“War is Peace” – Orwell, 1984

The world seems messier than ever. This is actually a good thing, because it compels me to write. For every other purpose imaginable, it’s bad.

Before I get rolling, I wanted to let you know that I am hearing all of your requests and the fact that Decay is not released yet bothers me as much as it does you. The worst excuse in the world is “circumstances outside my control” but that happens to be the truth, and has been for quite some time. Fortunately, those circumstances are shortly coming back within my sphere of control, and I am looking anxiously forward to releasing Decay as soon as possible. The same applies to the mythical Renewal in a single volume, as well as several other books I have written.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming…

I have a dilemma. Ok, about nineteen dilemmas, but who doesn’t? The one I want to write about is the one that involves casting a vote in November. You see ( and understand, I expect), I see no good options at all.

A vote for Obama boils down to a known set of problems. His platform aside, it virtually guarantees another term of political gridlock or a set of moves so radical and unconstitutional that I won’t like the result. There are pieces of Obama’s vision that sound pretty good. Of course I want a 21st Century economy based on the American ideals of innovation and “hard work always pays.” I don’t want an entitlement system we can never afford and I don’t want to spend our way to prosperity. I think there are a multitude of problems that government will not – indeed, cannot – solve, and the fact that we have been on a trendline of trying to train the American people to look for the government to solve our problems is a tight corner, surrounded by wet paint.

Romney, on the other hand, starts by being a sort of dried turd of a human being. I can’t relate to him personally, any more than I think he can relate to me. There is a solid handful of Republicans I would have preferred to take the nomination. I don’t believe in trickle down economics for the sole reason that we have been watching the effect of giving more power to the wealthy and already powerful, and I think it’s safe to conclude that they don’t give the proverbial rat’s ass for the lives of us poor typical Americans. I also see Romney as the perfect spokesman for the interests of some very large players, namely those that fall into the military industrial complex. If you happen to think that corporations, banks, investment houses, and the government itself is running roughshod over your future, I feel fairly certain that Romney will do nothing to slow the steamroller.

I could always toss my vote at the Libertarian candidate, but why? It seems that finding an actual Libertarian who likes the guy is hard enough without tossing a vote into a two-percentile void.

I’m writing this in the aftermath of the new 9/11 attacks on our embassies. The story is still unfolding, and Romney is shouting shrill accusations of weak leadership at the President. I’m not even sure what the President is doing. An event like this is a tragedy, no doubt, but it’s also an opportunity. Let me speculate wildly.

If Obama responds as one might expect, then this whole situation is a win for Romney. Obama takes his reasoned, cautious, some say Muslim sympathizing approach, and all Romney needs to do is sit back and utter the phrase “weak leadership” until November. If on the other hand, Obama moves aggressively and starts hunting Al Qaeda like wildlife in deer season, he eliminates Romney’s argument. That one, at least.

I think this is a decision point. We can continue to live as victims of a headless serpent of terrorism and whatever drives it, or we can stand up and say enough is enough. As average Americans we have paid far too much in dollars, lives, and freedom for the results we have been given in this so-called war.

Perhaps, still speculating wildly, a leader of the free world (in theory) could call today to withdraw all support to Libya and Egypt on the simple premise that they have failed to provide a civilized level of support and security to our embassies in their territory. Yes, I know we are talking about young governments, and yes I know that withdrawing support is inviting the radical elements to take control. Bring ’em out in the open. Perhaps the same leader could say to every country with known terrorist ties and operations that we are going to be conducting investigations in their lands, and that they can offer full support and cooperation, or lose all American support and be put on the list of enemy nations. While we’re at it, we can set up a stiff level of sanctions to throw them all into economic distress. We can declare loudly that we have had enough of this fight. It’s a losing game unless we fight to win.

