I like this one. Another thank you to my friend Tom for the shots.
I like this one. Another thank you to my friend Tom for the shots.
Only because it is so omnipresent am I aware of the new raging over Ariel in The Little Mermaid and its casting of a Not White actor in the role. I would rather have not had this in my range of consciousness. I cannot convey the depth of weariness at this nonsense. You do this kind of stuff with the expectation that I, based on melanin content, will agree and share your rage.
Skin color is not intelligence. Nor is it a sign, frankly, of any kind of kinship above the purely coincidental.
Stop. Just…stop. I realize you think this of moment, important in some fundamental way, and might possibly be the last ground on which you might take a stand that is no longer acceptable as any definition of civilized, but all you are doing is embarrassing yourself and annoying me.
I know you are probably innumerate, but recently I was reminded of a statistic that sheds a stark light on the thinness of skin your railing against inclusiveness reveals. In a documentary on women in Hollywood, This Changes Everything, which examines the underrepresentation of women in filmmaking, it was striking to me that the percentage of directors who are women has yet to rise much higher than 15%. That figure has usually been lower, a couple of times briefly higher. Coupled with a kind of pervasive cluelessness on the part of men, it reminded me of a statistic related to what we once called (and may still) White Flight, which is the phenomenon of white Americans picking up and moving almost en masse once a certain level of minority presence in a given neighborhood is perceived. It turns out that the average is 12%. One in eight houses in a neighborhood are African-American (and presumably other racial minorities, but the study was done with regards to blacks) and suddenly all the white people seem to say “My god, they’re everywhere!” Twelve percent is far from any kind of majority, or even approaching parity, yet that seemed to be the point at which many white folks felt the need to flee to the counties.
“My god, they’re everywhere!”
I suppose if your default position is that 95% of everyone around should be white, then the upwelling of nonwhite in your area would be quite noticeable. If your default assumption is that only white people are—what?—“safe” to be around, then alarm bells must go off, just by the sighting of a few more nonwhite faces.
Of course, property values play into this, and for no better reasons.
But look, this is simply ridiculous at its base. Time and again, the superiority of ethnic type has been shot down and made odious, so that now all you have to complain about is—fictional characters.
And the now incessant appellation of Wokeness, which you somehow seem to think is some kind of corruption. You seem not even to have the wit to realize how ironic that is.
I no longer care what your excuses are. This has gotten absurd. If some day someone made a new version of Winnie-the-Pooh and instead of a classic Teddy Bear they cast a Sun Bear or, heaven forbid, a Panda, I suppose you’ll rage against the Woke Left and its anti-Teddy Bear agenda.
What this says to me loudly is that along with everything else, you have no understanding of art (small “a” as a practice of symbolic communication through aesthetic reimaginings and visualizations). So you underline your aversion to being Woke by being decidedly asleep and studiously ignorant.
But please, stop claiming these things in the name of White People. All you’re expressing is a deep fear that you are losing power, which you don’t have in the first place. And you’d know you don’t have it if you were just a teensy bit…woke.
But to be clear, I am not on your side. You do not speak for me. I’m not even getting angry at it any more, just sad and weary. You don’t get it, and you expect me to not get it either, and be angry about it.
I finished the final edits on a new novel, which is for the moment scheduled for an April 2023 release. It’s a departure for me, in that it is not science fiction. Several years ago, after finishing a novel, I considered the possibility of switching genres, so I wrote two non-SF books, both in some fashion murder mysteries. One of them, because I had done so much research on St. Louis, I decided to do as an historical. I set it in the 1780s, starting just after the Revolutionary War Battle of St. Louis. After that, I decided to try a contemporary mystery. That one is not set in St. Louis, but in a fictional county in Southern Missouri. As of this writing, it did not come out as well. It’s the historical that is set for publication (through Blank Slate Press, an imprint of the Amphorae group).
Having sent it off, I collapsed into a weeklong period of exhaustion. Not that I haven’t experienced something like this before, but usually only for a couple of days. My past aftershock has included a spate of housecleaning and the tucking away of the odds and ends of the writing process. This time it was all I could do to get out of bed. Largely an emotional reaction, it still bothered me a bit, but I’m better now and starting to think about the next project.
I still have several novels on hand that need homes. (Including that less-than-wonderful contemporary mystery, which I fully intend to rewrite now that I know what the problem with it is thanks to a friend’s review.)
