Checking In From . . .

. . . well, not the best place in the world.

Numbers of infections & deaths continue to rise here as so much of the world gets things under control. The one ray of light is that the current regime seems to be getting hit hard by their absolute failure to respond adequately to the pandemic. 45* has falling approval numbers, increasing disapproval, dismal turn out at events, and is getting beaten in campaign fund raising. So, we have hopeful signs he’ll be out in November, in a fair election (assuming little to no voter suppression, etc.).

In the meantime, my college is continuing online only or 90% online for the foreseeable future. But, of course, aikido is shut down indefinitely beyond what little home practice can be done (weapons kata and basic movements).

Writing continues. Putting the finishing touches on the magic book. That’s currently sitting at over 56,000 words and 191 pages. Probably start looking at publishers soon.

Also working on a multiverse world build for fun. About 14-15k into that so far. Mostly working on iPhone Notes app then transferring to Word, converting notes to paragraphs, then editing & expanding a hard copy.

Watching ST: Discovery season 2. We’re down to the last couple episodes. I think the plan is to subscribe to Disney+ at that point. Continuing Mythbusters with the kid and introduced him to ST:ToS.

Also added some Discworld art from the Discworld Emporium in the UK.

Another Day, Another Mass Shooting

(Started after the Parkland shooting, then set aside for a while)

Another day, another mass shooting in the U.S.

Thoughts and prayers all around, and nothing substantial gets done.

And the usual arguments arise from the American Right.

Here’s the disclaimer: I am an Eagle Scout.  During BSA summer camps, I shot rifles.  I was pretty good with a .22, good enough that it got boring pretty quickly.  I even did a little with black powder rifles, and wasn’t too bad there.  I say this not to brag or anything, but to point out that I’m familiar with rifles, that I’m not “afraid” of guns (as so many on the American Right would like to believe).

As Florida, and scores of other school shootings, not to mention the mall, movie theater, and other mass shootings go through my head, I thought I’d address the most common Right Wing arguments all in one place.  I know this isn’t likely to convince any of the True Believers™, but it’s more to get the thoughts out of my head, and maybe someone else can use it and the attached research.

1) It’s too soon.

The perennial favorite.  It’s always “too soon”, “we should respect the grieving”, etc.  The excuse keeps running, pushing the “ok time” further and further back, arguably in the hopes that before it becomes “not too soon”, another shooting will occur so “too soon” can be used again.

The claim is often used because “we shouldn’t be legislating based on emotion and grief”, which is certainly true (likewise, we shouldn’t be creating anti-Choice legislation, which is entirely based on emotion, but that’s another story).  However, we’ve been discussing this issue to one degree or another for decades, and we’re always told “it’s too soon”.

2) Lots of people are killed by cars and we don’t ban those.

This one’s a favorite analogy, among pundits and comment sections alike.  And it’s a terrible analogy.

First, cars are more heavily regulated than guns.  We keep track of car owners and register cars (licenses, vehicle registrations, license plates) and keep them in an electronic, searchable database.  Federal law prevents the same from being done with guns and gun owners (the ATF has to search paper records by hand to trace a gun).

Second, a car’s primary purpose is transportation.  Its use in homicide is, often, accidental, through misuse (deliberate or otherwise), or through other outside forces (ex. inebriation, weather).  A gun’s sole purpose (not primary, only) is to cause harm or destroy.  Certainly, they can be used for target shooting, but that’s practicing to cause harm or death.  They can be used for hunting, again by causing harm and death.  They can, potentially (see below), be used for defense, but again by causing harm and death.  Every “other” reason ultimately comes down to the core “cause harm, injury, or death” purpose.

The same holds true for virtually all the other analogies (ex. knives have use as tools).

3) It’s not a gun issue, it’s a mental illness issue.

The data and available research strongly disagrees with this claim.

