Thursday, May 21, 2020

THE BOOK BURNERS

“There must be something in books, something we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.”
--Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451


The local library is closed.  So are all the book stores.  You cant even get a magazine at the oil change joint or the doctor's office these days.  Essentially, books have been banned, unless you already owned them.  You can get e-books no problem, libraries will still loan them out.  You can still buy books off online sites and have them shipped to you, as if somehow they are sanitized by the mail, or something.

As an author who, while not exactly making a living at books, writes for money, this is deeply disturbing.  Over the years, books and reading have declined in popularity for a variety of reasons.  People are less interested in the time and concentration it takes to read for entertainment.  

Younger people especially suffer from a sort of illiteracy in which long-form text (such as what you're reading right now) is challenging.  They were raised on images and small, short bursts of printing.  Texting, social media, etc.  TL;DR -- too long, didn't read.  It takes skill and practice to become comfortable with reading longer form text.  Even older people are finding this to be true, the more they read short form text and the less they read anything else.

These two things combine painfully into a situation where people are just reading less and less.  Books don't sell nearly as well as they used to.  Some top sellers still are making big numbers but as I wrote about a while back, people aren't reading these books.  They're just buying them to own them, show them off, and be seen with them as part of a fashion package.

Designers in homes are packing shelves with books for the visual effect, but the latest trend is to turn them backward so the spine isn't facing out.  They aren't there to be read or identified, the paper is "neutral" in color and tone, so you don't have to worry about the colors and designs on the spine.  They are there to look interesting and seem literate, without actually reading any of them.

Even long, established, once-respected magazines such as Atlantic are struggling, firing many people.  There are a lot of reasons for this beyond literacy, but the end result is the same: people are simply not surrounded by print and reading the way they once were.  Their nose is in the phone all the time anyway.

The phone is instant, varied, entertaining, requires little effort or thought.  It feeds you what you want rather than having to tease it out or find it.  It gives you want you want immediately, with shiny colors and moving things.  You can be pretty immature and enjoy the phone, because it delivers things to you at a child's level of access.

That doesn't make the smartphone or any other of the devices we use and enjoy bad, everything is good in its place.  After all, when book printing became common and cheaper, people were worried that the art of telling stories by word of mouth and passing down information verbally would suffer and people were losing their ability to remember and hold to truths personally.  There's a drawback in everything. 

But it does make the new tech very compelling and while not exactly addictive, often the first thing people reach for and stay with all waking hours.  Putting that down to read means not picking it back up to look up a word.  Or check a social media account.  Or text someone.  Or answer that text (and boy do people get mad if you don't respond quickly).

In the end, this is very upsetting, frustrating, even frightening for me as an author.  This is like being a painter and watching people lock away paintings and stop buying them.  This isn't so much being replaced by a better technology as it is just being thrown into the trash for being too tough and time consuming to enjoy.

I fear for a future without books, or with books only enjoyed by a very small number of people.  Even introductory reading devices such as comic books are plummeting in sales and popularity.  This hits me very directly both in an economic sense and a personal one.  And its not good for any of us.  And at some level I fear that its deliberate.

Saturday, April 04, 2020

THE GREAT CIVIL RIGHTS DESERT

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Recent events with a Chinese virus spreading through the world have resulted in unprecedented, vigorous response from governments around the planet.  To deal with this pandemic, governments have ordered businesses to be closed, people to stay home, and shut down open spaces such as parks and golf courses.

In many countries, the government has the power and authority to issue these kind of declarations, and people are used to being ordered to do things.  Its a historical and traditional thing for most nations around the world.  In the United States, the opposite is true: government is specifically and directly forbidden from doing such a thing.  The US Constitution clearly states that people may not have their rights curtailed or blocked by the government, that governments have only very specific "enumerated" or specified powers that they can carry out and nothing beyond that.

In other words, there is no legal authority to carry out these restrictions.  They cannot order us to stay home, legally or constitutionally.  Such power does not exist, and the exercise of it is illegal and nullified by the US Constitution.

However, the USA still currently has directives from government to stay out of parks, stay home, not travel except when absolutely necessary, even wear masks in public.  This isn't universal, some states still do not have these orders in place.  But most do, and the federal government strongly recommends these steps be taken.

The thing that governments and citizens of the USA are very well served to remember is that people are going along with this not out of obedience or fear of the government.  American people are not obeying or bowing to their authorities.

We are choosing to go along with what is being said out of caution and concern for our families.  We are not being forced to do this, we have unalienable rights of association and commerce which the government not only may not but cannot revoke. It is impossible for the government to take away our rights, it is only possible to attempt to limit and stop our exercise of these rights.  That is, the rights themselves are an innate part of being human, and cannot be removed.  They can only be limited in their expression.  I still have the right to liberty, even while jailed.

Americans are choosing to, voluntarily, limit the expression of our rights for the time being as it seems wisest to do so -- as was done during WW2, for example.  We chose to limit our purchases, travel, and use of resources during WW2 in order to aid with the struggle against evil.  Not out of compliance or cowering to the government's power, but because we saw it as necessary, temporarily.

When the time comes that these restrictions and limitations are no longer wise and necessary, we as a people will refuse to go along with them.  And any government or authority which seeks to retain these restrictions or expand upon them at that point should seriously reconsider.

Things are already very volatile and stressed in the USA to begin with.  People are already on edge and frustrated, angry, and feeling extremely abused by those in power and the establishment (media, academia, etc) already.  Being cooped up and constantly bombarded with fear tactics to sell advertising and manipulate politics by the media is not setting well on people.  

Put simply: the governments of the USA and those in power are sitting on a powder keg and would be well advised to keep that in mind.