Moving on

Late yesterday evening, I left the Fediverse instance (the technical term for the individual servers making up this federated social network) I had inhabited for over a year, letsalllovela.in, following a warning by the administrator. Quite simply, I was told that my opinions were not permitted to be stated on her site, that I should, and I quote, “find another instance” for them. So I did. Now that the heat of the moment has cooled, I feel the need to write this.

I joined the instance last May for two reasons. One, my original introduction to the Fediverse, toot.love, was small, isolated, and actually blocked by many of the larger sites. I wanted to connect with a larger audience, because what’s the point of a social network if your voice can’t be heard? And two, I wished to try out Pleroma, the 2nd most popular software platform on the network after Mastodon. There weren’t a lot of good Pleroma-based instances at the time, and some had…less than stellar reputations. Those few I found which had open registrations and sensible terms of service usually had some other flaw I found fatal. Only 3 real people posting, with the rest being all bots. Too much anime influence. An annoying pink theme.

letsalllovela.in got recommendations because it was a “comfy” server. Quite a few active posters, good connections to the rest of the network, accessible admins, and it just gave off a chill vibe. I would’ve liked a more tech-themed site, yes, but I had fun interacting with the people there, as well as those who had been walled off from me initially.

There were some bumps in the road. The admins, both teens from…somewhere in Europe, were obviously still learning how to run a server. Downtime has been frequent, sometimes lasting 12 hours or more. The site nearly caused a relationship disaster when one admin (the same one who warned me, as I’ll get to in a minute) changed the site’s name to “Sapiosexual Pride” on the very day my partner—who identified with the term—first checked it out. That required a lot of explaining, and the domain name (using the India TLD) has remained a running joke between us ever since.

Both admins have said they are transgender. That doesn’t bother me. It’s not my cup of tea, but I’m not offended at the thought. And they could even have fun with it on occasion, joining in the more good-natured ribbing that friends can share about such personal details. So I came to believe that they were decent people, open and accepting.

Like so much else in the past week and a half, that opinion has had to change. The post that caused this was a reply to someone I’ve conversed with on a few occasions. We don’t see eye to eye on everything, but then nobody really does. In this case, he posted that, because the phrase “All Lives Matter” has become seen as racially charged, he wanted to suggest “People Lives Matter” instead, complete with its own Twitter-style hashtag. I honestly responded, saying that I had been thinking of “Human Lives Matter” in private.

That’s important to me. Human lives do matter. All of them. Black, white, or whatever, if you value human life, I believe you must value all human life equally, at least a priori. And while I do sympathize with victims of racism and other forms of discrimination, I can’t, in good conscience, support a movement that rejects this fundamental premise. By saying that some lives matter to the exclusion of others, I feel you have committed the same transgression you attribute to your opponents.

In addition, I can’t support the present rioting throughout the country. Peaceful demonstration is one thing; being enumerated in the First Amendment, it’s the next best thing to a sacred right, as far as I’m concerned. Looting, vandalizing, arson, and the other attacks being committed in the name of George Floyd, by contrast, seem to me destruction for destruction’s sake. Whatever nebulous goal these more violent demonstrations want, that’s not the way to achieve it.

But this isn’t good enough, apparently. Too often, people on both sides of the political spectrum have resorted to the “you’re either with us or against us” argument, the false dichotomy that has divided our nation for 19 years and counting. And I was the victim of that last night. The letsalllovela.in admin told me that my post was unacceptable, that even mentioning “All Lives Matter” instead of the politically-correct movement was harmful.

How? How is equality harmful, unless your objective is to sow discord? How is giving everyone value equivalent to taking it away from the segment currently in the media spotlight? Last I checked, the whole point of the civil rights movement was that skin color shouldn’t matter.

No, our world isn’t perfect. It can’t be, but that should never stop us from trying to make it better. And while the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees equal protection under the law, those who enforce that law too often ignore it. That’s terrible every time it happens, no matter who the target is. What happened in Minnesota is a tragedy by any account, yet America has survived worse in the past. The ideals we hold dear, that all of us are endowed with liberty simply by being born, don’t change because we’re black or white. They stay the same for men and women. They care nothing for our religion, our sexuality, our nationality. Liberty and justice for all. It can’t be put any plainer than that.

Life is too short to waste on some battles, so I moved. I went to a place where such an opinion can be voiced without censorship. It was a mostly cordial separation. I exaggerated for dramatic effect in the introduction post for my new Fediverse home, which kicked off a rather long thread that got a bit heated. But I have no hard feelings. I disagree with the decision, yes. However, I do not deny the admin’s authority to make it in this case. And while I disagree with the politics behind it, I understand that tensions are running high these days. Some people would like nothing more than to cut off all contact with those who think differently on any issue.

That way lies destruction. We would become the house divided against itself, as Lincoln once said, and we would fall. Democracy requires debate. Civil discourse, not partisan bickering, will heal the wounds our society has suffered. I thought I had found a place where that sort of disagreement was welcome. I was wrong.

You live and learn.

The price of protest

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming…four dead in Ohio

I have written a lot in the past few years to commemorate the 50th anniversary of various spaceflight milestones: the Apollo 8 lunar orbit, Apollo 11’s landing in 1969, and so on. I do that because I love the American space program, of course, but also because I believe its accomplishments rank among the greatest in human history. They are certainly shining lights in the 20th century.

But we must also remember the darker days, lest, to paraphrase Santayana, we be doomed to repeat their mistakes.

