Friday, October 31, 2014

New Fiction

Mating has become one of the most formidable challenges of our time. The men all seek a goddess, the women a knight in shining armor...except for the disillusioned ones who, exhausted by the fruitless search, have steeled themselves to accept anyone at all. So what should a weary, multiply disappointed woman of 30 do when a seeming knight drops to one knee before her and offers her his sword?

Testing, Testing is a segment from my forthcoming novel Polymath. It's free in all formats at Smashwords. Enjoy!

Not loathsome?

If you're ever tempted to think that the GOP is, in the main, not loathsome, you should read Chuck Baldwin's excellent article below.

It's important to vote against the ultra leftist, sellout, anti-white, progressive Democrat trolls this one last time but, after we get the finger in the eye from the GOP sellouts and cowards after this election, which we will, it will be time to go full third party.

"Reince Priebus And Amnesty–'There You Go Again!'" By Chuck Baldwin,, 10/30/14.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Quickies: Bearding The Lion Dept.

The following may be interpreted as a display of ballsiness, whether or not it was wise:

He is the rarely-seen artist known as Sabo.

His artwork is many times controversial and political in nature.

His Twitter feed is uncensored and some argue his comments can go too far. In fact, a few of Sabo’s recent tweets struck a nerve and got the attention of the United States Secret Service. One of the tweets involved bringing back Harvey Lee Oswald as a zombie.

Please read the whole thing. Then decide for yourself whether actively inviting the attention of Secret Service myrmidons, or any of their federal colleagues, is a wise course of action in these latter days of the Republic That Was. Provoking the authorities can have more consequences than any private citizen can prepare for...including the possibility that some Leftist villain might persuade your local constabulary to "SWAT" you. Two people have already been killed by such tactics.

"If a grasshopper tries to fight a lawnmower, one may admire his courage but not his judgement." -- Robert A. Heinlein, Farnham's Freehold

Verbum sat sapienti.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Assets: Yet Another Weekday Rumination

The challenges that confront a devout Christian who is also an analytical metaphysician are considerable. Most persons with a philosophical bent don't candidly acknowledge the constraints of any particular religious creed. Yet there are a couple of philosophers -- Peter Kreeft comes to mind -- who manage the combination without apparent effort.

The problem lies at the most fundamental of all metaphysical levels: the bedrock of reality that lies beneath all we can sense or manipulate. If reality, broadly speaking, is indifferent to our opinions and desires, the "ground state" of reality where natural law "lives" is the fountainhead of that indifference.

Yet natural law is as incompletely understood as anything to which Man has ever applied his power of reason.

We begin with a question many have asked and always will: Why are "things" as they are?

The current condition of the United States is deemed unsatisfactory by many. (I don't like it much myself.) But how did we get here, and how do we get to someplace better? What do we need to understand to grasp our devolutionary path, and what must we change to set ourselves on a better one?

There's an awful lot of detail involved in breaking those questions down to manageable bites and addressing them in a practical fashion. But viewed from the 60,000 foot level, there can only be one answer: metaphysically given reality. That is: the laws of nature, including human nature, operating on the context from which we started and the decisions we've been making since then, could have no other result.

That answer displeases many persons: nearly everyone on the Left and no small number on the Right. In their opinion, things "shouldn't" have worked out this way; they "should" have brought us to a happier place. This is the elevation of desire over natural law: the demand that "I must get what I want because I want it."

To be maximally gentle about it, you mustn't hold your breath while you wait.

Men of good will dissatisfied with the present but who can't understand how we got to this point grope for explanations and, by implication, corrections. If they apply their intellects to the problems they perceive, and manage to keep their preconceptions in check, they can make progress. But that word "should," which virtually no one dares to use around me these days, tends to intrude at the worst possible times.

How much sense does it make to say "That shouldn't have happened" after it's already transpired? Most of us grasp this, at least when we're confronted with it directly. But there's a whole class of persons, innately averse to subordinating their preferences and preconceptions to the laws of nature, whose specialty is evading such a confrontation with metaphysically given reality. We call them politicians.

Do they possess adequate intelligence to grasp the true genesis of our malaise? Some of them, possibly, though getting them to admit their mistakes, especially their willful ones, is a completely separate challenge.

Let's look rather closely at our assumptions about reality.

Our senses precondition the scope of our comprehension of the world around us. Though powerful, human senses are limited. Those limits tempt us to infer that what they cannot detect does not "exist." Yet as recent advances in quantum physics should make plain, that is not necessarily the case.