But I’ve found myself introspective. I have to face the reality that I am likely never going to be a New York Times Best Selling author. I suspect there is a window for such an achievement and I missed mine. (I doubt I’ll ever win an award, either.) Two thoughts about that: given my career and what I have achieved, I think I’m okay with that. And…it’s better to be reasonable about one’s expectations. I’m not sure I have the energy anymore to engage with all that bestsellerdom might require. And the next novel I write will be a slower, lower-key process. It’s surprising to contemplate how much energy is expended in maintaining high hopes and expectations.
(That said, it could happen, and I will certainly not turn away from it.)
Long ago (and not so far away) I began a set of novels and short stories under the overall title of The Secantis Sequence. The first novel, Compass Reach, was shortlisted for the PKD Award. That’s as close as I’ve ever come to a major award. There were two more novels published and number of short stories. It was built as a mosaic universe, so while certain elements are consistent in the background, they all could deal with different characters, different locations, different time periods. I’m still publishing short fiction set in this universe, the most recent being Exile’s Grace in Analog. I have a handful under development. I have concrete plans for two more novels, one of which is finished (has been for a long time) and the other of which I haven’t even begun. Originally I had vague intentions of just mining this universe for several novels, just to see where it all went, but the vagaries and vicissitudes of publishing kind of derailed that.
Now I’m looking at this new novel and considering the possibility that I may be writing historical fiction for some time to come. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but certainly not bad. I do have rough plans for an ongoing series based on the characters and setting. What gives me pause is the simple fact that I’m soon to be 68 years old. The question of how much time I have to see any of this through is no longer theoretical. Now, there’s nothing wrong, and I am from long-lived stock, so barring unexpected catastrophes I think I have a reliable 10 to 20 years left, but it is now a factor, and will become more so.
Choices now take on sharper meaning. I love science fiction. The fact is, though, I am not as well read in it as I once was. The bulk of my reading these days is nonfiction. What I see coming out lately I am impressed with, but some narrative conventions (and expectations) have changed. This is inevitable. It was going to change. It might have changed in any of several directions, and just now this one seems fertile ground for some seriously good speculative work. But I’m not as conversant with the work or the players as I once was. What this means for my work is simply that I feel free to write what I find most interesting to write, without paying much heed to what may be popular just now. I write with the hope that there will still be room for voices like mine. But I’ve been given an opportunity to go in another direction completely, which may work out better. I don’t know. I can say that whatever I write next will be from the heart. That’s always the best source. This is such a difficult thing to do that you really should love what you create, otherwise it can be a dreary slog.
On that age front, I went to the gym this morning and did a full workout, up to my best level. At this point, I will continue to do this until something breaks. (No going gently into any night for me.) More importantly, I am still interested. I get tired but the next day I’m looking for something to engage with.
I’m about to do a dive into World War II history (I have no idea why just now, though I did have an idea for a horror novel a few years back set during the Berlin Airlift…)
On the homefront, my father is not well and we’re counting time. He’s 92. I will have more to say about that when the time comes. I have been retired now for nearly a year and it has been an education in what I may be like going forward. I discovered back in the 1990s that I had the discipline to work at home and produce. I’m still capable. The thing is, there’s more than just writing I want to accomplish and that will require some adjustment.
Altogether, life is good. I cannot complain, although I do, and I will. Recently my mother pointed out to me that I’ve been very fortunate in that I have pretty much done what I wanted most of my life. It’s curious how when you’re in the midst of that kind of luck, it rarely feels like it, but she’s right. I’ve had only one job that I came to loathe, and my last job was wonderful beyond words. I’ve published books and told stories. I found my life partner 42 + years ago and we have a good home. I’ve done the things I wanted to do (perhaps not quite at the level I wanted to do them, but that’s getting picky) and it appears I’ll be able to continue doing them.
Why am I saying all this? Because the majority of my posts in recent years have been political, bristly, occasionally tortured, and attempts at some kind of wise observational prose about the world and people, and not always very pleasant. Personal views, certainly, but not a lot of just personal, and often not of a positive nature. I’m not a sage, far from it, and I look back occasionally at posts of the past and cringe sometimes at the naïvety or the lack of proper restraint. I think I’m better at fiction. But they stand as a record of what I thought or felt at that time. It’s easy to get into the role of curmudgeon. But once in a while, you need to just let people know how things are and what’s happening.
