Slide in All Directions

Are you nervous?  Confused?  Distressed?  Don’t be!  Tune in for the next episode of Sarah’s blog.

Yesterday, at an ordinary get together between friends, we found that we were all waking up in the middle of the night with cold sweats.  Now, this being the type of gathering it was, most of our cold sweats centered on the election and since most of them do for a living this non-fiction thing I do sporadically and more intensely right now, we’re all dead-tired, hollow-eyed and walking into walls as is.

But there were enough people in other fields and who aren’t as intensely political present, that the sense of unease and discomfort, the sense that we’re standing on thin ice is not just politics.  “Something is going on here.”

What is going on here – and the reason I’m having cold sweats over the election – is ultimately the same thing that is going on in publishing.  It’s good and it’s bad, it’s exhilarating and terrifying, and the people who are terrified have declared war on it, and even those of us who’ve embraced it are scared.  Very scared.  You see… the future is not what it used to be.  In fact, it never was.

It’s impossible now to read the golden age of science fiction without getting two things: the confidence and the hopefulness.

The hopefulness I can fully get behind, but the confidence, the certainty that they knew what the future held – that baffles me.  Oh, not absolutely.  I’ve read enough of history and of the nonfiction writings of the first half of the twentieth century to realize they thought they had it all figured out.  (The only thing that confuses me is how they didn’t know how it had worked in the past.  I’m guessing they thought their technology was so extraordinary it made what had failed in the past possible.  Or perhaps it was simply the Soviet Union’s propaganda, making it look like it worked THERE.)

It is clear, even from Heinlein’s juveniles that they expected a world-wide government with tighter controls over people’s private lives than even we have managed to inflict on ourselves.  And it works because… because… because… Science!

In Heinlein’s books, because the man was aware of history, there was a hard science of psychology and also one of politics that made all this possible, if not desirable.  (Even in the early books, his characters strive to escape other people’s plans for them.)

People travel around the world, they fly to the stars, and all of it is overseen by variations on FDR’s regime – more or less benevolent – which makes the whole thing work.

I guess when the USSR had apparently pulled a medieval kingdom into the 20th century in a couple of decades – as far as the information coming out, at least – this made sense.

Of course, there was also how rapid and visible progress had been, and how we BELIEVED we had everything under control now.

Let’s say the USSR was very short of advertisement and that any regime that tried to apply that to the whole world would be a sad, mad, fractured regime.  Let’s also say most of us know that now, at some level.

In many ways the wars of the 21st century so far have been wars against global communication.  Those who resent their people’s ability to see that they aren’t the brightest/bravest/most civilized in the world turn to religion and bitter, limiting beliefs and try to erase that which “offends” them by showing them their inferiority.  And I’m not JUST talking about Muslim countries.

It boggles the mind to read early 20th century books where travel across the globe was cheap and almost instant and there was no resistance to this modernity, this change.  Even the handwavium of “hard science psychology” can’t quite but leave us baffled.

We’re aware now that there’s more difference between cultures and religions than that.  (We’re also trying to claim those are genetic – well, not us, but the other sect of luddites bedeviling us.  Never mind.  Jean Jacques Rousseau’s fault.  If I had only one bullet, and one time machine…  Never mind.)

Part of this was of course that the two generations before ours had seen their world change enormously – from horse and buggy to intercontinental flight – and embraced it, and couldn’t imagine anyone NOT.

But what they’d embraced was… a physical change.  Yes, machines could spin faster than humans, and that meant no childhood labor, but machines were still making the same goods in the same way.  They still had to be transported over distances.  You still had to go in to work every day.  Etc. etc. etc.

And their projections of the future, those things they so confidently embraced and foretold, were more of the same: people worked across the globe, but they went in to a physical location to work; they flew spaceships by being members of the astrogator’s union; and writers would maybe fax their work in, but books were still printed or somehow encoded in a physical form.

Turns out it didn’t work out as advertised.  Might it have?  Well, part of it was, I think, impossible from the beginning.  Like… the world cultures all effortlessly becoming a sort of ersatz 50s America for instance with their different customs so much décor.  (Weirdly I think that’s how most people who preach multiculturalism see it.  Part of this, of course, is that the future comes – always – from America and being a nation of immigrants who willingly abandoned their culture and keep only the… scenic portions, we fail to get that culture as a group experience is different.  I recommend one reads the parable of the crab bucket.)

But in the Western World we might certainly have had the population multiplying wave, and the strength of mind and purpose to NOW have colonies in the solar system.  Only… we didn’t because of the peculiar nature of the Boomer generation.  (Are you blaming the boomers again, Sarah?  No, not blaming.  But that they were in many ways the first generation in which even the poor were well off by other generation’s standards, that they were massive in numbers, and that they were the target of soviet agitprop made a difference.  How could it not.  And no, I’m not one of them.  Nor is anyone really after somewhere in the mid fifties.  That idea is a fiction they created to remain relevant.  Born in 62 I “got here afterwards” and to an extent at least early on defined myself in opposition to them.  To paraphrase P.J. O’Rourke, my generation turned its back on the sit-ins and love-ins, cut our hair and got jobs.  Someone had to.)  They not only didn’t have children early but they also went hook line and sinker for luddite nonsense rising to the levels of religious hysteria.  They turned on their own species, though I don’t think they were aware of that, and decided we shouldn’t leave this planet, because like Lord Byron we were “mad bad and dangerous to know.”  They, in fact, decided theirs was the pinnacle of achievement, and that life should be frozen just like this, with perhaps a little decay and population reduction, but never below the tech of the thirties, or above the tech of the sixties.  (I still think, btw, all this was Soviet Agit Prop.)  They would preside over the turning point into gentle decay, and the human race would live ever after like a contented dowager, taking up increasingly less room and reminiscing on her youth.

Only… change doesn’t work that way.  Nor does technology.  The bright minds who might have designed a better kind of rocket, finding themselves thwarted went into computers.  This was allowed because, after all, it was just improving what already existed.

Only it wasn’t.  And the people who are scared of technological change, of societal uncertainty, caught on too late.  In the nineties they scrambled to talk down the computer revolution, to pile on on online commerce as soul destroying, to guilt us into abandoning email and AIM.  The government, ever as clued as big publishing houses, lumbered around doing the bidding of the people who believed government was the future (because they are the ones who go into government careers, by and large) and kicking over sand piles with lawsuits against various tech companies.

And they were oh, so horribly inefficient.  They’re still trying.  The current front in this battle is the “Amazon is evil” moaning and beating of chests.

They won’t succeed.  And the quake of technology of which we’re feeling the first rumbles is going to make the industrial revolution seem like a storm in a teacup.

No?  Think.  What we’re seeing happen in publishing will happen in education and it will happen in every other field too.  Except for a very few jobs, jobs will get uncoupled from a place.  Now, instead of choosing from the best qualified candidate in your city, you can pick worldwide.  Outsourcing?  You ain’t seen nothing yet.

What will it do?  Even my mind boggles.  I think overtime all skilled people around the world will become comparable in salary, but that’s okay because cost of living will equalize too.

The way there will be …. Horrible in many places, and unsettling in the best of them.  BUT on the other side there’s a society where how far you get is limited only by how hard you’re willing to work.

I think the change that’s coming, and which my grandchildren might see the end of (though I’ll tuck away a hope that increased longevity will allow me to see the middle of it) will refashion the way individuals the world over think of themselves.  It might at that bring the triumph of the American way of life – once the present generation of doubters shuts up or disappears – because a constitutional democratic republic is the best way to manage a diverse and pugnacious society.

BUT my guess is what it will birth will not be a worldwide regime, but something far more complex, fractured and interesting.  People might at long last really be able to experiment with forms of government they believe in, (even if they are stupid, yes) by living near other like minded people, regardless of what they do or what natural resources the area has.

