|burn||Burn any copy you find of this book, it is horrific.|
|mock||This book is awful. Don't read this book and mock anyone you see reading this book.|
|don't||Don't read this book.|
|desert||If you're on a desert island and are bored out of your mind, this book is okay to read.|
|fan||If you're a fan of this author / genre, this book is worth reading.|
|worth||This book is interesting, fun, entertaining, and thus worth reading. I would hand this book to a friend who asked for a _____ type book.|
|strongly||I strongly recommend this book|
|amazing||OMG, this book is amazing and/or life-changing, let me buy you a copy.|
This is book 3, the final book, of The Broken Earth trilogy, of which all three have one the Hugo award. This one begins a few weeks after The Stone Sky ended, and continues the tale. It also concludes the tale.
If you want the plot, it is elsewhere on the Intarwebs.
I enjoyed the book, as much as I enjoyed the first two. None of these books had the sophomore slump. All were fantastic reads. Bonus: I've now read five of the last decade's Hugo Award winner books. Go me. Go authors!
The Fulcrum is not the first institution to have learned an eternal truth of humankind: No need for guards when you can convince people to collaborate in their own internment.
You are not alone. You will never be, unless you so choose. I know what matters, here at the world’s end.
When a slave rebels, it is nothing much to the people who read about it later. Just thin words on thinner paper worn finer by the friction of history. (“So you were slaves, so what?” they whisper. Like it’s nothing.)
But to the people who live through a slave rebellion, both those who take their dominance for granted until it comes for them in the dark, and those who would see the world burn before enduring one moment longer in “their place”
When a comm builds atop a fault line, do you blame its walls when they inevitably crush the people inside? No; you blame whoever was stupid enough to think they could defy the laws of nature forever. Well, some worlds are built on a fault line of pain, held up by nightmares. Don’t lament when those worlds fall. Rage that they were built doomed in the first place.
You feel no hunger or thirst before they give you sustenance; your evacuations bring no particular relief. Life endures. It doesn’t need to do so enthusiastically.
“There isn’t a single evil to point to, a single moment when everything changed,” she went on. “Things were bad and then terrible and then better and then bad again, and then they happened again, and again, because no one stopped it. Things can be … adjusted. Lengthen the better, predict and shorten the terrible. Sometimes prevent the terrible by settling for the merely bad. I’ve given up on trying to stop you people. Just taught my children to remember and learn and survive … until someone finally breaks the cycle for good.”
“See, this is what I keep trying to tell you, Essie: The world isn’t friends and enemies. It’s people who might help you, and people who’ll get in your way. Kill this lot and what do you get?”
“Lots of ways to be safe.
Unconsciously, Nassun bares her teeth and clenches her fists. “It isn’t right, Schaffa. It isn’t right that people want me to be bad or strange or evil, that they make me be bad …” She shakes her head, fumbling for words. “I just want to be ordinary! But I’m not and — and everybody, a lot of people, all hate me because I’m not ordinary. You’re the only person who doesn’t hate me for … for being what I am. And that’s not right.”
“No, it isn’t.” Schaffa shifts to sit back against his pack, looking weary. “But you speak as though it’s an easy thing to ask people to overcome their fears, little one.”
I continue searching her face. “Why do you laugh at their fear?” It’s a stupid question. Should’ve asked it through the earth, not out loud.
“Why not laugh at it?” she says.
“They would like you better if you didn’t laugh.”
“Maybe I don’t want to be liked.” She shrugs, turning to rinse the cloth again.
“You could be. You’re like them.”
“More than me.” This is obvious. She is their kind of beautiful, their kind of normal. “If you tried— ” She laughs at me, too. It isn’t cruel, I know instinctively. It’s pitying.
They’re afraid because we exist, she says. There’s nothing we did to provoke their fear, other than exist. There’s nothing we can do to earn their approval, except stop existing — so we can either die like they want, or laugh at their cowardice and go on with our lives.
It doesn’t matter what we do. The problem is them.
It’s enough to channel the resonance, the stoning, into just one. Have to take it through the glands under the armpit, but you manage to keep it above the muscle layer; that might keep the damage from impairing your movement and breathing. You pick the left breast, to offset your missing right arm. The right breast is the one you always liked better, anyway. Prettier. And then you lie there when it’s done, still alive, hyperaware of the extra weight on your chest, too shocked to mourn. Yet.
"But that’s how I knew, see, you still sess the same, still quiet on the outside and rusting furious on the inside, it really is you.”
So much of your past keeps coming back to haunt you. You can never forget where you came from, because it won’t rusting let you. But maybe Ykka’s got the right of it. You can reject these dregs of your old self and pretend that nothing and no one else matters … or you can embrace them. Reclaim them for what they’re worth, and grow stronger as a whole.
“There have always been those who use despair and desperation as weapons.” This is delivered softly, as if in shame.
Words are too much, too indelicate, for this conversation. You were fond of Jija, after all, to the degree that your secrets allowed. You thought he loved you — and he did, to the degree that your secrets allowed. It’s just that love and hate aren’t mutually exclusive, as I first learned so very long ago. I’m sorry.
“Would’ve been nice if we could’ve all had normal, of course, but not enough people wanted to share. So now we all burn.”
Hoa says to your slumped back, “I can’t die.” You frown, jarred out of melancholy by this apparent non sequitur. Then you understand: He’s saying you won’t ever lose him. He will not crumble away like Alabaster. You can’t ever be surprised by the pain of Hoa’s loss the way you were with Corundum or Innon or Alabaster or Uche, or now Jija. You can’t hurt Hoa in any way that matters.
“It’s safe to love you,” you murmur, in startled realization.
Surprisingly, this eases the knot of silence in your chest. Not much, but … but it helps.
Having to go on, no matter what. No matter how tired you are.
“Move forward,” Hoa says.
Nassun can’t see his face, and must gauge his mood by his broad shoulders. (It bothers her that she does this, watching him constantly for shifts of mood or warnings of tension. It is another thing she learned from Jija. She cannot seem to shed it with Schaffa, or anyone else.)
It is the way of the world, but it isn’t. The things that happen to orogenes don’t just happen. They’ve been made to happen, by the Guardians, after years and years of work on their part.
Even though it feels wrong to yell at any adult. Yet she has also spent the past year and a half learning that adults are people, and sometimes they are wrong, and sometimes somebody should yell at them.
We’ve always known that the conductors failed to make us emotionless, but we … well. I thought us above such intensity of feeling. That’s what I get for being arrogant. Now here we are, lost in sensation and reaction.
The Niess fought, but then responded like any living thing under threat — with diaspora, sending whatever was left of themselves flying forth to take root and perhaps survive where it could.
How did it begin? You must understand that fear is at the root of such things.
But there are none so frightened, or so strange in their fear, as conquerors. They conjure phantoms endlessly, terrified that their victims will someday do back what was done to them — even if, in truth, their victims couldn’t care less about such pettiness and have moved on. Conquerors live in dread of the day when they are shown to be, not superior, but simply lucky.
I want her to get angry, but she merely shrugs. “That’s your choice to make — once you know enough to make an informed choice.”
"You aren’t what they made you to be; does that negate what you are?”
“I know when I see new stories being written, though.”
“I … I don’t know anything about that.”
She shrugs. “The hero of the story never does.”
Hjarka Leadership Castrima, who was taught from an early age to kill the few so the many might live, only touches her shoulder and says, “You’ll do what you have to do.”
In the absence of all else, people run on hope.
You know the end to this. Don’t you? How could you be here listening to this tale if you didn’t? But sometimes it is the how of a thing, not just the endgame, that matters most.
Was this too fast? Perhaps tragedies should not be summarized so bluntly. I meant to be merciful, not cruel. That you had to live it is the cruelty … but distance, detachment, heals. Sometimes.
Everyone breaks, if torture goes on long enough. The mind bears the unbearable by going elsewhere.
This is why, though Gallat works harder and spends more hours at the compound than anyone, and is in charge, the other conductors treat him as if he is less than what he is.
I have decided that I am in love, but love is a painful hotspot roil beneath the surface of me in a place where once there was stability, and I do not like it.
“She acts as if she can’t understand that. As if I’m the problem, not the world. I’m trying to help her!” And then he lets out a heavy breath of frustration.
Later, when we process all this, I will tell the others, She wants to be a person. She wants the impossible, Dushwha will say. Gallat thinks it better to own her himself, rather than allow Syl Anagist to do the same. But for her to be a person, she must stop being … ownable. By anyone.
Yes. They will all be right, too, my fellow tuners … but that does not mean Kelenli’s desire to be free is wrong. Or that something is impossible just because it is very, very hard.
Everyone likes their little luxuries, when fortune provides.
You waver, because you don’t really want to know … but you haven’t been a coward for some years now.
And you have Lerna — quietly demanding, relentless Lerna, who does not give up and does not tolerate your excuses and does not pretend that love precludes pain.
But that’s no different from what mothers have had to do since the dawn of time: sacrifice the present, in hopes of a better future.
“I think,” Hoa says slowly, “that if you love someone, you don’t get to choose how they love you back.”
It’s wrong. Everything’s wrong. Some things are so broken that they can’t be fixed. You just have to finish them off, sweep away the rubble, and start over.
Until now, some part of her has nursed the irrational hope that Steel, as an adult, had all the answers, including some sort of cure.
It’s too much to bear. She sinks into a crouch, wrapping one arm round her knees and folding the other over her head, so that Steel will not see her cry even if he knows that’s exactly what’s happening.
None of us got here overnight. There are stages to the process of being betrayed by your society. One is jolted from a place of complacency by the discovery of difference, by hypocrisy, by inexplicable or incongruous ill treatment.
What follows is a time of confusion — unlearning what one thought to be the truth. Immersing oneself in the new truth. And then a decision must be made.
Some accept their fate. Swallow their pride, forget the real truth, embrace the falsehood for all they’re worth — because, they decide, they cannot be worth much.
If a whole society has dedicated itself to their subjugation, after all, then surely they deserve it? Even if they don’t, fighting back is too painful, too impossible. At least this way there is peace, of a sort. Fleetingly.
The alternative is to demand the impossible. It isn’t right, they whisper, weep, shout; what has been done to them is not right. They are not inferior. They do not deserve it. And so it is the society that must change. There can be peace this way, too, but not before conflict. No one reaches this place without a false start or two.
She smiles at something he says, but even from fifty feet away I can see that it is a performance. Surely he can see it, too? But I am also beginning to understand that people believe what they want to believe, not what is actually there to be seen and touched and sessed.
But for a society built on exploitation, there is no greater threat than having no one left to oppress. And now, if nothing else is done, Syl Anagist must again find a way to fission its people into subgroupings and create reasons for conflict among them. There’s not enough magic to be had just from plants and genegineered fauna; someone must suffer, if the rest are to enjoy luxury.
We are such small, hard-to-grasp creatures, otherwise. Such insignificant vermin, apart from our unfortunate tendency to sometimes make ourselves dangerously significant.
The difference between what the Earth wanted and what we wanted was merely a matter of scale. But which is the way the world ends? We tuners would be dead; the distinction mattered little to me in that moment. It’s never wise to ask such a question of people who have nothing to lose.
As big as the world is, Nassun is beginning to realize it’s also really small. The same stories, cycling around and around. The same endings, again and again. The same mistakes eternally repeated.
He watches as you stand and stretch, and it’s a thing you’ll never fully understand or be comfortable with — the admiration in his gaze. He makes you feel like a better person than you are.
“Would you be coming, if you weren’t headwoman?” Lerna asks. It’s quiet. He always drops his biggest rocks like that, quietly and out of nowhere.
Sounds like he's related to Kris.
Impossible to delude oneself in a moment like this. Impossible to see only what one wants to see, when the power to change the world ricochets through mind and soul and the spaces between cells; oh, I learned this long before both of you.
I don’t bother to explain that just because something is horrible does not make it any less true.
You say, in an echo of the voice you once had, “What is it that you want?”
“Only to be with you,” I say.
I adjust myself to a posture of humility, with head bowed and one hand over my chest. “Because that is how one survives eternity,” I say, “or even a few years. Friends. Family. Moving with them. Moving forward.”
In this continuation, we know who the characters are. The book is no less intense, magical, heart-breaking, confusing, or interesting for that knowledge.
We learn about Nassun, Essun's child who was referenced in the first book, but mostly as a ghost to chase, a goal for Essun. We begin to learn about when the seasons began. We learn that Schaffa can change, and about the Guardians.
If you read the first one, keep reading. Also strongly recommended, as, as soon as I finished this one, I started the next one.
Like keeping to like is the old way, but races and nations haven’t been important for a long time. Communities of purpose and diverse specialization are more efficient, as Old Sanze proved.
Complaining about nothing doesn’t seem like coping to you, but okay.
That’s when you no longer need an answer to the question. There is such a thing as too much loss. Too much has been taken from you both—taken and taken and taken, until there’s nothing left but hope, and you’ve given that up because it hurts too much. Until you would rather die, or kill, or avoid attachments altogether, than lose one more thing.
She feels a flash of anger that this exaggeration is why her father looks at her with such hate sometimes. But the anger is nebulous, directionless; she hates the world, not anyone in particular. That’s a lot to hate.
"I heard of one that asks an old man in the sky to keep them alive every time they go to sleep. People need to believe there’s more to the world than there is.”
And the world is just shit.
There’s no need to imagine the planet as some malevolent force seeking vengeance. It’s a rock. This is just how life is supposed to be: terrible and brief and ending in—if you’re lucky—oblivion.
"But just because you can’t see or understand a thing doesn’t mean it can’t hurt you."
You know that’s true.
Focusing on what you can, instead of mourning what you can’t.
So sad. Nassun decides he would not have meant it back then, even if he’d done something bad.
But allies are needed for specific tasks, and they are not the same thing as friends.
Things have been awkward between you and him lately. He’s made his interest clear, and you haven’t responded in kind. You haven’t rejected him, either, though, thus the awkwardness. At one point a few weeks back, Alabaster grumbled that you should just roll the boy already, because you were always crankier when you were horny. You called him an ass and changed the subject.
You keep thinking about Alabaster, too, though. Is this grief? You hated him, loved him, missed him for years, made yourself forget him, found him again, loved him again, killed him. The grief does not feel like what you feel about Uche, or Corundum, or Innon; those are rents in your soul that still seep blood. The loss of Alabaster is simply… a thinning of who you are.
“Because you don’t want to hear it, babe,” Hjarka says. “Doesn’t mean it’s wrong. You like things neat. Life’s not neat.”
“You like things messy.”
“Ykka likes things explained,” Ykka says pointedly.
You blink, a little thrown and a lot insulted. But… she’s right. Comms survive through a careful balance of trust and fear. Your impatience is tilting the balance too far out of true.
You’ve observed her before when she does orogeny, but this is the first time she’s tried to be precise about something. And—it’s completely not what you expected. She can’t shift a pebble, but she can slice out corners and lines so neatly that the end result looks machine-carved. It’s better than you could have done, and suddenly you realize: Maybe she couldn’t shift a pebble because who the rust needs to shift pebbles? That’s the Fulcrum’s way of testing precision. Ykka’s way is to simply be precise, where it is practical to do so. Maybe she failed your tests because they were the wrong tests.
The burns were killing him already; that you finished it was mercy. Eventually you’ll believe that.
“Why do you stay with her? Are you just… hungry?” I resist the urge to crush his head.
“I love her, of course.” There; I’ve managed a civil tone.
“Of course.” Lerna’s voice has grown soft.
Sleep, my love. Heal. I’ll stand guard over you, and be at your side when you set forth again. Of course. Death is a choice. I will make certain of that, for you.
“The destruction of one’s enemies, of course. A small and selfish purpose that feels great, in the moment—though not without consequence.”
“Father Earth fought back,” she says. “As one does, against those who seek to enslave. That’s understandable, isn’t it?”
The way of the world isn’t the strong devouring the weak, but the weak deceiving and poisoning and whispering in the ears of the strong until they become weak, too.
Hate is tiring. Nihilism is easier, though she does not know the word and will not for a few years. It’s what she’s feeling, regardless: an overwhelming sense of the meaninglessness of it all.
His icewhite gaze lifts to her, and she searches his expression with her belly clenched against imminent pain. There is only anguish in his face. Fear for her, sorrow on her behalf, alarm at her bloodied shoulder. Wariness and protective anger, as he focuses on Steel. He is still her Schaffa. The
Okay, book two of two of The Flame In The Mist series. For which I would like to say, "Good."
Because I wouldn't continue reading this series.
The first book has the protagonist, Hattori Mariko, escaping an assassination attempt and going off to hide in the woods to track down who ordered her death. At the end of the book, her brother and her betrothed found her and together brought her back to The Palace™. Technically Her Choice™ but in reality a false dichotomy, whatever.
So, now we follow Mariko in palace intrique. We see her with little political saavy navigate royalty and servants, making alliances and insulting some. During all of this, Her Love™ is in danger.
I was sufficiently engaged with the characters in the last book to read this one, but a subsequent book in the series likely won't be interesting to me.
If you like teen romance adventure with a medieval Japanese twist, sure. Otherwise, skip the books.
She’d never known the right words to do so before. Never known how to wield the right weapons. But ingenuity could be a weapon, in all its forms. Her mind could be a sword. Her voice could be an axe.
But time had taught Kanako that what was expected rarely came to pass. Death always collected its due. The only thing that remained steadfastly true was power. The power you had. The power you gave. The power you concealed.
“You may ask whatever you wish, But I do not owe you a response.”
“It appears insults do have an effect on your brother. How predictable.”
“Insults are indeed a base form of intimidation,” Roku replied
There — hovering in the darkness, with Ōkami by her side — Mariko realized that every person she’d ever met, from the smallest of children to the most notorious of thieves, had a life as intricate and significant as that of an emperor or a samurai or an elegant lady of the court. Not once in her seventeen years had she heard a member of the nobility discuss this. Those who served them had been born beneath unlucky stars and could never share the same sky, no matter how hard they might wish for it.
Well, hello, Sonder.
“You do not know what it means to be happy,” the empress said. “Happiness is not a thing to be found here in the imperial court. We take moments of pleasure. Collect them and keep them tight in our chests. And we hope they are enough to fill whatever holes our truths leave behind.”
Back at her father’s province, she had known people like the empress. Women and men who took perverse pleasure in exacting unnecessary revenge on others.
When Ōkami spoke, his voice was soft. Apologetic. “That was . . . dramatic.” He sighed. “But I suppose I am to blame for that.” All trace of sarcasm had vanished.
“I have no excuse for provoking you, especially when you came to help me.”
“No.” Mariko shook her head, her right hand trembling as she brushed a tendril of hair behind one ear. “My behavior is mine and mine alone. You are not to blame. I let my anger take hold, and anger is a temperamental beast.”
It had taken her losing everything she knew to finally understand. Feeling pain and sorrow was not at all a sign of weakness. It was a sign of love.
“Our deepest truths are usually the hardest to conceal.”
Perhaps this was what it meant to feel love. To be together and apart in the same instant.
Leaders needed to know what lay around the next bend, even when moving through uncharted territory. A follower need only concern himself with each of his steps. Each of his breaths. He could move forward, oblivious to the path ahead. Trusting in those left to make the decisions.
“I see mystery and sadness. Anger. Not necessarily because you were born a woman”—Mariko smiled in obvious remembrance of what Yumi had said not too long ago—“ but more because you have always been treated as less than what you are.”
“The best jokes end with shit or death.”
Okay, I need a t-shirt with this on it.
Loss had taught her yet another lesson. Real love was more than a moment. It was everything that happened after. Chaos in one instant, simplicity in the next. Everything and nothing in the space of a simple breath. It was clarity, sharp and numbing, like a winter’s morning.
Ōkami did not cry, not even when he was sure no one was there to bear witness. He would never allow such weakness to overcome him.
Ōkami hated heroes more than anything else. As a boy, he’d concluded that heroes cared more about how the world perceived them than they did about those they’d left behind.
It had moved Raiden that one of her requests was for justice absent malice. He longed for the ability to convince his brother of the merit behind this. His brother’s idea of justice made Raiden’s flesh crawl as though he’d waded into a pool of maggots.
The army she’d amassed in her enchanted world, biding time for the right moment to strike. Some of its ranks were young. Some were elderly. Some were infirmed. Minamoto Roku’s imperial soldiers would hesitate before striking them down. And in the heat of battle, to hesitate was to die. Many more were
It was not up to his mother to save him. Just as it was not up to his father to give him answers. That was not the way of life. Only Ōkami could do what needed to be done. It was time for him to forgive his past. Not forget it. Only a fool would forget such things. But if he could not let go of the demons in his past, how could he ever hope to embrace his greatest fear?
