Arbitrary Government

One thing that eludes Statists of all stripes is the fact that the more discretion the State has to act, the more prone it is to manifest the baser aspects of human nature.  When the State is free to act as it will, it becomes as petty, vindictive, stupid and arbitrary as its constituent bureaucrats.  It becomes a question not of following laws and regulations, but who you happen to annoy.  And just because you’ve only heard this once or twice doesn’t mean it’s an isolated incident.  Since the State’s agents wield a great deal of power because of intimidation it stands tor reason that there are many more abuses than people actually report simply because few people are willing to piss these people off.

Why the FCC imposing Net Nutrailty is a Bad Thing

Talking about this.

Most of the supporters of the move may be correct in the effect of the proposed rules.  In fact the problem with the FCC has very little to do with exactly what they are attempting to do, even though it is a solution still in search of a problem.  The problem is that the FCC has absolutely no jurisdiction in the area.  The idea that they should be allowed to go forward after both courts and the legislature have said they don’t have the authority just because this particular rule by executive fiat is not that objectionable is absurd and shows a political naïveté that borders on the pathological. After all, what could be wrong with letting executive power do whatever the hell it wants to do without regard to the courts or the legislature, after all we all know that when executive power is unchecked it is never ever used to impose political orthodoxy, suppress dissent and persecute dissidents. It’s not like we would ever again elect a chief executive that wasn’t all rainbow progressive smiley faces. . .

Dear Liberals: when you advocate executive power grabs like this for the sake of political expediency, you are handing the successor regime the power to do whatever it likes, and I doubt you all will be happy with that outcome. Don’t believe me? Look at all the unhappy Conservatives who gave the executive branch obscene powers when their guy was in charge.

You really don’t think this can have a bad outcome?  If the FCC has jurisdiction, how long before it starts regulating content?  You really want to see fines on bloggers for saying fuck this shit?

Utopias again

So Charlie Stross has posted a lament about the dearth of Utopias in SF of late.  If you follow my blog, you may already have a good idea of what I think about that.  There are several issues I have with his post. (Probably all having to do with us being so politically opposed to each other that if we collaborated on a story, the manuscript would annihilate itself in a burst of gamma radiation.)  I mean, when I read the following:

Burkean conservativism tends to be skeptical of change, always asking first, “will it make things worse?” This isn’t a bad question to ask in and of itself, but we’re immured a period of change unprecedented in human history (it kicked off around the 1650s; its end is not yet in sight) and basing your policies on what you can see in your rear-view mirror leaves you open to driving over unforseen pot-holes.

I tend to see the false dilemma created by assuming that conservative policies are the only ones that fail to forsee potholes. I mean, look at all the great centralized economies of the 20th Century. But that’s neither here nor there.  What Stross would like to see is an attempt to deal with the future in a positive manner:

We need — quite urgently, I think — plausible visions of where we might be fifty or a hundred or a thousand years hence: a hot, densely populated, predominantly urban planetary culture that nevertheless manages to feed everybody, house everybody, and give everybody room to pursue their own happiness without destroying our resource base.

Ok, I can see that.  But even that paragraph starts radiating the inherent bias that gives the lie to the final clause.  All Utopias, since they ARE the solution, are synthetic monocultures that accept no dissent.  The above essentially tells us in this particular “Utopian” vision, we all must adapt to densely-packed urban living.  Those who much prefer to live in a small town or rural environment would be SOL when it comes to peruse their happiness.  But we can fix that, by controlling the population…  Ooops, now we have China.

The problem is inherent in one of Stross’ premises:

[…] we should be able to create a new golden age of utopian visions. A global civilization appears to be emerging for the first time. It’s unstable, unevenly distributed, and blindly fumbling its way forward. But we have unprecedented tools for sharing information; slowly developing theories of behavioural economics, cognitive bias, and communications that move beyond the crudely simplistic (and wrong) 19th century models of perfectly rational market actors […]

There is the assumption that some universal global order is inevitable and in some sense desirable. It’s neither. It is not inevitable because the cultural and societal norms across the entire planet are divergent enough that a truly universal social order is only going to be possible by either making it so diffuse as to be largely irrelevant, or so powerful that it can crush the outlying populations into a thin paste. It is not desirable because you are giving your whole social order a single point of failure. With a single global order, you insure that when things finally go pear-shaped (and the one immutable rule of history is that things will) it takes down the whole planet with it. Our current series of crises are a demonstration of the principle: If Greece had bankrupted itself fifty years ago, no one would have cared.

