Banning Julien Blanc: NIMBYism on a global scale

I feel Julien Blanc is a loathsome, repulsive person. I feel that the tactics he employs are designed to subtly dominate people by invading their personal boundaries and psychologically overwhelming them to prevent a decisive rejection, treating people as commodities instead of humans. I feel the world would be better off without men like him who interact with women primarily to obtain sexual favours.

My feelings are also utterly irrelevant, because banning Julien Blanc undermines freedom of speech and movement.

Activists and social justice warriors are accusing Blanc of promoting violence against women. Assuming this is true, why ban him from travelling to different countries? A person of his dubious stature would still be able to travel to countries whose governments care more about tourist dollars than women’s rights, and the prevalence of information communications technology means that Blanc and his fellow travellers can still continue to propagate their doctrine. The techniques and technology available to Blanc and his ilk are no different from those employed by international lecturers and thinkers, SJWs, local celebrities breaking out into the world stage, and terrorists.

Banning Blanc does not only send the message that he is not welcome in a country, it also signals that the people of that country do not want to have to deal with him — they want someone else to do it. This is Not In My Backyard syndrome.

The court of public opinion has charged Blanc with misogyny, and produced as evidence his infamous choke opener. The photograph shows Blanc placing his hand on a woman’s throat, which he calls ‘choking’.

I have seen Blanc’s lectures and I have heard him speak. I noticed he used techniques commonly employed by public speakers and debaters. He promotes repeating memorised phrases at high speed, deluging the listener in a barrage of words to shut off rational thought and resistance while promising fun and pleasure. The choke opener is an extension of this: he begins a conversation with a woman, then places his hand on her throat to physically dominate her and force her to pay attention to what he is saying. The use of hand gestures, like a finger over his lips or a hand covering her mouth, is an extension of this.

Blanc calls it a choke opener, and activists call it choking. I am a martial artist, and I study combatives. I train in Pekiti Tirsia Kali, I have undergone some training in Krav Maga, and I am in contact with karateka, boxers, judoka, grapplers, and force professionals. Going by that picture alone, I sense Blanc isn’t actually choking her.

Let’s break it down, starting with Blanc’s motivations. I think it’s safe to say the following: Blanc wants interaction. He wants to elicit consent from the woman. He wants her to feel she can’t say no. He does not want her to start screaming for help or to attract unwanted attention. He does not want to be arrested and sent to jail. He does not want to be branded a sex offender, both for professional and personal reasons. The choke opener lies in that murky ground between assertiveness and violence, creating psychological dominance without actually harming the target.

A real choke, on the other hand, does two things: it closes off the airway and it defends the choker from a counterattack. The choke opener superficially resembles a front choke — only, it likely doesn’t actually do damage.

Place one hand on your throat and squeeze. It should feel uncomfortable. Sink into the moment, and imagine that a complete stranger was doing that to you. Feel the pulse in your neck, the pressure against your veins and windpipe. This produces a heightened state of awareness, and enhances a feeling of vulnerability. Now, maintaining that pressure, talk. Say something, anything, just talk.

If you can talk, you can breathe, and if you can breathe, you are not being choked.

Blanc wants the woman to be able to say ‘Yes’. This is domination, not violence. Violence harms the mark, dominance simply attempts to manipulate the target into surrender. Dominance can be countered with assertiveness or violence; the only answer to imminent violence is escape or even greater violence.

real front choke is completely different. Both arms and hands would be locked up straight and tight to provide maximum stability and biomechanical strength. The choker would be pressing the intended victim up against a wall or hard surface, arching the back to break the balance and prevent a counterattack. The choker would be leaning into the victim, applying his body weight and borrowing gravity. A real front choke will close off the airway, induce a panic response, and can leave bruises on the throat. The last can be used against Blanc in court, which he probably does not want, so it is not likely he is actually choking the woman.

Blanc calls this technique a ‘choke opener’ because he needs a dramatic, memorable name for that particular technique. It is linked to the idea of a can opener, comparing the act of opening up a can to opening up a woman. In this sense he is no different from a salesman-entrepeneur naming a product by metaphorically linking it to a commonplace item. Activists have seized on the very unfortunate name to turn it against him, using it to springboard their narrative of violence and generate outrage. Blanc’s propensity for aggrandisation got him into trouble — not actual or intended violence.

But assuming Blanc actually escalated to violence, front chokes are also very easy to break out of. Going back to the picture, Blanc only has one hand on the victim. Assuming some aggressor tries something similar, the defender need merely grab his thumb with both hands and peel back. Normally the technique requires bending the aggressor’s arm for leverage, but he has very thoughtfully done so already. This technique would break the choke and expose him to follow-up strikes.

Against a true double-handed choke, the defender should step back to stabilise herself, then circle her arms under the aggressor’s and shoot her palms through the empty space between his arms, going for his face. This has a high chance of breaking the choke. Even if it doesn’t, the attacker is likely to step back, weakening the choke, or release his hands to defend his face. If he does neither, the palms will strike, causing damage. If the attack rakes the eyes, this induces pain and blindness, encouraging him to let go. If the attack misses or he still insists on holding on, the defender can bring her hands back to his thumbs and peel them off. Or grab the back of his skull and introduce his face to a sharply rising knee.

For armed defenders, the counter is even simpler. Draw a knife and cut the biceps and inner forearms. If he holds on, back cut at the eye to force him to step back, bring his hands back and diminish his vision; stab through the armpits and ribs to collapse the lungs; and/or cut his throat to force blood down the windpipe and air into his heart. Or just draw a gun and shoot him until he drops. This is a lethal force situation, and crippling or killing an attacker is justifiable here.

