Sep 252019
 

I’ve spoken at length with a few people about the non-binary gender stuff over the last few weeks, and I’ve made a few updates.

First, and most significantly, is I find I resent non-binary people far less now that I’m honest about disliking (and not holding myself to) using neutral pronouns. Neat.

Second, I withdraw most of what I said in “Reducing the Spectrum to a Binary.” The people who most have their spectrum options reduced have them reduced by rightist bigots, not nb folks. And giving people more options doesn’t take away their previous options. I was mainly feeling like my allies in “taking back masculinity to mean many, many things besides Macho He-men” were being stripped away as they got removed from the category of “male”, but they really weren’t, and my feelings of dwindling support were misplaced.

Third, I have firmed up a position I didn’t quite have the words to express before. I don’t like being press-ganged into a war I don’t support. To explain: Declaring oneself to be of a non-sex is the equivalent of declaring oneself non-racial. (ie: I don’t identify as any race, and therefore I am non-racial.) Fine, you do you — but then asking that others use non-conforming pronouns for you to publicly identify you as non-racial (or non-sex) serves the sole purpose of drawing everyone around you into an culture war that they don’t necessarily want to be in. Either they use your pronouns and show that they have joined your side in the culture war (with all that entails), or they don’t, and they have joined the Other Side in the culture war (and all that THAT entails). Which, quite frankly, is bullshit.

This is hopefully my last post on the issue for a long time. :)

Aug 192019
 

As promised, here is why I think they/them pronouns are more harmful than useful.

Up through the 2000s, we were making good progress on diversifying the sexes. Gender was coming to be understood as more of a spectrum. There were many ways to be a man. You could be a drag queen or a bro. You could be a stay-at-home-dad or a metrosexual. Being gay or straight didn’t even matter anymore. Sure, there was still some toxic masculinity enforced in various hellholes, and lots more internalized toxic masculinity everyone was trying to get over. But it was accepted that there was no one script for “manliness” anymore.

Women, of course, have always had multiple options, and as men’s options expanded, women’s kept pace. Dozens of TV shows and movie roles explored the myriad ways one could be a woman, and there were role-models galore.

And somehow our progressive movement managed to take this spectrum and cut it down to just three options. Just last week I saw a friend bemoaning “a binary culture which only allows masculine males and feminine females.” The new dogma is that there exists only this binary, that we’ve only ever had this binary, and that if you don’t think of yourself as a He-Man Woman Hater or a Barbie Doll Girly Girl you are non-binary and should adopt a neuter-sex position.

This is stupid. It erases all the people who’ve come before who pushed the boundaries of what it meant to be male and what it meant to be female. The people who made it OK to be a guy and cry without crippling shame. The people who made it OK to be a woman and like casual sex, or heavy metal music.

It also tells everyone who doesn’t identify as neuter-sex that they must adopt the traditional ultra-masculine or ultra-feminine roles or they aren’t really part of that gender. This is almost exactly the same message that the assholes had been preaching before. This is a regression. When someone says “I’m not the kind of person who enjoys slamming back beers and hitting on random chicks all night” and someone else tells them “There’s a word for that! It means you’re non-binary!” I die a little inside. I guess that, since I was born with a penis and I don’t ask people to deny that fact with awkward pronoun-usage, I’m just like all those chads. That’s great.

Obviously there’s no reason our language needs to have gendered pronouns. But inventing a neuter-sex and trying to shoehorn people who aren’t inter-sex into it is the opposite of a good way to reform the system. That’s adding complications rather than removing them. Since so few people are inter-sex, this neuter-gender can only be filled by creating a false gender-binary and offering the only alternative. This is not so different from creating a false “original sin” and then offering the only absolution. And since the invented neuter-sex doesn’t carve reality at the joints, its use can only be enforced with shame and social ostracism… which will make these reforms deeply unpopular even among the sympathetic.

If one wants to make our language gender-neutral, one would be advised to stop using gendered language themselves, rather than trying to create a neuter-sex and require others to contort their thought-processes around it. At least as a first step.

Aug 132019
 

In reply to those who were confused as to why I have a strong aversion to they/them pronouns – there are two answers. The primary driving reason is the emotional one, so I’ll cover that first.

