Toxic Nationalism and Patriotism

In the 240-odd years of the Republic of the United States of America, there has never in my opinion been a graver threat than the toxic nationalism and patriotism expressed by Donald Trump and his “America First” mantra. There have been other political parties and movements like the Know Nothings and the 1930s which originally used “America First” as its slogan, but those parties never amounted to anything or achieved much. Trump is a different breed of politician, one which blindly touts a form of toxic nationalism and patriotism which has been widely adopted and brought into by millions of voters.

These types of people do not believe it is okay to question America, where any form of dissent whether it be kneeling during playing of the national anthem, protesting police brutality, or questioning the actions taken by our military, is viewed as unpatriotic. Dissenting about the actions taken by elected officials, the police, and the military is a constitutional right, because if they are not held accountable, then they will abuse their power even more. It is okay to be proud of the country where you are born, however you should never be too blind to see the country you dearly love does harm. It has taken actions and massacred innocent lives in Vietnam. It tortured people in Iraq, Afghanistan, and during the War on Terror. In the same breath, if you cannot acknowledge that America has done some right, there is a problem.

The problem of toxic nationalism and patriotism I believe will continue well into the future. The nationalism of today of being from America, Russia, China, Britain, etc. will most likely morph into a type of planetary origin debate as seen in The Expanse. In the book and television series there is resentment from Earthers towards Mars and Belters (people who live in the Asteroid Belt). The place of origin is a bigger debate because there are also physical differences because of the effects of low gravity – Mars and the spun-up asteroids having 0.3-0.4G compared to Earth’s 1.0G. In the plethora of Star Trek shows, there is little to no nationalism or planetaryism (should really be a word), which I believe an unlikely scenario.

In an ideal world, once humanity leaves this planet and colonizes others, the idea of one nation or its people being superior to others will go into the dustbin of history. However, being realistic I believe nationalism will transform into planetaryism and there will be a whole more galactic level of perceived discrimination. In Within the Grasp of Ordinary, (my novel and series), there are people who have a toxic level of planetaryism where they believe Earth is superior to other planets, and seek to impose a fully Earth-centric government. Other people in the story believe while Earth will always hold a special place in humanity’s heart, Earth cannot treat other planets and their inhabitants as second-class citizens.

Besides toxic nationalism/planetaryism, patriotism is another problem, especially if people believe if one form of patriotism is superior to other displays of patriotism. There are different displays of patriotism but it is paramount not to forget that dissent is patriotic. Wanting one’s country to be better, to not torture people, to display respect towards all human beings regardless of their origin, is patriotic. What is not patriotic is trying to deny other’s their rights to be equal, to live how they want to live, to judge people by the color of skin, their place of origin, their name, their choice of religion or lack thereof.

Toxic nationalism and patriotism is a problem and one we must be better at understanding and addressing.

Netflix and Amazon

How many network or cable television shows have you watched recently? Within the past month, it has been two shows, Shooter and The Blacklist. I haven’t watched television shows on their regularly scheduled nights for about two years, the last show being The Walking Dead Season 6, which I always watched with my brother and his wife. To me there is no longer “must watch television” aired on the network and cable television shows. In addition, the week-long break between episodes is daunting because I will forget key moments or main/sub-plotlines. I would rather binge watch content on Netflix or Amazon.

Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu (though I hate their commercials and refuse to pay more for none) have in the past few years changed the ballgame. The content created by these three will only get more expansive and consumed by more people. Growing up I always wanted anything I wrote to become a movie but as an adult in this age of streaming, I would rather my work become a series on Netflix or Amazon. Watching the deals Netflix and Amazon (and the money they are willing to spend) to pick up projects is amazing, they are not beholden to the almighty Nielsen rating and are willing to give experimental projects like The Man in the High Castle, House of Cards, and Amazon’s rumored Lord of the Rings television series.

Outside of loads of money, Netflix and Amazon appear to allow content creators to follow their storyline with minimal oversight or intervention. One of my favorite book series is The Expanse and when I started watching the television series by the same name, I was completely disappointed to learn one of the main characters in book four dies in the first season. I am aware sometimes changes are needed for example, translating a book from a first-person narrative is difficult in television and movies. There are other reasons like in The Man in the High Castle series, there is a resistance movement which is not featured in the book at all. However, based off what we know about resistance and insurgency movements now compared to when the book was written, adding a resistance movement makes complete sense.

There are some changes which make sense and others which are mind boggling but any author wants to see their work faithfully adapted. Writing and having what is written produced into first movies then television came around as a dominant force in the 1950s and 1960s, is a give and take game. There will always be authors who have the rights to their work sold and the story made into a movie or television show, and the story will be changed to fit the needs of the delivering medium. However, there has never been a better time to be an author. Netflix and Amazon have made themselves into forces to be reckoned with and ones which will not go away. In 2017, Netflix spent upwards of 6 billion dollars in acquiring and producing television shows. In 2018, that number increased to 7 billion dollars and will only grow from there.

