27 September 2017

Discordianism Vs Alchemy

A bout I'd like to have ringside seats for, as two almost totally unrelated philosophical constructs go head to head in a thrilling fight to the finish. The chances of definitive resolution are low, but it's the experience of fight that gets you there that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

As you may know I am putting out a book in about a month and, hence, my posts leading up to that are looking at some of the major themes of this work. Although Starfall is not explicitly Discordian (not like some other novels I may be finishing in due course) I did know about Discordianism when I wrote it and I think that my latent Discordianism pokes through if you care to look for it.

Discordianism, after all is big on iconoclasm and the male line of my family have been pretty iconoclastic for about three generations now in their own way. If you're going to be completely contrary in your world view in the current times it's not enough to, for example, attack religion, you also have to attack atheism as well because the atheist mainstream is where a significant number of non-religious types are at.

It's also not good enough just to be a "Default Agnostic". Not knowing enough about anything to commit is not a position, it's just lazy. No, you have to be an active agnostic, the type that says: "Not only do I not really know, but neither do you and nor do the people who hate you, or anyone else. Some things in the universe, probably most things, are completely incomprehensible to us, so stop being such a dick about stuff and accept your status as a cosmic fucking insect".

Take, by way of example, the existence of dark matter and dark energy. Approximately 5% of the known universe can be accounted for by what we can "see" from Earth. All those galaxies and nebulae we have detected with radio telescopy is a tiny scraping of what we know must be in the universe, there's nineteen times more stuff we can't interact with than we can even take a quick peek at.

Beings of vast power and incomprehensible intelligence could hide in that 95% really easy, so easy that they're probably not even amused by how they've rendered themselves invisible to us. To claim we know anything about the great metaphysical beyond is insanity, plain and simple.

Which is where alchemy comes in. The villain of Starfall is an alchemist, I consciously picked on him and his mode of thought as something I really wanted to pull down. Alchemy is, in some ways, like the opposite of Discordianism. Discordianism is a religion disguised as a joke, or a joke disguised as a religion, depending on how many hot dogs you ate in the last month and whether or not the month has a "Q" in it. Alchemy is insanity disguised as natural philosophy. A particular type of insanity also enjoyed by "science" and atheism.

The insanity whereof I speak is simple to state, it posits as a central position that the human meatganism is capable of knowing everything. It is phobic of the notion that the meatganism simply hasn't the equipment to comprehend the true nature of reality. It is dismissive of all mental attempts to integrate and harmonise with the idea that there's a bunch of stuff we're just never going to know.

The opposite mental ailment of alchemic insanity is any religious insanity which includes most religious thought. This insanity can be parcelled up as: You don't need to know everything, there are some things being taken care of by the great bearded sky daddy and anyone who interferes with those things must be stopped at all costs.

The Holy Chao of Discordianism can be thought of representing these two opposites, aspects of the Eristic and Aneristic principle, locked in an eternal self-defeating struggle. So if this model is complete, showing all the polar opposites where the hell is Discordianism?

Discordianism, my friends, is the diagram itself, existing in the lines that make up the false-image matrix. Any Discordian will tell you that arranging lines and boxes to make meaning is, itself, meaningless. Discordianism is about striving to be optimal while accepting that we have limits, so no passive acceptance of other people's half-chewed reality-cud and no insane belief that we will ever have the ability to conquer reality from the cradle of our stewed meat prisons, just a commitment to not believe what we read and attempt to bring everyone into harmony through active disruption.

Like I said before, it's a tricky balance to strike.

26 September 2017

Evil Genius, Please Hold

Appropriately enough, perhaps, I have received little to no feedback regards my proposed condition "Evil Genius Syndrome". It is my personal belief that it is a thing, and quite a large thing at that. Seeing as the whole strand kicked off with regards to the much overstated problem of "Impostor Syndrome", where a limited number of successful people feel that they might not deserve the success they enjoy, I figured the reverse syndrome must be far more prevalent.

My reasoning is based on simple maths. Massively successful people are rare, people more talented than their success would imply must be numerous, stupidly numerous. There must be thousands of us.

But Evil Geniuses are not joiners, or talkers, apparently. One of the keys to success, it would appear, is that one successful person admits to feeling like a bit of a fraud all the others that do pipe up because their self-esteem can take the hit. When someone says: "Hey, I'm feeling a bit undervalued here, anyone else feel the same?" people don't want to appear smug or bitter or whatever.

I think that's important. When I say that Evil Geniuses have not enjoyed levels of success one might expect I think that implies they're big losers hungry for power. I mean, that's what an Evil Genius is, right?

But just as Impostors are not actually impersonating anyone so evil geniuses are not necessarily unhappy with their life lot. This all comes down to success at the thing that gives you money to put in the bank. So many Evil Geniuses have probably made trade-offs to be happier in their life than the continual pursuit of money. Of course, you get to a certain level of success and you don't need to worry too much about the future (maybe a bit, maybe get an accountant, and a financial adviser). But I think there's a lot of clear blue sky between working hard enough to get by and enjoy the non-work parts of your life and being dedicated to work, working hard and getting to a point where you could feel like an impostor early on.

It's a telling thing, for example, that a lot of celebrities have impostor syndrome. I think if you finally got where you were going after 20 years hard work etc. you would feel like you'd earned your enjoyed success. Then again, these things are not rational. Also, maybe if you've only been on a career path less than a decade you're not that surprised you aren't further ahead with it than you are.

So, maybe I made a slip up. Maybe there's another reversal in this syndrome. Impostor Syndrome is likely to be felt by people who think they've come way too far, way too fast. Once you're there further success is likely to just make things worse.

