Why I Write

I’ll be signing books at the first-ever (and likely last-ever) Tucson Festival of Books this weekend, and also delivering a talk and leading a discussion titled, “Why I Write.” I’ve been thinking about this subject for a few years, even occasionally trying to explain to my colleagues why they should synthesize their knowledge for scientists and the general public. Consider this post a draft of my comments for next weekend, recognizing that these are excerpts of what I’ll actually read and I’ve modified the text slightly for ease of reading (e.g., by removing citations). Comments are welcome, of course, as well as your visit to the tent I’ll be occupying during the event.

My first book was driven by my quest for academic success, the culmination of which I believed to be tenure. The first listing in my first book, Glossary of Fire Management Terms Used in the United States, is abort. The final term, a riveting 137 pages later, is zone weather forecast. I promise not to quote from this book if you promise not to buy it.

Seven years later, after obtaining the academic prize of tenure, I sought bigger game. With full professor in my sights, the seemingly necessary round of ammo was a major synthetic work. So I churned out a book that synthesized contemporary knowledge about North American savannas. It also signaled the hallmark of my early career in that it described the interface between science and its application. Even at this early stage in my career, I didn’t fit neatly into the academic categories of real “science” and application of that science, but instead attempted to bridge the enterprises. Consider these passages, for example:

“As with any human activity, sciences shares many characteristics with everyday activities. For example, observations of recurring events are used to infer general patterns in banking and fishing, as well as most scientific disciplines. The discussion herein focuses on features that are unique to science. I assume in this chapter that science is obliged in part to offer explanatory and predictive power about the natural world. An additional assumption is that the scientific method, which includes explicit hypothesis-testing, is among the most efficient and valid techniques for acquiring reliable knowledge. The scientific method should be used to elucidate mechanisms underlying observed patters; such elucidation is the key to predicting and understanding natural systems.”

“Resource managers need reliable scientific information to effectively manage plant communities and ecological processes. Because abundant data are available in a wide variety of qualities, managers must extract relevant information from the body of knowledge to address management decisions. Additional factors contribute to the dilemma that managers face as they attempt to incorporate scientific knowledge into management decisions: much of the available information is contradictory or inconsistent, and many scientists still attempt to provide mechanistic explanations about ecosystem function based on descriptive research. This latter tendency has trapped scientists into making predictions about things they cannot predict. Adherence to scientific principles, including hypothesis-testing, will improve communication between resource managers and scientists while increasing the credibility of both groups.”

The capstone for my work on the links between the development of reliable knowledge (i.e., science) and the application of that knowledge (i.e., management) came with one of two books published in 2003. This is perhaps the most respectable of my books by the academic elite who review my publications on a regular basis. It grew from a course I developed and taught for several years.

“Some readers will undoubtedly argue that managers are not interested in hearing about ecologists’ problems, and vice versa. Although we fear this may be true, we assume that progressive managers and progressive scientists are interested in understanding problems and contributing to their solution. Indeed, progressive managers ought to be scientists, and progressive scientists ought to be able to assume a manager’s perspective. As such, effective managers will understand the hurdles faced by research ecologists, and the trade offs associated with the different methods used to address issues of bias, sample size, and so on. Managers and scientists will be more effective if they understand science and management. How better to seek information, interpret scientific literature, evaluate management programs, or influence research than to understand and appreciate ecology and management?”

The other book published in 2003 marked the end of my work on global climate change. By the time this book was published, I believed we had passed the tipping point with respect to global climate change, that we were doomed to extinction at our own hand. Ever the optimists, we structured the book as if we could prevent that fate, or at least forestall it.

“Human-induced change in global environments is one of the most important and timely topics facing society. As the effects of human activities on Earth’s climate, sea levels, and ecosystems become more apparent in the coming decade, global change issues likely will become even more important to global citizens the their governmental representatives.”

