Flash Fiction CH 5:

CH 1   CH 2   CH 3   CH 4

“NO!” I screamed from inside my hidey-hole, as I watched the team’s blue light encased in yellow strands, blocked out and erased. I started a mad dash out the cave toward the alien shape, to do what I had no idea.

“Commander, please stay sheltered. We are – negotiating.”

I stopped at the opening. The massive blob hovered a couple hundred meters above the ruins, its bulk blotting out the sky from my vantage. The yellow threadlike sensors dangled to the ground and swished about, as if distractedly sweeping the floor.  The main mass of the thing hung nearly motionless, the slightest twitches and changes in coloration passing quickly across its pale skin.

A long minute passed, and then another. The extraction team should arrive soon, and I might yet get out of here alive.

But I didn’t want to leave, not without the team. I’d been chosen to be teamed after Command had put me back together, after I had almost died getting Lt. Popec out when the Belemnoids had overrun us on Omicron Velorum. It was stupid, my heads up was telling me he was a goner, beyond any help I could offer, but I refused to believe it.

I fired everything I had, but they kept coming. I couldn’t leave Butch, unconscious and bleeding, just no way. So I threw myself at them, smashing them with one hand, grabbed Popec by the harness, fired off my subspace beacon and hoped and prayed Command would get us while there was still something to get.

They got through my suit. I don’t know if eating is the right image here, but they were tearing me apart. I thought I heard thrusters right before I passed out.

I spent a month getting put back together, the latest tech rebuilding bone, muscle – and mind. You don’t come through something like that completely sane. I accidentally became the best understood human physiology and psychology in the Union.

Popec didn’t make it. We got his body, most of it, anyway. Rare is the casualty of a space battle where there’s anything to bury.  His widow and sisters thanked me. I didn’t feel so good, let alone heroic.

After I healed up, I got a team. And, dammit, I was not going to leave them to some monster on some godforsaken moon.

I don’t know how long these ‘negotiations’ had gone on when I snapped out of it. There was no visible trace of the team, but the blob continued to hover and quiver, its hairlike sensors swirling across the ground. I  asked. “Well? How’s it coming?”

“Please move to the far right corner, Commander.”

I complied. “OK, but can you share what’s up?”

“Negotiations are difficult. The alien creatures are not well understood. But we sense a breakthrough.”

“OK, so what do you want me to do?” It crossed my mind that it had been quite a while since I, the Commander, had given any commands.

“Please crouch low and tight to the wall. We will need to build a blast barrier.”

“A what!?!” Then, again, the team took over my senses. I had a view of the creature from somewhere outside, a silhouette against a darkening sky.  For a moment, nothing changed, then, slowly, the blob began to list and rotate. Slowly, then faster, it tumbled from the sky.

I felt a rumble, a shock. The alien blob broke like a wave on a beach, spreading foamy fingers in every direction as the hill that was its body sank and spread across the ground.

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Key Psychological Study is a Fraud. Who’da Thunk It?

Confession time: This is a case, somewhat, of personal confirmation bias for me. I should have read this, when I came across it years ago, with a solid double dollop of skepticism. Instead, I was too willing to just swallow it as presented as a yet another sad example of fallen human nature. Cautionary tale, folks.

This one:

The Stanford prison experiment was an attempt to investigate the psychological effects of perceived power, focusing on the struggle between prisoners and prison officers. It was conducted at Stanford University between August 14–20, 1971, by a research group led by psychology professor Philip Zimbardo using college students. It was funded by the U.S. Office of Naval Research as an investigation into the causes of difficulties between guards and prisoners in the United States Navy and United States Marine Corps. The experiment is a topic covered in most introductory (social) psychology textbooks.

Guards and prisoners had been chosen randomly from the volunteering college students. Some participants developed their roles as the officers and enforced authoritarian measures and ultimately subjected some prisoners to psychological torture. Many of the prisoners passively accepted psychological abuse and, by the officers’ request, actively harassed other prisoners who tried to stop it. Zimbardo, in his role as the superintendent, allowed abuse to continue. Two of the prisoners left mid-experiment, and the whole exercise was abandoned after six days following the objections of graduate student Christina Maslach, whom Zimbardo was dating (and later married). Certain portions of the experiment were filmed, and excerpts of footage are publicly available.