Psychological studies conducted fairly continuously since the 1980s have found that “Violence is not a product of mental illness. Nor is violence generally the action of ordinary, stable individuals who suddenly ‘break’ and commit crimes of passion. Violent crimes are committed by violent people, those who do not have the skills to manage their anger. Most homicides are committed by people with a history of violence. Murderers are rarely ordinary, law-abiding citizens, and they are also rarely mentally ill. Violence is a product of compromised anger management skills” (Hayes, reprinted on Slate).

In fact, “Fewer than 5 percent of the 120,000 gun-related killings in the United States between 2001 and 2010 were perpetrated by people diagnosed with mental illness” (Metzl & MacLeish, Vanderbilt).

In short, mental illness is a combined fearmongering and disassociative technique.  It creates the fear that a homicidal psychopath will kill people while assuring everyone that “normal” people don’t shoot others.  The reality is, of course, that most shooters are “normal”, often friends or family of their victims (much like kidnappings—“stranger danger” is false, the vast majority of kidnappers are well known to their victims, often family).

4) I need a gun to protect my family.

Again, this claim is the result of fearmongering, aided and abetted by the 24-hour news cycle.  The claim is based on the idea that the U.S. is a dangerous, scary place where violent crimes happen to everyone all the time.  The reality is that violent crime has dropped steadily for the last couple decades, particularly since 1994 (FBI).  There are no murderers and rapists knocking at our borders.  Unless a person lives in a particularly problematic neighborhood (say, 1990s South-Central LA), the odds of experiencing a violent crime (or mass shooting) are low.

Covering the other aspect of this claim, a person is 34x more likely to be killed in a “unjustifiable gun homicide”, 78x more likely to be killed in a gun suicide, and 2x more likely to be involved in an “accidental gun death” than to be involved in a “justifiable gun homicide” (e.g. shoot someone in self-defense) (FBI, via WaPo).

5) Chicago! (a.k.a. “Dumb Libs”)

To begin with, as of 2017, Chicago is #8 in deadliest cities in the U.S., with many conservative led cities with much more permissive gun laws above it (CBS).  On a list created by that bastion of liberal hippies (</sarcasm>), Forbes Magazine, Chicago doesn’t even break the top 10 (Forbes).  According to World Atlas (2016), Chicago was #16, after a mix of left and right leaning cities (World Atlas).

But, the biggest problem with this line of argument is that it assumes that cities exist in a vacuum.  It assumes that a person in Chicago can’t leave the city, go somewhere else in Illinois with more permissive gun laws, buy a gun, and return to Chicago.  Or that they can’t drive to Indiana, with extremely permissive gun laws, buy a gun, and come home.  Really, the “Chicago!” argument is an argument that supports more uniformity in gun laws across the country, rather than being an example of gun laws not working.

6) Gun Free Zones (e.g. schools) don’t work.

So, the obvious counterpoint to this claim is: If putting up “Gun Free” signs doesn’t work, then why would putting up signs forbidding transgender people from entering bathrooms work?

A bit less tongue in cheek, though, there is sufficient scientific evidence that stricter gun control works and saves lives (Science Alert).  The conclusions reached by 130 studies found that increased gun control reduces deaths and increases safety, ultimately meaning that “Gun Free Zones” are no longer a thing.  But, while they exist, we need to look at the reason they exist in order to determine their effectiveness.  Opponents seem to believe that the purpose of a “Gun Free Zone” is to prevent shootings, much like they think the purpose of laws is to prevent crimes from happening (thus, if crime happens anyway, the law must be ineffective).  However, ideally, yes, laws would prevent crime, but in reality, laws exist to codify what society deems to be a fit punishment for violating society’s rules.  Thus, “Gun Free Zones” exist to provide a code of punishment for those who bring weapons within range of children (and politicians), with harsher punishments than carrying said weapons at, for instance, a shopping center because as a society we deem the school, church, hall of government to be more sacred than a shopping center.

7) We need to arm teachers (and corollary, We need more people with guns)

The scientific consensus amongst gun researchers has definitively shown that more guns does not mean fewer crimes and deaths.  In fact quite the opposite (Hemenway; Moyer).  And the scientists aren’t divided, they are virtually unanimous on the topic.

