Sunday, December 12, 2021

Advice to New Writers of SF - wisdom for ambitious authors!

First, a reminder that good books make great gifts. But of special interest may be great deals this week. 

Okay then, I’ve been urged to share some of my “standard advice for rising authors” in honor of those who recently spent a month scrawling a novel during NaNoWriMo. I’ve been sending bright would-be writers these tips a lot, lately, while mentoring bright up-comers for my “Out of Time” series of short novels for teens and young adults. But it seems churlish not to just step up and offer this as a gift... albeit perhaps a grating one! Well, after all... CITOKATE!**

So here goes:

The "Advice to New Writers of SF" packet from David Brin

This is a ‘canned’ general essay about tricks and skills of writing - not an instruction manual! More a set of ‘wisdom chunks' about some of the most common problems that trip up would-be authors. Many have have said it proved useful in their writers’ journey. You can find more for writers in my article: A Long Lonely Road: Advice for New Writers.

Naturally, it’s terrific that you are writing and I do want to offer encouragement! Still, there is good news and bad news in this modern era. The good: there are so many new ways to get heard, or read, or published that any persistent person can get ‘out there.’  Talent and good ideas will see the light of day!  

The bad news? it’s now so easy to get "published," bypassing traditional channels, that millions get to convince themselves "I am a published author!" without passing through the old grinding mill, in which my generation honed our skills by dint of relentless workshopping, criticism, rejection, revision and pain. 

Alas, fiction writing is a complex art that involves a lot of tradecraft... as it would if you took up landscape painting or silver smithing. It is insufficient simply to have ideas or to be skilled at nonfiction-prose. Nor does a lifetime of reading stories prepare you to write them, alas! 

Storytelling is incantatory magic and there are aspects to the incantation process that are mostly invisible to the incantation recipient (reader). This means that extensive workshopping and skill-building are as important today as they were 30 years ago.  And for that, you need to do one of the most difficult-but-rewarding things a mature human can do – relish and seek criticism.

This is not meant to be discouraging!  In fact I am appending (below) a slug of 'generic advice'... much of it probably already below your level! Still, some items may not be. In fact, many published authors have found these insights helpful. I hope you will. But either way, do persevere.

Again, let me point you to an "advice article" that I've posted online, containing a distillation of wisdom and answers to questions I've been sent across 20 years.    

I can also offer a general site containing advice bits from other top writers.  I especially recommend the short how-to books of my colleague, the great and mighty hard SF author Nancy Kress, linked down below. 

Then there is my advice video: So You Want to Write!

But let’s get started on this list of specific examples: things that (alas) even very talented neo-authors do, all too often.

== The biggest problem ==


Skills at rapid-opening, point-of-view, showing-not-telling, action, evading passive-voice and so on are achieved by studied workshopping -- and as in most arts, the whole thing is predicated upon ineffable things like talent, e.g. an ear for dialogue that only some people have. Indeed, point-of-view is so hard that half of would be writers never "get" it, no matter how many years they put in.

* By far the most important pages are the first ones, when you hook the reader. And you need a great first paragraph to get them to read the first page. Starting with the Pov’s (Point of View character’s) name is certainly okay… even Heinlein did it now and then. (though just the first name suffices; leave the last name for later.) Still, it is often much better to start with an italicized internal thought, or an ironic observation, or spoken words or actions. See my posting: Forty Fabulous First Lines of Science Fiction & Fantasy.

* Reiterating that key point: POV (point of view) is among the hardest things for most new writers to master.  It gives your characters a “voice,” and presence and offers the reader a sense of vesting in the protagonist’s feelings and needs and will. This is all ruined by authorial data-dumps that make you feel lectured-to by a narrator!  It's better to reveal info as efficiently as possible via conversation, action and the point of view character's internal thoughts. Yes, you have a lot of information to deliver! You want the reader to know all about your precious character and world and situation, I get it. But be patient and tell as little of that as you can get away with, while hooking the reader's curiosity to learn more.

One great way to break the bad habit of narrator dumps is to develop visceral discomfort with three words: ‘were,’ 'was,’ and especially ‘had.' 

Oh, sure —  “had”, “were” and “was” are permitted. They are even sometimes necessary!  But you should find each use regrettable. Each time should cause a wee bit of pain! Because ‘had’ – and to a lesser extent “was” — often indicate that the narrator, instead of the point of view character (or pov) is dumping or explaining, instead of showing.  

If you look at my books, you'll find I include lots of ideas and background of past events, but I pace them in with movement, action, conversation and internal thoughts. 

Seriously. right now go to your draft and do a global search for ‘had.’  (And the even-worse apostrophe-d -- 'd -- ick!). Then global-search "was." Do the pages light up?  Now do the same thing with your favorite novels, by authors you admire. I think you'll get the point.

Example illustrating many of the points above ==

Here’s an excerpt - the opening line for a novel that someone sent to me, asking for advice:


Captain Kara Krakin hated the noise and confusion of crowds, yet now she was stuck on crowd control in a busy tunnel-street of Deep New Delhi while her patrol ship was in spacedock for repairs.  She'd joined Terra Space Force to get away from Earth cities, and the effect of crowds on her magneto-psi sense.  She'd loved every minute of her month of relative quiet on pirate patrol in the asteroids. 

Notice especially the telltale narrator dump cues of "had" and "was" and "were" and “‘d”. 

Were you vexed to see the word 'patrol' repeated in a single paragraph? Repeatitis is a far lesser sin. Still, many readers dislike it.

Okay, let’s see if we can convey all the same information (and more from later paragraphs) more dynamically by removing any presence of the narrating author. 

Try this instead:

Damn I hate crowd control duty.       

    Over the tunnel noise and throng confusion of Deep New Delhi, Kara could barely hear her sergeant growl in agreement, as if reading her mind. 

    “How long till the ship is fixed cap? I didn’t join TSF for this shit.”  

    Of course it was a coincidence – Gomez didn’t have her magneto-psi sense.

    “Belay that,” She snapped. “Well be back out there on comfy pirate patrol in no time.”

Do you see how I dumped in far more information via internal (italicized) thoughts, sensory input and conversation, without once using “had” or even “was”? Now throw in some action… someone in the crowd throws something, and you’ve started rolling along, supplying lots of background info without an intruding narrator dump! 

Again (because these lessons only sink in from repetition) do a global search of your MS for "had" and "was" and "were." Every single instance should prompt: "Can I tell this another way? Or even NOT tell it, or let that info float in, later?" Try it. You'll write better stuff.

== Generic advice blips ==

* As noted, many readers hate “repeatitis” where a word gets repeated a lot. English is so rich with synonyms and alternate ways of saying the same thing, that you can usually avoid it, unless repetition is a deliberate poetical device. 

This stricture has no strong reason for it, and indeed, authors like Hemingway violated it a lot. But most professionals cater to this common reader whim. And hence, you’ll pick up a habit of minimizing even too many close repeats of “the.”

* Prologues can be nice, if short. But often they serve as crutches.

*  Find a dozen openings of novels you greatly admire and RE-TYPE THE FIRST COUPLE OF PAGES to see how that author did it!  Just re-reading those pages will not work!  I guarantee you will only understand how those authors did it if you retype the opening scene, passing the words through your fingers.  

And you’ll grasp that establishing POV early while minimizing data dumping is the hardest thing for neos to learn, yet absolutely essential. No matter how wonderful your ideas are, they are useless unless you master how to hook.

Talk this over with colleagues.  Read aloud together and critique the first 5 paragraphs of lots of writers. Do nothing else in your workshop, till you all understand how to establish both the scene/situation and POV laced into conversation, action and internal thoughts.

* Finally, there are many other sources of good writing wisdom! One of the best is by my friend and colleague and ought-to-be-Grand Master of SF Nancy Kress, who details how you can create a main character readers won't forget and plant essential information about a character's past into a story? I cannot recommend this one too highly!  See Write Great Fiction: Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint.

Oh, there’s so much more that I discuss when teaching workshops. General skills and tricks specific to science fiction. Like why you should make your first novel a murder mystery! (I did.)

Alas, though, that’s all I have time for. Still, I hope it’s been useful. Remember to read carefully my “advice article”, where there are links to the advice missives by many other successful authors… and some disagree with me on every point raised here!

Above all keep at it!  That’s the key to success, even more important than “seek feedback!”




**CITOKATE = Criticism Is The Only Known Antidote To Error.

And yes, I talk about this both in The Transparent Society and in my latest nonfiction tome VIVID TOMORROWS: Science Fiction and Hollywood.

And note, I don't use Patreon... so... buy books? ;-). ...  and pay forward.



Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin in the main post:

Storytelling is incantatory magic and there are aspects to the incantation process that are mostly invisible to the incantation recipient (reader).

Funny you should mention this. I was about to post an "off-topic" bit about this very subject. Now, it's not so off after all. :)

I've long had a kind of work-in-progress theory that some of the emotions generated in the reader by a story have to do with feelings about the reading experience moreso than feelings about what's actually happening in the plot at the moment. As an example, even as a six-year old, I knew that the cliff-hanger trap between episodes on Batman would never actually be fatal. I knew that the opening of the next chapter would show his escape. So where did the suspense come from? I think the viewer feels some suspense at the storytelling itself. "How can the writer successfully get past this and not feel like a cheat? Maybe he can't. I don't see how he can." That sort of thing.

If I'm right about that, then I'd say a seasoned storyteller knows how to align the emotions the storytelling itself produces with the emotions the writer wants the reader to feel at the time about the plot.

What brought this to mind is that I was just introduced to the Marvel series Runaways on Disney+. I liked the comics stories that the series is (loosely) based on, and even though the tv plot is very different from the comics plot I am familiar with, it seems to capture the essence of the comic--much in the way that Dr Brin says the Kevin Costner Postman movie caught the heart of his novel. Plus, they've done a phenomenal job of matching up actors who really do look like the comics characters did. I'm continually impressed with the Marvel Studios productions in ways I never expected to be.

