On writing long vs. writing short: why do it?
A fellow author (and work comrade) noted that she was having trouble concentrating on a long-form piece of fiction for a workshop in the fall. Her forte has been short fiction, and she's gotten some of it published; my forte is long-form. Strangely, I find long-form work more comfortable than short-form, and this has baffled more than a few people: how is it that I can stick to something longer and finish it, but shorter work throws me off?
"Entertainment" isn't a cover for dispensing lies and misinformation.
Remember sitting at the lunch table in high school and feeling spitballs land on the back of your neck courtesy of the bullies one table over? Remember coming back to your locker and finding the handle jammed up with bubble gum? Or finding that someone had torn off the detachable hood from your jacket and left it floating in a toilet bowl? Or realizing that no matter what happened, none of the jerks who did those things habitually would ever have anything happen to them?
I'll tell me what to really think.
More on willful stupidity:
This is what the French anthropologist Olivier Roy calls “holy ignorance.” It is not a failure of intelligence, but a proud refusal to know things tainted by the arrogance of inevitability. He writes: “There is a close link between secularization and religious revivalism, which is not a reaction against secularization, but the product of it. Secularism engenders religion.” The defenders of the lost cause feel persecuted, and the more support there is for their opponents, the grander they are in their lonely war.
I would refine this to say that secularism engenders a reactionary retreat into religion on the part of some who can't stand the idea that the world is bigger than their particular system of spiritual indoctrination. Not everyone who believes in something does this, and I'm not entirely certain it's an inevitably by-product of belief systems as such.
I do believe it's a by-product of a specific kind of belief system, one that refuses to recognize the need for both secular and sacred space as parallel and necessary projects. To go back to Brad Warner: you need faith to keep you going, and doubt to keep you from going off the deep end. But if you start by being off the deep end to begin with, it seems there's little chance of you coming back.
What's really dangerous is when one of the stated missions of such belief systems is rejecting those parts of material reality that are most essential to your survival. Or, for that matter, to the survival of the species. It's gloomily ironic that one of the belief systems that is enlisted most fervently in the defense of such short-sighted behavior is the one that exalts poverty and charity as its highest ideals. What happened, guys?
Another NYC bookstore gone, another desert of the mind expands.
The forces that brought La Hune down are, sadly and predictably, the same forces that destroyed Rizzoli, on 57th Street, or the old Books & Co., on Madison Avenue: the ruthless depredations of the Internet (Amazon is regarded warily in France, and pays a bookstore-protection tax, but it is there), alongside the transformation upward (or is it downward?) of the inner cores of big cities into tar pits for a mono-culture of luxury.
My bets are more on the latter than the former. Give a bookstore a good, non-predatory environment to thrive in, and it will thrive, Internet and Amazon notwithstanding. (Cases in point: The Strand, or McNally Jackson.) Take that environment away and replace it with one that's a playpen for the aliterate, and no prizes for guessing what you get back: a billion-dollar brain desert.
Call me prejudiced for valuing bookstores more than (yet another) Starbucks or (yet another) bank, but there are some things that you just can't set a real pricetag on. One of them is the intellectual life of a neighborhood, and without a reasonably public local nexus for such things, it blows to the four winds. A university campus is one way to have that, but it's often too costly to be universally appealing; a bookstore is a more modest incarnation of that same impulse. And given how NYU has been buying up most of downtown Manhattan as of late, I'm leaning more towards the bookstore as a democratic repository of higher learning.
A short silence.
Between work and work, I won't be around much in the next couple of weeks. I might try to squeeze in an essay or two, but there's a lot that has my attention right now. I've got a day-job related thing coming up, and am also trying to finish the outline for Red Desert (next novel) and get Fold prepped for submission to various people and places.
I also somehow managed to injure the tip of my finger in such a way that typing re-opens it (this happens to me every so often). I see myself burning through a lot of Band-Aids.
Anders Breivik’s Inexplicable Crime - The New Yorker I do not believe that Breivik himself has anything to teach us. I believe that his life is a coincidence of unfortunate circumstances, and what he did was such an anomaly that...
I do not believe that Breivik himself has anything to teach us. I believe that his life is a coincidence of unfortunate circumstances, and what he did was such an anomaly that it makes no sense even to guard ourselves against it.