Though there are a few series which are cancelled before completion Everything Begins with Z and Marco Polo come to mind, series come to end at a natural ending point, which offers maximum closure to the audience. I always imagine what Firefly could have become if it was not prematurely cancelled. Another odd example is The Expanse which like a few other shows has been cancelled by a network or cable channel and found life on a streaming service. Now if only the streaming services would pick-up Stargate Atlantis and Stargate Universe and offer a more concrete ending.

When it is all said and done, if my work is ever offered the silver screen adaption or network or cable series, I would politely decline it. Traditional television series are beholden to the almighty dollar which is primarily earned by key advertising demographics, and a risky show is unlikely to aired during primetime. Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu have shown less traditional shows like The Man in the High Castle, House of Cards, Handmaiden’s Tale, and the series of Marvel comic book heroes works. There is a show for everybody on the streaming services that caters to their tastes and there will only be more content to suit people’s expanding tastes.

Father’s Day

There is no perfect father, there are only imperfect fathers trying to be their best. What makes a person a good father is open to people’s interpretation and social norms of the time. I was born in 1986 and both my parents worked, my dad worked two jobs, his civilian job and as Captain in the Army Reserve. I remember my dad working evenings and my younger brother and I, along with our mother, bringing ice cream to him. As young kids we didn’t know the difference between active and reserve Army, and when dad went away for annual training it felt like forever. I vaguely remember bits and pieces of conversations dad had during the 1991 Gulf War. He never got deployed but having that possibility, that feeling of him going away for whose know how long, felt heavy.

My relationship with my father since then has been amicable but strained, we do not see eye to eye on politics (myself being a moderate to progressive, him being conservative). I believe because of his past in the military and the way his step-father is, he was taught to be in control and follow a patriarchal-dominated viewpoint. Years after my parents divorced and I was living on my own, I was digging through my notebooks and stumbled across a journal of his. In the writings I saw how he struggled to come to terms with the divorce but also attempted to manipulate religion to try and not get divorced.

Why am I sharing this? Part of it is because it helps bring additional context to what I’ve written. I grew up in a generation between Star Wars, the Episode 4, 5 and 6 had already been released but Episode 1, 2 and 3 didn’t start coming in 1999 when I was 13 years old. I was always intrigued by the father-son dynamic of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker and the mystery around it. I would have preferred the backstory of Anakin becoming Vader to be shrouded in mystery because the prequel trilogy sucks and is filled with plot holes and contradictions.

In my teenage years I started what would become Within the Grasp of Ordinary, which really did not explore a father-son dynamic. However, as an adult when I returned to the story’s universe, much had changed and I felt comfortable incorporating and exploring the father-son dynamic and presenting some what ifs in my own life. I’ve always wondered what if my father went active Army instead of Army Reserves – would my parents still have divorced – most probably given the current divorce rate in the military is higher than the civilian population.

There are different father-son relationships than Philip (mostly based off me) and his father Thomas, there is the relationship of Tristan and his recently deceased father. Lastly there is Nathan and his father David who is running to become the next President. By including father-son dynamics, the story morphed away from “pure” science fiction to a coming of age, political thriller set in a science fiction environment.

Though my father and my relationship is strained, he did play an active part in the story (he is more than a character and influencer), he lent me the Babylon 5 DVDs I bought him years prior. He discussed other elements of science fiction and his thoughts on futuristic political environments, planetary colonization, etc. I ended up sharing a copy with him and after he read a few chapters, he asked if he was the “bad guy”.

I answered along the lines that it depends on whose perspective the question is asked from as every character interprets their actions and the actions of others differently.

 

More than Science Fiction

What do you think of when somebody says science fiction? Do you instantly think of ships in space, space battles, far away planets and all that jazz? I once had the privilege to attend a hand-selected workshop with an award-winning author from Kansas who has written numerous short stories and non-fiction work.  The author requested a longer submission, approximately 10,000 words, give or take a little if there would be an unnatural ending point. I combed through what I had written and corrected obvious mistakes and submitted the work. A total of three other students were selected in this process, all of whom I remain good friends and in touch with.

After two weeks, the author from Kansas arrived on campus and we had our one on one sit downs. My first friend, an older non-traditional student, ended up taking over two hours in her meeting, and would have been longer had the Department Chair who organized this and selected us not intervened. I was up next and went in and immediately was red with fury but bit my tongue. The guest of honor admitted he did not like science fiction and wasn’t really drawn into a first-person narrative. When submitting the work, I described it as a coming of age, political thriller set in a science fiction environment. I tried to steer the conversation towards thoughts on character development, the story so far and didn’t get much except he didn’t trust the narration of the characters (which is one of the points of first person narration).

