The Crisis of Competence, or: Adulting Ain’t That Hard

  • by Gitabushi

I go to a geek website daily. It seems like 10% (probably not that high) of the posts are cartoons about anxiety, like this one:

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From Amanda Panda Comics

AmandaPandaComics, support her on Patreon if you are so inclined.

The isn’t funny. It isn’t insightful. It *normalizes* fragility.

It normalizes fragility and inability by saying, “See? Your thoughts are normal. Other people feel this way. There’s nothing wrong with you and no reason to change.”

But there *is* something wrong with feeling anxiety.  Normal people should *not* feel anxiety doing normal tasks like making a purchase at the grocery store.

We have a Death of Competence crisis going on the US. I’ve seen it at multiple levels. We’ve developed a system predicated on a complete lack of understanding of how to do stuff.

One example is Hillary Clinton. She never *did* anything. She just rode her husband’s coattails and had a staff make decisions for her that let her take credit for.

I saw it when working at a 3-Letter Agency.  The director was an engineers should know how to do stuff. But she mainly knew how to talk. She isolated herself with layers of staff. No one above a GS-13 would make an independent decision on anything. If you had a proposal, it had to be presented perfectly up through the layers of staff. If anything was wrong (bad grammar, in the wrong color folder), it was kicked back to be redone.

I understand the concept: if your attention to detail is lacking, then it probably extends to the proposal.  But the reverse is not true: just because every i is dotted and every t crossed, it doesn’t mean the proposal is well-thought-out, or a good proposal; it just means the focus is on superficial aspects of appearance, rather than on the salient aspects of a project.

So as assigned projects filtered upward, the higher staff would demand more explanations, and recommendations.  I’m sure there was some thought in signing off on the recommendations, sometimes the higher ranks would use their knowledge and experience to raise the “bullshit flag” and knock it back down.  But in general, the whole process was designed so that if something worked, the decision-makers could take credit for approving it; but if it failed, the blame could be placed on the GS-13s (the highest level just short of an actual leadership position at most Agency HQs) that provided the hard numbers and background information for the proposal, or perhaps the staff that let the proposal through.

This is success in the US right now. We don’t teach anyone how to *lead* organizations to success.  We discourage anyone taking risks. Our leaders insulate themselves from the possibility of being associated with a failure, so they can move up in the ranks of a zero-tolerance system.

And this adversity to risk and fear of making decisions trickles down to the average person, like the one in the comic.

I think this is because the US is rich and successful.  Outside of the military and some engineering projects, there are no life-and-death consequences for failure, so people don’t learn how to do effective risk analysis and then take risks.  All their decisions are career-path based, rather than project success-based.

I mean, I know I’m painting with an overly-wide brush here, but I think this *is* what’s happening.

We are teaching our kids to not think, to not plan, to just follow the life plan set up for them on rails: go to school, get a degree, live in a city, & everything will be perfect.  I understand this, too: you want your kids to have a good life.  There is a way to achieve that, so teach them to follow it.

But the problem is that we tell them to follow it exactly, and promise them that if they do, everything will be fine and there will be no struggle, no problems.

No. You have to think for yourself, try things out, take risks, learn how to manage your life.  I *want* my kids to struggle.  How else can they learn how to avoid mistakes that cause people to struggle with life?

I have no doubt the person in this comic *is* common among young kids right now. But it shouldn’t be. If you are feeling anxious about finances, YOU CAN LEARN TO NOT BE.

Okay, let’s back up a moment, here.

The point of a Character-Driven story is the main character reaches a point where they can no longer continue as they have been. They MUST change. Then they change.

For this cartoon to be actually helpful, rather than cocooning readers in failure, it should have started with the realization that you can’t live being anxious about buying tampons. That you have to make changes so you are never anxious about buying tampons again. Then you walk through the door into adulthood.

 has been collecting tweets from people who are anxious about being adults, who have never lived how to live a bountiful life.  I suggested he put all these quote tweets into one long thread (much like I have done with “Leftists are caught in the grip of incoherent apoplexy” and “Democrats are a criminal organization masquerading as a political party”.

