May 022020
 

It’s been interesting seeing local beautification in the Age of Corona. Around my neighborhood I’m finding painted rocks set in strategic places. Other rocks with inspirational messages on them. A fence with a christmas lights strung up on it in the shape of a giant heart. Basically, the whole neighborhood looks to be slowly transforming into a Burning Man encampment. This is the sort of heart-felt, homemade decor that enlivens the Playa.

I find the resemblence striking, because I’m willing to bet none of my neighbors are Burners. 100,000 people out of the entire US population makes for an incredibly low base rate. And yet, they converged on the same sort of decor when they were left to their own devices, with a lot of free time and no way to hire professionals.

This leads me to believe that there is a common psychological working among most people that leads to a convergence on this sort of decor. Simple, colorful, warm, inviting. This is the sort of thing people like to make for each other and themselves, when they want their surroundings to be pleasant rather than imposing and impressive.

Cory Doctorow calls Burning Man “a dry-run for a post-scarcity society.” When people aren’t impressed by displays of material, and with people having all their waking hours to do whatever they like, I expect a lot more of our world will be decorated in these personal ways. I find this to be aesthetically pleasing. :)

Mar 302020
 

I hear a lot about “that asshole that bought up all the hand sanitizer and has a garage-full that he can’t sell now.” And how he (and others like him) deserve punishment. This seems wrong to me. The real villain is the retailers that didn’t increase their prices as soon as it was apparent there would be a run on hand sanitizer. (Except actually, it’s the American Public)

At some point it became incredibly obvious to everyone in the nation that certain goods were about to become EXTREMELY in demand. Everyone would want them all at once. When this happens the best thing to happen is for the price of these to rise, for several reasons.

1. People will buy less. When hand sanitizer is $1/bottle and the masses are worried they’ll run out, they will fill their shopping carts to the brim with just that. It promptly runs out. Surprise. When hand sanitizer is $10/bottle, they’ll still buy a few, but leave a whole lot more to the next person. During a shortage, we WANT everyone to buy less. The mass public seems to think a few guys with a few crates of hand sanitizers in their garage stripped the entire country bare. This is laughable after a single minute of thought. The problem is everyone alive buys 100 bottles all at once so they’ll “have enough to ride this out.” It’s just enough for their family’s own personal use, of course, so it’s ok…

2. Substitute goods become viable. Distilled liquor can be made into hand sanitizer fairly easily. But it’s not cheap to do so, both because the liquor is more expensive, and because these distilleries are small operations rather than giant bottling factories. Right now, some distilleries are making hand sanitizer for their local communities and giving it out for free. They can’t afford to do so for very long, though. If the price of hand sanitizer were allowed to rise, more distilleries would be converted, and this could be a sustainable source of sanitizer for much longer.

Likewise, as surgical masks run out, people have been posting instruction on how to make DIY fabric face masks. Thank goodness these are technically a different product than disposable surgical masks, people are actually allowed to sell them at a profit.

3. Excess stockpiles are released. I pick up my toilet paper from Costco, which means that once every four months I get a four month supply. I still had 6+ weeks left when this hit. If the price got high enough, and it was legal, I would have been willing to part with half that on ebay. I’m willing to bet shelves will be restocked before I run out, and if not, well, that was a risk I took. But seeing as that’s not how this world works, I’m just sitting on my excess toilet paper. :/

4. Resources are moved from where they are in excess to where they are short. When Hurricane Katrina hit, a guy in Kentucky bought 19 generators. He and his family then rented a U-Haul and drove 600 miles to an area of Mississippi left without power. He offered to sell his generators for twice what he had paid for them. People wanted to pay, but he was arrested, thrown in a cage for four days, and his generators were confiscated. Are there towns in the middle of the country that are unaffected by coronavirus with extra supplies that cities in need could really use? Would the people there be willing to invest some labor and some of their money into getting those supplies where people will be happy to pay 5x more for them? Probably, but we’ll never know, because then those people would be locked in cages and their investments taken from them.

