When Conservatives Accidentally Destroy Capitalism

I found a bit of a gem in the spam filter – a drive-by comment in which somebody really didn’t think through all the implications of what they were saying.

I’ve released the comment back into the wild here:https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2017/07/24/the-other-kind-of-alt-history/#comment-8754 It was in reply to my post about the politics of calling the invasion by Britain of Australia in the 18th century an “invasion”.

“Australia owes a debt to the people whose land was taken.”
Those people died a long time ago. Nobody stole from the ones alive today.
By the way, where are my reparations for the Highland Clearances? I’m sure somebody owes me a bundle, by your reckoning.

And wow – no sarcasm but those are nearly good points but which collectively stab right at the heart of modern capitalism.

I’ll nit pick first: “Nobody stole from the ones alive today.” I assume this is just ignorance on his part. Australia’s indigenous population was robbed in living (and deeply painful memory) of many of its children https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stolen_Generations I assume that wasn’t what he was thinking of – he meant land/territory and of course even that is debatable.

But let’s look at this point by point:

  • Those people died a long time ago. Let’s accept that for the moment. A long time ago, in this case, means the 18th century which is a long time ago but well within the time of Britain as a state, the institution of property rights, the rule of law, the establishment of core elements of modern capitalism (including share ownership, financial institutions etc).
  • Nobody stole from the ones alive today. Ignore for the moment any more recent theft and think about what this is saying – it requires that a theft from A is not a theft from the heirs of A.
  • where are my reparations for the Highland Clearances? This is another good example of an 18th-19th-century land grab. It is also intertwined with the losses suffered by indigenous people in Australia and elsewhere, as the clearances fueled emigration from Scotland to other lands – including Australia, New Zealand and North America.
  • I’m sure somebody owes me a bundle, by your reckoning. And the question might be asked – who is the somebody?

That last point is a way of sarcastically attacking the notion of restitution for historical theft by pointing to the impracticability of paying people back but again, I’ll park that issue to one side for a moment.

Instead, let’s flip this around. The Highland Clearances were a long time ago. The people who did the stealing are also long dead. So, nothing to see here move along? No. Scotland STILL to this day has some of the most inequitable land ownership in Western Europe.

Scotland-map-blue2

This image is from a Guardian article entitled (unsurprisingly) Scotland has the most inequitable land ownership in the west.  That inequity continues and causes real damage to people’s lives – and be warned the story and the quote below includes a case of suicide.

“Last October, on a farm near Edinburgh, the body of Andrew Riddell, a tenant farmer, was discovered. He and his family had worked on the farm for more than 100 years and then, one day, he was given notice to quit by his landlord, Alastair Salvesen, billionaire and Scotland’s third-richest man. The notice followed a year-long legal case which finally found in favour of Salvesen. The judge ruled that the protections Riddell thought he had in the tenancy arrangement were trumped by the landlord’s rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. He killed himself after collecting his final harvest.”

This inequity stems from land taken in the 17th century onwards. The land was taken and then the wealth passed down by inheritance. The original grab may have been theft (if not legally then morally and by modern standards) but then the people who gained by that wealth were sure to demand the protection of the laws of property right and inheritance AND STILL DO.

The idea that it was all so long ago only works as the basis for ignoring the issue when considering the theft. The benefit of the theft remains protected by inheritance. To say nothing was stolen from those alive today requires us to discount any wealth/land/territory they might have otherwise inherited. Perhaps we SHOULD discount that but then it would need to be discounted for all surely? Would the commenter argue for the abolition of inheriting property? Now there’s a radical notion. Need we go that far? After all, IF IT DOESN’T MATTER if the person is dead then taxation of inheritance is not only not theft by legal standards but presumably isn’t theft even by the standards of the conservative defenders of property rights.

The impact of the theft is still visible today, even in a modern developed nation such as Scotland. The original crime still has an impact, and we can see, by looking at Scotland and the Scottish people how this has played out over the centuries and how, despite otherwise very different situations regarding culture, freedom of movement, and political rights between the displaced land workers of 17th century Scotland and the Aboriginal peoples of Australia that there are outcomes in common:

  • The descendants of those who gained from the theft, on the whole, continue to gain from the theft.
  • The descendants of those who lost from the theft, on the whole, continued to suffer (to some degree) as a consequence.