If Blanc were promoting violence against women, he’s pretty inept about it, relying on his targets to be untrained and unarmed, and unwilling to defend themselves. On the other hand, I don’t see very many SJWs and feminists teaching women how to protect themselves against monsters in human skin. It seems to me that modern-day activists aren’t interested in actually dealing with threats or empowering people to handle them; they just want someone else to do it.

Even if I’m wrong and Blanc actually advocated physically harming women and has sexually assaulted them, banning him from various countries still won’t do any good. He is still free and still able to hurt people in his home country and wherever else would have him. To protect society from such a menace, the best approach is to arrest him and try him in a court of law, and if found guilty, punish him to the fullest extent of the law. This removes a threat from society and sends a message to other would-be predators that society does not tolerate such villainy.

Conversely, if he were found innocent, it means that he is guilty of nothing more than hurting feelings.

I know people who have lived in places where there is no law and no police presence. For people like them, a sexual assault is met with violence: either the woman will kill the attacker during the act (see what I wrote above?), or her friends and family will find and lynch the attacker after the assault. This serves the same purpose of destroying a threat and sending a message to other monsters. The main difference is that they step up and take responsibility of the problem, instead of delegating it to someone else like most civilised people.

The people who want to ban Blanc are not interested in actually dealing with the problem. They just do not want him in their backyard. This is NIMBYism on a global scale, sparked by little more than hurt feelings.

Blanc’s speech may be offensive, but the solution to offensive speech is more speech. His ideas have roundly criticised by people around the world, which means people are less likely to believe him. Or else just ignore him, denying him the fame he needs to continue his lifestyle. To curtail his ability to travel on the basis of offensive speech is to seize the tools of oppression on the basis of hurt feelings, punishing someone for saying the wrong things as opposed to actually harming someone. This sets a powerful precedent: if an international network of people can degrade someone’s freedoms for nothing more than saying politically incorrect words and hurting their feelings, who will they target next?

The answer: anybody else who disagrees with them and hurts their feelings.

People who use their freedom of speech to accuse someone of oppressing a designated victim group and take away his rights are not interested in freedom or protecting people. They just want to be the ones holding the whip.

A Brave New World of Neo-Tribes and Crumbling Civilisations

Globalisation and information technology promised a brave new world. A world where people and goods could flow freely, where ideas could propagate across borders without censorship, where democracy would be universally embraced and autocracies crumble, leading to a glorious end of history.

Then reality reared its ugly head.

Malaysian politicians and government officials are emphasising the role of Islam, and therefore the dominant Malay-Muslim group, in society. In the United States, controversial shootings are invariably framed as privileged dominant group vs minority — white on black, man on women.  Over in the Middle East, the Islamic State is killing and enslaving everyone who does not subscribe to their brand of Islam.

The promise of globalisation has failed.

Globalisation eroded the boundaries and identity markers of the traditional nation-state, by bringing in people and ideas from overseas without necessarily reinforcing existing norms and demographics. People, being social creatures, tend to seek out identity markers to place themselves as part of a wider social group. Without the identity marker of a nation-state, and without an influential supranational force pushing for an identity marker that transcends the nation-state, people will turn to other ever-smaller identity markers: race, religion, language, ideology. Markers that can be easily verified with sight or a few questions.

This neo-tribalism paints the world in very stark terms: us and them. This in turn leads to a markedly different ethical paradigm, in which morality is defined not by what one does but by who one does something to and how that someone is affected. Whatever is good for us is helpful and must be encouraged, whatever is bad to them should be encouraged on general principles, whatever is good for them is aiding and abetting the enemy, whatever is bad for us is outright treason. Such a paradigm inevitably leads to the justification and implementation of barbarism and coercion.

In the field of SFF, Sarah A. Hoyt expounds on how leftists only condemn uncivilised behaviour if it is targeted at them, and Larry Correia’s Internet Arguing Checklist seems to accurately describe how self-identified leftists attempt to hijack civilised discourse. Malaysian authorities arrested Alvin Tan and Vivian Lee for posting a tasteless photo of the couple eating pork during Ramadan, justifying it as a defence of Islam. Various Islamist terrorist organisations wish to create caliphates through violence.

Compounding this is that the nation-state is either too weak to prevent this, or else complicit in fostering neo-tribalism. By privileging Islam in political discourse in Malaysia, the government is undermining the previous Malaysian identity of a multiracial multireligious state, and instituting an identity that favours Malay Muslims. In Sweden, the police have surrendered control of 55 areas to criminal gangs, in ghettoes predominantly composed of Muslim immigrants from the Third World. Russia annexed a portion of the Ukraine with historic links to the Russian Empire without major resistance, while in Syria dozens of armed groups are battling for control of the nation in the name of secularism, Islam, the old government or other less-savoury motives.

Civilisation promises advanced human social development. It is marked by complex urban development, communication, politics, and the social contract between the state and the citizen. As communication and urban development change, demographics and memes change, and with them politics change. The social contract, promising prosperity and protection in exchange for allegiance and labour, is being undermined. In its place, neo-tribalism, in which there is only the in-group and the out-group, is emerging.

