Jun 082017
 

A couple years back, when I still identified fairly strongly with feminism, I said “If feminism is losing people like Scott Alexander, we really need to take a look at ourselves and reevaluate what we’re doing wrong.” It was a tragedy to lose him, because he is an ideal feminist (IMHO). This was before I realized that “The Left” I had grown up with had been taken over by a lunatic fringe and was in the process of eating its own.

It’s happened again. Laci Green, for those unfamiliar, is a fantastic YouTuber, who mainly talks sex and sexuality.  I loved her Sex+ show and watched it regularly. She is (was?) strongly liberal, and a feminist… kinda notorious for it, actually. Which, you know, all the hearts from me. :) Eventually I drifted away, when I faded away from YouTube entirely. Now I see she’s back! And in as fantastic form as ever! But the surprise announcement that she’s willing to talk to people with differing opinions has opened floodgates of hate from the lunatic fringe.

It sounds like she was subjected to a lash from the lunatic-fringe left, and is standing up for her principles. I am sad for her that she had to go through that, it’s rough as hell. But it’s fucking awesome that she’s not collapsing under the assault. I wish I could offer support in some way other than the occasional supportive comment and posting on my blog.

In her next video, when she said “I will always be a feminist” I wanted to cheer and cry at the same time. I do not identify as feminist in public anymore. It’s become too toxic and extreme. But I hate that the extremist took our word, and our movement. I, too, will always be one in my heart.

I consider it a duty of people to help police their own groups. I DO get pissed at the Catholics who don’t make a stink about their child-molesting priests. I despise the Republicans who will close ranks and cover their own, no matter what they did. Because no group EVER takes criticism from an outside group. They can only take it from other insiders. I would expect an atheist congregation to kick out an abusive community leader, because there ain’t nobody outside the community who will! A community must be able to criticize itself to some extent or it becomes rancid. I eventually opt-ed out of feminism because nowadays anything less than total devotion makes you the enemy, and that environment is deeply toxic. I know quite a few people who’ve lost many friends and huge chunks of their support network, finding themselves suddenly attacked by people they had counted as allies, for minor infractions. The far left’s auto-cannibalism is getting nuts.

II.

I guess I still haven’t given up entirely, though. Some of my friends are still of the opinion that Twitter and YouTube should ban people who promote what they call “hate speech.”

No. Here is why.

I prefer not to ask corporation to act as our guardians of public morality. In my experience, they ALWAYS default to where the money is. Profit is their lifeblood. Perhaps right now it is most profitable to only censor those that a loud enough faction can successfully label “white supremacist” or “nazi” in the court of public opinion. But that’s a notoriously fickle court, AND it’s possible that some day it’ll be more profitable to only censor those that can be successfully labeled “feminist” or “homosexual”. Trump’s election scared us all because it showed us that’s not as distant as we used to think.

I would rather that companies not get involved in judgements of morality. Mega-phone companies sell mega-phones to anyone who wants them, they don’t vet to make sure they’ll never be used at anti-cop rallies. Concert halls rent out to whoever will pay for them, not just people who sing the “correct” kinds of songs. Printers will print any book a client will pay for, not just ones that aren’t “obscene.” Or that’s the way it should be, anyway.

We are very much pro-Net Neutrality for everything else. ISPs shouldn’t be allowed to decide what websites’ data they’ll allow to get to your computer, or slow down some of it. Right? Communication providers like Twitter and YouTube should be held to the same standard. I don’t want them to be anyone’s morality police, for either side. They’re held to the same law as everyone else – speech that is threatening or an incitement to violence is illegal, and would cover the worst of the terrorist stuff. The exchange of ideas remains protected.

III.

I take it as a good sign that our society seems to be able to pull back from that cliff and return to sanity rather than plunging into violence. It’s wonderful that people like Laci Green, famous for being leftist, is willing to stand up despite losing her support base and many friends, and say “This is going too far.” This is the strength we need to survive, and it looks like our society has it. :)

I am a fan of civilization. I love Laci Green for what she’s doing. Censorship is the purview of villains, and we are no villains! If we’re confident that our views are the better ones, the best thing to do is to promote the free exchange of ideas so that everyone can see this. We don’t NEED to resort to censorship, because we’re right.

Jun 022017
 

I recently found a new insight into SJW worldview that has caused me to radically update a few of my beliefs. This may take a wee bit of set-up, the impatient can probably skip to Part III.

I.

The Austin Alamo Drafthouse is holding an all-women showing of Wonder Woman on Tuesday (5 days after the movie is released). I love this idea! In large part because I grew up in the Xena fandom, which was dominated by women, and I know how important that sort of thing can be. Also, because Wonder Woman has long been a feminist icon. This is a genius idea on aesthetic, thematic, and cultural reasons. And finally, because I’m a strong support of freedom of association. If people want to have all-christian showings of Passion Of The Christ, or all-black showings of Get Out, or anything like that, they should be free to do so. Mad props all around.

Surprising no one who’s been on the internet for more than a week, sexist trolls made disparaging comments on the Alamo’s facebook page. Everyone shrugs and moves on, in the alternate universe were people are sane. In this universe, various Media Dragons turn it into a major event and tell the left how much we should hate these people. A bit of an overreaction, but whatever.

Aaaaaaand then a friend posts one of the particularly awful articles, that highlights a number of these comments and then attributes them to an entire class of human – in this case “men online.” Through a series of unfortunate events, I get sucked in.

II.

