Thursday, August 27, 2020

What Puts the Evil in Evil Geniuses?

      Evil Geniuses is Kurt Andersen's work of (recent) historical and analytical journalism.  It seeks to recount and explain how a group of very wealthy conservatives used their money to alter the public consciousness and influence politics to bolster their own profits, and in so doing set the country on a path of social, economic and climatic ruin.

     In his review of the book for the New York Times Book Review, Anand Giridharadas discusses how Andersen closes the book on a note of hope (I suppose you'd technically call this a spoiler, but I doubt anyone's reading this book for a shock ending).  Just as the conservatives stole the world out from under the liberals back in the 1970s, when liberal power appeared to be at its height, so too can the liberals now take back that power and steer the country away from destruction.  They must, Andersen suggests by way of Giridharadas, simply use the same cunning, the same manipulation, the same power-grasping practices that were once -- and continue to be -- used against them and the rest of us.

     But here's what worries me.  What if it's the abandonment of self-limitation, the willingness to steamroll over everything else in order to get what you want that is the actual problem?  Granted, we are not in a good place right now and granted the liberal route is far preferable in terms of both humane existence and just plain old survival.  And granted, the methods they are currently using have not seemed sufficient to the enormity of the task.  But what if, in doing ANYTHING you need to in order to win, you become something different than you were, and the extreme level of power you wield simply sends us toward ruin, just a different kind at the other end of the spectrum?  What if how you do something is just as loaded with consequences as what you do?

Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Coronavirus Novel I'm Not Writing

            A woman gets herself tested for the COVID-19 and they find something they’ve never seen before in the antibody test.  Re-tested and examined, it turns out her blood holds the key to the cure.  Pharmaceutical companies will pay millions for proprietary rights to that key and they will, of course, disseminate it to the world . . . for a price.  Also, though she will be vastly wealthy, the company will control her blood for the rest of her life, meaning among other things she can only ever be examined by their doctors and any blood test she ever gets for any reason will go through them.
            She considers turning it over to the government, for the good of the country and, eventually, the world.  They will pay (way less than a corporation) and they won’t control her blood forever.  But she has deep moral reservations about their politics.  Maybe she could use her cure-blood as leverage, hold it hostage until the government takes some real and permanent steps towards, for instance, improved climate policy.  But should a single person get to dictate policy that will change the course of an entire country?
            She could give it to another country, one that seems to be handling things well, one that seems more likely to share without excessive demands.  But doesn't she have an obligation to her country and its people, which exist beyond a transitory government she may not agree with?  What are all the things her country has given her and should she be thinking in those terms?  Should she consider emigrating?  Does she need to?  What does it mean to be a citizen of a country?
            How about a non-national, she thinks, like the World Health Organization?  Probably she wouldn’t get paid.  The resources at their disposal might be minuscule compared to a private company, so the cure would likely be slower in coming, but would theoretically be distributed more evenhandedly, or at least without as much consideration for profit.
            How does she help the most people as quickly as possible and how much does she consider helping herself?

Monday, March 23, 2020

Not a Dystopia

     I didn't set out to write a work of dystopian fiction.  Those That Wake was originally set in the present and the characters in it were trying to prevent circumstances which would lead to dystopia.  Market forces pushed the time-frame of the story ahead a few years, but I worked to ensure that it retained something I felt was crucial: a focus not just on how the world could be worse, but on how certain powers work to make it worse.
     We are not living in a dystopia, though the Coronavirus certainly invites comparison.  Dystopias are about living in an aftermath, dealing with the world after the disaster has happened.  The world is currently working hard to stop the dystopia from setting in (and we will, though exactly how long that will take is hard to say).  This situation is effective, though, for observing how certain powers are meeting the challenge, and also how people are contending with challenges on our own level.
     Reading is an excellent way to spend some extra time inside.  I find that reading books which allow me to conceptualize and understand the problem we're facing help the most.  Two books that get right to the heart of things are:
     Time out of Joint by Philip K. Dick - For my money, this is Philip K.'s best (no small claim in a field of forty-four novels and one hundred and twenty-one short stories).  While it doesn't appear so at first, this is very much about how higher powers deal with times of crisis.  If you believe the article linked in the second paragraph of this post is about how powerful people try to alter the narrative, or if you believe it's the people who wrote that article that are trying to alter the narrative, Time out of Joint will still resonate for you.
     The Plague by Albert Camus - A work of literature that reads like an existential thriller (at times), it has much to say about how people deal -- and fail to deal -- with the particular sort of trouble we're in now.
     Maybe you prefer books that get you far away from the problem.  I get it.  If so, have a look at this, instead.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Prince Valiant's Bartender

    So, when you know a comic artist (Gary Amaro, in this case) and you happen to be in the right place at the right time, maybe you end up behind a bar, serving some mead to Prince Valiant himself.  That's what happened to me in the February 16th, 2020 installment.  Thanks, Gary!