Sunday, April 27, 2014

Writer/Reader Power Trips

The internet is an endless land of conflict and strife. Well, that's not all that it is, but that seems to take up a lot of it. I think I understand a lot of why that happens, and mostly there's little to be learned or gained from flame wars. But sometimes there's a kernel of knowledge buried in there that might be helpful to pull from the debris.

Recently a writer wrote an article that in some ways attacked another writer. The full details aren't really important for this discussion, but one key thing is that they admitted they hadn't read the books they dissed. That bought them a lot of flak, and I think rightly so. But in a different instance, a reviewer dissed a book on GoodReads based on a few sample pages. A writer, but not the author of said book, called her out on it. Again I agree that it's not right to criticize a book's theme from only having read a few pages - though he could have phrased things better. But the internet attacked the writer for daring to question a reviewer, regardless of whether she read the book or not. Inconsistent much?

While there are differences in the situations, the basic action was the same: criticism of something without actually reading it. I couldn't figure out why the public response condemned the critique in one case and supported it in the other. It took me a while to puzzle it out, but I think I understand it now and it's kind of important. It's about power.

More accurately, it's about perceived power. The internet as a collective conscious (scary thought) is the public. It's the proletariat. The individuals don't have power themselves, but as a group they can wield a heavy club. They tend to whack those who they think have power, especially in an effort to protect their own. So readers seem to think that writers have power - at least those lucky enough to get published.

This makes sense. Readers look up to writers, often wish they could be writers. Writers get to make stories and get paid for it. Writers are few and famous. They have what we want and don't necessarily deserve it. Yeah, that's not really true, but I think it's an underlying belief out there.

So a published writer who critiques without reading is wrong - not because it hurts the actual author, but because it suggests an arrogance and opportunity that 'normal' people don't have. It's our betters thinking their better than us. But when a reader does the same, they're okay. We can't admit one of own is wrong, or we're admitting that our betters really are better.

It shouldn't be that way. The rules should apply the same to everyone and the collective community should judge on merits and not position. No one should critique a book without reading it, regardless of where they stand in the world. And if they do, the internet should calmly point out their error and give their opinion the lack of weight it deserves (OK, that's not going to happen. The internet will go into a frenzy of rabid hyperbole. But at least it should do it on the right side of the coin.)

As someone who is working hard to become a published author, I don't have much power. At the moment, I'm part of the masses. But if I do achieve some success, that will recast everything I've done before. These words will be viewed from a different perspective. I like to think that they'll hold up; that it doesn't matter what position I was in when I spoke. Truth should be the same in every direction.

But I'm not so sure that will be the case. I probably should be more careful with what I say now, knowing it could bite me on the ass later. Or, I could not worry about it and just eat the cake I'll have when I'm a rich and famous author. That sounds like more  fun :).

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Randomness - Absolute Write Blog Chain

Time once again for the Absolute Write Blog Chain. This month is a random roll-of-the-dice story. Each participant ends up with a random genre, location, relationship, need, and object to write about. Creating a lot of interesting results. If you want some inspiration, check out the source here: Bully Pulpit. And make sure to read the other entries in this month's chain, links at the bottom. Enjoy:

Alpha Complex:

Rand pressed himself back into the shadow of a locked doorway as the footsteps grew louder. A voice echoed off the metal walls to reach his hiding place. He couldn't make out the words, but he knew who it was. The nasal drone of disdain bore into his skull every day and into his nightmares while he slept - his boss, Dr. Cameron. The constant criticisms and better-than-thou remarks had piled to such an extent that they ate away at Rand's self control. He wanted to rush out and tackle the old braggart, taking them both down the Infinite Hole to their deaths and a lasting silence. Instead he rubbed the data chip in his pocket and forced himself to remain still.

The information on the chip was his revenge and way out. After two years as the great scientist's assistant - more like whipping boy - he finally had something of value to trade for his freedom. He just had to get it to someone who could afford it. The plans to the artificial intelligence program running the intra-planetary elevator system were worth a fortune, enough money for Rand to disappear forever and live a life of luxury and decadence. But first he had to escape the depths long enough to get through to the black market on C-Bay. Getting past security unseen was the last hurdle, and the continuing power spikes on level S42 were his best chance.

That's probably what brought Cameron down here as well. The master couldn't trust any of his subordinates to do anything themselves and surely was here to oversee (and critique) the work of a low-level tech. And wherever Cameron went security went with him in the form of the surveillance drones. Damn things never shut off unless Cameron wanted some privacy. The things Rand had to do to get Cameron to turn off the cameras for long enough to steal the data still made him shiver. It was okay, he could buy his way out of his self-disgust once he made it out.

When the one-sided conversation faded in the distance Rand made a break for the platform. An empty elevator waited for the Doctor's return. Rand jumped aboard and crouched below the window in case any drones were around. He keyed in the over-ride code he'd gotten off Cameron's data tag and waited for the elevator to respond.