All these are just immediate effects in the first few days of a shortage crisis. And yet, none of this is allowed to happen. Retailers will not raise their prices because they are afraid of the public backlash, they can’t take the reputation hit. “That asshole” doesn’t care about his reputation, he’s not in this for the long haul. His work is to bring the prices to where they should be so that society can reap all the benefits of items 1 – 4. He’s making sure that people will buy only what they really need, rather than stocking up at the worst possible time. He’s ensuring that the places that REALLY need the sanitizer can get it! He’s bringing more expensive substitute goods into existence by allowing them to be sold sustainably. He’s encouraging others to release their stockpiles. He’s encouraging areas with excess to export into areas that need the sanitizer. What an asshole!

And because all of this takes investment money, and work, and causes the entire country to hate you, he pockets the difference between the retailer’s cowardly Stripped Shelves Prices, and the true Emergency Price. It is very inefficient, yes. It’s so inefficient, that the prices he’ll charge are probably a lot higher than what the Emergency Price would really be, if the retailers themselves had the courage to actually price the products at their correct Emergency Prices. A lot of people will end up paying a lot more than they would have otherwise, and most people will be stuck with nothing at all, because one garage can’t supply even half of one suburb, much less a whole state. But retailers are cowards, so that’s what we’re left with.

Except we wouldn’t be, if people weren’t such selfish jerks and wouldn’t riot over Emergency Pricing. It’s an Emergency, but they refuse to pay more to get supplies that are in huge demand. They’re used to getting everything cheap, and now. And what’s worse, they demand laws that make Emergency Pricing illegal, they call it “gouging” to make it sound bad, and they’ll get men with guns to take away any product sold at such prices and jail the people bringing it to market.

So you get what we have here, pictured. Which is the way they want it. Well, they get it.

Yes, there are times when “gouging” can be evil. A spike in prices of scarce goods that are in high demand in a emergency is not such a time.

Jan 182020
 

Spoilers for The Village.

The Village is a Shyamalan movie about a group of people that leave modern society to raise their children in an American Colonial time-period replica, so that their children will never be exposed to violence and alienation of modern life.

In a recent Discord conversation, it was speculated that maybe the only way to really get rid of racism would be if everyone agreed to suppress all their racial emotions, act as if they don’t exist, and raise the next generation in a world that pretends there is no racism. The children won’t internalize racist impulses, and hopefully won’t even realize that racism was ever a thing until they’re old enough to find out about it in history books and be shocked that people used to be so shallow.

Someone pointed out that this was basically what was being done in the 90s, and it fell apart.

It then occurred to me that this was also done for gender in the 90s, and with far more success. It legit worked on some people. Notably: myself.

In the 90s, basically every piece of children’s media had at least one girl in it, and the girl was always as capable as the boy(s). Gadget in Rescue Rangers was the nerdy engineer and got the crew out of tons of jams. The Pink and Yellow Power Rangers kicked an equal amount of ass as Blue, Black, and Red.

This “sex doesn’t matter” permeated everything. Lara Croft was disproportionate to entice male players, sure. But she was still a better athlete and killer than every man in her video games. Every female character in fighting games had just as much ability to win as the male characters. RPGs that let you choose what sex your character was gave the same starting stats regardless.

When I was a teenage, my heroes were Xena and Sarah Connor. I loved Buffy too. I admired Chyna, though I didn’t watch wrestling.

The un-dimorphism of the era extended to male action stars. Some of the most popular of the decade were fairly lithe. Neo certainly isn’t one of the muscle-bound lunks we got in the 80s. (Have you seen what happened to Hugh Jackman between the first X-Men movie and the latest Wolverine? yikes)

Yeah, we had the lunks too, if less frequently. But they were more like jokes. Schwarzenegger wasn’t a real person, he was a cartoon in human flesh.

And honestly, I’m not sure why I’m harping on action movies. Action movies were but one symptom, and they don’t even matter that much because most people have zero action sequences in their lifetimes. This “there’s no difference between men and women” extended into all domains. People were primarily presented as unique individuals that may have incidental differences in personality, but whose gender only mattered for mating/matching purposes. It didn’t define anything else about the characters.

Ally McBeal was so egalitarian that they didn’t even have sex-segregated bathrooms. Daria, the most Gen-X teen show ever created, only ever used gender-types as the butts of jokes to show how stupid they are. The main characters we identified with were basically androgynous. As it should be!

