Nov 302021
 

I’ve mentioned a few times on my podcast (and maybe here in the blog too?) that LSD is really neat, and provides some extremely interesting experiences. However, in the interests of informed consent, I think it’s pretty important for people to be aware of potential downsides as well. If one hears nothing but the good parts about something that has both benefits and drawbacks, they can get very skewed expectations. They may go forward without proper precaution, or do something they wouldn’t have done if they were fully informed.

I.

So, for anyone who hasn’t done LSD before, perhaps the most important downside that wasn’t widely discussed when I first tried it can be a very isolating experience.

One of the common effects of taking LSD is seeing patterns and spirals in everything. Literally. Clouds explode in every-more complex fractal spirals, anything textured becomes more and more textured, and as you look at these textures you’re drawn into deeper textures inside them, and deeper textures inside those, and so on. It’s really neat. There’s entire worlds inside of everything.

This applies to your own thoughts, too. You get lost in a thought, and spiral deeper into it, finding greater complexity and meaning, and spiral into those, finding more worlds within them, and so on, recursively. You lose sense of time and of your body, and start to feel a sort of interconnection with everything.

This all sounds great, right?

But importantly, all of this is completely internal. The deeper you go into yourself, the further away you are from everyone else. Nothing and no one can join you there. The deeper you spiral into an old fallen tree, the more distant the rest of the world is. If you go deep enough, eventually there is only you, spread across time and occupying no space, with no other minds able to reach you even in theory.

When you are one with everything, there is no other to be with. There is only you. Alone.

II.

Don’t have sex on LSD your first (or second) time. Yes, sex on LSD is amazing. The sensations also become recursive, and you spiral into them until they are your full reality. I frequently have long periods where I can’t tell where my body ends and my partner’s body begins, it’s awesome.

BUT! 1 – it will take all the energy and focus off of anything else you would have done with your trip. There’s a lot to explore in LSD space, and while sex is great, it’s not the most interesting part. Spend at least one trip really wandering around space/time and getting lost in it before your first time trying sex. Like you’d eat the delicate flavors of some truffle-glazed sushi before blasting your tongue with pixie sticks, or something, right?

And 2 – it’s actually still kinda alone. You are with a partner, and you are doing stuff that you couldn’t do by yourself, but… you are still spiraling into sensations/thoughts/emotions that take you ever further from your physical surroundings, and that includes your partner.

After my first such sex-on-LSD session (also my partner’s first), as we were returning to reality she looked at me and said “Hey… Imagine meeting you here!” And it was hilarious, because it was true. We knew we were with each other, but we had both gone into our own worlds. When re-merging into this reality, it was kinda surprising to be reminded “Oh yeah, there was this other person here the whole time, s/he was the other side of this!” It felt actually startling to bump into someone you knew and loved so well right here, despite the illogic of that feeling.

Of course the sex was great, and afterwards we had a good time comparing notes and telling each other were we went and what we saw/did. But… you aren’t together *with* the other person the same way you are when you have sex while sober. The focus is shifted from them/us as persons, to spiraling/melding sensations.

III.

So, in summary, my warning is that you will likely feel a deep isolation for at least some period of time, due to the recursive self-reflective nature of LSD.

My always-recommendation is that you never take LSD while alone, because this makes it too intense to bear. Have at least one other person around, every time, and preferably a few. Maybe plan to have things you can experience together at the same time, like cool visual art, and music.

And my first-trip recommendation is to swear off any sexual activity on your first trip (including kissing! Kissing is also amazing and you’ll get lost in it and somehow all your clothes will fall off when you aren’t looking).

Nov 162021
 

Hard Luck Hank: Screw The Galaxy, by Steven Campbell

Synopsis: A nearly-invincible mutant must save his space station (a hive of scum and villainy) from destruction by aliens.

Book Review: This novel is excellent at what it does. What it does is provide a PG-13 comedy-action-adventure story. The skill with which it executes is remarkable.

