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.

Interesting Google Searches

Interesting Google Searches

So, I’m writing a story (not that this is news) and I was looking for a way to describe someone who has dark skin without coming right out and saying “this dude is black” because, well, that has specific cultural connotations and this culture pre-dates the Big Bang. This led me to what is probably the most convoluted Google search I have ever conducted.

Hint: if you’re looking for a way to describe skin tones, Googling is usually a bad idea. You will waste about three hours filtering through irrelevant crap before you finally find something that is close to, but not quite, what you were looking for. I learned more about foundation, face powder, how to pick the best color for any given complexion, how to hide freckles, how to highlight freckles, which color eyeshade goes well with which color iris, and where I can get contact lenses that will make my sclera (the whites of the eyes) black.

By the time I finally found a suggested list of ways to describe skin color, I was beginning to doubt my own sanity. However, I finally stumbled on this Tumblr post and got exactly what I wanted.

I will say this: it is difficult to describe skin colors when one of your Rules is “This Is Not Earth — Don’t Use Historical Earth Descriptions.” That meant that unless I wanted to say that someone’s skin was literally black — and I’m talking onyx black here — I had no quick reference to use. In my world, if a character were to say “the best wine-maker in the city is Prenia — she’s black with long hair” people would assume that her skin color was somewhere between pitch and coal. If Prenia actually has warm brown skin, no one would recognize her from the description as “black.” The trouble is that “brown” skin can describe (for us) anyone who is African, Indian, Amerindian, Arabian, or even Caucasian with dark hair. Fair skin is easy to deal with — you can’t have fair or pale skin tones without implying that the person is further down the “pink” end of the skin tone scale. But describing people who aren’t fair skinned without making any Earth-culture reference is actually a bit tricky. I can’t say “Mediterranean” or “Asiatic” or anything like that. I have to give the literal color and tone of the skin. Figuring out how to do that without just playing Crayola is not easy.

So, for those of you who are considering doing the same, I composed this somewhat helpful graphic to aid you in your endeavors. It’s nowhere near exhaustive — there’s a near-infinite number of ways you can mix overtones and undertones or deal with shades of the seven groups I’ve put here.

Do you have some suggestions for words that could be added to this list? Feel free to let me know either here or on Facebook. If I use your suggestions, I will give you credit for them!

— G.K.

Oy Vey…

Oy Vey...

This is just a quick update to apologize for the lack of posting this week. It’s a combination of new job and a few big projects wrapping all at once. Hopefully the madness, she will slow down a little soon. But, September is looking to be kind of a bad month so I may not be able to blog every single day. I’ll try to commit to at least four out of seven, though.

Thanks!

Throwback Thursday: A Cold War Vocabulary Lesson

I was scanning around for a topic to write about this Thursday and wondering if I was going to do something historical like “how to make daggers” or “the first fanfic G ever wrote” when the most Evil of Space Princesses posted this on her blog.


Really? Seriously? This level of ignorance is the product of an advanced educational system?

Suddenly, I knew what today’s entry had to be about. So, let’s all hop in our time machines — be they TARDISes, telephone booths, funky-looking steampunk chairs, or DeLoreans — and set the dial for August 27, 1980. We’ll avoid my neck of the woods since this trip puts me in my own time-line (I’ll be 24 hours old) and instead go hang out someplace cool. I’ll supply the chameleon circuits so we can waltz into the HQ of USPACOM without being noticed. Just remember — don’t muck about.

Things seem kinda tense, don’t they? Hear that chatter from EUCOM over in Stuttgart, Germany? And the calls from RDJTF — which will soon become CENTCOM — about the problems in Iran?

Oh, man, if only the poor bastards knew…

Notice how all the focus is on Europe and the Pacific, though? Now, guys, I know it’s been a while. Keep listening. Yep. There it is. I notice some of you look a little confused. West Germany? East Germany? What the hell?


Back during the 1980s, I often wondered where North and South Germany were. My excuse was that I was under the age of ten. I’m uncertain what someone who was born in 1969 would have to offer as a similar excuse for such breath-taking ignorance.