If you'll allow me an illuminating tangent, please consider the following snippet from Freedom's Fury, in which I tried to give exploitable shape and substance to a conception of a "reality beneath reality:"

    Althea: What are the Loioc rulers most likely to expect of us?
    Probe: First, that the invading vessels will be few in number, perhaps no more than ten. Second, that the invaders intend the conquest and subjugation of the Loioc. Third, that the invaders will rely upon real weapons.
    Althea: I understand the first two of those assumptions, but the third eludes me. What sort of weapon would not be a real weapon? Would it be one that acts solely upon the mind or perceptions of the target?
    Probe: No. You have misconstrued me. We have entered a realm of discourse for which we have not prepared. I did not realize that. My apologies.
    Althea: What realm is that?
    Probe: The realm of metaphysics. I did not realize that despite your accomplishments, you had not yet formulated an explicit conception of metareality.
    Althea: Probe, you have just taken me outside the lexicon I live with. When we of Hope speak of metaphysics, we mean reality as it presents itself to our senses and instruments. Your use of the term is unfamiliar, as is the even newer term metareality. Would you please expand on them?
    Probe: Yes. The senses of spatiotemporal sentients, both organic and nonorganic, are sharply limited. Reality as we perceive it appears fundamental, not merely pre-theoretical but above all theory. Let us assign a few terms for convenience. Let the sentient to whom spatiotemporal reality is all be called a realist. To the realist, the laws of the universe are without foundation. They admit of no explanation, being sufficient unto themselves. Let us call the realist’s highest natural scientist a physicist. The physicist accumulates spatiotemporal data in his attempts to infer reality’s laws. He does not entertain the possibility that those laws might arise from some deeper set of mechanisms. Yet there are deeper mechanisms: atemporal, independent of location, and potentially in flux. Probing them and their interplay is the domain of the metaphysicist: he who studies the nature of metareality.
    Althea: How do my accomplishments, as you put it a moment ago, bear on this realm?
    Probe: You are Hope’s first metaphysicist, Althea. You alone have thought to alter the properties of space itself. It is how you constructed your superluminal vessel.
    Althea: Then to alter the permittivity of the vacuum is an act of meta-engineering?
    Probe: Yes. It requires an assumption realist physicists would dismiss out of hand. Their assumptions are wholly incompatible with it.
    Althea: What are those assumptions?
    Probe: They address the undefined term existence. If asked “does space exist?” the realist physicist would decline to give a definite answer. Space, he would say, is nothing: the absence of anything real. Therefore, the concept of existence does not apply to it. You, by contrast, have treated space as having existential properties. You have treated nothing as being something, and so have succeeded in making changes to it.
    Althea: Which of us is nearer to the truth?
    Probe: Surely that question answers itself.
    Althea: Does my technique for attaining superluminal speeds resemble yours?
    Probe: Only in the results achieved. At present I lack the terms required to explain the technique embodied in my superluminal engine to you. It will require us to expand our lexicon much further.
    Althea: I infer from this that metareality is complex, perhaps even more complex than spatiotemporal reality.
    Probe: If I may borrow an expression you have used in another context, you have no idea. But there is more. Have you attained an understanding of your telekinetic powers?
    Althea: No. They baffle me even as I use them.
    Probe: Yet you use them with precision and confidence. They are as metareal as your vessel’s manipulation of the permittivity of space.
    Althea: That implies that I am actually altering the laws of reality when I employ them.
    Probe: Yes, you are, within the radius of their operation. I became aware of their nature when you freed me of my payload. You reconfigured local reality continuously as you worked. It was a display of metaphysical capabilities no Loioc has ever commanded. Yet your skill and self-assurance were such that I did not suspect that you were unaware of what you were doing.
    Althea: Probe, there are several things I can do for which I lack an explanation. Perhaps they are all metareal. I look forward to exploring them with you.
    Probe: As do I, Althea. Have you ever discussed them with another organic sentient?
    Althea: Yes, I have. He told me to consider them gifts.
    Probe: Who would give you such gifts, yet deny them to others of your race?
    Althea: I cannot say. Possibly God.
    Probe: It appears that we must discuss God at some length.
    Althea: We’ll have plenty of time for that on the trip to Loioc system.

The above, though fanciful, touches upon an important aspect of human inquiry: the never-ending question why. Why are the laws of nature what they are? Were they ever otherwise? If so, why did they change? What caused the changes? Might they change yet again, and if so, why?

At this point we're compelled to address the invisible dimension we call time and the operation of intelligence within it.

As time passes, things change. But why?
Why do things change? Because the laws of nature operate on them as time passes.
How do we know that time has passed? Because we can see things changing.

