The most seductive aspect of the conspiracy theory is that once freed from the bonds of available, impeccable information sources, you are free to build logic chains that lead, literally, from anything to anything else you want to believe in.
Something about breaking that first logical chain, throwing out traditional media sources completely as corrupt, empowers the conspiracy theory to break the next logic chain. And the next. And so on.
As an example, New World Order conspiracists who saw 911 as an attack by the NWO on American ‘sovereignty’ (keep an eye on that word, always, it’s very slippery, like the word ‘freedom’) had no problem seeing GW Bush’s flouting of the United Nations as a conspiracy by globalists who were behind… greater United Nation control of national government.
Wut? You say.
I had a conspiracist explain it to me. Bush was so obviously insane, so obviously corrupt, and the process by which we went to war was so obviously illegal, that it damaged the reputation of the US, leading us down the road to greater United Nations control.
In the long game, ignoring the UN was a plot by UN lovers to create an all powerful UN. Obviously.
This is idiotic.
This is an example of the If X-then-Y reasoning, where X and Y are non-causal, that conspiracy theory abounds in. False flags! Deep, long games!
Pro tip: the reason the world stands on the brink of climate change disaster? Nobody, not even the rich elites, ever plays a long game. EVER!
THERE IS NO LONG GAME!
The only people playing long games do it in the open with think tanks and white papers trying to create a policy consensus around a given world view. Communitarian values on the left; libertarian values on the right.
Now, does this mean I don’t believe in conspiracies? No. The US government spends hundreds of billions annually on agencies whose only job it is to uncover conspiracies! If they didn’t exist, we wouldn’t stand for this.
Do false flags never happen? No. Look at the COINTELPRO portfolio from the sixties.
But prematurly embracing conspiracy of any sort is a slippery slope into the world of electing Donald Trump. In the Trumper’s world view, all expertise is seen as corruption and collusion. All graphs are fake. All data is suspect. Anecdotes and gut feelings replace data and research and academic opinions.
And while academics aren’t always right, gut reactions are more often wrong. Because we think with our brains, not our guts. A gut reaction is a deep, primitive brain response from reptilian brain centers responsible for fight or flight, panic, fear, mating, death and hatred.
Those emotions are not a great foundation for good policy choices.
To some of my beloved and funky friends; I think you are being played by the fake news makers.
There’s no clear reason to make up the Vegas shooter story. None. We’re all shell shocked by Trump and North Korea and the hurricanes and Russia and everything else. What does the Vegas story do? Insert gun control debate into a schedule already so crowded that nobody can focus on anything for more than ten seconds?
Look Trump was doing that already AND IT HAS BEEN WORKING GREAT. Trump’s twitter account is like a squid spewing ink trying to escape a predator.
Trump has the ability to make us insane already, and he’s fully deploying that ability.
Liberals and gun control people are all useless and powerless and hampered by our ‘we don’t want to shoot people’ fetish. This attack is beyond us.
This isn’t a big C conspiracy.
There might be a small c somehwere lurking, still. The dude might have bribed hotel security to wipe some hard drives. Why? Because he didn’t want to be stopped during the set up. Is there evidence for this? NOT THAT I KNOW OF. But its the kind of thing that might explain any discrepancies, and it’s pretty boring.
That the thing about the little c conspiracy (all that conspiracy means is some people are keeping secrets.) The little c stuff is petty and stupid and ugly and whether you accept it or not, the big story stays mostly the same.
So on 911 we were uniquely vulnerable to the Saudis because of Bushes ties to the kingdom / and / or various forms of criminal incompetence. So the administration fought any investigation of 911 and quietly shredded evidence for years to the degree it could.
This little c conspiracy generated the big C conspiracy. The PNAC they were all in on it New World Order stuff. The biggest C 911 conspiracy insisted that there were no planes used. It was holograms and controlled detonation. (This was called the web fairy theory.)Variants of the web-fairy also say no plane hit the pentagon. it was a missile.
The missile theory is fascinating. It seems to have merit. But why? Why use a missile? What happened to the plane?