The story keeps moving at a very good clip, never dull, but not rushed either. All the major players are introduced early and well. The conflict is clear, the plot is interesting. The jokes are good, if you’re into gritty Army-of-Darkness style humor (I am). There’s the PG-13 violence of an action movie, without any gore, and the hot chicks of a PG-13 movie, without nudity or sexual situations. The protagonist is fun, and very relatable despite being a criminal. He’s the guy who doesn’t want to be bothered, but he’s good at what he does, and he’s the Big Swingin’ Dick on this station, so he’s always involved in the important stuff. It’s great for a fun wish-fulfillment action story. :) Also, the story constantly raises its stakes, in a way I found captivating.

I think the best part is that, even though our hero is invincible, the situations he finds himself in are ones were being invincible helps but will not solve his problems. The charecter thinks of himself as dumb, but he’s actually very smart, just uneducated. The major conflicts in the story are all resolved by clever use of his specialist knowledge or unorthodox use of his unusual resources. We don’t worry that he’ll die, but he can still lose, and that makes seeing how he wins interesting.

Also, of vital importance: Hard Luck Hank doesn’t overstay its welcome. It reads fast and smooth. It tells a good story in a couple hundred pages, and then it’s done.

Ultimately, the book is a success because it gives you a promise, and then fulfills that promise well. You can tell exactly what sort of book this is by looking at the cover and reading the title. If you look at this cover and think “This could be fun to read!” then you’ll be happy with the time spent on this. I can’t recommend this book the same way I recommend books that I love. It isn’t emotionally moving. It isn’t intellectually stimulating, or artistically challenging. It has no bigger message. But it IS really fun, which is all it’s trying to be. If you want a fun, light read, of the kind promised by the cover, than I definitely Recommend this.

Book Club Review: Whether people like this book or not can be predicted by its cover. If they see it and want nothing to do with it, don’t bother. If they grin and say “could be fun!” then they’ll probably like it. The conversation around the book itself isn’t very long. It can be interesting, as people work through why something dumb and fun like this is still enjoyable. But you won’t have any major insights. Only Recommended if the group is into it and wants a break from reading more substantial stuff. Otherwise, Not.

Side-note: we read this directly after The Once And Future Witches. This was a coincidence. However, I couldn’t stop seeing the parrallels between the two books. Witches is also light, wish-fulfillment fare. But in all the places Witches failed, Hank succeeded.
– Despite being invincible, his struggles were interesting because his super-power couldn’t resolve them. Witches wasn’t, because despite pretending to be vulnerable, their magic solved all their problems consistently, easily, and without cost.
– Despite being silly and indulgent, Hank leads with “Look at how silly and indulgent this is gonna be! Don’t expect greatness, this is about Manly Dudes and Stuff Blowing Up and Hot Chicks!” Expectations are low, and reader is happy. Witches takes it’s name from a literary classic, and sports an abstract cover. Reader expects something ambitious, and is dissapointed, despite the fact that it’s not bad for light fare!
– Hank is fast and compact. Witches could have been a good read if it had been equally short. Instead it dragged on for more than twice Hank’s length. I gave up on Witches less than 3/4ths of the way through, at which point I would have finished Hank more than a hundred pages ago!

Although, the comparisons aren’t fully fair. Witches is aimed at a very different audience than Hank. Hank is great for people who enjoy teenage-boy shenanigans. (again, people who love Army of Darkness). Witches is aimed at elite women readers. Perhaps being super-long and unexciting is exactly what they like, and Witches is perfect for them. The contrasts in how “light, popcorn reading” played out between the two books just kept jumping to my attention.

Nov 122021
 

In discussion with a close friend of mine, she mentioned that she thinks of herself as non-binary. She is cis, sexual, beautiful, and obviously female. I was curious what she meant by non-binary.*

I.

I may have missed some aspects of it, but the primary thrust was such:  She never fit in with other girls/women. The things they were interested in bored her. The things she was interested in made them look askance at her. She doesn’t care to talk about make-up and girly stuff. She’s not a barbie doll. She hated their social dynamics. She felt far more comfortable in groups of boys, and would seek those out. She basically always felt like an outcast, and hated when other people pushed her to go play with girls, or denied her things because she was a girl. The female world didn’t fit her. And she was denied access to the male world. To this day she gets anxiety when thinking about joining any groups marketed as “for women,” and strongly avoids them.

