Archive for December, 2022

The Myth of “the One”

Sometimes, it’s called the myth of the Frontier, or “Superman,” or “Rambo,” or even Trump, but in the end, this all too popular myth infuses American culture. The basic idea is that “the others” are evil, and that only the chosen one can put things right, because the laws are ineffectual or even part of the evil.

Yet, for all the growing popularity of the myth of “the One,” for the most part, the myth is not only a fallacy, but its popularity undermines the very roots of society.

Take a good look at history. In recent years, archaeologists have discovered that once upon a time, there were a good number of human species and forebears, and given the rate that more ancestral species are being dug up (literally), it’s like that we’ll find even more. All of that raises the question as to why homo sapiens is the only one to survive.

Although archaeologists don’t like speculating on why this is so, as a F&SF writer I don’t have that problem, and, to me, at least, the answer is simple. For all our infighting, based on the evidence so far unearthed, homo sapiens is and was the most social of all primate species, and apparently the only species able to live in larger groups.

That cooperation is what allowed the development of technology. No matter how bright an individual is, the requirements for survival require pooling efforts, initiative, and intelligence to get above a hunter-gatherer existence, and the higher the level of technology and standard of living one desires, the more cooperation that is required.

Unfortunately, the myth of individual inspiration or sole genius (an offshoot corollary of the myth of “the One”) also pervades society, particularly American society, often ignoring actual facts. Despite all the citations, James Watt didn’t invent the steam engine from whole cloth. He improved on the design of Thomas Newcomen, who in turn had improved on the initial design of Thomas Savery. Isaac Newton acknowledged that his discoveries were based on the discoveries of those before him.

This has been the pattern of all technological development and materials science. History has also shown, rather conclusively, that government by dictator is unstable and unworkable over any period of time, and that broad-based governments that acknowledge individual rights and responsibilities under law tend to be more stable.

Yet today in the United States, too many people are still flocking to the myth of “the One,” looking for the one person [usually male] who can save them and the country. They overlook the fact that, like it or not, messy as it’s been, Joe Biden has, through cooperation and persuasion, accomplished more in two years than Trump did in his entire term.

Conservatives often cite Ronald Reagan as “the man,” but most of them who cite him weren’t there. I was, and I actually served in the Reagan Administration, which was remarkably decentralized and cooperative [admittedly with several major gaffes and disasters] and was anything but one-man-rule.

The real solution to current problems lies in rejecting the myth of “the One” and all it’s corollaries and permutations (such as the idea that only one political party represents “truth” and the way), and returning to constructive cooperation. “One man” ideas will only divide us more.

Brinksmanship – Again

The last days of the 117th Congress are dribbling away, and the remaining question is whether the Democrats will fumble the ball, so to speak, and subject the nation to a total mess in January, when Republicans theoretically take over the House of Representatives, with dubious leadership, if it can even be called that, given something like 170 of the 222 Republican members of the House are essentially election-deniers and the far-right wingnuts currently have enough votes to deny Kevin McCarthy the Speaker’s gavel. In short, there are even more Republican nay-sayers than ever before, and that doesn’t bode well for anything constructive.

Democrats ought to understand that NOTHING constructive will get done in the next six months, if not longer, given that the Republican nutjobs are focused on investigations and impeachments that will solve nothing, because, first, Hunter Biden hasn’t ever been a member of the Biden administration and his father never had any financial ties to his son’s business dealings, and second, any impeachment of either Joe Biden or any other administration official will go nowhere in the Senate, if it even gets that far.

For all that, and the Democratic rhetoric that they have a “framework” to work out an overall appropriations bill for the fiscal year ending in September, I have to say that I worry that the progressives and the more conservative Democrats will get hung up over pet projects and peeves and lose sight of what can be done while insisting on what cannot be done, especially in four days.

Yes, Biden and the Democrats have actually accomplished a lot, but much of that will be undone without an overall appropriations bill to fund some of those programs. Democrats also need to realize that they’ll be the ones held accountable if the money’s not there, and Kevin McCarthy would like nothing better than to gut programs and blame it on the Democrats.

So… will the Democrats come up with something sensible that can be passed, or will they attempt a massive and futile Hail Mary spending bill… and undercut all they’ve accomplished?

Holiday Decorations

At our house, we decorate for various seasons, and for holidays. The degree of decoration depends on various factors, such as the holiday and or season.

Post-new-year winter decorations consist of two door wreaths and two urns with faux winter foliage. Easter sometimes gets egg wreaths or spring foliage wreaths and urns with spring foliage. Summer is slightly more festive, except for the Fourth of July when we put red, white, and blue bunting across the deck railing that extends the length of the rear deck, and patriotic décor on the dining room table.

But when autumn comes the decorations get more serious, with not only door wreaths and harvest urns, but also lots of faux pumpkins on the front porch, a harvest display around the fireplace, and an elaborate dining room display that starts harvest/Halloween and then becomes Harvest/Thanksgiving.

The grand finale is Christmas, with front porch displays, lighted lawn decorations, and roof-line lights, and lights and garlands on the deck, not to mention a mantel display of lights and miniature carolers and white deer, with stockings beneath, an elaborate Christmas tree, as well as rotating décor and decorations from my wife the professor’s some sixty plus boxes of Christmas “stuff” gathered over more than forty years.

EXCEPT… this year, we have no family coming, and we’ve both just recovered from Covid [despite two shots and three boosters each], and we decided to downsize for Christmas, with just the Christmas tree, smaller mantel display, a few more outside wreaths, and miniature lighted evergreens along the front walk… and just one lighted brand-new lawn ornament – a cheerful dog wearing a Santa hat and pouncing on a red-and-green wrapped Christmas present.

