Thursday, September 25, 2014

Philosophy Thursday: The Evolving Publishing Industry, and Me

So far in this Philosophy Thursday series, I've discussed my place in the world, my views on fame and fortune, the nature of my universe, my ethics, the nature of violence and some specific examples thereof. But I've yet to write about the tie that binds all these threads together: what any of this has to do with my career specifically (as promised), and the publishing industry more generally.

It evolves

gnomic. Filter added.
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0
It's probably no surprise to you that 'publishing' was not always a business. What may have begun as yarns told only aloud and handed down through successive generations turned into written scrolls, then to narratives copied through the means of the printing press, and eventually serialized stories printed in newspapers and then novelized with the help of a publisher.

A market turns into an industry. The activity of swapping stories has become a monster that supports authors, literary agents, book designers, printers, editors, publishing houses big and small, graphic artists and the fringe: shysters. And so it has been for a handful of centuries.

It won't come as any surprise to anyone even tangentially related to the publishing industry that it is again changing. has been in the news for months now as it battles with publishers and traditionally published authors. Self-published authors take sides. Everyone speculates over whether ebooks and ereaders are here to stay. And then there's folks like me: those out of the 'bleeding edge': publishing content for free on platforms like +Wattpad.

Rise Above

Of course, my interest in this debate has nothing to do with what's already been said. Authors published through traditional publishing houses are going to take the side of their publishers. I get that. They have contracts, they've been given advances. They have a stake in traditional publishing winning. Self-published authors are going to take Amazon's side. I get that as well. They've made a living through Amazon's business model, and they think it's a better living than they could have made otherwise. Everybody lines up according to where they have the biggest financial stake. It's unsurprising, predictable human nature.

But in this debate, I'd like to take some other factors into consideration. After all, I have yet to publish anything that will make me any money. I have no ties to Amazon (and their brethren Kobo Books, Apple iBooks and the like), I have no ties to a traditional publishing house. So I am interested in how to present my art to the public that will:

1. Be ethical towards my readers;
2. Make it widely available;
3. Honor the art itself;
4. In a way that serves my needs as a budding author.

Consideration #4

Consideration #4 is, of course, the most selfish of these. I'm going to start with this consideration because, even though I put it at the bottom of the list, I want you to know that I am not a completely self-sacrificing individual. I do have goals -- some of them lofty, some of them greedy. But my hope is that my other three considerations bring these goals into the realm of the ethical.

My wants

My wants as a budding author are quite another matter. This goes back to my first Philosophy Thursday post. I wish to see my books in print: complete with leather-bound covers and embossed titles. I want to be the most renowned author the world has ever known. There's the dream of the Nobel prize, the dream of blasting to the top of every global bestselling list. There's the prospect of selling more than Rowling (you could have written this, my mom once told me on reading a bit of Harry Potter). There's the thought of the Golden Ticket that is landing on the Oprah Show (yeah it doesn't exist anymore. What does that matter? We're talking pie in the sky here). And there's the dream of the book tour to end all book tours, more like a world tour a rock star would embark on rather than an author of fiction -- complete with a rider that makes all green M&Ms strictly verboten for no real reason.

My needs

But that's not really what I need, is it? That's taking up too much room, strangling other potential voices in the literary scene. When I look back on the past five years of my life or so, I can see that I can get along with very little. At most, it would be nice to be able to cover my living expenses (which are not so very great) with my writing. At worst, it would be nice to be able to continue on the way I have been: to scrape out the time between the day job hours to write.

That's what makes me happiest. That's when I am at my best. When I am writing, it doesn't matter whether or not I have an audience, or whether or not I am paid for my work. If I am working on my writing for myself, and do not have to write to a pay check or have my talent be abused for others' purposes, I am content.

That's what I need most of all: to write.

Consideration #1

This one is most important for me. I want my readers to enjoy my stories. I think that in this game we call publishing, the two most important parties are the writer and the reader. Really, no one would have a job in publishing if not for this relationship.

I tend towards being idealistic (is that not yet apparent from what I've written so far?) and I've never been able to shake this belief that art should be free. Yes, I know! In a perfect world and so on, everyone needs to make a living, and so on! You're right. But I think when it comes time for publication, I am going to go (at least at the ebook level) with the 'pay what you can' route.

Look, I realize that I am in a privileged position. I can see that I have ample food, clean water, a roof over my head and clothes on my back. More than adequate medical care if I so require. I have very little in my life that I need to stress out about. And I understand also that not everyone can take this stance. Not everyone who yearns to write has the luxury to just give their stories away for free. And I wouldn't recommend anyone else follow me. We each have to do what feels right. We have to weigh the options and choose our path. I only want to explain to you the path that I've chosen.