1. I don’t particularly care about anyone’s gender (unless they’re a romantic or sexual partner, in which case it’s relevant). I don’t know how many genders there are, but it’s at least three, and I’ve seen claims that they number into the dozens. I don’t have the time or interest to learn everyone’s gender. When I use he/him/she/her pronouns, I use them in their gender-neutral forms. My use of pronouns is simply a reflection of the perceived sexual characteristics of the person I’m referring to. NOT their gender.

I don’t think I’m weird in this. This is the societal default. It’s why tomboys retain the she/her pronouns, and fa’afafine retain the he/him pronouns.

Yes, it is dumb that our language has different pronouns for apparently-male-sex people and apparently-female-sex people. It’s dumb that our brains have different specialized slots for apparently-male-sex people and apparently-female-sex people too, but there it is. When I was young and my brain was being molded, the language parts of my brain were hooked up to the sex-recognition parts of my brain via methods that have been refined through cultural evolution to hook those two parts together very strongly. And it took.

When one insists others use pronouns that contradict with the one’s sexual presentation, I am required to overrule my own lying eyes and instead use arbitrary terms picked by that person. It feels like I am being told there are five lights every single time. Last time it was my church and parents who were telling me there were five lights. Now it’s my friends. :( I am being forced to lie every time I speak of them, and I despise it.

This is bad enough on it’s own! But in addition…

2. Misgendering suffers from Lie Inflation. Many trans people suffer from dysphoria, and successfully transitioning is an intensely laborious task that takes years of effort, and usually major biological intervention. And since perceived sex is socially mitigated, how people are treated can make a big difference to perception for those who are on the borders of passing. So intentional misgendering can be really harmful. “Misgendering” someone used to be the term for a malicious attempt to drag people backwards in their transition.

Of course, if you know your friend is trying to get better at something, the polite thing to do is to act like they’re already good at it. This is why writers can never trust feedback from friends and family. It is polite and affirming to use the pronouns that go with the sex someone is hoping to be seen as. So naturally the term “misgendering” has in time been inflated to include people who are unwilling to deny that a dude with a beard has apparently-male sexual characteristics. As a result, if I don’t constantly monitor myself I am in the same moral ballpark as the fundamentalist who is maliciously tearing apart the years of work of trans people.

And yes, my friends are kind and supportive, and they “forgive” me when I slip up, because they know this is a hard thing that takes a lot of effort. No one is about to disown me (I think), they just keep dropping polite reminders. But inside I am seething, because I don’t need forgiveness for accidentally blurting out that There Are Four Lights. I’m jealous of the people in my social group who haven’t yet been told that Person X is a Them now, because no one judges them poorly for using the obvious pronouns. I sure as hell won’t ever tell them, because I don’t want to the the jerk who has permanently imposed that cost on them. Honestly, if I would be better off not knowing someone’s mystery gender, I wish they simply wouldn’t tell me their gender.

3. This is where I came to see the parallels with my earlier life. I grew up with abusive relationships. As is typical, I recreated my past, so I was in several abusive relationships as an adult as well. A constant in nearly all abusive relationships (and certainly every one I’ve been in) is that the abused party is constantly monitoring their behavior and speech around the abuser so as not to set them off. The common phrase is “walking on eggshells.” Mistakes are rarely punished, of course, but that randomness makes things worse, because you can never be sure you’re safe.

The constant monitoring of my speech to not ever slip into using words that match the perceived sex in this one particular case invokes that exact same feeling. Never has anyone exploded on me for failing to use the neuter pronouns, but of course that just means it’ll be even worse once it does happen, according to my brain. Perhaps I could use this as evidence to slowly move away from this fear, if it wasn’t for the fact that some of the neuter-gender people I personally know have publicly announced “If you can’t respect me enough to use the right pronouns, I don’t want you in my life.”

This wraps up the emotional reasons for hating they/them. The lesser reason is a practical one – there currently is no neuter-sex, and trying to create one in this manner does social harm that isn’t worth the cost. But that’ll be a post for later in the week.

Aug 072019
 

I find myself distressed by the casual fading of my They friends.

I know a number of people who have jumped on the They train. I don’t care what anyone calls themselves, so at first I was all “OK, whatever, you do you.” But not long after that, several of these friends have made it clear they find anyone who doesn’t adopt their new pronouns to be moral degenerates.

