Free Market Capitalism is Inherently Progressive

Wait. What the hell are we smoking here at Happycrow’s Eyeball Factory?

That’s some good shit, right?

Well, actually, we’re not high. And we do mean it.

Free Market Capitalism is Inherently Progressive. The Regulatory State is Inherently Regressive.

Remember a week ago we said that Progressives and Libertarians should be allies?  Well, this is why.  At our best, both camps fight a long, slow, tooth-and-nail campaign against the Elites who institute policies seemingly designed to exploit and impoverish all who are not the wealthiest, best-connected, and most powerful.

We don’t really have a free-market economy. We have a heavily-regulated one.

Now, the caveat: so long as we have public property, we must have regulations.

So long as we wish to avoid certain kinds of exploitation, we must have regulations. Two easy examples:

1. The Free Market cannot handle public property well, and thus has a very hard time handling pollution issues. So long as we keep up “public property” which nobody owns and can therefore protect legally on their own, environmental regulations are required.

2. Worker’s Comp issues are very, very real.

But these regulations must be few, far between, and light in scope. Otherwise, the hands which are meant to help, strangle instead. Even the two above examples can and have been “weaponized,” because Elites don’t think of laws as rules. Elites think of laws as tools. And not surprisingly, they wield those tools for their own benefit.

Ever notice that the really big environmental advocates in the political class tend to be married to big-time real-estate developers? That’s not an accident. Limiting growth also makes currently-existing developed property more valuable. A LOT more valuable. Every time you hear some politician spouting off about keeping sprawl at bay… follow the money. Chances are, a little chime is singing “cha-ching!” with every new law.

So let’s take this one as it comes.

The Free Market doesn’t do these things. Because by definition, it cannot compel. So a balance needs to be struck. That said, Progressives should understand that they are already champions of the free market. They just… don’t seem to know it yet.

1.  Free Markets cannot compel use of services or products.  In a free market, you can get a ride on Uber, or a competitor to Uber. You can rent a room with AirBnB, not a statutorily-acceptable, highly-regulated, and therefore more-expensive hotel room.

Airline competition? Yeah, we’ll get back to you on that. Once we’re done losing your luggage and cancelling your mysteriously-overbooked flight.

2. A free market doesn’t allow monopolies. The regulatory state may give a single phone, cable, and internet company a monopoly in an area. Free enterprise gives you choices, and works to undermine monopolies whenever possible. The monopolies fight back by getting politicians to write vast swarms of regulations that are so complex that only big companies and the elites who control them can afford to play the game.

Any wonder why people are ditching cable left and right, with them offering the finest customer service an uncaring monopoly can provide?

3. The free market does not make innovating illegal.  A bewildering amount of regulatory law exists for the sole purpose of using “Safety” as a club with which to make it nearly impossible to come into an industry and try to come up with less expensive ways of doing things.  The Construction industry is one of the worst for this.  Construction industry meetings all start with safety, and all end with hours of thinking about how to force out competitors from entering into the business.

Illegal everywhere entrenched businesses hate competition. And sanity.

4.  The Free Market doesn’t give a crap who you are. Illegal immigrant? Teen with an awesome idea?  It doesn’t care. It cares only about whether the idea is good, and is willing to give that idea a shot at failing or succeeding.

5.  The Free Market expands opportunity, and eliminates barriers to entry.  Gigantic well-connected, politically powerful too-big-to-fail elite banking behemoth won’t lend you the money you need to start up some really cool idea?  Maybe even an idea that’ll never really repay an investor, but which everybody with a soul can look at and say “that’s a really good idea, we should find some way to fund that?”

Well, how about THESE GUYS?

6.  The Free Market is all about cooperation, not just competition.  And it mandates that those who want to provide a solution, service, or product keep close to the people they serve.  If they don’t…. they’re gone.

The free (farmer’s) market. Brought to you week after tasty week.

Libertarians and Progressives will disagree about how much regulation is needed, and where, and when, and why a given piece of regulation should be repealed.  That’s natural. Progressives use the state and are willing to compel behavior; libertarians aren’t.  But make no mistake:  where the free market is concerned, we’re reading from the exact same page.

Both groups are all about discovering the best ways for us to serve one another.

Lessons of History: The “Sick Industries”

Can’t tell you how often, as a history grad student, I heard “Get a law degree, it’s safe.”

Oops.

Now we have Legalzoom. Now we have automated text search.

This is normal. It’s the way the Market works.

Aside: No, you don’t hate the market.  You’re just constantly exposed to a bullshit definition of it.  The Market isn’t Wall Street and all that crony-capitalist bullshit.

It’s just a word used as a shorthand for the results of choosing whether we want a hamburger, a taco, or a packed bag from home for lunch, multiplied by the literally trillions of said choices per day in the US alone. This is why central planning fails — nobody can keep track of all those decisions in real-time, since by definition, all reports tell you about “past things not current things.” More importantly, no science-fiction report involving the real-time aggregation of all decisions, can tell you why each choice is being made the way it is…because one would then have to report on the context of each and every decision. You need a special product for that, which nobody’s invented yet: it’s called omniscience.

                                                   I got this, Adam. Where you want the file?

So. Back to Law School.

Big Law is in deep shit.  The era in which one could bill $200/hr for Mark1-A1 eyeballs to go through text for the “Discovery” portion of a suit isn’t over yet…but it’s getting closer and closer to the era where one won’t have to pass the Bar Exam in order to do all kinds of things that require a lawyer to do today.  Those who are very good, who are “scholars of the law,” will continue to do well.  Those who are essentially functionaries, on the other hand, are screwed.

Any industry with high profits becomes vulnerable to somebody who wants to take those profits away by giving people access to those same services more cheaply. Yesterday’s safe-and-sure-thing industries become tomorrow’s dogfood, because there’s an incentive: people want the service, but they can’t afford to pay past a certain point to get it.

Very few are really interested in chasing that bony gazelle, but a big old fattened cow gets a lot of attention. And it doesn’t run very fast.

We at Chez Happycrow prefer our eyeballs, but we note that pet dogs eat better than lions, and for less work.   Great job, if you don’t mind being a pet dog.

Yesterday’s unshakeable behemoths are looking less Tyrannosaur, and more Sclerotic Gimpy Diplodocus. They just can’t maneuver quickly enough to keep their meat, and worse yet, Utah Raptors keep feeding off them just by zooming by and shaving off chunks of meat as they go.

A Utah Raptor flexing its stylish urban toe-claws.

Newspapers? Sick industry. I get my news online. Can newspapers transition successfully? Many haven’t, and more won’t.

Healthcare? Sick industry. (Sure, we need healthcare – but the woo employment side of healthcare relies upon the government effectively creating monopolies in healthcare provision. Vast amounts of the cost of healthcare have little or nothing to do with actually getting you better, and no, neither party’s dealings with the ACA were helpful or productive.)

Education?  VERY FUCKING SICK industry. It’s not merely as bad as the fact that many universities are operating according to a guild structure inherited from the 14th century. No, it’s worse than that. Many universities are essentially machines for endowing sinecures which do not even regard students as their customers. Meanwhile, much of what’s on offer actually deprioritizes the classroom. Universities are a great place to learn to think, but unless you’re engaged in a very good and very rigorous professional program, they’re a terrible place to learn how to earn a living.

Programming? Not a sick industry yet. But the era of explosive coding growth with coders being able to simply write their own ticket is over. More and more employers are looking at specialists with exceptional suites of qualifications and achievement.

Fast-Food? Sick industry. Most of your jobs can be performed, and performed better, by robots. Employers would prefer to give them to marginally-employable humans, some of whom will grow up into managerial tasks and all of whom are better for socializing than Hal9000 is…but the writing’s on the wall.

It’s not just the public bemoaning of the Rise of the Robots. Any task which can be turned into an algorithm or flowchart will be turned into an algorithm. I do it at my job every day – it’s why it takes me a third the time to produce similar work as it does some of my coworkers. There’s even a traditional phrase for it.

“A craftsman builds something by hand one time. The second time, he makes a jig.”

Jig: a machine designed to de-skill a given task and take the heavy thinking out of the process.

Craftsmen have been doing this forever.  Those beautiful muskets we used in the War of 1812? Factory-made.

The Powers That Be have bottled up a lot of these industries for a long time. But eventually the bubble will burst and technology will emancipate these sectors.

The results are going to absolutely and totally rock…so long as you’re not deeply invested in being a Diplodocus.

Yessss, my young adjunct professor, I will retire soon, and then there will be jobs for you!

Run, adjunct professor, run!

It will never get any better than it is today.

Foundationism: Healing the Progressive/Libertarian Divide among Activists

“America is at that awkward stage. It’s too late to work within the system, but too early to start shooting people.” — Claire Wolf

“Progressivism stands or falls based on how it approaches populism.” – Conor Williams

We at Happycrow’s Eyeball Factory think Ms. Wolf is wrong (though it took a bit), Mr. Williams is right, and think we have a way to actually improve on that.

The fundamental split in American politics is between Progressives and Libertarians.  Lots of people have tried to come up with a workable synthesis. Here at Happycrow’s Eyeball Factory, we’re no different.

  1. Feeling good about ourselves? Check!
  2. Think we can do something nobody else has figured out yet? Check!
  3. Ill-informed enough to think that nobody’s thought of our solution before? Check!
  4. STUPID enough to post this during a Presidential Election Cycle? CHECK!

Now, notice that I’m using Progressivism in its REAL definition(fn1).  Not its bullshit “anything you happen to call progress, we throw under progressivism and people opposing that are dorks.”  Also, I’m using Libertarianism in its REAL definition(fn2), so if you’re an anarcho-capitalist, I’m deeply sympathetic, but this isn’t for you necessarily(fn3). Also, I like footnotes, and if you comment, I expect you to have read them. Because you’re a grown-up.(fn4)

What do these two movements have in common?

Both groups believe in communities and in voluntary cooperation; at their best, they’re both inherently Populist.

Now, they’re not always at their best. Some libertarians do indeed seem to use their position as a “dog-whistle” to cover up for racism(fn5).  Some progressives do indeed use their position as a “dog-whistle” to cover up their goal of instituting socialism or totalitarian social controls by force(fn6).

These are very rare exceptions.  When you scratch the surface and move past the style of their rhetoric, very often what one finds is that both sides want very similar things.  They go about achieving them in very different ways.  But guess what, guys? Libertarians have been loudly and angrily beating the “abuse of police powers” drum for forty years before Ferguson ever became a thing.  And lots of Progressives think you shouldn’t get your house seized by the Feds just because your kid brought home a joint with him from college! Huzzah, we’re buddies!

Or could be. First we have to clean up the dirty laundry.  Believe in the Good of Man.  Don’t paint your opponents as your enemies.  If you can’t do this, you’re not a Populist, and therefore you’re neither progressive nor libertarian. You’re just another elitist, who’s sad-sack about not being in power.

Persuade political opponents to be allies instead, always focusing on finding common ground.

But we have to acknowledge differences.  So. Back to that dirty laundry.

