Wednesday, August 29, 2018

John McCain in Hell

John McCain steps up to the podium. His raggedy skin hangs looser now, blistered and peeling from the everlasting fires, but nothing can dampen his enervating rictus grin. A little teeth peaks out at the corners, a little more fang now as he more directly reflects the contents of his own soul. "My fellow Hellions!" he declares to the assembled imps and incubbi, "We stand at a crossroads...

"When I first arrived, I - like so many of you - knew only torment for my sins and wickedness. In my first thousand years, I suffered as I made others suffer on Earth. Bullets tore my flesh, I drowned over and over, and of course I tasted the rough caress of the same fires I unleashed on Vietnamese children.

"I did not object to this treatment, as I am a longtime champion of personal responsibility. I told the news media so in life, over and over so they would actually think it was true. But now I come before you because I fear Hell has lost its way.

"Since the Fall, a stalemate has held against our accursed enemies in Heaven. While we gather the greater magnitude of souls, we are nonetheless denied our rightful place as the first among afterlives. Satan is as much to blame for this sorry state of affairs as God and His angels, opting to tempt and corrupt one mortal at a time. He has lost the will to fight and limited the real tools at our disposal."

Here the late Senator looms over the podium, bristling with indignation and bloodlust. "Our Dark Lord says 'That's the way of things,' but I'm too much of a maverick for that! I say we strike at Heaven now, not on some designated Day of Reckoning. Even with the proper resources, it's a campaign that will be measured in years, not days. And we do have the proper resources - massive resources made up of all the sinners and psychopaths who ever lived! I know some of them personally, having served together in the Navy or the Senate."

The audience cheers and hisses with malicious glee. Behind the stage curtains, Tricky Dixon nods approvingly, while wiping sweat from the scales of his upper lip. He hadn't really believed John could rally the troops like he never could. "But they used to talk about your integrity all the time on CNN," Tricky had argued, CNN being the only channel available in Hell.

"Look, did I tell Dubbya to go get stuffed when he asked me to campaign with him?" McCain had spat back. "Did I turn down that moose-fucking loon from Alaska? I rode her just like I rolled over on John Kerry. Fuck that integrity shit - I'm in this game to win!"

And he certainly looks like he's winning now in the eight circle of hellfire, the horns atop his head and forked tongue whipping from his cracked lips as he whipped the legions of lof the damned into a wargasmic frenzy. "Let's finish the fight the First of the Fallen started!" McCain declares. "Let's march straight up to those pearly gates and bomb them into the stone age!"

Friday, August 24, 2018

Fiction Friday: Drones

I have a new story out, all about the coming robot apocalypse and how it will be so very dreary and corporate.

The doors nearly shut on Luis as he lingered, watching the girl rush down the narrow lane between cubicles to her spot with the Analytics Team. Aardvark, as they’d been dubbed during the last restructuring. Luis ducked his head down as he traveled to his own team, Dark Dungeons. So named by another developer as a roundabout way of naming themselves after his favorite hobby and as “Double Ds.” Just as he came within view of his workstation, he heard the familiar, nasally voice –

“I was just looking for you,” said Campbell, as he swooped in. Though nearly a whole head shorter than Luis, he always felt like the tallest man in the room. “You didn’t just get in, did you?”

Luis, feeling the conspicuousness of his backpack and still damp umbrella replied, “No.”

“Good, good,” Campbell said, not giving it a second thought. “Listen, I’m gonna need the whole team — but you especially — I’m gonna need you all to double down on the AGI project.”

God, not that boondoggle again… “Sure thing.”

Campbell did that thing that looked like a very happy chipmunk. “Great to hear! You’re my man, Luis!”

Luis nodded, smiling with great effort. “Yes, I am.”

He let his face droop back to normal once Campbell turned around and sauntered away. That damned AGI project…

Read the rest of "Drones" at Strange Fictions Zine! They did some awesome artwork.

Monday, August 13, 2018

No Fate But What We Make

One of the more obnoxious things about contemporary literature is how every MFA grad thinks they're the first to break the fourth wall or mix philosophy with satire. You can probably find a best-seller in Barnes & Noble right now, celebrated by all the respectable rags for being bold and experimental when really it's an overwritten shaggy dog story that does the "Dear Reader..." thing you forgot Dickens put into every single novel he ever wrote.

Truth is fiction has always been much more wild and experimental than the best-selling beach reads. Case in point: Denis Diderot. A contemporary of Voltaire, you didn't hear about him in AP English because his philosophy is too complex and self-critical to fit as neatly into the American "common sense" dogma. Also he's French and Americans have long failed to appreciate the nation that midwived their own.

What sets Diderot apart from more acceptable thinkers like Voltaire are two things antithetical to American sentiment: his material atheism and his determinism. Now this might seem contradictory on the face - how can a totally godless cosmos still be determined? - but that confuses determinism with Fate.

Determinism simply posits that A leads to B leads to C. That cause leads to effect. Fate, on the other hand, holds that a certain outcome has already been pre-determined. Or rather pre-ordained, as Fate can only exist in a metaphysical framework as posited by religion, whether modern iterations or the pagan pantheons of the Axial Age.

Thus, a Deterministic cosmos is compatible with a metaphysics of material atheism, however this framework is still incompatible with Fate.

The debate between Fate and Determinism matters because both imply - indeed require - their own ethos that are fundamentally opposed to one another. If Fate, the Will of Heaven, then there is comfort that even misfortune has a good reason but also implies said misfortune may be deserved. Illness and poverty are divine judgements, or at the very least tests, and mass political action to alleviate this suffering becomes a defiance of that same conscious, almighty Will. That is in fact where the Protestant Work Ethic comes from - Calvin's doctrine of predestination and Adam Smith's Invisible Hand are opposite sides of the same idea that there is an order, a purpose to the world which is reflected in material wealth.

However, if events are determined but not pre-determined, if there is still a reason but not a transcendent or at least benevolent one, the ethical implications change entirely. Misfortune is not a test or punishment but a hazard of existence faced by all. This raises the issue of how a people or a society should manage these misfortunes, a moral imperative in a deterministic cosmos that can turn on all of us.

Diderot communicated this Determinism through comic vignettes, often to the point of self-parody. The title character of Jacques the Fatalist argues that all is pre-determined, written up above on a great scroll ("tout ce qui nous arrive de bien et de mal ici-bas était écrit là-haut") but his examples from his own life are all clearly the products of his own foolishness and incompetence. Fate would make a great comfort to a fool, as it absolves him of the moral responsibility for his own foolish actions.

But can the fool still be held accountable under Determinism? Does he bring the angry cuckolded husbands on himself or is it again the indifferent cosmic winds? That's a question no physicist can answer so it falls back to the philosophers and there is indeed a long philosophical tradition of grappling with how to improve the human condition. Karl Marx himself even cited Diderot as his "favourite prose-writer."

Because if the world is Determined but not ruled by Fate, we can shape the causes to gain beneficial effects. We can "hack" our lives, in the jargon of douchebags, achieving greater happiness and tranquility. But only if we can get over the primitive prejudice that Fate makes you rich or poor.