Dec 132016
 

This is a tale of two blog posts. The first is a Tumblr post that made me FEEL STUFF, and did so fantastically.

There are a lot of arguments about why the FDA is bad. Scott Alexander has posted about it several times on his site, and he’s far from the only one. A person can read these articles and say “Why yes, this is a travesty! The FDA must be reigned in before it destroys us all!”

And then someone posts something like this (specifically the part by KungFuNurse) and the imagine of a snake-oil salesman killing innocent people with Patent Tonics and then skipping town with their money is simply so emotionally compelling and super-available that it’s hard to not be swayed by it. It requires a real effort to remain committed to what I can see is the case via calculating costs vs. benefits, rather than the image of my poor mom being swindled and killed. :(

So I am eternally grateful when someone comes forward and puts it in no-nonsense SUPER EMOTIVE terms why the FDA is fucking them and ruining their lives. Especially because these regulations are ones that I know happen to people I KNOW PERSONALLY, rather than the snake-oil song-and-dance that touches almost no one. Because I know click-through is awful, here’s the full text from the link:

your regulation is #problematic, statecucks

So, the shitlib FDA apologists etc. just love to peddle the bollocks that regulation protects the vulnerable, the marginalized, the badbrains, the executively dysfunctional, the people every PC cuck loves to pretend to give a shit about while actually cucking us over every single chance they get.

And it’s bullshit. Here’s what the nanny state actually looks like to its victims:

> you have a medication you’re going to be using every single fucking day for the rest of your goddamn life or at least until you get an artifical gland installed to produce it endogenously
> you cannot do the sane thing of simply placing a regular order for it online and having it delivered to your home,
> you need to walk how fucking many* kilometres (or take the goddamn bus) to one of the few pharmacies in town (because the state regulates their numbers) to buy your permitted refill (because it’s either completely illegal to buy more than 3 months supply at a time, or the pharmacies just never sell more because the public medical insurance limits its coverage to 3 months at a time)
> you need to keep renewing the prescription all the fucking time

> you have a very useful medication which requires a special permit
> and of fucking course you need to keep renewing the fucking prescription
> only a few doctors in the entire fucking county even know how to apply for the special permits
> your doctor, naturally, is not one of them
> you need to get the papers the previous doctor wrote about it from the county public healthcare shitstem office something department of fuck you
> you cannot go ask them in meatspace because there is no fucking person who could do it
> you cannot ask them on the phone because “””security implications”””, even if you ask for them to be delivered via mail to the exact home address the motherfuckers have on file so the only way for them to not end up to the only person who should have access to them is for some creep to intercept the mail, after lying in wait for something like a couple of weeks because they can’t be expected to deliver shit on time, so basically zero chance, but nonetheless ~*~in theory~*~ it might not work that way so fuck you
> you need to write a fucking letter to some fucking bureaucrats to pretty please ask them to give you your medical files uwu
> there is no ready-made template because fuck you
> you’ve been trying to do it for six months but unable to get it done because you have no fucking idea how to write a fucking information request for some fucking intentionally obtuse statecuck bureaucracy

> drug A basically cures your ADHD-related anxiety
> of course it has no sales permit so you cannot get it even though it has been used elsewhere for decades and has no demonstrated risks or addictive potential
> because fuck you

> drugs B and C seem promising for treating your ADHD-related anxiety and they have no abuse potential either
> they even have sales permits
> but not for ADHD-related anxiety so the doctor will not prescribe it because fuck you

> what you can get is legendary-sized massive overprescriptions of Valium and other benzodiazepines with a respectable street price because those are approved for sale
> because the State wants to protect people from potentially addictive and/or risky drugs, duh
> because fuck you

To every goddamn socdem shitlib FDA apologist statecuck:

#problematic, #problematic, #problematic!

NONE OF YOU ARE FREE FROM #PROBLEMATIC

(as an aside, I guess “cuck” is now basically a synomyn for “fuck?” That happened fast…)

I will keep this forever, because it drives home the frustration and real harm that is actually caused. I love this post!

OTOH, this isn’t really something that you can use to change minds. Is it? It’s not like it’s something that anyone would propose a counter-argument to, because it just plain isn’t amenable to that sort of engagement. And if something can’t be counter-argued, it shouldn’t be allowed to be an argument either. So this is purely to align emotional-motivation with intellectual-motivation. I’m already on record as saying this is a wonderful thing, so props for that! But it’s basically for the choir, right?

And then the OP went and translated the whole thing into Respectable-Speak, which can be counter-argued if one wanted to:

The Violence Inherent in the System of Rationing Access to Drugs

In popular imagination, especially in left-leaning memeplexes, it’s common to think of barriers like FDA approvals and prescription requirements as helping people by protecting them from being harmed by the medication they use. However, I would like to argue that this has great harms to many vulnerable populations, especially (but not limited to) people with insufficient material resources, executive functioning issues, many kinds of disabilities, etc.

One common failure mode is where people will be on a steady dose of the same drug for the rest of their foreseeable life. In that case it would definitely seem reasonable that people would be able to keep using that drug without any unnecessary hassles, as the typical objections of “can we know it works for them”, “do they know how to use it” etc. are utterly moot.

