This is what I was picturing when I wrote my novel:

Jim Infantino
3d printed home with ceiling windows

© Mario Cucinella Architects

I love these homes! I want one! They are small, tornado resistant, printed and beautiful. Not good for hoarding lots of stuff assuredly. A home of the new future.

Thank you to Dar Williams for this link.

I imagined windows on the side originally, but realized later that the interconnected didn't need them. In book two I describe a city made of these sorts of structures. Working hard on that novel now. Follow my progress on Wattpad and support my work on Patreon.

updated: 6 days ago


Preview of a chapter from book2 in the Wakeful Wanderer Series now available online as an audio chapter

Jim Infantino
screenshot of wakeful wanderer039s guide page on epublishyourself

Thank you so much to Sarah Lipton for her reading of this chapter and to Lee Purcell for publishing it.

There is one spoiler in this chapter which is an origin story about a very minor character in Book 1. The spoiler is about a more major character, but I don't think (I hope) it doesn't give away anything terrible. Enjoy!

updated: 1 week ago


Jim Infantino
toy soldiers  one face featured

I've been putting off writing about this for decades.

In 1986 and 1987 I helped to run a discussion group at Haverford College called A Dialog About Men. Part of our mission was to try to get to the root of male sexual violence through exploring the conditions in ourselves that may or may not exist in all men. It was awkward and fascinating. We started as an open group, but most of the people who showed up were women. The men clammed up. Then we made it a men-only group. That did not go over well, but we stuck with it because the point was to provide a space for men to feel free to open up. In that cocoon, the men started talking. Someone took notes, but I can't remember who now. I'm not sure they would be informative. The conversations were difficult and eye-opening. For some things, you just have to be there.

We did stuff around campus like an event called Walk A Mile in Your Sister's Shoes, which did not involve footwear. Rather it encouraged all men on campus to ask for a woman escort when walking around campus after dark. We were trying to build awareness of the sense of danger that was invisible to men but we were told was a nightly reality for women, even in our Arboretum Utopia of a campus.

We got a lot of pushback from both men and women. The men generally laughed at us and implied that our livers were not unlike the lily. Women accused us of acting sensitive in order to get laid.

We talked a lot about a particular type of male rage that rises up out of fear. We got pretty deep into some uncomfortable feelings and saw the hazards that occur within us around consent and the lack thereof. We were all pretty civilized young men, but we could feel that we had the kernel of something potentially violent within us and that violence could be triggered by the need to protect a very tender, vulnerable wound which we could not quite identify. We did not assume that only men have this particular vulnerability. We only knew that there was a primal need within us to protect this wound and a will to lash out when this one place in our psyche was threatened. Luckily, our will to not lash out was stronger than our will to lash out, which is why we can continue to exist in society.

The Fisher King

One of my professors, V.Y Mudimbe, sat in on or heard about some of these conversations and recommended I read about the origins of the Fisher King story. In that fable, which became the seed of the Arthurian Legends, a young boy goes fishing and gets a wound. That wound eventually makes him a man. It's really ancient and vague, but at least we were not the first guys to talk about these ideas.

We did not solve any major problems in our brief gatherings, but it started me thinking about what it means to be male or at least to identify as male. So, of course, being male, I formed a theory.

By theory, I mean a model. With me, it's all models. I wrote a bit about models in a previous blog and you can read that to understand what I mean by it. Models are not science, but science employs models. It has roots in philosphy. In short, identifying a model is becoming aware of an internal habit of thought that determines our behavior. We model people, places, things, and ourselves in order to interact with what appears to be a world. The world is also a model.

Here's my model of the nature of maleness:

A man is not-mom.

The easy line to draw is to the counter-Freudian model of Womb Envy originally posited by the psychologist Karen Horney back in the early 1900s. She asserted that men were envious of women's reproductive organs, rather than women being envious of men's. It's a cool idea, and anything that takes Freud down a peg is worthy, but that's not it. Ask any guy, and he will tell you, he enjoys having a penis.

If maleness was all about physiology, the issue would be simpler. The problem with being male is that we are external to the cycle of life. We are the branches of the tree, and women are the trunk. That is not a problem that can be solved. Women have an unbroken physical connection to the first woman. They can choose to continue that connection to future girls who can continue it on and on so long as there are people. Men have that connection too, but only backward through time, and only through mom. Men are not mom. We are out on a limb.

Boys understand this really early on via differentiation. All children can identify the mother as soon as they can differentiate between people. They know mom's face. They know mom's body and they want to be close to it. In the first year, if mom is present, babies want to be with mom. At some point between 2 and 5, it invariably comes up that a toddler is either like mom or not like mom. As recent studies have shown, this is not determined by one's chromosomes, but by a narrative communicated by the parents.

"Can I nurse the baby?" "Yes, someday."

"Can I nurse the baby?" "No, you are a boy."

- or some variation thereof. All of this sounds like I'm talking about womb-envy still, and that makes sense only with regards the toddlers sense of gender differentiation, but for them, reproductive organs are not the main thing. They are trying to figure out their significance. At that age, mom is a monolith. Mom is self-evidently significant. A toddler determines their significance by their relative similarity to mom.

Dad is also significant, but not in so obvious a way. His significance is complex. Toddlers often know that dad has something to do with their birth, but understandably, it's a bit vague. They form a narrative in which mom is the creator and dad is the helper. It's is important to note here, that this will occur regardless of whether the primary caregiver is male or female. The question is "how did I get here?" and the answer is mom.

Differentiation & significance

So far, I am speaking of male/female cis-gender parenting. Non-binary parenting and same cis-gender parenting is something someone might address here, but I don't have any personal experience with it, and so, I think it would be wrong for me to form a model that includes those types of families. My only assumption is that some narrative is formed for and with toddlers in those families that answers the question of birth origin and begins the process of gender differentiation.