It doesn’t matter; all that matters is that you have something that seems hard to explain, small hole in the pentagon; very little intact debris, and the conspiracy theory explains it. Like the American flag ‘rippling’ in the vacuum of space on the moon. (The razor thin aluminum sheeting was reacting to sunlight, buckling as it expanded and contracted.) There are no stars in most of the moon shot photos! Exposing for the surface light condition, raw unfiltered daylight, meant there wasn’t enough light hitting the emulsion for the stars to register. Standard photographic stuff, and you don’t think, if They were faking it, that They would stick some stars in the goddamn backdrop?
And on and on.
The US military and the intelligence agencies used UFO reports to mask several kidns of secret surveillance missions against the Soviets; U2 sightings and the Mogul balloon program. A Mogul balloon crashed in Roswell. They said it was a flying saucer.
Whups. They’d started a big C conspiracy that will never, ever die. Why won’t it die? Because there’s money in it. That’s the other thing to understand about Conspiracy—it is a consumer product.
Little c is true, often, and kind of boring. Big C is seldom true, and when it is, that truth emerges generally only after the culprits are beyond justice. (Gulf of Tonkin; Zimmerman telegram.) Big Cs are exciting. Big Cs sell in certain segments of the population like hotcakes.
US intelligence agencies, fearful that the UFO craze could be exploited by the Russians, many people thought that UFOs didn’t like our nuclear weapons, caused the US military to conduct experiments where they exposed hundreds of soldiers to mock-ups of alien craft, and people in odd space suits, and they asked the soldiers what they would have done, if strange orders started being barked at them through megaphones from these people.
Then they told the soldiers never to talk about this.
So the area 51 alien crashed saucer government knows about the aliens thing? It IS a conspiracy! A little c one. No aliens, no saucers. Just a fear of Russians, and of a pop culture phenomena.
(This all from the work for Jacques Vallee, a french researcher, who was offered, on many occasions, a chance at taking a cab to the pentagon to see alien bodies–but only off the record. This was some psy ops thing. He turned down the offers. If the pentagon wasn’t going to make any official statements, Vallee refused to go to their halloween haunted house. He agonized over this. It was the right decision.)
I know all this because…
I LOVE CONSPIRACY THEORIES AND I WANT THEM TO BE TRUE VERY VERY BADLY!
But I also have a really sharp brain (so sharp it cuts itself sometimes) and I can inhale books, I have access to the best libraries in the world, and so I have spent—wasted?—tens of thousands of hours trying to dig to the bottom of these things, trying to find the Truth, capital T, when there is only ever a little t truth. And while there are mysteries on this planet, the little c conspiracies so far outnumber the big C ones, that I can tell, from the get go, when a conpiracy theory smells like capital C, because it smells like bullshit.
And I have stepped in this shit before.
So I have three short story collections now in Kindle Unlimited. Well. One collection is a single story I’m trying to make perma-free, and it included in the other collection, so, I have two short story collections in KU.
There aren’t a lot of SF short story readers in KU from what I have read, and certainly my own experience is bearing that notion out. But I figured I’d try a 3 month stint in KU and see what happened.
If you like the free stuff, then buy Bad Gurus, the newest stuff, the full-length collection, with my first Asimov’s novella Of All Possible Worlds, a Years Best short-listed / honorably mentioned thing from a few years back.
So Bad Gurus is now for sale for 5.99 at Google Play for all your android type devices!
A man in a red t-shirt sits watching TV alone in his condominium drinking a can of beer. He has recently quit smoking and feels like shit. He is wearing three nicotine patches. He has had a bad day at work. His wife has left him for another…
There’s a knock at the door.
“Hey,” the man at the door says. He’s about the same age, and build, and race, and is also wearing a t-shirt. His is blue. “I’m here because our data indicates that you voted for Trump?”
The red shirt man frowns and gives a curt nod.
“Right. Do you have a minute to talk?”
The red shirt man shrugs.
“I’ve been assigned to you,” the blue shirt man says.
“A grassroots organization called People for a Recognizable Tomorrow is putting 100 million volunteers on the streets to talk to every Trump supporter to try to help them make a better decision in 2020.”
“Well,” the red shirt man’s face turns pink. “He isn’t perfect, but nobody ever gave him a chance!”
