Aug 222018
 

WORLD CON POST TIME! The annual geekening is over; here are my photos and thoughts.

I’ve started to branch out a little, and see a local attraction in the cities I visit. O_O Madness, I know! At WFC it was the Alamo, and at WorldCon76 it was the Winchester Mystery House. Very cool place!! The Winchester widow kept adding random rooms onto her mansion for the entirety of her life, believing it would appease ghosts, and helping to support the local construction industry. She wasn’t the best architect (and/or was intentionally trying to confuse ghosts) and so there’s staircases to nowhere, doors that lead to multi-story drops, and other cool oddities. The whole place is awesome, and you should go if you’re ever in town. It’s like being in a video game house!

From the top of the Winchester Mystery House

I spent a lot of my time with friends I’ve met at past cons, this is almost turning into an annual reunion thing. This is not a complaint, that’s sort of thing is really fun! And I still somehow find time to make a few new friends every year as well. :)

The highlight of the con for me was, BY FAR, Ada Palmer. I got to hear her perform epic viking duets. These literally made me cry. I don’t cry that much. She’s very, very good. I cherish this memory, and bought a bunch of CDs and DVDs as thanks, even though I know they will never have the same impact as being 20 feet away and feeling the physicality of such anger and despair.

Ada standing on the right

Afterwards I got to hear her talk about the Terra Ignota series for well over an hour in a semi-private hotel lobby. Including Q&A and audience discussion. AND she read the first two chapters of the final novel. Guys, this is gonna be fucking epic. Holy shit. We gotta wait until 2020 though. :(

I was invited back to another discussion the next day, and my biggest regret is not going to that. At this point I’d already missed a lot of programming I had meant to go to, either to catch up with friends, or to go to the Palmer events (I found out about them last-minute). And I really wanted to go, but I also felt like I should try to go to some programming for realsies one day? So I ended up sticking with the panels I’d picked out of the guide. That wouldn’t have been a mistake if there WASN’T more Ada Palmer to be had. But there was, and I deeply regret my decision now. :( Best heuristic – always go fan out over/with the person(s) you most admire in a con. It feels incredible because this is how we evolved to make good super organisms. It is doing a good thing to pay your heroes with admiration!

Seriously tho, Ada is so ridiculously smart and erudite and inspiring. I could listen to her talk about anything for hours. Maybe 5% of panelists are in her league, and the fact that she’s written a series I love and seems to be “my tribe” personality-wise is just so much extra awesome on top.

 

On the topic of programming – the rooms were all too small, and didn’t have enough chairs. Seriously, just about every single panel was over-crowded with tons of people against the walls or sitting on the floor. I’m not sure if more programming was added at the last moment and rooms had to be split to make more space? But the con was under prepared.

Every panel

Also on the topic of programming – ALWAYS GO TO FANFIC PANELS. All other panels are hit-and-miss (unless you know one of the authors on them and are going to see that author. Then go! Knowing a good panelist/author and following them around is generally a good strategy). But aside from the parenthetical, it’s hard to say if a panel will be really good and on point, or if the people up front will have only a passing knowledge of the topic, or lack enthusiasm, or are too shy, or whatever. Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don’t, and I suppose that’s part of the fun. EXCEPT for fanfic panels. The panelists on those are always super informed on the topic, and really enthusiastic on the topic, and gushing to talk about it. Fanfic panels are simply *the best.* I’ve never regretted going to one.

L->R: Nino Cipri, Vina Jie-Min Prasad, KM Szpara, Alex Acks, Faith Erline

If you heard about the protest on Saturday, it’s basically what you probably expected. A teeny tiny storm in a wee teacup. I think there was more police presence than protestors? I feel kinda sad for anyone who had anxiety cuz of this thing, though. And I hear it gave the con organizers all sorts of headaches. But yeah, a few idiots showed up to do some 4th-rate trolling. A few antifa came, hoping for a fight. Then it all blew away like dust in the wind, dude.

Days of Rage

Interesting, the con skewed a fair bit younger than usual! I was used to the median age of the con being decently above my own in previous years. This year I think I may have actually been near the median! Writing that now, I realize that I’ve also been aging every year, so naturally I’d approach the median anyway, but I mean – it really felt like there were a healthy contingent of Young Whippersnappers there this year, moreso than previous years. I dunno if that’s due to the most youthful demographics of the Bay Area specifically, or if it’s indicative of a larger trend of people growing up with SF-lit-love coming of age.

