Forward and to the side

A little over four months ago, I started a new job. My first, in fact, where I wasn’t employed by myself or a family member, where I was a member of a team, not just a lone programmer writing code, running tech support, designing web pages, and handling the books in the meantime. It was a big jump, and I still find myself off balance some days. I wonder when I’m going to be exposed for the impostor I surely must be. I fret about letting everyone down.

Well, those fears are about to get worse.

From the beginning, my boss said I would be “transitioning” to full-time after 90 days. This would be a kind of grace period for me, a chance to show what I was capable of, while minimizing risk for the company. Understandable, from a business perspective, and I was honestly just happy to be hired in the first place, so I wasn’t going to complain.

Now, the grace period is over. The transition is done. Next week will be like starting over, in one sense. In another, it’s like jumping off a cliff, because I’m not going to be the full-stack developer I expected.

I’m going to be the CTO.

When he said that in the call where we discussed it, I think my heart stopped for a second. Sure, as he was quick to point out, a company that’s effectively a startup in size and revenue doesn’t have a lot of “prestige” in its titles. I’m not a C-level executive at Amazon or Microsoft or some other Big Tech corporation. I’ll effectively be running the tech department of a B2B company that…doesn’t really have much but the tech they (we) use and the sales it allows.

But that is a huge shift. It’s a major jump in responsibility. It turns me into not just a developer, but a manager. I had my first strategy meeting today—just an hour-long talk with the CEO-who-hates-that-title about next steps, but still. This is like nothing I’ve ever done. Or even imagined doing, except in my wildest dreams.

For so long, I’ve written about my depression and anxiety, and I lamented the fact that there just doesn’t seem to be anywhere I belong. I felt powerless, silenced by a world that didn’t want to listen to what I had to say. Now, someone does want to hear that. Someone does value my opinion and my perspective. And it’s overwhelming.

I know I’m not executive material. I don’t have an MBA. I never took any classes in business management. I barely understand half the industry-specific terms my boss throws around.

On the other hand, I do know programming. Almost 30 years ago, I wrote my first lines of code. Three decades spent trying to get somebody to see what I had created, to understand why I feel such joy in doing this job well. Now, I’m being thrust into a position where, paradoxically, I may be doing less actual coding.

I should hate that. Management is a running joke in the development community, much like how military non-coms look down on their commanding officers, and the reasons are the same: moving up the chain of command means getting farther away from the action. Oddly, however, I’m okay with it. Oh, I’m well aware that I’m in over my head, but…I am not alone in that. If anything, the only thing I fear now is letting down the team. I don’t want to be the one everything falls on. I don’t want to be the single point of failure. But then I’m grateful that I’m trusted enough to be given that responsibility, and there’s really only one thing I can say.

It’s about time.

Summer Reading List 2021: The second

Here we go again. I finished this one a couple of weeks ago, and it is by far the oldest and weirdest book I’ve ever read outside a classroom. I thought I was crazy when I tried The New Atlantis a few years back, but this one takes the cake. It did have a purpose, however.

Philosophy (non-fiction)

Title: Meditations
Author: Marcus Aurelius (tr. Gregory Hays)
Genre: Philosophy/Self-Help
Year: c. 179 AD (translated edition 2003)

That year is not a typo. I actually read a book that’s over 1800 years old. As I don’t know Greek (I have only a rudimentary understanding of Latin; Greek would be my next target), I’m reading Meditations in the translation by Gregory Hays, which is a little unconventional compared to its predecessors. But it’s one of the newest and most accessible, so I gave it a shot.

Okay, so that explains the book itself, but not why I chose it. I’ve been interested in Stoicism for a couple of years, as I recall reading sometime in 2018 that some had found comfort in it, using the philosophy to alleviate their depression. Well, that didn’t work for me then, and reading what’s effectively one testament of the Stoic Bible didn’t help matters. I do think Stoicism has some merit, and there are a lot of good ideas in there, but…it’s not for me. It’s too fatalistic, in my opinion.

Considering I’m reading the words of a Roman emperor, you’d think I would have more good things to say. I really don’t, though. Marcus Aurelius wasn’t intending these words to be read, and that shows. Meditations consists of 12 books full of what look like “note to self” reminders. There’s little organization, a lot of repetition, and far too much emphasis on death. (This is a guy who assumes he’s about to die, after all.) Throughout the work, we see the same theme arising time and time again: do not fear death, because it is merely the end of your allotted time.

