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richard
Posted on Monday, October 27, 2003 - 12:34 pm:   

So I was talking to this budding writer (she's 12 and has had her first piece of work published in a collection of writings by children of this age) and she tells me that although she likes and does well in English, in other classes she has to have a learning support teacher because she is, in her own words, "violent". She's highly intelligent and has had a shit upbringing, so the second part of the equation didn't come as a huge surprise - I just wonder about the writing...

I wonder to what extent writing can serve as an outlet for violent tendencies, whether close to the surface as in the case of the girl above or more deeply buried stuff in those of us who've had relatively cuddly existences. I wonder if there's a purging going on here, or simply an unhealthy focus - these are particularly relevant questions for me to have to think about, since my own writing is liberally splattered with all sorts of violent unpleasantness.

Any thoughts?
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Cheryl
Posted on Monday, October 27, 2003 - 01:39 pm:   

Where's Neal Asher when you need him?

Sorry Richard, you just write war stories. Other people are much more violent.
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fur
Posted on Tuesday, October 28, 2003 - 12:08 pm:   

Hi.
Love Altered Carbon + Broken Angels (you are *such* a great author)- which is why I'm butting in on your discussion board.

Just in case this is of interest, there is an argument that humans are genetically hardwired for violence, so when we can't actually hit/shoot/stab each other or something else we turn to other kinds of violence. Social heirarchies were described by marx and hengles as a form of violence along with peer group pressure, social mores etc. So in a sense, writing about violence could be a reaction aimed at exposing the fact that relatively cuddly lives contain a kind of less-honest violence: and turning it into physical written violence could have precisely the kind of cathartic purging effect you suggest.

Or we could all just be fascinated by clobbering each other!
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richard
Posted on Tuesday, October 28, 2003 - 01:17 pm:   

Cheryl - well, wasn't claiming *ascendancy* exactly in the violence stakes. Merely a predilection. Hmm - must try harder.

Fur - thanks for the kind words. You're right about the implied violence in social constructs, and certainly I was looking to undermine that in Altered Carbon. I think from a male perspective, there *is* a certain visceral fascination to be had from violence (whether this is true for women as well I wouldn't like to say, but there's been some fierce discussion of the point over on Lucius's homebase) - pulse rate up, adrenalin flowing, surrender of inconvenient things like thought and consideration. I wonder if, in very civilised future societies (a la Ursula LeG) this tendency will be edited out genetically/chemically, or if it's too valuable to let go. The Fight Club ethic (fine, FINE movie) argues in this direction, at least on the surface. Personally, I'd need a pretty good reason to dislike someone before I could contemplate smashing their face in, but that could just be lack of testosterone on my part. On the other hand, *given* (hypothetically) the aforementioned good reason, I'm sometimes shocked by the murky depths of violence to which my contemplative imagination can sink.
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Steph Swainston
Posted on Tuesday, October 28, 2003 - 01:24 pm:   

Of course there's a purging in the process of writing. It's trying to work through, tease out the answers to the complicated questions that a difficult background gives you. Most of the violence I've had to deal with comes from people's frustration at not seeing a clear way through a problem in their lives.

This lass you mention could be violent because she's bored, if she's intelligent and in a school that doesn't stretch her. English is a subject that pupils can stretch themselves in, as you know.

Is she a better writer because of her trauma? In a few years, if she can use it, yeah. She'll be more resourceful. You only get wisdom through experience. But of course it's more difficult to be in a position where you can use experience or talent if you don't have a cuddly past.

Thank you so much for the quote, btw. Fabulous.
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richard
Posted on Tuesday, October 28, 2003 - 02:03 pm:   

Hiya, Steph

My pleasure - seemed only fitting for a fabulous book.

Yeah, boredom might be a factor for this lass (sounds so much better than girl, that - not sure why) but I suspect it has more to do with locked-up anger at the various ways in which she's been let down by those in her life who had a responsibility to do better. I hope the writing provides a clear way through for her, I really do.

One of the (many) things I liked about YOOW - the way much of the violence is of the petty, eminently avoidable kind, but the war overshadows it all as an inescapable given and a matter of survival. A little human wisdom and communication could save the characters so much unnecessary suffering, but it wouldn't preclude violence as such - some things you've just got to kill. (At least, that was my reading of it, but maybe I'm just terminally grim)
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Steph
Posted on Tuesday, October 28, 2003 - 02:50 pm:   

Yes, certainly. They'd be overwhelmed by an implacable force if they didn't fight. But the characters hold their cultures back and so only have tried-and-tested, rarely innovative, ways to deal with the threat.

Yes, violence is innate whatever an individual's background - I can find quotes from bio.anth. if you're interested. Thankfully all problems in this world can be solved by communication. She says, optimistically.
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fur
Posted on Wednesday, October 29, 2003 - 11:53 am:   

what about violence as a form of communication? Your 12 year old could be 'violent' to express herself when she's frustrated by other forms of communication, or ignored - in which case writing is a way of resolving being ignored and being angry. The idea keeps coming up in films - star wars "aggressive negotiations" and matrixII idea that a good way to get to know someone is to fight them (sorry: not a film buff hence tacky refs) + natural history programs: alpha males using violence to size each other up or cold war russo-american negotiations: same thing on a national scale. But might mean that although all problems can be solved by communication (I'm not disputing the point), that's not always violence-free?
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richard
Posted on Thursday, October 30, 2003 - 03:16 am:   

Yeah, interesting (and slightly scary) point. We're being aggressive to some extent in almost all our relationships, because these relationships are all about getting what we want. Communication as a tool for aquisition - yikes, Scooby.

I think one of the more interesting things I've read recently was an article about successful negotiation. The article argued that good negotiators are aware that you're aiming for a win/win situation - something for you, something for me, otherwise the meeting has been a failure. The obvious corollary to this is that if you have a successful negotiating encounter with someone, that person is likely to come back some time and negotiate some more. If you batter them into the ground, on the other hand, you may get what you want this time, but your chances of an on-going relationship are pretty fucked. This last seems to me to be a particularly male approach - full on and fuck the consequences, in the assumption that you will always be the toughest motherfucker on the block....until one day you're not of course and someone else takes over the alpha male bullshit. Summed up most efficiently in the lyrics to the Queen song WE WILL ROCK YOU, of all things.

I suppose the hope is that in the future this win/win attitude might come to dominate human thinking and lead to communication based less on gimme gimme gimme and more on co-operation. Then, finally we might get a lock on our inherently violent genetic heritage. But right now, that's just pure science fiction.
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Chris
Posted on Thursday, October 30, 2003 - 06:12 am:   

Hi everyone,

As with writing, I wonder if *reading* violence might not be just as cathartic; as Fur said, a kind of less-honest violence. Speaking for myself, I'm placid as a sea cucumber, but my DVD and video collection is appallingly grotesque. There's the argument that violence in the media allows people to rid themselves of that pent-up aggression vicariously, as in Japan where (it has been suggested) the much looser reins on gore and pornography contribute to the amazingly low crime rate. Of course, the counter-argument is that it's a result of a more repressive culture, people too ashamed to report violence etc, but that's a whole other thread...

Following on from that, I wonder if violence in media might not get more and more extreme as we get more desensitized to it. I'm pretty sure the scenes of people bashing their brains out against their cages in Tamburlaine would have scared the hell out of the Elizabethans, and the killing of a child in Frankenstein would have shocked the readers of the day (I'm praying now I haven't got the book and one of the films muddled here, or I'll look totally illiterate) but that's candyfloss now. Your average Victorian would haemorrhage at scenes that barely gets today's reader's pulse up. Where do we go from here? And in twenty years time, might we be hailing Shaun Hutson as a visionary years ahead of his time? Violence and gore in print slides right off me in the main, but I remember getting about fifty pages into SPAWN before the idea of foetuses brought back from the dead with super mental powers had me feeling faintly queasy...
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fur
Posted on Thursday, October 30, 2003 - 12:06 pm:   

Isn't part of that audience-reaction a sense of what's real and what's not? 4-5 years after Tamburlaine in a great play called 'Tis a pity she's a whore' (the title is the worst thing in it)one of the characters comes in with his sister's still-beating heart on the end of a knife - gruesome, (real knife, real heart, real blood, on stage)and initially fairly shocking - but not actually real. cf something like Blair Witch (awful film) where nothing at all happens but it still manages to be a 'scary', 'real' film.
Maybe in both case what hits the audience is an 'it's real' visceral reaction, which is only later followed by an 'it can't be' one. The shock factor coming from a sense of reality (which gets the pulse going) rather than 'oh that's CGI' gore.
I agree entirely that people are increasingly desensitised by violence in the media, I just wonder if we're actually less sensitive than Victorians/Elizabethans in our tolerence of real physical violence.
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richard
Posted on Thursday, October 30, 2003 - 04:27 pm:   

Definitely some de-sensitising going on, but I think the ante that's getting upped is more to do with the *spectacle* of violence than the actual violence itself. We are exhorted by the media to watch programmes consisting of endless spliced-together shock moments, plane and car crashes, gun battles, high speed pursuits, shark attacks, close brushes with death of all and every variety, NONE of it containing the least scrapings of human engagement. Meanwhile, in Hollywood movies, there's now a huge amount of gore and spectacular combat, but for me most of it seems pretty enervating - the Blade movies were a good example of this - I found myself nodding along/nodding out in the face of so much blood and martial art balletics. In contrast, a very quiet little movie called Session 9 had me cringeing like a baby and sleeping very uneasily afterwards. There were barely any special effects and the violence happened largely off screen, but it got to me in a way that most Hollywood horror now fails terminally to do. This was largely, I think because the characters and scenarios were superbly drawn and utterly real seeming. It was a very HUMAN drama.

And here it's interesting that both fur and Chris mention Elizabethan drama, because I think the Elizabethan playwrights in general displayed a quintessential grasp of the dark heart of human violence that has yet to be bettered. And of course they were great believers in the magical power of catharsis, which chimes nicely with the idea of purging we've been discussing. All of which may be why a well produced version of Lear or the Revenger's Tragedy (or the superb film version of Titus Andronicus with Anthony Hopkins) still arouses levels of emotional engagement that your average contemporary horror or crime flic can only strain weakly after. The only recent "big" movie that I can think of which competes at this level is Reservoir Dogs, and interestingly enough it's a classic example of a dialogue driven character drama with very limited spectacle - the intensity of the violence comes from the up close, stage feel and the intimacy we are given with the characters who are going to both perpetrate and suffer that violence. I guess this is basically the visceral reaction you're talking about, fur, and it's exactly what the media circus and blockbuster movie machine seems to be missing with every overblown broadside, while (maybe, we hope, we pray) the quieter field of written fiction continues to score Elizabethan-style hits.

Wow, that's put me in a good mood :-)
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belisarius
Posted on Thursday, October 30, 2003 - 05:48 pm:   

I'm not sure that the type of violence we are exposed to in the average Hollywood blockbuster is really the same thing as you see in, to take Richard's example, Reservoir Dogs. I think this is largely to do with the (lack of) consequences rather than the acts of violence themselves. The average feeble Hollywood blockbuster flick (for example, anything starring Governor Arnold) has a huge amount of violence portrayed but in a way that divorces us from the consequences: villains frequently miss at short range with Uzis; the hero dives out of the way of explosives or grimaces and then soldiers on when hit by a high calibre bullet. There is no real sense of danger. As the hero's cause is just and as most of the sympathetic characters are not made to suffer in any more than a token fashion, we are desensitised to what that kind of violence would really do. We compare it to our experience of other, similar, films - not to our own lives.

Conversely, everyone shot in Reservoir Dogs dies, slowly or quickly, and whether we sympathise with them or not. The violence is sudden and often has unintended consequences - much like real life. I think it was this that led to the outcry over its perceived "violence" even though the bodycount is a fraction of nonsense such as "Dusk Till Dawn" (to take a rather less impressive Tarantino example) and is in many ways less graphic - it's much more realistic.

This difference applies equally to examples such as Elizabethan theatre (although, I admit, its not one of my strong points). Whilst I found "The Duchess of Malfi" entertaining, it was so over the top that it was nearer the blockbuster effect than inspiring real emotional engagement.

Of course, if something like "sleeving" was a reality, people might behave more as if they're in a blockbuster... I would be very surprised if any film involving it didn't turn into the usual splatterfest at some point.
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Chris
Posted on Friday, October 31, 2003 - 01:10 am:   

Fur: re desensitization, I read 'Tis Pity She's a Whore' a few years ago and I can't remember that scene at all! That's fairly worrying. Not suggesting you're wrong, just that it made so little impact on my gore-addled psyche. I guess it needs the visual side too...

I agree that the effectiveness really is about how the violence/horror is handled. As far as horror goes, I think Ring (the original, not the remake) is exactly how you do it: the creepiness is just relentless, and the shocks are really shocking with hardly any use of CGI. I mean, a girl with her hair over her face? Imagine pitching that to a film studio. But I slept with the light on for two nights after that one! It's far more scary to let the viewer's/reader's imagination do the work.

As far as violence goes, I did find it much more worrying when films like Commando and Rambo 2 were packing the cinemas that when Reservoir Dogs came out. In the former films, people were just obstacles to be removed, and the violence was so *casual*; when you actually get to see the consequences of it (as in Reservoir Dogs, the guy bleeding to death throughout the whole movie) it's much more distressing. I guess that's popcorn violence versus actual violence. On the one hand, popcorn violence is much more enjoyable because, as has been said above, it doesn't come *near* you; but actual violence is probably better, because it teaches you that pointing a gun at someone and pulling the trigger doesn't make them fall over and then disappear for the rest of the picture, it makes them scream and flail around and die in not very nice ways. And then hopefully you twig not to shoot people...