This day 50 years ago, on May 4, 1970, four students at Kent State University were shot and killed by National Guard soldiers during a protest against the Vietnam War. Nine others were injured, a college campus became a battlefield, and the entire nation lost whatever vestiges of innocence it still had after years of needless death in the jungles of Southeast Asia.

I was not alive for these events. They were 13 years before I was born; those who lost their lives were over a decade older than my parents! Yet I have seen the documentaries. I’ve read the stories. That is how history survives, through the telling and retelling of events beyond our own experience. In the modern era, we have photographs, television recordings, and other resources beyond mere—and fallible—human memory.

For Kent State, I’ve watched the videos from the tragedy itself, and few things have ever left me more disgusted, more saddened, and more…angry. It boggles my mind how anyone, even soldiers trained in the art of war and encouraged to look at their enemy as less than human, could think this was a good thing, a just thing. Yet they did not hold their fire. If they stopped to think, “These are young Americans, people just like me, and they’re doing what’s right,” then it never showed in their actions.

Worse, however, is the public perception that followed. In the wake of the massacre, polls showed that a vast majority of people in this country supported the soldiers. Yes. About two-thirds of those surveyed said they felt it was justified to use lethal force against peaceful protestors who were defending themselves.

Let’s break that down, shall we? First, protests are a right. The “right of the people peaceably to assemble” is guaranteed in the First Amendment; it doesn’t get the attention of speech, religion, and the press, but it’s right there alongside them. And remember that the Bill of Rights, as I’ve repeatedly stated in my writings, is not a list of those rights the government has granted its citizenry. Rather, it’s an incomplete enumeration of rights we are born with—“endowed by our Creator”, in Jefferson’s terms—that cannot be taken away by a government without resorting to tyranny.

Some may argue that the Kent State protests were not peaceful. After all, the iconic video is of a student throwing a canister of tear gas at the police officers called in to maintain order, right? But that argument falls flat when you see that the tear gas came from those same cops. It was fired to disperse the crowd. The protestors didn’t like that, so they risked physical danger (not only the chance of getting shot, but even just burns from the canisters themselves) to clear the space they had claimed as their own.

And finally, the notion that killing students was the only way to end the protest would be laughable if it weren’t so sad. They were unarmed. Deescalation should always be the first option. Whatever you think about the protest itself, whether you feel it was wholly justified or dangerously un-American, you cannot convince me that shooting live rounds into a crowd is an acceptable answer. The only way, in my opinion, you could convince yourself is if you accept the premise that these students were enemy collaborators, and the National Guard’s response was legitimate under the rules of engagement.

But that presumes a dangerous proposition: that American citizens opposing a government action they feel is morally wrong constitutes a threat to the nation. And here we see that those lessons learned in Kent State 50 years ago have been forgotten since.


Today, we don’t have the Vietnam War looming over us. The eternal morass of Iraq and Afghanistan, despite taking twice as much time (and counting), has long since lost the furious reactions it once inspired. Trump’s presidency was worth a few marches, the Occupy and Tea Party movements were quashed or commandeered, and even the Great Recession didn’t prompt much in the way of social unrest.

But a virus did.

Rather, the government response to the Wuhan virus, whether on the federal, state, or local level, has, in some places, been enough to motivate protests. The draconian lockdown orders in Michigan, California, North Carolina, and elsewhere, unfounded in science and blatantly unconstitutional, have lit a fire in those most at risk from the continued economic and social devastation. Thousands marching, cars causing gridlock for miles, and beaches flooded with people who don’t want to hurt anyone, but just yearn to breathe free. It’s a stirring sight, a true show of patriotism and bravery.

Yet too many people see it as something else. They believe the protests dangerous. The governors know what’s best for us, they argue. They have experts backing them up. Stay at home, they say. It’s safe there. Never mind that it isn’t. As we now know through numerous scientific studies, the Wuhan virus spreads most easily in isolated environments and close quarters. It’s most deadly for the elderly, and some two out of every three deaths (even overcounting per federal guidelines) come from nursing homes and similar places. For the vast majority of people under the age of 60, it is, as the CDC stated on May 1, barely more of a risk than “a recent severe flu season” such as 2017-18. Compared to earlier pandemic flu seasons (e.g., 1957, 1969), it’s not that bad, especially to children.

Of course, people of all sorts are dying from it. That much is true, and my heart cries out for every last one of them. Stopping our lives, ending our livelihoods, is not the answer. People, otherwise healthy people who aren’t senior citizens, die from the flu every year. My cousin did in 2014, and he was 35. That’s the main reason I feared for my life when I was sick back in December; looking back, the symptoms my brother and I showed match better with the Wuhan virus than with the flu, and each week brings new evidence pointing to the conclusion that it was in the US far earlier than we were told. If that is what we had, it didn’t kill us, just like it won’t kill the overwhelming majority of people infected.

Epidemiology isn’t my goal here, however. I merely wanted to remind anyone reading this that the virus, while indeed a serious threat, is not the apocalypse hyped by the media. Common sense, good hygiene, and early medical treatment will help in most cases, and that’s no different from the flu, or the pneumonia that almost put me in the ICU in 2000, or even the common cold.

Now that all indications are showing us on the downslope of the curve, I’d rather look to the coming recovery effort, and the people—the patriots—who have started that conversation in the most public fashion. The Reopen America protestors are doing exactly what Americans should do when they perceive the threat of government tyranny: take to the streets and let your voice be heard. Civil disobedience is alive and well, and that is a good thing. It’s an American thing.