Progressivism as a political philosophy just happened to come into full flower in the early 20th century, when control of information first became sufficiently advanced to allow technocracy to be a practical idea.  Because of that, many Progressives have a strong tendency to pursue reforms via top-down, technocratic solutions. This “technocratic impulse” is not a new issue for Progressives – it’s been around for a long time, and tends to be its Achilles’ Heel.  Technocratic solutions (and by definition all government solutions) provide external benefits, but they also provide external costs, and not everybody agrees that the benefits outweigh the costs.  Then the technocrat turns out to be running their organization mostly for their own benefit, and the actual populists get screwed.  Any progressives reading this actually think Hillary Clinton gives a rat’s ass about the average working person?

Libertarianism has the opposite problem.  By completely eschewing top-down imposed solutions, Libertarians avoid the trap of “elitist means supposedly employed for populist ends.”  But that’s cold comfort for an ideology that has produced very good results on the margins and at the grassroots level (even if some of the hyperbole tends to rapidly outpace facts), but which cannot seem to muster any actual political power.  Very often, libertarians are suckered into “well, I’ll play along with Mister Conservative for now, because I’m sure he means well.”  And then they get screwed.  Because Mister Conservative does mean well. He means to do well for his business by tilting the playing field against anybody who can’t afford the legal staff required to survive all that regulatory law.  Libertarians tend to vote Republican defensively because the structure of American voting dooms third parties except as spoilers(fn7), and at best they tend to swing a few palace revolts before Socially Conservative Progressives(fn8) in the party crush them.

Libertarians often argue that they’re voting tactically, but Progressives either declare “there’s no difference between you guys,” or simply assume that Libertarianism = Super-Republicanism.  Far from.  Most libertarians would love to see the Republican Party die.  They just don’t see another alternative.

So where are we now?

  • Each group is getting screwed by the people who supposedly claim to represent what they want.
  • Each group is populist in its goals and beliefs.
  • Each group gets screwed by the political class.
  • The groups differ primarily regarding the tools they choose to use.

The status quo for each group is screwed, blued, and tattoo’d.  We need a change, guys.

Let’s Compromise.

Top down solutions are here to stay.  Technocratic governance, barring a huge sea-change, is here to stay.

But the first equality is between those who pass the laws, and those who must obey them.  And, oh, by the way, you’re presumed to be fully aware of all regulatory law, even the weird obscure references you have to be a trained lawyer with access to a hideously expensive legal library just to know a given statute exists.

Progressives and Libertarians alike can agree that that’s neither freedom nor equality.

So we have to tone it down a bit. But we can’t tone it down too far, or else it simply turns into an excuse not to do anything, or an excuse to continue getting screwed by the political class, which has the connections and the money to saturate the world with “Fifty Reasons Why Everybody Should Think We’re Assholes for Defying The Political Elites (you won’t believe Number 18!).”


We need a yardstick. And here at Happycrow’s Eyeball Factory, we’ve got one.  It’s a very simple one. It starts with the Libertarians, in accepting a certain amount of government will be used in an activist fashion.  It lives or dies based on whether Progressives can restrict their Eye-of-Sauron technocratic impulses and realize that not all solutions will actually be “government” solutions — some of them will come about through technical innovation or purely voluntary discussion/persuasion/cooperative action.  That’s okay. Progressives like voluntary community action. So do Libertarians. They call it the Free Market (as opposed to the rigged game we have now): “laissez-faire” doesn’t mean “rape the workers,” it means “let people do things!”

So without further ado, here’s our Litmus Test:

“Do we want to do the thing? Is the thing working?

If not, what dependencies need to be taken care of first, before we try to do the thing?

Once we’re doing this thing, can we tweak the thing to make it better and impose fewer costs?”

As Piaget noted, you have have to learn how to do some things, before you can learn to do other things. You can’t crawl before you can roll over. You can’t run until you can stand. You can run before you can walk, but you tend to go “oops” a lot  in hilarious and dangerous ways, and scare Mommy to death with your injuries.

This explains Communism.

Example One: Prohibition. Let’s look at a slam dunk: The War on Drugs.

We don’t like people dying from drug abuse.  We also think that the War on Drugs sucks, because it’s based on Prohibition. And Prohibition doesn’t work(fn9).  And yet, drugs themselves, in a vacuum, aren’t popular. No, seriously. If you get high by sniffing glue, the world looks at you like the idiot that you are.  Meanwhile, we have an all-new sort of slavery going on strictly because of Prohibition – the prison-industrial complex, a bipartisan elitist institution which both Progressives and Libertarians rightly abhor.

Perhaps a better step-by-step strategy might be:

  1. Repeal prohibition and decriminalize substance abuse in order to get rid of its obscene profit margins.(fn10)
  2. Take enforcement money and route it to rehabilitation.
  3. Stop locking people in metal boxes with violent social predators for years on end because they abused drugs and somebody calls that Wrongfun.  (As opposed to getting blind drunk and puking all over your yard or frat house, which is apparently Rightfun.)

Does this mean that some people will still suffer from the choice to abuse drugs? Yes.  But at least it won’t be a narcotics-to-prison-industrial-complex industry. The external costs of our current processes will be radically lowered.  Let people suffer the consequences of their actions, and help them.

Example Two: Religious-liberty Exemptions.  Speaking of consequences, same thing applies on the gay-marriage front.  I live in Texas. TX is behind the ball, and I hate that, having spoken up in favor of this back when Democrats were still outing each other as an intramural weapon in their primaries.  But there’s also a liberty component involved in this issue:

Consistent on the Christian Pizza Joint Issue? Here’s your gut-check.

Religious liberty issues are real.  Even if you’re an atheist(fn11).  Solution? If people want the right to refuse business, let them have it.  But require them to post it in order to spare potential customers the humiliation and lost time/effort being refused business.  That’s why the Democratic amendment to Oklahoma’s religious liberty bill was so brilliant.  It killed the bill, because claiming the right to refuse service based on a category will lose them a lot of business.

There’s nothing wrong with paying a price to be true to one’s convictions.

Notice: no external costs!

Example Three: Political, Economic, and Social Equality

This is the toughie.  So let’s start with “do we like the thing?”  I would have to say yes, even as a libertarian type. While I certainly do not agree in a strict equality of outcomes(fn12), I’m certainly in favor of “a certain range of equality of outcome.”

  • There is a level of inequality at which point we cease to become a Civil Society(fn13), and instead revert to being a Prime-Divider Society(fn14), made up on those who rule and those who hate them.  We don’t want that.
  • There is also a level of inequality at which point one may be theoretically free to do whatever we want, but can’t do anything much at all, because doing things costs money, and we don’t have money.  Been there, done that, it’s no fun at all to physically drill holes in your belt to keep your stomach from waking you up at night from hunger.  We don’t want that.
  • There is a level of inequality at which point people are judged based on their identity rather than their actions, excusing assholes and crushing the wonderful because they belong to Category X.  However those categories are defined(fn15).  We don’t want that.

We Want The Thing!

The Thing is Not Working.

What would work?

We need a better foundation. First, we need to break this up into bite-sized chunks. Let’s do economic equality.

What would economic equality look like?  

  1. People would not be trapped into an underclass because they were born poor.
  2. People would have economic substance, not just the appearance or trappings of substance.
  3. People would be able to save, and not be forced into fundamentally-risky investments, in order to do so.
  4. People would have the chance to rise and fall based on the combination of their abilities and their choices.
  5. People would not be trapped between two choices that stunt one’s life, but rather should have the ability to have one’s cake and eat it too (or, a kid and a career, without necessarily having to pay a stranger to raise your child for you).

That’s not a perfect list. But if we can achieve these… we’d be so far along that what we have now would look horrible by comparison.  And… well, it already looks bad.

So wait a minute.  You’re saying you cannot have economic equality if you have absolute poverty.  Yes, yes I am.  I’m saying if you want economic equality, forget about the sodding millionaires, and focus on alleviating poverty.  Better yet, get the sodding millionaires on board.  

But externals count. If you deny people economic opportunity, and squish the middle class in the process, you create more poverty, rather than alleviating it.  Well… we can work on alleviating poverty. We can tutor kids. We can feed the hungry. We can help the mentally ill.  Most of that will have to happen on a grass-roots basis, and quite a lot of it won’t involve spending a government dime.  May take some sleeve-rolling, though.

What? You thought you’d take on something as monumental as “getting rid of poverty” by sitting at your keyboard with a latte?

What won’t work?

Doing everything in DC and imposing one-size-fits-all solutions (though some solutions can come from DC – you might be shocked at how much absolute poverty is caused simply because the Federal Reserve forces the country to have “targeted” inflation rather than “secular” deflation.)  Putting the cart before the horse and promising to have that kid sprinting, when everybody in the room knows she’s having trouble standing up.

If somebody promises That Good Thing without first addressing Concrete Ways to Achieve That Thing’s Foundations, then they’re probably an Elitist, not a Populist, and certainly neither Progressive nor Libertarian. And they’re probably playing you for a cheap vote and they giggle behind their Wall of Handlers.

We’re not enemies, or shouldn’t be.  Let’s bridge the divide.

Let’s make things work, and be flexible about how we do it.

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(fn1) On its surface, it’s fair to say “progressivism is for political progress.” The problem with that is that it’s facile and doesn’t describe how these people define “progress.”  Progressivism isn’t just some bullshit synonym for “liberal.”  Progressives advocate using the power of the state in order to create a society with greater equality between the haves and the have-nots.  Equality of outcomes achieved through technocratic means. 

(fn2) A libertarian wants to maximize individual rights, and rely upon voluntary cooperation between people, only using the state and its fundamentally coercive measures when no better option is available. Libertarians are deeply concerned about political equality and want to be able to chart their own course, rather than have it dictated to them.

(fn3) I am a full believer in voluntaryism. But we’ve inherited a world that fully believes that failure to coerce is a sign of moral degradation, and whose instincts are entirely to coerce.  Unless we wish to coerce a voluntaryist revolution (heh), it’s unlikely that we get there on earth.  No surprise that so many AnCaps are hot for the High Frontier.

(fn4) One of the great joys of the tech revolution in the 80s was the ability to hop on a modem, argue with adults behind the anonymity of a login name, and win. (Notice: winning here means “convincing the other person that your position makes sense,” not today’s method of “beating people about the head and shoulders until they shut up because Wrongspeech and Wrongfun is Wrong.”  So by grown-up here, I’m not necessarily speaking chronologically. Also, people who know me are still wondering.

(fn5) Contrary to left-wing political rhetoric, this is not usual.  Most libertarians, anarchists, and voluntaryists are on record as despising racism as the most stupid and hateful of all collectivist ideologies. Even Ayn Rand, progressive punching-bag that she is (who I think sucks, for full disclosure), is brutal in her condemnation of racism, racists, and leftover Klan clowns trying to use libertarianism as air cover (yes, this happens).

(fn6) Contrary to right-wing political rhetoric, this is not usual.  Most progressives are actually sort of appalled at the whiny foot-stompy “social justice warrior” crowd’s tendency to try to actually destroy the lives and careers of those who don’t agree that “the personal is political,” (yes, this happens) and very, VERY few progressives want to make it a crime to open a donut shop or engage in other general capitalist behavior.

(fn7) Don’t take my word for it. Go read Peter Drucker.  http://www.amazon.com/The-Ecological-Vision-Reflections-Condition/dp/0765807254

(fn8) Yes, you read that correctly. “Establishment” Republicans are, to a man and woman, Progressives. They loooove technocracy. So long as it’s being used for “progress” defined as socially-conservative and crony-capitalist ends.

(fn9) Which should tell people who want strict gun-control everything about why their current strategy is losing. Perhaps they ought try another.