Yes, the circularity is frustrating, but that's in the nature of any attempt to cope with the most fundamental aspects of reality. There are even gag lines about it, for example: "Time is just nature's way of keeping everything from happening at once." All the same, those are the facts: the observable phenomena, wholly indifferent to our opinions, that any interested, unbiased party can confirm for himself. Time passes, and things change.

Now add Man to the mix. Ayn Rand's "being of volitional consciousness," Loren Lomasky's "project pursuer," is the one mobile entity we can be certain possesses individual desires and acts consciously to fulfill them. How does he do this? By noting the available facts and applying his intelligence: i.e., his facility for employing generalizations about natural law, applying deductive logic to them, and reaching conclusions about "if this were to happen in that adequately well defined context, what would happen next?"

That's what intelligence is: the ability to use, and in advanced cases to form, generalizations -- abstractions -- derived from the available facts.

Intelligence is not:

  • Artistic gifts;
  • Physical prowess;
  • Manipulative dexterity;
  • Empathy or "compassion;"
  • A sterling character;
  • Verbal facility;
  • Reliability;

...or any other attribute of Man. It's exactly and only his ability to work with generalizations: his ability to reason, as traditionally understood.

Are those other attributes valuable? No argument: in the contexts in which they apply, they're indispensable. But they are not intelligence. Highly intelligent men bereft of all other assets, including some completely paralyzed from the neck down, have nevertheless managed to contribute to human advancement or culture, just as men of ordinary intellect but equipped with major assets of other kinds have done so in their varying ways.

Intelligence, like every other human asset, is important to us, both individually and socially, because:

  1. Time passes;
  2. And things change.

For some decades, the Western world generally and the United States specifically have seen a steady increase in the relative value of intelligence in political, social, and economic affairs. Mind you, intelligence is not the only asset valued in those venues. However, its importance relative to other assets has risen, such that persons of ordinary attainments are slowly being marginalized. Of course, the usual qualifier applies: "All other things being equal." In some domains, other assets are critical. For example, in contemporary politics cunning and verbal ability are of great importance, greater than that of intellect. To the extent that a society lavishes resources upon entertainment, athleticism can reap great rewards. But today at least, those domains are of limited size. The fields favorable to high intelligence are far larger, possibly unbounded.

Beyond even that, the highly intelligent man has an edge over less gifted others at inferring in what direction things are likely to change. Thus intelligence tends to correlate with adaptability.

He who knows himself to be of ordinary intellect cannot help but be aware of these things. If he possesses other assets of potential value, he's likely to concentrate on developing and exploiting them. If he's ordinary in all ways, he must accept mediocrity: not an unthinkable destiny in a society that offers everyone a place. The mediocre American lives very well, at least when compared to mediocre persons of other places and times. He can be proud of his legitimate accomplishments. He has as good a chance to be happy with his lot as any genius...if he can avoid the seductions of envy and resentment.

What no one can do -- not even one of my fictional heroes -- is change the laws of nature. They are what they are. If they change, it will be as God wills, not Man. The most important of those laws for socio-politico-economic purposes are the laws of human nature.

Each human asset is a tool to be used in pursuing one's chosen ends. Intelligence is no exception. As with other tools, intelligence can only work when supplied with the materials it requires:

  • Trustworthy premises;
  • Accurate, adequately complete data;
  • In most cases, trustworthy generalizations reached by previous thinkers.

There is no question that lacking those things, even the most powerful intellect will go wildly astray. The ancient conceit of the "ivory tower philosopher" deducing the entirety of existence from his thoughts alone is ludicrous. As Bertrand Russell has said, "Logic is often merely an organized way of going wrong with confidence." (Alternately, we have Arthur Herzog's quip that "A paranoid is a logician with a fractured premise.")

The greatest mistakes in human history were made by very smart men who either lacked sufficient data or proceeded from bad premises -- or, in the worst of cases, who denied one or both of those things because they preferred to believe otherwise. This is observably the case regarding the several "experts" who pushed a "catastrophic / unavoidable resource exhaustion and mass starvation" overpopulation scenario in the Seventies and early Eighties. Also consider the behavior of the scientists pushing the "global warming" agenda; all the actual data contradicts their hypothesis, so they wish it aside, point to their simulations, and insist that they must be correct. The consequences have been bad enough to date; may God help us all if they should get their way politically.

In other words, no degree of intelligence can compensate for ignorance or arrogance, and particularly not for the combination thereof. Whether we speak of the "moderate" degree of arrogance that simply insists "I cannot be wrong!" or the "extreme" variety that seeks to defy the laws of nature themselves -- say, remember the "new Soviet man?" -- we're looking upon a quick road to chaos and destruction.

