Friday, June 17, 2016

Science Fiction: Hope vs Despair

I've just returned from DC where I gave a talk at the White House (the EOB) and a panel at the AIAA and then performed my duties as a member of the advisory External Council of NASA's Innovative and Advanced Concepts Group.  Busy stuff!  But it left me hungry to get back to ... science fiction! And so, let's do a roundup!

Elon Musk avows we’re likely in a simulation, not the "base" reality - terminology much like my levels-of-reality story “Stones of Significance.” Elon writes, “I'm fine with being in a video game, but could I have cooler abilities next time?” Come, Elon. In this one you have world-changing superpowers. In a game, your player may be accused of cheating!

Consider... "How SF split off from 'competence porn'." The latter genre - like The Martian - thrills fans with a can-do spirit that used to be core to science fiction, both on-page and on-screen.  And yes, when sci fi was overly fizzy-optimistic, the New Wave and cyberpunk and dystopias were necessary corrections.  Now?  Guess which is the cliché? Can-do is now the rare rebel.


In io9, Charlie Jane Anders writes: "This shift coincides with the decline in space opera on television, and the rise of apocalypses and "disaster porn," which are at least partly a wish-fulfillment fantasy about life becoming simpler and less confusing again. We have "competence porn" in the present day, but when we imagine the near future, we reach for "disaster porn.""  I revere Charlie Jane for (among other things) clearly citing the current, largely dismal mood in SF as dull, unimaginative and unhelpful, contributing to decayed confidence in real life problem solving. 

Where I part company is over why. This is not a matter of near-future vs far.  Competence and hope - set amid thrilling danger and good writing - can be found in SF set amid all kinds of futures -- near, middle and far -- as evoked by rare works like Stargate and Firefly, by the works of Banks and Vinge. (And some of the rest of us try, as well.)  

No, the plague of zombies and apocalypses and illogically red-eyed dystopias has one central cause -- laziness. Plotting is vastly easier when there are no helpful institutions or professionals, when power is automatically and simplistically evil, when there's no citizenship and the hero's neighbors are all bleating sheep.  Relax any of those clichés? Then suddenly an author or director has to put down the joint (s)he's smoking and think.  That is why "competence porn" - about folks taking on tomorrow's problems with energy, focus and good will - is so rare.  It is also why a cliche-fatigued public is starting to turn eyes, raising them from fields of undead, looking not toward demigods, but toward engineers. See this explicated in my article, The Idiot Plot.  

Railing away at our modern obsession with feudalism stories, I’ve felt quite the lonely Jeremiah.  Take my appraisals of both Star Wars and JRR Tolkien’s Ring Cycle, both of them Wagnerian in their truly palpable loathing of modernity and such blatant mistakes as democracy and empowerment of common citizenship. But at least those two mega works have compensating qualities.  Most feudalism-loving fantasies are simply ingrate-trash, written by dreamy folks who would not last five minutes under the cruel way of life that oppressed 99% of our ancestors.

But folks are starting to wise up.  They are forced to, confronted by six seasons of George R.R. Martin’s GAME OF THRONES series, in which my dear friend and colleague George has pulled out the stops, asking again and again: “There. Are you disgusted with lords and magicians and other nasty, nasty-awful oppressors yet? 

At last, some folks like Si Sheppard, in Salon, are finally catching on. He remarks: “Amidst all the bloodshed, backstabbing, and bare breasts, what fans don’t expect, wouldn’t want, and won’t get is the winner to assume executive power through representing the will of the people by winning the majority of their votes in a free and fair election, and then determining policy through an ongoing process of negotiation with a separately elected legislative branch in a power-sharing arrangement demarcated by a constitution. You know, like they’re supposed to.”

Citing how some SF authors like China MiévilleDavid Brin and Michael Moorcock have spoken up against this reflex, Sheppard continues: “We cherish our democracy, but this fundamental right is defined by its almost total absence in literary high fantasy, which has achieved its apotheosis in “Game of Thrones.” The mercantile Free Cities of Essos each fall somewhere on the spectrum of oligarchy/plutocracy/timocracy/thalassocracy.”  And “In fantasy, the rule is always, “the [usurper] king is dead, long live the [legitimate] king,” never “the king is dead, long live the republic.”  

He goes on to appraise how we hearken back to fairy tales and legends that come down to us from the millennia of darkness, and how alluring it seems (to some) to envision simpler loyalties that could not be questioned, as to a sacred king. Though I believe it goes even deeper, to genetic reflex, since we are all descended from the harems of human males who seized reproductive advantage in the old, feudal way.

Sheppard concludes, “The innate human desire to surrender the burden of power to an anointed individual, a chosen one, has marked the downfall of democratic polities throughout history. Despite the powerful warning against surrendering sovereignty to a monarch in the earliest scripture, as Benjamin Franklin observed, “there is a natural inclination in mankind to kingly government.” From Octavian Caesar in Rome to Napoleon Bonaparte in France to Sheev Palpatine in the Galactic Republic, ambitious men were presented with supreme authority “to compensate for the fact that the elected representatives can’t agree on anything and are corrupt,” George Lucas explains.” 

== Sci Fi: predicting -- or anticipating the future? ==

Tomorrowland: Our Journey from Science Fiction to Science Fact, combines an extensive series of articles by journalist Steve Kotler about fantastic, Science Fictional visions that later became reality -- discussing how fiction imagined many of the technologies that are shaping our daily lives. On IEET, the author discusses how, in the future, we may upload our minds into silicon (as I portray in Existence!)

Thoth Technology Inc has been granted both US and UK patents for a space elevator designed to take astronauts up into the stratosphere, so they can then be propelled into space. The tower, will be an inflatable, freestanding structure complete with an electrical elevator and will reach from its ground ancho to 20km (12.5 miles) height.  In other words in all ways precisely the design that I described in my novel Sundiver. (Anyone remember the Vanilla Needle?)

70 years ago, Murray Leinster’s story “A Logic Named Joe” set the bar for predictive vision, forecasting a future when private citizens would have personal computers that speak to them and seek information via a world spanning network. No other author followed Leinster’s lead for decades. The OC Register celebrates this milestone:

It's important to note the state of science and technology at this point [1946]. The United States had only recently come out of World War II, having dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Soviet Union would not test its atomic bomb to kick off the Cold War for another three years, and computers only existed as massive projects like the Colossus, Harvard Mark I and ENIAC. The transistor computer would not be built until 1953, and ARPANET would not go online for another 23 years.

“Technology in the home, meanwhile, was only beginning to emerge with electric appliances and television was still in its infancy (the BBC had only begun broadcasting TV 10 years prior.) Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was lauded for seeing a market for home computers in the late 1970s. Murray Leinster predicted it nearly a decade before Jobs was even born.” The story itself is on Google Books or available on Amazon.

Another novel about the integration of technology into our daily lives: Speak, by Louisa Hall, is a multi-faceted reflection on Artificial Intelligence, exploring relationships between humans and machines, as well as the isolation and alienation of her human characters. The novel speaks through five different narrators across time, from a researcher imprisoned for making robots (babybots) deemed illegal because they were excessively lifelike -- to a troubled and lonely girl seeking consolation from a computer after her babybot was confiscated. Other voices include computer scientist Alan Turing, speaking through his letters, a 17th century Puritan young woman speculating about the soul of her dog while traveling to the New World, and a Holocaust survivor increasingly unable to communicate with her spouse - who creates AI that speaks but doesn't remember. Through these voices, Speak delves into the essence of identity, language and memory.

Finally...

Here's a cool bit of Sci Fi prophecy, foreshadowing SpaceX’s recent impressive ocean landing. The 1959 Soviet film, The Sky Calls -- shows a rocket landing on a barge in the ocean.


Way to go Elon!


131 comments:

Paul SB said...

Hi Dr. Brin,

Your laziness hypothesis for the sis elf the Idiot Plot reads well, in my mind, but there is one thing about it I am a little puzzled by. Why now? What historical or demographic or economic forces have sucked dry most of the old can-do spirit and made people long for mythic golden ages of legendary kings who could not possibly all their PR make them to look, or zombie-slaying heroes in an otherwise doomed civilization. After all, the tendency for humans to take lazy mental shortcuts is a function of our energy intensive mammal brains, which would make it seem like silly, romantic drivel should be the norm through all time and in all cultures. But there are examples of forward-looking, thoughtful "competence porn" at various points in the spaces and times occupied by humans.

My thought is that, while the lazy-brain instinct is always there, the desire to do better is out there as well. What gets put out there is probably related more to market forces. We live in an era of mass-market, mass-produced everything, and when things are mass produced for mass consumption, there is a strong tendency for quality to suffer. Generally the larger the business producing the product, the more they skimp and cut corners.

Then add the recursive nature of culture. People grow up enculturated to a specific set of expectations, and though over time those expectations can be tweaked a bit by novelty, anything too far off the beaten path is likely to flop. Thus we get dozens of Rocky sequels, until people have had about as much of Stallone's lips as they can take. Then they come up with something else to rehash over and over again (I am breathlessly waiting for the current Marvel Superhero movie trend to reach satiation point).

What do you think? I'm probably missing other factors. It is entirely typical for people in the physical science to look for simple, testable hypotheses, but when dealing with humans, things tend to get complicated. I can see room for some sort of Chaos Dynamics analogy, with "strange attractors" that influence how much of the mix at any given time goes to the Idiot Plot and how much smarter, more interesting lit starts to jive with audiences.

lockswriter said...

"The Day the Icecap Died" is a long short story that I'm loosely adapting into a novel. (I mentioned it in the last thread, but I think it got lost in the discussion.) It's about climate change and the responses to it by people and human institutions.

I'm not sure if it's what you have in mind, but it does end on an optimistic note, mainly because I thought the best possible outcome was actually more interesting than, say, the end of the world.

I'd be interested in hearing your opinion of it.

Alfred Differ said...

Those of us in the physical sciences are also inclined to look for material causes for those testable hypotheses. With humans, there is no reason to restrict our search that much. This academic habit isn't even restricted to us. Economists have searched for decades for a material cause of the Industrial Revolution, but resist the economic historians who tell them they have their history wrong with each attempt.

I suspect the rules of fantasy are even more restricted than those prohibiting democracy and some of our other supposedly modern social institutions. Tolkien's Horse Men remind me a bit of the Golden Horde without the butchery. Strong father figure and no private property, thus no personal contracts. Fantasy gets rather complex if peasants own their land and the aristocracy must convince the Judiciary before seizing it for personal use, yet that is how Europe functioned for anyone west of the Russians for most of the last 1,000 years. Judges could be corrupted, of course, but they HAD to be corrupted because private property rules were established long ago. Does Game of Thrones have such a private property structure in any of its settings? Heh.

As for explaining the rise of the Idiot Plot, I suspect we should look deeper than an accusation of laziness. The stuff sells, so with Demand must come Supply. The real question to ask is why there is Demand for this stuff. If we dig into that, I suspect we will learn some things about ourselves we won't like.

Briniac0 said...

@Paul SB A factor to consider is the atomic/hydrogen bomb. The mushroom cloud was followed by a number of books and movies in the 50s and 60s warning of the dangers of using nuclear weapons. Alas, Babylon; On the Beach; Dr. Strangelove; Failsafe and others. Compare these to a list of books/movies where nuclear power is a presented positively. It's a short one (did the spaceship in Clarke's and Kubrick's 2001 use nuclear power?). At least I can't think of any (outside of science fiction that may have been well known inside the SF community, but did not have anywhere near the cultural impact of the weapons list). I do remember just how unusual and out of step the cry to "save the nuclear power plant" in Lucifer's Hammer (1977) by Niven and Pournelle seemed to me. So I would think the weapons list helped pave the way for much less thoughtful (idiot plot) works.

Alfred Differ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alfred Differ said...

I doubt it was the weapons themselves. If I rely only on my own experience, I recall the movies taking a darker, cynical turn in the 1970's after Watergate and the Vietnam War. I think the Boomers partially lost faith with the American Experiment and an Always Improving Future. Loss of faith is loss of existing identity in this case, but I think they also lost a piece of Hope which is that future looking part of identity.

David Brin said...

lockswriter sorry but I have zero time. Become a member of the community and you might have favor points. I do wish you luck and success.

Oh... do have a look at http://www.davidbrin.com/advice.htm

Robert said...

A couple of things have happened with technology and society since I first started writing my own near-future story that significantly altered how the story works. One thing is amusingly enough something you've talked about extensively, Dr. Brin, but which I didn't think of until it was mentioned in the superhero webcomic Grrl Power: the fact secret identities are not viable anymore.

Amusingly enough, the primary protagonist has always been open about being a vigilante. But she also has been a vigilante for over 20 years, so the news media just doesn't care. After all, who cares about some two-bit psychic who targets drug dealers and heals poor people? That's not flashy.

Naturally the government in such a setting would be against unregistered Paranormals - but Registration would include training and job offerings. Someone with the ability to sense fires could get work in government looking for electrical shorts in buildings, or in insurance companies to detect what buildings are at-risk and thus should be looked over. Enhanced reflexes could likely find various jobs including in "Paranormal Sporting Events" where those with "gifts" compete with others of their own kind for the entertainment of the masses.

As for anonymity in this world? There are potential ways of keeping some level of anonymity - targeted viruses that only distort video or digital images of specific faces. Indeed, such a system could be used by the rich to try and protect their privacy from the paparazzi... and the paparazzi could retaliate by either using caricatures of those celebrities, or by doing a "close enough" photograph. And of course non-digital printing and traditional cameras would still be able to provide actual footage that avoids viruses and worms that "edit out" a celeb's face.

Still, it's kind of funny. For such a long time people have laughed at Superman and his wearing glasses to avoid detection (even though sometimes a celebrity can pull a Clark Kent and avoid notice as a result!)... and now comics are starting to move away from secret identities because technology has made it so you can't hide who you are.

Rob H.

Paul SB said...

Alfred and Briniac,

Interesting speculations! I had a history professor who liked to say that the 20th Century angst about the Bomb is not really unique, because in the Dark Ages people genuinely believed that the sins of a single man (generally meaning the king) could bring the Wrath of God down upon all their heads, start up the whole seven seals, seven trumpets silliness (loved the story about the Trumpeter, btw). Not a whole lot of optimism in Medieval Lit.

I would not dismiss nuclear angst right away. It's clear that most people saw the Bomb in a very negative light from the beginning, but I suspect that that Cold War posturing about who has the best science probably fueled some of the mid-century optimism. I am inclined to agree with (rather than differ with) Alfred about the 1970s, but I also suspect my own personal experience - all the thunder and does of my youth - probably color my perspective. When I think about it demographically, the 1950 was when the baby boomers were kids, they were adolescents in the 1960s, so having a great big population bulge of children and adolescents might also contribute to some of the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed optimism. But by the 1970s those boomers had grown up and had to fend for themselves. The economy was not adding jobs fast enough for all the high school graduates, leading to a lot of personal dissatisfaction. Scandals like Watergate or wars like Vietnam were probably factors, but we had plenty of wars and scandals before. Add empty stomachs and empty bank accounts for increasingly large numbers of people, and the mental health issues these spawn, and you might be getting at a solid, multi-causal explanation.