Articles that take instances of shitty individuals being shitty, spotlight them, and then spin the headline and article to strongly insinuate that everyone who shares a hated characteristic with the perpetrators are vile. This is a large driver of racism, religion-ism, sexism, hell… most group-prejudices. I wouldn’t have as much of a problem with an article like this one, that singles out “Sexist Trolls” in the headline. At least then it’s putting the blame directly on a group that is defined by their ACTIONS – making sexist, trolling comments. Those sorts of people really are awful. It’s like an article that speaks of “Murders” or “Arsonists” – those groups are identified by what they did. An article that identifies a group by a characteristics that has nothing to do with the action and is present in a large group who are mostly innocent, such as skin color or gender, is an evil article that promotes group-hatred.

Objections mostly took the characteristic of “The articles are only showing actual bad things that were done. Everything within them is accurate. These statements were made, and they were made by men. What is the problem?”

One can always find people who did bad things and share a characteristic, then publish a list of them, and imply that everyone with that characteristic is as bad as they are. That’s literally what all these prejudices – racism, sexism, religion-ism, sexual-orientation-ism – have in common. “Gay Men Are Pedophiles” “Blacks are Criminals” “Muslims Are Terrorists.” And with a large sample size and careful picking, it’s easy to do. Google found me this article that looks to be a direct parody of those “Men Are Going Crazy Over Wonder Woman” articles – Alamo Drafthouse is Doing a Women Only Screening of Wonder Woman and Chicks Are Very Mad – that does the same thing only for women. With nearly 2000 comments (last I checked) it’s easy to find 10 that make a group look bad. I bet one could, with a little extra work, easily write “Alamo Drafthosue is Doing a Woman Only Screening, and Muslims Are Very Mad” with the exact same wording as those other articles, but selecting only comments by Muslim commenters.

In fact, this is exactly what Donald Trump is doing to spur hatred of immigrants. He has ordered the weekly publication of crimes committed by illegal immigrants. Everything in these reports is accurate. It is a list of real crimes, that were actually committed by illegal immigrants. Wherein is the problem?

The problem is the implication that the crimes were committed BECAUSE of the characteristic that is being highlighted. And thus outside parties can draw the inference that anyone who shares that characteristic is also likely to commit those crimes. It’s the difference between “Arsonist burns down church” and “Jew burns down church.”

III.

This did not sit easy with a number of people, several of whom are friends. I wanted to find out why.

In my mind, a principle is valid or it isn’t. Either the principle “A group X should not be tarred by the actions of individuals that share (non-causative) characteristic Y with that group” either is valid for all values of X and all values of Y. There is no special exception “unless that group is Jews” or “unless that characteristic is having a tattoo.” So when I gave the previous example and I was told I can never make that comparison, doing so was wrong, and I should apologize, I was confused. Why is it wrong in the case of Immigrants/Criminals, but not Men/Sexists-Commenters?

Hoping to start with common ground I asked – “Why is prejudice wrong?”

I expected an answer based on the injustice of judging a person due to outward characteristics or group membership, rather than due to their individual actions and the content of their character. Instead I was told:

“Because in many cases it hurts people by denying them the privileges experienced by others.”

IV.

This was an authoritative answer, based on years of schooling while securing a masters in Sociology.

Unpacking this in my mind took a long time.

First – everyone has some privilege. Undeniable. And between any two given individuals, it’s overwhelmingly likely that their levels of privileges across all domains aren’t identical. Given that, it’s plausible that we could label one person as more privileged than another.

Second – certain characteristics bring more privilege with them on an aggregate level. White people suffer less discrimination than black people, on the whole. The rich have an easier life than the poor, on the whole. Men have various advantages in many fields over women, on the whole. This is, again, undeniable.

But these privileges aren’t really “granted” or “denied” on a personal level. They are societal-scale issues. Attacking individual sexists on the internet is not going to change anything. It can’t. Perhaps you can change the actions of the men targeted, or onlookers who see the attack, but the vast edifice of privilege is unmoved.

So, Lesson One – my first mistake was thinking that sexism was something that an individual does. If that’s the case, it makes sense to separate those who show sexist behavior from those who do not. But sexism is a thing that a society does. In which case there’s no point in focusing on individual behavior, or differentiating between guilty individuals and innocent individuals.  It was never about individual action or how those actions hurt other people.

Also, Lesson Two – this is why it is important that entire groups are attacked. Privileges are assigned based on group membership. To make the world more just and less oppressive requires the remove or lessening of that group’s privilege. Therefore the actual intent of these attacks is exactly what my principles scream against – tarring a whole group. Even if that means highlighting the despicable actions of a few people and drawing attention to their membership in the target group.

Third – let’s focus on the “denying them the privileges” part. How is it that someone is denied privileges? It’s certainly not due to any individual’s actions, because it’s not about the individual. I cannot deny anyone a privilege. No single person can, privilege is inherent in society. That’s what it means to be a privilege! So someone isn’t “denied the privilege” of being male by anything a male does, they are denied it simply by being non-male. Therefore the more-privileged group deserves to be attacked purely due to the fact that it is privileged. It denies others privilege by virtue of its privilege existing at all.

And now the claim that tarring all men via selective reporting is incomparable to tarring all immigrants by selective reporting makes sense. Men have privilege. Immigrants don’t. Ergo, the two cases are not comparable, and trying to draw comparisons is abhorrent. The principle isn’t “Judge individuals fairly”, it’s “Judge groups by their privilege.”

V.

This does raise the question of “What Is To Be Done?” Just a few days ago I posted about the unfairness of not everyone having equal talent. It’s nobody’s fault. No one can be blamed for not having enough talent, and no one can claim that having lots of talent is due to some intrinsic deservingness. Some people just have it, and it’s damned unfair, but what can be done about it? All I can really do is feel sad and wish things were more fair. You can’t transfer talent from the more talented to the less talented. The most you could do is, like Vonnegut’s story Harrison Bergeron, cripple the talented in proportion to their talent, so everyone is equally bad off.

