How We Become What We Hate

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Featured image by Gage Skidmore.

Donald Trump represents a significant part of America‘s belief system. Many people will object to that statement, but nevertheless you cannot ignore the numbers. The continued polling success — granted a plurality in the GOP party, not a majority — show us what this country can become, something that many of us hate.

Donald Trump’s continued success despite his frequent, outrageous, racist, and demeaning commentary mirrors the way an Americans ethos. It reveals a belligerent stance towards the political establishment and reactionary views towards terrorist attacks, threats and economic uncertainty. And his success also reveals a fear of people who are different than us. Perhaps this is the ugly side of America, the side that we are ashamed of, the angry fearful side that reacts out of frustration and ignorance.

How we got here is a long political process best documented by a subject matter expert instead of me. Yet the discussion of becoming what we hate is something that I am fascinated with, a topic that forms a central arc in my novels, The Fundamentalists.

How Do We Become What We Hate?

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The fear of becoming what we hate is a legitimate one. How many of us groan when a loved one says we are just like our father or mother? Of course, this analogy offers a chuckle compared to the larger issue, becoming something that as a person or a society that we despise.

No one sets out in life to be villain or a scoundrel. No one wants to be the author of policies that spawn economic hardship, death, and destruction. Yet rationalization is a tricky devil. The stairway to hell is lined with small steps.

Little decisions empower great harm. It’s never one decision that turns the tide towards darkness, rather a few of them. And then a few more, and then the next thing you know, wars are declared, recessions and depressions hit the economy. We have been here before, and recently.

Pscyhological studies show that when you put good people in bad situations, bad things happen. Decisions are made to protect oneself, or to fulfill order. Character and moral issues are rarely considered on a macro level or for their long-term impact. If they are, the pressure of the immediate situation or the fear of further difficulties takes precedence.

Leadership and Fear

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In Perseverance, Book Two of the Fundamentalists, my characters — the village’s leadership — face a difficult situation, an invading force driven by fundamentalist hate. The villagers make decisions to survive. Blood spills. Families break. Heroes die.

Those same decisions challenge the leadership’s character, and create a situation where they believe to avoid another war that they need to build up their defenses and strike back. These decisions set up Hypocrisy, Book Three of The Fundamentalists. I suppose the title says it all. Since the central character in the novel is a six year old girl, and Soleil just turned five, you will have to wait a while for Book Three.

Leadership is often confused with taking actions and doing things to protect the status quo. When war is waged out of fear of future nebulous dangers, it is rarely a good thing. I hope we learned that with the last Iraq war. Donald Trump and Ted Cruz supporters demonstrate that a good portion of America have not learned that lesson.

One of my favorite Republicans is Colin Powell. He once said, “War should be the politics of last resort. And when we go to war, we should have a purpose that our people understand and support.”

A plurality driven by fear does not equate to a majority. But it can force us to examine our character. It can also force us to become what we hate.

What do you think?

Are Science Fiction Fears About Technology Reasonable?

Science fiction offers strange futuristic views of technology. Some are positive, but most lean towards dystopia. Are technological fears portrayed in science fiction reasonable?

As a species, humans adapt technologies blindly with the hope of achieving promised benefits. We rarely consider societal impact. This is a huge issue, in my opinion. Technology itself doesn’t destroy or evolve societies, rather human use of advanced tools is the culprit.

Some science fiction books like Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312 waver between utopian and dystopian views. Science fiction offers us the opportunity to debate whether or not we will destroy ourselves with technology.

Is such dialogue pure fear of change? Or do they remind that we always forget the lessons of the past?

In the case of robotics, the decades old dialogue started by Isaac Asimov’s robot novels has been greatly beneficial. We have been actively trying to build artificial intelligence that will become useful to society while not becoming malevolent a la The Terminator.

But we are not always so forward thinking. Applied to the Internet we do all sorts of neat things like give ourselves access to incredible amounts of information and publishing tools. Then we do things like strip away privacy and quantify human worth and status using tools like Empire Avenue and PeerIndex.

In my book Exodus, Book One of The Fundamentalists I began with a post-apocalyptic world decimated by a biotechnology terror, a direct result of weaponized viruses. This narrative device allowed me to create a world where people avoided technology and religion for centuries, in favor of an agrarian utopia. Throughout the trilogy I debate whether we as a species can use spiritual ideas and technology tools peacefully.

