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Terrible Swift Sword

It's kind of strange to see the Confederate flag becoming a flashpoint now, triggered by the mass murders in Charleston. I have always been very skeptical of the "Heritage not hate" crowd — I'm sure there are Southerners for whom the battle flag of a failed insurrection just represents their childhood and their upbringing, but you really cannot get away from what it symbolizes. In the 70s it could be painted on a Dodge Charger for an inane TV show, but if you wave it around today and affect wide-eyed indignation that anyone might think you are sending a message, I'm going to call bullshit.

My father, who was born in Mississippi, raised in backwoods Alabama, and spent his childhood in the deep, deep pre-Civil Rights era South, has never in his life indulged in veneration of the Confederate flag or other antebellum nostalgia.

But, the purpose of this post is not to weigh in on Confederate flags per se. People have posted thoughtful (and not so thoughtful) things about that all over the Internet. Instead, I'm just going to use it as a springboard to write about my current obsession: board games.

Board games! Images! Nazis! Suicide bombers! (No images of Nazis or suicide bombers.)Collapse )

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I recently posted about the outing of 'Requires Only That You Hate' as up-and-coming Thai SF writer Benjanun Sriduangkaew.

In that entry, and in previous posts about RH/acrackedmoon/Winterfox/Pyrofennec/all-her-many-previous-handles, I was still somewhat sympathetic to her, in that I thought she was a jerk, but didn't deserve to be "outed" and made the target of an Internet auto-da-fé.

I had, in fact, participated on her blog, been cordial with her on LJ back when she was Winterfox, and allowed her to influence my opinion of many other writers and Internet personalities. We did not always agree, but I'd managed not to trigger her attack reflexes, and I can be lumped into the group of her enablers/defenders who dismissed a lot of her worst behavior as "performance rage."

SF author Laura J. Mixon (who also writes as M.J. Locke) has just posted a very extensive summary of the damage done by this individual. The post is long, and the comments are now in the hundreds, but they are illuminating too, and include a lot of testimonials by recognizable SF authors. There are links to posts from other authors and victims, many of which are also lengthy. I just spent quite a lot of time reading it all.

To put it briefly: "Requires Hate"/"Benjanun Sriduangkaew" (it's been reported from a couple of sources who claim knowledge that that name is certainly a pseudonym as well) has apparently been involved in a long, extensive campaign of deception, harassment, and covert attacks on other writers. Not just her public ranting, violent threats, and "trololol" tweets, but whispering campaigns to editors and publishers and con committees, targeting of enemies for exclusion and harassment, collection of extortion material, etc.

Her behavior, always cloaked in the language of "Social Justice," has been cynical, exploitative, and malicious.

I regret ever being even a peripheral part of her "support network." I didn't join in any of her pile-ons, I was never part of her inner circle, and she has nothing on me, but I did laugh at her cruel reviews and some of her snarky tweets. No, I still don't think that hyperbolically calling for an author to be skinned alive and set on fire should necessarily be treated as an actual physical threat, but in light of her pattern of abuse and vicious character assassination (much of which was apparently happening in back channels), I no longer think such violent rhetoric should be taken so lightly, either.

I used to be a lot more sympathetic to the cause of "Social Justice." I still am, in the abstract sense, in that I still think racism, sexism, homophobia, etc., are bad things and should be opposed. But RH, and her many supporters (some of whom are still standing by her and calling her the injured party) no longer have my sympathies, and I have become extremely cynical about SJ activists in general. (In fairness, RH is only a small part of that.) It's an environment that says insults and excoriating personal attacks are always okay as long as you're "punching up," that the merits of an argument can be determined by where the person making it sits on an "axis of privilege," that allowed a cynical, exploitative predator like RH to recruit so many useful idiots to her cause, some of whom (according to those linked reports) are now literally fearful of publicly breaking with her.

I wish no harm on whoever the person behind the persona may be. I'd like to believe some elements in the two apologies she posted (in two of her guises) are sincere. I have no idea what the professional future may be for the writer known as "Benjanun Sriduangkaew." But I will be far more mindful about my online interactions in the future. I will not endorse snark, flaming, or dismissive identity-based arguments.