It’s 1980. The Cold War is still on, guys. There’s still a USSR in this time with missiles pointed at the US. There are tanks all over the Eastern Bloc nations. We have our own bases and our own forces in Europe to keep the Warsaw Pact from invading. NATO is a big deal instead of the joke we all know it will become. Article V of the NATO Charter is the life-line that Western Europe has clung to and the reason our boys are still there even though the Nazis were defeated well-nigh on forty years ago. It’s also the reason we have bases in Japan and the Japanese are praying we’ll keep the Chicoms from invading them and the Taiwanese (the Republic of China) is counting on us to help them keep the Chicoms from crossing the Strait and subjecting them to the good Chairman Mao’s Great Leap Forward that left millions dead.

Chicom? I see some of you looking confused again. Chinese Communist. It means “a person who is loyal to the People’s Republic of China — a communist government that uses repressive means including (but not limited to) censorship, state control of the media, re-education camps, imprisonment, torture, secret police, internal and interior-focused spy organizations, centralized control of the food supply, and centralized control of the economy in order to completely dominate the people it governs.” The PRC at this time does not allow people to practice religion, the press to report anything unfavorable to the government or to the Communist ideology, or the people to communicate freely with citizens of other countries. Chicoms are, by and large, ethnically Chinese but may also be Caucasian, Russian, Serbian, Arabian, Persian, Iberian, Hispanic, Chicano, Latino, African, Korean, Japanese, Amerindian, Indian, Vietnamese, or any other ethnic group or sub-group. Their primary identity is their loyalty to a political body — the PRC.


And, like these guys, they’ll kneel to whoever orders them. Unfortunately, there are no real-world Captain Americas, Thors, and Tony Starks to save them and those who wind up as collateral damage from their own raging stupidity.

They were not good guys. They were not sweet, cuddly kittens. They were brutal, murderous, power-hungry asshats who enriched themselves at the expense of their people. They gorged themselves on power and wealth while the average Chinese citizen went hungry. Their so-called noble ideology (which doesn’t scale at all beyond devoted communities such as monasteries where there are methods of population control and a larger community that isn’t bound by that ideology to support them — just look at places like Mount Atheos) led to the deaths of tens of millions of people.

Calling them “Chicoms” isn’t an insult. It isn’t a racial or ethnic slur. Anyone who thinks that is either 1) too young to have lived through the Cold War at all, 2) too stupid to use Google and therefore too stupid to be referenced as an expert on anything, 3) looking for a reason to be offended, or 4) some combo of the above.


Brought to you by…someone educated by hard-working teachers in the Poorest State in the Union™.

So, there go you. A new vocabulary word for you! Now, let’s go back to 2015. I need to see a man about a flying car…

— G.K.

MRSA and Marx — the Hugo Aftermath

MRSA and Marx -- the Hugo Aftermath

Sorry for the silence last week. My friend and business partner Vic, the founder and majority owner of Rooster and Pig, had a stroke back at the end of July which means that I’ve been stuck with the fun of formatting all the books slated to go out now as well as handling all of the Q2 reports, trying to get the royalties and the staff paid, and trying to port the company to a new website since we’ve long since outgrown the system we’re on. Vic is handling all of this with his usual inability to chill the hell out and let someone else worry about everything so those of us who are his not-real-but-kind-of-really-real family get the fun of dealing with him both IRL and via the Internet.

Vic’s one of my buddies. He’s been there for me when no one else was. He knows that I’m quirky and weird and that, on some political issues, he and I are complete opposites (I want a government too powerless to do much of anything; he doesn’t). End of the day, we’re friends and I’d do anything for him. Race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, veteran status, the kind of books we read and write — none of that matters because he’s my friend.

