Category Archives: Sociology

Socialization and Values for Fantasy Writing and Life: Neil Gaiman’s and Charles Vess’ book “Instructions”

[Spoilers the size of fairy tales]

“Trust the wolves, but do not tell them where you are going.”

“Trusts ghosts. Trust those that you have helped to help you in their turn. Trust dreams. Trust your heart, and trust your story.”

For my birthday this year, I wanted a copy of Instructions written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Charles Vess. In the past, I’ve blogged about Gaiman and Vess’ book, The Blueberry Girl, which I adored, and has become my standard gift for baby showers for girls. The first one I gave away was my treasured hardback. It was a gift well given, although I still miss my original copy. (If you want to know more about The Blueberry Girl, you can follow this link to a blogpost by Neil Gaiman that includes a narrated version. It’s lovely.) As Neil Gaiman stated in his blog post, he wrote the poem for his friend Tori Amos at her request for her daughter, one month prior to her birth.

When I first read the book, I think wanted it to be The Blueberry Girl, again. Really, I wanted the same emotional experience that I had the first time I read it. I find this type of comparison is a way to ensure that I’ll never be satisfied with any artist’s next work. I did enjoy my first reading of Instructions, but it was actually the second reading that enchanted me. Now, for me as a writer, I think I prefer Instructions. Or they are both awesome in different ways.

The Blueberry Girl is a prayer, filled with hopes for a child; Instructions is a guidebook on how to actually live a good life, to go on a good journey. Normally, I don’t include dedications in my posts, but I loved these.  Both Vess and Gaiman dedicated this book to well-known writers. Based on this, I feel like the book is a “thank you” to all those who go on adventures into their fantasy worlds, risking danger and failure, to return with something amazing for the rest of us. It’s more than just returning with a lovely tale. Most folklore, fantasy stories, and fairy tales are instructive and have good life lessons: on what we should seek and what we should avoid.  (In fact, I’d argue this is true of most good stories including religious ones.) As I’ve discussed before, books are such an important agent of socialization. They teach us values and norms—and challenge them.

I think that you can read this book in a couple of different ways: as a writer preparing to create something to be shared and as a person trying to live a good life. Be cautious, but also, trust.  Back to the themes I’ve noticed in other works by Gaiman (see my posts here and here), the theme of avoiding greed is woven in. The character enters a house and is instructed: “[w]alk though the house. Take nothing. Eat nothing.” On the next page, “However, if any creature tells you that it hungers, feed it. If it tells you that it is dirty, clean it.  If it cries to you that it hurts, if you can, ease it’s pain.” In this scene, the cat adventurer picks up a small cat that then travels with it. Yet, later on “when you come back, return the way you came.  Favors will be returned, debts will be repaid.” You can give help and other times you accept help. Both are important to living a good life.

In terms of the art in this one, my favorite pages include an eagle soaring with the cat adventurer’s arms outstretched, with his cat companion sitting in front of him, looking as if he is enjoying the breeze. I loved the last page: “And then go home. Or make a home. Or rest.” In our efficiency-driven, constantly-streaming, multitasking society, I believe that we need it to be okay to live our lives how we choose. We might be producing something, including art, but sometimes, it’s okay to just be.

I highly recommend getting a cup of tea, or coffee, or whatever you prefer, sitting somewhere cozy with a blanket (mine pictured below), and giving this book a few reads. After that, you might want to check out the narrated version of Instructions that will open on YouTube.

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A Return to U.S. classics: John Steinbeck’s East of Eden

This year, as I’ve reduced my participation in social media and blog writing, I’ve increased and changed the focus of my reading. I established this blog to mainly talk about science fiction and fantasy books with a sociological imagination. However, I’ve found that my reading habits have shifted some this year. My interests have always waxed and waned so I’m sure that I’ll return to reading science fiction and fantasy again. (In fact, I did read one piece of fantasy, an incomplete work by J. R. R. Tolkien where he started an epic, Arthurian poem using alliterative verse. It was fascinating. I want to learn more about Old English and a have a desire to reread The Lord of the Rings again.)

