Epic Adventures in Aunting

Epic Adventures in Aunting

So, my niece Mini-me is down here making my life interesting. And, by “interesting,” I mean “why did you do that? What part of you considered it a good idea?”

An example of this that just happened: Mini-me has an old bike. She knows she is supposed to put it away when she’s not riding it. However, today she decided that “away” meant “right behind the Kabota.” Auntie GK needed to take some meat that had spoiled over to the dump so, like a moron, I got in the Kabota without checking all around it thoroughly to ensure that nothing would be destroyed. I put the thing in reverse and noticed that, after a few feet, it was dragging as if the tire was flat or something. So, I get out and lo and behold, there is a little girl’s bike wedged under the Kabota. And I mean wedged. As in “we’re going to need a hydraulic jack to lift the Kabota and get this baby out.”

So, I come inside to tell Mom and Mini-me about the demise of her bike. Mom takes it in stride — she’s raised two kids of her own and is used to Mini-me’s antics. Mini-me, on the other hand, is convinced that her Pawpaw is going to turn into a “complete psychomaniac” and seal her in a bottle and drop it in California. I’m just wondering how long the ribbing is going to go on over me running over her bike. This will probably be my Pizza Box story.

Kids. I love ’em.

— G.K.

Suffocation

In the wake of Chris Cornell’s apparent suicide, mostly everyone in my various writer-ly (totally a word) has been talking about their experiences with depression. Though there are a lot of commonalities, most of us tend to have experienced it differently. Yes, there’s the whole “lack of energy/motivation” and the whole “my brain won’t stop yelling at me” thing. However, the black dog is something I have fought off and on for years and my experience is only faintly similar to what I’ve read from Kate Paulk among others (whose links I cannot find).

She talks about how she externalizes her depression to make it seem as if the ideas that it shouts come from elsewhere. For me, though, it’s different. I know they come from my own brain. I just happen to realize they’re from the incredibly stupid and selfish part of my brain and I have gotten rather good at ignoring them. So, no worries that I’m going to do anything stupid. I’ve witnessed first-hand what that does to the people who outlive the deceased and there is no way in hell I’d do that to anyone.

No, for me, the worst bits are the physical parts. There are days where it takes all the energy I can muster just to sit up. Moving hurts. Nothing is interesting. Nothing can capture my attention or my imagination. Every step, every thought feels as if I am struggling to swim through syrup. All I want to do on days like that is stay curled up in my bed and daydream or sleep.

But, I generally force myself to get up and get moving. Yes, it’s going to hurt like a wicked bitch. However, eventually I grow somewhat detached from the pain and can mask it or ignore it well enough to do whatever I need to do that day. Days like that generally find me tearing through fanfics, spending hours at Khan Academy, editing my older works, or binge-watching Marvel movies until I feel the pressure fading enough that I can breathe easily. I can honestly say that The Avengers, Dr. Strange, and Loki have helped me keep it together long enough to wrest control of my body back from that damned dog. A few times I’ve considered sending everyone involved in those films a fruit basket or something but I’m sure they all have better things to do than deal with that so I have managed to refrain from it. Being broke also helps a bit, there. 😉

I suppose it also helps that I’ve made peace with my demons and the skeletons in my closet. I’ve also gained considerable control over my emotions to the point where neutrality is my default state. I may experience mild moments of amusement, exasperation, irritation, or joy over the course of any given day but, for the most part, my neutrality protects me. It’s a nice, thick shield that keeps that damned dog from laying down on my chest and suffocating me. Without my control, I don’t think I would have made it this far. I just wish I had learned it sooner. It’s helped me pinpoint when I’m about to enter a flat spin and spiral downwards until I crash and enabled me to stave it off by distracting myself from whatever emotion is about to blindside me. That’s partly why I have gained some little mastery over higher mathematics, why I’m working on understanding dimensional mathematics, why I know so damned much about physics, astronomy, cosmology, criminology, abnormal psychology, anthropology, the behavior of crowds, nuclear physics, history, literature, and why I can speak so many languages. I do these things to distract myself from overwhelming emotions, to give them no chance to knock me off my feet and drag me under their currents.

It’s how I survive and it beats the hell out of my adolescent survival trick of simply dissociating and running on auto-pilot.

Yes, I struggle with depression still. However, I have managed to reach a stage of reasonable contentment and tranquility. I know that the happiness that most others experience will probably never be something I can share. I know the sacrifices I have had to make to stay (relatively) sane and functional. I know that my circadian rhythm is screwed up beyond any real hope of repair. I accept these things. This is simply how life is for me. There’s a certain loveliness in the shades of grey that too frequently surround me and they make those brief splashes of color all the more beautiful and precious.

