Always Ask the Right Questions

AverageEverygirl084

Oh, the Interrogative Mood! What fun it brings to communication!

Here’s a quick run-down:

Direct Questions

Direct questions come in question/answer pairs, where the answer only fully makes sense in the context of the question asked.

Q. Who was the first president of the United States?
A. George Washington.

Q. Where are my shoes?
A. They’re under the table.

Q. How did you get here so fast?
A. I was already in the neighborhood.

None of these answers make conversational sense on their own. The person who randomly states, “George Washington” or “I was already in the neighborhood” is going to catch a lot of side-eye for it.

Also, the person asking these questions places their trust in the listener to give a truthful answer. The direct question always seeks truth (and thereby provides a nice avenue for the listener to mess with a gullible questioner, haha).

Indirect Questions

Indirect questions aren’t looking for verbal answers, necessarily—or, if they are, it’s not the literal answer to the question asked. Indirect questions skirt around an issue. They pull politeness into the equation and communicate a need beyond their literal meaning.

Q. Have you seen Jane?
Translation: Tell me where Jane is, if you know.

Q. May I help you?
Translation: You look out of your element, and I am offering assistance.

Q. Can I please get by?
Translation: Move your ill-positioned carcass out of the way, roadblock.

This class of questions allows for conversational flouting, particularly if the audience decides to read them as direct questions instead:

Q. Have you seen Jane?
A. Yes. She’s a tall blonde with a snaggle-toothed grin.

Q. May I help you?
A. Looks kind of doubtful from where I’m standing.

Q. Can I please get by?
A. I don’t know. Can you?

Non-verbal responses can have the same dynamic of cooperation or flouting. For example, someone who asks “Can I please get by?” expects the other individual to move aside, with or without verbal acknowledgement; the second person might just as easily stand their ground in defiance or ignore the question entirely.

Rhetorical Questions

Rhetorical Questions aren’t looking for any answer at all. Rhetoric, as the art of persuasion, aims to shape the listener’s mind. The speaker isn’t seeking information, but imparting it. Thus, the question is designed to make its audience think, but not necessarily respond.

Q. Do you have any idea what time it is?
Rhetorical intent: Shame on you for losing track of time and/or causing me to worry.

Q. Does this look like a game to you?
Rhetorical intent: This is srs bsns. Wipe that grin off your face.

Q. Ain’t I a woman? (h/t Sojourner Truth)
Rhetorical intent: My life is just as valuable as any other woman—as any other human—on this planet.

The rhetorical question provides a means for drawing the listener into the same mindset as the speaker, but, like the indirect question, can also open the door for sass, particularly if the listener is at odds with the speaker. It also loses its oomph if the listener takes it literally and tries to answer.

Tag Questions

The tag question can seek either information or validation. It’s not freestanding, but appends to a declarative statement:

  • You like strawberries, right?
  • Paul can sing, can’t he?
  • Mary wasn’t at the party, was she?

The answer to a tag question can be a simple yes or no, but it can also be an explanation of conditions. E.g., “I like strawberries fresh, but not freeze-dried.” “Paul hasn’t sung since high school.” “Mary came at the beginning, but she left after ten minutes.”

Tag questions in English are particularly fun. We can, like other languages, append a simple, “isn’t that so?” or “right?” or “correct?” to our statements, but the primary English tag-question structure involves a mirror opposite of the original statement.

We form this structure by using a negative of the declarative auxiliary and a subject-matching pronoun (and, as with any Declarative-to-Interrogative transition, if there’s no auxiliary in the main sentence, “do” jumps in to take the role):

  • You could come early → couldn’t you?
  • Jim got home late → didn’t he?
  • He’s not supposed to be here → is he?

The combo-breaker for this pattern is the first-person singular, when the auxiliary is “be” and the declarative is positive. Compare the two following examples:

  • I’m not singing → am I?
  • I’m singing → aren’t I?

“Oh, nope! I aren’t!”

Some people like to use “am I not?” as the tag question. And by “some people” I mean “stuffy people and sticklers.” The grammatically correct contraction would be amn’t, a’n’t—or, more colloquially, ain’t. But since we ran that term out of proper speech a century or two ago, we get aren’t as a fill-in.