Matt Martin, a combat veteran wounded in combat, discusses the problems of arming teachers directly.  He states, “Defending children is a must, but putting a firearm in the hands of even the most trained teacher isn’t the answer. Anyone suggesting this solution has clearly never experienced a situation like the one seen in Parkland because it oversimplifies the complexity of an active shooter situation, especially in close-quarters. It is not as easy as a ‘good guy with a gun stopping a bad guy with a gun’” (Martin).  Following up with “Regardless of training, you don’t know how people will respond in life and death situations until the moment comes. You don’t know how people will react when they hear gunshots. You don’t know how people will react when the person next to them is shot. You don’t know how a person will respond when their task is shooting someone they know or taught.”

As he notes, it is difficult, perhaps even impossible, for a teacher to shoot someone they’ve taught.  Frankly, speaking as a teacher, I would not want to be in the same building as any other instructor who could shot one of their students.  And I deal with adult students, not high schoolers or younger.  Anyone who could pull a gun and shoot a middle school or even high school student whom they’ve taught really should not be teaching.

USMC veteran Anthony Swofford adds, “People attack heavily armed institutions all too often, as with the mass shootings in 2009 at Fort Hood in Texas and in 2013 at the Washington Navy Yard. Assailants in such cases aren’t typically worried about losing their lives in the process. Usually, losing their lives is part of the plan” (Swofford).  The idea that arming a certain number of teachers would dissuade someone from perpetrating a school shooting is absurd.

When people who have spent hundreds of hours in weapons training and served in combat situations say this is a bad idea, we really should listen.

Moreover, as this debate has continued and the NRA’s pipe dream of Rambo-like, gun toting teachers has gained traction among the more impressionable gun activists, incidents like the one Amy Larson covers, in which a high school teacher accidentally fired his gun in the classroom and injured three students due to ricochets.  Not only was this shooter a teacher, he was a reserve police officer, with the additional training that includes.  This is not an isolated incident, and we will see more like it (and more instances of students stealing teachers’ guns) should the idea become more than a pipe dream.

8) It’s a social issue, not a gun issue.

This is a somewhat difficult one, because it’s partially true.

It is a social issue.

It is an issue with how our society fetishizes, and otherwise looks, at guns.  It is an issue with how our society has not changed significantly in its view for decades (at least since the old Westerns made the “good guy with a gun” myth).  It is an issue with how our society has decided that a gun is more important than human lives, that it has more rights than many people do.

9) Only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy.

Both tactical experts, combat veterans, and the FBI disprove the NRA’s false statement.  The truth of the matter is that those who make the claim that “Only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy” mean that only *they* can stop a bad guy, and only if they have their gun.  Because, having a gun makes them, personally, a hero.

On the small scale, retired ATF SWAT officer David Chipman states, “Training for a potentially deadly encounter meant, at a minimum, qualifying four times a year throughout my 25-year career. And this wasn’t just shooting paper—it meant doing extensive tactical exercises. And when I was on the SWAT team we had to undergo monthly tactical training” (Chipman).  Combat veterans have added that even many heavily trained people freeze up in their first firefight, and even in later ones.  They stress that it’s impossible to know how someone, even a highly trained someone, will react until the moment comes.

According to the FBI, victims shot and killed active shooters in less than 3% of cases between 2000 and 2012.  Even with subduals (non-gun carrying victims), that number only rises to just under 17%.  The vast majority of mass shooting events end either with the shooter leaving or the police arriving (in the majority of cases in under 3 minutes) and subduing the shooter.

10) If we ban guns, they’ll just find another way.

This is probably one of the most illogical claims.  While true, in that there are other ways to kill people, it’s rather difficult to kill 20+ people with a knife or baseball bat before being taken down.  It’s also a lot easier to take down someone who is using a knife or bat than someone using a gun.  The gun is also a fast, easy method.  It’s much more difficult with other items.  More importantly, a gun creates distance, which makes the psychological act of killing easier.  It’s psychologically more difficult to stab a person to death than to shoot them.