Consideration #2

Having said all that, now I'm going to be completely hypocritical/paradoxical. Ah, well. What's (applied) philosophy without a good paradox, hm?

One of the very few problems I've come up against in using +Wattpad to publish my stories is that not everyone uses the platform. The readership is wide, sure, but when I talk to many of my friends and family (most of whom are not teenaged), they say that they find reading my story on that platform taxing.

My friends and family are a mix of people who use eReaders and those who prefer physical books. When I talk to the eReader bunch, I can assure them that in 2015, I will have an ebook copy of RoboNomics available for them to read. Independently published by yours truly, pay-what-you-like and it's yours to own.

But what can I say to the folks who crave a physical copy? For a long time I had nothing to say. For a long time I thought about print-on-demand services -- and frankly, that option is not totally off the table. But in case any publishing houses approach me for a deal, I'll definitely be telling them that I'd like to be a hybrid author.

This choice is predicated on something that may never happen, but it's also predicated on the fact that even though the publishing industry is changing, publishing companies, corporations and houses all still have one thing that they do better than anyone else can: produce physical books. And they are far more well equipped than I to deal with the eventual legal tangles involved in subsidiary rights: translation, movie options, merchandising if it ever goes in that direction.

Consideration #3

This one is even more esoteric. What do I mean when I say, honour the art itself? Well, I mean that I want to put my art into the world not only in a way that is as free as I can get, to get into the hands of readers, but also in a way that allows readers to play. I would be a traitor to my own ethics, and the themes that weave themselves throughout my stories, if I held onto the art too tightly. I want to allow for others to have their voices heard. And so I'll never quibble over fan fiction.

I know it may be getting ahead of myself to even think of the possibility of fan fiction. It may be arrogant of me to imagine that such a thing is, in the future, possible. I should be honoured that anyone at all wants to look at my work. But frame it more as a 'being prepared' thought experiment, if you will.

Life and art informs more art in complex, interacting ways. A line from a book, a character in a movie, a song. It's all fair game for the creative mind, even if we don't mean it to be. I'm not talking about plagiarism here, but instead the varied ways in which art forms come to life. In the past, Gilgamesh and Pyramus and Thisbe inspired Noah's Ark and Romeo and Juliet, respectively. Who's to say that fan fiction isn't just a modern day equivalent of these earlier homages? It's not my place to regulate the way that art is created. And so I'm not going to try.

The End

Oh my goodness. Do you know what? I've made it to the end. I've said all I want to say in this, my #PhilosophyThursday series. But you know, it was pretty successful. I'm proud of the results. I think I might try it again sometime. And perhaps sometime soon. I could go into more detail about all my tangential thoughts about what I've written so far. Or...

There is something bubbling in the back of my brain -- related to RoboNomics, I have the urge to write a non-fiction series about the philosophy of Artificial Intelligence. Whatta say? Would you enjoy that?

Monday, September 22, 2014

RoboNomics Chapter 6 Preview and Attribution

Hey! RoboNomics Book II Chapter 6 comes out tomorrow! Here the preview pic, and here's its attribution:

Photo by Luis Argerich. Find the Creative Commons 2.0 License here.

And here's the accompanying "inspired by" song:

Build Me Up

Photo by Sembazuru. Text added.
Creative Commons 2.0
Every once in awhile, I need a little encouragement. It's a hard road, the one that I've chosen to follow. Taking my writing seriously. Trying to make it into a career.

Last week, I had one of those moments of doubt. I was thinking about RoboNomics Book I, on +wattpad, and about how it's now had over 19,000 reads.

On the surface, it looks as though all of the feedback I've had has been positive. When I think back to the beginning of 2014, when only a writing instructor had read part of the story, it looks as though I've come a long way. I mean, it I was out for a proof of concept, I've definitely received that. When I think about how those 19,000 reads could have translated into 19,000 ebooks at $0.99 a piece, it's not a bad picture, is it?

However, when I look more closely at my stats, it's not sure a pretty picture. Over 11,000 of those reads are of the first chapter alone. Which, for me, means that being 'featured' on Wattpad has done its part: along with the book's cover and description, plenty of readers have been interested enough to 'crack open the cover', so to speak. But somewhere between Chapter 1 and Chapter 2, I lose most of my readers. The numbers drop dramatically down to about 500 reads, and stay around that level for the rest of the book. So really my number should be more along the lines of 6,500 reads.