Serves us right.

The negative stands on one side of the structure but not on the other, which cues the listener to give a confirmation or denial of the declarative statement. It also helps the speaker save face: rather than stating something which might be refuted and make them look uninformed, they invite the refutation from the outset, appearing open-minded instead.

And an interesting social note: women are far more likely than men to use tag questions. Two possible explanations for this phenomenon are that we inherently desire more validation, or that we’re used to having our spoken statements challenged.

I won’t go into which I find more likely. It’s an interesting dynamic either way, don’t you think?

(*wink*)

Committing the Sin of Omission

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Subtlety is a dying art. In this era of instant gratification, audiences often gravitate toward whatever content makes them do the least amount of thinking.

“Critical analysis? Pshh. That’s for suckers.”

More and more, people want to be spoon-fed their own opinions and inclinations. They slurp their media through a straw and swallow whole or toss aside anything that should be chewed. Worse, the longer they have only pap to ruminate upon, the less able they are to ruminate at all. And when something comes along that absolutely requires full and rigorous chewing, they filter it out and complain about it afterward.

Usually in the reviews section on Amazon. But I digress.

This passive mindset creates a cross-section of individuals who cannot identify when communication is bona fide and when it’s not. They key their trust to superficial elements—or, typically, to one superficial element in particular: “Does this make me feel good?”

The modern audience wants to be acted upon, you see. The less effort we have to expend, the better.

Our disinclination for critical thinking becomes a veritable playground for content producers well-versed in the nuances of language. The pattern plays out in politics and the entertainment industry alike: an essential part of communication is choosing what information to present and what to withhold.

An audience that doesn’t even question whether it’s looking at the whole picture, then, is ripe for manipulation.

If one knows how to go about it.

Personally, I find the spoon-feeding mentality insulting. Not only does it beleaguer one’s mental capital with an excess of information to wade through, but it implies that an audience lacks the intelligence to understand the full meaning without such careful guidance.

Communication occurs in layers: you can have your superficial “this makes me feel good” layer that contains just enough details for the incurious to accept it as whole, but there are always a multitude of underlying, subtle layers that leave a trail of breadcrumbs for the more canny audience to follow. Where that trail leads depends on the competence of the communicator.

And if I had to choose, I’d take the subtle layers any day of the week. Whether the audience fills in the blank with their own assumptions or follows the subtext to deeper meaning, there is always great power in the details left unsaid.

 

Pervasive and Persuasive: It’s Propaganda!

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When many people hear the word “propaganda” they immediately think of war and politics and Nazi Germany, which took this form of communication to such an extreme level as to shove it over into the perceived negative side of the rhetorical spectrum.

The Nazis popularized the Big Lie technique to dastardly effect. Nowadays, when you call something propaganda, it invokes that bygone era and casts a shade of corruption and deceit upon the item in question—or upon you for calling it out.

But, truthfully, we’re surrounded by propaganda almost 24-7.

Language in Harmony

In Rhetoric, the philosopher Aristotle introduces three rhetorical proofs that work in harmony to create good rhetoric: Ethos, Pathos, and Logos.

  • Ethos refers to moral character; the term is directly related to “ethics.” A speaker with good ethos fixes themselves and their arguments on solid moral ground, demonstrating an honest nature and instilling their audience with trust.
  • Pathos refers to emotion; the term is cousin to “pathetic,” which originally meant “full of feeling” rather than “something contemptible or deserving pity.” A good rhetorician conveys their emotion to engage their audience more fully.
  • Logos, as you can probably guess, refers to logic; good rhetoric must be rational and well-reasoned. It provides sufficient and consistent evidence for its thesis.

These three elements, working together, create solid, persuasive communication.

Language Out of Balance

Propaganda is rhetoric at an extreme, where the Ethos-Pathos-Logos triangle gets skewed into a false caricature of its former self.

Ethos gets thrown out the window from the start: the propagandist seeks to manipulate first and foremost—whether it’s convincing you to support a cause or to buy a product or to vote for one candidate over another. Propaganda has no interest in unbiased information because it doesn’t trust you to make up your own mind. (It’s already made up your mind for you, thank you very much.)