And, by the way — he’s a gay, black, Messianic Jewish Iraqi era veteran who reads and writes a lot of gay erotica. Hell, I’ve edited some of it and spent hours wondering “can you actually do that though? I mean, wouldn’t it hurt if it got bent and twisted around like that?” Which is why he and I always have a little chuckle when folks like John Scalzi, PNH, TNH, and more say that I must be racist and homophobic. It’d be kind of difficult for me to be in business with someone like Vic if that were true.

But then, truth matters little to these people. They’re impervious to it the same way that MRSA is impervious to penicillin. All of the women writers in the Sad Puppies group (and there are a lot of us) could stand up naked to prove our womanhood and we’d still be told we were men. I can go hang out with my lesbian sister or my gay business partner and I’m still a homophobe (and a racist). We can gather all of the black, Asian, Indian (subcontinental), Native American, Middle Eastern, Latin, Hispanic, and Chicano authors we can find (not to mention a few of us who are from areas that are actually so poverty-stricken that they’re routinely cited as “one of the most poverty-stricken places in the United States”) and none of that will matter. We can writer stories involving women (have done), gay characters (have done), minorities (check), overcoming great odds (CHECK), and very long-lasting and their actions here in the immediate aftermath are doing a lot more to discredit their side than the Sad Puppies ever could.

So, the question becomes: can WorldCon and the Hugos be salvaged? At this point, it’s debatable. Sarah Hoyt, Kate Paulk, and others intend to try next year with SP4 and I’m volunteering to help out. Maybe if we show them an effort led completely by women that will be savaged by men, it might just cause enough cognitive dissonance to wake a few people up. That said, I’m not going to put all my eggs in that basket because, like the Eloi, I don’t think the Hugos are going to last that long. I think that at this, the first real show of resistance on the part of the over-arching geek culture, WorldCon is just going to whither away and die. Sarah, Kate, et al are trying to save it but me, after seeing the way the Puppy Kickers acted this year and behaved at the awards ceremony?

Fuck that shit. Let the fucker burn and sow the earth it was on with salt. I’m going to help out with SP4 in hopes of convincing them to consider launching a parallel convention system that would actually bring in the rest of the fandom that WorldCon shuts out. You know — the comic geeks, the gamers, the Trekkies, the dabblers, the people who got into sci-fi from something that the CHORFs think is “lame,” (like The Walking Dead or Twilight) — the folks who are keeping the geek culture going with new ideas, new stories, new mediums, and more. Those who could care less about politics and who want a convention that is fun and welcomes them instead of telling them they’re WrongFans having WrongFun.

Martin told us to set up our own award. Well, why the hell not? And why not make the voting pool so massive it can’t be gamed, make the thing so open it’s financially solvent, and make it an actual stamp worth having on your book cover. The Hugo used to be that way — back when WorldCon wanted to have a larger audience. Obviously, they don’t want that anymore so screw ’em. Let the Hugos become exactly what the WorldConners want it to be — an award given to old, white Marxists by other old, white Marxists for books written for the enjoyment of other aging, white Marxists. Meanwhile, we work on making something where anyone can win it — not just the Toads at Tor who think anyone who lives outside of the Coastal Enclaves should be subject to summary execution for “lack of diversity.”

Imagine a con that embraces the audiences of Comic Con, BlizzCon, GamesCon, DefCon, and LibertyCon instead of a con like WorldCon that says hangs a sign on the door and says “Non-Marxists Need Not Apply.” Which one would you go to? And more importantly — which one would you take your children to (because the future belongs to those who bother to reproduce, yo).

— G.K.

The State of Fandom and the Hugos: Category Error

The State of Fandom and the Hugos: Category Error

I mentioned this monster post in a comment at Sarah Hoyt’s this weekend. Here it is. Grab something to drink because this one’s a doozy, mes amis.

So, the Hugo voting period ended and the winners will be announced soon. There’s been the predictable resurgence in Puppy-related topics recently with the mainstream press parroting the press releases from Tor et alia to the effect that the Puppies and those of us who think they have a point are evil, racist, sexist, homophobic, hateful people who want to build new Dachaus and gulags in order to ensure that only white heterosexual men can own property while the rest of the world is enslaved to them. Those of us who know better, of course, just roll our eyes and wonder why we’re always the ones being accused of planning to build the concentration camps and gulags while the ideologues the Puppy-kickers uphold as being morally superior seem to be the ones who manage to actually have such things turn up in their back yards.

