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May 29 2020: Opinion and Critique

May 29 2020: People don’t understand the difference between opinion and critique. Anyone can have an opinion. It takes some degree of knowledge and expertise to offer up a proper critique. You’re allowed to like or dislike anything you please, for whatever reason you wish or even for no reason at all. Critique is understanding the criteria by which something can be evaluated, and applying that criteria objectively. Opinion and critique are not the same, and they are decidedly not equal.

“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

Isaac Asimov

I know that history is being rightly unkind to Asimov’s misogyny, but damn if he wasn’t right about this. The quote is from a short essay he wrote for Newsweek back in 1980 called “A Cult of Ignorance“. He was talking about oh so many things that are relevant today, but I want to scale it back to the topic it hand.

Opinion and Critique

I was taught how to give and receive critique in art school. That carried over to various writers’ groups and workshops over the years. The first rule is that it’s never personal. It’s about the work, not the person. It’s about accepted standards, not your own tastes. In having to critique others, we were learning about those standards. By listening to critiques of our own work, we were learning to focus on using those standards to make improvement. That has value.

An opinion, on the other hand, rarely has value for anyone other than the person holding it. “I think that sucks” or “I like sandwiches with a lot of mayonnaise” isn’t really making a positive contribution to the cultural zeitgeist. At best it might help you find people who share your tastes. That’s good, when it’s based on something you enjoy. It’s terrible when you start bonding over things you hate.

Which brings me to the final misconception about critique. It’s not innately negative. The purpose is not to seek out the tiniest of flaws and use them to tear people down. Critique is not a blunt instrument. It’s used to make yourself look smart while you brutally tear someone down. It ought to be used to recognize merit as well as point out where a work has missed the mark. The person whose work is being critiqued should come away having learned something, if not having something actionable they can use to make their work better.

Critique is about making the work better. Opinion is all about you.

May 29 2020

  • If you get anything out of these blog posts, consider buying me a coffee. You can also purchase one of my books or zines from Gumroad or DriveThruRPG.
  • I check all email and Twitter DMs, personal and professional, three times once a day. I respond  as time allows; if it requires some thought or research on my part, it will take me longer.
  • I am actively avoiding news and social media to focus on writing. Please take your information from reliable sources and certified experts, not the Mad Carrot and its puerile cultists.
  • Today is Day 73 in isolation. 
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Journal

May 28 2020: Victorian Novels and Barbed-Wire Matches

May 28 2020: At this point in my life I don’t care about having a consistent public image. There’s no through line, no story thread. I’m not worried about keeping my interests themed or easily explainable. There’s no way to reconcile my love of both effete Victorian novels and barbed-wire matches, the most brutal form of professional wrestling.  All that’s important, especially under the current circumstances, is finding the things that bring a little joy into my life and embracing them.

Of course, there is a through line. It’s an emotional one. As humans we are complex creatures. We have moods. That’s how I can be reading the complete works of William Makepeace Thackeray one moment,  and watching Mance Warner and Jimmy Havoc trying to murder one another the next. Sometimes I need refined, sensitive, and well-articulated expressions of the human condition. Other times I just need the excitement of two guys beating the hell out of one another.

We can talk about which of these is highbrow or lowbrow. Society can label one as socially acceptable while the other isn’t. Different groups will look down on one or the other, for their own cultural reasons. That fascinates me. I wouldn’t recommend a steady diet of either, personally. Both are part of the human experience, though. There’s room for both, in moderation.

May 28 2020

  • If you get anything out of these blog posts, consider buying me a coffee. You can also purchase one of my books or zines from Gumroad or DriveThruRPG.
  • I check all email and Twitter DMs, personal and professional, three times once a day. I respond  as time allows; if it requires some thought or research on my part, it will take me longer.
  • I am actively avoiding news and social media to focus on writing. Please take your information from reliable sources and certified experts, not the Mad Carrot and its puerile cultists.
  • Today is Day 72 in isolation. 
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Journal

May 27 2020: Those Mythical Coronavirus Parties

May 27 2020: Rumors persist that people are throwing coronavirus parties. Only a few have been confirmed, but we know that facts don’t have a lot of impact on what people believe. The whole concept of these shindigs is that the virus is no worse than the flu. If people get together and catch it on purpose, then they’ll be immune to it, won’t be contageous, and the world will be closer to “herd immunity”. Then everything can go back to normal.

My fear about this goes back to my original prediction about the lockdown. We’ll take extreme measures to try to keep infection and death rates down. Then when there aren’t bodies piled in the streets, some people will question why we bothered with the extreme measures.

If people are having coronavirus parties and there aren’t outbreaks, then COVID-19 was a hoax all along and we can go back to normal, right? They won’t draw the conclusion that no one is actually throwing these mythical coronavirus parties. They’ll reach for the conclusion that suits the narrative they like. Ugh.

