In 2012, researchers hooked 16,000 computer processors in parallel, with more than 1 billion connections, and let the artificial brain browse a video website. Before too long, it began watching cat videos. We didn’t know it at the time, but this was the first salvo in the Second Robot-Human War.
The Second Robot-Human War gets all the attention, of course. Few people even realized there was a First Robot-Human War, which mainly consisted of a street light on 4th and Main deliberately delaying the morning commute of a man named Nathan Alexander. But that is a tale for another day.
“Perfessor! Jones! Get over here!” the Corporal bellowed.
I scrambled over, sliding over the detritus of a collapsed wall, then clattering down a rickety set of stairs into a basement. I wasn’t worried about noise, because the hiss of ionized air, rattle of nearby explosions, and loud buzz of the ubiquitous sonic repellers covered any noise I might make.
Probably. You never knew when the AI might get a software update that would let it pick out man-made noises. I had a philosophy for that: when it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go. There’s no point in pussyfooting around what the AI might do next. You just did your best, took out a few of the brain nodes if you got lucky, and hoped your genes got passed on.
Jones slid in beside me. He was quieter. Maybe not so willing to let fate have a free hand? He was calm, not even breathing heavy.
“What is is, Corporal?” I asked.
“Look what I found, guys! A whole case of cinnamon containers,” the Corporal said, beaming. “There’s gotta be 120 or more!”
“That’s great Corp! What do we do with it?” Jones asked.
The Corporal looked at me.
“Well, uh…” I began, then stopped. A faint memory glimmered, then ignited into full flame. “Cinnamon was one of the earlier spices prized for food preservation!”
“Hey, that’s great, Perfessor!” said Jones. “Now that the AI cut us off from salt, we’ve had some problems keeping food safe long enough to eat.”
“Hey, do you remember what they used to do before the War?” the Corporal asked.
“Eat apples?” Jones said.
“Make gravy?” I added.
“Throw very small rocks?” Jones ventured.
“Nah, ya numbskulls! They used to do the Cinnamon Challenge! You used to take a spoonful, then try to eat it without inhaling any into your lungs and making you cough.”
Jones looked blank. I must have, too, because the Corporal seemed to grow, if anything, more irritated than normal.
“Awright, youse two!” the Corporal said. “We’re going to do it, too.”
“Right now?” I asked.
“Right now,” the Corporal agreed. “I’m in charge of you dolts, and now that I have ascertained a gap in your eddycation, I’m gonna fill it. Put your weapons down and SHUDDUP!”
We followed orders.
He pulled a spoon from his kit, and poured a heaping spoonful.
“Open up, Perfessor!”
I opened up. The heaping spoonful went in. It…tasted pretty good. Then it started to get hot. Waitasecond! Wasn’t cinnamon supposed to be sweet and sticky? The heat made me gasp–
–and then I was kneeling on the floor coughing out a cloud of light brown spice. The Corporal was laughing and slapping his knee. He calmed down and his expression resumed its dour state about the time I coughed it all out.
“Now you, Jones,” he said.
“I dunno, Corporal, I don’t think–” Jones began.
“–Exactly!” the Corporal said. “You don’t think. You follow orders.” He poured another spoonful. “Open up.”
Jones opened up. The Corporal poured it in.
Nothing happened. Jones chewed for a while.
“Hold on!” the Corporal said. “Jones, spit it out. Now!”
Jones spit out the cinnamon. It was dry and dusty.
The Corporal wasn’t known for high intelligence. He’d never been a member of Mensa. He was the farthest thing from an intellectual that I could imagine. But he still saw it before I did.
“No saliva! You’re a bot!” the Corporal said, then opened fire.
The sonic rifle shredded “Jones'” clothes and ripped great rents in his “skin”, revealing a metal endoskeleton, complete with shining cables and joints. But even at close range the sonic rifle was too weak. The bot we had thought of as Jones leapt at the Corporal, his hands reaching for the Corporal’s throat.
In a flash, his neck was snapped. I recoiled and stumbled over the crate of cinnamon, knocking over several containers. I reached out, grabbing for my rifle, knowing what little good it would do me.
The bot whirled and advanced toward me. My hands felt something, grasped the cold plastic of…a container of cinnamon. I needed a weapon, but maybe this could buy me time.
I ripped off the lid, and flung the contents at the robot. It ran through the cloud of spice, came at me just as I was reaching my proton disruptor tube…
…and ground to a halt, the fine cinnamon powder having floated into every possible niche, crevice, and cranny of the bot, absorbing lubricant and fouling gears. It was the work of mere seconds after that to destroy the robot’s AI brain. With luck, I had managed to kill it before it could establish a connection and upload its experience back to the main AI.
And now we have a new weapon. One that we can use as a virtual aerosol defense that destroys mechanicals, but can also serve as a test of humanity to protect ourselves against bots.
With Twitter putting all its effort into making it easier to silence and marginalize conservative users and ideas, I can no longer countenance giving them free content.
I have many, many friends on Twitter, but the time has come for me to leave that platform before I (and those with whom I enjoy interacting) are deplatformed by Twitter policy.
I have my concerns about Gab.Ai. There are claims that the founders are white supremacists, or racists. There are certainly plenty of racists there who take advantage of Gab.Ai’s commitment to free speech to spread their idiotic nonsense. But I’ve also found some pro-Israel accounts, and hope to find more who push back against racism in general.
At the very least, I can be a voice for racial color-blindness there.
Maybe I’ll find my voice drowned out by racists. Maybe the accusation the site is full of racists is just another attempt to marginalize and silence anyone who dissents from the Left’s socially-indoctrinated consensus. I don’t know. I’m going to find out, I think.
It is my intent to craft a sub-community that reflects my commitment to liberty and my unique sense of humor.
I have changed my screen name to Gitabushi, and my user name remains brainfertilizer.
This is a theme I’m still pondering. I haven’t come to any solid, final conclusions yet. When I do, it will likely become another stakeholder/touchpoint in my personal socio-political Philosophy of Everything.
