Power, Bullying and ‘isms’

It’s been a while since I wrote up one of my ‘Philosophy behind my stories’ posts to bore everyone rigid with. So if you have insomnia… help is at hand!

One of the current memes being aggressively pushed is: On attacking and demeaning someone of another race (usually white) “I can’t be racist, I am not white. Whites are in power and dominant and you have to be that to be racist.” or on attacking and demeaning someone of another sex or orientation (usually male, heterosexual) “I can’t be sexist, I am not male. Males are in power and dominant and you have to be that to be sexist.”

Oddly, I believe there is a fragment of rightness in what on the surface makes as much sense as a hedgehog full of LSD reciting the Koran backwards. In Latin. With a lisp.

Racism is quite simply and clearly prejudice (against or for) on the basis of race. Sexism is prejudice (against or for) on the basis of sex. Both rest on the mean group characteristics always trumping the individual’s characteristics. Think about it: it can’t actually work any other way. Obviously there are no ‘exclusions’ – the concept transcends current circumstances and passes quite cheerfully through cultures and history.

Of course, logic says (and this is the grain — a tiny one — of rightness in the bizarre meme) to translate that prejudice into discrimination which could hurt (or help – let’s not forget it works the other way too) the other person/s involved is that the individual expressing that racist/sexist prejudice needs to be in a position of power to do so.

But of course what is missing in the meme is that power is relative and localized. Coming back to my own work, I have a character in Crawlspace and Other Stories — Laggy — who was a Khorozhet slave, before being liberated by HAR Marines (and hereafter are certain spoilers. Proceed if you have read the space-set murder-mystery, or don’t care).

So: naturally a hero… well, certainly a hero by current sf-tropes. Slaves are by definition always wronged, always victims, always good (Jack Vance was the last author I can think of to not go with this trope. A brave and vastly under-rated and under-appreciated author.)

Let’s play this one through, logically. A slave is at the bottom of social pyramid. He has to be a victim…

Except of course he is not alone at the bottom of that pyramid. And among slaves there too is a hierarchy. Laggy, it turns out, was a trusty. A slave who exploited other slaves. When we take a close look slaves or prisoners… it turns out that, actually, this is quite common, and widely reported, except in modern fiction. There is also the interesting assumption that someone who has been enslaved was somehow always an innocent saint before the bad men (always in modern sf, by bad white men. Once again, history is not congruent with this version of the narrative. Enslavement and slave-keeping haven’t actually been limited to any one race or culture. It seems to have cropped up for a long long time – those bad white men were plainly in the pyramid building business.) came took them from their peaceful vegetarian matriarchal idyll and enslaved them. Let’s face it: innocent saints living in peaceful vegetarian matriarchy are probably very easy to capture and enslave. But of course, in reality such societies tend to die quite quickly unless protected by people who are none of the above, or extremely isolated with very high natural mortality. And even there: saints are thin on the ground. Slave takers didn’t care if you were a wife-beating child abuser who murdered his neighbor, or a saint. The former probably got away or possibly sold out the latter, but if a tribe or a village – or a stray individual got captured, the slavers didn’t do a thorough background check before issuing a ‘be a slave’ license (as in A MANKIND WITCH, where they enslaved someone they should have either ransomed or handed over for the dead-or-alive reward, and better dead). Slaves have to be a cross section of humanity too. Good, bad and mixed. Extreme conditions bring out the hidden best in some, and the worst in others… except in modern fiction.

Nor is the other standard trope: even if they were axe-murdering drug pushers when enslaved… when freed they’ve learned from the experience and become good people (TM) and would never ever exploit (or enslave) anyone else. It does happen — and that is at the root of our criminal justice system (I don’t think this ideal, but that’s a different discussion, different books). But if it worked that way all the time, there’d be no recidivism. That’s not true, and neither is the assumption that just because someone has been a victim, they will not victimize someone else. Sadly, that is not the case. It does happen that the former victim is determined not to do the same… But it is far from inevitable. And, because we are the center of own perceptions, it is quite plausible (and I suspect common) for someone to be be bullied… and at the same time to be bullying another. Or to join in bullying another to avoid being bullied. Or to have been bullied when small, growing and bullying others. And this is at the heart of CRAWLSPACE – Laggy is presumed innocent and good because he was a Khorozhet slave. In actual fact he’d murdered the man whose identity he’d assumed, been captured along with the other miners on the rock, and ended up as a trusty – by betraying some of them. He had seen opportunity with liberation – and kept the other (alien) slaves who had hidden during the attack, hidden after liberation, and still slaves. His slaves now, unaware that they’d been freed – a process he repeated with highly addictive drugs and the prostitutes at his bar. Note that the story does not portray ALL slaves as like Mr Laguna, or even most slaves. It is merely a hopefully plausible example of the variability and of the importance of relative power in any circumstance.

