Monday, May 30, 2016

Chasing Freedom Rates 7 of 10 Fell Deeds: The Injustice Gamer Review

The Injustice Gamer was nice enough to give my novel a proper condemnation.

Cower not, fierce reader! Today, we have a new book to review: Chasing Freedom by Marina Fontaine.  This is a fine work exemplifying the lengths that Social Justice should be striving for. But that is the setting, and not our story. Our story indeed commits many sins against Social Justice. Let the darkness of Injustice come forth!

To begin with, our story is one of rebellion against oppressive government. Cities in the United States have been abandoned to the Earth, in favor of Megalopolis living. Government determines your fitness for college, and assigns most jobs. Simple protesting is illegal. Mexico has walled off the border, and Canada is willing to take those that can make the trip.

Read the rest of the denouncement here while I hang my head in shame and suffer through the latest post from The Guardian as penance.

Oh, who am I kidding? I'm half-way through replaying GamerGate Sings. Talk to you later!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Book Review: On the Existence of Gods by Dominic Saltarelli and Vox Day

At this point in my life I try to confine my book reading to fiction, in part because there is so much interesting  non-fiction reading available on various blogs, and in part because I firmly believe that fiction shapes our society much more reliably and effectively than most other influences short of cataclysmic events. Nevertheless, when On the Existence of Gods--to be abbreviated for the rest of the post as OTEOG to save space--came up on my radar, I was intrigued enough to take a break from fiction and give it a try.

It is true that the impasse between those of us who believe in Higher Power of some kind and those commonly identified as non-believers will not be resolved through conversation and argument. Anyone who doubts me is welcome to pick a current hot-topic political issue and try to bring an opponent over to their side. (Don't do it now. I want you to keep reading, not to start a flame war on social media or  tick off family members. But if you haven't tried it yet and are up for a challenge, just see how it goes for you.)

However, just because we can't talk each other into or out of faith, does not mean that one of the central questions of human existence cannot be examined in a proper manner. Dominic Saltarelli, an atheist, and Vox Day, a Christian, took up the challenge (originally presented by PZ Meyers, who declared it impossible to present a rational argument for the existence of gods, refusing Vox Day's offer of debate back in 2008). Considering the current state of discourse in this country, you will be well advised to read Dominic's Introduction chapter of OTEOG where he describes his decision process in taking his place opposite Vox in the debate. Suffice it to say that Dominic behaved as a proper intellectual in the matter and even called out those nominally on his side for often refusing to do so. Vox, in his own Introduction, similarly points out that many believers are just as guilty of repeating tired, flawed arguments without applying the proper intellectual rigor to the process.

The book presents a three-round debate, with three anonymous judges (a Christian, an agnostic and an atheist) examining each round in detail before declaring the winner. The interesting part, of course, is not the competition itself, and frankly, I enjoyed the innovative arguments and rebuttals from both sides equally. Even the ones that did not work for the judges made me see the most basic assumptions in a different light. Without giving the arguments themselves, since that would be a sin equivalent to posting spoilers in a fiction review, I will only say that both sides quickly and thoroughly dismissed the one-liner attacks and defenses we know so well from social media fights. Unless you are very familiar with the subject, you will find plenty of surprises, both from the debate participants and the judges.

One thing that surprised me most was the difficulty of making the atheist case, or rather separating atheism from agnosticism. Many people make the mistake of conflating the two in everyday conversation, but casting doubt is one thing while taking it to the level of logically defending the non-existence of something is completely different. I almost wished at times for a three-way debate with an agnostic because I suspect that under the conditions of the debate such a person would have been most likely to win. Both sides, for example, used the "we don't know everything" argument to one extent or another, and the "not enough information for a decision" could have followed very logically from there. Perhaps, in the spirit of the trends in today's fiction, we might someday expect a sequel with just such a twist.

Not that the argument for gods (small g) was particularly easy to make. In a way the extra broad definition kept working against Vox in many cases because at some point the line between a "god" and a purely materialistic alternative becomes so blurred as to lend more credence to the negative side. The most fascinating example for me was a discussion of whether our moral code is externally pre-determined by some form of Creator or simply a by-product of our biology. That required further discussion on whether moral codes are universal--something often dismissed offhand by atheists and taken too freely for granted by believers--and it made for an interesting follow up section.

Who won? Dominic for some reason decided to give the final result in the Introduction, but at the risk of sounding as a "trophy-for-everyone" schoolmarm, I'll say that in this case it truly all was about how you play the game. If you're looking for a break from the Internet-style debates and want to see how the Big Issues should be discussed, check this book out. Twitter will still be there when you return.

Purchase On the Existence of Gods on Amazon

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Random Thoughts on Freedom (Speculative Fiction Cantina Interview)

On May 6th, I had a great time talking to S. Evan Townsend of Speculative Fiction Cantina online radio show. You can check out the podcast here. Sadly, Ms. Pembroke Sinclair, whose photo appears in the slider, had an abrupt change of plans, so my intrepid host was stuck with yours truly for the full hour.

