Tribalism

A great deal — if not most — of the flashfiction pieces I create come about through the inspiration or influence of a particular song or lyric.  Similarly, a large number of these blog posts owe their inspiration/influence to something I happen to have read earlier in the morning…

Kinda like today.

The article I read was a screed against the “buy local” movement.  Actually, it is nothing so organized or profound as a movement, it is rather an impulse…almost an instinct, really.

As I write this, I am sitting in a small coffee place owned and operated by a local entrepreneur, staffed by local residents.  The coffee I am drinking was, of course, roasted in the “big city”…the city that is all of an hour away.  The baked goods I try unsuccessfully to resist are made just around the corner from this little shop.

Before I moved to Yellowstone, I lived in the “Napa Valley of beer” in northern Colorado.  The taprooms in which I wrote were owned by local folks who spent their own blood, sweat and tears to get the operations off the ground.  The beer was poured by local residents with rent or mortgages to pay.

At my favorite local place I can play chess on a homemade Star Wars set.  I can lose several (hundred) hands of cribbage to the old guys pretending to teach me.  I can get randomly tackled by a posse of over-familiar great danes.  I can, even, argue economics and politics with guys who will buy me a beer and have my back in any fight that follows.

I would rather have my four bucks for coffee and a bagel go to Anna and Alex and everyone at the Tumbleweed — and my beer money go to Don and the folks at Grimm Brothers — than to any faceless, anonymous outfit worried more about stock prices and investor relations than the personal and financial wellbeing of their staff and customers.  I would rather, in the end, see my friends prosper than go to some bigbox — or go online — in order to save a buck or two.

If you think the urge — and, yes, I will call it the instinct — to “buy local” is somehow nefarious, foolish or wrong…well…then…

God help you, because I can’t.

That article was to me an unfortunate, miserable symptom of the greater condition that is currently killing us.  That condition is the corruption and death of the one thing that truly lies at the heart of civilization and society, the one thing that truly defines, well, us: community.

We have killed community.  We have more than killed it — we have poisoned it, hung it, shot it, burned it, then buried it under the bleachers of the bloody gladiatorial show with which we have replaced it.

The most obvious destruction is of course in our politics.  No longer are the various sides adversaries, opponents even, they are now enemies.  It is no longer about beating an opponent, about one idea and viewpoint taking its (temporary) position at the top.  No, now it is about destroying the enemy.

Politics no longer holds any form of hope or help, it holds only hate and vindictiveness.  That is true for both sides, I should add.

We no longer live in true, natural communities.  We no longer live among neighbors different from us.  We no longer hold dear the fellowship and support of friends who have their own opinions, and their own worth.

No, for far too many of us, “community” has come to mean living and socializing only among those with whom we agree.  We read only the news that reinforces our own beliefs.  We visit only those websites that mirror our views.  We shop only at stores that openly display the “proper” allegiances.

We pay lip service to diversity of thought and opinion, and to the inherent value of those who believe differently…but it is just that, lip service.  Five minutes after saying that all views should be presented, we will send our kids to schools that admit only one viewpoint.  Five minutes after saying that all views should be heard, we will seek to remove a book, or silence a speaker, or walk away from a conversation, because they are “out to destroy us.”

If you admire UC Berkeley and refuse to listen to a Ronald Reagan, or to read a Jonah Goldberg, you are guilty.

If you admire Hillsdale College and refuse to listen to a Ruth Bader Ginsberg, or to read a Noam Chomsky, you too are guilty.

If you throw up your arms and condemn others as worthless or evil or out to destroy, you are guilty.

And, yes, I am just as guilty.

I am guilty of harming our community — of damaging that which should hold us together.  I have thrown up my arms and yelled at the words, both written and spoken, of those who I condemned as idiotic and nefarious and and destructive.  I am guilty of refusing to listen to, and to read, those who I find repugnant and hate-filled.  I am guilty, even, of shying away from interacting with — of sharing community with — those to whom I don’t want to listen.

How do we fix it?

*sigh*

That’s a big question.  No, really, that’s a properly big fucking question.  That’s the kind of question a writer can spend a million words trying to answer, and still not get his arms all the way around the solution.

