a taxonomy of ideologies

One for the philosophers, maybe.

An online community in which I participate is currently engaged in a pseudo-periodic paroxysm over feminism as it relates to changing one’s name at marriage or vice versa. I’m generally in favor of feminism and have a vague sense that the idea of “choice feminism” is vacuous inasmuch as it amounts to sanctifying acts based on the genitals of the actor—but there’s much I don’t know about the history of feminism, to say nothing of the history of marriage, changing one’s name thereat, naming in general, and all sorts of things that seem keenly relevant to the astonishing variety in the ways that contemporary (liberal, overeducated) Americans choose to name themselves and their offspring throughout their lives. So I don’t especially want to engage.

In thinking about whether or not to engage, though, I arrived at a way to classify ideologies that may or may not be interesting. The question that arose in my mind was, “Is it feminist to insist that others be feminist?” Internet caricatures of feminational socialism notwithstanding, I think the answer is at least plausibly “no.” It depends on which others, of course, but part of the very impetus for feminism is the fact that lots of women are very badly oppressed and suffer sanctions when they stand up for themselves. Insisting that women court death or maiming in exchange for a negligible effect on such a culture doesn’t seem like a pro-woman thing to do. (The same might apply to men in such cultures as well, but doing something disadvantageous to men is less obviously non-feminist.)

Anyway, it seems strange for an ideology to have such a property, and you could try to view it as a defect. But I’m not sure it is—or if it is, I think it’s widespread. Generalize the question to “Is it X to insist that others be X?” If X is “Christian,” I probably know more Christians who would answer “no” than “yes” (obviously some would answer “yes”). If X is “left-wing” as Americans understand it, I think the answer is almost certainly no—or, at least, the American left tries to make a good show of tolerating some cultures with values that don’t sit well with their (our?) own. Presumably the answer is “no” for any non-evangelical religion; it’s interesting to wonder whether it’s true for “tolerant” or “open-minded.” As for “agnostic,” well, hard to know.

On the flip side, there are ideologies for which this is straightforwardly true. “Fascist” would be the most obvious one, and you could spend a while playing a left/right split here, but I think it’s not quite so clear. “Environmentalist” seems to be a big yes, for example; likewise “vegetarian” and “vegan,” although those bump a bit because they read more as practices than ideologies. “Libertarian” is a minor minefield—it seems like the answer ought to be “no,” but libertarians do in fact proudly insist on less government for everybody, which, when you phrase it that way, magically transmutes it from individualism to paternalism (“If you just *understood* how much better off you’d be with less government, you’d vote for me”).

There’s obviously a bit of wiggle room here. A lot turns on the word “insist” and the unquantified word “others”; changing those would change a lot of answers. But I don’t think I’ve construed them in ridiculous ways above.

In any case, once you’ve got such a classification system, the question is what it’s good for. I suppose the obvious prediction it makes is about memetics: “no” ideologies should be at an evolutionary disadvantage relative to “yes” ideologies, because “yes” ideologies carry a stronger urge to self-replicate. But is this really true? It’s hard to tell in part because it’s hard to make a minimal contrast between “yes” and “no” ideologies; going back to the ur-example, you can perhaps imagine feminisms with different answers, but they’d be different in ways other than the answers, perhaps most notably in that they appeal differently to the self-interest of different groups of women. Putting that aside, though, it doesn’t seem clear that “no” ideologies are all that unsuccessful. Buddhism seems like the paradigm “no” ideology, and it is huge and ancient (acknowledged: there are many Buddhisms, perhaps some are evangelical, I’m not an expert). Fascism is, as I half-joked above, the paradigm “yes” ideology, and it has enjoyed terrifying epochs of dominance—but has it ever been as popular as Buddhism?

