Thick Face, Black Heart — Kaitlin’s Story

   Chapter 1

One by one, Kaitlin wiped down the covers of the books she’d been reading over the past two weeks and slipped them back into the plastic Kroger shopping bag. Last to go in was the big disappointment, Thick Face, Black Heart. Her mouth turned up at the corner as it went into the bag.

Cool title though.

Maybe it lost something in the translation, but it sure took a lot of pages to say, ‘You have to be ruthless and not care what others think to get what you want’.

Preachin’ to the choir on that, Reverend Chu.

It seemed most of the book was concerned with justifying that premise., and it wasn’t anything Nicolo Machievelli hadn’t said in The Prince, four hundred years before Thick Black Theory.

The blurb that connected the book to The Art of War had convinced Kaitlin to give it a chance. She’d read the entire book, just to see if there were any nuggets to help her with winning her own wars. The best she had found was, A knife has great utility, and, without it, life would be extremely inconvenient. Yet a knife is also a deadly weapon.

To her way of thinking, the deadly weapon part was what held the greatest utility. Kaitlin checked to make sure Blondie was clear in the higher right pocket of her cargo shorts.

Yep.

Kaitlin was well-read enough in Psychology to know that Mr. Matthews—the school psychologist who’d tried every week of her ninth grade year to get her to talk about what was bothering her—would probably consider Blondie a crime trophy. But Kaitlin preferred thinking of her as a rescued pet. The other prisoners in her step-father’s high-dollar knife collection had gone to better homes but had also brought in needed currency to help fund Kaitlin’s escape.

She’d stopped reading self-help and pop psych books lately. There had been a few helpful concepts she’d uncovered, but most of them seemed to have no understanding of what kept people chained in their minds.

Fear.

The ones that did, she read twice.

Kaitlin put her things in her backpack, sliding the tablet and Bluetooth keyboard into the foil-lined layer where she kept the books she ‘checked out’ from the libraries she visited. Without the special section in her pack, she wouldn’t be able to get the books past the scanners at the door, and otherwise she’d never be able to read a paper book outside of library hours. Her other reading site, for when she had to find something obscure, was good old B&N with free access for all titles within their Wi-Fi range.

Since it was almost time for the library to open, she finished her coffee and left the McDonalds, tossing the cup in the trash as she exited. The library was a short trek across a parking lot, and she emptied the books from the plastic bag into the after-hours bin as she passed. As usual, she kept her hoodie pulled over her face and her unruly red hair when passing the security cameras.

Her ride out of town was leaving in an hour, so she stopped by the ATM, withdrew the $300 maximum from her account then caught the city bus to the stop closest to the address the people offering the ride had texted her.

She spotted another ATM and decided to stock up on cash since it was convenient, again, using the techniques she’d learned online to avoid being identified on camera. Though Kaitlin really didn’t need to hide anymore, since she was on her way back to Dallas to file for emancipated minor status, but she didn’t have a reason to stop using the habits that had kept her safe enough and off the grid for two years.

She wasn’t about to worry that her mother might contest it. Kaitlin was more than willing to drag Dan into court to show cause that the home environment was unsuitable. Kaitlin even had the name of a good lawyer in Dallas if it came to that. But it wouldn’t. She knew what motivated her mother, and that motivation would keep her from trying to rein Kaitlin back in.

Kaitlin sighed. The situation illustrated the point that your opponent’s fear was your own ally, and Kaitlin knew how strong her ally was. She had seen its power in her mother’s face for years.

Kaitlin pushed her long even stride to her fastest walk on the way  to the modest ranch house in the suburbs outside of Atlanta where the church network had scored the rideshare to Dallas for her. It was an older couple heading out west to visit their grandkids during summer vacation.

Last week, Kaitlin had an extended phone chat with the woman, Beatrice Handy, a retired science teacher. No red flags came up during the talk, and Kaitlin’s story about traveling home from visiting friends went down without comment. Beatrice was more interested in talking about what Kaitlin’s interests were than her situation and family. When she’d learned Kaitlin was a writer who was actually paid for what she published, Beatrice vowed to go online and buy some of her books so they would have something else to chat about on the drive. “If she wanted to..,” Beatrice had said.

Kaitlin had warned Beatrice that her latest series was written for young adults, they weren’t kid’s books and included some rough-edged material and language. Beatrice had just chuckled. “I may be old, but I’m not made of glass. Honestly, Kaitlin, in every generation, young people think they invented sex, swearing and violence.”

When Kaitlin rang the doorbell, a tall, older man answered, looking down at her with eyes framed by white, bushy eyebrows only a few inches below the top of the doorway.

“Mr. Handy?” Kaitlin said.

“Good morning, and yes I am,” he said.

“I’m Kaitlin. I spoke with Beatrice on the phone last week about the rideshare.”

“Of course, of course. Come in,” he said. “I’m sorry, I was expecting someone older than you after reading your book. Beatrice said I had to and I’m glad I did.” He opened the door and stepped aside. “You certainly led your characters on a harrowing ride in that one.” He chuckled, turning to face down the hall. “Beatrice, our young author has arrived.”

“Well bring her in for breakfast, Bernard.” Footsteps sounded in the hall then a bustle of Beatrice came around the corner toward the door.

So that’s what ‘spry’ looks like.

Kaitlin made some mental notes. Most of her characters were younger. There weren’t many older people in her life to draw on for inspiration.

“Welcome, Kaitlin,” Bernice said, reaching out with both hands to clasp Kaitlin’s in a warm, firm welcome. “I made a batch of Welsh tea cakes, and they just came out of the oven. They can come along with us too for snacks on the way. How do you like your tea, dear?”

Kaitlin, sensed the right answer wasn’t ‘sweet and iced’—even though it seemed that was the only way anyone drank it where she’d grown up. She smiled. “In a cup with good company,” she said, using a phrase she usually applied to coffee.

“Oh, I can see you don’t save all your good words for your stories. Come in and sit down for a few minutes. Bernard has the bus all ready to go, but let’s sit down for a minute and we’ll see how my teacakes turned out. They should be cool enough to eat now.”

Kaitlin pulled her arms out of her backpack and set it by the door.

“I hope you aren’t allergic to eggs, wheat or currants?” Beatrice said.

“No ma’am,” said Kaitlin, taking a chance on the currants, which she didn’t remember ever eating. “It smells wonderful.”

She followed Beatrice into the dining room. The table was set with fine china and much more than just tea and cakes.

Beatrice bustled around the table.”Since we are traveling I thought we’d just have a continental breakfast and bring along all the leftovers,” she said. “Would you like some granola? I can’t drink dairy milk, but we have some they make from almonds now, if you care for any.” Kaitlin sensed the right thing to do was to let Bernice feed her. Though Kaitlin made sure to select plates and utensils that weren’t the first available and only ate what she’d seen them eat first. It didn’t stop her from enjoying the teacakes with the hot tea. She could see how someone might think tea was an acceptable alternative to coffee, provided you could have these incredible cakes at the same time.

