The State of Affairs

Let’s face it: shit’s fucked. I foresee a future where the creation of art may be suspended while I’m spending more time away from my keyboard. Until then, I’m balls out on the third and fourth book in the Hound of Eden series.

Speaking of shit that fucked up, I realized as I was drafting Cold Cell, the proposed third book in the series, that there was another whole novel’s worth of information and story that it requires. I realized this after I’d written about 60,000 words and hadn’t yet reached the meaty part of the story in CC. Thus, Cold Cell has been bumped to Book 4 in the series, and the third novel, Zero Sum, is currently slated to be finished by March 2017 and published before April. I will, however, have to create a new cover.

Angkor and the Twin Tigers cat shapeshifters continue to feature heavily in Zero Sum, in which we learn more about the Templum Voctus Sol and the Vigiles Magicarum.


 

Strong Female Characters and Mansplaining

This blog started out as a comment on Facebook to a male author that got way out of hand – long enough that it warranted its own post. It was written in response to this blog post here: The Fallacy and Potential of the Strong Female Character.

One thing I find conflictual in the SFC argument – on both sides of the argument – is this weird double-standard of ‘SFCs are sexualized bimbos! Bimbos/bitches can’t be SFCs!’ vs ‘SFCs are just men with tits! Why can’t they preserve their femininity! They should be powerful as women, not because they act like dudes!’. It results this push towards: “The only right female characters are characters who are complex and feminine in this very particular way.”

There’s a basic problem with looking at female characters with those parameters. Firstly, it imposes a judgement on what is considered active and not, feminine or not, and questions the right of certain kinds of women to protag. When judged by this strange paradox, you’re saying a character is either too female or not enough, and female strength should only be embodied by the median. Which, incidentally, is generally only a specific kind of independent white femininity.

What about butch femininity? Furiosa comes to mind, but not just her. What about Ripley? Butch women often both strongly identify female, and strongly identify with presentation and activities often considered masculine. Is someone who embodies practical, physical, active traits, who wears compression bras and ski caps against the weather while they’re sniping from a tower ‘acting like a dude’? Are stone butches not women, able to take protagonist roles?

Conversely, women can be powerful in the nude or in skimpy clothing, and some women are and feel very empowered in those states. The embrace femme identity and feel empowered by it. Are these women not strong enough because they feel good this way, not dynamic enough because they happen to be under the gaze of the viewer? Is it not the viewer’s problem? Why do pundits make the presence of big breasts and skimpy clothes the problem of the female protagonist, and undervalue her because she’s high-femme?

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With the standards we use to judge whether a female character is ‘complex’ or ‘feminine’ enough, who decides? And why?

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Is the same athlete less powerful, more or less female because she’s in a swimsuit? Who decides whether or not she can protag?

Many women move between states of masculine and feminine, just as men do. A soldier in lingerie is still a soldier, as Motoko Kusanagi often proves. They don’t embody the grey zone of comfortable femininity.

In other words, who defines the feminine, and at what cost to the validity of other characters?

Part of the problem is that female characters don’t have male counterparts – not directly. We don’t ask these questions of male characters, or discuss the judgement of their masculinity or their ability to protag based on their sex. I think that often, the discussion of female protagonists ends up unintentionally reinforcing the binary and reinforcing the object-focus of women’s bodies and activities in fiction.

For example: Male protags get away with acts of toxic masculinity without being regarded by the public as not suitably male. Harry Dresden of The Dresden Files, for instance, is always attempting to coddle (and often fails at relating to) women, and never grows in this respect. No one would ever say he’s ‘too masculine’ to protag. No one questions his complexity because of his unconscious masculinity. His clothing or lack of it is never judged, or even remarked on.

But women – frail and not, sexy or not, white or not, femme or butch – get put under this lens and scrutinized. And I think that we should be very aware of that as male authors.

Let me tell you a story about a Muslim refugee

First: the missing passport.

I was traveling out of Australia for the very first time back in 2010, visiting Seattle in the USA to stay with some friends. I’d spent ten wonderful days in the USA and had gotten the train from Seattle to LA in preparation for flying home. We had just crossed the border into California when I realized, with more than a little horror, that my passport was missing. Gone.I tore apart my luggage, my bed, my clothes. Nothing.

