August 9th, 2011


Dumbledore's Theory of Early Childhood Education

I was knitting and listening to Harry Potter on audiobook (I should be sleeping! Instead, not.) like a good geek girl tonight, because after seeing the final film I was filled with nostalgia for the first four books, the ones I actually liked. Stephen Fry reads them, and I gotta go with Vonnegut on this one because I was sitting in a plush chair with a glass of wine knitting azure lace and listening to a beautiful British man tell me a beautiful story and if that's not nice I don't know what is.

But it occurred to me, whilst listening to Harry's hilariously over the top horrible treatment by the Dursleys, that this whole plan of Dumbledore's really could have gone very wrong. Because while, yes, it is true that being raised by normal people (albeit awful and they did know the Dursleys were awful, it just fit into a vague handwavey wibbly wobbly timey wimey protection spell sort of thing) instead of in a nonstop fame factory MIGHT create a gentle, humble, sweet-natured boy, it could also, quite easily, create a sociopath.

I mean, seriously. The cupboard under the stairs? This is the kind of shit that makes serial killers. It's the banality of evil, and though Voldemort's childhood was impressively Dickensian/Bret Easton Ellisian, Harry's is pretty much textbook on how to break a little kid. And though many kids come out of abusive homes relatively even-keeled and stable if defensively cynical (I did) just as many come out permanently broken, unable to make meaningful connections or even understand the concept of love, and certainly unable to perform the All Important Magical Feat of Believing in Yourself, which is Required for all Protagonists. In fact, that is kind of a problem with a lot of abused children--the inability to see themselves as protagonists in their own lives and stories, since they were treated in formative personal epochs as NPCs at best, villains at worst, and usually some kind of horrible side character who needs to be put down for the good of the Real People, ie, the abusers and those they deem part of their tribe of worthies.

I certainly see that growing up famous, rich, and adored/believed to be super powerful and important by all is a great way to raise a Gossip Girl-style horrorshow of a person, and often kids who have been raised just couched in comfort and unconditional love with no chance to fail or struggle on their own can be listless and spoiled and generally the worst. Sorrow and trauma is what makes us complex and compassionate, the experience of it personally allows us to predict, empathize, wish to avoid, and desire to protect others from it, and thus most social interaction is made. But that doesn't mean that in order to make the Most Compassionate Child, the Superhero of Being Really Nice, you should just beat down and crush a kid underfoot.

Which is more or less what Dumbledore does, and everyone is horrified that he's doing it, but he is Gandalf the White and None Shall Argue. I get that he is Wise and Male and Has a Job in School Administration, but really? (Don't even get me started on the absurd importance of a single public school in that world--and I honestly think it is a public school and not private, within the wizarding world any child with magical ability can go, there doesn't seem to be tuition beyond basic supplies, and the government is SUPER INVOLVED in the running of the place. Anyway.) Seriously, that is a DICE ROLL, YO. It could have gone the other way. Harry could have made Draco look like a kitten with a daisy in his paw.

File off the names and serial numbers and this could, easily and with great tragic muscle behind it, be Voldemort's origin story.

Now, now, I know that Harry and Voldemort are meant to have a lot in common, there are intended parallels, but the fact that the Dursley Shuffle is done deliberately, pretty much to make Harry not turn out to be a shithead makes it sort of darkly hilarious to me. Yes, you can turn out Ok. I like to think I have. But Not Ok is on the table at all times with this sort of thing. It is always in play.

Because if you lock ten children under the stairs for the first eleven years of their lives, I'll bet you a Time Turner that you'll get four supervillains, three deeply wounded individuals so desperate for love they will do anything they're told to by the first person who hugs them, two completely shattered psyches incapable of meaningful speech, and one Harry Potter, a basically normal, gently dented boy who is good at sports, naturally likeable, and willing to sacrifice himself for the group of your choice.

Them's some long odds, D-man. Glad that worked out for you.

