The Myth of Just Deserts

I’m of the opinion that good government is not about blaming the indebted or the poor or the “lazy”, but about assuming corporate responsibility, restituting the wronged, repairing the cracks and moving on.

The blaming of the poor or indebted is stupid and doesn’t get us anywhere.

Rcooley123's Blog

Attacks on the social safety net, workers’ rights, raising the minimum wage and basically anything aimed at eradicating or ameliorating the enormous economic, political and social inequality in this country tend to rest largely on one tenet – blame the victim. It is possible for anyone to get ahead in this society. If you fail to do so, it is your own fault for either not trying or not working hard enough to succeed. Those who have accumulated wealth deserve to keep it because they have earned it and should not be taxed to make up for the shortcomings of others. People get what they work for and deserve their fate.

Nobody deserves to be rich or poor. No one should starve, or be homeless or without care when they are ill or injured. The above attitude does not take into account many factors which affect the ability of people…

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This is the Face of 6th Street

Something as simple as taking someone’s picture can find beauty and realness in the ashes of poverty. No one thought about taking her picture until now. How could they miss her visual complexity, her face’s ability to tell a thousand life stories about the city in which she lives?

Serpent Box

When I told her that she was beautiful she smiled like the Cheshire cat. She knew that I meant it too. I don’t think she’d heard that in awhile. You want to take my picture? She said. My picture? I told her that it would make my day. There was so much going on around her that wasn’t beautiful. The heroin touts were busy running back and forth from Natoma out to the cars idling on 6th Street, looking at me with Hyena smiles. I could feel a certain malice in the air, like a current in a wire. I said, All right, are you ready? I knew I didn’t have much time. A white man with a camera on 6th Street. She put her hands on her hips and looked up into my eyes. She couldn’t have been much over five feet tall. She had a story for sure…

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Steamfunk, Sword-and-Soul and Afrocentric Fantasy

While reading about Black characters and authors within the speculative fiction genres, I came across two terms: “Afrofuturism” and “sword-and-soul”.

I was more familiar with the first term, at least in reading about how African-descended writers incorporated vivid and challenging mishmashes of aesthetics and cultural experiences into their science-fiction writings, including Samuel Delany and the late Octavia Butler. But the latter term – “sword-and-soul” – was something less familiar to me, but it appealed to me a bit more.

Sword-and-soul?” As in, “sword-and-sorcery”, but with Black people in it, set in Africa?

Then I searched into it, found several articles which helped to explain what is meant by sword-and-soul: “fantasy fiction which involves African/African-descended people and their mythologies in the same way that ‘sword-and-soul’ revolves around people of European descent and their mythology.”

This intrigues me. Finally, a term for the type of fantasy fiction I was looking for, even though the genre has only been revived and expanded from just one writer – Charles Saunders – to an entire publishing label – MVmedia – thanks to an Atlanta-based professional chemist and part-time writer, Milton Davis, who has taken strategic advantage of the e-book era to publish Afrocentric SpecFic.

Finally, we have “sword-and-soul” as another fiction genre to geek out over!

Steamfunk and the Question of Continuity

While we’re on the subject of Black SpecFic, I looked at the subgenre of “steamfunk”.

Again, it’s similarly set in the “steam” era of the 19th and early 20th centuries, just like the pseudo-Victorian “steampunk”.

But that’s it, though. Unlike the striking visual difference between Sword-and-soul and Sword-and-sorcery, the art used in current works of Steamfunk largely harkens to Steampunk’s Victorian-era European aesthetics. Why?

Instead, shouldn’t there be a continuity between steamfunk and African-themed sword-and-soul?

I cite Nickelodeon’s Avatar franchise for its setting in a pan-Asian fictional universe. The first series, Avatar: The Last Airbender, takes place during an earlier period that’s wedged somewhere within ancient/medieval (“sword-and-sorcery”) Asia with a bit of steampunk mixed in at certain points. The second series, The Legend of Korra, takes place 100 years after the Avatar, in a world that is between steampunk and dieselpunk, but still within a very pan-Asian setting and with harkenings to the “past” of sword-and-sorcery.