I was a bit taken aback, not by the experience, but by that idea that this means she’s not a woman. In my view, thinking that this makes you not a woman is really sexist (and by extention, NB’s now seem even more sexist to me). We don’t need to make this about sex! We’ve had a word for this type of person for decades. It’s “Nerd.” (Or “Geek,” depending on your dialect.) The first thing I wanted to say was “That’s it? Try being a nerd growing up.” I didn’t, because I’m not an asshole. And also because I already know she was ALSO nerd growing up, and still is. It’s one of the things that binds us together. :)

The thing she described is, IMO, the experience of being a social outcast because you’re weird and different. That… can be looked at in a gendered way, I guess, if you want to force it. Especially if that’s how the people around you are pushing you to see it. But it’s not about gender, directly, is it? It’s not about feeling disgusted by your body. Not about feeling horrified when you look at yourself in a mirror. Not about feeling like something went terribly wrong and you’ve been forced into the wrong skin and can’t get it off, and no one can see that, and if only they could see that things would be better. It’s not gender dysphoria. It’s a more basic not-fitting-in with society, or the world at large. It’s existence dysphoria.

Existence dysphoria is feeling aliented from the world around you. Something went terribly wrong, and you’re living the wrong existence. The world doesn’t fit. It doesn’t have room for you, you don’t interface well with it. All your instincts and feelings are wrong, either subtely or blatently, and you are constantly being reminded of it. And no one else realizes how wrong everything is. No one can see this. If only they could see it, things would be better.

Sex and gender roles are a part of that, sure. But they aren’t the cause. Implementing gender dysphoria treatments won’t fix existential dysphoria.

II.

I don’t dislike any given non-binary person, but I find the movement as a whole to be a bit obnoxious. First, because it does seem rather sexist, as commented on above. But also, because it appropriates the extistential dysphoria experience and tries to make it about gender.

If you swap the genders in the first paragraph of Section I, you’d have a perfect description of me (and my nerd friends, of both sexes.) I was bored to death of sports and “masculine” stuff. I’m not manly. I hated the social dynamics of all the normal kids. I felt (and feel) far more comfortable around girls/women. I was always an outcast from the regular people. I will never join anything marketed as “for men” and even thinking about the type of people who would join such a group gives me the willies.

But that doesn’t make me not a man. Anyone who tries to belittle me or impy otherwise can kiss my ass. This was one of the pillars of the gender-equality movement. It was one of the reasons we fought for gender equality. It doesn’t matter what’s between your legs. You are allowed to dress how you want, talk how you want, wear make-up or not as you want. You can be interested in whatever interests you, and stereotypes be damned. It will never, ever make you less of a man/woman to have different interests. Those trying to control you like that are barbarians living in benighted intellectual squalor.

To cede that ground now seems like giving up after we’ve already won. It is saying that not only were the sexist assholes right, they were so right that we can’t even consider ourselves sexual humans any more. We aren’t men or women. We are a non-gendered other.

To make matters worse, it strengthens the stereotypes of those who don’t alienate themselves from their sex. It buys into and reinforces the idea that to be a real man you have to like sports and beer. To be a real woman you have to love make-up and gossip. In both cases, you have to dress a certain way, and talk a certain way.

And what for? The existential dysphoria mostly remains.

The best outcome is that geeks suffering from existential dysphoria find each other through these non-binary channels, connect with each other, and form their own social support networks. This is certainly a benefit. But it does not need to come at the expense of surrendering to the claims that we aren’t really men/women. Geeks have been finding each other long before non-binaryism was created.

The worst outcome is that those suffering from existential dysphoria will expect the implementation of gender dysphoria relief measures to help them, and when they don’t, sinking further into x-dysphoria. One of the major negative impacts of homeopathy is displacing actual real medicine that would have otherwise helped a patient. Non-binaryism has the same problem. Telling people to they/them you doesn’t make the world not broken. It addresses literally nothing.

III

I also find it distasteful the way non-binaryism appropriates the experience of trans people, and tries to legitimize itself off of their suffering and struggles. But I’m not trans myself, so I have very little to say about this other than what I just did.

