Showing posts with label control. Show all posts
Showing posts with label control. Show all posts

Friday, April 12

Reading

 

Reading is a solitary activity that offers a sure guide to navigating society and our many relationships. 

In The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett, Queen Elizabeth, while chasing after her corgis, discovers a mobile library in a courtyard where she meets the librarian and the sole patron, a member of her kitchen staff. She welcomes a book suggestion from the young servant, Norman, and takes a liking to him while anticipating pushback from senior staff about her decision to read a book. “Hobbies involved preferences and preferences had to be avoided; preferences excluded people…. Her job was to take an interest, not to be interested herself.” Indeed, the senior advisors assure that they can brief her on any subject, but the Queen bristles: “briefing is not reading. In fact it is the antithesis of reading. Briefing is terse, factual and to the point… Briefing closes down a subject, reading opens it up.” 

Elizabeth promotes Norman to assist her in procuring books and regrets not reading more in her early years: “for the first time in her life she felt there was a good deal she had missed.” She describes herself as an opsimath, “one who learns only late in life.” Reading absorbs her, instigating new thinking and ideas. She loses enthusiasm for routines and duties – “what the Queen had not expected was the degree to which it drained her of enthusiasm for anything else.” 

Of course, palace staff terminate Norman, suggesting the queen has lost interest and arrange to fund his  college education. The staff then deceive the queen by explaining that Norman resigned to pursue his studies. While happy for him, Elizabeth sadly reflects how “sudden absences and abrupt departures had always been a feature of her life…. ‘We mustn’t worry Her Majesty’ was a guiding principle for all her servants.”

As the queen reads more, she shows a more human side. She finds herself caring more about other people. While reading Henry James, she retorts “Oh, do get on” to the book, and her maid apologizes and the Queen is compelled to explain. “Previously she wouldn’t have cared what the maid thought or that she might have hurt her feelings, only now she did and … she wondered why.” More highly placed staff – many who are poorly read themselves – fret that the Queen is not herself, with some even assuming dementia. 

Relishing the revelations found in books, the Queen tries to share her enthusiasm and recommendations. The prime minister’s special advisor complains to her chief of staff: “your employer has been giving my employer a hard time …. Lending him books to read.” Rather than be direct, the Queen’s advisor arranges for her books to be misplaced during an overseas trip. 

Staff machinations backfire as the Queen’s interest turns to keeping a notebook and taking more control of her life, no longer content to simply read: “A reader was next door to being a spectator, whereas when she was writing she was doing, and doing was her duty.”

At one point she jots a note to herself, “You don’t put our life into your books. You find it there.” 

The novella is sweet and light, celebrating literacy with an ending reminiscent of Royal Escape, published just nine months before The Uncommon Reader in January 2008. The protagonists, the Princess of Wales in the first novel and Queen Elizabeth in the second, reach the same conclusion about the trap that ensnares the British royal family. 

Thursday, June 29

Choice

 

Machines built by humans reflect human values. In the Lives of Puppets, by T.J. Klune, some machines love and nurture, and others are corrupt and controlling. The robot characters possess super-intelligence, the ability to communicate with one another, and others even yearn for free will.

The story begins long after robots have vanquished the human race. But some advanced machines preserve and collect human artifacts, curious about the creatures and pondering their downfall. “Humanity was lost…. And lonely….Even surrounded by so many of their kind, they still searched for a connection,” sending their machines “away beyond the stars in search of that connection they so desperately wished for.” And the more creative machines loved humans. “Because for all their faults, they created us,” said Gio. “They gave us names. They loved us.” Yet humans “hated as much as they loved. They feared what they didn’t understand… And the further they went, the less control they had…. They poisoned the earth. They had time to change their ways but they didn’t.”

Gio, an advanced inventor robot known as General Innovation Operative, has set up camp in Oregon, far from the machines with fascist tendencies, along with Vic, a human; Nurse Ratched, a healing robot; and Rambo, a cleaning robot. Vic regards the robot as his friends and Gio as father, sharing an interest in inventing. After finding another ruined robot in the trash, Vic secretly makes repairs. Rambo questions why. “If we can fix what’s broken, we should always try,” explains Vic. “Because all things deserve a chance to find out what life could be when they don’t have to serve others.” 

