What Is Mine, I Keep

In Terry Pratchett’s books, Lady Sybil Ramkin Vimes’ family motto is “What is ours, we keep.”

I’m sure it started out the way most things in Pratchett’s books started out.  The Ramkins are an old family, who intimidated their way everywhere and who conquered a lot of places and took a lot of wealth.  At least that has been the view of them throughout most of the books.  Sybil herself is a good egg, devoted to saving dragons, but the Ramkins are, by and large, one of the rapacious noble clans.

And then in the last book, something happened.  The “What is mine I keep” was turned on its head, in a way, which brought me to the realization that property, hereditary or not, is a double edged sword.  As is ownership: of things, of self, of talents, of career, of EVERYTHING.

Two things.  This is not a political article – mostly – but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that yesterday was Victims of Communism Day.  Or that if you haven’t read The Black Book of Communism, you should.

The second thing I’d like to mention, it that I sort of already knew all this, instinctively and through my toenails, as I seem to know most of this stuff.  I just didn’t put it together in moral terms, till recently.

I grew up in the seventies and eighties with the communists and assorted stripes of collectivist taking the moral high ground.  After all, the rest of us were for things being unfair.  We wanted people to have more stuff than others.  And even if people got there naturally, well, it was wrong, because not everyone has the same capabilities.  Even if you got what you have by chiseling stuff off the rock, with your bare hands, well, not everyone has the same tough hands you have, you know, and why aren’t you more compassionate?

Even people who were strong anti-communists – and paid for it in career – seemed to bow to the communists and take a sort of moral back seat to them, and say “I know they mean well, it just doesn’t work.”  This still goes on.  In a lecture, yesterday, my kid was shown anti-communist films from the seventies, and his classmates laughed, because, you know, communists aren’t evil.  They’re well intentioned, after all.  (Read the Black Book Of Communism.  DO.)

I said this is not a political column.  It’s not.  At the same time this stuff is so ingrained and has become such part of our society that it’s hard to get at the basis of morality and – eventuality – the basis of managing a writing career, without going through it.

For instance, the idea of “equality” we have is mostly Marxist.  The equality before US law is not an equality of results.  But we assume that equality of results is desired.  We assume that if someone has more than others, this was somehow acquired by immoral means.  We talk about “Giving more to the community” and “Having more than our fair share.”  All of it is nonsense in real world terms.  It can only be talked about in terms that concede that Marxism is moral.

Part of this is because Marxism slots, perhaps fatally, with a part of the monkey brain.  In a small hominid band, if someone is taking more food than the others, he IS hogging it; he is greedy; and he is stealing from others.

In our society in which “resources” are what you make of them… not so much.  In our society where what you create is what matters for life, not so much.  In the chaotic system of a global economy, not so much.

And we come back to “what is mine, I keep.”

Look, I know some people are born with more than others.  They’re born with more talent, more intelligence, more ability, more tenacity.  Some are born with more things, too, but that’s nowhere as important in the long run.  However, some people are born with more than others.  Most of us realize that round about kindergarten.  It is immediately followed by ourselves or others realizing “it isn’t fair.”

“Fair” works in kindergarten, which is much like a small hominid band.  (Or a band of small hominids.  Eh.)  There are limited resources, and if you take too many graham crackers you are being greedy and your crackers will be redistributed.  This works, because the teacher, who is in charge of the class, makes you do it.

There is no teacher in charge of life.  I know, I know, but it’s true.  NO TEACHER.  This being the case, there is no “fairness” in life.  There is no “honor” in life.  There is no “equality” in life.

Heinlein and Shakespeare have both been there before me, but the truth is you could take all of reality and distill it down to the last atom.  And you’d not find an ounce of fairness.  Not an atom of justice.  Not a hint of equality.

These qualities exist only in the mind of man.

Does that mean then that there is no morality?  That the life of man devolves to nature, red in tooth and claw?  How can I claim that’s good?

I don’t.  There is morality.  Morality starts with the individual.  Over time we’ve found that the only thing that distinguishes us from animals is to devise ways of getting along – ways of jostling together – and we’ve discovered – sometimes against our best instincts – that some ways of living together are better than the others.  Those societies where it doesn’t start with the individual always end the same way, whether you call them absolute monarchy, communism or enlightened oligopoly.  Always.  It’s always the mass graves and the small group of rulers, who preside over an increasingly more impoverished society.  It’s always the famines and the purges.  And I’ll explain why, in a moment.

So we start with the individual and with “What is mine, I keep.”  This means each individual has a right to self defense, to begin with.  And if you say no one is disputing anyone’s right to self defense, you are wrong.  It starts in kindergarten, where these days “fighting” is punished equally, whether you are the aggressor, or not, because “violence never solved anything.”  (All of these teachers are hanging hopefully on the line, to confirm that with the City Fathers of Carthage.)  It goes on to people being charged with using “excessive force” to defend themselves from attack or home invasion.