I politely endured the hour-long one-on-one because I thought I would gain insight but instead mostly heard him talk down science fiction and say it needed to be more grounded. There is one positive from this awful experience, I changed the prologue’s narration from one character, Philip, to his mother.

Science fiction lets writers explore contemporary issues in a different setting. The re-imagined Battlestar Galactic is more than about the last vestiges of humanity of trying to find Earth, it was a critique of the post-9/11 world and insurgencies where the supposed enemy looks and acts like us. Star Trek the Original Series is more than exploring new worlds and civilizations, it is about bringing together humanity (a mixed cast and other ground-breaking norms for the time).

If the award-winning author took time to read my submission without prejudging it, he would have seen the prologue and first three chapters are about family strife. Philip’s father is away at Mars and in command of bringing an end to a rebellion / insurgency movement (based upon my coming of age of Iraq). Nathan’s father, a Senator is running for President. Tristan, Philip’s best friend, has recently lost his father in a boating accident, which has also scared Nathan and Philip.

The science fiction environment allows for a more open story, one which is unconstrained by traditional environments. Imagine trying to write a story about the effects of not combating climate change in set in the 1970s. Very few people know about climate change in this environment. Or a more current, every day topic, writing about a corrupt, criminal chief executive in the current environment of the second decade of the 21st century.

Why does science fiction explore the past in a futuristic setting? I believe it because there will always be timeless issues which need to be explored and discussed – dysfunctional families, the rise and fall of politicians, independence movements, terrorist organizations, insurgencies, the desire to explore new worlds and star systems, espionage and grappling with right and wrong.

Guns: The Past and the Future

There are over 300 million guns in America or roughly one gun per person. The world average for guns per 100 people is 10.2, the United States average is 101 per 100 people. A large majority of American citizens do not own guns. Rather a small minority of the citizenry own multiple guns. This is not a blog about taking away a person’s Second Amendment rights, rather it is about the absurdity of owning a gun in defending yourself against a “tyrannical government”.

The average citizen is not well trained in firearms, I highly doubt they can hit 23 of 40 targets which range from 5 to 300 meters (8 to 327 yards) away. There are 3 positions in which to shoot from, supported prone, unsupported prone, and foxhole. Twenty-three shots is the bare minimum in order to receive a passing grade, which is 57.5% of rounds fired hitting target. NYPD is reported to have around a 30% chance of a round being fired, hitting the intended target. If the people who are trained to specifically handle guns have an abysmal hit rate, the average citizen is bound to have far worse percentage.

A common claim in owning a gun or an arsenal of guns is to defend oneself against a tyrannical government. The concept of everybody having the right to bear arms (a musket) worked in the days when the army carried a musket. Yes, the army had a few cannons but cannons can be easily captured and learning how to fire a cannon is not a difficult skill to master. Even with their own weapons, the American Revolutionaries were unable to defeat the British Army without the massive financial backing of France, along with the military support provided.

Weapons have significantly advanced since the Revolutionary War, muskets gave way to repeating rifles, the semi-automatic, full-automatic rifles and machine guns capable of firing hundreds of rounds of ammunition a minute. Let’s not forget armored fighting vehicles, helicopters, aircraft, and nuclear and non-nuclear missiles. None of the weaponry of war are easily mastered by citizens, it takes dozens of weeks of training be labeled minimally proficient at the task of controlling one of these weapons.

But wait, insurgent movements have defeated (Vietnam, Soviet invasion of Afghanistan) or caused significant headaches in occupations (US in Iraq and Afghanistan). Yes, but the issue of average citizens dealing blows to powerful militaries is way more complex. In Vietnam there was a vested interest by China and Soviet Russia to weaken the United States, thus both countries provided weapons and training on said weapons. During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the US returned the favor it received during Vietnam. In the US occupations of Afghanistan, the Taliban government had been hardened by war and along with Al Qaeda had a strong cadre of fighters which to train new recruits to fight the US. In Iraq, the disbanding of the Iraqi Army left well-trained people willing to be mercenaries and fight against the US forces.

It is capable to defeat or significantly harm government forces but owning a single gun or multiple guns will not even make the fight remotely fair.

In the Ordinary series, guns are present but they are not commonplace amongst the civilian population. There are a few criminals who have guns, there are terrorist organizations which can compete against the military. Law enforcement is well trained in non-lethal maneuvers and uses guns as a last resort. A civilian can own a weapon but there are stringent requirements to own one. There is nothing wrong with owning a weapon, it is your Constitutional right, but there needs to be an equal responsibility by the gun-owner to make sure they are proficiently trained in handling their weapon(s).