Do You Have To Have The Whole Argument To Know Where It Ends?

Sometimes I am accused of not having an open mind when I debate with people in my comments. That’s partially true.

Now, where I do have an open mind is that I don’t enter into a discussion unless I’m willing to be proven wrong. That doesn’t mean I’m an open book; if you’re gonna convince me that, say, vaccines cause autism, you’ll have to bring literal tons of credible documentation… and even then you’d run up against my personal wall that I don’t think autism is worse than kids literally dying due to be preventable disease.

But could I be convinced that vaccines cause autism? Theoretically, yes.

Yet here’s the trick:

I have had uncountable arguments with anti-vaxxers. And at this point, most of them are like watching a game of chess that I’ve seen before; here’s the opening moves, here’s the inevitable response, here’s their countermove, and so on to stalemate.

I’m not saying I cannot be convinced. But I do know I cannot be convinced by the arguments they’re mustering. Most of them are citing the same discredited sources, making the same terrible arguments about mercury, and so on.

Not all of them, of course, but I’d say probably 90% of the anti-vaxxers I’ve dealt with are functionally identical when it comes down to the reasons they give for being anti-vaxxers.

And this is not unusual. If I talk about trans people with TERFs? Lordy, they’re all the same arguments, so much so that whole videos have been made that deal with all of the standard objections in a row. If I talk about the problems with guns? The pro-gun people are going to trot out the usual objections about “I’m responsible, why punish me?” and “The second amendment says” and “You know nothing about guns, ha ha” to the point, where, again, there are whole routines devoted to knocking down those arguments one by one simply because they are so fucking predictable.

It’s all a dance. Black Lives Matter? Allemande left to “All lives matter,” shift to “What about black-on-black crime?” and do that twist of implying Marxist involvement.

Nor is that just my liberal ass! I mean, if you’re pro-gun, I’m absolutely certain you could call my shots, so to speak. If you’re devotedly anti-Black Lives Matter, I’m pretty sure there’s no argument I’ll haul out that will make you gasp in horror to go, “Oh… I didn’t think of that.”

And yet I get people saying, “Ferrett, you’re not engaging with these people properly. You should hear them out.”

To which my response is, “How many times do you have to listen to the same argument before you realize you don’t have to take the time to hear all of it?”

Because here’s a commonality among the people calling for me to listen to every argument: They have small audiences. I mean, if you never have an essay or a Tweet go viral, it’s pretty trivial to engage meaningfully with the two or three dissenters who wander into your responses every month.

But if you have thirty enraged people a day – and that’s a low volume for those who have even mid-sized audiences – then it becomes impossible to functionally keep up with all of that.

And, I’d argue, what the low-volume people get is functionally little more than warm fuzzies. Do they convince the other person? Not usually, no. But they’re very polite, a feature they seem to value over actually changing hearts and minds, and when the other person goes “Thanks, but you’re still completely wrong and I am clinging to the traditions I came here with,” they go, “Well, we had a nice discussion, and that’s what matters.”

Not all of ’em, but… enough.

And to my mind, many of those calls of “You should be more open-minded” are actually a secret call for “I think you’re not listening to their arguments because you didn’t hear them out.”

Which is the big question:

Do you have to hear every bit of the argument as presented before:
a) You realize you’ve heard it before, and:
b) You think it’s without merit?

Some people’s answer is “Yes, you should do that dance with everyone who extends their hand to you on the dance floor,” but I’d argue – as I just have – that their dance card isn’t that full. I’m not saying that me engaging with die-hard men’s rights activists will never result in change, but I am saying that the odds of that happening that me devoting twenty hours a week in polite discussion in the hopes of finding the one guy a month are, effectively, a waste of time.

And that time? Gets greater as you get more engagement. I’m small fry. I’ve seen what happens whenever a Tweet escapes and goes viral, and man, engaging every angry response politely becomes fucking impossible.

Those who say “You should engage with everyone deeply and without preconceived notions!” are free to do so on their own time. But I think they’re coming from a weird place of privilege, which is to say, a fair amount of spare time and not a lot of people weighing in.

For the rest of us, I’d argue that arguments are like the proverbial shit sandwich; you don’t have to eat the whole thing to prove what it’s gonna taste like.