“One important aspect of global change is the potential response of terrestrial ecosystems to changing environmental conditions. Anthropogenic increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration have both direct and indirect ramifications for natural ecosystems: global increases in carbon dioxide may stimulate plant growth, but they will also increase surface temperatures and change precipitation regimes. Considerable research has described the effects of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration and expected increases in temperature on ecosystems, but little research has focused on changes in the amount of seasonality of precipitation anticipated in the next few decades.”

“In short, scientific understanding and effective management of plant species and communities in the face of climate change will depend on our ability to accurately predict their response to different biotic and abiotic driving variables. This in turn will depend on a mechanistic understanding of individual and combined species response to resource limitations under changing environments. To this end, several large-scale field experiments have been designed to assess the physical and biological mechanisms that may control the effects of changes in precipitation regimes on individual plants, plant populations, and plant communities and their ecosystems. However, in contrast with carbon dioxide and surface temperature research — the sole focus of many books, journals, and scientific meetings — there has been no central forum for the discussion of information about this newly breaking arena of global change research.”
We fixed that problem, for all the good it did.

I took a job with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) at the cutting edge of development and application of scientific knowledge: I helped create, and then administered, a program for postdoctoral scholars. But the gig with TNC made me realize how fantastic life in the academy can be, so I decided to return to the life and students I love. Before I could make a graceful exit, though, I hung around in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area drowning in self-induced misery. One result was my only book-length work of fiction, written as therapy.

I strongly recommend writing as therapy. It’s so much cheaper than a shrink, or even a drink. But I do not recommend attempting to get the resulting drivel published. Consider, for example:
“‘Remember to call the nurse,’ Diane had said as we headed for our respective offices this morning. Dr. Weisner’s nurse had left a message on our answering machine regarding results of my recent blood work. Of course I had remembered. Six or seven times, in fact. But frequent interruptions ensured that I had forgotten an equal number of times. I grab the telephone and call before I can forget again.”

“After working steadily through the maze of choices and enduring a scratchy recording of Glenn Miller’s orchestra for several painful minutes, I am rewarded with a harried human voice.”

“‘Hi, this is Gary Peterson. I’m returning a call from Dr. Weisner’s nurse, Judy.'”

“‘Please hold, sir.’ More Glenn Miller. I review my e-mail messages, deleting half of the thirty messages that arrived overnight without reading them. I’ve got to unsubscribe from two or three of these journalism listserves that I never find time to read. I wouldn’t be averse to getting rid of e-mail altogether, as it’s become one more step on the road to replacing things that are important with those that are urgent. Bob Matthews peers into my open door, sees I’m on the telephone, and disappears before I have a chance to catch him. My patience is wearing thin when the human voice return. ‘Judy is not here today, sir.'”

“‘Okay, what about Dr. Weisner?’ My question is rewarded with a sudden click and more Glenn Miller. I retrieve my notes for today’s class from my briefcase. They seemed organized, logical and timely when I finished them late last night. In the harsh light of day, they appear considerably less brilliant. Maybe it’s Glenn Miller’s influence.”

“‘Sir?’ The voice seems surprised I’m still on the line.”

“‘Yes,’ I reply.”

“‘Dr. Weisner is not here, either.'”

“‘Okay, I’m just calling about the results of some blood tests. Judy left a message for me yesterday, indicating they were ready. Perhaps you can tell me?'”

“‘One minute, please.’ The voice is gone before I can reply. The big band sound of Glenn Miller scratches and squawks through the earpiece. Until today, I had no firm sentiment about Glenn Miller and his orchestra. A single telephone call, thus far characterized by few words, has irreparably destroyed my opinion of his music.”

“‘Sir?’ The voice makes no attempt to disguise her astonishment at the persistence. I can’t help thinking that she’s probably impressed by my tolerance for the raspy horns.”

“‘Yes, I’m still here,’ I reply with all the patience I can muster.”

“‘Dr. Weisner and Judy are on vacation.'”

“‘Both of them?'”