I'm putting off seeing Kill Bill at the moment, partially because I find Tarantino's faux-cool dialogue really forced, but mainly because I think Lucy Liu is cute and I don't want to run the risk of seeing her messily eviscerated on Uma Thurman's katana :-)

Governor Arnold's obligatory lines if he ever got the lead in the Altered Carbon movie: 'I'll be back... as Dolph Lundgren!'; 'Stack around'; 'I'll be sleeving now' etc etc...

Need more coffee...

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belisarius
Posted on Friday, October 31, 2003 - 05:22 am:   

Chris: Kill Bill is seriously lacking in good dialogue, cool or otherwise. Very first draft stuff. And yes, Lucy Liu's character does meet an unpleasant end...

With the prospect of lines like 'Stack around', let's hope California's budget deficit keeps Arny away from "acting" for a while.
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Chris
Posted on Friday, October 31, 2003 - 05:45 am:   

Gah! Glad you warned me. For some reason the old primal-male-protectiveness instinct seems to cut right through my Generation Whatever shield of disassociation. Can't help it. I was ever so sad when Lady Deathstrike got killed in X-Men 2 :-( Oh well, at least I'll go mentally prepared this time.

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fur
Posted on Friday, October 31, 2003 - 07:31 am:   

Chris (as in Chris W. of weavers? asking as scared by presence of fab writers on this board): Yeah, it is in 'Tis a Pity' (had to skim read to check it). He kills his sister post incestuous affair and walks on stage with her heart - but for the period The Revengers Tragedy (as richard mentions)is soooo much better. Then again, it does dilute the yuck factor because all the plotting and counter plotting is such good fun!

Plus, like the Spanish Tragedy (another fab play), all the violence is symbolic. If there is an equation between reality, shock and horror which comes from the idea that what you're seing on stage/film/page could actually happen, then on some level art is always undermining it because you can decode to some extent who will die, and in elizabethan fiction more or less how. On a visual immediate level you still get the visceral horror, but on an intellectual one it's still divorced from reality.

So maybe plot undermines horror and violence's effectiveness by providing a scheme within which it operates.
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Chris
Posted on Friday, October 31, 2003 - 11:55 am:   

Haha! Of the couple of million people called Chris in the world, it's kind of embarrassing that you can tag me on a messageboard within three posts! Got to work on this transparency thing :-)

I actually think plot enhances horror and violence's effectiveness precisely *because* it provides a scheme for it to operate in. Real violence is so random that it almost seems UNreal (to me, anyway); I kind of need that framework of death-by-merit, otherwise it stops being a story and becomes the news. Re: what we were saying earlier about being bombarded by violent media images, nowadays we can watch people getting shot on the TV (or near as, anyway) and we certainly get to see their smoking corpses afterward, but I can't connect with them at all on any empathic level. It's kind of like: because I don't know them, because I don't know anything about them, I can't allow myself to feel for them. Because if I do, then I have to do the same for everyone, and nobody can handle that. There's just too many people dying all the time.

But whereas that kind of violence, perversely, doesn't seem real because it's so damn *unfair*, violence within the framework of a plot seems to hit me harder (even though I know it's not real) because you've been allowed to know the character a bit - even if you don't like them, you know them - and you don't feel bad about enjoying/allowing yourself to be horrified by the violence because it's set within that comforting framework that you know isn't real. I used to be able to tell what order people would die in just by watching the opening credits of an 80's horror movie, and I kinda liked that. Plus, the really BIG shocks always got me when something out-of-the-ordinary happened, when a standard plot got suddenly twisted out of true (back to Ring: I never saw that second ending coming because I thought they'd tied things up when they went down the well to get Sadako. And because I was following my nice comfortable plot schematic, I was just *not* prepared for the final twist, which made it a lot more effective and cost me thousands of man-hours of counselling to put right :-) )

All that said, I stress it's only my personal reaction to it all that I'm putting forward here. But I think that there's one type of horror/violence which aims to trick you into responding only on the visual immediate level, and the idea of that is that you don't think about it but just react with your gut. And at moments like the gouged eyes in Lear, the braining in Tamburlaine etc etc, you should hopefully be so absorbed and horrified that you're not thinking about it on an intellectual level at all.

Right, time to go dress up in an evil wizard costume and watch scary movies! Happy Hallowe'en!

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richard
Posted on Friday, October 31, 2003 - 03:16 pm:   

Hey Chris, THAT Chris - of course. All the Japanese stuff should have set off the alarms - it's only a week ago we were sitting talking about Japan across the street from Orion, after all. By the way,just started Weavers (nicked a copy from Nicola) - loved the instant depth we get from the detailed description of Omecha and Yoru - entry into the world of Saramyr via its afterlife and mythology - very nice....

I think you're right about the difficulty of engaging with the anonymous victims of all too real news footage versus imagined big screen characters. I suppose the problem is that while intellectually we know a film isn't the real thing, chemically our brains just don't know the difference - and on an emotional level, it's the chemicals that count.

If you go to the theatre, I'm convinced you can actually spot this chemical override going into effect - I find that for the first five to ten minutes of any play, the whole thing feels faintly ridiculous - these are actors, I'm sitting a few feet away from them, it's not real etc etc... Then, given a good production of a good play, there's an almost palpable gear change in your head and suddenly what you're watching IS real. Willing suspension of disbelieve kicks in with a synaptic vengeance. I'd love to know if you can actually watch that happen on a brainscan. (And it also raises some interesting questions about the chemistry of the opposite, dissociative process that allows you, for example, to send your erstwhile neighbours and acquaintances off to the gas chambers/killing fields/re-education camps with a happy heart.) Anybody out there enough of a biochemist to comment knowledgeably on this?

No danger of Arnie getting anywhere near Altered Carbon, I wouldn't think - far too morally ambiguous for him to get his head around, and yeah, as belisarius says, there's this California thing to keep him busy. Cut taxes, Provide services, Eliminate the deficit - now there's a fantasy pitch to make Lord of the Rings look like a fly on the wall documentary. Maybe he hasn't strayed so far from the fairy tale world of Tinseltown after all....

And yeah - happy trick or treating all round.
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fur
Posted on Saturday, November 01, 2003 - 07:10 am:   

"Willing suspension of disbelieve kicks in with a synaptic vengeance" I love this idea! the implication that you read reality one way and art another but react to it with the same emotional intensity is really interesting. - perhaps when you've accepted theatre as presenting a reality, though, the differences aren't that great because both tend to be understood in terms of narrative and empathy. In that respect, novels/plays/films have a huge advantage over reality because they can deliberatly push all the buttons for empathy, false sense of security, horror - making it inevitable that the (non) death or mutilation of a fictitious character on stage has more impact than a dead body/ injured child does in the news or in reality.
re: the 'chemisty of the opposite', maybe it works the same way: if you can create a convincing enough narrative to justify mass murder (or, say, the infliction of 'real death')then you can make it acceptable in art or reality so long as no one looks too closely at the moral ambiguities - which could be the problem with propaganda versus brainwashing or fanatacism.

"I actually think plot enhances horror and violence's effectiveness precisely *because* it provides a scheme for it to operate in" - I hadn't thought about it along those lines; certainly agree that if 'the rules' of engagement in a text are set up and then suddenly broken it's a lot more alarming than random violence precisely because you can't see it coming. - If you like that kind of stuff watch series 3 or 4 of Farscape (*such* a great show. Still can't believe they pulled it - or that nobody watched it!); they take all the spot-the-walking-corpse plots and turn them on their heads for some fucking great tv that bent or broke every genre rule in the book.
re: gloucesters' eyes in Lear - yes. totally horribly horrific on stage + so much worse because you know something along those lines is coming (so the plot *is* enhancing not containing the violence. although the extremity of it is unexpected - does that count as breaking out of the restrictions of the genre, or as remaining within the moral-crime-punnishment scheme of the play?). Serious ick factor anyway - or in my case, serious case of 'so how do you do that on stage in front of four hundred people without *actually* poking his eyes out?

Probably unrelated questio, but why, especially in art, is the bad/violent/horrific stuff so much easier to accept than the positive events which tend to be dismissed as unlikely coincidences? - like being able to pursuade someon to massacre 4000 people before breakfast, but having real trouble trying to stop them?
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Chris
Posted on Sunday, November 02, 2003 - 03:18 am:   

I saw an RSC production of Lear where they did it, I guess with bloodbags that they ground into his eyes. The guy doing it (can't remember who it is...) sort of got in the way of the audience so you couldn't see, and when he pulled away Gloucester's eyes were just pools of blood. Yummy.

Re what I was saying about unreal reality violence, has anyone seen that footage on the news these past few days of the lawyer getting shot by his client in the US? It looked so ridiculous with him bobbing to either side of the tree while that guy was shooting at him at point-blank range. I thought he'd missed, but turns out the lawyer got shot twice; yet he just wanders away afterward. Really bizarre, and a perfect example of how nobody would believe you if you tried to put that stuff in a book - as you say, Fur, you'd think it a bit unlikely that anyone would do that at all, much less have the lawyer walk away from that and live.

Richard: Thanks :-) Hope you like it. I'm actually proofreading it now for the MMP release, and it's ever so weird: enough time has passed since I looked at it so that it seems like someone else's writing entirely. And it's excruciating spotting all the little bits that nowadays (eighteen months on, I think? Something like that) I'd have cut or at least worded better. Guess everyone is their own worst critic...
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steve redwood
Posted on Sunday, November 02, 2003 - 05:41 am:   

Hi Richard, just passing by from a completely different kind of universe!

Just read the whole thread, found it fascinating, especially taking the whole thing back to the Jacobeans. I'm not a great fan of horror, so my knowing-critical faculties (e.g. how did they whip out the old duke's eyes?) aren't really working. I don't know enough to compare Arnie with The Ring (having never seen the latter). So in that respect maybe I'm Mr Normal.

First, have to agree with Chris above: real violence as seen on TV doesn't touch me, though I try to make it do so. Three Spanish porters recently beat up an immigrant here, then hurled him into the sea in Barcelona. He drowned. All caught on camera. The peculiar thing is, it all seemed so calm, so easy, almost as if we were seeing bad actors! Somehow, reality and fantasy have got reversed.

Why? Well, first, of course, real blood doesn't usually flow as fast and deliciously as fake blood. Second, as someone said above, I didn't KNOW the chap who got murdered. Recently, a dozen bodies a day have been washed up on the shores of the Canary Islands, would-be illegal immigrants whose boat didn't make it. This (and the reason they even tried to get here, the lies the poor bastards had been told about a better life, the traffickers behind them)is REAL horror - and still. despite my conscience, I can't FEEL their plight. The same thing in a film might well have me sobbing. (This is the de-sensitizing talked about above. Surely, the classic case of that was the Los Angeles video of the King beating-up. Unless we believe the first jury were all corrupt white shit - and I don't swallow that..whoops, bad image! - I think they simply saw that video so often it became unreal.)

Moving into fiction, I think three situations get me afraid/involved.

1. The constant and unseen THREAT of violence. Atwood's 'The Handmaiden's Tale' was extremely powerful for me, really and genuinely terrifying, not because I think that such a society could ever really exist (though the more I learn about Bush and the people backing him...)but because in every tiny detail,every moment/movement of that woman's life, the threat is there. Even when the Commander is being 'nice', the threat is there. You almost choke on it. (Same with 1984, of course)

2. (Obvious) we already care about the character. The end of the first chapter in Orson Scott Card's 'Speaker of the DEad'is a real shock, first because we've been led to believe the murdered person (Pipo) is the main protagonist of the book, and so CAN'T die so early, second, because he's the very person who has come to 'love' his murderers.

3. And if the main character can't be allowed to die, we can care THROUGH him. Richard's own shocking scene of the 'unravelling' of Sutjiadi is a great example. We haven't got particularly close to Sutjiadi in the book, but (and here's a tribute to Richard's writing) we feel Kovacs' fury and hardly articulated pain, expresed here in action more than words (indeed, expressed by all the subsequwnt action in the book, too). And we've been in a way prepared for this by the theme of anguish running through the whole book.

Um, yes, well, I was only passing by, um, I'll be off, I did say I didn't know much about it, no need to look at me like that...
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Chris
Posted on Sunday, November 02, 2003 - 06:21 am:   

That bit in Speaker For The Dead is just awesome. One of the best 'shocks' in literature, for my money.
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fur
Posted on Sunday, November 02, 2003 - 09:27 am:   

hey Chris (sorry about giving you away, by the way)re: RSC Lear. Did you hear about their Spanish Tragdey performance (I think it was them)? One of the characters is stabbed then hung on stage, and they had to stop the performance when members of the audience stormed the stage thinking it was actually happening. bizzare. and the same people will still watch american politics without flinching . . .

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Chris
Posted on Sunday, November 02, 2003 - 10:09 am:   

Haha! No, haven't seen that one. And don't worry about penetrating my incredible disguise <¬_¬> I wasn't hiding; it just didn't occur to me to put my surname in when I started posting.
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richard
Posted on Sunday, November 02, 2003 - 12:14 pm:   

Hi Steve, nice to see you, and thanks for the kind words re Broken Angels. Anguish was definitely the angle I was trying for - in a sense, Sutjiadi could be any of Kovacs's compatriots, either past or present - he's just emblematic of the whole sickening mess. And yeah, Kovacs is just finally FULL and starting to spill over into catastrophic not-particularly-specific destruct - he's a bomb about to go off and you really don't want to be around when it happens.

