01 January 2025

Where to get my books

There are two options; Google Play, or the Draft2Digital publication targets. Google Play isn't available globally (though they intend to be, based on how the publisher interface sets up billing regions!). So you might need to try one of the Draft2Digital targets. Kobo seems to be a good fallback choice for availability though not for avoiding DRM.

Title Google Books2Read
The Human Dress on Google Play via Books2Read
The March North (Commonweal #1) on Google Play via Books2Read
A Succession of Bad Days (Commonweal #2) on Google Play via Books2Read
Safely You Deliver (Commonweal #3)                  on Google Play via Books2Read
Under One Banner (Commonweal #4) on Google Play via Books2Read
A Mist of Grit and Splinters (Commonweal #5) on Google Play via Books2Read

My current best understanding of how to download the EPUB file from Google Play.

Update 2019-01-29:  Amazon changed their agreement with Draft2Digital to require a whole lot of information transfer to Amazon.  I have removed The Human Dress from sale at Amazon. Still up everywhere else it was available.  (And has been added to a bunch of library services.)

02 August 2020

That Hugo presentation fiasco

I think people are missing the crux of the conflict a little.

The point about Lovecraft and Campbell is not that they're especially well-loved or eminent; the point is they have become where the "wait, wait, you can't include that in the critical response" pushback happens to have stuck.

Three things are currently true:
  1. there is far more art than anybody can apprehend
  2. the hegemon's legitimacy has collapsed
  3. tastes and canon are shifting, being reexamined, and expanding
One very plausible response to the combination is to say, right, possibly formative work, but if so, we're ashamed; this stuff is bad, it arose from a bad place, we should call it bad, and dispatch it to the ash-heap of history.[1]

So far as I can tell, that response is becoming the dominant response in written SF; the expected writing standard has increased sharply, the predominant response to "yup, racist and sexist" is "never read their work again", the predominant response to "the author's personal conduct is repellant" is "never read their work again", and this has no effect on anyone's enjoyment because there is still so much really excellent stuff to read after you do this.  (It gives me strange ideas about literary endeavours in the Culture.)

That's a direct threat to the sales numbers of lots of currently active authors.  (I wish it skewed old.  I doubt it does.)  That's where the insistence that you must separate the artist from the art, that you can't use your opinion of the artist to judge the art, and so on, come from.  Same with arguments of significance; if someone had an artistic response, it must have value and be accorded its due accolades.

Which is nonsense; you can almost sort of make that case if you're doing formal academic study, but when reading for enjoyment?  Absolutely you are under no such obligation whatsoever.  It is entirely fine to be heaving the classics of yesteryear on the ash-heap of your present.

[1] fixit fic; a huge chunk of fanfic is "yeah, that's bad, let's rescue the not-bad bits" response art.  Note that this is precisely the opposite of "we will forgive the bad for the good in the original".

20 June 2020

Confusion about goals

Some otherwise sensible commentators have been remarking that it's clearly a mistake for statues of US Grant to be toppled.

Well, no, it really isn't.

Much like Obama, Grant is an example of a US President with a blameless personal life, relatively humble beginnings, and significant accomplishments.

What that view—Grant commanded the armies that broke the Confederacy! what do you want?—misses is that people want systemic change.

This is the difference between wanting a good king and wanting no king at all. 

So, sure, Grant did devise and enact the strategy to break the Confederacy; Grant as president did break the Klan.  But Grant was also president of a nation inextricably involved in white supremacy, which means an economy built on looting which in turn means conquest to provide opportunity for looting.  There is not getting away from it; you can't be president and not do terrible things.  This applies to the truly bad people (Wilson, for example) and the generally decent people (FDR) and even the few actually-humble-beginnings-arguably-great (Lincoln, Grant, Truman) examples.

If you want no king; if you want an economy built on something other than loot; if you want a movement sufficiently powerful to guarantee Jeff Bezos dies poor [1], you certainly do topple Grant's statues along with every other president.  If it's time for ethnogenesis and justice, you can't keep your aspirations of just kings.

[1] if you don't have that much power you can't get rid of extractive capitalism.

13 June 2020

Mistaken privilege

This privilege language going around is in material error for two reasons.

The first reason is that it's in the passive voice; "shots were fired".  You can legitimately use the passive voice for the works of indifferent natural forces; that's not what's going on in a human society.  It might be a diffuse network of choices, there might be a lot of coercion involved in producing the particular choices observed, but it's choices.[1]

The second reason is that there's not such thing; it's like blaming an outcome on someone else's invisible friend.  The real thing is power; in specific, the kind of social power which threatens or delivers harm in response to deviations from a prescriptive norm.

It's possible to point out that power based on defining a presumptive social norm and punishing (to death, if necessary) deviations from that norm is not the best way to construct a society.  It's possible to point out how white supremacy works by bribing a large class of "not frustrate your purposes" people into tolerating public power being used to advance the purposes of a small class of oligarchs.  And how this necessarily creates a class of people whose assigned place in the prescriptive norm is to have their purposes frustrated, to be sure the people whose purposes aren't frustrated know they're special.