What about the innocent victims of these actions, the women (who tend to be highly disadvantaged in those societies) and children (who are always victims of adult stupidity)? Well, we are talking about people who were willing to put their lives on the line for freedom in the Arab Spring. Guess what? In a free country we are all ultimately responsible. If the government does something to make us suffer, we are supposed to stand up, and so are they. If we cause pain and suffering for allowing terrorists to operate within their borders, then it falls to those citizens to take responsibility. The outcome of such a move would create great pressure to change the policies of governments, if not outright revolution, and US targeting terrorists could find themselves very unwelcome. Call me stupidly optimistic, but I think that if we declare our intentions to rid the world of known terrorists, and act loudly to accomplish that very goal, people will quickly understand that we mean business, and they can make the choice of whether to work with us or against us. In reality, we conduct entire wars with American lives on the line and stated intentions that do not match consistently with our behavior. We can’t actually make war and peace at the same time. That’s a fantasy, which means that there is a choice, and our leadership needs to choose. If they won’t do it, then we need to choose.

What do we really want? Do we want to police the world? Do we want to control the oil? Do we want to continue to operate as an empire while pretending that we are really spreading democracy? Why not simply take over and install the puppet government of our choosing? That might look bad for us, huh? Do we even want the truth? My theory is that any high government official that attempted to tell the real story would not survive the speech.

In my dilemma, I watched both conventions, lots of speeches. I’d really like to know the best choice for me. Instead of coming away with the feeling of truth from either side, I was left trying to calculate the BS factor of what I was hearing. Facts spoken for positive effect. Facts omitted for positive effect. Facts stretched and handpicked to within an inch of outright lies… Fantasy.

Still speculation, but wouldn’t it be nice to have Obama stand up and say, “Yes, I was right with the auto industry, but the stimulus package, well, that was for the banks. You don’t mess with the banks and live to tell the tale.” Or to have Romney stand up and say, “I can’t release my tax returns because then you will all know that I was active at Bain when I said I wasn’t, I did outsource those jobs, but my job was to make that business work, and I will apply the same level of diligence to my presidency.” Better yet, it would be fun for him to admit that he wasn’t tithing properly and the Mormon church would withdraw support. I’d chuckle.

The point is that you can wade through some version of the truth forever in politics and never come up with the real story. It’s a question of belief, and charisma, and media manipulation, never the full story. So, when it all adds up into something akin to a pattern that can only be recognized over time, my not-so-humble opinion is that you can resolve the reality in one of two ways.

1) Our government is wholly incompetent for the purposes of working for us. I don’t buy the incompetence argument because it takes way too much sophistication to even land an elected office.

2) Our government serves a different master than the concept of, “By the people, of the people, for the people.” There are million theories, from straight partisan politics to radical conspiracies, that apply here, but even if the new version is simply, “By me, of my homies, for my pockets,” the result is the same. We are bleeding rights, freedom, and prosperity out of every orifice and our esteemed leadership seems to be unable to respond, at least not for any purpose that serves us. You know us, the “For the people” crowd.

So, I’m left with the most acute case of choosing a lesser evil in my middle aged life.

If Obama gets it, I can expect to watch the walls crumble as we wrestle over inconsequentials while still failing to pass a budget. We’ll trundle up to the edge of the economic cliff and jump like lemmings. Not necessarily because of Obama’s actions, but almost certainly because of partisan resistance to allowing him to maneuver, and I say that with a high level of disagreement with his position. Sometimes it’s better to try something than to wait for the conditions to approach perfection. In 2016, the Republicans can take the reigns from a deadlocked system and appear to rise from the ashes of American decay.

If Romney gets it, I expect war, and lots of it. The Iranian nuclear program is a nice opportunity to keep the war machine in gear, but it comes with some very large strings attached, and we can’t pull one without yanking the others. Now war is bad, but if you are a top level financier, war is profitable business. It’s even possible that war on a large enough scale could pull a WWII, and leave us with economic prosperity in its wake. The question is whether that’s the flavor of prosperity we want. On the other hand, I can’t imagine reinvigorating this country without some kind of hardship, so maybe war is better than the collapse of the social safety net or some sweeping austerity measures. In any case, we cannot afford to remain weak much longer. The costs of being less than the economic leader of the world are incredibly high and will last forever.

