Tag: 30 days of content
I’ll talk about the end of the Thirty Days of Content project tomorrow, but for right now, I’d like to point out that it’s my mother’s birthday today. There’re relatively few people, in the grand scheme of things, to whom this news is relevant. And thanks to my aunt, there is nobody to whom this news is relevant that is unaware of it actually happening. So if I were you, Mom, I’d probably expect the phone calls to be starting right about… an hour ago.
Still, nothing changes the fact that time is always moving forward, and that we cannot escape the futures that lie before us. We are always advancing, always growing and learning. Time will not let us be complacent. We have but a few short moments in order to keep things as they are, before they are changed. We cannot stop change. We can only hope to survive it.
Today is also Easter Sunday, a time which best illustrates this point. Regardless of your personal beliefs, the fact that this day that celebrates something that happened almost two thousand years ago is still commemorated today is great proof. It has changed over time; what was once a pagan celebration of springtime was appropriated to Christian feasting, and is now a secular observance vaguely around bunnies. But everyone marks the day in their own way, even if that mark is just another mundane one in the calendar, like any other Sunday.
Today is not any other Sunday. Today is today. There will be another day, but there is only one today.
Make it worth fighting for what you believe in. Make it worth the effort you put into it. Make it worth stepping up and speaking out. Make it worth connecting with people. Make it worth rolling the dice one more time. Make it worth being smart enough to appreciate it. Make it worth the truth you uncover in it. Make it worth overthrowing The Man. Make it worth improving on yesterday. Make it worth the kid who needs your hope. Make it worth your own self-confidence.
Make today count.
Every time I blog about something “significant”– or at the very least more weighty than the usual frivolities of daily geekery that I usually post about– I invariably get a call from my mother about it. “You need to be careful about what you put up,” she says, every single time. “You don’t know who could be reading it.” That, as it turns out, is kind of the point.
We talk a lot about “the marketplace of ideas” during discussions on whether or not the internet is a truly free medium, but one of the things we seldom deal with is how many people self-censor out of fear of reprisals. The fact that I’ve put my name up on this site and have chosen to meld my “meatspace” life with my online writings is, in truth, irrelevant– there’s no true anonymity on the internet and it’s foolish to think that there is. Just like there’s no true anonymity in the real world. Eventually, everything anyone says can be traced back to them. So, knowing this, what possible reason could I have for keeping silent on an issue I think needs to be addressed?
The fact of the matter is that because of the nebulous, poorly-understood nature of electronic communications– and it’s not just a blog posting, but a Facebook status update, a tweet, pretty much any communique that relies on the internet for its conveyance– it’s still treated as somehow separate from the “real world”. This is a patently absurd notion. It was an absurd notion in 1993 when BBSes were on the rise, and it’s an absurd notion now that the internet is all-pervasive. If communications via the internet are somehow “not real”, then you have to hold the same for the telephone, television, the postal system, and even face to face conversation.
The thing is, holding back my opinion on the blog conflicts with another thing that my parents taught me: that you have to stand up for and stand by your opinions, no matter how unpopular they are. This goes back to the whole theme of the month, in fact. It doesn’t matter if nobody else stands with me. What matters is that I made my stand, that I said what I needed to say. If nobody agrees with me, at least I made my voice heard. But on the off chance that somebody does agree, it could embolden them to say their peace as well.
Mom, it’s true that speaking my mind carries with it the very real risk of reprisal. Maybe my boss is reading this, and maybe he thinks I shouldn’t be working there anymore. That’s a risk I’m willing and obligated to take, because speaking out also carries with it the risk that I’ll start, or add to, a great change in the world. In both cases, we’ll never be certain one way or the other. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is that I do it, and that I stand by it, and that I don’t back down from it. That’s what Dad taught me. That’s what you taught me.
I suppose the point I’m trying to make is this: I still hate green beans.