So one answer to Stross’ final lament:

Because historically, when a civilization collapsed, it collapsed in isolation: but if our newly global civilization collapses, what then …?

Is to say, “don’t put all your eggs in that particular basket.”

Two Bloggers twig onto the dark side of Utopianism

So Scalzi opines on Atlas Shrugged (which I’m currently reading for the first time, via a 64-hour long audiobook.  If you’re curious, the book that filled the Atlas Shrugged slot in my teenage-reader political awakening was the Illuminatus! Trilogy.  Yeah, I’m weird that way.) and while I don’t have a lot to say about his analysis of the book itself, since I’m just reading it for the first time, I know enough of the plot I haven’t read to come up with a bit of a meta-commentary.  Quoth Scalzi:

All of this is fine, if one recognizes that the idealized world Ayn Rand has created to facilitate her wishful theorizing has no more logical connection to our real one than a world in which an author has imagined humanity ruled by intelligent cups of yogurt.  This is most obviously revealed by the fact that in Ayn Rand’s world, a man who self-righteously instigates the collapse of society, thereby inevitably killing millions if not billions of people, is portrayed as a messiah figure rather than as a genocidal prick, which is what he’d be anywhere else. Yes, he’s a genocidal prick with excellent engineering skills. Good for him. He’s still a genocidal prick.

Which is quite right. The dystopia in Atlas Shrugged is as frighteningly plausible as the one in 1984 and Brave New World, since it is based, in large part, on applying Soviet-classic modes of thinking to the US political system. If Rand had written a dystopia like Orwell and had Dagny Taggart broken by the system ala Winston Smith, I doubt Scalzi would have found the premise nearly as ridiculous. The problem comes when we place a set of characters into the crapsack world who know exactly what to do to fix it.

In a novel, that can work. John Galt can shut off production to the rest of the world (in an ironic echo of Stalin and Mao inducing famines through state control of agriculture) because he is RIGHT! He has the revealed knowledge that millions of people must die in order for the world to be saved from disaster.

That brings us to blog number two, which was inspired by this horrid little video:

From Shannon Love’s reaction on Chicago Boyz:

However, these kinds of thought experiments do demonstrate how absolute certitude makes it easy for anyone, no matter how humane and compassionate, to calmly rationalize the deaths of billions. At the extremities of events and the associated moral choices, the ends do definitely justify the means.

As a corollary, ideas that claim to predict extreme events with great certainty create the justifications for associated extreme acts. These types of ideas turn abstract moral thought experiments into concrete realities on which people feel compelled to act.

Notice a theme? Maybe we can make it a little more specific:

Those early members of the French Revolution who created The Declaration of the Rights of Man believed that reason could absolutely replace tradition They would never have believed their ideas could possibly lead to the Great Terror, Empire and contienent wide war.

The geneticists who created the idea of eugenics used the best available science of their day. With the imprimatur of science, eugenics became widely accepted by all educated, secular individuals across the political spectrum. It was considered “settled science”. No eugenist envisioned their idea would justify the greatest of wars and the Holocaust.

Marxists the world over who rushed to join the newly formed Communist party in 1917 sincerely believed they were contributing to a world free of want, ignorance, oppression and inequality. They did not imagine in the least that the ideas they promulgated would create totalitarian, megacidal regimes that would push humanity to the precipice of extinction more than once.

Or, to put a fine point on it, as soon as some ideology decides that an abstraction is more important than an individual human life, you have established a moral framework for mass murder on an industrial scale.  All Utopias are based on the idea of eliminating the undesirables.

The next person who says Obama does civil liberties better than Bush deserves a boot to the head

Make that a boot stomping on a human face — forever.

I actually had someone try and pull that on me in a debate, more or less in the sense “BUSH HAZ WORST RECORD ON CIVIL LIBERTIEZ EVAR.”

This was true, when he was in office.  But Obama has doubled down on the fascist police state with nary a noise of dissent from the left.  Let us review:

Yeah, vast improvement.

