Really…kill ’em all?

One Reader's take on "Tier Zero, Vol. I of the Knolan Cycle"

The author, at home

Pretty much anyone who knows me, also knows I’m a bit of gym rat. Which is not, despite how it sounds, a backhanded way of saying I’m a stud. I’m not. There are a ton of guys who work out in the same gym who are, but I’d never claim to be one of them. Fit, yes.

But that’s not why I led with this. Recently I met a guy doing concentration curls while I was working on traps and we got to BSing.

. It didn’t take long to get around to who we knew and what we did for a living and I copped to being a retired Marine  turned author. His polite inquiry about what I’d written morphed to apparent genuine interest when I told him I was writing a science fiction series about first contact. The gentleman, it turns out, is a science fiction buff.

After a few more questions he asked where he could buy it. I generally have a few copie in the car, so I gifted him a copy and asked him for a review. I’m as optimistic as anyone, but I’m also familiar with how many “free copy for an honest review” arrangements actually pan out, or for that matter, how many even get around to reading the book. Still…hope springs eternal.

Good news, bad news...

In my workout companion’s case, he actually did read it. A couple weeks later, (it’s not a short book) he flagged me down while I was doing my cardio, saying he’d finished the book and he had a couple thoughts. “Great,” I said. “I’ll find you when I get of the eliptical.”

I braced myself. Usually when a science fiction buff reads my work, they tend to focus on the science and (admittedly) Tier Zero asks the reader to accept a couple things for which (as yet) there is little basis in science to accept. “Shoot,” I told him. I was unprepared for what he said.

      “You should have killed everyone off,” he opined. “Like Martin does in “Red Wedding.”

I tried not to sigh. Not because I don’t think George R.R. Martin is a great writer. (He is.) And not because the “Red Wedding” chapter isn’t memorable or in keeping with Martin’s themes and the world he has created. It’s all those things.

Theme and Meaning

But it’s not congruent with the themes underpinning my work…nor would killing everyone off be congruent with the world I’ve attempted to create. Neither the Knolans nor their adversaries the Valdrōsians are remotely akin to the cultures of Martin’s world. Which brings me to the point of this post.

Authors have a theme in mind (or at least in the back of their mind) when they write. The compulsion prompting us to sit at our laptop or computer (or typewriter, if you’re old school) for hours on end, day after day would not be sustainable if we didn’t have a theme (or themes) in mind. It’s what keeps writers going when the going get tough. And it always does, if you’re trying to give birth to your vision. Writing is work. A good writing is even harder work.

Please don’t misunderstand me. My critic is entitled to his take. What would have made Tier Zero meaningful or a more fulfilling read to isn’t invalid, it’s just not aligned with my purpose in writing the story.

The Knolan Cycle's Overarching Theme

The Knolan Cycle is about the collision of values and cultures with the fate of Earth and other inhabited systems in our corner of the galaxy. As a tale of first contact, it is also about the unique and often contrary, contradictory organism we call homo sapiens. In my view, to see oursleves in all our glory and our gut churning dysfunction demands a conflict of titanic proportion with clear objectives and delineations on the surface.

It is against a backdrop of simple goals that the hard choices we confront in execution come into focus. All of us want consistency because what is consistent is relatively predictable. But as the Knolans have learned (and we are beginning to learn) the Universe isn’t necessarily all that predictable. And life tends to resist with might and main all our attempts to make it predictable.

Which isn’t to say that Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series doesn’t accomplish much of the same thing. It does. It’s just  that his approach is  different, as is his purpose in writing the series.

Besides. I like some of my characters too much to kill them off. I think you will, too. Available in both paperback and Kindle, you can purchase Tier Zero here.

The sequel, Eryinath-5, The Dancer Nebula will be released later this year. Subscribe to Dirk’s Tribe at the top right of this page to be among the first to know when Eryinath-5 will be out.

D.B. Sayers is a retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel and former corporate trainer turned full-time author.

Are We in the Midst of a New Civil War?

Uh, maybe...

Civil War Reenactment Photo
Civil War Reenanctent (Courtesy of Chris Chow on Unsplash)

As long time readers of my blog and subscribers to “Dirk’s Tribe” know, I’m periodically active of Quora, and if you’re familiar with how Quora works, you also know that active members on that forum frequently have questions find to them for answering.

One such question was recently forwarded to me for comment and is the catalyst for this post.

The question was:

It feels like we are living in the middle of a battle zone in a political civil war that never seems to end. When will it be over?

My answer (and opinion) follows.

It's over when we decide we want it to be

A lot to unpack in this question. Standard disclaimer/caveat emptor follows. This is just one history student, turned Marine officer, turned corporate trainer and (now) published author’s take.

The “political civil war” to which your question refers will be over when enough of us tire of focusing on what makes us different and acknowledge all that unites us. I grew up in fly-over country, spent half my military career overseas & the other half on the left or right coasts. I’ve lived in the Deep south & still has family living in Texas. And other than the odd (& inevitable) personality clash or two, I’ve not only been able to get along with pretty much everyone, but I also genuinely like them and recognize our essential kinship.

So the short answer…one I’m sure everyone has heard before in some form is:

The political civil war’s over when we start listening to understand instead of argue.

 Another respondent to the question observed that Newt Gingrich is one of the principal architects of the divide and he’s right. Gingrich is by no means the only one, but for the intellectually curious, I’ve included a link to an article written by McKay Coppins in Atlantic. It’s important reading for all, whether you’re a true conservative or a progressive.

