The Dreary Dom

Whenever I deal with BDSM communities, I know I will encounter the Dreary Dom.
He doesn’t want to talk to me, of course, but has the bare minimum of socialization to know that he must hold some kind of conversation with me in order to avoid being seen as rude.  But our conversation is low on eye contact; he’s continually looking over my shoulder in an attempt to find women he could be talking to, and only perks up when I’m a) discussing his talents, or b) providing a possible angle to meet newer and younger women.
He’s in his mid-thirties, with a bit of a gut, and was never conventionally attractive to begin with – but strangely, everyone he dates is in their early twenties, the younger the better.  He rhapsodizes over every one of them, telling them all how they’re beautiful stars, praising them endlessly for their strange emotional depth. No, you don’t expect a woman so young to act so mature, but you, my darling – you have a wisdom that really resonates.
Not one of these women has the wisdom to ask why he never dates anyone over thirty, except maybe for a wife propped casually on the sidelines, but hey.  It’s not that they’re young and attractive.  It’s all their personality, nothing more. Oh, hey, did I mention that I have this case of wine over here? It’s very expensive.  At least to someone on your just-out-of-college budget.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the Dreary Dom will go through a number of submissive women between each of our sporadic meeting.  He doesn’t seem to pick them up on positive reviews, either; he seems to find women in isolation to impress and coddle, and they stay for a time before moving on to other partners.  In this sense, sometimes I wonder whether the Dreary Dom is a rite of passage in the BDSM community for young women, some first spark of romance and interest before they find he’s really not all that interesting. I wonder what need the Dreary Dom fulfills.
The Dreary Dom isn’t actively evil or anything.  Just sort of tedious.  I’ve met him a hundred times, all under different faces, none of those faces quite willing to make eye contact with me because somewhere, there’s a cute young girl and he’d much rather be with her than killing time with me.

Why The Fact That I'm Right On Gay Marriage Doesn't Mean I'm Right On Gay Marriage