The way it’s usually presented is this experiment revealed that apparently normal people (you know, white male college students. What could be more normal than that?) harbor wellsprings of sadism that only require an opportunity to reveal themselves. Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of (white college student) men? The Stanford Prison Experiment does! It is referenced in connection with the My Lai Massacre and the Armenian Genocide (no, really) to explain how American troops could shoot unarmed villagers and nice Turks could strip naked and crucify teenage girls.

More often these days, even the little bit of professional scientific restraint shown by psychologists is shed in favor of using this study as a stick to beat a particular drum. We’re supposed to believe that the Power Structure creates bad behavior. It’s Rousseau all over again, but now wearing the Sacred Lab Coat of Science! College students – gentle, loving college students who wouldn’t hurt a fly, no doubt –  would, in a state of nature (1) never dream of being sadistic, power-obsessed meanies, become sadistics, power-obsessed meanies once given POWER over other students.

It’s the power dynamic all the way down, man. Any time you see people acting sadistically, killing people, stuff like that, it’s really not their fault! Theories of sin or any other form of personal responsibility that place even part of the blame on the individual are WRONG. You want people to behave better, New Soviet Man style? Expecting them (me. us.) to behave isn’t going to get you anywhere. You need to destroy the Power Structure! This attitude, Marx’s simplification and streamlining of Hegel’s notion of the Spirit acting through History, effectively absolves individuals from all responsibility for Bad Stuff. If, as Hegel posits, the Spirit – God Himself! – is behind all this History, (frog) marching the World dialectically forward, then what difference does individual human actions – human will – make? The only virtue, such as it is, would be getting on the History train. You get run over otherwise. Marx’s trick is to remove the vaguely Judeo-Christian flavoured God of Hegel and just assigning agency to the not-at-all-a-God-History, who nonetheless is a jealous God one must not get on the wrong side of.

But I saw none of this clearly. Until now: 

It was late in the evening of August 16th, 1971, and twenty-two-year-old Douglas Korpi, a slim, short-statured Berkeley graduate with a mop of pale, shaggy hair, was locked in a dark closet in the basement of the Stanford psychology department, naked beneath a thin white smock bearing the number 8612, screaming his head off.

“I mean, Jesus Christ, I’m burning up inside!” he yelled, kicking furiously at the door. “Don’t you know? I want to get out! This is all f**ked up inside! I can’t stand another night! I just can’t take it anymore!”

It was a defining moment in what has become perhaps the best-known psychology study of all time….

Zimbardo, a young Stanford psychology professor, built a mock jail in the basement of Jordan Hall and stocked it with nine “prisoners,” and nine “guards,” all male, college-age respondents to a newspaper ad who were assigned their roles at random and paid a generous daily wage to participate. The senior prison “staff” consisted of Zimbardo himself and a handful of his students.

The study was supposed to last for two weeks, but after Zimbardo’s girlfriend stopped by six days in and witnessed the conditions in the “Stanford County Jail,” she convinced him to shut it down. Since then, the tale of guards run amok and terrified prisoners breaking down one by one has become world-famous, a cultural touchstone that’s been the subject of books, documentaries, and feature films — even an episode of Veronica Mars.

The SPE is often used to teach the lesson that our behavior is profoundly affected by the social roles and situations in which we find ourselves. But its deeper, more disturbing implication is that we all have a wellspring of potential sadism lurking within us, waiting to be tapped by circumstance. It has been invoked to explain the massacre at My Lai during the Vietnam War, the Armenian genocide, and the horrors of the Holocaust. And the ultimate symbol of the agony that man helplessly inflicts on his brother is Korpi’s famous breakdown, set off after only 36 hours by the cruelty of his peers.

There’s just one problem: Korpi’s breakdown was a sham.

“Anybody who is a clinician would know that I was faking,” he told me last summer, in the first extensive interview he has granted in years. “If you listen to the tape, it’s not subtle. I’m not that good at acting. I mean, I think I do a fairly good job, but I’m more hysterical than psychotic.”

Read the article.  What interest and saddens me is that the subjects of this fraud did not in fact out the dude and drag him into court for illegally imprisoning them. Why? Just a guess here: because they, too, had academic ambitions. Certainly Kopri did. Academics seem to have a certain immunity to having to behave like adults and accept consequences, because they can so easily destroy the careers of the little people under them.