(fn10) Profit margins are so large that they form the primary source of funding for post-Cold-War international terrorism.  Right now, that’s the best argument against Prohibition.  The (hopelessly-corrupt) DEA knows this.  The cops know this. That’s why LEAP and other law-enforcement organizations want to change it.

(fn11) Marxism itself is nothing but a Christian heresy.  And a pretty doofy one. There are better ways to be a fellow traveller.

(fn12) I don’t make as much money as my boss. I don’t work as hard as my boss, either. I don’t want to work as hard as my boss.  Therefore, him working harder and earning more is not depriving me of anything.

(fn13) Characterized by social egalitarianism with little divide between social elites and the rest of the population (in which any group of citizens can get together to form a group dedicated to solving one sort of problem or another.  Political activism requires civil society c.f. Civil Rights Movement”)

(fn14)  Characterized by a wide social gulf between elites and the rest of society, in which the elites make the rules and the rabble obeys them (or else). Think nobles-vs-peasants, or plantation-owners vs slaves.  Political activism is impossible in a prime-divider society (unless one counts violent revolution, which usually ends badly, with widespread misery, a high body count, and a new elite taking the place of the old one without instituting meaningful reforms. c.f. “history of Haiti.” )

(fn15) Yes, some (Republicans, Democrats, Progressives, Libertarians, Cops, LGBT People, Cis-People, Jocks, Nerds, Black People, White People, Muslims, Christians, Atheists, Men, Women, People Who Listen to Barry Manilow, Flying Purple People Eaters, fill in whatever the hell you want by now you SURELY get the idea) are assholes.  But you don’t broad-brush an entire group of people because some of them are assholes.  If you do this, you have become one of the assholes.

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Die GotterdammerHugo

I’ve been going back in forth about whether to blog on this.  But, screw it, I have a mouth, and I’m known to shoot it off — why should this be any different?

My immediate reaction can, rather gleefully, be summed up with Twisted Sister:

My measured reaction is a little different.  Let’s take this in steps.

In the Ecosphere Of Writers, I am plankton.

Here’s my writers’ cred:

  1. I’ve written one self-published novel, which has made about thirty-five bucks total. Mostly because I’m a hack, and partly because I’m just too lazy to constantly pimp myself (and for some strange reason, none of my friends are very good at gratuitously pimping my hack writing, either).(fn1)  By the time I finish the second one and get that out, I expect both together to get me up to “this pays for a nice lunch.”
  2. I have written a half-dozen articles on medieval military history, two of which significantly inform the historiography, and one of which is an actual “bombshell.”  I’m proud of that: if you want to address the questions I’ve addressed, you have to read, or at least be aware, of my work, or you’re out of touch. Nothing puffs up your ego like learning that you’ve become mandatory reading in a graduate program.
  3. I’ve written a slew of stuff for online gaming purposes, from item descriptions, to essays, to plotting, to “lore,” to various NPC in-character writing, not to mention simply running online events as a roleplayer, which means basically doing lots of impromptu dialogues.  (This is relevant. “Gamer” and “Reader” isn’t quite the same field…unless you’re into rpgs, in which case there is heavy overlap and lots of it. You might be surprised at how many gamers spend time reading all the little vignettes that go into item histories and descriptions.).

What does this adds up to?  SQUAT.

Any professional novelist, historian, or game-writer wildly exceeds my achievements in any of the three categories.  If my opinion therefore has any merit (and this is dubious), it lies in the fact that I’ve done all three as an amateur, and professionals have either not stopped it, in some cases they’ve even encouraged more of it (though I’m probably still unpublishable as a novelist).

What we have going on with the Hugos has been described all over the place. It’s the fundamental phenomenon of the late 20th and early 21st centuries: the Degradation of Outmoded Institution.

=====

Let me give you an example.

In the late 1990s I was attending a small academic conference in Lublin, Poland.  There was a presentation in french on Mindaugas of Lithuania. It was boring. It was a general historiographic review where the salient points were so trite they made fruitcake look daring and edgy.  The panel didn’t care for it either, which did help keep us awake. Because it’s very hard to be a young graduate student and stay asleep when the moderator asks the speaker “have you read a book on this subject which was published in the twentieth century?” — and he means it.  I managed a few rare moments to slightly bond with a gorgeous fellow graduate student who was far too smart to associate with the likes of me(fn2) ..mostly because we both had to excuse ourselves from the session, as quietly as we could manage.  You do that when you’re giggling uncontrollably in spite of your best efforts.

Scholars are serious, dammit.  And very, very full of their own importance.

Later on, when we were at the “milling about drinking truly awful wine” phase (if you’ve been to one of these, or any mixer on the rubber-chicken circuit, you know what I’m talking about), prior to breaking, we were introduced to the gentleman who had presented.

“Do you know who I am?” He asked.

“No,” I replied, politely but with absolutely zero interest.

He was the Director of the Academy of Sciences in Moscow.  And he wanted a little respect, dammit.  In spite of the fact that his scholarship would have been barely acceptable as undergraduate work, and was, quite literally, “laugh you out of the room bad.”  Now, if you’re in North America, and you don’t know who Mindaugas was, hey, no biggie.  But this was East-Central Europe, and in ECE, Mindaugas is a bit of a big deal.  Big enough that works had definitely been written on him in the 20th century.  Neither was I particularly inclined to give some Sovok mad props for prospering as a communist political appointee, either (though as I gained more experience with that, older-and-more-experienced me(fn3) would have been more sympathetic and at least given the guy a chance).

The Director of the Academy of Sciences was used to being an Important Person, running an Important Institution. And the poor guy just couldn’t grok that he was the same guy, in the same place, but that the game had suddenly and radically changed.  Moscow’s willingness to murder people, individually or wholesale, whenever that became convenient(fn4) no longer bought the man the international respect to which he’d become accustomed.  Not Even in Poland.

=====

 It’s the 21st century.  The old gatekeepers are losing power. In many cases they’re becoming hopeless retreads. Lately, the Culture Wars have gotten involved, because one set of Institutions losing power is that of the Cultural Left, which is explicitly fascist and totalitarian.  When the personal is political, the personal is subject to political review.  This gives rise to the celebration of Political Correctness.  And batshit insanity like feeling deeply oppressed because you think “the male gaze” is actually a form of assault.  Which, of course, for a person who accepts that position, posits anybody defending the right to look at a woman’s butt as some kind of horrific, mustache-twirling villain.(fn5)

These folks want a certain kind of inclusivity.  I’m okay with that kind of inclusivity. I’m not trans-sexual. If I were, and I were tired of having to explain myself over and over to a society whose reactions range from “you’re sick” to “gender dysphoria would suck, I’m so glad I’m not you,” I’d be sick, too. Of mainstream society. Gee, thanks, buddy.  Love you, too, and I’m not knocking out your teeth because I know you’re sincere and you mean well, even if you’re treating me like a category rather than a person.

(listens to the peanut gallery)

What?

I can’t say that because I’m a regular old straight dude?

Sure I can. I have this thing called “empathy.” It’s a super-power, you should try it sometime.

Okay, back on topic. I’m theoretically transsexual. Don’t tell my wife. Where was I? Oh, yeah.  I can totally grok a desire to see somebody, anybody, who’s like me portrayed as something other than a cardboard deviant villain.  And not just in a hackneyed “here’s your Wise Old Indian or Black Man about to die in an action flick” kind of way, too.  (Let’s go wayyyyy out on a limb and say “Vox Day is right, homosexuality is a birth defect.(fn6) ”  Okay, not a popular view, but for purpose of argument,(fn6)  what do you call a guy who treats people shabbily because of a birth defect, and is fixated on said defect, to the exclusion of the rest of the person in the equation?  You call him an asshole, that’s what you call him.)

But I can’t totally subject my life to that understanding, either.  And neither can I convince myself that this is the only viable lens through which to look at society. I’m not a cultural totalitarian, and neither do Cultural Totalitarians own the issue of basic human decency.

That’s why these people signed me for Two Minutes’ Hate on reddit. I’m obviously not with the program.  The fact that I’ve actually stood on the metro station platform between victim and harm’s way, and most of these upper-middle-class members of the intelligentsia have never fought off anything more imposing than a keyboard or an internet troll doesn’t matter.  Stray even a little bit, and you’re evil.  Stray a LOT, and you’re beyond redemption.  That’s how Institutions work.

So, Gamergate and the Hugos.

These people just can’t believe that they’re unrelated.  And from their perspective, they’re right.  It’s the same kind of bad person, doing the same kind of bad thing; holding the Institution accountable to its own words.  (There may or may not have been death threats involved with Gamergate.  Sadly, like the black gal who burnt crosses on her own front lawn a couple years back, these people are prone to create their own threat stories in order to make themselves look threatened and put-upon, so unfortunately it’s hard to know what can be taken at face value.)  Institutions respond to the perceived authority of the person with whom they interact. Institutions are famously prone to treat the Little People like garbage, but to bend over and stick their butts in the air, breaking every rule they have, for Important People.

Worse than that, while the Institutions are perfectly happy to eat their own rules raw for Important People, they can’t quite handle the fact that they’re losing. To Little People.  So they lash out, as Institutions always have.  And they’re finding, to their horror, that neither their argumentation, nor their ad-hominem, nor even their blatant libel, is buying them the reactions they would have obtained twenty years previously.  Even with Important People on Their Side weighing in.

It’s the Twilight of the Gods, and the barbarians are not at the gate: but they’ve knocked it in and are gleefully defacing the Palace Treasures.

I’d be deeply sympathetic, just like I am to the poor sap who knows nothing about economics or global politics and who looks back on the 50s and 60s as a wonderworld that would surely return if we would only put the same policies back in place.  But they are Totalitarian Gods content to destroy the lives of those Little People who dare to speak up. So my sympathy is limited to those who’ve been played by the rhetoric. I have none for The Old Gods.

We don’t have to win at their game:  society has outgrown them and their Institution is no longer of concern to us.  The Lithuanian grad student no longer needs kow-tow to the Apparatchik.

Who needs Gatekeepers to the Palace, when we’re heading to the stars?

————————

(fn1): Here. Go buy my novel. Nyaa nyaa.  http://www.amazon.com/Malik-Pawn-Russ-Mitchell-ebook/dp/B006P76ESE

(fn2)Giedre Mickunaite, wherever you are, you’re still too way too cool for school.

(fn3) Notice that I didn’t say “wiser.”

(fn4) A certain sort of American reader will say “we’re just as bad.” Actually, it’s worse than that. U.S. foreign policy has often sucked bilge water through a cocktail straw. It’s often been morally indefensible. And as horrible as lots of US actions have been, we’re still not as bad.  Hang out with the folks getting their citizenship and let them tell stories. You’ll get it.

(fn5) That would be yours truly. If I treated my wife the way rape-culture theory asserts that I must (nota bene: not “argues that I should”), she’d divorce me for emotional abandonment. She’s likes a world in which I express an interest in her ass whether or not she happens to be thinking of something completely different at the moment of expression.  If I don’t look at an obviously gorgeous passerby, she get concerned for my well-being.  This makes her the “wrong kind of woman,” whose opinion is not worthy of merit in politically-correct circles.

(fn6) Hey. No. Burst-of-reading-comprehension time.  This is not my position. This is Vox Day’s position. I’m using it to make a point. I step on my own crank plenty, so if you’re going to hyperventilate, do it for something I actually say.