Additionally, taken to its logical conclusion, the claim, applied to other laws, causes some issues.  For example, if we ban abortions, they’ll just find another way (true, history).

11) Laws only hurt law abiding owners, criminals don’t care about the laws.

Another illogical claim.  Taken to its logical conclusion, this can be applied to any law.  Which, ultimately, brings us to the question of why we bother with laws, after all, they only hurt law abiding people, criminals don’t care about them.  Which is absurd.

Keep in mind, that virtually every mass and school shooting in the country was perpetrated by individuals (usually young, white, males) with legally obtained firearms.  Most of whom were considered “law abiding gun owners”.

That said, this claim reflects a particular view about the purpose of laws.  It is predicated on the idea that laws exist to prevent or deter crime.  This, I argue, is not the purpose of laws.  Rather, laws exist to outline what society deems to be harmful and to provide a standard set of socially agreed upon consequences for failure to abide by society’s rules.

12) You’re just afraid of guns.

Not in the least (see above).  In fact, many “law abiding gun owners” are in favor of stricter gun control.  Many combat veterans are in favor of stricter gun control.  Most police are in favor as well (it makes it easier for them for identify the “bad guys” in shooting situations).

Take the words of Addison Ashe and Marissa Bowman, if you don’t trust mine.

13) <Insert “leftie” celebrity> built their career on action movies and is anti-gun, hypocrite.

No, celebrities, even those who built their careers on action movies, who hold pro-gun control positions are not hypocrites.  They are people who understand the difference between reality (guns are tool of destruction; people are not action heroes) and fantasy/fiction (guns are cool toys!; “I’m a hero when I have my gun”).

14) Gun control/bans led to the Holocaust.

This one is really so outlandish that it doesn’t deserve answering, but I will anyway.

It’s based on a false claim that Adolf Hitler immediately tightened gun control laws in Germany after he and the Nazi Party rose to power.

The reality is that “The Nazis adopted a new gun law in 1938. According to an analysis by Bernard Harcourt, a professor at Columbia University School of Law, it loosened gun ownership rules in several ways.

“It deregulated the buying and selling of rifles, shotguns and ammunition. It made handguns easier to own by allowing anyone with a hunting license to buy, sell or carry one at any time. (You didn’t need to be hunting.) It also extended the permit period from one year to three and gave local officials more discretion in letting people under 18 get a gun.

“The regulations to implement this law, rather than the law itself, did impose new limits on one group: Jews” (PolitiFact)  (And Harcourt’s original article.)

The claim is also generally based around the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising with the claim that unarmed Jews would not have been defeated if they were armed.  The flaw is that they were armed (with handguns, a few rifles, and grenades), but their numbers were low (est. 750 fighters) and they were civilians with little to no training who went up against SS forces (e.g. trained, experienced soldiers) supported by local police.  The loss was not due to lack of weapons, but rather to barely trained civilians facing highly trained soldiers who had superior support, organization, and tactical experience.

15) I have a Constitutional right to bear arms.

This is very true.  However, the Second Amendment also states “a well-regulated militia”.  Regulated means to govern or direct according to rule; to bring under the control of law or constituted authority; to make regulations for or concerning regulate the industries of a country; to bring order, method, or uniformity to.  All of which involve control and rules.  Which means that gun control legislation is inherently constitutional, so long as said legislation does not completely remove the possibility of bearing arms (e.g. it can limit the types of arms, under what conditions they can be owned, registration, etc.).

Additionally, in any given society, one person’s rights end where the next citizen’s rights being.  Just as my right to practice my religion ends at your right to practice yours, your right to bear arms ends where my right to Justice, Tranquility, and general Welfare begin.

Werewolves and Social Reflection

Our conception of the werewolf, historically and today, is greatly influenced by, or reflects, our cultural conceptions, and misconceptions, of wolves.  In this, the werewolf is an excellent example of the adage that we create our own monsters.

