To escape or to engage

A couple of weeks ago, I finally sat down and wrote a (semi-) formal business plan. It was an enlightening experience. I’ve kept it all organized in many different ways, but writing it all down in one place allows me to step back and take a wider look at what I do.

No business plan is complete without a mission statement. Here is mine:

To write and publish fiction that serves the truth, expands minds and hearts, and empowers my readers to be better men and women for reading my books.

To serve, expand, and empower. All of the books that have profoundly affected my life, from Ender’s Game and Lord of the Rings to The Neverending Story and A Wrinkle in Time, did those things.

“That’s very high and lofty, Joe, but what about just writing damn good stories that entertain people?” I don’t actually see a contradiction there. All of the best stories I’ve read that served, expanded, and empowered me were only able to do so because they entertained me first.

Entertainment is an important part of what I do. So is escapism. I have no idea how J.R.R Tolkien voted in the 1930s and 40s, nor do I care to know. I have a pretty good idea how Orson Scott Card voted in the 90s and 00s, but not from reading Ender’s Game. Sometimes I read authors for their politics (Ringo, Heinlein, Correia), but I didn’t read The Last Centurion to decide how I would vote in the last election; I read it because leading a stranded cavalry division across a post-apocalyptic Middle East sounded like a damn good story.

The surest way to kill a good story is to try to cram a message through it. The best stories never do this. They serve as a mirror that allows the reader to see themselves more clearly, whoever they may be. That’s what makes them timeless.

The world is becoming an increasingly scary and violent place. In the coming months, I expect that things will get a lot worse. This puts me in an interesting position. Should I try to write stories that engage with what’s happening in the world, or stories that provide an escape from it?

Or is there a contradiction between the two?

There’s a lot of outrage on social media from people who are trying to engage with the problems they see in the world. Unfortunately, the louder their outrage becomes, the more they seem to be part of the problem and not a solution to it. That’s part of why I deleted my Twitter account and radically scaled back my Facebook usage.

Does lashing out at injustice really make the world a better place? Adding outrage to outrage, pointing out everything that’s wrong? There’s a time and a place for that, sure. But there’s also a time and a place to disengage.

When times get hard, people need an emotional escape. That’s why they turn to things like sports, or movies, or books. But when this media instead tries to engage by bringing in politics or social justice or whatever, it deprives people of their escape. We see it all the time with the virtue signalling in Hollywood, or the issue dropping in TV and movies, or whatever the hell ESPN has become.

I don’t want to go that route. Not with my books, not with this blog—not with any aspect of my career. It’s tempting, sure, and I’ve flirted with it in the past, but it’s time to pull back. I may be convinced of my own views and opinions, but that’s not why I write. You don’t serve the truth by forcing it on other people. You don’t expand minds and hearts with moral outrage. You don’t empower people to become better by telling them that they’re wrong.

With the way the world is going, I think the best thing I can do is to focus less on trying to engage with it and more on providing an escape from it, through my books. Ultimately, I think that’s a better and more effective way to change the world.

Thoughts on the violence in Charlottesville

No one is right in any of this.

I tend to lean to the “right,” but it’s a completely different “right” than any of the protesters at this event. Constitutional conservatives and classical liberals are both increasingly endangered species in this country, and that’s a problem. Nothing in our Constitution supports Nazism and white nationalism.

Radical Islamic terrorism is evil, and needs to be called by its name. So does White supremacist terrorism and neo-Nazism. So does Black supremacism ala Black Lives Matter. So does neo-fascism and radical anarchism ala Antifa. All of it is evil. All of it needs to be named and recognized as such.

We live in a world where words and hate speech and so-called “micro-aggressions” are called violence, but where real violence is legitimized if it’s in the service of political ends. This needs to stop. The first step to stopping it is to call evil by its name. No one in Charlottesville this weekend was on the side of truth or righteousness. They were both fighting for two sides of the same evil coin.