“‘Yes. They’ll be back in two weeks.’ I try to recall the last time I took a two-week vacation. I suspect it was during my sabbatical leave, three years ago.”

“‘Okay, perhaps you can help me,’ I repeat my request, which she ignored previously.”

“‘I would have to look at your chart,’ the voice says, seemingly unsettled by the prospect.”

“‘Yes, I suppose so.’ My response is followed by silence. No click. No Glenn Miller, thankfully. Just silence. ‘Hello?'”

“‘Oh, no, sir. I can’t look at your chart.'”

“‘Okay, that’s fine,’ I lie. ‘Can anybody there look at it? Perhaps another doctor?’ Even as I speak the words, I’m fearful they’ll be rewarded with scratchy blasts from my new least-favorite orchestra.”

“‘No, sir. Only Dr. Weisner and Judy can look at your chart.'”

“‘Wow, that’s an interesting policy,’ I muse aloud. I suspect the voice doesn’t share my opinion, so I feel the perverse need to offer an explanation. ‘What if the message was, “You have two days to live?” I’ll be expired nearly two weeks before Judy returns my call.’ Silence. Perhaps the voice is thinking. Perhaps she’ll even offer assistance now that I’ve survived the gauntlet and presented a compelling argument. ‘Hello?'”

“‘Only Dr. Weisner and Judy can look at your chart.’ So much for assistance.”

“‘Okay,’ I sigh in resignation. ‘Let’s assume that Judy is coming back and that I’m still alive when she does. Will you have her give me a call?'”

“‘Yes, sir. Will that be all?'”

“‘Sure. Unless you’ve got some Glenn Miller tunes I haven’t heard yet.’ Silence. ‘Hello?’ More silence. Apparently she hung up. Not that I blame her. I’d hang up on me too. Undaunted, I speak into the silence. ‘No? I guess I’ve heard his entire repertoire?’ It certainly seems that way.”
Not exactly War and Peace, eh?
As the novel was dutifully seeking a publisher, I changed careers from ecologist to conservation biologist and then to social critic. The change led to a book intended for the general public. This book, and shorter pieces of social criticism, made me realize how little society thinks of social critics. Seems nobody in society actually appreciates my criticism. Who knew?

“The evidence is simply overwhelming: The American Dream, as understood and pursued by most Americans, is killing the natives. Native cultures, native languages, and native species are vanishing from the planet at an alarming rate as a consequence of our unrelenting pursuit of the American Dream. The collective actions of 300 million Americans, procreating and shopping as if there is no tomorrow, are bringing us ever closer to the fate we’re forcing onto others. The consequences grow worse with each passing day, and — contrary to what you’re told by your government, your religious leaders, and the media — our actions pose a grave threat to you and your children.”

“This is not a doomsday book. If I was not optimistic, I could not write this book. Rather than claiming that the sky is falling and there is nothing we can do about it, this book is articulates the significant challenges we face and describes a set of solutions. Any genuine attempt to solve substantial problems must be followed by mental clarity and honesty if we are to solve them.”
Undaunted by societal disinterest and the occasional bit of hate mail, I continued my career as a social critic with a collection of letters to early-career academics. Consider, for example, these passages:

“As I have written in a previous book, American-style capitalism can be viewed as the pinnacle of mass murder. Consider the resource-extractive industries that produce much of the world’s pollution while impeding social justice (large oil and mining companies top the list, but American-style capitalism rewards the many corporations that follow their leads). These are the companies that destroy native cultures and species for the sake of financial gain (though to be fair, they wouldn’t be capable of these egregious transgressions without considerable support from the multitude of consumers in American society). Because they have the cash, these companies fund big-money research, the results of which further ensure their continued financial dominance on the global stage. Like hounds on the trail of chubby, dawdling rabbits, colleges and universities chase these companies in hot pursuit of gold. The incessant siren of commerce drowns out the occasional squawk of a sacrificial golden goose. Collateral damage is widely accepted in the bloody battle for short-term financial security.”