This troubling sentiment did not stop men from looking at Yumi with covetous glances. A part of Kenshin disliked the way their eyes followed her every motion. As though her beauty were a thing to be consumed.
“Because if no one cares about what is right or wrong in the seat of our empire—the very seat of our justice—then all we hold dear is lost.”
It was a strange feeling for Ōkami. To hate someone with such fire and know all at once that his death would bring Ōkami no solace.
I have the book pile problem of having 5 books due at the library in the next eight days, which means that I have less than two days to read each of these books. Which is unfortunate, as Tomorrow and Tomorrow is a book I want to linger over, sit with, ponder. If I want to read these other 4 books before they return to the library, however, I'm not going to linger.
Cal recommended this book when we were at XOXO this year. We were exchanging reading lists (hoo boy, I thought I was doing well at a hundred books a year, I read at half Cal's pace), and he suggested this book. It's heavy, he warned me, don't read it if you're not in a good place.
Which was good advice.
The book is a dystopian future, science fiction, murder mystery novel. It is also a book about grief, about avoiding an all consuming loss, until you can't, and then dealing with it.
Which is why the timing of the book was great. That and after five non-fiction books in a row, I was ready for some fiction.
Anyway, the main character, Blaxton, investigates deaths in the Archive, a fully immersive reconstruction of the world, stitched together from all the digital recordings available of a given area and time. Most people have implants to immerse in this reconstruction, but of course said world is full of ads, because, yeah, that's the way it works, we can't have nice things.
Blaxton comes across an unreported death, becomes obsessed with solving her murder, and his already unravelled life come undone.
The plot is so well done. The grief and heart-ache is well conveyed. The whole plot is well put together, lots of early clues for the reader, along with "ohhhhhh" at the reveal. I strongly recommend this book, if you're in a good place to read a dystopian future, science fiction, murder mystery novel. If you're not in a good place, wait until you are, then read it.
The Buy, Fuck, Sell feed’s leading with a new leaked sex tape of President Meecham, the ten-year anniversary of Pittsburgh demoted to postjump news. PRESIDENT MEECHAM REVEALED AS DORM ROOM SLUT! MEECH’S PEACHES EXPOSED IN TEEN SEX SCANDAL!
Yes, where the world is going, this is a reasonable projection of the presidency.
She touches herself and the talking heads comment: Everywhere, Americans have been given the choice between Love and Filth, and they have uniformly chosen Filth.
How prescient of Sweterlitsch, though I suspect he wasn't expecting to be so acccurate so soon.
“Shit . . . Oh, shit. I’m sorry—”
“It’s all right to cry,” says the leader. “Let it out. Talk with us, share your story. Hearing each other’s stories helps us to understand we’re not alone. We were all away from friends and family when it happened. We’ve all lost everything. We haven’t been uniquely chosen to suffer—”
“I’m sorry,” I end up saying.
“What does it matter if I die?”
“You don’t want to die,” he says, like he’s explaining simple math. “You want to see your wife again, you want to relive all the years you were blessed to have with her, and you want to somehow compensate for all the years you aren’t able to spend with her. You’re here because you want to remember your wife through healthy immersion. You want to live so you can grow old with the memories of your wife. You want her to live on through you. You don’t want to die.”
“You don’t understand,” I tell him, knowing that he does understand, that they all understand.
“I schedule regular times to visit my memories of Kitty in the Archive,” he says. “Kitty was my wife of thirty-nine years. Katherine."
I cracked up at this.
“We’ve been making memory maps,” Simka explained. “You draw the house you grew up in and write in everything you can remember about it, every detail. You’d be surprised how much you remember when you’re filling in a memory map, the specificity of the details. The kids never have enough room to write everything they want, so we journal, too—”
This is an interesting exercise, by the way.
“Addiction and recovery from depression are difficult. There isn’t a quick fix—even complete dialysis and Adware reconditioning don’t treat the underlying causes of your addiction. You’ll have to work at this, Dominic. As they say, ‘You’re gonna carry that weight—’”
People drift through the café, once captured inadvertently on security cameras or retinal cams, their profiles pulled from cloud storage, archived in the City because of the Right to Remember Act and used to populate these places, even these minor corners of the City.
This idea cracks me up, the Right to Remember Act. After fighting so long for the Right to be Forgotten.
What would our lives have been like? Never sure, but I try to be realistic with my regrets, memories like these affording me a window, I think, to my life as it was never lived.
Faces in passing cars are only blurs—petals on a wet, black bough—impressions inadvertently captured in Peyton’s background and sculpted here as part of the environment. These faces unnerve me. Faceless. I feel like they try to catch my attention. I feel like they want me to notice them, to notice them specifically, to turn my attention from Peyton and fill in their features with some streak of memory, but there’s nothing to remember about them, no details or memories I have that can flesh them out. I’ve never known these faces and they pass away in the peripherals.
Much of politics is simply manipulating broad symbols.
“When I talk with people who are suffering,” says Timothy, “they often tell me that they’re comforted because Christ associated Himself with sinners. Prostitutes and taxmen. Drinkers. The thief who was crucified with Him.
My patients often tell me that they’re comforted because no matter how depraved their lives, no matter what damage they’ve done to themselves or others, Christ will still save them. Christ will still save them.
They think they will somehow transcend the world, somehow continue sinning but find a spiritual perfection when the time comes because they believe their soul is pure so it doesn’t matter if their body is corrupt.
I tell them that Christ doesn’t accept us as sinners. We might be sinners when Christ calls us, but He doesn’t accept us as sinners. He demands that we abandon our lives to follow Him, to become like Him.
That doesn’t mean turning our backs to the world—it means just the opposite. He demanded the twelve abandon their lives in order so they might fully embrace the incarnation. He demands this of us—”
We were alone that evening, coming to terms with our loss, with a miscarriage just like the thousands of other miscarriages that occur every day, every year, but ours so unlike the others because it was our daughter, our child that never was.
“Let her go,” said Albion.
“Let her go,” she said. “The dead deserve their rest—”
Night by the time we drive through Ohio, the landscape changing to something as forgotten but familiar as my mother’s voice—flatlands giving way to the warp of fields and the hills that will become the mountains of what was once Pittsburgh.
I understand the feeling of returning to the landscape as familiar as my mother's voice.
She waved as the bus pulled away and I walked home—the city quiet, everything shrouded in a profound white silence. I was so happy that night—an ecstatic contentment in that silence, a feeling like I’d come home, like I’d discovered where home was.
The doctors keep me updated—there’s a trio, one in Boston, the other two in Mumbai, faces on HD screens mounted on a roving turret. A doctor rolls into my room every other day or so, but since the turret webcam’s loose on its mounting, the doctors rarely face me when one of them speaks.
This image seems just so right: teleprescence but broken.
“You could sit back and make it seem like you’re right there with them—”
“We’re watching the follies of man,” she says. “Why would I want to be closer than I am now? Besides, I got better stuff to do, like teaching you to piss for yourself—”
Things have been rough as of late.
A while ago, I recognized that what I'm going through is grief, and that I have not given myself a chance to grieve the large number of losses I have had this year. I need to grieve, I need to process a large amount of non-classical loss, and let it go. One doesn't process grief on demand, no matter how much our loved ones or society want us to do so. However, having those who have also grieved, who have also had losses, guide us through the darkness that is grief, hold our hands, and tell us, "this f---ing sucks, it f---ing hurts, and maybe it'll hurt less in the future, maybe it won't, but I need you to know that you aren't the only person experiencing this loss, you have my, your, our permission to grieve," helps in unexplainable ways.
Unfortunately, this is not the book about grief that I needed. It is A book about grief. It is a series of essays from people who have been through loss and grief and have in some measure passed through the pain, who are turning around to reach back and help those just starting the journey. It is a good book about grief, in that it talks a lot about grief as experienced in modern times, about things that aren't "classically" okay to grieve about.
But, again, not the one I needed.
The book originated from a website where people could express their grief and find support. The book is an extension of that website, many of the essays taken from the content of the website. Which is fine, it's a good book if you're a grief voyeur. I am not. I did not enjoy reading about other people's pain. I was/am looking for a book on processing my grief.
Anyone who is able to relate to more than a couple of the essays in this book has had a shit hand dealt to them, and that really sucks.
Introduction, by Rebecca Soffer and Gabrielle Birkner
Modern Loss has helped to demystify a process with a long arc. News flash: you live with grief 24/7, forever, and endure endless triggers along the way. But we wanted people to realize, along with the stark realities of having to go through life without someone important, that they aren’t broken, that life goes on, and that it can actually be quite terrific—even if it’s impossible to believe in the moment.
A Wake, by Anthony King
“It’s weird that she’s dead.” Is it weird that she’s dead or weird that she died? Die. Died. Dying. It’s such a small word for something so definite. Or maybe it’s exactly the right size word for something so brief.
The Second Third Child, by Eric Meyer
We still mourn that decision. And that’s the worst part: you can make the right decision, the very best decision you know how to make for yourself and your family, and still have cause to mourn.
Mother Figure, by Elizabeth Percer
Usually, when we reflect on how love doesn’t play by the rules, we are referring to its poor timing, or its unrequited victims, or its failure to sustain anything beyond the rush of infatuation.
Introduction, by Gabrielle Birkner
Then there’s the passing of time, which hasn’t so much healed as it has taught me how better to coexist with my grief.
Are You My Papi?, by Mathew Rodriguez
Sometimes, I think about the maxim “Daughters marry their fathers.” It speaks to the desire to find a man we trust, even if it’s a partner for the night. We want to feel his trust—we want for it to be sturdy and familiar, like a knit blanket or macaroni and cheese.
Are You My Papi?, by Mathew Rodriguez
The yearning for human connection, whether two hours or a few sweet months, is the desire to be taught, to be shown new things, to hear new stories, to get a slightly widened worldview.
What’s Good Enough Now, by LaNeah “Starshell” Menzies
But long before the moving trucks pulled away, leaving our two sets of dishes under the same roof, our relationship had been suffering thanks to an old worry of his: he felt I didn’t love him, or at least couldn’t express that love. Funny thing is, I loved him more than anything. Cheesy, I know, but it was the kind of romance that shows you the future, the sun, moon, and stars, when you look into someone’s eyes.
What’s Good Enough Now, by LaNeah “Starshell” Menzies
If the whole point of getting into a relationship is to fall completely and madly and utterly in love to the point where you feel like you can’t live without someone, but you know that you can, are you able to love completely?
Taboo Times Two, by Alice Radosh
Friends and family from around the country and Europe came to mourn together. The loss was enormous, and it was not mine alone. Night after night the house was crowded with people who hugged me and cried along with me, who packed my freezer with casseroles and offered to sleep over, should I want the company. Sympathy cards jammed the narrow box at my rural post office, and more than a hundred stories filled Bart’s memorial website—stories from colleagues at the college where Bart taught, from squash partners and friends at the local table tennis club, from total strangers he tended to as a volunteer EMT, from a heartbroken granddaughter. Loved ones called daily to check in, and my adult children urged me to come for an extended visit.
The Promise, by Mattie J. Bekink
I blamed myself for Elouisa’s death. I succumbed to feelings of failure. My body, tasked only with seeing her safely into this world, had failed.
Introduction, by Gabrielle Birkner
These fellow travelers understood that there exists a pain so profound that it becomes embedded in your psyche, your personality, maybe even your DNA.
Dad-die Issues, by Yassir Lester
I had no idea how to make a Windsor knot on a necktie, so I watched a YouTube video. YouTube could single-handedly raise the fatherless children of this country, and it probably is already doing so.
The Dead-Brother Code Switch, by Rachel Sklar
as you grow up into an adult, no one knows your baggage unless you share it.
The Dead-Brother Code Switch, by Rachel Sklar
If you weren’t the one who died, then you eventually have to figure out how to keep living. And part of that is figuring out what kind of access you want others to have.
Introduction, by Rebecca Soffer
This was my first encounter with the many knots that form with all the stuff, trivial and critical, sentimental and surprising, valuable and not, that loved ones leave behind. My mom’s closet, a place where I once made gleeful discoveries of things like her ivory-leather jewelry case and red disco-era stilettos, became a place where everything was for the taking, and yet none of it seemed okay to have without her.
The Accidental Archivist, by Spencer Merolla
as I went through the rituals of laying them to rest, well-meaning people assured me that I would “always have the memories.” But almost immediately those memories started to fade. First their voices, then their smells, the punch line to one of my dad’s stupid jokes; and after that weird period where I thought I saw them everywhere, I found that the images in my mind of their faces had lost their crispness.
The Accidental Archivist, by Spencer Merolla
In grief we forget, and it’s terrible.
The Accidental Archivist, by Spencer Merolla
Surely my parents would not have wanted me to feel bogged down by their possessions, but neither would they have wanted me to forfeit the comforts to be had in keeping them around.
The Accidental Archivist, by Spencer Merolla
In the last few weeks of her life, when everything she told me took on an outsize importance in my mind, my mom explained that it was important to preserve bad memories along with the good ones.
Introduction, by Rebecca Soffer
But I do know that no “like” can replace a conversation, or a hug, or shared double martinis.
My Husband’s Death Went Viral, and All I Got Was This Lousy T-shirt, by Nora McInerny
Everyone will lose somebody they love. And I don’t say that as a threat, I say it as a fact. Your parents are going to die. Your lover is going to die. The children you don’t even have yet, someday they will die.
SECRETS: What They Didn’t Tell Us, and What We Aren’t Telling Others, Introduction, by Gabrielle Birkner
Even in war, where stray bullets and car bombs kill indiscriminately, people look for patterns that don’t exist to justify why some were snuffed out and others were not.
Introduction, by Gabrielle Birkner
But this attempt at rationalization doesn’t make the loss less sad; it just makes everyone else feel less vulnerable. At least until their made-up rules are broken.
Introduction, by Gabrielle Birkner
There are the secrets about the deceased that the grief-stricken keep from others out of respect or shame or fear of blame or because there remains a taboo of speaking ill of the dead. In our posthumous retelling, we strike their questionable politics or destructive addictions or debilitating phobias or that the cause of death was a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Introduction, by Gabrielle Birkner
We are imperfect people mourning imperfect people imperfectly. But these imperfections make us no less deserving of empathy and loving expressions of grief.
My Dead Husband, the Serial Adulterer, by Robyn Woodman
Just because someone is dead, that doesn’t mean they didn’t suck. It just means you’re not supposed to talk about it.
My Dead Husband, the Serial Adulterer, by Robyn Woodman
Just because someone sucked, that doesn’t mean they can’t be remembered fondly . . . eventually.
Practice Imperfect, by Rachel M. Ward
But let’s focus on how you’re a nice person and you’re crediting my better angels. Which is why I am sorry to report: my angels are dicks. Trust me. I hang with them all the time, and they’re always doing the right thing for the wrong reason.
Practice Imperfect, by Rachel M. Ward
Why do these losses always seem like secrets? Why are they always confessions?
From a Purple Room to the Obama White House, by Marisa Renee Lee
know what real fear feels like. Fear that keeps you up at night, knowing morning will bring you one day closer to being without the person you love. Fear of the day death knocks on the door, and knowing it’s your job to help usher Mom between two worlds.
ABSENCE + TIME: What Comes Later, Introduction, by Gabrielle Birkner
It was an affirmation that our losses hadn’t kept us from finding happiness, even as we wished that our loved ones were there to see it and share it. It was an admission that yes, the first year is the hardest, except for, in their own way, all the others.
David, by Elisa Albert
For a long time, I saw that there were two kinds of people: those who had come into contact with death and those who had been spared contact with death. Obviously it was only a matter of time until the latter joined the former, but in the meantime how clueless and shallow and silly the spared-contact-with-death seemed!
David, by Elisa Albert
Amy Hempel’s story “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried.”
David, by Elisa Albert
You were an astrophysicist, Dave. You know that energy cannot be destroyed, only changed, transformed.
Considering the Alternative, by Artis Henderson
but anticipating a thing and actually experiencing it are very different.
I am unsure why I picked up this book, or where it was recommended to me. I thought it was in a group chat, but I can't find the reference, and I really do not know why I picked up this book. There are a couple books on creativity that I would have put in my reading list before this book.
Which isn't to say this book was a bad book, quite the contrary, it is a fun book to read. You totally see Questlove's personality in this book, and how much fun he is having. Life isn't all about fun, of course, but if you love your work, love what you do, the rough spots can be endured.
This book isn't anything deep, it isn't anything you haven't heard before if you're older than 22 and have been creating in any form. The book is, however, a fun read. It is a good "rah rah rah!" book. It is a good "keep it up!" book. It is a good "you got this!" book. If you're not stuck stuck, but are maybe a bit stuck, and want to distract yourself, tell yourself you're moving ahead by reading a book on creativity, this book is a good one to read.
If you're stuck stuck, shut up, stop reading, and go do the work. If you can't create, you can at least do the work.
I enjoyed reading the book, and recommend my style of reading books like this: listen to the audio book when you're walking outside, running, doing dishes, knitting, and read the actual book when you have the time to sit and read or are walking on the treadmill reading.
Be receptive. Be ready to hear your future in a parking lot behind a Pharcyde concert or at a church in England.
This makes more sense in the context of the book, actually.
Here comes the final fundamental point of this section: Be sure to summarize what you’re learning. Isolate your insight and turn it into a short thesis statement.
This is a way of most learning: actively play with the knowledge to make it your own. That's what all the exercises at the end of the chapter are about.
Where creativity is concerned, pure originality is at least partially a myth. People are heavily invested in that myth because they have egos, or because they are selling a brand. But it’s not fully real.
In the end, one of the most important things to remember about influence is that it’s never the same. Time changes artists, and time changes the art they make, and time changes the way they look at the forces that shape that art.
He made everyone around him feel that he was genuinely in awe of who they were as a person and an artist. He was able not only to acknowledge that he was giving you creative energy, but to behave as if you were giving him energy. Whether it was sincere or strategic, this reversed the circuit. It made him young again in some way, made you older, but also made you question the entire hierarchy. It was, in its own way, extremely cool, and extremely motivational.
I was re-creating a person who had re-created me, and I couldn’t even be me as well as he had.
Play it backward. We see things one way, mostly. We are at the mercy of common paradigms. That’s why conventional wisdom has such a hold on us.
Embrace conspiracy, just for a minute. This exercise is something different. Take a piece of art that you love and invert it. If it’s a painting or a photograph, it’s easy. Just turn it upside down.
Backward asks all questions, and answers them, too.
Random plucking This is a related strategy, but for it you’ll need a specific kind of book: a dictionary.
Open it up to a random page and see what you can do with it.
Collaborations work best this way, when there’s a mutual desire to see what the other side adds. You know that what you’re making on your own has value, but the sum is more than the parts, and every part knows it.
I'd almost argue that it ONLY works this way, it's a fight when it doesn't.
... cognitive disinhibition, and how a Harvard psychologist developed a theory that creative people filter the world around them differently, or rather less. They see too much. It gets in their head. They then have no choice but to make things.
For bits of both artists to survive into the final product, they need to make themselves visible to one another, and to themselves. Every successful collaboration is also a fight for your own creative life.
It can be difficult to deep-dive inside yourself and figure out all the things about you that work and don’t work, let alone the things that work and don’t work in collaboration with someone else.
Be receptive to ideas that sound strange. Maybe be receptive to those ideas especially, because the tendency is to be dismissive. When you give a fair hearing to a strange idea, you might loosen up your own idea to the point where it’s significantly improved.
One special form of communication is praise. You don’t have to be insincere about it. No one likes to have smoke blown at them. But you can be honest about what is working in the creative process.
The most common problems in collaboration, in my experience, revolve around resentment.
Collaborations, even those that are pleasant in the process, can be unpleasant in the product.
Just make sure that everyone’s clear. Oh, and get to meetings on time.
Oh wow yes. Don't disrespect others by arriving late.
This is a thornier issue, and potentially a more profound one: collaboration can not only allow you to place yourself in close proximity with other creatives and watch what happens, but it can fundamentally change you.
Reading is a different experience than when we were young — each word offers the possibility for linking out to something else, and the main text just doesn’t have the same gravity it once did.
Online vs books.
Foreman noted that while our minds hold more information than before, they are more than ever a series of connections to information outside of our minds.
Everyone agrees that creativity is a privileged form of thinking.
If a question comes into perfect focus, answering it isn’t a creative act anymore. It’s more a matter of information retrieval. The Internet, if you believe Foreman, if you believe Carr, is a menace to creative questioning. The second a question comes into view, the research process starts. We begin our research, our search for facts to satisfy questions, almost immediately.
I have personally noticed the way that research sprints ahead of idea formation.
