Karl Marx, Stephen Hawking, and the Rise of the Robots

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The Foster Miller Talon Military Robot “The military is performing additional tests using TALON robots equipped with grenade launchers and anti-tank rocket launchers.” (http://science.howstuffworks.com/military-robot2.htm)

One of the most common themes in Science Fiction movies, from Terminator flicks to the Cylons in Battlestar Galatica to the Matrix franchise, to the more thoughtful poetic philosophical Stanley Kubrickesque 2001, is the notion of the Earth being taken over by robots ( in the movie 2001, for a time the fate of the Earth hung in the Hands of Hal) The  word ‘robot’ is Czech for slave, and its very existence implies forced labour. Robots are intelligent nonhuman slaves, in other words, machines able to perform complex tasks automatically. The takeover of the machines is a paranoid fantasy of loss of control similar to the ‘red’ scare in movies like ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ or Zombie flicks where mindless forces take over our nature and threaten to destroy our humanity. But to move away from paranoid Hollywood movies and back to robots , what caught my eye was how seriously the AI (artificial intelligence) ‘threat’ it was being taken in certain quarters.

For instance in the rather restrained language in an open letter from the Future of Life Institute “Research Priorities for Robust and Beneficial Artificial Intelligence“. Artificial Intelligence research is steadily increasing and concern seems to be sufficient for the FLI to write this open letter so that we all could sign it. I did, so that the impact of the rise of AI/Robotics remain positive for life and for humanity.

I have long held a deep skepticism over what is happening in Robotics. It also seems that only technologists who aren’t bought and paid for, science fiction writers and Stephen Hawking (who signed the aforementioned document) seem to be really worried about the rise of the robots) This rather surprised me, but then I am used to being surprised. Once, according to Hawking, AI was developed it would take off and redesign itself at an ever increasing rate, and thus pose a mortal threat to any life form that would oppose it. for the full statement – see here

1. Robots are now clever, far cleverer than we imagine they are.

In some regards its absolutely fascinating what can be done now with robots. For instance Amazon, the massive corporation selling everything from shoes to silicone implants recently began testing online delivery drones for packages under 2.3 kg in a delivery time of 30 minutes or less in Canada, as it couldn’t get the license to test them in the USA. An extraordinarily clever use of airspace exactly below airline travel routes.

New Test Drone for delivery of Items by Amazon corp.

This is but one of the applications of robotics that are literally limitless, and most of them have already been written about in science fiction, technical manuals, and economic texts and are going into production from automobile production, to cleaning, to medical applications, to the health and service industries, military and agricultural, prisoner monitoring, policing, fast food industries, and road maintenance. I saw some footage today of a grape harvester that moves through the vines, and leaving them intact, harvests the grapes into giant vats. Don’t forget our every online keystroke is monitored by a vast AI system. We imagine robots as mobile. Many of them are stationary, squatting buddahesque in vast kilometer long underground supercooled rooms maintained by technicians, for instance as worked on by Google.

Few large corporations, given the size of the market and the potential revenue one can bring in via the Internet, have skimped on investing gargantuan sums in building better, faster, stronger, smarter machines. Soon your favourite piece of apple pie and coffee will be served not by a waitron, but a machine. Its not just production, what we want is creativity too from our artificial life. Robots write novels, poetry, paint portraits, and compose music. If you like the meal cooked by the local robot chef, soon you won’t have to leave a tip. AI write reports, poems, short pieces of journalism, and, as I mentioned, novels – probably a lot better than some of the fiction being written. But this is rather high brow. Think of the guy who pumps gas for you. He too will soon be made of metal. But by then you probably won’t have to pump gas. Your car will be a self-driving robot too, run on biofuel from hemp.

2. Humans are fragile: we break, die, and fall ill rather easily.

So what happens when most blue collar work is replaced by AI? What happens when the bank tellers are for instance replaced by sophisticated automated tellers and loan distributors? – Not that too many loans will be given out. There will fewer consumers. Why? Well, as we will mention, it’s expensive to raise humans. Its easier to have fewer humans and more machines running things. After all robots are robust, easier to replace and never get old. Humans require a share of the wealth. They need insurance, wages, holidays. Robots need good technicians to keep them going. For humans there is the issue of health care, housing, feeding, educating them. And humans are fragile despite their big brains. They have soft bodies that need constant maintenance. There are other health issues as humans get into adulthood in terms of the diseases that can fall prey to, new interesting diseases that one has to spend time and money developing cures for (yes drugs are a massive business, but not as massively profitable as robotics). Not to mention the panoply of psychological and psychiatric ailments that humans invariably acquire or inherit that need costly intervention.

CAA Drone operatator guidelines, Dorset, Britain - 02 Jan 2015
Pepper Spraying Drones For crowd control. About to go into limited use in India to control unruly mobs (Guardian Newspaper)

Initially robots, for instance in the last few decades primary work among others, is to monitor humans and make sure they don’t step out of line. Again that sounds a bit reactionary and paranoid, but think of the number of cameras and screens and investment in listening to just what we are doing right now. This is because of the sheer numbers of humans and the diverse nature of the population. This is not a situation that will remain. In time because the the expense of maintaining and educating people, it will probably be necessary to enact laws to cut down on the number of humans. Overpopulation is a huge issue.

In future, because of the robots, those humans who are allowed to raise families will have to be intelligent and trained and maintained and brainwashed and compliant. We cannot have divergent thinkers in a world where so much expense and investment has gone into training a human to a specific supremely complex task. Genetics are an obvious human outlet here, but there are so many others. We could possibly forbid the robots to do any genetic work while we design the next evolutionary cycle of human being, perhaps to try to keep up with whats happening with the robots evolution.

