You're So Miserable

21 October 2002

Well, yesterday wasn't as bad as last week's church, but I found an unexpected similarity between some flavors of Christianity and most of Libertarianism.

The You're So Miserable factor.

In each case, people try to convince you to believe as they do because You're So Miserable as you are, and their way either makes it better or shows you who to blame. For the Libertarians, it's the government. Your Life Stinks because of the government. For people like Pastor Bruce yesterday, it's because you haven't got Jesus in your life. (Even if you have got Jesus in your life, if you're miserable, "obviously" you need to let Him in further.)

The problem is that there are two natural responses when you grab someone by the shoulders and say, "You're So Miserable Because." The first is, "I'm not miserable." You've just lost anybody who isn't really miserable. You have no chance of appealing to them, because you're basing your ideas on a false premise: their misery. This even works when people have reasons to be miserable, and in fact, it's a fairly good way of cheering some people up, because it sounds really harsh. Nobody wants to think that everyone around them is thinking of them as a downer. So even if they have all kinds of reasons to be miserable, when accused of being miserable, people often think, "Well, but I had this really good pasta last night...and I got a call from Joe, haven't heard from him in awhile...things are looking up at work,, not really, not miserable."

The other natural response is to look at the situation at hand and say, "I'm not miserable because of {the government | lack of Jesus}, I'm miserable because of the cancer diagnosis, losing my job, and my spouse leaving me for the mailbeing." Poof! There goes the appeal in two seconds of analysis. Or one can even look at it with the data on hand: there are plenty of miserable Christians and plenty of miserable Libertarians. Possibly even including the person who's on about your misery. Claiming that those people are just not sufficiently committed kind of misses the point.

David Brin has a really great essay I keep recommending to people that kind of addresses the libertarian side of this thing, and it's about time someone did. Hurrah. Go read it if you haven't; it's really worthwhile. As for the Christian side, well, it seems like there's a pretty easy start to talking about positive aspects of a kind of Christian belief. (I specify "a kind" because I don't speak for all Christians, and I hate it when other people claim to. I also don't claim this belief as exclusive to people who self-identify as Christians. Everybody got that? Good.) What I believe is this: think of the love in your life. Familial, romantic, friendly, whatever kind of love you've got, on the giving or the receiving end. All of it. Okay, now: I believe that's God. Quite literally an aspect of God, the face of God in your life. "God is love" is not a metaphor for me. It is a very literal belief. That's where it all starts for me. (Mark: "What are you, some kind of hippie?")

I don't expect that you all are now jumping up and shouting, "Praise be, I've seen the light!" That's not the point I'm trying to make. The point I'm trying to make is that I think it's a lot easier to understand where people are coming from and why they believe what they do if they express their beliefs in a positive way (or if they have positive beliefs!), rather than telling you that you are miserable for not believing as they do.

Some people just get to present their ideas. Others have to start by convincing their listeners that they aren't jerks and wackos. Sigh.

It happens with other groups, too, not just Christians and Libertarians. Evan and I were talking about it last week -- it seems to be a particular trap for idealists. Lefties, righties, those of us who reject the linear left-right trap -- whatever. It seems to be a common way of enacting a belief system. A common, yet totally ineffective, way.

So. I finished the Sandman series yesterday, and it was worth reading, but it highlighted why I don't usually spend money on comics: they take me no time at all. Also, my novel-reading bias was showing through: I felt that American Gods handled many of the same themes better. American Gods is better than lots of stuff, though, so that's not as harsh a criticism as it could be. (When listing the Eternal, though, I want to include Denise. Destiny, Death, Dream, Desire, Despair, Denise, Destruction, Delirium. I can't help it.) I started reading Estonia: Nation on the Anvil, a 1963 hardbound we picked up for very cheap. So far the bias has not been anti-Soviet or even anti-Imperial-Russian but anti-German, which is interesting. I don't know if it'll shift in later chapters, though.

So. Tomorrow Timprov and I head out. We don't have to leave at the crack of dawn, but we're leaving early enough that I doubt I'll have an entry in the morning unless there's something really exciting to say. Exciting in some other way than, "Eeeeeee! I'm going to Minneapolis!", that is. I'll have e-mail, so please do e-mail me if you have anything you want to know, anything you want to say, etc. I just won't be posting journal entries.

Someone I love asked me this morning, "So whatever happened to that book of yours?" Fortress of Thorns. Sigh. Why yes, it is approximately three years since I started writing it. And no, I don't have a publishing contract for it. I would really like my loved ones to know that if I should get a contract for any of my fiction -- any of it at all, but especially the novels -- I will be notifying them immediately, repeatedly, and in no uncertain terms. Really. Until I have three or four or eight or nine books published, nobody will ever have to ask, "So did you ever hear anything about your nth book?" in order to hear, "Oh, yeah, it's coming out in March, didn't you know?" Because you will know. Really. I swear. Sometimes I feel like I should write up "So Your Loved One Wrote A Book," guidelines for what to say and what not to say. But the people who would read it would be writers, who would groan and nod or shake their heads in despair, and that wouldn't really help anybody. So instead I take it as a polite query about my work and try to answer with what I'm doing now.

Another loved one asked me whether it was possible that I could pull off a hat trick week, whether there was something of mine that could possibly get accepted today. Heh. Um, yes. I have enough fiction sent out to enough editors that something wonderful could happen to me on any given day of the year.

That's a good way to look at it, actually: I've worked hard and made it possible for something wonderful to happen to me any day of the year. Any of them. Something wonderful. Heh. That's pretty cool.

Almost as cool as going to Minneapolis. Almost.

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