Sunday, November 01, 2009

Contemptuous Memes Part II: "Cycles of History"

Last time we looked at one enticingly seductive mind trap that we all fall for, now and then -- because it (a) flatters our own egos and (b) nearly always seems so well-justifed.  Contempt for the Masses seems to come as naturally as breathing.  And you (or I) never happen to be one of the innumerable fools, out there.  You (or I) are in the know!

TYTLERCALUMNYNow we'll move on to another silly notion that folks routinely seem to love to fall for. That history runs in patterns and even predictable cycles. Here's the second half of that infamous "Tytler Quotation" we examined last time -- a touchstone of modern neoconservative cant.  The portion that claims there are predictable patterns that control the destiny of peoples and nations.

"The average age of the world's great civilizations has been 200 years. These nations have progressed through this sequence: From bondage to spiritual faith; From spiritual faith to great courage; From courage to liberty; From liberty to abundance; From abundance to selfishness; From selfishness to
complacency; From complacency to apathy; From apathy to dependence; From dependence back into bondage."

First, let us avow and admit that the Left can get just as teleological and mystical.  Karl Marx's forecasts about the inevitable path of human development may not have been cyclical, but they were just as stupid, built upon a series of fabulated Just-So stories that were then twisted to excuse mass murder.  What seems to attract mystics of the Right to the more cyclic models, like Tytler's, would seem to be their attraction to the past.  Marx saw history as something to be built upon, never to repeat.  Cyclicalists see the past as endlessly relevant and revealing of our fore-doomed pattern. ("What was, will be.")  This is more suitable for the fanatical wing that is filled with nostalgist-romantics, instead of transcendentalist-romantics.  A definite difference, if a small one.

Anyway, Tytler's riff begins with a preposterous premise (offered as an "of course" axiom) that societies all collapse at a given age.  A notion wholly unsupported, across the continents and ages.  It may be that dynasties and even city states fade over such a very rough time frame... (though tell it to the Plantagenets and to Venice).  Even so, the overall cultures, of which they were part, tended to keep on flourishing, over vastly longer time scales.  Indeed, the West only "fell" once.  And then, only if you ignore the whole eastern half of the Mediterranean.

But never mind all that. This concept has been rife -- and fruitless at predicting actual events -- since forever.  For example, almost a century ago, all the chattering classes were going on and on about Oswald Spengler's book, THE DECLINE OF THE WEST, which claimed that the First World War was sure evidence of the imminent collapse of Western Civilization... from senescence, decadence and old age.

Oh, sure, there were many visible ways that, in Spengler's time, the faults and contradictions of nationalism, capitalism and primitive economies failed to cope with the onrushing tide of powerful technologies.  And the world did spiral into hell around the middle of the Twentieth century.  But there was nothing decadent about the dynamism with which the western democracies bounced back, confronted Hitler, then chose Marshall's path of steady strength and development-through-trade, as a strategy for dealing with communist expansionist empires.  If decadence consists of going to the moon, exploring the solar system and the cell and the atom, purging ourselves of age-old prejudices, liberating education and loosening the guild-constraints on expert knowledge -- well, then here's to decadence!

It's easy to laugh at Spengler now. Though one  does feel a chill in the air as, periodically, our country and civilization seems to toy with cowardice and rejection of progress.  Contempt for the Masses combines with our human propensity for pattern-recognition, as we sometimes cry out "Aha!  I see what's happening."

(One example (mea culpa) is my own schtick, in which I portray Rupert Murdoch as Jefferson Davis, in pushing Culture War as a way to re-ignite Phase Three of the American Civil War.)
    Among the most insidious of these patterns that people periodically perceive -- (and, ironically, it is held most strongly by those who proclaimed "morning in America!") -- is the nostalgic-romantic-cynical grouse that: "we're past our prime."

Cycles of Generations?

What's the latest of these cyclical patterns to make the rounds?  Well, it happens to be one that mixes the usual pessimist view with dollops that are oddly hopeful and even quite rousing.

6a00e00989822288330167693acd51970b-320wiMy friend and international economic pundit John Mauldin is (in his words) "a huge fan of the work of Neil Howe. His book, The Fourth Turning, has turned out to be stunningly prophetic. Uncomfortably so. A roughly 80 year cycle has been repeating itself for centuries in the Anglophile world, broken up into four generations or turnings. We have begun what Howe called many years ago The Fourth Turning."  By this, Howe means a time of crisis, similar to the American Revolution, the Civil War, and the Depression/WWII period, all of which called upon the strength of a "hero generation" to rescue civilization from the ruinous danger inflicted by earlier "prophets," "nomads," and such.

First the bad news.  I responded to John that I am deeply unimpressed with Howe. My own record, predicting the fall of the Berlin Wall, a false Fukayaman "end of history," and then a hyped up tussle with macho Islam -- is inarguably far more specific and far better than Howe's. Heck, most of my Science Fiction writing colleagues have done better, too. (SF gets no respect!)

To be fair, there are some enticing patterns to recognize... e.g the roughly eighty year (a human lifetime) span separating the crisis of the American Revolution from the Civil War, from the Depression/WWII crisis to the one that supposedly will sweep upon us, very soon. (Cheery thought!)  In each case (1) "Heroes" stoically and courageously resolved the emergency, then strove to raise their kids in security they never knew.  A security that turned the next immediate generations into (2)a stifled, silent generation (e.g. kids of the 1950s) and then (2) rebellious, individualist, transcendentalist egomaniac "prophets" (the Boomers), followed by a "nomad" generation (Gen X, including its first president, Obama) which grew up under chaotic home lives...

 ...followed by another "hero" generation, that will presumably fix the mess created by the boomers. (A phrase I use decades ago.)   One forecaste I think Howe gets spot on: "The Baby Boomers will still be tearing and screaming at each other, when they are hobbling around retirement homes."

What Howe does is what humans do... look for patterns and then find (voila!) what they are looking for. So-called "cycles of history" are among the most pernicious of these wish-find patterns. People often attribute such thinking - unfairly - to the great historian Arnold Toynbee, because he spent a lot of time talking about them. But in then end, he debunked them. (Ask and I'll tell you what Toynbee REALLY considered to be the factor that explains history, especially the rise or fall of great nations.)

No, as I mentioned earlier, the great Cyclicalist who transfixed our parents and grandparents - but who everyone has now forgotten, was Spengler. (He also said that "optimism is cowardice." What a marroon.)  But what makes fellows like Howe especially distressing is that they are positing a cyclical determinism that dismisses our ability to take such "wheels" of destiny and modify them, perhaps even learning to steer.

In fact, I find illusory "cycles" far less rewarding than the notion of
"attractor states"... or pitfalls that seem relentlessly to pull in cultures,
because of repetitive traits in human nature.

newmemewarOligarchic feudalism is one such attractor. (Find the exceptions: agrarian societies that avoided this trap. I can name only eight.) Another attractor is fear-driven xenophobia. Machismo is one more. Put a dozen or so of these together and you start getting a really good picture of our tragic history.  (And yes, because these themes keep recurring, matters can thus look a bit cyclical.  But that's like saying the fundamental reason that a car moves is because the wheels turn.)

But leadership also matters, e.g. Athenian democracy did not fail till Pericles died, and then just barely. And that is where miracles keep happening to America.  here America finds NEW attractor states.... bad presidents are followed by good ones, citizenship triumphs (barely) over anomie and cynicism, and seminal decisions transform the world.

Example. America's current deep indebtedness is portrayed as a pit of ruin.  Yes, it is a pit, a difficult one. But nobody looks at what we got, in exchange for it.

What did we get for the debt, other that lots of expensive cars and cheap tube socks?

Well, we saved the world. Because of anti-mercantalist trade patterns, set up by Marshall, Truman and Acheson, and then Ike. Pax Americana was the first empire ever to eschew and reverse mercantalist temptations. The result was a steady export-driven UPLIFTING of Europe and Japan, then Taiwan, Korea, China, and so on... till 2/3 of the world is now out of grinding poverty and sending their kids to school.

90% of that progress happened because Americans spent trillions on crap we never needed. It is an accomplishment far greater than going to the moon or defeating Hitler. We'll never get any credit. But we did it.

So we've reached an end to our ability to lift the world, all by ourselves? So
they will now have to pull their own weight while we resume saving and fight down the debt left over from 30 wastrel years? So we have some problems? Big deal.

Americans can do anything. Anything! So long as we shrug off Murdochian propaganda and start thinking like adults again.

I just watched 2001: A Space Odyssey again, for the 20th time.  Dang. I don't care about the space stations.  What matters is that we are better PEOPLE than Kubrick thought we'd be, by now.

 It's time to be ambitious again.


See also my essay: 2001: A Space Odyssey: Shining Light on How Far We've Come.

and The Tytler Insult: Is Democracy Hopeless?

David Brin
Twitter                Facebook


soc said...

Just a question on prediction.

You said that you predicted the fall of the Berlin wall. In the discussion for the last post you gave Gorbachev a lot of credit for bringing down the Soviet system as gently as possible, and said that without him we might have had nuclear war.

So did you really predict a figure like Gorbachev to rise to the occasion and bring about this outcome? Or did your prediction not require him? What I'm trying to get at is, if an outcome requires a special person to step up at the right time and do the right thing, how can that be predicted?

David Brin said...

Gorbachev was already around in 1986, when I started my predictive blather....

jaymolstad said...

I'll bite. What did Toynbee think was the most important factor?

There are some cyclical factors at work, of course. It's not a coincidence that we had a major financial bubble 70-odd years after the last one. People rarely make their parents' mistakes, but often make their grandparents' mistakes.

I've always been a fan of the Big Idiot theory of history, which holds that prudent people are mostly interchangeable, and the only way to make your mark on history is to screw up.

BCRion said...

There is probably something in the Generations work by Strauss and Howe. It's definitely not the be all and end all of psychohistory and is probably not very accurate in the long run.

What I do find interesting, is they may have (at least in part) identified one of these so-called attractor states that American society seems to have, for better or worse, fallen into. Of course any major event: plague, nuclear war, asteroid impact, etc. would cause a major perturbation and probably drive us out of this state into somewhere else.

Something particular interesting is the time constant has been growing. In other words, people are living longer. One assumption to their hypothesis is that people become sedentary and die out once they hit their late sixties. With people living and being civically active longer, it will be interesting to see if such a model can persist.

David Brin said...

I'd be more impressed if they showed how such patterns appear in other cultures. Now, mind you, Americans have had opportunities to be more fluid and self-reinventing. Hence they COULD create the coddled/safe childhoods that post-crisis then create silent and then prophet generations. Other cultures probably repressed the amplitude of such swings.

Still, if we really want psychohistory....

Boomers come across very badly to Howe. We do throw tantrums! Still, the best of us took on bigotry and our transcendental belief in change did bring some important transformations.

Mind you, I am attracted to Howe's alluring cycles! My kids and their peers DO seem far more responsible, cooperative, and willing to negotiate than boomers. Crime is lower and all that. They are exactly the sort who might be "heroes"... tho I pray they won't have to be.

Toynbee believed that societies thrive when they invest in -- and believe in -- their "creative minorities." Satisfying to a guy like me, of course, since he de-emphasized the aristocracy but extolled the creators and innovators, and said that societies fall when they cease to invest in such people...

...and sci fi is in decline. Ah Spengler....

David Brin said...

This response from someone on Kos:

A cyclical theory of political change based on a roughly four-generation span (generation of the founder hero/less capable son/ corrupt and effeminized grandson's generation/ generation of the destroyer/founder) has been around since Ibn Khaldun. But most people propagating it haven't read him, neglect the fact that he's explaining the longevity of states founded by nomads,and wrongly conflate state with civilization.

Civilizations seem to be much most enduring than dynasties or political systems. That's encouraging.

On the other hand, it's hard to see the US as a coherent civilization, and that's discouraging.

TCB said...

The most entertaining cyclical-history notion I've read was that five-step cycle from Wilson and Shea's Illuminatus! Trilogy, based on Vico's three-stage cycle. I wouldn't say I believe any of it, but each of these is generally presented as a metaphor or lens to consider the author's ideas about how societies may develop. Maybe it's like the gambler's perennial chase after systems he hopes will let him win a few more hands. I read a version of the Ibn Khaldun idea at a very young age, possibly in some science fiction story. It always stuck with me. Tom Paine's pamphlet Common Sense invokes the same idea, without setting a timer on it: hereditary monarchy might not produce incompetence exactly on the third generation, but it was bound to soon enough.

I like the idea of attractors a lot more; it's a far more useful way to think about where a society might be headed. Every society deals daily with principles in tension: my rights versus yours, public common versus private property, centralization versus decentralization, and a hundred others. I found, during my previous Lincoln qoute search, another which speaks directly to this: "That is the issue that will continue in this country when these poor tongues of Judge Douglas and myself shall be silent. It is the eternal struggle between these two principles -- right and wrong -- throughout the world. They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time, and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity and the other the divine right of kings."
--October 15, 1858 Debate at Alton, Illinois

Abe is talking about the open society versus the closed society, democracy versus tyranny, freedom versus slavery, citizenship versus peasantry; will you live as the king's pawn or is your life your own?

There will always be those who wish to be kings over us, and they simply wear new masks when the old mask stops working. Monarchy was a discredited notion by the 20th Century, so we saw new masks: Fascism, which expanded the old regime to include corporate barons, and Communism, which hid a new atheistic kind of monarchy behind layers of propaganda about the primacy of the Worker. Fascism, unmasked, had to hide until it could re-emerge as Running Government Like A Business, which brings us to Murdoch and Dubya and Moon. Communists, their debacle being more recent, have either reinvented themselves as godless fascists (China) or oligarchs (Russia and elsewhere) or are hanging on by a finger North Korea) or are hiding out and having a deep identity crisis (most everywhere else). My basic point here, though, is that the organizational structures and ideologies may change but the basic principles and tensions of human society are the same.
I can't source it right now, but I read an amazing essay by Isaac Asimov back in the '70's that said the US had lost the Cold War. Huh? Say WHAT??? He said, presciently, that the US might come out ahead by running the Soviets into the ground by buying more weapons, but we could have won by being more free. Instead, he said, we had gradually become more like them. It's like Dr. Brin said, science fiction writers deserve more respect.

Also, and I swear I did not go looking for this: Gorby says capitalism needs its own perestroika.

Anonymous said...

"Ask and I'll tell you what Toynbee REALLY considered to be the factor that explains history, especially the rise or fall of great nations."

OK, I'll bite. What did Toynbee really consider to be the factor that explains history?

rewinn said...

Human brains (...and perhaps other brains...) love to detect patterns. We can detect a face out of almost any pattern of two dots and a line ;)

... so it may not be surprising that we can also detect Patterns of History out of almost any collection of historical facts. How can this "Emoticon" style of inventing history have any predictive utility? I'll concede its effectiveness as propaganda.

Tytler, like Marx and others who distill history some vast patterns of human history out of the pages of the books they have chosen to read, strike me more as religious figures than as scientists. For those who do not believe in their theory, no explanation suffices; for those who do believe, no explanation is necessary. If you see the patterns that they do, then you'll understand, and if you don't, you won't.

One reason to doubt Universal Theories of Civilization is a plasticity of the fundamental nature of civilization as regards information. The invention of writing really did change the accumulation and dissemination of knowledge; moveable type was another quantum leap; the internet may be yet another. One who identifies cycles of civilization that transcend those great changes in the very nature of civilization must be asked whether such cycles exist in any objective sense, or whether they are illusions created by our pattern-seeking ability.

P.S. I can't imagine what "from bondage to spiritual faith" even means in terms of any "Great Civilization". An assertion that classical Greece arose from bondage (from whom?) because of faith in Zeus would suggest a basic ignorance of what "religion" was prior to about 4th century Christianity.

P.P.S. I also find it difficult to see our beloved United States as a coherent civilization, but I think it is also unnecessary. Our Greatest Generation, whether by chance or design, implanted the most important virtues into the fertile soil of our former enemies in Japan and Europe (or nourished such sprouts as survived the Axis). It may be difficult to meaningfully distinguish between our civilizations, although of course the national differences persist. We may do wisely to let them do some of the heavy lifting for a while, while we repair our own house. IMO.

TCB said...

A wee bit o googling seems to indicate that Toynbee considered the real deciding factor of history to be how civilizations respond to challenges, which points to their core religious or philosophical ideas. Does the society react creatively or does it fold like a beach chair?

TCB said...

Oh, Dr. Brin already answered that Toynbee question upthread.

David Brin said...

Actually, the Plantagenets managed to stave off "grandson decadence" for a long time. In part because they married zesty women!

Toynbee believed that societies thrive when they invest in -- and believe in -- their "creative minorities." Satisfying to a guy like me, of course, since he de-emphasized the aristocracy but extolled the creators and innovators, and said that societies fall when they cease to invest in such people...
...and sci fi is in decline. Ah Spengler....

* re toynbee, see my own essay about "collapse"...

Robert said...

I'm curious here, Dr. Brin: what do you view to be the reasons for the decline of Science Fiction literature, and what are some methods of combating and reversing this decline?

I must admit to being a tremendous fan of science fiction... and regret seeing so little of it (while we as readers and writers embrace fantasy literature and the "easiness" of the genre).

And what is your opinion on science fiction comics and webcomics? (While there is not a large number of scifi comics out there, there is still a goodly number which help make up for the lack in print literature.)

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

David Brin said...

Flying off to Denver for a night. But let me give a little data dump on my past efforts to help do sci fi outreach:

I helped to found the ongoing campaign aimed at developing ways to use SF to encourage bright young minds... the core group is "Reading for the Future" (and there's a WIKI: )

See also - the effort at the University of Kansas to develop an accredited course for teachers, plus a science fiction and futurist speakers bureau that can supply speakers to many local county libraries or schools... or to major corporations.

Teaching Science Fact with Science Fiction, A teachers guide to using the literature of science fiction as an interdisciplinary tool in grades

A web site that uses the movie and the book "The Postman" to teach civics lessons can be found at

And here's my old "defunct" web-curriculum contest: The resource list is good. I hope all this is helpful!

Since I wrote that, things have just gotten worse. Every World SF convention is smaller, while Comicon booms. SF fandom doesn't seem to care that people with walkers and canes outnumber kids at these cons. It's awful.

Anonymous said...

David Brin mentioned: "Karl Marx's forecasts about the inevitable path of human development may not have been cyclical..."

No, but Marx's historicism derived from Hegel's dialectical theory of history, which definitely was cyclical. Briefly, Hegel claimed that his "law of opposites" ensured that social trends typically pushed to their outermost possibilities, at which point they turned into their opposites. So Hegel imagined conservatives becoming so extreme in their conservatism that they abandoned the basic principles of conservativism, and likewise liberals becoming so doctrinaire and so obsessed with ideological litmus tests that the liberals turned into the opposite of their basic values. Then, whenever a social trend turned into its complete opposite, the trend merged with its own opposite and created something new. Hegel called this alleged historical teleology a process of thesis, antithesis and synthesis.

Anyone remember Marxist-Leninist historical dialectic? They're referring to Hegel's imagined dialectical process of foreordained historical cycles.

Marx broke the cycle at the very end, true, but still he envisioned an oscillating series of social cycles along the lines of those Hegel envisioned.

The problem with all this remains simple and obvious. Historical reality stubbornly fails to conform with historical teleology.

Consider Britain. They have enjoyed a thriving democracy since at least the mid 1600s, which comes to quite a bit longer than that fanastickal 200 years in that bogus quote. Then there's our American democracy, which seems to have lasted some 230 years so far, and still going. Despite all the hysteria about Obama's alleged "tyrnnay" by the silly teabaggers, we have not yet observed anything like, say, an announcement that "elections have been suspended for the duration of the crisis" or one of those other favorite phrases beloved of South American juntas. On the contrary, more people just voted in the recent 2008 presidential election as a percentage of the eligible population than have voted in many a moon.

