Showing posts with label fear. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fear. Show all posts

04 June 2019

With Malice Aforethought

By Michael Bracken

Audience arriving for "Make It Snappy:
Our Agatha Short Story Nominees"
While attending Malice Domestic last month, I had dinner with several writers and found myself sitting with Susanna Calkins, who I met earlier that day when I moderated “Make It Snappy: Our Agatha Short Story Nominees.” Susanna—along with Leslie Budewitz, Barb Goffman, Tara Laskowski, and Art Taylor—provided the audience with an entertaining and informative fifty-minute conversation about their Agatha-nominated short stories, themselves, and writing. One question not asked during our panel discussion, but which often comes up in one form or another, sparked a significant portion of our dinner conversation:

What motivates you to write?

Susanna noted that many of us have pat answers—chocolate every five hundred words, perhaps—that are easy to toss off during a panel discussion, but which do not actually answer the question. As an academic, Susanna is interested in one day researching the answer to that question and in exploring both what motives writers to write but also what prevents would-be writers from writing. What she discovers through this research might then be applicable to other creative fields.

This intrigued me because my son Ian teaches (and practices) Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI), a therapeutic model that trains caregivers to provide effective support and treatment for at-risk children, but which can be applied to all relationships. We have had several discussions about motivation and about how the desire for a dopamine rush can be a motivating factor in our decisions. Many of us drink, smoke, take drugs, and engage in risky behavior to trigger that dopamine rush. Some of us write short stories.

Friday evening Malice Domestic dinner companions.
Every time I have a story accepted, every time I receive a payment, every time I have a story published, every time I see a story mentioned in a review, every time I see the expression on someone’s face when they learn how many stories I’ve written, I feel that rush. It feeds me. It motivates me.

What motivates me may also serve as a barrier to growth. I have identified myself as a short story writer, and I have used that self-identification to expand into closely related activities that feed the same dopamine rush: editing anthologies (and, now, a magazine), moderating and serving on panels about writing short stories, writing essays and blog posts about writing short stories, and so on. When asked about writing novels, I have a pat answer that emphasizes the success I’ve had with short fiction: Why shoot the horse I rode in on?

But the real reason I no longer write novels may be fear. Not fear of failure—every novel I’ve written has been published—but fear that long-term projects such as novels don’t provide steady hits of dopamine. Without that repeated rush, there’s no motivation to continue the work.

I recently had an opportunity to pitch a partial and an outline. I presented two, was given encouragement to press forward with one, and promptly stepped on my own willie: I loaded myself up with short-story and short-story-related projects.

And I felt good.

My son and I will continue our discussions about TBRI, dopamine, and related topics, and through our discussions I may learn more about what motivates me and how and why it motivates me. And because I would like to know what motivates other writers—I know it really isn’t just chocolate—I hope that someday Susanna actually does her research.