I don't care for clichés, but the term "perfect storm" comes to mind. My wish-I-was-still-an-archaeologist mind is thinking of Sahlins' term "structure of the conjuncture" - but in this case I think the cliché actually fits the bill better. : /

Alfred, your middle paragraph about how much easier it is for a fantasy writer to make despotism the rule makes sense, if we are postulating laziness as a major factor. But on the other hand, if someone did a fantasy in a setting like those little Italian republics of Machiavelli's day, oh they would have plenty of intrigue, plot twists, betrayals, hypocrisies and such material to work from. Imagine a fantasy author who writes like Umberto Eco. You could have some really good stuff there. It may be that late 20th C fantasy lit got pigeonholed into emulating one archetypal model, and the publishers just went with "give them what they want."

David Brin said...

Superheroes are boring. I'd rather speculate about widely distributed powers (e.g. to whip out a small object and take pictures that instantly go to far places) that get used in interesting ways.

Alfred Differ said...

I'm probably not the best person to relate direct angst about the bombs. I was only a few months old when civilization almost came to an end over Cuban missiles. I grew up on military air bases where the bombers, missiles, and other 'assets' would be deployed, so I'm part of a clade that never expected to survive if the world chose to do something so stupid as to use the stuff. Through all that, though, I DO remember a kind of direct optimism associated with space exploration and an indirect kind that we hadn't yet done the stupidest thing we could do. I remember reading Clark as a teen in the 70's and noticing a lack of optimism for humanity solving its problems on its own, but nothing so dark as to suggest we were screwed no matter what. Asimov left me with a mental dissonance. His fiction seemed to be set too far into the future to cheer me about the near future, but his non-fiction told a better story of my likely adult years. As for Herbert... well...

It's the movies that recall best, though, because I'll admit to not being interested in science fiction as a kid without my mother pressuring me to read. What I do remember, though, is the movies that addressed the near future took a dark turn around the time that disaster films were all the fashion. I recall people having trust issues with high rise buildings after Towering Inferno. There were lots of those films, though, and people ate them up. Even Jaws involved a disaster of a sort, but not just about the shark. Our protectors are portrayed poorly. It seems we fell in love with stories where our protector caste failed us. I remembered at the time how pissed off my mother was with Nixon's betrayal of the nation's trust and I linked them together in my head. (Maybe that's what I'm going on here.)

I don't recall our protectors being portrayed so often in stories as betrayers until the 1970's. They were certainly called that through the late 1960's, but that showed in my television and I'm sure my mother censored a lot of it. Hmm... She may have censored the bomb angst too now that I think about it. She had definite opinions about protecting her children from what they were not ready to face as she told me years later. If so, I would think she would have NOT encouraged me to read science fiction if it was all that cynical or dark. She had a low opinion of Heinlein's early stuff (and didn't explain why) and pushed Bradbury at me (which just confused me). She smiled later when I tried to grok Heinlein's later stuff. 8)

Jonathan Sills said...

It was only his insistence on testing his inventions on live human targets (and keeping all his secrets for the duration of his planned career) that kept Syndrome from being the most heroic character in "The Incredibles". He wanted to make everyone super! (Sure, it was because he thought it'd humiliate people with superpowers to suddenly become ordinary, but still.)

If the original Star Trek provided one of the motivating forces behind optimistic SF (along with things like the lunar program), is it at all possible that the new series coming up on CBS this winter will help revive the genre?

Alfred Differ said...

After playing D&D for a few years, I came to the conclusion that the motive many players have is similar to the one that provides the appetite for superheroes. I remember dissing the superhero games at conventions without understanding why I did, but later I found I was more interested in experimental personae. I played to try on characters like one puts on a sweater. The joy to be found came from plot improvisations involving mostly mundane things. For example, persuading another character to do a thing was a thing to be done not by dice, but by actual persuasion. Dice get in the way most of the time.

Superheroes are boring when a writer flattens them so badly they belong on a page instead of being copied into the minds of their readers. Give me a character worth in-loading and I will.

Alfred Differ said...

Bah. Syndrome broke the hero formula by being all about me, me, me, and me.

He reminds me of a few Libertarians I know. 8)

I'm finding it hard to be optimistic about a Trek series. Is there reason to be?

Robert said...

I disagree, Dr. Brin.

Superheroes are not boring. It is how they are depicted which is boring.

For instance, consider a woman who can heal wounds. She is empathic and other people's pain causes her discomfort... so she has a selfish incentive to help others.

After years of pointlessly seeking out people and not finding everyone, she runs across a nurse practitioner who inspires her, and she chooses to work with that nurse practitioner to establish a free clinic in a destitute part of the city. Further, she starts taking medical classes so she has a better idea of what she is working with and so she can do more than just heal physical wounds.

She started out as someone who didn't think things through. After a bit of realizing she's not getting anywhere... she starts working more effectively. She starts working smarter. She realizes if she stays in one area and lets people come to her... she will help more people. And if she knows what she's doing, she can deal with a wider range of problems.

----------

One of the reasons in my "heroic" story (and the primary protagonist is quite dismissive of the term "superhero" and doesn't consider herself one) that the government Registers the Paranormals is to provide jobs. It's to acclimate people. You have firefighters with abilities that let them do their job more effectively, while "ordinary" people see these people helping others. There may be envy involved... but not much in the way of fear. You don't have to worry about an X-Men Scenario of "mutant hatred" or the like, with the exception of specific hate groups that just consider them just an Other.

Further, it allows me, as a writer, to explore various concepts. In a world where the Gifted are accepted, what would such a character represent? And how would you go about showing this? Well, these are people with powers that have them stand out from other people - they are "elites" when you consider it. Further, they are often ensured a good job, and a place in society.

Doesn't that sound like upper middle class and rich Caucasians? And thus might you not use people like this, people who don't have the ability to drag asteroids through space or to teleport vast distances, but who have smaller abilities, to examine how those elites interact with lower-class people (in this case, those without Gifts)? And even perhaps look at some elements of society that look at these newcomers with disdain?

For that matter, what about existing Elites? How would the Rich cope with people who can read minds and who are guaranteed a place of decent power? Might that not be like how Old Money looks upon New Money?

Admittedly, I don't do superheroes. I don't have Superman (or a proxy), my most powerful telepath can sometimes knock one person out at a time, and I'm also looking at how society exists in an environment where Caucasians are no longer the majority in the U.S. and how they cope in this environment.

But really, when you get down to it? Are not Superhero stories more about people, rather than demigods?

Rob H.

Alfred Differ said...

@Rob H: Doesn't that sound like upper middle class and rich Caucasians?

No. We don't have special powers. What we do is dignify the work we and our neighbors do, free each other to do it, and reward innovators. It's about ethics more than powers. Anyone can 'do' ethics.


Superheros are demi-gods as far as I'm concerned. So are the arch-villians.
Tolkien's elves are closer to real gods, though. The closest he came to describing us was with the Hobbits.

Paul SB said...

Robert, your take is very different from the usual superhero story, which is mostly about promoting narcissism. Your character sounds a lot like she could be any decent human being who goes through the learning curve of adult life, no super powers required. I like your character, from the little bit you describe, but I still don't like the superpowers shtick. Maybe I am just oversensitive about arrogance, but the whole idea of superheroes rubs me the wrong way. Sure, they might be goofy-costumed do-gooders, and the fact that they do morality is better than the alternative, but they also glorify themselves. When you glorify yourself overly much, you begin to step over into that space where you assume your judgements are always right, and any violence you commit must be just because you are the one who is committing it. For children this creates a huge problem, because young goes fail to distinguish between "right" and "how they feel" or worse still "what they want." Adults have the lobes to see nuances, but superhero stories are typically made for the young, who absorb violence as a solution long before getting over that little-kid self absorption. Superheroes do more harm than good.

As to superheroes being like rich Caucasians, you are assuming that the rich have special abilities that make them rich. This is exactly what Radians and other right wingers want us to think. Most people who are rich do not get that way by working hard and being clever. They mostly get there through networking cheats and dishonest behavior, stealing the products of other hard-working, smart people, then once rich keep their wealth by socially acceptable gangster tactics. Most of them are not engineers or scientists, most of them are financial managers and Wall Street cheats. Thomas Edison at least invented a few of the things that made him rich, unlike the chicanery of the banks and financial industries, though most of his fortune came from his inventors sweatshop up in Niagra.

Duncan Cairncross said...

http://www.popularmechanics.com/space/a21397/nasa-earth-asteroid-companion/

Possible near earth asteroid target??

Tacitus2 said...

An interesting question for a Saturday morning. Why is SciFi so gloomy. And so lazy. There are certainly many reasons to look at the present and the near future and see much good in them. And much complexity.

As so often happens I pour my cup of coffee with one idea but when my fingers hit the keyboard a couple more occur to me.

1. Frustration at hitting "The Orbital Ceiling". I don't off the top of my head know pole vaulting records over time. But I am pretty sure that they had modest increases in an era of improved training and nutrition, also a few outliers by specially beefy looking Eastern European athletes. But past a point the distance a human being can jump will plateau. Absent a radically new tech we are not going to the stars any time soon. After going in about one decade from fireworks to the V2 rocket the Golden Age writers could dream big. Now we are staring at the twinkling stars....so pretty and so out of reach.

2. The Ghosts are Fading. How long does it take after the effective collapse of a belief system before the last cultural memory of it is gone? It was only 100 years ago that the bedrock belief in God and Country/Gott Mitt Uns/Divine Right of Kings bled out on the Somme. The young and artistic quickly became agnostic and hedonistic. But their parents and grandparents lived on, still dispensing advice that was partly listened to. Piety aside we live in a post religious culture to a great extent (lets talk about jihad another day please). Is our lack of respect for authority and lack of shared values simply due to the final dissipation of the last bit of God and Country thinking? In support of this notion observe that UK SciFi went pessimistic before US. They had suffered so much after WWI that the great boom in optimism and material culture passed them by after WWII.

3. All of us here are Marching Fossils. Sorry, I say this with affection and as one of the Fossils. You are reading a typewritten page. Some kinds of stories work well here. But how the world "sees" ideas has changed. The patience to develop a sneaky plot line...the classically trained actor who can deliver a subtle performance....the willingness, nay, the actual ability of people who communicate on a Twitter level to send or recieve "long form" story telling of any sort. Different times oh my fellow Ambulating Anklosaurs, different times...

Tacitus

Jumper said...

lockswriter, your story was very good; I recommend it. I hadn't seen anything quite as successful at portraying a sense of "new normal" (although decidedly bad news.)
Why not point it out to some of the climate scientists at Stoat or Real Climate or such? They like SF.

I haven't had my fill of superhero movies yet. It's likely, though. At best they and the tales are parables about ethics and talents. And that trite notion of responsibility.

Tony Fisk said...

I have a problem with the term 'competence porn', particularly when it's applied to movies like 'The Martian'. My working definition of porn is the ready attainment of a normally difficult desire. When applied to competence, that would mean foregoing the 10000 hours practice usually thought necessary. Instant expert.

Neo demonstrates 'competence porn' when he gets a download and cries out "I know Kung Fu!". Ditto your average superhero**. On the other hand, things don't come that easy to Mark Watney, the Ares crew, or the folk back at NASA, and it is implicit that they've put in the hard yards long before the cameras started rolling.

Ah well, a label is a label is a label.

re: GoT and the King Cycle, I think George has something in mind (in the books at least). Keep an eye on that spider.

@tacitus, re: your comment about 'marching fossils'*
I am currently trying out a few short stories prior to trying to get them published (on litreactor, if you want to check it out @lockswriter). One person did suggest that my style was well structured, but baroque and 'out of fashion' (and yes, the story was partly about... fossils). More subtly, another pointed out a couple of phrases that they thought were archaic. (waves walking stick. "Haven't you young whippersnappers heard of dictionaries?")
So, yeah. Ouch!

Writing stories means you get to review other stories, and I have to say the drift into the slough of despond is evident from the number of horror stories that people submit for review.*** Of course I'm trying to hold the end up but, you know, baroque.


*"Cheer up, sad world" it said, and winked "It's kind of fun to be extinct."
** The main thing I get out of superhero movies is watching said hero overcome their powers to be like everyone else: Thor being Thor is boring. Thor learning not to be a spoilt brat with a big hammer, though...
***btw: I regard the 'Alien' franchise as horror. That makes #2 the rogue, and #3 the return to form, much to the average SF buff's despair.

Paul SB said...

Tacitus, all good observations here, and explained well (and of course I would like it, since I am a proponent of multi-causal explanations).
#1 - expectations exceeded what was attainable within the lifetimes of those who heard the optimistic predictions, leading to disappointment and disillusionment. I wonder how old the saying, "The more things change, the more they stay the same!" has been around? My suspicion is that this effect is pendular - meaning that there is a tendency to swing from one extreme to another. But what you have done here is tie the subjective aspect to the objective - when we stopped making rapid progress in space exploration and technology is when disillusion set in. Marvin Harris would be proud.

#2 The 20th C saw huge shifts in Western thought. Dadaism was big in Europe right after WW I but did not really catch on in the US so much, supporting your last point. Probably the best thing about your #2 is that you are not totalizing here - acknowledging that the memescape is always a mix of old and new, to say nothing of the idiosyncratic nature of a sexually reproducing species. But again I think there may be a pendular action here. Right now we don't really have the same kind of epic us-vs-them conflict that maintained God and Country thinking through the Cold War. We are in an age when more people get that people are people and distrust the official propaganda line (though the number of people who buy Trumps Mexican scapegoat rhetoric is pretty frightening). Under the right circumstances (not circumstances I ever want to see, though) we may see a resurgence in God and Country thinking.

#3 Can I be an Acanthostega? I was never a big dinosaur fan (though I did like Ankylosaurus as a kid). Paleozoic has its own charms - my daughter is even making a comic book which features trilobites, imocaris and velvet worms as characters. Okay, more seriously, you know if I said this people would come down on me for being too rigid and gloom-and-doom about the neurological effects of our digital technology. But if you talk to veteran teachers, especially in the elementary grades, they tell the same story. Our collective attention spans are shrinking. I'm sure there are positive aspects, too. Not much of anything is 100% good or 100% bad. But a shrinking attention span can't be good for plot.

Anonymous said...

