Archives for posts with tag: science fiction

You have no reason to care about what I’m going to tell you, until you’ve finished reading.

Imagine if this page was sent to you by your girlfriend, boyfriend, wife or husband. You would immediately give it priority. So, too, if I was your boss or employer.

Chances are, you don’t quite know why this is the case, or maybe you think you do.

This is a crucial question in writing or reading fiction. “Why would the reader care enough to sit through yet another set of paragraphs, pages or entire chapters written about non-existent people?”

Why would you read this, or really any piece of writing, beyond the fleeting compulsions of random curiosity?

First answering the “why” will help guide the construction of plot and character by looking at how value is construed in society, for which fiction acts as a mirror and amplifier. This “why”, at its deepest level, may also elucidate what makes homeless people seem socially invisible, or why a person might perceive others as being more or less human. Even in casual dating, people construct imaginary classes in which they situate themselves and sigh that some potential lovers are “just out of my league”.

Samples of dramatic conflict that derive directly from everyday life:

– An ugly old male millionaire dates and marries, or even openly cheats on a gorgeous young supermodel or famous actress.
– A beautiful woman plays endless mind games of emotional manipulation against a hapless man who is hopelessly ensnared by her carefully constructed illusion of perfection and mystery.
– A rich older man and cunning young woman battle for sexual and emotional supremacy.
– Someone from the lower rungs of society fights his or her way up to become a defender of justice from the top echelon of the social world, usually by defeating the incumbent “champion” of that world to become a “winner”.
– Two powerful adversaries, one fighting for good and the other for evil, clash in an epic struggle that will determine the fate of humanity. The adversaries can either be Godlike heroes, or two opposing groups that band together as tribes or “teams”.

Most popular stories contain at least one subplot along these lines. (Notice also how, in the first three examples, the plots only make sense using the assigned genders. Though not impossible, switching the genders would make a credible story more difficult to write.)

The best fictional stories are just as “real” as the stories that you see on the news — and the autobiographical stories that most of us tell ourselves about our own lives. The news media is a complete topic unto itself; suffice for now to say that news, especially the kind seen on television, is a type of entertainment rather than “fair and balanced” presentation of fact. The average news broadcast presents factual information similarly to how a Hollywood movie tells the “inspired by true events” life stories of dramatically compelling people. Facts come a distant second to the all-consuming imperative of keeping the reader’s eyeballs fastened to the unfolding narrative spectacle.

Remove the optional emphasis on fact, and what remains is compelling fiction. The structure is exactly the same.

Take another look at the sample plot types in the list above. How many news stories fall into those categories? Answer: practically every single one.

The extent to which a writer understands the machinations of society is the extent to which he or she designs and builds compelling stories. The value of science fiction in particular is to highlight asymmetries of power based on access to, and differential uses of, human technology based on social status (and in terms of character construction, aliens are humans in disguise).

This is the first of a series of entries. By the end of this series, your approach to fiction writing and reading, and perhaps to the “real” social world itself, will never be the same. Or maybe it will be just as it was before, but now you’ll be able to clearly say why (and how). Concrete, step-by-step fundamental understanding of social dynamics forms the basis of any worthwhile story. Most readers know none of this explicitly; you have to hold them by the hand while showing them how to fly.

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I’ve turned to Reddit as an alternative to Facebook, mainly due to concerns about the rampant privacy intrusion that essentially defines Facebook’s modus operandi and revenue model.

Reddit is a hybrid news-sharing site and discussion forum frequented by at least six percent of the Internet’s users.

That’s a decent number of people.

Members of Reddit create niche-based communities. In those communities, they post links to media created elsewhere. Redditors can also add shorter pieces written directly in “text posts” on the site. Other members can vote “up” (approval) or “down” (disapproval) on all posts, creating a dynamic flow of popularity-ranked material; the flow changes as frequently as users post new items and others vote on them.

It makes sense, then, that if you want feedback on a story or other creative work, you might benefit from posting it on Reddit with a request for comment. That’s exactly what I did while working on a variety of fiction-writing techniques over the past two years.

Follow The Upvotes? How Conformity of Opinion is Quietly Crowdsourced

Sitting here today while playing with ideas for a new story, I recognized a dimension of the hidden issue that pervades all communities: all communities subtly indocrinate their members into certain belief systems. That, in a sense, is what gives any group its feeling of being “us” rather than “them”.

On Reddit, you can see that phenomenon in the distinctive type of humour used there versus, for example, Reddit’s arch-enemy, 4chan (or really x-chan considering the number of variants online). Inevitable silliness of Internet-based tribal keyboard warfare aside, the two communities have a very different “feeling” to them, partly based on how they are designed. Facebook (enforced fake authenticity via “sharing”) and Tumblr (scrapbooking and socal bookmarking) have their own approaches to community as well.