Not being allowed to defend yourself, means you can’t KEEP what is yours.  Keep both in the sense of own and control.  Which immediately makes you a possession of those in authority to defend you.  And on the other side of that – and not as far as you’d expect – there’s the mass graves.  Because, well, if they can choose to defend you or not, then they can also remove you if you become inconvenient to the “common good” which always has to be judged by someone, after all (remember, life has no teacher overseeing it) and is always judged by those with the capacity to exert force.

Once you grant an individual the right to self-ownership, you can’t go about saying he has to give back to the community, though, or that what he’s doing isn’t fair.  Unless he’s actually actively impairing others’ rights to self-ownership and exertion of their talents (the reason government is a necessary evil) he should be allowed to own himself to the final extent of the law.

What is mine, I keep.  That means I use or not, protect or not, increase or waste.  It is mine.  My body, my talents, my effort, my responsibility, my stuff, and the more tenuous web of feelings granted to me by others and by me to them: my friends, my kids, my husband.  And then the stuff that falls under honor-and-credit.  What others know about me, based on accumulated behavior: my career.  My reputation.  My trustworthiness.  They’re all mine.

What is mine.  I keep.  This is what is known as being a free man.

It is also a crushing responsibility.  You have the right to squander everything that is yours, to the last penny, the last ounce of strength.  It’s your choice.  You use your mind to do it.

What does society owe you then?  Nothing.  Am I saying you should be cast out into outer darkness, where there’s crying and gnashing of teeth?  No.  I’m saying that if you husbanded what is yours, even if you’re broke – I’ve been dead broke three times in my life.  I mean DEAD broke, considering soup kitchen as only way to a meal that day broke – and even if in ultimate analysis it’s not really your fault, you will have an immaterial safety net.  Honor and credit.  Friends.  A community that will come through for you.

But that would be shameful, you say.  Society shouldn’t make you feel ashamed.

Why not?  What business is it of society whether you came to this legitimately or not?  Whose job is it to judge? Who is supposed to make it “fair”?  Do you know every one from whom money will be taken by force (taxes are always enforced by physical force) to help you?  Do you know they’re not as needy as you are?  Or that this taking won’t make them spiral into a situation like yours?  HOW do you know?  WHO are you making into your judge, your “teacher”?  And if you don’t know them personally, if they’re not part of “what is yours” why would you do that?  You’re making yourself property, a chattel.  Even if you think you’ll gain by it, you’re surrendering the right of self-ownership.  And that, in my view, should make you feel more ashamed.

It’s very scary to keep what’s yours. You could lose it all.  It’s also very freeing.  You don’t grant anyone the right to take it from you – or to take you from you.

For years now, writers have been living in a kindergarten class.  Teacher decided on the value of our work.  Teacher decided what was right and what was wrong, what was “worthy of being read” and pushed and promoted, and what was “hack work, not to be published, or to be buried deep in the never-upturned midlist.”

Turns out teacher was wrong, and has squandered most of their credit, their honor, and their money too.  And the new kid in town – ebooks, though mostly Amazon just now – has taken their power and their control, not yet to the same extent, but close to the way they took writers.

And now they’re crying, and it’s not fair, and they want teacher to make it fair.  They’re playing with fire.  A government that can favor them can also shut them up.  But they don’t care.  They want it “fair.”  And they want to make sure only the “worthy” books get read.

Any author who isn’t at least experimenting with indie is a born slave.  I love my one remaining traditional publishing house and have (I think.  I don’t know if she’d agree, but I hope so) a good relationship with the publisher.  BUT it still behooves me to have alternate career paths, to have other ways of getting my words before the public and – bluntly – other ways of making money.

Why?  Because what is mine, I keep.  My talent, my ability, my work, my CONTROL.  What is mine, I keep.  I can destroy it or increase it.  It’s my right.  I’m a free woman.  I grant no one the right to control me, or keep me, or impair me.

(Holds up both middle fingers to every one who thinks that publishing “needs” those who know better to look after it.)  There is no such thing with fairness.  There’s only this:

What is mine, I keep.

 

67 responses to “What Is Mine, I Keep

  1. “HOWARD JOHNSON IS RIGHT!”

    I agree wholeheartedly, but as a newbie writer following a ton of literary types on Twitter (cuz that’s what I was advised to do), most of the publishing community doesn’t. The problem is two-fold. We’ve been beaten with the “everyone’s special” stick since before Kindergarten. Saying everyone is special is just another way of saying no one is special. When no one is special and someone has more than others, it simply MUST have been arrived at nafariously. Why? Because that’s the only thing that will sooth the psyche’s of those that have not. We’ve devolved to the point in which the highest moral outcome is not offending anyone. Political correctness and the tyranny over language it brings are completely to blame. And, despite your up front denial that this is a political topic, political correctness, marxism, “everyone’s special” all come from the same side of the ideological spectrum.