So lets focus on the humans in this imaginary world. Allow for the fact that there will be fewer of them. Many of the non-robot workers will be working on higher wages maintaining the robotic software and machinery that generates wealth and capital for those who own the robots. As most of the highly sophisticated work, in other words the intellectual capital necessary to run most of the main pillars of the economy, will be bought and owned by those who provide the populace with most of the services needed to run the economy, including the universities, hospitals, prisons, heavy industries, military and governmental, only a small proportion of the population will physically be allowed to reproduce. If they do reproduce, it implies a further division of wealth, which is bad business practice and cannot be allowed. Thus they may do so at a loss of citizenship and the possibility to advance themselves within the technologized world. In other words those who do reproduce without permission will find themselves in a severely economically disadvantaged position. Robots and humans always remain at odds. They are two competing life forms and one or the other will inevitably gain absolute control, despite the fact that for a lengthy period of history, humans might the owners of Capital.

http://bigthink.com/embeds/video_idea/the-future-battlefield

3. Karl Marx was a genius of historical proportions, which is partly why we don’t like him much, but he sure knew about human alienation.

Anyway the problem with all of this it does not have a kind of historical inevitability in the way I am describing the logic of robotization here. It’s probable, but not absolutely so. Moving on, to paraphrase Karl Marx’s theory of alienation and to extend it a little, if capital alienates humans from the product of their work, in other words if I work for a living wage, then the person who pays me owns my work. Anyone interested have a read of Marx’s Paris manuscript (1844). It runs to about fifty thousand words, about the size of a short novel.

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Its that man again…

You or I may not like the idea of alienation, but it’s how society works. People possess what they buy, including our time, our ideas and our creations. So I am undeniably alienated from my work through the process of my boss paying for it. My boss who paid for my time is the possessor of the capital necessary for me to get a job to earn a living wage. But what happens if I lose my job? What happens if a robot does my job, for instance the way an ATM does the job a bank teller used do? If this happens I am completely alienated. I am without any means of working in the way I was working before. Whether I am living in Greece and believe me in Greece where I write this there is serious alienation going on, or in the heart of Germany, it makes no difference. Whether the population of the Earth swells to fifteen or even twenty million, it makes no difference. This is because my skillset has been superseded by a robot and I am without an income. I can become all revolutionary and blow up all the robot factories I like, it also makes no difference. Robots are replaceable. More are being made as I blow them up. The word sabotage originates from the sabo, or shoe, weavers used to throw into the cotton mills to stop them depriving workers of a living during the first Industrial Revolution. The upshot of all of this is my company needs to hire fewer workers (human) and in the end I am turned back on myself, on my human nature. Either I upskill or I lose my income altogether. Reskilling is a short term solution unless I am on a lifelong upward learning curve. Realistically it becomes an increasingly limited option open to fewer and fewer the more robots are made, and better smarter more skilled robots, and even then we have to start assuming at a certain point an evolutionary curve in robotics. In other words some go obsolete and we build better robots to manufacture better robots.

4. Labour options.

So people have less labour options open to them. What can they do that cannot be done faster cheaper and more efficiently by AI? They might turn to crime or to black market operations, but even that has a limited lifespan. So at a certain point we enter into a period of massive population decline with huge supernormal profits being few into the coffers of multinationals and fewer and fewer being

born, or we ship off planet altogether. Let’s assume that happens and life on Earth settles down to a billion or two of us living with the robots, robots which have already in effect conquered the Earth for an elite group of industrial capitalists who own the corporations, the leaders of the ‘free’ world, and the raw materials left on the planet. Robots begin the process of rehabilitating the planet, its climate, its nuclear waste for clean energy, and the Earth becomes a nicer cleaner place to live. Soon it becomes clear, after a few hundred robotic evolutions that they are the master race. They have evolved past us. I am reminded here of Shelley’s Frankenstein. We build something that in so many ways supersedes us and it destroys those who created it. And the thing about it is this is something we have already witnessed as happening. I don’t have a solution to this scenario.

5. Isaac Asimov was also a genius, but his three laws were naive.

Isaac Asimov, science fiction writer, devised his famous three laws of robotics, and in 1942 included them in a story called ‘runaround’

  • A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  • A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  • A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws
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The problem with Asimov’s theory is that the of the first and most obvious applications of robots is and always has been the battle field. Unmanned vehicles against humans and other robots is arguably one of the most efficient military uses of robots. It’s certainly something worth thinking about, and has me scratching my head.

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No Belief Systems Remain Unharmed by These Blogs

