Tag Archives: human-behavior

Escapism and Imagination

I stumbled across a debate yesterday on the topic of escapism, worldbuilding, and speculative fiction. I had initially intended to contribute my own thoughts to this discussion, but after having perused a number of _other_ opinions on various websites and blogs, I doubt very highly that there is anything I could add that hasn’t already been said a dozen different ways already. So, allow me a moment to rabbit trail from that discussion and go in a slightly different, but related, direction.

One of the claims often made about speculative fiction is that people immerse themselves in it as a way to escape from the realities of life for a little while. I’m comfortable with the notion that at least _some_ people who read speculative fiction do, indeed, read it for this exact purpose. But I’d like to explore the question of why _do_ people read this genre. Surely not everyone who enjoys speculative fiction seeks to escape real life, right? Because wouldn’t that mean that people were so ill-adjusted to real life that they can’t cope with reality?

An anecdote to provide a counter-example:

I’ve always enjoyed speculative fiction. I remember that some of my first real writing assignments in grade school were typically science fictional in nature. I also remember that most of my peers really enjoyed those stories, so I would often read them aloud in front of the whole class.

In writing those stories, I wasn’t trying to escape real life – I simply had a very active imagination. I spent hours with some of my best friends re-enacting episodes from the cartoons _Silverhawks_ and _Thundercats_. I loved anything that involved advanced technology and travel through space, new worlds, alien races. I even had, for a while, an imaginary world of mice and cats, where the mice had very fast vehicles that raced through tunnels and where the cats constantly tried to capture the mice when and where they periodically emerged from one tunnel section to speed toward the next. I would tear through the neighborhood on my bike, imagining myself as one of these mice who was continually able to outwit the cats, albeit always by a slim margin. It wasn’t escapism – it was merely an imaginative kid having fun.

As I’ve grown up, though, my imagination has gotten no less active. I still find advanced technologies and magic to be endlessly fascinating. I think it revolves around natural human curiosity and ambition to see new things and do even more than we can currently. To some extent, I almost think that a fascination with speculative fiction encompasses the hopes and dreams of a better, more productive future. Could be I’m all wet, too, but I think I’m at least partially right.

Sure, I suppose there’s a bit of escapism involved in even _my_ interest in speculative fiction, but it’s certainly not my primary attraction to the genre (I don’t even think it’s particularly high on the list). Mostly, for me, it’s just fun and enjoyable and brings the kid in me out to the surface – and I suspect I’m not alone in this.

So, what is it about speculative fiction that most attracts _you_ to the genre? What do you love about it? And is there anything you hate about it?

Sports Mania

Apparently, “Ohio State lost big”:http://www.lordjabez.net/blog/?p=253 yesterday. And apparently, it’s a “sore subject”:http://www.scalzi.com/whatever/004761.html for a lot of Buckeye fans. I’ve never really understood sports fanaticism. I lived in Ohio for a number of years, and I know how seriously those folks take their OSU sports team, especially where it comes to football. Anyone ever heard of the classic OSU/Michigan rivalry? ((And from what I’ve heard, Michigan doesn’t even take the OSU/Michigan rivalry all that seriously; it’s apparently just an Ohio thing.))

For me sports has always just been about the game. It’s an opportunity to relax and watch an event that’s pretty fun. I’ve had teams I’ve supported in the past, ((I used to be a Toronto Blue Jays fan, back when they were winning World Series and before the big strike that ruined the sport for me.)) but never one I’ve been rapidly fanatical about. For one, it’s _just a game_, and that’s all it ever should be. I know folks who will be depressed for days because their team lost. I can appreciate folks wanting to have fun and maximize the excitement of the event. I can even appreciate those (insane) guys who paint themselves up and strip off their shirts in the dead of winter to support their team at the stadium. But I can’t justify allowing sports to govern one’s life to the extent where that’s all that life is about for them.

We all have to have hobbies, but there’s a big difference between a hobby and idolatry. Enjoy the game, have fun with it, but _win or lose_, once the game’s over and the players have cleared off the field, remember that it’s time to move on. Life is about bigger and more important things than how the scoreboard reads at the end of the day.

Emotional Reactions to Stories

Either I have a cold, cynical heart, or I have a more (ahem) refined literary palette than most people. The reason I say this is because I frequently find myself puzzled at reader reactions to a lot of stories. For example, I’ll read through a given story and then be like, ‘Ok, that was nice. What’s next?’ I’ll appreciate the effort and art that went into writing that story and weaving that tale, but ultimately I’ll have decided that it was, for me, a bit of a yawner. Then I’ll read comments that people have written, comments raving about how good this story was, how exotic the imagery was, etc. And that is what leaves me feeling puzzled because I didn’t think it was _that_ good of a story.