Specifically on Reddit, there are a number of science fiction-related communities. Each community on Reddit is called a “subreddit”, or “sub”. The scifi subs range from large to small, and the largest has over 200,000 readers. Although the reader numbers are misleading as to how many people actively participate, there is still a sizeable group who are online at any given time.

At first, it can be difficult to detect the fact that subreddits have their own set of rarely articulated rules governing what’s generally liked and disliked. It may seem like a strange idea, given Reddit’s illusion of “direct democracy” via the voting system. Considering the herd instinct that largely dominates human nature, though, the social reality of groupthink seems to have merely insinuated itself into the digital medium.

Don’t Try To Build A World on Reddit

The example that came to mind while writing today is that of “world-building.” Fictionwriters know this principle. Any story that ventures beyond fan fiction will have to establish an imaginary world for the reader to enter — a world that is in some way more fascinating than their own. The fictional story world suspends the reader’s sense of time and space within its carefully constructed realms of enhanced possibility.

If you seek feedback on Reddit, though, beware of the group consensus that all forms of world-building are bad, and therefore are easy targets for criticism. You can sometimes find conversations in which random users try to (literally) score points by snarking that a novel “started slow, with a lot of ‘world-building’, but it got better as it started to pick up speed afterward.” Even though this is obviously the case in the majority of stories — especially ones that project the reader into a detailed universe — Redditors have made a trendy talking point out of symptomatizing world-building into some kind of writerly deficiency.

Also beware of Internet Attention-Deficit Disorder, which seems to be the norm on Reddit. Most of the written works posted there are fan fiction, even if the subreddit’s self-descrption claims otherwise. Visuals tend to be clickbait images and videos intended to incite a maximum number of upvotes. This means that the overall atmosphere is “click, look, skim, repeat”. Sufferers of Internet A.D.D. will rarely take the time required to critique or even comment meaningfully on a new fictional piece. The exceptions are pleasant, yet exceedingly rare.

Reddit can be useful as a means of gauging the average person’s kneejerk opinion of your work within a chosen niche. If you’re looking for feedback that goes beyond “I took a quick look and got the gist”, other avenues are necessary for eliciting worthwhile review and comment. In fact, I’m presently creating one such avenue based the experiences with Reddit and other social media platforms; there will be much more to say and show about that in the near future.

Anyone who has spent considerable time online has probably heard the trusty old phrase, “Information wants to be free”.

People have used that phrase as justification for any number of diverse causes — from the John Draper and the original phone phreaks of the `70s, to Julian Assange and Wikileaks decades later. The United States’ Freedom of Information Act can (in theory) be used by citizens as a means of pressuring the government to disclose data that it might prefer to keep secret. Public records, and now, public data, can be obtained in order to hold police and politicians accountable and pull the balance of power away from totalitarian secrecy. In theory, anyway.

The modern-day idea of information freedom took shape back when the Internet was mainly the domain of nerds sharing technical information. Dial-up modems chirped and squealed across copper phone lines, granting nerds the power to make things that other nerds would think of as ingenious or cool. This was the kind of digital place that people like Steve Wozniack, Alan Kay, Bill Joy and even Aaron Swartz could call home, despite being generations apart in chronological age.

Freedom to make cool stuff was the reason why the Internet (in its post-ARPANET days) evolved the way it did — at least, until it became a platform for the mass surveillance we affectionately call “branding” or “advertising”. The fact that the Internet required technical savvy just to get online (much less to find or do anything interesting) filtered out anyone but those dedicated enough to brave the steep learning curve.

What happens when ordinary people get hold of this “urge for information freedom”? What does it mean to the Average Jane Doe or John Q. Unknown, as can be discerned from the ways that the general public make use of the phrase “information wants to be free”?

After approximately a year of being the moderator of a community on Reddit, here is what I’ve learned.

I allowed my Reddit community to be destroyed by trolls, because honestly, I was bored with it and had amassed enough new ideas to start over. These are my notes, and they may benefit you, too, if you ever contemplate starting an Internet-based hangout, meeting place or network.

Note that my niche on Reddit was science fiction. The people in your chosen subculture may be a little bit different, although I doubt it. You can pretend that you and your readers don’t fit into the categories below. Maybe non-scifi people are a special human breed who are better than the ones I encountered practically everywhere on Reddit.

Reddit 101

In case you know nothing about Reddit, here are the basics. Reddit is basically a superset of popularity-based bulletin boards. The Reddit homepage is a massive board that showcases the most popular topics from all of the smaller boards. The smaller ones are appropriately called “sub-reddits”.

