TNH's Particles
* John Holbo's review of David Frum's Dead Right.
* Mormon Transhumanist Association.
* Howard Rheingold quotes.
* Ignaz Trebitsch-Lincoln.
* How to invest when no one really knows what to do.
* If the Moon were only 1 pixel.
* Ignatius Timothy Trebitsch-Lincoln.
* Make a plan to vote with Biden and Obama.
* Jon Stewart's Twitter war with Donald Trump.
* We Have Always Been Here, Motherf*cker.
PNH's Sidelights
* The Culture of Predatory Harassment Dominating the Conservative Movement
* Disruption!
* The Complicated Friendship of H. P. Lovecraft and Robert Barlow
* Americans have always been willing to put on uniforms and perform unspeakable acts.
* 18th-century Connecticuter, or Muppet?
* Weak and incompetent leaders often work overtime to look like strong leaders.
* Trump may be a fascist, but he's also a remarkably inept one.
* To resist Trump, take some lessons from Memphis.
* Be not afraid of Skynet. Robots falling down.
* Leia Organa: A Critical Obituary
Abi's Parhelia
* Universal basic income trials being considered in Scotland
* Basic Income - from utopian vision to policy proposition to movement
* How do liberals halt the march of the right? Stand our ground and toughen up
* Opposition in the Age of Gish Gallops
* Schneier on the next four years
* Thomas Merton's letter to a young activist
* EU negotiators will offer Brits an individual opt-in to remain EU citizens, chief negotiator confirms
* Democrats and the idea of a leader of the opposition
* Trump's businesses and potential conflicts: sorting it out
* Can we take a moment to just think about how incredibly scary magical healing is in-context?
Avram's Phosphenes
Hayao Miyazaki’s Cosmologics
So a Nazi Walks Into an Iron Bar: the Meyer Lansky Story
Now is the Time to Talk About What we are Actually Talking About
Anil Dash on the work that needs to be done now
Autocracy: Rules for Survival
The gender of Brexit
West Wing Cabinet Battle
Not throwin’ away my Spock
David Bowie — Lazarus
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“We are prophets of a future not our own.” (Oscar Romero)

“Peace means something different from ‘not fighting’. Those aren’t peace advocates, they’re ‘stop fighting’ advocates. Peace is an active and complex thing and sometimes fighting is part of what it takes to get it.” (Jo Walton)

“Fascism doesn’t look like jackboots dragging a man off a plane. It looks like people defending it.” (Emily Gorcenski)

“You really think that safety can be plucked from the arms of an evil deed?” (Darla, “Inside Out”)

“Forgiveness requires giving up on the possibility of a better past.” (unknown)

“The whole point of society is to be less unforgiving than nature.” (Arthur D. Hlavaty)

“Terror consists mostly of useless cruelties perpetrated by frightened people in order to reassure themselves.” (Friedrich Engels)

“Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of believing that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

“You don't owe the internet your time. The internet does not know this, and will never learn.” (Quinn Norton)

“Great writing is the world's cheapest special effect.” (Teresa Nielsen Hayden)

“Everyone gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.” (Gertrude Stein)

“Very few people are stupid. It’s just that the world really is that difficult and you can’t continually be careful.” (Quinn Norton)

“Armageddon is not around the corner. This is only what the people of violence want us to believe. The complexity and diversity of the world is the hope for the future.” (Michael Palin)

“Just because you’re on their side doesn’t mean they’re on your side.” (Teresa Nielsen Hayden)

“The fact that ‘there are only a handful of bad cops’ cuts no ice with me. If ‘only a handful of McDonald’s are spitting in your food,’ you’re not going to McDonald’s.” (Ta-Nehisi Coates)

“Young men and women, educated very carefully to be apolitical, to be technicians who thought they disliked politics, making them putty in the hands of their rulers, like always.” (Kim Stanley Robinson, Red Mars)