Humans who have stared at computer screens for long think we are in a computer screen? This is more a reflection of what happens to a human brain from too much screen-staring, and differs little from the Magian world-cave model or other systems of thought. As for world-changing superpowers, these are obvious. Who was it who extirpated the greak auk and passenger pigeon? Or how are salmon runs doing compared to when they were not under the caring management of the Western man?

Murray Leinster in no way shape nor form set the bar on predicitve vision, unless one chooses to ignore the 1909 work "The Machine Stops" by E. M. Forster, in which humans speak to one another using video chat via a world spanning network. I could totally see why an apologist for what passes for progress would choose to ignore that work, though.

David Brin said...

Tacitus, your post was very well-written. Nice stuff.

Tony I do not call Neo's kung fu to be competence. He was a hacker! Yet in the flicks he never hacks and never uses rational skill, just chosen-one magic.

Anon your snippy, whiney and pathetic attempt to attack notwithstanding, it's a good point about the Forster story.

Still, given what I have written about "self-preventing prophecies" and the fact that I affect the world more in any day than you will, across the course of your life, I think I can safely shrug off your whimpers.

LarryHart said...

Tony Fisk:

have a problem with the term 'competence porn', particularly when it's applied to movies like 'The Martian'. My working definition of porn is the ready attainment of a normally difficult desire.


I understand the term as a reference to porn being the ready attainment of something without the usually-required prerequisites (i.e., sex without the difficult work of a relationship). That's sort of like your definition, but subtly different. And it fits more--the pleasure of watching competent work without actually learning and practicing how to do it.


Neo demonstrates 'competence porn' when he gets a download and cries out "I know Kung Fu!". Ditto your average superhero


Dave Sim of "Cerebus" fame had a series of five back-of-the-book essays on this very subject, arguing (among other things) that superheroes were really Mama's Boys. In fact, my letter to him responding to the first of the columns actually became the third of the columns. Yes, I am immortalized in "Mama's Boy: Part III" in the back pages of Cerebus #228.

LarryHart said...

Tony Fisk continues:

** The main thing I get out of superhero movies is watching said hero overcome their powers to be like everyone else: Thor being Thor is boring. Thor learning not to be a spoilt brat with a big hammer, though...


Does every movie based on a kids' cartoon have to be about the same plot--the difficulty of the cartoon characters dealing with the real world? When my daughter was of a certain age, I had to take her to movies like "Smurfs", "Yogi Bear", and "The Muppets"*, and really, that's the only plot anyone is capable of writing these days?

So I feel similarly about "Superhero wants nothing more than to be a normal human being." It was mildly interesting back in 1981's "Superman II", but can't they write any different plots?

* The Muppets movie was the most painful to sit through, as it was essentially a 90-minute admission that the very movie you are in the process of watching is outdated and pointless.

Arturius said...

Dr. Brin,
I blame "The Cold Equations." Maybe it's just that story has always annoyed me, but I think it captures the spirit of taking an easily solvable problem and making it impossible, just because the editor felt like it. Most modern despair writing doesn't hold a candle to it.
And I think in turn that derived from a darker side of early SF, where in order for our manly hero to survive against all odds, other types of people (female, civilian, weak or stupid) have to die.

Laurent Weppe said...

* "Amidst all the bloodshed, backstabbing, and bare breasts, what fans don’t expect, wouldn’t want, and won’t get is the winner to assume executive power through representing the will of the people by winning the majority of their votes in a free and fair election"

The irony is that the world of Ice and Fire is familiar with the concept of republican governance: the Valyrian Freehold, which dominated the known world for over a millennia was a republic... One which established a particularly ruthless form of ethnic supremacism, enslaving every nation they came across and like Timur in Samarkand brought the best craftsmen, artist and engineers to their capital (and the strongest workers to the mines and fields closest to it), turning it into the greatest monument to their hubris while the rest of the world toiled in the mud to sustain its inbred parasitic dragon-lords... Who happened to be citizens of a herrenvolk democracy.

***

* "It was only his insistence on testing his inventions on live human targets (and keeping all his secrets for the duration of his planned career) that kept Syndrome from being the most heroic character in "The Incredibles""

Syndrome is basically Lex Luthor: a mad-genius who uses his inventions to become wealthy enough to bring to life his dangerous power fantasies.

Jonathan Sills said...

"I'm finding it hard to be optimistic about a Trek series. Is there reason to be?"

Hope can always be a thing. All we know about the new series so far is that judging from the "trailer" that was released to entice advertisers it's going to be called "Star Trek", it will premiere in January, and it probably takes place in space somewhere. Absent anything to deprive me of optimism, I choose to hope.

Jonathan Sills said...

Hey, Lex Luthor could be a hero, too - if he can just stop obsessing over Superman for a few minutes. In fact, in the latest issue of the title, he's wearing power armor with the S-shield emblazoned on it and calling himself "the new Superman", in honor of the one everyone saw fall in the line of duty recently.

(As it turns out, there's also a Superman who's kind of a refugee from a previous iteration of the universe, pre-Flashpoint, who's also taking on the mantle in honor of the fallen hero - so of course he and Lex have to have an old-fashioned slugfest, because by this point in their relationship it's the only way they know to relate to one another...)

Treebeard said...

To me, modern civilization is a mad experiment in mass pathology and techno-social terrorism. Since humans aren't wired for this type of society, large numbers of them become zombies via legal or illegal drugs, cultural programming, consumerism, video games, etc. But subconsciously at least, the zombies know there must be another way of life so they rebel against the society that created them by wishing for it all to be destroyed. This also explains the phenomenon of Western jihadists. The challenge for the Enlightenment cultists is not getting to the stars, but figuring out why people are so fucked up by this society that they like zombies and apocalypses and jihads more than competence porn, before the zombies rise up and end the whole mad experiment. As the greatest civilization and people in history, who have done more good things than ALL OTHER CIVILIZATIONS IN HISTORY COMBINED and DO MORE IN A SINGLE DAY THAN THE INGRATE REGRESSIVE SWINE DO IN THEIR ENTIRE LIVES, this problem shouldn't be more difficult to solve than, say, building an AI or a fusion reactor.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

I recall people having trust issues with high rise buildings after Towering Inferno. There were lots of those films, though, and people ate them up. Even Jaws involved a disaster of a sort,


I'm glad I read ahead, because I was going to respond here about people being afraid to swim while "Jaws" was hot. Even in Lake Michigan, which even my teen-aged self knew couldn't have sharks on account of it being fresh water.


but not just about the shark. Our protectors are portrayed poorly. It seems we fell in love with stories where our protector caste failed us. I remembered at the time how pissed off my mother was with Nixon's betrayal of the nation's trust and I linked them together in my head. (Maybe that's what I'm going on here.)


Comic books were not allowed to portray police or government officials in a bad light until the Watergate era. One of my favorite 1970s "Captain America" story arcs involved an ad agency's plot to ruin Cap's reputation. The storyline began before Watergate really grabbed hold of the popular consciousness, but by the time of Nixon's resignation, the author had to rush the story to completion before real life events passed it by. The identity of the masked leader of the evil group "The Secret Empire" was never actually revealed, but the climactic scene in which he commits suicide in front of Cap in the Oval Office strongly hints that it was Nixon himself.

The follow-up storyline has Cap giving up his superhero identity, having lost faith in the ideals of America. And that story ends with Cap realizing it was his own failing, not the country's, that had blinded him to the fact that politicians could betray the country. Cap's multi-page soliloquy before putting the costume back on, containing "There has to be someone who will fight for the dream, against any foe." is worthy of "Jesus Christ, Superstar", and in fact bears much resemblance to Jesus's soliloquy therein. Great stuff for the early to mid 1970s.

LarryHart said...

Jonathan Sills:

All we know about the new series so far is that judging from the "trailer" that was released to entice advertisers it's going to be called "Star Trek", it will premiere in January, and it probably takes place in space somewhere. Absent anything to deprive me of optimism, I choose to hope.


There's a difference between "hope" and "clinical definition of psychosis."

LarryHart said...

Jonathan Sills:
Hey, Lex Luthor could be a hero, too - if he can just stop obsessing over Superman for a few minutes.


There have been some recent portrayals of Lex Luthor--I'm thinking primarily of "All Star Superman"--that present him as a kind of champion of the common man against the alien ubermenchen. Sort of like a comic book version of Treebeard.

Paul451 said...

From the last thread:

I'm not sure that Instant Karma realises that the "wrong lizard" metaphor comes from Douglas Adams' Hitchhikers trilogy.

David Brin said...

The ent summed it all up in his first two words: "To me..."

Yes we already knew that about you.

BTW there are no objective metrics by which this civ has not accomplished more than all others combined. And yes, maybe a quarter of those metrics are bad or worrisome or even terrifying... as you'd expect from the world's first adolescent civilization... contrasted to every other one... all of which were frightened child societies.

Frightened children run to daddy figures - who dominated every feudal tribe & nation - and to sit at the feet of priests who tell them kindergarten stories filled with reassuring absolutes.

Not adolescents, who are filled with hope & angst and love-hate relationships with looming uncertainty. Dabbling in fast-rising skills! The future looms bright and dark. A huge sense of drama. Hence adolescent heroes are... entertainers. Exactly what's happened here and now in the west.

It would be one thing if TB or Locumranch ever offer any evidence, any at all, to support their assertions that a wide-stance, diversity-rich, always questioning society filled with vivid, questioning minds, that has stopped wasting most of its talent to poverty tribalism, racism and sexism... is somehow less wise and more fragile than any other, instead of (blatantly) vastly better than all others combined. Any evidence. Any evidence at all, other than hand-waved, growled, dyspeptic and whiney incantations.

As is?

BTW none of this insults our ancestors, who struggle and fought their own instincts and ignorance to get us here. I am, ion fact, in awe of many of them. We owe it to them to launch.


Jonathan Sills said...

Choosing to hope is now "psychotic"?

Perhaps we're gaining some insight now into exactly why dystopias have become so popular...

LarryHart said...

@Jonathan Sills,

No, "choosing to hope" in and of itself isn't psychotic. I'm being much more specific than that.

Choosing to hope that a particular franchise which has been long pandering to lowbrow sensibilities will suddenly revert to the type of story you and I would prefer to see? You're setting yourself up for disappointment. I choose not to do so.

LarryHart said...

@locumranch,

Relative to your slander in the previous thread, I'm confused whether you consider me to be a proponent of Western Enlightenment (which you and your Red State confederates bravely stand against), or so fearful and guilty about that very same Western Enlightenment that I side with the non-Western terrorists.

Jumper said...

Your comedy routine, Treebeard, is a lot more fun than whatever you call your regular "sucking maw of horrible doom" shtick.

Laurent Weppe said...

* "I'm confused whether you consider me to be a proponent of Western Enlightenment (which you and your Red State confederates bravely stand against), or so fearful and guilty about that very same Western Enlightenment that I side with the non-Western terrorists."

Haven't you heard of the "Gays, Liberals, Migrants and Daesh are all part of a secret alliance united in its hatred of the Manly White Dude™" meme? It's quite popular among the wingnuts.

David Brin said...

The irony is that our US angry white dudes are prissywimps compared to the real machismo maestros in the Middle East, India and Latin America. Those macho zones are different from each other!

Indeed, latin males have the saving grace of actually LIKING their women. They like them a lot and will even respect them, if the ladies stand up and shout and hit back. They'll even vote them into high office. American feminists may be offended by blatant hispanic sexism... but it is genuinely affectionate and willing to listen.

They don't mind strong women. They just like em sexy. A downshifted version will be welcome in the more laid-back civilization to come.

Paul SB said...

"Sort of like a comic book version of Treebeard" - actually, Treebeard is already a comic book version of Treebeard.

He brings up something that is very serious science, and science that has very serious consequences for how we understand ourselves and lead our lives, but his understanding of the issue is no better than 19th Century, or someone who has no more than a third grade education.

There are most certainly issues that relate to the mismatch between human instinct, which has been evolving since before their ancestors were even close to human, and modern human society, which places humans in environments that are alien to those instincts. His understanding, however, is no more than a cartoon caricature of reality - a simplification so general and as to be worse than useless.

Start with the idea that the purpose of knowing our instincts is so that we need not be slaves to them. Behavioral flexibility is the very hallmark of being human, what separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom (to some extent). Insisting that instinct is paramount and any attempt to circumvent instinct is doomed not only attempts to reduce humans to something less than what they are, it also shows a wrong understanding of what those instincts actually are, and how they work. Instinct is not merely anything that makes you feel good, and behavioral flexibility IS instinct. It happens to be an instinct that is more well developed in humans than other species, so you can't look to manly lions are sharks to understand that aspect of human nature.

On another level, it is worth thinking about how the idea of instinct is used. Generally, instinct is used as a justification for actions act that have already been committed. Of course this generally means sex and violence, but in both cases the tendency is to assume universality and excuse your own failings. Is violence natural? One anthropology professor I had made the point that if a behavior is "natural" you don't need to create ritual behaviors - like violent sports or movies - to promote it. In the distant past, human communities needed to defend themselves from other animals and at times other humans. Superficially you might think this would create a selective pressure for violent instincts. The problem with that is that if humans had closed violent instincts, they would not stop at killing outsiders, they would destroy their own communities. And since humans are weaklings with lousy dentition, paltry jaw muscles, and utterly useless claws, they are almost entirely dependent on their social groups for survival (so much for the mythical "rugged individualist"). This is a place where behavioral flexibility comes in, using those lobes to learn when and on whom violence is appropriate. Thus as an instinct violence is an option, shaped by cultural expectations, not some inescapable force of nature. Sex is kind of the same, though it seems to be more complicated, likely because it is more important for survival of the species than violence.

Mike G in Corvallis said...

Hi --

I'd like to recommend two authors with a far more jaundiced view of the aristocracy's right to rule than Tolkien had:

* Crawford Kilian, with Redmagic and Greenmagic. (His harder SF is pretty darned good, too.)

* Sean Stewart, with Nobody's Son.

Rather like George R.R. Martin, they presented the ruling royals as having the moral legitimacy of outlaw biker gangs. The viewpoint characters eventually wanted to have nothing to do with them.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB: They mostly get there through networking cheats and dishonest behavior, stealing the products of other hard-working, smart people, then once rich keep their wealth by socially acceptable gangster tactics.

Wow. You won't be overly shocked if I am skeptical of your statistics, right? 8)

Some do, but I'd argue most don't. I'll agree with you regarding most of them not being all that clever and focus instead on what they DID do. There is an element of luck involved, but it is mostly about alertness and the courage to act on what one knows.

The few who actually are clever and innovate something useful rarely capture more than 2% of the value (which could be a huge amount of money) they create from their inspiration. The other 98% goes partially to the alert, but mostly to the common man.

David Brin said...

