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Why Bother?
Published on October 1, 2016 By Phil Osborn In Singularity


Update: 10/04/16  

My link to this from the Orange County Science Fiction Club has been taken down.

For at least a couple of decades now, I have attended the monthly meetings of the OCSFC on a fairly regular basis.  What could go wrong at a science fiction club?  Murphy's Law rules, but recent meetings have clearly more to do with Murphy's estranged mother-in-law:


I've known the guest of honor for July's meeting, Craig Miller, for probably at least a couple decades due to his role in organizing LOSCON, the SF Conference of the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society (LASFS).  LOSCON is a great example in general of how to do a medium-sized, general purpose con.  They have maintained a standard of excellence for over four decades, with occasional lapses, to be sure, but they always bounce back and the typical content is so diverse that chances are that you'll find something great to make up for any failings.

Unfortunately, that standard was not matched by the July OCSFC meeting.  The AV system only worked intermittently - mostly glitching, but that hardly mattered as Craig was admittedly and apologetically mostly unprepared.  So, nothing worth mentioning happened and the meeting was a waste.  However, the logical thing to do if one part of a presentation or meeting is clearly failing and probably unfixable is to switch to another thread that does work.  This contingency planning approach is essential to success.

Q&A is always a fallback, and we could have discussed how the OCSFC could more effectively engage with LASFS/LOSCON.  OCSFC has generally maintained a fairly effective presence at LOSCON, contributing many panelists and a pretty nearly continuously manned table of literature and general info for anyone in our area who may not have realized that there is sf in the OC. 

There are probably ways to enhance this presence, perhaps with a LOSCON panel on science fiction in the OC, or a new panel on the high profile presence of all sorts of cutting edge tech that was science fiction only a few years ago, centered around John Wayne Airport.  I could probably get panelists to discuss the VR scene in the OC and likely bring in some show and tell with HMDs from Oculus or other developers. 

This would not be out of place, as LOSCON has pioneered the use of physical workshops and hands-on demos in connection with such sources as the Makers, robotics, 3D Printing, VR (Around 1994 I hosted a LOSCON panel on VR), etc.  And way back when - when personal computers were a new tech - LOSCON had all kinds of panels on issues and projections regarding computing.  Various producers of personal computer software gave workshops on computer art or games design.

However, the odd thing is that there are individuals in the OCSFC who seem rabidly opposed to any active participation by the general membership and seem to resent a member who tries to engage and discuss with our speakers, even where that would be clearly beneficial. 

What is the point of bringing in an outside speaker, after all?  Is it purely to build the egos of the guests, or is it to serve the individual needs of the members?

This is more than just a rhetorical issue.  I have witnessed in all sorts of organization that as soon as there is a label for a group, the label immediately hypostacizes into a new concrete in the minds of the members.  Where there once was a collection of individuals with something in common that drew them together, that label follows the standard pattern for conceptualization, implicitly a new concrete object created out of nothing but mental processing.  Believe.

Many people - or "group members" - will predictably become enthralled with the new thing, feeling that they are part of something bigger than themselves, and will look for fetishes by which to energize their emotional attachments to it.  Think baseball fans.  Or computer clubs.  Or political parties.  Or sf clubs.  And Heaven help the "member" who expresses his or her individuality, particularly in opposition to the edicts of the de facto leaders.  

Thus we will see loyalty tests emerge, such as a demand for participation in group activities.  Or blocking totally unrelated attempts at communication by members who are perceived as being out-of-step.  See Eric Hoffer's "The True Believer."

Sometimes the loyalty test is self-generated, as in the case of a member of the long defunct "Amiga Friends" group in the OC.  The individual in question had long hated Commodore and was a member of the Atari clique that had left the Atari for the Amiga, following Jay Minor.  He explained to me how he had bought a used C64 solely for the purpose of destroying the C64 software market. He spent endless hours collecting pirated C64 software and then offered it at the "special meetings" at which the "collectors" traded the new floppies.  He was seen as a heroic player in that group, laughing out of the other side of his mouth at the dollars lost by the software creators.

