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bear by san

March 2017



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bear by san

Justify your existence

Re: current events. If you ever needed an illustration that it's not about differing political ideologies, but about choosing up sides and wearing armbands, the Californian Republican brouhaha over Arnie being "too nice to Democrats" would be it in technicolor.

If you ever needed an illustration of political hypocrisy and thinly-disguised racism... well, Hillary isn't doing herself any favors with the self-righteous wanking over the Dubai port thing. Not, mind you, that I am blind to the irony of W.'s desire to kick the asses of all the Arabs except the ones who are willing to offer him and his cronies money. Oh, and quit lying, George. Your nose is big enough. (Reuters wins the headline war: What didn't the President know and when didn't he know it?)


I've gotten through the first four chapters of the page proofs for Blood and Iron. You know, the fiftieth time you read a book, it's really hard to concentrate. I did find a leitmotif, though. There's this ongoing thematic thing with chains, and Carel keeps getting bird imagery. I think I'll pretend I meant to do that.

Hell, maybe I did. At this point, who can remember?

Nothing worse than reading your own five year old prose, by the way. Unless it's reading your own ten year old prose.

The rest of this blog post is truepenny and netcurmudgeon's fault. Specifically, I think there's not enough wankosity infesting the club scene blogosphere currently, so I'm going to attempt a feminist critique of the Singularity as SFnal trope. You may all sneak out quietly now, but please don't let the door bang.

When I first moved to Las Vegas, I used to burn my mouth a lot when I wasn't thinking carefully about what I was drinking, because the air is so dry that you often can't see the steam rising from a cup of tea. After a while, I learned to hesitate, and check the temperature of the air over the fluid with my lip. This isn't something I ever decided to do. Rather, my autonomous systems figured it out for themselves. Because they're smarter than you think they are.

The meat does a lot of our thinking, in other words, when the more advanced electrical systems are busy. An MIT a-life researcher who I quoted in Hammered holds the unpopular perspective that a good deal of our thinking (our consciousness, our sentience) is emotional rather than rational. Chemical, if you will, rather than electrical.

truepenny pointed out at Boskone that the idea of the Singularity is at its heart a denial of the body, and it occurred to me that that could be read, from a feminist perspective, two ways. One, that sex becomes irrelevant, or--and here's the bit I twigged on--that if you squint just right, what you're left with is a very Augustinian (and thank you netcurmudgeon for just the right word) refutation of the flesh. In this way, autopope's notorious turn of phrase, the rapture of the geeks, is exactly right. The weak/evil/flawed/excoriated flesh is scoured away, and what is left is divine, improved, elevated, incomprehensible.

Transcendent, if I may.

There's a bunch of talk about how SF has to address the idea of a Singularity to be relevant, which to me is bullshit. Augmented intelligence, techshock, sure--but we've been dealing with that as a genre for the last hundred years. Which is why I like Charlie's one-way-gates (the Strossian singularity) as a more useful idea than the Vingean posthuman singularity. (I'm pretty freaking posthuman to a sixth-century Northman, yanno?)

Basically, it's a lovely idea, and there's been a lot of very good SF written about it, but I think allowing this idea of posthumanity to become The Defining Dialogue of "serious" SF is a mistake. (Of course, I'm not much for SF as predictive--we keep missing the big ones, after all, so I don't see why that should change.)

But then, there's this drive to define SF as Apollonian, in contrast to the purported Dionysian bent of modern fantasy, and to thus elevate SF, and I think is some ways that's one element of the whole posthuman thing. Because a Singularity is nicely Apollonian. Augustinian. Anti-feminist, if you accept the idea that women's fiction tends to be more concerned with relationship and the negotiation of life and that women are more concerned with the messy bits of being made of meat.

Boy games are still privileged over girl games, in other words. Even when the games are intellectual.

Of course, I don't for half a second think that the male writers playing posthuman games are intentionally setting out to devalue "female" (please note the scare quotes) values or perspectives. I know Peter and Charlie and Cory and so on, and a less gender-bigoted bunch of guys would be hard to find. (Actually, one of the things I really like about Cory Doctorow, and a symptom I suspect of how giant and shiny his brain really is, is that he can manipulate "masculine" and "feminine" communication styles with equal facility.) What I'm saying is that if you come at this thing from the right angle, it looks surprisingly like the old logic-trumps-emotion, Apollo-trumps-Dionysius, male-trumps-female, SF-trumps-Fantasy, mind-trumps-meat argument.

This idea of the meat-puppet as somehow different from and inferior to the mind, rather than the two being an integrated and seamless whole: it's so pervasive in our culture that I think we forget to question it... but there are cultures that could not conceive of the mind without the body. Which is what I mean when I say that the Singularity in its Rapture of the Geeks form is Augustinian... but then again, what if it's not a case of the rancid flesh and the incorruptible soul? What if it's a package deal?

