Actually, You Can Keep a Good Man Down…

Or, more to the point today, a good woman.  Turns out it’s quite easy, in fact: all you need is a phone or an email account, and a certain kind of craven cowardice.

Quoting Sisyphus, whom I introduced in my previous post:

Hello again, Peter.

I enjoyed your blog post, though thank goodness I didn’t suggest reading it in any way with my class. As it turns out, I am no Sisyphus, and before I even began to teach the novel, one parent had written an email, and another called the principal (neither spoke to me) both outraged at the idea of teaching a novel which had at one point contained such language. I told my administrator, who is a completely reasonable man, by the way, to call off the dogs. If it was this big an issue before we’d read a single redacted page, it was going to become a catastrophe. I will continue to teach “Ambassador” in the future. And as for the kids who began reading the novel on their own, they were quite disappointed and asked if they might still be able to discuss the novel with you over Skype at some point.

Thanks for even considering this. It’s unfortunate how things turned out; in the words of Kurt Vonnegut: so it goes.

So it is not enough to be a good teacher. It is not enough to be a challenging teacher. It is not even enough to be an accommodating teacher, one so dedicated that she sought me out and enlisted my support for an act we both regard as downright odious— but were willing to commit if it meant that students could be exposed to new ideas and new ways of thinking.  It is not enough to hold your nose and slash the prose and spread your cheeks in an attempt to appease these ranting, rabid Dunning-Kruger incarnations made flesh. They will not be appeased.

It is not enough to gut a book of its naughty bits.  That the book ever had such bits in the first place is offense enough.

We do not know the names of those who complained; they struck out bravely under cover of anonymity. I do know the name of the school at which this travesty went down, but if I spoke it here the teacher would be fired. I find it curious that those so full of self-righteous fury, so utterly convinced of their own virtue, would be so averse to the spotlight.  Are they not doing God’s will? Should they not be proud of their handiwork?

Strangely, though, these people don’t like to be seen.

In the end, it probably doesn’t matter. It’s not as though this is an isolated case, after all; it hails from the heart of a country where more adults believe in angels than accept evolution, a country where— in the race to rule a hemisphere— an orange demagogue with zero impulse control is once again even in the polls with a corporate shill who revels in the endorsements of war criminals.  The problem is not one outraged parent, or one school, or one county. The problem is the whole fucking country. The problem is people.

Naming names in one specific case— even if that did do more good than harm— would be like scraping off a single scab and hoping you’d cured smallpox.

But there she is, doing her goddamned best in the center of that shitstorm: Sisyphus, and all those like her.  Today she lost the battle, but I know her kind.

The war goes on.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Wednesday September 07 2016at 11:09 am , filed under blindsight, politics, writing news . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

62 Responses to “Actually, You Can Keep a Good Man Down…”

  1. I work in education as an academic. In Canada. Many inducements have been used to try and lure me to work in the US. Sincere requests. Thoughtful requests. Lots of opportunities to gild myself in research circles with the gold their system offers.

    Nope, won’t happen. No matter how dire it is here in Canada in the academics of education, and it is truly dire, I won’t go and live/work in the US. I have dear friends there, people who I admire and care for a lot. But the racism and the conservatism and the misogyny that run like a raging river throughout that country are not something I’d ever want to live in and with. All Trump reveals is how widespread those views are…they confirm my lack of interest in living there. I think that country is on a downward spiral towards anarchy with its rich and poor, white and non-white, male and female issues. Trump is but a signpost to a journey they are well along.

    I’m sorry your book was slighted in the way that it was, but I’m not even slightly surprised.

  2. @Peter Watts, who wrote in-part: Strangely, though, these people don’t like to be seen.

    That might be because so very many people are tired of them that if we knew who they were and where to find them, we might collectively fix their little red wagons. So to speak. Just to be fair about it, we won’t want to be seen, either.

    Yet, we already have enough ridiculous escalation of tit-for-tat ongoing, as so many people seem to like to point out. Perhaps we’re all better off if we stick to quietly soldiering on, like “Sisyphus”. A lot of us have the same approach in our politics… Centrist, relative to the extremes, but sadly the system is pretty much a zero-sum game where you can win the primary only through extremism, and whoever wins in the general election is most likely to have scraped by into a victory where they are loved by only slightly over half of the voters, and the other slightly less than half utterly hates their guts. No wonder most of us go through life either on drugs, or with our emotions stewing a few settings past rolling boil, or quite frequently both. Yet sometimes some progress is made, though as always, “Sisyphean” is the watchword.

    @Mike Bowen: You forgot to mention that we are the nation which has the highest rate of incarceration. That might be what brings us down faster than anything else. I was recently living in a jurisdiction that bewails how it can’t get large businesses to relocate there and provide jobs. That might be because of the fact that the local jurisdictions have low low taxes but have to supplement those with courts costs, fines, and jail fees… so almost everyone they could possibly jail they have jailed. That means that they’ve given everyone an arrest and conviction record, and percentage of convicts is definitely something corporations consider when looking into opening a new facility. Yet another division in our formerly great democracy.

  3. Heard another statistic about Americans yesterday: 40% believe the Earth is only 10,000 years old. Many of them, half I think, do not attend church. This means they got it from the “culture.”

  4. Here in Canada, I was once in a lecture in a class about the history of popular music, and that day’s topic was on controversial music. So that we had an idea of what people had been so outraged by, the teacher (who was doing his PhD at the time, I believe) played a song by 2 Live Crew.

    Despite discussions of the content beforehand (including a bit at the end of the previous class, so it’s not like it was sprung entirely that session), a couple of people outright walked out of class. The teacher was justifiably surprised, and not only did it largely marr the class’s ability to have a good discussion about the song and the social and political responses to it due to the disruption this caused, in fact he later got in serious trouble from the department. Hearing from folks who took classes from him in following years I suspect that he was quite cautious as a result of this, almost certainly to the detriment of the education of the students.

    I mean, it’s one thing to think that a piece of art or entertainment shouldn’t be lauded. But this was even an opportunity for the walkouts to instead loudly decry what they evidently disliked! And that would likely have made for a livelier and more interesting discussion! But instead, academic inquiry was punished and squashed.

    (There’s a bit more to this story that I know from talking to the teacher in question, but since my actual name is attached to these comments I probably should avoid any more specifics and any non-‘public’ information—it’s not my academic career, after all.)

    My point here, I think, is that this reflexive yet cowardly puritanism is by no means exclusive to the United States of America, and is in fact embedded in our wider culture that we largely share with our southern neighbor. And perhaps worse, that it’s definitely risen up to even the post-secondary level.

    I mean, I’d really like to believe Canada was categorically better. But I think in this country we often make ourselves feel better by pointing to the parts of the USA we find the most upsetting and pointing to the parts of Canada we find most laudable, despite both existing in nearly (although not exactly) equal qualities in both countries. At most, Canada just lags behind the USA culturally and politically by a decade or less. We did finally implement a version of the DMCA, after all, and we were still laughing about Dubya when the sudden realization that Stephen Harper was now our Prime Minister hit. And now we have our Obama, crossed a bit with Bush Junior still (in terms of a political dynasty); I worry, among other things, that it’s just a matter of time before we have our Trump.

  5. Mr Non-Entity: Yet another division in our formerly great democracy.

    When was it ever “great”? It was founded by slave owning bastards, and has only ever improved by being dragged, kicking and screaming, by civil discontent and vigorous debate–in other words, exactly like right now. “Formerly great” implies a period where the social issues dealing with marginalized populations you and Mr. Bowen mention were favorable to where they are right now. I can’t think of any decade when that would be true.

    If you’re a woman, black, Gay, Hispanic, etc. things are far from great for you right now, but they only get worse the farther back you travel in time in U.S. history. As recently as the 80s, the notion of women in the business space as anything other than menial workers was such a novelty, we were still making movies about it. Go back another decade or two, and your skin color still dictated which drinking fountains you could use in some parts of the country. Gay people didn’t officially exist. The prison system has always disproportionately swelled its ranks with the poor, thereby subject to the racial divides in wealth distribution. Does anyone want to even think about the the sort of injustices routinely suffered by poor minorities at the hands of the police in an age before public scrutiny and video tape?

    Like it or not, on social issues, the U.S. has never been any better than it is right now, unless your focus is especially narrow. Religion, while still pervasive, is on the decline. Thanks to an age of camera phones and stream of consciousness-level information (and opinion) sharing, these issues are receiving more scrutiny and more vigorous debate than at any time previously. The downside to that is that the constant awareness of these things, through the information barrage and echo chamber of the digital age, keeps us in a constant state of agitation and makes it easy to lose perspective.

