On bisexuality

Someone posted on Facebook:

I just wanted to ask, why do you think so many people treat bisexuality as difficult/impossible to believe?

I’m not saying that being bi should be easier to understand than other sexualities, but IMO it’s a very easy concept to grasp. Yet people continually dismiss its existence or erase it. I can’t wrap my head around it. Why does this happen? Why is being bi so hard to believe for a lot of people, apparently? I would also really appreciate links to articles or other resources explaining people’s dismissal of bisexuality, if you have any. Thank you!

This is what I replied:

I think it is due to several factors.
The short version:
1: Binary thinking on every level. Something is either/or, but can never be both.
2: Myopia from people within the gay community. “Since I can not imagine this is true, it is not true” paired with binary thinking: “Someone is either gay or straight. Anything else is just confusion”
3: Constant and deliberate erasure of anything queer over history by straight people
4: Monogamy been sold as the defacto natural standard, where it is not at all.

I think visibility of bisexuality will take time. It needs time to settle in the social awareness. It needs time to build its own field of awareness and concepts. It needs a broader societal view on love and intimacy that is less exclusive (“it can only be this or that”), less focused on genitals and a sexual binary, and more based on trust.

In general our societies have been erasing a lot about our human and natural forms of expression of sexuality. Part is due to Western religion and its hostile stance against many things that make life pleasurable (including masturbation, the expression of joy and a full exploration of the senses).
Part is due to systems of oppression and how the oppression human expressions of joy and pleasure is beneficial for those systems.

Society at large is a weird thing. Being autistic, I noticed that there are several artificial boundaries one “should not cross”. Not because they are harmful. Mostly because once you do, people will start to get confused. And when some people get confused, they become hostile and even violent, because some of those people absolutely do not like that confusion.

They will get angry, and even hostile, because by crossing those boundaries, you are directly challenging their view on the world and certain sets of beliefs that they used to base their sense of reality and their self-image on. (For example: Tell a dedicated supporter of any sports-club that that club sucks. While –in reality– that club is mostly a random group of selected people, wearing a random set of selected colors, the narrative is that EVERYTHING IS SPECIAL and WHEN YOU TOUCH ANYTHING on that random collection of stuff, you touch that person in the DEEPEST CORES OF THEIR SOULS)
So: to challenge that (core) belief is to challenge the person themselves.
It does not matter if that (core) belief is based on facts or bullshit.

In a binary world, one can only romantically love one, or the other. One can only sexually crave one or another.

In a more fluid world, bisexuality is not a difficult concept at all.
One can sexually crave one or more. And that is totally normal. One can sexually crave people with any body and any sex that one feels attractive to.
One can choose to focus on one love-affair at the time, or have many. One can focus on one specific sex at the time, or not.
One can feel attracted to people who mostly express themselves as feminine, masculine, or something different alltogether. One can feel specifically attracted to certain (feminine/masculine/xyz) energy, or to certain body types.
One can have very specific preferences, or very broad ones. One can feel attracted to very specific body parts (feet, knees, toes, hands, ears, etc), or

But this is not what the narratives in society at large tell us. The narratives in society are mostly binary and limited to a narrow set of parameters. Most narratives are heteronormative.
And those narratives who are not, those narratives which offer a broader view on life and sexuality, have been –in many cases– erased, banned, forced into obscurity. (There are always moments in time where heteronormative “purity” and choking limitations on sexuality are pushed on society at large by fanatics from certain fringe-groups.)
So what we have to work with, is a very limited view by society on gender, sexuality, sexual attraction and so on.

Being bisexual becomes a “complex issue” because someone who is bi- or pansexual is breaking a certain social norm by not being one thing, but being both (and even more): able to be sexually attracted to men AND women.

I think this raises extra confusion in the case of loyalty. “If you can feel sexually attracted to both sexes, how can you assure me that you won’t fall in love with someone else?”
And I think this creates an extra set of confusion.

For many people –myself included– love is a fragile thing. It is/can be hard to find someone who is willing to love you and to be with you. It is horrible to break up. It is scary to reach out to others. It is scary to express yourself, to take a risk to be turned down. It is even more so when you grow up with the core idea that you are unlovable. Because if your are unlovable, why would the other person like you, love you, stay with you? Why would that person stay, if they have so much more to choose from? If they can feel attracted to both men and women?

Also: weren’t we been told that sexual attraction is one of the very cores of a romantic relationship? And isn’t a succesful romantic relationship the all of our existence? Marriage –for some cultures– one of the most important moment in our lives?
So: what if the person I love will fall out of love with me, because in the end they did not want the type of genitals that I have?

It is all nonsense. But it is also, for many people, part of the only narratives we grow up with. And it does not matter if it is bullshit or not. It FEELS true. Because it is presented as such almost everywhere. And what feels true, does not need to be questioned.

In a more fluid world, we can love many people in healthy ways and be honest about it and be accepted for that by them and by our peers. We can have sex with many people and also maintain many more intimate relationships with a smaller group of people we really feel related, attracted, emotionally bonded to.
In a more fluid world, it is OK if a relationship ends, because there are so many other lovely people out there in the world, because everyone deserves to be free and is therefore free to do- and move any way they want to, and nobody is your sole/exclusive sexual- or intimate possession.

In our world, this can be insanely complex. Not only because all of the bullshit-norms, but also because there is a lot of generational trauma and a lot of personal ignorance shared by many of us related to our own sexuality and what love is and is not; also because there are a lot of stupid reasons used by people in power why certain parts of our sexuality and sensuality are kept from us (by banning books, cleaning the narrative) by erasing anything that is queer.

In our world most of us desperately cling to relationships that do- or do not work, because we don’t know any better, because the world around us seems to be quite broken, because many other factors create a lot of pressure and stress as well, and our chances of finding (“real”) love seem to be very limited.

What also plays a role, is that many societies have become hostile environments for people with children. When we have offspring, when we separate, there is no real support from our surrounding environment. We need to pay people to watch our children when we want to have a night out, or when both of us go to work. And what if you are a single parent? What if you don’t have that money? What if there is no support-system at all? Where do you leave your children then? Grandma and grandpa live somewhere else, might even be unavailable. Brothers and sisters are caught in their own drama. Friends need to earn money just like you in order to simply exist. If you are unfortunate to live in a country where labor is not protected by unions, you are probably exploited and so are many around you, meaning that every wake moment of your existence (and those of others) is spent working.

A growing awareness of everything related to us and our sexuality at least helps us to make better choices in building our relationships with other people around us.
But also to understand that what is normal for us, as an individual, is not the basis for all of reality. And it will help us understand that our personal sexual preferences are not the norm, but simply one of countless possibilities.

Apart from that, it might help to fix society itself, and make sure that generational trauma stops somewhere, that children grow up with a broader view on life and so that to exist as a human being is so affordable that one person could support several other people in their existence, making a society more child-friendly and making relationships less of a prison.

“We determine who and what you are”: on identity politics and the documentation of a time period

There has always been a war on identity. And mostly those identities that have been considered “unwanted” by the powers that were. In the 1960’s and 1970’s we saw a lot of social change, that was mostly quelled in the 1980’s and 1990’s by conservative counter-culture. So what could have been a constant wave of further liberation, was actively sabotaged and slowed down for at least another 40 years.

We celebrate gay marriage now, but in another timeline, this could have been already part of our cultures in 1980, 40 years ago. We are starting to implement new rights for transgender men and women, but on this –as well– we lost at least 50 years. And right now, with all the fabricated panic around “cancel culture” and “trans women are rapists who want to invade female spaces” and “our society is at the verge of collapse, because we allow all kinds of (morally inferior) non-white, non-heterosexual, progressive people to claim spaces previously reserved only to (morally superior) Christian white, conservatieve heterosexual men”

In the past 10 years, there has been a world-wide reclaim of public space and personal identity by people who have been neglected, ignored and silenced. And I believe this- period of time, right now, is as historically significant as the revolution of the 1960’s and 1970’s. In other words: if this was a series, we are now in the middle of season 3. Season on was “Woman’s liberation and the rise of unions and labor laws.” Season 2: “Anti-conception, sexual liberation and higher education for all people” And season 3: “Trans-rights, the new generation, the freedom to discover- and be who you really are, and the first steps to real equality, real freedom for all” is as crucial as the previous ones. and can end with loss and defeat, instead of triumph and progress as right-wing parties all over Europe and the USA seem to be gaining in power as well, leveraging fear, uncertainty, lies and doubt on all our gained liberties to increase their supporter-base.

This conservative counter-movement is worrisome. (Read this on the input of American money into European conservatie politics, this on “Heritage”, one of several conservative “think tanks” who influence American politics, and this) Especially when you understand that it is backed by a lot of money from (sometimes very) conservative (and sometimes very religious) multi-billionaires, who see any social progress as a direct threat to the future and their financial legacy and who do not give a shit about the people not part of their circles. More on that part later.

First the positive.

We are calling out writers like J.K. Rowling for their blatend transphobia and their blatend trans-exclusive “feminism”. We see a new wave of feminism emerging: rising from the many attempts by “feminsts” and anti-feminists to brand feminism as something hostile and destructive; reacting against brands of “feminism” that is and was racist and/or based on cultural supremist thinking; and countering claims that feminism is done. We had the Harvey Weinstein scandal that exposed a slice of rape-culture in the movie-industrie. There was MeToo, exposing more sexual abuse in many more places than the Weinstein case enveloped. Gay marriage has become legal in many countries. Transgender people are claiming the spaces they deserve, and so on.

What we also see is a counter-movement, to turn back the clock, to silence those (and our) voices and to make everything cis-gender, sexually binary and hetero-centric again.

To understand this counter-movement, is to understand a certain form of liberty: the liberty to assault and rape women, without being accountable. The liberty to be sexist and talk in derogatory ways about gay, queer, trans, bi and polyamorous people, any women, women’s body parts, having sex with women. The liberty to be a racist and sexist bigot and the liberty to express that bigotry in almost any way you liked: conversion therapy, abandonment of your gay and queer children, verbal violence, denying LGTBQ+ people help, support and service, creating cis-hetero-exclusive / LGTBQ+hostile workspaces and the broader liberty to deny LGTBQ+ people any safe place to exist. It is also the liberty to keep racist laws, rules, processes and regulations in place, and the right to undermine any attempt to expose that racism in the press, and the right to oppress and delete and revise any information in educational institutions that shed more light on that racism and the history behind that institutional racism.