Medieval sources, fearing the wolf and not understanding it, saw the wolf as a symbol of nobility gone wrong, or bad.  The lion stood for the noble ruler.  Clearly a misconception, in hindsight, as the wolf works with others for the good of its society, while the (male) lion lazes around and lets others do the work.  Regardless, this conception of the wolf as nobility gone bad persisted from the monstrous werewolf tales into the medieval sympathetic werewolf stories.  In those lais and romances, the werewolf himself was sympathetic and good, but something bad still happened amongst the nobility.  In most cases, a queen or noblewoman was disloyal—Gorlagon, Alphouns, Bisclavret.  Or the nobility mocked a holy man—the Ossory werewolves.

Even today, our depictions of werewolves are based on cultural conceptions and misconceptions of animals.  Most of our modern werewolves are pack oriented, from a scientific base.  The monstrous ones tend to be outsiders, the fear of the loner that even permeates our language (the “lone wolf”).  They also tend to be nature oriented, an influence of the environmentalist movement and a 1960s-1980s renewed interest in native American and First Peoples cultures, more than a wolf conception.  On the down side, they have also been, largely, dominated by the idea of the alpha wolf.  That is probably the greatest misconception affecting modern werewolves, as it is based on faulty, bad, science.  But, it has captured some part of the imagination and has been adopted by many urban fantasy, contemporary fantasy, and paranormal romance writers as well as most of the more toxic subcultures, particularly the MRA, “incel” (which is a, frankly, b.s. concept), white supremacy, and neo-Nazi movements (all of which have a fair bit of crossover in membership).

This relationship between the werewolf figure and social assumptions, it’s reflection of social ideals, views, and misconceptions, is one reason that I find it interesting to study.  This interest, of course, also applies to all symbolic, mythologic, legendary, and folk tale figures.

Academic Dead End

I’m going to preface this post by saying that I enjoy my job and know that I am helping a lot of people (they tell me this pretty regularly). That said, everything else below is also true.

It seems strange to call a position in collegiate level education “a dead end job”. Culturally, we’re primed to think “dead end job” refers to food service, retail, etc., not positions that require a Masters degree. However, after a great deal of thought, I think the label is appropriate. After all, I’ve spent nine years in just such a position, with the same employer (for certain external reasons, plus assurances were made by said employer and never followed through), at a near poverty annual income. Frankly, people who have six or more years of post-secondary education cannot live on a pittance, really no one can at least not well.

So, why is this a dead end position?

In nine years, there has been no chance of promotion. There has been no opportunity for transitioning to full time (despite assurances of regular internal hiring, which hasn’t happened). There has been no raise, so someone with 10+ years makes the same hourly as the person hired yesterday. In fact, we’ve had a mandatory 20% pay cut, “to cut costs”, while the school created and hired new, six figure salary VPs.  There’s no incentive to do well, as pay remains the same and there’s a cap in hours that apply the same for the best and the worst.

I say all this not to complain, as such.

Rather, I say it to inform people about the model that’s been more or less standardized across higher ed for the last 40 or so years, at least in the U.S., though I hear it’s catching on in Canada & Europe too.

This is an unsustainable model for higher education. Colleges & universities cannot continue to rely on hourly positions, single semester contract positions, low annual pay positions that require a Masters degree and prefer doctorates. In the end, this practice harms undergraduate education, graduate teaching assistants, and doctoral graduates all; not to mention the fact that it shifts full time faculty more and more to administrative duties (shrinking pool of full timers to draw from) rather than teaching and conducting research.

Charlottesville, American Fascism, & White Supremacy

While I generally try to avoid political or real world cultural issues posts here, the events of last weekend in Charlottesville, VA deserve, I think, some commentary. I waited on writing this, and posting it, to fully gather my thoughts and response to the situation. Even so, this may ramble a bit, my apologies in advance. First, despite a certain “world leader’s” claim, there were no “many sides” and the situation was clear cut. The situation is always clear cut when neo-Nazis and white supremacists are involved and there are always only two sides: neo-Nazis/Supremacists & everyone else. There really is no middle ground here. I’m the first to argue against oversimplifying and dichotomies, but, in this case, there are only the two and it really is that simple. Claims of equivalency between the neo-Nazis/Supremacists and the antifa/BLM movement are false; the former use violence against people simply because of their skin color or for being Jewish in order to kill or intimidate, the latter use violence less often, but do so to protect people of all races & creeds from being beaten or killed. Regardless, the default state should always be Nazis = bad, no “buts”, no “what abouts”, no excuses. Nazis always = bad.