This is not usually the case. The exact details vary (it’s definitely different in the US than in Finland), but around here prescription-only drugs will require constant renewals and refills under “professional supervision”. I cannot simply go to the website of a pharmacy and order my estradiol like it’s vitamins from Amazon; I have to waste the time of us both by getting the purchase rubber-stamped by a real person, either physically in the pharmacy, on the phone, or in an online chat service.

While this may seem relatively convenient (and admittedly it has been made as easy as the rules allow), it doesn’t change the fact that one cannot observe any solid reason for such barriers to access, and it doesn’t take much to render that convenience substantially less consequential if one has eg. movement difficulties, social phobia, or any of the other weird brain things reality in its persistent insistence to be inconvenient tends to heap upon the unfortunate and underprivileged.

When ones needs move outside the ordinary, things get even worse. I’m a modafinil user lucky enough to have an actual prescription for it, or more accurately, I would be if I was able to deal with the bureaucracy around the special permits required. My current doctor doesn’t know how to apply for the special permit, so I need to get the permit application the previous doctor wrote.

I cannot get the documents by showing up physically at desk whatever of building N of the county healthcare department of something.

I cannot request the documents via phone because of alleged patient confidentiality issues; not even with the limitation that I would request them to the address the healthcare department has in their patient records, which would effectively eliminate any potential privacy issues as the mail could not be redirected without physically intercepting it, and any adversary capable of consistently intercepting my mail already has full access to my confidential info anyway. Common sense and realistic threat analysis don’t matter to bureaucracy.

There obviously is no convenient web interface where I could use my online banking credentials to order them mailed to me, let alone view them right there (Finland has a system where people can use their bank logins as official ID for many government functions; this has exactly the uncomfortable implications around privacy and government-corporate collusion one would expect, yet it fails at actually solving some of the problems it would naively seem inherently suitable for).

The only available way to request those documents is to write a physical paper letter to the county healthcare archive whatever offices. There naturally is no ready-made template for it, so I would have to whip up an Official Request in the language I’m less comfortable doing written communication in (long story) which happens to be even worse than phoning strangers without explicit invitation. Unsurprisingly I’m now over six months without modafinil because of this.

The harms created by regulating access to medication obviously get even worse when one moves outside the category of drugs that have actually managed to gain official approval for treating your issues; a distinction which uncomfortably often tends to be outright orthogonal to whether they do work for treating your issues.

Semax is an OTC drug in Russia, and has been in use there for decades. It also effectively cures my ADHD-related anxiety. It is not even manufactured and sold in the West except for some obscure companies which produce/procure it for not human consumption, and I have personal communications from the customs office that importing it would be considered a repeat offense. The fact that it has no demonstrated abuse potential nor has there been any evidence of significant harmful side effects doesn’t matter, as the law treats anything which could be used for treating illnesses, ailments etc. a regulated drug, unless it has been exempted as homeopathic or certain categories of herbal.

(It shouldn’t take much astuteness from the reader to notice that the law, while judging intent and purpose instead of eg. risks or abuse potential, specifically carves out an exception for homeopathy. This obviously undermines the common argument that regulations are keeping homeopaths and other quacks in check; in this case the regulation explicitly favors the homeopaths.)

Clonidine and guanfacine are approved as blood-pressure medications in Finland, and in the US they also have approval for treating ADHD-related issues. I haven’t tested them so I can’t conclusively say that they would help significantly (unlike semax which definitely does), but the fact that they are approved for sale doesn’t help as they are not approved for this particular purpose in this particular country. Despite once again lacking in addictiveness, abuse potential etc.

The US famously not approving thalidomide is often quoted by proponents of the notoriously strict FDA regulations (note how in this case the situation in Finland is even worse than under the yoke of the FDA), but empirical evidence shows that there is no meaningful difference between rich western countries in how often drugs get recalled for safety reasons: the number is consistently around 3-4%. This implies that a very unambitious and safe reform would be to categorically permit the use of any drug for any purpose (even if not officially approve) as long as it’s approved in one such country.

Now one would expect that at least such a strict system would do a reasonable job of protecting me from harm and addiction risk.

However, such reasonableness is nowhere to be found. In the past I have been prescribed the notoriously harmful atypical antipsychotic quetiapine for mere sleep issues, as that combination is approved. Currently my anxiety issues are kept in check by intermittent benzodiazepines (diazepam aka. Valium, and oxazepam) which not only do have substantial abuse potential as evident from their respectable street price, but they also are the substance I know I would get addicted to if I ever do (or specifically, the combination of benzodiazepines with stimulants; in perfectly prescription-conforming dosages even), and the prescriptions are (due to a quirk of the system how refill sizes are calculated; my “worst case dose” is multiplied under the assumption that I would take such amounts every day) sufficiently large to make not getting addicted a matter of individual choice as the rationing of amounts is incapable of having such an effect.

TL;DR: local bureaucracy valiantly protects trans person from harmless but unusual treatments, prescribes drugs that can cause severe long-term brain damage or actual abuse and addiction instead.