When you listen to right-wing counter-arguments on the current shifts in social reality, one recurring element is the fear that we will spiral into a dictatorship-kind of absolute and oppressive government, where freedom is limited so much, that freedom of speech- and expression will be completely stifled and killed (unless you are gay or a social justice warrior).

The real problem for this group of people is, however, that the trans, gay, non-male, non-white people who are speaking up, are (or so it seems) not supposed to speak at all. They are supposed to remain silent, because their voices, their complaints, their presence at the table and in the spaces they live, are all confrontational and unwanted. They are unwanted because all those spaces are traditionally reserved for heterosexual men. And if these places were reserved for other people than men, then they are exclusively reserved for biological women whose main purpose in live was to be silent, obedient, supportive, loyal, to produce offspring from their wombs, to not make a serious career, to not become visible and successful, to not carve their own places out in society. Not for LGTBQ+. At least: not for those openly L, G, T, B, Q or plus. Not for feminists.

Within those male-centric spaces, sexual abuse should not be a topic. Rape should not be something you should think about, or be confronted with. Rape packaged as “conquer” should remain light topics of discussion in male spaces. Rape culture itself should remain as is, so that rape itself can remain a grey zone shrouded in mist.

Now whether it is true or not, there is an interesting thought about the “why” of hostility towards transgender woman. And the very simplified version is this, in my words: “within this specific mindspace, the primary function of a women is to be fuckable for a heterosexual men with a hetero-normative mindset. The secondary function of a woman is to produce babies. A transgender woman is / does neither.”

In other words: “because a transgender woman is not fuckable for a hetero-normative heterosexual man, and because a transgender woman can’t produce babies, she is not considered to be a woman.”

For gay men, I have seen and heard the following simplification as one clarification for the hartred against gay men (in my words): “when rape, dominance and predatory behavior, is a normalized part of the heterosexual male’s sexual mindspace, gay men become a direct threat. Because heterosexual males will project their own dominant and predatory behavior on gay men, and within that switch of roles they turn from the dominating predator into the hunted, dominated, sexual prey that can become victim of male to male rape any moment in time.” Consider that male to male rape from heterosexual men to gay man, has been documented over history to “correct” gay men (see here and here for an article on the topic and here. And while it is situated elsewhere, this also still happens in the Netherlands).

Asexuality has a different issue in acceptance, probably based on another aspect of rape-cuture: “when someone indicates that they are not in the mood for sex, they are probably lying, because it is unimaginable that someone is not in the mood for sex. So this is mostly a matter of convincing. You can convince someone to have sex. And once someone is on the receiving side, they will discover or learn that they actually like sex.”

The resistance against MeToo seemed mostly to circle around the right to silence, demean, diminish and rape women without consequences. While packaged in several “social concerns”, by several professional conservative bullshit-artists, the core seems to be that women should simply shut up and let men in power be. Because it is much more important to respect the male’s social status, especially when that male is in a position of power, than to take a good critical look at the toxic and destructive nature of the spaces in which rape and sexual abuse are normalized, where the victims are pushed-by-general-assumption into the role of the instigator, and where the rapists and abusers are protected by their peers.

Now naturally, all these social changes, moving society at large away from a heterosexual-centric, male-dominated view on the world, towards a much more realistic and representative view on our human reality, pose a threat for those societies and groups of heterosexual men, and those groups of heterosexual men in power, who grew up in a social reality in which abusive and violent behavior against certain people (women, LGTBQ+) is and always has been normalized, promoted, stimulated and –in many cases– even celebrated.

I can totally understand that it is immensely threatening to see your sexist and hetero-normative perception of reality being shred to pieces. Because imagine! Your previously exclusive heterosexual male-spaces to be “invaded” by women! And/or all kinds of LGBTQ+ people! Or all kinds of people of color of which some are LGTBQ+ and/or women! Or people from another cultural and/or religious background! World ending! Society collapsing!

One of the most recurring tropes in the counter-movements are –based on “proof” and “science”– that women and black people and people from other religions and certain cultures are intellectually and morally inferior. It does not matter that this “proof” and the “science” are stale and debunked and debunked as racist. These tropes are repeated over and over again, because they serve a purpose: to silence others, to keep places of power and influence exclusive for only a selected group of people.

Now why is it so important to hold back social progression? Why should we continue to deny certain people certain rights, based on nothing more than bullshit? It seems mostly because of money. Here is the bigger picture:

  1. Taxes — Paying taxes is shit. Especially when you have shitloads of money and do not want to part from those shitloads of money. In that case, government becomes a greedy thief, leeching off your fortunes.
  2. Exploitation and the financial burden of human rights — Social progress, including the acceptance of the rights of LGTBQ+ and women, means that society at large is moving towards a more social state, where the rights of all people will be more and more protected. When all people are more and more protected by law, it will be more and more difficult to exploit them. Exploitation in this cases means: very low wages, no respect for the individual. People are expandable and nobody cares if they die. The financial and organizational burdens around human rights are high: higher wages, social security, access to medical care, holidays and sick-leave. It is easier and more cost-effective to have human resources who cost almost nothing, will never be sick, will never take a day off.
  3. Blocking and killing financial burdens like labor unions — When human rights become more central, and more protected and promoted in all forms of media, labor unions will also gain power and traction. And the problem with labor unions is, that they strive for the wellbeing of the laborers, which means: living wages above poverty line, protection and protective measures on the work-floor, a minimum amount of holidays per year, more power to the workers, including the power to strike.

While reality is more complex than this, this seems to be one big factor: the moment we increase the rights given to certain people –who have always existed, but were silenced and bullied and mistreated until now, the more rights we will all gain. And the more rights we all gain, the harder it becomes to exploit us: the people who do the labor.

It is beneficial for us, the people at large, to recognize others as equal, to kill toxic systems of abuse, to start and continue movements where abuse is called out and the abusers are made accountable, to end and undermine all systems centering on dominance and abuse in a broader sense. Not only for a better personal mental health and a more pleasant and more healthy personal, social environment, but also to become less prone and less accepting to “normalized” abuse on the work floor.

Most companies can exist very well paying people normal wages and treating people on the workfloor with dignity and respect. Any and all people in power can do their work without being abusive and without sexual abuse. But many people in power rather keep things as they are, because it is much more preferable to do whatever one likes, without ever be accountable. Corruption is fun as long as you don’t have to pay the price.

Closing:

Donald Trump was not an accident. With and under Donald Trump, the right wing was able to dismantle many laws and regulations that hindered corporations to operate without restrictions. That right wing was, and is backed by several people of money and power, of which the Koch Brothers are the most known and most notorious.

Those same brothers, and probably many of the same people, are financially backing extreem-right wing parties in Europe, including the Forum for Democracy in the Nederlands. They also back religious groups who have been active in promoting anti-abortion policies, gay conversion therapy and who are active in Europe and Adrica.

If it is up to those parties, the following will be part of our future (again)

  1. Pushing LGTBQ+ back into silence, denial, and back into limitigin and limited roles played by heterosexual cis men and woman.
  2. Actively spreading blatant lies about anything and everything related to LGTBQ+ and feminist issues, via all means possible.
  3. Removing all information that acknowledges the normality of LGTBQ+ identities form the public space, including schools and school curriculum.
  4. Introducing “Christian science” into schools, based on the idea that the bible is the literal word of god, dinosaurs either lived together with men, or that their bones were placed into the soil to test the true believers and that the world itself is not more than roughly 6000 years old.
  5. Making it more difficult, or even impossible for transgender people to be acknowledged, get support, receive help and get access to surgery.
  6. Actively sabotaging and undermining the democratic process, and the role and position of social institutions including labor unions and social provisions for people unable or unfit to participate in the labor force.
  7. Actively pushing narratives on all possible means where the victims of certain provisions and regulations are blamed for all the problems that are the result of those provisions and regulations.

This kind if future is not an improvement. Even when it is initially presented and sold as such.

Writing: “Goblins are ugly, unreliable and cruel. They steal human babies and live in hollow rocks.” “Is this racist?”

Somewhere on facebook someone asked the following question:

Is the following description racist?

Goblins are selfish and greedy, snaggletooth dwarfs with sunken orange eyes, dusky blue or ruddy pink skin, thin and wispy black hair, slit ears, pug noses, sheep tails, and clad in swaddling rags. They’re mischievous pranksters, tantalizers, kidnappers (of humans of any age), fruit merchants, cup sellers, bullies, slavers, marauders, poultry and jewel thieves (jewels which they gamble away, never hoard). Goblins tend to throw tantrums, rearrange household items, torture insects, boil frogs, maim pets, are allergic to salt, and live in hollow rocks.

Note: the description above is very likely gathered from what you can find in fantasy-books and from descriptions on mystical creatures in older literature. Especially the last sentence has that aslmost random arbitraryness of old superstitions and magical beliefs from the middle-ages.

Someone replied:

I don’t see any connection to how it might be racist. Are there any references to a specific race? If not, you should be fine.

And:

Personally, I think this take on goblins is far enough removed from abusive stereotypes to get a “pass” from me.

The logical fallacy in these two answers is: “it is (probably) not racist, because this is not about humans, and I do not see a direct reference to specific groups of humans (i.e. ‘a specific race’).”

More crudely translated: “since this is about goblins and not about me or any actual people being discriminated, I don’t see any racist elements.”

My answer:

While goblins are not humans, the description on goblins itself is completely racist.

See below two definitions and further clarification.


Racism:
1) the belief that different races possess distinct characteristics, abilities, or qualities, especially so as to distinguish them as inferior or superior to one another.

2) prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism by an individual, community, or institution against a person or people on the basis of their membership of a particular racial or ethnic group

In brief: all that we can find in the description of “goblins” above are extremely negative qualities, projected on the group or species as a whole (“Goblins are” instead of “The goblins we generally meet“).

Several of the items in the description focus on their assumed / alledged inferiority (no moral values, thieves, ugly) and are antagonizing (their alledged cruelty and unreliability).

What is missing:
1: Is this the view of the outside world to goblins?
2: How is their society really functioning?
3: How do they perceive themselves?
4: How does this compare to other societies? (Slave trade was not something exclusive to one specific culture for instance. Do all goblin societies trade in slaves?)

To make a presentation of Goblins non-racist, it is important to be clear where the negative image comes from (who is spreading those ideas? why?) and to paint a picture of their societies and cultures from a positive light.