Mostly unrelated to this particular issue, I am tempted to out myself just so I can wander the Internets as myself and not care about whether people know who I "really" am. I don't deliberately maintain multiple identities for purposes of deception - I just started writing fan fiction as "Inverarity" because it was a little embarrassing to be a middle-aged guy writing Harry Potter fan fiction, and I didn't want that to be the first thing that pops up if someone Googles my real name. But now Inverarity has become something of a secondary identity for me as well, and it's a little cumbersome to remember who I've interacted with under what pseudonym. And yeah, I have an Internet history going back years, and a few long-time... well, "enemies" might be too dramatic, but people with whom I have had run-ins, and who might find it amusing to splash some of the more intemperate things I've said in my younger days around.

I haven't said or done anything that would cause me great shame, certainly nothing that anyone could hold over me by threatening to "out" me. But I am coming around to believing that, while some people have good and valid reasons to maintain a cloak of pseudonymity, the best and most honest way to conduct yourself online is as your real self.
Apparently acrackedmoon (of Requires Only That You Hate fame), formerly "winterfox," has been outed.

I can't say I've ever heard of her (the real name who is apparently an up-and-coming author), but I'll probably check out one of her stories.

I think outing people who are trying to remain pseudonymous is generally a pretty shitty thing to do. I am quite aware that I'm not really anonymous - someone who really wants to know my real identity can figure it out. If someone posted to Twitter: "Hahahaha! Inverarity is really Stephen King*!" I would be annoyed, but I would not freak out about it. I would consider that person to be an asshole, though.

Right now, no one cares who I am, and the number of people who dislike me enough that they'd find it amusing to post my real name just because it would annoy me is small enough that I don't really care. If I ever actually get published, I expect at that point it would be a matter of time before I got "outed," if I didn't out myself.

So, I think the people involved in outing acrackedmoon (exactly who these people are seems to be debatable, as there are those who have apparently known for a while, those who've been dropping hints and threatening to out her, and then the one(s) who actually first publicly posted her real name) are kind of dicks. I've read various justifications from "It was coming out anyway and this put an end to the drama" to "Bwahahaha, karma's a bitch!" And I still think that absent some reason more compelling than "She deserved it," it's wrong to post someone's real name if they don't want their real name posted.

That said, apparently this up-and-coming author also adopted a sweet, friendly, and mild persona when interacting with the very people she was shredding on her ROTYH blog. And the point at which she stopped blogging and tweeting coincided with the point at which she started getting published. So I find that profoundly disingenuous and cowardly. If you're gonna say it, own it, and if you're gonna say it anonymously, be prepared to own it when you inevitably get outed.

I've generally tried to be pretty much myself and not say things I'll regret here. Supposing that I became famous (for some small value of "fame"), I'm sure someone could scour all my LJ posts and find something objectionable I've written. But the reason I don't worry too much about being outed (besides the fact that I'm a nobody) is that I'm fairly confident that the worst thing that would come of it would be some mild embarrassment. ("Oh, he's that guy?")

So anyway, be yourself and own your words. acrackedmoon is no angel, and she went out of her way to antagonize some of the people who are now celebrating her little moment of notoriety. But what I find most objectionable is the fact that she wasn't prepared to face down her critics when this day came and say, "Yeah, that was me, and yeah, I said those things."

In the long run, though, I doubt this will really hurt her. If she goes on to become a Big Name Author, she will always have her remora-like enemies hanging around reminding everyone that she used to be winterfox and that she once said she wanted to punch Paolo Bacigalupi in the face and that U.S. soldiers are all mass murderers, but editors and publishers really don't care about this kind of thing. If Orson Scott Card, Marion Zimmer Bradley**, and Harlan Ellison haven't lost any sales, a writer once known for incendiary reviews and vitriolic tweets will be able to live this down just fine.

* I am not really Stephen King

** Yes, she's dead. She probably still outsells most living authors.
I'm not one of those prudes longing for a pristine, wholesome Golden Age of Comics when superheroes were morally unambiguous and nobody swore or died.