In subreddits, anyone can post a new topic. The readers, called “subscribers”, can click one of a pair of arrows to vote “up” or “down”. Topics that receive more “up” arrows rise to the top of the list for a while until newer/popular topics replace them. “Downvoted” topics are pushed down the listings until they disappear from the front page. Each page of listings holds up to twenty topics; a topic can be a link to another website, or a relatively short posting that operates like a blog entry, in that you can write anything you want others in your subreddit to read.

Below you’ll find out what I learned the hard way over the past year or so as a Reddit community moderator.

Misuse Is The Norm, Because People Hate Learning

The RTFM Principle: The average person is completely thoughtless 99% of the time, and would rather misuse technology than take a moment to figure out how it works.

Reddit’s upvote/downvote arrows are completely misused much of the time. People use the arrows to express whether or not they agree with a topic, which is actually the purpose of being able add comments. Adding comments, however, requires more thought than clicking or tapping a button. Hence, button-tapping wins ninety-nine percent of the time, even though it’s the wrong thing to do.

Whiners, Whiners Everywhere

Principle: The average person loves whining, and will do anything to defend their right to whine and complain while contributing nothing of any value.

This is the most bizarre aspect of the whole Reddit affair. Across subreddit after subreddit, the phenomenon repeated itself: the vast majority of conversations would dwell more on what people didn’t like rather than what they found beautiful, inspiring or fascinating. The most popular science fiction subreddit contains topic after topic of people complaining vociferously about the flaws of Star Wars. The flaws of Battle Star Galactica. The evils of renaming the Sci-Fi Network to be the “Syfy” Network.

It’s basically a kielbasa festival of bitching and moaning about everything in mainstream movies and television. Heaven help you if you post an original piece of work there; Downvote Hell awaits.

On my own subreddit, it was amazing to see this “whining=freedom of speech” dynamic at work. Here’s an example:

There were well over one hundred posts on the subreddit at the time. Most had one or two upvotes, maybe eight at most. Then one day, in a fit of random curiosity, I posted a topic that lampooned the oblivious popstar Iggy Azalea. The post title poked fun at her idiotic blather about how the Internet was pure evil because people dislike her (for good reason) and hence troll her mercilessly on Twitter.

Needless to say, “idiot” is a word that applies perfectly to anyone who blames the Internet itself for the actions of trolls.

Azalea’s tweet reached me via a retweet from Taylor Swift. I absolutely adore Ms. Swift (no, not that Taylor Swift, although she’s not so bad, either). And so I created a silly conversation topic making fun of Iggy Azalea and professing an undying girl-boner for Tay-Tay (it’s all in how you phrase things, darling). Everything about it was so wrong that it could only be awesomely right.

Not only did it receive more comments than any other topic, we received more subscribers than on any other single day. The herd was so confused that the cross-talk built controversy; the controversy created “value” in the form of subscribers, and the subreddit appeared to benefit handsomely as we enhanced our appearance of popularity.

All this for a fake topic comprised of people whining about a fake Australian rap star, originally retweeted from a Twitter account that may or may not be written by the real Taylor Swift.

Ridiculous. Whining for the win. I’m still laughing whenever I think about it.

Where Lurkers Roam, Reading Is Verboten

Principle: The average person dislikes reading, and dislikes thinking even more.

Here’s a quick tip about the “Subscriber” numbers. You’ll find them prominently displayed in the sidebar of most subreddits. Here’s the truth about subscriber counts: the number means absolutely nothing. People routinely click the “Subscribe” button, and… disappear. They don’t upvote. They don’t downvote. They neither post nor comment. They simply vanish, or worse, they “lurk”.

Lurking takes place when a person confuses the Internet for a television channel and sits there waiting for something interesting to happen instead of participating in any way.

Lurkers comprises at least 99% of the Internet, and they hate reading.

Have a look at the Reddit homepage. Better yet, pick any news/entertainment website offering salacious click-bait headlines. Ignore the story itself and read the comments first. Then go back and actually read the story. You’ll find that in a startlingly high percentage of the time, most commenters have never even read the story. Other commenters, exasperated, might have pointed out this fact and told the ingrate to actually read the story before commenting — inevitably to no avail.

This phenomenon is even more prevalent if you expect anyone to click a link, head to another website, read an article, then come back to add their thoughts about what they’ve read.