Of course the true encapsulation of 90s media, the one thing that sums up the decade and its ideals, is Friends. America has always used sitcoms as the mirror it sees itself in. And what did we see in Friends? A group of attractive young people that hooked up with each other a lot, but treated each other as equals, with basically no differences in temperament or treatment due to sex. They even all have roughly the same morphology, having similar heights and builds. Joey and Pheobe don’t quite fit, but they are caricatures —the throwbacks from the 80s that we laugh at in recognition of our own past follies.

Being raised in a striving middle-class suburb, I didn’t just get this message from media alone. I got this message from everyone around me. My parents, my teachers, everyone. There’s basically no difference between boys and girls, we’re all people.

The thing is, it worked. I didn’t care what sex/gender people were. It struck me as an insanely weird thing to care about, and I chalked it up to the same lunacy that made people hate other religions or skin colors. Our ancestors be fucking nuts, yo.

One of my favorite essays was P.Z. Myer’s post about how any differences between the sexes must be contained entirely on the Y chromosome (since only that one is different), and how ridiculous it is to think that things like “preference in colors” or “favorite genres of fiction” would be encoded within it. There’s seriously almost nothing different between us, and any difference that there is has to have put selective pressure on the Y-chromosome. C’mon guys, are we really this dumb? Selective pressure being put JUST on the Y chromosome?? Stop being a dogmatic, sexist fool.

It worked so well that I was legitimately shocked when I discovered the large differences in physical strength between the sexes, even among people of similar sizes, in my late 20s. (Yes, it took that long). It was a vast chasm in my model of reality that I plunged into, smashing into every protruding jagged edge and rock outcropping along the way.

So sure, maybe this view isn’t as accurate as it should be. But I still believe deeply that that was a better world for everyone. We managed, for the space of a few years between the mid 90s and early 00s, to create a world without gender. We still had sex – everyone could see sex, and it determined who you were sexually attracted to. But gender didn’t matter. There weren’t (much) gender roles or expectations or stereotypes. Everyone was an individual. And since gender didn’t exist, your pronouns didn’t matter. People defaulted to what it looked like your sex was.

Then 4th wave feminism happened. I could go on at length as to why 3rd wave feminism is the one true way and 4th wave feminism is vile trash that has destroyed incalculable amounts of value. But I won’t. I will, instead, bemoan the fact that it brought back gender, and made it THE MOST IMPORTANT THING. We had fixed the world in one small way. At least in some corners of it. Until, like someone finding a hidden store of small pox, 4th wave feminism couldn’t wait but re-infect the world with glee. We were almost there guys. And now? Now your gender defines you. It defines how you act, how you are treated by both strangers and friends, and the broader social system, and it decides what side of the culture wars you are on.

We were almost there.

No wonder the newest generation wants to opt out entirely, and go un-gendered. I would too, if I hadn’t lived through proof that the same results can be achieved in a better way. In the 90s, you could just be who you are and it was fine. Now you are either a strongly-identified gender, or you have to contort your appearance and lifestyle into aggressively signaling “I am no gender!” While also imposing costs on anyone around you. That’s fucked up man.

I guess that’s part of why I resented Them, and why I felt They were on the side of the 4th wave feminists shoring up the vital importance of gender. Opting out of gender isn’t something you bother to do if gender doesn’t matter. It’s only if one has bought into the “Gender totally matters for everything!!” hype that one would be so concerned they’re not seen as either one.

I get now that it wasn’t that they were intentionally reinforcing the narrative. They just didn’t have other options, given how badly gender equality has been mangled over the past decade.

I’m hopeful that 4th wave will eat itself sometime in the 20s. wokeness already appears to be imploding. Hopefully the next generation will get to grow up in a less polluted social atmosphere, once we get back to pre-2010 levels of dignity and human respect. The dream of the 90s is still alive, and not just in Portland.

Sep 252019
 

I’ve spoken at length with a few people about the non-binary gender stuff over the last few weeks, and I’ve made a few updates.

First, and most significantly, is I find I resent non-binary people far less now that I’m honest about disliking (and not holding myself to) using neutral pronouns. Neat.

Second, I withdraw most of what I said in “Reducing the Spectrum to a Binary.” The people who most have their spectrum options reduced have them reduced by rightist bigots, not nb folks. And giving people more options doesn’t take away their previous options. I was mainly feeling like my allies in “taking back masculinity to mean many, many things besides Macho He-men” were being stripped away as they got removed from the category of “male”, but they really weren’t, and my feelings of dwindling support were misplaced.