As tea and cakes continued to disappear, and their conversation branched out, Kaitlin noted that Bernice was treating her with unusual deference. After thinking about it, she concluded that, her series of Young Adult novels—that paid for food and clothes while Kaitlin traveled under the radar—represented something besides a portable job in Bernice’s mind.

To Bernice, Kaitlin was a celebrity.

Kaitlin had been writing since she was thirteen. She wrote what she liked to read—gritty stories about teens struggling with their problems. Even after she’d abandoned hope of staying with her mother and chosen the life of a runaway instead of suffering Dan’s sexual advances and attempts to corner her, she would find a coffee house somewhere and pound out stories on her cheap Android tablet and Bluetooth keyboard.

That was how she’d met Brian.

Chapter 2

Kaitlin had been on her way south, but had holed up in a little downtown coffee shop in a town in the middle of Virginia, trapped by an early snowstorm and cold snap. The group she was travelling with at the time, catching rides in boxcars, had decided to stay in a traveler community nearby. Kaitlin, unsure of her safety there, had decided to move on, but, she’d waited too long, and now she wasn’t sure which way to jump.

Traveling with cold or frozen water falling on your head sucked.

On her way back from the bathroom—in between cups of coffee—she’d noticed the book lying on the table where a guy was working at a laptop by himself. He’d been there all afternoon, attacking the keyboard.

She wasn’t sure why she stopped, but she’d just read that book the day before at the library where she’d been haunting the Young Adult section.

“Hey, I just read that book at the library yesterday,” she said. Maybe she’d grown too used to being around people from traveling in a group. Normally she wouldn’t have taken a chance on talking to a stranger, but she’d been watching him, off and on, for hours and hadn’t gotten a bad vibe from him.

He looked up and met her eyes. “Oh? Was it any good?”

Kaitlin pursed her lips and tapped her finger on her wrist. “I liked it that the author didn’t talk down to the reader, even though it was written for a younger audience,” Kaitlin said.

The man nodded. “Yeah, I hate it when they do that.”

Kaitlin spent a second sizing him up further. He didn’t dress in a business suit or business casual the way most of the weekday traffic did in this coffee house. Instead, he wore jeans, and a tie-died tee shirt peeked out from the collar of his black hoodie. She’d seen him here before too. He seemed too old to be a student at any of the nearby colleges

“Why is it on your table though?” she said. “It’s written for teens and you aren’t reading it. The binding hasn’t even been opened.”

The man grinned, white teeth splitting his sun-browned face. “Busted!” he said. “I’ll tell you why, but you have to promise to keep it quiet.”

She grinned in reply and nodded.

He pushed out a chair for her to sit down. “The evangelical college in town has a witnessing class as part of their curriculum,” he said. They send students around to coffee houses in the area to sell religion. They don’t usually believe me when I say I have enough already. Even though I pretty much believe what they do, it seems I still have to pass a quiz. I tried pointing out that their methods were alienating people rather than converting them, but that didn’t work either. It got to where it was keeping me from working. So now, when they ask if they can sit down, I change the subject from religion to books and sell them one of mine. They either buy or leave. I have no idea how many of them read the books, but I invite them to come back and discuss it when they’ve finished. A few actually did come back to talk, but only one had given up on trying to get me to come to their church.”

Kaitlin laughed then paused. “Wait a minute,” she said. “You mean you wrote that book?”

“Yeah, and I donated two copies to the library. My name is Brian, by the way.”

“That’s not the name on the cover.”

“I use a pen name. I promote my books, not my personal identity.”

Kaitlin pursed her lips. “My name is Kaitlin,” she said, surprising herself by using her real name instead of her street name.

It’s only a first name. It wouldn’t help anyone track her down, and this guy seemed okay.

“Pleased to meet you, Kaitlin,” Brian said. “I’ve seen you here before. What are you working on?”

“Um,” Kaitlin said, summoning her courage. “I write stories.”

“Cool! What are you doing with them after you write them?”

Kaitlin shrugged. “I’m not sure. I guess I’m saving them for now.”

Brian nodded. “Do you mind if I read a few pages? There aren’t many writers in this town.”

Kaitlin bit her lip then nodded. She had a handful of burner emails; she could use one of those. “Can you write down your email?”

Brian pulled a business card from his pocket and handed it to her.

The pen name was on the card along with some blurbs about his writing and his email.

Kaitlin walked back to her tablet, selected a short story she’d finished two days ago and fired it off to the email addy on the card with a note.  

Let me know if you want to talk about it when you’re done.

Brian held up his thumb.

Kaitlin looked out the window, watching the snow plummeting from the darkening gray sky and piling up on the street. She frowned. Getting back to her tent in the woods by the river would be easy enough, but she’d leave tracks that would show until the snow covered them. She didn’t like leaving a trail for predators to follow. For six months, she’d been mostly on her own, but she was running low on cash and needed to get further south fast. No way was she going to hop the freights by herself. She used her browser to check the price of Amtrak tickets to Atlanta. She called the station to confirm the price, but she was nine dollars short unless she broke into her emergency cushion, and the train didn’t leave until 6 AM anyway. Her stomach sank a little.

Her tablet pinged. Brian had sent back an email.

Let’s talk!

Kaitlin picked up her tablet and keyboard and carried them with her. She sat, feeling oddly vulnerable.

“I liked this,” Brian said. “Do you stick to short stories, or do you have longer stuff too?”

“I didn’t think you had time to read my longer stuff.”

Brian grinned. “Maybe not today, but, judging by this, your writing could make you some money, if you had a good editor, a cover artist and a marketing strategy.”

“Nope. All I have is me,” said Kaitlin, frowning.

“Well, can you show me your portfolio of stories and describe them? We can go from there.”

“We may have to do that another time,” Kaitlin said. “I need to go before the snow gets too deep.”

Brian looked up and smiled as the entrance bell to the coffee shop tinkled.  “Hang on just a second,” he said.

“Hey, Dad.” said someone behind her. Kaitlin turned to see a twentyish girl with snow sticking to her long eyelashes, melting on her wavy, blonde hair and dripping onto her black, knee-high Doc Martins.

“So, what is so important you dragged me out in this weather, and who is your friend?”

Brian pulled a chair back for the girl. “Kaitlin, this is my daughter Marlee. Marlee, this is Kaitlin, a potential client. She’s been riding with the travelers, but she’s decided to go out on her own and was about to head for warmer weather. I was hoping you could convince her to stick around.”

“What are you? A modern Sherlock Holmes?” said Kaitlin.           .