That fits with the Stoic tradition. Death, to them, is the end of life in the physical sense only. Which is essentially one of the defining statements of a religion, come to think of it. But theirs is a simple and almost banal religion, a worship of fate and rationality above all. I’m on board with the rational part, sure. Fate? Not for me. The way I see it, if everything in our lives was already determined, there would be no reason to live.

There was a reason to read this book, however. It does have a few gems buried in the dirt of the grave. I guess you could say Meditations is the oldest example of the self-help book, the kind that’s mostly full of author narrative and pithy maxims, but with the occasional nugget of true wisdom. And reading it makes you take a closer look at yourself.

In my case, I found something I didn’t like to see, and now I’m working on removing it.

Summer Reading List 2021: First one

Despite the two-week delay, I have been reading. Despite the new job, I have been reading. Despite the rocky road that is my relationship, I have been reading. So here we go.

Science (non-fiction)

Title: Caveman Chemistry
Author: Kevin M. Dunn
Genre: Popular science
Year: 2008

What originally gave me the seed of the idea that would become “After the After” was a book I read a few years ago: The Knowledge, by Lewis Dartnell. In fact, that book was also a huge influence on the reboot of Otherworld I did in 2015, and it’s the only work I’ve called out by name in the 30+ stories of that series. But The Knowledge was itself inspired. It has a very extensive bibliography, and one of the hardest entries to track down was this one, Caveman Chemistry.

I’m glad I finally did, because this book was worth every minute. Divided into 28 chapters, each focusing (more or less) on a single invention, Caveman Chemistry takes the reader through the entire history and prehistory of chemistry. Experiments throughout the book encourage you to get your hands dirty—I didn’t, but that’s a temporary state of affairs. Charcoal, soap, dyes, homebrewing…Dunn has done the world a great service just by compiling this text.

That’s not to say there aren’t problems. One, the writing style makes one think of mad scientists from ages past, and I have to wonder if the author had huffed a few too many fumes before he sat down at the computer. The text itself is loaded with quotations, including some from quack sources such as the Hermetic alchemy treatises. Introductions in each chapter are done by “figments” supposedly representing the four elements (or masters thereof), but more likely belonging to the individual voices in the head of a schizophrenic.

Two, though Dunn doesn’t shy away from giving the formulas and preparation methods for some very dangerous chemicals, he wimps out when the time comes to talk about gunpowder, cowardly disguising the proper ratios. (For reference, the simplest to remember is a 6:1:1 mix of saltpeter, charcoal, and sulfur, respectively.) Making a batch of ethanol potentially tainted by poisonous methanol? Fine. Supporting the 2nd Amendment? Apparently that’s a no-go. Add in the constant remarks about “sexism” in older chemistry texts and stuffing women into what has historically been a masculine pursuit, and it’s clear where the author falls on the political spectrum.

Fortunately, that doesn’t detract from what is otherwise a very useful, very enlightening, and very fun book. Caveman Chemistry is not only worth a read, it’s worth trying for yourself. Even if you aren’t planning on creating a post-apocalyptic DIY video series.

After the after

Many, many people believe the world as we know it will come to an end soon. Some of those people happen to be in positions to make such a dire prediction come true. So let’s talk about the apocalypse for a moment, why don’t we?

The cause doesn’t really matter for our purposes. Suffice to say, some catastrophe causes a severe drop in the world’s population. How far? Well, we’re close to 8 billion now, so there’s a long way to fall. Obviously, an I Am Legend scenario of the last remaining man is pretty pointless to consider: humanity ends when he does. For similar reasons, a very small remaining population (up to a few hundred) is essentially extinction-level.

The last time humans numbered only a thousand was about 74,000 years ago, at the genetic bottleneck caused by the eruption of the Toba supervolcano in Indonesia. (By the way, climate catastrophists have been unsuccessfully trying to debunk this theory for years, because the idea that a volcano can cause a drop in global temperatures up to 15°C is awfully hard to reconcile with the idea that people are the sole cause for all the climate’s ills.)

