Category Archives: politics

Power, Bullying and ‘isms’

It’s been a while since I wrote up one of my ‘Philosophy behind my stories’ posts to bore everyone rigid with. So if you have insomnia… help is at hand!

One of the current memes being aggressively pushed is: On attacking and demeaning someone of another race (usually white) “I can’t be racist, I am not white. Whites are in power and dominant and you have to be that to be racist.” or on attacking and demeaning someone of another sex or orientation (usually male, heterosexual) “I can’t be sexist, I am not male. Males are in power and dominant and you have to be that to be sexist.”

Oddly, I believe there is a fragment of rightness in what on the surface makes as much sense as a hedgehog full of LSD reciting the Koran backwards. In Latin. With a lisp.

Racism is quite simply and clearly prejudice (against or for) on the basis of race. Sexism is prejudice (against or for) on the basis of sex. Both rest on the mean group characteristics always trumping the individual’s characteristics. Think about it: it can’t actually work any other way. Obviously there are no ‘exclusions’ – the concept transcends current circumstances and passes quite cheerfully through cultures and history.

Of course, logic says (and this is the grain — a tiny one — of rightness in the bizarre meme) to translate that prejudice into discrimination which could hurt (or help – let’s not forget it works the other way too) the other person/s involved is that the individual expressing that racist/sexist prejudice needs to be in a position of power to do so.

But of course what is missing in the meme is that power is relative and localized. Coming back to my own work, I have a character in Crawlspace and Other Stories — Laggy — who was a Khorozhet slave, before being liberated by HAR Marines (and hereafter are certain spoilers. Proceed if you have read the space-set murder-mystery, or don’t care).

So: naturally a hero… well, certainly a hero by current sf-tropes. Slaves are by definition always wronged, always victims, always good (Jack Vance was the last author I can think of to not go with this trope. A brave and vastly under-rated and under-appreciated author.)

Let’s play this one through, logically. A slave is at the bottom of social pyramid. He has to be a victim…

Except of course he is not alone at the bottom of that pyramid. And among slaves there too is a hierarchy. Laggy, it turns out, was a trusty. A slave who exploited other slaves. When we take a close look slaves or prisoners… it turns out that, actually, this is quite common, and widely reported, except in modern fiction. There is also the interesting assumption that someone who has been enslaved was somehow always an innocent saint before the bad men (always in modern sf, by bad white men. Once again, history is not congruent with this version of the narrative. Enslavement and slave-keeping haven’t actually been limited to any one race or culture. It seems to have cropped up for a long long time – those bad white men were plainly in the pyramid building business.) came took them from their peaceful vegetarian matriarchal idyll and enslaved them. Let’s face it: innocent saints living in peaceful vegetarian matriarchy are probably very easy to capture and enslave. But of course, in reality such societies tend to die quite quickly unless protected by people who are none of the above, or extremely isolated with very high natural mortality. And even there: saints are thin on the ground. Slave takers didn’t care if you were a wife-beating child abuser who murdered his neighbor, or a saint. The former probably got away or possibly sold out the latter, but if a tribe or a village – or a stray individual got captured, the slavers didn’t do a thorough background check before issuing a ‘be a slave’ license (as in A MANKIND WITCH, where they enslaved someone they should have either ransomed or handed over for the dead-or-alive reward, and better dead). Slaves have to be a cross section of humanity too. Good, bad and mixed. Extreme conditions bring out the hidden best in some, and the worst in others… except in modern fiction.

Nor is the other standard trope: even if they were axe-murdering drug pushers when enslaved… when freed they’ve learned from the experience and become good people (TM) and would never ever exploit (or enslave) anyone else. It does happen — and that is at the root of our criminal justice system (I don’t think this ideal, but that’s a different discussion, different books). But if it worked that way all the time, there’d be no recidivism. That’s not true, and neither is the assumption that just because someone has been a victim, they will not victimize someone else. Sadly, that is not the case. It does happen that the former victim is determined not to do the same… But it is far from inevitable. And, because we are the center of own perceptions, it is quite plausible (and I suspect common) for someone to be be bullied… and at the same time to be bullying another. Or to join in bullying another to avoid being bullied. Or to have been bullied when small, growing and bullying others. And this is at the heart of CRAWLSPACE – Laggy is presumed innocent and good because he was a Khorozhet slave. In actual fact he’d murdered the man whose identity he’d assumed, been captured along with the other miners on the rock, and ended up as a trusty – by betraying some of them. He had seen opportunity with liberation – and kept the other (alien) slaves who had hidden during the attack, hidden after liberation, and still slaves. His slaves now, unaware that they’d been freed – a process he repeated with highly addictive drugs and the prostitutes at his bar. Note that the story does not portray ALL slaves as like Mr Laguna, or even most slaves. It is merely a hopefully plausible example of the variability and of the importance of relative power in any circumstance.

So what does this have to do with racism, sexism and the trope of “I can’t be… because I’m not a white male, and I have no power to be that in a society in which white males are dominant.” Well, it’s just power is a local or proximal thing, and, logically differs on the basis of the individuals (not groups) in the power relationship. So for example, you might (if you were a moonbat excusing your racist and/or sexist behavior) say White Men still dominate business and politics in Western society and therefore I can’t be. Or even more illogically ‘historically white men were dominant’… Well, let’s take traditional publishing. Historically white men were dominant. But that’s a shifting picture, which, with 74% women employed, and at least 70% in editorial… only 51% in management (and by the salary/age facts those men in management are old, and gradually fading from the picture. In ten years time it’ll be — conservatively — 85% female, and 70% female management.) Given an editor’s (or even someone in marketing) power over an author, it is perfectly accurate to say, despite history or the larger picture of society, the women in publishing would be well positioned to apply sexist prejudice against male authors. On the other hand male authors might be sexist about the editor, but he is in no position to discriminate against (or for) her as a result. The same is not true of the other side of the power equation. It’s not the situation in the wider society, it’s in that relationship. And the historically abused can be abusers. Sometimes they feel it is ‘payback’. Of course, it is never payback to the actual individual person/s who hurt them, but a payback to the ‘group’- which usually boils down another individual/s who may well not ever have inflicted any hurt on any of their group, and who may be in a very fragile personal position. Just because someone is a man, does not mean he is not also poor or suicidal or mentally unstable. When you treat individuals as individuals, that is obvious. When someone is a ‘group’ you can be wildly wrong.

Power determines who can bully who. And it is proximal power. Just as the kid who might come from an intelligent, well-off, socially and financially powerful family can still get the crap knocked out of him by a big kid whose single mother is on welfare and is slightly thicker than your average Hugo ‘Noah Ward’ voter (i.e. needing ‘breathe in, breathe out’ instructions to stop themselves dying of anoxia to the brain cell*) in the locker room, it’s a question who has power in that circumstance.

We’ve had a similar dose of insanity with sad/rabid puppies, with publishers, editors, powerful and successful authors with multiple awards shrieking loudly that the puppies and the nominees – who are none of the above – are bullying them. How, pray? Oh and despite all the evidence to the contrary, they’re sexists and misogynists (even the women) and white racists (even the not-white, or married to not white folk). And, besides the fact that it’s wildly inaccurate, what difference would it make? They have no power to apply prejudice. The inverse, of course is not true.

