speaks to two tendencies of leftist fans that annoy the hell out of me.

First of all, leftist fans think, erroneously, that the character of the other fans of a particular work should have bearing on their own enjoyment of that work. But the fact that a Republican likes Douglas Adams shouldn't taint The Hitchhiker's Guide at all. When a creator sends his work out into the universe, he has no control over who ends up liking it; it's silly, therefore, to hold that creator's work responsible when people you personally despise decide to embrace it. Jesus, if I let other fans determine what I take pleasure in, there'd be a lot of things I'd miss out on. To point out one example, I would've had to drop my affection for Babylon 5 the moment fans in the 2000's started comparing W. Bush to President Clark!

Secondly, leftist fans believe, also mistakenly, that a creator's personal political beliefs should have bearing on who's "allowed" to like something. I'm sorry, but no: The fact that Douglas Adams was an atheist and an environmental activist does not mean Cruz and Gorsuch are not permitted to enjoy The Hitchhiker's Guide. Go back to what I said above: When a creator releases something to the general public, he doesn't - and can't - regulate its reception (thank God). If a work is not explicitly political and is written in an appealing way, it's going to attract a broad base of admirers (which is good). Indeed, even if a work does have political messages, people on the opposite side of those messages can still enjoy it if, in their mind, it has other redeeming qualities (also a good thing). A classic example for me is Star Trek. Gene Roddenberry was a utopian and a committed secularist -- and yes, those views do influence Trek's basic premises quite distinctly. But I can - and do - ignore that because 1) the characters are, for me, what make each associated show worth watching and 2) Roddenberry died just when the newer Treks were taking off, and the writers who took the helm in his absence didn't always adhere to Roddenberry's original vision (*ahem* Deep Space Nine *ahem*). 

To be blunt: Trendacosta and her leftist cohorts don't own The Hitchhiker's Guide or anything else in geek culture just because many creators happen to be leftist. When they try to claim otherwise, my immediate response is to uplift my two middle fingers. Conservatives like science fiction too, and we have just as much right to be a part of the fandom as anyone else.   

Monday, March 20, 2017

Thoughts on Trans Activism

Reading Lindsay Bentley's excellent post just now has reminded me that I should probably share my own viewpoint on the whole transgender issue:

The primary beef I - and other conservatives - have with trans activism and its demand that we 1) open up bathrooms, locker rooms, sports leagues, etc. to people who "identify" as a particular gender and 2) use everyone's "proper pronouns" or else be subject to legal penalties is that absolutely no objective standards of accommodation have been offered beyond a person's say-so. And yes, it is entirely reasonable to worry that these new licences will be abused -- not by actual trans individuals, but by other skeezy - or power-hungry - folks who find it convenient to take advantage.

Regarding the above, I have a sneaking suspicion that no objective standards have been offered because no objective standards exist. Seriously, think about this: How do you know you are a particular gender? In reply to this question, what trans activists have offered me is a contradictory muddle. On the one hand, "Clothes have no gender, and I can wear whatever I want!" On the other, "Johnny likes dolls and dresses, so Johnny must want to be Joanne."

Speaking of which: The article I linked above resonated very strongly with me -- and it probably resonates very strongly with other women who also happen to be Odd. I definitely remember wishing I could be a boy. Mind you, I did have some girly interests. I did like caring for my baby dolls, and I loved Strawberry Shortcake. But while other girls were often inscrutable to me, boys were perfectly sensible, and I often preferred their company. Back in my childhood, this was called being a tomboy; today, I'd probably be encouraged by activists to identify as "gender fluid" or "neuter" or something else in their Baskin-Robbins-style menu of gender flavors.

Personally, I think many trans activists confuse gender identity with gender expression a whole hell of a lot. Why can't a little boy who likes Barbies just be considered a boy who likes Barbies? Why do we have to slap new labels on everybody when we can just accept that kids are individuals and are going to express their genders in different ways?

But I digress. The second big issue I have with trans activism is the same issue I have with all other forms of hard-left activism: its embrace of cognitive distortions that are elsewhere found among the mentally ill. Mind-reading? Yep: If someone uses the wrong pronoun, they are automatically assumed to be transphobic instead of sincerely mistaken. Catastrophizing and fortune telling? Yep: Trans activists obviously believe that allowing a thoughtful dissenter like Jordan Peterson to speak on campus will result in - oh, I don't know - a massacre of the gender nonconforming? Whatever they think is going to happen, it must be terrible; nothing less than the threat of death would justify their behavior. Blaming? Yep: If a trans activist doesn't feel good about herself/himself/themselves, it must be the fault of Others. There is no recognition whatsoever that you can in fact control your own emotional state and not allow every asshole in the world to get you down.