Just some ideas to open the re-thinking-process:

What if Goblins have literature, art and science? What if their sense of beauty is strongly developed and in several ways similar to ours? What if their societies at that point in time are equally complex as human ones (where one city can, for instance, contain several different idiological and other groups) or actually much more developed than humans? With democratic systems and good legal systems and centered on care, several different religions, striving for wellbeing for all, and so on?

What if there are areas in big cities where goblins live next to humans and other species? And what if those areas function well? As in: law is implemented. Not much crime. Diverse groups within the group of goblins. And so on.

What if the gambling and baby-stealing goblins are the outcasts? (you mentioned this in one of the responces) For instance: people who ran away to escape imprisonment? (ruthless) Criminals? Murderers? Heretics? People who can no longer pay their “debts” to criminal organizations and will be murdered? Outcasts for other reasons? (Class, heritage, religion, sexuality) And what if those outcasts end up in human society because a goblin need to survive anywhere and at least there is food and shelter (and people you can steal from and gable with, and con)?

What if the human beauty-standards distort the image of goblins by default? What if we deliberately distorted and uglified the descriptions of the way any goblin looks like? And goblins are actually not THAT ugly? –Just consider how bullies tend to describe kids who are bullied basded on their appearence. Dial that to 12– But just different? And villainized because that is what human societies do with elements (in this case runaway goblins who –several among them– have sociopathic minds?) that are considered hostile?

What if human slave drivers hate the goblin slave drivers, because they are competition? And what if this hate is reflected in a further antagonizing of goblins in general?

What if all we know of goblins is what is left behind after we -humans- deliberately tried to murder all goblins in our areas? And what if our narrative on goblins is formulated so negatively beforehand to justify that mass-murder?

What if they are even beautiful with the features they have? But we humans deliberately not choose to see them that way?

What if one or several (human) characters in the story have had personal contact with goblin societies (in cities maybe) and know that the prejudices are mostly bullshit? What if they give something to a goblin that is clearly an outcast and because of criminal behavior? What if they know what racism is hidden under “giving a goblin sweets to pass”? Because they know very well that when one is hungry and homeless, one is desperate for anything that helps to survive another day, regardless if one is human or goblin.

On morals and the confusion of the importance of god

[first draft] [introduction: this is probably the most boring point of view on this topic that I will produce]

The short version: you do not need a god to develop and apply moral values in a society and in your personal life. What you do need, is a system that helps you understand and anchor those values in your personal life, and in society at large.

For the sake of argument: let’s assume a god created us.

What strikes me most when I hear Christian ‘thinkers’ is the disrespect for that creation itself. Here is why: simple observation of animal and human behavior shows that mammals tend to automatically move towards models of collaboration, unless they are a-typical or something goes wrong (mental illness, sociopathy, certain diseases like rabies that changes the behavior).

Yes we are capable of horrible deeds, but to discard those deed simply as “because we are evil” is to avoid diving into searching for- and understanding the real reasons of this behavior.

Here is a simplified model to get a better understanding:

We are –by nature– co-dependent. We need other people to survive. We humans are much more successful in surviving when we are in groups of a certain size. And put in another way: we can’t survive alone. We behave properly because proper behavior is beneficial. We –like many mammals who need groups to survive– have a moral compass, because proper social behavior will make us more wanted by others and improper behavior will make us less wanted and less loved and less protected by the group, to the point where the group might decide to kick us out..

These traits come natural. You see it in in the interactions of toddlers: how they seek contact with other toddlers, how they try to find balance in their interactions, how the agony of one affects the other (assumed that they are neurotypical). And this is before language has developed and before we are able to walk.
But you also see this in the behavior of wild animals that have become accustomed to people. One example that is documented by youtube-videos is that of bigger wild cats that have become accustomed to humans. If they would be without basic morals, there would be no reason to tear up the human companions any moment appropriate. They have the claws and the teeth. The humans are relatively weak and unprotected. But what they display is love and affection.

That most of us are born with an ingrained moral compass, does not mean that we are saints by birth. We are also equipped with the ability to lie and conceit and to commit violence. Traits that are equally important for our survival. We need to be able to defend ourselves from attacks, fool predators and –since we also need proteïnes to survive– find and kill our prey. In more complex societies, we need to be able to fool our human peers. Especially when those peers pose a threat to our lives, our little wealth and the wellbeing of ourselves.

So why do we think we need god? Why do we create social contracts? And how do those contracts influence our moral compass?

Why do we think we need god to be good?

The short version: because this is the story certain people continue to tell us for whatever reason there is. “Without god there are no morals. Without the fear of punishment by god, there is no reason to behave properly.”

Social contracts

A simple social contract is either a “you shall not–” or a “you will do so and so when this and that happens” and “you are allowed to–“.

“You shall not kill” is one example. “You shall not kill your fellow citizens, in any circumstance” is another. “In a time of war, you are allowed to kill a fellow human that threatens the safety of your home and your nation” is yet another.

These contracts evolve. They change. They help us to survive in larger communities, where it is less and less clear who can be trusted and who might be a threat. They are created by people inside communities and injected into culture, as much as is possible.

Moral codes

Moral codes are simplifications of those social contracts.

“Treat your fellow people with dignity and respect” is one example. “Do not hurt other people,” is another. Since pain can be induced by lies, “speak the truth” or “be truthful” can be another moral code.

These moral codes help us, to “upgrade” our behavior. They help us to use the newer parts of our brains, which go beyond the instinct and which are capable of projection and self-reflection.

They help us to become better people.

They help us become better people by helping us to reflect on our own behavior with a certain set of ideas: a moral code.

But why would we want to be better people? For the fear of god? Or because being better people is rewarding to us as individuals and as a group?

I believe the latter: because it is rewarding.

It is rewarding, because when we stop and think about what we can do, we can stop ourselves from actions that might harm ourselves and others. We can stop ourselves in order to re-asses what is happening, so that we can take more effective actions.

A simple example: let’s say we suspect a person in the group of several murders. And based on our instincts, we decide to kill that person, so that these murders stop. The thing is, if we murder the wrong person, the serial killer is still free and the murders will continue.

Instead of solving the problem, we killed the wrong person.

Why moral codes are rewarding, now

Our primary reactions are based on quick assessments, on quick assumptions. Those quick assumptions are effective in most cases, but insufficient when our reality and our societies become more and more complex. So we need better tools.

Moral codes help us to take a break, re-assess the situation, and –if it turns out that we drew our conclusions too fast– to find better solutions that will lead to a better set of actions that wil lead to a better set of results.

In the case of crimes, like murder, it turns out that it is more effective to assign specific people to the task of finding the perpetrator(s). On top of that, it turns out that a legal system, in which a person is innocent until proven guilty, adds another layer of security to that proces: to reduce the chances even more, that an innocent person will pay for the crimes of the perpetrator(s). And while this system is far from perfect, it is better than a system where we assume the opposite: you are guilty until you can prove your innocense.

Do we need god to be moral?

Most religions are based on a concept of fear and dominance. The belief in god, or the fear of a god, or the fear of punishment by that god is what keeps us in line.

Without that fear –or so the narrative goes– we have no reason to behave like moral people, and we would become unhinged.

The thing is: we ARE moral people. By default. Unless one is born with a sociopath brain, in which other people are perceived as objects, and morality is a mere abstraction, not applicable to others and not related to reality.

As we are –by default– ‘hardwired’ with a moral compass that strives for harmony, it is basically an insult to god to assume that this moral compass does not exist, unless you believe in that god.

How did we get to believe that people without god are evil?

Part of it is propaganda. It is beneficiary for some people to get other people to believe that they are by default bad. This internalized self-condemnation allows for control.

Another reason is the existence of several overlapping narratives from mostly Western thinkers who concluded that since people are capable of heinous acts, we must be evil.

What was mostly overlooked in many of those studies, were the reasons for those acts. In many cases, greed plays a huge role. Poverty helps. Rulers without any concern for human suffering. As does oppression and deliberate polarization.

So why is there so much human evil?

The short version: someone benefits.

Wars are beneficial. The murders and atrocities done in wars are beneficial. Violence is beneficial. The exploitation and abuse of people is beneficial. To assure nobody protests against those wars and those violent actions is beneficial. To make people believe that those evil actions are instigated by demons and the devil is beneficial.

It is very beneficial to not be accountable for ones own deeds, to put the blame on something else (like ‘evil’ and ‘the devil’), so that one can rape, murder, steal and enrich themselves at the cost of others, without receiving a punishment from the group at large.

To understand how this is possible, you need to understand that this problem is not new, and that we are part of a society and part of a system that is based on systems of hate, disrespect and abuse, which are so deeply ingrained in our culture and our narratives, that we consider them to be normal. For instance: it is normal in many of our societies to hate people who have a different skin color than ours. It is normal in many societies to look down on- and be abusive to women. It is normal in many societies to punish your children and force them into certain roles, without really checking whether that is what they want. It is normal in many societies to joke about abuse and to consider the abusers to be heroes and the victims of that abuse to be responsible for that abuse. It is normal in many societies to hate people from other regions, or people who do not share your specific beliefs, even if you have never met them.

Human evil exists, because some people benefit from the evil actions we are able to perform on others. It exists because some people benefit from making us believe in false and incorrect representations of reality. And because we believe in those incorrect models of reality, we actually perform several actions on a daily basis, that are harmful to others.

We are told to believe in the devil, because some people benefit from the distortion that this belief creates on our view on reality.

We do not need god to be good

To understand religious, you need to understand that all religions are built around structures of power. And within that structure of power, it is very important that people move as little as possible.

When people are by default, moral people, we do not need god to be good. We simply need to find ways to make sure that we act in a proper way, based on a factual and proper understanding of the immediate reality we live in.

For instance: if our collective actions are harmful to the world, we need to find other ways to get what we need. If war is harmful to people, we need to stop fighting wars. If the greed of a powerful few is a main cause in recurring waves of global human suffering, we need to fix that problem. If not eating meat helps to slow down global warming, we need to eat less meat. If not consuming useless crap helps to stop global warming even more, we need to stop consuming useless crap.

If our personal safety is dependent on the wellbeing of others, we need to make sure that nobody suffers of poverty and everyone has access to means to improve their mental health.

We can talk about higher morals, but the simple reality is that we are transactional beings. We keep count. We strive for balance. Goodness is a result.

