The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"The Stand" and human machine language

It looks very much as if the Blair Underwood filming will happen on Monday. What fun. Hope I don't have to get knocked in the pool too many times.
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My new coaching venture is a 2-3 day a week practice. The strange thing is that since I started it, a ton of things have been happening with my writing. I have three books coming out this year, three more in development (just got an offer on one yesterday), a collaboration with one of the few writers who intimidates me, three GOH Convention gigs, filming, pitching television...whoa. I have to be very very careful to center myself every day, or I'll spin out. The last two days my meditation was a little shallow. Better step it up.
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In reading The Stand I was noting the confinement of racial imagery to one of two categories:
1) Subhuman monsters.
2) Spiritual guides.
There is nothing in-between. I had numerous people leap to his defense (I've met King, and consider him a good and decent man) but their defense is a little strange.

Basically, they say (and this was said about a dozen times): "He grew up in New England, where there were no black people."

All things being equal, that would explain his books having no black people. But the SELECTIVE exclusion is something different, and I think reveals a bit of the old racial "machine language" under the conscious social programming. Shall we look at this?

Sure we shall. If the reason for King's confinement of black characters to two categories (degenerate and saintly) is that he knows no black people, then defenders would SEEM to be saying the following:

"Whites, unless they know black people personally, will tend to consider them subhuman or, occassionally, transhuman spiritual guides." All right. Let's take a look at the preassumption under THAT.

"The dominant mythology of white America is that black people are subhuman, but a few are spiritual guides. The only cure is knowing black people personally." Is that right? Is that what these people are saying? I've heard variations on this theme in discussions of famous authors of all stripe. "(Author X) knew no black people...which is why there were none in his writing (or only those who were no-reproductively competitive). If they do appear, they are clearly less competent, intelligent, attractive, or survival-adaptive than their white counterparts." Which means that, in the absence of personal knowledge and experience, the tendency is to hold a degrading mythology. If this is true, it should hold true for all groups, (unless whites are unusually corrupt, which I do not believe).

Well, how much world history would be explained by saying "unless members of Group A have personal experience of Group B, they will automatically and unconsciously assume themselves to be superior."

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Yeah, I think that fits. Which is one of the reasons integration was so insanely important. Why input into cultural images was and is so important. THE DEFAULT HUMAN POSITION FOR ANY GROUP IS TO CONSIDER ITSELF SUPERIOR.

Why did I say that blacks (as a group) won't catch up? Because there's no referee, dudes and dudettes. When two equally matched sports teams play, even if they are of the same race, religion, nationality, language, and everything else, you NEED a referee or else, in the heat of competition, fouls will occur and cheating rampant. How much more would this be true if there is a difference between them? If one group outnumbers the other by a factor of ten to one? Give me a break.

There is no referee. The only way blacks, as a group, could catch up is if:
1)They are smarter and better than whites...by quite a bit.
2) If whites are almost supernaturally good and spiritual, capable of rising above the seemingly universal capacity for humans to think themselves better than others.

Now, that doesn't say that the gap won't narrow--it already has. To the degree that I have to struggle not to suspect that we actually ARE a bit superior. But that's just my monkey-mind hard-wiring, I suspect.

The point is that our lower chakras thrive on threat, fear, and the false ego of assumed superiority. Under stress, we devolve to that level...which is why it works so well in politics. George Orwell knew that perpetual war sets the perfect context for a dictatorship. Fearful, people REALLY go into that "the other side are nothing but fools and knaves" thing. Look how eager many were to demonize Muslims after 9/11--they don't worship the same God, they don't value human life, they know nothing but war, they are irrationally hateful, they have contributed nothing but violence to the world...and on, and on. I wouldn't be surprised if someone supportive of that POV posts in response to this, and in all due respect, I consider such thought to be a form of low-level insanity, caused by stress, fear, and the automatic and unconscious cultural mythologies that can only be dispelled by one of two things:
1) personal knowledge of the "other."
2) deep knowledge of the Self.

(See there? I dive into the cultural stuff, but always ultimately emerge back at the spiritual questions.)

Conservatives, bless 'em, note that Liberals reference race more frequently. They believe this to be the problem. And at times it doubtless can be. But if the reason 95% of black characters in Stephen King (or other white author) books are negative or non-reproductive (as opposed to say 30% of white characters) and the reason is attributed to ignorance, then we are discussing the basic, unconscious, automatic beliefs transmitted from generation to generation for hundreds of years, present in most literature and film, reinforced by our educational system and laws. Possibly even hard-wired into our brains. And the only cure is either communication and contact, or deep spiritual growth.

I look at this as universal, part of the human heritage. Curiously, most people can believe that "They" are prejudiced, but their own group? No! Can't be! Yeah. It's the default setting in most of humanity. Note the tiny fraction of people who won't imply that one specific race, gender, or political orientation is just a little bit...better. I'd say way less than 10%. And right there, you have isolated a disease which, if ever cured, would make this world a more peaceful, loving place.

Not to mention black and Asian men would get laid in movies more often. Yum.

16 comments:

cavyherd said...

I'm curious if you ever watch Private Practice? Something that has struck me is that they actually seem to put a lot of work into crossing demographic lines in the character relationships. Inter-racial and inter-abled are the two most conspicuous examples. I'm curious if you have any thoughts on how they handle this?

Marty S said...