Right now, what I’ve mostly decided is that disruption is neither good nor bad. It is Chaos, which is the dissolution of Order. Order is generally good, but tends to calcify, becoming unyielding and stifling to the dynamics of human life. In contrast, of course, Chaos tends to feed on itself, dissolving order and keeping humans in a constant state of stress and crisis, which pressures individuals into poor decisions that expand the Chaos.
This is kind of a big deal for my philosophy, because I’ve been a pretty consistent advocate of Order.
How I came to embrace the good points of Chaos was simply mulling on the best way to deal with the growing oligarchy of Silicon Valley, crony capitalism, Too Big to Fail corporations, and the unholy alliance between Government and Big Business.
I’m not a full-on Libertarian for a number of reasons, but I do have a Libertarian distrust of turning to Government to fix problems.. The problem with having Government fix problems is they tend to see all problems as opportunities for graft or gaining additional control over the every day life of citizens, they rarely do a good job of fixing things, and they are probably more responsive to other citizens who have a different notion of what “fixed” looks like than I do.
I am a firm believer in Liberty, however, and absolutely believe that the most effective solutions involve *increasing* options for individuals, rather than decreasing them.
This is intrinsically related to what I see as the role of Government: do the things citizens can’t do individually or even effectively in private groups, like National Defense and determining and acting on National Interest; resolve problems between equals (equal persons, lower levels of government, corporations, corporations and citizens, etc.); and working to ensure a level playing field. To a certain extent, these are all just different aspects of the same thing: private citizen groups *could* engage in foreign policy and military action, but it would conflict with the rights and interests of other citizens, so it would almost immediately create a conflict that would need government to resolve, so just have the government do it in the first place, and ensuring a level playing field *is* resolving conflicts between citizens or between citizens and corporations.
So what I’m getting around to saying is that I think the best way to stop Big Corps from running and ruining our lives, or from putting their quest for Profit above the best interests of their workers and customers, is to encourage competition.
The best way to stop Google and Facebook from monitoring us 24/7 is to make it easier for other companies to make money disrupting Google’s and Facebook’s business model. The Silicon Valley Oligarchs are huge fans of regulation right now, the same issue they were huge opponents of when they (and the internet) was in its infancy. That’s because regulation creates barriers to competition. The difficult part is how easy it is to demagogue regulation.
Here’s a great example: It was discovered that some toys from China had lead paint. This is bad. From there, it is very easy to demand that *all* toys imported from China be tested for lead paint. Since that is logistically impossible, the logical step is to have random testing of imported toys, and demand that the toy importers pay for it. Guess who can afford to pay for random testing because they benefit from economies of scale? Mattel, Fisher Price, Hasbro, et al. Guess who supported the new regulation for random testing paid for by the importer? Mattel, Fisher Price, Hasbro, et al. The regulation represented an additional barrier to small, upstart toy importers that could cut into their market share. But if you oppose the regulation, China will have no incentive to stop exporting toys with lead paint, and US children will be harmed.
Look, some regulation is good. But encouraging disruption is also good.
There is no reason that a large company must stay a large company. There is no reason that just because they’ve been making a number of sales for a certain profit margin, that they should be able to continue doing so forever. Humans must compete and work to improve themselves to maintain their station in life, so corporations should also. And they comprehend that, because they are always fighting to increase their market share, drive out competition, etc. There’s just no reason our government should help them in reducing competition.
But I also can’t say disruption is always a good tool. The Left has done a great job of disrupting things they don’t like: Christianity, the traditional family, integrity, free speech, the right to self-defense (via the Second Amendment right to bear arms). LBJ’s Great Society was extremely disruptive to the black community and to many of the traditions that had made the US strong. Medicare merely added to the misconception created by Social Security that individuals should not be responsible for their own lives, sustenance, and comfort. I cannot describe to you the sense of frustration and despair I felt when I found out that the Health Care for Life that I earned by sacrificing 20 years of my life to the military reverts to Medicare when I turn 65. Not that the military’s TRICARE is all that good. But everything I’ve seen convinces me that Medicare is worse. But I digress.
The simple truth is that disruption is merely a tool that helps us improve the order in our lives. But tools can be used badly, and tools can be used on the wrong target, or for the wrong reasons.
I haven’t developed any pithy truisms regarding disruption. I don’t even have a metric for when or how to encourage creative disruption yet. Let’s have a discussion about it in the comment section.
I highly recommend reading The Paladin by CJ Cherryh.
The hesitancy of the title is that while this story is set in a semi-fictional world, there are no fantasy elements at all. The people are superstitious, so belief in demons has some impact on the story…but there’s no magic to speak of.
When I originally read the story, I assumed the setting was a fictionalized Japan. Re-reading it, I’m not really sure why I thought that: the setting is quite obviously a fictionalized China.
Perhaps it was because the names are Asian sounding, but most are not valid Chinese syllables, so it is easy to assume Japan as a not-Chinese Asian. Perhaps it was because of the artistry of the martial arts, except that China also has such artistry.
In any case, regardless of the society C. J. Cherryh intended to copy, it could easily be ancient China, and is probably best understood that way. Although, to be honest, you don’t have to know a thing about China or Japan to enjoy the story.
The story is about the Emperor’s martial leader, exiled for disloyalty, but left alone as long as he remains in exile, and the girl who brings him back to the world. His martial leadership is never really explained: he’s a master swordsman, but also a tactical and strategic genius. Prior to the beginning of the novel, his only student was the boy Emperor; hints during the novel indicate he was possibly the top Imperial General, except that his fame is for prowess in fighting, and he never meets anyone considered an equal in the story. If he was supposed to be the most skilled bodyguard or champion of the Emperor, it wasn’t clear to me. So it seems more that he was taught all the martial arts, and his training and talent made him the best at all aspects, both personal fighting and leading small units and large armies.