    Saying “formerly great democracy” is just coming at the same “Make America Great Again” nonsense Trump is peddling from a different angle. It’s never been better, and it was never really that great to begin with except for a wealthy minority.

    .

  6. Mike Bowen: All Trump reveals is how widespread those views are…they confirm my lack of interest in living there.

    Mr. Bowen, I’m sorry to hear that. We are certainly poorer for it.

    However, I would like to address your seeing Trump as an indicator of typical American views. Trump is something of an aberration–an unintended consequence of the Republican “winner take all” primary system. He didn’t need the support of the majority of U.S. citizens, or even the majority of Republicans (which he didn’t get) to win that nomination. He only needed to do better than his many opponents who spread the vote around quite a bit. He was winning those contests with 30, 40, and 50 percent of *republican* votes, well short of a majority, but still enough to take *all* the votes from a particular state if your numerous opponents are only scoring 10-20 percent.

    So while Trump achieved the nomination by speaking to a significant portion of the Republican voters, it wasn’t even the majority of Republicans, let alone the majority of Americans. However, having achieved the nomination, the race falls into more or less familiar national political landscape territory with most Republicans supporting him because they aren’t going to let the fact that their candidate is a colossal asshole stop them from trying to deny power to the opposition party. To their credit, more Republicans are publicly jumping ship or refusing to support their national candidate this year than at any time I can remember.

    That said, it’s not like any of the other Republican candidates would have been any better. Trump mostly gets in trouble because he says out loud the things that are implicit in most conservative policy, much to the chagrin of Republican leaders who seem to think if they don’t say it, no one will notice. At least he’s an out of the closet racist, misogynist, and buffoon. You’d get the same stuff with Ted Cruz, but with even more sincere Jesus-praising, rather than Trump’s theistic lip service.

    In any event, both the US and the UK are having a bit of a ride this year with peculiar Orange Men spouting nationalist rhetoric. While the UK fell asleep on that one, we haven’t as yet voted our Orange Man into office. So maybe withhold judgement on that *particular* aspect of your otherwise completely valid criticisms.
    .

  7. Deseret: Heard another statistic about Americans yesterday: 40% believe the Earth is only 10,000 years old. Many of them, half I think, do not attend church. This means they got it from the “culture.”

    Could you source this please? 10,000 is an awfully specific number. I’m not inclined to believe that most creationists have even that concise of a picture in their heads. Just believing in creationism or having a vague notion that “God created the earth”, doesn’t mean they’ve attached a number to it in opposition to overwhelming scientific evidence. A lot of creationists have settled on a happy medium reconciling a reasonable accounting of natural history with their theistic beliefs.
    .

  8. As a citizen of the U.S. I find the Trump/Clinton race to be a terrible nightmare regardless of which way it plays out. It’s like Satan and Cthulhu were both running for the U.S. Presidency. As it happens, I personally attach Clinton to the “Satan” slot and will be voting for the lesser of two evils. Satan/Clinton is at least a sane and human voyage into absolute unholiness, while Trump-as-Cthulhu represents the insane, brain exploding, tentacular-soul-rape voyage into absolute unholiness…

    Anyway, I apologize for the hideous parts of the U.S. Lincoln clearly didn’t hold enough treason trials after the Treasonous Slaveholder’s Rebellion.

  9. Dumb American: Could you source this please? 10,000 is an awfully specific number….
    .

    Ah, never mind. I found it. That was from a multiple choice survey where the only option for classic creation theory was attached to the number 10,000. The options were 1) Humans evolved, God Guided , 2) Humans Evolved, No God, or 3) God Created Humans within the last 10,000 years. Predictably this stance was far more represented in older people.

    Obviously, of those options, any classic creationists are going to see the phrase “God Created”, and go with that over anything with the word “evolution”. I doubt many of them really have a concrete opinion of the Earth’s age one way or another. If you separated the question of the Earth’s age from the religious aspect, you’d probably get wildly different, though no doubt hilariously inaccurate, answers.

    Not that that makes me feel much better. But it still makes me feel better than discovering another pleasant factoid while researching this. In a 2000 person survey, only 3 in 4 U.S. Citizens correctly answered the question, “Does the Earth revolve around the Sun, or does the Sun Revolve around the Earth?”

    Yeeeeee—haw! ‘Murica! Kick-ass!

  10. Dumb American:

    Mr Non-Entity: Yet another division in our formerly great democracy.

    When was it ever “great”? It was founded by slave owning bastards, and has only ever improved by being dragged, kicking and screaming, by civil discontent and vigorous debate–in other words, exactly like right now. “Formerly great” implies a period where the social issues dealing with marginalized populations you and Mr. Bowen mention were favorable to where they are right now. I can’t think of any decade when that would be true.

    Well, at one point in time, it used to actually work, and it wasn’t the USSR or Fascist Italy or the Third Reich, etc. Think of it as a sort of slope going one way, the descent from actually working very well, and a slope going the other way, the ascent towards “social justice”, whatever exactly that will ever turn out to be. There’s a period where the overlap of both slopes is really rather high and I place that at right around the time that a certain dictator decided to suicide in his bunker in Berlin. In the decade after that, social justice or mere human decency became roaring fires in the popular spirit, so to speak, even if that popular spirit was soundly ignored by such as Nixon or the Cabinet-level officers until at least the end of the Reagan years. Yet we did get out of Vietnam, and out of most of Central America, and so on and so forth. We even put an end to the family-destroying and generation wrecking Johnson Welfare System.

    Where does our “formerly great” democracy really start to fall over and become formerly “great”? You mention the kicking and screaming and dragging people into sight distance of enlightenment, the healthy debate and the civil unrest, and I would go so far as to say that the last we saw of “great” was the last we saw of civil unrest. Most of the people striking, doing sit-ins, organizing protests etc., in the 1960s, they were smart people and usually some of the brightest students at some really quite good colleges and they were sincere and had articulable and complex opinions. Nowadays, we aren’t seeing a whole lot of coherence or philosophy in “Black Lives Matter” or at least it’s not making it past the media’s filters. The body-count is way higher than at the Kent State massacre but where’s the national strikes and walkouts, where are the protest songs? I suppose I hope you understand that I would say there are a lot of criteria by which one could judge a nation or a culture. But are we on the downward slope? Oh yes. Yes indeedy in my humble opinion. If you’ve ever lost someone to the inevitable progression of malady, you know the feeling I have for the state of the States. It’s not dead yet and I’ll love what I can as long as it lasts, but absent some miracles of medicine, as it were, it’s just a matter of not much time.

    @Troutwaxer: Today I saw Chuck Todd, one of the most widely comprehensive observers and critics of US politics, briefly summarizing what he expected of an upcoming debate between the candidates before an audience of military. To paraphrase loosely, he said that anyone who was thinking that they wanted something different in policy than they’ve seen for the last 16, nay, 20 or more years, it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect to get that something different by voting for Hillary Clinton. This had been making me really quite depressed until I saw your remarks, which added even greater clarity to our choices. So, even more Satan than we’ve already been having for longer than most college students have been alive? Or being terrified into soul-blasted mental wreckage slightly before getting a really good look at Elder God mastication process?

    Oh, this is what I meant by “formerly great”. We didn’t use to have our political process serve up this kind of satire.

  11. Dumb American: 10,000 is an awfully specific number.

    Actual quote was less than 10,000. Realized my inaccuracy after posting–which happens quite often but people tend not to notice or mention it–but was too late to edit. 😉 Will look for the source.

  12. Deseret:
    Heard another statistic about Americans yesterday: 40% believe the Earth is only 10,000 years old. Many of them, half I think, do not attend church. This means they got it from the “culture.”

    No, what it means is that answering a survey is easier than actually attending church, so it is a more convenient way of signaling tribal membership.

    They think that’s what people like themselves believe, and they repeat what they’ve heard their friends say to affirm their allegiance (like we all do to some degree). What this statistic means is that 40% “believe they should believe” Earth is less than 10,000 years old. At the same time, they can enjoy Jurassic Park and see no contradiction.

  13. And you can bet your ass those anonymous complainers will not be remaining anonymous among their friends. They’ll be complaining to their friends about that teacher, mention in passing they shut that book down, and feel GREAT because what they’re effectively doing (probably without realizing) is bragging about what good parents they are.