“I hear you when you say that no one gave Trump a chance, but I don’t want to talk about that now. I want to talk to you about who you are. Your hopes, your dreams…”
“Not interested—” The red shirt man moves to close the door. The blue shirt man sticks his foot inside, and raises his hand. He says the next paragraph quickly, as if it has been memorized.
“I’m authorized to buy you a case of beer a carton of cigarettes or a steam download of a new video game, also, I have a code for a free month of HBO Go with any gift offering of your choice.”
The red shirt man scowls. “You serious?”
“Yes. And I don’t hate you!” the blue shirt man says. He smacks his own forehead. “I was supposed to say that earlier!”
The red shirt man rubs his nicotine patches. “I quit smoking.”
“That’s hard. Very stressful. I quit a few years ago.”
“Really?” he laughs. “I thought democrats were perfect.”
“Nope,” the blue shirt man says.
“What kind of beer?”
“I have a list you can choose from.”
The red shirt man nods.
The blue shirt man pulls out his phone. “This is an Amazon Beer Right Now demo rollout. Here are your choices. It can be here in fifteen minutes.”
The red shirt man looks at the phone, and selects an inexpensive American beer. In cans. “It’s the kind I like,” he says levelly.
“Me too,” says the blue shirt man without a hint of irony.
“I already have HBO go.”
The blue shirt man nods and they both go inside.
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This is the link to the ebook preorder page. The book will be discounted in pre-order by a buck, so it’s only 4.99 for a novel length collection of stories from the top magazines in the SF field, Asimov’s, F&SF, Interzone… (my Analog stories are still coming out…)
Here’s the blurb from Amazon:
Con Men. Ex-lovers. Time-line Wizards. Cyborgs. Zen Master Private Detectives. Dead-Enders. Wunderkind, and Fools.
These stories are filled with people you know, living hauntingly familiar lives set fifteen minutes in the future. Stories about people that desperately want things. People on the brink. Every one bewitched, bothered and bewildered by Bad Gurus.
Jay O’Connell re-emerged on the short genre fiction scene in 2013 with a sudden outpouring of short stories and novellas in the SF pro press which transmuted his mis-spent years in east-coast tech-bubble start-up culture into something weird and wonderful. This is also his story, one of those mid-life transformations that gives us hope the future might grant us an unlikely redemption, if we keep our head in the game.
So I had these kids (to be honest, my wife had them, I watched) eighteen years ago and after taking care of them, doing long stints as the primary caregiver, I eventually graduated to the status of medical and after school appointment driver, cook and bedtime book reader.
My wife read them picture books until they were in grade school, at night, every night. We hauled fifty or sixty books at a time from the library; I stopped shopping for titles after a few hundred, and just worked my way alphabetically through the stacks, counting on Cambridge to curate the experience, which worked just fine.
But then came chapter books and I took over, quickly reading through every chapter book that I could remember, then on to contemporary stuff mixed with any classic stuff that I could get them interested in. Books I’d dodged and missed somehow, the historical stuff assigned to other classes, like Johnny Tremaine; The Wolves of Willouby Chase, The Westing Game, and others. I worked my way through various lists. Newbury Award winners; various Best Ofs.
So, together we walked and played and ran in terror and cried through Narnia and Prydain and the Potterverse, The Wrinkled Time stuff, pretty much everything by William Sleator’s of House of Stairs fame, a favorite of mine, but also the first ten Redwalls (a favorite of my youngest child). John Cristopher’s The Tripod’s held up really well. A few hundred books in all.
There were explicable rebellions. The LOTR? No. Dad singing poems full of made up words to the same bad improvised melody didn’t go over well. But oddly, also Earthsea was denied. (Why?) But mostly we had successes and we read and read and read together, at night, them in their twin beds with me between them with my lovely glowing e-reader.
I found new stuff to love; Ellen Potter, referred to people who want more Roald Dahl, (she isn’t really like him but this makes sense), Rebecca Staid, and Suzanne Collin’s brilliant and horrific Hunger Games. Alif and the Unseen was a modern favorite, a sympathetic and magically inflected portrayal of modern life in an islamic state on the verge of spring.