First, I read Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. Ernest Hemingway looks at the impacts of World War I without having the characters directly discuss or even think about the war much. Reading this allowed me to think about how when traumatic events happen, they may impact people so much that they no longer talk about the event. They may actively try to avoid thinking about it while still facing the direct and indirect effects of said event. In turn, this attempt at trying to ignore the pain may intensify problems like alcoholism or risk-taking.

Then, I had stumbled across Eudora Welty’s photography at our local art museum, the North Carolina Museum of Art. The ethereal nature of the photography, much set in southern states, spoke to me in a way that made me curious about her writing. I decided to read The Optimist’s Daughter since it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1972. The book was psychologically powerful and impacted my thinking about the past, memories, and letting go.

On a recommendation, the next book I read was John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. It really seems to be an human soul locked in novel form. It took me a month to read it since I was busy at work. But it was worth it.  It truly is a masterpiece. He was writing about the upheaval occurring in the United States around the time of World War I, with a primary focus on the Salinas Valley in California. (This book was helpful for me, as I can relate to themes of rapid social change inspired by changes in technology and globalization.)

The extremely short version of what the book expands on is the idea that human beings have a choice to be good or evil. It isn’t all destiny, biology (nature), or even culture (nurture). The characters debate a section in the Book of Genesis  related to the Cain and Able story, particularly the meaning of the Hebrew word, “Timshel,” in different translations of the Bible. The characters explore meaning of this story and word together across time, deciding that “Timshel” means, “Thou mayest.”  Individuals have a choice. They also discuss how Cain was marked not to be harmed, despite the terrible, murderous act he committed.

Also, some lessons that I found embedded in the book were: (1) humans deserve the truth of things, even when it may hurt them, (2) people should be trying to see the truth of situations, other people, and themselves, even when painful, (3) words have power to transform people, and (4) people (and horses) deserve to get names to live up to. We should hope for the best but be prepared to see what is. Many of the characters do not see themselves or others clearly, and it leads many of them into dire situations or even death. The surviving characters at the end, on the other hand, grapple with the problematic aspects of their personalities and delusions. When thoughtful people get together to discuss their problems, it makes them better. In the middle of the book, Lee says:

But I have a new love for that glittering instrument, the human soul. It is a lovely and unique thing in the universe.  It is always attacked and never destroyed—because ‘Thou mayest.’ (302).

I particularly really liked one line of dialogue: “‘And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good, is that it?” (583) Finally, as I was reading, I wondered what Steinbeck would make of fake news sites and people intentionally misleading other people and what kind of treatment he’d give it.

Now, I’m reading sociologist Zeynep Tufekci’s new book, Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest on how new technologies are changing social movements and our lives.

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Social change in Kim Stanley Robinson’s “New York 2140”

[Spoilers the size of the First Pulse ahead]

Earlier this year, over spring break, I traveled to San Francisco for a work conference. (What a lovely place!)  I needed a book for the return flight across the country and remembered that I had been looking forward to the new Kim Stanley Robinson novel about future New York. (In a previous post, I discussed why I loved reading his last book, Aurora, as well as Seveneves by Neal Stephenson.) I hiked all over the city to local bookstores, trying to find a copy, which I eventually found at Alexander Book Company.  I had high hopes for New York 2140.

This book was precisely what I needed after the political events of 2016.  One of my concerns about much of popular culture (in movies, tv shows, books, etc.) in recent years has been the focus on dystopia, cruelty, anti-heroes, self-loathing, etc. I’ve been slowly cooling out on many parts of popular culture that I used to enjoy.  As an example. I stopped watching Game of Thrones seasons ago (and am torn as to whether I want to finish the novels.)