One thing I did notice about this year though… aside from my amazing experiences with fanfic panels and Ada Palmer, I felt much more detached and less joyful this year. Always before I’ve been super extroverted and fully engaged. This year I had some melancholy. I think… I kinda think it’s because in all previous years I thought of myself as an SF fan. And this year I thought of myself as an author… except that I’m not a successful author (yet?). No novel. Only a few short stories. I’m surrounded by famous authors rocketing into their careers, and I haven’t done much. These people know each other, but no one knows my name, and I feel like I don’t belong. I want to no longer just be a fan of The Thing,  but be an active participant and doer of The Thing. I kinda feel like I should sit out the next few WorldCons until I actually DO something to earn it. But fortunately the next two will be out of country and beyond my financial means to attend anyway, so I guess I don’t have to worry about deciding that.

Amethyst is best pony!

Like everything else this year, the awards had a strong “reactive against the Trump presidency” component. This is the theme of 2018, and none are immune. That being said, all the winners were absolutely deserved, and Jemisin’s speech was fucking amaaaaazing!!!!!!!! God DAMN! :D

All in all, good experience. :)

(JY Yang on piano in the airport)

Aug 212018
 

Who?

I was raised in a cult.

I’ve experienced the joy of knowing that I am doing the most important work one can possibly do. I’ve had the overwhelming exuberance of sharing vital information with a friend that would save his life and that of his entire family. I’ve felt the delight of unconditional love and acceptance.

I’ve also known the confusion of seeing inexplicable hatred towards a group that loves the wrong gender. And the dread of losing everything that means anything.

I often heard sermons about lapsed church members. They are cast out, and are supposed to be shunned by all believers. The sermons speak of how disavowed young adults (and sometimes teens) are locked from homes, whose family won’t even look at them or acknowledge their presence, and those family members are lionized and held up as a shining example for us all. Occasional testimonies tell of someone weeping outside their mother’s window for hours, until weeks later they finally relent and rejoin the church. This sparks the triumph and love of re-welcoming a lost sheep, of an endangered soul once again saved by grace. I wasn’t completely terrified of coming out as atheist to my parents, because I suspected, deep inside, that they wouldn’t go that far. And they didn’t. When I came out, my mother left the dinner table and went to her room, and I didn’t see her again for three days. But in the end they didn’t abandon me. Couldn’t. I felt very lucky.

When I was at my closest friend’s house, where I spent half my free hours, and I said that I wouldn’t be studying the Watchtower with him anymore, he physically assaulted me. It wasn’t that big a deal – he wrestled me to the ground, and kept me in a submission hold until I relented. I went upstairs and studied the Watchtower with him and his parents that night, and didn’t stay over on Saturday nights any more after that. It was still more violence than I was used to in my life.

I have very strong feelings about cults. I hate religion with a passion, probably in large part due to cultism. And I partly blame my lack of ability to form trusting bonds with groups due to my cult past.

 

SWFA is considering no longer accepting winning the Writers Of The Future as a qualifying sale for purposes of qualifying for SWFA membership, due to the fact that the Scientologists administer the contest.

I was really impressed with the Scientologists at the Writers of the Future workshop. They were, for the most part, extremely respectful of the fact that none of us winners were Scientologists. You could see the passion bubbling up in them whenever they spoke about Hubbard or his works. And yet they never proselytized, never tried to sell us on their religion. I *know* how hard that is, when you have this joyous, wonderful thing inside you that can help other people so much! I hear that things used to be less muted in the past, and their reserve is a feat I appreciate.

Ironically, I think this very reserve is why people are now upset. From what I’m hearing, there’s a few people who feel like they were tricked into “supporting” Scientology, somehow. This is frustrating, because A. the connection to Scientology was made as thin and weak as possible (to the point that the term “firewall” was frequently used) not because the Scientologists are trying to trick anyone, but because all us non-Scientologists prefer it that way and they are accommodating us, and B. the contest boldly advertises itself as “L. Ron!! Hubbard!!!! Presents!!!! writersofthefuture.” This ain’t exactly a secret.

The experience of WotF from a non-Scientologist view point is overall very positive. They pay a ridiculous amount of money for a short story. I got more per-word in cash money than I’ll likely ever get for short work again, unless I become Gaiman/King/Rowling level famous. And that doesn’t even count the extra expense of flying me out to LA and putting me up in a hotel for a week, to get to meet and be tutored by famous authors. AND then a fancy award ceremony on top of it all. It was pleasant. I made some life-long connections and (I hope) friendships with fellow authors and illustrators. I learned some valuable things, and I have a great award to add to my cover letter. I feel any new author would benefit quite a lot from winning this contest and attending the workshop.