There's also the fact that there hasn't been the deluge. Many other authors on Wattpad, it seems, have crossed the million reads mark. They've got thousands of followers for simplistic works while I struggle to establish any sort of readership at all.

So last week it hit me. Am I doomed to be a 'mid-list' author? Not talented enough to be literary, not fluffy enough to be a pulp best-selling, I came to the conclusion that I am doomed to become lost in a crowded marketplace -- shouting into a gale -- my voice lost amid the clangor. And then the dreaded artistic circle of doubt began, which always ends up in the same place: why do I bother at all?

It's been a few days, so I have some perspectives on my situation. I can see that the readership on Wattpad clamours for a very specific sort of story -- or rather, a very specifically format of story. The sort I've been writing in my RoboNomics Book II. That story is having none of the number troubles of Book I. It has a consist readership of about 50 reads a chapter. So part of my Book I issue is that it needs a reformat.

The Chapters are also very long, and I can see how that first chapter could lose people very quickly. You have to stick with the story for a long time for any payoff, and so I'm looking into changing my chapters, minorly, so that one flows into the next in a way that demands that the next chapter be read. In short, I'm going to apply the lessons I've learned recently about serialization to this story.

In the meantime, there needs to be a remedy to this artistic despair I've found myself in. And so I've followed a piece of advice found in the Artist's Way, and gathered up some of my 'greatest hits' professional compliments, presented them nicely on pictures. This way, I'll have a set of personalized motivational posters in my back pocket that I can look at whenever I need a pick-me-up. A reminder that I don't totally and completely suck.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

RoboNomics Book II Chapter 5 Preview and Attribution

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Two Posts in one day! Aren't you just a lucky duck? Unplanned, I assure you.

I'm just here again to plug Chapter 5 of RoboNomics Book II with a preview pic and its attribution:

And here's the attribution:

Photo by Will Scullin. Creative Commons License Attribution 2.0 Generic. Cropped, added filter and text. Thanks muchly! :)

I've also turned to highlighting a signal track to preview/go along with each chapter, and have done away with the playlists. I'm still working out where this promotional activity is going to fall within a week during which two small chapters will be published. So for this Friday's chapter, here is the track that inspired/captures the nature of the chapter:

Intense! Get ready for it!

Okay. That's it. I'm out.

Philosophy Thursday: Some Real Life Examples

So, for this week's Philosophy Thursday, I wanted to just catch up to myself a little. In particular, I wanted to illustrate Levinasian concepts of violence and justice as I interpret them using some real world examples.

The Most Obvious Examples First

So, outside of actual physical violence, there is the violence of psychological warfare, bullying, cyber bullying, internet trolling, microaggressions, and good ol' fashion name calling. For me, it is obvious that these stem from placing the Other as the object in my subjective experience. Rather than letting the Other be self-determining, I've thought of them in ways that fit in with my own internal idiolect. Idio-consciousness? Idio-thoughts? That needs a word. Someone make up a word for idiolect but my thoughts instead of my words. I need it.

But I want to make it clear that in enacting justice as the third party or in the name of the Other, I don't mean that we all should go on a mission to correct everyone else's supposed unethical behaviour. Vigilante justice is not justice. It is not ethical. I'll let someone smarter than me step in once to explain what I mean:

And Now Some Less Obvious Examples

Okay, so most of that may be obvious and a bit of a given.

But since Levinasian ontology (as he calls it) or ethics (as I call it) is an impossible system, it means that his version of violence crops up everywhere in daily life, over and over again.

Example One

Like this one time about a million years ago when I had this friend who had just broken up with his girlfriend. He confided in me that he wasn't sure whether he had been in love with her, or in love with the person he'd assumed she was. His idea of her, in short. And that sort of hits the nail on the head, doesn't it?

The way I see it, romantic love is particular prone to Levinasian violence. Partially, I blame Disney and pretty much every rom com ever. And Charles Dickens. I had a particular illustrative Charles Dickens quotation to insert here, but the paper it comes from -- about romantic love and Levinas' idea of violence -- is currently packed up for the move. I'll edit later. Moving on.

I definitely had this idea up until my late twenties that looking for a romantic partner involved looking for a person who would not only adhere to some sort of inane checklist of interests and characteristics I had in my head (that they couldn't possibly know about), but that also filled some weird psychological lack that I had in my life. It's this entire idea of "You Complete Me" (barf) that I was fed during my formative years. This idea that my future romantic partner would not be a full, complete person on their own and neither was I. It reduces two people to fully functioning human beings who want to share something to mere shells of being who have no function outside of fulfilling some pre-destined role waiting for them inside a romantic partnership.