In it the philosophical underpinnings of conservatism as we’ve come to know it and the operational calculus used to advance it are laid bare. Collectively, the conservative reaction to the Civil Rights Movement writ large is as the article suggests, is one of the principal barriers to the kind of fact-based civil discourse necessary to thrash out constructive solutions to the philosophical differences inevitable in a body politic of 300 plus millions constituents. And end the “civil war” referred to in the question.

But in order to answer the question adequately, might it be helpful to first consider whether the political civil war alluded to in the question is the disease or a symptom of it? Work with me here.

A Maelstrom of Change

It’s a blinding flash of the obvious to state that we are in age of great change. My own reading of history leads me to conclude that in modern history, only the Industrial Revolution comes close to the dislocations we are experiencing now. Change has become the lei motif of our age.

It’s not like we weren’t warned. Future Shock (Alvin Toffler 1970), & The Population Bomb (Paul R. Ehrlich 1968) are only two notable authors predicting some aspect of the changes we’re experiencing. And while they were often mistaken about some of the details, they were uniformly correct about the effect.

As Toffler predicted, when the rate of change exceeds our capacity to process it, we become disoriented and overwhelmed by it. Change erodes predictability and with it, any sense of security, with (ironically) predictable results. Rapid and unpredictable change affects how we deal with literally everything. It tends to lead to hyper-alertness bordering on paranoia. Watch any recent returning veteran from an active combat zone and you’ll precisely what I mean.

And as Ehrlich predicted, explosive population growth such as we experienced over the past 50 years, has strained not only our ability to feed the collective population if the world but placed increasing and unsustainable stress on the ecosystems by which support life itself and (obviously) the production of food necessary to feed the world.

Change erodes predictability, certainty which in turn erodes, the perception of security. The actual fact(s) of one’s security may not have changed all that much, but how we perceive them may…and profoundly.

So. Caught in the midst of multiple, overlapping paradigm shifts, (think climate change, the demise of a middle class and Covid-19) it isn’t difficult to understand how self-appointed political pundits and political operatives have made it their business to leverage our uncertainties & fears to stoke division. Whether you’re working in the for-profit media, a politician looking for a way to get or keep power, nothing lends itself to exploitation like fear, anger and desperation. And in times of uncertainty, it’s all too easy to stoke all three.

So...now what?

The obvious problem with doing that, however, is that the more you stoke those fires, the more likely it is that the fire will get out of control. Whether you’re a politician, a pundit or an organization with skin in the game, the immediate often overwhelms the necessary. The next election, the next podcast or the next quarter’s profits obscure what our hearts tell us we need to do.

As individuals, we’re as guilty as the politicians & pundits I mentioned earlier. Who among us haven’t neglected, sometimes for years, our duties as citizens to not only stay informed with respect to what our political operatives are up to, but what the (often) disturbing trends tell us about our long-term survivability and sustainability? The problem isn’t an “ism,” whether it’s capitalism or socialism, republicanism, or corporatism in and of themselves.

It’s how organizations tend to leverage those “isms” to for purposes of their own. Sooner or later, organizations co-opt their lofty original purposes…the ones that attracted adherents in the first place…for self-serving agendas of the self-appointed thought leaders at the top. Leaders who often take those “isms” to the illogical extremes. All organizations do this and it only when we the people who have leveraged the power many to increase our own tell them “enough is enough!”

Only when we decide not to “otherize” each other will this civil war to which you refer end. When I see you and you see me and we all seek truth together will we be free not only from the internecine civil war to which you refer but from the slavish adherence to oversimplified talking points and ad hominem mischaracterizations of each other.

D.B. Sayers is a retired Marine officer, former corporate trainer/manager and author of four books with two more on the way. You can subscribe to his newsletter, “Dirk’s Tribe” here.

Burning Out…

Of Course Journalists are Burning Out

I subscribe to Medium, in part because I write for the site but also because there are compelling (and some not-so-compelling) posts on the site. With (literally) no effective barriers to entry, that’s to be expected.

Recently, a post entitled Of Course the Journalists Are Burning Out posted by Sarah Stankorb really stuck in my head because it touches on something that’s been on my mind for some time.

Speaking of how SARS-CoV-2 has combined with other significant events, Sarah wrote tellingly of how it has affected her and other freelance, traditionally retained journalist  and a few others she knows, for illustration of her points.

“I see pastors who have tried to hold their churches together virtually as members sparred over masks and QAnon conspiracies, while shouldering the emotional burden of being the one many people call, when they don’t know who else to call.”

Sarah goes on to say:

“…my baseline level of exhaustion is much greater than it was pre-pandemic. Maybe that was coming through.”

I feel you, Sarah, in common I suspect with most if not all of my readers. She then goes on to add her own nod to the plight of her generation.

“I also recently read an interview with Anne Helen Petersen who wrote the book Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation. Petersen had her start at Buzzfeed and describes a round robin of intense stories that left her getting in fights with her editor and crying. Her editor told her she was burned out — and that opened a lens into what she now describes throughout our generation.”

There’s a temptation on the part of us with a few more years’ runway behind us to admonish her to suck it up, buttercup, but beneath her lament for her generation and journalists, there’s more…so much more going on.

“And all that hurts the people whose stories need to be told in order for any systemic change — such as those within the denominations I increasingly cover. Gritters [another journlist she knows] wrote, “I can’t rely on this ship to take me anywhere safe. If I bank on this industry any longer, I’m afraid of where I’ll end up.”