May 27 2020

  • If you get anything out of these blog posts, consider buying me a coffee. You can also purchase one of my books or zines from Gumroad or DriveThruRPG.
  • I check all email and Twitter DMs, personal and professional, three times once a day. I respond  as time allows; if it requires some thought or research on my part, it will take me longer.
  • I am actively avoiding news and social media to focus on writing. Please take your information from reliable sources and certified experts, not the Mad Carrot and its puerile cultists.
  • Today is Day 71 in isolation. 
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Journal

May 26 2020: What’s Going to Count as Breaking Isolation?

May 26 2020: Today is Day 70 of isolation for me. I’m counting the days since the last time I went anywhere other than the grocery store. The question I have, though, is what’s going to count as breaking isolation? When will I consider myself no longer under lockdown, or sheltering in place, in quarantine, or whatever else you want to call it?

Before the pandemic I rarely left the house. I worked from home before. I will continue to do so, probably forever. That hasn’t changed. My social interactions, in terms of going to visit people in their homes or having people over, had already become rare. Not a lot has changed for me, other than worrying about catching the virus and getting sick.

What’s Going to Count?

Central Finland is starting to open up again. There aren’t going to be any music festivals or concerts this summer, but tentative plans to reopen museums and restaurants in June are coming out. I would love to go to a museum, as long as I’m wearing a mask and people are practicing social distancing. That would count, I think. But it would still be a one-off, an exception. I’d be right back to the apartment for another month of not leaving except to go to the grocery store.

You’re not going to get me into a sit-down restaurant until after there’s a vaccine, or herd immunity, or some reasonable assurance that I’m not walking into the epicenter of the next wave. So that’s not going to be the event. I still feel like I’d be safer with a hazmat suit and a shotgun when I go to the grocery store, so being around people eating is well outside my comfort zone.

On a practical level, our residence renewal is coming up. We’ll need to travel to the immigration office in another city. That has to count. But again, it’s a one-off. It’s not a normal, regular thing. I’ll be masked up, practicing social distancing, and holing up in the apartment again right after that.

Breaking Isolation

Personally, I don’t think there’s an end. I think there will be exceptions, like the above-mentioned museum visit and immigration appointment. Isolation is no longer the odd situation. It’s the norm now. I will sit here and write, go out as little as possible, and take precautions until scientists give some sort of all-clear signal. That could be months or years away.

The real question is, at what point will I stop counting how many days I’ve been in isolation?

May 26 2020

  • If you get anything out of these blog posts, consider buying me a coffee. You can also purchase one of my books or zines from Gumroad or DriveThruRPG.
  • I check all email and Twitter DMs, personal and professional, three times once a day. I respond  as time allows; if it requires some thought or research on my part, it will take me longer.
  • I am actively avoiding news and social media to focus on writing. Please take your information from reliable sources and certified experts, not the Mad Carrot and its puerile cultists.
  • Today is Day 70 in isolation. 
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Journal

May 25 2020: Fear Versus Common Sense Safety

May 25 2020: Angels and ministers of grace defend me from macho covidiots that say they won’t give in to fear. Blind courage is not protection against infectious disease. Common sense safety measures are not a sign of cowardice. Being a contrarian does not make you any sort of hero. Grown up.

Having consideration for other people is not tyranny. You like to spout aphorisms like “freedom isn’t free” when it comes to soldiers making huge personal sacrifices in wartime. When you’re asked to make the simple sacrifice of wearing a mask, freedom is suddenly defined as your unbridled right to be a selfish prick.

These are the sorts of people who, in decades past, rebelled against laws requiring seat belts and motorcycle helmets. By gum, if they want to fly through the windshield and splatter their brains all over the highway, that’s their God-given right! The government can’t make them care about their own safety, or the safety of others!

I don’t want to know what these people think about fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, or sprinkler systems. The probably refuse to give into the fear that there might be a fire in their home and should prepare for that contingency. Again, these are the same sort of people that own an average of 8 guns per household in case they need to rise up against their own government.

Fear Versus Common Sense

The selfishness in the face of public health on display these days shouldn’t be a shock. Look at the people that oppose universal health care on the grounds that they shouldn’t have to pay other peoples’ medical bills. If they get sick, they say, they’ll figure out how to pay for it. There’s a denial of the basic facts, and how things actually work, that runs deep. If I’m afraid or anything, it’s not the virus. It’s that complete rejection of common sense and objective reality.

May 25 2020

  • If you get anything out of these blog posts, consider buying me a coffee. You can also purchase one of my books or zines from Gumroad or DriveThruRPG.
  • I check all email and Twitter DMs, personal and professional, three times once a day. I respond  as time allows; if it requires some thought or research on my part, it will take me longer.
  • I am actively avoiding news and social media to focus on writing. Please take your information from reliable sources and certified experts, not the Mad Carrot and its puerile cultists.
  • Today is Day 69 in isolation.