“I will be the first to register when I see an advertisement for the conference of my dreams. This conference focuses on the collapse of industrial ‘civilization.’ Such a collapse would wreak havoc on my 403(c), my 401(k), and my IRA. But it might save a few of the species and cultures that have managed to elude our iron fist, and that’s worth much more than the few dollars in my retirement funds.”

“But the rewards [of the professoriate] are supreme. You are allowed to live a life of leisure, in the historical sense: You choose the work you do. Through the lives of your students, you experience life and death the wonderful emotional roller coaster of youth. As such, you can choose to remain forever young, if only vicariously. You have opportunities to serve as a mentor. And, if you are worthy and fortunate, somebody might endow you with that noblest of distinctions by calling you, ‘teacher.'”

Shortly after publication of the self-indulgent collection of letters, I returned to my roots in fire ecology with a book co-authored by a graduate student. We make a nice team, if I do say so myself, because of my expertise in fire ecology and hers in fire policy. It’s more than that, of course, because I cannot stop myself from social criticism:

“As we write this in early 2007, we acknowledge that we might well be accused of fiddling while Rome burns. In the face of massive challenges that face our country, seemingly on every domestic and foreign issue, it has been difficult to focus on such a narrow, even apparently arcane, topic. We suggest, though, that the solutions we present here have the potential for much broader dilemmas. A problem seems insurmountable when we, as a nation, are unable to see the whole of it. In light of our incomplete knowledge, the perfect solution we seek is unattainable; meanwhile, we hold in our hands the very tools needed to mitigate the problem and reach a compromise solution. Perhaps as we learn to live with fire, we can learn to seek moderate solutions in other realms as well. We certainly hope so.”

My final book will be published this June, and perhaps even distributed this year (but I’m not betting on it). My contribution to this edited collection, in addition to wrangling authors and editing, includes lines such as these:

“The human role in extinction of species and degradation of ecosystems is well documented. Since European settlement in North America, and especially after the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, we have witnessed a substantial decline in biological diversity of native taxa and profound changes in assemblages of the remaining species. We have ripped minerals from the Earth, often bringing down mountains in the process; we have harvested nearly all the old-growth timber on the continent, replacing thousand-year-old trees with neatly ordered plantations of small trees; we have hunted species to the point of extinction; we have driven livestock across almost every acre of the continent, baring hillsides and facilitating massive erosion; we have plowed large landscapes, transforming fertile soil into sterile, lifeless dirt; we have burned ecosystems and, perhaps more importantly, we have extinguished naturally occurring fires; we have spewed pollution and dumped garbage, thereby dirtying our air, fouling our water, and contributing greatly to the warming of the planet; we have paved thousands of acres to facilitate our movement and, in the process, have disrupted the movements of thousands of species. One could argue that a fundamental problem is not that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but that the road to hell is paved. We have, to the maximum possible extent allowed by our intellect and never-ending desire, consumed the planet. In the wake of these endless insults to our only home, perhaps the biggest surprise is that so many native species have persisted, thus allowing our continued use and enjoyment.

“If we accept that humans played a pivotal role in loss of species and degradation of ecosystems, we face a daunting moral question: How do we reverse these trends?”

I write for many reasons. I started writing books strictly out of selfishness. I took a stab at self-indulgent novelist along the way. Eventually, I moved into the realm of compassionate social critic, initially with the intent of saving civilization, then with the goal of extending the lives of people who would take my words to heart. All in all, my published output has been quite modest. And it’s been relevant only to me and a small handful of readers who use my work as one of many pieces of a very large puzzle. Looking back with the superior vision of hindsight, I wouldn’t do it again. As E.B. White pointed out, “Writing is hard work and bad for the health.”

With that in mind — and cognizant of the hypocrisy of being human — if the industrial economy had a few years left, I would write a memoir, and perhaps another novel. But instead of writing mediocre, self-absorbed, little-read books, I’ll spend the next few years reading some good ones.