In my own writing, and in the stories that I want to read right now, I want stories that focus on real people who are working to make their communities better. We need stories that tell us that we can be good, that we can be better. We need stories about communication and collaboration. We need stories that show that outcomes change through daily actions and diligence. New York 2140 delivers this through its magnificent cast of characters—characters who have ordinary but essential jobs. Characters who actually grow as people over time due to their situations and interactions with other people in their communities.

However, it’d be too easy for a novel to swing too far in the other direction away from dystopia and total despair. It could focus too much on utopia, on “perfect” heroes without flaws, on rosy ideas that could never actually happen because we humans are complex and messy. Apparently, at least in this novel, Kim Stanley Robinson feels similarly.

The future New Yorkers are dealing with uncertainly and adversity relating to the environment and capitalism and have been for more than a century.  Yet, despite the destruction, people are still living their lives. There are people who are swooping in to take advantage of disaster and those who are the “helpers” that Mr. Rogers referenced.

This book made me wish that I had read more American literature. There were many classic American stories embedded in the larger story which is why such a large cast was needed: it included a treasure hunt, a police/detective story, a rags to riches orphan tale, Moby Dick references, “Mutt and Jeff,” a gritty lawyer, the immigrant experience, an internet star, love affairs, and so much more.  I’m sure that I missed some references. There’s also “a citizen” that waxes poetical about the city of New York, that gives historical and educational information about New York through the centuries. In fact, New York City felt like a character in this book.

Many stories play out simultaneously in a city, and Kim Stanley Robinson points this out.  In fact, we often focus on the “few” people, but in reality, there are many people responsible for the events around us, including social change. It reminds me of the differences between micro-level and macro-level approaches in sociology.  Reality construction requires the day-to-day interactions and meaning construction between individuals.  You don’t get large institutions like banking or politics without individuals. Yet the institutions and large scale-conflicts around us shape those individual actions. The characters actions in New York 2140 impacted the society that they live in; however, other people in the city/nation/world who were not a part of the narrative played a role, too. Kim Stanley Robinson puts it like this in a chapter by “a citizen”:

Note that this flurry of social and legal change did not happen because of Representative Charlotte Armstrong of the Twelfth District of the State of New York. . . Nor was it due to any other single individual. Remember: ease of representation.  It’s always more than what you see, bigger than what you know.

That said, people in this era did do it.  Individuals make history, but it’s also a collective thing, a wave that people ride in their time, a wave made of individual actions.  So ultimately history is another particle/wave duality that no one can parse or understand (603).

I loved this idea.  We’re riding a wave that we’re creating together. In some ways, it indicates a lack of control while also recognizing that we are in control of our individual actions. We can work to improve our communities and enact social change.  But there is a limit in scope of what one person can do alone.

A remaining questions that I have: is “a citizen” actually Franklin Garr, the only first person narrative in the novel? He’s smart and knows a ton about New York due to his work in the beginning of the novel as the creator of the Intertidal Property Pricing Index, and extremely complicated formula “used by millions to orient investments that totaled in the trillions“ (19).  It’d be easy to mistake him for “just a stock broker”, but he has to understand finance, as well as the physics of what’s happening.  He obviously had a great education; however, he is young, wealthy, privileged, selfish and immature. Over time, through his exposure to diversity within his building, though his interactions with the other characters, he grows and becomes more empathetic and thoughtful.  This is a great message because people can change. I’d have to go back and do a longer analysis, but small things make me wonder if he’s also “a citizen” like their love of boating, enthusiastic narrative style and way of “speaking.” ( Of course, this could be a coincidence  since the whole book is about New York being submerged.)

I highly recommend this book, and I hope that it gets nominated for awards next year. Although I haven’t mentioned it, New York 2140 would be educational for readers who might not have taken a sociology class.

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Distortion and Stereotypes in Le Carré’s “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold”

[As always—spoilers]

It’s been quite some time since I’ve read past midnight, but I had to see how John Le Carré’s novel, “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” ended. It was published in 1963, but I found it to be surprisingly relevant in 2017. One of things things that I admire about Le Carré’s writing is that he is not wishy-washy, trying to please everyone. There’s a bite to both the words and the plot.

