The Whippersnappers Talk About School Reading Lists

This Sunday, the Whippersnappers will be discussing the relationships between schools and the arts, with the main focus on school reading lists. Do they hinder or help a child’s reading? What kinds of books are children being made to read today? What books should kids be reading?

We’ll have many different perspectives on this subject, including those of Orville and Juss Wright, who are still in high themselves! We have much to talk about, so come listen along and join the discussion!

Sunday, 3pm EST! Be there!

 

The Fear of Silence

How often do you enjoy silence? True silence, not only in the atmosphere around you, but in your mind as well. Do you appreciate silence, or do you find it a burden? Unless we seek it out, is there ever a time when we are not surrounded by distractions and noise?

The past century has brought many advances in technology and changes to the people’s daily lives. From radios, to television and Hollywood, and the internet, the world is far from where it once was. Even in my rather short lifetime, things have changed a lot. I remember before social media was so present in our daily lives, when cell phone were almost exclusively for making calls, back before people started documenting their lives on their devices. And yet now, practically everyone has their phone always with them. Hand held computers make distractions so very easy. So much entertainment and temptation at the touch of a button, anywhere, at any time. The perfect excuse to avoid real-life social interaction.

Why do people become so attached to the internet? To car radios? To social media? To the endless noise and things constantly going on around them? Because the noise is easy. If they are always moving from one thing to another, they don’t have the time to look closely at themselves. The noise keeps them distracted from the thoughts and questions deep inside them. Distracted from the feeling that something is not quite right, but you don’t know what the thing is or why it bugs you. Instead you pretend it’s not there, and use noise to drown it out.

It’s not only our entertainment and gadgets that keep us perpetually busy. Everyone has school and work and activities to go to. School, for example, seems to completely take over the lives of the youth. Certainly, it is important to be educated and able to read, write, calculate numbers, and other basic things to function in our society. But does it need to be at the point where they are at school all day, doing homework all night, stressing about assignments due, and left with no time to themselves? And even when they do have free time, they are so exhausted all they can do is rest and recharge. All their critical thinking is used up memorizing the material to repeat back on the test.

Couple that with the social pressures they are subject to in school and from peers, and the media in general, how do you expect the youth today to be able to think and really know who they are by the time they are an adult?

For me, especially in my younger years, it was rather easy. Mom never allowed us to sit in front of a screen or watch TV for very long. And being homeschooled, I didn’t have the hassle and stress from the school environment. So the majority of my childhood was spent playing games with my brothers and friends, or off exploring and doing my own thing.

Then we moved to a small farm when I was ten, and not long after I got my first laptop to write on. In the years following I certainly knew, and sometimes fell into, the temptation of wasting my time on the internet – of letting the “noise” go on and on. But what made the difference for me, was that I had animals to feed. Every day I would have to go outside and tend to my animals. This can take from twenty minutes to an hour or more, depending on the season. Occasionally I would listen to music while I worked, sometimes I’d sing to myself, but mostly it was just me and my animals.

I never really realized it until now, but that was my time for silence. It was my time just to be with myself, away from the noise. I believe it is what has kept me sane – as sane as a writer can be – and secure in myself and who I am and what I think.

Growing up in such a way allowed me to spend a lot of time with myself, and thus get to know myself very well. I am in no way perfect, but I understand my strengths and my weaknesses, I know what I am and what I am not. And when you understand that about yourself, it makes it much harder for people to tear you down.

Now let me compare that to the time that I call “my crash course in everything high school.” This happened two summers ago when one of my brothers, my good friend, and I attended a college workshop for high school kids. It was simple: two days of classes, one day was a fun field trip, and on the last day we all took a test. The students that did the best, got awarded a scholarships, and we all went home. This was the closest I’ve come to a public school environment, and it had all your typical high school stuff: the bus ride, the obnoxious kids, the ‘boy’, the girl drama, the sitting in classes, and the stress before taking a test. Like I said, crash course in high school. It about ran me into the ground.

The main thing I noticed, was how out of myself I became. There were so many people around, all the time. If you’ve ever meet me, you will know how much of a social butterfly I am and how much I enjoy being around and talking to people. However, usually the social butterfly side of me is balanced by my anti-social author side. But in this case, I didn’t have that balance. I didn’t have the time or space just to chill out and be completely by myself without distractions for a very long time. I was either in my dorm with my friend, or in class with a bunch of other people, or doing activities with other people. There never seemed to be a time that I wasn’t surrounded by other people.

But allow me to explain what this constant stimulation did to me.

I was overly-hyper, jittery, constantly talking, over stimulated, and as a whole, unbalanced. I had too much energy always focusing outward, and never enough time to bring the energy back inward. After that whole experience, it wasn’t until a couple days after I got home that I felt like myself again. I was just so wound up from all that social interaction – from all the noise – that I never had a chance to unwind. And so I became tighter and tighter wound and further and further away from myself.

See, I never understood that concept I had often heard preached at teens to “find yourself” or “be who you really are.” I just didn’t get why that was such a ‘thing’ that teens needed to do. But after that week, I finally understood. Because I had already known how to be myself, I had spent so much time by myself and out of the noise that I couldn’t be anything but myself. Yet now, seeing what that buzz and noise did to me after only a couple days, I can only imagine what it would do to me if I had spent my whole childhood in that. I’d be a totally different person. I wouldn’t have the space or freedom from the noise to be comfortable and grow in myself. It would be terrible.

 

In C. S. Lewis’ work the Screwtape Letters, there is an ongoing conversation between a demon named Screwtape and his nephew Wormwood. Uncle Screwtape is encouraging and reprimanding his nephews’ work on tricking a human into eternal damnation. Allow me to quote uncle Screwtape’s comment about silence, .