Now, there _are_ stories that I love so much that I’ll rave about them for days. Just ask my wife. When I stumble upon a truly good one, I’ll go on about it at length for quite some time and usually come back and re-read it again later. ((Sometimes several times over.)) So, I can’t decide if a story leaves me unfazed because I can’t relate to it on an emotional level or because I simply have very different tastes in literature than a lot of people.

Honestly, I suspect it’s probably the latter because when I read a good story that really draws me in to the characters and events, it _does_ affect me on an emotional and intellectual level. The good ones leave me feeling thoughtful and introspective. I also suspect that a story’s impact on a reader is directly related to how relevant it is to that reader’s life experience, i.e. how close to home it gets. A story that deals with a topic about which the reader has little knowledge or experience is probably going to have less impact than one that speaks heavily to a reader’s background.

I will probably always be somewhat puzzled about why the vast majority of readers respond so enthusiastically to certain stories when said story barely causes a twitch from me. I’ve never been one to just gush over every story I read, and there’s only a handful of books in my own personal library that I’ve felt were good enough to read more than once.

Has anyone else had this experience, finding that a yawner of a story for you received rave reviews from nearly everyone else that read it? What was your reaction to that observation?

More from the Driver’s Seat of a Horse-Drawn Carriage

“GenCon”:http://www.gencon.com/2006/indy/ weekend in Indy is always an amusing and interesting time to drive carriages. The things that you see downtown:

  • Apparently the years have not been good to Darth Vader. He’s both shorter and rounder than his last appearance. Spending too much time in the Los Eisley Cantina, perhaps?
  • This one is _not_ related to GenCon attendees – a grandma leading her three grandkids into the mall? The grandma’s outfit? Shorts, and just a bra beneath a large-weave fishnet top. I think I could have gone all my life without needing to see that.
  • Also not related to GenCon – a group of four adults came up to pet my horse. Afterwards, they all broke out the hand sanitizer and proceeded to ‘bathe’ in it for the next five minutes. Honest, folks – my horse had a bath before coming out to work.
  • I had to do a double-take on this one. I’m used to seeing homeless people with their cardboard signs asking for handouts (“God bless”). So when I first saw the cardboard sign next to the convention center, I almost waved it off. Then I noticed that the text was different – “For sale: Longsword, shield chainmail.” Only at GenCon.
  • Apparently, the night before, there was an epic battle between Jedi along the Canal Walk district. And from what I hear, time has not been especially good to the Jedi, either.
  • R2D2 was captured by Boba Fett and then taken to a nearby parking garage. Not word on what happened after that, but there was quite a bit of squawking, beeping, and squeaking coming from the 2nd level.
  • Fairies, pixies, pirates, and anime characters abounded. Swashbucklers, fire jugglers, and knife throwers also were present.

As I said, good times. It was a very entertaining evening that passed by very quickly. I only wish I could have had the time and money to buy a pass to the convention myself. I can pretty much guarantee I would have been geeked out.

Low-Minded People

Two events in the news lately leaving me disappointed – but not surprised – in the reaction of the American and the world populace. Ken Lay dies before going to trial, and Mel Gibson gets picked up for drunk driving and spouts a lot of anti-Semitic speech. The reactions of the vast majority of people to both events has been unbridled sadistic glee. In Ken Lay’s case, people were just sorry that he couldn’t spend time suffering in a jail cell for a while. In Gibson’s case, people were ecstatic that this “pariah” finally got caught with his pants down.

It’s funny – for all the speech about how we as a species are bettering ourselves, improving our capabilities, broadening our thinking and our horizons, there’s an awful lot of low attitudes and childish behaviors going on. I’m not really surprised at the reaction – the cynic in me has long ago given up the notion that people can ever actually be mature and civil toward one another. I recognize that people would much rather act like spoiled children than remember that everyone has faults, that none of us can actually throw that first stone lest we condemn ourselves, that if the shoe were on the other foot we would want a little grace and mercy extended toward us. No, instead we forget all that and heap condemnation, hatred, and bitterness on the heads of those who we feel have done wrong. It’s disappointing to see supposedly high-minded individuals forgetting their self-proclaimed high standards of living to wallow in the same mire as those who have already wronged others.

I don’t condone either Lay or Gibson’s actions. They both clearly did wrong and should have to answer for their decisions before the appropriate parties. I do think, however, that before people spout off their own brand of hate speech and express their venomous attitudes, they need to stop and consider if such behavior is actually good and right and appropriate.

Most won’t, though. Critical thinking is such a lost skill these days. I’m probably talking to a nearly empty choir loft.