“I keep banking on it because it’s the only ship I know, the best one for shining light where it’s needed. I ignore the sweltering stress headache as yet another publication trims, another place for these stories disappears, and I find myself afraid of where the people I write about will end up even with my efforts.”

The article winds to a conclusion you can probably guess from the foregoing excerpts. My own response follows wandering off in my usual inimitable way, on what I hope is a relevant tangent.

Angst, Anxiety & the Crossroads

I feel your pain and (not that you need it) validate it. But I wonder…are you perhaps describing the symptom, rather than the disease? As someone whose own careers have exposed him to a fair share of angst-inducing tragedies, I assure you it’s not your imagination.

As a journalist writing about all the symptoms outlined in your post, are you not the very definition of the canary in the coalmine? It’s hard to look ANYWHERE today without sensing it’s all going sideways. And this sensing isn’t confined to Journalism.

Do not your observations point to fundamental flaws in our rewards systems? Rewards systems bequeathed to us by the industrial revolution, Ayn Rand, and the self-appointed thought leaders of this world. Is not the central issue that we have a dying system incapable of saving itself? That’s my take. So long as we seek to use the ashes of the industrial revolution and the ideas spawned by it as a foundation, we’re unlikely to arrest the down spiral leading to profound and ruinous collapse. As a freelance journalist,you’re witnessing the death of an entire system through a macro lens. I can imagine few things more likely to induce angst and anxiety.

Will we realize in time that we need a more wholistic solution, rather than a technocratic, piecemeal approach to problem resolution? Will we collectively take the risks associated with creativity? As an eternal optimist, I hope so, but the coexisting saddened realist in me has reservations. Most of the people we have elected to do what passes as governance in the 3d decade of the 21st Century suffer from a profound lack of imagination. Often the will to take the attendant risks of being caught trying while being wrong.

In fairness to technocrats, they can solve individual problems if properley resourced, but as long as we keep to trying to “build back better” or “make America great again,” we’re figuratively chasing butterflies and letting all the elephants get away.

Aren’t we…and the assumptions we’re dragging along behind us… the problem? I’m not a fan iconclastic measures for their own sake, but it seems to me there’s not much substance left in the society we’re trying build back better or to make great again. I can’t say for certain of course. I’m not that wise. But I also can’t help but wonder…

Is it maybe time to demolish the sluggish and (often) cumbersome relics of our past and examine the assumptions we drag along behind us critically with an eye to keeping snippets that work and toss what’s clearly worn out.

A retired Marine officer, former corporate trainer and district manager turned author, D.B. Sayers. has 4 books in print with two more on the way.

What is a “conservative,” anyway?

Do we really know, anymore?

It’s a question that seems germaine today, as the Republican Caucus votes to strip Liz Cheney of her position as the House Republican Conference Chair. I’m not sure that I have an answer that would satisfy anyone, least of all conservatives writ large, but I’m going to weigh in, in my own way, as the Republican intramural food fight on the right plays out in semi-public.

Office of Congresswoman Liz Cheney, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

My more conservative brothers and sisters are sure to take me to task, insofar as I’m not a conservative, some of whom are sure to point out that a liberal (like me) can’t possibly understand conservatism.

Many of these same folks will be at it tomorrow, shamelessly categorizing liberals as liberal socialists hell-bent on destroying our democratic institutions. It is America, after all and credentials seem to matter less, these days, than how loud we’re prepared to shout.

I’m not going to shout, but I am (probably) going to say some things that will make self-aware conservatives blush…the ones endowed with at least a nodding familiarity with history, anyway. Sometimes, clarity is best served from the outside looking in.

A Look Backward

In 1964 pornography case Jacobellis Vs. Ohio, Supreme Court Justice Potter Steward famously stated:

“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”], https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_know_it_when_I_see_itand perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”

This Justice’s punt on defining (in this case, obscenity or pornography) could be said to argue against the whole point of my post here, but I tend to think it doesn’t. In fact, it points out something I’ve witnessed many times, over the course of my life. The contextual framework for ideas often colors even if it doesn’t absolutely determine the definition of anything not firmly grounded in strict determinism based on purely empirical measures.

The term “conservative” clearly falls within the category of things that may prove fungible over time, as contemporary thought is seasoned by the passage of time and daily events affecting how we see matters political, philosophical and spiritual.

There is, however, a definition for conservatism. As long-time readers of this blog know, I when it comes to definitions, I default to Merriam-Webster, and found definitions 2 and 3 relevant. They are quoted below.

2. a. a disposition in politics to preserve what is established.

2. b. a political philosophy based on tradition and social stability, stressing established institutions, and preferring gradual development to abrupt change specifically : such a philosophy calling for lower taxes, limited government regulation of business and investing, a strong national defense, and individual financial responsibility for personal needs (such as retirement income or health-care coverage)

3. the tendency to prefer an existing or traditional situation to change

The common thread to the above is a preference for an inclination to look backward for answers, rather than forward into the unknown. There’s just one problem.

Back to the Future?

That’s kind of not how they’re behaving, these days. What’s also striking is just how far from their supposedly honored past the Republican Party has strayed. Following is the summarized 1956 Republican Party platform on which Dwight D. Eisenhower ran.

Two things leap to the front from the foregoing platform as contrasted with Republicans of today. The first is disconnect between Republicans’ reverence for our traditions and historical roots, and how much the “old” Republican principles as articulated in Eisenhower’s platform seem to be at odds with the new Republican party.

