Justice as a passion

I had a conversation with a cousin of mine, a little over a year ago. We were discussing politics, as we often have over the years. Though we don’t actively disagree, we don’t necessarily agree either. What was notable about this particular conversation was that his acknowledgement that I have “a passion for politics.”

This description did not sit well with me. I was not offended; it is accurate to an extent. However, it did not really fit. I was uncomfortable with the idea that he would define my politicism as a passion for politics.

I am, at least, somewhat politically aware. I have a long history of political activism: I have participated in campaigns and protests. I have lobbied in Sacramento on numerous occasions. However, I do not consider myself a political junky; I have numerous other passions that take up more of my time than politics.

It took me a few weeks to figure out what the problem was. It occurred to me when I was going through some of my writing. I started to recognize a pattern of concern.

The next time I spoke to my cousin I was able to correct him. I informed that my true passion is for justice and explained that the reason it looks like a passion for politics is that politics is often the arena where fights for justice take place. This explanation was apparently good enough for my cousin; he did not quibble.

So, one might then ask what is a passion for justice? I can only answer for myself. I am angered that through a quirk of geography and class some people are doomed to lives of misery and failure while others can live their life without ever facing any real consequences. I am angered that laws are designed to favor the interests of the powerful over the lives of the vast majority of the people.

I have been thinking about this because I like to write. My problem has been that I have not, to this point, thought that I had a good subject to write about on an ongoing basis. I have decided that justice and dignity will be the overarching subjects of my writing. In my opinion, dignity goes hand in hand with justice. There can be no justice without recognizing the dignity of every human being.

Anyway, I think this is somewhat reflected in my previous blog posts. Not completely, but close enough to recognize a pattern of concern. I am sure I will often digress into the genre of horror, because it is something I enjoy, and I am almost 30,000 words into a horror novel I am writing (it will be my first novel of any genre). I am sure I will digress in other ways, too; but that is half of the fun. I intend to define dignity and justice as I go along.

I hope I can make some friends along the way.

Initial Thoughts On Horror Movies

A little over a week ago my wife and I went to see Crazy Rich Asians. She wanted to see it because she loves romantic comedies. I was not opposed to seeing it because I had read some good reviews of this movie. And it is a good movie; despite going through the romcom checklist, it feels fresh and is quite entertaining. However, this essay is not about Crazy Rich Asians; I am writing about the previews we saw before the movie and my subsequent thinking since then.

Before the movie there were the requisite 3 or 4 upcoming attractions trailers. I do not remember how many. The previews were almost entirely upcoming romantic comedies or period pieces. I do not remember what they were, except for one. The one I remember was for the upcoming horror movie The Nun.

One reason this trailer was so memorable is that it stood out like a sore thumb. It was a non-sequitur within its lineup. Another reason it was memorable was that there was an effective scare at the end of the trailer. I will not spoil it; anyone with an interest should see it for them self.

Since then, I have been thinking about the horror genre. To begin with, I want to define the horror genre as containing elements from outside of the ordinary world: occult, non-human monsters, strange and evil forces. I am guessing (I have little formal expertise in literature) that generally the horror part of the genre focuses on forces beyond humanity and outside of humanity’s ability to control. Horror, then, is based on the idea that there are forces and beings that humanity is powerless against.

This leaves slasher movies and torture porn out of the running. These movies seem to explicitly state that we are our own worst enemies, but also suggest that this enemy is still defeatable. I suppose that A Nightmare on Elm Street presents a hybrid of horror and slasher movie, but in the end Freddy Krueger is usually defeated; at least until the next sequel.

In the horror genre, the antagonistic person or force is not typically defeated. Nor is the antagonist in these stories typically defeatable. Even if the vessel of the evil is defeated, the knowledge and forces that the villain used to express their villainy remain after their demise. In its essence, horror is about forces that are able to go on about their daily business even if their agents are defeated.

I suppose, then, that the most effective horror movie I have seen in many years is A Serious Man, directed by the Coen brothers. It is not a horror movie per se; it is a comic movie, played for laughs. It does still touch on all of the factors that make a good horror movie. Were the musical cues changed to something more ominous I have no doubt that this would be a horrific movie where we see a man’s life torn apart by forces we cannot comprehend.

The preview for The Nun led me to do a little research. I found out that this movie was part of The Conjuring movie universe. So, I watched The Conjuring. It checks off all the horror movies tropes and clichés. The movie is entirely predictable. However, it is an effective horror movie with lots of tension and some good scares.

This got me thinking about other horror movies I have enjoyed. I decided to write a list of horror movies that I enjoy. This is an initial list, off the top of my head. Inasmuch as possible I am attempting to conform to my stated definition about forces outside of humanity’s control. Though there may be internal inconsistencies at present I will remedy this as I have time to think about the subject. This list is not exhaustive, and I hope it can help others refer me to other movies I have not seen before. Here, in no particular order, are my picks for my favorite effective horror movies:

  • The Exorcist
  • Rosemary’s Baby
  • The Others
  • Alien
  • Night of the Living Dead
  • Hellraiser
  • The Babadook
  • It Follows
  • The Shining
  • Poltergeist

This is not an essay designed to deliver a top ten horror movies list. This is the beginning of me thinking about horror as a mode of storytelling. Movies are the main medium in modern times for telling these stories. I got to thinking about horror as the result of a movie trailer. There are also many written tales of horror that I admire. I will be writing about those as well.