I admit this post is in large part prompted by the “scandalous” revelations posted earlier this month by a former winner. They were given a free flight to a book signing, and stayed without charge at a Scientologist-owned hotel, where copies of Dianetics were in the drawers rather than the Bible. Also basically the entire book signing was just tons of Scientologist buying the book en masse.

This is underwhelming, as a scandal. Anyone with any familiarity with the exuberance of cults can only roll their eyes in sardonic amusement.

 

This doesn’t address the issue of the Church of Scientology itself. The Church has a history of abusing the legal system to censor and punish people who speak out against it. I find this morally repugnant, and our legal system should be reformed to fix this. I’m glad that Anti-SLAPP legislation is gaining ground in the country, and I hope there is a strong federal version passed as well. For every act of legal attacks on free speech that the CoS has committed, I hope they suffer righteous punishment.

I do not, however, think that delisting WotF from the SWFA-accepted markets is a good tool for doing that. It basically does nothing to hurt the CoS or deter that sort of legal abuse. It doesn’t help authors either, because as I said above, I believe authors are indeed helped by the contest. It seems the primary purpose of such a move is to make the statement that “We don’t associate with those kinds of people.” I think this is an ugly sentiment. I think it is being applied to CoS only because they are the most visible right now, not because of anything exceptional they’ve done to deserve it. And I believe that if it’s successful, it will simply continue on to the next-most-visible target, because that sort of destructive purity-demonstration always needs another target.

I think SWFA is a great organization, I plan to remain a member, and I hope they refrain from joining in the pettiness.

Aug 152018
 

After interviewing Alexander Wales and Daystar Eld for The Bayesian Conspiracy podcast, I put together a Rational Fiction Online Anthology. It consists of links to nine Rationalist short stories, with brief introductions explaining what aspects of Rat Fic I believe they demonstrate.

The intros aren’t really necessary, these are all really awesome short stories that I think just about everyone will love. But they do provide a bit of a snap shot of just what Rat Fic is.

I hope some people find this cool and/or useful. :)

Shut Up And Do The Impossible: the rational fiction online anthology

Aug 132018
 

A less tech-savvy friend recently needed help uploading a file into a Slack channel. I posted the above pic with a line of explanation. And it occurred to me that a lot of software use, as well as website use, is searching the damned screen for icons that might, conceivably, be useful for what you want to do. Because software nowadays is designed like shit. Everyone wants to be special and look unique and slick, rather than being functional. Take the Slack “+” for example. It breaks both the “looks like a paperclip icon” rule for attachments, and the “is on the right-hand side” rule.

I swear, I thought all those “Find the hidden object in the picture” puzzles from my Highlights magazines was just a way to waste my time as a child, but it looks like they actually taught me the valuable skill of figuring out modern user-interface “design.”

The worst offender is the Ribbon, of course. The team that invented that godless abomination should all have a fingernail ripped out, or spend a full year experiencing 100% sexual rejection; their choice. (Or something just as unpleasant for any asexuals in the group). This monstrosity takes up way too much screen real estate, lacks any sort of organizing sense, has buttons of random sizes scattered everywhere in a way that doesn’t allow your eyes to simply scroll in a straight line, uses arcane short-hand icons rather than words so that as much bullshit junk can be crammed in those boxes as possible, randomly includes drop downs and expansions, doesn’t show any hotkeys by default, and freakin’ changes with forced updates! It looks like a hostile act against info-worker productivity, likely perpetrated as sabotage by Soviet agents!

WTF is this shit

(Flames! Flames, on the side of my face!)

Aug 082018
 

Deepsix, by Jack McDevitt

Synopsis: A crew exploring alien ruins is marooned on a planet about to be destroyed by natural events, and must be rescued by quick seat-of-the-pants engineering both on their part and the support team in orbit.

Book Review: Did you like Apollo 13? Would you like Apollo 13 if it had survival-adventure-archaeology (kinda Indiana Jones-esque) mixed in? Then this is a great book for you!

Tons of fun, LOTS of created engineering/hacking to pull off a rescue, and things constantly going wrong. :) And, importantly to me after the last several books, every chapter feels necessary. There is always something interesting happening! No filler or dragging. This was some of the most fun I’ve had reading in a while.