If you can live in harmony, if conflicts can be resolved by talking and negotiation, and without violence, if every action you take leads to an small and positive improvement in- and for your world, than your own world is already becoming a better world.

If your actions primarily lead to concrete and measurable destruction in this world, you are not doing a good thing.

Writing: playful banter between two characters

Someone posted the question: “Where is the line between playful teasing and bullying when it comes to sibling characters?”

I replied:

On your question.
Keywords for playful bantering: boundaries, mutual respect, safe space, balance, performance/play/creative.

Boundaries, safe space & mutual respect:
Both know how far they can go and where to stop. Both will go as far as they can, but also stop when they are about to step over the edge where it will start to hurt / where it is no longer safe. Both strife to keep the bantering a safe space.

How to show this: One will step over the edge, see the hurt and stop immediately, will give a signal that they understood this was too much.
One will step over the edge. The other might respond with even harsher response to indicate “you went too far”. Both might be silence for a moment, acknowledging this was too far. “You went too far” might also be something like a punch on the arm.

Balance:
One will always respond. Both will get equal space for expression. Responses are at least as terrible. (Depending on the form of the game) There is always a form of funny.
Both get the opportunity to score. Both challenge the other to score and might give deliberate hints and openings to where the other might even top the previous remark, like a constant buildup. Both create opportunities for the other to score. Both win. Both will create deliberate opportunities for the other to win.

Disbalance 1: one that started will try to get last word. Continue to push. Maybe they are angry. Maybe something is frustrated or wrong. The other will call the other out. “You need to stop. What the fuck is going on. Are you OK?”

Disbalance 2: One is harsh / mean, and expects the other to just take it, but becomes angry when the other responds in a similar way.

Disbalance 3: the other creates no openings, will be defensive or offensive without any opening for a response. The other will create mostly opportunities to win for themselves.

Performance/play/creative:
Both know it is a play / playful performance and that creativity might be and important part of that play. This play has rules. And those rules can be complicated or simple. (‘Complicated’ can be: “each sentence or each 3rd word in a response has to be/contain a swearword” and/or: “each swearword is related to an animal” like “those shoes are as attractive as a duck’s anus” and/or “each next response has to be worse / more absurd”) Those rules can be different each time and will probably be “what we come up with at that moment”. Part of those rules are balance, boundaries and mutual respect. Complete absurdity might be part of it.
This play can be performative to others, either to change the dynamics in a room for the better (think of improvised stand-up comedy, but performed as a play between 2 people, where the audience is played as well, but not directly addressed), or to deliberately annoy other people.

Respectful performance: the boundaries of the audience are respected. The audience is observed and the moment the audience responds negative / gives signs that they no longer feel safe, the play changes so things shift back to a safer place.

Bullying:
One-sided. No giving. Only taking. No balance. No respect. Not a play. No respect for boundaries. No respect for the other(s). Aimed at winning at the cost of the other.

Inclusive writing: On plot, “should do” and making things easier

When you start writing, there is a lot of things you “should” and “should not” do, which is creating a lot of chaos.
“You should show, not tell”, “You should be inclusive”, “everything in a story (that is out of the ordinary) should have a reason / should be relevant for the plot” and so on.
The chaos is mostly:
“What does it mean?”
“Am I doing this right?”
And: “X says [A] should be [B], but Y says [B] is not [A] because of [D], and Z is claiming that [B] excludes [A] and [D] except when [M] on rainy days”

When you want to, but this is not your default

When you, as a new writer, feel that you “should” be inclusive, this might be because other people are telling you (or demanding) that you should.

So you come up with an idea centering on people outside your comfort zone. You test drive it in some places, and you might discover that you got it totally wrong, that the required changes will totally change several of your story lines and that it will require a lot of extra research to get it right. This on top of all the other things you still need to figure out. And as far as you know at that point of time, you need to be able to defend each and all choices, like you are writing a dissertation for a group of intellectuals.
So what do you do? you want the story to be written. you do not want to spend even more time in even more research about topics outside of your current experience. And you do not want to get it wrong.

Opting out might seems like the safest (and maybe even wisest) choice (for that moment).

Why should you stick to the characters?

In most cases it seems you only have two options:

  1. Your plot revolves around people who are diverse in background and sexual orientation. To get it right, to not be harmful, you need to do deep research and reduce your mistakes as much as possible.
  2. You only write stories about people like yourself.

But I think there is a third option:

  1. Your story contains more than 3 people (maybe including your main character) who are diverse in ethnicity, personal background and sexual orientation and their diversity is casual and absolutely not relevant for the plot.

In short: you should stick to your characters, because it is better to have shallow, non-harmful representation than no representation at all.

Why the “why” is actually quite irrelevant

Most writers struggle with “why” when they start to include a more diverse cast. “Why is this character in this story?” “Why do they deserve a place in the narrative?”

Especially when something is outside of their perception of “normal”. There “has to be a reason” for a character to be “not normal”. In many cases because the writer is scared people will think the character (and the story) is “unrealistic” when a “not normal” person takes the place of a “normal” person [1] [2].

[1] On that: we all grow up with racist, classist concepts deliberately formulated to exclude certain (groups of) people from certain roles. We are all bombarded on a daily basis by messages pegging people “not like us” into limited roles based on certain traits that we do not recognize as “ours”. People who need to know “why” a certain person plays a certain role in your story, or claim that it is “unrealistic” (when there is no physical or other real limitation stopping that character), usually do so from those cognitive bubbles laced with racist, sexist, and classist concepts and narratives of people and the world.

[2] Also on that: some (white, able) publishers, (proof)readers and critics expect that you explicitly justify the existence of “not normal” characters in roles which are otherwise taken by able, white people, by adding a “believable” narrative (usually centering on suffering) on those characters in a way they can “recognize”. Otherwise it is –within their cognitive bubble– impossible to accept the role of that “not normative” person within that story.

Plot is not driven by sexual orientation, or the specific traits or possible handicaps of a person. Plot is driven by what a character wants, and what they need to achieve to get that thing that they want. The same goes for conflict and the twists and turns in your story.

The moment “explaining why” is taken out of the equation, representation becomes more easy. “My character is a black women in a wheelchair in a managerial role in a big corporation. Why? Because this is my story (and you can fuck off with your racism, sexism and able-ism if you think this is weird or impossible).”

Do you need to address racism, sexism and able-ism now that this is your main character? Not if that is not relevant for the story you want to tell. As said: people can exist in places where certain other people — based on their racist, sexist and able-ist preconceptions, think they should not.

A possible process you can use

But how do you do this? To give an example of a possible process you can use:

Let’s say you are a cis/het white writer, living in a completely white area where all your friends and all the people you meet are white, heterosexual and able-bodied.
What you can do is:

  1. Start writing, using your defaults — Start writing the story as you would normally do, not thinking about representation at all. Is everyone male and heterosexual and able-bodied in that first draft? Let hem be.
  2. Swap gender, traits and abilities — Start to do some “swapping” in the second draft. So “John”, the best friend, becomes “Rani” who happens to be diabetic — which is hinted to once, when she takes out her phone opens an app, and says: “let me check my sugar levels”. “Charles” who is married with “Ellen” now has a relationship with “Patrick” and their child, “Wesley”, is now a female Golden Retriever named “Debby”.
  3. Keep it simple — Deliberately ignore all the internal “yes but now–” alarm bells that go off. People are people and being “different” does not suddenly change everything. Nor does it suddenly require more justifications for their existence in the story.
  4. Fuck explanations, but check your assumptions — You do not have to give anyone any reason “why” you choose not to write solely about white people, if you are a white person yourself. Just check if you do not accidently insert racist and sexist and able-ist bullshit in your work.

And yes: this is shallow as hell. You –the writer– do not change or add any backstories. You do not do any real research. You do not add any subplots based on those “new” features of your characters. You do not include the possible socio-economic impact of certain traits[3]. There is no need for a “reason” why the character is “not normal”. They simply “are” / exist. And they are simply written as you (as a discovering writer) would write your “normal” characters.

[3] as any of these characters can exist in any layer of society and because deliberate exclusion based on assumed issues based on your personal perception of social class is worse than being shallow.

On the “yes but now–“: let’s say one of your characters has some kind of trait that might, would or could “normally” “impair” them. Your first thought might be: “Now all kinds of extra complications need to be added to the narrative related to this characters life, because justification, plot and explanation, and I need to research them thoroughly to get it right”.
You swap that for: “in this story, all those complications do exist and they are solved off-screen“.

Again: shallow as hell. But –as a reader– I rather see myself casually mentioned and treated as normal than non-existing or surrounded by all kinds of (invented) “problems” because the writer needs to “justify” that existence with “backstories” to “convince” “normal” readers that a “not normal” character (in a “not normal” role) has a right to exist in that place in that story.

As a writer grows in their (casual) writing of not cis/hetero/white characters, there will be more room to investigate / research specifics and add more politically charged backstory related to specific traits of that character, that actually makes sense.

It is a good way to de-condition yourself

As said and indicated, we are all conditioned to think certain things about certain people, based on what others around us (including in the media we consume) say about those people around us.

To not offer any explanation why you use a certain characters in a certain role, and to not go into the background-story of those characters, except for what you would do for a “normal” character is a simple and effective first step to de-condition yourself away from the idea that:

  1. Writing “others” includes “the need to be an expert on all related issues” and “the need to know (and ‘expose’) (all) their problems in life” in order “to do proper representation”
  2. A writer needs to defend the reason one or more characters in a story are not-white, not-cis, not-het when the writer themself is cis/white/hetero.

In most cases, people just “are”.

NBD Biblion en AI-recensies

NBD Biblion kwam de afgelopen week met een bericht dat de recensenten die tot nu toe voor Biblion boeken beoordeelden, niet meer nodig zijn. Want AI. En dat gaf behoorlijk wat ontsteltenis bij de mensen die ik ken, die Biblion-beoordelingen schrijven. Over AI en hoe goed AI is in het beoordelen van dingen, later meer.

Eerst kijken we naar wat NBD Biblion over zichzelf te zeggen heeft, bold door mij, om de kernwoorden te benadrukken:

We geloven in de kracht van bibliotheken en de verhalen die hier te vinden zijn. Verhalen in allerlei soorten en maten die leesbevordering en leesplezier stimuleren. Omdat ze de verbeelding prikkelen, mensen helpen de wereld beter te begrijpen en kennis vergroten. We zetten ons dagelijks in om bibliotheken zoveel mogelijk te ondersteunen en te ontzorgen. Ook binnen de snel veranderende digitale samenleving.