Now, while this is far more respectable, and something that’s more likely to get linked on my Facebook, it has no emotional resonance. I basically fell asleep reading it. It honestly felt like a long, exaggerated excuse that some FDA-hater came up with to propose all the most outlandish worst-case-scenario things that never actually happen to anyone. And even if by some coincidence they DID happen to someone, the otherside is grandma being killed by Dr Terminus, so I’m just gonna step back and figure the government’s got this one handled, K?

And so I’m greatly torn between things that have emotional relevance, and things that put forth reasoned arguments. I guess this is why we need both. We determine what is the best course by using dispassionate, reasoned thinking. Then we find a way to motivate ourselves to actually care by seeking out the emotive pleas that drive it.

I’d like to end this post by dropping IMMENSE gratitude on Scott Alexander, and Eliezer Yudkowsky. These are two writers who have consistently (and for long periods of time over many subjects) done the nearly-impossible. They’ve put forth reasoned arguments that have all the substance and grounding of the sober 2nd post, and infused them with much of the emotive persuasion and visceral appeal of the 1st post. They literally explained important and sobering things to me with tons of support, while making me care on a personal level, and being entertaining to boot. It’s an incredibly rare skill, and I am deeply grateful there are humans who can pull it off, and are willing to use their powers for Good.

<3

Nov 022016
 

470282394I dropped out of college after a year, for a number of reasons, not least among them that I was tired of schooling and I wanted to actually participate in the Real World. I got a job as a office clerk at 19.

Since then I managed to work, jump, and slide my way up the ranks. I’ve been working as a full-on accountant for 15 years, despite never having official Accounting Schooling. You can learn a lot on the job, especially if you like numbers.

But it always felt like I was getting away with something. Especially over the last five years, I’ve been getting promotions I’m not sure I’m entirely qualified for, and been given work that I simply didn’t understand when it first landed on my desk. It would take months of flying by the seat of my pants to get a grasp on what was going on, and in the meantime I still had to make the numbers balance and file the appropriate reports.

I would have nightmares about people asking me what I do in an account (in detail), cuz fuck if I know! Every quarter I was convinced THIS would be the quarter they figured out I had no clue. And every time I didn’t get laid off or fired, I was shocked that I had gotten away with it for one more quarter. A lot of my efforts were put into saving up for when this house of cards came crashing down.

Last month, they finally caught on to me.

Which is kinda ironic, because I had only recently finally gotten almost everything figured out. I feel like I know what I’m doing more than ever before. (And OK — it’s not entirely fair to say they “caught on to me” — as far as I can tell everyone still thinks I was doing a great job.)

Regardless, I no longer have to pretend I know what’s going on, and worry constantly that someone will notice I’m faking it. Today is my last day at my current job. :) Thank god my long personal nightmare of security and prosperity is finally over!

They gave me plenty of warning and a nice severance, so I can’t complain. I’m taking the rest of the year off to finish my novel, and then I’ll dive back into the Real World come January.

Oct 282016
 

allbirdsskyAll The Birds In The Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders

Synopsis: A pair of outcasts meet as children and overcome social isolation and opposing ideologies to become friends and save the world.

Book Review (Rational Fiction version): This must be done in two parts, because first I must address the Rational Fiction flavor of this book! This is the most only novel I know (so far) that captures the style of Rational Fiction without being Rational Fiction itself. It’s hard to explain what I mean by this, so let’s start with the conflict.

A foundation of RatFic is that there aren’t “good” and “evil” sides (per se)–there are factions with conflicting values who are intellectually consistent and morally good to themselves, but who clash over their differences. All The Birds does this thing, as the two protagonists are from opposing ideologies and are each other’s antagonists, and whenever you are reading a chapter from the POV of one of them you identify with that character, and you realize how right and proper their actions are, and why of course they must fight the stupid/bad actions of their opposition. The next chapter switches to the other character, and you feel the exact same thing from the other side. I love that sort of thing.

Secondly, both protags are child prodigies who are socially isolated because of their gifts. This isn’t a defining feature of RatFic per se, but it is a common theme, and it’s very HPMoR-esque, which kicked off the whole RatFic genre in the first place.

Third, it is comfortable in the language/culture of transhumanism. It isn’t a treatise on the movement or anything, but the author is either familiar with the movement, or had a lot of input from people who are. This feels like it was written by someone in the scene, and it’s refreshing to read something that comes from my culture! You don’t realize how alien the overwhelming majority of the world is until you stumble across something that feels like it came from your home group, and you can love it for the comforting family tale it is. I get fuzzies just thinking about it.

Fourth, the humor is straight-up Yudkowskian. If you liked the humor of HPMoR, you’ll likely enjoy the humor here too! It is slightly absurdist, but in a way that is delightful, like the assassin’s guild that requires its members to perform pro bono hits from time to time to remain in good standing. The word play is top-notch. And there are a fair smattering of the geeky pop-culture references, done just right, that we all love (ala Forks +2).