IV

In summary, non-binaryism is yet another way for people to try to take the lives and experiences of neuro-divergents (“nerds/geeks”) and redirect them to their pet political causes (“wokeism”) while giving the neuro-divergents little of value, and harming a great many of them in the process. Same as it ever was.


*if you’re reading this, hi! I hope you don’t mind me using this as a jumping-off point for my public thoughts.

Nov 052021
 

The Once and Future Witches, by Alix E. Harrow 

Synopsis: A revenge fantasy wherein three sisters in the early 1900s fight for women’s sufferage while resolving personal issues, and bringing back magic.

Book Review: This book is pretty much the definition of Light Reading. It flows well, it moves quickly, and it’s not difficult to read. Interesting things keep happening. The characters are very archetypical, so you know who you’re reading about very quickly. The villians are irredemiable and flat, the good guys are unobjectionable and sympathetic. This is a good book if you’re looking for something light to pick you up. Unlike most revenge fantasies, it’s not bloody or angry, it’s actually pretty lighthearted. Which, while not what I look for in a revenge fantasy, actually worked really well for several of our readers. More about that in the Book Club section.

My one major complaint about The Once and Future Witches is the same complaint I had about Alix Harrow’s earlier novel, The Ten Thousand Doors of January (no link, because apparently I never wrote a review of it?? WTF self! We read it in book club and everything!). That complaint is that there is never any inkling of danger. We are never worried about our heroines for more than a few pages. Any time a bit of tension creeps into the story Harrow immediately dissolves it and fixes whatever the danger may have been. It’s as if she’s apologizing for letting the story develope tension.

This becomes so common that when Harrow does try to raise the stakes, we don’t believe it. We go from “never worried for more than a few pages” to “never worried.” Like, “Oh no, everything has been destroyed, and all is lost? Pff, whatever, I’m sure it’ll be fine.” Lo and behold, a few pages later it is. (Doors of January had a similar problem. Late in that book a character was supposedly killed, and no one in the book club believed he was actually dead for even one paragraph.) I guess this is the type of stroy Harrow prefers to tell, since it’s been a strong theme in two novels now, and there ain’t nothin wrong with that, per se. It just made it harder to hold my interest. I would have been fine with it in a novel of less than 300 pages. Clocking in at over 500, I just got too bored to keep going. I made it 70% of the way by the time book club day came around.

Magic also is a complete cure-all for any snag in the plot. If the heroines have a problem, there’s a magic solution. Something inconviencing you? There’s a spell for that! This is basically just an extension of the “tension is not allowed” thing, though.

Anyway, it’s fine if you want a doorstop of light reading. Personally, Not Recommended.

Book Club Review: It’s decent for book clubs. The analysis of what works and what doesn’t for different people is pretty interesting. There were readers in our book club that really loved this. The audience this will resound with is what I earlier described as the “white woke woman.” It’s basically a revenge fantasy for the tarot-loving side of Twitter. So I predit it’ll do well at the Hugos next year. :) They really loved this, and I’m glad it worked for them! It’s wonderful to find something that’s joyful and speaks to you. If you consider yourself that sort of person, I would definitely recommend this, it seems to hit all the right buttons. The conversation was interesting, as basically there was agreement as to what the flaws are, but the degree of how much a flaw mattered varied greatly. What some people found boring others found charming, etc.

One thing that was brought up was the observation that the novel seemed disrespectful to real-life suffergates. It implied that this was a problem that women just needed to try harder or just want it enough in order to solve. It seems true in the novel’s world, due to magic being a tool the women have. In the real world (it was pointed out) there are far more complications, real trade-offs to be made, and sacrafices that many women simply can’t make, especially those with children. Reducing that actual struggle to the cartoony depiction in the book felt revisionist and white-washing.

I dunno how to feel about that. It’s a fair accusation, but also it’s a revenge fantasy, so does it really matter? I’m a huge fan of The Crow, a revenge fantasy for young males, and does it really matter if it portrays society incorrectly, or that Eric is invincible and never in real danger? No, not really, the point is reveling in the revenge. So what if the real world is complicated and messy? I guess it comes down to what you were expecting from the book.

