And here is why political discourse is so cocked up

The generally used definition of othering goes along like this:

The belief/insistence that someone outside the group is somehow, “categorically, topologically, intrinsically, DIFFERENT.” Also, the use of this belief, the not-understandable “other,” to re-affirm the group’s “normalcy” and identity.

There you go, the human history of race, sex and gender identity wrapped up in a neat little package. Covers a hell of a lot of ground, that little word. I don’t think I’d get a hell of a lot of objection if I gave one of Mr. Card’s rants on teh ghays as an example of culturally-blinded othering.

Ah, but I won’t let my liberal friends off that easy. No, I have a prime example of othering that the author (and most of his readers) would not even subliminally realize is doing so: What makes people vote Republican? The title alone is problematic. Consider this quote from Jonathan Haidt’s first paragraph:

We psychologists have been examining the origins of ideology ever since Hitler sent us Germany’s best psychologists, and we long ago reported that strict parenting and a variety of personal insecurities work together to turn people against liberalism, diversity, and progress. But now that we can map the brains, genes, and unconscious attitudes of conservatives, we have refined our diagnosis: conservatism is a partially heritable personality trait that predisposes some people to be cognitively inflexible, fond of hierarchy, and inordinately afraid of uncertainty, change, and death.

I think it sort of speaks volumes all by itself. What is remarkable is that, in large part, the article in question is a self-congratulatory reflection on Mr. Haidt’s intellectual journey from the belief that conservatism should have a DSM IV code, to the realization that “Republicans” are simply an alien cultural group that use a moral value system that Democrats do not understand.

Mr. Haidt, I’m sorry, you’re a bigot. A highly intellectual, well educated bigot, but a bigot nonetheless. You lose. Just based on the fact that the entire article, and most of the responses, are written with the following implicit assumptions.

  • conservative ideology is monolithic.
  • conservative ideology shows no rational basis, so adherents must have non-rational motivations.
  • conservative ideology is purely an envelope over conservative Cristian morality.
  • conservatives are largely ignorant of the reasons they are conservatives.
  • conservatives think differently than liberals, their brains work differently.

In the end, Mr. Haidt has transformed the conservative American into the transcendent alien, someone who doesn’t act like us, doesn’t think like us, and has a fundamentally different moral core. The Republican in Mr. Haidt’s article is the same alien creature who was behind the Yellow Peril, the Red Scare, and the Zionist Conspiracy.

The sad thing is, Mr. Haidt believes himself enlightened. He thinks he has actually achieved some sort of understanding. The sadder thing is, compared to his peers, he is probably correct.

Writing women

I just noticed, about 25% of the way into Heretics, that suddenly most of the story is being told from the POV of various female characters.  Compare this to Prophets, where the first major female character doesn’t show up until nearly that late and she isn’t a POV character, at least not until a fair bit later.

I don’t know if I’m making a point here, other than perhaps the fact that even though we’re in a place now where a female VP candidate can freak everyone out more for her politics than her gender, we still have a situation where it feels unusual to have a majority female POV in a SF story that is otherwise not trying to make any points about gender politics.  We have plenty of strong female protagonists out there, but often they’re living in the same male-dominated universes that their male action-hero ancestors resided in.

Just a thought.

Also, related, while I’m a bit late to this particular party, I did want to mention my current favorite female character in the genre is Agatha Heterodyne, the titular character of Girl Genius, a comic series by Phil and Kaja Foglio. Been going on since 2000, won a buttload of awards, and is all online here.


Girl Genius: Agatha Heterodyne

It is the story of a young woman’s journey from ingenue to mad scientist who’s bent on world domination– largely to keep the male mad scientists from stalking her, using her for experiments, or exploiting her family’s lineage. Not only is it great because Agatha is never the typical damsel in distress (her distress is often caused by people trying to save her) her smarts are more than an informed attribute (she doesn’t just make reality-distorting coffee machines, but actually out-thinks a lot of her opposition) and she still manages to come across as feminine, even when she’s up to her armpits in grease.

Plot- You’re doing it wrong.

There seems to be an occupational hazard in SF movies, to start well— great premise/character/setting— and go completely off the rails in the third act. This may be due to the fact that film is a primarily visual medium, and sometimes, when trying to tie a story onto the visual set-pieces, the writing lags behind. Sometimes a lot. Sometimes, again because film is a visual medium, a given movie can get away with the sight overwhelming the sense, movies like Sunshine and most of the Star Wars franchise after Empire Strikes Back. Sometimes, though, after a good start, and some decent writing, a WTF third act just dropkicks a movie through the goalposts of bad. Hancock suffered this issue in spades, to the point where you can pick out the exact frame where the movie tumbled into the abyss.

Babalyon AD is another one of these movies. The following rant will be spoileriffic, so stop reading now if you care about things like that.

It starts out promising, showing a war-torn central Asia that plausible enough to be scary. For a while it seems that we’re going to see an action-movie take on the kind of gritty realist dystopia we saw in Children of Men. Unfortunately, the comparisons with that better movie don’t end there, as much as it turns out we wish it did.