Historians will note that (possibly) the Goldwater backlash and the emergence of the John Birch Society that followed more accurately reflects the true nature of the GOP. If so, it would go a long way toward explaining Newt Gingrich, Grover Norquist and  the #MAGA crowd of today. In that model, Trump did not alter the tradition-reverent Republican Party so much as recognize they never had any. Who then, is (are) to be the architect(s) of a new Republican philosophy, to whatever extent one can be said to exist?

So maybe it's really all about context?

What do Republicans stand for these days and what have Donald Trump, Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell articulated that can make sense of Liz Cheney’s ouster as Republican Chair of the House Republicans? Who are they now and what do they stand for? And in the absence of an articulated platform, are we to judge what they stand for by their actions? hard to imagine any Republican or indeed any American citizen of conscience supporting them. In the lead-up to the January capital rumble, 147 Republicans voted against certifying the results of the Electoral College, despite no evidence that the election was “stolen,” as the former president suggested.

Since then, Republicans have been busy around the country proposing legislation that would make it harder to vote, especially for our brothers and sisters of color despite (again) no evidence of widespread voter election fraud.

From the outside looking in (I haven’t been a Republican or a self-described conservative for years) it’s becoming increasingly difficult to arrive at any other conclusion than Republicans (and conservatives) are out of arguments. In the absence of any, they have concluded that the only course of action open to them is a combination of:

  1. Outright lies
  2. Distraction
  3. Culture wars
  4. Incipient racism/religious intolerance

The foregoing failing, 1/6/2021 has shown us they’re willing to abrogate democracy in the name of power. If that doesn’t convince the sane to do everything in our collective power to stop them, then they’ve already one. Which is it? (You tell me.)

My Secret Life

As a self-appointed "answer man..."

Recently, a question popped up on a forum I frequent that kind of blew my mind. As anyone who spends much time browsing online forums knows, you sort A LOT of chaff before you get to the wheat. On rare occasions, for someone like me, the chaff actually is the wheat, as in this case. I confess I was moved to respond. The question was:

How-do-I-get-over-the-guilt-of-voting-Republican-for-20-years-and-causing-many-people-to-die?

My take...

Seriously? Who said voting Republican (specifically as opposed to voting for the alternative, i.e.,  Democrat) results in many people dying? And to which dying are you referring? The interminable “War on Terror,” SARS CoV-2, the Capitol assault of 1/6/21, the unnecessary deaths at the border or uncritical support of police implicit in implied in Qualified Immunity & it’s most profound affects on our brothers and sisters of color? Maybe you’re referring the tacit acceptance of the carnage in Yemen or the asinine unqualified support of 2nd Amendment Rights at the expense of commonsense firearms control laws. All valid  as far as they go.

But can we agree both Republicans & Democrats have made political calls that have resulted in deaths? A lot of them? Vietnam, Korea and Somalia all come to mind, all optional wars of interference initiated by Dems. It’s the nature of governance that governing officials, (elected and appointed) will be confronted life & death choices. Choices that must usually be made with incomplete information.

That’s why it’s so damned important to choose people with a conscience. People who (at the very least) recognize when they should be ashamed, either of their decisions or their reasons for making them.

Does this mean you should stop voting Repubican?

Oh yeah! It’s difficult to arrive at any other conclusion, if you’re paying attention and you’re at all committed to effective governance. Just compare what occupies the attention of both parties and their public comments with respect to policy and it should be transparently obvious.

Let’s use the period since the election as a demonstration case of what the two parties’ respective actions and public pronouncements say about them. Since the election, elected Republicans in both the Senate and the House have hewed to their defeated former president’s taking points, to wit: “the election was stolen.” Most of us know better. Literally dozens of challenges to the certified election results in several critical states have revealed no evidence of widespread voter fraud. Indeed, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick of Texas offered a $1 million dollar reward to anyone unearthing evidence of voter fraud. Sadly, he must not have meant it. Lt. Governor John Fetterman of Pennsylvania offered several proven cases of fraud…by Trump supporters.

While President Biden focused on (and made considerable progress combating the SARS CoV-2 pandemic, Republicans have busied themselves with the weighty matters of cancel culture. One of the most preeminent examples being (according to Republicans) the “cancelling” of Mr. Potato Head and (more broadly)  our country’s traditions and values. Seriously? Our country’s values are embodied by a Hasbro toy?

Any other examples? I thought you’d never ask. Recently, the Daily Mail represented that Biden’s climate plan could limit Americans to one burger a month and pay $55K for electric cars. These days, it’s getting increasingly difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Republican party decides what its policies are based on whatever they think will piss off the Dems or will help facilitate their gerrymandered but slipping hold on power. That’s assuming you can characterize their pronouncements as policy.

Recently on MSNBC’s “The Last Word,” Congressman Joe Neguse (D-Colorado) opined that we need a healthy Republican Party. By which I took him to mean, an opposition party effectively balancing Democrats’ liberal leanings with a cogent conservative perspective. His statement assumes that political parties will always be with us, and he’s probably right. Gathering, organizing and working on concert toward common objectives is profoundly human. But it does not follow that the opposition must necessarily be the Republican party. Ideas, people and organizations come and go. Change is the lei motif of life.

Far more necessary than an opposition party in the form of Dems Vs. Republicans are honest, fact-centric stewards of the public trust. In order to have that, we must have informed, attentive citizens who keep their eye on those stewards and send them packing when they fail in their stewardship. In order to do this, we as citizens must do our homework and not let Fox Noise or MSNBC tell us what to think. We used to be a little better at this. But somewhere along the way, a significant number of us seem to have lost that intellectual muscle.