Since that fateful day, we have progressed in an almost monotonic fashion. The only major setbacks in recorded history were the Black Death of the 14th century and the lesser-known plague, volcanic winter, and famine years of the 6th century. But our growth as a species really started getting exponential within the last 200 years: the Industrial Revolution. Around the start of that glorious era, humanity numbered less than a billion.

Let’s assume, then, that our apocalypse knocks us under that threshold and, from there, halfway to our doom. In other words, a population of around 500 million, which is just what the “population control” (i.e., genocide) believers want. This mass slaughter can come from a bioweapon or its supposed “cure”, a nuclear exchange, an asteroid impact, or some combination of factors, but we can assume it happens with no last-minute heroics to stop it.

One day, we wake up to find 7.5 billion human lives have been extinguished. Now what?

The first stage

The survivors will need to, well, survive. We’ve all seen that in television (The Walking Dead); literature (The Decameron, not to mention Genesis!); movies (way too many to name); video games (Fallout, The Last of Us, 7 Days to Die); and novels (my own The Linear Cycle, for the shameless plug). Those who survive the calamity band together, scavenge what they can, and fend off the hordes of aliens or zombies or mutants while trying to rebuild society.

While that makes for great drama, cinema or otherwise, it’s been done to death. No pun intended.

As a fan of worldbuilding, I’m more interested in what comes next. What happens after the post-apocalypse? That is, in a sense, literal worldbuilding, don’t you think?

So I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. I don’t have time to start yet another story (I already have three that are basically stalled because of my new job!), but it’s still a fun topic to contemplate. What would the next iteration of civilization look like, especially if it retained some continuity?

At present, we’re seeing the beginning of a slide into a kind of neo-feudalism. Take away 93% of the population in one fell swoop, and two things could happen. Either the powers that be consolidate that power, or the hollowing-out of society causes a complete collapse that leads to revolution. The latter has precedent: it’s basically how the first feudal period in Europe came to an end after the Black Death. So many people died (one out of every three, in some places) that labor became scarce, and peasants could essentially name their price. They gained leverage over the nobility, pushing them into irrelevance in a gradual process that took about four centuries.

The modern-day nobles, the men and women who claim the right to rule our lives, don’t call themselves lords or bishops or anything of the sort. And they probably won’t even after the vast majority of humans have fallen victim to whatever disaster awaits. No, they’ll keep calling themselves businessmen, politicians, and celebrities even after capitalism, democracy, and mass media are destroyed.

But feudalism requires a certain population density to be worthwhile. So does industry, as a matter of fact, and our figure of 500 million is actually below that, by all accounts. Our apocalypse will have the side effect (or possibly intended effect) of reversing the Industrial Revolution. Maybe even the Enlightenment before it. The medieval era before that? It’s possible. And we should hope so.

Where to go from here

As I said, I’ve been thinking about this one, so…let’s make a new post series. I haven’t done that in a while. This one won’t be anything like “Let’s Make a Language” or “Magic & Tech” in size. Well, it shouldn’t be, but you know me.

The goal for the posts will be to sketch out one plausible post-post-apocalyptic scenario. I’m not saying that’s what will happen once the Omega Variant kills 90% of the world, and The Climate Crisis (capitals to emphasize how stupid the notion is) does for half the rest. No, this is just a possibility.

Again, my focus isn’t on the immediate aftermath of the disaster. It’s the part that comes after, the true rebuilding of civilization. So you won’t hear me talk about killing zombies or building sunshades or whatever. Let’s say that the disaster itself is in the past. What then? That’s the question I want to ask and answer.

This one’s going to be a little different, though. Or that’s how the idea looks in my head. On top of the posts, which I anticipate to come out once a month or so, I want to do something I’ve never done before: make videos.

Yeah, I know. We’ve all seen Bear Grylls and Les Stroud with their camera crews and helicopters. That’s not what I’m about. No, my goal is to build, not survive. To do that, we need technology. We need to create. And that is what I want to do in these videos. I want to talk about technology, its history, its re-creation. Using the materials you might have in the rebuilding era, what can you make? What will have to change?