    The problem is that they won’t own up to it.

    • Saying everyone is special is just another way of saying no one is special.

      This reminds me of Dash’s response to his mother on being told that everyone is special — one of my favorite lines from the film The Incredibles. Thank you.

      • Or Syndrome’s line to Mr. Incredible later in the movie, after he told him how he was going to give everyone the capacity to do superhuman things, “And when everyone’s Super, no one will be.”

        • I don’t remember if it’s on the DVD (I think it is) or if I just caught a “making of” The Incredibles, but they had an scene very early in the movie that never got rendered, ie it was storyboarded and voice acted, but never made it to CGI. It was a BBQ in their neighborhood and the point of the scene is that it ends in a stand off between all the career working moms on one side and the housewives (of which Mrs. Incredible/Elastigirl is one) on the other. I don’t recall the reason for nixing the scene, but that, taken with quite a few other little nuggets pointed to a very traditional-leaning/conservative message.

          • It was on our DVD package. I believe it was taken out because it destroyed the rythym of the story nor was it necessary to propel the engine of the story.

      • The Incredibles is one of my family’s favorite movies, pour cause. At science Olympiads and presentations, we will cheer from the audience “come in second, come in second.” The kids GET it. ;)

  2. D’oh. No way to follow comments on a thread after you’ve already posted without reposting (a thousand pardons…)

  3. Oh dear oh dear oh dear — so much to say, so many things of which the community waits with breath abated to hear my opinion. One thing we won’t discuss: there is, according to some, a teacher, one who has left the room (but still keeps a closely monitoring eye) the better to observe which students have understood the lesson. And there WILL be a final exam.

    But that’s theology and we needn’t go further up that lane.

    • Exactly. I didn’t want to derive morality from “teacher says” though. Being a fair teacher, the way things are setup should work when His back is turned ;)

  4. WOOT! Yes! Well done, indeed!

  5. Every point – I agree.
    What is mine, I keep.
    I have been fortunate to have more than most in the way of intelligence and ambition. I also have had more than most in the way of ill health. It makes me angry that certain people (my sister really buys into this one) believe that if someone has more fortune, the government should take it away and redistribute it.

    Seriously. Do we really want to go down that path? It always ends in death and tyranny.

    At this time I am really scared of Obama care. This “fair” health care will end in my having to be counseled for end of care because my disease is pretty lethal. We have it under control now, but if I am every denied medication it could end very unhappily for me.

    I know this is about the indie vs. traditional, but what you are saying really hits home in many other areas that are changing rapidly today. PLUS communists in my humble opinion are actually amoral – a tiger dressed in sheepskin.

    Cyn

    • Cyn,
      re: “I have been fortunate to have more than most in the way of intelligence and ambition. I also have had more than most in the way of ill health. It makes me angry that certain people (my sister really buys into this one) believe that if someone has more fortune, the government should take it away and redistribute it.”

      Well, Cyn, my story is similar but the left-wing sibling is my brother. He is a 60-yr old former hippie who could have been a surgeon, engineer, architect, nothing impossible if you have a 145-IQ. He blew it and is in a R-A-G-E at the rest of us who used our more modest talents and worked like hell for the past 45 years..

      I suspect that after PPACA is implemented, “expert medical studies” commissioned by Katherine Sibelius et al will routinely include lies, distortions, falsehoods, conclusions unsubstantiated by facts, rigged data collection, — get the picture? Our scientific and medical “intellectuals” will cheerfully mis-represent anything the masters want justified. Why not? The rewards of collaboration are immense: grants to your university guaranteeing you get a promotion there, a plum government job, getting papers published, etc.

      I too will die if my life-saving medicine (Arimidex for Stage 2 breast cancer) is withheld. Future care for seniors is going to be determined by tens of thousands of “medical data entry clerks” entering our diagnosis codes in dark rooms all over the country. The computer parameters will spit out what the doctor is allowed to do for us, and if he tries to do something different and is found out – he will be fined. I believe $50,000 is the maximum physician fine in the PPACA bill.

      An older lady I volunteered with for 6 years ( meals on wheels) loves her Medicare Advantage. I pointed out to her that it is eliminated in PPACA, though temporary money has been “found” to postpone this until after the election. She said Oh no, “they” won’t let that happen. (She plans to vote for the president, again).

      How come you authors didn’t imagine wildly enough to write about this scenario 10 years ago. Straight out of horror fiction.

      • Our scientific and medical “intellectuals” will cheerfully mis-represent anything the masters want justified.

        Under the old Soviet if you did not understand the enlightened nature of the government you were either insane or criminal … at any rate you needed institutional correction.