It doesn't fit our Western cultural preconceptions, of course. But then, our current Western cultural preconceptions have deep roots in Thomas a Beckett's stinky hair shirt and Calvinist doctrine, the mortification of the flesh for the glorification of the soul.

And that's interesting to think about, from a perspective of regarding unquestioned assumptions.

Snippet I'm probably not going to be able to resist putting in the end note for The Journeyman Devil:

"History is not narrative, alas. And Elizabethan political and theatrical history is less narrative than most. To paraphrase Velvet Brown, the facts are all tangled up together and it's impossible to cut one clean.

This is a work of fiction. While there are any number of actual facts enmeshed in the web of its creation, it should not be treated as representative, as a whole, of my opinion on any particular historical theories or opinions. Nor should my suggestions regarding additions to the seemingly endless litany of Christopher Marlowe's suspected lovers be taken seriously. It's vilest calumny, all of it.

Well, except the part about Edward de Vere's proclivity for transporting choirboys across international boundaries for immoral purposes. That's the gospel truth. He was sixteen; his name was Oracio Coquo. "I knew him, Horatio--"

...okay, that was uncalled-for."


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definitely conspiracy.
Well, except the part about Edward de Vere's proclivity for transporting choirboys across international boundaries for immoral purposes. That's the gospel truth.


Really, though, the de Vere family tradition mostly involves buggery and pissing off people at court. As far as I can tell. ;)
And the odd bigamy.
Nothing worse than reading your own five year old prose, by the way. Unless it's reading your own ten year old prose.

I just re-read something I wrote twenty years ago. I tell myself that I was only a teenager and did not know better, but it is only slight consolation. ;)
It never looks good to me once it's typeset. It's like an illness.
You know, as far as I can tell, the actual Augustine wasn't as "Augustinian" as all that.

Also, Cory Doctorow's most recent novel is a fantasy, full of fleshly blood.


Tired Of The Same Old Arguments
Hmm. I think you read a different set of comments than the ones I thought I was making.....
Because a Singularity is nicely Apollonian. Augustinian. Anti-feminist, if you accept the idea that women's fiction tends to be more concerned with relationship and the negotiation of life and that women are more concerned with the messy bits of being made of meat.

I think I'm having a lot of trouble with the transition here. Since mind is not male and flesh is not female, that people have said that they are since forever doesn't mean that they have to continue to carry that symbolic weight for the rest of forever, does it? I start to get fairly uncomfortable when I see statements like, say, women are more concerned with the messy bits of being made of meat, even though I imagine you just mean that women more often get pregnant and are made to deal with other people's body fluids, which is true - but -

I mean, the fact that women usually get stuck with the shittiest parts of being made of flesh doesn't imply to me that we're any happier about or more reconciled to the idea of being flesh than anybody else, right?

- and, how is women's fiction more concerned with the relationship of body to body than the relationship of mind to mind? That is to say, I don't think that it is. I take your point about the body/mind dichotomy, but I don't see that being concerned with relationships (which I agree that women writers often are) has a lot to do with being embodied.

I don't know, I'm not really qualified to take part in this discussion, I think the Singularity is boring after the first time you read about it. With this, at least: There's a bunch of talk about how SF has to address the idea of a Singularity to be relevant, which to me is bullshit-- I can agree.
As a hard-core Rapture of the Nerds techGnostic, I agree with this. Male/female is two different kinds of meat, not the essential mind/meat distinction.
Your Apollonian/Dionysian paragraph neatly set off a set of alarms that were installed in me in the first anthropology class I took that talked about Ruth Benedict. (Alarms about the general characterization of the genres, that is, not about what you were saying.) Good points all around about the Singularity and our culture's persistent mind/body dualism, where body tends to get the short end of the stick. Feminist scholars more adept than I could probably go to town on Singularity SF (and probably will at ICFA next month; I should check the program schedule).
I don't think the Dubai question automatically has to do with rcaism, thinly veiled or not. As far as I'm concerned, having a government-owned company from any country run our ports is a bad idea, whether it be Candian, Nigerian or UAE. And automatically assuming such ideas are race-based may be a PC-induced blindness that could come back to bite us later.
Except for the part where P&O, another foreign-owned company, already operates six US ports, and foreign-owned shipping companies operate terminals in all of them.

The phrase "xenophobic hysteria" comes to mind.



