Reader Request Week 2016 #10: Small Bits
Posted on March 27, 2016 Posted by John Scalzi 15 Comments
And now we’ve come to the end of another Reader Request Week! Let me scroll through the questions quickly and see what topics I can answer briefly:
Steve C: Has there ever been an artistic field you wish you could pursue if you had time enough? Have there been things you tried and then realized that as attractive as it may have seemed, it really wasn’t for you?
Mostly no, because the artistic stuff that’s attractive to me I keep doing as hobbies; currently that’s photography and music. Now, with those two things, if I spent more time with them I suspect I could get better with them, although the learning curves on each are different — music is harder for me, and I’m at a point where the time investment to improve substantially is much greater than it is for photography. Will I have the time? It’s a good question. The answer right now is: not now.
Mythopoeia: I recently was reading your “Waiting for Athena” chapbook, where you wrote that you expected during Athena’s teenage years, you would have “world’s most embarrassing dad” status.” You then noted that real life was probably going to be quite different from your expectations. Now that Athena is a teenager, how is your relationship with her different from what you once thought having a teenaged daughter would be like? How is it not so different?
I don’t think I’m the world’s most embarrassing dad, mostly because on a day to day basis I’m not constantly cluelessly goofy, and because my daughter, strangely enough, seems to enjoy who I am as a person (I could be getting this wrong and you’d have to ask her for total confirmation, but I think it’s accurate). We do play at me being clueless and embarrassing on social media when I talk to her there, mostly for the comedy value for people reading along. But honestly, I just really like my kid and who she is now, and I think she feels the same way about me, and I think we both just respect and trust and love each other. Those are things I’m pretty sure I always wanted, so in that respect our relationship is what I always hoped it would be.
Berimon: What percentage of Trump voters just want to watch the world burn? How many want a revolution, and how many just want off the merry-go-round?
I suspect that the largest percentage of Trump supporters are (very reductively put) people who feel the system has failed them and who want to change and/or punish it, and see Trump as the person who has the best chance of doing that. Hardly any of them actually want everything burned to the ground, or want a real revolution. In both cases, if they knew what that would mean, they would be horrified. It wouldn’t fix the problems that made them gravitate toward Trump in any event.
Kendersrule: Raisins. Glorified rat poo, or succulent grape-nuggets?
I like raisins in oatmeal (either the cookie or the breakfast food) and in some other strategic deployments. The operative phrase here is “strategic deployment.” But then I feel that way about most dried fruits. You gotta know how to use ’em.
Marc Moskowitz: What needs to change in the world of entertainment contracts to keep a situation like Kesha’s from happening again?
Good entertainment lawyers who understand the implications of the contracts, and the willingness on the part of artists not to sign contracts that put them at a substantial disadvantage to a corporation that has the willingness to let them hang. Entertainment companies are not (necessarily) evil but they will by nature and by fiduciary duty do everything they can to take every single advantage possible in a deal. You get what you negotiate for. Now, are you asking if there should be laws that prohibit something like what’s happening to Kesha? In fact there are all sorts of laws pertaining to personal services contracts; whether these apply to Kesha is something I don’t know. I suspect they do. I also suspect that the contracts were then written in such a way to minimize the impact of the law(s) that pertain to personal service. Which again means good entertainment lawyers are needed, as well as a willingness on the part of the artist to walk away from a deal.
GiantPanda: Share a few things on your bucket list please. Preferably things that are unlikely to happen?
I don’t actually keep a bucket list, and in any event I’ve done most of the things I want to do in my life that would be considered “bucket list” material. Rather than keep a bucket list, I prefer to keep myself open to experiences and to appreciate them when they happen. That way, when I look back on them, I realize they are things I’m glad I got to do in my life.
Gary Tyson: What do you think of the upcoming wave of consumer VR (Vive, Rift) and are you planning on buying one to try out?
I think they’ll be fun toys, and I like fun toys, so, yes, I will probably try one out, although I don’t know which one yet. I’m not entirely sure I want to walk about with a ViewMaster strapped to my head on a constant basis, however. I do hope they figure out the aesthetics of these things sooner than later.
