November 10th, 2016
The American Experiment is over. It was a grand one, founded on a bed of pure philosophical theory, and conducted with great rigour, over the past 240 years —- but the result is now in: it has failed.
The core philosophy of the great experiment was that of individual liberty. Jefferson’s original draft of the declaration of independence (viewable at the Library of Congress, where it is on exhibit) reads:
We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness
You can see the hypothesis clearly laid out there, from the moment of its first statement: That the best possible government can be derived by granting every individual within the nation the greatest possible freedom, at every level of social mechanism.
That’s why there is no compulsory voting in the United States of America. (Australians tend to find it weird that other developed-world democracies don’t have compulsory voting, but in fact only about a score of nations on earth do – and only half of them enforce the law. Australia is unusual in its enthusiastic embrace of this civic duty.) In fact, there isn’t even a unified national voting system in the U.S; each state is in charge of its own process for selecting Electoral College members. That decentralised state-by-state approach is founded on individual liberalism, as a check to the power of the government over its populace, tied directly back to the founding philosophy. The hypothesis which the Great Experiment sought to prove.
It’s also the philosophy behind every citizen being able to own a firearm, built out of the same reasoning. The 2nd amendment grants each citizen the right to bear arms in “a well regulated militia” as a safeguard for each state against a military takeover by the federal government. Let each individual own a gun, and they could form a local para-military group to defend the security of their State. Leaning hard on the language, and on the stated intent in the
experimental hypothesis Declaration, this has been reduced to the principal of individual liberty: let everyone own whatever guns they want, and the security of the nation will be somehow assured, not destabilised.
The same ideology underpins the slow and incomplete introduction of even simple things like: seat-belt laws (with 15 states having only secondary enforcement); statewide smoking bans in public places (only 28 out of the 50 have statewide bans —- many of those with a variety of exceptions for certain venues or locales, and 13 have no bans whatsoever); why socialised health insurance is railed against as infringing on civil liberties.
And look, we didn’t know whether it would work or not. Hence the need for the experiment. At the start of “The Enlightenment” it seemed like a pretty interesting and likely proposition. A whole bunch of thinkers were coming out and putting forward theories that seemed to dovetail. Darwin’s bloody-in-tooth-and-claw process of elimination leads to the best possible species fitted for its individual ecological niche; Smith’s market unfettered from legislative restriction would produce companies that produced the greatest possible wealth; grant every private individual the liberte, egalite, and fraternite to select who they wanted to rule them, and you will get the best possible government.
America was the apotheosis of all those ideologies. It was an entire nation, springing forth with its institutions, its rhetoric, its economy, and its culture welling from them. Every ripple of the United States of America has its font in those waters. The experiment was focused, and pure. Interference in experimental results was achieved by isolation —- its sovereignty and the waters surrounding it an effective containment. The experiment was run without disruption, with many stalwarts rigorously defending the founding tenets of individual liberalism, limiting dilution by societal constraints as much as possible.
So now we have the result. After 240 years we have the proof, and the hypothesis has failed.
Results: You cannot form a fair, just, or cohesive society based solely on the ideology of freedom for the individual.
Oh, America did well enough for quite some time: but frankly that can be put down to an abundance of natural wealth, the room to expand within its own territory (by ignoring the right to life and liberty of the native Americans), and exploitation of the labour of imported African slaves (by the same mechanism). Using those techniques during the Industrial revolution is a great aid to build a giant, world spanning economy, and provide your citizens with individual wealth. And individual wealth is a pretty good stabiliser for a society, especially when you wield the potential for it as an incentive for those who don’t have as much as others. The American Dream: you can achieve riches. Anyone can become President.
Donald Trump’s victory is not an aberration. It is not the violent eruption of a clot of bile, released from the deepest pits of the American backwaters. It is not the lingering poison of those original sins of genocide and slavery. It is not the angry outcry of disenfranchised men, refusing to accept further perceived emasculation by suborning themselves to a female leader. While all of those factors weigh, the result last Tuesday is symptomatic of the largest problem with America.
When individual liberty is prized above all else, then every other citizen is not a partner, but a rival. Competition for your successful place in society is reduced to a Smithian battle for supremacy, and not a collective striving for some greater goal. It turns out that a society built so entirely on the principle of rugged individualism does not produce a sense of unity, but one of division. A land of haves and have nots. Of polarisation and partisanship. One that celebrates selfishness, and the winner-takes-all mentality. Where singers and beauty queens and would-be-entrepreneurs and are thrown up on television screens to tear strips off each other in atmospheres of contrived stress and high stakes ruthlessness, in a facile attempt to distract the growing under-class from the swelling awareness that they have not been invited to the party by reiterating the fiction of every American’s rags-to -riches potential. You could be the next reality television sensation.