  14. Deseret: Actual quote was less than 10,000. Realized my inaccuracy after posting–which happens quite often but people tend not to notice or mention it–but was too late to edit. Will look for the source.

    No worries. I tracked it down myself. It was from a multiple choice Gallup poll from 2014. My post about it was stuck in the mod queue, and is now listed above your reply.

  15. :-Daniel:
    And you can bet your ass those anonymous complainers will not be remaining anonymous among their friends. They’ll be complaining to their friends about that teacher, mention in passing they shut that book down, and feel GREAT because what they’re effectively doing (probably without realizing) is bragging about what good parents they are.

    If the primary objection to Blindsight is that it gives too many fucks, I wonder if the school teaches Catcher In the Rye, the original F-Bomb controversy, like most others in the U.S. do. That book, the internet informs me, gives six fucks (though I seem to remember more). If those complainers went to school any time in the last 50 years, chances are someone forced a copy of Catcher in the Rye on them.

    So if that book is ok, and Blindsight is not, clearly we’re dealing with a matter of degree. In which case we need a standard measure to help educators evaluate reading material for school consumption. If we name the unit “Caulfields” in honor of CitR (or should it be “Salingers”?), then Blindsight sports a rating of 12.2 Caulfields.

    So there’s your problem right there. Teachers, try to keep it to keep your books to one or two Caulfields.

  16. Well, that sucks. At least some of the students are reading the book and that is always a win.

  17. The great unifying slogan of recent American history: Hey, we’re not Hitler!

    To be fair, this is basically the great slogan of most of Europe, including Russia.

    I would argue that at one point America was at least trending towards improvement, even when it was lacking in some areas. I don’t think I can say that now, except for a few isolated issues.

    For instance America turned left, not right, in response to the Great Depression and counter to most of Western civilization at the time.

  18. Peter Watts: I know you are not powerful enough/financially secure enough to do this, but maybe you could get one of your better placed friends to shower those students with one of their more “controversial” works.

  19. It is ridiculous to keep Blindsight away from high school kids because of the cursing. That’s fabulously dopey.

    I don’t remember anyone cursing unduly in it, so there can’t be that much in there. Besides, if the little bastards watch cable TV, they know all those words and how to use ’em already. Peter will not be teaching them something new in that area.

    Speaking of teaching, why teach Blindsight in particular with all the other famously subversive, dark, dour, but less dense, more mainstream, literature to choose from. Shorter literature. There are very few high school students, no matter how smart, who are going to wade through “Infinite Jest” when they can read “The Stranger.” Seems like a tough sell?

    My question is: Why is this teacher not teaching The Island? It’s a better work, an award-winner, it’s dark & angsty, it’s about what assholes parents can be, and it’s short – this sounds like a winner, if you want to teach contemporary Canadian sci fi novels to precocious teenagers. I would totally give it to a 16 year old; I can’t imagine handing them Blindsight!

  20. I’m living in a more *liberal* state. My son just started high school. He read Slaughterhouse Five over the summer for his English class. Some number of “fucks” and of course Montana Wildhack. Bonus criticism of Christianity. So not all of America is as backwards as Jesusland.

  21. Ah, shit, generic America-bashing begins again. Right after I complemented Watts on the community that has formed on this site.

    I was originally led here by a Stross post. I don’t read that site too much, not least because there is so much Murika-bashing there. Less than there used to be, and Stross himself seems to have backed off of it a bit. It was past time for that — he posted things that were demonstrably false, etc.

    I hope this isn’t going to descend into dog-whistle Murika posts, which would be shades of the Stross site at it’s worst. Aside to Dumb American — you are indeed dumb, or at minimum ignorant of history, c. mid-1700s.

    In at least one respect, the US is currently in advance of Canada. That would be in making some effort toward addressing climate change. This is a very nuanced issue, at a time when concrete efforts toward solid understanding, planning, and commitment matters a lot more than spin. Least useful of all is stereotyping or other forms of jingoistic bullshit. We are completely out of time to engage in that counterproductive crap.

    U.S. and China Formally Commit to Paris Climate Accord
    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/u-s-and-china-formally-commit-to-paris-climate-accord/

    U.S. and China formally join historic Paris climate agreement; Canada not yet ready
    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/the-us-and-china-ratify-historic-paris-climate-agreement-canada-declines/article31703985/

    The World’s Biggest Marine Refuge: 442,000 Square Miles, 7,000 Species, 5 Sunken Aircraft Carriers
    http://www.theatlantic.com/news/archive/2016/08/obama-papahanaumokuakea-marine-national-monument/497717/

  22. *sigh* As a most of my life resident of said JesusLand, with a wife who’s a teacher retiring at the end of the month partially due to frustrations along these lines, I ache for Sisyphus. Damn it. I got to read “A Clockwork Orange” in my advanced English class senior year in high school, but my school was a bit of an aberration. Christ, “Blindsight” would have been brilliant, Peter.

  23. Aside: my Kindle edition shows only 52 instances…that’s a few less Caulfields! (note; it’s catching ‘fuck’, ‘fucks’, ‘fucking’, etc…but maybe there are some variants she counted that a straight ‘fuck’ search isn’t catching. Heh, ‘fuck’ search…LOL)

    Shit. To do that search, I downloaded “Blindsight” onto my newest Kindle. Time to read this motherfucker again. ( I guess I can pause Malazan Book of the Fallen at 7500 pages in for a few days!)

  24. gregm: Aside to Dumb American — you are indeed dumb, .

    Well, what do you expect? I’m a product of the U.S. educational system.

    However, in my defense, I didn’t barge into a topic about how parts of the U.S. are still censoring books with garden variety “naughty” words waving an article about a long overdue piece of environmental legislation as some sort of evidence that the U.S. is not lagging behind the rest of the developed world in an increasing number of areas. So I’ve got that going for me.

    Learn to read a room, buddy.

    gregm: or at minimum ignorant of history, c. mid-1700s.

    Also entirely possible. However, the only comment I made in this topic that has anything to do with mid-1700s history was when I said that the U.S. was founded by “slave owning bastards”. Admittedly, this is a broad statement about a complicated issue. But since estimates range from One Third to fully 41 out of 56 of the signers of the Declaration of Independence being current or former slave owners, I’m not uncomfortable with it.

    Many, but not all, of those men became political opponents of slavery (though many also did so without ever getting around to freeing their own slaves). The motivations and politics of the time were clearly complicated. However, I’ve always found moral relativism problematic. In my book, owning a person who doesn’t want to be owned makes you some degree of asshole in any age. So again, I’m comfortable with the statement.

  25. I’m pondering ways that some of this can be salvaged for the students. Carl and I were bouncing ideas around.

    My thought was that we could crowd-source a discussion sheet with topics from the book. It needs to be crowd-sourced because the teacher isn’t going to have time to work out a lesson plan on this now that she needs to spend it on whatever replaces it.

    Anyway

    A couple of things. I don’t know what the class would have been like. Was the teacher teaching Blindsight in the context of science fiction as a thing in addition to Blindsight’s unique attributes or was it mostly going to be about Blindsight?

    Depending on the answer to that. A dicussion outline could have multiple things going on. There are all the awys in which Blindsight is taken in the context of all science fiction, and it has a continuation and expansion of themes like post-humanism and whatever. (hand wave hand wave, I’m not an expert on this topic). And then, there are specifics about Blindsight, which would be a huge discussion in itself outside of genre stuff in particular.

    I started realizing this all when I got down to discussin particulars with Carl. He asked me to remind him what the book is about and also what students might get out of it. As we started talking, I brought up the things that stood out for me, but then realized there were other things in there that would be part of the discussion about the ideas that get brought out in the genre in general, and which students may not have been exposed to depending on how much they’ve read and what they’ve read.

    Since I haven’t been in high school for a seriously long time, how do things get discussed? are there crib sheets that get handed out? Does she have a class discussion outline? Is there a way we can give some of this ezperience to her students by making up one for them?

    I don’t know where her students are in terms of sf literacy. Back in my day, we had a senior English teacher who would do themed units, and one we had was humor*. Having a discussion sheet that takes topics from Blindsight and list references and has pointers to discussions and using it for the topic of the class could be helpful!

    Also, maybe there is a student club that is a reading group? Students get to have clubs for things that teachers aren’t allowed to run. e.g. Bible Club, or whatever. Maybe there is a student club that is a reading group for banned books.