“The poor have been rebels, but they have never been anarchists; they have more interest than anyone else in there being some decent government. The poor man really has a stake in the country. The rich man hasn’t; he can go away to New Guinea in a yacht. The poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly; the rich have always objected to being governed at all. Aristocrats were always anarchists.” (G. K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday)

“When liberty is mentioned, we must observe whether it is not really the assertion of private interests.” (Hegel)

“History is the trade secret of science fiction.” (Ken MacLeod)

“But isn’t all of human history simultaneously a disaster novel and a celebrity gossip column?” (Anonymous LJ commenter)

“I see now that keen interest can illuminate anything, and that anything, moreover, has something worth illuminating in it, and that without that interest gates carved by Benvenuto Cellini from two diamonds would merely look chilly.” (Lord Dunsany)

“I grieve for the spirit of Work, killed by her evil child, Workflow.” (Paul Ford)

“The opposite of ‘serious’ isn't ‘funny.’ The opposite of both ‘serious’ and ‘funny’ is ‘squalid.’” (R. A. Lafferty)

“Ki is, of course, mystical bullshit. That’s why it works so well, both as a teaching idiom and a tool of practice in martial arts. It’s as nonexistent as charm, leadership, or acting. Humans are all about bullshit.” (Andrew Plotkin)

“We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about.” (Charles Kingsley)

“Nobody panics when things go according to plan. Even when the plan is horrifying.” (The Joker)

“Hope has two daughters, anger and courage. They are both lovely.” (attributed to St. Augustine)

“Plot is a literary convention. Story is a force of nature.” (Teresa Nielsen Hayden)

“This movie has way too much plot getting in the way of the story.” (Joe Bob Briggs)

“If there is no willingness to use force to defend civil society, it’s civil society that goes away, not force.” (Teresa Nielsen Hayden)

“Always side with the truth. It’s much bigger than you are.” (Teresa Nielsen Hayden)

“Listen, here’s the thing about politics: It’s not an expression of your moral purity and your ethics and your probity and your fond dreams of some utopian future. Progressive people constantly fail to get this.” (Tony Kushner)

“I don’t want politicians who are ‘above politics,’ any more then I want a plumber who’s ‘above toilets.’” (Ta-Nehisi Coates)

“Plans are nothing; planning is everything.” (Dwight D. Eisenhower)

“People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war, or before an election.” (Otto von Bismarck)

“Every organization appears to be headed by secret agents of its opponents.” (Robert Conquest)

“Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.” (Anne Lamott)

“Nothing makes one so vain as being told that one is a sinner.” (Oscar Wilde)

“Life isn’t divided into genres. It’s a horrifying, romantic, tragic, comical science-fiction cowboy detective novel.” (Alan Moore)

“See everything, overlook a great deal, improve a little.” (John XXIII)

“You will never love art well, until you love what she mirrors better.” (John Ruskin)

“Having a smallpox vaccine scar is like walking around with the moon landing and the Sistine Chapel on your upper arm.” (Angus Johnston)

“They lied to you. The Devil is not the Prince of Matter; the Devil is the arrogance of the spirit, faith without smile, truth that is never seized by doubt. The Devil is grim because he knows where he is going, and, in moving, he always returns whence he came.” (Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose)

“I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.” (Jay Gould)

“I’m a leftist. I don't argue with anyone unless they agree with me.” (Steven Brust)

“Adam was but human—this explains it all. He did not want the apple for the apple’s sake, he wanted it only because it was forbidden. The mistake was in not forbidding the serpent; then he would have eaten the serpent.” (Mark Twain)

“Details are all that matters; God dwells there, and you never get to see Him if you don’t struggle to get them right.” (Stephen Jay Gould)

“Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.” (Gustav Mahler)

“But this kind of deference, this attentive listening to every remark of his, required the words he uttered to be worthy of the attention they excited—a wearing state of affairs for a man accustomed to ordinary human conversation, with its perpetual interruption, contradiction, and plain disregard. Here everything he said was right; and presently his spirits began to sink under the burden.” (Patrick O’Brian, Master and Commander)

