Sunday 20 November 2016

News from Somewhere, News from Nowhere

(Before I go any further, did you see Dymphna's post yesterday about women in historical RPGs? It's going modestly viral, and it deserves to. It's a good post.)

The first thing is that The Age of Miracles is still funding. It has ten days to go and is £361 short of its goal. This is not an insurmountable barrier. Please, if you read my blog, pass that on.

If you've read my writing here and elsewhere, you'll know that I am really interested in how our personal experience and the stories that we tell ourselves shape the world. Indulge me. Let me talk a little about that.

My social media feeds have been full of people who literally cannot comprehend how one quarter of the American voting public can vote for a racist thief and probable rapist, and the answer is of course: they didn't.

I know the look you're giving me now. Don't give me that look. Let me explain. Last week I saw one of the numerous blog posts and essays that did the rounds, and the perfectly reasonable point of view was "I'm gay, you voted for someone who wants me dead, so I'm going to have trouble maintaining a friendship with you." What was fascinating was that there were Trump supporters in the comments who said, "Our candidate isn't racist! He isn't a rapist! He isn't a thief! Those are media lies!"

A few years ago, I started getting to know some people who are revolutionary socialists. Some of them read this blog, so guys, if you're reading this, I love you loads, so don't take this personally, OK? Anyway, I've actually heard some of them defend Stalin. Stalin was misrepresented by a Western bourgeois press, they say, he didn't engineer a Ukrainian genocide (Holodomor) because it was a natural famine that the Western liberal narrative blamed on him, and so on. And we've got the assumptions, unchallenged assumptions of the history we get taught in schools and universities, that are being challenged here.

The point is that there are competing narratives at play here. But wait, you say, denying the Ukrainian genocide is tantamount to Holocaust denial, and meanwhile my communist buddies insist that denying things the capitalist West has done in the last century is tantamount to Holocaust denial and all I can say is, thank fuck no one's denying the Holocaust.

Oh wait, Donald Trump just hired a guy on staff who denies the Holocaust.

But look. We all do this same thing all the time. We do. We only notice it when it's a huge thing with such huge moral consequences that the business of the narrative strains at the edges, like, for instance, the Ukrainian genocide. But we have these small narratives that fight with each other for room in pretty much everything we do, and the truths we take for granted, big or small, are often not the truths that others do.

Like, I have known a bunch of people in my time who campaign against a woman's right to have abortion (and I don't agree with them, and I'm sad I even need to say that) but the one thing that a lot of those people have in common is that they're not deliberately out to control women's bodies or take away rights. They're really, truly not, and yes, sure, some people explicitly are, but I'm talking about the people I've met. The pro-lifers I have known on the whole just hate the idea of killing babies. And "Pro-life" arguments are framed in those terms, and I don't want to get into the nuts and bolts of that, because I'm firmly, solidly pro-choice (and also, not being a woman, I'm not really in any place to dictate) but you're never going to bring a pro-lifer around using most of the arguments that circulate among pro-choice circles, because the stories that both sides tell might as well describe two completely different moral universes.

Because in the end, there are people who believe that you're killing babies, end of. And I know that you're not, and I know that's not the issue except that's the point. It isn't the issue. You either live in this moral universe or that one. 

And truth doesn't come into it, either way. Truth is almost completely irrelevant with respect to the narratives we believe. We every one of us pick a narrative about how the world works and that's how we can remain good people, because we frame a world in our heads in which we can be good. And sometimes that means denying things that other people believe have happened, or which actually happened. And before we go, "I never do that," trust me, we do. We all do. We do it every day. Because we can't be good people unless we frame our story of the world in terms that makes us good.

Where it becomes difficult, where it becomes grounds for war? When the narratives are about huge things. Life and death. When six million Jews, along with another six million Roma, disabled, homosexuals and Poles, get sent to camps and face extermination. When between two and seven million Ukrainians starve to death. When it's a woman's right to autonomy over her own body. When it becomes a question over whether or not you have the right to marry who you want. To love who you want. 

I'm not talking about reaching out here. You will not hear about stretching hands across the aisle. Not here. I think fascism is evil. I think that Brexit is a disaster. I think that our Conservative government is the worst in seventy years. People are starving to death on the streets because of our government. People are dying. I'm talking about understanding here, but understanding requires neither respect nor acceptance.

But look. There's this woman I used to know. American. One of the kindest, most generous people I've ever met. I've not spoken to her for a good ten years, because you can't keep in touch with everyone, but I still get a card from her every Christmas. I heard from a friend who still speaks to her that she voted Trump. She's enthusiastically for the new administration, I am told. This woman is not racist, not a homophobe. But she voted Trump. And she didn't – I can guarantee you – vote for a racist and a homophobe and a thief and a rapist. She didn't. Because those things are, she believes, lies.  She is not alone.

And yes, you read a transcript of the Access Hollywood tape, or maybe even listened to it, or read a paraphrase, half the world did. But only half the world did. Sure, there are actual fascists who believe that gays and black people should die and women should be slaves, and they are revolting people, and they are fans of Trump. But I don't think they make up the majority of his support. It's easy to think they are, because they're busy busy busy on the Twitter and the Facebook and the blogs.


I have this hunch that most of the people who voted for Donald Trump voted based upon a narrative they bought, a narrative that's so puzzling to people on the other side of the fence, so absolutely baffling it might as well be in an entirely different language.

And I'm white. I'm not straight, but I ended up marrying a woman and having kids because I could. I'm the default setting that our society works on, and it's easy for me to say things like this because I'm going to be among those facing only slight consequences of the choices our societies have made in the last two years (although I work alongside people at my Other Place of Work who are going to be hit hard). One American friend who is gay springs to mind right now, and he has spent the last couple of weeks terrified about what's coming next, because what's coming next affects him directly, and his relationship and his health and his life are at the mercy of a narrative that doesn't admit him as good or even as a functional human, and I don't know what we're going to do. I stand with him, but I'm a couple thousand miles away, and I can only do what I can.

Because at some point, one or more of these warring narratives is going to lose. The way that they did across Europe in the 1920s and 1930s. And we can't let that happen. But what I'm saying is, we're not fighting people. We're fighting narratives. Flesh and blood dies. Narratives are nearly impossible to kill.

The news outlets we have are more selective than ever. It's wholly possible to get all your news from sources that confirm what you believe, more possible than ever. And I don't know the solution. The edges of the rational are becoming more frayed with every passing year

So. That's the sort of thing I write about. Here are some of my other posts from the last couple years.  
Want to see them again, in print, only better, and with extra bits added to make it work as a book? Please support me.
The first edition is still available to buy though.
Before I go, I need to say that Chariot, the everso personal postcolonial Atlantis game I wrote and designed and illustrated and published, is going to have a second edition. Dom Parry of Nine Dragons Publications Ltd has been tremendously keen to get me on board and I'm confident we can make something beautiful.

Backers of the first edition are to be assured that their copies of Cosmic Memory are coming before that, they'll be the only ones to have print copies, and that it'll have some of the second edition art in it. There may also be some sort of discount for first edition backers. Let me talk about that one later and get back to you.

Most of that second edition art, which is being drawn literally as I type – I mean it, he's actually at his sketchpad right now – is by the effortlessly cool Steven Horry, whose elegant Mucha-style linework is breathtaking. He also plays bass. He is, in short, very talented. But more importantly, as far as I am concerned, he is one of the nicest men I have ever met.

Watch the skies.

There might be drones up there.