I set up the dog a little over two weeks ago, pounding the stakes anchoring the base into the frozen ground. He looked very cheerful. Three days later, we got unforecast winds of sixty miles per hour that ripped half the base of the dog ornament out of the ground and snapped one not very securely welded support, with the result that the dog was sideways on the lawn. Before I could resuscitate the collapsed canine, we got four inches of snow.

When the weather cleared some, I got out heavy wire and reassembled the pooch, and gathered roughly fifty pounds of small boulders to anchor the base and supplement the replaced stakes. He lasted about a week before we got more winds, merely gusts of fifty miles per hour, but those were sufficient to decapitate the poor beleaguered canine and snap another under-engineered metal support, and again topple the dog, before dropping another five inches of snow and temperatures twenty degrees below freezing over the partly disassembled canine.

So I got heavier wire and reassembled and reinforced him, added a few small boulders to those supporting his base, only to discover that the forecast has changed and we’re likely facing more wind, even lower temperatures, and likely more snow.

So much for a lower effort, downsized Christmas with only one lawn ornament.

Those “Boring” Politics

A particular work of fiction opens with an attempted assassination of a prominent politician, which is thwarted by his security team. Over the course of the book, more assassination attempts occur, and a number of high-level elected politicians are killed. Some fifteen security buildings are bombed and destroyed, and two government ministries are gutted by terrorists. The engineer supervising the building of a government research facility vanishes after he discovers a plot to sabotage the construction. Despite all this mayhem, and more besides, a handful of reader reviews found the book “boring.”

Some of you may even recognize the book, but those “boring” reviews got me to thinking. What does it take to keep reader interest? How many people today have become so addicted to violence on so many levels that if there’s not something overtly violent in every chapter – or at least every other chapter – they lose interest?

Then there’s the complaint that politics are boring. Yet, in not only the fictional world, but in the real world, politics are only boring to those who don’t understand them. Failure to obtain a workable political solution to slavery led to the bloodiest war in U.S. history, and the incomplete nature of the Constitutional amendments and post-Reconstruction state laws led to more than a century of subsequent violence. The political decisions by Great Britain and France to exact maximum “reparations” from Germany after WWI likely led to worsening the Great Depression in Germany and to the rise of Hitler and the Nazis.

In 1832, President Andrew Jackson not only refused to enforce the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court that federal law prevented Georgia from disenfranchising the Cherokee Nation, but also sent troops to evict the Cherokees, a course of action that resulted in the death of roughly 4,000 Cherokees on the Trail of Tears and set a horrible example for dealing with other tribes. “Jacksonian democracy,” while high-sounding, enshrined universal white male suffrage, masculine privilege, and blatant racism and effectively supported the growth of southern slavery, all of which stemmed, at least in part, from a political decision to flout the law as defined by the Supreme Court.

So… as I see it, those who find politics boring are the ones who fail to learn the lessons of history (and politics) and so often doom the rest of us to live through the same mistakes all over again.

The Persistence of “The Big Lie”

Donald Trump has not only reiterated – and reiterated – the big lie about the 2020 election being stolen, but has now declared that there was such massive fraud that any laws, including the Constitution, that keep him from being elected should be terminated. While a bare handful of elected Republicans have said that terminating the Constitution was uncalled for, so far no Republican in a leadership position has publicly disagreed with Trump or rebuked him on his rejection of the Constitution.

Just how has the United States gotten to a point where patent falsehoods are held as truths by roughly a third of the country, and nearly half the country votes for officials who endorse those falsehoods?

Living where I do, immersed in “deep red” southwestern Utah, I can understand why a third of the population believes those falsehoods. The culture here is unabashedly patriarchal, with the greatest economic disparity between the earnings of men and women of any state in the union. When we moved here, a senior professor told my wife that if she didn’t follow the male party line dealing with female professors, she’d never get tenure, and it really didn’t matter because she had a husband to take care of her. My wife fought back and got him removed from the committee [but not from the university], and she built an opera program from nothing and got tenure but was paid less than male professors in the department for years. Over those years, the more overt aspects of patriarchal domination have softened, and the university now has its first female president, possibly because her two previous male predecessors (forced on the school by the male dominated state legislature) were so totally incompetent that even the male-dominated faculty and administration backed her, quite possibly out of fear that another patriarchal clone would destroy the university.

There is no effective Democratic party, and the only competition Republican candidates face is in the Republican primary so that they generally run unopposed in the general election, except occasionally by minority party candidates. Guns are sacred, and environmentalists are generally either despised or considered misguided souls. The Bureau of Land Management belongs to the devil because it wants to destroy ranchers by restricting the number of cattle they can graze on federal lands.

In this culture, it’s effectively social and often economic suicide to suggest loudly anything to the contrary of the local mindset, and that’s one reason why almost no faculty with liberal or moderate views remain long at the university.

The result is that there’s really no way to effectively point out misconceptions and falsehoods, and everyone believes that everyone everywhere, except for a minority of liberals on the coasts, thinks the way they do – and I’m just a fantasy and SF author who’s never lived in the real world, despite the fact that I’ve lived and worked in ten different states and served as a naval officer and Navy pilot during the Vietnam War. But then, anything not in Utah isn’t the real world… and I’ve seen that same attitude in other “red” states.

This self-isolation isn’t limited to the far right, unhappily, because it also occurs on the left, but it’s more dangerous on the right because the far-right is losing economic position, is generally less well-educated, is getting angrier and angrier, and has far more guns and large trucks.