I liked it when superheroes first started getting a more "adult" treatment. Now there are numerous superhero novels. Like 'em or hate 'em, they have made it a distinct if niche sub-genre. Some authors treat the genre and its conventions at face value, others try to be subversive. But it's cool and interesting to explore questions like "What if Superman wasn't so nice?" or "How would the world really deal with superpowered people?"

I do, however, believe that the heart and soul of the superhero genre is heroes being heroic. And villains being villainous. And a generally optimistic tone in which we have reason to believe that Good will eventually triumph over Evil.

It's not terribly realistic, and it's not terribly nuanced, and a lot of people don't like superheroes, or think the whole idea is stupid, for precisely that reason. Fair enough. I don't get the appeal of paranormal romances or steampunk. We all like what we like. But I think what draws fans to the genre is the expectation of tales of heroism.

According to some, superheroes are modern myths retold, and there's some truth to that. But I think they are mostly power fantasies. Specifically, we look at a deeply dysfunctional broken world with mostly insoluble problems, injustice and atrocities that cannot be easily fixed with individual action, and imagine how satisfying it would be if we could just run around punching out bad guys.

Mix it up a bit with some moral dilemmas, the occasional "anti-hero," sure. I was as big a Wolverine fan as anyone, back when he first became the hot new icon that everyone copied and parodied. And while Alan Moore's Watchmen is an ugly, cynical deconstruction in a lot of ways, it's also clever and it respects the conventions it's deliberately breaking. And it was a limited, self-contained story, not an ongoing bloodbath in which all the tropes of superherodom were repeatedly shat upon.

Which brings me to the "Free Comic Book Day" issue of DC's The New 52 Future's End:

Future"s End

Basically, the whole issue is a bloodbath in which all the DC heroes are hacked apart and assimilated by some Borg-like Big Bad who's taken over the world. Bruce Wayne, mortally wounded after having his arm graphically chopped off, sends his protege back in time to fix it.

First of all, Marvel has already done this. Repeatedly. It was even made into the most recent X-Men movie.

Once again, DC is trying to capture what has been a winning formula for Marvel without any sense of what makes it winning. Some people did not like the "Days of Future Past" or "Age of Apocalypse" storylines in the old X-Men. They were kind of grimdark. I liked them, but in the 80s and 90s when they were first published, Marvel was experimenting with their most popular and contemporary heroes, and they did, unfortunately, then go through a long dark period of X-Force, X-Factor, X-cetera, and the completely worthless character Cable. I know this legacy is still around, but notice the winning Marvel movies, even Days of Future Past, were "darkness before the dawn," not darkness all the way through.

I assume that DC, also, intends for "Future's End" to end with the heroes victoriously hitting the reset button. But everything I have seen in their new line indicates that they're just kind of clueless about what draws readers to superhero comics.

"Free Comic Book Day" is supposed to attract new readers to the genre. So what the hell makes DC think the best way to do that is by putting Wonder Woman's head on a spike?

New 52 Future"s End Cover

Preppers be crazy, but I do like guns


Doomsday Bunkers

When the world ends, an underground 1-bedroom apartment and a 10-year supply of beans will totally justify devoting your life to end-times paranoia.


So I am now working on a new OF novel. (No, sorry, no good news about my SF novel. One agent was interested but ultimately passed, so I think it's going in the trunk for now.) It's a post-apocalyptic. Old school. What can I say, first I wrote a Heinleinesque teen space adventure, now I am writing my own version of The Stand. Never let it be said my writing is guided by commercial viability or original ideas. :P

(No, not thinking of self-publishing at this time. If I was gonna just see how many self-published ebooks I could sell, I'd adopt a new pseudonym and write M/M were-dinosaur erotica.)

So, anyway, survival in the post-apocalypse. My new book gives me an excuse to indulge in wasting more time reading crazy people ranting on the Internetresearch.