Comments 27

  • I, for one, hope you change your mind and decide to keep on writing. The world needs all the good voices it can get. While I disagree sharply with you on the nature of the inevitable changes in store in the near future, yours is a voice that ought to be heard, as widely as possible.
    So get to work on that memoir, I say.

  • I was oblivious to your many ‘modest’ accomplishments,
    (quite astonishing).
    This realizattion has given added gravitas to your
    central message.
    Jokes aside I think I need a bigger swiss army knife!
    The biosphere and the blogosphere for that matter
    needs more of you not less.

  • I’ll second all the other opinions. Or third them, anyway. I agree.

  • Me too——-but when the Nepotistic Nattering Nephew,Mad matt,and Crabby Charlene all agree on something should we be concerned ?
    However today is my birthday,so I’m feeling kind and generous and will agree with their comments.Hell,I’d agree even if it wasn’t my birthday.

  • Actually, there is a lot I agree with other commenters on…
    And happy birthday. Just don’t burn down the house with the candles. I learned that one the hard way once, in trying to give a birthday party. Let’s just say, after about 35ish it isn’t a good idea to cover the cake with the exact number of individual candles to match the person’s actual age–especially if the candles are trick candles and aren’t really meant to be blown out…
    And, I have to say…alliterative qualities aside, Crabby Charlene? Really? Crabby?
    Cantankerous? Sometimes. Cuckoo? Fair enough. But crabby? It brings to mind someone beset by irritable bowel syndrome, someone suffering venereal lice, or a little of both. Thankfully, I am not troubled by either of the aforementioned ailments.

  • Charlene:
    I defer to your superior wisdom–Cantankerous Charlene it is !!
    Thanks for the birthday wishes.

  • Question for Guy:
    Considering that it is your hope (Be it real or imagined on my part) that our extravagant way of life come crashing down to save the various very edible species, why is it that I have read some of your posts to be that we should switch to alternative energies? Bear in mind that the vast majority of these alternative energy technologies either pollute more than fossil fuels (Major solar and the joke of ethanol), or take more energy to create (oil) than they could, or would ever produce. (Wind power springs to mind) If I’m in error in my readings, please correct me.
    I guess to distill my ramblings into one concise question: Why advocate alternative when burning the oil, hell for leather, would get us where you want us that much faster and with less impact on the Earth? Is it that you’ve decided that there’s going to be no help from us, so to hell with them?
    Weirdly enough I’m in the Washington DC area right now, sitting in a very posh hotel (at your expense) looking at the Washington Memorial as I write this. It’s quite distant though. Too bad, even though the weather outside is rather crappy, I still love the view of the Washington from the Lincoln memorial across the reflecting pool.
    And Frank, guess what day of the week yesterday was! Alexandria barely contained and survived my pillage! Also there’s a bar where an Irish guy sings songs about the “Black and Tans” and “Alice” with a good dose of “Finnegan.” I’ve found a new vex for my feeble mind, and I can’t stop singing, “‘Booze, booze’ the firemen cried as they came knocking at the door!” and occasionally burst out with, “Someone shouted Mcintyre!!!”
    God help me…

  • Excellent question, Turboguy. If you’ve read some of my older work, in particular, you’ll notice I started out trying to save civilization, including the switch to alternatives (i.e., derivatives). In 2007, more or less, I realized civilization is irredeemable, and began to call for bringing it all down. This includes burning oil as rapidly as possible, because conservation is a joke (within this generation, somebody will use the oil we “save”). Occasionally a bit of pessimism creeps into my writing, and I mistakenly indicate we can organize or innovate our way out of this mess. After all, even Frank made that one mistake, not more than 30 years ago. When I read from my books yesterday (an exercise I’ll repeat this afternoon), I was quite clear about where we’re headed, and that a rapid voyage back to the stone age is good news. Oddly, not everybody in the audience was happy about it.