So, has anybody tried to replicate this thing? Glad you asked:

According to Alex Haslam and Stephen Reicher, psychologists who co-directed an attempted replication of the Stanford prison experiment in Great Britain in 2001, a critical factor in making people commit atrocities is a leader assuring them that they are acting in the service of a higher moral cause with which they identify — for instance, scientific progress or prison reform. We have been taught that guards abused prisoners in the Stanford prison experiment because of the power of their roles, but Haslam and Reicher argue that their behavior arose instead from their identification with the experimenters, which Jaffe and Zimbardo encouraged at every turn. Eshelman, who described himself on an intake questionnaire as a “scientist at heart,” may have identified more powerfully than anyone, but Jaffe himself put it well in his self-evaluation: “I am startled by the ease with which I could turn off my sensitivity and concern for others for ‘a good cause.’”

Finally, here’s the real issue that comes up whenever the so-called Replication Crisis is brought up: careers get built on half-baked if not out and out dishonest ‘studies’ done to promote, in some order, a particular political agenda and the researcher’s career. Those screaming loudest about the evil, evil people trying and failing to replicate their studies are exactly those people who have ridden the fame of such flawed and dishonest studies to prominence and tenure.

Because that’s the way it works in the soft ‘sciences’.

The Stanford prison experiment established Zimbardo as perhaps the most prominent living American psychologist. He became the primary author of one of the field’s most popular and long-running textbooks, Psychology: Core Concepts, and the host of a 1990 PBS video series, Discovering Psychology, which gained wide usage in high school and college classes and is still screened today. Both featured the Stanford prison experiment.

  1. What is the natural environment for elite psychology students? Smoking dope on daddy’s yacht? That would indeed be pretty mellow. Meow.

Flash Fiction CH 4: Leave None Behind

CH 1   CH 2   CH 3

“You guys can just make a whole new batch, right? You do it all the time.”

“We welcome our new team members. They are not the same.”

We had scrambled up the scree and reached a level stretch of surface. I began to run. That blob/blimp thing was still nearby, almost overhead, and I had picked a route away from the direction it was moving. The team and I were in for a philosophical discussion, but not right this moment.

I checked the subspace comm for any word on our extraction. Nothing yet, but they’d probably wait to notify us once they were very near – why risk discovery? I kept running.

My team would generally ratchet down to a base number, around a million units, and basically vanish into the surface of my suit when not doing anything physical. That number provided enough collective brainpower, or whatever you call it, to do their base monitoring and intel work. When I looked down, I saw instead electric blue threads like a loose mesh covering my suit.

“30 degrees to your left, 217 meters is cover. Please make haste.” I felt a slight lightening of my body as I turned to run. The team was helping, millions of microscopic muscles pulling my legs and us toward whatever they’d spotted.

A tiny alarm sounded on the heads up. The display showed the blob-thing turning back towards us, trailing its sensor-threads like half an ugly head of yellow hair. I pushed even harder, winded though I was. The team seemed to grow. The blue mesh grew tighter as new threads were added. We began to move even faster.

Up against a jagged hillside I saw what looked to be the ruins of a hanger, huge open floor partially surrounded by 2 and a half walls. Twisted piles of material, similar in color and texture to the surface of the blob-thing but covered in yellow dust, were strewn about inside.

I could see a black hole at the base of the far wall. “You need to take shelter there,” the team instructed. “OK.” I sprinted. I noticed myself getting gradually heavier across the last 20 steps, until I dove headfirst into the hole and slid on the dusty floor about 5 meters to a stop. Heads up showed a chamber, maybe 4 by 4 by 12 meters, with another dark hole at the far end. My eyes adjusted in the semi darkness, and I could make out unaided the general outlines of the chamber.

I rose to my hands and knees, and took a quick, instinctual look at my suit.

The team was gone. No blue threads, no familiar voice in my head.

“Guys!” I stood and looked out through the circular hole back into the ruins. The team swarmed over the piles of material, and replicated and grew at a phenomenal rate. Soon, an electric blue mesh tower stood 20 meters high in the middle of the floor, streams of blue flowing to it from the rapidly-diminishing piles.