Now and then I acquire temporary odd obsessions/fascinations. Right now it is with the whole "prepper" subculture (what used to be called "survivalists"). Currently they are predicting the imminent collapse of Western civilization, hyperinflation of the U.S. Dollar, Peak Oil, Obama herding people into FEMA camps, and various combinations of EMPs, superstorms, nuclear meltdowns, and roving cannibal hordes. Not necessarily in that order.

Of course these subcultures have been predicting imminent catastrophe since at least the 60s. And remember all that Golden Age science fiction about nuclear families emerging from their suburban bomb shelters after the atomic war to survey a shattered, post-apocalyptic America?

The fears of these survivalists are somewhat based on real threats. People were legitimately afraid of nuclear war in the 50s, though they had seriously optimistic notions about how survivable an actual global thermonuclear war would be. And watching the economy now, I cannot say that I think predictions of hyperinflation and/or a Great Depression-level collapse are absolutely, completely absurd. I would rate the worst-case scenarios as "unlikely," but it would be foolish to assume that the dollar is going to be as strong in 20 years as it is now.

That said, it's one thing to stock a little extra food and water and maybe even some hard currency just in case your city's grid goes down in a catastrophe, and another to seriously prepare for The End of the World As We Know It.

Doomsday Bunkers is a "reality show" that is not really that interesting — it's about a company that builds bunkers and storage pods for preppers. The interesting part is not their prefab steel shipping containers that they basically turn into 1-bedroom apartments and bury in a hole in the ground; it's all the scared white people (it's almost all scared white people) spending massive amounts of money on remote threats. I mean, one lady spent $150,000 on an underground bunker with NBC air filters because she lives 15 miles from a nuclear power plant and is worried about a meltdown. If you are that worried about a meltdown, wouldn't it be cheaper just to move away from the power plant?

Other preppers were these guys trying to put on an Alpha Wolf display (at least on camera), thinking that some gym muscles and a shaved head made them look hard, while they growled about how they are totally gonna Protect Their Families and shoot anyone who tries to Take Their Stuff, yo. Did they actually train with any of those expensive, high-end guns they were waving around? Did they think about long-term survival in a world where they and their family have to retreat to an underground shipping container because starving hordes of people who want to Take Their Stuff are ransacking their property?

If you are preparing for a serious TEOTWAKI event, then nothing less than self-sufficiency and/or a community of like-minded people all preparing for the same thing will suffice. If you are a suburbanite or even someone with a rural bunker, I cannot think of a more miserable existence than hiding in a can breathing reprocessed air for years. What's even the point? These are people terrified by death, plagued by irrational fears.


Aviva Drescher

This is what a prepper looks like.
Not always this rich, but almost always this white.



They would probably laugh at a Manhattanite "prepper" like Aviva Drescher:


“I bought body gear, really expensive body gear, like the kind used by the Army. I went online and researched gas masks. I bought a gas tent for my baby. I was so crazy that when I took my baby out, I would keep a gas mask in the stroller. I stocked up on Cipro,” she said. (Cipro is used to treat people exposed to anthrax.) “I bought a bunch of giant rafts to go down the East River. Though I know,” she sighed, “all the big shots will probably have private planes and helicopters.”


I mean, seriously, carrying around a gas mask just in case of a sudden nerve gas attack in Central Park? This is what we call "poor risk assessment." If you were to list all the possible threats to your baby, the probability of nerve gas is way, way, way lower than more mundane threats that would be mitigated by much more practical measures...

But as amusing as the notion of a Real Housewife of NYC hobbling about in high heels and body armor may be, fundamentally Ms. Drescher's thinking is no more irrational than all the other scared white people who don't know what to do in the event that their environment comes to resemble... well, much of the world today. Where the police are not your friends and not going to show up to protect you, and walking outside without being shot at is not a given, nor is the ready availability of food. Go to any inner city and you'll find a large number of people who live like that today, in America. Survival skills are not necessarily hiding in a bunker with a horde of firearms or carrying gas masks in case of a Tom Clancy novel.

They aren't all crazy and irrational, though. It's easy to see how they get caught up in that mindset.