On Shepherds vs Sheep Dogs

(post-script: this one was written during a bout of insomnia. I’m leaving it unedited for now as a reminder to myself to leave things in “draft” shape until I’ve actually slept.  There are some things in here I absolutely stand by, but the same points could have been made much more constructively and with less derp, and it’s the mark of a grown-up to own it when you step on your own crank — Happycrow)

======

Col. David Grossman needs to either fix his goddamn metaphors, or sit down and shut the fuck up.

Grossman is a smart man who’s done a lot of research, and a lot of very necessary research.

The problem is that he’s exported some of the metaphors resulting from his research into contexts where they doesn’t apply.  One of these places is Law Enforcement, where Grossman’s research has been used to excuse innocent people being killed by those who are theoretically there to protect them.

Consider Eric Garner.

  1. Man resells cigarettes loosely. This is illegal because it gets in the way of NYC’s tax-farming schemes.
  2. Cops take on Garner, who objects to constantly having police in his face all day (issue with “broken windows” policing combined with the fact that, duh, Mr. Garner is breaking the law)
  3. Garner is taken to ground by police, where an illegal chokehold is applied, but more specifically, police apply body weight to his diaphragm, preventing him from breathing.
  4. Mr. Garner dies.
  5. ME rules it a homicide, case is wrapped up into larger agenda regarding Ferguson MO (justified) shooting.  Cop gets free vacation time, skates.
  6. Public is horrified at apparent new policing equation: “protect and serve = obey or die.”
  7. (Bad) Cops respond: “you don’t understand our jobs. Put on a badge or get back in the herd.” (This is a true quote from an aquaintance who will remain unidentified, but you can readily find similar examples all over the web)
  8. Public respect for Law Enforcement goes into the shitter at the spectacle of police telling the public they supposedly serve that they have no voice in discussions of how that’s carried out.
  9. Civilians who shouldn’t be dead and/or crippled continue to be dead and/or crippled. Good cops suffer and are less safe.

There are several issues here, and a big one is police accountability in general, or bad cops balls-out lying and faking police reports.  That’s not the topic here.  I’ll leave that one to Serpico.  The issue here is, “why is force being used so much more predominantly than it used to be?”  One answer is “they’re not, it was always this way.”  I actually don’t think that’s the case. We can track when various policies were implemented, and there’s little question that the War on Drugs has done a lot to change how policing is carried out, often in negative ways.  That’s one of the reasons that police officers are one of the major groups pushing to end Prohibition.

One of the major problems, as I see it, is Grossman has taken his research, applied it out of context, and used his influence, which is considerable, to peddle a false and pernicious ideology to Law Enforcement.  Let’s look at what Grossman has to say about the public:

One Vietnam veteran, an old retired colonel, once said this to me: “Most of the people in our society are sheep. They are kind, gentle, productive creatures who can only hurt one another by accident.” This is true. […] Thus there is a paradox, and we must grasp both ends of the situation: We may well be in the most violent times in history, but violence is still remarkably rare. This is because most citizens are kind, decent people who are not capable of hurting each other, except by accident or under extreme provocation. They are sheep.

I mean nothing negative by calling them sheep.

Except, he does.  His entire essay drips with contempt for the non-violent public.

We know that the sheep live in denial; that is what makes them sheep. They do not want to believe that there is evil in the world. They can accept the fact that fires can happen, which is why they want fire extinguishers, fire sprinklers, fire alarms and fire exits throughout their kids’ schools. But many of them are outraged at the idea of putting an armed police officer in their kid’s school. Our children are dozens of times more likely to be killed, and thousands of times more likely to be seriously injured, by school violence than by school fires, but the sheep’s only response to the possibility of violence is denial. The idea of someone coming to kill or harm their children is just too hard, so they choose the path of denial.

Did you catch that extremely subtle shift?  If that sounds patronizing and full of contempt, you should see what comes after that quote – by the end of the essay, it’s quite clear that “sheep” and “ignorant sheep” are clearly synonymous within the metaphor.  Grossman goes from one pretty basic metaphor based on talking to a veteran which is somewhat backed up by his own research, albeit conflating those who are capable of aggression but who engage in it as a last resort, and those who are incapable of it.

From there, he proceeds to what I believe is a quite fair paraphrasing, expressed this way: “Dave Grossman can’t tell the difference between somebody who chooses not to commit violence, and somebody who’s incapable of it.  Dave Grossman believes that non-aggressive citizens are ignorant bumblefucks.  Dave Grossman is trying to push a militarized perspective into law-enforcement.”

Dave Grossman is an asshole.  Okay, why do we care?

We care because plenty of cops are fucking terrified of the supposedly harmless sheep they’re protecting, and instantly equate even the subtlest whiff of suspected danger with “this isn’t a sheep, this is a wolf, blam blam blam.”  Law Enforcement has adopted “The Sheepdog Metaphor” whole-heartedly, and thus many otherwise good cops have become a warped caricature of what they’re supposed to be.  Cops shouldn’t be sheepdogs. Cops should be shepherds.  Because sheepdogs are fucking stupid, capable of seeing the world only through a single context. That’s why you don’t let them play with other peoples’ pets or kids. Or why they sometimes get loose in airports and herd humans (successfully, since humans in airports have been intentionally disarmed).

Let’s look at the life of a sheep-dog.  The sheep dog does not work for the sheep.  The sheep-dog works for a shepherd, whose job it is to fleece sheep.  The sheep dog’s job is to bring the sheep in for fleecing.  And lest you object to the logical extension of the metaphor here, there’s a fuck of a lot of fleecing going on even before we get into the batshit fascist insanity of the War on Drugs.  The sheep-dog doesn’t give a fuck what the sheep think. They’re sheep. They don’t protect sheep from wolves because they give a shit about the sheep: they protect sheep from wolves because wolves don’t have a license from the shepherd to fleece.

What does a sheep dog do when one of the sheep is out of line?  He bites him.

Sounds like the men who killed Eric Garner.  Cops who see themselves as separate from the community that they police.  Cops who only hang out with other cops and can’t relate to civilians.  Cops whose response to “this isn’t right,” in whatever flavor that comes, is to respond with aggression.  Cops whose response to being called out for all of the above being “put on a badge or shut up, sheep.”

In case you can’t see where I’m going here, let me spell this out explicitly.

Sheep-dogs make shitty fucking cops.

GOOD cops see a situation that’s not right, and they try to figure out what’s going on in a way that is concerned for the welfare of all involved.  And yes, Col. Grossman, and please get this through your thick fucking skull, cops aren’t “operators.”  Police have lethal force at their discretion, but GOOD cops don’t actually enjoy being violent, and are bothered by having to drop the hammer on somebody.  That’s why we have cops in the first place.  We outsource it to a group of people with lots of training and high standards, because society has learned the hard way that “instant justice” may make for a polite society, but it tends to go off half-cocked and condemn/execute people who shouldn’t be condemned or executed (let alone majority-vs-minority and all those other extremely related issues).

Shepherds do violence (to wolves) on behalf of their flock. They’ll also corral a sheep who’s gone astray, and bring them back home to safety, and sometimes that means collaring a sheep who’s gone so far out of bounds that they’re a danger to themselves and/or others. Shepherds endanger themselves for the sake of their flock.

Sheep-dogs? They just bite.  Sheep-dogs sit on MRAPs pointing machineguns at protestors.  Sheepdogs throw flash-bang grenades into cribs.  Sheep-dogs work for the government without respect for citizens. Sheep-dogs are frequently dirty cops.

“9 out of 10 sheepdogs can’t figure out why Mister Kitty feels stressed….. unless he’s doing something wrong.”

Being a cop is dangerous. Less dangerous than a lot of jobs that are far more likely to get you killed. But when cops are killed, it’s usually violence rather than accident, plus high stress and shitty hours staring up society’s asshole all day and frequently having to deal with People Who Have Gone Horribly Wrong.  When you’re patrolling a neighborhood at 3 a.m. because Mrs. Grundy might have seen a burglar, or Mrs. Grundy is kinda wrinkled and old-school and is freaked out about having seen a black man walking around in her neighborhood… cop doesn’t know.  Cop doesn’t know if he’s getting shot at during his next traffic stop.

Good cops sublimate that stress in healthy ways, realizing that John Q. Public they meet doesn’t walk in their shoes and isn’t responsible for their stress levels.  Bad cops, Dickless Napoleons, and people who’ve had it and need to retire and move on, handle that stress badly and flip out in ways that are hilarious, tragic, or both.

Sometimes, good cops have to shoot people to death. Sometimes, when that happens, it’s not instantly apparent to the public whether a wolf just got taken down, or the officers in question have flipped out and gone way overboard.

Sheep-dogs? They just bite.  And hate the public for questioning why they bite.

Civilian exercises his right to film you?  Bite him.

Amputee in a wheelchar won’t put down his pen?  Bite him.

Kid answers door with something in his hands?  Bite him.

Stroke victim walks and talks a little funny?  Bite him.

Man is suspicious because “taking afternoon walk while not white,” and doesn’t speak English?  Bite him.

Drunk kid behaves badly?  Bite him.

Known mentally ill man acts funny, while known to be mentally ill?  Bite him.

So. Before you point it out, I”m aware.  Some of these sheep-dogs were taken off the force. Others were sued. Some are in prison, where they should be, and should remain. News flash:  getting a bad cop taken off the force doesn’t bring dead people back to life.

The public loves good cops.  Shepherds who go into harm’s way for the sake of their flock get praise. Not enough of it, but they deserve all the praise they get.  On the other hand, if you’re a sheep-dog whose first reaction to any unusual situation or to lack of instant compliance is to resort to violence, John Q. Public is right to fear and despise you.

Col. David Grossman has a lot to answer for.

Be a shepherd, not a sheep-dog.

The Mask (you’d better hope) I Live In

Christina Hoff Summers has a nice little piece on a new flick by Jennifer Newsom called “The Mask You Live in.”

It’s a take-down, to be sure, but it’s a pretty gentle takedown, and I think that’s appropriate.  I’m going to pile on as well, and equally gently – I won’t even put in my usual snarky pictures.

 Newsom, while hewing strongly to the weird anti-science cult of male and female psychological equality, is, I think, a fairly mainstream feminist, unlike an outright manhater like Hanna Rosin or Andrea Dworkin, or any of their ilk.  Unlike the latter crowd, Newsom’s not vicious – her work drips with actual, albeit misplaced, concern for young boys.

I’d like to suggest that Newsom’s work, though, is fundamentally dangerous, and while all reasonable feminists can look at somebody like Rosin and say “okay, that’s getting her grant money but really isn’t helping the conversation,” that what Newsom’s suggesting is not only misplaced, but if achieved would fundamentally overturn both society as we know it, and more importantly in this context, society as feminists would like it to be.

I won’t waste a lot of virtual ink on defending the assertion that men and women are cognitively different.  Any reasonable search through scientific literature demonstrates this — in spades.  I’m going to simply take a single “masculine virtue” — that of emotional restraint  — and lay out why it’s crucial that real feminists accept that what I put in quotes up there need not be heresy.