Le Carre says of his own book in the intro called Fifty Years Later:

The novel’s merit, then—or its offense, depending on where you stood—was not that it was authentic, but that it was credible. The bad dream turned out to be one that a lot of people in the world were sharing, since it asked the same old questions that we are asking ourselves fifty years later: how far can we go in the rightful defense of our Western values without abandoning them along the way?(xiv)

He also points out that the negative parts of the spies’ culture were a reflection of the problems in the larger culture.  The plot of the book explores how easy it becomes to exploit the individual in the service of some “greater good.”  The sense of impending tragedy is palpable and grows throughout the plot. The pacing of the book is excellent. Leamas, the spy, has to give up much of his individuality and acts as a tool for his handlers to gain ground in East Germany. He willingly makes this sacrifice of himself.  Another character isn’t a willing participant in the scheme.

However, the thread that I found the most relevant to our current politics was the section where Liz Gold, a U.K. Citizen and a member of the communist party, is brought to East Germany before the wall came down. When she interacts with the people there, she realizes some of the distorted beliefs that they had about the British. For example, they informed Liz that the working class was treated horribly in the U.K. In one scene, after Liz has been involved in something disturbing and exhausting, she doesn’t feel like eating the food offered to her. The wardress and she exchange:

‘Why don’t you eat?’ the woman asked again. ‘It’s all over now.’ She said this without compassion, as if the girl were a fool not to eat when the food was there.

‘I’m not hungry.’

The wardress shrugged: ‘You may have a long journey,’ she observed, ‘and not much at the other end.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘The workers are starving in England,’ she declared complacently. “The capitalists let them starve.’

Liz thought of saying something but there seemed no point (204).

It didn’t occur to them to ask Liz what her experience was as a citizen of the place, albeit of member of the Communist party there, because they already “knew” the answer.  Certainly, there were hungry people in that era as there are now, but most of them were comfortably fed, as demonstrated in an early scene, in which Liz is generous with another character, buying him a variety of food. Yet, Liz was also mistaken in her beliefs about what Communism was like. Le Carré was likely speaking to governmental propaganda.

In many ways, when compared to when this book was written, we have more exposure now to what other people’s lives are like in other places.  On the other hand, there are still distorted and stereotypical views.  Even within a country, people of different categories and political beliefs may not have exposure to how other people actually live or what they believe.

And yet, Le Carré also shows how both governments shared similarities in the prices they were willing to pay for their ideologies, despite having different ideologies. Both were willing to sacrifice the individual to win the “game.”

I’d highly recommend reading The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. It’s an excellent spy novel that is also thought-provoking.

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“Aurora” and “Seveneves: A Novel”: Earth as Home

[Star-sized spoilers ahead]

At the end of 2015, I read two books: Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson, and Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. My spouse suggested reading both of them together. I found out recently that Seveneves is a nominee for the Hugo award for best novel. I was actually a bit shocked that neither of these books made it on the Nebula list for novel this year.

This led to me thinking about what the characteristics of a good book should be, especially an award winning one. Certainly, there are times when I just want a fun, entertaining read. But other times, I want to be transformed. I want to look at the universe, the world, society, or myself in a new light. It’s a tall order, and, for me, it requires a thoughtful theme. The book asks the right questions, and possibly, points to new answers.

An award-winning book should leave you thinking. I was so overwhelmed by reading both of these novels at the end of last year that I spent considerable time processing them both individually, as well as their implications together. At first, I couldn’t even come up with topic for a post because they generated so many ideas. Ultimately, I realized just how delicate our relationship with Earth, our home, really is. We’re not living on a sterile spaceship. We’re part of a vast ecosystem developed over time that we do not fully comprehend. I no longer have copies of the library books so I’m going to do a general review from memory of these two.