That isn’t to say every possible individual must fall into one of two camps or that many descendants of the Scots who emigrated to the new world haven’t prospered. Economics isn’t a zero sum game and the historical theft of land is not the only thing in play. Where Australia’s indigenous peoples would not gain political rights until late in the twentieth century, emigrating Scots found new opportunities and new political rights in the new nations that grew around the colonisation by Europeans of Australasia and North America.

But, maybe it is the last point alluded too that matters. Maybe it is all just too hard to undo. You can’t fix history and you can’t possibly work out who owes who what?

Well let’s go back to the 18th century and ASK somebody.

 

440px-Thomas_Paine
Agrarian Justice Warrior

In 1795 Thomas Paine wrote a pamphlet called “Agrarian Justice“. It was written in response to what was then a major piece of privatisation – the sale by the crown of royal and common land. While that land had not been directly owned by ordinary people, it was land that they typically had use of. This shift of land from common use to private ownership had been occurring for centuries (Paine argues that has been occurring since the beginnings of agriculture) but it has also been creating poverty for some. In Paine’s time, that creation of poverty was painfully visible in Europe – causing a population shift from the countryside to the cities.

 

Paine’s pamphlet is far from perfect but it has some deep insights. Firstly he identified this loss of access to land as a cause of poverty. He also identified INHERITANCE as a force that then makes that split between poverty and wealth generational. Finally, his solution feels breathtakingly modern: tax inheritance and use the money to pay an old-age pension for everybody.

“In advocating the case of the persons thus dispossessed, it is a right, and not a charity, that I am pleading for. “

Paine is often portrayed as a proto-socialist but his arguments typically rest on principles that sit closer to modern libertarianism:

  • Private property is a good thing.
  • Capitalism (he doesn’t use the term) is a good thing.
  • Modernity (again not a term he uses) is a good thing.
  • Material/technological progress is a good thing.
  • Rule of law, good government is a good thing.
  • Individual rights are a good thing.

His thinking is still the thinking of somebody shaped by the 18th century and the Enlightenment (e.g. Rousseau-like notions of a kind of positive natural state for humanity). What makes him feel modern is his tendency to focus on practical social-policy solutions to problems of economic inequity i.e. he draws on ‘classic liberalism’ to reach conclusions that are currently seen as leftist.

Agrarian Justice essentially argued for a kind of Universal Basic Income funded by inheritance tax. The moral justification being one based on notions of property and justice.

Is this the best way to address the debts of the past? I don’t know but it certainly is a way. By providing for all it does not require to identify who lost what and when. By taking only from inheritance it addresses only that wealth that can be inherited. Everybody is paid and everybody can (in principle) pay. The inequities of old crimes are not resolved over night but the approach limits their effect on further generations. Nor does this approach prevent other more specific ways of compensating the heirs of those who were robbed of land, opportunities and rights.

Time for a different constitutional crisis

American readers appear to have been having an unwelcome level of excitement in their politics over the past 24+ hours. Trump attacking the rights of transgender people to serve in the military, a new Whitehouse director saying some very strange things, the Whitehouse chief of staff being sacked via Twitter and, of course, a nail biting vote on the repeal of Obamacare which failed due to sensible people standing firm, two Republicans using their common sense through a series of votes and finally John McCain doing whatever that thing is he does.

Frankly, that is way too much excitement for one day.

To ease you all down gently, here is a softer story of a constitutional crisis in Australia. Nobody gets hurt and nobody suddenly finds themselves stripped of health care or marginalised. Still weird though.