I myself am a fairly liberal person (in the classical sense). As such, while I have doubts about sex-reassignment, I have sympathy for those who genuinely feel they've been born in the wrong gender, and I'm willing to accommodate quite a bit. But the best way to sort this out, I feel, is through two-way dialogue, not categorical demands. We have to be allowed to be skeptical and to ask questions. We have to be allowed to demand proof. And we have to be allowed to say no sometimes when a person who's very clearly a dude wants to enter the ladies room. Otherwise, suspicion and resentment will only grow -- making the lives of trans individuals who just want to pass and be left alone even more difficult.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

An Interesting Discussion: What Defines the Superversive?

I'll have to think about making a case for The Martian. I personally think it is superversive, but I have to actually put my finger on why.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Dear Taste-Makers: You Are Not a "Deserving Elite"

If you follow the latest social media shit-storms at all, you may have heard of journalist Josh Barro. Recently, Barro joined the Legions of Infamy by chiding McDonald's for an anti-Trump tweet because, as everyone knows, "fat slobs with bad taste" are a key Trump-supporting demographic. That glob of condescending spittle was bad enough, but the tweet above - which I stole from Chris Arnade's glorious take-down of Barro's snobbery - is the statement that really made me see red. Why? Because Barro, like many mal-educated mid-wits, is misusing genuine sociological data to peddle a dangerous lie.

So let's break down everything that is wrong with this sentiment, shall we?

Good Private Judgment Does Not Automatically Lead to Good Public Leadership

It is in fact true that in highly-credentialed, high-income districts, we see better lifestyles. People in these zips are more likely to work out and eat right, for one. It is also true that in said top-performing zips, people are more careful with their money, are more likely to be involved in community organizations, are more likely to prioritize education while raising their children, and are more likely to live in healthy, two-parent households - all prudent, pro-social, and (dare I say) bourgeois choices that increase your and your children's chances of being upwardly mobile. (For more discussion regarding this data, I suggest the recent work of Charles Murray, particularly Coming Apart.) 

So do many of our elites in some sense "deserve" to be doing well? Sure -- but this does not mean they "deserve" to lord over the rest of us. Because here's the funny thing: They are doing all the right things, but they refuse to promote their bourgeois living as a national ideal. In other words, they don't preach what they practice. They may be living in stable families, sticking to household budgets, investing their money wisely in retirement accounts, and telling Johnny that yes, his homework is his first priority, but when they write their national columns or appear on national television, their message is always that family structure doesn't matter, that dysfunctional underclass sub-cultures are all "delightfully subversive," and that expecting people to prioritize when it comes to budgets both governmental and personal is inhumane and anti-poor. 

Bottom line? The elites have proven themselves to be completely incapable of uplifting folks at the bottom of the class pyramid, so I don't particularly care that they make good decisions when it comes to their personal lives. Honestly, sometimes I suspect that they're just trying to pull the ladder up behind them so they don't have to compete with us, the unwashed; it's more likely, though, that their vaunted education has let them down.

Having a College Degree - Even a PhD - Is NOT the Same Thing as Being "Educated"

Once upon a time, a college education at least tried to expose you to the very best that has been thought and said about the human condition and our place in the universe. It can be argued - validly - that the former "canon" was in some respects too narrow, but it was still good that there were campus-wide standards and that every collegian was expected to meet them. Unfortunately, after the rise of the New Left, all the trappings of just this sort of liberal education were thrown right out the window. Granted, many colleges still have general education requirements, but even with these, one can still earn a bachelor's without ever taking a traditional course on our country's history, political structures, or literary heritage.

Now let's add on top of this the fact that, in recent decades, academia has grown ever more intolerant of dissenting opinion (to the point that students and professors are now demanding they be shielded from ideas and experiences they find even remotely upsetting) and what you get is a perfect storm of ignorance about the things that really matter when it comes to good leadership. Our elites basically know fuck-all about human nature and have no clue that their supposedly brilliant, forward-thinking, progressive ideas have often been tried before without success (and to be sure, I'm putting that very charitably).