      • What makes you think we didn’t? Who would have published it?

        • Read what Pohl & Kornbluth were writing back in the Fifties. Gladiator-at-Law, The Space Merchants, Search the Sky and other works remain worth reading some sixty years on.

      • American society is rife with taboos of the sort you describe, so much so that to name them is to open this blog up to political screeds of the sort which have in past been so tedious. There are thoughts not allowed, connections not permitted, assumptions buried so deeply that they are shielded by layers of correctness.

        It isn’t just the research grants (although that is a powerful inducement, defining what may and — more importantly — may NOT be studied) it is also the coin most valued by intellectuals: respect. To question certain premises of modern scientifi-political consensus is to be relegated to Velikovsky-land as was discovered by Linus Pauling with his crazy theories about Vitamin C, or Ronald Reagan’s belief that trees were a major source of volatile organic compound pollutants.

      • Thanks for your story Barbara – it scares me as well.
        Heck we shut down Hillary Clinton’s health care. Who would of thought that this bunch of radicals could get it through again?

        Cyn

  6. “What is mine, I keep.”

    Inn’erestin’ word, “keep.” Like so many of English short words words it has multiple definitions. Let’s go to the Merriam-Webster:

    Definition of KEEP

    transitive verb

    1: to take notice of by appropriate conduct : fulfill: as a: to be faithful to b: to act fittingly in relation to c: to conform to in habits or conduct d: to stay in accord with (a beat)

    2 : preserve, maintain: as a: to watch over and defend b (1): to take care of : tend (2): support (3): to maintain in a good, fitting, or orderly condition —usually used with up c: to continue to maintain d (1): to cause to remain in a given place, situation, or condition (2): to preserve (food) in an unspoiled condition e (1): to have or maintain in an established position or relationship —often used with on (2): to lodge or feed for pay f (1): to maintain a record in (2): to enter in a book g: to have customarily in stock for sale

    3 a: to restrain from departure or removal : detain b: hold back, restrain c: save, reserve d: to refrain from revealing

    4 a: to retain in one’s possession or power b: to refrain from granting, giving, or allowing c: to have in control

    5 : to confine oneself to

    6 a: to stay or continue in b: to stay or remain on or in usually against opposition : hold

    7 : conduct, manage

    intransitive verb

    1 chiefly British: live, lodge

    2 a: to maintain a course, direction, or progress b: to continue usually without interruption c: to persist in a practice

    3 : stay, remain : as a: to stay even —usually used with up b: to remain in good condition c: to remain secret d: to call for no immediate action

    4 : abstain, refrain

    5 : to be in session

    6 of a quarterback: to retain possession of a football especially after faking a handoff

    That Ramkin motto is a mouthful, ennit? Best keep further thoughts on that to meself.

    • Yes, part of the turn in the last book was “keep” as maintain and look after. I don’t tend to restrain people from living (and yes, my friends are also “mine”) but I do try to keep in touch. I don’t form friendship easily, and I don’t let it go lightly. What’s mine, I keep.

      • I don’t form friendship easily…

        oh…thought

        I believe the American use of the concept of friendship is taken more lightly than in the other parts of the world. I know few Americans that use the term acquaintance for more than someone they met in passing, if they use it at all. Friendship, true friendships, are rare.

        Possibly the American attitude is, in part, a result of the extreme mobility of people? I live in a city where it is unusual to meet a couple where both halves come from the immediate area, it is far more likely to meet a couple where neither are from the state. On the other hand it could be the adolescent nature of so much of our society.

  7. re: publisher dismay

    REALLY, what’s the point of sucking up to teacher, arranging parties in teacher’s honor, praising teacher’s goodness and wisdom, donating apples to teacher and teacher’s causes and finking out the unruly (and rude) kids in the back row of the classroom for sniggering at teacher’s lectures?

    • ref: Diana Wynne jones, Archer’s Goon
      They thought they had the right to farm writing and they will fight to keep that privilege. Wouldn’t you? After all they’ve invested it is only fair.

  8. ppaulshoward

    What happened in the last book? I haven’t read much Pratchett.

  9. Funny thing about how society gets outraged at the greed of Billionaire businessmen (and women) who amass fortunes by creating jobs for tens of thousands and goods eagerly desired by tens of millions (See recent MY Times articles about Apple) AND YET turns a blind eye to the greed of public servants who double-dip, game the contract system to amass HUGE salaries, pensions and perquisites (remember those towns in California where citizens making $20K a year were paying the city manager several hundred thousand annually?)

    Greedy ungrateful writers, selfishly denying publishers a fair share of the proceeds after all they’ve done for you. (N.B., for purpose of this type of argument, “for” and “to” are interchangeable and entirely subjective.) Why, if it weren’t for publishers selflessly tending the vineyards there would be no books and no reading public. All they ask is for their fair share of the proceeds from this field they’ve so generously developed and maintained.