I have been reading Jim Rawles's SurvivalBlog, and it's a combination of hard, practical common sense and survival tips for when shit seriously hits the fan (and knowledge and skills that are useful to have even if it doesn't), and raving moonbat goldbugs, fundies, and gun nuts. These are people buying real estate in the "American Redoubt" (generally, Montana/Idaho/North Dakota and thereabouts) because they expect both coasts and all major cities to become Somalia. In fairness, Rawles himself is sane and reasonable, even if I disagree with some of his conclusions and most of his premises, but you can feel the fear and paranoia oozing from some of his letter-writers.


Randall Flagg

Grab yo' guns, fucker! It's time to start shootin' librulz!


There is also a subset of the survivalist subculture that isn't just fearfully preparing for society to collapse, but eagerly anticipating it. From those who want to literally burn it to the ground to those who won't do anything to immanentize the eschaton themselves but just can't wait until they can start shooting the Democratsstarving hordes, there's a very creepy and heavily-armed fringe waiting to come out of the woodwork.

I call these people "Flaggians." It's akin to that famous cocktail party game about going Nazi — when the end of the world comes, who would join up with Randall Flagg? I have my thoughts on how you can predict who will be a wolf, who will be a sheep, and who will be a sheepdog.

In the meantime, I am working on zombie-proofing my house, and on my novel.

Poll #1952528 Prepper poll

How much of a PREPPER are you?

Uh, I have a first aid kit and a pocket knife
10(41.7%)
I am kind of prepared: emergency kit, extra food and water, a disaster plan
5(20.8%)
I am a prepper! I can survive for six months or more after TEOTWAWKI
0(0.0%)
I am reading this from my underground bunker in Montana. You won't be laughing at me when the zombies come, fool!
1(4.2%)
Hell with that, if SHTF, I'll be roadkill (or else I'll be joining the starving hordes)
8(33.3%)

Newsflash: Rednecks gonna redneck

Okay, am I the only one who's not shocked and appalled that a Bible-thumping redneck from Louisiana probably doesn't even know what "GLBT" stands for?


Duck Dynasty

GLBT? Is that a kind of duck?


The Internets are aflame with outrage because the star of Duck Dynasty (a show I've never watched and until now was barely even aware of) said some gay-unpositive things in an interview in GQ.

I read the interview. Yeah, he's... basically your typical conservative Christian. Actually, fairly mild. He thinks homosexuality is a sin. Okay, whatever dude. Most Christians do. Most Christians also believe (in theory) that sex outside of marriage, and a whole bunch of other things, are sins.

I disagree with him, but maybe because I have a number of Christian friends and family members, some of them fairly conservative, I cannot see someone who expresses mildly traditional Christian beliefs as someone who wants to stone homosexuals and return to Jim Crow. He has not even, like Orson Scott Card, advocated that homosexuality remain criminalized.

To be clear: I don't have a problem with people disagreeing with him so much as what I consider to be the insincere faux-outrage generated because he expressed views in a magazine interview that were more direct than what a cable TV show would normally allow. From what I've read, the Robertson family has always been very open about being strongly Christian, and even made showing prayers around their dinner table at the end of the show a condition of their contract. So I have to wonder about all those millions of fans and, in particular, the A&E execs who are shocked — shocked! — that Phil Robertson said homosexuality is a sin. They are Bible-thumping rednecks from Louisiana. You made a show about them because they are Bible-thumping rednecks from Louisiana. What exactly did you think they would say if you asked them about gays off-camera?

I feel no urge to "support" the Robertson family (umm, they were rich even before the A&E show), and the people rallying in their defense now are the ones who want to give a middle finger to the homos, just like the mouth-breathing supporters of Chic-fil-A Day.

But I think it behooves people, from Social Justice activists to those who are generally apolitical, to give a closer reading to what people actually say and not categorize them into black and white boxes, good and evil, With Me or Against Me.