So when a boy toddler determines that they are not-mom, they have to begin the process of asserting their significance. They do not know that they will have to continue this process for the rest of their lives. At this point, the womb-envy, if it could ever be called such, ends. A not-mom toddler turns from the process of life creation, from which they are blocked, to one of life helping or optimally, life-saving. They choose their toys and role models.

  • Firemen
  • Soldiers
  • Policemen
  • Superheroes
  • and maybe Doctors

There is a picture of me when my brother was born. I was wearing a fireman's helmet. I wore it constantly at that time, I am told. I was almost 3. My mother was bringing about a new life, and I was asserting my significance. That is maleness.

Girls play with these toys too. There is no reason to think that girls will not want to assert their significance outside knowing their being as like-mom. This model does not limit choices or limit roles. This model points to the importance of existential significance. It is about our relationship to the tree of life. Girls have a place in the continuity, boys have a place outside of that continuity. This is existential because it cannot be corrected. The only factor is whether and when we as toddlers understand this relationship.

Patriarchy & nature/nurture

Most, if not all modern cultures value maleness over non-maleness. There are many many reinforcements of male models of significance over all non-male models. That awareness comes later though after the awareness of like-mom or not-mom takes place. I assert that cultural and religious modes of signifying male importance are in response to the original awareness of the existential relationship to the continuum of life creation. They are a reaction to the fact. That which men cannot supersede, we try to control and subvert to regain the significance we feel we lack. That subversion is always incomplete and so it continues indefinitely. Some may be generated by inverted-empathy but the root cause is insecurity. This reaction is violent and oppressive to all human beings, but especially to women, non-cis-gendered people, and non-heterosexual males.

I am not trying to conjure up sympathy for men here. Men get plenty of sympathy. As much as we might want to fix this model so that men are less fundamentally insecure in their significance, it would be a fool's errand to try. Men are a fact. We exist, and we are primordially messed up, not only by our parents but by the fact of what we are. We are fundamentally expendable in a way women are not. This is a fact of nature, not nurture. Men will continue to try to correct their original flaw in positive ways as well as negative. Someday, perhaps men and women will find a way to create life outside of nature. Will that be corrective? One would have to ask the product of that endeavor. For now, we exist within the natural cycle of creation and death, half of us as part of the continuity and half of us at a solitary terminus of it.

Some reactions I've had to this model:

  1. Moms are not always wonderful examples of nurturing. Some are dreadful parents.
  2. This reduces women's significance solely to their reproductive organs.
  3. Men have an important role in the creation of life.
  4. Women have to struggle to assert their significance far more than men do.

These reactions are why I have waited so long to write about this. I want to address them one at a time.

Regarding objection number 1: This model applies regardless of whether the mother was a drug addict, or absent, or even alive. Observing my children, my own childhood and my friend's children have reinforced the notion that the reality of the mother is not the important factor in this model but the child's perception of what "mother" is. Gender differentiation begins early and is comparative. The question of origin is an unavoidable element in this differentiation and is viscerally tied to smell and touch. The absence of a mother does not preclude the question but may delay it. The concept of life giver might be mythological for a time, but role-playing regarding birth and nurturing begins early. Some children will be drawn to it because they feel included in it, and some will shun it because they do not. That is where the battle for primal significance starts.

Regarding objection number 2: This model does not depict a process that continues throughout life, but happens early on and is reacted to over and over. To employ this model in such a way as to assert that women who choose to have children or not have children are better or worse would be perverse and misconstrued. We get a sense we are like-mom or not-mom early and what we do afterward is purely up to us. There is no imperative implied in that knowledge. Using this as a way to get to a model of half-baked social Darwinism is idiotic.

Regarding objection number 3: This is only true from a standpoint of intellectual understanding of the biological creation of life. Men's contribution to the process is essential (for now) and ensures diversification. However, this is not evident at the time of differentiation. Our physical closeness to our origins is undeniable, and that origin is mom. Beyond that, the connection of father to child has always been an open question. Some of the most brutal sexual restrictions are those that ensure the male bloodline. The convention of surnames (SirNames) reinforces the male connection to his offspring, but until recently, those connections could not be contested. A man can go through life never knowing about the existence of his offspring. A woman cannot. She must be present at the birth. He can be absent.

Regarding objection number 4: Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely. That is ultimately what this is about. Why do we live in a culture that so denigrates mothers and praises fathers? Why have men so violently asserted control over the bodies, lives, and thoughts of women? I believe it begins with men's awareness of the need to continually assert their significance, not only in general but in relation to the women around them.

Out on a limb

So, there it is. I have decided to jot this all down so that it may not be lost and so that it may be helpful. I don't think that men can work to be better members of society merely by being nice. We must feel that original wound and live with it. We need to know when it takes hold and takes charge. Recent examples of "toxic" male rage such as the childish complaints of not being granted sexual contact, brutal subjugation of women, the ignorant rise of men's rights groups, or frustrated reactions to women taking leadership positions spring from the terror that as men, we will become fully insignificant. Like all fear, this arises not from our intelligence, but from a place of pain and insecurity. To react intelligently to the fear of being not-mom is our reality if we want to be anything like civilized and significant members of the human race.

updated: 1 year ago


Discussion with David regarding The Wakeful Wanderer (continued)

Jim Infantino
Discussion with David regarding The Wakeful Wanderer continued

My comments are indented

First, I want to know more about First Nation - can you point me to some information?

I brought it up because the most interesting chapters in the book I recommended by Colin Woodward on the Eleven Nations of North America pretty much begins and ends with them. The original settlers in Quebec had the fairest system of integrating Native Americans. The final chapter in his book talks about First Nation being the best hope for the future.

I also thought that you book could deal with that very strange boundary of USA and Canada in New England. I learned a ton from the Woodward book. The only American writer who really dealt with this boundary is—of all people—David Foster Wallace in Infinite Jest. Funny how neglected that Maine border is.