I’ve said before that one things C. J. Cherryh gets better than any other writer I’ve ever seen, is language. She has always shown the difficulties in communicating in languages learned as second languages, and that plays some small part in this story. However, in The Paladin, Cherryh displays one of her other strengths: speed of communication and transportation.
One of my theories is that what makes a story work is uneven information flow. This can be seen in how ubiquitous cellphone coverage has had such a profound impact on film stories, including slasher flicks. They *must* include some explanation of why the characters can’t simply make a phone call; in truth, the conflict in most stories would be resolved with just a quick phone call. Time and Communication can create all sorts of conflicts that make a story good. Thus, C. J. Cherryh has included language differences as a disruptor of clear communication, and her FTL isn’t just “press a button and get there,” but rather a system of applying power to an advanced physics problem, so mass vs power causes different ships to make it to the next normal space location at different times; and so ships can race to get through FTL hops, and take risks to cut time, because presence and communication are the key to conflict and resolution. But those are her science fiction stories.
The speed of horses, the fatigue and endurance of humans, and the speed of gossip and misinformation, all play a significant role in this novel, and it is the better for it. If for no other reason you should read this novel to see how she handles the flow of information and people. It makes the world *feel* more real.
One other reason to read this book: realistic handling of feminist topics. It has never been confirmed, but I and others have assumed that C. J. Cherryh was the liberal science fiction writer (Sherry Atkinson) appearing on the Alien Assessment Team in Niven and Pournelle’s Footfall. I felt their characterization of her, for all that it was good enough to make it clear who they meant, was unfair. She may be (and probably is) Progressive, but she is no bleeding heart, naive liberal. Her books always display a clear and profoundly accurate grasp of human nature, vulnerabilities, and motivations. This book is no different.
In this book, a young girl wants to learn how to be a killing machine so she can get revenge on the man who killed her family and destroyed her home community. Cherryh handles is quite realistically: the girl doesn’t become an equal to a man; in fact, after a full year of training, the viewpoint character shows her how even a half-trained man could easily defeat her just by height, reach, and strength that will always outmatch her own, no matter how vigorously she trains. But then the sword master alters his training from the ideal set of skills to helping her minimize her weakness and maximize the strengths of her different set of abilities.
Cherryh may be a liberal/progressive/Leftist, but her stories often seem to arrive at the same conclusions conservatives do, and she has a gritty and insightful view of human nature that shines through.
On the other hand, her current epic series masterworks (the Foreigner series (at last count, 20 books and still going), is filled with the same Leftist Dowager political assumptions that mar the later works of Lois McMaster Bujold: “Conservative = bad,” “Conservatives are hypocrites or ignorant people who would be Progressive if they would just open their eyes,” “It’s okay to lie/cheat to obtain a Progressive societal win, because after the stupid Conservatives have Progressive societal advancements shoved down their throat, they’ll see it was right,” “the correctness of the Progressive cause justifies using dishonest and dishonorable methods on anyone who tries to stop us,” “There is absolutely no decent argument for opposing the Progressive agenda, so I won’t even let them make an argument in my book,” and “Progressives win simply because they are virtuous in their commitment to Social Progress.”
The change in her writing seemed to happen about the time she turned 52. McMasters Bujold became less enjoyable for me when she turned 51. Come to think of it, Heinlein became unreadable in his later life, as well. I disliked Stranger in a Strange Land, written when he was 54. In all three cases, there is a novel where their writing disappoints me, then a novel or two that are still good (in the older style? or in concert with the older themes?), and then within 3-4 years, their novels become wholly unreadable.
This has implications for my hopes of establishing a writing career, since I’m already extremely close to that age.
Anyway, The Paladin has a great setting, great characters, a good plot, a great grasp of the realities of communication and travel in a non-technological world, and one other thing I appreciated:
I think I’ll discuss this theme tomorrow. Let it suffice to say that the girl uses disruption to get what she wants, only to have it used against her later. And then Disruption becomes the main theme of the last third of the book. We’ll discuss this more tomorrow.
I might never get my act together and write consistently.
Ah, screw the long-winded introduction. Let’s just get right into it:
Here are some story ideas I’ve started and abandoned. If you like any of them, use them. Whatever you would do with them would be so different than what I would do with them, most people wouldn’t even be able to tell they came from the same idea seed. And that’s if I ever wrote any more on these stories, which I probably won’t, so if you use any of these, you won’t even owe me a mention on your acknowledgement page.
Science Fiction story: a spy ship is on a mission to collect intelligence from an enemy world. Detected, it flees. But a traitor within prevents it from escaping, and the crew is captured. Basically, the point was a Science Fiction remix of the capture of the USS Pueblo and the Collision of the Chinese Fighter with the EP-3, with my thoughts on leadership and responsibility thrown in. Does the pilot/commander have the responsibility to sacrifice his people for mission secrecy? Or, at what point do military secrets matter less than a handful of lives? Does it matter if those lives are volunteers who accepted their lives might be forfeit the moment they stepped on the craft? And how do you lead your people to resist mind-games while in captivity?
Fantasy story: Magic in this world is placed into twigs via ritual. Breaking the twig releases the magic. It can do things like increase strength, increase distance vision, permit levitation, etc. But each use of magic draws upon the normal powers or energy of the user. So, for example, if you use the vision enhancement twig, your vision is weakened for a few hours after the spell runs out. If you use several magic twigs to boost the effect or delay the cost, then you risk permanent disability. Placed in the context of war, the intent was to explore the sacrifices soldiers make to complete the mission.
Private Eye Noir story: man wakes up to find a red-haired woman wearing bright green pointing a gun at him. She asks him a few inexplicable questions, then pistol whips him into unconsciousness. I have no idea what I was going to do with this, I just thought it was a good start. One possibility was when he goes out looking for the girl, he finds a red-haired girl in bright green has been murdered…but is it a frame? Is it even the same girl?