…but I digress.

For decades, there have been award ceremonies that attempt to showcase “the best” works in a genre. The Hugos, once upon a time, (arguably) were the premiere award for science fiction works. However, back in the days when the Hugo was a worthwhile award, the voting pool for the award was much larger, making it much less susceptible to industry or pool capture. WorldCon attendance would have been much higher as well and overall membership (even non-attending) would have been higher. But, over time, the publishing industry captured WorldCon and the Hugos which turned them from a fan award into a marketing stunt.

Don’t get me wrong — the bylaws and the rules are clear. No, what happened is very subtle. It probably started back in the late 1970s to mid 1980s at the earliest, early 1990s at the latest. The houses themselves were being taken over by liberal art majors who, having grown up steeped in the mythos of “the men who took down Nixon,” came into the publishing world with the same zeal to change the world instead of to help find great stories that people wanted to buy. Factor in the rage many of them had felt throughout the 1980s over Reagan’s cowboy diplomacy, his Brandenburg Gate speech where he had the audacity to demand that the morally superior USSR tear down the Berlin Wall, the cognitive dissonance that they felt when the Eastern Bloc collapsed and the USSR voted itself out of existence…and these were hammers desperately in search of a nail. The publishing world was just that nail.

They honed in on science fiction and fantasy specifically because it was future-oriented. Also, because it didn’t require a lot of experience in scholarship or other fields already (try getting into biographies or academic publishing with just a degree in English). Ideologically, they’d already begun taking over a lot of other places — schools, colleges, the art world, film, television, music — so publishing was just the next step.

Now, this wasn’t some organized take over with a great conspiracy where a secret cabal issued diktats — I’m not a tin-foil hatter. It was a long-term underlying trend that was baked into socialism and progressive philosophy.

So, once they’d gotten into the top spots of the big houses like Tor and the fantasy/sci-fi imprints of the other big six, they started making it difficult for anyone outside of their social circles to work there which slowly ensured that agents pushing authors whose politics differed would go nowhere. The stories became homogenized as well, following a set formula with characters that were uniform, uni-dimensional, predictable, and uninteresting. Readers revolted and stopped attending the conventions. But the publishers kept going to the conventions and kept sending their star authors (which dragged out some fans) which led to…the conventions being captured.

Which is what happened to WorldCon and the Hugos. The Hugos aren’t a fan award these days. They haven’t been for the better part of nearly thirty years now. They’re a publisher award because it’s been the publishers who were controlling the voter pool because the voter pool was less than 1000 people. Of course they were in political lockstep and of course they were pissed off when Correia and the rest of us Puppies came in and proved it.

But now on to the real problem. That’s right everyone — 700 words to get to the point of the post. We’ve been accused of destroying the Hugos and we’ve accused the others of destroying them. However, the real problem is CATEGORY ERROR — we’ve never really defined what the problem is. Oh, we think we have. We’ve intuitively got a grasp of what it is. We agree that there is a problem. But have we defined it? No. Not so much.


Category Error — having stated or defined a problem so poorly that it becomes impossible to solve that problem, through dialectic or any other means. Also, not quite as cool as Loki’s Wager but still a good excuse to run a graphic with Tom Hiddleston, yo

So, what is the actual problem? The actual problem is that what the Hugos were created to recognize no longer exists. Back when the Hugos and WorldCon first started, an avid reader could go through every sci-fi book published in a year. But these days, “science fiction” is a massive genre that has spawned dozens of child/sub genres. It’s the same story in the fantasy world. And the publishers and the folks who captured the Hugos over the past few decades represent a tiny sliver of the fanbase and readership — the sliver that aspire more towards the once academic, avant-garde literary-chic style of writing. This group is also incredibly active and activist which is why they have a tendency to take over many other conventions and force out groups they dislike (which is why the Honey Badger Brigade got shut out and nearly arrested for showing up at Calgary Comic Con).