At the end of this I suspect we’ll have a sort of federalism writ large.  And the savings in time and manpower – from not having to fly containers of data around, for one – and the improvements in science from around-the-world instantaneous communication and better education-at-will; and the loosening of the grip of governments on economies (through distributed workforces) will  usher in an era of prosperity that WILL propel us to the stars.

I can see it.  It’s so close I can taste it.

So can the luddites.  Which is why they’re screaming and thrashing around like banshees and making use of 20th century communications tech to TRY to keep the future at bay.  It annoys me, because if they succeed the transition will be unnecessarily painful, unnecessarily bloody, and I might not live to see the other side.

What makes me wake up in the middle of the night is the fear that the land I love, and my children born here, will not live as an entity to see the other end of this either.

But that’s a personal and minor quibble.  Technology and knowledge, once they reach a certain point, cannot be wholly stopped.  You can change their course from what seems logical.  But eventually, to quote Leonard Cohen, “Things are going to slide, slide in all directions, Won’t be nothing you can measure anymore.”  And then… they’ll settle in a new pattern.  And move on.

Whether the future continues to come from America or someone elsewhere picks up the flag; whether it’s now or five hundred years from now – a more free world is coming, one that allows for more individual definitions of happiness and satisfaction…  for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

And the people now trying to stop it will be bumps on the road.

154 responses to “Slide in All Directions

  1. Ditto- I couldn’t say it better. I knew something was wrong when the Luddites were dismantling the space programs and giving us a small bone (space station). I think I became very cynical then.

  2. I wasn’t going to send you a copy of my book that’s in the final editing stages (working on cover art, farmed out to beta readers), because I’m sure you get enough of that sort of thing, but since you just described part of the setting in this article, I guess I should. 🙂

    I’ll at least send you a publishing announcement once it’s up and available. Just realize that you for sure aren’t the only person thinking along these lines for the future.

  3. I was a kid during the pre-Vietnam Kennedy era. The New Frontier was quite distinct from the Soviet approach in a couple ways, while being essentially the same in some subtle ways. (The space race was a big deal non-subtle similarity.)

    The subtle similarities included the notion that centralized planning could work along lines described by John Von Neumann.

    Philosophical materialism was another subtle similarity. Whereas the Soviets were Fundamentalist Atheists, the Best & the Brightest were urbanely tolerant agnostics.

    Big Labor, Big Business, and Big Government were all in cahoots. They were the fellas with compassion and vision programming machines to make Big Decisions.

    Nobody knew about Chaos Theory and Harry Seldon’s Psycho-History was impossible. Nobody realized the difficulty of the knowledge problem that makes fools of central planners. Nobody listened to Reagan and Thatcher saying eventually you run out of other people’s money.

    Another big difference between Us and Them was the knowledge that a free American could sleep secure in his bed knowing there’d be no midnight knock on the door. Or arrest on trumped up charges.

    • Some of them knew the difficulty of the knowledge problem.

      I, Pencil” was written in 1958.

      • And Hayek wrote The Road to Serfdom years before that. It was already possible to demonstrate, merely in terms of information theory, that central planning of a complex economy is not only undesirable but impossible, because nobody can gather or assess all the necessary information in a timely way except through a common medium with a shared scale of quantitative value: that is, through the price system.

        You cannot command this or that quantity of goods or services to be produced without either rationing the output (which removes it from the price system) or altering the price arbitrarily. You cannot set prices arbitrarily without destroying their value as a source of information — because the only information contained in an arbitrary price is that somebody has arbitrarily chosen it. It’s like trying to take photographs with a film camera, but first painting your film green because you want a green picture. Such a picture cannot show whether the object being photographed was actually green, or anything else about it.

  4. “If I had only one bullet, and one time machine…”

    I’d be torn between Marcel Duchamp and Le Corbusier, myself, although J-J Rousseau would certainly be in the top 5. Funny how they’re all French, but that’s just a coincidence. Hegel, Engels and Marx would all get consideration… and they’re all German. Then there are the Brits: Bentham, Bevin and Woolf. Don’t get me started on the Russians, or the Americans for that matter..

  5. I think the end of the Luddites occurred when the Internet unloosed the potential for every individual to express his or her opinion to the rest of the world without being censored by the “gatekeepers”. The Gatekeepers were all Luddites. The Internet destroyed their power – in publishing, in news, in politics, in economics, and in a million other ways even I can’t envision. The end of the gatekeepers, however, was the beginning of the new world. While the gatekeepers try to regroup, the technological changes that first allowed us to bypass them have spread so widely that there’s no end to it.

    Today, the Internet is destroying China. Five minutes on eBay blows the entire 100 years of Marxist/Leninist/Maoist nonsense out the window.

    The Internet is rubbing Europe’s nose into the truth that they’ve allowed their snobbishness to reduce their effectiveness, and that socialism is a parasite that eventually destroys the host. It’s also allowing the entire rest of the world to watch it happen, like a slow-motion train wreck.

    It totally DEVASTATES the insularism of Islam. They can readily see they are not the best, the brightest, God’s “chosen”, but a bunch of self-destructive has-beens on the world stage. Their only reaction is “rage”. Today they’re dangerous. Eventually, they will be nothing but an object of pity.

    Japan and Taiwan are still trying to get a handle on the Internet world, and while they’re making progress, there’s still a long way to go.

    India has absorbed the idea, and is implementing it. Their problem is 200 years of neglect of intellectual infrastructure.

    Latin America has so many problems they haven’t even awakened to the Internet world, except in some parts of Brazil, Uruguay, and Chile.

    There’s still a way to go. Until education is freely available WORLDWIDE on the Internet, without gatekeepers, so that schools, teachers, and lecturers can be held accountable — or eliminated, we’ll still have a problem. I’d love to see more K-12 courses online. I’d love to see more college courses online. Even more, I’d like to see some online courses in how to handle the new world we live in, with tie-ins to how we did them in the distant past. I’d love to see an Internet big enough to allow everyone to learn everything they wanted to, anywhere, any when. When we reach that point, I’ll know the revolution has succeeded.

    • The reason Ayatollah Kohmeni called the US “the great Satan” is because we are the tempters. The west lures people by whispering that individuals can choose their own fate, that people can ask questions, gain knowledge not guarded by gatekeepers, and do not have to be bound by tradition. Truly a scary proposition if one believes that the world reached the peak of perfection between 610 and 622 AD.

      • And I’d like the Ayatollah’s successors to contemplate my middle fingers upraised in their faces and the meaning of “You ain’t seen nothing yet, you [words deleted in the interest of decency in a family blog]”

    • “I’d love to see an Internet big enough to allow everyone to learn everything they wanted to, anywhere, any when.”

      That’s one of the things that really delights me about the internet – how available it makes knowledge. It is now easier than ever before for people to educate themselves, and only getting easier.

      • Not all knowledge is good knowledge, not all knowledge has been properly vetted by duly authorized authorities so that it is sanitized for our protection.

        The public schools claim they are selling education, but what they actually deliver is indoctrination.

        Education is not simply a matter of acquiring knowledge, it also entails developing judgement. Judgment is a consequence of experience. Experience is a consequence of not having developed judgement.

      • Free-range Oyster

        The medium is there for nearly any teaching you can name*, the issue is making it affordable. I’ve been looking at trying to build some kind of web-based education resource, but the kind of skill needed to teach well still doesn’t come cheap. Infrastructure costs would be small but the human capital keeps the price up. The best I’ve been able to come up with for live teaching is about $200 for a pure lecture class, which just doesn’t cut it for broad availability unless some philanthropists want to subsidize the project. Pre-recorded lectures would help, but I don’t know how much. That drawing board’s gonna get quite a workout before all this comes together.

        *I’m still trying to find solutions for hands on skills, the best I can come up with is video conferencing which just doesn’t quite cut it.