Actually, the increasing political correctness of our universities (and all other spaces where our elites congregate) is a good example of just what I mean when I say that folks like Barro know jack about - well - people. People, in reality, are anti-fragile; by this, I mean that they thrive best when their lives are not without adversity. Young people especially need the opportunity to test their physical and cognitive limits, bump up against obstacles, and - both literally and metaphorically - hang upside down on the monkey-bars hands-free. But our elites have decided that risk of emotional and bodily injury must be stamped out completely -- and predictably, the people under their oh-so-compassionate charge have now been trained to be, essentially, mentally ill. Indeed, even among our young children, we're seeing a rise in the incidence of attention-deficit disorder, sensory integration disorder, and other maladies -- and at least one occupational therapist has argued convincingly that this is because our elites are micromanaging our children's play in the name of their great safety crusade.

And hell, I haven't even addressed the fact that not all degrees are created equal and that, in many fields, all that's required to earn a credential is the ability to sling bull with panache. The rot is so widespread in the humanities and the social sciences in particular that a lot of students in these concentrations who have real native talent have no chance to develop and hone their intellects. Why? Well, here's something else the elites don't understand about human nature: people may be anti-fragile, but many will choose the easy path if it's offered to them. If one can earn a degree and the associated social status that comes with it by skating through courses that require little effort or accountability, many students will embrace that option -- and among our elites, many people have. Ask me what it was like to be misrepresented by lazy journalists covering the pop-culture beat for more information.

One last point: The shadow curriculum of lower and higher education isn't just - or even mostly - about using your intellect to suss out the truth. There are fields of study out there - generally in the hard sciences - that do demand results, but as a teacher with over a decade of experience guiding students through the K-12 system and beyond, I also know there are numerous wholly non-academic expectations that stick to our educational enterprise like barnacles on a ship. Based on what's usually asked in a college admissions essay, our schools privilege sociable youngsters who are comfortable talking about themselves. They also privilege the obedient and the verbally adept. Not that there's anything necessarily wrong with any of these traits (I've been identified as verbally adept myself - at least in writing), but this weeding process does overlook many legitimately brilliant Odds -- especially my rambunctious, scribbly boys.

TL;DR: You're going to have to do more to convince me of your fitness to lead the rest of us than to reference your "college education."

But even if you were a freakin' Einstein, with all the tangible intellectual achievements that entails, I'm still not going to grant you the licence to judge me or to control my life. Which brings me to my third and final point:

You and Your Exclusive Clique Are Not Smarter Than EVERYONE Else

Remember that episode of The Simpsons years back in which the brainy folks of Springfield took control and tried to make their town more functional and efficient? Remember how this ended in disaster? I loved that episode because it conveyed a very important truth: Even a group of very, very smart people don't - and can't - know everything about a phenomenon as complex and unwieldy as a human culture or a human economy. That's why the outcomes of state economic planning range from stupid to downright horrific (see also: Venezuela). That's why, post-Sexual Revolution, we're faced with widespread unhappiness among women and equally widespread social pathology. 

Society is weird. There are many rules, traditions, and institutions lying around that, on the surface, don't seem to make sense. But those rules, traditions, and institutions cropped up for a reason. In many cases, they solved real dilemmas that our human ancestors encountered on their evolutionary journey out of the savanna. For instance, every culture previous to ours had strict codes to govern sexual conduct because, among other things, that was the only way to ensure that responsibility for the consequent children could be established. And, no matter how gosh-darned exceptional you are, you can't just take those codes apart without understanding and solving the problems they were meant to address.

So Barro and his ilk might be smarter than one working-class Trump supporter -- but are they smarter than all the Trump supporters and all the generations who lived before us combined? Not a chance! 

But, obviously, they think that they are -- and that's why many ordinary Americans rightfully hate their guts.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Grumpy Thoughts for the Evening