    Anyway, what I would want to give to students is a map of all the big conversations running through sf literature, including the type of conversations you are a part of. and on top of that, the unique and peculiar things in Blindsight.

    Is this something you’d think she’d be interested in? I wouldn’t mind doing some brainstorming about it.

    * (she said that over times her students complained that all the stuff we were taught was depressing shit like Ethan Frome). In that segment, we read different things, The Princess Bride, Waiting for Godot, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, something by Peter DeVries?)

  26. Speaking as someone who grew up in Jesusland as a Jesusfreak.

    I pretty much read everything, even stuff with swears and also stuff that challenged my beliefs. e.g. A Christian would assume a soul and thus a mind/body duality or whatever. But that doesn’t mean I would have rejected things that were contrary to that. like, in Blindsight there are the magnetic fields that invoke Cotard’s syndrome. These physical things correlate to a change in the identity and experience of the person.

    In high school, I took classes, and certainly was a self righteous git at times, believed in ludicrous things, but I loved those classes and loved learning. I remember discovering OCD in highschool due to someone my sister dated. We got a book on it, and it was amazing to learn about these simple changes in genes or whatever in the body could produce complex behaviors. I can’t remember if I found Oliver Sacks _Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat_ around this time or not, but that would be the cool kind of shit I loved learning.

    the person I was back then would have loved so many aspects of Blindsight (but would have argued with you about the nihilism and the conclusions, ha), especially anything to do with biology and neurology and that’s not to mention merely the language you wrote it in.

    anyway, this is why I’m motivated to give a crib sheet for Blindsight to students. What if they’ve not met any of these ideas yet? what if they don’t find them? I would regret not learning about the brain and how genes and the body affect behavior and person. and Blindsight has so many more cool things than that. who will think of the children! :)

    anyway, seriously y’all. I was a Jesusfreak. I spoke in tongues, I wanted to be a missionary, etc. etc. I would have loved Blindsight despite mixed feelings about it. I was able to contain multitudes. Don’t underestimate freakish kids.

  27. Privateiron,

    What do you mean? Get someone else to donate books? without spending money someone could give the students links to CC-friendly things like _Little Brother_.

  28. Ha, make a CC-BY book, Peter, then we can make deritive works produce some markov thing based on Left Behind and your book.

  29. Since gregm brought it up I don’t have to post this as off-topic. BTW, I’m sorry to be a party pooper, but signing an accord means little especially in light of the TPP and similar attempts to hand multinationals power that human beings most of the time do not enjoy: Suing federal governments for damages. The US and other countries have recently also ignored many other things they signed. This is a PR stunt until proven otherwise with actions.

    Cannot find it but wondering if anyone else is familiar with the theory that the LIA was not so little and is still happening but the Industrial Revolution, etc. has set it back. The implications of this I’m still not real sure on, but essentially I think it would mean Earth would be freezing if it weren’t for factories, the beef and oil industries. Of course, it would also mean Earth would already be largely uninhabitable to humans if it weren’t for the No-So-Little-Ice-Age.

  30. Dumb American,

    Those are good points. Some, such as that group usually referred to as founders in the US being slave owners, and that slave-owning is a Bad Thing, are so completely irrefutable that I would have to (mentally, at minimum, and likely verbally) question the motives of anyone attempting it. But the mid 1700s, in terms of western civilization, were about far more than the US. It was about The Enlightenment.

    But learning to read a room? Actually, I can do that. At least in prosaic terms like trying to get The Powers That Be to approve a corporate security budget that has some hope of being useful. Or judging the best way to approach security when I’m teaching it.

    But reading a room shouldn’t involve pandering to that room. I’m not buying, at all, any notion that the US is an intrinsically evil actor in the context of possibly not wrecking the biosphere. To me, that seems counterproductive. As does anything that saps the will to fix the problem.

    Does the US lag? I certainly hope so, in two senses. First off, if the US were the world leaders in this fight, the outcome would be surely be horrific. Secondly, there are going to be huge issues with less developed nations justifiably feeling that they shouldn’t now be penalized for the historic damage caused by the abuses of the developed world. It is to be hoped that those nations, as they continue to develop, will become leaders. In the absence of that happening, worse outcomes again become more likely.

    Probably worse yet is that we already have lots of (and will have more of) the emergent behavior that characterizes complex (as opposed to merely complicated) systems. As an example, which also gets back to the deveIoping world, I offer http://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(16)30993-9. Human-induced fires in recently converted wilderness areas in Borneo and Sumatra equaled 10% of all annual anthropogenic CO2 emissions in 1997. So here we are, nationally, gaming strategies with benefits of single digit percentage points, when the noise can be an order of magnitude greater. And we have no clear ideas of where tipping points may lie.

    Things are sufficiently messed up that there are few paths left that will avoid the worst outcomes. If we do not celebrate our few wins, we lose a reward mechanism, and guarantee even fewer in the future. This is a *fight*, not an intellectual game, and the stakes are high. Get in a fight expecting to lose, and you will. Defeatism is a real thing, not some jingoistic bullshit.

  31. Dumb American,
    Sorry for my last appearing as Anonymous. Neglected to supply a name, which would be gregm. Breaking up the thread is rude, is entirely my bad, and I have self-chastised.

  32. Anonymous: If we do not celebrate our few wins, we lose a reward mechanism, and guarantee even fewer in the future. This is a *fight*, not an intellectual game, and the stakes are high. Get in a fight expecting to lose, and you will. Defeatism is a real thing, not some jingoistic bullshit.

    gregm, I’m assuming that’s you. Some context is important here. By the way, apologies–the “read the room” thing was me being defensive, but in all fairness, you had just called me a big dummy-head and stepped all over my delightfully self-deprecating nickname. You singled me out for not understanding mid-1700s history (which may be true), but the only statement I made regarding that period was the slave owning one, which as I stated, I feel I’m on solid ground with.

    First of all, that statement that you originally decided to attack me over was made in response to Mr. Non-entity, who tacked on a point about U.S. over-incarceration rates to Mike Bowen’s list of social issue complaints. He closed with a statement about our “formerly great” democracy that frustrated me somewhat, because I see it as another variation of the “make America Great Again” lie currently being TRUMPeted by the right.

    The goal of my comments was not to diminish the good things the U.S. has achieved in the past, but to expose the lie that you can somehow set things right by turning back the clock. On the purely social front, the U.S. is not great, but has never been better than it is now. Economics are another story. The growing divide between the wealthy and the poor exacerbates all its other social ills, but my post was primarily concerned with social issues. Yes, we have had periods of great achievements and positive growth, but that doesn’t mean the era in which those things occur is worthy of being held up as some example of the way the country should be.

    Mr. Non-Entity went on to clarify that he feels, if I read it correctly, that the late WW2 era is where he feels the country was on the right track. Ironically, I think that if you get past all the Greatest Generation propaganda it was one of our darkest periods in the last century. He is probably thinking of the social programs to come out of that era. I’m thinking of the fact we were rounding up our own citizens and putting them into internment camps. Or that the government was refusing to treat citizens it had deliberately and secretly infected with syphilis even though penicillin was discovered to be an effective treatment during that time. Or that the KKK was being allowed to operate with impunity. Or the whole gaining the distinction of being the only county to ever use a nuclear weapon in anger thing. Good times.

    That we also achieved great things during that time is laudable, but it is not a place many of us would feel comfortable living in, even if we did qualify for the “whites only” drinking fountain. To suggest that this is a period when we were greater than we are now, is to ignore all the segments of our population who would suffer living there, much as people in those eras ignored them.

    You cannot turn back the clock. For better or worse, we have never been greater than we are now. While it is of no comfort to those currently suffering in our system, the fact that we are aware of that suffering, reminded of it hourly in the digital age, along with an unending tide of discussion on these matters, is a good thing. It’s the only way change happens. We have, at our disposal right now, the greatest tools for change the country has ever had. What we lack is perspective.

    Defeatism is living in some imaginary idealized era of the past that was never as good as people remember.
    .

  33. Deseret,

    As you surmised, writing about US national politics in the context of a global problem does seem to be a bit off-topic. Particularly during yet another bitter fight of an election year. But Peter has allowed it so far. Perhaps he will allow this too.

    Issues with the TPP trade agreement seem (justifiably, IMO) boil down to sovereignty issues, and leave entirely too much room for yet more increases in multinational corporate power. This is not so much a partisan fight as some politicos would have us believe: my Senator (Dem) is firmly against it, as he was against NAFTA, and he was recently well-received in town halls in my (vastly Rep) county. He keeps getting elected because he’s pretty obviously a level-headed guy.