It all started on July 18, a senator (a member of Australia’s upper house of parliament) for the Green Party announced his resignation. Scott Ludlam had discovered that he had dual citizenship with New Zealand. He had been born in NZ, move to Australia when he was three and later naturalised as an Australia – at which point he had thought he had lost his NZ citizenship. As it happened, he hadn’t and as the Australian Constitution implicitly does not allow dual citizens to stand for election (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Section_44_of_the_Constitution_of_Australia#.28i.29_Allegiance_to_a_foreign_power ). Oh well, people thought, easy mistake to make and also it was a Green etc. The Green Party looked a little silly for not checking these things out and politics moved on…

…for a couple of days, when a second Green’s senator resigned. Larissa Waters had thought she’d better double check her citizenship status after Scott Ludlam had resigned. Waters was Australian by birth as both her parents were Australian but she had been born in Canada and moved back to Australia when she was a baby. Unfortunately for Waters due to a change in Canadian citizenship rules shortly before she was born, she was actually a Canadian citizen as well as an Australian one. Oops. Well, now the Green Party looked extra silly – they only had 7 senators and to lose two, in the same way, began to look like carelessness. The rival parties made much mockery of the poor Greens and then politics move on…

…for a couple of days, when A GOVERNMENT MINISTER stepped down. Matt Canavan hasn’t resigned from Parliament yet, but this member of the National Party (the lesser half of the right-wing coalition with the Liberal Party) had also discovered that he was a dual citizen. Of course, this time the story went up a notch. Canavan was apparently accidentally Italian. Canavan claims no direct ties to Italy and has never visited the country but his mother applied for Italian citizenship back when Canavan was 25. Canavan claims that when she did so, she also applied for citizenship for him as well but forgot to tell him. Consequently, although he had never asked for citizenship, he was in fact, an Italian citizen.

Well, as you can imagine, having suffered much mockery in the previous few days, the Green Party were somewhat miffed that Canavan had not resigned from Parliament. The Liberal and National Party had to switch arguments and claim that maybe this whole dual citizen thing was a misunderstanding of what the Constitution said and also Canavan was only accidentally Italian and really that could happen to anybody. Who hasn’t maybe tripped on a piece of loose carpet and suddenly found themselves becoming Italian. Of course all these middle-class politicians and their cosmopolitan ways and their dual citizenship, just the sort of thing to stir up Australia’s nativist, anti-immigrant right. Nothing says ‘far right’ in Australian Parliamentary Politics as much as Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party – what finer example could they have of how the traditional parties were literally unAustralian! Politics move on…

…for a couple of days, when Senator, climate-change denier, and all round wingnut Malcolm Roberts of the One Nation Party found himself busy trying to clarify to everybody whether he was or wasn’t a dual citizen. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/jul/27/one-nation-malcolm-roberts-choosing-to-believe-he-was-never-british

In Roberts’s case, the issue had been looked at before – Roberts’s father was Welsh and his mother was Australian and Roberts himself had been born in India. His story has changed over time and remains inconsistent but it does appear that while he might not be a dual citizen now, he may have still been one when he was nominated (and therefore not eligible).

And now, in retrospect, Scott Ludlam’s resignation is transformed from silly-Green-who-should-have-checked to canny-political-move-by-a-minor-party. In modern Australia, the rule against dual citizens serving in Parliament looks antiquated and silly. All the significant political parties (including some minor ones) has elected members with immigrant backgrounds. Two recent Prime Ministers (Julia Gillard and Tony Abbot) were not Australian born (both did renounce their British citizenship though). So, by getting ahead of the issue, the Greens have successfully pushed the other parties to look into the issue.

More importantly, the Greens also highlighted a kind of spectrum of honesty. The Green senators resigned of their own volition as soon as they identified the problem. The (moderate right) National Party MP, on the other hand, has only resigned his cabinet position and is offering a somewhat less plausible story. Meanwhile, the far-right senator is only discussing the issue because the press is looking into it and can’t keep his story straight.

And that is my story for the day.

Pod 2 of The Book Club Roundtable Discussion Club Non-Audio Podcast Club

podcast2
Today’s picture chosen by Timothy as it shows what’s important i.e. him. Ignore the two whiskers that are wandering off.

camavatar[Camestros] Welcome back, loyal viewers!

timavatar[Timothy] (listeners)

susanavatar[Susan] (readers)

camavatar[Camestros] This is the second episode of the Book Club Roundtable Review Club Non-Audio Podcast Club. I have to say people, lots of positivity about the last one. I think our innovative features were very welcome among the podcast community.