Oohhhhhh….

Now suddenly the Oppression Olympics makes much more sense. The more Oppressed you are, the less you will require crippling. Obviously everyone will want to portray themselves as maximally oppressed, to avoid those hammer blows.

And privilege isn’t something you can control via your actions. Individual merit and effort don’t matter. Being personally anti-racist or anti-sexist doesn’t matter, if you still have privilege. Remember that prejudice is bad because it “denies people privileges.” Having privilege denies it to others, so if you have it you are morally culpable for its denial to oppressed groups. Of course you want to play up every possible morally good/oppressed group you can lay claim to, and play down any morally bad/oppressor groups you might be associated with. One is morally good or morally bad not due to their own actions, but due to accident of birth.

And so we have come full circle.

VI.

To clarify, my friend is a kind and wonderful person, and wouldn’t endorse the conclusions I’ve drawn from that statement. They simply bought deeply into the standard privilege narrative without really digging into its implications and real-world results, IMHO.

May 312017
 

Reality frustrates the hell out of my sometimes, because it’s so damned unfair.

Take, for example, Deftones. A legit fantastic band. Compare to Chevelle, who are totally acceptable in a pinch, and who–significant for this post–sound like they were influenced by Deftones.

I am not a music geek, so I don’t have the vocabulary or understanding to describe why Deftones is outstanding and Chevelle is mediocre, even though they have a very similar style. All I have is deep emotional draw that gives me the shivers when I hear Deftones, and a lack of that draw that makes me think “Man, these guys must’ve really liked Deftones and tried to make similar music” when I hear Chevelle.

I find that heartbreaking, in large part because my intuition says that Chevelle also doesn’t know what that key spark of difference is either… and that no one really does. I could love Deftones with all my heart, and learn how to play, and practice, and write music. And when someone heard it they’d say there’s something missing.

In a just world that thing would be drive/dedication. It would something like “the members of Deftones spent years upon years learning their craft, and experimenting. And they would spend months slavishly working on each song until it was perfect.” While a lesser band wouldn’t have as much dedication or passion, and would put songs out quickly without too much introspection or work.

And maybe that’s part of the truth. I’m sure it’s a factor. But I’ve been in my local writing community for a while, and it seems that isn’t quite all of it. Some people just seem to Get It. They have something that comes through, and it’s magical. Others, who work just as much, never quite do. They produce passable work, but nothing that crackles with genius. And from an outside point of view, there doesn’t seem to be anything that separates them except some elusive, unquantifiable thing that most people call Talent. Some people have a lot of it, others don’t, and no one knows why.

It’s damned unfair that someone would be good at a thing they love just because. They were lucky and were born with it, or had it instilled in childhood, or whatever. And someone else who loves that thing just as much simply isn’t good at it. For no damn reason.

I know this is “wailing that not everyone is equally tall” territory, but it hurts me that people can be shut out of a passion, a driving force in their life, just because Bad Luck. What kind of a fucked up world is that?

There’s no good compensation. You can’t transfer talent from one person to another until things are equal. You could tax the more gifted and give the money to the lesser-so, but that only gives them money. It doesn’t address the problem of exclusion from what gives their life meaning. Nor can we just give admiration to everyone equally, because that devalues the art we love, and makes love a lie. All anyone can do is say “I’m sorry, that sucks,” and feel sympathy. And continue listening to the good stuff.

The distribution of talent is inequitable, and there is nothing that any person can do to fix that. The best we can hope is that maybe as a social project we can improve everyone’s chances via stimulating childhood environments, loving parents, plenty of resources, and genetic screening/modification. To make people, as a whole, better. That’s a frustratingly un-actionable hope though. It doesn’t let me, or anyone individually, address the “not all people who love producing music are equally talented at doing so, and it’s not their fault, and that’s unfair” problem. :(

May 232017
 

With apologies to my friends who are, or are planning to, get married.

One of the most reprehensible lies we still tell children is that marriage is what you do with someone that you love. You marry them because you love them. You marry them to show your love. And to demonstrate that love publicly.

Love does not require anything like that. And marriage does not accomplish it. You stay with someone and live your life together because you love them. You support and care for each other to show love. You demonstrate that love every single day with your actions–publicly when you are in public.

Marriage is none of those things. Marriage is a legal contract, with terms that most of the people entering into it are completely unfamiliar with. If they were familiar with them, and they weren’t fed lies all their lives about how marriage shows love, they would be aghast at what this contract entails, because it is morally repugnant.

The marriage contract is a claim on resources. And an unconscionable one at that.

It is a claim on past resources. If either party owned assets prior to the marriage, 50% of any increase in that assets’ value from the time of marriage goes to the other party. Say (to use a personal example) you own a small two-bedroom townhome that you rent out on the side. You do all the required maintenance, you pay for the upkeep and the taxes, you incur any losses while it is vacant, and you do the labor of renting out and managing the place. Should it increase in value from $120,000 to $140,000 in one year, you better set aside $10,000 to give to your spouse.

If you owned 100 shares of stock you bought before the marriage, forgot about it, and after a year those 100 shares could be sold for $20 more per share than you bought them for, be ready to pay out $1000 for the privileged of holding onto those stocks. If you don’t, you are denying your partner their rightful share of the marital assets.