I find it remarkable that these kibble-boys seem to think that in an era of real-men-free -to-act-instinctively THEY would be the top dogs. One is too empathic to laugh out loud. But pity makes one shake a head.

Paul SB said...

No, Alfred, not shocked at all. I was being just a tad hyperbolic, and I knew it (and I figured you would be the one to say something). Still, experience is a harsh teacher, and old neural pathways demyelinate hard. I have known a lot of smart, creative and talented people who have gone nowhere, while slick & slimy but mostly legal bastards took them for everything. No one I knew reached Steven Foster level, who created many of the most remembered American songs of the 19th C, then died penniless in a gutter, all the fruits of his creativity in the pockets of businessmen, but still...

Paul SB said...

"I find it remarkable that these kibble-boys seem to think that in an era of real-men-free -to-act-instinctively THEY would be the top dogs"
- This is what happens when people think too highly of their own opinions - they become legends in their own minds. But opinions, as they say, are like buttholes - everybody has one, and they all smell about the same.

"One is too empathic to laugh out loud."
- But not too empathic to sneer.

Pity, yes, but when it is mixed with disgust, it is much harder to maintain, or stomach.

Looks like I typed the wrong Stephen up above.

Alfred Differ said...

@tacitus2: Hmm... chewy. 8)

Orbital ceilings: Meh. The plateau occurred in government spending and the desire of certain federal labs to maintain their staff than in our ability to innovate past the so-called ceiling. I'm deeply grateful to those who took the first steps, but they can't muster the resources they need to keep going at the growth rate we expect of them. They've honestly tried and dishonestly covered up the fact they can't deliver. On the near frontier, it is time for us to push them aside all the while thanking them for their hard work.

The stars are out of reach for now, but so was the Mississippi River Basin to Chinese traders six centuries ago when globalization of trade was underway. Turning the Indian Ocean into a trading lake was within reach and the obvious way to start. We would have proceeded from there if not for the greatest surprise in human history occurring among some of the most barbaric Europeans ever. Piratical Englishmen.

Ghosts: Possibly, but my take is different. Divine Right of Kings began its death spiral shortly after it became fashionable among Kings... at least in the Lowlands and in Britain. There are many more generations involved in the transition than those between WWI and today, so I'm not sure how useful it is to blame despair on a modern generations.

We haven't taught classical ethics in our public universities as much more than history for at least a century and a half... maybe two and half in some places. It got replaced by contract theories that rely upon measures of utility (prudence) among Homo Economicus. Yet we are still humans who seem to behave in ways the classical thinkers understood. The damage is easily shown by talking about how markets dominate so much of our lives. Watch how fast our neighbors (and some here) leap to indignation. “Life is about more than utility!” they say. Of course it is. The ghost isn't of a dead belief in God. It is of a suppressed belief regarding the nature of our virtues that most of us still share even if we don't agree on their source. Our ethics can't be reduced to a simple measure.

Fossils: Heh. Fair point, but some writers get it. Watch the rap video pitting Hayek and Keynes against each other. There is a story to tell in it, but the folks who put it together realize the asteroid already hit.

Alfred Differ said...

@LarryHart: I'll admit I was never really a fan of Captain America. I left the Boy Scouts after the bicentennial year. I won a school writing contest that year having something to do with an expression of patriotism, but by the next year I couldn't see past the hypocrisy around me. I was 15 by then and probably picking up on the social shift. I came to see the patriotism I was taught as blind which seemed particularly unamerican. How was one expected to water the tree of liberty if one chose to wear blinders? I didn't think much about politics again until the 90's (the 80's were about physics and D&D and women in roughly that order... yes... I was NOT ready for marriage), and by then I believed the American Experiment required I pay attention. The Nation was best served by cautious, attentive support.

I think the demand for what David identifies as idiot plots comes from how hard it is to maintain that attention. Being a dutiful American requires hard work of us. We have to look in dark corners and shine bright lights there or at least look where others are pointing their spot lights. That's not even remotely fun or entertaining. If I consume an idiot plot movie one night, I suspect it is similar to one of my forefathers going to a bar after work to get drunk and not think about work anymore. If I want to drink, someone somewhere will supply alcohol. If I want to veg-out, someone somewhere will supply an idiot plot. Tomorrow I'll awaken with a headache and go back to work.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB: Hyperbole? Okay. It wouldn't be the first time I missed the signal. 8)

There ARE a lot of sharks in the waters. Every innovator is a potential source of large wealth, so this shouldn't surprise anyone.

The thing is, innovators usually don't capture all the value. This is well known and thank goodness it is true. If they grab about 2%, that's doing well and doesn't mean they were cheated. Innovations don't create value by themselves. The innovator must have a support team (and their own sharks) to create any value at all.

I've tried three times. The first was stillborn after doing some market research, but the other two had teams that couldn't function and died. Others benefited from my innovation efforts. The one guy that seemed to be a shark I struck back at with a kind of knife. No one was injured physically, of course, but actions have consequences. He didn't benefit much.

Pick your partners carefully. Think of them as extended marriage partners with all the potential hassle such an arrangement could cause. Surround yourself with people who do not intend to cheat and rely upon them to warn when they see it anywhere. It CAN work even if I'm not the best example of how to do it. It often DOES work even if the innovation fails as a business plan, but only when one chooses wisely. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

@treebeard: Since humans aren't wired for this type of society...

Dude. You are going to have to back that up with evidence if you want to convince people. You shouldn't have much difficulty finding some pop psychology support, but stronger support will be difficult to find due to our inability to run the experiments. Be cautious of old anthropology theories that rely upon garbage history. The best evidence I've seen is we are fairly plastic at the mental layer with a great ape underneath it all.We aren't exactly foragers OR farmers.

Dig a bit and you'll find the one thing we DO seem to have trouble with is boredom. We are too damn smart to be sitting around with nothing to do or think about. Either we make crap up, drug ourselves into a stupor, or a bit of both. The zombies you see around you are probably bored spitless. Pratchett's Death character described the wonder of it well in the Hogfather story.

Boredom is easily solved, though. Find a lover and do what comes natural. The dangers involved in dealing with real people should cut through that.

Duncan Cairncross said...

No interest in asteroid 2016 HO3?

40 to 100m in diameter and effectively in the same orbit as the earth - should be possible to do an asteroid intercept with only a very small amount of delta V

And its nice and close for communications

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?feature=6537



Jumper said...

A hedge fund that bets there is no global warming:
http://www.coolfuturesfundsmanagement.com/
Every sane person who sees this has visions of shorting it, of course.

Deuxglass said...

Our parent's generation had good reason to be optimistic. They grew up in the worst economic conditions and then had a world war but they won the war and the economy boomed throughout their adulthood. The Baby Boomers started out optimistic but became jaded as they saw that human nature did not change so they turned to 'I am going to get what's mine" mentality.

Except for a brief period in the 1990's, we have been at war continuously since 1941. The Cold War was not cold. It was sheathing underneath the surface and risked turning white-hot at any moment. Bretton Woods brought prosperity and a certain calm to the world but it did not bring peace. Seventy-five years of war does take its toll on mentality, expectations and hope. The zombie hoards are just a personification of a danger that seems never-ending and is just a reflection of the times in which we live. Hope is reduced to just getting through another day alive.

The Millenniums have known only a hot war and a lousy economy and therefore mirrors the conditions in which the Greatest Generation grew up. Perhaps if we and they can manage to successfully push back barbarianism and make a better world, then they might acquire an optimistic and a "can do" outlook our parents had. From a cultural point of view, if the future is not Dystopian, then disaster scenarios would shrink from mainstream to a niche product like horror books and films.

Deuxglass said...

Dr. Brin,

If our world is a simulation then it is a damn good one but if it is then I hope to find a backdoor so I can tweak the program to my advantage. Perhaps Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and the Murdocks of the world have already found a way to the backdoor shortcuts and explains why they are super wealthy and successful. It could explain the ridiculous evaluation put on some companies. Dr. Brin, why don’t you ask him if he knows how to tweak the program? Maybe his answer will be very interesting.

I find super hero movies boring too for the most part. They all have the same basic plot and are differentiated mainly by the special effects. Some were fun when the category first came out but as always, Hollywood extracted all the money they could while the popularity lasted. We would all like to have super powers but I suspect that if I had had these powers, eventually they would corrupt me so it is a very good thing that they don't exist (probably).

I don't see Iron Man as a super hero though. Stark is very smart but he uses his intelligence to build something through hard work and effort and is firmly on the side of attainable technology. After all the latest helmet of the F-35 is strictly Iron Man stuff. I find it a shame that he is now married to fantasy figures like Captain America, Thor and so forth and has entered the make believe world filled with fantasy plots.

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: I become interested in NEO intercepts when someone wants to do an engineering test mission instead of a science one. There are a lot of things to learn about the processes for exploiting these things ranging from assay to mining/refining and then to market delivery.

For rocks this closely tied to Earth, though, I'd wait a bit to have them checked just in case they turn out to be an Apollo upper stage.

Alfred Differ said...

@jumper: Betting against climate change isn't such a dumb thing over the next solar cycle. The predictions I've seen say it is going to be a quiet one and that might be just enough to give the denialists many years of gloating (while the oceans acidify.)

Deuxglass said...

Tacitus2,

I see the period between the Moon shots and now as a period where we have been accumulating the technology and knowledge we need to actually make the jump into sustainable space exploration by humans. The Moon shots were done with primitive means and were always a hair-breath away from disaster each time they went up. Pushing too hard before the technology is ready would not have furthered reaching the objective so I think it was wise to have concentrated on information-gathering and testing before taking the next step which is what we seem to be starting now. Thanks to this accumulation period we have been able discover what we really want from space from things that are not necessary or irrelevant such as is a Moon base. A baby has to crawl until it has enough experience before it starts to walk.

Alfred Differ said...

Iron Man is competence porn stuff. Not a fan. He knows too much and can do too much with too little effort. I don't see The Martian as competence porn, though. He took the time needed and had the resources to do it. Competence stories are where they do it right. The porn version is where they do it too quick.


The US has been in and out of wars through it's whole history. The difference between us and other nations is we rarely harm ourselves enough to puncture a belief in Inevitable Progress. What changed recently is we inherited an empire from the British and that is causing a dissonance within us. We can't be both a Republic and an Empire without problems. Vietnam helped rub our noses in this. If we've punctured our old belief it is only a half-measure, though. The world is growing at a decent clip catching up to the Great Enrichment the West stumbled into and we helped make it happen. Our power as an empire is being diluted, but so what? A world market of billions of educated souls is a thing never seen before in history. Who needs a technological singularity? Heh. It's looking more like a Choir to me. 8)

Tacitus2 said...

Deuxglass

The discussion was why SciFi had become, for lack of a better term, stagnant. I agree that flashy things like Moon Bases are not obviously good investments of finite societal resources. But sending automated probes out does not quite capture the imagination despite some really great science and fun holiday photos from exotic places.

I chose pole vaulting as an analogy out of the blue. I figured it was a good fusion of human talent and tech (swell fiber glass poles came on the scene after all). My point was that after you get to a certain elevation off of ol' terra firma it gets not exponentially harder to make great strides but nigh impossibly so.

Actually, when I spent the time to look up pole vault records they were interesting. The first official record was 4.02 meters in 1912. A few cm at a time were tacked on and 5 meters reached in 1963. From its inception up to 1976 the record has in effect always been held by Americans and Scandinavians. Since then it has been held by an assortment of Frenchmen...and a USSR/Ukraine athlete named Sergey Bubka who has set the record 17 TIMES! His last record of 6.14 meters held for an astonishing 20 years until another Frenchman tacked on 2cm in 2014.

Twenty years of presumably hard work by dozens (hundreds?) of elite athletes who one assumes dedicated their lives to it. For two centimeters.

That's the kind of orbital ceiling I was talking about. Think of the advances in material science in those years. Even if you must, think of the advances in pharmacological cheating (and at least regards reaching the stars I favor cheating Newton and Einstein).

For 2 lousy centimeters.

Tacitus




Laurent Weppe said...

* "A hedge fund that bets there is no global warming:
http://www.coolfuturesfundsmanagement.com/
Every sane person who sees this has visions of shorting it, of course.
"

Wouldn't that qualify as insider dealing? I mean, you're shorting stock that you know is crooked.

Tony Fisk said...

Alfred said: Iron Man is competence porn stuff. Not a fan. He knows too much and can do too much with too little effort. I don't see The Martian as competence porn, though. He took the time needed and had the resources to do it. Competence stories are where they do it right. The porn version is where they do it too quick.

My sentiments exactly.

Robert said...

I have just had a pre-caffeine (well, mid-caffeine, it's not come into full effect) revelation as to why superheroes are boring.

What is the one overriding truth about the biggest superhero comics?

They never end.

X-Men after the initial run. Superman. Spiderman. Batman. On down the line. You have one character or even a group... and the adventure goes on and on and on. Which means you end up with power creep, idiot plots, fillers, and more. And this degrades the effectiveness of a superhero story because there is no end. There is no closure.

Consider as a comparison Honor Harrington. She's a science fiction starship commander, with considerable training, a lack of political connections, a special empathic pet that makes her even more of a special snowflake. Oh, and she's a tactical genius and able to prevail against odds that should destroy her and her allies. Oh, and she's beautiful (but doesn't think she is), even her enemies want her, stronger than most people, taller than most people (which doesn't make sense, why would people who grow up in a high-gravity environment be taller?), and has all the traits that would have some folk derisively call her a Mary Sue (and yet which in a male character would be considered perfectly fine and dandy).

Honor Harrington is a science fiction superhero. Further, while the first few stories are good, as Weber continues to write, his popularity with fans has allowed him to ignore editorial constraints which result in prose that is quite wordy. And this is me saying that.

Part of the problem with Honor Harrington is that the plots can start to grow stale after a bit. Some of the stories appear to be written just so there is more stuff on Honor Harrington. You know... very much like with comic book characters. (Mind you, I like the Honor Harrington books - or at least I like the majority of the ones I've read.)

If a comic book character is designed intelligently and with stories that exist for a purpose other than providing more material on that character, then you will have a well-written superhero story. And if a science fiction novel is written for the purpose of just putting out more material on that setting (Warhammer 40K for instance has a lot of less-than-well written stories, to the point I'm reluctant to pick up books by authors I've not read before and trust) or the protagonist, then you risk having a story that is full of padding and plots that just don't work.

Of course, this does bring up some interesting scenarios, such as worlds where everyone is super. If psychic abilities become widespread, then they become ordinary. And in such a setting, the superhero may in fact be the "disabled" - say people who lack the genetic traits for telepathy and cannot read minds (or even have their minds read because they lack the neural network developed for telepathy). If I had more time I'd be tempted to write that story - a superhero story of sorts in which the disabled are in fact able to do things most cannot merely because they have learned how to live without that "super" ability.