    Now get back to work, that cotton won’t pick itself.

    • I’ve said the same thing – it’s okay to inherit money or get it from huge media contracts or win the lottery, but heaven forbid you should actually EARN it by WORKING, by providing services and goods, by employing workers, by producing things that the public wants and needs.

      That attitude has always smacked of the old aristocracy, looking down on merchants or manufacturers or farmers, while having no problems taking their money.

      • Kate Paulk

        Ka-ching! It’s all about power. The old aristocracy had power and privilege. Those who would be the new aristocracy are doing their damndest to instill the same attitudes, including the notion that virtue consists in having so much you don’t have to actually EARN it.

        Unfortunately, the would-be new aristocracy have forgotten the flip side of that ancient contract: the aristocrats got wealth and power in return for PROTECTING the people in their purview – and that included the aristocrats paying for defense and housing. It started as a more or less voluntary contract, and metastasized. Eventually, the aristocracy forgot that they got their privileges by taking on extra responsibilities.

        Ultra simplified, of course – but true for all that.

  10. *standiing up on chair, shrilly whistling and applauding*

  11. The most irritated I ever saw my college class (the entire herd of us) was during commencement, when the speaker, a US representative who has since left office, informed us that we owed a debt to society for having been “privileged” to go to university, and that we needed to do public service to pay back our debt. Apparently, having parents who saved money, or working at least part-time to pay for tuition, and working our [anatomical part] off to keep academic scholarships were all gifts from “society.” If we hadn’t wanted to get out of there (outdoor ceremony, rain coming, had to vacate dorms in two hours), I think we would have staged a polite riot.

    And having worked with a professor who was/is infamous for using students’ research in their own work without credit, yes. What is mine I keep, for good or for ill.

    • I was luckier than you. My commencement speaker said “Please don’t get your politics from Doonesbury.” Pity I was too young and ignorant to understand him at the time, but I got it soon enough.

  12. masgramondou

    Coincidentally my boss told me to read Teddy Roosevelt’s speech to the Sorbonne “Citizenship In A Republic” – http://www.theodore-roosevelt.com/trsorbonnespeech.html

    Amongst many other quotable nuggets there is this which seems to have bearing on what you wrote:
    We are bound in honor to refuse to listen to those men who would make us desist from the effort to do away with the inequality which means injustice; the inequality of right, opportunity, of privilege. We are bound in honor to strive to bring ever nearer the day when, as far is humanly possible, we shall be able to realize the ideal that each man shall have an equal opportunity to show the stuff that is in him by the way in which he renders service. There should, so far as possible, be equal of opportunity to render service; but just so long as there is inequality of service there should and must be inequality of reward. We may be sorry for the general, the painter, the artists, the worker in any profession or of any kind, whose misfortune rather than whose fault it is that he does his work ill. But the reward must go to the man who does his work well; for any other course is to create a new kind of privilege, the privilege of folly and weakness; and special privilege is injustice, whatever form it takes.

    To say that the thriftless, the lazy, the vicious, the incapable, ought to have reward given to those who are far-sighted, capable, and upright, is to say what is not true and cannot be true. Let us try to level up, but let us beware of the evil of leveling down. If a man stumbles, it is a good thing to help him to his feet. Every one of us needs a helping hand now and then. But if a man lies down, it is a waste of time to try and carry him; and it is a very bad thing for every one if we make men feel that the same reward will come to those who shirk their work and those who do it. Let us, then, take into account the actual facts of life, and not be misled into following any proposal for achieving the millennium, for recreating the golden age, until we have subjected it to hardheaded examination. On the other hand, it is foolish to reject a proposal merely because it is advanced by visionaries. If a given scheme is proposed, look at it on its merits, and, in considering it, disregard formulas. It does not matter in the least who proposes it, or why. If it seems good, try it. If it proves good, accept it; otherwise reject it. There are plenty of good men calling themselves Socialists with whom, up to a certain point, it is quite possible to work. If the next step is one which both we and they wish to take, why of course take it, without any regard to the fact that our views as to the tenth step may differ. But, on the other hand, keep clearly in mind that, though it has been worth while to take one step, this does not in the least mean that it may not be highly disadvantageous to take the next. It is just as foolish to refuse all progress because people demanding it desire at some points to go to absurd extremes, as it would be to go to these absurd extremes simply because some of the measures advocated by the extremists were wise.

    The good citizen will demand liberty for himself, and as a matter of pride he will see to it that others receive liberty which he thus claims as his own. Probably the best test of true love of liberty in any country in the way in which minorities are treated in that country. Not only should there be complete liberty in matters of religion and opinion, but complete liberty for each man to lead his life as he desires, provided only that in so he does not wrong his neighbor.