Now about that guilt you say you’re feeling. You know what? Nobody’s perfect. We’ve all got that going on in our lives, if we’re honest with ourselves. Just do better next time. Focus less on your mistakes and more on the solutions. Singularly or collectively, we’d all do well to move on and keep (or get) better informed & spend more time thinking about the issues and the probable outcomes of the various courses of action being proposed. Take the time to figure out who has the best ideas & vote for them. Just one broken-down, baggy-eyed old Marine officer’s opinion.

D.B. Sayers is a retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel, former corporate trainer and district manager turned full-time author with four published books in print and two more on the way. He rights thought-provoking tales of adventures of growth and a fresh perspective of old problems, real and (sometimes), imagined.

The Tortured Relationship Between Politicians & “The Elite.”

I thought you'd never ask...

Who owns who?

Not too long ago, someone posted a question one of the forums I frequent. To me, it felt a little sophomoric but given the political climate today, it also begged an answer. Not simply for the interlocutor, but for all of us. After working up my own answer, it occurred  to me it might be worth sharing here, on my website. For the consideration of anyone who might be interested.

The question was:

“Can you still say the Republican party is for the wealthy elite, or has the Democratic party equalized or surpassed them?”

My response as I posted it on that forum follows, with a few more points I’ve stirred in for my readers here on this website.

My Take...

My response as I posted it on that forum follows, with a few more points I’ve stirred in for my readers here on this website.

My response was:

Okay, I’m going to try to answer this question without getting pissed. I should warn the overly sensitive this might be a good time to stop reading. I may not be able to pull it off.

Let me start by wondering outloud if I’m the only one who thinks your question misses the salient truth. To that end, I’d like to start with a blinding flash of the obvious.

We’re a nation of 330 million (+/-). We are ethnically, religiously/spiritually, economically & socially diverse. Whether we’re comfortable with that or not is tangential. Personally, I love it, which tips off pretty much everyone with respect to my philosophical leanings, and I’m perfectly comfortable with that. I love that we are diverse and becoming more so every day. That’s a feature rather than a bug, IMO, to being the world’s melting pot.

With that in mind, the notion that any single political party is exactly & only for or about one thing is not simply naïve, it’s guilty of letting all the usual suspects off the hook.

The Republican Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 was pretty much a giveaway to wealthy, according to the reasonably unbiased news outlets. I’ve chosen NPR to reference here, but there are other centrist publications that agree.

With that said, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 isn’t devoid of giveaways to corporate America, either. There’s no question the act has good temporary relief for consumers and those disproportionately affected by SARS CoV-2, including small businesses. But do you think Pfizer, Moderna & J&J aren’t smiling all the way to the bank? And surely you’ve noticed that AmazonGoogle & Facebook to name a few, have been making a killing during the pandemic and through both Republican & Democratic administrations have been allowed to function as (highly profitable) de facto monopolies?

We all know they are. Amazon’s net profit is creeping up on $400 Billion, (Forbes) while Google’s quarterly revenue is up to almost $57 billion (Statistica) in the 4th quarter of 2020. And Facebook’s net income is up 57% in 2020. (Investor News)

Nevertheless, there is a difference

Meanwhile, SARS CoV-2 isn’t done with us & is slowly strangling a lot of small businesses while every Republican house and senate voted against the American Rescue Plan. In the wake of these verifiable truths, the Republican Party and it’s crony “news” outlets continue to obsess over theories relating to exhaustively debunked election fraud, cancel culture and the hypothetical stolen gender of Mr. Potato Head.

Seriously? To the extent these issues dominate our public discourse, aren’t we guilty of chasing butterflies while letting the elephants get away? I’ve just finished taking Republicans to task because it’s so obvious and easy, but boes anyone really think that Democrats aren’t hostage to monied interests? Arguably, Republicans are more flagrant about it. But whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, if you’re politically active your preferred party cannot get through a day without soliciting $$.

Collectively, we have strayed so far from our best aspirations as a nation that we (all of us) should be ashamed of ourselves. Whether we’re active subscribers to loaded rhetoric & skewed arguments or passive apathists who just let it go out of disgust, we’re to blame. Political parties exist as long as someone supports them, and (obviously) both parties enjoy support in their own constituencies. But in common with most organizations, leadership of political parties co-opt what was once a thoughtful agenda, replacing or adapting it to suit their own ends.

And what have both parties done with their support? We have a bloated (and misdirected) defense budget, legions of lobbyists and a political system awash in so much money, can anyone seriously entertain the notion that either party is on the side of citizens? So as long as we’re partisan Democrats or Republicans, we’re part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. Kind of like this question that originally spawned this rant. It is profoundly devoid of either balance or nuance, not unlike a lot of what passes for political thought, these days.

If we could get back to having substantive policy debates grounded in the verifiable merits (or lack thereof), we’d all have a lot more respect for government and the process we call governance. But that’s just my opinion. What’s yours?

 

D.B. Sayers is a retired Marine officer, former corporate trainer, training manager and district manager turned  author of four novels with two more on the way. Dirk’s stories are always believable and often evocative. You can be among the first to know when his newest work is due for release by subscribing to Smoke Signals at the top right of this post.

Tier Zero and Science Fiction in Literature

A Futurist’s Playground?

Science fiction tends to tap into our innate curiosity about how the future might affect our lives. One commentator on science fiction as a genre opined that science fiction is “a telescope to the future.” The post makes the case for a forward-looking deep dive into the inevitability of change, driven by man’s relentless drive to control our environment and (by association) our destiny.