It is a claim on present resources. Everything earned by either party is considered joint property of both. In practice, this means that the person who earns more is effectively transferring any income earned to the person who earns less until the two of them are at parity, automatically at all times. This is perhaps the best-known and therefore least-offensive aspect of the marriage contract. Most people are fine with it. But be aware of what this entails:

* You cannot hold property separately. Even holding separate bank accounts is merely childish play-acting — both parties have full rights to all accounts. A pre-nup *might* allow you to divide up some income the way you wish to, in *some* states. Check your local laws. But for the most part, your wishes don’t matter. The state has declared that all your assets and incomes count as one, and trying to keep them separate is a foolish game.

* All debts accrue to both of you. You may think you have an agreement to split the rent. But what happens when your partner simply doesn’t pay their half? It’s your debt. The court will be confused as to why this is even an issue. You never had separate incomes or accounts, regardless of what you thought! There is only marital income and marital assets and marital debts.
** All this time you’ve been paying marital debts with marital income. Your marital assets might be in multiple bank accounts, but they all belong to the marriage, and they will be seized to pay marital debts. There is no You, there is only the Marital Income, and the court looks very disfavorably on some individual human trying to withhold some of the Marital Income because of something as non-nonsensical as which individual name is tagged to which portion of the Marital Income stream.

**** this is the most important thing to remember about marriage, and the most morally repugnant. There is NO INDIVIDUAL PERSONHOOD anymore. There is only this Frankenstein Abomination called The Marriage. I hope you weren’t too attached to that bodily autonomy thing you had going.

****** I mean that “bodily autonomy” crack literally. You can be forced into labor against your will, for the marriage. Up until a few decades ago, if you were a woman you were required to perform sexual services to the man in the marriage, and failure to do so often enough (as decided by the courts) was cause for at-fault termination of marriage. You did not get to decide what to do with your body, sexually or otherwise, if The Marriage disagreed.

(as an aside, spouses can’t testify against each other in court. There’s some rational justifications that can be made for this, but the simpler and oft-used excuse is that The Marriage is a single mashed-up person, and a person cannot be compelled to testify against themselves in a court. You are not individual people anymore.)

* You cannot loan money to each other. There are no individuals in a marriage. There is only The Marriage, and The Marriage cannot loan money to itself. That’s just as nonsensical as someone moving cash from one pocket to the other and claiming it’s changed ownership. Don’t even bother trying to help your partner out by covering their car repairs or helping with their studio rent for a few months while they get back on their feet. They already have full claim to any assets you have. You aren’t helping them at all, any more than “allowing” someone to take vegetables from their own garden is “helping” them. Their thanks, and assurances that they’ll pay you back as soon as possible, are just as incoherent.

It is a claim on future resources. Once you decide to go your separate ways you aren’t done yet. The Marriage continues into a zombie afterlife. Did you think you were doing a nice thing for your spouse, in supporting them after they got laid off while they pursued their dream job? I hope you like doing nice things, because you’ll continue to do that one well into the future regardless of your wishes.

This is the really insidious aspect of Marriage. It incentivizes being callous. From a stand point of personal fiscal responsibility, you should never allow this sort of income disparity to occur. You should demand your spouse gets another job as quickly as possible, making as much as they made previously, regardless of how miserable it makes them. Regardless of the potential for future joy and earnings if their dream-job idea works out. Because the courts will look at the years that you supported your spouse and say “They have grown accustomed to being kept in that lifestyle during The Marriage. The Marriage Zombie will be kept up to similar standards for the next X years.” Whereas if you had both kept steady, middle-income jobs the courts will say “Yup, all fair here, go about your business.” You can’t even loan your spouse money for a few years while they pursue their dreams, due to the inability for The Marriage to loan money to itself, discussed above.

This grows worse if the party that earns more ever pays for greater than 50% of anything. You may have thought it was only fair that, as the person who earns more, you pay for insurance for both of you, and cover all the costs of going out whenever you go out. That is again used to penalize you at the dissolution of The Marriage.

Every Single Kind Act You Ever Did Will Be Used As A Weapon Against You.

Without fail. So don’t be kind to your spouse. (Or just don’t get married, and feel free to continue being kind instead!)

But What About The Benefits?

Like what? Tax benefits? If you both draw any sort of income, there’s no real benefit there. If one of you doesn’t draw income, the one who does can claim a non-spousal dependent on their taxes. Marriage is not a requirement. (Although be wary about doing so, it could be used against you in the future as a claim on resources, and very likely is NOT worth the $4000 credit). And the spouse who makes little/nothing loses access to all sorts of benefits that are only available to people with limited income.

Are you worried about the children? That’s sillier than trying to loan money to each other. The courts will enforce child support regardless of whether you married or not. In fact, don’t bother putting anything about children in any pre-nup (be it about child support, child custody, or otherwise). Courts immediately discard all such provisions and make their decisions independently, regardless of what you agreed to. Such things are too important to be left to individual agreements, they are matters of public policy.

Visitation rights at a hospital? Just lie. I’ve never had to produce a marriage certificate when visiting a spouse in a hospital, nor have my spouses.

End-of-life planning and estate decisions? Write a will. Give your partner power of attorney. (actually important for everyone, especially as they get older)

Health insurance? Most workplaces now cover domestic partners, and marriage is not required. However this may set up the same sort of precedent as joint-filing taxes, so should also be avoided if possible. It’s probably the most legitimate reason for actually getting married in the USA. Which is an indictment of our fucked-up healthcare system. Our method of rationing healthcare is so awful that we use threats against the life and health of someone’s lover to force them into the outrageously immoral marriage contract.

What Is It Good For?

