Cory Doctorow on the human narrative

(via Boing Boing) Cory Doctorow has written a new post for Locus Online that primarily deals with the fact that he's just written a sequel, and may at some point in the future write a prequel.  The prequel he's talking about writing would be for "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom," a utopian novel, and in the article he talks about the nature of utopias, and the nature of stories that aren't set in utopias.  This was my favorite part:

This is a narrative we desperately need to hear. In crisis – in the horrible, slow-motion, global economic/environmental catastrophe that we inhabit – we form theories about how everyone else will react and plan accordingly. When Katrina hit, people nodded when soldiers and mercenaries shot ‘‘looters’’ in New Orleans, convinced that looting was the sort of thing that transpired after disasters. That was news. Hardly noticed, months after the fact, was the truth that there was practically no looting in post-Katrina New Orleans, and that those shot – particularly those shot by Blackwater mercenaries – were innocents who’d been killed in the service of a lie: the lie that human beings are bad, and that the first thing we do when the veneer of civilization falls away is kill, rape, and/or eat one another. This lie was a racist lie, and it was a speciest lie, too.

This is the worst kind of lie: the lie that makes itself true. When enough people believe the libel against the human race, the vile calumny that ‘‘human nature’’ would have us all at each others’ throats were it not for coercive force, it becomes a truth. If you are sure your neighbor will kill you when the lights go out, the natural thing to do is kill him at the first flicker – and even if you’re more reasonable than that, you still won’t want to let a potential killer into your shelter; you won’t want to share your food with him; you won’t want to take in his children when they need it.

Male gaze and game design

(via Felicia Day on Tumblr) Brandon Sheffield at Gamasutra has written an excellent post about male gaze, and its relationship to video game design.  This is "gaze" in the philosophical sense -- not the sense of looking, but the effect of being looked at.  One does not perform the gaze, one experiences it.

Sheffield explores the way that this concept, and especially male gaze, the concept specifically focused on the way hetoronormative, conventional, male expectations about the world get imposed with priority over all others.  In doing so, he neatly outlines and connects a lot of the major problems in gaming culture re: feminism at the moment.

In doing so, he also comes out with a lot of vivid examples, and great metaphors, like this one:

Where does this knee-jerk anger come from? There is no anger quite like that of the privileged. Here we see it in the raw. In this instance; "We heterosexual males like boobs in our games, and we'll be damned if you're going to take them away." Because they feel threatened, they lash out without thinking about it, like a dog that thinks you want to take its bone away. The behavior seems nonsensical, but it's predictable. (Emphasis mine)

I suggest it either way, but especially if you haven't already caught up on the state of feminism and gaming culture lately, Sheffield's post is a great read.

Why I really, really love Doctor Who

It's not the middle of a season.  I haven't even been watching Doctor Who lately.  I'm just listening to a Chameleon Circuit song.  But it suddenly hit me, the way it suddenly hits me every couple months, why I love Doctor Who. And I don't mean why I like it.  This isn't "Oh, it's a great show."  This isn't "I love the community" or "The show makes me cry," even though all those things are true.

But occasionally, even if I'm not watching it, even if I haven't seen an episode in months, I find myself wishing the Doctor would drop into my life, to shake things up, to pick me as a companion, not because I want to see the universe (though I'd love to) or even that I want to meet the Doctor (though I totally do), but because of what he does to people.

The way the Doctor makes people see themselves in the best possible light, makes them believe they can be whatever they want and do whatever they want, makes people believe in themselves, the way guidance counselors always say you should. I want someone to drop into my life and make me believe that I can change the world, that I can really help, that I can make the world a genuinely better place.

And the next thought that generally follows is, damn, the Doctor isn't real, that's never going to happen for me.

Except that just thinking that reminds me that I am capable of feeling that way.  It makes me feel an incredible rush of motivation to make the best of the life I've got.  More than anything else, Doctor Who makes me want to really live my life, to help people and to be there for humanity.

In a way, just watching the show is being a companion, in the way that really matters.  In the sense that it makes you see yourself in that best possible light.

That's what I love about Doctor Who.  There's plenty else I like about it, but what I love about it is that, I truly believe, it makes me a better person in watching it.

Existential energy burst!

So, I have a superpower.  Well, not really.  It's more like a lifelong undertone of mild self-loathing. But whatever. Anyway, I generally find it very difficult to get motivated about things.  Most of the time, the only reason I ever get around to anything is because I have a deadline.  That's why I make stupid bets and start massive, demanding projects. It's also one of the things I like best about school, and I like least about so-called "real life," which seems to be defined almost exclusively by the refusal of people who claim to be a part of it to tell you what's expected of you.  (And who then get really snotty at you if you fail to meet those expectations, but that's a different conversation.)