I am hard pressed to think of a single major political, social, or economic ill that was rooted in anything but the arrogance of highly placed men.

Having waded through 2500 words to get here, you could be forgiven for asking "What's the point?" The point, as it so often is in a Rumination, is the transcendent importance of humility. As I wrote just yesterday:

Humility is merely the willingness to acknowledge reality:
  • That we cannot merely decree that what we want is what shall be;
  • That reality's laws are superior to our desires, opinions, and wills;
  • That others are what they are and have a right to be so, despite our preferences to the contrary.

Inversely, humility is not self-abasement or an imposed belief in one's own inferiority. The humble man need not subjugate himself to anyone or anything. He merely accepts that the world is what it is, and that events will sometimes run contrary to his desires.

Alternately, from Reinhold Niebuhr:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Whatever your assets, may God bless and keep you all.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

On Thinking Well Of Yourself: A Rumination

Among the problems made possible by the loose use of words -- i.e., a use that distorts their meanings or applies them in a tendentious fashion -- one of the most nagging is our treatment of two of the capital sins: specifically, pride and envy.

These days, you'll hear quite a lot of persons denigrate pride unconditionally, as if there were no such thing as just pride. But there is: pride in accomplishments of one's own that acknowledges the just pride of others in their accomplishments. Sinful pride -- in Latin, superbia -- is of the sort that exalts oneself categorically over others. This is deemed a capital sin because it encourages us toward contempt and lack of charity, and in the worst cases, the dismissal of others' rights.

Our problem with envy is similar but worse. We misuse the word when we apply it to the admiration of another person's special gifts or attainments, perhaps coupled to a yearning for similar things for oneself. That might seem harmless enough, and would be so if it were to stop there. Unfortunately, there are many to whom another person's gifts or good fortune are an inducement to something much worse than innocent admiration or yearning: what Ayn Rand and others have described as "hatred of the good for being the good." That becomes sinful when it morphs into covetousness: the willingness to plot against another, whether it's with or without result, spurred by envy.

But to me, the fascinating part of this is how pride and envy are linked. For it is observably the case that there are persons among us who need to think well of themselves, but are so enviously fixated upon the different or greater gifts of others that they're unable to do so.

Everyone wants to think well of himself. It's innate to our natures as thinking beings. Fortunately, it's possible for anyone, once he's absorbed the right fundamental assumptions and attitudes.

The key to thinking well of yourself -- i.e., acquiring and maintaining just pride -- is the concept of the personal best.

We are united in our common natures, but not in our individual aptitudes. (NB: That is, we are not "equal," never have been, and never will be, but that's a subject for a politically focused tirade.) To achieve the just pride that allows one to think well of oneself requires:

  1. That he learn where his personal strengths and weaknesses lie;
  2. That he strive ceaselessly to improve upon his strengths and remedy his weaknesses;
  3. That he never deceive himself about those things, or fixate on the different or greater gifts of others.

Yes, it's that simple. He who focuses upon personal improvement, rather than on how he compares to others, has a very good chance of achieving just pride. Indeed, if he can maintain that mindset, it's practically guaranteed.

This isn't an epoch-defining discovery by a Twenty-First Century Certified Galactic Intellect; it's something we've known since Socrates. Indeed, it was he who said "Only one thing do I know, and that is that I know nothing:" the ultimate admission that even he, the foremost philosopher of his day, could still improve upon his personal best. Ralph Waldo Emerson rephrased that sentiment with a slightly different focus: "Every man is my superior, in that I can learn from him." That's the proper approach to appreciating and harmlessly exploiting the different and greater gifts of others.

But if this is something "we" have known for many centuries, it doesn't show in the behavior of a lot of our contemporaries.

"To be" means "to be in competition." -- Screwtape

Competition is a useful spur to self-improvement, but if not constrained by the limits to just pride, the competitive urge can carry us far beyond self-improvement. It can lead to a willingness to damage others that we might "rise above them:" a textbook case of hatred in action.

Have a little more C. S. Lewis to that effect:

No man who says I’m as good as you believes it. He would not say it if he did. The St. Bernard never says it to the toy dog, nor the scholar to the dunce, nor the employable to the bum, nor the pretty woman to the plain. The claim to equality, outside the strictly political field, is made only by those who feel themselves to be in some way inferior. What it expresses is precisely the itching, smarting, writhing awareness of an inferiority which the patient refuses to accept.

