Have you ever said to yourself, “I made myself breakfast.”
This morning, I made myself breakfast, and the picture below is what was left. A few shreds of sauerkraut and one moldy blueberry.
The complete breakfast included an English Muffin, Peanut Butter, blueberries, kale, sauerkraut, two garlic-stuffed olives, and a cup of coffee with cream and sugar.
I made myself breakfast.
But did I?
In this picture you see a plate, a fork, and a napkin. Not only did some person initially come up with idea, but hundreds of people vastly improved the making of pottery and silverware and napkins. These particular items probably travelled many miles and were touched by many people’s work before they ended up in my possession. I can afford them because we live in a peaceful, mainly cooperative society. I certainly couldn’t make them on my own. And if they were made the way that they were a thousand years ago, only royalty could afford them.
The wooden tray? That too shows obvious signs of change over the years from the time one of our ancestors decided to eat off a half-log. You might see some lettering. The tray says, “LET IT SNOW!” None of the other things mentioned above would have been possible without the invention and improvement to language.
So far, my “self-made breakfast” involves thousands of ancestors who made any of this possible.
My “self-made breakfast” also involves thousands of contemporaries from around the world who cooperated to bring these particular items to the San Diego area.
We haven’t even gotten to the food.
Let’s take the English Muffin, just as an example. Some of our ancestors might well have procreated and then “tried out” something as a possible food but guessed wrong and died. They figured out which grains could be eaten, how to grow them, how to harvest them more effectively than to shell one seed at a time; how to make flour; how to bake bread. In my case, there’s another whole line of inquiry related to the discovery of electricity and its taming and distribution so that I can toast my English muffins. There are similar hundreds of our fellow human beings (and their supportive communities) who were involved in today’s peanut butter, today’s sauerkraut, garlic stuffed olives and so on.
Once again, there are not only countless people from all over the world who were involved in the development of these food items. There are thousands of people from all over the world who helped get these particular items to our kitchen.
It’s also true that if I’d been brought up by wolves, I wouldn’t know how to access or use any of these items. Not only that, my life has been saved numerous times by modern medicine. But “modern medicine” didn’t just drop out of the sky one day. None of these modern luxuries popped up like a mushroom. People worked hard and thought hard in order to all me to have a nice breakfast. However, it would be more accurate to say:
Here’s the context of the sonnet below. It is written by a sixteen year old fictional character who is nerdy, smart, and a bit on the Asperger’s spectrum. He’s also not a very experienced poet. But what I try to show is that he improves a little as he goes, falling back to teenhood toward the end of the poem. Why doesn’t he just keep improving? Because when he gets close to the true nature of love in lines 7-11, he realizes if he keeps going with this, he will be changed forever. He’s giving up partial control of his life to someone else. And it scares him so he backs off from that and just tries to show off how he can write a sonnet and be cool and funny.
Ultimately, I may or may not include the poem in the novel. If I do, I’d be inclined to add the inner dialogue of the Main Character as he’s creating the poem. I can see it getting too tedious for the reader. By the way, Edgar Allan Poe wrote a lengthy and detailed design rationale for “The Raven.” Notwithstanding that fact, there are many other folks who have a different interpretation. That’s fine. But it does remind me that if I do write a design rationale, it’s not as though everyone will say, “Oh, well that’s that then. The author has gone and told us what he meant and why he did what he did. What more to be said?”
And, of course, people do go on and there is more to be said because we know intuitively that none of us knows our complete design rationale. Others see patterns in our behavior that offer quite different hypotheses about why we do what we do. It doesn’t mean that they are right and we are wrong, but it does offer an opportunity to learn—about them as well as ourselves.
Note to reader: Bobby Thompson may or may not appear as a fictional character in a novel which might or might not be titled, “Alan’s Nightmare.” His role in said novel is as the head of PR for Coastal University.
“Gene Poole here and this is “The Character’s Studio” where every week we interview a character about their life, their hopes and dreams, and their current gig. After the interview, those of you in the studio audience—aspiring characters from as yet unwritten works of art—will have a chance to ask questions as well. Our guest today is Bobby Thompson, who right now is playing a part in John Charles Thomas’s novel, tentatively titled, Alan’s Nightmare. Bobby, thank you for joining us today. My first question, as always, is simply why you decided to get into the business of being a character in a novel?”
Bobby scanned through his repertoire of canned responses; found nothing appropriate and, for the first time, in months, made up something on the spur of the moment. “Well, Gene, in high school, English was my best subject. I hated science, math, and history. French and German involved memorizing a lot of crazy stuff. In college, I did okay in my business and psychology courses but didn’t have the grades to go for an MBA. My Dad knew a guy from his fraternity and got me a great summer internship with Lawrence, Rich, Green. By coincidence, my Dad was a big client of theirs. So, I made the most of every opportunity and I guess you could say I’m that typical self-made man you hear so much about in America. One of our clients was the brand new—at that point—California State Coastal University and they took me on for their PR point person.”
Gene said, “OK, but surely you mean that the author put you there. Not the University. That was the setting, not the cause.”
Bobby frowned. “Well,” he said, “I suppose you might look at it that way.” Then, he added, “From your perspective it might seem as though the author creates the world. But I think we in the fictional world create–or at least alter–the author.”
Gene nodded and continued with, “So, leaving metaphysics aside, you worked as an actual PR person for a college. What do you do there?”