I think there’s a place for that kind of thinking, whether you accept the notion in the post or not. Science fiction by definition seeks to deal with the essential unknowns associated with a future that both interacts with us as it unfolds and on which the discoveries we make ultimately have a hand in shaping our destiny. Any speculative fiction shares that efficacy, if efficacy it is.

But I wonder if it’s worth recalling that whatever advances we make technologically, those advances are made by humans. And does not a lot of science fiction get lost in a jungle of “gadgets,” often at the expense of thoughtful thematic expression? Our fascination with a hypothetical future often focuses on how the world in which we live may be transformed by gadgets. But are not humans the real catalysts of change, irrespective of what those changes are? And how that change, whatever it is affects us is only partially dependent on the technology or the practical utility of the latest i-phone app. (For example).

The Brave New World

In my view, the real focus of science fiction is and must be on how the changes we bring into being technologically affect not simply how we live, but how those changes transform our lives but how we feel about that brave new world (to parrot Aldous Huxley) and how the changes we both bring into being and by which we are affected, shape our view of ourselves. What makes humans fundamentally different, we believe, is our self-awareness.

It is self-awareness and the degree to which we are able to learn, apply and pass on the lessons we’ve learned that make us who/what we are. And while science fiction gives us an opportunity to play “what if” with technology, I’m not sure that the more important value to be found in reading science fiction is the speculative journey into our own psyche’s and how a different external reality might cause us to order our own lives, both individually and collectively.

“How would we be, if...?”

In Tier Zero, Vol I of the Knolan Cycle, the Knolans are clearly technologically way ahead of us. So much so, that first contact between the Knolans and we indigenes of Earth actually took place over 30 years ago and no one is aware of it. Yet. In Tier Zero, the Knolans are a little cirumspect about their motivations for making contact in the first place, even with the few with whom they have chosen to connect. And as the reader becomes aware of their reasons for it, it’s obvious that Knolan ideation about a lot of things is fundamentally different than our own. Paradoxically, the Knolans are in many ways so similar to us, that it’s hard to reconcile the differences between their views of themselves and their relationship with the Universe and our own, given how otherwise similar we are.

And that, to me, is the heart and soul of science fiction. It isn’t gadgets, in the end, it’s still about the human condition and how we (as humans) will be affected by world/universal views that are profoundly different from our own. Given our track record here in the US, the supposed melting pot of the world, it’s fair to wonder if our knee-jerk reaction to contact with others, however similar may not be fear, loathing or aggressive antagonism.

When/if confronted with difference from afar, will we have the kind of tolerance balanced with a healthy curiosity to learn from and share with a culture so foreign that it literally dwarfs the challenges of understanding and tolerance we’ve been obliged to confront before? For most of us paying attention, my guess is the jury’s still out. And if you’re like me, that concerns you.

D.B. Sayers is the author of four books and is currently working on two more. In his previous “incarnation,” Dirk was a Marine officer, then corporate trainer and training manager. He currently lives in Laguna Niguel a couple miles from the Pacific with he wife, two psychotic cats and 12 year old, 5 foot Ball Python named Corona.

Healing the Partisan Divide

One question that begs another...

On a forum I frequent, this question was posted. Initially, I was inclined to pass on even attempting to answer it. While there are a number of thoughtful commenters on the forum in question, it felt to me like a this was one that might interest some of my readers who share my wholistic view of society. The question was…

Is there any issue that could actually bring Democrats and Republicans together or is the ideological rift so great that that is no longer a possibility?

 I usually start most of my gratuitous opinions with , “nobody asked me but…”  But in this case, someone did ask, so instead I’m going to observe that this question (in my opinion) completely whiffs on what seems to me the more productive question, IF we want to get to the underlying contributing causes of the ideological rifts to which the question alludes.

Let’s start with the obvious. Representative democracies (or republics?) rely on a profound sense of citizenship, a measure of mutually acknowledged kinship with our fellow citizens, and with civic attention to the issues of the day. Attention, let me hasten to add that is characterized by  evidence-based critical thinking that informs our opinions on those issues. What the question above as phrased postulates is that American politics will necessarily bifurcated by opposing parties with opposing philosophies.

The Toxicity of Political Parties

But as thoughtful readers have already noted, none of the attributes of a vibrant representative republic we have enumerated above logically demand political parties. So if you accept my precepts above as necessary enablers of a representative democracy, is it perhaps time to reflect on whether viewing governance (the purpose of government) through a binary political lens? Irrespective of where you stand on the left-right continuum, I think that bifurcation of political alignment obscures rather than highlights truth.

Can we start with a blinding flash of the obvious? We are a nation of 330+ million people. A nation that has long since ceased to be a homogeneous group. Whether you agree with me that our very diversity is a strength is immaterial. The practical reality is that extracting a meaningful consensus from such diversity has proven (and will likely continue to prove) to be problematic at best. But it will be rendered considerably easier if we all framed our opinions (& our representatives their policy proposals) around empirically verifiable evidence. If you’re fond of absolute certainty, that may not appeal.

But it would helpful if all of us recognized that neither absolute certainty nor absolute unanimity of opinion is necessary for effective governance. Good will and a measure of humility, however, is. And if the years since Newt Gingrich has taught us anything, demonizing the other side simply because they’re “the other side,” is a shortcut to polarization. We’ve had more than enough opportunity to test that theory and the verdict is in.

Dem-Republican Vote Dist.
A look at the map above should demonstrate to all but the willfully obtuse that there's no no way to divvy up America amicably, between Republicans and Democrats, even if we wanted to. We are one and best off as one.