Third, I have firmed up a position I didn’t quite have the words to express before. I don’t like being press-ganged into a war I don’t support. To explain: Declaring oneself to be of a non-sex is the equivalent of declaring oneself non-racial. (ie: I don’t identify as any race, and therefore I am non-racial.) Fine, you do you — but then asking that others use non-conforming pronouns for you to publicly identify you as non-racial (or non-sex) serves the sole purpose of drawing everyone around you into an culture war that they don’t necessarily want to be in. Either they use your pronouns and show that they have joined your side in the culture war (with all that entails), or they don’t, and they have joined the Other Side in the culture war (and all that THAT entails). Which, quite frankly, is bullshit.

This is hopefully my last post on the issue for a long time. :)

Aug 192019
 

As promised, here is why I think they/them pronouns are more harmful than useful.

Up through the 2000s, we were making good progress on diversifying the sexes. Gender was coming to be understood as more of a spectrum. There were many ways to be a man. You could be a drag queen or a bro. You could be a stay-at-home-dad or a metrosexual. Being gay or straight didn’t even matter anymore. Sure, there was still some toxic masculinity enforced in various hellholes, and lots more internalized toxic masculinity everyone was trying to get over. But it was accepted that there was no one script for “manliness” anymore.

Women, of course, have always had multiple options, and as men’s options expanded, women’s kept pace. Dozens of TV shows and movie roles explored the myriad ways one could be a woman, and there were role-models galore.

And somehow our progressive movement managed to take this spectrum and cut it down to just three options. Just last week I saw a friend bemoaning “a binary culture which only allows masculine males and feminine females.” The new dogma is that there exists only this binary, that we’ve only ever had this binary, and that if you don’t think of yourself as a He-Man Woman Hater or a Barbie Doll Girly Girl you are non-binary and should adopt a neuter-sex position.

This is stupid. It erases all the people who’ve come before who pushed the boundaries of what it meant to be male and what it meant to be female. The people who made it OK to be a guy and cry without crippling shame. The people who made it OK to be a woman and like casual sex, or heavy metal music.

It also tells everyone who doesn’t identify as neuter-sex that they must adopt the traditional ultra-masculine or ultra-feminine roles or they aren’t really part of that gender. This is almost exactly the same message that the assholes had been preaching before. This is a regression. When someone says “I’m not the kind of person who enjoys slamming back beers and hitting on random chicks all night” and someone else tells them “There’s a word for that! It means you’re non-binary!” I die a little inside. I guess that, since I was born with a penis and I don’t ask people to deny that fact with awkward pronoun-usage, I’m just like all those chads. That’s great.

Obviously there’s no reason our language needs to have gendered pronouns. But inventing a neuter-sex and trying to shoehorn people who aren’t inter-sex into it is the opposite of a good way to reform the system. That’s adding complications rather than removing them. Since so few people are inter-sex, this neuter-gender can only be filled by creating a false gender-binary and offering the only alternative. This is not so different from creating a false “original sin” and then offering the only absolution. And since the invented neuter-sex doesn’t carve reality at the joints, its use can only be enforced with shame and social ostracism… which will make these reforms deeply unpopular even among the sympathetic.

If one wants to make our language gender-neutral, one would be advised to stop using gendered language themselves, rather than trying to create a neuter-sex and require others to contort their thought-processes around it. At least as a first step.

Aug 132019
 

In reply to those who were confused as to why I have a strong aversion to they/them pronouns – there are two answers. The primary driving reason is the emotional one, so I’ll cover that first.

1. I don’t particularly care about anyone’s gender (unless they’re a romantic or sexual partner, in which case it’s relevant). I don’t know how many genders there are, but it’s at least three, and I’ve seen claims that they number into the dozens. I don’t have the time or interest to learn everyone’s gender. When I use he/him/she/her pronouns, I use them in their gender-neutral forms. My use of pronouns is simply a reflection of the perceived sexual characteristics of the person I’m referring to. NOT their gender.

I don’t think I’m weird in this. This is the societal default. It’s why tomboys retain the she/her pronouns, and fa’afafine retain the he/him pronouns.