Creative minds know and remember a lot, but that also means that they have to know, and remember, selectively. One of the things that’s being lost, along with the ability to really focus and concentrate on the bottom of that well, is the ability to establish hierarchy, a confident sense of knowing which events (or ideas) are the big planets and which ones are the small moons orbiting around them.
Reduce Reuse Recycle
It wasn’t that he couldn’t go back to the well. He went back there. But when he went back, it was dry.
He’s talked plenty about that period. His first album had summed up everything that he thought and felt. He had found a way to express his entire soul. That’s why they call it soul music.
A.k.a. "he had one story to tell."
I think that his block was more about having emptied out the tank in a very comprehensive and exhausting way, then promoting that album around the clock for two years. It was difficult to get other things to float to the surface. So he did the next best thing, or rather another best thing, which is to make something that is already made. I recommend this to any creative person in any discipline.
People with limited ideas of things call this cheating. It’s not. It’s inspired imitation. Making your own version of existing works keeps you on your toes. It keeps your machinery humming along.
When I think about its effect, I think I can distill it down to one short, sharp piece of advice: change your materials.
Material changes matter because they change the process of creative production.
I don’t have much time to be distracted. But I feel the pull of it all the time. Fifteen years ago, I didn’t have a little hum at the base of my skull reminding me to check e-mail or Twitter or read the latest gossip about the celebrity couple of the moment...
I stop. I shut the computer, or at least shut my eyes for a second so that I can’t feel the computer. I let the distraction become boredom. And when the distraction shifts into boredom, that’s the seed of something creative. On the face of it, that doesn’t make sense. Boredom seems like the least creative feeling. It seems like a numbness. But it’s actually a way of clearing space for a new idea to spring back up.
But Brodsky has a trick up his sleeve. He says that when you realize you’re insignificant, you can start feeling two things: passion and pain. Passion is the way you fight meaninglessness. If you were significant, you wouldn’t necessarily need passion at all. You could just sit back and experience things as they came.
And pain is the acceptance of the truth of that insignificance. Boredom, that sense of being disconnected, is what makes you bounce back with a renewed commitment. That’s what Brodsky was saying about Wilson Pickett, even though he wasn’t talking about Wilson Pickett at all.
Let yourself go to the sense of being disconnected and meaningless. Let it wash over you and drown you a little bit before you come up gasping for air. Creativity is a fight against that insignificance.
Whatever your personal preference, no matter how significant or how trivial, if it’s a source of pleasure, and in denying yourself that pleasure you’ll be entering a state where you think about it all the time, then you are working against your own creativity. You might think certain things are a distraction, but going without them can become a larger distraction if you are thinking all the time about the time when you will be returned to them, or them to you.
Make your environment reflective of your tastes. Eliminate distractions, including the distraction of being without any of the distractions you need.
The first and most obvious effect is that technology drives a stake into the heart of originality.
Late in the set, as people are getting worn out, I’ll downshift to a slower song. But not just any slower song — Phil Collins’s “In the Air Tonight.” Everyone knows the song, but think of how it starts: Daryl Stuermer, who played guitar with George Duke, playing that buzzing chord, and Collins layering up keyboards and drums. But the moment everyone knows is later, when the crashing rubbery drums come in: da-dum, da-dum, da-dum. Collins got the effect by playing while the talkback circuit was still activated—it’s the technique I outlined in an earlier chapter, being open to the possibility that the accidents might be better than the plan—and then Hugh Padgham, his coproducer, recorded it using compressed and gated microphones. It’s the sound that drives an audience crazy.
Okay, I am dying at this point because as I read this part of the book, this video came out, and I am DYING LAUGHING.
You have to throw things away so that there is some value implied by the act of keeping other things.
On a podcast I heard the comedian Kate Micucci talking about how when she was young, and an aspiring visual artist, she used to go to museums often. She said something about standing in front of paintings. She said she didn’t give them all the same amount of time. How could she? That’s not how you visit a museum: stand in front of work 1, count to twenty, stand in front of work 2, count to twenty, repeat until dissatisfied. No: you should go through a museum at a clip until something demands your attention. Keep on the move until you are asked by a work to stop moving.
The goal of creativity may be to learn to present yourself to others, in part, but it’s not to present yourself at the expense of truth. The second you become your own product, you’re heading down a chute rather than up a ladder.
When we focus on those tiny details, we lose sight of the larger issues. We just do. It’s just the way it goes. And when it comes to making art, both of them have to be working hand in hand. You need to think of the small things, no question. You need to be able to get that pitched-down cymbal just right. But as I’ve said a hundred other times in a hundred other ways, “just right” isn’t necessarily about flawlessness. Sometimes it’s about the flaws. It’s about letting that sound go a little flat or a little wobbly, about letting it carry humanity. The era of curation, which is the era we’re in, the time of picking, which is the time that we’re in, isn’t an excuse to selectively edit our humanity and show the world a happy face (or a fresh face or a put-together face) that doesn’t have much, if anything, to do with our essential real
I want to suggest a correction: for every hour you spend doing something, spend at least a few minutes doing something unrelated. That’s Questlove’s corollary to Gladwell’s Ten Thousand Hours. Getting into a groove can be dangerously close to getting into a rut.
There are many stresses in the creative life, so it’s important to limit the self-inflicted ones.
Bert gets to see how his work is experienced both from the inside and from the outside. He gets to look at it as a creator and he gets to watch others immerse themselves in it. That’s the tension that needs to be preserved for good creative art. Never forget that you are working for your own satisfaction, but also never forget that others will occupy the creative work that you have made. Both perspectives need to exist in your mind all the time.
Commercial art has another great component, which is the deadline. When you’re making something for yourself, how do you know when it’s done? Sometimes you don’t. And some of those times you don’t even want to know. The process is what is nourishing you, and to bring it to a close would defeat the point.
But enthusiasm isn’t the same as organized and productive critical feedback.
Dave was interested in the way that technology has given people too many easy ways to deliver feedback without similarly equipping artists to resist it. In
Dave said that in the restaurant business, there used to be a very well-understood process. You would voice your displeasure to your server, who would in turn tell the chef or the owner. Sometimes the chef or owner would come out and address the diner’s concern, or at least assess it. Sometimes there would be an apology. Sometimes the meal would be comped. “No one likes a bad review,” Dave said, “but that kind of dialogue is something that everyone got used to.” Online commentary doesn’t require any of that. An unhappy customer can pay his bill, leave, and then rant and rave about the restaurant hours later, from his home. The restaurateur has no way of hearing the complaint in a way that allows him to do anything about it—at least for that customer.
This. Wow, so much this.
There are at least two lessons to take away from stories of failure. The first, of course, is not to be afraid of it. Any career, if it is to be a long career, includes a mix of successes and failures, and it should. That mix is oxygen-rich. It keeps you breathing.
What does failure do to an artist? It can mess with your head. That’s primarily because it’s only ever in your head. The things that are hailed today may be forgotten tomorrow. The reverse can happen, too. A work stamped one way doesn’t stay that way. Some works are deemed masterpieces and exist in that rare air forever, but usually this designation passing down through time unchallenged, unrevised, and unrevisited is the result of a shortage of thinking on the part of audiences, the result of a preference for received wisdom. Failure is not fatal. For starters, it can be a motivator. Smooth sailing isn’t always the best way to convince yourself to put your nose back to the grindstone.
Creative failure leads to a similar liberation.
Failure is sometimes in your mind. Sometimes it’s in the eye of the... well, not the beholder, exactly, but the afflicted. Even when it’s not, even when it’s indisputable, it’s never the end.
The only correction I’d make to this formula is that true creative people don’t walk away from it, not exactly. They walk toward the next thing.
But success, if misunderstood, can be just as dangerous as failure.
But don’t let success knock you down, either. It can put you in a narrow lane and make you afraid of experimentation.
And this would be Apple, unwilling to experiment because they are afraid of failing.
There are two related issues here, so let me separate them for a second: there’s fear of being held above the community that has supported you, and then there’s fear of losing the context of those similar artists. For me, those two things combine to create a specific insecurity.
You need to be aware of the nutritional benefits of failure and the empty calories of certain kinds of success. But I want to end with one more point, and it’s also a philosophical one. One of the best ways that you can cope with the feelings of failure (or the stresses of success) is to embrace a simple fact: the world mostly doesn’t care about you.
If you put out a record and fewer people buy it than projected, if you write a book and it sells worse than you had hoped, even if you tweet out something funny and it doesn’t get the likes and retweets that you’ve grown accustomed to, you might have the tendency to panic or feel especially bad about yourself. Don’t. Feel good about it. You’re getting back the gift of freedom. People’s silence, or an audience’s distance from you, isn’t necessarily a negative review. The world is extremely cluttered.
Creativity needs a certain amount of isolation to improve your ability to understand connection. Creativity needs a certain amount of indifference to improve your ability to make a difference. Creativity needs a certain amount of void so that you can be (and create) content.
When he can’t reach them, he doesn’t admit defeat, but instead starts claiming that the grapes were sour in the first place. This fable is, in the end, the only one when it comes to setting your creative course and staying on it. If you start thinking the grapes are sour, you’ll ruin the entire process. The grapes aren’t sour. The grapes are sweet. And you may never reach them the way you want. But it’s always worth it. Keep going. Don’t give up. Find new ways in. All those clichés were true in the days of Aesop, when foolish foxes wouldn’t heed them, and they are true today.
When it comes to the process, just persist, persist, persist. It has positive effects for your ideas, but also for the entire human machine that produces those ideas. Remember: life is short. If you waste time or you turn away from the business at hand, you’re going to regret it.
But life is also long. And part of persisting is coming to terms with that fact.
Brodsky was speaking to college grads, and he was telling them to get accustomed to the idea that they wouldn’t always be jazzed or juiced by what they were doing. The sooner they got their heads around that idea, the sooner they could accept boredom. And accepting boredom meant accepting a series of other things—the realization that humans are insignificant on the planet, for starters, which leads to the realization that humans must create to ward off that insignificance. Maintaining the right attitude about aging, and keeping your creativity charged as you age, is the flip side of that same principle.
He warned against acknowledging the ways in which age limits your movement through the world. Specifically, he urged older people not to stop going down a flight of stairs just because it hurts a little. Once you start stopping, you’re on your way to shutting down entirely.
I love this advice.
Little creative hitches and hurdles may come up at any time. But age is a different version of the same problem, because it’s easy to get the sense that things are beyond your control.
Then I was at a show and I heard a guy talking to an artist. “You think you’re special?” he said. “Everything that is happening to you has happened to someone before.”
That guy was right, and also he was wrong. The way he was both right and wrong is what creativity is all about. It’s about finding your own unique way of fitting into the continually repeating human experience. Nothing you do is new, but you can still be new within that realization.
An afterword is a strange goodbye, a place for the author to offer parting thoughts but also to remind readers that the book should stay with you.
This book was recommended in a number of book forums. Having read Women & Power recently, I put the book on hold at the library and read it when it dropped.
This was not the book I was expecting.
This is the book I needed.
This book is all about women and their anger, and how society tells us not to be angry, to suppress that rage, no one will like us, angry women are difficult, etc. etc. etc. Yes, I know you're not supposed to have three etc.'s together, that the etc. means continue this series after I have already given you three examples. ETC.
Okay, let's talk about my crying in the framework of this book. I have always been easy to tears, and not until my early twenties did I recognize that my crying was an expression of frustration of my powerlessness. After reading this book, I think I had it wrong. Yes, crying is an expression of my frustration, but it is also an expression of my anger.
I read this book and sat back and thought about all the times I've been told to shut up and sit down because I was embarrassing him, the number of times I've been told, "Oh, you have enough on your plate, you don't need to deal with this, just accept this current shitty situation *pat* *pat* *pat*," the non-zero times I had to walk away from a situation because someone else was being and ass and my calling him on it was "being difficult."
So, I borrowed this book from the library. I read it. I bought a copy of the book hardback. When it comes out trade, I'm buying a couple dozen copies and throwing them in a bunch of little lending libraries and handing them out like candy. I might mail one to my fucking older brother, too.
Reading this book helps me better understand women older than I am. It helps me better understand women my age. It helps me better understand my experience. It helps me help women younger than I am.
I strongly recommend this book. Let me buy you a copy.
While we experience anger internally, it is mediated culturally and externally by other people’s expectations and social prohibitions. Roles and responsibilities, power and privilege are the framers of our anger.
In the United States, anger in white men is often portrayed as justifiable and patriotic, but in black men, as criminality; and in black women, as threat. In the Western world, which this book focuses on, anger in women has been widely associated with “madness.”
One of the most common feedback loops that women live with involves anger caused by discrimination that, if denied, intensifies, increasing stress and its effects.
Boys learn early on about anger, but far less about other feelings, which handicaps them — and society — in different ways. Socially discouraged from seeming feminine (in other words, being empathetic, vulnerable, and compassionate), their emotional alternatives often come down to withdrawal or aggressive expressions of anger.
Our society is infinitely creative in finding ways to dismiss and pathologize women’s rage.
When a woman shows anger in institutional, political, and professional settings, she automatically violates gender norms. She is met with aversion, perceived as more hostile, irritable, less competent, and unlikeable — the kiss of death for a class of people expected to maintain social connections.
When a man becomes angry in an argument or debate, people are more likely to abandon their own positions and defer to his. But when a woman acts the same way, she’s likely to elicit the opposite response.
This persistent denial of subjectivity, knowledge, and reasonable concerns—commonly known as gaslighting—is deeply harmful and often abusive.
Anger is usually about saying “no” in a world where women are conditioned to say almost anything but “no.”
A cultivated feminine habit of prioritizing the needs of others and putting people at ease frequently puts us at a disadvantage.
We understand that abandoning our anger is a necessary adaptation to a perpetual undercurrent of possible male violence.
Anger is like water. No matter how hard a person tries to dam, divert, or deny it, it will find a way, usually along the path of least resistance.
It took me too long to realize that the people most inclined to say “You sound angry” are the same people who uniformly don’t care to ask “Why?” They’re interested in silence, not dialogue.
Most people, needing help raising their children, don’t want to think of this kind of child care in terms of the commodification of maternal ideals. And yet we as a society often demand that immigrant and impoverished women meet these ideals while simultaneously denying them the ability, by socially maintaining their low status, low wages, and lack of benefits or childcare support, to mother their own children.
In motherhood, we can find joy, love, security, community, and, for many women, life’s greatest purpose. It is not and should not be, however, the inevitable path for all girls and women; the standard against which we are all measured. It is a basic human decency to create a society in which motherhood is not wielded as a weapon against women, in which it is not coerced, forced, punishing, violent, and life threatening.
We care in so many ways, but for motherhood to be truly dignified, compassionate, purposeful, and fulfilling, it must presume a woman’s right to freely choose to be a parent. Unfortunately, this is not the world we live in. Instead, motherhood, the ideal, smothers women’s ability to protest unfairness and injustice.
A world full of women who smile on demand is a world where women’s anger is irrelevant and where the threat of male violence is legitimized.
Sexual harassment and violence are so normalized among girls and women that they don’t often consciously register them as abusive behaviors.
In my experience, most men don’t learn, as boys, to think about how different their experiences are from those of the girls and women around them. Men learn to regard rape as a moment in time; a discreet episode with a beginning, middle, and end. But for women, rape is thousands of moments that we fold into ourselves over a lifetime.
Girls and women adapt to these intrusions, usually by not talking about them, blaming themselves, or doing their best to ignore what is happening around them.
There is deep cultural resistance to taking women’s fears of male violence seriously.
Ask a man what his greatest fear is about serving jail time, and he will almost inevitably say he fears being raped. What can we deduce from the fact that jail is to men what life is to so many women?
Most college students surveyed, for example, believe that up to 50 percent of women lie about being raped. Other studies similarly show that police officers with fewer than eight years of experience also believe roughly that percentage of those alleging rape are lying. As recently as 2003, people jokingly referred to Philadelphia’s sex crimes unit as “the lying bitch unit.” This doubt remains true despite studies, conducted across multiple countries, consistently finding that the incidence of false rape claims ranges from just 2 percent to 8 percent, approximately the same as it is for any other crime.
Teaching girls to “stay safe” early in life, while simultaneously discouraging anger and aggression and cultivating physical fragility, all contribute to the association of weakness and fearfulness with femininity. Anger and aggression do not fit easily with these lessons. If we say we are scared, it is understandable and easy for others who can focus on what we, as individuals, can do to avoid feeling fear instead of what they, communally, can do to stem threats.
When women display anger, men are more likely to respond with anger, but when men show anger, women respond with fear. Women, more fearful, are less likely to respond to anger in situations when men might.
In the face of threat, we often learn that the “normal” physiological response is fight-or-flight. This description reflects men’s experiences, not women’s.
UCLA professor and social psychologist Shelley Taylor and her colleagues showed that when men and women encounter stress and threats, their actual physical reactions differ. Men’s bodies release the chemicals norepinephrine and cortisol, which prompt fight-or-flight behaviors.
Women, too, experience faster pulses and elevated blood pressure, but their bodies, instead, produce two different chemicals: endorphins and oxytocin, which lead to “tend-and-befriend” behaviors. Women become more affiliative and appear to be friendly. “Fight or flight” is the “normal” response... if you are a man, yet it is the standard to which women are held.
We learn as girls to read faces and other body indicators, and we develop tactics for lowering the temperature of encounters, a process known as de-escalation. The ability and inclination to take this approach is supported by socialization and the practical reality that women are often physically smaller than the people threatening them.
Simply “leaving” or “walking away” is often not a rational option. When we feel fear, or anger, or a combination of both, we often freeze, act confused, and stop talking in order to think. We become still and quiet, and we smile. We make our rage small; we acquiesce, deflect, soothe, and shrug. Giggling is sublimation. Laughing is a path to survival. And if smiling and laughter are not options, we cry: a self-silencing deferral that is often misinterpreted as weakness.
Women in heterosexual relationships, more likely to follow traditional gender-role expectations, are more prone to display traditionally feminine traits, like crying, and silence their anger than women in egalitarian relationships are. Feminine anger is particularly difficult in more conventional frameworks because the expression of anger itself is conceived as a failure to be a “good” woman.
In 2014 Turkey’s then deputy prime minister, Bülent Arinç, condemned the act of women smiling in public (in other words, opening their mouths) as a sign of “moral decline of modern society.”
Women are especially not supposed to question or publicly shame men for their behavior. If they use their public voices to address topics that go beyond their gender roles, families, and appearance—particularly if they challenge that limitation—they can count on public hostility, off-and online.
Discomfort with women speaking authoritatively is universal.
Women have to work doubly, triply hard to be considered credible and authoritative.
The notion of older women’s anger is even less appealing than girls’ nascent rage. Older women are supposed to disappear or, if not, at least be quiet and take care of others.
In 2015, writer Nicola Griffith analyzed fifteen years’ worth of top literary awards, demonstrating a systemic preference for male protagonists in books written by men. In the case of the Pulitzer Prize, for example, “women wrote zero out of 15 prize-winning books wholly from the point of view of a woman or girl.”
Some criticisms were constructive, but women were castigated repeatedly for personality and communication skills, such as: “Pay attention to your tone,” “Stop being so judgmental!” “Let others shine,” “Step back,” and “Be a little more patient.”
Hands up if you think women aren’t storing up their anger at being told, in millions of small ways, that they should follow the rules, shut up, and be grateful for what they are given.
In these early lessons and contexts, overt sexism isn’t the problem, benevolence is. It’s hard to be angry at or resent people who love you and are working hard to take care of you. This is a significant part of why sexism is so difficult to call out at its most granular and intimate levels: at home and in settings that often dominate social life.
A benevolent sexist says, “Motherhood is the most important job in the world”—and then proceeds to act on the belief that “girls are worse at math,” to pay mothers less, and to penalize men who want to care for their children. It’s a solid way to make people feel good while they are being materially discriminated against.
Nearly 50 percent of men without high school diplomas and 25 percent of those with college degrees believe that women fall back on using gender discrimination as an excuse for workplace outcomes that they don’t like.
Even when presented with personal experience and irrefutable evidence of bias and sexism, many men refuse to admit what the women around them are experiencing.
People who deny sexism will always be more hostile to your anger than to what is actually causing your anger.
The core issue is that, no matter where you may live in the world, dominant norms of masculinity are actively constructed out of women’s vulnerabilities.
Both men and women respond with anger when another person acts in critical, aggressive, and controlling ways, but many men exhibit those behaviors as a function of being adequately masculine. The behaviors that women say cause them to feel intense anger are often those that men display as aspects of traditional masculinity. In women, on the other hand, the controlling and aggressive behavior that men might find enraging indicates that a woman is not conforming to traditional norms. A similar justifying pattern is evident in how anger can affect relationships between women
It is, of course, not only men who believe in separate spheres, or who deny women’s words and anger. It’s often, sometimes much more often, other women.