On the other hand being an Evil Genius is far more likely to be something that sneaks up on you. I have been in one career track now for about fifteen years. It's only very recently that I have become surprised I haven't done as well as I thought I might. And is the result of that fear and anxiety? In the case of the impostor, certainly. In the case of the Evil Genius it will range from puzzlement and disappointment right up to anger. And I guess the angrier you are the more you might be mistaken.

The point is that the true Evil Genius Syndrome is a bit of confusion and feeling lost. You genuinely think, "I am capable of more than this, so why has that capability not materialised?" I think the companion feeling to the impostor emotional state of "I don't believe all this success is because of my wisdom in action and decision" is the evil geniuses question: "Am I doing something wrong?"

Am I choosing the wrong choices? Have I displayed poor judgement? Am I saying the wrong things? These are the concerns of the Evil Genius.

I am, in fact, asking those questions right now, about this strand of discussion. I think it's time for the Evil Genius to return to his lab. For the time being it's arrivederci Evil Genius Mondays, we hardly knew ye. Next Monday... probably more Starfall anticipation articles, look out, we could be looking at Celtic Mythology Monday!

Icon Credits

Icons made by EucalypFreepik from www.flaticon.com is licensed by CC 3.0 BY

22 September 2017

So What About Voodoo?

First off, lets call it vodou or vodun, voodoo is a corruption, and there's the rub. Voodoo is the word you use to describe a brand of donut, or a mountain bike, or a club promotion. I've been finding it difficult where to start out with this strand of discussion, after over a decade I realise it should start there.

Imagine that there was a Jyoodayzm Donuts, or a Katholik Mountain Bike or a Hinndou Club Night. How would worshippers in the specific religions whose names are corrupted there feel about the appropriation and association? Less chilled, I imagine, than practitioners of vodun, as far as I can tell they just don't talk about it, let alone get up in arms about the zany, dangerous branding mark their religion has been rendered to in Western society.

Having spent some time and done some research I think the reason for that is all to do with the latent power such casual misappropriation delivers back to them. Vodun uses, song, chant, repetition, rhythm, life and sweat to do its work. Repeating its name in whatever context flows that power back to the mighty river, so the practitioners and respectful observers of this spiritual powerhouse will tell you.

I'm a full on born again Discordian (or maybe it was just a dodgy No Hot Dog Bun round my Friday hot dog), this does not preclude me from also getting my vodun on. But I don't. Am I a non-believer?

I don't think that's my problem here. Actually if I was a proper non-believer I would have no problem dabbling. I would dabble in lots of things if I were a non-believer, because I wouldn't believe that it could do any harm.

I think, rather, that I don't have the passion to commit to these practices. I am passionate about my Discordianism, especially as I discover that beyond being a faith it is also a challenge, being a Discordian is not easy.

In fact I don't believe being an anything is easy, but less honest religions arrive at your door saying that if they dunk you in an adult sized font then the Bearded Sky Daddy will insert his own son into your cardiac region and off you go. I mean, come on, that's a con, right? It's a step away from being a Nigerian prince wanting to put $$$ in your bank account.

Vodun, like Discordianism, is not easy, and I respect it too much to pretend.

So, Starfall is my one act of respect to those deities and also to the dark gods that lurk in Britain's past (and more on them later). One of the points of Starfall is that in the world of loa there isn't much difference between the two.

As I concluded work on the first major edit of Starfall I reckon I could sense that Legba was giving me the nod. It's like Neitzsche said, the mighty things are mirrors. Actually he didn't say that exactly, but the poor guy had his own preoccupations.

As we get closer to Starfall I would like to return to talk more about the relationship the novel made for me with vodun, but for now the man at my shoulder is telling me to still my tongue and open my ears. So I shall listen.

20 September 2017

The Discordian Problem

The Discordian in the room is not hard to spot. They're the one sitting in the corner by themselves laughing at everyone else.

I think that's the core of the Discordian problem. In my every day life I am about to start work on a "very important project" this is a project that could have a big impact on people's every day lives and improve the quality of life for many. When you're a member of the big bearded sky daddy club doing something of merit is consolidated by your laminated pass to the holy of holies. You integrate the spiritual with the mundane via the instrument of religion.

So when you have a joke religion that's not a joke, or is it? No. Only joking it's serious. Seriously joking.

Is it a joke or is it serious?


It becomes enough of a problem working out how you feel about your ambivalent membership of this church in the first place. I mean, you're the frickin' pope of this so-called (no, definitely is) religion and you don't even know whether it's real. Also, you're probably not a joiner. You know that the guy saying "Hey, follow me!" is probably leading you off a cliff. The guy that says "You can trust me" just wants to clear out your bank account. People who make promises are the kind of people who fail and break promises.

Basically, you're a pope alone, you're not going to encourage anyone else to sign up.

The wisdom of this is that most religions don't help you to keep perspective, or, at least, they should but they are very, very bad at it. Most religions have a propensity to bypass their safe guards and fuel dangerous amounts of self-serious egotism and destruction.

Actually Discordianism is not exempt from this, a lot of Discordians are insecure, cynical trolls who exist to gross you out, point and laugh, not necessarily in that order. What Discordianism does right is that it points you towards the more rewarding parts of its own practice equally badly.

Don't get me wrong Discordianism is really hard. Other religions are built to be user-friendly by asking you to surrender, Discordianism is not user-friendly and reminds you to never surrender.

All of which leads to the biggest problem of all. How does Discordianism come into practice? Posting cool memes and laughing at stuff is fine, but how do you actively do things in a Discordian manner?