Sometimes, though, I manage to find the energy to compel myself to actually do things elsewhere -- I'm always really introspective, often very existential, and that occasionally has this delightful side-effect where I get a sudden, immediate sense of the smallness of the scope of my life, the looming oblivion I face, and premature lamentation of all the time I'll ever have wasted.

I find this very invigorating.  It's what got me out of bed this morning, and is usually the reason I start those stupid bets and big projects.

So, that's my tip for the day.  Feeling unmotivated?  Consider oblivion, react by desperately grasping towards existential relevance.

The thing I don't like about Walt Whitman

This post isn't really going to be about Walt Whitman, at all.  But I really want to get this idea off my chest, and it's 3:30am and I can't sleep and this has honestly been bugging me since I was seventeen. There are loads of role models out there, who seem sort of very different or very the same depending on how you look at them.  It's a particular category of same-ness, that I'm going to try to put my finger on, but for a ballpark, here's a list:

  • Camus
  • Sartre
  • Nietzsche
  • Whitman
  • Emerson
  • Kierkegaard
  • Socrates
  • Plato
  • Aristotle
  • John & Hank Green
  • Alan Moore
  • Neil Gaiman
  • Baudelaire
  • Percy Bysshe Shelley
  • Lord Byron
  • Terry Pratchett
  • Greta Christina
  • PZ Myers
  • Buddha
  • Gandhi

These aren't similar people.  These are people with huge differences, and in some cases these are people with fundamentally non-overlapping fandoms.  Like, I'm not at all a fan of Plato or Whitman.  I don't agree with everything Buddha or Gandhi said.

But they've all got this one big thing, in the middle, where they're all basically pushing the same agenda.  Nietzsche would call it life-affirming.  They've all got this thing, where they basically just don't believe it's worth wasting any of the time you get, being alive.

And that makes it really hard to explain why I don't like all of them, why I don't agree with some of them, why I have a bit of contempt for a few of them.

But the thing is, that big thing in the middle isn't the only thing any of them ever talk about.  Nietzsche is annoyingly into music and dance.  Emerson is, to my taste, way too in love with nature.  I could see myself getting behind Alan Moore, but there's a certain degree to which I don't want to go that far down the road of a lifestyle of eccentricity.  (And I don't very much like my home town.)

Your role models and philosophical heroes sort of have to tell you that it's worth living.  That's not what makes them special.  I mean, it's what makes them special as human beings, but it's not what makes them special among notable people.

We can't all affirm life in the same way.  Walks in the woods make some people feel deeply connected with humanity.  For me, the thing most intimate and uplifting about a long walk in the woods is seeing the glow of city lights in the distance, knowing there's a place close enough to see its aura where people have come together to live and cooperate.

And, frankly, arguments about whose happiness is better are a pain in the ass.

Brain crack redux

I wrote a few days ago about Ze Frank's concept, brain crack, and about how I intend to try to get ideas out of my head faster than I've done in the past.  In the video, he says he's afraid of running out of ideas every day, because he never leaves ideas kicking around in his head. I've only been pushing myself to keep up with Ze Frank's style of idea movement for a few days, and I've already run up against this wall.  It's not completely unfamiliar territory, but it's the first time I've been paying close attention to it -- and it is a scary place to be in, feeling like ideas just aren't coming.  There doesn't seem to be anything waiting in the wings.

On the other hand, I've actually put up a second YouTube video, started the Manifesto Club (link in the sidebar) and learned how to set up subdomains under my domain name, which will be useful for future brain crack.

I think it's probably not true that I'm never going to have another good idea.  I think I'm probably going to be fine in a couple of days, even though right now it feels like I might be edging towards the precipice of an eternity of boredom and banality.

Talk to you tomorrow.

Bucket Lists are hard

Every once in a while, the concept  of the bucket list floats back into my attention.  It's pretty pervasive in our culture right now, and I think it's generally a pretty good idea -- I mean, if you start from the premise that you're going to make sacrifices and compromises to have a relatively safer and more comfortable life (which I do think everyone does eventually have to do, in some form or another) then it's a great idea to figure out your sticking points -- what sort of experiences you absolutely don't want to miss. The thing is, though, I can't write one.

I really can't.  I can't figure out what things I wouldn't be willing to die without doing.

I mean, there are a handful of things that are really important to me.  I'd like to meet Neil Gaiman (check) and Tim Minchin  (check), I want to publish a novel, but more importantly I want to build a career as a writer, I want to travel and have meaningful relationships and hopefully have kids some day and raise them to have relatively few deep emotional issues.