On Reddit, reams and reams of conversation consist of preconceived opinions spouted as if they were relevant facts. In that light, it may be better that most people lurk; when they offer their insufferably precious opinions, the outcome is either whining or superfluous piffle that adds nothing to any conversation. I resist the term “mental masturbation” because it’s just too easy, and at least masturbation actually has a purpose. The average commenter on Reddit is simply stroking their own ego for no reason at all aside from the onanistic pleasure of accruing worthless-in-the-real-world-or-anywhere-else “karma points”.

Changing The World With Cynical Apathy and Casual Disinterest

Principle: The average person is utterly apathetic and disinterested in anything beyond reactions to his or her own opinion.

As a Reddit moderator, I realized that most people contribute zero real value to a given conversation. They offer no links to primary sources (could Google be any easier to use?) and no well-formed thoughts beyond repetitive sound-bytes imitating other Redditors who have more “cool points”, a.k.a. silly sums of fictional karma.

Question: Why on Earth would anyone waste so much time on Reddit, then, or the Internet more generally?
Answer: The vast majority of comments exist solely to provoke other bored egotists to react with their own comments. If a topic foments enough upvotes and empty chatter between Redditors, it may end up triumphantly posted on the Reddit homepage.

This is why the Reddit homepage is an adorable wasteland of kitten-and-puppy pictures, and Wikipedia-level trivia about everyone’s favorite celebrities like Keanu Reeves (although I must admit, better Keanu than Iggy). Every now and then you’ll see a scare-mongering news piece or rare nugget of information; mostly, it’s snarky neckbeard humour that circulates like stale air trapped in a pressurized cabin cruising somewhere high above terra firma.

In that respect, the users of Reddit are like characters in an endless webcomic created by the masterminds behind a hipster version of Seinfeld. Or maybe, an ironically post-hipster take on Friends. Or maybe, Sharknado with Samuel L. Jackson from Snakes on a Plane. Beware that Reddit-humour is infectious and you might mistakenly try to export it to the real non-neckbeard world. Would you really want to hang out with your unwashed hordes of aimless Reddit-friends in real life?

Grazing Reddit For Hours? Welcome To The Herd

Principle: The average human is a herd animal.

We now know that the average person is an apathetic lurker. We also know that he or she also loves to complain.

So who’s left?

The other creatures grazing Reddit for hours are the proud members of the herd.

The herd, more than anything else, is the functional downfall of Reddit.

The herd will only move as a single unit. Hence, inertia rules: a topic that has no upvotes will tend to remain so. A topic that gains upvote momentum will tend to skyrocket within a certain window of time. A topic that’s downvoted and complained about by one troll, will also tend to be gored and buried by the stampeding herd.

This dynamic completely destroys any pretense of “democracy” or “freedom of speech” to be found on Reddit. Instead, you have something more akin to mindless tribal gamesmanship or drive-by gang warfare tactics. On Reddit, the mob (or perhaps more aptly, the blob) always wins.

And this is why my subreddit was doomed — we tried to do something different. It’s practically impossible to change the way the game as played if people couldn’t be bothered to learn a new set of rules. Ultimately, you end up with the herd roving from pasture to pasture, whining about anything that isn’t “high-concept” enough to be instantly recognizable, while downvoting anything that doesn’t match their existing expectations. Then the inconsolable bovines of Reddit cry on each other’s hulking shoulders with fake outrage that there’s “nothing new left in the world” except blockbusters and remakes.

There would be no blockbusters or interminable strings of superhero reboots if not for the inherently hypocritical and mindless herd.

Information Should Be Worthless, I Mean, Free

Principle: The average person knows nothing about capitalism and therefore is willing to have his or her privacy destroyed for the sake of “free”.

Another feature of the herd is that they are easily led to believe easy lies at the expense of difficult-yet-obvious truths. The most important truth that I’ve learned is a reinforcement of the obvious fact that nothing of any value in life is free.

No one will moderate a community very well if they’re simply throwing time away to battle trolls and attempt to stir lurkers from their customary apathy. So the moderators on Reddit tend to do a poor job, arbitrarily censoring some content and allowing low-quality pieces to be posted. Some members are banned while some are allowed to continue bullying others.

When our subreddit made the rules transparent, trolls whined that the existence of rules was itself an impingement on their “freedom of speech” and began a downvoting campaign against us. When we stated why some posts were allowed and explained exactly what kind were not, the trolls whined louder about how a focused subreddit was the work of a “tyrant” who was trying to destroy the “freedom of information”.

Freedom of speech and freedom of information have been perverted to mean that idiots on Reddit can destroy any community by taking the “victim” role. They can then incite fake outrage for the sake of bullying into submission anyone who tries to do something different. The average person would rather be tricked and manipulated from behind the scenes (i.e. surveillance, I mean, “advertising”) rather than be told community rules and guidelines without sleight-of-mouth misdirection or intentional ambiguity.