The movement is unpopular, alas. Reopen protestors are mocked and derided. Those who report on them in a favorable light are called out. A quick perusal of Twitter, for instance, will turn up some truly awful behavior. Suggestions that anyone protesting should be required to waive any right to medical treatment. Naked threats of calling Child Protective Services on parents who let their kids play outside. Worst of all, the holier-than-thou smugness of those who would willingly lock themselves away for months, if not years, over something with a 99.8% survival rate, solely on the basis of an appeal to authority.

A past generation would call such people Tories; in modern parlance, they are Karens. I call them cowards. Not because they fear the virus—I did until I learned more about it, and I accept that some people probably do need to be quarantined, and that some commonsense mitigation measures are necessary for a short time.

No, these people are cowards because they have sacrificed their autonomy, their rationality, and their liberty on an altar of fear, offerings to their only god: government. It’s one thing to be risk-averse. We beat worse odds than 500-to-1 all the time, but there’s always a chance. To live your life paralyzed by fear, unable to enjoy it without worrying about all the things that might kill you, that’s a terrible way to live. I know. I’ve been there. But never in my darkest moments did I consider extending my misery to the 320 million other people in this country. That is true cowardice, to be so afraid of the future that you would take it from everyone else.

Protest is a powerful weapon. The Vietnam War proved that beyond a shadow of a doubt. Fifty years ago today, four Ohio students paid the ultimate price for wielding that weapon. But they died believing what they did was right. They died free, because they died in a public expression of the freedom each of us is gifted the day we’re born.

Better that than dying alone in your safe space.

Heal me, I’m broken

I’m almost ready to give up.

The world has gone completely insane, as you may have noticed. Now I wonder whether I was already there. What I don’t wonder, however, is whether I should care. Because I don’t. Not anymore.

For years I have mostly kept my political leanings off Prose Poetry Code, because I felt it just wasn’t the place. Yes, I did the “Social Liberty” thing a long time ago, but that was about it. Even those posts never actually advocated a particular ideology; they were nothing more than a thought experiment where I tried to derive the inalienable rights of the Constitution from a set of first principles.

Well, what I’ve learned lately is that nothing in the modern world is apolitical. And so PPC can’t be, either. At this point, I believe I have nothing left to lose by throwing my opinion up here. What’s going to happen? I’ll lose my job? Nope. Don’t have one, and I doubt I’ll be getting one in the near future, despite my best efforts. Put on a watchlist? Already there, most likely. My girlfriend will leave me? That presumes I would have a chance of keeping her otherwise, and that assumption is hanging on by the thinnest of threads.

In other words, I’m already a broken man. This can’t break me any more than I already am, so why bother keeping my opinions bottled up?

Panic

Let’s start with the only news story we’ve had for the past month: coronavirus. No, I’m not one of those people who think it’s a hoax, a conspiracy to cover up the “real” truth of 5G towers and chemtrails and whatever else the Alex Jones types have come up with. It’s a real virus that’s affecting real people.

That most emphatically does not mean it’s all the media has made it out to be. Slowly but surely, solid numbers are coming out, and they very often show just how overblown the danger is. Asymptomatic rates of 20-50%, if not higher. Antibody presence in 15% or more of a random sample. An actual fatality rate closer to 0.3% than the 2-7% we were initially told.

And it doesn’t take much looking (though you do have to go off the beaten path of mainstream media and celebrity Twitter feeds) to find reports from everywhere in the US—with the notable exceptions of the New York and Detroit metro areas—of half-empty hospitals, of doctors and nurses being laid off or furloughed, of a growing realization that this was not the apocalyptic disease we were told to expect. The “best” model, the IHME model from the University of Washington, overshot Tennessee’s cases by a factor of 20! Minnesota’s special snowflake model is calling for a 30,000% increase in coronavirus deaths (from approximately 70 to over 20,000) between now and the end of summer!

Supporters of the draconian measures we have endured will say that those worst-case scenarios are if we don’t lock everything down, lock everyone up. But that’s simply not true. The IHME model takes into account “social distancing” measures (and that phrase disgusts me on many levels, but I digress) as of April 1, though its cheerleaders don’t seem to notice or care.

Pandemic

The problem, as ever, is polarization. If anything, I consider that far more of a threat to our nation than any virus, because it’s a much more insidious disease. Even today, you can take a look anywhere, whether online or real life, and see America increasingly divided into two camps that seem to be inhabiting two different realities.

On the left, you hear cries to keep the lockdowns until there are no more coronavirus deaths. Which is unrealistic, even if you discount the fact that hospitals are overcounting those deaths in an attempt to make back some of the money they’re losing by postponing elective surgeries. Add in the very real possibility that a vaccine might be years away (assuming it’s even possible—we don’t have one for the common cold, and that’s sometimes caused by a coronavirus), and…what’s the plan? We become the Morlocks, never seeing the sun except when we brave it to scrounge for a meal?

Every day you extend what we can only call the imprisonment of millions of Americans only makes the situation worse. Mental health is declining sharply—my own included. Suicides are rising, and I have no doubt that they will outnumber legitimate coronavirus deaths by the end of this year; whether I’m included in that tally is, I’ll be honest, an open question. For those fortunate enough to have families, they’re seeing increased incidence of domestic violence, child abuse, and other nastiness. Those are sure to take yet more lives. And that’s not even counting the lives that may never be, thanks to this isolation.