Raif-Badawi--008I believe in blogging. I am often shocked what other bloggers endure in order to keep on blogging, in a forum wherein one supposedly can engage in some kind of free expression. The most obvious one is that of the Saudi Blogger Raif Badawi who was recently sentenced to 1000 lashes in Saudi Arabia for ‘cybercrime’ and ‘insulting Islam’. Word has it Raif Badawi will now be tried for apostasy, which carries the death penalty. I did not realize Islam was so sensitive to criticism. In point of fact, I do not think it is, that is, normally speaking. Generally speaking any belief system that inflicts this type of extreme punishment against its dissidents is somewhat doomed. History is littered with examples of failed purges.  Anyhow Islam is a rather fascinating and magnificent system. Personally I don’t believe a word of it, but some of the finest cultural artistic and scientific advances have occurred within the context of Isalm, including the glorious invention of beer (which came not from Saudi Arabia which is our topic right now, but Iraq 4000 years ago, and developed there from through Islam) But to return to Saudi Arabia, it is not a country a secular atheist writer might feel the warmest of welcomes, seeing as it thinks little or nothing of administering rather brutal punishments on those whose views it violently disagrees with. There are other examples of Islam doing such things on unbelievers, many others like this. According to Sarah Anne Hughes (communications assistant for the American Humanist Association.) She writes “Recently in Bangladesh, the government removed hundreds of online posts by seven atheist and secular bloggers who “defamed Islam and the Prophet Mohammed,” according to the AFP. The country’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina pledged to punish the bloggers who spoke against Islam. So far, four bloggers – including one who openly identifies as a “militant atheist” — have been arrested and now face up to ten years in jail if convicted of violating cyber laws.” (read the article in full here : http://americanhumanist.org/HNN/details/2013-04-atheist-discrimination-the-weird-and-serious-ways-no )
I of course have no personal or spiritual interest in Islam, nor any faith, aside from enjoying the Koran the few times I read it. Faiths have been rooted out and destroyed and recreated in numerous indeed hundreds of forms throughout history. But that is another issue. Its also true in my experience that not one of the Muslims I interact with have ever espoused such extremist views as what one reads about. In ways it seems almost like an exercise in Islamophobia to read so many negative stories about the faith of Islam so often in the press. That being said, it’s outrageous to see fellow writers, or indeed anyone persecuted for their basic human right to free expression as freedom is freedom to express the self without harm to another. Given the crooked and labyrinthine world of the internet, it’s inevitable too that divergent views of all kinds will emerge in even the most narrow and repressive of regimes given the rise of blogging, a medium extremely difficult to control, and largely out of the reach of governmental control. Think of how easy it is to respond to, or write about the contents of another blog or post, for good or ill.

Torture, imprisonment, lashes, and religious or political police who take your ideological and doctrinal temperature and make of you a spy upon your neighbour or family is one way of controlling the minds of a population. It is quite effective, and the more bloody and brutal and spiritually inspired, its more justified. During the middle ages, for example, the justification for such torments inflicted upon Christian schismatics and unbelievers was the blessings of confession and forgiveness and as a consequence, the glories of heaven and the joys of God’s presence in eternity. But you can’t have that in the West. Firstly that’s just not legal, unless one whisks a suspect off to a black site injected with some kind of anesthetic and hooded where he or she can be tortured far from the inconveniences of the Geneva Convention, tormented and broken in peace, that is, until they confess their sins. Outside of purely political ‘terror’ suspects you just can’t do that to the general public. People ask questions. If you have them by their minds, their hearts and wallets will inevitably follow. Anyway by an large torture doesn’t work. Torture is an instrument of power. It doesn’t change your mind. Secondly we have the problem of the internet. It doesn’t matter how many people one questions, word spreads at the speed of light. For instance this picture was posted on Facebook and received seventeen thousand views and forty nine thousand shares. Facebook, like the NSA and MI5 and all the other governments involve in the intelligence community, keep count of everything.

Not exactly a political view an establishment superstructure would want propagated through the online community. Of course this is easily dismissible as merely a witty meme filled with politically apt language, giving something of a left of center conspiracy theory on the operations of a worldwide governmental military industrially manufactured control structure, a worldwide governmental conspiracy to spy on our every online move, that and just about every aspect of our lives, generate wars, and manufacture our consent to the status quo, whatever that status quo might be at any given historical juncture. Yes I expect one could dismiss it, if it hadn’t been proven by Edward Snowden’s revelations. If we don’t believe that Big Brother is really watching us, if we don’t believe that enemies are manufactured for the purposes of waging war to increase governments market share, if we don’t believe that we are given just enough education to be controllable, then we are simply ignoring the evidence that has been presented to us. We simply have not been paying attention and the lessons of history are lost unto us.

But surely bad people should go to jail? Yes. But only after a fair publicly accountable trial, not a mafia style hit by Special Forces in the dead of night.

Which brings me back to the importance of us all keeping talking to each other. Blogs help. Online communications help. The idea is that ideas matter. We need something to change our minds, and each of us has a unique perspective and that unique perspective has the ability to open other people’s minds. The best communication of all is face to face, physical meetings and physical confrontations, not that the gift of the internet has not been a good thing. So belief systems should be harmed by these blogs. And the more the merrier. Lets keep talking.

Charlie Hebdo Ate My Puppy

which is clearly not the case. Here is a picture of my ten week old puppy and she is zipping round our rented cottage like a pixie on amphetamines.

Puppy at rest. 5.5 kg and enjoying teddy bear #1

Charlie never so much as laid a tooth on the little creature. To accuse him of doing such a thing (as I implied in the title) is to cause Charlie grievous offense as Charlie is an animal lover and he used to regularly play with my puppy, who is quite the looker and is extremely well socialized, gentle and very playful, thanks to Charlie. In a sense I am way out of line accusing Charlie of puppy eating. I know the truth about Charlie. I know he is a good man, or I thought I did. And here I am flagrantly violating his ‘good’ name, and knowingly doing so, which is a low blow. The idea that I am free to spread lies about Charlie, to upset him with impunity, to ruin his life, simply because I have the power to do so is horrible. It is a monstrous act, especially because Charlie knows I write for a living, and I can sit here and fabricate things about him that might even sound credible. So I guess I am not free to do what I please. In fact I know Charlie spends his time rescuing animals and is a militant vegetarian. He believes deeply in animal rights. This of course adds hugely to the insult I am perpetrating on him if I were to write the Charlie Hebdo Puppy Eating Story. I think over the damage I am doing to his good name. I am attacking one of the pillars of his ethical stances. Its simply not on. I cant use my freedom to exploit another’s personal space, right to a good name, or in any other way hurt him, simply because I can. There is a core of natural rights belonging to Charlie Hebdo (and everyone else) that prevents him from being subject to my puppy eating accusations.