Then we have Canada, which seems to be going strong as a Democracy at 200 years plus and counting. Where's the evidence for this "200 year curse"? I don't see it.

If that historical cyclical claim is anywhere near correct, we would expect an historical steady state with as many nations turning into despotisms as into democracies in any given year. Yet what we actually witness is an explosion of democracy across the world. Tyranny finds itself on the run everywhere on earth today. Hardly any true Stalinist totalitarian dictatorships still exist -- North Korea, Syria, Burma, a handful of other countries. But virtually everywhere we see democracy emerging, even in closed societies like Saudi Arabia, where women are being given new rights almost daily and the first coed college just opened.

This purported 200 year lifetime of democracies sounds like arrant balderdash.

Carl M. said...

Another strange attractor: intentional stasis. This goes back to prehistory. Many a tribal culture has been known to kill its innovators in order keep things the way they were.

China scrapped its treasure ships. Japan went into isolation and banned firearms. Diocletan locked people into their parents' trades.

Today, our leaders ditch nuclear power, praise windmills and bicyles, and designate space travel for robots only. Our heroic past is now a source of shame. (In part for good reasons; heroes, in the classical sense, are not necessarily nice people.) The era of Western empires is uniformely vilified -- even for those cases where the colonial administrations were far superior to subsequent native rule.

The downfall of SF in the U.S. is just part of this trend.

I say U.S. Note the mass quantities of animated SF coming out of Japan -- complete with cowboys.

chesh said...

You might say that in order for us to get $12 trillion in debt so we could save the world, we had to have quite a lot of credit to start out with. Do we really need any more?

David Brin said...

Yes, yes... one of the good/smart Anonymous guys reminds us of Hegel... whom I particularly detest. Even more than I loathe Plato.

Cheesh, we need credit... and gratitude... precisely BECAUSE we're now in trouble, having spent ourselves into a deep hole.

Example... our creditor nations, especially China, could fight against our current currency devaluation by participating in a devaluation "race to the bottom" in order to keep their goods cheap and to keep us buying. So far... they haven't. Is it because they can now see that we are sucked dry and that they need to generate demand locally and that -- maybe -- we deserve some slack, after having raised them up through antimercantalist trade policies?

Frankly, I very much doubt the gratitude part. But China may decide that a strong America is in the long term best interests of China and the world. It sure has been so far!

But we'll see. They might still act to squelch the re-industrialization of America, or leap upon our recovery before it is fully formed.

In any event, there are other creditors with trillions of our dollars who are sure not to act with our best interests at heart. Certain nations who believe in cycles... that the West is in decadent decline, at long last... and that their once mighty civilization is scheduled to rise.

Patricia Mathews said...

The irony is that in your own novel "Earth", the generations are clear and very like the archetypes - or stereotypes, if you prefer - of Boomers, Xers, Millies, and neo-Silent. I especially loved the very mild delinquency of your three dead end kids - a lot more like that of the juvenile delinquents of my own youth in the late 40s-through-50s than they were like the "super-predators" (to use the media's inflammatory phrase) of the 1980s.

And it is the clearest picture of a late First Turning I have ever read that was not based on the actual 1950s (i.e. Stranger in a Strange Land, when Heinlein's Martian hero kicks off a Fifth Great Awakening circa, what, 2040? With a musty mid-20th-flavor to it all.) Vivid, well-realized, and totally justified.

Refresh my memory - was the Helvetian War kicked off by an economic collapse? It seems to me that would be the most logical trigger. Anyway - congratulations for painting an excellent portrait of something you do not believe in.

David Brin said...

Wow... I hadn't thought of it that way...

Maybe I am one of these cyclical guys, after all!

matthew said...

@ Carl M

"Today, our leaders ditch nuclear power, praise windmills and bicycles, and designate space travel for robots only."

OK, this is just not living in the current reality.

Nuclear power has support across political lines. See Energy Bill Particulars . Note that Obama has stated his support for nuclear power over and over. Carl, why repeat a tired 1980's trope if not to mislead?

Now, on praising bicycles and windmills? Do you have an issue with cheap energy? Do you have an issue with Americans being more fit and using less gas? Just what are you trying to say here? Who are you supporting with these *blatantly* out of touch comments?

Manned space travel? We haven't heard a definite answer from the current administration, but the last one did kinda push it to the forefront.

And a re-evaluation of colonialism? Golly, once again, talk about last weeks' news. Many history departments, anthropologists, etc. are in the middle of the pushback against the "noble savage" of the 60's and 70's.

Sorry, I don't accept for view of current events. Biased much?

Oh, and to be blunt, SF is not in a huge decline (to disagree with our esteemed host as well). It is dealing with becoming so mainstream that it is no longer unusual. SF conventions, yes, not as good as the old days. But *discussion* of SF? Alive and better than well. You see, the interwebs have a place for fans to get together and talk about the stories they love. Oh, yeah, places like "Contrary Brin." Now I don't have to fly across the nation just to talk about whether the Pring will revolt against the Soro....

Gilmoure said...

On decline of SF.

I've seen a similar decline in the SCA. Back in the 70's and 80's, there was Civ War reenactment, SCA, SF Cons and a little bit of Rocky Horror as far as people stepping out of 20th C life for a weekend, and there was some overlap between the groups. After being away from SCA in the late 80's/early 90's, coming back, yeah, declining numbers and an older population. What used to be college based group had now moved on to families and such.

And from my RPG/war gaming friends, same thing; less folks playing paper and pencil games.

I appears that computers have really given a lot of folks the outlet they need to step away from day-to-day life and experience otherness. How this'll effect SF, I don't know. I've only been to one convention (MosCon X, with Bob Forward and Anne McCaffrey (that was a fun breakfast). Now days, about all the socialization I require can now be met through the web. I may be a bit more extreme in my solitude or anti-peopleness than most geeks but there it is.

Stefan Jones said...

Very timely rant by John Scalzi:
One Of Those Questions I Wish SF Geeks Would Simply Get Over

"When the goddamned President of the United States makes Vulcan salutes and is photographed quite unselfconsciously whipping a lightsaber about on the White House lawn, you have won."

"Every time I see the question of “mainstream acceptance” pop up, it reminds me that SF geeks, despite the many manifest signs and indications that we are living in a world they have spawned from their mighty intellectual loins, are yet still emotionally trapped in the high school cafeteria and the social dynamics thereof. SF geeks, I say to unto you: What’s the point of remaking the world in your image if you’ve not the wit to enjoy it? You’ve taken over huge tracts of the cultural map, and you get your underwear bunched up over the lit geeks? That’s a little OCD, don’t you think?"

'verso': Poetry board game popular in the 2020s.

Dwight Williams said...

Scalzi nailed it there. Made me smile about the fact, too.

Robert said...

Sure. If you accept Star Wars (or even Star Trek) as science fiction. I'm less inclined to do so. Star Wars is fantasy dressed up in science fiction's clothing, similar to how Anne McCaffery's writings are romance novels wrapped in science fiction's clothing.

Of course, you do have to wonder then on what science fiction is. Is science fiction a setting? Or a genre? If it is a setting, then writing romance novels or mystery novels or historical fiction utilizing science fiction as a setting is a valid use of scifi. But if you consider science fiction itself to be a literary genre, then these hybrids are on the soft side of science fiction. While there isn't anything really wrong with soft science fiction (I know that my own science fiction writings are on the soft side, utilizing psychic abilities and dimensional travel), there is a relative dearth of decent hard science fiction.

The hybrids though are fascinating to watch. Firefly (the TV series, not the rather twisted novel by Piers Anthony) was an interesting mixture of fairly hard science fiction and westerns with a touch of historical fiction (the war of the Browncoats was definitely a nod to the American Civil War). Battlestar Galactica (the remake) also comes across as among the harder of science fiction television series.

So then, is the decline of science fiction literature due to the difficulties inherent in writing science fiction (ie, needing a background in both the sciences and English), or is it inherent in the decline in the publishing field as a whole? (I suspect the Publishing Industry will be suffering a massive change within ten years with e-publishing growing in popularity once e-books and e-ink devices are reduced enough in price so it's not cost-prohibitive to obtain one.)

The truth is, writing is hard. Likewise, the sciences are not exactly an easy field to comprehend, especially if you want an understanding of the foundations that make up science (ie, understanding the mathematics that are the core of all science). Having a mindset that can comprehend the science and yet remain fluid enough to write without boring one's audience... and the discipline to sit down and write regularly... well, it's not exactly common. Add in the difficulties in getting published, and the dearth of new science fiction writers may in fact be more understandable.

The writers are out there. Back in 1999, Relic Entertainment released one of the best real-time strategy computer games with a storyline that captured imaginations, Homeworld. I watched as dozens of "fanfiction" stories appeared (and wrote one myself, a log/journal story that focused on the events in the game itself which for some bizarre reason was considered one of the best of the fanfiction stories out there). Some of these stories were of novel-length. Some were better-written than a lot of the fiction current found in bookstores. (Brian Lacki's Outside and Naggarok's Children were among the best of these stories; sadly, I've lost touch with him, because of all the young writers I've encountered, he could definitely be one of the new stars in the science fiction field.)

The writers are out there. The problem is, getting them published. (That, and getting them to write something unique, rather than rehash existing universes with variations on the theme.)

Rob H.

tintinaus said...

We could always blame david for not putting out enough books recently :-D

Catfish N. Cod said...

My take on the thesis of the Fourth Turning is that searching for patterns in history is like doing Fourier analysis on a very complex function. If you seek a pattern, you may well find it. It may even be a large component of the total function. But it's not and can't be the whole story.

I do think that the pattern espoused in the Fourth Turning exists (and I have seen others work on extending the pattern to other cultures -- John Xenakis, for instance). I just don't think it's necessarily a universal, or a deterministic thing.

There are attractor states, called limit cycles, that are metastable: where A leads to B, which leads to C, then D, and back to A. It's not pre-determined that the system stay in that cycle; nor does the cycle have to stay in one place. The Fourth Turning concept may be such. And, as you point out, the pattern is FAR more evident in America because we have the freedom to express it far more than in a rule-based society.

Furthermore, such a thesis is not deterministic of the rise and fall of nations at all! It only predicts when certain types of movements are more likely to happen. It doesn't predict what occurs -- whether they be positive or negative developments. To take your own example: it could have been predicted that the United States would make large investments in infrastructure in the 1950's. It could NOT have been predicted that we would do so outside our own borders, without the usual imperial economic control mechanisms!

On the coherency of civilizations: Orson Scott Card, in Children of the Mind, tackles this problem by defining Edge and Center nations. An Edge nation is one that adopts a dominant culture; a Center nation generates a dominant culture, to the extent that incoming people -- nomads, client states, even conquerors -- adopt that culture. Japan, for instance, is an Edge nation: it adopted cultural practices first from China and then America. China is a Center nation: anyone who conquers China turns Chinese, even Mongols.

Center and Edge are not absolutes, nor guarantees of survival. Egypt was a Center nation for a terribly long time, but that ended with Alexander; it is now an Edge nation. Rome was a Center nation long after it died.

The interesting thing about America -- which Card notes -- is that it took being an Edge nation to such an incredible extreme that it made itself a Center nation out of being as Edgy as possible. Somehow a cultural gumbo made up of bits and pieces of hundreds of cultures is far, far more enticing than any single culture alone! Throughout the world today (and in Card's projected future), people say that America has little endogenous culture; and yet everyone speaks English, buys and sells in a capitalist market, votes for a legislature (even when it's bogus), wears T-shirts and suits and ties, plays jazz and rock and rap, uses cars and airplanes and the Internet...

C'mon. Even if, say, California were taken over by "barbarian" Mexican drug lords... could they really avoid turning into Californians? Really?

America is a "coherent civilization", Dr. Brin. Have no worries on that score.

Gilmoure said...

Robert Said... The truth is, writing is hard. Likewise, the sciences are not exactly an easy field to comprehend, especially if you want an understanding of the foundations that make up science (ie, understanding the mathematics that are the core of all science).

To this, I'd add having a grasp of sociology. So much of science fiction is looking at how science and people interact. And so many writers seem to totally miss it, just showing new gadgets taped over an everyday picture, replacing the old gadget, like an iPod replacing a victrola.

While I don't consider Niven to be a great writer, I do like how he can take a tech change and run it to ground against society changes (at least, back in the 70's). His essay on how teleportation could change society is a good example.

Stuart said...


I'm a big fan of Vernor Vinge for thinking through the consequences of his inventions. When his characters invent the stasis field, it changes:

1. The structure of government
2. Warfare tactics
3. Criminal justice and fugitives
4. Treatment of terminal diseases
5. Stock market speculation
6. Space travel
7. Environmentalism
8. Mining and excavation
9. The assumption that historical figures live only in the past

And probably more that I can't remember right now. He's able to get two good books out of it.

One of my pet peeves about Star Trek is how many inventions they completely miss the consequences of. For instance, they use replicators to make Earl Grey tea instead of, say:

1. "Rare" Romulan wine
2. Weapons of mass destruction
3. Other replicators, in a Grey Goo scenario
4. Brain and/or body backups
5. Instant clone armies, or clone societies
6. Dilithium *$&@%^ crystals

Anonymous said...

Good stuff, read from Denver. Saw Wil McCarthy. Got to give a speech now...


Tim H. said...

What makes a great writer? For me, the ability to write a vivid story, that shuts out the world for a while. The work admired by literati usually fails to do this and fails in the market. Accessibility should not be a flaw.

Ilithi Dragon said...


On Trek:

1. They do use replicators for many such things, though it's been established that replicators can't replicate everything. That rare Romulan beverage is illegal, though, and probably locked out of most replicators; private civilians could probably hack their replicators to make it (assuming the drink is replicable), but not as likely for military officers to do so.

2. There have been various mentionings of the replication of bombs and such, and while a modern-day weapon of mass destruction could probably be replicated without much hassle, the concept of a weapon of mass destruction is somewhat different for a civilization that tosses around 40+ megaton matter/anti-matter warheads like candy.

3. With the industrial replicators that we hear of, that could rebuild an entire planet's infrastructure in a matter of weeks/months, we probably do see replicators making replicators

4. & 5. Wouldn't work as well, because it's been well-established that replicators cannot replicate living tissue.

6. By the TNG-era, they DO replicate dilithium crystals (and modern reactors actually regenerate the crystal structure while it's in the reactor).

Just making sure everyone remembers that I'm an uber Trek geek.
} ; = 8 )

Rik said...

Deary me: not the old 'debt trap' again! Obviously a cyclical view is as dead as can possibly be (Golden Ages, anyone?), that's not so easy with a monetary system. What if we didn't enter the Twilight Zone with QE, but were already there because of the Bretton Woods collapse? Maybe there's no such thing as a debt trap for a government having a monopoly on the currency (the US qualifies)... Oh yeah, China could hurt the US by dumping dollar reserves. Really? To whom? Or should they simply thrown into the sea?

Anyway, there's an article that might interest you. Tags: the Newt, popular uprising, moderate conservatives: (the sites I come across..)

TCB said...

Vernor Vinge is an interesting current writer to come up in a discussion of Whither Science Fiction. He, if I'm not mistaken, is the one who coined the phrase "Wall of Fog." The Wall of Fog is that which lies ahead of every science fiction writer now working.

The problem is that advances that were supposed to take centuries or millennia have already happened with preposperous speed. Just about everyone has a Star Trek communicator now, to offer a cliched example. The human genome was sequenced in a few years. We have Google. On the flip side, we have environmental problems and destabilizing technologies such that Sir Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal of Great Britain, gives us a 50% chance of extinction in the 21st Century... and he calls himself an optimist.

So science fiction writers cannot see very far ahead any more. Look more than a couple of decades into the future and you hit that wall of fog. Even polymaths can't see more than a few inches into it. Vinge gave it another name: the Singularity.

I guess I can be labeled a Singularitarian: I'm very intrigued by what lies past that fog. Will we build a general artificial intelligence (GAI)? Will we be wiped out by a weaponized plague, starved by an overheated planet, cast back into a pre-oil agrarian life, uploaded or cyborged... we really do not know! And remember, I'm talking about *soon.* Things are happening faster all the time now.

Which reminds me. Even before Vinge, Robert Anton Wilson was writing about Georges Anderla, a French economist who in 1973 posited that human knowledge had doubled between 1 A.D. and 1500 A.D., "doubled again in 1750 and again in 1900. According to Anderla the next doubling only took fifty years, then ten, seven and finally six leading up to the year 1973. If Anderla is correct, the amount of human knowledge in 1973 was 128 times greater than in the year 1 A.D." (from the wiki).

One can see that several more doublings have happened since then. If this seems doubtful I suggest you spend a few hours playing with Google Earth. But given all this, it doesn't follow that we can actually control all this knowledge. As was pointed out elsewhere, the IQ needed to wipe out humanity gets lower all the time. And we see no evidence (so far) of any extraterrestrial civilization leaving any mark. As Enrico Fermi famously asked: Where are they? Do civilizations always self-destruct soon after they achieve advanced technology?

I would argue this is the biggest problem science fiction faces: it has almost stopped being fiction.

Carl M. said...


Actually, computers are a lot dumber than postulated in many science fiction stories. We were supposed to have robot housekeepers by now. Watch an old Astro Boy cartoon and see how far behind the year 2000 we are.

Massive central databases accessible by terminals were also a staple. The decentralization that is the web is the main aspect not anticipated. Then again, centralization is often assumed in much classic SF. Note how few stories use [future] brand names for consumer products. (Maybe it gets in the way of describing the product via context.)

We are WAY behind the level of space travel anticipated by many writers, and by most old movies/shows. We were supposed to have ion drive interplanetary craft with cryo-sleepers in the 1990s according to Star Trek. Space 1999 had a substantial moon base in...1999. UFO had one in 1980.

And instead of futuristic jumpsuits, we get jeans and T-shirts.

Methinks "The Prisoner" was perhaps the most predictive SF on television. Britain is becoming The Village, with comparable levels of surveillance. Meanwhile, your typical home phone has a form factor similar to the cordless phones you see in Number 2's underground office.

TCB said...

Carl M.: I quite agree with all you say here. Advances have not all kept pace with what we might have supposed, and The Prisoner does seem very prophetic. We have indeed amassed fantastic quantities of data, but it doesn't always make up for technological, conceptual or economic roadblocks. Computers are stupid now, but might not stay that way. Space travel is hard now, but space elevators might change that. Or perhaps those roadblocks are permanent. Even the surveillance society may be unsustainable. I just read that the NSA's biggest worry is getting enough energy to run all their acres of computers, which is why their new facilities are out West, near big power sources.

However, we did have the futuristic jumpsuits. It's just that they looked kinda stupid when the cocaine wore off.

Tony Fisk said...

Talk of trading nuclear power for bicycles reminds me of the B5 episode wherein a 'diplomatic incident' nearly occurs because Lennier does Garibaldi's pet project, rebuilding a 20th century Kawasaki motorbike, for him. Incident is avoided when Lennier points out that he has replaced the original, dirty, non-spacestation friendly IC engine with a compact Minbari fusion motor. Final scene is of the pair hooning along a corridor while Sinclair comments that 'things seem to be back to normal'

(Where were the bikes in those massive space stations, anyway?)

Readers, these days, seem to want something more from their tales than the traditional 'problem in astrophysics' plot that were the mainstay of many short sf stories. They also seem more interested in long multi-volume epics (imagine: 'Days of Our Lives' on an interstellar seed ship. In space no-one can hear the screaming!).