Goed.

Zonder ontwikkeling ga je niet vooruit. Daarom investeren we in techniek, digitalisering en data. Dat geeft ons de mogelijkheid om steeds meer maatwerkoplossingen te bieden, gebaseerd op lokale data en actualiteit. Kwalitatief, vernieuwend en zoveel mogelijk kant en klaar. Zodat de branche ook in de toekomst relevant kan blijven vanuit een steeds breder ontwikkelende maatschappelijke en culturele rol.

Prima.

NBD Biblion stelt in ieder geval dat kwaliteit belangrijk is, en dat ze zichzelf zien als een speler die kan zorgen dat bibliotheken ook in de toekomst een relevante rol kunnen blijven spelen op maatschappelijk en cultureel vlak.

Daarin speelt volgens NBD Blblion onder andere het volgende een rol van belang: verhalen die mensen helpen de wereld te begrijpen, en werk dat helpt om de kennis (van/over die wereld) te vergroten.

De conclusie eerst

Heel kort:

Kunstmatige intelligentie is beperkt in wat het kan. En wat het niet kan is een boek beoordelen op de inhoudelijke en artistieke kwaliteit van het schrijfwerk. Als de scores van menselijke recensies belangrijk zijn in de keuze van aankoop van boeken door bibliotheken, dan hebben we een probleem.

Iets langer:

Ik geloof niet in de objectiviteit van een recensent. Ik ben van mening dat de mening van elke lezer gekleurd wordt door vooroordelen en overtuigingen. Maar iets is beter dan niets.

Artistieke waarde

Een kunstmatige intelligentie kan veel meten en afwegen, maar –nog– niet beoordelen of een boek artistieke waarde heeft, goed geschreven is, en of dat boek de moeite van het lezen waard is. Daarover later meer.

Gate-keeping voor schadelijke bullshit

Een kunstmatige intelligentie kan eveneens niet echt bepalen of een bepaald werk propaganda is voor een (bij elkaar gelogen) alternatieve werkelijkheid (“de holocaust heeft nooit plaatsgevonden”, “kanker is een schimmel”, “Putin is een goede leider en Rusland heeft nooit iets fout gedaan”, “mensen met een donkere huidskleur zijn niet in staat om rationeel na te denken”) waardoor boeken met misleidende onzin en schadelijke inhoud evenveel kans krijgen om in een bibliotheek te komen, als boeken met een gedegen onderbouwing, en boeken die een positieve bijdrage kunnen leveren in de positieve (zelf)ontwikkeling van kinderen en volwassenen.

Expliciet aangegeven: “we hebben het niet nodig”?

Indien heel veel bibliotheken expliciet hebben aangegeven: “We maken nauwelijks gebruik van de recensies en de scores van de Biblion-recensenten”, dan hebben die recensies en de scores die (mogelijk) aan die recensies zijn gekoppeld, weinig toegevoegde waarde en is er weinig probleem om die boeken door kunstmatige intelligenties te laten analyseren. Systemen zijn consistenter in het meten van bepaalde dingen, en in dat opzicht beter te vertrouwen dan mensen. Zeker als het gaat om vele duizenden verschillende werken.

Meetbare kenmerken zijn onvoldoende voor een waarde-oordeel

Maar wat uit een system komt, is niet veel meer dan een lijst van meetbare kenmerken. Aantal woorden, zinlengtes, hoeveel het werk qua patronen op dat van andere schrijvers lijkt– zie later voor een breder overzicht. Maar niet of zinnen betekenis dragen, of de volgorde van handelingen binnen scenes onzinnig zijn, en of die handelingen en de reacties op die handelingen van de personages aansluiten op de drijfveren en passies van die personages. Daarvoor is nog steeds een menselijke lezer nodig. En zelfs als die menselijke lezer bevooroordeeld is, lever deze lezer nog steeds een aanzienlijk beter resultaat dan een kunstmatige intelligentie.

Als die mening wel belangrijk is

Als die menselijke mening belangrijk is voor inkopers, en nu weg gaat vallen, krijgen we mogelijk een probleem. Ofwel het werk van recensenten –dat nu blijkbaar grotendeels vrijwilligerswerk met een kleine vergoeding van 14 euro is– gaat verplaatst worden naar de inkopers (die ook geld kosten) ofwel de keuses voor inkoop gaan bepaald worden op secundaire informatie, zoals: “hoe bekend is de schrijver? Hoe bekend is de uitgever?” wat zeer waarschijnlijk tot vervlakking van het aanbod van papieren boeken binnen de bibliotheken gaat leiden: voornamelijk populair werk van populaire schrijvers.

Het kan zijn dat het gat van de Biblion-recensies ingevuld gaat worden door secundaire bronnen: tijdschriften en andere publicaties die op hun beurt en vanuit hun bronnen besprekingen leveren. En dat de inkoop van papieren boeken deels bepaald gaat worden door top-10 en top-20 boeken bij recensiesites en platforms als Amazon.com

Wat kan een AI wel en niet?

Hieronder een aantal voorbeeld van afbeeldingen die via een Google Collab-project: Disco Diffusion gemaakt zijn. Met Artificial Intelligence.

Zach DeBord, SF Landscape. Prompt: “windy hills filled with futuristic modern monotlithic villages and busy round spaceports surrounded with mecha buildings by Syd Mead and John Harris and Moebius and Simon Stålenhag on artstation”

David Gianotti, Inspired by Atlantis portal. prompt: “Massive underwater forest in sprawling ancient ruins of atlantis, a dramatic matte painting by Tyler Edlin, trending on artstation, vivid and vibrant”, “teal color scheme”.

Tot zover alles goed. We krijgen redelijk mooie plaatjes, die behoorlijk voldoen aan de prompts. Deze plaatjes komen voort uit een beginsituatie en ruis, waarin de AI stap voor stap gaat “filteren” op basis van de wensen / sleutelwoorden in de prompt.

Waarin de AI redelijk goed is, is stijl, compositie, en een vertaling van de prompt. Het “begrijpt” wat bedoeld wordt met woorden als “Ancient ruins”, “Atlantis” en “matte painting by Tyler Edlin”. Maar het heeft absoluut geen flauw benul van de inhoud. Wat het doet is het maken van collages op basis van verschillende bronnen. Het “droomt” een afbeelding, die met elke volgende stap in het proces beter wordt en meer vorm en details krijgt, maar het is zich niet bewust van de daadwerkelijke acties, of de inhoud van het resultaat.

Dat wordt duidelijker zodra we menselijke en mensachtige vormen gaan introduceren.

Thien Warder. prompt: Bonobo chimps with appealing human aesthetics.

Rodney Mancheko. Prompt: “artist Otto Dix”, verder onbekend

Het programma, de AI, levert in alle voorbeelden die ik gezien heb, totaal rare resultaten als het gaat om menselijke figuren en menselijke gezichten. Dit komt voornamelijk omdat die AI nog niet is getraind in het herkennen en filteren op dat soort specifieke kenmerken.

De resultaten zijn behoorlijk indrukwekkend, maar bij een gebrek aan daadwerkelijk begrip van die AI ten aanzien van wat het produceert, is het voornamelijk bruikbaar als beginpunt voor iets anders. (Tenzij je als kunstenaar bewust zoekt naar dit soort vervreemdende beeld-soep.)

Hoe werkt een AI, grofweg?

Een AI is –over het algemeen– een simulatie van een neuraal netwerk.

Een AI begingt met een simpel doel en geen kennis, en wordt getraind om steeds beter te worden in de uitvoer van dat doel.
De AI probeert binnen dat doel verschillende opties en verschillende variaties op bepaalde handelingen. Vervolgens wordt een score aan elk resultaat gegeven, door een feedback-systeem. Dat kunnen mensen zijn, die zeggen: “dit was goed” en “dat was niet goed”. Des te vaker een bepaalde variatie op een handeling “goed” is, en des te hoger de “goed”-score is over een reeks handelingen, des te hoger het gewicht van die bepaalde keuzes, en zo voorts.

Dankzij dit proces (dat in geval van mechanische handelingen ook via geautomatiseerde feedback plaats kan vinden) leert een AI steeds beter om een specifieke taak uit te voeren. Maar alles dat buiten dat geleerde deel valt, is chaos voor een AI.

Wat ook plaatsvindt is een proces van “pruning”. Alle paden die een lage score / een laag gewicht hebben, worden op een gegeven moment opgeruimd, omdat ze niet effectief genoeg zijn, daarmee geen nut hebben, en daarmee dus niet relevant om behouden te worden. Ook dankzij dat proces, wordt een AI steeds beter in de specifieke taken die aan een specifiek doel zijn verbonden.

Kun je een AI trainen om boeken te lezen?

Heel kort: ja en nee.