Matthewcaffrey: Do you think Anonymous is a legitimate anti-institutional force that can help keep individuals in line who are able to escape prosecution through traditional means, or do you think they are a bunch of 13 year olds who spend most of their days playing MMORPGs and watching porn?
I’m not sure why this is an either/or.
rbgibbons: In light of the rise of automation, the concept of a universal basic income seems to be becoming a topic of conversation. Do you think a universal basic income is feasible? Is it desirable?
I think right now for most discussions on universal basic income have a bright and shiny “here’s how we get to utopia/stave off dystopia” feel to it which makes me wary. Is UBI feasible? Sure; “money” is at this point a construct wholly made up of candyfloss and Tinkerbell clapping, so if we wanted to give everyone, say, a base rate of $30k or so just for existing, there’s no reason why we couldn’t. Is it desirable? Not without a huge amount of modeling and preparation. I mean, shit. Off the top of my head I can think of five potential horrible consequences of UBI, the first being unspeakable runaway inflation. And of course there’s the point that the reason we’re thinking of something like UBI at all is because we take as read the idea that capitalism is best economic model for humans to live under. I love me some capitalism –it’s worked out great for me! — but I would want to at least question the premise. In short: It makes me wary, and I would want to know a lot more.
Erica: You and your wife obviously adore your beautiful confident daughter. Why did you choose (or did you? that’s probably way too personal) to only have one child? Do you and Krissy have siblings?
We both have siblings, yes. And we both like our siblings, which is even better. As for why we have one child, well, we were open to more than one but it didn’t take, and after a certain point it wasn’t an issue anymore for us. I should note that we never had a target number in terms of children; one was good, more would have been fine, and none would have been okay too, if it had gone that direction. Our life as a family has been a pretty good one, so I’m pleased with what we have and don’t worry about how it might have been different, one way or another.
Mary Baumgarner: How does one hold a peaceful, yet thought provoking conversation about a subject, with a person who holds the opposite view? How can one learn about another’s ideas, or explain one’s own, without generating anger or hurt feelings that snuff out the joy and possibility of learning?
If such a conversation is indeed your goal, start off by just listening and maybe asking questions, I’d say, rather than waiting for your turn to speak and make points. Likewise, don’t go into the conversation with the idea that you are going to change minds or that the conversation is meant to be, or must be, adversarial. Note well that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with adversarial discussions, nor do I think I (or anyone else) needs to politely listen to every bullshit idea out there, particularly if you’ve heard the bullshit and all its variations before. But sometimes you don’t want that, and sometimes it’s not useful. Sometimes conversation is better. And when it is: Actually listen.
Renee: The more I read about climate change, the more I wonder if humanity (as a species) is doomed. Our governments seem incapable of meaningful action and I doubt that my small personal efforts (recycling, taking public transportation, using less energy) are going to save the world. The pace of change has become frightening. My questions for you are: Do you ever worry that humanity is doomed? If so, how do you cope with those feelings?
I don’t think humanity is doomed, no. I think it’s unlikely but possible civilization, at least as we’re used to it, might be doomed, but that’s an entirely different thing. But in the unlikely case civilization is in fact doomed, I don’t think it will be doomed over the span of time I will be alive, or probably over the span of time anyone I know will be alive. That being the case, meh. In the time I’m alive I’ll support shrinking the amount of damage humans make to planet. When I’m gone, I suspect strongly I won’t worry about it anymore.
Theyis: Every election you hear people saying “If Barack Obama/Donald Trump/Hilary Clinton/etc becomes president, I’ll move to Canada.” What would make you leave the US and move to Canada (or any other country)?
If my personal safety or the safety of family members was under active threat by the government, basically. Short of that, I suspect I’ll be fine; the scales are generally tipped in my favor even when they suck for everyone else. If I did move anywhere, I imagine it would be Canada, although New Zealand or Australia is a possibility.