I don’t have a great coda here, except maybe this: The urge to self-replicate might not always be the dominant consideration in the success of *any* kind of replicator, memetic or otherwise. This seems like a proof of concept, at least, that there can be other ways to take a firm grip within a population characterized by ceaseless and ruthless competition.

the department of crimes against scum

I’ve been playing around with a concept. Imagine a near-future police procedural whose animating conceit is “The Department of Crimes against Scum,” an informal division of the police force that puts subcompetent detectives on crimes that no one really wants solved. The reason to make it near-future is to heighten the contrast with the sci-fi technosupercops who get the good crimes, and so I can fudge details about science and police procedure. “Of course I can get his location from his DNA—IT’S THE FUTURE.” Anyway, trying to worm my way into a short story here. First draft copy for sure, but maybe it has legs?

Penelope Jin ran her finger through a smear on a shard of plate glass fanging a shop window newly open to the bay breeze. “I have a suspect in custody,” she said to no one in particular, waggling the red-tipped finger around as though she was trying to figure out which way the wind was blowing.

“We know who did it,” said Peter Stone, looking over the scene: scorch marks, atomized gore, tooth and bone shards and bits of white cloth over a cordoned-off length of Third Street, just in front of the Bayview Opera House (which itself showed no scars). “We’re supposed to figure out whether he was acting alone.”

Jin contemplated her finger. “So you’re saying this could be two suspects.”

“Jesus, Jin, you know what I’m talking about,” he said. “Was he acting alone. As in, will this happen again?”

Jin sucked thoughtfully on the red finger; Stone turned away with a retching noise. “Hate crimes are usually associated with hate groups,” she mused. “But hate crimes against hate groups? Are there anti-hate-group groups? Is anyone missing from the local offices of the NAACP?”

“It’s not a hate crime if it’s against a hate group,” said Stone.

“Now you’re thinking like them,” Jin said darkly.

“Like who? The NAACP?”

“No,” said Jin. “You didn’t answer my question.”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“You didn’t answer my question first.”

“They’re not going to tell us,” Stone said, as though reminding a child which shoe goes on which foot.

“The NAACP? Please, give me a pliers and five minutes with an intern and I’ll get the social security numbers of those people’s super PAC donors, hippies have no spine whatsoever in the clutch—”

“Not the NAACP, the department.”

“There’s your answer.”


“Shut up, rookie. Call it in.”

“You’re the rookie!”

“Yes, that’s what they keep telling you, isn’t it?” Jin murmured. She pursed her lips and made an odd sucking noise with her closed mouth. “Ah, that’s what I wanted to hear.”


“They haven’t locked me out of all the databases yet,” she said, almost dreamily. “This is living, Stone. This is how real work gets done. No janky intranet, no keyboards dusted with Cheeto pollen and lacquered with donut cum, no eight-inch monitor inside a three-ton cubical box with pixels the size of cold sores. How is it you people don’t hang yourselves with your own viscera every Goddamn day?”

the wattpad experiment

A couple of weeks back, I wrote about Wattpad. Since then I’ve published the stories that Amazon still hasn’t price-matched, but I’ve been a little bit reluctant to post new work, or work that’s for sale elsewhere. But I’m now far enough along with a work in progress that I think it’s worth doing.

For those who care about the “business” angle, the work in progress is a novelette or novella (it’s not done, so I’m not sure) set in the world of THE DANDELION KNIGHT, titled “Dispatch from a Colored Room.” I don’t intend ever to sell it; its role is to be a free introduction to the series. The Wattpad version will be somewhat unpolished, but I will assuredly post it to my various ebook retailers and try to make it free as soon as it’s actually done. So those of you who don’t have Wattpad accounts can wait for that, although I wish you wouldn’t. To encourage you to follow along, here are the cover and an excerpt:


They do not teach you, in the offices of Dawnroad Bank, how much it strains your credibility with clients when you’re standing on their doorstep shivering hard enough that you’re actually a little out of breath from it. Dawnroad Bank does not often pay personal visits to clients in the boondocks of the sinistral sixth. But Dawnroad Bank never leaves money on the table.