The future definitely isn't what it used to be, but I've still to see anything to rival the 'eternity circuits' in 'The City and the Stars'. (I read 'Against the Fall of Night' recently, and was struck by just how Clarke's imagination had vaulted between the two iterations: the original version featured a City library which still used a card index!!)

laryonia: Allergic reaction caused by an excess of hard sf. See also jeryonitis

Marino said...

Re: contempt of the masses
(I post it on the newer thread, as they're both connected)

seen from outside, it seems to me that in the US Right culture there are two apparently opposite "attractors": on one hand, extreme Jacksonian populism/anti-élitism: "we are the 'real' people, the rest is either élites ("Our better", as they love to say with scorn) or pampered minorities and anti-national tranzies".
Heck, I had to contend with people who still saw judicial review and Marbury vs. Madison as a power grab by an unelected, not appointed by the people, authority like the SC. Given that most post WW2 constitutions, my country included, had put it in their system of checks and balances against dictatorship of majority, it sounds odd.
On the other hand, there is a strong Randian attitude, they see themselves as virtuous guys who are financially responsible and see any contribution to common good as a "violent exploitation" by people on welfare or single payer healthcare. So, the masses they despise are perceived as living on their expenses. Let's call it "John Galt derangement syndrome".

Also, there is a problem with equality in US political culture, probably due to the lack of a massive Socialist tradition: while myself, as European, see equality as it's featured in the article of my constitution stating the "it's task of the Republic to remove the obstacles for the full development of the human person", many of my US, GOP-voting penpals think equality as "Harrison Bergeron" and the Handicapper General (and I suppose Harlan Ellison wrote it more in the mood of sociological studies like The Organization Man or Marcuse, nor Rand)

Marino said...

Re: cyclical theories of history and Marx

First: Marx' theory of social evolution isn't theological, with an already written end state. The model is "when the economy (both technology and power relationship) change the class struggle causes a period of revolution where _either_ a new system arises _OR_ the old system collapses in the mutual ruin of both classes in conflict". Given that we have lived with the threat of global nuclear war, environmental disasters and all, does it sound familiar?

Second, cyclical theories deny the possibility of change, and underestimate the most relevant traits of Western civilization: science (acquiring new knowledge from experiment and research), market and capitalism (OK, I'm a lukewarm Marxist, but market is a decent resource allocator, with many qualifiers, of course, and capitalism at least estabilished the notion that the proper role of a ruling class is increasing production, innovation and general wellbeing, not exploiting the people to run a luxury life for some happy few or squander resources in wars of conquest), representative government...
It's a quantum leap, with no fall back mode, except by catastrophe

Tim H. said...

Re-industrialization of America would be great, if we can get past all who had an interest in de-industrialization, importers would hate any change that would help domestic competition, the GOP would hate an increase in union membership (Pity they don't seem to remember the GOP of a century ago.), greens prefer smokestacks on the other side of the world. More manufacturing jobs would be a good thing for the country, a good job is vastly superior to welfare. BHO is probably aware of all this, hope he can help it to happen.

soc said...


"people say that America has little endogenous culture; and yet everyone speaks English, buys and sells in a capitalist market, votes for a legislature (even when it's bogus), wears T-shirts and suits and ties, plays jazz and rock and rap, uses cars and airplanes and the Internet..."

Um, I think the British would dispute your claim to atleast a couple of those. :)

TwinBeam said...

We'd be fooling ourselves to think China has no recourse if the US tries to inflate away it's foreign debt.

They could buy US farm land (typically lags inflation) and ship the produce to China at cost. No profits for the US to tax, they keep their food prices down while making US food prices higher.

CulturalEngineer said...

Another great post. The thing about patterns in fundamentally complex/chaotic systems:

They can certainly develop.

And be great patterns until they aren't
And persist until the don't.

And on the question of our culture of neighbor contempt... it provoked me to do my own brief post on the issue and why we need to expand citizen direct participation...
What if we drafted our representatives?

(BTW, I cited this blog as the inspiration and linked here if OK?)

TwinBeam said...

While I see the "contrary" point of criticizing cyclical theories now - since they appear to have been utterly successful in projecting the current period of greed-induced collapse - there's a difference between saying "they aren't perfect" and dismissing them as essentially wrong.

And if they are somewhat correct, there's a good chance we're only about half-way through the current "crisis era". More and possibly worse yet to come. Rejecting that possibility looks more like being in denial, than simply being contrary.

I'll believe we've learned our lessons and are getting out of the crisis era, when we :
- see bankers and politicans going to jail for their crimes instead of being protected and bailed out;
- get out of the middle east - either victorious (by some definition) or chastened;
- get serious about weening ourselves from fossil fuels (whether for global warming or for energy independence);
- accept that we can't do everything, put more emphasis on individual responsibility, and grimly cut back expensive programs rather than expanding them, to get our deficit spending under control.

Stuart said...


What if we had a really granular representative system where everyone votes for a leader of their group of 100 or so, and that's it. No voting for president, or 13th state congressional district, or dogcatcher. Each person only votes for people they know personally.

Then the leader of each hundred votes for the leader of the next tier up and so on, until the president is elected by the 100 or so people composing the penultimate level.

Some potential problems include:

How do you decide which 100 people each group is composed of, and prevent "gerrymandering" when the decisions are made?

Could a rich person bribe 100 people at the local level, then at the next level, and so on, such that he'd only have to bribe 400 people to become president?

How much of a time investment would it take to lead that first tier? How much of a drag would it be to have 1% of the entire population participating in politics as a candidate?

lc said...

TCB: Space elevators are being tested now. The concept has been proved; the rest is engineering: 20091104/ap_on_hi_te/ us_space_elevator

Note that Clarke is credited with the idea.

Sociotard said...

Somebody here recomended that Cory Doctorow book, Makers.

This isn't for everybody; the characters swear a lot and there's one scene of nookie that leaves it rated R. I will say it was interesting, if kind of sad. My biggest problem with it was that it didn't really have a strong plot arc, or at least not one that ran the whole course of the book.

The book is set in the near future (2010-2030 or thereabouts). One of the strong selling points of the book is that it is *not* the kind of scifi that treats technology as a stand in for magic (like Star Wars) or a frequent Deus Ex Machina (like Star Trek). It focuses on one technological trend and speculates how that technology might influence society. Specifically, technologies that make it easier for people to make stuff, inovate and invent, like 3D printers.

Dissapointingly, no mention is made of scarcity issues or environmental issues. Everything seems to be very disposable.

Like I said, this book doesn't have a strong arc. More like a cycle that keeps repeating itself. Guys invent something cool. Guys get so involved with the business implications of what they invent that they have less and less time to invent. They become miserable. The business collapses or otherwise ends. Guys go back to inventing cool things and are happy again. By the end of the book I was just hoping that they would at least die while in the happy phase. It was all I could hope for.

Brendan said...

@Tim H: Didn't Obama make a big thing about creating lots of 'Green Tech' jobs early on?

Tim H. said...

Yeah, green jobs, installing chinese solar panels. Seriously, green jobs are going to become very practical, but the techs not quite up to it yet, as if Detroit had abandoned carburetors in 1960, EFI existed, but the electronics weren't fast enough then.

FARfetched said...

Americans can do anything. Anything! So long as we shrug off Murdochian propaganda and start thinking like adults again.

This is a great article, with some excellent comments. I'm glad I found this blog again… now that Blogger has a Follow function, I won't lose it again.

To my question: while I don't discount the innovative drive here in America, I have to wonder how we're going to replace fossil fuels. Sure, there's plenty of energy floating around, but it's not exactly concentrated. For example, how many solar panels would it take to move a 1000kg vehicle 600km (the equivalent of 60-80 liters of gasoline)? Fusion is all but a pipedream, "30 years away" for the last 50 years.

Some of my more doomish pals like to point out that nobody is using solar or wind power to manufacture the panels or windmills, let alone mine and refine (or recycle) the raw materials needed to make them. I understand that it could happen in the future, but it seems like we're in a race against both time and fossil fuel depletion. It's likely that energy will be a much more expensive commodity for a generation (no pun intended), and we'll have to make a lot of changes in personal and national lifestyles to adjust to the new reality.

Oh, and for the "SF is going to pot" crowd, I wish there was a copy of Asimov's The Thunder Thieves online. In 1950-freeking-9, he pushed back against the same complaint that's being made 50 years later; he points out that SF is (in the end) about people. The "science" provides a backdrop, an ally, and often an adversary, to solve the problem at hand — but at the same time, the characters have to be familiar and sympathetic (even if the backdrop is weird and hostile) to succeed.

Jumper said...

I keep reading gloomy doomy stuff about solar power from people who won't do the math. It is competitive with coal and oil now and the roofs of public buildings and transportation right-of-ways are sufficient area.

I blame Asimov for much of the 'cyclical history' concepts in my generation's smart set. Boo! Chaos theory disproves a lot of things, including Marxism, much of Adam Smith, much of Keynes's math. I think it disproves the foundation of Foundation. Otherwise I still love Uncle Isaac.

There is plenty of good science fiction written. It is simply poorly publicized. Adults should peruse adult reviewers.

Byzantium had some long cycle.

Tim H. said...

Jumper, I'm not trying to dump on solar, just that some breakthroughs in transportation and storage need to happen before terrestrial solar can fulfill it's potential. When launch costs come down, space based solar could be a game changer, without any other breakthroughs. For the near future, nuclear power and natural gas (If the late Thomas Gold was correct, not a fossil fuel.) can do a lot to achieve energy independence, or reduce carbon emissions, whichever way you prefer to see it, I'm good either way.

Catfish N. Cod said...


You said: Um, I think the British would dispute your claim to atleast a couple of those. :)

Not disputing, but the British were heavily competing during their term with several other mega-states with near-equal powers (France, Germany, Spain, Russia; Austria-Hungary never really escaped the box they were in). They did only marginally better than those other powers. In much less time, we have pushed much more of our culture into many more places.

* How many places play cricket outside the Commonwealth? Now, how many play basketball?

* The British favored local monarchies in their clients, to match the British system. So, how's monarchy doing these days outside Europe -- even constitutional monarchy?

We built on British advances in some things, such as the spread of English, but we've done a lot more in a lot less time.

Incidentally, there's a good argument to be made that English will become the default international language irrespective of how America does in the future. Consider: In the late eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries, English was an international language due to the power of Britain. In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, it was due to America. Now India is a rising Great Power, who will (barring All Hell breaking loose) be a power in the late twenty-first and early twenty-second centuries. India's common languages are Hindi... and English.

When was the last time that THREE successive world powers had a common language? I think you have to go back to the Hellenistic world... and we're STILL using Greek for many purposes.

Conclusion: English is going to last a long, long, long time.

Tony Fisk said...

You underestimat ze power of 'Euro-English'!

Tim H. said...

As long as communication can be achieved, so what? Though a thick accent over "medievalnet" phone service can be hard to decipher, ;-)

Tim H. said...

Back to cycles, civilization has been roughly continuous, with long pauses, some made worse by outbreaks of religion. As the United States is now bedeviled by mammon-worshippers, who are doing more lasting damage than fundies ever dreamed of. Some thought to the well-being of people here and there would do wonders in moderating the pain of this crisis.

soc said...

"How many places play cricket outside the Commonwealth? Now, how many play basketball?"

How about football, pardon me soccer? :) It's the dominant game in most of the world and I believe the Soccer World Cup has a bigger viewership than the Summer Olympics.

"The British favored local monarchies in their clients, to match the British system. So, how's monarchy doing these days outside Europe -- even constitutional monarchy?"

The British system is defined by more than just monarchy. The Westminister-style Parliamentary system is the defining feature for most of us in the Commonwealth. At one time 40 countries had a variation of the Westminister-style Parliamentary democracy. Currently 31 still have it in one form or other.

My great-grand parents generation were wearing suit and tie and speaking English under the British in India. That, incidentally, is why one of India's official languages is English, ditto Pakistan. Oh, and ditto America.

The superiority of the English language and British culture was established throughout the empire. When the empire receded and America came to dominate the world stage, English was already there in a lot of places. I will not question that America pushed the English language further, but the question is, how much further did the Americans take the English language than the British. Keeping in mind America's technological advantage.

Oh and you said"
"the British were heavily competing during their term with several other mega-states with near-equal powers (France, Germany, Spain, Russia; Austria-Hungary never really escaped the box they were in). They did only marginally better than those other powers."

Then you said:

"In the late eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries, English was an international language due to the power of Britain."

In order to make English the international language I suspect the Brits must have been more than marginally better than their competitors.

ps. Please don't get the impression I'm trying to bring America down. I greatly admire your country. Frankly, I prefer you to the Brits, even though it is obligatory to say otherwise every now and again. I'm just trying to make a point. :)

Tacitus2 said...

Asimov knew his Gibbon, and it was a big influence on Foundation.

As Decline and Fall was being published during and just after the American Revolution it was much on the minds of the Founding Fathers too. (writing this I wonder if Founders and Foundation are accidentally similar or intentionally?)

I think you could make a case that human behavior has some fixed patterns to it. That is, provide X amount of stimuli for Y amount of time and there is a high probability that predictable results will ensue.

So Sprach Hari Seldon.

But I think the stimuli available in the modern era differ qualitatively and quantitatively from past times, so Seldonian/Gibbonsian predictions are not all that helpful.


Stefan Jones said...

As some wag put it:

"History doesn't repeat itself, but it does sort of rhyme."

'nusnuake': Slobovian art of turd polishing.

lc said...

Niven's Law No. 8: History never repeats itself.

Niven = Larry Niven, science fiction author, Ringworld, etc.

David Brin said...

Small point. “Harrison Bergeron” was by Kurt Vonnegut, no?

TwinBeam, I do not deny we’re in a crisis. How can you get THAT from the guy who regularly cries out that we are facing a crypto-feudalist putsch accompanied by manipulation toward civil war, by hostile foreign billionaires?

Stuart, your description of “true delegation” democracy is one I have long pondered. Instead of disenfranchising the 40% who lose their vote for congressman in a gerrymandered district, let us all go online and find 750,000 other likeminded folks and simply choose one from among us to go to Washington, on our behalf? Let every other citizen do the same. Each “type” gets represented without much complaint or feeling ignored.

Could not have happened in the 1790s. But it can, today.

Ic, Charles Sheffield deserves equal credit with Clarke for Space Elevators that were actually thought up by ___ in Russia.

David Brin said...

Small point. “Harrison Bergeron” was by Kurt Vonnegut, no?

TwinBeam, I do not deny we’re in a crisis. How can you get THAT from the guy who regularly cries out that we are facing a crypto-feudalist putsch accompanied by manipulation toward civil war, by hostile foreign billionaires?

Stuart, your description of “true delegation” democracy is one I have long pondered. Instead of disenfranchising the 40% who lose their vote for congressman in a gerrymandered district, let us all go online and find 750,000 other likeminded folks and simply choose one from among us to go to Washington, on our behalf? Let every other citizen do the same. Each “type” gets represented without much complaint or feeling ignored.

Could not have happened in the 1790s. But it can, today.

Ic, Charles Sheffield deserves equal credit with Clarke for Space Elevators that were actually thought up by ___ in Russia.


The problem with Marx is that, although his thought processes were very clever (economists credit him with breakthroughs in the theory of capital formation) - they were also fundamentally Talmudic... unsurprising for the grandson of rabbis. Exactly like Freud, he was more interested in crafting a logically consistent story than in posing falsifiable hypotheses, in terms that might change or adapt or be refuted, in the face of experimental evidence.

Indeed, like all incantatory gurus, he considered contradictory evidence NOT to be cause for revision, but something to be dismissed with armwaving excuses.

As a result, both Marx and Freud plunged ever deeper into their scenarios, convinced that any and all criticism was tantamount to “denial.” In fairness, Ayn Rand did precisely the same thing. From excellent beginnings as insightful critics and question-askers, they plunged into the lala-land of being unassailable gurus.

One example. Just as Paulian Christianity is based upon a single premise -- Original Sin, (a theological doctrine that is loathsome at all levels, but utterly necessary, from Paul’s perspective), likewise Marx’s scenario depends upon the Labor Theory of Value... a concocted notion that has some very slight applicability to MORAL discussions, but boils down to pure delusion, when it comes to nature and reality.


David Brin said...

Yes, one can model primitive capital formation as a process by which a skilled “capitalist” bourgeois caste “steals labor value” from proletarian workers, in order to invest that value into better, larger and more sophisticated capital equipment, plants and infrastructure. Ironically -- and much to the surprise of naive leftists - Marx considered this theft to be absolutely necessary and the capitalists to be the greatest HEROES in the ordained history of human development! The men who (despite their ruthlessness) pave the way toward paradise.

Still, he foresaw the capitalists completing their role rather quickly. As soon as a nation or society has completed its capital-forming process -- building all the factories and roads and such -- the bourgeois would dissolve into their own “contradictions”, festering and going decadent at the exact same time that an increasingly skilled and sophisticated Working Class becomes radicalized and comes into its own. Indeed, Marx expected the subsequent Revolution of the Proletariat to be relatively smooth and organic, almost like a reptile moulting out of its skin.

Lenin was confused by his own victory. Russia was the LEAST sophisticated industrial European society. Marx predicted England and Germany would transform first, with their vast and skilled proletariats. Lenin puzzled over this briefly, considered keeping Russia’s capitalists around, so that they could continue their capital-forming role... and then shrugged, killed the bourgeois and started “forming capital” in purely socialist ways -- utterly parting company with Marx, while keeping surficial piety toward Old Karl.

Actually, what Lenin, Mao etc did was revert to oligarchic/aristocratic/feudal methods of allocation, with a light gloss of egalitarian religious incantation. He assigned a few court intellectuals to explain away all these contradictions. And western marxists let him get away with it.

But it never worked. The dissonance was fundamental, because Marx never understood:

1) that capital never reaches a “final form.” Indeed, the more advanced civilization gets, the FASTER capital must keep re-forming, re-investing, re-imagining products and services and needed infrastructure. Mixed economies, where governments invest in nonprofitable necessities, while capitalists create newly retooled factories, are the societies that seem to be able to adapt. Leninist societies never came remotely close.

2) that western “decadent bourgeois” societies might make his scenarios go away THROUGH REFORM. By empowering labor unions, by promoting mass education and participatory democracy, huge parts of the working caste were simply co-opted INTO the bourgeoisie. (Marxists would say they were bought-off with consumerism.) In the 1960’s white male America reached a flatness of social/wealth never before seen. Yes, the feudalists have been coming back - via supply side economics rationalizations, and inequality has grown. On the other hand, the bourgeoisie is no longer solely white and male.

3) that economic teleology is just another just-so story. Science and education and the enlightenment tools of Reciprocal Accountability proved more powerful, by far. Almost powerful enough, perhaps, to stave off the feudalist-oligarchic impulses that lurk in human loins, always ready to yank us back into the horrible old ways. Old ways that are rooted in biological evolution. (And let’s be frank; Karl claimed to have studied Darwin, but he clearly never understood a single word.)

In this titanic struggle over humanity’s future, it was Ben Franklin and John Locke who saw a way out of the ancient traps. A way that we must follow, or betrapped back under the yoke, perhaps forever, this time.

Alas, Karl Marx saw only the sugar plum fairies of a wish-fantasy.

Tony Fisk said...

Clarke popularised the space elevator with a few papers and a novel, but was scrupulous in acknowledging the true source: Konstantin Tsiolkovsky... in the 1890's (what were they smoking back then??)

Another russian, Yuri Artsutanov, worked out the basic engineering required.

Michael Laine had a go at actually *doing* it, and Liftport managed to get their climber up the first mile. Ultimately crashed and burned (although he's still thinking about it)

I've written a couple riffs on the topic here and here

rimizedi: a sneeze associated with whatever it was they were smoking back in the 1890's

TwinBeam said...

Bradley C Edwards deserves a mention, for the modern space elevator design that has an outside chance of being feasible.

rr8004 said...