 

And now for your blunders. On your own showing you first of all allowed the patient to read a book he really enjoyed, because he enjoyed it and not in order to make clever remarks about it to his new friends. In the second place, you allowed him to walk down to the old mill and have tea there—a walk through country he really likes, and taken alone. In other words you allowed him two real positive Pleasures. Were you so ignorant as not to see the danger of this? The characteristic of Pains and Pleasures is that they are unmistakably real, and therefore, as far as they go, give the man who feels them a touchstone of reality. Thus if you had been trying to damn your man by the Romantic method—by making him a kind of Childe Harold or Werther submerged in self-pity for imaginary distresses—you would try to protect him at all costs from any real pain; because, of course, five minutes’ genuine toothache would reveal the romantic sorrows for the nonsense they were and unmask your whole strategem. But you were trying to damn your patient by the World that is by palming off vanity, bustle, irony, and expensive tedium as pleasures. How can you have failed to see that a real pleasure was the last thing you ought to have let him meet? Didn’t you foresee that it would just kill by contrast all the trumpery which you have been so laboriously teaching him to value? And that the sort of pleasure which the book and the walk gave him was the most dangerous of all? That it would peel off from his sensibility the kind of crust you have been forming on it, and make him feel that he was coming home, recovering himself? As a preliminary to detaching him from the Enemy, you wanted to detach him from himself, and had made some progress in doing so. Now, all that is undone.

C.S. Lewis The Screwtape Letters

 

Uncle Screwtape is criticizing his nephew because he allowed his patient to enjoy silence. Wormwood allowed his human to find the peace in the silence, to relax and see the world around him. He allowed his patient to enjoy something good for it’s own sake. This is very dangerous to them, because it dispels the noise and self-centeredness.

Think about going to the top of a mountain. Imagine standing on a wooden balcony overlooking an entire valley. The tops of the mountain lost in low clouds, the variety of shades of trees covering the mountain face like an impressionist’s painting, the startling drop below you as you lean over the edge, looking into the life and layout of an entire town. Are not you in awe of such a sight? Is not your heart stirred? Is not your mind caught up in the grandness and majesty? Does it not make you feel so much smaller in comparison? But not even in a insignificant way, for it does not diminish you, but lifts you. It brings you to see the wonder and majesty of God’s creation, it brings you out of yourself; so you can see that even though you are not any less valued or significant, you are only one small part of this universe. It makes our problems seem so much smaller in comparison, and you see and feel the almighty power of God.

Basically, it brings you into perspective.  But this perspective cannot be achieved when caved in on ourselves and surrounded by noise that encourages us to stay that way.

As it says in the letter, when you are opened up to real Pleasure and Pain, the illusions we build around ourselves disappear. Many people get caught up in small dramas; like what their favorite celebrity is doing, their status on social media, and other things of that nature. In small doses those things aren’t that dangerous. But it becomes a slippery slope when those little dramas totally take over our minds and, we become obsessed with it.

When that happens, it becomes such a big part of people’s thoughts that if something undesirable happens it is the worst ever! However, if something truly bad happens – like a death, illness, or misfortune – it brings things into perspective, shatters the illusion, and leaves you much more sober.

And same thing with real pleasure. You wouldn’t be talking about it just to fit in. You’d truly be filled with joy and constantly be sharing and talking about it for it’s own sake. Because it is good in itself.

The characteristic of sin and the noise is to cave you in on yourself. When you focus on the little drama that seems like such a big deal, your focus becomes self-centered. And when you only look at yourself you miss the bigger picture and the needs of others. Exactly what the enemy wants you to do.

In the little dramas you look in at yourself in a superficial way: What I want, how I look, how much popularity do I have, what pleases me. These kinds of questions happen when there’s an event or trend going on.

Yet when you look deeper the questions are: who am I? Where did I come from? Why do I exist? What is my purpose? Now those kinds of questions come when you have a near death experience, a life changing event, or when you are in silence. Because those questions or always there somewhere in the back of our minds, it is when we are out of the noise that we can hear them best.

When those questions arise, some think of it as an existential crisis. And when you don’t have the answers, which most don’t, it can be quite scary to have these nagging thoughts deep inside you, the ones that challenge and call you. But if instead of facing these questions you seek to drown them out, you are taking the easy way. It is less painful to slip into passiveness and mindless pleasure than to seek out the the answers and pursue truth. And so, to be in silence is to look at yourself, but also look past yourself, to the one who made you.

This is what comes in real silence. And this is what people fear.

But no, we can’t take a hard look at ourselves, we must stay caught up in our daily stress, we must be constantly making things easier and more instant, we must forever be talking about the drama of others, we must be outraged at every new story the media pushes at us. Because if not, we might stop to think and tune out the noise. We might realize that the world and its problems are much bigger than our petty dramas. After all, in the end all is vanity.

Coming back to my point about silence in nature, here is a passage from Brave New World, in which they are explaining how they get people to go into the country, without actually wanting to see the country.

One of the students held up his hand; and though he could see quite well why you couldn’t have lower-cast people wasting the Community’s time over books, and that there was always the risk of their reading something which might undesirably decondition one of their reflexes, yet … well, he couldn’t understand about the flowers. Why go to the trouble of making it psychologically impossible for Deltas to like flowers?

Patiently the D.H.C. explained. If the children were made to scream at the sight of a rose, that was on grounds of high economic policy. Not so very long ago (a century or thereabouts), Gammas, Deltas, even Epsilons, had been conditioned to like flowers-flowers in particular and wild nature in general. The idea was to make them want to be going out into the country at every available opportunity, and so compel them to consume transport.

“And didn’t they consume transport?” asked the student.