I think the way that Nickelodeon’s Avatar franchise handles this historic continuity from the medieval to the steam era within a thoroughly pan-Asian fictional universe is a model that can be followed for an “Afrocentric” fictional universe. Avatar, which I guess could be described as “sword-and-chi”, has a sense of alt-history chronology and technological succession that those who write Afrocentric SpecFic really need.

Simply placing Black characters in pseudo-Victorian-era garb, or medieval armor, is not enough. Let’s start with the aesthetic of Sword-and-Soul and work our way forward.

Sword-and-Soul in Fantasy Art

Finally, when talking about aesthetics, I feel that Fantasy Fiction Artworks, especially works which are commercialized, are seriously lacking in the inclusion of People of Color (PoC). The artistic depiction of sword-and-sorcery themes, at least here in the U.S., are typically steeped in medieval European culture and aesthetics. But I think there is precedent in works like Avatar for the medieval aesthetic to be shaken up and made more diverse.

The issue raised by the Racebending.com initiative against the “whitewashing” of lead characters in Nickelodeon’s Avatar franchise brings to mind just how non-diverse that modern fantasy fiction tends to be, or at least the commercial challenge faced by artists and writers of fantasy fiction which is affirmatively diverse in skin color. Avatar is perhaps the most groundbreaking Western-authored fantasy fiction franchise in terms of PoC inclusion, as the story universe of the franchise is set in a highly-inclusive pan-Asia-Pacific setting, pulling together anagramic ethnicities, languages, kingdoms, topologies, geographies, climates, skin pigments, clothing, cuisine and so on from the entire continent and almost all ends of the ocean.

With its ongoing realization of a newer pan-mythos from the entirety and vicinity of Asia, Avatar and other similar franchises have ship-tons-plenty of written history and mythology to draw from.

Unfortunately, as a PoC of African descent, I feel incredibly jealous for this pan-Asia-Pacific setting. I don’t feel that Africa, as a continent, lends as well to such an expansive pan-mythos as does Asia or Europe. Africa doesn’t have the the sort of geographic or climatological expanse that is endemic to the Asian continent, nor does it have the heritage of written language which is endemic to both Asian and European peoples, nor do its peoples – including our ancestors – have the best experience or history of relaying their own mythological, spiritual or artistic canons on their own terms, nor do Africans have the history of mass settlement outside of the continent like Europeans (the slave trade still constitutes the primary historic source of the African diaspora in the Americas).

Hence, for developing a fertile space for fantasy art and fiction, African-descended artists and writers who are conscious about PoC inclusion have more of a reason to improvise and derive. I guess that’s where Sword-and-soul kicks in.

On the Internet

These galleries provide good sources for PoC-affirmative fantasy fiction, and I’ll add more links in the future:

And MVmedia, Milton Davis’ publishing label, is the premiere house for Sword-and-soul fiction. Please check it out.

My Fantasy African-American Children’s TV Block Lineup

To date, I have not heard of anyn African-American-oriented television network (BET, Bounce, Aspire, TV One, or Song of the South) having a children’s television block.

I find it rather sad that there is a dearth of African-American lead characters in children’s, teen’s or YA television, or at lest not enough to fill a morning or afternoon block on these television channels, particularly because of a lack of presence for characters to which young African-Americans can relate, or be inspired, or find character narratives which they can follow with avid interest. 

But really, if television channels which talk of catering to an African-American audience are not building a gallery of titles aimed toward children within this mandate, then what room does any person have to bemoan the state of self-esteem among African-American youth, or of education, or of culture?