Sex:

Let’s talk sex and violence, because they’re big parts of feminist discourse.  Gals:  ever have one of those days when you’re just PINING to get home so you can trip your Significant Other and beat them to the floor, or walking around feeling like a cat in heat wishing you had a significant other to trip and beat to the floor?  Now, you personally may not have — you may have a very mild libido, and there are plenty of gals that do.  But there are plenty of gals who don’t, too.  I went to college with a gal who’d crinkle up her hands like a mock villain and say “LUST” and go hit stuff before grimacing and getting back to her Madam Bovary assignments.  Well, especially around ovulation, gals get those spikes because your testosterone goes up, right?  That’s why kissing is such a thing — your sex drive spikes after good kissing b/c you’re getting testosterone from the dude you’re kissing. 

Multiply that by a factor of not one, not two, not five, but TEN, and you get “the average guy’s average day.”

Violence:

Testosterone plays a part here, too.  Ever had a day when, to quote the many pictures floating around Facebook, you’re of the assumption that breaking that person’s face open with a stapler or screaming bloody murder at them at minimum sounds like a completely viable option?  When you’re walking around on a hair trigger getting ready to RIP THE HEADS OFF anybody who gets in your way?

Yeah.  Testosterone and its ability to turn you into a white-hot killing machine.

Multiply that by a factor of ten, and you get “the average guy’s average day.”  We’re not even talking ‘roid-rage here, just “business as usual.”

“Masculine Virtue”

  Here’s the part where I try to sell you on the notion that you as a feminist should not only not be offended, but maybe even appreciative of what I just put in quotes (and the implication that its gender-corollary might exist as well).  What do you call a male who gives easy and casual rise to his feelings without restraint?  Well, usually we call him to help him arrange his parole meeting. (We also call him “bad at sports,” but that’s a more trivial issue.)

Violence?  Prison is full of men with a heavy potential for violence and terrible impulse control.  Right or wrong, women often get cut slack for initiating violence that would land a man in jail or in prison.  Part of how that’s right is the fact that men are rocking denser bones and 40% greater skeletal musculature.  Contrary to Hollywood stereotype, there’s nothing physically difficult about an average man hitting another average man with something heavy and then stomping him to death, and if sufficiently angry, the average man is not only capable of killing the average woman with his bare hands, but trivially capable of doing so — the differences in strength and leverage make it a non-issue. Those narrow shoulders and low center of mass may be good for skeeball and hip throws, but make no mistake, a guy’s wide shoudlers and high center of mass means that even an untrained hook packs a lot of “owie.”

But most men never do that. The closest most men get to initiating violence is either defending others as part of military/law-enforcement, or else to swing their kids around by their feet while their mommies cringe and the  little turds cackle maniacally begging “do it again!” like a broken record.

Sexual impulse control?  A man should have the sexual restraint to be able to be so on fire with lust that it physically hurts, and yet behave like a complete gentleman while keeping his hands to himself.  And the vast majority of men do just that.  Now, we agree that women should have such restraint, too. 

If a gal gets to the point of trembling and shaking and hurting with lust and can’t help herself, we don’t freak out.  But we don’t merely encourage that same restraint among men — we MANDATE it. Society frowns on rape, and if you’re that brand of feminist with an expansive definition of rape  who defines “I’m burning with lust but know that if I touch her like X, Y, and Z, she’s won’t be able to help herself and will give in even though it really isn’t what she wants to do” as a form of sexual-assault-by-means-of-psychological-pressure, you also are MANDATING restraint as a masculine virtue (while simultaneously cutting your sisters slack for not having it, and classifying “well, she should have said ‘no’ ” as supportive of ‘rape culture.’).   You’re a feminist, but your differing standard means you’re not being an egalitarian.

Dworkin, Rosin, & Company hate men – they want to burden men with dramatic feelings of guilt for simply having a sex drive and wanting to look at a boob or a butt.  They’re not looking for equality with men — they want to destroy them.  But both society in general and mainstream feminism still agrees that this stuff needs to be controlled.  There are times when my wife will be very sad if I have no interest in looking at her butt…. but for most gals, most of the time, it’s “hey buddy, my eyes are up here” country, right? 

And that’s what Newsom, as part of the anti-science-equal-means-identical cult doesn’t get.

If you as a feminist want a world in which men don’t catcall, and you as a feminist want a world that minimizes boobstare, you need men to exercise and be good at emotional restraint.  If you want a world in which the 3% or whatever it is of men who do rape are as good at keeping their hands to themselves as everybody else is, and a world in which angry, frustrated, suffering men (the same ones who are way more likely to become victims of suicide) don’t haul off and knock the crap out of the women in their lives as an outlet, Male Emotional Restraint is both a Male AND a Feminist Virtue.  And rather than castigate society for how men teach their sons and brothers and male peers to develop it, perhaps a better take would be to find those who lack it, and help them to develop more of it.

The ancient wisdom of sausage

“Sausages without mustard is like war without fire.”

sausages

Yet More Infantilizing of “da yutes”

Saw this article at the same time as the daughter of one of my friends up in Canuckistan just became a teeenager, and all I could think was “Aww, not this shit again.” 

Let’s be clear.  There IS no such thing as a “teen brain.”

There is also no scientific legitimacy whatsoever to these arguments.  While some individuals mature (and age) more rapidly than others, the notion of the Teen Brain is bunk.  What there IS, on the other hand, is a fundamental insult built into our society.

It’s amazing how much “mature wisdom” resembles being too tired.  — Robert Heinlein

At or around 16, you’re an adult.  But chances are, you attend a government school, which under “no tolerance,” can do anything ranging from sentencing you to slave labor for swearing (aka, you swore in school, so now you must come in and help the District inventory its textbooks on Saturday) to expulsion for daring to defend yourself against an assailant (or, as colloquially known today, a “bully”: somebody who won’t be defused with words, yet who you are forbidden to counter with force). 

You’re sexually material, more or less as intelligent as you will ever be in your entire life, and just ITCHING to actually get out and do/see/achieve.

But

  • You can’t rent an apartment.
  • You can’t buy a car.
  • You may have wine with your dinner, if your parents provide said wine to you.
  • If you’re sexually active, you can’t have sex with anybody outside of an extremely narrow age range (and then everybody’s going to look the other way and pretend it’s not happening), or else your lover goes to prison.  If you’re not sexually active, you have a front-row seat for your clueless friends lurching from disaster to disaster, sometimes causing each other real harm.
  • You can’t start a business (because….) You cannot sign a legally-valid contract.
  • You most likely attend a school where you have less personal freedom than if you were in prison.

And people wonder why teenagers are angsty and pissed-off all the time.

600 years of financial history, and you people still think Central Banking is a good idea? 

By the time 90% of people are 16 or 17, they are adults in every sense of the word, but their emotional maturity is relatively low, not because there’s a “teenage brain,” but because these people have not exercised any meaningful responsibility or authority, nor suffered the consequences (positive and negative!) from having done so.  And by and large, that’s because society has forbidden them from doing so.  That’s mostly because years of schooling have been extended dramatically, so people aren’t getting married as early as they used to.  Teen marriages are rare now.

But those extra two years have also come to stand for “these are the years I experiment and make terrible mistakes while still being close enough to the nest that tigers don’t eat me.”

Make it to 18, however, and you get to hunt pop-stars.

So… what to do?

Pretty simple, actually:

  1. Avoid the obvious traps — motherhood? GREAT!  Single motherhood?  Not so great.  Does it beat murdering the baby? Obviously.  But the statistics speak for themselves.  Your absolutely charming friend who’s always making you laugh but whose life is a disaster and who always seems to bring out the worst and/or the lazy in others?  He’s fun, but he’s not your friend — enjoy his company…at arm’s length.
  2. Accept and Understand the opposite sex for who they are, rather than who you want them to be, and put some effort into figuring out who would make a good mate (even if you’re not going on the market yet, proper husbanding and proper wifing is a skill – being able to recognize IMMINENT-DISASTER-MAN/WOMAN is a very important skill).  Women are the gatekeepers of sex. Men are the gatekeepers of commitment. That’s why each tends to seek what the other offers.
  3. Have a plan – it will probably vaporize on contact with reality.  Life does that.  That’s not a bad thing — often it’s because reality gives you more and better options than you originally perceived.  Drift through high school and/or college?  Sure, if you want to be a barista.  Get the best education you can personally afford, and have some practical fallback skill upon which you can depend if things go sour.
  4. Be willing to bust your ass.  It takes ten thousand hours to develop a skill.  And that’s not ten thousand hours of half-assing, either — those who offer shortcuts are almost always offering a quick trip to kicking superficial ass.  Learn to do it the hard way. Boring doesn’t have to be bad — that’s a mental thing, and you can play judo with it.  Also, it teaches impulse control, and sadly, that’s every bit as important as those 18th-century stodges said it was.
  5. Pay attention to your elders — but don’t follow them blindly, either.  We know a lot, but … there’s no nice way to say this, so I won’t.  Quite frankly, the vast majority of us are a lot more full of shit than we want to admit, yours truly included.  A beard does not make a philosopher.  And society is in the middle of huge changes for which many of your elders are not only completely unprepared, they’re also completely in the dark about what’s actually happening, and why.  Many of today’s policies are biased heavily in favor of the aged (which is fine), but at the blatant expense of the young (that’s not fine).
  6. Know yourself.  And once you know your strengths and weaknesses, get out of your comfort zone.  Suck at math?  Deal with it, and start treating algebra like a jigsaw puzzle or crossword.  Good at math, hate talking to people?  Suck it up and force yourself to network, thinking about who you know might be able to help who-else you know.  If you’re not growing, you’re dying, and you can’t change and stay the same.  These and other cheesy aphorisms are actually really goddamned important things you have to understand if you don’t want to have somebody else dictating the terms of your life to you.
  7. SEEK RESPONSIBILITY.  And encourage your friends to do the same thing.  You cannot have “lessons learned” until you’ve actually got skin in the game and the prospect of a real win or real loss that can’t be papered over or explained away.  Even if it’s only a case of “he earned first-chair clarinet, and I’m stuck at second for another year.” 

Those who give you trophies just for showing up, who seek to coddle and infantilize you, however well-meaning they may believe themselves to be, are your enemies, not your friends.

Yes, I AM, in fact, looking at your ass.

In which I once more solidify my place as the least popular man in America…

I read something the other day which said that men get roughly the same endorphin rush off of looking at pretty women as women get from eating chocolate.

I have no idea if that’s true or not. But if it IS, it explains an awful lot.

Like why I’m sitting in the parking lot at the drugstore playing “amber lamb paper-bag-puppet” with my four-year-old girl, and stop to think to myself “yes, that is the definition of a bubble-butt, and I approve” before going on with the sorts of hijinx that makes four-year-old-girls snort and giggle — mostly Daddy being politically-incorrect and not letting visitors come in the house unless they wipe their butts after going potty.  And no, visiting puppet, “sometimes” doesn’t cut it.

Mistakes were made.

Mama never talks like that, but hey, Daddies are little girls’ introduction to Planet Male.

I was thinking about what I’d read when I went back to “let’s keep the kid giggling and screaming in faux-hysterical outrage” when I noticed a guy in a pickup truck, also in the parking lot… smoking a cigarette, and watching the same gal.  Now, let’s be clear.  He wasn’t doing anything wrong — as my four regular readers know, I’m not about to start apologizing for having been born with testicles, and I’m not about to lash into this other guy for being male either.  Because last I checked, that’s not a crime.  Yet. Mostly.  It’s not even a crime yet to say you’re a guy and want to get laid.