Such a society is doomed to fail from its inception. With no guiding principle more noble than “every one for themselves, and the devil take the hindmost”, every facet of society starts to resemble the jungle in its savage pragmatism. Means cease to matter, because the only yard-stick to judge on is the one of results. Corruption flourishes. A cadre of super-rich emerges, each working to ensure that the money which circulates in the society is contained within their grasp. So does a cabal of ultra-influential, working together to retain the political reins within their class. With money and influence so completely constrained and the vast majority left on the outside, all the while being told by every myth and narrative of their society that the corrupt, nepotistic few they see parading before them are the ones that were brash enough to seize the American Dream, you inevitably end up with this. With a nation that doesn’t care about policy. That isn’t bothered by invective or hyperbole. That doesn’t demand truth, or punish indiscretion. A society where so many are so disenfranchised, and so aware of the hopelessness of their plight, that they no longer hope for any redress to their hardships, but only want to have their wild howls reflected back at them in a tumult of noise and fury, signifying nothing.
It turns out that to form a successful, stable society, there must be some collective principals that underpin it. Some social ethos, not a purely personal one. Some level on which it is agreed by all participating that in some ways, yes: the society is more important than the individual.
The American Experiment is over. Abandon it. Let’s see what the alternatives are.
April 13th, 2016
Steven Hawking has just called for humanity to mount a series of missions with tiny craft to Alpha Centauri. In looking around, I have realised that I wrote but never posted this article, last December. Silly me.
A hummingbird’s heart beats 1,260 times every minute. To a human ear, this would register as a high hum; no individual beats perceptible. However, in that infinitesimally short period of time, a particle of light, or a radio wave, would travel 238,000 km.
Perception, distance, and light speed are of fundamental concern of Dr Ronald Hanson, Professor at Delft University of Technology. He works in quantum physics, that branch of science which Einstein famously described as “spooky”. Quantum physicists like perplexing us with weird facts of nature, like particles that don’t appear in one place or another until you actually look at them.
Hansen leads a team that has just demonstrated, for the first time, the principle of quantum entanglement. Read the rest of this entry »
December 21st, 2015
The Force Awakens has a message for you, and it’s about toys. Now, that sounds cynical, but believe me: it’s really kind of wonderful.
More specifically the message is about how you choose, and how you encourage your kids, to play with toys. And believe me, the movie has opinions about it. Since the very early days of the franchise, Star Wars has had a deeply enmeshed relationship with the little plastic figurines that accompanied it into the world. Sure, they were a major source of income for LucasFilm, but in an entirely unexpected way they also became the primary medium in which Star Wars was experienced.
I was seven years old when The Empire Strikes Back was released, too young for A New Hope on release. Back then there was no way to access the movies on any kind of demand. You had to wait for the networks to screen them on television. And at that age, with commercial breaks included, those films always ended way past my bedtime. So I had never seen the original movie back in 1980. But by the time I went into the packed cinema with my best friend and his parents to watch the second film, I had been immersed in that universe for many years. I cherish clear memories of scuffing friend’s borrowed Star Wars toys around in the dust against the back fence of my pre-school yard, enacting battles with their un-bendable arms, and losing forever their tiny black phasers. I had never seen a frame of the first film, but when I sat down to watch Empire, I knew ever one of them. I had fought countless battles alongside Han and Leia, flown X-wings with Like and R2, and watched C3PO battle fiercely with Darth Vader. (My understanding of the exact events of the story might have been a little confused. But it was a golden robot fighting a black robot – it was pretty clear who was the good guy.)
In a very real sense, the figurines have become the single largest screen on which Star Wars is seen by its audience. And even with the advent of the VHS, the DVD, and Streaming on Demand, that remains the case. Kids will play for hours on end, dancing through galaxies far, far away with the villains and heroes of their imagination, far in excess of any hours they could possibly spend watching them on screens. This will be true for the new films, as well.
The Force Awakens wears its heart well and truly on its sleeve. Everything part of it is a love letter to the original trilogy, and J.J. Abrams makes no bones about it. And at this point, the obligatory warning: Here be Possible Spoilers. (Although seriously, if you didn’t get out and see it on opening weekend, then don’t get too upset. The Statute of Limitations on this is rapidly expiring.)
December 17th, 2015
No seriously, the guy is shameless.
After playing with today’s Google Doodle, I found myself inevitably drawn to Youtube, to find a good quality version of the full piece of his most famous work, the 9th in D Minor. I slipped my headphones on, settled in with a design task I had to spend a good hour and a half on, and let it start washing over me.
September 24th, 2015
Well, last Wednesday I went around to a mate’s place, and Murray, Alex and his two boys Toby and James (8 & 11 years old) helped me play test my Tabletop RPG system, which I am tentatively calling “Box ‘n Dice”. Because at around 10 pages of rules, that is the whole of it. And you play it with the standard set of RPG Polyhedrals, so there’s that too.