Rob H.

Paul SB said...

Alfred,
I had a similar discussion with an archaeo professor once, way back when, regarding boredom. He went through decades of ethnographic work that demonstrates that there are few human universals - a result of that behavioral plasticity expressed in different environments. But he insisted that laziness is a universal. I countered that laziness leads to boredom, which then drives people to creativity - a sort of work, though not the kind of mindless zombie-drone work most employers of the last century expect. Of course, that was before the Human Genome Project, and before the MRI and similar technologies started to have a big impact on our understanding of human nature.

Since then I have come to the conclusion that both boredom and laziness are universals, but both in probabilistic, not absolute, senses. That is, any given human being will express a given value of both at any given time. Any human social group will channel these tendency in specific, culturally-mediated ways at any given point in that group's history. What is more useful than merely assuming the universality of either laziness or boredom, though, is to look at how they interact. When any given human gets bored, they have options in terms of how they attempt to stave off boredom. Some options are lazy - self-stimulating pursuits like watching tv, reading fluff literature, gossiping, today texting and playing video games have taken over as choice pastimes for the lazy. Other boredom killers require more work, and sometimes creativity. How many of us have parents who spent inordinate amounts of time in the garage, building things with noisy power tools? I remember growing up surrounded by so many old war veterans who were constantly at it with power saws. I don't hear much of that anymore. But building stuff, writing stories, painting pictures, learning new skills. There are boredom battles that require the mind to get up and do something, and often something that builds the mind itself in the process.

Once in awhile I get tired and stressed and just want to sit down and read a book or watch a movie, something really passive and lazy. But, no matter how stressful and frustrating my career is, I always get bored with passively sitting and want to do something more creative. Am I typical? Probably not. Most people I have known have no ambition to do anything but watch tv, gossip, these days text and play video games. I have also known some wonderfully creative people, though, people who shrugged and gave up trying because their creativity, while it drove off boredom, took time away from the survival game. They turned into money puppets, their creative juices sapped by the struggle to survive. This I see as a very important reason to usher in a more Star Trek kind of future, where the social safety net ensures that bright, creative people can spend their time building that new way to get us past Low Earth Orbit, or hunt for genetic therapies to help solve the epidemic of Metabolic Syndrome or just broaden all our minds by broadening the collective conversation. Sure, lots of people will be lazy, sit on their ever-widening butts and leech off the system. But given the power of peer pressure (another universal force in the repertoire of human behavior), lazy brains will grow fewer and fewer over the generations.

Tacitus2 said...

Paul SB

In your thoughtful musings on the nature of laziness in human beings I fear you have been daydreaming. Nothing wrong with that, I do it all the time myself. But sometimes, this being one, you look around and see you have innocently wandered into a field marked with signs that say Danger! Mines!

MRI and/or genetics to describe the characteristics of humans. Danger! I can tell you from experience that lots of what shows up on MRI scans is so novel and groundbreaking that my radiology colleagues are just makin' stuff up at times. And I have seen far too much junk science - often with a cargo of malice - based on notions such as "Conservatives show increased blood flow to temporal lobes when viewing inter racial couples" and such dreck.

Do you really want to stride confidently forward, suggesting that we might locate a "Lazy Marker" on MRI, then put different cultural/ethnic groups into the scanners?

I suggest a very slow and careful back track stepping lightly into the footprints that led you in!

(since mood does not always come through on posting, hell it can't even really be seen on MRI, be advised that I am not scolding, just being light hearted and Contrary this am)

Tacitus

Natalia Dinu said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Paul SB said...

Tacitus,

Caution signs are always welcome, and any time anyone ventures into science fiction territory (like my Star Trek speculation) what else could it be but daydreaming? Or perhaps a "thought experiment" - a term that is clearly self-contradictory anyway.

I take seriously the notion that nothing we think we know today can ever be assumed to be the Absolute Truth. Neuroscience and genomics are both in their just-starting-to-crawl stage. Socio-political trolls aside, though, we have to go with what we know, speculate (daydream) from there in order to move it up the next notch. I could invoke Einstein's imaginary sled ride on a light beam.

And I very much doubt we will ever find a "lazy marker" in any kind of scan. Laziness is a choice. You might see energy patterns in the brain common when people sit on their butts and veg out, but that does not mean those individuals were "hard-wired" to be lazy, it is simply what happens when you go into low-energy mode - cart before the horse stuff. Yes, our energetically expensive mammal brains have these tendencies, but just like with violence, we make choices. The nature of instinct is not as simple as finding some marker in the brain, then doing a clinal assay. One of the points I made to that professor is that assuming any human universals at all runs the danger of projecting your own issues onto the rest of the species, as psychologists have mostly done, or those religious types who assume that all men have evil in their hearts unless they are forced to behave by God, Jesus, Allah, Karma or whatever.

But your caution is well placed. There will be those who put the cart before the horse, and those who will try to claim that certain ethnic groups, "races," one sex or the other, regional groups, religions own whatever their particular hate-obsession happens to be, are "naturally" more lazy or more prone to boredom than whatever subdivision of humanity they associate themselves with. Hopefully there will also always be the bullshit slayers, like Stephen Jay Gould, who will show how wrong those dregs are, and hopefully, too, more people will listen to words of caution than trogs who try to claim proof for their prejudices.

My verbosity gene is in full swing this morning, and I haven't had a taste of caffeine yet. Time to clean out the garage! Maybe do some house cleaning (men cleaning up - a phenomenon I have heard described as women's porn).

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:




Dig a bit and you'll find the one thing we DO seem to have trouble with is boredom. We are too damn smart to be sitting around with nothing to do or think about. Either we make crap up, drug ourselves into a stupor, or a bit of both. The zombies you see around you are probably bored spitless


That is exactly what people who say "Life is about more than utility!" are getting at. If you ever get a chance to read Kurt Vonnegut's 1953 novel "Player Piano", that's pretty much what he was getting at even back then. When there's nothing useful for people to do, life is Hellish, and people revolt. The results of that revolt can be questionable to say the least ("I blew up the water treatment plant. Give the country back to the people!"), but it happens because any change seems better than eternal stagnation.

I've noticed in my own life that boredom is an incentive to do routine chores that otherwise wouldn't ever get done. When I've got something interesting going on, there's no time for cleaning a toilet or mowing the lawn. If I'm bored, something goes "You might as well be bored doing something useful." In fact, to misquote our host, I'd say Boredom Is The Only Known Antidote To Procrastination.

Deuxglass said...


Lockswriter,

I read your story "The Day the Icecap Died" and I liked it. It is refreshing to read a story where Humanity adapts to climate change rather than passively submitting and wringing their hands over mistakes made in the past. If we can't roll back the climate for whatever reason then we will have to use plans B and C. It won't be fun but we can and will adapt to the new conditions.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

I'll admit I was never really a fan of Captain America. I left the Boy Scouts after the bicentennial year. I won a school writing contest that year having something to do with an expression of patriotism, but by the next year I couldn't see past the hypocrisy around me. I was 15 by then and probably picking up on the social shift. I came to see the patriotism I was taught as blind which seemed particularly unamerican. How was one expected to water the tree of liberty if one chose to wear blinders?


First of all, we're practially the same age. I was also 15 (a few months shy of 16) during the American Bicentennial.

I'm not disagreeing with you about patriotism. I also noticed very early on that the word "patriot" had little resonance for me, certainly not the way my fellow countrymen seemed to expect. Strangely enough, my memory of that realization is also related to Boy Scouts (Cub Scouts, in my case).

Captain America has been many different things over the decades, but during the period I was describing (mid 1970s Watergate era), Cap went through the same sort of crisis of conscience that you are describing. At the end of the storyline, when he became Captain America again, he had decided that what was important was not so much the American government or American economics, or American interests, but the ideal of what America as "America" means. That comes very close to my current thinking as well.

LarryHart said...

Deuxglass:

Our parent's generation had good reason to be optimistic. They grew up in the worst economic conditions and then had a world war but they won the war and the economy boomed throughout their adulthood. The Baby Boomers started out optimistic but became jaded as they saw that human nature did not change so they turned to 'I am going to get what's mine" mentality.


Kurt Vonnegut makes the point that a popular meme in the Great Depression was that "prosperity is right around the corner." People living through the worst economic conditions in memory had this idea that "prosperity" was some sort of threshold that, once passed, would reign forever more. My dad used to say something similar about the stock market, that if it ever rose above 1000 (yes, that's not a typo), it would be like some sort of magic. The modern term is that "prosperity" or "Dow-1k" would be a singularity.

I think much of the post-post-War pessimism comes from the realization, decades later, that "prosperity" or "peace" are not singularities--that they are not something to be obtained and then live happily ever after, but that they can slip away all too easily. Another Vonnegut meme is that people suffer for expecting their lives to work the same way stories do, and that many people are "living in an epilogue" of their life-as-story for way too long. American has been living in an epilogue since 1945. I believe this is just a different way of saying what you (Alfred) said about boredom.

LarryHart said...

PaulSB:

What is the one overriding truth about the biggest superhero comics?

They never end.

X-Men after the initial run. Superman. Spiderman. Batman. On down the line. You have one character or even a group... and the adventure goes on and on and on.


In all fairness, this is not specific to superheroes. It's a function of serial fiction. Any continuing monthly comic book or newspaper comic strip suffers from the same characteristic. So do James Bond, Sherlock Holmes, and any other long-running fictional series which is written to be read as individual stories, not as chapters in a novel.

The trick (as a reader) is not to confuse one type of fiction for another. "Cerebus" was intended almost from the start to be 300 chapters of a novel. "Superman" and "Batman" are not.

LarryHart said...

PaulSB:

Oh, and she's beautiful (but doesn't think she is),


There's a recent pop song with the lyrical refrain "You don't know you're beautiful." And ain't that the truth! My wife is like that too--I literally drool over her (and this is after 20 years of marriage), and she doesn't even know what she does to me. Yes, I tell her often, but it's one of those things a woman can't seem to believe.

But yeah, a beautiful woman who doesn't understand that she's beautiful is quite the turn-on.

Tacitus2 said...

Why Larry, I can't even imagine what you come up with on Mother's Day!

Tacitus

LarryHart said...

PaulSB:

My verbosity gene is in full swing this morning, and I haven't had a taste of caffeine yet. Time to clean out the garage! Maybe do some house cleaning (men cleaning up - a phenomenon I have heard described as women's porn).


I think that's "men moving furniture".

But in any case, there's nothing wrong with men doing housework. But there is something wrong with men doing housework on Father's Day.

:)

Paul SB said...

Larry, I would like to imagine what you come up with on Mother's Day (or your anniversary, for that matter).

The two notes you wrote above, though, are taken from Rob H., not from me. It's an easy mistake to make as these comments sections grow longer and longer, but I love the conversation anyway. As far as the endless strings of unintended sequels go, I have no quarrel with you there. If a story was planned out and it came out long, that's okay, though it sounds like in Sims' case he set an arbitrary number of issues and just had to fill them in to meet his goal. It pretty much went belly up after about issue #200, making the rest no better than watching Rocky 17. (And I have never read David Weber, though Rob makes the central character sound potentially interesting. So many books, so little time!)

LarryHart said...

PaulSB:

The two notes you wrote above, though, are taken from Rob H., not from me.


Not sure how I got that confused, but I should have known Rob was the comics guy.


As far as the endless strings of unintended sequels go, I have no quarrel with you there. If a story was planned out and it came out long, that's okay, though it sounds like in Sims' case he set an arbitrary number of issues and just had to fill them in to meet his goal. It pretty much went belly up after about issue #200, making the rest no better than watching Rocky 17.


300 issues wasn't quite arbitrary. In monthly comics terms, that's 25 years (it was 26 because the first several issues were bi-monthly). That's a long time for an individual comics creator to spend on one book.

I don't remember when Dave said it, but the lead into issue #200 was intended to be the climax of the story itself, and he did state that #201-#300 would be something like "the world's longest epilogue." Couple that with what Vonnegut said about living in an epilogue, and you get what you refer to as "went belly up".

PaulSB and Tacitus2:

Larry, I would like to imagine what you come up with on Mother's Day (or your anniversary, for that matter).


If coveting ones own wife is a sin, I'm in a lot of trouble.

:)

locumranch said...


'Drowned World', JG Ballard, published 1962: Soaring global temperatures cause the polar icecaps to melt, followed by human adaption & an implied rebirth.

Finally, laziness is a human virtue rather than a character flaw. It is the driving force behind human technological development. If humans were NOT inherently lazy, then we would have never invented agriculture, the shovel, plow, tractor & the back-hoe and we'd still be scrabbling for roots with dirty hands & filthy fingernails. Then, we domesticated riding animals because we were too lazy to walk, automobiles because we were too lazy to ride animals, aeroplanes because we were too lazy to drive automobiles, and so on & so forth.

After reading Vonnegut's 'Player Piano', most of us concluded that technology existed to serve human beings rather than supersede & replace them; however, the modern technophile came to a completely different conclusion & decided to BECOME THE MACHINE that replaced & superseded humanity -- hence the current obsession with Human/AI Hybrids, Singularity, Transcendence & Uplift.

Murray Leinster may have predicted the first home computer, but he also (1) wrote beautifully, (2) routinely indulged in the Idiot Plot (the MedShip series wherein a hyper-rational physician & his pet Tormal 'save' average (emotional) human colonists from their own stupidity) and (3) NEVER ever tried to obsolete, supersede or replace humanity with super-intelligent machines.

Some of us LIKE being human, giving us cause, pause & reason to resist this Efficient Machine World Dystopia that these Brave New technocratic progressives are trying to force upon us.


Best

David Brin said...

Locum was actually making sense and a grownup contribution to the conversation, till, like vomit surging into one's mouth at an inconvenient thought, he just had to yowl that last sentence of resentful (and deeply stupid) strawmanning nonsense.

sigh

David Brin said...

Deuxglass exactly. Apollo was inspired insanity. Nobody sane would have sent men out there in that tech. But a divine and manly madness.
----------
Deuxglass raises the concept of the Fourth Turning, originally appeared in a 1997 book by that name, written by Neil Howe and William Strauss.

“Our oldest citizens are from the “G.I. Generation,” or what Tom Brokaw famously called the “Greatest Generation.” Born from 1901–1924, their childhood milieu included World War I and the prosperous Roaring ’20s. As young adults, they experienced – and eventually overcame – the challenges of the Great Depression and World War II.

The Silent Generation, born 1925–1942, watched as children while their parents met head-on the great economic and military challenges of that day. With the exception of a few, they were too young to participate directly in the war and entered adulthood in a time of post-war peace and prosperity. Howe calls that period the “American High.”