Observations from the Driver’s Seat of a Horse-Drawn Carriage, Redux

For several Saturdays running now, I’ve been back driving carriages in downtown Indy, and as usual you see all kinds of interesting things during the hours spent circling the streets. Here’s a few of the things I saw last night:

  • Inevitably, there are always a handful of bums and homeless people on the streets. And, also inevitably, they tend to exhibit some of the most peculiar behaviors. One gentlemen, early in the evening, began to serenade one of our female drivers, who then looked like she could have crawled under her carriage and died. Another fellow randomly walked up to a couple of mall employees, who were outside on their cigarette break, and without saying a word, began dancing in front of them, glaring all the while. Then he walked away, leaving those of us watching stupefied and moderately amused.
  • There are always people downtown begging for money. Maybe about half of them actually look like they need it – filthy clothing, matted hair, actually look like they’ve been living on the streets for an indeterminate amount of time. Another quarter of these people attempt to earn their income by playing various instruments, the saxophone and guitar being the most common. The rest, however, look like they got out of bed that morning, took their daily shower, put on their nice clean clothes, then grabbed their plastic cup with two or three quarters in the bottom on their way to stand out on the sidewalk to beg. Near as I can tell, most of this latter group of people _should_ be able to get a job.
  • And speaking of the guys who play sax downtown, one last night was really good. He seemed to really know how to play jazz and was jamming it up. The other guy I had to wonder about – has anyone ever told him that what he was playing were the saxophone accompaniments to larger works? Apparently he couldn’t tell that his ‘music’ held very little melodic value, which made sense, considering he _wasn’t_ actually playing any melody. Oh, the amusement level there was high.
  • I stopped at a light at one point in the evening to see a kid of perhaps 10, 12 years of age rolling across the crosswalk. No big deal, right? He was probably roller blades. Actually, he was wearing roller sneakers. I’ve never seen anything like this – he had a wheel in the heel of each of his tennis shoes and would lean back on them whenever the ground tilted downward.
  • Lamborghinis are old hat by now. Same with Ferraris, Porsches, and every sports car of every variety. These vehicles are all too common downtown, especially on the weekends and especially around Formula One. (I don’t even think those cars are all that pretty.)

That’s just a taste of what I usually see in the course of an evening driving carriages, and it generally only gets more exotic and interesting after 11:00, when the night club crowd hits the streets in force. One never lacks for entertainment, that’s for sure.

Intermittent Explosions

Study says millions have ‘rage’ disorder

There comes a point when even _I_ think psychology and science end up just looking plain, down-right ridiculous. If you explode in a rage at seemingly random intervals, don’t look to your own attitude for a fix. Look to your physiology. Or at least that’s what a recent scientific study is saying. According to this study, an imbalance in the neurotransmitters in your brain can cause periodic explosive bouts of rage and anger, exhibited in such instances as road rage and spousal abuse.

Here’s what really grinds me – every single time we notice a particular trend in our culture, a phenomenon that hits the national radar, scientists want to find a cause for this behavior. They set up studies, they record observations, and they issue reports. And time and again we hear the same thing – it’s not your fault that you’re fat or angry or depressed, etc. It’s an imbalance in the chemicals in your brain throwing off your psychosocial equilibrium.

This is all well and good, I suppose – there _are_ legitimate cases of chemical imbalances that cause antisocial behavior. But what these studies fail to mention is that just because an imbalance has been observed does not necessarily mean a cause-effect relationship. Typically, the relationship is merely correlational – when antisocial behavior occurs, there is an imbalance in neurological chemicals, but it is exceptionally difficult to determine which caused which. Did the imbalance cause the behavior? Or did the behavior cause the imbalance? The human brain is so complex that we still don’t really know how it works. Here’s a bit of trivia for you – we dispense many different kinds of drugs for various psychological disorders, yet we still don’t really know _how_ they work. We just know that they do.

Here’s something else for you to chew on – many antisocial behaviors can be corrected through the use of counseling, through mentoring and coaching an individual and urging them toward a general chance in attitude. Change the heart and mind of a man and you change his behavior. (There’s a reason why Christianity applied correctly has the power to drastically alter a person for the better.)

I suppose I’m simply tired of scientists – men and women who are educated and knowledgeable – trying to constantly justify poor human behavior by finding some genetic or physiological cause. I believe in accountability and personal responsibility, and I also believe that, by and large, the primary reason why we have seen an increase in anger, rage, and a whole host of other negative behaviors is because we no longer hold people accountable. There is no longer any desire to urge one another a higher standard of living because to do so would be ‘intolerant’ and unacceptable. It would be rude and inconsiderate to expect anyone to live their lives other than the way they want to, even if that way is self-destructive and even dangerous (or simply rude) to others.

We live in a time of ridiculous behaviors and even more ridiculous philosophies, a time when all people are simply children and juveniles because no one actually has to grow up, be mature, or take responsibility. Anything goes, and apparently most of us are alright with that because we don’t say anything to change the status quo.

Simply ridiculous.