  • Ah yes.I love a good Irish bar.What is the name of that great,legendary one at the foot of State Street in Boston? The Grafton Street off Harvard Square in Cambridge brings back fond memories.Had corned beef and cabbage last nite at my American Legion Post here.

  • To answer my question above: The Black Rose on State Street in Boston.They have photos of 7 of the 15 executed by the British behind the bar.
    The Black Rose is not to be missed be you ever in Boston.

  • If you like Irish bars, I recommend the book McCarthy’s Bar. It’s a really fun read, even for teetotalers.
    I really miss living in the DC burbs. I spent so many weekends and summers in the National Mall. Isn’t it about time for the Cherry Blossom Festival, too? Lucky!

  • Which burb Charlene? I successfully got lost in Anacostia about a year ago when I missed that 295 exit. I spent about an hour trying to find an entrance onto the highway. That is *NOT* a good part of town… I Started out at Mackey’s, just south of the National Mall on “L” street, wound up in Laurel with a very beautiful, yet totally out of my league woman, then found myself in “Old Town” Alexandria at the movie theater with that same girl, then on to Murphy’s on King street. If you spent a lot of time around these parts, you’re probably reliving a couple memories. I had a very good time.
    Actually since St Patricks day is Tuesday, it’s going to pretty much be bedlam around these parts.
    I’ve never been there Frank. Been to Boston, but not that spot. I’m going to have to remember it.
    Guy, I believe the only irredeemable people are those too busy keeping their hands over their eyes to see the reality staring them in the face. The same ones that think there’s going to be a recovery based on… whatever they’re trying to think up, trying to borrow our way out of a recession/depression, and failing that flooding the economy with two trillion dollars in worthless fiat money.

  • We were in Columbia, MD which is about 42 minutes north of DC for many years and then moved to a popular historical district in MD. Definitely not so close as Alexandria, but I know exactly where you’re talking about! Before that, we were up in NJ, but I don’t have a lot of memories of NJ–I was just a squirt then.
    Dad always worked defense contracts, etc. (still does…loved the Bush years) & mom was in the navy. Did ocs in VA. Kind of why I was a little disappointed the usaf didn’t want me so much (I’m 1/4 the loon she is), but GOOD NEWS, I’ve found a nursing program I can fast track through (and work during).
    Not to barge in, but wanted to say: There are redeemable people out there, maybe not the majority, but there are some. There’s always hope for people willing to work hard and roll with the punches. The ones who felt entitled were always screwed, they just didn’t have the wherewithall to know it.

  • Total Turboguy:
    You didn’t give yourself a single “exclam” on your 1st posting today–but you took 3 at
    12:17 today.How did you go from zero to 3 in one day ?

  • Turboguy, please do not distort my words. I did not say, and do not believe, that people are irredeemable. Civilization is irredeemable, not the people comprising it. If I thought even a thin minority of people were irredeemable, I would not spend a large part of my time in various facilities of incarceration.

  • Professor Guy:
    You shouldn’t criticize Total Turboguy on substance.As I said before here,form is more important than substance.Form instructs one on a person’s underlying thoughts–where a person is really coming from.I criticized Total for being immodest,so on his very next posting he left the exclam (chess term for “exclamation”) off after his name.
    However on his next posting he gave himself 3 (THREE) exclams.This then gives us an insight into his soul–far more important than a mere substantive disagreement on the meaning of words.His was a Freudian slip,an insight into his subconscious.This is what we need to help him on.

  • What is civilization if not the people? Those that decide not to take their own survival into their own hands *are irredeemable. These are the the ones that would just as happily build their houses on a river flood plain, then act surprised when the water floods them out and scream that it’s everyone else’s fault their house is trashed. I apologize for the mischaracterization, and understand your position, I guess I connected people and civilisation as one and the same. Call me cynical, but I just think some people are beyond help.