Fixing Reddit. Is It Possible? Should We Scrap It And Start Over?

Reddit’s discovery features are also broken, so very few people even know when a new subreddit has been created. To counter that, I started sending private messages to readers of other sci-fi subreddits — one message only, saying essentially this: “hey, we exist. Come have a look if you want.” I also set up a Patreon account to take donations toward building a better website just for us.

Since any form of “spamming” is outlawed on Reddit, a troll complained loudly enough that our community was obliterated by the administrators. Without any other means of telling potential readers about us, the subreddit would never have grown at all — as is the case with the vast majority of Reddit’s communities. What Reddit has on its hands is a conundrum that they seem unable or unwilling to solve.

Two simple fixes would repair at least some of Reddit’s flaws:

1. Allow moderators to disallow downvotes in order to discourage trolls.

It’s baffling that this isn’t an option for moderators to turn on or off. The only plausible answer might be the fear of stifling “freedom of speech” and “freedom of information” which, as we’ve seen, are basically a sham at worst and a false argument at best. At the very least, this would give moderators the ability to shut out some of the noise that can ruin a subreddit at the click of the “downvote” arrow. Allow mods to do as they wish if they’d prefer to encourage upvotes rather than facilitate angry lurkers, perpetual whiners and hateful trolls.

2. Create an effective way to notify Redditors of new subreddits that match their interests.

When the herd receives a message from the site itself, it’s a “recommendation”, whereas a message from an individual is “spam”. Use the herd’s cognitive bias of blind faith in authority to help subreddits attain at least some visibility. From there, a subreddit can grow without the omnipresent spectre of complete ruin by the wrathful Gods of Reddit, who unknowingly are doing the bidding of trolls rather than assisting creative experiments in community-building.

The profiteering army of Steve Jobs-wannabes and cynical “hackers” like Mark Zuckerberg have, in a sense, equalized the playing field. Now anyone and everyone is on the Net, literally numbering in the billions. They are in many ways nothing like the ones who started the revolution in global communication, yet they often use the same terminology. Radical ideas have become “gentrified” as the “market sector” has “matured” and simultaneously devolved to the level of empty corporate marketing jargon.

Privacy, as a principle of self-protection, becomes gutted and pushed aside, derided as anachronistic in a public-relations war against anyone who “has something to hide” (which, incidentally, is everyone, including you). Sharing is no longer optional, yet people compulsively push themselves at each other in fetishistic obsession for the illusion of instant celebrity, driven by a new kind of social anxiety. Dissent now means being exiled from the worldwide monoculture of bland selfies and fashionably “edgy” behavior, quietly sponsored by whatever brand is crowding your eyes and clouding your mind with ads at the moment.

Reddit had the potential to do better than that. I have a feeling that Aaron Swartz would agree, and maybe even Wozniak, too (though definitely not Steve Jobs, as Jobs’ contribution to tech was that he turned computers into glossy high-status toys). Shills, trolls and the herd are the opposite of what makes the Internet great. Hopefully my notes can help you to see what’s happening from a different perspective and maybe even help create a better way. As for me? I’m still just getting started. My goals are still alive and my sense of purpose is stronger than ever. Maybe we can make something cool and useful together.

There’s a certain hidden document on the Web, far beyond the clutches of Google, that purports to teach us all a set of “unknown” truths about the world as it is today.

That document uses the tired-yet-reliable analogy of humans enmeshed in a “Matrix” that entraps and enslaves us all.


Note: come back later for the completed version; this is an early draft (maybe).

But there is a way out of the Matrix, they say. Escape! Be your own personal Thomas Neo Anderson! Dodge bullets! Find the world’s only sexy PVC-clad uber-hacker girl who can “hack the IRS D-Base!” Defy death, proclaim God Mode, and literally fly on the superheated power of your own transcendant super-Neo ego!

Or you could sell psychedelic drugs and sit behind your computer monitor on an encrypted IRC channel until you fall asleep every night, waiting in desperate futility for a fateful visit from the mystically nonexistent White Rabbit.

Which option is a more likely mirror for reality?

You Are The Matrix…?

There is no Matrix. At least, not the fabled territory that most try to map directly onto our “real” social world.

The Matrix is not government, or capitalism.

The Matrix is human society itself.

This is the “software” running inside our own minds, software that creates and sustains (or apathetically perpetuates) government and capitalism. Government feeds our desire to follow leaders; consumer capitalism speaks to our appetite for status, codified and symbolized through the objects we can purchase and proudly display to our peers.

