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

Commonweal Book #5, A Mist of Grit and Splinters, is expected to escape into the wild sometime in 2019.

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.)

14 May 2019

Necessary and desirable are different

This has many applications, but the one that's niggling at me is wanting to point out that fascism is violent authoritarian corporatism, to the extent that isn't a redundant description.

It's trying to take over because it must; any functioning democratic process tends to get rid of it.  It can only exist at a fairly low level of social organization.  Widespread information flow, strong democratic institutions, and any kind of effective progressive taxation results in a society that doesn't have violent authoritarian corporatism.

If that system of organization wants to copy itself into the future, it has to take over.  Strong central authority under democratic direction will obliterate it.  (An awful lot of work and money has gone into keeping that from happening since about 1980.  There are limits to these things.)

This isn't to say fascism is trivial (no) or that things aren't serious (they are) or the climate isn't making everything else extra-double-plus-hard-mode (it is); it's to say that the whole thing is coming out of a mix of fear (the system they depend on is very, very vulnerable) and incompetence (if the problem is getting copies into the future, oppression is not the answer.  It shouldn't ever be the question.)  Any sense of inevitability or doom is the wrong way around.

18 April 2019

Swift away the old world passes

So we've just had white supremacists elected to a majority government in Alberta.

We've got white supremacists in majority government in Ontario.

What is going on?

https://www.nature.com/articles/nclimate3322 has the important graphic


(short version; billions die by 2100.)

All power is unitary.

All power is also social; it arises from people co-operating.  If people ignore you, you have no power.

Carbon-binge status quo arises from the military utility (and then general ubiquity) of fossil carbon power sources.  It's traded a brisk and global round of looting for (probable [0]) human extinction.

This is the kind of thing that leads to a loss of legitimacy; people stop thinking it's a good idea to do what you say.   If the extinction isn't especially abrupt, circumstances become risky for incumbents in positions of power and authority.

There's three possible responses to our present circumstance; you can go authoritarian (the overt white supremacy), you can waffle energetically (everybody saying earnest things about climate change while approving new fossil carbon infrastructure, or, alternatively, lying vigorously in ways meant to prevent coherent action; they're both acting to preserve the status quo), or you can try to figure out how to preserve enough decarbonized industrial civilization to keep as many people and as much ecosystem alive in the future.

There's a lot of political risk in trying to deal with the problem; for example, if you start taking the third step seriously, there's no reason not to, and a bunch of positive reasons to, try every oil company exec since 1980 for deliberate, for-profit genocide.  "But everyone is complicit!" doesn't address how everyone wasn't making policy, and the how the people making policy went for maintaining the status quo.  (It's a bit like a leaking roof; you fix it as soon as you  notice it.  If you wait, everything gets worse.  We've seen the politics of hogging the dry spots play out these last two generations, and are seeing them now.)

Things are now obviously bad enough that the third option -- try to fix the problem -- has open political advocacy that wants to actually do it, instead of waffling about it as a means of maintaining the status quo.  The incumbents think this is an intolerable threat to their current wealth and power, and, well, they do have most of the money, and people are more-or-less defenseless against modern media.  (We're a band-forming social primate; an environment where you get lied to continuously in ways you can't check is not in our evolutionary history, and we're pretty much defenseless against automated approaches to bulk lying.  Were we to survive as a species for another ten or twenty generations, that would change.)

Thing is, we're losing the current status quo.  Sure as death, sure as fate.  Keeping the status quo isn't an option.

That's going to inform all politics henceforward; that is all politics henceforward.  What future do you want?  Are we trying for some material chance of general prosperity into the indefinite future, or are we absolutely determined that those now rich get to die that way?

(The white supremacists are in the "all die, but at least the social hierarchy didn't change!" camp.  Since the social hierarchy involved is the one that caused this mess, it's a clear example of consistency failing to be a virtue.)