Or, it can be policy set by some In Group, as happened repeatedly at the North Orange County Computer Club.  When the Amiga came out, there was an immediate demand for an Amiga SIG at NOCCC.  The Board of NOCCC, which was strongly attached to Microsoft, then decided without consultation with the members, to replace the elected acting Chairman of the new SIG with their own hand-picked leader.  Later we were blocked from access to the NOCCC website by a single individual who hated anything that wasn't CP/M or DOS.  He was the website sysop.  Then there was the election for the Board in which I was a shoe-in - until one of the PC Board members convinced another member of our SIG to run against me, thus splitting the vote and ensuring the Microsoft hegemony.

Meanwhile, at the OCSFC my impression is that we mere club members may be seen by the In faction as an uppity nuisance if we try to engage.  One member started pointedly holding up a watch whenever I raised my hand to ask a question or make a comment.  I checked my own times against this member and found that she was far more verbose than I. 

This member is of course actually one of the worse offenders for hijacking speaker's threads and clearly sees raising one's hands as a sign of weakness.  Thus, when I attempted to ask some questions of Craig, I was almost instantly cut off and the meeting was shut down.  What could have been salvaged was lost.  Hoffer: "Rudeness is the weak man's imitation of strength."

The August meeting, however, was in sharp contrast to the previous debacle.  The well-known sf/horror/fantasy author, Steve Barnes, took over and immediately asked for audience input - basically whatever anyone wanted to discuss.  Steve is a great speaker, along with his other talents, having hosted a sf radio show for several years, and so, what resulted was a dynamite meeting, with several people eagerly taking notes on Steve's discussion and continuing the discussion out in the parking lot. 

In sharp contrast to the usual top down authoritarian OCSFC format, Steve encouraged long questions and responded in kind, smoothly integrating material and topics that he was involved in into his answers, some of which took more than 10 minutes.  He also asked the audience's opinion on several occasions.  Overall, this was one of the most satisfying meetings in OCSFC history.



The September meeting, however, was back to usual.  The Heinlein Society was back - and I had high hopes that it would not be as bad as their previous visit.   For that previous meeting my guess is that they were asked by one of our regulars specifically not to discuss economics or politics or technology or science. 

Unfortunately, most of Heinlein's focus was on those topics, so what did that leave?  No matter.  Content?  All that seems to count is craft.  Only ideas about the art of writing as such may be expressed or discussed.  One of the members of this clique even decreed at the club's New Year's party a few years ago that all political discussion would end within ten minutes of her arrival.

Oddly, however, some of us who label ourselves as sf fans are in it for the science-related ideas, and that includes the science of politics and other "soft science."

Somehow, for ~63 years, I have managed to delude myself that science fiction attracted me and numerous other readers by virtue of its projection from the mundane to the new and different, setting the scene for a novel perhaps focused on space travel, or cyberwars, or ubiquitous augmented reality, or some social dystopia, or what it might be like to REALLY change gender on the fly. 

While the particular science being tweaked to the tune of some clever "What If?" varies as widely as the sciences themselves, there are key elements that commonly lead us to label a novel or movie as sf, or fantasy, or horror.  There are borderline cases galore, to be sure. The distinguishing factor that makes something "Science Fiction" is not just some flashy new technology, but rather how the technology brings an idea-driven plot into the realm of plausibility, demonstrating how the science can change us in the real world.

On the fantasy end of the sf spectrum, it is considered acceptable to include elements that are definitely NOT part of the scientific lexicon. One episode of TNG, for example, featured ghosts. They were dressed up with another tech-sounding descriptor, but that's what they were.  Star Trek and even more so, TNG, casually borrow tropes that are really just fantasy dressed up and labeled to look like science.  Those of us on the Hard Science side cringe at these and try to excuse them on the basis that something similar in effect could actually be plausible - so blame the scientifically ignorant Hollywood script writers.

But, instead of discussing Heinlein's ideas related to the multitude of verboten subjects he so eagerly embraced, we got endless talk about awards that Heinlein had garnered and other tame, safe subjects that few people could possibly remember.  Forget politics - what about SEX!!  Heinlein was always the radical and "deviant" sexuality was not just interlaced with other topics in his fiction - and non-fiction - but actually was the main focus of such novels as "I will fear no evil."  Needless to say, there was ZERO discussion of sex at the meeting.  This IS the OC.

It takes work to make Heinlein boring, but we definitely had no slackers on that front.  It seemed almost fortunate that the only outlet for the endless awards discussions was a laptop - once again the AV was not tested - with no sound amplification.  A few people right up front could probably hear what was being said and perhaps were actually able to see the screens of talking heads. 

