A Saturday Morning Rant…

What kind of President of the United States doesn’t know that the FBI aren’t the ones you call to investigate a sexual assault?

How did we put an idiot of this caliber into the highest elected office in our land?

And what kind of maliciously ignorant, grotesquely prideful, and inhumanly bloodless thumb-up-their-bum-and-grinning assholes continue to not only support, but praise the callous and destructive actions of this toadstool Schmuck-in-Chief?

As an addendum to the issue raised by Ms. Ford, re: the senate confirmation hearings:

Who the fuck are we if we don’t stand with the victim against to powerful and privileged?

We sure as shit aren’t Americans anymore.

I don’t give a fuck how many flags you’re flying or when you stand for a song, if you’re not siding with the underdog in this case, you don’t get to call yourself a patriot.

We’re a nation created by the underdogs, the ones without the power and privilege.

We used to remember that.

We used to value that.

(Ok, that’s a subject for a whole other rant, so I’ll end this here.)

So, that’s my rage filled morning.

How’s yours going?

 

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The Price We Pay…

I am a 40-year-old, white, heterosexual man. (Also, cis gendered, but I’m not terribly fond of that appellation, as it smacks of non-scientific taxonomy. But alas, here we are.)

I am beginning to grow accustomed to the possibility that the wider culture won’t care about – or even want to hear – what I have to say anymore. (ok, I’m not sure they ever did, but whatever.)

I have mixed emotions about this.

On the one hand, I have always wanted to be seen, and listen to, and taken note of. (I think we all do.)

On the other, I truly believe, in order for our society to progress to what it can be, folks in my category have to get comfortable with the idea that their voices won’t be the loudest in the room anymore.

That’s ok.

I never wanted to be heard because I belonged to some group or other.

I wanted to be heard, and noticed, and remembered for the things I said and did.

(I still despise being dismissed, for just about any reason. Probably that’s my own emotional baggage to carry? It might be. But, I still find it difficult to swallow anyone being dismissed out of hand. Yes, there are exceptions; Nazis, the KKK, religious extremists of every faith – we can generally dismiss their views because they don’t respect our right to exist, or even have the conversation. And that’s on them.)

– A Brief Interlude, before I get Back to the Point –

Some years ago, I had a conversation with someone who, at the time, was a friend. He – and you just knew it was a he, right? – was ranting and raving about having to pay taxes. And here is what I told him:

It’s the price we pay.

It’s the price we pay for the protection and cohesion of our government, our society, and our way of life.

And it’s a damn small one.

No one’s asking the general populace to take up arms and go fight wherever we think it’s needed this week.

No one’s asking you or I to clean up after natural or man-made disasters, with our own two hands.

No one’s asking us to interrupt our lives at all, except to vote, and even that’s voluntary.

And yet, water still comes out of the pipes. The police are still on the beat. The lights stay on and the roads stay open. We are free to believe, and worship, and think, and speak how we like – provided it doesn’t cause material harm to another citizen, (also a tiny price to pay for those freedoms).

I wish I could say that the power of my argument changed his mind.

I wish.

But enough of fairy tales…

…Let’s get back to the point.

The point is, if you believe in the Idea of The United States of America, then you have to accept some things.

If we are to be what we say we are: Equal under the law. Equal, in each other’s eyes. Equal in opportunity, then we have to take steps to level the playing field. Steps to ensure each of our citizens has that equal opportunity.

And that means, whether you like it or not, programs like Affirmative Action, a Progressive Tax, Equal Opportunity Employment, Quotas and Special Considerations are necessary.

And it also means the privileged class might need to take a back seat, for a while, until everyone’s gotten on similar footing.

If you believe in the promise of the U.S., then you have to believe in that.

It is the price we pay to live the dream we wish to live.

We’re not asked to sacrifice much in this country. Our forebearers did the vast amount of the heavy lifting on that front. But there are still sacrifices to be made, work to be done to preserve and protect this beautiful idea we call home.

No one is happy to sacrifice.

Sacrifice means giving up something important. And it’s going to be different for each one of us.

For me, someone who is almost pathologically non-competitive, it might mean working harder, and getting better, doing all I can, and still not getting where I want to be. (Don’t get me wrong, I still want to be there, or close, at least.)