It is a bit odd that so many of writers are broken and bent like this. I don’t know if it’s something that our brains require of us so we can write or if we can write because our brains are this screwed up. That will be something to ponder, I suppose, the next time I need a good distraction. 🙂

— G.K.

PS — If you are undergoing acute depression or have unmanaged chronic depression or ever feel suicidal, please, call the Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255) or the Samaritans at (212) 673-3000. Whoever you are, where ever you are, you have something left to do and you need to figure out what it is.

Oh Really?

Oh Really?

Before we start: not all people living along the Coasts are jerks. Quite a few of you are awesome. You may not always agree with people out in Flyover but at least you’ve shown that you can shut up and listen. You don’t spend months lecturing us like we’re children and then turn around and try to act like you’re our patron saints. None of this is directed at those of you who get it. It’s directed at morons who can’t and won’t get it and who, in a few days, will be right back down to calling my lesbian sister a Literal Hitler because she voted for Trump.

Sorry, sometimes people post stuff on Facebook and I know that they mean well but it makes me want to hold AT&T to their old promise with a twist — instead of reaching out to touch someone, GK wants to reach out and smack a bitch.

Recently a few writers have been pointing out that poor whites in Appalachia and other places in Flyover Country have been getting a raw deal and no one cares. This is not news to any of us who have lived here. This is simply the normal state of affairs. Urbanites on the Coasts think we’re terrible, awful, horrible, evil, ignorant people and they feel oh-so-sorry for us because they’re so enlightened and if we’d just let them run our lives for us, they could create a Utopia tomorrow.

We generally roll our eyes, ignore them, and go on with our lives.

We’re pretty used to getting taken advantage of out here and skin color has fuck-all to do with it. Out of town companies come in, start stripping out natural resources, hire a few locals at low wages because the cost of living is low and the choice is “work for crap” or “be unemployed.” Naturally, the more ambitious of us opt to work for crap. We’re also all pretty decent at mathematics so we know that the trope of taking the CEO’s pay and dividing it amongst all the workers would result in, on average, maybe $50 a year more. Take the entire company’s profit and divvy it up and we get maybe an additional $200 a year. Of course, do either of those things and the company goes tits up but we also are smart enough to reason our way to that.

Want to know what keeps us down? Bullshit. That’s the answer. Elitist Bullshit. It’s gotten a lot harder to start your own business and run it out of your home until you make enough money to get an office. Why? Because you have to get a license, a permit, and insurance for everything because the elites on the Coasts have decided that we must be protected from everything and we get to pay for the privilege of that protection. Want to be a hair stylist? You have to go to school and get a license to do that. Want to open a car repair shop? Permit needed! Want to mow lawns or do landscaping? Permit required. Want to start a driving service for elderly folks? Yep, you gotta get a permit for that and hope like hell that you can avoid competing against the taxi services. Hell, if you want to do computer repairs, build websites, or do online marketing it’s getting to where you may need to be licensed to do them.

There’s also the fact that there are virtually no resources for helping people out here start small businesses. And, if you do start one, you lose any benefits you’ve been getting for being unemployed. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t making enough money the first few months to pay your bills — you’re working so no help for you! Oh, sure, you can get a loan but you have to have collateral and you have to be able to pay it back (with interest). If you fail, you’re pretty much screwed for life unless you come from a rich family.

Other things that keep us down are the crap over our flags and our history. Look, for Mississippi, changing the state flag is going to cost tens of millions of dollars. We would much rather that the tax dollars that would be used for that be put towards something like our school systems, helping the poor, and rebuilding parts of the state that got destroyed that year. Yes, we have a corrupt government and that sucks out a lot of money but the only folks who aren’t corrupt are the ones who aren’t interested in running for office. That’s pretty much par for the course where ever you go, though. However, if we’re getting boycotted or having investment opportunities denied to us because we prioritize improving our lives over making a bunch of idiots who want to white-wash history and have us forget what a horrible thing the Civil War was, then yeah, we’re really going to listen to you. *eyeroll*