"...smart people, lacking any sort of compelling real world data, are great at debating and rationalizing bad decisions."
The problem with getting a room full of smart people together is that the group’s world view gets skewed. There are many reasons that a working group filled with experts don’t consistently produce great results. For example, many of the participants can be humble about their knowledge so they tend to think that a good chunk of the people that will be using their technology will be just as enlightened. Bad feature ideas can be argued for months and rationalized because smart people, lacking any sort of compelling real world data, are great at debating and rationalizing bad decisions.
Emphasis mine, and echoed by too many first-hand examples for me to summarize here, but one that comes to mind is the way Microsoft relied on user telemetry to make the decision to nix the Start menu from Windows 8. Few people used it, they thought, so why not take it out? What they didn't realize was that the few people who used it, used the hell out of it. They were perfectly willing to rationalize a bad decision because they had data to back it up; never mind how that data only reflected a small piece of a larger, more complex picture.
Given how "quantification" has become the new technocratic scientism, you can expect a lot more of this to come. Why, it might even become the basis for policy! I can hardly wait.
"The real enemy is not ignorance, doubt, or even disbelief. It is false knowledge."
The strategy of willful ignorance is not to fight theory with theory and statistic with statistic. It is instead to say, "I refuse to believe this," and then filibuster in the court of public opinion. It is not crackpot theories that are doing us in. It is the spread of the tactics of those who disrespect truth.
... The real enemy is not ignorance, doubt, or even disbelief. It is false knowledge. When we profess to know something even in the face of absent or contradicting evidence, that is when we stop looking for the truth.
I'll have some things to say about the political implications of this stuff in another post, because first I want to single out something else.
More about the cutting-edge tools of my writerly trade.
Last week I downloaded TiddlyWiki 5 — the latest version of the personal wiki software I've used to organize my last two writing projects — and set to work outlining my next book, The Palace of the Red Desert.
The fellow in the mirror needs your criticism the most.
Not something I agree with in toto, but some good points:
As a feminist gets older, if she’s paying attention, she starts to see that the world is a little more complicated than she thought, and that a lot of different types of prejudice and oppression are acting on people all at the same time, and sexism and racism and classism and ableism and heterosexism and other forms of oppression are all wrapped up together. As a feminist gets older, she starts to see that the way a man treats a woman is just a symptom of a larger illness: Institutional disease. Our institutions–culture, education, government, religion–are all wrapped up in perpetuating oppression as a means of keeping themselves afloat. It’s baked right in to everything we do, every interaction, every transaction.
... A feminist who wants change needs to be critical of government and the law, needs to see the complexities of social action wielded for the public good. A feminist needs to be critical of feminism. She needs to be critical of herself. A feminist needs to change, in other words. She needs to get more complex and use that complexity to treat the world she’s fighting through as more complex as well.
It should not be difficult to see how this introspection applies to more than just feminism. There's no line of thinking that's going to not ossify unless you keep subjecting it to the heat and light of introspection's sun.
When charges of hypocrisy are laid.
... when is the charge of hypocrisy relevant? Basically, only when a public figure is preaching about individual behavior, and perhaps holding himself or herself up as a role model. So yes, it’s fair to go after someone who preaches morality but turns out to be a crook or a sexual predator. But articles alleging that someone’s personal choices are somehow hypocritical given their policy positions are almost always off point.
Charges of hypocrisy get thrown around as freely as they do, I think, because we always like to project the impression of being on higher moral ground than the other guy(s). Hypocrisy is one of the few charges you can assign to a person that vilifies them in just about all eyes; after all, the least any of us can ask for of our neighbor is that he at least be consistent. And if he can't even be that ...
Where this stuff runs amok is when, as Krugman noted, it becomes a way to beat up the wrong people for the wrong reasons. It was fashionable to beat up Al Gore for flying a jet, although I have yet to see any serious debates about how practical it would be for him to travel to his lectures by rowboat. The idea that "Al Gore flies, therefore global warming is a hoax / overblown" is as kindergarten an argument as you're going to get, but hey, for some people, all that matters is looking to your cronies like you've scored a point, right?