Steve: Its a given that everybody sees the world through their own set of glasses. Its not just politics or race, its everything. My best friend and I play tournament bridge together. We do less well as a partnership than our individual talents would suggest. Why is this? Its because we view the game through a different set of glasses. I approach the game from a statistician's point of view and he approaches it from an engineer's point of view. Unless we fill the world with identical clones I fear there will always be differences between people and groups and therefore some sort of conflict.

Shady_Grady said...

Steve, is the third book in the Lion's Blood series coming out this year? If so can you share anything (title, timing) about it yet?

Pagan Topologist said...

I have never read any Stephen King, except, I think, for Firestarter. There are so many good books I want to read that the kind of thing you have written about here, as well as Nnedi Okorafor's essay in Strange Horizons a few years ago, make me inclined not to do so. This is good; there are more good books than any of us has time to read, so excuses for excluding some make the choices easier. I do recall someone on the Carl Brandon Society discussion group saying that an editor had asked that a character be changed from black to white in a story, saying "Don't make a character black unless there is a specific reason to do so." King is one of the few writers who could ignore such rewrite instructions and still get his work published, I suspect. This makes the question of why he has not done so even more pointed, in my mind at least.

Dan Moran said...

I have to struggle not to suspect that we actually ARE a bit superior. But that's just my monkey-mind hard-wiring, I suspect.

Maybe not. I'm skeptical Africans are superior to Europeans -- just on results, I'd have to go with, at a bare minimum, the idea that European culture is superior to African culture. (There's a lot buried in that word "superior," but I'll stand by it in broad. In all the metrics you like -- infant mortality, etc. -- Africa's in terrible shape and Europe does better.)

But it wouldn't shock me to find that the average American black would be capable of outperforming the average American white. Hybrid vigor is a real phenomenon, and most American blacks -- certainly you -- would have to be considered pretty thoroughly interbred.

Anonymous said...

"...Maybe not. I'm skeptical Africans are superior to Europeans -- just on results, I'd have to go with, at a bare minimum, the idea that European culture is superior to African culture. (There's a lot buried in that word "superior," but I'll stand by it in broad. In all the metrics you like -- infant mortality, etc. -- Africa's in terrible shape and Europe does better.)..."

(a) African cultureS and European cultureS, plurals!

(b) Ever read Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond? He kicks all sorts of ass explaining how Africa and Europe got dealt different cards geologically (available ports), botanically (available crops), zoologically (available beasts of burden), etc. in the first place and how *that* is a big part of why people in Africa on average are less well off than people in Europe on average are. He doesn't forget Asia, Australia, and the Americas neither.

Marty S said...

I've always had a slightly different view than you indicate Mr. Diamond has of why Europe developed to a greater extent than Africa. While, I agree it was geologically, climatologically, etc. I saw these things as less favorable to survival in Europe and hence on the "necessity is the mother of invention" theory I believe the Europeans had to develop technology that the Africans did not need to survive.

Dan Moran said...

(a) African cultureS and European cultureS, plurals!

I suppose I could list each person in those regions individually and alphabetically, as well.

(b) Ever read Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond?

About a year and a half back. It's a great book, to be sure, but I don't really see that it has much to do with the point I was making. Hybrid vigor in the Americas (if it exists) is not a likely explanation for the gap in results between Europe and Africa.

Travis said...

"I suppose I could list each person in those regions individually and alphabetically, as well."

After I got done laughing it occurred to me to dare you to try!

Anonymous said...

"I suppose I could list each person in those regions individually and alphabetically, as well."

No need, just using the plural is enough to clarify that we're not making the one-big-monolith mistake. :)

"...About a year and a half back. It's a great book, to be sure, but I don't really see that it has much to do with the point I was making. Hybrid vigor in the Americas (if it exists) is not a likely explanation for the gap in results between Europe and Africa..."

I was thinking more of how

(a) microbes in the continent where humans first evolving have had more millions of years of evolving to prey on us than microbes where humans showed up later and got a head start against the native species

(b) Africa's longer vertically than horizontally (more of the migration would include readapting to new climates which leaves less time for getting better at farming in a climate) and Eurasia's longer horizonally than vertically

(c) Africa had fewer domesticatable animals available than Eurasia did

than of any hybrid vigor in the Americas.

So it's totally not as if everything else is controlled and the only variable is the race of the people there when comparing African cultures and European cultures!

Dan Moran said...

I find it difficult to believe that any functioning adult would not understand that generalizations performed at the level of actual continents and sub-continents are likely to be very ... general.

So it's totally not as if everything else is controlled and the only variable is the race of the people there when comparing African cultures and European cultures!

Yes, as I said, I read the book. My point about the possibility of hybrid vigor was restricted to the Americas.

Anonymous said...

Meanwhile, I just remembered the blog post and comments here:

http://life-with-aspergers.blogspot.com/2010/02/some-thoughts-on-intolerance.html

Some people out there sure seem to think that if someone repeatedly says racist slurs about you and/or shuns you then, and if you don't keep welcoming this person into your social activities, then *you're* the intolerant and mistaken one! WTF?

Steven Barnes said...

"King is one of the few writers who could ignore such rewrite instructions and still get his work published, I suspect. This makes the question of why he has not done so even more pointed, in my mind at least."
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My answer: because on an unconscious level, this is the way he thinks. And it is the way most people think, or his books wouldn't be so popular.

Travis said...

"then *you're* the intolerant "

Well, this is technically true. I've long been against blanket 'tolerance' and an advocate for rational analysis and moral value judgment instead.

Brother OMi said...

I am glad you said this about King...

he suffers from two maladies: Affluenza and white privilege...

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