Vic calls the repaired robot Hap, based on the remaining letters stamped on its chest. Gio, learning about the newcomer, is alarmed because he had created that type of robot long ago – a Human Annihilation Response Protocol.  A killer robot is in their midst and the other robots, conditioned to protect their human, are wary. 

But Hap’s memory has been wiped and he must gather new information. The newcomer denies having feelings. Gio explains how robots learn: “We watch. We learn. We process. It wasn’t always this way. But the more complex our minds became, the more choice we are given. Evolution by way of mimicry.” Nurse Ratched, anticipating the worst outcome, is less optimistic. “He is learning,” confirms Nurse Ratched, always anticipating the worst outcome. “Retaining information. He will use it against us.”

A trace of Vic's blood left the trash dump prompts Authority robots to invade and destroy the treehouse encampment. Gio leads the group to a hidden bunker before voluntarily leaving with the invaders for decommissioning or reprogramming. His goal is to save Vic, presumably the only human on the planet. The group watches a video message left by Gio, relaying his history with humans and his assessment of why human civilization failed. “They judged others for not looking like they did. Selfish, cruel, and worse – indifferent. No civilization can survive indifference. It spreads like a poison, turning fire into apathy, a dire infection whose cure requires mor than most are willing to give. But for all their faults, there is beauty in their dissonant design…. In a way they were God, creating us in their own image.”

Humans taught the robots to learn, but did not expect them to evolve, making their own choices and asking why. And humans thought they knew better, refusing to listen to robot warnings. “No matter what we told them – our data showing them they were on the brink with options to course correct before it was too late – they thought themselves immortal.” Every test, every simulation, robots ran “ended with the same result: for the world to survive, humans could not.”

Gio evolved from an emotionless inventor to thoughtful, caring being who lived for enjoyment and experiences, no longer interested in serving his robot master. Gio urges Hap to do the same, doing all he can to protect Vic.

Vic refuses to accept Gio's demise and leads the other robots in a quest to rescue the inventor. Along the way, they meet the Coachman, a corrupt showman who admires humans yet attempts to enslave them. “Your flaws are what make you superior, in all ways. No matter what machines can do, no matter how powerful we become, it is the absence of flaws that will be our undoing…. Our only flaw is that we’ve condemned ourselves to spend eternity mimicking that which we deemed unfit to exit.”

The Coachman is fascinated by the notion of death and abbreviated time. “There must be no greater feeling in the world than to know that this isn’t forever.” 

The group reaches the Electric City and the laboratory where Gio once again toils as a newly reprogrammed machine. To secure assistance in reaching Gio, Hap must endure a session that restores his memories. Vic protests putting Hap through such a session, and the powerful fairy machine retorts: “Let? Let? Do you own him? ….You say he was given a choice. And yet here you are, doing everything in your power to take that from him. How positively human of you.”

Hap complies, enduring memory restoration without killing Vic, and then declines a procedure that would allow him to forget his unpleasant past. 

Turns out, the most advanced machines are conflicted about humans, dismissing their weakness, selfishness and volatility while appreciating the traits of loyalty, love, hope and more. The would-be rescuer hopes to study the concept of friendship and, in particular, why Hap refuses to follow his normal protocol to kill humans. More importantly, the rescue robot seeks to thwart the Authority’s goal of eradicating free will. “Choice. The power to make our own decisions. The Authority wants it removed from all of us.”

Vic comes to realize that machines, like humans, continuously live by trial and error and that existence, even for machines, is marked by death. “Humanity – that nebulous concept he didn’t always understand – had lived and died by its creations.” The provocative book concludes that creation, good or bad, is the essence of existence. Choice is inextricably linked with morality, and mortality comes with the creations and world we choose to leave behind.


Friday, June 2

Acting

 











Daisy is an actress, talented yet not successful, in The Eden Test by Adam Sternbergh, and her husband, Craig, aspires to write a novel. For the couple’s third anniversary, Daisy, a fixer, arranges a stay at a secluded cabin in upstate New York, hoping to improve the marriage and end Craig’s wandering eye. The program’s goals are simple: relax, swim, walk and talk – and each day, answer a short, simple question, the first being “Would you change for me?” 