There is no inherent necessity that there must be Only One Singularity, is there? There is more than one Black Hole, JA? althought there is a idealized supposition that there is a trend toward *one* singularity, it will take a "finite but very large duration" before there is only one singularity. There is not one internet. There is a chinese, an islamic, a christian, a geek internet, all on the same wires.

So, there could be male and female singularities, there could be warring singularities, there could be meat, mind and silicon and alien singularities. In my big book, "Hound" there are many psuedo-omnipotent singularities, i think of them as "Gods" And they act like gods too... greek ones.

the concept of infinite omnipotence is appealing to minds that seek final answers, but the difference between near infinity and infinity is, obviously, infinite.

The tag line of the Hound Books is "there are an infinite number of ways of achieving infinity.

Al least it gives me lots of characters to play with.

Re: Singularities


You have my brain spinning, at least, but it's not coming up cherries yet.
1) What I've seen so far in the way of artificial intelligence looks to me like artificial bureaucracy.

2) Some people (not sf writers, so far as I know) who look forward to the Singularity assume that those who pass through it will all become practicing libertarians. I don't think such an easily-understood belief system quite fits with the idea of becoming something incomprehensible to current humans.

3) Offhand, things I think might be relevant include: the sf notion (of Theodore Sturgeon and others) that if we were telepathic we would all love and respect each other. Instant sex-change booths --
used as a throwaway idea in H. L. Gold's 1953 story "No Charge for Alterations," used more extensively by John Varley and others. "The Wall" -- my term for the assumption that an intelligent species can only get so far. (After which it may die out, or have a war drastic enough to hit the cultural reset button and send the species back to to earliest part of the Stone Age.) The Whole Earth Quarterly's "We are as gods, and might as well get good at it." Buddhism. Hinduism.

I hadn't noticed the libertarian connection, and now it's squicking me. I know too many Libertarians who smell too much like Randroids, or other robotnik, pre-programmed cult members with theology or politics (or an icky mix) in place of thinking; and I'm not going through the eye of that needle if that's how we're all coming out, thanks.
Before I comment, I should warn you that I had one Philosophy class during my junior year in college, and that was mostly concerned with Venn diagrams and the relationship between "and", "or", "both", or "neither". So here goes.

I personally subscribe to the idea that the mind and the body coexist. I think there's a soul, and that the mind, when focused, can compel the body to go beyond its limits and do some truly amazing things, but there's a high degree of interconnectedness between both. If your leg is broken and your mind wants to go for a run, it's not happening.

Your comments on Apollonian vs. Dionysian schools of thought in Science Fiction vs. Sci-Fi...well, I'm going to argue that Dionysian thought creeps in to pretty much all SF, in that most (if not all) fiction writers write what moves them emotionally.

This also leads into the question of what exactly "serious" and "mundane" sci-fi is, and the blurring line between fantasy and sci-fi. Serious sci-fi, to me, is probably something like Larry Niven or Roger Zelazny. Granted, if "mundane" sci-fi is something that deals in rocket ships and aliens, then both of those authors qualify, too. Which brings up the question of how you can have "serious" sci-fi without the "mundane." Cyberpunk? Alternate dimensions/histories? Time travel?

To be honest, I have some trouble accepting the thought of "serious" science fiction, anyway. If I had to guess what was meant by "serious" SF, I'd say that it involves issues of psychology, theology, and repeating themes throughout history. But even a work like that (say, Snow Crash) as compared with something a bit less "serious" (like the latest Star Wars novel) has similar components--protagonists, antagonists, plots by the antagonists which the protagonists must uncover and stop, and some action. I'd be willing to bet that even the most serious SF book out there still has one fight scene in it.

I suppose, to wrap this up, I'm seeing a lot of blending going on in the fantasy (both SF and traditional fantasy) genres. Take Neil Gaiman's American Gods, which manages to blend Apollonian and Dionysian writing together very nicely. If the book is judged based on issues it raises, then I think it's "serious," but also due to the fun bits in there, I think it's not serious as well. One could also put it squarely in the fantasy camp, as gods are pretty much right out in SF, but it's really not touchy-feely.

I've got my own theories on why it's being blended, but that's for another time.

I feel like Carrington asking Gertler about buggery, but...

The Singularity. I never know quite what that means...?
(Thank you for asking the question--I never know, either!)
Intellectually, I agree that dualism is bogus. But viscerally, I'd so love to just ditch the meat.
I don't want to ditch it, I like eating and sleeping and sex. But I really want to improve it a lot, so it doesn't age and die and get sick. I've spent large parts of my life not being able to do what I wanted because of depression or asthma or arthritis and it seems intensely unfair that just as the meds I needed seem to become available and work for me I am starting to age noticeably!
Nicola Griffith's essay, Writing from the Body, addressed this denial of the flesh in relation to art.
Yes; it's a very good essay. I disagree with some of her anti-technological conclusions (has the computer given more than it's destroyed?), because I think that's the dichotomizing again, but it's a hell of an essay.
I heart California politics. It reminds me that, yes, there's weirdness in the very tapwater around here. (But don't, for the love of Hetch Hetchy, ask about water in politics!)