“I mostly manage. I don’t really know a whole lot about PR. But we do have a pretty good undergraduate major in PR so I mainly delegate to our work-study interns. It’s my way of giving back to the community. Because I was an intern myself not so long ago. I’m younger than I look. It puts me in contact with younger people too. Younger women. And men. As they always say, ‘hard bodies and soft minds.’ I like it. Anyway, we keep the website up to date. We put out brochures. We also have a small budget for product placement of the University as a whole. And, of course, we put out fires. In some ways, that’s the most important part of the job. Now, you take this whole ado over AI. Some folks are extremely upset about AI and we have AI research right here at Coastal. So, my interns have prepared a set of talking points about AI. I try to keep the professors on script, but you know—they’re academics so they don’t pay much attention to staying on script. They like to ad lib. First rule of PR is don’t ad lib! Worse, they try to answer questions! Can you imagine? Second rule of PR is never ever ever answer their question. Answer the question you wished they asked you.”
Gene’s brow furrowed. “Can you give an example?”
Bobby smiled and he became more animated. “Sure! That’s what I do best! So, say some reporter asks, ‘Aren’t you worried about AI taking jobs away from humans?’ If you answer ‘yes’, you’re screwed. If you answer ‘no’, you’re also screwed. If you say, ‘I won’t answer your question, you’re doubly screwed. Instead, you expound on one of your talking points. ‘Mr. Reporter, have you ever worked on an assembly line, lifting up heavy metal, turning your head and torso into an ungainly position so you can check something, turning a screw with your arm in this awkward position? Can you imagine doing that three times a minute? Day after day? Week after week? Month after month? No? Well, imagine it. Your body gets broken. Your mind gets numb. You come home from work and you scream at the kids and the wife and before long you’re drinking too much. Obviously, that will fix everything. In fact, did you know that life expectancy in this country is actually falling? Mostly from obesity, drugs, and suicides. And why? Mindless jobs more suited for robots and AI systems’.”
Bobby’s body became animated, his gestures growing larger and faster. “See what I mean? AI is no longer a problem leading to unemployment. No. AI is a solution. That’s what happens when people stick to the script I prepare for them.”
“Interesting. What do you really think about AI personally, Bobby?”
“Me? I don’t have any opinion about it. I just want to make sure the University’s name is not besmirched by it. Or by anything else.”
Gene nodded. “I see. Well, do you have any advice for the folks out there considering becoming a character in a novel?”
Bobby frowned and rolled his eyes for a time before answering. “I guess the main thing is never lose sight of who you really are. Work hard. Don’t commit to a position before you find out which way your boss is leaning, obviously. That’s about it.”
Gene asked, “Do you think you’ll stay in the novel where you currently reside or will you look for other opportunities?”
“Oh, I’m definitely open to other opportunities. Maybe working for Big Pharma or Big Oil. That’s where the real money is.”
Gene continued, “Do you know anything about those industries?”
Bobby answered quickly, “Oh, my no. Nor AI for that matter. I’ve found that subject matter expertise just totally gets in the way. Get your 5-10 talking points figured out and never stray from those and you’ll do great in PR.”
Gene asked, “One final question: what is your favorite string of 25 or more curse words?”
Turing’s Nightmares comprises 23 short stories about AI and can be found on Amazon in paperback or e-book. http://tinyurl.com/hz6dg2d
So, our instructor assigned us to write a story with a strong emphasis on irony. Mine is about a hypothetical future American tragedy of a coup financed and designed by the Kremlin. By way of summary, this is how it related to irony and I appended this to the story for the instructor’s edification.
“And, the most ironic part of the whole American tragedy was this: even though he spent his entire life conning others, it was beyond his ken to consider that Vlademort Putrid was likewise conning him. He had been lying and bragging so long about his competence in all things that he actually came to believe he was smarter and a better strategist than Putrid. Putrid likely could have done it alone. But, of course, he did not do it alone. Putrid had the collaboration of highly trained, highly dedicated KBG/GRU professionals to help.
“In principle, perhaps he could have enlisted American experts, but he didn’t feel the need. Furthermore, he faced a real dilemma. He couldn’t openly ask any but the corrupt for help against American interests. And those who were corrupt were generally far less competent and always less well connected to a healthy network of professionals than their more numerous and genuinely patriotic counterparts.
“I said that was the most ironic part of the whole American tragedy, but there are near contenders. Another highly ironic part of his entire con game was that the played the game as though the only thing in the universe that mattered was his own pleasure. Of course, no matter what moves he made or is yet to make, he is not actually immortal in and of himself. By lying to himself and everyone else, he essentially cut himself off from being part of The Great Tree of Life (or at least from being a non-cancerous part). Rather than living on through his actions that benefited the whole, he delimited his life, curtailed it, circumscribed it to his own physical mortality.
“The intertwined corollary of the above is that even while he lived, he missed out on the best feeling in life: being in caring and loving honest relationships. In order to absolutely and positively ensure that he grabbed as much as possible for himself, he limited his “prizes” to mere material crap and the pleasure of cruelty. “
So, this is how they responded:
“When it comes to being ironic, this is definitely A plus material.
However, sad to say, there are also some serious problems with your narrative. First, of all Americans are too well educated to fall for the lies of a known con man. And, why not simply make the character more believable? It’s not plausible that so many people would fall for the con. Apart from that, the cowardice you portray on the part of so many within his own party is also unbelievable.
Still, the mechanics of the writing was also clean, so I’m giving you a B+. Next time, focus on believability rather than forgoing that to punch the irony.”