I have to tell you that by the end of the trilogy, technology makes a big come back as a means of defense against fundamentalism. Humans end up using both to create power structures to benefit themselves and dominate other people. And in other cases, people use these very different tools to help each other.

Because that’s who we are, at least right now. I really believe that a portion of the population will always fall to primitive negative actions, and others will rise above. The combination creates volatility.

Why do I have this view? Human beings are complicated, and create conflict. While some people are altruistic or generally good in design, we are all to some extent self-motivated. War itself is something that is a result of modern agricultural and political structures, say researchers. Even when we are not at war, we compete with each other, on an individual basis and with other nations to create the most prosperity and status.

Anyone who thinks the United States is not competing with China from a technological perspective is crazy. How many private incidents of cyberwarfare occur without our knowledge? It’s not like the Pentagon or major companies want to admit how often they are getting attacked.

Furthering blind adoption of tools, technology has proven to be a huge economic driver. Consider the way we encourage technological development in Silicon Valley and beyond? IPOs and acquisitions drive the the tech sector.

Just last month we saw Google purchase Nest for an astounding amount to empower the Internet of Things. Society will certainly reap the economic benefits of data. But are individuals and communities ready for a coming wave of metric-based vanity that determines their place in society?

So you see, I really do think the human application of technology is a worthwhile discussion. Without foresight, it can become quite destructive. What do you think?

Featured image by Mark Beemink. A version of this post ran originally on to read, or not to read.

Clarifying Views on Faith

Last week turned out to be a fantastic for Exodus. More than 2000 books were moved, and when I woke up on Christmas morning, the book was ranked #207 on the Amazon Kindle free rankings, and number six in the science fiction category (I engaged in a modified version of Brian Meeks’ strategies).

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The success brought some interesting commentary (cough) from some more devout Christians who weren’t pleased with the depiction of a medieval-like fundamentalist state that used their faith to conquer others. This post is not a response. I did want to take the opportunity to clarify my views on fundamentalism, Christianity or otherwise, for friends and readers who may be curious.

As to the hate mail itself, I expected this when I published the book. I don’t believe hardliners will actually get the message. As soon as the more devout read the first chapter, they’re certain that I am a heretical liberal. By the fourth they may think I am in league with Old Scratch himself (thus the preface from Paul Dunn).

To be clear, I read every remark to see if it’s an actual critique of the book, or someone ranting that Christianity was used as an example of fundamentalism. If it’s the prior, I pay attention. If it’s the latter, I ignore it. Welcome to America and The First Amendment.

Faith and Christianity

I believe that any faith is capable of helping people enjoy life more. That includes Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Bhuddhism, and others. I personally believe in God. I also believe that humans are capable of taking any faith, and warping its words to achieve wrongdoing.

I don’t think Islam is a violent religion. In fact, I quite like Sufism. Unfortunately for the faith of Islam, violent extremists use it to justify their actions. And that creates quite a lot of ignorance and stereotypes about fundamentalism.

Back to the impetus for this post, I have seen many benevolent acts performed by Christians. The faith (in its various forms) offers incredibly powerful teachings for anyone who wants spiritual guidance. In fact, while not a Christian, I say the Lord’s prayer several times a week, my wife is of Presbyterian decent, and most of my friends are Christian or of Christian descent.

Yet like any other faith, people can use its words to justify great wrongs. You can look back at the Crusades for an example. Or more recently at the IRA terrorism of the 70s and 80s, or in the Unted States the KKK’s acts of racism and violence. I have experienced this personally in my life. Many people have tried to convert me, or explain to me how I was going to hell because of my decent. You could argue the Christian right’s political impact in our country could (not will, but could) create similar situations.

As for the faith of my blood, Judaism, some feel Israel’s hard line views towards Palestineans and other Islamic states is also in the fundamental extreme. People are dying in the Middle East, and sometimes at the hands of the Israeli military.

In none of these situations is the faith in question wrong. Rather, people make decisions, and use religion as a justification to take actions that impact their fellow man, usually in a negative fashion.