But kids grow up and older, and yes, that horrible cats in the cradle song is now playing in your head, if you have had kids, and had them do this to you. We built lofts for them, so they had more room for their stuff in the tiny condo, and so the pair rose up and away from me on wooden stilts. I sat beneath them on the carpet, periodically yelling up at them to get the hell off the cellphones or I was going to stop—do you hear me?
But I didn’t want to stop.
When did I realize this was the best time of the day? The best time of my life? I don’t know. But that realization came and I did my best with that, knowing of course that it would one day end…
My eighteen year old graduated and had an early schedule, working in public schools, doing good work for Americorps, and my fifteen year old went to bed later and it all fell apart. The kids never admitted we were done, because my kids are happy and even if growing up is okay, who wants a happy thing to end? This is why kids hold onto old toys. Why file away those memories? Who is to say the Polly Pockets or Tamagotchies might not one day become fascinating again? Who wants to tell Dad they’re done being read to? Well, I guess normal teenagers would, but my kids are far from normal.
I thank the stars every day for that.
We started slowing down seriously as we read Marissa Meyer, which is not a knock on her work in any way. I was initially resistant to reading them, something about science fictionalized romantic quasi fairytales didn’t appeal to me in the abstract, but my wife kept insisting, “read them and see,” and so I did and I was hooked.
I fell hard for these things.
Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter form the main cycle, a braid of fairy-tale themed and inspired (but in no way derivative) middle-grade / YA science fiction adventure romances.
We bogged down in book four at the climax of these intersecting romance arcs—which were so compelling to me; three pairs of characters; A cyborg Cinderella and her uncertain Prince, a pugnacious little Red Riding Hood, and her shifter-romance-inspired mate to be, Wolf, and a frail and retiring but ultimately heroic Rapunzle, known as Cress, freed from her metaphorical tower, a spy satellite where she worked for the Evil lunar Queen, who is every evil queen, ever, and Cress’s love, a charming Rogue of no clear origin to me who grew to be utterly delightful.
Both kids came out, while I was reading them these books, and maybe the relentless heteronormativity was one of the reasons I found them so infectious, while my kids never needed to race to the oh so wonderfully rendered Happily Ever After? There’s no way to know. I’d sought out and read some GLBTQIA themes YA titles with trans teens in them, but they were a little stressful and on-the-nose for my eldest and so I didn’t push them after awhile.
So finally, flying back from San Jose after a week long vacation with my brother-in-law and his husband, I let myself finish the last book, Winter, and found myself caught up in this story that I’d had on pause for at least a year. I didn’t need any refreshers. I remembered everything. As did the author, revisting and reprising the various elements of the stories as the characters completed their arcs, had their moments of heroism and growth, experienced epiphanies, and found true love and friendship.
It was so fucking good.
But I finished the journey I’d started with the three of us by myself again. Reading a solitary pleasure once again.
I suspect my younger son will reread the Mayer books to the very end; he’s a reader, and we still do read things together, just to ourselves. We talk about them, afterwards. Not the same thing, really, but it’s something, and it will have to do. Because the kids are mostly grown, and reading aloud time is done.
Queue that awful song. Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
Taking care of children is a seemingly endless chore, brightened by these wonderful moments that remain, while the endless tedium of it washes away, little hunks of gold lodged in your brain, left behind as time swirls away the silt and sand.
God I loved reading time.
But now it’s time to write.
“It’s never right. Violence is never the answer,” my wife said.
“But what if—”
“Never, ever, ever ever—”
“But what if—”
“NEVER, NEVER, NEVER—”
“OKAY! I get it! I get it.”
My wife is breathing heavily through flared nostrils. I won’t let it go.
“You know Ghandi said the Jews should commit mass suicide? To draw attention to the holocaust? And then, the great powers would be forced to—”
My wife knows this; we’ve had this argument before, and she knows what’s coming so she says, for the first time, “Yes. That’s it. They should have done that. Kill themselves.”
“Killed themselves? But that’s bullshit! Right? That wouldn’t have worked—”
“Never okay to kill! Never okay to kill! Never. Okay. To. Kill—”
“Got it,” I said. Partially deflated. “Turn the other cheek. That’s one idea. But I don’t feel it. It doesn’t feel right. There has to be a point where you have the right to defend yourself.”