Sacredness is essential to faith practice, but in Discordianism sacredness is pretty stupid. The best way to worship Eris is to be deeply suspicious of worshipping anyone, especially that crafty looking goddess juggling apples in the corner and laughing at everybody.

The first practice of Discordianism is confusion. So if you're confused right now, feeling I've left a bunch of questions and no real answers, you are doing it right.

Which is just as well, because never forget, you're the pope.

18 September 2017

Unpicking the Evil Genius

It's been one week since I threw back the curtain, ripped off the rubber mask, threw the switch on my creation and identified myself as an Evil Genius. Let me tell you it's not as awesome as it sounds. Last time we discussed the Evil Genius as being the opposite side of the coin to the Impostor. An idea I still think has much weight. It's a polarity, at one end you feel like people are expecting too much of you because of past successes, at the other you feel people expect way too little of you because you haven't really enjoyed much success.

Logically there's going to be a sweet spot in between the two, enough success to feel validated, not so much to feel pressured. Honestly, though, who cares about those guys: sickening perfectly happy weirdos, I bet their home life sucks.

Oh, yes, extremely important while we're on recap. This genius/impostor scale relates to work, or work-type activity. It's not about whether you have loved well, or whether you have succeeded in almost any other way. This is about anything that gets you money with which to buy things.

Last time we looked at "impostors", successful people who cannot shrug a nagging doubt that all of their success is based on some kind of cosmic clerical error. At any moment, they feel, the mistake will be spotted and they will be ushered back down the hall to sit with all the other ordinaries.

Well, screw those guys too. At least they can cry over their stuffed bank accounts. Plus their neurosis is flavour of the month in pop-psychology, so there's tons written about them.

Not so for we, the evil geniuses. It doesn't help, definitely, that the name for our syndrome includes the word "evil" in it. I'm sure that doesn't test well. But hell the other one is literally the word "impostor" which is kind of evil. At least in this corner we have the word "genius" pulling us back up.

We also have a branding issue when it comes to the fact that there is a well known video game called Evil Genius. That makes for domination of the first couple of pages of Google results. In the end all I could dig up for this week is this article about creative people finding it easier to rationalise deceptions.

Which is not what we're about at all.

Hey, just because we're evil geniuses doesn't mean that we're evil, right? Or geniuses for that matter.

All we are is people who feel that life has dealt us a consistently poor hand and presented us with relatively few opportunities to realise our full potential.

Now, as it happens although I'm making with all this "we" and "our" stuff I am really, at this stage, just talking about me. The reason being that I haven't exactly been deluged by people identifying with this Evil Genius idea. Maybe I haven't reached the right people, I refuse to believe that there aren't more Geniuses out there struggling to put their finger on what's wrong.

I'll tell you all what's wrong (this week) we don't have no frickin' list*. If you recall last time I stepped through a list designed to help identify those Impostor people, I recall item 9, I mean item goddamn nine, was "you are really successful in your field". Had they lead with that the test would be a lot shorter because, you know what, most people really aren't.

Let's flip the switch here because just writing the opposite of the other list isn't maybe enough to form a good basis for the feelings of evil genius-ness. Nevertheless item one has to be:

1. You don't feel you've been quite as successful in your career as, perhaps, you should have been.

Nodding your head, then it's time to read on:

2. You have come to realise, at least once, that your superiors at work are less suited for their job than you are.
3. You are often surprised when people are shocked by work-related news that you figured everyone just knew already.
4. You feel like you may have missed out on opportunities because you overrated the abilities of those surrounding you, only realising you should have stepped up way after it was too late to do anything.
5. You figure nobody likes a smart person so you try to keep your head down and integrate well as a team player, this often leads to you being thoroughly shafted.
6. You stop at your limits while others attempt foolish things way beyond theirs and appear, magically, to fail upwards.
7. You trust people too much and believe that they will do things that seem obvious to you, later you find they were ONLY obvious to you and disaster befalls.
8. You are pretty keyed in to both your failures and your achievements and see them as, at least, balancing out. You would identify with the statement "I've succeeded more often than I've failed, but occasionally I failed big."
9. You have big ideas all the time, you often label them as "pipe dreams", at least one of these ideas has made someone else very famous.
10. You have been known to be somewhat ego-centric, you didn't like it as a quality so you are fiercely on guard against egocentric traits.

This seems reasonable as a first draft. If some or all of it applies to you then feel free to drop me a line. It would be good to know that I am not all alone in this condition. Maybe if the Evil Geniuses of the world were to help each other out a bit then some good would come of it... which I guess might lead to:

11. You're not really a joiner and tend to be cynical of "success guru" material.

That last bonus point just means you have a brain, and, hell, how could that not be the case my evil comrade. Next Time: Evil laughter and mountain bases, the echoing mirth of loneliness.

* Well, we have this list but that's not what I really meant.

15 September 2017

Getting Out There

In just over a month you, dear reader, will be able to buy a fresh copy of Starfall from the usual outlets. A paper and ink copy will be, I imagine, something of a rarity as the cost for dropping a paperback of this epic is pretty high. The e-book will be more reasonably charged at whatever you feel like giving me for it.

I have done something with Starfall that I have never done before. I sent copies out to reviewers. I haven't done this in the past because it hasn't been totally obvious who would be interested in reviewing my output. In the case of the three Chicago Shadows books they were super odd, police procedural? Horror? I still don't even really know.