And if you don't adhere to the checklist in my head and act at all in a way that is indicative of a complex, perhaps at times conflicting internal life, out you go! And how violent is that?

Example Two

This can also apply to my interactions with friends, with acquaintances, with strangers. You are expected to act a certain way so that my psychological landscape can remain intact.

Another really mundane example of everyday Levinasian violence is family expectations. I can see how first time parents can imagine with joyful expectation how life will be with the addition of their inevitably perfect children. However, life doesn't work that way. Just because you will your family members to be a certain way, to act a certain way, and to tow the family line doesn't mean they are going to. You cannot control any person except yourself, so there's no use trying. There is no use in even thinking of them as any way except the way they are.

But I'm not bitter.

And To Close, Examples Related to the Industry in which I Find Myself

Now, the more interesting stuff.

Example One

Sometimes when it comes to the publishing industry in particular, and the entertainment industry more generally (which for me includes movies, music, books), I have to shake my head in wonder (oh, boy. Here comes the judgey bit).

Look, I understand that as an author, I'm just now starting out. And I understand that when it comes to my craft, I have a long road; I have tons of work to do. I'm not perfect, and no artist ever is. It's a practice, a skill that keeps evolving. And I understand how the rest of this entry is going to come off as hella smug.

Be that as it may, having respect for the Other in practicing my craft is something that I strive to keep in mind and is an aspect of my writing that I continue to focus heavily on.

For instance, I could never write something like Memoirs of a Geisha. While it's a well-written book, it's a monument to cultural appropriation akin to that of Katy Perry's latest antics. I will never be able to tell someone else's story in that way. Not only because I am not comfortable with it, but because by my ethics, it is a violence.

But neither would I ever be able to write a story about only people who look like me or who live like me. As in my +Wattpad story, RoboNomics (shameless plug alert), I am trying with my writing to tell my story as authentically as possible. My main character may look and live like I do, but my experience in the cultural, political and economic milieu in which I have lived (specifically, Canada in the end of 20th/beginning of 21st centuries; more specifically central and eastern Ontario in those times) has not been a whitewashed experience. My aim is to reflect that experience in my art.

When I sit down to write any story at all, the representation of the Other in that art should, I believe, be respectful. In any narrative in writing or on film, there are many characters who have many different levels of importance to the story. There's a main or many main characters, and there are secondary and then also background players. But this doesn't mean that those characters are stereotypes. This doesn't mean that they don't each have their own full, complex lives. How much information I have the page space to reveal about each character may be limited, but that doesn't mean they don't have a complex backstory, or that they exist merely to service a plot function.

I read somewhere that if you create a character merely to fill a plot hole, that just don't. Cease and desist. That shit is creatively lazy.

So how do I go about writing characters who have different lives and experiences than mine while being respectful and not reducing them to tired, uncreative stereotype? Well, for me, I try and create characters that are amalgams of folks I've actually known in my life. Never based one a single person (because that would be technically illegal unless you get signatures), but built from characteristics that I have actually observed in my family, friends, acquaintances and even strangers. This requires, of course, some of the skills most important to writing fiction. Namely, observation and wide breadth of experience. If you want to have a selfish justification for it, go make some friends! Be nice to people for fluff's sake! :P

Example Two

When it comes to the particular genres in which I write (fantasy and science fiction for now, speculative fiction more broadly), I've already touched on some of its problems as I see them with regards to its treatment of the Other. 

For me, speculative fiction represents a unique set of freedoms and challenges. Freedom in the form of unendingly new and unique ways of telling stories. The freedom to imagine completely innovative settings, completely unique characters, and unbounded realms where even the laws of physics can take a holiday. The human imagination at its best.

Or its worst. Because the challenge of speculative fiction is to write stories that still contain relatable characters -- or at least believable characters. With plot points that are palatable enough for the reader or audience to suspend their disbelief and settings that are compelling and involving.

And there's yet another set of freedoms and challenges. Speculative fiction, I believe, allows for the commentary on recent or current political, cultural and economic events from a safe distance of it's not really about that. It's about dragons! Direct satire of world conflicts might be too inflaming, but if we write about ghosts, ghouls, and water spirits (or what have you), a story can be edifying and entertaining.

In this way, the move Avatar could have been a subtle comment on the dangers of immersive technologies like virtual reality, or some such thing. Could have been. Instead it was just a white saviour/exoticism fantasy with a clumsily tacked-on moralistic lesson that do with the environment. I think?