I will not do that. I noped out of that game when I abandoned fundamentalist Christianity in my teen years, and I’m not about to bend over for the latest dominance move just because now it’s people on my side asserting moral superiority. But I also like my friends, and seek their acceptance and approval. Until I can figure out what to do about this, I’ve instead stopped using pronouns to refer to them at all.

In their presence, this is super easy. Generally you address people you’re with directly, with things like “Hey, what did you think about that latest episode?” and pronouns never come into it.

But when a friend isn’t present, I refer to them only by their name now. Or simply drop the pronoun from the sentence altogether in a sort of abbreviated slang. Both of these things are very inconvenient. They require constant self-censorship and interrupt the through process, which is a major cost in itself. Perhaps even worse, they remind me every time I want to mention this friend that they’ve joined with the moralizing puritans and are now part of a group that wishes me harm, which hurts.

So I’ve found myself simply not talking about these friends at all. Their existence fades out of my casual conversation altogether. I didn’t notice it at first, and I’m writing this blog post now because I realized just this week that this was happening.

I find that really depressing. It’s counter to one of the things I really like about friendships. :/

Jul 252019
 

Hugo AwardI hate to say this, because I fear I’m going to isolate people I like. But we have to have a talk about the Hugos.

 

I. Trail of Lightning should never have been a finalist.

It’s not just that it’s a basic wire-rack monster hunter pulp-fiction novel. In my personal opinion, yes, that should be enough to disqualify any work. The Hugo is one of the premier awards in SF fiction. It should go to novels that are innovative, pushing the genre forward. Or that have something important to say about being human, or something urgent to say about the state of the world. It needs to have a higher purpose than just basic entertainment. Trail of Lightning is exactly the sort of pulp adventure that my father mocked me for reading when I was younger, because he didn’t know authors like Heinlein and Le Guin and Jemisin existed. The Hugo awards exist exactly for the purpose of highlighting works that mean more than just a thrilling read.

BUT I know not everyone shares that view. Some people do think that awards should go to things that are just very good at being very entertaining. (I contend those books already get the award of “Best Seller” status, but hey, I guess that’s not enough?). I know this in part because every year something is in the finalist list that makes me roll my eyes and feel like an elitist jerk for a few days.

Unfortunately, even if one contends that pulp adventure is worthy of at least being considered for an award, Trail of Lightning is not a great specimen of that species.

 

II. This is not Roanhorse’s fault, or issue!

I would first like to stress that I am not saying that Rebecca Roanhorse is a bad writer. We know from last year’s short story “Welcome To Your Authentic Indian Experience(TM)” that she can write extremely well, and that she can tackle some very heavy social issues with incredible aplomb. That story was flat-out amazing, and deserved every award and bit of praise it got.

A digression – Simply looking at the timeline of when Authentic Indian Experience was published vs when Trail of Lightning was published, and knowing that the publishing industry never gets a book out the door in under six months (which is already breakneck speed), it is extremely probable that Trail of Lightning was written much earlier in Roanhorse’s career. I suspect as Authentic was gaining buzz, Trail’s publisher approached Roanhorse to ask if she had anything already written that she’d never sold, and she dusted off Trail. I could be wrong, but that seems more charitable than assuming it was a rush job.

The point is, Trail of Lightning is an example of an “early novel.” Many authors are lucky enough to have these – novels that helped them hone their skills, while providing a small paycheck and the validation/encouragement of getting into print, before the authors are very good. Some authors never get these early novels, and a few I’ve talked to say “I’m so grateful in retrospect… they weren’t good novels, and I’m so happy that only my best stuff is out there representing me.” But for every one of those, I’m willing to bet there’s twenty authors who got discouraged and gave up before getting to the X-th novel that was actually Very Good to the point that publishers couldn’t ignore it.

Again, this is NOT a bad thing. To take one example of a man who is rightly called a genius by all readers of genre, and is a British National Treasure – Terry Pratchett. His later writing is absolutely legendary, and you can’t read it and not be completely blow away. But his first several novels? They just aren’t that good. Even the best writers of a generation started out with wobbly fare.

There are authors currently writing in the monster hunter genre that have been at it for many years, with a dozen or more titles under their belts. While I don’t think the works are award-worthy (see above), they are, at least, among the best examples of the species. After so many repetitions of the formula, it’d be hard for those authors NOT to have improved. Some of these authors even openly state that their earlier books aren’t the best, and direct new readers to start a bit later in the series. It’s hard to compare their later works with Trail of Lightning and not see the difference.