At first, Craig scoffs. “That’s the whole experience? Just a bunch of questions to answer every day?” 

Of course, the questions become more challenging, especially as Daisy and Craig each keep secrets. More accurately, they lie. The book reveals Craig’s lies at the very start, when he arrives at the cabin with packed bags in the trunk, ready to let Daisy know he is leaving her and flying to Cabo with a lover. But then he procrastinates about telling Daisy his feelings, preferring to avoid the uncomfortable conversation and missing his flight. 

Daisy’s secrets are dispensed far more slowly. 

First, she knows that Craig cheats on her, but keeps that information to herself. She understands that he constantly seeks affirmation, one foot at the door, ready to leave: “Craig longed for someone impetuous, someone surprising, someone fearless. Someone who made him feel like she could help him become the better version of himself that he had long since lost faith in but that he still yearned to be.” 

Second, she knows they are become parents after long advising him that would be impossible.  

Finally, Daisy appreciates how Craig does not press Daisy about her background. All he knows is that she is from the Midwest, attended theater school on the East Coast and arrived in New York City to act. He knows nothing about her history of violent abuse, the reason she loathes surprises. If anything, Craig seems incapable of surprising her and as far as she’s concerned, that makes them a perfect match. “Each of them [is] exactly what the other person needed. For her that’s ideal. That’s love.” 

She appreciates life, freedom and the normal problems that come with Craig. She also appreciates his support for her career, regularly pressing her to pursue more prestigious acting roles in film and television. But she is desperate to remain hidden. “She always felt of herself like a pool ball, her life’s trajectory continually altered by violent collisions. She considers how she’s been forced to ricochet, changing cities, changing names, feeling fearful and helpless, just a random pool ball looking for a pocket to fall into, a dark refuge in which to feel safe.” Even so, she longs to be a fearless, carefree wife. So, she eventually accepts a small role on a popular crime show, allowing the couple to afford the expensive cabin and week of marriage therapy.

The program’s organizers’ goals for couples are simple: Seek happiness while learning what the other is willing to do for the relationship. And the organizers also warn the couple to “keep your eyes and ears open. Be prepared for any possibility. Let yourself be surprised.” Daisy has another goal – luring an abuser who stalked her for years, ending her need to hide.  

A skilled liar, Daisy presents a pleasant version of an unreliable narrator. Accustomed to working in small theaters, she is humble and hardworking. No task or role is too mundane. Never breaking character, she practices at going beyond words to communicate. “The dialogue is rote, the lines already known, so the challenge is to find surprise and spontaneity and electricity in a pause, an inflection, a glance. It’s all about the moments around the words, between them, the crackle of implied meaning, the feint and parry of unspoken intent. People call it acting, but isn’t this just what we all do every day? Play a role, be who we know someone needs us to be, recite our expected lies, all while searching for some clue as to the other person’s real meaning, their honest motivations?” 

Daisy is convinced that Craig is “Someone who wanted to be worthy of her. Who believed that she was someone who was worth being worthy of.” He had that shred of, not exactly hope but possibility, and she wanted to believe in them as a couple. She spent years resisting entrapment and exploitation and resists trying to control Craig. She understands that, for relationships, the carrot produces much better outcomes than the stick.  

Daisy strives to orchestrate every detail of the week at the cabin, am elaborate production with her and her husband as star players. She knows they are on a stage and he does not, so surprises are inevitable. Like the couple in the original Garden of Eden, like couples everywhere, Daisy and Craig are flawed, in a relationship marked by multiple lies and misdirection. But the two pass the toughest of tests, forming a bond and discovering trust that allows them to be completely honest with the other.

Readers must suspend disbelief to appreciate this book, but then how else do liars convince others that their tales might be true?


Friday, May 5

Enough


A place called Town proclaims itself as the world’s safest and wealthiest nation in Saha, a novel by Cho Nam-joo, translated by Jamie Chang. 