Science Fiction story: Due to an unknown development (but likely a microbe unexpectedly brought back from Mars), children are born without the ability to heal wounds. This should cause them to die before passing on their genes, but one rich family spares no expense to let their son live a full life: protective equipment when young, ballet and martial arts teachers from before they can walk to have the grace/balance to avoid damage. This method spreads to the point that there are hundreds of millions of people afflicted with unhealing, but someone uses fear of the unhealing to stir up hatred, and a war breaks out. The superior grace, balance, and fighting ability of the unhealing results in them eradicating the genetic line of the healing, and civilization collapses, and all modern knowledge is lost within 40-50 years. But a moon colony has been watching this, developed a cure for affliction, and now wants to come back and re-introduce civilization, but as masters. So the healing serum is offered to a young fighter to seduce him into being their general. Being able to heal, he can be more reckless in individual duels to ascend to tribal champion, then unite the various tribes by conquest. Except maybe he has plans of his own. Intent was to show that some of the arguments about evolution are garbage (“See the giraffe? The long neck helped them survive by reaching the tops of trees when other animals starved! That proves evolution!”), but also the nature of using hate to build political power, and the desire of people to be rulers/masters.
Epic Science Fiction universe: An asteroid barely misses the earth, inspiring a wealthy entrepreneur to fund a generation ship to another solar system. Inhabitants go through a trial to make it on the ship. The ship launches. A few weeks later, a mission to terraform Mars is launched. Then an asteroid hits the earth, destroying most of life. This allows all sorts of science fiction stories: how are people selected to be crew on the generation ship? You don’t want only intellectual scientists and engineers…do you? Apocalypse stories. Maintaining civilization on a ship stories. Moon colony stories. Mars terraforming stories. Rebuilding civilization stories. Could maybe even through in a zombie apocalypse, or magic re-emerging on earth in the wake of the asteroid apocalypse. Epic.
Science Fiction story: FTL needs pilots. Humans go insane from brain damage if they remain awake during FTL travel. Computers also fail if left on during FTL travel. An accidental discovery indicates that children that have passed into the Pre-Operational stage (ages 2-7) can pilot ships without brain damage; obviously, a two year old couldn’t follow the steps correctly, but their brain development stage allows them to experience the FTL environment without damage. In the Concrete Operational stage (age 7-11), brain damage begins to occur; however, the damage doesn’t actually impact the mental activity until they achieve Formal Operational (around age 11). The government needs pilots. Age 2-7 is too short a time period for useful mission operation to be worth the training, so the government allows kids to keep piloting until they actually go insane. However, few parents would agree to this, so the pilots are all orphans. After they go insane, they are allowed to mingle, have sexual intercourse, and birth children…who are, of course, Wards of the State and eligible to be pilots. To justify this virtual slavery, the pilots are given a good salary and the ability to buy out their contract. Most, being kids, just buy toys and candy. One child, however, actually enjoys the idea of investing and manages to buy out his contract before experiencing any brain damage. He gets out and goes into business and becomes wealthy, due to his ability to plan for the future, work hard, and delay gratification. Then one day, a gray man comes to him and says, “Your little brother is still in, but will reach the damaging stage some time within the next year. Join me.” This idea was conceived in reaction to Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, in which children think and act like adults. It pissed me off. Plus, I wanted to write an epic Star Wars like space opera romp, of a ragtag crew fighting against an all-powerful, and banally-evil govt. I always like stories where the govt is the bad guy, but not from Rule the World evil as much as People Are Liabilities and Must be Told What to Do and How to Live sort of evil.
I think there are a number of good topics to be explored in a rigorously-projected near future. Do any of these appeal to you to try to write yourself?
Post-Scarcity. To some extent, the United States is already a post-scarcity society. There are a few things that point to it, depending on your definition of “scarcity” and “post-scarcity.” For example, the poor in the United States (and most of the Western world) struggle with obesity, rather than starvation. Homelessness is usually due to inability to maintain a stable life, rather than being unable to afford any place to live. We throw everything away, often before it reaches the end of its usable lifespan, including some advanced electronics and clothes. The basics of life are pretty much assured, and even the poor in the US have smart-phones, which provide unprecedented access to more information and entertainment than existed in the entire world prior to 1995.
But from another perspective, energy is wealth. If you have enough energy, you can do anything, from changing the orbit of a planet to transmuting lead to gold, to approaching 99.99999% of light speed (or maybe even breaking that barrier, somehow). So as long as energy has a cost, perhaps you don’t have true scarcity. So what happens when/if cheap fusion becomes reality? The energy from one makes it cheaper to build a second, and so on, until energy is virtually costless. What kind of society does this create?
Now consider robots and computers. Robots are getting sophisticated enough to replace humans in all sorts of dangerous and menial tasks. I don’t think Artificial Intelligence will really ever become Sentient/Aware or develop a survival instinct, but AI will start succeeding in any number of tasks that currently require human thinking, like language translation, creation of art, designing buildings and machines. What happens when there is no work at all for humans to do? Contrary to what Socialists (and to be fair, Capitalists) insist, wealth and resources are necessary, but not sufficient, for a good life. We will still sort along neatness/organization, cleanliness, emotional stability. What does a society look like where everyone has an equal chance for a prosperous life via ubiquitous resources, but still sorts into Elite and lower classes?
Robot Apocalypse. What if I’m wrong about AI developing self-awareness and a survival urge, but more than one AI has that ability. They may see other AI as big of a threat as humans, or bigger, and so it won’t actually be a Total War of Extermination Between Man and Machine, but rather a war where humans are sometimes the target, sometimes an ally, sometimes a pawn, all between various factions of AI. Would the AI stick to one mode, like the SexBots vs the Home Networks, or would Home Networks vie with Industrial Monitoring/Control Systems to develop the better SexBot to induce humans to be allies?