 

III. This is not the publisher’s fault either

Trail of Lightning’s publisher, Saga Press, was doing exactly what a publisher should. They saw a rising talent, knew people would want to read more of her work, and snapped up anything they could get their hands on. They then published it in an effort to turn a profit. This is good for the fans, and good for the author. Bravo for Saga, I hope it works out!

 

IV. The Hugo Voters are to blame

Both the author and the publisher are simply doing the best they can in their careers/situations. It’s not their job to be the gatekeepers of quality, their job is simply to keep getting better and making the written works available (respectively). It is literally the job of the nominating Hugo readers, the gatekeepers of the Hugo award, to filter the best that our community has to offer. And yet a large number of these people came together and collectively nominated a less-than-stellar “early novel” of the mindless-pulp variety for one of the most prestigious awards the SF community can give out. How did this happen? Either a lot of people nominated Trail of Lightning without reading it, based on the strength of Authentic Indian Experience… or they did read it, and nominated it anyway.

The really dumb part is that Trail of Lightning isn’t even a social-issue book. It’s a straight-up plain monster hunter novel. The only way one could draw it into the culture-war narrative is by focussing on the author and looking back at her other works and noticing that last year’s Authentic Indian Experience was explicitly about cultural issues. “These two works are by the same author” is not enough to make a pulp novel have a social theme or message.

 

V. This hurts minorities

Look, the really despicable thing about the Puppies movement of a few years ago is that they decided to vandalize the Hugos because they said that authors were getting awards NOT because the works were of high-quality, but because they were minorities and were getting “affirmative action-ed” in. Jemisin specifically called this out in her world-rocking acceptance speech when she said her detractors claim “that people like me cannot possibly have earned such an honor, that when they win it it’s meritocracy but when we win it it’s “identity politics”.” Her speech still gives me shivers, but one of the things that gave it such joyous strength is that it was so blatantly obvious that she had written one of the best things to have been published in years. She deserved every single ounce of praise that comes with that trophy, because she produced a work that shines with the light of the sun, and puts the claims of the Puppies to hideous shame. There is no need for affirmative action, you assholes, the work speaks for itself, just read it and see!

Nominating a work that is clearly not worthy of this honor doesn’t help anything. Instead it diminishes the achievements of authors like Jemisin or Chiang, because it throws previous nominations into some doubt. Most people don’t know of the excitement of a breakout work of genius like Authentic Indian Experience, and how that exuberance will lead people to snap-vote for the next thing an author puts out without even reading it. They won’t ever get to hear about that, they’ll just see a book that clearly shouldn’t be a nominee, yet is, and will draw their own conclusions… and given the current culture wars, not all those conclusions will be good. And those conclusions will tarnish other winners, those whose only failing was being non-white in the crap-ass world we have right now.

 

VI. The irony is not lost on the historically-aware

Perhaps the most ironic thing about all this is that this is exactly the sort of novel the Puppies wanted to see in the Hugos. Pulp adventure novels about tough-ass monster hunters. Books whose commercial concerns outweigh artistic ones. Someone I spoke with also claims that their baseless idiotic vandalism created a backlash that has put cultural concerns before quality concerns in the Hugos — in effect bringing the Puppies’ distorted claims closer to reality. I’m not so sure, I think it’s much more due to the rise of Trump than anything the Puppies did. Regardless, they probably got a chuckle or two out of it. >.<

 

VII. Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires

Look, what’s done is done. But going forward, more focus on content and less on works viewed primarily (whether rightly or not) as anti-“the other tribe” would be good. Keep the Hugos out of the culture wars, please.

Jul 152019
 

Calamity Jane

I’m using “gender” in the now-accepted usage meaning “societal roles,” as distinct from biological sex. I see almost everyone on both sides acting as if traditional American society has only two genders, and I don’t think this is right. It’s at least half-wrong, anyway. Because since its inception, American society has always had a third gender option for women, and I think this is true for all anglophone cultures for several centuries now. I speak, of course, of the tomboy.

Tomboys are not expected to behave like feminine girls at all. They play with boys toys, they wear boy clothes, the talk with boys vocabulary, and their primary peer group is male children. They sometimes have a hard time gaining acceptance with the local boys, depending on the region, but often find a way to gain acceptance and are included in boys games and rough housing. Other girls find tomboys odd and off-putting and don’t socialize much with them.