It has always struck me — as a guy who believes in judging individuals as individuals — how sometimes what is called ‘discrimination’ or sexism or racism is no such animal. Take the cop who hears a noise in an alley – he steps into it and sees a white woman and a black man wrestling desperately. He can only deal with one of them. It’s dim, he sees knife steel, but has no idea what’s happening. What does he do? By the current PC rules one way he’s a sexist, the other racist.

Maybe he should call for a safe space for them talk about it.

Or go for coffee and leave them to it, which is what I am going to do.

*if you think this is a bit harsh, you haven’t thought about the obvious ‘reply’ to this. Nor what good recruiting fodder it is for their foes.


Filed under philosophy, politics, science Fiction

The rising tide

Most people can tell at a glance if the tide is full. The waves lip the upper tide-line, move the sea-wrack and debris around a little.

That’s about where most of us stop with recognizing the state of the tide. We can tell it’s pretty low or about half in or… maybe it is half out. Without sitting around for some time, watching it’s hard to tell. There are big waves every now and again, on an out-going tide that might convince you it was going the other way, and vice-versa. There are of course sign and oracles and sources of ancient wisdom you can consult… like a tide chart, or experience.

It has its parallels in politics, social evolution, economics, and probably TV sitcoms and dietary fads. And as a bloke that spends a lot of time in the water, it makes a lot of difference to how you react to situations out in the sea. If you’re wading around the reef in the middle of the bay and big wave comes and knocks you butt over tea-kettle, well, if the tide is coming in, start swimming for the shore. You’re in trouble. If it’s going out, scramble up on a few higher rocks on the reef. In half-an-hour it will be shallower and safer. I don’t think it’s all that different in anything – from buying a house (where if an area is starting to get run down, or about to become trendy and get redeveloped – and the two look alike to inexperienced) to what ‘trend’ to try and follow in writing. Are vampires coming or going? Of course you can find an oracle or source of ancient wisdom (I dunno, some old guy who has been around the writing scene for years might have some sound advice based on a lifetime of experience. Okay you have to put up with the fact that their attitudes and language might be a bit dated, but they sure know a lot about the tide. Valuable people… Mike Resnick or Barry Malzberg for instance… oh, wait).

You can guess of course, or follow the herd (who are mostly guessing too). Or waste an hour (metaphorically – in say, housing or books, you’re going to have observe and research for lot longer than that) trying to decide which way that tide is actually going. I mean it’s very nice when you’re in an estuary and it’s a big solid tidal bore and you can see it… but most of the time you can’t. It’s just waves, choppy water. You can decide that’s the kind of book you want to write, and the kind of house you want to live in anyway. If you’ve chosen good value, and you’ve got the ability to survive the incoming tide… it’ll go out one day. That’s the approach I try to take… but I’ve been spectacularly wrong sometimes. I thought the tide of nationalism and racism were going out in South Africa in 1994, and all we had to do was sit tight and we could make it work, and it would be a nice friendly place to live, like Zimbabwe was… Yeah. Got that wrong, didn’t I? The swim to Australia was a lot harder and we arrived with much less to sustain ourselves than if I’d been less up on my convictions and more on common sense, and left years earlier.

Living as I do, on a fairly large island, and spending a lot of time diving or getting boats in and out, you soon realize that tide isn’t the same everywhere, but it does all inter-relate. It’s two hours earlier on one side, and pushes through really fast in the sounds… but you don’t find it low in one place and high at another a few miles away. They all tie together. Just so with the social trends or housing or books.

Anyway – what brought up this obscure chatter about tide? A series of incidents – one where some young woman rudely berated a black train passenger in Australia, another where a bunch of young guys assaulted some gay kid in the States, the Russian parliament passing some laws forbidding ‘homosexual propaganda to minors’ and ‘disrespect for organized religion’, oh, and because I am a writer, this miniature drama about a couple of elderly authors sexist and exclusionary attitudes in a little in-house magazine actually read by a few hundred people. They range from the serious to the relatively trivial, but they all had one thing in common: The loud public response has been to condemn the perpetrators (sometimes fair enough)… as relics. Something that hasn’t quite been eliminated. Typical old troglodyte attitudes. And the beat-up and retribution (often at a generalized level – ‘men’, ‘white men’, ‘whites’, ‘Christians’, ‘conservatives’) has been hastily whipped up, sometimes even by parts of the groups just mentioned, as a way, sometimes, of protecting themselves or gaining brownie points, or at other times distancing their group from the action and punishment).

When the tide is going out, and a last wave or two knocks you off your feet and you scramble up onto that higher rock… You can yell insults at Ran (A Norse Goddess you should know of :-)) and spit or make pipi into the waves. It doesn’t do much harm, you can look all heroic to the other waders, the water will be gone soon and you can walk out, mocking its weakness. When the tide is coming the other way… it’s about as dumb as you can get.

Racism, sexism, anti-gay sentiments… are sometimes an expression of xenophobia. Yes, in some cases, there is more. Religion, taboos etc. But how often don’t you hear someone say ‘I can’t stand…(insert the alien group of choice here. It could be Pakistanis or conservatives.)’ And you ask them “But what about Fred that serves you coffee every morning at the Deli. That talks to you about your wife/the weather etc.” ‘Fred? Oh. But he’s different.’ Fred is different, even if he is conservative _and_ Pakistani, because they know him. Very often you will find Fred, and many like are different – they have made contacts outside their group. Look: There are genuine differences, genuine reasons not to like people… but so often it comes down to: ‘You’re not like me, and therefore I don’t like you or trust you’ – which in turn translates into fear of the unknown) fear of the threat it may pose, resentment (they’re not part of my family/tribe/clan/race/country -they’re stealing MY entitlement as part of that). It’s not likely to happen in a small village, but in a big city with millions of people – cues like face color or dress are the only clue that many folk have that someone is not like them. This multi-culti thing where we will accept strangers easily… is a stupid daydream. Caution with the unknown (curiosity perhaps, but caution) is intrinsic in all simians, probably all social animals, and believing you’ve got rid of it is like believing you’ve banished the sea, because the tide went out. I’m an emigrant, a stranger in strange land. I wish I could believe that was not the case.

And here’s the thing: when times are tough, the herd packs closer together, and tries to get rid of anything that might be outside the declared norm even more. Of course the norm moves, otherwise it would be too simple.

