To escape or to engage

A couple of weeks ago, I finally sat down and wrote a (semi-) formal business plan. It was an enlightening experience. I’ve kept it all organized in many different ways, but writing it all down in one place allows me to step back and take a wider look at what I do.

No business plan is complete without a mission statement. Here is mine:

To write and publish fiction that serves the truth, expands minds and hearts, and empowers my readers to be better men and women for reading my books.

To serve, expand, and empower. All of the books that have profoundly affected my life, from Ender’s Game and Lord of the Rings to The Neverending Story and A Wrinkle in Time, did those things.

“That’s very high and lofty, Joe, but what about just writing damn good stories that entertain people?” I don’t actually see a contradiction there. All of the best stories I’ve read that served, expanded, and empowered me were only able to do so because they entertained me first.

Entertainment is an important part of what I do. So is escapism. I have no idea how J.R.R Tolkien voted in the 1930s and 40s, nor do I care to know. I have a pretty good idea how Orson Scott Card voted in the 90s and 00s, but not from reading Ender’s Game. Sometimes I read authors for their politics (Ringo, Heinlein, Correia), but I didn’t read The Last Centurion to decide how I would vote in the last election; I read it because leading a stranded cavalry division across a post-apocalyptic Middle East sounded like a damn good story.

The surest way to kill a good story is to try to cram a message through it. The best stories never do this. They serve as a mirror that allows the reader to see themselves more clearly, whoever they may be. That’s what makes them timeless.

The world is becoming an increasingly scary and violent place. In the coming months, I expect that things will get a lot worse. This puts me in an interesting position. Should I try to write stories that engage with what’s happening in the world, or stories that provide an escape from it?

Or is there a contradiction between the two?

There’s a lot of outrage on social media from people who are trying to engage with the problems they see in the world. Unfortunately, the louder their outrage becomes, the more they seem to be part of the problem and not a solution to it. That’s part of why I deleted my Twitter account and radically scaled back my Facebook usage.

Does lashing out at injustice really make the world a better place? Adding outrage to outrage, pointing out everything that’s wrong? There’s a time and a place for that, sure. But there’s also a time and a place to disengage.

When times get hard, people need an emotional escape. That’s why they turn to things like sports, or movies, or books. But when this media instead tries to engage by bringing in politics or social justice or whatever, it deprives people of their escape. We see it all the time with the virtue signalling in Hollywood, or the issue dropping in TV and movies, or whatever the hell ESPN has become.

I don’t want to go that route. Not with my books, not with this blog—not with any aspect of my career. It’s tempting, sure, and I’ve flirted with it in the past, but it’s time to pull back. I may be convinced of my own views and opinions, but that’s not why I write. You don’t serve the truth by forcing it on other people. You don’t expand minds and hearts with moral outrage. You don’t empower people to become better by telling them that they’re wrong.

With the way the world is going, I think the best thing I can do is to focus less on trying to engage with it and more on providing an escape from it, through my books. Ultimately, I think that’s a better and more effective way to change the world.

Thoughts on the violence in Charlottesville

No one is right in any of this.

I tend to lean to the “right,” but it’s a completely different “right” than any of the protesters at this event. Constitutional conservatives and classical liberals are both increasingly endangered species in this country, and that’s a problem. Nothing in our Constitution supports Nazism and white nationalism.

Radical Islamic terrorism is evil, and needs to be called by its name. So does White supremacist terrorism and neo-Nazism. So does Black supremacism ala Black Lives Matter. So does neo-fascism and radical anarchism ala Antifa. All of it is evil. All of it needs to be named and recognized as such.

We live in a world where words and hate speech and so-called “micro-aggressions” are called violence, but where real violence is legitimized if it’s in the service of political ends. This needs to stop. The first step to stopping it is to call evil by its name. No one in Charlottesville this weekend was on the side of truth or righteousness. They were both fighting for two sides of the same evil coin.

Sarah Hoyt thinks this is our Fort Sumpter moment. I disagree. It may be our Harper’s Ferry moment, but I thought that the Oregon standoff was one of those, and apparently it wasn’t. Perhaps it’s just another wake up call, like the Washington DC baseball shooter who miraculously failed to kill any of his targets.

Regardless of what kind of moment Charlottesville was for this country, we need to wake up and take a step back from the brink.