Upon reaching puberty many tomboys are reluctantly forced into feminine peer groups, but even so, many stay distinctly separate in demeanor and activity choices throughout life. They repair cars and don’t take shit, etc. You know the stereotype, if you live in an anglophone country you’ve met one.

I don’t think people realize this is a third gender, because this social role has been around for far longer than the idea that “gender” means “social role” has been around. Most people still equate gender with sex, and tomboys are overwhelmingly female. But its pretty easy to identify the female-bodied people who are feminine-gendered and those who are tomboys within just a few minutes of conversation. Sometimes it doesn’t even take that, many are apparent from dress, attitude, and stance. Perhaps I’m overestimating how easy it is, I may have unconsciously developed the skill since I’m personally attracted far more to tomboys than any other gender. But I’d wager most Americans can discern between the two very quickly, as we run into so many of both types.

I believe that the presence of the tomboy gender is why clothes that were traditionally only worn by men (most famously trousers, but pretty much every man-gendered clothing) are acceptable clothing for women. The prevalence of tomboys moved male-clothing into ok-for-both-sexes territory, and the feminine-gendered benefited by this. There is no equivalent socially-accepted alternate gender for males, so the same thing never happened to women-gendered clothing, and thus it still looks “funny” for a man to wear a dress.

There are interesting parallels between tomboys and the Samoan fa’afafine. First, both genders are basically restricted to a single sex. Secondly, both are named for the sex that its members feel comfortable with, in contrast to their own sex. Ie:  fa’afafine comes from fa’a–, meaning “in the manner of”, and the word fafine, meaning “woman”. Tomboy comes from the English name “Tom,” which around the 16th century was such a common boy’s name that it came to be interchange for the word “boy.” “Tomcat” means “male cat” for example. So tomboy emphasizes just how boyish the girl is, so much so that the gender-name means boy twice. And finally, both genders are given the pronouns of their sex. So fa’afafine use the male pronouns (English equivalent of he/him) and tomboys use the female pronouns (she/her). (Note that I DO NOT have much knowledge of the Samoan culture or the fa’afafine gender, so these could be entirely surface-level similarities without much substance)

Much like the metaphorical fish that doesn’t notice the water it’s swimming in, Anglophone societies simply didn’t notice that there is a third gender within them. By the time the term “gender” began to mean what it does now, the two female genders had already been around for centuries, and no one really bothered to think of them as separate genders. They were both just “ways to be a girl.” But it very much seems to me that we have been, in fact, living with three genders all this time.

Or am I missing something? This is somewhat tentative, and I’m curious as to what others think about this.

Apr 252019
 

I got a lot more comments than I expected for a mostly tongue-in-cheek 3-line post. So, to quickly clarify:

I like Andrew Yang on a personal level. With his tech background and his liberal (but not leftist) views, he feels like the candidate that most represents my values. Furthermore, his identification as a goth in his younger life makes me grin madly, as I also love the goth aesthetic. And really… can one truly be an ex-goth? Or is that just going back into the closet for a while? :)

I like Andrew Yang on a political level. I know this is outsider-bias…. but business-as-usual is coming off the rails, and the establishment seems to have no idea how to handle it. The Republican party failed so badly that it was hijacked by Trump, and the Democratic party failed so hard that they lost to Trump! Most politicians are morally nauseating. I cannot vote for most of the current front-runners, as they supported Fosta-Sesta, and anyone who supported that abomination obviously would gladly usher me into the ovens if it was a necessary price to pay to win political office. Yang comes from the world of entrepreneurship, which looks to solve problems with innovation and isn’t tainted with the stink of politics. I know that this will quickly change once he gets into office. I know the position will drag him down to its level. But I’m hoping he can break/fix a thing or two during his struggle on the way down.

I like Andrew Yang on a pragmatic level. I think he’s the only candidate who both sees the onrushing culture shock of mass technological unemployment, and has ideas and policy proposals about what to do about it. I suspect he’s the only candidate likely to take AI Alignment to be a serious problem. He is addressing the same problems that propelled Trump into office, but by looking forward for solutions, rather than trying to burrow into the past with failing defensive maneuvers. If modern society is to survive the coming upheaval without a bloody revolution, I think he is the candidate most likely to steer us through that pass.

