Reflections on Jerry Pournelle

I saw in the midst of all the hurricane-related news this morning that science fiction author, technologist, and political advocate Jerry Pournelle has passed away. I am saddened by this, though not greatly surprised, as Dr. Pournelle has been in ill health for a while now. Still, he shaped a great deal of my thinking and post-formal education, and so I’d like to take a few minutes to share my thoughts on the man. Continue reading “Reflections on Jerry Pournelle”

What’s the Matter With These Kids Today?

If you believe a recent article in The Atlantic, kids born 1995-2012 (in other words, kids my niece and nephew’s age) are going to be “destroyed” by their mobile-technology-driven lifestyles. I am not going to respond directly to all of the article’s points, but for a change, I’m going to stand up for the younger folks. They might be doomed by some future cataclysm we cannot imagine yet, but I don’t think smartphones are going to be the direct cause of it. Continue reading “What’s the Matter With These Kids Today?”

Losing Your Voice

So here’s the problem with paranoia about your fellow human beings: you end up losing your voice. First you learn not to be an jerk—probably a good idea, especially if you become aware that a lot of what you’re saying offends or hurts people. Then you start worrying about giving offense of any kind. You start refraining from giving your honest opinions about the important matters of the day because you are only too well aware that you are in a minority or that some of your opinions are unpopular with a large chunk of your associates. You can’t be seen as too much of a partisan one way or the other or you risk getting kicked in the wallet when someone decides you’re “too controversial.”

If you’re an introvert, you dislike being the center of attention, and almost nothing in the current hot-house petri dish of politics gets you put in the media crosshairs quite like an unpopular opinion.

And let’s say you were bullied as a kid, so you’re quite aware of how human beings act if they dislike you or want to get you to shut up. Thugs appear, sometimes one on one, sometimes in pairs, sometimes in small groups, sometimes in mobs. They come with fists and weapons and voices raised in hostility. They leave nasty or threatening messages or make crank calls that threaten the safety of yourself or people you care about. They follow you home and to places where you are known to frequent so that you never feel safe. On the worst occasions, they take action and beat the snot out of you, preferably in front of an audience so you are seen to be humiliated and beaten down by others.

That is becoming the real nature of human beings engaged in “political discourse.” And if you wonder why the “voices of reason” are silent or ignored, it’s often because they’ve decided the exercise of freedom is not worth attracting the attention of the mob. So, congratulations, Humanity: the best in us is often destroyed by the worst in us because no one enjoys being alone in the face of the mob.

Maybe any thoughts you have aren’t the best that humanity has to offer; but they’re still yours. The “obvious price of expressing your opinion” need not be violence. Disagreement, certainly. Criticism, of course. But disagreement and criticism are not enough anymore. Any opinion that doesn’t ring true with the prevailing cultural orthodoxy must be shouted down; the characters of those speaking them must be impugned; their livelihoods must be cut off; their words must be suppressed with force. That is not what I was brought up to believe, but that’s where we are heading, and the gentle-souled introvert has obvious reason for concern just as much as the outspoken firebrand. How did it come to this?

Working Through Depression

Life doesn’t always go the way we want. You might be going through emotional pain or upset. I’ve been there, and after multiple bouts with depression, I developed a set of habits that–if it doesn’t prevent The Suck from getting to me, at least shortens the amount of time I suffer through it. What follows is my approach; it might or might not work for you–and if you’re in serious trouble, I recommend a therapist. But for those times between visits to the shrink, you might find this helpful. Continue reading “Working Through Depression”

Leaving a Better World

I’ve restarted my habit of starting off my morning by scribbling in my “morning pages,” as suggested by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way. The question I posed to myself today was, “If you have no intention of becoming someone’s partner or father, what do you plan to do for the good of yourself or your species?” I didn’t expect many answers from myself, but there are options available to the single and the childless to give themselves purpose. Below are a few suggestions. Continue reading “Leaving a Better World”

Continuous Improvement Starts from Inside

I’ve been on a self-improvement kick lately. Organizations go through phases like this occasionally, and for many of the same reasons: the ones in charge observe that quality is falling off, people are getting slack in their adherence to standards, or maybe they just want to make a good place better. Since I’m on this kick myself right now, I thought I’d share a few thoughts from my quest to Build a Better Bart. Continue reading “Continuous Improvement Starts from Inside”