On top of everything else, the main speaker from the Heinlein Society had a very soft voice and seated himself such that over half of the attendees were behind him.  When I pointed this out - that over half the audience could not possibly hear him, he moved to a slightly better position.  But then we went to the unwatchable videos for the next thirty minutes or so. 

Finally a different speaker from the Heinlein Society took over with a huge booming voice and delivered some moderately interesting material about Heinlein's personal life and his work voluntarily tutoring various major sf authors on writing technique. At least we all could hear him. 

I had really hoped that they would have some info on all the various groups that had actually tried to implement some of Heinlein's social science theories, such as the extended voluntary family concepts that were such a large part of "Stranger in a Strange Land" and "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" - generally considered his best novels. 

Over the years, I have met members of a number of interesting Heinlein based groups, such as "Glory Road" (later renamed Windward) and "Live the Dream."  Some of them lasted for decades and involved dozens of members.  I would still like to see if any of them succeeded long term or what impact these social experiments had on the participants. 

I had no trouble googling "Live the Dream," a group that shows up every year at LOSCON with news about intentional families, but Windward appears to be gone right off the map, despite a long and interesting existence involving over one hundred family members.  That isn't supposed to happen on the net, right? Things disappearing, I mean.  Right?

The speaker, however, responded with sarcasm, as in ~"If somebody shows up on your doorstep asking to 'share water' ... best to shine them on."  At least the Heinlein Society presenters were fairly consistent.  Clearly, some people find boredom attractive.

I wonder how Heinlein would want to be remembered... Actually, I don't wonder; I'm sure that he would want to be known for his ideas, not for how many awards he received. 


This piece was originally intended to lay out a limited complaint that applied specifically to the OCSFC. However, the problems I note there are echoed in organizations far and wide.  Here in the OC, there are SO many MeetUps that never got past the first meeting, as the usual crew of trolls ensured.  Some MeetUp groups charge a fee, which seems to help in screening out the problem people.  But any group that starts to be successful can expect to be targeted.

I have documented the general nature of the problems in several other blogs, but I suspect and hope that this time I will have something new and exciting to say - perhaps even some real solutions...  Hey, I nailed the "basic income" idea here on JoeUser well before it made it to the mass media.  Today, hardly a day goes by in which it isn't mentioned.  Have some faith.

Briefly, I would like to expose some of the key causes of how human culture worldwide is seriously self-destructing, with organizations such as ISIS forming the extreme point of a spectrum on which we are all positioned.  The controls over communications in general have made participation in any sort of real discussion and debate problematical.  What you DON'T see on the internet is sometimes more revealing that what you do...  

It seems as though every little promising MeetUp group that has anything to say about ideas is immediately infiltrated by members of a kind of sociopathic Illuminati.  They will volunteer to host meetings, make sure the refreshments are there, do all the boring jobs that only they seem to have time for, and meanwhile make sure that only particular brands of ideas are allowed to be communicated, critiqued or debated.  Online, they will censor comments or discussions on the site, usually without notifying anyone.

At meetings, often, in a show of tolerance, people with independent thoughts will be allowed to say one or three sentences related to their point, and then the moderator will nod and then instantly switch back to what he or she sees as the worthwhile theme.  Steve Barnes was again the exception, seriously questioning the audience member in order to ensure that he had the issue right and then asking him if he was satisfied with his response.  Again, this was the only meeting of the OCSFC that I can recall at which multiple attendees were taking serious notes.

And, for the most part, even the acceptable ideas are never noted, followed up, etc. Instead they are totally gone within days of a meeting's end. There is no integrative approach at most of these amateur meetings and rarely any attempt at order. Instead, whoever has the loudest voice or the best ability to keep their presentation together over the din of opposing voices wins whatever the contest was about.

Which begs a question:  What was the contest about?  If it was about examining and critiquing new and useful ideas, then my experience is that most of these groups are a total failure.  I don't think that that is what these little conspiratorial cliques are about, however.  The same people here in the OC keep showing up at the same tired venues, hell-bent to silence any independent thought.  I think that the plan is to milk all the energy and intellectual ambition and optimism right out of the souls of the memberships of these various groups.  For whatever satanic cause, there are people who have virtually dedicated their lives to the goal of killing thought.  And some of them are organized.