Coming to Grips with Uncomfortable Truth

The lived experiences in urban vs. rural America are radically different and (sadly) the resulting philosophical convictions of  have to some extent blinded us to the greater similarities between both populations. Having grown up in Iowa before serving for 22+ years in the Corps & subsequently working in corporate America in a major metropolitan city for almost 2 decades, I know this from personal experience.

And it doesn’t help that the for-profit media exploits those differences for reasons owing less to the truth than what they perceive  they can “sell.”  But this in no way relieves us of our personal responsibility as citizens to sort out truth independent of the motivated cognition and (in some cases) shamelessly deceptive presentation of facts. It should be obvious why. We are the people from whom the authority to govern flows. We are directly and ultimately accountable for the outcome. This accountability includes not only how Congress and the President represent us, but how we influence their performance in our collective names.

 

Excerpted from Statistica.com

The thoughtful have already figured out where I’m going with this. Congressional approval ratings see-sawing between a low of 15% just before the 2020 election and a high of 35+% in February says as much (or more) about us as an electorate as it does about our  representatives. What we permit, we encourage and for too long, we have encouraged behaviors that on balance don’t do credit either to congress or we the people they purport to represent.

And the Solution?

Western democracy in general and American democracy in particular is firmly grounded in capitalism and the primacy of profit in our inalienable right”to “the pursuit of happiness.” It’s a seductive notion…one the Republican party in particular hammers home at every opportunity. The obvious flaw in that concept is that is further grounded in the demonstrably false idea that we can grow indefinitely within a demonstrably finite ecosystem. This isn’t simply an allusion to climate change, though most of us by now recognize that one of the unintended consequences of capitalism and the attendant growth spiral is climate change.

But there is a much more far-reaching side effect of capitalism as currently practiced. A side effect potentially more significant even than climate change, in that it shapes attitudes shaping our behavior.

Corporate America writ large would have you to believe they’re benign and on your side. But the unvarnished truth is they have participated in the systemic depression of wages irrespective of increased productivity and spiraling costs of living. No matter where you live, unless you’re one of the top 20% or so, you’re probably feel very much like somebody must be to blame for it & for-profit media will be happy to find someone for you to make wrong for it. But it’s rarely who needs to be made wrong.

The underpinning truth we must all face before we’re going to have an ice cube’s chance in the hot place of fixing our broken political system is to recognize how deeply embedded business is in the decisions that get made in government about governance. Until we acknowledge that businesses with vested interests in the systemic exploitation of everything from the tax code to their workers are driving a lot of the decisions government makes, we will never fix the problem. That’s because both parties are beholden to business.

Political parties and organizations writ larger are the inevitable (and unfortunately, necessary) part of every problem and every solution.

The Day America Died

January 6th and the End of Innocence

After the assault on the capital, the great American experiment feels almost hopelessly naive. Either we believe in representative democracy or we don’t. In the end, a representative democracy is an all or nothing thing. Not unlike pregnancy, you’re not a little bit democratic.

Courtesy of Wikimedia

Either the peoples’ will enjoys primacy, or the rule of a strongman or gaggle of plutocrats or a collection of self-aggrandizing oligarchs or is/are ascendant. We can’t claim to be a democracy unless we believe in the legitimacy of what makes us a democracy in the first place, to wit, the outcome of elections. And the signs of our dawning awareness that the game has changed are everywhere.

Not that there aren’t people trying with might and main to ignore those signs or the blinding flash of the obvious. Hopeful pundits point to the undeniable successes and the quiet competence Biden’s first hundred days as evidence that democracy and its institutions have held. Meanwhile, weasel-brained Republican politicians across America are already working feverishly to craft voter suppression laws designed to disenfranchise men and women of color, in order to tilt the political playing field so profoundly that pluralistic democracy has no chance.

The Illusion of Election Theft

Meanwhile Republican law makers play footsy with the notions that the election was indeed stolen and opine that those who assaulted the capital on the 6th were (largely) peaceful, misguided or Antifa agitators who somehow persuaded themselves to wear MAGA hats and carry confederate flags. Said the soon to be former president to his followers gathered at the capital?

“States want to revote. The states got defrauded. They were given false information. They voted on it. Now they want to recertify. They want it back. All Vice President Pence has to do is send it back to the states to recertify and we become president and you are the happiest people.” (Donald Trump at the Jan. 6, 2021 rally before the assualt.)

Never mind the fact that states did indeed certify the election in all states, after more than fifty (count them) filed in virtually every battleground state where Trump and his surrogates thought they might have a chance in front of the bench as the did not at the ballot box. In response to one appeal in the 3rd circuit, one judge noted:

“…calling an election unfair does not make it so.” (3d Circuit Judge)

As pretty much anyone armed with three braincells to rub together and ever having served on jury duty knows, the bench tenders a lot more credence to appeals referencing empirically verifiable facts.

And as the Brennan Center for Justice pointed out in response to Trump’s claim that the 2016 election (which he won) was rigged, the incidence of voter fraud while not non-existent, has never risen to the level necessary to “rig” an election. And it still hasn’t. Mr. Trump lost. Period, full stop.

But is Trump the Problem?

In my opinion, no. Far more troubling than an intellectually deficient defeated president plaintively bleating about having lost is the large number of elected officials inclined to ignore the absence of evidence of “the steal” and go along with the narrative. Equally problematic is the large number of misguided citizens willing to take Trump’s words at face value sans evidence.