Sarah Hoyt thinks this is our Fort Sumpter moment. I disagree. It may be our Harper’s Ferry moment, but I thought that the Oregon standoff was one of those, and apparently it wasn’t. Perhaps it’s just another wake up call, like the Washington DC baseball shooter who miraculously failed to kill any of his targets.

Regardless of what kind of moment Charlottesville was for this country, we need to wake up and take a step back from the brink.

I’m actually quite optimistic about this. None of those bozos represent the vast majority of us. We’re better than that. We’re the country that saved the world twice, from Nazism and from Communism. Yes, we don’t have a perfect track record, but Churchill was right: you can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, after we’ve tried everything else.

There’s a lot of scary stuff happening in the world right now, but I’m actually not too alarmed. We’ve been through worse. We’ll pull through this, “we” being those who are prepared. If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear.

Take care of yourself, dear reader. And thanks, as always, for reading.

An open letter to Google

To whom it may concern,

My name is Joseph Vasicek, and I have been a regular user of your company’s products since 2006 when I set up my first Gmail account. Until the events of the past week, I was also a satisfied user.

The recent firing of James Damore over the controversial internal memo titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber” has profoundly shattered my trust in your company. I have read the memo and find it eminently moderate and well-reasoned. It is not an “anti-diversity screed,” as many in the traditional news media are calling it, and their characterization of the memo–as well as your own characterization, given by your vice president of diversity, Danielle Brown–is manifestly false to anyone who has actually read it.

Your handling of the controversy has been nothing short of Orwellian. I find this especially disturbing for the fact that your company controls almost every gateway to the internet that I use on a daily basis.

My phone is an Android device that is deeply integrated with your products. My personal and business email accounts are with your Gmail service. I use your search engine on a daily, almost hourly basis, and routinely default to the first three sites listed in the search results. Whenever I’m lost or traveling to an unfamiliar place, I use your maps and navigation service to guide me. Until this memo controversy, Chrome was my default browser. While I lived in Utah Valley, I even used your fiber network too connect to the internet.

It is abundantly clear to me now that I have been far too complacent in allowing myself to become wholly dependant on your company for almost every facet of my online connection to the world.

I cannot, at this time, fully divest myself from Google in the way that I have already divested myself from Facebook and Twitter. However, I can make gradual changes to lessen my dependence on your company’s products in the coming months and years. This principle will guide my future purchasing decisions, as well as the online products I use and the personal data I share.

In the world of tech, if you use a product or service without paying for it, then you are the product, wittingly or otherwise. This was not a problem for me when I still trusted your company. But you have profoundly violated that trust.

I won’t say that it is impossible for you to win back that trust. It would take an extraordinary act, but you are an extraordinary company. At the least, it would require an acknowledgement of the legitimacy of my concerns, and a reversal of the fascistic Orwellian turn that your company has taken. It would require, for example, changing the search results page for “Abraham Lincoln” to reflect that he was our first Republican president, not just a member of the National Union Party (which was simply the Republican Party, rebranded for the 1864 elections when Lincoln was the sitting president. He was elected in 1860 as a Republican, and calling him anything else is deliberately misleading.)

Without an extraordinary effort to win back the trust of the millions of Americans like me whose trust you have betrayed, in the coming months and years, you will see much less of me as I reduce my dependence on your products.

Sincerely,

Joe Vasicek

This guy hits the nail on the head

Financialization is what happens when the people-in-charge “create” colossal sums of “money” out of nothing — by issuing loans, a.k.a. debt — and then cream off stupendous profits from the asset bubbles, interest rate arbitrages, and other opportunities for swindling that the artificial wealth presents. It was a kind of magic trick that produced monuments of concentrated personal wealth for a few and left the rest of the population drowning in obligations from a stolen future. The future is now upon us.