I enjoyed reading your work! GREAT post! I looked around for this… but I found you! Anyway, would you mind if I threw up a backlink from my site?
Please come visit my site City Guide Akron when you got time. Thanks.

rr8004 said...

I usually don’t leave comments!!! Trust me! But I liked your blog…especially this post! Would you mind terribly if I put up a backlink from my site to your site? Please come visit my site Business Trade Guide of Virginia Beach Virginia VA when you got time. Thanks.

TwinBeam said...

David - when I say "in denial", I mean you're too optimistic in believing that good leadership can/will pull us out of this pit any time soon.

For example:
"“Forget about the events of the past 12 months … the punters are back punting as aggressively as ever,” he wrote. “Highly leveraged short-term trades are back in vogue as players … jostle to load up on everything from Reits [real estate investment trusts] and commercial property, commodities, emerging markets and regular stocks and bonds.

“Oh, I am sure the banks’ public relations people will talk about the subdued atmosphere in banking, but don’t you believe it,” he continued bitterly, noting that when money is virtually free – or, at least, at 0.5 per cent – traders feel stupid if they don’t leverage up.

“Any sense of control is being chucked out of the window."

And this:
"traders are borrowing at negative 20 per cent rates to invest on a highly leveraged basis on a mass of risky global assets that are rising in price due to excess liquidity and a massive carry trade. Every investor who plays this risky game looks like a genius – even if they are just riding a huge bubble financed by a large negative cost of borrowing – as the total returns have been in the 50-70 per cent range since March."

Given that, I have to ask - "What leadership?" Obama and company are pushing so hard for a recovery that they're not just letting the crooks off the hook, but paying them off to create the illusion that the economy is getting better.

You worry about a new Civil War? What do you think would be the trigger for that war? How about a massive wave of "Fool Me Twice" anger - that those we elected were either complicit or got tricked again? And it won't matter one bit whether blue staters get burned as or more badly than red staters.

Tim H. said...

Not just economic pressures that might trigger something nasty, we might become even more overcommitted militarily, and possibly with results as ignominious as 1919 Germany. Though it would make possible the cleaning up of a lot of dead wood, there would be a high risk of a really toxic outcome. Note that it would not be a collapse of civilization, but it would feel like it here.

Tacitus2 said...

I don't even bother pointing stuff like this out anymore, but the Galleon fund guy, Raj something or other who was indited for insider trading of the richest men in America, they say. And his political donations in recent electoral cycles are 100% Democratic. Hillary, Obama, Schumer. Generous guy, too.
This is not the best broom with which to clean house, kids.

David Brin said...

Um? Except that you are seeing Dems putting aside party interest in order to go after bad guys.

Should we not be GLAD and see this as good news?

When... pray... did gopper cronies go down under Bush? Especially in the 1st 9 months?

Me? I had been hoping they'd go after the "emergency clause" crony contracts in Iraq, and they did, a bit, ordering KBR to slash its outrageous overstaffing. ("efficient private enterprise" proved up to TWENTY TIMES as expensive as the army's old ways of providing base services.)

But if the broom starts with the hedge fund crooks, that's fine by me.

David Brin said...

Heck, while we're on that topic, this from famed econ pundit Mark Anderson:

As you are aware, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo filed an anti-trust complaint against Intel this week. While some business and trade press organs are already and predictably getting the story wrong (PC World comes to the top here), the strategic importance of this action is difficult to overstate.

First, please ignore all of the "methinks she doth protest too much" defensive statements currently or soon to be made by Intel and all of its suppliants. When you understand the Intel supply chain, and the power Intel wields, you then are prepared for the huge amount of mis-direction you are about to read in the press.

Second, this state filing, while unusual in its timing vs. an anticipated federal filing, is not unique, and I now expect we will see additional states filing charges against Intel, with their own damage claims.

Third, although Intel has already been accused and convicted of antitrust behavior in most of the other major nations where it operates (Europe, Japan, South Korea), the company was not challenged by the non-functional FTC under Bush. With Obama in charge, the FTC is a different animal, and I have no doubt that the FTC will file federal anti trust charges against the company.

Oh, Intel execs gave lots of money to dem politicians. Should they feel betrayed? Only if they actually thought they had a right to use money to buy influence.

Rob said...

When... pray... did gopper cronies go down under Bush? Especially in the 1st 9 months?

I don't recall that Bush lifted a finger to save Ken Lay when Enron took its nose dive.

(And I think he's not dead... but that's my own inner crazy conspiracy theorist talking.)

amoract: Spanish soap opera.

Tacitus2 said...

Oh, I shed no tears over these shifty characters. None. I think their biting the dust could have several explanations.

--so darn crooked that even political weight can't help 'em (Blago syndrome)
--prosecutions started under the, ahem, previous administration. These things do take a while.
--Darn politicians just won't stay bought (or in some cases, the crooks ran out of money, Madoff syndrome).

There are sites where you can see analyses of industry political giving. The hedge funders have tilted very heavily to the Donkeycrats. And in my opinion, are a big part of what is wrong with our financial system.

I welcome these prosecutions, as I welcomed the fall of Enron. I am big enough to give the Pres. credit for it happening on his watch. But keep an eye on the money, always.


Oh, have you wondered why there is no Congressional investigation on the role of quasi governmental organs such as Fannie Mae's role in the recent hard times? $$$

David Brin said...

There are so MANY places to assign blame. All I want is for accountability to flow. I don't even care if it is uneven, for a while!

Case in point. W commits outright treason by re-assigning many federal agents off of terrorism and other duties to help search for the Smoking Gun that might actually send a Clintonian to jail for malfeasance of officials duties. He and his pals were desperate, having promised to "fill the prisons with members of the most corrupt administration in history."

Read that promise, roll it around the tongue, and realize that it would actually come true! Thanks to W, the prisons WOULD fill with "with members of the most corrupt administration in history." Only, not the Clintonians, who were, without a scintilla of possibility of even the remotest possibility of doubt the most HONEST administration in history.

Look, if W had gone to all that effort (and if 9/11 hadn't happened, making his diversions of resources actual treason), and if it had borne fruit and sent hundreds of corrupt democrats to jail, that would have been fine!

If Obama did the same thing and sent only corrupt republicans to jail, fine!

(Note, outsiders and lobbyists who were crooks, who simply gave money to a party DON'T COUNT AS MUCH! If an official was corrupt, prove it!)

In fact though, W's justice dept sent almost NO ONE to jail! (His neocon congress also passed almost no legislation, almost no science happened, W spent more time on vacation than any THREE other presidents... need I go on?)

And Obama seems on course to send people to jail independent of political affiliation.

Please... can we start to notice that the diff is not right vs left, but between people who want government to function, and those who do not?

Sociotard said...

I recomend this youtube video. It shows that even bad people can do good sometimes. I feel just a little more hope for our civilization.

Tacitus2 said...

That is a rather inflammatory quote, and it does not roll comfortably on the tongue at all.
Could I trouble you for a source on it? I tried to google it up, but as you might imagine, the words Bush, corrupt, prison generate quite a few hits that do not nail it!
You do, of course, have such a citation.....

rr8004 said...

It is very interesting article and quite impressive and more informative and looking forward to read such article. Please come visit my site Business Reviews Of Laredo City when you got time.

rr8004 said...

I really liked your blog! You have some great content. Check out my blog and give me some feedback Please come visit my site Business Reviews Of Lubbock City when you got time.

Tim H. said...

Tacitus, I don't find the complete quote either, but searching for "the most corrupt administration in history" + Clinton brings up over a quarter million results, the first page from the usual suspects. American history being the um, interesting thing it is, it's difficult to single out one administration. Cheney's no-bid defense privatization might legitimately contest with some of the worst in history, but LBJ is right down there also.

Tacitus2 said...

Tim H.
No argument.
But I was asking that a specific quote attributed to, by implication, the President of the United States be identified.
Lots of Americans exercize their First Amendment rights to say all manner of things.
I just want to see David back this one up, and to scrutinize the context. Certainly W did say stupid things with some regularity, but he was also misquoted a time or two.

David Brin said...

Okay, that's why we keep you around, Tacitus. I didn't remember the quotation very clearly as W said it. But it is accurate as an archetype of an Orwellian counterfactual truism that he and his ilk spread, voluptuously.

And they DID promise to fill the prisons.

And after 20 years, half of it controlling EVERY lever of government, they nailed absolutely nobody.

And that clade is STILL spreading the counterfactual truism.

Tacitus2 said...

Tut, tut, David.

No Dan Ratherism now ("Fake, But Accurate").

If there was talk of filling prisons it was likely with the intent of getting drug dealers off the streets, not locking up former Democratic White House staff.

Not that there could'nt be some minor overlap. (Didn't Hamilton Jordon smoke weed on the White House roof once?).


David Brin said...

Oh no no no... TimH found 250,000 links. We were told the Clintonites were one of the worst criminal conspiracies ever.

Add that to Supply Side economics and the regular denunciations that the cities are less moral than the countryside, and you start a long list of truisms that were outrageously Orwellian, in their counterfactual opposition to actual fact.

Yes, the left has some of its own. Butnone so relentlessly pushed from the top and via singleminded media, in furtherance of Culture War.

Tacitus2 said...

Ah, well, if it says it on the Internet it must be so.
My run of the same words got 304K hits.
If you are actually interested, of the first ten, only two said the Clinton admin was the most corrupt, five said W. was and three were either Obama or more general ruminations.
Darned singleminded media must be confused.
Oh, I did find a ref that Gingrich said something vaguely akin to your "quote" but without talk of prison. Sounded like run of the mill political talk to me.
Mind you, I am not a big fan of W. but lets keep the discussion honest and actually, you know, examine the facts sometimes.


TCB said...

Tacitus2, I gotta call BS on you.

The Burkitt documents which got Dan Rather into so much trouble WERE NEVER PROVEN TO BE FORGERIES.


It's an unwritten rule that anyone who goes after a Bush must be 100% correct in the tiniest detail or get whacked. In the case of the Burkitt documents, what happened was that the documents were examined by experts who said they *seemed* genuine. However, when Rather brought them out on 60 Minutes, Bush-friendly bloggers were ready (with suspicious haste!) to claim that they must be forgeries because IBM Selectric typewriters of early-1970s vintage supposedly lacked some of the characters seen on the very bad copies seen ON THE INTERNET fer chrissakes. It's not like the detractors actually examined the docs themselves. I've read statements that some IBM's did have the necessary characters. As for the typeface being Times New Roman, the computer typeface was supposed to look like the very popular typewritten typeface, no?

The documents in question were provided to 60 Minutes by one Bill Burkitt, who wouldn't say how he got them. Think on it: if they were legit, that means they were stolen from government records. But an alternate theory is that Rove and company knew they were forgeries because THEY made them, after illegally destroying the real records.

And all this was meant to distract from what was in the documents. Lt. Col. Jerry Killian, Bush's Texas Air National Guard commanding officer in Houston, complains in them that he's tired of "sugarcoating" Bush's TANG record. Killian was no longer alive to vouch for the documents, but his secretary was. She typed the documents and said they said what the real ones said.

CBS threw Rather under the bus, by the way: the CBS review board that sat in judgement on Rather was all but handpicked to please the Bushes. From wikipedia: " Dick Thornburgh, a Republican former governor of Pennsylvania and United States Attorney General under George H.W. Bush, and Louis Boccardi, retired president and chief executive officer and former executive editor of the Associated Press, made up the two-person review board."

As far as anyone can prove, George W. Bush never once showed up after he was granted a transfer to the Alabama Air National Guard. Anybody else would have been designated AWOL.

Oh, and the Bush Justice Department did send somebody to prison for corruption. That would be former Democratic Governor of Alabama Don Siegelman who got sent away for a nonexistent bribe and pissing off Karl Rove.

Rob said...

TCB, let's not cling to that. They were forgeries. The guy who sent 'em in admitted it on national television.

David Brin said...

A pretty good appraisal of tuesday's election (thought partisan) by Russ Daggatt:

TCB said...

"They were forgeries. The guy who sent 'em in admitted it on national television."

When and where did he do that? Citation, please. Show me the video where Bill Burkitt admits they're forgeries and I'll gladly concede. Not before.

Rob said...

Do your own research, TCB. Burkitt admitted it in an interview with Dan Rather on CBS a few weeks after Little Green Footballs and that other blog outed it all. Before Tony Snow died. Google is your friend.

The bloggers seized on it quickly because it was a fantastically inept forgery. I duplicated the fax images CBS published myself, using Times New Roman and an 11.5 font size, in Microsoft Word on a stock Windows PC In 10 minutes' time.

TCB said...

Ah, after more looking, I find that I consistently misspelled the name. It's Bill Burkett with a E. Not Burkitt.

He admitted lying about the provenance but continued to insist the originals were real. And he said he burned the originals. This may strike you as crooked behavior but it is also consistent with trying to protect a source.

I know I'm being a pain in the ass about this, but if you'll notice, the Bushists always get the benefit of the doubt. And they don't deserve to.

Sociotard said...

that the cities are less moral than the countryside

Well, you have shown that there is a lower incidence of some things like divorce and teen pregnancy. Also, low-population regions seem to have a higher dependence on welfare than the cities. Small town people do need to notice that and see if there is something they can learn.

At the same time cities still have a significantly higher crime rate. You've mentioned often that you think that would go away with gizmos that help everybody know everybody, but frankly we don't have those. If they ever appear and your cities become safer than my small town, I will concede the point.

And haven't you ever noticed the rudeness factor? People in the French countryside? Nice. People in Paris? Rude. It applies to most cities; their inhabitants are more rude than people in the corresponding small towns.

In conclusion, there are aspects of morality that city people seem to handle very well, even better than small towns. At the same time, it isn't hard to see how some people think that cities are vile dirty places full of nasty people.

After all, you opted for suburban life.

David Brin said...

Aha. Several good points, Sociotard. In anger, I can definitely exaggerate. Well, comments sections have lower standards than the main postings, right? ;-)

Still, I have to tell you that most of the rudeness you get in NEw York & such is actually brusqueness. People are in a hurry. But when called upon to engage you with their attention, I have found them to mostly be extremely nice.

Likewise, in LA, all you have to do is make eye contact and smile, and you are dealing with the nicest, best drivers in the world...

...except for the 0.001% who will take your eye contact as attempted alien possession and whip out a big gun and shoot you...

David Brin said...

Oh, but I lived a year in Paris.

You nailed it.

TCB said...

I once read that Manet's Dejeuner Sur L'Herbe was the first modern painting because, in 1863, it showed that blank expression that city people use to protect their privacy in a crowd.

As I'm sure everyone here is aware, the human creature is basically designed to live in a tribe of fewer than maybe 150 souls. Tribes tend to split when they get that big, supposedly because the number of possible relationships/alliances/triangles/cliques/etc. diverges to astronomical numbers. Famously known on the www as the Monkeysphere or the Dunbar Number. I've also heard that a battalion (600 to 1500 soldiers) is the largest number that a commander might know on sight.

Modern organizations, whether we mean the modern state or army or corporation, can all be seen as approaches to the problem of how to direct a larger number of humans than one person can know.

Robert said...

When I was going out to Colorado last month (Elk hunting, a first time for me though I was armed with only a camera and an empty .22 pistol because we couldn't find the clip (which later turned up in my dad's backpack in the one pocket he didn't search)) we stopped at one midwestern town for gasoline. While there, as is my habit, I held the door at the gas station/convenience store for several people, including a young couple.

The young man turned to me and surprised me by saying "God bless you." And I sense he meant it. (I didn't say anything back, but sadly his words are wasted as I'm not a follower of the Christian mythos, and am more of a non-denominational deist, but the politeness behind the words were still gladly accepted.)

Unfortunately, as we drove through the midwest, there were plenty of signs (billboard signs) denouncing abortion and the like. There is a core of people here who so strongly believe that abortion is a horrific sin and a slap in the face of their God that I can understand Republican sentiments against abortion - whenever someone from that neck of the woods seeks election to Federal office, they need to keep that to the forefront lest they get removed for someone who is far more insistent on forcing this belief on the rest of the world. (And yes, it is the rest of the world - remember how the Shrub refused any federal funding of efforts in third-world nations that even hinted at abortion or any non-abstinence birth control.)

Yet this is going to change. If the economy remains poor, then we'll see more of these small towns scattered through the midwest dry up and blow away like tumbleweed, while if the economy booms (especially with green initiatives and technologies that would flourish in smaller towns that welcome the business with tax incentives) we'll see more minorities (especially latinos) moving into these towns and altering the very political and philosophical backbone of the region until change is forced upon it in the ballot box.


As for Dr. Brin's continued belief that the Shrub Administration was treasonous, I continue to state that you should not underestimate the power of human stupidity. Bush was not a traitor. His administration did not work to undermine American beliefs or power. Instead, he was an idealist who wanted desperately to spread Democracy across the globe, but lacked the cunning on how to bring this about. He squandered our military, bankrupted our government, and watched in horror when his economic philosophies (which were adopted from those in place by Clinton and his cronies, who believed they were doing the right thing) crumbled into dust and left the next Presidential Administration with the worse economic mess since the Great Depression.

But he had done so for what he believed were the right reasons. He believed he was strengthening America, and that when he was proven right... that the world would nod its head and go "ah, they did know what they were doing... the Americans were right after all."

In short, Bush was a dreamer, in charge of one of the most powerful war machines in the history of mankind (though I think the war machine of the Allies in World War II was perhaps more powerful in terms of usable power - nukes being by their nature unusable in the sociopolitical environment where we exist), and ended up squandering that power foolishly. But he was no traitor.

Rob H>

Catfish N. Cod said...

Each city seems to have its own method of dealing with social crowding. In Boston, it's the New England reserve. No one wants to break the ice and initiate a relationship, conversation, whatever. But if you do engage one, they have command of hospitality, graciousness, and friendliness to equal any Southern belle.

Underneath, they're not so different; but they have VERY different surface appearances.

Rob said...

TCB, I'm not trying to defend Bush, here. I'm trying to point out that Burkett took a metaphorical 8-gauge, loaded it, and handed it to the Republicans to shoot Kerry in the foot.

Way to go.

David Brin said...

TCB, we continued evolving, extensively, during the 10,000 years after tribes became larger, in semi-urban settings, with towns and agriculture. In fact, evolution may have speeded up. In any event, the average person can "know" several thousand names, faces and reputations. We are equipped to interact much more broadly than just 150 people.

And urban life is not merely "blank faced". It is easy to get a smile in the city! The blank face is not a reflection of sealed-up protection, at least for most. It is an artifact of the fact that our minds are usually focused on thoughts other than the people swarming past us on the street. This certainly CAN manifest as rudeness. But it can in many people be overcome with a simple appeal for attention, in the here and now, like a smile and a question.

Try it, some time. The real quandary is, how will this manifest in the future of augmented reality, when we are linked all over the world, in real time, while walking down the street!

Robert, "God Bless You" can be sincere... I use it myself, some times. And when I see genuine warmth in the person saying it, I'll accept it gladly & reciprocate. But it can also be aggressive. As when our local trogs, in my town, screeched that the town's 'Holiday Parade' was a deliberate attack upon Christmas and briefly won a vote to change it to the" Christmas Parade", insisting that any reference to anything else -- Hannukah, New year or "happy holidays" was a plot to insult Jesus and America. "Merry Christmas" was extremely aggressive in tone, during that year. Then, like most such Culture War imbroglios, it simply blew over as Fox turned to the next one.

But abortion, I'm afraid, is perpetual... and worthy of some deconstructive analysis.

There is of course a legitimate layer to the argument over when human life begins. But that is NOT what is driving the intensity or passion or bilious hatred over this issue.