They next began disassembling the walls. The tower was 40 meters tall, and nearly half that wide. A warning sounder in the heads up. It was getting hot out there, all that transformation burned a lot of energy. I instinctively took a step back.

The alien blob reached the hanger. I’d seen images of thread leeches from ancient earth, how they could suddenly extend themselves from a blob into a thin thread to reach a passing victim. Suddenly, the team exploded upward and reached the belly of the beast. Heat distorted the thin atmosphere. Through the shimmering air, the team seemed to both penetrate and begin to enmesh the blob. A low roar I felt more than heard shook the ruins.

The alien sensor-tentacles shot forward with amazing speed, enveloping the team. Some seemed to melt on contact, but there always seemed to be more to take their places. The threads of blue were being covered and choked by threads of yellow.

“Team! What are you doing!” I shouted to no one from inside my helmet.

I guess not all the team had abandoned me, because I heard the answer clearly.

“We will leave none behind.”

Teacher’s Pets and Geniuses

Over on the esteemed William Briggs’ blog, a guest poster is discussing the glee with which certain people react to an analysis of Trump’s use of language based on the Flesch-Kincaid grade level scale and other similar tests. Seems our president speaks with a fourth grade level vocabulary, by far the lowest grade level of any president. This, of course, cannot mean he’s trying to reach as broad a population as possible – it can only mean he’s stupid. (1)

This brings to mind when I first heard of Obama and saw him speaking. The first thought I had: teacher’s pet. (2) As a kid from a blue collar family, in the first generation to go to college, I am perhaps better attuned than some to seeing that weird phenomenon most especially present in the children of academics: people whose identities are strongly tied to thinking they are smarter than the peons, and yet so insecure that any challenge is seen as a personal attack.

Such folks seem especially prone to becoming teacher’s pets: they don’t have non-academic achievements to be proud of, so they assign great importance to pleasing Teacher. Patted on the head, told how smart they are, admired and envied by their peers, they move through school and eventually life always looking for and leaning on that approval and self-image. They do great in highly-structured careers where there few if any objective measures of success: academics, educators, lawyers, judges, journalists. They are by nature courtesans: their success depends entirely on how well they can ingratiate themselves to Power, and thus their contempt for those who do not care to court power, and viciousness toward those who would undermine it.

Thus, perhaps the most dangerous divide in America is between those who take pride in their own objective achievements, and those for whom the only achievement that counts is how close to power you can get. I’d guess at most 10% of the population is courtesans – I don’t think a population could support more than that. The courtesan and the objectively productive people are mutually unintelligible: the courtesan simple does not believe that the objectively productive person wants to be left alone; the productive person can’t believe anyone could possibly count what amounts to professional ass-kissing as ‘achievement’ worthy of anything but contempt. Yet they both see the result or at least the threat: the Power comes from somewhere. Increase centralized power, and you improve opportunity for courtesans and decrease the world in which productive people can operate, and visa versa.

From the productive’s point of view, he is being dragged into a political fight he’d rather not be in and will abandon as soon as possible. He is Cincinnatus longing to get back to his plow. From the courtesan’s perspective, the political fight is all there is, he would cease to live if it ever stopped.

For a Marxist, everything is political. They are courtesans, ultimately, with the goal of becoming Tyrant. (see: Lenin, Vladimir; Stalin, Josef; and a host of others). This drive is clothed in the sheep’s clothing of Justice, Fairness, History, and other Orwellian euphemisms, but the drive is Power. The useful idiots and whoever loses out when power is gained might as well line up for their personal Night of the Long Knives: the winners cannot allow anyone they may not be able to control in any positions of power, especially if they have the skill set needed to run a successful revolution. (I try not to enjoy the image of all those Antifa soyboys facing blunt reality if they ‘win’, but it amuses me that they think they will have any power or even won’t be culled. Because, you know, they beat the snot out of unarmed people and newspaper vending boxes. I suppose they might make serviceable gulag guards, but – nah.)

The bad news: the fight isn’t going to go away. The insanity and derangement on the Left is understandable in this context: they didn’t just lose an election, their entire reality is under threat! An objectively productive person would shrug, as we all did when Obama won, and look for a chance to win the next election. The courtesan cannot endure any threat to the Power from which and towards which their lives flow. They will fight, and fight dirty and desperately and, even though grossly outnumbered, have shown that they can win. Our main hope is that more and more people are seeing the insanity, and will simply refuse to swallow the rhetoric of the power hungry.