And that possibility bothers me – I’d be lying if I said it didn’t.

But it is the price we pay for the larger dream.

The dream of what we can be.

The Dream of US.

 

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PCBC: Argument – the Wrap Party…

So, what’s left to say about arguments and how to have them?

Well, a shitload more than I’m willing to post about here, at least for the present.

For this, the last post in this series, I am not going to write some long, dry summary of all the other posts. (Go ahead and thank whatever spiritual/ cosmic forces you deem appropriate). If you want to check out the whole series you can here: Putting the Civil Back in Civilization: Argument: an IntroductionPutting the Civil Back in Civilization: Argumentation for the Very Busy (part II)Putting the Civil Back in Civilization: Argument – Pt III , and PCBC: Argumentation – Pt, what is it, 4? Yeah, sure, Pt. 4. Why not?…

That’s more than enough to keep you busy, and if you didn’t read the other parts of the series, you wouldn’t be interested in a synopsis here.

So, we’ll skip it.

(Cheer if you must. I’ll wait…)

If there is anything left for me to say on the subject, it might be one more reason to get a better understanding of logic and argument.

Human beings are emotionally driven animals.

We just are.

Anyone who tells you humans are rational actors is full of enough excrement to comfortably run an alternative fuels methane factory for the foreseeable future.

Don’t believe these people, and under no circumstances take as read any theory they propose that hinges upon humanity being rational actors.

(They’re either lying outright so that they can manipulate you, or they have so thoroughly snowed themselves into believing this offal they are dangerous to be around.)

Seriously, I’d take the time to lay out why I think that humanity isn’t rational, but you could just think of the people you’ve met in your life; were they always or even mostly rational in their decisions beforehand, or did they rationalize their actions after the fact?

The brain is good at that – coming up for believable reasons for why we did a thing. I think there’s even a special part of the gray squishy stuff that does it. Go look that up if you want to peer over the edge of the Free Will debate. That abyss is deep and tends to stare back.

So, I’m sticking with the assertion that human beings are not rational, but rather emotional creatures.

(Bonus points if you marked that statement as an unsupported assertion. I knew you were paying attention, you beautiful thing you.)

And, to say that we are emotional creatures is also emphatically not saying that we are solely emotional creatures.

We are not wholly any one thing.

We have the ability to reason.

It’s a tool, like math, only cooler.

Reason lets us step outside of our prejudices and biases. It lets us try to come nearer to the truth.

Argument allows us to articulate that truth, and to be persuaded to look at other truths we may not have been able to see. Or, at least, to see those truths in a different way.

If you have an instance where you need to be right, availing yourself of reason and argument will help you flense away the bits of thought that will make you wrong, especially if you have a good partner to argue with.

(Yeah, you can argue with yourself. Philosophy students have to do it all the time. But it’s a lot like sex: not nearly as much fun when you have to go solo.)

In the end, reason and argument help us to find the truth.

Or, as close as we can get to it.

That’s what it’s about, folks:

Finding the Truth.

Good luck on your search for truth.

As always, I’ll be around if you have any questions or comments.

Until next time…

 

 

 

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DragonCon Days…

It’s Saturday, here in Atlanta, and I’m in my third day at the convention.

There are a lot of people here for the con. And by a lot I mean: holy shit, how many people can you pressure-fit into 5 city blocks?

Just about all of them, as it turns out.

Still, this is about the most relaxed I’ve been at Con in years. This many bodies, all shoved in together, tends to set the brass clock of my anxiety banging away in its big, shiny bells.

I’ve been working on it.

(and no, not just by being drunk. Although, anyone who tells you alcohol doesn’t help is lying to you, or trying to sell you on some new religion that requires you to give all of your worldly possessions to the church and all dress in the same beige outfits woven from the same scratchy-assed material, while selling flowers at airports. Ok, maybe not that last bit, but you get the idea.)

No, I’ve been working on my anxiety, in multiple situations. I’m constantly practicing while amongst the crowds. It seems to be working well. But it’s also emotionally and mentally exhausting. No getting around it.

And that means, like it or not, I have to pay careful attention to my self care while I’m here.

Get away from people. From everyone. Sit down

Be quiet. Meditate if possible.