For those of you who have stuck by all this and will continue to read these meanderings, I very much appreciate you. Thank you for coming along for the ride. I would like there to be many more years and many more miles.
Later, then. Have a good one.
People complaining about student loan forgiveness seem to feel there’s a fairness issue at stake. My experience suggests that about 90% of the people who lead with an “It’s not fair!” argument (as opposed to something based on justice) are disingenuous. They tend to see everything as a competition, a race, and any perceived advantage that they don’t get affects their position in the race. Forgiving student debt just means “those people” will be advanced closer to them or maybe even ahead of them and there’s no compensatory bribe on offer to put them back where they think they belong.
What never occurs to them is that the whole thing was rigged in the first place and that maybe they were screwed, too. Or maybe they know they were screwed, but can’t seem to grasp that the thing to be gotten rid of is the screwing, simply because.
I don’t know, but it’s nothing new.
To be clear, I’ve seen a lot of people who knew very well that the game was rigged who are quite pleased with even a little redress for other people. So we’re dealing with a handful (maybe) of people who are so invested in the rigged system that they can’t see their way past a sense of being unfairly handicapped and would prefer the rigging remain in place, so they have a shot at winning.
I don’t know. Frankly, I never did know. Life is not a race.
But boy we sure like to see it that way. Getting ahead, keeping up with the Joneses, beating the system, coming out on top, moving up in the world, winning the rat race, catching the brass ring, climbing the ladder…this is how we’ve been trained to see things and it infects every attitude we have. Some of us get over it at some point and realize that we’re being played. Some people seem to like being played. Others want to be the players. Anything that suggests leveling the playing field (another sports/competition analogy) is hateful because it looks like cheating.
Justice never enters into this except as a word used to cover the reality.
I did not go to college. There were many reasons for this, not least of them disinterest. I didn’t like school all that much and couldn’t see much value in another four years of jumping through hoops. The fields in which I have made my living, I managed to learn without higher education and all the rest I was able to indulge all on my own. Cost dissuaded me to some extent, and this was back when you weren’t likely to go into lifelong servitude to pay it off.
But society changed—our economy changed—and suddenly college was more a requirement than an add-on. The growing fields, the needs of employers, all these things necessitated more education than high school offered. In order to operate the country, we required more. Given that, it has always seemed fundamentally unfair to me that we then made people pay through the nose for the privilege of filling someone else’s requirements. (I have a very perverse attitude about this kind of thing. My first job out of high school was at a place with a dress code. I literally did not own a tie. They demanded one. I told them they could pay for it. Of course they did not. But, I argued, this is your requirement, why shouldn’t you pay for it? I won’t use the damn thing anywhere else! I met the minimum requirement by acquiring one tie and never taking it home. I left it at work and never washed it. When i left their employ, I left it behind. Petty, certainly, but still—their requirement, they should provide.)
But there are scholarships, grants, all kinds of things to offset the requirements and cover the costs. I don’t care. Because it’s not just employment involved, but class, social interaction. (I was turned down for a date once because I lacked a degree. Yes, this is probably rare, or it was then, but—is it? And why should that matter? We put too much, almost everything on that piece of paper, explicitly and implicitly, and then make it as hard as can be to get one. And the cost now suggests that many people who have managed to get one are in some way undeserving, so they will not be allowed to benefit, in even the most basic way, by being able to “get ahead” as expected.)
I have minimal problems with certain schools charging exorbitant rates—the Ivy Leagues, as they may be—as long as the basic requirements are not rendered punishingly out-of-reach. You want a Harvard education, fine, it costs more. But you just want a degree from a college to meet the requirements of society in given professions? No charge. It’s “our” requirement, after all. The individual does the learning, the name of the school has little to do with that (with certain exceptions). But then we have to be honest about the whole thing and hire according to qualification, not according to association.
The whole thing has become a money-making game that reinforces class distinctions—which we here are not supposed to have.
Damn right I’m fine with debt relief.