He liked the idea, so he should soon be collecting tweets from these incompetents we’ve created. I hope he never stops adding to it, so it becomes an irresistible weight of motivation for his students (and anyone who reads it) to learn to live a glorious, successful life.

It starts with recognizing that anxiety over a simple purchase is not normal, and unnecessary.

Go, and do.

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Two Real-Life Examples that Prove Socialism Can Never Work

  • by Gitabushi

Socialism is the equal sharing of all work and the equal sharing of all produced goods.

The assumption is that when everyone receives an equal amount of produced goods (food, clothes, entertainment, etc.) that people will be freed to work on what they want to. Moreover, all necessary work will still get done because someone will step up and do the dangerous work of construction, electrical work, policing, etc., and odious work of sanitation, etc., because it needs to be done. No one wants to wallow in filth, so eventually someone will step up and take care of it, and taking care of the trash will either be done as a rotating duty or by someone who doesn’t mind and enjoys the sense of satisfaction from it.

Okay, aside from how this already shows Socialism can never work, the point is that Socialism works when everyone does their part, and does their best.

But are humans really like that?

Here are two real-world examples of what humans are *really* like:

First:

22xp-boaty-articleLarge

If you don’t know what this is, it is Boaty McBoatface, which is what happens when you let the internet name your boat.

Second:

Dead Brothel Owner Wins His Election in Nevada

Don’t tell me voters didn’t know he was dead when they voted.

This demonstrates two things: mild hatred of authority among grassroots, and, along with the first example, a perverse sense of humor.

Some people like consensus and herd mentality. These are the people pushing Socialism.

Others simply cannot live without going against the crowd simply because it is the crowd.

Which is why Socialism starts with high-minded, compassionate-filled phrases, and ends with being just one more execution away from Utopia.

 

Some of the Touchstones of my Socio-Political Philosophy

– by Gitabushi
Several years ago, I tried to capture a bunch of philosophical touchstones: things I believe to be true, and use as axioms to reason my way through contemporary socio-political issues and events.
Here’s what I came up with.  I added everything past number 17 this morning. I could probably add another 100, if I really thought about it.
Which do you disagree with? Which do you think need better explanation or more thought?
1)    Choice means influence, not control
2)    All people want the same thing: Love & Security
a.    What differs is strategies & implementation to achieve
3)    Life is result of your choices
a.    Racism/sexism exist, but less impact than individual choices & actions
4)    People respond to incentives
5)    Greater reward requires greater risk
a.    Time
b.    Effort
c.    Money
6)    To have peace, prepare for war
a.    As wealthy information-producing society that consumes luxury goods, US benefits most from ensuring safe, global free-trade.
i.    As such, US benefits most from being the world’s policemen
ii.    All nations benefit, even if they resent US
7)    Freedom is a pure good
a.    If you have ever said, “There oughta be a law (against something I find annoying)”, you are part of the problem
b.    Freedom to choose means freedom to make bad choices
c.    Freedom to choose doesn’t mean govt should suppress information on good/bad choices
8)    Knowledge is always good
a.    Never stop learning
b.    Never stop training for your next job
c.    Trend is to lower standards in education, trend should be to raise standards
i.    Not everyone needs to have liberal arts education
ii.    Liberal Arts graduates favorite entertainment seems to be television, i.e., waste of education
d.    Never stop reading
9)    Taxes are parasitic drag
a.    Some taxes are necessary
b.    Taxes should be lowest possible
c.    Stealth taxes (fees, licenses, penalties) should be strictly limited
d.    Tax revenue should not be fungible: for specific purpose & used only for that specific purpose or returned
e.    Progressive taxes are not moral
f.    Regressive taxes are not immoral
g.    Taxes should be mix of progressive/regressive to provide incentives for effort
10)    US Constitution, when followed, is best govt/society legal controlling document in world history
a.    Not followed
b.    Effective elements of Federalism have been degraded
c.    Govt way outside originally-established bounds
11)    Bureaucracy sucks, but necessary
a.    All bureaucrats are motivated by the Bureaucratic ABCs:
i.     Acquire more resources
ii.    avoid Blame
iii.   increase Credit/Commendations
b.    Bureaucracy exists because it tends to prevent:
i.     Huge disasters, accepting constant low-level failures
ii.    Huge successes, preferring stability to disruptive success
c.    Effective leaders must learn to use bureaucracy to advantage/success of organization
i.    Must actively manage, i.e. lead
d.  Bureaucrats perform to look good
i.   If the organization isn’t getting the results you want, change what you measure and track.
12)    Citizens should strive to be leaders
a.    Should think independently
b.    Should advocate for positions
c.    If you say “there oughta be a law” against a pet peeve of yours, you are part of the problem
13)    Good/Bad choices are knowable
a.    Citizens & govt should advocate for good & smart choices
b.    Good/Bad choices must not be enforced via law
14)    Free speech protects uncomfortable speech
15)    Legality is not license
a.    Power to discourage, or even shame, should always be within the range of acceptable actions
i.    Discouragement must be based on incentives, not legal punishments/enforcements
16)    Strive for maturity
a.    Empathy, understanding
b.    Long-term good
c.    Never ascribe to malice what may be ignorance
17)    Easy way is usually worst way
a.    Corollary: Best way is usually hardest way
18)    Humans are biologically programmed to exploit any system
19)    True wealth is wanting less than you already have
20)    Wealth cannot be redistributed, wealth can only be formed and destroyed
a.    Wealth is formed by creating value.
b.    Money is a marker for created value
c.    Money flows to creators of value
d.    Redistributing money breaks the link between creation of value and accumulation of wealth; as such, it destroys incentive, and thus, destroys wealth
e.    Money for Nothing is corrosive to human spirit
21)    TANSTAAFL always applies
a.    If something seems too good to be true, it probably is
b.    Get Rich Quick schemes are scams because if there were an easy way to create something of value, masses of people will flock to it, increasing competition and driving down the profit
money pink coins pig
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Success and Happiness in Life: Some Reading Suggestions