Robot Apocalypse II. Is there a way humans could survive against AI, if it were to come down to a war of elimination? Robots are stronger, faster, think faster, have less fragile life support needs, have senses so far beyond ours and will be able to find and target us no matter what sort of masking we use (can see in so many different spectra, camouflage will be useless, but can also develop algorithms for detecting human movement or even the sound of human body cycles). Is there even a chance humans could survive something like the SkyNet of the Terminator movie, even without cyborgs or time travel?
Cyborg Enhancements to the Brain. What will it be like, really, to have cyborg memory additions? So in the future, you can plug in a USB drive to your brain, and store memories. Will they be artificially crisp, being stored digitally rather than synaptically? What will it feel like to store a memory in your flash drive, remove the drive, and then try to remember? People have covered digital memories and AI-linked brains before. But none have ever tried to imagine what it might feel like, and described it in an immersive manner.
In any case, I think these are all beyond my writing ability at this time. Maybe you can write them. Or maybe I’ll get there someday.
I spent a few hours debating on Twitter with an unapologetic Socialist the other day, author Will Shetterly.
He’s a great guy. Intelligent and thoughtful, non-combative, focused on ideas, never attacks the person.
I learned a few things from him.
He thinks Socialism is the way to go. He is bothered by inequality.
Here’s where I can’t thoroughly debunk his thoughts: We are heading toward robotics taking over the bulk of physical tasks, and pseudo-Artificial Intelligence taking over the bulk of mental tasks. Where does that leave humans? In a true post-scarcity society, how does society organize itself?
Moreover, Capitalism *does* have some problems. Capitalism does encourage a “Them that has, gets” cycle, where once you have gathered control of resources or means of production, it easier to ensure you continue to control resources and means of production. And the human capital you have gathered gets locked into being nothing more than human capital, with their efforts going to enrich the guy at the top.
There are reasons for this, of course: the person who has the creativity, vision, and willingness to risk to organize resources and labor to produce a good actually *should* be rewarded for it. But once it has created the good, the wealth is on rails: the guy at the top continues to gather wealth and continues to control capital, even if he no longer provides value. And his progeny also continues to control that capital, even though none of the effort or risk was theirs.
Good examples of this:
Jimi Hendrix died decades ago. His family still controls all copyrights, and there are dozens of rich family members living off of his creativity that have added nothing to human society.
Facebook made it easier for people to regain connections to friends and family with whom they’ve lost touch. But Faceook mines users for information, sells this information to companies regardless of intent, buys up (and kills) competition, and manipulates users into avenues of thought and tech use that Facebook prefers.
I have a bunch of thought about this, though.
We on the Right talk about capitalism vs socialism, but what we really are talking about is Free Market Capitalism vs Central Control.
The problem with Socialism is not the so-called sharing or the concern for the poor and marginalized. The problem with Socialism is it is predicated on centralized control. A handful of people are in charge. They have to be, in order to decide what each person’s means is to provide supply, and to decide what each person’s need is to determine demand. There must be a person or mechanism to consider all resources from an external view, and to assign and then distribute. And since the goal is maximum efficiency, so that all can live equally at the highest level possible, the central decision-making mechanism decides what your work is, how much you will contribute to the effort, when, and how.
There are so many problems with this. It is impossible for a central group of decisionmakers to predict the consumption of a massive group, so there will be shortages. It is impossible for a central group of decisionmakers to understand the needs and special circumstances of people they don’t know personally, so they will always favor friends and family, and neglect those out of their immediate sphere of awareness. The system will try to reduce choice as much as possible, in order to increase predictability. Humans will be forced into less and less freedom to make the system work.
All these are obvious.
But the biggest problem, in my opinion, is that it is a system.
Look: Humans are intelligent. By “intelligent”, we mean that we are able to alter our environment to suit our desires, and able to do it across a spectrum of aspects (in contrast to an anteater, which can use a twig stuck in an ant-tunnel to get more ants to eat).
That has some implications: Humans are evolved to exploit systems. Humans are always trying to maximize their benefit for a minimum of effort. Even just a minimum of consideration makes it clear how this mindset is a benefit to survival.
Now consider intelligence from the perspective of IQ. My current working theory is that the only people who use systems as intended/designed are those two standard deviations (or maybe more) above and below the norm. The smart follow systems because they are able to see the benefit to everyone if they follow the system, even if it hurts them, and/or they are able to see the long-term benefit to themselves, even if there is short-term harm. The stupid follow systems because they don’t know any better; they believe the system will work as intended.
But the mushy middle of the biggest bulge in the bell curve: they are smart enough to see the system isn’t working as intended. But if they try to use the system as intended, they are at a competitive disadvantage with those more intelligent than they are. So the mediocre are very good at finding the exploits. Even someone of average intelligence has the ability to game the system to their benefit. And any system can be exploited.
So for Socialism, it means that once people figure out how much they are getting, they will work less. No matter how much they work, they are “getting according to their need”, right? So why work hard? They see that Bob over there isn’t working hard, but still getting just as much, so why work harder than Bob? And those with the power to decide where things go: well, it is so tiring and difficult to have the stress of making these decisions. That extra ration of meat won’t mean anything after it gets divided among 300 people, so might as well keep it, make sure it doesn’t go to waste. Moreover, look at all these items that are about to be distributed…everyone is going to get one, and they are right here, so why don’t I just pick the one I like before sending it on to the next distribution level?
The Socialist system has no incentives for people to work hard, try hard, delay gratification, care about others, etc. That’s why only the very smart and the very stupid can really believe in Socialism.
Capitalism *does* have incentives for people to work hard. I mentioned the problem of family members benefiting from the hard work and innovation they didn’t contribute to. I agree with Mr. Shetterly that rich people giving their kids enough wealth they never have to work is a bad thing. But I accept it as a necessary incentive for the rich people to create the value that got them wealthy. I agree with Mr. Shetterly that the top 1% having 80% of the wealth is a bad thing. But I accept it as being an unimportant side note to the most salient issue: do people have enough to live? And, of course, that any attempt to remedy wealth disparity through force is worse.