“Quite a lot,” the D.H.C. replied. “But nothing else.”

Primroses and landscapes, he pointed out, have one grave defect: they are gratuitous. A love of nature keeps no factories busy. It was decided to abolish the love of nature, at any rate among the lower classes; to abolish the love of nature, but not the tendency to consume transport. For of course it was essential that they should keep on going to the country, even though they hated it. The problem was to find an economically sounder reason for consuming transport than a mere affection for primroses and landscapes. It was duly found.

“We condition the masses to hate the country,” concluded the Director. “But simultaneously we condition them to love all country sports. At the same time, we see to it that all country sports shall entail the use of elaborate apparatus. So that they consume manufactured articles as well as transport. Hence those electric shocks.”

“I see,” said the student, and was silent, lost in admiration.

 

Aldous Huxley Brave New World

And again you see it is an “I”. I want to go play golf because it is a sport I enjoy. Nothing wrong with that. But as you seen in the conditioning, that is the only reason they go into nature. The people of Brave New World would never dream of going into a field of flowers and enjoying it simply because it’s beautiful. Admiring true beauty for the sake of beauty and wishing to be silent in it is a danger to a stable society.You might get people thinking!

In our world today, we are surrounded by beeping buttons and flashing light. Our attention is being pulled a hundred ways at once. There is almost no way to get away from all that noise. And because in the noise it is so hard to get to the deeper core, it is all just static. Because of that, it is easiest to just go with with is the loudest signal, and what is loudest is usually from the people with the most power. And there’s always an agenda behind that.

For people with a lot of power and something to push, the noise works very well for them. They can easily manufacture noise, they can stir up riots, they can control the media, and whatever else to get emotions of people running out of control. Because if they get people to stop checking their gut reactions and think through things, they can swings those reactions the way the want.Thus adding to the noise. Then while everyone is distracted, they can push their agenda.

Although there are plenty of corrupt people willing to take advantage of this and manipulate events, they can only really control what is in their lifetime, which is relatively short. No human can guide the events over generations. One could try but it would be imperfect, since this job would have to be passed from person to person. But if there were someone immortal being that had a grudge against all things good and holy…..

If you look back on the last century, there are some disturbing trends. There are things that have fallen in line in the past decades that would have had to be set in motion many generations ago. To think that the corruption in our society today was conducted only by human hands would be wishful thinking. For although there are human powers that have played a role, I have no doubt something more sinister is leading this march of distraction.

Now allow me to conclude with another excerpt from Brave New World. It is a scene with two characters going on a date. I believe it does an excellent job illustrating the person desiring something beyond himself, and the person who is far too complacent and happy in her conditioning, who fears the silence because it is something she can never understand.

 

Pretty harmless, perhaps; but also pretty disquieting. That mania, to start with, for doing things in private. Which meant, in practice, not doing anything at all. For what was there that one could do in private. (Apart, of course, from going to bed: but one couldn’t do that all the time.) Yes, what was there? Precious little. The first afternoon they went out together was particularly fine. Lenina had suggested a swim at Toquay Country Club followed by dinner at the Oxford Union. But Bernard thought there would be too much of a crowd. Then what about a round of Electro-magnetic Golf at St. Andrew’s? But again, no: Bernard considered that Electro-magnetic Golf was a waste of time.

“Then what’s time for?” asked Lenina in some astonishment.

Apparently, for going walks in the Lake District; for that was what he now proposed. Land on the top of Skiddaw and walk for a couple of hours in the heather. “Alone with you, Lenina.”

“But, Bernard, we shall be alone all night.”

Bernard blushed and looked away. “I meant, alone for talking,” he mumbled.

“Talking? But what about?” Walking and talking-that seemed a very odd way of spending an afternoon.

In the end she persuaded him, much against his will, to fly over to Amsterdam to see the Semi-Demi-Finals of the Women’s Heavyweight Wrestling Championship.

“In a crowd,” he grumbled. “As usual.” He remained obstinately gloomy the whole afternoon; wouldn’t talk to Lenina’s friends (of whom they met dozens in the ice-cream soma bar between the wrestling bouts); and in spite of his misery absolutely refused to take the half-gramme raspberry sundae which she pressed upon him. “I’d rather be myself,” he said. “Myself and nasty. Not somebody else, however jolly.”

“A gramme in time saves nine,” said Lenina, producing a bright treasure of sleep-taught wisdom. Bernard pushed away the proffered glass impatiently.

“Now don’t lose your temper,” she said. “Remember one cubic centimetre cures ten gloomy sentiments.”

“Oh, for Ford’s sake, be quiet!” he shouted.

Lenina shrugged her shoulders. “A gramme is always better than a damn,” she concluded with dignity, and drank the sundae herself.

On their way back across the Channel, Bernard insisted on stopping his propeller and hovering on his helicopter screws within a hundred feet of the waves. The weather had taken a change for the worse; a south- westerly wind had sprung up, the sky was cloudy.

“Look,” he commanded.

“But it’s horrible,” said Lenina, shrinking back from the window. She was appalled by the rushing emptiness of the night, by the black foam-flecked water heaving beneath them, by the pale face of the moon, so haggard and distracted among the hastening clouds. “Let’s turn on the radio. Quick!” She reached for the dialling knob on the dash-board and turned it at random.

“… skies are blue inside of you,” sang sixteen tremoloing falsettos,

“the weather’s always …”

Then a hiccough and silence. Bernard had switched off the current.

“I want to look at the sea in peace,” he said. “One can’t even look with that beastly noise going on.”

“But it’s lovely. And I don’t want to look.”