What’s worse, when blind faith exists or when people generally believe what they are told, we create problems. We see this today in the media and the violated trust we feel when the Lance Armstrongs and government officials of this world let us down. To be clear, this is the power of propaganda, not religion.

Now About the Book

Let’s look at several aspects of fundamentalism in the book. First, it was the Islamic fundamentalism of the present (and a fictional Christian right reaction to it) that provokes the Great Sickness, the apocalyptic event that creates the world of Exodus.

Why not continue with Islam as the faith of wrong doing? For starters, it’s too easy per the earlier stereotype discussion. As a writer it’s about as challenging as depicting Richard Nixon as a villain.

Frankly, I think we have a blind eye in this country to our own actions. Since the book takes place in America, I decided to use our country’s dominant faith, Christianity. And per the conversation earlier, Christianity has been misused by the power-hungry for such purposes in the past. Unfortunately for humankind, history has a nasty tendency of repeating itself.

Several of the characters have intentional names referring to Greek mythological characters and one biblical character, Mordecai. Mordecai represents the true Christian faith (at least as it appears to this Jewish fellow’s eyes). In book two, Mordecai attracts new Christians, but he does so through principled action rather than proselytizing.

The power-hungry leader of the Christian Empire is Pravus, which is Latin for depraved. That should be a clear tip off to folks who think I am engaged in blasphemy. I am not, this guy is fricking nuts. There’s a reason why Mordecai left the Emperor’s side to venture out on his own.

Without tipping my hat too much, the entire trilogy explores the concept that every single one of us is capable of rationalizing wrong with ideologies and belief systems. We think we’re right, that our ideas can protect us from wrongdoing, but in actuality we may be harming others.

This is true for every human, and there are many ideologies — not just religious ones — that can be used to justify wrongdoing. Evil is rarely a dramatic moment. It is often the result of small decisions that collectively point someone in the wrong direction.

OK, I’ve said my piece. The floor is yours.

The No Fly Zone (Except Exodus)

We are in the midst of that rare holiday season when Christmas and New Years both land on a Wednesday. People are enjoying vacations throughout the two weeks, forcing many non-retail businesses into a no fly zone. Little can be done until the new year begins and folks return to work.

Like most entrepreneurs, my business will be coasting through these weeks with one exception. I’ll be giving Exodus away for free on the Kindle from December 24 through the 28th.

Last year I gave away Twitter header images as a holiday giveaway. This year, it’s the novel.

If you haven’t picked up Exodus yet, this is your last chance to do so for free. If you bought Exodus on Kindle prior to this giveaway, you can get your money refunded, too! I hope you enjoy the book!

Downtime is Hobby Time

During the slow period, I will attend to year-end accounting, xPotomac and basic business needs, but there’s plenty of down time. So I will work on some novel promotion, and continue drafting the next novel in The Fundamentalists, The War to Persevere.

It’s funny, writing novels is definitely a hobby. They don’t pay the bills, and they certainly aren’t related to my marketing consultancy. I find myself treating my novels as a noncritical task.

Yet, they are creative fuel. I thoroughly enjoy working on them, so this is a bit of a treat to have time to work on the next one. A bit of a present, if you would.

Perhaps this is a time to count stars instead of making dollars.

During this time, I will blog on a reduced schedule (I doubled posted today, see Marketing Automation is Anything but the Machine). Expect another post on the 30th and again on the 3rd. Until then, have a Merry Christmas!

Will you be working during the holidays?

Photo by Defence Images.

Whittle: How To Write a Novel

The following is a guest post by Rob Whittle, who recently published his first novel Pointer’s War. I know Rob from the local DC marketing community (he is CEO of Williams Whittle), and the book looks awesome. Any book that features both Lucky Lucciano and Nazis has to be interesting.

Periodically, someone will ask me how to write a book, especially since publishing Exodus. So when Rob suggested this topic, I was delighted to publish his guest post. Here you go!

How To Write a Novel (Or, At Least How I Wrote One)

by Rob Whittle

My novel, Pointer’s War, was published this month. Friends are uniformly amazed, asking a) how did I find the time?; b) how did I know so much about World War II?; and c) had I always wanted to write a novel? Answers: less sleep; research; and sorta.