Assuming I get that far, I’ll post these on a few platforms. Not Youtube, because I don’t believe a series of informational, scientific videos belongs on a platform as hostile to knowledge and free speech as Google’s video silo. Instead, you’ll (hopefully!) find them on places like Odysee,, and Rumble.

But that’s for the future. Until then, dream with me, and let’s hope that we never have to use the wisdom I’ll be giving.

Passage of time

Late last night, I was trying to go back to sleep and having a lot of trouble getting there. So I listened to music, an activity I can do at any hour of any day, in any mood.

For this particular mood, I was listening to some old favorites. The song that struck me was “Sign On The Door” by Edwin McCain, because something about it gave me one of the most intense feelings of déjà vu I’ve ever had. As I listened, I reflected, and I found that I had indeed been there before.

I could recall with crystal clarity a night fifteen years ago where I was in the exact same spot (lying in my bed) listening to the exact same song, and…I don’t know. Something about that hit me hard.

Yes, some things have changed. My headphones were attached to a smartphone, not the Rio Karma MP3 player that was already obsolete back then. I have a different computer, different TV, even different lights. So it wasn’t exactly the same room, if you think about it like that.

I’ve changed, too. I’m 37 instead of 22, of course, with all that entails. I’m about 30 pounds heavier, unfortunately. I’ve lost my grandparents, my uncle, and two close cousins. I’ve been to depths I couldn’t even imagine in 2006, and I have the scars to prove it.

But it hasn’t all been bad. I’m employed for the moment. I have a partner who loves me. I’m smarter, wiser, and more certain of myself than I was then. Maybe it’s just because I’ve been to the bottom, but I feel things are looking up.

Still, it’s strange. I truly felt that I had somehow completed a circle, that I had ended up back where I started. And I briefly wondered what I would do if, by some miraculous means, I’d been sent back to that other night, but with the memories and knowledge and experiences I’ve gathered in the past decade and a half. What would I change? How would I live my life differently, knowing what might come?

Or is this river of time actually more like a whirlpool? Would I think I was doing it better the second time around, only to find myself lying in bed fifteen years later, thinking the exact same thing?

Asleep at the wheel

I have often noted that I’m from a very big family. Growing up, I never had many friends, but I made up for that with plenty of aunts, uncles, and cousins. Lots of people to learn from, and lots of them to teach.

Yesterday, that big family got a little bit smaller. My cousin was killed in a near head-on collision when he was ejected from his friend’s car, where he was a passenger. He was 41 years old, only four older than me, and…I’m not sure how I feel about it.

Every family, once it gets to a certain size, is sure to have an outlier. That one member who, for whatever reason, just doesn’t fit in with the rest. In our case, that was Brian. We all knew it. We joked about it. He joked about it. Of the whole lot of us, he was always in the most trouble, no matter what kind you imagine, and he was the one most likely to turn down any offers of help from those who truly loved him.

Let’s not mince words. He was, in many respects, an awful person. He was an actual psychopath, with a more-than-healthy dose of narcissism and some general destructive tendencies thrown in for good measure. He lied, he cheated, he stole, and he rarely showed any kind of sympathy for his victims. He was a drug addict who spent too little time in jail for what he’d done. The people he called friends were, by and large, just like him.

Yet he had moments of genuine warmth and compassion, times when he seemed to realize what his self-destructive behavior was doing to his family and himself. I don’t believe in demons or demonic possession, as many of my relatives do, so those flickers of humanity Brian sometimes showed often felt, to me, more like a drowning man who had managed to break the surface long enough to scream for help.

He leaves behind four children by three different women, each of whom left him to save herself, choosing the life of a mother over that of a junkie. His 4-month-old grandson, Wyatt, will grow up having never seen his grandfather. And all of us who tried to help him can only wonder if our efforts were always in vain.

I don’t believe anyone is irredeemable. That’s just how I am. No human being is beyond saving. But they have to want it. You can’t force someone into rehab, or into the hospital, or into a better life. The first step is one they must take.

I’ve often wondered if Brian wanted it. There were many times where it was clear that he didn’t, that he’d rather be high than healthy, that he would gladly trade everything good in his life for one more hit. But then I think about his more lucid days, or at least the ones I saw. I think about the man who always called me for computer help, who all but begged me to take the GED test in his name because, as he put it, he didn’t think he was smart enough to pass it, but he needed it so he could get a job and settle down.

