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I just found out my short story, “The Short, Strange Life of Comrade Lin,” has won Second Prize in the 2013 National Fantasy Fan Federation Short Story Contest! The judges particularly praised its “descriptive power” and the sympathetic portrayal of Lin, even as a hardcore Maoist.
I am certainly very proud, and will have this story up for sale at all the usual locations in the next week.
Erin Malley is a dance instructor, dancer, and incredibly hilarious human being. She’s running a Kickstarter campaign to film her eerie and moving dance piece, Quake. She’s only $900 short of her goal and, as of this moment, she has 13 hours to go.
Here’s her appeal in her own words.
All the jokes about modern dance die beneath Erin’s feet. Quake is …something else. Something you feel tugging on your ribs. If you, like me, always donate to buskers on the street on the principle that artists should be supported and the arts are good, please donate.
It’s a weird time to be in China right now. The Western New Year has come; the Chinese New Year is yet to come. This year, it’s only one month, since Chinese New Year is on January 31. It still gives a man plenty of time to think.
Like everyone else, I make New Year’s Resolutions and like everyone else, I break a lot of them. In 2013, I achieved two of my resolutions: I wrote more than 100,000 words total (almost 150k!), and I scored more than 50 on my DELF. I had six resolutions all together, and I know one third is a damn sight better than most people manage.
In 2014, I feel lucky. I’m setting seven this year, across all fields of endeavor. I’m announcing them here and now to burn my boats behind me and prevent any attempt at retreat.
According to the narrative, I am a waste of money.
According to the narrative, I will not get a job. And probably don’t deserve one.
I chose the wrong major, you see.
I am majoring in sociology, with a minor in business administration. You may notice that this is not engineering, computer science, nursing, applied mathematics, or finance
whoops, finance is no longer a smart major either. Some of you are already dusting off your hilarious “do you want fries with that?” and “underwater basketweaver” jokes, backed up as you are by admirable men like Randall Munroe and Richard Feynman. Most of you are honestly wondering what a “Sociologist” does, and boggling at the clear violation of hard-headed, realistic “common sense” that a social science major is. After all, “anthropology” and “sociology” (assuming they aren’t lumped together) make the top five worthless/least profitable/worst majors lists with depressing regularity. And if you’re not in college to make more money, what are you doing there?
We have this idea in America that there is A Job, and you choose A Major that sounds like A Job that you want. So finance majors become financiers, engineering majors become engineers, computer science majors become programmers. Under this model, any major that does not sound like A Job you can picture is, by definition, a bad major. After all, what’s an ‘Englisher’? Do they write or something? How many historians can there possibly be? Do drama majors become dramatists? What do liberal artists do all day, study liberals? The lack of a clear career direction, in the popular narrative, is the death knell for a major or field of study.
Let me tell you something: Not all computer science majors become programmers, and this does not make them failures. Not all art majors become professional painters, not all political science majors become politicians. Somehow, they make do. Perhaps the art major does commercial design instead, creating menus, signs, and websites that are readable and less offensive to the eye than one of my covers. The political science major starts selling insurance, her awareness and training allowing her to keep one step ahead of the seismic changes of Obamacare. The computer science major becomes a technical writer, and the worst humiliation they have to suffer is working alongside an English major on the job. They aren’t in A Job that their majors seem to lead to, but they apply what they learn to the jobs they find.
Which means that, for example, knowing how to assess the authenticity and value of text documents to the matter at hand (History) or how to compose a report, an analysis, or a manual in a lucid manner (English) or even how to describe and predict large groups of people (Sociology) could conceivably be useful on the job…even if the job doesn’t have a title like historian, sociologist, or English-er.
In sociology, I have learned how to do statistical analysis, how to find and use census and market data, how to avoid confirmation bias and correlation-causation errors, how to conduct interviews and surveys, and some of the known facts about how humans act in large groups. From other classes, because I am one of these heathens that uses the electives to broaden his knowledge rather than sneering at the system as a waste of time, I have learned to write grants and how the RFP and grant systems work, how to use geographic information system software and what the data can be used for, how to draft a contract, how to assemble an accounting system and understand what it tells me, how to conduct a marketing campaign, and how to construct an argument in formal logic. Over the course of my classes I’ve analyzed and defended opinions on such diverse topics as China’s ascendance and presumed hegemony (it won’t happen), the ebook market (it looks like my mother), and business ethics (not necessarily an oxymoron).
In short, I’ve learned how to describe and predict what people in groups will do. Anything involving large groups of people (such as voters, customers, clients, aid recipients…) is something I can make a critical difference in, for the benefit of the organization employing me. To this, I’ve added the ability to understand the different functions of a business, from product development to employee relations. Marketing consultants are hired (and paid well) to understand the customer base, using interviews, surveys, and statistical analysis, and then translate it into something the company can act on. They’re just not called ‘sociologists’ when they do it, though the techniques are nearly identical. Government programs and nonprofits employ whole swaths of people to ensure that they’re reaching the populations that the programs are intended for. These are called public relations people or outreach directors, not sociologists. As a business owner myself, I am very interested in who is buying my product and why.