That being said, this is explicitly NOT Rationalist Fiction! The male hero starts the novel by crafting a 2-second time machine which apparently anyone can make if they have internet access, but most people don’t, and which isn’t abused or munchkined at all. There’s a TON of these throw-away things in the novel which could potentially break the world if an enterprising hero were to munchkin them into abuse, but which are never exploited in that way, because this isn’t RatFic. It’s a story of friendship, and love, and growing up, and it focuses on THAT. As long as you don’t expect RatFic-style exploitation, and accept this as a surreal fantasy story where everyone has a blindspot as to the game-breaking-potential of all the magic/gadgets around them, you’ll enjoy the hell out of it. :)

Book Review (Traditional Version): This is a beautiful story. I don’t know if anyone read the works of Daniel Pinkwater as a kid, but this novel feels exactly like I remember those. It is surreal in a way that allows the author to focus on the parts of reality that really MATTER to the story, and seriously drill into those. The story does not give any fucks about “realism.” In Pinkwater’s Lizard Music, for example, there are talking lizards who play jazz music on public access television after midnight. In a world that otherwise makes sense. There is no explanation given, it’s just a brute fact of the story world. All The Birds In The Sky has many similar things, straight-up absurdities which are fun and which don’t need explanation (like the 2-second time machine). They are quirky and delightful, and put you in the frame of mind that this is a fantasy for precocious, imaginative people that are willing to revert to a more child-like play state for the duration of a novel.

This is important, because much of this novel is an exploration of how we move from being wonder-filled children to jaded adults. Sooooo much of it is a commentary on Adulting. On trying to stay true to yourself in a world filled with mundane madness, with a sanity waterline so low it drives you to exasperation… and maybe conformity? This is a paean to anyone who still uses Adulting as a verb to proudly describe things they sometimes do, rather than a noun describing what they are.

And oh god, the childhood of these characters. It is my childhood. It is angst and isolation, and thinking if maybe you can do this one glorious thing it will all be different… but it never is. The parents are absurdly extreme in a way no real humans are, but in a way that speaks to the emotional reality of what it is to be a child. It sacrifices literalism to get to the emotional core of a world dominated by overwhelmingly powerful beings who cannot relate to or fully understand you.

The teen years too! The sexual struggles of the male character are the most true-to-life of any novel I’ve read, and I think it says something that a surrealist YA novel has come so much closer to portraying realistic sexuality than anything trying to be Serious and Literary.

The prose itself is just fantastic too. After a love scene between the male protagonist and his then-girlfriend, the final paragraph ends with

“When Laurence got back to bed, Serafina had fallen into a cold sleep, and her elbow jutted into him.”

It just ends like that, flat. And it’s the most beautiful way to say “They do not fit together. This relationship is awkward and uncomfortable and doomed to failure.” Because instead of just telling us that, it shows us it in the most physically-literal way possible. In just one sentence, describing a single action. And yet everything is wrapped up in exactly that one line, and it hits you and lingers, because that one line is all it took, and it did it via demonstration. There’s a number of these literary feats sprinkled throughout this book, and it’s perfect every time.

Also, it is written exactly the way I would talk with my friends! For example, there’s even a part where the two characters try to speak at once, and the next sentence is literally:

Then they were both like “You first.”

Which is awesome. :)

The book has a few weaknesses. Patricia’s stay at the Magic School (and the resulting Siberia Incident) never felt very fleshed-out or compelling to me. And the ending was a bit weak. But the beauty and wonder made up for it, for me. I don’t want to over-hype this, because nothing can live up to too much praise, and then one is disappointed. But I certainly enjoyed it. Highly Recommended.

Book Club Review: This review has gone on for quite a while already, so I’ll try to make this short. Not everyone liked this book as much. A couple of our members just couldn’t swallow the absurdist aspects. However, as a commentary on what sort of world we have built for ourselves as we became adults, and how we changed to accommodate that, it did give a group a couple interesting lines of conversation to talk about. The way it portrays environmentalism vs humanism, and the recklessness of over-ambitious leaders, is also intriguing. The fact that it isn’t too long and is a pleasant read helped with completion and turn out as well. Overall, this is makes for good book club reading/discussion. Recommended.

Oct 262016
 

palace-of-solitudeFirst of all – thank you to everyone who replied to my last post. It helps. :)

 

Recently I received an email about my flash fiction piece, wherein a reader expressed appreciation for it. In addition to making me feel happy, it reminded me of something Seth Dickinson said the first time I wrote him, years ago now, about his piece “A Plant (Whose Name is Destroyed)“. He thanked me for writing, because no one ever engages with short fiction. I didn’t know what he meant by that at the time. But now I do.

It’s very hard to gauge reader reactions to stories that are published in more “traditional” venues. There normally aren’t comments/likes to give feedback, and even in venues that DO provide a comment section, the vast majority of people never post any comments at all.

The artists I know feed on validation. It could be a general artistic thing, or a general human thing, or maybe I’m just stuck in a very weird social bubble. /shrug. I almost wish I’d gone into one of the performance arts… When you act, or play music, or do stand-up comedy, you have immediate feedback from the audience. That doesn’t happen with the written word. Which means that those of us that feed on validation but don’t perform are starving.

There is some recourse. I go to WorldCon regularly now, and as Robin Hanson noted, it’s a long party to celebrate the authors we admire. But even there, interaction is a bit limited. If I had to guess, I would say this is exactly why serialized fiction has become so popular again. People actually leave feedback on serial fiction. Scott Alexander could publish Unsong as a single completed novel. But he’d never see more than the smallest fraction of the community interaction that comes from telling a story to a collective audience over time.