But then something happens in my long and warm friendship with Charlie. There is a room in his house I can never get into. Its always locked. I am a curious man. One day I find the key. Its filled with Nazi Paraphernalia.  I discover current membership cards for extreme far right organizations espousing xenophobic, racist political views. I make copies of the room and the cards and whatever else I can find just for the sake of having evidence. But it doesn’t matter. Deep down I am crushed. My bitter disappointment in my friend leads me to write a novel about him, this warm hearted charming fascist racist bigoted friend of mine. It sells five million copies and I am rescued from complete financial disaster.

But success is not without its suffering and its cost. Charlie sues me for defamation of character and loss of income (he lost his job after his party membership was revealed). Charlie and I are no longer speaking of course. He has put up his house for sale as he used to live near me. He wrote me a long bitter letter telling me what a terrible egomaniacal person I am and how little I care who I cause offense to so long as I can profit from the views of others. These views are private Charlie tells me. These views, Charlie says others have the right to uphold. After all, he says, he wasn’t hurting anyone holding these views. Millions hold these views. My novel sparks a huge debate. I didn’t actually think very much of my novel. I thought it was rushed and written with fire brigade emotions in my heart.

Oh, I forgot to mention the death threats. Charlie’s friends are going to kill me, my family, and my puppy. They are part of the same far-right groups Charlie was a part of. They nailed a dead cat to my door last night. Maybe Charlie had a right to his views. Maybe I should have left well enough alone.  Maybe I will survive this attempt on my life. Maybe the next time I write something, it will get me killed. I don’t know. I am not writing anything that is untrue. I am an enemy of extremism. I use my gifts to pillory the stupid, the bigoted and the downright dangerous. I cant help myself. Its who I am. I don’t discriminate between who I choose to satirise and those I exclude. After all Last time I wrote about Charlie Hebdo. And Charlie Hebdo was a long term friend of mine.

         

“100 lashes of the whip if you don’t die laughing!”

Notes Scribbled in Dejection in JC’s Cake & Cafe Shop Newtownmountkennedy

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When you are stuck in a Cafe in Newtownmountkennedy an hour or two before an appointment, one can become intolerably bored. Being a bit of a bore myself, I start talking to complete strangers, who for the most part have come in for a quiet time by themselves and don’t want a strange hairy talkative man discussing economics and brands of coffee with them. The other possibility, being the one I found myself doing after talking too much this particular Wednesday morning, was to ensconce oneself, read too much, and start making notes, too many notes, notes on a book that is quite brilliant.

Peter Watson, in his truly wonderful unputdownable Ideas, a history from fire to Freud (Orion Books ISBN 978-0-7538-2089-6), which deals in one thousand odd pages the development of ideas from the emergence of the first Chimpanzee/proto-human (about six and a half million years ago, give or take) to around 1933 just as the Nazis began to turn Germany into a war economy. I picked up this particular tome after I came across the second volume of this series (it deals with 1933 onwards) from seeing and reading bits of it years ago in a friends library and desperately coveting a copy of it myself. The second volume is called A Terrible Beauty – The people and Ideas that Shaped the Modern Mind, which, as I said, takes us from 1933 onwards to the late  1990’s. I read it and think I may have either lost it or gave it away.

The first volume (Ideas …) glides swimmingly through the millennia of history and deals deftly with vast tracts of ideas and cultural shifts with élan, clarity and compelling prose. Its definitely worth a look. Think about it as a Christmas gift for readerish friends.

In the last hundred or so pages, the area of the book I found myself in that Wednesday morning, Watson begins to talk about the flowering of German Genius, an event that happened between the years 1848 and 1933. The picture on that sits oddly on the top of this web page is a photograph of page 906 of Ideas  I took on my phone. It gives one and idea of just how many rather clever German individuals were around at that time. One or two names, however I do take exception to. For instance I notice Franz Kafka’s name is on the page, about midway down. Kafka was actually a Czech. He subsequently lived in Berlin and died in Austria- so he kind of barely makes the list. Ludwig Wittgenstein was born in Austro Hungarian Vienna in 1889, and spent a lot of time in Cambridge, England.  Also the photo of p. 906 is of a list of most but by no means all the rather clever individuals that came out of Germany between the aforementioned years. This flowering is an event that runs parallel but is not necessarily inextricably linked with the development of the most repugnant scientific racism (pseudo scientific if one looks at it closely) that was gaining momentum during the time, also in Germany and surrounding countries. The scientific racist, whose logic hides to my mind a profound bigotry that seeks rational defensible explanation, believes (borrowing an idea taken from the Enlightenment) that being human is a biological rather than spiritual or theological or metaphysical fact. This belief, coupled with Primarily Western European historical contact with other races and a firm misapplication of Darwinian Principles of Evolution, led some  thinkers to believe that not only are all races not equal, but equality doesn’t come into it. Some are just not as evolved as others. The misinterpretation of Germany’s Renaissance, (if you might like to call it that) was misinterpreted. It gave us a huge advance in so many disciplines. Yet it was also used a proof of racial superiority. This racist thinking, backed with jackboots and weaponry was a kind of poacher-turned-gamekeeper thinking that leads nations to impose their versions of democracy and/or religion on others, believing they to be the one in the right and all others by default in are in error.

However if one looks down the list in the photo of page 906, one sees how few of those artists and thinkers would for a moment hold such views. I would like to very quickly single out one name and point out that Nietzsche was not one of those aforementioned thinkers. He was not a racist in any way, shape or form. He split with Wagner for instance because he loathed, among other things, Wagner’s racism.  Moreover Nietzsche’s sister Elizabeth who looked after him during his years of dementia was a racist. She also married a fascist, someone Nietzsche loathed and despised and would have nothing to do with. Elizabeth Nietzsche’s subsequent associations with Hitler, and her poisoning of her brother’s writings and legacy has done much to distort the reputation of one of the greatest philosophers, prose stylists and psychologists that ever lived, and its a deep shame that such a thing happened.