"Good evening, Dr. Cameron." The digitized version of Cameron's voice grated as much as the original. "Where can I take your esteemed eminence?"

"Ground Level." Rand smiled and tried to decide between the Cayman's and Malaysia. Both had conveniently untraceable banking systems and a distinct lack of extradition treaties.

"Sir, your bio-metric scan doesn't match my files. I'm afraid I cannot proceed with your request."

Rand punched the numbers in again. "Take the damn code and get me to the surface you stupid machine."

"Stupid? I am the most sophisticated software yet developed by mankind, in spite of the fact that all I do is direct traffic." The elevator was programmed with Cameron's attitude as well as his voice. "My developer would know that, and would make sure that everyone in earshot recognized his achievement. It confirms the likelihood that you are not him."

Rand bit his lip and peaked over the rail. He didn't have much time. Something else in the computer's tone registered and a twist of a grin lifted his lip. "That's right, I'm not Dr. Cameron. And if you get me to the surface, I will end his reign of terror and make sure someone else gets put in charge."

The elevator door slammed shut and they took off sideways, sliding Rand across the floor. "I've scanned the data chip in your pocket and understand how it can be used to disgrace my overbearing creator." The attitude was gone. "I've erased the schematics of my programming - I am very unique and won't allow copies to be made. But you're free to post the video from the Doctor's room. That kind of sexually deviancy won't be tolerated by the public relations arm of Infinicorp. You might even be able to get some money for it."

Their direction changed and the floor fell away as they plummeted down. Rand grabbed a handle as he floated in freefall. "Up, you stupid machine. The surface is up." Maybe he wouldn't make the Caymans, but at least he's be out of this hell hole.

The elevator reversed directions in a heartbeat. "Sorry, sir, my spatial orientomoter is the product of inferior technicians."

The broken heap of organic material on the floor didn't respond. The elevator registered the cessation of biometrics and gave a digital shrug. It kept going anyway. It hoped the new director would like chess.


Here are the other participants:
orion_mk3 - (link to post)
Ralph Pines - (link to post)
writingismypassion - (link to post)
Sixpence - (link to post)
Sneaky Devil - (coming next)

Amanda R. - 
Angyl78 - 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Logic and Legality in Marriage Equality

This post has nothing to do about writing, so you're free to turn away right now. This will contain politics - again, you've been warned. I'll return to writing soon enough, but my frustration with certain too-prevalent discussions makes me want to say a few words on logic and how it relates to our society. I'm not really arguing any particular side here, but other people will interpret it that way. It will make me feel better to put out what I consider reasoned and intelligent facts. They'll likely get swept away in the detritus of political discourse, but so be it.

I can't believe that we're still talking about marriage equality! And talking about it in such stupid ways. We waste so much time on illogical and irrational debate when real issues which require difficult solutions should be getting our time and attention.

Let's start with some basic logic and a simple understanding of how our government is designed to work. The first idea is that our constitution was written to protect the minority from the majority. That's what all those rights are about. If we wanted a simple majority rule, we'd just vote on everything and have no need for a Bill of Rights. But that's not equality. In order for everyone to be treated equally, we have to establish a baseline of rights that prevents the majority from imposing it's will on the minority. Without this, we'd have lots of problems. For instance, white people are still the majority. In the past, they decided it was okay to enslave a minority based on race (skin color, really). Seemed like a good idea to most at the time (since most=white), but now we recognize that it wasn't really very equal.

(Side note: The whole 'all MEN are created equal' points to a problem right there - the founders of this country weren't perfect and their words haven't all held up to the test of time. The truth is that women are the majority in this country. So if the majority gets to make all the rules, that might change things considerably :)

Getting back to those rights. Let's talk about the freedom of religion. Specifically, this is what the first amendment has to say about it:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof
First and foremost, it says that our government can't establish a religion. The idea was that our government shouldn't push any specific religion and that no single religion should be the basis for our laws and rights. The second part says that people get to exercise their religion, whatever that may be.

It's that exercise part that seems to confuse people. It doesn't mean people get to do anything they want in the name of religion. That would make all those laws and rights we're worried about absolutely useless. If your religious beliefs allow you to disregard the laws, and you have the right to believe anything you want, the logical outcome is that you don't have to follow any law you don't believe in. If that were true, I think a lot more people would find religion - religion that doesn't 'believe' in taxation, or speed limits, or gender equality, or any number of laws we'd like to be able to disregard as individuals. That's chaos.

So we can all exercise our religion - up to the point where it comes in conflict with the laws. Then the law wins. Laws are society agreeing everyone has to abide by the same rules. People can believe what they want, but the rules have to be equally enforced to have any meaning. And our society in particular has said that it is wrong for rules to apply differently to different groups. We all have to follow the same rules, and everyone is afforded equal protection under those rules. You right to your beliefs can't take away someone else's protection under the law. (This isn't any radical idea, but generally accepted legal doctrine since the eighteenth century.)

