Book Meme 123.5: My Contribution

Over at Small Business Branding Michael Pollock has suggested a fun way to overcome “blogger’s block” (writer’s block occuring in webloggers). This happens to me rarely, and not today. But this sounds like fun (my friends Tris and Toby certainly enjoyed it), so I’ll give it a quick whirl anyway.

Here are the steps in Pollock’s Book Meme 123.5 method:

  1. Grab the nearest book.
  2. Open the book to page 123.
  3. Find the fifth sentence.
  4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
  5. Don’t search around and look for the “coolest� book you can find. Do what’s actually next to you.

OK, here goes my attempt…

(UPDATE: According to Alex Barnett, this technique isn’t new. Big deal. It’s still fun.)

I’m in my home office, facing one of my bookcases. I picked this book directly in front of me, at eye level: Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire, by David Remnick (1994). Wow, it’s been years since I read this book…

This is the fifth full sentence on that page:

[quote from Arnold Yeryomenko, who was a reform activist in Russia’s Magadan region, not far from Siberia, in the 1980s] “I remember seeing the prisoners in huge lines, five, six thousand men and women in rags, exhausted, being marched from the ships and onto the shore and up to the barracks.”

Wow, talk about a cold slap in the face, this is taking my creativity off in an entriely different direction.

The thing that strikes me about this is the dangers of secrecy. The Soviet gulag political prison system was huge. Most of the world did not know it existed, or were not aware of its extent and nature. Within Soviet society it existed mainly in whispers, veiled threats, and stories of the occasional released prisoner. Secrecy maintained and magnified its power.

Secrecy is the linchpin of systematic abuse or oppression – whether it’s a secret prison, or a secret trial, or secret surveillance, or a child molestor swearing his victim to secrecy with threats of further violence, or an unspoken agreement in society not to acknowledge the existence or role of prejudice. Abuse thrives when it’s unopposed, and it can remain unopposed more easily when it remains hidden.

Not all secrets are harmful. However, secrecy in general is easily misused. Knowledge is indeed power. And the Wizard of Oz’s admonishment to “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” indicates the essence of secrecy. We sometimes make secrets in order to maintain privacy or protect others, but usually to shield ourselves from consequences.

This is one reason why I love and fear the online age. It’s very hard to keep secrets on the internet. There’s always a way for a determined investigator to discover any information or its source. But here, people can talk – and they do talk.

People take risks by revealing secrets online, even under a disguised identity. If recognized they might be confronted, embarrassed, ridiculed, ostracized, fired, divorced, disowned, beaten, jailed, or killed. They might be putting others at risk. So why take the risk? Because telling secrets shifts the balance of power, even if only a little bit, even if only temporarily, even if the effects are delayed by decades.

People can be bound to secrecy internally by fear, guilt, or shame; or externally by threats, agreements, or norms. The act of revelation always wrests some power from the oppressor. The act of telling a secret may be noble, spiteful, naive, strategic or anything in between. But something will change because of the revelation, even if only inside the mind and soul of the revealer.

…OK, that’s enough for now. It’s more abstract and philosophical than my normal post, but I think it was a worthwhile exercise. Try it out on your blog, or even just in your personal journal. It is definitely intriguing.

6 thoughts on Book Meme 123.5: My Contribution

Comments are closed.

  1. On the other hand, if you can’t think of anything to post to your blog, maybe it’s because… you don’t have anything to say. Sometimes writer’s block is your subconscious saying “you aren’t there yet, bub.” Believe me, I read a lot of weblogs and there are unquestionably a percentage of postings that, well, would have been better as ‘bloggers block’ than as the articles that appear. 🙂

  2. Okay… I’ll try it out too, but I’ll do it as a comment to your posting.

    From Yookoso: An Invitation to Contemporary Japanese by Yasu-Hiko Tohsaku.

    “Vocabulary lists and flash cards can be useful as a review or as a self-test.”

    Sheesh – I haven’t studied Japanese in a long time… do you suppose it’s a sign? It’s kind of strange that it would be the closest book to me at the time.

  3. The word meme, invented to rhyme with gene, refers to a concept that persists and flourishes in society, because it has high survivability. Much like genes that survive even when individuals or even entire species are wiped out.

    I’m only beginning to be acquainted with blogs and don’t know whether to venture an opinion. But they appear to be a mechanism for perpetuation of ideas that deserve to survive because they can invade the minds of a great many bloggers. In that sense, emergence of blogging may be evolution of life to the next level.

    However, if you always turn to 123.5, I would write books with at least 123 pages and put special thoughts, plus of course my name, on the fifth line. That would give the idea some chance of survival. Every body would do that and, therefore, we might as well give up the complicated rule and stick to commenting on the title pages of the book.

  4. “The standing wave ratio meter, abbreviated ‘SWR meter’, is useful in determining wheter or not an antenna has been cut to perfect performance.”

    from Become A Licensed Ham Without Knowing Morse Code by Gordon West

    I guess this depends on what genre the book nearest you is.