Most of you know the work I do as a volunteer for Tekkoshocon, Inc. On the surface, it seems like I’m devoting my time to a frivolous pursuit; I spend a lot of time and energy on what could least charitably be called pop culture trash. However, in doing the work– in volunteering my time and energy to that cause– I’m reminded of a very simple truth. It’s a truth I’ve espoused in every post this month, and one that I’ve fought long and hard to realize is exactly what it is I want to promote in other people with my behavior.
It doesn’t matter how much you suffer, or how much you sacrifice, if what you’re doing is the right thing. If what you do makes even one person happier for a little while, then it is worth any price you pay and twice as much as that. It doesn’t matter who you do it for, or if you do it for someone who’ll never give you the time of day or will even spit on your face for doing it. What matters is that you do it, and do it well, and keep doing it until the day you die, because that’s what you’re here for.
Every year we’re bombarded with news of celebrities who die in ways that break our hearts. These people lived their lives in service to all of us, in some way or another. Some were inspirations; others, warnings. But their deaths don’t affect me nearly as much as the thought I had while I was just sitting outside a panel room last week, looking in on the bronies and pegasisters all singing along; or just people-watching in general on an off time at the con; or even just going about my daily life every single day. It would hurt just as much to lose any of those random people as it would to lose a celebrity or a family member. It would devastate me.
Every single one of those people at the convention has a story of their own, and it doesn’t matter what they’re wearing or what they look like or anything. We came together to do a great good for them, and some of them really need it. You can’t tell just by looking at them. You can’t tell even if you were to talk to them, sometimes. For some people, a place like Tekko or the Sangawa Project or Kurokiiro Festival or anything is the only place they have that’s their own. For all the grief that we go through to put the show on, some of our attendees live truly hellish lives the other 361 days of the year.
I put up with a lot of crap during the convention days, but each and every time, I also see something that astounds me and keeps me from becoming too terribly cynical and losing all hope in humanity: I see humanity. As flawed and ass-backwards as it can be sometimes, I see the great good that exists in everyone, and I see it shown time and time again. If it’s a compliment on a costume, a discussion on a show, letting someone on an elevator ahead of you, or people just randomly dancing in the lobbies for no better reasons than they can and it’d make the people around them smile, I see that there’s no truth whatsoever to the claim that there’s nothing redeeming about what I do.
And, once in a great while, I see that one kid who feels lost and alone in the world outside. I see him walking in the mall, eyes down, trying desperately not to be noticed. Maybe he’s had a bad day at school, or maybe his home life isn’t all that hot. Doesn’t matter. He’s having a rotten day, and he’s doing a terrible job of hiding it. All I need to do is walk up to him and say hi, maybe compliment his Kingdom Hearts hoodie or ask him what he’s planning on wearing to the next show, and I see his eyes light up. He’s a little braver now, a little more confident. So the world sucks right now; hold on just for a little while longer, and you’ll be among friends again.
So it doesn’t matter what kind of torment I have to go through. It doesn’t matter how bad the world sucks for me. What matters is how I make it suck less for others.
It’s probably obvious by now that I advocate working within a system to fix it, rather than a full-on overthrow-and-rebuild ideology. I personally still believe in the fundamental grace of human nature; that, given all else as equal, a human being will more often than not do the right thing. A belief like that implies a hell of a lot of faith in the law of averages.
But I am not so naive as to think that there aren’t bad actors in the world, and I’m also not stupid enough to think that just one really phenomenal screw-up can’t royally cornhole everybody. There is a time for evolutionary progress, and there is a time for revolutionary action. It’s not my place to make that call– at least, not in the grand scheme of society at large. But, as a writer, it is my responsibility to express if I see a need for change in the world around me.
In 2009 I released A Civics Lesson on this blog’s sister site, Linguankery. At the time I thought I was working in an environment woefully underserved in science fiction: the near-future, with just a few tweaks here and there to highlight and call out the areas where social change was needed. Of course, I wasn’t originally writing A Civics Lesson as a didactic tool; I was writing it because I thought it was a good story. I still think it is. But the problem is that, somewhere deep in my subconscious, I felt, “This has been done before,” and wasn’t able to give my all to the project.