With ethos out of the way, Pathos reigns supreme. Propaganda runs amok through the emotional spectrum. It incites fear, it projects happiness, it foments anger and invokes pride. And it does all of these in exaggerated form. “Look at all the joy this awesome new product will bring to your life!” “Don’t vote for her! She’ll throw grandma off a cliff!” “Support this issue now and your grandchildren will praise and adore you!”

Logos abandons reason and morphs into the part of the shifty sidekick. Evidence may or may not enter the argument. It may or may not be relevant. It is inaccurate, over-simplified, and/or inconsistent. The argument sets a double standard, with the speaker pointing fingers at others while holding no accountability for him- or herself.

And when this type of communication succeeds, it’s because we as humans by default assume that the speaker’s Ethos-Pathos-Logos triangle is intact.

Questioning the Narrative

Some questions to pose when confronted with a piece of suspected propaganda:

  • What is the speaker’s motive?
  • What emotions does this argument invoke? Are they balanced against its ethics and logic, or does emotion take center stage?
  • Is there evidence provided? Is it relevant, accurate, and sufficient?
  • Is the argument consistent? Do its claims match real-world results?
  • Does the speaker maintain the same standards they advocate?

It’s so much easier to accept communication as bona fide than to have to question every piece of information we receive. Even so, a little skepticism will go a long way in today’s world. Propaganda clots the airwaves and clutters the Internet. It bombards us in visual and verbal form. It manipulates our minds and befuddles our senses.

But don’t take my word for it. That would defeat the purpose of this post.

The Sweet Taste of Empty Rhetoric

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When I was in, oh, third grade or thereabouts, one of my cousins, a sixth-grader, ran for student body president of our elementary school. The candidates gave their speeches over the intercom system as all the classes listened, and boy was his a dilly.

My class listened in wonder, oohing and ahhing, murmuring with excitement as he painted the picture of a glorious technicolor world under his auspicious leadership. (Aside: as a reminder, I live in Arizona, where everything is brown under a blue sky. We do lease some greens and oranges on fleeting occasions. /aside)

The only specific line I recall is that he promised us the drinking fountains would flow with root beer instead of water.

Root beer free and on tap is just about the fondest dream of every all-American third-grader. This cousin of mine had the whole school in the palm of his hands.

And I was right there with them, even as a nagging thought in the back of my head asked, “But how would that even work? Where would the root beer come from, and wouldn’t it have to be re-supplied all the time? And what about the mess? Sticky fountains, sticky floors—to say nothing of how often the pipes would have to be cleared and cleaned.”

I suppressed my doubts and, along with my eager classmates, threw my support behind the magnificent promise. (What third-grader really knows how a drinking fountain works? Maybe the water comes from a tank, easily supplied with root beer in its stead.)

My cousin won the election.

We continued to drink water from our drinking fountains thereafter.

And I, a little wiser from the experience, learned never to trust the promises of a politician on the campaign trail.

Alas, I seem to be in the minority with that lesson. Sometimes, when I look at the political landscape, I feel like an adult in a room full of third-graders:

“People really believe this? Has anyone thought about the logistics involved in delivering that promise?”

No one thinks about logistics if they can possibly help it. We linger in dreams and leave the heavy thinking to the professionals. But honestly, it doesn’t take professional knowledge to realize that root beer in a drinking fountain doesn’t work, so to speak. All you really need is a dose of skepticism and a pinch of common sense.

Which begs the question, again: “People really believe this?”

And I would put to you that, no, many people don’t. Many people, caught up in the rhetoric of what sounds good, know deep down that it’s only rhetoric. They enjoy the rainbow in front of them, dreaming of the pot of gold even while cognizant that in the end, the colors will fade into the ether with nothing of substance left behind.

For the true believers, the ones with their hearts set on that pot, the ones building their futures around root-beer drinking fountains, a day of reckoning is always around the corner. And when it comes, each inquiring mind will face two possible conclusions:

  1. “Oh. He was lying all along because it sounded good,” or
  2. “Those spoil-sport adults must have ruined his amazing plans.”

Rhetoric without substance to back it is empty, the junk food of communication. Some people like junk food. Some people convince themselves it’s nutritious.