“Hatred is a banquet until you recognize you are the main course.” (Herbert Benson)

“For a Westerner to trash Western culture is like criticizing our nitrogen/oxygen atmosphere on the grounds that it sometimes gets windy, and besides, Jupiter’s is much prettier. You may not realize its advantages until you’re trying to breathe liquid methane.” (Neal Stephenson)

“‘There are no atheists in foxholes’ isn’t an argument against atheism, it’s an argument against foxholes.” (James Morrow)

“And after the fire a still small voice.” (1 Kings 19:12)

“The man who tries to make the flag an object of a single party is a greater traitor to that flag than any man who fires at it.” (Lloyd George)

“The United States behaves like a salesman with a fantastic product who tries to force people to buy it at gunpoint.” (Emma of Late Night Thoughts)

“I’m a fuzzy-headed warm-hearted liberal, and I think fuzzy-headed warm-hearted liberalism is an ideological stance that needs defending—if necessary, with a hob-nailed boot-kick to the bollocks of budding totalitarianism.” (Charles Stross)

“The real test of any claim about freedom, I’ve decided, is how far you’re willing to go in letting people be wrong about it.” (Bruce Baugh)

“As with bad breath, ideology is always what the other person has.” (Terry Eagleton)

“Only he who in the face of all this can say ‘In spite of all!’ has the calling for politics.” (Max Weber)

“No, it’s not fair. You’re in the wrong universe for fair.” (John Scalzi)

“I don’t understand death, but I got hot dish down pretty good.” (Marissa Lingen)

“Skepticism is the worst form of gullibility.” (John “adamsj” Adams)

“We have a backstage view of ourselves and a third-row view of everybody else.” (Garrison Keillor)

“The Reign of Sin is more universal, the influence of unconscious error is less, than historians tell us.” (Lord Acton)

“All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them.” (H. L. Mencken)

“Tomorrow never happens. It’s all the same fucking day, man.” (Janis Joplin)

“Words are always getting conventionalized to some secondary meaning. It is one of the works of poetry to take the truants in custody and bring them back to their right senses.” (W. B. Yeats)

“It is a little embarrassing that, after 45 years of research and study, the best advice I can give to people is to be a little kinder to each other.” (Aldous Huxley)

“Never believe in a meritocracy in which no one is funny-looking.” (Teresa Nielsen Hayden)

“Probably no man has ever troubled to imagine how strange his life would appear to himself if it were unrelentingly assessed in terms of his maleness; if everything he wore, said, or did had to be justified by reference to female approval [...] If he gave an interview to a reporter, or performed any unusual exploit, he would find it recorded in such terms as these: ‘Professor Bract, although a distinguished botanist, is not in any way an unmanly man. He has, in fact, a wife and seven children. Tall and burly, the hands with which he handles his delicate specimens are as gnarled and powerful as those of a Canadian lumberjack, and when I swilled beer with him in his laboratory, he bawled his conclusions at me in a strong, gruff voice that implemented the promise of his swaggering moustache.’” (Dorothy L. Sayers)

“Grown ups are what’s left when skool is finished.” (Nigel Molesworth)

“If you don't like the ‘blame game,’ it’s usually because you’re to blame.” (Jon Stewart)

“Slang is for a war of signals.” (Unknown semiotician/palindromist)

“Science fiction is an argument with the world. When it becomes (solely) an argument within science fiction, it breathes recycled air.” (Ken MacLeod)

“All worthy work is open to interpretation the author didn’t intend. Art isn’t your pet—it’s your kid. It grows up and talks back.” (Joss Whedon)

“I really don’t know what you do about the ‘taxes is theft’ crowd, except possibly enter a gambling pool regarding just how long after their no-tax utopia comes true that their generally white, generally entitled, generally soft and pudgy asses are turned into thin strips of Objectivist Jerky by the sort of pitiless sociopath who is actually prepped and ready to live in the world that logically follows these people’s fondest desires.” (John Scalzi)