The Permanent Floating Publishing Apocalypse

Cue REM.

Dorchester Publishing looks at its bottom line and decides OMG we can’t afford to do this anymore, switches to e-publishing launching the Greek Chorus chantingdeath of print, death of print.”

This is premature for a number of reasons. (Not the least of which is the technical reasons I listed in an earlier blog post.)  But the primary one is the fact that this maneuver wasn’t an attempt to make money, it’s a last ditch effort to stop hemorrhaging and keep the doors open.  As such, it probably has a 50/50 chance of staving off bankruptcy.  It has little, if anything, to do with e-publishing vs. print.  It is a desperate attempt to cut costs, which may in fact backfire if the authors who are being screwed (and getting e-pubbed with a print royalty is being screwed) decide to start with the lawsuits.  This is only an indicator of the death of print insofar as it is a marker of the financial health of the publishing industry. . . And I think someone somewhere might have noticed that we’re in a major recession where just about every industry across the board is suffering from sudden overcapacity, red ink, and the need to downsize.  Everything’s readjusting, and everything is volatile.

If you’re a writer my suggestion to weather the economic storm is the following:

  1. Grow relationships with as many publishers as possible.
  2. Hang on to every subsidy right as you can (foreign sales, audio, e-pub).
  3. Avoid committing to projects with deadlines more than 18 months out.
  4. Get the option clause as narrow as you can (i.e. strike out “right to see next book,” in favor of “right to see next urban fantasy,” or even better “right to see next series title featuring this particular protagonist.”)
  5. Get as much money up front as you can.

Bottom-line: Negotiate every contract as if the company is going into Chapter 11 tomorrow and all your future contact is going to be with a court-appointed lawyer who doesn’t particularly like you or your agent.

A little reminder. . .

A little bit of a reality check for those of us who write about SF futures, or just think about the future in general. This snazzy 21st Century lifestyle we’ve become accustomed to is based on an extremely long supply-chain. Think of the support required for an iPhone to exist. (h/t Futurismic) You have mines, factories, server farms, copper an optical cabling, cell towers. . . every one of those disparate elements is subject to the whims of the real world; everything from political regulatory interference to natural disasters, and we already see how a software monoculture can breed cyberpunkish entities like the conficker worm. We already live in a world with global chains of dependence and choke points all over the place, and the past few decades we’ve been pushing down the ideas of overcapacity for a model that’s more “just in time.” Those efficiencies make the whole system vulnerable. When one factory in China makes your chip, what happens when the nearby river floods, the workers succumb to a typhus outbreak, or the plant is nationalized in a war effort?

What kind of global infrastructure is required to support and maintain your cybernetic transuman warrior chick, and what happens to her when the structure breaks down?

Apocalyptic SFnal Nightmare Scenario of the Day

(with thanks to Instapundit)

Thanks to an NPR article we have a concept worthy of a Phillip K Dick novel, with Orwellian commentary that should scare the crap out of you if you have any imagination— or remember the CIA’s history dealing with other chemical substances.

The money quote:

Does Biology Affect Our Trust In Government?

Zak first got interested in trust more than a decade ago after co-authoring a study that looked at trust levels in different nations and their economic stability. The study found that the higher the level of trust, the better the economic status of the nation.

The work got Zak thinking more generally about different ways to manipulate trust, and so starting in 2001, Zak began spraying oxytocin up the noses of college students to see if the hormone would change the way they interacted with strangers.

It did. Squirt oxytocin up the nose of a college kid, and he’s 80 percent more likely to distribute his own money to perfect strangers.

Newsweek needs to get out more. . .

I love conspiracy theories, but the latest article on such by Newsweek has left me a little cold.  Not a single black helicopter to be had.  And how does questioning the maternity of Sarah Palin’s kid rate high enough to be on a list with Goldman Sachs looting the world? Nary a COINTELPRO, ECHELON or Skull & Bones to be found. I mean they’re trying to be topical, but really. . .

Getting a line on real mind-altering conspiracy theories from Newsweek is like watching a sitcom to discover what the kids are listening to these days. Won’t happen.

That is why (speaking of what the kids are listening to) you need to go here, to see what is really going on. And read about the Denver airport if you want to get the willies.