  • If you believe free speech should be forcibly curtailed for certain people you don't like, then you must believe you have a total monopoly on the truth -- which means you're an arrogant putz.
  • Look beneath the surface numbers. Just because a certain racial group performs less well on a teacher certification test does not automatically mean the test is racist and should be scrapped. It may mean public education in certain areas is utter shit for a host of complicated reasons that have very little to do with race.
  • If you want gay characters in your movies, write your own stories. Don't try to colonize stories that already exist. I'm looking at you, Disney.
  • Speaking of gay representation: Putting LGBT characters into everything ever is not actually representative of reality. Same-sex-attracted individuals represent 3.5% of the US population according to census data -- and "gender-nonconforming" folks represent an even smaller percentage. Ironically, by artificially inflating LGBT representation in popular media, you are making people MORE afraid of the "gay agenda" and its possible impact on the family. Back off.
  • We're tired of the left's screeching about Russia, Trump's fascism, etc. Reality does not conform to your hysteria; if it did, many of you would already be in jail. Critique actual policy, not your fever dreams.
  • Stop talking about "white privilege." It is 100% nonconstructive. No average American is going to accept that notion when the evidence before our lying eyes reveals that many working class whites are also disadvantaged by the system. Speak instead about the barriers that poor people face regardless of race. This will help everyone instead of just a few favored groups.
Anything else I should address? I'm in a bad mood and on a roll.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Guest Post: A Crazy World, by Dawn Witzke

Today, let's welcome author Dawn Witzke. Below, Dawn shares some of the process behind her latest novel, Path of Angels, which is now out on Amazon. My own review, meanwhile, will be posted soon!

A Crazy World Created From Conspiracy Theories and Partisan Politics

When I was developing the world that becomes Path of Angels, I was spending quite a bit of time debating law, politics and culture online. This led me to doing a ton of research about things that I was familiar with, but needed specifics in order to support my opinion.

There was also a lot of jaw flapping about Texas seceding, people relocating to states with other like-minded people, talk of religious persecution and even civil war. It was mostly just hot air. Few people ever did more than talk.

I decided to start exploring the what ifs with all of these ideas. What if Hillary became president? What if the government started censoring religions and/or shutting them down? What if the socialists got the government to provide basic needs for everyone? What if marriage continued on the path it was going and no one got married anymore? These were just a few of the many questions that I asked.

Being a paralegal, I just couldn’t force myself to morph our government into the crazy that I needed for my story. So....I started a war. The Great War happens after Jane Elliot Brown wins the presidency in 2020. She is so incompetent that the economy crashes setting off a chain of events that leads to a complete change of borders around the world. Thirty-five years later the April Compact is signed, restoring an uneasy peace and marking the beginning of the New Era.

Creating Borders

I needed to figure out this new world and where the borders would be, what type culture they would have, and what sort of government would function in those countries. The first thing that I did was to take my hostility out on California and have it traded to the Chinese in trade for forgiveness of a large portion of the US debt. Then, I broke the mainland into about 8 or so other smaller countries. In the east is New England. The south rose again in the New Confederacy. Obviously Texas still remained and expanded, North Gates, in the northwest, is a privately owned country by none other than Bill Gates.

The Government of Nacerma

In the heartland is Nacerma. This is where I had my real fun. I started with the basic idea of a country that provides every citizen with the basics - food, clothing, shelter, medical care - in exchange for 5 years of service in an assigned government job. I threw in a bit of fascism by having the government control and monitor all communication mediums, weapons and industry. Then some communism in how certain people are more equal than others. Last, but not least, I throw in some capitalism in two forms. The first being the Council that runs the country, which is loosely based on a Board of Directors. Secondly, there are some “privately-owned” businesses, which are set-up similar to a franchise, except that the owner has to go through the government for everything rather than a private entity.

Thrown into this Frankenstein’s monster of a government are a mess of cultural ideas that are a mix of liberal and conservative. Of course I chose the ones that each side hates the most.

Society and Culture

Children/abortion/euthanasia: There are no set laws on the number of children a mother can have, however the government will only provide for up to two children per woman, who have sole responsibility for their care and upbringing. During a woman’s service with the government, they can either be arrested for getting pregnant or be forced to have an abortion. Abortions are available the entire pregnancy for the asking and infants who are born with defects are aborted. Euthanasia is encouraged and requires nothing more than a person presenting themselves at a medical center and making the request.

Relationships/marriage: There is no government marriage at all. Relationships last as long as any two people decide to have one, which results in almost no commitment between people. Also, there are very few restrictions on what people may do. Age of consent is 18, although there is a Romeo clause, which allows an age gap of up to 2 years where at least one is a minor.

Religion/Speech: Religion of all types is strictly banned and severely penalized. Speech has limits only when it comes to criticizing the government. There is no such thing as hate speech, defamation of character or slander/libel.

Those are the major components of this new country Nacerma. It’s a hot mess, but it works.

Path of Angels is out March 13th at