But the right isn’t any better, because they can only look at things through one lens: economy. Yes, it’s bad, and getting worse. Small businesses are failing, and big business is no longer booming. Unemployment is off the charts. Literally, as in the charts, much like the unemployment applications, were never made to handle such a vast segment of the workforce applying for benefits at the same time. Yet those wounds can be healed in time. We recovered from the Great Depression. We recovered from the Spanish Flu. Both of those were far more damaging, whether to our economy or our populace, than this virus.

Focusing on the economy, however, minimizes the impacts the lockdowns are having in other areas. Humans are social animals, and we evolved to socialize in person. Face to face, not through a computer or phone screen. Technology is wonderful. It’s the mark of progress, the symbol of all we have achieved. But it can’t replace the real world yet. To say that Zoom or FaceTime or Duo can substitute for actually being in the same room as a loved one, for actually having the chance to hold your newborn nephew, for actually doing the things you enjoy doing, is laughable. To say it’s more important to reopen the barbershop down the street is dehumanizing. It makes us nothing more than cogs in a machine.

Pan-democratic

We are more than that. We are human. And, as Jefferson wrote, all humans are endowed with certain inalienable rights, chief among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Nothing in the Constitution says those rights are invalid in a time of crisis, because the very idea that we should protect them, enshrine them, rose from a time of crisis.

If police can stop a peaceful protest because the protestors are standing too close together, then why even have a right to assemble? If it takes federal intervention to stop a state from scanning the license plates of cars sitting in a church parking lot on Easter Sunday, how is that free exercise of religion?

The greatest thing about the Bill of Rights, I have long felt, is its purpose. Jefferson, Madison, and the other Founding Fathers did not create a document that said the government granted these rights. Not at all. Instead, they made a list of the most important rights that we have just by being born, then said, “Let’s make sure these can’t be taken away.” The First Amendment starts with the words “Congress shall make no law…” because the writers knew that Congress would eventually try to make those laws. (In fact, they barely had to wait: the Alien and Sedition Acts came about during John Adams’ presidency!) All through the Bill of Rights, you can see that this is not a list of what the people can do, but what the government can’t.

Yet they are. And in a much more dangerous fashion than in the dark days after 9/11, the days of the Patriot Act, of “extraordinary rendition” and the TSA and a hundred other small cuts. Now, it’s easier to point out the amendments still intact, because they number one: the Third. And I’d wager that’s only because state governors haven’t found a way to put the National Guard in peoples’ homes to make sure they stay far enough apart.

We can change this. We can end the tyranny if we all work together, if we cast aside our petty tribalism. Forget about Team Red versus Team Blue. Think about Team Red, White, and Blue. Stand up to those seeking ever more power over your life, your livelihood, the things you hold dear, the things that make you who you are.

We have an election in November. I had intended to run for the office of state representative, but the coronavirus stopped that. I couldn’t go from door to door for petition signatures to get on the ballot. But I still have a voice and a vote. Anyone, regardless of party affiliation, who supports a continued lockdown based on faulty data, media hysteria, and wishful thinking will receive no help from me. Those who wish to deny me freedom are my enemies. It’s as simple as that.

I may be broken, but maybe I can help others put their pieces back together.

On diversity in fiction, part 2: Case study

In this second part of my brief exploration of diversity in media, I put my money where my mouth is, examining my own works as proof that I live up to my own standard. For each of my “major” settings (which have—or will have—multiple books), I look at the characters through the lens of the diverse, and I explain why I made the choices I did.

Obviously, as this post concerns deep introspection of my writing, it will have spoilers. If you want to read any of the works I describe, check out my Patreon for more information.

Otherworld

Otherworld is my most developed setting. Its premise is that a team of archaeologists take their students to Mexico on a dig in the summer of 2019. They uncover a lost pyramid deep in the middle of nowhere, and it is conveniently aligned so that a hole in the domed top allows the sun to shine directly down on the summer solstice. After a storm drives them away, a subset of the dig team returns to watch the astronomical event, and they are transported to another planet populated by the descendants of a group of Paleo-Indians who left the Americas near the end of the Ice Age. The following 22 stories (so far!) describe the world, its inhabitants, and the unique challenges it creates for the protagonists.

The dig is organized by an American university (Arizona, to be specific) in modern times. Thus, it is diverse out of necessity: political pressure ensures that women are well-represented. Thus, of the 11 who travel to the Otherworld, 5 are women. Two are non-white. Ramón is a Mexican freshman who was offered a place on the team in exchange for being an extra translator. Damonte, I’ll admit, did begin in my mind as the “token black character”. But then, as I delved deeper into the story, I reimagined him as aware of that. He cultivated the image, if only because he thought it was funny when he didn’t act like he “should”.

In a way, Otherworld shows both sides of what I’ve been saying. The diversity is by force, but within the context of the story; for me, it developed mostly naturally. The characters from Earth are normal people. They live in our world. Ashley is a feminist, and she comes out as bi in the sixth story (Situational Awareness). But that’s not because I was pressured by the LGBT community, or because a producer told me I had to include a non-straight character. No, I thought that was the best direction to go. And while she does let it begin to overpower her thoughts, that’s her reaction to finally being among people who let her express her true self.