A little semi-digression.

My paternal grandfather was the child of Polish immigrants. He was an irreverent Catholic. He was not, to my knowledge, especially political. He was known to occasionally indulge in what can euphemistically be called “ethnic humor”. I never heard him raise his voice in anger (it probably happened, but I don’t ever recall it). He was also an NCO in the U.S. Army MPs during the occupation of Germany after WWII. In this role, he sometimes escorted Nazi officers, particularly SS officers, to their trials. Occasionally, in the process, he shot at, or ordered others to shoot at, Nazis. Keep in mind, the second largest ethnic population sent to the concentration camps was the Poles, possibly some of his relatives. I can only imagine what he’d think of the events in Charlottesville and those on the American Right who stood up for Neo-Nazis.

(To Head off Objections: No, people who fought in the Korean War did not fight communists or Marxists. They fought fascist oligarchs. The same holds for the entire Cold War. Cuba? Military dictatorship. Yes, they called themselves communists, but they weren’t any more than I’m a Catholic, no matter what I may choose to call myself.)

Back to the main point.

The central element of white supremacy, and really the neo-Nazis, is this idea that they are somehow “defending White Culture”. However, “White Culture” (or “White European Culture”) is a myth. There is no such thing. There are many white, European cultures, not a single unified one. A culture involves traditions and tangibles, ex. food & attire. “White Culture” lacks both. Rather, there is Irish culture, German culture, Romanian culture, Canadian culture, etc. The argument that says, “If White Culture is racist, then so is Black Culture” is another false equivalency. In the U.S., if you ask a white person (or Asian or Latinx) what country (or countries) their family originated in, they can probably tell you. Ask the same question of a black individual and the majority are unable to say, because it’s impossible to tell unless their families immigrated in the 20th century or later. Thus, “Black Culture” or “African-American Culture” is not equivalent to “White Culture”, it is equivalent to saying Irish culture or Vietnamese culture or Puerto Rican culture.

That brings to mind another thing I keep hearing: “Let’s get rid of the prefixes, we’re all Americans.” I have two problems with this. First, no one ever says this when a white guy identifies as Irish-American or German-American. The prefixes only seem to be a problem for certain people when they’re used by someone who is black (African-American) or brown (Mexican-American, etc.). Second, those prefixes are an important part of our American culture, a reminder that we are a hybrid culture, a multicultural society, Frankensteinian if you will. In the States, it’s difficult to find anyone, except a recent immigrant, whose lineage is entirely from one country. Virtually all of us are mixed something, e.g. multicultural. For example, I’m a mix of Polish (paternal) and Anglo-Scots-Irish (maternal). This also goes to cultural festivals. There are those who complain about “black pride” festivals or black history month, of course they say nothing about the country’s numerous Irish cultural festivals, celebration of Oktoberfest, etc.

On the whole, the States are an experiment on a number of levels. We’re not the first multicultural society in existence—Rome, China, India, Russia, and others beat us there—nor are we the oldest multicultural society is existence—again, see China, India, Russia. To think otherwise is sheer ignorance. But, we’re, most of us, trying very hard to make it successful despite elements of our society that wish to sabotage society.

Hell With It: “Swearing”, Some Thoughts

I got involved in a brief discussion about the concept of “swearing” recently. The whole thing started with one person’s desire for the popular Facebook page “I F-ing Love Science” to change its name (to remove the “F-ing”). This got me thinking about a lot of things that had been percolating in my brain for a while. Here’s the result.

I put the term “swearing” in quotes because I don’t really believe in the concept as such.