“So whenever a libertarian says that capitalism is at odds with the state, laugh at him. It’s like saying that the NFL is ‘at war’ with football fields. To be a libertarian is to say that God or the universe marked up that field, squirted out the pigskins from the bowels of the earth, and handed down the playbooks from Mt. Sinai.” (Connor Kilpatrick)

“True religion invites us to become better people. False religion tells us that this has already occurred.” (Abdal-Hakim Murad)

“There is a machine. Its program is ‘profit’. This is not a myth.” (Joss Whedon)

“There's always romance at the top of a system.” (Will Shetterly)

“Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views, beyond the comprehension of the weak.” (John “Second US President” Adams)

“There is a document that records God’s endless, dispiriting struggle with organized religion, known as the Bible.” (Terry Eagleton)

“There comes a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part, you can’t even passively take part; and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop, And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, the people who own it, that unless you’re free the machine will be prevented from working at all.” (Mario Savio)

“Racism is not merely a simplistic hatred. It is, more often, broad sympathy toward some and broader skepticism toward others.” (Ta-Nehisi Coates)

“To live is to war against the trolls.” (Henrik Ibsen)

“There is at the back of all our lives an abyss of light, more blinding and unfathomable than any abyss of darkness; and it is the abyss of actuality, of existence, of the fact that things truly are, and that we are ourselves incredibly and sometimes almost incredulously real.” (G. K. Chesterton)

“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.” (Rainer Maria Rilke)

“It’s just a ride and we can change it any time we want. It’s only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings and money, a choice right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your door, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love instead see all of us as one.” (Bill Hicks)

“I don’t think we have a language, will ever have a language, that can describe transcendence in any useful way and I am aware that that transcendence may be nothing more than the illusory aspiration of a decaying piece of meat on a random rock. The thing is to be humble enough to be content with that while acting to other people as generously as if better things were true, and making art as if it might survive and do good in the world. Because what else are we going to do with the few short years of our life?” (Roz Kaveney)

“I hate living in a satirical dystopia.” (Arthur Hlavaty)

“No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” (Samuel Beckett)

“Fuck every cause that ends in murder and children crying.” (Iain Banks)

“If it doesn’t connect with people around you who aren’t like you, it isn’t politics.” (Teresa Nielsen Hayden)

March 20, 2017
March 14, 2017
Wealth, risk, and power
Posted by Teresa at 01:56 PM * 146 comments

This is a thread I wrote on Twitter, because sometimes it’s easier to write about big subjects on very small pieces of paper. Numbers link to individual tweets. Title swiped from Jonathan Korman.

1. The rich don’t need fed. health insurance. Their up-and-coming competitors, who aren’t rich yet, do: one major illness can wipe them out.

2. The rich donor class hates social policies that make the non-rich braver and more enterprising. For example…

3. Social security, so a lifetime of hard work doesn’t end in misery. Student financial aid, so that talent + hard work can = achievement.

4. Bank regulation, so our careful savings and investments aren’t wrecked by irresponsible games the big-money guys play with each other.

5. Health and safety regulations, because it shouldn’t be okay to maim or poison people who don’t have clout. And so forth.

6. Us little guys shouldn’t have the nerve to start new businesses, develop new products, or go as far as our work and talent will take us.

7. Poor whites are supposed to stay poor, and know in their bones that they’re born to sorrow, and their luck will never last.

8. Blacks should keep quiet, and do first-rate work on jobs that are well below their ability, because things can always get worse, y’hear?

9. There’s no point in women having ambitions, because one little mishap can wreck everything you’ve worked for.

10. Keeping the rest of us in a constant state of low-level fear is the one consistent goal of the policies the donor class supports.

11. Why? Because we have to tolerate some risk in order to successfully compete with them and their less-than-talented offspring.