Lastly, it’s funny how easy it is for so many of you to talk down to us, tell us how to vote, tell us how to think, tell us what we should be doing but it’s really damned difficult for any of you to actually do something other than run your mouths. Right now my home city has suffered through a water mains burst that has close to 30k people without water. The only people I see doing anything about it are those of us who live here. Those of us who live out in the county and are unaffected by the outage are opening our homes to friends, family, and acquaintances who are impacted. The entire area is going out and getting all the bottled water they can and setting up distribution centers to get it out for free. Churches and fire departments and the working water system (Culkin) are organizing themselves to help others. Why? Because that’s what we do, dipshits. When life goes sideways, we actually do more than fart words. We get out and help each other because we know that all we’ll get from the Coasts is a bunch of tut-tutting, “how awful,” and maybe $5. When some of our cities on the Gulf Coast get obliterated, we get reamed for living there — never mind that there is not a single. fucking. place. on. the. continent. that doesn’t have freaky weather events.

We still have a community out here in Flyover Land. We still pitch in and help each other. We stick together. Urbanites don’t do that. Urbanites think that the government is supposed to take care of everything from cradle to grave. Out here, we know that government will only screw things up so we set up something that will work. We volunteer. We don’t sit on our hands and cry “poor, pitiful me!” We roll up our sleeves, hit the store, buy whatever we can, and give it to those who need it. We donate to our churches who go out every day and help the poor. We volunteer to teach adult education classes.

Frankly, it gets annoying to see people on the Coasts who have spent the past several months referring to everyone in Flyover as Literal Hitlers, Neo-Nazis, or whatever because they voted for Trump in droves suddenly start acting like they’re ready to be BFFs. If you want to help us, quit talking down to us and start businesses here. Come in and help us build better school systems instead of shackling us with crap like Common Core. Shut your pie-holes and listen because we live here. We grew up here. We’re part of this place and it’s part of us. You only experience it from 35k feet in the air. We know our people. We know our communities. We know how your utopian bullshit will just set up perverse incentives for the worst among us and will magnify problems instead of fixing them.

We don’t need your patronizing attitudes. We need you to quit looking down on us because we don’t want to be jam-packed into cities that have to import water and are too filled with morons to build desalinization plants — not to mention are built on a fucking FAULT LINE. We prefer to have our space, to live closer to nature, and to distribute our culture a bit more sparsely so that one major disaster won’t shatter all the eggs.

So, the next time one of you wants to show how “compassionate” you are by sharing articles about people, places, and cultures you routinely insult, denigrate, and couldn’t begin to understand just stop. Just fucking stop already. We’re tired of it.

— G.K.

PS — Once again, not all people living along the Coasts are jerks. Quite a few of you are awesome. You may not always agree with people out in Flyover but at least you’ve shown that you can shut up and listen. You don’t spend months lecturing us like we’re children and then turn around and try to act like you’re our patron saints. None of this is directed at those of you who get it. It’s directed at morons who can’t and won’t get it and who, in a few days, will be right back down to calling my lesbian sister a Literal Hitler because she voted for Trump.

Acquired Tastes

Acquired Tastes

First of all, yes, I realize I’m a crappy blogger. However, in my defense, I’ve been juggling writing, working, school, working, writing, and studying things that almost literally make my brain hurt. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to force a brain and set of senses that evolved in a three-spatial dimension universe where the fourth dimension is a connected tunnel that can be traversed only in one direction (without technology) into thinking the way that a being from a universe with four spatial dimensions and two temporal dimensions which, when gravity is in play, can be traversed either linearly or in a punctiliar manner?

It makes me dizzy. I have actually tipped over and fallen out of my chair a few times doing this. I have a note reminding me to revert back to native mode before standing because, if I don’t, I will fall on my ass.

At any rate, did you miss me?

In my time on this planet, I’ve learned that I, like most of my acquaintances and friends, am something of an acquired taste. Then I started realizing that the handful of people I consider close friends all have things in common with me that causes the world to eye the lot of us in askance. We get hit with a lot of labels — weird, strange, odd, eccentric, sociopath, psychopath — but the truth is none of those things can tell the whole tale.

We are an acquired taste unless you are one of us.

For example, on my Facebook wall, there have been multiple discussions ranging from topics including Sherlock’s likelihood of hooking up with various characters from the show. No arguments, mind, but simple discussions drawing evidence, examples, and data. It’s extremely calm compared to the fandom “discussions” that take place over at Tumblr where, if you so much as point out a single in-universe inconsistency with someone’s OTP, you will get flamed.

That’s why I don’t hang out on Tumblr much.