First, there have been a number of psychological studies that indicate significant benefits from “swearing”. Psychology Today lists seven positive effects from pain relief to non-violent retribution, elevated endorphins to humor. Positive Psychology News builds on physical pain reduction.

There are cultural elements too. For instance, traveling in Ireland and England, I noticed a tendency among natives to use “swear” words regularly and naturally. I’ve noted their use occasionally when CSPAN airs sessions of Parliament. No one seems to bat an eye, it’s natural not scandalous, in my experience. In Russia, the Kremlin recently put in place a ban on “obscene language”. These particular words, mat, “helped the country survive the brutalities of Stalin-era slave labour camps, win over Nazi Germany in World War II and ride out the turbulence of the Soviet collapse, supporters say.” They were extremely useful for centuries in expressing views about the government and other issues.

In English, at least, virtually all “swear” words focus on bodily functions and sex. Demonizing the words may reinforce the message preached for centuries by Roman (and later Protestant) Christian hierarchy that the body and sex are dirty and bad.

And some claim that the words are used for “shock” value. Honestly, I think that effect died long ago, though it may move in cycles. Few contemporaries, if any, were shocked when Chaucer used “swyve” (the 14th century equivalent of “fuck”) or when Shakespeare throws out his word play on “ass”. In the 1950s, I suppose some folks would be shocked to hear the words. Personally, by third grade (in a Catholic school) I could out-swear the proverbial sailor. Ironically, proscribing their use actually adds to shock value. Making them non-proscribed, commonly used words, weakens the words and lessens their “shock” value. This is one reason I think the “shock” value is gone today.

But, that leaves the question: why proscribe certain words as “obscene” or “swears” and not others?

For the English speaking world, specifically the U.S., I think the answer lies in a mix of religion and classism. I’ll hit the latter first.

How often have we heard that those who “swear” are demonstrating a small vocabulary (e.g. lack of education)? That’s an inherently classist take, based on the old, pre-1940s days when only the upper class regularly attended post-secondary education and the middle class aspired to live like (their rose-tinted view of) the upper class. Shakespeare knew that “swears” were part of the language of the common people, the groundlings. That’s one reason he used them, to connect with the people who made up the majority of his audience. The same is, arguably, true of Chaucer and others.

Religion, specifically Catholicism and its children (Protestants), has had its effect too. Often the claim for a religious proscription of “swearing” is the third commandment: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” This is a major stretch, I think, unless the Biblical deity is named after bodily functions or sex (which, as noted, make up the vast majority of “swear” words in most languages). What the commandment means is not to trivialize the deity’s name or commit blasphemy, it has nothing to do with alternate (commoner, peasant?) words for urine, sex, or feces.  This proscription is, I think, one of thought control, since words shape how we think and how we interact with the world and people around us.

Bill O’Buffoon, or Equality and Straw Men

A few years ago, an older (and rather politically & socially conservative) student referenced an absent student with a learning disability. The first student asked, “You don’t really think she’s equal to you, do you?”

Fairly recently, a notable TV personality, referenced in the title, claimed equality is impossible because he’ll never be a famous basketball player.

My answer to the first inquiry was, “Yes, I do.” My answer to the second is, “Nice straw man fallacy.”

When we talk about equality in society, we don’t mean that everyone can do everything equally well. What we mean is socio-political equality. That is, what we mean by equality is that everyone gets treated the same, legally, socially, and politically.

For example: everyone gets paid the same for doing the same job at the same level of experience, regardless of race, religion, gender, or orientation. Likewise everyone has the same opportunity to nurture their talent, whatever those may be, instead of being held back by the accident of birth into a given socio-economic level or prejudices about race, gender, religion, or orientation (or whatnot).

This does not mean that everyone gets to play professional basketball. But, it does mean that anyone who has a talent for basketball should have an equal chance to potentially play professionally. Likewise, my own talents are in the teaching and writing realms, therefore equality means a fair chance for me to develop and make a living from those talents (despite my total lack of basketball ability), regardless of unchangable factors (e.g. race, gender, orientation, or even religion). The referenced personality’s talents, from what I can see, are conning, bullying people, and fearmongering . . . but are clearly not in formulating logical argumentation.