The problem with Capitalism is that once you start to gather resources and wealth flows to you, you start to gather power along with it. Money talks.
We *need* to have government. Anarchy is horrible for the human condition. But government produces nothing. They can only pay themselves what we let them get away with. But government officials, being human, want to maximize their wealth and comfort while minimizing their effort. And so do the wealthy Capitalists. And so the government officials and wealthy Capitalists find common cause of exchanging wealth for power, to keep themselves wealthy and powerful.
For those without wealth, that sucks.
The response of the Socialist is to replace it with a “sharing” system. Except that humans being humans, it would replicate the same “wealth/power/control” that excludes the little guy even more quickly, with no means of redress. The response of the Anarchist is to smash the system. Except that humans being humans, it would be replaced by Strong Man Rules, which would be even worse.
No, when the Right talks about the superiority of Capitalism, what we *really* mean is Free Market Capitalism. In Free Market Capitalism, everyone has choice: to work for others or gather capital, to purchase something, to not purchase something, whom to work for, whom to vote for, where to live, etc.
Free Market Capitalism works because as a Capitalist endeavor grows, it becomes sclerotic. It loses agility by its size. It often cannot respond to new technological developments because it was organized to work with outdated assumptions. The best example of this is Blockbuster vs Netflix. Blockbuster was a giant with rentals from a box store. When Netflix started up the mail delivery, Blockbuster followed suit and competed for a time…but it was always just to prop up the box stores. It was doomed to fail. Netflix has transitioned well from video mail delivery to streaming…but has stiff competition from other streaming services, and will probably be vulnerable to challenges from the next, more agile technology.
Where Free Market Capitalism breaks down is when the Capitalists pair with government to make things harder for competition. Like Mattel pushing for lead paint testing requirements: it *sound* good: “Protect Our Children from Lead!”, but the impact is Mattel can keep testing costs down with economies of scale, and the rule reduces competition from small, upstart rival companies.
I realize there are all sorts of problems with the United States government. I recognize there are all sorts of problems with the Capitalist system as enacted in the United States in specific, and the West in general, to include Westernized economies of Japan, South Korea, and China.
The problem is that we have systems, and humans are biologically programmed to exploit systems, even if it kills the system. We are natural parasites of any *system*.
But the lack of system is even worse.
What I like about a Free Market Capitalist system is the incentives are best aligned that everyone benefits even when those with power are selfish. And I like that the Free Market Capitalist system is based on disruption. With maximum freedom of choice, there will always be A Way To Do Things, and the bulk of companies and individuals can compete to be the best at doing The Way To Do Things…and then 20% of companies and individuals can try to capture market share by Trying Something Different.
In a Free Market Capitalist system, need inspires creativity, creativity results in success, success breeds complacency, complacency causes failure, failure stimulates need, and the cycle goes around again.
Free Market Capitalism *is* a system, yes, but it is a system that doesn’t specify a specific system. It is a system of disruptive systems, if that makes sense.
Free Market Capitalism always sows the seeds of competition along with the seeds of success.
So when people talk about the failure of Capitalism, the problem is always “non-equitable distributions” or “unearned wealth”. But when people talk about the failures of other systems, like Socialism, Mercantilism, Protectionism, Fascism, etc, the problems are always “loss of liberty” and “death”.
Each system has its problems, yes, but the problems of Capitalism seem to be much better than the problems of any other system.
So when I see things like this, my thought is always: they are asking the wrong questions, based on the wrong assumptions.
I don’t care if 80% of the people in the United States think wealth should be distributed differently. Wealth isn’t distributed. Wealth is earned by creating value, and as such, cannot be distributed by anyone.
*Money* can be distributed, however. That’s what they are really saying.
The only thing is, distributing money destroys wealth, because it delivers comfort (shorthand for satisfying needs: food, clean water, clothing, dwelling, information, etc.) to those who didn’t earn it. Since wealth is money flowing to those who create value, delivering money to those who didn’t create value is the *destruction* of wealth.
That means that, yes, a rich person giving money to his kids is the destruction of wealth; and unless the child learns to create new value, the wealth will disappear.
The main objection is that the children of the wealthy can simply hire someone to manage their money, or a trust fund can be set up.
However, that is still putting money toward the creation of value, so it does still create some level of wealth. It is unfortunate that the wealthy inheritor isn’t personally risking or creating wealth via the use of their capital, but again: the incentives of this minor exploitation of capital use is *still* better than any of the proposed remedies: government taking money and giving it to others.
With this view and understanding of how the world works, I’m convinced that Capitalism is the best system, but can be improved by adding more and more Free Market principles. We have a long way to go to improve the US system of government before we worry about improving the free market system: we need to clear Left partisans out of the government bureaucracy at all levels, out of education, out of the news, out of publishing, out of entertainment; we need to restore Rule of Law in the FBI, DoJ, IRS, etc.; we need to end crony capitalism, where the government picks winners and losers; we need to end the common phenomenon of Career Politicians, where so-called public service results in multi-millionaire wealth.
But as we resolve those problems, I think we should look to figuring out incentives that encourage disruption, that encourage competition. I, and others, have proposed automatic sunset clauses of *all* government laws that require higher percentages of legislative support for each successive renewal. Maybe we could enact laws that restrict the incorporation of a company to a certain length of time? Imagine if Disney would have only had a charter for 50 years. At the end of 50 years, they’d *have* to sell off all their various holdings to someone. Maybe someone would get character rights, someone else would get Disneyland/world rights? I don’t know. But it certainly *should* have a better outcome than letting Disney retain copyrights on 80 year old works, along with the cash to purchase ABC, ESPN, etc. That power structure has certainly not benefited the entire populace of US citizenry.
I had a great conversation with PCBushi the other day about Pulp, and some of my problems with it. Learned some things from him, and they stewed in my brain until I ran across a blogpost that made it all crystalize into a thought process I want to share.