Addendum 8/27/22: When it became clear after WWII that the whole educational program being offered through things like the G.I. Bill was intended to provide for people in general (and later when racial barriers were being dismantled that barred minorities from access) there was a panic among the self-assumed Elites that the unwashed, the plebes, the commoners were about to share the same benefits and acquire the same functional credentials as the Chosen Children of the wealthy, the entire thing began to be undermined. We should remember that Governor Reagan dismantled the free university system in California, which had been working fine, but which displeased the powers that be. When the laws changed to prevent overt barriers, the only thing left to do was attack it financially and so the rise in costs, in lock-step with the diminishment in state funding, began. Characterize this any way you wish, the effect has been to erect a different set of barriers to those certain people and forces in our society feel should not be allowed to compete or share in that which presumably sets them apart. At every junction in history where a previous unquestioned assumption of inferiority or unsuitability was overturned that had kept certain people out, new “standards” were erected. One of the saddest consequences has been the debasement of the Humanities, because they do not as a rule lead to gold-plated incomes. You want to be a philosopher, fine, but if you come from a working class background and have to pay for it out of your own pocket, you will be crushed by debt for the rest of your life. In any individual instance, we can find many excuses for why what has become a global disgrace, but the aggregate effect is simply that only the few are “supposed” to get the rewards and the people in the “gutter” should stay there.
(Reagan’s ilk identified the rising sector of educated students as the source of a major pain in their collective asses because these kids knew better than to accept the bullshit and demanded change. Therefore, their opportunities to learn enough to challenge the Establishment had to be curtailed.)
Over my lifetime, one concept has popped again and again to tangle things in a web of pseudo-logic. It seems to go unexamined most of the time, until it emerges as the fulcrum of issues over systemic change. Normal. We seem ever in search of Normal. To be Normal, to return to Normal, to stop deviations from Normal.
But we have a damnable time defining what that is. I mean, really, just exactly what is Normal?
Normal has changed steadily over my lifetime. And with every major realignment, a new Normal becomes established and accepted and soon enough we find ourselves contending again over that which is Not Normal. It’s understandable that some people get confused and frustrated. I keep remembering poor Tevye from Fiddler On The Roof, striving to find a way to see the changes and accept them, always declaring his fidelity to Tradition.
It doesn’t help that we all have a different idea about what Normal is. Not necessarily wildly divergent ideas, but if the topic is pursued long enough, these small variations can emerge that throw the whole notion of Common Ground into question.
What is Normal?
More to the point, why should we always try to assert a common definition as if anything else will doom us to chaos and agony?
I see two concepts of Normal in conflict. They overlap, but are not the same. The first might be something like “that which supports a common and consensual equilibrium throughout a community.” Normal, in this case, might be construed as that much-acknowledged but hard to achieve “level playing field” we hear so much about.
That it is so difficult to achieve may be due to the other concept of Normal: “that which allows me to feel secure in my expectations and opinions.”
In my teens, men with long hair were seen as violators of Normal. You could point to pictures of Wild Bill Hickock all you wanted, and Society refused to accept that boys walking around with hair to their shoulders was in any way Normal. It wasn’t done. And while it may seem trivial today (because that background concept of Normal has changed) it created an ugly atmosphere in the country. (My freshman year in high school saw the football team assault the handful of “hippies” that attended my school and forcibly cut their hair off. Of course, three years later, some of those with the longest hair in the school were on the varsity team.)
Why should these things conflict? Well, that should not be difficult to understand. If you have an idea of what is Normal and then the community around you exhibits changes that cause you ill-ease, requires you to question your assumptions, or even, at some point, shift your politics or moral assessment, what we see most often is an aggressive denial of those changes, and at some point a reliance on a presumed set of standards called Normal.
“That’s not Normal!”
We can go down the list of things in the last 60 years that were opposed because they were not Normal. Civil Rights. Homosexuality. Women’s Equality. Opposition to these things often enlisted language and philosophies that seemed more involved and sophisticated than merely saying they were not Normal, but when you dig down you can see that, for many people, these were violations of personal desires to feel secure in their expectations and opinions. We know this because over time, all of this has become accepted—become Normal—for most of us. It turned out none of these things were actually dangerous to the community.
Opposing them was.
The perversity of these conflicting concepts of Normal can be seen in cases of those who engage in behaviors which they personally pursue but then hide because they realize this may not be Normal. The awareness of community standards drives the given behavior into hiding. Sometimes these behaviors are inimical, both personally and publicly. But attempting to be seen as Normal overrides even the logic of coming to terms with the deviation.
How to tell the difference? How, in other words, to “normalize” something and how to know when such normalization is not acceptable?