Anyway, I just reached an episode in which one of the characters' fathers is shot. See, the father has anger issues, and was just about to kill his own son until someone intervened by shooting him. In the story, the guy has been a total a-hole to his wife and son, plus the series conceit is that all of the parents are part of an evil organization working on a yet-unrevealed nefarious plan. If I were only going by my personal feelings for the characters, I'd want him to die and be done with him. But as a viewer, I also want to know what happens next, and apparently "what happens next" heavily depends on this character surviving. So even though I wouldn't personally mind the character getting his comeuppance and the evil plot failing to materialize, I also want to see the story develop. When a part of me goes, "Oh no, what if he dies?", it is really feeling, "Oh, no. How can the writer get out of this one?" And that generates the suspense that the writer wants me to feel--or think I'm feeling--about the plot itself.

To Dr Brin and any of the more experienced writers hers, I ask, does any of this ring true?

David Brin said...

To LH... my answer: yep. ;-)

David Brin said...

LH The “Batman” you refer to was the version serialized in movie theaters. Those were the ones with cliff hangers, right? Wait! I guess the Adam West one did. Forgot.

Larry Hart said...

@Dr Brin,

"Muddah, Fadduh, kindly disregard this letter."

By which I mean, why bother posting a question which you've already answered yourself in the same post? :)

But yes, I meant the Adam West Batman, which ran two nights in succession with a cliffhanger in between.

scidata said...


Your thoughts get at what I was saying in the Antikythera discussion. Namely, that 'thinking about thinking' is the magic sauce of enlightenment(s). More rigorously, second and third order cybernetics. This has Fermi implications too, but I'm trying to stay on topic. IMHO, emotions are very much part of thinking. They (over)rule logic. For example, a set of devastating tornadoes strike and most everyone talks of hopes and prayers. No thought is given to all-powerful being(s) responsibility, let alone climate change.

Introspection is right up there with CITOKATE.

Der Oger said...

For starting novelists, I'd also recommend "How to write a damn good novel", by James N. Frey. IRC, it had a whole section on criticism, which people to choose and how to work with it.

To Dr Brin and any of the more experienced writers hers, I ask, does any of this ring true?

I am certainly not an experienced novelist, but I have some experience in designing game worlds & adventure scenarios*, and I can relate to it (but see below). What I often do: Use some sort of cliché (for a fast entry) and twist it in some way. Yet, sometimes, in the heat of narrating, "mistakes" creep in, and I feel as if I have written/designed myself into a corner ... but usually, when the next session starts, I come up with a solution that neither feels construed nor boring.

*There are two schools of thought in that hobby. The first is creating a game world and see what the players make of it. The second: create a dramatic storyline the players have to follow, from start to end. Over the years, I tried both, but found the first version more rewarding and entertaining. So, designing a PNP RPG campaign, for me, is the opposite of writing a novel. Drama is what happens when the player try to explore and survive the world I give to them, and not a preconceived story. So, if the players manage to maneuver themselves into that kind of trap, I take great enjoyment from them frantically trying to get out of it.

David Brin said...

Der Oger, sometimes it feels that way when my characters complain and refuse to do what was planned!

Larry Hart said...


For example, a set of devastating tornadoes strike and most everyone talks of hopes and prayers. No thought is given to all-powerful being(s) responsibility, let alone climate change.

I think some of the defaulting to prayer is the superstitious reflex not to offend higher powers which might help or hurt us. Even among non-believers, in a fear-inducing crisis, there is a strong tendency to placate the gods "just in case" they really do exist. And if they don't, where's the harm?

"Thoughts and prayers" seems to be a very recent addition, to let the distressed know that you are thinking of them, whether or not they are believers. Not too long ago, "prayers" would have said it all, as everyone had to either be a believer or pretend to be one in polite company.

No thought is given to all-powerful being(s) responsibility, let alone climate change.

I think a lot of thought is given to climate change, but it's not polite to mention it because it sounds like you're blaming Republicans. In such tragic situations, the only permissible politicizing is blaming liberals. Also, in some jurisdictions within this country, it is actually illegal to posit climate change as a source of any disruption.

duncan cairncross said...


Was this the study you were looking for

Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence

A.F. Rey said...

One book, that I just discovered, I would recommend to a budding writer like me is Fiction First Aid: Instant Remedies for Novels, Stories and Scripts by Raymond Obstfeld. Raymond is the author of 27 novels and heads the creative writing program at Orange Coast College in Cosa Mesa. His book gives practical tips for predictable plots, inadequate suspense, flat playoffs, contrived action, and other problems one finds in the first draft of stories, scripts and novels, based on the basics of storytelling. It's one of those books where I keep saying, "Oh, yeah! That makes sense. That would work. I never thought to that, but, yeah, that sounds right!"

One thing: don't bother trying to check it out from the San Diego Public Library for the next month or so. I haven't finished making my detailed notes from it yet. :)

Alfred Differ said...


I apologize. It was never my intent to avoid the original point that got me in a snit, but the multiple rounds of posts have made it less than obvious where I was trying to go.

For me, this started with an idea I find fundamentally stupid. "There should be no billionaires."

I might have agreed with the position except I couldn't imagine what ALL billionaires had in common that justified judgements against them large enough to strip them of their wealth. The idea suggested that some kind of vice was ensured or one could not amass billions. My initial challenge was "Show me."

Tendencies for "seeking power" and "amassing fortunes" were offered, though I am paraphrasing a bit. Neither of those is a sure vice and I said so. That's where the challenge expanded. Show me the massacres. Show me the starving masses. The point was to work backward from the offered evidence hunting for the sin being committed consistently by billionaires.

I get that massacres still happen. I get that people still starve. Obviously there are people in the world (still) using Machiavelli's little instruction manual. My challenge is to ask whether the billionaires are in the examples offered as evidence. "Show me" means I'm willing to play grand juror if someone is willing to play DA.

It's one thing to be upset at people who do real things that harm others.
It's quite another to blame people for the ills of the world on a belief that they do.

One can be demonstrated using evidence. The other requires a leap of faith.


It's not that I want to avoid future discussion on this, but this post is relevant to what I'm learning right now. So… I'm going to let go of this until the wheel of debate turns back to it in the near future. 8)

Robert said...

Thanks, duncan. That looks like the one.

Alfred Differ said...


I think many of us can agree that Nixon's paranoia led to an insatiable appetite for the use of power. The problem is he wasn't all that rich. Millions. Not Billions. Even inflation adjusted.

I think many of us can agree that rich people have exaggerated power in the political market too. That's so obvious as a given that it's like the sunrise each morning. We expect it. I'd turn the question and ask which ones are NOT being political, but then we'd get into the sticky mess of what constitutes politics.

Looking at the list of billionaires, though, DOES show a very curious trend. We expect Americans on the list (see the sunrise), but I find it intensely amusing to find the tech guys on top of the finance guys. 8)

Der Oger,

I'm with you regarding the role played by bankers. I used to work in the sub-prime industry. Eye opening. Two massive opportunities for fraud are consistently occurring. Laundering/Fraud as you mentioned. Not having skin in the game as Taleb described. I'll back banking reform LONG before I'll behead billionaires.

My point is, never allow an individual to have more influence than the state. Keep the state free of their grasp.

Oops. On this I cannot agree. I think the state is dangerous too. I'll agree with you when too FEW have more influence than the state. This happens when we cull them OR when they collude. What matters is how many of them behave independently. Imagine statistical correlation functions taking their actions as parameters. If actions highly correlate, we don't have enough of them opposing each other. Should I behead them all or find a way to get them to disagree with each other?

As for your scenario, that isn't likely here. Too many of us are armed.

Alfred Differ said...

…when my characters complain and refuse to do what was planned!

I usually found that line and ones like it mildly amusing when I was a young man. A little overplayed at times, but amusing enough.

Then I put in some effort learning how to role play in DnD-like games and realized well developed characters take on a life of their own. It was fun but wasn't that what the religious nuts were warning against? Devil-worshippers! Ban the game! Heh. I learned to recognize signs in people seeking to escape despair in their real lives as the actual risk. Despair was the danger… and I wasn't there… so I relaxed and let my characters take shape and have voices.

Ahem. Then a couple months ago I picked up a few of my old characters and thought I'd amuse myself by writing down some stories that had been bouncing around in my head involving them. Nice pandemic distraction I thought. Wrote little notecards to help outline stories and fleshed them out enough making a small story arc. Happy. War. Fuzzy. This month I picked up one of those outlines and started the hard work of filling it. Ten pages needed to get to a hundred twenty. Or so I thought. I'm at page 95 and I'm finally getting near the original outline material. My characters keep saying and doing things to help make the outline make sense and they just won't shut up.

Obviously my office floor is doing to be drenched in blood when I try to edit this mess. Obviously I have lots to learn telling stories that might entertain readers more than characters running wild in my head. However… I am having fun. Despair is not in the building. Not even close.

So now I think I get it. Characters can complain and fuss and refuse to stick with the plan and should when well constructed. Now I must convince them to tell an interesting story for us instead of them.

Larry Hart said...

Heard on Stephanie Miller's radio show...

The burning of the FOX News Christmas tree referred to as "Pine-eleven".

(Maybe you had to be there)

Larry Hart said...

A gas station near my house had regular unleaded for $3.49 a gallon yesterday. A week ago, it was $3.64. That's a drop of 15 cents or 4.1% in a week. An annualized drop of 213%.

Thank you, President Biden.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

sometimes it feels that way when my characters complain and refuse to do what was planned!

Alfred Differ:

So now I think I get it. Characters can complain and fuss and refuse to stick with the plan and should when well constructed. Now I must convince them to tell an interesting story for us instead of them.