Anyway – so many exceptional artists, philosophers, scientists, engineers, musicians, painters, sculptors, writers did not emerge in a void. Something had to have triggered it – for instance the unification of Germany in 1848, without question triggered events. Indeed to crib lines from Fawlty Towers – there is ‘enough material for several volumes’ trying to tease out the causes of the German Renaissance. One thing that Watson points out as a big cause is the profoundly interesting and dynamic German concept of what constitutes cultural activity. German Kultur came to stand for intellectual, spiritual, or artistic activity  – but not to the same extent political, economic or technical life.

Kultur was a synonym for societal  manifestation for a type of creativity of a higher order, perhaps the highest, one of the profoundest expressions of the German Spirit. Thus for a person to engage in such intellectual, spiritual, or artistic activity, ones work was more than welcomed, but seen as central to the furtherance of the nation’s well being. This is somewhat different to how such work is seen now. It is the province of universities and study groups paid for think tanks and the work of vast multinational corporations who invest huge sums in universities and trawl for talent across the world for those people to work in vastly well stocked labs on projects that are deemed useful mainly fiscally attractive rather than good in themselves. It is a sad truth that novels are written for sales now more than anything else. If one decides to become a writer or a poet one is really talking about someone who teaches college and gives creative writing classes and as a side project writes. They operates so cohesively within the system as to never have an opportunity to adequately critique the world they live in. Other than that they either become part of the one percent who write a best seller or remain forever on the fringes of the golden circle, giving readings at open mics and getting their work published in small presses. An artist needs an audience, and so many gifted artists work shrivels on the vine of rotted potential simply because the world we live in views the creative thinker as something extraneous to what is central and most important, being economic viability.  Painting and sculpture is a huge business and viewed as such. As a consequence has thus far completely lost its teeth with the exception of a few labouring in isolation. Academics in universities are, as well as teaching and publishing duties, are expected to bring in money from corporations and perform studies for a price as part of their contract. There thus is a world of difference between the use of genius ( an unpopular word I admit – perhaps giftedness is a less controversial word) as a commodity and the pursuit of artistic and intellectual goals as a good in itself. The irony is that the rather romantic view of pursuing such goals as a good in itself has a massively beneficial effect on society as a whole. The post 1848 Germany for all its many many faults, was a place where such work went on precisely because of such values. And we are happily living with its many benefits since.  The chapter that covers our present age is in real terms remains unwritten. The commodification of skill sets tends to more benefit the needs of the corporate thinker, the organizational psychologist, the investor, and the team leader. The irony of the lessons of this Watsons chapter in German prewar history seems to be this : the more the truly creative person works/writes/paints/builds  for themselves, the more they work for others. This is not egotism, which goes nowhere. This is the selflessness of true creativity, which transcends not only the bounds of egotism but says something about what it is to live in the world.

FRAGMENTED SOCIETIES

 

Feminism, Love and Identity in the Novels of Doris Lessing

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Authors Press,  India  ISBN 978 81 7273 9188  200pages

My introduction to the work of Doris Lessing was when I had the misfortune at fifteen to pick up a copy of Briefing for a Descent into Hell. I read it at a sitting and, scared the living bejeepers out of me, and gave me more nightmares than one can shake a stick at.

A year or two later I picked up The Grass Is Singing, then The Marriages of Zones Three, Four and Five,  and I was hooked. Here I knew was a marvelous writer. The style was direct, fluid, highly intelligent without any consequent loss of emotional intelligence, and she shied away from none of the big issues. I read everything I could find by her and finally devoured the mind bendingly brilliant The Golden Notebook  at least twice if not three times (I really don’t recall).

So when my friend and colleague Dr Ajit Kumar suggested we co pilot a project on Lessing I was very enthusiastic indeed. Some world class academics on Doris Lessing have contributed papers to the volume, and I have to say the cover design by the Graphic Artists in Author’s  Press is great.  The Authors (I include a biographical sketch of each author at the end of this blog post) have written on a vast panoply of themes and perspectives covered in Lessing’s Novels – sexual violence, racism, cold war politics, family, motherhood, sociological perspectives on colonialism, dynamics of child rearing, philosophy of gender, among others. There is some brilliant work here and the exhausting work of editing taught me an immense amount.

This is a book Doris Lessing herself was interested in seeing a proofed copy of  when she heard of it through the Doris Lessing Society, which greatly excited not only us but all the contributors. Sadly Lessing died on the 17th November 2013 and did not get to see it.

Central to Lessing’s concerns was the notion of woman in the world, in other words feminism in the broadest sense of the term.

The notion of any fundamental feminist theory rests not only on the struggle for female reproductive rights but on the idea of every woman’s legal and moral right to control of her own body. Similarly the notion of any fundamental feminist theory does not extend to female political rights but to the primordial recognition of women as co legislator with their male counterpart in any political and legislative dialogue. By extension the notion of any fundamental feminist theory rests not only on the struggle for equal pay between man and woman, but on the parity of productive potential between the sexes and the elimination of all discrimination on gender grounds, especially on the grounds of the necessity of maternity/paternity leave and childcare time. Finally a notion of any fundamental feminist theory postulates women’s full possession of their minds and bodies and thereby the radical elimination of all forms of sexual oppression, of any culture of rape of women, including rape within marriage.

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Doris Lessing’s writing has brought a revolution by her unique and deeply critical female sensitivity to the unfair or highly limited roles of woman and to their restricted representation in society and its literature. The book discusses in detail some of her approaches to discussing these very limitations and her approaches to these limitations. Her focus zeros in on female self definition despite the limitations imposed on them because of patriarchy and related social taboos. She portrays how women have overcome odds and liberated themselves not only from patriarchy, but also from mental, emotional, physical, social and political oppression.