I write a blog on my agency website www.williamswhittle.com called “Tales of a Mad Man”. These are stories of my experiences as an ad guy and are usually only tangentially about advertising. They are more in the vein of human interest.

For example, one is called “Gore Vidal and Me” about the time I was traveling in Bangkok and was at the hotel pool reading Vidal’s latest book, Hollywood. I felt eyes on me and peered over my shades to find Gore Vidal watching me read his book. Another is about Dr. Atkins and the Atkins Diet, which was our PR client for a few years during the height of the Atkins Low Carb diet craze. It’s about how the Atkins business side tried to screw me—but I had the last laugh.

My most popular blog by far was “Mad Men Battle the Elements”, the story of my partners and me sailing through the edge of a hurricane from the Chesapeake to Bermuda. It’s a harrowing tale. My niece told me that halfway through the story she thought I was going to perish in the storm. Before she caught herself.

That got me thinking. Could the story of four guys sailing to a far off port be turned into a book? A novel?

My first idea was that the hero and his significant other would sail to Sicily as a vacation. There would be adventures along the way, but what they wouldn’t know is that the hero’s father had killed a Sicilian in WW II and the son who was a Mafiosi had gotten wind that my hero had landed in Sicily and there would be hell to pay. A real vendetta!

That idea didn’t go anywhere, but what if I combined the Sicilian Mafia with the World War II invasion of Sicily? Hadn’t I read somewhere that the infamous Lucky Luciano had helped the Allies in their invasion of Sicily? Yes! That’s it!

And so, the beginning of the story took shape. All I had to do was invent a hero, mix in real historical events, throw in some treason and a love affair, mix it up with famous people (General Patton, FDR, Wild Bill Donovan, and some bad-ass Nazis), add a dash of humor and I was off and running—or writing.

Writers will tell you that when things are going well, books “write themselves”. And that’s what happened with me.

Big plot twists seemed to suggest themselves out of nowhere. It helped that I had a real time and history arc to work with. What became Part One was all about Sicily. But I didn’t think I had a complete book, so I sent my hero to Berlin to participate in the famous Valkyrie plot to assassinate a certain Fuhrer. The plot failed so I had to figure out a suspenseful way for him and his compatriots to escape from the belly of the beast. That became the ending.

So, in less than 600 words, that’s how I wrote Pointer’s War. It’s gotten off to a very fast start, beyond my expectations. You may order it on Amazon here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1492953873.

The War Begins

When November began, I stated my intent to use the #NaNoWriMo writeathon as A method to start writing my next novel, The War to Persevere: Book 2 of the Fundamentalists. One month later I have written 15,000 words or just under a third of what qualifies as a novel.

Generally, I met my goal for #NanoWriMo,, and wrote most days, 21 out of the 28 days, and 13 of the last 14. Six of those missed days were in the first half of the month, so I picked up momentum as time progressed.

At the same time, I got lapped by many, many writers who delivered full novels this month. It was amazing to watch these tenacious writers complete their drafts. It was surely a grind for them as I could see by their daily updates.

Meanwhile, I felt like a jogger slowly starting the marathon. By the time I completed one quarter of the race, people were close to finishing. Oh well. Life running a business and fathering a toddler precludes writing a novel in a month. We’ll have to settle for the slow slog, and finish at some point this winter.

It does feel like the book may come in a little short, perhaps at 40,000 words, give or take, which makes it either a novella or a short novel. We’ll see.

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The 5.56x45mm NATO round plays a prominent role in The War to Persevere.

It might be fun to reveal why the book is called The War to Persevere. Like Exodus (just $.99 on the Kindle for all of you Black Friday shoppers), which begins with a quote, War also begins with a quote:

We thought about it for a long time, ‘Endeavor to persevere.’ And when we had thought about it long enough, we declared war on the Union.” – Lone Watie, Cherokee survivor in The Outlaw Josey Wales

Not quite as noble as Exodus‘s Emerson quote, but absolutely as defining for what is to come. A great struggle begins, one that will demand changes for our heroes if they are to survive.

It’s quite fun writing the book! I’m glad I had the opportunity to work on it just as the holidays were arriving. We’ll see where we end up as the year ends.

Image by Mike Miller.