First clue... when your position on a philosophical or scientific matter is 100% correlated with membership in a particular political clade, that is reason for suspicion that something else is going on. Such a perfect correlation ha's been proved re Climate Change, where the doubters' principal effect has been to spend 20 years sabotaging all efforts to increase energy efficiency -- WHICH SHOULD HAVE BEEN PURSUED AS AN URGENT NEED, WHETHER OR NOT AL GORE IS WEDGED.

Because the issue is not, and has never been,' climate change' per se. When Reagan removed Carter's solar panels from the White House and canceled most energy research, it was not about global warming. It was because important interests on our planet did NOT want the United States to become more energy efficient. Those interests have been shown to stand behind all the Climate Change Doubt propaganda. And Fox-driven populism shows that masses of know-nothings will follow these elites, wherever they are pointed.

WHY do they follow such a blatant campaign to keep America dependent upon foreign petroleum producers and oilcos? Because the redders hate one group of elites far more than they will ever worry about Saudi Princes or plutocrat monopolists. That consistently despised elite? Smartypants. Over-educated liberals. And anything associated with them. No Wall Street cheater or overpaid CEO is hated as much.

David Brin said...

Which brings us back to abortion. My own theory is that this issue became so bilious and rage-drenched because of "The Jesus Factor."

Look at Jesus. Read his words. Tell me, whose side would he be on, in the argument over health care reform? Or taxation? Or welfare, or helping the poor? C'mon, it's embarrassing. He looked like a hippie, talked like a socialist and said that camels could pass through needles before rich dudes could enter heaven. The nagging question of "whose side would He be on?" was a truly vexing one, if your side always seemed to favor the wealthy and powerful. Even if some particular issue actually favors your conservative position, with logic and reason and Adam Smith on your side -- (hey, it could happen!) -- Jesus is still a pretty potent figure, standing over there with the socialists!

What was needed was a deal-breaker. A way to re-take the moral high ground. Ideally, a simple on-off switch that could be flicked once, and then left running, requiring no further anxiety over ethics and such. ANd requiring no further effort or money out of your pocket. The need? Find one issue so important that Jesus would HAVE to side with you, even if he disagrees with you over everything else.

Killing babies.

Yep. That'll do. Take a blatantly analog situation and mark it out digitally, as a perfect, binary on-off state. Define any fetus, embryo, even four-cell blastocyst, as a precious and totally reified baby. Pose your opponents as baby-killers and Jesus will have to side with you, even if he holds his nose over all the other, less-important policies you're pushing! Saving babies trumps everything else.

And there are other advantages. First, a ban simply ain't gonna happen. So you are safe from having to live in the resulting world, chasing women down dark alleys and going back to the days of teeming orphanages. Second, win or lose, it is an issue that will ask no sacrifice from the rich.

Yes, my diagnosis seems contemptuous. (Mea culpa.) And, as I said, there is a level where the argument over abortion truly is legitimate and philosophically interesting. Certainly it is an unpleasant thing, ethically tainted, best minimized and made as rare as possible. (Something that happens under broad-spectrum sex education and NOT via abstinence-only programs.) Furthermore, when an anti-abortion activist says she has actually adopted a child, I turn humble and willing to listen politely. Any decent person should.

But here is where you see the basic purpose of dogmatism. For the aim of anti-abortion activists is not to reduce the number of abortions. (If it were, they would vote for democrats.) They will tell you that even one aborted fetus is a travesty, to be fought without any thought of compromise... even if the fight actually results in more such terminations actually happening. At one level, of course, it is a philosophical position worthy of respect. And lefties who refuse to even briefly see that are fools.

On the other hand, I have a right to look at a rancid explosion of simpleminded hatred and peer beneath for some of the causes and drivers of a Culture War that seems directly aimed at undermining our republic. No, in most cases and at most levels it is NOT sincere. It is about trying to corner Jesus, and I doubt he's buying.

David Brin said...

Robert, I have never said that "deliberate treason" was the only possible explanation for the Bush years. What I have said is that the Standard Model-- of staggering incompetence, combined with rampant venality, incuriosity and obdurate dogmatism -- beggars the imagination. Because, under such circumstances, the neocons would surely have ACCIDENTALLY done something that actually benefited the United States of America.

Given the absolute perfection of their record -- with not a single major metric of national health verifiably rising under their tenure, and most metrics having steeply plummeted -- it would seem that other hypotheses at least belongs on the table. Hey. It is my JOB to raise under-examined hypotheses. What puzzles me is how reflexively people dismiss it as simply crazy/paranoid, when it really does fit the facts well enough to be considered.

But, dig this. Whether or not "deliberate treason" happened, an ACT can be treasonous, in its own right. Bush may not have intended to harm the US, when he diverted FBI and other resources, to look for the mythical and never-found Clintonian Smoking Gun... but the act was callous political misuse of federal resources and the results (the 9/11 terror attacks) were definitely outright betrayal.

Oh. Frankly, I don't see how you can call "sincere" a man whose best pals were the Saudi Royal House, who absolutely always benefited at every turn.

Tim H. said...

The church split fairly early over Saul of Tarsus' divergences from the gospels, which eventually came to have greater influence, and were more acceptable to established power. You are quite correct that the gospels and the acts of the apostles are socialist documents, read the story of Annanias & Sephira, then question whether Michael Moore or Pat Robertson is closer to the truth. Abortion?, I don't see how one can be anti-choice and still accept the idea of freedom, though I consider abortion as something to be reserved for extreme situations (Safe, legal & rare sounds about right.). If the creeps would stop restricting The Pill, it could be rarer. BTW, ever wonder about congruities between rabid fundies and the followers of the late Anton LaVey? A cheap shot, I know, COS might be nicer.

stuart.fulton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stuart said...

Maybe the same people who press right-wing buttons are also pressing our buttons for political gain. Take gay marriage, for instance: It's a liberal no-brainer. Of course gay people should be able to marry, and to stand in their way is to show outrageous disrespect for consenting adults.

But what kind of priority should it take politically?

I asked several gay men if they had any interest in getting married, and their replies were along the lines of "why would I wish something like that on myself?" * If gay marriage is of little practical value to gay people but of enormous value in mobilizing those who oppose it, it's in the right-wing's interest that the subject is raised at all.

I've also noticed a lot of liberals taking an apparently unconsidered 100% pro-abortion stance. If it gives one pause to eat an animal, (I'm using this example because a lot of staunch party-line liberals I know are vegetarian) one should also have reservations about aborting a not-quite-human fetus, or at least give some careful thought to what's worth preserving, how much of that a fetus has, and when it develops. If it's not obvious that liberals are doing that, they lose moral credibility.

Maybe proponents do have reservations, but are taking a 100% stance in order to balance the stance taken by right-wingers. On the other hand, maybe the reverse is true!

* Lesbians may feel differently on average, but I don't know any.

Rob said...

"Take gay marriage, for instance: It's a liberal no-brainer. Of course gay people should be able to marry, and to stand in their way is to show outrageous disrespect for consenting adults."

Please tell me we're not going to fight that fight here. Hasn't it been done to death already, in at least 31 states?

I'd love to see the rancor end, since it seems to me that the winning strategy is the one the Mormons *first* put forth on religious freedom grounds... in the 1860's.

Stuart said...


My point is that it's a fight best left for another day. In fact, I think the best solution is for the state not to recognize any marriage, and for the legal aspects of marriage to be handled through contracts, which can be entered into by a man and a woman, two men, a baseball team, or whatever.

Rob said...

@Stuart -- I believe that, politically speaking, you're right about that. We are just about to certify the referendum on R-71 in Washington this month, which equates the rights regimes in the state. The next step would be to just call all of the state-registered unions "domestic partnerships" and leave the scare-word "marriage" out of the politics of it all.

I wonder if such a move would have any Federal support.

rewinn said...

"....the best solution is for the state not to recognize any marriage, and for the legal aspects of marriage to be handled through contracts..."

You ALREADY have the right to form such contracts. So go ahead, you are free to do so! In fact, why haven't you? You could save yourself the cost of a marriage license ... and keep the state out of the business entirely!

Except, of course, when you and your ex fight over the meaning of the contract.

State recognition of marriage functions as an efficient default contract. Most people are too busy living their lives to sit down and negotiate the hundreds, probably thousands of negotiating points encompassed by state-recognized marriage. It is both economically rational and an aspect of freedom to let a freely-elected government set the default terms for a marital relationship.

Of course, these state-sponsored default contracts reduce the market for lawyers. If every couple had to negotiate contracts, divorce gets LOTS messier since the terms of those individually-negotiated contracts get to be individually litigated. Not to mention the E.R. lawyers who have to interpret your private contract to determine who gets to decide what happens when you're unconscious. And the school district lawyers who interpret who gets to pick up your kids from school.

There's also the issue of third-party tortfeasors, e.g. harm to the marital estate as a result of someone not a party to your marital contract. If X negligently kills Y why should X owe any compensation to Z, with whom Y had a contract to which X was not a party? In contrast, to eliminate a spouse's right to compensation, you'll have to delete a LOT of the common law ....

Certainly it would be better to take the state out of the religious marriage business; call the "marriage license" a "civil union license" if you want. That's close to what Washington State is moving to ... all too slowly, but widely.

Anonymous said...

DH and I have come to the conclusion that making all state-officiated unions civil only is the best way to take the rancor out of the 'gay marriage' debate. There are a number of churches, synagogues, and other religious organizations who don't object to uniting two people in wedlock, homosexual or not. AFAIK, the main interest for gay couples is the legal rights issue, where the partner would have the right to sign legal documents on behalf of the other, get onto their insurance, visit them in the hospital, etc. Civil unions could do all this; whether you want to add the icing of church sanction would be up to you and your significant other.

\ed: None of the logins work for me, hence I still must post anonymously.

Ilithi Dragon said...

As a heterosexual non-Christian, I would like to politely object to the hijacking of the word and concept of 'marriage' by the Christian church. In no way did the concept originate with the Christian church, nor even ancient Judaism from which the Christian church was spawned. The Christian church has no right to mandate what is and is not 'marriage', because the Christian church is not the creators or license-holders of the concept of marriage, and it is in no way proprietary to the Christian church. Nor the Jewish church, the Islamic church, or any other church or religious denomination. It has a lot of deep roots in religion, yes, but not any one religion. Marriage belongs to all religions, and even no religions.

The objections to homosexual marriage are purely based on religious principles, as it is only the principles of religion that establish homosexuality as sinful or wrong. As such, any restriction on homosexual marriage would be based solely on religious principles and religious ideology, an influence of the law and the state by religion, and indeed is even a persecution and restriction of those religions that do not object to or even endorse homosexuality, that is expressly banned by the First Amendment of our constitution.

Therefore, on principle, I must object to the hijacking of the concept of marriage by the religious 'Right', and what amounts to the state-endorsed religious persecution of homosexuals, and will continue to object to that persecution and the unconstitutionality of any restrictions placed on homosexuality, unless someone can provide me with a sound, scientifically-supportable argument against homosexual marriage that is not founded in religious principles.

Preank: Pre-emptively pranking a prankster before he/she pranks you.

rewinn said...

Dr. Brin's analysis as to why abortion is a perfect issue is completely consistent with my experience as a young seminary student, circa 1970, agitating against the pro-choice Referendum 20 in Washington State.

The binary choicepoint - that human life exists when a unique combination of DNA is created - was a great source of comfort to me at the time. It simplified all the decisions for me; I was against killing babies, so my opponents were for killing babies! It gave me a firm feeling of being absolutely, gloriously RIGHT and GOOD!

I miss that wonderful feeling. The funny thing is, I can still call it back, like the memory of an old girlfriend, and feel the righteous rage against the unrighteous, not to mention contempt for their foolishness.

I'm not sure that these comforting beliefs were ever dispelled by logic. I vaguely remember some women trying to talk to me about the realities THEY faced, but it's all a blur. They were talking about their bodies, their needs, birth control failure, and so on ... but *I* was thinking about *saving babies*! so whatever they said to me was just "a gong booming and a cymbal clashing." I suspect memories did not form because I literally could not understand what they were saying.

I don't know why my thoughts and feelings on this topic changed, except that in a general way I grew up and learned that our complex universe has little respect for our artificial dichotomies. I would like the comfort of being able to point to a single experience as being decisive - one logical argument, or one Startling Revelation by a Lover that She Too had had an Abortion ... but then that's the problem, isn't it? Wanting a simple solution to complex problem?


For those who seek New Testament support for Jesus as a Jewish Commie, see Matthew 19:21, Luke 6:24 and 12:33.

And as to his followers OMG!: 2 Corinthians 8:13-15;
Acts 2:45 and 4:34-35 "to each according to need"

Rob said...

It's not like Marx and Engels pulled their ideas out of thin air.

As a heterosexual non-Christian, I would like to politely object to the hijacking of the word and concept of 'marriage' by the Christian church.

That's a historically naive assertion, and it is not a fact. "Marriage" predates Christian hegemony and the Jewish formation stories, and has always been tightly wound up with ancient societies, with its earliest forms centered around the welfare (however abused) and identity of women and children.

Justinian, Christian or not, also didn't pull his natural law ideas out of whole cloth, and a reading of the Corpus Juris Civilis on the matter of Roman adoption, a practice that predates Constantine by a few hundred years, is illuminating.

That's the point the Conservatives keep trying to make. The counterpoint is a claim that ancient methods don't apply to modern conditions, therefore make use of the rights regime declare by the Founders of the United States, and let liberal notions hold sway.

Meh. My point is, get the scare-word out of the governmental regulations, and win a short and medium term peace on the matter. The fact that there are churches willing to turn a gay civil union into a marriage ought to satisfy the polyglot consensus.

It would certainly satisfy this Mormon.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Rob, that still doesn't change the facts that marriage is not controlled or defined by any one church, or even all churches, that the definition of marriage has changed and evolved over the course of our civilization, and that the only objections to homosexual marriage stem from the ideological principles of specific religions and denominations of those religions.

The simple fact is that there is no objection to homosexual marriage that does not stem from religious ideology, which makes a restrictive and punitive stance a forcing of a specific religious ideology (the sinfulness of homosexual marriage) upon the masses, and a religious persecution of those who do not follow that ideology, both of which are expressly banned by the constitution.

This is of great significance to me even though I am not gay because, no only is it wrong and unconstitutional, but it also sets a precedent for a strict religious definition of marriage. I am a non-religious pagan, and I hope to (one day, with the right woman) get married. Not 'civil unionized', married, in a non-denominational ceremony. The establishment of a strictly religious definition of marriage would establish a precedent that could easily prevent me from becoming married in a non-religious ceremony.

Yes, you could say that a 'civil union' is the same thing, but is that really any different than the idea of 'separate but equal' that was used as a justification for racial segregation? If I enter into a civil union with someone, but think of it as a marriage, call it a marriage, and tell everyone that I'm married, what is the point of calling it a 'civil union' on paper? Just so someone with a particularly fervent and aggressive religious conviction can tell me, "No, you're not really married, you only have a civil union!"?

I am not going to change my definition of my marriage to whomever becomes my wife just to placate someone's tender religious ideology, nor should I have to. Nor should anyone have to.

Also, touching on 'historical naivete', historically across the globe, marriage has not always focused on heterosexuality or the welfare of women and children. Marriage has meant a lot of different things, across many different cultures, and many different cultures have included both legitimate same-sex love and same-sex marriage, under various definitions and reasonings, etc. The idea that marriage has strictly been a heterosexual construct throughout history and throughout all cultures is simply false.

As for my comments about the Christian church hijacking the concept of marriage, I was specifically referring to the anti-homosexual marriage movement that is largely driven by Christian organizations and/or ideologies, which I probably should have been more clear on. The sentiment behind the concept could just as easily be applied to Islamic or Jewish churches, or any other church in those cultures where those particular religions are the dominant driving force behind anti-homosexual movements.

Ilithi Dragon said...

I would like to note that I have no rancor on this, at least in this particular discussion, and that I am merely expressing what I hope remains a polite yet impassioned (albeit somewhat typographically challenged
} X = 8 ) ) argument for why I feel that 'settling' for a 'marriage but not marriage' term is simply unacceptable. I'm not above compromise on nor the incremental advancement of the issue, and I recognize that 'victory' may be long in coming, but I am merely expressing why I think this issue should be a non-issue, and why it should not have to be 'settled' or 'compromised,' and instead should be resolved now.

Ilithi Dragon said...

*And the dangers of settling on an issue so as to placate tender religio-political ideologies (with a reminder of what happens when you 'give a mouse a cookie').

David Brin said...

Rewinn gets Post-of-the-Day. Dang, that was well-written, thoughtful, heartfelt and nuanced. Please guys, go back and read his description of his moral journey yet again, slowly.

Real people, thoughtful people, do not transform as if struck down, on the Road to Damascus. They gradually broaden their perspectives and say... ugh, was I really so narrowminded? And the old attractor states STILL DRAW! We become larger, without entirely abandoning the old.

THIS is the utitmate solution for the madeness of both the dogmatic left and right. No bolt-from-above argument or insight... but a relentless drawing toward "we don't have TIME for unhelpful dichotomies or dogmas" maturity.

Gay Marriage.

The closest thing to wisdom was shown on South Park (I rarely watch) when a governor said: "Look, conservatives mostly are okay with you folks getting all the RIGHTS of marriage! Can you, in return, just leave them their traditional NAME? Leave "marriage" for a man and a woman. Then, you can get all the same rights as you call yourselves..."

Well, then they remembered, their job is to do comedy. Rasty Comedy. So the governor goes into a long, painful/slightly-funny riff about "Butt-Buddies." Heh... but I have long contended the Gay Movement could settle this, tomorrow, and deny the far right a rallying point, simmply by transposing A SINGLE LETTER!

A "G" for and "M." Garriage.

Oh, sure, it'll sound a bit silly.
"Will you Garry me?"
"We got garried yesterday."
"The clerk ran out of Garriage licences, so we had to scribble in a bunch of Gs by hand, the twits."

A bit silly? So? Ever been to West Hollywood on Halloween? What are gays except... well... flexible?

Point is, this would swing at least 20% of their opponents from anger to shrugs... enough to make the next set of referendums complete slam-dunks! It would be OVER! Fox would lose a hot-button issue and every gay couple could tie a knot, if they want.

Above all, this foot in the door will make it so that -- in twenty years -- nobody will give a flying rat's... well, you know.

Ilithi Dragon said...

I agree, Dr. Brin, that your 'Jui Jitsu' maneuver is probably the one most likely to succeed, though that still doesn't lessen the obligation I feel to advocate the acceptance of homosexual marriage (and by extension any non-religious or non-'traditional' marriage) in the immediate term.

Rob said...

Didn't I say, "meh"?

And David's right, though I don't know that "Garriage" is a word a politician could take seriously enough to ensconce in law. "Civil Union" and "Domestic Partnership" are two such terms, already in use all over the place, and just as good for hetero couples under the law as same-sex couples. Not to put too fine a point on it, but that would make everyone equal, under the law!

If that's not what you want, then you don't really want equality, what you want is for the other side to be humiliated in the process of getting equality.

Personally, I think we could do without 40 years of yet another Roe v. Wade type fight, poisoning the commons. We find "win-win" by returning the idea of "marriage" to a church-by-church thing, and calling a state-recognized household by a different name, because I guarantee that if the issue is forced on the huge minority of Americans that don't want it, they'll fracture away and cause more trouble.

Anonymous said...

Beginning of a major realignment in American politics? Too soon to tell from one data point, but still...

Robert said...

The problem, Dr. Brin, is that there are certain elements that refuse to take babysteps. They want it all, now. They don't want to wait, they don't want to edge their way forward, they want equality right now and to rub it in the faces of those who fear and dislike change.