So I’m posting this list to raise awareness of television series which should be considered for inclusion in any of these channels’ hypothetical, nonexistent children’s/teen’s blocks:

  • Static Shock
  • Gullah Gullah Island
  • The Famous Jett Jackson
  • That’s So Raven
  • Corey in the House
  • A.N.T. Farm
  • Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids
  • The Proud Family
  • Little Bill
  • True Jackson VP
  • Men in Black: The Series
  • Gargoyles
  • Mister T
  • The Super Globetrotters
  • The Jackson 5 Cartoon
  • Class of 3000
  • Reading Rainbow

And heck, I’ll even throw in an import from South Africa: URBO: The Adventures of Pax Afrika, as well as an obscure, realistic-without-being-offensive web series titled Blokhedz

I purposefully exclude the following:

  • live-action “family” sitcoms which only focus on the goings-on of a family (there’s plenty of those nowadays). 
  • animated sitcoms which are aimed toward an adult audience, content-wise (i.e., The Boondocks and The P.J.’s).
  • animated action series which are aimed toward an adult audience, content-wise (i.e., Afro Samurai and the short-lived Black Panther)

After those are excluded, one has too look through much of the post-1970 history of animated and live-action children’s television just to find such shows as listed above. Maybe those who take the depiction of African-American lead characters seriously might use the above viewing list as a starting point. 

The Unprogrammable: The border between “Simulation fiction” and “simulation fantasy”

Since first watching the Digimon: Digital Monsters series in 1999, I’ve been fascinated by the appealing science fiction and science fantasy behind the series.

But with growth in the application of virtual/augmented reality since that time, the number of works of fiction which dramatize virtual/augmented reality has greatly expanded.

One thing I’ve noticed is how a growing number of anime series are set in the drama of players logging into and playing inside MMORPGs. Most often, these series are intended as vehicles for the accompanying MMO franchise, while others are more interested in dramatizing the impact of the MMO – and the means by which the MMO is accessed – impacts the players’ offline lives and relationships.

But it is in this setting that one can find an interesting two-fold phenomenon:

  1. even though a debatable majority of MMORPGs like those depicted in these anime series are “fantasy”-oriented, the series themselves rarely lend themselves to what would quantify as “fantasy” plotlines; and
  2. it technically would not take much for such an anime series to cross the threshold to a “fantasy” plotline, only needing some event or manifestation which does not arise from, but interferes with, the MMO setting.

As far as genres are concerned, the specific niche occupied by works like Sword Art Online, Log Horizon, the .HACK series, Accel World and others which have straddled the fence between fantasy/sword-and-sorcery and science-fiction genres should be allowed to occupy their own specific genre of fiction. These works involve the trappings of sword-and-sorcery fantasy, except that they take place on a real-world-located server or network of servers which allow for programmed (and programmable) “acts of magic” or defiance of the laws of physics to take place.

At the same time, the configuration-centric and usually gameified mechanisms of the virtual world may serve as the means of propulsion and motion for the plot, the presence in-world of artificial intelligence with self-operative autonomy and the means of accessing magic adds a degree of unpredictability and complexity which pushes this niche away from too much of an overriding real-world basis.

It is this combination of a virtual world hosting a sword-and sorcery setting with autonomous AI which makes the border between “simulation fiction” and “simulation fantasy” such a seemingly-random, but critical border.

Breaking it down

With the above, I’m saying that we should understand and appreciate this border within our fictive depictions of virtual reality.

Through works of simulation fiction, we understand that MMORPGs demonstrate the capacity of our ability to program fictional universes of our own making into a virtual existence, to have control over how a virtual universe operates and affects the players, and – in the instance of our losing control over the functions of this universe through bad code or security flaws – how we try to correct errors in the universe through the coding of solutions or the “patching of the hull” of the MMORPG universe.

But through works of simulation fantasy, we could entertain the thought that MMORPGs could have moments in which an agent or event can manifest inside the MMORPG environment without originating from an outside player or being coded as an NPC, agents which are not programmed nor programmable by human fingers but which will affect the human players in mysterious, indelible ways.

And we could entertain the fact that a work from the former genre transforms into the latter as soon as that non-programmed agent, that uncontrollable force, enters the picture.

It could be an alien, or a highly-evolved and suddenly self-aware AI, or even a ghost of a dead player?

What else would potentially constitute the “unprogrammable” in a programmed environment?

Bill Maher is right about Abrahamic religion

The pattern that I’ve noticed about Bill Maher is that he seems to be stuck between a rock and a hard place. Every time he criticizes Christians or Muslims, he is criticized in return by the targeted parishioners and praised by the other group of parishioners, and he is almost always criticized by “liberals/progressives/etc” who take him to task for either his “literalism” or his “excuses for American empire”.