On the other side of the galaxy, things are a bit different. The Otherworld’s people are not like us, except insofar as they are human. They have different views, and much of the conflict comes from this kind of cultural impedance mismatch. The natives are descended from indigenous Americans of millennia ago, long before the Conquest. They see race in a different light. Those who look the most unlike themselves (Jeff, Ayla, Jenn, and, to a lesser extent, Sara) are viewed as something else. As the natives only have their own histories for guidance, they interpret blond and red hair on white skin the only way they know how, which becomes another main source of trouble.

Nocturne

Nocturne continues to by, in my opinion, the best novel I’ve ever written. I do have ideas for a sequel or two, but those won’t come for a few years. Until then, I only have a single book to extrapolate from, but here goes.

Basically, Nocturne is an allegory for race relations in the US in 2016. That was the backdrop for its writing, and it was largely my intent from the start. The story’s kingdom of Velin is home to three races: the fairly normal skyborn; the almost Aryan dayborn; and the pale-skinned, black-haired nightborn. These subdivisions, however, are not hereditary. In that, they more closely match other intrinsic factors such as orientation. The nightborn are most reviled, owing to their inherent magical abilities of stealth and secrecy.

The protagonist of the story, Shade, is unique in possessing both the abilities and appearance of the nightborn, but also the magics of the dayborn, all of which are associated with light, life, and heat. Thus, he is a kind of fulcrum character, a center point on the spectrum, and his mission is one of moderation. He wants to stop the endless strife of the races by showing that they can unite. (This, by the way, mirrors my own belief in the folly of partisan polarization.)

Beyond his realm, however, others exist, and these offer more “traditional” concepts of race. The southern land of Duravi, for instance, is well-known to Shade’s people; it’s a kind of Africa analogue. Distant Fernicia is a fairly generic Orient mostly based on China. The Northlands are home to, in essence, Vikings. But none of these play much of a role.

Nor do sex and gender. Velin is mostly blind to those by design—I wanted to focus most on the race aspect. So Kellis, the secondary protagonist, is a female police investigator, and she is not special for that. She is treated no differently, for good or ill, than her male counterparts. Others she meets do remark that she is a woman, because that’s what they see, but even the most radical feminist shouldn’t find fault in my portrayal of her. Her worst sin might be using a dinner date to lure a suspect into an interrogation.

Endless Forms

The Endless Forms series is my paranormal detective thriller playground. It’s got Bigfoot, werewolves, and all sorts of unnatural phenomena. (The second entry, the forthcoming The Beast Within, even has an oblique reference to Otherworld, one of the few times I’ve done that.) Our star here is Cam Weir, who just so happens to be a straight, white man from just outside Atlanta.

Nothing about the premise requires that. Indeed, for the first half of the initial novel, The Shape of Things, he’s almost the only white character in evidence. Investigating the paranormal in Atlanta requires being in Atlanta, and the inner city is very diverse. It was when I spent a summer night in 1996 riding around as my mom tried to find an all-night tattoo parlor (don’t ask), and everything I’ve seen points to it only becoming more so in the decades since.

Thus, I see Endless Forms as a good illustration of what I mean by “natural” diversity, at least as far as race is concerned. Cam’s white, but his neighbor Darrell isn’t, and neither really cares. They’ll joke about it, but that’s as far as it goes, because they’re friends. The psychic he goes to for advice has a mixed ancestry he can’t place (Cajun and Caribbean, mostly), but that’s his problem, and he doesn’t hold it against her. If anything, the biggest culture clash comes from this Southern boy traveling to Boston.

Men and women alike see the spooky ghosts and other creatures Cam hunts. The friends he meets on his Bigfoot chase are all men, but that’s because they’re bros. It happens. Other applications of diversity haven’t come up yet, but I’ll take them as they come.

Orphans of the Stars

My child-focused sci-fi/space opera series Orphans of the Stars again follows this rule. Sixteen young people are stranded on a ship, and 9 of them are boys. Random samples can be like that. Most are white or Asian, while one is of Middle Eastern descent, but the story takes place about 500 years in the future, where race just isn’t that big a deal. (That’s basically what I was referring to in the last post: space colonies in this setting, while still horrendously expensive, are cheap enough that a sufficiently motivated group can create their own.)

Issues of sexuality are also background information, but that comes from the characters. They’re children. With only a few exceptions, they’re not even that old. (Their ages range from 9-16 at the start of the story.) Some of them have all the hormonal problems of teens, but it just isn’t important for them, not when survival is at stake. Whether you like that boy on the bridge or the girl down in engineering doesn’t matter much when you just learned your parents are dead. Hanna, the oldest and most mature of the girls onboard the ship, is bicurious, but that’s about as far as the story needs to go.

Then again, these are children. The difference between boys and girls is stark in their eyes. As their eyes are the ones through which the story unfolds, that means I write about their feelings on the matter—Tori, for instance, has an irrational dislike of boys, and she lets that show. But they all recognize the difficult situation they face, so such distinctions naturally fade into the background. Nobody is chauvinist enough to say Mika, a 14-year-old girl, isn’t fit to be an engineer. And if the command crew is largely male, that’s only because they were the ones who took the seats. Except for those just mentioned, most of the girls are younger, or they just don’t like being in space to begin with.

Occupation Trilogy

The Occupation Trilogy is a newer, more epic fantasy series I’ve been working on this year. The first novel, Shadows Before the Sun, is about two-thirds done, so I’ll probably release it sometime in 2019. But I can already say a little about the world from a diversity standpoint.

Mostly, the premise is thus: a colonial power similar to 18th-century Britain has taken over a distant land, and some of the locals are not too happy about it. A generation ago, the kingdom of Laurea invaded their home; the war of conquest lasted six years. They imposed their politics, government, religion, and very way of life on the natives of Ihnet. Most of all, they outlawed magic, because the religious teachings of Laurea forbid it.