23 June 2016

Gods and Demi-Gods

by Eve Fisher

Ever since the Orlando shooting, I've seen a lot more memes about how America doesn't need more laws, it needs to turn back to God.  But America has turned completely to its gods, which are money and power.  We sacrifice human beings on their altars every day, and guns are one of the ways we do it.  We swallow the deaths of 20 children, 50 people, a mass shooting every day, without a qualm because we know our gods are righteous and just and POWERFUL.  Money and power require these (and other) human sacrifices, because otherwise we would not realize how powerful - and false - these gods are.  Their worship is mediated through their denominations, (the modern, international corporations), their priesthood (lobbyists and politicians), and their demi-gods (celebrities and millionaires/billionaires).
  • The first thing to understand is that when money and power are gods, ALL corporations must make constant profits:  the latest economic doctrine - "maximizing shareholder value" - says that a corporation has no purpose but to make profits for its shareholders.  This means that employer/employee loyalty and customer service/satisfaction are both irrelevant.  Pensions and/or health benefits can and must be cut whenever it's expedient to the bottom line.  Jobs must be outsourced to the lowest bidder, taxes must be avoided by offshoring whenever possible, nationalism/patriotism is a 20th century concept (i.e., ridiculous) and the fact that unemployed people do not buy much is ignored.  The honest truth is the United States is no longer the preferred customer of most corporations, including Coca-Cola:  China is king.  
  • When money and power are gods, everything must be privatized, i.e., put into the hands of corporations.  At the same time, the corporations are no longer national, they are global, in order to maximize shareholder value (see above).  Government - on any level - is an impediment to profit, so it must be made as small and neutralized as possible, except when needed to help the corporations (see below).  
    • NOTE:  I am constantly amazed at how, in one of the most successful propaganda campaigns in history, our government (a democracy, where the government is "we, the people") has become more dangerous in many people's eyes than corporations such as Monsanto, R. J. Reynolds, Dow Chemical, and Smith & Wesson.  At least with government, I can vote the bastards out: corporations, can't even be sued any more (see Legal Restrictions below).
        President Eisenhower Portrait 1959.tif
    • Corporate profits must be maintained, at all costs, including military.  Eisenhower recognized the beginnings of this in his Military Industrial Complex Speech.  Since the end of the Cold War, there has almost always been an economic rather than political reason why troops are sent where they are, why outrage is expressed over certain international incidents and not over others.  (This is why, for example, the entire international community joined the United States to invade Iraq in 1990-91's First Gulf War, a/k/a the 710 War, but everyone stood on the sidelines and watched as 800,000 people were slaughtered in the Rwandan Genocide of 1994.)  And many aspects of war - supplies, security, etc. - are now routinely privatized to corporations which make a hefty profit with almost no oversight, including Bechtel (which was accused of  war profiteering), Halliburton, and Blackwater (which was brought before Congress in 2007 for "employee misdeeds," among other things).  
        • NOTE: In the run-up to the Iraq war, Halliburton was awarded a $7 billion contract for which 'unusually' only Halliburton was allowed to bid (Wikipedia - Halliburton)  It might not have hurt that Dick Cheney had been Chairman and CEO from 1995-2000.    
    • The gun manufacturers and armament industries must make constant profits, which means sales must be constant, and so the NRA preaches the complete and total ownership of any firearm of any kind by anyone at any time.  (Soon coming to your neighborhood:  personal flamethrowers!  Sadly, I'm not kidding.)  That's why each new shooting must be propagandized in whatever way that will increase sales:
    1. there are crazy people out there with guns, buy more guns now;
    2. the terrorists are coming to kill you, buy more guns now;
    3. the government is coming to take away your guns, buy more on guns now.
    • Also, to ensure constant profits for the weapons industry, our entertainment and news media must be saturated with ever-increasing levels of threats and violence both to keep the fear and anxiety at suitable levels and - very important, very underestimated - product placement. (Remember that every prop / weapon / outfit / drink you see on Criminal Minds, James Bond, the Bourne Identities, etc., is there in order to sell one to you.)  

    • NOTE 1:  If you don't believe that violence in media has any effect on people's behavior, then why do corporations spend billions on advertising?  If the constant barrage of news feeds, hour-long TV show, binge-watching television shows, and movies, or unlimited video games has no effect on our minds and behavior, then why should corporations pay billions for a 30-second ad spot?  Why do politicians and super-PACs do the same?  Are they all stupid?  
    • NOTE 2:  If you don't believe that violence in media has increased, watch an episode of Gunsmoke on RetroTV some time, and note how seldom Matt Dillon (or even the bad guys) used a gun.  Some day count the number of weapons on display in previews during the morning news.  (The average child will see 8,000 murders on television before finishing elementary school:  Link).  
    • NOTE 3:  The quantity of violence not only has increased, but, as the public becomes more jaded, it has become more and more perverse.  On the news, "When it bleeds, it leads!"  Literally.  As for entertainment, in the 1980s, Law and Order SVU was considered fairly hard-core, with story-lines of children being abused and murdered, women and children being raped, tortured, etc.  Not any more. Criminal Minds, Dexter, Hannibal, and other shows upped the ante with on-screen cannibalism, eye-gougings, etc.  On "Game of Thrones" human beings are being castrated and flayed alive.  Live, to-the-death gladiatorial contests cannot be far behind.  (But it's all in jest, they but do poison in jest, no harm in the world...)
    When money and power are gods, and corporations are their high priests, it has real world consequences.  And one of those is that the poor - collectively and individually - are sinners, and must be punished by any means at the disposal of the powerful.  The results are:

    Propaganda:  The poor are "losers", "moochers", "lazy", "worthless", "stupid".  Social Security and Medicare - both fully taxpayer funded, i.e., paid by us - are called "entitlements", which implies that they haven't been earned, but are something we moochers wrongly feel "entitled" to. (Damn straight I feel "entitled" to Social Security - I paid into it for 40 years!)

    Political restrictions:  Between gerrymandering, voting restrictions, and Citizens United, the powerful have done an excellent job of ensuring that the votes/interests/representation of the working class and poor are rendered irrelevant to the political process.  My own congresspeople - John Thune, Mike Rounds, and Kristi Noem - respond to my e-mails and letters with form letters.  I don't have the money to make them hear me.

    Legal restrictions:
    • Our right to sue corporations is being stripped away from us by "mandatory arbitration clauses" put in place by most health insurance plans, dealership or franchise agreements, billing agreements (think credit cards), and many, many, many other corporate contracts.  These deny the right of the consumer, employee, or contractee to sue in favor of arbitration before an arbiter of the corporation's choosing, at your expense (think $200-$300 an hour).  See Public Citizen Access - Mandatory Arbitration Clauses.    
    • Gag orders have become common as part of settlements with large corporations.  See Fracking gag order.  
    • If you are poor and arrested, even if you are found innocent, in many states and counties, you will be charged with court costs, fines, and fees for your (hopefully short) stay in jail.  In some counties, you will be charged for a public defender, despite the Miranda Law's assurance that one will be provided for you.  
    • The prison system - which has been privatized in many states - must make constant profits, and their contracts require full prisons, no matter what the level of crime actually is.  Therefore any laws which decriminalize any drugs must be fought.  Also, addiction, mental illness, and mental disability have been unofficially criminalized, because there's not enough money for state or federal mental health facilities and private mental health facilities are only for those with excellent health insurance.  
    When money and power are gods, human life has no meaning and really doesn't matter other than as just another sound bite to convince us that we are righteous, we are the best, we are exceptional, and everything's fine. But the real purpose of life under these gods is to make money and consume goods, nothing else. Allegiance must be mindless, generated by carefully crafted sound-bites.  Mental processes must be carefully controlled, so that no one ever considers that there might more to life than making money, shopping, sports, and/or the latest entertainment craze.

    1984first.jpgBut fear counts above all.  No one must ever question why - living in the richest, most privileged, most free society on earth, the "home of the free and the brave" - why they are so afraid, all the time, everywhere.  And, why is the object of fear constantly changing?  In Orwell's "1984" Oceania always at war, but the enemy kept switching from Eurasia to Eastasia.  In my lifetime I have watched the enemy - the one who will destroy us at all costs - change from Communism to the Evil Empire (Soviet Russia)/China to Japan to the Axis of Evil (Iran/Iraq/North Korea) to Saddam Hussein to Osama bin Laden to Radical Islamic Terrorism, with a few stops along the way at black ghettos, hippies, drugs, black gangs, urban thugs, illegal immigrants, illegal immigrant children, legal refugees, and anyone wearing a turban.  Not to mention polio, HIV, SARS, H1N1, Ebola, and Zika viruses.
    • NOTE:  So far, we're still here.  
    But let's not think about that.  Above all, let's not think about either of the following facts:
    • Money and power are abstractions, fictions, a belief system rather than a reality, to which we sacrifice real human beings, not to mention real air, real water, real food, real life, daily.  
    • No matter how much money and power is worshiped, acquired, accumulated, fought for, praised, and sacrificed to, life will never be 100% safe, and 100% of all people will all still die naked and alone.  Including the wealthiest of the 1%.  The gods of money and power, the church of the corporation, the priests of politicians and lobbyists, the demi-gods of celebrity will not save any of us from that fate.  
    This is the truth about the gods that America has chosen.  Like any pagan deities, they require regular human sacrifice.  And they are getting it.