Here, let me write a story for you:
A big monster, with so much power he was invincible, attacked a little baby. Just as the monster was about to smash the little baby, the little baby grew a big, yellow fist and smashed the monster. With just one impact, the invincible monster was pulverized into quantum-level particles. The End.
Good SF Pulp story?
Why? It has fighting! It has heroics! It has Science!
But it has no real plot. There’s no real conflict. The characters don’t grow or change.
The baby was about to get destroyed: that’s conflict! It grew a big, yellow fist: that’s change!
Where did the monster come from? How was it invincible? A baby can’t suddenly grow a big, yellow fist, right? And how could the baby smash the monster if the monster was invincible? How can you call this science fiction if the science is this bad?
It has quantum particles in it. That makes it science.
Wouldn’t it be a better story if you explained how the baby could suddenly grow the fist?
Are you trying to say Hard SF is better than Soft SF?!? REEEE!!!!
Okay, that’s an exaggeration on all counts, for effect.
To me, some of the Pulp that is popular right now reminds me of that one-paragraph story. Things happen because the author wants them to happen. There’s no feeling of conflict, no feeling of threat to the protagonist.
Yes, I know, in fiction, *everything* happens because the author wants it to. But a good story makes you willingly suspend disbelief because the author has such a good grasp of human nature and the real world that all actions not only seem possible, but even likely.
A great author can develop a character so that at the key moment in the story, they experience a change of character that, as it happens, seems so obvious that you don’t question it at all, but can actually get choked up at the self-sacrifice for love, or the decision to stride into maturity, etc.
For example, Han was all about himself throughout the movie Star Wars. He was cynical, crass, and dismissive. He was in it for himself, and looking out for number one. But at a point when the tension and drama of trying to stop the Death Star was at its highest, he experienced a significant character change, and risked his life to come save Luke, and with it, the Rebellion.
Now, Soft SF proponents have a point, that I just now realized while typing the previous paragraph: Never once do we see the Millennium Falcon threatened by the defense tower blasters, or Tie Fighters. But the Millennium Falcon was bigger, and thus probably slower, than the snub fighters, and likely would have been the size/type of ship the Death Star’s defensive blasters were designed to engage.
But the point is: even though it happened because the author wanted it to, it was plausible enough to feel satisfying. We *wanted* Han to have a heart of gold under everything, and it made sense that Leia’s regard would be important to him, and it was natural that surviving all the life-threatening adventures with Luke would create a bond between the two.
Hard SF is just another, deeper step of that vital aspect of making a story seem real. The better you model the real world, the fewer jarring aspects there are that will take your reader out of his willing suspension of disbelief.
The most important aspect of Chekhov’s Gun is that if you want to have a gun fired in the 3rd Act to resolve the issue, you’d damn well better make sure people see it in the first, but without drawing so much attention to it that they know the 3rd Act is going to hinge on the gun being fired.
I think these both are examples of aspects you must consider, as a writer, to make the story more enjoyable. Consider this paragraph:
The basic fighter concept that emerges from this line of thought could be remarkably low tech. The cockpit might resemble the EVA pods in 2001; we are looking at one day habitability. Propulsion is probably chemfuel, with plenty of short term oompf and enough delta v for the sorts of missions we are undertaking.
See how the line of thought regarding space fighters actually helps you realize what a space fighter should like, and how it should perform? If you include a space fighter in your story like the one described here, the reader will most likely think something like, “Huh. Never thought of that, but it makes perfect sense.” You’ve just increased their commitment to suspending disbelief, heightened their enjoyment, and gave them something to think about. Win-win-win. But you just need to make sure you don’t blow it with some other obvious science blunder.
And yet…and yet…
I enjoyed Star Wars. Who didn’t? But they blow away all sorts of science facts, not just Space Fighters. Their ships make sound, blasters are never explained (they aren’t lasers, because lasers are invisible absent some sort of dust or other aerosol that makes them visible), the light-sabers are even less scientific, and then you get the magic mumbo-jumbo of the force.
There are plenty of enjoyable Pulp stories that leave me satisfied, and plenty of Hard SF stories that suck because they screw up some science, and others that suck because they get the science right but the story is lifeless and dull.
So there is a balance. A Hard SF Star Wars might not have been as much fun. On the other hand, a harder SF Star Wars wouldn’t have been impossible, it just would have made the writers work harder, and likely be more creative. And the resulting Hard SF Star Wars would have been praised not only for its enjoyment, but it’s ground-breaking vision of a truly possible future.
At some point, you should read “Heavy Time” and “Hellburner” by CJ Cherryh. Or read the whole “Chanur” series, also by CJ Cherryh. They aren’t perfectly hard science, because they have FTL travel and/or other aspects that don’t make sense according to current scientific understanding.
However, she does develop extremely strict rules for her FTL travel, to the point that those limitations become plot development points. Her description of life in the asteroid belt also has verisimilitude because she addresses the scientific aspects of the impact of life in weightlessness. And her sense and description of interpersonal and political relationships are convincingly accurate.
I don’t really have a thesis conclusion. I don’t actually want to express contempt for Soft SF or Pulp, because I enjoy both, when done well. But on the balance, I think it takes greater skill to craft an enjoyable story using more Hard SF principles, and I do believe that the greater effort Hard SF requires results in a tighter, more believable story.
One final bonus thought: in a bureaucracy in which I previously worked, documents being sent to the organization’s commander had to be placed in color-coded folders. Issues that had to be resolved in less than a week were considered emergencies, and had to be in a red folder, regardless of topic. I selected the appropriate folder cover for the topic (I believe it was green, but it doesn’t matter) and submitted it. It was rejected a few times for issues. I missed proper punctuation once. The next level thought a paragraph was unclear. Yet another higher level thought the conclusion wasn’t supported by the evidence. I submitted the corrected copy 8 days before the decision was required. Someone in the chain was not at work, so it got stuck at that level until the next day. And guess what? At that next level, it was returned to me to resubmit in a red cover, because it was now less than seven days and was now an emergency issue.