I think that A Civics Lesson is a good proto-post-cyberpunk work. The manuscript needs a LOT of work, and that may wind up being a project I undertake in 2012– properly readying it for a true YA sell. But even with it being as it stands, the work has a strong message of social conscience behind it: “You can’t be a bystander. You have an obligation to right wrongs that you see, even if it sucks for you to do so, because nobody else will.” Crystallizing that message like that makes the work stronger, and knowing that it fits in the post-cyberpunk genre makes it easier to write. It’s not going to be formulaic– it shouldn’t be– but it relieves some of the stress of having to define a framework at the same time as you’re building on it.
Ultimately, knowing all that rekindles the reason why I’d go over the story a fourth time, and re-try submitting it to a publisher once the draft is done. It’s funny, but in order to understand the evolutionary process of my writing, I needed a revolution in my thinking about it.
If punk is defined as a threat of revolution, post-punk could be seen as a relaxation of the demand. Post-punk is just as socially conscious, just as strident in calling out the injustices of the world as it stands, but doesn’t look to tear down the establishment before correcting the flaws. If social change is brain surgery, then punk uses a chainsaw where post-punk uses a scalpel. In literature, of course, this means creating a roman a clef where you have certain hypotheticals standing in for elements of reality; we call this trope “Like Reality Unless Noted”.
Take Star Trek. I didn’t need to be a literature major to realize that the Klingons were the Black Panthers with funny accents, or that the Romulans were Soviets with goatees and pointy ears; once I knew the atmosphere of the 1960s, the allegories in Star Trek became almost painfully obvious, even at 12. In the era in which it was made, Trek brought a ton of social issues to the forefront. Segregation, racial equality, even gender equality– how many of you knew that, in the original plans, the Enterprise’s first officer was to be a woman? So we could say that Star Trek has the setup to be a punk show…
Except when it comes to aliens, that is. It didn’t challenge the notion that these “others” are people until almost thirty years later, with The Next Generation introducing to us Klingons who’ve made their peace with the Federation, and Romulans who are just as strangled by their insular, isolationist policies as they are protected by them. By re-framing the world in which the show was set, TNG had the freedom to explore a lot of the same social ills further down the line– just as its original had, and just as the real world had evolved along with it. The Klingons weren’t worried about integrating with the Federation anymore, now they needed to get along with them while retaining their cultural identity. The Romulans were becoming aware of the harm their borderline-fascism was doing to them, but couldn’t let go of it as they had indoctrinated themselves and their children a little too well. The Enterprise crew wasn’t seen as the heroes because they blasted away the “bad guys”– but because they worked within the system to help everyone.
This is the power of fiction. This is what makes a writer the single most powerful force in history. It comes from the role of the fool; the role of the storyteller to reframe a situation to achieve an outcome of great good– or great evil. One pen is mightier than a thousand million swords, if only because the pen can spin reality so that the swords are never needed.
Journalism, as I said, is going away, and will be replaced with something else. I don’t know what. I can’t know what, because it hasn’t happened yet. It probably won’t happen in my lifetime. There is, of course, the chance that it will. It would be a major upheaval, a massive, concerted effort to topple Ted Turner’s tower of television truth-telling, and it certainly could happen given enough people and enough outrage. But I highly doubt it.
Punk, as it’s applied to… pretty much anything these days, is rooted in revolution. Punk is the ultimate rebellion against a system– an entrenched organization. Punk breaks the rules. Most of the time, it’s with an eye towards making social progress. If you really listen to some of the best that punk has to offer– Bad Religion, Dead Kennedys, The Clash– you’ll hear incredibly plaintive cries for change and social justice. You’ll also hear the sentiment that if the establishment (whatever form it may take) doesn’t change, it will be changed. Punk is equal parts promise and threat.
