SOCIETY

I spent yesterday working on a new short story for the next collection and it’s a precursor to a book I will write at some point in the future. I was looking at machine / human interaction and interface as a place to start but it made me consider how everything we all do and how all of our hopes and desires feed in to how societies as a whole function.

I’m sure we’ve all read a story where the world that the characters find themselves is in someway broken, with there being a vast and unequal difference between the few and the masses. The different examples of these stories all put us in the shoes of the ‘have-nots’ as they fight against injustice and correct the problems but I’ve been looking at all of the little steps that had to have taken place along the way to bring the horror the story starts with.

Humans are a social species. We arrange ourselves into groups rather than exist on our own.

Evolutionarily, this meant that we could pool our resources and take advantage of the safety those numbers provided and over time, hierarchies were formed. Now I’ve read that due to our brain physiology, we are predetermined to organise in this way but the ability to build an ever growing population in a ‘mostly’ harmonious society isn’t something which should be written off so simply.

So how do societies break?

At no point would anyone vote for a party in an election which intended to jump to the very final stage of the collapse of society. Societal fall has to come in stages. Each tiny shuffling step hiding a wider truth. Heavily armed troops roaming the streets executing people out after curfew would never just appear, rather it would be the result of constant little erosions, probably designed at each point on the way, to be as part of a plan to keep people safe.

But rules and order are vital so allowing a population to have free reign to do whatever they desire isn’t the answer. Very quickly there would be swathes of gangs taking things from others by force, leaving the weak at the mercy of the strong, just in a different way.

Our societies are linked together by ordered rules to allow for no-one to take steps they shouldn’t and with an equal account of freedom to give all of us the chance to do things we want to.

The brutally authoritarian or chaotically anarchic both mean that things have broken down but the result is equally as bleak for the majority. We all recognise that to create a society in the grasp of a power crazed lunatic in a book means that readers will see the potential horrors of regimes gone wild so side with the characters who are on the outside looking in, think The Hunger Games. But all along the way, the tiny steps that went into making a Panem or an Airstrip One had to have been agreed to. There may not have been a great choice, but there was always going to be a choice.

Society is a wonderful thing. It binds us all together and allows us all to exist in a more controlled fashion than if we had to do everything ourselves. I for one, have no clue about hunting for food. We all fulfil a set part and the society trundles on.

The steps that would have to be made to take us towards a dystopia akin to 1984 will never seem like the steps they are but as each one follows on from the one before, the chance to undo the changes shrinks.

I like society. Human societies are wonderful things and they should be protected at all cost so we need to be acutely aware of the details of all of the choices we make along the way.

Panem didn’t happen overnight and at one point, it was what was wanted.

 

P.S. This is blog post number 200.

Who would have thought I could keep it up for so long?

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MEANING

And so it begins.

The world affecting circus that is the Donald Trump presidency of the USA creaked under way last week and bumbled directly into a problem driven by the facts of a situation.

After showing an almost rabid desire to have the highest numbers on almost everything you could imagine (even down to pointing out that The Apprentice viewing figures for Arnold Schwarzenegger were smaller than they’d been when he’d been the one firing people) day one saw the delight continue. The number of people who were actually in attendance to see the inauguration and those who were watching on TV.

Now on it’s own, this point is nothing. In the grand scheme of things, the number of people who attended the event is an utter irrelevance. If Donald Trump is able to oversee world peace and be the driving force behind everyone coming together for the good of humanity as we start to explore the stars, he could have had no-one turn up to begin with and there wouldn’t be anyone who’d care.

The issue came that his ‘people’, despite evidence to the contrary, steadfastly clung to the party line of there being more people there than at any other presidents inauguration. Regardless of the facts, the decided line was going to be what they wanted it to be. To compound this they defended what was said with the soon to be immortal phrase, “alternative facts.”

Alternative facts as an idea scare me.

Information can be interpreted in different ways but if there are one hundred thousand fewer people in attendance of an event, you can’t spin the fact to be anything else. Facts are facts and as such aren’t subject to the whims of people wanting to say the opposite. Indeed there was no such concern with alternative facts when the result of the election was decided.

As a writer, I deal with words all of the time and there are examples where words can be used in many different ways which can be at odds, wicked being  both good and bad depending on context. But truth is more than that. Personal opinion on any given point has to be up for scrutiny and if the facts show the complete opposite, your opinion is wrong.

Literature has many, many examples of the use of ‘alternative facts’ by systems and people trying to do something despite the truth. One of my favourite books is 1984 and the existence of doublethink within the story showed clearly how truth can become nothing more than a hindrance to what the ruling power wants, changing as is required.