Quite a bit of that wealth was extracted from asset-stripping the rest of America where financialization was absent, kind of a national distress sale of the fly-over places and the people in them. That dynamic, of course, produced the phenomenon of President Donald Trump, the distilled essence of all the economic distress “out there” and the rage it entailed. The people of Ohio, Indiana, and Wisconsin were left holding a big bag of nothing and they certainly noticed what had been done to them, though they had no idea what to do about it, except maybe try to escape the moment-by-moment pain of their ruined lives with powerful drugs.

And then, a champion presented himself, and promised to bring back the dimly remembered wonder years of post-war well-being — even though the world had changed utterly — and the poor suckers fell for it. Not to mention the fact that his opponent — the avaricious Hillary, with her hundreds of millions in ill-gotten wealth — was a very avatar of the financialization that had turned their lives to shit. And then the woman called them “a basket of deplorables” for noticing what had happened to them.

The accumulated monstrous debts of persons, corporations, and sovereign societies, will be suddenly, shockingly, absolutely, and self-evidently unpayable, and the securities represented by them will be sucked into the kind of vortices of time/space depicted in movies about mummies and astronauts. And all of a sudden the avatars of that wealth will see their lives turn to shit just like moiling, Budweiser-gulping, oxycontin-addled deplorables in the flat, boring, parking lot wastelands of our ruined drive-in Utopia saw their lives rendered into a brown-and-yellow slurry draining clockwise down the toilet of history.

I especially got a kick out of that last part.

Seriously, though, this guy hits the nail squarely on the head. We’re headed toward a massive economic reset, which is going to transform the world as we know it. I was in high school when the 9/11 terrorist attacks happened, and the Great Recession had a much bigger impact on my life. When the Greater Recession hits, it’s going to be a lot worse.

That said, I disagree that the only thing we can do is to sit back and watch the world burn. Every problem is also an opportunity. The bigger the disaster, the more opportunities that open up after it.

Without a doubt, though, now is the time to prepare.

The end of politics in America, part 2

How did Trump become the leader of the most powerful nation on Earth?

A lot of people are asking that question, while a lot of other people already know (hint: it wasn’t the Russians). But I want to get beyond the circus that is Washington DC, and answer that question by asking another:

Can politics solve our nation’s greatest problems?

I think there is a dawning realization among Americans that it doesn’t really matter who lives on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Republican or Democrat, the outcome is pretty much the same.

Never at any point in living memory have we been so politically divided, but the party distinctions have become increasingly meaningless. Trump campaigned on providing universal healthcare. Clinton campaigned on escalating our military involvement in Syria. Which one was the Republican, and which one was the Democrat?

In the previous post, I said:

I am convinced that the grand key to understanding United States history in the 20th century—and by extension, current events in the 21st—is a deep knowledge of monetary policy and the financial system.

What is that system?

It is a system of debt. Pure and simple. We have turned our debt into money, and made every other form of money illegal. And the rest of the world has followed us gleefully off the cliff.

Washington is bankrupt. Literally bankrupt. Every year, the Treasury runs an internal audit, and every year, that audit fails. The government’s single biggest asset on their balance sheets is… $1 trillion in student loan debt. Social Security is insolvent and, according to the government’s own reports, will completely run out of money in less than twenty years.

So if Washington is bankrupt, why haven’t they declared bankruptcy? Because they can just keep printing money through the Federal Reserve.

Because of this, the US dollar has lost about 97% of its value since the Federal Reserve system was established in 1913. A time traveler from the new Wonder Woman movie couldn’t buy $5 worth of stuff with $100 of our dollars today. And to keep up this Ponzi scheme we call “money,” Washington has gone nearly $20 trillion in debt.

How much longer can we keep that up?

If we could grow our economy fast enough, and never stop growing, we could keep up the Ponzi scheme for a very long time. But growth is no longer a solution, because the debt is bigger than the economy. The debt is the reason we can’t grow.

If we could innovate fast enough, we could lower the cost of living so much that the poor don’t realize that they’re poor. To some extent, we’ve already done that. But the effects are too uneven: startphones and computers are super cheap, but houses and health care are practically unaffordable.