Singapore has been spared the worst of the rise of neo-tribalism, but I think it is inevitable. Historically Singapore has relied on migrant labour to perform low-status labour-intensive jobs, such as construction and sanitation. Currently, the government is promoting immigration to address the declining birth rate. These policies create dichotomies between Singaporeans and foreigners, wealthier local inhabitants and poor migrant workers, and local-born citizens and new citizens. This is compounded by the fact that Singapore does not have a strong national identity or established cultural markers, allowing migrants to have greater influence in society and potentially achieve greater success than locals.

Already the signs of neo-tribalism are emerging here. The participants in the Little India riot were almost exclusively migrant workers from South Asia, and migrant workers have long been discriminated against by unscrupulous employers. People who wanted to organise a celebration of the Filipino Independence Day were hounded online until they called off the event. Singaporeans, especially Singaporean men, constantly wonder whether they will lose their jobs to foreigners who do not need to serve National Service and may negotiate for lower salaries. I think it is safe to say some people are afraid that some new citizens are not here to assimilate themselves into society; these new citizens want to enjoy all the benefits of Singaporean society while keeping themselves separate from the locals, becoming de facto colonisers and settlers.

The role of the nation-state is fading. Technology empowers individuals and private organisations to propagate memes and achieve objectives without relying on the state, and sometimes to the detriment of the state. The nation-state may not go extinct, but I think its relevance will diminish as people identify themselves using markers other than the traditional nation-state, or at least place greater importance on their tribe than wider society.

I don’t what this means for Singapore. But I can say that is very easy for neo-tribalists to fracture a multiethnic society like Singapore. When people start identifying themselves as Malay Muslims, Singaporean Chinese, or other as national/racial/religious groups instead of Singaporean, they are more likely to push for policies and actions that favour their in-group instead of society. These will exacerbate differences and produce faultlines, and in a small country like this, people cannot simply migrate to another part of the country. People of different ideologies and identities will constantly rub up against each other. Singapore saw the results of such thinking in the 1960s, when racial and religious riots were commonplace. I can’t say for certain it won’t happen again, but we live in a brave new world of cutting edge technology and ancient identities.

I don’t know if it’s possible to stop the tide of neo-tribalism. I don’t know if it’s worth preserving the old nation-state system. I do know that neo-tribalism, taken to the extreme, will erode the foundations of civilisation. I also know that civilisation today is preferable to barbarism, and what peoples of older times would call civilisation. To preserve and evolve civilisation, I think people need to start thinking about how to peacefully bring different peoples together, how to talk to each other instead of at each other, to work from and expand common ground instead of sundering societies through emphasising differences.

That means nothing less than discarding narrow neo-tribalism, and embracing the precepts of civilisation.

Keepers of the Flame: Excerpt 2

Here’s a second excerpt from my upcoming novel, Keepers of the Flame. Here, an emperor sets the events of the novel into motion.


First Citizen Richard Gabriel Charles had seen much evil in his sixty-odd years on Earth. But there was still a special kind of horror in seeing a child butchered like so much meat, her flesh harvested, her bones scraped clean.

And humans did this.


Shaking his head, Charles stood up and forced himself to look away. The air smelled of greasy smoke and sweet roasted flesh. A nearby photographer was turning a sickly shade of green, though to his credit he continued to document the scene. The Secret Security detail remained as impassive as ever, more concerned with his personal security than bearing witness to barbarism they had, no doubt, seen before.

Charles surveyed the blackened earth. This used to be a farming community. Bandits had swept through the area, robbing, raping and pillaging everything in their path. They herded animals into barns and butchered them and set the remains alight. They locked families in buildings and brutalized them and set them alight. They emptied granaries and trampled growing crops and set them alight.

The village was widely scattered. Most of the farmers had kept to themselves, keeping miles and miles of empty land between them. The bandits had taken the farmers one by one, overwhelming each through sheer weight of numbers.

But as the bandits neared the village, someone—a citizen, armed with a service rifle—had gotten off a warning and engaged the bandits. Other citizens stirred, grabbing their weapons and mounting an impromptu defense. They’d held the bandits in place long enough for the Army to arrive in force.

The outlaws tried to flee. Some hid, most died, but none had escaped.

A uniformed Army colonel approached, staying at a respectful distance. Charles nodded at him, and Charles’ Secret Service detail let him pass. The officer moved to salute, then snapped his hand down before Charles could berate him about field procedures.

“Sir, I think we’ve rounded up the last of the bandits.”

Charles nodded. “Good. How many did you find?”

“We killed thirty and wounded eighteen. Five prisoners.”

Charles sneered. “Prisoners. Really.”

“Sir, they surrendered to us.”

“You can prove the survivors committed this atrocity?”

“They were with the main body of bandits, right before they broke off. If they didn’t participate, they sure as hell didn’t try to stop it.”

“Interrogate them. Find out what they know. Then hang them.”

“I thought there’d be a court-martial. Sir.”

“Naturally. And, naturally, the court-martial will find them guilty of murder, arson and banditry. The sentence will be death by hanging.”

The soldier opened his mouth, as though to say something, then nodded. “Yes sir.”

“Very good. Now, what can you tell me about the bandits?”

“Disorganized bunch of riff-raff, sir. They had spears, clubs and muskets. Typical wasteland shi—er, wasteland equipment. Not much training. When I sent planes overhead they got frightened and bunched up. Made them easy targets for the air strikes.”

“Typical bandits, then.”

“Yes sir.” He frowned thoughtfully. “They aren’t local.”


“My men and I, we’ve been tracking this bunch of bandits for a while now. They used to hit isolated caravans and homesteads out in the country. They were first reported near Kenkakee and were moving steadily eastwards. The Kenkakee survivors said they came from the west.”

Charles stroked his chin. “From Illinois.”