You know what writers never seem to want their characters to do, though? To spend every moment worshipping and praying to the writer, asking the writer for favors, telling the writer how great he is.

So why do religions seem to think that that's what our Writer wants from us?

David Brin said...

Kentucky has faced and overcome worse, many times, e.g. horrendous coal mine disasters and black lung death waves, and when (two years before Sherman entered Georgia) Confederate armies burned Kentucky from end to end, till Union rescuers chased them out. Terrible floods preceded the TVA dams. Pellagra, scurvy and rickets wrought havoc on generations of children till nutritional aid and supplements mandates defeated those scourges.

Now, Kentuckians stand tall and proud together as the rest of the Union is swarming in to help, yet again. And perhaps - if we relearn how to work together - with science - we can limit climate disruptions to a low roar.

David Brin said...

Alfred. Billionaires do harm in two ways. (1) Being human, ALL will cheat to some degree. Even self-aware of thios, I'd at least do some nepotism and probably rationalize much more. The best agree to systematic cheating-suppression measures that constrain all of the mighty.... and make conscious efforts to compensate with generous philanthropy.

(2) across 40 years it is proved. Maybe 5% of the uber-rich invest in risky, potentially highly productive enterprises or capacity or R&D. The rest suck capital OUT of productive circulation, then use cheat influence to get shills to push for more tax breaks like supply side, to siphon off even more, slowing money velocity to a crawl and widening wealth disparities.

I am not among those demanding "no billionaires!" But we need transparent rules that make each added billion much harder to achieve EXCEPT through risky investment in productive or innovative things. And their power to influence politics must be slashed down as far as possible.

David Brin said...

LH: "You know what writers never seem to want their characters to do, though? To spend every moment worshipping and praying to the writer, asking the writer for favors, telling the writer how great he is."

Hehe there have been a couple of moments/scenes of open confrontation...

"So why do religions seem to think that that's what our Writer wants from us?"
Exactly I express this in my speech on modern theology:

this TED style talk I gave at a Singularity conference, concerning how to converse - with understanding, erudition and empathy, but also decisively, with your neighbors who use the Bible as a shield against modernity.

Also I just published a PLAY "The Escape" in the genre of "smartass confronts the devil."

scidata said...

For most of us, the JWST is just another great science project. Reassurance that sanity and curiosity still have dominion. But for astronomers who've bet their careers on it, it's nail-biting time to the nth. Bravery is a key requirement for science it seems.


Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

Hehe there have been a couple of moments/scenes of open confrontation...

Fictional characters who are so well-realized that they defy the script and do what they "want" instead. Isn't that the first glimmerings of AI? Or at least proto-AI?

Gator said...

Billionaires don't have to be terrible people to demand "no billionaires!" The demand is a critique of the system, not the people. Government and economics is a human technology that can (should) serve human needs. Right now we have ~100, 200 billionaires in the USA? We have 43 million people living below the poverty line. Is that a great system? It seems like there is room to adjust to make things better for many many citizens of our republic.

Dr. Brin, great post about writing. I love the example of the re-written first paragraph. You create a very clear example of the improved writing.

Alfred Differ said...


(1) Being human, ALL will cheat to some degree.

Agreed, but I'm not inclined to call it 'cheating' if everyone does it or would do it if they were rich. I'd call it 'human nature', but don't favor tolerating it much. We do all sorts of other things I find difficult to tolerate as well.

…The rest suck capital OUT of productive circulation…

Also true, but that is also human nature. Many of us would rather they did something productive, but…

Your transparency notion is the only possible remedy that doesn't kill the system that enriched us all. Seeing what they do enables us to judge fairly what we cannot tolerate. Seeing allows us to determine which cheats are worth regulating and accepting the risk of unintended consequences.

On a side note, I don't think there is enough room in the markets right now to move all that capital into riskier investments. I don't mind them investing in certain types of bonds that support infrastructure construction and R&D that are difficult to finance through risk ventures. Small risks… small rewards.

There should be a limit, though. Too much supply in bond markets leads exactly where Piketty described. Rich folks get safe investments, politicians look like they are delivering what voters want, and progressives get what they think is good for society. What we actually get is the divergence Piketty described. We build in moral hazard.

All investments should have a level of 'unsafeness' in them. All. The markets will assign interest rates accordingly if we make damn clear investors won't be bailed out.

Alfred Differ said...


Critique of the System

Yah. That was the conclusion I drew. That's why I came in on the other side to critique the critique.

It's not that there is nothing wrong with the system.
The problem is the solution has been tried before and it fails.

This system we live under right now has done something stupendously difficult that gets ignored when we move the poverty line up. Not long ago 99% of humanity live on a peasant-level real income no matter what part of the world was their home. Adjusting for inflation and purchasing power, today's number is below 15%.

In Roman times the world is estimated to have had about 200 million people. Run the numbers. 198 million peasant-level people. About 2 million lording it up somehow because the bourgeoisie was pretty thin.

Today we are real close to 8 billion of us. Run the numbers again. A conservative estimate of 15% peasantry gives about 1.2 billion people still living at real income levels the vast majority of humans who ever lived would find familiar. Sounds like a lot. It is. But…

A decent estimate for the numbers of humans to have ever lived (modern humans) is around 100 billion. Run the numbers. Most of our history (far deeper than recorded history) would have 99%+ living near peasant level, but let's be nice and assume our nomadic HG ancestors did a little better before the climate catastrophe forced them to settle and live in their own filth. How about 98%? Maybe 95%? Well… 95% of 100 billion is 95 billion people.

This system isn't just enabling large percentages of us to avoid peasantry, it's causing the peasants to join the bourgeoisie. That 15% estimate is plummeting and has been for many years now. Decades even. The urban population percentage is currently around 56% and growing fast. Urban dwellers might not be rich, but they are rarely peasants. More likely they are among the petite bourgeoisie and have some access to markets, banking, cleaner water, and health resources.

We are expected to reach 8 billion in 2023 and 9 billion in 2037. Care to take a guess how many peasants will be left in the world in those years?

Move the goal posts if you like, but the same argument applies. Set them somewhere and then run the numbers again. The trend is that we are all getting richer on average. The social pyramid is gone replaced by a diamond.

That is the system you are critiquing.

Alfred Differ said...


To spend every moment worshipping and praying to the writer…

Heh. I refuse to insert a Tree of Knowledge and then tell them not to eat from it. Also, my serpents have a more sensible motive than taking on an omnipotent god. 8)

I don't want to come across as an apologist for the old faiths, but I have noticed the major ones alive today were all created by pastoralists. Some of the toughest, meanest, most conservative people ever to walk the Earth grew up on land not fit for farms and just barely fit to support herds. The real question before us (I think) is not what our Writer wants but why we still follow those faiths when our food supply is so huge that obesity is more of a problem than starvation. Seriously. Humans alive today starve when markets can't get food to them. It's a distribution problem called 'civil war/genocide' or something like that.

An ethical system needed by social pastoralists must make gluttony a sin. No choice really since they lived a life that was easily mistaken for a zero sum game.

An ethical system needed by social nomadic hunter-gatherers does not have to be so strict. The positive sum nature of life is a little easier to see.

Which one is providing for most of humanity right now?

When I write, I am inclined to include this stuff. I ask myself whether a fantasy world with (let's say DnD-like) magic would really have humans adopt a pastoralist's form of ethics. I'm having a hard time convincing myself that they would. I have an even harder time imagining that men would be as dominant in a world where women had access to magic. One doesn't need to invent an 'angry witch' sect to produce antagonists for idiot men with large swords listening for the 'lamentations of their women'. The fight would have been over generations earlier and the fools would have had few or no children.

David Brin said...

"To spend every moment worshipping and praying to the writer…"

See my story "Stones of Significance"!

Gator said...

Alfred Differ,
Yes that is the system I am critiquing. Billionaires are a reversion to the past. They are unneeded today. Bring us back to the 1950s when we had higher marginal income tax rates, higher estate taxes, higher federal spending on R&D and infrastructure, and investment in education. I managed to pay my own college tuition by working summer jobs - impossible now for my kids. The USA could have a better wealth distribution and actually have a better economy. Same with the rest of the world.

David Brin said...

Gator I agree with everything... especially return to the successful FDRian social contract... except I think if very little is inherited and the second billion is way-harder (etc.) then if they achieve it through delivery of innovation and goods and services I think a purpose is served by the allure of wealth. Especially if recycling is encouraged the way I talk about here: Horizons and Hope: The Future of Philanthropy - folks who

Der Oger said...

Should I behead them all or find a way to get them to disagree with each other?

Neither. I want them to be taxed properly, for starters. Then, I want to know who pays whom when it comes to political donations.

Another thing one could develop would be a "paladin code" for those who enjoy a higher social status. With great power comes great responsibilities and such.

Currently, in most western jurisdictions, white, rich and influental people enjoy privileges in the courts poor people of color don't get. Lets turn it around. Make great wealth an aggravating factor when a person is found guilty (since society expects them to behave better and, if the crime was financially motivated, they would have even less excuses for committing it), while make poverty a factor that would grant more leniency. (And, why should someone like Rupert Murdoch or Friede Springer who both endanger liberal democracies and empower murderous mobs be treated better than some Islamic hate preacher or leftist agitator?)

Robert said...

In Finland things like driving fines are scaled to your income, so a rich person pays more for the crime than a poor person. I was told the reasoning is that making the fine be the same proportion of their income is more equal — that speeding ticket costs a bartender and a CEO the same number of working hours to pay off. To do differently would be to effectively fine the bartender more, which my Finnish acquaintance told me was considered unfair and unequal.

Don Gisselbeck said...

An Experiment in Criticism by C. S. Lewis is a good take on what makes good art. He focuses mostly on literature. The short take is that if people know it well and keep returning to it, it's good.
Tolkien's On Fairy Stories is really worth a read.