The praise heaped upon him by conservative cultural Christian blogs whenever he calls the Quran a “hate-filled holy book” or describes equating religious terrorism between Christians and Muslims “liberal bullshit”, and the praise heaped upon him from progressive blogs whenever he calls the Abrahamic God a “psychotic mass murderer” and Christians “hypocrites”, all come in spades.

I wonder if people will get that his critique of religion is primarily squared against Abrahamic religion in its entirety, ripping apart all of the sanctimonious rhetoric and ideologies espoused in Abrahamic religion regarding personal (and corporate) morality (not just the mythological stuff). Muslims criticize his critique based on the fact that one of his parents practiced Judaism (???? I mean, he was raised Catholic, he hates both Catholicism and Judaism), the Christians espouse everything from merely “praying for that sinner” to wishing torture on the guy.

I’m not an “admirer” of Maher – the “Gay Mafia” bit during the Brendan Eich-Mozilla-Prop 8 issue was rather ignorant and gave ammo to so-called “Persecuted Christians(TM)” – but he does attack Abrahamic religions in both their “conservative” and “liberal” manifestations. He criticizes the Jim Wallises and Tariq Ramadans, the Anjem Choudurys and John Hagees, and does not give one inch to their rationalizing bloviations about their Abrahamic religions.

And he doesn’t mind being called “hateful against” so-called “people of faith” (which is pretty much code for “Abrahamic religionists and their self-appointed leaders” anyway).

So when it comes to critiquing Abrahamic religions, the concept of “faith/belief”, and their often-unfortunate impact upon civil and cultural life in the world, I wish more people would have as similar of an equal-opportunity secularity as that espoused by people like Bill Maher.

Adding more axis to the Dawkins spectrum

I just came across the Spectrum of theistic possibility, also known as the Dawkins spectrum due to Richard Dawkins popularizing the spectrum in his book The God Delusion. According to Dawkins, the spectrum has seven milestones of range in which one may often find their ideas regarding (a)theism:

  1. Strong theist. 100 per cent probability of God. In the words of C.G. Jung: “I do not believe, I know.”
  2. De facto theist. Very high probability but short of 100 per cent. “I don’t know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there.”
  3. Leaning towards theism. Higher than 50 per cent but not very high. “I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God.”
  4. Completely impartial. Exactly 50 per cent. “God’s existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable.”
  5. Leaning towards atheism. Lower than 50 per cent but not very low. “I do not know whether God exists but I’m inclined to be skeptical.”
  6. De facto atheist. Very low probability, but short of zero. “I don’t know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.”
  7. Strong atheist. “I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung knows there is one.”

But after reading about the political compass, which expands the range of one’s political ideals to a wider map than the political spectrum, I realized that the Dawkins spectrum could also use a similar expansion of range for placing one’s ideas about (non-)belief, spirituality, ethics and so on.

Potentially, there are quite a few axis to add to the Dawkins spectrum:

  • From Accommodationism to rejection – regarding the question of whether it would be better to work alongside religious persons/forces for the uplift of society with or without a critique of religious ideologies;
  • State involvement with religion –  Ranging from full separation of religion and state to outright institutionalization of religion in state affairs.
  • Trust of scientific advances – Ranging from full trust of modern science to outright distrust and hostility.
  • Social integration – Ranging from proactive integration of diversely-traited groups of people (women, ethnicities, LGBT) into society to hostility against integration and related “liberal” policies.
  • General supernatural encounters – Ranging from personal accounts of certain events in one’s life as being of a supernatural nature to dismissing similar phenomena as being of a natural or psychological origin.

These questions very often come up in a lot of the atheist/freethought blogs which I’ve read over the years (especially Hemant Mehta’s The Friendly Atheist), and they come up repeatedly. The replies from commenters in these blogs reveal a lot about their individual perceptions regarding the role of religious-motivated institutions in society (and secular alternatives/analogues). So I think expanding the spectrum to a Dawkins compass would allow people to reveal more about their belief systems.