Start with a simple question: does this hurt anyone? (One should include one’s self in that question, but for practical purposes, look beyond.)
Help for certain problems is avoided by the overwhelming urge to appear Normal.
But we don’t actually have a good idea of what that really is. To each their own only goes so far, because the community had to be considered.
So perhaps a definition of Normal might be: “that which allows for a mutuality of conditions sustaining both community equilibrium and personal fulfillment in private choices.”
Ah, but what might this mean in practice?
Obviously, this would entail a recognition that personal concepts of Normal have limits. As would community concepts. (There was a time unwed pregnant girls were put in “homes” so they wouldn’t be seen out in public. A girl in my high school sued the public school system when it tried to kick her out for being pregnant—and won. Of course, many people expressed outrage that a pregnant girl would be attending classes with all of us “innocent” students. But this was what passed for Normal back then. And it changed.) So obviously some notion of harm would have to be better codified on both sides.
It could be worked out. We do it anyway, but it’s such a messy process that often leaves casualties behind. Those chains of Normal are loud when they get rattled. I think it’s an innocuous idea that becomes pernicious too easily. We’ve traditionally been too willing to censure, incarcerate, punish things that in the end only make certain people uncomfortable. Their efforts to suppress behaviors that ruffle their delicate sensibilities (or their power base) harm far more than not.
Just now we’re seeing that conflict play out over competing notions of Normal. Not to make light of it, but really, the outraged sensitivities of one group trying to reassert a standard of Normal that was revealed as inadequate decades ago is causing enormous harm.
Normal is a monster. I’ve had that cudgel waved over my head a good deal of my life, for one thing or another, most of it relatively innocuous in itself. “Why don’t you be normal?” And ultimately, the question had little meaning, because all it meant was “why don’t you be like the rest of us and not make us feel uncomfortable around you?” Well, in the end, their discomfort was not my problem, though they tried to lay it on me. And this was over things like hobbies or aesthetic preferences (my love of science fiction at one time). What might it have been like if the issues had been more life-threatening?
I would welcome a community-wide reassessment of what constitutes Normal. We have a heuristic appreciation of it and in some instances it works well enough, but given that the only constant is change, we need to have a clearer idea about it.
Fascism, after all, is the ultimate insistence by one group on everyone else about what is Normal. We’ve seen what that costs.
This is the new author photo. At least, for now. I want to thank my pal, Tom Ball, for patiently doing a good job. Being the photographer means I’m usually not in the pictures, so it always feels a bit weird to be the subject. But Blank Slate Press requested “recent” photographs, but there really aren’t any, so…
Anyway, the Author as he is.
Like any job, sometimes you have to go into work whether you want to or not. It feels strange, though, because writing is something you do voluntarily. If you wake up one morning feeling antipathetic toward it, you really can’t blame the boss or the commute or the time it consumes when you could be doing something you give a damn about. It’s perverse in that you can’t find the joy sometimes and you end up resenting…something.
A variety of syndromes attach to this problem, one of the most pernicious being something called Impostor Syndrome. This is not relegated only to writing, a lot of people in many different fields suffer this, the feeling that you aren’t really what you’re trying to be. That you maybe got lucky a few times and people think you’re really what you appear, but inside you can’t help but feeling like a fraud. You didn’t do this. You pulled a stunt, worked a trick, you’re one of the monkeys that typed out Hamlet. It’s partly to do with intentionality, sure, but it’s often connected to this periodic sense of inadequacy in the face of a given task. You have a story to write and you got nothin’. Words lie there on the page (the screen, whatever) and taunt you by their insipid mediocrity. Last month you barreled through a story and finished it up and sat back with a feeling of accomplishment, but now you know that was a fluke.
Then, too, there’s the money. As in, not much. The public perception of A Writer is completely at odds with the reality, but you can’t help but compare yourself to those Other Authors who do seem to conform to that perception, and you wonder why you can’t manage that. The low pay, the rate of rejections, the overwhelming lack of impact your work creates, all conspires to undermine your confidence, and even though you do not believe in fate or destiny or any of that kind of superstitious nonsense, the feeling that the universe is trying to tell you something creeps in, gets past your rationality, infects you with a kind of malaise that feeds on the opinion that you just don’t have what it takes.
Well, in that sense, no one does. It’s damn hard work, no doubt. And it is the work that creates the effects, not any cosmic scale or judgment or notion of fairness. The work.