Yes, it is dumb that our language has different pronouns for apparently-male-sex people and apparently-female-sex people. It’s dumb that our brains have different specialized slots for apparently-male-sex people and apparently-female-sex people too, but there it is. When I was young and my brain was being molded, the language parts of my brain were hooked up to the sex-recognition parts of my brain via methods that have been refined through cultural evolution to hook those two parts together very strongly. And it took.

When one insists others use pronouns that contradict with the one’s sexual presentation, I am required to overrule my own lying eyes and instead use arbitrary terms picked by that person. It feels like I am being told there are five lights every single time. Last time it was my church and parents who were telling me there were five lights. Now it’s my friends. :( I am being forced to lie every time I speak of them, and I despise it.

This is bad enough on it’s own! But in addition…

2. Misgendering suffers from Lie Inflation. Many trans people suffer from dysphoria, and successfully transitioning is an intensely laborious task that takes years of effort, and usually major biological intervention. And since perceived sex is socially mitigated, how people are treated can make a big difference to perception for those who are on the borders of passing. So intentional misgendering can be really harmful. “Misgendering” someone used to be the term for a malicious attempt to drag people backwards in their transition.

Of course, if you know your friend is trying to get better at something, the polite thing to do is to act like they’re already good at it. This is why writers can never trust feedback from friends and family. It is polite and affirming to use the pronouns that go with the sex someone is hoping to be seen as. So naturally the term “misgendering” has in time been inflated to include people who are unwilling to deny that a dude with a beard has apparently-male sexual characteristics. As a result, if I don’t constantly monitor myself I am in the same moral ballpark as the fundamentalist who is maliciously tearing apart the years of work of trans people.

And yes, my friends are kind and supportive, and they “forgive” me when I slip up, because they know this is a hard thing that takes a lot of effort. No one is about to disown me (I think), they just keep dropping polite reminders. But inside I am seething, because I don’t need forgiveness for accidentally blurting out that There Are Four Lights. I’m jealous of the people in my social group who haven’t yet been told that Person X is a Them now, because no one judges them poorly for using the obvious pronouns. I sure as hell won’t ever tell them, because I don’t want to the the jerk who has permanently imposed that cost on them. Honestly, if I would be better off not knowing someone’s mystery gender, I wish they simply wouldn’t tell me their gender.

3. This is where I came to see the parallels with my earlier life. I grew up with abusive relationships. As is typical, I recreated my past, so I was in several abusive relationships as an adult as well. A constant in nearly all abusive relationships (and certainly every one I’ve been in) is that the abused party is constantly monitoring their behavior and speech around the abuser so as not to set them off. The common phrase is “walking on eggshells.” Mistakes are rarely punished, of course, but that randomness makes things worse, because you can never be sure you’re safe.

The constant monitoring of my speech to not ever slip into using words that match the perceived sex in this one particular case invokes that exact same feeling. Never has anyone exploded on me for failing to use the neuter pronouns, but of course that just means it’ll be even worse once it does happen, according to my brain. Perhaps I could use this as evidence to slowly move away from this fear, if it wasn’t for the fact that some of the neuter-gender people I personally know have publicly announced “If you can’t respect me enough to use the right pronouns, I don’t want you in my life.”

This wraps up the emotional reasons for hating they/them. The lesser reason is a practical one – there currently is no neuter-sex, and trying to create one in this manner does social harm that isn’t worth the cost. But that’ll be a post for later in the week.

Aug 072019
 

I find myself distressed by the casual fading of my They friends.

I know a number of people who have jumped on the They train. I don’t care what anyone calls themselves, so at first I was all “OK, whatever, you do you.” But not long after that, several of these friends have made it clear they find anyone who doesn’t adopt their new pronouns to be moral degenerates.

I will not do that. I noped out of that game when I abandoned fundamentalist Christianity in my teen years, and I’m not about to bend over for the latest dominance move just because now it’s people on my side asserting moral superiority. But I also like my friends, and seek their acceptance and approval. Until I can figure out what to do about this, I’ve instead stopped using pronouns to refer to them at all.

In their presence, this is super easy. Generally you address people you’re with directly, with things like “Hey, what did you think about that latest episode?” and pronouns never come into it.