Other discussions have included which NuWho companion is the most awesome (Donna and then Clara). There’s also been discussion over how to protect flags on the Moon so that they won’t lose their color so quickly, methods for getting off the planet and establishing a lunar base, a general shared disdain for authoritarians of all stripes, general smart-assery, and making fun of idiots. I really only have a core of about ten people who regularly pay much mind to what I post because most of it just isn’t of interest to the vast majority of my Facebook “friend” roll.

All of this got me thinking about why there are so few people like me and these others. I mean, we’re all probably well above average in intelligence (which gives us an evolutionary leg up). Most of us are healthy and can do useful things (shooting, repairs, computer programming). We’re also pretty good at communicating and do know how to make friends. We’re just turned off by the vast majority of humanity because they don’t interest us. However, unless our traits are all recessive (which they very well could be; I’m not up on the biology and hereditary nature of intelligence and cognitive processing), there should be a lot more of us. Maybe there are and we simply haven’t found them because we’re limited by our language (my friends all speak English or French though I can generally muddle my way through German, Italian, and Spanish when it’s written down). Maybe it’s because there are so few of us that the likelihood, in the pre-Internet era, of us stumbling across each other was rather small so we didn’t and generally wound up either never marrying or marrying “normal” people who could tolerate our quirks and whatever it is in our genetics (if anything) didn’t make it to the next generation to the degree that it is present in us.

Yeah, I think about weird stuff. Get over it.

This also leads me to wonder just how large a game-changer the Internet is going to wind up being with regards to human evolution. Now that those of us who are a bit on the quirky but brainy side can find each other, the likelihood of two of our kind meeting and having children together increases. That may increase the chance that our kind’s offspring inherits whatever (if anything genetic) it is that makes us “tick.” Play this out through a few generations and, by the middle of the next century, we may be living in a very different world simply because the skills, traits, and tendencies that under-gird social interactions now may no longer be as relevant in the future. I’m not certain if this is good or bad but I am certain that it’s going to be very fucking interesting.

— G.K.

Ah, my old friend…

Ah, my old friend...

So, recently I decided I was a bit sick of being overweight and out of shape. So I decided to 1) go on a ketogenic diet (it’s working), 2) start hitting the gym (thank God I can download Sherlock to my Kindle and have something to watch while I’m killing myself on the elliptical), 3) stopped taking OTC sleep aids since they screw up metabolism.

Number Three has resulted in the return of my old friend insomnia.

Now, a lot of people think “oh, I have trouble sleeping from time to time so I have insomnia” or “I didn’t sleep last night (but I normally sleep every night). Must be insomnia.” When I hear that kind of talk, it takes a lot of will power not to start a murder spree.

Insomnia is not having trouble sleeping once in a while. For me, it’s the normal state of affairs wherein, even when completely exhausted, I cannot fall asleep or remain asleep for longer than an hour. Currently, this acute bout has been on-going for almost a week and I’m beginning to reach the stage where punch-drunk becomes a permanent thing. Yes, I have cut out caffeine after noon. Yes, I have filters on my monitors, phone, and Kindle to make them more amber and less serotonin-inducing blue. Yes, I have tried every home remedy, every relaxation technique, and even considered sacrificing a goat to Cthulhu just to be sure I’ve covered the ‘praying’ base adequately.

And yes, cat naps are about the best I can do.

Long-term, I’ve been like this since college at least. This is why, when I do manage to get some “real” sleep, it’s usually around 5 am and I will stay crashed until around 11 am (or later!) Bear in mind, I will have been in bed since 11 pm (though, to be fair, I do get up at 1 or 2 am out of sheer frustration and go smoke and let my dog use my hand as a chew-toy).

Why haven’t I gone to a doctor and gotten back on Restoril or tried Ambien? Oh…you really don’t want to ask me that but since you made that mistake…

I have insurance. I have it through the state exchange since I am, to be precise, skint. However, the insurance offered through the exchange is not accepted by any doctors in my state because said insurance won’t pay out anything. Therefore, I’m paying around $200 a month for a card that will, at best, allow me into a hospital in the event of a catastrophe. It won’t pay for anything — that’ll all come out of my pocket, natch — but it will let a bunch of morons clustering together in easily-targeted regions feel better about themselves.

So, yeah, I can’t exactly go to a doctor and get on something that will let me sleep.