JZS: Clearly there are great benefits to your success (cons/cruises/a comfortable life) and you’ve hit the family lottery in a loving home but how do they feel the feel about the public exposure? As someone who was a very shy teen and still prefers solitude, I’m amazed by Athena’s confidence and Krissy’s nonchalance. Are they naturally confident, gregarious people? Do they ever find the spotlight uncomfortable? Do they ever worry about it? And how do they deal with it all? Of course answers to these questions are a further intrusion in their lives, so…
I think people overestimate the intrusion of fame into our world, actually. I have a (relatively speaking) small measure of fame, which is not enough that it becomes onerous on a daily basis, nor particularly onerous to Krissy or Athena. If it did become a problem I’m pretty certain they’d let me know and then we’d work on fixing it.
Bettie Pager: I’ve often wondered about Krissy’s career choices and how the two of you have worked together in this arena given that writing as a career can be uneven (to say the least) in terms of income. Has Krissy ever taken or kept a job she might not otherwise have done to support you as a writer? Have you ever put off a freelance goal and held onto a “regular” job to ease career transitions for her? Now that you have achieved moderate success in your field (ahem), is Krissy now exploring any projects or activities she may have deferred earlier on?
We’ve been fortunate in that there’s never been a point where I was not gainfully employed as a writer, and not contributing the majority of income to the family, so, no, Krissy was never in a position of taking a job she didn’t want on my account. Neither have I had to take a job I didn’t want for her sake. So, yes. We’ve been lucky. The question at this juncture is at what point does Krissy retire, and what she does with her retirement, because unlike one of us in our relationship, she’s not of the “sit around all day and fart about on the Internet” disposition.
Mitchell Hundred: The Marx Brothers or the Three Stooges?
Marx Brothers, and it’s not even close. Which is not to say Three Stooges fans are wrong. They just like what they like.
Beatrice: A few years ago you signed a petition about not attending any convention that did not have a harassment policy. A couple of months ago I heard about a convention, Conquest, where one of the guests of honor was harrassed. After two years of nothing happening, the guy had to publicly shame the convention to get any traction on his … case…. or whatever you call a report of harassment. Since you signed that petition, how do you, as a potential guest of honor at Conquest reply if they ask you to be at their convention? Also, have you and the other singatories of that earlier petition have an idea of how to deal with a convention that has a harassment policy but doesn’t enforce it?
I didn’t just sign that harassment pledge, I made it! I was a guest of honor at ConQuest several years ago and had a simply wonderful time, and made a number of friends I plan to keep with me for the rest of my life. That said, by all indications ConQuest really fucked up this particular incident, nor is it clear to me future incidents will be addressed in a timely, committed manner. I can’t speak for anyone else, of course, but for me ConQuest is off my list of conventions to visit for a while, until I get a sense they’re actually going to stand by the policies they say they’re going to stand by. Anyone else signing the pledge has to decide for themselves what their response is, if any. But for me, it’s not enough to have a policy. You have to take it seriously, too.
Nikitta: I have come to the conclusion that all of USA is either 1) A cleverly made and very convincing fictive world or 2) An elaborate, well made piece of performance art. Which one is it?
Again, I’m not sure why this is an either/or scenario.
Thank you everyone for your questions this year! They were pretty excellent. Let’s do this again in 2017, shall we?
If you do start thinking about moving abroad, Ireland exempts (or used to exempt) resident artists from income tax, which is why Anne McCaffrey moved there.
I don’t mind paying taxes, though.
Just for future reference, the canonical answer to any question asked in an “either/or” form where you don’t think it should be phrased as an either/or, is either “Yes” or “No”. “Yes” usually gets the best results in terms of brain breakage.
As to the Trump followers and their self-proclaimed “leader”, I tend to think the G K Chesterton comment about “the poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly; the rich have always objected to being governed at all” sums things up nicely. (Full text here: http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/696806-you-ve-got-that-eternal-idiotic-idea-that-if-anarchy-came – and do read the first few lines which point out that poor people effectively have more of a stake in the notion of “good government” in a country than the rich ones who can always pick up and leave if they don’t like the way things are being done). I think if he gets in, a lot of people are going to be heavily disappointed at how much things DON’T change (in the same way a lot of the more idealistic Obama supporters were), or rather, how much they don’t change in their favour.