[0] the default human thing is being a hunter-gatherer, but being a hunter-gatherer is hard; you need to know a lot of stuff about your specific environment and have a broad range of skills.  Being a hunter-gatherer from a starting place of negative skills and knowledge in a depauperate ecology undergoing a mass extinction?  Not going to work.  Humans evolved in the Holocene, and we've left the Holocene.  "Deadly threshold" means no agriculture there; no ability to do the work, and plants don't like that much heat either.  Add in the other reasons for agriculture to fail.

15 March 2019

White supremacy

White supremacy is the idea that, because you are easily sunburnt, you are innately blessed to such a degree that it is right and proper for your to loot, rape, murder, and enslave.

Put it accurately like that and it's obvious nonsense.

Why is it such wretchedly persistent nonsense?

Bunch of reasons; if you want to enforce inequity of social organization, you need really committed people, because the social costs to the enforcers are high.  (This is a good test for inequity; do the people responsible for keeping the system functioning have worse outcomes than you'd expect from purely economic and background factors?)  It's pretty easy to get commitment by telling the incompetent that they deserve more status than their capability can earn them, and then letting them exact that status through threats of violence.

If you're an oligarch, an explanation for why you should under no circumstances blame the oligarch for anything, and should blame the powerless instead; that's useful, too, and explains where a lot of the money comes from to keep these ideas going.  The long habit of looting has a lot to do with the oligarchical position on this, too.

How do you get rid of it?

If you're trying to get rid of bad insecurity management, you have to do better insecurity management.  That means a respect for facts, quantitative analysis, and calling things by if not their right names then consistent accurate ones.  (This is difficult habit to get into when the culture around you is a big machine for asserting a moral norm.  It's a highly dynamic moral norm, and it claims to be completely immutable.)  It also means being very careful what society rewards.

In the white supremacy case, well.  It's at least eleven kinds of false, but pointing that out doesn't help; the problem is not whether or not it's factual, the problem is that it's an excuse to hurt people until they grant status.  That's a basic basic primate thing; the form of the excuse is irrelevant.  The fix is to not grant status, and to make any attempt to do so materially expensive.

Facebook delenda est.  Youtube, too.  Feedback with no constraints is going to catch fire and explode soon enough; we're not obliged to wait for the boom.  Anti-vaxxers (functionally another weird-ass flavour of white supremacy) are engaged in something that meets the material criteria for a conspiracy to commit bioterrorism -- the B in the NBC abbreviation for "weapons of mass destruction" -- and they've already killed specific, identifiable people. Might-maybe be time to treat it like what it is.  (This would be an excellent test for whether or not a law enforcement organization was itself hopelessly corrupted by white supremacy; can they look at anti-vaxxers and do the material analysis around what happens, rather than how people feel about what they are doing?)

Medium term, do what is necessary to secure the general prosperity in the time of angry weather, which means food security for all, above all.

02 March 2019

Systemic stability

There's this result from operations research and system theory that says that if you want to control something, you need to provide matching variety (as many states as the system you're trying to control has in the controls), limit the system variety (letting the dog run, but inside a fence...), or build some kind of variety amplifier so you can match the number of states in the system with fewer inputs.  (Traffic lights, and the enforcement mechanism that makes them consequential.)  ("Law of Requisite Variety", for the curious.)
 
What does that have to do with anything?

An overclass is a control system.  A relatively small proportion of the population organizes society so they get what they want.

The portion of society making up the overclass is too small to do this directly; there has to be a variety amplifier.  That's a lot of things, mostly belief but also various limitation mechanisms.  The ideal of democracy is that there's general agreement on the necessary system, and that everybody gets a say in how it's constructed.  (This hasn't ever happened, though it's been closer than it now is.)  The practice is that things are arranged to guarantee outcomes for the overclass.

There's a bunch of problems with this.  The most important difficulty is that people in the overclass believe that they can and should have control, and are taking a counter-factual position when they do it.  A sufficiently stable -- that is, nigh-static -- can give the illusion of the possibility of control, and the conservative takes on the importance of obedience, the inherent nature of ability, and so are all derived from the position that control is possible, necessary, and right.  And to be as fair as possible, the results indicating that, no, really, you can't have that; it isn't an achievable thing only date to the 1940s or so.  That's not a very long time compared to the last five thousand years of "obey the king".  It is still a disaster when the people running things demand counter-factual outcomes.

