For Writers

It’s a noble thing to decide to try and make it as a writer. I’m automatically keener to anyone who admits to being a writer. Recently I met someone who expressed frustration about his earlier efforts trying to make a living as a writer, but found that doing so was impossible. He finally accepted a job totally unrelated to writing because it paid the bills. He concluded from his experience that “print media is dying.”

I would have to disagree with this often expressed view: all one has to do is consider the Internet. Once the Internet became the Internet “2.0”, it opened itself up for every-day users to contribute their work to third party websites. You need look no further than IMDB.com or Gamespot or Yelp to see people contributing content to the web. Content is being created for the Internet community, by the Internet community. Granted, it’s not making anybody but the hosting websites money, but it’s being created by writers for consumption. Bloggers are still on their own in attempting to produce enough diverse content to make a solid revenue stream.

But books are still being published every year in the tens of thousands. It is simply the case now that writers must adapt to changing times. Non-fiction books must now entertain as they edify. Fictional books must be engaging while delivering meaningful content. Everything a writer writes should be articulated well enough to be read without strain. Having advanced syntax is not a mortal sin, but an essay or story should be easily read, entertaining even, complicated syntax or no.

By the way, this is my biggest complaint with the erudite world of philosophy. I have met many a philosophy major who relish in incomprehensible works like Heidegger. I have to fault philosophers for making their works confounding by writing in cloistered language. The medium shouldn’t block the message with so much jargon and pedantry. A writer should communicate a point clearly and convincingly. Philosophers should be held to the same standards of writing as everyone else, if they would claim that their writing is actually good.

My core message for aspiring writers is this: don’t quit your efforts, the world needs your ideas. Writing is an art, and if you find yourself disposed to write for others, don’t let discouragement drown your desire to contribute meaningfully to the world of ideas. Bruce Lee said that failure in great efforts is not to be feared, only low aim. Failure at a glorious goal is still valuable to the world, and for you, yourself, to strive for.

It is noble to try to change the world with your ideas. It is important to not give into cynicism. Hope is as important for humanity as free will. If you have the inclination to write for others, embrace it. Creating a work that will outlive your life is a great endeavor. And in the words of William James, act as though what you do can make a difference, because it can. Take note that writers like Rachel Carlson changed the world through their writing. If you can eloquently sell your ideas or tell a story, don’t abandon your writing skills because pragmatism and doubt dampen your dreams. You were given your skill set for a reason, make something of it.

© David Metcalf

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Essential Movie List (that will convince you that we’re totally screwed)

I apologize to my regular visitors for not adding new entries. I am a full-time graduate student and work weekends. My schedule has kept me pretty busy, and I have other writings that I am working on that limit my ability to add new content for this blog. Below is a short list of some documentaries that I would recommend seeing. I will add a book list later.

I’m making this list because I often feel like I’m speaking a foreign language when I talk to people about the pressing problems we face today.

For example, I was discussing economic issues in a class and mentioned some concerns about the ascendency of China.  A student rebuffed these points by saying, “Heck, I think we can kick China’s ass.”  Also, family members and others have suggested to me that we can just absolve our debts to China and refuse to pay them. As if there wouldn’t be catastrophic financial repercussions of telling the world that a country holding $2 trillion of our debt can take our IOUs and stick them up their ass (simply because we don’t like them).

People like to compare our current situation to other periods of history and other challenges, not realizing that—in many ways—the problems we face at the moment are entirely unique to the entire period of human civilization, and basically unsolvable. I hope to write an entry about these problems in more detail at some point.

If you are of the opinion that all problems have some solution, I would like to inform you that the major lesson of studying history for historians is that many historical problems had no solution. Americans like to think we can overcome any challenge. By being well-versed in history, one realizes that this is utter fantasy.

For example, after the Americans acquire the atomic bomb, ask yourself: how could Japan have turned the scales towards the end of WWII?  Is there a solution for the Japanese Generals to beat America in 1945?  No.  From their perspective, they could not have won.  Just as, for the world today, when the oil runs out, we are going to starve.

Movies you should see:

  • End of Suburbia
  • Crude
  • Orwell Rolls in his Grave
  • Outfoxed
  • Tapped
  • The Real Dirt on Farmer John
  • The Corporation
  • ABC documentary Earth 2100
  • Watching The Real News with Paul Jay
I have avoided mentioning films that are excessively conspiracy theorist oriented. This is a list of films that are more factual and less theoretical. The films that wildly speculate about our future and rely on many outlandish claims can sometimes be entertaining, but should not be relied upon for serious information.I would recommend the Zeitgeist 2 documentary to see a description of a human society that would be sustainable. That film will answer the question that is often asked, “Well, what do you propose we should do as humans if you are saying that our way of life doesn’t work?”

© David Metcalf


edit: 7/4/2015, some several years later. . .
I should like to say that I have been searching for answers for these problems.  I should say the odds are stacked against us, but I am not advocating quitting the task ahead nor am I trying to breed cynics.  One must comprehend the depth of the problem and the stakes before applying energy to a solution.  Beware the person with a simple answer for all the world’s troubles.  If we should find an answer, we need to find it together.  A French-style revolution fails because it leads to a Napoleon.  We need everyone to work together on a more sustainable future.  The technologies are there, but the ways they are applied are determined by those who define the social needs of the day.  Should we all get a say in what those needs actually are, I sense a more sensible world may be possible.  Anyhow, I wanted to amend this post a bit.  This was written during  a period in my life when I was still researching the depth of the problem.