It is, in part, an answer of faith.  Not of one faith, but of all faiths.  The Christian must learn from the Hindu, the Muslim from the Buddhist, the Jew from the Taoist.

But it is more than that.

It is a thing of hope, of that which which draws us together rather than that which divides us.  We must celebrate those (few) ideas we still have in common.

In the “old days” we shared a common language of entertainment — we shared stories and songs, movies and shows, even teams and sports, that we could all embrace and celebrate.  Now?  Now we have Balkanized into tiny fiefdoms separated by uncrossable chasms.

In the past, we shared holidays and the turning of the seasons in common.  Now, even the calendar causes dissension and anger.

We have to get past that.  We have to get past all of that.  We have to do the hard work of actively looking to find and celebrate the ties that bind, rather than follow the easy path of cultural and political tribalism.  The tribalism I hear in so much of what my friends and family say and do — the tribalism I hear in so much of what I say and do — is going to destroy us.

The cynic in me says the path down to hell is steep.  It says we have fallen so far into the pit, we can climb out only through the blood and death and disaster of war and strife.  The little kid in me, however…

That little kid says we can still change.  That little kid says — hopes, anyway — that we can still listen without screaming “Socialist!” or “Fascist!” at each other.  If we cannot…

If we cannot, that path to hell is one way.

Faith, and the Loss Thereof

Okay, so I think I’m over my fit of temper from the last post.

Err…

Well…

I think I’m willing to work through it, anyway…and that’s almost as good, isn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong, I still think WordPress has achieved an entirely new level of moronicity* with their changes, but I’m going to try and struggle through.  And, yeah, some of that willingness to struggle is the ubercompetitive pride that I usually try to hide: I ain’t gonna let any other sonofabitchasswagon beat me! The less said about that side of my personality, the better.

*Why am I a sci-fi/fantasy writer?  Because I freaking LOVE to make up words!

Ahem.

So, where does that intro lead me?

Not into the following post, as a matter of a fact.

I, err…

Look, when the hell have I ever planned one of these posts?!  Yeah, yeah…I come in with an idea of what I want to talk about, but that original idea generally lasts about as long as a Twinkie at a table of 7th graders.  Once I start hitting the keys — once the words start to flow — that original plan is nothing more than a barely remembered aftertaste…

There’s been a conspiracy of late.  No, not THAT conspiracy!  No Satan-worshipping pedophile deep-state resistance for me, thank you very much.  No, this conspiracy is worse.  It’s a conspiracy of those I love, and those I read, and the world itself.  It is a conspiracy to remind of that which I no longer am; of that which I have left behind.

I just finished a new fantasy series that really put the capstone onto this “conspiracy.”  The first two books in the trilogy were good.  Good, but not Tolkien/Jordan/Martin good.  Just good.  They were also pretty basic, with not a lot of undercurrent and subtext to go with the plot and characters.  Then the third book…the third book went and pulled the rest of the clubs out of the bag.

Oh, the message wasn’t what you would call subtle…not even close, in fact.  This was CS Lewis-style allegorical fantasy, rather than Tolkien-style high fantasy.*

*If you don’t know the differing views and philosophies those two close friends brought to their respective works, you should probably go back and study more…

The backdrop for this is that I used to be a Christian.  I still consider something of a Christian, although I am far, far closer to a Deist than to any of the **intentionally skipping controversial comments here** flavors of “Christianity” that so dominate the US today.

So what got me to thinking about this?

That third book.  I copied out and emailed to myself several quotes from that book, but I’m only going to use here the first of those.  Mainly because it was the one that got me to thinking, but also because it is the one that I think has the most to say to modern US-style Christianity (note — I’m editing the quote here to be more general, but book details are at the end of this post):

“Because that’s not how it works. Faithful people suffer and evil people prosper all the time[…]you must know that is true. Besides, if our actions are driven only by reward or punishment—eternal or otherwise—then they are motivated by greed and selfishness, not faith or love. That is where so many people go wrong, even those who say they believe in [God]. They obey because they think it will make their lives better, rather than themselves. And that is very much the wrong reason.”

Why am I not a Christian?  Two reasons I’ll give you — and a third I will keep to myself, thank you very much.