Those two generations have now either passed away or are well into retirement. They control a great deal of wealth, which gives them influence, but they no longer wield the levers of power. That role now belongs to the Ba by Boomers (born 1943–1960) and increasingly to Generation X (born 1961–1981). Next in line are the much-discussed Millennials (born 1982–2004) and then today’s young children, whom Howe dubs the Homeland Generation (born 2005–2025?). The social and economic influence of these latter two generations is growing as that of the Boomers and Generation Xers declines.

Howe and Strauss identified four generational archetypes: Hero, Artist, Prophet, and Nomad. Each consists of people born in a roughly twenty-year period. As each archetypal generation reaches the end of its 80-year lifespan, it is replaced by a new generation of the same archetype.
Each archetypal generation proceeds through the normal phases of life: childhood, young adulthood, mature adulthood, and old age. Each tends to dominate society during middle age (40–60 years old), then begins dying off as the next generation takes the helm.
The change of control from one generation to the next is called a “turning” --

==> next

David Brin said...

Here’s a summary of the "generational turning" concept... by John Mauldin:

Hero generations are usually raised by protective parents. Heroes come of age during a time of great crisis. Howe calls them heroes because they resolve that crisis, an accomplishment that then defines the rest of their lives. Following the crisis, the Heroes become institutionally powerful in midlife and remain focused on meeting great challenges. In old age they tend to have a spiritual awakening as they watch younger generations work through cultural upheaval.
The G.I. Generation that fought World War II is the most recent example of the Hero archetype. They built the US into an economic powerhouse in the postwar years and then confronted youthful rebellion in the 1960s. Further back, the generation of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, heroes of the American Revolution, experienced the religious “Great Awakening” in their twilight years.

Artists are the children of heroes, born before and during the crisis but not old enough to be an active part of the solution. Highly protected during childhood, Artists are risk-averse young adults in the post-crisis years. They see conformity as the best path to success. They develop and refine the innovations forged in the crisis. Artists experience the same cultural awakening as Heroes, but from the perspective of mid-adulthood.
Today’s older retirees are mostly artists, part of the “Silent Generation” that may remember World War II but was too young to participate. They married early and moved into gleaming new 1950s suburbs. The Silent Generation went through its own midlife crisis in the 1970s and 1980s before entering a historically affluent, active, gated-community retirement.

Prophet generations experience childhood in a period of post-crisis affluence. Having not seen a real crisis, they often create cultural upheaval during their young adult years. In mid-life they become moralistic, values-obsessed leaders and parents. As they enter old age, prophets lay the groundwork for the next crisis.
The postwar Baby Boomers are the latest Prophet generation. They grew up in generally comfortable times with the US at the height of its global power. They expanded their consciousness when they came of age in the “Awakening” period of the 1960s, defined the 1970s/1980s “yuppie” lifestyle, and are now entering old age, having shaped the culture by virtue of sheer numbers.

Nomads are the fourth and final archetype. They are children during the “Awakening” periods of cultural chaos. Unlike the overly indulged and protected Prophets, Nomads go through childhood with minimal supervision and guidance. They learn early in life not to trust society’s basic institutions. They come of age as individualistic pragmatists.
The most recent Nomads are Generation X, born in the 1960s and 1970s. Their earliest memories are of faraway war, urban protests, no-fault divorce, and broken homes. Now entering mid-life, Generation X is trying to give its own children a better experience. They find success elusive because they distrust large institutions and have no strong connections to public life. They prefer to stay out of the spotlight and trust only themselves. Their story is still unfolding today.

After the Nomad archetype, the cycle repeats with another Hero generation, the Millennials (born from 1982 through about 2004), who are beginning to take root in American culture. They are a large generation numerically, filling schools and colleges and propelling new technology into the mainstream. If the pattern holds, they will face a great crisis. It will influence the rest of their lives just as World War II shaped the G.I. Generation Heroes.
And guess what: we are all in that crisis right now.

-- End excerpt ---

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Locum was actually making sense and a grownup contribution to the conversation, till, like vomit surging into one's mouth at an inconvenient thought, he just had to yowl that last sentence of resentful (and deeply stupid) strawmanning nonsense

Neither Kurt Vonnegut nor Bernie Sanders wants to force an "Efficient Machine World Dystopia" on anyone.

The line from Wrath Of Khan, "Like a bad marksman, you keep missing the target!", is all I can think of whenever locum blames his own Red State confederates' corporate masters on "Blue State Progressives", who actually share his humanistic sympathies.

I wonder if the guy was left-handed and forced to be right-handed in childhood. My mother-in-law is like that, and when she says "left", you have to translate to "right" in your head, and vice versa for her directions to make sense. The same is true when locumranch says "Blue State Progressives".

Pappenheimer said...

I'm late to this party, but a reading of actual monarchies' histories gives some insight on why the obvious evils of aristocracy are tolerated for so long by so many; for most agricultural, preindustrial societies, the only clearly visible option was a 'time of the fishes' when no one was in charge and the larger (more powerful, better armed) ate the smaller. Having your crops destroyed by and your sons levied into civil war was the standard alternative to an orderly succession, and it was a good idea for society as a whole to inculcate the idea that the king was above the normal power scrambles of nobility. For that matter, the nobility generally begin as a successful warrior class which can offer protection from nomads, pirates and other armed strangers. As Avram Davidson put it, "in such times" (after the fall of Rome) "a man feels the need to cling to something, even if it's only another man's knees."

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin on generational archetypes:

Artists are the children of heroes, born before and during the crisis but not old enough to be an active part of the solution. Highly protected during childhood, Artists are risk-averse young adults in the post-crisis years. They see conformity as the best path to success....

Nomads are the fourth and final archetype. They are children during the “Awakening” periods of cultural chaos. Unlike the overly indulged and protected Prophets, Nomads go through childhood with minimal supervision and guidance. They learn early in life not to trust society’s basic institutions. They come of age as individualistic pragmatists.


So Artists were taught by their parents in Smallville to give their loyalty to anyone with a badge. And Nomads were taught a very different lesson by their parents who lay bleeding their life away in Gotham City--that the world only makes sense if you force it to.

Everything I know about life, I learned from comic books. :)

locumranch said...



If crisis-born Heroes give rise to Artists, Artists to Prophets, Prophets to Nomads & Nomads to crisis, then it appears that Mauldin and perhaps David (?) are validating the Cyclical History Model and, for this, I say thank you.

I apoligise for my resentful yowl, but I deny any straw-manning. As Treebeard & Anon suggest, the West is its own worst enemy, having brought Mauldin's 'Crisis Phase' upon itself by attempting to legislate ever-increasing production, compliance & conformity at the expense of a global mental health crisis that's currently estimated at 34 to 50% of the populated West (not counting ISIL) and climbing.

Tacitus2 supplies a most apt analogy in this regard: Pole-Vaulting.

Despite maximum effort, the West has jumped as high as it can in its current incarnation, and no amount of further regimentation, training, steroids, optimism, bluster or due diligence can get us any higher without a completely novel approach.

The New must replace the Old in a 'Crisis of Cultural Chaos'.


Best
_____
Some like Batman, but I prefer the Silver Surfer's noble sacrifice followed by ethical rebellion.

LarryHart said...

locumranch:

As Treebeard & Anon suggest, the West is its own worst enemy, having brought Mauldin's 'Crisis Phase' upon itself by attempting to legislate ever-increasing production, compliance & conformity at the expense of a global mental health crisis that's currently estimated at 34 to 50% of the populated West (not counting ISIL) and climbing.
...
he New must replace the Old in a 'Crisis of Cultural Chaos'.


I actually agree with all of this, but disagree with your diagnosis of the cause. The ones who demand efficiency and production at the expense of all else are not "Blue State Progressives", but corporatists and the 0.01%, who are mostly aligned with the Republican Party. Show me someone who asserts that human beings have value beyond their worth to an employer, and I'll show you someone who is probably in favor of tolerance, soft on immigration, and not voting for Donald Trump.

LarryHart said...


Some like Batman, but I prefer the Silver Surfer's noble sacrifice followed by ethical rebellion.


"Spare my planet, oh Mighty One, and I'll rat out other species' planets for you to eat instead."

Yeah, I can see how you'd prefer that.

The Silver Surfer was a great character as originally introduced in Fantastic Four #48-50, but the attempt to make him a main character with an origin didn't work for me at all. There can be good Silver Surfer stories, but they have to conveniently forget that whole herald of Galactus thing. "This is supposed to be a happy occasion. Let's not bicker about who killed who."

David Brin said...

Absent his usual strawmanning-pimply teen-angst resentment this time, locum actually made a posting that - while dyspeptic and wrongheaded in ways - was nevertheless worthy of an actual grownup. Praise this guys!

In fact, I never said I swallowed this 'fourth turning" fantasy! It is almost certainly pattern recognition gone overboard. Still, I never said there were no "rhyming" patterns in history. Only that there's no 'natural decadence and decline of civilizations" bullshit. And anyone quoting Spengler after a century of utter refutation is perforce a dunce.

Nietzche was a step up from Spengler. He sensed that we must grow beyond what we are. The rest is just mumbo.

David Brin said...

Pappenheimer hello. Yes, Marx made clear that rule by nobles in a pyramidal order was not “evil” in itself, when society was both ignorant and very poor, having just enough surplus to allow a thin layer of boys to get fully myelinated brains by never starving. That unfairness was imposed by practical survival. And then the pyramid was reinforced by harms that gave lords reproductive success. We are all descended from those harems.

Marx’s scenario of class succession, as societies get richer and know more and industrial capital takes form, is actually pretty accurate, in a very basic sense. Though he was unable to conceive of several things. Such as the possibility that a bourgeoise class might grow smart enough to realize many of the processes Marx describes – (in part because of KM’s self-preventing book!) – and that those bourgeoise merchants etc might thereupon REFORM away Marx’s scenario via a process of ever-wider inclusion within the bourgeoisie.

This was the genius of the FDR-Reset – an expansion of the middle-class social compact to include the industrial working class… then women and minorities and service workers…. A reset that must now again be refreshed, lest the current oligarchic putsch (attempting to re-establish the pyramid) have consequences that the oligarchs seem too stupid to see.

Consequences that could render the FDR –Reset an anomaly and bring Marx back into play.

Paul SB said...

Dr. Brin,

It must have taken you some time to extract just what you were looking for in Mauldin to further this conversation, so I have to thank a very busy person for that. Reading the excerpt brought me right back to my college days. It is often joked among archaeologists (self-deprecatingly) that they are very willing to plumb the scholarly depths for gems of wisdom, then reduce it all to a taxonomy. I assume you are aware of the pitfalls of taxonomical thinking, and this one may have the additional problem of incorporating elements of hydraulic hypotheses. However, the descriptions of both the Baby Boomers and GenX were so on the mark describing both myself and my parents (I am 97% certain that I fall within 3 standard deviations of the mean) it made my auto-critique function go into power saver mode.

On a different note, I usually agree with your assessments of locus spew, and in this case my agreement is in the upper 90s, too. But there is a grain of truth worth bringing up. Loci might pass a brick hearing that I agree with anything he wrote, or assume I have suffered a head injury. And Larry is surely correct about his always aiming at the wrong target. The idea that efficiency measures are essentially inhuman and counter to our instincts is anathema to our business-oriented culture, but is too an extent true. Having spent the last 13 years dealing with the maddening world of the American education bureaucracy, I can attest to the fact that the old Harvard-led Efficiency Movement is probably responsible for inordinate amounts of psychological damage across the nation and across the decades (and may have more to do with the nature of both GenX and the Millennials than any untestable hydraulic hypothesis). Business people and other bureaucrats will continue to try to grind human beings under the wheels of efficiency, but their ideas of efficiency are superficial - of the "penny wise but pound foolish" variety, because they do not account for actual human nature.

Loci's key mistake here (in addition to laying the blame in the wrong place) is assuming that our instincts are closed, an assumption that has always served certain political purposes but has never been supported by evidence, and that the only solution is to go backwards, to revert to some past that realistically could never happen given the changed circumstances of our world, and would likely only lead us back to where we are today, anyway.

Jumper said...

Liking the boredom / laziness thread. Basket weaving probably arose from boredom.
"If necessity is the mother of invention, laziness is the father."

Joke: "If attempted suicide is illegal, can you claim self-defense?" If I stole that from someone here, which seems possible, please say so. I forget.

Jumper said...

Paul SB has unpacked my case along with his, so I will simply concur. Well thought. Attempting efficiency while ignoring human nature is a recipe for failure.

I can't find any evidence to suggest that artists are risk averse. Look who stands out over time and reckoning. Bullshit artists, however, may be different.

Deuxglass said...

When I was fifteen we moved from Ohio down to Titusville close to the Kennedy Space Center and all our neighbors were engineers at the Cap so I was immersed in a curious culture of high-tech and at the same time the Deep South culture because they all had worked at the Huntsville operation before and were pure-bred Southerners. It was definitely Old Florida and I loved it. Nearby Cocoa Beach was described to a T by Tom Wolfe in his book “The Right Stuff”. It was a typical military town, unorganized and tacky as Hell but a great place to have fun. From Titusville to the beach you had to go through ten miles of road. On the north side stretched twenty miles of uninhabited swamps while to the south you had the highest concentration of tech in the world at that time. I had a couple summer jobs there as a lowly tour guide in the Vehicle Assembly Building and I had the privilege to see three Moon shots from very close up and they were the most awe-inspiring experiences I have had to this very day. If you haven’t seen one then you can’t fathom the sheer power of the Saturn V rocket. When the Apollo missions stopped it was so depressing but we thought it was just an interlude. Little did we know that this interlude is still with us.

LarryHart said...

Jumper:

Joke: "If attempted suicide is illegal, can you claim self-defense?" If I stole that from someone here, which seems possible, please say so. I forget.


That was me, quoting myself from a different forum. And I think my way was actually funnier than that.

What I said was that most of the pro-gun, stand-your-ground side will say something to the effect of "If someone is trying to kill you, and you kill him first, that's justified." So I rhetorically asked whether the same holds true if the person trying to kill you (but whom you kill first instead) is yourself. I then ended with the question "Is suicide in self-defense ok?"

John Shirley said...

David, in a general way I agree with you. We need to have hope, optimism. Despair accomplishes nothing. But we have major hurdles: just today, a headline reads *air pollution rising in the developing world*--it's gone up nearly ten percent in five years in major cities. Deforestation, acidification of the seas, major displacement of people as a result of climate change, hence more immigration crises. I do think we can muddle through all this, if we stay positive and work pro actively--but it's a slog!

Paul SB said...