Chris - know what you mean about the re-proofing, I did the same thing with Broken Angels a few months back. Your prose is never as good (in retrospect) as you think it is - I suppose the thing to do is view it as progress, but yeah, it still itches like crazy. I'm just trying to imagine what it'll be like to look back on these books after a decade or more!! The temptation to go the Poul Anderson route and re-write extensively for new editions must be immense - but I reckon natural laziness will probably help me resist.

Saw a great blinding of Gloucester years ago in Oxford - you didn't actually see anything, they tipped him back in a chair so he was almost on his back and then they just leaned on him and dug. Awful, gut-rending stuff.

Right, got to duck out - I'm off to see Orishas at the Glasgow Arches, tickets a late birthday present from a friend. Cuban rap, Xsellent!!!
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richard
Posted on Monday, November 03, 2003 - 03:29 am:   

fur - your Spanish Tragedy story puts me in mind of the time I went to see "Bandit Queen" at the cinema. For anyone who hasn't seen it, it's a pretty gruelling movie with the worst (ie best, most transmittive) rape scene I've ever seen on film. It made the Accused look strictly lightweight by comparison. Anyway, about half way through the movie, some guy stands up about five rows in front of me and suddenly starts yelling at the characters on the screen - he's abusing the high caste rapists/general oppressors of Phoolan Devi along the lines of "You're mad, you're fucking cracked all of you...", was finally tugged back into his seat and then left. I knew exactly how he felt - I was on the point of tears throughout the movie, and when I came out I didn't say anything to anybody for about half an hour.

And the worst thing of all is that, like the Accused, Bandit Queen is based on a real story. And the real story is infinitely worse than the movie version. Oh, and the real life woman Phoolan Devi, after serving a long prison term , was murdered shortly after she got out. it's the kid of stuff that makes you want to resign from the human race...
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Laura MK
Posted on Monday, November 03, 2003 - 04:13 am:   

Stabbed and hung happens in Dutchess of Malfi - does it also happen in Kidd? (It has been a long time).

Last time I saw Spanish Tragedy in Stratford, there were a few classes of schoolgirls present and when his bloodied tongue hit the stage there was a long round of, "EEWWWwwww."

We thought it quite funny. But obviously the girls were disturbed by it. So I suppose the reaction is audience specific. We have to remember that Elizabethan audiences were quite different from today's theatre-goers.

Nothing beats Titus for sheer, bloody violence in Shakespeare's plays though - not even Richard's, "Was woman ever in such a humor wooed . . ." scene - which is not very bloody, but is psychologically violent. Even I find myself wincing during good productions of Titus.
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fur
Posted on Monday, November 03, 2003 - 11:15 am:   

Hi Laura - oops. might be thinking of Duchess then - yeah; she's trying to get married and her potential hubby gets repeatedly stabbed for 'inappropriate' sexual intent and then hung as death-by-justice-of-the-state (it's typical: I can remember the essay I wrote using it but still not get the title of the play right!).
There seems to be such a difference between seeing these plays and reading them though - it's so easy to miss the stuff that makes you go "EEWWwww" when it's just a stage direction rather than a performance. (+ suddenly v. pleased I've not actually seen Lear. then again, still think Goneril and Regan are the most horrific things in the play)

re: 'Bandit Queen'+ desensitisation, I know there's been loads of stuff about how we're all being desensitised, but doesn't this kind of example suggest an extraordinary ability to empathise? - the kind of thing (maybe) that clockwork orange explores?
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Laura MK
Posted on Monday, November 03, 2003 - 12:07 pm:   

Now that you describe the situation, it does sound like Kidd.

I think a point worth discussing might be audiences' real lives. I think violence is really quite remote from most readers' lives. Most readers experience it at a distance, via the television, movie screen or in print, which is very different from the real thing. It's interesting that this discussion veered into Elizabethan territory. Real violence - or at least gore - was experienced by many more people then, than it is now. Think of it: slaughtering dinner, women giving birth at home, morbidity from disease and death commonplace . . .

If some out there are lucky enough not to have served in armed combat or to have experienced real violence, perhaps some Plympton-esque research is a good remedy. Arrange to visit an inner city ER during "knife-and gun-club" hours (Friday evening through early Sunday AM). For the British folks out there, I have heard from colleagues that the hospital serving Hackney, London is a good one. In the US, inner-city Chicago or NY is excellent. Or try a morgue - lots of manufactured violence to be had there. That's very most of my own experience comes from during my years as a graduate student. Or visit a slaughterhouse. Little home experiments like filling a bucket with 100-degree F water and then plunging your hands in can also approximate the experience of gushes of warm blood.

I guess my argument is that most readers are not desensitized by an "entertainment" market filled with violence, but rather that violence and gore are remote from their real lives.

What are the thoughts of folks out there on that?
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fur
Posted on Monday, November 03, 2003 - 12:57 pm:   

(It is the Spanish T. Bel-Imperia and Horatio.(I'm not going mad after all! Am sad enough to have checked though . . .)sorry, back to mayhem and violence.)
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richard
Posted on Monday, November 03, 2003 - 06:22 pm:   

Hi Laura,

Yeah, looking back at my post on de-sensitisation, I see it skips without comment from the idea of desensitisation to violence per se to discussing media/fictional violence. I think you're right. Jaded as we are in entertainment terms, most of us would probably still react appropriately (with horror, sickness, empathy etc...) if faced with real violence in a real situation. The problem is that our wires seem to have been crossed where real violence *at a distance* is concerned - ie the media reports it and we tune it out because it's on a screen. I can still very clearly remember my first impression of 9/11 being "Hey, this is just like a Bruce Willis movie." And, as other posters have already said, it's remarkably easy to watch news footage from warzones around the world and feel almost nothing for those involved. Personally, aid appeal film of starving children still touches me pretty deeply, but even with this I can feel my soul growing callouses as exposure to images of this sort has become commonplace.

I wonder if this lack of affect with media reported *distant* violence is tied in with the overwhelming sense of powerlessness that you often feel when you see these images. Or maybe, as Steve suggests, it's just that we don't know these people and have not been brought, via the mechanisms that fiction uses, to extend our empathy range through the barrier of the screen.

Another thought: while personally I'm quite glad that real violence is remote from my life, I have a sneaking suspicion that the way our society attempts to insulate its (worthy) citizens from violent behaviour leaves us poorly equipped to deal with said behaviour when it inevitably arises - basically, we (humans) are not who we like to believe we are, and as a result we are contantly and unpleasantly surprised whenever we catch a glimpse in the unflattering mirror that violence holds up in our faces.
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Laura MK
Posted on Tuesday, November 04, 2003 - 04:42 am:   

Richard: I think you are right on all accounts. My brother served in Vietnam and used to pride himself on his abilities in a couple of the martial arts. But, when he was mugged in NYC he just stood there and gave the robber his wallet. He subsequently got quite angry with himself AND with the people on the street who treated the crime like a spectator sport.

I used to say that travel to a foreign slum or poor rural village ought to be required of all US citizens. I would now extend that wish to include all Western Europeans. First, I hope it would cut down on the carping about the minute discomforts in their lives. And second, I hope it would cut down on the incredible avarice that infects the comfortable middle and upper classes and encourage a bit of charity or public service. That's at least one way to cut down on the feeling of powerlessness that you so aptly described.

The US started to encourage this in the 1960's in the Peace Corps programs, but they became underfunded and underutilized as the dream of the Great Society faded into memory.

I think the last piece of print violence that moved and surprised me was the first or second volume of Gulag Archipelago. But I was much younger then, and had seen a good deal less of the world.

Your description of 9/11 as being "like a Bruce Willis movie" reminds me of a clip from the first Iraqi war. Two journalists were crouched down on the balcony of their hotel suite. The younger of the two commented that the tracers in the air as looked like fireworks, and he said they were so beautiful. The older man got furious with the young one and growled something like, "What are you saying? People are dying down there!" And then the clip ended. My point being that the young man had no war experience at all. With the rise of the professional army, most men who know the reality of that violence and fear are in their 50s - 80s.

With high-tech warfare coming of age, I'm afraid that that trend will continue. You may have read Seymour Hersch's account in the New Yorker of the assasination by remote control that the US carried out a couple of years back. From our own safe and comfortable shores, an unmanned and armed predator aircraft killed four terrorists and their cache of weapons. This device has been used in this way several time since then, and it never fails to find its mark.

I'm not sure that the lack of societal knowledge of violence is good thing - certainly not when it rages on other parts of the globe. It is only a good thing if the whole planet is "on the same page", which unfortunately it is not. I argue that it only allows for the numbness that many feel when viewing horrible films or reading violent pages - for lack of comprehension.

I don't want to jump down your throat, but I do take exception to your use of the word "worthy". Are poor people somehow less worthy, or more deserving of the violence that tends to surround them? That's a Lamarkian or even a Malthusian view of society if ever I heard one! :>)

Nice talking to you and others. I've got to close now and go to work, but I look forward to further engagement on this topic.
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richard
Posted on Tuesday, November 04, 2003 - 08:59 am:   

Laura,

Sorry, should have put worthy in inverted commas, it was ironic. Societal violence tends to be containerised - not much of it in well off suburban areas, lots and lots in ghetto zones and slums/housing schemes - and from this the rhetoric arises that it's the people in these areas that are in some intrinsic way less worthy than more prosperous tax-payers elsewhere. The old Undeserving Poor argument.





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fur
Posted on Wednesday, November 05, 2003 - 11:08 am:   

D'you mind if I ask what you mean by 'violence'? Mugging and pushing a button are very different things - the guy standing in front of me on the platform this evening was hit by the train and killed. Is that violence or an accident? Either way it's very different to being mugged, which in turn is unlike having a building destroyed around you. Maybe it's just me, but it seems odd to use the same word to describe each situation.

richard: have just finished mf + have been totally blown away. easily as good as ac, love the concept + execution, petrified by the idea. new 1984. terrifying.

chris: (if you're still out there)have just finished weavers (I'm a fraud I was only half way through when I asked if you were THE chris) - and wont give away the plot, but the ending!! How could you do that!!? really good - and I mean really - but . . . !! II of the Braided Path had better be out soon . . . .
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richard
Posted on Wednesday, November 05, 2003 - 04:18 pm:   

fur - Jesus, that's quick (and many thanks!) If you got the advance reading proof of MF, then you'll probably have noticed that there's a page missing between 349 and 350 - if you give me an e-mail address I could send you that page and make the experience complete...

Yeah, violence is one of those concepts that's been used so much it's a bit like an old shoe - you slip into it quickly and comfortably, but you can't walk any kind of demanding distance before it starts to fall apart. I think I'd break it down into two working constants (tho' I don't yet have catchy terms for them):

1) cosmic violence - ie the blind and (for living beings) catastrophic rapid changes that this mo'fucker of a universe keeps unloading on us - supernovae, meteor impacts, earthquakes, car crashes etc...

2) "man's inhumanity to man" - covers muggings, pushing bomb release buttons and all else between. In this context, IMHO, there *isn't* any difference between Bush or Blair authorising with the stroke of a pen the murder by aerial bombardment of innocent people in Afghanistan or Iraq, and some little thug coming up to you on the street and knifing you for your wallet - both are quite clearly murder. I would always define an act as violent by examining its consequences, not the manner in which the act itself was conducted. To a large extent, this similarity of consequence between "acceptable" and "distasteful" violence is what Market Forces is about.

The sad connection between the violence in (1) and (2) above is of course that humans got good at type 2 in order to survive type 1 - we are a perfect mirror image of our environment, and worse still, if we weren't, we probably wouldn't be around to agonise about it...
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Chris
Posted on Thursday, November 06, 2003 - 01:36 am:   

fur: :-) Thanks very much, glad you liked it (or hated it as the case may be, depending where your allegiances fell among the characters... heh heh)

The Skein of Lament is being typeset now, so... uhh... proofs in January-ish, I think. Since you're in a position to grab an advance copy of MF I'd imagine you could lay your hands on one of them :-) All very relevant to this debate we've been having, too...

richard: MF is next on my list! Looking forward to it; from what Simon has told me about the premise it sounds great! Finishing off Michael Swanwick's The Iron Dragon's Daughter at the mo...

Right, back to torturing the poor protagonists of the Braided Path some more... *Tappity tap*
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Laura MK
Posted on Thursday, November 06, 2003 - 04:17 am:   

Fur:

I agree with you. My point of talking about pushing a button is to say that the future of mechanized warfare is here - now. People die on one end of the equation, and a few people sit around in a dark room with video screens on the other - mission accomplished.

We in the developed world are moving towards this model of warfare, while in the developing world they are still hacking at each other with machetes during times of conflict.

I mentioned warfare, because I am wondering whether the "desensitization" you folks are talking about when watching violent scenes or reading violent pages is really a lack of comprehension of real violence.

It doesn't touch your personal lives, and as a society our soldiers are for the most part not our brothers and dads or grandads who from time to time tell war stories, but professional soldiers whom we pay to "do their jobs".

Warfare and violence are becoming more remote from the lives of the average citizen in the developed world, while remining part of daily life outside our comfortable enclaves.

If that trend is actually ocurring, I think yet another potentially dangerous dichotomy is separating the "haves" and the "have-nots" of the planet.

Richard: Thanks for trying to interpret! I like the "man's inhumanity to man" category, but I think that the personal "consequences" of a type 2 violent act is very different when war is fought by professionals or by remote control.

I would imagine that killing with a knife, bayonet or pistol is fairly up close and personal. Killers often get blood on their hands or get to watch their victims die. Killing by missile or by UAV has no visceral reality to it. The car smoulders on the video screen and cheers erupt in the control room. No blood, no consequences and "out damn spot" moment for the killers.