But when a friend isn’t present, I refer to them only by their name now. Or simply drop the pronoun from the sentence altogether in a sort of abbreviated slang. Both of these things are very inconvenient. They require constant self-censorship and interrupt the through process, which is a major cost in itself. Perhaps even worse, they remind me every time I want to mention this friend that they’ve joined with the moralizing puritans and are now part of a group that wishes me harm, which hurts.

So I’ve found myself simply not talking about these friends at all. Their existence fades out of my casual conversation altogether. I didn’t notice it at first, and I’m writing this blog post now because I realized just this week that this was happening.

I find that really depressing. It’s counter to one of the things I really like about friendships. :/

Jul 252019
 

Hugo AwardI hate to say this, because I fear I’m going to isolate people I like. But we have to have a talk about the Hugos.

 

I. Trail of Lightning should never have been a finalist.

It’s not just that it’s a basic wire-rack monster hunter pulp-fiction novel. In my personal opinion, yes, that should be enough to disqualify any work. The Hugo is one of the premier awards in SF fiction. It should go to novels that are innovative, pushing the genre forward. Or that have something important to say about being human, or something urgent to say about the state of the world. It needs to have a higher purpose than just basic entertainment. Trail of Lightning is exactly the sort of pulp adventure that my father mocked me for reading when I was younger, because he didn’t know authors like Heinlein and Le Guin and Jemisin existed. The Hugo awards exist exactly for the purpose of highlighting works that mean more than just a thrilling read.

BUT I know not everyone shares that view. Some people do think that awards should go to things that are just very good at being very entertaining. (I contend those books already get the award of “Best Seller” status, but hey, I guess that’s not enough?). I know this in part because every year something is in the finalist list that makes me roll my eyes and feel like an elitist jerk for a few days.

Unfortunately, even if one contends that pulp adventure is worthy of at least being considered for an award, Trail of Lightning is not a great specimen of that species.

 

II. This is not Roanhorse’s fault, or issue!

I would first like to stress that I am not saying that Rebecca Roanhorse is a bad writer. We know from last year’s short story “Welcome To Your Authentic Indian Experience(TM)” that she can write extremely well, and that she can tackle some very heavy social issues with incredible aplomb. That story was flat-out amazing, and deserved every award and bit of praise it got.

A digression – Simply looking at the timeline of when Authentic Indian Experience was published vs when Trail of Lightning was published, and knowing that the publishing industry never gets a book out the door in under six months (which is already breakneck speed), it is extremely probable that Trail of Lightning was written much earlier in Roanhorse’s career. I suspect as Authentic was gaining buzz, Trail’s publisher approached Roanhorse to ask if she had anything already written that she’d never sold, and she dusted off Trail. I could be wrong, but that seems more charitable than assuming it was a rush job.

The point is, Trail of Lightning is an example of an “early novel.” Many authors are lucky enough to have these – novels that helped them hone their skills, while providing a small paycheck and the validation/encouragement of getting into print, before the authors are very good. Some authors never get these early novels, and a few I’ve talked to say “I’m so grateful in retrospect… they weren’t good novels, and I’m so happy that only my best stuff is out there representing me.” But for every one of those, I’m willing to bet there’s twenty authors who got discouraged and gave up before getting to the X-th novel that was actually Very Good to the point that publishers couldn’t ignore it.

Again, this is NOT a bad thing. To take one example of a man who is rightly called a genius by all readers of genre, and is a British National Treasure – Terry Pratchett. His later writing is absolutely legendary, and you can’t read it and not be completely blow away. But his first several novels? They just aren’t that good. Even the best writers of a generation started out with wobbly fare.

There are authors currently writing in the monster hunter genre that have been at it for many years, with a dozen or more titles under their belts. While I don’t think the works are award-worthy (see above), they are, at least, among the best examples of the species. After so many repetitions of the formula, it’d be hard for those authors NOT to have improved. Some of these authors even openly state that their earlier books aren’t the best, and direct new readers to start a bit later in the series. It’s hard to compare their later works with Trail of Lightning and not see the difference.

 

III. This is not the publisher’s fault either

Trail of Lightning’s publisher, Saga Press, was doing exactly what a publisher should. They saw a rising talent, knew people would want to read more of her work, and snapped up anything they could get their hands on. They then published it in an effort to turn a profit. This is good for the fans, and good for the author. Bravo for Saga, I hope it works out!