For example, studies indicate that women with benevolently sexist beliefs are the most hostile to other women when they demonstrate raw ambition or display political power.
Thinking that the world is just and hoping that it can be more just are very different orientations. Studies show that women will maintain beliefs in separate gender spheres and a just world, supporting patriarchal norms even when it puts them at a clear disadvantage.
Denial and diversion allow people to maintain psychological equilibrium and stave off feelings of powerlessness in the face of emotionally disruptive and anxiety-provoking information.
Denial is rarely based on facts or reasoning. It is a visceral emotional defense that overrides reason, critical thinking, and deliberation.
These two lines explain a lot to me.
Men who believe in separate spheres and adhere to benevolently sexist beliefs don’t “see” women’s anger as legitimate because to see the problems, and risks, that women face as real would require status-threatening change.
As members of juries, for example, women who score high in benevolent sexism and just-world beliefs are the most likely to harshly judge rape victims or women who have been abused by intimate partners. They will overlook the broader meaning and context of male perpetration and its prevalence. None of this is to excuse racism or sexism or other forms of bias and overt prejudice, but, rather, it is to point out why anger, and arguing on the basis of facts, so often fail to change minds.
In this case, yes, there were economic concerns but what this voting bloc did was leverage racial privilege to maintain status, even if their gendered rights were being degraded.
When people encounter overwhelming evidence of social inequality that defies what they believe about their own natures, the world, and their place in it, instead of processing facts and addressing what they mean, they up the ante on gaslighting, victim blaming, exaggerating the benefits of inequitable social systems, and adamantly defending the status quo. They respond in anger and are prone to shut down women’s angry demands.
Crosscultural studies reveal some universal qualities about authoritarian mind-sets: rigid adherence to rules, strict moral codes, strong feelings of contempt and disgust, obedience to social groups, an aversion to introspection, and a propensity and desire to punish others. At the most intimate scales, in families, the same can be said for rigid enforcement of gender norms.
Studies reveal another consistent and related pattern: antifeminism and contempt for women are related directly to authoritarian beliefs.
The most powerful effect is the division of women and men in such a way that it is “natural” for women to not want, seek, or hold power.
Despite claims to the opposite, conservatives simply do not appear to believe women can or should be full participants in society.
Speaking from a position of moral authority and often with righteous anger are vital to having a public voice and holding political power. But when women assert themselves, whether they are openly angry or not, they often encounter social opprobrium, invalidation, backlash, and punishment.
Women being good at resisting male power, which is significantly what we are talking about in terms of anger, politics, and denial, is often a matter of embodiment as resistance.
Friedman quoted Princeton University lecturer Erin K. Vearncombe, an expert on the cultural meaning of appearance, who explained, “absent hair on a woman’s head can be read as disruptive to the politics of the male gaze.”
If you can’t focus on a woman’s hair, it is infinitely more difficult to ignore what comes out of her mouth.
This cracked me up.
If you are inclined to think that raising the issue of race when discussing gender inequality in America is counterproductive, it can mean only that you are not “seeing” your own privileges and are unwilling to sit with discomfort.
It is frequently the case that while we recognize male leaders as representative of “humanity,” we fail to do the same for women leaders.
It might make more sense for those concerned with the relevance or representation of movements like these to focus on the question of why the quiet anger and energy of women voters and politicians are so often ignored in favor of the loudest man in the room.
Studies show that women who display or express anger in deliberative groups, for example, are taken less seriously than the men around them are.
Powerlessness is one of the reasons women cry more. It is less likely to cause an angry response in the person a woman is talking to.
Girls are constantly seeking ways to convince people they know, respect, and love that what they are saying when they describe their experiences or their anger and frustration is true, and that it is serious. Even at just eight to ten years old, young girls have been found in studies to think they will be made fun of or disciplined when they display anger.
We all have the right to believe what we believe and to live life as we see fit. But that doesn’t mean we don’t get to call what is clearly discrimination by its proper name. Benevolent sexism is still sexism. Religious sexism is still sexism.
Anger is an emotion. It is neither good nor bad. While uncomfortable, it’s not inherently undesirable. Most of the anger-related problems we encounter come from its social construction and how our emotions are filtered through our identities and social location relative to others. Anger should not be an entitlement.
When women are asked why they continue to associate being angry with negative outcomes and fear, they say it is because they do not want to “lose control” and act in “inappropriate” ways.
Anger is a moral emotion that hinges on our making judgments about the people and world around us. As women, we are supposed to be one step removed from both moral thinking and the authority that comes with it. Our feelings of anger, deep in our bones, our blood, and our minds, are a refutation of that oppressive standard and the control of women that comes with it.
People who understand how they are feeling are able to be patient and thoughtful in anger.
You might tend toward getting angry quickly, known as trait anger, or you might be a person who is slower to anger even when provoked, known as state anger.
If you find you are crying and silent but seething inside, what circumstances are leading to your feelings of powerlessness?
An adult relationship that can’t withstand your saying you feel angry is probably not a healthy one and, if that pattern is sustained, probably not worth continuing.
I remind myself sometimes that the root of the word aggressive is related closely to the Latin word aggredi, meaning “to go forward.”
Ask yourself, “Does being assertive make me feel anxious?” “Do I repeatedly use minimizing words, such as just when I write emails?” “How frequently do I begin a sentence with Sorry?” Do you give in or backtrack on a demand quickly and easily?
In many environments, all you have to do to be castigated as an angry woman is to say something out loud, so you might as well say exactly what’s bothering you and get on with it.
There is discomfort in understanding. There will always be people who are deeply uncomfortable with your anger. They will attempt to diminish what you say by disparaging your choice of expression. This is a kind of laziness and a sure symptom of dismissal and, sometimes, abuse.
It helps, in these circumstances, to think of the difference between being nice, which girls are taught to do at all costs, and being kind. Nice is something you do to please others, even if you have no interest, desire, or reason to. Kindness, on the other hand, assumes that you are true to yourself first.
Care with purpose. Understand that this includes taking care of your own health and well-being. Learn to say no and to say no unapologetically.
RETHINK FORGIVENESS. It is often the case that our anger comes from feeling betrayed, disappointed, and taken for granted. The feelings we have—hurt, resentment, frustration, and rage—are often portrayed as negative and not worth being taken seriously. We are often encouraged to ignore, forgive, and forget. For women whose lives are informed by faith, forgiveness is frequently prioritized over beneficial resolutions. Being forgiving in self-sacrificial ways is emotional labor par excellence.
The expectation of forgiveness often involves shaming you for not feeling forgiving. This is dismissive in that it ignores feelings of hurt, pain, and trauma and contributes to the sense that you do not deserve to be heard. Forgive nothing until you are good and ready to, especially if there has been no indication that the behavior causing you distress has changed.
If you find yourself easily frustrated, irritable, and stressed, the focus of your anger is almost certainly misplaced. Flying off the handle in unpredictable ways rarely makes change or makes you feel better. Anger like this is usually a symptom of unaddressed emotions and, almost always, a history of having learned that expressing your emotions is not only bad but also makes you a bad person.
In sports, you are able to develop mastery over a honed sense of the potential of aggression, with or without anger, to alter your environment as well as what professor and cultural historian Maud Lavin (the author of Push Comes to Shove: New Images of Aggressive Women) describes as the “sheer physical joy of exerting aggression outward instead of inward.”
When asked, women are consistent about the primary causes of anger in their lives: overwork and stress; feeling as though they are being taken for granted; other people’s irresponsibility or taking credit for what they are doing; and being condescended to, humiliated, or demeaned.
For most of us, anger is related to the desire for greater control in the workplace—of our own careers, our physical safety, our ability to earn a living, our health.
Okay, we know that I really disliked the first book I read that says things don't suck. Most of my intense dislike of the book comes from the Gladwell way that Ridley writes: "Let me state something as fact, give you a story that supports the fact, and claim it true for everything," which is, lets be open about this, quite what the whole Cheetoh delusion is about. The difference between Cheetoh and Ridley / Gladwell is that we like what Ridley / Gladwell are saying, so we don't go out and track down the sources and sees what's up. At least with Cheetoh, we know he's lying. With Ridley, we don't know, because he buried his sources and when we found them, we realized they were quoting other sources that quoted other sources and no one actually did much of the research.
Anyway. I'm grumpy. I'm not a fan of the everything is sweet and wonderful, because not everything is.
That said, show me the evidence, show me the data, and I will listen. Point out that pessimism is often used as a reason to do nothing, and I will hear you.
Show me where I am wrong, and I will change my mind.
Not about disliking a poorly supported book of anecdotes heralded as science, but about the progress of mankind.
This book does a great job at showing us just how much better we are with progress. However much we rail against the destruction of the planet, the injustices of the world, the atrocitities of men, and the shit people do to each other, in a collective way, we are much better off than we were 50 years ago, 100 years ago, 200 years ago, a millenium ago. We murder less. We starve less. We live longer. We have more opportunties.
We have different health problems, sure. Fewer women die in childbirth (yay!), more people die of drug overdoses (boo!). Fewer people die of the flu (yay!), more people die of Alzheimer’s (boo!). I don't know anyone who wants to go back to outdoor toilets, cleaning clothes by beating them, or an era without dentists, painkillers, easy transportation, or computers. "Roughing it" has its appeal in the ability to go back to not-roughing-it.
Which is what this book is saying. We are all "enlightened" similar to the Enlightenment, and that's a good thing according to Pinker. Many things happening in the world really suck, and we're heading in the wrong direction locally thanks to the deliberate greed in the Executive Branch of the United States, but overall, humans are in a better place than we have ever been.
This book is long. It took me a while to read it. If ever I were going to make an argument for tracking the number of book pages read instead of the number of books I've read, this book would be Exhibit A. I could (and should) have expected this book to break my rapid reading streak. I still recommend it, though, to anyone who can read a long book (I know a lot of people who can't or won't), or is interested in the topic, or wants to tell me that things are awful. The local might be horrible, but the global isn't.
The reason the punishment should fit the crime, for example, is not to balance some mystical scale of justice but to ensure that a wrongdoer stops at a minor crime rather than escalating to a more harmful one. Cruel punishments, whether or not they are in some sense “deserved,” are no more effective at deterring harm than moderate but surer punishments, and they desensitize spectators and brutalize the society that implements them. The Enlightenment
Though everyone wants to be right, as soon as people start to air their incompatible views it becomes clear that not everyone can be right about everything. Also, the desire to be right can collide with a second desire, to know the truth, which is uppermost in the minds of bystanders to an argument who are not invested in which side wins. Communities can thereby come up with rules that allow true beliefs to emerge from the rough-and-tumble of argument, such as that you have to provide reasons for your beliefs, you’re allowed to point out flaws in the beliefs of others, and you’re not allowed to forcibly shut people up who disagree with you. Add in the rule that you should allow the world to show you whether your beliefs are true or false, and we can call the rules science. With the right rules, a community of less than fully rational thinkers can cultivate rational thoughts.
So for all the flaws in human nature, it contains the seeds of its own improvement, as long as it comes up with norms and institutions that channel parochial interests into universal benefits. Among those norms are free speech, nonviolence, cooperation, cosmopolitanism, human rights, and an acknowledgment of human fallibility, and among the institutions are science, education, media, democratic government, international organizations, and markets.
Since the 1960s, trust in the institutions of modernity has sunk, and the second decade of the 21st century saw the rise of populist movements that blatantly repudiate the ideals of the Enlightenment. 1 They are tribalist rather than cosmopolitan, authoritarian rather than democratic, contemptuous of experts rather than respectful of knowledge, and nostalgic for an idyllic past rather than hopeful for a better future.
To take something on faith means to believe it without good reason, so by definition a faith in the existence of supernatural entities clashes with reason. Religions also commonly clash with humanism whenever they elevate some moral good above the well-being of humans, such as accepting a divine savior, ratifying a sacred narrative, enforcing rituals and taboos, proselytizing other people to do the same, and punishing or demonizing those who don’t. Religions can also clash with humanism by valuing souls above lives, which is not as uplifting as it sounds. Belief in an afterlife implies that health and happiness are not such a big deal, because life on earth is an infinitesimal portion of one’s existence; that coercing people into accepting salvation is doing them a favor; and that martyrdom may be the best thing that can ever happen to you.
Enlightenment idea is that people are the expendable cells of a superorganism—a clan, tribe, ethnic group, religion, race, class, or nation—and that the supreme good is the glory of this collectivity rather than the well-being of the people who make it up. An obvious example is nationalism, in which the superorganism is the nation-state, namely an ethnic group with a government.
Humans are a social species, and the well-being of every individual depends on patterns of cooperation and harmony that span a community. When a “nation” is conceived as a tacit social contract among people sharing a territory, like a condominium association, it is an essential means for advancing its members’ flourishing. And of course it is genuinely admirable for one individual to sacrifice his or her interests for those of many individuals. It’s quite another thing when a person is forced to make the supreme sacrifice for the benefit of a charismatic leader, a square of cloth, or colors on a map. Nor is it sweet and right to clasp death in order to prevent a province from seceding, expand a sphere of influence, or carry out an irredentist crusade.
Defenders of the faith insist that religion has the exclusive franchise for questions about what matters. Or that even if we sophisticated people don’t need religion to be moral, the teeming masses do. Or that even if everyone would be better off without religious faith, it’s pointless to talk about the place of religion in the world because religion is a part of human nature,
Yes, it’s not just those who intellectualize for a living who think the world is going to hell in a handcart. It’s ordinary people when they switch into intellectualizing mode. Psychologists have long known that people tend to see their own lives through rose-colored glasses: they think they’re less likely than the average person to become the victim of a divorce, layoff, accident, illness, or crime. But change the question from the people’s lives to their society, and they transform from Pollyanna to Eeyore.
Whether or not the world really is getting worse, the nature of news will interact with the nature of cognition to make us think that it is. News is about things that happen, not things that don’t happen. We never see a journalist saying to the camera, “I’m reporting live from a country where a war has not broken out”—or a city that has not been bombed, or a school that has not been shot up. As long as bad things have
The nature of news is likely to distort people’s view of the world because of a mental bug that the psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman called the Availability heuristic: people estimate the probability of an event or the frequency of a kind of thing by the ease with which instances come to mind. 11 In many walks of life this is a serviceable rule of thumb. Frequent events leave stronger memory traces, so stronger memories generally indicate more-frequent events:
But whenever a memory turns up high in the result list of the mind’s search engine for reasons other than frequency—because it is recent, vivid, gory, distinctive, or upsetting—people will overestimate how likely it is in the world.
Consumers of negative news, not surprisingly, become glum: a recent literature review cited “misperception of risk, anxiety, lower mood levels, learned helplessness, contempt and hostility towards others, desensitization, and in some cases, . . . complete avoidance of the news.” 15 And they become fatalistic, saying things like “Why should I vote? It’s not gonna help,” or “I could donate money, but there’s just gonna be another kid who’s starving next week.” 16
This “ideological rather than accidental innumeracy” leads writers to notice, for example, that wars take place today and wars took place in the past and to conclude that “nothing has changed”—failing to acknowledge the difference between an era with a handful of wars that collectively kill in the thousands and an era with dozens of wars that collectively killed in the millions.
Experiments have shown that a critic who pans a book is perceived as more competent than a critic who praises it, and the same may be true of critics of society. 27
At least since the time of the Hebrew prophets, who blended their social criticism with forewarnings of disaster, pessimism has been equated with moral seriousness. Journalists
The financial writer Morgan Housel has observed that while pessimists sound like they’re trying to help you, optimists sound like they’re trying to sell you something. 28 Whenever someone offers a solution to a problem, critics will be quick to point out that it is not a panacea, a silver bullet, a magic bullet, or a one-size-fits-all solution; it’s just a Band-Aid or a quick technological fix that fails to get at the root causes and will blow back with side effects and unintended consequences. Of
Trump was the beneficiary of a belief—near universal in American journalism—that “serious news” can essentially be defined as “what’s going wrong.” . . . For decades, journalism’s steady focus on problems and seemingly incurable pathologies was preparing the soil that allowed Trump’s seeds of discontent and despair to take root. . . . One consequence is that many Americans today have difficulty imagining, valuing or even believing in the promise of incremental system change, which leads to a greater appetite for revolutionary, smash-the-machine change. 30
Most people agree that life is better than death. Health is better than sickness. Sustenance is better than hunger. Abundance is better than poverty. Peace is better than war. Safety is better than danger. Freedom is better than tyranny. Equal rights are better than bigotry and discrimination. Literacy is better than illiteracy. Knowledge is better than ignorance. Intelligence is better than dull-wittedness. Happiness is better than misery. Opportunities to enjoy family, friends, culture, and nature are better than drudgery and monotony. All these things can be measured. If they have increased over time, that is progress.
Max Roser’s Our World in Data, Marian Tupy’s HumanProgress, and Hans Rosling’s Gapminder.
In my view the best projection of the outcome of our multicentury war on death is Stein’s Law—“ Things that can’t go on forever don’t”—as amended by Davies’s Corollary—“ Things that can’t go on forever can go on much longer than you think.”
History is written not so much by the victors as by the affluent, the sliver of humanity with the leisure and education to write about it.
“In 1976,” Radelet writes, “Mao single-handedly and dramatically changed the direction of global poverty with one simple act: he died.” 32
For reasons we have seen, market economies can generate wealth prodigiously while totalitarian planned economies impose scarcity, stagnation, and often famine. Market economies, in addition to reaping the benefits of specialization and providing incentives for people to produce things that other people want, solve the problem of coordinating the efforts of hundreds of millions of people by using prices to propagate information about need and availability far and wide, a computational problem that no planner is brilliant enough to solve from a central bureau.
In developing countries, inequality is not dispiriting but heartening: people in the more unequal societies are happier. The authors suggest that whatever envy, status anxiety, or relative deprivation people may feel in poor, unequal countries is swamped by hope. Inequality is seen as a harbinger of opportunity, a sign that education and other routes to upward mobility might pay off for them and their children.
Many studies in psychology have shown that people, including young children, prefer windfalls to be split evenly among participants, even if everyone ends up with less overall. That led some psychologists to posit a syndrome called inequity aversion: an apparent desire to spread the wealth. But in their recent article “Why People Prefer Unequal Societies,” the psychologists Christina Starmans, Mark Sheskin, and Paul Bloom took another look at the studies and found that people prefer unequal distributions, both among fellow participants in the lab and among citizens in their country, as long as they sense that the allocation is fair: that the bonuses go to harder workers, more generous helpers, or even the lucky winners of an impartial lottery.
Narratives about the causes of inequality loom larger in people’s minds than the existence of inequality. That creates an opening for politicians to rouse the rabble by singling out cheaters who take more than their fair share: welfare queens, immigrants, foreign countries, bankers, or the rich, sometimes identified with ethnic minorities.
zero in on solutions to each problem: investment in research and infrastructure to escape economic stagnation, regulation of the finance sector to reduce instability, broader access to education and job training to facilitate economic mobility, electoral transparency and finance reform to eliminate illicit influence, and so on. The influence of money on politics is particularly pernicious because it can distort every government policy, but it’s not the same issue as income inequality. After all, in the absence of electoral reform the richest donors can get the ear of politicians whether they earn 2 percent of national income or 8 percent of it.
Scheidel concludes, “All of us who prize greater economic equality would do well to remember that with the rarest of exceptions it was only ever brought forth in sorrow. Be careful what you wish for.” 28
The explosion in social spending has redefined the mission of government: from warring and policing to also nurturing.
And tellingly, the number of libertarian paradises in the world—developed countries without substantial social spending—is zero. 39 The correlation between social spending and social well-being holds only up to a point: the curve levels off starting at around 25 percent and may even drop off at higher proportions.
In reality social spending is never exactly like insurance but is a combination of insurance, investment, and charity. Its success thus depends on the degree to which the citizens of a country sense they are part of one community, and that fellow feeling can be strained when the beneficiaries are disproportionately immigrants or ethnic minorities. 40 These tensions are inherent to social spending and will always be politically contentious.
Today’s discussions of inequality often compare the present era unfavorably with a golden age of well-paying, dignified, blue-collar jobs that have been made obsolete by automation and globalization. This idyllic image is belied by contemporary depictions of the harshness of working-class life in that era,
Income inequality, in sum, is not a counterexample to human progress, and we are not living in a dystopia of falling incomes that has reversed the centuries-long rise in prosperity.
Inequality is not the same as poverty, and it is not a fundamental dimension of human flourishing.
A second realization of the ecomodernist movement is that industrialization has been good for humanity.