This is true for Gay Marriage... it's true for Women's Rights... it's true for Civil Liberties. I had a good friend who got quite upset when I would suggest the need for small steps, to slowly gain acceptance and thus in time achieve equality, whether it was for feminism or for gay rights. She could not comprehend my viewpoint that it was better to take a small step, get accepted, and then take another small step and slowly bring about change. She wanted change now. And to hell with those who would get in her way.

(Sadly, we had a parting of ways when I made the fatal mistakes of being honest to her about always feeling like I'm walking on eggshells around her and the fact that I drop arguments and forget about them rather than let them bother me... I suspect it was the latter which was so alien to her. That and the fact I was an Evil White Male, and my viewpoints only verified that fact. It's a shame; I enjoyed talking to her... but she doesn't respond to my queries so... *shrug*)

I can understand her perspective. When gay people are being murdered in the streets and when women are being sold into slavery, it's difficult to take a small step and hope that in time it will be enough to stop this. But if you take that massive leap and fall flat on your face... then where does that leave you? Yet being a white straight male, I don't suffer the slings and arrows she does being a bisexual woman.

I want to see change. Yet I realize change needs to come slowly in order to gain acceptance. The question is how quickly can you bring change and acceptance... and yet avoid a backlash against what you strive for?

Rob H.

Fake_William_Shatner said...

TCB said;
They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time, and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity and the other the divine right of kings."
--October 15, 1858 Debate at Alton, Illinois

I think the modern age has stumbled upon an NEW twist on this since the Reagan Era; namely the absurd concept of the "poor as kings."

Polluting the idea of this debate of "due rights to the lord" and the idea of the Commons, is the "personal responsibility" fetish. When the costs of education is more and more pushed on the individual -- the increasing hardship of early child learning and advanced degrees is explained away as something that could have been managed with a more lucrative job, better financial planning, or less laziness.

Yet it remains; there are still people at the bottom and a few at the top. No matter how much you work, or your fortune -- there's always going to be a certain percentage that "lose" or fail to meet the grade in a society.

Do you draw upon the talents of this underclass or do you merely reward the top?

I just always come back to comparing the Netherlands to Mexico.

There has to be a balance of incentive for the brass ring, but not force people to steal to eat. Personally, I think we were much closer to a "balance" after Roosevelt, when a CEO might make 45 times the average worker.

I think TRULY innovative people are motivated by doing something great. I'm sure nobody goes into science fiction writing because of the slam dunk mega bucks. I just want enough to pay the bills -- I'd LIKE more than enough. But really, I'd be happiest doing something that made a difference in people's lives.

>> I think TCB is touching on this subject a bit better than me. But it's how the "loser" has been vilified to hide the new Kings. "Atlas Shrugged" is a religion given to the Blue Collar and the Libertarian -- underneath every argument I've had, I feel like there is this FAITH that the wealthy earned whatever they got, and the system sorted people out.

Fake_William_Shatner said...

To personalize a bit, this abstract argument about Kings and the Commons;
I've seen about a dozen bright eye'd workers filter through the ranks at the office. Often related to some exec. They start as interns and in a year they'll be a VP at another branch. They all have that can-do optimism, that it's all about attitude.

Small companies tend to be a meritocracy, where having more than one skill is a plus. Large companies more of a Fraternity - that you were to late to join.

I was a go-getter for about 5 years, working 80 hour weeks, solving the impossible. But I was not on the fast track and to be honest, I was not in the "business" end. I happened to know how to make the computer do things -- rather than command others.

But the un-rewarded "can do" person, often becomes the cynic over time. It's a self-fulfilling prophesy with these "self improvement" motivational sales writers. They explain that it's always attitude. And we all know, that positive people are nicer to hang out with -- when they aren't annoying.

Some really brilliant people have been depressed -- in fact, I think it's part and parcel with Genius, and it gives people focus as they plot to "show those fools." Maybe that's why Hollywood actors only seem to do their great work AFTER they've been through re-hab.

We can't all be the chummy, positive winners.

I've read a number of studies that suggest stress hormones reduce verbal abilities and increase aggressive reactions in kids. Stress in the womb and early childhood can actually reduce mental abilities.

How much stress is it now, to have health care, education, and every other function a single mother might need put on her back? Sure, in the Third-World, they may not get these infrastructure free ticket items -- but they also aren't having to compete with knowledge workers and fill out as many forms. As a "developed nation" that is crumbling at the foundations -- we risk breeding a generation of angry and uneducated people if we make child development totally dependent upon "winner parents."

That's why -- no matter how bad the parent, all kids should get three square meals, education and health care. And the fact that we spend 56% of tax dollars on the military and give tax breaks to the top 2% before we take care of this basic human right (in a country that dares calls itself civilized in the 21st century) is a crime.

Am I going to be able to put my kids in College? I'm not so sure. I'm pretty smart, have lots of entrepreneurial ideas, -- but I'm so disorganized I can't seem to get things done. If I could -- I'd have patented a few dozen breakthroughs by now. My ability to learn new things is hurt by my lack of energy. I didn't internalize enough "you can do it" -- so I'm stuck with who I am.

Now the wife has health problems -- and I went from a guy with a decent job and prospects -- to a guy who needed friends and family to bail him out. It didn't take long -- and I have full coverage.

I don't know how others do it -- I barely can, and I had a dad with money, a dummy with offers from MENSA and real support. OK -- one or two weaknesses like insomnia. But who has everything functioning perfectly in this world?

The American Dream seems to not be for most of the people who aren't above average, don't have a scholarship, maybe can't work 80 hours a week and keep up that cheery go-getter attitude. If I have trouble, warts and all ... am I the only one who doesn't know how to hit it out of the park despite lot's of practice and a strong arm?

Einstein in 2009 America probably would have been given Ritalin in 5th grade, gotten behind on one or two credit cards in college, and never would have made it to the patent office. Much more complexity in life that requires Quicken and doesn't allow one to ponder General Relativity.

There are good and supportive communities in this country. But support is in an ad hoc fashion, often resembles charity, and complicated. If you have Asbergers and are bad with money -- you are screwed.

Fake_William_Shatner said...

Brin said;
Gay Marriage.

The closest thing to wisdom was shown on South Park (I rarely watch) when a governor said: "Look, conservatives mostly are okay with you folks getting all the RIGHTS of marriage! Can you, in return, just leave them their traditional NAME? Leave "marriage" for a man and a woman. Then, you can get all the same rights as you call yourselves..."

I would think this makes perfect sense. But I think there is more at issue in this country right now than the issues.

When there's a racial incident, the media dredges up good old Al Sharpton. A well spoken man to be sure, but also a flash point for many. Then instead of quoting someone sage -- like ANYBODY on this website on a BAD Tuesday, they will quote some other comment from a person like Rush Limbaugh -- and then another flash point.

It's like that brief moment of sanity, when John Steward went on Crossfire and told them their method of debate was "killing the country." Two idiots who talk over each other, and use tactics more than sense.

I'd like for once, to see two people on TV, debate one another, and then as the show went on, a person could adopt some ideas from the opponent, and say; "Well, if we met you half way, and we changed this -- would THAT be OK?" Why can't we come to some consensus on TV and it be unperfected but rational?

On TV -- which is our public discourse for the masses, every storm is a hurricane, every flu is a Pandemic, and the only people getting Air Time is a Tea Bagger or a pundit.

The economic influence of Professional Wrestling is one factor, but I also suspect that there is a subtle effort to constantly keep us on edge.

Keep the Red states and the Blue states in a constant pie fight so that the Kings can sell us pie crust and filling.

>> So maybe the argument for Gay marriage is so absolutist, because only the most diametrically opposed positions get air time, and nobody feels like the other side will negotiate. You either win big, or you lose big.

David Brin said...


followed immediately by


TwinBeam said...

Jesus almost certainly was not nor would he be "pro-life". As a reputed Jewish scholar of note, he would have known the conventional Jewish law positions were essentially 100% pro-choice. If it were such a critical issue as fundamentalists now make it out to be, he would have explicitly denounced it.

Those who truly believe in his divinity should accept that he would have known that it would become an issue in ages to come, and would have been inspired to preach on the matter. And the apostles would have been inspired to record those words, if they were so important.

Jesus would not be a socialist. He was very focused on the importance of individual morality and responsibility for charity. His was fundamentally a theological position, not a secular one as some socialists like to pretend. He didn't say "Rich people should be taxed for the good of all" - he said "Rich people probably won't get into heaven". Charity and other good works were as much for the giver's benefit, as the recipients'.

His attitude toward welfare and social security and government healthcare would almost certainly be "Don't bother opposing or promoting those - they are unimportant. What is important is that YOU give because THEY are hurting".

The Gay Marriage issue (mostly) is about whether government will accept and approve of gay relationships, in its role as representative of society. It isn't (much) about legal rights and privileges - so the fact that gays could establish a legal contract mirroring most rights and privileges married couples give each other is irrelevant.

And it doesn't matter whether it's called "Marriage" or "Garriage" - if the government grants it, the anti-homosexual faction will have lost - and they react accordingly.

To the slight degree that it IS about the word "marriage", it's just that some gays have fantasies about "getting married", with all the romance and excitement that implies to some. They don't want to settle for a romantically degraded version, which "Civil Union" and "Garriage" both would imply. So no matter what the official term might be, gays would just go on calling it "getting married". The anti-gays know that as well, and consider such renaming attempts to be attempts to deceive them.

There are a few tax benefits available to married couples - primarily aimed at supporting parenthood. But again, the refusal to compromise over those is primarily because they are considered evidence of acceptance.

At least anti-gay attitudes have some actual textual support in the Bible, albeit only the old testament, and in direct contravention of one clear statement of law laid down by Jesus - i.e. The Golden Rule, which Jesus explicitly said over-ruled the old law.

Tony Fisk said...

How *did* homosexuality get to be vilifed as such an unnatural act anyway?

It's been observed in just about every phylum of the animal kingdom. Surely the animal husbanders in old testament times would have noticed what the odd goat got up to (...with *other* goats that is)?

(Oh, you do realise that the 20% who accept a rename like 'garriage' will be replaced by large numbers of folk called 'Garry'? Duly parsonified or 'conjugaily' matrimonified perhaps?)

LarryHart said...

How *did* homosexuality get to be vilifed as such an unnatural act anyway?

I've often wondered that myself, and have never heard a satisfactory answer. My religious friends will tell me that God hates all sin equally, but that doesn't explain the PARTICULAR viceral hatred they profess (and prsume that God shares with them) toward that one particular sin. Not even war crimes or serial killing seem to evoke the need to purge that homosexuality does.

I do have a personal theory. That's all it is--no scientific data to back it up, but it seems to make sense to me. My guess is that long before human beings understood the whole "sperm and egg inside uterus" mechanism for reproduction, it might have been a common belief--or at least a common viceral fear--that homosexuality would produce offspring which would attempt to grow inside the male recipient. In the same vein, I also guess that bestiality would have been thought to produce "human-animal hybrid" monsters growing from the animal, and that masturbation would lead to whatever sort of horrific monster might grow "in the wild" outside of any womb at all. In short, the male seed would have been perceived as a positive danger when not channeled into its proper human female recepticle.

Again, I have no scientific basis for this belief other than "Like any good story, it explains a lot", but it's the only story I've thought of that really DOES explain the viceral revulsion toward any sort of non-procreative sex.

Robert said...

There is actually a slightly more logical reason behind the hatred of homosexuality. Homosexuality was accepted by the Roman Empire during the time in which Christianity was hounded and Christians were persecuted. Indeed, there are some theologians who believe that Revelations was not talking about the "End of the World" so much as the Fall of the Roman Empire (which was persecuting early Christian leaders).

By denouncing homosexuality and calling it the greatest of sins, Christians were declaring that the leaders of the Roman Empire were degenerate and that Christians would prevail because God was on the side of Christianity and against those "vile homosexuals."

Since then it's been on a back burner until someone needs to turn people against a minority so to hide their own excesses and create a common foe. Then "homosexuality is a sin" gets trotted out as the standard to get the masses riled up and ignoring the fact their own leaders are equally vile.

Rob H.

CulturalEngineer said...

OMG! There is so much in this discussion it's difficult to keep up with. It's very refreshing.

I want to both defend and equivocate on the importance of Dunbar's Number (sometimes called a "natural human community size").

It's importance is not that it's either some definite number or absolutely determinate of human capability or allegiance...

And as Dr. Brin points out, we have large cities where for the most part people are quite friendly once you make a bit of eye contact and give a smile.

But in a way that's the point. It may often take some proximity and appeal to the other's inherent biological altruism... a smile... to overcome inherent fear of the outsider for that to hit home and manifest itself in behavior.

Where proximity is lost (whether physical, psychological or social) Dunbar's Number (as a useful concept, not a specific number) and the limits of biological altruism become a much larger factor.

In fact, I believe this is the answer Alan Greenspan and the Ayn Rand Objectivists missed!

This is Greenspan's missed "flaw in the critical functioning structure that defines how the world works" and that led him down such an unfortunate road.

And this is also why ICT and the move to a global society will make the kind of justice with tolerance Dr. Brin envisions at the end of the novel "Earth" ever more important.

ICT is increasing proximity like never before in the history of humanity.

As Dr. Brin has pointed out... it's cultural change at a Moore's Law pace!

This is a great challenge and opportunity. However it increases awareness of excessive inequality and makes glaring the imbalances in inluence that brought it about.

And these influence imbalances are a legacy of past limitations in social technology and designs unaddressed with changes in scale.

"Natural human community" sized societies do NOT have excessive imbalances in wealth.

The Ultimatum Game (from behavioral economics) and the move to a global social organism make for a very dangerous time unless social technologies which address not only proximity, but also influence capability are seriously addressed.

For me the bottom line is that it's in addressing these elements that frameworks for solution may be found.

My recent post Compensation & the Social Network deals with this in the area of pay disparities and includes some links to other background.

Strong loyalties beyond Dunbar's number are certainly real... after all, millions have consciously walked into deadly battles in the name of large societies.

But, as has often been pointed out, at that moment of action and peril...

It's the buddy standing next to him that he dies for.

P.S. I agree with the formulation of Dr. Brin and Steph regarding the essential obsolescence of our geographically based system of electing representatives.

But for now we're stuck with it. Hence the importance of Geographically based systems of facilitating online association.

BTW, I'm also one of those complete amateurs. And it's still very tough for us. Though I agree with Dr. Brin that our time is coming... and, frankly its needed.

Stuart said...

@ Tony Fisk

The Old Testament prohibits male homosexuality in the same place that it prohibits pork and shellfish, and uses the same language to condemn it. The wording is something like "shall not lay with a man as with a woman."

The context of the prohibition, along with the fact that it doesn't prohibit lesbianism, makes me think this is all about trichinosis, shellfish allergy, and whatever anally transmitted STD was popular back in the day.

And yes, I know that regular man-and-woman sex is a rich vector for STDs, but I think that would have stayed off the prohibition list by popular vote, and because the society that prohibits it successfully would be erased from the meme pool.

Gayness is also prohibited in the New Testament, but always by Paul, who I think had some sex and resentment issues.

So, I think (male) homosexuality is vilified today because of the Bible, and in Bible times for practical reasons. But I think lesbianism is given the nod even today, because it's usually men making the judgment, and even the staunchest conservative is secretly friendly to the idea of girl-on-girl action.

Stuart said...


I didn't see your theory! The Bible does a lot of bashing of contemporary cultures. There's even a line in there making fun of people who, for religious reasons, decorate trees. I'd bet money that those people were assimilated, and are the reason we decorate trees on Christmas.

Robert said...

Just an addendum to my earlier comment: I may have accidentally suggested in my final comment that homosexuality was vile. That was poor wording on my part, and despite being homophobic in my earlier years I've since realized my fears were foolish and even occasionally joke around with my male friends along the lines of "flirting" with them.

Homosexuality is a perfectly natural part of nature, and exists among many species. There is nothing "unnatural" about it, and it should not be considered as such.

Rob H., covering his metaphorical behind ^^;;

Abilard said...

My reading of this is that you acknowledge common human characteristics have caused common, repeated, social structures and consequences throughout history (a concept required by cyclicalism) but that you then assert that the cyclicalist perception of patterns in these repetitions is erroneous because the variations in history are more instructive. It seems to me that academics have been oscillating between an emphasis on pattern or variation since the days of the ancient Greeks. This kind of argument, shifting the level of analysis down from the macro (pattern) level to the micro (individual) level, is an approach that variationists have employed against pattern-perceivers since we started writing such debates down.

It tends to be a circular approach. Once academics tear a pattern down to that level they either assert that we cannot know anything, or they very quickly start to build things up again (i.e. asserting different patterns), as you do with notion of feudalism/oligarchy as a driver of history. Some other variationist will then come along and challenge these new patterns in the same way.

Since knowledge is a model of reality, and not reality, I think we should just acknowledge that patterns will never perfectly reflect it. Our focus should be on trying to make the best models we can (and not, as post modernists want to do, pick up our toys and go home). Consequently, I personally would like to see the habit of arguing against a pattern by changing the level of analysis abandoned.

You also make another point, however, which I think is very much on target. Cyclicalists haven't come up with anything successfully predictive. While simplification should not be seen as a flaw in pattern perception (it's a necessity), patterns that cannot be tested or, worse, fail historical tests are worthless. Cyclicalism falls into this category.

Can we salvage anything from cyclicalists? Certainly societal complexity has waxed and waned over time. In spite of this there is a clearly discernable trend toward increasing complexity. In other words, whether we are consciously aware of it or not, we are learning something from the collapses.

What are we learning? Which pattern, that of the cyclicalists or your own, tells us more about this process? Unless I misunderstand your concept of oligarchic warrior states, most of the above process of collapse/reconstruction has occurred under that mode as it covers almost every society that has ever existed. Yet, something was being learned during those time periods, or the modern world would never have been built. What can your model tell us about that great stretch of time and development?

CulturalEngineer said...

DUDES... You're getting me inspired!

I thought I'd expand on the Alan Greenspan / Ayn Rand connection a bit as my mind went spinning off on ideas here.

Ayn Rand & Alan Greenspan: The Altruism Fly in the Objectivist Ointment

Tacitus2 said...

You can always count on Brin topics to spiral off. Often in interesting directions.

As a conservative, hetero, Christian I can honestly say that whatever consenting adults choose to do with their various convexities and concavities is their own business. I find no need to judge, and in many instances am happier ignoring the topic.

Of course, I expect the Wrath of Shiva to descend upon anybody who sexually abuses children in any fashion.

It would be polite for gays to skip the word marriage. Whatever binding civil unions they want to enter into, fine. But the word marriage has significance to their straight friends and neighbors, and there is no need to make them uncomfortable.

The social issues with the gay issue are largely confined to those few areas where our normal social guards, and sometimes garments are let down. Locker rooms, public restrooms, army barracks, cub scout camp outs. These seem to be limited enough issues that provisions can be made.

As a religious issue, I do note that banning homosexual activity does not make the Ten Commandments. And heck, even with the Big Ten we find plenty of loopholes. Self defense and military action on the Thou Shalt not Kill provision for instance.

I have a number of gay friends who are right minded conservatives.


Fake_William_Shatner said...

I don't know why there is such a mystery about the anti-Gay stance of many fundamentalist religions -- I mean, other than the food fight for the lower classes and selling them the pies I just mentioned.

I'd say there are three things at play;
1) Permissiveness is bad for business. The ruling structure negotiates with the power structures of religious power brokers, and adds more religious restraints on behavior in exchange for the support of that government by the religious power broker. It doesn't really matter WHAT the doctrine is. Usually, however, it's something that takes rights away from women and gives control to men -- men in aggressive/abusive societies tend to support any group or faction, as long as they get to have power over SOMEBODY. Since women are not them -- they will do.