Before that you'd have to go back in time over a decade to 2005 to my self-publishing debut, when I was new to Lulu and kindles were not a thing. So I would have had to buy and mail out individual copies of the books to get them reviewed. Back in those days I was vehemently anti e-book because Amazon hadn't made them so ridiculously easy to procure and acceptable to read.

I began writing Starfall in 2006, and it has been a source of long lament that the book I wrote for my wife has not seen the light of day for as long as we have been together (almost). When I think about it, though, what better time to put the book out than a time when I can email reviewers .epubs and .mobis, a time when digital collaboration has never been easier.

I got a couple of suggestions from a writing colleague and, once I had digested that list, I had the appetite to google for myself. I didn't have to google long before I found this immensely useful list of contacts. I worked through that too.

I do recall that back in the mists of time a writer would have to seek out obscure almanacs to get lists like that. Unsurprisingly the internet has changed the game. Good job too. Most authors are authors on the side, we don't have time to seek out, transcribe, and file any more. Much aside from anything else we have to maintain a public profile, however measly, and some of us have to typeset and publish our own books.

Not that it's all plain sailing. The problem with easy access to a resource (such as a reviewer) is probably often abused. I didn't just bang out fifty identical emails with e-books attached and spam the entire bunch of reviewers, no, not at all. I asked each one that I submitted to whether they had the time and capacity for another needy book baby.

Also, I didn't automatically submit to a reviewer just because they exist. In each case I tried to seek out a review policy to see if I failed the reviewer's requirements, which I did on occasion. I also didn't try to contact people who were not easily contactable. If I didn't know how rude a lot of authors are about getting their work out there I'd wonder how reviewers with no obvious inbox got books to review. Obviously, they may also not do reviews via request.

As I wandered through this gallery of web pages, seeking out the method for getting in touch with the reviewers, I realised that we have come to an age when you should really take some control in the matter of how people access you, or at least the public you. Anyone who visits this blog has some access, but then anyone who visits any blog has some access to the person who runs the blog. I don't really think that's enough any more.

I really do love to collaborate on things, podcasts, story collections, guest posts, anything I have time for I will do at this moment. So I set up the You're Invited! page to let people know that I was open for business. Now I know that people have a way to get in touch with me if they do want me to be on a podcast, or to write a story, or anything else.

It's early days so no one's asked yet, but I have a little bit of confidence in the fact that I haven't missed opportunities now. That's what all this accessibility stuff comes down to, opportunities are rare, and you shouldn't be passing them over. If people find it utterly impossible to work out how to get in touch then that's what will happen, on the other hand you want to control the flow. Otherwise you will miss some things and those people who are really determined will just find some other communications channel, appropriate or not.

13 September 2017

If You Can Read This, You Are A Pope!

My favourite Discordian Facebook page lead me to this little gem recently. Some rando asks what's with this Discordianism thing? He even admits to being a bit confused. Confusion is the catnip of the Discordian, latent or active. And in they come all seeking to help by contradicting each other wildly. It makes my heart swell with pride.

There's a mixture of different approaches to thoroughly failing to assist with the confusion in any way. The very first answer begins "a) five tons of flax" the next one helpfully signs off "If you can read this answer, you are a pope!"

Thereafter we are treated to further jewels of the Discordian art such as:

  • "an 'objective summary' of the religion could never be accurate"
  • "Objectivity isn't really a Discordian value; the common failure mode of the practice is 'dire assholery.'"
  • "It's a joke religion taken seriously to various degrees by various people that sprang out of the proto-hippie and New Age scenes by both mocking them and absorbing their more interesting elements."
  • "The world is chaos. Order is self-deception."
  • "If it's any consolation, you get the same fictions once you're initiated. I'd ask for my money back, but I initiated myself, and have no one else to blame."
  • "I have no idea what an earnestly practicing Discordian would even look like -- probably one of those homeless people you see yelling at themselves on the street."
  • "...if you don't understand the point of a religion that is a joke you will not understand it either"
  • "It *is* a joke. It's a lot of jokes. But, as stated above more than once, it's also serious."
  • "I found it very difficult to refrain from just posting a simple FNORD and leaving it at that."
To increase the fun, some answerers are answering as if they are not Discordian, but this merely serves to increase the confusion, so they're probably latent. Hell, all people are really latent Discordians, the question is to what extent you accept that, like all religions. I mean, that's a religion-y type thing, isn't it?

Discordians tend to be poor at identifying what's religion-y and what's just pure control-mania. Like the rest of the world then, I suppose.

Were I to take issue with any of it. And, hell, as a Good Discordian® it is my duty to take issue with the whole by-gosh-darn-it lot. It's in the misidentification of Discordianism as being pro-chaos in the same way it is anti-order.

That's not nearly complicated enough to be the truth.

We like to view things, as human beings, in these neat little dualities, night and day, love and hate, good and evil, order and chaos, salt and vinegar, death and taxes, lions minus tigers equals the root of bears divided by "Oh My!" squared,

The truth of this illusory conundrum is exemplified by the description of "Eristic" (pro-chaos) and "Aneristic" (pro-order) principles that give us lenses through which we can all view the universe. The problem is they're both as false as each other. The universe is a single eternal moment of unending uber-chaos.

Fiddling with either of the illusory constructs just equalises the amount of "chaos" and "order" that are perceivable. So, attempt to make something ordered and it will just increase apparent chaos, go out of your way to cause apparent chaos and order will kick back. The reason for this is that all you're doing in such circumstances is putting greasy finger marks over the lens through which you're viewing the world.

What you really want to do is rip the concept-lenses off your eyes altogether and stare into the joyous face of true chaos.