Fanfiction is the same, I previously quoted a friend who observed “I wrote one short little fic after I saw Thor: The Dark World and in the time since I put it online I have literally received more feedback on it than I have in total for every piece of original work I’ve ever published. It’s like pure black tar heroin for the sad little twitching addict that is a writer’s ego.”

I am also guilty of this. I’ve read stories that really moved me, and then never said a thing. Like, almost moved me to tears, and the author has no clue.

This is unfortunate, and I want to do my part to help change it. From now on, if a work takes my breath away, I will leave a comment on it, even if to say nothing more than that. If commenting isn’t an option, I’ll spend five minutes trying to find an email, website, or twitter of the author instead, and send them thanks. Reading something like that is rare, and it’s not fair for someone to not know they’re appreciated. In fact, I’m going to go back and do that right now, for several works I’ve read in the past year that I left uncommented. They deserve no less.

 

(That being said, this is not the thread to say good things about anything of mine that you’ve liked. If you agree with any of this, please find something you’ve loved by someone else, and comment/tell them instead! Spread it outward. :) Thanks!)

Oct 212016
 

shinjiGloomy mood today. I have to go watch some Steven Universe or something.

 

I.

I remember the first time I got lost/separated from my mother at a grocery store. I think I was seven or eight years old? The world switched in a heartbeat from safe and familiar to alien and hostile. I was alone in a confusing landscape. I had never been in this situation before, completely isolated and unable to find my way back to safety. For all I knew, recovery from this disaster was impossible. I would spend the rest of my life alone. And at the mercy of uncaring passing forces.

Fortunately, it turned out things weren’t quite that dire.

 

II.

The religion I was raised in (Jehovah’s Witnesses) is ideologically purist, and very insular. It is very important that Witnesses not have very many contacts with the outside world, as they will corrupt you. Ideally only those absolutely required to make a living. You should not have any friends who aren’t Witnesses, and limit your interaction with non-Witness family members. My extended family lived across the Atlantic, and I was a very shy and nerdy kid, so those were kinda my default anyway. I was lucky to have the one or two friends within the church that I did have. I was grateful to the church for forcing us together.

The religion also uses shunning as a control mechanism. It is frequently brought up in church meetings that anyone who is kicked out of the church must never have interaction with current members. Not even a phone call. Not even if they’re your son/daughter. This doesn’t actually happen very often in practice, because most people aren’t monsters, but I didn’t know that. I took ideas seriously, even as a child.

Every now and then at church we would be told of the Super Virtuous Mother who kicked her teenage kid out of the house and never even made eye-contact again, even when they were crying and begging outside windows of the family’s home. She, and other examples like her, were held up in glowing terms as shining examples of what we should all strive for, and everyone would nod and murmur in wonder at her great devotion, and clap in approval. Every now and then we would hear about how this family’s devotion would be rewarded by God, when the wayward child finally came back months or years later, humbly returning to the church with a renewed faith. A soul saved, a family reunited! Because they were strong, and never wavered in the exile.

This was horrifying, even as a believer. It got worse as I started to have doubts. It was the start of my tendencies to try to limit how much I care about others.  They can’t control you if you don’t care about their love, right?

 

III.

Dan Savage, sex-advice columnist, is often asked by young gay people how to deal with rabidly homophobic parents. The first step, of course, is to not be dependent on them. As long as they are in charge of whether you have protection from the elements and food to eat, they have a stranglehold on you. But the next step, the only step available for adult children who’ve already moved out, is to remove yourself from your parents’ life. To let them know that you are deserving of respect, and you WILL NOT sit idly by while they abuse you. You are under no obligation to sit there and take their hatred. You can simply leave. And you should.

Often, parents will eventually come around. Because generally, parents love their children, and miss them when they’re gone. They will moderate their views, and they will hold back their vile opinions when in your presence, because they know you won’t stand for it. Eventually, they often even change their minds entirely, and come to accept and love their children for who they are. As Dan says: As an adult, your only leverage over your parents is your presence in their lives.

This is wonderful advice. And it requires that you be more willing to cut someone out of your life than they are willing to cut you out of theirs. This sounds very familiar.

 

IV.

I dislike the way the world works. I dislike that we live in a gladiator universe, where the final arbiter is violence. I dislike that even if we were to eliminate physical violence, there is emotional violence that can still be inflicted. I don’t know how to compare the two, though I assume physical violence is far worse. But the shitty part about emotional violence is that, while physical violence can be used against anyone, emotional violence’s power is directly proportional to how much people care about you. The more someone loves you, the more you can hurt them.

The ultimate winning move is to weaponize your Self. Do whatever you can to get everyone to love you as much as possible. And simultaneously, you care for them as little as possible, so you are not vulnerable to their attacks. It’s gross. It feels like the subtext of every relationship one can have, though.

Maybe this is the result of having been raised to see love as a weapon, used to control those who love you… but I don’t want to have that sort of violent power over another person. Right now I’m hurting someone, and I hate it. I wish I could see some way to avoid this trap, because I don’t want to be alone either.

Sep 282016
 

Is it ok to make a post complaining about something? I don’t do it very often. Every now and then is alright, right?