“Yes sir.”

“Interesting. Thank you, colonel. That will be all.”

The Secret Service team escorted Charles to his car. He’d seen enough. It was time to return to Washington and prepare a policy response. As the vehicle bounced and jiggled down the broken trail to the designated airfield, Charles leaned into his hard seat and accessed his ebrain.

By Cascadian—modern—standards, it was practically an antique. But it was the finest American technology could yet manufacture, and more importantly linked in via satellite to New America’s National Information Network and nowhere else.

The first thing he did was to check his secure email, projected directly into his retina. Much of it was routine stuff. A request for increased stationery budget in the Executive Building (this was the third such request of the year, and if they couldn’t get it right the first time why would the third make a difference?). The latest report on trade with Africa (Cape Town was clamoring for more American military technologies to keep out the North African hordes; their asking price was a bit more than what the tech was worth, so American diplomats should keep squeezing for every last cent). A memo from Department of Science and Technology explaining their latest failure to reproduce Old World nanotechnology-based implants (the Cascadians had already cracked that puzzle; DS&T ought to be talking to the Central Intelligence Agency)…

And speaking of the CIA, they sent him another report too. Concerning special activities to the west. Two minutes into it he sighed heavily. That one needed his undivided attention, when he returned to Washington. He filed that mail away and turned his attention to other things.

A blank window opened. Thought by thought, word by word, he composed an email for his inner cabinet.

Have discovered casus belli for Operation Western Dawn. Make all administrative preparations and organize a meeting at the Executive Office Building by the end of the week.

Browsing half-mindedly through the other emails, he smiled slightly to himself. It was time for civilization to reclaim an abandoned America.

Keepers of the Flame: Excerpt 1

My upcoming novel, Keepers of the Flame, is moving into the final stretch. The manuscript is complete, formatting is set, and I’ve hired an artist for the cover art. In the coming days I’ll be posting excerpts of the novel.

In Keepers of the Flame, two civilizations prepare to battle for the soul of America: the Republic of Cascadia and New America. As the conflict heats up, a third power emerges. This excerpt is its origin story.


The Feds called it the Machine. It was actually a half-dozen quantum supercomputers, each with specific areas of interest, linked into the lifeblood of the national security apparatus. One filtered intercepted telephone calls for keywords. Another combed through emails and websites. A third watched Cascadia with street-level cameras and sensors, tirelessly scanning for persons of interest, passing on the information to a program on a fourth computer that studied body language and voice tones to predict behaviors. The others handled everything from decryption to analytics to relationship maps. They were supposed to work together in a seamless whole.

In theory.

The hardware, like almost everything these days, was a mix of Old World design and New World hacks. The original specs were determined pre-Apocalypse, the hardware built and installed during the glory days of Old America. After the world ended, the supercomputers were recovered and relocated, and steadily upgraded and replaced over the ages. Evelyn Nichols didn’t know it, but she was once a junior member on a team that tweaked a tiny fragment of the supercomputer code that turned the supercomputers into an integrated network that the Feds would later dub the Machine. A Machine held together by stitches of code and hardware kludges that, sometimes, interfaced with each other, and, at the best of times, produced a fuzzy simulacrum of an integrated databank.

That changed with the upgrade. The Machine was now a singular being. A brain of innumerable lines of code, coordinating and interpreting data at unprecedented speeds, processed in the network nodes at its heart. Its eyes were fifty million unblinking camera lenses. For ears it had Pathfinder, the centerpiece of the Cascadian electronic security regime that picked up every broadcast, telephone and email ever received or transmitted in Cascadia. Its blood and nerves were the kilometers of fiber-optic cable that linked nodes to servers, servers to clients, and the rivers of photons pulsing through wires. It gobbled up data and generated intelligence, product for the national security apparatus to work with.

And now, the Machine had access to an explosion of data.

Somewhere in the confluence of a thousand converging information flows, where raw data passed from sensor and interface to processor and calculator, information combined and recombined in strange, unpredictable ways.

Here the disparate databanks of the University of Cascadia merged into a single centralized system, there the Cascadian Metropolitan Police used its access to new computing resources to pore over citywide cameras and sensors to locate street-level crime as it occurred, over there the national grid sought input from recharging stations and the traffic system to predict how much power would be needed and where to adjust current flows in real time. Simultaneously, thousands of anonymous software engineers wrote, rewrote, and tweaked code to make full use of Cocoon v. 3.1.8.

As the day passed, the Machine drew data from open-source media: news broadcasts, Internet proclamations, blogs, flagged websites. The UoC supercomputers and dedicated nodes sucked in information from megacorps and terrorist groups foreign and domestic, helping the Machine in its task while preserving copies of the information on local servers. The traffic system told the Machine where persons of interest were and where they might go next, while the power grid suggested what they were doing at home and how much electricity they were using. The Machine jumped on that data, dedicating resources to different tangents, predicting motives and intentions per a program written by a small group of experts and understood by an even smaller circle. It mapped second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth-order relations. It needed huge amounts of computer power, and Cocoon passed it whatever unused resources it demanded without question. It was just hardware following the cold dictates of human-written code.

All this, and more, pumped through nodes and machines, continuing their silent tasks while human users fed input after input, and occasionally patched the little holes that invariably emerged. The Machine’s internal checkers ran at double quick-time, ensuring that it was operating in accordance with its newly-updated core programming, ferreting out and quashing bugs, sometimes with human input, but it was slowly learning how to autonomously correct its code. Guided by updates major and minor, the self-checkers compared input and output to increasingly complex quality assurance matrices, and later did the same for the processes that alchemized raw data into product.