Second, I think I've confused you on one point - Xombie is a derogatory term used by the Traditionalists or Luddites or Neo-Feudalists or Raiders to describe the Interconnected. The Interconnected are the Xombies - but they don't call themselves that.

Yes you did. My mistake. So who does Zeke and the people who do not thext represent? The Traditionalists? My bad on that confusion. Just so you know, I’ve been such a Luddite in my adult life that some friends still can’t believe I’m on FB. So I am extremely sympathetic to arguments that are anti-technology.

In Brave New World that is a top-down governmental totalitarian Utopia as I remember it. This was due to the time where science fiction writers were constantly writing about hegemonies.

Were they? Or is it just that certain books that addressed the positives and negatives of a particular hegemony were able to transcend the genre sci-fi and get accepted in the literary canon? While I am not a huge fan of either book (1984 or Brave New World), they do kind of exemplify the rules one naturally encounters in writing about a future society or hegemony. That is: is this a Utopia or Dystopia or are first impressions deceiving? And yes, thy are top-down hegemonies because it is hard to imagine otherwise. In fact, a lot of sci-fi just evades the question. Look at the Federation in Star Trek. We are all just to assume they are a benevolent force.

The Interconnected don't quite fit that model. It's based on the hippie vision of the Internet pioneers. There is an idealism behind it, and it happens when everyone has become sick of the money game.

This I completely get. And it is the crux of my criticism. I feel that the Interconnected are indeed your idealistic vision of the Internet pioneers, and—thus—I don’t think you’ve yet addressed adequately that many won’t consider this vision an ideal. Steve Jobs may be an ideal to Americans, but then look at a factory in China that makes Apple parts. Google might say “Do no evil,” but then an Android pretty much invades my privacy daily.

So, what I’m saying is that if this is a “hippy vision” in which you believe, you should subject it to more scrutiny to better justify it (so that a reader doesn’t just accept it on faith). And I think the scrutiny begins with merit. Steve Jobs has lots of merit. Do factory workers jumping off roofs in China affect that merit? Ditto for Zuckerberg.

Like in the 60s, a portion of society decides that the "system" is a sham. They go off and try to make communities that are apart from the "system." Naturally, in the 60s, it didn't work.

Got that. And I agree that this is central to your book. But, thus far, you present the Interconnected as a society that does work. I don’t think any society works for all its members. And power corrupts. I go back to the Pigs Walking On Two Leg example in Animal Farm. Communism seemed like an ideal system, until it became necessary to mete out reward for an elite government/ruling class that involved favors akin to money.

In my novel, the "system" is more or less dead when people abandon it, so it more or less does.

True enough, but another system has to replace it, and that system will have some flaws. I don’t want to accept any replacement system on faith alone.

So, no, there is no central authority. It's a game, like money that rules the Interconnected - also the idea of Panopticon: if the prisoners watch each other, you get order, without guards - which was an idealized plan of Jeremy Benthem. Privacy is given up, but it's given up to everyone. There is no single person to profit off of it, because there is no way to profit - EXCEPT and this is a big except, those who might leverage it to gain more Merit by seeming to be more generous than they are. Again - Maxtor touches on this - or rather hints.

OK but I still need more on the Merit scale and how it works. Just like a social scientist has to define scales he uses to measure people. I think the formation of the scale and the actual rules of the scale is a stand-alone book or long Wakeful Wanderer excerpt chapter. How did the Merit Scale come to be? What are its weaknesses? A member of a tribe might get Merit for the number of scalps he brings home? Is that Merit? I’m—once again—obsessed with whaling. I reread Moby Dick every few years and, with it, the book Heart of the Sea. Is a brutal hunter/factory society like whaling capable of merit? It’s brutal and exploitative. But there certainly was a merit system within the Pequod or any whaling ship. The best hunters had the most regard. Yet no money for years on end.

But the roots of Merit are also very old. It's tribal. A tribe has figures that are regarded as heroes and it has nothing to do with their wealth. People live well or not so well based on their value to the tribe.

I’m thinking of “Things Fall Apart” which is tough on Colonialism, but also points out that the culture of the narrator killed twins based on superstition.

It's not a centralized system so much as a system of reputation. If you found a way to get more food to the tribe you move up. The speed of communication has made possible larger groups of humans into much larger tribes - think of culture and information bubbles. That is getting faster and stronger, and as I see it in this fictional work, it usurps everything.

I get this. I just can’t help seeing a person who gets more food to the tribe as fucking someone—excuse the French—in order to do it. Let’s look at a quick political analogy: The Clinton Foundation. As we all know this charity takes a lot of heat, but is consistently rated one of the top charities. Now they take a lot of heat for either accepting or giving to countries like Saudi Arabia. Point is that access to the poor or the female poor in an exploitative nation or culture often has to be purchased. This makes a charity at least appear corrupt to certain purist critics. How would the Merit meter apply here? Does a charity have merit for possibly bribing the government to help the poor? What happens to merit when someone or an organization does something perceived as bad for a good end?

I just think that the world is too subtle to say that positive influence is completely separate from negative ones. I’d like you to explore that nuance in your Merit system, because what I get thus far is the “money is bad argument.” And, while I’m apt to agree to a point, that argument needs more of a defense in future chapters.

updated: 1 year ago


Part of an email conversation with my friend David regarding some ideas in my novel.

Jim Infantino
Part of an email conversation with my friend David regarding some ideas in my novel

This is excerpted. David's comments are indented.