Economists speak of the environmental Kuznets curve, a counterpart to the U-shaped arc for inequality as a function of economic growth. As countries first develop, they prioritize growth over environmental purity. But as they get richer, their thoughts turn to the environment. 9 If people can afford electricity only at the cost of some smog, they’ll live with the smog, but when they can afford both electricity and clean air, they’ll spring for the clean air.
Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel, using data from the World Values Survey, have found that people with stronger emancipative values—tolerance, equality, freedom of thought and speech—which tend to go with affluence and education, are also more likely to recycle and to pressure governments and businesses into protecting the environment. 10
according to the ecologist Stuart Pimm, the overall rate of extinctions has been reduced by 75 percent. 31
Like all demonstrations of progress, reports on the improving state of the environment are often met with a combination of anger and illogic. The fact that many measures of environmental quality are improving does not mean that everything is OK, that the environment got better by itself, or that we can just sit back and relax.
The problem is that carbon emissions are a classic public goods game, also known as a Tragedy of the Commons. People benefit from everyone else’s sacrifices and suffer from their own, so everyone has an incentive to be a free rider and let everyone else make the sacrifice, and everyone suffers.
I agree with Pope Francis and the climate justice warriors that preventing climate change is a moral issue because it has the potential to harm billions, particularly the world’s poor. But morality is different from moralizing, and is often poorly served by it.
The enlightened response to climate change is to figure out how to get the most energy with the least emission of greenhouse gases.
zones of anarchy are always violent. 28 It’s not because everyone wants to prey on everyone else, but because in the absence of a government the threat of violence can be self-inflating. If even a few potential predators lurk in the region or could show up on short notice, people must adopt an aggressive posture to deter them. This deterrent is credible only if they advertise their resolve by retaliating against any affront and avenging any depredation, regardless of the cost. This “Hobbesian trap,” as it is sometimes called, can easily set off cycles of feuding and vendetta: you have to be at least as violent as your adversaries lest you become their doormat.
Here is Eisner’s one-sentence summary of how to halve the homicide rate within three decades: “An effective rule of law, based on legitimate law enforcement, victim protection, swift and fair adjudication, moderate punishment, and humane prisons is critical to sustainable reductions in lethal violence.” 32
While the threat of ever-harsher punishments is both cheap and emotionally satisfying, it’s not particularly effective, because scofflaws just treat them like rare accidents—horrible, yes, but a risk that comes with the job. Punishments that are predictable, even if less draconian, are likelier to be factored into day-to-day choices.
Troublemakers also have narcissistic and sociopathic thought patterns, such as that they are always in the right, that they are entitled to universal deference, that disagreements are personal insults, and that other people have no feelings or interests. Though they cannot be “cured” of these delusions, they can be trained to recognize and counteract them.
Other terrorists belong to militant groups that seek to call attention to their cause, to extort a government to change its policies, to provoke it into an extreme response that might recruit new sympathizers or create a zone of chaos for them to exploit, or to undermine the government by spreading the impression that it cannot protect its own citizens. Before we conclude that they “pose a threat to the existence or survival of the United States,” we should bear in mind how weak the tactic actually is. 15 The historian Yuval Harari notes that terrorism is the opposite of military action, which tries to damage the enemy’s ability to retaliate and prevail.
From their position of weakness, Harari notes, what terrorists seek to accomplish is not damage but theater.
Though terrorists hope for the best, their small-scale violence almost never gets them what they want.
Indeed, the rise of terrorism in public awareness is not a sign of how dangerous the world has become but the opposite.
Harari points out that in the Middle Ages, every sector of society retained a private militia—aristocrats, guilds, towns, even churches and monasteries—and they secured their interests by force:
As modern states have successfully claimed a monopoly on force, driving down the rate of killing within their borders, they opened a niche for terrorism: The state has stressed so many times that it will not tolerate political violence within its borders that it has no alternative but to see any act of terrorism as intolerable. The citizens, for their part, have become used to zero political violence, so the theatre of terror incites in them visceral fears of anarchy, making them feel as if the social order is about to collapse. After centuries of bloody struggles, we have crawled out of the black hole of violence, but we feel that the black hole is still there, patiently waiting to swallow us again. A few gruesome atrocities and we imagine that we are falling back in. 19
As states try to carry out the impossible mandate of protecting their citizens from all political violence everywhere and all the time, they are tempted to respond with theater of their own.
Instead, countries could deal with terrorism by deploying their greatest advantage: knowledge and analysis, not least knowledge of the numbers. The
The media can examine their essential role in the show business of terrorism by calibrating their coverage to the objective dangers and giving more thought to the perverse incentives they have set up. (Lankford, together with the sociologist Erik Madfis, has recommended a policy for rampage shootings of “Don’t Name Them, Don’t Show Them, but Report Everything Else,” based on a policy for juvenile shooters already in effect in Canada and on other strategies of calculated media self-restraint.)
Over the long run, terrorist movements sputter out as their small-scale violence fails to achieve their strategic goals, even as it causes local misery and fear.
Political scientists are repeatedly astonished by the shallowness and incoherence of people’s political beliefs, and by the tenuous connection of their preferences to their votes and to the behavior of their representatives. 21 Most voters are ignorant not just of current policy options but of basic facts, such as what the major branches of government are, who the United States fought in World War II, and which countries have used nuclear weapons. Their opinions flip depending on how a question is worded: they say that the government spends too much on “welfare” but too little on “assistance to the poor,” and that it should “use military force” but not “go to war.” When they do formulate a preference, they commonly vote for a candidate with the opposite one. But it hardly matters, because once in office politicians vote the positions of their party regardless of the opinions of their constituents. Nor does voting even provide much of a feedback signal about a government’s performance. Voters punish incumbents for recent events over which they have dubious control, such as macroeconomic swings and terrorist strikes, or no control at all, such as droughts, floods, even shark attacks.
They use the franchise as a form of self-expression: they vote for candidates who they think are like them and stand for their kind of people.
When an election is a contest between aspiring despots, rival factions fear the worst if the other side wins and try to intimidate each other from the ballot box.
The latest fashion in dictatorship has been called the competitive, electoral, kleptocratic, statist, or patronal authoritarian regime. 22 (Putin’s Russia is the prototype.) The incumbents use the formidable resources of the state to harass the opposition, set up fake opposition parties, use state-controlled media to spread congenial narratives, manipulate electoral rules, tilt voter registration, and jigger the elections themselves. (Patronal authoritarians, for all that, are not invulnerable—the color revolutions sent several of them packing.)
In his 1945 book The Open Society and Its Enemies, the philosopher Karl Popper argued that democracy should be understood not as the answer to the question “Who should rule?” (namely, “The People”), but as a solution to the problem of how to dismiss bad leadership without bloodshed. 23
Democracy, he suggests, is essentially based on giving people the freedom to complain: “It comes about when the people effectively agree not to use violence to replace the leadership, and the leadership leaves them free to try to dislodge it by any other means.”
The contrast between the messy reality of democracy and the civics-class ideal leads to perennial disillusionment.
Reviewing the history, Mueller concludes that “inequality, disagreement, apathy, and ignorance seem to be normal, not abnormal, in a democracy, and to a considerable degree the beauty of the form is that it works despite these qualities—or, in some important respects, because of them.” 26
Its main prerequisite is that a government be competent enough to protect people from anarchic violence so they don’t fall prey to, or even welcome, the first strongman who promises he can do the job.
Ideas matter, too. For democracy to take root, influential people (particularly people with guns) have to think that it is better than alternatives such as theocracy, the divine right of kings, colonial paternalism, the dictatorship of the proletariat (in practice, its “revolutionary vanguard”), or authoritarian rule by a charismatic leader who directly embodies the will of the people.
Conversely, as people recognize that democracies are relatively nice places to live, the idea of democracy can become contagious and the number can increase over time.
The freedom to complain rests on an assurance that the government won’t punish or silence the complainer. The front line in democratization, then, is constraining the government from abusing its monopoly on force to brutalize its uppity citizens.
These red lines are not the same as electoral democracy, since a majority of voters may be indifferent to government brutality as long as it isn’t directed at them. In practice, democratic countries do show greater respect for human rights.
There are five main female characters in this book, and I identify with four of them. Why did I pick up this book again?
Okay, for reals, this was not an easy book for me to read. The plot has five intertwined plots, a single woman who wants a child, an overachieving teen, a wife/mother in a relationship that isn't working, an arctic explorer/scientist, and a hippie / herbalist / off-the-grid non-conformist. Four of them live in costal Oregon, the explorer is the subject of the single woman's biography.
I do not know how this book ended up on my reading list. I suspect because it is a reasonable Handmaid's Tale-like near-future dystopian where Roe vs. Wade is repealed, and an eight-celled blastocyst is considered a full person in the eyes of the law, making even miscarriages suspect under the law, and women are aware that this near-future dystopian is much, much closer than we want to believe.
As far as I'm concerned, abortion can be illegal when we get the equivalent for men, something where they have no control over their own bodies, are shamed by society, forced to live with the consequences of a strongly personal and highly private decision made public decided by someone else, have to risk their lives, and have their bodies destroyed for the rest of their lives. Which is to say, no, abortion should never be illegal because it isn't your decision, it is the carrying woman's and only the woman's decision. The cells are not a person until they can sustain themselves outside of the womb. This book hits nearly every trigger I can imagine when it comes to women being lesser than men.
The single woman teacher who wants a kid. Fuck.
The overachiving high school student with all the same arguments I make. Fuck.
The wife / mother in a relationship that isn't working. Fuck.
The arctic explorer who needs a male peer to publish her work under his name to get it published. Fuck.
The non-confirming weird herbalist character? Didn't particular identify with her. 80% isn't too bad for an author, I'd argue.
Anyway, yes, this book is worth reading. I started it, couldn't put it done, was done with is in a day. Four books in four days, time to read something that'll take me a bit to finish.
The sea does not ask permission or wait for instruction. It doesn’t suffer from not knowing what on earth, exactly, it is meant to do.
These kids, after all, have not been lost yet. Staring up at her, jaws rimmed with baby fat, they are perched on the brink of not giving a shit. They still give a shit, but not, most of them, for long.
Waiting on the hard little plastic chair, under elevator music and fluorescent glare, the biographer takes out her notebook. Everything in this notebook must be in list form, and any list is eligible.
A book of lists. This intrigues me, but not enough to convert my journal to the format.
On the first night, the mender asked what that noise was and learned it was the ocean.
“But when does it stop?”
“Never,” said her aunt. “It’s perpetual, though impermanent.”
And the mender’s mother said, “Pretentious much?”
The hard-sunk eyes the wife once found beguiling are not eyes she would wish upon her daughter. Bex’s will have purplish circles before long.
But who cares what the girl looks like, if she is happy?
The world will care.
She’s one of those people who think they will understand something if they hear its name, when really they will only hear its name.
“Let’s spend the taxpayers’ money to criminalize vulnerable women, shall we?” said Ro/ Miss in class, and somebody said, “But if they’re breaking the law, they are criminals,” and Ro/ Miss said, “Laws aren’t natural phenomena. They have particular and often horrific histories. Ever heard of the Nuremberg Laws? Ever heard of Jim Crow?”
The border control can detain any woman or girl they “reasonably” suspect of crossing into Canada for the purpose of ending a pregnancy. Seekers are returned (by police escort) to their state of residence, where the district attorney can prosecute them for attempting a termination.
Or does the desire come from some creaturely place, pre-civilized, some biological throb that floods her bloodways with the message Make more of yourself! To repeat, not to improve.
Asking why she wants a kid.
Her eighth-grade social-studies class held a mock debate on abortion. The daughter prepared bullet points for the pro-choice team.
Her father proofread her work, as usual; but instead of his usual “This is top-notch!” he sat down beside her, rested a hand on her shoulder, and said he was concerned about the implications of her argument. “What if your bio mother had chosen to terminate?”
“Well, she didn’t, but other people should be able to.”
“Think of all the happy adopted families that wouldn’t exist.”
“But Dad, a lot of women would still give their babies up for adoption.”
“But what about the women who didn’t?”
“Why can’t everyone just decide for themselves?”
“When someone decides to murder a fellow human with a gun, we put them in jail, don’t we?”
“Not if they’re a cop.”
“Think of all the families waiting for a child. Think of me and your mom, how long we waited.”
“An embryo is a living being.”
“So is a dandelion.”
“Well, I can’t imagine the world without you, pigeon, and neither can your mother.”
A hundred miles is too far for an unplanned pinch. She is thirty-seven years old and pines for her mother.
I understand this. Very much.
“Given your age, your FSH levels, and now this diagnosis, the chance of conception via IUI is little to none.”
“But if there’s a chance, at least—”
“By ‘little to none,’ I mean more like ‘none.’”
Taut pain at the back of her mouth. “Oh.”
I understand this. Very much.
This planet may be choking to death, bleeding from every hole, but still she would choose them, every time.
“Your shift now,” she says. “I’m going for a walk.”
“What about lunch?”
“I ate with the kids in town.”
“But I haven’t eaten.”
“I was waiting for you,” he says. “There’s nothing in the house.”
“What am I supposed to have, then?”
The wife starts for the kitchen, then stops. “Actually, it’s not my job to figure out what you’re having for lunch.”
I understand this. Very much.
The nurse has trouble, as usual, finding a vein. “They’re way buried.”
“The one closer to the elbow usually works better—?”
“First let’s see what we can get over here.”
F---ing hate this when it happens. Look, I know my body better than you do, if I say use this other place, use this other place.
... the biographer wrote emails to her representatives. Marched in protests in Salem and Portland. Donated to Planned Parenthood. But she wasn’t all that worried. It had to be political theater, she thought, a flexing of muscle by the conservative-controlled House ...
Because those in power don't listen to the people they represent.
A smart spinster. If the daughter were to say that word in front of Ro/ Miss, she’d get a sermon: What does the word “spinster” do that “bachelor” doesn’t do? Why do they carry different associations? These are language acts, people!
She is too chickenshit to leave her marriage. She wants Didier to leave it first.
Why do some walruses in Washington, DC, who’ve never met the daughter care what she does with the clump? They don’t seem bothered that baby wolves are shot to death from helicopters. Those babies were already breathing on their own, running and sleeping and eating on their own, whereas the clump is not even a baby yet. Couldn’t survive two seconds outside the daughter.
“Tell me what’s going on, Mattie.”
“You’ve never gotten a B minus on a quiz before.”
Apparently my junior high school experience wasn't special, other smart girls had similar ones with grades slipping, too.
I first saw this book at the Getty Villa bookstore, when I didn't buy a bunch of physical books because I didn't want to carry them home, and was intrigued at the opening discussion about how Odysseus' wife Penelope's son told her to shut up when she voiced her opinion about her own future. Did I really read that opening correctly? Had I missed this when I was reading as a kid?
Yuuuuuuuuuup. I read it correctly. Yep, I missed it as a kid.
I picked up this book shortly thereafter from the library and read it quickly, it's a short book, essentially two essays from two lectures Mary Beard had given about women and, uh, power.
More specifically, the way women are seen in public discourse (not favorably) and in power (not favorably). Women have been dealing with being second class citizens for centuries, millennia even, of being told they are property or unfit or less.
Beard shows us the literature, gives us the quotes, demonstrates how over and over again power and the female gender do not go together historically. The concept isn't new, but it is finally, finally coming to the nation's, nay, the world's awareness.
My only gripe with the book is the subtitle, "A Manifesto." A manifesto is "a public declaration of policy and aims, especially one issued before an election by a political party or candidate." This book is a reflection, it gives no guidance or policy or direction from where we have been. I wanted the direction.
I recommend the book, yes, but read it as "this is how it is and was," not "here's a path to change."
Women, in other words, may in extreme circumstances publicly defend their own sectional interests, but not speak for men or the community as a whole.
As we saw with Telemachus, to become a man (or at least an elite man) was to claim the right to speak. Public speech was a – if not the – defining attribute of maleness.
In the words many of us learned at school, she seems positively to avow her own androgyny: I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too –an odd slogan to get young girls to learn. The truth is that she probably never said anything of the sort. There is no script from her hand or that of her speech-writer, no eye-witness account, and the canonical version comes from the letter of an unreliable commentator, with his own axe to grind, written almost forty years later.
A notorious recent case was the silencing of Elizabeth Warren in the US Senate – and her exclusion from the debate – when she attempted to read out a letter by Coretta Scott King.
Few of us, I suspect, know enough about the rules of senatorial debate to know how justified this was, formally. But those rules did not stop Bernie Sanders and other senators (admittedly in her support) reading out exactly the same letter and not being excluded.
Do those words matter? Of course they do, because they underpin an idiom that acts to remove the authority, the force, even the humour from what women have to say.
It is still the case that when listeners hear a female voice, they do not hear a voice that connotes authority; or rather they have not learned how to hear authority in it; they don’t hear muthos.
More interesting is another cultural connection this reveals: that unpopular, controversial or just plain different views when voiced by a woman are taken as indications of her stupidity.
It is not that you disagree, it is that she is stupid: ‘Sorry, love, you just don’t understand.’ I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been called ‘an ignorant moron’.
And I've lost count of the number of times a guy has told a woman she should "read the paper," when she's the one who authored said paper.
How do I get my point heard? How do I get it noticed? How do I get to belong in the discussion? I am sure it is something some men feel too, but if there’s one thing that bonds women of all backgrounds, of all political colours, in all kinds of business and profession, it is the classic experience of the failed intervention; you’re at a meeting, you make a point, then a short silence follows, and after a few awkward seconds some man picks up where he had just left off: ‘What I was saying was …’ You might as well never have opened your mouth, and you end up blaming both yourself and the men whose exclusive club the discussion appears to be.
Why, yes, yes this was my experience at Twitter, thanks to Arnaud, who would routinely tell me no, but yes to the guy who repeated my words immediately after.
The regulation trouser suits, or at least the trousers, worn by so many Western female political leaders, from Angela Merkel to Hillary Clinton, may be convenient and practical; they may be a signal of the refusal to become a clothes horse, which is the fate of so many political wives; but they are also a simple tactic –like lowering the timbre of the voice –to make the female appear more male, to fit the part of power.
Ben Cody once commented to me that I dress very conservatively. I wondered about his comment, have looked at my standard outfit, and realized that, well, yeah, it is remarkably conservative: no hijab, but all of my body is covered with many layers, my clothes are unshaped, and nothing beyond my hands and head are exposed. I'm not sure when I drifted into my uniform, but I know it was a defensive response to cultural pressures I didn't want.
And it was that idea of the divorce between women and power that made Melissa McCarthy’s parodies of the one time White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Saturday Night Live so effective. It was said that these annoyed President Trump more than most satires on his regime, because, according to one of the ‘sources close to him’, ‘he doesn’t like his people to appear weak.’ Decode that, and what it actually means is that he doesn’t like his men to be parodied by and as women. Weakness comes with a female gender.
"Weakness comes with a female gender." We all know Trump is weak, so go McCarthy and her parody!
But Athenian drama in particular, and the Greek imagination more generally, has offered our imaginations a series of unforgettable women: Medea, Clytemnestra and Antigone among many others. They are not, however, role models –far from it. For the most part, they are portrayed as abusers rather than users of power. They take it illegitimately, in a way that leads to chaos, to the fracture of the state, to death and destruction. They are monstrous hybrids, who are not, in the Greek sense, women at all. And the unflinching logic of their stories is that they must be disempowered and put back in their place. In fact, it is the unquestionable mess that women make of power in Greek myth that justifies their exclusion from it in real life, and justifies the rule of men.
Then she’s a virgin, when the raison d’être of the female sex was breeding new citizens.
Athena, warrior god, was portrayed as a man. Gotcha.
We have to be more reflective about what power is, what it is for, and how it is measured.
But I do wonder if, in some places, the presence of large numbers of women in parliament means that parliament is where the power is not.
Those reasons are much more basic: it is flagrantly unjust to keep women out, by whatever unconscious means we do so; and we simply cannot afford to do without women’s expertise, whether it is in technology, the economy or social care.
But this is still treating power as something elite, coupled to public prestige, to the individual charisma of so-called ‘leadership’, and often, though not always, to a degree of celebrity. It is also treating power very narrowly, as an object of possession that only the few – mostly men – can own or wield (that’s exactly what’s summed up by the image of Perseus, brandishing his sword). On those terms, women as a gender – not as some individuals – are by definition excluded from it.
You cannot easily fit women into a structure that is already coded as male; you have to change the structure. That means thinking about power differently. It means decoupling it from public prestige. It means thinking collaboratively, about the power of followers not just of leaders. It means, above all, thinking about power as an attribute or even a verb (‘ to power’), not as a possession.