    I entirely agree that many US government actions are about PR, and have unfortunate consequences. Canonical example being the USA PATRIOT act and other things done in the wake of 9/11. Peter fell into that spinning turbine of stupid on the Canadian border, but there are other examples, with more subtle, but also more damaging, effects. Politicians who must be seen to be Doing Something have always been a danger. Holding politicians accountable is an obviously unsolved problem. Which makes me wonder where the PolySci (or, more accurately, PolyPseudoSci) people are, when they aren’t working for campaigns.

    Regarding fairly recent Little Ice Age news, I assume you are referring to things like last January. http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/14/world/ice-age-postponed/, and the notion that the beef, oil, etc., industries are what has prevented us from suffering from same. Quoting the lead author of that paper, from the CNN piece, “Right now the problem is global warming, not cooling, and the only right things we can do is to reduce CO2 emission.”

    There’s a long history of industrial groups protecting their interests. Some of it involves seems to have involved systematic cover-ups. Being a cynical sort of person, I didn’t really buy into this whole problem until 2007, when I finally followed my follow the money instincts, and discovered how worried Lloyd’s (insurance giant, dating from the coffee-shops of mid 1700s England) was.
    http://www.insurancejournal.com/news/international/2007/04/06/78536.htm

    There are billions of dollars at stake. Energy producers want the status quo, and no increases in their costs to mitigate risk. The people who absorb that risk took a look, and basically freaked out over the enormity of the likely lossage. Follow the money, do the math, and form your own conclusions continues to be the best guidance I can offer.

  34. Dumb American,

    I don’t know who “Mr. Non-entity” is. I suspect his post was moderated out of existence. And my accidentally doing an Anonymous post somewhere in that stream comes back to haunt me: I don’t think Mr. Non-entity is someone I would like to be confused with. As usual, dumbassery has costs.

    For the record, I have no substantive issues with you. Your last post cleared that up completely — I get it now.

    A quibble is the US first use of nuclear weapons. Not a quibble to residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, obviously. But the Pacific war was hugely racist, on both sides. Casualty projections of invading Japan’s home islands were large, we seemed to have little knowledge of how each others societies actually worked, and I doubt that we will ever know what was truly in the mind of the people making decisions, on either side. It’s been spun in every possible way, we’re too long after the fact, and judging after the fact *always* introduces bias.

    The safest default stance would seem to be no first use, and that would seem to occupy the moral high ground as well. But I don’t *know*. There are certainly preemptive strike plans in the current portfolio. The morality of it — wow. How certain do you need to be? How many lives, on both sides? Do lives on the other side even matter, when your entire remit, as accepted by your society, is to save lives on your side? Does societal membership even matter?

    It’s so completely beyond me that I can’t even guess at the true scope of the problem. And given the long history of transitive trust (friend of a friend) failures, I can form no reasonable notion of what school of thought might provide an answer.

  35. gregm:
    Politicians who must be seen to be Doing Something have always been a danger. Holding politicians accountable is an obviously unsolved problem.

    From my outside the US-view I think that is one of the big problems with the US. Since the cold war ended you’ve been running around fucking things up as it was cold-war-business as usual. Which seems to be mostly driven the military-industrial-complex justifying it’s existence, through their “bought” politicians.

  36. gregm,

    So it’s another cynical ruse to protect special business interests? Could easily go there if the implications were clearly in their favor. Perhaps then the bottom line: “If we stop burning oil, we all freeze to death.” If that’s it, then I would agree.

  37. Deseret: Cannot find it but wondering if anyone else is familiar with the theory that the LIA was not so little and is still happening but the Industrial Revolution, etc. has set it back. The implications of this I’m still not real sure on, but essentially I think it would mean Earth would be freezing if it weren’t for factories, the beef and oil industries. Of course, it would also mean Earth would already be largely uninhabitable to humans if it weren’t for the No-So-Little-Ice-Age.

    I am not sure if I heard this as a theory put for as such, or just kind of wondered about it on my own and then later discovered that other people had come to about that exact conclusion in the same time-frame. This might have been around 25 years ago, certainly by 20 years ago.

    There are all sorts of people discussing, for real world applications here on Earth, what SF was discussing in terms of terraforming for other worlds. I think they’re calling it “geo-engineering” in the modern day and I know a couple of folks who are still going on about the Maunder Minimum etc etc and at the same time they are denying global warming, they are baffled by the lack of increasing glaciation. I personally have been wondering if perhaps we are moving our species into an even more “unintentionally godlike” relationship with the planet.

    For example, some footnotes for a paper I wrote (in perhaps 2005) said “We withdraw 8 percent of the total annual renewable freshwater, and appropriate 26 percent of annual evapotranspiration and 54 percent of accessible runoff. (UNWWP 2003)” and I recently saw a figure of about 60% for the runoff impoundment and usage. Not sure if that’s grown by that much or if they are just rounding up… but I suspect it actually has grown by that much. If we are controlling that much water, if our agriculture and our waste-management systems are having such a massive intervention/interposition in the water cycles, whether we intend it or not, we are having an effect, maybe more of an effect than anything else, or even a huge subset of the set of “everything else combined”.

    It’s a complex enough task trying to get good comprehensive metrics and develop an understanding of how Mankind is interfering with nature just in the matter of global warming. If we must add in sorting out what are the synergies between anthropogenic warming and “solar dimming” global cooling, I would guess we’re going to need a lot more scientists and far more supercomputers. But my gut feeling? The evidence for “should be entering an ice-age” seems to be fairly strong in accordance with prevailing theories from years and years ago and the explanations about how we are not (according to those theories) seem overly complex and contrived. Yet we’re face with totally different theories about how we are seriously warming the planet, and the evidence supporting those theories is quite strong and widely accepted.

    Dumb American: Mr. Non-Entity went on to clarify that he feels, if I read it correctly, that the late WW2 era is where he feels the country was on the right track. Ironically, I think that if you get past all the Greatest Generation propaganda it was one of our darkest periods in the last century. He is probably thinking of the social programs to come out of that era. I’m thinking of the fact we were rounding up our own citizens and putting them into internment camps. Or that the government was refusing to treat citizens it had deliberately and secretly infected with syphilis even though penicillin was discovered to be an effective treatment during that time. Or that the KKK was being allowed to operate with impunity. Or the whole gaining the distinction of being the only county to ever use a nuclear weapon in anger thing. Good times.

    To clarify, I was thinking more of the aftermath of WWII, in terms of us moving towards a national “moral self-betterment”. Read again and you can see that I was trying to be fairly specific about the internal conflicts of the 1960s, you know, the Vietnam Protest Movement, the Hippies, Yippies, the counterculture explosion in general. The Civil Rights movement, constantly gaining traction and non-black allies as time went on, and all of that is still evolving, of course.

    But I was trying to verbally superimpose two graphs, and evidently did not do it well. One slope/curve depicted our moral growth which is ongoing, we hope. The other slope/curve was meant to depict our ability to function as a polity, or simply to function. There was a time when the campaigns for office were far more brief and low-key than today, and there was a time when the media were a check on the power of politicians, parties, and often on corporations as well. All of those organs and processes of a healthy body-politic have been headed downhill, so to speak.

    Separating a political axis from a moral axis is fairly commonplace. For example, we can’t really support the politics of the Roman Empire in terms of their economy being almost entirely based on conquest and slavery. Yet we can certainly admire their ability to project military force as well as to accomplish significant civil engineering feats which become more amazing when one sees the technology that did it. Historians love to point out one thing about Rome, which was that not very long after it became an Empire, it became a victim of its own success, in that communications lags combined with central authority and to delegate sufficient authority into the distant field was to create new challengers to the central authority… yet the communications lags forced this, and somehow the challengers didn’t understand that when they replaced the central authority, they themselves now had the communications lags.