I question - and worry a bit - about the consequences of this type of violence on our world.
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fur
Posted on Thursday, November 06, 2003 - 06:04 am:   

richard: that would be so great if it's no trouble!! (e-mail fur66@hotmail.com) the offer by itself really made my day . . .
re man's inhumanity to man - I like the idea of a zero tolerence approach to violence determined by consequences, but a whole new vista of violence just opened up that's a bit unsettling. I'm usually tempted to make exceptions for things like self defence - violence inflicted unwillingly/killing an individual to stop a war/something where the purpose isn't injury or violence but something 'higher'. That self-defence should be exempted . . . but I wonder if that's not a false distinction. hummm. purpose of action versus consequences and an ignorance-is-no-excuse-philosophy. and yeah, your use of violence in market forces is really interesting, esp. how it pervades the whole world in one form or another - but I don't want to spoil it

Chris: definitely liked it - obviously I was rooting for the 'bad guys' the whole time!(I won't last until January so am angling for a copy of The Skein manuscript as I type!). It's one of those books where I just want to read another chapter and then remember I finished it and can't - very frustrating!

Hi laura - I agree that lacking personal experience of violence, and even of killing someone, is a real problem when it comes to warfare which can be conducted by remote control (have you read any L E Modesitt? His Magic of Recluce series was really interesting on precisely the problems of impersonal mass destruction versus individual killings, but I can't remember without checking which volume in particular it was). Certainly if Blair and Bush were handed a knife and had "terrorists" lined up in front of them they would have serious trouble with the situation when they don't in agreeing to 'surgical' strikes. But does personal experience of violence make the experience of reading it any more effective or powerful? Knowing what it feels like to be stabbed or shot might actually distance you from the experience you read about if the author's concept of it differs (and I don't for a moment think stabbing authors to get artistic veracity is a good plan). In a way maybe written violence, given the potential absense of it in modern life, is an attempt to bring it back in (perhaps because humans need some experience of it?) or act as a substitue for it because otherwise people no longer get that visceral shock.
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Chris
Posted on Thursday, November 06, 2003 - 06:34 am:   

fur: just so long as you know the MS as it stands is pre-copy editing, so all my grammatical screw-ups etc are still there! Enjoy!
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fur
Posted on Thursday, November 06, 2003 - 11:57 am:   

yeah, I spotted that! (and given that your spell, punct + gram are better than mine (+ I can read Skein months pre publication!) I'm not about to complain!).
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Laura MK
Posted on Thursday, November 06, 2003 - 05:38 pm:   

Hi Fur:

I assure you! I have no intent of stabbing any authors - you're all safe - even you Richard :>)

What I find in reading violence and having had the experience of gore during my graduate school years in the Harvard morgue is that I say, "Its not that easy to dismember someone - even with a chainsaw. . . " or some other crap like that when I read the gore of someone who has only imagined what its like.

Lucky for the subsection of authors that writes violence and gore is that the demographic I represent is a minute or almost non-exsistent part of your readership.

I think the more interesting part of my earlier post is how mechanized violence is treated in fiction. In reality it is quite different than traditional warfare. It really is a new paradigm and possibly deserves to be treated differently.

The other interesting point was that whether veterans used to serve as a collective memory of violence and fear - I think they might have.

I have to break in mid thought here - sorry guys!

Family duties call!

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Laura MK
Posted on Friday, November 07, 2003 - 12:27 pm:   

Sorry for the incomplete post y'all!

There was a loud crash two floors above that resulted from two of my littles pulling over a bookshelf. No injuries, tho. Probably just should have pressed the cancel post button.

Apologies all 'round!

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Steph
Posted on Sunday, November 09, 2003 - 08:13 am:   

<non-sequiteur>
About the girl you were talking about at the top of this thread. I seem to care a lot about her well-being even though I don’t know anything about her! She directs her anger out against the world. That’s *good*. I hate it when women turn their anger inwards because they feel responsible for other peoples’ shit, and become self-harmers or anorexic; for example.

Tell her from me never to believe other peoples’ bullshit – no matter how authoritative they appear. She must always think things out for herself. She must do what she wants, and think through her own reasons. It will be a source of great strength. Years from now she will surprise herself by looking back on how far she has travelled and how much she has achieved.

Tell her that violence will not be a good way to express herself or get what she wants when she’s older because people will dismiss her as a bunny boiler or see her as a joke. Tell her to outsmart them and to win through her actions rather than arguments because arguments are just unimportant words.

Hope this interjection doesn’t spoil your discussion.
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Steph
Posted on Sunday, November 09, 2003 - 08:15 am:   

Laura MK: "Its not that easy to dismember someone - even with a chainsaw. . . "

Really? I found it very easy to dismember a horse with a handaxe.
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Chris
Posted on Sunday, November 09, 2003 - 08:35 am:   

Now this I gotta hear... :-)
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Steph
Posted on Sunday, November 09, 2003 - 10:15 am:   

Hello, Chris.
I have some experience of gore as Laura MK puts it, and of several types of gun.

I have shot with 12,20,4:10 bore shotguns, and black powder at clay pigeon, years ago. 303 rifle and .177 air-rifle at targets. I strongly dislike guns being kept in peoples' homes and think we should accord them a lot of respect. I *can't abide* people shooting at animals!

The front legs of a horse were butchered as part of an archaeology project in university. We knapped flint handaxes like those at Boxgrove (1/2 million years old) and found it very easy to cut through and peel back the skin on horse legs. The horse legs came from a knackers' yard! If you know what you are doing, you can cut through at joints to dismember the limbs.
Handaxes are surprisingly sharp and heavy enough to chop or crush as well as cut when those actions are needed. They are an ideal all-round tool, and the flint edge refreshes its sharpness when it breaks.

They have a cutting edge all the way round so develop a technique not to cut yourself. Also don't make the edge too fine or you will end up with flint chips in your horse meat. We did rabbits, too. I don't know where the rabbits came from.

Agree with Laura MK about the need for research. I have a few good morgue tales but will save them for the pub.

Cheer. Stephx.
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Steph
Posted on Sunday, November 09, 2003 - 12:05 pm:   

Hello again

Above I said: I *can't abide* people shooting at animals!

That was an opinion from my own experience, not a prejudicial statement. I wouldn't want anyone to think that I would not amend my opinion if I saw persuasive evidence.

Cheers. Stephx.
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Laura MK
Posted on Sunday, November 09, 2003 - 02:11 pm:   

So Steph, do you find having had some experience in the gore department changes the way you perceive or feel about fictional depictions of it?

It has for me a great deal. I much prefer the intimation of violence or gore to an actual description. In the horror genre, I thought the statement about the psycho in "Silence of the Lambs", "doing something with their skins," was much more spooky than the gross descriptions in "Hannibal".

As far as your own experience goes,were the horse legs attached to its trunk? Or did you just have the knees and ankles etc? Were they fresh or embalmed? Embalmed bodies are a lot less pliable than fresh ones.

Human ball and sockets are quite difficult to dislodge from the trunk even after the supporting ligaments, muscles and fascia are cut. A strong torsional twist away from the body is needed while pulling down to dislodge the leg from the hip - then there is always the ligamentum teres to cut.

Steph, do you have any ER experience? In my experience, wounded people scream their brains out - if they can speak at all - until a kindly soul puts their lights out with an opiate.

I don't doubt the film description of the wounded fellow posted above, but just note that it is an outlier as far as my own personal experience goes.

Cheers to all!
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richard
Posted on Sunday, November 09, 2003 - 02:53 pm:   

Jesus!!! I go away and leave you guys for the weekend, and when I come back the whole place is knee deep in gore and dismembered limbs :-)

Steph - I'm really not on good/close enough terms with the 12 year old in question to tell her all that (and probably won't see her again for a long time anyway), but I wouldn't worry too much about her - she seems to me to be remarkably sorted out, all things considered, and I suspect she's already made the conceptual jump that will enable her to give up on physical violence in favour of something more successful. I just wish she didn't smoke so much.

Really, it's all environmental - she's grown up in a social context where dysfunctional behaviour at school and at home is pretty much normal. Taken out of this environment, as she was when I met her, she came across as a bright, pleasant and very confident kid about five years older than she actually is. The problem is, of course, that she can't *stay* out - she has to go back to it all and cope. But I'm sure she will - she's twice as tough as I'll ever be or need to be.



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richard
Posted on Sunday, November 09, 2003 - 03:39 pm:   

Laura - the proximity argument is an interesting one but the thing about killing etc (he says knowledgeably) is that how much you feel seems to be directly related to how much you *do* of it rather than at what distance. The guy who dropped the Hiroshima bomb was well out of range when the unpleasantries kicked off but I understand it pretty much destroyed his life (not sure if he killed himself, suffered a nervous breakdown or just got religion - or if all of the above are apocryphal, actually). In contrast, I've read in a number of different places that soldiers in close combat go through a process of "hardening up", where the first couple of times they have to kill someone they're violently sick, get the shakes etc but after a while the killing becomes "normal" and they start to deal with it the way you would any other kind of vaguely unpleasant job (It'd be interesting to know if that chimes with your brother's experience of combat in Vietnam).

I also remember vividly seeing interviews with a man who had worked as a torturer during the Greek Colonels regime in the late sixties and early seventies - this guy (supposedly rehabilitated, but you have to wonder) seemed to suffer no discomfort as he outlined the various atrocities he'd committed in his job, and you got the feeling he felt no worse about it than someone who's been caught speeding. To be fair, he had been through a fairly gruelling induction into a special corps prior to this where you could argue that his potential sensitivity to what he would be told to do was deliberately and systematically blunted - but the point is, his proximity to his victims didn't seem to have helped restrain him *at all*. And then you have to look at something like the most recent genocide in Rwanda where tens of thousands were slaughtered at very close range indeed - farm implements apparently being a common method of mass execution. I suspect there are a variety of ways to arrive at the detachment necessary to facilitate this kind of murder, distance being only one such, and not necessarily the most effective.

And of course what I hope is that violence in fiction can serve some useful purpose in short-circuiting this detachment through a process of forcible re-acquaintance. How you do that, of course - through direct splatter by splatter description or by more indirect suggestive hinting - varies from writer to writer, book to book, movie to movie, and I think the most important trick is exactly that - to vary delivery so that your audience never becomes accustomed/numbed to your assault.
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belisarius
Posted on Sunday, November 09, 2003 - 05:08 pm:   

(To return to an earlier point) Laura said: "Warfare and violence are becoming more remote from the lives of the average citizen in the developed world, while remining part of daily life outside our comfortable enclaves."

I appreciate your concern about this but is this really such an unusual situation? The enormous conscript armies of the 20th century and widespread experience of combat are themselves an aberration. The US military from the end of the Civil War until participation in WWI was tiny. In 1914, The Netherlands had a larger army. All the UK's wars between 1815 and 1914 were fought by a relatively small professional military "doing their jobs" and I'm sure that most of the population was ignorant of the reality.

Generations have often gone past with no experience of war, although there has always been quite enough of it going on throughout the world; organised states have always sought to ensure violence happens outside their borders rather than inside them.

Also we do a disservice to the rest of the world to assume that violence is always commonplace outside the "civilised" West. For instance how many wars has Bhutan seen?

The distance we now have from killing isn't simply a matter of war: the increasing complexity of social organisation and production put us at a greater remove from death of all sorts. Child mortality is much lower, we don't like to talk about death, we eat meat (often as a processed "product") but don't want to see animals being killed. Possibly the problem is that there is generally less experience or acknowledgement of *any* form of killing?
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richard
Posted on Monday, November 10, 2003 - 04:17 am:   

Hi Belisarius - that's a very good point - it reminds me a little of Iain M Banks' Culture novels, where hyperpowerful machines have ensured a future in which the average human being never has to know what even mild discomfort feels like (unless they make a conscious choice to experience it). Certainly what we seem to be doing is distancing ourselves from the unpleasant base realities that govern the universe - and I'm all for that, believe me. But the associated danger is that we start to assume the universe *resembles* our cosy little constructed reality - ergo meat divested of all signs that it was ever a living creature, and - another favourite of mine - mistaking the life or death, at each others' throats struggle for survival that is a forest for some peaceful, Edenic manifestation of innocent beauty.

Out of this emerges the New Age bullshit, a rejection of scientific method and progress in favour of some wistful hallucination about "natural" living, when in fact our machines and chemicals are all that stand between us and a very nasty close encounter with base reality.
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Laura MK
Posted on Monday, November 10, 2003 - 04:20 am:   

Speaking to Belisarius' point first:

You said that, "sometimes generations have often gone past with no experience of war."

This is true, but with the conscript army eventually men have to go back out in the field again. What I'm saying is that the professional army will REPLACE the conscript army. So 50 years or so out there will be no ordinary man in the US and most of western Europe (except Germany) who has served.

Will this have a societal impact? Do veterans serve as a collective memory of violence?

I cannot speak to the situation in Britan - I go there several times a year (and LOVE it) but am not well acquainted enough with societal trends to argue them - except that you will see the resurgence of nuclear power or a whopping energy crunch between 2020 - 2030. But the average US city is much safer than it was 10 years ago. So street violence is also becoming more remote to the average citizen - though interestingly, the fear of violence is higher than ever.

With mechanization and technology, I don't think that it will be feasible to just round untrained men up to throw at Omaha beach. The cost of training will outweight the benefits of conscription and further push the professionalization of the military services.

I see a linear trend here, not the usual cycle that you spoke of. Otherwise, I think we agree. Your thoughts?