On the Singuarity/body transcendence blob:

One of the things I notice about the extremes of the geek/SF reader/nerd spectrum is that they tend to hate their bodies. They're sickly, they're fat, they're in horrible shape, they're lousy dressers, they have poor hygiene, they're the kids who preferred books to the outdoors, aced academics but failed gym class. They're people who don't tend to have much in the way of a sex life and who live off of the crap that passes for food at sci-fi cons.

Well, duh. Of *course* these body-haters want to be energy-based bodiless intellects! Not a damn Dionysian in the lot, is there? No athletes, dancers, gourmet chefs, hikers, or sensualists at the 3 AM SFF con panel having this discussion, are there?

The physical types beat us up in school, in fact, and the sensualists had more fun and didn't invite the brains to parties. Heck, look at that nickname - "brains". No body. We learn that one very early, don't we? Jocks are stupid, brains are weak. Pretty people are popular; ugly people only have brains or character. Pretty means social, too, and ugly doesn't.

It doesn't *have* to be a damn dichotomy.

And it's escapism at its best, that whole getting out of the body thing; that's one reason why we read, is to get to be somebody else, somewhere else, for a while. So "What if we could stay like that forever, in our fantasy world, and *really* never have to eat or sleep or pee or face the world?" is a logical extension of that. But there's a reason that escapism has a bad reputation in the "real" world.

I can entirely sympathize with the brain-in-Bell-jar view. I'm a cripple in constant pain whose body often gets in the damn way of doing anything interesting, much less the petty little problems like eating and sleeping that interfere with art or intellectual pursuits. There are entire weeks where my body and I aren't on speaking terms.

This doesn't mean I don't appreciate the times when I am physical, fire-dancing, breathing, tasting good food, having sex, swimming, being intoxicated with sugar or alcohol, massage, cuddling, soft fabric, great smells, the burn of exercise, or a nice hot bath.

Any decent martial artist can tell you about the importance of mindfulness, about being centered and aware of your body. If I ever deal with the Signularity wossname, it'll be a Singularity/Rapture/evolving/thing that involves becoming both a fully *embodied* being as well as a fully intellectual one. Not to mention a fully emotional one, another bit that often gets left out of those brain-jars.

Although I still prefer the idea of a novel about a bunch of holdouts from the Singularity, like the old backwoods milita holding out after the Russkies took over; people too stupid or insufficiently intellectual, insufficiently educated, brain-damaged, too damn stubborn to leave their bodies, conspiracy theorists, Luddites and other freaks living in shacks on the edge of the edge of Singuarity City, throwing rocks at the shiny robots full of brain-jars when they come by, like that island of Stone Age people off of Indonesia that fires arrows at helicopters that get too close.

This is probably because I'm secretly unconvinced of the actuality of the Singularity. People have been making predictions like that one for hundreds of years, and most of them have been way off the mark. And I'm not convinced consciousness - at elast human consciousness, designed in and evolved by a physical body - is going to go in a box any time soon, at least not in any familiar form; nor will any box that evolves intelligence be something we can relate to. Hell, we can't even define intelligence yet.

I'm sure somebody has or will beat me to that one, but I still like it.

Screw Singularity and being a floating energy blob on the MegaIntraNetThing. I want a new body cloned, damnit, one with all the good and more, without the junk.
And I'm not convinced consciousness - at elast human consciousness, designed in and evolved by a physical body - is going to go in a box any time soon, at least not in any familiar form; nor will any box that evolves intelligence be something we can relate to. Hell, we can't even define intelligence yet.

Well, that's kind of the point of Vinge's singularity. "Whatever comes next will be incomprehensible to what we are now."

He's probably right, at least on the Strossian level--I'm posthuman to Snurri Sturluson, after all--but I have a hard time taking posthumanism/transcendence on faith. (I have a hard time taking anything on faith, which is why I'm a relaxed Zen Erisian agnostic.)

'course there's also no guarantee that thinking *faster* is thinking *better....*
It is always possible to feel marginalized if one puts one's mind to it. Richard Nixon considered himself a brave fighter against an Establishment that hated him while he was president, and he was not entirely mistaken. To me the orthodoxy is that we are nothing but functions of the doomed, raging meat we are attached to, and any attempt to draw a mind/body distinction is unrealistic, antisocial, sexist, and probably Republican.
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