        • hrm. Speaking solely for my short-attention-span self, if the ‘live classroom’ type environment isn’t available, I’d probably prefer to just have the transcript, maybe with a few embedded clips if something really requires a visual illustration, to a long prerecorded lecture. Or at least having something like a few TAs or tutors hanging out in a lecture-specific chatroom.

          • Free-range Oyster

            Definitely on the TAs/tutors. The online model allows for many students per “professor”, but sometimes you need one on one teaching. People are different, and you need somewhere they can go to find instruction tailored to them. Just moving the factory school system to an online medium doesn’t really improve much.

            I like the idea of offering a transcript with embedded clips very much. It had not occurred to me. That’s a combination only made possible in the electronic world, although it’s generated some ideas for some “flavor” elements for some future fantasy story.

            One of the best classes I took at the university was all prerecorded lecture. There was no transcript available, but it was presented using software that integrated illustrations and slides from the textbook and – most importantly – allowed you to scale the playback speed. Within half an hour I had adjusted to 6x speed and rarely slowed it down unless I was having trouble processing an idea. It was glorious.

            • Ooh, now that’s nice. My first thought on hearing (reading. whatever) ‘prerecorded lecture’ was a youtube video of a professor talking to a camera in front of a blackboard, which I would have a hard time paying attention to for an entire class-period’s worth of lecture. The kind of prerecorded lecture you’re talking about, on the other hand, I suspect would give me very little trouble of that sort at all.

          • Wayne Blackburn

            The CBT (Computer-Based Training) courses that i have had have mainly been similar to a self-paced PowerPoint presentation. Many of them had voice narration, but I never listened to them, because that was too slow. Of course, this would not be applicable to all fields, but I think they are pretty effective for some.

            Naturally, people learn differently, but when there is a large selection built up, of presentations at various paces, for people to pick and choose from, and determine their own pace, the overall effectiveness will go up.

            Available Tutors for answering questions when someone is confused is certainly a necessity in a professional teaching environment, but a cheaper alternative would be available without such, but perhaps with a forum where customers of the curriculum could help out each other, with perhaps a smaller number of professionals there to monitor the discussions and insert information when a question is answered incorrectly, or no one seems to know the answer.

            • There are now forums on all sorts of things on the internet, many times they are better than the professionals. I found this out soon after I bought my first diesel. When I started having problems I didn’t know what the problem was because I had never worked on a diesel before, I took it in 3 times to 2 different shops, and they couldn’t fix it. Then I found a diesel forum on the internet, posted a thread with my symptoms and had half a dozen answers in as many hours, seems like lots of people had the same problems, and it was an easy fix, once I knew what it was. I have since used that forum several times, and others for different vehicles I have had to work on, as well as various problems on electronics and household items. Seems the backyard mechanic and home handyman, with a keyboard are often more useful than a professional shop. And lots cheaper 🙂

        • Speaking from “the other side of the camera,” my teaching goes flat without live student feedback. And I don’t mean the clicker-type that some universities are experimenting with. I need to see faces and bodies to be able to tell if people are “getting it” or if my words are just whooshing past on their way out the window. Add in the props I use for some lessons and, well, I’m not cut out for internet teaching.

        • Wayne Blackburn

          For many hands-on skills, you will almost have to have locations in various cities for the person to go to in order to practice. Even so, that will be less expensive than full-sized colleges and Universities.

          • Certain subjects need labs– (or hands on skills) so yes, locations are probably important–

            • Do they really need access to labs? Or do they need access to sufficient supplies to create their own?

              Last night, after much discussion while making dinner, I realized my darling didn’t know what a properly sauteed steak should look like. He suggested we find cooking classes, instead, I found a blog post with chemistry, physics, quotes from chefs on the most common mistakes, clips from youtube on how to, and pictures.

              He might ruin more food learning to cook from internet instruction, but it’d be had to ruin as much meat as the next class will cost.. and we don’t have to wait three weeks and schedule it in.

              With small 3D printers, youtube, low cost build it yourself lathes… the future is wide open. And the file for an AR15 receiver to print out, trim, attach barrel, stock, magazine, and trigger group… already out there for free.

              • Free-range Oyster

                For some skills, Internet instruction is fine, particularly when undertaken solely on the learner’s own initiative. However, for something like a chemistry or wood shop class offered by an online school, the liability should the student screw up would be enormous. In my case, I want to make classes available to elementary and high school students as well as adults, and some parent suing the crap out of me because little Timmy forget whether the water or the acid went in first is not a happy prospect.

                That said, there are a lot more things that could be done with remote oversight or even just a matter of “show me what you did” than I was thinking. It’s funny, I started this idea because I wanted to give parents and kids credit for the intelligence and independence that the factory schools deny, but sometimes it takes folks here to remind me of how far I really can trust them. You all are awesome.

                • I recall reading about some car company — probably Toyota, it seems like the thing they would do — essentially compiling an A/V manual for mechanics, Dial up the procedure and there is a step-by-step video demonstrating it, with exploded diagrams and all. Slide under the car with your Ipad and let it walk you through the process.

              • The Daughter’s first degree is Bio-Chem. To study this she did need access to a lab with various safety equipment and installation. I gather that there are four safety levels. (The highest is used is used when you are working with truly hazardous things like Ebola.) She generally worked in a lab that was considered a two/three. What she worked with was not kitchen table stuff.

              • Wayne Blackburn

                First of all, economy of scale is VERY much in play with labs and shops. Equipment can be extremely expensive for a hobbyist. Chemicals and other supplies are also far less expensive when purchased in bulk, or else the smallest quantity available may be far more than you would need for any individual. And after the work is done, when we’re talking about chemicals and/or biological material, how much is disposal going to cost?

                Then, as Free-Range Oyster points out, liability is an issue. If someone is working in an unsafe manner, a Lab Manager can catch that and prevent them from hurting themselves. While some would say that people should be able to look out for their own safety, in some cases, they don’t know what they are doing wrong, because they just aren’t understanding the instructions until they actually do it physically.

                • Some fields just do not, repeat, <I<not lend themselves to the home workshop.

                  While having your very own particle accelerator in your basement might make others green with envy, experiments with gamma radiation are not really suitable to the home laboratory, no matter what you were told by Reed, Henry, Bruce, Tony or Victor.

                  • Piffle.

                    Some fields just do not, repeat, not lend themselves to the home workshop.

                    While having your very own particle accelerator in your basement might make others green with envy, experiments with gamma radiation are not really suitable to the home laboratory, no matter what you were told by Reed, Henry, Bruce, Tony or Victor.

                • Free-range Oyster

                  Tangential thought and a possible (partial) solution. I know home chemistry sets have been completely neutered compared to what they were when I was a boy, not to mention in my parents days. Does anyone here know if that is an issue of things being banned, or just a liability issue? The things I remember doing (alcohol burner, mixing various low-risk chemicals) seem like a decent liability waiver might cover them. I abhor excess legal mumbo-jumbo, but I hate inaccessible learning tools more. And certainly a kit like the one I remember having would be plenty to cover material through high school chemistry (more dramatic demonstrations excepted, like the teacher lighting the helium-filled balloon).

                  • Wayne Blackburn

                    Oh, you can still buy the stuff on the internet, but really, what is the use of having millions of people buy the SAME equipment and supplies?

                    Incidentally, I think you meant Hydrogen-filled balloon. Which reminds me: I separated Hydrogen from water using a 6-volt battery from the hardware store in my basement, into a 2-liter bottle. It doesn’t burn very fast when you light THAT, since it doesn’t let oxygen in, and Hydrogen burns with a very pale blue flame, making it hard to tell it was still burning. But it was certainly still hot, I found out the hard way.

                • Also: Private or common access to some chemicals have been severely limited, because some people have refused to play nicely.

                • The Daughter tells the tale of her first lad partner as an illustration. The Daughter assures me that the chemistry department at the school was very clear from the very beginning about what constituted safe practices and procedures. The girl came to class wearing an angel sleeve blouse (for those who do not know such a sleeve is long, very wide and open at the wrist). Her final act, before the instructor banned her from class, was to take chemical waste, bypass the proper disposal system and dump it down the sink the ladies room. Some people need a keeper.