--

Richard: You are correct about the torturers, but I'm not sure I see their relevance to the argument. They are professionals and most are twisted sadists who really enjoy their work and would engage in it even without a government paycheck. I'm speaking of society at large and think your point about whether proximity or frequency is the most important point is a great one.

I also think your statement about fiction replacing direct experience is a profound point with a number of societal ramifications.

As usual, I have to cut it short to run to work. See you all later.

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Chris
Posted on Monday, November 10, 2003 - 04:43 am:   

Just a quickie:

I always assumed the increased fear of violence was entirely linked with the fall in actual violence in cities etc (not sure about the statistics on that one 'cause they're all cooked by the relevant authorities, but...) Being bombarded by disproportionately common images and stories of murders etc leads us to think they're happening everywhere, all the time, therefore the government get more freedom to do what they want regarding crime prevention because the average citizen is all 'Lawks a' mercy, won't somebody save us?' and so nobody will complain when the budget for police etc is upped. Bizarrely, the fear of violence and the fact that the majority of the population (in Britain, at least) haven't had experience of violence and are therefore terrified at the prospect of it makes it easier to make us safe. Of course, then there's the whole infringment on civil liberties, 1984 thing but that's another matter.

Agree with you about no more need for conscript armies. I seriously doubt we'll ever see anything like the Somme again. At least I hope to God we don't...

Just as an alt-history aside: Tolkien was wounded in the Somme. If he had died, what would the fantasy book genre be like today? *dramatic music*

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richard
Posted on Monday, November 10, 2003 - 05:35 am:   

Anybody seen Bowling for Columbine? Mike Moore makes a very convincing argument along the same lines as Chris, that in the US at least the population is being force-fed media images of urban crime which maintain them in a high state of social anxiety (and thus lead them to buy lots of guns, and then use them inadvisedly).

Laura - I'm not convinced that torturers don't go the same route as any other professional practitioner of violence. Sure, some of them will just be twisted sickos jumping at the opportunity (and even then you've got to wonder what in their past might have made them that way), but the guy I described actually seemed to have had a fairly normal upbringing and, before the trainers got hold of him, to have been a fairly regular sort of guy. Similarly, the South African peace and reconciliation programme seemed to turn up huge numbers of relatively normal human beings who'd somehow been turned into monsters in the interrogation room. The scary thing is that maybe we've *all* got this inside us, if the right switches are thrown. Certainly a latent sadism seems to underlie an awful lot of human behaviour to which we all subscribe - think of the phenomenal success of TV fodder like the Weakest Link and Survivor, where people are essentially tuning in to watch other people being subjected to humiliation. Likewise inaugauration into fraternities/secret societies, widespread mistreating of prisoners of war. And I've heard the mildest mannered people in the world go into deep and gory detail about what they'd like to do to child molesters (kill the bastards inch by inch, etc...). Scary what's down there if you dig deep.

The question of preserving a societal memory of violence through veteran soldiers is an interesting one - I suspect that in the future, instead of this, there will be sufficient terrorist atrocities around that civilians will be able to relate quite effectively on their own. 9/11 was the brick through plate glass to announce this in the west.

Also, the way things are going in the Middle East right now, it looks to me as if conscription might soon be back with a vengeance - if the west insists on a broadly military interventionist approach to global politics, small professional armies don't look likely to cut it. The British military is already way overstretched with its various commitments in Iraq and elsewhere. No, we'll never go back to the Somme, I agree, but a steady daily trickle of dead young Americans back from Iraq already seems to have become an accepted (and acceptable) part of life in the 21st century, just as it was during the Vietnam era. According to our leaders, the conflict is over - shame someone didn't tell the ones who are still stuck there fighting and dying.

Chris - if Tolkein hadn't made it back from the Somme, maybe Poul Anderson's Broken Sword would have gained its rightful place as *the* defining work of sword and sorcery for the post war era - now that would have been something!!! I always thought it was streets ahead of LOTR.
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Chris
Posted on Monday, November 10, 2003 - 06:15 am:   

Dagnabbit. I haven't seen Bowling for Columbine yet, but now everyone thinks I have and was just recycling a Moore-ism :-) Curses.

I think the terrorism thing is a case in point re: increased fear for increased power to protect. 9/11 was, as you say, a great big smack in the face to the West, but I think it's been used in Britain to great effect as far as giving the government a licence to do whatever. Scares at Heathrow, conspicuous gas-attack drills on the Underground, big busts of what may or may not be terrorist cells... suddenly everything vaguely terrorist-related is being reported. Every suicide bomber in the Gaza Strip, every embassy bombing. I can't believe that all this stuff has *suddenly* started happening since 9/11. It's just that now it's a big deal, so the news reports are more prominent, and now everyone in the UK lives in fear of being blown up by terrorists. As far as my limited knowledge of it all goes, there's barely any more threat now than there was back before 9/11... certainly not as much as when the IRA were active in the UK. But in people's minds, it's much worse. And it makes it easier for the government to justify new immigration laws, identity cards, etc etc.

That's the second time in as many weeks someone's mentioned how great Broken Sword is (though obviously it won't be a patch on the Playstation series of the same name... hehe *ducks literary scythe*). Must check it out.
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Laura MK
Posted on Monday, November 10, 2003 - 09:24 am:   

Richard's point that, "In the US at least the population is being force-fed media images of urban crime. . ."

It's only a side point, but I've never understood why people report being "force-fed" violent images or stories by the media when there are hundreds of channels to watch and most devices have an off-switch attached to them. Furthermore, readers also can choose the books and newspapers they read.

Are people choosing to view violence more frequently than in the past? If so, why? Do we have a certain minimal - perhaps biological - need to struggle? And as our lives have become more and more comfortable we seek out violent images or stories to meet that otherwise unmet need? Or is it really all about keeping order and control in a world that many feel increasingly out of control of? I posit the second idea, because many cop-shows etc are about restoring order after a period of chaos?

As a funny aside, I am reminded of Spaulding Gray's recommendation in "Swimming to Cambodia" that we as a species engage in war-therapy instead of the real thing.

Richard: my brother doesn't talk about Vietnam, at least not to me. . .
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Chris
Posted on Monday, November 10, 2003 - 09:57 am:   

I agree with you about the off-switch, but only insofar as it applies to tv drama/documentaries. The alternative as far as media goes is not to watch the news or pick up a paper at all. I can't think of a single newspaper or news programme that doesn't feature stories of children being killed, wars we're involved with, atrocities, terrorism etc. It wouldn't sell. So unless you're willing to totally cut yourself off from current affairs, you have to stomach what they give you.

Reckon you're bang on about the biological need to struggle, however. If we didn't manufacture enemies we'd start killing friends. Now that's a depressing thought; makes me proud to be human :-(
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fur
Posted on Monday, November 10, 2003 - 11:44 am:   

Hey.

The scary point about the news is usually what they don't tell you. When was the last time anyone heard anything about the allied invasion of afganistan? Serious case of 'while all the journalists are looking over here, we'll close this border to everyone and invade that country over there . . .'. Ditto the spin of war: 'Iraqi terrorists'? (the terrorists are now moving into Iraq because the existing goverment is shot to pieces) - and it's funny, but when the french were doing the same thing after the german invasion we called them a 'resistance force', and made our own just-in-case and called it 'Dad's Army'. I guess what I'm trying to suggest is that often as not we don't seek out violence - we're not aware of a huge amount of it - and what we are exposed to produces a kind of 'oh right then. That's terrible but at least I know' reaction, and we don't think any further because being too interested in war and violence can take on a aura of vicarious/sadistic interest. The amount of spin 'people' accept in realtion to violence - and the assumption that if you're not told about the violence there isn't any - is phenomonal.

Chris: 'If we didn't manufacture enemies we's start killing friends' - so that's what the US army was doing when it bombed the canadians and invaded gibraltar!! (sorry Laura, I'm not attacking the US, you have a magnificent, beautiful country, but sometimes the army . . .).
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Jim.
Posted on Monday, November 10, 2003 - 12:21 pm:   

Did anyone hear living in the UK see John Simpson's documentary on the Iraqi war last night?
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belisarius
Posted on Monday, November 10, 2003 - 01:23 pm:   

Hi Laura.
You said: "I see a linear trend here, not the usual cycle that you spoke of. Otherwise, I think we agree. Your thoughts?"

I wasn't really identifying a cycle, rather pointing out that if you go back before the 20th century our ancestors may have had as limited an appreciation of violence (at least in warfare) as we have. From the UK perspective, there has always been a professional army from about the 17th century. Conscription was only ever in force for 1916-18 and 1939-63. Its use in the US has (I think) been a bit wider, originating in the Civil War and seen as recently as Vietnam. Many continental European states had conscription throughtout the latter part of the 19th century and still do. Switzerland, for example, has a very long tradition of conscription but very little of combat! (In recent centuries, that is, I won't bore anyone with Thomas More's complaints about bloodthirsty Swiss mercenaries in 'Utopia') Conscription only shapes perceptions of violence if the conscipts are sent to war.

Veterans obviously do remember violence but (as you observe later) they may not want to talk about it. However maybe they have an effect over the representation of violence - with so many Vietname vets around would any US film-maker dare to make a gung-ho Vietnam "Green Berets" style of film now? Would they always have to make at least a nod to the sordid aspects of war and the troops' experience?

Whilst the increasing technical sophistication of modern warfare seems to indicate fewer, better trained, personnel are needed I'm not sure it's as simple as that - what the US recently discovered in Iraq is that holding a territory (rather than simply destroying it) requires boots on the ground - as Richard points out.

I think the real effect of the technological gap in warfare between the "West" and its current adversaries is to keep them at arms length. The fighting takes place in their countries, not ours. In the face of this, the only tactic they have left is a terrorist one.

However I think I'm getting a bit off the original point now so I'll shut up...
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Laura MK
Posted on Monday, November 10, 2003 - 01:30 pm:   

Chris:

I can think of lots of newspapers that don't cover violent events with a gory, tabloid spin: Wall Street Journal and New York Times. I consider myself a fairly well-informed person and get all of my info from print and e-print sources. I just skip the endless OJ or Malvo murder-spree coverage in favor of the important stuff.

I don't watch TV news. I don't watch much TV at all except an occasional Discovery Times or History International documentary, or a comedy on BBC America (like "Coupling").

Fur: War is a policy decision made in Whitehall or downtown D.C. Armies don't choose to fight, they are directed to do so by their leaders. Don't blame the soldiers for wars (unless its for violation of Geneva Convention-type atrocities and things of that nature).
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belisarius
Posted on Monday, November 10, 2003 - 01:31 pm:   

Richard:
"The scary thing is that maybe we've *all* got this inside us, if the right switches are thrown."

I couldn't agree more. The refusal of many people to recognise this probably contributes to it happening so frequently. If you're interested in a study of what the switches are on a high level (and what we can do to prevent them being flicked), I recommend Jonathon Glover's book 'Humanity'.
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richard
Posted on Monday, November 10, 2003 - 05:21 pm:   

Glover: Humanity - right, I'm on it. Thanks.

Laura - you're right that it is possible to avoid trash media coverage of violent/lurid crime stories, but as you admit, you only really achieve this by avoiding TV news as a whole - and most people don't or won't take this step. (If they did, of course, the networks would have to offer something a bit more responsible in the hope of drawing people back.) It takes far more effort to get your news from print sources, and I think in general it's an effort most people aren't prepared to make when TV will spoonfeed them an effort-free digested version. Worse still, it seems that the TV networks are actively trying to encourage this passive/receptive mode with their drive towards "infotainment". If I were a conspiracy theorist, I'd see this as a sinister attempt to undermine our mental processes and disenfranchise us politically - as it is, I'm just an angry cynic so instead I see unrestrained Market Forces and a failure in quality control (two things that are always indivisibly linked IMHO). Force feeding was my choice of words, not Mike Moore's, but I do think that where a major form of media communication has been monopolised in this way, it's a valid description.

fur - did the US *really* invade Gibraltar?
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Laura MK
Posted on Monday, November 10, 2003 - 05:55 pm:   

Hail Belisarius!

As you can see from these posts and from those on Analog's board, I am not a historian, I am a scientist. But one who believes in the fruits of collaboration between the disciplines.

I had the treat of recently hearing Harold James speak at a conference I attended and was awed by his words.

I have made the error of speaking only from the US perspective - the old contemplation through the crack of the door problem. We in the US, have always had a bit of a rag-tag army that was fueled by conscription, and have been moving toward exclusive professionalism in the post- Vietnam period.

I disagree with the suggestion that you and Richard made that Iraq will change the tide toward professionalism. I would argue rather, that the coalition grossly underestimated its needs when sending the first troops in, and is now beginning to correct that error.

Rebasing is probably going to happen, providing the U.S. can find the funds for it. See the attached article for details:

http://www.centerforsecuritypolicy.org/index.jsp?section=papers&code=03-F_07

Do you know the trends in conscription in other areas of the world? I would be interested to know if it was only as transient phenomenon in other countries as well.

The facts you have presented only make the idea of moving BACK to a professionalized army more interesting. At least as far as the European experience goes, you seem to suggest that conscription has only been used when necessary.