Een AI kan tot op bepaalde hoogte teksten analyseren. Dit kan onder andere op basis van onder andere:

  1. Stijl-patronen — zoals zin-lengtes, woord-lengtes, alinea-lengtes en het ritme en gebruik van bepaalde woorden. Deze patronen kunnen in kaart worden gebracht en worden vergeleken met die van andere boeken, van dezelfde schrijver en van andere schrijvers. Met die patronen kan bijvoorbeeld geschat worden hoeveel de stijl van schrijver A lijkt op dat van schrijver B.
  2. Patronen met betrekking tot tijd, plaats en personages — zoals: hoeveel personages spelen een significante rol, gebaseerd op het aantal keer dat ze genoemd worden en de lading van de woorden rondom de plekken waar ze genoemd worden? Hoeveel stukken spelen in het narrative verleden? Over welke tijdspanne speelt het werk? Is de opzet van het verhaal lineair in tijd of niet? Speelt het op veel verschillende plaatsen? Welke daarvan lijken het meest significant?
  3. Patronen met betrekking tot spanning en rust — via de stijl-patronen kan verder worden gezien waar een boek “spannend” wordt en waar de gebeurtenissen “rustig” of “beschouwend” zijn. Waar zinnen korter worden, en woorden worden gebruikt met een hogere urgentie (scheldwoorden, vloekwoorden, bepaalde actie-woorden) is de spanningsboog waarschijnlijk hoger en strakker gespannen.
  4. Patronen met betrekking tot genre en soorten acties — Romantiek heeft bepaalde patronen, net als spanning, horror, bespiegelend werk, avontuurlijke verhalen, en verhalen vol geweld en seks. Porno heeft patronen, net als literair werk met veel seks.
  5. Patronen met betrekking tot emotionele lading — boze tekst heeft bepaalde patronen, net als cynische, saaie, droge, bloemrijke en humoristische tekst.
  6. Patronen met betrekking tot discriminatie — op basis van bepaalde kernwoorden en bepaalde context waarin die kernwoorden gebruikt worden.
  7. Patronen met betrekking tot diversiteit — je kunt op basis van onder andere namen en bepaalde kernwoorden achterhalen of een boek rijk is aan een diverse cast, en waar die diversiteit ligt. Is dat op het vlak van LGBTQ+? Religie en religieuze stromingen, personages met een diverse etniciteit? Een diverse socio-economische achtergrond? En zo voorts

Daarin zullen nog steeds fouten zitten. Als de training van die AI slecht is, dan zal het ook slechte resultaten leveren. En een AI kan herkennen waarvoor het getraind is, maar is niet werkelijk in staat zinvol voorbij die horizon te kijken. En zelfs als de AI voor meer dan 90% correct is in de aannames / wegingen die het doet, dan nog weten we niet of een boek ook goed is. “Goed” hangt af van onder andere:

  1. Structuur, motivatie en verhaalopbouw — Een verhaal kan in woorden en acties heel spannend of diep lijken, maar structureel een rommel zijn. Acties kunnen dan wel plaatsvinden, maar vanuit de personages en hun motivaties volledig onlogisch en onzinnig zijn.
  2. Inhoud, of de diepere onderliggend lagen — Ik kan als schrijver heel veel woorden gebruiken die individueel veel betekenis hebben, daarmee heel intelligent overkomen voor een AI, maar uiteindelijk –met die woordensalade– nog steeds helemaal niets van belang of inhoud zeggen.
  3. Subtext, of de dingen die impliciet verteld en getoond worden — Bijvoorbeeld: waarom is een cast juist wel of niet divers? Is die diversiteit puur om punten te scoren, of zit er ook een verhaal onder? Als die cast divers is, wordt deze dan respectvol behandeld? Of is het werk een pamflet tegen die diversiteit? Als een cast niet divers is, is dat juist een betoog voor die diversiteit, of een reflectie van de beperkte belevingswereld van de schrijver?

En dit is voor fictie, en slechts een kleine greep. Wetenschappelijk werk is een heel ander verhaal, waar ik weinig over kan zeggen, behalve dat AI daar voornamelijk heel goed is in het opsporen van potentieel plagiaat.

Voor structuur, inhoud en subtext zijn menselijke lezers nodig, die geoefend zijn in het lezen en detecteren van dit soort elementen. Een AI is daar –om heel veel verschillende redenen naast de reeds genoemde– simpelweg niet toe in staat. Onder andere omdat het geen mens is, en geen menselijke ervaringen heeft waarmee het zaken als subtext en complexere maatschappelijke zaken kan beoordelen.

Zijn menselijke besprekingen werkelijk nodig voor bibliotheken?

Als ik kijk naar mijn eigen inkoopproces van muziek en boeken, dan zit ik op de wip. En wel hierom: een recensent heeft altijd een andere smaak dan ikzelf en ik ben het meer dan eens oneens met de mening en conclusie van een recensent. Mede omdat ik andere criteria hanteer. Waar ik wel iets aan heb zijn kernwoorden. Wat is het genre? Wat is het subgenre? Welke thema’s worden aangehaald? Voor wie is het bestemd? Dit is informatie die in principe door de uitgever geleverd kan worden.

Als ik wil bepalen of dat boek, met die thema’s, de moeite van mijn aandacht waard is, dan scan ik een aantal pagina’s, en grofweg één zin per pagina. Daaruit blijkt snel genoeg op welk niveau die schrijver zit.

Ik snap het belang. Ik zie ook dat de criteria die nu door NBD Biblion voor fictie gebruikt worden erg mager zijn. Hieronder een impressie van wat het nieuwe systeem oplevert.

Kort samengevat: “Dit is een boek. Het gaat ergens over. De schrijver is bekend. Je moet je enigszins concentreren om het te lezen. Het is (af en toe) best wel duister. Er zit best wel veel geweld en seks in.”

Dit zegt dus geen reet over het boek zelf: of het goed geschreven is, of het relevant is voor de tijd waarin we leven, waarom het relevant zou kunnen zijn voor lezers. Anders gezegd: dit boek kan totale, onrelevante saaie bagger zijn, met slechtgeschreven proza, ongeloofwaardige personages en ongeloofwaardige gebeurtenissen. Zelfs als de AI denkt dat het “spannend” is.

Het is op dat vlak waar een menselijke lezer invulling kan geven. Vanuit hun subjectieve gezichtspunt. Maar heb ik dat nodig als ik boeken inkoop? Waar selecteer ik op? Wat maakt een werk relevant genoeg om bij mij in de bibliotheek op de planken te komen staan?

Ik snap de kritiek op het systeem van Biblion. Maar om andere redenen. Als softwaredeveloper vind ik dat het resultaat uit het systeem behoorlijk mager is ten aanzien van wat ik zou kunnen of willen doen met een AI en de analyse van een tekst door een AI. Zie om te beginnen de 7 patronen hierboven die door een AI geanalyseerd kunnen worden.

Heb ik die recensies nodig? Wat als ik ze –als inkoper– toch nooit lees? Het systeem van Biblion is een database. Ik kan daar dus selectiecriteria op loslaten die zoeken in criteria die gewogen en gemeten zijn door een systeem, en daarmee in ieder geval eenduidig zijn, en met die eenduidigheid betrouwbaarder dan wat een menselijk lezer me kan geven.

De volgende vraag is dan: wie bepaalt of een boek het waard is aangekocht te worden? Is dat de inkoper van de bibliotheek? Dan bepaalt die inkoper wat relevante informatie is. Als een recensie minder belangrijk is dan –bijvoorbeeld– een aantal kernwoorden en de mogelijkheid om door dat werk te bladeren voor een quickscan, dan kan een recensie komen te vervallen.

De waarde van een bibliotheek

Een bibliotheek geeft het grotere publiek de mogelijkheid in contact te komen met werk van een bepaalde minimale kwaliteit, die ze elders niet, of minder makkelijk zouden kunnen zien of verkrijgen. In het geval van een bibliotheek betreft dat informatie over andere landen, over dieren, over de geschiedenis van landen en volkeren, over arbied en arbeidsrecht, mensenrechten, programmeertalen, techniek, filosofie en filosofische stromingen, religie en religieuze stromingen, ideologieen en ideologische stromingen, en zo voorts.

Een bibliotheek is zowel een poortwachter tegen werk van verdachte- en mindere kwaliteit als een promotor van kennis en van kwalitatief beter werk. Het stelt mensen uit demografieen met lage inkomens in staat om boeken te lezen die ze anders nooit zouden kunnen lezen. Het maakt het mogelijk om de potentiele kenniskloof tussen mensen met verschillende inkomens te verkleinen, omdat een boek voor slechts een paar cent per week geleend kan worden, omdat de toegang tot kennis gedemocratiseerd is en niet exclusief gehouden wordt voor een bevoorrechte minderheid.

Tot slot

Ik begrijp de commotie rondom het afstoten van recencenten. Ik denk ook dat het belangrijk is dat NBD Biblion meer inzicht gaat geven in wat ze nu meten, wat ze willen gaan meten, hoe ze het selectieproces bij de biobliotheken gaan verbeteren (kan een inkoper het werk inzien? Kan gekozen worden op kernwoorden?), wat volgens hen de behoeften zijn van bibliotheken, en bij hoeveel bibliotheken deze behoefte (of het ontbreken daarvan mbt recensies) daadwerkelijk gemeten is.

Ik snap de zorg mbt de schuifjes. Wil ik als bibliotheek boeken inkopen die moeilijk leesbaar zijn? Of veel seks bevatten? Mogelijk pornografisch zijn? Ding is dat dit een beleids-issue is van de betreffende bibliotheken en een stukje opvoeding van de inkopers: “Jij, de inkoper, bent niet het primaire publiek. Je dient de mensen die deze boeken komen lenen. Je doel is een zo breed mogelijk aanbod te geven van genres en van werk met een bepaalde kwaliteit.”

Als het gebied, waarbinnen die bibliotheek staat, zwaar tegen bepaalde dingen is (geweld, openlijk schrijven over seks en seksuele geaardheid, en zo voorts) en de inkopers steunen die weerzin, dan zal een positieve recensie van een boek van Giphart minder waarde hebben dan de mening van een boek-lener die terugkomt met klachten over de hoeveelheid seks en geweld.

Als het gaat om onafhankelijke kleinere uitgevers (waarvan “mijn” Edge Zero er één van is) dan wordt mijn zorg iets groter. Want wat bepaalt het inkoopbeleid? Is de inkoper actief op zoek naar fantastische literatuur als aanvulling van hun bestand? Willen ze werk van kleinere uitgevers een kans geven, of speelt een inkoper liever op blind en veilig en wordt alleen werk ingekocht van de bekende en gevestigde uitgevers? Zoekt de inkoper actief op specifieke thema’s om een zo breed mogelijk aanbod te geven –zeker als die thema’s voornamelijk gedekt worden door kleinere uitgevers– of gaat die inkoper puur voor de mainstream en wat bekend en veilig is?

Hoe lui is die inkoper? Kies hij/zij alleen boeken met een 4- en 5-sterren-score? In dat geval krijgt de mening van een menselijke lezer aanzienlijk meer gewicht, maar kan deze ook verstikkend werken als het gaat om werk dat wel relevant is, maar simpelweg niet in het (mogelijk ideologische en/of bevooroordeelde en/of kortzichtige) straatje van de recensent past en daardoor dus automatisch minder stemmen krijgt.

Hoe werk ik als inkoper? Lees ik de reviews in kranten, bladen, op websites die specifiek voor dat doel zijn opgezet en ingericht? Of stuur ik puur op 1 bron: de NBD Bilblion-besprekingen?

Wie wordt de poortwachter voor bagger? Voor “wetenschappelijke” boeken die vol onzin staan?