  • The whole is more than the sum total of its parts. Or, in this case, the whole is more of a mess than the individual parts can be blamed for…
    As for some people being beyond help, all I have to do is think of my last trip to the big box store. I went there after 11pm to pick up some overthecounter thingamamedicine and some soda. I usually try to stay away from the big box, but it was a closer walk.
    There, on a Sunday night, were parents, in their pajamas, with their children, in their pajamas & barefoot, browsing the liquor section. The one little urchin was doing some kind of insane gymnastics routine in the cart while dad scoped the beer and the other two ran wild. I caught her just before she went head first into the linoleum and stayed with her until dad (or I assume this was dad) came back.
    Maybe I misread the situation, but from the appearance, I’d say that scenario belongs in the “beyond help” file.

  • Just curious, but what would you all name the current crisis?
    Headuprectum syndrome? Collective myopia? Or just the more mundane groupthink?

  • I like to think of it as fighting for comfort.
    The best analogy I can think of is horses running back into a burning barn because that’s what they know is comfortable. They’ll even fight to get back in there, tooth and nail. The barn is safe, it is what they know. They’ll fight to get back in there, oblivious to the fact that not getting out of it will surely mean their doom.
    When I say irredeemable, I mean these people that make a million dollars a year and are somehow living paycheck to paycheck. Those that Guy’s preparing to seperate himself from should a collapse become imminent. Would he be forced to take these steps were the vast majority redeemable in any way? I think not.
    Lastly those in places of incarceration: After a time spent there they, in my belief, *are* irredeemable as they’ve become totally institutionalized and will recidivate shortly after release and find themselves right back in the slammer. Some, like the sexual predators, are totally irredeemable from the beginning. These monsters have an upwards of a 95% recidivism rate. They will victimize someone else if/when they’re released. If the weather man comes on the television and says there’s a 95% chance of rain, what’s odds on going to happen? Would you play roulette with a revolver that’s got 100 cylinders and only five unloaded? Only a fool would take those odds, yet we as a socieety regularly play just such a game, releasing these people to victimize again and again.

  • Redemption is possible–there is hope.
    Total Turboguy is now down to just 1 (ONE) exclam after his name.I wish all you intellectuals on this site could understand how apposite this is an an insight into
    his personal epistemology.

  • As the less-published brother (with only a couple of books actually in print), I thought when I saw your blog title that you’d be citing an essay that I had once read and then forgotten until you reminded me of it, and which I actually mentioned in a response to a comment on my own blog a couple of days ago: George Orwell’s “Why I Write.” (http://www.orwell.ru/library/essays/wiw/english/e_wiw)
    Among my favorite lines:
    “Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money.” (As a former journalist, however, I’m not sure I agree that anyone is more vain than they are.)
    (About a historical impulse): “Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.”
    (About political purpose): “Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after.”
    By the way, congrats on the involvement with the writing program. Interestingly, I was just invited to take part in a panel next month as part of our region’s annual Get Lit! Festival–I’ll be on a panel discussing “recent and future trends in print and digital media” (http://outreach.ewu.edu/getlit/changing-media.xml?ee_id=188). I suppose it could be titled, and summarized as, “From bad to worse.”

  • Frank, Redemption in whose eyes?
    In God’s eyes?
    The government? The person was sent away, served his/her time, and repaid their debt to “Society?”
    To the people? Those that are forced to live in fear of being a victim?
    Or to the Victim themself? Ask a rape victim or child who was victimized sexually sometime if they’ll ever forgive their attacker. I’ll bet you’ll get a resounding, “NO!”
    The possibility of redemption is extremely small. So small that the risks of further crappy behavior far outweigh the possibilities.

