Phobic Identity

Here’s a the thing.  If you need someone to be in some way “less” than you in order for you to feel good—or even adequate—about yourself, you have a problem.  It’s not their problem, it’s yours.

This “pastor” who spewed all over Twitter that we shouldn’t feel bad about the Orlando killings because they were “perverts” is a prime example.  If he’s really a pastor, a religious leader, there is no reason for him to say any of that unless he’s just trying to assert superiority.  Which is entirely not the point of Christianity, as I understand it.  The point is to embrace the commonalities among people, not sort them out into boxes labeled “Preferred Types” and “Types To Be Condemned.”  No, he’s just indulging in bolstering a shaky self-image by dumping his own head full of crap on a group he finds personally—

What?  Offensive? Incomprehensible? Or simply indifferent to his beliefs.

But, then, how would he know?

People who try to make themselves feel better by denigrating others have always been among us but they have never been so able to broadcast their inadequacies so loudly and regularly and they have found each other and formed support groups. I can’t imagine a gloomier or, frankly, duller forum.

I have found that prejudice rarely survives real knowledge.  Actually knowing someone makes it very difficult to shove them into a category and hate “just because” they are a particular “type.”  Oh, it’s possible.  I have heard all manner of tortured rationalization to continue hating a group while embracing individuals from that group as friends.  But that requires, I think, a profound myopia. (And I have to wonder how much of a “friend” they can be.)  Generally, once you know someone, I believe it becomes harder and harder to categorically judge and hate them and those like them.

Which is why much of this hatred is based on ignorance.

But a particular kind of ignorance, one based on identity.

After 9/11 we saw people who suggested we learn more about Islam condemned as some species of traitor.  How dare you suggest we learn something about this group that just hurt us so badly!  How dare you suggest that we can’t programmatically cast all of them into the same box and deal with our pain by blaming them all and hating them!  How dare you suggest that more knowledge will benefit us!

It was a spasm of national smallness.  “I know who the enemy is, don’t tell me more about him or I might stop hating him.”

Reality is always more complicated.

People who feel squeezed by circumstance, unable often by virtue of their own ignorance to make the decisions necessary to get themselves out of their own cesspools of anger and frustration, seem to contract into themselves and put up a wall to keep out any ideas or facts that might tell them they are in error.  They end up hating, many of them, and you see it all over, with signs that are not only wrong-headed but in too many cases suggestive of poor education, illiteracy, and parochialisms that reinforce a siege mentality that grows daily more dense and difficult to penetrate.

No, sir or madam, “they” are not the problem.  There are conditions and circumstances that make for a toxic situation and someone has told you that “they” are the cause, the consequence, and the catalyst, all rolled into one, and if we can just be rid of “them” then you will stop being afraid.  Whoever told you that lied to you, probably because in so doing they have made themselves feel (falsely) more in control of their situation or they have a power agenda that depends on you buying into the lie.  It certainly depends on you never asking deeper questions.  Easier to just target and hate.  There, the shots have been fired, the bodies are on the floor, “they” have been dealt a blow.

Then why don’t you feel any safer?  Why can’t you get past the hate?

Why must we now shift aim to yet another group you know nothing about except that they don’t look or sound or act like you?

Too many people in this country harbor and nurture identity hatreds—we know who we are because we hate those people over there, who are different.

While you’re feeding on that, someone has been stealing your soul to use for purposes you’re too busy hating gays or Muslims or socialists or single parents or blacks or Latinos or Asians or Liberals or Democrats or anyone who knows something you don’t know or has an education or a vocabulary or anyone who reads or supports birth control or feminists or accepts evolution or advocates tolerance or the group of the day to notice.

On some level, along the way, inside, you are one or more of these very things. Hate them, you hate yourself.  And if by so doing you define who you are, then you have created for yourself a prison, with bars on the inside, through which to look and resent a world of which you have little understanding.  Because you refuse to.

And that pastor?  He’s one of the wardens.

The Anxiety of Innocence

I have too many reactions to what has occurred in Orlando. They clamor for attention, shove each other aside, roil and ripple. Fifty dead, and why?

Because a man decided, on his own, to “do something” about homosexuals.

Why?