    17 March 2016

    Punching Down

    by Eve Fisher

    Back on March 3, 2016, Fred Clark posted  "Some People Punch Down When They're Scared" on his blog site, Slacktivist, citing an article on the rise of American authoritarianism.  Mr. Clark's quick summation:
    "1. Some people punch down when they are frightened.
    "2. The kind of people who punch down when they are frightened are also more likely to be frightened more often.
    "In short, they are afraid... The problem with authoritarianism is not that 'fear leads to anger,' but that — for authoritarians — fear leads to misdirected anger. When such people fear being crushed from above, they respond by punching down — lashing out at others who have nothing to do with the causes of their fear."  
    Dog is yanked into the air by owner
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/
    article-1321461/
    Help-catch-dog-baiting-thug.html
    My personal experience is that it's not just authoritarians, but people, as a whole, who almost always punch down when scared. That's why we have the proverbial "kicking the dog", or "hitting the kid", or "punching the wife", not to mention "deporting the immigrants", or "lynching the black guy", or "rounding up the Jews". Because it's so much easier to punch down, and/or blame everyone around you, and below you, for your troubles, than to actually work up the guts to deal with the people who are screwing you senseless. Because they might do more than screw you senseless.  They might do worse.  Infinitely worse.  Whereas those who are below you will whimper and whine and slink away and cry... but probably won't hit back, because they're like you, and when the time comes, they'll punch DOWN.

    File:A large monkey dressed in rags is about to beat a smaller mo Wellcome V0023060.jpg
    http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/obf_images/67/fd/b76d22ccd12fab39914fed05e264.jpg

    Now to me, that last paragraph is the essence of "original sin". The fact that we will hurt someone weaker than ourselves rather than risk challenging the fat bastard above us. That we allow fear - which is a natural, normal emotion / reaction to the apparently endless screwed up things that go on on this planet - to turn into cowardice, rather than courage, and we stay silent, rigid, waiting for it all to go away.  (I know:  I spent a lot of time as a child and even as a teenager silent, rigid, waiting for it all to go away.  And I can tell you that it doesn't.)

    And, when we can't stand it any more, too many of us punch down:

    Domestic abuse?  Check.

    Bullying?  Check.

    Rape?  Check.  (For those of you who don't know, rape is never about actually being desirous of making love to someone; it's about fear and power and rage.)

    Assault?  Probably more than we think.  Back in May of 2012, in my fourth post for SleuthSayers, I wrote about something that happened to me:  a guy got in a fight with his wife, stormed out, and nearly rammed me, head-on, with his car. When he was arrested (yes, I turned it in), he said he was pissed off at his wife and just wanted to scare me.  He was punching down.

    http://www.ksfy.com/home/headlines/
    Police-investigating-attempted-
    casino-robbery-in-Sioux-Falls-301524151.html
    Theft?  Maybe.  At least sometimes.  Because while Robin Hood stole from the rich, most petty criminals steal from the poor:  the corner casino (which is barely one step up from a dive bar, with a cowering night-manager who needs that job to help pay the bills), or the local magic mart (see the cowering night-manager again), or the local whatever. There may indeed be jewel thieves on the level of the Pink Panther out there, but most thefts reported on the TV (like this casino robbery) are poor people holding up other poor people, and that's punching down.

    Murder?  Fairly often.  I'd bet that most murderers kill someone less powerful than they are.  Even when they are truly angry at their boss, it's usually someone else who gets killed:  their spouse, their children, co-workers, a delivery guy, etc.  Serial killers always go for the weak and vulnerable.  And mass shooters shoot whoever's there:  schoolmates, students, the occasional teacher, people sitting in theaters, in restaurants, and anyone else in the line of fire.
    (Really interesting FBI Chart here:  Homicides by Relationship.  All I can say is that there's a whole lot of arguing going on.  And a lot for which no reason is known.)
    (Old Richard Pryor joke:  he did he a gig at the pen, and had lunch with the guys. Asked one guy what he was in for:  "I killed nine people."  "Why did you do that?"  "Because they was home.")
    BTW, this, I believe, is the reason why murder mysteries are universally popular: as Dorothy Sayers once said, "they put before the public a world the way it ought to be, and kept alive a dream of justice."  (p. 90, A Presumption of Death by Jill Paton Walsh and Dorothy L. Sayers.)