Ilithi Dragon said...

On the subject of characters doing their own thing ...

In my story, I recently had one of the two main protagonists get picked up by his old unit for desertion, because medieval/Renaissance communication problems, for some added excitement/drama, and to further cement his relations with his new, adopted unit (and the other main protagonist).

In the writing of it, one of the antagonists of the act decided to jump in on CAUSING the guy to get picked up for desertion and run thru a drumhead trial.

Then, when the other main protagonist found out, she flipped shit and nearly beat him to death, which wasn't planned. It was a great comeuppance moment for the antagonist, but brought some pretty heavy consequences for the protagonist, which nearly resulted in her getting court-martialled.

The original plan had her and the squad rolling in to save the day, an angry confrontation with the other protagonists former CO, and then getting in some minor trouble with the response to the ruckus they stirred up.

Instead, I had to jump thru a couple hoops to keep one of my main protagonists from being court-martialled, which would have seriously derailed much of the following plot and story.

David Brin said...

Ilithi Dragon that was a good set of scenes in RETREAT, HELL! I remain ready to intoduce you to a publisher.

scidata said...

I think someone said that good writing lives on in the reader's head long after it's finished. I'm still ruminating over MOTHER NIGHT's message. The widespread assumption that red states are 24carat GQP may be in error. So too the assumption that grievance forever flows in only one direction. Grievance is a pendulum, a chimera, a frankenstein -- caveat creator (not sure of the Latin). Best of times, worst of times and such -- history doesn't repeat, but it rhymes.

Larry Hart said...


The widespread assumption that red states are 24carat GQP may be in error.

It's not literally true, but in a sense, that hardly matters. For example, Texas gained lots of population in 10 years, enough to give it two additional House seats. A large percentage of that population gain was Black and Latino. But the way the legislature drew the maps, all those Black and Latinos who moved there simply provided white Republicans a larger margin in Congress.

Paradoctor said...

LH says:
You know what writers never seem to want their characters to do, though? To spend every moment worshipping and praying to the writer, asking the writer for favors, telling the writer how great he is.

So why do religions seem to think that that's what our Writer wants from us?

Imagine a story written like that. What a wretched tale! It would be insanity to write and agony to read. It would be a crime against literature, even worse than a Mary Sue!

But though such a story would interest no-one but the lunatic writer, a story _about_ such a story might be interesting indeed.

First line:
"Your Honor, my client is not mentally fit to stand trial, and here's the proof."

For the mental health of the real writer, I do not recommend quoting Exhibit A beyond snippets, and those snippets loosely translated from scripture. "O Fred our Hack, who resideth in Garret, bless us with Thy Awesomeness!"

Gator said...

Dr. Brin: "except I think
IF [very little is inherited AND the second billion is way-harder (etc.)]
IF they achieve it through delivery of innovation and goods and services
(THEN) I think a purpose is served by the allure of wealth."
Please excuse the pseudocode parsing.

I think the problem in the current system is that the first two statements in the IF are untrue. Rich people pass along their wealth to their kids, who then have a headstart. It's much much easier to take risks and innovate when you have family, money, and connections to help and fallback on. And of course, if you have money it's easier to make money. The second billion is MUCH easier than the first. Which also hits your third statement.
(BTW I see the first problem as part of the case for universal healthcare -- if one doesn't risk their and their family's health or bankruptcy, they very well might quit their job and take a chance to start their own business.)

I get the allure of wealth, but a billion dollars is really quite a lot of wealth. $100 billion is far past the dragon-hoard I'd say. Isn't $100M alluring as well? I just don't see billionaires as a necessary part of a thriving society.

Gator said...

scidata: Mother Night is an amazing book. I've read it a few times and think about it quite often. “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” I see this as both a caution and as a guide. We can pretend to be better people.

Alfred Differ said...


Billionaires are not a reversion to the past. Even in times when the progressive taxation rate was steeper, there were still some very rich people who if we measure them in inflation adjusted dollars were essentially billionaires. This was especially true of some of the robber
barons but continued into and through the 20th century.

You are welcome to say they aren't needed today, but I'll point out that we've never not had them and then challenge you on the grounds that you imagine a utopia that has never existed. The world we have today had them, still has them, and likely will continue. The system we have that lifted peasants out of grinding misery had them, still has them, and likely will continue. You have no grounds on which to claim we don't need them unless you have an absolutely astounding crystal ball that can predict what the consequences would be of eliminating what has always been.

As for higher marginal rates, I can tolerate that. If we are going to have an income tax at all (which I don't think is wise) then we might as well have those who make more pay more.

If we are going to have an estate tax (again… I'd rather something else involving high levels of transparency and trusts) then we might as well make that progressive too. I won't support treating it as a punishment, though.

As for infrastructure, that makes some sense. I'd rather bonds were used instead of taxation, though. Rich people don't WANT to make risky investments, so capitalize our infrastructure using their inclination to be risk averse.

As for R&D… well… as you might have guessed I'd rather use bonds. Think about all the wonderful innovations we'd be funding and patents that would be written. Why not reward those who fund that path with a moderate ROI? If they want to own more of the ROI, they can fund their own corporate R&D directly. Otherwise they chip in to the broader effort and accept a smaller reward for doing so.

As for college tuition… that is a self-inflicted wound. Unintended consequence of underwriting and guaranteeing student loans. EVERYTHING nice we want to do for people has a potential for unintended consequences. Even the GI Bill did, though some of those turned out quite useful over a couple generations.

The USA could have a better wealth distribution and actually have a better economy. Same with the rest of the world.

Yes. We could. Who gets to decide what that looks like? You? Me?

At present, we have a system were you and I get to have some say in persuading our neighbors to create a better economy. We talk. We spend. We vote. What we don't do is coerce… until we do dumb things with our votes. I rather like living in a community where my neighbors don't have a lot of power to coerce me. I'm happy trying to help make the world a better place as long as they don't coerce me into it. When they do, I get pissed off and find something else to do with my time. Something that is likely negative sum.

Alfred Differ said...


I don't mind scaled fines as long as there is no quota being driven by anyone causing uneven enforcement. If scaled fines exist along side transparent reporting requirements for enforcement and collection, I'd actually be supportive.

Der Oger,

I want them to be taxed properly, for starters.

I assure you there is little agreement over here on what constitutes "properly".

I want to know who pays whom when it comes to political donations.

Yes. I'm supportive. That's related to our host's inclination for Transparency. I think that is a far better solution than punitive/corrective taxation. Make it possible for people to see who is screwing them and they'll deal with it.

As for the paladin code, I'm wary. There really isn't all that much difference between all of us and I'm uber-cautious of writing rules that treat us as different. For a silly example, imagine taxing people with green eyes different from blue. Both are human and our eye color is not a vice or even a choice. Taxing someone (or expecting them to follow different rules) because of something that is a fundamental human behavior… is problematic. It has to be done at times, but we should be damn careful and reluctant.

Also, I'm generally opposed to reverse discrimination and highly opposed to forward discrimination. Two wrongs don't make a right. Ends never justify means. You know how it goes.

scidata said...

"We are what we pretend to be"

This explains so much of human nature, especially our propensity to sign on to mass movements. This ranges from sports fans, to clubs and societies (including my own interest in Citizen Science teams), to political parties, to full-on delusional fascism. I'm even more convinced now than 50 years ago that history is in fact psychohistory.

Larry Hart said...


You know what writers never seem to want their characters to do, though? To spend every moment worshipping and praying to the writer, asking the writer for favors, telling the writer how great he is.

So why do religions seem to think that that's what our Writer wants from us?
But though such a story would interest no-one but the lunatic writer...

I know this is off your point, but my point is that even the writer would not want his characters acting that way. While they busy themselves Hosanna-ing and singing the writer's praises (and probably asking for favors), the writer would be tearing his hair out, going, "I didn't create you for that. Go forth and do something interesting!"

I imagine God reacting that way as well.

Alfred Differ said...


I didn't create you for that.

Heh. I would certainly hope you are right, but I ran into a funny comic series yesterday where the writer inserts themselves as a character. Most such things are very UNfunny to me, but this guy pulled it off.

In one panel, one of his mind-control villains shows up. She asks him nicely to do something. He reminds her he didn't create her to be his 3D girl friend. Hilarity ensues.

What makes it more funny is the tragic angle. Some 3D artists I've seen DO seem to be creating characters with whom they can interact because their RL options are very limited.

All of this makes me wonder at the people who think God wrote us to provide all that praise. Do they imagine him being autistic? In-cel? I have to wonder.

duncan cairncross said...

The "Paladin Code'

Is this not exactly like the Chinese system - only applied to the politicians rather than the rich??

IMHO that is a GOOD idea!

I'm sortof with Alfred -There is an optimum amount of inequality for society to operate well


(1) I am damn sure that the present setup is a LONG way on the unequal side of the optimum

(2) We should have taxation and limits to keep us as close as possible to the optimum BUT we should always endeavor to be on the "equal" side of the optimum

The problem with massive inequality is summed up by

We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both.

Louis D. Brandeis

I would support punitive levels "taxation" on all political speech - on a savagely sliding scale
You contribute $1000 - the "rate is zero"
$10,000 - 50%
$100,000 - 90%
$1000,000 - 98%
$10 million - 99.6%

That strikes me as more suited to American culture than the simple limits to all political speech that we use here (NZ)

Robert said...

If we are going to have an estate tax (again… I'd rather something else involving high levels of transparency and trusts) then we might as well make that progressive too. I won't support treating it as a punishment, though.

It was estate taxes that broke the power of the British landed aristocracy. I've always viewed the quaint Republican obsession with "death taxes" as indicating a longing for aristocracy to return — especially as American estate taxes didn't kick in unless you were inheriting millions, so most people would never pay them.