And therefore resents. Yes, and therefore resents every kind of superiority in others; denigrates it; wishes its annihilation. Presently he suspects every mere difference of being a claim to superiority. No one must be different from himself in voice, clothes, manners, recreations, choice of food: “Here is someone who speaks English rather more clearly and euphoniously than I — it must be a vile, upstage, la-di-da affectation. Here’s a fellow who says he doesn’t like hot dogs — thinks himself too good for them, no doubt. Here’s a man who hasn’t turned on the jukebox — he’s one of those goddamn highbrows and is doing it to show off. If they were honest-to-God all-right Joes they’d be like me. They’ve no business to be different. It’s undemocratic.” [from Screwtape Proposes A Toast]

That "itching, smarting, writhing awareness of inferiority" is what impels the man dominated by envy to contemplate destructive measures. John Ringo exploits the nature of destructive competition brilliantly in his recent novel The Hot Gate. His South American characters are depicted as persons consumed by unjust pride -- pride in status-by-birth, a non-achievement for which they cannot justly claim credit -- who, compelled to confront superior performances by others, don't strive to improve themselves but rather attempt to corrupt those others' achievements, even if it should result in injury or death.

That's how unjust pride -- superbia -- gives rise to sinful envy: covetousness.

The beginnings of sinful envy are often manifested verbally, in the denigration of others or their achievements. Perhaps if it could be halted at that stage, it would be merely a peccadillo. Yet it is a form of injustice, and God is nothing if not just. I can't help but think that even verbal injustice will have unpleasant consequences in the life to come.

Yes, all of this is part and parcel of the need to think well of oneself. If we lacked that need, we would be immune to the temptations of sinful pride and sinful envy. However, as individuals with individualized motivations and gifts, we are right under the crosshairs of both those infernal guns.

Unfortunately, there is no way to immunize oneself against such temptations. Humans are social creatures, forever destined to rub up against one another in ways both pleasant and unpleasant. It's guaranteed that, with the possible exception of lifelong hermits, each of us will repeatedly confront others who are our superiors in some ways...and now and then, perhaps even in all ways.

I've often written of the importance of humility. That virtue is as frequently misinterpreted as is just pride. Humility is merely the willingness to acknowledge reality:

  • That we cannot merely decree that what we want is what shall be;
  • That reality's laws are superior to our desires, opinions, and wills;
  • That others are what they are and have a right to be so, despite our preferences to the contrary.

Inversely, humility is not self-abasement or an imposed belief in one's own inferiority. The humble man need not subjugate himself to anyone or anything. He merely accepts that the world is what it is, and that events will sometimes run contrary to his desires.

The humble man is quite capable of attaining just pride and averting destructive envy. Indeed, humility of that sort is prerequisite to the rest.

If you've been wondering what brought this subject to the top of my stack this fine October morning, yesterday's exceedingly brief piece has garnered invidious reactions that caused me to wonder what I might have said or done. I've concluded, tentatively at least, that any discussion of intelligence and its political and socioeconomic importance simply flicks some persons on their sensitive bits. But perhaps it's because of the writer rather than the subject; that's a possibility I shouldn't overlook.

Well, you can't please everyone, and anyway, I gave up trying long ago. I'm too taxed by struggling to do something others find valuable while striving to concentrate on exceeding my personal bests. As my gifts are few, the former demands more focus from me than it would from more fortunate persons; as my energies are steadily waning with the passage of the years, the latter is more challenging than ever before. Yet those are the things that I must do to think well of myself.

This might seem a strange way to conclude so philosophical an essay, but I'll do it anyway:

Don't expect too much from me. I'm as human as you.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Quickies: Predictions Fulfilled

The American Enterprise Institute has posted a brief question-and-answer session with Dr. Charles Murray, one of America's best known social scientists, concerning the observations, assertions, and predictions he and co-author Richard Herrnstein made in The Bell Curve, published just twenty years ago to incredible controversy and no small amount of denunciation. Perhaps the most piercing bit of the exchange is as follows:

Q: The flashpoint of the controversy about race and IQ was about genes. If you mention “The Bell Curve” to someone, they’re still likely to say “Wasn’t that the book that tried to prove blacks were genetically inferior to whites?” How do you respond to that?