“But I do,” he insisted. “It makes me feel as though …” he hesitated, searching for words with which to express himself, “as though I were more me, if you see what I mean. More on my own, not so completely a part of something else. Not just a cell in the social body. Doesn’t it make you feel like that, Lenina?”

 

 

However, Lenina does not understand, and never will. She does not feel the pull of something beyond herself. Lenina is far too attached to her conditioning to understand the longing that Bernard feels.

Bernard wishes to do things in private, like to go on walks alone and just talk. He wants to sit in silence looking at the sea. He is looking for intimacy deeper than the constant activity and casual sex.

Lenina doesn’t understand this. And because she doesn’t understand the silence, it frightens her. It frightens her because the silence invites her to deeper thoughts and feelings, the kind she would rather take soma to forget about.

And so you see, there are many things to keep us from silence. There is always something fighting for our attentions – tempting us to take the easy way and go with the noise. And yet it is paramount that we seek out and acquaint ourselves with silence, not only for our mental health, but for our physical and emotional health as well. We need silence to properly think. That’s why people are so afraid of silence. Because it takes away the static. It takes away the convenience of following the loudest signal. It makes you question and have to listen for that whisper of truth.

People are afraid of silence because that is when the truth that is ingrained in all of us is the loudest. And truth is terrifying.

The Perfect Society and the Body of Christ

I have recently read 1984 by George Orwell, and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley for the first time.

Both excellent pieces of Science Fiction.

Both immensely disturbing.

When I finished Brave New World, I began to think and muse, and compare it to the world of 1984. In doing so, I discovered both have a surprising amount of things in common.

First, in both stories the society is under strict control. But while one is controlled through force and hatred, the other is controlled through Soma and conditioning. The second common theme is that for the societies to work, the sense of individuality must be destroyed. They need everyone to fit and work together; they need the people to be perfectly in place to make everything run smoothly – just like gears in a machine. But gears are expendable. So if one gear starts acting up, it is much easier to toss it aside and replace it with a more manageable gear. Which is something they wouldn’t hesitate to do.

I was thinking about all this, about a world where everyone is united under one force, working perfectly together. In theory, it sounds great. Since everyone is united, there is no strife and no war within that society. Everyone agrees on everything. And so, in theory, there is world peace. But as you see in both stories, when there are those who dream and who don’t want to live in the boxes they are told to fit into, it almost never comes to a good end. So how can you have a stable society and world peace, but also have free will and imagination? Well, I believe the answer is, you can’t.

If you want a perfect society, you need perfect people. The problem lies in the fact that humanity is messy and imperfect. The only way to make the perfect people for your perfect society, is to take away their humanity and turn them into compliant sheep. Because thinking, dreaming, and using our imagination and intellect is always a dangerous thing, especially to those trying to rule over us. After all, if the sheep started thinking, they might build a ladder over the fence or set the farmhouse on fire.

As I mused over all this, I got to wondering if it was possible to be completely united under one force, while keeping the respect for the individual and human life. Indeed that is possible. People band together for important causes, or to defend themselves in war, and I’m sure a lot of other reason. But it’s never perfect, there will always be some clashing of will within the most united movement.

And so I was trying to think of the closest thing there was to a perfect and completely united people, that still held their individuality. My mind was immediately drawn to the The Body of Christ. Just look at the saints – the men and woman that completely immersed themselves in the Body of Christ. They are all united in their dedication to serve God’s will; yet at the same time, are so vastly different.

Saint Joan of Arc: A warrior and martyr.

Saint Thomas Aquinas: A master theologian.

Saint Gabriel Possenti: Who single handedly ran ruffians out of his village at gunpoint.

Saint Therese of Lisieux: A girl who wanted, throughout all her childhood, to be a nun.

As you can see, there is everything from warriors to thoughtful monks. Certainly, the Body of Christ it is not perfect. Since it is made up of imperfect humans, there will always be small and large struggles; there will always be things that could be better. But it has held up for over 2,000 year – of course, it’s only been held up by the grace of God – but that’s kinda the whole point of it. The Body of Christ is so connected, yet so completely diverse. That’s what makes the Body of Christ so unique and different from the worlds of 1984 and Brave New World.

With all those thoughts melding in my mind, I began to compare the Body of Christ to the Societies. So allow me to further lay out my musing.

As I mentioned before, both societies seek to destroy the individual. Human life is not valued. And so, you are just a part of a machine and have no worth other than serving the society.

Where in the Body of Christ and His Church, you have innate value. And although you have a duty to serve, your value comes from the fact that you are a child of God – made in his image. Not from what you can do or produce.

The other thing is that in both societies, marriage is offensive and the family is repulsive. I find it interesting that even though intercourse in the two societies is viewed in completely opposite ways, their hatred for family and the strong relationships found within it, are almost equal.

In 1984, the family is a threat. The loyalty of the people must be exclusive to Big Brother. Procreation is viewed as an unsavory, yet necessary, act that is not allowed to be enjoyed. The children are instructed in watching and monitoring their parents, and they are rewarded for betraying their parents to the Thought Police for even the tiniest offence.

The family is just as much of a threat in Brave New World as in 1984. Because they are conditioned to flinch at the very word “mother.” Because everyone belongs to everyone else. Because it is not good if someone feels too strongly for someone else. Because intercourse is just a pastime. Because strong feelings lead to strong action. And we have Soma to take that away.

Another common theme is segregations. You can see this in 1984, not only that the inner Party is much richer than the normal labor folks, but in the almost livestock view of the Proles. The Proles aren’t really part of the Party, they are only there to do the dirty work. They are let to their own ways: to work, and drink, and breed. They are less than lower class to everyone else.