The nearly-as-important difficulty is that system is real; personal moral choice has almost nothing to do with it, and pretty much any progressive political movement gets tripped down the metaphorical stairs of trying to be good.  (Where it will neither be good nor achieve any specific material objectives.)

If you want a different world, you need to be building a different system.  That's really tough; it's, in effect, the need to build something large enough to be capable of being responsible for fixing everything.  (You can only be responsible for what you have the power to alter.  So individual responsibility isn't sufficient, and the idea that it is or could be isn't helpful.)  It may well mean taking over the incumbent system and using it to build something else.

And of course we're headed into a period of history where the incumbents have utterly failed, are losing legitimacy, will lose all legitimacy, and where the status quo cannot possibly hold.  This is not a problem human societies have a good record of dealing with.

The status quo is gone; the question is how to respond, and the question of how to respond effectively is how to respond without trying for control.  This is a legitimately difficult problem.

It's also something of a timed exam.



18 February 2019

Prescriptive Norms

Today is apparently a ranty day.

So the unifying thread of various everything to day; whether James Barry's identity as a man should be respected (yes), whether intersectionality is a thing (yes), why conservatives keep doing that, and so on, all come down to the idea of an enforced prescriptive norm.  Pretty much everything that sucks about being alive in the Anglosphere comes down to an enforced prescriptive norm.

That is, who has the power to decide on what constitutes normal and then hurt you for not conforming to it, either until you die or start to conform.

It is not useful to point out that this is terrible.  It copies itself into the future effectively, and has persisted for multiple generations and shows no sign of going away on its own.

It is not useful to try to devise some kind of universal norm to which everyone could conform.  Not only would this require knowledge of the future and an impossible degree of empathy for the present, it misses the point; the utility of the idea of enforcing a prescriptive norm is that it grants power.  (Really a whole lot of economic power.  Look at the amount of money involved in the Pink Tax, as one relatively minor thing in prescriptive norms.)  Definitionally, the test of power is whether or not it is retained.

This returns it to the Basic Problem; how decent can life be for who, and this form of social organization still win fights with the alternatives?

(The notion of what's possible in this respect has been badly skewed in the Anglosphere the last couple centuries by being at the front of a period of technical innovation.)

Anyway; the obvious alternative is to structure society not around norms, but around boundaries.  Inside the limits, it's fine; outside the limits, there are material consequences, probably necessarily quite severe ones.  And it gets tricky to avoid picking unnecessary boundaries and to do so only on the basis of some form of material harm, to keep it from turning back into prescriptive norms with different language.

Can this win a fight with prescriptive norm forms of social organization?  I should like to believe we are going to find out.


Some assumptions about cars

https://twitter.com/EmporersNewC/status/1097550055400181760

Is a twitter thread about why Honda is leaving the UK for manufacturing purposes; the official Honda statement is "pulling manufacturing back to Japan", and the comments almost get it.  Almost.

The thread notes there's a global trend to geographically shortening supply chains; it notes that cars on the water are a lot of tied-up capital, and the longer the time on the water the more capital.  It even manages to note that car manufacturers are all heavily invested in electric.

That's all factual.

What gets missed is that an electric car is fundamentally less expensive than an ICE powertrain car.  Cost scales with parts count, and the drive train parts count in electric drops a couple orders of magnitude.  The margin to support long-distance trade in automobiles isn't there in an electric world.

Honda (and everybody else making cars) is sharply aware of this.   They don't want to say so, in part because the longer it takes the buying public to notice that car prices should be dropping in real terms, the better.  Also in part because so much of the current trade order is about car parts, and getting blamed for the boat capsizing is best avoided.

Given current Chinese policy (fairly close to "electric or death"), the distance from Japan to China, and the fundamental impracticality of shipping anything but Veblen-good luxury vehicles globally in an electric car world, of course Honda is pulling out of Europe.

Overall, this is a good thing; that's a good hint we're getting closer to the electric transition for personal vehicles.