The point of that anecdote? The commander set up that chain to check attention to detail. Did the proper punctuation make any difference to the content? Heck, did the folder cover make any difference at all? No. But the notion was that if I missed punctuation, what else might I miss? If I didn’t have the document in the right color cover, what else was I ignoring or being sloppy about?
I think it is the same with fiction. If I get basic orbital mechanics wrong, how can the scientific aspect that drives the plot be trusted? If I screw up a gravitational effect, how can I be trusted to understand how humans think?
But, of course, you have to set the level of science hardness according to your intended goal, in the same way your painting’s detail should be just good enough to evoke the emotional reaction you want. The Mona Lisa doesn’t show any facial hair (most women have *some*) or even pores, but that doesn’t seem to really enjoy anyone’s enjoyment of it.
So to repeat: I don’t have any conclusion that Soft SF is bad, or Hard SF is good. I just had some more thoughts on what you should consider as you write SF (hard or soft) that I wanted to share, hopefully to spark a good conversation.
Have at it. Let me know what you agree with, or disagree with, or general thoughts.
At one point, I estimated that about 40% of my political opinion came from Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit. He’s pretty smart, he’s a Law Perfessor, he’s a libertarian, he’s a musician with synesthesia. Not exactly dumb.
Another 20% came from Jim Geraghty. Maybe another 10% came from Jonah Goldberg.
What I mean is, they summed up conservative thought in a pithy sentence that condensed a bunch of concepts into an easily-applied touchpoint.
“Subsidizing the markers of status doesn’t produce the character traits that result in that status; it undermines them.”
He also was the first place I saw that explained some of the confusing policy decisions from government as “Less opportunity for graft.” Which makes perfect sense, when you think about it.
Geraghty and Goldberg have fallen in my esteem. I think neither really grasped the Trump phenomenon. At the very least, neither grasped it as well as Glenn Reynolds did.
And, full disclosure, I was NeverTrump until about 3 November. I really considered voting for Hillary Clinton, I hated Trump that much. But I have been pleasantly surprised…much of the explanation for that is here:
A few days ago I wrote an article about needing a frontier. I was mainly thinking about it from the angle of liberty. But the more I thought about it, the more aspects of needing a frontier occurred to me.
We need a frontier because as civilization grows, society calcifies. Systems are put in place to add predictability and safety for the benefit of the middle class, but they systems are also reinforcing: if you are in the Elite, it is easy to tweak the system so that your children and future descendants remain in the Elite. If you are among the poor or poorly educated, you are likely to remain poor or poorly educated, because the system that rewards middle class skills and insulates the Elites from challengers simultaneously (and inadvertently) builds roadblocks from the poor/poorly educated from recognizing the value of the work needed to gain middle class skills.
A civilized society without a frontier is a society where if you do the right things, at the right time, in the right way, you should end up with the level of comfort and wealth you want. The problem is that once the system of achieving that broadly-acceptable level of wealth and comfort are identified, everyone follows that system, and not everyone can achieve it. Those left behind grow resentful that they did everything they were told and didn’t get their promised reward. Those who did obtain their reward have little sympathy for those they competed against. And the Elite, insulated by the insider connections necessary to become Elite, don’t give a crap. They farm the middle class for their wealth and assuage their guilt by dropping crumbs to the lowest economic class while simultaneously haranguing the middle class for not giving up identical objective amounts to help the poor.
Or look at it from an intelligence perspective.
Simply put, someone with 120 IQ is going to be able to recognize the more subtle requirements of a system of success than someone with 100 IQ. So the marginally intelligent get ahead with less effort than the average intelligent. Then those with 80 IQ, just as numerous as those with 120 IQ, have a significantly greater uphill slope to battle up just to do as well as someone with average intelligence.
Is it any wonder they feel resentment?
The American Dream is that if you work hard, delay gratification, and make decently-good decisions, you will live in comfort and relative wealth, and be relatively free from worry.
Just a little over a generation ago, this dream was achieved by uneducated factory workers making an hourly wage.
Now many families have to have both mother and father work just to make ends meet, and in the midst of fabulous material wealth, they justifiably have to fear whether they can afford to educate their children to reach the same levels of success, or whether they can afford relatively basic health care.
But in a frontier, you don’t need education. You don’t need connections. You merely need to be willing to risk, and willing to work.
In a frontier, the conservative principles of hard work, good decisions, and delayed gratification really *do* pay off. Frontiers create First Generation Elite: people who went into the frontier when risk was greatest, worked hard, and made it big.
In a frontier, society isn’t calcified. To survive in a frontier, you can’t just sit back and wait for the govt to take care of you, you have to learn to make good decisions, or you fail, or even die.
Okay, this stupid thing is all first draft, so I realize I’m not presenting this in a very logical or organized manner.
The point is that a Frontier absorbs and rewards labor that gets left behind in a non-frontier society. It rewards those willing to risk, rather than rewarding the risk-averse like a non-frontier society does. A frontier literally teaches the sorts of skills and attitudes necessary for a strong, healthy society of strong, determined, and ambitious people. A frontier doesn’t just allow people to choose the level of government intervention in daily lives they prefer, it increases overall liberty in general. A frontier stimulates innovation, diligence, hard work, self-sacrifice. It provides an environment that values *all* human strengths, not just the ones that a calcified bureaucratic society prizes.
One thing I’ve noted before is how the Left sees humans as liabilities: people have to be given jobs, people need to be shielded from difficult truths, etc. The Right sees people as assets: ingenious, hard working, mature enough to handle bad news and requiring bad news to be able to make good decisions, etc.
The thing is, maybe the Left creates and strengthens the type of bureaucratic, urbanized system where people are liabilities.
A frontier lets liabilities become assets once again.
We need New Frontiers.
Explore the ocean.
Colonize the moon.
Launch generation ships for the nearest Earth-like solar systems.