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that the only ‘cure’ for xenophobia is to convince the rest of the herd/flock/ group/tribe/ nation that the ‘outsider’ isn’t so strange. The ‘stranger’ is rather like you in all the things that matter, they just like garlic and eat snails/pizza/chicken tikka/chow mien — which, seeing as they’re so like you, you’ve now tried and find you like too! On the other hand, if you want to make things worse… you exaggerate and perpetuate the difference. You keep the people apart. You know, like in ‘apartheid’. You have special conditions for these people, because they deserve it (just like apartheid claimed). They were injured – or their grandmother was injured – and as victims they need something special. Of course, that always makes the rest feel they’re just like them. It doesn’t backfire too spectacularly while the rest of the people -except these special ones – feel there is some justification in this, and resources are plentiful. We can spare it, we’re a fair species, as actually, most social animals have to be. Which, of course brings us to the reason why incidents are often magnified, grievance nurtured, and hurt waved like a triumphal banner – because it works. Well, to a point it works, and better in some societies than others. But eventually, the society gets tired of it. We don’t actually care if your grandmother or great-grandmother was abused by our grandmother’s brother… in fact society don’t actually care if it happened yesterday, to you personally, because the cup of sympathy is a finite one. Society feel they’ve paid, even if you think you’re still suffering. And remember what I said about tough times? That’s when the resources get a little scarce, when jobs are fewer, money is tight…

Those responses aren’t relics. Actually they’re not old either. The woman screaming racist abuse wasn’t even born when it was typical. In fact she grew up when that considered really really unacceptable by the wider society. The gay shooting in the US – the same. They’re signs of a deep change. Unless I read things completely wrong (happened before, a lot) we’re in for some tough economic times. The tide started turning… in about 2003. There were hints of it before, 2003-2007 was its apogee IMO. Now the tide of xenophobia coming in as a result of the situation, and there are signs and portents that it is going to be rough on those who didn’t make sure they were seen as part of society, not outsiders. Resentment at immigration (see boat people issues in Australia) are at a level unimaginable ten years ago. In the UK parties like UKIP have moved from microscopic to 20%+ of the vote – and all the larger parties including left wing that pushed immigration and multiculturalism (a word for apartheid, really. Where you didn’t have to try to be accepted. The society just had accommodate and pander to your needs. Doesn’t work, IMO) are now taking a far harder line. It’s happening in Italy, Greece, France, the Netherlands, even Sweden… is pushing not just the right, but the far right upward. People are openly saying things (and being cheered/liked on comment boards)that would have had you labelled as a ‘racist’ and pilloried if you dared to say them ten years back. Then even even the most reasonable, mild criticism, (or miss-chosen words, even though the intention was obviously good) would have the crowds throwing eggs and rotten tomatoes. Now… not so.

And in the race field… where whites once accepted they were the only villains… Ten years ago it was still hard to criticize Mugabe. Now… well it is only the sort of people who say ‘it was better under Stalin’ who actually find it possible to call him anything but a racist himself. In America a black president has made a fair number of people say ‘Okay, payback is done now’ (just as in SA a black president was the symbol to many liberal whites that they’d done enough) Of course, it isn’t a fair playing ground, ever, anywhere, and there are still people discriminated against (on all sides of the skin-color spectrum. This is xenophobia, not some unique disease only present in Europeans) but there is donor fatigue. The cup of sympathy has been chugged at, and only drops are left, by the likes of Bob Mugabe. No one of the black community had the courage or sense to say ‘leave some for us, we need it far more than you’.

The tide is even turning against the largest majority group who have claimed victim status: women. Do I for an instant believe that the playing ground is wholly level for them? No, of course it isn’t, especially in the non-western world where women are second-class citizens, but a rising tide floats even boats that you’d rather leave beached. There are some areas – university/college entrance, particularly in some subjects and disciplines, where there has been an overshoot. Women have dominated some areas: in publishing for example, and continue to demand more, loudly. Some women have taken triple chugs at the sympathy bowl on the most trivial of reasons “He called a woman editor a LADY! he is a filthy sexist pig! I deserve sympathy! And he opened the door for me. I’m going to demand the relic never get published again. It’s exclusionary! Oh yes, I am glad to accept a place in the women-only anthology and the no-men-need-apply prize, and women-writer’s professorship.”

You don’t cure exclusion with more exclusion. You can’t reasonably demand that a small department which has 5% female students admit more women, when the overall college average is over 70% female with some departments having no males at all. You can’t reasonably say say it’s unfair that men have 70% of reviews – when women have 75% of the sales. You can’t say women shouldn’t be objectivized by skimpy skin-showing outfits in unlikely poses on the covers of sf/fantasy novels… seen by thousands, but it’s just fine seen by millions on the cover of Vogue or the catwalk at the Paris fashion show (so those are not objects? really?), or red carpet at the Oscars, or having a little wardrobe malfunction on stage. Of course no sexual objectivisation of women by women themselves (and oddly, usually to attract male attention. Attract attention to their minds, naturally) in those is there? All of those millions of viewers knew them personally, and their only thoughts were about how pure their minds looked, and that’s what they intended by those outfits. And all those book covers with headless bronze chest with the top button of jeans undone… on an order of magnitude more romance covers than sf covers… that doesn’t matter because it sells books! The real problem is a bronze bikini on a magazine read by maybe thousand people. Oh, someone must lose their job for that! We will have a witch-hunt until they’re crucified.

These things happen. And yet the men continue to sigh and make more efforts… but I notice a definite tapering. I even notice it in a lot of women. That’s surely rough on the girl-child being forced into marriage.

I think sympathy remains with orientation issues – but they have so strongly hitched their wagon to the others, that I think, A la Russia, the tide will engulf those too.

I’m a writer. I believe passionately in equality before the law, and equality of opportunity. I believe that my judgement of any individual should be based on individual’s merit, not on some ‘group’ characteristic. That’s what I write about. The color of your skin doesn’t affect your writing. It may affect the experience that shapes that writing. Or not. You can be white and male and live in abject poverty and with constant abuse, or limo-driven luxury with servants at your beck and call. It’s not a judgement call a publisher or even a reader can make by looking at the person’s skin! Likewise the guy who decides not to read a hard sf novel because it was written by a woman… trust me on this. I’m. bluntly, on the scale of people who do huntin’/shootin’/fishin/adrenalin sports, still in the top few percent of males. I’m not exactly stupid either. I don’t make a big deal of it, or even admit to it by choice. Yet I know a few women who can out-shoot me, a couple who out-run, out-climb, out-walk and out-swim me, several who out-think me, a good few who fix automobiles better than I do. They’re anything but average women, or people for that matter. But how the hell would anyone know on the basis of their genitalia? I know plenty of immigrants who bluntly work harder by far than the average native-born Australians. I also know some arrive, have kids, claim welfare, demand special conditions, and never do a day’s work that they pay tax on. How do you tell, just by the fact they’re not from here?

Simple: you can’t. And when the flood-tide comes surging in full strength, and some idiots are still clinging to the rock and peeing into the water and shouting abuse at Ran, all of those people to whom a difference in treatment, status, consideration has been applied, whether they needed it, wanted it, or supported it – and that is me and my family too – are all going to get swept along with those angry waves, regardless… unless we start to take steps smartly.

You can choose to be Amish or Moslem or Vegan or Neo-Nazi. You can’t choose to your sex, your skin color, your attractions (you can control those. But they are still there) or, for many migrants, really do anything easy about being in a country which is very foreign to you. At best you can take those steps to ameliorate your difference.