Michael Scott and the Economist's Stone

I think part of the habit of blogging--and it is a habit, one that can be developed and one that can be lost--is when you have a thought, writing it down before you forget it or decide it's dumb or get distracted by doing other things. Overthinking, but not so much you decide it's too much effort to write it all out, not so little that you have nothing to say.

I've been blogging for a decade--sometimes I'm better at posting and sometimes I'm worse, but when I'm worse it's inevitably because I've been saying: "I should post about that" a lot without posting. That and the sheer energy of essay writing can feel overwhelming when, say, you're on a book tour. This is where Twitter tends to come in, for me.

Blogging is not a dying art, really. It's just that most of the people who wanted to do it did it and are still doing it in their own sections of the internet or started and couldn't maintain it. New bloggers go for shorter and shorter posts, but there are still new Big Bloggers that crop up. It's just that, like any industry, the boom is over, and now it's tough to break in.

Which is all to say that I've been thinking about this series of essays all night and into the morning. So I'm going to post about it instead of idly Tweeting at midnight. Because it's a habit and you have to maintain it or it goes away. The piece is about The Office and actual management dynamics. Because the author is a genius but very bad at tagging (hey, me too, tagging is boring) and/or interlinking a series of essays, I will now pull them all together nicely for you.

The Gervais Principle: Part I
Part II: Posturetalk, Powertalk, Gametalk and Babytalk
Part III: The Curse of Development
Part IV: Wonderful Human Beings

Don't say I never did nothing for you, because this is sheer genius-level stuff. It's also one of those beautiful things that comes out of blogs--this isn't long enough to be a book, and in a magazine only a certain section of people would even read it--and it's too long for a magazine, really. But blogs give us these gems sometimes, and it blows me away.

So yes, this is about how actual offices work, actual companies, and it gives terminology to a very observable phenomenon. (Companies are run by sociopaths, managed by the clueless, and staffed by losers--not in the sense of them being social or psychological losers, but in the sense of having entered into a losing economic proposition, ie wage work, in order to obtain safety and benefits while finding life meaning elsewhere. All companies need the clueless section, but when it swells, as it inevitably does, to make up the mass of the company, the losers and the sociopaths depart for other shores, leaving a wreck behind to stutter along.) It also makes me realize why Jim is the most emotionally affecting character on the show--he is the only one who is becoming, rather than in a holding pattern. Ryan, too, I suppose, but Ryan is awful while Jim is a becoming labrador of a person. So whether he will become a player is interesting in a way that Ryan is not, because Ryan is all about being a player. Anyway.

The essay is also about how social capital is traded, a subject endlessly fascinating to me, and endlessly relevant to the blogosphere, which basically runs on social capital without personal presence/charisma to provide lighter fluid for it. Also, given the geek obsession with reputation economies, social capital in the geek world is almost on a level with actual capital at this point. Rao says all of this better than I, and it's his riff, so just go read it.

And then come back and think about how terrifyingly applicable this is to the Borders situation.

Seen through Rao's lens, this sad and compelling article is a textbook rundown of how a company that started out with sociopaths (founders) and losers (people willing to work low-wage jobs in order to be involved with books on some level and have that Empire Records style community, to make that bad economic but good social bargain) was eaten from the inside by the high-performing clueless until there was nothing left, not even a bargain for losers to make.

I find myself wondering how it applies to my world--which is ostensibly made up of many sociopaths (authors) working in isolation and then outsourcing all production to a (hopefully benevolent, sometimes not) company or companies (which have their own pyramids). But at cons I often feel that we are a distributed work team, and our product is science fiction and fantasy as a genre, as a whole. In which case, where do each of us fall in that joke-but-not-really-a-joke pyramid? Is it even applicable to us, given that we are independent contractors (yet also employed by huge corporations to greater and lesser extents depending on the number and depth of contracts at hand).

I suppose it's easy for me to find this kind of analysis fascinating instead of chilling because I'm lucky enough to not work in an office environment. But how humans behave is never not interesting, and I do so love connecting television and movies to the mythic and the real.

I'm curious what you all think of it, both in terms of the text of The Office and of Real Life (tm), and if you're an author, how you think it applies to our sphere.