Actually, don't. It's probably scary, likely it will leave you in a bad place. Instead find a hot dog vendor and ask them to make you one with everything, basically that's almost the same thing.

11 September 2017

Are You An Evil Genius? I Am

Recently there's been a lot of people talking about Impostor Syndrome. The first time I ever heard of the condition it was from Neil Gaiman, who has experienced it. Now it is a phenomenon widespread enough to warrant multiple feature articles. Or, possibly, it is just another angle on picking apart the lives of the famous and their business cousins, the successful.

I have never experienced success, fame or impostor syndrome. Actually, that can't quite be true, I have experienced success in securing employment on multiple occasions. However, I have never felt, in any of these positions, like I was about to be exposed as a fraud. Sometimes I have felt like I'm doing fine, and other times...

The way that I put it to myself is that I felt like all my potential wasn't being accessed. It used to be a feeling that I got from work situations alone. All this talk about impostors though has lead to me re-evaluating this stance. Fact is that there are many areas of my working life, as a coder and a writer, where I feel like I've been unfairly overlooked. How awkward and un-British an attitude to have.

So awkward and un-British in fact, that I got a list of 10 common features of the syndrome from this article. I thought I might consider these just to check I'm not going astray here.

1. You tend to admire and overrate the abilities of others and underrate your own ability.

Nope. I do admire, and have overrated, the abilities of others. I admire them all the time. I admire my colleagues at work right now. Where I go wrong with overrating people is more trusting them to do something I thought would be obvious and then finding they have not, in fact, done that thing leaving us in an awkward position. I have never underrated my own ability. I have, on occasion slightly overrated it but compensated as time went on by making guarantees rather than promises.

2. Others may see you as competent, but you still see yourself as incompetent.

I don't even know what to say to this. As a kick back to thinking I owned the bloody joint in my late teens I have realised that in the "real" world a person waits for certainty that their action is appropriate. I think that I might actually have a relative of this where I don't do things because I believe I am not "allowed" to do them because it would appear as if I'm trying to take over the world. Only occasionally do I get admonished by people saying: "You could have just done x, you know, that would have been fine." This tends to suggest I am cautious and mindful of my own hubristic tendencies.
3. You have a hard time acknowledging objective measures of your competency.

I don't have any objective measures of my competency, as either a coder or a writer. Both disciplines are highly subjective. In the case of writing this is fine for everyone. People involved in systems development get a bit more bunched about that.

There are many pseudo-objective ways to work out whether someone will be a good coder and I have fallen foul of some of these when job interviews have ended in rejection because the prospective employers believe me not to be the "right kind of coder", I tend to brush this off as cold feet about having someone as brash and confident as me in the office.

When it does come to writing I have spent three decades developing the traditional writer's "thick skin" when it comes to criticism. I submitted a story to an excellent short story collection once upon a time. My story received a couple of kind reviews and one review, that I cherish, by somebody who just didn't get my story at all, the whole thing weirded them out to the level of complete rejection. It is one of my favourite reviews of my work because you can feel the visceral confusion from the words, I mean, come on, that's a reaction!

Anyhow, people have consistently been either kind or, in writer's circles, keen to point out my shortcomings in writing. It's really hard to get a measure of what kind of writer you are because people are not often known to stage interventions for people who can't write telling them to just give up.

One thing I do know is that most low-selling authors I come across aren't actually bad writers at all, whatsoever. They may, possibly, edge into mediocrity, but often from the top end, so their writing is only just better than average. Some low-selling authors I have encountered are actually really good. The problem tends to turn out to be that the story they are telling is just not compelling for large amounts of people.

For example, there are not many people who have an enthusiasm for "Star Wars Underwater" stories. There is probably some kind of niche market there but usually people just don't respond to that mise en scene. No idea why, just is. So if you're a writer with a passion for soggy space opera you have the problem that most people have other stories to read that rate higher on their casual-interest-ometer. Their aquatic laser battle is not necessarily bad, just not compelling.

On the flip side of this writers like Stephen King (yeah, that guy again) do the exact opposite of that. They involve people in genres they would not otherwise have ever read. There are many people who don't like horror books that I've met who still enjoy King's work.

Is Stephen King a better actual writer for that? Well, as it happens he's such a good writer he's useless for comparisons like this. Stephen King's writing is on a level of natural, in-born talent that it is no good for the basis of comparison. So let's shift slightly.

Iain M. Banks was a fantastic writer, sadly no longer with us, who wrote compelling, weird SF epics, space opera in the grand tradition of literary space epics, with a smattering of liberal political satire in there. I love Iain M. Banks (and his contemporary fiction alter-ego Iain Banks).

But was he a good writer? Yes, he was a fine, serviceable, solid writer.

Is he a better writer than some less successful writers I've read? No. Not at all.

His novels could be wilfully bizarre to the point of breaking the narrative. He allowed huge swathes of tangential detail to obscure the plot progression. His novels occasionally felt like their structure was only just achieving coherency. Sometimes his novels were peopled entirely with characters that it was impossible to like. This made his novels, on occasion, hard to finish.

Iain M. Banks "got away with" things far more than Stephen King (and that guy gets away with plenty). So, in the end, some authors who sell far more modestly than these two are doing stuff way better.

What I'm saying is, at some level, it's random. At some level what I am passionate to tell a story about you may not be passionate to hear one about. At another level sometimes people are stupidly famous and wealthy because what they want to say and what loads of people want to hear intersect.

So how can I call myself incompetent? I believe I just tell stories no one really cares about beyond a select audience consisting of me and my wife. Fair enough.

