Reader Request Week 2018 #10: Short Bits
And now, to wrap up Reader Request Week 2018, short takes on some of the questions I didn’t otherwise get to:
Laura: A topic I’ve been pondering is to what extent the proliferation of entertainment & informational choices — Internet, cable TV, smart phones — is an overall boon or blessing to society. Were we actually better off when we had three or four TV channels, radio & vinyl for our music, paper maps for car trips, and shelves of encyclopedias to use for tracking down facts for our school papers?
Well, I wasn’t better off — having access to a vast ocean of information makes my life and job a lot easier. The problem as I see it is that we’re at an intermediary moment where a vast part of the population (roughly early Gen-X and older) is struggling with the consequences of the technology and we’re waiting for the people who are entirely comfortable with the new baseline of technology — and its consequences — to grow into power. Anecdotally I note that people my daughter’s age seem to handle the online world and the rhetoric that has arisen out of it far better than their elders (it’s one reason why the Parkland teens are running circles around the NRA, much to the latter’s furious confusion). So no, it wasn’t better, just different, and some people are understandably better suited to that previous time.
Ron Bielke: What is your position on guns? Would you support a total ban on guns in this country? Is there even a whisper of a chance I might see such in my lifetime?
I prefer my bow, personally. You will not see a total ban on guns in this country without changing the Constitution of the United States. For the record, I don’t think we need to amend the Constitution to have sensible laws regarding firearms in this country.
Andy: As a British (English, specifically) fan of your fiction and blog (especially US politics) writing: what does Brexit look like from where/who you are?
It looks like what the US looks like right now: What happens when stupid and cruel and racist takes over the national discourse. I think both the US and the UK will get out of their current stupid and cruel and racist moments and correct their courses, albeit somewhat the worse for wear, and it will take longer than anyone sensible would like.
Matt Mikalatos: Realizing that there are many worse things, but that doesn’t mean your own situation doesn’t have down sides: What are some of the difficulties of being (comparatively) well off and well known?
At this point, very few, for which I am appropriately grateful. At this point, the most “difficult” thing I have going on is somewhat existential, which is that as a more-or-less “franchise” writer for Tor (and somewhat less for Audible, who publishes my audiobooks), I do have responsibilities to hit publishing marks and maintain output quality and consistency levels that other writers don’t have, because I have a lot of people (and a publishing company) expecting specific things from me. It’s a great problem to have, to be clear, but on the other hand it’s not as easy to hit all those marks as I hopefully make it look to people on the outside.
Dann665: The last few years have been pretty…ummm….testy. Do you see a path towards rapprochement? Not necessarily a persuasion that any one perspective is better than the others, but towards being able to live with one another civilly?
Sure; the pendulum swings, always. We’ve been in less civil times before (not even counting the Civil War) and we’ve made our way. However, thinking whatever a new, more “civil” US will look like any previous era we’ve been in is folly. Also, of course, just thinking something along the line of “everything will be better when enough of the olds just die off,” which is the lazy person’s idea of change, isn’t gonna work. If you want a better and more “civil” US, go out there and do the work.
Jonah: What’s your take on college athletics and the NCAA money-making marching in particular?
I think the University of Chicago had the right idea in the 1930s when it cut its Big Ten football program because it was getting in the way of learning. Chicago has a football team now; it’s Division III, which I think is a fine speed for college athletics. At the level of Division I, the athletes (particularly in football and basketball) are being exploited, flat out. I’d tear it all up and start with a clean sheet if I could.
SusanE: How far left / liberal (and on which particular topics) is too far left / liberal, in your opinion? At what point are you like, woah, back up and bring in some perspective here?
I mean, I think capitalism, properly managed (which it’s not at the moment, and I think obviously so) works as a decent motivator for people and to spur innovation and creativity, so I think chucking it out entirely wouldn’t be something I’d be for, which is to be clear an entirely unsurprising point of view for a well-off white dude to have. I think the left generally has the same problem as the right, which is that at the edges it has a tendency to warp toward authoritarianism and away from representative governments, and that’s also never good.
John: Would you rather fight one horse-sized duck or one hundred duck-sized horses?
I wouldn’t fight them. I’d put them on display and make a bundle.