And work is tiring. A lot of it is boring. Your contentedness depends on averages, good days versus bad days. If you have enough good days, you can ignore the bad ones, but you will have bad days.
But once in a while, all the enthusiasm in the world is insufficient to keep the self-doubt and boredom and weariness at bay and you will succumb to feeling like it all has no point.
The first several years I worked at being a writer, I lost count of how many times I quit. Nothing but rejections, angry, frustrated periods of depression, just what do these people want? One day I remember receiving four rejections at once. That was a dark night. “I quit! I don’t need this! Fuck ’em!” Like they were waiting for me to produce what they wanted, me, Mark Tiedemann, and my quitting would somehow make them feel bad.
My first short story sale paid $15.00, but I felt like it was hundreds of dollars. I floated on that high for months. The next sale got me $19.00, the third $30.00. Hey, the pay was going up.
Then I sold a story for $525.00.
And then the magazine was killed before my story appeared and I felt it all crash down around me, as if the gods were up there laughing at me. I had put a lot on that story—a professional sale for a magazine with a large distribution, I’ll get noticed! Well, no, just kidding, no one will see that story, ha ha.
The emotional reactions to the business end of writing seldom sync proportionally to reality. This is one of the things we have to learn and hang onto. It’s not you. That doesn’t necessarily make it feel better, but it get you through to the next one.
My response to this one was to apply to Clarion, the workshop. And I declared that if they rejected me, I would quit. Because if they thought I could not even be educated, then maybe I was chasing my tail to no purpose.
They didn’t reject me.
Here’s the thing. I was working a full-time job while trying to do this. Writing got maybe two hours a day. Besides the job, there was Life to tend to. Clarion was the first opportunity I had to do nothing but work on fiction all day for several weeks. I learned then that it is the work, working at the work, that matters.
Things improved after Clarion. To date, I’ve sold 70 short stories and a number of novels.
The money is still not commensurate with the hours.
But 70 stories and a dozen books is a career.
And I still have these times when I feel like a fraud. Maybe it’s linked to serotonin or something. But it is aggravating to be continually reminded how little actual control I have over all this, even my own emotions. Sure, it’s partly a disconnect between expectations and experience, but you would think I’d know that, in my bones, by now.
This is life. Eventually, I’ll go from one room to another and the feeling will change and I’ll be back at the work. Engaged. Maybe I should learn to pace myself, but there’s too little time for that, though even that idea is nonsense.
For you who share these feelings—and I suspect it’s most if not all of us—I wish you to take a smidgin of hope from this. Be cool. We all go through it. It will pass, especially if we keep in mind that the important thing is…the work.
Even if you feel you are not a writer, that what you do is a fluke, the work needs doing. Pretend to do it. Imitate what you feel you are not. Be a mimic, if necessary. It may not be impostor syndrome so much as a mild case of Bad Mimic Blues. But write. Eventually, the work becomes the main thing again and the rest just fades.
Hope this helps.
In the wild, so to speak, photographic proof that I do indeed go without a hat on rare occasion. Just in case anyone was wondering.
Over the years, I have modified my opinion on this many times. For a long time I believed it was a non-issue—how do you prevent it? If a student is intent on praying, what would prevent it?
Nothing. Which leads to the next realization that the people complaining about, demanding it, leading the charge against a prohibition that does not, in fact, exist are not interested in prayer in school: they’re interest in School Prayer, which requires public demonstration. What they want is openly-led prayer, as a group, with full participation.
This is not prayer, this is indoctrination. This is taking a position and directing the students to attend to what is being advocated. One major problem with this is that those students who decline to participate will be singled out and self-identified. What, one may ask, is wrong with that? Did you never go to school in the United States? Any deviation from a presumed “norm” is an excuse for bullying.
What is desired is an imposition of conformity.
Well, one might ask again, what is wrong with that? Isn’t that part of the point of attending school?
To which I must concede, yes, it is. We wish our people to have a common grasp of what it means to be a citizen and for that a certain degree of conformity is required.
Which is why this is such an intractable issue for many people.
How do I feel about it now?
Well. I believe the problem is not so much with a relative dispositions of a required set of conformist doctrines so much as that this is not supposed to be what school should be about in the first place. School—ideally—is where we should be sending children to learn how to apply skepticism. We should teach them how to think, how to examine the world, take things apart and put them together again. We should be allowing them to discover, in lightly directed ways, how the world works, what it means to develop understanding, and how to approach life critically. We should be teaching them, in short, how to avoid being duped.