This, then, has all the hallmarks of colonialism, and you probably know what that means for diversity. The series has two main races, the invaders and the natives. They view the world through different lenses. Ihnet’s women fought with magic alongside the men; Laurea sees the martial solely as the domain of men. Racial politics are vital to the story, and I choose each character’s race (and ancestry, as there are many of mixed descent) with care.

But this isn’t a series meant to make progressives happy. There are good guys and bad guys on both sides, and not all of them are guys. Men are overrepresented among the characters of Laurea, but that is because of the nature of colonization: many are ex-soldiers who settled down in this new land, took native brides (not always willingly), and started their lives anew.

On the contrary, the Occupation Trilogy mostly concerns itself with the very real factors of society. Whose side are you on? Are you with us, or against us? Both the occupying force of Laurea and the resistance of Ihnet believe there can be no middle ground, no compromise. All other problems are secondary to that, though this may change as the series progresses.

Others

My other works either aren’t as fleshed out, or just don’t offer the same depth of worldbuilding. Thus, I’ll treat them here in much less detail.

  • Hidden Hills: This series, beginning with Lair of the Wizards, is set in a generic quasi-Renaissance fantasy land. As it is fairly small in scope at present, issues of diversity aren’t really important to the narrative. The culture is late feudal, so the treatment and disposition of women can come up, but really not.

  • The Linear Cycle: This one’s post-apocalyptic. One of the premises of the genre is that the traditional divisions of society break down out of necessity. Other than that, there’s not a lot of room to delve into such matters, if only because the action is first and foremost.

  • Heirs of Divinity: One of these days, I’ll release this one. Until then, know that it’s set in 1737, and I endeavored to make that time as realistic as possible. It’s a little more liberal than the real thing, but the story otherwise follows real history, with all its attendant foibles, wherever it can.

  • Gateway: This one starts with The Soulstone Sorcerer, which I’ll put out next year. It’s a typical RPG fantasy world combined with modern Colorado. Much like Otherworld, the diversity comes from the Earth characters, while the secondary world follows its own rules.

  • Before I Wake, Fallen, Modern Minds: These don’t have enough characterization to even worry about diversity. In most cases, the characters of any specific story are just about interchangeable.

Conclusion

In this post, I hope I have explained my reasoning, my argument for a more natural sort of diversity in fiction. In every case, I strive to write what feels right. I don’t set out to solve the world’s problems, or empower a generation, or anything of the sort. My characters, I believe, should be those who best fit the story, the world, they inhabit. Whether or not that matches another person’s idea of diversity never plays into my decision. The story is bigger than me, bigger than my prejudices. I would like to believe that others feel the same about both my works and their own.

On diversity in fiction, part 1: Opinions

No matter where you go in the world today, diversity is a word on everyone’s lips. Love it or hate it, the concept has, thanks to a particularly vocal segment of society, become a fact of modern life. And that has spilled over into fiction of all sorts. After all, stories are ever a reflection of an author’s worldview, so it stands to reason that something so prominent finds its way into anything we write.

In this two-part post, I’d like to offer my opinions on diversity as it pertains to fiction in various sorts of media. That includes the written word, video games, movies, television, and even theater. Anywhere a story must be written, it seems that the writer must take diversity into account, and I feel there are right and wrong ways to go about that.

For this part, I merely want to speak what I believe. In the following entry, which I will post next week, I will then look at my own efforts as a kind of case study for what I feel to be the most appropriate method of dealing with the concept.

Definitions

First off, let me define what I mean by diversity. In this context, I refer to people, or rather characters, who show visible differences in what might be termed intrinsic factors. These are the divisions we’re most familiar with, the ones most evident in appearance or association, and those that are hardest—if not entirely impossible—to change. Race, sex, religion, national origin, culture, and sexual orientation are some of the most common. (Gender, as it exists in a social context, has become a bit more involved, but it works essentially the same way for our purposes here.)

Nothing in a fictional work should, in my opinion, give a reader, viewer, or player the impression that the author sees those who vary from the norm in a negative light. (Unless, of course, that is the true purpose of the work, as in extremist literature of all sorts.) The purpose of fiction is to create a story. Thus, the best authors leave their biases at the door, so to speak.

The fictional world—the secondary world, as some call it—can have its own biases, and those may be different from our primary world. In that case, it is the writer’s responsibility to explain those differences, those biases, in a way the is both entertaining and enlightening. If there is to be a message, then let it stand on its own merit. That goes for diversity as well as its lack.

The use of force

And this, I feel, is where so much modern media has gone astray. Too often, we see authors and screenwriters “force” diversity where it detracts from the story being told. As Hollywood has become far too fond of reboots and reimaginings, we can watch this unfold on a daily basis. In only the past year, I’ve seen reboots and story concepts that, for diversity’s sake, promise to change a character’s race (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), sex (the oft-rumored “female James Bond”), gender (Supergirl), and orientation (Star Trek).

My question is a simple one, yet one that would likely lead to my firing if I worked at one of these studios: who wins? If the object is to show that women/people of color/LGBT/whoever can be protagonists, then shoving them into roles defined by someone who is one of straight, white, or male can only be considered a failure. If your argument is that marginalized groups deserve their own heroes, then make them some heroes. Don’t try to remold preexisting heroes into a more diverse image for the sake of diversity. That, to use a term these people like, is no different from cultural appropriation.