Yet there are occasional times – precious times – when an argument doesn’t go the way it’s intended. For example, I’m a liberal who’s for gun control but not against guns. So when I engage with a conservative who’s all like “I KNOW YOU, YOU HATE AND FEAR GUNS” and I’m like, “Actually, I love shooting and I wish I could own a gun but I’m suicidal and can’t risk it,” there’s often that feeling of being overlooked.

So how do I handle it?

I usually leave open one move.

Which is to say, if someone leaves a comment that makes me go, “Right, I know where this is going,” I try to reply with an open-ended comment that both refutes the argument they’re making but also leaves room for them to respond in ways that aren’t the standard dance. Sometimes I’ve misread them, or they have beliefs out of line, and I learn something.

But if they respond to that one move with a tried-and-true response, one that I could have slipped in an envelope before they got back to me and then dramatically revealed my prediction, well, I don’t really need to engage with them all the way.

I’ve tried not to dunk on them too much, but it’s often a necessary shorthand to point out the absurdity through sarcasm… Simply because honest engagement takes time and effort that’s not gonna convince ’em anyway.

And the people who refute this will go, “You, Ferrett, are why America’s so divided! You’re not listening!”

The problem is, America’s not divided because nobody’s listening. America’s divided because we’ve listened thoroughly, and we’re not convinced. You can sing the gospel as much as you’d like, but the fundamental flaw of so many of the centrists is that they legitimately believe that if we just heard what the other side had to say, of course all sides have a point, if we just listened compassionately we’d be swayed to the center.

But a lot of those voices you want me to be swayed by are telling me awful things – that my friends aren’t fully human, that they’re kiddie molesters who can’t be trusted to use a public bathroom, that they deserved to get shot because they scared cops, that regular mass murders are not only an acceptable price for the privilege of owning guns but that there’d be nothing we could do about them anyway.

You can argue that I’m misrepresenting them, of course. But at the very least, they’re okay with accepting some of those ideas as part of the baseline. And do I have to listen to them all the way before I realize that we’re not going to clasp hands and hammer out a compromise?

I argue that I can listen to them part-way. Enough to give them a chance to be different. But if they’re not, it’s not that I haven’t heard what they had to say, it’s that I have heard it too much.

Would You Like To Hear Me Doing A Reading From My Book? Would You Like To Hear Someone Else Do A BETTER Reading?

So last week my new book Automatic Reload dropped, and I did a celebratory event with the Cuyahoga Public Library – during which I did a dramatic reading of the first three chapters.

The video, which features a lot of questions for me, is here. (Skip to 35:55 if you just want the dramatic reading of an automated assault to rescue a kidnapped girl.)

But there’s also an audiobook version of Automatic Reload, and it’s my favorite reading of any of my books ever. They asked me who I wanted to do the audiobook, and I said, “Either Timothy Olyphant or Nathan Fillion. Or, considering both of those guys are out of my budget, whoever can do the best modern cowboy swagger.” And goddamn if Tim Campbell didn’t knock it out of the park, because he gets the rhythm.

Here’s the excerpt. Five minutes of automated action.

So anyway. The full audiobook is available for a single credit on Audible, or even free if you sign up for a trial subscription. I myself will read the book to you personally if you pay me enough. (Hint: You cannot pay me enough.) So not only is the audio a lot cheaper, but it’s well worth your time. Check it out.

Being A Functional Crazy Person Involves Knowing Your Limits.

I’ve been doing a lot of promotion for my new book – and on Tuesday, release day, I did the big push of doing two release events within eight hours. Two events where I stared at a screen and pretended to be an extrovert, reading from my new book, carrying the conversation, being interesting even though I couldn’t see an audience or a chat screen.

(If you wanna watch me do it again, I’ll be on Tubby and Coo’s YouTube at 7p.m. EST tonight. And if you want me on your podcast/YouTube/blog, well, get in touch.)

But come Wednesday, the three weeks I’d spent gearing up for Automatic Reload‘s release all came crashing down. I couldn’t think; I just stared at the screen, trying to summon up words or code or whatever. I could not speak; all my words were slurried half-stammers.

I had things to do. I had an important deadline at work. I had more events to plan. I had to retweet reviews, I had to catch up on old emails, I had to write my new book…

What I actually did was rest.