Continue reading “Pod 2 of The Book Club Roundtable Discussion Club Non-Audio Podcast Club”

Can Vox Day Read?

I haven’t looked at the blog us SF fans got in the adopt-a-far-right-troll-2015 raffle for awhile. I decided to check in just in case and found something a bit different. Vox is trying to explain what is wrong with modern literature. To this end he took a fragmentary paragraph from he 1985 National Book Award winner (you can look it up). He re-arranged some sentences and created three versions – one of which was the original – and challenged his readers to spot the correct one. The point of the exercise was to show that it didn’t matter how much he garbled them.

The thing is, it was obviously number 2 and even his comment section (not always the brightest of sparks) mainly get it right.

The actual text is a bit of direct speech from a character. I’m not saying it is great writing or that meaningful but it really isn’t that hard to spot the structure.

“Everything is concealed in symbolism, hidden by veils of mystery and layers of cultural material. But it is psychic data, absolutely. The large doors slide open, they close unbidden. Energy waves, incident radiation. All the letters and numbers are here, all the colors of the spectrum, all the voices and sounds, all the code words and ceremonial phrases. It is just a question of deciphering, rearranging, peeling off the layers of unspeakability. Not that we would want to, not that any useful purpose would be served. This is not Tibet. Even Tibet is not Tibet anymore”

It is easy to spot the randomised versions from the actual versions because the actual version is structured intelligibly. The person may be not saying anything very meaningful but they are doing so in a relatively natural way:

[Everything is concealed in symbolism]->[examples of different things (to demonstrate everything) being symbolic].  [How to respond to everything being symbolic]. [This not Tibet]<- [the start of the next idea which is then continued in the next bit of direct speech]

Now there is an absurdity to what is being said because while there is structure what follows each major idea is not well connected to it. So the orginal paragraph looks more meaningful than it actually is.

The randomised paragraphs don’t and hence look more obviously meaningless.

Here is some more obvious gibberish:

The gendlepucks of mishmosh tend to spinkle on a spockle: they spinkle here, they spinkle there. The sponkles are never found undecnkled. And woe betide anyone with a mishmosh at that time. Still most of gereretups cope with this well. Not that anyone should volunteer to do so. A mihyu may not be as bad but who wants the effort of bigulpoo the minglehop.

That paragraph is nonesense because many of the nouns and some verbs are just nonce words. Even so you can follow the paragraph. If I chopped into chunks and asked you to put it back together, you would get close to the original. Where to put the last sentence  might be tricky but otherwise you’d cope.

What is revealing is that VD thought his sentence re-arranging was a strong point when it isn’t. You can even regard the original passage as bad writing and still see that Vox doesn’t really understand how the writing functions – what is fits the higher level ‘grammar’ of speech and what doesn’t.

Time for those Dragon Projections!

I promised this awhile ago but I’ll explain it all again.

  1. These are most definitely NOT predictions. I have no idea what will be a Dragon Award finalist and there are way to many unknowns to make a decent guess. In particular as far as I can tell the rules (which have reappeared) allow the admins to do anything.
  2. The titles listed are based on what I have found trawling the web looking for people who were, to some degree or other, promoting works to be nominated for a Dragon Award. I found a lot but who knows what I missed. I did find some stuff on Facebook but it and other places are hard to search inside of. Also, maybe some authors are promoting the Dragons like crazy in forums I cna’t access or on their email lists. Who knows? So large pinches of salt please.
  3. There is though a ‘status’ column and that is even a greater testament to hubris in data collection. The higher the status the more wallop I think the promotion of the work had – either in multiple places or by venues with known impact (e.g. the Rabid slate). “Low” though also includes stuff whose promotional impact I don’t know. Some are authors I don’t know but who may have some legion of highly devoted followers ever ready to throw their bodies and email addresses at an awards website. It is NOT any kind of assessment of the quality or even the popularity of the work – so if you an author and you see ‘very low’ next to your book, don’t be disheartened.
  4. So it is all a bit pointless then? No, no. Basically the more stuff on the list that appears as Dragon Awards finalists, the more the finalists were determined by overt public campaigning on blogs – and predominately from the Rabid and Scrappy corners. The less stuff on the list making it as finalists, then the less impact that kind of campaigning had on the Dragon Awards.
  5. So it is like a measure gauge of a kind rather than a prediction or even a projection I guess.
  6. But if there is a really good match between the list and the finalists then yeah I totally predicted it and am the guru of everything and ignore everything I just said.