And that's one of the big dangers that much of speculative fiction has come up against. And failed when faced with. That is, when you represent an alternate version of reality, you've got to think outside the box. I try -- let me not be too preachy about it -- I try to guard against simply replicating the world as it is represented into my made-up world. I try to guard against replicating harmful stereotypes and renditions of the Other that exist in this world, and are false and harmful: those that reduce people to objects; to convenient pawns for my make believe play.

Jason Momoa, of Game of Thrones (Dothraki) fame.
Photo by Florida Supercon (cropped).
Put another way: I don't want to make up a fantasy or sci fi world in which there is the "main" continent or planet where the civilized folks live and look a certain way; and then there is the "other" continent or planet where the uncivilized folks live and look a certain way. It's tired and it's violent. All sorts of people live all sorts of different ways -- some of them yet unimagined.

Again, if you want the selfish justification: I believe that this not only helps me to further my craft in pushing me to be more and more creative but it also means that my stories, with any luck and continuous refinement, will become more interesting and involving. And if I get it wrong, and I receive constructive criticism that points out some terribly violent or limiting way I've represented the Other, there will be nothing wrong with my correcting my writing now and in the future. After all, that's how I learn. And helps to beat back that functional fixedness that I'm terrified of.

One Caveat

Look, I realize that the Klingons of Star Trek are beloved. I know that folks love Game of Thrones. And if you are enamoured of James Cameron's Avatar...well, you should just own that. Like what you like! Be protective of the artwork that helped you through being 14, by all means. What I'm arguing shouldn't take away from that. All I'm saying in pointing to these particular examples is that I've learned something from all of them. I've learned how to hone my own craft in particular ways.

Example Three

Man, long entry today! The third example of violence that the entertainment industry is prone to has to do with the fact that it is run, at least still in part (and still in large part) by corporations. But you know what, I think that may be a rant for next week. I've taken up a lot of your time so far and I'm sure you need an entire week to process this information. At least, I do.

So, until then! :P

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Third (Philosophy Thursday)

I was extremely tempted to take this week off, since my Thursday this week is busy. And yet, here I am, between engagements.

To Recap

Last week, I discussed how my system of ethics is based on the primacy of Otherness in the universe, and any action or speak attempting to negate or destroy this Otherness is, for me, wrong. I also wrote about how this is an impossible ethics, and that I will always think of other people in my own terms. So I am called to do my best, and when I figure out how I'm in the wrong and how to correct myself, to ask forgiveness and move on to more ethical dealings with the Other.

The Third Party

So far so good. I've been terrible at this when it comes to reality (as opposed to theory), however. I reaffirm my commitment to this set of ethics, but it all seems to come undone when not dealing with folks over the internet, for me. But I can at least see where it all goes wrong, and how I could make things right.

The spot in which I have even more trouble is when the situation is more complex than just one-on-one interactions. It's those situations where I overhear someone -- a stranger, friend, relative -- saying something wrong. Something bigoted, small-minded, ignorant. Violent towards otherness. And I just don't know what to do.

Maybe because when it happens, it's such a shock to the system. Maybe because the narrowness of mind required to harbour such blind hatred just does not exist in me. Maybe because the mental shearing -- the cognitive dissonance that occurs when I am yanked out of the particular cloud that I'm in and into a world of pure shittiness. I just feel that I go out into the world looking for gentle souls who will accept my particular brand of crazy (not that I can claim that I was born looking for that -- it is definitely a learned behaviour), only to come against intolerance. I don't know. All I know is that maybe because nowadays I spend as little time as I can with other humans and would rather read a book, I never expect these attitudes.

Not that any of the above is an excuse. I should be able to go some courage and put those folks in their place. I should study a playbook of how to shut such ugliness down. It is inexcusable that I cannot let them know they are in the wrong, so that they'll not take my shocked silence as tacit approval. Silence is never approval. It is a physical sign of the negation of the Other.


This is what Levinas refers to as Justice, if only on a small scale. For me, human relationships start with the one-on-one actions, that can build up (and scale up in complexity) to larger social systems like politics and economics. But the thing that I try to keep in mind is that the things I can control in terms of politics and economics are my actions: how I relate to individuals. Those actions are what matter most, for me.

And so it behooves me to act in the name of Justice in deference of the Other when these occurrences arise. Like, this is half the people in my life:

(I hope you can see that -- I guess some YouTube vids don't work with mobile. Poop.)

So how to deal with the situation? That's where I get caught up. Of course, this is just one example. Another favourite example of mine would be internet trolls. And in this example, it is obvious that I can't, alone, take on the entire internet world of trolls.