I hope that Donald Trump and his team  are able to prove all of their doubters wrong and deliver for the good of the country and the world at large but even now, so very few days into the job, there are already clear examples of an almost dictatorial obsession with everyone agreeing with what he wants to be the truth. Is truth going to be lost along the way amidst alternative facts?

How many lights do you see?

GOOD THING, BAD THING?

When I wrote The Circle of Duty, one of the main points I wanted to hold up to the light was the idea that an act in itself isn’t good or bad, rather it’s the context of that act which bestows the value.

The point that seems to have been looked at more readily is that of the bad deed done for the good reason. An example would be having to commit a murder in able to save a thousand lives. Murder is a bad thing but saving all of those lives is a good thing. Wouldn’t that ultimately mean that there was a net positive? All those people saved just for the loss of one?

I pondered this question when I was speaking with people at a recent convention and I received many different answers as people fell on both sides of the possible ethical dilemma. So we look deeper. Is it still a good trade if the person to die were a nun for example, and she were dying to save one thousand rapists? Would it still be bad if a rapist were to die to save a thousand nuns? Very quickly the water begins to turn a little murky.

So what of the other side of this moral equation?

If I were to do a good thing but for bad reasons, then what?

The reason I ask was driven thanks to a certain thank you speech given recently. Tom Hiddleston gave his speech at the Golden Globes and made comment about his charity work but rather than those words coming as a plea for said charity, they instead became a form of self aggrandisement at the positive effect he  was having for said charity. Now I can certainly believe his response when the world pointed an accusing finger at him, that his words were inelegant rather than deliberately rude but what if he’d actually been bang on the money with what he was saying? What if he had meant every single word and felt that he was worthy of particular mention for all his hard work?

How often do we see celebrities making heartfelt pleas for support of whatever monetary form or another? What if they were only doing said pleading for the positive effect it could have for their career? Is the act of giving somehow diminished due to the knowledge of that person only doing it for their benefit?

We saw a great many celebrities pass away during 2016 but a telling fact to come out in a few cases has been the vast amount of charity work which was undertaken without the need for the wider public to know. These people had been involved in countless causes and had been able to use their wealth and efforts to do good without the need to shout it from the roof tops. Does that make these people better? Did they ensure the truth came out after their passing to ‘pump up’ their legacy? Were they manipulating in their own way?

All in all, we have to have broad ideas of what is a good thing and a bad thing but just the examples I’ve waved about here could show that the reality really has to be considered on a case by case basis. Everyone and everything will have specific reasons to make the choices they do so I think it just shows that we can’t be too black and white when we look at what’s going on.

IT’S ALL A CONSPIRACY

I watch a TV show called Ancient Aliens quite a bit and I drag out loads of information to use in stories. Facts and speculation gets my mind ticking and things as simple as a location can find their way into what I’m writing.

Now I’m not saying everything that goes on around us is all about aliens (although don’t tell Giorgio) but having had someone else think that such things aren’t beyond the realms of possibility does help when I put the narrative together. The thing that nudged me this week was the question of why we as a species seem to be so keen to take any given data and run off in the most bizarre direction possible? How is it that rational thought and investigation can be almost outdone simply on the assumption that strings we can’t see are being pulled in ways we can’t know to achieve goals we can’t possibly comprehend.

Why the conspiracy?

You type ‘conspiracy theories’ into any search engine and you’ll be bombarded by all manner of ideas covering anything you could possibly conceive. The faked moon landings. Elvis is actually alive and well. JFK. Creationism. There are people lined up to give their opinion on any and all of these and so many others as to make even the hardest of hard nosed sceptics take pause. What if, buried amongst all of the outlandish claims and ideas concerning everything and anything, someone is actually telling the truth or has worked out what’s really going on? We have to be sure that we don’t just believe everything we hear, instead questioning and researching but surely there comes a point when we can accept details of what we’re being told?

Is it just that we have a curious streak running through us? Are the conspiracy theories being driven by an inherent distrust of systems of power? Do we think we’re being lied to?

I have no doubt that governments around the world will have very dark secrets of all kinds that they keep from the population as a whole for the health of the public but that doesn’t mean that every single fragment of information which comes from ‘the system’ is automatically to be thought of as a lie.

Every time we hear anything we have to apply critical thinking and assess it on its merits. I meet someone and they say they work in banking I’m likely to believe them but if they say they’re a multi-billionaire playboy who fights crime at night then I’m likely to need some proof.

