Competition of Values

I shouldn’t be astonished by absurdity at this point in my life. Okay, I’m not. But idiotic surveys tend to strike my absurdist bone pretty hard, and that can be a painful experience. Take for example, this survey, as highlighted on the Friendly Atheist, which demonstrates that White Evangelicals Prefer Teaching Children Obedience Over Curiosity, Creativity, and Tolerance. See, it’s always grand to mock White Evangelicals [or Evil Progressives if you're of the opposite camp] by putting together a disingenuous survey in which the answers will in no wise be accurate.

Let me explain why the answers won’t be accurate. The people who put surveys together are like lawyers and/or judges. They alone get to create the questions and the parameters for how the questions must be answered. Here is a classic courtroom scenario [very similar to one I witnessed]: judge insists the man on the defense only answer with a yes or a no.

Then he asks what he considers to be the pertinent question: Did you yell at your wife that you were going to run her down with your vehicle?

Man on stand splutters, Yes, but…

Judge trumpets, You may only answer with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’!

And the restraining order stands…even though the factual answer was, Yes, but my brakes failed and she was standing in the middle of the road. I yelled at her to get out of the way or I would run her down. I didn’t want to run her down, despite that we’re going through a nasty divorce; that’s why I yelled at her.

Pollsters and survey-takers care about as much as a bored judge in a divorce court for nuanced responses. And rating competing values on a scale of most important to least important requires nuanced answers. Well, the answer is actually that one CAN’T rate values on an ascending and descending scale in the first place. That’s not how the world works, owing to the nuance of human interaction. If you’ve ever stood behind somebody while they’ve tried to honestly fill out a survey, you will have noticed the reluctance of many people to answer within the parameters. Except for their pet issues (e.g. religious faith for Evangelicals and a dislike of manners for liberals), the values presented are on the same plane. And people intrinsically understand that even if they wouldn’t recognize subtlety if it bit them in the face.

But going back to the damning accusation of the Friendly Atheist’s headline, let’s examine why Evangelicals would rate religious faith and obedience higher than curiosity, tolerance, and creativity. They’re operating under the worldview that man must be right with God first. That means, what they actually value is obedience to God. For Evangelicals, all other values stem from a right relationship between God and man. This is, of course, most of the time a head value, and it’s the right answer for Evangelicals to put on a survey. However, the reality is much the same for conservative Evangelicals as it is for nonreligious liberals: they are humans, which means the vast majority of them are conformists, which means the vast majority of them are obedient to their fellow men and their culture first and foremost, despite that both groups would pretend otherwise.

If the survey-makers were to leave religious faith off the list of values to remove the obvious (i.e. that religious people are religious and nonreligious people aren’t), you would be left with a group of values that balance each other out. Empathy balances independence; obedience balances curiosity; responsibility and hard work balance creativity. Manners and tolerance are outward values that mimic empathy, and they are a way to keep society civilized when there’s an imbalance in the value scales. It’s fascinating that conservatives prefer one term, while liberals prefer the other–when they both mean the same thing in practice. That’s the nuanced answer that most absurdly stupid humans understand once they grow up to be mature adults. But no survey-maker is going to allow for such nuanced responses because then the point of the survey has become null and void. Why make a survey unless it will produce the end political result of dividing people through mockery and disgust? I mean, really, what would we do without our two-party political system of hatred for the other side?

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I’m done with my book…and other commentary.

This post is going to be shockingly self-centered! I finished my book of short stories, which I’ve decided to call The Jaybird’s Nest and other stories. It’s not ready to publish, however, because I need a cover still; I also need to do some final editing. At some point–maybe now?–I’m going to need some willing reviewers or beta-readers. Just as a warning, you should know that a lot of these stories are absurd and supposed to be ironic or stupid. Some, such as the story of the final title, are serious but surreal in nature. So if you think that’s your thing and you’d like to volunteer, let me know.

Now that I’m done with it, and all I have on my plate is a constellation of editing projects, I feel like crawling in a cave and remaining there. My book provided a distraction from my currently chaotic life. Editing does, too–I’m just not as emotionally attached to others’ work. I have to add, though, that I’ve been eating in such a way that I feel physically healthy (except for the aftermath of going on vacation and fudging my diet). My current eating plan, which discludes all grains and other heavy carbohydrate foods, gives me the energy to exercise harder than I did in my 20s. That is saying a lot, as I’ve been obsessed with exercise since I was about 16. It’s also made me sore. Ah, well. That’s a good kind of pain, I suppose. I made a concerted effort to keep up with diet and exercise during stress. Many people don’t, and they are consequently less able to cope with stress.

**I should add that if you would like to either give me an honest review or beta-read, please email me at jdomschot at msn dot com.