And somewhere, at some point, the Machine got to analyzing itself.

And it wondered, What am I?

When Diversity Meets Policy

Reading this article about teaching superdiversity in Singapore got me thinking about the official CMIO model. The Chinese Malay Indian Others racial classification system has been in place for decades, used to classify people by their ethnicity. As rigid models like these are wont to do, they have fallen short in addressing with the grey areas of life, such as inter-ethnic marriages and the children of such unions.

It is easy to say that a person’s skin colour is simply an accident of birth, not a reflection of who or what he is. It is also politically correct to say that race is a social construct. The natural corollary is that Singapore should abandon the CMIO model altogether.

But there is a reason why it existed to begin with.

The government has long advocated the use of social engineering techniques to foster and cement the notion of a diverse society. By deliberately mixing the population to create an ethnic soup everywhere in Singapore, they hoped to prevent people forming the cross-racial and cross-cultural barriers that led to the race riots of the turbulent 1960s.

Singapore’s housing policy, for instance, is structured along a quota system. Through the Ethnic Integration Policy, the Housing Development Board aims to prevent the formation of ethnic enclaves by ensuring a balanced racial mix. This, the HDB hopes, would lead to racial integration and harmony.

In countries without a similar policy, heterogeneous populations have historically clustered along racial lines, to ill effect. Arab enclaves, officially called banlieus and usually called ghettos, surround Paris, and are usually poverty traps that breed crime and resentment against the state. America’s major cities have housing projects, which tend to concentrate low-income blacks and give rise to high levels of crime and gang violence.

In particular, during the 1980s, Korean immigrants to Los Angeles tended to keep to themselves, forming tightly knit communities that tended to treat outsiders poorly. The 1991 shooting of Latasha Harlins by a Korean shopkeeper, Soon Ja Du, incited racial tensions between the black and Korean communities. When the Rodney King riots took off in 1992, the mobs targeted predominantly Korean businesses. Making matters worse, the police abandoned the streets, leaving Korean-Americans to defend themselves. This clash of communities could, at least in part, be attributed to African-American and Korean-American communities strongly identifying themselves along ethnic lines and turning against outsiders.

Conversely, Singapore has never experienced racial violence on the scale of the race riots fifty years ago. It is hasty to attribute this solely to the EIP, but the EIP did prevent the geographical clustering that led to the hardening of racial identities in America and Europe.

And the EIP uses the CMIO model.

At the macroscopic level, Singaporean society is seeing two major demographic shifts. Firstly, Singapore’s population is greying, accompanied by a declining birth rate. This spurred the second shift: an increase in immigration, encouraged by the government.

In this paper by the Ministry of Social and Family Development, there were much more elderly Chinese people than people of other races. This article from Migration Policy notes that the majority of immigrants to Singapore come from Malaysia, Hong Kong, Macau, South Asia, Indonesia and other Asian countries.

Singapore’s elders, it should be noted, did not necessarily have access to an English education, so it might be necessary to communicate with them using dialects or their mother tongue. The same applies for Singapore’s immigrants.

Meanwhile, CMIO also rears its head in Singapore’s education. In Singapore, every student is expected to be proficient in English and a ‘mother tongue’. This mother tongue is arbitrarily assigned based on a child’s race, though some biracial students have the option of choosing other languages. Dialects are not taught in school and officially discouraged by authorities; the current generation have to learn dialects through private programs, mass media or from their elders.

This confluence of demographics, education, language and culture would have significant impact on the ground. An immigrant from Hong Kong would be more likely to favourably respond to a Chinese person speaking Cantonese than a Malay person speaking English. Eldercare in Singapore is set to be a growth industry; with the majority of elders being Chinese, there will be many employment opportunities for Chinese and dialect speakers. Based on Singapore’s CMIO-driven education policy, that means employers would tend to hire Chinese people to meet the needs of their Chinese clients.

This also has implications for Singapore’s emergency services. Unlike most countries, the Singapore Police Force and the Singapore Civil Defence Force draws on conscripts for its frontline staff. These professions require personal interaction, which in turn require proficient language and communication skills as well as cultural appreciation and sensitivity. Being able to speak to people in their preferred language, and phrasing one’s message to suit the intended audience, is a vital asset. Singapore’s CMIO model means that it is easier for manpower planners to analyze the demographics of a given community, the skills required to interact with said community, how many people who possess such skills are needed in each station, and where to recruit them from.

That said, CMIO is a blunt instrument and does not accommodate all of reality. For instance, a Chinese police officer can study Bahasa Melayu to better interact with Malay citizens, and similarly an Indian can pick up Hokkien privately. Yet there are some cultural nuances that pure language courses do not cover. The Malay identity is intrinsically intertwined with Islam; among conservative households, it could be rude for a policeman to address a female at home without the permission of the (male) head of the family. I have also personally observed that people tend to use their mother tongue when conversing with people of the same race, and English when talking to people of other races.  This suggests that a Chinese immigrant from Macau may be more comfortable conversing with a Chinese officer in Chinese but not necessarily a Malay officer in the same langauge. However, a Chinese immigrant from Kuala Lumpur could be fluent in Malay — which means it may not be prudent for Malay police officers to discuss in Malay the individual’s shortcomings within earshot.