Back to this whole intelligence thing. I have always been baffled by the ‘Obama is a genius’ claim. THAT’s a genius? People need to get out more, especially out of academia, if that’s the idea of genius they hold. I suspect rather that O is a particularly flattering mirror: I am like that man, I think and believe like him. His success is my success, the victory of his ideas validates everything I hold dear!

This whole professor to community organizer to adoption by the Chicago Outfit doesn’t really scream ‘achievement’ or even ‘intelligence’. The Chicago Outfit and the Democratic Party found a man they could use, and did so. The fact remains that the people who owed their jobs to Fred Roti, who owed his job to Bruno The Bomber Roti, chose Obama as their front man. He then brought that team to the White House. The main characteristic of any politician in that environment is that he can be controlled. Intelligence is probably a liability.

I think Obama is a bit over average intelligence. He speaks like someone who has a difficult time structuring even slightly complicated thoughts into words. In any event, you can bet we’d know all about it if he were a 4.0+ student with a 150 IQ, the tribal indicators of smarts in lieu of any actual achievement. But we don’t, which tells you what you want to know.

As I’ve said before, I neither like nor trust Trump. I like few and trust no politicians. I do admire his evident cunning, his shocking interest in keeping his promises and his charming ability to make his enemies heads explode. More often than not, his enemies are my enemies. That doesn’t make him my friend, however. As it stands, if the choice comes down to Trump or those who hate me and wish me dead, well, the choice is pretty clear.

Ultimately, who cares how smart our leaders are, above a certain minimal level? You want to be governed by Samwise Gamgee, not the smartest Hobbit in town, because he doesn’t think he’s got it all figured out and is way smarter than you. He knows he doesn’t know, and embraces his duty to do the right thing to the best of his ability. When you believe the little people need to be lead by the nose by the smart people, of course your head explodes when you lose, and of course you have to believe whoever you lost to is stupid – because ALL THE SMART PEOPLE agree with you. Or, if smart, EEEEEEVIL! Because there are simply no other options. This is called being open minded.

These are interesting times.

  1. I am reminded in this context of the gaming of the SAT tests once they added a writing section. The test-taking strategists quickly figured out you’d score better the more you wrote regardless of quality. Thus, the Flesch-Kincaid grade level scale and other such test reward verbose, 10-dollar-word laden gibberish and have no way of accounting for how rational or even clear you are.
  2. I eventually concluded that he was the ideal Fabian Trojan Horse. But I had no opinion on that at the time.

Flash Fiction CH 3: A Prison of Silk

CH 1

CH2

silk

Running didn’t seem like all that great an idea, given the 1.3 g surface gravity makes it feel you’ve gained a sudden 70 lbs. Leaping nimbly or even effectively over a rocky scree while carrying the extra weight of a tween isn’t nearly as easy as one might think. Oh, and then there’s the giant bulbous tentacled monstrosity hovering above us. That, too.

“Where?” I gasped out to the team, scanning fruitlessly for anything that looked like cover.

“Doesn’t matter. Buying time. Keep moving.” The unnatural calm in the team’s voice wasn’t helping me be calm, quite the contrary. I half ran, half scrambled. The team aided me in that ineffable way of theirs, but we were still in the shadow of the alien thing.

“Doesn’t matter!?!” For the last 6 months, the team and I were, well, a team. 24/7. I quickly learned to ignore their presence at what might have been awkward moments, just as they had programmed themselves to be discreet when appropriate. But as hard as we tried, they remained remarkably alien. Way smarter and faster than me – that’s the point, after all – with the ability to protect and heal my body, do recon while monitoring a million comm channels, assume any form as needed and, in a pinch, make a lethal weapon from, say, scraps of fabric, forest litter and a dead cat.

My team is very handy. Also more than a little crazy, at least as this meat human counts crazy.

I ran. The tentacles caught us. Strands as thin as silk brushed delicately against us – against my suit and the million or so members of the team riding it. Slowly, gently, I slowed until I couldn’t move. Unlike when the team takes over my body, I could and did struggle against the alien control. Little good it did me.