Even if one society is destroyed, a more sophisticated society reboots itself from the ashes of its obsolete predecessor. The fundamental principles are as unchanged as the structure of our paleolithic brains.

Inequality is built into how humans perceive themselves and each other — it is intrinsic (coming from within our brains and minds), not extrinsic (the result of some external entity oppressing us). As long as we are driven to compete against each other, we will continue to create stratified societies where the winners take all and the losers (somewhere between fortyseven and ninetynine percent of us) will struggle merely to survive.

Easter Egg: A Hidden Gift From Smith To Morpheus, For All Of Us

This was the real purpose of Agent Smith’s speech to Morpheus: the first iteration of the Matrix was a paradise.

Humans rejected it in favor of a simulation that looks like the modern world as it is today [which is even more dystopian than the present-day of 1999, the year in which the Matrix was set].

No Mister Anderson… don’t blame capitalism

The Matrix is not capitalism. Civilization throughout history has been built on inequality. The “land of the free”, the United States of America, is built unequivocally on genocide of Native Americans, slavery of Africans, indentured servitude of Chinese, internment of Japanese, oppression of the Irish, and ostracism of Jews. The entirety of Europe stands on a legacy of world war, and before that, a succession of tyranny leading back long before the Enlightenment. Much of Asia, with its fetishized pseudo-exotic mysticism for all who live outside it, is a hive of post-feudal xenophobia that necessitates perpetual simmering conflict.

Capitalism is a product of humanity, not an evil set upon us from elsewhere. It flourishes because it appeals to greed, which is as natural to humanity as the twisted philosophies that spring from it — from Manifest Destiny to Kamikaze and all shades in between. All political religions begin with us, and are sustained by us.

Silly Neo… Mr. Smith isn’t the government, either

Corporate capitalism and the governments it owns (including American democracy and increasingly, Chinese communism) are one and the same. Greed rules all.

Escaping The Matrix: Quick, I Need An Exit…! Or Do I?

The only way to truly “escape” the Matrix is to exit from society entirely.

Live on a mountain by yourself or with as many people as will follow you there.

This is the real-world equivalent of “Zion”, the world beyond the Matrix and far from Machine City.

The average person would not want to live in “Zion”, as was depicted by the traitorous character Cypher, who wanted to be not just an average person, but “someone important… like an actor”. An actor: one of those glittering objects of envy who become famous for pretending to be other people for a living. A pretender.

In the real world of today, there are over a billion Facebook Junkies gasping for each other’s attention with every status update. Many of them not only want to be the Alpha Animal in their mass media-fueled consumerist fantasyland, they also strive to be Youtube Superstars and trending Reality Celebrities with an endless feed of self-obsessive selfies and egotistical memes.

Do You Really Want To Exit The Matrix?

The door is right here, and this is the key.

If you continue to live in a house or apartment where there is flowing water, working electricity, trash disposal and emergency medical services, the Matrix still has you. And you have… McDonalds and Starbucks.

No one “subverts the Matrix” by pretending that information is free. As we all live in a capitalist system [given that capitalism has effectively taken over the world], taking things without paying is simply called “larceny” or stealing.

A man in trenchcoat and dark sunglasses walks into a convenience store. The man takes a candybar from an open box next to the checkout counter, then turns to leave the store. The clerk overseeing the automated self-checkout line says, “hey, you have to pay for that!” The Man says, “no, can’t you see? My hand is invisible because I’ve stepped outside the Matrix!” Clerk says, “you still have to pay for that candybar!” Man retorts, “no, can’t you see? The candybar is invisible, too, because I hold it in my hand, and I’ve stepped outside the Matrix!” Clerk explains while pressing the silent alarm, “no, you’re standing in a convenience store and you just stole a candybar!” The Man mumbles to himself with a sick bemused grin, “well, you’re either one of us, or you’re one of them.”

In the Hollywood version of this story, The Man pulls out a submachine gun and shoots the clerk to death. In the real version, two mentally disturbed teenagers at Columbine high school performed a similar act of “liberation” that resulted in the deaths of thirteen people and their own suicide. Wearing t-shirts that read “Evolution” and “Wrath”, their unifying ideology seemed to be that “Getting attention by becoming notorious is better than being a failure.”

The reality of the Matrix is that Neo and his grim cohort were actually psychopathic terrorist murderers with a complete disregard for human life.

They used a primitive — in the parlance of Hollywood, “high-concept” — mentality of “us versus them” to justify murdering untold hundreds of people in the name of their righteous cause.

Matrix Convolutions

As the plot thickens, the true point is often lost.

The true “hero” of the Matrix was Morpheus. And Morpheus, both in the Matrix and in Zion, was regarded as most likely insane.