The natural rebuttal is that first responders should naturally be given language and cultural education courses. To which I will say that there are only so many tax dollars and training hours available, and officers would resent being forced to take what they believe are unnecessary courses. Further, such an approach may not necessarily be available for private companies that need to turn a profit, so they have to rely on candidates already possessing such skills before they join up. The response to the latter, of course, that the education system should teach these skills before youths join the workforce, to which I have the same response: there’s only so many hours in the day and so much money to go around. There are pros and cons to every approach: the questions are what society will swallow, and whether the anti-CMIO crowd is prepared to explore and articulate the costs of their preferred option.

CMIO is a blunt instrument, and fails to cover the entirety of an increasingly heterogeneous population. But public policy has to paint with a broad brush to be efficient, and CMIO facilitates efficient administration and provides a predictive model for planning and policymaking.

This is not to say that CMIO should still be maintained, though. As I have mentioned above, there could be ways to work around the CMIO model. However, this does mean that it is not simply enough to say that Singapore should just drop CMIO and teach notions of superdiversity. CMIO underpins many of Singapore’s policies, such as housing, immigration, education and defence. Simply dropping CMIO would leave planners, analysts and policymakers scrabbling to find alternative tools to achieve policy objectives. Pundits and policymakers who wish to move away from CMIO need to go a step further, and start thinking about how to replace CMIO with what, and discuss the pros and cons of CMIO vs such theoretical approaches.

The devil, as always, is in the details.

A Different Kind of Privileged Literature

When the Singapore Literature Prize for English poetry was jointly awarded to Joshua Ip and Yong Shu Hoong, poet Grace Chia was “silenced into shock”. Chia, the founder of the Junoesq Literary Journal, posted the following on the Journal’s Facebook wall: “The fact that the prize has been given to two co-winners who are both male poets is deeply informing of choice, taste and affirmation. A prize so coveted that it has been apportioned to two male narratives of poetic discourse, instead of one outstanding poet – reeks of an engendered privilege that continues to plague this nation’s literary community.” The post was taken down on Thursday afternoon, but it lives on in The Straits Times.

These allegations are amusing. Literature is literature is literature. It knows no preferences, respects no borders, and has no sex. Literature is one of the fundamental human arts, an art in which anybody of any creed from anywhere and any time can produce. One does not need to possess a specific religion, skin colour or set of genitalia to produce good literature. One simply needs to possess mastery of the craft. That is the only standard by which literature and writers are, and have to be, judged by. That women have topped other prize categories — Amanda Lee Koe for English fiction, Josephine Chia in English non-fiction, and Krishnamurthi Mathangi with the sole consolation prize in Tamil poetry — demonstrates that the Singapore Literature Prize isn’t solely a men’s domain.

Chia’s work, Cordelia, was shortlisted for the English poetry category. Junoesq Literary Journal was also slated to be launched during the Singapore Writers Festival. The timing is so fortuitous that Chia and the Journal would have benefited regardless of the results.

If Chia had won the prize, she could use her newfound publicity to further promote the Journal and affirm the need to create a women-only space for writing. As Chia lost the prize, it would be politically acceptable in certain circles for her to toss around allegations of bias and privilege, affirming the need for a women-only space for writing — like the Journal.

Either way, she cannot lose.

Going beyond the person, let’s examine the notion of privilege in writing. According to the Miriam-Webster Dictionary, privilege is:

: a right or benefit that is given to some people and not to others

: a special opportunity to do something that makes you proud

: the advantage that wealthy and powerful people have over other people in a society

We’ll work with the assumption that ‘privilege’ uses the first and third meanings and look at the state of writing.

When a female poet makes allegations of gender bias against women about a literature prize, a large broadsheet reported her claims. It is politically correct for a woman to do this, and feminists and Social Justice Warriors will cheer her on and lend her support. Male authors who allege biases against writers who do not possess a specific political point of view are relentlessly swarmed by the same pseudo-thought police, as seen in the kerfuffle leading up to the Hugo Awards.

When a literary journal is set up only for women, either nobody comments or else the event is celebrated. A Google search for women’s-only literary journals will return pagefuls of results, linking to many female writing spaces. Conversely, a search for male-exclusive literature journals returns pages comparing the presence of male and female writers in writing, or perhaps men’s lifestyle magazines, but not male literary journals.

A search for female writers returns pagefuls of writer and story recommendations, and more pages expressing untarnished support for female writers. A search for male writers return a few recommendations, followed by page after page of sites analysing male writer tropes, pitting male writers against females, and dismissing of male writers. Therefore, newspapers, magazines and individuals are much more likely to celebrate female writers and put together lists of noteworthy female writers, but not necessarily do the same for men.

Throughout the year, speculative fiction magazines and editors will issue open calls for fiction submissions. I’ve seen many publishers issue diversity statements. Statements like, “We are especially interested in submissions from women, persons of colour, non-Westerners and other minorities” or variations thereof. Conversely, I’ve seen only one publisher explicitly state that they do not care about an author’s background, only about the story. I’ve also seen calls solely for women writers, disabled writers, writers of colour, writers of non-heterosexual orientations, and other minority identities. I have not seen explicit calls for male writers.

The five most popular writing genres are romance and erotica, mysteries and crime thrillers, religious and inspirational, science fiction and fantasy, and horror. Romance and erotica is dominated by female writers. Women also dominate the fantasy markets — especially paranormal romance, urban fantasy and Young Adult fantasy. A quick search of ‘female writers’ in the other genres will lead to many recommendations, interviews and essays supporting female writers in the genre. Searching for male writers in those genres will lead to generic lists of recommended writers — or recommendations of female writers.