Which brings us to serfdom.

Let’s go back in time a couple thousand years. Before the days of the empire, the Roman dream was that every family would have their own plot of land, making them independently wealthy, and the head of every family would take up arms in defense of his country whenever called upon by the state. This was not all that different from the Jeffersonian ideal of the yeoman farmer.

Then the Punic wars happened, which, for the Mediterranean world, was basically the ancient WWI and WWII. As Rome became a major world power, the military-industrial complex made a few select elites fabulously wealthy, who kept the masses pacified with welfare handouts.

But the endless cycle of foreign wars came at a heavy cost. Decades of budget deficits and an unsustainable national debt forced the Romans to debase their currency, which completely collapsed. Trade halted, the middle class lost everything, and the 1% became fantastically wealthy, buying up all the real estate and forcing everyone else out. The Roman dream was dead, replaced by a form of bondage called serfdom.

Serfdom came in a number of different flavors:

  • Slaves, who had always existed in the Roman world and continued for some time in the Medieval. Landlords got tax benefits for holding slaves.
  • Villeins, who were bound to the land and worked for the landlords. In exchange, they enjoyed protection and tax relief. Theoretically.
  • Coloni, or sharecroppers, who leased land in exchange for labor and a portion of their harvest. They were eventually taxed out of existence.
  • Freemen, who technically weren’t serfs, but were only a raid or a bad harvest away from becoming one. They were basically renters.

The corvée was a tax, paid in labor, that non-landowners owed by law. Basically, for every XX days out of the year, you worked for the state. It continued even after the abolition of serfdom, until the revolutions of 1848. My Czech ancestors paid the corvée, which is probably one of the reasons they and their children emmigrated to the United States.

But wait—we pay the corvée too! It’s called the federal income tax: for XX days out of the year, you work for the state. The taxes are even higher if you’re self-employed or a small business owner.

Except… not everyone pays the income tax. In fact, nearly half of Americans pay no income tax. Why? Because the politicans know that they can use the welfare system to buy votes. If you’re on welfare, who are you going to vote for: the guy who plans to cut your handouts, or the guy who says that the wealthy should pay their “fair share”?

And sitting at the top of it all are the central bankers.

The medieval serfs were bound to the land and worked for the landlords. In contrast, modern debt-serfs are bound to their debt—national debt, student loan debt, mortgages, consumer debt—and work for the banks.

So I ask again: can politics solve this problem? Can we find a political solution to our national debt?

Unfortunately, there is only one political solution: default on the debt. If we default on entitlements like social security, there would be chaos, riots, and anarchy… and we still wouldn’t pay down hardly any of the debt. If we defaulted on our treasury bonds, it would send a ripple of financial panics across the world, destabilizing the flashpoints in Europe and Asia before returning to our shores. Stocks, mutual funds, and pensions would all be wiped out. Almost the entire savings of the Baby Boomer generation, gone.

But there is another option, though it’s hardly a “solution”: kick the can a little further down the road. Print the money, devalue the debt, and inflate the currency to oblivion.

This is the path we’ve been on since 1913. This is the reason why our dollars buy a little less each year. And this is the reason why we, as a nation, are backsliding into serfdom.

We’ve seen this happen before. Rome fell because of it. Europe came under the yoke of serfdom as a result of it. Our ancestors fled to this country to escape it. And now, we are repeating it.

This isn’t a political problem: it’s a math problem. The numbers just do not add up. The next financial crisis could very well be the “extinction level event” that puts the final nail in the coffin of the US dollar, throws the world into a global war, and sends the United States into its greatest existential crisis since the Civil War. The Republicans don’t have the solution, and neither do the Democrats, because the problem is not political.

This is what the end of politics in America looks like. We’re watching it happen in real-time. Our politicians have become the clowns in the bread-and-circuses routine. Meanwhile, the central bankers are shackling us in chains with every dollar that passes through their hands.

What are you going to do about it?