              • You can do electronic kits, but if you really want to learn the subject (and the Navy does it this way), you need to have an on-hands instructor that knows what he is doing.

                • Although –I can’t remember the name of the company, but they do some really good training online and through kits. I was pretty impressed. But once again the problem is safety. Plus anyone involved in anything dangerous should learn CPR and have someone else in the house who is trained in CPR and first aid. Just saying!

                  • Or possibly in the nieghboring house, because you know your going to have at least one Tim Allen, who thinks bigger is always better. He will decide to catch hydrogen in quantity.

          • Free-range Oyster

            I’ve thought the same thing, but it just doesn’t mesh. Small branches might be cheaper than a conventional college, but it still breaks some of the purposes. It ties you to specific geographical areas, and introduces all kinds of new overhead costs. I’m already struggling to find ways to reach a ridiculously low cost level and an aggressive reach; if I have to have a presence in meatspace, I might as well forget it.

            • Some things just may not be entirely possible with on-line instruction. North Carolina if fortunate to have an excellent system of two year technical colleges that are relatively inexpensive and offer solid instruction at the basic levels. Most of the students are serious, and the instructor have usually worked in the field.

              The fact that you cannot teach everything on-line should stop one from trying to teach anything.

              • Wayne Blackburn

                The fact that you cannot teach everything on-line should (not) stop one from trying to teach anything.

                Exactly. There’s no reason not to make all sorts of education available online, including some things that require hands-on work. It’s entirely possible that letting each region work out its own solution will work best. In one area, maybe someone will create a work area and rent usage. In another, perhaps a group of students will pool resources and build their own, and hire a professional for overseeing duties. Some may not even bother with the hands-on side, being content with theory.

              • Free-range Oyster

                “The fact that you cannot teach everything on-line should stop one from trying to teach anything.”

                You’re right. Thank you. The reason I fell into the all-or-nothing mental trap is that my hope is to offer an alternative to factory schools for elementary through high schoolers at least. If I can’t replace all of the core courses for that, I run into some problems. But since (so far) chemistry is the only thing in those requirements I’ve been unable to conquer, I have no reason to give up. Theory is easy enough to do remotely, and that might suffice. And somehow I’ll find a way to set up some kind of program to take care of hands on things. You all have given several useful ideas, for which I am very very grateful. I really ought to set up another channel for your (plural) input so I stop hijacking chunks of our lovely hostess’ comment threads.

                • Chemistry is taught now w/o labs until you get to college btw. –at least I never saw a lab for chemistry… now biology is a different story. However you can now do biology frog dissecting digitally. 😉

                  • Nah. My kids had labs from middle school on. So did I now I think on it, though that was in Portugal.

                    • My semi-impoverished, rural high school had a rather large chemistry lab run by a former Navy “frogman” (he’d have been a SEAL, but they didn’t have SEALs then) who liked to do things like show us that soaking filter paper in nitric acid makes guncotton and yes, there really is magnesium in magnesium ladder frames. It also had a working vent hood which got blowed up on a regular basis.

                    • The Daughtorial Unit has suggested that instead of conducting Socialist Studies or Engrish classes in mobile classrooms (aka, trailers) it would make sense to configure a “Snap-On Tools” type truck as a roving chemistry lab. Monday & Wednesday on the Northside of Town, Tuesday-Thursday on the Westside, Friday at the town dump being fumigated.

                    • Sounds memorable. As a former student it would have been what made the course interesting. As a parent the positive is operative once it enters the past tense.

                    • A friend, just slightly younger than myself went to high school in Pittsburgh. She and I were talking about all the stuff that we used to ‘play’ with in school labs. If anyone can get a chance, and he is in the mood, Ringo to tells a story about his father, the chemistry lab and a cascade of popped man hole covers. One might think they are trying to spoil all our fun in the name of safety.

                  • I have know of home educators who do dissection at home.

                    • if I’d educated both boys at home for any appreciable amount of time, I would have done it also. Probably on one of them… 😉 (Stop fighting or you become the subject of the next biology lesson. — they’re better now, but 12/13 year old boys FIGHT ALL THE TIME.)

                • When you are reinventing a form it is important to maintain a focus. Strip away the non-essential and streamline the essential. Chemistry courses are an example of this — they do not require the superstructure of a school. Independent facilities can be established for such course-work.

                  A core business strategy is to focus on unique competencies and out-source all other function — this ought be employed with instruction, as well.

    • OTOH, we are also seeing the Luddites’ point: the lack of gatekeepers means that the signal to noise ratio is decreasing all the time. Spammers and trolls may yet push the Internet to uselessness or to much stricter control.

      • Really? Go check out MSNBC, they are in the news for manipulating videos again http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2012/09/29/msnbc-caught-in-another-big-video-gaffe/ More and more people are getting their news off the internet, because they can crosscheck multiple sources. They just flat don’t trust the MSM any more. This brought up in a speech at an Accuracy in Media Conference, http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2012/09/29/mainstream-media-threatening-our-country-future/?intcmp=trending Now don’t just believe me and the links I posted, check it out for yourself, with the information available from so many sources on the Internet, spammers and trolls are just mildly annoying, not crippling. It is possible that some may attempt to put much stricter controls on it, in fact they already have made such attempts, remember Napster.com? Yes they succeeded in stopping a free music filesharing site, did they stop people from downloading their favorite songs for free online? Not so you would notice, they just caused a hundred sites to spring into life to replace it. And they occasionally take a few of them, like Limewire down, but it is a loosing battle, because more just spring up to replace them.

        • That’s what they said about CB radio. You underestimate the capacity of trolls and spammers — and you also underestimate the extent to which they have been contained already in locations.

          • Free-range Oyster

            “The Internet views censorship as damage, and routes around it.” I believe that applies to brute force noise attacks in the form of trolls and spammers. Unlike radio frequency broadcasts, there are ways to filter or otherwise exclude the noise. We can choose our channels, even going to darknets if necessary. Regulation and control will make the internet media more vulnerable to noise and exploitation, not less. Fixed point defenses are predictable and easier to exploit than free moving ones.

          • The answer is the same as that for CB radios also, more channels. My President Lincoln radios have 400 channels, and I can tune between them if necessary (stock you can’t transmit on most of them, they have to be modified, and it isn’t legal to transmit on all of them) you can generally always find plenty of channels with no skip. My VHF radios are even better, with more frequency range and more lineal range, and very few channels do I ever hear someone I am not talking to on.

    • Jeff Mauldin

      Just to offer a contrarian take on online education–not necessarily one I completely buy into, but one that I’ve considered–is that online education isn’t really enough of an improvement over its predecessor to make all that much difference. This thought comes primarily from an (approximate) quote I heard many years ago before the internet existed: “Since the invention of the book, the lecture class should be obsolete.” The argument, simply, was that with the availability of books, a lecture class really serves zero purpose. I don’t think the argument applies to labs and seminars or dialectic-style stuff. But prior to the internet, it was very easy, at least in the US with access to libraries to get and study books on pretty much any subject. People didn’t do that for pretty much the same reasons that they don’t spend all their time doing online learning now–other things to do, and other things that are interesting. Facebook and video games. Playing with the baby. Eating. Household maintenance. When I was a kid I saw a TRS-80 at somebody’s house and I was riveted. I am a computer programmer and still am riveted–I work on computers and then I play with them at home in some of my spare time when not participating in rewarding family life. I learned tons about programming on my own before college, and then studied it in college. My second son seems to have that level of fascination with writing. Not sure yet about kids 1 and 3 although they are plenty bright. But I think it boils down to the fact that learning is actually pretty hard. If you are lucky, you have an interest or interests which make the hard work of learning pretty enjoyable. I think formal education of one sort or another, in an ideal world, somehow sets up a system where the hard and sometimes outside-of-mainline-interest work of learning is worth the effort. I sure liked getting ‘A’s’ at least. But just because educational materials are available on the internet doesn’t suddenly mean everybody turns into a great studier. Improvement at the margin, sure, for some brilliant people who wouldn’t have gotten the educational access without the internet. But the whole world is suddently 2x more educated? Maybe not. This is also not to say that the internet isn’t a disruptive technology, especially vis a vis China and the Middle East. Mass published books were also a disruptive technology. If I have some great invention/discovery pent up in me what I need is not educational access, but time to learn and motivation to learn, especially in the form of ‘give up time doing X which you have learned to do and are good at and are being productive to learn Y because you will make a great invention or discovery.’
      Hmm…sounds to me more like access to the free market, not access to educational materials.