2) Anyone to pee on. It's important to have discriminated groups. The "not us." We used to consistently "worry" about the low moral standing of a few groups in this country -- now it seems that we focus on a different subculture every month. The targeted group doesn't matter -- it's that you justify what the state or corporation can do. The real goal is for the Kings to reduce the rights of people. Drug laws serve the same purpose. Or this "torture because terrorism is a new and more dangerous threat." What, a state-funded army with espionage isn't more of a threat? We are in Afghanistan "for the women" or to "stop drugs" or to "push Democracy" -- to accomplish this, Karzai has now allowed men to sequester their ladies, his brother is the #1 guy controlling the drug trade, and a historian can tell you BEFORE the Soviets invaded and now the US -- there was much more progress to this de-tribilization. Apparently, WAR of any kind ends up not helping Democracy or civil rights.

The Russians, however, have always been for Women's rights, and the Chinese have a better record of building hospitals and schools. Maybe the US is just taking turns with the super powers on being the bad cop.

3) Control of the puppet leaders. If you look under the sheets at the Republican convention -- or ANY group of leaders that is on it's service "MORE MORAL" and very authoritarian. You will find much more depravity than is the norm. It's the privilege for the elite. It's also a great way to control people.

I've been amongst some of these people. I knew folks in Savannah who "partied" with the powerful. I've known Saudi princes who come to America and take off that phony moralism and get down. Mostly from a 2nd person distance mind you. Not to stereotype, but I think in general, people who have to be "underground" often adapt by enjoying intrigue.

Karl Rove knew what he was doing. Most of the people he has supported or endorsed have been "compromised" in some way. And I think if you ignore this aspect of politics, or the huge number of people who get in trouble due to their relative deviancy -- you won't understand how REAL POWER controls leaders in politics and the church.

Fake_William_Shatner said...

The Catholic Church, started the practice of celibacy for economic reasons around the time of the Black Plague. If a priest died -- usually there was a family to support. With Celibate priests -- no family. Seems pretty practical, but it might anger a lot of priests who thought this whole observance was for spiritual reasons.

Flash forward to today -- and all the cases of Pedophillia. But rather than punish priests, the church moved them around and covered for them -- sent them to new parishes.

>> The MORE you vilify a common -- yet minority practice, the more you have control over those adherents when they have authority. Seeking authority -- to be fair, is the best way to stay out of trouble. But it doesn't matter what the "sin" -- it just matters that someone's life could be over if caught. Then you take the Cocaine addict, or the perv, or the whatever and make them hunt down all the people like them because you care about decency, health, or whatever nonsense you make up. You can't have a Patriot Act to deny rights if you don't have a threat from an "other." Timothy McVeigh cannot inspire a Patriot Act.

We keep talking like there is some rationale or that this is about gays, or drug abuse or whatever. The common authoritarian Psychopath really could care less if you just came back from a jog mowing down civilians with a machine gun -- they just want control.

>> Sorry to make this sound like a "conspiracy." But I think it's been part of the "two tiered" moral system that has been a part of human history since mankind first put wheat in a pit and made mead and we ended up with collections of people larger than a tribe.

David Brin said...

Homosexuality is IMPLICITLY banned in the Bible. There are a few references to forbidding two men from sharing a hut because "an abomination" might happen. And sure, that's an implied ban. (Though might it not be an abomination, if they are garried? ;-)

The hypocrisy you mention is huge, of course. Pork is forbidden very explicitly and many, many more times than homosexuality is even alluded-to. The towering gall of citing just a few Mosaic laws while ignoring others that Jesus himself obeyed, is actually penetrating some Protestant circles. There are fundamentalists who are starting to run Passover Seders.... since the Last Supper was one... and dropping pork and adopting other "Jesus Practices."

(BTW, a major sect of Rastafarians has always done this. Wow, man. I&I am impressed and pass the ganja!)

But no. We don't need dread of bestial male-male impregnation, to explain the visceral rejection of homosexuality by hetero males. Fear of homosexuality is much easier to explain than that.

Look, males think of themselves as the assertive or aggressive ones in sex . The penetrators. Ideally, with courtesy, respect and love, of course... and above all, explicit welcoming permission. Indeed, probably the most complex and miraculous psychological feat that is routinely performed by human beings would have to be the way that most females are able to deliberately tune their minds to actually choose a specific grunting, aggressive male and say "YOU are the one whom I choose, to welcome, enthusiastically."

What is so surprising about Hetero males NOT performing such a powerful and (in their case) unnecessary mental trick? Hetero male revulsion toward being grabbed and penetrated by another male is probably IDENTICAL to female revulsion of being grabbed and penetrated by the WRONG male! Read that last sentence a couple of times. It really is that simple.

Moreover, women learn from an early age that they live in a world where males will make unwelcome advances... many of them meaning no real harm, but still needing to be fended off, with humor or firmness or a range of subtle techniques. Hetero men don't learn all that. To them, the distinction between a mild sexual query by a gay guy and an outright attack may be hard to parse, leading to exaggerated reactions... sometimes exacerbated by internal homoerotic tendencies that they reject with overcompensating rage.

None of the above excuses gay-bashing. Rather, it behooves heteros to teach their sons the tolerant/wary subtltleties that their daughters pick up, as a matter of course. And it behooves gays to learn techniques for putting wary heteros at ease. Duh?

The mystery, of course, is why some males dial into the amazing female process by which sexual advances from a male can be made welcome. But the modules ARE there. We are glad that women have them. It shouldn't be surprising that they slip sideways, now and then.

Lesbians are FAR easier to explain, by comparison. I mean jeez, All you'd need is a few really bad experiences with the worst men, and it is easy to see those magic modules being put permanently out of reach.

Oh, Rob's insight about the early Church and its rejection of Roman Empire's acceptance of homosexuality may have some relevance. But remember that in classical Greece and Rome it was still about aggressive male-initiated dominance. Just as in today's prisons, its acceptability was all a matter of who was on top and who was bottom.

rewinn said...

Dr. Brin: thanks for the kind words about my true story. Ironically, in composing it I had INTENDED to include the "Paul of Tarsus" moment. I was sure that there had had to have been one because, ya know, that's how it always happens in every story, right?

For some reason, that perhaps a professional author can better explain than I, a Sudden Revelation makes a more interesting story than a Gradual Awakening. I didn't want to be boring, so I iracked me brains ... but finally gave up, cuz it wasn't there. So I learned something from that: mentally stumbling into a revelation is more comfortable than being struck off a horse.

TwinBeam - With great respect, the argument that "Jesus would not be a socialist. He was very focused on the importance of individual morality and responsibility for charity" seems both a Non Sequitur and not supported by the New Testament. Acts clearly states that early Christian communities were communitarian; we must accept THEIR actions as dispostive testimony, since THEY had access to more information about Jesus that we who live at 2000 years' remove (and I hope we can dismiss as pointless the dreary distinctions between socialism /communitarianism /communism that evolved much later).

I understand an anti-Christian-socialism argument is that most of the miracles and commands in the Gospel were directed to individuals rather than communities, but that's simply a matter of storytelling, e.g. in Luke, Jesus tells an INDIVIDUAL to care for the poor because it's an individual standing in front of him. It would be impossible for The City of Jerusalem or the Nation of Israel to stand before Jesus and ask the same question, becausion conceptualizing organizations in that way was at best very primitively developed at that time and especially among the relevant communities; you might as well ask Jesus about winding a watch. At any rate, there is no contradiction between being personally responsible and being socially responsible.

The idea that we should do good works because it's good for us has implications: it means we are not actually trying to help people, but rather, are trying to get into heaven; we're paying off God; we actually *need* for people to be in pain, so we can help them; any effectual solution to the entire problem is to be avoided, because future generations need poor people to feed off, spiritually. Suffice it to say that I doubt that's really consistent with Jesus' radical vision of humans being a community not divided between free and slave, Greek and Jew, male and female.


No distinction between Male and female? Ooopsie, we may have stumbled onto someone's actual attitude toward sexuality!

rewinn said...

"...The mystery, of course, is why some males dial into the amazing female process by which sexual advances from a male can be made welcome. But the modules ARE there. We are glad that women have them. It shouldn't be surprising that they slip sideways, now and then...."

From a programming standpoint, DNA and the other stuff that code up an adult human is a mess. I think we're STILL coming up with ways in which the code can be modified, e.g. environmental conditions affecting hormones secreted into the womb. WHAT KINDA SCHMUCK DESIGNED THIS SYSTEM ANYWAY????

David Brin said...

Rewinn gets another Post of the Day with:

"The idea that we should do good works because it's good for us has implications: it means we are not actually trying to help people, but rather, are trying to get into heaven; we're paying off God; we actually *need* for people to be in pain, so we can help them; any effectual solution to the entire problem is to be avoided, because future generations need poor people to feed off..."

Now, in defense of Jesus, when he said "the poor will always be with us" it was because it had been the same in all places, in all of living memory. There did not seem to be enough wealth extant to lift the poor, even with total leveling.

The purpose of charity in many societies e.g. India, was similar... to karmically benefit the giver. True, the Jews despised that reason, preferring that it be done anonymously and without thought of benefit, now or later, it is certainly understandable to use threats and rewards to encourage approved behavior.

Still, this makes the whole business of Christian Virtue a bit problematic. Picture your typical saint, who is absolutely convinced that she will go straight to the top tiers of Heaven, after the coming few minutes of agony. Yes, her martyrdom -- smiling in beatific confidence in her Lord -- is impressive and has a certain beauty to it. But is it really impressive? Or simply a strong-willed person overcoming instinct for a few minutes, in exchange for a vastly improved personal situation?

A business transaction that's a complete no-brainer and a matter of complete self-interest. Um, sorry. It doesn't impress me much... except for the will power that it takes not to scream for a few minutes.

I've said it before. Show me a saint who asks God NOT to send her to bliss, but instead into Hell, to minister to the suffering and hopeless, in agony... possibly forever. Or indeed, one who, after an exemplary life, knowing the Gates are open to her, deliberately commits a single mortal sin, in order to force Saint Peter's hand.

Now that's a saint.

And a story that you absolutely have never, ever heard.

Tony Fisk said...

I agree with FWS: ultimately, it isn't about oil but about *control*.

Never heard? Well, the film 'Life is Beautiful' has a scene where Italian jews are being packed onto a train for the labour camps. The guy's wife confronts the commanding officer, who knows her, and knows she is not a jew. As a protest, she deliberately boards the train also. He looks at her and, after a brief battle of wills, reluctantly nods. The train sets off.

The point, though, is what sort of omnipotent automaton follows these 'rules on rails', anyway?

tredler: a mechanism used for processing grapes of wrath.

TwinBeam said...

Rewinn/David -

Sigh - I am not a Christian, I am not defending on my own beliefs. But you are both taking absurd positions, apparently motivated by a desire to roll christians into "supporters of socialism".

Do you honestly think that because a christian seeks to improve their soul/spirit through charity, that means Christianity justifies keeping people poor?

Or that it's somehow selfish of christians to give charity, because the christian believes the sacrifice makes them a better person by Jesus/God's standards?

Sure, if all you're about is the fear of dying and going to hell, you're a pretty lousy christian - with a pretty poor understanding of christian principles. So what? Is that to be the standard of how Christianity is judged - by how those who understand it poorly think and behave?

Could excessive charity keep people poor? Sure - we see it happening in generations on the public dole. Does that mean christian principles advocate keeping the poor dependent? Again, I think you have to be tying your mind up in knots to believe that. If it ever really got to that point, the Golden Rule would require a good christian to re-think their charity, and find other good works to do.

Communitarian is not socialism, nor are the two morally equivalent. The former is voluntary while the latter being involuntary.

Using government power to force others to support "good works" violates the Golden Rule. Do some avowed christians make the error of supporting socialism? Sure - but again, so what? They aren't acting on any true christian principle, but out of their own desire for emotional gratification at others' expense.

Sociotard said...

I've said it before. Show me a saint who asks God NOT to send her to bliss, but instead into Hell, to minister to the suffering and hopeless, in agony... possibly forever. Or indeed, one who, after an exemplary life, knowing the Gates are open to her, deliberately commits a single mortal sin, in order to force Saint Peter's hand.

Now that's a saint.

And a story that you absolutely have never, ever heard.

With the exception of the "forever" part, that's a fair description of what Christ did on earth, isn't it? He voluntarily leaves his Father to be born on a lost and fallen earth full of sin and death. He remains true to his godly ideals and ministers on that sphere for decades.

Of course, then theres that bit in First Peter where christ preaches to the souls in prison. (although I have heard different interpretations than that he went to hell)

TwinBeam said...

Oh, and David - your suggestion that a *real* saint would try to go to hell to somehow "minister" to those in hell is cute - but absurd, and probably would constitute the sin of hubris - setting your own judgement higher than God's will for you.

Tony Fisk said...

setting your own judgement higher than God's will for you.

Ummmm... certainly.

If you get sent down for it at the end, then so be it.

Of course, as I plummet into the fiery void crying out 'preciouussss!' as I go, I would like to understand *why* I was being sent down! Maybe the management doesn't think the knowledge will be much use where I'm going?

Jesus did, at least, know it was going to end. although 'My God! Why hast thou forsaken me?' is a rather poignant moment.

'Cos if you don't go the whole nine yards, Son, this whole thing is a bust! But.. I guess I'll have to fill you in on that later

Oh! Another small counter-example of a tale you never heard told before comes from my daughter's library. My Secret Unicorn: Snowy Dreams, wherein Starlight turns down an opportunity to desert his friend and colleague in do-gooding so that he can return to Arcadia; even though he believes his magic powers will fade if he doesn't go. Turns out they don't: the Unicorn Elders' hooves are forced on that one! (And I think David knows why he's being sent down for this one, too: sheer challenge!)

efflesse: a post-rapture state where no magical or mythical beings dwell.

Stuart said...

I understand this has been featured on the Colbert Report, so maybe I'm being obvious... but have any of you guys heard of the Conservative Bible Project?

It's a project, brought to you by Conservapedia and Eagle Forum, intending to remove "liberal bias" from the Bible. I'm pretty sure it's not a parody. At least if it is, it's part of a larger parody that has been dryly maintained for three years now.

This sort of stuff is fascinating and horrifying to me. I imagine I feel about conservatism the way J. Edgar Hoover felt about Communism. I'm 100% sure liberalism is superior, but I'm paranoid because I'm not sure it's the sort of local maxima that evolution favors.

Ilithi Dragon said...

TwinBeam said...

Rewinn/David -

Sigh - I am not a Christian, I am not defending on my own beliefs. But you are both taking absurd positions, apparently motivated by a desire to roll christians into "supporters of socialism".

I don't think either of them are acting under any such motivation, but rather are pointing out and discussing the fact that the argument can be made that the bible supports socialism. It's a philosophical discussion, not necessarily what they personally believe.

Do you honestly think that because a christian seeks to improve their soul/spirit through charity, that means Christianity justifies keeping people poor?

Of course they don't, they're just pointing out that it could be interpreted in that manner.

Or that it's somehow selfish of christians to give charity, because the christian believes the sacrifice makes them a better person by Jesus/God's standards?

But it is selfish, or at least motivated by self-gain, if you motivation for giving to charity is because you will be rewarded for it later. Note the specific language they used. They did not criticize the belief that engaging in charitable acts with charitable motivations makes one a better person. I think we all here agree with that. What is being pointed out is that acting charitably with the knowledge that you will be rewarded for your charity at a later date brings into question the motivation for a charitable act. If I buy someone a $5 meal because I know my mom will give me $10 as a reward when she hears about it at the end of the day, my motivation isn't really charitable, because even if I don't care that I get the $10 at the end of the day, I still know that my sacrifice now is still going to be a net gain to me later, so I'm not actually sacrificing. And if my motivation for the $5 meal charity is purely because I am going to get $10 and a net profit later, then my motivation is entirely self-serving and not charitable at all.

That's what Dr. Brin and Rewinn are pointing out. The person who commits a self-sacrifice with the knowledge that they are going to be rewarded for their sacrifice at a later date is not really selfless, because they are not really sacrificing anything.

Saintly behavior is generally defined as self-sacrifice without thought or expectation of reward, especially with the knowledge that there will be no reward. A saint who knows that they will be rewarded in heaven for their actions, then, is not really a saint at all, because their motivations are highly suspect.

I won't touch on the socialism part (I don't have time, and I don't feel like dealing with the hassle of character limits any more than I have to).

Ilithi Dragon said...

Oh, and David - your suggestion that a *real* saint would try to go to hell to somehow "minister" to those in hell is cute - but absurd, and probably would constitute the sin of hubris - setting your own judgement higher than God's will for you.

While the sin of hubris argument could be made, that's not the point of Dr. Brin's example. It's not absurd - the actual act of 'ministering' to the denizens of hell may or may not be but that's not the point, either. The point is having concern and compassion for those who would otherwise be damned, and trying to give them comfort and succor and maybe even an attempt at salvation (which would require an eternal hope), even though no one else cares or even spares a thought for them beyond satisfaction in their suffering, even if it means intense self sacrifice on your part, with absolutely no hope or expectation of reward, and the knowledge that you would be condemning yourself to excruciating suffering and torment of your own, possibly even (and especially) for eternally. That is pure altruism, and it is something we do not see in the stories told by religion.

You see, this ties back into the questioning of the nature and morality of the concept of Hell, and a God who designed a universe with a Hell, especially an eternal one, something we covered in a previous discussion. Perhaps that is a sin of hubris, in questioning God's judgment, but it is a sin that I would gladly commit, and if the answers were not to my liking, I would gladly exacerbate that sin but defying God's judgment on the grounds that God is a megalomaniacal, sadistic ass, not even worthy of my respect let alone my devotion and worship, Creator of the Universe be damned. Hubris, perhaps, but if that's what it takes to ask who watches the watcher and demand that any 'God' that may exist* be held accountable to the same moral standards and measures he lays upon us, then I would gladly commit it.

*Note that I do not believe that any do.

Shell: The special level of Hell reserved for saints who turn down entrance into Heaven in order to minister the damned.

P.S. I absolutely despise character limits. Absolutely.

Rob said...

Show me a saint who asks God NOT to send her to bliss, but instead into Hell, to minister to the suffering and hopeless, in agony... possibly forever. Or indeed, one who, after an exemplary life, knowing the Gates are open to her, deliberately commits a single mortal sin, in order to force Saint Peter's hand.

Now that's a saint.

Well, if you take away the neo-Platonic picture of Hell and God and the simply false idea that any God would consign an ignorant or unwilling person to that Hell for an eternity of (equally false, read some Einstein...) linear time...

You get a Mormon cosmology, describing precisely what the heaven-bound will be doing in the next life!

David, honestly, how is it that you can sound like such a Mormon when you get into religious-mode cosmology... ;-)

soc said...

If you give something now with the the hope that you'll receive more later, you're an investor not a saint.

Just hope you're investing in the right stocks.

Robert said...

Amusingly enough, the primary protagonist of my earlier attempts at fantasy fiction was a fallen angel. He fought on the side of Michael and God and Heaven in the conflict where Lucifer fell. And then he protested when God stated "you [the Fallen] are cast out forever." His complaint? "Forever is a very long time and doesn't allow for redemption."

Words got exchanged, and said fallen angel called God a prideful fool, and was cast out in turn. As he was being booted out, he stated "I will always serve you," and God then went "We'll see about that" and cursed the Fallen with the curse of Eternity (no matter how often he dies, he's turned away at the Gates to be reborn), and Omniscience - to see precisely what will happen with his own involvement in things - literally, predestination.

I later realized I created the character out of my own fears of just what Christianity was - that we did not have Free Will because everything was set and would end no matter what anyone did and no matter how good the world might end up being. Revelations pretty much said "oh, you're all screwed at some point and this beautiful planet you're on will be destroyed utterly." At least how I had interpreted it.