However, Brave New World is where you can really see the segregation. Everyone is made into a class. They are made the fit into that class by tamperings while they develop in a bottle, and they learn to love their class from hypnotic conditioning in their sleep as children. There is never much hate between the classes. At most it’s disdain, especially from the upper classes. While you are conditioned to love your group above the others, you are also conditioned to recognize you need to other classes. You’re just really glad you’re not them.

But in the Body of Christ, all are equal and all are welcome. Everytime I go to mass I see rich and poor, man and woman, black, white, and purple, all kneeling next to each other and praying in the same voice. We have people of different backgrounds and walks of life. But neither do we go around bragging about how “diverse” we are. No, I never even notice. I just see people. Because everyone will be looked at and judged the same when brought before the Lord.

Next is the subject about rations, and how everything is assigned: from who they are – as I mentioned earlier – even to what they eat. In 1984 it is very clear to see. The Ministry of Plenty controls how much of what you get, from clothes, to razors, to food. And with the “war” going on, it’s easier for them cut back and give you less.

In Brave New World, it is not as harsh. In fact, is seems like most everyone has plenty of whatever they want. But the Soma is regulated to a degree and passed out from day to day.

In the Body of Christ we are not promised that we will have any earthly comfort. We are only asked to trust that God will provide, and to trust and follow his will. But at the same time this doesn’t mean we can’t work hard and try to make something out of what we have. You can push yourself to do better, you can improve. You do not always have to be stuck with is handed out to you.

Lastly, and what I found most interesting, is that both societies severely limit your free time. They must keep you working, making, doing. They fear, and rightly so, that if a person is allowed to be without distraction and let their mind settle, they will be drawn to find truth.

Where, in the Body of Christ, we are encouraged and even commanded to be still, to pray, and to be alone with the one who made us. The longing for silence is a spiritual longing. And I’m not simply talking about absence of  sound. I’m talking of an inner silence and quieting of mind – the longing to find who you truly are, and from where you came.

You can see this happening in Bernard and Winston.

In Brave New World, Bernard desires to be away from the crowd and the noise: out of the stupor of the Soma, to be alone. Of course this is unheard of and scandalous, and everyone shuns him for it. He feels cast out and empty – looking to be filled by something beyond him.

You can also see this in Helmholtz. He is a writer, wishing to write something with power – or as he puts it, something piercing. He is tired of writing the same, formulated propaganda. He seeks more than just the shallow entertainment allowed to the masses. However, that is impossible, since high art is not allowed in their stable society. They are to be happy, dull, sheep – not made to think too hard about things.

It is very similar for Winston in 1984. He hates that his every move, and every thought, is being watched. He chafes and strains against this strict society. He wishes for, and pursues, freedom. Of course, doing so means certain death.

I believe the common thread unifying these characters, is that they are reaching beyond themselves. Winston wonders and hopes that there is a world, or people, beyond the cruel one he knows. Bernard wants to know what it’s like to have self control, and he wants to be able to sit and look at the world. And Helmholtz wishes to write something to stir the hearts of men. In the societies in which they live, they are held back. But in the Body of Christ, they would be praised and fulfilled.

 

Unpersoned by Twitter’s Deep Shadowban

No Twitter

Having written before about Twitter’s nasty penchant for censoring and outright banning users who deviate from the company’s rigid left wing ideology, I fully expected the Twitter thought police to come for me. Milo Yiannopoulos warned as much.

I just didn’t expect them this soon.

Daddy Warpig tweet 1

Late Friday afternoon: friends on Twitter started complaining that they couldn’t see my tweets. Daddy Warpig placed the blame on a shadowban.

NB: if you’re unfamiliar with the concept of a shadowban, it’s an unofficial and highly passive-aggressive method that Twitter uses to censor people who disagree with them, but who haven’t broken any rules. By keeping the shadowbanned user’s followers from seeing his tweets or even notifications from him, Twitter can say it’s a bug and maintain plausible deniability.

Shadow bans usually last for 24; sometimes 48 hours.

Daddy Warpig tweet 2

Mine was still in effect a day later.

Keep in mind, this whole time I hadn’t received any communication from Twitter. No prior warnings, no notice of a TOS violation, no explanation of what was happening or why. Nothing.

This wasn’t a surprise, since it perfectly fits the kind of arbitrary censorious behavior that conservative and libertarian users have sadly come to expect from Twitter. I’m neither a conservative nor a libertarian, but Twitter just puts everyone to the right of Chairman Mao into the same badthink box.

The censorship continued through Sunday and into today. Lasting longer and with more extensive effects than ever before, this represents a new form of Deep Shadowban.

Rawle tweet 1

Brand visibility is a matter of life and death for a writer’s career. Until quite recently, deplatforming an author could only hurt his career. That’s clearly what Twitter was banking on, but for a social network they’re pretty mired in analog thinking.

The shadowban’s main effect has been to piss my followers off.

PoW tweet

I can’t blame them for getting mad when conversations that look like this to me:

Convo 2

look like this to them:

Convo 3

But it’s the unintended side effects that should really make Twitter rethink the wisdom of shadowbans, especially in this age of antifragility.

Convo 4

 

Greyed tweet

My number of followers before the shadowban: 970.

My number of followers now: 1,033 and counting.

And has this whole messy business helped me sell books?

You bet 🙂

I’m not upset with Twitter for censoring me. Like a small but growing number of independent authors, that only makes me richer and stronger.

I am upset that my readers are upset. I answer to them; never to Twitter. So I’d appreciate it if Twitter would kindly stop belaboring my bosses’ social media experience.

Of course, I expect Twitter to double down. Again. They enjoy making people weaker than them miserable. Let’s see how they like it when the tables are turned.

Sad Puppies: Lords Temporal and Spiritual

Last time, we talked about the drastic changes currently underway in sci-fi fandom, and the media that are driving those changes.