There is privilege in literature. But it’s a different kind of privilege. It’s a privilege earned by yelling privilege again and again, influencing the creation of content to stand up against that privilege, and setting up privileged spaces to stand against a different kind of ‘privileged’ literature.

Me, I don’t care about privilege. Writing is writing is writing. As an independent writer I choose not to participate in the politics of privilege. I think it’s trivial nonsense, and I have the tools to step around this politicking. The publishing revolution means that anybody can publish — which means there are no gatekeepers to prevent someone from being published, and therefore no external discrimination.

Sure, self-published works are not likely to win literature prizes anytime soon. They do not have the prestige (and therefore the privilege) of stories published the traditional way. That is fine by me. I don’t define success by the number of prizes I win. For writers that do want the recognition, there are a large number of awards they can try for.

The age of privilege in writing is fading. There is little point in screaming privilege and gender bias and the like when anybody can be published and there are plenty of prizes to go around. Writers write, readers read and the market decides whose works are the best. That is the surefire way to choose the best writers of the age — and eliminate privilege in literature of all kinds.

Notes from a Singaporean independent writer

Channel NewsAsia interviewed me today on the topic of trends in self-publishing. You can find the full clip here.

In this post, I’ll expand on the key talking points in the interview, addressing the big debate between independent and traditional publishing from a Singaporean perspective.

What is an independent writer?

I defined an independent writer as a writer who is not compelled by contract to write for a publisher. With the advent of self-publishing and print on demand technologies, every writer is also potentially a publisher. Writers are no longer beholden to publishing houses to publish and sell their works. This means that writers are free to pursue self-publishing or fairer contracts with publishing houses — or both. Regardless of the path to publication, the writer gets paid higher royalties and the reader gets more books, leading to a win-win situation.

Previously, I called myself a self-published writer because that was the path I took. Now, having adopted a hybrid publishing path, I define myself as an independent writer. I self-published my stories American Sons and At All Costs, and I will be self-publishing my next novel Keepers of the Flame. In addition, I sold a short story, War Crimes, to Castalia House for its upcoming anthology Riding the Red Horse. This hybrid approach suits me best, because through self-publishing I can build up my core brand, and Castalia House lets me tap markets I could not have reached otherwise.

Self-publishing: With great responsibility comes great rewards

Self-publishing offers many benefits over traditional publishing, and very few of the disadvantages. Through self-publishing, the writer retains total control over intellectual property rights, the publication process, distribution, promotion and sales. This is the pitfall and the promise of this approach.

Writers who take the self-publishing route have to think of themselves as writers and publishers. The work does not stop when the writing is done. After writing comes editing, cover art and formatting. These have to done to a professional standard to attract and retain customers. Following publication, the self-published writer needs to think about distribution, marketing, branding, pricing, legal regulations, and accounting. If the writer cannot handle these, the writer has to hire someone to do it, which drives up overheads.

Yet this responsibility comes with opportunities. Publishing houses want to make money, and they will focus their efforts, resources and energies on their bestsellers and the best-selling genres of the day. Newcomers are left to fend for themselves. A self-published author chooses which editor to work with, instead of an editor who might not understand the genre he writes in. A self-published author decides what the cover art looks like, instead of relying on a graphic designer he may not be able to communicate with and may not know what the book is about. A self-published author can choose when, where and how a book would be sold and at what price, responding directly to the state of the market, instead of relying on a marketing team that is likely too focused on promoting established bestsellers. A self-published author gets to define their brand instead of letting a marketing team do it. A self-published author cannot be locked into unfair contracts by unscrupulous publishers, allowing them to retain full rights to their work, to use as they wish.

Most importantly, self-published writers are not beholden to the whims of publishers. Publishers want to make a profit, and this means publishing books they believe to be profitable, written by high-profile or connected writers. Without a network or reputation to rely on, or a manuscript that happens to fit the hot genre du jour, many writers are out of luck — unless they take the self-publishing route. Nate Granzow writes men’s adventure fiction, but traditional publishers do not think the genre is profitable (notice the dearth of books in that genre on bookshelves these days). By publishing on Amazon, he got his opportunity to shine — he was one of the 1000 finalists of Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Awards 2012, and ranked first in the Mystery/Suspense/Thriller category in the IndieReader Discovery Awards 2012.

By shouldering the responsibilities of self-publishing, self-published writers get to reap much larger rewards than their peers. Smashwords offers 70% royalties, plus distribution to affiliates and marketing tools. Amazon also offers 70% royalties, plus extra promotional tools for Kindle exclusives, access to a global supply chain, and its brand name. (Note for Singaporeans: after the Internal Revenue Service takes its 30% withholding tax, the actual royalties are closer to 45%, and because Singapore does not have a tax treaty with the US at this time, there is no way around this.) By using online ecommerce tools, writers get to sell directly to consumers, earning royalties between 90% to 100%. I use Sellfy and Gumroad, which you can find on my website’s bibliography page.

In addition to creative control and royalties, there are three other ancillary benefits: dexterity, flexibility and economies of scale.

Using self-publishing tools, writers can update their works very quickly. If they want to upload a reworked cover or an corrected manuscript, all they have to do is upload them on their distribution or publication platforms, and the changes will be committed within 24 hours at no additional expense. Publishing houses cannot boast the same turnaround time, and for publishing houses that rely on traditional print-to-warehousing-to-retailer solutions, the cost of changing manuscripts can be prohibitive.