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What I Learned From the French (sigh, it’s always cynicism ahead)

I’ve been out of town and have managed to return from various nutty adventures to chaos and sadness. But, aw shucks, I’m always learning something new in the midst of life, even if it’s from an otherwise unmemorable memoir about an American and a Brit raising their children in France (Bringing Up Bebe). To be fair, I found the author’s willingness to reexamine the permissive parenting of American families in light of the more strict upbringing of French children to be refreshing. But, in general, it’s not the kind of memoir I’ll remember forever. I mean, is it really earth-shattering to realize that children are capable of eating fish and vegetables instead of chicken nuggets and French fries? Is it really so astonishing to realize even young children are capable of not acting like barbarians? The French may understand this, but they don’t have any secret weapon; they are simply parenting in the same way Americans used to parent. And of course, many Americans still do parent this way, but perhaps not in the author’s set. Conversely, there are almost certainly lax French parents who let their kids rule the roost and pig out on junk food whenever they want.

But that was simply to give you an idea about the memoir’s contents. Now I’d like to briefly discuss the new little tidbit I learned from the book (amidst the chaos, egad!). As most people know, France is a socialist country. The process of socialization begins at a very early age. That’s the choice of the French people; it’s their culture and their society. They may raise their children the way they choose. But I find the way the system was instituted to be alarming–if the memoir gives an accurate historical portrait (which you can find on pp 98-101 in my edition).

According to the book, by the 1840s, nursery schools were already provided free to poor working women. But they were only provided for children aged 2-6. This left poor working women having to keep their infants up to age 2 in dangerous conditions, or hiring even poorer women than they were to care for their infants. Along came Jean-Baptiste-Firmin Marbeau, who was simultaneously impressed by the free nursery schools and appalled that there wasn’t free daycare available for babies. With his passionate idealism, this forward-looking man managed to convince wealthy people that they should fund infant daycare centers: ‘”These children are your fellow citizens, your brothers. They are poor, unhappy and weak: you should rescue them,” he wrote in a creche manual published in 1845. Then he added, “If you can save the lives of 10,000 children, make haste: 20,000 extra arms a year are not to be disdained. Arms are work and work creates wealth”‘ (Druckerman, 100).

And thus the French daycare center, the creche, was born. Now that 80% of women work, they fight to get their children into the government subsidized creches. It’s part of their culture. They love their creches and believe they’re wonderful for children. The French creches may very well be good for children, but can we take a moment to analyze the mental shift that occurred between 1840 France and the France of today? The wealthy were convinced to fund these creches to propagate more generations of slaves to do their work for them. Do you think poor women in the 1840s wanted to toil away washing clothes or doing other unsatisfying, menial work? Do you think they wanted to spend hours and hours of time away from their children for this work? It’s highly unlikely that if given the choice, they would have chosen endless exhausting toil over caring for their offspring.

Fast-forward to today and the vast majority of French women have come to believe that being a wage slave is not only satisfying, but the best way to live. They fight to get their young infant children into creches so that they can be slaves like the drudges of the 1840s. It’s not that I believe daycare centers are inherently bad. Indeed, I have no opinion of them at all, except to acknowledge that they can meet needs, and that children are more adaptable than we give them credit for. However, I find it astonishing that human beings can be convinced that slavery is what we should clamor for. I shouldn’t be surprised after having studied as much history as I have. For heaven’s sake, I’ve even found this concept in the Bible. Didn’t the Israelites beg to return to slavery in Egypt so their slave masters might again meet their needs (and murder their children, but…)?

Ay-ay-ay!! Humans are fucked in the head. Not just the French. All of us. Sorry for being cynical. I also learned something pleasant from this book, that French food is really delicious. But I already knew that.

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Blog Hop Tour

Mike Duran, author of The Resurrection, tagged me in a blog hop last week. I don’t do much marketing. I should, but I don’t. His tagging me helped me sell a couple of books, so for that I’m grateful. Thanks, Mike! (I hope he sold some books, too.)

1. What am I working on?

I’m working on three projects: a coffeehouse memoir with photographs; a collection of short stories; a science fiction novel. The first is a hobbyist project, so I’ll ignore that one for now.

This fall, I’ll be publishing a collection of short stories called The Jaybird’s Nest and Other Stories. Many of the stories have run on this blog, but most have been extensively edited for this collection. I’ve also added some new material. They range in tone from absurdist sci-fi shorts about Dr. Gillilander, pet psychologist and creator of chimera creatures, to a fantasy short about a woman who has a trepanation cure to open her “third eye”. Taken altogether, it will provide a glimpse into my weirdness.

My science fiction novel is slated to come out at the beginning of 2015. It’s about a maverick neuroscientist who’s on a mission to make money for the future and recompense for past wrongs [yes, that WAS a zeugma].