It’s not a perfect novel. The characterization is either not done, or done poorly. When the over-the-top moustache-twirling villain does a heel-face turn it comes out of the blue, and none of the motivations or implications are explored. He basically feels like two different characters.

The overall view of humanity is one of “everyone is dumb and shitty.” I guess that comes from spending one’s life trying to work in the navy bureaucracy (if what my fellow book clubbers tell me of McDevitt is true).

The novel kinda lives up to the older stereotype of SF authors who are fascinated with ideas and aliens and space and tech, but don’t do people very well.

But none of this matters that much, because the book isn’t really about those things. It’s about exploring cool alien ruins, and amazing planet-smashing set pieces, and genius engineering hacks. It delivers those things with gusto, and for once, I don’t really need much character exploration an angst. The characters work pretty well as humans caught in a shit situation and trying to live through it, and if there’s no time for exploring their inner turmoil, well, it’s all good, we got a planet coming apart and our only surface-to-orbit vessel is demolished!

Recommended.

Book Club Review: Not bad! There would’ve been less to talk about, because you can’t really discuss cool engineering feats all that much in a discussion… there’s only so much to say, I think? Maybe that’s just our group, I can see other groups getting into technical debates on just how plausible something may be. But the weird characterization actually led to a bit of discussion on its own (Just what was McDevitt trying to do with that heel-face turn? And how can he be so down on humanity as a whole, but then portray lots of individual humans as rocking so hard? Is it slightly sexist, or slightly liberated?). I don’t think everyone will love this, but there was conversation to be had, and it was a refreshing change. Recommended.

Jul 272018
 

 

I’m gonna be in San Jose on Aug 15. Anyone reading this there who’d like to meet up for dinner or drinks or something?

 

Woman gets 20 boyfriends to buy her iPhones, then sells them to buy a house. If you’re bringing joy and comfort into the lives of 20 people, that’s a full time job. It deserves some remuneration. :)

 

23 Things No One Ever Tells You About Becoming An Adult. A rare collection of twitter joke-observations that I actually enjoyed!

 

Steven Universe: The Movie Official Teaser. I guess this explains the sudden stop mid-season

 

How to Survive America’s Kill List
“Kareem did what the system asks a law-abiding American citizen with a grievance to do. He sued, filing a complaint in district court in Washington, D.C., on March 30th, 2017, asking the U.S. government to take him off the Kill List, at least until he had a chance to challenge the evidence against him.

It’s not a stretch to say that it’s one of the most important lawsuits to ever cross the desk of a federal judge. The core of the Bill of Rights is in play, and a wrong result could formalize a slide into authoritarianism that began long ago, but accelerated after 9/11.

Since that day, we have given presidents enormous power – to make war, to torture, to detain indefinitely – and our entire legal system has been transformed on a variety of fronts, placing huge questions about illegal searches, warrantless arrest, indefinite detention, torture and other matters behind an impenetrable wall of secrecy, outside the reach of courts.

And yet, nobody is paying attention.”

At least three innocent people have died in failed drone strikes on this guy. Maybe countries with Kill Lists should stop and ask “Are we the baddies?”

 

Genetically modified babies given go ahead by UK ethics body. I didn’t expect this. We’re getting there, guys!
(unfortunately this is just a recommendation, and doesn’t actual alter any existing laws)

 

Are ethical asymmetries from property rights? An interesting argument that “ethical intuitions seem to just be property rights as applied to lives and welfare.” Note that it’s not trying to argue property rights are good, and in fact asks if maybe we should write off some moral intuitions and reason directly on consequential grounds if, indeed, our morality is an outgrowth of instinctive property-rights intuitions.

 

I will join this religion! Brutalist Web Design
“…the entirety of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is 708 kilobytes. To download this much data using a very slow mobile connection would be around one second (try it for yourself by reading it on Project Gutenberg). Pride and Prejudice is over 200 pages long, and would take over three hours to read. Certainly a news article, tweet, or product catalog can be downloaded and rendered in a comparable amount of time to a novel.”

 

U.S. Announces Its Withdrawal From U.N. Human Rights Council. I know, it was ineffective, etc. But FFS. I just can’t.