My wife sighs. She’s done.
“They want to kill our kid. I can’t let them do that.” I have a kid in a targeted population. We do, in fact. My wife drives my kid everywhere, at night, because she knows, they want to kill him, and the less he’s walking around in the open, the better.
The conversation is over.
What has emerged over the years is that I am wrapped around a burning core of anger at the world, at the world as it is, because of the world that could be. The needless sectarian strife based on fairy tales. The needless damage to global climate created by greed, with sustainable tech within reach. Needless starvation in a world with ample food and water.
Did you know that every problem on Earth can be solved with 20% of the global military budget? Everything? Climate change, infant mortality, global healthcare, immunize EVERYBODY, fix everything, everything, EVERYTHING?
Did you know we were reading about greenhouse gas climate change in science fiction–in the 60s?
So when is it okay, to punch the Nazi?
Punch him too soon and you risk making him stronger. His narrative, that the degenerate people are too powerful, the perverts and dark-skinned, are out of hand, threatening the pure white heartland. That the cruel and vindictive, fact-based community has it in for the common (white) man.
Punch too late, and you’re locked in a shower pounding tile while the zyclon-B hisses through the nozzles, and before you go under you get to watch your kids die.
I think my wife is right, at the moment. It’s not nazi-punching time. We’re still in the talking phase, the persuasion, the war of ideas phase.
But here is the thing about me. I have never been in a real fist fight in my life. Do you know why? Because I never stop talking. In the heated arguments I have had with the forces of evil I win; I always win. I always out-argue my opponents. So I never notice when the sucker punch is coming. Because I don’t think my opponents are that stupid. That evil. That bankrupt.
I’ve been cold-cocked. Twice.
So I KNOW I’m bad at figuring out that moment. I’ve been bad at it my whole life. I’m not a coward, or at least, I don’t know for sure that I am. I just don’t know exactly when the fighting starts. Because I believe in the marketplace of ideas, in reason, in debate, in democracy. But the rising waves of stupidity are literally eating up our shorelines. The US has just abandoned its role of world leader; we’re now the world’s bargainers, led by Mr. Pussy-grabber “I won’t pay a lot for that muffler.”
A group of GOP senators, after being shot yesterday, and shot at, are now eager to get back to legislating… to make sure that there are more and more guns in everyone’s hands. Because, after being shot, they simply double down on their stupid ideas, that the data simply don’t support.
I watched the GOP SCOTUSS steal the country in 2000. I watched the world almost crumble as a result. And now, after another electoral college fluke–after another suspicious election–we stand poised to wreck the world again.
When do we punch the Nazis?
The second after they start punching us. But before we’re lying cold cocked on the floor.
The timing will be tricky.
So I know it’s hard.
The president obstructed justice, or maybe he’s just too stupid to be president, or both, is what we got out of the Comey hearings. The congressional GOP won’t care until their base starts threatening second amendment solutions the way that non-GOP voters have started to do.
But the top line takeaway from the last few months is this: fascism is not our future.
It’s not that a portion of the electorate wouldn’t welcome it. It’s that that 30 percent has a hard time getting traction with their ideas when non-ideological go-along get-along tax cutter mildly sociopathic types start actually having to vote for policies that amount to blue collar genocide or ethnic cleansing.
It’s not that genocide or ethnic cleansing really bothers these conservatives—it’s just that they’re bad for business. Some business. It’s bad for enough business to break the coalition, just enough, to let democracy sort of work. Eventually.
So, kicking twenty three million people off their health plans to suffer and die on the nightly news? Starving old people and kids in huge numbers? Abandoning sustainable energy that is actually paying for itself? Mass deportations of law abiding non-citizens facilitated by blue state governments? Massively cutting taxes for the rich, slashing safety nets allowing huge swaths of the country to experience untold misery?
None of that is going to happen. That’s not how any of this works.
I’m not saying they can’t, and won’t, and aren’t, making things worse at the edges. they can and will do those things. They’ll fuck the environment, as much as they can; if it can be vandalized with an executive order, it will be.