The thing is, though, you can get more with a carrot and a stick than you can with just the stick. Punk has its place, and I’m all for an intolerable situation being turned on its side when there is no alternative. In other parts of the world, that’s the case, and more power to them– I pray every day that somewhere in Iran there’s a kid with a guitar practicing just three chords, and how to play them as loud and fast as he can. But with the advances of technology that are available in the “stable” parts of the world– in Europe, Oceania, the Americas, and eastern/southeastern Asia– comes the realization that the great wheels of the machine aren’t controlled by just one guy at the helm, and that you can do more from within it than from without. That’s post-punk.
Journalism might be replaced, as technology gets stronger, with a mechanism where we can all see an objective view of what happened at previously “newsworthy” points in time/space and draw our own conclusions. It might be replaced with less emphasis on current events and more emphasis on trusted experts giving us insight into situations without condescension. Or it might be replaced with just nonstop advertising barraging us across all senses. We don’t know. But journalism, in its current form, is dying.
Here’s a fun little thought experiment. Go to your local store and peruse the buggy whip aisle. Look at all of the brands, emblems, luxury materials, and lengths and weights available. Sounds silly, right? I mean, there are no stores that have buggy whip aisles. I’d be honestly shocked if you could even find a buggy whip for sale in anything but an Amish shop nowadays. And yet, that’s not seen as a bad thing. Sure, it was rather traumatic to the buggy whip manufacturers at the dawn of the automobile. But now?
The point of that, of course, is that nothing lasts forever. Change is going to happen whether you like it or not. Some people will see it as good, and some will see it as bad. Sometimes change is sudden and jarring, like the 2011 “Arab Spring”. Sometimes it’s glacial, yet inevitable, like the decline of the cassette tape. In a changing market, sometimes it’s caused by forces external to the market creating a backlash (let’s take the Video Game Crash of 1984 as the example here) and sometimes it’s triggered from within in order to attract new customers (let’s use the rise of motion-based gaming).
As humans, we are in the unique position of being able to react to change better than animals are. Animals reacted to the Ice Age by dying, forcing their species to evolve pelts. Humans reacted to the Ice Age by wearing lots of thinner animal pelts. Nature– either the random laws of chance or the guided hand of a creator– rewards changing to adapt to a circumstance. Nature imposes the death penalty on stagnating organisms.
So we have changes happening in our society, in our grocery stores, in our refrigerators, on our clothing, in our very bodies. The price of progress is the relentless march of change. Every day we step a little bit away from “bad”, and a little bit closer to “better”. We cannot afford to stay in one place for even a moment, or we are all as good as dead.
So things are changing. But even change itself is not a constant, not a singular, monolithic thing. Change comes in many forms. It can be evolutionary, or it can be revolutionary. And that’s where the difference between “Cyberpunk” and “Post-Cyberpunk” lies.
A few days ago I had occasion to take a look at TV Tropes. I intend to do so again once I’m done writing, and hopefully by the time you read this I’ll have remembered to come up for air. But in this particular instance, I happened across that site’s definition of the genre known as “Post-Cyberpunk”, and realized that the themes it seems to encompass resonate very deeply with my personal philosophy.
If the last few weeks of posts haven’t already hammered that point into ridiculousness, I think that there are some very deep and very damaging flaws with the way American society works nowadays. But I also think that there is the chance– however slim– that the systems in place are not inherently corrupt, that there is the chance that society can right itself without a revolution, and that as time goes on the standard of living for everyone has been and can continue to get better. So I’m an idealist in the long run. Doesn’t mean I can’t be a pessimist in the immediate.
That’s the primary difference, and it goes back to another theme that’s popped up quite a bit lately in my musings: short-sightedness. Just because things suck now and things will continue to suck for the near term doesn’t mean you have to resign yourself to them always sucking. In fact, doing so means you’re guaranteeing that they will. If you can see that things are going to get worse before they get better, then you probably ought to consider taking action to prevent them from getting so bad that it takes unreasonably long for them to get better.