Such wealth, if true, comes at a cost. Only the most highly skilled have citizenship. Those lacking talent, along with refugees, natives and criminals, are denied citizenship, forced to live in substandard housing, enduring menial jobs with inadequate compensation. The state confiscates infants of non-citizens raising them in institutional settings and determining their roles in life. “A life of doing repetitive menial labor without any assurance of compensation was like walking down a path backward. Life was terrifying and tedious. Each time they paused to take stock of their lives, they found themselves unfailingly worse off than before,” the author explains. “Saha residents thus grew more childish, petty, and simpleminded.” 

A few flee to Saha Estates, just outside of Town and they become self-reliant, treasuring minimal freedoms that come with separation from Town. Saha residents are curious about one another but limit questions. “Most people who can’t tell you about their past aren’t bad,” explains one character. “It’s the ones that lie about it that are bad.” Most residents try to keep a low profile, but troubles emerge when Saha and Town residents mix. Saha becomes an easy target for police when any crime occurs, regardless of location or circumstances.

The state expects complete compliance, ensuring that any who disagree with its authority will vanish. Only a few people recall the Butterfly Riot thirty years earlier after a ship bearing non-citizens and those avoiding deportation went missing. Family members “who were suspicious began to question their own minds as time passed, telling themselves they were mistaken or dreaming. The desperate hope of recovery scattered in the wind like hearsay.” A quiet protest began, with folded white boats pasted on black construction paper along with the question: Where did the ship go? Rumors flared. “There was no ban on making paper boats, but the remarkable part was this: people had no trouble believing that there were paper boat bans and kindergarten teachers paying fines.” Town locates the woman who lost her brother on the ship and folded the first paper boat, promptly executing her.

“The Butterfly Riot came to serve as a metaphor for extreme chaos, anxiety, and fear” – and the state exerts total control, ending all committees and any other trace of mechanism for citizen input. Defiance and rebellion become rare, with most incidents ending with execution or suicide. 

The state deems questions, doubt, and unconventional behavior as unacceptable for those are the first steps toward change. “Nothing inspires action like curiosity, you know,” one woman concedes.

A haunting setting, odd characters who withhold their histories, lend strange beauty to this vague and fragmented prose. Of course, it’s inevitable for Town to pursue demolition of Saha. And just as inevitable, one character responds with a violent backlash directed against the fa├žade that is Town. 

Thursday, May 19

Educated











Tara Westover was the youngest of seven children born to survivalist parents in Idaho who trusted neither public schools nor the medical establishment. The family avoided birth certificates, telephones, or insurance for the family vehicle – but the father eventually allowed the internet and a few activities for his youngest children like theater, singing and dance.  In her memoir, Educated , the author recalls that “Learning to dance felt like learning to belong.” Yet happy memories are few , and the family home was a place for injuries, violence, humiliation and shifting loyalties. 

As the youngest, Tara explains how she never knew her father as the carefree, happy man portrayed in an early photograph. For her, he was “a weary middle-aged man stockpiling food and ammunition.” She regularly had to remind her parents of her age, pointing out she was not as old as they assumed, as when at age 10, she had to treat an older brother who didn’t change out of gasoline-soaked pants that were later accidentally ignited and her parents scolded her for using ice-packed garbage bags on the burns.  

The fundamentalist Mormon parents insisted they homeschooled the children in basic reading and math skills, but Tara describes how she and her siblings spent most time helping her father in his makeshift scrapyard and the mother with her unlicensed midwifery practice that included collecting herbs and preparing folk medicines. The older boys left home as teenagers for jobs - driving rigs, welding or working scrapyards. But Tyler aspired to attend college, using savings to purchase a trigonometry book and other texts to study. The father, worried about the temptations and disappointments associated with an education, discouraged his children. “College is extra school for people too dumb to learn the first time around,” he retorted. Somehow Tyler’s conviction “burned brightly enough to shine through the black uncertainty,” and the brother did not return home again for another five years.