      • I’d like to answer this, but I take up enough of Sarah’s bandwidth as it is. I’ll drop you a note through the email address you list with your avatar once I’ve done it. It’ll take a few days — I’m busy on other things right now.

  6. But Amazon IS evil. Didn’t you know how wrong it is to give people access to low priced information that they should be paying higher prices for? 😀

    • Regulations are sold “for the benefit of the public” but History shows the primary beneficiaries are the regulators.

      You do realize that Amazon (and E-Bay) do not require actual money, and obviate the ability of institutions to regulate the value of the fisc?

    • Amazon is a useful evil. One must just never forget that it is capable of turning on one with little notice, and try to make sure that all one’s eggs are not in the Amabasket.

      (And when Amazon is just a little scared, they become very useful indeed.)

      • Amazon is not your friend. Amazon is not your servant. Amazon is Amazon.

        First rule of Free Markets: Your supplier is not your friend, your supplier is your supplier. As long as you can change suppliers freely your suppliers cannot choke you. When you become overdependent on one supplier …

        Three Suppliers for the Elven-kings under the sky,
        Seven for the Dwarf-lords in halls of stone,
        Nine for Mortal Men, doomed to die,
        One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
        In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
        One Supplier to rule them all, One Supplier to find them,
        One Supplier to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

        • Preeeee-cisely.

          Guys, business is business. You can have cordial relationships in business.You can even make friends in business (though I don’t recommend it.) But business is business. It is not friendship and it is not (absent an actual joint venture agreement of some kind) “partnership” and it is not some kind of bizarre co-dependency like tradpub author/agent relationships apparently are. It’s just business. One must be ethical and honest: that produces the greatest advantage for all involved, and there ain’t no shaming like a business shaming. But viewing interactions with business associates as some kind of morality play will not work. This is one of the many reasons most people are better off hiring transaction lawyers (like, *ahem,* your humble correspondent) to do any kind of serious business. You have to separate. Or it just doesn’t work.

          • This needs a whole article — maybe tonight. Right now I’m just testing connectivity at the new place, but part of the reason IT works is that I keep radio silence while here. I just need to do some stuff at lunch, so I’m testing — on how it should have been a warning siren in retrospect that both the relationship of writer/agent and writer/publisher kept getting compared to marriages.

            • It had struck me that the trick is that relationship had gotten backwards, but I’ve lacked time to develop it. Without authors and readers there is no business for publishers or agents; they are intermediaries (aka, middlemen) who have managed to convince the producers and consumers that they are necessary.

              Metaphors occur, but none fully formed. A woman desperate to be desired who acts as if she were desirable, convincing men to pursue her? A mother living her dreams through her children, in the guise of helping them get what they deserve? (e.g., Momma in Gypsy.)

              Consider as well the number of programs ostensibly to help people which render them dependent and malleable (e.g., the modern welfare state.) The issue, as always, not what the proclaimed purpose of actions might be, the issue is the actual effects (e.g., college tuition aid that drives up the price of tuition, making people more dependent on such aid … and increasing the power of those dispensing it.) Dope peddlers are more ethical.

  7. I really like your thoughts on this. It always surprises me who will court the luddite in each of us, because they think their thing is more time critical than whatever advance in technology or method might actually lead to a better world. For one reason or another, it seems that all of our leaders are more intent on bandaging the status quo than moving forward. Either space and technology ought to be developed entirely by private industry, or they aren’t as important as perfecting the world we live on – which cannot be perfected as long as there is change, which absolutely will occur. If that sounds like it doesn’t make sense, that may be because it doesn’t make sense.

  8. As the adage goes, “When a couple fight over money, they’re not fighting over money.”

    What we are seeing today is the battle for control. Call it the Libertarian Moment. Technology is making it impossible for the anointed to organize society. They cannot know enough to manage the world, they cannot prevent individuals from knowing enough to manage their lives.

    A decade ago L. Neil Smith pointed out that efforts to ban guns were easily defeated by anyone with a basic understanding of shopcraft (possibly a contributing factor to the decline of the manual arts.) Last night I read an article about the impending arrival of 3-D printers able to produce non-ferrous firearms. How do you control guns when anybody can print one out? The Elizabethans tried to control the printing press, licensing them and requiring they only operate in London. (If I am inaccurate in my history, pedants piss off; “print the legend.”) So, how did that work out in the long run?

    The timid will resist abandoning control, but they never actually had it, merely the illusion of it. Gatekeepers are only able to profit off the public’s willingness to use the gate, after all. The Human Wave will flow around and over, tearing down the fences while leaving the gates and their keepers standing forlorn in their fields.

    The D’jinn is out of the bottle, Pandora has opened her box, Prometheus’ gift is lighting the night. The choice is to fight the dawn and bring on a long dark night or accept it and surf a Human Wave.

    The United States may indeed perish, but America will survive, if not here then elsewhere. The phoenix must die and burn to be reborn.

    • I think it was Jerry Pournelle (or Heinlein – it was a long time ago) that talked about this, either during or just after he worked on Lucifer’s Hammer. He put into words what I’ve long believed, but couldn’t say, that “The United States” was a physical area, but it’s founding and government were based upon ideals that had universal appeal — that man was endowed by His God with rights, that Government was there to protect those rights, not restrict them, and that we as a people would work together to solve our problems based upon enlightened self-interest. In the process, we’ve developed a parasitic governing class that fails to understand the fundamentals, and will eventually be overturned, either by ballot box or cartridge box, whichever is required.

      • Two related quotes:

        “America did not create human rights. Human rights created America.”

        “America is not good because she is great: America is great because she is good. If she ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”

        And of course from To the Person Sitting in Darkness, by the inimitable Mark Twain:

        In Cuba, he was playing the usual and regular American game, and it was winning, for there is no way to beat it. The Master, contemplating Cuba, said: “Here is an oppressed and friendless little nation which is willing to fight to be free; we go partners, and put up the strength of seventy million sympathizers and the resources of the United States: play!”

        There have been several false starts (Or, as one fellow put it, “False Dawns,”) but the light spreading through the Internet cannot be put out. The illusion that it can be used for control is too strong, and the gatekeepers will not, can not, understand that it is something which they can never keep a hold of. “An invasion of armies can be resisted, an invasion of ideas cannot.” Short of turning the whole world into North Korea, they will find just how true that is.

  9. Thank you.

  10. “… the people now trying to stop it will be bumps on the road.”

    I don’t think so. The forces against progress (or, as Virginia Postrel labels them in “The Future and Its Enemies,” the people supporting stasis) will erect massive roadblocks, not bumps. Stasis receives support from many governments (or at least from a significant percentage of the people running the governments), most environmental groups, some religious groups, Luddites, and businesses (such as many newspapers and magazines) that aren’t adaptable. Such people and forces successfully reduced the rate of progress since the 1950s. They won’t roll over now or tomorrow.

    • No, but ultimately we WILL roll over them.

      • I am not sure if it will be we who will roll over them or the simple fact that reality does not support them, and that their world will collaspe from under them.