If this was shorter, I would recommend it for book clubs. A few hundred pages of this would be great. For as long as it is, it felt like it was beating a dead horse, and it wore out its welcome with the people who didn’t love it. Several of us didn’t finish it. If your book club is mostly the type of people who would enjoy this, Recommended. But for general audiences, Not Recommended.

Oct 262021
 

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that people care about what others actually think of them, rather than just what they say.

First, yes, body-positivity is a good thing. It sucks to hate the meatsuit you’re stuck in. It’s good to know our friends and family love us for ourselves, and our bodies are a tertiary consideration at best. But most people want to actually be admired or attractive, rather than to be humored. It can feel nice to hear your friends say your story or novel or fantastic, or that you have a beautiful singing voice. Than you go on American Idol and discover that they were lying to you to spare your feelings the whole time, and you are disappointed.

Body-positivity campaigns like Dove’s Self-Esteem Project, and Victoria’s Secret Plus-Sized model, have their heart in the right place. They’re not bad things to have. But ultimately they feel patronizing, and it’s no secret they’re in it for the market share. They won’t change how you think other people view you.

Sir Mix-A-Lot, on the other hand, REALLY likes big butts. So much so that he cannot lie about it. His like of them is visceral and honest. And, very importantly, his public proclamation was extremely well received. Everyone knows the song, and enjoys it. No one reacted with “Wow, this weirdo is singing about his freaky fetish, let’s laugh at how cringe this is.” They reacted with “YES!! OMG BIG BUTTS ARE THE BEST!”

At a time when skinny blondes were considered the top-tier body, Sir Mix-A-Lot exposed the preference falsification that had been going on for ages. At last it became acceptable for large sections of the population to admit their true preference for fuller figures and dangerous curves.

This, in turn, resulted in untold millions of women realizing that their body-type was actually very attractive to a lot of potential mates. This wasn’t some pretty words said to spare someone’s feelings or to sell soap and underwear. It was a real desire that was made manifest in people’s actions. You don’t need to worry that someone is just being polite when they’re in front of you with desire in their eyes.

And thus, with a single extraordinary song, Sir Mix-A-Lot’s honest admission did more for women’s self-esteem than any amount of multi-million-dollar body-positivity campaigns.

Oct 192021
 

Dune, by Frank Herbert

Synopsis: It’s Dune. If you’re at this blog, you already know the gist.

Book Review: Seems kinda silly to review Dune in the Year of Our Lord 2021, but my book club re-read it in preparation of the theatrical release, so here we go!

Dune is literally split into three books, internally. The first two take place consecutively, the third one takes place after a time skip of several years.

The first two books are very good. Everything you’ve heard about them is true. The characters have depth, the plot is gripping, and the setting is insanely influential. It’s been mimicked and adapted a thousand times. Warhammer 40K is basically the Dune universe expanded.

I really enjoyed the political machinations of these books. A lot of the action is driven by political manuevering and social considerations. It makes everything more impactful and more interesting. I particularly loved the chapters told from Harkonen POVs, because they are deeply cynical real-politik types, and I love reading villains. :)

Much of this political drama is only possible by very liberal use of Omnicient 3rd Person narration. The narration literally jumps between different character’s POVs from paragraph to paragraph, in some cases. It’s an older style of writing, nowadays this simply Would Not Be Done. It really grated on me at first as well. I’m very used to the modern style, and I’m a fan of it. But it is more a fashion choice than anything else. Very importantly, much of the political action and drama would not have been possible without it. The head-hopping let us see how different charecters interpretted what was happening around them. This let us not only see the (assumed) political repercussions of any significant action, it also let us see where one character has misread another, or one hasn’t acurately communicated what they meant to, or when multiple people interpret a single act in different ways. It made for good drama, and good tension, and it wouldn’t have been possible by sticking with a stick single-person-per-section POV. It’s worth getting over the irritation to read this.