4. You have a hard time accepting compliments for your accomplishments

Nope. Love compliments. They make me feel warm and fuzzy.

5. You discount the value of your abilities and talents.

Nope, I try very hard not to overestimate them, actually.

I have come to a point in my life where I remind myself daily how stupid most people are compared to me. If you are a friend of mine, don't worry about me secretly looking down on you. You too are just as or even more intelligent than, I would estimate about 75% of the general population because my friendship is snobby like that. It's rare I can stand the company of people far less intelligent than me.

But all you have to do is join an anti-Brexit group on Facebook and that will quickly lead you to people who are willing to wallow in the stupidity of others. We live in a Western world currently claimed and run by rich nincompoops. Stupid is the new black.

One thing I know is that these idiots with their hands on the levers have effectively (probably at the behest of someone who is intelligent) convinced a bunch of intelligent people that they're worth far less than they are. All those graphs of real-terms wages sinking like stones since the 70s are proof positive that clever people are being devalued because they're willing to stand in the same place as not-clever people who are also being devalued.

I think that all the people are worth more, but it is the clever people who should really be raising a proper stink about it. We are a bargain and we find ourselves too often in a place where our income is constricted or even removed by people who couldn't even do half of the crossword we did at lunch for fun. We should be fighting for ourselves so we have the resources to fight for people too dumb to be able to, because they're getting sold short as well.

So, no. I know how much my talents and abilities ought to be worth. I also feel they're not being given a fair price.

6. You believe that everyone is capable of doing what you do, if only they tried.

No. Not everything, and certainly not the writing. I am super happy with some moments in my writing and firmly believe they are the product of my talent and are super good (not every precious word, you understand, just moments). I think I can do a lot of things that a lot of people just couldn't do. I have met a lot of developers, however, who could fix all the bugs and add all the features I can add just as well. Let's not over-estimate here.

However, that pool of development talent is, itself, a relatively small amount of the population of the country. The number of otherwise intelligent people I meet who describe themselves as "not technical" and then go on to literally dazzle me with how far the words "not technical" can take you into the realms of techno-phobia tells me that I am still part of a kind of technical elite. It's just the others in here with me are far more visible.

7. Despite repeated successes, you view each new challenge as your undoing. You believe you will be found out.

Not at all. Actually I believe I have only rarely been challenged enough. No one has ever asked of me something tough, or at least not very often. The last time someone asked me to do something complicated that may have been beyond my talents it kind of was and it did come back to bite me. My only solace was that it was tough because no one else around me had ever succeeded properly in doing the very same thing. So I am just the latest in a massively long line of failures.

I am a fast learner, and a good student, but I cannot learn if I don't have an instructor. In that case I couldn't even teach myself to do the thing I had been asked to do. Although, now I think about it, I didn't actually try that hard. So I failed because a) I had no model for success and b) I didn't even try to teach myself how to succeed in the endeavour. So, no surprise there then.

Other than that I guess I'm still waiting for the big challenge.

8. You attribute your successes to luck or “fluke”

Ha. No. Every success I have had was well earned. I have failed at things for good reason sometimes but I have also failed at things because of the reverse of "fluke", or can you have a bad fluke? Whatever. I have failed at things because I was unlucky, but I have only ever succeeded at things because I am competent. The world is too hard for any success to be luck. The reward for modest competence is sometimes out of proportion but all success by everyone is earned, be sure of that.

9. However, you take full responsibility for all your failures!

Yeah, I did it above, so at last something we can agree on. I can tell you why my actual projects have failed in forensic detail. The flukes I talk about above are mostly people rejecting me for jobs I am amply qualified for and probably at the right place to integrate well into. The process of getting accepted for a job is a wibbly-wobbly thing. I have not failed a technical test since MVC was hot and I sat two tests in a day that had dedicated MVC sections before I really knew what it was. And I got one of the jobs where I failed that MVC section because the employer believed I would "pick it up" (which I did).

As for projects which are within my power to bring in successfully and I didn't, I always consider, deeply, afterwards, why I failed and can tell you in detail why that might be. I may run down my failures at another time, because they're interesting. But suffice to say, for now, I know how to say that something was my fault.

10. You are likely to be highly capable, competent and successful in your field.

Ah, well, here we are then. A broken back one. The first two, probably, I am pretty sure I am both capable and competent, but successful? No. It's no wonder I don't feel like an impostor when it would be hard to work out, professionally speaking, who would want to be me.

This all leaves me very much feeling like the opposite of an impostor. I feel like I am better than the performance of my accomplishments would represent me. I have succeeded where it didn't count and, on a couple of notable occasions, I have turned in an understandable failure where it meant something afterwards. I guess this is one of my shortcomings, I can't tell up front, often, where a failure will "count".

I can't help but feel that, nevertheless, I have often succeeded in completing my objective and tend only to have failed when I failed to understand what I was doing until after I'd failed at it. I think that constant and repeated failure is, in fact, a major contributor towards eventual success. There are others who agree with me. At my age, what I should have done is fallen on my face more often up to this point, I guess.

Hey everyone, I have failed to fail! A lot!

In all seriousness, though, it is troubling when minor failures, like failing to get a job, bring out a reaction along the lines of: "Well, hell, yes, I could tell they weren't looking for someone as awesome as me and my awesome-ness was too at risk of breaking their company culture". That's a dangerous train of thought.