So what does this have to do with racism, sexism and the trope of “I can’t be… because I’m not a white male, and I have no power to be that in a society in which white males are dominant.” Well, it’s just power is a local or proximal thing, and, logically differs on the basis of the individuals (not groups) in the power relationship. So for example, you might (if you were a moonbat excusing your racist and/or sexist behavior) say White Men still dominate business and politics in Western society and therefore I can’t be. Or even more illogically ‘historically white men were dominant’… Well, let’s take traditional publishing. Historically white men were dominant. But that’s a shifting picture, which, with 74% women employed, and at least 70% in editorial… only 51% in management (and by the salary/age facts those men in management are old, and gradually fading from the picture. In ten years time it’ll be — conservatively — 85% female, and 70% female management.) Given an editor’s (or even someone in marketing) power over an author, it is perfectly accurate to say, despite history or the larger picture of society, the women in publishing would be well positioned to apply sexist prejudice against male authors. On the other hand male authors might be sexist about the editor, but he is in no position to discriminate against (or for) her as a result. The same is not true of the other side of the power equation. It’s not the situation in the wider society, it’s in that relationship. And the historically abused can be abusers. Sometimes they feel it is ‘payback’. Of course, it is never payback to the actual individual person/s who hurt them, but a payback to the ‘group’- which usually boils down another individual/s who may well not ever have inflicted any hurt on any of their group, and who may be in a very fragile personal position. Just because someone is a man, does not mean he is not also poor or suicidal or mentally unstable. When you treat individuals as individuals, that is obvious. When someone is a ‘group’ you can be wildly wrong.

Power determines who can bully who. And it is proximal power. Just as the kid who might come from an intelligent, well-off, socially and financially powerful family can still get the crap knocked out of him by a big kid whose single mother is on welfare and is slightly thicker than your average Hugo ‘Noah Ward’ voter (i.e. needing ‘breathe in, breathe out’ instructions to stop themselves dying of anoxia to the brain cell*) in the locker room, it’s a question who has power in that circumstance.

We’ve had a similar dose of insanity with sad/rabid puppies, with publishers, editors, powerful and successful authors with multiple awards shrieking loudly that the puppies and the nominees – who are none of the above – are bullying them. How, pray? Oh and despite all the evidence to the contrary, they’re sexists and misogynists (even the women) and white racists (even the not-white, or married to not white folk). And, besides the fact that it’s wildly inaccurate, what difference would it make? They have no power to apply prejudice. The inverse, of course is not true.

It has always struck me — as a guy who believes in judging individuals as individuals — how sometimes what is called ‘discrimination’ or sexism or racism is no such animal. Take the cop who hears a noise in an alley – he steps into it and sees a white woman and a black man wrestling desperately. He can only deal with one of them. It’s dim, he sees knife steel, but has no idea what’s happening. What does he do? By the current PC rules one way he’s a sexist, the other racist.

Maybe he should call for a safe space for them talk about it.

Or go for coffee and leave them to it, which is what I am going to do.

*if you think this is a bit harsh, you haven’t thought about the obvious ‘reply’ to this. Nor what good recruiting fodder it is for their foes.

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A little Bolg

A little snippet from the WIP, where a Bank – or its minion – has swindled two retired little old ladies out of their life savings. Unfortunately they are retired fertility goddesses, and have called on the services of the redoubtable PI Bolg to get their money back or at least release a large fly agaric maddened berserker with a double headed axe in the Bank…

….

Instead, armed with a little knowledge – always a dangerous thing, and without my Glock, or even a suitable double bladed axe — they have metal detectors — I went to the bank.

The woman at reception, when I got to the head of the queue, looked down on me. I’m used to that, at my height, even with the high heels and latex mask. None-the less, coming from a bank employee it could possibly have made me little more gruff than usual. “I want see a Mr Philip Dally. About an investment product.”

“Do you have an appointment?”
“Yes.” I have been given quite a lot, and never returned any. Royal ones too, and they’re supposed to last better. I was appointed holder of the royal trousers once, but only once.

She frowned at her screen. “I don’t have a record of it. What is your name please?”

“Dickson.” I’d been told there were a lot of them, and in a way we all are.

She shook her head. “Sorry. You can’t see Mr. Dally without an appointment.” She sounded very pleased about that.

“But my friend Mr. Jasmin” – I had the Vice President (Investments) name from the ever informative internet – “assured me he would see to it that I got an appointment.”

That plainly was a different matter entirely. “I’ll just see if he’s free, Mr Dickson.”

And indeed, he was. How surprising. I was escorted up to his office.

Given the timing – and the night before, he was drinking coffee and trying to look awake and enthusiastic. He failed at both. Poor fellow looked as if he could use a purge, so I helped him along in that direction. They scan you for firearms, but not rapid and violent laxatives. Fintan had needed elephant dung in a hurry at one stage of some of his experiments, and had run a little batch of this stuff up. It had almost destroyed the circus I’d been working at, at the time. I kept some for other people’s emergencies.