A great writer. I was delighted to work with Ajit in editing it, and really chuffed to contribute and article to it on – The Golden Notebook.

Contributors:

1. Lili Wang is Professor of English in the English Department, Fujian Normal University, China. Her research interest lies in English Literature and has been teaching English for more than 30 years. Her recent publications include A Study of Doris Lessing’s Art and Philosophy (Beijing: Social Sciences Academic Press (China), 2007); “Lessing’s Paradoxes: ‘A Mind of Winter”(on Mara and Dann). Foreign Literature Studies. Vol.31, No.2, 2009; “Seeking for Traditional Mother’s Memory: A Comparison between Woolf and Lessing”. Foreign Literature, No.1, 2008. She has been a visiting scholar in Cambridge University, Berkeley, University of California, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Hong Kang University.

2. Amy Lee has a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from The University of Warwick, UK. Her research interests include witchcraft and witchery, the Chinese Diaspora, female self-writing, contemporary fiction and culture, narratives of detection and marginal experiences. Recently she is working on young adult literature. She has published on women’s diasporic writing, life writing, and gender issues in contemporary fictions and film. She has taught professional and creative writing; and is dedicated to promoting creative teaching and learning in the secondary school sector. Currently she is an Associate Professor in the Department of Humanities and Creative Writing of Hong Kong Baptist University.

3. Ajit Kumar has done his Ph.D. research work on Doris Lessing’s novels at Kurukshetra University, Kurukshetra, India. He is a well published scholar of Doris Lessing. He has published many research papers in national and international journals of English studies. He has presented many research papers in national and international conferences and seminars. He has written the Introduction and Textual Notes of Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. He is engaged in editing a book on British Women Authors. He was honoured with Best Research Paper Award in World Conference AIAER-2010.

4. Pamela Grieman is the managing editor of the American Indian Culture and Research Journal at the University of California, Los Angeles. She received her doctorate from the University of Southern California.

5. Oran Ryan is a writer. He has written novels: The Death of Finn (Seven Towers, 2006), Ten Short Novels by Arthur Kruger (Seven Towers 2007), and One Inch Punch (Seven Towers, 2012). He has written plays: Don Quixote has Been Promoted (2009, Ranelagh Arts Festival) for the stage and Radio: Preliminary Design For a Universe Circling Spacecraft (KRPN, San Francisco, California 2010) He has lectured on James Joyce, has written and published short stories, poetry and literary critical articles. He is currently working on his next novel titled Hardcastle Dies Laughing.

6. Florica Bodiştean Ph.D is Associate Professor and Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences of Aurel Vlaicu University, Arad, tenured for the following courses: Comparative Literature, Theory of Literature, Stylistics of Poetic Texts and Literature of Children and Adolescents.. Main published studies include: Representations of Femininity in Tolstoy’s Novel War and Peace; Heroic and Erotic in Hemingway’s War Novel; A Vision on Femininity in the Romantic Historical Novel: Walter Scott, Ivanhoe; Tristan and Isolde, or On the Conventions and Liberties of Medieval Eros; Patterns of Femininity in the Heroic Epic. Homer: The Iliad and The Odyssey, The Renaissance Woman vs. the Woman of the Middle Ages in Cervantes’s Don Quixote. She has published books: Marin Preda or About the Complexes of Creation (doctoral thesis, 2002), A Theory of Literature (2005, second edition – 2008), Poetics of Literary Genres (2006, second edition – 2009), Literature for Children and Adolescents Beyond „Story” (2007), Heroic and Erotic. Essay on Feminine Representations in the Heroic Epic (2013). She is the member of the Romanian Writer’s Union, editor-in-chief of “Journal of Humanistic and Social Studies”.

7. Ambalika Biswas is Associate Lecturer of English at Royal Thimphu College an international college under Royal University of Bhutan, is educated at Rashtraguru Surendranath College with Bachelors and Post Graduate degree in English from University of Calcutta. She has a specialization in Indian Literature, T.S Eliot and Gender and Literature. Ms. Biswas has done her Bachelors in Education from Loreto College, University of Calcutta. Prior to teaching at Royal Thimphu College she used to teach as a part time lecturer at P.N Das College, Palta (West Bengal State University).

8. Feruza Shermatova is a current Fulbright visiting scholar at University of Washington, Seattle, WA, who researches how gender is expressed in Kyrgyz language. She got her Ph.D. in comparative English-Kyrgyz linguistics namely, the issues of translation of syntactical stylistic devices from English into Kyrgyz in 2011. Her primary research interests focus on stylistic analysis of fiction and linguistic problems of fiction translation.

9. Baliram N. Gaikwad, is a Fulbright Post-Doctoral Fellow at African American Studies, University of Florida, USA. He achieved Doctoral degree in British Literature from India and has authored several research papers on British Literature and Dalit literature. Dr. Gaikwad works as an Assistant Professor and Chair, Dept. of English at Acharya and Marathe College, Mumbai.

10. Chung Chin-Yi has completed doctoral studies at the National University of Singapore. Her research centers on the relationship between deconstruction and phenomenology. She has published in Nebula, Ol3media and the Indian review of World literature in English, Vitalpoetics, Rupkatha, an Interdisciplinary Journal on the Humanities, KRITIKE: An Online Journal of Philosophy, SKASE Literary Journal and Thirty First Bird Review, Linguistic and Literary Broadbased Innovation and Research, and Humanicus: an academic journal of the Humanities, Social Sciences and Philosophy. She has 4 years of teaching experience at NUS, teaching exposure modules and higher level electives. She presented papers on the Beckett centenaries in 2006 in Denmark and Ireland and recently at the Theory Culture and Society 25th anniversary conference.