On two occasions, once about a decade ago and once within the past couple years, I have witnessed things that are somewhat grimmer than typical sociopathic trolling.  Both times, groups advertising themselves as facilitating open communication and free thought via free public workshops instead lured participants into real-life hypnosis or mind control.

The tipoff is when you are handed a non-disclosure agreement.  Then, perhaps an hour later, after various participatory events, such as being told to discuss something you really liked yesterday with the person sitting next to you,* you will be asked to line-up or form-up according to some pattern.  Then you will be asked to pretend something while engaged in some kind of physical action.  Perhaps you will pose as bees guarding a nest.  Other participants then become dangerous wasps trying to invade that nest.  So, you, the defenders, must prevent the wasps from getting past your defense.  Thus, you form a closed circular group, all facing outwards, ready to shove any attacker away.

*Not what actually happened, but similar enough to place the reader in context, I hope.

The wasps, you are told, are symbolic of evil people who will try to invade and take over whatever progressive organizations you belong to.  Keeping them out of the nest is equivalent to making sure that they never have the opportunity to present their evil ideas.  The different directions that you, the defenders of the TRUTH, are facing represent the different ways the attackers would try to subvert your beliefs. 

These kind of exercises come in unlimited variety, with the common thread of requiring active physical participation in a confrontational setting, techniques that were developed and honed by Mao's Red Guard.  At some point the participant has to make some kind of real choice, generally to accept something trivial that one knows is false or questionable, that can take them into a state of suggestibility.  Often, several such decision points are sequenced, burying the subject's free will. 

Just as we are sure we will remember where we set our keys, and then where we set our pens down, and then our notepad or medicine, etc., so we do not have a very good internal monitor for long, disjointed sequences.  Which makes hypnosis and mind control possible.  We ignore the aggression of a bully when it is simply a verbal attack disguised as a joke because we want to avoid a nasty confrontation.  The bully is counting on this.


Then, when round two ups the ante with demands for our money - just some spare change, my man, we find ourselves suddenly acting like cowards and wondering why.  The why is that we have already entered a fantasy and effectively sanctioned our own defeat.  I reference the scene in Eastwood's "Grand Turino" in which he draws down on several gang-bangers, "They're NOT your friends," etc.

Note that many participants, often all of them, appear to have been targeted to get a vulnerable profile.  Younger participants are generally preferred, as they may never have formulated any clear ideas of their own about intellectual freedom and responsibility.  Sure, why NOT keep out the evil nay-sayers.  They feel good about acting out with other "truth-seekers."

These kids - and many adults who should know better - are being taught to see themselves as defenders of the TRUTH, and any future questioning of this principal will, to the extent that the behavior mod is generalized and internalized, immediately be subject to apprehension and hostility.  Of course, there will always be those nasty people who think that the REAL evil is in convincing people to give up their intellectual independence.  And THAT is where the non-disclosure agreement comes into play. 

Whether you agree or not with the ideas being presented or the methods employed, you may not discuss any details or risk copyright infringement charges, which can be devastating.  I am half-way convinced that this is the real motive for much of this kind of sociopathic insanity.  Suppose that something I write here comes to the attention of one of the perps.  I have been careful to only use examples taken out of my own head that are very different from the ones actually employed that I witnessed.  Someone else may not have thought this through and could face fines of over $100K.  Perhaps this was the real goal all along. 

My own experience in dealing with this kind of evil goes back to the '60's, when I took up the invitation to speak at the anti-war rallies on campus.  What I discovered quickly enough was that the texts of the other supposed spontaneous speakers were carefully planned, choreographed, practiced and critiqued well in advance by Marxist idealogues. 

My attempts were cut off within less than a minute.  So, the libertarian critique of the Vietnam war was rarely heard at these rallies, even though it could have brought many more people to the point of joining the war resistance.  I'm convinced that many of the "New Left" activists would have been appalled at the war actually being ended with a non-partisan victory for peace.  And, in fact, the ending of the war did lead to the end of most of their political hopes and ambitions. 

When I intervened in the confrontation between Reagan and Nicaragua in 1981, handing Umberto Ortega a solution to defuse it, my leftist friends would not speak to me for months.  As I pointed out to Umberto, his "friends" were leading him straight to disaster.  Nicaragua was not going to defeat the U.S. military.  But that confrontation would generate all kinds of support for the left in the U.S. and globally.  Nicaragua should be PROUD to lead the parade of martyrs. Or not.

More to come...  (Including current factual anecdotes)




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