Always remember, with any politician, that at least 50% of what comes out of their mouth while they’re on the campaign trail is lies told for the specific purpose of getting elected. This percentage may rise as high as 100% depending on how popular the lies are.
I can’t comment on the piece about “The Child on the Train,” so I’ll put it here. I had the same experience last April (complete with not finding the heartbeat at the doctor’s appointment) and felt the exact same way by December, when my due date was. I kept it private for the same reasons too. I just gave birth to my second child last week who is amazing and beautiful and yet that second pregnancy – that face in the window – is still there. Thank you for stating those feelings so eloquently.
I’ve met a few Soviet refugees. The Americans who speak of moving to another country just strike me as silly, and there was the one host of the View who threatened to move if a Republican was nominated. I sometimes fantasize that all of the people of every political stripe who threaten to move should have to move to the same community and live with one another.
On the universal basic income thing:
Heinlein’s first novel For us the Living, which was dug up and published years after his death, discusses this idea. As a novel, Heinlein was right to bury it, but it does give food for thought. I believe that some of its economics also get mentioned briefly in Beyond this Horizon. I get the impression that Heinlein gave up on the idea at some point. Either because he thought it couldn’t work, or because the technology base hadn’t automated enough to make it a possibility. Some science fiction writers speculate that such a system promotes widespread happiness and others speculate that the basic income is a life of unrelenting poverty to make the Soviet Union sound good. I also realize that an author might choose one or the other for dramatic reasons, rather than because he sees it as the likely possibility.
re:Mitchell Hundred: You understand a lot of people now are tweeting that you are a Marxist.
Re Universal Basic Income.
I’ve given this some thought, starting at yes I like it.
So I made a mental list of what could go wrong with it and about the first ten things involved politicians interfering one way or another. Then at about number eleven we get “But some people will just stop working and live off the UBI (and maybe a little crime)”.
For how it could evolve have a read of James S A Corey’s Cibola Burn (I think its that one in the series). It is not a good advertisement but I think gives an example of how over time the idea is subverted and becomes something bad.
Vis-à-vis that universal basic income, I also think there might be some problems* with that – as there are/will be with any (new) system – but I don’t agree it has much to do with capitalism. Communism, after all, states one should contribute to the state what one can and should receive from the state what one needs. In a functioning, automated communist society that would also mean a universal basic income.
*Most of them human nature related
Re the whole moving to another country thing, John. You’re probably not going to do it but you might want to consider the number of conventions you attend annually for professional reasons and ask yourself if you’d really like to fly in from Wellington or Sydney (on international airfare, no less) every time. On the other hand, the Okanagan Valley is lovely and Kelowna is a wonderful place to live, according to my Partner’s cousins who reside there.
I’m not sure that universal basic income is the right approach, but I think we need to start grappling with a world where we only need, say, 60% of the population to generate everything that 100% of the population needs or wants. So what happens with the other 40%? It needs to be addressed, and ‘ignore them or expel them from the economy’ doesn’t work, even if you’re interested in brutal solutions. After all, if you get rid of the unneeded 40%, you’re back in a situation were you only need 60% of the remaining population to see to the needs and wants of everyone.
Better a Marxist than a stooge.
If people need to move out of a USA run by Donald Trump, Canada’s probably not the place to come. We’re right next door, we’re crammed with desirable resources, and we’ve got a relatively teeny army. If he’s going to be a problem worth fleeing, you’ll want to get some water between you and him.
And I think being a Marxist is just fine if you’ve got the eyebrows for it.
Apparently there was a saying in France at one time: “I am a Marxist, of the Groucho variety.”
I’m a bit late, you may note this question for some next time if you can’t answer it now: a while ago you commissioned a painting with you and a lucky winner fighting with lightsabers. was it done? if yes, will we (ever) see it? thanks!
When arguing with Republicans about a U.B.I., I generally point-out that ‘It would replace all government assistance with a single programme you could undetfund into irrelevancy.’