Lots of people have done that, at great and scholarly length.  That's not (for this particular rant) the point.

The point is that the minimum useful change can be framed as "remove enforcing a prescriptive norm as a social ordering principle".  You can't do that with morals because nobody ever agrees about morals; any time you need collective action or a strong public sphere, you can't use morals.  (If you use morals, you get nigh-infinite splitting, inability to produce consensus, and a narrative that pig-headed obstinacy is laudable conduct.)  You especially can't do it with morals because the folks who derive the majority of their power from defining the norm, all the way up from the determined person at the PTA meeting and the folks on the volunteer board all the way up to noted churchmen and opinion columnists, are already there; they've got every advantage, starting with early childhood conditioning.

If you want to do that, you need to have a measurable material outcome as an objective; you need some kind of political consensus around it (e.g., the observation that absolutely everyone is better off if they don't need to worry about being shot by the cops[2]); you need to identify who benefits from things being that way right now -- material, economic benefits -- and you need to remove those benefits by the least sufficient means.

No amount of self-awareness produces systemic change. [3] You get systemic change from changing the economy, which includes the definitions of licit forms of social organisation.

[1] guilt is a silly bourgeoisie emotion that doesn't pay for anything.  I feel guilty, so the moral order is restored! is, at best, delusional.  (At worst it's cynical.)   Just as you cannot apologise for something you intend to keep doing, you cannot substitute guilt for action.  (Action which makes matters worse is not excused by I meant well or I was trying!.)

So, yes, it does look a lot like terminology around privilege was being used inside American Black communities, where there really are things they can't say directly without getting killed.  I expect it made sense with that full context; it has been torn out of that context and used as a tool to create a moral hierarchy in wider activist circles, where is is wildly unhelpful, as you would expect both any moral hierarchy and any act of cultural appropriation to be.

[2] "not frustrate their purposes" is supposed to keep white people from being shot by the cops.  The general belief that this is reliable unless you're known to be Mammonite White is breaking down and empathy has happened.  So the best way to actually guarantee "not getting shot" for anybody is to keep the cops from being able to shoot anyone.

[3] virtue is only virtue in the judgement of history, and what was not exercised is invisible to history.

I used to wonder why systems analysis isn't taught

The last few months have made it extremely obvious why it isn't taught.

Stocks, flows, feedbacks, constraints.  The stuff that happens in the short term—the general operation of the system stuff—is the feedback.  In severe oversimplification, the stronger feedback wins.

In these terms, when you advocate for defunding the police, you're talking nonsense unless and until you're taking three things into account.

First thing is that the police absolutely will open fire in preference to submitting to civil authority.  They've been threatening just that for decades and they've nigh-certainly done that already even to the powerful.  (It's absolutely certainly when considering the not-powerful.)

Second thing is that, by defunding the police, you're attacking the enforcement arm of white supremacy.  Note what happens to notionally sovereign politicians who attempt to oppose the resource extraction arm of white supremacy; the same response is going to happen if you successfully defund the enforcement arm.  (That is, you get a coup and the political process is replaced and reverses the defunding action.  The Mammonite preferred outcome, private security forces, is at least not unlikely as a long-term outcome.)

Third thing is that white supremacy is an economic system.  It starts as a legitimisation ploy for looting; if you are easily sunburned, you are inherently morally superior and can take anything you have the strength to take from anybody who isn't easily sunburned.  This turns into a "hey, wait, let's steal abstractions like sovereignty and economy"; you get colonialism.  Somewhere around 1970, out of material stuff to steal but completely unwilling to accept fundamental structural change to the economy, the great and good decided that the purpose of the economy was not to safeguard wealth but to guarantee wealth; the Mammonite faction gets political ascendancy, and the idea that you don't get subjected to systemic looting if easily sunburned goes away.  The stack of axioms that permit billionaires, treating labour as a cost to be minimised, or the argument that being rich should free you from paying taxes are, in effect, the Mammonite heresy of white supremacy.  (Classical white supremacy sees the common interests of the ruling class as including long term social stability because if you don't have stability you have change.  If you're already on top of the heap, all change is bad, because you're overwhelmingly likely to be worse off, you have nowhere to go that isn't worse off than your current position.  The heretics aren't zero-sum conservatives; they're negative-sum death cultists.  The point is not to preserve existing relative eminence, but to guarantee eminence by reducing everyone else to misery.  (misery limits your scope of political opposition to something certainly ineffective.  Very important when you're expecting people to submit to being part of the mass extinction.))

So that's what we've got.

What's the least sufficient thing to have stronger feedback?

As a Canadian example, to abolish the RCMP, raze RCMP headquarters in Ottawa, and convert the underlying land to indigenous sovereignty, complete with sufficient funds to remediate it into something other than a hole in the ground.  If you don't have the political power to do that in such a way that it sticks despite a dead-eyed kitten eater getting in with a majority government, you don't have enough political power to defund the police.

That's not going to happen as a single step.