People with their fingers on the pulse of fandom have observed that SF is becoming more tribalistic. They’re right.

Due to the dominance of movies, TV shows, video games, and even eBooks, today’s geeks are having a much more homogeneous SF experience than fans did back when print was king.

As a result, sci-fi has swept the world in a bloodless revolution. Today fans can gather by the hundreds of thousands at mega-conventions like Gen Con, Dragon Con, and the San Diego Comic Con with not a scintilla of conflict. We are one friggin’ huge happy tribe.

If sci-fi has broken into the mainstream and allowed millions of nerds to party together in relative peace and harmony, then where’s the much-hyped friction coming from?
Enter the Inhibitors

Hugo-nominated author Mike Flynn has written about how people will fall into one of three broad categories when faced with change.

Resistance to Change

Innovators will champion a new idea just for the sake of novelty. They drive change, but their motives aren’t always selfless. They could be narcissists, or on the make for a fast buck.

Conservatives will consent to change, but not until they have reasonable proof of success. Some are true skeptics. Some are hardliners. Some just have cold feet.

Inhibitors will not agree to make changes under any circumstances. However convincing the innovators’ logic, and however sound the conservatives’ data, the inhibitor’s mantra is “No!”

It’s worth considering the three demographics that Flynn says make up the inhibitors’ ranks:

  • Monopolists who resent any challenge to their perceived rights and status.
  • Die-hards who have said the opposite for so long that they can no longer back down without losing face.
  • Traditionalists who like the old ways just because they are the old ways.

 

Caveat: it’s vital to note the context of this post, which is technological advancements in entertainment media. It’s also worth pointing out that different people can be different types at varying times and in response to various kinds of change.
For example, when it comes to morality I’m definitely a traditionalist inhibitor. That’s because if history has proven anything, it’s that change has killed, and will kill, everyone.
Yet as our good friend Dr. McLuhan informs us, technology is morally neutral in and of itself. Applications of technology can be morally good or bad, but a light bulb has no content.
I took a conservative approach to eBook technology and self-publishing in general. I was traditionally published first and only went indie when hard evidence indicated that it was the smarter move.
Nonetheless, there are still those who are beholden to the big NYC publishers and their obsolete business model. Interestingly, these folks’ behavior perfectly fits the classic inhibitor profiles.
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Monopolists who resent any challenge to their perceived rights and status.
John Scalzi
Die-hards who have said the opposite for so long that they can no longer back down without losing face.
David Gerrold
Traditionalists who like the old ways just because they are the old ways.

All of the controversy, tantrums, and libel over Sad Puppies can be chalked up to big fish in the shrinking legacy publishing pond who are standing athwart inevitable industry changes, desperately flailing their arms, and yelling “STOP!”
What can Puppies do against such reckless hate?

The lies told about the leaders and allies of Sad Puppies have been so numerous and so absurd that picking the most ridiculous lie in the bunch is like spotting the fattest maggot wriggling on a dead horse.

But a close second to Arthur Chu’s risible attempt to disqualify Brad Torgersen as a racist is the accusation, repeated in the mainstream media with Goebbels-like bombast and frequency, that SP’s goal was the politicization of the Hugo Awards.

As the story thus far shows, not only are claims of Puppies injecting politics into the awards the diametric opposite of the truth, politics is just a red herring in this whole controversy–a fig leaf used to conceal the CHORFs’ fear of change and to justify their attacks on the agents of change.

What must Sad Puppies do to overcome their unprincipled opposition and make fandom safe for what the CHORFs denounce as “Wrongfans” having “Wrongfun”?

The answer is: nothing.

Given that the CHORF phenomenon is an atavistic reaction to inevitable changes in fandom driven by inexorable advances in technology, we needn’t take any specific action to defeat them. Just as new theories ultimately triumph when the prior generation of scientists die off, SF will continue to thrive and grow long after the last CHORF’s demise.

There is, however, a far more pressing reason to keep engaging with the SF mainstream; to keep telling our stories.
SF authors work for the fans.

Tolkien rightly said that the only reason to tell a story is to tell a story, i.e. the purpose of storytelling is entertainment. This is the true credo of Sad Puppies.

Storytelling to make a political point to the detriment of fun is what the Puppies have always been steadfastly against. An author’s publisher is not his boss. His readers are.

Luckily, the growing sense of community spreading throughout fandom is bringing together a number of sub-tribes who are vocally dedicated to the principle of Fun First.

“Author” and “authority” come from the same Latin root for the admiration and obedience due to great personages by virtue of their mighty deeds. The European nobility descended from those who helped to hold society together in the chaos after Rome’s fall.

Prominent figures have arisen to lead their tribes through the upheavals currently transforming fandom. Some of them have been lauded with titles befitting their work on the fans’ behalf.
The Evil Legion of Evil

In sum, the three ideas of the so-called reactionary Evil League of Evil are that that Science Fiction stories should be workmanlike, honest, and fun. Stories should serve the reader rather than lecture, sucker-punch, subvert, or hector him. Stories should give the reader what he paid for.

–John C. Wright, Grand Inquisitor of the Evil Legion of Evil

 

Supreme Dark Lord

Vox Day, Supreme Dark Lord

A modern-day Renaissance man as accomplished as he is controversial. Vox’s publications include works of science fiction and fantasy, as well as economics, political philosophy, Christian apologetics, and more. His incendiary online persona–purportedly adopted in response to unprovoked attacks by Tor SF Manager Patrick Nielsen Hayden–facilitates Vox’s preferred rhetorical style of “counter-punching”.

Vox has also edited numerous Hugo-nominated works and has been nominated for Hugo awards as both an author and an editor. The SDL has found success in several fields besides publishing, including the music and video game industries.