Continue reading “Time for those Dragon Projections!”

Three Stage Voting and the Hugos

The Back Story

(see also Nicholas Whyte’s post here http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/2855654.html )

The procedural response to the Rabid Puppy and Sad Puppy campaigns has consisted of use of existing rules and the proposal of new rules. I’ll pick on three to start with.

  • To vote you need to be a supporting member of Worldcon and to have paid the associated cost.
  • No Award – the existing procedure that allows voters to pick ‘none of the above’ from a set of finalists. This was used by voters to deliver a very forthright rejection of the slates in 2015.
  • 5-6 a rule change as a consequence of the Puppy campaigns – people nominate five works but six works become finalists. This change was voted on in 2015, ratified and came into force for 2017. It limits the impact of slate voting on the list of finalists. If it had been in place in 2015 and everything else had been the same, then in more categories there would have been at least one more non-slate finalists.

The first process limits the extent to which the Hugos are vulnerable to click-farms or other coordinated attacks by large numbers of spurious voters.

Together, those second two processes amount to damage control. No Award stops unpopular finalists winning by being the only option because of a slate. 5-6 makes it likely that there is at least one non-slate finalist that could win, instead of the whole category going to No Award. Neither, in themselves, would stop a repeat of the Sad Puppies 3 / Rabid Puppies 1 combo but they strongly disincentivise the use of slates as a way of trying to control the award.

The next two are more complex:

  • EPH – a voting system for the nominations that limits the impact that one disciplined minority can have on the nomination process. By ‘disciplined minority’ I mean a large group of voters who vote in a similar way. That could be people voting on a slate or it could just be an natural grouping of people with very similar tastes. It doesn’t stop a slate from getting works onto the ballot but it helps other works make it as well.
  • EPH+ – a tweeking of EPH to improve the extent to which slate voting has limited impact.

My feelings about EPH have been that it is a good thing in itself, regardless of the slates. More generally it further disincentivises slates. Its down sides include some mathematical complexity which leads to some lack of transparency with the counting process.

The question in 2016 was whether together these would be enough. With the Rabid Puppies still impacting the 2016 ballot and analysis suggesting EPH would not be completely sufficient to prevent impact from a well disciplined slate, there was concern that other measures were needed. More pressing was the tactical change from the Rabids – their nominees came in three kinds:

  • Hostages – plausible, popular works nominated to prevent a blanket ‘No Award’ vote against slates hard.
  • Promotional – Castalia House works nominated as a publicity stunt by the publisher and chief Rabid Puppy.
  • Trolling/griefing works – works intended to mock the Hugos or defame individuals or otherwise nominated in the hope of causing consternations.

Those three categories were overlapping.

The voters rose to the occasion again. The hostage plan didn’t work and at least one of the trolling attempts backfired when the inimitable Chuck Tingle was adopted as popular hero. However, despite the failure of Rabid Puppies 2 to make a lasting impact, it still suceeded in being a pain in the arse for everybody. In other words the griefing element of the campaign was a reward for the Rabids.

What to do? There was much discussion but a consensus arose around a proposal called Three Stage Voting or 3SV. In short, adding an additional round of voting after the initial nomination period. This round would allow votes to remove works not regarded by voters as legitimate possible finalists.

The Current State of Affairs

I believe it is fair to say that on the whole Sad Puppies were motivated by a genuine desire to gain some award recognition. Vox Day and the Rabids were more motivated by general mischief. However, both were motivated by the promotional/publicity-stunt elements of getting nominated for the Hugos.