I’m most concerned that his lack of political capital (what I called the stink of politics) will mean he won’t be able to make effective changes, given the rest of the political system. That being said, I think the other contenders are even worse because while they might (MAYBE) have the means, they have neither the vision nor the motivation to do so, so their means don’t matter anyway.

I don’t literally think people who don’t vote for Yang are Bad People. :)

Feb 222019
 

To be clear: I agree with this pic+caption and love everything about it. :) I’m speaking of not-this.

In most *written* secondary-world Fantasy, and far-future Science Fiction, race doesn’t much matter. Because those worlds aren’t contemporary, and written word is a non-visual medium.

First, a character’s race certainly matters in stories set on our world (or a recognizable facsimile) any time in the past, present, or near-future. Race matters a lot in the real world, it has major impacts on a character’s life and experiences that are very pertinent to the reader. A black character in a Urban Fantasy is still dealing with hostile social forces, the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, and common stereotypes. A Hispanic kid in a cyberpunk world still has to deal with similar issues. These things inform who the character is, and how we relate to them, because these are forces we experience (or at least are intimately familiar with) in our real lives. Describe a character by their race and we internalize and remember it. Simply the fact of how they look has shaped their lives in ways the reader will be familiar with.
In a secondary or far-future world, this is not the case. In a world where the ruling majority have dark skin and people with light skin are the foreigners… so what? Or one peoples have straight hair, the others kinky. Or one peoples have folded eyes, the others not. Or mix and match, and alter other features as well. It doesn’t really matter, because there are no social or experiential implications to any of these traits for the reader. We aren’t immersed in the politics and culture of the non-contemporary world. We may be told that “the flat-nosed people oppressed the sharp-nosed people for centuries,” but there’s no emotional history that goes along with literally living our entire lives in a world like that and seeing the consequences daily. Of seeing photos of men murdered in the street.*
These things can make for cool cosmetic differences, sure. It’s boring to have everyone look the same, and mixing it up can give each group a distinctive flair. But it doesn’t mean anything on an emotional level. And I’ve found that, for that reason, I very quickly forget a character’s racial characteristics in any non-contemporary novel.
In one novel, set in the very far future, the protagonist was introduced as black. Ok, great. A hundred pages later this was mentioned again, and I was surprised. I had forgotten his skin color. In large part, because it didn’t matter. It had no effect on the story, as humanity had advanced beyond such prejudices (and had better things to be prejudiced about). I don’t really have visual representations in my memory of any character that isn’t on the cover of a novel, so if it doesn’t matter in other ways, it fades from memory quickly. When I was reminded of his race again, about 150 pages after that, I was surprised again. Doh.
I’m reading another novel, in which the character’s racial features are mentioned a fair bit more often, and do matter somewhat. But when they aren’t specifically commented on, my awareness of them disappears. It’s hard to keep track of what the various racial groups are in that world, what they look like, and how they interact. And you can’t tell who belongs to which group just by looking at them, because they are physically invisible except in any paragraph where the author is describing them. To be completely honest, I kinda wish they were over-the-top exaggerated features that really stuck out in memory. Like pointy ears. Or horns. Or scaled skin. Or short & stocky & fond of beards. Different skin tones and eye-shapes is hard to keep track of once the cast of characters is greater than three.
Secondly, a character’s race does matter–even if it’s not story-relevant–in any visual medium. That’s why it’s good to have the multi-ethnic cast of a Star Trek, or the new Star Wars. It’s why the non-whiteness of the Avatar: The Last Airbender characters is refreshing. Even though their races explicitly don’t matter (except perhaps to separate people into teams), we see them every second they are on screen. Humans do update on fictional evidence. Seeing someone with dark skin treated like an equal does matter on a visceral level. Even in a completely fantastical setting.
Sadly, the written word is not a visual medium. You only see that which the author is talking about at the specific moment. And unless they’re talking about a person’s racial characteristics, they’re pretty invisible.
So, while race doesn’t need to be left out, I don’t think it’s nearly as important as writers seem to think it is. Unless the character appears on the cover, or the work is optioned for adaptation into a visual medium later, it doesn’t make much difference for non-contemporary settings. I guess in the end this doesn’t matter, except for making me grumble about people thinking they are being progressive when in fact nothing is being accomplished, because the medium they work in isn’t a visual one.
Thank you for coming to my TED talk.
(As an aside, while I have trouble remembering a character’s physical characteristics, you can tell me their sexuality once and never mention it or any effects of it again, and I’ll never forget. I’m not sure if this is common among humans, or if I’m much more sex-interested/motivated that most?)