The problem, as I see it, boils down to polarization. One side wants to see more diversity, and they’ll stop at nothing to achieve that goal. But those who don’t seek diversity in and of itself are then pushed to the other side, lumped in with white supremacists, homophobes, etc., for no reason other than they are not sufficiently progressive. Conversely, they then become shunned by those same elements for being too progressive. And the gap only continues to widen.

A better approach

Instead of this increasing bifurcation of society, I think a far better approach, at least regarding the creation of fiction, can be had by writing in a natural, organic fashion. Instead of forcing diversity, keeping quotas of minorities and the like, look at the story as a whole, the world it creates.

For fiction set in the real world of the present, this is almost too easy. We have demographics at our fingertips, so it’s not too hard to make a story that is both diverse and true to life. Historical fiction needs a little bit more work, but some common sense can tell you that it’d be silly for, say, Thor or Achilles to be black, or Guan Yu to be white. (Sexuality, especially in ancient times, is a whole different ballgame, particularly once you leave the familiar Christian West.)

Constructed worlds bring their own rules. In fantasy, you can make a case for just about anything. The men of Middle-Earth are white, if only because they are explicitly contrasted with the southern Haradrim. Brian McClellan’s Powder Mage series has a race of “savages” that, upon further inspection, are not African in appearance, but…ginger. Female warriors abound in literature—Brienne of Tarth (Game of Thrones) is the example most pertinent for TV audiences. Non-heterosexual relationships aren’t at all uncommon. And a good author lets all that fade into the background unless it’s absolutely pivotal to the story.

That doesn’t even get into the possibility that other races might have differing notions of what constitutes diversity, or different intrinsic factors. One can easily imagine polyamorous elves, matriarchal orcs, or shapeshifters to whom the very concepts of race and gender are nonsensical. A fictional world with multiple races and sub-races might have an incredibly complex system of lineage and rights, but equally plausible is the idea that diversity plays by different rules. If there are beast-men living in the next country over, then why are we so worried about skin color?

Science fiction set in the future brings its own baggage. Although I do love The Expanse (except for the very depressing Persepolis Rising), this is a case where I feel it breaks the rule of organic diversity. As far as I can tell, seven books have produced one stable, monogamous, straight couple for a major character: Duarte, the current villain! Race is also hopelessly muddled (one of the series’ main points, to be fair), and the whole thing sometimes comes off as an experiment in throwing as many diversity-friendly adjectives as possible into a character. “Oh,” I can imagine the authors saying, “we don’t have a half-Asian transgender character yet. Let’s get right on that.”

In the future, we can imagine the boundaries of the present falling down. But it’s no less a stretch to imagine them rising back up. As humanity expands its reach—and especially if it expands into space—communities might become more monolithic, rather than more diverse. If anyone can found a space colony, why wouldn’t a group experiment with a “pure” society? Human nature tends towards mild xenophobia. We like being with people who look like us, talk like us, believe the way we do. That’s why we’ve created echo chambers on the Internet, and it’s why you shouldn’t feel bad positing, say, a Nazi colony on Mars. (Now, I wouldn’t want to read about that, much less write about it, but you do you.) On the other hand, liberalism, multiculturalism, and globalism are on the upswing right now, and projecting that into the future seems like the safer bet.

Conclusion

Whatever your genre, whatever your medium, diversity should not be a goal in itself. Instead, natural storytelling should create diversity where it is needed, where it is expected. New York City and San Francisco today don’t have the same demographics as 13th-century London or 1st-century Palestine. Rather than attempt to check all the boxes, think about what characters would be where. Put them where they belong, rather than where society wants them to be.

Now, if the purpose of the story is to tell of a character or group’s struggle against adversity because of their intrinsic properties, then that’s okay. Slaves in the antebellum South are going to be black, no question. Medieval women will have a harder time than their modern counterparts, and a story focusing on them can certainly have a higher female:male ratio. A story that focuses on the X% doesn’t have to follow statistics.

Really, a story for the general populace doesn’t, either. Diversity is fine. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a master spy who happens to be a woman. There’s no reason why a superhero can’t be black, or trans, or whatever descriptor you want to give them. But you shouldn’t tout that as an accomplishment. Because it’s not.

It’s just who they are.

The alternative

No form of government is perfect. If one were, every nation-state would eventually gravitate towards it. Nor will I say that I have developed the perfect form of rule. In fact, I’m not sure such a thing is possible. However, I can present an alternative to the deeply flawed systems of the present day.

Guided by the principles of good government we have previously seen, and aided by logic, reason, and the wisdom of ages, we can derive a new method, a better method. It is not a fully-formed system. Rather, it is a framework with which we can tinker and adjust. It is a doctrine, what I call the Doctrine of Social Liberty.

I cannot accept the strictures of current political movements. In my eyes, they all fail at some point. That is the reason for stating my principles. Those are the core beliefs I hold, generalized into something that can apply to any nation, any state. A government that does not follow those principles is one that fails to represent me. I am a realist; as I said above, nothing is perfect. Yet we should strive for perfection, despite it being ever unattainable. The Doctrine of Social Liberty is my step in that direction.

More than ever, we need a sensible, rational government based on sound fundamentals. The answer does not lie in slavishly following the dogmatic manifestos of radical movements. It does not lie in constant partisan bickering. It can only be found by taking a step back, by asking ourselves what it is that we want from that which governs us.

