I am a profoundly un-athletic person. This used to surprise people who knew me when I was young, and now looking at pictures I sort of understand why, as I was tall and muscular and rather enjoyed physical exertion. I liked hiking and running and I walked everywhere where it was even remotely safe to walk. (Okay, partly because I was also a skinflint and didn’t want to spend money on buses and trains. But that was only ancillary.)
My problem with most sports was in fact coordination, not strength or enjoyment of physical exertion. This is probably traceable to my being a premature birth, and awful astigmatism but in Portugal at the time (we’d learned to chip our flint in the NEW way 😉 ) few people knew that. I learned early to dread gym class because my teachers made the assumption people at the time would make about a well-grown girl who really didn’t want to play dodge ball or volleyball. “You’re afraid of taking a ball to the face and spoiling your beauty!” and “You’re a spoiled brat” were the things most often hurled at me. They hurt all the more because I couldn’t understand where they came from. I OFTEN took balls to the face (and other things – if someone say threw a book for me to catch, I was likely as not to get it on the face, since I usually stepped the wrong way.) No one had ever told me I had a face worth protecting. And as for spoiled…. Brother, I wish I’d been.
It worried me more to be told stuff like that, because I’d start wondering if I’d done something to make them think those things – and what could that be. It took me until my thirties to realize that some number of people are stupid, that – like many writers – most people deal in stereotypes and default to the easiest one, and that it is no part or parcel of my lot in life to be responsible for stupid people.
Eventually, in ninth grade, I had a gym teacher who had given up on the more demanding job of therapy. He looked at me and a friend who had the same issues and said “Were you two born premature?” After that, he basically gave us therapy, and while I’m not the world’s best coordinated or most graceful person, I probably hit the low range of normal in both of those.
Anyway, because I enjoyed physical exertion and liked rough play (being a tomboy till marriage tamed me) while I hated sports at school, I LIKED playing at stuff. Needless to say, in the way of such things, most of my friends had similar issues to mine – or at least weren’t the most athletic creatures around. (We also solved physics problems for fun. Wanna make something of it?)
So one summer – we must have been 13 or so, the thing to do became to play a deranged version of volleyball in my mom’s enclosed back patio. Years later, when I came across Calvin Ball in the Calvin and Hobbs comics, I laughed myself sick, because it was rather like that. What we played was volleyball or soccer, and occasionally handball, and if you count the times we put the ball into a bucket suspended from the rain gutter, you could call it basketball.
The main thing was that whoever had the ball at the time could make the rules. So, you’d be dribbling the ball, realize it was going to slip, and say “Dribbling is forbidden” as you held the ball and ran.
I loved that game. In the end, the advantage went to people who could think fast and were glib talkers – two fields in which I had the advantage I lacked in coordination and visual acuity.
Calvin volleyball was tons of fun for all of us for a while, but eventually it ended in tears, because someone called foul, and how do you call foul on rules that keep changing? The people who were less mentally agile or less devious were at a serious disadvantage, and when they yelled “it’s not fair” we had nothing to oppose. Unlike in the physical coordination games (in which I was always at a serious disadvantage) we couldn’t tell the ones who weren’t good at it “but the rules say.” There were no rules. Or worse, there were rules that kept changing depending on how fast the people with the ball were in thinking them up so they could keep the ball forever.
So the Summer of fun Calvin Volleyball ended with a big fight and two of the people who’d been regular players never talking to me again, and my brother, who was older than I by ten years told me it was perfectly predictable, which did NOT win him any brownie points. (How can a genius IQ man not know that “I told you so” will not endear him to his headstrong sister?)
When I created Eden, in Darkship Thieves, I wasn’t thinking of that. In fact, I wasn’t thinking of much of anything except creating a society with as few laws as possible, that still functioned. I used to be a capital L fire-eating Libertarian, and that was my opus.
By the time I came to re-write it and make it publishable, some of the polish had worn off my shiny Libertarianism, and I sort of perceived that no human society can operate without – at least – habit setting in. People need to know some minimal stuff to count on. So I gave them custom, tradition, and the court of public opinion.
Then as I was trying to noodle what happened in Darkship Renegades (the book was not being talkative. I knew they were forced to come back to Earth, but I couldn’t see WHY.) no lesser person than Eric S. Raymond told me that I had a problem I had to think through, because in the end what Eden had was too changeable to be safe, and under stress (attack from Earth on energy collectors) it would splinter and become, in fact, Calvin Government. From that thought, both DSR, the next still untitled book, and The Earth Revolution series were born.
Lately I’ve been thinking of that in regards to our founding documents, too. Oh, we have a Constitution, and it’s written and everything.
Which is, to our purposes, nothing since its range of interpretation has now gone so far as to permit people being taxed for what they DON’T do. Once you’re at that point, the people who have the Calvin Ball are making the rules er… fast and furious, and not only isn’t it fair, but by being fast and glib they have the right to keep the ball forever and to make the rules that allow them to always win the game. (And before someone says anything, no, I don’t in fact think they understand that they can’t remake the rules of economics like they remake the rules of government and on the fly – Most of them being lawyers, I think they’re under the impression words remake the world.)
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying the Constitution is written in stone and no amendment should be permitted. I simply think the ammendments must be well thought out, carefully discussed and put to a vote. (Which won’t prevent us screwing the pooch – look at prohibition – but it will keep it to a minimum.) The Constitution should be taken seriously, enforced and – if enough people think it’s become intolerable – amended. BUT it should be difficult to amend it, and it should be done with care and deliberation and with unintended consequences always before our eyes.
That process is what prevents the “person with the ball” from changing the rules on the fly, to ensure they rule forever.
If we were still following the Constitution, elections would still be important but they wouldn’t be vital. Whom the current clowns appoint to the Supreme Court would be important and might give people heartburn, but we’d be protected by the basic rules. You couldn’t take the ball, start running with it towards the agreed-upon goal, spy the bucket hanging from the rain gutter, yell out “And dunking it in the bucket wins a bazillion points” and then win the game that way. The rules are agreed upon before the game starts, and they change very slowly and very carefully, so that everyone knows them and they have to be followed.
Oh, I know, the game is then not as much fun for the people in charge, and yep, they’re right, some people are going to get hit by the rules – some people are always going to get hit by the rules. We’re born equal before the law, but that’s the ONLY way in which we’re born equal – and some people are going to do well out of it. It’s natural for those who have power – and for the type of people who are attracted by power over others – to want to be the winners. If someone is going to lose, why should it be them?
Because the rules can be made so the fewer people lose, so that playing fair is allowed, so that creativity and hard work is rewarded and so that the game is fun for most people, of course. Because one way produces wide-spread prosperity and a flourishing society and the other way produces… North Korea. On the other hand, North Korea is, of course, lots of fun for those on top.
The most important words in the Constitution are not the enumerations of power or all the nifty things that our government can do for us. Other countries have Constitutions like that, and they neither prevent the onset of dictatorship (one of the reasons why Fascism is always descending on the US, but always manages to fall on Europe) or the big fight that comes at the end of a game of Calvin Volleyball.
No, the most important words in the Constitution are contained in the tenth amendment: The powers are delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
We bend other amendments to impinge on it, and make a mockery of it to our own risk.
Calvin Ball Constitution is nothing more than strong-man government. One way or another, it always ends in tears.