        • I would like (love–but umm Sarah already talked about this word) to see it happen both ways… a rolling over with their world collapsing. I do think a lot of them are writing dystopia novels imho.

          • I think a lot of them will find themselves living one of their dystopian novels. They’ll sink deeper into the darkness and isolation. Losing so much money they are evicted from their Towers. Forced into the low rent districts, barricading their doors because the local gang frightens them. Then a rebellious one or two will venture bravely out . . . and find a gloriously bright and busy rest of the world totally ignoring their existence. If we notice them . . . we’ll kick them back into their basement offices and weld the doors shut.

      • No, Sarah, we WON’T roll over them. That’s the hard way. What we will do is go over, around, behind, and through them. We will seduce them with new knowledge, new video games (some of those have some pretty realistic skill sets required), new audio (or audio/visual), and just plain NEW. We won’t HAVE to roll over them, because they will end up begging US to let them in. I give the current social system (top-down, MSM-driven, Government-controlled) twelve years, at best. What we currently have can’t work, won’t work, and too many people WANT to work. The result will be the destruction of the whole house of cards, much of the damage done from the inside.

        • And some of us will tunnel under them, then pop up on the other side and watch the results. Pass the popcorn?

    • Further thoughts: A great number of the old guard newspapers have or are going bust. The demographic for the newspaper readers is distinctly graying. Unless they reinvent themselves they will die off with their remaining readers. The news magazines are not doing much better. Hard to be the gatekeepers when people ignore you and stop coming to your door.

      Such people and forces successfully reduced the rate of progress since the 1950s/ is an interesting statement. The Soviet said much the same of those who resisted them. Two things to keep in mind: What might look like progress today may not always prove such a good thing (x-ray shoe sizing anyone?). It would be a tragic mistake to think that since we might be correct it justifies ignoring our own principles to make it happen.

      Like much else, ideas have to be worked out in the market place. We have to learn to give reason for what we believe. We need to be able to explain and support our positions and we have to sell them. It isn’t a quick or neat process, but it is how you get the consent of the people. We are fortunate that there is this frontier, this wild west of an Internet, presently available to us. Human Wave is important.

      • N.B., the Postrel book was published in 1998, two lifetimes ago in internet years. See her more recent writings on glamour and her 2009 work The Substance of Style: How the Rise of Aesthetic Value Is Remaking Commerce,Culture,and Consciousness.

        In particular, contemplate the implications of a culture where fashionable attitudes, rather than sound principles, become the measure of a person. Decadence R Us.

  11. Sarah, you keep my optimism in tune. THANK YOU! We need your wonderful essays. And, btw, I found a good link to the crab bucket parable http://www.ridiculouslyextraordinary.com/crabs-in-a-bucket/

  12. I recall a line in the poem, “From Locksley Hall”:
    “..and the gentle Earth will slumber, wrapped in Universal Law.”

    Didn’t think so when I read that as a teenager; don’t think so now, when cell phones and texting generate revolutions (not all of them good), and when 3D printing technology (which I wrote about in Analog 20 years ago) puts weapons in the hands of almost anyone (as I warned of in an interview in Wired in 1995).

    There were scary things in our old future, but we overcame most of them. The old Reds died off or quit for the most part; computers didn’t rule us — we hold them in our hands. No nuke wars yet; no alien invasions yet; no cataclysms yet. No nasty world government yet.

    Yet.

    And regarding terrorism, when Saudi SF fans, whom four of us SIGMA members met in Riyadh in January, told us they were trying to do socially “in 10 years what you guys did in 100”, I have hope that SF tropes and visions might quickly infect and spread in the Middle East and tamp down some of the radicalism.

    Then again — I do sometimes wonder whether I would ever willingly look into a time viewer and watch the next hundred years of history unfold.

    • Universal Law will be achieved when it consists of “mind your own business and respect the rights of others.” Short of that we’re all prostitutes and merely haggling over price.

      The key to achieving such a future is enabling folk to visualize it — which is what the gate-keeping class is so desperate to stop. The Soviets denied their people the ability to see the wealth available through the free market; once the blinders came off the wall came tumbling down.

      • I visited Soviet Union a couple of times with my parents when I was a teen. Everybody was smuggling something in, the normal method for paying a part of your trip was to take something like extra clothing (panty hoses were popular) with you you could sell there and which the border guards probably wouldn’t confiscate even if they found it since it could pass as your allowed personal stuff. I remember them riffling through the English language paperbacks I had with me once, but they didn’t take the books. 🙂

        Nowadays the goods are mostly flowing the other way, lower prices for many things on that side, and supposedly their black market sells a wider variety than ours and is easier to find for ordinary non-career criminal folks than ours. Rumors are you can easily buy something like guns from there, the only problem is getting them through the border since the guards are more efficient now with modern technology. I don’t know how accurate that is though, I haven’t been over there for years.

      • The question then arises of what is your own business and what are other people’s rights. . . .

        Given that that is the ticklish part of the business, I’m amazed how many people seem to think they can glide over it.

        • No one has a right to coerce anyone else’s labor, effort, product or property. That’s the law of the jungle, not a law on which to build civilization.
          So, give me life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (which includes hands off my stuff.) If you want any portion of any of that, you NEGOTIATE (beg widdle, razzle dazzle) for it, but you (and the government) can’t just TAKE it. It’s not as if this law is in the stars, you know. It’s been tried. It works pretty well. (Or if you prefer it works horribly, it’s just that everything else works worse.) Hence, we don’t feel the need to define it.

          • A paraphrase that does not in fact clarify anything.

            In particular, do minor children have the right to starve on the street in your scenario?

            • I’m not Sarah but I think she’ll agree with what I’m about to say.

              First, she was talking about able-bodied adults so children are the responsiblity of their parents.

              Second, if the parents are *unable* to care for those children, society should help the parents. However, that’s not an excuse for the parents to continue to have children because *society will care for them*.

              If the parents are not willing to care for their children, society IMO should remove the children from their parents and put the children into homes of people who are willing and able to care for those children.

              Final comment (my words not Sarah’s), Liberals have been using the “its’s for the children” to excuse taking money from productive people to give to unproductive people. A lot of us are sick and tired of Liberals claiming that their power grab is “for the children”. If we have to care for other people’s children because those other people aren’t willing/able to do so, then we should remove the children from those parents. Those parents have “forfited any *rights*” over those children.

              • I agree on all fronts.

              • A principle on how to order society that omits a crucial portion of society — a portion without which society will not survive — is a bad principle.

                Incidentally, would you be willing to coerce people into not having children they can’t or won’t be bothered to support?

                • ppaulshoward

                  Yes. Children are too important to left in the care of people who wouldn’t support them. If for some reason they can’t care for them, they should get help *but* society should expect them to not have more children while receiving help for the ones they currently have.

                  Getting even more “hard-nosed”, if you want to support a woman who keeps having children she can’t support, then take that woman into your own home and pay her yourself.

                • “Incidentally, would you be willing to coerce people into not having children they can’t or won’t be bothered to support?”

                  That question is confusingly worded, but if you are asking if I would refuse to support someone who continually has children while making no effort to support those they already have; the answer is yes.

            • Seriously–where do you get your information Mary? Minor children are starving now because they are being fed improper foods and are becoming obese because of it. We are seeing rises in diabetes and heart disease because health professionals (including school nutritionists) have bought into the simple energy versus work calculation.

              Actually– minor children are the responsibility of their parents and not the State. As we see children being raised by the impersonal State (through schools, etc), we will see more amoral children doing amoral things… such as the woman who was fudging the drug tests. There are 11,000 cases that need to be checked because she decided to test some, slip cocaine results in others, and to not test others.

              So “it’s for the children” is not a defense here, Ma’am.

              • Information? What information do you need to discuss a matter, rapt above the pole, of what a good society would be like?

                A good society of human beings, that is, which is incapable of surviving without producing people who, if merely left alone, will die.