12. I’m not talking about rational, calculable risks. I mean the unforeseeable: illness, accidents, market crashes, natural disasters.

13. They want us to know in our bones that we have no defense against risk. If *anything* happens, we’ll be stuck paying for it forever.

14. We’re not allowed to build a more level playing field that we all share. They want us out of the game entirely, so they can always win.

15. Meanwhile, they’re always angling to get their own risk reduced. Always. Because winning.

16. One more thing. Who are the Alt Right? They’re guys who think they’re entitled to a place among the wealthy and risk-averse, …

17. …And haven’t figured out yet that few if any of them are going to succeed at that. They’ll get consolation prizes at best.

18. That’s why they harass egalitarians: they think we’re interfering with a game they plan to win, but have already lost.


19. And one more thing I forgot.

20. The wealthy donor class wants to instill fear in us, so we’ll be unwilling to try to compete with them.

This is grounds for hope.

21. Because if they could have made it impossible for us to fight back & compete, they’d have done it by now. Therefore, we can.

[real end]

March 13, 2017
Making Conversation
Posted by Teresa at 08:50 PM * 7 comments

This is just to say
that my recent essay collection,
Making Conversation,
is eligible for Best Related Work.

Forgive me.
I know this sort of reminder can be done badly;
but it’s my book,
and Hugo nominations close in four days.

March 08, 2017
Dori Smith and Tom Negrino
Posted by Patrick at 03:32 AM * 14 comments

Long ago in Internet time, the well-known tech writer and programmer Dori Smith, a sometime reader hereabouts, did Making Light a very useful kindness.

Now she and her husband Tom Negrino are going through the hardest of times. Whatever the outcome, we wish them solace and ease.

February 01, 2017
January 27, 2017
I know what I’m needin’, and I don’t want to waste more time
Posted by Avram Grumer at 03:34 AM * 13 comments

Hey, New Yorkers (City and State)! Want health care? There’s a bill making its way through our state legislature that would set up a state-wide single-payer health care system! It’s called the New York Health Act, and it’s already been passed by the Democratic-majority State Assembly. Next step is to push it through the Republican-controlled State Senate, so backers of the bill have scheduled a call-in day for Friday, January 27th, 9AM–9PM. Look up your State Senator’s phone number, call ’em up, and ask them to pass it.

This isn’t the first time this bill has been tried. Assemblyman Richard Gottfried has been pushing it since 1999, but it got through the Assembly for the first time in 2015. Maybe this year it’ll get through both houses. And if not, we can try again next year.

January 03, 2017
Universal Basic Income discussion thread
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 05:51 PM * 172 comments

There are many things I am not, among them an economist, a futurologist, a historian of labor, (a person who writes ‘an historian’,) or an expert on Universal Basic Income in any or all its variants.

But it’s pretty clear that the world economy is changing. Jobs are already being automated away; the advent of self-driving cars, trucks, and vans is going to take another big bite out of the labor market. Between that and the lack of a living minimum wage, one possible future is more people scrambling after fewer positions and getting poorer in the process.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. We have the resources in America and Europe to feed and house our people, all our people, at an acceptable minimum standard. Thus, the proposal for a Universal Basic Income, which would give people economic security. Work would then become the way one earns extra money, acquires luxuries, or just something one pursues because it feels good and is interesting.

It’s almost a litmus test for one’s view of humanity: do we need fear and anxiety to keep us going, or do we work and create for the sheer pleasure of doing it?

Some of the fears UBI raises are the ones that turn welfare so toxic: the fear that those people will get away with something, the feeling that one’s possessions should be entirely one’s own, the feeling that we need poverty as leash and lash for people we see as morally corrupt or lazy.

(And one has to accept all of these things for any kind of redistributive system: there will be people who abuse it—but more people will benefit; the rich will have less—but inequality breeds political chaos and injustice; there are almost certainly poor people who are immoral for any given value of immorality—but you can say the same for any class of people; there are certainly poor people who do not like to work—but I’m not always big on getting out of bed of a Monday morning either.)