What I have in mind is the ability to be effective, to make a difference in the world, and the right to be taken seriously, together as much as individually. It is power in that sense that many women feel they don’t have –and that they want. Why the popular resonance of ‘mansplaining’ (despite the intense dislike of the term felt by many men)? It hits home for us because it points straight to what it feels like not to be taken seriously: a bit like when I get lectured on Roman history on Twitter.
If I were starting this book again from scratch, I would find more space to defend women’s right to be wrong, at least occasionally.
I bought this book on a whim while visiting a newly opened journal / papergoods / travel lifestyle shop in Los Angeles a couple weeks back. The book was small, with the blurb, "The Founding Fathers tried to protect us from the threat they knew, the tyranny that overcame ancient democracy. Today, our political order faces new threats, no unlike the totalitarianism of the twentieth century. We are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience." Yes, okay, I'm interested, keep going.
Turns out, the whole book was one big smack upside the head, complete with actionable items to do to help stem the tide of tyranny currently rising in our country. While reading the book, I wanted to highlight every passage, share all of the lessons with everyone, buy a million copies and send them out to everyone I come in contact with in all aspects of life. It is a fast read, 128 pages, so even people who don't read much or fall asleep while reading (read: many of my relatives) can finish it.
The book reminds us that we are not special. Democracy has fallen many times in the last century, and we have the advantage of historical perspective to see what happened. We aren't coming into this blind, we can see what is happening. We can stop it. Others have, we aren't too late.
So, yeah, I strongly recommend this book, it is incredibly worth reading. Let me buy you a copy, ebook or physical, I don't care which. I want you to read this book.
The twenty lessons:
1. Do not obey in advance. Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You've already done this, haven't you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom.
2. Defend an institution. Follow the courts or the media, or a court or a newspaper. Do not speak of "our institutions" unless you are making them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions don't protect themselves. They go down like dominoes unless each is defended from the beginning.
3. Recall professional ethics. When the leaders of state set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become much more important. It is hard to break a rule-of-law state without lawyers, and it is hard to have show trials without judges.
4. When listening to politicians, distinguish certain words. Look out for the expansive use of "terrorism" and "extremism." Be alive to the fatal notions of "exception" and "emergency." Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary.
5. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that all authoritarians at all times either await or plan such events in order to consolidate power. Think of the Reichstag fire. The sudden disaster that requires the end of the balance of power, the end of opposition parties, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Don't fall for it.
6. Be kind to our language. Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying. (Don't use the internet before bed. Charge your gadgets away from your bedroom, and read.) What to read? Perhaps "The Power of the Powerless" by Václav Havel, 1984 by George Orwell, The Captive Mind by Czesław Milosz, The Rebel by Albert Camus, The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt, or Nothing is True and Everything is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev.
7. Stand out. Someone has to. It is easy, in words and deeds, to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something different. But without that unease, there is no freedom. And the moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow.
8. Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.
9. Investigate. Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on your screen is there to harm you. Learn about sites that investigate foreign propaganda pushes.
10. Practice corporeal politics. Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them.
11. Make eye contact and small talk. This is not just polite. It is a way to stay in touch with your surroundings, break down unnecessary social barriers, and come to understand whom you should and should not trust. If we enter a culture of denunciation, you will want to know the psychological landscape of your daily life.
12. Take responsibility for the face of the world. Notice the swastikas and the other signs of hate. Do not look away and do not get used to them. Remove them yourself and set an example for others to do so.
13. Hinder the one-party state. The parties that took over states were once something else. They exploited a historical moment to make political life impossible for their rivals. Vote in local and state elections while you can.
14. Give regularly to good causes, if you can. Pick a charity and set up autopay. Then you will know that you have made a free choice that is supporting civil society helping others doing something good.
15. Establish a private life. Nastier rulers will use what they know about you to push you around. Scrub your computer of malware. Remember that email is skywriting. Consider using alternative forms of the internet, or simply using it less. Have personal exchanges in person. For the same reason, resolve any legal trouble. Authoritarianism works as a blackmail state, looking for the hook on which to hang you. Try not to have too many hooks.
16. Learn from others in other countries. Keep up your friendships abroad, or make new friends abroad. The present difficulties here are an element of a general trend. And no country is going to find a solution by itself. Make sure you and your family have passports.
17. Watch out for the paramilitaries. When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching around with torches and pictures of a Leader, the end is nigh. When the pro-Leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the game is over.
18. Be reflective if you must be armed. If you carry a weapon in public service, God bless you and keep you. But know that evils of the past involved policemen and soldiers finding themselves, one day, doing irregular things. Be ready to say no. (If you do not know what this means, contact the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and ask about training in professional ethics.)
19. Be as courageous as you can. If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die in unfreedom.
20. Be a patriot. The incoming president is not. Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it.
It is your ability to discern facts that makes you an individual, and our collective trust in common knowledge that makes us a society.
Like Hitler, the president used the word lies to mean statements of fact not to his liking, and presented journalism as a campaign against himself.
We are free only insofar as we exercise control over what people know about us, and in what circumstances they come to know it.
Words written in one situation make sense only in that context. The very act of removing them from their historical moment and dropping them in another is an act of falsification.
In the twentieth century, all the major enemies of freedom were hostile to non-governmental organizations, charities, and the like.
Today’s authoritarians (in India, Turkey, Russia) are also highly allergic to the idea of free associations and non-governmental organizations.
To Ukrainians, Americans seemed comically slow to react to the obvious threats of cyberwar and fake news. When Russian propaganda made Ukraine a target in 2013, young Ukrainian journalists and others reacted immediately, decisively, and sometimes humorously with campaigns to expose disinformation.
The most intelligent of the Nazis, the legal theorist Carl Schmitt, explained in clear language the essence of fascist governance. The way to destroy all rules, he explained, was to focus on the idea of the exception. A Nazi leader outmaneuvers his opponents by manufacturing a general conviction that the present moment is exceptional, and then transforming that state of exception into a permanent emergency. Citizens then trade real freedom for fake safety.
People who assure you that you can only gain security at the price of liberty usually want to deny you both.
Similarly, it is none too difficult to imagine choices that increase both freedom and safety, like leaving an abusive relationship or emigrating from a fascist state. It is the government’s job to increase both freedom and security.
When the American president and his national security adviser speak of fighting terrorism alongside Russia, what they are proposing to the American people is terror management: the exploitation of real, dubious, and simulated terror attacks to bring down democracy.
Courage does not mean not fearing, or not grieving. It does mean recognizing and resisting terror management right away, from the moment of the attack, precisely when it seems most difficult to do so.
A patriot, by contrast, wants the nation to live up to its ideals, which means asking us to be our best selves.
A nationalist will say that “it can’t happen here,” which is the first step toward disaster. A patriot says that it could happen here, but that we will stop it.
The acceptance of inevitability stilted the way we talked about politics in the twenty-first century. It stifled policy debate and tended to generate party systems where one political party defended the status quo, while the other proposed total negation. We
Eerily, when judges said that a parliamentary vote was required for Brexit, a British tabloid called them “enemies of the people”—a Stalinist term from the show trials of the 1930s.
In his 2016 campaign, the American president used the slogan “America First,” which is the name of a committee that sought to prevent the United States from opposing Nazi Germany.
The habit of dwelling on victimhood dulls the impulse of self-correction. Since the nation is defined by its inherent virtue rather than by its future potential, politics becomes a discussion of good and evil rather than a discussion of possible solutions to real problems.
itself. History allows us to see patterns and make judgments. It sketches for us the structures within which we can seek freedom.
History permits us to be responsible: not for everything, but for something.
One thing is certain: If young people do not begin to make history, politicians of eternity and inevitability will destroy it.
This is book 2 of the Peter Grant series.
Okay, yes, so my reading list contains a whole bunch of non-fiction books, to balance out the copious fiction I've been reading as of late. Except that I enjoyed Midnight Riot so much, that I ignored my entire reading list, expecting I could squeeze this book in before the next book on my list becomes due in 12 days. And hey, I managed it!
As I enjoyed the last Peter Grant book, I also enjoyed this Peter Grant book. The humour flavor isn't quite Dresden, clearly my reading yardstick for urban fantasy, but Aaronovitch still does the Talking To The Camera / Breaking The Fourth Wall style really well. The humour is drier than Dresden, but still great.
What I am particularly enjoying with the Grant series so far, other than the world building, the magic rules, Grant's scientific inquiry instead of mere acceptance of magic, and the dry wit, are the history lessons. Aaronovitch drops names and events into casual conversation and I'm left wondering, "Wait, what?" Off to Wikipedia I go, and, oh, there's the Great Stink, Tacitus, the sons of Mūsā ibn Shākir, and the Thief-Taker General Jonathan Wild. History lessons dropped into casual conversations that are completely fascinating!
I'm pretty sure once I finish the current 10 book reading list I have to clear the library holds I currently have, I'm going to rip through the next 5 Peter Grant books. Totally enjoying them, strongly recommended so far for fans of urban fantasy.
I knew all this because I’d been reading the Annals of Tacitus as part of my Latin training. He’s surprisingly sympathetic to the revolting Brits and scathing about the unpreparedness of the Roman generals who thought more of what was agreeable than expedient.
Yeah. People. In war.
Whatever you see, he’d said, take as long a look as you need to get used to it, to accept it, and then move on as if nothing has changed.
EVERY HOSPITAL I’ve ever been to has had the same smell, that whiff of disinfectant, vomit, and mortality.
“Do I have a signature?” I asked.
“Yes,” said Nightingale. “When you practice, things have an alarming tendency to catch fire.”
The sons of Mūsā ibn Shākir were bright and bold and if they hadn’t been Muslims would have probably gone on to be the patron saints of techno-geeks. They’re famous for their ninth-century Baghdad bestseller, a compendium of ingenious mechanical devices that they imaginatively titled Kitab al-Hiyal—The Book of Ingenious Devices.
This is one I looked up. Fascinating!
And what do Nightingale and I have to measure vestigia with?
When I read books, I listen to the audiobook when I'm out and about (usually walking) or doing errands or chores (raking leaves, washing dishes, etc.). I much prefer to read the words than to listen to the words, but when a story is engrossing, I want to keep going.
I happened to be listening to the book as I was reading it, and, oh, there are significant differences between the British and Amercian versions of the book. The ebook American version has "Nightingale and I," whereas the British audiobook has "me and Nightingale."
I have to say the "me and _______" form drives me nuts. It is an emerging speech pattern that makes me want to go all grammarian on people's asses when they use it. New pet peeve, I guess.
In 1986 Courtney Pine released Journey to the Urge Within and suddenly jazz was back in fashion and with it came my dad’s third and last brush with fame and fortune.
Well, I guess I have a new album to consume now.
My dad always said that a trumpet player likes to aim his weapon at the audience, but a sax man likes to cut a good profile and that he always has a favorite side. It being an article of faith with my dad that you don’t even pick up a reed instrument unless you’re vain about the shape your face makes when you’re blowing down it.
I’ve never been what you’d call a strong swimmer but if the alternative is being a statistic it’s amazing what you can pull out of the reserves.
People don’t like to speak ill of the dead even when they’re monsters, let alone when they’re loved ones. People like to forget any bad things that someone did and why should they remember? It’s not like they’re going to do it again.
The central atrium at the Trocadero Centre is four stories high with an open basement that added another story to the fall. The space is crisscrossed at random intervals by escalators, presumably because the architects felt that disorientation and an inability to find the toilets were integral parts of the shopping experience.
Cracked me up.
“What made you think Ty would tell you?” asked Nightingale.
“She couldn’t help herself,” I said. “First law of gossip—there’s no point knowing something if somebody else doesn’t know you know it.
You don’t experience a bomb blast so much as remember it afterward. It’s like a bad edit or a record jumping a groove. On one side of the moment there is music and laughter and romance and on the other—not pain, that comes later, but a stunned incomprehension.
It’s weird watching an elderly parent when he’s half naked. You find yourself staring in fascination at the slack skin, the wrinkles, and the liver spots, and thinking—one day all that will be yours.
I grabbed her wrist and twisted her knife hand up and away. The rule for fighting a person with a knife is to start off by making it point away from you and then ensure that it hurts too much to hold on to.
Whatever you’ve been told, seeing is not believing. Your brain does a great deal of interpretation before it deigns to let your consciousness know what the hell is going on. If we’re suddenly exposed to something unfamiliar, a damaged human face, a car flying through the air toward us, something that looks almost but not quite human, it can take time, sometimes even seconds, for our minds to react.
This is an example of the fourth wall explanation thingy that I enjoy.
It’s no fun looking down on people if you can’t let them know you’re above them.
I’d been working on loosening the chimney stack with what I call impello vibrato, but Nightingale called will you stop messing about and pay attention, while Faceless had been chatting.
For a terrifying moment I thought he was going to hug me, but fortunately we both remembered we were English just in time. Still, it was a close call.
You do this because it is your job, because it’s necessary, and because, if you’re honest, you love it. Repeat this process until the bad dreams stop or you just get used to them—whichever comes first.
This is book 1 of the Peter Grant series. Finally, a wizard who isn't named Harry. No, wait. Finally a wizard series not in Chicago. No, wait. I give up, it's a wizard in London, not Potter, not Verus, not Harry, but loads of fun, and I am wonderfully delighted to find another modern-day, urban-fantasy, adult wizard series. This book was recommended on micro.blog, as the Rivers of London, which is the English title of this book. I thought, "Eh? Adult wizard not named Harry? Sign me up!"
I enjoyed this book enough to immediately check out book two from the library. I was planning on reading a few other books before reading the second one, but enjoyed this one enough to skip over the carefully curated to-be-read pile and read that one, too.
Right, so, this book.
Peter Grant is a a sucky cop in London. He happens to have a whiff of wizardly talent, which makes him qualified for an apprencticeship in the supernatural branch of the London police. He rather sucks at being a detective, missing a lot of details around him and being generally oblivious to much around him, but seems to do okay as a cop, with his size and such. His partner, a woman, however, is a fine detective, but has to work twice as hard to be seen as half as good.
Anyway, Grant has a bit of wizarding in him, and is recruited, with his training actually being difficult. Imagine that, wizarding powers that take some effort and a lot of hard work, over the course of weeks and months and years, to build up. IMAGINE THAT.
I like Grant's science bent, too. "Well, that's nice, but HOW?"
I'm glad there are seven books (so far!) in the series. It's going to be difficult not to read through all of them in one sitting.
This is why you have procedure, training and drill, so that you do things when your brain is too shocked to think for itself—ask any soldier.
The window over the stairs had had sheets of black construction paper crudely taped over to block the sunlight.
Nightingale said that everything was true, after a fashion, and that had to include vampires, didn’t it? I doubted they were anything like they were in books and TV, and one thing for certain, they absolutely weren’t going to sparkle in the sunlight.
Cracking up here.
Despite what you think you know, most people don’t want to fight, especially when evenly matched. A mob will tear an individual to pieces and a man with a gun and a noble cause is happy to kill ever so many women and children, but risking a fair fight—not so easy.
That’s why you see those pissed young men doing the dance of “don’t hold me back” while desperately hoping someone likes them enough to hold them back. Everyone is always so pleased to see the police arrive, because we have to save them whether we like them or not.
Magic, as Nightingale understood it, was generated by life. A wizard could draw on his own magic or on magic that he’d stored by enchantment, which sounded interesting but not relevant to exploding cash tills. However, life protected itself, and the more complex it was, the more magic it produced, but the harder it was to draw off. “It’s impossible to draw on magic from another human being,” said Nightingale. “Or even a dog, for that matter.”
Even at closing time, Covent Garden was packed; the post-performance crowd was emerging from the Royal Opera House and looking for somewhere to have a bite to eat and a pose, while clusters of young people on school-sponsored holidays from all over Europe exercised their time-honored right to block the pavement from one side to the other.
My dad had once told me that the secret to a happy life was never to start something with a girl unless you were willing to follow wherever it leads.
Sometimes when someone tells you not to go somewhere, it’s better not to go there.
The tube is a good place for this sort of conceptual breakthrough because, unless you’ve got something to read, there’s bugger all else to do.
Nightingale’s breath started to falter.
“Keep breathing,” I said. “It’s a habit you don’t want to break.”
The trouble with the old boy network is you can never be really sure whether it’s switched on or not and whether it’s operating in your interest or some other old boy’s.
Sometimes you have to stand still and take the first blow, that way you see what the other man has in his hand, expose his intentions and, if that sort of thing is important to you, put yourself unequivocally on the right side of the law. And if the blow is so heavy that it puts you down? That’s just the risk you have to take.
“How fast can you move something?” said Seawoll.
“Not as fast as a bullet,” I said.
“Really,” said Stephanopoulos. “How fast is that?”
“Three hundred and fifty meters per second,” I said. “For a modern pistol. Higher for a rifle.”
“What’s that in old money?” said Seawoll.
“I don’t know,” I said. “But if you lend me a calculator I can work it out.”
I looked at Seawoll and he gave me the “at last he wakes up” look so beloved of teachers, senior detectives and upper-middle-class mothers.
There we continued the time-honored tradition of brazenly lying through our teeth while telling nothing but the truth.
“The Fire Brigade are sailors?”
“Not now,” she said. “But in the old days, when they were looking for disciplined guys who knew about water, ropes, ladders and didn’t freak out at altitude. On the other hand, you had a lot of sailors looking for a nice steady career on dry land—marriage made in heaven.”
“Still, Neptune,” I said. “Roman god of the sea?”
Beverley laid her head on my shoulder. Her hair was wet, but I wasn’t complaining. “Sailors are superstitious,” she said. “Even the religious ones know you got to have a little respect for the King of the Deeps.”
“It’s not that I’m scared of commitment,” I said to the ceiling. “It’s just that I want to know what I’m committing to first.”
“Was that part of the deal?” I asked.
“Apparently so,” said Dad. “Your mum thought it was, when I told her. She said that only a fool expects to get something for nothing.” That sounded like Mum, whose principal saying was, “If it doesn’t cost something it isn’t worth anything.” Actually her principal saying was, at least to me, “Don’t think you’ve got so big that I can’t still beat you.” Not that she ever beat me, a deficiency that she later blamed for my failure to pass my A-levels.
“I don’t want to go,” said Henry Pyke.
“You must,” I said. “That’s the mark of true greatness in an actor—knowing, down to the precise moment, when to make his exit.”
“How wise of you, Peter,” said Henry Pyke. “That is the true mark of genius, to give oneself to one’s public, but to retain that private side, that secret space, that unknowable …”
“To leave them wanting more,” I said trying to keep the desperation out of my voice.
“Yes,” said Henry Pyke. “To leave them wanting more.”
Okay, with my renewed interest in many things Caltech, I learned about this book when I was looking at some Wikipedia page that referenced popular culture that included something about Caltech. I'll admit I knew about the big ones, Real Genius and the TV show Numb3rs. Books, however, I knew less so, with the exception of Contact.
This one was a new one for me, and, oh boy, am I glad I picked it up. I've enjoyed Sanford
You can tell the Sanford parts reading Saturn Run, said definitely shows through. The characters in Saturn Run have a similar flavor. That the book starts at Tech doesn't hurt, either.
Basic premise: fluffy pretty-boy Caltech grad student is the first to spot a decelerating object near Saturn, and (because objects don't decelerate naturally in space), all hell^H^H^H^Hconspiracy theories break loose. Pretty much the US and China do a mad dash to Saturn to see what the hell this thing is. If not for the space race going on, we'd get there in a unified fashion, but, well, people.
The science in the book is lots of fun, and, much like The Martian, believable (which, I gather in the point, Ctein being Sanford's science guy). If you're not a fan of the science stuff, the long winded technical parts might suck for you. I thoroughly enjoyed them, and strongly recommend this book to my geeky friends who want a fun read. Non-geeky friends, read fast through those part maybe?
If you do read the book, note how quickly you discover that the fluffy guy really isn't so fluffy. Fun stuff.
The other thing is, I looked at his VA psych files, and I suspect Darlington does want something. Desperately. And we can give it to him.”
“He wants something to do,” Crow said. “Something serious.”
Every smart person does.
“I’m really not interested in killing anybody,” Sandy said. He took a hit of Dos Equis. “Not anymore.”
“If you got to the point where you had to kill someone, you’d most likely be saving the whole crew, as well as your own ass,” Crow said.
Sandy said, “Okay. That, I could do.”
Becca was annoyed with herself. She was about to take a trip that maybe one person in a million got to make, that every techie dreamed of, and she couldn’t stop thinking about heat flow integrals.
One in a million would be over 7000 people. More like 100 million?
“Hold on a sec.” Howardson was reading through his logs. “I’m looking at the simulation optimization you requested six months back. It’s the right answer—it gets you there fastest, which is what you asked for. You wanted the fastest trip because it reduces the expenditure of life-support supplies.”