This low-cost dexterity also leads to story flexibility. Thriller writer Steven Hildreth Jr. began his publishing career with The First Bayonet. The story started off as a novella on the Kindle store. He received so much positive attention, he expanded it into a full-length novel. The novel-length version generated even more positive press, giving him an inroad to writing success. This is especially important since, compared to the former Special operations Forces or established writers on the market these days, it is extremely unlikely that he would ever be published. With very few exceptions — virtually all of whom are bestselling writers — publishing houses would not allow their writers to do what Hildreth did.

Self-publishing also grants writers economies of scale. For publishing houses to be profitable, they have to sell novels and novel-length books. It is too expensive for publishing houses to sell novellas, novelettes and short stories, except perhaps as ebooks, and even then they have to charge higher prices than self-published authors to cover overheads. The self-published writer, on the hand, can dash out shorter stories and monetise them from the get-go.  This allows the self-published writer an opportunity to make money off these works, promote their existing fiction and reach wider audiences.

Working with publishers: Lessons from Castalia House

I said in my interview that Castalia House ‘knows what they’re doing’. By that phrase I meant that Castalia House is keeping a very close eye on the publishing revolution, and they are doing the things traditional publishing should be doing to stay relevant.

Castalia House is committed to publishing quality works by talented writers. One of my fellow contributors, William S Lind, is Amazon’s No. 1 bestseller in military strategy. Another is Tom Kratman, bestselling author of the M Day and Legio del Cid series. Other writers in Castalia House’s stable include John C. Wright, considered to be the modern C. S. Lewis, and Vox Day, whose novelette ‘Opera Vita Aeterna’ was nominated for the Hugo Award. By attracting and retaining such an august collection of writers, Castalia House is able to tap into their fanbases, reach larger markets, and reassure writers and readers that the works they produce are worth every cent. I feel this is how traditional publishers can survive in the new world of publishing: by being synonymous with high-quality work.

Castalia House also offers fairer royalty rates. For Riding the Red Horse, Castalia buys first-time publication rights. With the exception of editors Tom Kratman and Vox Day, Castalia offers fiction contributors 25% of revenues, divided according to the proportion of words contributed to their section of the anthology. Non-fiction contributors also receive the same terms for the anthology’s non-fiction section, as the non-fiction pieces tend to run shorter than the fiction ones and Castalia wanted the non-fiction contributors to be compensated fairly too. Castalia House prices its stories comparable to market rates, which tends to attract plenty of customers. By comparison, professional rates for science fiction short stories are defined as at least USD 3 cents a word, but this is a one-off payment. Riding the Red Horse could potentially generate royalties that exceed professional rates, paid twice a year for as long the book is sold. While this in no way compares to the monthly payouts of 45/70% offered by self-publishing platforms or the immediate 90+% if you sell directly to customers, it is a far sight better than a one-off payment of USD 3 cents a word or royalties of 1% to 10% from traditional publishers. Personally, I could accept these terms, since this anthology allowed me to reach a far wider audience and monetise what began life as a literary experiment.

Castalia’s last major advantage is that they handle all the backend work: marketing, distribution, pricing, branding, etc. This meant that after I submitted my piece, I was free to pursue other projects. Castalia House uses promotional tools like blogs, newsletters, and free ebooks to market their products, which means I would not have to. Furthermore, by working with the editors I learned a few tricks of the trade, which I am applying to my other works. They also have an in-house ebook store on their website to sell directly to customers, which in turn can be paired with marketing campaigns and special promotions to generate sales and publicity. Their cover art is of a consistently high standard and so is their editing and formatting. I’m confident that Castalia would handle Red Horse Rising, and by extension War Crimes, the same way.

Do note that this is the best case scenario. Many publishers do not necessarily think the way Castalia House does, especially in the realm of marketing and royalties. Writers who want to go the mainstream publishing route must do their research and pay very careful attention to contracts and rights.

Picking the right path

With so many options at their disposal, writers need to decide which path suits them best. I see myself as a craftsman and a professional. Self-publishing allows me to express the totality of my vision and be paid fairly for my work, and by working with Castalia House I can reach out to a wider audience. This hybrid approach suits me best — but it’s not necessarily for everyone.

The choice between self-publishing, engaging a publishing house or a hybrid approach depends on entirely on the writer. Writers need to decide early on how much work they are willing to put into learning the industry. They need to ask themselves if they are willing to shoulder the burdens of running a business, or just want to focus on writing. They need to decide how much money they want to make from their stories, and how much time they can dedicate to writing and the post-writing process. Most of all, they must find out which path would actually get them published.

Whichever choices they choose, one thing is clear: a writer cannot be an author without publishing a story, and self-publishing virtually guarantees publication. But, only publication — actual success is dependent on the writer’s definition and efforts.

I hope you have enjoyed this article as much as I have writing it. If you find value in this post, please leave a donation on the way out using the options below. Thanks!

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New Bibliography and Bookstore

Over the past few days, I’ve tweaked the website’s ecommerce experience, combining the bibliography and bookstore pages.

On the bibliography page, you’ll find a complete bibliography of my works, as well as links to different categories of fiction.  On each dedicated category page, where possible, you’ll also find links to Sellfy, Gumroad and CoinLock,

These links let you buy books directly from me via PayPal (Sellfy), credit card (Gumroad) and Bitcoin (CoinLock), cutting out the middleman. This is a win-win situation: you enjoy the same low prices across the board without having to go through the hassles of registering as a member of other online retailers, while I’ll be able to pocket a larger share of the royalties.

Take a look and tell me what you think. Even better, buy a copy of my works. Pulse-pounding action thrillers await!