If you want to conspire to commit a crime, and not have to worry about testifying against each other, maybe marriage will be useful. Aside from that – Absolutely Nothing. Every thing you may want to do as a loving couple (or triad, or more) you can do via personal agreement, without marriage.

One might say “But marriages don’t have to be like this! The couple can agree to keep separate accounts! The couple can voluntarily give up all rights on the assets of the other when they dissolve the marriage! They can voluntarily decline maintenance. They can split the debts in an equitable way, and keep track of loans on their own, and pay each other back.”

Yes, they can. But they can do all that without getting married as well. That’s the real kicker. Everything you want to do to make a marriage fair and equitable and not a moral abomination, you can do without getting married in the first place. If you do get married, you have to take extra steps to do the things you agreed are fair, to prevent marriage law from perverting them.

BUT! But if you DID get married, now a spouse has the option to defect and make a resource grab against the other. That option was made possible by signing the marriage contract.

That option was the only thing that the marriage contract brought to the relationship.

In short, marriage doesn’t promote any public good for any honest person. It incentivizes callousness, and strips humans of individual personhood and bodily autonomy. It served a purpose in the vile dystopia that is our past, when half the population had no property rights or any legal way to make an income. In the present, its only purpose is to enable fraud that the courts will uphold. If someone loves you they will want to spend their life with you, at least for a while. But if they want to take advantage of you, they will seek the aegis of the marriage contract. Proposing marriage is a hostile act.

Small Concession – Due to the mythology we’ve built around marriage, and the extreme ignorance most people have as to the reality of marriage, they may not realize what it is they are asking for when they hint at marriage. It might be an innocent mistake. But every such proposal should be viewed with extreme prejudice, and anyone who suggests marriage to you should be flagged as a potential enemy.


added: a reader pointed out another potential good reason to get married: visas. If you want to get someone from Country A to Country B, and let them stay in country B, a marriage visa can be, depending on the country, one of the more effective ways of accomplishing this.

May 182017
 

I have learned a lesson the hard way, and wish to pass along what I’ve learned in the hopes that others need not learn it the same way.

For any agreement that is long term and important (define as you will, but anything lasting more than a few months and likely to entail over $10K would qualify IMHO) – PUT THE AGREEMENT IN WRITING.

This sounds obvious to the point of absurdity on the surface. We all know this already! But allow me to point out a couple edge cases.

  1. If the agreement starts small (maybe under a thousand dollars, maybe only a couple thousand, maybe just for a month or two), but it starts to grow slowly over time, you will eventually become very uncomfortable talking about it. Because there was implicit trust when the stakes were lower, and asking for a formal written agreement now implies lack of trust. It does not matter. PUT IT INTO WRITING, or cut it off.
  2. The agreement may be with someone you trust implicitly. A sibling. A lover. The person who saved your life. Implying you don’t trust them by asking for the agreement to be put into writing would be insulting, and throw the strength of your bonds into question.  It does not matter. PUT IT INTO WRITING. If they actually love you and trust you, they will want to have it put in writing as well, for your safety as well as theirs.
  3. Perhaps BOTH 1 & 2 are the case. This compounds the difficulty greatly. Guess what? Yeah – Writing.

You think I’m being silly.

In a long term situation, the person you are dealing with today, who loves you and saved your life, may not be the same person you are dealing with in several years. Future-Them may have developed a drug dependency. Or they may not care as much for you, values do drift. Maybe you are simply wrong about them right now. (Humans are terrible at judging three things: Volume, Acceleration, and Character).

But even if they should change, you think you’re basically protected. Because the tribe knows of your arrangement. Both of you have spoken of it publicly many times. You’ve had dinner with each other’s parents where these things are discussed. You’ve created bank accounts, you have paper trails and history, everyone knows the deal. Even should your partner go nuts, everyone knows of the agreement.

That’s where I got tripped up. The entirety of our social environment is only a minuscule fraction of the humans in the area. In the ancestral environment, if everyone both of you knows is aware of a thing, that’s the entire world for all practical purposes. In the modern environment, that’s no one. Unless your social circle includes the judges and lawyers that will be presiding over the court case, none of that matters.

Naively, one thinks “Look, everyone knows the score. We can go and explain it to any Judge. They are impartial arbiters, set by society to maintain justice and fairness. All we need do is explain the situation and they’ll do their best to bring about an equitable resolution.”

One is wrong to think that. They are sentinels set to keep society as stable as possible and the status quo as untouched as possible. There is already a standard solution to your problem, and it will be imposed, and none of your arguments really matter. Do you really want to argue about why YOUR situation is different and unique and special, and explain why the standard formula is unjust and inequitable, given the arrangement you had that EVERYONE knows about? Really? Ok, fine, you can do that. You’ll have to put off the resolution for months (at least) while court dates are made, motions are filed, and so forth. I hope you weren’t trying to get on with your life in that time, because that certainly won’t happen. Your lawyer bills will be in the thousands per month, so you’re looking at a minimum of $10,000 just to present your case, and very likely much more.

And all this buys you is a chance for the judge to say “Eh, this is very unusual, but you make a good case. I’ll adjust the standard formula by 20%.” Not “Here’s a Fair Judgement based on The Case At Hand.” Just an adjustment of the standard resolution. Unless you were talking huge numbers in the initial case, that adjustment to the standard solution may not be worth all the time, money, and psychological turmoil you paid to get there.

This is because the court has a vested interest in NOT MAKING EXCEPTIONS. And when they do, only slightly deviating from the norm. Their goals are to keep things as steady and predictable as possible, and make sure everything cleaves as close to the Standard Resolution as possible. Simply by presenting your case to the court for consideration you are making yourself its enemy. Stop trying to rock the damn boat, it’s got important places to go.