While there may be schools where that level of actual learning takes place, for the most part it doesn’t happen other than by accident. I’ve always felt, at least after reaching an age and a level of understanding that allowed it, that public schools are not there to teach but to produce Citizens—consumers, workers, voters, patriots, parrots. Therefore, School Prayer is just another aspect of this and would be consistent with the programmatic inculcation of the conformity too many people prefer to the possibility of having a population of critical individuals questioning every damn thing and maybe challenging the status quo regularly.
So (again) how do I feel about it now?
Absolutely not. Religious instruction of any kind, unless done within the context of history classes, should be kept out of school, because it is by definition antithetical to skepticism. Which is of course why some people want it in there.
Somehow, some way, many students manage to acquire the tools of critical thinking even through the often mind-numbing “instruction” that passes for learning. They emerge as questioners, as independent thinkers. Apparently enough of them that the proselytes of conformity want to throw this in to the mix to see if something can be done to shut it down. So in the name of giving actual freedom of thought a chance, I must declare that I prefer religiosity of any kind kept out of public education. The fact is, religion depends on faith, which is incompatible in concept with skepticism. Mature believers certainly do find ways to balance them, but it seems unfair to expect kids to find that balance before they are even acquainted with the power of their intellects.
The day comes when we actually teach critical thinking as a matter of course, then by all means, admit prayer. Until then, I say leave it out. We do too much already to instill a stifling conformity.
In the past, I have attempted to present my arguments, my sentiments, in respectful, intellectual, philosophically relevant language—not always successfully, I admit; sometimes my dismay and anger get the better of me, and sometimes there are things too unbelievably stupid to warrant much, if any, respect—and to leave some opening for debate.
With the recent Supreme Court rulings, it should be clear to everyone that what is happening is nothing less than an attempt by extralegal and institutional force to change the nature of our country. This is nothing new. What is new (new-ish) is the outright lies and misrepresentation in which these attempts are couched and the complete shameless embrace of those lies.
The “sanctity of life” is one such misrepresentation. While I have no doubt there are many individuals who sincerely believe in this and are acting out of that conviction, as a movement it has been little more than a duplicitous shell game, the only consistency of which has been the clear aim of reducing large segments of the population to second-class status if not outright bondage. Even where some sincerity is on exhibit, at base it relies on a subversion of individual liberties.
For the last five decades we have come to expect certain things to remain, if not unchallenged, at least established until a better way forward can be found. Because there are elements in our country who will resist and try to eliminate these expectations no matter what, we have struggled along with a variety of less-than-perfect institutional safety nets. Many of these laws were not ideal, but we have defended them because the reality tells us that with what we have to work with at hand, any substitute will be worse, and more recently that there will be no substitute.
Example: the Republican Party has been bitching about the Affordable Healthcare Act since it was enacted. Repeatedly, they have stated their intention to repeal it and “put something better” in its place. Twelve years later, we still have not seen a draft of the “better” only more declarations of intent to repeal. After 12 years you would think they would come up with something, but that has never been their intention.
Another example: immigration reform. Attempts have been offered, mostly by Democrats, since Clinton. The GOP has blocked all of them, even when one of their favored sons, Bush, was pushing for it. All they have managed to do is use it as a political rallying point to make people angry and drum up votes on the pretense that “they’ll do something.”
Now this past week.
Four justices on the Supreme Court should not be there. One took a spot that ought to have been filled by Obama’s last pick. I do not care how you feel about Obama, the blockage by Mitch McConnell of his nominee was unconscionable, petty, and partisan to the point of doing active harm. The other three were appointed by a man who had made promises to place the worst reactionaries he could get by with on the bench, and clearly they all lied during their hearings.
And what have we seen this week? A weakening of firearm safety laws, a weakening of Miranda, and the overturn of Roe v. Wade, which the liars on the bench swore under oath they viewed as “settled law.” We now no longer know what that means in terms of legal protections.