Despite her best efforts.

But it did occur to me that if there had been “eyeball lasers,”  or “eye lines” as my kid puts it, this gal, who was not exactly a looker but was by far the most interesting thing to look at in the drug-store parking lot  (in addition to having a perfect bubble-butt in spite of also having an adorable kid in tow — props to you, lady, whoever you are!), that there probably would have been two or three other lines going on as well.  Not all of the eyeball-lasters, of course, would have been fired by men.

Now, on the other hand, I’m not even vaguely apologetic about checking somebody out – for better or for worse, men judge women’s beauty based on their physical appearance.  Tell a woman that a guy is rich, and she instantly perceives him to be more attractive.  Tell a guy that, and he doesn’t give a shit – he may respect her for her achievements, or want to cadge on her bank account, but it will have zero influence on whether he rates her as attractive or not.  It all goes back to that whole perpetuate-the-species thing.

Ow.

A rich guy is likely to take care of your kids much better than a poor guy….but whether you survive childbirth in the era before modern medicine is pretty much a game of physical and genetic fitness.  Now take the above picture, and figure out what the male side looks like now that we’re rocking a 30%+ obesity rate (“just plain fat” seems to be around 75% where I live), and you can figure that there’s a lot of gals falling off the right-hand side of the cliff and screwing up the system.   And since we don’t have effective cloning tanks and still perpetuate that species by, you know, fucking — well, nowadays, that leads to problems.  One of which being, all the guys were looking at ONE gal, rather than all the gals – because, well, chubby-chasers are out there, but there are way fewer of them than there are obese women nobody wants to look at.  Oops. Judgments.  Yeah, that’s harsh, but in the actual real world, people make judgments constantly.  And they’re not all on the same page, either….

OUCH.

Not everybody’s comfortable with getting checked out.  This photo makes the rounds a lot.  Dirty secret, for those SWPLs who would never DARE to lower themselves to eat at a Hooters, is, not only are the buffalo wings really damned good, but for the most part, the gals working there are pretty happy and well-adjusted, too.  And it’s not an act — anybody who’s been in the restaurant business for ten whole minutes can tell when their wait-staff is actually glad to show up, versus when they’re looking to cut and run and will probably do a crap job on the side-work at the end of their shift.  But let’s look at the other gal in this pic for a minute.

She’s MISERABLE.

And let’s be sympathetic, rather than snarky to that.  The “misandry” folks are out to lunch here.  Emotions do not have moral value, and her emotions in this pic are deserving of considerable sympathy.  Empathy, maybe, maybe not, but let’s go there for a minute anyway, shall we?  Not all women are comfortable getting checked out, or comfortable getting looked at by men.  That’s especially the case when gals assume that a guy’s interested in a woman just because he checks her out (hint, ain’t so). If you’re a chick, and you know a dude, I guarantee you he’s checked you out.

Guys adore women who are comfortable with that and who can realistically accept guys for who and what they are, without assigning them false attributes (in either the positive or negative direction).  Gals are checking you out, too — only instead of your “display,” (biologically speaking), she’s checking you out as a competitor.  That’s why hell hath no fury like a group of plain women suddenly having to interact with a stunningly beautiful woman.  I’m not the only person who’s been a witness to rafts of just truly UGLY rumors and horrible gossip being spread by X women about Y woman for no other reason than that they can’t stand her being more attractive than they are.  It’s real.

A woman who’s not comfortable with living in a society of men checking her out?  Ouch.  Where’s she going to hide?

The answer here isn’t for anybody to apologize, unless you’re the sort of doof who stares at a gal’s tits while she’s talking to you, because what are you, fourteen?  You look at her tits when she’s talking to somebody else.  Sheesh, dude.  Have some class.  I think the answer here is mutual understanding and patience.  Gals need to understand that a lot of men think that women are, to put it bluntly, a royal pain in the ass, and that their interest in getting laid is the only reason our species even survives.  Checking women out is baked into the cake, and needs to be.  Ladies need to understand this.

And it wouldn’t hurt the dude in the pickup to realize that yeah, the gal with the bubble-butt and the adorable kid might have issues, doesn’t understand men, or, for whatever reason, isn’t really down with that, to be a bit more subtle and make her day a little easier in the process.  Compliment her earrings; talk about something adorable your wife did.  Communicating “I am not a threat” isn’t hard.  You don’t kick a man when he’s down, and you don’t pick a scab when it’s raw… a little mutual understanding and sympathy goes a long way.

How to make Tedium rock

“Oh, God, this is SO Annoying!”

How many times have you heard or thought that?

A lot, I bet.  I get it during data entry.  Or helping out the online gaming world I was involved with, when hundreds of item blueprints needed to be made.  Or, as every teacher knows and dreads… grading.

I mean, hell, that’s why Scantron exists, right?  Lazy teachers who “don’t wanna.”

Once you start down the Dark Side, forever will it control your destiny.

But there’s something about tedium that’s really neat.

Tedium is exciting.

Yes, Happycrow was voted “least in need of LSD” back in school.

Wait, What?

That’s right.  Tedium is exciting.  Here’s how it works.  No, really, what I’m about to show you will take the worst chore of your life and make it totally palatable, like putting mental bacon on it.

Take some really shitty, godawful, horribly tedious task.  The sort you’re doing to do, all the while your forebrain screams at you “DON’T WANNA DO IT.”  You’ll hate doing it.

Mostly because you’re letting your forebrain scream “don’t wanna do it” at you.

Now, here’s what you’re going to do.  DIVE IN.

While you’re doing it, pretend what you’re doing is a very specific form of dance or meditation, and focus on doing it as effortlessly and efficiently as possible.  Fewest mouse clicks, most effortless sweeping, fewest folds until the kid’s underwear is piled neatly, whatever it is.  FOCUS ONLY ON THAT.

About forty minutes in you’ll notice that your pulse is up, and you’re WAYYY more alert than you usually are.  And when you get towards the end of your job, your pulse is really going to go up, not just a little bit, but like you were watching the COOLEST MOVIE EVER.

Like this, only with sex, football, AND giant robots. And puppies.

See, the reason you get bored and hate doing tedious tasks is that they don’t do much for your forebrain.  Your forebrain would really rather be doing something else.  But.. you know, red paper, green stamp, blue box, what’s in it for Mister Forebrain?  Nothing, and it knows it, so it tells Miss Amygdala, “DON’T WANNA.”  And Miss Amygdala responds with “I HATE this, I’m SO bored, GOD, kill me NOW.”

And then you’re miserable for four hours AND did a shitty job, too.  Otherwise known as “force a small child to clean up their legos.”

But by embracing the tedium and focusing not on how stupid and robotic it is, but focusing on doing it as effortlessly as possible, your forebrain goes into “I’m the boss” mode, and monitors what you’re doing.  The rest of the brain could give two shits anyway, and by the time you’re done, so far as it’s concerned, you just did two hours of intricate dance and are PSYCHED ABOUT LIFE.  It’s like a triple-espresso and a rave all rolled into one.  You feel better, you LOOK better (bored looks old, and not “good old,” either].  Plus, you get clean laundry.

And a much better attitude, which people pick up on.  People are nicer to you when your body language says “I’m awesome and I just kicked ass!” than when it says “I hate my life and don’t want to pick up my legos.”

Yeah, nice to see YOU, too.

Direct Sales, Introverts, and the Onrushing Future

This post is going to ramble a bit, so bear with.  As usual, actual points will be made as the ramble unfolds.

There’s a couple things I want to do that are above and beyond where my salary is going to get me.  One of which is to either home-school my kid, or get her into a good private school, and the other of which is get my wife back to see her Dad in Hungary a lot more often than our middle-class salary can afford.  So as a side gig, I’ve started selling electricity on the side for Stream Electric, via their marketing arm, Ignite.  They’re basically the world’s biggest direct-sales electric company.

Currently we can sell in a number of states, and have put in a couple of nice tricks.  Just like Mary Kay that my Mom sold, and Pampered Chef that a couple of my buddies do now, they give cool bennies to their sales dudes — but instead of getting free makeup or cookware, so long as I can keep fifteen customers in good standing, they comp my electric bill – there’s a few technicalities and small print, of course, because our local (ridiculously-) hardworking poles-and-wires guys at Encore gotta eat, too, but it’s a great perk.  And in TX with it’s 105 summer days, that’s a bennie which is pretty freaking cool.

[obligatory spam] So if you read my blog and generally think I fail to suck, recommend me.  My kid and father-in-law will thank you. [/obligatory spam]

I like these guys, for a bunch of reasons, and in general, I like direct sales and network marketing.  Let me explain why… because there’s a deeper point about the future — we’re going to see a lot more of this.  Paying extra to your sales guy directly makes a lot more economic sense than slapping a banner on a stadium and hoping name recognition will keep your business afloat.

Stream and Ignite have a typical network marketing structure intended to help people get in by creating a sales structure rather than one guy trying to get a bazillion and a half customers, and part of that is because that gets you better customer service over time.  One of the things I’ve learned working in a sales office and learning how to fake being an extrovert (exhausting for an extreme introvert like myself, but it’s important for a person to get out of their comfort zone, especially if they ever do classroom/teaching/lectures, which, well, I do).  After all, if you get service through a huge corporation, and you have trouble with billing, what do you get?  A toll-free number and a hot date with Girl From Ipanema.  You’re my customer, and you have a billing problem?  You call me.  And I’ll get to work on making sure you get taken care of.  Which strikes you as the better deal?

Geezers tripping down Nostalgia Lane excepted, of course.

On the other hand, a lot of network marketing guys are, well, let’s be honest, Ponzi Schemes (cough-Herbalife-cough).  They’re mostly selling to the folks who sign up for them.  Stream isn’t doing that.  In fact, next spring, assuming the program’s worked right, they’re rolling out that to their customers directly.  Recommend enough folks who pay their bills on time, and you the customer get your bill comped, too.  In other words, they’re seriously doubling down on the idea that they want to really be a player with customers, not simply selling to their sales guys like some of the other, shadier mlm/network-marketing folks out there (That’s right, Herbalife, I’m looking at YOU).  In fact, as D Magazine noted a couple years back, their commitment to customer-base, rather than ponzi, growth nearly killed the company early on.

In this case, “Nothing fails like success” almost turned prophetic.

Now for me, who likes direct sales/network marketing, but HATE scams and bullshit in general (I mean, come on, my job as a history professor was more or less nothing BUT teaching my students to think critically and sniff out bullshit).  The interesting thing, in terms of reaching out and talking to folks hasn’t been talking to various sales folks (all of whom get this), but the fact that that most of my friends are ALSO serious introverts, several of whose reaction to hearing what I’ve been up to has been to immediately wall up and completely shut down ALL conversation for the space of fifteen minutes or so.  And one of the dudes to do this is himself a serial entrepreneur, (aka, somebody who gets this stuff!) who STILL couldn’t bear to hear it.  Which is really interesting, because I am completely convinced that introverts are the people most inclined to profit from this sort of thing, precisely because every man-jack of us is allergic to “bullshit for the purpose” and HATES being “sold at.”  Tell somebody who’s an extrovert “hey, this call’s not personal per se, I’m calling to see if you can help me out and pitch something at you,” and your extrovert goes “yeah, sure, hit me.”  Because she’s happy to hear from you in the first place — connection, not content, is her Gold Standard.