In Alaska, if you were new to the area, getting a car with four-wheel drive was a really dumb move.
It seemed smart; why wouldn’t you want a car with more traction?  Ah, but all that power meant was that you’d travel that much further out into the wilderness before you’d get stuck.  And there you’d be, far from any cell phone tower or passing motorist, stuck next to an angry moose and a cloud of hungry mosquitoes, wishing you’d been a little wiser in choosing your paths.
In the real world, if you’re really smart, winning arguments can be a really dumb move.
I say this because I recently schooled a guy on gay marriage.  I mean, I crushed him: I explained how his arguments about society falling were the exact same arguments people had used to block interracial marriages in the 1960s, shot down his idea that “people don’t want gay marriage, so we shouldn’t have it” by pointing out that people don’t want women to drive in Saudi Arabia and surely he doesn’t think that argument is a good one, then landed the body blow by dissecting his overblown opinion that “gay marriage would lead to the end of morality” by pointing out that honestly, if gays get married I’m pretty sure we’ll still be against theft, rape, and murder.
When I was done, he said, “Well done you once again have proved that your a good writer. That doesn’t however mean that what your saying is correct.”
The thing is, I absolutely agree with him.
Not about gay marriage – he’s still full of shit – but as a smart guy who works with words, over the years I’ve gotten really good at arguing.  It’s like a videogame, where I’ve been playing it for so long that for me, the weak point in the boss monster’s arguments light up in glowing red circles.  I will burn your straw men, Troncycle-cut off your attempts to change the topic, spread sawdust on that slippery slope. If you’re not as skilled in this PVP arena, I will shred your argument as a voice booms, “FLAWLESS VICTORY.” But here’s the thing that people forget:
Being good at arguing is an entirely separate skill from being correct.
When I was in the middle of the dot-com boom, I said, “All these Internet stocks seem ridiculously overinflated.  Take this online toothbrush-selling store; wouldn’t these guys have to sell like three times as many toothbrushes as the brick-and-mortar equivalents in order to be worth this much?  Doesn’t this stock price then hinge on the idea that all of America is suddenly going to buy three times as many toothbrushes?”
And Very Smart Stockbrokers told me that this was all very complicated, and clearly I didn’t understand, brought in a thousand reasons to show me why I didn’t quite understand the stock market.  They crushed me.  They had all these facts and responses and high-level studies at their disposal.  Hell, “being right about stocks” was what they did for a living, so how could I really respond?
As it turns out they were wrong and the toothbrush industry has remained woefully analog, but what the hell.
Likewise, if you’ve ever really had a discussion with a die-hard Creationist, he’s got a thousand responses to every Evolution 101 retort you throw at him.  I’ve been out-argued by Creationists, with my every point seemingly dismissed summarily, and it was only until I later went to some anti-Creationist sites and found that the scientific surveys he was citing were, in fact, flawed.  Then I went back, and he explained how the site I’d found – oh, yes, he was familiar with it – was very flawed itself.
Thing is, he was so good at dismissing my every retort that the only reason I believe in evolution is – much like the great toothbrush-selling scandal – because I stubbornly said, “No, this smells wrong to me.”
In other words, I lost the argument but retained my original opinion – and I’m still sure I’m correct.  Him winning doesn’t mean that he’s right, it means he’s just really awesome at debating this particular question.
And let us not tar just creationists and now-penniless stockbrokers with the same brush; let’s talk about my shattered personal life, shall we?
I spent the better part of a decade shuttling from broken relationship to broken relationship.  I had about, oh, forty women I dated in the 1990s, and all of them ended poorly.
Years of therapy had shaped me to become the Mike Tyson of personal arguments.  They’d try to stick me with the blame?  I’d dance out of the way and show them how my reactions were their fault!  I had a problem?  Yes, admittedly, but here’s why your problem is more critical to this relationship. By the time I was done, they were weeping with shame, because everything they were miserable about was something they could change, but they hadn’t because they had a weak character, but thankfully I loved them despite these awful flaws.  I’d hug them, proclaiming my love, knowing that I was the better person because they had come to me so angry and yet I’d calmly managed to show them the error of their ways.
You may note they still left.
Everything I said was, actually, true – it just wasn’t that relevant.  Certainly, they had their foibles – but for me, an argument was not an opportunity to fix the relationship, but rather to make sure that I didn’t get stuck with any of the blame.  (Not that I would have admitted, or even really understood this, at the time.)  I had flaws, deep ones.  I was wrong.
And where I was most wrong was in assuming that “convincing someone that I was correct” equalled “I was actually correct.”  When actually, what it just meant was that I was pretty damned awesome at arguing my point.
I won the argument, and lost some pretty spectacular girlfriends.  This was not actually victory.
Arguing is a talent that can be honed.  Put a flawed argument in a brilliant woman’s mouth, and it will sound like sweet music. Even more so if she actually believes it.  There’s a reason America is locked on issues like global warming and evolution, and that’s because frankly, you have two eloquent sides marshalling their titanic powers of rhetoric – and to someone who doesn’t know much about the issue, either side sounds absolutely convincing for as long as they have the mike.
The danger is when you, Mister Smarty-Pants Mass Debater, come to think that your untrammeled string of victories stems from the rightness of your cause and not your golden tongue.  “I won the argument,” goes the thinking.  “That means I’m right.”  And there you are with that four-wheel drive thrumming underneath you, your car carrying you deeper into the woods, not realizing you have an appointment with an angry moose.
But I’m still right about gay marriage, dammit.