I cannot tell whether you are describing a utopia or dystopia (though the tension or differences between the Interconnected and Xombies are a major theme). Perhaps you are evading that specific question and only giving hints in order to let the reader decide for him or herself, which is probably exactly what you intended. Scenes where you present technological and cultural conflict are among the best. Perhaps the most enjoyable scene for me was when Marto was in the café that forbid thexting and had a conversation with the owner (Zeke?). That gave me a glimpse into the differing arguments on decisions to thext or not to thext. It seems to be that Marto and the Interconnected represent the utopia or force of good (at least from the author’s perspective), but I am not sure I can buy that based on what I, the reader, is able to discern and surmise as to who the Interconnected are; I found myself less interested in the Interconnected and wanting more information on the outlier tribes (presumably exploited because the post-apocalyptic world must have limited resources and the interconnected appear to flourish without economic hardship).

First, I am fascinated by the idea of the Interconnected, but I am not the cheerleader that Marto is. I understand it may seem that I am describing a Utopia, and in a climate-changed world, the technologies that provide food, good health and stability and relative (but not modern) comfort to them may seem that way. I don't think there is much of a way around this. I just want you to know I'm aware.

Perhaps there is not a way around it. However, by introducing a high tech. theme like thexting, you force a reader to assume that the surviving culture is very high-tech. This is no regression back to a world of small farms and communities (barter system), but a culture reliant on technology and—this is the most important to an economics minded reader—a culture with high tech. products that need to be produced somewhere (assuming Malaysia, China and Vietnam for now). I have a hard time reconciling that inferred production need with the Merit meter. To me, Merit meter replaces money, but this type of Merit is just as suspect. I see Dirty Merit as being no different from Dirty Money. You will have to eventually convince me of otherwise. . .and that the human networking and administrative capacity necessary could exist on pure Merit.

I don't know if maybe the novel wasn't as clear as it could have been about production, but yes, the Interconnected are high-tech, and no, the technology is not manufactured in Vietnam. Labor and the cost of labor is not a factor for the Interconnected. In general, the technology is manufactured by tiny robots. The homes are built by robots, the vertical and horizontal farms are built and tended by robots, and of course, the robots are built by robots. These robots can be monitored and controlled - though they are autonomous, by the same brain-implanted technology that makes thexting possible. I don't go too into detail (though I do mention it) because as automated elements become more commonplace, they also become invisible to people. I had a revelation when I was in the elevator and Zoë asked me: "dad, is the elevator a robot?" I had to think about it for a long while before I responded "yes." Elevators used to be controlled by people. Now they are robotic, but we don't see them that way - their robotness is invisible. That is how I see manufacturing evolving everywhere. So my assumption in the novel is that high tech and everything else will be manufactured locally, not only because of robotic evolution but because of infrastructure destruction.

The first thing to go after an environmentally caused economic collapse is roads. Roads need constant work. They crumble as the vegetation and harsh weather take their toll. As the weather becomes more hostile, giant centralized stores like Walmarts and Targets fail because the roads and bridges give out, the trucks can't get through, and the buildings themselves deteriorate or get hit by tornadoes. Without a strong economy, government and infrastructure plan, they crumble. In the past, when this would happen, people would starve, but in my novel, some of them adapt. That's why among the Interconnected, everything is made locally. It's also why certain commodities like coffee or mangos are so rare.

Regarding Dark Merit, I have actually been trying to work out how that would work. I'm not saying it's impossible, but it could only be made possible by a system of fake ratings or a cabal of ratings circles that vote people up who don't contribute. The XNA nature of the wetware that is in people's heads is a bit like blockchain on steroids, so there is a ledger, but as Maxtor says it's become so complex that no one can monitor it. This may come up in book 2 - I am actually planning on exploring it - and Maxtor hints at it in book 1 but it's not right to say that it is as obvious as the Dark Money we have now. Merit is purely about accountability and lack of privacy and personal ownership.

A brief outline of what Merit is in my novel:

A simplistic way to imagine it would be to picture a web store like Amazon running purely on ratings and reviews and no money. Everyone has an account on Amazon and everything that gets made is listed there. Not only products but all services are there. Instead of paying for something, the person who makes a thing or offers a service lists it as an offer. They then get to choose to offer it to you based on your ratings alone. If your ratings are higher, the ratings they get back in return are higher as a function of the rating you give for the service or item received. This is what is referred to as "giving Up" rather than "giving Down" in the novel. People who are a "five star" (using the Amazon model) are going to be offered more stuff than people who are a "three star." This is why it's called Merit. Within this system, people who are a 5 are more valuable to society than a 3, because presumably, they are more generous and productive. They make and offer more stuff that is more popular than the 3s and they are rewarded with more access to food, homes, services, etc. This is where the inequality occurs but it is also where the gaming and competition in the system abides. The people in Glenville are all 2s and 3s and so they live in relative poverty of access compared to the 4s and 5s in Reverside, Cos, Sherwood, and The Middle. If your whole community is made of 2s, you can survive, but not in the relative luxury as one made of 4s.

That brings us to ownership vs. access. Among the Interconnected, ownership is seen as a very low merit habit. They call it hoarding. Just because you have been gifted something, doesn't mean you have to hang onto it. Naturally, if you are gifted a sandwich, you will eat it and it will be gone but if you are gifted access to a beautiful home, it's yours to use, but not keep or trade. There is no trade. That home, if you are not using it, would be available for gifting, and if you hoard it, you are seen as less generous and therefore your Merit would drop. It would be better to gift it and take another home that is offered. That way, your Merit rises, and you have more access. What about "my stuff?" you might ask, and I would say, it's all information. Physical things are just inconvenient burdens to the Interconnected. I think you can see some of this behavior among Millenials today.

Merit is its own legal system. It combines law with a sort of propertyless commerce. It may not be just, but it works. Anti-social behavior is low Merit behavior. That is decided by how popular your activities are. If you can find a way to steal things or hurt people and remain popular, then you can skirt the system and be a high Merited sociopath. I'm not saying that's impossible, but it would take some higher level of genius to pull it off out in the open. Again - we may see some of that in book 2.

updated: 1 year ago


Models: a subjective observation of how thinking works

Jim Infantino
a model train

Models - as in train, not swimsuit - though that works too.

