Posted by Abi Sutherland at 12:53 PM * 640 comments
Do I want to start a new Open Thread? Yes, yes I do.
* see also
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.
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 05:51 PM * 170 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.
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 07:33 AM * 98 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:
- figuring out how to work respectfully with people who think your priorities are wrong
- being mindful of why, whether, and how to discuss other’s choices when you think they’re actively counterproductive
Any more resources? Or am I talking out of my arse here?
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.
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 02:46 PM * 43 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.)