Het kan heel goed zijn dat NBD Biblion gedegen onderzoek heeft gedaan bij de bibliotheken in het bestand en dat de conclusie was dat recensies minder relevant zijn dan een goede scoring van de inhoud, op basis van een korte omschrijving van de uitgever, waarin de kern wordt neergezet, een handvol kernwoorden waarop snel en simpel gezocht en gevonden kan worden, en een handvol generieke, inhoudelijke parameters (zoals spanning, stijl, diversiteit) die door een geautomatiseerd systeem behoorlijk goed gemeten kunnen worden.

Hopelijk wordt dat duidelijk. En hopelijk is de zoekbare data meer dan het zielige beetje informatie die in de afbeelding rondom het boek van Giphart wordt getoond. Want ik zou daar met geen enkele goede wil een besluit op kunnen nemen. Behalve dat –als ik geen risico wil lopen– ik alle boeken vermijdt die niet al door gevestigde namen geschreven zijn. Wat tot een enorme verarming zou leiden.

En daarmee komen we terug bij het begin. Het NBD Biblion geeft aan dat zij:

Geloven in de kracht van bibliotheken en de verhalen die daar te vinden zijn. En in verhalen in allerlei soorten en maten die leesbevordering en leesplezier stimuleren. Omdat ze de verbeelding prikkelen, mensen helpen de wereld beter te begrijpen en kennis vergroten.

En:

Via hun systemen streven dat de branche ook in de toekomst relevant kan blijven vanuit een steeds breder ontwikkelende maatschappelijke en culturele rol.

Dat doe je niet door nietszegende informatie te leveren waaruit ik geen enkel ander beeld kan vormen dan: “het is een boek. Het gaat over dit en dat. Het is geschreven door een schrijver die wel of niet bekend is. Het bevat een beetje geweld, een beetje seks en is makkelijk te lezen.”

Dat soort nietzeggende prol leidt voornamelijk tot arbitraire keuzes en/of meer werk voor de inkopers. Want als de Biblion geen enkel inzicht geeft in de kwaliteit van een werk (is het goed geschreven? Is het de moeite van inkopen waard?) dan zal ik die informatie ergens anders vandaan moeten halen. En vaak leidt dat tot extra tijdsbesteding. Die geld kost, of afgaat van mijn avonden en weekenden.

Anders gezegd: zonder kwaliteitsscore (die een AI niet kan leveren) verplaats je de kosten. Het werk dat nu –als ik het goed begrijp– 14 euro per recensie per boek kost, wordt in het ergste geval verschoven naar de bibliotheken zelf.

Bij gebrek aan meer informatie, is dit nu voornamelijk een mogelijk-alarmerende situatie. Zorgwekkend, tot het punt waarop duidelijk wordt wie die kwalitatieve beoordelingen gaat leveren (zijn dat de inkopers? Doen ze dat door quickscans of andere wijze? Is dat meer werk dan ze normaal moeten doen?)

Het zou verder kunnen dat deze ontwikkeling –bij gebrek aan een centraal menselijk oordeel, hoe subjectief dan ook– mogelijk tot een verarming en vervlakking van de kwaliteit in het papieren aanbod in de bibliotheken gaat leiden. Wat de waarde van die bibliotheken alleen maar minder gaat maken.

In het ergste geval zal een bibliotheek voornamelijk middelmatig- en populair werk van middelmatige en populaire mensen gaan bevatten, omdat deze makkelijker te vinden zijn; zal slechtgeschreven werk meer plankruimte in gaan nemen en zal het aanbod in bibliotheken (nog meer) volledig arbitrair zijn.

Menselijke selectie is altijd twijfelachtig vanwege eerder genoemde redenen, maar als je niets kunt bieden dat concreet en aantoonbaar beter is, wordt de situatie voornamelijk slechter voor mensen die zichzelf afhankelijk opstellen van de beoordeling van anderen.

En het weinige dat ik gezien heb (eerder getoonde afbeelding), is door het enorme gebrek aan betekenisvolle informatie, aanzienelijk slechter als basis voor aankoop, dan een menselijke recensie.

Writing: on representation, and writing POC

On facebook someone wrote today:

Basically, I’m terrible at making diverse characters, at least in terms of race. For whatever reason, everyone turns out caucasian (at least in the main cast), which is getting frustrating at this point.

My only solution at this point is just get a dart board or some of my DnD die and rolling for some diversity.

I know what my barrier is and I’m trying to work on it. Half of the reason is because of the “write from what you know” and the other half is that I’m terrified of falling into a trope by accident even though I’ve researched how not to do so to death at this point.

Just… Yeah. I’m frustrated at myself and want to do better.

Someone else then wrote:

Lots of POCs do not want white people writing stories about them, from what I’ve been told, especially not as perspective characters.

Now, that second part, on “Lots of POC do not want to…” is a common misconception. There are indeed several POC (people of color) who are outpoken against non-POC writers writing POC and against non-POC writers writing about the experiences of POC, and racism experienced by POC.

However: there are several issues with “do not ever write” which will be covered in some detail below. The brief digest from several other sources I trust more is roughly as follows (bold for convenience and focus on the main points):

  1. Please DO include people of color in your stories, even as main characters, because we exist as well and we do not need more stories excluding us and other POC from any position of positive power or relevance.
  2. Please DO address racism (if you feel the need to) in your stories, as it affects everything and everyone.
  3. However: let POC write their (own, very) specific experiences on racism, poverty and so on. It is not yours to write (fictionalized / imaginary representations of such situations for POC), and because most of these experiences are based on very specific and very local expressions of racism and poverty which a white writer has never encountered and will not be able to present properly in their stories.
  4. Present people of color in your stories, but please DO NOT paint yourself as a representative or a voice for a certain community of people you are NOT part of, because with that, you continue to silence and override our voices / the voices that actually should be heard and listened to. On top of that: we have seen enough white people claiming spaces not theirs and with that: drawing all attention away from the people who do come from those communities and who should get the main stage instead. This includes occupying space in bodies of publiced works, that could have been taken by POC with those specific stories to tell instead.

Having said that, this was my contribution to the conversation in general:

It can be very confusing. Consider this:

The presentation of a diverse world with diverse people is important.

A majority of the stories written and published have a cast of white, able bodied, cis, hetero, sexually oppressed / sexually frustrated people. And when a majority of the stories written and published have a cast of white, able bodied, cis, hetero, sexually oppressed / sexually frustrated people (which has been the case for centuries in Europe and the USA) it implies that anyone who is not white, not able bodied, not cis, not heterosexual, not sexually frustrated / not sexually oppressed is simply not relevant enough to take center stage, or only relevant to be ridiculed, fetishized or villainized (which is a subset of those stories written for a white, cis, heteronormative and –in most cases– sexually frustrated/sexually oppressed audience), or simply does not exist at all (LGTBQI+ people is an example of invisible “non existing people” or “people only relevant to be ridiculed” in the majority of non-LGTBQ+ literature).

So: as a writer, you can make a choice to add even more such stories centering around white, able bodied, cis, hetero, and/or sexually oppressed / sexually frustrated people. And by doing so, you can continue to perpetuate the idea that the only “normal” and “worthy” people (to take center stage in stories) are white, able bodied, cis, hetero, sexually oppressed / sexually frustrated people.

Or you can do something else.

But that “something else” is not easy. To not add more damaging stories to an already immens body of work that perpetuates damaging stereotypes in their storytelling, you as a writer will have to:

  1. Address your own bias, your own judgemental preconcentions about people who are “other”, “strange”, “perverse”. (Mostly based on damaging ideas which are mainstream and generational and everywhere and which ALL of us have been soaked in from youth)
  2. Bypass and address a lot of nonsense put there by racist, sexist, sexually frustrated and sexually oppressed (white) people in society.
  3. Be willing to deal with the potential backlash from other writers and people in your peer-groups, because by moving away from the norm, you also break a social contract, according to some people, that is centered around the continuation of the side-tracking, silencing, villainizing and ridiculing of people who are not white, not able bodied, not cis, not hetero, not sexually oppressed / not sexually frustrated.

One way to get beyond that racist, sexist, etc. nonsense is to start listening to the voices of people who are not white, not able bodied, not cis, not hetero, not sexually oppressed / not sexually frustrated and so on. There are more and more sources online where people not part of that white … etc group are sharing their experiences and personal views on life.

Another is to do research into what makes our world racist, sexist, normalizing violence, choosing victim-blaming over addressing the real issues, and so on. A good starting point I find is: “Ain’t I a women?” by bell hooks.

Writing: on trauma

On facebook, someone asked:

Do any of you have an article (or your own brilliant thoughts) about the use of sexual assault as a plot device? I always feel my explanation of why this trope is problematic lacks the articulation that it needs.

My answer was this:

It is very easy to get it wrong, and by “trying to get it right”, getting it even more wrong.

My biggest beef with any trauma as a plot-device is that 9 out of 10 stories seem to focus mostly on:

  1. The mind and actions of the one who created the trauma (bullies, etc) or the helplessness of the victim
  2. How the victim is to blame because they should have- or should not have done something, based on what we –the audience– “know” based on that story.
  3. Suffering, suffering on top of even more suffering
  4. Completely illogical or ineffective actions by people in the story, inclusing the target, in an attempt to make them “the hero”, that totally ignore trauma and common sense, would be very bad advice in the real world, or do not make a difference to begin with.
  5. Magical or other convenient plot devices with no real ground in reality to elevate the victim of trauma into a position of power (winning a lottary, receiving an insane inheritance, and so on).
  6. Not addressing or understanding –at all– the core issues that really need to be addressed, but focusing on the pain and suffering and the crime alone. OR focusing on how shit and broken and terrible everything is, as if that is the only reality present (and with that: only furthering the idea that there is no way out).
  7. Not addressing or understanding –at all– how to deal with trauma in ways that allow one to choose better options, like: “how do I get out of a toxic environment?” and “how do I effectively deal with the daily effects of trauma in ways that really work and are NOT based on useless bullshit advice from fakes and charlatans, and do NOT involve drugs, alcohol or forms of physical self-harm?”

One aspect of any story is, that it could function as an instruction- or reference manual for those in need, to get out.

And if an “instruction manual” on trauma is not offering anything more than: “this is how it is and ever will be”, “the victim is part of the problem and the victim should have done things differently”, “we also have no fucking clue why things are this broken”, “we can offer you some (magical) fantasy-bullshit as a solution that will do nothing at all, will probably never happen in real life, or only increase your problems in real-life situations” and “there is no way out”, such story on trauma is quite useless and probably even more damaging for those who suffer and suffered that trauma than not consuming that story at all.