The following is based on my subjective experience.

The above sentence is redundant.

One of the things that happens when you meditate is that you become aware of your thoughts. When I was starting out, I was convinced that I was having too many of them and I should work harder to make sure I had no thoughts at all while sitting in silence.

That is not only pointless, it's probably impossible.

So, I gradually learned to live with my thinking on the meditation cushion, and slowly I began to simply notice my thoughts as they came up. The important thing was not to be carried away by them, but just let them come and go, like burps. Like burping or farting, I was embarrassed by them at first but gradually started to regard them as a neutral process of mind, neither good nor bad. The technique I have been thought is called "peaceful abiding." When practicing this sort of meditation, you notice when a thought has whisked you away, like a fish on a hook, or a dog chasing a stick, and you just come back to your breathing, or the presence of your body sitting. It's a physical practice, not only a mental one.

Years went by and I began to notice something interesting about my thoughts.

Some of the stickier thoughts that would hook me would have a characteristic of an inner argument. I might be replaying a discussion with someone in my head, and I had a whole other person arguing with me. Naturally, there was no actual other person having this discussion with me. My mind had split itself into a "me" and the "other" and we were arguing something or discussing something. Naturally, in this situation, I was trying to re-prove my point to the other person, who was also just my mind.

While I was engaged in these inner discussions, I was unaware that I was splitting into the two sides, but once I noticed what I was doing, I became aware that I had been putting on a sort of play in my head, and I returned to my body and breath. After meditation, I was fascinated by the process of recreating or replaying these arguments.

Here is what I think I have been doing:

  1. Some issue or argument or situation has been unresolved as I sit down to meditate.
  2. My mind creates a model of the person with whom I was having the discussion.
  3. My mind creates a model of myself in the context of that discussion.
  4. The two models argue their sides in my head in an effort to resolve the discussion in my favor.

In teachings on meditation, this process is sometimes described as "neurotic" or "ego-nature." However, I think there is something here that is universal to all human (and maybe non-human) thought.

Years ago, I read a book called "Rats," which is a deep and comprehensive exploration of the lives of our rodent neighbors. Rats live within a specific territory, navigating their way repetitively and precisely in their quest for food. They will hug walls and tunnels in a tight pattern from point A to point B and back to point A. Scientists measure their cognitive ability based on their ability to memorize various pathways. For the Rat, it's hard to know how their inner process works, but I think it is ultimately a lot like our own.

Imagine you are a Rat. You head out at night, while the humans are sleeping and try to find their garbage or something dropped. You have a pathway memorized. Down hallway right turn down hallway right turn hug the wall, doorway, etc. That map is a model of the anticipated reality of the environment. One night you go out and follow the model to find the food, and suddenly there is something in the way. The model stops working. A decision must be made. The rat has a model for this too, around the object doesn't work, over the object doesn't work, but under the object does. Now you are free to pick up the model of the hallways and rooms where you left off.

This is very like the arguments I replay in my head while trying to settle my mind.

I have a model of the other person, and a model of myself. In my head, there are no unanticipated obstacles. The argument works just as I have set it up. Then I go and have the argument with the actual person in real life. That is when I usually find out that the model I have concocted is insufficient. There are new obstacles. The discussion goes places I had not anticipated in my model. The person I modeled surprises me, and I have to revise my model of that person the next time I rerun the discussion in my head.

It may be neurotic, but it is the essence of all thought.

What can be even more neurotic is that I can have the discussion with the real person and never be willing to let go of the model I have created of them. I am no longer talking to them, but only to the model. I am unwilling to hear the ideas they are expressing because they do not fit the model I have. They have a model of me as well. Perhaps they cannot hear what I am saying when it doesn't line up with the model they have created. The rat hits the obstacle and stops. Food is never found. The rat dies.

Most of the models we create work most of the time. That's what is so good about models. We have a model in our head of our car, and when we sit down to drive, everything is where it was in the model. We don't need to learn how it works each time, because we have a working model in our heads, ready to go. One day we arrive at our car and someone has broken a window and removed the steering wheel. The model no longer works. We go into denial, bargaining, anger, etc. The car does not fit the model. We grieve.

Before I sat down to write this, I started a pot of coffee brewing. I have a model for that. I start the grinder, fill the carafe, pour it into the Ottomatic, add the filter to the top, add the ground beans and flip the switch. According to the model, when I return to the machine, the coffee will be waiting for me.


It was. The model worked. Of course, one day a guy in my office waited until I returned to my desk, and when the coffee was ready, poured it all out into various cups and hid them. I came out - no coffee. The model didn't work. I think I said something like "oh man!" and laughter broke out. Sometimes, when the model breaks, it's funny. Sometimes, it's not.

Is this too obvious? Are there exceptions to our ways of thinking that do not involve models? You tell me. I am at a loss to find any. Models are at work in

  • Language
  • Scientific Theory
  • Relationships
  • Parenting
  • Creation: coding, writing, drawing, songwriting, etc.
  • Reading
  • Walking, driving, traveling, etc
  • Business & Selling
  • Shopping
  • Discussion

This model of human cognition is also a model, so this is, I admit, circular logic. That being acknowledged, you have to wonder one thing:

Does the model work?

updated: 1 year ago


Inverted Empathy

Jim Infantino
ancient castle with high walls

"The higher we build the wall, the more the enemy seems everywhere." - me

The following is a model. That means it is a way of thinking about a situation, but it is purely an idea, tested only logically. If it works as a model, it may be useful. If not, it can be discarded. Philosophy works this way. Models.

More on models later.

The term "Inverted Empathy" is imperfect. I welcome your ideas. Here is how it works:

  1. Bob has done Dan a serious wrong. Dan may or may not be aware of this.
  2. Bob uses his natural empathic abilities to imagine how he would feel if the same wrong were done to him by Dan.
  3. Bob models his own feelings in this imaginary situation and discovers he would be furious and would be motivated to enact violent revenge against Dan.
  4. Bob begins to fear Dan and plans to defend himself against an attack by Dan, not in a model, but in real life.
  5. Optional step: Bob takes preemptive steps against Dan to keep himself safe.