 

IV. The Hugo Voters are to blame

Both the author and the publisher are simply doing the best they can in their careers/situations. It’s not their job to be the gatekeepers of quality, their job is simply to keep getting better and making the written works available (respectively). It is literally the job of the nominating Hugo readers, the gatekeepers of the Hugo award, to filter the best that our community has to offer. And yet a large number of these people came together and collectively nominated a less-than-stellar “early novel” of the mindless-pulp variety for one of the most prestigious awards the SF community can give out. How did this happen? Either a lot of people nominated Trail of Lightning without reading it, based on the strength of Authentic Indian Experience… or they did read it, and nominated it anyway.

The really dumb part is that Trail of Lightning isn’t even a social-issue book. It’s a straight-up plain monster hunter novel. The only way one could draw it into the culture-war narrative is by focussing on the author and looking back at her other works and noticing that last year’s Authentic Indian Experience was explicitly about cultural issues. “These two works are by the same author” is not enough to make a pulp novel have a social theme or message.

 

V. This hurts minorities

Look, the really despicable thing about the Puppies movement of a few years ago is that they decided to vandalize the Hugos because they said that authors were getting awards NOT because the works were of high-quality, but because they were minorities and were getting “affirmative action-ed” in. Jemisin specifically called this out in her world-rocking acceptance speech when she said her detractors claim “that people like me cannot possibly have earned such an honor, that when they win it it’s meritocracy but when we win it it’s “identity politics”.” Her speech still gives me shivers, but one of the things that gave it such joyous strength is that it was so blatantly obvious that she had written one of the best things to have been published in years. She deserved every single ounce of praise that comes with that trophy, because she produced a work that shines with the light of the sun, and puts the claims of the Puppies to hideous shame. There is no need for affirmative action, you assholes, the work speaks for itself, just read it and see!

Nominating a work that is clearly not worthy of this honor doesn’t help anything. Instead it diminishes the achievements of authors like Jemisin or Chiang, because it throws previous nominations into some doubt. Most people don’t know of the excitement of a breakout work of genius like Authentic Indian Experience, and how that exuberance will lead people to snap-vote for the next thing an author puts out without even reading it. They won’t ever get to hear about that, they’ll just see a book that clearly shouldn’t be a nominee, yet is, and will draw their own conclusions… and given the current culture wars, not all those conclusions will be good. And those conclusions will tarnish other winners, those whose only failing was being non-white in the crap-ass world we have right now.

 

VI. The irony is not lost on the historically-aware

Perhaps the most ironic thing about all this is that this is exactly the sort of novel the Puppies wanted to see in the Hugos. Pulp adventure novels about tough-ass monster hunters. Books whose commercial concerns outweigh artistic ones. Someone I spoke with also claims that their baseless idiotic vandalism created a backlash that has put cultural concerns before quality concerns in the Hugos — in effect bringing the Puppies’ distorted claims closer to reality. I’m not so sure, I think it’s much more due to the rise of Trump than anything the Puppies did. Regardless, they probably got a chuckle or two out of it. >.<

 

VII. Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires

Look, what’s done is done. But going forward, more focus on content and less on works viewed primarily (whether rightly or not) as anti-“the other tribe” would be good. Keep the Hugos out of the culture wars, please.

Jul 152019
 

Calamity Jane

I’m using “gender” in the now-accepted usage meaning “societal roles,” as distinct from biological sex. I see almost everyone on both sides acting as if traditional American society has only two genders, and I don’t think this is right. It’s at least half-wrong, anyway. Because since its inception, American society has always had a third gender option for women, and I think this is true for all anglophone cultures for several centuries now. I speak, of course, of the tomboy.

Tomboys are not expected to behave like feminine girls at all. They play with boys toys, they wear boy clothes, the talk with boys vocabulary, and their primary peer group is male children. They sometimes have a hard time gaining acceptance with the local boys, depending on the region, but often find a way to gain acceptance and are included in boys games and rough housing. Other girls find tomboys odd and off-putting and don’t socialize much with them.

Upon reaching puberty many tomboys are reluctantly forced into feminine peer groups, but even so, many stay distinctly separate in demeanor and activity choices throughout life. They repair cars and don’t take shit, etc. You know the stereotype, if you live in an anglophone country you’ve met one.