And there are more realistic issues too, ones I certainly don’t know the answer to. Who will do the unpopular jobs, the messy ones, the dangerous ones? Won’t everyone just stop working? How can this work with immigration? Is it moral to keep the population of the West in (relative) luxury on the profits of offshore labor? (Would we do something more moral with the money?)

And the big questions: what will people do with their time? Will they produce art, great or mediocre according to their talents? Will they be less stressed, and spend more time and energy on their families, creating a generation of more emotionally secure adults to face the future? Will they have more children, and is that a good thing? What jobs will we keep working at, and why?

In short, will UBI make us more free, or will we all melt into the sociological equivalent of grey goo? And how could we get there?

I’m watching the trials and proposals with interest. I think we need more information, more evidence. But I’m also aware that I haven’t read up on all the options and implications. I haven’t had the time. I have to go to work tomorrow.

December 30, 2016
Defense in depth
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 07:33 AM * 125 comments

I’m strongly suspecting that New Year’s is going to be a time of listicles and advocacy. Everyone’s going to be at us to support this cause or that, act in this way or that, over the coming year. Everyone has priorities, urgent issues, things they think we should care about most of all.

And that’s cool. Passion is wonderful, and clearly many hands are going to be needed for the work ahead.

But when others have different priorities than you, things slide so easily into guilt-tripping and blame. Accusations of indifference. Spoon banditry. And that’s not so cool; it robs us of energy and joy that we need as a community. Someone 100% committed to Cause A, if persuaded to switch to Cause B, may only have the talents, resources, or passion to give 70%—even after the energy costs of diverting their attention are paid off.

Can I suggest an XKCD-like reformulation? Can we think of this diversity of tactics and causes not as dilution or diversion, but as defense in depth?

I first encountered the term defense in depth in its infosec incarnation, where we use multiple independent means to combat possible intrusions. Run antivirus software and have a strong-password policy and train your staff against social engineering. It’s based on a broader military strategy where you use multiple layers of resources, even weak ones, to bog an attacker down, rob them of their momentum, and leave them vulnerable to counterattack.

It may not be, in the abstract, the best strategy for the time ahead of us—the Wikipedia entry points out that it’s most effective in opposition to a single, focused attack, and we’re facing something much broader-based than that. But given the costs and risks of circular firing squads, given that our strength as evidence-based thinkers and anti-authoritarians will be in nurturing diverse opinions and tactics and then sharing the results widely to expand everyone’s toolkit, it’s the most pragmatic approach to moving in a generally-agreed direction with people with whom we may not always see eye to eye.

A couple of skills for that toolkit, if you’re going to follow this model:

Any more resources? Or am I talking out of my arse here?

December 28, 2016
And ever morne and may
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 12:58 PM * 55 comments

As 2016 draws to a close, many of us are looking on it as a year of loss, not just of elections and referenda, but also of people we’ve cared about. Some of the losses are personal—I’m keeping a number of the bereaved in my thoughts these days—and many more were cultural.

It’s the dark time of the year for me, and I don’t really know how to mourn right now. I wanted to pick a song that summed up what Carrie Fisher in particular meant to me, but there’s nothing there. The Coventry Carol, appropriate to the day, is as close as I come: the impulse to sing away the loss, the inability to do so.

Help me, friends, to remember the people we’ve lost this year. Let’s choose songs* and share memories as it comes to a close. I think it’ll help, even if it can’t cure.

* If you’re doing YouTube links, (a) read the link format hint just above the comment box and follow it precisely; (b) test your link at preview, and (c) give the song title and artist in text so people don’t have to click blind.

December 26, 2016
Arouse us noble
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 02:46 PM * 47 comments

Out of this darkness, let the unmeasured sword
Rising from sleep to execute or crown
Rest on our shoulders, as we then can rest
On the outdistancing, all-capable flood
Whose brim touches the morning. Down
The long shadows where undriven the dawn
Hunts light into nobility, arouse us noble.