And the first of those is realize which way the tide is going. Because actions which are taken to punish ‘sexism’ or ‘racism’ or whatever, are very successful… if the tide is with you. After all, you can be the worlds best Treasurer (a la Wayne Swann) when the economic tide is going with you, and a disaster area when it isn’t – and you’re not doing anything different. Likewise I suspect many of actions of those gulping at the cup of victim-sympathy were making things seem better once, are now making things a lot worse, feeding it, not shaming it.

It’s a tough issue, because we cannot simply hide or surrender. (yes, that’s me too. Because ‘when they came for the Jews…’) There are some things worth fighting for, and, well, there is no place to hide, and a limit on where you can run. But I believe that everything has to be shaped around getting rid of the grounds for xenophobia, making society realize we’re all human and in this together. Otherwise… well, you’re asking for problems  in a rising tide, IMO. These are the steps I think worth taking, that I am trying to take myself. I don’t expect anyone will listen… but I will still say them. They probably won’t work, or at most slow things down. Many of them are things persecuted minorities who have survived have done for years, and there has to be a reason for that.

1) Do not try to have your cake and eat it. You can either be special, or be equal. You cannot be both. And if you want to be special, have your little patch of exclusive turf, then you have to push very hard for anyone, even… especially those you dislike, to have something similar. You want a women only prize/ club / bursary? Or a Lambda? or a black writers’ anthology? Then you need to push damn hard for the same for those who are excluded. And what they decide to do in them is their business. There are more of them them than there are of you, and they’ll have more money to spend and more clout. Accept it. That’s the price you have pay for having your turf – they can have theirs, or you can’t have yours. And what you do in it is your issue, don’t turn around and demand their money and resources for your private patch – because then they will turn on you, when things are tough.

Insist on the same standards before the law, and in the media. You cannot be special there, no matter how much you may feel you deserve or want it. When a woman has sex with a minor – even if the woman is an 18 year old lesbian… the penalties that could apply to a man must apply just as much. If there are no black/gay/female/migrant villains, but only heroes or sidekicks in the movies/books – pick it up and ask why before someone else does.

2) Pick your fights. There are times and situations where backing down or shutting up is not an option. That is not when the incident is trivial, accidental and merely going to make you look like the brat who cries wolf all the time. That will only end up with the trivia ‘he called me a lady-editor’ will mean no one listens when something serious happens. It will. Which leads into the third point, and the fourth.

3)Do not turn friends or even the neutral into foes. If you’re going to pick a fight don’t pick it with someone you could reason with and win over. So much of the last while has seen what amounts to brutal punishment and intimidation of… people who really weren’t enemies. Insensitive, or ill-informed or disinterested in your victimhood, perhaps. But the triumphal brutality, ‘we will destroy your career, business, and even life for something that really isn’t a hill of beans’ is just stupid. (look at racefail attacks on Wrede and the Resnick/Malzberg pitchfork wielding lynch mob, and the savage lies and slanderous attacks aimed at Correia as great examples of how to alienate people who were not your foes or persecutors, and to leave them and their friends and supporters just waiting to return the favor).

4) Read the will not the word. People of good will make innocent mistakes. Malice is actually rarer than anyone who feels persecuted imagines. Hip hip Hooray may have anti-Semitic origins but in truth very very few people know that or mean it that way. And despite your sensitivities it’s the meaning and goodwill that counts. Someone who refers to a person as colored but treats them as a fellow human being is worth ten times someone who uses the politically correct ‘PoC’ title, and treats you as if you’re mentally and morally subnormal.

5) Reach compromises – and don’t regard them as stepping stones. If there is any single thing that torpedoes any chance of being seen as part of the crowd, it’s the my-way-or-the-highway attitude of some groups. They must have it all their way, and enjoy every moment of rubbing the noses of people they perceive as their former oppressors in it, at every opportunity. Zimbabwe’s ruling class (a small minority), with South Africa’s (actually also a distinct group) are prime examples of this. But I’ve seen it among every other minority too. Gay activists openly saying that gay marriage is a first step, they must have the right to a full church marriage, feminists saying they want more of the publishing pie… and so on. They will end up either with their wish – which will be severely diminished in value, or getting far less, or nothing, later.

6)Weed out the fanatics. It leads directly to be-headings in Syria, to put it simply. And that makes everyone in your group look bad. If we had some Afrikaaner over here demanding a Volkstaad for whites only, I’d be one of the first to tell the jackass to wind his stupid neck in. Yet, these are the type of figures that inevitably are leading the pissing at Ran, the sea-Goddess. Extremists, especially the ones who derive a large part of their income from it, are just bad news, from feminists to Muslims to gay activists. They are not necessarily typical of your group. But they are how people see you.

7)Get rid of the Quislings – by quislings I mean those who don’t belong to your group, but support and identify with it. They’re even louder and more obnoxious than most of the fanatics above. The reason is obvious – For example: If you want to be black and a member of the KKK… you make sure you’re the one howling loudest to hang a few a few of those pesky blacks. The white ANC members were a good example of how this ‘proving yourself’ could make the whole organization look worse. The obvious example that comes to mind in sf are the white male ‘feminists’ who like to drive the lynchings. They’re at best interpretation well-meaning, but ever so often I have to suspect they’ve been milking the ’cause’ for their own benefit.

8) Be seen to be part of the wider community. There are a pair of gay couples on the island. I suspect that the community would protect them to the last breath – because they have made sure to contribute and participate in every function or charity going. And not just in activities that relate to their group – here it would be hard, but so many minorities elsewhere – be they South African ex-pats or gay or Muslim… do things (perhaps) for their own. And no one else.

9) Make sure your identity is with the wider community FIRST. You’re are not an Asian-American or Muslim Australian or white South African. You’re an American or an Australian or South African, proud of it, and the person who divides you out is endangering you and insulting you.


Filed under philosophy, politics

What if they gave an apocalypse and no-one noticed?

I was reading a rather depressing piece on the world economy, rather stating what I felt, that we’ve been steadily mortgaging more and more of tomorrow to fritter away today. Politicians and bankers contintinue to kick the can ahead, hoping for a miricle…

I’m not really a doom-n-gloom man, believing there is enough, believing we can via technology and just plain old common sense (rarer than technology) solve most things, if teh stupid is kicked out of play, which, to be fair doesn’t happen often. But I do think we may be in for a bumpy ride, and that things need to rebalance – quite a lot in some areas. I’d guess on Sir Terry Pratchett being right again (in Dark side of the Sun) and we’re going have to hit a full-circle where consumption – or at least conspicious consumption, and any display of wealth is the road to a lampost and a short rope.