The WorldCon/Hugo by-laws make it very difficult to change and recognize the new reality and…well…doing so would cost the publishers and the lit-chic folks their powerbase. Therefore, if those of us on the Puppy-side want to really fix this and have an award that is meaningful, durable, not subject to capture by one group or another, and represents the best works without showing the divide between works that sell well and works that win awards that the Hugos have shown in recent years, then we have our work cut out for us. The first thing we have to do is actually start defining stuff. I’ll expand on this further in later entries but for now, here are some of the child-genres I’ve noticed in science fiction and fantasy that we should consider:

Science Fiction:
Space Opera
Dystopian
Cyber
Military
Zombie Apocalypse
Superhero
Hard sci-fi
-Physics
-Chemistry
-Biology
-Astronomy
-Space Exploration
Post-Apocalyptic
Medical
Literary
Expanded Canon
-Star Trek novels
-Star Wars novels
-Halo book
-StarCraft books
-Halflife books
-Dune novels
-Doctor Who novles
-The X-Files books
-Batman comics
-Marvel: The Avengers comics

Fantasy:
High Fantasy
Epic Fantasy
Swords-and-Sorcery
Nordic
Shamanistic
Native American
Medieval
Urban
Dark
Surreal
Dystopian
Superhero
Romance
Literary
Expanded Canon
-Warcraft novels
-World of Warcraft novels
-Diablo novels
-Legend of Zelda comics
-Thor: The Dark World comics
-Doctor Who novels

Look, the simple fact of the matter is that our genres are growing and this is a good thing. We need to define the child/sub genres and start expanding awards to include them. And, we may need to give up on the idea of there ever being a single “best science fiction for the year” award ever again. It’s become a bit like trying to decide which vehicle is the best for a given year these days. Yes, some are objectively better than others but when you’ve got so many doing so many different things… it’s difficult to say “this is the best OVERALL” without actually defining what in the name of Issac Asimov you’re talking about.

Category error, guys. Let’s start fixing it, shall we?

— G.K.

Sad Puppies: Why I Don’t Do Cons

Sad Puppies: Why I Don't Do Cons

First, allow me to fangirl a little bit. Cedar just added me on G+ so I’m kind of doing this right now:

But then I started reading Sarah’s entry from today which led me to reading Vonda McIntyre’s entry which has led to a round of head-scratching, several cigarette breaks, a few consultations of Wikipedia’s entry on Arrow’s impossibility theorem, a lengthy session back on Khan Academy which involved a lot of swearing at parabolas (which seems to be the only aspect of algebra II I’m doomed to fail), and the realization that I’ve got a 2:30 appointment so I need to wrap this up already.

People: shit like this is why I don’t do cons. Okay, I went to BlizzCon (twice). I went to the WWI when it was in Paris. But for all of those — I worked for Blizzard and I was at the convention working. I’ve never been to E3, Gamescom, DreamHack, GenCon, IndyCon, any of the ComicCons, WorldCon, or WalkerStalker Con. I had wanted to go to LibertyCon this year but did not have the money. I may go next year if I can scrape together the funds and if work permits but that will probably be the only convention I’ll go to.

Why? Several reasons.

1) I hate traveling. Flying anywhere is a hassle. It’s expensive. Hotels are insanely overpriced and the food is crap (the Internet is generally shitty, too). Driving is a little better but the price of gas is insane.

2) So. Many. People. And you have to talk to them and you can’t hide from them.

3) Where there are a lot of people, there’s going to be a lot of noise. If I want a migraine, there are cheaper and more efficient methods to give myself one.