I don’t think anyone will ever have an satisfactory answer to that, but it would seem to stem from the same impulse that drives certain men to beat their wives, to terrorize their children, to post hate-filled screeds on social media, and then, once they have done all these terrible things, go arm themselves in anticipation of the inevitable storm troopers they expect to come silence them.

And when those storm troopers do not show up?

They have the weapons, they might as well carry the fight to the enemy.

An enemy they have created, for themselves, to give shape to the loathing inside that dominates all their waking hours.

It must.  Everyone has a bad day, gets up with an antisocial cloud around them, from time to time. Snapping and snarling, nothing working right, stumbling through interactions that do nothing but abrade.

But we don’t kill people as a result. We solve the problem, get some sleep, be with friends, and the mood or whatever passes.  To get anywhere close to this kind of insane reaction, you’d have to live with the brooding ugliness day in and day out, for months or years, until you can’t even see other people anymore, only the threat they represent.  Until you can’t carry it anymore and you have to Do Something.

But where does that come from?

That someone can get to this point does not dismay me.  It saddens me.

That others goad him on, cheer him, then in cowardly support behind the anonymity of a faceless mod fistpump the air when the bodies have dropped—that enrages me.

One post I saw applauding his actions was glad that he’d “taken out” the perverts.

It’s that question of innocence that seems to underlay so much of this.  Protecting the innocent, dealing with the guilty.  Somewhere back in the 1980s Reagan dropped a remark, late in his presidency, about AIDS victims after visiting a hospital ward with infants and children:  he didn’t know “innocent” people could die from this disease.

Innocent.

We hear this in so much.  Innocent people.

Who are they?  Why aren’t we all?

More to the point: who the hell are you to say who is or is not?

We feed on hatred, vampirically. It drips, intravenously, daily. Most of us seem immune to the worst effects, but some embrace it.

Omar Mateen thought They were out to get him. They must have been, he hated them, it only makes sense that they hate him back.  And we helped him do the hating, every microcerebral homophobic lapel-pin patriot goading him on, ranting about the state of the country, posturing and pissing in the ocean, venting frustration as if it were a holy cause, listening to professional demagogues who peddle bigotry to meet their bottom-line who delight in the slaughter because it makes their irrational squeelings seem somehow prophetic, and then the rest of us who are polite or incapable of separating common sense from ideology or want to believe we do not enable the broken and malign, who are so terrified of losing a presumed right that we hand over our humanity in exchange for a safety we refuse to believe can be had by better means.

Because when our bitter uncle or our next-door neighbor starts ranting about how They are ruining the country, we demure, we don’t want to make a scene, we don’t want to wreck the day. Worse, we may not be so certain they’re wrong, because who, after all, among us is innocent? Maybe…maybe…it might be…well, I don’t know…everyone is entitled to their opinion…who am I…?

And then one day we wake to the news that the monster has fed.  We’re shocked.  We condemn.  But maybe we helped.  Not directly. No, we didn’t give him the gun or send him to the address or—

We just never challenged the sickness.

21st Century Noodling

So, yeah, I finally broke down and got a cell phone.  No, you can’t have the number.  A variety of things necessitated this move.  It’s a necessity, not a toy.

But one should always be aware of how such things can be retasked as toys.  For instance, I now have a camera with me pretty much all the time.  Below are a pair of pics from the new phone.  Enjoy.

 

Blossoms, March 27, 2016 Fence and Tree, March, 2016

Wandering On A Thursday Morning

 

Feeling a bit abstracted and commentative this morning.  Politics is depressing and energizing at the same time, did you ever notice that?  The devouring of the corpus publius

So photographs.

La Policia, b&w February 2016 Pavement & Puddle, February 2016Wandering the streets, trying to fit what was with what is, seeing the skeleton of what you used to know beneath the layered detritus of the now.  I see the same things but they no longer register the same way.  Is this, perhaps, nostalgia, intense homesickness, nosta—homecoming—algia—pain?

The past is there, but I am not.  I can only note what it once was, testify where it had been, validate the now because the scaffolding of then holds it up.

Or maybe I’m just tired.