Though the title of Supreme Dark Lord was bestowed by John C. Wright as a rather playful gesture, the degree of loyalty that Vox inspires in his readers gives one pause to consider its implications. Hundreds of Vile Faceless Minions currently serve at his command. Their efforts proved effective enough to ensure an SP/RP sweep of last year’s Hugo nominations and secure a Best Novel win for The Three Body Problem. Much speculation surrounds what Vox will do next.

 

Larry Correia International Lord of Hate

Larry Correia, International Lord of Hate

Outstanding accomplishment in multiple fields seems to be a condition of ELoE membership.

Not only is Larry Correia a best selling author, Hugo nominee, and Audie Award winner, he has pursued successful careers in accounting and machine gun sales. In addition to the ELoE, he is also a member of G.I. Joe.

Larry started Sad Puppies to prove the bias exercised by an influential Hugo voting clique against out-group authors. He took up the mantle of the International Lord of Hate in mockery of detractors who hurled baseless accusations of bigotry against him.

Having been vindicated for three consecutive years, the ILoH has retired from Sad Puppies to focus on writing kick-ass urban and epic fantasy for Baen Books.

 

Sarah Hoyt

Sarah Hoyt, Beautiful but Evil Space Princess

The purpose of this is to create a new ‘idea’ in science fiction, a new way to look at the genre.  Properly observed (and I’ve observed it) I think the genre should be a way to play with possible futures, with possible outcomes, with possible ideas.  The wonder of science fiction lays in the open possibility.

–Sarah Hoyt

An American author originally from Portugal, Sarah Hoyt writes both traditionally and independently published science fiction. Among her many accomplishments, she is a card-carrying Mensa member and a Prometheus Award winner. She is a co-organizer of Sad Puppies 4.

Sarah has founded a literary movement known as Human Wave which aims to maximize authorial freedom and cultivate SF’s sense of wonder.

 

John C. Wright, Grand Inquisitor

By all accounts, one of the best living authors of science fiction. Mr. Wright was formerly published by Tor Books, but his works now appear, by his choice, predominantly through Castalia House. He is a Nebula Award nominee and has a record six Hugo nominations.

Like his fellow ELoE members, SF writing isn’t Mr. Wright’s first career. Unlike them, he failed at his first two careers. It’s chilling to imagine what the world would have lost had he succeeded.

A lifelong philosopher and relatively recent convert to Christianity, Mr. Wright’s thoughts on science fiction are too copious to list here, but his Hugo-nominated collection of essays is a good place to start.
The Superversive SF Movement

What, then, can we do, those of us who are not Progressives? We cannot fight subversion by its own methods; that only makes the hole deeper. But if subversion means ‘turning from below’, there can be such a thing as turning from above. We have nothing to gain by digging a bigger hole, but we can build right over it. It seems natural enough to me to invent a new word for this by changing part of the old one; so I call it superversion.

–Tom Simon

Tom Simon

Though the Evil Legion of Evil boasts one of the greatest working science fiction authors among its members, the Superversives have perhaps the greatest essayist currently writing in the English language: Tom Simon.

Mr. Simon, a Canadian independent author, coined the term “superversive” and defined it in a landmark essay. Superversive SF turns the tables on subversive celebrations of lies, evil, and ugliness by overturning it from above with truth, goodness, and beauty.

“…[C]ourage is the essential quality of a superversive story: not the dumb, dull fortitude that passively endures in the face of suffering, but the courage that allows the character to take action – to risk becoming a hero.”

Superversive science fiction has much in common with, and is a natural ally to, Human Wave SF.
Jason Rennie

A Hugo-nominated podcaster and the editor of Sci Phi Journal, Jason has risen to leadership in the Superversive movement. He carries out his editing duties and moderates the Superversive Livestreams from his home in Australia.

 

L. Jagi Lamplighter-Wright

A superb author of SFF short stories and novels (and the editor of my book), Jagi is a leading public voice and a tireless behind-the-scenes organizer of the Superversive SF movement.

In the venerable tradition of chivalric diplomacy, Mrs. Wright’s marriage to Mr. Wright cements the Superversive-ELoE alliance.
These are just a few of the authors who are working hard to ensure that SF remains open to truth, beauty, endless possibility, and most of all, fun.

The future of the fictional future is looking bright.

Fandom Is Dead. Long Live Fandom!

the medium is the message

If you change the medium, you change the message.

Philosopher of communication Marshall McLuhan argued persuasively that advances in media, regardless of content, can incite dramatic, culture-wide effects.

A best selling print book can reach millions of people, but turn that book into a hit movie, and you increase its sphere of influence by orders of magnitude. Consider The Wizard of Oz, The Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter.

Or, for a meta-example, In the Mouth of Madness.

Now throw in digital technologies–the power to instantly connect with anyone or everyone, everywhere. The effect is compounded exponentially.
A media paradigm shift is playing out in SF fandom.


Dragon Con

Getting back to McLuhan, saying that he was ahead of his time would be an understatement. In fact, it wouldn’t be exaggerating to call his work prophetic. Let’s put it this way: the dude predicted the internet in 1962.

McLuhan noted that print technology caused a massive societal shift away from the more tribal, logic-focused outlook of the Middle Ages to a more individualistic, rhetorical worldview. He expected the web to swing the pendulum back toward tribalism.

Let’s take a look at SF fandom through the lens of McLuhan’s “medium as message” theory.

In the early days, science fiction enthusiasts:

A. Got their fix almost exclusively through the printed word in the form of novels and short stories circulated in magazines.