More than anything, I think about someone who, late Wednesday night, tossed the last of his crack to a family friend and said, “I’m tired of being a drug addict. I want to be better.”

And I wonder why the world is so cruel that “I want to be better” is a death sentence.

Summer Reading List Challenge 2021: Late start

In all the bustle of actually having a job, I completely lost track of time, and I forgot about the Summer Reading List Challenge!

Here are the rules again, for those curious:

  1. The goal is to read 3 books between the US holidays of Memorial Day (May 31) and Labor Day (September 6). Yes, that’s winter in the Southern Hemisphere. I can’t change that.

  2. A “book” is anything non-periodical, with very wide latitude. Comics, graphic novels, and manga are out. Just about anything else is in. And, thanks to the socializing I’ve gotten from having a job, I know to add something else to this: audiobooks count for the challenge if they would be considered books in written form.

  3. One of the books needs to be a genre outside your normal reading habits. Nonfiction, horror, whatever. Anything different, because one of the object of the challenge is to expand your reading horizons.

  4. Books you wrote don’t count. Even if you’re reading them for fun.

Now, because of my late start (which I can’t apologize enough for), you get a little extra time this year: the deadline is extended to September 17 if you haven’t already started something new since Memorial Day.

I’ll be posting my progress here and on the fediverse, where you can follow Have fun, have a great summer, and keep reading!

Human pride

June, as everyone not living under a rock knows, is Pride Month. It’s that special time of year when corporations across the country dress up their logos with the rainbow flag that gains colors faster than a box of crayons and spread vague, virtue-signaling one-liners about how they stand with certain people against hatred. Oh, and there used to be marches and stuff, but then Valentine’s Day used to be a Catholic saint’s day, too.

The original purpose of Pride Month wasn’t that bad…at least in theory. As a social movement to increase awareness of alternative lifestyles and relationships, it served a purpose. Of course, since the Oberfeller decision a few years ago, that purpose is now superfluous. Gay marriage is legal across the nation, the ultimate expression of acceptance. And that case also set a precedent: sexual orientation is considered a protected legal category under the 14th Amendment, so the entire “gay rights” agenda has been fulfilled. Equality is here. There’s no need to fight for it any longer.

Thus bereft of a goal, Pride Month has been left to a rather confusing pair. Commercialization is the fate of all holidays, really, so it’s only natural that a month-long celebration of once-forbidden love would find itself in the corporate crosshairs. But the movement was always geared towards the political left, so we now see the curious juxtaposition of anti-capitalist progressives on June 1 “standing with” the very global corporations they were threatening to boycott on May 31.

Both sets share the same desire, however, so it’s not entirely unreasonable to see this temporary alliance of convenience. For these groups seek to divide us for their own gain. Progressives thrive on conflict, as we know; their whole worldview is based on class warfare, on setting us against each other. Corporations, of course, are only out for short-term gains, but those most immersed in the “pride” culture tend to be the ones with captive markets and virtual monopolies. They can’t very well lose market share, but a few tweets can reach the small segment of the populace who would otherwise ignore them, and that’s just modern PR.

But using this month as a reason to incite further divisions in society or, worse, to cast those who are tired of the force-fed propaganda as hateful and loathsome, is a tragic miscarriage of justice, to say the least. Much like Black History Month, what was once a celebration has become an inquisition. It’s anti-human. It’s anti-equality. It is, to put it simply, a perversion of everything the various equal rights movements were founded upon.

Instead of worshiping what sets us apart, we should begin to embrace what we have in common. We should take pride in being human, because all of us share that. Whatever you believe, whatever you look like, whatever attracts you, you are human. You are one of billions, yet still unique in many ways.

Not only are you human, but so are other people. Everyone you love, everyone you know, is a human being, just like you and me. In a world where dark forces seek to dehumanize us at every turn, to fit the entire population into a number of mutually-exclusive categories solely to set us against one another, it’s important to remember that we are better than that. We can do better.

Within the last decade, we proved that by ending a restriction, a limitation of rights defined as inalienable, that had been in place for over 200 years. None of us is lesser because of who we love, and that statement is now the law of the land. True, we may not always live up to the ideals we express, but that is no reason to reject them. No, we must do better. We must strive to reach them, while knowing we will never quite attain the perfection and utopia we long for.