Do you think that's true?
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fur
Posted on Tuesday, November 11, 2003 - 12:00 am:   

richard: *really* an invasion? well enough of them landed to make it an act of war . . . but given that they were lost, asked directions and promptly got back on the boat, it probably doesn't count!

re: conscription. In england up until about Henry VII (which is, erm, late fifteen hundreds? early seventeenth century?)there was a near permenant state of a kind of conscription: all the landowners in the country were obliged to train, equip and keep a certain number of trained 'retainers' so that the king could create and move an army asap just by drawing it from the local population (real problem for Edward IV because it meant the country was full of private standing armies (and a mercenary tradition), and for Richard III who didn't have much noble support so *still* had to hire flemish mercenries). Closer to traditional conscription, back in the 11th century Harold Hardrada was seen off with most of the standing army, which proceeded to run back down to Hastings, reinforce itself with peasants from the local area, and face william the bastard. Then again, all the "peasants" were required to spend three or four hours every sunday (so much for a day of rest!)practising their archery, and they later made up the bulk of the english army at agincourt. The uk navy was the same from the reign of mary I (philip II of spain set up the UK navy in the four months he spent in the country, and was very cross when it was then used by Elizabeth a few years later to repel his invasion armada!): press gangs roamed all the ports for escaped sailors, ordinary ablebodied men, surgeons . . . you name it, to man the ships, and towards the end of the eighteenth century, were even boarding american privateers and merchant ships and conscripting their crews. - then again, the UK is probably a bad example for forms of 'conscription' because we've been at war for the past two thousand years.

I'm not sure which side of the debate this supports though: potentially the UK's had a system of "conscription" set up whether or not it's needed (so not really transient), but arguably it's only been used when necessary . . . so given our history, once or twice every five years and more often if we're at war with france. In most of the cases I've mentioned (except for the fab richardIII, who wouldn't employ swiss mercenries becuase they refused to fight each other) you also end up with a population capable of become a professional army. The Spartans had a similar system, as did the athenians.

humm. that's probably my quota of odd facts for the day. (bad luck!)
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Chris
Posted on Tuesday, November 11, 2003 - 02:31 am:   

Laura: re the newspapers, I didn't mean that every paper necessarily sensationalises it, but they do all *feature* the violence, and in roughly equal quantities (here in the UK anyway). There are varying levels of quality in how it's portrayed or reported: flat and factual to a kind of appalling 'Our Boys Got Killed, Let's Go Bomb Johnny Foreigner!' jingoism, but my argument is that it's still there, and violence more often than not makes the front page or thereabouts whether it's a tabloid or something more classy. You still can't buy a newspaper without seeing it, is my point, hence you can't avoid violence in the media, and you can't choose not to buy it without ignoring current events entirely. IMHO, anyway.
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Laura MK
Posted on Tuesday, November 11, 2003 - 11:21 am:   

Fur:

That was fantastic! Thanks.

I don't have the sort of mind that retains lots of facts and am always amazed by people who can do that sort of thing.
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fur
Posted on Tuesday, November 11, 2003 - 12:00 pm:   

Hi Laura: yeah, I'm stuffed full of mostly-useless information like that - not sure it was relevant to the actual discussion, but still pleased if it was useful/interesting! + sorry about the army comment - tendency to think of them as a singular organic whole which is seperate from the individuals who form it: no reflection on soldiers intended.
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richard
Posted on Tuesday, November 11, 2003 - 01:50 pm:   

fur - Philip II *set up* the British navy??? No way??? That's hysterical. I'm married to a Spanish woman, and lived in Madrid for about four years and one of the fascinating culture bumps I kept hitting was the difference in perception of that period of history. For example *sir* Francis Drake is commonly referred to in Spain as Drake the Pirate (which of course he was, but that ain't how we Brits tend to sell it). Even better was the fact that the Spanish *still* refer to the Spanish invading naval force as the Invincible Armada. Odd, since they got so severely vinced (tho' again, *that* I understand was largely a storm with some limited last minute assistance from Sir Francis Drake the Pirate delete as applicable - I also understand that had the Spanish succeeded in landing their army, it would have walked all over the British land forces and we'd all now be speaking Spanish - is this true too, d'you think? In your capacity as official thread historical archivist, I mean :-))

Laura - I reckon the coalition are *still* grossly underestimating what Iraq is going to cost - seems like there's an upward evaluation of time and cost about every week, serving forces including reservists are long overdue for relief and I see no sign of a slackening in local armed resistance.

This isn't perhaps so surprising since prior to the conflict, the US military seemed to be largely advising the Bush administration not to open this particular can of worms, *please*. Of course no-one listened to them - they were just the experts. Similar deafness from our leader over here on this side of the Atlantic when Blair's intelligence community advised him that probably the best way to ensure a resurgence of support for and action by Al Qaeda was to invade a Muslim country, yep Tony, that one'll do. I wouldn't say conscription is a foregone conclusion, but I certainly wouldn't rule it out - unless something changes radically soon, we're simply going to run out of soldiers.
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Chris
Posted on Tuesday, November 11, 2003 - 02:58 pm:   

Hmm, I'm not sure if conscription is going to be a bit of a brick wall as far as the UK is concerned. I could see it happening in the event of a direct, Second-World-War type threat to our isles, but for Iraq? Surely not. Anyone who tried to tell a generation of people who have no experience of war that they're a) joining the army for a mandatory couple of years and b) getting shipped off to a country most of the UK didn't want to invade in the first place will be voted out so fast that the ballot boxes will set on fire. Hate to use the IRA thing again, but a fair amount of British soldiers have been getting killed in Ireland these past few decades in the territories they'd entered as peacekeepers/oppressors depending on your POV. Don't know what the situation now is as it's been sorely under-reported in general, but I bet a fair number of corpses got racked up on all sides, and surely more than the total in Iraq so far (though I'll admit the terrorists appear to be killing faster and more efficiently - scuse the term - in Iraq). I reckon if it gets too bad we'll just start another war to distract the media, pull out and leave the Iraqi people to deal with it, as we did the first time (and as I think it was fur said, anyone know what's happening in Afghanistan recently? Are we still there? Or have we just left them to get on with it?)

You're right though, I think the coalition have totally underestimated Iraq. You'd think they'd have learned from Afghanistan: if you wade in with an overwhelming force into a country like that then they'll just scatter so you don't have a target and then hack at your flanks until you get out of their country. Like you say, the experts knew that, but nobody listened.

Brings up an interesting point tho: as I'm a prime age to be conscripted, if the government did start rounding up people for Iraq duty, what would happen to me if (when!) I refused? What happened to conscientious objectors in the Second World War? For that matter, what happens to young males in, say, Turkey if they decide they don't want to do their mandatory military service? Anyone know? Fur - now official Fount of All Knowledge (tm) - fact me!!! :-)
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Chris
Posted on Tuesday, November 11, 2003 - 03:19 pm:   

Hang on, just occurred to me: did you mean conscription like public conscription or just the calling-up of the TA and that kind of thing? If the latter, please ignore everything I just said and bring a fully-grown octopus to slap me with next time you see me...
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Mastadge
Posted on Tuesday, November 11, 2003 - 04:36 pm:   

If you're drafted and conscientously object, I believe you're incarcerated, although I could be wrong.

But what if you head off to basic or whatever and refuse to pick up a gun. Just say, "Do your worst. Assign me upper-body motivational exercises all day; have me peeling potatoes all night . . . I'm not touching a gun." Do you get executed for treason? A dishonorable discharge? A desk job?
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richard
Posted on Tuesday, November 11, 2003 - 04:46 pm:   

Chris - can't find an octopus this far north (or this far up, here on the 3rd floor, come to that), but as is often the case with me, I was scrawling somewhat hurriedly and non-specifically anyway - yeah, for the UK the TA call up would be the first thing, I imagine - in fact there are already TA soldiers out there, as I understand it. And to be honest I was talking more about the US than the UK - their military commitment in the Middle East is far larger, and there doesn't seem to be any recognition in current Whitehouse rhetoric that resources are overstretched. The article Laura cites simply seems to indicate a willingness on the part of the US to make a massive global military commitment in the future. And to judge by the tenor of the article, those doing the planning are still falling into the trap of believing that superior military technology is the catch-all solution to numbers problems. Ie, *nothing* has been learned at all about the logistics of trying to hold down a position as an unwelcome military overseer in someone else's country.

As to real, live honest-to-goodness Uncle-Sam-wants-you conscription - unless Bush gets unceremoniously dumped at the next election, things can only get worse and the manpower has got to come from somewhere - I can certainly envisage a future (get paid to do so, in fact!) where the notion of general military service is gently re-introduced over the long-term in both the US and the UK - intially perhaps along the lines of a get-out-of jail-free card for minor criminals and young offenders (as was often the case in Vietnam-era conscription and as paved the way for a friend of mine into the army twenty years ago) making a valuable contribution to easing the pressure on our overworked prison system, don't you know. Then you've got it as an alternative for the long term unemployed - learn a trade, stepping stone to a better life - the current recruitment ads are already about half-way down that road. Then, well, who knows - the point is each of these steps seems so small and eminently reasonable as it's taken and the next thing you know, anyone who won't go, well they just aren't real patriots, now are they.... Worth remembering the only reason conscription foundered in the UK was because it was too bloody expensive to keep going. Given a British lapdog approach to US global military deployment (pure SF, I know but let's just imagine...:-)) in the scramble for control of geopolitical resources, that cost might suddenly be seen as easily offset against future economic gains. It would require a major change of mindset, I agree, but I think we're well on our way to that anyway - and as to resistance to the idea, remember, Vietnam conscription in the US was carried out - largely successfully - right in the middle of the sixties/seventies, arguably the most radical extended social upheaval the US had seen since the Civil War.
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Laura MK
Posted on Tuesday, November 11, 2003 - 06:13 pm:   

Chris:

You could check to see if the guys and gals at Porton Down need human volunteers for a biodefense vaccine or something. :>)

The Adventists in the U.S. did just that for years in the U.S "Operation Whitecoat".

http://www.adventist.org/news/data/2003/09/1065534428/index.html.en

Voluntary exile is also an option. My mom wanted to ship my brother to Canada - quite against his will - when he was called up.

Richard: Rebasing isn't about build up, its about changing presence and projection. Smaller, more mobile units (sans dependents) to hopefully increase readiness - i.e. further professionalization. It would in fact greatly reduce U.S. military presence in Europe. Perhaps the reference I posted was not the best one. It's a hot news item in the U.S. now, so there are probably better stories out there to explain it.
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fur
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 12:04 am:   

chris: now? I've no idea (haha! no longer font of all kn!). I stop knowing things at the end of thomas hardy's novels. It would be lovely if they agreed that if you didn't want to kill anyone it was your decision, and they'd probably be infringing your civil liberties or something if they made you. Although you could shoot yourself in the foot if you're really worried. How would you feel about manufacturing munitions or propaganda instead?
besides, you can't be conscripted before the end of bk 3 of the BP at least!

richard: yep. If he'd landed the army sucessfully Mary Q of S - his cousin, oddly enough - would probably have ruled england for him for years and years to come, or he'd have started the biggest european war for a couple of years. Ireland, scotland, rome and the habsburg roman empire (ruled by his father or brother at that point)would have supported him. The netherlands would either have supported us or taken the opportunity to declare independence and then neutrality asap, and france/catherine de medici might have taken the opportunity to invade spain again. Oh, and america would (probably)be spanish or portugese speaking, settled later, Rowanoak and Pocahontas would never have happened, nor the american war of independence or napoleonic wars as we know them. sounds like fun . . .
then again, the armada should never have happened. the chap Philip picked to outfit the fleet thought it was a terrible idea and tried to escape from spain altogether, was brought back and made to do it, and then wrote a couple of letters to philip saying it was a terrible idea, the cannon were rubbish, builders not good enough, fleet style dodgy etc, but philip's secretaries intercepted and destroyed them . . . so who knows. Essentially yes, if philip had landed his army we'd be more or less catholic anglo-spainards. perhaps with hindsight he wouldn't have developed that fleet . . .
oh, and drake was a pirate, but we called him a privateer. he kept attacking spanish ships coming back from the americas, and took the gold, the materical, the wood, the food, the crew (which he sold back to spain) and the ship - which became part of our navy! I suppose it's not surprising we like him
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Chris
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 01:06 am:   

richard: Aha, I see what you're saying now. And that IS scarily possible in the long term (still don't think it would happen fast enough to affect Iraq, however, but could well be proved wrong...). Also, I thought you were referring only the UK, which to be honest I think would have a harder time introing conscription than the US. Can breathe easy re: being flailed by octopii.

OK, now have my plan of conscription-dodging in full effect.

1) Try and secure a 17-book deal and write them all the size of War and Peace with appendices the size of Gormenghast. Then I can whine that I'm under contract and you can't send me away till I'm finished.

2) Voluntary exile. Hey, not so bad, I can work from anywhere in the world thanks to the Interwash and to be honest the idea of going and living with my brother in Madrid certainly has its appeal. Score!

Thanks guys. You'll never get your hands on me, Blair! *footsteps receding into the distance*
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Laura MK
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 03:51 am:   

Chris:

It might help if you weaved some inspirational patriotic themes into your work - in a sense become a propagandist as Fur suggested.

Richard and I will have to agree to disagree on this one, but I don't think you'll have anything to worry about anyway. I also get paid to predict the future.

Fur: An amazing display of knowledge. One of my husband's avocations is that of historian - with a few books and TV appearances under his belt - I am again impressed, and not easily so.
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Chris
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 04:01 am:   

Hehe. Oops. Think I'm screwed. I wrote a children's book about a seven-day countdown to nuclear war which fairly well showcased my opinions on war and governments in general. That's not gonna stand me in good stead. Voluntary exile it is then... :-)

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Laura MK
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 04:14 am:   

Chris: I'm sure you've seen "Hiroshima No Pika" and "I never saw Another Butterfly" then.