“But now you’ve changed the question. Implicitly, anyway. You don’t want to get there fastest, you want to get there soonest. Right?”
Crow interjected, “What’s the difference?”
“You may not feel that way in a minute. I’ve got news you’re not gonna like.”
“Santeros scrubbed the mission?”
“That’d make life simpler, not harder. She’s advanced the launch date by five months. You’ve got nine months to get ready.”
Becca responded, and when she ran out of breath, Vintner asked cheerfully, “All done? ’Cause, you know, you were repeating yourself there at the end. I think you said ‘bitch’ at least four times and ‘motherfucker’ five or six.”
Cracked me up.
Becca fidgeted. Buying into a schedule she didn’t believe in was a plausible path to professional suicide. On the other hand, quitting in midstream would also trash her reputation. Game theory, she thought. If I quit now, I keep my professional integrity and it’s a sure loss. If I stick it out, there’s a chance I might be able to pull it off and no one will know that I was blowing smoke. A guaranteed loss vs. a possible win.
Time to blow smoke!
The news links now had countdown clocks on their screens, and England’s Daily Mail announced a new construction disaster at the top of every cycle, along with rumors of zero-gravity orgies, secret contacts with the aliens (with photographs of Santeros talking with a meter-tall large-eyed silvery alien in the Oval Office), and rumors that the whole trip was a fraud by the Americans and Chinese, just as all twenty moon landings had been.
Based on empirical evidence, what would actually happen.
“Nothing. I’ve been up here for weeks, never a thought about it—the separation. Now I’m thinking about it.” She pushed an egg around her plate, nibbled at a piece of toast.
“Well, stop thinking about it.”
“Not always that easy.” She looked past him, at the shrinking Earth out the window, and at the altitude display, which was steadily clicking off kilometers like a second hand, each clock-tick marking their increasing separation from home.
“No, but you’ll get used to it,” Clover said.
Clover sighed and smiled at Sandy. “On our way. Thank God. Life gets easier when there aren’t any choices, you know what I mean?”
As they headed for the showers, Sandy said to Crow, “He kicked your ass. A pencil-necked shrink. A fuckin’ violinist. A snowflake. A delicate little flower . . .”
“In sports, the rules define outcomes,” Crow said. “He won because I wasn’t allowed to bite his nose off, knee him in the balls, or gouge his eyes out.”
“There’s gotta be some rules,” Sandy said.
“Really? I hadn’t heard that.”
Only the criminally stupid or naïve assumed the “other side” was less clever. And who would that be in this case?
Designing commercial power plant cooling systems meant dealing with company executives who felt the laws of engineering and even physics ought to be bent to improve the fiscal bottom line.
And time. Time needs to be bent, too.
“Nah. The fact is, I don’t have music in my head,” Becca said. “If you don’t have music in your head, you can’t really play—all you can do is reproduce what’s on the page. No fun in that.”
But she couldn’t let go of that structure. She’d seen him drawing, freehand, different concepts for guitars that he was manufacturing with Martinez, and asked him to teach her a little drawing. As it turned out, she could draw neither a straight line nor an accurate curved one. She insisted on drawing what she knew, rather than what she saw, a tendency not easily curable.
“Sandy...” She paused for a moment, organizing her thoughts before responding. “I have to be. You are a rich, handsome, privileged, white guy. You get to play on the easy level. If you gave a crap, people would take you seriously, automatically, because guys like you get that as a freebie. I’m a short, blond woman who was raised Minnesota Nice, plus I have a cute face and I’m fat! How seriously do you think I’d get taken in the world if I didn’t regularly throw it in their faces?”
Sandy’s gaze was fixed on her; it was a little unnerving when he focused like that. “But wouldn’t people like you better if you weren’t quite so, um...” He fumbled for a word.
Becca interrupted him. “What? Assertive? Aggressive? Pushy? Do you really think people will pay more attention to my technical advice, my expertise, if it comes from a nice Minnesota girl? Really?”
“Didn’t do the drugs,” Crow said. “I wanted to feel it. I think if anything like that ever happened again, I’d do the drugs.”
“Which is why I’m sitting here watching this moronic vid with a smile on my face,” Sandy said. “They got good drugs now, man. You’re still all fucked up, but it doesn’t hurt as much.”
The idea of drugs to help you get through the pain of grief while it is overwhelming, until it settles into a bearable dull ache? Fuck, sign me up for that.
The helmsman began to sob. It was not professional. Zhang found it entirely understandable.
“Ma’am, we need to do more than plan for ship security. We also need to plan for what we’d do if security fails and the Chinese manage to take over the ship. That might be a small possibility, but we have to consider it.”
“What happens is, your brain gets stuck in a feedback loop. Why did this happen? Is there something wrong with me that it keeps happening—first in the Tri-Border, and now here? What could I have done? What could I have said to her that I didn’t? You get these flashbacks and every time you flash back, the loop intensifies. The meds break the loop and smooth out the thought processes, and eventually time starts to erode the power of the flashbacks."
Again, sign me up.
“You’ve been thinking about this.”
“My history in the Tri-Border: trust no one, everything breaks, nothing works as advertised, and if anything can go wrong, it will.”
“And you’re so young.”
“But getting older by the minute,” Sandy said.
The level of failure that he felt, the deep melancholy, that was something he could barely endure. Every morning he woke from fitful sleep into a worse nightmare. He’d done his best to be a good commander, to make the right decisions, but all he could say of himself was that his very best had only been enough to keep a near-total disaster from being total.
Margaret Atwood is ON FIRE as of late, what with Handmaid's Tale being made into a Netflix something or other. I recall reading Handmaid's Tale when I was working in a bookstore in high school, the book having been handed to me by my boss (who was a woman, yes). When I said, "It was okay," thereby indicating that I didn't understand the true lesson to be learned, she commented that I would understand later. She was right, and I wish I could find her and thank her for trying to explain to me just how much we were / are considered second class, just because of our power to create life.
Atwood. This book.
The premise is that the world has descended into an economic depression that took out the east half of the United States far worse than the left half. Given only crappy jobs are available, and those provide barely enough to sustain our protagonists, when an opportunity to live in a walled off city where half the time you are a normal person with a good job, and the other half of the time you are a slave (prisoner, what-have-you) but both times you have food to eat so it's okay, the not-really-that-smart-woman half of the protagonist couple says yes!
Understandable to crave security in an uncertain world. Less understandable to give up complete autonomy (read: freedom) to get it.
Lest one think this is the serpent tormenting the first-sin woman, the male protagonist went along with the whole plan.
Aaaaaand it turns out to be a series of twists and turns and misinterpretations and intrigue and holy sh-t she was okay doing what, and he did what's it now?
I kept waiting for the next plot twist, for the person who was an agent to be a double agent or a triple agent, but apparently I've been reading too many mystery books lately (Narrator: she hasn't been reading mystery books, she just doesn't trust anyone these days).
A couple of times I wanted to reach through the pages and slap the female protagonist, so there's that for being invested in a book.
If you're a fan of dystopian futures or Atwood, though the latter implies the former, definitely read this book.
If you want a good book club book to read about the direction our society seems to be going, have at it, this is also a good one.
She could watch the nearest flatscreen, where a baseball replay is going on, but she isn’t much interested in sports; she doesn’t see why a bunch of men chasing each other around a field and trying to hit a ball and then hugging and patting butts and jumping up and down and yelling can get people so worked up.
“Hello,” she says. “Isn’t it a lovely day? Look at all that sunshine! Who could be down on a day like today? Nothing bad is going to happen to you.”
This is true: from all she’s observed, the experience appears to be an ecstatic one. The bad part happens to her, because she’s the one who has to worry about whether what she’s doing is right. It’s a big responsibility, and worse because she isn’t supposed to tell anyone what she’s actually doing, not even Stan.
She’d have to slide the needle in while Stan was asleep, so he’d be denied a beatific exit. Which would be unfair. But there’s a downside to everything. What would she do with the body? That would be a problem.
Okay, this is an element of the female protagonist that mortified me, that not only was murder a serious thought, but that casual murder was even remotely contemplated.
How dare she show herself to be everything he was so annoyed with her for not being?
At those moments she’d say anything. What he doesn’t know is that in a way it’s always both at once: whichever one she’s with, the other one is there with her as well, invisible, partaking, though at an unconscious level.
The hedge doesn’t need trimming – it’s the first of January, it’s winter, despite the lack of snow – but he finds the activity calming for the same reasons nail biting is calming: it’s repetitive, it imitates meaningful activity, and it’s violent.
But crankiness leads to bad outcomes, if you don’t have any power to back up your crankiness. People blow you off, or else they get even crankier than you.
No, because the contract is for life. That’s what they were all told before they signed. But – this is a new thought for Charmaine, and it’s not a nice one – there were no guarantees about how long that life might last.
She should have run out of the room the first minute she laid eyes on him. She’s been such a pushover. And now she’s all alone.
He hadn’t recognized it when they’d been living together – he’d underestimated her shadow side, which was mistake number one, because everyone has a shadow side, even fluffpots like her.
Muck-raking journalists trying to worm their way in, to get evidence… to get pictures and other material that they can distort for so-called exposés, in order to turn the outside world against everything the Positron Project stands for. These shady so-called reporters aim to undermine the foundations of returning prosperity and to chip away at trust, that trust without which no society can function in a stable manner.
Erosion of institutions leads to tyranny.
How to explain the wish of such people to sabotage such an excellent venture? Except by saying they are maladjusted misfits who claim to be acting as they do in the interests of so-called press freedom, and in order to restore so-called human rights, and under the pretense that transparency is a virtue and the people need to know.
He himself has fucked his life up, but for the other people in here – anyone he knows, at least – this place beats the hell out of what they had before.
“What was he talking about?” says another.
“What sounds? I didn’t hear anything.”
“We don’t need to know,” says a third.
“When people talk like that, it means don’t even listen, is what they mean.”
But she’ll refuse to think about that, because you make your own reality out of your attitude, and if she thinks about it happening, then it will.
Though why shouldn’t a person have both? says the voice in her head. I’m making an effort here, she answers. So shut up.
I should have worked out more, he thinks. I should have done everything more. I should have cut loose from… from what? Looking back on his life, he sees himself spread out on the earth like a giant covered in tiny threads that have held him down. Tiny threads of petty cares and small concerns, and fears he took seriously at the time. Debts, timetables, the need for money, the longing for comfort; the earworm of sex, repeating itself over and over like a neural feedback loop. He’s been the puppet of his own constricted desires.
The mere thought of her, and of the house he once found so boring, makes him feel weepy. But he can’t rewind anything. He’s stuck in the present.
Sex in the movies used to be so much more sexy than it became after you could actually have sex in the movies. It was languorous and melting, with sighing and surrender and half-closed eyes. Not just a lot of bouncy athletics.
Not flavourful but not awful. Something you didn’t want that had to be accepted because of something you did want.
Oddly, he does look something like Elvis. Is that all we are? he thinks. Unmistakable clothing, a hairstyle, a few exaggerated features, a gesture?
Consilience takes a dim view of drunks because they aren’t productive and they develop medical problems, and why should everyone pay because one individual has no self-control?
This is, unfortunately, a common attitude today. Addiction is very often not about self-control.
Because there’s always two sides, at least two sides. Some say those who got their organs harvested and may subsequently have been converted into chicken feed were criminals anyway, and they should have been gassed, and this was a real way for them to pay their debt to society and make reparation for the harm they’d caused, and anyway it wasn’t as wasteful as just throwing them out once dead.
Does loving Stan really count if she can’t help it? Is it right that the happiness of her married life should be due not to any special efforts on her part but to a brain operation she didn’t even agree to have? No, it doesn’t seem right. But it feels right. That’s what she can’t get over –how right it feels.
If you do bad things for reasons you’ve been told are good, does it make you a bad person?
“Nothing is ever settled,” says Jocelyn. “Every day is different. Isn’t it better to do something because you’ve decided to? Rather than because you have to?”
“No, it isn’t,” says Charmaine. “Love isn’t like that. With love, you can’t stop yourself.” She wants the helplessness, she wants…
“You prefer compulsion? Gun to the head, so to speak?” says Jocelyn, smiling. “You want your decisions taken away from you so you won’t be responsible for your own actions? That can be seductive, as you know.”
This is a cute book.
It showed up on a number of recommended books lists, mostly in young adult fiction. After reading Love in the Time of Cholera, I wanted a quick read, and this one was (read it in one sitting). It was also fun.
Instead of the usual trope of "boy meets girl," we have the premise of "boy wants to meet girl, is too shy to do so," which Kelly writes delightfully well. While there are moments of bullying in the book (and, yes, the scenes frustrated me, as all power abuse situations annoy me), and the ending is a bit tidy, the book is a children's book, so we can both forgive and appreciate these quirks.
The book won the 2018 Newbery Medal (perhaps another reason I added it to the reading pile), so clearly I am far far far from the only one who enjoyed this book and recommend it.
“How come so many of your stories have boys getting eaten by stuff, like rocks or crocodiles?”
“Not all of them are about boys getting eaten. Sometimes it’s girls.”
I only pray at night, because it’s my least favorite time of day. Everything is still and dark, and I have too much time to think.
“Do you believe in fate?” Lola sat back.
“Oh, yes,” she said. “Certainly I do.”
“So you believe things happen for a reason?”
“Ay sus. Don’t talk with your mouth full. And yes, I do. I think good things happen for a reason. And bad things, too.”
Virgil swallowed. “Why do you always bring up the bad things?”
“If you didn’t have bad things, you wouldn’t have good things. They would all just be things. Did you ever think about that?”
Gen sat down with her legs stretched in front of her and grabbed her toes. She’d always been a wiggly girl.
This book has been on my reading list for a while now. I thought it was older than it is, having been published in 1985, in English in 1988. When I think about it, I am not surprised this book is in my awareness, as it was popular when I was working in bookstores. 100 Years of Solitude is also on my list, also by Gabriel García Márquez, which goes to show you that, like The Beautiful and Damned, I keep reading the other book, instead of the one actually on my reading list.
This book is a love story. Sorta. It's also a book about growing old.
It is a love story that tells you that love sucks when it is an intense longing that lasts. It is a love story that tells you that love is beautiful and enduring when it is a reciprocated one that lasts. It is a love story that considers love as a disease, something to endure and recover from. So many different ways to view love.
The book was a slow read for me, which means either I was deeply invested into the characters, or the book had a lot of words (or both). Translators affect how readable a book is (the translation for Inkheart, for example, spoils the beauty of the book), which is why I'm unsure if the translation affected my reading speed also.
What I liked most about the book, however, was the flawed characters. Fiction books are made up, and in that making up, authors can create lovable if flawed characters who still Do Something Impressive™. In this book, we have Fermina Daza, the woman who fell in love with the idea of Florentino Ariza, but realizes said love is actually a fantasy. So, yes, wow, the recognition of love as a passion that often has no basis in reality, go Fermina.
Yet, okay, Fermina is quick to anger, blames others even she is at fault, and is written as a mercurial person. Her husband, Juvenal Urbino, recognizes all of this and balances his world, changes his reactions, to accomodate her personality. Isn't this what we do for our loved ones? How long relationships last when we find the person whose quirks we can live with, accept the other person as who they are, and adapt without losing ourselves.
Or maybe more of our stories are fiction than we realize.
I enjoyed the book. It's a classic, so "of course" it's worth reading, if only for the beautiful imagery. I'd hand it to a friend who is asking for a slow, languid love story to read over the course of a couple weeks. Or for a literature course where you need 18 different interpretations to discuss to make the class interesting.
Internet attacks are incredibly common. Mob mentality and outrage du jour are so frequent they seem normal. They are not. They are not normal, they are not okay, they are not acceptable.
They occur with incredible frequency because we like to misinterpret, we like to take sides, we like to be outraged at someone else instead of doing the hard work of improving ourselves.
I often wonder what on this site is going to come back to bite me. Which post of mine is going to be taken out of context and held up for public scrutiny? Will it be the time I made a TSA agent cry, because that one received a number of "you shouldn't have been sexually assaulted by your government, what did you do wrong?" comments that, well, I chose not to publish, because ground rules. Maybe it'll be the part about Chris and Dana and their beliefs that gay people are second class citizens, oh, boy that incident was fun, where I was told to shut up about repeating what they said.
Regardless, it'll happen, I'm sure of it. Wouldn't it be a good thing to consider what I'll do when it happens? I think so, so I picked up this book to read.
The first part of the book had me wondering why I figured this would be a good book to read on the subject. It started out with, "Hey, look, here's what happened to me, the author," and went into something like, "huh, public shaming, it's a thing." And then I learned the story of Jonah Lehrer, which I headn't really paid much attention to at the time of its occurance. I could argue my life is better for not having been aware of Lehrer at the time, but I will admit I grew tired of the Twitter Outrage Of The Day™ many, many years ago.
I kept reading, however, as I do, and the book became interesting. It became relevant. It provided story after story of how internet public shaming is far, far worse than the public shaming of yester-century, and how incredibly damaging shame is.
So, how does one survive public shaming?
Turns out, the way to endure and survive public shaming is not to be shamed. Which cracks me up, because so many older people are outraged (OUTRAGED) and how shameless (SHAMELESS!) young folk seem to be. Perhaps there's a cause and effect there.
This book, along with Daring Greatly, goes a long way to providing a game plan for surviving public shame. I truly hope I never have to care, but, well, the Internet. It's a matter of when, not if.
I recommend this book, it's worth a read.
We were at the start of a great renaissance of public shaming. After a lull of almost 180 years (public punishments were phased out in 1837 in the United Kingdom and in 1839 in the United States), it was back in a big way.
“Bad liars always think they’re good at it,” Michael said to me. “They’re always confident they’re defeating you.”
When I finished the story, he said, “It’s about the terror, isn’t it?”
“The terror of what?” I said.
“The terror of being found out,” he said. He looked as if he felt he were taking a risk even mentioning to me the existence of the terror. He meant that we all have ticking away within us something we fear will badly harm our reputation if it got out—some “I’m glad I’m not that” at the end of an “I’m glad I’m not me.”
I think he was right. Maybe our secret is actually nothing horrendous. Maybe nobody would even consider it a big deal if it was exposed. But we can’t take that risk. So we keep it buried.
Maybe it’s a work impropriety. Or maybe it’s just a feeling that at any moment we’ll blurt something out during some important meeting that’ll prove to everyone that we aren’t proper professional people or, in fact, functional human beings. I think that even in these days of significant oversharing we keep this particular terror concealed, like people used to with things like masturbation before everyone suddenly got blasé about it online. With masturbation, nobody cares. Whereas our reputation—it’s everything.
"But at the time I didn’t think it was wrong. If I’d thought it was wrong, I would have taken some trouble to hide my tracks.”
There must have been among her shamers a lot of people who chose to willfully misunderstand it for some reason.
I think this is a key attribute of today's society. We choose to willfully miscontrue what other people are saying, like it's a game to show someone where they are wrong and you get points each time you twist the truth into bullshit.
I think our natural disposition as humans is to plod along until we get old and stop. But with social media, we’ve created a stage for constant artificial high drama. Every day a new person emerges as a magnificent hero or a sickening villain. It’s all very sweeping, and not the way we actually are as people.
I suppose it’s no surprise that we feel the need to dehumanize the people we hurt — before, during, or after the hurting occurs. But it always comes as a surprise.
In psychology it’s known as cognitive dissonance. It’s the idea that it feels stressful and painful for us to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time (like the idea that we’re kind people and the idea that we’ve just destroyed someone). And so to ease the pain we create illusory ways to justify our contradictory behavior.
Ted Poe’s punishments were sometimes zany — ordering petty criminals to shovel manure, etc. — and sometimes as ingenious as a Goya painting. Like the one he handed down to a Houston teenager, Mike Hubacek.
In 1996, Hubacek had been driving drunk at one hundred miles per hour with no headlights. He crashed into a van carrying a married couple and their nanny. The husband and the nanny were killed.
Poe sentenced Hubacek to 110 days of boot camp, and to carry a sign once a month for ten years in front of high schools and bars that read I KILLED TWO PEOPLE WHILE DRIVING DRUNK, and to erect a cross and a Star of David at the scene of the crash site, and to keep it maintained, and to keep photographs of the victims in his wallet for ten years, and to send ten dollars every week for ten years to a memorial fund in the names of the victims, and to observe the autopsy of a person killed in a drunk-driving accident.
And it worked. Hubacek did this, took responsibility for his actions.
“The justice system in the West has a lot of problems,” Poe said, “but at least there are rules. You have basic rights as the accused. You have your day in court. You don’t have any rights when you’re accused on the Internet. And the consequences are worse. It’s worldwide forever.”
It felt like we were soldiers making war on other people’s flaws, and there had suddenly been an escalation in hostilities.