We can dance around these things all we want, but the trajectory is clear. The direction of rightwing politics was set decades ago by the Karl Rove Doctrine of destroying the federal government’s ability to act on social justice at any level. “I want to shrink it to where I can drown it in a bathtub,” he said, more or less. But even he has stepped that back in recent years, realizing that in many instances the only thing securing a civil society was federal oversight. If we had left it entirely up the states, we would likely still have slavery in parts of the United States, segregation certainly, and the freedom of association that comes with advancing civil rights would exist only in pockets.
We now know that this is exactly the goal. There is no excusing it as some sort of abstruse political theory of jurisdictional priority. The intended goal was to return certain people to positions of authority from which they can dictate the social landscape. They are bigots, either primarily as by way of securing power, or as constitutionally incapable of any kind of reliable empathy for people they view as “not my tribe.” The result is the same either way. There is no couching any of this in any terms other than the naked desire to remove themselves from other people they see as inferior and to guarantee those people remain incapable of sharing rights, liberties, or any meaningful means of securing a dignified life.
I will have no truck with this.
All I can see coming from the current construction of the GOP is little more than petulant white spleen and open fear. The recent statement at a rally by Illinois Representative Mary Miller that the Roe decision is a “victory for white life” will serve as testament of the current “conservative” mindset.
Victory for white life?
Her people tried to explain that she misread the statement, but personally I neither believe that or care. It is perfectly consistent with the brand of reactionary white angst we’ve been seeing the past four or five years. This is in line with the resurgence of what is called Replacement Theory, which is the idea that unless white people start making more babies we will be overwhelmed by “foreigners.” This is nothing but racist fear.
This is fascism.
The sad fact is, these people are unfazed by this accusation. They are proud of it. They think they’re winning, and in a certain narrow construction of what it is to be an American, this is the thing that matters. Winning. They are embracing this nonsense and feel empowered by these recent rulings.
They think they are True Americans.
Now Roe. This is the first of a series of attempts to roll back civil liberties. We don’t have to guess, Clarence Thomas has put it in writing.
Roe, in my opinion, was less than great law. It had weaknesses, the primary one being that it fell short of establishing bodily autonomy. The other problem, which is not the fault of Roe but a facet of how we conduct politics, is that once it was handed down, many of us just thought it was a settled issue. Instead of enacting legislation at the state level to bolster it, we relied on Roe to cover it.
But over the decades it has become clear that Roe represents an aspect of Civil Rights which we also failed to codify when the Equal Rights Amendment fell short of ratification. Too many people simply cannot accept universal equality.
There has always been a part of the American Psyché that nursed aspirations of specialness, which has most often manifested as an attitude that only certain people mattered—which meant many more people did not matter. Efforts to close this misapprehension over what our founding documents meant have resulted in too many periods of strife. When you break it down, all these instances were little more than privilege trying to retain its perquisites and shut others out.
Too often too many of us simply didn’t question this, either because we were doing fine or because we were too dependent on things as they were or because we were afraid.
I have friends who are now frightened. They are vulnerable, they know there are people in this country who fear and hate them, not for who they are but for what they seem to represent, and they see all that is happening as the opening stages of the collapse of an American version of the Weimar period. The next stage is naziism and they will be targeted.
This is now personal. True, it has always been, but there is no longer any excuse to pretend otherwise.
My reaction to this, to those who are cheering the recent rulings, those who would vote for that feckless opportunist again, those who think being an American is only being willing to step on or even kill those who aren’t like them, is—how dare you? How dare you shit on my country. How dare you pretend to be a patriot when the very principles you claim to revere are the very opposite of what you believe? How dare you presume to threaten my friends because you don’t like the way they talk, dress, eat, feel, love? How dare you hold yourselves to be an example of True American when all that seems to flow from your mouths is disrespect, violence, and hatred? How dare you base all your judgments of others on either the color of their skin, their choice of partners, their gender, or their bank account?
How dare you force your narrow conception of “appropriate” on everyone around you so you can feel comfortable?
In my opinion, what we are seeing and hearing from them is the death wail of a soon-to-disappear culture that has no valid place in our future. Regressives, not conservatives. I have rarely seen such a wrongheaded embrace of everything odious in our history or culture and such a rejection of a better world.
But before they’re gone, they can do a world of damage.
They are passing laws to make it illegal to talk about certain things. Take a minute. In the guise of “protecting the children” they are forcing restrictions on talking.
And if you don’t see what the big deal is, then you are a major part of the problem.
I beg you all, you who see this and wonder and are dismayed, do not let them prevail. You have the future to gain and a world to lose.