*For this same reason, race does actually matter in contemporary settings. Hermione could certainly have been black as written. Not a single word would need to be changed in the books. But, unless English culture is drastically different from American culture, it would mean something different *to the reader* for a black character to have her story. For her to go through seven years and never have anyone comment on her skin color, or make assumptions based on it, or treat her dismissively because of it, says a lot about the society she is living in. The reader would have noticed, and would have inferred things about wizarding society. I’m fine with a re-imagining of Hermione as a black character. I’d actually be really interested in seeing that, it sounds awesome. But to pretend that she could have been black all along without it changing anything about how the story is read is disingenuous.
Oct 032018
 

I’m going to ignore the question of whether Brett Kavanaugh actually did what he’s accused of. I’m more interested in the environment that shaped him.

Brett, to all appearances, was a Frat Bro. He drank too much, and he thought doing so was awesome. He partied, and bragged about how much he partied, and exaggerated his sexual exploits. Brett cared about his own enjoyment, and wasn’t too concerned about others.

I grew up a nerd. I was alone a lot. I didn’t drink until several years after college (to be fair, I dropped out after one year). I didn’t date or kiss anyone in high school. I was terrified of hurting others. I was neurotic as fuck about sex. Because one of the lessons I internalized about sex, in my Christian upbringing, was that sex ruins women. Before sex, they are pure beings with overwhelming inherent value. After sex, they lose all that value and are common, like the rest of us. I never got on board with “someone who’s had sex is like chewed gum,” but I was aware that stigma was out there as well.

This meant my primary role within the human experience is as a despoiler. I take what was beautiful and precious, and degrade it. I cannot help but do so, it is part of the very nature of existence, and I cannot be divorced from it. This is on top of the fact that men are the bringers of violence, the spreaders of war, and statistically dangerous to be around.

I’m not saying this is a good mindset. It’s certainly not a healthy one.

I despise Frat Bros. Because Frat Bros don’t give a fuck about others. They embrace all aspects of the despoiler archetype that I loathe. They’re obnoxiously loud, they trash the environment around them, they make people afraid and uncomfortable, they impose their careless violence on anyone around, and they’re fucking proud of it at the end. It makes them “cool.”

I despise them not just because of how they hurt others, but for how they burn the commons. They make women afraid of men. They spread the impression that men are despoilers. They destroy the ability for people to be comfortable displaying sexuality in any but the most protected settings, which just infuriates me, because I love the expression of sexuality in all its forms. These fuckers are the reason women can’t trust men. These fuckers are the reason patriarchy exists.

Brett loves beer. Brett loved to party until he vomited, then party some more. Yes, his brain hadn’t matured yet, and he was living in a toxic culture that encouraged this behavior. He no longer has that excuse. He’s in his 50s. Not only has he not made amends for his thoughtless violence, he defends it. He sees nothing wrong with today’s young men perpetuating the same Frat Bro culture. A grown man doing that should have his professional life fall to tatters in his hands. He should not be allowed within a hundred miles of a position of authority. Not until he’s shown some understanding of why what he did was wrong.

If he fails in that, I have no sympathy for him. Let him burn. Other parents should point him out to their sons and say “Don’t let that happen to you. Don’t drink too much. If you see your friend drinking way too much, watch out for him. Make sure he doesn’t assault anyone. Take him home, and if he made anyone fearful that night, tell him the next morning so he can make amends. Friends don’t let friends ruin their lives.”

I don’t know what happened at any particular party. I do know rape culture when I see it, and I cannot stomach a defense of it.

Oct 022018
 

Any synopsis would be spoilery. These are books 2 and 3 of Terra Ignota. If you liked Too Like The Lightning (book 1 of Terra Ignota), you will continue to like these. They’re really good. If you haven’t read any yet, see my post on Too Like The Lightning, or my interview with Ada Palmer.

This review kinda contains some spoilers, in a general sense, but nothing that isn’t already strongly telegraphed in the first book.