Not that feeling like a fraud when you're not can't have some deeply negative consequences if you're not careful. But, hey, those folks are being warned right now. And it only applies to people who are highly successful. Maybe part of their impostor-ness comes from the rest of us, all those people who are way under-valued, I guess that's a possibility. Maybe impostor syndrome is just a vague memory of that time that the impostor believed they were worth more than "this" whatever "this" might have been. Maybe all impostors started out like the rest of us the...

Oh, now, wait a minute. What are we called?

There's been very little in the way of attempts to define the opposite syndrome here. And I'm not talking about the Dunning-Kruger Effect, because that's only tangentially related. Nor am I referring to the obvious identity crisis that follows people who have lost their job. Although the people in the latter category have no name for their condition either (other than "unemployed" har har).

Over the course of writing this post I have come to the conclusion there must be tens of thousands of us, and probably not that many impostors, in the world. We're not given fancy articles in the Guardian because we're not successful, but we all feel as if we should be more successful. We feel as if the world is unfairly ignoring us, not tapping into our potential and reaping the rewards of seeing what we can do. We feel as if, no matter how much we are valued by our friends, family and current associates, we aren't valued in the place where recognition resolves into cold hard cash. People try to euphemise this as "aspirational" thinking but to aspire means you're not there yet, you're on the way. I'm talking about you arrived, took a seat in the coffee shop and have nearly finished your cappucino and still nothing has happened. You're not aspiring, you're overlooked and no one seems to have noticed the error.

There is only one archetype that views the world through this lens, the "Evil Genius", I had, orginally, been going to say "Mad Scientist" but that's way to STEM biased, you can be an evil genius in the arts, indeed I am. That's it guys, those of us who feel that we're way beneath where we should be in the world are Evil Genii. It's good to say it.

Just because I'm an Evil Genius does not mean I have to use my genius for evil, right?

8 September 2017

Smashwords Interview

Smashwords have a feature where the site will interview you, in a broad, author-y kind of way. I went through the process.

You can view the interview here.

6 September 2017

The Age of Discord

How can we call this anything else? At least in terms of the narrative of our mass culture.

If you have never really looked at 60s American counter culture I suggest that you should go and take a look into it. Up until about a year ago it was history. Since the middle of 2016 it's starting to consume reality.

It's super hard to unpick this one, it's hardly an intuitive leap. The counter culture (which I am going to use here to refer specifically to the 60s American counter culture movement) is a many-layered and complex belief system that changed the world. The movement's ideals were not realised, but some of its goals and objectives either were at the time, or were seeded so that it almost seems inevitable that they should come to pass.

The counterculture lived everywhere in art, music, literature, politics and even carved its way into science and technology. What I think people didn't get then, what is only starting to emerge now, is that things we have, as a Western culture, regarded as movements or philosophies that grew up out of counterculture were, in fact, a generational shockwave that is now starting to realise around us.


One of the key things that contributed to our failure to perceive this cultural velocity is the fact that some key features of the counter culture were, in fact, parts of the underlying philosophy which became redundant. They are like cladding on the outside of a space module attempting re-entry. They can burn off, so the payload can be kept safe.

Among these features are obvious things like frequent, intense drug experimentation and the philosophy of free love. When you talk about hippies these are two of the key points, and often in that order. It's hard not to be cynical about it these days, after all we've spent about three to four generations being cynical about hippies at this stage.

On the one hand the ideals of the movement talked about peaceful living, building a life out of love and so on and so forth. The unfortunate side-effects from the attempts to live out those ideals were passive-aggression, paranoia, psychosis, ignored misogyny and a general celebration of the solipsistic.

Maybe these guys should have read less Marx and Ghandi and taken on board the words of Helmuth von Moltke the Elder:
"No plan survives contact with the enemy."
Here's a thing, you would imagine it would be quite easy to see a flaw in any philosophy who's central tenet is love but whose foundation is anti-establishment.

Once you've harnessed that horse and cart together and loaded up the cart with drugs and questionable personal choices it's easy to see how it ended up in a ditch.

The mistake comes in thinking that just because something's most obvious features foundered on realities rocky shores that the whole ship went down with it. This is most certainly not the case. Almost all the most recognisable features of our zeitgeist have their roots in the counterculture. Post post modernism, political correctness (mad or otherwise), self-referential entertainment, social media memes. The world has spent nearly half a century now cranking up the absurdity.

It's not a surprise that finally the world of politics has gone the same way in English-speaking Western culture. The weirdest thing about the current right-wing is that it's an MTV commercial pastiche of the things it used to be. No less dangerous than it ever was but the political end may as well be a bunch of rubber puppets spitting one-liners, constantly embarrassing and disgracing itself, the extreme end is like a KKK comic book version of itself. Extremism is taking its extreme cues from 90s skate-punk marketing campaigns.

In the pub fight of Western Culture we're at the point where someone's going to have to shove that broken bottle in someone's general direction or cooler heads need to swoop in to drag the participants outside into the cold night air.

And all the while Discordians have a chuckle. Not in some bittersweet "have to laugh or you'd cry" way. Crying is not on the agenda. It's all funny, no less potentially destructive and catastrophic for it. But it is funny.

So laugh on that basis everyone. Welcome to the Age of Discord where your murderer will probably be some kind of parodic imitation of the real thing.

2 September 2017

Lovecraft Got It

Welcome to me bunching my fists with effort. Welcome to me fully cognizant of the fact that how I act is entirely up to me. Welcome to me knowing that there is no cloud-comfortable bearded sky daddy who will forgive me for behaving like an asshole. Welcome to me having to skirt the line between the required gentle ribbing and subversion required and not wanting to tip over into being, you know, mean.

Because nobody wants to be that guy, right? That guy is most certainly not who anyone wants to be.