Larry,

"If coveting ones own wife is a sin, I'm in a lot of trouble. :)"

Does your wife read any of this? Or, for that matter, are you aware that a great many people here are in about your same age group and can only dream of having what you have? ;)

As to suicide in self-defense, wouldn't that be an apt label if euthanasia is allowed for people who gave themselves chronic diseases like cancer with bad eating habits?

Jerry Emanuelson said...

I don't think anyone has yet mentioned the original 1991 book by Neil Howe and William Strauss called Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069. The Fourth Turning was just a follow-up to the original Generations book, and the Mauldin quote was merely a brief summary of the concepts in the original Generations book.

When I first read Generations, I thought that Strauss and Howe were describing an interesting historical cyclic process that was then (in the 1990s) coming to an end.

I was wrong, though, and Strauss and Howe were right. Their 1991 prediction for the "oh-oh" decade (first decade of the 21st century) as being chaotic and filled with all sorts of crises was quite accurate. They also named the Millennial generation (in 1987) and described the characteristics of most of the Millennials as adults while only a part of the Millennial generation had even been born, and those that had been born were still small children.

The only significant thing that Strauss and Howe got wrong about the "oh-oh" decade was the name. For some reason, their name for the first decade of the 21st century never caught on. I always thought that the "oh-ohs" name for the decade was the thing most likely to become an accurate prediction.

William Strauss died during the "oh-oh" decade, but Neil Howe is still making predictions that are often uncomfortably accurate.

locumranch said...


(1) Rather than going "backwards (and reverting) to some past that realistically could never happen given the changed circumstances of our world", I am asking that we be allowed to Go Forwards by taking 2 steps back "given the changed circumstances of our world", whereas the progressives -- with their unceasing insistence on shark-like forward momentum -- force us ever forward despite insurmountable obstacles and "changed circumstance".

(2) Heavily influenced by Adam Smith, Karl Marx is a huge topic that needs further discussion, especially when David (with his whole fair-level-open playing field postulate) is practically a Communist of the Rosa Luxemburg democratic sort (as was FDR in policy), but most definitely NOT of the Lenin-Trotsky authoritarian sort.

(3) Offence taken in regards to the Silver Surfer, a moral pragmatist who sacrificed his own freedom, ethics & future to the protect two beloved but defenseless planets (his own & Earth), much in the same way that (1) Pax Americana forces sacrifice themselves to protect ungrateful NATO members against an advancing East and (2) Physicians use knives to disembowel, cure & reassemble a patient suffering from intraabdominal cancer.

Too bad, so sad, that so many of the West's Silver Surfer analogues have 'left the building', leaving only politically-correct social parasites in charge. No worries though. While 'Waiting for the Barbarians' (a poem by C.P. Cavafy), these politically-correct do-nothing parasites will apologise ad nauseum in preparation for a barbarian invasion which represents (to the PC) "a kind of solution".

Then, the EU will fall apart (if not on June 23 then at a later date) and, with it, the global consensus; the Nationalists will rise to power (only problematic if they fuse with Socialism & Imperialism); the USA & UK will attempt to isolate themselves; the Russian Federation will roll west; Australia will become Indonesia; China & India will be a huge mess; and chaos will reign supreme until (if & when) the Heroes return.

Suicide in self-defense is MAD-ness (which is another name for Mutually Assured Destruction).


Best

David Brin said...

While again dyspeptic... and squint-eyed inaccurate (DB a communist? Har!) I once again pout accolades upon this streak of cogency in place of relentless whining. Most of what he says is still wrong. But if he keeps this up, I might even decide to engage and argue.

LarryHart said...

Well, I hope the fathers among us had a happy Father's Day.

BTW, I've been meaning to mention this. Most of you have probably seen some version of this YouTube video of an 8th grader imitating the presidential candidates (and President Obama) in a graduation speech? I mean, the thing has gone viral. I've seen it mentioned on network news and radio.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ASabDzqkIYQ

The thing is, that's my daughter's 8th grade graduation ceremony. She's graduating at the same time, and my whole family is in the audience somewhere.

Small world.

Alfred Differ said...

I'll admit to being highly skeptical of laziness being a universal for us. I look to our inclination to resist taking direction from others. When our masters stubbornly persist in issuing orders, they might think we are lazy when we fail to act, but are we? This comes too close to Eurocentric thinking for explaining why India was poor as part of the British Empire. They were an undisciplined work force according to some. Phooey.

It would seem some believe our forager ancestors had lots of free time away from the calorie gathering tasks, but did they sit on their behinds all day? I doubt it. There were other things to do with those big brains which wouldn't have existed otherwise, hmm? I strongly suspect laziness is at least partially about an inner conflict. We know we have other things to be doing than what the master wants of us.

However, y'all are reading more into this than I intended to bring up last night. I was in a snarky mood and inclined to tell treebeard what he should do with himself in his apparent boredom. It might do him some good. 8)

David Brin said...

Wow LH your brush with greatness!

Alfred Differ said...

@LarryHart: Maybe we will get to that Hell where there is nothing useful to do, but I'm highly doubtful. We keep making stuff up. There ARE problems to be beaten when those things cost more than we can reasonably afford, but real wages for the common man have been moving up at quite a clip for a several generations now. I just don't see how that stops short of us attaching a social stigma to innovators again. If we do that willingly, we deserve what we create.

David posits something close for his Purple Wage class in Kiln People. I can see how 'brown' humans would be out-competed by dittos on risk grounds, but I think his portrayal of them in the novel is a low probability future without an innovation stigma which he didn't impose. Absolute wage shrinkage isn't enough to trap them. It is the real wage that would have to shrink.

The British turned to gin in the early industrial era to sop up cognitive surplus. We turned to TV in my generation, but the current kids are going elsewhere. It seems we gave them a tool with which to interact and they like that more than watching passively. Giving them that tool improved their real wages even if the monetary version didn't increase. They are improving it and innovating with it too, so the distance to that particular Hell is expanding with our social universe.


@Tacitus2: Pole vault jumps are like Taleb's Mediocristan examples. Innovation space is more like Extremistan. I've no doubt many of us expected more from space exploration than we are getting, but innovation can be suppressed when the government puts their thumb on the scales investors use to judge project risks.

There is no ceiling above us innovation can't punch through if fed enough minds. Not even the stars.

Alfred Differ said...

I'm not sure we should consider Marx's writing as a self-preventing prophesy. We seriously tried to make the vision work and millions died. The educated among us who advocated this path into the future committed a treason against the Enlightenment and should be smacked for it.

Marx's history is simply wrong. While it is possible his ideas could work, they won't work with real human beings. We aren't disinterested planners. We aren't prudence-only, utility optimizing decision makers.

I also strongly doubt the bourgeoisie understood enough to knowingly reform away from Marx's predictions. I think it more likely that Marx simply got it wrong and we weren't heading where he thought we were going. The proletariats joined the bourgeoisie. The aristocrats were pulled down to join the bourgeoisie. TANSTAAFL turned out to be wrong over the long haul and the bourgeois clade is consuming the entire social pyramid proving that. Their is a social 'gray goo' loose on this planet that doesn't really understand itself. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

@locumranch: Then, the EU will fall apart (if not on June 23 then at a later date) and, with it, the global consensus; the Nationalists will rise to power (only problematic if they fuse with Socialism & Imperialism); the USA & UK will attempt to isolate themselves; the Russian Federation will roll west; Australia will become Indonesia; China & India will be a huge mess; and chaos will reign supreme until (if & when) the Heroes return.

Okay. That's worth a chuckle. The Russians are sinking into bankruptcy right now. A year ago their inflation rate was up around 16% which cuts the currency's value in half about every 4.5 years. They have it down to the low 7% range now which extends to halving rate to 10 years. Putin is about to have his hand forced to choose between national security and internal investments. Ukraine vs National Economy. Russia has a long track record of choosing national security in these situations because they know there people will suffer the difficulties, but WE know where this leads. We've seen it before.

Confusing political policy of the US and UK with the economic policy of their citizens is an old mistake. US exports as a percentage of GDP is around 13.5%. The UK is a touch under 30%. Neither of us is going to go hide in a hole unless the US hole includes Canada and Mexico.

As for huge messes, I'd like to see you define that term from the dictionary and see you put up some money for a bet on how good your crystal ball is. I need to raise some cash for my wife's next education goal. 8)

The EU will come apart in meaningful ways, though. It won't do it over the UK vote, but I won't bet on it meaning much in another generation.

Robert said...

Heh. Actually I'm far less "comics" and far more "webcomics" - my only real brush with print comics was during the 90s... and I ended up burning out on those comics before things went too far south with many of the older strips (a lack of resources to buy comics was responsible).

In fact, this is one reason I like webcomics so much - they are free. ;) Though I do support webcartoonists by buying print compilations of their strips when they put them out. :)

One interesting aspect about webcomics is how superheroes do not dominate the genre. Print comics often have superheroes as their selling point and it is a significant detraction on the genre. (Graphic novels differ from this, however. Or they did for some time when I first was getting into the Graphic Novel genre.) The reduced cost of webcomics has allowed them to flourish in ways that print comics don't allow. Indeed, the significant number of scifi webcomics Dr. Brin posted recently would be a massive minority with most not printed if they had to rely on print compilations!

Rob H.

Paul SB said...

Alfred,
I am skeptical of any human universals, at least in the absolutist, 100% sense that most people take "universal" to mean. Most things are normally distributed in populations of living things. If they aren't, the scientists have to figure out why. As to time spent working among our ancestors, nearly all hunter/gatherer societies that still existed when ethnography began in earnest in the early 20th C shocked the hell out of the ethnographers by how little time they had to spend foraging for food. Western people just assumed that life for "primitive man" must be "nasty, brutish and short." Not so, show the actual facts. We work many times harder today, and our agriculturalist ancestors suffered horrific health problems that h/gs never had to contend with. Any osteologist who has examined the transition from the h/g lifestyle to agriculture will tell you that the bones of our more "primitive" ancestors showed that they had very healthy diets and lifestyles, while the bones of agriculturalists - pretty much up until the Industrial Revolution raised the average trophic level of our diets, are crap. Indicators of malnutrition and repressive stress injuries, arthritic lesions and isotope ratios show that the transition to agriculture was an enormous mistake - except for the social elites, who didn't do any of the work but ate the best of the food. But were our h/g ancestors lazy bums? Enthoarchaeo studies show that, above all else, they were gossips...

I think what Dr. Brin was saying about Marx is not that his writings were intended as self-fulfilling prophecies. Old Uncle Karl wanted to trash the entire system and reboot it in the image of his assumptions (which probably weren't any worse than the assumptions of little loci, the sapling, or any other overgeneralizing fool who practices Durkheimian "mental hygiene"). Rather, Marx pointed out inconsistencies in the propaganda of the aristocracy, and how parasitical the wealthy elites are. Many people got the point, though not all of them bought into his fantasy about happy, greed-free communes. Marx was wrong about a lot of things, but he did a great job of cutting through the most ancient of BS - the iron-clad belief that those who rule are better people than those who are forced to follow, and therefore deserve their hoards and harems, better diet (and concomitant better K/Sr ratio in their bones). Ironically, the people who benefited most from Marx were not the people who tried out his prescription (communism) but the people who stood on the other side of the Cold War. Thus the truth in your comment about TANSTAAFL.

LarryHart said...

locumranch:

whereas the progressives -- with their unceasing insistence on shark-like forward momentum -- force us ever forward despite insurmountable obstacles and "changed circumstance".


Climate change represents "changed circumstances", yet North Carolina law expressly prohibits agencies from making estimates of flood stages based upon anything but historical norms. The refusal to recognize "changed circumstances" is not a Progressive trait. It's almost the definition of reactionary conservatism.


Then, the EU will fall apart (if not on June 23 then at a later date) and, with it, the global consensus; the Nationalists will rise to power (only problematic if they fuse with Socialism & Imperialism);


I notice you willfully left out fascism, which I presume you see as the solution to the problem, not the problem itself.


the USA & UK will attempt to isolate themselves; the Russian Federation will roll west; Australia will become Indonesia; China & India will be a huge mess; and chaos will reign supreme until (if & when) the Heroes return.


As someone who used to predict the imminent inflationary demise of the US dollar and the impending rise of a South-America based right-wing hegemony, I feel your pain, but if I had to bet right now, it would be against any of those predictions coming true in my lifetime.


(3) Offence taken in regards to the Silver Surfer, a moral pragmatist who sacrificed his own freedom, ethics & future to the protect two beloved but defenseless planets (his own & Earth),


See, the original story, in which he discovers his essential humanity and rebels against Galactus to save the humans of earth is a great story.

The retcon that establishes that he has alreday gone through the very same thing with his own home planet--that he already knew and actually cared that Galactus was killing sentient beings, but it was ok with him as long as his own planet wasn't the one being consumed, and that he already knew essential humanity and even love before being "taught" it by Alicia? It just doesn't work for me. Either situation might make a good yarn, but they don't fit together.

LarryHart said...

PaulSB:

Larry,

"If coveting ones own wife is a sin, I'm in a lot of trouble. :)"

Does your wife read any of this?


She's a Brin fan (she introduced me to the Uplift books), so for all I know, she does. If so, she'll still think I'm only pretending, for some obscure motive I've never been able to fathom. So what'cha gonna do?


Or, for that matter, are you aware that a great many people here are in about your same age group and can only dream of having what you have? ;)


If they like it, then they should'a put a ring on it.

Seriously, I went through approximately my first 20 years after puberty on the outside looking in, as it were, being a skinny nerd before nerds were fashionable. When the woman I married came along, I thought I was dreaming her, because she was too good to be true. But the smartest thing I ever did in my life was to know not to let this one get away.

To this day, I'm not sure what she sees in me, which I suppose is the equal and opposite of what I've been describing about her not believing what I see in her. So maybe, after twenty years, I should just take her word for it.

Paul SB said...

Rob,

There was a short renaissance in the comic medium back when I was still larval, with quite a few independent producers creating a lot of more interesting stuff than superheroes. I see it as more evidence for the self-destructive nature of capitalism. When there are a whole lot of independents on the market, they make better stuff. Plots were better, art was better, characters were most complex and interesting, settings were much more rich, etc. The superhero drivel was there, too, but people who wanted to see better quality could get it. But the big two eventually bought or otherwise drove most of those independent publishers out of the market, and that wonderful bloom of creativity withered. However, if you can find a comic shop that carries independents and not just the usual Marvel and DC, you'll find that a few of those independents did survive. Some of their stuff is just as much drivel as the big 2, but some of it is good - and a fair bit is sci-fi.