Robert said...

Yes. I'm supportive. That's related to our host's inclination for Transparency. I think that is a far better solution than punitive/corrective taxation. Make it possible for people to see who is screwing them and they'll deal with it.

Why don't you take Norway as a model?

All income tax returns are publicly accessible. To make the transparency reciprocal, the person whose tax filing was requested also learns the identity of the person doing the requesting. So I could request the prime minister's tax returns, and get them, but he would know that I did it.

David Brin said...

Kool appraoch in Norway.

Alfred Differ said...


I agree. The probably is some optimum level of inequality. I'm loathe to let anyone define it, but I agree we aren't near it right now.

I'm not inclined to use taxation to optimize, though. Seems like that's the only tool y'all have in your tool belt when it comes to social engineering.

As for taxing political speech, absolutely NOT. I'll oppose it. That's as bad as poll taxing my right to vote. Americans will use it to disenfranchise each other. Seriously. We try all sorts of other ways that are much more complicated, so I don't want to give them one that is trivially easy to apply.


My reading of Piketty suggests he said the landed aristocracy was broken by the wars of the 20th century and the devaluation of the pound sterling that had to happen to resolve the war debt. Their wealth was crushed by something that had never happened to them before. Inflation. In France, the method was more blunt involving default and a rejection of Vichy related debts.

WAY too many people use taxation as a bludgeon for punishment. There are other ways. Consider (for example) how money can be hidden in trusts in the US skipping resolution of an estate. What if we required those trusts to avoid politics like we do with our non-profits? Break the rule and we break the trust like we do with non-profits occasionally.

As for the Norwegian model, I'm not opposed. I'd want some ID reforms first, though. I despise our current system's approach for foisting the consequences of ID theft upon the victim when it is the financial system that allowed it with their lax security. Fix that and I'd worry less about the PII visible in my tax returns being available to viewers.

I'm not trying to impose an impossible hurdle for this either. We already have some transparency regarding real property ownership. I get several calls a day from people asking me if I want to sell my house. They promise fortunes. (bullshit. I used to work in the financial sector.) They say they were referred by my brother. (more bullshit. He died last year.) I don't like all that happening, but the world would not be improved by hiding my ownership to help me hide from fraudsters. There are other, better ways to deal with them. Transparency ways.

Tim H. said...

I would expect, in the unlikely event traffic fines were indexed to income here, we'd hear a lot of resentment from wealthy malefactors with ready access to media. From my working class boomer perspective, without resentment, there would be little left of contemporary conservatism.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

Heh. I would certainly hope you are right, but I ran into a funny comic series yesterday where the writer inserts themselves as a character. Most such things are very UNfunny to me, but this guy pulled it off.

No, see that I actually do enjoy when--as you say--the writer knows how to pull it off. Kurt Vonnegut inserted himself as a character in Breakfast of Champions, which blew my 16-year-old mind (in a good way) when I read it. Dave Sim's Cerebus spent literally years leading up to a climax at which the author reveals himself to the Cerebus character in order to demonstrate to the character that even Divine intervention on his part to give Cerebus whatever he asked for wouldn't make the character happy.

All of this makes me wonder at the people who think God wrote us to provide all that praise. Do they imagine him being autistic? In-cel? I have to wonder.

That's what I was getting at. I wasn't denying that a writer might choose to interact with his characters. I was questioning the real-life analogous premise that the self-evident reason a Writer would create characters would be for those characters to do nothing but sing the Writer's praises like a chorus of Donald Trump sycophants.

When the writers on this list mention characters who refuse to follow the script because they've got their own ideas--that seems much more to me like what God would expect of us.

Larry Hart said...


the quaint Republican obsession with "death taxes"

Framing is everything, and there isn't a liberal equivalent of Frank Lunz in sight.

Republicans make it sound bad, as if on top of the tragedy of dying, you're being taxed for it as well!

The way I've always viewed it is, "I'd rather pay taxes when I'm dead then before then."

Robert said...

All of this makes me wonder at the people who think God wrote us to provide all that praise. Do they imagine him being autistic? In-cel? I have to wonder.

A patriarch. There's a reason people talk about "god the father".

Have you ever interacted with someone who's a patriarch (or thinks they are one)? They expect obedience and admiration, treat you better if you constantly praise them, don't worry about consistency because their word is law…

Alan Brooks said...

Devastating tornadoes deliberately produced to attack an enemy: that’d make a good short story or book. Tornadoes that attack the homes or offices of generals and colonels...

scidata said...

Robert: Have you ever interacted with someone who's a patriarch (or thinks they are one)?

I was once playing tennis on a public set of courts, and I tried to (politely) fetch a ball from the neighbouring court (well behind the playing area, near the fence, after waiting for their point to finish). What ensued was a classic example.

Patriarch: Don't enter our space. [Karen awakens]
Me: Sorry, I was just fetching our ball.
Patriarch: You must not disobey me. [Karen confuses tennis player and employee]
Me: Sorry, I just needed our ball.
Patriarch: Do you know who I am??? [Karen demands worship]
Me: Sorry, no.
Patriarch: I am the CEO of XYZ Corporation. [Karen over-shares]
Me: Oh, good for you.
Patriarch: XYZ is the largest manufacturer of widgets in the entire northeastern district! [Karen nears a stroke]
Me: Oh.
Patriarch: So you know how to behave next time you need to fetch a ball. [the worms gnaw on Karen's brain]
Me: Now I know. Well, we have to go, enjoy your game.
Patriarch: [scolds his playing partner about something widgetty]
Me: A quick glance from his partner conveyed a wordless, cringing apology.

duncan cairncross said...

I would LOVE to have another tool in the toolbox other than taxes!!
But with capitalism being a positive feedback system we need SOMETHING - and the alternatives appear to be taxation or the guillotine

Trusts are a method of avoiding taxation - and as such they need to be legislated out

Political Speech
Today we have the US system where the rich drown out everybody else
"Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence."

We have the systems like here (NZ) where all political speech is severely restricted - there are strict and tight limits on the amount that can be spent

The current US system is an oligarchy
Progressive Taxation would allow speech - but prevent the sort of abuse you have just now

Comparing taxing speech to a Poll Tax
Its NOT like a simple poll tax - more like a Tax on additional votes!
The first $1000 is tax free
If you want to persuade more people - effectively "more votes" - then you are taxed on those additional "votes"

Back to alternative methods to reduce the inequality that is inherent in capitalism

The way I see it you can "Tax" a little but frequently - income tax or an annual wealth tax
Or you can take a bigger bite more infrequently (Estate Tax)

Or you can leave it alone until it gets so bad the Revolution happens and 95% of the wealth is destroyed

What other methods are there? - I would love to have another tool in the toolbox

matthew said...

Alfred, the general problem with billionaires is that *they get the choice of economic system over the rest of us*. (And the life choices they make to become and stay billionaires are repugnant to a fair and balanced society)

We the People do not get that choice, not in equal measure with billionaires, not by a factor of millions.
GOP millionaires have been complaining for years that their own party will no longer listen to them, that it is *all* coming from the richest .0001% of world-wide oligarchs.

The House of Saud gets a vote in Congress, though.

And I certainly would not want a billionaire as a neighbor. It would be worse than a crack house. Billionaires know this too, thus buying $200M ranches in the middle of Montana and redoubts in NZ.

duncan cairncross said...

Thinking about an alternative to Taxes that Alfred could like

How about a "Lottery"
You automatically get tickets - one ticket for every million dollars you own (including Trusts)
Once a week the lottery is drawn - and the winner gets executed!

Would that be acceptable instead of taxes??

Gator said...

Alfred Differ: Don't worry about the rich, they sure don't worry about you. They are doing just fine.

"The fortunes of Andrew Mellon and his peers have proved so durable over the past century that today one-third of the top 50 wealthiest Americans on the Forbes list are heirs. The cascading riches have minted multimillionaires and billionaires outside the top 50, as well. ProPublica’s analysis of confidential IRS data shows the youngest son of the late opioid magnate Mortimer Sackler took in more than $205 million by age 22; Bruce Nordstrom, grandson of the department store founder, collected more than $175 million in trust income through 2019; and William Wrigley Jr., the great-grandson of the chewing gum pioneer, raked in more than $570 million in trust income through that year."

Alan Brooks: Re tornados, the Peter Watts novel Echopraxia features a weaponized tornado.

duncan cairncross said...


That one third statistic is deeply misleading

If you were given money before your parents die then you are not considered to have "inherited" that money by Forbes

The actual percentage of Billionaires that actually inherited their wealth is more like 90%

Back before trusts were inherited the third generation could destroy their fortune
But AFTER the invention of Trusts even that leveling mechanism stopped working

David Brin said...

Alfred and I overlap a lot. But there are specifics where he's more a libertarian than I. My top priority is transparency of ownership, since if that happens, then regular laws and governance could at least function to favor law-abiders over cheaters, in most democracies and abandoned property could pay off national debts and lower taxes for all. And power-cheating would face stiffer limits.

I think Alfred & I agree on that priority.

But I am a generational Benthamite. Incantations don't interest me. I favor graduated taxation that highly incentivizes the rich to engage in far-seeing whim projects rather than either power exertion or making their wretched brats lords. Carnegie's libraries save his name from the gutter and elevated the nation. The Gates+Buffett Giving Pledge just got 14 more billionaires signed on, swearing to donate more than half. This should be incentivized even more by tax policies that essentially say use-it-or-lose-it.

TCB said...

Just because I feel like making noise, here's a prologue to a book I will probably never finish writing.