The Promise of the Multiverse

I’m simply fascinated by the concept of a multiverse. While hotly contested, there is some emerging science to support the idea of parallel universes. Watch the video for an explanation of the multiverse, and follow the Mangled Universe link for a PowerPoint with some dense information about the current mathematical model for the Mangled Universe theory.

The video explains the idea of a 10 dimensional universe in layman’s terms, while the PowerPoint gets into a mathematically dense model for the theory behind the multiverse.

I will discuss why the concept of the multiverse is very uplifting, both for the individual and for humanity writ large.

If you accept the current models of quantum physics that speculate a possible multiverse, this is cause for much hope. The idea of parallel universes is that all possibilities are manifested in infinite expressions of different universes. So there would be infinite copies of our universe, with our Earth, each with a different time path. There would also be different universes with different physical laws, many of which may make life in those universes impossible.

To add some credibility to preempt how unlikely this sounds, consider that Richard Dawkins, a prominent atheist, tentatively supports this view as a response to the “fine-tuning” argument theists use to justify their belief that God created the universe in such a way as to allow life to exist. The worst that Dawkins can say about the concept of the multiverse is that it is “incredibly wasteful”, meaning that it is a kind of messy explanation for the coincidental, relative friendliness of our universe to life.

In theoretical physics, the argument for the multiverse is somewhat strong, though it is still mere speculation. It ties into the concept of String Theory, but I would be unable to explain the latter because it’s a very challenging concept as well as controversial. There is some view that we may find evidence for the multiverse from the Hadron Super-collider. One possible outcome of the undertaking might be to *kind of* ricochet some miniscule amount of energy from our universe into a parallel one.

OK, so I had to set up this a little bit to discuss what I’m really driving at. If you accept that there may be infinite parallel worlds with their own unique time-line, this means that your personal future is uncertain and malleable to your will. Life could be viewed as a kind of holographic video-game, where all possibilities are contained. You can do anything that you want, to bring about any result (given that it is within the realm of the possible). No, you can’t flap your arms and fly to Germany for your spring break. But, yes, you can aspire to reach for your dreams and achieve them.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy. It doesn’t mean there won’t be pain, hard work, or sacrifice. But if it’s possible, it means that there is some expression of the universe in which you accomplish your goals. It doesn’t mean you will find yourself in that universe, unless you’re willing to walk the path that will lead you there.

I find this to be a cause for hope. Because just as the multiverse opens the door for you to set out to achieve your grandest aspirations and discoveries of who you are and what you decide your life’s purpose is, it also means that the direction of our human culture is malleable and expressed in all its forms.

Maybe another Earth developed the reasoned search for truth through science and philosophy in a much more direct path than our own. Maybe this Earth commissioned Michelangelo to sculpt stunning portrayals of the big bang and other scientific concepts. Maybe Socrates had sparked a revolution that spread beyond the borders of Ancient Greece and convinced the world to view themselves as “citizens of the world and not of [Athens] (as Socrates had felt)”. Maybe in that Earth, a mosaic of our galaxy overlooks the hall of the Sistine Chapel, itself a model for reason and truth in the world, instead of theocratic dogma. In other words, maybe the great minds of our past were set to the task of inspiring wonder in the cosmos instead of religious doctrine.

These alternate histories are closed to us, for we did endure the Dark Ages (which weren’t truly dark, there was some innovation after all). But the future is still open to all possibilities. If we have the courage as individuals and as a global society, maybe we can meet the challenges of the next 100 years successfully and create a better world for future generations.

This would take some honest evaluations of the value of our current economic model, which justifies giving 80% of the world’s resources to 20% of its people. Maybe we would have to rework some of our cultural mythologies which place us above the other life-forms we share our planet with. Maybe we would have to be honest about our negligence in creating truly equitable societies, with access to good public education for all, good health-care for all, and a basic right to life’s necessities. These things are all possible.

If you accept the multiverse idea, then these things will happen, but in accordance with their relative probabilities, which means these outcomes are highly unlikely. It’s as Morpheus says in The Matrix, “there is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.” Technology won’t save the day unless we have the cultural revolution which David Icke called for. It needs to be peaceful, with the world’s elite volunteering to join for the collective interest. A forced Soviet style revolution will fail every time because a small group of revolutionary elites will eventually have to despotically seize power and push for change. Hannah Arendt once said that, “The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative the day after the revolution.”

What we need to do to make this happen is promote the consciousness raising which Richard Dawkins talks about in The God Delusion. This will be quite a challenge when a majority of Mississippi Republicans think that inter-racial marriage should be banned and the Church of Fred Phelps thinks that everyone outside his congregation is damned and going to their version of a fire-and-brimstone Hell. The Westboro Baptist Church’s website: http://www.godhatesfags.com/index.html contains songs like “God Hates the World” and “God Hates the Jews”.

The challenges are nearly insurmountable. But if those in a position to do so have the courage to act then maybe it is just barely within the realm of possibility. But it takes the courage of conviction for truth and justice to be ready to be martyred by those who fear change. There is so much hate in the world, so much fear of there not being enough, that the status quo won’t go down without a fight. Look at what happened to Martin Luther King Jr. and others to see what the world does to its prophets and true leaders.

I will close with one of my favorite quotes of all time from Martin Luther King Jr:

Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’
Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’
Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’
But, conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’
And there comes a time when one must take a position
that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular,
but one must take it because one’s conscience tells one that it is right.”

— Martin Luther King Jr.

© David Metcalf