Instead, what all of this illustrates for me is that hatred is a useless feeling. Whether is it from some want to destroy Otherness, or it stems from buried sense of greed or entitlement, it is useless in my life, as well as in many other folks' lives. The best I can do is let go of that greed and that hatred in my life, and stick up the Other to whom I owe my existence.

Sticky Situations

Of course, for some people possible reading this (or for the Devil's Advocate in my head), this can become confused very quickly. It's that whole "so your tolerant up until intolerance is involved?" argument. To phrase it a simpler way, that argument against being "Politically Correct" and how that can be a shackle for free speech, et cetera.

But I'm not talking about being politically correct. I'm not talking about some lip service to inclusion. I'm not talking about tokenism, I'm not talking about being "colour blind" or whatever. I'm talking about allowing for each and every individual human being able to exercise self-determination about their own life. I'm talking about a person being able to call themselves by whatever name, by whatever label they so choose without interference. To be able to address their own needs for water, food, shelter, love, acceptance, and fulfilling employment of their skills in the manner they deem is right for them, without interference from anyone else or demands on their life from anyone else. To me this is a very obvious line. No person, organization, government, religion, family member, teacher, self-help guru, school or school of thought is going to tell me who I am and how to live my life. I am who I am and I live my life by this, my set of ethics. Why shouldn't everyone else enjoy that same self-determination?

But, of course, you say that if everyone lived their lives by their own self-determination, we'd have chaos, right? Everyone has wacky and conflicting ideas of how best to live, and some of them are illegal.

Illegal does not necessarily mean unethical. Again, I'd refer back to the fact that self-determination for me also means leading a life in which my actions respect the Other. No one can know what is best for my life or tell me that "women don't like that", so therefore I must not like it too (as a for instance). But that doesn't necessarily mean that I can do around telling other people how to live their lives -- unless that method of living involves a violence of the Other towards the Third.

And it is because of these reasons that I have made some decisions about the things I want for my life, the way I want to lead my life, and the way I want my career to evolve. All of which I will lay out for you next week!


I hope this week's post made sense to you. As I've warned, when it comes to human relationships more complex than one-on-one, I begin to get confused. I've never been good at talking politics, I've never been able to keep track of more than a few friends at a time. I've given it by best go, and next week will be back to my own actions and decisions and will be much more straightforward. Until then! :)

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Weekly Update

Hey everyone! Hanging out at my parents' place this week with +Anna Wilson, working on +Wattpad posts and Philosophy Thursday, plus something big on Thursday for the fashion/style blog next week.

RoboNomics Book II got a new chapter, and another to come on Friday. And then Omorbia Book I gets a new chapter tomorrow! Busy bee! Also thinking about how our computers are like a reflection of our brains -- and I've seen one today that is a mess! I'm thinking of a new computer, since I'm working on a 2007ish MacBook that is slowly slowing down. But I've got it just the way I like it. Finally. How much time will it take to train up a new laptop to be a perfect fit? Boo and poop.

All right. We'll talk more Thursday! :P

Friday, September 5, 2014

RoboNomics Book II Chapter 2 Preview - Attribution

So this week for my picture preview for chapters that I always do, I looked up and down the internet for the perfect picture. And this is the one that I found. So here I am, attributing it. I will linked back to this page whenever I use this picture. Yay!

Also, just a little to note to say that since RoboNomics Book II on Wattpad will be broken into very short chapters, I have settled on posting two per week: Tuesdays and Fridays. So you'll have to wait until Tuesday for Chapter 2. But then bonus! Chapter 3 comes out on Friday! Hooray! :)

photo credit: VinothChandar via photopin cc

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Philosophy Thursday: My System of Ethics

First, start with the Universe

So last Thursday I discussed some of my beliefs about the universe. I wrote that I believe the universe is a thing that tends towards consciousness, self-awareness, sentience, whatever you'd like to call it and that it will always tend towards this state but not with any will or intention.

But I forgot to add a few points:

1. For me, a deity or cosmic intention is a paradox. Why would the universe tend towards consciousness and thus intention, direction, or purpose if that already existed somehow outside of the system? Why would we be the universe observing itself if someone or something has already been observing us all this time? The parental metaphor, for me, makes no sense. I can understand the universe with that floral metaphor I wrote about last week.

2. The second point I left out is that this whole human business, for me, is contingent rather than necessary. This shell -- this vehicle of consciousness evolved the way it did because those were the biological structures that won out (according to Gould), and delivered self-awareness into this particular world. But if some other structures won out instead, there would be no consciousness in this world at all. But that isn't to say that there would be elsewhere in this galaxy, or the next galaxy over, or the one beyond that. And it would look totally different from us. Probably not even hominoid.