We are a pattern-anticipating sensate creature.  Where the patterns mean nothing we can oblige the emptiness by bringing our own meanings and applying them.  It’s as pleasant a pasttime as any other, until we begin believing our own significations to the detriment of the previous occupants.  Even knowing the traps, we can’t help it.  We want to, and sometimes we do, but more often we just think we do. Know, that is.  The inability to accept the process leads to tight spaces with no room to maneuver. Squeezes our expectations all out of true.Crossed Trees, February 2016The patterns persist even when the desires change.  If we appreciated them for what they are and resisted the urge to impose our own hungers on them, we might find what we need and feel better about it in the process.

But what do I know?  I’m just a science fiction writer who takes pictures.

Hope you have a fine day.

Hartwell

He was a presence in my growing understanding of the professional side of science fiction for almost 40 years. He was the first book editor whose name I knew. I collected a slew of his Timescape imprints from Pocket Books, regarding the label as a mark of excellence in a volatile field that was often untrackable in terms of what was good and what was not.  Because of David G. Hartwell, a number of authors came to my attention whose work I have continued to follow to this day.

I was fortunate to know him. A little. Somehow. We crossed paths enough times to be acquaintances and he was always—always—-gracious and, more importantly, interested.

The first time I saw him was in L.A. in 1984, at L.A.Con II, in a party shortly after the news had broken that Pocket Books had pulled the plug on Timescape.  Among the other problems, apparently, was the fact that David kept buying books that wouldn’t sell.  By sell, I mean they would not make bestseller lists.  Her had this arcane idea, apparently, that a good book ought to be published, regardless of the numbers it might (or might not) generate.  Odd notion, that, in an era dominated by the quest for the next blockbuster.  But David kept acquiring and championing books that did not have that kind of potential.  Anyway, I saw him in a hotel corridor, his hair sprayed with red and pink highlights.  (In contrast, I recall his tie was relatively tame.)  We spoke briefly.  I was just a fan and a wannabe writer at that time.  We talked a bit about the books and publishing.  A few minutes.  He said, finally, “Yes, well, the books are out there now.”  He had won one over the corporates.  The books had been published, despite the disapproval of the suits.

We said hi to each other in Atlanta in ’86 and by then I was, with some temerity, trying to write novels. We connected again in 2000, in Chicago, where we spent a couple of hours talking at the Japanese party at worldcon.  I remember that especially because it was the quietest party I’d ever attended at a worldcon—-or any con, for that matter—and David spoke knowledgeably about Japan and fandom there.  In the midst of our conversation, a number of our hosts,in kimonos, stopped at the same time, producing a variety of small cameras, and snapped pictures of us, as if by pre-arrangement.  By then Allen Steele had joined us, so they were getting pictures of two famous SF personalities and one semi-obscure one.

A few years later I was involved with the Missouri Center for the Book.  I’d just become its president and we were trying some new events, and one idea I came up with was what I called the Genre Forums.  We would do a public panel with a number of writers in a given genre, with a Q & A afterward.  The first one we did was science fiction, of course, and I had Robin Bailey come in from Kansas City, Carolyn Gilman, who lived in St. Louis then, Nisi Shawl from Seattle, and myself.  At the last minute, David called Robin.  He had seen a notice for the event.  He was coincidentally going to be in St.Louis for a family wedding that weekend and wondered if this was something he should attend.  Robin called me to see if I wanted David on the panel.  Rhetorical question.  We had a small audience, unfortunately, because it was a first-rate panel.  My partner, Donna, said it was the best panel she had ever seen, and by then we had both seen enough to judge.  His presence, his knowledge, his erudition graced our discourse with a sensibility difficult to describe, but it was wonderful.

After that he began soliciting work from me.  We never connected on a project, but we had several fine conversations afterward.  He was, I learned, a wine lover and I was able to introduce him to one.

Of course, he’s famous for the outré ties.  He possessed an antic quality that leavened his profound seriousness.  He had been instrumental in many careers.

He bridged the tail end of the Golden Age and the present. Elder statesman of the field seems a bit pompous, but in many ways it was true.  For a long time he ran the New York Review of Science Fiction—where I finally sold him a few things—and through that facilitated a high-minded, ongoing discussion of the workings, the objectives, the ongoing assessment of science fiction and, indeed, literature.

Here is the Locus obituary for more detail.

David took me seriously.  I am glad I knew him, sorry I didn’t know him better, and feel the world has lost a gentle, intelligent, wise light.