We are human. Our reach will always exceed our grasp, but that should not dissuade us. The pride we should celebrate is not that which separates us, and certainly not the idea that some of us deserve more because of who we are. No, our pride is in the knowledge that humanity can grow, that each and every one of us can contribute to that growth if we all work together.

Progress doesn’t care if you’re gay or straight, if you’re black or white, if you’re male or female. All that matters is being human. The only entry card to the clique of progress is your humanity. As corporations aren’t people, they’ll never understand that. As progressives stand against unity, they will always fight it. But we know the truth.

In this month and every month to come, be proud. Be human.

Dear agony

(Title for this post is from the Breaking Benjamin song of the same name, whose refrain you’ll see as soon as I finish this parenthetical.)

Dear agony,
Just let go of me
Suffer slowly
Is this the way it’s gotta be?

The simple answer to your question, Ben, is…no. No, it doesn’t have to be that way. But only if something good happens to give you a little bit of hope.

Over the past few weeks, it has.

For fifteen long months, I had suffered. I had all but given up. I’m not afraid to admit that. There were nights that I cried myself to sleep, days where I would hide in my room, not wanting to do anything but sleep. And if that sleep turned into the more permanent sort, well, I wouldn’t have been opposed. At least then the pain would stop, right?

Now, I honestly feel like a whole new person. While I’m sure a certain man in northern Virginia wouldn’t mind taking all the credit for that, it wasn’t just the job that gave me hope. No, landing that position merely gave me the spark. As I’ve said often, if I could get just one good thing to happen to me, all the rest would fall in line. And it might be doing precisely that.

The world still sucks, as we all know, but things are getting a little better. The ranks of those who question the narrative are growing, and they have grown large enough in my humble state to start putting the brakes on our slow decline into tyranny. Better would be throwing this train into reverse and getting us back to liberty: banning mask mandates, banning vaccine passports, opening schools and bars and sporting events. In short, living our lives, instead of cowering in fear. But any progress is good, even if it’s so slow that snails are outrunning us.

That is one belief I hold dear. Progress is good. Progress has given us immeasurable benefits, and it will continue to do so as long as we embrace it. Not everything new is progress, however. Anyone who has grumbled over an app update or yelled at a voice menu knows that all too well.

True progress is that which improves the human condition: longer lives, healthier lives, more freedom, more resistance to the ravages of nature, and so on. Unfortunately, it’s so often the case that we are told these things are bad. We’re defying the will of God or poisoning Mother Earth or whatever.

The worst of this sort of thinking became popular last year, when elites and their hangers-on parroted the line, “Nature is healing.” In effect—and, in some cases, in words—these people made the claim that we humans are a pathogen, and the made-in-China coronavirus was, in fact, a natural response to our overreach in some nebulous way. Of course, the same people say the same things about weather disasters, so you can’t take them seriously, but the sheer idiocy of such a statement never fails to annoy me.

My contemplations of the past year or so gave rise to technetism, but this anti-human religion gives it an enemy. And I feel it gives me a higher purpose, something beyond writing novels and computer programs. Common sense dictates that I reject the nihilism and doom-saying of the environmentalists, the pandemic fearmongers, and all those who stand in the way of progress.

However, a negative philosophy is no philosophy at all; this is my biggest criticism of atheism, and it fits here, too. It is perfectly fine to say that you don’t believe in something, but far more fulfilling if you can find something you do believe in. If you have to make it yourself, then so be it. Every movement began somewhere.

I choose to believe that humans are an inherently positive influence on the world, and on each other. We build, we create, we invent. We solve problems. We come together and make something greater. Yes, there are individuals (and large groups) standing in our way, blocking our progress. Impediments have always existed, though. They’ll never truly go away. What we can, and must, do is overcome them. The best way to start, in my opinion, is to be more sociable. Shake hands, hug, get close to one another again. Take off the masks and let people see that we are human beings.

There’s still a lot of agony out there. For me, it hasn’t all gone away over the past few weeks. But now I have enough positive influences in my life to see the sun peeking through the clouds. Now I have a reason to fight that extends beyond myself and those I love.

Maybe that’s all I needed.