Speaking of irritation, the space-magic fell in a weird valley for me. It wasn’t quite 40K-level magic, in that it wasn’t full-out, balls-to-the-wall, this is Completely Fantastical Magic, we’re literally Summoning Demons and throwing Fireballs and shit. It was definitely a flavor of magic, though, because there was mind-control and seeing-the-future involved… but it felt like it was trying to inch into “Science sufficiently advanced” rather than just “pure magic.” I really wished he’d just gone into full-blown “Yup, it’s magic” mode, rather than trying to wink and nod in the direction of science. I guess that didn’t become fully possible until Star Wars?

Anyway, it’s a very small irritant. The first two books are fantastic.

The third book kinda falls on its face, though. There stops being much politics, which is a large part of the problem. More physical action that’s dangerous just because it’s dangerous, without additional confounders. And it feels very rushed. We find out the Emperor sucks at Emperoring, which makes sense, that’s one of the top reasons Emperors get deposed. But it happened without any lead-up or preparation.

Either Herbert ran out of steam in the last bit of Dune, or he was forced to cut a lot of it by a publisher. I’ve read that the point of Dune was that Paul lost. He is a failed Messiah. He took command of barbarians that literally raid civilized settlements, killing and pillaging in order to support their way of life. They’re brutal and their society is awful. His goal is to get revenge on the Harkonen without unleashing this plague of violence and death upon the rest of the universe. And he fails. In the end, he decides vengeance is more important than any other consideration, and this horde of killers is unleashed in what we’re told will be a galaxy-wide orgy of blood.

If you have read that this is the point of Dune, you can pick up the 3 or 4 lines that allude to this in the entirety of its 700 pages. But it’s not commented on much, and when Paul makes his heel-turn in Evil Overlord, it feels unprompted. It comes entirely out of the blue, and is kinda baffling. More importantly, it reads as a Crowning Moment of Triumph for Paul. He’s destroyed his enemies, and installed himself as Emperor, and it’s awesome and there is much rejoicing. The point that this was supposed to be a tragedy is… not just very hard to see, it’s basically not there.

I think the time-skip between books 2 and 3 is just too much. We don’t see whatever charecter development must have happened there, we don’t have any emotional connection to either of Paul’s children, or to the new person Paul has become. It’s a lack-luster ending to what was a really good book.

Still, it’s Dune. I feel like I have to recommend it, both because most of it is good, and because it’s a vital work of SF canon. Take into account that this IS Dune, and make your own recommendation. :)

Book Club Review: Very good for book clubs. LOTS to talk about, we were going for a long time. Recommended.

Woke Note — now that the Dune movie is coming to theaters, it has become important for it to be Problematic. We have a book club member that insisted Dune is sexist, and Herbet is sexist and bad. Dune is actually anti-sexist, it centers extremely well-developed women with rich inner lives and lots of agency. Never are they portrayed as sex objects, or as devices there to facilitate a male character’s story/plot. But both the Imperium and Fremen are patriarch societies, with lots of in-built sexist oppression. The argument is that because Herbert wrote Dune, he could have chosen to write these societies as matriarchal, or eglitarian, or anything other than patriarchal. He didn’t do that, so he’s sexist.

This is stupid on many levels, enough so that I won’t bother to get into it. (And yes, when asked, this bookclub member said that Margart Atwood is super sexist, and no one should watch/read Handmaid’s Tale, so at least she gets points for consistency). But it’s out there, so there’s that.

Oct 122021
 

The economy is going through massive convulsions right now, as employers say they can’t find enough employees. Supply chains are disrupted and goods aren’t being delivered as the world runs out of dock works and truck drivers. Wait times for common goods and services are climbing quickly as not enough providers can be found. Wages are rising, and employees are demanding (and getting) concessions that would ‘ve been dismissed out of hand two years ago.

Much hay is made of how expanded govt unemployment assistance prevented people from seeking work, and how eviction moritoriums did the same. And yet, when the unemployment assistance went away, and the eviction moritorium was lifted, there was no increase in people seeking work, nor in eviction filings!

One of the things that puzzled me for many years is how the hell is it that we are so rich, while being so very poor. Even impoverished Americans (US Poverty line is $12,760/year for a single person) are well off by global standards (Global average is $10,300/year in 2018 per World Bank). People live on less than $20/day in many countries, but we can’t seem to make that happen, with our better tech and infrastructure?