And that’s not even getting into the leaps and bounds going on within the field, like this analysis that predicted the intensity and location of violence in Afghanistan, or Nate Silver’s election metrics, or the work of applied anthropologists everywhere. We are starting to understand what we do and why when we interact with other people in ways we never have before.
It’s been said that everything you learn in a technical major is outdated within five years. How quickly do you imagine businesses, governments, and NGOs are going to lose interest in studying, understanding, and communicating with their respective target populations?
So, go ahead. Tell me my major is worthless. Tell me it’s a waste of money and I should have studied something sensible, something that chases a job market bubble, like nursing or petroleum engineering. Tell all your absolutely hilarious soft science jokes.
Go ahead and try.
Bit of an odd thing to bring a blog back to life with but, what the hell, it needs doing. I’ve been putting up my work for sale at Smashwords, Amazon, the Nook, and on Kobo. You can also pick them up wherever better ebooks are sold. They even have covers!
Pretty snazzy, no? Go and take a look at the others. Even download a sample to page through.
And if you have read some of them, or want to…would you take two minutes to fill out a little survey?
The following link is a speech given by the Soviet émigré and author, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, a man I respect both for his great character and the power of his words.
Go ahead and read the whole thing, it’s quite interesting. Solzhenitsyn’s basic message is that the modern world (which in his time included both the USSR and the Western world, and the first hints of a “Third World” out there) is utterly lacking in spiritual fibre. He discusses the commercial and legal forces of mediocrity in the West, and the lawlessness of the USSR. Solzhenitsyn hammers home the Christian (and specifically Orthodox) message, and hard.
This, to me, was the most moving passage.
“If, as claimed by humanism, man were born only to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to death, his task on earth evidently must be more spiritual: not a total engrossment in everyday life, not the search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then their carefree consumption. It has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty so that one’s life journey may become above all an experience of moral growth: to leave life a better human being than one started it.”
He follows that up with “Is it true that man is above everything? Is there no Superior Spirit above him? Is it right that man’s life and society’s activities should be ruled by material expansion above all? Is it permissible to promote such expansion to the detriment of our integral spiritual life?”
To Solzhenitsyn, the answer lies in a re-Christianization of the West, a rededication to the “moral heritage of Christian centuries with their great reserves of mercy and sacrifice.” But, as I was reading the article, I was making equal allegories in my own mind. His critiques of the Western sickness are accurate, just as much and perhaps more so now than when he wrote it, but his prescription doesn’t seem to match the sickness. But one could make an equal argument for a re-Romanization of the West, a return to the idea of civic virtue, “civis Romanus sum” and all. Or even a reconsecration of the very values that the Western sicknesses spring from: the values of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment.
There’s also the tired counterargument to the Christianization of anything, the inherent dangers of Christian morality. I won’t bother repeating them here, this is the Internet, go to YouTube and look up the first dozen or so. Solzhenitsyn’s only comment are a few fleeting references to the physical side of man being “cursed” in the Middle Ages.
And yet, I keep coming back to that passage. There must be something to life other than the acquisition and consumption of material things. Even Charlie Stross seems to think so, although I don’t know about Eliezer Yudkosky. Solzhenitsyn also shows his Soviet heritage there, since a cornerstone of Marxist doctrine is that “liberty” is personal fulfillment, not purchasing power. Elsewhere, he touches on how eerily silent the Western world was, at that time, on personal and spiritual fulfillment. Since the 1960s, I would argue that such concerns have largely been incorporated into the superficial information glut that Solzhenitsyn decries elsewhere in the article.
“Leaving life a better human being than one started it,” is as basic and as concise a description of the non-material, spiritual drive that I can find. Stripped of Solzhenitsyn’s orthodoxy (and Orthodoxy), that is the aim, and one that I believe theist or atheist, humanist or Humanist, could get behind. One must, of course, start defining “better” (and work on defining “human being”), but a basis is there. Solzhenitsyn seems to believe that self-restraint, and a sense of duty, are key elements of becoming a better person. I can’t disagree.
Which brings us to the core of the passage, Solzhenitsyn’s Marxist and Christian assertion that “[life] has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty.” Solzhenitsyn’s whole speech is a critique against freedom outstripping duty in the modern Western world. He rails against the letter-of-the-law nature of Western society, with the sense of a higher duty simmering under the surface. He speaks of the side effects of modern plenty as a timidity to sacrifice; duty hides there, too. During the Roman republic, and the merchant republics of the Renaissance and even into the early revival of republicanism (small-R) by America and by France, civic duty was seen as the companion and balance of civil liberty.
While I do not agree with Solzhenitsyn that the Orthodox Christian God should be the object of this duty, that duty is necessary to make our lives fuller and richer, and our nations, and the world, I can’t find myself contravening. The questions that Solzhenitsyn never asked, but that we must, are “duty to whom?” and “duty to what?”
But, in laying the foundations for such questions, and in establishing duty as a cornerstone of a new approach, Solzhenitsyn is, truly, the man who arranges the blocks.