God, you have no clue just how much I want to sleep, either. Probably the only person on this planet who knows what I’m like when this happens is my ex who had to deal with me working long hours on little sleep back in the era when Talent Calculators had to be translated by hand (apparently I once slept-tanked a Naxx 10 raid after pulling back-to-back sixteen hour days for four days straight — I vaguely recall pulling Anub’Rekhan. After that, nothing. The next day I woke up thinking I had missed the raid which amused my husband who told me I’d gone, done well, and we had cleared three wings before he realized I was playing with my eyes closed and told my guild that I was asleep and had been for several bosses).

At any rate, at least I’ve had a lot of extra time for writing.

Yeah, so, toodles!

— G.K.

I Know, I Know… But I Have A Really Good Excuse This Time

I Know, I Know... But I Have A Really Good Excuse This Time

And no, I haven’t been wasting all my free (non-work, non-school, non-writing) time watching Sherlock, Doctor Who, or playing Diablo III (don’t even mention Mass Effect Andromeda — we split up and it was not amicable. I’m planning to sue to try to get those hours of my life back). Nope, I have been studying calculus and numeric theory. Oh, and string theory physics, standard model, and quantum mechanics.


It took me two solid weeks of studying but I actually get this joke and think it’s hilarious.

By the way, have I mentioned I have been hired to teach high school English next year?


That’s right. I will be teaching English. Not science. Not math. Not any of the things I spend my free time studying. English. I have a degree in history and I’m teaching English.

My Scrivener research section looks like an odd mix of math and physics notes that even I can barely make sense of. When I started trying to parse chemistry and biochemistry I realized that regardless of what my IQ is, I can’t handle atoms and molecules. Leptons, bosons, fermions, strings, vibrations, and my pet theory that gravity isn’t a proper force — it’s the result of another force spanning multiple dimensions: that’s all relatively simple for me to sort out. Start mixing those together in atoms more complex than hydrogen and my head does this really interesting number that makes a migraine feel like a love-tap.

So, why am I doing this? No, not just because I’m a very special kind of insane. Not just because it interests me, either. And not just to make my lovely ex-husband send me a War and Peace length list of corrections. Nope, this is actually for a series. It’s probably the weirdest thing I’ll ever write but it’s one that just won’t leave me alone until I finish the thing (other writers will understand what I mean).


Seriously, it’s like this story — which started out as relatively simple — decided to throw a lot of challenges at me and, for some reason known but to Cthulhu, I am too much of a masochist to stop accepting them.

And that, my dears, is why I haven’t been blogging much lately. I’m good with history, languages, tactics, logistics, encryption, and computers but math and chemistry will wipe the floor with me every day of the week. Lately, I have just been either too busy trying to wrap my head around concepts that ought to make sense but just won’t or recovering from the headache that this effort invariably brings on.

That said, I will try to get better.

— G.K.

Hoisted By Their Own Petard

Hoisted By Their Own Petard

If you’re even somewhat libertarian in bent (and I suspect that most of my readers probably are), then you’ve probably at least heard of Reason Magazine. Well, last week, I came across an article they had written that shed some light on a phenomenon I thought was recent in nature but actually turns out to have been a long time in development.

Anyone who knows me knows that I have no problem with gays, lesbians, Christians, atheists, non-militant Muslims or really, with anyone. About the only group I harbor a strong antipathy towards are idiots and idiocy is a condition brought on by willful ignorance and has nothing to do with race, religion, skin tone, sex, gender, orientation, or even political bent. However, everyone who knows me knows that I prize freedom of expression and freedom of association above almost everything. I wouldn’t want to be forced, by law, to deal with idiots and I wouldn’t want anyone else to be forced to deal with people they dislike or disagree with — no matter how irrational the grounds. The furthest I will go on curtailing these deals strictly with government. I believe that government should be forced to remain neutral and that a person who holds a governmental office must be forced to remain neutral in discharging that office no matter what their personal opinions are.

So yeah, that means that I think it’s stupid that pizza parlors, florists, photographers, and caterers get sued because they don’t want to provide services for gay couples getting married. I don’t think that a halal Muslim butcher shop should have to sell me pork chops, either. I would hate to see a black church forced to officiate and celebrate the wedding of a Klansman and I would be seriously annoyed if a synagogue had to solemnize the marriage of anti-Semites.

But, it turns out that it was the Christians who brought this on themselves back during one of their anti-Mormon moments. Reason does a fairly comprehensive background on the different laws, court cases, and judicial reasoning that have brought us full-circle with this mess. I had originally thought that the whole “you can believe whatever but you can’t act on it if it offends someone” thing was something born out of the tendency of the left towards authoritarianism and their preference for Balkanization.