In a horrendous panic, I called back to my friends in Seattle. My passport had fallen out of its wallet and was still in my friend’s bedroom, where I’d been staying. They took it to the post office to send it by courier overnight (bless them), but learned at the office that you’re not allowed to mail passports to private addresses. Passports have to be sent to the Australian Embassy and picked up from the office.

The train arrived in LA at night, and I stayed in a cheap hotel on Sepulveda Blvd near the airport, panicking for the entire night. My flight was in the morning: If I got out first-thing, I had a two hour window to pick up my passport before I had to get back to the airport.

At eight in the morning, I managed to get my hands on a map. None of the hotel staff knew how to get to the Embassy by public transport, but they were sympathetic. I had no mobile phone, no Google Maps, and no money for a taxi: I was young, inexperienced, carrying far more luggage than I needed, and alone in a city five times the size of Melbourne, the only city I knew. I had no experience with the kind of density that this city had and no idea how its public transport worked.

Resolute, I marched to the bus stop and tried to figure out my route. I was turning the map around, trying to make sense of LA’s incredibly convoluted bus system, when a tall black guy with a scraggly beard in baggy jeans, red scarf and red basketball jersey swaggers up to me and snatches the map out of my hands.

He turned it around, and handed it back. “Hey man, you look at it this way ’round.”

25-year old me was scared and extremely defensive at being approached so brazenly by a strange man, and worse, being touched. It freaked me the fuck out. “Uhh… thanks.”

“No worries. You’re looking pretty upset. Where you going?”

I ended up explaining what the matter was to this man, Muhammad. When I told him that I was racing the clock to get my passport and get to my plane, he patted me on the back and told me not to worry about a thing: he’d take me to the embassy. And he did. He paid for my fare (I didn’t have the right coins for the machine), waved away the notes I tried to give him, and literally walked me from the airport to the other side of the city and back again, giving up an hour and a half of his time. And while he was doing that, we talked, and he told me his story.

Muhammad wasn’t born in the USA: he was a Sudanese refugee who had been able to get a green card. He and his entire extended family left the country and ended up split across the world. Some of them lived in the Midwest, he lived in LA, some of his cousins lived in Germany, his fiance in Scandinavia. He worked as a cleaner at night and studied computer science full time in the day (“I haven’t slept for 36 hours, for real!”). He wanted to create educational programs for schools, and make enough money to bring his fiance to America.

We ate jelly beans on the bus on the way to the embassy. I asked him about the red colors: he said that he could only afford to live in a part of LA where there were a lot of gangs. He wasn’t actually in a gang despite his getup, but he told me that when he wore his preferred clothes, people hassled him. He dressed like his neighbors did, and people stopped hassling him for being visibly Muslim. It was easier to pass as a gangbanger.

At the embassy, Muhammad insisted on coming up with me because he wanted to meet the Australian Ambassador. He shook her hand with great excitement. When I asked him if I could give him something for his time, he refused twice (which told me he meant it), but he finally accepted the rest of the jellybeans. He wished me a good flight. I wished him all the best with his lady love and his course, and thanked him profusely for his help. I will never forget his expression of genuine pleasure at having been able to help me, a flagrantly queer, pierced transman, an admitted Atheist, find an obscure office in Los Angeles after his underpaid night shift on a hot and unpleasant day.

We lost touch after that, but I have never forgotten this man’s generosity, his words, or his humility.

We did talk about religion during that trip. He was an extremely devout, observant Muslim, and was excited for Ramadan. He didn’t care that I wasn’t when we started talking about beliefs. I told him that I thought all creation is important and meaningful in its own right, without necessitating a god, and Muhammad said that he believed the same thing, only there was a god who had created it all to begin with.

Thanks to this stranger, I got my passport back on time, got on my plane, and flew home safe.

Since then, I have experienced this same generosity and humility from Muslim people – Arab and Kurd, Iranian and Turk, Indonesian and Chinese – many, many times. It’s often in small ways: the pleasure expressed when I become a regular at a small business, the extra generous helpings at a kebab stand in Berlin when I complimented the vendor’s meat, the extra piece of lokum at my local Turkish restaurant when I admitted being a writer working on my book, the quiet worldliness of an Iranian man I met at a writer’s group in Cork, who wanted to talk to me about Indigenous Australian culture – these are the Muslims I know in my day to day life. I am made physically sick when I think of these people being massacred, being spat on, being bombed and hurt and turned away from safe lands because a fractional percentage of their countrymen are violent, marauding thugs.