3. Of course, this opens up the possibility of self-aware or at least sentient alien life elsewhere in the universe. And why not? To extend the floral metaphor: there are thousands upon thousands of different flowering plants on this planet. There is even more than one sentient species here. So why wouldn't there be different kinds of conscious awareness throughout the universe?

4. And that's the last point that I left out last week. When I look around our own world, or when I think about the materials that make up both stars and biological life, I can see that the nature of the universe is difference. On our own planet, we have biological structures and species that are slightly varied but very similar, as well as those that are crazily different from each other.

And that leads into my ethics.

Then add Levinas

Paris. Author: Shalom Books
Once I had assimilated all the knowledge above, I was introduced to a philosopher named Levinas. It was one of my mentors during my master's degree who, when she heard that I was going to attend the University of Toronto, recommended that I take a particular class in his philosophy.

From what I understand (very badly) of everything I learned about him, Levinas said that his theories were not an ethics, but an ontology. An ontology is a theory about things that exist in the universe. So, if you believe in a deity, then that particular deity is a part of your ontology. In his ontology, the primary thing that exists in the universe is the Other. 

The way I understand it is this: I cannot exist without the Other. It's like back when I was a teenager and I realized that for some things, like opposites, one wouldn't exist without the other. There would be no day if there was no night, right? If the sun somehow never set and everything was daytime, then there would be no daytime and no word 'day' because there would be no opposite to define it by. Everything would just be. So if there was no difference in the world at all, I wouldn't exist. If we all lived as some swarmy hive-mind there would be no me. Individuality would dissolve into a mass.

So it's not that I exist first, that I am the universe looking at itself (as I explored last time) and everyone else here are just background that I am looking at, it's that I actually owe my existence to the differentiated and multifarious ways that the universe looks at itself. First there was the Other, and it because of that Other that I exist. 

A Terrible Interpretation

So if I owe my existence to the Other, what does that imply? Well, for Levinas it implies a philosophy that he doesn't call ethics, but I certainly do.

Specificially, he says:

"The other's face is not an object, Levinas argues. It is pure expression; expression affects me before I can begin to reflect on it. And the expression of the face is dual: it is command and summons. The face, in its nudity and defenselessness, signifies: “Do not kill me.” This defenseless nudity is therefore a passive resistance to the desire that is my freedom. Any exemplification of the face's expression, moreover, carries with it this combination of resistance and defenselessness." (from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

But this "do not kill me" that the Other's face commands and summons is more than just literal. It is literal, yes, but it is also a metaphor which helps me understand Levinas' definition of "violence". When we think of the term violence in the quotidian sense, the first thought that flashes to mind is physical violence. Blood, bruises, et cetera. But when Levinas uses the word violence, he means it in another way. To kill the Other is to take up too much room. A want to kill the other, to commit violence against the Other is to subsume their existence into one's own. To try for that collective swarm mind, to make everyone reflect me.

Sure, I have freedom. I can think of people who do not think like me, who have different beliefs as me or different lifestyles or appearances as wrong and the way I live as right. I can categorizes folks, I can pigeon-hole them in my consciousness with language. But all of this is denying Otherness, killing difference, it is a violence towards the Other to whom I owe my existence. 

Ethics as Last

For me, this call by the Other is, as Levinas points, a non-reciprocal responsibility. That is, the implications of these theories on my everyday life breaks down if I start to think of it as, "well, that person is taking up too much room and is not letting my otherness flourish." Rather, it is more important for me, in being my authentic self, to make sure that I am not doing a violence towards the Other. And that's what it comes down to. This is the theory that informs my actions and stance on everything: that I not do violence to the Other by thinking of them in my terms: that I allow for individuality, difference, and self-determination by other people.

Some Caveats

1. The first is that this is not an easy ethics. In fact, Levinas says that since I can never get out of myself, since I can never escape my own consciousness, I will always be thinking of others in my own terms. So I will forever be committing a violence against the Other. 

But that's not to say we shouldn't try to be ethical beings by this, my system cobbled together from all these badly interpreted theories. Instead, I have to rise to the challenge of my own ethics and as I learn to do better, to do better. The best I can every hope for, he says, is to ask forgiveness and do better next time. Not a thing wrong with that.

2. The second caveat that I must make is that I am terrible at following these ethics. I don't want these blog entries to seem preachy or judgemental, and I think each of us has to find what works for our lives. This is what works for me, when I am being ethical. However, I am not good at not committing violence towards the Other. 