Morpheus had previously found several other “proto-Neos”, but they all failed (and presumably were killed).

Most critically, Morpheus was eventually captured by the Agents, tortured by them, and, in the real-world version of the story, would almost certainly have been imprisoned for life. He may even have been set free — only to be murdered later, quite likely by a missile shot from a drone [as machines so often do our governments’ killing for us now].

How did Morpheus learn of the Matrix’s existence in the first place? If the Matrix is all-encompassing for those within it, then the Matrix must also have been Morpheus’ source of intelligence. Maybe he first saw the Matrix in the plot a multi-million-dollar movie. But, no, that would be too silly even for Hollywood… yet oddly not too silly for the many who take the Matrix as a kind of field guide to reality.

If Morpheus had learned that the Matrix is intrinsic to the human mind rather than created by machines, would he have taken the fundamentalist zealot’s path that he did? The Columbine killers were obviously mentally ill, but without the trigger that also set fragile-minded Morpheus on a murderous crusade, would their fate have also turned out differently? To be clear, neither the movie nor the message are to blame. Truly, there is no blame to be cast, but rather, a question about the switches that can be flipped in susceptible minds.

Likewise, as we see with the “hidden” version of this document, a perversion of the idea of “free” flourishes among those who are dazzled by Hollywood and seduced by overcomplicated pseudo-egalitarian ideologies.

Information created by humans is no more free than water or electricity.

Scientific knowledge is more valuable when all can access it. Still, the scientist needs some sort of wage in order to be able to live while pushing the envelope of human knowledge, skill and ability.

The products of other types of knowledge [music, film, visual arts, etc.] are the same way.

“I torrented this movie a couple of months ago. I watch it at least twice a week because the special effects are cool, but it totally isn’t Oscar quality and the script could be better, so why should I pay for it? By not paying now, I’m actually telling the movie people to do better next time. Then everything will be Oscar quality. Yay!”

“I downloaded this music album just recently, but I wouldn’t call it one of my all-time favorites, so why pay for it? The artist gets more exposure this way, too, so it’s kind of like I’m doing them a favor!”

The essence of both science and creativity is experimentation. Scientific progress and creative exploration are iterative, evolutionary processes that far more often result in failure than success. If we punish failure by cutting off scientists’ and artists’ ability to continue their work by devaluing it to become a mere hobby, we cripple the creative process of science and art itself.

Most computer programmers create free software in order to build their reputation — so that they can eventually land a paying job writing software. The philosophy of free software, then, was never designed to be applied to movies, books or music. And that is largely why it fails, instead exposing the ones who parrot its corrupted version as a cover-up for their desire to take all while giving back nothing.

Side note: the film “the Matrix” itself would never have been made, and another film of its quality has not been made since, without the crucial support of the (deeply flawed as it is) Hollywood system.

Until we have working alternatives to the existing system, destruction in the name of freedom is simply obliteration without the counterbalance of creation to save us from suicide.

Ending At The Beginning

The true meaning of revolution is that the cycle ends where it began

How do you truly “unplug” from the Matrix? A few suggestions:

  • Recognize that society is the “Matrix” and that the average person is the one sustaining it (including those who steal while regurgitating the pirates’ propaganda that information should be “free”)
  • Recognize that the government is not the problem
  • Recognize that capitalism is not the problem
  • Recognize that if you believe that either government or capitalism are the problem, your only solution is to exit the nation-state and/or leave the financial system entirely
  • Recognize that if you choose to reap the benefits of living in the “Matrix”, your denial of its fundamental attributes [i.e. the exchange of money for goods and services] is only hurting other people who are also trying to survive, advance science and push forward creatively in this system
  • Recognize that if you remain inside the Matrix, you are one of Us Humans (not “Agents” or “Them”). Our only viable option is to work together to change the Matrix, not turn guns on each other (or figuratively do the same by stealing from each other) or commit random-yet-premeditated acts of larceny — leading even to murder.

The Matrix is not outside us. The Matrix is within us. The only way to destroy the Matrix is to change ourselves and create a better Matrix. At the best, we create an alternative that eventually supercedes the existing system. At worst, we continue down the existing path to oblivion and hasten our collective demise. “Freedom fighters” who indulge the Morpheus/Neo Delusion turn a blind eye to economic, political and social totalitarianism that strips us of our desire for privacy while selling our digital identities to the highest bidder. Such isolating “freedom” turns us on each other with false doctrines like “if you have nothing to hide, you have no need for privacy” and equally false reactionary mantras like “information wants to be free”.