I have done several online radio appearances, but the flow of this one surprised me. We ended up speaking less of my novel, specifically, than of the general theme of freedom and how some people appreciate it more than others. While "don't know what you got till it's gone" is a cliche, like most cliches it became so for a reason, and it applies to freedom perhaps more than to other values.

During the interview, the closest analogy that popped into my head is that healthy individuals don't truly know what it's like to be chronically sick. They can understand it through research or being around the sick, but they never quite appreciate what a gift it is to be healthy, free of pain, with all of one's organs functioning as intended. I did touch on this in one of my earlier posts when I spoke of gratitude. We don't tend to be grateful for what we don't notice on a daily basis. Health is a given. As a cancer survivor, I can confirm that once recovery is complete, the temporary gratitude wears off and the little annoyances of life very quickly outweigh the simple joy of being alive, mobile and relatively whole.

So it is for Americans with freedom. I know we're all aware that our country has major issues on that front. But not only are we more free than nearly every other nation, we have inside us an ingrained assumption that this is a natural state of human existence. Even those eager to trade some of their freedom away in exchange for either tangible rewards or a promise of security come from the knowledge that freedom is theirs, something that belongs to them at the outset and something they can choose to diminish, as foolhardy as it might be.

As I pointed out to my host during our discussion, most of the world does not have that assumption. On the contrary, it is entirely foreign to them. Immigrants who come to this country, even those who seek not the promise of economic advancement but specifically an escape from oppression, have a hard time adjusting to the concept. A more common premise throughout the world, whether civilized or less so, is that freedom is something granted to you by the government (or your friendly warlord, as the case may be). You don't even have a chance to trade your freedom away. It is doled out in small pieces to those deemed deserving. There's a quote from V. I. Lenin somewhere on the 'net precisely to that effect. Which, of course, makes it something entirely different from freedom as we understand it.

I think the reason for the current proliferation of dystopian novels is that time is right for us to once again to start appreciating the baseline of what we have. Just as zombie and vampire novels allow us to work out our anxieties as to our safety and lack of trust in our fellow human beings (hey, that's a whole 'nother blog post right there, isn't it?), politically themed dystopias show us a "what if" of freedom lost so we can vicariously put ourselves into that situation and then come back to our normal life with a new appreciation of what we still have.

Since this was originally meant to be a self-promotional post (yeah, I'm not great at those), what I tried to do with my particular take on the genre is to not only scare us to the possibilities, for I believe the real world had already scared us enough. My main goal was to show that lost freedom can in fact come back, if sometimes at a terrible cost.

The problem freedom fighters across all times and societies face is that the more entrenched the forces of oppression, the less natural the instinct for freedom becomes. We as Americans are not yet at that point, but should keep that lesson in mind as we watch the world around us and make decisions, whether it's to choose a political leader or to speak up against censorship (looking at you, Facebook!). We should respond to any threat and refuse to give ground so that we, or our children, would never have to find out the cost of bringing back something that we had no business losing in the first place.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Culture War in Perspective

Machine Trooper, a self described "Pop Culture Scrutineer Supreme from the Manosphere" gives his take on the Culture War using this real-world historical analogy:

For generations centrists and everyone right-of-center simply have not shown up for the culture wars. Predictably, the leftists have blitzed right through battlefields of opinion and ideas unopposed–like the Red Army rolling through eastern Poland in 1939–so that their monopoly on the flow of information, including creative expression, was ironclad.

And yet...

Marxists (cultural and otherwise) are not only vulnerable, they’ve become arrogant from never being challenged for so long, and prove to be weak, inept cowards when confronted by a smart, determined opposition. They are beatable. Very much so.

I have stated this many times, albeit with less flair, to my despairing friends in the loosely defined pro-freedom cultural movement. The reason the Left seems to have unbreakable dominance in culture is because our side has not been on the field. Oh sure, we get excited about this or that issue once in a while, make some noise, occasionally even win, BUT - and this is crucial - once the excitement dies out, we, to continue with the military theme "declare victory and go home," leaving the battlefield to those more determined (or those less preoccupied with the general business of life, such as family and day jobs, as the case might be).

The only way to win long term, to reclaim the hearts and minds of the people who have fallen under the siren song of the Left, is not with political gains, nor with more educational materials, although both have their place. The real answer lies in entertainment, and more specifically in storytelling. "The Narrative" is a popular expression nowadays, usually utilized in negative, politicized context, but it need not be so. Simply put, the side that tells the better story wins. And the more I look around at the amount of raw (and not-so-raw) talent in the pro-freedom movement, the more convinced I become that we can do this. We can win, handily, and have fun doing it. 

It was with that goal in mind that a fellow author Kia Heavy and I formed Conservative-Libertarian Fiction Alliance group on Facebook, and the response has been both enthusiastic and gratifying. Since Machine Trooper has done such an excellent job summarizing our purpose and progress to date, I suggest you read the rest of his post here. Afterwards, I hope you follow his advice to check both our website and the Facebook group and join us in our battle to advance the cause of freedom through promoting high-quality fiction.

These are trying days for freedom lovers, but do not despair. Politics is transitory, but art endures. And because the best art is rooted in truth, this is the battle we will not lose. All we need to do is keep showing up.