And really, it’s futile for the otherwise-informed to fight this trend. We all hear what we want. We choose what to believe based on personal ideals. And sometimes, unfortunately, we support a narrative because it makes us feel good, and not because it holds any logical substance at all.

Make No Mistake, Or Else

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Typos are the worst. You check and re-check, proofread and edit, send the copy out to third parties for proofreading, and when you finally think you’ve caught every errant mark, you hit “publish” feeling mostly confident.

And then, voila.

The rogue typo magically appears.

The brain, in its helpful fabulosity, has filled in blanks and reordered letters to perfection, so that you swear up and down that typo was never there before, even though it always was.

Dear Brain,

This is not actually helpful. However, I won’t ask you to stop because I’m not sure what other functions this ability ties to, and I’d rather not mess with how my synapses fire. So, carry on, I guess…?

Love you lots,
Me

Over the course of my dubious writing career, I have employed three methods for finding typos:

  1. Let the draft sit. Like, for 6 months, so that you can look at it with fresh-ish eyes. Obviously this does not work well for blog posts that have a twenty-minute turnaround between drafting and publishing. (I exaggerate. It’s more like ten minutes.)
  2. Give the draft to someone else to read. This also does not work well for blog posts, since I’m usually typing them late at night when I’m alone and friendless. (As opposed to earlier in the day when I’m also alone and friendless but might have a chance encounter with a passing family member. Hi, Mom!)
  3. Read the draft in a different font and format. The altered visual disrupts the brain’s auto-correct filter. This is my blog-post method, mostly because of the handy “preview” button. I hate changing fonts in longer documents for a multitude of reasons, but it’s supposed to help there too. (Maybe someday I’ll actually try it.)

None of these methods produces perfect results 100% of the time. Ninja-typos infiltrate where one least expects them, lurking in the shadows, waiting for their opportunity to humiliate. And humiliate they do. Typos can strip away intellectual authority and rob one’s dignity in one fell swoop.

“Whoa. They flubbed that one tiny word in their argument? How can I trust anything they say if they’re not smart enough to catch that?”

Of course, as with any grammatical mistake, the severity of the offense is inversely proportional to how much we love the offender. It’s easy to brush off a friend’s typos with, “Oh, everyone makes mistakes from time to time,” but an adversary’s typo is cause for rampant mockery and scorn.

It almost makes one yearn for the bygone days of anything-goes Middle English spelling. Almost.

But the standard is here to stay, so the never-ending search for elusive typos shall continue.

Fight the good fight, my friends, and happy hunting.

 

Taking the Low Road to Power

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Politics is a touchy subject, I know. I think we can all agree, however, that it habitually draws the Worst Possible candidates into its jaws. (We may not agree on who those Worst Possibles are, but let’s sweep that detail under the rug, shall we? *wink*) The Worst Possibles always want power, and politics is a nexus thereof.

Peanut-butter, meet your jelly.

The diversity of thought in democratic-minded countries allows each and every one of us to feel like these Worst Possibles succeed far too often in the political sphere. We root for underdog challengers, but deep down we know the narrative is 98% set in stone.

So, we turn to fiction for solace.

Whenever an election story line shows up—and I’m including Homecoming/Prom-type scenarios here as well—the reader automatically knows who the shoe-in is, who the underdog is, and which one of these, in a perfect world, would have absolutely no chance of winning.

(Hint: It’s usually not the underdog.)

It goes something like this:

Über-popular, awful Person A is a candidate for some office, contest, or award. Normal, kindly Person B gets nominated as well. Ugly politics ensue, wherein Person B must choose either to take the high road or to get down and dirty in the mud. In the end, whether A or B wins, the contest outcome is less important than the lessons learned along the way.

The audience can see at the outset that Person A is horrible, but the fictional society around Person A apparently cannot, which creates dramatic tension. On the other hand, the audience knows at the start that Person B is better and more deserving of the honor, but the fictional society has little to no clue that Person B even exists.

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this narrative (and it certainly has its real-life equivalents), you wanna know the story I’d like to read instead?

Über-popular, kindly Person A is a candidate for some office, contest, or award. Normal, awful Person B gets into the race as well. Person B uses every underhanded, dirty tactic in the book—including invoking the Awful Popular vs. Kindly Underdog narrative described above—to unseat Person A from their social throne.