 

I find it interesting that Cyberpunk 2020 was set 32 years in the future (from it’s publish date), but Cyberpunk 2077 (which is the reboot of 2020) is set 58 years in the future. We’ve become less optimistic about how quickly our tech will advance. But, perhaps, less pessimistic about how quickly society will spiral into shit! :)

 

In-Groups, Out-Groups, and the IDW
“scientists depend on what rationality researcher Keith Stanovich1 calls “cognitive decoupling.” Decoupling separates an idea from context and personal experience and considers it in the abstract…

The contrary mode of thinking sees every argument embedded in a particular context. The context of an idea includes its associations, implications, and the motivations and identities of those who advance it.

…To a decoupler, contextualizers are fighting a losing battle against facts…Who would defend a morality that can be discredited by a single study?

Defending a position without regard for the evidence supporting it is at best a failure to think straight, and at worst a naked power grab. A contextualizer will usually invoke higher motives, such as aiding the oppressed. But, in reality, they are simply promoting their in-group. So runs the decoupler argument.

…To a contextualizer, decouplers are allowing themselves to be manipulated. Science is biased by the motivations of scientists, and decouplers betray their lack of morals when they surrender to odious ideologies cloaked in a veneer of scientific authority.

Decouplers rarely admit to being driven by tribalism or identity politics, but the virtues of decoupled and ‘rational’ thought are promoted mainly by white and Asian men who are good at math…A decoupler can always claim higher motives, like the objective pursuit of truth. In reality, they are simply promoting their in-group. So runs the contextualizer argument.

…Quietly expressing one’s admiration for the group is cheap. Instead, the best signal of commitment to an in-group is attacking the out-group, loudly and publicly.”

 

I’m going to share this with any deathists I run into from now on:

 

The quick hack guide to watching only the best of Babylon 5. I am gonna do this thing… eventually.

 

7 Ways to Maximize Misery. A good reminder ^^

 

 

Resolved: The Government Should Cut Off All Funding to Colleges and Universities. A fantastic debate with great points on both sides. I left it feeling more educated, and less sure of my previous position.

 

This is the visual aesthetic of Legion? Why haven’t I been watching this the whole time???

 

Jul 242018
 

The most annoying minor thing about the Social Justice movement now that it’s gone fully rabid is that I can never take my SJ friends at their word.

You know that friend of yours that’s going through a break-up? How every day they tell you how awful their ex is, and all the horrible things they’ve done, and why you should shun them forever? Like, really heinous things, that should get one kicked out of any civil society? Of course you nod along, and you comfort your friend, and you say “Damn… that is really awful.” But when you see that ex again, you don’t shun them. You don’t treat them any differently than you would have last month, because they are still the same person you always knew. And all those stories that their ex has been telling you, you realize that they are the worst possible spin (and potentially mis-remembered) by a very hurt person who is grieving the loss of their best friend. If at all possible you stay friends with them.

(This is assuming you knew the ex well, of course, and have an independent opinion of their character)

I’ve seen people who jumped into full hate mode at the ex, with shunning and calls for others to do the same, etc. And they get burned by it when the couple inevitably makes up, and now they have two enemies. Whoops.

I basically feel like everyone deep into Social Justice is running that same dynamic. I can’t trust their judgment, by default, because they have such a strong emotional bias towards seeing things in an aggrieved, victimized-vs-victimizer way, that none of their perceptions are trustworthy. When an even-keel friend tells me “I don’t know what that person’s problem is, but I always see them being a dick to minorities,” I update to thinking it’s more likely the person has got some level of racism going. When an SJ friend tells me “I saw that guy cat-calling someone,” I instead think “Did he though? Or did you see two friends interacting in a joking way they’ve had going for years?” But since the SJ friends are still friends, I have to nod and pretend like I’m updating. Just like when I’m in a Friend Going Through A Breakup scenario.

Except it goes on forever.

I really dislike not being able to take some of my friends at their word, it’s emotionally stressful. Yet another little way the culture wars ruin everything.

And yes, I’m sure that this exact same phenomenon also plays out for people who have alt-right friends and have to question/discount all of their opinions as well. But I’m left of center and I don’t have any alt-right friends, so my complaints are about those friends I do have. Sorry.

Jul 202018
 

The Raven Stratagem, by Yoon Ha Lee

Synopsis: A rouge general seizes a space fleet to defend the local populace and build support for a coup.

Book Review: The book starts out great, dropping you right into the middle of the fleet being taken over and characters resisting their biological programming (or failing to!) while a madman plays them like puppets.

And the last third of the book is also great, with tons of action, lots of fantastic revelations and intriguing back-stabbery. It’s exciting and enticing.