4) It’s become pretty clear that the people running these conventions don’t like people like me. If you think that the Sad Puppies had a point (that the Hugos were being given out based on the author’s politics and were going to sermon-fics that delivered a particular sermon instead of to stories/books that were well-written or told interesting stories with interesting characters regardless of the author’s politics), then you’re clearly not welcome at these conventions. At best, you’ll be just asked not to show up (and maybe made to feel like an unperson the way Johnathon Ross was). At worst — you get forced out for no reason with baseless and false (and malignant) allegations lodged against you (as happened against the Honey Badger Brigade). Being a minority, a woman, a lesbian, a non-American, or even all of the above does not protect you from this. You could be an African-born male-to-female transgendered post-operative black lesbian Rwandan socialist Muslim and if you happen to think “hey, Larry Correia had a point,” you might as well be a WASP man for all the good it will do you if you try to turn up at a con.

5) It’s actually getting borderline dangerous for those of us who don’t toe the SJW “Brianna Wu is our Goddessa and we shall sucketh Scalzi’s cocketh, Massa” line to live, let alone show up at cons. I really don’t want to get arrested, SWATTed, or have my car run off the road and die on the side of the highway.

So, I avoid them. I mean, why bother? The panels are just going to be about how people like me are evil, how stories I like are stupid, how I and my whole family should be killed, etc, etc, etc. It’s nothing I didn’t hear in the grievance-mongering circles at college. I’m not going to piss thousands of dollars away just to hear it while surrounded by cosplayers.

Still, it gets on my nerves. That one side or the other needs protection from the other. How about we all do the sensible thing and talk about the giant elephant in the room? The SJWs are crazy, they’ve got no problem with violence as a means to an end, they’ve got no problem with wishing death/torture/pain/rape/whatever on their political or philosophical opposition. It’s illogical to put yourself anywhere near them or in any place where they control ingress and egress or security. Not because they’ll kill you outright (they’re crazy, not stupid) but because they can make your life a living hell. Once you’re where they control the security systems, they can chose what the police see (and don’t see). They don’t need to win their cases in a court of law, people — for some things, the mere accusation is enough.

And you really want to go to where they’re going to be? Shit, I avoid being in the same ZIP code as them if I can. So long as I’m out in the middle of Bumfuck Nowhere, Landmassia — and can prove I’m there — they can’t accuse me of doing jack to them.

So again — do you really want to go to WorldCon and give them the chance to accuse you of theft, harassment, rape, murder, human trafficking, drug trafficking, or whatever else they come up with? Or do you want to do the sensible thing and stay at least three ZIP Codes and a time zone away from any SJW/CHORF whenever possible?

— G.K.

PS — If you must go, here’s a list of criminal defense attorneys in Spokane, WA. And, if you are going, add me on Facebook or Twitter and let me know. We can exchange contact info and I’ll volunteer to be your “one phone call” if you do get arrested on trumped-up BS charges.

The Vicious Hamster Wheel of Credentialing

The Vicious Hamster Wheel of Credentialing

…and how it impacts the publishing industry, the economy, and the rest of the world in general.

Okay, I swear, I am so not cyberstalking Cedar even though whenever I see that she’s posted something I drop whatever I’m doing and go read it because I’m beginning to wonder if she and I get messages from the same s00per s3kr3t radio station or something. We’re both evil unicorns (which is cool) and we’re both writers (though I think she’s more experienced than I am since I’ve only been in the game a few years) and we’re both nerds so there’s going to be some overlap. But when I read her post on the topic of credentialing, I had the strangest physical reaction (think full-body shiver and skin crawling) because I was thinking about this exact topic last night.

Eerie.

So, without further ado…

We live in interesting times. Really interesting times. In the past two hundred years, the world has flipped around in a lot of ways and some groups haven’t quite had a chance to catch up. The rate of change isn’t going to slow down anytime soon (if anything, the rate of acceleration is increasing) and it’s created rather a lot of chaos that makes it difficult for everyone. This started back with the Industrial Revolution but has really kicked into high gear with the Digital Revolution. However, for now, I want to focus in on one particular trend that’s been a particular nuisance in recent years and that’s the vicious hamster wheel of the credential chase.