B. Were a pretty nonconformist, iconoclastic bunch. As Andy Duncan recently said on the passing of the great David Hartwell:

Even in the mid-20th century, David continued, science fiction was a haven for gay and bi and trans people, for people in open marriages or triads or even more complex domestic scenarios, for people with physical and mental disabilities, for shameless exhibitionists and unapologetic recluses, for anarchists and socialists and Birchers and libertarians and Weathermen and CIA operatives, for cosplayers and gamers and creative anachronists and people who crafted wholly spurious biographies for themselves that were accepted and therefore became sort of true, for channelers and Scientologists and orthodox Jews and pre-Vatican II Catholics and Mormons and New Agers and heretics and atheists and freethinkers, for Ph.D.’s and autodidacts, for writers of COBOL and speakers of Esperanto, for Forteans and CSICOPs, for astronomers and astrologers, for psychics and physicists, for basically anyone who was smart and passionate and willing to pitch in somewhere— though talent certainly helped, and curiosity, and a zeal for argument, and a sense of humor.

C. Subsisted as a relatively small subculture within larger Western society.

It’s often been remarked how sci-fi fandom burst out of the basements, niche bookstores, and cramped con suites of its birth to win new legions of adherents with the 1977 release of Star Wars.

For some fans, the gaming world is where it’s at. They are gamers to the core, not precisely readers per se, nor perhaps even watchers of television and movies. But even among gamers, there are traditionalists (tabletop, pencil-and-paper players, writers, and developers) and there are video gamers. Their two circles can and often do overlap. But among younger players especially, the circle for video games is going to be very large, in comparison to the circle for tabletop.

–Brad R. Torgersen

Most commenters usually emphasize this event’s unprecedented effect on C, take A largely for granted, and so gloss over–or misattribute–the causal relationship between the change in the primary medium of SF consumption and B.

Brad is an outlier in his astute recognition that newer media (movies, TV, video games, etc.) contributed to the disruption of old fandom. But he focuses more on what kinds of SF contemporary fans prefer than how they prefer to experience it.

The point I want to make (with the diagram) is that, in 21st century fandom, there aren’t any touchstone movies, books, or other properties which every fan, writer, or editor can rely on being known to every other fan, writer, or editor. There is no longer a central nexus for fandom.

My explanation for the conflicts that have shaken fandom of late differs slightly from Brad’s. I agree that relative innovations like movies and TV, and recent developments like video games (which are all reasons why there is no universal canon of SF touchstones), lie at the root of the turmoil.

But I don’t think that fandom is tearing itself apart. Instead, what we’re seeing is various sub-tribes of SF fans vying against each other to establish the identity of an emerging, consolidated fandom.

Brad gives a good description of this phenomenon: “It’s at the super-cons that one can again get a vague sense of wholeness: all fans of all things merging together for a weekend of intersectionality across innumerable interests.”

That, my friends, is the shape of the future. But what will be the content of its character? What sort of men will these post-fans be? Or will the Amazon servers and mega-convention halls of tomorrow be populated entirely by omnisexual, non-binary otherkin?
Fandom will become more communal, but what sort of community will it be?

Star Trek: The Apple

Watching a movie requires less personal effort than reading print. Even eBooks engage readers’ senses and though processes differently than print books do.

Audiences watching the same movie share a much more uniform experience than readers of the same book. Everyone who’s seen Star Wars knows what Luke Skywalker looks like, but no two Neuromancer readers have exactly the same mental image of Case.

The film industry dwarfs print publishing. As more people come to SF through movies, their shared experience will restore fandom’s sense of community. What the values and customs of this community will be remains undetermined.

The outcome is being decided right now, by self-appointed makers and high priests of culture. If we would have a say in the destiny of fandom, we must wield the new technological tools at our disposal. And we must establish a presence in film.

Currently, I am at best a lowly squire in the battle royale for fandom’s soul. Who are the warring tribes, and who are the chieftains that champion their visions?

We’ll meet them next time.

The Power of Symbols

moose symbol

Storytellers have always used symbols. Even the most ancient texts contain rich symbolism. So do tales predating the written word by millennia.
At first it seems counterproductive to wrap ideas in layers of metaphor. What’s easier: saying, “Being too single-minded can land you in trouble,” or writing a 635 page book about a guy chasing a whale?
So why do human beings like our messages delivered via symbols? Whatever the reason, it’s ingrained deep in our nature. There’s no denying that concepts encoded in symbols enjoy far wider distribution and have much longer shelf lives than dry, straightforward discourse. It’s a safe bet that the number of people who could tell you one of Aesop’s fables is greater than the number who can recite a given passage from Plato’s Republic.
Symbols are powerful tools to convey meaning. Contrary to the example above, they can do so quite efficiently. A yellow sign with a moose on it prompts you to drive cautiously better than one saying, “There are moose nearby. They will probably be crossing this street at some point, so you should slow down unless you want your car totaled.”
Though symbols are effective, they are best used with a light touch. The paradoxical nature of symbols dictates that their effectiveness increases (at least in literature) with their subtlety. A scruffy ranger who wins a kingdom through trials and selflessness conveys the idea of messiahship without audiences necessarily being aware of what he signifies. On the other end of the spectrum, a talking lion who dies and is resurrected is such an overt allegory that it almost defeats the purpose of using a symbol.
Speaking of which, the Christ figure is probably the most enduring and ubiquitous symbol in all of literature. The same holds for pre and non-Christian societies. Whether a writer thinks that the symbol’s content is true or not is irrelevant. There’s something fundamental to the human condition that makes most people want it to be.
I’ve been devoting a lot of space to writing advice lately, but all I can really tell you about using symbols is that 1) you’ll do it whether you mean to or not; and 2) resist the urge to explain the symbols you use. As Dean Koontz explains, stained glass windows don’t have subtitles.