But as far as the sort of easy, event-based, check-off-a-list kind of things that a bucket list is well suited to organize?  I just don't think I know myself well enough to know what sorts of things those would be.

Maybe I'm wrong -- maybe the bucket list is a shallow papering-over of the reality that human desires are too complex and subtle to be satisfied with a simple checklist.  Maybe, ultimately, you don't need to compromise your selfhood, even one little bit, in order to get through an entire lifespan.  But I think that casts my current ambivalence in a bit more of a positive light than I'm confident it deserves.

That said, I think I'm on the right track in thinking about this, even if I can't actually write the list.

Talk to you tomorrow.

I have only seen one cool thing today

That does not reveal details of my personal life which one or more people I'm close to would be uncomfortable with. That thing is Gotye's song, "Somebody That I Used To Know."

This is one of those songs that, to me, manages to tug strings I'd forgotten were there, and remind me of a huge spectrum of stories from my past -- some related, some not.  It's been echoing in my head all day, which is good because it's a good song, but not so great because it's a little bit haunting.

Sometimes I have days like this, where it seems like everything that's happened is a little too personal, all the stories springing to mind a little too close to the bone.  I realize that probably makes my blog a little bland sometimes, but it's hard to dig down to those sorts of roots without a good reason -- it's often painful, and sometimes it can alienate people I am or once was close to.

Maybe I'll have something cheerier tomorrow.  'Night.

The internet, and how my brain apparently works

The Atlantic printed posted an article last Thursday about a potentially better version of the internet. This version of the internet would function by providing users access to pieces of data or content directly,  rather than connecting them to the server upon which that data or content is hosted.  If I understand correctly (and it's very possible I don't) it would mean that if a nearby computer or server had that piece of information in its recent memory, your computer would get it from there, rather than going all the way to the source, saving time and helping people distribute content. And the first thing I started thinking about, when I learned about this cool new technology, was all the ways it could possibly go wrong.

I wondered if it would reinforce filter bubbles.  I worried that it might result in an inability to retain a standard of what the original data should have looked like, instead providing  some people corrupted or altered versions of it, and making it impossible for them to access the original work.

Of course, this says nothing about the technology itself.  I don't know anything like enough about the current internet, never mind this new technology, to have any clue whether those are legitimate worries.  It might not even be possible for the possibly-new internet to have those effects.

All this worrying did was offer me a distressing insight into my  own mind, and a helpful reminder that I'm just as capable of the-sky-is-falling style fear of the new as everyone else.

[EDIT: I just want to point out that I feel stupid for using the phrase "just as capable."  I wrote a comic once about how much I hate that phrase construction, and I suck for using it anyway.]

Honesty

I'm sort of honest, here.  Or, honest-ish.  I mean, I'm a fairly consistently dishonest person, so it's not like my blog is a total exception to that.  But it's easier to talk about some things on here than it is to have that same conversation, over and over again, with a collection of people with a variety of shades of input I don't want to hear.  (If I'm going to have a conversation about my issues, I'd much rather it be in the comments on a blog post than in person with one other individual.) And I want to be more honest.  I really do.  I want to be able to talk about the way I feel, deep down, really get out my innermost angst and ambivalence.

Not just for the sake of my own airing of my thoughts, but because I want to be the kind of person who's able to do that.  I mean, don't get me wrong.  I love secrets.  Keeping secrets is one of my favorite hobbies.  But there's a difference between keeping secrets and letting yourself repress your feelings.  If you're not careful, that difference can blur, and I think it's started to blur for me.

Sometimes it's easy to feel like I'm being honest about how I feel -- I could have easily written a post today about how I spent most of the afternoon hiding under a blanket in my parlor hyperventilating, and felt a sort of abstract sense of confirmation that I'd written about what was wrong, without having to worry about opening the door to any uncomfortable dialogues I don't want to get into.

But I wouldn't have actually said what was stressing me out.  Why I was hiding under a blanket.  Why I've barely done any of the things I have to do today.  Why I'm only just getting to my blog now.  Why everything, from getting up in the morning to doing my homework to going to therapy to watching fucking TV has turned into an angst-ridden exercise in my capacity to overcome the overwhelming weight of futility collapsing in on me every day.

This isn't a cry for help, by the way.  Or, if it is, I'm only demanding help from myself.  I neither need nor want to get phone calls from friends about this post.  But there's been an existential crisis brewing in my head for about a year now, and I've wasted entirely too much time already without resolving it.

So, there are going to be some changes around here.