This freakin’ song man. It’s so pro-patriarchy and mono-normative it makes me want to puke. The chorus made my flesh crawl. I now understand how people who had bad reactions to Blurred Lines felt. No wonder they disliked the song so much – it’s a visceral physical reaction that you can’t really prevent (aside from not listening to the song in the first place, which is hard if it’s being played in a public area)

Lyrics

The possessiveness on display here–of someone he acknowledges isn’t even his primary!– is gag-inducing. Plus the implication that if he “made up his mind” to move this relationship up to primary that he’d have the right to be possessive like that. Bleh.

And he had to top it off with a reference to Genghis Khan. I guess it’s far enough in the past that people don’t care anymore, but I still associate the name with genocide and mass-rape.

A friend who really liked the music tried to argue that he’s struggling to understand his own feelings,  calling himself “selfish” and “obscene”. That he’s exposing all of his own faults, and if I hate this song because he’s singing about being a terrible person, and acknowledging himself as terrible, then there’s a lot more music that I need to also hate for the same reasons.

I do like the juxtaposition of upbeat music with tragic lyrics sometimes. Hey Ya is fantastic for this! But Hey Ya is about a break-up, which doesn’t normalize anything. I understand that Khan can be interpreted as a struggle over trying to not be a shitty person, and mad props to anyone who hears it that way. But I know there are people who find this possessive attitude sexy, because I was married to one for several years. And she certainly wasn’t in the minority among her friends. I’d be surprised if Khan wasn’t seen as a sexy song of desire, that normalized those attitudes among those listeners.

Which is not to say the song should be banned or anything. Just… ew ew ew. This is as horrifying to me as the women who write love letters to serial killers. What is wrong with people??

Sep 232016
 

gaslight_1944_trailer3I.

Recently a friend complained that we’ve exited the brief window in history where “gaslighting” was a word that meant something distinct. To gaslight someone (as a verb) used to mean to drive them to insanity by sabotaging their reality-testing. The eponymous example is a husband who alters the gas flow to the lights in his house without his wife’s knowledge, and when she complains about the house being dimmer, says that everything is exactly the same brightness it always was, and there must be something wrong with her. It is literally a destruction of the tools we use to comprehend the world around us, and our interpretation of it.

Nowadays it’s overused to the point that it’s come to mean no more than “being lied to by the person you’re in a romantic relationship with.” Basically just a slight narrowing of “being lied to”, which makes it a vacuous term. Maybe we can reclaim it in time, like we did with “literally.”

II.
Humans, through a combination of instinct and training, develop a moral sense. I don’t mean that we can sense any actual “morality” that exists as an objective thing, like we can sense photons or air vibrations. But we can certainly sense to a fair degree when something is commendable or reprehensible in the moral system we’ve been taught. Edge cases can be fun to think about to explore borders, but we know theft is wrong.

This poses a major problem to most religions. I was raised in a religion that believes in the omnipotent & omniscient christain god, who is Good. I was also raised to be a good person by modern standards. And the mindfuck that creates is hard to describe. You know what constitutes a good person. You know what a good person with limitless resources would do. And then you look at the world around you.

It is impossible that a Good, Sane god would do NOTHING about the state of the world. It is morally abhorrent to even consider that. And yet every day you are bombarded with evidence that He (in my case it was a “he”) is doing nothing. Either can’t or won’t do anything. And every day I’m reminded of how good god is, and how much he loves everyone, and that we should always strive to be like him, the perfect example of true goodness.

I know what goodness is! YOU taught me! All my moral-sense information says God is not good. He’s probably evil! Negligent at the least. Yet I keep being told that He is, in fact, good. Ultimately good. My senses must be lying to me. Or my brain is screwed up in some way that I’m misinterpreting things. My senses cannot be trusted, the world must not be real in the way I perceive it. It’s unfortunate I’m crippled/crazy in this way.

III.
Gaslighting can be difficult, because to gaslight someone you can’t let them interact with anyone who would honestly corroborate their sense information. Asch’s Conformity Experiment is a model case for gaslighting. Eight different people (one of them an authority figure) are all earnestly saying your sense information is deeply flawed in a consistent way, and you can’t ask the opinions of people outside the room. To successfully gaslight someone long-term, you have to either keep them isolated, or recruit everyone they may run into, so they participate in the sabotage.

And wouldn’t you know it – those motherfuckers got away with it, for centuries. They convinced EVERYONE to buy into their authority and repeat their distortions. No matter who you asked, you would always get the same answer – your senses are broken, or you’re crazy. God really is good, despite what your moral sense and your own lying eyes are telling you.

Maybe this didn’t used to be the case. Maybe when morality was a primitive affair, and only extended to your tribe, this was less of a problem. Maybe when you didn’t have 24/7 news from around the globe, and history books full of atrocities, it was harder to notice how fucked up the world is. But holding to that line in the face of modern morality is insanity-inducing.