I am far too impatient with people. I am extremely judgemental. I hate crowds, I hate lines. In my life, I've been a bad tenant, a bad roommate, a terrible friend, and a selfish girlfriend. I constantly grumble about folks and their lack of common sense, their bad life choices, and the awful way in which they raise their children. I am guilty of wanting everyone to be like me, although that would be impossible since it would require about 100X the size parking lots that exist today (I always park at the back of lots so I'm guaranteed to have less humans around me). I tend towards a hermit existence and rather than allowing for difference, I'm much more likely to take a similar attitude to:

(if you didn't catch that, it was the ranting. I rant far too often about far too much).

So I am bad at my own ethical system. But this is the one that I have, this is the one I have chosen to live by.  

3. There is one more caveat. And that has to do with Levinas' ideas about justice and the third. Because human relations never just involve me and everybody else, right? There are all sorts of acts of violence that happen in the world everyday, and so how do those fit into this theory? What happens when I am witness to acts of violence? That is something that I struggle with, personally. And I think it's something we'll have to get into in the next entry. 

In the meantime, I think I've earned my cookie for today. :P

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Teen Soaps or: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Wattpad.

I flaked out on my blogging duties yesterday, I know. But hey, it was labour day after all. And even writers deserve a break now and again, don't they?

But it's not as though I was camping or laying somewhere on a beach. Instead, I was cleaning for an inspection of my rental later this week and packing for my move later this month. Fun stuff. And while I packed, I decided to entertain myself during the mundane task with Netflix.

Having finished both seasons of The Mindy Project, I decided to move onto watching Pretty Little Liars. It's a show I've never watched before, and it caught my eye because I thought it might help me with this young adult epic fantasy I've been working on as a side project (THE project) and posting on Wattpad. You know, understand the modern teenage mind or something.

It's a boring show. It's little more than a teen soap. The characters are popular girl types that I'd never be able then or now to relate to, and there's far too many loaded silences for my taste. On top of that, there's isn't a single alien or robot or dystopia or vampire to make it more exciting (hey, Buffy was my teen soap. Big surprise. Maybe I should just rewatch that show?)

So anyways, I'm packing and half paying attention to the show in the background when one of the four main characters gets run down by a car late at night. She does that Hollywood topple-over-the-car thing before falling to the ground. And her friends run over to her and say things like, "call 911!" and "she's not breathing!" and crouch beside her in this overly drawn-out moment and I'm thinking, "these characters are supposed to be over-achievers. Is there not one in there group who took first responders or first aid or something? One of them's a swimmer for bleep's sake!"

And then the episode ended. I didn't get to find out whether the one friend was okay or vehicular manslaughtered or what. It was the most exciting thing that had happened for 10 episodes, and I was going to have to continue my Netflix binge (or originally, tune in next week) to find out what happened.

And that's when it dawned on me. Weekly episodes, soap operas, cliff hangers. Serialization. I've been approaching this whole Wattpad business all wrong. It's just stories I'm posting, it's not just a novel. It's a serialization.
Public domain: United States

But until now, I'd been thinking 18th, 19th century serialization. I'd been thinking about Charles Dickens or Mark Twain or any other author who, back in the day when those things were popular, would publish stories in weekly newspaper columns. But the thing about it is this: those stories now exist as whole novels. And to read them, it isn't always obvious where the natural stopping points for each weekly episode would be (or maybe it is and I'm just a bit thick). It isn't obvious how the writers kept their readers coming back for more week after week. But in many serialized TV dramas (as opposed to episodic ones like I dunno, House, that have a formula and repeat it with slight differences ad nauseam), it is obvious. The ongoing story is punctuated by high drama moments that don't give all the answers away until you tune in next week.

It's so simple, but it seems like for me my insights always are. I walk around in a fog for weeks on end trying to figure out how to figure out an intractable problem. And then suddenly the last little piece falls into place and everything is crystal clear.

At least until the next problem presents itself.

I could go on about how one of the most challenging and unexpectedly pleasurable parts of writing fiction is the constant problem solving. But instead I'll just say that it seemed to work. Pretty Little Liars actually did give me an insight. Not the one I was looking for, but one that is far more productive and can be applied to any story really. I've had the advice before: don't end your chapters on a boring note: don't wrap everything up neatly and move on to the next scene. But as much as I've intellectualized it, I've never realized it -- never felt it as thoroughly as I do now.

So it's to my desk now! To rework all sorts of material that I've already written or have yet to write. Hooray! I feel reinvigorated and ready to work work work! :)