Inverted Empathy works on multiple levels. It can, of course, occur within individuals for small slights or serious wrongs. It can also happen on a cultural/societal level where wrongs have been done by and to groups of people.

Imagine situations of inverted empathy for the following dynamics:

  • gender relations: male/female, straight/lgbtq, cys/trans
  • repeated bullying situations in schools
  • racial relations
  • economic inequality
  • politics
  • international relations

Inverted Empathy offers a possible answer to the question:

"Why are empowered groups or individuals often vengeful toward less empowered groups or individuals?"

In the model of inverted empathy, the answer is that these situations are caused by our natural ability to empathize with others, not our ability to objectify others or dehumanize them.

In the United States, we can find many such instances of inverted empathy. The attitude of European descended citizens toward the descendants of African slaves, for example, can work along the same lines as Bob an Dan above.

  1. Bob, who is white becomes aware of the long history of unjust white violence towards African Americans.
  2. Bob, using his natural empathy, imagines himself in the position of the descendant of a family of slaves in America.
  3. Bob models his feelings based on this empathic model and discovers deep rage and feelings of injustice against himself in this imaginary situation.
  4. Bob begins to fear African Americans and plans to defend himself against them, possibly taking offensive measures.

It is important to point out that Bob has become fearful here, not because of any legitimate proof of danger to himself, but purely based on the models he has created in his head because of this inverted empathy. He may attempt to seek proof to back up the fears he has generated, and will probably find something to back his model up. Perhaps he will find other people who corroborate his fear based on their own models. This feeds a confirmation bias and deepens his fears.

Does the model of Inverted Empathy work:

  • when thinking of the attitudes earlier immigrants to the US toward later immigrants to the US?
  • when thinking of attitudes of some men toward women?
  • with regards the attitudes of some wealthy or privileged groups toward the poor or less privileged?

The model of inverted empathy does not rely on ideas of weaker or stronger, or traditional socio-economic or cultural/colonial power models.

There is hope in this model, insofar as it works only if we assume that almost all people are naturally empathic, and that empathy causes them to behave in ways that are harmful to another out of fear.

Like all philosophical models, this needs testing and may be able to be done so scientifically. Before that is done, it should be tried and argued and discussed. Please let me know what you think.

updated: 1 year ago


It's time to disrupt money

Jim Infantino
It039s time to disrupt money

The following are a series of tweets I found myself writing after the Senate's rushed passage of the Financial Redistribution Bill aka The Tax Reform Bill.

It's time to disrupt money.

I know what you’re thinking - how much funding can we get for that? Yeah, none. No funding. What would that look like?

Or maybe you’re thinking - we already have crypto currencies. Money is disrupted already. No, that’s just digital money. Not a true disruption.

Real disruption keeps in place the benefits of the thing it disrupts while blowing away inefficiencies.

In the case of the disruption of money, efficiency cannot be measured in the thing being disrupted. So what is efficiency without money? Start there.

Another way to begin is to wonder what the purpose and function of money is. Is it fulfilling its purpose - why or why not?

Money is made of thought. It is a global cultural agreement. Can money be disrupted purely by thought? Is some form of technology required?

Perhaps you are on the fence about the need to disrupt money. After all, it has been a useful way to create equivalence in trade and brought a lot of innovation. But it is also the root of most injustice and atrocity. Is there a better way?

Money is broken and here is why. The more you have, the more you can influence political systems to ensure you get more. The upward flow of money causes it to stagnate and pool at the top. Then the economy generally collapses at this point and the process resets.

Furthermore, people who have the most money are the ones who write the rules that govern its behavior. A tweak in an index measurement, an adjustment in a key interest rate, a clause in a tax law, and money serves only the very very few. But it requires all of us to play along.

The perpetuation of money requires all of us to play the money game. We do that because we imagine a day when we will get to have enough money to stop playing the game. But as the bridge from less to more is dismantled, that game becomes less appealing.

We think money is solid and certain, but in reality, it is a global (not national) mindset. It is a human agreement. It is a game played by everyone. When the game becomes poisoned by bad players, rigging it, it's time to think of a new game.

-- to be continued --

updated: 2 years ago


How I write (prose)

Jim Infantino
How I write prose

I've been asked twice this week about my writing method. I'm taking the liberty to share my process with you, knowing that it is not the normal way writers are told to write in writing workshops and in blogs.

I think the main guiding principle for me grew out of my method for writing songs. Songwriting relies very strongly on inspiration. The word comes from the latin inspiratio. The source of inspiration is thought of as being mysterious, ie: the breath of the gods. I don't know where it actually comes from, but I know it comes to me when I spend time away from distraction. Therefore, I find a little time each day to be distraction free, either sitting and breathing, or stopping at a cafe, and keeping my phone silenced in my pocket, just looking around.

For example, the inspiration for my novel came to me on a bus. Most people hate taking the bus, but I always see it as a great opportunity. Inspiration can come on a train, but I think a bus is better. Of all forms of transportation, an airplane is in third place, and a car is dead last. I get inspiration biking sometimes or walking, but for some reason, for me, a bus is best.

In this case, I was on a double-decker bus leaving new york city. I was high up and could gaze out the window down into the passing cars. I was bored, which is the optimal way to be when seeking inspiration. I looked down and saw almost all of the drivers texting while they drove. This was a bit before all the fines and warnings about distracted driving, but after that movie Seven Pounds came out, so everyone certainly knew it was dangerous.