I don’t think people realize this is a third gender, because this social role has been around for far longer than the idea that “gender” means “social role” has been around. Most people still equate gender with sex, and tomboys are overwhelmingly female. But its pretty easy to identify the female-bodied people who are feminine-gendered and those who are tomboys within just a few minutes of conversation. Sometimes it doesn’t even take that, many are apparent from dress, attitude, and stance. Perhaps I’m overestimating how easy it is, I may have unconsciously developed the skill since I’m personally attracted far more to tomboys than any other gender. But I’d wager most Americans can discern between the two very quickly, as we run into so many of both types.

I believe that the presence of the tomboy gender is why clothes that were traditionally only worn by men (most famously trousers, but pretty much every man-gendered clothing) are acceptable clothing for women. The prevalence of tomboys moved male-clothing into ok-for-both-sexes territory, and the feminine-gendered benefited by this. There is no equivalent socially-accepted alternate gender for males, so the same thing never happened to women-gendered clothing, and thus it still looks “funny” for a man to wear a dress.

There are interesting parallels between tomboys and the Samoan fa’afafine. First, both genders are basically restricted to a single sex. Secondly, both are named for the sex that its members feel comfortable with, in contrast to their own sex. Ie:  fa’afafine comes from fa’a–, meaning “in the manner of”, and the word fafine, meaning “woman”. Tomboy comes from the English name “Tom,” which around the 16th century was such a common boy’s name that it came to be interchange for the word “boy.” “Tomcat” means “male cat” for example. So tomboy emphasizes just how boyish the girl is, so much so that the gender-name means boy twice. And finally, both genders are given the pronouns of their sex. So fa’afafine use the male pronouns (English equivalent of he/him) and tomboys use the female pronouns (she/her). (Note that I DO NOT have much knowledge of the Samoan culture or the fa’afafine gender, so these could be entirely surface-level similarities without much substance)

Much like the metaphorical fish that doesn’t notice the water it’s swimming in, Anglophone societies simply didn’t notice that there is a third gender within them. By the time the term “gender” began to mean what it does now, the two female genders had already been around for centuries, and no one really bothered to think of them as separate genders. They were both just “ways to be a girl.” But it very much seems to me that we have been, in fact, living with three genders all this time.

Or am I missing something? This is somewhat tentative, and I’m curious as to what others think about this.

Apr 252019
 

I got a lot more comments than I expected for a mostly tongue-in-cheek 3-line post. So, to quickly clarify:

I like Andrew Yang on a personal level. With his tech background and his liberal (but not leftist) views, he feels like the candidate that most represents my values. Furthermore, his identification as a goth in his younger life makes me grin madly, as I also love the goth aesthetic. And really… can one truly be an ex-goth? Or is that just going back into the closet for a while? :)

I like Andrew Yang on a political level. I know this is outsider-bias…. but business-as-usual is coming off the rails, and the establishment seems to have no idea how to handle it. The Republican party failed so badly that it was hijacked by Trump, and the Democratic party failed so hard that they lost to Trump! Most politicians are morally nauseating. I cannot vote for most of the current front-runners, as they supported Fosta-Sesta, and anyone who supported that abomination obviously would gladly usher me into the ovens if it was a necessary price to pay to win political office. Yang comes from the world of entrepreneurship, which looks to solve problems with innovation and isn’t tainted with the stink of politics. I know that this will quickly change once he gets into office. I know the position will drag him down to its level. But I’m hoping he can break/fix a thing or two during his struggle on the way down.

I like Andrew Yang on a pragmatic level. I think he’s the only candidate who both sees the onrushing culture shock of mass technological unemployment, and has ideas and policy proposals about what to do about it. I suspect he’s the only candidate likely to take AI Alignment to be a serious problem. He is addressing the same problems that propelled Trump into office, but by looking forward for solutions, rather than trying to burrow into the past with failing defensive maneuvers. If modern society is to survive the coming upheaval without a bloody revolution, I think he is the candidate most likely to steer us through that pass.

I’m most concerned that his lack of political capital (what I called the stink of politics) will mean he won’t be able to make effective changes, given the rest of the political system. That being said, I think the other contenders are even worse because while they might (MAYBE) have the means, they have neither the vision nor the motivation to do so, so their means don’t matter anyway.

I don’t literally think people who don’t vote for Yang are Bad People. :)