    • Excellent quote, unfortunately Teddy Roosevelt turned out to be prophetic with that speech. He took many first steps, such as creating the National Parks, that were good or at least not necessarily evil, unfortunately those following him continued walking down the path, following those ‘socialists’ step for step until what Roosevelt started morphed into something he would never have approved of.

  13. *ponder*

    As a kid in a family where my sire was emotionally abusive and thus — as most abusive people are — extremely good at isolating us from potential allies and resources (both in truth and in mindset that was just as much a barrier), I can’t agree that there should be no social safety net. I haven’t ever lived in conditions as poor as some people have, but I was constantly threatened with them; the wolf is at the door, the IRS will take our house; we will be living on the street.

    Lack of impersonal resources empower abusers, just as too much impersonal meddling empowers different pathways of abuse.

    On the writing hand, though? Pshaw, there’s the abuser trying to isolate the victims — though in this case, the impersonal resources are places like Amazon, PubIt, B&N, the internet itself for those who sell from their own websites. You don’t have to be friends with Smashwords to put a book up there. You don’t have to hear PubIt tell you that you should’ve known better than to sign that publisher’s contract while you upload your book (I assume!). If you’re using a pen name to keep your former agent from sending you harassing demands for a cut, Amazon isn’t going to say, “Well, maybe you should go to counseling with him…” (Well, not unless you get caught and there’s legal stuff; use an air-tight pen name.)

    Mmmm, control. Power. The chance to choose my own covers. And they are awesome.

    • Beth, I think the big question about safety nets and social services centers on who should hold the safety net rather than if there should or should not be one. Some prefer a net knitted and held only by a central government, which collects the associated taxes and fees necessary to weave the net. Others prefer that private and local organizations hold the main net and weave it with voluntary contributions or local taxes and fees, perhaps backed-up by a secondary “in case of massive disaster” net held by the federal government. It is a question of control again, this time between federal, state/provincial, local, or private agencies and authorities.

      • The problem (primary; there are many secondary) with a gov’t run safety net is that gummint “has” to follow rules, whereas a social safety net managed by charitable institutions permits intelligent judgment (alternatively, “common sense”) to permit discrimination (aka, bending of rules.) Thus the industrious but ill-fortuned were granted leeways not available to the indolent (or worse.)

        Of course, sometimes the persons operating those charitable efforts had biases which diminished their charity … say, no woman should EVER leave a husband, or that any man whose wife beat him deserved naught but disdain. Shrug. Show me a solution that doesn’t contain its own problems and I will check your blood for foreign substances.

        Do we really need to go into secondary problems of all systems of addressing the problems of society?

    • Beth,

      I have grown resigned to the idea of “a social safety net” because people refuse to “GET” it. We’ve been beaten with the idea that the government must do it. The problem with that is that it is… well, terribly unfair. Take a grandmother. Not my grandmother, because most of what she did was never taxable. BUT take a grandmother. Lived a careful life. Raised kids with no vacations. Went out to eat maybe once a year. Put kids through college. Set a little aside. Let’s say, though, she worked at a profession like writing or some other free lance thing. No Social Security to speak of. No problem, she has investments. BUT here’s the thing… She has to pay taxes off those investments. Why? Well, for the social safety net. Who is that safety net paying for? Let’s forget single mothers and other things that the government does pay for (sometimes rightly, sometimes not, and we know both kinds, all of us.) Let’s just say there’s this family down the street. Both employed. Vacations in Europe every year. Now unemployed. Broke. Can’t find a job. Getting food stamps and other help. Yeah, they need it. But is it fair to take money from a little old lady, by force to give it to her?

      Yes, your case is terrible, but why an IMPERSONAL safety net? Impersonal means imprecise and hit and miss. Causing more harm than good. Why do you need it? Because people think “it’s the government’s job.” They don’t think “what’s mine, I keep” — my family, my friends, my community. Trust me, I grew up in a place with no “social safety net” — well, it existed, but people were a little afraid of bureaucrats and only outsiders went on the dole — and the old women in the village took a keen interest in philandering husbands, abusive parents and the like. Where they always right? No. BUT in general they were. Because these were THEIR people. And their responsibility.

      What I was trying to show as a root of morality is that “what is mine I keep” is not an excuse for not caring for others. On the contrary. It makes all of us lords, infused with noblesse oblige.

      • I have no problem with a “social safety net” until people start using it as a hammock and refusing to get up get back in the fight.

        We live in, and support a society, partly through the means of a government and taxes. The trick is to keep the government small enough to remember they work for us. Drifting into politics, ours has gotten too big and turned into a self-serving positive feed-back mechanism, with the potential to eat us all. Drifting back to Science Fiction, perhaps the first example of a technological monster run amok.

        • Drifting back to Science Fiction, perhaps the first example of a technological monster run amok.