I don’t even care how the contest ends. Person A, being kindly, would exhibit grace regardless of the outcome. Person B, being awful, would seethe with resentment because of it (presuming there is no Convenient Reformation™ that occurs). The plot could twist in a tragic or comedic bent, depending on the author’s will.

Most importantly (for me), the focus of the story would shift from the contest to the characters. Does adversity corrupt or purify Person A? Does manipulation drive Person B to remorse or ruthlessness?

The external rivalry, dramatic as it may be, holds less interest than the spectrum of possible internal conflicts. Politics at its very best is not loud opinions and attention-hogging ads. It’s that quiet voice that whispers, “Is this who I really am? Is it who I really want to be?”

And, quizzically, it’s also the social instinct that smothers that voice to go with the flow. There’s always room for one more on the bandwagon.

The Consequence of Seeing Red

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The social narrative for redheads is a double-edged sword, with the lovable, quirky, positive image juxtaposed against a much darker perception.

In ages past, red hair had a direct association with witchcraft and the occult. It served as evidence of Satanic ties, rumored to be favored by the devil himself. Witch hunters kept watch for fiery locks, and were advised to consider them an outward sign of evil hearts.

I heard, once upon a time, that for England at least, this came because redheads were prevalent among the Celtic tribes: the Irish, Scottish, Cornish, and Welsh. The Irish in particular, removed on their island and resistant to British rule, maintained close ties with their pagan folklore and roots, with the “other-izing” effect that they were perceived as more attuned to supernatural elements.

This belief that red hair marked a witch or other supernatural being was not restricted only to the British Isles, however, but cropped up across Northern Europe. This negative narrative echoes into present day, where red hair can yet signal a social outlier.

The “redheaded stepchild” motif plays into this narrative, as does the bullying that some redheads suffer as a result of their hair color. “Better dead than red,” the saying goes, and many a redhead has sloughed it off as best they could.

Infamously, South Park dedicated an episode to “gingers,” which spawned the ongoing meme that redheads are soulless, as well as inspiring a “Kick-a-Ginger Day” observance among some over-zealous middle-schoolers. And, of course, the Internet is rife with such negative stereotypes.

Redheads are the perpetual outcast, the default whipping boy for the rest of society—or society of European descent, at least. I would say it’s astonishing that a simple physical characteristic could spawn such irrational patterns of thought and behavior, but this seems to be the general modus operandi for much of the human race. Redheads are not the first, nor are they the most abused on the spectrum of victims.

Ginger Pride, too, is alive and well. (As it should be, because we’re awesome.)

For authors who create redheaded characters, whether to fill the role of protagonist or antagonist, the many social concerns of redheads must come into play, at least in the character development stage. Does the society of your story view red hair as a positive feature? A negative one? Is it noted at all? How will that perception shape your character’s worldview? (And believe me, it will.)

Most importantly, is the red hair simply one of your character’s features or is it a full-blown personality trait?

If it’s the latter, you’re playing into a stereotype. Proceed with caution.

Secrets of a Rare Breed

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Blog articles abound on redhead statistics: anywhere from 1-4% of the world’s population has this coloration, it’s more prevalent in Northern European countries (from the British Isles over to Russia), and it’s a recessive trait caused by a mutation of the MC1R gene, so it can skip generations.

A few years back, a piece even circulated about how redheads are going extinct. (That was false, by the way.)

I could parrot these articles and give you lots of readily accessible redhead facts. Instead, I’m going to discuss a less-acknowledged coppertop attribute.

To start: natural redheads can usually spot a dye job a mile away. We’re conditioned to see our hair as part of our identity, and we know when someone’s trying to break into the club.

A common phrase among redheads: “This color doesn’t come from a bottle.” For clarification on why this statement is so true, I spoke with Rashelle du Pont, hair stylist extraordinaire. Rashelle, a fellow redhead, is an artist when it comes to hair color. She gets to work with a lot of redheads from young to old, with every tone from strawberry-blond to dark auburn, and she’s an expert at matching the natural color to a shade.