Larry Correia’s capacity to motivate a significant number of fans to buy supporting memberships and nominate led to there being a significant Puppy voting block. Correia’s withdrawal from the Hugos has led to a decline in that block. More overtly Sad Puppies such as Sarah Hoyt have overtly stated that spending money on such memberships is a waste and essentially giving money to people the pups dislike.

In short, the immediate cause of the Puppy Kerfuffle has gone. The Sads have ceased to be a factor. However, that doesn’t mean others may not try similar antics in the future.

Of the rules above, I think the top two effectively stopped the Sad Pups – it’s just the effect was not immediate nor was it obvious to the organisers of Sad Puppies 1,2 & 3 what would occur. The effort of a slate, combined with membership costs, combined with the likelihood of a humiliating loss to No Award was enough to make the whole Sad Puppies campaign as a slate an unattractive option. 5-6 and EPH sealed the deal.

Longer term 5-6 and EPH(+) also mean that if another naive slate campaign arises from some other quarter, the damage done while that campaign follows the same cycle will be much less.

That’s all great as far as it goes. The 2017 finalists were rich and varied and good in all categories but…

The griefers are still there and their motives are not the same. The Rabid Puppies managed to get some griefing-style and promotional style nominees on the ballot. That impact was diluted by quality works but it was still present. The griefers don’t need to win to feel that their behaviour has been rewarded. Their goal is not a Hugo nomination but to create ill-will and to make people deal with their crap.

So 3SV is the Answer?

As things stand the only option on offer to deal with the griefing element is 3SV. There is no viable alternative that I’m aware of. A strong admin role during the nomination phase could theoretically remove griefing nominees but that idea is a non-starter: Worldcon/Hugo admins do not want that power and the consensus I’ve seen from Hugo voters is that such a proposal would never pass.

3SV is more acceptable because it passes that strong-admin style decision to the voters. In doing so, it potentially deals with other issues such as eligibility questions.

But, does it actually do the job?

It certainly would be another check against slate voting but I really think that is a solved problem. The issue is does it deal with griefing?

Nominally it does, in so far as it can prevent offensive works becoming finalists. However, does that solve the problem? Put another way which of these is the actual problem with the griefers:

  1. Works nominated by griefers becoming finalists?
  2. Hugo voters having to deal with works nominated by griefers?

3SV is a barrier to 1. but by its nature it makes 2. more feasible.

3SV will give voters an opportunity to reject specific works/nominees from the top 15. They won’t know how many nominations those nominees will have got or their ordering.

Now to get in top 15 for Best Novel in 2017 took about 200+ votes. A not insubstantial barrier but obviously significantly less than it takes to get an actual nomination. In less popular categories the number needed to get in the top 15 is substantially less – in many it is less than 100 and in some around 30 to 40.

So what, you might think, these nominees won’t be finalists and get no bragging rights or special status. I think that is missing the point. Works with abusive or insulting titles (for example) could be more easily gamed into the top 15 and by doing so griefers will get their psychological reward of Hugo voters acting to vote those works down. This may seem like an extraordinarily petty motive but the existing motives for the Rabid to spend more effort getting finalists on to the ballot are no less petty.

Appearing on the initial list will get more attention than appearing on the post-ceremony top 15 list. Although the two lists will contain the same works, the initial list is a list of potential winners in a way that the post-ceremony list isn’t. For the purpose of Castalia House’s publicity stunt motives, it may be more than sufficient to encourage nominations. For the same cost as getting one nominee as a finalist, the griefers can get multiple nominees on the initial list.

But ‘can’ is not the same as ‘will’ and its heart this is a psychological game rather than a procedural exercise. Are people like Vox Day or other people who might act in bad faith more motivated by the thought of gaining a single finalist and less motivated by a system that would deny them that? In which case 3SV could be a success. However, I think that they are primarily motivated by a desire to cause upset and dissension – in which case I fear that 3SV would simply a way of lowering the bar for their antics at precisely the time when they may have fewer resources to engage in them (where ‘resources’ are voting members of Worldcon).