Where’s the balance? Where’s the truth? Where is the American Dream? I’m not sure we can get there from here, but I’m anxious to hear what you think.

As always, thanks for reading.

 

 

 

Definition is Live on Amazon

Definition, a new novel set in the not-incredibly-distant and the not-overly-pessimistic future (see previous post), is now available on Amazon. This one is exclusive to Amazon, at least while I try out the Prime lending library. Special thanks to Sharon and Bob for the edits, Joe and Shawn for the feedback, and the late great Robert A. Heinlein for a spectacular idea worth borrowing.

Definition Cover Image

Definition tells the story of an ex-military pilot sneaking up on middle age. He thinks of himself as another typical “bus driver” ferrying materials and occasional passengers around the solar system, but to others, he’s something of a war hero. Twenty years earlier, in a moment of desperation, Tom Ford had a brilliant idea and delivered victory from the jaws of defeat – the potential end of humanity.

With the help of an old war buddy or two, a kid in a wheelchair, a ship named after Marilyn Monroe, an asteroid miner cast adrift, the guy who invented the key technology of the victory, and one angry ex-girlfriend, Tom finds himself drawn into a mad scramble to defend humankind against a new and ominous threat… Ourselves.

I hope you enjoy Definition.

Optimism in Human Nature

I just uploaded a new novel (again). Some kind of snafu occurred the first time. For those of you hoping that it is Decay, I’m sorry to disappoint you. In its favor, writing this novel rescued me from my two major problems with Decay. Sometimes, you just have to look away to solve it. In any case, it’s called Definition, and it’s the polar opposite of the Renewal story in some important ways. Let me explain…

We’re at an interesting place in history, and I know most of you can feel it. We are living at the fork in the road. We can choose one path, and end up in the world of Renewal, collapsing under our own weight. Yes, I know Renewal is pretty optimistic as far as apocalypses go, but still, it would be better to avoid even the mildest forms of systemic disruption. Or, we can choose another path, and continue to grow and develop into a world that works much better than the one we have now.

Most of the discussion around our current state of affairs acknowledges that we have painted ourselves into a corner. We are mired in a whole host of political, economic, medical, and constitutional problems that no one seems to have to the combination of will and authority to solve. Many of my readers would say that the solution involves going back to the Constitution and individual liberty, and I would agree. One of the great things about writing fiction is that it’s possible to explore those ideas to whatever depth the author sees fit.

I want to go back even further. Let’s go back to human nature. First we’d need to agree that such a thing exists, that we are born with instincts and behavioral programming and that they can vary from male to female, possibly even from race to race. Before the blank slate people get rowdy, I also agree that we are capable of adapting to many layers of cultural conditioning that arise from everywhere, from our parents to our entire heritage. To suggest that there are underlying differences is not racist. It’s just part of acknowledging our innate human nature, and I think we can all agree that no one has gotten it right yet, so there’s room for an honest recognition of our nature all around.

One of the fundamentals of humanity is that we are born wanting more. We can and will use up everything that we can reach until something external slams on the brakes. This is not new. We’ve been doing it for a very long time, and it’s universal. Even our Native American icons of living in balance with nature most likely had to learn the hard way, since there is good evidence that the earliest humans on the continent managed to erase the Pleistocene ecosystem in a relatively short time, and that was with a comparatively small number of people.

Always wanting more drives us to expand. Once we in America had the whole of the West to absorb, discounting the people who were already there, who we displaced or otherwise removed anyway. Today, we have suburban sprawl, 12 lane highways, parking lots that involve a hike to the store, and entire landscapes covered in tract housing. When we have no place to go, we fill in the gaps.

Just these two little slices of our nature mean that there are finite limits to our existence. The more crowded we get, the more rules we need to keep from killing each other over Black Friday sales and such. The more rules we get, the less freedom we have. The more people that occupy a given area, the more infrastructure is needed and the more resources are consumed to keep a standard of life. This is not a theory; it’s a known mathematical fact, and that’s ignoring the elephant in the room. Eventually, there will be no more stuff to get. The world is finite, and everything it provides for us is finite as well. The fact that we are able to ignore this fact while sharing the world with billions of people is a great testament to our built-in optimism.