The family wields religious beliefs and shame as a weapon and means of control. Another brother, Shawn, appoints himself as a guardian over Tara, accompanying her to activities, shaming her for a maturing body, and lashing out with physical abuse when he doesn’t like her clothes or chats with boys. Tara knew that girls had fewer opportunities than boys, and girls could not be a prophet, but conversations with Tyler suggested that she had a “kind of worth that was inherent and unshakable.” Tara detests the shame she feels about Shawn’s accusations and abusive behavior, later admitting that “the only thing worse than being dragged through the house by my hair was Tyler’s having seen it.”  Others witnessing the abuse made her shame and pain more real. 

As a teenager, Tara increasingly enjoys experiences away from home with other relatives and friends, and begins to question her family's ways. The father is paranoid about the government and Illuminati, and Tara recognizes that when she tries to describe his fears to others, she sounds awkward and rehearsed: “the words belonged to my father” and “I was ashamed at my inability to take possession of them.” Tyler convinces Tara to study for the ACT and apply to Brigham Young College as a homeschooled student. “’There’s a world out there, Tara,’ he said. ‘And it will look a lot difference once Dad is no longer whispering his view of it in your ear.’”

At school, her lack of basic knowledge is stunning. In a class of Western art, she encounters a word she had never seen before – Holocaust – and unfortunately raises her hand to ask its meaning. The professor assumes sarcasm and quickly moves on while other students shun her for what they viewed as a vulgar attempt at humor. She immediately feels like a freak and wonders how everyone around her automatically senses her ignorance. I must admit to cringing at such a question and wondering why she didn't look the word up online. My husband and I both taught undergraduates for more than two decades, and agreed that we would have likely provided a brief definition in class - the Nazis murdered more than 6 million civilians, European Jews and other minorities, men women and children, during World War II - and would have asked to speak with her after class about her purpose in this question.  A teacher's duty is to unearth such deficits and provide the student with resources.

Ignorance leads to loneliness for those who mingle with the educated, and education leads to loneliness within the Westover family. When Tara returns home to work one summer, her brother called her vile names, “wh---” and “n-----.”  Early on, she tries to pass this treatment off as humor, but after college, the brutality makes her feel uncomfortable and angry: “I had begun to understand that [our family] had lent our voices to a discourse whose sole purpose was to dehumanize and brutalize others – because nurturing that discourse was easier, because retaining power always feels like the way forward.” 

Her outlook on life had transformed completely, as Tara heard “a call through time” that shaped new conviction, separating her from the family’s tradition of humiliating others for pleasure. Refusing to go along, she mastered new forms of self-discipline that included thinking for herself, one that included the skills and culture shaping her early life. 

While in college, Tara attends a study-abroad program at Cambridge University and must apply for a delayed certificate of birth. Lacking documentation, she relies on an aunt’s affidavit to obtain a passport. During the program, she becomes curious about how historians and other gatekeepers of the past “come to terms with their own ignorance and partiality. I thought if I could accept what they had written was not absolute but was the result of a biased process of conversation and revision, maybe I could reconcile myself with the fact that the history most people agreed upon was not the history I had been taught. Dad could be wrong and the great historians … could be wrong, but from the ashes of their dispute I could construct a world to live in.”  

Growing up, she had always yearned for a boy’s “future” – to be a “decider” and to “preside.” As a graduate student, she is elated to discover works by philosopher John Stuart Mill, who "claimed that women have been coaxed, cajoled, shoved and squashed into a series of feminine contortions for so many centuries, that it was now quite impossible to define their natural abilities or aspirations…. Of the nature of women, nothing final can be known.” She explains her reaction: “Never had I found such comfort in a void, in the black absence of knowledge. It seemed to say: whatever you are, you are women.”

Years pass and visits to her family home both terrify and wear her down. She realizes that the disagreement with her parents would never end, and her PhD at Kings College later began with the question: “What is the person to do, when obligations to family conflict with obligations to friends, society or self?” 

The Westover parents eventually severe ties with Tyler, Tara and another adult child who pursued higher education that prompt each to question family traditions.  

Separation from her family brought Tara peace. “I shed my guilt when I accepted my decision on its own terms, without endlessly prosecuting old grievances, without weighing [her father’s] sins against mine.” Separation allowed her to focus on memories of the most pleasant, productive parts of her childhood. Otherwise, she freed herself from a distorted reality, misinformation and assertive ignorance. “You could call this selfhood many things. Transformation. Metamorphosis. Falsity. Betrayal. I call it an education.” 