Someday I should return to those stories. Richard was an interesting character to write, and his fear of truly becoming one of the Fallen by turning from God's Will was perhaps one of the more tragic elements to him.

Rob H.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Very interesting, Robert, definitely a story I would like to read. My own fantasy series that I am currently working on (and hope to, some day, publish) follows a vein similar to the discussions we've had here, in that the over-arching plot, especially in what will become the later books in the series, deals directly with those questions, even dealing directly with 'God', while turning the traditional roles and archetypes on their heads. The main character is a young demoness, a succubus, who doesn't find out what she is until after the story begins, though.

I am quite certain it will go straight onto that black list of books that fundi-Christians hate and strive to have removed from the shelves and burned, probably before it even goes to print, because of how it reverses the good- and bad-guy roles, and asks hard questions that, at least in the story, have rather unpleasant answers.

And yes, I feel a glow of pride to know that, should I ever manage to get this printed, my story will make that list.
} : = 8 )

David Brin said...

TwinBeam, please do not conflate Rewinn's position with my own. They overlap, but he is the one who said that retaining poverty was necessary as grist for continued soul-redemption through charity.

My statement may look somewhat similar. But I said that soul-redemption as a charity motive arose FROM the apparent impossibility of eliminating poverty. Hindus give alms in order to buy off karma. The notion is widespread.

The notion of ENDING poverty is a recent invention that occurred to people after poverty actually GOT SMALLER before their very eyes.

You said: "Sure, if all you're about is the fear of dying and going to hell, you're a pretty lousy christian - with a pretty poor understanding of christian principles. So what? Is that to be the standard of how Christianity is judged - by how those who understand it poorly think and behave?"

I have no doubt that many Christians are less motivated by threats and rewards than by a sincere desire to do the right thing. However, you cannot deny that for two thousand years the relentless emphasis of threats and rewards certainly overwhelmed the latter motive.
Until recently.

Of course, there was an additional reason to emphasize heaven and hell (which are almost nonexistent in earlier, Hebraic theology.) Paul's innovation of Original Sin demanded that reward/punishment come front and center. That's what "salvation" through the sacrifice of the Cross was all about, plus the requirement of ensuing particular tests of thought and action, by all those who followed, if they wanted to go in one direction, rather than the other.

Catholic stories of the Saints make no attempt to hide this emphasis. Saints take martyrdom IN ORDER to get higher personal position in the afterlife. By comparison, the conquistadors were relatively outgoing and generous since, by their lights, they were taking great personal risk in order to forcibly convert and save OTHER souls than their own.

(BTW... an attaboy prize to whomever will squirrel out info about the rumored fundamentalists who are pushing for a newer, better mission than just salivating over Armageddon, placing emphasis instead upon a mission to go forth and spread the word to aliens! Aha... fundies we could get along with! ;-)

Oh, we could get into the Reformation then and the Lutheran and Calvinist rejection of Good Works as a route to Heaven, spurning earthly action and charity in favor of salvation based strictly on faith... or predestination. But let's not.

"Communitarian is not socialism, nor are the two morally equivalent. The former is voluntary while the latter being involuntary."

You are striking WAY too stark a line, here. For example Scandinavian socialism is enacted under the most liberally consensus driven democracy ever seen. When huge majorities of a people vote to assess themselves in order to achieve consensus-driven ends (e.g. erasing poverty in Norway, the first place it has ever been done), is that tyranny? Or communitarianism on a large scale? Ayn Rand's followers would say the former. Most reasonable people would deem the latter.

David Brin said...

Sociotard, yes, it is said that Jesus harrowed Hell. But of course, did he not go to the cross knowing (with some brief doubts) that glory awaited after brief suffering? (And he died MUCH faster than the usual crucified person. The Roman who speared him was being merciful.)

Twinbeam said: "h, and David - your suggestion that a *real* saint would try to go to hell to somehow "minister" to those in hell is cute - but absurd, and probably would constitute the sin of hubris - setting your own judgement higher than God's will for you."

Yes, that is exactly right. And that sin, alone, might MERIT Hell. That is, if God were really so vicious as to set up a system like that, in the first place. So? Then the task is done. The saint goes down, simply because -- after an exemplary life -- she had the hubris to want to imitate Jesus.

Far more problematic is whether anything CAN be done, down there, to minister to the suffering and help guide some toward relief. Of course, an ominopotent power could arrange things so that her mission is utterly futile... so that the tormented cannot hear her, or so that her own torment clouds her mind and she cannot function.

That's what may happen to me, if I face such a choice someday, and if I have the guts to carry through on my vow. But, dig it. If the damned are robbed of their power of reason, their ability to think or speak, their curiosity, their power to regret or repent, and all hope... then what is left of them that is human?

What you'll have down there won't be human any longer. It certainly won't be the saint, anymore... or me. It's just puppets, screaming animatronic robots, performing a show fit for an insatiable sadist. No, I am pretty confident that is NOT how things are set up! The author of Maxwell's Equations would do none of those things.
And now, let me admit something. I am making these grand statements from a comfortable room, in good health, in the rich and lucky and progressive country that my grandparents had the wisdom to come to. If I ever do face the stark choice, would I actually have the guts?

David Brin said...

Here's an interetsing side aspect that I never thought of, before. Having chickened out and gone to Heaven... might I later have regrets? That I did not do the right thing? Is regret even POSSIBLE, in a state of mega bliss? And if so isn't that ALSO robbing a person of many of the things that it takes to be an actual human being? Is an animatronic puppet singing hosannas, without change or curiosity or ambition, forever, even me?

And yes, Rob, The Mormons bypass this quandary. If you are blessed with a high afterlife, that only means you are given tasks and put to work. But Rob, Mormonism is one of the Judeao-Christian offshots that occurred POST-enlightenment, with full knowledge that the stars are suns and the potentiality of a plenitude of worlds. (Scientology is another, eek.) Hence of course, it has some science fiction-sounding aspects to its theology. But please, don't start THAT discussion. (I just spent an hour entertaining and perspective-broadening two bright young Elders on my doorstep!)

Stuart said: "I'm 100% sure liberalism is superior..."

Oooog will someone please warn Stuart that this is CONTRARY Brin? And while I feel the biggest threat to the Enlightenment THIS DECADE happens to be from the loony right, I am perfectly capable of eviscerating that (large but currently powerless) portion of the Left that is stark, jibbering insane.

Shell: The special level of Hell reserved for saints who turn down entrance into Heaven in order to minister the damned.

Clever! But I think that name is already reserved for where oil company executives go.
Rob, your fantasy story about the angel sounds quite moving. Of course many hold that God knows all things in advance... hence predestination plus adherence to the $%$@! Book of Revelations...

...even though there are TONS of passages in the Bible both stating that He can and does change his mind... and actively showing him doing so!

I find that all you need to do, to drive a Palin-esque fundie into fits, is to show these passages and to make it plain that -- even if John of Patmos had a "true" vision -- the BoR is long, long obsolete.

Catfish N. Cod said...

@Rob H., @Illithi: your discussion on incremental change vs. demanding equality NOW puts me in mind of a scene from the movie Amistad, where the lawyers are arguing strategy. One lawyer argues to plead the case of full abolitionism loudly, proudly... and lose gloriously. Matthew McConaughey's character wants to win... but on a "flawed" argument of property rights that acknowledges the unjust laws for the nonce. Since this is technical "acceptance" of those laws, the self-righteous lawyer wants none of it, and storms off in a huff.

The property argument is used. The case wins. And we still remember the story. Would we have, if they had lost? And had they lost, would emancipation have been advanced even a single day?

On saints and their destinations, two points:

1) Mother Teresa spent most of her life convinced that God had abandoned her.

2) Niven and Pournelle have a two-book series on the topic of saints ministering to the damned: Inferno and Inferno II: Escape from Hell. The premise is of Dante's Hell updated... including with the Vatican II reforms that imply, among other things, that non-Catholics are not eternally damned. As a result, the rate of souls exiting Hell is on the rise... and some souls seem especially empowered to speed that process along, with traditional saintly gifts (that of tongues, of commanding spirits, etc.). It's not explicitly stated that they ARE saints ministering to the damned, but it's strongly implied.

True fact: I was an adult before I ever heard of the doctrine of universal salvation, much less knew that it was not condemned by the majority of Christian authorities throughout history. Most American Protestant sects try hard to give that impression; it's such a good fear-powered memetic hook.

Stuart said...

@David Brin

I'm speaking from Alabama, by the way. It's likely we're using different definitions of "liberalism." I've been using it to mean "everything except modern conservatism." I'll try to be more specific, but I suspect that in most parts of the country I wouldn't have to be.

Tony Fisk said...

The first reference to a doctrine of universal salvation that I'm aware of is contained in a medieval poem called 'Piers the Plowman'

Evangelists to aliens? I suggest you monitor the requests for upload time at Arecibo.

(Now your riff on the wisdom of advertising our presence starts to worry me!)

elyse: post-hell (pattern matching be blowed: somebody is *definitely* on the other end of this capthca stream!)

Rob said...

But Rob, Mormonism is one of the Judeao-Christian offshots that occurred POST-enlightenment, with full knowledge that the stars are suns and the potentiality of a plenitude of worlds.

Ah the irony, it was post-Enlightenment Protestants who did most of the persecuting of the Mormons. Post-Enlightenment religious leaders who developed the "curse of Cain/Caanan" nastiness that justified the Portuguese, Spanish, and British slave trades, an infection which took my people a full 130-odd years to throw off.

I wouldn't give the Enlightenment nearly as much cachet as you have for the time points between 1830 and 1930.

In any case, your congruency with Mormon cosmologies goes far beyond just an elevation of the virtue of ministering to the damned over singing praises for eternity. It's evident in your notion that God wants humans to continue His work, as humans and for the benefit of humans. And a couple other places.

This isn't a call to conversion, mind you, just a sort of geeky note-taking of interesting congruencies, arrived at through different methods.

Robert said...

I'm not sure about Fundies, Dr. Brin, but the Catholic Church (according to the News) is interested in searching for alien life. I joked with my father that it was to forcibly convert them to Jesus, and bar that, see if they taste delicious when roasted over an open flame. ^^;;

Rob H., all too cynical at times...

David Brin said...

Rob, the doctrine of co-creation is one that also evolved in Jewish thought, across the last 500 years... tentatively at first. But it underlies Kabbalah and led to many Jewish scholars grabbing up science just as soon as it was available.

Alas, it also led to Marx & Freud. Youngsters in His lab can do weird experiments....

Rob said...

See, now that's also very interesting.

Tony Fisk said...

Speaking of experiments:

- A survey of stars known to possess planets shows the vast majority to be severely depleted in lithium.

- Killer snail may be life saver (Cone shell neurotoxin may be a more potent pain-killer than Morphine... and is not an opiate. But is it addictive?)

trothle: a partial nuptial agreement (see 'garriage')

Dwight Williams said...

Lithium deficiency in stars, hm?


Jess said...

I have some sympathy for Spengler. Might it be that he (correctly?) foresaw the coming irrelevance of Europe, and wasn't saying a thing about North America? In the years since, the Great Powers lost their colonies, Europe's iron grip on the diplomatic affairs of the world disappeared, fertility rates dropped below replacement levels over much of the continent, and all but the barbarous nations on the edges have renounced military action. Sure their economies still function (which fact does not follow solely from Marshall's efforts), but this is hardly their golden age of global importance. If Spengler were around today, I think he would find his prognosis for Europe validated.

Since like you I currently live in America, I don't associate our glorious nation with those losers that time has passed by. b^) I see our future intertwined with that of Latin America first, and possibly with various slivers of Asia. Of course China, India, and perhaps Russia will be rivals of a sort, but these seem likely to be economic rivalries rather than military or political ones. I think the condition of regular people will only be improved by that.

TwinBeam said...

D.Brin: "you cannot deny that for two thousand years the relentless emphasis of threats and rewards certainly overwhelmed the latter motive."

Nope - I expect Jesus would have been pretty disappointed in "his" church.

Communitarian vs socialism - no, I think it's perfectly legitimate to draw a clear line between the two on the basis that the former is voluntary and the latter is not.

Why do you want to blur such an obvious, clear and relevant distinction?

David Brin said...

Ever lived in a commune? The level of coercion that can take place is small and supposedly egalitarian communities can be harsh.

Whereas Norway may "coerce" its "socialism"... but based on a VERY wide and democratically determined consensus, in a context that is very laid-back, tolerant, friendly to eccentricity and capitalist enterprise... and MYOB*

If you must be a purist about consensus voted taxes being "theft" then Norway is coercive socialism.

But if MYOB is the more important determiner of personal sovereignty, then please, give me Norway over almost ANY commune or collective or utopian community there's ever been.

rewinn said...

Y'all get crackin' on those Theological Fiction (ThF) novels! If the SF novel has become moribund because all the money is in TV and movies, you may live long and prosper by boldly going in your books where no movie producer will dare.

(Look at all grief Life of Brian despite its very conventional theology! And the vastly entertaining Dogma might have been lifted from my Baltimore Catechism.

Imagine His Dark Materials not fizzling out, but exploring whether the Adversry turns into George Washington or into Lenin; whether the Republic of Heaven becomes the USA or the USSR.

Wouldn't you love a comedy based on Conservative Bible Project ... what if altering Holy Writ really worked?

Or something lighter, based on George Carlin's theory that it's o.k. to have a personal relationship with God but you shouldn't presume on that friendship by asking for changes to the Divine Plan. Since the Plan must be perfect, any prayer asking God for a different outcome must be a problem ... it's near the end of this)


As for Christ and economic theories, y'all made the big points, but let me add:

* The question whether one should prioritize personal salvation or group salvation is an ongoing issue for Christianity, as it is for Buddhism and no doubt some other faith systems. While one may not APPROVE of Christians who are focussed solely on the fear of dying and going to hell, it does not make them "lousy Christians"; they're merely wrong, in my view, and, within the structure of that belief, they are far from irrational.

* That the fully realized logic of a faith position may lead to absurd results does not prevent such positions from being popular (can't we all think of three examples before our next blink?)
If the idea [[Jesus disfavors cooperative good works to systematically eliminate poverty because He requires individual good works for earning grace]] leads to the absurd outcome that we must not systematically eliminate poverty, the fault lies in the idea itself, not in the act of fully working-out the logic. I agree that few, if any, Christians feel an overt belief in the logical outcome, but Christian theology is full of such tangles; this is just one with more obvious economic ramifications.

* No text in the Gospels argues against collective action, and Acts pretty much settles the point of the Apostles' attitude. And why would a Good God oppose efficiency anyway?

* As to distinguishing communitarianism vs. socialism: it is not relevant that Jesus did not overtly argue for or against details of economic systems that did not exist at the time, for the same reason that it doesn't matter that he said nothing about self-winding wristwatches. No-one else on the planet had a fully worked-out philosophy distinguishing socialism, communism, communitarianism and all the drearily detailed variations visited upon us by Political Scientist PhDs, so for Christ's sake, give him a pass on this!

* Jesus certainly believed in rendering to Caesar, and all that. He didn't anticipate that We The People would become our own Caesar, and thus capable of collectively choosing to do thus-and-such to alleviate suffering; nor could he have anticipated that eliminating poverty would be within our reach. It is sufficiently remarkable that He took monotheism beyond its initial tribal state ("There Is Only One God For This One Favored Tribe; Other Tribes Sukkkk!") and into a universal state ("Yes, There Is One God And We Are All In His Tribe"). Is that not a sufficiently remarkable insight for any one?

For a more learned discussion by a much smarter guy than me, (plus a LOT of material for your ThF novel) please see Bishop Spong's "Jesus for the Non-Religious"

m.a. said...

There's been some discussion about this post at The Spearhead's comments.

soc said...

Rewinn said:

It is sufficiently remarkable that He took monotheism beyond its initial tribal state ("There Is Only One God For This One Favored Tribe; Other Tribes Sukkkk!") and into a universal state ("Yes, There Is One God And We Are All In His Tribe"). Is that not a sufficiently remarkable insight for any one?

It may have started off as a noble idea but I'm not so sure about the consequences. It's just another way of saying "my God is the only God, so you better believe in him or you're going to hell." I mean I know it goes from a closed, exclusive tribe to a tribe that throws open its' membership to everyone, but the latter is still a tribe.

Who did the Jews really hurt by believing themselves the Chosen People? On the other hand, the tribe with universalist claims, and resulting missionary zeal, hurt others a great deal more.

Once you believe disbelievers are damned, you can either take pity on them and help them achieve salvation (it's hard to do this without being at least a little patronizing) or believe they deserve what's coming to them. If God, who is all-wise and all-knowing, believes they deserve eternal torment, He's probably right.

It seems to me, the tribal approach which says "you believe in your god and I'll believe in mine," is far more tolerant. Rather than saying "my God is the only God [no problem here, this is simply your opinion], so everyone else [here's the troubling bit] has to submit to Him too."

("Yes, There Is One God And We Are All In His Tribe")

In short: which God is the One and which is His tribe?

David M. said...

FWS' statements hit home, especially,

My ability to learn new things is hurt by my lack of energy. I didn't internalize enough "you can do it" -- so I'm stuck with who I am.

How do people accomplish anything without a Martha Stewart level of energy? Successful blog-readers care to chime in?

David Brin said...

See Jon Stewart mock Hannity for inflating Bachmann rally attendance, trying to pass 9-12 rally footage off as Bachmann rally footage

David Brin said...

Can anyone cite a sci fi novel in which starships use artificially generated black holes to channel the resulting Hawking radiation as thrust?

Tony Fisk said...

I think Alan Dean Foster proposed using black holes as part of some interstellar drive. Not sure it was Hawking radiation, though.

The Ark ships in Clarke's 'Songs of Distant Earth' used quantum zero point energy, which is similar.

The Book of Joby, once you wade through the first bit, starts asking some interesting questions about free will and damnation ... and let's just say that Gabriel compromises himself at a point where the reader says 'and about time too!'.

Rob said...

David Gerrold's Star Wolf series has ships that use a singularity to generate energy... or a warp bubble, or something. The same approach appears in a more primitive form in his Dingiliad books. (Leaping to the Stars)

James P. Hogan played with the idea of singularities as a star drive in The Gentle Giants of Ganymede

Heinlein mentioned "Cherenkov drives" in passing in Starship Troopers as I recall.

That's the closest I've got. Nothing specific about using the emitted energy.

Tim H. said...

Arthur C. Clarke's Imperial Earth describes interplanetary craft with an artificial singularity.

David Brin said...

On to next posting......

rewinn said...

"...It's just another way of saying "my God is the only God, so you better believe in him or you're going to hell." ..."

No. It is highly unlikely Jesus believed that nonbelief sent you to eternal torment in Hell. Matthew 25:31-43 (the 'sheep and goats') establishes conduct as more significant than any particular belief.

Of course people can and will use any religion to justify killing each other when there is sufficient motive of piracy. The conquistadors bore the cross but took the gold and slaves.

"...Who did the Jews really hurt by believing themselves the Chosen People?..."

The Amalekites. The Samaritarans, when they could. Many others. Even today there are those who won't let you be Jewish unless your mother was converted to Judaism, not merely by ANY rabbi, but by the right SORT of rabbi. This causes real economic harm (comparable to tribal exclusion in American Indian tribes) and is a sore spot among those Jews who think they're sufficiently Jewish but can't satisfy the demands of the excluders.

"... On the other hand, the tribe with universalist claims, and resulting missionary zeal, hurt others a great deal more...."

The "resulting missionary zeal" is a non sequitur. While I think most missionaries are quite wrong-headed, it's not entirely clear that problems arouse from their faith so much as the piratical designs of their backers.

One can make all sorts of theoretical arguments about how non-universalists and universalists SHOULD act, but when we get down to cases, universalism is far more humane than tribalism in almost every instance.