The first, and primary, of those is that US-style Christianity is all about fear and punishment and force.  Do this or go to hell.  Live like this or go to hell.  Believe this or go to hell.

That there is some Kool-Aid-drinking, mind-control bullshit…especially when fed to children.  If a “god” loved me so much he would send me to Hell for even questioning, I’m quite happy to play for another team.

The second of the reasons is that Christians — mostly, but not exclusively, US-style — can’t leave well enough alone.  They can’t let anyone else get on with their life if that life conflicts with their own prejudices and intolerance.  And, yes, this second reason is basically a subset of the first…

But every so often my own prejudices and snap-judgments get challenged.  Every so often you talk to, or listen to, or read, that person who can iterate something different.  The best stories, by the way, can iterate something different.  Oh, it doesn’t have to be religion — arguable, shouldn’t be — but it has to be something meaningful.

Why do Joe Haldeman and Ursula LeGuin and Robert Heinlein and George Orwell still resonate as sci-fi writers?  Because they wrote far more than they wrote.  Their words were about more than plot and character, their words were about the freaking world…about life, and all the bullshit that goes with it.

I’m not going to hold James Islington up in that company — his books were good, but nothing near that good — but he gets all the credit in the world for making me think and question my usual knee-jerk dismissal of “message” writing.

My rule on this, by the way, is if the writer is someone with whom I would like to sit down and have a drink and talk through what they wrote. The list of such writers is pretty stinking small, but Islington (and his message) has made his way onto it.

Well done, sir.

**Note — The specific book in question is “The Light of All That Falls” from the Licanius Trilogy by James Islington.

I Didn’t Mean To Rant

Remember when I talked about the new civil war I feel coming?

Yeah, my “by 2030” timeframe may actually have been optimistic.  Who would’ve thought I would be the optimistic one?!

It’s only 2020 and already we have folks arming up on both sides.  Folks walking around looking for someone to “own.”  Folks — from both extremes — deeply immersed in the view that their opponents are evil, malfeasant, and out to destroy the Constitution and US way of life.  Folks whose politics are firmly in the all-or-nothing vein.  You know the ones I’m talking about, the “If you can’t beat ‘em, kill ‘em”, “Give me Trump/Biden, or give me death” variety.

*sigh*

Please tell me that I’m not the only person who has looked at all this crap over the past month or so and thought, “We’re so fucked.”

The worst part is that you (well, I, to be precise) can’t even run away to a different part of the world to hide for a few months.  Good luck getting any nation to admit you when you’re from the country topping the charts for the Worst Virus Handling in the Entire Stinking Universe award…

0A641B52-A8C7-4321-903A-D93CAA94D76FOh, good lord do we suck.

Yes, our current government has taken corrupt incompetence to a new low, but let’s be honest here…four years ago, we pretty much got the government we “deserve.”  We’ve let the inmates run the asylum for far too long, and now the band is packing up to go while the piper gives us the bill for several decades of ignoring our own very real socio-political problems.

I didn’t sit down to write a rant, by the way.  I sat down to write a “list post”, of all things.

I was going to…but after the first few lines, I knew that was out the damned window.  Part of the problem, I should explain, is that Montana is something of a battleground state.  The Senate race here is neck-and-neck between the red and blue teams, and the ads are freaking everywhere.  You can’t watch TV or visit a website without some ad popping up with overly dramatic music and a serious-voiced announcer warning that the other guy is out to rape and eat your children.

C’mon, Italy, I don’t have COVID…let me in!!

803B7BCF-BA35-4AA7-B243-39973746A30AOr France…or Oz…or even freaking Canada, for pete’s sake!  I feel like Randle McMurphy trapped in the asylum; where the hell is Chief when you need him?!*

*One of the very, very few instances where the movie and book were equally great…

Hell, I started sailing again…maybe now is the time to try that circumnavigation!

C’mon, admit it, a few months alone in the middle of the ocean doesn’t sound too bad, does it?  Hell, even if I were to sink, how could spending a year or two facing starvation and disease marooned on a deserted island be any worse than the US right about now?!

The one prescription I will give you is this: don’t vote against.  We’ve been voting against various people and things for decades, and look where that got us…

Vote FOR something….for something, or someone, you can believe in.  Vote to make things better, not because you’re afraid the other side are violent psychopaths out to ruin all you hold dear.