I’m actually quite optimistic about this. None of those bozos represent the vast majority of us. We’re better than that. We’re the country that saved the world twice, from Nazism and from Communism. Yes, we don’t have a perfect track record, but Churchill was right: you can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, after we’ve tried everything else.

There’s a lot of scary stuff happening in the world right now, but I’m actually not too alarmed. We’ve been through worse. We’ll pull through this, “we” being those who are prepared. If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear.

Take care of yourself, dear reader. And thanks, as always, for reading.

An open letter to Google

To whom it may concern,

My name is Joseph Vasicek, and I have been a regular user of your company’s products since 2006 when I set up my first Gmail account. Until the events of the past week, I was also a satisfied user.

The recent firing of James Damore over the controversial internal memo titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber” has profoundly shattered my trust in your company. I have read the memo and find it eminently moderate and well-reasoned. It is not an “anti-diversity screed,” as many in the traditional news media are calling it, and their characterization of the memo–as well as your own characterization, given by your vice president of diversity, Danielle Brown–is manifestly false to anyone who has actually read it.

Your handling of the controversy has been nothing short of Orwellian. I find this especially disturbing for the fact that your company controls almost every gateway to the internet that I use on a daily basis.

My phone is an Android device that is deeply integrated with your products. My personal and business email accounts are with your Gmail service. I use your search engine on a daily, almost hourly basis, and routinely default to the first three sites listed in the search results. Whenever I’m lost or traveling to an unfamiliar place, I use your maps and navigation service to guide me. Until this memo controversy, Chrome was my default browser. While I lived in Utah Valley, I even used your fiber network too connect to the internet.

It is abundantly clear to me now that I have been far too complacent in allowing myself to become wholly dependant on your company for almost every facet of my online connection to the world.

I cannot, at this time, fully divest myself from Google in the way that I have already divested myself from Facebook and Twitter. However, I can make gradual changes to lessen my dependence on your company’s products in the coming months and years. This principle will guide my future purchasing decisions, as well as the online products I use and the personal data I share.

In the world of tech, if you use a product or service without paying for it, then you are the product, wittingly or otherwise. This was not a problem for me when I still trusted your company. But you have profoundly violated that trust.

I won’t say that it is impossible for you to win back that trust. It would take an extraordinary act, but you are an extraordinary company. At the least, it would require an acknowledgement of the legitimacy of my concerns, and a reversal of the fascistic Orwellian turn that your company has taken. It would require, for example, changing the search results page for “Abraham Lincoln” to reflect that he was our first Republican president, not just a member of the National Union Party (which was simply the Republican Party, rebranded for the 1864 elections when Lincoln was the sitting president. He was elected in 1860 as a Republican, and calling him anything else is deliberately misleading.)

Without an extraordinary effort to win back the trust of the millions of Americans like me whose trust you have betrayed, in the coming months and years, you will see much less of me as I reduce my dependence on your products.

Sincerely,

Joe Vasicek

Thoughts on the #Alexandria shooting

This attack was a warning.

It could have been much worse. There could be more than a dozen dead congressmen right now. We could be in a national crisis as severe as 9/11, or more.

This was a premeditated and carefully planned act of domestic terrorism. It is clear that the attacker was politically motivated. Millions of Americans share his extreme views. Thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands, believe that his actions were justified.

It is only by the grace of God that the attack was thwarted. As Congressman Loudermilk said, “God was there.”

I believe in a God who is intimately concerned with the details of our individual lives. I believe that His hand guides the events that shape us, and that He takes a particular interest in the course of the United States.

He has given us our individual agency, the freedom to choose between good and evil. That is a gift that He will never take away. No matter how violent we are toward one another, no matter how much anger and hatred fills our hearts, He will not violate our agency nor revoke that Liberty wherewith He has made us free, but will leave us to our devices until we return on our knees to Him.

This attack was a warning. We would do well to heed it.

Several months ago, I came to the conclusion that the United States is between three and fifteen years away from an existential crisis as great as the Civil War. Will this crisis turn into a second civil war? I believe there’s a significant chance that it will. Certainly we are on that path right now.

Wake up, America! You talk of wars in far off countries, but you know not the hearts of men in your own land. Even now, the voices of evil speak louder in your ears than that which will shake the Earth. Treasure up wisdom, and remember: if you are prepared, you shall not fear.