So, I'm watching all these people text and drive, wondering what is so important about exchanging a little bit of information, that people are willing to risk their own lives and the lives of others to do it behind the wheel? I wondered how this would change and evolve over the next ten years, then twenty years, then thirty, forty, eighty, and bam - inspiration. The world for my novel downloaded into my head in one gigantic package, and I had to madly scribble some notes on my phone to get some of it down. Those notes became the rough outline for the chapter "Skating the Merritt" in The Wakeful Wanderer's Guide to New New England & Beyond.

So the first part of my writing process is to

1. Get Inspired.

This is no doubt, the first part of any writing process. What I try to do it use it throughout the whole process. So the next thing I do is

2. Daydream.

This is where most of my writing takes place. I do not sit down and write pages every morning. I do, however, make sure to daydream about my characters multiple times a day. I start with a question like "what will Mem do, if...." and then I let my imagination go somewhere with that question, knowing their character, situation and the situation of the characters around them. Another tack I take might be "How do the Spiders attack? Do they have intelligence, or are the purely controlled by the Memoria?" Then I let my imagination go. This works great when I'm doing a morning workout, or on a bike ride, or dozing off at night, or if I can't sleep. The important thing is that I don't write anything down when I daydream, I just leave it in my head. Some daydreams will go nowhere, and I take that as a sign that they are not interesting enough to remember. Some of them, like the initial inspiration that hit me on that bus, are so powerful that they build and build on their own and I can't get them out of my head if I tried. Sometimes I have to research an idea to be sure it actually works in my world. Sometimes I have to research a mindset that people have now to understand what they might think in the future. Then I

3. Write it down.

I never force anything. I write only when the power of the daydreams build up so much that I have no choice but to write them down. Generally, I have the entire chapter in mind before I ever sit down. I don't have every detail, just what is compelling about the narrative of that chapter. Some chapters are ready to go with just a little bit of imagination, some have built up over weeks or even months. I don't start writing until I can see the arc of the chapter clearly, and then I sit down and pound it out in about 2 hours. I almost never write more than a chapter at a sitting. I generally write in the morning. It is important not to let your inspiration sit too long in your head, so

4. Strike while the iron is hot.

When you have the next piece of the story ready, write it. Do not wait more than a day. To do lists be damned. Phone calls be damned. Social media be double and trebble damned. Write it immediately. You don't know if it will wait for you to be ready and it is crowding out your next daydream. Get it down, get it out, and make space for the next packet of inspiration to come. When I sit down to write, I try to

5. Eliminate all style.

This was a hard thing for me to learn. I think the resistance to this comes from insecurity. We all have a voice. We also all have bad habits. I found a strong temptation to try to write like I was a writer. This is a godawful mistake. The page fills with adverbs, useless metaphors, flowery language that just rings false. Sentences run on and on. I decided that since what I was describing was really really complex, I was better off just telling the damn story as simply as I possibly could. One great tool I recommend to help get over any habits of trying to sound like a real writer is Hemingway app. It can be brutal when you first try it out. Paragraphs you thought were straightforward and pithy turn out to be full of vagueries and inessential words. Use short sentences. Go ahead. Don't be afraid.

When it was time to record albums of my songs, the most valuable thing I learned was from Peter Galway, a record producer, and performer, who told me that the key to producing a great record is to "eliminate everything that is not absolutely essential to the song." I find that the same thing holds true for writing prose.

Ultimately, eliminating all style reveals the writer's true voice. That is what remains when we get rid of all the unnecessary fluff. Also, remember that this work is yours. You have permission to write your story. If you don't, who will?

As I eliminated all that style, I learned to

6. Get rid of mushy expressions.

This may sound like I'm trying to advise you to make your writing more masculine, simply because I'm male. It's not that. Mushy expressions are vague placeholders where more precision is needed. Some examples of mushy expressions are "sort of", "mostly", "a few", "some", "rather", "somewhat", and even "then." There are dozens more. My writing was riddled with them. When you discover one, do a global search for it and ask yourself, "can this be more descriptive, or more precise?" With few exceptions, the answer is yes. Most can be deleted. I wish I had a complete list of words, but I think if you take a critical eye to your writing you can find them. Ask yourself the questions your readers might ask when you are being vague. Ask "how long?", "where exactly?", "how much?", "in what way?" and you will find the answer. "Then" is tricky. Often we say "Marto ate a sandwich and then went to get a coffee." Take out the "then." We already know. There are also pretentious expressions to track down. For example, you may not want to use "amongst" when "among" is really more normal for your world. Finally

7. Revise, revise, revise.

My brother tells me, "writing is revision." I'm pretty sure he didn't make that up, but he's my brother and I believe every word he says for some reason. It's true though because there is always some refinement, some loose language to fix, some vague expression to hunt down and kill, some details missing, some element of the story that doesn't move the narrative forward. For example, I noticed that none of my characters were using contractions in their dialogue. They all spoke like Data from Star Trek, Next Generation. Whoops. It seems like revision goes on forever, but it eventually grinds to a halt. Do it, do it, do it, even if it's already up on Wattpad. Do it and repost. We will love you for it.

That's mostly it. Maybe I left something out? Probably. Oh, I didn't mention that I'm a pantser, but that should be clear from the above. I want to discover what will happen next in my own book as I write it, so apart from knowing the characters well, and wondering "what would they do next?" I never pre-plan. Almost. I almost never pre-plan. Mostly. But that's just me.

updated: 2 years ago


The Wakeful Wanderer's Guide has won a Watty!

Jim Infantino
The Wattys Award 2017
The Wakeful Wanderer's Guide to New New England & Beyond has been declared a winner in the largest global online writing contest in the world. I am thrilled. It was in the category "New Comers" which is apropos since it is my very first attempt at a Novel. I am still editing it, but this is a very welcome bit of reassurance that I can indeed write. You can still read the whole thing online at Wattpad.

updated: 1 year ago


Infantino Street

Jim Infantino
Infantino Street

My Uncle Carmine drew and designed the comic book character we now know as The Flash. To put a fine point on it, he redesigned the original flash - which had a helmet (Jay Garrick drawn by Harry Lampert in 1940) into the Flash with a hood-mask (Barry Allen) and the new lightning logo in a circle we all know. I think this happened in the 1960s, but it was near to the start of the Silver Age of comic book characters, as opposed to the Golden Age which preceeded it.