In Aurora, settlers were packed onto a ship and sent out to their destination. During that time, the quantum machine guiding them became sentient.  (How the AI became sentient was a fascinating piece of characterization, although not what I’ll be discussing here.) It was an amazing feat, and yet, the settlers only hung on by a thread. Generations passed before the settlers arrived, and when they did, the first people that ventured onto their new home were quickly killed. And they had no true scientific understanding of why. The idea here is that if there are the conditions for life in a place, the place is likely already occupied. And the occupants, even if they aren’t sentient, will likely be harmful to us because we aren’t a part of the natural arising of their ecosystem. The settlers disagreed on whether to stay in the system or to return to earth. The narrative follows the ones who returned to Earth. Their return was difficult, and they struggled to survive. They only had enough resources to make it to their destination, if that, and not enough to return.  The AI made major contributions to their survival.

Although considerable problems had happened on Earth while the others went exploring, human culture was recognizable and dealing with the consequences of global warming, which emerged from a lack of consideration for the delicate balance of our ecosystem. (This same ignorance of the role of ecosystems led to the idea that people from earth could just fill some blank niche on another planet.) Furthermore, the characters question whether people had a right to send their descendants into the unknown without their consent. This book made me appreciate our home in a new way.

Seveneves was a gripping read from the moment that the moon shatters at the beginning of the book. There is a cast of characters, and they are all constantly trying to survive. It has interesting things to say about community and the breakdown of community. The few survivors of the catastrophe have to wait for many generations for the Earth to be habitable again, and they even help habitability along. Earth is our home, this novel points out, too. It explores how people react in the face of adversity—those who are helpers and those who are hinderers (often trying to ensure only their own survival.) It explored different examples of patterns of in-groups and out-groups. How would a catastrophe impact gender roles?  How would our different biological capacities, like for reproduction, shape the decisions that are made when the very survival of our species is at stake? It also explores how humans would survive and change both physically and culturally in vastly different environmental conditions over many generations. Finally, if you had the power to create an actual “race” of people, what traits would be emphasized?  When are certain traits useful? And perhaps, we need people of different traits and cultures for survival and to avoid groupthink. Yet, this can also lead to conflict.

Again, paired together, the books left me thinking for months about what our role in the universe is. We’re a part of a delicate ecosystem, and it’s where we thrive. And how we may neglect and destroy our home as we gaze longingly at the stars. I don’t think that either of these books is saying that we should ignore space research and technology; however, we also shouldn’t ignore the world around us. Both books, in their own ways, were optimistic, if cautionary.

 

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Satire in Jingo and Cat’s Cradle

“It was so much easier to blame it on Them. It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us. If it was Them, then nothing was anyone’s fault. If it was us, what did that make Me? After all, I’m one of Us. I must be. I’ve certainly never thought of myself as one of Them. No one ever thinks of themselves as one of Them. We’re always one of Us. It’s Them that do the bad things.”

Terry Pratchett

“Sometimes I dream that we could deal with the big crimes, that we could make a law for countries and not just for people.”

Terry Pratchett

“Always be wary of any helpful item that weighs less than its operating manual.”

Terry Pratchett

Recently, I read both Sir Terry Pratchett’s novel, Jingo, published in 1997, and Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, Cat’s Cradle, published in 1963. I’d never read Vonnegut before so I was struck by the similarities and, more importantly, the differences between their works, especially the use of satire. I decided to write this piece comparing and contrasting the types of satire they used.  However, my expertise area is sociology, not english literature. Therefore, I needed to learn more about satire.  My friend, Amanda, loaned me her copy of “A Handbook of Literature” by Harmon and Holman to help me better understand satire.  Satire is “[a] work or manner that blends a censorious attitude with humor and wit for improving human institutions or humanity” (461). The point is that authors using satire write to “inspire a remodeling.” From my reading, I learned that there are two major types of satire, formal (direct) and indirect.  Indirect satire is “expressed through a narrative and the characters who are the butt are ridiculed by what they say or do.” Terry Pratchett’s novel Jingo falls into this category. Although there is a first person narrative, I believe that “Cat’s Cradle” also falls into this type. Although I’m arguing that they both employ indirect satire, I believe that the tone of Pratchett’s is more Horatian (e.g., “gentle, urbane, smiling) while “Cat’s Cradle” is more Juvenalian (e.g., “biting, bitter, angry.”) Perhaps, someone familiar with satire will tell me if I’m on the right track with these ideas or not.