                • There will always be people *unable* to survive without help and nobody here is saying that those people shouldn’t be helped. Children are part of the group who will need help. The problem we’re seeing is that Liberals have helped create a large group of people who are *unwilling* to support themselves. When you jump in with the “starving children” comment, we think about the major Welfare program in the US which called “Aid for Dependent Children”. Instead of actually helping children, it was become a way for women to keep having children without worrying about “how she is going to support them”.

                  • Please stop using “Liberal” to mean “Progressive.” Kthnxbai.

                    • ppaulshoward

                      Progressives have been using the “Liberal” term so long that I doubt that any *real* Liberal still uses the term.

                      No offense, if you don’t like it, do something about the Progressives who use the term.

                    • Marc
                      I know how you feel about this, since I too am a classical liberal, but they ran away with that word a long time ago. They’re doing the same to progressive, btw — since the system they want is circa 1930s. Forward to the past!

                    • I too am a classical liberal. They first called themselves “Progressives” until the public sussed their socialist agenda, at which point they swiped “Liberal,” a theft they largely got away with until Reagan made it untenable. Now they are back to “Progressive” having drained all value from the label of Liberal, just as they drain all value from society.

                  • I am well aware that the war is lost. However, that doesn’t mean that people who should know better are allowed to use “Liberal” as an insult in a forum where they should know better than to do so. Stop it. Stop it right now. Don’t start again. And yes, I am not particularly rational on this topic. Ignore me if it makes you feel better. I have broccoli in my socks.

                • Mary, you’ve made a fundamental error here – you are attempting to answer the wrong question, Until you popped up nobody was asking what would constitute a good society; the issue was what would constitute a viable “universal law.” Universal law does not equal a good society, and the conflation of the two makes for muddy thinking.

                  BTW, the first part of the principle asserted — mind your own business — is not a demand for insularity. It is an instruction: if you have any business, mind it. If you have a farm, mind your farm, make it productive or suffer the results. If you have children they are your business and you d-well better mind what they do, what they learn and how they are kept.

                  No law based upon butting into other people’s affairs can achieve universality except by tyranny because there is not and never shall be universal agreement on what the law should require; that is the premise for minimalist law.

            • You’ve asked the wrong question. By what right does anybody interfere with another person’s child-rearing? First answer that question, then we can proceed to address the one you ask.

              After we quibble over the meaning of “minor” and determine whether you would prefer they starve indoors and whether your proposed solution would not exacerbate the problem.

              • Nonsense. Children absolutely need someone else’s labor, effort, product or property, or they will die. If they die, so will the society they live in. If they have a right to these things, they have a right to coerce other people into providing them.

                right question, in other words.

                • You have confused the general with the specific. Yes, if *everyone* mistreats their children, e.g. doesn’t feed them, society will die. However, if only *some* people do it, it is a self-correcting problem. A real cynic *eyes up and left* might even say that part of how our society reached its current sorry state is that it is interfering overmuch with the correction mechanism.

                • You are being intentionally idiotic. First there is a difference between volunteer labor and not. And no, you don’t have a right to coerce other people. Tell me one society in the world where there were no volunteers — other than under communist-designed famines. Please, grow up. No one is going to fall for “it’s for the children” anymore. We’ve heard that song before.

                • Are you incapable of developing a logical line of argument? You’ve shifted your ground from “children starving in the streets” to children, as a class. If the only way you can make an argument is by constantly shifting premises you are not making an argument. Please learn to think and then come back.

                  You have failed to establish a basis for the “right” you assert, having jumped from “need” to “right” without any logically coherent connection. Please note that “bait ‘n’ switch” is not an argument. But thank-you for clearly identifying your thesis from the first word.

                  The proper means for providing for children is parents. You have not explained why it is the responsibility of the gay neighbors to support the brats of the breeders next door, nor why parents ought heed the child-rearing advice of people who have never lived with one.

            • It is a fact there are starving minor children. Why is this a problem properly addressed by government?

              Having worked with kindergartners at risk I can tell you that the government programs are notoriously unresponsive and inefficient. Also, there are far more children who are mal-nourished than starved. This includes those children who are receiving free and reduced lunches and breakfasts at school, as observed in other responses.

              • What has this to do with the question of how minor children fit in a societal principle of purely negative rights?

                • ppaulshoward

                  Minor children are special cases. You are making a very big assumption about what Sarah and others are talking about.

                  You have *yet* to say anything against the idea that society must support *adults* who are unwilling (not unable) to support themselves.

                • Either your being intentionally obtuse or, your simply talking at cross purposes to everyone else. MY Opinion: The government needs to get the @#%$% out of family life! If children are starving and the parents are unable, unwilling, to help; there is nowhere in America where there are no NGO’s available that are perfectly willing to help. Yes a large portion of these are religiously affiliated, it doesn’t matter, most will help regardless of your beliefs or lack thereof, and if you would rather your children starve than listen to a sermon from somebody who is willing to feed them; well they probably need a better role model than you.

                • Minor children fit naturally — as the responsibility of their parents or, failing that, of adults wishing to be their parents =- and for the love of BOB, they’re covered under life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The state can intervene for THOSE. In fact, that’s the ONLY thing that should guide our laws.

                • OK, now you have explained your position clearly, thank you.

                  The Founders suggested a rather new view of government, where the people were not subjects of the government, but the government was subject to the people. The Bill of Rights are not negative rights, as some are wont to call them, they are limits on how the government may interfere in our lives. The idea that it is government’s job to provide for us would make us once again subjects of the government.

                • Further:

                  Minor children are subject to their parents. This is still the official position of our court system. (Why else would the courts continue to give custody of children back to parents who have failed.) Parents are legally responsible for their children and their actions. (You can sue the parents to recoup the costs of the actions of their child.)

                  If the parents fail to provided a minimal standard of care for their children or are actively abusive of them then the local government can and should, based on the laws of that area and with careful due process, step in and remove the children from their parent’s custody to a place where they will receive proper care.

                  The government has been feeding children at schools since the passage of the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act (1946). It presently serves over 30.5 million children. Since the addition of the Summer School Lunch Program they can receive food year round. Even among the supporters of the program, questions about the quality and nutrition presently being offered. There is also a serious question if the money is being handled in the most cost effective manner. And there are still hungry children. The government has always been a very inefficient way to administer charity.

                  • THAT is true of government, but I question the “hungry children” EXCEPT in cases where being deliberately starved. The methodology for determining if children go to bed hungry is to ask the child if he/she got everything he/she wanted to eat during the day and taking that. Look, my kids never got everything they wanted to eat. They still don’t. One of them would live on chicken hearts and quail eggs! (He’s weird, okay?) Children (mine are now functional adults and “get” it) don’t get the difference between appetite and hunger, and this surveying method doesn’t help.

                    Yeah, we’ve been so broke at times that our kids MIGHT have been hungry. They might have but weren’t, because we’d subsist on rice and vegetables and give them the protein. (Often eggs, but that’s life.) If we’d got/get to a point we can’t do that, there are soup kitchens. It’s just that we were too proud to beg (and possibly too lazy to work. It’s why I’m a writer.)

  13. Ah, the optimism of youth. One can only hope you are right.

  14. It’s certainly relevant that the Golden Age writers grew up in the 30s, so a benevolent world government seemed entirely natural. It’s also very relevant that the defining experience of their young lives — the Second World War — had turned into a massive Manichaean Good v. Evil crusade, with a fairly small distinction between the drive towards central organization and power on both sides. They tacked that experience onto the Cold War, and — voila, two decades of foreseeing a future in which monolithic states and causes were completely dominant.

    Some took this in a positive direction, cf. Star Trek, and some in a severely pessimistic, cf. Blade Runner and Dick generally, and some somewhere in the middle, e.g. the futures of Heinlein, Asimov or Niven. But *all* assumed it. (It’s worth pointing out that Campbell, as I understand it, strongly promoted this vision.)