Long ago, a young man would purchase an apprenticeship, serve a set number of years under a master craftsman, become a journeyman, then prove his skill as a master and be free to set up his own shop and take on apprentices himself. Credentials were reserved for things like the clergy (and thus controlled by the Church) or the universities (which meant they were for the aristocrats’ second or third sons). Very few people had them or needed them and thus, they were quite valuable. Then along came the Industrial Revolution and the modern education system with its assembly-line cookie-cutter approach and, for a short time, a high school diploma was sufficient for entry into the modern work force and could get a person a job at a factory or as a teacher, secretary, bank teller, or other office worker. College was for those who were going into more advanced fields.

But when everyone could get a high school diploma easily, the value of having one was lower and the credential was less valuable. Factor in that unions with their work rules, refusal to consider the impact of their demands on the business’s bottom line, and refusal to police their members and maintain high standards in work ethic to justify wage and benefit increases helped drive manufacturing jobs overseas; that globalization came in and cut out a lot of the protectionism the Industrial Era institutions relied on; and that things like the G.I. Bill started a very perverse incentive for colleges, lenders, and the government to feed off each other (and the taxpayer) and the credentialing hamster wheel started spinning. Suddenly jobs that once barely needed a high school diploma to be done now require a Bachelor’s degree. There are hundreds of professions that people used to freelance out of their homes that now require expensive (and extensive) licenses to perform (hairstylist, barber, masseuse, babysitting, tutoring, music lessons…) I’ve worked in the tech world for over a decade now and credentialing there is getting insane. Techies like to pride themselves on valuing knowledge over shiny badges but it is very hard to break into different fields without certain credentials these days and it’s very hard to obtain those credentials without already being in those fields because the certification tests are expensive.

I’m waiting for the day when the Bachelor’s degree I worked my butt off to get (I did a four-year in three) is as worthless as a high school diploma because everyone is required to have one. I’ve looked into getting a Masters degree but can’t afford one. And, to be honest, none of the jobs I’ve ever held have required me to use any of the crap I learned in college. I’m not saying that college was useless for me; I enjoyed it and learned a lot of valuable research information. I’ve just never really used any of it professionally. No, all of the skills I’ve used professionally are things I’ve either taught myself, learned on the job, or learned in high school and built upon in college.

Frankly, in the constant chase after credentials, the only ones coming out ahead are those who grant the credentials. Employers can’t be happy with it because the greater a credential they require for a job, the more they’re going to have to pay that person (and that’s another vicious cycle all its own). Regular folks aren’t happy with it because it gets tiring having to chase credential after credential just so we can check off boxes from an HR flunky who doesn’t know what she’s doing (really — I filled out an application a week ago that had listed as a requirement for the job “10+ years experience in PHP5 and HTML5” when PHP5 just celebrated a decade this year and HTML5 isn’t even a year old. Topping that, I’ve seen requirements for “At least 10+ years development in Ruby on Rails” when the framework is only nine years old!)

So, what is to be done about it? Well, first of all, fire all the HR departments. Then fire all of the politicians. Maybe consider setting them on fire while firing them? Or fire them into an orbital trajectory or something. Regardless — fire them a lot. Then shut down the entire education system, redesign it so that it actually creates a literate society instead of turning out factory workers, re-instate vo-tech-like schools for skilled trades and quit looking down on people who do that work because they’re cool people and smart as hell. They’re just smart in a different way like we’re smart in a different way, okay? To them, I’m as dumb as a box of rocks because I can’t unstop a toilet and I’m weird because I remember a particular cardio-arrhythmia that I read about and was able to deduce someone’s wife had based on a conversation they were having with the check-out clerk when they were at the grocery store the line ahead of me.

Not everyone needs to go to college. Not everyone is smart the way I’m smart and that’s okay. But we’ve really got to end the constant credential chase because, if we don’t, eventually Ph.D.s are going to be required to work the drive-thru at McDonalds. Unless, of course, we’ve replaced the entirety of the McDonalds staff with a robotic restaurant and the drive-thru is a voice-activated kiosk with a debit/credit card reader which is a distinct possibility.

— G.K.