“Pshaw!  That was an easy one, not even elementary,” Brian said. “You don’t get rid of boxcar grime without some serious laundry and scrubbing, and with this weather, if you were planning on staying with the travelers, you’d be wherever they are camping now. Plus I heard you calling Amtrak ”

Brian turned to Marlee. “Kaitlin needs a place to stay, and you need a paying roommate. With her advance on her stories, Kaitlin can split your rent, and she’ll need your graphic arts skills when her work is ready to publish.”

Kaitlin studied Brian, eyes narrowed, then looked at Marlee.

“Umm, hi, Kaitlin,” Marlee said. “I’m a good roommate. The common area needs to stay clean and neat, but you can keep your room how you like it. It’s a basement apartment, but it’s dry and warm. No overnight guests allowed. It’s just too complicated. Your share would only be ninety-five dollars a month.”

Kaitlin rubbed her hands on her face. This was too weird. But it was snowing and cold, and a month’s rent was less than a trip to Atlanta. “You know, you are the ones taking a chance here,” she said. “You don’t know I’m not some psycho-klepto horror story.”

Brian snorted. “People say the eyes are the window to the soul, but eyes don’t compare to writing.” He pointed to his computer screen. No one writes a story like this unless they have the heart of a hero.”

 

That night—warm, clean and well fed—Kaitlin looked out the window of her new room and watched the snow piling up in drifts under the moonlight. Somehow—just then—it looked beautiful.

Sneek Peak at Chapter 1 of Fight for the Future

Chapter 1 — AMAZING

The bright blue sun of the dymba home world made the waves on the beach below glisten with cobalt splendor. Riniana Tiana drank in the glorious sight from where she stood on the escarpment of the plateau. She whirled, spinning and spinning, just to drink in the blues of the grasslands on one side and the wetter blues of the ocean on the other. Already it had been a perfect day, and now the evening would have sailing.

“The days are so long here, Rinia mother,” she said, pausing her whirling dance. “I’m so sleepy, but I wish I didn’t need to take a nap so I wouldn’t fall asleep on the sailboat. It seems a shame to waste this lovely day sleeping.”

Rinia mother swished her tail, cracking it in amusement. “From what I’ve heard, my daughter, the nights are not to be missed either. They say that at night, when the calm comes to the ocean, the stars are so bright when they reflect from the water you feel you are sailing through space.”

“May Darmien and Amelie come too? I bet dymba would like to sail. It’s too bad they don’t have opposable thumbs. But, acta vila! They can jump. They jump even higher than us, and I thought nii were the best jumpers ever.”

Riniana Tiana whirled again, soaking in the blues while the sun still shone. “Darmien and Amelie showed me and Telonia Tiana a jumping game. It was amazing! They both run at a cliff and jump at it so they bounce off together and go even higher. Then they link their front legs and turn so their back feet come together—WHILE THEY ARE IN THE AIR—and push off each other. Whoosh, they shoot away, spinning like tops. Then they land in the grass. It was fissionous! Telonia Tiana and I tried it, and we took a while to get it right, but we did. Still, we couldn’t go as high as they did, but we spun faster. Then Amelie and I tried it, and she pushed me SO FAR. It was like LAUNCHING! ESCAPE VELOCITYYYY!”

She stopped spinning for moment and turned to Rinia mother again. “Well?”

“I will ask the herd representative if that would be acceptable, my daughter, but they may not say yes. The herd is protective of their young and the ocean is an unknown environment for them. Also Darmien and Amelie might not be comfortable getting out in all that water with no grass nearby.”

“Pfhibbt!” Riniana Tiana snorted like a dymba. “I don’t think they would be afraid. Dymba are great swimmers. We played in the waves for ever so long yesterday. Can we take a nap here? The grass is soft, I’m ever so tired, and the breeze feels AMAZING.”

“I suppose that would be fine,” Rinia mother said. “I’m sleepy too. Rinia father and I had a productive discussion with the herd council, but it was also long. Dymba take their time deciding. Why don’t you pick a spot for us? I’ll wake us up when it’s time to go meet Rinia father and Telonia Tiana for sailing.”

“I like this place here,” Riniana Tiana said. “This rock blocks the wind just right, and I can watch the waves until I fall asleep.”

“Then here it will be,” Rinia mother said, linking tails with her daughter.

“Oh yes! Spin me and throw me far before we sleep. That will be perfect!”

“One time, but we move away from the cliff first. Even really good jumpers like you and Amelie might not enjoy landing after that much of a drop.”