Your introvert goes “wait — the only reason you picked up the phone is to SELL ME?!  DIE!!

Introvert just before deploying her devastating EYEBALL-CANNON OF SCORN.

But in spite of that, I have hopes.  Part of which is, sooner or later, once you can get past an introvert’s amazingly-active bullshit filter (seriously, we can smell “fake” at fifty paces), they’re often intensely curious, and they’re also much more sensitive to how the people they’re talking to actually feel and what they need.  They just don’t like getting sold at.  Which brings me to the second part, and the question some people may be asking now… “wait, if the author himself is a hardcore introvert, why does he generally like network marketing?”

That’s because yours truly is a historian and has a somewhat-more-keen-than-usual sensitivity for change over time.  And part of that is the understanding that, prior to the 20th century, almost ALL marketing and ALL business, unless you were a farmer, a laborer, or in a few niche trades, was network selling.  Corporations have only been a thing recently, and corporations which could shove aside any and all competitors due to the price advantages of mass production and mass distribution networks, are quite new in human history.  Did you sell wool?  Make clothes?  Make bacon?  Chances are, you relied on word of mouth, and definitely the strict line between the commercial and the personal that we perceive in the beginning of the 21st century didn’t exist.  Because the entire middle class was made up of entrepreneurs — when there’s no such thing as a corporation, and your business was dead as soon as you were by definition, entrepreneurship was the name of the game.

This isn’t how your great-great-grandma sold pies. YUM, PIES…

The increasing decentralization of production in the 21st century changes things.  Yeah, we’re not quite to the stage of one-off custom cars and computers being competitive, and there’s a good chance we won’t get there because they’re a category good rather than an actual product.  Otherwise, though, have you noticed lately how “mass production” increasingly stands for “useless crap I don’t actually need?”  We’re entering a stage where we can shop out and find things which are the design and model we specifically need, and increasingly, we can go out and find craftspeople and cottage-industry people who can make us specifically the stuff we need.  Remember twenty years ago when shopping meant “let’s go to the mall and see if any of the crap there is actually something I would think about wearing?”  Yeah, instead, now you get kickass companies like Eshakti that let you get the insanely-cute dress you want without leaving your home, and which increasingly are built around letting you put together exactly what it is you wanted in the first place.

Seriously. Just LOOK at this owl dress. Is that not Teh Kyoot?

Facebook may be spamming you with all sorts of links you could give a complete rat’s ass about… but the whole “hey, I recommend this because I think it’s cool?”  Yeah, we do that.  And we’re doing a LOT MORE OF THAT.  I’ve referred potential customers to entrepreneur buddies of mine, potential creative gigs to my animator buddy, all sorts of stuff like that.  I do more of that than I can shake a stick at…because they’re my buddies.  Duh.

So, while the Arabs may be right about “getting sold” when they say “only the Devil recommends himself,” saying “hey, this OTHER guy is pretty darned cool, go buy stuff from him,” THAT is already well in swing. The historical pendulum is swinging back towards the middle, and blurring the lines.

Even among us introverts.

Though it’s still WAY harder to sell electricity than an awesome t-shirt about velociraptors.

Government Shutdown and Battlespace Preparation

So, we’ve been “shut down” (meaning not everybody is funded and working) for two days now.

The media, of course, is losing its little minds over this affair, but let’s put this in perspective:  the “shutdown” isn’t important, except insofar as those Republicans who aren’t wholly-owned subsidiaries of Wall Street intend to remind the country, and particularly the Beltway Bandits, of Constitution 101.  Aka, the House controls spending.  What gets spent, and on how much is directly controlled by the House, as an additional layer of defense both against executive usurpation, and against tyrannical laws which can’t be enforced without the lifeblood of currency.

That’s not really what this is about, however.  If it were, President Obama wouldn’t have laid down the “not going to negotiate” marker in public over a month ago.

The President laid down that marker because the debt-limit ceiling is upon us again, and he desperately needs political fortune to be blowing in his direction as he goes into it, especially after the debacle he suffered with Syria.  He needs to win something in order to have any leverage in the upcoming “what do we negotiate on the debt ceiling fight,” and right now, he’s got nothing.  All the Republicans have to do is say “same deal as last time,” and the Democrats suffer “cuts” across the board which are inherently painful, and which will truly hurt the Democratic coalition if it goes through, by forcing Team Blue to pick between which of its various constituents get to feed at the public trough — there won’t be enough money for all of them to do it, especially with the massive giveaway to the insurance companies, err, um, public health insurance, that Reid and Obama are defending.

Remember, a battle is where both sides throw the dice, because both sides think they’re the ones who will win.

The Republicans don’t care about a short-term break in non-essential services (outside of a few truly worthy things like NIH etc), if it demonstrates that They Mean Business when it comes to the debt ceiling.

The Democrats believe that if they can paint the Republicans, and especially the Tea Party types, as out-of-control radicals, that the public will back Team Blue when it comes to the Real Battle of determining how much debt the US is able to take on.  And this has extra ramifications — if the US can’t grow its debt, Ben Bernanke and the Fed will be forced to quit with their Quantitative Easing program (they can’t buy up debt which the government isn’t issuing, after all), thus resulting in the Wall Street stock bubble that it fuels going POP, and everybody’s pensions and portfolios taking a huge hit right before the 2014 elections.

Make no mistake, this is live-or-die, bareknuckled politics going on.  But it’s taking part in a larger context than the media bobbleheads will talk about.

Cherry Pie

AnnaMeggyesPite

Walkable DFW?

It could happen.  This guy definitely wants it to happen, and he scores a few good points.

They’re not panacea, however.  Like most urban planners, the author has a real problem — how to get from “here” (DFW as a non-walkable entity) to “there” (DFW, an area roughly the size of Connecticut, completely walkable).  Some of that is relatively easy, if the political vultures were to make the right choices — such as dismantling some of the decrepit and blight-inducing freeway interchanges on the eastern side of downtown Dallas.

Others, for instance, are not so easy.  Urban Heat Island and localized climate problems are definitely an issue, and while technological fixes are neat, they’re not ready for prime-time, usually failing horribly on economic grounds.  Underground heat-exchangers sitting beneath asphalt?  Great!  Underground heat exchangers that happen to be pipes… under anything… on Dallas’ heaving and buckling clay soils?  Not so great.  Notice I’m talking about local climate. If Anthropogenic Global Warming is real, then it’s also inevitable. Ironically, the only nation to meet the Kyoto Protocol targets was the United States, which refused to sign them.  Right now, sitting between 396-399ppm of carbon hasn’t seemed all that catastrophic to little old me; my roses and I would be fine with, say, 3-5,000 ppm.  In Dallas, what we need is exactly the same thing they needed at the turn of the 1900s.  Dallas wants for water and shade.  Give DFW water and shade, and this becomes a very comfortable place to be.  My front yard is a blighted deathzone in August when it’s 105 out, because it’s full sun.  My back yard in the same circumstances?  Hot but comfortable.

So what to do if you need shade, in aggregate and lots, more than, say, a yuppie designer patio?

It’s gotten so bad they’re selling patios with venetian blinds on top. No, really.

Let’s start with the shade.  The answer, unfortunately, ISN’T painting all of our roofs white.  I thought that was a good idea for a while, but it turns out that  when you paint your roof a light color, you’re actually heating the air above your town and making rain LESS likely.  Sure, you’re reflecting away the light/heat, but that heat has to go somewhere. And as any Texan will tell you, making rain less likely to happen is somewhere on the list of Things People Would Kick You to Death for. 

Planted in front of a white-painted house.
Or, “why do you hate trees?”

We have lots of warehouse space, and lots of yard and highway space, all of it with crappy brush grass that’s prone to burn, does little or nothing to reduce heat, needs massive irrigation, and if not carefully tended, becomes an eyesore.  The urban design people want to see lots and lots of downtown canyons.  That’s okay, if you have lots and lots of demand that will pay for it, and can do what pretty much all urban planners suck at, which is making an uptown or downtown which people who have children and are actually perpetuating the species want to live in.  Urban canyons have plenty of shade…but they’re loud and dehumanizing.  All that sound has to go somewhere, and having worked and lived downtown, I can tell you where it usually goes — straight into my blood-pressure readout.  Add heat-island effects destroying any hope of a breeze to that, and what you get is “polluted hell.” (Remember, boys and girls, cars may pollute, but construction vehicles and machines you need to build these huge cities, pollute a LOT).

Not how most humans define “relaxing.”

So, urban canyons and hives.  Not really likely unless urban planners rule the world, in which case we all get to run and hide from the bulldozers.  On the other hand, trees need a LOT of water, and they have problems.  They take a lot of water to get going.  They take a lot of TIME to get going, and until they do, they throw really marginal shade — at best.  And when there’s a storm, they tend to fall on things and break them.  While that’s not really a big deal in a pocket-park where the hip and childless are playing, for the rest of us, storm damage is a real thing.  They also can’t really be planted right next to sidewalks or building foundations, unless you want to lose your sidewalk or foundation.

Oops.

Compounding this, the elephant in the room is that it’s not the tenants driving this process.  For most of the big commercial structures (office buildings, warehouses, etcetera), the actual physical building is owned by big property management companies, and the people in them are simply leasing out space.

Thousands of office-goblins, slaving under the ever-watchful Eye of Trammell Crow.

So you can write and pontificate and blog away, but until you can sell your ideas to the Property Management Mafia, you ain’t getting nowhere.

Bamboo could help some, though, as could Crape Myrtles if used correctly.  Crape Myrtles are already everywhere, but can be unpopular because ever summer they dump a carpet of beautiful purple blossoms all over the ground (perversely but perhaps predictably, this is why we at Chez Happycrow like them).  Planted two-to-a-greenspace, they’re useless, but they can be planted as a checkerboard and allow for dense, consistent shade.  Of course, there’s still that “storm damage issue.”

(Oops. Also, not a crape myrtle, but couldn’t resist.)

Bamboo has a bad reputation because their roots/rhizomes spread (but so do normal trees), but they’re actually easy to control once you know what you’re doing, and plants like them have some real advantages:  so long as you’re taking care of your foundation and sidewalks, as any commercial property ought to be (CAM = Common Area Maintenance, aka, what the property appraisor had better not see you deferring until later), you can plant them right next to your building, no problem.  They start off a little thirsty, but nothing compared to normal trees — your regular property-maintenance sprinkers are plenty, and are plenty even if run only a couple times a week.  That’s much better than what office buildings spend to keep their grass green.  Meanwhile, they throw shade.  They throw serious shade.

A place I’d rather be than said urban canyon.

They also don’t drop branches on your head during a windstorm.  Depending on what species you plant, they grow either loosely or densely (and thus are GREAT for noise mitigation).  You can plant them in a tiny little dollop of green in your parking lot, or all the way around a building if you want to stick soft, relaxing indirect lighting on your windows, while also not running the chiller (read: industrial-strength A/C ) on your roof quite so hard.  Once established, unlike either grass or “normal” trees, they are also self-mulching, throw down leaves as they grow, rather than in the fall, choking off brush and crap which you otherwise have to pay guys to go out and trim.  And they love hot weather: if you want a shady, relaxing building whose tenants just love to renew their leases, bamboo lets you take that greenspace and turn it into relaxing, nigh-maintenance-free suburban forest for less money and less water than you spend to keep “basic, sun-parched grass” green and weed-free.

