Monday, March 25, 2019

"Debate Me!" Screamed the Troll

The Internet troll's demand that you "debate" them is a demand that you submit to trial at a moment of their choosing in a court where they are judge, jury and executioner as well as prosecutor; with only yourself for an advocate, no time or opportunity to prepare your case, and on Twitter, a 140 character limit to each and every statement for the defense.

Some debate, that.

Remember, friends--no one is obliged to stop everything they're doing and defend their opinions to an anonymous stranger at any and all times. This is all the more the case if the person called on to defend their opinions is a private individual unaccountable to the public, and absolutely the case when the person making the request shows every sign of doing so in bad faith.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

The Laziness and Cynicism of "Subjectivity"

"It's subjective," people so often say.

Most of those who hear that word nod and grunt like Tim Taylor at Good Neighbor Wilson's utterance of Big Thinks from behind the fence.

But what does the word really mean?

Not what people think it does, usually.

Often what we're talking about is quite objective. (After all, those subjective feelings are usually in relation to some concrete thing, place, person, incident.) But we cannot explain what we want to convey in a satisfactory way.

Sometimes this is a matter of simply not having thought the matter through properly.

This may be because doing so simply does exceed our capabilities. In which case not so much can be done about it (at least, by the person so frustrated).

But often it is a matter of being too lazy to try and think the matter through.

Other times we say "It's subjective" because we have thought things out--and we know that we don't really have an argument, we're really being unfair and we know that we'll come off badly when we try to explain our untenable position, but damn it, we want what we want, and we're willing to play dirty to get it.

When something is really important, be very careful of people who try to fob you off with "It's subjective."

On the Word "Entitlement"
Understanding the Word "Cool"
On The Word "Deserve"
On the Word "Lifestyle": A Postscript
On the Word "Lifestyle"

Review: Greenhouse Summer, by Norman Spinrad

The climate crisis has become the subject of rather a large body of science fiction over the years. Where that body of work is concerned it seems to me that Norman Spinrad's contributions to it, rarely mentioned, are unjustly overlooked; that he was ahead of the curve in addressing the matter when he did, and even decades later, far more successful in doing so than many of the attempts seen since then. Entering some of his prior works in a minor though not uninsightful way (like 1991's Russian Spring), before the turn of the century he devoted a full novel to the theme, Greenhouse Summer (1999).

Reading the book I was less satisfied with it than Russian Spring overall, its patches of brilliance marred by creakier portions (like its treatment of computer technology, and the thematically appropriate but dramatically flat conclusion to the central intrigue). However, by and large it gets the nuances right. Spinrad gets, for example, that the phenomenon will be experienced differently in different regions, generally as a disaster though not always so (we have the equatorial "Lands of the Lost," but also "Siberia the Golden"); that climate change has no clear end point, so that an already damaged world might have to face worse still in the absence of radical, remedial action, with much the same uncertainty and political wrangling we do now (his characters confronting the complete, life-eradicating catastrophe of "Condition Venus"); and that this will surely have consequences for society, the structure of which will, in turn, determine the possibilities for facing the problem (the syndicalists have inherited the Earth in his scenario, and it seems to him that therein lies such hope as exists in it). From a more literary standpoint, Greenhouse Summer impressed me in that, while Spinrad did not shrink from the horror suffered by the worst-hit places, he managed to be colorful, even satirically humorous (not least, in the airship tour of the Lands of the Lost conducted by Colonel Qaddafi very, very displeased about having been cheated by tricky foreigners during the construction of the Great Man-Made River, or its Paris reinvented as New Orleans). Indeed, when I reviewed Gordon Van Der Gelder's original anthology Welcome to the Greenhouse some years ago, and more recently, the "solarpunk" anthology Glass and Gardens, I found much to like, but was confirmed time and again in the sense that such virtues, on such display in Spinrad's book, were all too rare in their stories, and in climate fiction generally.

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