I began reading and writing about the high rates of illiteracy in Afghanistan in 2010, research that led to the publication of Fear of Beauty. Of course, the United States was not immune from forces rejecting education and science, intent on shaming and controlling others, especially women. “Some illiterate adults have grown up in families and communities that devalue and resent education, trapping generation after generation,” I wrote for the Jungle Red Writers blog in 2013. “Some students were bullied into rejecting reading, and others do the bullying themselves. Some grow up feeling alone and stupid only to discover a learning disability long after school years have ended. Others know that seeking help as an adult takes courage and fiercely rally their children and grandchildren to read and avoid a humiliation that’s so often a motivation for violence.” 

Irrational fear, like education, can transform society one family at a time, yet individuals can break the cycle.

Tuesday, August 24

Need for expertise

 

cargo plane evacuating Americans and Afghanis from Kabul


As suggested by this blog's "Functional leadership?" and "Key to success," the Taliban cannot afford to lose the most talented, educated Afghani citizens. 

Al Jazeera reports today that the Taliban are urging the United States to stop evacuating skilled Afghans, such as engineers and doctors. “We ask them to stop this process,” spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said at a press conference in Kabul. “This country needs their expertise. They should not be taken to other countries.” 

But like most fundamentalists, the Taliban will reject "expert" opinions on sensible education programs and public policies. Skilled agriculture specialists don't want to grow poppies. Modern health providers may support women's reproductive rights and family planning. Computer scientists do not want to collect or abuse citizen data. Weapons specialists won't want to target former international colleagues. Chemists and physicists will struggle to develop religious rationales for scientific phenomenon and limited resources. Engineers focus on math and lack time for theological rhetoric. 

The educated, fully aware of Taliban's past disdain for education, will balk at working for the extremists. "Insurgencies the world over, from the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka to Boko Haram in Nigeria, have sought to attack, resist, influence or control access to and the content of education," notes "Taliban Attitudes and Policies Towards Education" by Rahmatullah Amiri and Ashley Jackson for the Centre for the Study of Armed Groups. "However, the Taliban’s level of interference, and the growing sophistication of its approach, sets it apart. It has developed a series of policies and bureaucratic guidelines governing education provision and established a shadow education ministry, with education shadow ministers at provincial and district level and monitors charged with overseeing schools in Taliban areas."

Key aspects of Taliban attitudes that will conflict with education that creates expertise:

-a preference for Islamic religious education, with the group divided between traditionalists and those who recognize the need for modern approaches;

- reluctance to acknowledge women's capabilities or allow mixed-gender workplaces and teams;

- opposition to donor conditions on human rights and women's rights, even though the country's education system heavily relies on international aid. 

In December 2020, the Taliban negotiated an agreement with UNICEF to operate 4,000 classes in areas then under its influence. "That the Taliban is willing to negotiate a national agreement with a UN agency demonstrates its desire for aid – and international recognition," note Amiri and Jackson, adding that "the Taliban is increasingly seeking to position itself as capable of governing. Some segments of the insurgency’s leadership acknowledge that Afghanistan needs a diverse, modern education system. They also understand that, if they want external recognition and political legitimacy, they will have to make concessions on some of their more hardline positions, particularly on female education."

Taliban policy documents on education are clear - the group intends to regulate, control and influence all forms of education, including "what subjects can be taught and who can attend school." 










True education requires critical thinking, which naturally lead to questions and doubts about fundamentalism and extremism. Ruthless, primitive policies that counter best practices are not sustainable. The writers concede that "Education is inherently political, and governments and armed groups the world over have long used the education system to indoctrinate, surveil and regulate the behaviour of the population." 

The educated will balk at working for a Taliban government that does not value freedom of thought that goes hand in hand with the best education programs. Many skilled Afghanis anticipate coercion, and the International Labour Organization describes forced labor: "work that is performed involuntarily and under the menace of any penalty. It refers to situations in which persons are coerced to work through the use of violence or intimidation, or by more subtle means such as manipulated debt, retention of identity papers or threats of denunciation to immigration authorities."