Both books are quite witty, using humor on multiple levels. Although they were written in different time periods, they both deal with technology and war. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series is a satirical fantasy series that often addresses modern political situations.  In particular, Jingo deals with the appearance of a fantasy island with no apparent “value.” In both countries, there are factions that want war rather than peace. Pratchett uses his characters to show the ridiculous and horrifying lengths that people will go to over their in-groups. However, there are many familiar characters from the Discworld series working to promote peace.

On the other hand, the narrator of Cat’s Cradle wanted to write a history of the day that the atomic bomb was dropped. During his investigations, he learns that the main scientist who helped to invent the bomb also helped to invent Ice-Nine, which essentially turns water into ice. The disastrous implications are easy to spot. In the end, humans destroy their own environment and many commit suicide.

As a side note, the treatment of scientists in Vonnegut’s piece, reminds me of the cartoon going around that science will allow us to clone dinosaurs, but we need the humanities (and the social sciences) to tell us that maybe that’s not a good idea. Just because someone is brilliant doesn’t mean that they are an ethical actor. However, there is no reason to assume that a brilliant mind has to be inherently cold and without empathy. Also, people in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences are usually intelligent (and hopefully, trained to be thoughtful and ethical.) The cartoon actually creates a false dichotomy.  I feel like the sciences and humanities have been pitted against one another to help minimize the attention on the business people and government officials who are throwing all of us under the bus through reduced tenure, instability, fewer grants, etc.

I loved Terry Pratchett’s treatment of his inventor/engineer in Jingo. We are introduced to Leonard of Quirm (based on Leonardo Da Vinci) in the book, who constantly generates ideas.  It becomes quickly apparent that he assumes other people are ethical and doesn’t think that his inventions should actually be used by people for war, although I, as the reader, worried that they might be. In the book, Pratchett notes:

Any sensible ruler would have killed off Leonard, and Lord Vetinari was extremely sensible and often wondered why he had not done so. He’d decided that it was because, imprisoned in the priceless, inquiring amber of Leonard’s massive mind, underneath that bright investigative genius was a kind of willful innocence that might in lesser men be called stupidity. It was the seat and soul of that force which, down the millennia, had caused mankind to stick its fingers in the electric light socket of the Universe and play with the switch to see what happened – and then be very surprised when it did.

Leonard of Quirm ridicules and seems horrified by the suggestion of the less intelligent/less educated character, Nobby, who repeatedly suggests that the drill on his submarine could be used to sink the other country’s ships. In the end, Lord Vetinari uses his own wits, science, and Leonard’s inventions to protect his people and country. He and his country even to come out on top politically. He’s certainly a believer in his in-group, but he does not turn to war.

In the end, the biggest different between the books to me is that of optimism versus pessimism about the ultimate human condition. Pratchett believes that we can learn and do better. It’s not that Pratchett is a “Polly Anna” type, because he certainly understands the darker side of the human condition, but when I read his books, I feel like there’s a chance for myself (and other people) to be better and even a chance to change institutions in society for the better. I prefer Terry Pratchett’s optimism to Vonnegut’s pessimism in Cat’s Cradle. If we don’t believe that humans can change things, I suspect that the chance we will becomes slimmer. In my own writing, I’d rather leave people feeling optimistic than bleak.

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Musings on Resort Hotels, Simulation, Reality, and Social Change

[This post is a bit different than my usual posts. I’m not a scientist or computer scientist so forgive me if I make egregious science mistakes here. I wrote this post to help me sort through some thoughts.]