The game went really well. I decided to go for a straight out Fantasy Standard setting (basically, low magic D&D), with the regular six Attributes: STR, DEX, CON, INT, WIS, CHA. I nabbed a map and room key from Dyson’s Dodecahedron (AWESOME bloke, and that’s a great resource), and ran the four of them through it.
It really helped, and I’ve identified a key missing piece of the system. I’ve already added it in – a base set of Defensive stats for each character. It will streamline things in combat, and give the game just a little level of sophistication without complicating it.
Alex emailed me afterward:
“I should add that I think you have two converts (no dates for you!). They have been talking about their characters and doing some more table-top RPGs all afternoon.”
September 11th, 2015
Of course, to some extent it always has been. Lachlan Murdoch is only 5′ 11″ – fully two and a half inches shorter than I am – but for some unknown reason he is Executive Chairman of NewsCorp and Twentieth Century Fox, while I am neither executed nor chairful at all. We’re both white, male, Australian, with good educations and a Bachelor degree apiece.
We both also have young kids. My daughter started kindergarten this year, at the same time as his little girl, although at vastly different schools. And while my child is bright, pretty and engaging, it’s a simple fact that his daughter will have a lower student to teacher ratio, more iPads in the classroom, and vastly superior quality of glitter and plastic scissors than my child will in her brown-brick public school across the road from our house.
But there’s another difference between our daughters. When they grow up, and have little bundles of joy of their own, Lachlan’s grandkids will be some of the genetically rich. My grandchildren? Maybe not.
September 2nd, 2015
But I think I might get back to putting some content up here.
Major updates from the three years that I have been silent:
- I now work as a UX Consultant
- I have started a Youtube channel with my wife: Kitty Hollywood. LOTS of content up there.
- I have written a novel. No seriously. It’s 120,000 words long. It’s a Solarpunk novel!
- I have re-visited my Simple Steampunk RPG concept, and decided to turn it into a Universal, or Omnivariant system.
That last one is probably the easiest to blog about, so I’ll focus on it for a while, I think.
August 22nd, 2012
Alright, so this is 5 weeks or so later, rather than every week, but I’ve been busy, alright?
Anyway, if I updated this blog too often, it would become an onerous read. And you don’t all want that, now do you?
Right, progress below:
So, Hopefully you can see some advancement there from the state of play last time.
Basically, Character Generation is done, and I have moved on to Conflict Resolution, or the Mechanics part of things.
That part is pretty simple (the whole thing meaning to be a very simple system) and I am actually finding it quit easy to write.
At the moment it seems to be about 9,000 words long. I’m aiming at about 15,000 for High-T con, and the end result will be possibly as many as 19-20,000.
July 13th, 2012
Also, (in preparation for this week’s required update of work done on my game pamphlet) I have developed this nifty little visual aid for myself.
I do this kind of thing in documents at work, and while Google docs isn’t letting me update my Table of Contents with the background colours I put on my headings, I still think it is worth doing, so I can see the scope of the work ahead of me.
And as this series of posts are to allow myself and others to follow my progress, then I reckon I should post it here each week, along with my update to Australian Game Designers.
The Yellow are sections that are still to be written, and the Struck Through are sections that have been written. Pretty simple, Huh?
Also, if you look really closely, you will be able to ascertain and understand the structure of the document that I am putting together, and the topics I am covering.
July 10th, 2012
I have been doing some more work on games recently, and having enjoyed the writing process decided to head back to my roots in gaming as well.
I am re-purposing a lot of the work I did for GENIUS! the deck-building game, and writing up an old-school tabletop RPG system, in a Steampunk milieu. Now, I know there are a lot of people doing the same thing right now, and several very good offerings out there that are similar. You can delve into some truly innovative and individual worlds that people are taking a lot of time to craft. My issue with most of them is the sheer investment of time (let alone money) that people would have to make to get a gaming session up. I feel that really large and complicated worlds are kind of hard to buy into, unless they are based on some already existing, and for commercial reasons, quite popular setting: from a book or movie, say.
So what I am proposing to do is produce a short, concise set of rules, but with no real defined setting. It is to be short, flexible, and put an emphasis on fast-moving gameplay. The idea being that anyone could pick it up, breeze through it in an afternoon, and be ready to start writing up an adventure or play a module by the evening. That way people can take all their gorgeous setting work, or their favourite Steamy comic book, and have an RPG system that they can just plug it easily into.
One of the wags over at the Brass Goggles forum has suggested that I call it “STURPS”, which is cute, but my aim is not to be everything for every setting: just Steamy enough to let people tell Steampunk stories, and lean enough not to get in the way of their idea of what a Steampunk RPG should be. Thus, Simple Steampunk RPG System.
To that end, I am calling it an RPG “Pamphlet”, like Sherlock Holmes’ essays on blood stains. A neat little thing, that will only be of interest to a narrow group of people, but who should find it quite illuminating.