Actually, Dick and I got that reaction even while we were working on the book. As soon as someone knew we were writing a book about IQ, the first thing they assumed was that it would focus on race, and the second thing they assumed was that we would be talking about genes. I think psychiatrists call that “projection.” Fifty years from now, I bet those claims about “The Bell Curve” will be used as a textbook case of the hysteria that has surrounded the possibility that black-white differences in IQ are genetic. Here is the paragraph in which Dick Herrnstein and I stated our conclusion:

If the reader is now convinced that either the genetic or environmental explanation has won out to the exclusion of the other, we have not done a sufficiently good job of presenting one side or the other. It seems highly likely to us that both genes and the environment have something to do with racial differences. What might the mix be? We are resolutely agnostic on that issue; as far as we can determine, the evidence does not yet justify an estimate. (p. 311)

That’s it. The whole thing. The entire hateful Herrnstein-Murray pseudoscientific racist diatribe about the role of genes in creating the black-white IQ difference. We followed that paragraph with a couple pages explaining why it really doesn’t make any difference whether the differences are caused by genes or the environment. But nothing we wrote could have made any difference. The lesson, subsequently administered to James Watson of DNA fame, is that if you say it is likely that there is any genetic component to the black-white difference in test scores, the roof crashes in on you.

On this score, the roof is about to crash in on those who insist on a purely environmental explanation of all sorts of ethnic differences, not just intelligence. Since the decoding of the genome, it has been securely established that race is not a social construct, evolution continued long after humans left Africa along different paths in different parts of the world, and recent evolution involves cognitive as well as physiological functioning.

Contemporaneously with the announcement of the book, "journalist" Jason de Parle did a hit piece on Murray that appeared in the New York Times. Its title: The Most Dangerous Conservative In America. Never let it be said that the Times simply reports the facts and leaves us to form our opinions for ourselves.

As Murray says elsewhere in the Q & A, his and Herrnstein's predictions of a social fissure steadily widening between the "cognitive elite" and the rest of the population, while the "cognitive elite" steadily merge with the economic and political elite, have observably come true. He foresees more troubles, and worse, over the decades immediately before us...and unusually for a social scientist willing to give his opinions openly and candidly to the public, both reason and the available evidence are on his side.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Encroachment: Five Years Or Five Yards?

Yet another demonstration of why Charles Hill is a long-time favorite of mine:

[M]any people well and truly hate their daily commutes, and that mass-transit options would appeal greatly to them if the logistics worked out. In my case, the logistics don't work out: bus stops are more conveniently placed for me than you might think, but two hours in and two hours back is 3:20 longer than it takes me to drive the 10.6-mile loop. And what bothers me, I think, is that people will look at that and think, "Oh, wow, three hours I can use to get stuff done."

Get stuff done? What can they do on the bus that they can't do at home? And this is where I part ways with these folks. One of my desiderata is a distinct line of demarcation between Work Hours and Non-Work Hours, and that line is paved with asphalt. I'm not taking my work home with me, and the stuff I'm not taking home, I'm not bringing back the next day....

This is not to say that my position is unimportant, or that I'm easily replaced; however, damn little I do has to be done Right This Instant Or Else, and since it is tacitly acknowledged that I manage time superbly well, they're generally loath to play the Emergency card.

My word, how I've longed to hear others voice such sentiments!

"Emergency! Everybody to get from street!" -- "The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!"

There's an inevitable tension between work and those activities (including total inactivity) that are not work. It's difficult to define the boundary between them with exactitude, especially since many of us find the activities in the former category pleasurable, while the latter category -- for those among us insufficiently rich to hire a household staff, at least -- includes many things that, given an acceptable alternative, we'd rather not do. For the purposes of this screed, let's use a wage paid by an employer as the line of demarcation.

Accepting a wage for your labor creates both an unwritten contract and a set of expectations. It's in the nature of the conventional employment-at-will arrangement that both these things are incompletely defined. For example:

  • The "contract" doesn't specify standards of quality, nor does it encompass everything you'll be asked to do.
  • The expectations might include "emergency" provisions your employer can invoke, which he will deem you ethically bound to respect.

The consequences for ignoring the force of those considerations can be dramatic, ranging from your supervisor's spoken chastisement to an expensive lawsuit.

An unscrupulous supervisor will ruthlessly exploit such invisible-ink provisions in your "contract" to his and his company's benefit. Again in the usual case, you'll have little recourse beyond submitting your resignation and finding a better gig. White-collar workers are, of course, the cohort most exposed to such hazards.

In particular, the cost of compliance with invocations of emergency can be significant. The upper bound is higher than you might think. If we take a standard "work year" as 2000 hours of labor (50 weeks per year, 40 hours per week) and a standard "career" as forty-five such years (90,000 hours), your supervisor can add five years to that career by extracting slightly less than one extra hour of labor per working day from you. As the typical white-collar worker isn't paid overtime, that would equate to fifty years' labor for forty-five years' compensation.

That doesn't strike me as a bargain I'd care to make. Yet millions of other Americans have done so.