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It seems to me that "social media" has done more harm than good for writing. I mean, a lot of authors really capitalize on it, using their Twitter streams and Facebook pages to engage with fans and build a massive following. There are authors like John Scalzi and Charles Stross who build an intelligent and dedicated following on their blogs (honestly, I think Scalzi owes more to his blog than to his books for his preeminence in the sci-fi field), but it's important to note that they have been at it for a long time (Scalzi was blogging, and also writing professionally, before he was a published novelist), and they make their blog content interesting in itself, not just because you happen to be a fan of the author. Authors who just create Facebook pages and Twitter accounts because nowadays all the agents are saying you need a "platform" seem likely to do themselves a disservice.

Why I don"t Tweet and my Facebook page is boring.Collapse )

Money for nothing and your fics for free

So, yeah, everyone's talking about Amazon's Kindle Worlds program, which basically allows people to write and sell fan fiction as Kindle ebooks.

Now before you get all excited, it's only Alloy Entertainment allowing this so far, and only for certain properties (Gossip Girl, Vampire Diaries, and Pretty Little Liars). No doubt more publishers and intellectual properties will become available, but it's not like Amazon has just declared open season for publishing fan fiction.

Lots of professional authors have already weighed in: John Scalzi is preliminarily wary. Jim C. Hines is pondering it. Malinda Lo is freaking out.

So, a few things to keep in mind.

First of all: the properties made available so far are already what are called "packaged works": they're basically work-for-hire product. It's not like Amazon is (or could) throwing the gates open for you to start publishing Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings fanfic. Only the IP holder (i.e., the author) can allow that.

I am guessing that a few authors will give permission, and the majority will say "Hell, no."

Now, of course some people fear what Amazon's long game is. Amazon has a history of undercutting and commoditizing things in order to seize market share, so I've seen speculation that Amazon will start requiring authors to agree to a "fan fiction clause" in work published by Amazon, and that this will slowly exert pressure on all publishers to bow to this new model.

I think that's pretty unlikely, because I think it's pretty unlikely that this "commercial fan fic" will ever become a big thing.

What I do think will happen is that there will be a handful of success stories, ala Fifty Shades of Gray. Amongst the vast sea of crap that will be published, much like self-published original fiction now, a few will become enormously popular bestsellers, probably for reasons as inexplicable to most of us as 50SoG.

And the catch there is that Kindle World's contract grants the original license holder all rights to use your creations, without compensation.

In other words, let's say I was able to publish my Alexandra Quick series on Kindle Worlds (which I can't, because J.K. Rowling and Scholastic have not jumped on this bandwagon and I think it's enormously unlikely that they will). And let's say Alexandra Quick became the hottest thing since 50SoG. (Hey, I can dream, can't I?) Under the terms of Kindle Worlds, Amazon Publishing could sell the rights to Warner Brothers to make a series of Alexandra Quick movies, and no one has to pay me one thin dime. I get paid only for my novels, not for any derivative works. At all. I don't really own my characters.

And, the thing is, I think that's fair, more or less. Because I already don't own my characters. Because it's fan fiction. If I want to write Alexandra Quick novels that I can hypothetically sell the movie rights to, then I'd need to "file the serial numbers off" and write them as original novels, not as officially sanctioned fan fiction. If you decide to jump into the Kindle Worlds fan fiction pool, you do so knowing that you are writing fan fiction and you don't own it. Don't like it? Write something that's not fan fiction.

The other big objection I've seen to this is that it violates the "gift economy" culture of fandom. I.e., it's just plain wrong to sell fan fiction, because it's wrong because.

As far as I'm concerned, if you've been given the creator's blessing, it's not wrong.

Will this see a bunch of people no longer posting free stories on fanfiction.net because they're trying to sell it on Kindle Worlds instead? Oh, I'm sure some will try. Keeping in mind that it's only ever going to be a very small subset of properties that are allowed on Kindle Worlds (and I do not think that subset will ever include Harry Potter, Twilight, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Star Trek, anything Marvel or DC, you get the idea), even among those fandoms, plenty of people will still write stuff for free. There will never be a shortage of free fan fiction. And the vast majority of authors who try to sell their fan fiction will be horribly disappointed if they're thinking they're going to make any significant amount of money at it.

Alexandra Quick as commercial fan fic?



Alexandra Quick

See above for all the reasons why this will not happen. But hypothetically, let's say J.K. Rowling shocked the world by saying "Sure, go ahead and sell your Harry Potter fan fiction."