“Everyone! Come grab your bows! A strange bird in the sky!” Dozens darted about straw-colored huts in a clearing surrounded by tall tropical forest, short stringy men taking up weapons, bronze women trying to reel in wayward children, the children seeking a better look. Far above, a humming monster of fish-like silver turned. Even the village mutts raced about the smooth dirt paths, barking with support if not advice. Arrows hissed upward and fell vainly.
Ma’pu’u glared at the monster and raised his bow. Like all his kin, he wore nearly nothing, his dark hair bowl-cut and the upper half of his face black with char. His tan arm tensed and smoothly released. He shouted “a’hi!” and then stamped in panic as his arrow curved slowly and fell only twenty paces away. He had just six others and ran on shaky legs to retrieve it. Ma’pu’u had killed a few small animals before but this strange, terrible bird was far out of range. He desperately needed to piss, and sweat pooled under his palm, on the tiny bow made by his own hand under direction of his father Kahe’sahu’, the cacique. Ma’pu’u was perhaps six years old.
The monster circled lower, its hum louder, a sharp flash of sun bouncing off its curved flank. Ma’pu’u pulled up the spent arrow and turned slowly, eyes dissecting, anatomizing the monster. Its wing was atop, and beneath it Ma’pu’u could see in, its body like some large canoe. There seemed to be some men sitting in it. On its side were black tattoos, some curved and some straight. Ma’pu’u began to hear a flute.
Ma’pu’u looked behind him. Old Koa’ni’ose, the vine man, the kaapi’ive’pi who talked to the spirits, stared at the monster and imitated its hum on his flute with fierce breaths. Ma’pu’u turned again and pointed the arrow at the monster’s heart, droning from as far down as his diaphragm would go, and soon others started to howl at it, too. The thing leveled its wings and shrank away over the trees.

A bright moon reigned among the stars, and in the clearing, little orange fires. Nothing else lit the jungle for many miles. The adults of the Slowriver tribe crowded into the largest ma’he, the children jammed the doorway and leaned in the windows. Koa’ni’ose and some of the other men had spent the rest of the day chopping and boiling kaapi vine with chacruna leaves and oar tree bark. Ma’pu’u had gone along and watched the men gather these ingredients. The oar tree, Koa’ni’ose told him, held the spirit of a fearless cacique, a headman like Ma’pu’u’s father, who had fought many men and would keep enemies away. Worried grownups talked after the evening meal and waited for the ayahuasca to cool, and then, gathered in the thatched ma’he, received small bitter cupfuls of the powerful brew from the stern-faced shaman. Finally he set the bowl of ayahuasca aside, sat with eyes closed and began to sing an icaro. Periodically someone would leave the ma’he and vomit, a common effect of the brew, a necessary cleansing. Usually, after a few minutes, they returned. After almost an hour, Ma’pu’u’s mother waved the children off and they left, gathered instead around a fire outside to tell frightening stories.

TCB said...

Haka’pa, an older girl, told the story of Wood Leg and how he might lead you away, never to be found. Tshas’pasahu’, who would be deemed a man in another year or so, told a long, lurid tale of Eye Mouth and how he ate whole villages. Six more children told stories, old ones Ma’pu’u had heard or new old ones he just hadn’t been alive long enough to hear yet. The fire died down and was fed, and the babies and dogs slept, the children who were still awake listened to the murmur from the meeting house.
“I want to tell a story,” Ma’pu’u whispered. The others giggled.
“Is it scary?” demanded Tshas’pasahu’, “It has to be scary!”
“Yes. It’s called the Dirty Thunder Bird.”
The children’s eyes widened. They said nothing. Tshas’pasahu’ thumped himself, his fist into his chest. “Tell us!”
Ma’pu’u hesitated. How to start? Start with what you know. “Slowriver people lived by the Slow River, where the world was made. The people ate manioc and red deer and sweet potato and maize, and the men made arrows for meat and fish, the women made baskets and the kaapi’ive’pi made the ayahuasca to talk to the spirits.”
“This is stupid,” Haka’pa objected. “We know all this.”
“He’s little, let him tell it his way,” the older boy said.
“The Slowriver men were fishing when Outsiders came in boats. They killed the people with their dirty thunder that strikes like an arrow. The Outsiders took some people away and worked them until they died, or they used sickness magic to put spots on everyone’s bodies. So the Slowriver people left and took what they could carry and walked for more years than fingers, and so nobody ever saw Slow River again.”
“Get to the part about the bird!” “Yes, the bird! It’s a scary bird!”
“So the Outsiders looked everywhere for the Slowriver people, but the forest was too big. Then one day the Outsiders caught a giant vulture and fed it rocks until its feathers turned shiny and their shamans made marks on its side so they could make it their slave like they did the other people and they rode in its belly but it was very unhappy and that is why it hums. They make it sing a sick song. It wants to throw them up. They taste like dirty thunder.”
“And then what happened?”
“It found us. And now they are coming.”
Haka’pa began to cry. So did some of the others, but then Tshas’pasahu’ asked: “So what do we do?”

TCB said...

“Spears and arrows can’t stop the Dirty Thunder Bird. The only way is to feed it the kaapi so it can vomit out the bad people and then there has to be a new icaro to replace the bad song that makes it sick, and then it can carry the Slowriver people to another slow river, in a place only it knows. And then the Outsiders won’t come and the Bird can go free.”
The other children looked behind Ma’pu’u. There stood every adult in the village. The old shaman’s eyes glittered in the firelight. “We will move tomorrow. The Outsiders will come, as the boy says.” Koa’ni’ose met Ma’puu’s gaze. “And this one will be kaapi’ive’pi some day. Long after I step into the trees. Pee’ne, these problems are all going to be yours.”

And that was the first time Ma’pu’u ever saw an airplane. After a three day trek upland the people had settled near a smaller river. Another five years passed before another small plane flew over, and the people moved even farther. Their village lay near a tributary that was usually no more than chest deep. A year later the first Outsiders came around. The men fired arrows at the motorized canoes, but the Outsiders then left gifts on a major hunting path: sugar bundles, salt, metal knives and pots. The tribe decided moving again might not work, and eventually accepted the gifts. The Outsiders returned several times over months, finally achieving a tense armed meeting with the men. The Outsiders brought a man who looked less pale than the Others and could speak a language not very different for the Slowriver people’s. The Outsiders carried rifles, and used one to kill a caiman. Dirty thunder was real.
By the time Ma’pu’u was thirteen, Koa’ni’ose had died of a fever and Ma’pu’u had learned much about the holy herbs and ways of healing. However, Tsakata’his’eta, another elder, was the most experienced and stood in as kaapi’ive’pi. He told Ma’pu’u to learn about the Outsiders as well as his vocation. Ma’pu’u spoke often with the interpreter and began to learn the Outsider language.
He learned that their word for a vine man was curandeiro. He learned how they measured time and the Outsiders said it was the year of 1969. The day of the Dirty Thunder Bird must have happened around 1962. He learned that the forest did not go on forever, and that his people lived in the western part of something called Brazil.

Unknown said...

"Have you ever interacted with someone who's a patriarch (or thinks they are one)?"

Anecdote: My friend the professional harpist was doing a gig at a fancy party, providing background music, back in the late 90's. In between glissades* she overhears one rich male guest tell another something like "Isn't this an amazing scam we (financiers) are pulling?"

These are people who know exactly what they are doing, and aren't going to stop.

*She hates glissades, and playing "Danny Boy" at Irish celebrations. "It's like shooting fish in a barrel." This is a woman who got recruited by the Marine Band, then turned down because she knew too many radicals.

Alfred Differ said...


I've met patriarchs. They come in a few varieties from strong decision makers all the way to fools who drank their own koolaide. I'm not sure there are any guard rails preventing one of the milder types from falling off the cliff.

So… essentially… They imagine Him to be like them. That's what you're saying.

Ah well. You are probably right. It wouldn't be the first time a human being failed to comprehend the distinction between Me and Them. My 22 yo son still has trouble with that one, but he's squarely on the spectrum. I expected that.

I recall a class that discussed abnormal psychology and the instructor got REAL careful when talking about schitzotypals. It's not that the definition bothered the students. The problem is they quickly identified people they knew as one… including their priests/pastors/etc. He came about the definition by pointing out it was one of the rare ones that did not doom the victim to never reproducing. In fact, it helped in some cases. Uh… see above about priests/pastors/etc.

Heh. His real worry was his students would engage in amateur diagnoses of people around them and the feces would fly. 8)

Alfred Differ said...


Your execution lottery is funny in a silly way, so let me offer an appreciative smile that hints (strongly) that many (other) libertarians won't see it as a joke and then move on. 8)

If you legislate out trusts, YOU would be guilty of destroying tools in the tool box. Do that long enough and we will be left only with automatic and nuclear weapons. Not smart. The trick with trusts is to legislate "What they may do" and "What they must report". What they DO might not stand up to a court fight, but reporting demands are more resilient in the face of the Congressional power to investigate whatever the heck they want to examine to decide what legislation is needed.

As for 'speech' in the US, I'm not arguing that the rich don't drown out everyone. I'm pointing out they ALWAYS have and lopping heads won't change that. Taking their money just puts it in the hands of others and I am loathe to have politicians decide who those others are. That's what would happen because that's what already happens. They decide where taxes go. How much more economic power should I grant to the winner of an election? If 2016-2020 taught us anything here is they should have less say in the base economy. The rich would have to point their 'speech' elsewhere.

I get that NZ has speech limitations and that it seems to be working for you. I'll just point out that the average US citizen is far more barbaric and we are the third most populous nation. No law will limit our actual speech anymore than prohibition prevented alcohol consumption. We simply won't tolerate it.

As if our intolerance wasn't enough, it's part of the first amendment. I won't tolerate any amendment to the amendment debate right now with our confederates so willing to burn down the democracy.

What other methods are there?

Well… I'm glad you asked. 8)

The one we seem unwilling to try is an expansion of something like our muni-bonds to larger infrastructure needs. Congress can borrow by authorizing Treasury bonds and notes, but paying those back never seems to happen. Doing so would have to be accomplished by setting aside revenues and that's not how to win votes let alone make for happy donors who feed on those revenues.