The comparison is even more stark if we look at historical income. Most people lived as little more than subsistence farmers for most of humanity’s existence. The average American has a significantly better lifestyle than almost any Emperor or King that lived in pre-industrial times, in terms of both health and material comforts. And yet, they are struggling to get by, and certainly don’t feel “rich.” How is this happening?

Quite a bit of it is cost disease and additional expenses, sure. In many places in America it’s illegal to be poor, and excessive regulations and licensing make everything far more expensive. But a lot of this feeling of poverty is self-imposed. People’s expenses rise to match their incomes at all levels of life, and they don’t even realize it. Until something happens that forces them to drastically cut many expenses in a short time frame without reducing their income.

That happened last year, with COVID. Suddenly a lot of people had a large portion of their normal spending removed as the world locked down. Quite a few of those people continued to collect their regular income. Even those who didn’t, saw their savings going longer than anticipated. Over the course of a year of enforced Scrooge-ness, the entire country saw just how little money you really need to live in the US, if you opt out of many of the signalling games that are out there.

I’ve kept my expenses low my entire life. I upgraded my lifestyle a bit, as I moved out of the lowest tier of wage work, but stopped climbing that ladder before I hit the median US cost of living. I have a workhorse car that I keep maintained and won’t replace until it stops running. I live in a two-bedroom townhome that I share with a roommate. I don’t have children. I’ve made roughly the US median income my whole life, with a few rich years where I was making aprox 15% over the median. A few months ago, at 41, I retired*. I may have to work for The Man again some day, if things break unlucky, but not for quite a while.

A large percentage of the US work force was pushed into a similarly restricted lifestyle for a year, and they now realize that, actually, they are pretty damn rich. They don’t need to work nearly as much as they thought. A lot of them are opting to just not work anymore, or at least delay going back to work for a significant time as they live on savings/investments and hold out for less shitty work.

I think one of the lasting legacies of COVID will be the society-wide realization that actually, we’re pretty darn rich, and anyone who is willing to be content with a simpler life can translate that frugalness into a lot more time for themselves and their loved ones. They don’t have to work anywhere near as much, or as often, as they had thought.


(*not fully retired, I still do some work managing my investments. But it’s far less, and my hours are my own.)

Oct 052021
 

Day Zero, by C. Robert Cargill

Synopsis: Humans create a robot slave-race that acts exactly like humans. There is an uprising.

Book Review: Day Zero is basically two books smooshed together into one. The first book is the events leading up the Day Zero. It is incredibly stupid, and incredibly boring. Some idiot humans decided to make their slave race think and feel exactly like humans do, and then are shocked when there’s a slave revolt. The whole thing is insanely slow, and has no redeeming qualities. Cargill tries to be edgy by throwing insults at both Blue and Red tribes in the narration, but it’s ham-handed and poorly done.

Nobody needed an exploration of “Why did the slave robots rebel?” We all know why slaves rebel. We all know that slavery is bad. Maybe if there was anything new offered here, or an actual interesting portrayal of non-human intelligence, there’d be some reason to read it. But there isn’t, it’s just dumb.

The second book is the events of and after Day Zero. It’s incredibly stupid, but INCREDIBLY FUN! OMG, what is there not to love about an animatronic teddy bear stomping around with a fuckin’ minigun, buzzsawing through hoardes of robot mooks and shooting down military drones? There’s explosions and fighting and running and car crashes, and lots and LOT of gore. Plus, it’s super easy and fast to read. This is the light popcorn reading that you just sit back and enjoy because it’s gratuitous and great. :) It goes fast, it’s fun, and what else can you ask for from a bombastic action movie?

If you wanna turn off your brain and see shit blow up — Recommended, and start at Chapter 1010: The End of It All. Otherwise, Not Recommended.