I think that’s one of the reasons that newly-deconverted atheists are often angry. It’s infuriating when you realize how much your entire social world has been trying to cripple you. Has been *successfully* crippling you. And you need to shout it, because you know that gaslighting falls apart when people are willing to stand up and report their true sense-data. It’s why religions used to murder anyone who didn’t play along. If a few people are willing to say “Look, I don’t know what you’re seeing, but to me Line B is clearly NOT the right match” it breaks the spell. If your friend comes into the house and confirms “Yes, you’re right, the lights really are dimmer, I see it too!” you have evidence that you aren’t defective. It’s someone else trying to make you think you’re crazy. Now that you’re free, you want others like you to know they are not alone, and they aren’t crazy.

Thank god for the internet. It’s the main reason atheists can be fairly chill now. Finally everyone has easy access to the knowledge that lots of other people see the lights dimming too. It no longer has to be yelled just to be noticed among all the confederates pointing to the wrong line.

I still have some reality-testing issues to this day. Mostly they’re under control, and I doubt they’re all do entirely to this reason. But shit, the religion thing certainly didn’t help.

 

Sep 142016
 

<walking by new kid that started at the office>

Thinks to self: Ya know, I don’t fit in with the kids starting new jobs. Haven’t for a while, I guess. Definitely no longer young. But I don’t really have anything in common with the old folks around here either. Not old either. I’m kinda like, I dunno… the adult version of a ‘tween? Like, right in the middle of the ages…

oh.. oh fuck no. Oh god they have a word for this, and it’s literally “middle” and “aged”. Goddammit, I’m middle aged. Goddamn you all to hell!!!!

damnyoualltohellsurf

Sep 082016
 

Today is the 50th Anniversary of the premier of the first episode of Star Trek. When I was a wee atheist, sometimes people would ask me “Without religion, how will you teach your children morals?” My answer was (and still is) Star Trek. This show (particularly TNG, I didn’t watch much TOS) demonstrates everything that is noble about humanity, and acts as an incredible guide to living as a good person. Far, FAR more than that book of atrocities. And it has much better narratives, characters, and poetry along the way. (I’m sorry Songs of Solomon, but comparing a women’s breasts to fortress towers just doesn’t do it for me).

There is nothing in those 2000+ year old myths that isn’t fantastically outclassed by our modern myths. I don’t blame those people for the time they lived in, we’ve come far. But I would never use it as a guide for morality when we have such better sources nowadays. May the Trek ethos live long and prosper.

 

Aug 262016
 

lightningA very spoiler-heavy discussion of the bits I liked most about Too Like The Lightning follows.

If you have any interest in reading the book, I would suggest doing so first, as having spoilers may significantly reduce your enjoyment of the novel – more so than most novels IMHO. But OTOH it seems like a fair bit of the reading public was not as heavily affected by the mid-book Reveal as I was. Still, please consider. This post will still be here in a week, or month, or year.

 

Ahem.

 

I – Mycroft

So, obviously I have to start with the Big Reveal that made me have to put down the book for X days. Since at least one commenter said he’s not sure which one I mean (there’s lots of twists and reveals), it’s obvious not everyone is as affected. I call it the Mycroft Reveal, wherein we get actual visceral details on the horrific crimes he committed.

I am, by nature, not a very forgiving person. This is tempered by the fact that it takes a lot to actually get me to the point of hating someone. But I have an ingrained sense that while people can change, very almost never actually do. And that no matter how much you change, your crime still hurt your victim, and your changes won’t fix that.

Palmer spends much of the first half of the book making me love Mycroft. He is humble, he’s smart, he does his best to help others. He’s charming, engaging the reader in conversation directly. Once he goes off on a tangent lamenting how visor should be spelled with a ‘z’ because it’s a futuristic-sounding word, and it’s not fair that it isn’t, and then the next time you see the word “visor” in narration its spelled “vizor” and you laugh out loud at his little rebellion (or you do if you’re me). He is shown to be a good person, and I like him.

And then you see that he’s a torturer, a rapist, and a murderer. Killing his foster family, people who loved and trusted him, in the most horrific ways he can, recording parts of it for media titillation. This is a person who deserves to die. A person who deserves to die by the most painful execution method we have available. Yet he’s still alive, and mostly happy, and I do not give a single fuck that he has changed, you made me like him!!

I was so pissed. I am still pissed, actually. Because current-day Mycroft seems to be a good person, and he has unique abilities that the world needs to keep running, and sure sure, he’s not a danger to anyone anymore. I still don’t care. I want him dead, and I’m not apologizing. If current-day Mycroft has to be snuffed out for past-Mycrofts sins, I’m OK with that.

Honestly, I feel like Palmer cheated. Because in real life, no one who does that sort of thing could ever be a good person. But since she can create the entire world, and the people within it, she can create this Literally Impossible situation where the person who could do those acts can somehow also be a good person. Because he was disturbed, and emotionally shattered. Because he was driven to it by a violent sociopath. Because he literally had to do these things in order to prevent world war that would result in basically a planet-wide Rwanda-style genocide/massacre. Isn’t it worth torturing your loved ones, in order to prevent that level of planetary horror? The utilitarian answer is yes. But this would never happen, this is equivalent to the 24-style torture-apologetics. It smacks of Ender’s Game-style genocide-apologetics.  I can read about these people. But I will not sympathize with them. I reject any bid that I consider them equal human beings, and that I should forgive them. I leave that to the priests.