A couple of posts ago I was very upset about the state of journalism being, as I felt, hopelessly mired in sensationalism and truthlessness. I said that the situation was completely intractible and that there just wouldn’t be any improvement made. I stand by that, but there’s a reason: it’s because, eventually, journalism will go away entirely, and be replaced with something else.
I talk a lot about how I’m being “prejudiced” against as a geek. It’s strong language, culturally, especially in urban and suburban America, to bandy about words like that. It’s even harder when the social stigma is attached to a label that can be applied to anyone, even people who do face far harsher oppression. Given that I’m in a position of social and cultural privilege, it may seem disingenuous to say that I’ve been the victim of discrimination.
When I was much younger, I’d lie awake at night and think what would have happened to me if I hadn’t been born when I was. I’m not physically strong, and I’m certainly not blessed with an overabundance of endurance. I kept thinking back to what would have become of me in the middle ages, in medieval Europe. Obviously I wouldn’t have been royalty, and certainly my intellect would not have been developed– I wouldn’t have even known how to read, much less learned how at the age of three. My temper problem would prevent me from being in the clergy. Most likely, I would have either been tortured into becoming a berserker, or just simply executed for being too smart for my own good.
It occurs to me that the exact same thing is happening to very intelligent people the world over, regardless of race, creed, culture, or gender. It’s happening in Uganda, as a child who’d be able to solve his village’s water crisis is being gunned down by another child soldier for a warlord who will never even acknowledge his very existence. It’s happening in North Korea, as a teenager who’d be able to rally for democratic reforms is having the creative leadership thinking indoctrinated out of him in a conscription camp. It’s happening in Iran, as a young adult who’d be able to develop a new communications paradigm refuses to do so out of fear of being disappeared by the government.
And don’t kid yourself. It’s happening in Pennsylvania, as incredibly intelligent students are being ignored by the system because they’re too smart for their grade level and the region they live in is too impoverished to support the educators that could challenge them. It’s happening in Colorado, as a teacher who honestly wants to make a difference in the lives of his students and be the mentor they desperately need is forced to flip burgers as the school he works at is closed down. It’s happening in Illinois, as students with special needs are being ignored by the public school systems that their parents pay for.
I mean this with every fiber of my being, and I will say it even as they put the blindfold on me and stand me up against the wall: Fix education, and you fix every social ill, ever, forever.
Last week, Lifehacker ran a neat feature on how to determine when someone was being emotionally manipulative in your life and how to combat it. A lot of the techniques that were listed are the standard arsenal of bullies and fiends the world over, and unfortunately the net outcome of the article is really just going to be more people who know how to effectively prey upon people who haven’t read it. I’d love to have enough faith in humanity to believe that isn’t the case, but it’s not what we’re conditioned to do anymore.
Communications and interpersonal relationships these days aren’t about getting a message through or coming to an improved understanding of the truth. Nowadays the general tactic for getting your point across is to stab someone with it. Misinformation spreads faster than truth, and deliberate disinformation spreads faster still. Honesty and integrity aren’t virtues anymore. They’re vulnerabilities. I’m reminded of nothing so much as the old CIA euphemism for execution, used to prevent popping up on intelligence radars; they called it “wetwork”. The campaigns of falsehoods perpetrated as truth can be no better described as anything but “bridgework”: employing trolls and monsters to distort the perception of the truth in the public eye until it actually does become the truth.
The saddest part about this is that, despite the claims I’ve made of having hope that the trend could be reversed, I know it won’t be. Lies pay better than honesty. There’s nothing in it for anyone by telling the truth. The going rate for someone’s integrity has been getting cheaper and cheaper with every passing moment. I have hope that there’ll be a sea change in how communications, ethics, and journalism are done in this nation, but it’s the same hope that I have for immortality to be made cheaply available in my lifetime: such a long shot as to be completely infeasible.
The definition of a cynic is someone who knows the cost of everything, but the value of nothing. I wonder how we’ll define cynicism once there’s no value left in anything.