Yet maybe that whole line of reasoning is a mistake. Acting in any diretion solely on the basis of the likes and dislikes and strange motivations of trollish-ideologues is, arguably, an error itself. A better approach is to place your own interests first and make those paramount. I think EPH is an example of that because I think it is a good thing in itself – yes, the Puppy antics gave the impetous to introduce it but it is defensible as a thing in its own right. For those who DON’T think EPH is defensible in its own right, the argument still holds – you’d be right to oppose it regardless of whether it was an effective vaccine against hydrophobia.

So is 3SV a good thing, in a circumstance in which there are no griefers? It does possibly pass questions of eligibility of borderline SFF works to the membership but, I’m not sure it will be an effective tool in that regard. Otherwise – does it do anything useful? I’m genuinely open to suggestions there – I’m not sure it does but that maybe just that I haven’t thought it through entirely.

The Other Kind of Alt-History

What do you call it when a military power, sends it’s navy and troops to somewhere else, lands there and claims the land as its own and under the direct control of that power?

You can call it lots of things but if you are in Australia just be really careful that you don’t call it an “invasion”. This is one of those issues where if you are outside of it the issue is simple and if you are inside it – well it is still simple but also a weird world of shibboleths.

Before I continue, I’d advise reading some of these links:

You’ll probably have noticed the strange topsy-turvy way in which people refering to an invasion as an “invasion” is denounced as “political correctness” by the people who typically denounce “political correctness” but usually reserve that term for when other people want to control language.

Why am I mentioning this now? Mainly because it ties in with the previous post about the US, the “South” and attempts to control history.

In the case of Australia there is a national myth – indeed more than just as a myth as it was enshrined as a principle “Terra Nullius” within Australian case law – that Australia was an empty place. Hence, according to that myth, it wasn’t anybody’s and hence when Britain claimed (and named) New South Wales it wasn’t an invasion per-se because the land was just sitting there. The myth is false, obviously, and eventually rejected by Australian courts in 1982 in the landmark Mabo case https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mabo_v_Queensland_(No_1)

Yet here we are and apparently rational people will vehemently tie themselves into rhetorical knots to claim that an invasion wasn’t an invasion. Even given the willingness of some on the right to boldly assert irrational claims, you’d think they would avoid such an obviously silly one. The most powerful navy in the world (at the time) plonks a full on colony of citizens half-way round the world, displacing the people living there and claiming the land as its own is somehow NOT an invasion is such a silly claim that you might assume no public figure would be willing to make it.

However, the absurdity almost makes the ‘controversy’ stronger. After all, if you can boldy talk nonesense and demand that people listen to you and more sensible people nod their heads and concede that your point should be given due consideration, well what better expression of power and privelege can there be? To quote the Simpson’s movie “Have you ever tried going mad without power? It’s boring nobody listens to you.”

So we have an issue that requires little more than a basic grasp of English and some fairly simple moral principles to settle:

  • The word “invasion” means something and it is a decent fit to what Britain did to Australia.
  • Stealing people’s stuff (including land) is wrong.

Really, unless your ideology is stealingpeoplesstuffiscoolism this should not be a moral conundrum.

So why the rightwing passion in the opposite direction (a passion that commits them to arguing that words don’t mean what they mean and stealling is OK sometimes)? Now part of it is a natural knee-jerk defence of one’s ancestors – except, in the case of Australia:

  • It was Britain that did the invading and Australia isn’t Britain.
  • Many of the first settlers were transported criminals – Australia was (at least partly & initially) settled by settlers their against their own will.

So whereas we might look at blowhards in other nations trying to edit their nations history into hagiographic sequence of events where the nation or its originators only ever did good things and the bad things they did were always justified and for the best etc etc, you’d think that the Australian version of such people would still be able to rationalise the original British invasion (sorry “settlement”) without having to rewrite the dictionary.

But they can’t and they won’t. Because it isn’t about the distant past but about the recent past. To accept that the events 1770 and 1788 amounted to an invasion would require them to accept that modern Australia owes a debt to the people whose land was taken.