          On things that Science Fictions allows is an examination of the consequence of ideas meeting scientific and technological advances.

        • A net not only saves people from falling further it can also trap them, as fishermen know.

          This may be a reason so many of those caught in that net play the lottery: the payoff is about the only way to escape. Subsidized insurance, food and housing mean that as you earn more money your circumstances can actually deteriorate.

  14. Good stuff, as usual. Yet another reminder for me to check this place more often. I first came with the instapundit link to the free novel, loved what I saw… and promptly lost the link for a month or three. I finally remembered it, dug it out and promtly bookmarked it, and have yet to be disapointed. Keep up the good work!

  15. Very good post, most of what I want to comment is political so I’ll keep my mouth shut (very difficult for me!)

    But I will say that those who want a teacher to keep life fair look to Stalin as a teacher. Is that really who we want to be following?

  16. It finally occurred to me what the difference is regarding “fair”: “Fair” is something that only applies (or should apply) to things given to you by someone, for which you have done nothing to merit it beyond existing.

    This is why “fair” works for small children. They have not worked for their toys, treats, etc. If one does something special, then they should get something that is particularly “theirs”.

  17. To paraphrase an anonymous commenter over at the duplicate posting at classical values:

    The term “Violence has never solved anything” is a good sign that the speaker has a habitual difficulty in defining problems. The first problem he cannot define well is how to avoid starving to death.

    • The only thing that someone saying “Violence has never solved anything” proves is that the person saying it is far enough up the food chain that they don’t have to get their hands personally dirty.

      • Even vegetarians rip their carrots and potatoes from Mother Earth’s warm breast. They rend the flesh of apples, dates and mangoes with their teeth and crush the dreams of oranges, grapes and grapefruit to drink their juices.

        Whenever I see a car with a Violence Never Solved Anything bumper sticker I fight back the urge to tune the car radio to Ramming Speed. I desperately want a bumper sticker reading:
        War Is Soooo The Answer
        Just ask the Carthaginians

        When I imagine World Peace all I envision is a desolate barren wasteland.

  18. Character in a very old Jack Vance novel, Son of the Tree:

    “The Universe has existed for nine thousand million years. During that entire time, not one second of absolute equity has prevailed.”

    The book was written long enough ago that nine billion years was the current estimate of the age of the Universe. For some reason (!) the quote stuck with me.

    Vance has a reputation as a lightweight. I do not feel it is deserved. This does not mean John Holbrook Vance was a good guy.

    • Vance has written well enough to win several Hugos, a Nebula and various lesser awards. At least one of his series is considered a classic of SF. Any who consider him lightweight demonstrate their ignorance of the genre. He’s been selling SF longer than I’ve been alive and I’ve been alive a good while. A “good guy”? Eh, he’s a good writer, which is all I ask when I open my wallet for reading matter.

      • There are those who consider anybody who’s writing is popular with the masses to be lightweight. Apparantly under the assumption that since the ignorant proles can’t comprehend and understand the important things; anybody who is popular with them obviously isn’t writing anything important.

  19. “Colonel, darling, you’re a lovely man. I see a vast great difference between us, yet I admire you, lad. You’re an idealist, praise be. The truth is, Colonel… There is no ‘divine spark’. There’s many a man alive no more of value than a dead dog. Believe me. When you’ve seen them hang each other the way I have back in the Old Country. Equality? What I’m fighting for is to prove I’m a better man than many of them. Where have you seen this ‘divine spark’ in operation, Colonel? Where have you noted this magnificent equality? No two things on Earth are equal or have an equal chance. Not a leaf, not a tree. There’s many a man worse than me, and some better… But I don’t think race or country matters a damn. What matters, Colonel… Is justice. Which is why I’m here. I’ll be treated as I deserve, not as my father deserved. I’m Kilrain… And I damn all gentlemen. There is only one aristocracy… And that is right here. [points to his head] And that’s why we’ve got to win this war. ”
    [Sgt. Buster Kilrain, _Gettysburg_]

  20. I’d like to point out to all you writers that if our country goes down the totalitarian path, you may be only bastion of free thought in the 21st century. “Fiction” writers can create characters which say and do the things that unfree people only long to say and do. Wasn’t that why apocryphal writings of old were so interesting? No one dared to name the king or emperor as a villain – that meant certain reprisal. But some pseudo-villan in a story could be ranted about without fear and the population cheered.

    Remember writers, in totalitarian societies, people are fearful and they self-censor or are silent. Fear of reprisals against family members is extremely powerful, and only a man or woman without family may be truly free to speak out knowing only he will be punished. Nothing new here..

    Writers, if the “Brave New World” arrives, I promise you will sell lots and lots of books because they will be the only truly human representatives of a life of freedom lost to the living.

    • Kate Paulk

      Not just the writers… Viva VERDI!