The tail throw was AMAZING too, but so was being held from behind by Rinia mother and watching the cobalt waves dashing on the rocky beach. “Best day ever,” she breathed, wrapping her tail around Rinia mother’s leg and closing her eyes.

~~~{}~~~

“Is it time yet?” she tried to say. Muffled voices, came from around her, but she couldn’t understand what they were saying. It must be time for sailing soon though. It was ever so dark. She hoped the sky wasn’t so cloudy that they couldn’t see the stars because she wanted to feel like she was flying through space without a ship.

The sound of voices continued, but they were just making nonsense sounds. Something covered her eyes. Not only her eyes, but every bit of her, as if she were wrapped in a snug blanket. THAT was not a happy thing, and she didn’t think it was FUNNY! If Telonia Tiana had rolled her up in something, she had better run!

Riniana Tiana fought to get her hands to her face. The nonsense noises continued, but the stuff wrapping her was getting looser, wetter. At last, one of her hands broke through, and she reached up to tear the stuff away from her eyes. At least she could breathe through the stuff. She wasn’t sure she had been a few seconds ago. Someone was helping her, making reassuring sounds, but they weren’t speaking any language she knew. IT WAS SCARY! Maybe someone BAD had taken her away from Rinia mother, but Rinia mother was VERY strong. Riniana Tiana didn’t understand how that could happen on the dymba homeworld.

She could almost reach her face. With all her strength, she heaved, and her arm broke through to the elbow joint. With her fingers, she snagged the soggy material covering her face, ripping a chunk of the stuff away. Somehow, pieces had worked into her mouth, and she spat them out. As she pulled at the material, something else came free that had been stuck in her nose. At last, her lower face was clear.

“IF YOU DON’T LET ME GO, RINIA MOTHER WILL KILL YOU… TWICE, AND I WILL BE GLAD.”

The voices grew silent. There, she had scared them. Now they would let her go.

“Symbiana,” said a female voice speaking nii soft and clear. “Only hold still a moment and I will get the crèche to the end of its release sequence.”

“My name is Riniana Tiana, not Symbiana. Symbiana doesn’t even MEAN anything. You have the wrong sentient, now LET ME GO!”

“I can’t get you out until the crèche SHUTS DOWN. Now hold still or you might hurt yourself.”

Riniana Tiana stopped struggling for a moment, the voice sounded almost like Rinia mother’s. A crèche? But those were just experiments. Nobody had used one yet.

Was I dead?

“Now keep your eyes closed, so the reagent doesn’t get in them or it will sting.”

“Yes, healer,” Riniana Tiana said. “I apologize. I did not know what was happening.”

Another voice spoke, but, once again, the words meant nothing to her.

“What planet is your assistant from, healer? Could you …” She sniffed to detect the odor of the gender.

Testosterone, a male mammal.

“… ask him to speak a language I know?”

The healer said something in the strange language.

Liquid continued spraying; Riniana Tiana felt it through the stuff that wrapped her skin now. The stuff was turning from a fabric to a gel. The liquid the healer was soaking the material with now hit her skin directly.

“Is my family…?” Before she could finish the question, the fear of an answer pushed it back down.

Gentle fingers wiped at her face and a warm trickle of water poured over her head and down her body. The trickle changed to a stream and with it, the delicate scrubbing of a soft brush massaged her skin like the tongue of a shepherd cat. The sensation was soothing, and right now, she needed that…, and she needed Rinia mother.

“You can open your eyes now,” said the voice of the female nii healer.

Riniana Tiana lifted gummy eyelids and blinked.

“Keep your eyes open while I rinse them.” The healer’s voice was clear though her image was still blurry.

Salty water dripped into Riniana Tiana’s eyes, and she blinked to get the gummy stuff out of her eyelids. The healer stopped dripping the water in her eyes, and her face swam into clarity. The healer looked almost like Rinia mother, but her smell was different in a few markers.

“Are you one of my family?” Riniana Tiana said.

“I am. My name is Senana Tiana, I am a fleet naval captain and ambassador to one of the governing bodies of the planet Earth, and you and I are branch sisters.” With her chin, she pointed at the male humanoid. “This is Edward, a symbiont partner of another of our branch sisters. His species calls themselves yshoomahn. What is the last thing you remember before you woke?”

Riniana Tiana answered as she looked around the white-tiled room and at the pale-skinned yshoomahn standing by the healer. “I was on the dymba home-world where Rinia mother and Rinia father had been assigned as ambassadors to the dymba herd. Telonia Tiana and I met Darmien and Amelie and we played a jumping game. Then Rinia mother and I walked back to camp. We decided to take a nap before sailing in the evening when I would get to see stars reflecting in the water so it would be like sailing through space.”

“You were almost five cycles old then. It will be necessary to examine your brain where the memory crystal is stored so I can understand why that is all you remember. Do I have permission to do that?” she said, taking a step forward. But, she stopped when Riniana Tiana held up a hand.

“First, tell me where my family is. What happened? Why aren’t they here? What is a branch sister, anyway? You smell like family, but I’ve never heard of you.” Riniana Tiana pushed herself to a sitting position on the platform.

“I will explain. Riniana Tiana, your last memory of that day on the dymba home-world was long ago. Crèche technology was still in its early stages and had never been attempted yet. The memories you have now are from another of our branch sisters. An older branch sister builds your body from their own with advanced cloning techniques and nurtures that body in a crèche like the one you are sitting in now. They transfer their memories to the younger branch sister with a memory crystal. This we do to save centians of valuable memory experience. It is important to save the knowledge and skills because we have been at war with a deadly foe for over ten centians.”

“Are Rinia mother and Rinia father still alive? What about Telonia Tiana and everyone else I know?”

Senana Tiana’s scent changed to let a hint of troubled spirit leak through, but it recovered in a moment, leaving behind only a hint of worry. “I do not know, Riniana Tiana. It is possible. Our path has been severed from our people for over a centian. We came to this world to fight the enemy of the Nii Confederacy I mentioned. Rinia mother and Rinia father and the rest of our family may have branches still surviving, but I do not know. I hope someday we will find them alive and well, with the war at an end. Do I have permission to examine you now?”

Riniana Tiana thought, fighting to keep her feelings under control. What she had to do now was make the right decision. Rinia mother and Rinia father were not here to look after her, but she had what they had taught her. “You may examine me, but you must change nothing without asking me first. Do you acknowledge this stipulation?”

“I acknowledge; I will change nothing without your permission.”

“Proceed,” Riniana Tiana said, lying back on the platform.

Senana Tiana stepped forward and grasped Riniana Tiana’s head in a confident brain-scanning hold. The filaments from beneath the healer’s fingernails extended into Riniana Tiana’s nasal passages and higher, tickling as they went. Riniana Tiana held still with the control she’d been taught from her earliest cycles. Her thoughts still swirled, considering everything she’d heard, but she had shunted her emotions into a holding place. Would it hold until she had time to deal with them? Not knowing about her family was causing her stomach to jump despite the lockdown.

A few moments later, her branch sister’s filaments retracted from her brain and returned, once again.

“The connection is still solid,” said Senana Tiana. “But at your physical age, the synapses could not handle the amount of information stored there. That would not have been an issue if your body had gone through a longer period of maturation before we triggered the crèche to wake you. Your branch sister had to make modifications to the crystal for it to hold all her memories. Ten centians of memory was more than the original crystal was designed for. She had no way to test the interface. I can put you to sleep and adjust the neural network so the memories can download. It should not be too difficult.”