—Philip Larkin, “Come Then to Prayers

When we look back on the late twenty-teens, I suspect we’re going to think we were out of our collective minds in the months between Trump’s election and his inaguration. And I say this as someone who is herself affected.

Twitter, in particular, has been hard to cope with for those of us with personalities that do not thrive on exhaustive examinations of all of the terrible possiblilities of 2017 and beyond. (I assume there are people for whom such examinations are meat and drink, in which case, go you. But maybe consider your impact on others?)

I’ve talked about this a little on Twitter. Yes, I am aware of the irony. But that’s where the people being pummelled and terrified by the discourse—the people who might benefit from what I’m trying to say—are. Also, I didn’t feel ready to blog more on it. It felt too big. It still feels too big, but maybe it’s time to write this next piece out anyway.

So: my read is that many of us are trapped between vague hope and terribly detailed despair, and the contrast is eating us up. Not the contrast between the light and the dark, but between the clear and the vague.

Because the despair is so clearly articulated, so widespread, so pervasive (and thus persuasive). The numerous hot takes that add up to guys, I can explain how we’re screwed, but I can’t see how we’re going to get out of it; the trending tweets with handy tools to predict nuclear blast radii; the promises and threats of someone who is still a private citizen, albeit a powerful one—all give us a laundry list of bleak and horrible outcomes. A person can read them until she can’t even blink any more, until her heart breaks, and not get through it all. And it’s not going to stop; too much of it is making someone money, feeding an emotional hunger in its readers, or serving a political purpose.

I can’t argue against it, not directly. Much of it is reasoned, well-sourced, gravely sensible.

But it’s incomplete, like bread without yeast, flesh without life. It’s missing a thing that I know exists but cannot explain in detail, cannot predict the place or extent of, cannot forecast the effect of.

The thing that’s missing has given us prominent figures like Rosa Parks and Edith Stein, but also less well-known ones such as Viola Liuzzo, Marion Pritchard, Ruth Coker Burks, Ingrid Loyau-Kennett. (I picked these people almost at random. I could go on for paragraphs.) More recently, it gave us Bree Newsome up the flagpole and Ieshia Evans in the street, the Water Protectors of Standing Rock and the veterans who came to join them. It gave us Łukasz Urban in Berlin last Monday. Maybe next time it will give us me, or you, or someone in our community, among the hundreds or thousands that I know will appear at the right place and time, even though I cannot explain beforehand how, when, or where that will be.

Fred Rogers, the uncanonized saint of American television, said it best: When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’

It is impossible to tell you who these helpers will be, or where they will arise, because they will be ordinary people, which is to say, weird and unpredictable, indvidual and quirky. Their activism and heroism will be like that too, becomes it stems from their humanity. That’s their, or rather our, strength. (Also—hard words here—not everyone who stands up will be OK afterwards. Some of the people I listed died. Some lost everything. And there were many alongside them who were too afraid to step forward. This too is human.)

I’d just like to ask you, next time you read some article or tweetstorm that sets out, piece by deliberate piece, how any particular future is inevitable, to remember: the more the writer limits their analysis to what is already known, and the more certain they sound, the less of a clue they really have. Because they’re missing a real thing they can’t name, can’t describe, and won’t see coming until it’s already in motion. If then.

(This is, by the way, a seasonally appropriate message in my tradition. If you’d asked Herod the Great of Judea what event would make his reign remembered all over the world for thousands of years; if you’d asked Augustus Caesar why his name would be on children’s lips every year long after Latin itself was dead, they’d give you answers that were detailed and sensible, but also completely wrong. Because off in a backwater barn, out of sight, a baby was born. And even if you don’t believe a word people say about the man he grew up to be, he and the people who came after him diverted the plans of kings and emperors.)