There’s a belief that mankind always progresses… hmm. It’s not really up to robust examination. We accumlate knowledge and material, and that makes it easier to build up, even on the ruins of the empire before. But there are surely some deep troughs, and my own feeling is we’re nose-diving toward one now, even as our governments discuss the importance of vital matters like gay marriage (who cares? Not me. They want to marry, go for it. Stick by the same rules as everyone else and tiny minority (maybe 2% of the toal population) will be gay and married. So what?) I’m a lot more interested in stuff that affects 95%. I want to eat, have my family eat, be safe and have my family safe, have reasonable medical access, and reasonable liberty for them.) I would also put a very high likelihood on the rise of nationalism and the rise of various forms of racial and ethnic discrimination within those nations. The brightest buttons on the PC heirarchy of benefits for historical injustice (‘my grandma was a victim and you owe me’) should work out that now is the time to be calling for equalisation, rather than demanding even more payback and more special conditions, or as the wheel turns, it will be reversed again. It’s not something I want to see, but I see it building. I’d also put a fairly high set of odds that the standard bottom of the PC scapegoat pile is going finally get to saying ‘well, if I get treated like an oppressive, racist, chauvinist sexist no matter what I do… I might as well be one’. (I saw this with a number of historically generous, tolerant white South Africans, who had made huge efforts to be good to black South Africans during apartheid, a decade after the end of it… and being lumped on the basis of skin color as villians, become, slowly but steadily the inverse of what they had been – which is survivable when they’re a small, weak disarmed minority, even though it has cut 20% off SA’s growth and hurt everyone, IMO, but even less clever if you’re the small weak minority, and they’re bigger, stronger, and a large percentage). I support equality before the law and of opportunity, but there’s a sort of ‘kick a dog often enough and you either kill it or it will turn on you’ inevitiblity to this. Stupidity has to be evolution in action, or just gets worse, and we’ve been rewarding teh stupid in PC circles for a long time.

Personally I wouldn’t be in the least surprised to see the upper 1 percent pushing a sort of Shavian socialism — where they continue to be very comfortable and wealthy, and make decisions as to what the proles can do. For their own good, of course. It’s not really sustainable, as they run out of other people’s money, and no one is going to touch theirs. And it won’t work terribly well, because the doer’s who are less in number than the I-wanters will do their damndest to John Galt, and without them the 1% of lawyers and politicians and bankers and heads of corporations actually can’t make anything or grow food. It will head into little dictatorships, and uprisings against a bloody mess… And actually the mess will favor not the civilized but the people from nasty spots. I’d rather this wasn’t a future, but I’m a realist. I know that in that sort of war, the primitives win, because we are not Saxons conquering England.

The semi-best scenario is a sort of muddle on, confiscate savings (A la Cyprus) and the political elite-at-present will shift their faces around to become anti-emigrant, anti-this and anti-that, intolerant and rather miserable, but still in charge. The best – from my point of view – isn’t going to happen. The sort re-evaluation and everyone cuts their cloth a bit, and the international financiers settle for a holiday in Florida in a nice hotel instead of a private motor yacht on the Costa Smerelda, with GINI co-efficient getting a lot narrower as we re-align our consumption and society to fit what we’ve got and what we’re actually worth, is just too sensible, and won’t happen.

Still, the various folk commenting – it was an economics article and not particularly any political slant, were saying stuff like ‘a month’s worth of cans…’

And I was laughing to myself. That may help if everything stays very ordered and recovers fast (more so than in most natural disasters), but really it’s not effective. Space, distance from the cities, some dry goods and the skills to grow and catch your own, and good neighbours with skills and the ability to defend yourselves are all that could. History shows what to do, and those who don’t learn, repeat, or die trying to.


Filed under economics, philosophy, politics, science Fiction

Neither A nor B

Heads or tails?

It’s a choice, with the occasional ‘balance on edge’, or ‘simply fail to come down at all’, which applies well to tossed coins.

It may sometimes apply to other things. Stepping over a cliff for example. Humans very often apply it a lot more broadly. Democrat or Republican. Black or white. Male or female.

It is a core theme in many of my books, that patently in a lot of cases, this is bullshit. 1)Things are seldom simple and entirely and perfectly described by a narrow simple category. If you think they are… you probably are behaving like a sheep, and haven’t actually looked carefully. Pigeonholes may work well for pigeons. They are lousy for people, emotions, philosophies or political positions 2)There is almost always another possibility, if not a myriad of them. Yes, you may have chosen to vote for one or other party. It is massively unlikely, unless you are, in fact, a prion (and incapable of independent life, let alone thought) that, if you actually thought about a party manifesto you would agree with all of it. And, if you really thought about it, inevitably humans choices come down neither A nor B but a percentage of A, a percentage of B and percentage of options through to zz. DRAGON’S RING – a choice between A & B… and actually neither are good. 3)We may simply be looking at the whole damn thing bass ackwards. Take health insurance as a simple example. What is it intended to do? Make sure that when you get sick you can afford to be treated and get better? Or in other words, that you can stay in good health? Right? Does it? As far as I can work out, only incidentally, and in fact the principal beneficiaries are people who only benefit if you are sick (especially as inevitably the insurers themselves have ownership or part ownership of the facilities for treating you). The IDEA of making sure you are not sick simply because you can’t afford treatment is a very desirable one. I’ve yet to meet anyone who thought they deserved to die or be sick and miserable because they didn’t have the money for treatment. I’ve met a few people who didn’t mind if it happened to someone else, as it never seems to occur to them, that someone else could be them someday, or their child, lover, mother or friend. So: it’s a good goal. But yet… when you think about it, the way it has been applied has been as counter-productive as possible, making affordability more a case of ‘how much blood can we take in how many ways from the host before it actually dies?’. If I were to announce with convincing evidence that I had a cure for everything that might ail you, and that I was going to release it, free, next week, I would give Flinders Island about 3 days before being nuked, in the process killing several hundred highly paid assassins and hitmen from every part of the medical business. (I’m ugly but not that much of a fool. I’d be elsewhere.). Yes, indeed, there are some wonderful doctors, nurses, radiographers and research chemists who would love nothing more than to say ‘my years of training and experience are now worthless, I’m unemployed and have to find a new job, and I am so happy about it’. But these make a small fragment of a fairly desirable group of people, and Doctors, nurses etc, make up a valuable but a very, very small fraction of the group whose livelihood depend on people being sick. A lot of these are salesmen, administrators, accountants, managers, board members, lawyers, CEO’s – not medical people at all. In fact, if you did a careful look at where the money from that insurance goes… most of it will be into this group (who don’t fix you when you’re sick) and the smaller volume into the actual cost of things needed and the people needed. And really, there is no incentive (especially, yes Discovery Health, I am looking at you, where the hospital facility is owned by the insurer) to limit that wastage. In fact, big talk aside, there is no value in keeping the insured healthy. If the insured never need a doctor, high premiums will put them off (unless insurers get the state to play ball and make them have it by law. At which point you may as well give the medical industry your salary check.). To look at this more logically there need to be serious incentives to the medical industry… to stop people needing their treatments and to make those as affordable and effective as possible. And actually the only way to do that is to reward the right things and punish the wrong. So for example they get paid… if you aren’t sick. If you are sick your premium reduces. If you’re incapacitated or die… they pay out. If you over-live your expected span… they get a bonus. And work out ways to get rid of the dead weight which adds no value. If the state wanted to interfere, the right way would to punitively tax the non-medical (or in the case of pharmaceutical companies non-scientists) personnel. Or make those non-tax-deductable expenses. Costs that cannot easily be passed on to the public, either via directly charging more, or getting the public to pay more tax to cover for largely un-needed expenses.

And those are just some of the possibilities. If you don’t want to go that far, maybe an effective basic state health service that forces private medicine to be competitive and offer more.