Writing: on dystopian stories and fascism

In this post I pose the idea that a structural lack of trust in a positive future, is due to an internalization of fascist propaganda. Whether this is by choice, or by accident is not relevant for this post.

To be clear in advance, this is an opinion piece. And it is not going to be friendly to some views.

Here is how:

Fascist propagada is one of the very few branches in which almost everything will lead to the collapse and downfall of society.

Complete inclusion of LGTBQ+ people in society? Energy from solar and wind? Respect for women and immigrants? Universal basic income? Modern art? Sexual liberation? Respect and acknowledgement of non-binary gender roles? Complete inclusion of LGTBQ+ people in a previously exclusively heteronormative society? Energy from solar and wind? Respect for women and immigrants? Freedom of choice over abortion? Gay marriage? Signs of sociatal collapse. Conspiracies. All recipies for certain doom, leading to chaos and a total end of civilization. If you buy into this fascist (and also many Conservatie Religious) propaganda bullshit.

What makes fascist propaganda rather unique, is that it has a very consistant negative view on humans (in general) as independent, self-thinking, self-regulating beings. People are sheep. And within most fascist propaganda, society is so fragile that any deviation from their vision on our current state of being (where –within that vision, for instance– everyone is heterosexual, unless society has progressed, all healthy men are by default sex gods and dominant alphas, all mentally healthy women are by default submissive baby-factories unless society has progressed, any immigrant from a different ethnicity is a potential threat to the existing cultural unless racism is no longer fashionable, all modern art and all modern architecture is a threat to cultural values and the collective mind, unless it is part of the collective spirit) can bring that proud –but apprantenly also insanelty fragile– society to its feeble knees.

Unless–! Unless it is saved by the only people who see through all the lies and all the conspiracies: the people who feel the need to create and spread this fascist propaganda. To save you!



The war of all against all, “Mad Max”, “Lord of the flies” and other similar bullshit

“Lord of the Flies”, “Mad Max”, “The book of Eli”, “The 100” and the Apple Original series “See” are five of manie movies, TV series and written stories in which (part of) the world got fucked over, governments fail and/or collapse and what is left are people mostly at war with everyone else. Each of these stories present a world full of tribes, murder and tribalism as the most-, if not the only plausable human scenario after a disaster.

But what if the base premise of each of these stories is mere bullshit? And what if each of these type of stories do noting more than to repeat and extend on a core element of fascist propaganda?

If repeating this narrative is what you want, because you truly believe that people are rotten to the core, and the only salvation, or the only probable outcome for humanity lies –for instance– in total oppression by a fascist organization, by all means, do so.

If you tend to write stories in that direction, and in your heart, you are not really a believer of the: “the only (reasonable) outcome of all post-disaster scenarios is a (fascist) dictatorship”, then start reconsidering your plot and start questioning your base assumptions.

“Yes, but I am a realist!”

People who predict the collapse of society based on scenarios where we will kill each other –for instance– for scarce resources, will often label themselves “realists”. Because that narative is what they (and perhaps you) “know to be true” based on a wealth of gloomy movies and stories filled with violence, and guns, centering around survival, murder for survival and betrayal, where “man against man” is a constant factor.

Thing is: reality has proven over and over again, that this “truth” is simplistic bullshit. People are more versitile and more deep and more sane that that.

In times of crisis, these two of many things have happened time and time and time and time and time all over again:

  1. Neurotipical people self-organize as harmoniously as possible in order to collaborate, to increase their chances of survival. These communities are –in general– self regulating and self-organizing, and will function by need instead of rule and ruler.
  2. Sociopaths will use gratuitous violence and lies and manipulation to benefit from the chaos and gain power.

While there will be violence, and gangs forming, and militia will form out of bigger gangs, the majority of people will try to find ways to make things work, by working peacefully together. And most violence will come from a vary small minority of people, for whom violence is easy.

The “why” of collaboration is very simple: we, the people, need other people to survive. And people are fragile. We do not have thick furs, fast legs and strong claws. So we need to communicate and collaborate. As such, the large majority of people is hardwired by biology to seek for harmonious solutions, to collabotrate, as these qualities are our best and most effective strategies for basic survival.

Murder and violence among our own species are –on the other hand– incredibly stupid strategies. And most people are wired against it. (Which does not mean we can’t do it. As we have proven over and over again.)

Reality is also that we are, as a group, easy to fool when we are not properly educated. Leading to societies ruled by sociopath leaders.

Some recurring elements in fascist propaganda

Most, if not all fascist propaganda I have seen until now, assumes a different default than our biological priming.

Within that view everything centers around dominance. You are either dominating, or being dominated. You are either a winner or a loser, a have- or have-not, someone who exploits and people who are there to be exploited by you. There is no middle ground. Within that worldview, collaboration is in most, if not all cases based on self-interest and by default doomed to fail, because everyone is at war against everyone, in that endless strive about (total) dominance (unless you are a “submissive type”, or unless you are governed by a authoritarian government). In that default within that worldview, everyone is a potential sociopath, primarely focused on their own interests and their own survival. Within this hostile world view, anyone else is the enemy, a competitor for resources, a potential threat, unless this person is a true believer of the central dogma of your tribe. Extending on that default, society can not exist without authority, without strict rules, without law-enforcement, without some all-seeing eye and without the fear of punishment. Because without that authority, people will –without any shred of a doubt– default to violence, to murder, to theft, to rape.

This specific world view is not unique to today, not new and not limited to fascist naratives. It is the way sociopaths see the world. It was popular, long before Adolf Hitler and in many more countries than Germany. For instance: in England, where the views of Darwin were “translated” to “behavioral science” in the shape of “social Darwinism” in which “fitness” (in “survival of the fittest”) was warped into: “survival of the strongest / the most dominant / the most powerful”. A –not entirely inconvenient– vison on human society in which poverty was not to blame on a failure of the state and the government, but on a personal failure by the individual.

Roughly 200 years before that point, Thomas Hobbes proposed in “Leviathan” that the natural state of humans, without government, without a ruler, governed by desire alone, was that of violence and greed, of “man against man”. “A war of all against all”.

Hobbes vision on the world was in favor of totalitarian rule

This specific part of Hobbes vision on the world was in favor of totalitarian rule, as it supported and promoted the idea that a society can only function when that society is governed by a higher power, as any form of personal freedom, as any choice by any unchecked person would –eventually and unavoidably– lead to violence. Wheter intended or not, it promotes the need for a controlling state, and it promotes the idea that a fear of punishment by an all-knowing God is a good thing, maybe the only thing that will keep people from raping and killing each other.

Due to this aspect (“only when people are controlled by a higher, almost godlike power, they will behave in a civil way”) it’s not an accident that we see this specific narrative return in many places where authoritorian and totalitarian rule is in place. Both in religions and in states: “People NEED a strong (and all-powerful) leader to function as a society, because without a strong ruling hand, they would plunder and rape and murder each other without end.”

“But: corruption!”

And yes: we know there is corruption in any society. We know most people can be tempted into modes of (structural) abuse. But this counts for all and everyone, including those in government. To believe a certain class of people is above others, is morally better, is to believe in the propaganda that abusive rulers used to keep the illiterate masses under their control, and that racists still use to dehumanize anyone who is not from a specific European descent.

So what about fascist propaganda?

The fascist propaganda I know, centers on three narratives:

  • A promise / threat of pending collapse and chaos — “If things continue as they do (without our leadership), society will collapse and the result will be chaos (in which only the right of the strongest / most powerful counts)”. This is a direct echo of Hobbes’: “war of all against all”
  • Loss of freedom and a totalitarian regime — “If things continue as they are, (under the rule of the current government) all our freedoms will be lost and we will all be prisoner of a totalitarian regime”. In one common variation on this scenario, this current government is mainly comprised of criminals who are slowly scheming towards a total powergrab that will give them complete control over the population.
  • Only we can save you — “Only we can save you from this fate. Because we know the truth, and only we have working solutions for the problems of this time.” This narrative includes the invalidation of any opposing party. By framing them as incompetents, enemies, enemies of the people, liars, frauds, thieves, rapists, murderers, pedofiles, crooks, members of conspiracy rings, satanists, and so on. In this, the government in place is framed as the enemy of the people. Sinster. Evil. And the only party still pure and clean are they.

Concluding

I started this post with the propostion that “a structural lack of trust in a positive future, is due to an internalization of fascist propaganda”. I also stated that whether this is by choice, or by accident is not relevant for this post.

It is OK to write stories with a dystopian future, based on current developments. Stories like that can show a reader what can go wrong if we continue on a certain path. “1984” is one example of this.

Stories like that become problematic the moment a writer can offer no alternatives, is competely fixated on that single outcome and blindly regurgitates the Hobesian gloomfantasy-nightmare centering around the idea that: “when a society is not governed by a higher power (whether it be God or government), it will collapse into a chaos where it will be war of all against all”. (My words, related to Hobbes.)

It is problematic, because a narrow vision as presented in stories like “Mad Max” and “Lord of the Flies” repeats and normalize the narrative used by sociopaths and fascists to normalize their policies, where more and more people will be placed under more and more control: “for their own protection”.

The simple reality is: most of society functions, because a majority of people is –per definition– focused on peace and progress through collaboration. If the Hobesian “war of all against all” bullshit would be an absolute truth, society itself would simply not function. At all. Ever. Because we would be like spiders. But without the thousands of offspring from thousands of eggs we produced to assure our survival.

Linked to “war of all against all” is the narritive of the “alpha male” and a world of natural rule through dominance and submission. And this narrative as well, falls in the same category: complete bullshit.

Yes: dominance and submission are part of our wiring. As is competition. But the leading impulse for the majority of people is collaboration.

As said at the beginning of this blogpost:

To assume that the majority of people will be violent in a war of all against all, when not governed by a government or (the fear of) God, is to repeat and perpetuate a core element of fascist propaganda.

And if that is what you want to do as a writer, by all means, do so. If fascist regimes were your unchallenged go-to, because “sexy shit” and/or “everyone else in my field is doing this” and/or “I do not see any other plausible outcome for this story line”, but a fascist regime is not really your ideal form of government, then start reconsidering your plot and your basic assumptions.