Think about where that’s gotten them now, when the skies are split like the bellies of week-drowned rats and you can’t take a bite of bread without gritting your teeth on black bone-ash.

Some of you are going to want me to get to the point. You know that’s not how it works. Who’s here tonight? I see Aurea Laclois, the only woman in this room brave enough to admit she’s whored to live so she could walk this stage; I see Ambrose Chrysaor, who still can’t talk after a Champion nearly strangled him backstage for the crime of playing his part too well. Everyone here has suffered something like, and not for any “point,” because any geometer will tell you that a point is defined as nothing. A thousand points adds up to empty space. And you’re here, listening to me, because you know it.

the state of the art in anti-surveillance countermeasures

I am still trying to get my head around the implications that the British government’s equivalent of the NSA probably holds the world’s largest collection of pornographic videos, that the stash is probably contaminated with seriously illegal material, and their own personnel can in principle be charged and convicted of a strict liability offence if they try to do their job. It does, however, suggest to me that the savvy Al Qaida conspirators [yes, I know this is a contradiction in terms] of the next decade will hold their covert meetings in the nude, on Yahoo! video chat, while furiously masturbating.

— Charles Stross, “Rule 34, meet Kafka


field work

Yesterday I did a little bit of field work for THE EIGHTH KING at the Princeton University art museum, which has an amazing collection of (among other things) Chinese art:

The Princeton art museum.

At the Princeton art museum, w/colleague.

Chinese temple guardian

Chinese temple guardian.

Another temple guardian.

Another temple guardian.

Tomb figurines.

Tomb figurines.



Fantastical animals.

Fantastical animals.


I really enjoyed Joanna Penn’s recent interview with Ashleigh Gardner of WattPad–enough, actually, that I set up an account and started to check out the service. The tl;dr for people who don’t listen to Joanna’s podcast: WattPad is a social network set up around serializing fiction, which makes it a little like a mashup of Facebook and blogging. If Ashleigh is to be believed, it’s growing like kudzu and has a kind of shockingly favorable reader:writer ratio (about 9:1). You can’t charge anyone for the read, so you have to figure out how you’re going to convert readers to sales on your e-publishing platform(s) of choice, but the line from reading free fiction to buying fiction is a lot clearer than the line from, say, following someone on Twitter. That makes it a viable option for making a series starter permanently free, and so it all seems pretty interesting.

I’d say they do the core things right. The story interface on the mobile app is readable–if you don’t care about the social aspect of it, you can pretty much pretend you’re in your Kindle app. It’s not so great on the PC, which is just to say it’s cluttered in the way you’d expect from a social network. But who reads on their computer anyway? The problem with the mobile app is that some basic things are hard; e.g., there’s no way back to the home screen, so if you’ve just binge-searched a bunch of authors, you have to go back through them (or maybe quit the app?) if you want to do anything except search. I imagine these problems will get sanded down in time.

One thing that’s really surprised me: I’ve generally been underwhelmed by the quality of self-published fiction on the major e-publishing platforms. In my highly subjective judgment and not compendious experience, well-respected authors who are making a living at it seem to be hovering around the 50th percentile of quality relative to traditionally published work. (I haven’t read Joanna’s work. It’s also worth noting that I tend to start with the first book in a series, written almost by definition when the author is least experienced. So some of the people I sniff at might be quite skilled now.) Anyway, I’ve already found a couple of titles on WattPad whose prose really seems to be a cut above–and I’m not talking about Cory Doctorow or Margaret Atwood or people you’ve heard of (Brandon Sanderson is also on the site, offering WARBREAKER for free). I haven’t gotten deeply enough into either one to see if the stories work at higher levels, but solid writing at the sentence level is not something I’m used to in self-publishing, and I’m glad to find it so easily. And free!

So anyway. I’ll probably put something short up, just to see what happens. You know, in my copious free time.