But there is no majority of frightened uneducated-but-middle-class-enough-to-actually-vote, eager to slash safety nets, even their own—if the only upside that ever materializes is tax cuts for the rich and punishing immigrants, GLBTQIA, and women. That majority exists nowhere. Not in France, not in England, not even in the US. Trump lost by 3 million votes.
We didn’t know this, before France, before England. We thought maybe a wave was rising to engulf us.
The labor party gave young Britons something to vote for. Affordable college. You know, that stuff that HRC laughed at. (The brits already have single payer. The other idea HRC found ridiculous.) So. Let’s stop laughing at healthcare and college. It won’t fix inequality, it won’t stop the coming tide of tech based dislocation, but JESUS FUCK ITS A START.
Nothing else is possible, until we do those two things. We have to KNOW that everyone that wants to train themselves to work can do this, that everyone who can be healthy and contribute is getting the medical care needed to do that, before we take the next steps, of renegotiating the social contract around the coming tech and climate based upheavals.
Health care. Education. Not ‘affordable,’ but as human rights. Thats what we want. That’s the minimum we need in a democratic candidate. The minimum. Sure you are gonna have to negotiate to move towards these ideals. But for god’s sake, you have to articulate them and not be afraid to defend them or…
YOUNG PEOPLE WON’T VOTE.
It is so devastatingly simple.
How do we ply the dead enders? Turns out if you buy green energy, wind and solar, from the farmers who are always going bankrupt in red states? Yeah, those farmers aren’t against taking blue state dollars. They may not believe in climate change. But they like the color of the money of the educated, wealthy people who do.
We can buy off the dead enders, and a sane democratic party would have done this and won the last election cycle. We buy them off with education, training, relocation, subsidized green energy IN THEIR DISTRICTS, infrastructure IN THEIR DISTRICTS. They’re not actually threatened by immigrants, mostly, because they live in post-work hell holes no sane person wants to move to.
Oh my God it isn’t hard. I assumed HRC surrogates were doing this, but they weren’t. They piled up votes in California and insulted the stupid flyover people, who, let’s be clear, are stupid and racist, but they’re not irrevocably suicidal; if we’d cared enough to buy them off, we could have had enough of them to carry the electoral college.
A lying orange rapey irreligious sack of shit got their votes for a handful of magic beans.
Oh, and when I talk about dead enders? Jesus I’m one of them. I was sweated out of the real economy over a decade ago. I made art and wrote and took care of my kids and did some activism and refused to maintain the proper set of skills and networks to remain in the medically insured class. My contempt isn’t for those being bypassed by the changing world; it’s for those who think there’s a time machine where they get 80k a year jobs that can be done by robots for 20k a year.
We are going to have to make the transition from the knowledge economy to the meaning economy. The first step in that is making sure that everyone is allowed to pursue as much education as they want in any fucking thing they feel like. Gradually we subsidize the living fuck out of a huge quantity of science for the sake of science and culture, so the Ph.Ds in Video Game World Building and Klingon studies and Catfish communications have shit to do, and find people to play meaningfully with.
There are lots of ways to do this. That’s what we can fight over.
The only alternative is the Hunger Games. We see it now in the House GOP budgets and proposals.
AI, robotics, nano and biotech will remake the world in the next century. Without all these things we’re dead as a species. Capitalism can be patched to work via basic income, or via other means. But we have to start out with a populace educated enough to let reality into their brains when making policy decisions. Two thirds of humanity is educable. It’s why we are still alive.
We just have to do the work, and never despair.
Oh, and calling people stupid is dumb. I’m dumb. I have too much anger to be the one doing much of this work. I speak here to people better balanced than I am. My fury at the utopia that could be makes me unreasonable. We need people filled with zen compassion, with Christian, turn-the-other-cheek-level unconditional love, with Jewish Tikkun Olam… we need all the fairy tales on Earth pulling hard for a livable future.
I think we get there. I think we make it as a species, in a last minute, adrenaline-fueled Hail Mary orgy of last second cramming and heroic effort and a bit of luck; we will construct a nested series of Rube Goldbergian solutions as we lurch into an unknowable future that will intermittently stall, shudder, and slip but ultimately, bend towards justice.
Fascism isn’t the future.
The future will be shiny and weird.