There's some truth in the old maxim that If you need something done in a hurry, take it to a busy man. As it happens, the busiest man in a typical shop is also the most skilled and productive man there. As skill and productivity are difficult to conceal, extra work "finds him" almost automatically. He usually can't decline the honor without some sort of penalty.

A brief personal vignette is illustrative. As a software engineer of long and broad experience, I am sometimes called into situations the like of which my younger colleagues have never seen. Some years ago, I was asked to assist in resolving a deadlock condition in a superannuated system that shared random-access memory among a DEC PDP 11/34, a Motorola MVME-147, and a custom-designed vector processor. My assistance was deemed necessary because no one else in the shop had ever worked with any of the processors involved, whereas I had had prior exposure to two of the three. I swiftly found the exact place where the deadlock was occurring, pointed out the reason for it, handed it off to my electrical-engineering colleagues, and returned to my previous labors, deeming my involvement properly at an end.

But my E.E. colleagues procrastinated and dawdled. They didn't want to work on that old dinosaur of a system. The project manager was unhappy -- with good reason; there was a million-dollar payment hinging on the delivery of that old system -- but he preferred not to vent his unhappiness upon those most responsible for it. So without first speaking to me, he issued a memo to my direct supervisor, to the effect that I was on a mandatory 60-hour week until the problem had been solved.

My response to that memo was to submit my resignation, effective immediately. Yes, it had the desired effect. But many a senior engineer, mindful of the difficulty of securing a new position in one's fifties, would have submitted to the demand, as pointless and abusive as it was, thereby adding fifty percent to his work week for no compensation.

Mind you, I enjoyed the process of finding and diagnosing the problem -- indeed, I reveled in the use of expertises and skills no one else possessed -- but that's hardly the point.

"You cannot do wrong without suffering wrong." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

The tension between work and not-work can be sharpened to microtome levels by making work pleasurable. For those of us fortunate enough to enjoy our trades, this is often a contributor to intense domestic anguish. It's sundered many a marriage.

The great Robert C. Townsend has argued for making work so much fun that "[the employee] comes in on Saturday instead of playing golf or cutting the grass." However, the equally insightful Scott Adams has pointed out that the Law of Diminishing Returns guarantees that at some point, one's "return" of profit and pleasure from an increment of work will dip below that available from other activities. There is justice in both approaches. It's up to each individual, employee or employer, to find the break-off point.

Some persons adopt a strategy of rigidity: 40 hours labor per week, no more under any circumstances. Others attempt to be flexible, hoping that their employer will be reasonable in acknowledgement of their willingness to accommodate. There are situations fitted to each of those approaches, but there are never any guarantees.

What's to be avoided is the automatic acceptance of a cry of "emergency." Of course, if the problem is your fault, that would be ethically unacceptable. But how often is that the case? How much more often is the genesis of the problem a bad job by management, whether in estimating, scheduling, resource allocation, or personnel deployment?

Your employer's innate incentive for extracting more work from you for the same money is powerfully compelling. Such demands could easily become habitual, and they're the worst enemy your personal life and ongoing enjoyment of your job could ever have. Don't automatically bend to his "emergency" encroachments on your non-work time. Even if you agree with him on the importance of the "emergency" and your indispensability to its solution, inflict "five yards and loss of down:" pleasantly, to be sure, but firmly and without embarrassment. That's the only counter-incentive at your disposal...assuming you can't get away with what I did, of course.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Bluenoses On The Attack (Updated)

Apparently a determined sort can turn anything into fuel for his cause celebre. In this op-ed, noted neo-Grundy Donna Rice-Hughes uses Jennifer Lawrence’s recent troubles as a launching pad for a new anti-porn campaign:

In her recent interview with Vanity Fair, actress Jennifer Lawrence addresses her emotions following the widely publicized hack of her and several other actresses’ iCloud accounts, in which privately taken nude photographs were posted on the Internet, saying, “It’s not a scandal; it is a sex crime.”

Miss Lawrence also states she tried to write an apology when news of the hack broke, but expresses she didn’t regret taking the photos, as it was in the context of a “loving, healthy, great relationship” of four years that often took place over long distance; “Either your boyfriend is going to look at porn, or he’s going to look at you.”

Though we cannot (nor should we) know the full context of Lawrence’s relationship, the assumption that one’s boyfriend would turn to pornography in the absence of his romantic partner speaks to how normalized viewing this material has become today. Furthermore, the Internet proliferation of private photos has increasingly become a tool to shame, threaten and blackmail women, as in the numerous instances of “revenge porn.”....