Let's start with "Today I Learned".

What's giving me a massive problem here is that I am unused to seeing something that I would totally have made up presented as a real thing. In my exploration here, through the written word, I come to the conclusion that I love it, I really do love it. I love the wonky web design and the wonkier UI behaviour, I love the tone of the site, the blank-faced failure to comprehend that some people will find it, I don't know, is hilarious the right word?

I think this is a Discordian's big problem with most religion and esoteric practice*. It's all kind of funny, when you sit down to think about it. That's where it veers off the track to become horrible and frightening. You realise that people are actually trying to stop thinking in order to believe something inherently nonsensical. And they succeed with alarming regularity.

Having said that Discordianism doesn't say no to other religions, you want to extend your belief platform into something a bit more orthodox, go ahead. The point of the Discordian perspective is just that. Discordianism is an all-purpose mental filter for anything else that you might want to put into your brain.

So... magic...

Let's not ask the boring question. Let's ask the inverted boring question that is only marginally less boring, but we have places to go, so we won't dwell. Here goes: Do I disbelieve in magic. Well, that's a very simple question. I don't believe everything I read, so obviously as magical instruction is written down I don't believe it.

Okay, so not to wriggle out of the topic, if I'm at a party and someone says to me: "Hi, I'm Pete and I used to be a Grandmaster of the Magical Pact of the Illuminates of Thanateros," how do I reply?

I guess, after much deliberation, I have to go with: "Oh, sounds interesting? And what does that involve?"

As it happens what it involves is detailed in a couple of Wikipedia articles, at least a broad overview. What am I to make of the fact that a circle of occult magicians formed in the 1970s in the East End of London centred upon a metaphysical bookshop called The Phoenix? What is anyone to think learning of a schism that shook the IoT in the 1990s resulting in an event dubbed "The Ice Magick Wars"?

As a Discordian I have to remain highly skeptical. On the other hand people have paid the mortgage living their lives as practicing magicians. That is an achievement of some kind. I am a software developer who has had a lucky break and I feel a pressing need to pay my bills writing software for computers that definitely exist, the bloody things are everywhere.

I have never needed myself, nor known anyone who has admitted to needing, the services of a professional magician of any sort. I note, from the entry about one of the founders of IoT Peter J. Carroll, that this particular magician wrote a few magical tomes, but then, I know how much money can be generated off book sales and it's not a living income in the numbers he would have been selling them. (Although I don't doubt I would find the number of copies sold of any one impressive, just, not impressive versus, say, Clive Barker.)

Mr Carroll now maintains a website where he can publish some thoughts directly to the internet. This is where I started this enlightening trip down the rabbit hole with some notes from 2015 regarding Discordianism.

At first I wanted this post to be a reply to that post, particularly the assertion that "Discordianism seems dead or dying, having served its purpose."

When I find myself at this part of the path, however, what can I really say? Because to a certain extent Mr. Carroll has it exactly right, nail on the head, got it, grasped it, right on the button. And in exactly the same way he is so far from right that it would appear he has backed into his insight from the wrong side.

I think the key, for what it's worth, is in the notion of death. And in 2015 it is entirely possible that Discordianism was dying. As any esoterocist will tell you, however, death isn't the end. It is a place of transformation after which nothing will ever be the same ever again.

This is why I have returned to Discordianism after reading about it first, probably in the mid-Nineties, when I was in my early twenties. Mr Carroll was immersed in sixties counterculture, Robert Anton Wilson co-author of the Illuminatus Trilogy was a member of the IoT. That counterculture was his culture. But it wasn't, and could never be, mine.

So in my twenties I examined Discordianism as a thing that had happened, exactly the same way that Caroll appraised it two years ago. In that form, the original form, it was a blunt tool, something to be used against a mainstream culture that needed to be curtailed. The Illuminatus Trilogy pits counterculture heroes against figures of the old-world establishment. A lot of the nitty-gritty of phase one Discordianism is designed to specifically attack, undermine and immunize against that exact paradigm.

And it won. Without a large number of people actively embracing specific Discordianism. I'm not sure if even the KLF would claim to be practicing Discordians. I think those people who do claim it do so out of necessity, not out of a desire to do so. I know this is true for me.

As with the philosophy of automatically refusing to believe everything you read** until you have taken away absolutely everything from it that can be rejected so Discordianism itself will mutate until it reforms to be the antidote to the new establishment.

Look around the Western world, we have parody politicians playing parody power games for an audience of voters who are slowly coming to understand that they are watching a pantomime. Politics has always been metaphorically pantomimic, because all power games are, but right now, right here, at this time is the moment in the Emperor's New Clothes where the crowd are realising that the Emperor isn't wearing a stitch.

Over a half century the authority of authority has eroded. Any person with a gun can now be branded a maniac, soldiers and police are not exempt. People are slowly realising they are people.

Lovecraft got it. Any being with the power of a god will not care about you. There are things out there that we are not biologically or spiritually equipped to even contemplate. We are having difficulty even looking at ourselves in the mirror. To understand and accept who and what we are would, at this time, be the ultimate work of any magical practice. Once we nail that, magic like any other tool, will die, and rise like a phoenix from the ashes in a new form.

* How can you not laugh when you find out contemporary Chaos Magick practice can incorporate an element of video-conferencing?

** For really overcomplicated re-evaluations of the terms "believe" and "read". Homework: Describe in detail what it is to believe something. What does it mean to have read something? Does it have to involve written words? If your head starts to hurt while doing the homework go watch TV for an hour and then take a bath and have a nap. Overthinking never leads to good places.