(For anxiety, I am fond of good old Mindfulness meditation. It gives you an anchor and helps you get better at returning to that anchor.)

And I was doing fine with that until last night.

I got caught up in the Con, and paid for it this morning with one of the worst migraines I’ve had this year.

The ghost of it is still clawing at my brains.

Hard way to learn that lesson, but it’s a lesson I’m not likely to forget, for sure and for certain.

I haven’t met anyone you’d consider famous, but I did get to meet and speak with an author whose work I enjoy.

(Laura Ann Gilman, by the way. And quite by accident. Sometimes you get lucky. Still looking to meet Myke Cole and Richard Kadrey. Weekend’s not over yet.)

Something about the “fan” thing I don’t understand. I like that I can meet people whose writing I admire, but I know we’re not friends. I just want to thank them for the work. Tell them I appreciate it. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to pick their brains, but failing that, what is there to do?

And somewhere, in the dark, cobwebbed recceses of my brain, a tiny voice whispers, “that’s just the anxiety talking,” but it’s loud as hell at this Con, and that voice gets drowned out more than I’d like.

Did I mention there are several metric tons of bodies here? Seriously, like 80-90k today alone. All of them making noise.

And so, I have to try to focus.

Even something as simple as pecking out this post on my phone helps.

Take your therapy where you can get it, is all I’m saying.

I’m not sure where I was going with this. Hell, I didn’t think about where it was headed when I sat down to write. Maybe I got there, maybe not.

Either way, time to head back into the fray.

Until next time…

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Weekend Plans…

I’ll be at DragonCon, in Atlanta, this weekend. Actually, I’m heading down on Thursday.

This will be my 17th con. I’ve only missed one in the last 18 years.

It’s weird to think about it like that…

…Anyway,

I may or may not be posting from con. I’m not taking my laptop, but I do have the WordPress app on my phone. If you’ve ever read one of my short, untagged, uncategorized posts, likely it came from my phone. So, it’s not impossible, but the thickness of my fingers does not mesh well with small touch-screen buttons. Add to that the fact that I’ll probably be some form of inebriated for most of the weekend, and well, slurred text is not something I want to foist upon any of you kind enough to be reading my deranged thoughts.

But I digress.

DragonCon is a thing I’ve done for nearly twenty years. That’s long enough to be a tradition at this point.

I’ll admit, it’s lost some of its magic over the years.

It’s gotten four times bigger in almost twenty years, and I’ve gotten 18 years older.

Tell the truth, by this time, I wanted to be one of the people I would come to the con to see. But, my writing career has not met or exceeded the hopes of my 22-year-old self. Turns out I’ve had a lot more obstacles than just sitting down to write. And a few hope shattering false starts along the way. I suppose it happens that way sometimes. But it’s never too late.

And I couldn’t stop writing if I wanted to.

It’s a thing I do. It’s part of me.

I think I’ve gotten off track, again.

So, DragonCon.

I’ll be in Atlanta. If you’re around, stop me and say hi. I’ll likely be tweeting. @tessrants is my handle. If you get me at the right time, we might share a song or two – but don’t let that stop you.

I hope your holiday weekend goes well.

Until next time…

 

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Occam Had a Little Razor…

No, this isn’t a history lesson.

(But really, look into the dude. William of Occam He’s interesting.)

It’s the first in our on-going series about Critical Thinking!

And to begin our journey towards being better and more efficient bullshit detectors, we’re going to start with a little Latin.

(It’s just a little Latin, calm down. Especially you, in the back. I’ve got my eye on you.)

Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate.

(There, that wasn’t so bad, was it?)

That’s the formulation of Occam’s Razor I learned in philosophy 101. Roughly translated – because my Latin is so rusty you’d need a tetanus shot to handle it safely – it means:

Plurality should not be affirmed without Necessity.

Ok, what the hell does that mean?!

Glad you asked.

You’ve probably heard it explained, in various media, thusly:

“All things being equal, the simplest explanation is probably the right one.”

If that’s all you remember about Occam’s Razor, you’ll be doing fine.

Here’s what it emphatically does not mean:

“All things being equal, the simplest explanation is the right one.”

Occam’s Razor is not a perfect sieve, separating the wheat from the chaff. It’s not a push-button solution to all of one’s problems. It’s not even rigorous logic.