Watching Ancient Aliens I find it remarkable when the various talking heads on the show run through their logic and everything is going fine until the final step when whatever point they reach on the road of logic, the last one is always ‘Aliens’. No matter where the evidence is taking them, ‘Aliens’. In every step along the way there is a reasoned application of logic until ‘Aliens’.

Maybe the conspiracy theories are just so many people wanting the stories to be true and are doing everything they can to squeeze the merest hint of possibility out of the barest scrap of plausibility. Don’t we all want there to be a little magic and wonder left in the world?

Even if we have to blame Elvis or Aliens to do it?

DONE

I was back in work this morning.

Without really trying, getting back onto the rails of the required bits and pieces that have to happen on every Monday made it worryingly easy to almost forget that the festive period was still taking place around me. All the jobs that I needed to complete were the same as if it had been a Monday in June and aside from the tinsel and tree at the front of the building, there was a void which sat everywhere and just engulfed all the festive stuff.

I then nipped into town on the way home and despite the fact that many of the shops were closed, it was again only the presence of the decorations which gave any clue to the time of year. People were doing what they’d be doing on any other day and you’d never guess that there had been anything different going on.

Everyone must always take a breath. Surely we’re all in need of making the most of the time to relax.

Let’s not get back to work too early.

ALMOST OVER

For this post I only have a single point to make.

I feel that after the 2016 we’ve all witnessed, where division and anger seem to have exposed the gruesome heart of the human race to the light, I open my arms to everyone out there, regardless of all those defining characteristics we all cling so very tightly to, and which seem to be always pulling us apart, and say to each and every one of you,

“Let’s celebrate our humanity and do what we can to make the lives we touch every day a little bit better. Let’s make sure 2017 is the perfect antidote to what we’ll soon be leaving behind us.”

Have a good ‘un all.

THE DOG ATE MY HOMEWORK

In any given situation, do you believe the best of people?

If someone tells you something, do you accept what they say without question? Do you expect them to lie? How do you assess what you’re told so you have the best chance to weed out the lies in the pot?

Every day we all have to make these assessments when we read, hear or watch anything but one story, despite it’s truth or otherwise, is only as good in the first instance, as the mind of the person who’s hearing it.

Do you know someone, or are you that person, who will just treat everything they’re told as something to be suspicious of?

Each and every one of us is the product of all of our experiences with all of the days of our lives adding up to create a way to look at things. We build opinions based on things we’re told but things we experience as well. If we have a continuous outcome every time we experience any given event, that’s going to colour how we behave the next time we have that same event. We all have that one friend who is distrustful of new relationships after having been the one to be dumped every time any of their previous couplings came to an end. Over time they’ve come to the conclusion that every time they enter a relationship it’s going to fail.

I get told all manner of stories when I’m at my non-authoring work. I deal with a large number of people on a daily basis and I have to admit that after the years of doing what I do, I have become more and more sceptical when I’m told all of the reasons why people can’t come to work. Granted there are several examples which are only one very small step above the dog ate my homework, but that doesn’t mean that each and every person who is explaining the reasons for their absence is automatically lying. I try my best to remain optimistic that the people I speak to aren’t just full of it and that I’ll be able to help those who need it but there will always be those who want to push the boundaries. Indeed, I’ve been told by someone that they’d had keyhole surgery on their knee, removing cartilage, the day before, explaining their absence, but said they were fine to get back to work, walking about, now. They seemed shocked when I pointed out that I’d had that op myself and asked to compare scars as it took me weeks to get back to work, and eventually admitted that they’d just overslept.

In all stories, the characters have been shaped by their own experiences. When I started to write The Circle of Fire I was keen to make sure that there would be reasoning why the characters do what they do. There would always need to be a build up of detail behind the mind set of those involved rather than just having them as being two dimensional cut outs. How do these people view the world but then how would they then interact with each other? I wanted there to be conflict but to have a constant physical battle is impractical, and if everyone is pulling in different directions then the story can’t get anywhere. The result is the smaller alterations of view. The disagreements are what make things interesting but we can’t had everyone at loggerheads all of the time.

Cynicism or optimism create a flavour to the thoughts of all concerned. We all have our own way of reviewing things and we can’t ever forget that those things are uniquely ours. Very often, people can get caught up in the opinions of others and it’s conceivable that the political landscape of this past year has been shaped by just that fact. We all have to be open to the opinions of others but that doesn’t mean forgetting where we came from.

But maybe don’t always think the worst. Maybe the dog did eat the homework after all?