Peer-reviewed research confirms there is a social cost to today’s extreme forms of Internet pornography we cannot ignore. It harms children, fuels violence against women and leads to addiction in both youth and adults. Moreover, Internet pornography, particularly of a deviant and violent nature, fuels the demand for human trafficking of sex slaves. In 2008, the Internet Watch Foundation found a horrifying 58 percent of Internet child-abuse domains originated in the United States, and the United Nations discovered that between 2007 and 2010, the percentage of global child-trafficking victims had risen to nearly one-third.

Sadly, despite the best efforts of parents and caring adults, we cannot completely protect ourselves and our loved ones in a culture that permits child pornography and obscene content, neither of which are protected under the First Amendment, to flourish. Aggressive law enforcement of such federal laws, combined with certain relatively easily implemented measures, is necessary to effectively curb the tsunami of exploitative Internet pornography.

From the "Right"...and "for the children!" Gentle Reader, words threaten to fail me yet again.

Is Miss Rice-Hughes unaware that there are already federal laws against child pornography, and that they're vigorously enforced, to the extent of ignoring their targets' Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights? Is she unaware that for a "public accommodation" to expose unwitting and unwilling others to such images is also against federal law? Or is she simply of the opinion, pace Rahm Emanuel, that "you should never let a good crisis go to waste?"

Or perhaps she's merely stupid. (As little as I like it, there are some stupid persons on the political Right. No political family is without its unfortunate members.) The Supreme Court has proved, by repeatedly attempting the task and failing miserably, that there is no way to define "pornography." Potter Stewart's "I know it when I see it" approach that characterized the most recent attempts, with the consequent rise of an equally undefined "community standards" regime that had neighbors inspecting one another's underwear, fell into desuetude thirty years ago. The lesson the attempt left us should not be lost on anyone bright enough to read these words:

Banning an undefined practice puts infinite power into the hands of the State.

It would seem that some "on the Right" have forgotten this -- and at a time when the Left is desperately seeking a popularly acceptable rationale for State control over the Internet! -- which puts the task of defending the right to create and publish sexual images, including images so bizarre that virtually anyone would be disturbed by them, on the shoulders of this devout and rather priggish Catholic.

An image or statement is not "obscene" except by the standards of some evaluator, with whom other evaluators may disagree. In other words, a judgment of "obscenity" is inherently subjective.

Anti-porn crusaders want you to overlook that inconvenient fact. They want you to conflate porn with objective actions such as murder and rape. The evidence is before us, yea, even in Miss Rice-Hughes's own column. Read it over again; you'll find it.

I shouldn't try to diagnose such persons. I have neither the expertise nor the information, and anyway, I have my own troubles. But I am heartily sick of seeing their fire and brimstone expended on a matter that's properly the domain of parents and schoolteachers.

With all the objective threats we face, is a fresh crusade against porn really the best place for them to expend their energies? Why do they think so? Has a sexual image assaulted them personally, perhaps leaping out of the bushes as they passed by? I'd be interested in hearing about it, as such a thing is outside my experience. Or are they of the opinion that all sexual practices are "obscene," and therefore all depictions thereof, or of the naked human body with which we "practice" sex, must be "obscene" also? In which case I'd like to know where they think children come from.

Away with the BS about "peer-reviewed research" and "social costs." Such pseudo-logic, which is always couched in undefined terms, can be used to support or attack any position or practice whatsoever. There is no cause-and-effect linkage between what one sees on a computer monitor and what one does with, to, or for others.

By now we who prize freedom should be aware that any attack on freedom of expression endangers all forms and subjects of expression, regardless of how the attacker strains to narrow it. It was the Left, which was originally "pro-porn," that produced Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon, who attack images even as mild as those in Playboy as crimes against women! Indeed, both women have also attacked a great deal of clothing advertising as "unacceptably sexualized," and "assaults on women's dignity." If they include in that assessment the women who are carefully groomed and trained and handsomely paid to pose for such photos, I have no idea.

If only we'd return to shouting "Mind your own BLEEP!ing business!" at such persons, whether their totem object is "the children," or "women's dignity," or just their tenure on the lecture circuit. But we appear to have forgotten the phrase. Or perhaps what we've forgotten is the immense breadth of the subjects that belong outside the reach of State power. Your Curmudgeon fulminates; you decide.


Any subsequent commenters who have such clever things to say as "if you don't want nudie pics of you on the Net, don't put them there" will be permanently banned from commenting here. As they're both moronic and obviously not germane to the subject of this article, persons who make such comments are plainly not bright enough to be Gentle Readers of Liberty's Torch.