I sensed, or rather, the team let me know, that they were fighting mightily. Whatever tech the blob was using, my guys were doing everything they could to keep it off me. Gradually the view through my helmet vanished as layer upon layer of silken thread squeezed out the light. I barely kept at bay the thought that I’d have preferred ‘blasted to plasma’ over this…

Then I heard something I never expected. “Progress,” said the team. “Good chance,” they added. But what I heard was – emotion? Just the tiniest edge on that too smooth to be human voice?

They don’t want to die – I get it, prime design criteria – but what I was getting was that they didn’t want *me* to die, either. And not just because I’m their only ticket off this rock. We were in this foxhole together.

“OK, guys, tell me what to do!” Nothing. Seems the team was too deep in to waste even the tiny resources needed to answer me. Or they – we – had already lost.

Then, for the third time, my team let me in. My mind became a part of their ‘mind’ or whatever you want to call it. This time, however, I was seeing things on their scale: something like a tube with organic yet alien walls, housing a river of nanites flowing up and a river flowing down.

War, on a microscopic scale. My team appeared as electric blue, shaped like tiny buses, while the alien nanites were miniatures of the enormous blob that held us entrapped. When they engaged, a little blue bus ramming or being gathered in by a somewhat larger rainbow blob, they didn’t fall dead or explode or anything like that. Instead, they merged, with now electric blue, now the pale rainbow coloring the tiny blended machine-thing.

Once the color settled down, indicating victory for one side or the other, the resulting nanite went through a sort of cytokinesis, leaving two tiny machines to join in the battle.

Way more blue machines were turning rainbow than the other way around. Plus, while my team had more than a million ‘members’ and could ramp up to several million in a pinch, the aliens seem to have a hundred or a million for each one of ours. Vast numbers of Rainbow machines flowed down the river, submerging the blue. I began to despair.

Then a thought occurred or was given to me: this is all way to slow for reality. A second is an eternity for a nanite, in real time I couldn’t even follow the action I thought I was watching.

This was a replay.

I was back in my own head, and opened my eyes. Light peeked, then flooded, in through my visor as the enwrapping threads were withdrawn. I could see the sky! The vast bulk overhead was heading off – somewhere else! I fell to my knees on the rocks.

“Trojan horse,” the team reported. Another note had entered their voice, a different emotion. “We needed time to decode and create an interface. Thank you for running.”

“Um, sure, no problem.” Silence. “You guys OK? You sound, I don’t know, sad?”

“We lost so many.”

Flash Fiction CH 2: Moon Rock

(CH 1 here.)Image result for moon surface

“Do not move.”

No problem, as my limbs would not obey me. I wanted to interrogate my team, but my tongue would not obey either. So I tried to reach out with my mind.

In the tiniest of whispers, I heard the team announce “communication shutdown.”

OK, something’s up, and the team is on it. The faintest dopamine rush in my prefrontal cortex let me know I was right.

Then my brain shut down. It was not alone. My lungs and heart, and, as far as I could tell, the rest of me just – stopped. This wasn’t good.

Then my team let me in, as they had done back while I was freshly crushed pulp, back in the tunnel. I was a passive observer only. Somehow, through their ‘eyes,’ I saw.

First came the shadow. The harsh yellow sun was blotted out, and a darkness much deeper than back home settled across the pockmarked surface of this giant moon.

Then I could feel them. Threadlike sensors by the thousands dragged slowly across the ground. My awareness, which was the team’s awareness, made the gossamer touch feel like a thousand earthquakes. I knew, as the team knew, that the sensors were getting closer.

I looked up, whatever that means, or seemed to. Finally, I saw.

Size was hard to tell, for me, anyway. Having millions of mechanical sense impressions simplified and translated into something my meat brain could understand does tend to lose a little definition around the edges. I’ll have my team look into that, if we get out of here alive.

Huge. Unspeakably huge was what I was getting. Above us it hung, a multicolored blob, pale as the underbelly of a fish – I’d seen pictures – but pulsating with faint color. Shapeless, but somehow I – we – sensed enormous complexity and intelligence.

An intelligence that not long ago had deigned to reduce me to jelly.

My team was up to something. Maybe it was over my head , or maybe they thought it better to leave me in the dark. I’d have been holding my breath, if my lungs worked.