Unfortunately the middle half of the book is mainly holding patterns that do nothing. On the one hand, I really sympathize with the author. He has a story to tell, and he has a contract with a minimum word count, and if his story doesn’t fill that word-count, his publisher will sue him for breach of contract. Then who knows if he’ll ever get another one? Business always ruins art. On the other hand, as a fellow book club member said “It’s not my job to pay his mortgage.”

I almost stopped reading, because the middle is such a slog. A chapter here and there stood out, but they were diamonds in a lot of rough. The book could’ve easily been 1/3rd shorter.

Also, cutting all those extra words would’ve let in some room for physical description! I didn’t really notice this in the first book, because I was so enchanted with the cool “laws of physics can be altered by coordinated mass-belief” thing, but there is basically no physical description anywhere. Throughout the book I felt like I was in an empty grey room constantly. It was really depressing.

Raven Stratagem does have a lot going for it. The universe is still really cool, and the bizarre characters fit great in a bizarre universe. I’m really torn on this. I feel like it should have been great, but something about it just didn’t hit for me. Maybe the lack of description, or the slog in the middle, or the fact that the physics-by-consensus was kinda a background fact and didn’t really effect anything in this novel. It’s only real use was in the climax, and that was somewhat underwhelming and felt more like a footnote.

Honestly, this is another middle book. One of these days, someone’s gonna come up with a formula to make middle books good. Until that day, they will continue to just sorta drag and feel disappointing. Raven Stratagem is interesting, and I don’t regret reading it. But I can’t excitedly push it into someone’s hands and say “You gotta read this!” So, a borderline Not Recommended.

Book Club Review: This is a book that’s enhanced by gathering to talk about it. It’s neat to hear everyone’s individual takes on what’s going on, and it’s fun to relive the really cool plot turns. That being said, the meeting went pretty fast, there wasn’t a lot to chew over. Also, this is absolutely not a book you can read on its own. If one hasn’t read the first one, they’ll be completely lost picking this up. Anyway, same basic verdict on this – not bad, but also Not Recommended.

Jul 172018
 

This post is gonna sound kinda dumb to most people. I figure it’ll be a lot like finding out that a friend is scared of leprechauns. And you’re like “Really? Leprechauns??” But here we go.

I find the short story “Steve Fever,” by Greg Egan, horrifying–and here’s why.

(spoilers below, so go read it first if you’d like. It’s not too long, introduces a cool idea that will get you thinking, and most people will consider it mostly fun)

Steve is a tech genius/entrepreneur, signed up for cryo, that creates an AI hive-mind and dies shortly thereafter. He’s constructed the AI so it’s primary goal is to revive him in the future. Unfortunately he died in a fiery car accident, and there’s no brain left to preserve. But the AI’s utility function is robust against corruption or drift, so it sets about trying to revive him. Steve left a ton of personality data behind. Lots and lots of personal writings, recorded public appearances, social media posts, interviews, etc. So the AI creates a best-guess approximation of his mind, installs it on a currently-living bran (temporarily hijacking a person’s life in the process), and then tests to see how good of a fit it is. It does this testing by recreating the initial conditions of an event in Steve’s life, and seeing if their Model Steve reacts the same way that the Original Steve did historically. If so, great, try with another scenario! If not, abort, tweak the model, and try again. Iterate until a functionally-identical Steve can be recreated.

This terrifies me in two ways. The first is that (when I think of it) it scares me to post anything anywhere. Every trace I leave narrows the range of successful Eneasz-recreations, making future-reviving harder. I guess that’s a good thing overall, because it means revived-me will be that much closer to original-me. :) But I’m extremely aware of the fact that there’s a lot of stuff I *don’t* post or make a record of. And those things are also parts of me. The reasons for that are mostly embarrassment and social sanctioning… there’s some things I’d just rather not share with the world. And also the majority of it is boring, nobody needs to hear all my stupid little worries or daily thoughts. But recording some things and leaving out others leaves a skewed record, and since the skew is mostly in one direction, any future recreation based on these will be twisted away from who I am now. Is that a good thing? Should I mostly post the stuff that makes me happy, and shows off my abilities, so future-me will be well-adjusted, happy, and good at stuff? I’d want to keep all my deep fears and neurosis as hidden as possible in that case. But then am I even recreating myself, or just a creating an idealized child/successor?

(and is this why some people seem like super-happy half-people?)