For fuck’s sake, people. Put it in perspective. The combined forces of Daesh/ISIS, Boko Haram and Al Qaeda make up 0.003% of the Muslim population of the entire world, maybe. Most of them are the Daesh rabble occupying the ruins of the Central Middle East right now. A good proportion of them are non-combatants.

The vast majority of terrorist attacks by these extremist groups are exacted on their countrymen: usually the moderate and helpless. While Daesh and the others would undoubtedly love to wade through a river of American and Australian blood, we white folks are hiding behind a dense human shield of mostly Shia Muslims, and people like the Yazidi, who have their own syncretic religion (the worship of Malek Taus, the Peacock Angel, and an Islamic-Gnostic concept of divinity). I fear these motherfuckers more than most –  any member of Daesh would probably rape me with a sword and throw me off a roof for being transgender and queer – but fuck if I’m going to judge the people on the front lines of their savagery.

The gay men they threw off roofs and stoned to death? They were Muslim. The girls they enslave? The people of Beirut and Iraq? What faith are they?

Besides that, less than 2% of terrorist attacks in the EU have been motivated by Islam. Do you know what most of them were motivated by? Nationalism, the same bullshit that has made a sudden and enormous resurge after the Paris attacks. The vast majority of terrorist attacks in E.U. countries have for years been perpetrated by separatist nationalist organizations.

As for Australia, the worst mass shooting in our history was perpetrated by a white Australian: the Port Arthur massacre. The worst act of terror in recent times in Europe is arguably the 2011 rampage by Anders Behring Brevik, a white supremacist and nationalist.

I remember when a gang of Lebanese guys were going around raping girls in Sydney, back in the early 00’s. There was massive anti-Lebanese and anti-Muslim furor back then, with the Cronulla riots and everything. Recently, a gang of four white guys brutally raped a 14-year old girl in a park in Geelong. Two of them were British tourists. Where’s the riots telling Whitey to go back home?

There are 1.6 BILLION Muslims in the world. If they really wanted to destroy Western civilization – if they were as hostile and scary as some people seem to think – do you really think we’d be able to stop them? 1.6 billion, on every continent on Earth. There’s 1.3 million people in the US military. If there was some united purpose among Muslims everywhere, don’t you think we’d know by now?

Daesh are going to sneak operatives into the refugees fleeing them and their fascist government. They are. But for every fuckwit, there are thousands of perfectly normal people fleeing the kind of loss we cannot even imagine. People separated from their fiances by entire continents. People who have lost their children. A museum curator tortured to death for not revealing the location of priceless antiquities. Muslim security guards and bystanders in Paris and Beirut who stopped suicide bombers, sometimes with their own bodies and lives, to prevent the deaths of hundreds.

And yet, every one of my online channels is suddenly full of hate for Muslims (who are often equated with ‘Arabs’ by many). Some of the people who were posting ‘Black Lives Matter!’ on Facebook every day earlier this year are suddenly cheering on Alabama and other states for refusing to accept Syrian refugees. Black lives apparently only matter some of the time now.

With every border refusal, the West creeps closer to the same Fascist ideology that bought about the Syrian civil war in the first place. Because make no mistake: the Syrians aren’t fleeing a religious war. They’re fleeing an oppressive right-wing dictator who responded to the protests of his people by massacring them. Their religion is incidental: Asaad has routed Sunni, Shia, Sufi, Yazidi, Zoroastrian and Christian alike.

Fascism is oozing its way back into the popular way of thinking. But I remember the Muslim people who have been kind and gentle and generous, and I feel tired. My stomach is full of glass every time I read the news. The hatred and ignorance makes me sick.

How about we fucking stop calling refugees ‘migrants’?

How many dead will it take for Australia and other smarmy rich western nations to stop calling the millions of displaced Syrians, Yazidi, Iraqi and other peoples ‘migrants’ and call them what they really are?

REFUGEES.

Say it with me. REFUGEES.

AS IN, PEOPLE IN NEED OF REFUGE.

Yes. People. Refugees. Civilians who are fleeing because they cannot defend themselves. People who went to school and eat take out meals after work because they’re too tired to cook, and help their partner wash the bathroom on weekends, and who have kids and pets and aren’t here to ‘take our jobs’ – you know, the ones that are always being sent to places where there are no significant labor laws when it suits the whims of a corporation so some pasty white bastard can play more golf on the weekends.