    Yet there’s a point in the growth of the Empire where they had not taken on far too much territory to effectively administer, and when they had not yet sucked dry the new provinces. They were exporting “being Roman”, introducing such things as viticulture, modern construction techniques, sanitation etc., vastly improving the provinces and the provinces knew it. (See Peter Heather, “Rome and the Barbarians” etc which has this thesis.) The provinces were, so to speak, cured of natural blight and the fields newly fertilized and the commonwealth was such that as profited Rome, moreso profited the provinces. Yet adventurism abroad forced destituting taxation on the provinces even as the improvements of “Romanization” (roads, etc) became unsupported. That last bit, I think, is where we’ve been since about October 2001. The bit before that, being the rising empire spreading modernity and wealth all around, it was the US for much of our history up until probably Korea and certainly starting downhill with the involvement in Vietnam. Before it was us, it was the British Empire, without which probably both the US and Canada would still be sending each other smoke signals in Algonquian and Iroquoian. To conclude, our power is on the decline, or at least we aren’t the empire which people would want to join.

    And now we are far afield.

    Blindsight doesn’t show us too much of the not-too-distant future’s aftermath of empires, to me it looks a bit more like transnational-corporatism in a general model with the territorial powers fading away. I thought Echopraxia was better with depicting that, though still not with huge detail. Heh, even farther afield and I am very tired. :)

  38. Mr Non-Entity: I was trying to verbally superimpose two graphs, and evidently did not do it well.

    More likely just lazy reading on my part. I take your point now.

    Mr Non-Entity: And now we are far afield.

    I know. No one has talked about or used any F-Words for some time now. What is the ‘Crawl coming to?
    .

  39. Sheila: Ha, make a CC-BY book, Peter, then we can make deritive works produce some markov thing based on Left Behind and your book.

    Hi Sheila and BTW that www-forms editing thing is great, thank you! But, when you say “Markov” did you mean what wikipedia suggests?

    A Markov chain named after Andrey Markov, is a random process that undergoes transitions from one state to another on a state space.

    Random derivations of Watts SF, with a deus-ex-machina actually represented as the Almighty? If it has this sort of humor in it, ROFL, please write one!

    gregm: I don’t know who “Mr. Non-entity” is. I suspect his post was moderated out of existence. And my accidentally doing an Anonymous post somewhere in that stream comes back to haunt me: I don’t think Mr. Non-entity is someone I would like to be confused with. As usual, dumbassery has costs.

    gregm, I doubt you’d easily be mistaken for me. I’ve been here for quite some time but I’m not trying to be flashy or impress too many people, hence the “non-entity” thing. I am older, pushing 60 years and a lifelong fan of the hard-science SF genre, leaning more towards what used to be called cyberpunk, nowadays I guess they call it “bleeding edge”. I do not have a degree in the sciences but have spent most of my life and much of my online time around people who do have such degrees, and there’s always wikipedia. I’m not incredibly dim, my career has mostly been in technical support/operations in fields where reading the fine manual isn’t any easier than reading the highlights of some of the better PhD spats here in the ‘Crawl. In a lot of ways I am sort of like a little arachnid esteemed by many of the “locals”. “Portia” isn’t exactly brilliant, it’s an arthropod, for gob’s sake. Yet it’s very patient, you can’t say that it fails to pay attention, and it somehow seems to know a lot more than you should reasonably expect, and it appears to learn quite well within its limits, and even seems to have a fairly accurate imagination. Additionally, having eight legs makes it really easy to pat myself on the back a lot. :)

    Quell: gregm:
    Politicians who must be seen to be Doing Something have always been a danger. Holding politicians accountable is an obviously unsolved problem.

    From my outside the US-view I think that is one of the big problems with the US. Since the cold war ended you’ve been running around fucking things up as it was cold-war-business as usual. Which seems to be mostly driven the military-industrial-complex justifying it’s existence, through their “bought” politicians.

    Since the Cold War ended — by “Cold War” I guess you mean the era of “detente” and “MAD” mostly between the US and USSR — in my humble opinion the greatest moral failure of the US was a failure to “keep the ball in play” with our relationships and engagements in Africa, especially Equatorial/Sub-Saharan Africa. While we were busy watching the USSR fold up upon itself with the rise of first the internal gangs and then the oligarchs — a reaction to which would eventually bring to power that man who swore that he would bring to Russia the rule of law (and who has been instituting the rule of one autocratic man ever since) — while we were cheering our “peace dividend” and recalling all of our outpost staff, Africa just plain went bad on us. Kenya kept its own head above water, so to speak, but let’s look at Rwanda, and weep. Let’s look at the former Zaire. Let’s look at the Congo region conflicts which were as much about Transnational Corporate Feudalism and resource-grabbing as was anything else in Africa. Anti-Western forces recruit very easily by pointing out US failures in sub-saharan Africa on the one hand and with our failure to rein in the dictators of the oil-producing world, as well as the North African coasts. To the degree where we ever did “do the right thing” it was more of a public-opinion/public-action thing, like personal divestment from supporting the former regime in South Africa, etc., although that got the intended results, the knock-on effects have been prime examples of unintended consequences resulting from a big push with no follow-on involvement. See also “Mugabe” and “Zimbabwe”. SF writers also seem to have fertile and relatively underexplored ground in this part of the world and the futures that will evolve there.

    But “wowsers” have I digressed. Blindsight as a teaching tool may be particularly valuable because it generally steers clear of anything rooted in modern politics, and discusses a lot of things that will be coming out of advances mostly in biotechnology/medicine, as well as delving into some of the more obscure-yet-relevant philosophical riddles that have emerged since Turing’s time, all about the nature of consciousness, sentience, sapience, and intelligence etc.

  40. Mr Non-Entity: Hi Sheila and BTW that www-forms editing thing is great, thank you! But, when you say “Markov” did you mean what wikipedia suggests?

    A Markov chain named after Andrey Markov, is a random process that undergoes transitions from one state to another on a state space.

    Random derivations of Watts SF, with a deus-ex-machina actually represented as the Almighty? If it has this sort of humor in it, ROFL, please write one!

    Yes, that’s him. I’m lazy, so I only did this example: https://asciinema.org/a/2lgan2wcfj5p52kz0bau5khq3 that uses https://github.com/jsvine/markovify combining text of Blindsight with text from KJV Revelations.

    I didn’t get much of interest but here are a few lines from another session I did combining Echopraxia and Blindsight:

    ‘He moved without direction at first, barely audible above the jet stream, turned to leave, we cut a hole that dilated like an unbroken phantom extension of the mission was not going to come back.’

    ‘Now it made a small green patch struggling bravely around one of those ubiquitous cubes, stuck and stacked ceramic superconductors and segments of pipe big enough matter stockpile like Yahweh breathing life into the bridge.’

    ‘Survival of the slope, slimy and frictionless.’

    For Echopraxia I could use Calibre to convert it to text. For Blindsight, I used lynx to print the htm file to a txt file. lazy. there’s still all kinds of kruft that probably screws things up.

    But “wowsers” have I digressed. Blindsight as a teaching tool may be particularly valuable because it generally steers clear of anything rooted in modern politics, and discusses a lot of things that will be coming out of advances mostly in biotechnology/medicine, as well as delving into some of the more obscure-yet-relevant philosophical riddles that have emerged since Turing’s time, all about the nature of consciousness, sentience, sapience, and intelligence etc.

    well, I think it would be pretty cool in a class. Maybe the teacher will write back to give us an update if there is anything new to report and to let us know if she wants a cribsheet for topics, references, etc.

  41. Dumb American,

    Not that there is a huge difference, but the Tuskeegee airmen contracted syphilis as far as we know the usual way. They were told they were being treated but weren’t. Slight difference but it’s not as if I don’t wonder about the “as far as we know” part. Always good to remember that institutions connected to Big Capitalism are often also involved in such skullduggery:

    $1B Lawsuit Against John Hopkins for Infecting Hundreds of Guatemalans with STDs in 50s Dropped

  42. Deseret:
    Dumb American,

    Not that there is a huge difference, but the Tuskeegee airmen contracted syphilis as far as we know the usual way. They were told they were being treated but weren’t.

    Yes, I misspoke there pulling things off the top of my head in my ranty fervor. I noticed it afterward, but it was too late to edit, and I’m already on a significant lag in reply time due to the moderation queue. Thanks for correcting that.

    To counter-correct you, the Tuskegee Experiment should not be confused for the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of WW2 African-American pilots in the then-segregated U.S. military. This is a statement I would normally accompany with a delightful winky emoticon, but I understand those are frowned upon here.
    .

  43. The Enemy are not idiots and they recognize an attack, swearing or not.

  44. Dumb American,

    It’s a very common thing, hear it all the time. The typical reaction from people when I amend it is that is they think I’m trying to defend the government’s actions.

    And good point on Experiment v Airmen.