I was super-conflicted about this, because less than one week prior to that, I sat on the “Creating the Anti-Hero” panel at MALcon.  I put forth the proposition that a good anti-hero is someone who pursues  goals that we admire, but is forced to do so using methods we find repellant by their circumstances, and their emotional struggle with this. Firefly is the go-to example, as that show can legitimately be said to be about the villains of that universe. I always go with Watchmen, because I find both Rorschach and Ozymandias fit this perfectly, altho in opposing ways. In the end, Ozy prevents world-wide nuclear war. He saved the human race. And he only had to murder everyone in New York City to do it. I’ll be honest – I admire him. I think he is both a villain and a hero. Preserving the human race is a hell of a goal, and (to paraphrase Too Like The Lightning) you should be happy to sacrifice any subset of the world if you are literally saving the world, because you would have lost that subset anyway if the world ended PLUS everything else.

But that Mycroft seems to delight in it! Maybe I can thank him for saving the world. But I still want him dead. Call me human.

I did keep reading anyway.

Of course there’s three more books to come. Much is still to be revealed. My reactions are to this book alone. I hope they do not change though. I will have to wonder what it says about me if they do. This is what I meant when I said “this book is about your reaction to it,” altho again, it seems not everyone felt it hit home as deeply as I did.

 

II – The author as God

This novel reminded me of The Etched City in that both are about nominally mundane worlds wherein miracles suddenly occur, and people struggle to understand what the hell that means. But The Etched City takes place in a fictional world, in a pre-WW1 era. There are some simple firearms, but it’s enough in the past that it doesn’t feel contemporary. The furniture is Fantasy, not Sci-Fi. So having a miracle(s) produced by (one assumes) a god, didn’t throw me out of the story. In an Sci Fi setting, it kinda did. I finally got over this during one of the novel’s many dialogs, wherein J.E.D.D. says “the protagonist of every work of fiction is Humanity, and the antagonist is God.” (I was primed with an earlier reference to Greek Heroes being “beloved of the gods”)

I’m currently in the process of attempting to write a novel that grapples with a similar theme. So when I read this, what I saw is “the inhabitants of fictional worlds are put in awful situations by the author, for entertainment. The author has created them, and is responsible for everything in existence, and they have no say in the matter and exist in a separate reality that can never affect the author directly. The author is literally their God.” This is a massive Fourth-Wall Break, and it is done within the novel. Beautifully so. The inhabitants of this novel don’t know they are in a fictional world. The reader probably doesn’t realize they are creating that world in their mind, and that its framework was constructed by that world’s God, Ada Palmer.

The book keeps bringing us back to this theme with Jehovah, who I think has created a world of his own as well. At first I thought he was running a Reality Simulation on a supercomputer hidden somewhere. Later I thought maybe that supercomputer is his own mind, and the beings that exist in it are literally “thoughts in the mind of God”. By the end of the book I’m not sure anymore, as it is said that his powers mirror those of Bridger, and that Bridger is the God of the novel’s world.

This brings up interesting questions about Bridger. Is Bridger the author-insert in this story? Every other name in the book has major significance, and this would be the most significant naming of all – Bridger is literally the bridge that brings Ada-Palmer-The-Author from our real world, into the world she’s writing, as a character within it.

That’s why I became OK with Bridger having god-powers. Because if he is Palmer, then of course he can do anything. He is literally the author. There is no magic. There is only a reminder that these are words on a page, put there to stimulate my mind in ways the author thinks I will find enjoyable. If that means writing that plastic turns into flesh at a touch, then so be it. I accept that. It works for me.

 

III – Jehovah

Holy crap, Jehovah is awesome. Not just because he is a stone-cold  badass. Not just because he strongly reminds me of one of my favorite anime characters, L/Lawliet. But because he is the me-insert in this novel. Other characters speaking of him – “Oh yes, [Jehovah really does hate this universe that much], He just doesn’t realize yet that what He feels is named hate.” And “if He met the callous Bastard who designed this universe of suffering, He’d… criticize, protest, scream […] if He did scream, if He wore His sacred throat to blisters screaming, this universe’s Maker wouldn’t care.”  Oh. My. God. So good. All the sympathy, all the admiration. I hope to see so much more of him.

 

IV – Set-Sets

I love how Palmer whip-lashed my opinions of them. I loved them at first! They are what I aspired to be in my younger years. Renounce the flesh, live the mental life, upload if possible. I cheered at “you’ve never seen a six-dimensional homoscedastic crest up from the data sea, and you never will because you’re wasting those nerves on telling you your knee itches.” They have great personality and wit, they are people!

And then late in the book I discovered they never change. Never grow. And I was horrified. I was reminded of Diaspora, which finally truly drove home to me that Life Is Change. A person that is not changing can just as easily be replaced by a hard drive containing an archive of their thoughts. A species that doesn’t change can be replaced by a galaxy-sized statue made of memory crystal containing a saved state of all their simulated interactions. It was one of the most influential books on my personal view of what it means to be human. And these Set-Sets… they are things that were forced into mental stasis by their “parents”. They are not humans, they aren’t even people. They’re p-zombies. I shuddered.

 

OK, I think I got all of that off my chest. Whew! I’m looking forward to the next book!