This Post Is Not Important

When I talk about fiction, I talk about good books and influential books.  I do not talk about important books.
This is because I think that the idea of an important book is fundamentally stupid.
Good books are, of course, a completely subjective thing, and I think we all understand that.  There are those folks on the Intarwebz who get wrapped around the axle because for them, I LIKE IT means IT IS GOOD, but I think despite the occasional trash-talk between people, most people dig that their definition of a good book is not a universal thing.
(You may deeply suspect someone who does not love the best book you ever read, but I think that’s a personality thing; if you love this book so much and they hate it, that’s most likely pointing to a fundamental incompatibility thing between you.  Roger Ebert said, “Never marry someone who doesn’t love the movies you love. Sooner or later, that person will not love you.”  That’s not necessarily true if you’re not big on movies, but I found myself completely over an old relationship when I discovered she liked the prequels better than the original Star Wars.)
Influential books, well, you can’t really argue that point either.  You might despise Twilight, but you have to admit that a lot of books (good or bad) have been written in that style, and certainly a lot of people have tried to emulate Bella and Jacob and Poochface and whoever else is in this book I’ve never actually read.  There are a lot of books I don’t actually like that I see echoes of elsewhere (paging Mr. Tolkien).  In an ideal world, good equals influential, but it often doesn’t.
Important books, though…. Well, in my experience, “important” books are compiled by people who are trying to appear very smart.   And what you wind up is a combination of books they consider “good” where they’re trying to imply that you’re a cultureless oaf if you don’t like it, and “influential” books (which, in some cases, the people actually haven’t read) that people want to say they’ve read because these are books that other classy people have enjoyed and hence you should, too.
In other words, “important” books are usually a short-hand for “This set of books is the encapsulation of the culture I am trying to create, and I’ll do this by implying heavily that if you haven’t read them, you’re both clueless and ignorant of the way the world works.” Such cultures are almost inexorably twisted towards “This is the stuff I like – but it’s not me who likes it, it’s all the important people.  You want to be important, don’t you?”
The reason I say this is because Cat Valente mentioned that some clueless git said, that he couldn’t “think of anything important written by a woman in any time period.”  And my reaction was not a spluttering “whuh?” at such en enormously stupid statement, but rather, “Of course.  Because important is your short-hand for, ‘relevant to my interests,’ and I’m willing to bet your interests don’t include actually paying attention to women.”
It gets hard when compiling lists of older books, because back when you had the endless circle-jerk of guys publishing guys, well, all that was influential was mostly men.  (I say this with the perhaps overpleasant assumption that we’re slowly crawling our way out of that mire.)  And a lot of what was good was male, because again, when 95% of what gets published is guys, most of the good work is going to be by default by guys.
Still, to say that no woman has written anything influential is clearly stinking horseshit.  And to say that no woman has written anything good is an admission that really, you haven’t read that much.  Sexists can take refuge in that last bastion, though, by saying that women aren’t “important” – which, again, is a nebulous term meaning “Me and my friends all think these books are rad, but it’s not us, it’s THE WORLD who thinks that.”  And fuck that.  Every list of important books boils down to a bunch of the same book-nerds sitting in a circle, calling out their favorites.
Have your list of books you love – everyone’s entitled – but don’t tell me that they’re important.  They’re good.  And/or they’re influential.  Occasionally, even groundbreaking or literarily significant as a first.  But important?  For a guy who loves books, you sure don’t understand what words mean.

A Brief Thought On The Hugos

The blog-o-sphere is, predictably, disgruntled with the Hugos.  This year’s award was for a tale that was pretty hackneyed, how did this piece of crap get on here, what about this great work that was ignored, and aren’t these the same old winners we always see?
And there’s always some truth to that.  I do feel that the graying audience of the Hugos tends to disproportionately reward older, established authors.  But that said…
…every awards season has this griping.  Every one.  I’ve been following the Oscars for a decade, and every year it’s the exact same bitching.  And that’s good.
See, when you’re discussing awards that cover a whole genre, it’d be a scandal if there wasn’t widespread complaining over who got nominated for what award.  Tastes differ.  Shit,  in deep Terry Pratchett fandom, all of whom agree that Pterry is nigh unto a God, there are serious debates over which of his books are “the good ones.”  And that’s a relatively homogenous field.  Hell, I’m a huge China Mieville fan, and I regularly get into arguments with people about whether Un Lun Dun is any good.  (I don’t believe it is.)
If there wasn’t widespread calamity over the scant five nominations we can give to each category, that would mean that all of fandom had quietly agreed that these were the best five tales this year.  Which would mean we had been taken over by brain slugs.  The fact that there’s debate doesn’t indicate that the Hugos are broken, it indicates that there’s a huge number of disparate works trying to accomplish different things, each with their own unique merits, and somehow we all have to boil these down to five choices that will probably please, in their entirety, almost no one.  (And note that the Oscars expanding to ten choices hasn’t notably dampened the annual gripefest.)
There are legitimate complaints about the Hugos’ choices, some of which may indicate that the process should be changed to create a greater variety of choices.  But there will always be legitimate complaints, no matter what you did.  There’s no way of avoiding it.  It’s a good sign, because it means people are invested in science fiction and are outraged because they love this work and think it should have been more lauded and hate this work and think it doesn’t deserve it.
We bitch because we love.  Always have, always will.  You want to see quiet approval, go to a dead fandom.

Random Thoughts On A Random Friday

Every person I’ve ever entered into a polyamorous relationship with has told me they are good at respecting boundaries. And every one of them has been, right up until they encounter a boundary they don’t like.
If real life was like videogames, the soldiers approaching the beach on D-Day would have been psyched.  Their reaction: “Once I kill this beach full of Nazis, I am totally going to level up!”
It’d be nice if we all got better feedback on what we were doing. Really, most of us live in a vacuum of feedback.  Unfortunately, most of us lose our fucking shit whenever we get negative feedback, so nobody gives it.
I wish I got fewer crushes on people.  It’s really awkward pretending I don’t have them.
I probably talk about ponies too much.