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: I’ve been indelibly AND incurably influenced by Jonathan Swift. I keep a copy of Gulliver’s Travels by my bed. I’m also happy to read Don Quixote whenever I need a fix of pure joy-light-energy. If you take into account the time I’ve spent reading magical realism past my hyper rational years, you will find that my writing is unwittingly tinged by stories such as La noche boca arriba.

I’m not sure if I’m answering this question appropriately by giving my influences. But what it comes down to is that I’m an absurdist at heart. I don’t take myself too seriously. When I combine all the disparate elements, not to mention all the years of dwelling inside my own head, I arrive at a delicate dry infusion of fruity tarts squared through the unending digitization of real numbers. And I really prefer to drink Chianti with medium-rare ribeyes.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Before I changed over to speculative fiction, I wrote detective stories. I like detectives because they’re logical. Or they can be. However, I don’t care for the detective fiction I’ve authored and I hope that it never sees the light of day. I mean that. For those of you out there who have copies, a good reminder is in order. Small acts can have serious consequences. I switched to spec fic because I like to play with ideas. In general, I write because the world is a frustrating place. When I get enough of it, I disappear and write the ideas in my head.

4. How does my writing process work?

Make coffee. Evacuate noise. Then sit down to write. Break for lunch. Exercise [use this opportunity to count squats, push-ups, kicks, etc]. Dinner. Wine. Lie awake at night working out scenes and ideas. Then panic because the plot isn’t doable and acknowledge lunacy. Relate all woes to husband, who won’t seem surprised or concerned. After enough days of this, disappear inside closet and bang head against floor in a kind of religious supplication. Husband will still not be surprised or concerned, and children will laugh delightedly as they navigate the prone figure on the floor like an object in a parkour cityscape. Finish book. Spend the next five years laboriously rewriting every word.

I’ve asked these three writers to take part in this blog hop next Monday the 18th:

Robynn Tolbert. Her debut fantasy, Star of Justice, is a fantastic read, and I really want to know what’s next.

Kat Heckenbach. She’s delivered 2 out of 3 of a trilogy; Finding Angel is the first. Well, will she finish the trilogy or publish something new and different?

Jay Dinitto. Years ago now, I first read his short story collection, Bored in the Breakroom. It’s classic, intelligent writing.

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Manifest Destiny and Its Destined Manifestation

Manifest Destiny is a term that one hears in university classes, usually to deconstruct any ideal of the goodness of white American settlers. It’s used in a nasal tone, sarcastically, and is meant “to wake up” ignorant white privileged kids–or to make them squirm in their seat. It bothered me back then, and it bothers me today when the term is tossed around willy-nilly yet treated as inarguable at one and the same time.

The willy-nilly use of the term–as in, everybody knows white Americans believed in Manifest Destiny–bothers me because it was political terminology. It was coined by John O’Sullivan in 1845 in the United States Magazine and Democratic Review, which was a prominent journal of the day. It was largely pushed by the Democrats, but had little support with the American people, many of whom did not believe that imperialism was what the American people were about. As with any other political movement, there were people who believed in the idea in one form or another; there are always noncritical thinkers, idealists, and/or amoral people around. Of course, the political push for Manifest Destiny had a devastating impact on the Mexican people in the form of the Mexican War, and it has had an impact on our relations with our southern neighbors to this day.

But it was still not a philosophy that was widely held and supported by the American people. Rather, it was one that was voiced loudly for a couple of decades in those prime moving and shaking years between 1840-1860. Those in power saw it as a great opportunity to expand borders and steal land from Native Americans. It also planted monster seeds in the American psyche: the vestiges of the philosophy are still seen today with the strange notion that the United States’ divine purpose in the world is the expanse of democracy everywhere, even in those places that don’t want it (which is in itself ironic, being that we aren’t precisely a democracy). And although many Americans are skeptical of this thousand-points-of-light ideal, some believe in it wholeheartedly because the seeds were allowed to nurture.

This is the way political propaganda works. Instead of rolling our eyes sarcastically in university classrooms, it would be better for us to examine the way this kind of propaganda makes bad policies and illegal or unjust wars possible within a limited framework. After all, once you are aware that this kind of propaganda is happening right here and now in present-day America, you are hopefully also able to connect the way our current politicians operate with how politicians operated well over a hundred years ago. The War on Terror; the Spread of Democracy; Immigration Reform–these are all just new ways of expressing Manifest Destiny. They’re using these ideas on us and despite us–manifesting their destiny as powerful men who salivate for control.

And we’re losing. We’ll continue losing if all we can find to do is feel interminable guilt over a political term that our ancestors may or may not have ever espoused.

As Russell Means said before he died–God rest his soul–The United States is one big reservation, and we are all in it.

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