    Honestly, this is one reason cyberpunk was such a remarkably breath of fresh air in the 80s when Gibson published Neuromancer. It wasn’t JUST the computer geekery, it was also this new vision of the future as politically Balkanized, nationalism dead, and the crystal clear Us v. Them struggles replaced by the murkier intrigues and personal struggles of man against man, or a few men, or fate.

    Perhaps it’s not so coincidental that the intensely libertarian focus of cyberpunk came in with the Reagan Revolution, and seems to have exhausted himself just around the time of Obama, who is, quite honestly, a character straight out of the 1930s. Perhaps history moves in 50-year cultural swings, but I think it more likely the 80s were just an Indian summer interval interrupting an inevitable slow essentially suicidal decline of the American World from its probable zenith at the dawn of the 20th century.

    The human species just doesn’t do well when it succeeds. Our instincts only work well when we are under severe pressure, running for our lives from natural forces that seek to snuff us. As soon as the heat’s off — we succeed, beat back the forces of darkness, gain a little space to breathe and relax — those same instincts turn us into narcissists, ingrates, backbiters, fraidy-cats. It happened to the Romans, to the British, and now it is happening to the Americans. Whose up to bat next, I wonder?

  15. I never could understand why a “one world Earth Government” necessarily had to be an FDR-style centralized one — is it that whole “control” thing? — when a more-nimble decentralized system worked much better in most applications. (Oversimplified desc.: The role of the “world gov’t” is two-fold — first, it serves as the one “face” and “voice” for interacting with outsiders, so said outsiders don’t get many voices providing different messages; second, it acts as the more-or-less-neutral arbiter for disputes between its subassemblies.) It wasn’t until later I noticed all the authors were Urbanite Leftists…. >;)

    • *shrug* to me, the only kind of one world government that could possibly work is a very, very decentralized and federal-type one that stays out of peoples way. Trying to have a top-down, powerfully centralized government over something as diverse and subject to disagreement as the *whole world* is just asking for trouble.

      • Institutions with the potential for power/control will naturally attract people who value (lust after?) power and control. They will then naturally seek to expand their power. An “overgovernment” which voluntarily limits its reach, ala Schmitz, seems unlikely to me.

        • Oh, I don’t think its the kind that’ll actually *happen*, I just think its the only kind that could actually work. The entire problem of a “one world government” is that it would almost certainly collapse under its own weight. Therefore, the only way it could work is if it delegated power to the subordinate parts such that they pretty much run themselves (theres no way the central authority can do it). But “power corrupts …” etc, and that desire to expand will bring the whole thing crashing down.

          • Like the extremely weak world government in LeGuin’s Always Coming Home? (I think she thought it was an anarchist/tribal future, but it has always sounded hardcore libertarian to me.)

            • Haven’t read it, so I’m afraid I can’t say. I hear generally good things about Leguin, though, so I’ll add it to the check-library list.

              • Er… she’s very very left and IMNSH opinion often self-indulgent. However the first three books of The Tombs Of Atuan are very good and I loved The Left Hand of Darkness, though it didn’t wear well.

                • Wayne Blackburn

                  I hear so many people say they like The Left Hand of Darkness, but I could barely force myself to finish it in High School.

                  • Always Coming Home is a deeply odd book — basically it’s all worldbuilding all the time, surrounding a first person story. Most of it is a race between lovely anthro sf, and deeply impractical handwaves. But when you get far enough into the book, you find out that this tribe hanging out in post-post-modern California is also on the Internet and ruled by a sort of extreme laissez-faire United Federation of Earth. The book also came with an album of anthro sf music, which includes a very catchy song about willows written in the language of the book’s tribe.

                    If this is the sort of thing you like, you’ll like it. I wish very much that I could edit out the sillier bits, but the sensible parts are a nice bookend to LeGuin’s childhood friendship with Ishi, the last survivor of his California tribe. (Yes, she was the daughter of that famous anthro guy.) She never mentions this in the book (and good for her), but once you know her bio, it kinda sticks out.

                  • I finished it in High School. I couldn’t finish it when I picked it up again in my thirties and then in my forties — but I think that MIGHT be because it’s so SEVENTIES. The way it’s put together and everything.

                  • TLHOD is a very great example of the idea that you must read a book when the time is right in your life to read it, or you will get nothing from it. Some books have very large time windows, some have very small ones. I doubt I could have dealt with TLHOD in high school – not because of any comprehension issues but because it would have bored me to tears. I hit it in college in a lit course with a professor who started the first class with this question:

                    “How many of you are sitting in your first college class right now?”

                    *Entire class raises hands – it was an 8AM freshman course*

                    Response: “Oh, good. Then you’ll have no idea if I’m doing this right. This is my first college class on *this* side of the podium.*”

                    I thought she was a great teacher (nobody else I ever spoke to liked her) and she loved that book and she made me see why it was great. (I don’t love it and I haven’t reread it since but I understand why people do.) It was one of the first books I ever tried to read with a serious intent to see how it worked *as a book.* If you read it that way it gets a lot better.

                    She was seriously into epic journeys – we did “Heart of Darkness,” too.

        • Free-range Oyster

          For a great fictitious example of a government that does limit itself (and others) try the Federation of Concerned Spacemen from Roberta X’s I Work on a Starship. The only minarchist dictatorship I’ve ever heard of. 🙂 You can find the beginning of the story here.

          • You noticed! Thanks.

            FCS is something of a conspiracy that found itself needing to approximate a government; it’s not even clear to me how it works, other than it mostly tries to not have to — and to keep others from trying to fill the gap. FCS “leadership,” whatever that means, is actually pretty much okay with controlling-type sub-governments, as long as they’re never over any population any larger than a medium-sized town, A cynic might claim that’s to limit the scope of damage from the inevitable revolution.

            This sort of thing probably doesn’t apply very well in the mundane world; the individuals, families and other groupings who comprise the actives of FCS are the result of unique circumstances.

            A fair amount of FCS/Far Edge backstory can be found in the novella “Another Day.”

            (They are based, very loosely, on the old “Association of Amateur Astronauts.”)

            A note about IWOAS: I won’t claim it’s any more than pulp, written at speed and published with little editing. I think I’ve made about thirty dollars from writing since it started.

    • It is the nature of institutions to expand. There is always some reason to add one more staffer or start one more program. A World Government could start out as libertarian and decentralized as you might wish, but in time it would become more expensive and intrusive.

      • Thomas Jefferson said “The most government a free people should tolerate is the minimum required to do what the people demand.” That’s become my ideal. I don’t have much faith in anyone among the political class to take us back to that, nor do I think we can achieve it without bloodshed.

        • Having seen historically and currently what people are prone to demanding, I would want it rather weaker. I would also like it stronger to deal with slapping down their demands, but that might be impractical because you can’t fill it with virtuous people who can be relied on to do it.

  16. I really, really hope you’re right, Sarah. Unfortunately, I’m afraid you might be wrong. I think you might be doing the same thing that the Golden Age writers did: projecting the trends you like and not considering the ones you don’t. In particular, the trend toward government controlling the Internet in countless ways, and the trend toward the barbarians who represent the Past being perfectly willing to kill those who represent the Future … and those who represent the Future being willing to let them do it. All this enlightened knowledge and progress will mean nothing if nobody dares to actually use it. If parents are told ‘YOU MUST send your child to a centralized government-run school or you will be put in jail,’ they’ll continue to send their kids to government-run schools. If armed zealots proclaiming Allahu akbar patrol your street and shoot any man who isn’t wearing a beard and any woman who isn’t wearing a veil — you’ll wear a veil. You and all your female friends. If you try to rebel … bang!. No revolution is possible if the potential revolutionary leaders are all dead.

    • No. This tech makes us like … sand. We run between their fingers. Everything you say will come to pass — some places — and it will be terrible, but long term it doesn’t matter.