For a link to children's drawings from the current Iraq conflict - check this out.

http://www.puffinroom.org/iraq/

The Puffinroom is a great place, I like a lot of their stuff. The crap about the innocent Rosenbergs really gets my hackles up though. The Russians that ran them have published their memoirs - "I remember the day that Julius handed me a proximity fuse" - and still people doubt the facts.
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Chris
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 04:36 am:   

Fur: conscription for propaganda/munitions factory work I could reluctantly live with, at least as an alternative to prison/exile. If people are daft enough to believe the things they're told without properly thinking about it then it's their own look-out, and as far as being put to work making weapons, I'd be such a tiny cog in the machine that I'd make next to zero difference anyway. It's not like I'd be designing the things. Now if, as Laura suggested, they'd ask me to write propaganda books under my own name (as opposed to, say, journalism or distribution of existing govt propaganda)... um, doubt I could do that. Integrity, or something. Unless they let me do it my way, which I don't think they would. But then, who knows what they'd really do with a metaphorical gun to their head? Would you fold, or would your resentment at being forced into doing something you didn't want to make you even more determined to resist? Most people have never been tested like that, I guess.
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fur
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 06:13 am:   

Chris: sorry - are you saying you'd be ok writing lets-brainwash-the-masses propaganda (aka "the truth") under someone one elses name, or that you'd be happy to, I don't know, typeset it, but not write the stuff? + would your stance change if you were pursuaded it was necessary: if, for example, you were given total access to information about the really nasty stuff saddam hussein was doing and just asked to collate and present it in an article? just wondering where black grey and white are theoretically.
17-book deal sounds like a REALLY good idea, by the way.

Laura: thanks!! - most people just roll their eyes and hide until I stop talking! D'you mind if I ask what your husband's period is?
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Chris
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 07:13 am:   

Haha. Why thank you :-) Sounds good to me too. I could get myself an awful MTV-style crib on the advance and start talking all faux-street and stuff...

I wouldn't be *happy* doing any of that sorta propaganda stuff, but realistically I doubt I'm noble and selfless enough to refuse if the government said: you're gonna help us out with propaganda, or go to jail/exile etc. And there's degrees to consider: I suppose I'd judge it on how much impact I'd deem it to have, and whether said impact was towards what I believed was just. If they were only making me come up with slogans or whatever (a task they'd give to advertising execs anyway) then I'd be more inclined to do that - because I think it'd make sod all difference in the big scheme of things - than if I was J.K.Rowling and they were making me write a 'Harry Potter Versus The Dirty Hun' type thing that millions would read and be influenced by. Wish I hadn't started this now :-( It's all wild extrapolation anyway.

I guess it's all grey areas really: the whole thing depends on whether it was something like WW2, which I think was a justifiable case of a war that needed to be fought, or the Iraq thing, which I think is not.

Just on an ingrained-fear-of-authority tip, anyone remember that famous experiment they carried out where they had ordinary people 'electrocuting' other ordinary people on the other side of a barrier because authority figures ordered them to? And how most of them kept applying the current even after they believed the other person had died? Tsk.
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Laura MK
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 07:23 am:   

Fur:

I think I just answered your last question offline. Check your fur66@ e-mail.
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Chris
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 07:41 am:   

Laura:

Sorry, haven't seen either of them. What are they about? My rusty Japanese has Hiroshima no Pika as something like 'the flash of Hiroshima'. Is that right? Pikapika is 'flashing' or 'glittering' so I'm just making a guess...
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Laura MK
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 08:20 am:   

Yes Chris:

"Hiroshima No Pika" is a children's book about the Hiroshima bombing by Toshi Maruki, and "I Never Saw Another Butterfly" are children's drawings from the Terezin concentration camp edited by Hana Volavkova. Both are widely available on Amazon.com - at least in the US.
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fur
Posted on Thursday, November 13, 2003 - 12:00 am:   

Chris: grey areas. got it.

Was that an experiment? I thought I saw something similar on tv recently . . . might have been a quiz of some description. Actually they might have been electrocuting themselves with wrong answers or something. Is that better or worse than volunteering to go to a jungle and live on bugs for a fortnight? - actually asking if it's better than electrocuting someone else is probably more relevent!

Thanks Laura!
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Chris
Posted on Thursday, November 13, 2003 - 12:45 am:   

Fur: What they did - I think it was in the US back in the seventies, but I'm a bit sketchy on the details, so everyone wade in and correct me if they know different :-) - was to put ordinary folks in a room with a knob that they were told was linked to an electricity supply. In the next room, they were told, was someone linked up to that supply. When they turned the knob, the person in the other room would scream as if they were being electrocuted. The idea was that the subjects believed they were actually electrocuting someone.

The test was to see how people reacted to authority. The subjects were told to turn the knob, and the person on the other side would scream. They believed they were torturing someone (they didn't know this person or what they had done) but the majority kept doing it simply because they were told to by an authority figure. After the dose was upped enough, the person in the other room would 'die'. The subjects were told to keep increasing the dose. Most people did, even after they believed the victim was dead.

I think this kinda corroborates the points made somewhere above about disassociated violence: the subjects couldn't see their victim, weren't physically hurting them (the electricity was), and had become absolved of responsibility because they were doing what they were told. So ordinary people became sadistic killers, in a sense. Brrrr.


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richard
Posted on Thursday, November 13, 2003 - 08:03 am:   

Chris - you're spot on. The experiment in question was designed and conducted by Stanley Milgram, an American psychologist with a reputation for inventive experimental technique. The tests ran as you describe, except that the unseen victims were answering questions - the subjects were told to shock the victim if they responded to questions incorrectly. The electrical equipment was labelled with a scale from 15 volts - slight shock, up to 450 volts - danger, severe shock. At each stage of the experiment, Milgram (as the authority figure) asked the subjects to increase the voltage. As the supposed voltage increased the actor next door went from mild grunts of discomfort to "an agonizing scream". Although many subjects complained that the experiment should be stopped and some finally managed to break their own compliance with Milgram's authority, out of 40, 26 continued to adminster shocks up to and including the 450 volt danger point. Suddenly you see how easy it is to create torturers. (For anyone who's interested, the original work was published in 1974 by Tavistock Publications, London and is called Obedience to Authority - but I cribbed most of this from a fascinating book by Mark Buchanan called Small World)

Laura - I know the rebasing model doesn't pre-suppose massive increases in troop deployment *as such*, but I think it would be naive to believe it will lead to anything else. Current Whitehouse thinking (if that's the word) has been wrong every step of the way with Iraq, and there's no reason to suppose they'll get it any more right with this more extensive global model. Costs will spiral out of control, people will die for no good reason and amoral chimps in expensive suits will continue to tell a credulous public that it's all for their own good.
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Laura MK
Posted on Thursday, November 13, 2003 - 12:42 pm:   

Richard:

I don't think that it will result in a build up, because the paradigm for war-fighting is changing.

Many scholars see a future of plentiful but low-intensity conflict - not megawars fought by huge armies or dominated by hightech weaponry. Smaller, more mobile forces are intended to prepare for a future of low-intensity, mostly urban warfare.

In my personal opinion, the R&D of high technology weapons will continue apace, but most of it will be portable or unmanned.

Gosh! How 'bout a discussion on the vanishing (or vanished) freedom of the press. I think there might be a bit more common ground there! :>)
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fur
Posted on Thursday, November 13, 2003 - 01:53 pm:   

chris: yick. and why would you bother electroucting a dead body (sorry; patently the wrong response). Did they conclude that people respond well or badly to authority?

on the subject of using actors to grunt or scream: can you tell if it's real or not? I know that if people go outside and howl in a wolf-populated area they get a reply, but if a tape of people - or another wolf - howling is played instead, the response is significatly lowered. Bats can tell the difference between a live cricket chirping and a recording of one. Given that it's an authority test maybe this doesn't matter, but is it possible people could tell? The trouble is, I guess to really do that experiment properly you'd have to really start electrocuting people in the name of theory. . . which would really start creating torturers.
were the experimentees threatened or threatened by implication when they were asked to increase the voltage/shock someone? (yes: I liked my rosy concept of humanity!!)
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richard
Posted on Thursday, November 13, 2003 - 04:17 pm:   

Laura - I think we have more common ground than you imagine. But if you want to start a thread along those lines, cool - hit me with it.

Meanwhile; a future of plentiful, low intensity conflict - I'll certainly buy that (in fact, I've just written a novel about it). But low intensity conflict is something that dominant states like our own still use up an awful lot of bodies trying to stamp out - think of the Russians in Chechenya and the US/UK in *post*-invasion Iraq to name but two examples. My contention is still that if the US (and other western nations, eg mine, in tow) are going to attempt to run the world along Bushist lines, they're going to be trying to stamp out an awful lot of low intensity resistance in an awful lot of different places - and they'll be sending an awful lot of body bags home as a result. On the subject of weapons technology to curtail this, I'm doubtful - 9/11 was one of the most low tech and at the same time most powerful atrocities committed in recent history. Meanwhile the most hi-tech army in the world cannot hold down resistance in one small middle eastern country whose infrastructure and population have been systematically and repeatedly devastated for over a decade. There are some hard lessons here, but still no sign that anyone Washington DC or London is even turning up to class.

fur - can't be sure, but I think Milgram's subjects were under no threat other than that of disapproval from the established authority figure. Sorry.
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Laura MK
Posted on Thursday, November 13, 2003 - 07:08 pm:   

Richard:

I think it depends on how one defines "future". When I say future, I'm thinking out oh, 15-25 years. Historical examples are important, because they inform our scenarios, but when I put my ear to the ground, I hear that a lot of people realize that developed countries don't know how to fight low-intensity wars as well as they need to. Whether decision makers will listen to them is another question all together.

My bets are still on that technology could be useful in mitigating this problem. Not pie in the sky within twenty five to have portable tactical lasers, or something we haven't discussed: the variety of non-lethal weapons on the horizon. They will change everything.

Even with technology on our side, our use of the technology or our "war culture" remains the most important aspect of our capabilities. If we have superior fire power but insist on using it as judiciously as we do, it is ultimately less useful than it could be. And perhaps more importantly, underuse reduces the superior power's ability to deter.

Here's a wicked thought - war as a commodity. Since the monetary cost of war has decreased so dramatically - WWII in 2002 dollars would have cost $4,000B and the cost of the current Iraq war is still under $100B (the war part minus the current "occupation" costing $4B) - will there be a greater "demand" for it? The non-monetary costs, including lives lost and embarassment) may inhibit that, but I, personally, wouldn't count on it.
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fur
Posted on Friday, November 14, 2003 - 06:41 am:   

richard: I suppose it's too much to hope for that Milgram hand picked psychos to run the tests on? On a very side issue, are your star wars/hitch-hiker's guide refs in Broken Angels deliberate?

Just out of curiosity, why is 'the west' fighting these low intensity wars anyway? Especially in areas where there's a kind of mauist perpetual revolution system in place, run by the rapid turnover of dictators?

On technology: Laura are you talking about a way of improving non-lethal technology to reduce the body count (and if so, what would you then do with living zealots - pow camps?), or lethal as a deterrent? I'm not sure that methods of killing more people faster can do anything but escalate war.
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richard
Posted on Friday, November 14, 2003 - 07:23 am:   

fur: don't know, but I think you're probably right - it's too much to hope for.

star wars/hh's guide refs??? Pray elucidate... (which is, I guess, a cute way of saying that they're not deliberate - but pray elucidate anyway...)
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fur
Posted on Friday, November 14, 2003 - 08:26 am:   

erm. ok: Broken Angels p11 'richer than you can possibly imagine','I can imagine quite a lot' . . . 'A lot of money, then' versus A New Hope's 'She's rich . . . more wealth than you can imagine' and Solo's 'I can imagine quite a bit' then 'you'll get and it and more'. I was just wondering if it was deliberate because it's an interesting parallel to set up when the characters prove quite divergent.

The HH guide was (I can't find it offhand) a 'Space, as the textbooks say, is big' - something along those lines. Again it'd be interesting as a parallel for space-hopping, alien-interaction sci-fi (and would support a 'deft ironic touch of prose referencing an existing body of sci-fi as it changes the genre beyond all recognition' argument for your stuff). Both are great because they're understated (probably due to not being deliberate), and I'd just wondered if I was imagining things - so feel free to tell me I'm a sad nut with too much time on my hands!
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Neal Asher
Posted on Saturday, November 15, 2003 - 06:59 am:   

Just an addition to the violence dicussion far above: In Jung Chang's 'Wild Swans' she describes China, during the cultural revolution, as 'a pressure cooker without the relief valves of spectator sports or violent films.' Worth thinking about.
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richard
Posted on Saturday, November 15, 2003 - 10:59 am:   

fur - neither of these parallels occurred to me at the time, but I think you might have me bang to rights on the first one. I haven't seen Star Wars since I was about seventeen, but the dialogue could well have seeped into my consciousness from there. Then again, I suspect something along similar lines gets said quite a lot in the noir crime genre, in which I've read obsessively and extensively for the last twenty years. Be interesting to know if Lucas got there first or if he too was influenced by someone earlier and more hardboiled - certainly the Han Solo character in toto owes quite a debt in that direction.

The space is big one definitely isn't HHG - it's a digest of/irony on Poul Anderson's work, of which I was always a voracious fan. Anderson frequently has paragraphs in his stories asserting the immensity of space and the logistical problems it entails for humans - he usually states it in a fairly workmanlike, serious fashion with a salting of good old sense of wonder. I invoked the textbooks for that, then undercut it to provide Kovacs's trademark irony. Anderson tended to tell his stories in third person, so he was able to exit in scientific detachment for moments like that - with first person, I'm welded to Kovacs for the duration and so can't really pull the same trick. On the other hand, I get to play with some really nasty attitudes first hand, which is fun...