  • by Gitabushi

I consider myself a philosopher.  Meaning, somewhere along the line, I realized that I was making my way through life (interacting with others in the world) according to a paradigm, and if I was unhappy with the results, I needed to improve my paradigm.

So I’ve done that many times in my life.  And I’m pretty happy.

This sort of came up in a conversation this morning, and I was reminded of a book I received from my best friend’s Mom for Junior High graduation: The University of Hard Knocks.

University of Hard Knocks

I read the book, and thought the lessons were a little too obvious to write a book about. And yet, I found myself thinking back to it in my early 20s, and remembering its lessons more and more.  I think this is partially where I got the idea of swapping out paradigms. It taught me about the occasional need to change the way I think about things.

But there was another book that helped me to understand and improve how I think: The Depression Book.  I don’t care if your depression is diagnosed as chemical, you still need to read this book to help conquer your depression…because anti-depressants eventually stop working, but if you can use the respite they provide to reprogram how you think, you might be able to improve your brain chemistry by establishing a different internal dialogue.

But now I think it might be worthwhile for everyone to read it. Mostly because everyone gets depressed at times, and this book can help you to minimize both those moments, and the damage of those moments.  The book was really helpful to me in understanding how to change the way I think about things.

So now I’m thinking about other helpful books that are Must Reads for increasing your chance to have a successful and happy life.

I’ve heard great recommendations for Rich Dad, Poor Dad. I’ve never read it, but the things people say about it make me think I discovered many of the same lessons on my own from other sources.  Let’s add it to the Must Read list.

I’m going to put in a conditional recommendation for Charles Givens’ “Wealth Without Risk.”  I own it. I’ve never read entirely through it. I found a few ideas in it that I like…I guess the best thing that I can say about it is it definitely contributed to my understanding of how money works, and how we earn money through smart decisions.

I’m not sure how mandatory it is to having a good life, but I’d like to make a recommendation for James Q. Wilson’s Bureaucracy.  I mean, most people end up working in a bureaucracy, and most certainly end up at the mercy of one at some point.  It seems like it might be helpful to know what you are up against. Or what policies to push your politicians to vote for in light of how bureaucracies work.  Or don’t work. Or barely work.