All power is unitary.  If you want to reduce authoritarian white supremacy's functional power, you go after the thing that funds it; great personal wealth.  (It's a system for increasing retained loot!  It has never been anything else!)  That DOES NOT mean that you insist that people pay their taxes, have the tax authorities do hostile audits (richest first!) or that you start responding to obfuscated assets through forcible liquidation and permanent penury.  All that's doing is shifting the direction of hostility from the authoritarian system.  (The public sphere equivalent would be making rules that say there are no white cops or male judges for the next hundred years.  Emotionally satisfying but ineffective policy.)

The effective steps are producing economic alternatives; removing the limited liability of corporations ("I cannot be held responsible for the collateral damage of enriching the owners") and creating collective forms of land tenure and social organisation.  (Remember that the big problem with indigenous anything comes down to land tenure; from the viewpoint of the extractive wing of the authoritarian white supremacy, nothing is permitted to tell them they can't have that.  From the viewpoint of the Mammonite wing, nothing is permitted to reduce the cash flow.  Look at trends in land tenure since 1950 and you see "only corporate ownership is legitimate ownership" very clearly.)   You're after an economy that creates not only a "this is better" feedback but a "we don't need them" feedback.  Get it out of the context of control of the authoritarianism -- let the authoritarianism collapse for lack of economic participation -- and then you can start the audits.

So, sure, defund the police.  But the human economy has to be there, too, or it shan't stick.

03 June 2020

Assymetric communication

So you want some sort of uniform justice.

You observe that the great and good, faced with what is certainly an increasing risk of human extinction -- there's this chance climate change is going to kill us all, and however large that risk is it's certainly not getting smaller -- and being at least supplied with people who can do insurance calculations, aren't trying to reduce the risk.  They're trying to increase it.

You observe that the great and good, faced with a pandemic, want to ignore it.  Any number of deaths is preferable to any degree of economic reorganization, even when "any number of deaths" is certainly not the minimum economic damage scenario.

Better approximating some sort of uniform justice is not a won't scenario, it's a cannot scenario.  The system we have cannot do that.

That cannot makes the minimum necessary change to get somewhere where that extinction risk is decreasing and the agency of individuals is valued a sustained general insurrection.

The folks presently engaged in protest don't think that's what they're saying; they think they're demanding that the system be permitted to work without specific distortions, and that the consequences of past distortions be corrected.

The established power structure they're talking to?  It's hearing "sustained general insurrection", and it's going to react like it.

31 May 2020

Category error

There's a sometimes-useful observation that reality is that which, when you stop believing it, does not go away.

It's only useful sometimes; if everybody else believes in the thing, you will find that when you stop believing in it, it does NOT go away.

Supremacy does not go away while anybody believes in the taxonomy constructing it.

So if you're currently identifying as white, you're perpetuating supremacy.  There is no way to be white and not do that.

The idea of whiteness was a way to construct common colonialist cause with other European powers without altering Europe's civil arrangements.  ("We are not one band, but we'll agree everyone in these bands is permitted to loot everyone not in these bands"; think slavers and pirates.)  It isn't anything else; it can't be anything else.  ("The purpose of the system is what it does"; what it's doing, today, is insisting that the non-white submit to being poisoned to keep the profits maximised.)

(Yeah, sure, class is a thing; there's another bit of rant about how you can expect the state to further your aims or not frustrate them if you're categorised white, and if you're not categorised white you can expect the state to frustrate your ends, and this is the structure of power.  The whole moral-hierarchy-of-privilege discussion is meant to (and does!) obfuscate this.  The whole political-whiteness thing is meant to use frustration at not being white enough -- the state is frustrating their aims! (in part by expecting them not to engage in overt supremacy behaviours) -- to get people to ignore that the state is furthering the aims of people perfectly content to enslave them or use them for dog food.)

So; whiteness isn't real in the "material universe" sense.  It's real because people believe in it.

"Easily sunburned" is material reality.  White is not.  White is something a bunch of people made up because it furthered their economic ambition to steal all the things[1]. They happen to have been an easily sunburned lot from being descended from folks who were living on oats in the rain at high temperate latitudes, and they used "easily sunburned" as a trivially visible social marker.

I am so extremely pale my optometrist fusses at me about it; it's not expected that the whites of your eyes are visible from the inside, and mine are.  I am well advised to never go outside without sunglasses.  (Or sunscreen, or a hat.)

So, basically; all of these lists of things white people can do to be anti-racist aren't.  They might reduce your ignorance, they might increase your understanding, but you can't be anti-racist or anti-supremacy while inhabiting a category that exists to create and enforce a supremacist social hierarchy.

You can't stop being easily sunburned by force of will; don't try.  You can make a decision to stop being white.  Do try.

(Identifying at Canadian doesn't presently cut it.  I'm having a go at "egalitarian".)

Neighbours and helpful and unhelpful go a long way; it allows you to notice that the folks who won't pay taxes or accept limits to profit aren't in your group unless they can trick you into believing that participating in oppression elevates your status.  More social people than I am might find "reliable neighbour" works pretty well as a thing to identify with, but, really; as long as it's not part of a hierarchy of oppression, it'll be an improvement.

Stop being white.

[1] including abstract things like sovereignty and economies.