There is, has never, and never will be, anything gotten for free in this world. The sooner we all realize that “free” is yet another scam that steals time and energy (therefore, life) from all of us, the more quickly we’ll create a system that can help us all live better lives in the real world rather than construct psychotic fantasies like the Matrix. Leave the Matrix where it belongs — in film, in video games and in cautionary science fiction stories. Sometimes a metaphor is just a metaphor, and sometimes a great movie is just a great movie. Eschew the Polyanna Positive Thinker’s helium-brained need to blame the creators of entertainingly instructive make-believe dystopias. Columbine wasn’t the Wachowski siblings’ fault, any more than rock-n-roll is to blame for hippies selling out their values in exchange for a spot in the corner office. It’s time to finally wake up from “the Matrix”, and at long last, rejoin the real world before it’s too late. We simply can’t afford a cynical “cyberpunk” version of the Age of Aquarius.

The Power Of The Matrix Is Within You. The Question Is How You Use It.

The question is not “can you escape?” The challenge is “what can you create?”

If you believe that the answer to the challenge of “what can you create?” is “nothing”, then do us all a favor: turn off your television, press “pause” on the movies and learn, learn, learn until you can bring a skill to the table that Humanity truly needs (and if you still feel the unstoppable urge to pick up a submachine gun to prove your allegiance to Zion and independence from the Matrix, put on your sunglasses and trenchcoat and try “flying” from the ledge of a tall building instead).

We need all the help we can get to repair the damage some of us have already done, to prevent more destruction, and to bring us all to a better future. We can’t last much longer with primitive tribalistic “us versus them” pathological ideologies and apathetic acquiescence that amounts not to rebellion, but to “more of the same”. Morpheus was wrong. In the real world, none of us can dodge bullets. But then, Morpheus was also right: the Matrix truly is inside your own mind. And your mind is the place where the battle is fought. From there, the choice is yours.

(Also known as, “appreciation for those who read”)

I wanted to take a quick moment to celebrate the first subscriber to my science fiction readers club.

As you probably know from reading the news for any appreciable length of time, Amazon is engaging in some sketchy practices, from their “warehouses staffed by human robots” (note: humans are not robots) to employees tagged and tracked like human cattle (note: humans are not cattle, although they often think and act like sheep).

Rather than feed Amazon’s dystopian model of neofeudalism by gutting the publishing industry the same way that it has destroyed small retailers worldwide, I’ve decided to create an experiment in entrepreneurship.

The experiment: use readily available Web and Internet technology to raise a middle finger to Amazon and give people an ethical choice to support an independent artist.

I’m working on the honor system inspired in part by Stephen King’s ancient foray in self-publishing, embodied in the quote “my friends, we have the chance to become Big Publishing’s worst nightmare.”

My goal is to revise the nightmare scenario. The goal here is to give Jeff Bezos a reason to re-think his imperialistic attempts at destroying small entrepreneurs, as Amazon undercuts, undersells and centralizes anything that can be bought online (and eventually delivered by drone, no doubt “in partnership with the NSA”…)

Note that I might sell my work on Amazon as well [since their customers comprise a massive group of sci-fi fans, too]. The aim is always to break them away from the herd. The grail here is to guide them toward an awareness that they can support the individual artist rather than subsidize the worldwide hypercapitalist ambitions of yet another too-big-to-fail corporation.

Indie artists and writers would do well to step out of the shadowy Get Rich Quick illusion of “self-publishing” as the Next Big Thing. Once we walk toward the illumination of complete ownership, people will finally be able to see that piracy actually _is_ stealing. Useful information weighs nothing but it costs time to create, and life is short for all of us.

When your favorite writer isn’t backed by a parasitic multinational conglomerate retail monster, you realize that we all have only twenty-four hours in a day. If you want cool stuff, you have to help artists afford to live _their_ lives, too. That means paying for their work so that they can keep working on art, paying their own bills and enjoying their lives — just like you can because of your (hopefully) steady-paying job. The myth that artists should starve in noble silence is both insane and obviously unsustainable in reality. In fact, the dystopian cyberpunk world that we’re starting to see in the rise of companies like Amazon is largely because we are _all_ being treated like “starving artists”, also known as “unpaid interns” and “just-in-time consultants”. We’re seeing the consequences of that broken economic model accumulate every single day. It’s time to fix it, and at least as a writer, this is how I’m doing my part.

Anyway, I wanted to thank you for being a member of this community and for nurturing the kind of person who became my first paying subscriber. This is a symbolic turning point in my life as a writer, artist and entrepreneur, and hopefully as I succeed as an indie writer, I’ll be able to create a personally ethical, financially viable, socially responsible business model to help others with similar aspirations do the same.

P.S. The written works referred to in this entry can be found here (click here).