I can’t really think of any other book that provided me useful knowledge I didn’t already pick up from school, life, job training, etc., but there might be some I’m not remembering.

What books do you recommend for a happy, successful life?

Plotting: A Suggestion

  • by Gitabushi

I recently “purchased” (it was free) and started reading an e-book on how to plot.

“The Plot Machine: Design Better Stories Faster,” by Dale Kutzera

For the most, it was worth what I paid for it.  Many of the points it made were obvious to anyone who has done any reading at all, much less writing.  Several other points were among the first, and most basic, techniques any writing book will mention.

Since it was free, I didn’t expect much from the book.  Even if free, there is still a time cost, and I invested that cost to get some additional insight into how to effectively plot a novel.

One point it made changed my viewpoint, and I think will have a deep and profound impact on my writing.

The book pointed out that while a novel is more complex that a short story, both should follow the Three Act format. In this format, the First Act is setting up all the pieces. The Third Act is resolving all the conflicts and returning all the pieces to their resting places.

The book says the Second Act: *that’s* what makes or breaks a story.

What makes a story good is what obstacles have been placed in the path of the protagonist, and how the protagonist resolves them. These obstacles make a memorable story. This is where most of the action occurs.  This is where the protagonist’s character is honed or revealed.

The book when on to explain that, in fact, it is the Second Act that defines your characters.  You want to put them through hell to make an interesting story, but they need a *reason* to go through the hell instead of just giving up.  They need a *reason* to be in the position to go through that hell.

As such, deciding on the conflict first can make it clear who your character should be. And deciding the conflict first makes it more obvious how to make the resolution more dramatic and effective.

Okay, maybe I’m reaching with this by embracing the book’s suggestion. Maybe it won’t work for you to write the conflict first. Maybe it won’t end up working for me to write the conflict first.

But too many of my stories have foundered when they reached the conflict stage.  I had a great beginning. I had a decent ending. I couldn’t get through the middle. Too often, the conflict didn’t match the motivations I established at the beginning. Or the method of overcoming obstacles didn’t match the character I established at the beginning.

You could say that this just because I write poorly, and I’d have a hard time arguing that. On the other hand, I think of a character and a starting point, and think I have a story idea.  Perhaps, instead, I should think of the conflict a character is going to go through, and think I have a story idea.

Looking at this from a different direction: I love twisty, complex plotting.  I have a “story idea” right now that I want to turn into a twisty, complex plot.  So I’ve come up with all my main characters, the universe, the starting motivations, and now I want to add complexity.  I can’t really get started on it. I can’t figure out how to put these characters into seemingly no-win situations where they have to dismantle the Destruction Engine piece by piece to avoid their destruction and win the story.

My plan was to start writing and add complexity.

I now think a better idea is to start with a complex, seemingly no-win situation and write backwards, figuring out how the protagonist got into this situation.

For example, I’ve been watching a few Chinese Spy/Suspense television serials.

In one, Protagonist 1 is drawn into the spy world to work for the Chinese Nationalists (who are resisting the Japanese occupation), and from there, gets drawn into being a Communist spy inside the Nationalist organization…because of the temporary partnership to resist the Chinese.  His older brother (Protagonist 2) is a collaborator working with the Japanese government…but is actually a Nationalist spy working to undermine the Japanese, and is Protagonist 1’s superior in the National spy organization. At one point, Protagonist 1 is given the order to assassinate his older brother, Protagonist 2, for being too effective as a collaborator. He didn’t know at that point that not only his older brother a Nationalist spy, but the order itself came *from* his older brother (who, having ordered it, knows how to avoid it, but it helps him gain additional credibility with the Japanese). When it is all over, however, Protagonist 1 learns that his older brother is actually his superior in the *Communist* spy ring that’s inside the Nationalist spy ring that’s resisting the Japanese.  He’s been acting according to his training and character, but he’s been moved around like a chess piece, based on his older brother knowing him, and being his superior two layers deep.

weizhuangzhe2

I don’t think you can build in that sort of complexity as you go.  I think you have to start with that incredible situation, and then work backwards, adding layers to the complexity as you move earlier in the story.