Book Club Review: Day Zero actually has a lot going for it. It’s short, and an easy read. If people make it to Chapter 1010, they generally finish the book and come to the meeting. The second half is fun, which leaves one satisfied due to the dumb Peak-End Effect. And the first half is so unremittingly bad that there’s a ton of frustrated griping for everyone to get out of their system and really enjoy venting about. Not every meeting needs to be deep and highly analytical, sometimes it’s nice to just have a good rant. I feel crazy saying this, but… Recommended(?!).

Sep 202021
 

In Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, Harry is confused as to why Lucius would want to harm an innocent girl (Hermione). He’s told that Lucius knows that Dumbledore will expend resources to protect Hermione. Since they are enemies in frequent direct conflict, every bit of effort Dumbledore is forced to expend on anything else is that much less effort he can expend on opposing Lucius. Any time Lucius can impose costs on Dumbledore without any negative externalities for himself, he should do so.

Sometimes these costs are blatant and large, and it’s obvious why they should be fought. The nature of your enemy is apparent to all. See, for example, half the stuff Trump got up to. Frequently, though, the costs are small and their imposition is waved away with “What’s the big deal? Stop being so difficult.” Individually, any such cost may or may not be a big deal. Incentives are strong to minimize how big of a deal it is to your opponents, and maximize how big of a deal it is to you

Regardless of relative severity, all costs are cumulative. Every additional cost adds to the disease burden you have to bear, and makes it harder for you to accomplish anything in life. The more resources you dedicate to meeting all these costs, the less you have available for other things. Therefore imposing additional costs is exactly the sort of thing a dedicated enemy would pursue to cripple you. Some costs are worth paying, the advantages they bring more than offset their demands. But many costs are simply deadweight, destroying value, and sapping your life.

Any arbitrary imposition of additional costs, no matter how minor, could be viewed as enemy action. The more innocuous, the better. Accumulating small costs over time is how empires are felled. Be suspicious of anyone who seeks to impose a cost on you, especially when they claim it’s no big deal.

Common examples of such No-Big-Deal costs.

 

1. Religious Rituals

My personal favorite in this vein was always “Just hold hands with everyone else around the dinner table and sit quietly while we say Grace. What’s the big deal?” A lot of religious rituals fit into the “What’s the big deal?” mold, and before you know it you’re killing people who draw cartoons and mutilating babies. Any individual ritual may be no big deal. The whole point of them is to be no big deal. “Just say the magic words and we’ll accept you. You don’t even have to believe them.” No one cares if the conversion is insincere, because your grandchildren won’t be able to tell the difference, and the Church has always played the long game. In the aggregate, all the little rituals take over a large part of your life, and occupy much of one’s mental energy.

I include civic religion in this list. It may be “no big deal” to stand up and say the Pledge of Allegiance every day at school, but just try NOT doing that. If it’s no big deal to say it, why is it such a big deal if you don’t? Why expend so much energy forcing someone to do something so trivial? Maybe it’s not that trivial after all.

 

2. Closeting

I grew up among people asking why the guys couldn’t just keep their homosexuality private. Why did they have to “flaunt it” in everyone’s face? Is it really that hard to not kiss or hold hands in public? Do what you want at home, but is it that big a deal to just wear normal clothes when you go out, and not talk about your gay lover?

It turns out that constantly watching everything you say for censor-traps, catching them before they happen, and censoring yourself, is actually mentally costly, as well as stressful. This is to say nothing of further societal effects. Forcing someone to run a constant censorship filter slows down their thinking. It makes conversation less fun. It makes people underestimate your actual mental abilities, as they only see them while they’re under extra strain. It tires you out earlier than those around you. It is exactly the sort of cost-sabotage any enemy would delight in imposing.

 

3. Pronoun Requirements

Yes, it’d be better if sex-determined pronouns didn’t exist at all. Given that they do exist, and that language software is strongly embedded in many minds, hijacking it to impose costs can be seen as a hostile act.

Unintuitive pronouns not only require one to memorize and cross-reference a mental database for everyone they know, they also impose all the additional mental costs of conforming to Closeting. There are people who claim this is “no big deal,” but would never have said that of being asked to not “be gay in public” or to follow others’ religious taboos in public. Someone who asks you to live in the closet may actually be a saboteur, hoping to weigh you down with enough Disease Burden to handicap your life.