It’s a tool to help you think, more clearly about complicated subjects.

Why is that important?

(Look at you, asking all the right questions.)

Well, for one, Life is a complicated business. Too complicated, as a matter of fact, for one person to actually understand. So, we break it down into smaller bits, and try to understand those. But even those bits can be super complicated in their own right, consisting of even smaller bits, on and on, ad infinitum.

Beginning to get the picture?

For two, people tend to needlessly complicate things – especially when they’re trying to bullshit you.

For three, and probably most importantly, we tend to keep adding conditions to make situations fit the idea we have in our heads about it.

Especially if it’s idea we’re emotionally attached to.

We will add heaps and heaps of conditions onto a thing, to make it feasible/ logical/ right, if it’s a thing we already believe- or already want to believe.

We know we will. We’ve seen us do it.

And that’s one of the best services Occam’s Razor does for us: it helps us to recognize when we might be adding layers and layers to a thing to make it work, when likely, it wasn’t going to work in the first place.

Let’s take an example of how Occam’s Razor might help you think about subjects:

The Pyramids.

At this point, we don’t have a definitive answer, historically, for how hey were built. We have lots of guesses that range from Good Old Human Ingenuity™ all the way to direct alien influence.

Now, like I said, we don’t have a definitive answer here, so let’s apply the edge of the razor and see if we can slice away the less-likely of scenarios.

On the Alien hand, well, first, we have to explain why they aren’t still around. Then we have to explain why there aren’t clear records. Then we have to explain the purposes for such a specific undertaking (pyramid building) and why on our planet, of all the possible planets in the universe, et cetera…

You can see how the number of things we need to explain, to make the alien hypothesis work, keeps growing and growing.

Whereas, if we posit Good Old Human Ingenuity™ the only thing we might need to explain is some of the building techniques, but only for funsies. We know that the Egyptians had the man-power and the know-how to get it done.

In this case, Good Old Human Ingenuity™ seems to be the more plausible answer.

It is definitely the simpler of the two.

Does that mean it’s right?

Not necessarily.

But it does mean that it’s more reasonable to believe than the other option.

In situations where there is a lack of concrete evidence, Occam’s Razor is useful for coming up with a best guess.

So, how can you use this in your everyday life?

(Another good question. Look at you!)

Here’s where the Razor becomes an EDC (every day carry):

Liars.

Liars tend to add more details than someone telling the truth, generally because of the misapprehension that the extra details will seal the belief deal, so to speak.

(ok, a caveat here – expert liars, you know, professional con artists and politicians, usually don’t make this mistake.)

But the average, everyday liars, they make this mistake constantly. And, in the absence of evidence, you can think of Occam’s Razor, and all the moving parts in the story, and just maybe not give away anything you’d rather keep.

Another everyday use is on yourself.

Regardless of what we think, we all need a good shave now and again.

(especially me, with all the razor puns…)

We all have things we believe a priori.

(shit, not more Latin! Relax, it’ll be over soon.)

A priori, in very simple terms, is something we believe independent of experience. Things we know. We just know.

We all have our sacred cows, and they can jam up traffic on the highways of our thinking. Judicious use of Occam’s Razor can clip the horns, neaten up the ragged coats, and get the bovine obstruction moving again.

Being a sufferer of ANXIETY, I find it helpful on a daily basis.

ANXIETY (anyone who suffers from it knows the all-caps is completely warranted) tends to tell me outlandish things about how IT’S ALL GOING TO BURN UP AND FALL DOWN, JUST YOU WAIT, YOU’LL SEE! And it’s very good at constructing chains of scenarios where even the smallest of mistakes escalates into me having to move into a cave, put out both my eyes, and walk around covered in ashes.

And because my imagination is a powerful instrument, these phantasmagorical visions of the future have all the verisimilitude they need to leave me paralyzed with fright. And that’s where the Razor earns its keep, and then some.

Because all of those scenarios build and become ever-complex. The mind doesn’t give a shit if none of those things will actually happen, it’s got a script and it’s trying to problem solve its way to the ending. Cave. Ashes. Blind in both eyes. Check.