Imagine authorizing bonds that pay for themselves from revenue generated by what gets financed. States do that with toll bridges and road fees, but often fail to sunset those by ensuring the bonds ACTUALLY mature and die.

What we have instead is a rotating debt structure most citizens utterly ignore. That constant rotation is what feeds the predictable income that so worries Piketty. Stopping rich people from feeding at that trough would FORCE them into making riskier investments, but that won't happen while they can convince legislators to keep things going and progressives that this is somehow a good thing. It ISN'T a good thing. Piketty described exactly how. End the endless cycle. Somehow.

Taking money from rich people has never worked. It took massive, total war in the 20th to halt the cycle Piketty described in the UK and France, but they've made a return as peace rules. Human nature. You NEED the other tools.

Alfred Differ said...


Okay. I'm going to have to do a little finger pointing in your direction tonight. I still like you, but you are doing something I think is more than a little dumb.

Learned Helplessness.

We the People do not get that choice, not in equal measure with billionaires, not by a factor of millions.

Yah? When have we EVER?

Yes… somehow… the world created by robber barrons has moved on to a world of several billion more of us struggling with obesity instead of starvation. Today the House of Saud gets a vote. Yesterday it was the Sugar industry. Before that it was the Landed Gentry. The best high school experience I ever had involved two US history teachers who took down the partition between their classes and had us role play the history we were learning. Congress has ALWAYS served factions. They were well into that long before the last Founder/Framer was in the grave.

Yet… the rich people lose sometimes. We've seen multiple attempts in CA where rich people try by the Governor's seat… and fail. We've seen majority party 'party bosses' fail to retain power when their actual voters decide to have a say.

I can't blame you for not wanting to live next to an insatiably rich person. First time I saw that kind of behavior I was 17 living in Las Vegas when a mere millionaire did pretty much whatever he wanted to his house. The neighbors were not happy to say the least. Funny thing happened many years later, though. He and his family went into politics and had far, far less success. One of his kids ran for governor too. My whole NV family rose up and said 'No way in Hell.' So… sucks to be right there near them, but don't read too much into what they manage to do.

Your post and the tone it conveys leads me to being concerned about you. You come off as a victim who has learned helplessness.

I'm the rat who refuses to accept that I will drown no matter how deep the barrel of water is into which I am tossed. Nope. I'm not a victim. I'm a @#@^ing barbarian who will find a way out.

Alfred Differ said...


Alfred and I overlap a lot. But there are specifics where he's more a libertarian than I.



Single desk with a small lamp. Computer/keyboard. A bottle of tequila. OLD FART sits in a chair back just far enough for his hands to be lit, but not his face.

It's a dirty job, but someone's gotta do it.

Molotov cocktail lands on the desk from off screen. Everything burns. The world is saved from descent into Cliche Hell.



Priority one is transparency. Agreed.

My issue with a Benthamite approach is I remain unconvinced they know what to incentivize better than the rodents who manage to escape traps set by the golf buddy clade. We don't actually need a fair, flat, open market for everyone to cause utter chaos for that clade. We WANT it, but we've managed to take three steps forward for every two back without it.

What I want is to make it more difficult for oligarchs to trap every rat. I do NOT mind when a rat wants to play golf with them, though. I'll just help the next set of rats eat his grain.

Tim H. said...

Something of interest:

My take, FWIW, is a percentage of the powers that be is okay with little or no democracy, if it's still profitable. Historically, this sort of decision tends to not have a long term future*, but they'll risk it for a few good quarters.

*I suppose if the Third Reich had been able to set aside bigotry and not try for a do over of WW1, things may have gone differently...

Daniel Duffy said...

I've been published over 100x (goggle my name and such magazines as MSW Management, Distributed Energy and Grading Excavation Contractor).

As you may have guessed from the references, I exclusively write about engineering, renewable energy and environmental issues.

Every now and then I wonder about writing "The Great American Novel" that high schoolers will be force to read in English class 100 years from now.

Or at least a popular bit of fiction that earns me a fat Hollywood movie deal, and avoid getting screwed like Mario Puzo for the first Godfather movie. (Note to self: get a percentage of the GROSS, not the NET.)

So how do I make that transition from factual reporting to fiction writing.

How do I even know if I will be any good at fiction?

Robert said...

regular laws and governance could at least function to favor law-abiders over cheaters

Would they, though? Current laws are complex and the wealth-shielding (aka wealth-management) industry knows how to use them to shield wealth in a totally legal fashion. In many cases the laws are written to suit those using them — regulatory capture. Legalizing Theft by Alain Deneault is a good (short) introduction.

How much has the revelations of the Paradise Papers and similar leaks actually affected those 'caught'? As best I can tell from the results, cheating to get your kid into a good school is considered a bigger crime (judging by the punishments).

Don Gisselbeck said...

"Elon Musk... the terror endstate of democracy."

David Brin said...

Danial D. Great idea to write! Still, know that fiction writing is incantatory magic with scores of skills to learn. Start here:
And yes, my blog about authoring!

…which hardly anyone seems to be commenting on!

David Brin said...

Alfred, among the ‘guard rails’ to keep a patriarch from toppling into foolish koolaid-drinking oppression:
- curiosity
- a sense of fairness
- self-deprecating humor (SDH)
- Law. Due process… or the versions that are traditional and powerful within some families, like the wife/mom’s power to say “time to shut up and listen, Sam.”
-The catechism of science, “I might be wrong.”

Only one of them, law, can be applied after the koolaid truly sets in. That’s why we invented it.

One of them, SDH, is used by confederates as a REINFORCEMENT of their koolaid that “I may be dumb but admitting it makes me wise!” e.g. Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy type comedians. (“You know you’re a redneck when…”)

Alfred we disagree over the likelihood that confiscatory taxes on the uber rich just shifts the money to other incompetents. Civil servants operating under law, have uses for more money that – while imperfect and often inefficient - at least push hard at real problems and get momentum going. It would have given us a network of continental high speed rail by now, sans Reagan.

But sure, let the rich have a first crack at doing good stuff. Elon built a much better pair of miracles… 5 years earlier electric cars and Falcon9s … by controlling his money, albeit with huge govt subsidies that tilted the playing field in the direction of things he wanted to do. So I say: “Start using your money well and we’ll keep the tax man off of you. Keep using it just to cheat re power and hoarding andstifling mony velocity and making your brats into lords? No. Just no.”

Yes, there are countless examples of The People standing up and doing the right thing. From Athenians investing the silver mine lucre into their Navy to your NV neighbors rejecting a rich putz to CA voters ending the Gerrymanders that were helping their favorite party. Again, see

Robert said...

His real worry was his students would engage in amateur diagnoses of people around them and the feces would fly.

Or themselves. I'm not the only one who's met people using self-diagnosis to decide they are disabled and deserve extra leeway.

I used to teach kids in the autism program before I retired. They were mostly nice kids, and the number that resembled people who self-diagnose as ASD (to excuse bad behaviour) was very small — and I think their assholeness wasn't because of their ASD condition. :-)

Robert said...

The trick with trusts is to legislate "What they may do" and "What they must report".

Back in the (very) old days a corporation had a declared purpose, and couldn't engage in activities that didn't relate to that purpose. If it did it could lose its charter.

Everyone talks about how limited liability corporations were a key factor in making the modern world. I suspect that the general loosening of this requirement, so that "anything that makes money" is OK, is an ignored part of the equation. Meant a corporation didn't need a new charter every time they went into a different field.

Larry Hart said...


Back in the (very) old days a corporation had a declared purpose, and couldn't engage in activities that didn't relate to that purpose. If it did it could lose its charter.

That's why my Second Law of Corporatics would insist that a corporation do what it is chartered to do (analogous to the Law of Robotics concerning following orders). Be aware that Alfred is opposed to that entire concept.

duncan cairncross said...


You make the unwarranted assumption that we have moved fast and far BECAUSE of the rich people - there is almost zero data for that assumption

I make the "assumption" that we would have moved faster and further with LESS inequality and that the current levels of inequality are slowing us down

About the only piece of data that supports your assumption is Elon Musk - I'm more generous than our host I think he has accelerated the move to electric cars by 10 to 20 years
And has done the same for low cost access to orbit

Other than Musk we would all have done better and moved further if the old 90+% tax rates and the old "Trust Busting" had continued

America led the world - down the right path until the 70's then down the wrong path

These are ALWAYS used to avoid paying taxes - abolish them

Catfish 'n Cod said...

@Larry: But what enforces Laws of Corporatics? Because the answer can't be "self-regulation" and it shouldn't be "government" as that's a point-failure source. Is it a private action, like a tort, that a corporation does something not covered in the charter?

Because I guarantee you, as sure as the dawn terminator moves westward, there will be attempts at Zeroth Laws and Minus-One Laws and on and on.

There does need to be something that acts as a check on this species of virtual organisms that have unlimited longevity, unlimited appetite, and little in the way of natural predators. Sort of a legal-fiction krogan, if you will.

Ear-to-the-ground chatter suggests the 1/6 Committee is plotting major spectacles for after the first of the year, complete with media blitzes and a low-mercy attitude. I surely hope so. If we don't pour some turbocharger into the democracy-defense engine, I am not sure we will move fast enough to stop the Plot Against the American Experiment. Certainly "Washington" as a whole is not capable of self-motivating to stop its own demise; loyal citizenry -- loyal to the Constitution, not the volk -- will need to take actions.

(That's why I don't much like your idea of allegiance to the People, Doc -- too easily twisted into herrenvolk rhetoric. Allegiance to Jefferson's Inalienable Rights, perhaps?)

Catfish 'n Cod said...