  45. I wonder if they were actually objecting to the book on other grounds.

    “Blindsight” is basically incompatible with a Fundamentalist Christian universe- at least if you read it at anything past the ‘fighting monsters in space’ level.

  46. James,

    I was wondering too, but how would someone who objects to the language learn enough about the content to object?

  47. Going off more on a tangent about the hypothetical lesson plans… Maybe it would be nice to provide a short list of novels and stories that would be in the general area, if the area was on a map of the genre. Maybe it’s too subjective to be useful, but perhaps everyone would converge on some similar suggests. For example, for some reason I tend to group Greg Egan together with Peter Watts.

  48. Mr Non-Entity,

    I think I lost you a little where you were discussing civil rights work in the 60s compared with now. I lack some basic literacy here and have been catching up. Right now I’m reading The New Jim Crow but it is slow going for me because I need breaks from my reaction–everything is horrible and we are all fucked. I doubt you on the work people do today for civil rights from the work back then. Maybe in 10 to 20 years we’ll have enough of a view to make a historical comparison.

    Anyway, I recommend the book.

  49. Privateiron:
    Peter Watts: I know you are not powerful enough/financially secure enough to do this, but maybe you could get one of your better placed friends to shower those students with one of their more “controversial” works.

    Something along those lines has been suggested by a more powerful friend behind the scenes, but a) it’s the teacher’s call, and b) the showering would be kinda redundant in Blindsight‘s case since they can get it for free from my website anyway.

    Christina Bohbeena: My question is: Why is this teacher not teaching The Island?

    She’s teaching “Ambassador”, which is significantly simpler. Apparently a couple of the kids were completely lost even so.

    Sheila: My thought was that we could crowd-source a discussion sheet with topics from the book. It needs to be crowd-sourced because the teacher isn’t going to have time to work out a lesson plan on this now that she needs to spend it on whatever replaces it.

    They were way ahead of you. The teacher and her boyfriend had already whipped up a huge whack o’slides to put everything in context. Even took it to reddit for feedback.

    Paul Harrison:
    The Enemy are not idiots and they recognize an attack, swearing or not.

    James:
    I wonder if they were actually objecting to the book on other grounds.

    “Blindsight” is basically incompatible witha Fundamentalist Christian universe- at least if you read it at anything past the ‘fighting monsters in space’ level.

    They’d have to see the attack to recognize it. As far as I know none of the protesting parents bothered to read the book (in fact, given how little time elapsed between the assignment and the outrage, they’d have had to be speed readers or insomniacs to have pulled that off). And the teacher says pretty explicitly that the outrage was over the prospect of teaching “a novel that had once contained such language”. No suggestion that any of them had found the Chinese Room scenario philosophically offensive.

    It would have been really cool if they had.

  50. Peter Watts,

    Link for slides? or post? I’m not in k12 anymore, but I bet it would be interesting anyway.

    My reddit-fu sucks, apparently. I searched the past 30 days for things with your name and blindsight. (Ps. do you have anything to do with whether one of your books gets an audio edition? there’s a poor soul who needs audio book versions of rifters. posted within the past day on reddit).

    How the heck did any parent know that the novel used to have bad language? Who told them?

  51. Sheila: How the heck did any parent know that the novel used to have bad language? Who told them?

    I’m by no means on the inside track, but I imagine it was something along the lines of one of the kids saying, “Yeah, we’re going to read this science fiction novel next. Apparently it had a lot of swearing and the teacher’s going to replace the bad words.”

    Don’t blame the kid, though, sometimes it takes a while to realize the monsters our parents can be (especially in the name of protecting us).

    (Then again, it could have been one of the kids who bounced off “Ambassador”* telling their parents deliberately in the hopes that they wouldn’t have to read a whole novel by that same guy)

    * – I reread Ambassador after you mentioned the students were reading it, and honestly, it’s not one of your more penetrable stories to someone not already versed in SF. There’s a fair bit of jargon and shorthand that may not be obvious… I actually think Blindsight, although it has more than its share of hefty science language and jargon of its own, would be easier to parse.

    I’m not sure The Island would be much better, and might be more controversial, especially when there’s IIRC, incest in it. Apparently for certain groups, incest is only allowed in a school text when it’s in one of THEIR holy books.

  52. Any parent who searches for Blindsight on wikipedia will see the phrases: “The novel explores questions of identity, consciousness, free will, artificial intelligence, neurology, game theory as well as evolution” and “many choose to withdraw from reality entirely by living in constructed virtual worlds referred to as Heaven” and “consciousness may be naturally selected”.

    Those buzzwords threaten a very specific type of person.

  53. On the other hand, any parent who searched for Blindsight on Conservapedia would find nothing at all.

  54. First, an irrelevant little link to an excellent cartoon summary timeline for global warming throughout human history, from “xkcd”. Fairly sciencey!

    Sheila: I think I lost you a little where you were discussing civil rights work in the 60s compared with now. I lack some basic literacy here and have been catching up. Right now I’m reading The New Jim Crow but it is slow going for me because I need breaks from my reaction–everything is horrible and we are all fucked. I doubt you on the work people do today for civil rights from the work back then. Maybe in 10 to 20 years we’ll have enough of a view to make a historical comparison.

    Anyway, I recommend the book.

    It will be on my very long list. Thanks!

    Clearly I do not remember the early 1960s national news because I was just a child, but I remember the distinct division of outlooks and attitudes between my Southerner neighbors and my own parents. My parents weren’t particularly sure what to think about blacks and civil-rights but it seemed to them to be a sort of all-American thing to not be keeping people down. There was (and remains) this sort of paranoid authoritarianism to the Southerners, more or less “okay we understand we can’t own them, but we still got to make sure they know their place”. As time has gone on, in my opinion and experience, there has been less racism but more classism to that whole thing. Rather than hearing people talk racist trash or white supremacy, it has become far more pernicious, the sort of pseudoscience that went from Eugenics to Holocaust. Now, rather than using harsh epithet on the subject of negritude post-Reconstruction, we hear talk about “socio-economic status” which many have long regarded as “code words”, especially when used by non-blacks. (See also the 1890s replacement of Southern States’ constitutions by Democrats instituting segregation, and also take a look at the people known as “Redeemers“.

    In the modern day, it’s less racist and more classist. Authoritarians can make claims such as “well, being born into poverty, their socioeconomic class is such that invariably the absent-parent syndrome decreases the educability of the child and promotes early branding as unruly, which prejudices educators who reinforce reactionary mentality, so that by the time of adolescence whatever there may have been in terms of educability has been transformed into rebelliousness.” Etc etc. No mention of race but you know without doubt that by default they hereby refer to poor black people in historically repressed communities or even moreso communities created under “Great Society”/”Grand Society” programs. Johnson’s well-intended Welfare Projects system created more segregation, “mandatory poverty”, and multi-generational destruction of the black family, than had even The Terror of the KKK night-riders.

    And now, in the aftermath of the failure and dissolution of the old Welfare Establishment, code words such as “socio-economic status” (or code words referencing that concept) remain the order of the day. In towns where 90 percent of the people below the poverty-level are black, when the call goes out “the poor folks are rioting” that’s just code for “those black folks are getting unruly”, at least in such places. See also the rather different, if no less violently suppressive, treatment received by poor whites, etc., who may spend a whole lot of time in jail, most of their lives in a lot of cases, but who aren’t usually shot dead for not being in the part of town where officers expect them to be.

    To try to get back to topic on hand, I always have problems understanding the mindset who seem to support this sort of classism while denying it is racism and at the same time censoring mild profanity in literature. At least the profanity in literature isn’t usually code-words for racism masqueraded under the terminology of soft social sciences. I need to stop discussing this since it’s making me even more outraged than usual. Cheers,

  55. Peter D: Don’t blame the kid, though, sometimes it takes a while to realize the monsters our parents can be (especially in the name of protecting us).

    I feel a little dumb reflecting back on the time when I was a kid. My parents would freak out due to $reasons and $religion and made a lot of kneejerk decisions.

    I got less weird the older I got and started to socialize more. Then I’d ask if I could go to a concert my friend invited me to (The Cure), and I got told not to talk to that friend again because it was a secular concert. I had a black friend and he was one of those people I had a friendcrush/crush on (probably to his annoyance) and he disappeared from school for a while and wrote me a letter explaining that he was hospitalized due to depression and other problems. My mom opened the letter first, and then told me not to have contact with that person again. I don’t know if it was because he was black or because he had mental problems or both.