“Negation,” said Riniana Tiana. “Negation, negation, negation.”

“Would you deprive your people and their allies the value of her memories?”

Riniana Tiana sat up again. “Are we still at war on this planet, branch sister?”

Senana Tiana hesitated, folding her hands in front of her. “Not right now. The situation is unstable, but the enemy we pursued here has been neutralized.”

“Will these memories disappear from the crystal if I decide later to let you make the changes?”

“No.”

“What will happen if the synapses are left alone?”

“You may experience more memories returning, at a slower rate, as your brain matures, though it would need to be in sleep cycle for it to happen. It will come a bit at a time.”

“But if you return all the memories now, I will not be me anymore. I will be the person who made the memory crystal. All that will be left of me are the few moments of memories from the things now happening.”

“But I,” she pointed to her head, then her heart, “will be gone.”

“Strange,” said Senana Tiana. “I don’t remember being such a philosopher when I was your age.”

“Well you didn’t go through what I just did either, did you? How would you have had the chance? Did anyone ever threaten to erase you when you were my age?” She pulled her lips back from her teeth, defiance.

“I respect and abide by your decision as a sentient being,” Senana Tiana said. Then, she turned to the yshoomahn, but hesitated, turning back to Riniana Tiana. “Edward does not speak nii, so I will need to speak to him in his language.”

Riniana Tiana jerked her chin forward to give consent.

Senana Tiana spoke to the yshoomahn Edward for some time. Edward’s odor faded into sadness and the exchange grew louder as water trickled from his eyes. With a deep groan, he turned and ran from the domed white-tiled room.

“What did he say?” said Riniana Tiana. “Why was he upset?”

“Because he misses the person who made the memory crystal very much.”

“And, what did he say?”

“That is not mine to tell you.”

“I will just learn to speak his language then I will know what he said.”

“Perhaps by then you will understand why he said what he did.” Senana Tiana’s dark eyes regarded her with calm resolve.

“Where did she go? The one who made the crystal. You spoke like she was still alive.”

Then water filled Senana Tiana’s eyes too, but she swiped it away. “She had her reasons. They are not mine to tell either.”

Riniana Tiana paused. It was clear something not happy had occurred. She would wait. Learning the reasons for not happy things was almost never rewarding.

“Come, sister,” Senana Tiana said, holding out her hand. “You must be hungry.”

“It is true,” Riniana Tiana said.

“Also, I remember loving music at your age almost as much as I do now. Would you like to see and hear the most wonderful musical instrument in the universe?”

“YES!” she shouted. “Is it as AMAZING as sailing on the ocean at night on the dymba home-world?”

“When that memory comes to you then you can judge for yourself,” Senana Tiana said then made a musical noise that breathed of joy. Her fragrance became even more amazing as her mood markers grew lighter.

“Oh! What was that you did? It made you happier. Was it a kind of song?”

“It is called laughing and is a thing humans do that I learned here on Earth.”

“Will you teach me?”

“Of course. If I can learn it, then so can you.”

“Oh, thank you.” She struggled to stand. Senana Tiana’s hand flew out to steady her on her wobbling legs. Her body was MUCH bigger now. She would have to teach it how to behave though.

“Is it like making water come to your eyes? Does that make you feel better too?”

“Sometimes, child. Sometimes is the answer to both questions. But you will see.”

“What is the musical instrument called? Will you teach me to play it?”

“It is called a PEEAHNO, and I will teach you.”

“It sounds AMAZING.”

She was not disappointed—at least about the piano—and that was enough for now.

 

Sneak Peek at Chapter 2 Fight for the Future

Chapter Two 

Kest threaded through the throngs of shuffling students milling in the corridors. He took a deep breath, fighting with impatience as much as the gridlock causing it. His locker was around the next corner. Then it was a straight shot to the side-door exit… down a less crowded hallway not bottlenecked by the queue for the busses.

At last.

Kest spun the combination through the digits. When it surrendered, he tossed his books inside, grabbed his hoodie and slammed the door shut.

“Yo, Kiss, wait, dude,” said a voice behind him.

Kest turned, suppressing a sigh.

Now what?

The hail came from a brawny, six-foot junior he recognized as one of the more entitlement-minded football jerks who enjoyed pushing freshmen around.

“Do you have a speech impediment?” Kest said, tilting his chin up a fraction. He met the eyes of the face that had come deep into his personal space, along with the rest of the jerk’s anatomy.

“Huh?” The jerk frowned, wrinkling his forehead.

Kest waited. The football jock’s name was Dirk… Macauley. It took a moment to put a name with the face. He paid little attention to that crowd. They were from a different world. One he was not likely to visit.

After a few moments, Dirk took a half step back.

Kest leaned on his locker. “It’s Dick, right?” he said, raising an eyebrow.

“Dirk,” the dick said, his voice dipping down to a threatening tone.

“Well, Dirk,” said Kest. “That means we don’t know each other—even though you did not start this conversation by introducing yourself. Because you sure as hell didn’t say my name right either. So, why don’t you tell me what you want—pronouncing my name correctly this time. I’ll do you the favor of introducing myself. My name is Kestrel Tashquinth-Avsar.”

“Yeah, whatever,” Dirk said. “I want you to switch places with me in the Math groups, ‘cause I need to bring my grade up in Calc. I need those two cow-kissers in my corner for projects this year.”

Kest kept his face impassive. No way in hell was he going to stick Avi and Aparna with this pendejo. “I’ll think about it,” he said, turning to go.

“Whoa! Kiss, wait-wait-wait.”

Macauley grabbed him by the arm and pulled him back. Kest met Macauley’s eyes again, still keeping his face neutral.

“Sooo, Tashquinth. That’s an injun name, right? I guess you don’t wanna break up the Indian/Indian connection, huh? Ha! See what I did there?”

“I was right the first time,” Kest said. With an unhurried motion, he raised his arm, so it passed under the football player’s hand and brought it back down, breaking the grip on his bicep. “You are a dick. I’ve thought about it. The answer’s no.” He took a step back and turned.

“I’ll catch you later,” Macauley snarled.

Kest waved a careless acknowledgement as he walked away.

Outside, the skies above Tucson were clear and blue, and—according to when he’d checked his cell a few minutes ago—the temperature was 75 degrees. Not bad for January. He buckled the chest-strap of his sling bag to stop its bouncing. Then he headed north past the senior class student council members pulling down the ‘Farewell 2021’ banner. At the sidewalk, he turned west to the crosswalk, knowing better than to cross early with the spying eyes from the school window behind him.

Kest ducked into the capoeira academy across the street to check their event announcements on the bulletin board. He waved to his friend Karin, covering the front desk. The sounds of students chatting and laughing as they came in for their after-school classes swirled around him with remembered fondness.

He’d taken lessons here until three years ago when he’d started teaching a few street kids he knew. One of his father’s special forces buddies—also a capoeirista—had visited. They had talked three hours, not just about memories of his father, but what it meant to be a warrior and how capoeira had started.

After pondering, Kest decided on a direction more in keeping with where he wanted to go—less about performance, closer to the roots of capoeira—the martial art.

His teachers had wished him well. They still invited him to come when they traveled to events. Kest’s own informal teaching and practice with friends didn’t compete with their demographic anyway. Also, since Kest and his friends sometimes attracted attention on the street, and Kest was glad to refer people to the academy, they gained more than they lost.