I’ve read essays on the ideas that it’s possible, or even likely, that the world (or universe) as we know it is a simulation. (Here’s an essay from Aeon on this topic.) In the end, I’ve always thought that from an experiential level, if it feels real, then it is real to you, similar to the Thomas Theorem in sociology. (For an explanation of the Thomas Theorem, you can read this short article.) However, I had the oddest experience at a large resort hotel and conference center that I went to in Orlando, Florida for a work conference. Between the conference center and the different wings of the hotel, there was a middle area with an atrium, trees, flowers, ponds, shops, restaurants all woven together. There was a pond with small alligators. (Baby gators and a turtle hatchery were tucked away in a nook.)  Due to the atrium letting sunlight in, it almost felt “real,” and by that I mean being outside in nature. It was climate controlled, too.  So, you walked inside from the humid, warm Florida air to this cooler zone. Between sessions, I wandered around, noticing the exquisite attention to detail. It was seductive in a way, and as the days passed by, I focused on the conference and my colleagues, and I adjusted to the environment that I was in.

One morning, I decided to run outside. However, there was no sidewalk down the road. (I was told by friends that live in the area this was an intentional choice by the city to force consumers to have to stay and spend more money.) I ran across the parking lot thinking that I’d just run around the four acre complex. However, a gate for employees to drive through blocked my path.  In the spirit of gaining sociological knowledge, I decided to run past the gate to see what was on the back side of the complex. There was a dock for large trucks to bring the props, if we’re using Goffman’s dramaturgical analysis. (I’ve talked about dramaturgy on this blog before, but here is a short, new video explaining it that I came across recently.) On my back-stage run, I particularly appreciated the beer trucks. It was great to see that, unlike the employees in the front-stage, these employees didn’t feel compelled to smile at me, or even interact with me. It didn’t seem that they were performing emotional labor to interact with me. Emotional labor is Arlie Hochschild’s concept that people must manage their emotions and their display of their emotions to complete their jobs. This is often a central component of service work.

After running a mile, I returned to the front of the hotel, took time to appreciate the lovely sunrise, palm trees, and view. When I returned inside, I was struck by how artificial everything seemed again compared with the scene outside. At first, I almost used the word unnatural, but the parts of the facility were obviously natural. However, I had the oddest feeling that grew during the day.  I found myself thinking of the idea of simulation. If the resort that I was staying in became more and more “real” and “authentic” to me as I acclimated, then what if we actually are living in a simulation? I’ve thought about these ideas before, but I really grokked it.

Occasionally, I feel like the idea of the universe as a simulation is just missing the most important point of “simulation” in our lives. If you think of our society itself as simulation, then you can occasionally see through the cracks. (This reminds me of the movie, The Matrix.) The societal narrative is the set of symbolic, imaginary scenarios developed by past generations (and maintained by current generations) including culture and structure. We (and our ancestors) have created all kinds of imaginary scenarios and let them loose in the real world. People strongly believe in “private property,” “money,” “democracy” and many other imaginary concepts like race as real. (These ideas don’t have to be negative, per se.) Race has become real in terms of its consequences and deadly for many people due to previous generations creation of imaginary stereotypes and ideologies. However, these stereotypes have solidified into “reality,” meaning systems of oppression that lead to very real, lived consequences for people.  Some ancestors believed something heinous into existence through their collective will to create structures to advantage themselves. They essentially created a societal narrative. A societal narrative’s characters, plot, and script change over time.  If you can make and maintain a system, then you can modify or even break a system.  But it takes great will, effort, and potentially, lots of time. The rise of social media allows people to expose the holes in the system, as can be seen by African Americans having more of a voice on social media than in mass media. I have to say that more people need to awaken to the fact that all the socially constructed structures, systems, symbols, etc., are not as solid as they seem. Then, the trouble becomes which one should change and who gets to change it?

This isn’t my usual type of post, but I’d love to hear what makes sense or more importantly, what doesn’t make sense.

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