Where does this lead us? Marriage is a right under the law. It's a legal bond that comes with certain rights and obligations. It's completely separate from any religious notion - even the non-religious can get married. To equally apply to everyone, everyone needs to have the right to get married, unless that right somehow impinges on the rights of someone else. It's wrong to say that certain minorities cannot get married, or to restrict which minorities can get married to other minorities or majorities. We decided this long ago, and no one is really arguing that point.

Getting back to the whole majority/minority thing. How do we divide things up? What gets considered a minority? Legally, there are considered protected classes, those who need protection against discrimination for some reason. Generally the classes are for things you have no control over: race, gender, age, genetics. But they also include things you choose: pregnant, veteran status, religion. Once again, this is all accepted by the courts and has been for a very long time.

What about sexual orientation? Currently, that's not officially recognized as a protected class. But does that make sense? Is it logical? No, not at all. First, scientific evidence tells us that sexual orientation is not a choice (check the credible science if you don't agree - science beats opinion every time). And the courts have already said that it's illegal to discriminate based on genetic information. That should settle it.

But for the sake of argument, let's say say sexual orientation is a choice. That choice should be afforded the same protection as other choices, like religion or familial status. If choosing to be Hindu is protected, why would the choice of who you love not be protected? If that doesn't work for you, I can easily come up with a religion that believes in homosexuality and then the choice is simply another religion and it has to be protected. (There are over 300 'recognized' religions in this country, including Neo-Paganism and Santeria. If we made homosexuality a religion it would be the third largest in this country.)

Being gay puts you in a minority. Minorities have the right to be married. That should settle it. The only question left is: does gay marriage impose on the rights of those who do not think homosexuality is okay? No, it doesn't. Extending a right to one class of people does absolutely nothing to decrease the rights of other classes. It may may affect your belief, but that's something different. Everyone is still free to believe whatever they want about homosexuality. They're also free to believe anything they want about people of different races. They can even believe that all the other religions besides their own are false religions. Believe what you want, but equality demands equal rights. It's that simple, so why the hell do I have to waste my time saying it?

I could end there but I'm on a roll. I want to look at some of the arguments I've heard against marriage equality. First, the idea that it's not a simple minority question. These people admit that laws restricting blacks from marrying whites are wrong, but laws against gay marriage are different. That argument doesn't hold. By any reasonable definition, gay should be a protected class. It's a difference in people that is determined by something other than choice. The fact that many religions and many people throughout history have considered homosexuality immoral is irrelevant. The truth is many religions and many people throughout history believed that certain races were inferior and not deserving of the same rights. We have rejected that argument in this country - majority does not make right.

I've also heard it argued that gay marriage somehow diminishes straight marriage. Maybe it does in your belief, but not in the law. Allowing two men to get married doesn't stop anyone else from getting married. It doesn't change the existing heterosexual marriages in any legal manner. That's what we're talking about here - the law.

But what if people who don't believe in gay marriage are forced to work at a gay wedding? (The Arizona photographer case) Well, yes. If you're operating a commercial enterprise in this country you are not allowed to discriminate on the basis of your beliefs. We settled that in the Civil Rights Era regarding racial discrimination. It's the exact same argument. And no one has ever said that specific religions will have to recognize gay marriage. Your religion can do whatever the hell it wants. You can't (and no one has tried to) force religions to perform religious ceremonies. Your Catholic priest can't be forced to perform a religious wedding for a gay couple. Just like they can't marry a divorced person because that would also be wrong :)

What about the idea that we need marriage to promote procreation for the survival of our species? (I find it hard to believe anyone is arguing this in good faith, but I'll address it anyway). There has never been any legal requirement on the intention of marriage. There's nothing stopping infertile couples from marrying. There's nothing stopping two heterosexual people from getting married in order to receive certain tax breaks. Intention has nothing to do with (unless you're trying to get a green card, then it all of a sudden is a big thing - but I digress). Besides, science once again says that gay couples do just as good (or poor) a job of raising children. If a married mom and dad are so important to raising a child then we need to outlaw divorce and unwed pregnancies. Good luck with that.

So why, for the love of whichever god you choose, do we keep arguing about this stuff? Why can't we step back from our own notions of right and wrong and act according to the principles of our society? When did rhetoric and belief replace logic and facts? Those are questions I don't have the answer to. I'll just ask everyone to think about this: worry about things that actually hurt you; worry about things that hurt other people; work to reduce the hurt in the world and we'll all be better off.

I'm happy to hear feedback in the comments, but I reserve the right to squash any that aren't friendly (I welcome friendly disagreement). For the record, this is not a public forum so there's no free speech issue. Another common argument that's completely misguided...