In the example I started this post with, the absent student was/is a proficient (maybe even talented) computer programmer, something I’ve tried and found that I have no talent for. On the other hand, said student’s writing needed a fair bit of work and did not come easily to her. We’re equal, nonetheless, even though our talents are different and we’ll never be identical.

In short, equality means equal opportunity, not everyone being identical.

P.S. The first student mentioned above was also the inspiration for my morality post as (s)he stridently claimed that religion is an absolute necessity for morality.

Governments Ask Too Many Questions

Societies hidden from normal mankind, organizations even entire cultures existing beneath the common experience of normal society. These are staples in many genres of fiction from fantasy (most sub-genres) to mystery, action to sci-fi. And whenever they appear, some worldbuilding is involved.

The very fact of the existence of hidden societies in a text is worldbuilding. Yes, we have hidden societies in the real world, some more hidden than others – the collegiate greek organizations to the sort of gentlemens’ clubs that have smoking parlors (and no dancers). But the ones in works of fiction are almost exclusively fictitious societies, the creation of the author. Because of the nature of most such societies, the author has to create a world in which hidden societies of a given type can exist and are indeed assumed to exist.

Four major types of hidden society come to mind immediately:

Government Agencies — Whether Jason Bourne’s Treadstone or The Brotherhood of the Rose, the British Secret Service or IM Teams, whether James Patterson or David Morrell, Ian Fleming or someone else, action novels, shows, and movies are filled with top secret government agencies, many of which not even the heads of state are aware of. These agencies are often tasked with assassination, intelligence gathering, or other high stakes missions during which they must maintain a (relatively) low profile for political or other reasons. And we know from a wide range of sources that this sort of organization is not how real world intelligence agencies work, for a variety of reasons (including technology – Bond, Ethan Hunt).

Criminal Organizations — Secret criminal organizations are common fodder as well. From SMERSH to Moriarty to HYDRA, secret criminals and criminal societies are everywhere. Ian Fleming and Arthur Conan Doyle created theirs precisely to have a core villain for their respective heroes, and Fleming’s has the added bonus of existing after the Soviet specter died with the Cold War. Marvel comics created their’s, I think, to balance the teams of heroes. It also makes sense that if superheroes band together, supervillains would do so in response.

Secret Societies — The staple of conspiracy thrillers, secret societies add an element of clandestine fear to a story. Whether David Morrell’s society of Merovingian descendants or assassins hunting the Church’s enemies or David Brown’s sinister Catholic sub-organizations, they give readers the sense of accessing some hidden threat. They also give the protagonists a way to kill with impunity, because they’re saving normal society from the hidden threat.

Hidden Magic — Everyone in the world who hasn’t been living under a rock for the last two decades knows about J.K. Rowling’s hidden societies of wizards and witches. Other examples include Tanya Huff’s hidden witch family (The Enchantment Emporium) and Rick Riordan’s hidden societies of Greek demigods, Roman demigods, and Egyptian magicians. In each case, the concealment comes in part from fear – of being hunted, exploited, or bothered, or something else – in large part. But, being hidden also keeps them apart from modern life (except Huff’s) via technology among other things.

What do hidden societies need for their existence?

First, a world in which their existence is assumed (by the writer and the reader). After that, they need a way to remain concealed. This can be the fog that hides Riordan’s demigods from normal mortals to control of some supertechnology to global influence over governments and corporations. How they remain hidden is especially important in contemporary and sci-fi settings as it becomes more difficult to conceal things due to the prevalence of information technology (e.g. camera and video phones, cctv, the interwebs).

Bonus things a hidden society could use include some means of funding (MiB’s patents on velcro, etc.; Treadstone’s federal CIA funding; HYDRA’s crime sprees), facilities, equipment, and transportation (after all, in a post-2001 world, it has become rather difficult to transport weaponry across national borders in many cases, not impossible though).