May it be

(Yes, it’s a pun. You’ll just have to get over it.)

At the start of April, I felt I had nothing and I was going nowhere. It’s just that simple. A long time ago, I decided I wouldn’t sugarcoat things here, so I told the truth as I saw it: I began last month aimless and, to put it simply, hopeless.

Since then, things have taken a turn for the better. I have a job as a full-stack developer—basically what I was already doing, but with the added bonus that I’ll be paid for it now. My relationship with the woman I love is slowly but surely picking back up, and I believe it’ll soon reach new heights.

Best of all, Hamilton County at last rescinded its illegal mask mandate a few days ago. Now that this human rights violation is gone (a year too late, if you ask me), I can actually go inside again. I mean, I could before, but only if I went up to Dayton, which doesn’t have nearly the commercial variety of Chattanooga. Now, though, we have finally been allowed to regain one of the vital freedoms, the inalienable rights, we lost last year.

We still lack others guaranteed by the Constitution. Freedom of speech is useless if you’re blocked from using it at every turn, as anyone who criticizes the regime on Facebook or Twitter (or who tries to start an alternative) will quickly discover. Freedom of religion and assembly both normally require being in proximity to other people; Zoom calls just don’t cut it. The right to privacy (enumerated, in part, by the Fourth Amendment) has been in mortal danger for two decades, no matter which party claims to be in power.

To be sure, other places have it worse. Most other English-speaking countries are effectively country-sized prisons at this point: Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are the most notable. The Pacific states get to suffer both lockdowns and riots. Compared to the sheer horror of other places, rural Tennessee really isn’t that bad.

Lately, I’ve been getting a lot more philosophical. I attribute this to my precarious mental state, my disdain for the way things are, and maybe even the first wisps of middle age, a phase of my life I’m approaching far too quickly.

I won’t say I’ve become religious, because I still find most forms of organized religion to be far too controlling and irrational for my tastes. If I wanted that, I’d turn on CNN, not TBN. But I, with a little help from those closest to me, have been discovering a kind of spiritual side of myself that was buried deep within.

(One of the few perks of getting older is that you get to use a few certain phrases to start sentences. Here’s one of them.) For decades, I’ve wanted to make an impact on the world, a change in the way things are that bring them closer to how I feel they should be. I don’t believe I’ll ever be the kind of thinker who deserves to be named alongside Thomas Paine, John Locke, or Baruch Spinoza, three of my favorite Enlightenment-era voices, but I do feel I have something to contribute in that vein.

I’m calling it technetism: literally, belief in creation. Because that is what I believe in. Creation over destruction. If I’ve learned anything from the depths of the past year, it’s that. What I value most strongly as a person, as a human being, is the positive power of making something. Whether that’s a computer program, a garden, a baby, a house, a scientific discovery, or a new social order, as long as you’re creating something, you’re adding to humanity as a whole. If you only destroy, by contrast, you’re taking away from all of us.

Creation, then, is the central pillar, but not the only one. It’s flanked by two others that, to me, also represent fundamental aspects of being human: learning and exploration. Without knowledge, we can’t make the right decisions; learning is the way we acquire that knowledge. Exploration lets us grow our worlds and add to our experiences, ultimately with the goal of sharing them through creation, even if that creation is merely the making of a new friendship or a lifelong relationship with, say, a soulmate living 100 miles away.

All three of these qualities are sorely lacking today. Too many people are seemingly against the whole idea of learning, closing their eyes and their minds to anything but the propaganda doled out by their favorite news outlet. Exploration is actively discouraged from childhood, and actually illegal in many places at the moment, because our society has chosen the wrong path in prioritizing safety above all else. And finally, we have all seen the sheer destruction that has wracked our country since last May.

Someone has to stand for what is good in this world. It might as well be me. I’m a man of principle, and I will stand up for what I believe is right. I will speak out against the evils I see in society, and those bent on destroying it. I do this not to make enemies, but to remind you that we can all be friends.

We have more in common than we realize, because we are all human. Deep down, we all have that spark of creation within our hearts. It doesn’t matter if you think it came from God or evolution or whatever. It doesn’t matter if that heart is inside a white body or a black one, a male or female. We are creators. We are explorers.

I, for one, am going to act like it.