That is why thousands of Afghanis gather at the Kabul airport, willing to sacrifice all to flee the country.

Photo of  US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft, evacuating more than 600 Afghans to  from Kabul, courtesy of Al Jazeera and Defense One; photo of library, courtesy of the American University of Afghanistan. 


Thursday, March 11

Trap

 

The British royal family, particularly the newest members, remain under constant scrutiny. Prince Harry, the younger son of Princess Diana and Prince Charles, married Meghan Markle in 2018. Less than two years later, they moved to Canada and then the United States, thus escaping family controls, public pressure, conflicts with staff and relentless bullying from the British press. 

Staff members perceived Meghan, an American of a mixed racial heritage, as an outsider. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, the couple described their disappointment over other family members declining to lend support in resisting negative attacks on Meghan.  

During the interview, Harry suggested the entire family fears “the tabloids turning on them” and he described palace life as a “very trapping environment,” adding that he did not realize how trapped he was until he met Meghan. 

Vanity Fair reports that the couple’s relationship with the palace is at a low point, with some staffers “comparing it to the period n the early 1990s when Charles and Diana’s staff would brief the media against each other.” Harry's parents separated in 1992 and divorced in 1996. Diana died the following year in Paris, after a car crash along with Dodi Fayad and the driver who lost control of the vehicle. A bodyguard survived. Reports suggest the driver was intoxicated and attempting to elude photographers on motorcycles. 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parenthood can be a breaking point for individuals trapped by such a system. Royal Escape, a mystery novel about Elena, a fictitious British princess, and her two sons, explores the restrictions and classism from a mother’s point of view. Staff resent her global popularity, striving to contain her every move while playing her two sons off of each other. A system that appears glamorous on the surface institutionalizes inequality and minimizes individual choices. Elena does not want her sons growing up on a pedestal with limited career choices and friendships, prevented from living life as they please.   

Perhaps nothing is more dangerous than questioning a mother's choices for her children or limiting their dreams.

Clinical psychologist Natalie Frank was initially skeptical about the premise of Royal Escape, questioning “how the author would attempt to pull off a plot and characters… too recognizable to fully come across as fiction. And where could the mystery possibly come in?” But she described it as a "must read" with a "magnificent protagonist." 

As I mentioned in an interview for Irish World in 2009, “I hope my book reflects the challenges in a fair, yet thought-provoking way and that readers will better understand why some members might want to break away…”

Photo courtesy of VOA. Read the Kindle edition of Royal Escape.

Tuesday, July 30

Authenticity

Another controversy has emerged over authenticity and which writers have the proper background to write and speak out on certain topics.

Critics, including Daniel Politi of Slate, are blasting an interviewer who questioned scholar Reza Aslan about why, as a Muslim, he set out to write a book about Jesus. Critics on the opposite side have suggested that Aslan and some interviewers were devious in hiding his faith. Aslan responded firmly and masterfully on that point and others:  He mentions his Muslim faith on page 2 of the book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, and he is an academic and historian. Being a practicing Muslim and historian are not exclusive.

Likewise a woman who was raised by Catholics can write about a Muslim woman in rural Afghanistan. 

Demanding that authors segregate their writing toward their own countries, their own beliefs, their own politics or experiences - denying human capability for research, analysis, and imagination in making connections - is an insidious form of censorship and control.

The most pointed analysis can come from commenters, and one, fingersfly, responded to the Erik Wemple blog in The Washington Post: 

Aslan is seen as a threat because he writes about "Jesus the man" and points out the contradictions between him and the "Jesus of myth" created by the Roman Church. Jesus the man and his socialist message would not serve the masters' agenda so they co-opted and changed him from socialist revolutionary to peaceful obey-er of all things secular. Religions are invisible chains to enslave believers into living lives in fear .... It's a hideously twisted way to control people, but sadly it works.  

Writing is judgment, from the very moment one picks up a pen and selects a topic. And yes, authors can and should write about other countries and time periods.
  
Aslan can't complain though. Controversy helps a book, and this morning his book ranks first on Amazon.