(She’s also my cousin. Have I mentioned that my maternal relatives consider red hair to be a badge of honor and evidence of divine favor? They do, and of course it is.)

According to Rashelle, the spectrum of red hair covers more than just the light-to-dark continuum. Most people think of the fiery red tones when they hear the word “redhead,” but copper, auburn, and ginger all have their place in this color family. What’s more, red hair also incorporates both a warm and a cool spectrum of color.

And most bottle-jobs skew too far to the warm side. When your Lucille Balls and Emma Stones of the world sport that vibrant shade of red that leaps off the screen and looks too good to be true, it is too good to be true. (Both Lucille and Emma were/are natural blondes.)

The cool-toned reds get easily overlooked, but this is the link that your bottle-reds are missing. Rashelle’s custom formula for “the perfect auburn” involves a 50/50 mixture of copper (warm) and what she terms an “ashy bluish-green” (cool). And, from the sounds of it, that’s an easy combo. She mixes 4-5 colors to match some shades of red.

What can I say? Redheads are naturally complex.

As you can probably imagine, this warm/cool combo throws all the fashion color theories out the window, but those theories were created for blondes and brunettes anyway. Redheads almost need their own line of makeup and their own color palette for clothes. However, as only ~2% of the population suffers from this lack, we make do with what we have.

I will admit, though, that my world opened up the day my Great-Aunt Elise (also a hair stylist) disclosed, “Honey, you’re a blue-red, not an orange-red.” All my life up until then, I’d been told that my hair color was warm, which left me to wonder why I looked so horrible in warm-colored clothes.

These days I like to toy with the cool/warm ambiguity. I can tip my green eyes over to blue with the right makeup. I’ve found the perfect shade of orange I can wear (more in the copper spectrum, naturally). I know which colors will wash me out and which ones will turn me pink.

And the cardinal rule? When in doubt, wear black.

(Red hair really should come with an owner’s manual.)

Now, you may be thinking, “But Kate, blondes and brunettes have this warm/cool spectrum as well.” And of course they do. But what does someone say when they’re a warm blonde or a warm brunette?

“Hey, I have some red in my hair.”

Yeah. Sure you do. Welcome to the club.

Cue the Lovable, Quirky Hijinks

AverageEverygirl076

I was nine years old when Disney first released The Little Mermaid. It had a tremendous impact on me.

Strawberry Shortcake, Little Orphan Annie, Raggedy Ann: these were my people. But they were all children, so they were for babies. Insofar as “adults” were concerned, Barbie  and Aurora were blondes, Snow White had black hair, and Cinderella, a strawberry blonde in the movie, was rendered blonde everywhere else, as though her red hair was a shameful secret to sweep under the rug.

(“Shh! Don’t mention the red hair!”)

Prior to The Little Mermaid, the only significant openly redheaded adult character I had encountered was Jessica Rabbit, from Who Framed Roger Rabbit the previous year. And, as I’ve previously discussed, my parents were less than enthused when I latched onto her as a role model.

So along came Ariel (who was hardly an adult, but to a nine-year-old, sixteen is ancient). She was redheaded, she was grown up, and she was “mine.” All redheaded characters were “mine,” up until I started noticing a pattern in the set.

Spunky Ariel challenged her father’s rule and struck her own path. Sultry Jessica Rabbit sashayed her way to whatever she wanted. Quirky Strawberry, Annie, and Ann used their winsome smiles to endear themselves to everyone. But it wasn’t simply their character. The charm was in the hair.

Red hair is a literary hallmark. Like a beacon on a hill, it instantly alerts the audience, “Hey! This character is different and unique and living outside the box!”