What underlies much what I write are simple questions: what are we doing this for? and is how we deal with it an artifact or accident or history, or really best for the purpose? I’ve used medicine as an example, but you could apply it to anything from energy supply to governance. Of course my possible answers aren’t right. But they’re about providing the right motivation to solve the problem, rather than motivating the creation of groups/institutions/bureaucracies whose lifeblood is keeping the problem vaguely under control but there forever.

The answer is inevitably neither A nor B but a big mixture of that and other things, and sometimes something new.


Filed under economics, philosophy, politics, Uncategorized, Writing

The treatement and cure for Nasty Bloodsucking Parasitic Parrots

Whenever people talk about politics they seem to get bogged down in minutiae. Let’s step back and look at what politics is, and why it exists at all.

It should be obvious looking at the root of the word – poly as many (or a badly spelled parrot) and tics as in involuntary jerks or spasms or possibly badly spelled nasty blood-sucking parasites. Now that we understand this our grasp of the antics of politicians is suddenly much more clear. But besides producing many nasty parroting blood-sucking parasitic people who can’t help being jerks, the purpose of politics is to decide on governance. On who controls and orders society (or a part of it) – AKA government.

Now let’s look at the purpose of government – besides providing an environment for nasty bloodsucking parasitic parrots – AKA NBPP. As far as the NBPP are concerned that is its first and foremost purpose. Never forget this. It is key to our understanding and getting the best out of them. Of course originally back in the high and far off times (more recently for me than most of you, which is why I remember it so clearly, when we were still monkeys) Government outside of the family group arose from the need to defend ourselves from the bigger family next door – otherwise they were inclined kill the males, eat them, and take the females to breed with and eat their food. And as offense made your family bigger, to organize raids on suitable targets for the same. It is questionable whether at its core government has changed much from this. Of course some bright monkey figured two families could do better together against a third and thus the arms race was born, leading to where we are now. Several sf authors have suggested that what we need is a common enemy…

Back in those days the organizing was done by the biggest nastiest monkey in the troop, and his camp followers – who because they got eat better and get eaten less, which is a serious advantage. It was mostly done by bite and swat, but also with reward or offers thereof. At the top it was almost inevitably male because they’re bigger and nastier. Once again, none of this has changed much, and maybe we need to think about changing it.

This led to autocrats – kings, Chieftains – with their clique of courtiers/ elders / camp followers running the show, with for solid genetic reason said head honcho doing his level best to put his bloodline on top and keep it there. The same applied to courtiers/camp-followers, who wanted that privilege for their genetic heritage – or the head honcho’s job. And thus was born the system of NBPP. Remembering this – they’re fighting for the top job, or at least to be in camp-followers, not you, or the people or society. What they did – be it get the ordinary folk to build a stockade together or harvest together (which would benefit all of them, was – no matter what bullshit they came up with (AKA rewards and offers thereof, offers being cheaper and easier) was to keep themselves at the top. Over time the offers got bigger, and sometimes even partially fulfilled, but bite and swat got moved up to a lot worse too.

In conflict with all this (and this is at the root of modern democracy was a set of behaviors as old or older, ‘fair’ (which is not ‘equal’ but meritocratic. That can be equal, but isn’t always.) which all social species need to some extent to survive. It’s well recorded and demonstrated among various monkey species, and obviously ties into an earlier evolved concept – reciprocity (which we can see in all sorts of species – where they figure doing X will get you Y and somewhere the leap got made – if you want Y do X. It’s a vast leap. Many people still haven’t got it, proving Border Collies are a lot smarter than they are. That’s why I made one the hero in Dog and Dragon – but that is another matter. Obviously most of politics and governance isn’t ‘fair’ and all sorts of deceptions are employed to try and make it look like it is – be it ‘by divine right’, or ‘the people elected me’. It’s only when these fail and it looks like the head honcho and his camp-follower courtiers might find themselves first course in the new tribal feast (or at least deposed or dead), that NBPP start on horse-trading towards a fair deal. Being the nice people they are that often comes down to ‘we’ll make you junior camp followers, and give you pretties (less than we give ourselves, but more than we give other people who want us for entrees) if you keep the would-be chefs off our throats. Occasionally it rises above this to make things more fair and meritocratic, but not if they can avoid it. The system is evolved to not select that kind of leader or courtiers.

Governance, to my jaundiced eye, is best viewed as an eternal conflict between the general populace seeking a fairer more meritocratic system and the NBPP wanting to keep themselves where they want to be. All systems of government derive from this.

Over time, as some of us moved from monkey to less monkey, and the groups of families grew bigger all of this got more and more complex, and we lost sight in the trees of the wood, we did try various options on this. The Greeks from which we draw much of Western Civilization tried a fair number – feudal, dictatorship, military repression, qualified democracy (no slaves or women need apply), timocracy (read PYRAMID SCHEME). (Sf tried a few more. Sprauge de Camp and Heinlein particularly spring to mind. Had to love de Camp’s ideas, the drunken council and sober council being one I found delightful. It seems to have died out, with only socialism and condemnation of what is called capitalism and a few autocratic theocracies, getting a look in now. Oh and space-faring heriditary autocracy (Some, as in Hoyt’s Darkship Thieves have basis in logic. Others are fantasy dressed up as sf, and delusions of what nobility and empire are.)

Modern Democracy rests on an equal right to vote – conflating equal with ‘fair’ and allowing no measure of merit. It’s obviously a bit of a con, because even monkeys have no trouble getting the concept of merit not always meaning equal. But it’s better than the autocracy (which, by in large is the alternative. If we ever got enough space to be safe from being dinner, anarchy has merits. Socialism BTW is a con job, purporting to be more fair by apportioning reward more equally but sans merit (unless you are one NBPP in which case the rewards are much bigger. Surprise).

What obviously is wrong with democracy is that it is viewed by so many as an end point. One simply has to look at our elected leaders (pick one, any one) and realize that if this is an end point, it surely doesn’t work that well.) And by so many as a one way street. You get a vote by being a citizen (or pretending to be one) – not something which required much merit if you were born there. And as party democracy has largely degenerated into lobby groups and pretties for camp-followers… which usually boils down to we’ll take from those who aren’t in our camp and thus do better (which, surprise, is back where it all started.)

Hmm. As I wrote in STARDOGS the logical answer is surely to accept that government and those in it will always become principally self-serving and for the benefit of government. The only way to win in the sense of a fairer more meritocratic system that benefits the society and not just the government… is to make Government’s reward directly the result of doing a better job. One of my friends suggested that democracy should have an entry and exit poll with the electorate being able vote for the departing polly and the number of votes = bonus. But that would still come down to hand out the pretties to as many as possible, by taking from who wouldn’t vote for you anyway, rather than necessarily any improvement in the society. Some kind of short and long term reward which is not just based on popularity but hard metrics. For instance a basic salary based on the MEDIAN per capita GDP, and a bonus -or clawback – based on the difference between start time and now. And for a long term effect you could make that affect their pension. Obviously these things have no impact on multi-millonaires going into the process or on them getting kickbacks or sweetheart directorships or jobs afterwards from lobbyists etc. So you’d have to deal with that. The other issue, of course, is making the voters liable in some way for the action of their representative. You’d think a lot more carefully and vote a lot more thoughtfully, if you personally would carry either a profit or loss from it. And then there is the question of merit – we need universal suffrage… but are all votes really equal? Is the vote a reward, or a duty, or a punishment? Maybe 1 vote basic, a second for those who have served the community/society? Maybe another for… I don’t know, paying taxes. Philanthropy. Tertiary education? And becoming a five vote person recognized with a title of some sort, or better pension or tax break or something, making it a measure of merit to be striven for.