Christopher Franklin: I had the experience of seeing Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi in a bright sunlit room with less than ten people just before its auction…. Has there been some visual work of art that left you speechless?
I just saw an exhibit of MC Escher work in Boston, and to be able to get up close to some of those pieces was a privilege, and fascinating.
JReynolds197: Is there any period of history that interests you and you keep coming back to?
The 1920s in the US fascinates me and is what I consider to be the start of what we might consider the American Century. So it wouldn’t entirely surprise me if in the next decade or so we see the close of the American Century, and see the rise of what I suspect is the Pacific Century, where the US is still a hugely significant player, but not nearly the only one. I think this will make the next quarter century a very interesting one to live in, like the 1920s were (and also the 30s, although… differently), and one I think I will have been glad to be here to see.
Malarkus: Re your post last year about millenials. Should we just start killing off the boomers?
No, that will take care of itself soon enough, and I’m generally against wholesale murder, of boomers or anyone else. In any event, I’m pretty sure boomers per se are not the problem, just the latent-to-overt racism a non-trivial number of them appear to suffer, chained to their groveling admiration of Mammon, and how the combination of both has led to some horrible damn decisions.
Cthulhu: Hair: at what point will you switch into full Bezos mode and just shave it all off (but keep facial hair)? When oh when will you do the decent thing and pull a full Patrick?
I tried bald a little more than a decade ago to see what it would like; I thought it looked fine but Krissy didn’t like it, and she’s the one who has to look at me all the time. I suspect at some point not long from now I’ll go full Patrick Stewart, since the hair in the front is thinning more significantly now and I don’t like the idea of wandering around with wisps. But no solid time table on that.
Dave Divilbiss: What do you miss about Fresno?
Not much? Which is not to say that I did not enjoy or appreciate Fresno when I was there — I had a ton of fun there and I think the city generally gets a bad rap in California. But the things I would miss about Fresno at this point are the people I knew there, and I’m still in touch with them and we’re still friends. So what’s to miss? I’m still fond of Fresno, but I don’t miss it.
Frankie: What are your thoughts on public education funding? What are your thoughts on recent teacher walkouts in multiple states? And, any general thoughts regarding public vs. private education?
I think public education is immensely important and needs to be funded so that every student gets a good and useful education, not just the ones in the “right” zip codes. I support the teacher walkouts generally, because the shit public school teachers have had to put up with in the last several years at least is nonsense. I went to private schools for high school and college and benefited from both, but a “vs” position is not the way I’d want to think about it — public education needs to robust and useful to students independent of any discussion of private schools. That’s the baseline. I don’t think throwing money at public schools will solve every problem, but I think adequately funding public schools removes a lot of problems and lets people focus on the other, different problems. Bottom line: Every public school in America should be a school you’d be fine with having your own child at.
Richard Winks: Do you think you might restore the dog population in your family?
Krissy will decide that. I’m not going to rush her on that score.
Heather Wallace: I really admire your cat photos and struggle with taking photos of my cats with my cell phone camera. They always close their eyes with the flash. What tips can you give aspiring cat photographers?
One, stop using flash and take the picture in a room with adequate lighting. Two, take a whole lot of pictures, one after another. It’s a digital camera, you’re not going to run out of film, and you can delete the pictures you don’t like. That’s a start!
Edward Brennan: Should one be civil to those people who are not civil to you? Obviously, we should not normally be assholes, but is being an asshole a justified response to an asshole? What about if someone is being an asshole to others, what do we do?
My general rule of thumb is to treat people with civility until and unless they give you a reason not to. Where that line is for each person is in a different place, and may depend on context. Also let’s also note there’s a difference between tolerating people who might be momentarily rude and/or obnoxious, and tolerating the actions of people who believe you or someone else aren’t fully human and/or don’t have a right to the same freedoms and privileges they might enjoy. Much of the question of “civility” these days boils down to racists and bigots plaintively whining that their opinion that other people are somehow inferior isn’t treated with respect and gravity. And, well. Fuck those guys. Fuck them right up the nose. As I’ve said before, if you want me to treat your ideas with respect, get better ideas.
And that wraps up the Reader Request Week for 2018! Thanks to everyone who asked questions. Let’s do it again in 10 to 12 months!