11. Shahram Kiaei is a faculty member in the Department of English, Qom Branch Islamic Azad University, Qom, Iran

12. Sushumna Kannan is currently Adjunct Faculty at San Diego State University, USA. She has an MA in English (Literary and Cultural Studies) from EFLU, Hyderabad. She has submitted her PhD thesis titled “Akka Mahadevi, a saint, poet and rebel?: A Study in Feminist understandings of Tradition” at Centre for the Study of Culture and Society, Bangalore and awaits defense. She has attended conferences, national and international, and has presented papers. She received the Regional Fellowship for doctoral work at France for two years. Having worked at several colleges in and around Bangalore.

Librarians and Civilization

 

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As usual in Wicklow town the staff in the local Library are incredibly helpful and saved me a fortune in books by sourcing copies of volumes  on loan I was pricing on the Internet. There are few jobs more unappreciated than that of the librarian, which is not cool at all. That the work of librarians is so taken for granted is probably why in its infinite lack of wisdom our Government here in Ireland have decided to not replace librarians if they retire. It is therefore more and more difficult to keep libraries open. It is horrifying enough the cutbacks that are going on all along the Civil Service (esp. the Health Service –which is truly unconscionable), but it rankles how libraries are being affected. It is no understatement to say that  librarians are one of the gate keepers of civilization. The fact that so much is available via the internet should expand rather than contract the portfolio of the librarian, and libraries are rapidly expanding their grasp of the virtual availability of books and online data.

The electronic availability of media does not mean that the library should by implication be somewhere where paper books or  e-books or downloadable books or public study areas be discontinued incrementally and the availability of texts or knowledge  therefore relegated to the realm of the virtual or the marketplace. On the contrary it should open our society  to a new discussion as to how knowledge be disseminated and how libraries be libraries of the future, for a library is not a data centre and knowledge is not information nor is it cold dispassionate data.

A writer mines raw data and transforms into something intelligible, a product of  the intellect and the imagination, a finished piece of thinking which we call a book in this instance, a particular representation of a society and a culture’s self understanding at a particular juncture in history – that is whether or not one agrees with the contents of the book or indeed many of the books being written and published. It is not without significance that Google in its efforts to bring forth an ultimate Artificial Intelligence, sought to scan and download all the billions of books in the world, including everything currently under copyright. This was because within a book there remains the fullest scope of an act of human intellectual apprehension of a subject. Take for instance: in a particular historical scientific or sociological book there might be an introduction to the  study and its proposed scope, a grasp of the current state of research on the subject, an analysis of the research and an act of speculation not only of where research might be going but possible future avenues where a particular discipline might lead and where it intersects with other disciplines. Thus to have an up to date library, a repository of knowledge in as many towns as possible, that is a truly active library, makes a huge statement about the intellectual and cultural life of a town. To close a library, to restrict a library service, is a disservice to the community on more levels than one might imagine. It sends a bad message about the cultural and intellectual life of a community. One may as well start closing the Churches, the Town Hall and the pubs too.  Libraries are places where in any civilized country where one can investigate, think, write, research online for free, chat online, read the papers, bring ones children to play and read and make a fuss generally, play games online, listen to music, watch movies, or if you are me – fall asleep in the midst of reading and be woken up by a cross librarian and be told one cannot sleep and by the way I am snoring in a place where people are trying to work. 

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For myself, though I have received many well-deserved letters demanding the return of borrowed books, I can never fully repay either libraries or librarian the enormous debt I owe them. For instance, and I don’t particularly want to become too personal here, my favourite place to avoid school was not to go to bars or snooker halls, but you guessed it – I just loved libraries. I would read literally all day, when not nodding off asleep. I would take one book off the shelf and if it was sufficiently interesting, read it through. I lived near a library, and round the corner from my primary and secondary school, so I would  be able to live my double life, a school life where I learned, well, some things (for instance how to use my martial arts training to protect myself) and libraries, where whole worlds of meaning opened up to me.

So if you are reading this and you want to do something send an email to AlexWhiteTD ( email alex.white@oir.ie) (TWITTER @AlexWhiteTD )
telling this very newly appointed minister to rescind the moratorium on replacing library staff throughout Ireland as it is a disservice to the country and sends a bad message about the importance of learning in Irish Local Communities. Smile Thanks!

Publishing and not Being Damned

Getting work published and reducing the Tears Involved

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Archive Image of Thompson Reuters Publishing – see http://thomsonreuters.com/core-publishing-solutions/

The purpose of writing is to be read. No amount of false humility will ever sufficiently delude a writer into thinking she is destined to a kind of solipsistic world of simply writing for themselves. Writing is communication. It cannot not be. So, with writing comes an audience, and therefore some kind of vehicle whereby ones work reaches a readership. Sometimes the work deserves an audience. Sometimes not.

That being the case its hard to fathom the amount of humiliation, suffering, frustration and soul destruction writers endure to get published and get successful. Its sometimes a baptism of fire leading to real personal and artistic growth, realism and maturity; sometimes an embittering experience which leaves the artist scarred – more often a bit of both.

My own personal worst experience was a publisher saying ‘yes’ to a novel of mine only to baulk when they feared getting sued – by a church. The book was subsequently published and did fine and nobody sued anybody.

The good thing is once you actually do get published, it gets a tad easier to get published subsequently, and one doesn’t take things like rejection slips too seriously. Publishers are invariably the gatekeepers of what’s worth publishing. That being the case, this doesn’t mean that publishers are always right.