@Alfred: "Taking their money just puts it in the hands of others and I am loathe to have politicians decide who those others are."

That's the upside of universal entitlements (like Social Security) that are so despised by the right: they can't be manipulated easily. EVERYONE gets them. It's a crude corrective to Piketty's r > g, which I would rephrase as "in the long run, any entity seeking arbitrary profit margins must eventually betray and cannibalize parts of its host society." Without a feedback mechanism forcing wealth to actually reflect economic activity, capitalism's compounding effects crash. The most visible mechanisms in the current US economy that provide that needed feedback are the Federal Reserve and the statistics departments of the Federal Government, which is why the most extreme banksters and oligarch "libertarians" encourage lunacies like resurrecting the gold standard.

Some people have so much hunger that they'd rather have the roast goose than the golden eggs.

matthew said...

Alfred, I certainly do not mind your finger pointing at me. I've certainly aimed enough salvos your way and the overall karmic balance between us is still heavily in your favor.

But, to your statements, it is not "learned helplessness" to say that billionaire oligarchs control our political and economic system and that they resist any changes in the direction of equality. It is not learned helplessness to argue that billionaires, *any* billionaires, are a symptom of deep rot in our systems. Extreme inequality in wealth is not a sign that those at the top are good. It is a sign that they've learned to cheat successfully. Even the "good" ones.

Personally, I don't believe that I'm helpless. I don't think our society is helpless either.

I do not buy your argument above that "it's always been this way" is a good enough excuse to allow criminal oligarchs to control the fate of my family, my nation, or my planet. Firstly, we have the greatest inequality of wealth ever seen in our rich nation. Secondly, as you point out, I (and We the People) are barbarians.

I'm not at the point of "burn it all down" because I can see the advantages of our Smithian Liberal ideals. But, a whole lot of our fellow citizens sure are at the burn it all down point.

And it will not just be the oligarchs that pay the price. It will be everyone else too.

Because Billionaires cannot be sated. It is part of the drive that makes them billionaires. Not even the "good" ones that try to control through charitable giving and foundations that they and their idiot offspring control.

I'm not helpless, I'm Cassandra.

Either we change our system to eliminate the gross power and economic advantages of extreme wealth.
Or the barbarian We the People will burn the world.

My "learned helplessness" is not seeing much of a middle road between those two fates.

Larry Hart said...

Catfish 'n Cod:

@Larry: But what enforces Laws of Corporatics? Because the answer can't be "self-regulation" and it shouldn't be "government" as that's a point-failure source. Is it a private action, like a tort, that a corporation does something not covered in the charter?

Well, you have to remember that the "Laws of Corporatics" were always a thought experiment, not a real blueprint for action. The point was that--like Asimovian Robots--corporations are tools which can be very dangerous, but also can be very useful. So something like the "Laws of Robotics" might serve--as they did for Asimov's robots--to make them more like useful tools than like Frankenstein's monsters.

"But what enforces Laws of Corporatics? Because the answer can't be 'self-regulation' ...". Well, it kinda was with robots. The Laws of Robotics are built into the robot's design. It's not that the Robot has to be kept from disobeying the Laws, but rather that it has no way of doing anything other than obeying them. You might as well ask what enforces the fact that a car only drives in two dimensions and doesn't take off into the air. No one takes a car to court and punishes it for flying. Nothing "enforces" that other than the fact that the car's design doesn't involve flight. Well, nothing "enforces" the robot's compliance except that its design doesn't allow anything else.

So in my Mike Doonesbury's Summer Daydream, the Laws of Corporatics would be part of the state or national or international laws and conventions which are behind forming corporations in the first place. Any corporation would be presumed to be legally bound by them. In an imperfect world, courts and lawsuits and hostile takeovers would probably be the real-world mechanisms for dealing with wayward corporations, but that's already violating my image of how this all works. See, in Asimov-land, there's no external mechanism for dealing with wayward robots--there just can't be any such thing as a wayward robot. Now, how can we envision a setup such that there can't be any such thing as a wayward corporation?

And don't look at me, 'cause I'm really asking. :)

Larry Hart said...

Stonekettle on the fallout from FOX's Christmas tree fire. The man knows whereof he speaks. Emphasis is my own...

Instead of rage and chest beating and Pearl Harbor, wouldn't the real lesson of Christmas be to stand in front of the ruins of their silly fake tree and actually honor the birth of their savior? Feed the hungry. Clothe the poor. Heal the sick. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Forgive each other. Love conquers all. Judge not. Deeds, not words. You know, that sort of thing.

I mean, their God likes to test people. What if this was the test? And they failed?

I don't know. It's not my religion. But, you gotta wonder: what would Jesus himself have done?

But then, these people don't really believe in their religion or the lessons of their own supposed savior.

To them, Christmas is just another weapon they use to bludgeon those they hate.

Alfred Differ said...

…which hardly anyone seems to be commenting on!

Heh. First time I read "incantatory magic" (here) to describe fiction writing I thought "Gosh… that feels right." That's about as far as I got, though, because I wasn't trying to write. Now I'm trying and it doesn't just "feel" right… I can feel myself pulled into the incantation being spun. When I'm not, I know I have to step away from the keyboard.

I know a few of us write, but I honestly don't know what percentage of us do. We write comments to post and some are elaborate, but how many of us actually write to be read rather than as a way to talk to each other?

Alfred Differ said...


Civil servants operating under law, have uses for more money that – while imperfect and often inefficient - at least push hard at real problems and get momentum going.

I'd say that's correct for a number of them. Maybe even a decent fraction. I worry less about inefficiency than about good intentions, though. Most civil servant I've met WANT to be efficient and the system makes it difficult. I've got a customer right now who wants to knock $250K out of their budget by changing products and I'm cheerfully trying to help them demonstrate fiscal responsibility. Good intentions led to bussing, though. Details, details!

No matter what the odds are, I AM inclined to admit we are safer with all that cash spread out among civil servants than keeping it in the hands of certain golf buddies. I have principled objections to taxation in general, but won't stand on them while the democracy burns around us. Instead, I will froth and foam trying to get people to use the other tools so we aren't stuck having to win every single election to prevent the fire.

As for the guard rails…

My brother was probably closest among my family to being a patriarch. It made sense relative to his wife's family and NONE relative to his. We all raised our eyebrows. I can look back, though, and see that he used the first three you listed. So… okay. I'll accept and incorporate them.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

No law will limit our actual speech anymore than prohibition prevented alcohol consumption. We simply won't tolerate it.

Oh, we tolerate it often. What you are probably right about is that we will never tolerate limiting the speech of the rich and powerful. But we've already got states passing laws preventing teachers from mentioning any subject which might make white kids feel bad about historical racism.

I'm not sure this is still the case, but there used to be laws against photographing or otherwise describing what happens in those pig farms where the pigs are packed so tightly that they can only wallow in their own shit. Not just in red states either--during the Blagojevich administration, such laws were in force in Illinois. Laws which prohibited describing truthful facts because their revelation would be inconvenient to business.

David Brin said...



Alfred Differ said...


I'm not the only one who's met people using self-diagnosis…

Heh. I've got a big basket of those stories. Some from work, but one can't avoid them on Twitter. Some honestly believe they are and some have a different kind of issue. 8)

As Larry has pointed out, I'm kinda opposed to corporate charter limitations. I see them as limitations on my right to assemble. Speech is important to preserving paths for criticism, but assembling is a fundamental necessity for an open market society. Anyone who says I can't do X with Y because I didn't get permission/license from government Z can go jump in a lake during a mid-winter blizzard. How dare they.

Having said that, though, I don't object to them asking (and expecting truthful answers) what I'm up to in my association with Y. I might want to keep certain secrets, but I'm willing to talk about privacy boundaries.


unwarranted assumption that we have moved fast and far BECAUSE of the rich people

Not unwarranted. Not at all. Peasants didn't move us to where we are. The bourgeoisie did. The uber-uber-rich did not, but the the bourgeoisie was relatively rich AND HAD MOST OF THE MONEY available for investment uses in the market.

Sorry for the shouting there, but it's very important. You are probably thinking of the haute-bourgeos clade and the wanna-bee aristocrats among them as "The Rich". I'm pointing out they are vastly outnumbered by people right below them who do most of what happens in an economy… and they are filthy rich compared to old-school peasants. More importantly, the money squirreled away by the wanna-bees is essentially removed from the day-to-day market. It's locked up making rents. That means the rest of us 'relatively rich' are the ones driving innovation.

If there were LES inequality, I suspect you'd be right about things moving faster and further… unless you bring about that equality in a manner that encourages many of us to shift to negative sum games. That CAN happen. That's what I want to avoid.

Catfish 'n Cod,

EVERYONE gets them.

Agreed. They also solve one of my concerns about picking winners because I don't really trust anyone (I mean it) to understand who should win and lose. The flip side is the risk of unintended consequences. For example, we've tipped the scale trying to make it easier for kids to get a college education in the US. What we got was tuition hyper-inflation and a backlash trying to trap students with debts they cannot dissolve through bankruptcy. Was it worth it? I think the jury is still out on that.

I'd say feedback is critical. I'd add "planned sunsets" too just in case the consequences aren't worth it. Make it damn difficult to remove a sunset clause and the feedback loop and all associated public datasets.

David Brin said...

Well, Alfred, in Adam Smith's day it was the aristocracies who locked up capital in rent-seeking and the middle and lower bourgeoisie who did the innovating and investment in rpoductive enterprises.

Great discussion! But time to move on.



edzapata said...

I see five "was", five "had", and two uses of "were" in my last blog post of about thirteen hundred words. Yikes! Now I'm going to panic in the middle of a sentence as soon as these pop out. But really, this is great advice David. I've put off a live writing workshop too long as well. It's definitely this coming year. Then who knows- maybe I'll start that book!
Edgar Zapata