So, we have two options going forward. One, we can collectively learn to shrink. We can institute draconian rules to control births, and food, and fuel, and just about anything else that we use freely today. This possibility not only goes against every freedom that we accept as our American right, it goes against human nature itself. In other words, it’s doomed from the start. People will learn how to cheat the rules. People in power will use the differential in wealth to make themselves even richer and more powerful. Ultimately, we will all fight over the scraps at the table.

Option two is glaringly obvious to me, and yet just as obviously unpopular. If we as a species want more, then we already know where to get an infinite supply of “more.” Look straight up. That’s right. Our little planet is roughly 8000 miles across and can be circumnavigated by a solar powered boat, even with Somali pirates clogging up the sea lanes. However, it’s a swimming speck in a solar system with so many resources that by the time we even make a dent in the untapped well of space-borne riches, we could probably be swarming around any number of other stars.

I’m fully aware of the arguments on both sides of the space equation. Some people think it’s ridiculous to spend money exploring when we have hungry, illiterate children in our own cities. Some would prefer that we stay here, where we can be limited and controlled. Some people are even unaware of how much of our modern life was driven by the original space race and that leaves them unable to imagine what further progress would yield.

Our economy is predicated on growth. We’ve run out of room for growth without extending the artificial limits even further, and our economy is stalled out. We either need to redesign our economy for long term steady state conditions, or we need somewhere to find more growth. Straight up.

The elegance of the space option is the simple fact that we already know most of what we need to start taking advantage of all those resources. A private group, aptly named Planetary Resources, is working its way outward today. If they are the only ones in the game when they get there, they will amass wealth that is orders of magnitude more than anything we’ve seen yet. They’ll make the Facebook IPO look like a bankrupt third world nation. The second point of elegance is that we can take the burden for resources and heavy industry off this tired little planet of ours. We can turn our home into a garden while the ugly parts of human wealth creation move somewhere else, somewhere that doesn’t damage our environment every time we drive a bulldozer of the trailer. The most important point of elegance is that from a human nature standpoint, we can have our “more” cake and eat it too. Endless resources, endless energy, endless wealth, endless growth.

Some of the response to the formation of Planetary Resources has been, “Our government should  do this, not some private company.” They’re right. The fact that our government would rather spend our dollars squabbling over limited pools when there are oceans for the taking is criminal. They might not realize it, and we might not realize the magnitude of that mistake until some private company becomes profitable and our government ends up asking them for permission to leave the ground. At that point of profit, the gold rush will be unbelievable, and our public trust will be too late. But the ‘only-government” response is wrong too. Everyone with the means, private or public, should be working to get out there and carve off a piece of some rock full of exotic metals worth trillions of dollars. Either way, growth will be created and our lifestyles will benefit.

One final point of elegance is the “eggs in one basket” argument. Right now, someone could set off a nuke. A meteor could hit. A volcano can erupt, throwing enough dust into the sky to kill off food production for years. The Mayan Calendar could end. (ok, kidding) The point is that the sooner we get people to places that are not vulnerable to a single event here at home, the more likely we will survive. Heck, if we do it well, those adventurous souls could probably help us fix whatever we screw up. As long as we are all here in one basket, we are vulnerable.

So, we have the control of human nature response, and we have the follow our expansionist instincts response to our current problems. Two paths to the future… Which one sounds better in the long run?

In very sketchy terms, Renewal is what happens when our closed system runs out of steam, and Definition is what happens when we choose an open system and follow our basic nature where it leads.

But, maybe I’m just too optimistic for my human nature.

I Added Some Stuff

Hi all! Just a quick note to say that I’ve added a few books and software bits to the “Stuff I Like” pages. More to come, in case you find yourself without anything better to do while you wait for me to finally release Decay. 🙂

Best,

Jim