  • ‘third person Frank’,
    thanks for the nick name, it has a Mel Gibson ring to it.
    (Road Warrior was called Mad Max here). However you have probably
    confused my failed attempts at levity; human tendency toward contradiction/ambivalence;
    workplace boredom; shit stirring;’piss taking’ at my own expense (uniquely australian chacteristic) with the loss of ones faculties. I wish! Ones worries would not be so real. I could take a pill and there would be ‘blue sky’. Reality’s brutality is unfortunately a great tonic. Of course one cannot vouch for ones own sanity! The wife often says she wishes she could have nervous breakdown so she could have a sleep in and a good lie down.
    A friend – a medical specialist, is currently completing another phd in immune deficiency and neurology. Anyway, very bright, they are on a happy pill, helps to take the edge off reality, the state of the enviroment gets them down. Somewhat conversely talking to the 76 old neighbour (ex journalist, publisher, enviro activist) has gone off the meds in consultation with his pyschiatrist – he has now given up his worries about the environment and peak oil, he has mentally passed the baton on to the
    younger generation – namely me. I did not have the heart to tell him that I was
    ambivalent about the prospects of the biosphere with humans at the helm.
    (side note – he interviewed Arne Naess and has an unpublished manuscript of his,
    whoever thought 76 year olds could be so interesting and intelligent!)
    The wife says its silly/crazy to let what you read to so deeply wound you that you
    need to be on medication. It made her somewhat angry at the thought of it.
    Ignorance is indeed bliss. My wife is the most engaging, funny and charismatic
    women you are ever likely to meet, what I can say opposites attract. She does not read
    the newspapers or watch the news. She often says to me how can you read that
    stuff? Peak oil etc, she says she will worry about it when it happens.
    In that vein given the content on some peak oil websites, (connecting the dots
    as Stan would say) one could be forgiven for taking the foetal position and/or taking
    a pill. Unfortunately for me passive smoking makes me dizzy and cough mixture makes me
    nauseous. Very low tolerance for drugs, the oblivion of 100km+ bike rides give me
    the respite I need. I do wonder what this discussion does to ones pysche or spiritual
    core.
    But I digress, I might add that your nation has a somewhat brittle pysche.
    This in evidence many times here.
    Guns, god, cultural inequities, insularity, ideological blindness
    and your aforementioned brittleness certainly does not bode well for
    your (orlov) ‘collapse’ and the massive adjustments that peak oil will require.
    I dont know about you guys but gee wiz I tire of my own opinion. Fortunately
    for the blogosphere the ‘experts’ dont tire so easily.
    As the wave of peak oil breaches the levee (american exceptionalism)
    may your larders be full
    thats is all, all the best, car free matt

  • You’re better off without the pills, anyway. Most of them come with a “potential side effect” of suicide attempts and suicidal ideation. Which I think is pretty humorous, though darkly so, for a happy pill.
    You’re better off on the bike. Your wife sounds like a nice lady. My husband doesn’t understand why I pay any attention to the news, either. Maybe they’re on to something.
    It’s shame America is the posterchild for everything that’s wrong with the whole of Western industrial culture…because really it’s Western culture that’s being called out into the street for a drubbing right now, with the US the first one out the door.

  • Turboguy
    I’m not defending anyone just bringing data to comments previously made.
    FYI from Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex_offender)
    “Sex offenders were less likely than non-sex offenders to be rearrested for any offense –– 43 percent of sex offenders versus 68 percent of non-sex offenders.”
    “Sex offenders were about four times more likely than non-sex offenders to be arrested for another sex crime after their discharge from prison –– 5.3 percent of sex offenders versus 1.3 percent of non-sex offenders.”
    “Of the 9,691 male sex offenders released from prisons in 15 States in 1994, 5.3% were rearrested for a new sex crime within 3 years of release.”
    Maybe jail is working (or at least not useless) for sexual offenders? Granted the rate should be zero if jail were completely perfect.

  • Anon, these figures are for all sex offenders. I was specifically referring to level 3 offenders, those that are deemed to be of extreme risk to society.
    1st degree sexual assault (With force including penetration) will get you a level 1 offender classification. It’s when they do it to children and show specific psychological traits that they are listed as “3’s.”