For instances: Joyce’s ‘Dubliners’ took twelve years to publish, a work of genius. The publisher regarded it as something akin to porn. The New Yorker consistently rejected the work of the young rather angry J.D. Salinger, including shelving after accepting the very first short story where this weird fellow called Holden Caulfield made his first appearance. Let us remind ourselves here that ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ has subsequently sold sixty million copies world wide with an average annual sale rate of two hundred and fifty thousand copies. Moving on to much smaller sales but an equal brilliant game changing work, Becketts Trilogy, a  trilogy of novels – Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnameable, was rejected by so many publishers that Sam the Man actually made a list to ensure he reminded himself of how many publishers could actually get it wrong.  The first novel of Proust’sRemembrance of Things Past’, ‘Swanns Way’, was rejected, only for the publisher to come crawling back to apologize and admit he was wrong.

The list goes on and on and all it really establishes is that Publishers are only human and get it horribly wrong as do we all. To understand that is to forgive and to save oneself so much misery, especially if one is struggling and starting out, or trying to break into another genre, or just cant find a publisher for your new novel or book of poetry.

Of course there can be all kinds of reasons why one’s work is being rejected by a publisher. As publishers largely don’t give reasons why they say no (imagine actually have to give a reason to the hundreds or even thousands of submissions a publisher might get in a week), its better not to speculate too much on the why of things. When it comes to magazines, for instance, if I am constantly being turned down for reasons I simply cannot fathom,  I generally send in a piece I have published in another country more than once, in other words something I am reasonably sure is an okay piece of work, and if that too is turned down, I just don’t submit there again.

Ad hominen attacks: To get ‘personal’ with a publisher, to send them angry notes filled with nasty well chosen phrases, to spread unfounded stories about them is probably the most foolish and self destructive of actions. It rightly establishes you as someone who can’t really be worked with. Its a bit of a career killer. Of course ‘getting personal’ with a publisher is not the same as loudly and accurately complaining, critiquing and objecting to actions on the part of a publisher with which a writer has a real problem. That’s a writer’s job, and part of the creative process. On the other hand if your work has been rejected, move on. Read over the text after a week or two when one feels a bit better. Ask an honest friend to do the same. If it is okay, send it elsewhere. If it isn’t, fix it. If it isn’t fixable, start another book. This is what serious writers do. Its good to start over betimes.

Publishers come in many many forms, and having been published by many of them, I really don’t mind what their motivations are so long as they treat my work with professionalism.

1. The Political Publisher: This type may have serious ideological motivations around the published text, and may be connected to a religious or a political party or be financed by a governmental body. They have deep pockets and many friends and a rolodex that would be the envy of many a politician. They are generally quietly powerful, well connected,  generally produce high quality work, in other words they will turn your words into a well produced book which will be marketed and sold in many bookshops and be readily available online. There are pitfalls going with a publisher like this, especially the danger of being branded with the same markings as ones publisher, or being associated with the same ideologies or political parties that the publisher has such big connections with. Ask yourself why the publisher has said ‘yes’ to your work before going forward with it. If you are happy to proceed, then do.  

2. The Big Commercial Publisher: This publisher works for a big profit, takes big risks sometimes and has little or no ideology beyond the bottom line. The fact you might be a serious worker in the field of literary fiction or commercial genre fiction matters little to this publisher. As well as publishing interests they may hold a huge stake in television, radio or news media and they may also have their own political interests. This also doesn’t matter to them. They have signed a contract with you because they see money in your work. Whatever genre one works in, one might long to have a publisher like this. this is a company who will give you a six figure advance, a three book deal, and provide huge marketing and publicity machine behind your work. Who doesn’t dream of selling many many books and to be  a famous client of a huge publishing company? Beware though – one is but one of hundreds or even thousands of clients in a giant multinational company. Beware too: It is an incredible amount of pressure, and not  for everyone. It is certainly a type of success, and the type of success that is easily seen and easily measurable in terms of money and fame and books sold. The pitfall here is that such a level of exposure and expectation placed  on ones work and on ones personality can make one lose a sense of perspective and identity. Monumental egos are born in this womb of super fame and self destruction can be the result. It can also negatively impact the quality of ones output. One can be writing to feed the commercial machine one has become a part of rather than staying true to ones own vision.

3. The Small Commercial Publisher: This is a manageable arrangement for many writers. Here one’s work is sold to a regular audience of expectant readers and one can predict a level of income based on the appreciation of a manageable fan base. Publicity is also regular and one finds oneself on the radio and possibly television arts shows, magazines and news media. The pitfall here is the sheer predictable lack of challenge in such an arrangement. One needs some level of resistance and struggle to grow, which may come from other writers, critics or a demanding readership who expects more from their writer, rather than the same novel or text being reproduced in different ways over the course of a mediocre career, which is also a danger with large Commercial publisher. A politically or ideologically minded publisher would not for a moment stand for such a thing.

4. The Not For Profit Publisher. These publishers provide probably the greatest service to the world of writing, taking as they do previously unknown writers or struggling writers of worth and providing a sufficient platform for such writers to actually begin their careers. Not for profit publishing is on the rise due to print on demand services whereby small amounts of a book can be produced at low rates and enough numbers sold to make up for the money spent on small levels of publicity and the hiring of rooms for launches and readings. So many writers owe their careers to these visionaries. It is a sad thing they remain uncelebrated considering all they do. The pitfall here is that they are not for profit: Publicity is small and most of the work is done in the publishers spare time and there may be problems with the finished work unless one has an infinite amount of time and thoroughly  proofed and re proofed ones work before sending it in.

The publishing world is a veritable labyrinth. There are many variations on the above divisions of publisher. For instance: Small Publishing houses are owned by big concerns and are allowed to function independently. Do you homework before sending in manuscripts. Use agents and more than anything – rewrite. Its pretty much the essence of writing.