In another, the protagonist is just a normal Nationalist officer in what seems to be a National Guard/Reservist unit.. They are getting ready to go to the front line to fight the Japanese. His unit’s commander is out of action while recovering from surgery, and the 2nd-in-command is leading a cabal of the top few officers to surrender and collaborate with the Japanese.  The traitor has one week to do it, before the Commander recovers and returns to duty. A junior officer (not the protagonist) discovered this, and formed a group of officers and NCOs to resist (the Iron Fists). The protagonist joins, making 30 in all, and they are set to meet at 9pm on a certain date.

At 8:30pm on that day, the protagonist is getting ready to leave for the meeting when the 2nd-in-command traitor locks the HQ down. He then orders the protagonist to lead the arrest of the 30 cadre members who are mutinying. Meanwhile, the Iron Fist group, lacking two members, decides to start the meeting with the 28 who are present.

The protagonist arrives on the scene, and tries to make noise to alert the Iron Fists inside. It doesn’t work. With no other choice, he leads the charge. But the first thing he does is shoot out the light. With the lights out, he trips a few of the capturing force, throws a bench out the window to help the Iron Fists escape, etc. But it is all for naught, all 28 are captured.

The traitor officer knows two people didn’t arrive, and knows the protagonist did some weird stuff. Plus, there’s another officer who isn’t in his cabal. So he sets the 2nd officer to torture a confession out of the protagonist. The 2nd officer is, of course, the 30th Iron Fist (who was also locked up in the HQ building and couldn’t go to the meeting, and so was spared). He finds out that the protagonist was Iron Fist #29, and vows to help him.

But the issue facing them both is, “Who betrayed the Iron Fists?”  All 28 in captivity are executed within a day (to silence them), so Iron Fist #30 begins to suspect the protagonist, despite the protagonist being Iron First #29.

The Traitor officer has two military representatives in custody, one Nationalist and one Communist.  He finally decides (for a couple of reasons not worth explaining now) that *they* are the two missing Iron Fists, and so stops worrying about the protagonist and the other officer.  Except these two officers aren’t part of his cabal, so he doesn’t completely trust them.

To strengthen his position, he decides to get a hostage: the Commander’s mother. So he sends a team to escort her from her home (a day away) to his location.  He puts the protagonist in charge, sets the 2nd officer to watch him, sends one of his cabal officers along to watch them both, and sends along the two military representatives as hostages. They will go near a Japanese stronghold, and the cabal officer will give the Japanese the two military representative hostages to seal the deal that allows the traitor cabal to deliver the entire unit to the Japanese.

So along the way, the protagonist is trying to help the two military representatives escape without letting the other officers know he is doing it. At the same time, Iron Fist #30 officer is trying to help them escape, but not letting the other officers know he is doing it, and doesn’t see the protagonist doing anything to help, which deepens his suspicion that the protagonist betrayed the Iron Fists.

Everything that happens puts the protagonist in a no-win situation.  If he does anything to help get the word out, the cabal officer will kill him as a traitor. If he works too hard to follow his orders, the unit will be handed over the Japanese, and he betrays his fellow Iron Fists.  But when he helps the military representatives escape, he can only help by throwing some things through the window to them, and pre-positioning some escape aids, which they attribute to Iron Fist #30 who was actually able to make contact with them and tell them he was going to help them escape.

I hope that’s clear.  It’s pretty twisty to watch, and hard to explain. Basically, because the protagonist is trying to remain undercover, all his very risky attempts to help get attributed to other officer, so he is still considered a traitor by the people he supports, yet if he is any more overt, the cabal officer will kill him.

Again, I don’t think you could add in this complexity as you go.  The best way to write this (I think) is to start with a no-win situation: your protagonist is in a situation where if he acts overtly, he is killed; if he doesn’t act overtly, he betrays his principles.  What does he do? He tries to act *covertly*, right?  So how can we make those efforts not help? Add in another person who gets credit for it, *and* that person suspects him.  Okay, what kind of person would have the freedom to act *and* be in a position to matter in this sort of betrayal drama? A young officer who is the Commander’s favorite, highly principled and motivated.

Then  you just add in misunderstandings from there, working backward.