This is what sf ought to be exploring in the future worlds we write about. Not the stale stuff.


Filed under books, economics, philosophy, politics, science Fiction

Fiat – let there be…

I see Iran has imitated Zimbabwe by pegging the rate of rial. Yes, that worked well didn’t it? Well, in a manner of speaking if you were a ruling party politician or had the connections it did. You’re still in power, and you’ve effectively transferred almost all the money held by those not in your position to you to play ducks-and- drakes with, without adding any work or value. Of course it destroyed the economy, left the roads and infrastructure deteriorating towards Somalia, and sent maybe 1/3 of the people into exile, caused a vast spike in infant mortality, starvation, dropped the average lifespan. But if you were in power… it worked.

This is how it will work: the official rate from government outlets – at which foreign currency in time will be available only to those with ‘special licenses’ or some such franking of their right to hold and use foreign currency legally – those with connections in other words – will not match the real rate at all. Very shortly expect it to be illegal to hold foreign currency at all (if this isn’t true already). The Government will print however as many rials it needs… Which in theory will work for a while in a large mostly self-sufficient internal market (China for example) but not on a very import dependent one. Everyone, from your upright and law abiding cousin Joe, to the ratbags in politics (but not in power) will be willing, indeed desperate to give you multiples of the official rate in rials for a dollar or a pound or even a Cowrie shell. The well-connected (possibly with a bogus import export company so he needs forex)… will exchange rials for dollars at the official rate. He will then sell those dollars at the black market rate, quite possibly making 1000% profit. He then takes those rials back and swaps them for more dollars at the official rate, which he then sell on the black market and returns to buy more rials… No work, no risk and vast vast profit. The state, desperate for more dollars to give him, confiscates all incoming forex… and gives out rials in exchange at the official rate – which the recipient (unless he’s well-connected) can’t change back into a currency that anyone else will accept offshore to do business with. So if he exports raw materials… like dates, he can keep getting rials for which he can buy some (diminishing) local goods – for a little while until inflation destroys that. If he imports and sells he’s going bust or going crooked. Or pushing his prices up as much as he can to buy forex on the black market from the well-connected.

Hyperinflation, and the destruction of all savings held in that currency must follow… well or the state can mandate the prices. Except then there is none for sale, because it costs more than the trader can sell for.

‘Couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch’ I hear you think. Except of course the people it does and will affect are not the rulers. They’re just about everyone else, with the intelligensia and those with technical and commercial skills which are transferable getting out, leaving those who can’t – the old, the poor, those who love the country or their bit of land – to survive or die. Oh the boss-folk and those who appease them enough to keep sweet but alive can do quite well off the carcase. For a while.

It does expose the value of ‘fiat money’ though. Which is to say its worth… more or less as much as the labor/product of people using it can be taxed for. Or how much anyone will give you for that. In the short term, for their own interests that can be worth much more labour/product of the country divided by the total number of rials/dollars/pounds printed. Right now, a dollar is in Tehran (you can buy more goods with a dollar than a dollar is actually worth – which pushes up, at least temporarily, the value of the dollar) China has been propping the value of the dollar for a while – which both has and hasn’t helped the US (in the long term, hasn’t IMO. But it’s been good for the carpetbaggers).

Of course the real value of fiat money is never enough for any government. And then they print more, effectively both selling off future value, and trying for the quick con (ie. use it to buy x before the seller of x realizes that it’s worth slightly less. It’s on the level of honesty of using clipped coins.) The seller hastily tries to repeat the process, eventually coming down to shorting the poor honest fellow whose savings got eaten by inflation. Basically it’s conned money, which as often as not is turned into pretties for voters / supporters, enough of whom aren’t savers to like this. We’ve set up a selection criteria which ensures Government is by definition a bunch of sharpies out to look after themselves, and then wonder why they turn out to be a bunch of sharpies who are out look after themselves.

Money – and systems of government(but that is another post subject) that don’t do this – have been obvious targets for sf for dun-a-meny years. It’s fallen out of fashion, lately, because well, most sf publishing is firmly pro-establishment now (someone needs to explain to modern American liberals that establishment is not = conservative, or right wing. Establishment is the bunch in power. And that means power at the level which affects you. In Iran the eye-owe-tollies are the establishement, in China the CCP is. In more democratic countries the parties in parlimentary power are, and usually to the point that it doesn’t matter that much who is in power per se, their backers are – and the backers will often be the same people regardless of the party). The establishment is pretty keen on keeping the con going, so they have money for those pretties, and will not thank those who point out it’s a con. That hasn’t stopped Douglas Adams or Sir Terry Pratchett doing it, but it’s not ‘avant garde’ or ‘groundbreaking’ (it is really of course, far more than endlessly recycled feminism, which usually gets that label).

Still, it’s been stuff of interesting ideas – especially as most bright people realize fiat is just not going to work as is. The concept of energy units seems worth looking at, as do ideas of using various resources as a guarantor of the paper you use as exchange means (until of course some beggar comes up with with matter transmutation or a cheap way to get lots of energy.) Labor is another (I think Eric Frank Russell used the concept of ‘obligations’. There has seldom been a more wildly revolutionary writer. Barter is of course something that works and always will. (Gold is an odd one. It’s really not much use.) Immortality (well, years of life-extention) was a rather neat Pratchett one. Concepts of services like defense and medical help are ones I’d like to work on in future books.

The mechanism I’ve quietly used in some of my work is the basic foundation of fiat money: trust. It’s the coinage which needs to be backed by integrity, and once debased never gains its value again, short of very harsh medicine.

I wonder when that will be painfully explained to governments?


Filed under economics, philosophy, politics, science Fiction, Uncategorized

Being a victim does not always equal being a good guy

I was thinking I should start putting some of the philosophical, sociological and moral issues I tend to think about, and possibly how they impact on my books in here.

It’ll probably make for boring reading.

One of the more difficult lessons I had to get my head around, growing up, was the concept that victims aren’t necessarily good. Or nice.

They’re just victims (or underdogs, or choose your word.).