They are not ‘looking for a better life’. They’re looking for any life at all. They’re trying not to drown or starve or be blown apart.

They are accountants. Soap makers. Students.

They are not fucking MIGRANTS. They aren’t ‘boat people’. They’re not illegal. They’re refugees.

Behold this whining, sneering little shitstain: ‘Abbott: toddler’s death a reminder of need to ‘stop the boats’

Abbott, you are a piece of human shit. I don’t know you – and I don’t ever want to know – beyond saying that I hate you. I hate the warmongers and the white-collar sociopaths and gun nuts and apocalyptic hypocrites and dictators. I hate you all, and I hate your systems and your religions, and I hate everything you have done to the refugees of the world.

If you want to help refugees, check out http://donate.unhcr.org/international/lifeline

I usually donate through UNICEF, but this seems like a good program.

The Internet Propaganda Machine

Also the blog post which could have been titled: “You won’t believe what the Internet is doing to your brain!”

Or maybe: “10 Ways Blogs Are Destroying Politics As We Know It.”

I bet those kinds of titles are all too familiar to the average reader. They’re the hallmark of clickbait, blog posts which are designed, psychologically speaking, to reflexively rouse curiosity, anger or awe – the three trigger emotions which are most associated with sharing posts. Shared enough times, a post becomes viral. Viral posts generate ad revenue for bloggers, so bloggers have a concrete incentive to write clickbait.

And, much like the cigarette advertisers of the 1970s and 1980s, they have psychological manipulation down to a fine art.

It was only a matter of time before interested parties caught on to the propaganda potential of the Internet in its current form. Political parties, activist groups… anyone with the potential to hire people like Edward Bernays, considered to be the founding father of P.R – or ‘manufactured consent’. They don’t call P.R that any more, naturally – it smacks of manipulation, and that would be… well, bad P.R.

Bernays, in the opening of his book Propaganda, writes: “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.”

conflicting_headlinesOne of the most recent manifestations of this propaganda machine is clickbait. As Ryan Holiday covers in his rather amazing book Trust Me, I’m Lying, the Internet – and blogs, in particular – is the ultimate propaganda platform. Anyone can say anything, as much as they want, in ways that are visually stimulating, in mediums that arrest and compel, and they don’t have to be true to be convincing… editing, spin, even fake videos are used to build up and destroy people and organizations. Planned Parenthood, for example: Planned Parenthood is a reoccurring target of the political Right, and is currently in the media after doctored videos purporting to show them selling ‘chopped up baby parts’ were published online. Of course they don’t do this – but even though the videos are fakes, they are emotionally stimulating and they conform to the beliefs of people who really really want Planned Parenthood’s baby part black market to be real, so that they can continue to be angry and offended and justified in those beliefs.

P.R originated in the USA, and it is the USA that really suffers the brunt of clickbait, to the point now where the next U.S election almost certainly rests on the success of bullshit posted online. Left, Right, Fringe… it doesn’t matter. There’s so much convincing propo and so many talented marketers, busy-bee bloggers aspiring for moments of viral fame, and corporate (and not-for-profit) hounds pulling the strings that stunts will win out over policies, if everyone tweets about it enough.

The scary thing? We know this happens. We know we’re vulnerable to this. But no one stops it, and no one stops themselves from reacting.

I’m not American, but I worry about the next U.S election. The rise of the Internet propaganda machine has contributed to a sharp increase in extremist positions. When I was a teenager, the mantra on 4chan was that the Internets were not serious business, that anything you did online stayed online and didn’t translate to your ‘IRL’ persona. This is increasingly tenuous. The Internet is having very real consequences on politics and the public mind, contributing to a fanatical frenzy at both ends of the political spectrum, on people whose entire worldview is shaped by blog-based propaganda.

The regimes of the past could only have dreamed of a system like this. Not only are people still as receptive to bullshit as they ever were, they can now access free sources which exclusively feed their cultured worldview, however bizarre or contradictory that worldview is. We are seeing people increasingly focused in on their extreme point of view, hostile and hurt by exposure to ideas that they don’t agree with.

In other words, we are the self-perpetuating propaganda machine: the Facebook memers, the #hashtaggers, the Imgurians.

Edward Bernays said: “Small groups of persons can, and do, make the rest of us think what they please about a given subject.” But when it is a mass of /b/tards or Stormfronters or David Icke’s true believers, those groups are no longer small.

I don’t think even Edward Bernays saw this one coming.

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