    Anyway, back to reality.  "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child, but when I became a man, I put away childish things."  Not hardly.  The almost immediate childish response to "Did you do this?" is to blame the dog, the cat, the invisible friend, and, of course, any siblings.  (Punching down.)  It takes a long, long time to learn how to take the consequences of your actions, and some people never do.  There are those who do everything they can to avoid all consequences until their dying day:  blame, lie, deny, hide, run, forget, ignore, and generally wail about the unfairness of the universe, life, and everyone around them.  And that's not just in the pen or in politics, in both of which blame gets passed around like bombs.  The thing is, it changes nothing:  they're still afraid, they're still running away from the truth, and (chances are) they have more enemies (real and imagined) than ever, including themselves.  And they're still punching down, even when all they're hitting is themselves.

    But you can also punch up.

    Punching up doesn't mean you have to go out and become Batman, or Nelson Mandela, or Dorothy Day.  It doesn't mean you have to take on every fight for the downtrodden (but God bless you if you do).  But there are other ways to punch up:  Eleanor Roosevelt, Lady Gaga, Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou, Rudyard Kipling, George Orwell, Beethoven, Pat Conroy, and many others, throughout history, have taken amazing levels of abuse, of all kinds and transformed it and themselves into something enriching, for themselves and others.

    Anna Eleanor Roosevelt.png    Portrait by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820    

    Here's a little secret:  Fear is normal.  The only people who are never afraid are Vulcans.  Fear is an emotion, and the non-Vulcans among us will experience it regularly until we die, and perhaps beyond that.  It's what we do with fear - and it is our choice - that counts.  What we do with fear becomes the action of cowardice or courage.  Our choice.  That's one of the things we try to teach in Alternatives to Violence Project - because once you know that you can choose how to react, you're free.  That still doesn't mean people will always do the right thing:  that's another choice.  But at least they have it. And maybe, they can start punching up.






    PS - Some people have been kind enough to ask about our South Dakota corruption scandals, EB-5 and Gear Up.  Believe me, when I get some news, I'll update everyone.





    16 January 2014

    Peace, the Elusive

    by Eve Fisher

    I swear to God, I wrote most of this before I heard the story of the Florida theater shooter who is claiming that he had a right to stand his ground and shoot to death a man who threatened him by...  throwing popcorn at him.  So...

    As you regular readers know, I do Alternatives to Violence Project workshops that at the state penitentiary.  Most people think I do them in order to help the prisoners - which I do - but what most people can't grasp is that I've learned an awful lot about violence and non-violence from these workshops:  violence and non-violence in my world, my state, my town, my self.  And as I say to the guys, each and every workshop, I need all the help I can get.


    There's a lot of talk about peace - in the Middle East, in Africa, on our streets, and during the recent holidays the whole "peace on earth, good will to men" thing was, as usual, trotted out regularly and OH, how I wish there was more hope of its coming.  Every time I hear about another shooting, massacre, war, double-homicide, mass shooting, etc., all I can say is "How long, O Lord?  How long?"  To which the Lord might very well reply, "How long, O people?  How long will you keep beating your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears?"  Because we could stop.  We could try to stop.

    Why don't we?

    That's why I do AVP.  Because I'm wrestling with why we do not stop.  Why I don't stop.  Don't get me wrong.  I don't own any guns, and it's been years since I punched anyone.  But I can rage, inwardly, with the best of them, with the worst of them, and that troubles me deeply.  Why can't I stop?

    Now back when I was a child, in the late 50's, early 60's, there were significant differences in how boys and girls were raised, especially about emotions, especially about anger.  We little girls were rigidly trained to NOT express anger.  We didn't have the right to yell and scream, throw temper tantrums or hit people - it wasn't nice, or feminine, or ladylike, and if we did, we'd get punished for it, usually by being yelled and screamed at and being hit.  Whereas the guys - well, they were brought up to "prove they were a man", by standing up for themselves, which often meant everything from verbal sparring to fighting to assault to killing.