      When opera was the popular music of the day, Guissepe Verdi was regularly in trouble with the censors for the political undertones of his operas. Worse than that, they went with music that had tunes people sang on their way out of the theater and could get into a barrel organ.

      I don’t recall the exact wording, but many people took Verdi’s name as a slogan for the reunification of Italy: Viva Emmanuel, Rex D’Italia (I think. I may be wrong on the Italian here, but it translates to “Life/praise to Emmanuel, King of Italy”). The political subtext he and his librettists stealthed in was astonishing, and usually didn’t turn the opera into a political tract.

      People might not recognize a stealthed subtext, but they’ll respond to it. This is why the publishing industry is so deathly afraid of the self-publishing phenomenon – they’ve lost control of both the message, and the means of delivery. Since their message is profoundly anti-human, they know even if they’ll never admit it that without that control they’re doomed to failure.

    • Hopeful, but, I as I recall history, at one point on the island of Great Britain there were only two cities in which one could legally publish (London and Edinburgh), and that was in a rather free society. A real totalitarian government will seek to take over, as best it can, all channels of free communication.

      This is one problem with the communist/socialists utopias, but when we go there we get into politics.

      • But in these modern times, there are ways around the ones seeking to do such a thing, and it would require a shutdown of the primary Internet backbone, resulting in effectively paralyzing the entire world, to do so. Of course, that COULD be done, but THEN things would spiral out of control quickly.

        • it would require a shutdown of the primary Internet backbone

          Want to talk about China? Yes there are leaks, but much of it is under control.

          Things have been proposed in this country, as well, to limit the internet — of course all in the name of protection of one kind or another.

          • There’s a reason I specified the Internet Backbone. We’re not China. In World War II, Japan did not invade the American mainland because, “there would be a gun behind every blade of grass,”, or something like that. Today, the maxim would be, “There’s a hacker in every basement.” Security measures would be circumvented almost as fast as they were set up, unless the whole infrastructure were broken, not just “controlled”.

            Even that may not be enough. They would probably have to start targeting wireless hotspots as well. All communications could be used to pass information on; from hiding data in images, video, and audio, to manipulating wireless carrier waves to carry a piggy-back signal not normally picked up by standard equipment.

            • Just like any other oppressive regulation, it creates a blackmarket, we are seeing more and more of that here in america, and most of participate in the blackmarket whether we recognize it as such or not. How many of you buy stuff from individuals, or sell stuff to somebody? Do you report the sale of firewood, or your used lawnmower, or the money they neighbor gave you for helping him move on your taxes? If not your effectively dealing on the black market. Ever buy homemade wine, or farm fresh eggs, chances are the seller is not reporting them. How about working under the table for someone, or paying someone under the table? That friend of your cousins that you paid cash to fix your plumbing? Ever use pirated software? It’s all blackmarket, even if that’s not what it is called.

              • It often surprises me that at times the ‘intelligentsia’ who think that the government can ‘fix’ the economy, or any other part of our lives, is so ignorant of the way people will actually behave. Of course hackers, of course black markets. But at the same time, if we know that the government is constantly looking over our shoulders it creates a chilling effect.

                I often argued that whoever attempted to conquer the United States would have to deal with two particular problems, our mountains and widespread subversion. I am no longer so sure about the widespread. We were warned from the beginning of this noble experiment that our downfall came when people figured out that they could use the government to pick others pockets for them. People who are thinking about this are not thinking that keeping their own requires respecting others efforts to keep their own.

  21. This is the best post I’ve ever read….EVER.

  22. One infuriating aspect of the “safety net uber alles” philosophy is that it is destructive of those things which maintain the society which it bleeds. An example: the best strategy for funding college eductation for your kids used to be establishing a college fund and having them work to fund it. This is self destructive now, because it will disqualify your child from financial aid, or, more accurately, place you in the group of people expected to pay higher prices so other people’s kids won’t have to. The best strategy now is to have nothing saved, hide all assets/income to the extent possible, and qualify for the most aid, i.e., lowest prices. “Borrow” money to make up whatever differential remains. Make sure it shows up as debt, even if you are borrowing from assets you control. Carrying a lot of debt helps qualify you as “needy”, you see. Trying to be responsible only funds those who choose otherwise.

    • Another example of this self-destruction is that colleges are incentivized … (Yech – shan’t use that phrase) … have significant incentives to RAISE prices rather than keep them reasonable, because that is necessary to qualify for federal financial aid. Thus the colleges get more $, students (net) pay less and the taxpayers make up the difference. Until you start toting up the accumulated debt & interest on loans for any student fool enough to pay their own way.

      • That debt will be there whatever. As a future taxpayer you will be responsible for the government underwriting, and this will be the case whether or not you go to college. If you go and pay your own way, taking out any loans out directly, you can add that on top.

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