Neal - welcome again; it's an interesting thought, tho' many societies that are well lubricated with both spectator sports and violent movies still manage to maintain high levels of real unpleasantness as well, so I wonder. At a minimum I agree it would be fair to say that suppressing these things certainly doesn't appear to help matters.

Incidentally, you'll see that you were invoked earlier on this thread by Cheryl as something of a doyen in literary violence - I've only got the Skinner to go by, but that didn't seem to me to be overly so - is there more blood and guts in Gridlinked and Line of Polity?
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Laura MK
Posted on Saturday, November 15, 2003 - 11:30 am:   

Fur:

I think you're absolutely right. None of the designers are thinking about what to do with the people knocked out instead of killed or wounded. I suppose it would lead to massive numbers of pows. We always seem to consider the social consequences of science and technology reactively don't we?

As to TLs, phasers are still a long way off, but a gattling-type portable is a strong possibility in the 15-20 year time frame. The problem with the current protos:

http://www.llnl.gov/str/April02/Dane.html

is that they are too large for the firepower they can deliver, and really, more than that, they get too damn hot.

Threatening to kill lots of people quickly is still a deterrent. Just before the 1st Iraq war, they allegedly threatened CBW use, and our side allegedly threatened nuke-use if they did. As I said earlier, its not the weapon, its the willingness to use it that counts.
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fur
Posted on Sunday, November 16, 2003 - 06:16 am:   

richard: well if you do ever watch the sw originals again, droids and racism is one of the most interesting interpretations. Lucas was obsessive about japanese warrior films, seven samuri especially, and world war movies for his space fight scenes, which is why so many of the ships (esp star destroyers for some reason) echo ships/planes of the period, so it may have come from there - or anywhere else he pinched stuff from!. re: HHG, not having read poul anderson (my education is clearly lacking; I will go away and read some asap. Broken Sword, Tau Zero, Three Hearts + Three Lions etc?), consider me corrected!

Hi Laura: given that the governments should consider it, would they go for an option which leaves a lot of people alive and temporarily out of the way on the ground, or ultimatly just choose to wipe them all out for economic expediency (and to reduce their own body count)? I agree that willingness to use it is the key, but I'd far rather it was never used at all - and the only way to ensure that, is for the weapons themselves never to have existed. As a deterrent, I have no objection, but when it's used it looks more like failure than any kind of success.
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richard
Posted on Sunday, November 16, 2003 - 03:32 pm:   

fur - Broken Sword is a good place to start with Anderson, tho' it's pure fantasy rather than SF. If it's to your taste, then the Merman's Children is a great follow up - 3Hearts+Lions I wouldn't rate nearly as highly. As far as his SF goes, I'd recommend The Enemy Stars rather than Tau Zero plus Guardians of Time, Corridors of Time and any of his Dominic Flandry short stories (I think ibooks are just about to re-issue these). The only downside of all this stuff is that being written in the fifties and sixties it has rather antiquated attitudes to gender roles - he cures himself rather radically of this later on - try Orion Shall Rise and The Avatar for that stage. Whatever else (and he's in some ways a contentious author), Anderson was a born story-teller and he knew his science inside out, two aspects of SF writing that very often *don't* go hand in hand.
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fur
Posted on Sunday, November 16, 2003 - 11:36 pm:   

A whole reading list!! Thank you! While I've got a shopping list for books, any other must reads out there?
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Neal Asher
Posted on Monday, November 17, 2003 - 05:24 am:   

Richard, Gridlinked & Line - perhaps a bit darker, but no more violent, I think...
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Lee M
Posted on Wednesday, February 04, 2004 - 04:47 pm:   

Richard said>>The experiment in question was designed and conducted by Stanley Milgram, an American psychologist with a reputation for inventive experimental technique. The tests ran as you describe, except that the unseen victims were answering questions - the subjects were told to shock the victim if they responded to questions incorrectly. The electrical equipment was labelled with a scale from 15 volts - slight shock, up to 450 volts - danger, severe shock.<<


Just to resurrect an old topic. Milgram's trials were an attempt in part to understand obedience to authority after findings from the Nazi war crime trials. Adolf Eichmann was a Nazi official directly responsible for the logistics of the holocaust which resulted in the death of 6 million jews. Like many of the officials on trial, he didn't appear to be an inhuman sociopath and repeatedly explained that he didn't hate Jews, he was simply obeying orders.

Most people in the west thought this was a crock, stating free will etc; no normal person would be capable of this sort of action. Milgram's series of tests and others follow ups rocked the boat. A Panel of 110 experts in human behaviour were questioned before the Milgram experiment and the conclusion was that only 10% would exceed 180 volts and that anyone who went to 450 volts was most likely a sociopath. In fact almost everyone went past 220 volts and 65 percent went to 450 volts ( which was marked x x x on the shock unit ). This was with a shock subject who had complained early in the trial about a heart condition.

People continued, in part, because an 'official person' in a lab coat told them to continue and that they weren't accountable for anything. Bushman (1984, 1988) had confederates dressed in a uniform, suit, or scruffy clothes stand next to a person at a parking meter who was looking for change in their pockets. The confederates stopped passers by and 'ordered' them to give the person money. Over 70% compiled with the uniformed confederate. When later questioned the most common reason for handing over money was ' because they told me to'.

The concept of appearance and it's influence on an individuals actions works the other way as well. In similar shock trials it was shown the people will deliver different levels of shock if they are dressed in different types of clothing. Put a person in a lab coat and tell them the person receiving shock thinks they're a doctor and they'll apply greater levels of electricity. Okay I've gotten a little side tracked here with the whole clothing thing. Group pressure and various social and environmental stressors also have a huge influence. Just look at Zimbardo's Stanford prison experiment for an example of how rapidly people can be shaped by their environment.

Oh and I enjoyed 'Altered Carbon' and 'Broken Angels'. Altered Carbon is the first book in a while that made me flick back and reread parts right after I had finished it.
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richard
Posted on Thursday, February 05, 2004 - 04:08 pm:   

Thanks Lee - as compliments go, that's a really nice one.
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Lee M
Posted on Friday, February 06, 2004 - 04:23 am:   

No worries Richard. I don't hand them out unless they're well deserved.

I've put several other people onto your books as well, so you have a developing reader base down here in New Zealand. :-)




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Tribeless
Posted on Friday, February 06, 2004 - 01:38 pm:   

Bigger than you think in New Zealand. I've been lurking in here a while, but have had nothing to say (so haven't :-)

I really enjoyed Broken Angels. Plus, I've just now purchased the ebook version (secure Palm format) of Altered Carbon from Fictionwise.com (just to give you some marketing data). I only read ebooks on a PPC these days.

And I'm a kiwi who doesn't know Lee ... so perhaps a book tour down under is called for.

Cheers South Island, NZ
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richard
Posted on Saturday, February 07, 2004 - 05:09 pm:   

New Zealand, huh? Recently heard a lot of good things from that neck of the woods - my sister just got back from a year in the Antipodes and SE Asia, and won't shut up about how much she loved NZ and would like to go back there and live. Plus you've got Stick Men...

Tour, well, if I can persuade my publishers to send me - man I am so on for that...
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Tribeless
Posted on Saturday, February 07, 2004 - 05:18 pm:   

I should have delivered a warning with my previous post. Don't get too carried away. The current government is determined to turn us into a socialist slum at the moment, and are unfortunately achieving their goal(it helped having a huge welfare state to build on).

Lovely place, great scenery, but freedom is dying here, quickly.
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richard
Posted on Saturday, February 07, 2004 - 05:28 pm:   

socialist slum? I thought your health service just got privatised?
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Tribeless
Posted on Saturday, February 07, 2004 - 08:03 pm:   

Richard said:

"socialist slum? I thought your health service just got privatised?"

Its very appropriate this thread is called 'out of the mouths of babes ...' :-)

I don't have a lot of the time at the moment (high work load, high stressed individual), however, before beginning a mini rant I should I guess declare my political and philosophical leanings which are Libertarian and Objectivist respectively. Thus, some may see my viewpoint as 'slightly' biased (some might say jaundiced, but they would probably be communists).

Anyway, currently NZ has a Labour government, who are Chardonnay socialists, which worse than straight socialists also means they're two faced about stealing money (euphemistically called tax) from the productive sector and giving it to the unproductive sector, thereby growing their voting base.

Although, the taxing and welfare spending are only part of the beef I have with them. Its the social engineering, and plain old sticking their noses into every aspect of our lives, where they have no right to be, that is bugging me more and more as time goes on. For example, our anti-smoking legislation, etc etc.

But it is not just the Labour govt. at fault. The theoretical centre right party in before them (National) were just as big a bunch of socialists. To be honest I can't even remember who actually, supposedly, privatised our health system, although it would have started from the Labour government of the early 1990's under the auspices of a man called Roger Douglas. But to call it a privatisation would be an utter travesty. It's still a full state run sector, they are still centrally funded, etc, with simply a corporate profit oriented model thrust over it. Result, bureacrats trying to run a company in an artificial capitalist environment - not surprisingly its now known in NZ as a 'die while you wait' system.

Although the worst piece of legislation ever passed in NZ was the Resource Management Act - this is an Act huge in its implications and reach. Effectively it took away property rights here; indeed, my contention would be that from the day that Act was passed, by a National govt (what a joke they are) NZ has been a communist country. We've recently built a house; under this Act we had to go through 14 to 16 state and local government hitlers to get the required consents, we had to get the written consents of all the neighbours to our design, and the house is controlled right to the colour we were allowed to paint it. Our desired colour was turned down, consequently, instead of a lovely house making a statement about how great it can be to be human, its now sort of a shit green colour and disappears into the hill, where it will burn to a frazzle the next fire that goes through, because all the surrounding trees are over 3 metres, and hence are protected under our 'district plan'(and what does that phrase remind you of). You even need permission to cut down a tree on your own property. Just before Christmas a man in the North Island became the first man to be imprisoned for doing just that.

Hopefully you get the drift ... Its an appalling situation (just as well the scenery is great).

Come the revolution ...

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Jeremy Lassen
Posted on Saturday, February 07, 2004 - 11:30 pm:   

"bureaucrats trying to run a company in an artificial capitalist environment"

Funny, this statement seems to describe most of the "free market" here in the United States. Be Careful about the grass on the other side... its not always greener.

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richard
Posted on Sunday, February 08, 2004 - 09:38 am:   

Yeah,I'd have to side with Jeremy here - I think generally speaking libertarian politics just get you a corporate class fascism in which your worth is wholly determined by how much wealth or power you have. Free here means "I'm free to do what the fuck I want to you because I'm wealthy and you're not." That's fine if you *have* the wealth or power, of course, but statistically any given individual is far more likely to be poor - and the wealthy are likely to keep it that way because they sure as hell don't want any changes to a system that suits them so cosily. This is the problem with Objectivism - it sounds fine in theory (much like Communism, in fact), but fails to take account of the way people in the real world will fuck up your plans with their vested interests.

Having said that, some of the regulation you're talking about, Tribeless, does sound pretty draconian - I'm a firm believer that bureaucracy should be kept to a necessary minimum and that you should be able to paint your house any colour you like, the brighter the better (some kind of government subsidy on rainbow coloured paint needed here? :-) ). Anti-smoking legislation, on the other hand, I'm very much in favour of - my mother suffers from asthma and I've seen her abused and on a couple of occasions nearly physically assaulted by irate smokers for simply requesting that they don't smoke (in what is already a designated non-smoking area! I kid you not)

It's that kind of behaviour that leads me to believe the Dawkins line - that humans are intrinsically savagely selfish, unless schooled to be otherwise and placed within an inclusive social system that aims to benefit the vast majority rather than a wealthy/gifted/lucky few. I can't claim to be an expert, but from my readings of Ayn Rant, I rather think that Objectivism isn't that system
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Tribeless
Posted on Sunday, February 08, 2004 - 11:32 am:   

Oh Richard! A lefty interventionist!!

Oh No. I have some huge deadlines from now out to March 31st, but I will be back in April to respond to some of the above; your analysis of Libertarian politics and objectivism is too simplistic by far. Two points though:

1) Think of the true cost of that anti-smoking legislation (and I quit smoking eight years ago so have no vested interest). If you give 'them' the power to tell you where you can smoke, you also give 'them' the power to tax fatty foods, legislate what you read, or certainly watch on TV, etc ... That price is way too high.

2) You stated: "Having said that, some of the regulation you're talking about, Tribeless, does sound pretty draconian - I'm a firm believer that bureaucracy should be kept to a necessary minimum and that you should be able to paint your house any colour you like".

Again, per my above comment. Where, and how, do you draw the line? Let them impinge into your 'life-sphere' with one piece of social engineering, and 'they'll' just carry on legislating.

But another time.


HOWEVER, on another issue, I love reading cyberpunk, yet when you look at the brooding, corporatised 'cyberpunk' worlds' created by yourself (? - been a while since I read Broken Angels), certainly Gibson, Stephenson, etc, I suspect that a 'lefty' interventionist leaning might be gleaned in all the major exponents ...

Strange that I like that sub-genre so much.

Do you consider yourself a cyber-punk author, or would you resist such a label?

Anyway, I gotta go
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richard
Posted on Monday, February 09, 2004 - 05:13 am:   

Tribeless - this thread is taking far too long to load and it looks like it's heading in an interesting direction, so I'm starting afresh with a LEFTY INTERVENTIONIST thread - hope you'll take time off from your deadlines to visit.

Personally, I wouldn't call my work cyberpunk, (mainly because I feel it lacks the youth culture element and intrinsic shininess of a lot of CP) but it has been so described by a lot of people so maybe I'm wrong. You'd be as good a judge of the correctness of the label as I.

See ya on the other side...

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