But you know what completely short-circuits the standard formula? What nips the entire process in the bud and smothers this unholy abomination in its legal crib before it can grow into the vile abortion of justice it wants to be?

A written agreement, signed by all parties.

Because two adults can agree to most anything, as long as it’s not unconscionable or illegal. And once they’ve agreed to it and there’s written proof of that, that supersedes the default procedures.

Sure, you can still fight over the details. But at least what was *supposed* to happen is documented. The goals that were originally being pursued and invested in. That paper defines the entire battleground. Without it, you are in hostile territory, and the powers that rule it just want you out of their hair.

Put It Into Writing. You don’t need a lawyer. You don’t need anything super official. Sure, those things help, especially if it gets ugly. But even a simple print-out of intentions and expectations, signed by both people, does WONDERS to define the territory. Always define the territory.

No one who actually cares about you will ask you to risk jumping into hostile territory. And if you’ve found you accidentally wandered into it, stop wading deeper in. Don’t go another step without a piece of paper. It’s better than a map. It is the territory.

May 162017
 

Fun trivia:

The visualization of recorded laughter is almost invariant among humans. That is to say – Everyone Laughs The Same. I’ve seen laughter recorded from I dunno how many people, dozens at least, maybe getting close to a hundred? And it always looks like this:

A series of choppy vertical lines, close together, with high spikes followed by deep dips. The “Ha-Ha-Ha” sound. It didn’t take me very long to learn this. It’s very easy to pick out laughter in tracks by sight, without any audio. And whenever I see these spikes coming down the line I smile, because I know what’s coming. I’ve come to associate this waveform with warm feelings. It makes me happy that all humans basically laugh the same.

Apr 212017
 

In order to get my regular antidepressant medication refilled while unemployed I got on Medicaid, the government health program for the poor. And my medical world has turned upside down. For the first time in my life I have decent medical coverage.

All my adult life I’ve been employed and insured through my workplace. The last several years I worked as an accountant making a decent fraction above the national median income (at the time of writing ~$55K/year). I was by all accounts a responsible, contributing member of society. My credit score rocks.

I paid a couple hundred dollars a month for insurance. I basically never went to the doctor, because it costs $30 and I don’t need to pay $30 to have someone tell me “Get plenty of bed rest for a week” or “Don’t do any squats or stress your back for the next month.” I only got medical care when it was really dire.

When I injured myself I went to physical therapy ONCE. I got their list of recommended stretches and exercises and then continue them at home for the month(s) advised. Because I can’t afford to go back regularly at $70 a session.

And everyone basically understands that savings only exist until such a time as you suffer from something really bad, in which case you get to go bankrupt, because that’s just how life works. Sucks, but it’s better than what our ancestors had, where you just died.

Then I got Medicaid, and I paid $2 to see a doctor to get my prescription renewed.

$2. Two. Dollars.

So you know what I did when I pulled something in my back (again) a couple weeks later? I went to the doctor!

Any time in my life before this I woulda said “Man, that sucks. Gonna take a lot of Tylenol and not stress my back at all and get through it.” Because that’s what the doctor would say anyway. But this time? For $2? Yeah, sure, I went to go see the doctor.

And yeah, that’s what he said. But then he also said “And go get physical therapy, here’s a place across the street that takes Medicaid.” So I went. You know how much it costs?

Free. Up to twelve sessions per year. Free.

So now I’m in physical therapy. And I’m finally actually addressing the lower back problems that I’ve been avoiding and struggling with for over a decade. It’s slow going, but I’m seeing progress, and I can’t believe this is really happening.

It’s a weird feeling knowing that I can actually go and get medical care whenever I need it, now. Life feels a bit less hostile. For the first time in my, I have real health care coverage.

What a bizarre country. I can either be gainfully employed OR I can get decent medical coverage. But not both at the same time. This is perverse. I am dreading the day I have to get a steady job again, simply for health reasons.

Apr 072017
 

Yesterday my dad came out to me as atheist.

Specifically, he said “Remember when you came out to me as an atheist? We were driving home from work? I thought to myself ‘Oh thank goodness, he’s not crazy’.” Background – I often went to work with him on the weekends to help out and make some spending cash. I don’t remember the exact day, but I was around 15 yrs old when this happened.

Apparently he’s been atheist-ish for over two decades. He did he whole “Going to church and putting on a religious facade” thing in order to provide me & my siblings with religious/moral grounding and for the community benefits of having a tight-knit high-trust in-group ready made when arriving in a new country full of strangers that spoke a different language. (From my observations, the first objective failed spectacularly, and the second one succeeded equally spectacularly. And since me & brothers developed a good moral grounding anyway, a definite net win)

This has thrown me for a MASSIVE loop, though, because it means everything I thought I knew is a lie. Slight hyperbole, but it’s hard to overstate just how big an influence my relationship to religion has been on my life. I still hold to this day that if the claims of religion are true, the Spanish Inquisition is not only morally good, but a moral requirement.

I took the religion thing seriously. The first time I committed a sin (masturbation) I was in shock for nearly two days. When god didn’t strike me dead I had a severe crisis of faith, and it was one of the cracks that helped to eventually bring down my belief. When my belief crumbled, so did everything I knew about the world, because if god wasn’t real, what was left that I could trust? I had to re-examine everything. It caused me to jettison everything my parents and society at large had ever told me and do my best to start over. It led to an overhaul of my moral system, my epistemology (rah empiricism!), and my ability to trust any sort of authority. It’s basically my Rationalist Origin Story. If it wasn’t for my rejection of religion, I wouldn’t be who I am today.