The more I read about today’s Culture Wars, the more I see Terra Ignota in everything around me. When I started Too Like The Lightning, I thought this was a wonderfully built future world. Fabulously imagined, meticulously built up in many layers across wide domains, and incredibly imaginative. Now I read it and I think “Holy fucking shit, this is the world we are living in right now, with the skin changed so that observations on the current day can be made through metaphor.” And yes, I know that all fiction is contemporary. I know that SF/F has been used since its very first works to actually be conversations about pressing current-day issues that pretends to be fanciful so it can say things one couldn’t say otherwise. But it still startled me just how insightful these works are when I woke up to what was happening around me.

The hives are our cultural tribes taken to their fullest extreme. One of our great problems today is that our geographic nations rule greatly disparate cultural tribes under a single government, binding them all with laws that are morally unacceptable to every one of them (although which laws it is are that are morally unacceptable differs from group to group, so everyone despises some thing, but never the same thing, and often what one group considers morally abominable is a moral requirement of others!). This leads to constant struggle to seize power and rewrite the laws (and norms) binding everyone, and thus The Culture Wars. This is exactly the situation in the Terra Ignota series, except they’ve found a way to prevent anyone from having to live under laws they find morally abhorrent. Problem solved!

Except not really, because all this did was paper over the problem and tell everyone it’s fixed, so we should all ignore it. The root cause, the incompatibility of the cultures, is still present. It continues to cause social strife and conflict, so that it can only be averted by a global regime of full surveillance and preventative assassination.

Let’s also take a moment to admire how Palmer included the parallel social construct of suppressing all gender expression. She says on more than one occasion, both within the books themselves, and in interviews, that she is portraying a society that went post-gender badly. Instead of resolving the sex divide, everyone simply agreed to remove any acknowledgement of gender and pretend this fixed the problem. It leads to deep pathologies within society, as well as individual defenselessness to sexual desires and sexual predators. This is the exact same tactic that was used to “resolve” the culture wars. I didn’t realize it while reading the novels, but in retrospect it’s so obvious it’s blinding. Palmer is yelling “Hey, society! Stop burying problems and pretending they don’t exist! Actually solve this shit!!”

She seems to be less than hopeful as to what will happen to us if we don’t. The society of Terra Ignota is descending into full civil war. A vicious, terrible war, because there are no borders, and thus there is no place that is safe. Every combatant lives interspersed with the enemy at all times. There’s a lot of people in the US worried that we’re heading for a Civil War II. We would find ourselves in the same situation. Sharing our grocery stores, our subways, and our neighborhoods with filthy Alt-Righters, Social Justice Activists, Rationalists, etc.

I also want to take a moment to highlight how damned prophetic Palmer is. She started writing this series in 2008. 2008!!! When I heard that I asked “Waitaminit… you were already writing the post-gender They/Them world in 2008? I know I haven’t been on college campuses in quite a while, but that seems really freakin’ early! I’m not totally out of touch, and this has only been a thing for a few years now. Was this already a thing where you were in 2008?” She replied, with some exasperation, “No! It came out in 2016 and people were all ‘oh, she’s jumping on this gender bandwagon’ but I totally want credit for coming up with it way before that!” And first of all – mad props to her for just that. But think about what she’s done. Combining historical insights and the subtle interactions she saw building in the world around her in 2008, she created a world that reflected the most pressing cultural issues of ten years in the future before any of us were even near that stage. Back when we were still freaking out about the worldwide financial collapse and catching Bin Laden. I know it’s partly luck, but even so, it’s damned prescient. I am honestly shocked.

And as frustrating as it must be to have your book in limbo for years before it finally makes it to print, I think it may have been a boon in this case. Five years ago, we didn’t know this was the world we were living in. It may not have made this same impact, and drawn this much attention.

Or who knows, maybe it would have. Maybe we could have more clearly seen what was coming, and been better able deal with its unpleasant surprises. I don’t think most people are quite that insightful. I certainly wouldn’t have been. Hell, I didn’t even fully realize what was happening when I read these two books a few months ago.

If you are at all interested in the world around you, or how truly exceptional SF can be more historically relevant than anything in the New York Times: Highly Recommended.

(added: a few hours after I wrote this, I discovered Ada has launched a Kickstarter to fund a lecture & discussion series on Censorship & Information Control In Information Revolutions, should you be interested in that as well)