It’s hard to watch the January 6th assault on the capital and subsequent reverberations and not feel that we’re in the midst of a shift…and not a good one. Long time readers of my work know I’m fascinated by paradigm shifts. This particular (apparent) paradigm shift in the Republican Party and the more conservative elements of our society is fascinating, but not in a good way.

We collectively have become the problem. Between “wokeness” on one end of the political spectrum and dead enders on the other, we’ve lost sight of purpose of governance. It’s to deliver quietly competent government that balances the popular with the necessary. The previous adminstration failed miserably at that and despite it’s doing so, a large number of folks believed he should be re-elected.

Fortunately for America, seven million more thought otherwise. It won a reprieve, but none of us should labor under the misapprehension this is over. It isn’t. It isn’t not just because Trump is defeated but still alive. It’s because the real problem isn’t Trump. It’s us. Bank that one. If that bothers you, get informed and involved. It’s no longer okay to see how things go.  

Future Shock Came of Age in 2020

The Caress of Time

Some things we just can’t get more of. Time is one of them. As a pithy (and illustrative) quatrain in the Rubiyat of Omar Khayyam illustrates better than I can:

“The Bird of Time has but a little way 

To fly—and Lo! The Bird is on the Wing.”

So on that hopeful note, why would you invest even the few minutes of your time it takes to read this?

Used with permission-Thomas Bormans &Unsplash

It’s a fair question. After all, you could be watching entertaining cat videos on TikTok, right? Seriously. Why should you read Dirk’s Tribe?

A fresh perspective, perhaps? Even a measure of peace in exceedingly turbulent times? A ray of optimism? All the above. If you’re of the belief our times are painfully chaotic, you’re not alone and it’s not your imagination. That said, we’re up to the task. It’s all about perspective and (maybe) a sense of proportion, of balance. Work with me, here.

Future Shock Came of Age in 2020

Future Shock the Book

For many, I suspect the foregoing strikes them as a blinding flash of the obvious. Quite apart from the pandemic and the attendant economic upheaval, it’s hard to miss the profound dysfunction of our current  political/social/spiritual reality. Or to long for better.

 

People familiar with my writing know that change and its affects on the protagonists in all my stories is the underpinning theme uniting virtually everything I write. So most of my readers won’t be surprised to learn I tend to see paradigm shifts in most of the changes defying simple explanations. As the old wheeze goes: “to a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

Noted, acknowledged and I’m (probably) guilty. That said, you don’t have to be fascinated by or hypersensitive to change to be aware it’s happening or to note that (these days) it borders on overwhelm. It’s not your imagination and there a reason for that. Or more accurately, multiple reasons that make perfect sense in context.

"The answer my friend, is blowin' in the wind..."

Nobody asked me, but it’s actually been going on while a lot of us slept. If, like me, you read Toffler’s Future Shock and Brzezinski’s Between Two Ages and Paul Ehrlich’s Population Bomb when they came out, you saw this coming. What was missing in all of them, however, is the unifying, contextual truth about humans as a species, both individually and collectively.

In future editions, I’ll go into all of it in detail, including of the origins of the changes we’re seeing, as we stumble into the second decade of the 21st Century. But for now, I’d like to offer a warning and a ray of hope.

The warning, first. This has been coming since the mid part of the last century, and it’s only just begun. If you’re experiencing a measure of disorientation now, take a deep breath. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. We’re in the midst of multiple, overlapping paradigm shifts that will alter our reality for all time…assuming we survive it. (That’s not a foregone conclusion, btw). It very much depends on multiple factors, only a few of which have already occurred to some of us. My guess is, there are others of which we’re not even aware. The “unknown unknowns,” as a thankfully now-gone public figure who coined the phrase once said.

Good News, Bad News

If you recall your history from the Industrial Revolution, you will also recall how dramatically that period altered our lives. The changes sweeping through our culture today will dwarf the changes brought on by that period, socially, economically, technologically, politically & spiritually.

For the adaptable, challenge and opportunity come hand in hand. The future will belong to you as it once did for the industrialists who saw the future with imperfect but hopeful clarity.

For the resistant, dig in all you want, but there’s no holding any of this back. We can shape, adapt to it and even harness it in some cases, but the only way out is through. The dug-in resistant and backward looking are in for a very bumpy and painful ride.

Now for the ray of hope. As people who know me well also know, I’m a hopeless optimist who hiding behind a cynical front. The truth is, while humans often behave foolishly, especially when we’re ill-informed, we’re also almost infinitely adaptable. Folly and foresight often coexist side by side. Sometimes even in the same human.

But anyone who bets against species Homo Sapiens hasn’t been paying attention. Often we succeed inspite of ourselves There are a variety of reasons for this, not the least of which deep down, we’re social creatures, capable of cooperation and the very best of kindness. And this never more true than when we have most to fear. It’s only when we allow ourselves to be misled by liars, cheats and value-stealers that we fall short of our own ideals. As Winston Churchill is once said to have observed about America,

“The Americans will always do the right thing…after they’ve exhausted all the alternatives.”

Whether Churchill actually said that is open to debate. But buried in this quote, whoever said is a more broadly applicable truth about humans writ large. We tend to learn by trial and error. This is feature, not a bug. We are at our best when we fear less and try more.

D.B. Sayers is a retired Marine officer, former corporate trainer and manager & the author of West of Tomorrow, Best-Case Scenario, Act I of Nyra’s Journey and Tier Zero, Vol. I of the Knolan Cycle, among others. The sequels to the above, The Year of Maybes, Act II of Nyra’s Journey and Eryinath-5, Vol II of the Knolan Cycle are due out for publication in 2021.