Seriously, go read that article and realize that these kinds of tools always get turned against those who wield them. Eventually, it will swing back again and it will be the left’s allies or dupes who find themselves forced to provide services for people they loathe. When that happens, I’m going to be sitting back and laughing fit to bust.

I have no worries about this being used against me — nor do most libertarians — because when someone tries to force us to do something we don’t want to do, we just walk away with our middle fingers aloft because, frankly, we don’t need society and we’d be perfectly happy living alone and never seeing another person for the rest of our lives.

So put that in your pipe and smoke it. 😉

— G.K.

Tribalism and Distance

Tribalism and Distance

Or “Oy vey, the problems that can crop up when you share one semi-but-not-completely tongue-in-cheek picture on the Book of Face.”

There is one fundamental aspect of all humans everywhere regardless of culture, gender, sex, religion, skin tone, hair color, ability, or intellect and that is that we are all lazy sods who want to do the minimum contribution to the mass of society it takes to satisfy us and then be left alone to do our own thing. Sure, some of us are perfectionists and will insist that our minimum be to a higher standard than someone else’s but that’s not a given with most humans. Honestly, unless we know someone beyond just their name, we generally don’t spend much time thinking about them. We’ll help out our friends and family (after all, my parents have helped me and my sister out a lot when we needed it) in a heartbeat because we know those people. We might even go to other folks we know who don’t directly know a friend of ours who’s hard-up at the moment and ask them to pitch in to help out.

That’s how society functions at its most basic. It’s a web, of sorts, a kind of distributed network where not every person (or node) is connected directly to every other person (or node). It scales well enough so that people can understand that they are part of a family, then a tribe, then a nation, and finally the entire human race. The problems creep in when one rank of the web is mistakenly assigned a part that would go better to another rank. It’s taken us a long time (almost embarrassingly long) to figure out which rank should have which task. For instance, for a long time, armies were held at the tribal level. That worked out okay when people were still spread out in sparse groups (the hunter-gatherer phase). Then they started forming nation-states and the ones that were the most successful at maintaining stability — internal and external — were the nations that moved control of the armies up to the national level. In places where armies were held at the familial or local level, things were unstable. Civil wars and in-fighting were much more frequent. This is part of why feudal Europe took so long to recover from the fall of the Western half of the Roman Empire. It’s also why organized crime and gangs are such a problem — they aren’t beholden to anyone or any particular set of ideals other than “we want shit others have” and so have no check on misuse of their martial powers. The military is beholden to the government and the government — be it the President or the Queen or the Pope — decides when and where to use it. If the people don’t like their decisions, there are ways to deal with it. A military unit that goes rogue and starts invading places or harassing people is a military unit that is going to be hunted down by the whole rest of said military and hanged from the nearest set of trees.

Another example is dealing with other nations. For way too long, that kind of stuff was held at the tribal level with one local chief (or lord or earl or whatever fancy name they want to call themselves) might have a peaceful relationship with a foreign power while another chief wanted to go to war with them and the king (the head of the chiefs) might just not care much one way or the other. Look at Scotland if you think I’m making shit up. The Scots were buddy-buddy with the French for a long time while the English fought with the French so frequently that I’m half-surprised the wars finally ended. Even after Scotland became the senior partner in the United Kingdom, the Scots were closer to the Continent than the English. Even today, the Scots would prefer to stay part of the European Union while the English want out. This is probably going to be the issue that finally breaks up the union and I don’t think either side is going to be happy with where they end up.

Charity is the biggest example most of us can think of for “an act that belongs to one web but got tossed up to another to the point of it no longer functions well at all.” Back when it was held locally, pretty much everyone who needed charity could get it. It also had the function of forcing society to remain somewhat more tightly knit by reminding those who were on it that they owed gratitude to those who provided it and reminding those who were well-off that there’s a price to pay for status and benevolence is that price.