I did not want to rest.

But part of being an optimized crazy person is knowing when you can push, and when you can’t. I had been running hard since the beginning of July, knowing I was accumulating stress I could not burn off, and I knew I’d pay for it some day.

That day had arrived.

The other days, keeping up the grind was costing me, but “pushing myself” then meant “the bill was in the mail.” I could keep going, and the crash would be hard, but it wouldn’t leave scars.

Yesterday, if I’d pushed myself?

Something would have broken.

So I hated it, but I called out sick to work and played Monster Train on automatic pilot, and watched reruns of MAS*H, and curled up with my wife. I should have been doing Dramatic Things, but that effort would have torn my willpower in half, like a hernia of the brain, so I just loathed my quiet and let my body heal.

(Which is ironic, because Automatic Reload is about a guy with mental illness, and he too has inconvenient downtimes – his are in the middle of gunfights because, well, fiction, but I always magnify my actual problems into more dramatic versions for fiction’s sake.)

The point here is that I’m an experienced crazy person, and I knew when I’d hit my limits. In the past, I didn’t, and I would go “NO! I am not that mentally ill. Here, I’ll prove it, by shoving past this weakness to show you my strength,” and then I’d have some extremely bad mental meltdown, probably with very public and very embarrassing side effects.

It is humiliating to meet your absolute limits. Society tells you that you should be stronger, and your brain tells you that you’re not really mentally ill, you’re faking it, nobody has whole days where they just fog out, aren’t you buying into the idea of your own vulnerability?

When you’re chronically ill, self-care feels a lot like weakness. Because it would be a lot better if this was self-pity. It would be so much more satisfying if your real illness was drama – that this paralysis you were experiencing now was just you holding a pity party, and if you really wanted to you could man up and do what needed to be done.

The truth is this: Some days you can’t do what needs to be done. It’s inconvenient. It’s degrading.

And it’s necessary to heal so you can do the things it is possible to do.

I am taking it slow today. Like I said, I have one more appearance, and I hope y’all show up; I’ll be discussing my new book Automatic Reload, and maybe doing a new reading from a different chapter. That much, I can do.

But I can do that because I didn’t do anything yesterday. Because I shrugged aside my instincts of “This fog is bullshit” to give into the recuperation, to rest, to be temporarily helpless so I could be strong tomorrow.

It’s not a fun lesson. But ironically, it’s part of the book I’m promoting. Go figure.

The Automatic Reload Virtual Book Tour Dates! Starting… Tomorrow!

Automatic Reload will be out tomorrow, and in lieu of my usual book tour, I’ll be doing virtual meetings – meetings that you can sign up for!

At 1:00 EST tomorrow, I’ll be appearing on WorldBuilders with Gray Miller

And at 7:00 EST I’ll doing a Q&A with the Cuyahoga Public Library….

And Thursday at 5:00 EST, I’ll be appearing at Tubby and Coo’s.

I invite you all to come see me, if only because – as always – I am terrified of making a big fuss and then showing up to find I have no audience. If you can sign up and make me feel less lonely, I’d appreciate it! I promise to be as vibrant and dazzling a guest as I possibly can.

And yes, Automatic Reload is coming out tomorrow – Tor’s already posted the action-soaked opening three chapters, but they also just posted the more reflective PTSD-trauma excerpt, where we see our hero working in his laboratory, doing his best Tony Stark in Iron Man 3 riff.

So what you got is your last hours to preorder the book and get the exclusive 10,000 novelette ‘Mancer story “Aliyah’s Sixteenth Birthday, Or: The Final Burning Of Paul Tsabo.”

So anyway! Enough publicity. Until tomorrow. AND THEN HOO BOY MORE PUBLICITY

“I Don’t Feel Like I’m Really Polyamorous.” Here’s Why You Are.

They talk to me in whispers, in private conversations, in closed chat rooms, these hushed confessions:

“I don’t feel like I’m really polyamorous.”

Sometimes they don’t feel like they deserve the Badge of Poly because they’re solo poly – they just want to date a lot of people and live single in their apartment,and if they’re not seeking a primary partner can they really be poly?