And if there’s nothing in the current election that you can be for?  If there is nothing but hate and fear, darkness and threat?

If there is nothing to be for, maybe it’s time to create that.  A new party…a new nonprofit…hell, maybe just a new mug club at your local brewery…find something, and some folks, that you can be for, then build from there.

I am, by the way, struggling with this very thing.  I loathe in the strongest way the current US administration.  I would crawl over broken glass and piss on an electric fence to get them out.  But…

But…

But now I’m talking about just voting against something.  I still have yet to find something (on the national level) to vote for.

Hmm…maybe Croatia will let me in…2783744E-2430-44A3-BAC6-2035151A9330

Random (not really) musical accompaniment:

 

The Splintering

We don’t have common spaces anymore.

No, really…if you think about it, what kind of shared space or activity do we have that crosses all of the boundaries of politics and economics and society?

None.

We in the US don’t really do central squares or plazas.  We gave those up decades ago, in the name of “development.”  Even when there is a place with “public” patios/terraces/squares, the tables and spaces are situated and designed to isolate each person or group in their own little private world rather than create a shared, social space.

How about the news?  Yeah, right.  It goes way beyond having different channels and papers and sites for different opinions, by the way.  We’ve reached the point where folks believe completely different truths based on their own biases and wants.  Two people can see the same incident, assimilate the same facts, and still tell a completely different story.  Neither story is objectively true, mind you, but we are way past the time when objective truth meant anything to us as a society.  No, instead all we seemingly care for are the subjective truths that reinforce our particulate flavor of politics and worldview.

Sports, too, has been — pardon the intentional pun! — pulled from the field as a shared space.  Oh, the divide over teams and players has always been there, but that’s not what I’m talking about.  Nowadays the fight between Raiders and Broncos fans…between Yankees and Red Sox…between golf and the rest of the universe…is a minor sideshow compared to the fight between those who need the “validation” of players and teams and fans echoing every detail of their preferred — semi-deified, even — socio-political prejudice.  A game, then, is no longer a space where fans of those involved can share the experience of their favorite team or player beating “the enemy.”  Instead, the games have become nothing more than background spectacles for the fans to pour vast amounts of hate and vitriol on players, teams and each other over any deviation from their preferred views.

Music…

Literature…

Art…

Movies…

Not a one of those crosses the boundaries anymore.  Oh, no, not a freakin’ chance of that!

On the production side, the things that once unified societies are now sliced and diced and targeted to the tiniest fragment of like-minded thinkers in order to “maximize audience.”  On the consumption side, no work or piece can be viewed outside the boundaries.  Nothing, to most folks, can be allowed to threaten the fragile bubble of assumption and belief that defines their world.

Everyone gets the blame for this one, by the way.  Yeah, most producers and studios, just like most publishers and editors, are far too often echo-chamber-driven zampolits out to destroy any opinion other than their own, but they don’t own the problem.  Not the whole of it, anyway.  In the end, the studios and publishers just want to make money.  We writers — like actors and singers and other artists — are just as guilty for allowing the echo-chambers to influence and control what we create.  It is harder than ever to find those that even try to speak to the larger truths that still hold true for all of us.  No, instead far too many of us have chosen, either through fear or preference, to avoid the (mostly) metaphorical killzones that divide our political and social “teams.”

Most of the blame, however…

Most of the blame lies with you.

You, the consumer…and me the consumer.  My family, and yours…  My friends, and yours…  The people we elect…  The people we follow…  The people we choose to read and watch and listen to…

When we choose to live inside our own bubbles, we add our little mite of intolerance and prejudice to the vast pool of such that is killing the common spaces of thought and emotion that once helped to bridge and fill in the gaps between.

If the only words you have read in the last few months are those that reinforce your own worldview, you are part of the problem.  If you have watched no movie or show that challenged your preconceptions, you have widened that gap between.  If you go out of your way to avoid a song, or an athlete, or anyone else, who disagrees with you, you are contributing.

In the end, if you are one of those who thinks someone — anyone — who has a different opinion should have to “shut up,” you are the problem.