 

Not only that, it also helped to iron out some of my character. My religion (Jehovah’s Witnesses) is extremely insular. Any contact with the outside world is discouraged. Most of my life all my friends and my entire social circle consisted of other believers. And the Witnesses have a strong Shunning norm. Anyone who leaves the faith is to be cast out entirely. Often in church we heard great stories lauding people who cut off all ties with family members that strayed from the faith. In particular I recall the praise heaped upon a mother who would not speak with, look at, or in any way acknowledge her daughter after she left the religion. For years. Even when the daughter came crying and begging outside the mother’s window. Eventually the daughter returned to the faith, huge success!

I didn’t think my parents would really go that far. But I knew it was a risk. I didn’t come out to them until I (in my teenage hubris) figured I could survive being kicked out of the house and having my entire social net stripped away. I have a lot of mental issues that led me to have a very isolated and lonely childhood, but this preparation to be alone forever was certainly one of them.

And once I did come out, the courage of my conviction helped me to learn how to stand up for myself. To read deeply about the issue I cared about, and be ready to defend it. To accept being the weird one that didn’t fit because I was right goddammit, and you can’t take that away from me!

It led to me feeling like I don’t have a family. It led to me struggling all my adult life to find a surrogate family to fit in with.

It’s one of the reasons I don’t want children of my own. I look at my parents, and I ask “What did they get out of having children?” We have abandoned their religion, one of the most important things to them. We have abandoned their morality. We are memetic strangers. We drained their resources for 20+ years, and in return they got strangers who have left and don’t have anything in common with them. I’ve always felt like we’re intense disappointments to them. Why would I want that for myself? I can have far more memetic influence on the future by writing (both blogs and fiction, mehopes) than by having children. Not much influence, but maybe more than the zero I would get from kids. And I value memetic contribution to the future far more than genetic contribution.

Speaking of memetics… while everything I do is influenced by this past, a lot of my writing directly addresses my conflicted religious past. Both “Of All Possible Worlds” and “Host” are directly religious, and my bios for those stories include “He was raised in an apocalyptic sect of Christianity, which has heavily influenced his writings,” and “Eneasz was raised in a fundamentalist Christian sect dedicated to saving every soul possible. At the time, he couldn’t figure out why far more direct action wasn’t being taken,” respectively.

And now I find out all that time, I was rebelling against… nothing?

I could have had a parent that I could talk with about these things, and relate to about it, all this time?

Do I have a family now? Suddenly, magically, I feel like I can relate so much more with my father. Although in actual reality, nothing has changed. Only my perception. What the fuck does all this mean?

My entire life up to now has been a lie. If everything was different and nothing was the same, who would be sitting in this chair right now? Would it be someone happier and better adjusted? I’ve always been a bit envious of my secularly-raised friends, who had parents as allies in a crazy and hostile world, working as a unit rather than out there alone.

Why did my dad choose to be alone all these years?

Mar 282017
 

I.

The concept of “Death of the Author” in lit circles just means that once an author has put a work of fiction out into the public, the work speaks for itself, and the Author doesn’t get to speak for it. If a reader can make a case for the Star Wars prequels portraying Padme and Obi Wan carrying on an affair, and point to in-text support of this, then the author’s protests that “This is not what I intended” don’t really mean much. Whether or not they intended it, it’s in the text. As the old joke about the rabbi’s goes, his is just one opinion*.

(*for those unfamiliar, the joke being that five rabbis are arguing with one novice rabbi about scriptural interpreation, and all five disagree with him. They tell him “It’s five and against one, surely you can see you’re wrong!” and he says “Even so, I know I’m right! I call upon God himself to side with me!” The voice of God booms down from the heavens “The kid’s right, actually.” The five older rabbis confer with themselves for a while, then finally turn to the young rabbi and say “Ok, so now it’s five against two!”)

It’s not unlike highfalutin Fan Theories, come to think of it.

II.

Not too long ago I discovered my interpretation of an old Neil deGrasse Tyson quote was wrong. He’s famous for observing that the more educated some one is, the less likely they are to be religious, going through categories of increasing education and showing decreasing rate-of-belief, until he ends up at the elite scientists at the NAS having a belief rate of only 7%. He then went on about those 7% for a while. My interpretation of his point was “What is wrong with these 7%? Until we can find out what’s going on with those 7% of scientists, we can’t truly fault anyone else, cuz if those 7% can get bamboozled, so can anyone.”

Turns out what he actually meant was “Look, even 7% of the most elite scientists in the country have religion. So until you can convince even those 7%, you can’t say that religion is entirely wrong.”

Which, wow. Boy was I way off!

III.

I was raised Jehovah’s Witness. They have a hymnal book and everyone is expected to sing a couple, as a congregation, at every major meeting (Of which there’s two per week). One of the songs contains the lyrics

Kiss the Son
Lest God be angry,
And you’ll perish in the way

There’s two ways to interpret this. The most obvious is as a threat. You should “Kiss the Son.” If you don’t God may be angry, and you’ll perish (be killed).

The less obvious is an injunction against hypocrisy. If someone “Kisses the Son” merely because they are afraid that God will be angry, then they’ll perish anyway. It is important to actually mean it and really love Jesus, rather than just going through the motions because you’re scared of a threat. Yes, it requires that one assume an implicit “If you” at the beginning of the verse, but people assume implicits all the time. (Like the assumption that #BlackLivesMatter ends with an implicit “Too”)

For as long as I was religious, I clung to this second interpretation. I knew, even then, that it was a bit of a stretch. It was my personal interpretation. I didn’t share it with anyone, because I was scared they would tell me that no, it really was supposed to be a threat. Even back then I couldn’t accept a hateful, wrath-filled god.