The much more horrifying worry is that I might be the Model Eneasz. I may be running through a simulated historical scenario right now. Am I reacting the way Original Eneasz did? If I slip up in any way, the simulation is aborted and I get deleted, to be replaced by a higher-fidelity Eneasz. My continued existence depends on taking the action that isn’t the morally-best or financially-best or socially-best, but the most like an no-longer-existing-person who I may only partially resemble and whose motivations and psychology I can only guess at. And *not* doing something (like not posting this) might be just as bad, if the Original Eneasz did post it. Do I just do the best thing I can, and hope Original Eneasz was a basically good person? He can’t be that bad, if the future is willing to bring him back, right?

Plus, if I am being simulated to refine a model, it means Original Eneasz probably did something interesting or momentous enough in his life to be deemed worthy of recreating. (unless future society is altruistic enough to want to recreate everyone <3 ) I don’t feel like I’ve done anything that noteworthy yet, which leads me to think… what the fuck is looming in my future?

(Of course, I could just be the first-run of Eneasz, a pleb who will never amount to enough to be worth recreating in the future, and all this worry is for naught. Which may be even worse, because then I die forever. >< )

It’s all very stressful.

Jul 122018
 

I’m coming out as a single-issue voter, and this is my coming-out post.

Scott Alexander recently defended the use of disproportionate action to defend settled bright-line norms. I recommend reading the whole article, it’s short and explains it very intuitively. The short version is that constant war is costly, and having a very strong taboo against certain actions means you don’t have to constantly be fighting wars and can use that energy for other things/battles. Strong taboos require disproportionate response to their violation, almost by definition.

The strongest taboos should be those defending the principles that make our society possible. There are some principles so vital to society that without them our way of life would be impossible. The Rule of Law. Prohibition of Slavery. Freedom of Speech. Freedom of Religion. Freedom of Association. Reproductive Self-Determination.

And by Reproductive Self-Determination, I mean unrestricted and unrestrictable access to both contraception and abortion, without caveat. Yes, our way of life depends on this.

I.

The past is another planet, and generally a horrible one. As I learn more about the environments our ancestors had to survive in, I find myself slightly less disgusted with their societies, and pity them more instead. Because most (if not all?) social adaptations are forced by the environment.

Starvation was a real fear for most people fairly frequently. The average pre-industrial laborer would spend half or more of their daily income just on food. “If I have another child, how will I be able to feed them?” was a legitimate fear for many. Simply having children could people populations locked in a cycle of poverty for generations. Patriarchy is primarily about male control of the womb, and it flourished because men who didn’t take draconian measures to make sure they only gave resources to their actual genetic offspring were out-competed by those who did. This is how you turn half your population into property. All you need is Malthus and Azathoth.

Women also had incentives to perpetuate patriarchy. Medicine was rudimentary. One in ten pregnancies were lethal to the mother. Half of children born wouldn’t survive to adulthood. While pregnant one can do far less physical labor, and this is in a world where most labor productivity is already directly correlated with physical strength. Child rearing is a huge burden, and securing the full productive output of someone who can’t get pregnant is a huge boon. With the health risks and physical handicaps that come with pregnancy, and the general lack of ways to prevent or treat STIs, sex is always a risky proposition.

So we get cultures that treat women as the property of men, either their fathers or their husbands. Young women are a hot commodity. Children can be disavowed by fathers who don’t believe they are theirs, and abandoned to die. Women can be legally put to death for suspected infidelity. Sexuality is suppressed throughout society, which is drastically bad for mental health. Sex is a need for most people, as strong as the need to eat (although not inherently lethal if denied). Poor young men have it the worst, because older/established men have enough resources to be able to find a mate. In the interest of attracting a mate, or seizing enough resources to do so, young men are willing to go to extreme lengths. It’s entirely likely much civilizational advancement is due to men being willing to toil in awful and/or dangerous conditions, and take lots of risks, for the purpose of securing a mate. But it also leads to all sorts of neurosis, and often violence. The survivors of a war come home with lots of riches. To a lesser extent, so do the survivors of a raid. Or a robbery. Incel may be a new term, but only because it is now rare enough that we see it as a horrible failure, rather than the terrifying norm that surrounds us all.

II.

Industrial advancements have reduced many of these pressures. The most productive labor is now completely decoupled from physical strength. Our society is so rich that no one fears death by starvation (even if people do sometimes go hungry). Medicine has reduced child mortality to below 1%. People expect to live through pregnancy. All of these have paved the way to loosening the stranglehold that society had on sexuality.