Sometimes they don’t feel like they deserve the Official Medal Of The Polyamoric Experience because they’re in a closed triad, having only dated the same two people for fifteen years, and if they’re not actively seeking new partners can they really be poly?

Sometimes they don’t feel like they deserve to be considered an official Colonel of the Polyamorous Field Wars because they’re asexual and they have deeply romantic ties with several people but there’s not really any physical connection, and if they’re not bumping the bits then can they really be poly?

And the answer is: Yes.

No, I lie: the true answer is Fuck yes.

Because here’s the trick: Monogamy is one very narrow version of how romantic relationships can form – basically, one on one, exclusive. (And there’s a hell of a lot of variation to be had even within that quote-unquote “narrow” version, because humans are complex and the world is large, but the gist of the ideal is pretty much “You eventually find one person to stay with until one of you is dead.”)

But polyamory?

Is literally every other kind of relationship you can have that’s not monogamy.

Saying that polyamory and monogamy are opposites is a terrible definition, because they’re not actually opposed. Monogamy is like New York City – it’s ridiculously popular and influential, and certainly lots of people live in New York City or in places with similarities to New York City….

But “not living in New York City” isn’t actually a well-defined experience. Maybe you live in the farmlands. Maybe you live in the suburbs. Maybe you live in a trailer, or on a commune, or in a geodesic dome.

New York City isn’t the opposite of the world, it’s just an outsized experience that’s given a wildly disproportionate amount of attention. And you don’t see people say “I don’t feel that I’m not really not living in New York City” because they’re living in Saskatoon.

Likewise, all it takes to be polyamorous is to not be monogamous. And monogamy is so omnipresent in Western culture that simply stepping away from that expectation is a hurdle in and of itself.

So the good news: You are polyamorous. You’re valid. The true polyamorous experience is as simple as realizing that monogamy doesn’t entirely fit you, and you need something a little off the rack – and so you’re aiming your relationships, no matter how imperfectly, in that direction.

Admittedly, there are a few doofy One True Wayers who’ll tell you that you’re not really polyamorous unless your poly looks like their poly – which is entirely coincidental, I’m sure – but as always, you can ignore the dorks.

What you’re doing? It’s valid, it’s poly, it ticks all the boxes. Furthermore, it’s probably approaching a good poly, as you’re trying to figure out how to shape a customized experience to fulfill your needs, as opposed to stepping away from the constrictions of monogamy to take up an entirely new set of constrictions.

In short, your experiences with polyamory right now:

  • Is polyamory
  • Are valid
  • Are hopefully healthy for you and your partners, so long as you’re treating everyone with respect.

And that’s all ya need to know.

The Discord Invites Have Gone Out!

On Tuesday, I said “Sign up for my newsletter, where on Thursday I’ll be sending out invites to my new Discord server.”

Well, it’s Thursday, and those invites have been sent. Look for ’em from donotreply@theferrett.com, with the extremely subtle title “The Invite To My Discord Server!” – unfortunately, my newsletter seems to get marked as spam more often than I’d like (like every other newsletter, really), but it should be there.

If you have signed up for my newsletter and your email client ate it, email me at theferrett@theferrett.com with the subject “Lost Discord Invite” and I’ll see what I can do.

If you did not sign up for my newsletter and you want a Discord invite, well, sign up now, because I’ll be sending out another invite next week to celebrate my new book Automatic Reload releasing.

And if you’re in my Discord right now, yes, it’s really busy because, well, we just invited a ton of people. It’ll calm down. I promise. But we’ll be happy to see you.

Did You Want An Invite To My Discord Server?

As mentioned before, I’ve started up a Discord server, and it’s been going pretty well… in part because it’s been invite-only, and the people involved have been extremely cool. There’s been a lot of interesting discussions ranging from Heinlein to Hamilton.

I’ll be sending out more Discord invites this Thursday, but the only way to get that invite is to sign up for my newsletter. (And, ideally, check your spam on Thursday to check it’s there.)

The newsletter is where you can also win the last advance copies of my book Automatic Reload, which is coming out a week from now.

So all I need is an email address, I promise not to spam it (I mean, I’ve sent literally two newsletters in the last six months, but there’ll be a few more thanks to book), and in return you’ll get an invite to a pretty hip chat room.

Anyway. Again, newsletter is here, invites Thursday, that is all.