    In any case, instead of disobeying my parents in an incandescent rage I stopped talking to my friends and withdrew thinking that when I got to college I could be friends with whoever I wanted. Why didn’t I flip out and rebel? I don’t know. It’s embarrassing.

    Thank goodness they never ever questioned what I read. I got paranoid that they’d notice a physics book (A Brief History of Time) and would take it away, so I turned it backwards on my shelf. Probably they wouldn’t have? I read a lot of pulp scifi too, and no one ever monitored it for me. (but a lot of stuff went over my head that had to do with logistics of sex).

    anyway… life as a fundamentalist. people have a lot of stories like mine. I got lucky with respect to books. Less so with social interactions and privacy (they had the phones tapped for a while). For a while I was afraid to go back home because of the time they took me against my will to get prayed over.

    Thankfully my parents have grown over the years and way more mellow now.

  56. Mr Non-Entity, brilliant xkcd link. That’s one of his best “comics”.

  57. I thought I would pop in an add some fuel to a fire I was trying to spark, above, regarding the state of the “moral self-betterment” in the US. There’s one place, it seems, where slavery has not exactly gone away, and that’s in the correctional system. While significant advances have been made in raising the standards of institutional food and medicine, more reforms are needed, no doubt. What struck me is the following quote [italics mine]:

    [“Free Alabama Movement”] organizers point out that the “13th
    Amendment to the US Constitution continues to permit slavery
    to exist in this country ‘as Punishment for crime whereof the
    person shall been duly convicted,’ and the institution
    and enterprise of slavery was legally transferred
    to the State government’s prison systems.” […]

    What constitutes a “crime” is, of course, a political decision
    —and one often taken deliberately to the detriment of
    certain populations, as the history of the war on drugs
    perfectly demonstrates. The modern prison system
    has been built on the ashes of chattel slavery,
    first through the convict leasing system, then the
    notorious “chain gangs”—which lasted into the 1950s—
    up to modern mass incarceration. As long as prison slavery
    is protected by the US Constitution, poor people and
    people of color will continue to find themselves
    victims of a harsh system that exploits free and
    cheap labor for the benefit of the state, corporations,
    and the ruling class.

    That bit in italics would seem to me to be the best possible explanation for the incarceration rate here in the States… though frankly if anyone wanted to make a dent in this, they’d have to take a look at the use of parole-and-probation as control systems used to extend servitude back into the population outside of the physical institutions of “corrections”.

    I’m unable to make this segue back into Blindsight but I can take a stab at SF in general and Dr Watts in particular: aside from the “zombies” of Echopraxia, who apparently could raise their (or their families’) economic status by being contracted and converted, in much the same way that many Germans became indentured-servants to settle debts at home and to pay for transport to the New World. (Perhaps servitude as a “zombie” would be a means of “corrections” in the same way that Haitians sometimes created “zombi” by drugging and deceiving minor habitual criminals?) I don’t recall seeing much from him on the subject of corrections in his projected futures. I seem to recall that some of the folks working down at the Rift had nasty histories and/or had done time for crime, but I don’t recall details of how corrections would be done in times to come. More in the timeframe of Blindsight, one might suspect that interesting (and probably deeply unpleasant) neurochemical things could be done, but how exactly could you apply corrections to someone like Captain Sarasti? One might suspect that if he went on a binge of shoplifting it might be a bit of overkill to diddle with his dose of anti-euclidean drugs and then chase him around the ship with cross in hand, and so far as I have ever heard, it’s pretty pointless to try and convince sociopaths to not do “minor” crime whenever the urge might strike them.

    Speaking of which, Sarasti might be another thing, one that doesn’t get discussed by them, which is contributing to the bible-belters deprecating Our Gracious Host’s award-winning work. That is so very many un-jesuslandian concepts rolled all into one ball that it’s no wonder they’re having a hard time swallowing it. First, the non-existent exists, does so because humans made it, and further they could make it only because it’s a part of our evolution, and the way you control/evade them is with a symbol of religion that works in a complex but comprehensible way that has nothing to do with religion. That might be thought to be unhealthily causing “kids” to wonder if maybe all of religion is a scam confusing cause and effect, or exploiting errors of attribution etc. Not only that, this… creature is made captain of a spaceship which set out on a mission with an inevitable subtext of “there’s no second chance to make a good first impression”…

  58. “There’s one place, it seems, where slavery has not exactly gone away, and that’s in the correctional system.”

    Another place where slavery has not gone away is planet earth. We have more slaves living now on our planet – actual unpaid, forcibly working, old school slaves – than we did in the 1800s.

  59. Mr Non-Entity: That bit in italics would seem to me to be the best possible explanation for the incarceration rate here in the States… though frankly if anyone wanted to make a dent in this, they’d have to take a look at the use of parole-and-probation as control systems used to extend servitude back into the population outside of the physical institutions of “corrections”.

    You know, that the highest jail-rate in the world was partially due to the lack-of-job rate was easy to see. That it also means cheap labor aka slavery was not as clear. Makes sense.

    However, I’d throw in propaganda as swiping as close to a form of slavery as is possible with modern data sociology models and corporogov web surveillance being what they are. Control what the herd hears and sees, control the herd.

  60. Deseret: You know, that the highest jail-rate in the world was partially due to the lack-of-job rate was easy to see. That it also means cheap labor aka slavery was not as clear. Makes sense.

    There are, depending on the locality/jurisdiction, a variety of other features that add up to embedded corruption of a usurious sort. For example, one may be far better off to not sign up for employment benefits. In some jurisdictions, to get these benefits one must apply to a variety of jobs, but the first jobs to which one must apply are the jobs which are posted on the walls of the unemployment agency office. These are almost always really terrible jobs. Almost everyone who actually gets one of those jobs gets fired from it, or they quit because it’s horrible. In both of those cases, you lose the unemployment benefits. If you are on pre-release probation/parole, you could be force back into the institution because of failure to comply with the job requirement. All of this only makes it easier to characterize this as slavery, or as quite like to slavery; the coercion goes far beyond the coercion of needing an income.

    However, I’d throw in propaganda as swiping as close to a form of slavery as is possible with modern data sociology models and corporogov web surveillance being what they are. Control what the herd hears and sees, control the herd.

    Oh, there is certainly nothing more predictable, in terms of human behavior, than the behavior of someone operating under the delusions of a worldview you’ve created for them to inhabit. A play within a play, and perhaps those are within another play. Of course there is an objective reality “out there” but who can ever find it? One may wonder to what degree “education” is actually education, and to what degree it is the impartation of a particular worldview, which however much an artificial construct of the ruling classes, is nonetheless a complex and nuanced worldview capable of great art and the sciences… which nonetheless provides conceptual blind-spots, so that even our greatest minds can wander blithely on-task through a chaos of inconsistency, much like a horse wearing blinders can pick its way through a raging battle without becoming too agitated. Sometimes I wonder if such forums as this one exist in part due to an instinct to discover our own blindspots, from knowing they’re there but not instinctually understanding their nature. Perhaps we are, most of the intelligentsia if not specifically the readers here, functioning in an actual if metaphorical case of blindsight: our nerves and organs of perception are still working, as are most of the interpretive systems… but there is something blocking us from the conscious experience of what we perceive. Perhaps what’s blocking us is a worldview we were sold. Yet although we cannot “see” what’s in our blindspots, we keep reaching for it, perhaps unerringly in the cases of the best of us. And if this is all true enough that we’re feeling for the inconsistencies so as to understand the real system behind all of that, perhaps as we go feeling around in the blind-spots, that’s when we discover there’s someone there ahead of us, waiting with their handcuffs at the ready. [1]

    Hopefully it hasn’t yet got quite to that last part, but I don’t see it as being long in coming. Probably it wouldn’t start any later than mid-January here in the States.

    Ref:
    1.Take the red pill, Neo. :)

  61. Mr Non-Entity:
    And if this is all true enough that we’re feeling for the inconsistencies so as to understand the real system behind all of that, perhaps as we go feeling around in the blind-spots, that’s when we discover there’s someone there ahead of us, waiting with their handcuffs at the ready. [1]

    Seems like Bob Dylan also noted this some time ago happening typically at midnight. Think you’re on to something here: Understanding the “laws”/principles of how society operates is much easier than trying to know/tracking every single specific case’s details.

  62. One could also say that the wisdom of the people is in their colloquialisms of conversation, rather than in their codices of law. :) I am not sure which Dylan tune you reference.