Would I do it?

Sure.

Not to make money (Amazon decides the pricing, and I wouldn't expect to see significant sales, especially since all the AQ novels are already available for free), but for the increased exposure, to give Alexandra Quick a much wider audience. (And yes, taking the risk that someday Alexandra Quick might become a blockbuster movie franchise and I wouldn't get paid. Hey, I would happily take that risk! :D)

I would put all the AQ novels up for free on Amazon and Smashwords now, if it were legal. I imagine most fan fiction writers would. And if that led to people saying "Hey, this Inverarity is a pretty good writer, maybe I should buy his original fiction..." Well, I'm sure that's the thinking of a lot of writers who will be flooding into Kindle Worlds.

I will not, however, be writing any Vampire Diaries fan fiction.

Poll #1914940 Kindle Worlds

What do you think of the Kindle Worlds program?

It's a great idea! I would love to do this myself with my fan fiction.
1(5.9%)
Good luck to those writers, but I doubt this will really catch on.
8(47.1%)
Meh. I'm not going to pay for fan fiction.
4(23.5%)
I think this is a bad idea, Amazon is evil, and selling fan fiction is sleazy.
4(23.5%)

Where are the honest anti-atheists?

Sigh. Someone sent this to me:

Where are the honest atheists?

Oh look, another article full of anti-atheist straw men. It is not possible to produce an argument against atheism that wasn't old before any of us were born, but they do keep trotting them out whenever someone publishes a book.

One of these days I'll catalog them. My favorite is the one I call the "I didn't get a pony for my birthday" argument: that's the one I frequently hear from the very religious who are convinced that every atheist actually knows that God exists, but we're just angry at him for one reason or another, so we pretend not to believe to spite him.

Most anti-atheist arguments are either projection or outright logical fallacies. Damon Linker's argument, above, is not really new, but I admit he's put an interesting spin on it, so I'll call it the Lovecraft Argument: basically, he is saying that atheism is, if true, a horrible and bitter truth that must necessarily leave atheists terrified and alone in the face of an uncaring universe.

He starts with another common logical fallacy:


It's quite another to claim, as these authors also invariably do, that godlessness is not only true but also unambiguously good for human beings. It quite obviously is not.


This is the "Church makes people behave argument," often formulated with slightly greater sophistication in anthropological terms to argue that humans, at least at some point in their cultural evolution, need religion in order to become civilized. Even some atheists believe this — supposedly, we "needed" religion in the past but now we can chuck it because we don't need fear of gods to make us behave. Except they figure some people still do need fear of gods to make them behave, hence the argument that religion is a net good if it gives less morally-grounded people a reason not to go on killing sprees or steal old peoples' pensions. I haven't ever seen any evidence that those who are inclined to do such things are much impeded by religious beliefs, but I suppose now and then fear of hellfire might have deterred a few sins. Whether this makes up for the negatives religion brings into the picture is a much longer debate. So, getting back to Mr. Linker:


If atheism is true, it is far from being good news. Learning that we're alone in the universe, that no one hears or answers our prayers, that humanity is entirely the product of random events, that we have no more intrinsic dignity than non-human and even non-animate clumps of matter, that we face certain annihilation in death, that our sufferings are ultimately pointless, that our lives and loves do not at all matter in a larger sense, that those who commit horrific evils and elude human punishment get away with their crimes scot free — all of this (and much more) is utterly tragic.


He then goes on to cite Nietzsche, Camus, and other buzzkills as examples of "honest" (and miserable) atheists. (As opposed to super-religious rays of sunshine like Leo Tolstoy.) How can you possibly find joy and meaning in life if God didn't make you a special immortal snowflake who is more important than every other not-human atom in the universe? How can you face the stark terror of knowing you're going to die if there isn't a light at the end of a tunnel on the other side?

It's actually not that hard. I will not claim to have invested a lot of thought into formulating a complicated philosophical reason d'être for myself as a bulwark against the apprehension of my own mortality, because I honestly do not feel any existential angst about not having a continued existence after I die, nor do I need to believe in an afterlife in order for what I do and experience now to have meaning.