Web comics allow all sorts of people to explore their ideas, get creative and potentially do better than the mass-market schlock that fills most comic shops and inspires summer box-awful blockbusters. One problem, though, is that enough though throwing something up on the web does not require a huge investment in money, doing a web comic still requires a huge investment in time. Since they aren't making the authors/artists any money, most will tend to fizzle as the creators find they cannot justify the time investment while struggling to make ends meet - especially after they have swam upstream to spawn. Larval hominids require massive investments of time. It might be better if people were willing to pay a small subscription fee, similar to what they would have paid if it were in print, but by now we are so acculturated to trawling the Net for freebies that this is unlikely to go far. As Snoopy used to say, "BLAAH!"

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

I'll admit to being highly skeptical of laziness being a universal for us. I look to our inclination to resist taking direction from others.


To the ones who talk about worker "laziness", the two are one and the same thing. Listen to ongoing arguments about how poor people are "not willing to work". They only make sense if you realize that phrase really refers to "not willing to submit to a boss".


When our masters stubbornly persist in issuing orders, they might think we are lazy when we fail to act, but are we?


See? (note to self--Always read ahead before responding)

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Wow LH your brush with greatness!


The kid has a future on SNL! (My daughter keeps saying he'll show up on "Ellen", though she won't explain why that particular venue)

The Clinton and Sanders voices were especially spot on. When I've heard the routine played on a tinny car AM radio, I would swear it was really Bernie Sanders speaking.

Favorite line: "Why should students have to pay for their own cinnamon rolls? It doesn't make any sense!"

LarryHart said...

Robert:

One interesting aspect about webcomics is how superheroes do not dominate the genre.


While travelling last Christmastime, my daughter was looking specifically for comics that weren't superhero comics. As I just happened to have the three print volumes of "The Dreamer" along with me (a comic I first read at the SPACE convention in Columbus OH), I asked her if that's what she was looking for. She snarfed them down in less than an hour, and wondered when the next volume would be out.

There is a market out there.

BTW, have you reviewed "The Dreamer"? I'm curious what you think of it.


Print comics often have superheroes as their selling point and it is a significant detraction on the genre.


That's probably true from the late 70s or early 80s onward. It wasn't always the case. When I first discovered comic books in the 60s, there were funny animal comics and boy's adventure comics and funny kid comics and even adaptations of tv shows. In fact, the superheroes I read at the time (Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four) were "adaptations of tv cartoons" as far as I knew. Superheroes were around, sure, but they didn't define comic books the way they do now.

Robert said...

@Paul: I'm actually familiar with independent comics. Back in the 90s I'd considered crafting my own near-future comic that mixed psychics, androids, mecha, and more. I researched printing costs and distribution, found you could do a bare-bones comic for over $3,000 for a print run of 500 black-and-white comic books, and even how many companies would have an initial success and then run wild with a half dozen new books, be unable to carry the load, and then go bankrupt.

While most of the tubs of comic books in my house are Marvel and DC, there is probably a couple tubs that include such odd titles as Ninja High School, some horror comic with a woman who could turn men into spider-human hybrids by having sex with them (never did find the last issue of that one), and other various comics.

The problem was that distribution companies started going under and the primary distributor that remains focuses primarily on DC and Marvel. Though I'm not quite as up-to-date on comics as some of my internet friends so there may be small rivals that have cropped up to help create competition in the trade.

Now, consider for a moment what you said: low costs encourages people to start comics that then dry up and go nowhere due to no real return on investment (in this case, the investment of time). Compare that to a cost of $3,000 for a print run of 500 comics. I've no idea if newer technologies and Chinese printing companies have altered that cost structure, but it does mean that only someone who has invested a lot of money into a comic can publish. Nor does it mean that comic will come out regularly - that comic may very well end up with an unfinished end because the cartoonist never made money off it, didn't repay initial expenses, and gave up.

Meanwhile, you have an interesting business model of webcomics-as-advertisement which was done by Studio Foglio with "Girl Genius" and more recently by Adam Warren with "Empowered" (those two from the top of my head) in which they put out their comic for free online... and then make money by selling graphic novels of their strips. And the more traditional business model for webcomics is to, once enough material is available, offer a graphic novel or manga print of the comic to interested fans.

And with Fred Gallagher with Megatokyo, not only does he sell the manga prints (with a distribution/printing deal with Dark Horse Comics) but he also has independent sales of original artwork and the finished draft of the artwork for the comics... and even has taken to drawing one or two panels on one piece of paper so that there is more available for sale.

Just because a comic came out in print before the web does not make it more likely to continue. The same factors which can cause a webcomic to fizzle and die could make a print comic fizzle and die. What's more, the higher starting costs not only would create a barrier to entry for potential cartoonists, but also created scarcity in independent titles so that most people might never know that comic exists.

There is a massive amount of dross out there among webcomics (though there is a lot of dross out there for print comics as well). But it is easier to find good non-superhero comics on the web than in print. And cartoonists can tell the stories they want without having to cater to an audience or wonder if they will ever get the entire story out there because of cost constraints.

Rob H.

Robert said...

@Larry: I've had troubles getting into the comic. I've tried several times. I probably will have to do the tried-and-true method of reading it backward as often that gets through various mental blocks that keep me from reading some strips. As for reviewing it... I still need to rebuild the Tangents Reviews site after some Russian hacker put malware in the old site. And rebuilding a decade's worth of reviews and not trusting the old files thus having to copy-paste everything and fix links and do new images... yeah.

I probably should admit to myself it never will get done.

Rob H.

Paul SB said...

Larry,
It sounds like we have pretty similar stories, though looking at me now you would never guess that I was once thin as a bean pole and had hair. Trick with marriages is that the Larry you are today is not exactly the Larry you were when you first met your partner, and she isn't quite the same, either. This is probably pretty cliché, but it takes a level of commitment to weather the changes. It is also much easier to see how your other half has changed over the decades than to see it in yourself, which requires an admirable level of commitment to overcome. People typically underestimate how much they have changed, while allowing their partner's evolution to get under their skin. So it sounds to me like you are doing much better than average - maybe not enough to put on a goofy costume and become a marriage counsellor, but well enough to be the envy of a great many middle-aged couples and divorcees. If I were the drinking type, I would raise a glass to your next 20 years (or is that too schmaltzy to bear?).

Paul SB said...

Rob,

It's good to know that there is a way for web comic people to be successful. I gave up on my own art ages ago, and my skills have atrophied to nothing, but I invest a lot of hope in the first fruit of my marriage. If she doesn't manage to get any of her work published, I will suggest going the web comic route. Given that she is busy trying to get her bachelor's, committing to regular updates might not be feasible at this point, though. And as far as fizzling goes, one person's dross is another's life line. The only way to know is to throw something out and see if anyone bites - though in the deep, deep ocean of the Internet, an enormous advertising budget must help a lot.

raito said...

Re: kibble-boys

I run into these guys a lot in my sport. They're convinced they're the greatest. But they have a very hard time reconciling the narrative in their brain with their actual results. What often happens is that they become convinced that there's some 'secret' knowledge out there that the guys who beat them are withholding. So it's not their fault they don't win, it's the fault of the guy who do for not playing fair by keeping the secrets away from them.

They're almost as bad as the guys who are young, fast, and athletic who stall out because they can't wrap their heads around the idea that the sport is far more mental than physical. Some get past it, some do not.

Yes, superheroes can be boring. It would be outside the current genre, though, to have someone with extraordinary powers attempting to affect the course of society. The stories tend to be too personal for that. Superman dragging back a few of those asteroids so popular here would be the least of those stories.

I really do wish I could recall the author of one of the old pulp stories where people started using 'electrical secretaries' to keep their daily notes. Then someone put radios in them so that bosses and wives could put items on the agendas. By the time people spent all day talking to their devices, the devices had their own agenda. Sound familiar?

One of the problems with competence fiction, especially in sci-fi these days, is that it tends to be mixed in with apocalyptic fiction. Disaster happens, the human race is nearly wiped out, and people have to rebuild using whatever skills they have. From Alas, Babylon on down, it's practically a sub-genre of its own. I like reading about the rebuilding, it's the disaster I don't like. But for competence fiction (even though only marginally fiction), try Little House on the Prairie.

The listing of what various generations grew up knowing pings my mind to point out The Mindset List from Beloit College. This is a list of things that comprise the world of incoming college freshmen. Its founders began it when they saw a cultural disconnect starting between professors and students. It's kinda rough on old guys when (several years ago), one of the items was 'Jim Henson has always been dead'.
https://www.beloit.edu/mindset/2019/

Jumper said...

The big deal when I was younger was the beginning of Heavy Metal comics. I grabbed them up for the first year or so, but the stories left me hungry for something else.

David Brin said...

Alfred, the great Rooseveltean reset was exactly a case of the smarter elements of bourgeoisie deciding to ally themselves with moderate elements of labor to create a redistribution of power and wealth that would rob energy from the Marxist elements and leave stranded the racist-romantic elements.
In Italy and Germany things went differently. The aristos and industrialists subsidized the racist-romantics as their counter against the Marxists.
Both efforts worked. In germany with outcomes the cynical lords came to regret. In the US and then the West, it resulted in a middle class vastly beyond anything Marx could have or did imagine. Though he would have (correctly) predicted future crises as predatory oligarchs attempt further putsches.
The thing to remember: leading folks deemed Marxism to seem PLAUSIBLE, especially after 1917. It had apparent momentum and when the depression hit, that redoubled. Smart folks took very seriously the need to offer an alternative.

A.F. Rey said...

Just in case you hadn't noticed (and/or care), P.Z. Myers linked and quoted from your latest blog in his Pharyngula site. (He's quite agreeable, although differs with you about engineers.)

http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2016/06/18/imagine-a-spherical-apocalypse/

Berial said...

In relation to the whole 'lazyness' topic I offer this quote:

"The three principle virtues of a good programmer are Laziness, Impatience, and Hubris."
Larry Wall, creator of Pearl

locumranch said...


@Berial: Nice quote.


@Alfred:

As nationalism took a (post) Weimar Germany from penury to world power in less than 20 years & Russia has 1000X the resources that a post-WW1 Germany had, don't count the Russian Federation out. It could be in Berlin in less than a week if not for NATO & a MAD-based nuclear deterrent where a hyper-civilised EU (which cannot secure its own borders against beggars) can only roll over like a 2 dollar whore. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36575180

And, how messy could things with China, India & Indonesia get? http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-36573291


@LarryH: Fascism = Socialism + Nationalism + Imperialism. This means that Isolationists aren't Fascists by definition. You do know the definition of Imperialism, don't you? http://www.anesi.com/Fascism-TheUltimateDefinition.htm


@DB: Not to be confused with the US Constitution's legal egalitarianism of 'Blind Justice', the Egalitarianism of 'a fair-level-open playing field' is a hallmark of Rosa Luxemburg's democracy-based communism. Read a little before you deny, especially her condemnations of nationalism, oligarchy & CHEATING. https://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1918/russian-revolution/ch07.htm


Best

donzelion said...

Step away from an interesting debate, and miss the eddies and ripples. Perhaps a lawyer can offer one thought thought about the 'anti-institutional' gloomy bent of writing... ;-)

First, I assume that serial works are influenced by movies, television shows, and serial novels. Publishers don't want a book, they want a successful series of books. Comics don't want a hero, they want a franchise of heroes.

Writing about an effective 'institution' means casting enough of the members of the group to show their function as part of a working whole. In competence porn/procedurals (esp. police procedurals), the stories are mostly set down - writing consists of modifying the template to fit the characters, or the characters to fit the template. Laziness, sure, but more thrift accounts for much of the regurgitation (esp. in the expensive film/tv genres).

If you lose a key member of the 'team' in a optimistic procedural, you can replace them with relatively easy adjustments while preserving the tone. Lose too many 'core' characters though, and the whole comforting sensibility is lost, forcing you to reboot. That creates incredible contracting power for 'beloved' characters on 'happy' shows.

Original works lack such templates, but maintain the same risk of losing key team members (to contract disputes, or otherwise). Starting with a gloomy premise makes it much easier to anticipate the loss of characters - making it much easier to sell such premises to studios (and publishers hoping to option intellectual property to the studios).

Paul SB said...

Once again little loci has given us a zinger purportedly backed up by a web site, but if you read the web site, it says something very different.

Here's what he wrote:
@LarryH: Fascism = Socialism + Nationalism + Imperialism. This means that Isolationists aren't Fascists by definition. You do know the definition of Imperialism, don't you? http://www.anesi.com/Fascism-TheUltimateDefinition.htm

But the site he links to goes through 3 different definitions of fascism, then tries to create its own based on the commonalities. Thus: “Fascism is a form of political and social behavior that arises when the middle class, finding its hopes frustrated by economic instability coupled with political polarization and deadlock, abandons traditional ideologies and turns, with the approbation of police and military forces, to a poorly-defined but emotionally appealing soteriology of national unity, immediate and direct resolution of problems, and intolerance for dissent.”

Now we can debate how useful this definition is, but one thing this definition clearly isn't, is Fascism = Socialism + Nationalism + Imperialism. True, it does not address isolationism, but neither does it include either socialism or imperialism. Of the 3 isms he offers, only nationalism is actually incorporated ("... soteriology of national unity" presumably).

Ting-a-ling-a-ling!

donzelion said...

@PaulSB - I like Orwell's definition, "fascism = bully," and beyond that, it's all wordplay for "I don't like you."

In terms of the application of the definition by Loci to assert that isolationism cannot be fascist - well, history offers many counter-examples.

Imperial Japan, in the immediate pre-Meiji era? Certainly isolationist for a significant time (also rather imperialistic, and with all the traits of fascism). One finds other isolationist/fascist epochs in Chinese, Korean, and many South Asian dynasties. Further west, Kemalist Turkey fits the bill, as would several Latin American leaders. The most interesting example could be Nasser - he is either an imperialist (if one accepts the borders drawn by the UK and France after World War I & II), or an isolationist (if one does not).

And hence Orwell's point: these terms have no value whatsoever.

Paul SB said...

Yes, they are all pretty much just words people throw around to denigrate their socio-political opponents. At one time they had more specific meanings, but over time people have twisted them to suit their own propaganda desires. Isolationism is just one common feature, and ironically a sort of cultural isolationism quite commonly goes hand-in-hand with imperialism, and both are commonly associated with fascism, but none of it is 100%.

(It's 105˚ the A/C is dead, and I am stuck waiting for the repairmen while my kids splash in the pool...)

David Brin said...

Not always-wrong… but generally and often, locum has lost track of the difference between 1980 Warsaw Pact and 2016 Russia. Today it is the russians who know they could not withstand conventional war with the west for more than a few days and hence are emphasizing tactical nukes. Back then it was us.

Oh, and in fact Hitler started WWII in 1939 instead of his preferred 1945 because Speer showed him production charts in Britain and the USSR. In just one more year or two, German production would be swamped.

David Brin said...

onward


Though you guys have been having fun here so continue.

I am moving onward.

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