A little misdirection, a few minutes small talk about Mr. Jasmin and our acquaintanceship at the Country Club and wonders of hunting golfs together, a pastime that Dally seemed to envy, and the vast amounts of money coming out of my real-estate venture… and an expression of extreme distress suddenly delightfully enlivened his beautifully shaven and rather pallid face. It was a thing of joy that I was sorry not to record for my clients. It wasn’t quite as devastating as a berserker with an axe that Gersemi had wished for, although I had a feeling Dally’s underwear might not agree with me.

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Twisty Christmas Tales is free

for the 8th and 9th so get in quick

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Makers and breakers

You can find a new guest post here on L. Jagi Lamplighter’s Superversive Blog

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Joy Cometh with the Mourning

(yes, the picture is a link, if you buy via it we get extra from Amazon, and it costs you no extra.)

I am known, principally, as a writer of Science Fiction and Fantasy. To a lesser extent perhaps as a satirist, particularly fond of amorality in his aliens (or dragons… or rats) to question human mores and worldviews. A fool who takes on hell with a fire-bucket, a friend of battlers and lost causes, the old, the weak, the underdog, and indeed dogs in general. And marginally, a contrairian and philosophical fellow, who is mildly barking mad, living in the remotest of quiet backwaters, if one surrounded entirely by extremely turbulent ocean waters.

Humans are complex creatures, and some of us have more small moveable parts than others. I suppose the book above is an example of how different I can be from your preconceptions. It’s not what you expect. It has no elements of fantasy or science fiction in its plot. It is what is commonly called a ‘cozy’. A murder-mystery, with no on-scene blood, gore, or sex. Down the lines of Agatha Christie, with a touch of Miss Read. Oddly such a thing is much harder to write than my normal genre, at least for me. It is set in a small coastal village, more or less present day. The lead character is a rather timid lady-priest from an urban background sent out to hold the fort on the sudden death – in the aisle of the church – of her predecessor, under somewhat mysterious circumstances.

No I did not choose to have a female priest for doctrinal reasons, or because of any deeply held belief on my part. I wrote her as the lead character for two simple reasons – that it is a common de facto situation in the Anglican Church in Tasmania, and I wanted the least suitable character for the problems of a remote rural church and its congregation. That’s what authors do to make a good story: they put their characters in the most difficult situations, and let them dig themselves out. You know, Superman would be really boring without kryptonite. Joy finds ways to turn her weaknesses into strength and, well, she has help.

I wrote this book as a fundraiser for the tiny little Parish of Furneux Islands. I have donated it entirely to them, because they’re in strife and do good things in my community.

And because the image isn’t showing in some browsers…

Final 3

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And it is only the giving…

That makes you what you are…” (Wond’ring Aloud, Jethro Tull)
This is not intended as a homily, or a ‘holier-than-thou’ (because I am not) but a curious observation. Some people are born (or made into by their growing-up environment. I don’t seriously know which, and it may be both) givers. Others, it seems, expect it to be given to them. The precious few are those who know how to receive graciously, and give good value for it. The latter is the hardest, and is a skill I have never learned well. I was raised (and possibly born) to be one who gives. My father certainly was. Nothing delighted him more. I remember an endless giving of fish, or crayfish, or avocados, or lychees or paw-paws – often to the extent he’d give more than he kept for his family. I derive pleasure in giving (especially to the latter group), and I struggle to receive, let alone graciously. I try, with indifferent success. I cope best by paying it forward, if I can’t pay it back, because to me a gift that is received as if it were ‘due’ sours right there – which is why I pay my dues to other wannabe writers, to people who wish to climb, or dive, or fish or learn more of living off the land. There is of course a considerable quid pro quo situation which is not barter, but an aspect of gracious receiving, among the various self-sufficiency folk.

To my mind many of the demands ‘rights’ and ‘reparations’ come from a way of making giving have no reciprocal requirement of gratitude, pay-back or even pay-forward. It appears based on fostering feelings of guilt, an interesting and complex product of social evolution, and rests quite heavily on Judeo-Christian history and philosophy. The reward for the giver, is per se is in theory amelioration of that guilt, which oddly is always temporary. It is certainly something which can be exploited, and I believe often is. I don’t see that ending well, myself. It’s hard, certainly in game theory (where those who do not reciprocate are considered ‘cheaters’ – to be detected and punished or excluded) to see how this could work, otherwise. Of course children are given a lot of lee-way, possibly in the assumption that one is training them to be givers themselves as adults. And possibly because their obvious delight is a reward enough.

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Lying with Memes

For all of those who have looked at those cute/clever pictures and a few word things on the internet – and forwarded the link…

(the picture’s a link) can I recommend this.

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