January 27th, 2008


[politics] Stating it simply

Early morning thought:

Strip away the specifics of partisanship, intraparty politics, the tension between liberal-progressives and centrists, all the rest of it. Consider this:

In a three way race between credible primary candidates, a black man and a white woman both significantly outpolled a white man.

I find that pleasantly incredible, in the abstract.

[audio] Podcast updated 2008-01-27

There's a new podcast up today. This is a recording of a reading I did at World Fantasy 2007 in Saratoga Springs, New York. The story is "Hard Times in the State of Nature", a short story about philosophy and God that recently appeared in my collection The River Knows Its Own Wheatland Press | Amazon ]. This seemed particular apropos in light of the ongoing discussion at daveraines' LJ about the internal narrative of atheists.

RSS feed is here or here, depending on which one your reader likes better. The iTunes feed is here. You can also simply search for "Jay Lake" or "Lakeshore" in the iTunes store, under the Podcast category.

[religion] Almost a thesis statement from me on atheism

The atheism discussion over at daveraines's joint has continued interesting and civil. I'm promoting a comment of mine over there into a post over here, just because. daveraines asked me where atheists get their moral compass. My answer expanded a bit beyond the the question domain.

As to where the moral compass comes from, to me it seems to be a basic aspect of socialization. To simplify, everybody has to sleep some time. Everybody has to have a place to stash their stuff, and leave their loved ones. So in a very real sense, even the biggest, meanest, toughest monkey in the tree has to compromise with the other monkeys he lives with. Which translates up to the Golden Rule, pretty much. Which is enlightened self-interest, at its core. I'm with goulo on this one: many of Jesus' teachings resonate with me, without respect to how I might view His putative divinity.

To your methodological footnote, um, yeah. From the perspective of a non-believer, the Bible is no more (or less) a valid source of thought than the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the Theogeny of Hesiod or the Popol Vuh. What makes it sacred truth is your belief that it is sacred truth. Any "proofs" of that sacred truth are by definition circular reasoning from the same starting assumption — which is to say they are not proofs in the empirical sense at all. So cite the Bible as a source translates to "I believe what I believe because I have chosen to believe it." That don't fly in the empirical world inhabited by us atheists.

All that being said, you'll never see me trying to de-convert a Christian. I have a profound respect for the human mind's need for mythic truth (as distinct from empirical truth). Religion in any form is an attempt to divine mythic truth. Where I get off the bus is with those believers who naively (or deliberately) confuse their mythic truth with empirical truth. Young Earth Creationists are a very obvious example.

As I said previously, to my view the choice to embed oneself in a religious framework is an abdication of personal responsibility. If God solves all problems, you don't have to. (Yes, I'm grossly simplifying again.) Likewise evil: if it's about Satan and original Sin and the fall, then an individual doesn't have to bear personal responsibility for the evils in the world, or even the evils they commit.

I'm tempted to think that the greatest benefit faith confers upon its followers is certitude — the world is an ambiguous place. Most people are not comfortable with ambiguity. Dualism seems to be inherent in at least Western culture if not hardwired into human thought. It takes a lot of courage to be an atheist, to accept that there aren't any simple answers, and probably aren't any complex ones except those we create for ourselves, and that personal extinction looms a few million heartbeats (or less) in the future. Religion absolves us of those burdens and replaces them with a solid, comfortable sense of our place in God's plan.

Nice work if you can get it, but the only proofs I've ever seen of God are inherently circular, and rely on me being willing to believe in advance that they are affirmative. The universe goes on whether or not I believe in it. God does not.

[links] Link salad, all politics edition

"Clean" Movie Maven Arrested For Teen Sex — Offered without comment, only sadness and an uncomfortable sense of irony.

The Clintons *Need* the Right Enemies

Digby on Obama's demographics

The conservative stages of grief — Extremely funny political snark from Daily Kos.

The New York Times on America's decline from superpower status — Oddly, if this happens (and I for one believe it already is happening), it will be in substantial part due to the real life consequences of the jingoist power fantasies of our Republican leadership. I should remember to ask the Permanent Majority how that whole making your reality thing has worked out for them.
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[process] A thing or two about story

Just now, talking to lasirenadolce about "The Baby Killers":

L: So when do you need to send this story in?
J: Well, I don't, really. This is the story I wrote by accident.

Because, you know, everybody writes 21,000 word novellas by accident. The "accident" in question was of course me misrecording something on my work plan and thinking I'd been asked for a steampunk novella. (I believe I mentioned this recently.) By the time I figured out I'd gone down the wrong path, I was thoroughly committed to seeing the story through.

It's that commitment to story which sometimes trips me up. I had two very long discussions in connection with "America, Such as She Is", one with lasirenadolce and one with the_flea_king. Without getting into the line level specifics, I was torn between doing one of two things with the ending.

There was an ending which I deeply love, which involves leaving the competing narrative interpretations wide open and putting all the effort at resolution and validation onto the reader.

There was another ending which offered the reader a reasonably comprehensible "out" to the competing interpretations, if they chose to take it, while not closing off the others. I did not love this ending, but I thought it reasonable, and more to the point, it would make the story accessible to a wider range of readers.

Just because I like to gnaw on a story like an old bone doesn't mean everybody does. As someone once said to me (and damned if I can remember who), "Reading shouldn't be prophylactic."

Except one reader's prophylaxis is another reader's ecstatic transport.

The discussions centered on which ending to deliver back to the editors. My purist self felt like the highest sense of the story was better served by the most loosely elided ending. My commercial self felt that widening the readership of this story without violating the integrity of my intent was a very reasonable compromise. What good is a story if people don't read it? What good is it to me if people read it and don't like it?

A couple of years ago, I would have unhesitatingly come down on the side of art, and chided myself for considering such a crass alternative. Now...I've gone softer, or gentler, or maybe I'm just interested in being more widely read.

Commitment to story is a very slippery eel. But I have a greater and greater sense of my readers standing behind me, looking over my shoulder. I trust them to follow where I go, but I also want to make the journey worth their trouble. All of them, not only the ones who read just like me.