With nothing new coming up and Karin busy explaining the class schedules to a father with three middle-school kids in tow, he ducked out the door into the sunshine. The roda would gather at the church parking lot soon, and he didn’t like leaving them unsupervised when they were all together. They were raw street kids and needed direction to keep on track.

Kest grinned at the thought. Most of his high school teachers would say the same about him. He hit the sidewalk again. Kiddie parks and alleyways faded behind him as he fell into the rhythm of running. He touched a few of his favorite parkour obstacles on the way. Dive kongs and other vaults across picnic tables, park benches, railings, wall climbs—all sped past as he reveled in the freedom of movement after being held captive all day.

As he flipped through a spinning vault, he noticed he’d picked up a trailer. The kid had followed him before, but today the slight figure—coasting in his wake—had pulled closer. Kest didn’t recognize him… or her. It was just someone thin, dark-skinned and wearing a bandana head wrap who moved with the grace of a wild animal. Kest saw a flash of white teeth grinning at him when he looked over his shoulder.

Ahead, he could hear the raucous voices of the roda gathering in the parking lot. When Joseph, his second, spotted Kest vaulting the fence, he started the recorded drum music that signaled everyone to circle.

Kest smiled. The group was excited today. He did a front flip, followed by a one-handed round-off to land in the circle then called the invitation. “YaaaaaaaaY! “

Everyone hurried to a place. Twenty-two had gathered today. He noticed the slight figure—who’d followed him on his run—come up and hover on the outskirts. Now he could see she was a young dark-skinned girl wearing baggy, gray, harem-style running pants and a matching linen hoodie. He smiled at her and motioned her to move up and fill in a gap in the circle. She bowed to him with a grin and came forward. Usually, about a third of the group would be girls. Today the number was eight.

Joseph turned off the conga recording and handed the berimbau to Kest so he could start the litany, the ladainha. He thrummed the string in a rapid, attention-getting sequence slowing to a 4/4 count. When everyone seemed ready, he sang.

My deliverer is coming,
My deliverer is standing by.
My deliverer offers courage
when I take small steps ahead.
My deliverer is coming,
My deliverer is standing by
With each step to freedom,
I’m sustained.
Though I die,
I’ll live free.
My deliverer is coming,
My deliverer is standing by.

Then line-by-line, they all repeated the verse in Brazilian Portuguese, out of respect for the origins of capoeira. When Kest had rewritten the chorus of the old gospel song by Rich Mullins, he’d kept it short so they could repeat it in O’odham, Navajo, Apache and Spanish. Unlike the normal ladainha—sung solo entire—Kest only sang the English by himself. They all knew it now, but he wanted to represent as many of the languages from the area as he could. He was open to adding more if someone wanted to do the translating.

When they finished, he handed the berimbau back to Joseph. Joseph winked, pushed his dreadlocks back, set the instrument behind the speaker then turned on the music. He had it queued for the responsive section, and everyone clapped their hands, joining in on the chorus phrase. Their Portuguese pronunciation had improved a lot this month.

“Calypso and Rogue,” Kest said, raising his voice above the music. A tall Jamaican girl and an Apache girl with a tattoo of a Gila monster across her shoulders stepped forward. Calypso and Rogue were the street nicknames of the top two female capoeiristas in his group. Instead of giving apelidos to his students, Kest stuck to their street names. It was the same idea anyhow. Somehow, he’d collected both for himself. When he told his friends what his apelido was for the roda, and both his real name and apelido, Ventania, meant ‘windhover’ they now called him Hoverbird. He answered to all, but most of the time he introduced himself as Kest.

The girls linked hands, lowering their bodies into the starting stance and swaying to the rhythm for three counts before exploding into the whirling kicks that marked the roda. They were fast and graceful, and both brought a touch of their own heritage to their styles. Calypso often used her limbo skills in evasive movements, and Rogue, tenacious and fearless, struck with direct, blazing fast combinations.

Kest watched for a while then waved to another to take Calypso’s place. He continued mixing the capoeiristas with others of similar ability until Razor and Coyote—his two strongest male capoeiristas—were in the roda together. As usual, Razor took a very aggressive approach to the roda and Coyote used his flexibility and speed to avoid confrontation, counter kicking and spinning away. Kest frowned, he wasn’t sure if he wanted Coyote to work on stronger attacks or Razor to use more guile in his approach. Both would be nice.

As he considered moving into the roda himself, the girl who’d followed him earlier caught his eye, pointing to herself and rocking to show she was ready. Though she looked young, about twelve if he was any guess, her confident smile reassured him and he nodded for her to go ahead. If things went south, he would just step in himself and afterwards call a volta ao mundo to restore the balance.

“Nighthawk,” the girl announced herself, stepping into the roda to face Coyote. She wind milled through an explosion of kicks to establish her presence then slipped under one of Coyote’s whirling kicks to brush him as she passed. At Coyote’s first evasive move, she dropped and tagged his grounded leg with a grass-cutter sweep. Kest noted she’d held back from taking it from under him and knocking him on his ass. She continued, countering his evasions, forcing him to either bring the attack to her or run.

When Coyote tired, Kest motioned for Razor to move in and take his place. Before Razor could mount an offensive, the girl—Nighthawk, he amended—took the offensive away, forcing Razor to dodge, weave and roll away from her strikes, sweeps and kicks. He had to; the other choice was to be swept away.

The strategy was perfect; exactly what Kest would have wanted to do to correct the balance for each of them. He moved forward to cut in on Razor and enter the roda himself, but Nighthawk’s head snapped around to look outside the circle. She brushed against him as she slid through the line and ran toward the fence.

“Escravizadores,” she called, her voice cutting through the music as she vaulted the fence.

Kest froze, looking around as the Portuguese word’s meaning sunk into his awareness.

Slavers? What?

Bwee Boop. A police siren sounded. Kest looked toward the sound to see a black-and-white double parking on the street in front of the church.

“Everybody take off,” said Kest. “I’ll explain the church lets us play here, so they’ll leave us alone next time.”

“Yeah, right,” Razor said, anger coloring his voice. “When have they ever left us alone?”

“Just go,” Kest said, stepping toward the chunky uniformed cop marching across the walkway.

“Is there something wrong, officer?” Kest asked.

“Halt!” snapped the cop, holding up a hand. “Everyone here is under arrest for disturbing the peace.”

“But we have permission to play here,” Kest said, trying to reason. “We aren’t making any more noise than that basketball game over there.” He nodded to the playground across the street.

“Down on the ground. Hands away from your body,” said the cop, pulling out his Taser and pointing it at Kest.

Oh, God. You should have expected this.

Razor’s voice came from behind him. “You can’t tase all of us, Popo.”

Damn!

He glanced back. They were all still there. Spread out and looking too damned determined for their own good.

Bwee Boop. The siren sounded on the cop car. Kest heard the Taser fire an instant later. The cop had spun around to see what was going on with his car. Kest looked at his chest. One electrode had bounced off the big plastic buckle on his sling bag; the other was stuck in the strap. The cop didn’t even seem to realize he’d fired it.

Bwee Boop. The siren went off again, and the patrol car crept down the street, gaining speed..

“Shit!” snarled the cop and ran after it, still holding the Taser. The other electrode popped off Kest’s pack strap, and the wires trailed behind the cop as he puffed back across the parking lot. A thin figure in gray rolled away from the squad car to the cover of a parked SUV. The black-and-white continued rolling then hopped the curb at the end of the cul-de-sac and rolled into an arroyo.

