2014-08-24

Why we need a constitution

I have been watching the #yesbecause tag on twitter (and yeah, once I got started I had quite a few things to contribute myself).

But one thing that needed a bit more expansion is why we need a written constitution. It would be nice if the UK was offering one, but since they aren't, an independent Scotland is the only way to get one.

It seems a little dry and abstract, not something that you would be aware of every day, but to me it's really important.

Let's look at what government is for at all. Done well, a government is just a mechanism of coordination, so that the things for which there is a broad consensus can be organised by paid experts, and this can all be paid for by collecting taxes (again, at a level that the population consent to, overall).

Here's the thing: we know this can go wrong. There are several failure modes, and so many historical examples of it going wrong (or being constructed on entirely different principles such as absolute monarchy or single-party state that don't even value the consent of the population), that it's only right to ask how we can make this giant, complicated machine less dangerous.

Government of the people, by the people, for the people, right? Yes, but some of the people are dicks all of the time, and all of the people are dicks some of the time. The saving grace is that all of the people are not dicks all of the time.  Bad economic ideas, political dogmas, bogeyman scares, ranting demagogues and general self-interest-driven bullshit by corporate butt-lickers have temporary force: a time window during which they can do the most damage, after which they fall gradually to examination of the facts.

The role of the constitution is to preserve a few well-chosen limitations on government power while these childhood illnesses pass, after which hopefully at least one generation of the people get immune to them.

You wouldn't live in a house wired with no circuit breakers, next to a nuclear reactor without control rods, or take a cruise on a ship with no lifeboats. Why the fuck would you want to live in a country with no constitutional protection for free speech and due process?

In my opinion, those are the limitations that we most need to impose on our government. That they cannot silence dissent, or cover up wrongdoing. This is the internet age, in which the truth can chase a lie around the world, catch it, and give it a damn good kicking before breakfast.

The reason we need to make this a constitutional protection rather than a mere law, is that we need to make it take so long to remove the safety measures that people have plenty of time to catch the bastards at it and kick them out.

Looking at how quickly and eagerly the House of Commons passed the "emergency" DRIP bill (which they had had plenty of time to debate if they had wanted to) I saw two things:
  1. There is no effective opposition party at Westminster. The main opposition party, Labour, voted with the government. This is one basic failure mode of a democracy, where it effectively becomes a one-party state for issues touching on state power itself. Minority parties like the SNP, Plaid Cymru and Green stood against DRIP, along with a very few principled objectors from the other parties, but it wasn't enough.
  2. If it had required a supermajority of say 75% of MPs and one full term's notice for consultation to amend a constitutional prohibition on mass warrantless surveillance of the population, this would not have happened.
That was a bit longer than I could fit in a tweet, but as they say, I didn't have time to make it shorter.

2014-07-20

Taking Stock

I've taken a break from blogging for a while, writing other things (including the sequel to The Silk Mind). Also, there has been a certain amount of politics going on in Scotland, and it's very distracting. I will have more to say on that another time.

I have been trying to get better at writing fiction, and in doing so I have been listening to the Writing Excuses podcasts, and watching various writing-related videos on youtube.  I have come to a happy conclusion: I have been doing it all wrong.

This is great news: I have a hundred new things to try and to experiment with, new words for techniques and phenomena that were nameless and unfocused before. It's like I've been trying to hammer in these weird twisty nails for years with very mixed success, and someone just handed me a screwdriver.

2014-05-19

Book of Lenses for Books - #17

Continuing my series of posts where I try to apply the perspectives of the superb  The Art of Game Design: A book of lenses to the process of writing fiction. Part 1 is here.

Lens #17 - Pleasure
  • What pleasures does your game book give to players? Can these be improved?
  • What pleasures are missing from your experience? Why? Can they be added?
What are the pleasures of reading? Escapism, the tension and closure of storytelling, humour, insight, food for conversation with like-minded friends, the rhythm and flavour of words themselves.  There are probably twice as many I haven't thought of; reading is awesome.

And I know people can enjoy reading things that don't push all of those buttons, perhaps more than they enjoy works that try to. So when considering the second question, it's OK to identify pleasures that your story doesn't give, but which are not exactly missing. The perfect example (see previous post) being erotica wisely omitted from a book that is already barely managing humour, horror and rationality advocacy.

Some quotes from The Silk Mind, where I consciously tried to provide one of the above-named kinds of pleasure:
[...] such badger-surveying equipment as: oilskin-bound notebooks, a spring balance for weighing anything up to a medium sized badger in a sack, and dark pencils, and bandages for anyone stupid enough to try to put a medium sized badger in sack [...]
 * * *
"Demanding that something be done is how people who fear change open the door to it."
* * *
 “That is not the point. She has most likely not been slapped enough anyway, what with being a queen.”
“Let’s not get arrested just yet for treason or regislap or whatever."
I am officially declaring the existence of the word "regislap". I care little for how many people buy my book, as long as that word gets some lively use.

Next time, #18 - Flow.


Book of Lenses for Books - #16

Continuing my series of posts where I try to apply the perspectives of the really excellent The Art of Game Design: A book of lenses to the process of writing fiction. Part 1 is here.

I took a break from doing this series while I was frantically editing The Silk Mind for release.  Job done; by the time I get to lens #100 or whatever, I'll see whether I've sold any.

Lens #16 - The Reader
   Ask yourself these questions about the people who will play read your game book:
  • In general, what do they like?
  • What don’t they like? Why?
  • What do they expect to see in a game book?
  • If I were in their place, what would I want to see in a game book?
  • What would they like or dislike about my book game in particular?
It's well worth asking yourself these things, although if you are writing more because of a need to write than a need to be read, maybe some aren't applicable. Most of the answers will be "I don't know".

If I had to answer, I'd say people likely to read my book want some light entertainment, come from a slightly geeky background (e.g. liked AD&D or computer RPGs, don't like stories to insult their intelligence too much). They have read enough shit with orcs and dragons and spells and magic swords though.

In their place, I'd probably want to see more sex in the story, but that's tough, because there isn't any to speak of. I was taking enough chances trying to include a bit of humour and a bit of horror on my first attempt at a novel. Adding erotica to the mix would have been a disturbing and guaranteed fail. Also, people who know me are likely to be the main audience, and that feels awkward.

What will people like about the book? Many people will be glad I left out the erotica.

Next time, Lens #17 - Pleasure.

Seriously, no, not erotica.