    Now you get a bunch of guys sitting in prison, they usually know they messed up somewhere, because they're there.  If nothing else, they got caught.  But if their crime was violence - say, beating someone to death or shooting someone who pissed them off - it takes a very long time for a lot of them to realize that killing that person was actually wrong.  That they didn't have the right to do that.  After all, they were just expressing their anger and/or standing up for themselves and/or defending themselves and/or their loved ones and/or the guy had it coming.  It takes a long, long, long time for some of them to grasp the concept that just because you are experiencing anger does not mean you have the right to take it out - verbally or physically - on someone else.  And your anger definitely does NOT mean you have the right to, say, kill the person who pisses you off.  (Yes, that includes people who text inappropriately and/or throw popcorn at you.)

    That's why I enjoy doing AVP workshops:  because at least we discuss these issues and other issues of fear, jealousy, violence, pride, manhood, control, and what to do about it.  And I mean a real discussion.  Political and religious platitudes, slogans, etc., break down very quickly.  Instead we walk the guys through it:
    For example.  I am angry.  At that person over there.  I have the RIGHT to make him/her aware of my anger, and change what they're doing to piss me off.  What do you mean, I don't?  What do you mean, I don't have the right to tell them to obey me, and if not to yell at them, cuss them out, hit them or kill them?  Why not?  What are the options?  What can I do?  I can't just sit here, feeling all this anger and fear and crap, I've got to DO something about it, right?  I'm a man, a man's supposed to DO something.  What do you mean, walk away?  Suck it up?  Think about it?  Work through what I can actually change and what I can't?  I'm a man.  Men don't do that.  Yeah, I'm sick of getting jumped, shoved, pushed, decked, punched...  I'm even scared of it.  But what the hell else am I supposed to DO?

    Walk away.  Turn away.  Move on.  Suck it up.  Do something different.  Lead with your mind, instead of your emotions, at least until you have more emotions on tap than fear and anger.

    The very idea that there is such a thing as a non-violent alternative is alien to almost everyone in the pen (unless they've been to our workshops), and it is, apparently, alien to a whole lot of people who have not yet reached incarceration.  We revere Gandhi and Mandela and King - but you know, our society reveres them the way you would admire saints in a niche.  Nobody studies them.  Nobody takes a look and analyzes how they managed to choose an alternative to violence.  We don't teach our children how to practice non-violence.  We don't teach our children self-control, or meditation, or how to recognize the emotions and thoughts that are running through their minds and how to deal with them.  

    AVP has lots of exercises, from role-playing to community building to meditation.  In one exercise, we're divided up into pairs, A and B, and for two whole minutes, A tells B the things they like about themselves.  B has to listen, no comments.  Then they switch and repeat the exercise, with A listening to B.  99.9% of the time, what they say they like about themselves is what they do.  "I like to hunt, to fish, to play sports, to draw, to play music, to read, to watch TV, to hang out with friends, to work on cars, to..."  It's all about doing.  Almost never do you hear anyone say, "I like that I'm a loyal person, that I'm brave, loving, kind, hopeful, a dreamer, a hard worker..."  And never yet have I heard something like, "I like that I am a human being.  A child of God.  A man.  A woman.  Alive."

    I think this holds true for all of us, not just people in prison.  We do not believe in being, we believe in doing. And yet, that's the most important part, isn't it?  Why is it so hard to talk about who we are?  And how can we change ourselves if we don't know who we are?  If we are running away from the reality of ourselves all the time?  How can we have peace if we do not understand the roots and ribbons and cables of violence that run through not just the world but ourselves?  Our own minds and hearts?

    I do AVP workshops because I am working on all of this, and it suits my personality better than meditation or Freudian therapy.  Sometimes I see amazing breakthroughs.  (I'm still waiting for one of those for myself...)  Sometimes I don't.  But at least there the conversation is real.