Was it perfect? Nope. Is it perfect now that we screwed around and assigned a local-web function to the national-web level? Oh hell no. Thing is, many of the imperfections from the past era had to do with the fact that life, in general, sucked for everyone back then. Orphans starved or died of disease at just a slightly higher rate than non-orphans. Poor women lived just a few years less than their wealthier counterparts. Medical care, whether you were George Washington or some random Irish guy consisted of being cut to let the bad humors out. These days, though, everyone has access to clean water, indoor sanitation, vaccines (vaccination is so cheap that we do — rightly — fund it to keep companies making them even though the profit-margin is practically nil), and education. Aside from vaccination, all of these things are pushed down to the level most appropriate for them. Water regulation is a state matter in the US. So is education (for the most part). Building codes are municipal. And, imperfect as they are, they mostly work better than they would if they were delegated up or down. It would be a complete waste of time for DC to try to figure out how homes in Mississippi should be built or to try to demand that all homes in the US be built to the exact same code. It would also be incredibly stupid considering the sheer variation in local climate, average seasonal temperature and humidity, and population density. Could you imagine the outcry if idiots in Flora, MS started telling the morons in Los Angeles that they had to allow at least fifty feet between habitations to allow for proper water run-off on adjacent properties? Or if the dingbells living on the Gulf Coast tried to tell the doorknobs living in Manhattan that they needed to have ceilings that were at least 12′ high and all buildings had to be wood-framed to allow for give during thunderstorms and tornado outbreaks?

That would go over about as well as a lead balloon.

So why are we doing it for charity? Do the sods in Michigan have any clue what the needs of the poor in Jacksonville, Florida are? Do the tossers in Queens have any earthly idea what it’s like to be poor out in Cheyenne? Do they know if it’s tied in to local economic cycles or is this a structural problem leading to generational poverty? Does it have to do with lack of access to education due to budgetary shortfalls, poor teacher training, or scarcity of population? Could the issue be cultural in origin? Do they know? Do they care? Nope. Because this is so far outside of their local-web that they can’t imagine it anymore than I can imagine or sympathize much with what it’s like to grow up a gay dude in Japan. Instead, they throw money at the problem and absolve themselves of actually having to analyze and deal with it. It’s not like they know those people, after all. And money helps everything, right?

It helps about as much as mandating 12′ ceilings for all.

It also leads to other problems. After all, if the national government’s job is to provide charity, then why should we bother giving to local concerns? Eventually, you wind up with a lot of national or international charities and only churches doing anything local. There’s also no status given for paying taxes or helping in local charities. Back before we went stupid on this, one of the main ways for the wealthy to sort themselves by status was for them to be involved in local benevolent concerns. And yes, it was a good idea to have the wealthy running them because they knew how to handle money and how not to get ripped off. Anyone who doubts that should take their savings out of the bank and hand it to the first guy they see on the street and then get back to me in a year with the results. Unless you happen to be insanely lucky, chances are you’re going to be broke.

There’s also no penalty for not giving to charity or not participating in local organizations. Used to be, if you didn’t, then you really didn’t get invited anywhere and people looked down on you — especially if you were well-off. Your sons might not be allowed to court women from other good families and would have to either be eternal bachelors, go abroad (and rumor would go with them), or marry down. Your daughters would require a higher dowry and would have to prove that they hadn’t inherited your tight-fisted ways. But these days, no one cares. Be as tight-fisted as you want — there’s no downside. After all, you pay your taxes and that’s enough. Maybe if you want to show how pious you are, you advocate for higher taxes (and then do your best to minimize your tax burden by creating an LLC, giving it ownership of everything — cars, homes, etc — and then claiming a low salary from it to file on your 1040 so that you get the lower tax burden from the LLC and can even qualify for a refund on your 1040. And yes, every blasted actor out there, I’m lookin’ at you. Assholes).

After all, it’s not like it’s your problem, is it? It’s the nation’s problem and that means that the nation — namely Someone Else — should have to contribute to fix it.

Will moving charity back to the local-web make it perfect? No. Nothing will make it perfect because the minute you throw humans into the mix, you’re going to get imperfection. Will it make it better? Not immediately. It’s been almost three or four generations that we’ve been screwing this up. We’ve axed a lot of the local customs. It will take generations to rebuild the local customs that put pressure on people to contribute and to show gratitude. It will also take a long time for us to understand that, in this, Jesus had it right. The poor will always be with us. What we really need to do is figure out what the various causes of poverty are and try to see what can be done at the local-web level to fix them, scaling it up only if it’s necessary to do so. Some people are poor because they make stupid decisions. Some are poor because they were never taught how to handle money. Some are poor because they can’t work. Some are poor because they don’t really want to work at a level that would take them out of poverty. Some of these issues we can fix. Some, we can’t.

No matter how much money from however far away is thrown at it.

— G.K.

Sorry about last week

Sorry about last week

Last week was the final week of a class I was taking so I spent most of it studying or working on my Final Project for that class. When I wasn’t doing that, I was working and when I wasn’t working, my brain was exhausted so I just played Civ V.