Some literary encounters:

  • Pippi Longstocking, Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren: Pippi belongs in the same category as Strawberry, Annie, and Ann, except that she’s “quirky” on steroids. Those braids! Those freckles! That name! What’s Pippi up to now? D’aww, there are sure to be some hilarious hijinks from the lovable, quirky redhead.
  • Caddie Woodlawn, Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink: It’s another lovable, quirky redhead! And she’s a tomboy, too! What’s that quirky Caddie up to today? Off riding horses or playing with Indians? D’aww, there are sure to be some hilarious hij—hang on. Didn’t I already do this bit?
  • Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery: Look! It’s another precocious, fanciful, lovable redhead! And the hijinks! Of course! Anne wouldn’t have been nearly as precocious or fanciful or lovable as a dirty-blonde or a brunette, amirite? Half of her character is built from her hair color. And she hates it. Like, she constantly laments having red hair, to the extent that I started to question my worldview. Was I supposed to hate my hair too?
  • Aerin, The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley: Say goodbye to quirks and hijinks. This novel broadened my understanding of the negative side of red hair. Aerin, the witchwoman’s daughter, an outcast from her dark-haired countrymen, faces isolation from her own family because of her fiery locks. She’s actually not quirky. She’s also not out-of-the-box by choice. She’s been shoved out because she doesn’t belong. So, breath of fresh air and depressing all at the same time. Hooray…?
  • The Weasley Family, the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling: Oh, look! We’re magic and could probably build ourselves a castle with magic, but we’re a whole lovable family of super-quirky redheads, so we’re going to live in a super-quirky shambles of a shack that we’ll call The Burrow. It’s so quirky! Did we mention that we all have red hair? And that we’re quirky?

Okay, so I might have already reached my disillusionment stage by the time I encountered Harry Potter. I know that people absolutely love the Weasleys, and I probably would have loved them too if they were a family of blonds or brunets, or a mixture of hair colors. But the whole “quirky gingers” vibe put me off because it’s already flippin’ everywhere. And since the only other redhead in the series (if I recall correctly) was Lily Potter—who is dead on Page 1—as a redhead, I found the “lovable, quirky outcasts” just a bit too stereotypical.

Oh, but that’s just one of my quirks, I suppose. It came with the hair color.

(I guess the “lovable” trait takes some actual work, haha.)

Drifting Towards the Worst Possible Outcomes

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What is it with time travel and Nazis, anyway? It’s generally accepted that anyone who develops a time machine has a moral obligation to use it to stop Hitler. It’s also generally accepted that, for our closed-loop timeline at least, all such endeavors failed.

(But seriously, Hitler survived how many assassination attempts? Wikipedia has an “incomplete” list of 25, so there totally could have been time travelers in that mix.)

More nerve-wracking than the time-traveler’s requirement to take out Hitler, though, is the understood condition that any changes made to the past will likely result in an Axis victory and a world-wide totalitarian state.

TVtropes.org calls it Godwin’s Law of Time Travel:

As the amount of time-traveling you do increases, the probability of Hitler winning World War II approaches one.”

This trope fits right into the open-loop mantra, “Don’t meddle.” Time, that delicate mechanism, turns its course upon the slightest variations, and all alternate roads apparently lead to a worldwide socialist regime and swastikas on the White House. (Which is one reason I prefer the closed-loop model, truth be told.)

Why can’t it lead to a libertarian paradise for once, hmm? Probably because, in our heart of hearts, we’re all cynics. It’s human nature to lean towards the Worst Possible Outcome, and for Western society, that is Hitler’s Holocaust.

I’ve taken it for granted most of my life that there is nothing worse than Hitler, but in recent years I’ve come to realize that I was wrong. For all the atrocities of WWII, the millions of people who died and the millions more who suffered, there is something worse.

It’s worse than Stalin’s Holodomor, worse than Mao’s “Three Bitter Years,” worse than Pol Pot’s Killing Fields, and all the numberless atrocities that have occurred in the history of humankind upon this earth.

It is, simply, that despite the very clear-cut lessons history teaches us through these awful events, there are still people who cling to the power-hungry ideologies that caused them.

How is this even possible? Naive as it may seem, I always assumed that Nazism died in a German bunker in 1945. It should have died there or else shortly thereafter, when images from concentration camps circulated the globe.

“This is the consequence of this system of beliefs,” those images whisper. “Do not tread this path again.”

And yet, this -ism, alongside many others with similar outcomes, rears its head in pockets around the world, as though the consequences were trivial, non-existent, or—worst of all—a necessary means to an end. It’s mind-boggling to me.

The philosopher George Santayana warned, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Humans may not have the power to go back in time, to fix things so that we can say, “Never at all,” but we should at least hold our ground and say, “Never again.”

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