To reject religion does not merely entail facing our finitude without comforting illusions. It also involves the denial of something noble. It is perfectly fitting, Larkin seems to say, for an atheist to lament his lack of belief in a God who bestows metaphysical meaning on the full range of human desires and experiences.


You only lament it if you felt a need for a "metaphysical" meaning for your desires and experiences. There is no reason why you should feel such a need.

Now, do I see the attraction of believing there is a benevolent omnipotent deity who loves each and every one of us individually? And that after we die, it will be Board Games Night forever in heaven? Or less flippantly, that all the horrible, evil things that happen in this world, all the misery and pain and suffering that no human agency can ever end, all the injustice that can never be addressed, will somehow be made right? That there is justice in the universe and we aren't just allotted a random portion of good and bad over which we have no control and no appeal? Of course I see the attraction. It's a very pleasant thing to believe — probably even more pleasant if your own cup of sorrow is overflowing.

But. There are lots of things I'd like to believe. I'd like to believe I am twenty years old again. I'd like to believe I have super powers. I'd like to believe the economy will start booming this year and global warming will turn out to have been a big mistake — those silly scientists!

The fact that it would be very comforting to believe something is not an argument to believe it.

If that makes me seem like a gloomy gus, per Damon Linker's argument, I can assure you that believing in god wouldn't make me particularly more optimistic. I know plenty of cheerful atheists, though, and an awful lot of bitter and miserable religious folks. It's pretty self-evident that religion is no balm for most people, and lack of it does not, in fact, bring nihilism and despair to those who have faced the awful truth.

tl;dr version: Damon Linker is a wanker.

Truly, I do not understand review wank

I get that people want reviews. I want reviews. I include a polite request that people leave reviews for my stories because yes, I like to know people read it and enjoyed it. But I also realized long ago that only a small percentage of your readers will comment on it at all. There are people who will faithfully follow your stories for years, and never leave a single review or comment.

And that's okay! Maybe it's because they're shy. Maybe because they always read on a phone that's inconvenient for posting. Maybe they just don't like leaving comments. I know there are people who read this LJ regularly who have never commented (waves), and of course there are people who "follow" or "favorite" you on ff.net without ever leaving a review. That's okay too.

I can understand an author who really needs a bit of ego-boosting being sad that people follow their story but never comment. But I do not understand the rage some authors display at not getting reviews, not getting enough reviews, getting reviews that don't meet their standards (too short/too vague/too critical/mentioned a ship the author doesn't like/etc.), or (I am not kidding) getting angry that someone "followed" a completed story. I mean, yeah, it's pointless to sign up for updates for a story that is finished, but probably the person didn't notice, or they just automatically "follow" all stories they like just in case the author does post another chapter. It's not like it has any negative impact on the author.

So anyway, the latest fandom_wank entry is yet another fanfic author having a meltdown because people aren't reviewing the way she wants. But the real gem is one of the linked comment threads, in which a former fanfic author and now supposedly a best-selling pro author goes off on how fanfic writing is a "mug's game" because readers are so entitled, they want free stuff, don't they know you are a human being, and maybe writing is how you support yourself? (Uh, then you need to not be writing fan fiction...)

Evidently, because I am not particularly bothered by people who read my stories without commenting, I am just like someone in an abusive relationship who doesn't have enough self esteem to leave.

Wow. How about writing because you fucking enjoy writing? I mean, I might whine and moan about wanting to be published, but ultimately, this is something I do for fun. If you really want to make a living as a writer, you need to go about it seriously and professionally. Otherwise, you need to get over your special snowflake self and make peace with the fact that fandom is what it is, and if you are posting free fiction, you should be content with only a few of your readers leaving reviews, and if you get a small core of regular fans (I love you guys!), that's gonna have to do you as far as ego-stroking goes.

I am more and more convinced that the growing incidence of professional authors having meltdowns over bad reviews is because we're seeing more writers coming out of fandom and going pro... without also making the transition from emotional adolescence to adulthood.

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