This is less an exercise in essay writing for the general public than it is a method for me to start thinking about horror storytelling. As a result of this I am hoping to write an effective horror story of my own. And for me, the place to start is analyzing the subject at hand to death. I hope you find this journey as enjoyable as I do.

Building an Audience

I have read several books on social media marketing. Many of them offer really good advice that sounds great when you are reading it. Growing an audience for your blog is usually a well covered subject. My difficulty has been trying to put those recommendations into practice.

For example, most of these books tell you to define your market. Figure out who is your perfect reader or follower. Honestly, I don’t know who I am writing my blogs for other than myself. I am writing about some narrow sets of interests that I have, but I really don’t know if there is a natural audience for any of this stuff. Nor am I motivated to find out. I follow my interests and occasionally I write something on my blogs. 

I aspire to writing that can serve a practical purpose for the people who read it.  I want to help people. So, I have a blog about strategy, wisdom, and success. All of these subjects are well covered by many other blogs and writers, and there is a lot of noise to deal with. I am writing what I think, but I can’t quite figure out whether my humble observations are contributing to clarity or just adding more noise to the cacophony.

Even if I am not sure that I am building an audience, I am happy that I can write what I want to write. I like the fact that I am building a store of intellectual capital for use in the future. Whether I am offering brilliance or bullshit, it is my own. If it ever comes up, I would be happy to point out that I have written on whatever subject on my blogs.

Maybe that is how it is supposed to work. I am supposed to write and toil away in obscurity. Then one day a set of outside operators and circumstances will conspire to make me the next internet sensation. My writing will no longer belong to me, but I will be making a shitload of money. Or not. I guess you just have to ride the torpedo to find out where you are going.

Problems with Problem Solving

I have spent a lot of time analyzing the dual concern model. The basic idea of this model is that the actors in a conflict must determine how important a particular goal of theirs is in relation to the other party’s concern for or against the same goal. Basically you are weighing your own willingness to fight for something against your perception of your opponent’s willingness to fight against it.

The model provide four basic strategies, plus a fifth alternative. Pruitt and Kim describe them this way: when neither side cares about a particular outcome, you avoid, that is you take no action. If you care about a particular outcome and the other side doesn’t, you contend, or push the other side to concede. If you don’t care about something that is important to the other side, you yield, let them have what they want. If both sides care about a particular outcome then they work together to problem solve. The fifth alternative is compromise, a mutually disagreeable solution.

Problem solve sounds so nice. It makes it seem like the contending parties are just going to come together and work everything out, calmly and rationally. That leads me to my biggest criticism of my field of study: the blind optimism that every conflict that can be resolved.

Don’t get me wrong, problem solving can be calm and rational, but it requires calm and rational participants. In my personal experience, not all people approach conflict in a calm and rational manner. To be fair, Pruitt and Kim do have a chapter on contentious tactics in their book, they are not turning a blind eye to the fact that conflict is not always so easily resolved.

Problem solving describes a situation where both sides are placing a high level of importance on the outcome. Both sides want it to go their way. If both sides are calm and rational, then there is a good chance that they can discuss the issues and create a solution that fully satisfies each side.  I would guess that more often than not emotion and pride quickly move participants beyond calmness and rationality.

I suppose it is philosophically a good idea for we students of conflict resolution to be taught that all conflict is resolvable. I suppose as a matter of pragmatism it is heartening for people to believe that all problems can be solved. I may be a little cynical, but it only takes one bad actor to destroy an optimistic  outlook. One of my colleagues put it best when he wrote, “Conflict is inevitable, resolution is not.”

The semester is over!

I have just finished, more or less, my first semester of grad school. Like many things in my life thus far, it was much more challenging than I thought it would be, and at the same time not as hard as I thought it would be. I am glad it is just about over (I have one more paper to submit, online, that I am doing the final editing for now).

I have to say I learned a lot. The interesting thing is not that I learned some new tidbits of information, or gained some heretofore unknown perspective on life. The most interesting thing is what I have learned about myself. It is not that I learned something new about myself either.

I have learned that I have been on the right path for myself for many years. It has not always been easy. I guess I don’t really do things the way they are supposed to be done. But none of that really matters. I know I am going where I need to go.

So I have about a month to actually get to writing some things that have been on my mind for a while. Leo’s World (the weblog site, anyway) is going to be used for more than just posting pictures or stuff from my other blogs. I am now going to be posting things that don’t fit on my other blogs. It may get kind of random at times, but anyone who knows me knows that I have a tendency to go off on tangents.

Don’t be scared if it gets a little weird, I will bring it back to make my point. So relax a little. You just might enjoy it.