Well, time to see if it works.  I’ll report back in a later post, either way.

 

 

The All-Too-Real Split Between SF and F, a Rebuttal

  • by Gitabushi

…Here I come.
Walking down the street
I give the craziest takes to
Everyone one I meet!

PC is putting his SF&F thoughts on a new blog, for branding reasons.  I originally tried to leave this response over there, but my browser was choking on the wordpress log-in.  What the heck, yanno? Let’s have dueling posts on this topic.

as you wish

Here goes:

Okay, we’ve had this discussion before, but I’m going to disagree again, even if means retrenching the battle lines we’ve fought so many times.  I actually think you have some new points, but I have some new counterpoints, too.

I think David Brin has a point. Not as much of one as he thinks, but a point.

I think SF&F doesn’t and shouldn’t really matter to the reader. But I think it does and should matter to the writer.

You have to know what you’re writing, and why.

Sure, there are some space operas like Star Wars that can be re-written as fantasies, and probably vice versa, but they wouldn’t satisfy the audience.

Because when I think of all the fantasies and all the science fiction stories I’ve read, I have noted that science fiction is about ordinary people doing extraordinary things, and fantasy is about extraordinary people…who sometimes are just dealing with ordinary things, like revenge, and rejection from parents and/or being orphaned, or things like that.

Speculative Fiction is really about exploring what it means to be human. Science Fiction tends to be things like, how much can we distort Person and still be human. Fantasy tends to be things like, how much can we distort Reality/Environment and still remain human, and/or how much does power distort humanity versus merely amplifying the baser instincts.

Sure, there are exceptions. Frodo is really just an ordinary person who does great things, as Bilbo was, really. But every non-hobbit in that story was a singular example of something 10 standard deviations above the mean.

Star Wars was both good *and* clearly science fiction when it was just an average farm boy who helps destroy an enemy aircraft carrier with an atomic bomb capability. (Force isn’t magic, it’s *psionics*. #Duh). But it got worse, disappointed many of its audience, and became fantasy when it became a mundane estranged family relationship story. Not that “becoming fantasy” means “gets worse”, but it started as SF, and so got worse the farther it got away from SF and more into mysticism and fate and seeing the future and stuff.

Okay, that explains they difference.

But why does it *matter*?

Because if you are a writer, think of your story. Should it be SF or Fantasy? It depends on who the main character is, what you want him to do, how you want him to change. If you want him to be just an ordinary kid with some exceptional abilities that he can use under duress to save a bunch of people, then you should write a Heinlein juvie fiction SF&F story. If you wan to write about someone who seems normal, but is *really* the heir to some huge power, or huge wealth, or huge kingdom, and he’ll spend his time dealing with office politics, then you are probably better off writing a fantasy.

If you want to write about a humanoid race that thinks differently than human, but just as well, you’re probably going to write science fiction. If you want to write about a humanoid race that is pretty much fully human in intent, motivation, love hate, etc., just go ahead and write a fantasy.

If you want everyone to have the same tools and powers and opportunities, and just one person has the drive, insight, or persistence to benefit from it, you’ll probably use a SF setting. If you want someone to have access to special tools, powers, or opportunities that aren’t available for general use, then you’ll probably write a fantasy.

Yeah, Arthur C. Clarke said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Well, Arthur C. Clarke was wrong, and if he’d thought it through just a *little* bit more, he’d have realized it. And if he disagrees, he can come here and post his disagreement.

…okay, that was supposed to be for humorous effect.

The thing is, I think Orson Scott Card nailed it when he said that if you include magic, for it to be interesting, there must *always* be a price to using it. Or else, it’s just unlimited power and that’s boring.

But with technology, there is no price. The price was paid in the development, or in the working out of how to use it without destroying society.

Going back to Star Wars, the Force was fine when it was psionics and there was no price. It became magic when the price was having to struggle with the dark side, maybe cut yourself off from human affections, etc.

There is no price to learning to play guitar except that time it takes to work on muscle memory. But if you sell your soul to the devil to get good…

…that’s the difference between science fiction and fantasy. The reader just wants a good story. But if you want to write a good story, you need to know which you are writing, and stick to it.