The set-up is standard SF dystopia plot #235. Jaded loner is reluctantly hired to move special person through nastiness. Nothing wrong with a stock plot, it’s worked in a lot of films from Serenity to Gauntlet. However, for Babalyon AD, the problems come when we find out why this person is special, and who hired our hero, and who’s been trying to screw with the delivery.

Now a genetically engineered virgin birth sponsored by a synthetic church is a cool idea, especially when there’re signs it might be a real miracle. But can someone tell me why, if the people ordering the miracle baby believe it is actually a hoax, why would they go to all the trouble? I could see pulling out the stops if they believed they were building a messiah. I could see, likewise, if she was a beta version, that the church might want to pull her back in to avoid some questions. I do not see expending the resources to manufacture a fake messiah— we have those all the time, without wasting the mad science skilz.

Speaking of waste, our neo-virgin Mary sparks the ultimate gunfight in NYC by coming out and saying, “If you hand me over to the church, they’ll kill me.” Say what?!? Did the writers read the script? These are the same people who hired our morally ambiguous hero to smuggle this woman into the US. Worse, these are the same people who fired a missile into the convent she came from. If they wanted her dead, why remove her from the convent before they blew it up? Or why didn’t they hire our smuggler to pop a cap in her? And why are they spending all this ad time announcing her arrival? Sense. . . Not. . . Making. . . Head. . . Hurt. . .

Here’s another nonsensical plot point. Our hero has to smuggle our Miracle Mama through blatantly life-threatening passages to get to North America, alone. However, as hermetically sealed as the border is, some of the same characters show up on both sides of this airtight border, and certainly both factions have ample personnel on both continents. This implies they have better ways to transport goods and services than to hire our loose-cannon hero— especially since he was the only one of the trio running this gauntlet that needed a forged passport.

What the hell is with the whole “if you’re carrying a virus I have to kill you?” Where were they going with that? If it’s a red herring, it stinks like one. Oh, and thanks for solidifying the whole plastic surgery is eeeeevil trope. And how is it the Ebil Church Lady can only track down Miracle Mama’s father once the plot requires it? Subtlety wasn’t his strong suit. (Let’s make the grab in a public bar, unarmed, in the midst of a few hundred drunken Russians. What could go wrong?) And, you’re going to hide your daughter from the Ebil Church Lady, so you sequester her in a convent run by her church. Huh. What?

I get the feeling the movie would have been loads better if they just didn’t try to “explain” anything.

The Obligitory Moderation Post

Just had to kill the first flame war on my blog, which leads inevitably to the post that will appear sooner or later on every single blog that allows commentary.  *drumroll*

The Official Moderation Policy

Things that will probably get me to pull your comments:

  • Going off-topic in any way I don’t find entertaining or enlightening.
  • POSTING IN ALL CAPS.
  • Any personal attack on another commenter.
  • Anything that pisses me off.
  • Flame Wars in any way shape or form.  Any.  My sandbox, don’t crap in it.  To avoid this, here are some signs you’re engaging in one:
    • That person is wrong, and you have to point it out.
    • Writing, “No, you’re not reading what I said,” more than once in succession about the same point.
    • If you believe some broad generality posted by someone is a personal attack directed at you.
    • You post a long tirade attacking someone while saying how unfairly you’re being attacked.
  • Lastly, I reserve the right to pull anything off this blog for any reason without explanation.  This isn’t a democracy, it’s a semi-benign despotism.  However, I promise only to use my powers for good.

A final point, you all may know I’m married.  My wife, Michelle, is lively, spirited, and comments here a lot.  I do not expect you to agree with her, any more than I expect you to agree with me.  However, while I might find personal attacks on me somewhat amusing, you don’t want to attack my wife.  No, it’s not fair.  My blog, you deal.

A message for Democrats

Ok, I get it, everyone was surprised, and you all are a little freaked out. I understand that. But since a lot of my friends are Democrats I thought I’d offer some advice so you don’t join the collective stupid which is the interwebs and argue your points with a modicum of sense.

Advice the first: Do not say “Palin is a stupid play for Hillary supporters.” That little bit of rhetoric displays a particularly large missing of point: Palin is a play for the Republican base, precisely where the McCain campaign was hemorrhaging, directly away from Hillary. It’s also such a patently stupid idea that it shows the speaker believes Identity politics trump any and all other political considerations.

Advice the second: It may be legit to bring up the issue of Palin’s experience. But it is also probably not in the interest of the Democratic candidate to have experience become a dominant issue in the campaign. Obama supporters complaining about the Republican VP’s lack of experience is akin to McCain supporters complaining about the Democratic VP being an old white guy who’s been in Washington forever. Not a great idea to constantly remind everyone of your own candidate’s primary weakness.

Advice the third: “OMG she’s an anti-abortion conservative!” Uh, people, can anyone tell me the last pro-choice liberal that was nominated on the Republican presidential ticket? I thought so.