He conceded that a few “distinguished women” did exist, but “they are as exceptional as the birth of any monstrosity . . . Consequently, we may neglect them entirely.”
I wish said asshat didn't have people who, even these days, believe his crap.
“When I was writing my biography of LeBon,” Bob Nye told me, “he seemed to me the biggest asshole in the whole of creation.”
And his second message was that a smart orator could, if he knew the tricks, hypnotize the crowd into acquiescence or whip it up to do his bidding. LeBon listed the tricks: “A crowd is only impressed by excessive sentiments. Exaggerate, affirm, resort to repetition, and never attempt to prove anything by reasoning.”
“The ‘only acting’ line is a red herring,” Haslam wrote, “because if you are on the receiving end of brutality it doesn’t matter if the person was acting or not.”
“Acting is not ‘unserious,’” Reicher added. “Even if we are performing, the question remains, ‘Why did we act in a particular way?’”
This is in regards to the Stanford Prison Experiment, where the one "guard" who instigated the whole abuse thing says he was "only acting the part, making things interesting" because that's what the researcher wanted.
“The irony of those people who use contagion as an explanation,” Steve Reicher e-mailed, “is that they saw the TV pictures of the London riots but they didn’t go out and riot themselves. It is never true that everyone helplessly joins in with others in a crowd. The riot police don’t join in with a rioting crowd. Contagion, it appears, is a problem for others.”
"So the question we have to ask—which ‘contagion’ can’t answer—is, How come people can come together, often spontaneously, often without leadership, and act together in ideologically intelligible ways? If you can answer that, you get a long way toward understanding human sociality. That is why, instead of being an aberration, crowds are so important and so fascinating.”
I asked Mercedes what sorts of people gathered on 4chan. “A lot of them are bored, understimulated, overpersecuted, powerless kids,” she replied. “They know they can’t be anything they want. So they went to the Internet. On the Internet we have power in situations where we would otherwise be powerless.”
By some strange circular coincidence, it was Jonah Lehrer’s fellow New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell who had popularized the stop-and-frisk policy. When it was first implemented in the 1990s—it was known as broken-windows policing back then—Gladwell wrote a landmark New Yorker essay about it, “The Tipping Point.” He called it “miraculous.” There was a correlation between coming down heavy on petty criminals like graffiti artists and fare dodgers, his essay argued, and New York’s sudden decline in murders.
Yet another reason Gladwell books are garbage. REALLY not a fan of his "let me take a story, claim it is scientific evidence, and print a book about it" style of story telling.
"Part of the reason all these kids have become experts on the Internet is because they don’t have power anywhere else. Skilled trade is shrinking. That’s why they went there. And then, holy shit, it blew up.”
I asked Mercedes to explain to me one of the great mysteries of modern shamings—why they were so breathtakingly misogynistic.
Nobody had used the language of sexual violence against Jonah, but when Justine and Adria stepped out of line, the rape threats were instant. And the 4chan people were about the most unpleasant.
“Yeah, it’s a bit extreme,” Mercedes replied. “4chan takes the worst thing it can imagine that person going through and shouts for that to happen. I don’t think it was a threat that anyone intended to carry through. And I think a lot of its use really did mean ‘destroy’ rather than ‘sexually assault.’” She paused. “But 4chan aims to degrade the target, right? And one of the highest degradations for women in our culture is rape. We don’t talk about rape of men, so I think it doesn’t occur to most people as a male degradation. With men, they talk about getting them fired. In our society men are supposed to be employed. If they’re fired, they lose masculinity points. With Donglegate she pointlessly robbed that man of his employment. She degraded his masculinity. And so the community responded by degrading her femininity.”
From his look, I guessed he considered them places of integrity — nonexploitative, shame-free retreats from a world that overvalues shame as a weapon.
Eventually, General Motors was forced to admit the plot and apologize to Nader in a congressional hearing. The incident proved to him, and later to Max, that the car industry was not above trying to shame its opponents into silence in its battle against safety do-gooders, and that people in high places were prepared to ingeniously deploy shaming as a means of moneymaking and social control. Maybe we only notice it happening when it’s done too audaciously or poorly, as it had been with Ralph Nader.
Ha. Like we would believe corporations are good. Even the best, nicest, cleanest corporations are made up of people, and there is always more than one side.
“Growing up I was ashamed of everything,” she wrote, “and at a certain point I realized that if I was open with the world about the things that embarrassed me they no longer held any weight! I felt set free!” She added that she always derives her porn scenarios from this formula. She imagines circumstances that would mortify her, “like being bound naked on a street with everybody looking at you,” and enacts them with like-minded porn actors, robbing them of their horror."
Donna nodded but said she didn’t want to talk about other parts of the porn industry. She wanted to talk about what she was trying to achieve with Public Disgrace. “America is a very puritanical place,” she said. “If I can help one person feel less freakish and alone because of what they like, then I’ll be a success. But I know I’ve already reached more people than that.”
And now, he wrote, he thought he had the answer. It was simply that he had refused to feel ashamed. “As soon as the victim steps out of the pact by refusing to feel ashamed,” he said, “the whole thing crumbles.”
I reread Max’s e-mail. Could that be it? Does a shaming only work if the shamee plays his or her part in it by feeling ashamed?
And on it went. Almost none of the murderous fantasies were dreamed up in response to actual danger—stalker ex-boyfriends, etc. They were all about the horror of humiliation. Brad Blanton was right. Shame internalized can lead to agony. It can lead to Jonah Lehrer. Whereas shame let out can lead to freedom, or at least to a funny story, which is a sort of freedom too.
But there was one exception, Andrew said. The conversation between them turned to the one woman who had visited Alexis.
“Everyone was laughing about her,” Andrew said. “Then, suddenly, this one older gentleman, who had been much quieter than the others, said, ‘That was my wife.’ Oh, Jon, you could feel the energy shift. Everything changed immediately.”
“What kind of jokes had you all been making about the wife?” I asked.
“I don’t remember exactly,” Andrew said, “but they had been more mocking. She was looked at differently by the men and, yes, with her it was considered more shameful.”
But the shifting sands of shameworthiness had shifted away from sex scandals—if you’re a man—to work improprieties and perceived white privilege, and I suddenly understood the real reason why Max had survived his shaming. Nobody cared. Max survived his shaming because he was a man in a consensual sex shaming—which meant there had been no shaming.
I think we all care deeply about things that seem totally inconsequential to other people. We all carry around with us the flotsam and jetsam of perceived humiliations that actually mean nothing. We are a mass of vulnerabilities, and who knows what will trigger them?
“An apology is supposed to be a communion—a coming together. For someone to make an apology, someone has to be listening. They listen and you speak and there’s an exchange. That’s why we have a thing about accepting apologies. There’s a power exchange that happens. But they don’t want an apology.” He looked at me. “What they want is my destruction. What they want is for me to die. They will never say this because it’s too histrionic. But they never want to hear from me again for the rest of my life, and while they’re never hearing from me, they have the right to use me as a cultural reference point whenever it services their ends. That’s how it would work out best for them. They would like me to never speak again.”
But I think he read all this in my face, because he suddenly said: “The way we construct consciousness is to tell the story of ourselves to ourselves, the story of who we believe we are. I feel that a really public shaming or humiliation is a conflict between the person trying to write his own narrative and society trying to write a different narrative for the person. One story tries to overwrite the other. And so to survive you have to own your story. Or”—Mike looked at me—“ you write a third story. You react to the narrative that’s been forced upon you.” He paused. “You have to find a way to disrespect the other narrative,” he said. “If you believe it, it will crush you.”
“Let me ask you three questions,” he said. “And then you’ll see it my way.
"Question One: What’s the worst thing that you have ever done to someone? It’s okay. You don’t have to confess it out loud.
"Question Two: What’s the worst criminal act that has ever been committed against you?
"Question Three: Which of the two was the most damaging for the victim?”
“Oh, it’s a very simple game,” he said. “You need to figure out something that’s so esoteric the expert can’t possibly know about it. Maybe it’s something that’s not relevant to the case, but it has to be something they cannot know the answer to. They’ll be incapable of saying they don’t know. So they’ll gradually walk down the garden to the place where they look really stupid.”
“Why are they incapable of saying they don’t know?”
“It’s their entire profession,” Clive said. “It’s respect. It’s a big deal being an expert. Imagine the things you can discuss at dinner parties as opposed to the other boring people at the table. You’re the witness who put Ted Bundy away. They’ll do anything to not look stupid. That’s the key thing. And if you can make them look stupid, everything else falls by the wayside.”
Then I caught myself. Judging someone on how flustered he behaves in the face of a shaming is a truly strange and arbitrary way of forming an opinion on him.
This is the reason why: Throughout the 1980s, Gilligan ran experimental therapeutic communities inside Massachusetts’s prisons. They weren’t especially radical. They were just about “treating the prisoners with respect,” Gilligan told me, “giving people a chance to express their grievances and hopes and wishes and fears.”
The point was to create an ambience that eradicated shame entirely. “We had one psychiatrist who referred to the inmates as scum. I told him I never wanted to see his face again. It was not only antitherapeutic for the patients, it was dangerous for us.”
At first, the prison officers had been suspicious, “but eventually some of them began to envy the prisoners,” Gilligan said. “Many of them also needed some psychiatric help. These were poorly paid guys, poorly educated. We arranged to get some of them into psychiatric treatment. So they became less insulting and domineering. And violence dropped astoundingly.”
I want more of these programs, tbh.
But we know that people are complicated and have a mixture of flaws and talents and sins. So why do we pretend that we don’t?
“It’s disorienting,” I said, “that the line between hell and redemption in the U.S. justice system is so fine.”
“What the first page looks like,” Michael’s strategist, Jered Higgins, told me during my tour of their offices, “determines what people think of you.” As a writer and journalist—as well as a father and human being—this struck me as a really horrifying way of knowing the world.
Justine had tweeted them herself, laboring under the misapprehension—the same one I labored under for a while—that Twitter was a safe place to tell the truth about yourself to strangers. That truth telling had really proven to be an idealistic experiment gone wrong.
But I was struck by a report Anna Funder discovered that had been written by a Stasi psychologist tasked with trying to understand why they were attracting so many willing informants. His conclusion: “It was an impulse to make sure your neighbor was doing the right thing.”
“The biggest lie,” he said, “is, The Internet is about you.” We like to think of ourselves as people who have choice and taste and personalized content. But the Internet isn’t about us. It’s about the companies that dominate the data flows of the Internet.
Some things were known. In December 2013, the month of Justine’s annihilation, 12.2 billion Google searches took place—a figure that made me feel less worried about the possibility that people were sitting inside Google headquarters personally judging me. Google’s ad revenue for that month was $ 4.69 billion. Which meant they made an average of thirty-eight cents for every search query. Every time we typed anything into Google: thirty-eight cents to Google. Of those 12.2 billion searches that December, 1.2 million were people searching the name Justine Sacco. And so, if you average it out, Justine’s catastrophe instantaneously made Google $ 456,000.
"Google has the informal corporate motto of ‘Don’t be evil,’ but they make money when anything happens online, even the bad stuff.”
“I suddenly feel with social media like I’m tiptoeing around an unpredictable, angry, unbalanced parent who might strike out at any moment,” he said. “It’s horrible.”
That line about how we don’t feel accountable during a shaming because “a snowflake never feels responsible for the avalanche” came from Jonathan Bullock.
I have had this book on my shelf for over a year, and this week was the time to start reading it. I'm pretty sure it came into my awareness because the third book in the trilogy was being released and both the first and second book won the Hugo awards. So, bought, not read, until now.
The book opens with three three stories being told. The Fifth Season is a recurring but not periodic time of "catastrophic climate change." The people prepare for these upheavals, and for the most part survive them. The plot begins with a man triggering the Fifth Season to end the world.
Sometimes one thinks, "People," shakes her head, wonders if such an event might not actually be our unexpected end, if not in the same format.
Unsurprisingly, since the book won a Hugo, I liked it. The world building is great, the story telling engaging. At one point during the book, two of the storylines merged, so, unsurprising if you know me, I "skipped to the end" and determined that all three storylines merge, and was able to return to the place I left off and keep reading. There were a couple moments where I actually yelled, "No!" to a part of the story, so clearly the Reader is Invested™.
Strongly recommend this book. It's a beautiful if heart-breaking-in-moments book. I'll be reading the next one when it drops from my library hold into my checkout queue.
There is an art to smiling in a way that others will believe. It is always important to include the eyes; otherwise, people will know you hate them.
This is what you must remember: the ending of one story is just the beginning of another. This has happened before, after all. People die. Old orders pass. New societies are born. When we say “the world has ended,” it’s usually a lie, because the planet is just fine.
They chose to keep something rather than lose everything.
Tell them they belong among us, no matter how we treat them. Tell them they must earn the respect which everyone else receives by default.
This is pretty much how non-privileged groups of people feel.
"The people we love are the ones who hurt us the most, after all.”
"Survival doesn’t mean rightness. I could kill you right now, but that wouldn’t make me a better person for doing so.”
“Children are the undoing of us,” Alabaster says, his eyes full of the fire.
She can feel nothing but pity for the boy, relief for his release.
"But then, how can they? Who misses what they have never, ever even imagined? That would not be human nature."
She’s never been able to use hot water every day like this, tons of it just falling from holes in the ceiling like the most perfect rain ever. She tries not to be obvious about it, because some of the other grits are Equatorials and would laugh at her, the bumpkin overwhelmed by the novelty of easy, comfortable cleanliness. But, well, she is.
“Come on in, and I’ll show you a marvel or three.” As if she hasn’t already done so. But you move to follow her, because neither myths nor mysteries can hold a candle to the most infinitesimal spark of hope.
She’s whispering, because that’s what one does in the dark.
Syen doesn’t really need Alabaster to explain that Innon is telling everyone a story—because Innon does this with his whole body. He leans forward and speaks more softly, and everyone is riveted to whatever tense moment he is describing.
Flirting unnerves her. Much better to be straightforward like this.
Oh, heavens yes.
Innon laughs — softly, for him — and shifts to lean sideways against the wall, perpendicular to Syenite so that she will not feel boxed in, even though he’s close enough that she can feel his body heat. Something big men do, if they want to be considerate rather than intimidating. She appreciates his thoughtfulness.
Here is what you need to understand. In any war, there are factions: those wanting peace, those wanting more war for a myriad of reasons, and those whose desires transcend either. And this is a war with many sides, not just two.
“You’re always restless. What are you looking for?”
She shakes her head. “I don’t know.”
You want to ask more about that, then decide against it. If he wanted you to understand, he would’ve explained.
As you sigh, you hear him say, softly, “I won’t hurt you.”
You blink at this, then lower your hands slowly. It hadn’t even occurred to you that he might. Even now, knowing what he is, having seen the things he can do… you’re finding it hard to think of him as a frightening, mysterious, unknowable thing.
“It’s a gift if it makes us better. It’s a curse if we let it destroy us."
It’s reassuring, though, somehow. The kind of lie she needs to hear.
Syenite brings a truly awful novel someone found on the looted freighter, the sort of thing whose first page made her wince and burst into giggles. Then, of course, she kept reading. She loves books that are just for fun.
“I’ve never wanted much from life. Just to be able to live it, really. I’m not like you, Syen. I don’t need to prove myself. I don’t want to change the world, or help people, or be anything great. I just want… this.”
This book, along with Dark Orbit were two books recommended by Daniel Goldsmith, as two of the books on Kameron Hurley's Five Books That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity. Other than "recommended by someone whose opinion I value" and "is science fiction," I didn't really know what to expect.
The world building was great. While I didn't really understand the motivation of The Stranger (always need some conflict in a plot, and this one included the introduction of A Stranger™), and why everyone in the colony was okay with his incredible pushiness. Of course, it was revealed in the end, so that mystery was solved.
The main character though, wow, does Newman get some of the personality imbalances correct. At one point, her despair comes through so strongly I had to stop reading for a bit.
The book is clearly the first in a series, and I've read the second books is darker than this one, but the end of this one was good enough to be a stand along book. If you're a science fiction fan, this is a good read.
I think “majority” is one of my least favorite words. It’s so often used to justify bad decisions.
The resurgence of this kind of religious talk makes the skin on the back of my neck prickle. The times it’s blossomed in the colony have brought us closer to self-destruction than anything Mack has kept hidden.
“This is wrong, Renata.” My father’s voice had dropped to a lower register, one within the vocal domain of disappointment. Even though I was in my late twenties I still felt the same twinge in my chest that his disapproval elicited when I was much younger. It irritated me. When would I stop being a child?
Answer: to our parents, never.
“Don’t exaggerate.” I sat down, automatically keeping my weight off the back left leg of the chair that had already broken once. “I stood on the shoulders of a lot of people. Nobody does anything single-handedly anymore.”
Nope. You didn't make that.
I can’t remember why I came back. Perhaps it was simply a matter of having formed enough emotional scar tissue to cope. Perhaps my curiosity steadily built up its own pressure until it became more powerful than the avoidance.
There’s no sound except the wildlife staking out territories and calling for a mate. The sounds are different here than on Earth, but the purpose seems the same. “This is my patch!” they scream. “I want sex! Come and shag me! I’ll give you strong babies!” It’s the same stuff humans say most of the time. We just dress those needs up in fancier linguistic clothes.
Sung-Soo is leaning against one of the windows, hands cupped either side of his face to shield out the light as he peers in. Even though there’s no way he can see inside, I’m still irritated. Why do people do that when there’s no answer at a door? Do they expect to see the resident in there, feet up, oblivious? Are they checking they’re not being snubbed, rather than whether the resident is at home?
I can feel my lip curling in disgust at my younger self’s taste for melodrama.
and the clothes I’ve moved to find the top I’m wearing now. I need the tightness around me, like being held, before I open the file.
It takes a few minutes to summon the courage to open the file, and it’s only my irritation with myself that makes me do it in the end. The worrying about how it will make me feel has finally been ousted by the desire to stop feeling the twisting tightness in my chest. I need to be able to think of something else.
I can’t help looking down, now that she’s put the idea in my head, and I trace the outline of her buttocks through the flight suit, the way her hips flare out at the tops of her thighs, far wider than her waist and shoulders. She used to hate her short legs and pear-drop shape but since the coma she’s been above such things. I look away when Mack clears
There may be only a thousand or so people here, but it’s easy enough to make the pressure of conformity irresistible. Hell, sometimes we only need one other person to make us fall into line.
He knows that I’m struggling because he has struggled every year. I need to be kinder to him. I don’t know a better way to handle this and I don’t like what he’s doing, but it doesn’t change the fact that it has a cost for him too.
I’m too wired mentally and too exhausted physically to be able to cope with being curled up, awake and caught between the Scylla and Charybdis of guilt and reminiscence.
I groan. “This isn’t a good time.”
“I have the feeling there won’t ever be a good time.”
We stare at each other, his hands palm up and his face open and expectant. I feel like a child given one of those utterly shit choices parents offer to trick the child into thinking it has a say in anything: “Do you want to record that thank-you vid for Aunt Jasmine now or after dinner?”
I stand in the doorway, chewing my thumbnail for what seems like a horribly long time. Unable to act, I check my in-box and the network, but all the while I know I’m merely trying to divert my attention away from this paralysis.
Even though I’m aware of the inherent bias of getting attached to the first explanation of a mystery, I can’t shake it.
He smiles, but the usual warmth and delight is guarded now. I’m not the person he thought I was. I have no idea who that was supposed to be. Now he knows what I’m really like. A sour thought, if there ever was one.
Before I was nothing more than an unbearable throbbing pain with a mind and voice. Now I feel other parts of my body.
I close my eyes and take a moment to suppress the panic that’s rising within. Losing my shit is not going to help.
“Perhaps you should take up running,” I suggest.
“Outside. Or in the gym. There’s one under the Dome.”
“What would I chase?”
“No, I mean run for the sake of running.”
He looks at me like I’m an idiot.
Mack understands these people far too well. They may be scientists and experts and handpicked from thousands of hopefuls vying for every single place on Atlas, but they’re just people.
How much easier to regret not leaving than being here now—knowing so much and yet so little—so very far from home.
I don’t remember as clearly as I do the sight of the old plane trees in the London square her flat overlooked. It was fenced off from people who couldn’t afford to touch the peeling bark on the trees. Those were reserved for dogs owned by the wealthy to piss against three times a day when walked by the au pair.
“I’m glad you told me. I understand. It would kill you to be left behind, always wanting to know what they’ll find. You wouldn’t be living anymore, wishing yourself so far away.”
By then I was so mired in the physicality of exhaustion that I’d forgotten to be hopeful. We’re such base creatures, so easily pulled from higher things by the needs of the body.