But none of these alone is enough. Child care is now an even greater burden. In the past, children could care for themselves after the age of nine or ten, and could even contribute productively to the family by that age. Now they are massive investments of time, energy, and money, until the age of 22 (or longer). Forcing a child upon someone is akin to a light form of slavery.

Pregnancy still isn’t easy. I’m seeing the pregnancy process first-hand for the first time, and it’s fucking terrifying. Tendons and ligaments are loosened and elongated. Organs are compressed and pushed out of place. The placenta fights for control of the woman’s body like a hostile invader. Hormones are dumped into the blood which make it harder to concentrate and think, literally impairing the mother’s mental functioning! Many of the changes to the body are permanent, and all this is before we even get to delivery.

Complete control over one’s own fertility is what gives us the society we have today. It allows women to pursue whatever life they wish. It makes the investment in education worthwhile for all. It allows the entire populace to engage fully in the workforce, if they choose too. Which means that every person can now be an independent, self-sufficient, autonomous person. Not beholden to another or dependent on their good graces. Everyone has the ability to exit a relationship and know they can survive and even prosper, and no one has to stay with a rapist or child molester ever again. Men have to be actual good people worth having a relationship with, rather than simply controlling enough resources to ensure the compliance of a mate.

Furthermore, women are more free to have sex with whomever they wish (or not to!). Much of the pent-up frustration over repressed sexuality is defused. The warlords and bishops have one less thing to use to control those under them. People are happier. Society is less violent.

All of this is because the biology of reproduction is brutal, and forces society into brutal, desperate measures to fight it. A society without contraception is a slave society.

III.

Our contraception, as good as it is, is not flawless. Sometimes it fails. When it does, safe and effective abortion is the back-up that keeps us free. Only with unrestricted, on-demand abortion is there true Reproductive Self-Determination. Without that, all sex is still taking a risk. It may be far less of a risk. But those underlying forces, which pushed us into those hellish societies of the past, are still there, subtly pulling like a slow tide. There is a risk your body can be distorted without your permission, and the next two decades of your life redirected to labor you do not wish to undertake. That twists everything. It alters all of society for everyone.

I think that the anti-abortion forces know this. They want to revert us to an older, sicker society. They know that an environment of reproductive fear is one that favors their society, and erodes ours.

There are likely many people who think it’s dumb to focus so much on Reproductive Self-Determination. It’s certainly not the only principle that our society depends on. Freedom of Speech is even more important, because without it the only way to change things is with violence. Rule of Law is paramount, without it we don’t have any society at all. But neither of those is under the same level of threat that Reproductive Self-Determination is. Neither of those has several of the world’s most populace and wealthy religions working to destroy it. Neither of those has been declared an enemy by half the US government!

All the other principles I listed in the preamble are protected in the US Constitution, our most important political document. I firmly believe that if the Founding Fathers had access to the same level of safe and effective contraception and abortion that we have, they would have protected access to it in the US Constitution as well. To attack that fundamental right is to attack the very thing that makes us Americans. The love of liberty. The hatred of tyranny. The desire for a better, more peaceful, and more prosperous tomorrow.

Stripping the populace of reproductive self-determination is the first step towards totalitarianism. It’s far more important to a modern potential dictator than stripping people of their guns ever could be. Forcing us back into the environments that made such violent, patriarchal states the best answer our species had to that situation is the only thing they need to do. The rest is the inevitable grinding process of survival in a hostile world. As has been said (also by Scott Alexander I believe, but couldn’t find the direct quote) — if you take ten thousand modern, enlightened, educated Americans and drop them into the Nile delta with Bronze Age technology, they will have reverted to worshiping a god-emperor within one generation. Given those conditions, that is the social system shown to work.

So this is my bright line in the sand. I will judge every political decision I make based on how strongly it supports the rights to reproductive self-determination of the American people. Up until the point that something else becomes a bigger threat to our way of life. I get the feeling it’ll be a long time before that happens, though.

To head off any questions of why I’m focusing on my own society when there’s so many in the world that live in much worse conditions — our society is in a position to help those others as long as we are healthy and strong. We should do so as we can. But we must stay vigilant, or the forces that wish a return to the horrors of the past will sicken and destroy us, and we can’t help anyone when we’re crumbling into totalitarianism.

NARAL

Center for Reproductive Rights