Over the coming weeks, I hope to detail what I want from a government. I don’t normally post on Tuesdays, but the coming election presents a suitable reason to do so. In four posts, I will describe my doctrine in its broadest strokes, and I will show how our current ruling class violates the principles I have laid out. Afterward, following the start of next year, I want to go into greater detail, because I think these things will become even more relevant.

Elimination

The six basic principles of responsible government don’t, by themselves, converge on a single system. Instead, it’s best to first look at those regimes they entirely eliminate.

Necessity

Egalitarianism is, in essence, a lack of organized government. Anarchy is a repudiation of it. Neither is well-suited to the needs of a large, diverse state. Human nature is to be social, and that means forming relationships, whether romantic, platonic, friendly, or simply on the basis of mutual acquaintance. Those relationships can easily turn into alliances, recognitions of shared purpose. From there, it is a short step to self-organization, and then to government. Therefore, anarchy can never be more than merely a temporary state.

Purpose

A government that does not protect the lives of its citizens is a failure. One that does not uphold those citizens’ rights is equally lacking, though the nature and quantity of those rights can be argued. It is clear, however, that some systems of rule are entirely unsuitable. Those predicated on the absence of individuality—Leninist communism, for instance—cannot be considered acceptable for governing a free people. Likewise, those which ignore fundamental human rights—theocracies being only the most familiar example—must not be seen as viable. But even democracy is not infallible, as the tyranny of the majority can be used to strip rights from the minority. Good government, in this sense, is far more than a question of who rules. It also must take into account how those who rule protect those who do not.

Evolution

Nothing in this world is without change, and that includes society. Social mores shift over generations, but a rigid government can fail because it fails to adapt to these seismic shifts. To prevent this, a state must give some allowance to the possibility of radical changes to its structure, to its core tenets. Those that do not, those that remain fixed, are doomed to fall. Again, theocracy, with its strict insistence on dogma and received wisdom, is the perfect illustration. But a theocracy can adapt by reading and interpreting its scriptures in a new light, while a strongly segmented, highly conservative aristocracy may instead resist the natural evolution of culture, leading to failure.

Equality

Every human being is unique, but we all share many things in common. It is easy, common, and perfectly natural to separate humanity into groups based on the presence or absence of a specific factor. However, to institutionalize this separation is to create an imbalance between members of a preferred class and outsiders. Implementing this sort of segregation by intrinsic factors, those we are physically, mentally, or psychologically unable to change, sorts humanity into those who are—by definition—haves and have-nots. This leaves a segment of the population without political power, without the opportunity for redress, and that segment will only seek to find a new outlet for such. Legislative tribalism, in the form of laws motivated by race, religion, sex, or other factors, is a failure of a government to protect (as by the Principle of Purpose) a certain portion of its citizenry. Executive tribalism, as seen in caste systems, aristocracies, communism, and oligarchy, bars this same portion from using its political voice.

Cooperation

Once again, we return to egalitarianism, as it is a prime example of the nature of competition. When every man is for himself, he can accomplish only what is within his own means. A larger conglomeration, however, can achieve greater things. This is because of resource pooling, specialization, and leadership, among other factors, and it is an expected consequence of our social nature. The most striking examples are those grand projects requiring the cooperation of an entire state, but this sort of socialism is inherent in any system of government. That does not require a surrender of all free will, as in Hobbes’ Leviathan, nor is it a condemnation of capitalism. When we accept the role of government, we commit a portion of ourselves to it, hoping that we receive greater benefits in return. It is this equation, in its lack of balance, where the failure of neoliberal technocracy lies. Yet there is equal imbalance in pure objectivism and pure collectivism.

Initial Conditions

The final principle is the most culture-specific, and it is here that one government system—or the idealized notion thereof—is singled out. However, the Constitution itself does not uphold all the ideals stated above. In its original form, it embraced inequality. It made little space for grand-scale cooperation. In accordance with the Principle of Evolution, however, it has changed to reflect the times, the changing beliefs of those it represents. Other founding documents fail a different set of fundamental principles, and in differing ways. They may be suitable as a starting point for deriving a system of government, but few begin so close to the ideal. Wholly unusable, by contrast, are scriptural resources such as the Ten Commandments, as these are defined by their violation of the Principle of Equality.

None of this is to say that these forms of government are invalid. If a people chooses to create for itself a state based on a violation of the Principles, the choice is theirs alone, and it is not for us to assign fault or blame. Those regimes, however, may not endure.

The axioms

Let us consider the following statements as axiomatic:

  1. Principle of Necessity: Government, in some form, is a construct necessary for the creation and function of any collection of people larger than the tribe or village.

  2. Principle of Purpose: A government exists solely to protect the liberty, health, safety, and well-being of its constituents.

  3. Principle of Evolution: A form of government is not cast in stone, but it must have the potential for change.

  4. Principle of Equality: A system of rule that classifies, based on intrinsic factors, some people as greater or lesser in rights or in being is untenable.

  5. Principle of Cooperation: A society of any size is able to achieve greater feats by working in concert rather than in competition.

  6. Principle of Initial Conditions: The Constitution of the United States is not a perfect document, but it is the best available starting point for enumerating the rights of the people and the responsibilities of government.

This set of axioms should be considered a framework, a definition of the boundaries of a space. With logic and deductive reasoning—two qualities sadly lacking in modern politics—it is possible to derive a system of political thought and a model for governance, one which upholds the principles above while remaining rooted in the practicalities of the modern world.