Which brings us to water.  Which isn’t quite the same thing when it comes to making a city walkable so much as it is making a city liveable.  The population of North Texas is exploding, and there’s absolutely no sign that it’s going to slow down until the Rust Belt and Left Coast recover from their nearly-religious attachment to the Blue Governance Model, and embrace a liberalism which actually looks towards the future rather than desperately clings to the 20th century (something we at Chez Happycrow have commented upon, oh, once or twice).  That means we need to stop pretending that we’re emerald-green Wisconsin, and start actually making our zoning laws work for the local climate.

Ah, Wisconsin, with its soft blue northern sky. Might as well be Nunavut compared to Dallas here, on the same latitude as Tripoli.

Unlike Minnesota, we are not a land of 10,000 lakes, and the way we waste water just to keep grass green in the summer is criminal.  Even more so because half the time, the only reason we do it is to keep the local zoning ordinances and HOA-Nazis off our backs.  Homeowners and property owners need the ability to let grass or ground cover be longer, because eight inches of traditional grass simply doesn’t hold enough moisture in the soil when it’s 105 outside for two weeks straight.  During a drought, it’s even worse — two years ago, I had cracks in my front hard that were 30 inches deep.  And I was by no means the only one.  We need the freedom to plant taller groundcovers on a widespread basis, if we’re going to keep moisture in the soil, use less water, and not get into giant political dogfights with all our neighbors, because we’re wasting water while trying to get theirs.  Not to give an excuse to the “car on cinderblocks, lawn looks like crap” crowd, but simply to be sustainable.  After all, the first step towards a truly walkable city (let alone gigantic regional metroplex), is to first have a city you’d actually want to take a walk in.

“Help me, Obi-Mondo Grass, you’re my only hope.”

Everything you know is….nearly obsolete.

We are living on the cusp of huge social change, as old-school governance models creak and die because they were designed for the world as it existed 120 years ago.

There are fundamentally three kinds of consumers:  those who spend to fulfill needs, those who spend as a status marker, and those who “embrace trends.”

Let’s look at the details.

What do we buy?
What we buy falls into four categories

Commodities:  (anything in your corner drug store) more exciting than “a stick,” but not by much.
Manufactured Goods:  (computers) people make it, and all but the poorest can afford one of variable quality
Luxury Goods:  (high-end cars, private planes) Some people can afford it, others can take on debt to pretend they can afford it, it’s economically irrational for most to *try* to afford it.
Unobtainium/Science Fantasy:  Sure, kid, you can have your own private spaceship.  If you’re daydreaming, or among the twenty wealthiest people on earth.  The blog on which you’re reading now used to be Science Fantasy (c.f. Ender’s Game), but is now Commodity.

 

The niche a given item inhabits changes over time, but the categories themselves don’t change much. 
A well-known example: the cellular phone.  Believe it or not, a simple thing like Caller I.D. used to be unobtainium.  I knew the guy who more or less came up with it in analog.  He earned a ton of money making it… for the Saudis.  Because you had to be that kind of rich to afford it.  So let’s extrapolate that out to cell phones.
Cell Phones have gone from Unobtainium (Dick Tracy comics and government-only projects), to Luxury Goods (c.f. “Gordon Gekko brickphone scene”), to Manufactured Goods (the explosion of cellphones in the 1990s), to today… when a base cellphone is a Commodity.  It’s now a basic consumer good, and by basic, I mean Basic.  There’s nothing fashionable about a cellphone any more.  Poor people have them.  Nobody thinks twice about poor people having them.  Good thing they do, too — they’re so ubiquitous that “payphones” have effectively ceased to exist.

Now mobile computing is moving down the same track.  It’s a luxury good that has moved into the Manufactured Good niche — not everybody has an iPhone or tablet computer, but those who want one can generally afford one.

There are fears.  What happens to employment when a factory cranking out manufactured goods can be run by a half-dozen people, and robots are doing all the rest?

Killer robots have already taken over the lucrative “be my pet” job.

This is a 20th-century fear based on linear projection into the future.  Looking forward into the lives of our children, it’s also a context error which will look truly absurd in hindsight.

*Most of the everyday goods that people need in order to live are Commodities, and overpriced ones at that.*  The only reason they cost eight bucks, as opposed to 40 cents, is because of distribution and marketing costs. 

Some things are never going to be Commodities.  Computers and Cars are a good example.  That’s because they’re not items — “car” is not an item like “box fan” is an item.  Look at a car from the 70s and a car from the early 21st century.  We call them both “cars.”  But there are huge differences in capability, performance, and durability between them.  The 70s car is effectively unsaleable today — even if one were manufactured on the cheap, nobody would buy it, because its reliability compared to any modern car design would be so low that it would be cost-ineffective to anyone except those hobbyists for whom “automotive labor” is a syonym for “fun.” (Sounds crazy, but hey, I write essays for fun, and I know people who think that’s outright perverted).  Computers are much the same affair.  There is a class of Category Good which will never be a commodity because it depends on Current Generation Capabilities.  In forty years, driverless cars may be mandatory as a fundamental safety feature.  After all, most rush-hour fender-benders are caused not by drunkenness, bad weather, or even texting, but simply by daydreaming — driving a car in bad traffic is so damned boring that people tune out and *forget to do it*. Capability-Defined Category Goods will never be commodities.

Monday morning, defined.

Thus, not everything becomes a Commodity.  “Base-level-cars” are getting there, but their approach is asymptotic and will remain that way, especially once we figure out how to allow your average car to zip down the freeway at 150+ safely. 

Luxury Goods aren’t going away for similar reasons, though one major type of Luxury Good, based on “this is not mass-manufactured,” is going to go away, because to a certain extent, “mass manufacture” is going to go away, in favor of “mass design.”  (Conspicuous and Status-Display Consumption, otoh, will always be with us).

The Unobtainium category isn’t going away, because as we identify a capability, we desire to exercise it, and many of those desires are unfeasible either technically, economically, or politically.

Technically:  Fusion is hard, folks.
Economically:  Richard Branson can afford a flying car.  I can’t.  Chances are, if you’re reading this, you can’t, either.
Politically: We can have limitless clean energy tomorrow — if our political masters would allow contemporary nuclear plant designs, which are safe and literally *can’t* melt down.

“Factories” are currently Unobtainium for the average guy, but stripped down, economically-inefficient factories called “3d printers” are now a Luxury Good, and set to become a Manufactured Good pretty soon.  Personal Factories knock the entire logic of the late 19th century’s technocracy right on its ass. Learning curves to use these personal factories are pretty shallow, and going to get more so. Past a certain stage, when that learning curve gets sufficiently shallow, “unsophisticated commodities” will no longer have to be purchased – they can be manufactured on demand.  And if the raw materials for same can be conveniently recycled once they’re no longer needed (either in-situ or by-service), then an entire class of relatively unsophisticated goods are going to drop from “mass production” to “produce-on-demand”:

1.  Low-fatigue parts (random appliance parts, hooks hangers, etcetera).
2.  Toys, trinkets, costume jewelry, and minor decorative items (organizers, small frames)
3.  Cases, small containers, easy-assemble bags, packs, and low-end footwear
4.  Children’s (plastic) cups, bowls, and low-end eating-ware.
5.  Building blocks for low-fatigue custom structures (doghouses, sheds, etc).

Once a few patents expire, higher-end materials, and sintering technology becomes as affordable as layered deposition, we add quite a bit to the mix which currently requires one to go to an outsourced print-shop:

5.  Home ceramics
6.  Low-strength-requirement applications in metal
7.  Utility/No-Seam Hardweather gear, and eventually clothing production

That’s an awful lot of stuff.  Add “direct metal laser sintering,” without all the voids which weaken sintered items, and I can 3d-model and print any basic garden tools I happen to need, too, as well as pretty much all of the archaeological replicas I personally would need for my experimental archaeology.  Now, I hear the objections, and they are Legion.  But economically, here’s the important one:  “3d printed objects will never be cheaper than mass-produced goods.”

That is the real argument.  And that argument is wrong, because it’s context-neutral, and human beings….aren’t. 

Cost of 3d Printing:  Appliance Aquisition and Storage, Materials and Storage, Energy, Effort (=time plus labor to create)
Cost of Purchased Good:  Mass Production, Marketing, Mass-Distribution and Storage, Labor Markup, Delivery and/or Time and Fuel to Go to Store and Purchase

It doesn’t take long to see Cost3dPrinting <= CostPurchasedGood once all the other inputs are down.  Retail is already catching it in the shorts, because let’s face it, most of us don’t particularly enjoy standing in lines or going to the store just to pick up random junk.  It doesn’t have to be literally more efficient than mass production for it to take off.  It merely needs to be more economically rational for me as the end-user, especially if it can be done in the background while I’m having fun.  Time isn’t money.  You can always get more money — but when your time’s up, it’s up.  Don’t know a single person who died wishing they’d spent more time at the store buying pillows.

Of course, most households are still going to spend their money on all the stuff that the government schlubs leave out of the CPI so that the Feds don’t wind up with a revolt in the streets — food, shelter, transportation, and of course the included-but-perenially-undercounted healthcare.  In the meantime, the 3d printer and its associated technologies are going to go from “something geeky” to “household appliance.” Only in this case, it’s going to be “that appliance which makes random crap you need.”  At that point, I may literally price my income in terms of manufacturing feedstock, rather than dollars.

Then, add the next step:  once they’re converting vegetable proteins to animal proteins, you’ll be able to:

8.  Easily print and cook your cheeseburgers.

Yes, for you nerds out there, at this point, you’ve essentially gotten to the step where your oven is 3d-printing you a pizza and then cooking it for you.  Early models will be clunky, but early models always are.  Meanwhile, that garage full of tools?  Museum items.  Sure, there’ll always be a need for somebody to have a joiner, a drill press, and a table saw… but it won’t be everybody.  Also, your garage is going to look a lot different, too.  An awful lot of our home architecture is based on some very, VERY old and inefficient “legacy” architectural ideas, that don’t necessarily apply any more.  Sooner or later, your typical stickframe house is going to seem crude, overbuilt, and much, much too heavy compared to what’s currently Unobtainium for the average guy and gal.

So what won’t change?  Well, that will be those things which are so sophisticated that we cannot engage in “reductio ad algorithm” to knock it down to Commodity scale.  And those will be the “Contemporary Performance Goods” like computers, cars, and “new stuff you don’t know you need yet” which must meet continually-evolving performance minimums to be considered worth using.  That’s not a pejorative, either.  A lot of stuff that you currently need to have a bunch of money to afford will cost a LOT less and employ a lot fewer people to make it.  That terrifies the central-planning crowd, and they handle it by forcing the currency to constantly devalue (remember, inflation isn’t a natural phenomenon — it’s something a bunch of dudes in a no-longer-smoke-filled-room decide on every year).  But those floodgates are going to open up.  Just as the average person is vastly more sophisticated and better-educated now than they were when Industrial Technocracy swung into being, the average person will be economically much more powerful, too, and eventually the differences in economic efficiency will force these changes.

Don’t worry about robots taking over the earth.
Worry about this kid taking over the robots.

It’s just a matter of time.  And while it’s a brave new world, it’s also a much, much better one.  Bring it on.

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