IV.

Nowadays, even though I realize my interpretations in both cases were factually incorrect, I stand by those interpretations. I take the principle of Death of the Author and extend it to further domains. Meaning is where you find it.

When NdGT laid out his progression of disbelief and drew attention to the final 7% he made a hell of an observation. He demonstrated was that there is something seriously wrong with humans, to the point that even 7% of the most elite scientists in the nation can be snookered by religion! And I do not care if that is not the point he intended to make. It is the most important point that this line of thinking leads to, regardless of his intention. Death of the Author.

When the Jehovah’s Witnesses used poetic language to threaten their listeners, someone coming from a background of “God is Love” and “Hypocrisy is Bad” can interpret those lines to say “Don’t be a hypocrite, it won’t help you anyway.” If one assumes that “God is Love,” it is the only consistent way to interpret those lines, regardless of what their intent was. Death of the Author.

And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this. Interpretation of facts or statements in a light other than that which they were first presented in has lead to some pretty fascinating insights and advances by humanity. It’s what much of Copenhagen Interpretation vs Many Worlds comes down to, right? (Yes, I know, both sides are now furious at me.)

So long as no one tries to quote those people to misrepresent their true position, I think this practice should be embraced. Don’t attribute an intention to anyone unless they’ve publicly declared that intention themselves! But feel free to borrow and interpret things in a way that is beneficial as long as it is consistent with observable reality. (Or in the case of religion, any which way you want, since religion doesn’t have anything to do with observable reality anyway).

V – the caveat

Just be careful about this in your personal life. I found myself interpreting the actions and statements of someone close to me in the most positive way possible for a long time, for emotional reasons. This led to a distorted view of reality, and really bit me in the ass once that view was abruptly corrected. Someone’s intentions don’t particularly matter when you are in the abstract world of interpreting data. They matter a hell of a lot when you entangle your life with someone and much rides upon their disposition and intentions.

Mar 072017
 

My short story “Host” is in the March/April issue of Analog Magazine, available right now. I’m ridiculously happy this got published, I was worried that due to its structure it would be unpublishable. My attempt at portraying Very Alien minds probably could have been much more explicit.

This story is more autobiographical than any of the others I’ve written. That’s not necessarily saying a lot, as I’m pretty sure that it’s impossible for a writer to NOT write everything at least partially autobiographical. At least if it’s any good. Some part of you will always suffuse what your write. Your fears, your passions, your formative experiences. All fiction is a window into the writer’s mind.

But in this particular case, chunks of the story were lifted directly from my teenage years. The isolation, the dissociation, the loss of The One Friend. Obviously not the Space Zombies. :) It was a shitty period, despite the fact that by almost any objective measurement my life was peachy. Mental issues don’t give a fuck. In that time of my life I welcomed human annihilation, if it would have made things un-broken. Especially because this is what the religion I had been raised in promised as the desirable end-state for humanity anyway. The apocalypse was already ingrained as a good thing in my mind.

Which is where the real autobiographical stuff comes in. This pro-apocalypse position was one of the many things that drove me away from my religion. NOT the death-worship, mind you. Rather, the fact that no one seemed to take it as seriously as it should be taken. I’ve said this a few times before, and I still stick with it – The Spanish Inquisition was doing The Right Thing in a world where their beliefs are objectively true. It is everyone’s moral obligation to act as they did, and anyone who doesn’t is a monster. The paltry sufferings of human life are so utterly irrelevant in the face of eternal suffering/joy that absolutely any price is not only justified, but required. They were Doing The Most Good, by far. The only problem is that in the world they operate in (ie: the real world) there is no God, and they were torturing and murdering people for no reason. Objective facts fucking matter. And since we’re fallible, we should also temper our actions with some degree of uncertainty.

But my religion didn’t preach uncertainty. They knew, as did I, that God existed, and what fate awaited non-believers. And all they did was… knock on doors and try to pass out cheap pamphlets? Guys, that level of failure to actually save people is disgusting. It’s as if Singer’s Well-Dressed Man stood at the edge of the pond and shouted encouragement to The Drowning Child, rather than wading in and doing something. It’s unacceptable. And while I could understand that the Laws of the Corrupt, Fallen Government may be against us, hampering us in being really effective… we nonetheless were NOT talking about how to subvert them, or how to really SAVE people. No one gave any of this the urgency it required. It was like a casual hobby.

I’m a big fan of Ted Chiang, and his ability to take a premise and assume it’s true, and then write the world that would exist under that assumption. I tried to do the same here with my religion’s false premise (and, frankly, the premise of many fundamentalist evangelical religions). I don’t think I really worked out any of my issues, but I stand by Julian’s parting words to his father.

 

Unrelated but fun note — When I submitted “Host” for critique to my Writer’s Workshop (who made it a lot better, thanks guys!!!) they said that starting with the “In The Beginning” snippet was a mistake, and I should move it to later. So instead the first scene is Julian exiting his high school and describing the space station. Literally the week after I made those changes I came upon a satirical SF story that started out with the protagonist describing a giant piece of impressive human engineering in his daily life. The second paragraph began with (paraphrased) “Of course John Doe saw this every day on his way to work, so there was no particular reason for him to really ponder upon it today. But he knew that if he didn’t ponder right at the top, this would never get published in Analog Magazine.” I thought “Haha, maybe this’ll help me sell to Analog, lolz.” Lo and behold, I ended up getting published in Analog Magazine. :P