It’s not a syllogism and “invasion” isn’t the premise, but the conclusion they are trying to avoid remains the same: Australia owes a debt to the people whose land was taken.

Altering History versus Mashing Up History

The announcement by HBO’s Game of Thrones showrunners that they were working on alt-history TV show called “Confederate” caused some obvious concerns. http://www.vulture.com/2017/07/hbo-confederate-producers-exclusive-interview.html

I’ve used the term “challenging” for a range of premises for stories (e.g. recently with discussing the notion of James Bond being played by a woman actor), by which I mean there are more ways for the story to go horribly wrong than normal. Yes, of course, there is some potential that with the right balance of script and actors and sensibilities that *somehow* this proposed show could finda narrow pathway between all the possible pit-falls and start a national conversation in the US about race, the legacy of slavery and unhealed national division that was the US Civil War. I say “some potential” but let’s face it that potential is close to zero. GoT showrunners, Benioff and Weiss, have avoid pitfall#1 of gazillion by bringing in two black writers Nichelle Tramble Spellman and Malcolm Spellman – a married couple with an excellent TV-writing background. Yet plenty of other horrible outcomes await. Ironically, the very idea of the show possibly not being f_king awful feels like an alt-history exercise in which we have to imagine all the branching paths (most which lead us to a what-were-they-thinking-when-they-greenlit-this-monstrosity) in which somehow the showrunners manage to make the right decision and avoid making a piece of inflamatory garbage.

But, you can see the temptation. There are more interesting historical what-ifs but popular culture keeps returning to one of them in particular:

  • What if the Nazis had won WW2? Of which the BBC has yet another contribution with a series based on Len Deighton’s SS-GB https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS-GB_(TV_series) while the US series The Man in the High Castle is still on-going.

I’d argue that this premise isn’t genuinely an alt-history theme – the question isn’t about how post-1945 history would have proceeded if Germany had won but rather what if people now had to secretly fight a Nazi government. It’s a lazy way of looking at living under fascism without looking at the mechanism of how countries become fascist.

It’s that laziness that pushes some alt-history into fantasy rather than SF, the difference being a desire to transplant one set of historical conditions onto modern times rather than the often supposed premise of alt-history: exploring how modern times would be different if a given event hadn’t happened.

For example. Imagine these two different stories:

  1. Queen Elizabeth I of England has a healthy child and grandchild and the throne of England stays Tudor after her death rather than passing to the Stuart line. The story is set in the British Isles in 2017 but in a very different world because of how history played out.
  2. Same premise as above but there as a rationalisation for a story set in 2017 but England is still like Tudor times but somehow modern as well (Wolf Hall but with mobile phones).

Actually I quite like the idea of story 2 but calling it “alt-history” is not doing any favours to the word “history”. Story 1 has the capacity to look at how events in the past shape our world (no English Civil War maybe? Scotland retain independence maybe?). Story 2 is just a genre mash-up – no offence intended towards genre mash-ups, just trying to be clear about the difference. I’m also not trying to police the term “alt-history” either. If it is easier to call both kinds of story alt-history then I’m OK with that but I do want to highlight the distinction.

Let’s call them Type 1 and Type 2. With What if the Nazis had won WW2 stories there is a lot of overlap because the events were relatively recent. With this proposed “Confederate” story where are the showrunners going to place the story between those two points? Type 2 plonks a 19th century Antebellum story in modern times. Type 1 looks at how the Civil War shaped modern America by removing its influence. I’m guessing they’ll end up with a Type 2 story but claim it is a Type 1 i.e. they’ll want the story elements borrowed from Civil War stories but claim a convuluted back story.

Either way, the capacity of a TV show to unpack and examine the issue of land, money, inherited wealth, race and the problems of agarain economies is close to zero. For example, the show isn’t going to be about how the Confederacy became a failed state in (say) 1890, collapsed, leading to a (northern) US take-over and resulting in a modern USA in which the legacy of slavery can still be seen in entrenched racism, police violence, an abusive prison system, economic inequality and aggresive white nationalism.