This week will be better, though. I’m working up tomorrow’s post already and have some good stuff planned for Wednesday and Friday, too.

Thanks!

— G.K.

World Building 101: Human Universals

World Building 101: Human Universals

Yes, Virginia, there are some common universal traits that go across every culture, every religion, and every civilization in human history. These are things that are so ingrained into us that we will tend to obey them without thought whether our skin is as pale as an alba blossom or dark as pitch, whether Dr. House would call us danglers or say that our genitals are aesthetically pleasing, or even which particular deity we do or do not pray to when we’re in the foxhole with a grenade sans pin.

Some of these are taboos that we don’t even really have to think about: don’t have sex with your kids, your parents, or your siblings (and stfu about the pharaohs because that’s the sole exception I can find that was practiced with regularity). Don’t kill your immediate family. There is a mystical being watching you so nothing you do is perfectly hidden and if you make this being mad, things will go bad for you. Other universals have to do strictly with the fact that, on average, males and females are different in a biochemical sense. Social differentiation tends to follow this biochemical lines where men in tribal to late-Industrial societies tackle jobs that require use of their raw strength while women tend to go for jobs that maximize their dexterity and are within their (somewhat lesser) raw strength (and believe me, it takes some serious strength to be a farm wife. Most of those ladies could probably bench-press and dead-lift more than an Army Ranger today!) You don’t see a lot of women in African tribes running out on the savanna chucking spears at antelope and you don’t see a lot of men sewing altar cloths or weaving rugs.

So, those are the general universals. That doesn’t mean you have to use them in your story. Instead, look at them. What are they? Two of them are “don’t screw with your family” and one is “there is something beyond you.” Finally, the physical differences simply say “if there are differences, society will tend to do its best to find a way to make maximum use of it; if you want everyone to be identical and interchangeable, society will treat them as such but you had better be prepared for real equality in this case and not the cobbled-together crap we have right now.”

I’ve seen the last one turned on its head. Probably the most well-known example is the society on Angel I in Star Trek: The Next Generation. This is a world where women evolved to be larger and stronger and men were shorter and more dexterous. Another example is from the Wheel of Time where, since men who channel go insane, women have generally played a larger role in both channeling societies (the Wise Ones, the Windfinders, sul’dam and damane, the Ayyad, and the Aes Sedai) and in ruling in general (Randland runs heavily towards queens since there’s always a risk that any given man could turn out to be a channeler — especially if he’s from a bloodline that has practiced cousin-marriage). This works out to the entire civilization tending to trust women before men.

In economics, there are also some universals. I have yet to find a religion that says “ya know what, if your neighbor has something, it’s cool to beat the shite out of him and take it.” Since religion tends to be the first highly-developed aspect of human culture (even government tends to stem from religion early on), yes, religious views of trade and ownership are important. We can see that there are several religions that out-right forbid things like interest on loans or that regulate, quite strictly, who can be charged interest and how much can be levied. Religions also develop and under-gird most early tax systems (tithing, for instance). However, every religion that I have been able to find has established that trade has to be somewhat voluntary and that equal value has to be exchanged. Yes, yes, religions also teach that a bounty is to be spread around and that the poor should be given charity — usually that stuff comes from the institution itself using the wealth it has taxed (or tithed) from its followers. This giving is generally voluntary (meaning that there’s no punishment beyond shunning for failure to do so). So, when setting up an economy that is more advanced than bartering, you might want to consider what particular universals you’re going to have and where they’ll stem from.


Don’t you dare judge me over the kinds of things I store in my brain.

Economics is one place where gaming things out can either be an eye-opener or can drive you stark-raving mad. For me, I usually do myself a favor and just use one from history. Trust me, when you’ve had three different systems with three different underlying assumptions turn into “Geez, this makes Stalin look like a Boy Scout,” you start to appreciate how great a job history has done of bug-testing and shaking the major problems out of economics for us (not to say it’s perfect yet but the systems we have now are fairly robust).


Yes, you will have to handle these situations in any system. You cannot ignore them if you want to write characters that people might actually understand. If you want to write about perfect angels, may I suggest LSD and starting your own religion?

Next week we’ll go into a bit more detail about workable ways to come up with different social institutions (things like marriage, the family, religious institutions, and basic local government) and the kinds of questions you need to consider in order to determine if something is going to work out the way you want or if you’re going to wind up with one of the aforementioned “Good Lord, even Stalin would consider this a bad idea” kind of situations.

— G.K.