I grew up in Apartheid South Africa, and had would have been considered a very (and I use this next word knowing it means different things in different places. It’s been usurped to mean anything but what it did, once) liberal education (not the Neo-liberal statist stuff that seems to get called ‘Liberal’ in the US now), with parents who didn’t support the system… and the contact I had with the underdogs in this system… as a result tended to be rather nice people, often bright and suffering from the discrimination that they were subject to. Then I left my fairly sheltered school environment and went to work and the army. Work – where I was a clerk on the railway, filling in the few months before the army… taught me that a lot of my fellow ‘white’ South Africans were a lot stupider than I’d realized, and lot more unpleasant. Not all of them, true. A few had been trapped in the need to earn a living, and a relatively easy road to nowhere. The army – I was conscripted into the medical corps, which was considered one of the ‘elite’ postings, as everyone had year 12/matric and we had a lot of graduates too, actually probably reinforced the victim=good person stereotype, although I did start to realize that people I liked weren’t necessarily good, and ones I couldn’t stand or agree with, could be. University did little to change the idea that somehow all the 35 million (at that stage) people of other designated racial origins besides European, were decent blokes I’d like, who had merely been deprived of opportunity, or they’d be just like me. Yep. I was very idealistic. Still am, I suppose, but I had real rose tinted glasses and blinkers then. I had however got the idea, firmly, that most of those ‘Europeans’ were as varied a crop as possible, good, bad, hardworking, lazy, illogical, moral, perverted etc… and all possible mixtures of that. That a certain percentage – probably around 20%, could and would do great things given the opportunity. That about another 30% could improve their lot slightly with some input, and that 30% wouldn’t sink into barbarism with a gradually increasing amount of effort. And 20% were stupid/so set in their ways / so despising of anything better or even different that all the opportunity (and there was a fair bit for ‘white’ South Africans, back then. They had every possibility with a little effort, except a long term future) all efforts for them were a complete waste.

It took getting out to work in rural Africa on a fish-farm near Hoedspruit in the then Eastern Transvaal (a place, where, IMO if they need to give world an enema, would the right place to put the pipe) to finally get me to see things in a different light(yep, more idealism. We were going to produce affordable good quality protein for less well off people. And at the same time make a living, provide work in a depressed area etc. The owner of the place was probably more idealistic than I was, and gifted with much more money. Compared to any other farm in the district the effort and money that went into staff and housing and support was enormous. The difference between my wage, as the manager, and the senior workers by the time you threw in all the perks was about 25%. Lord, we were trying so hard…)

I’ve never been suited to being an overseer who sat in the shade and occasionally came and had a yell. So I got in with them and worked myself to exhaustion every day, doing the work of 3 men, and 10 of my ‘workers’.

I expected them to respect this, to follow my lead. It had worked in the army. Worked at sea…

They hated my guts. I loved what I was doing, believed in it. I loved fish, and working. I thought it was a great opportunity… They didn’t. Anyway, that’s another story, another life-lesson.

I was there for two years, working next to them, going into their compound and being immersed in the situation. They adapted to me and I to them. I can’t claim I won them over, but they did teach me something enormously valuable. The region was pretty much a sink area, with most black men who had any get-up-and-go… having got up and went, so that did skew things a bit. But I did come realize I had been completely wrong. Victim-of-Apartheid did NOT necessarily equal ‘good guy’. In fact, if a miracle had changed the skin color of the workers on farm and put them in another world where they had precisely the same advantages and opportunities as every other person… if there been a dole, 50 % of them would have been on it, and continued to beat the crap out of their wives, pissing most of the money against the wall and being their charming selves. If there wasn’t, they’d have been manual laborers doing as little as possible no matter what the reward was, and still beating the crap out of their wives for late suppers or whatever. They were the bogans or rednecks or whatever your local term is for it, too stupid, hidebound, despising of anything but their own way to ever change. And seeing as they were the dominant group, they tended to break down anything any of the others tried to do. As victims, they were more than happy to victimize others. Seemed to enjoy it in fact. Far from using their position of relative privilege to build others up, they used to exploit the surrounding workers on other farms, the women who gravitated to the money and better living conditions the farm provided and tried to maintain, despite them. The other 50%, well, about 40% of them did improve their lot slightly, although it was dragged down by the PTB in that community. Given the miracle transfer, some of them would have ended up in lower middle-class employments (remember this was a sink area). They were decent enough people, just somewhat trapped by circumstances. They weren’t lost rocket scientists, but a few might have been foremen or happy as in charge of the meat section of the local supermarket. They didn’t have any realistic aspirations (yes they wanted to live like Americans on TV.) And the other 10%… were really victims, who given that new world with decent opportunity and no discrimination… would have done well. One had managed to teach himself basic electronics and made a fair bit extra fixing radios and minor electrical goods – with 4 years of not very great education – what he could have done with a good education!? Another few would have at least managed some kind of degree at University. I learned focus what I could do on the top 50%, and use the top 10 of that to help them, and me. And I learned, oddly, that victims are actually no different to anyone else. They’re just as human, just as likeable, just as obnoxious. And in many cases they treat other victims just as badly. Roughly the same proportions would do the same things – some of which are pretty vile. Sometimes of course the circumstances of their victimhood so color everything that it becomes central, and sometimes an aspect of what has been done stops them being like everyone else. A man who has never learned to read, or is too poor to even afford a place to sleep cannot download internet porn, because he can’t use a computer – so in that way those in that position would not be as likely to do this as the average human. But given the opportunity and taught… they still average the same. But that far from common or spread right across the entire spectrum of day-to-day life. Yes, if you’re beaten and starved and raped it can warp you totally… but it appears that even that doesn’t have to.

I’ve used this several books and stories. Notably my villain in CRAWLSPACE (which for some reason isn’t available on Amazon. I’ve asked Eric and have as yet, no reply) Laggy, Laguna is a former slave = victim… but as the story reveals that hasn’t instantly made him a nice guy. It’s also something I try to handle as the moral ambivalence and good in this respect, complete prick in that that I used in A MANKIND WITCH – where my hero starts anyway as a victim, who is also complete son-of-a-bitch… with a side that gradually circumstances and his reaction to the heroine bring out. He’ll always be something of a SOB. But hopefully his good side outweighs it.


Filed under philosophy, politics

Wond’ring aloud

Wond’ring aloud, will the years treat us well…

I am an old Jethro Tull fan.

Listening to this this morning, it’s hard to look at the world right now and to feel any degree of certainty. I read an article this AM in the Business Spectator (“you?!” I hear you exclaim. “Dave, you’re the antithesis of modern business. You believe that Corporates need to be broken, and that we may need deflation. They’d crucify you.”). Truly I am not the friend of modern crony capitalism, any more than I friend of socialism.  I’m just a bloke who reads a lot and thinks for himself. Even about economics.

It’s interesting times, both in publishing and the wider world caught in these economic tides.  Anyway… back to the article, and another a friend in the US pointed me at. Both essentially said: The current government is a mess, their policies are disaster, their legislation serves power-brokers (be it big Pharma and insurers in the US not the public, or unionised labour in Oz, and they’ve broken electoral promises, and are mired in everything from sleaze to economic problems)  But the alternative party are WORSE.

And that, in summary, was the entire reason for supporting the incumbents. The lesser of two weevils (yes, I mean weevils.)  If the others got in they’d be worse.  Now, if this had been a dispassionate outsider commenting, I’d have said  maybe they’re right. But in both cases it was plainly a supporter of the Powers-that-be.  Neither talked about fixing their own mess. Neither talked about forward direction. They just told us to be very afraid of the alternative.

Reminds of me of publishing.

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Filed under economics, philosophy, politics