But, thanks to my admittedly-not-as-scholarly-as-I’d-like-knowledge of William of Occam and his peculiar bladed instrument, I have a tool to deconstruct all of the terror inducing scaffolding my brain has erected.

Yes, folks, Occam’s Razor can even work on the bullshit we try to sell ourselves.

I hope, by this point, I’ve managed to sell you on Occam’s Razor.

Or, at least, to go look it up for yourself.

It’ll come in handy.

Promise.

Until next time…

 

 

 

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Dream Time…

(No, not the Australian Aboriginal concept of the after life, well, more like before and after life, but bonus points to you if that’s where your mind went. I like the way you think.)

No, this is a post about The Writing Life.

The more experienced writers out there know this one already. I give you leave to go. Really, shoo. I’m talking to the newer initiates here. Ok, stay if you want. I think you’re nifty too.

Anyways,

Most of even the novice writers out there know the concept of writing organization styles. There are Plotters – ie: people who write outlines. There are Pantsers – ie: people who just sit down to write, a la’ ‘flying by the seat of their pants’. And I’m told there is a fabled hybrid class that does something like both. Whereas I’m certain that’s possible, I honestly have no idea how they do it. They’re like unicorns, magical, elusive, and maybe requiring a virgin in white to track down?

Me? I’m a Pantser.

I sit down to write. And then I keep writing.

I have a notepad, sometimes more than one, on which to – strangely – write notes. But I really don’t plot. As close as I get to plotting is that I generally know the emotional arc of whatever I’m working on. But knowing how I want it to feel isn’t the same thing as knowing where the damn thing is going, narrative-wise.

As with anything that vaguely resembles writing advice, especially coming from me, keep in mind that I’m talking about my process. Your mileage may vary.

In fact, it should, in some degree or many.

Part of the whole writing thing is learning your own process; what works for you.

Grammar is great, but it can be fixed in post. Process is how you get something that may or may not need fixing in the first place.

A good part of your novice writing time will be spent fumbling around until you find what works for you.

Embrace that. It’ll do you good service from then on.

Anyways, again,

Me, I start with the sounds of the words.

Ideas are great, and technically they come first, even before emotions, but ideas aren’t stories. Ideas are the compost from which stories grow. The top soil that feeds them.

I come from a poetry writing background. (I still write poetry, but I used to exclusively write and perform poetry.)

So, for me, it’s the sound and rhythm of the thing. A character’s thoughts. An odd description. Some piece of narration that says, “Ok bub, hold on, ’cause here. We. Go.”

That’s where I get moving on a project.

But, because I do not sit and plot out the entire thing – hey, I like to discover a story too – sometimes I happen across a place in the work where I just do not fucking know what happens next.

Know your characters and situations as well as you like, but fly often enough without a compass and eventually you’ll find yourself circling the sun at high noon, wondering which direction to turn the rudder.

This is when I stop.

Ok, I mostly stop. I might keep putting words on the page, somewhere knowing that they’ll get deleted, just to keep the thing fresh in my head. But I generally stop.

And take time to dream.

It’s one of the coolest things about being a writer – even if it’s just a hobby – day dreaming.

Typically I’ll put on some kind of music that doesn’t have lyrics/ singing. I just want background noise. Maybe I’ll pick something that evokes a particular emotional state, but I don’t want to be carried away by the song, I want to have something to accompany me as I drift down my own stream of consciousness.

That’s my dream time.

Turn of the wifi on your phone. Look away from the computer screen. Try to get as free from the multitude of distractions of your daily life as possible. Stare off into space and let it happen.

Whatever it happens to be.

It is my experience that creativity can not be forced.

It can be encouraged. You can prime your environment and mind to be more conducive to creativity arising, but you can’t demand it show up.

Creativity doesn’t work for you.

It works with you. Through you. If you let it.

So, if I have any advice for the novice writers out there, other than practice your damn craft as often and as hard as you can, it is this:

Learn how to let your creativity happen.

Find out under what circumstances this weird occurrence comes into being.

This isn’t an excuse to wait for the muse or inspiration, or whatever other pretentious thing we’ve been told we should strive for.

It’s about figuring yourself out, and getting out of your own way.

If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment. I’ll do my best to answer them.

If you have suggestions – leave those too.

I’m always up to learn something new and interesting.

Until next time…

 

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