Answers, the Tenth (and maybe the last?)

All right, let’s get our nose off this particular grindstone, shall we?

Here’s the final question of the ones that were posed by various anonymous readers:

Is the middle class terminal? Assuming it is how do we convince people to strive if opportunity is not there? If we are not striving aren’t we just, well, breathing?

This is a question that I think about a lot. I honestly am not really sure, but I do wonder from time to time if the pace of technological improvement is going to render large parts of our economy obsolete. And then, what?

Manufacturing is going to become more and more automatic. I think most folks believe that our kids will live to see cars that drive themselves, and in fact, in a hundred years, our descendants may look back on us, shaking their heads, and say, “Can you believe they used to take control of two-ton vehicles and maneuver them in tight quarters at high speeds?!”

Putting the problem bluntly: What do we do if and when we reach a point where there simply isn’t enough work for people to do? Our entire economy is built on the idea: Someone with money determines that work needs done, and pays someone some of their money to do it. There really could be a time when there isn’t enough work for people. The natural question then is, then what? Can people be trusted to find things to do to occupy their time? Will they make work for themselves, as the growing artisal movements have? And will we (meaning, we as a species) be able to do enough of this sort of thing to keep our idleness from being a breeding ground for all of our usual hatreds and resentments?

I also worry a great deal about the current economic climate in the United States, which has been more and more tilted in the favor of funneling the nation’s wealth upward. So I don’t know if the middle-class is in “terminal” shape, but…there are some enormous challenges, and current policy seems to me utterly unlikely to meet them.

And then, we have…Roger. Roger, Roger, Roger!

what TV shows, movies, books, comic books, et al. have affected you in terms of your politics/geopolitical world view?

It’s interesting: I’m not entirely sure that a lot of the fiction I’ve experienced has affected my worldview all that much. I suppose it would have to, but I’m not readily coming up with any great examples of books or movies or whatever that made me think, “Wow! What a wonderful expression of liberalism!”

I know, I know: The West Wing. But in a recent re-watch of the first 3.5 seasons of the show (I petered out right about when the slow-leak in Sorkin’s balloon, which started in Season Three, finally let all the air out completely in Season Four), I found that the show isn’t quite as liberal as most think. Sure, the administration and most of the main characters are Democrats, but many of the Republicans in the show are not depicted as fire-breathing demons, and it’s actually pretty surprising how often it’s the conservative argument that ends up winning the day. Liberalism is mostly depicted on The West Wing as an idealistic world view, and many times, a character will give a full throated expression of some liberal idea only to have to concede that it’s just impossible or unwieldy or unaffordable or something similar.

It’s not so much my liberalism that’s informed about my approach to fictional properties, then…but my more general sense of right and wrong, and my feel of optimism for our future as a species. That is influenced hugely by a lot of science fiction, such as Star Trek and, yes, Star Wars, even though the latter is more mythic in approach and doesn’t depict a “future” at all. But I like tales that suggest that we do have a bright future as a species, that we’re not just doomed to do our thing on this planet until something happens and we all die, leaving only a few space probes in the dark as evidence of the things we once did. Peter F. Hamilton is an author who is good at this; so was Iain Banks. I get a bit of this from John Scalzi, too, although his future tends to be more violent.

Have you ever participated in a buycott, rather the opposite of a boycott, in which you buy some product or service to support someone whose values you admire?

I have to confess that I try to do this, but it’s not always the easiest thing to do in the world. Often the businesses that are really admirable are hard to access (lots of driving), or they’re more expensive (luckily, this is becoming a bit less of a concern for me these days), or…well, that sort of thing. I do feel the need to do more of that, especially since it’s so often very easy to not do business with companies whose values I find ugly or abhorrent.

If I’m to believe what I watch on FOX News, the white man feel mighty oppressed in America! Why is that?

Well, by way of a short answer, the world they’ve always known is changing, and that can be scary. Things are getting difficult that weren’t always difficult, and things are getting easy for “The Other” — whomever your particular “other” happens to be — in a way that they have not been. Simplistic answer, I know, but I really think that covers it.

What is your opinion of the Presidential Medal of Freedom nominees?

Hmmmm. First, by way of definition (via Wikipedia):

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is an award bestowed by the President of the United States and is—along with the comparable Congressional Gold Medal bestowed by an act of U.S. Congress—the highest civilian award in the United States. It recognizes those individuals who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors”.[3] The award is not limited to U.S. citizens and, while it is a civilian award, it can also be awarded to military personnel and worn on the uniform.

Here is the roster of this year’s honorees:

Ernie Banks
Ben Bradlee
Bill Clinton
Daniel Inouye
Daniel Kahneman
Richard Lugar
Loretta Lynn
Mario Molina
Sally Ride
Bayard Rustin
Arturo Sandoval
Dean Smith
Gloria Steinem
Cordy Tindell “C.T.” Vivian
Patricia Wald
Oprah Winfrey

I don’t really have a problem with any of these, to be honest. All are important figures (even if I wasn’t familiar with a few of the names — more info on each at I don’t see anyone on the list whose contributions I consider trite or silly. It’s tempting, maybe, to think so of the sports figures, but sport is such a central part of American culture and identity, for better or worse, that to ignore it for things like this would seem odd. It’s always hard with awards like this, because frankly, for every person out there, there’s another person who can tell you either why they should or should not receive an award like this. These are all remarkable, important Americans, though, as far as I’m concerned.

This is less question than request: could you write a verse of song/poetry about the end of you finishing writing something. The thing I had in mind was for you to write something called “Put a Fork in It” to Beyonce’s “Put a Ring on It”, but you can pick another title as long as it’s to a widely recognizable song.

OK…well, this is weird…huh…well, here goes. And before any of you rip me to pieces over this, I’m coming up with this right now, as I write this, off the top of my head. So yeah, it probably sucks.

(To the tune of the Discovery Channel song)

The book is finished,
The manuscript is done,
The plot is wrapped up,
And man, I had some fun!

I love to write books,
It’s what I’m here to do,
Boom de yada, boom de yada,
Boom de yada, boom de yada!

I think the book is good,
And so will all the world,
When it’s on the bookshelves
And my flag’s unfurled!

All folks will read it,
And fortune will be mine,
Boom de yada, boom de yada

sound of needle being dragged across record player. Music stops.

MAN WITH VOICE OF JAMES EARL JONES: Stop singing and write the next book, dumbass.

And with that, folks, I think we’re done with Ask Me Anything August 2013! Thanks for playing and being patient, and we’ll play again in February!

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3 Responses to Answers, the Tenth (and maybe the last?)

  1. Roger Owen Green says:

    I LOVE that you did that last one in particular. Thanks muchly. Damn, only 4 months til the next one and nothing on my list yet…

  2. Earl says:

    I wonder if the creative folks don't understand or appreciate just how unique it is for people to keep themselves occupied without being directed to do so. Do artists think that what works for you will work for the rest of the species? Free time will NOT be a boon for many of us.

    People must be kept occupied this is how you arrest the virus that we call mankind. Inebriation, sloth-driven retardation, creative or altruistic alternatives are useless. Band aids. Every major revolution or uprising was carried out by young people with too much time on their hands.

    In the 1950's the new millenium was forcasted to be an era of leisure.Instead we work more than ever. It could be the era of leisure if we lived by the same standards that used to satisfy us in the 50's but our demands increased and we want more. We want bigger better etc.

    Is this a function of greed or a function of survival for the virus that is us?

  3. Kelly Sedinger says:

    Earl: Like I said, that's what scares me. I don't know WHAT people will do when the robots are doing most of the stuff. We're really gonna need a solution to that one.

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