Nighthawk.

Kest couldn’t help a flash of amusement as he spun and ran back to his students. Only a few had taken off, the ones who’d found themselves on the wrong end of the ‘justice’ system in the past. It had taught them good sense and caution. That sort of experience drove home the knowledge that you didn’t get justice in the legal system; you got the law—as interpreted by the ones who had the most to gain from making you a prisoner.

As Kest reached those still there, Razor slapped him on the arm. “Hey Mestre, are you Taser proof?” he said with a grin. “Is that something you can teach us?”

Kest grabbed the berimbau so Joseph wouldn’t have to carry both it and the speaker too. “Let’s just be glad today’s manifestation of the Deliverer made off with the donut patrol buggy,” he said. “Else we’d all be lining up for the wagon for assaulting an officer of the law. Now everybody get the fuck out of here and lie low for a while.”

He turned to Razor. “He probably has you on his button cam, my friend, and what you said might be considered a threat in court.”

“Yeah, ‘cause it was,” Razor said, voice flat.

“You learned nothing from Nighthawk in the roda today? There’s a time to attack and a time to evade. You don’t challenge the PowersThatBe unless you can run to a quilombo.”

“You put yourself in front of us, Mestre,” Calypso said, shaking back her dreadlocks.

Kest shook his head. “I’m still a minor. Most of you would have an arrest on your record for this bullshit; maybe jail time too. Now let’s move out.” He slung the berimbau over his shoulder and trotted toward the basketball court street. “If the cops have your picture on record, don’t go home. Stay out of sight unless you want to start a new career busting rocks for the CJS,” he said as they moved with him.

“Rather be busting caps at ‘em,” Razor muttered.

“I understand your anger,” said Kest. “But we need to be smarters, not martyrs.”

“Oh, that was baaad,” Joseph said as he loped after Kest, the compact speaker strapped to his back.

“As long as you remember it.” Kest vaulted the fence, adding flair with a spin, just happy not to be wearing handcuffs and a Taser burn at the moment.

A review of Orson Scott Card’s book “Empire” ten years later.

Today I read—again— Card’s novel Empire, first published in 2006 and wanted to say a few things about what it was like to pick it up after ten years.

I want to include a quote from Card’s Afterward. So many reviewers have panned this book based on its sticking a pin in their own pet ideologies, that I felt it important that I point this out.

Furthermore, just because the characters in the story have political opinions, It is still important to remember this story is FAR from a left-bashing novel from a right-wing viewpoint. So, here is the quote:

“We are created by ideology; ideas are our only connections. And because today we have discarded the free marketplace of ideas and have polarized ourselves into two equally insane ideologies, so that each side can, with perfect accuracy, brand the other side as mad men, we are ripe for that next step, to take preventive action to keep the other side from seizing power and oppressing our side…. That we are generally oblivious to the excesses of our own side merely demonstrates how close we already are to a paroxysm of self-destruction.” — Empire page 350 Orson Scott Card

So many reviewers have attacked this book based on their belief that Card espouses a Red belief system over a Blue one. So what the author has to say about his own beliefs should have some weight.

The story was entertaining. The premise was on the money. The insight into the major weakness of our society today was devastating. If you are an extremist for either platform that dominates our country now, you will no doubt recoil in horror at the notion that there might be something wrong with what YOU think is TRUTH.

It was written in 2006. Ten years later it’s a lot scarier. Don’t you think? Maybe some of you need to come back and re-examine your critiques this year.

Stopping a Disastrous Plan with Science: The Dynamics of Self-Interest

It’s a good thing that titles don’t come under copyright laws.

I admit, I didn’t come up with the part before the ‘:’ on my own. It actually comes from a YouTube video you’ll see the link to at the bottom of this post.

The main reason I’m using the title above is that I want this message in a bottle to point to something. Well, a few somethings.

Before we get to that though I’ll let you know where we are going. I would like you to take a walk of three steps with me, and I want to warn you that you’ll probably want to take some side trips as I point them out, but please save those for the end. I promise you can go down those paths PDQ after we finish these three little steps.

Step One:

The first step is a trip to the San Francisco Bay Model Museum.  We’ll go there virtually to save time. You won’t find any models of the Millennium Falcon in this museum, nor trains or cars either. There is only one model here… a model of the entire San Francisco Bay Ecosystem. The model itself covers almost 3 acres. You may wonder why someone would build a model of something like that where  you could almost walk out of the museum and see the real thing, but, in fact there was a really, really good reason.

A gentleman named John Reber had what he thought was a really cool idea. He was a persuasive fellow and convinced some politicians that everyone would be better off if we just put a dam across the bay. If you want details, you can look up “Reber Plan” on Wikipedia.

Now, this was in the late 1940s—long before computers had the capability to model something like that. The Army Corp of Engineers (ACE) proposed building a model of the Bay then testing the idea on a physical model. The studies indicated convincingly that it was a bad idea. So, the model cost taxpayers a chunk of money, but saved a huge amount of money, prevented an ecological nightmare and now the model still remains useful for testing other dynamics of the bay and it’s a cool museum to go to when you are in the area.

That was step one. Stay with me now. Okay?

Step Two:

For step two, I’ll introduce a travelling companion. Imagine, if you will, a superhero dressed in a costume (confusing to gender assignment) for whom I will assign the pronouns ‘ze’ and ‘hir’ (for the personal and possessive). As in… “Ze is MY superhero, I’ll dress hir however I like.”   :-/ The symbol upon hir—somewhat perplexing—chest incorporates the letters ‘IE’.

Look! Up in the ether, it’s a verb; it’s a noun. No! It’s the Imaginary Engineer.

Not all disasters—or potential disasters— are physical like the San Francisco Bay. The ACE recognized the bay as a complex system. The late 1940s were the early years of the discipline now called Systems Engineering, and the bay needed the concepts inherent in this, then new, interdisciplinary approach to solve the question of go or no go on the dam project

As Systems Engineering grew, its practitioners realized that the methods applied to LOTS of different situations. Some of them didn’t even need to be actual physical systems. :-O

Enter the Imaginary Engineer. (Cue Also Sprach Zarathustra—Strauss… Alex North remix)

The first notable success of the Imaginary Engineer came about ten years after the scrapping of the SF Bay project. Ingalls Shipbuilding of Pascagoula MS, landed a big contract with the Navy (USN) in 1970. As work progressed, change orders from the USN began to take a toll on Ingall’s workforce. The USN was willing to pay for the additional work, but not the additional cost due to burnout, exiting employees and new hiring & training of more Ingall’s workforce.

Ingalls used computer simulation to demonstrate the true cost of the change orders. The USN was not convinced and demanded changes in the model. The changes—when put in place—showed the cost as being even higher.

This convincing demonstration produced an amicable settlement. Ingalls estimation of the dollar value of the simulation to the company was between 170 and 350 million dollars. (Sterman, 2000, pp. 55-66)

So that is step two—the rise of the Imaginary Engineer.

{Okay, I also admit that I didn’t come up with the name of my superhero either. When I was finishing my Masters in Industrial Engineering (IE) that’s what the physical engineers (PE) called us.}

Step Three:

Isn’t it great that science gives us tools to evaluate and quantify these kinds of tricky questions? I’ll just bet the government is working on incorporating these kinds of tools into their decisions. What a bright future we have ahead!

Sigh.

I fear step three will be a bit more of a challenge.

When I left graduate school with an MBA and a Masters in Imaginary Engineering, I was excited about the opportunities to help improve working conditions, increase job productivity & satisfaction and build models that would help wise executives make good decisions for the good of the company and all stakeholders.

My five years of servitude with Company X as a glorified data monkey were a sad, rude awakening. What I struggled with—at all times—was executive demand for reports that supported their self-interest.

I was expected to:

  • Fudge reports
  • Build performance models that measured the wrong things, bringing no actual efficiencies
  • Produce analytics for sales props to show how savvy Co. X was (now) at learning from their mistakes and keep clients worth ¼ billion $ a year in revenue from leaving
  • Make bullet point lists

The political culture of self-interest controlled all. If you’ve never realized this culture is endemic, pervasive, and rampant in every institution of our society: Finance, Government/Political, Business, Legal… you are living in a dream.

The only way that the science of System Dynamics can be made to inform the public and influence public policy to stop disastrous plans like…

(Insert your favorite boondoggle here… possible examples might be Bailing out Finance Corporate Greed or Expecting Universal Healthcare to successfully co-exist with Corporate Insurance given penalties for not enrolling. See how I picked one from both sides of the political circus?)

…is to do it with a completely transparent, Wiki-style, non-profit, grass-roots business model. The collective effort to put something like this in place would be enormous.

IF we attempted this, we would find:

  • A major benefit would be just defining the problem in a way where everyone could contribute
    • Stakeholder buy-in
    • Big-picture viewpoint
  • The models would not be perfect
    • The process of improving them would build community understanding of the civic system
  • The powers that be would not like it

If you are still with me at the end of this journey of three steps, you can see that I’ve actually brought you to the beginning of a road—a road no one can walk alone.

I confess, I’m not sure people will join me on this road. Huge rifts—fomented by demagogues from all points of view—divide us as a nation here on Spaceship Earth.  I’m convinced we need this sort of multi-partisan, grass-roots watchdog if we are to ever thrive. If we don’t find paths that satisfy more than one side of our society at a time, we are doomed.

Call to action:

I hope archeologists of an alien race never find this post and shake their appendages in sorrow that it went ignored.

However, I’ve taken this as far as I am going to alone. I’m going to ask you to consider taking at least one more step on this road. Here are some choices:

  • Do more research and think about this
    • Google some of the ideas and links I’ve mentioned
      • See below for the Bay Model video
    • Share this blog post
    • Buy my book,  Sentients in the Maze: A Quiet Revolution, read it, review it (I hope you can get past the racy parts)
      • I’ll take this as a vote to ‘fund my movement’ and keep going myself
    • Follow and share my Chogan Swan Facebook page and engage in discussing these ideas. This will only work if it goes viral
    • Find another path that will accomplish the same goal

Whichever road you take, I hope it is a happy one for you.

Wouldn’t it be cool to have a revolution where nobody had to die?

Chogan Swan

For a trip to the SF Bay Model click the youtube link.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i70wkxmumAw

Sterman, J. D. (2000). Business Dynamics: Systems Thinking and Modeling for a Complex World. Irwin McGraw-Hill.

 

Spaceship Earth

Spaceship Earth

How did we get here? That’s what I’ve been wondering, as I’ve followed the U.S. presidential election drama in the media. This country faces complex problems and issues that run deep and have been festering for decades. How, in a country built on the notion of representative government, have we become saddled with parties incapable of doing anything except bang the drum of their simplistic platforms and continue to ignore reality.

We can’t get where we need to go with these methods.

I figured out why we are here, in this mess… groupthink, to be specific – dueling groupthink combining with cognitive dissonance.

Dictionary.com defines groupthink as:

  1. the practice of approaching problems or issues as matters that are best dealt with by consensus of a group rather than by individuals acting independently; conformity.
  2. the lack of individual creativity, or of a sense of personal responsibility, that is sometimes characteristic of group interaction.

Let’s consider the power of groupthink (before we tackle the idea of dueling groupthink).

Why is it that locations like Wyoming are so entrenched in the blue party and areas like Massachusetts so decidedly red? Well, because groupthink encourages this in two ways.

People will actually change their location to a place where they feel more comfortable. Not having like-minded people around you is painful! A friend of mine told me about a conversation she had with some friends in New York. Her friends in New York were surprised that she even knew people who voted red, much less associate with them. You may need to imagine that kind of peer environment. But chances are, you are in an environment like that now. Either way, consider how you might be influenced to avoid challenging the consensus ideas among your peers if that was the case. Uncomfortable, right? Maybe even social suicide.

Maybe moving isn’t convenient. What are your choices? Conform or resist? If you aren’t aware of the power of cognitive dissonance to change the way you think, I suggest you check out Robert Cialdini’s book – Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion and pay careful attention to the section on brainwashing. In a nutshell, cognitive dissonance influences the way you think by the pressure to make it line up with the way you act. For example if you choose not to disagree with something said in a social setting because it would lower your status, you will convince yourself that you really don’t believe it that strongly anyway. It’s frightening how far that will take you one tiny step at a time. It’s real; look into it. Many case studies and experiments prove it out. It is even at work on you, every day.

These forces turn us into a nation divided, and (in many cases) divided along artificial boundaries. We have grown accustomed to presenting issues as though there is only one solution to a problem and only two approaches can even come to the debate. Philosophy, the art of thinking clearly, calls this a false dichotomy. We are a nation divided by dueling groupthink. On every issue up for debate, our society is trapped in a prisoner’s dilemma and won’t admit it.

Game theory illustrates clearly, that results (in making decisions where opposing agendas are in play) can only be optimized when parties cooperate. If you honestly examine the problems in our society now, I believe you will also conclude that if we don’t learn to cooperate, the problems we have now will continue to get worse, the way they have for decades.

Some of you may recognize the source of the title for this bottle message to readers – this soapbox. And yes, the bottle I’m using for the message is labeled – Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps – Certified Fair Trade “ALL-ONE”. It isn’t a commercial for the soap, but I use the product, and the peculiar label did make me do some research on Dr. B. who spent his life trying to convince people to come together using the concept of Spaceship Earth.

Yeah, I certainly don’t consider myself a convert to his religion, but I do agree with his conclusion about life on this planet, and he made me put away despair for long enough to write this. We don’t all have to agree, but we do need to come together to chart a course. Earth is fragile and nobody can immigrate away yet. We have limited resources, and without pulling together, we may never get to the point where it becomes an option. If we don’t, we are only going deeper into the black hole. Maybe we aren’t at the event horizon yet.

So, thank you Dr. Bronner.

Thank you for trying.

Chogan Swan