He passed away a few years ago, and shortly after, The Flash launched on TV as Barry Allen. On May 16, the show gives a significant nod to it's comic book creator with an episode titled "Infantino Street."

My last name is not all that common here in the states. It's pretty strange to hear it or see it on TV. I don't think it's ever been used as the title of an episode.

My father drew some cowboy comics in the 1950s but like most brothers, he didn't continue with it, maybe not wanting to do the same thing as his older brother. My dad went into advertising, working on campaigns for BMW and Apple, and Carmine went on to become Publisher of DC comics and to work on many projects that connected to hollywood, such as Star Wars and others.

Likewise, my brother John has been instrumental in the creation of cartoons on Cartoon Network (The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack, Regular Show, among others) and Disney (Star Vs. The Forces of Evil), while I, well, you can find out more about me on this site.

I remember years ago, when Carmine and I were eating and drinking too much wine at an italian restaurant in the village in NYC. I was bragging to the waiter that my uncle was famous, mostly teasing my uncle, and mentioned that he created The Flash. The waiter, who grew up in Brazil got really quiet and emotional, and told my uncle that those comic books meant so much to him as a boy, gave him courage, and the ability to imagine another life. Until then, I didn't understand the power and reach of these characters worldwide. The books were translated into many many languages and published internationally, something you can't do as easily with TV shows. Then Carmine drew a picture of the head of the Flash on a napkin and gave it to the waiter. I naturally felt like an ass, and was humbled.

I'm not sure what Carmine would make of the TV rendition of his character now on the CW. No doubt he would be pleased, as I think it's pretty faithful to his vision. That said, like many creators of the time, the artists of the Silver Age worked really hard for not a lot of compensation, considering the power of what they created. Of course, those comic books were not as closely connected to TV and movies in the Silver Age. They were popular, but not a billion dollar industry. They started to make forrays into TV with Superman and Batman (Batman was also re-designed by my uncle) and Shazam and Wonder Woman and Isis and He-Man in the 70s and 80s.

I keep this in mind when creating new things. There is no way to judge the power of what you are doing as you do it. You just have to do it the best you can, and keep doing it.

updated: 1 year ago


I got a question regarding the Ballad of Barry Allen.

Jim Infantino
I got a question regarding the Ballad of Barry Allen

Barry Allen, the Fash, created by my uncle Carmine Infantino.

His question:

Hello Jim Infantino,

I was listening to your song "The Ballad of Barry Allen" and its a really enjoyable song, but very sad at the same time. I was hoping if you could explain the flash alittle more for me. In the song, it says things like "I've got time to think about my past as I dodge between the bullets how my life was so exciting before I got this way " and also " How I wish I'd never gone into my lab to experiment that night before lightning flashed around me". It seems like its hard for him to be the flash, and is that because everything is so slow? Like say he has to save someone in Florida and he is in Texas. In the human mind it would seem as 0.001 secs but to him does it take days? Is he able to speed up the process of things so it wouldn't take forever to get to places? Also last question, I know that he can read books really fast but does it take regular time in his mind, or he can just look at the words really fast. How does he perceive time? I have read so many reddit post, but I know you could give me logical answers because of the song you made and also because you are the nephew of the creator of the flash. So if you could help me understand, that would be great because he is my favorite superhero, and please if u could get deep into detail that would be awesome. Hope you have a nice day.

My response:

So, there was no real help from Carmine on this, I was just thinking about his Barry Allen character and the song is a thought experiment.

1. If you act and react in super speed, doesn't your mind need to be sped up to react to events around you? Hence, running from Florida to Texas, you would need to be sure not to trip over anything, or run into a car, so your mind needs to match your speed. If your mind remained slow while dodging bullets, or whisking someone away from a fall, you would not dodge, or catch accurately.
2. If your mind speeds up, your sense of time slows down. You would remember all the details, so your memory of the events would be in a slower timeframe than other people's. Looking back, events would be in slow motion. During time that the flash is sped up, events would elongate during those times, or maybe all the time, depending on whether he can turn it on and off. Except for the instances where he is actively dodging bullets or fighting foes, there's a lot of waiting for things to happen. He still has to put his costume on one leg at a time. The mind does not blur with his speed. Acting on instinct alone would not allow him to do things like get his costume on, or comprehend what he reads.
3. In the present moment, there is no sense of time, only now. Nothing happens now, things only happen when we compare now with before. In other words, we only measure the passing of time by remembering what has already happened. For the flash, a lot happens in a short period of time, so his days are longer.
So the line: "I've got time to think about my past as I dodge between the bullets, how my life was so exciting before I got this way " expresses (and this is just my take on it) Barry Allen's lack of patience with how slow events transpire around him when he is sped up. I leave the question open, whether is is always sped up, or only when he turns it on. From everyone else's point of view, his life must be very exciting, moving quickly, but for him, everything is slowed down so he can react to what is happening. He has to "wait for calamity to strike because when things change in an instant it's almost fast enough for me." In the song, he wishes he could experience events in normal time so that his life might be more exciting "before I got this way."
All this said, the song, in my point of view, is a metaphor for someone who is in a constant state of distraction, staying pretty much on the surface of things, always wishing for a more speedy moment, something exciting enough to keep him/her from staying put with the ordinary passage of time.
I hope this clears things up. Again, I never got to process this completely with my uncle. He liked the song, but we didn't discuss whether my ideas fit with his sense of the character. I think ultimately, he might have felt that I took the philosophical issues with the flash too far, but who knows?
Hope that helps. Thanks for asking.

updated: 2 years ago