Bite Down

I’m feeling much less than charitable today. I think it’s a product of recovering from being ill, trying to catch up on a lost day of work, and having read far too many inflammatory opinions over the past several days about a large number of topics. ((Why do people feel the need to goad other people to anger all the time, huh?)) Needless to say, my knee-jerk reaction to just about every opinion today is to respond with a snippy ((Just _how_ did the word ‘snarky’ gain such popular appeal, anyway?)) retort, just to balance out the extreme reactions with some sort of, presumably, rational response.

These are the sorts of days where my best bet is to sit down and play a video game or write on one of my stories, something where I don’t really have to interact with anyone and risk biting their heads off. Hazards of being tired and somewhat short-tempered (though I’m not really all that short-tempered at the moment; I just know that I _could_ be if I don’t make an effort to hold my tongue).

My day is gone, and my mind is fried from too much time spent writing code and manipulating data every which way possible just so I can run some simple analyses on it tomorrow. That profound thought I had earlier will just have to wait for another day to be written, I suppose.

Besides, I have a story or two in the ol’ hopper, as well, and I think the third chapter in the story I’ve been writing for my wife is beginning to get a mite angry with me for having left it alone for too long, so that may get started this evening, too. We’ll just see how much time and energy I have tonight and how loudly and sweetly the muses sing in my ear.

Eye Contact

Here’s an interesting social experiment. Walk through a high-traffic area and try to make eye contact with as many people as possible. It’s interesting to see the results. Some people glare and scowl with suspicion, some smile and nod amiably at you, others react almost not at all, other than the brief flicker of their eyes in your direction. And it’s always surprising to me just how many people never look higher than the tips of their own shoes.

They’re “windows to the soul”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/?p=79, eyes are. Maybe that’s part of why we always tend to be so hesitant about making eye contact with other people, particularly people we don’t know. Some people are merely introverts. It’s easier to look down and away, safer, than to make direct eye contact. Could be insecurity, afraid that making eye contact will cause someone else to actually notice you and then unleash their scorn and ridicule upon you. Could be just the busy pace of life or the seeming increase of the unsavory and untrustworthy type that makes us avoid eye contact or become suspicious of someone who does. Might be the fact that nearly everything in our culture today has become sexualized, whether it ought to be or not, and so eye contact, being a somewhat intimate form of personal interaction, tends to feel more flirtatious or lascivious than it should. Maybe it’s just a bad day and people simply want to be left alone.

On the other hand, it could be that many of us recognize that eye contact is merely a great way of saying hello or showing respect for a stranger without ever stopping or without ever saying a word. It could be a great way to show friendliness or cameraderie or any number of a dozen other things.

What does this observation say about people? Probably nothing conclusive. People tend to be more or less open to making eye contact with others from day to day, depending on how they feel or their mood or other circumstances. Still, I’d love to get inside people’s heads for that brief moment, find out what they are thinking when their eyes lock with that strangers’ for that split second. I wonder what I would find out…

Plank. Mote. Sound Familiar?

Why do we tend to focus more on the fact that others often hurt us with their words, however unintentionally, rather than on our own response to those people? How is that we forget that we are _not_ responsible for how others interact with us but rather we hold _full_ responsibility for how _we_ react to _them_? So often I see people around me snap at others merely because that person said something to them that happened to hurt, even if it was said to be constructive and in good faith that it would be taken well and in the spirit intended, that what was said was intended to encourage and build up and be constructive and not to tear down. It shouldn’t be happening, these negative responses. So what if constructive criticism wasn’t worded perfectly tactfully (this is all said with the understanding that both parties know that the criticism being given _is_ constructive and out of love because good, constructive criticism makes it clear at the beginning that it is meant for the betterment of another)? Can’t we understand and remember that we are imperfect creatures and that perfect tact is rare, perhaps non-existent? Why do we have to look out more for our own creature comforts, why do we focus so much on our pain and miss the big picture as a result, why do we fight so hard to keep our comfort zone, and risk damaging a good friendship to do so? Why do we forget that the one approaching us out of love and for our own good is doing just that, approaching us out of love and for our own good? Why do we get _so_ defensive when we feel even slightly offended or hurt? How come we don’t pay more attention to how we respond, to the part of the conversation that we can actually control (i.e. ourself), indeed the part that we are _fully_ responsible for? Where is the Christianity in snapping at someone, in responding harshly and out of anger? Where is the love of Christ in that? Where is our Christian testimony? What will others see when they see two Christians bickering and fighting like a couple of schoolchildren? Where is the light when it has become so dimmed by anger and bitterness? It’s actually pretty amazing how quickly an argument is defused when one party refuses to argue. It’s too bad that we all don’t do a better job of maintaining discipline over our own actions and reactions. Just because the other person is upset and angry and verbally abusive doesn’t mean that we also must be.