The next thing I saw through the team’s group mind was that there was no trace of us on the surface. They’d hidden my body, frozen it motionless, and shaped themselves into a perfect imitation of the blasted rock.

This isn’t going to work, I thought. The team seemed to agree.

The sensors finally dragged over us like a kiss. This is it. Reassembled from goo by my million member team only to get blasted by some alien blimp-creature. At least, I hoped that’s where this was going. Reduced to plasma is, unfortunately, not the worst outcome I can imagine.

Upon the first touch, my team did something I didn’t understand. I sensed a pulse of information, far more dense than I could ever grasp, fed to the tendrils resting gently upon us. Then I understood, at least a little: our disguise needed to be more than physical. The team was sending up a Potemkin village’s information, exactly what the sensors expected to find, not a nanite shell hiding a petrified human.

It almost worked. The enormous blob passed us by and continued to search the surface, until it was maybe 100 meters away. Then, slowly, it turned back.

Pain management is one of the best ancillary benefits of having a team. Some are always stationed in my brain (Do they take turns? Hell if I know.) and they will adjust receptors and short circuit pain when it does no good.

They didn’t do that this time. Guess they had a lot on their group mind.

I was jolted instantly into a fully awake, adrenaline soaked state. Primed for fight or flight. It hurt. It hurt bad.

“Run” the team commanded, in a remarkably calm voice. So I ran. I ran like hell.


TBC…..

Update:  Thanks to all my beta readers, life got super complicated right as I got your comments and suggestions, so I’ve barely glanced at them. I’ll do my best to get them read and get back to you all this week. Please don’t think I’m blowing you off, absolutely not the case. I’m very grateful.

 

 

 

Wednesday Update & r/K Strategy

Been a crazy busy/stressful last several days. Here’s where we stand:

A. Beta readers: Got feedback already from several of you – thanks! Just send the same story to a couple more people. Right now, I’ve got 6 beta readers! Wow! You guys are generous.

I want to give each of your comments proper consideration, which, given both time constraints and focus distracted by Real Life, I have yet to do. Thought a three-day weekend would give me an opportunity, but didn’t happen. Now looking at school camping trip this weekend (supposed to be 93F – oh, joy.) followed by the year end/graduation party next weekend, with Mrs Yardsale flying to SoCal to be with Elder Daughter for her graduation from an acting conservatory in L.A.. Meanwhile, 80 yr old mother in law lives with us, which is overall a beautiful thing for which I am grateful, but it does eat time and cramp any spontaneity. And all this is on top of Other Stuff that’s taking a toll on time, concentration, sleep – the usual.

Sooo – please be patient. I really do appreciate all your comments, and will make revisions as appropriate.

Rabbit
Don’t let those floppy ears and timid facade fool you. They all dream of being the Beast of Caerbannog

B. What’s up with this r/K theory of political alignment? Ran into it a few times over the last few months, even found a free book expounding it (by some anonymous author who says it’s his idea). Count me unimpressed.

Here’s how it goes:

In biology, r = rate of procreation; K = an environment’s carrying capacity for a particular creature. These variables became associated with two reproductive strategies, called r and K.

So: in an environment of relative abundance, an r strategy is proposed as best from a Darwinian/gene survival point of view: produce as many offspring as possible as fast as possible. Animals pursuing (in that weird sense in which animals are said to pursue gene-survival strategies ) an r-strategy exhibit 5 behaviors:

  1. Conflict avoidance. Avoid competing;
  2. Reproduce young and often;
  3. Breed indiscriminately – lots of mating with whoever is handy;
  4. Provide minimal or no care in raising the offspring;
  5. Show no group loyalty – no concern for other members of your tribe.

The r-strategy is said to occur in prey animals, where predation keeps their numbers down to a point where survival is never a question of competition for scarce resources. The population is always below the environment’s carrying capacity. The reasoning is thus: if there is plenty of food and water, don’t fight over it; if predators are likely to pick you off sooner rather than later, breed early and often; since survival is a numbers game, don’t waste time finding an optimal mate or raising your young; everybody gets eaten sooner or later, so no point worrying about who is getting eaten today.

The K-strategy is said to occur among predators, whose numbers tend to be constrained by the availability of prey. Thus, they live at or near the carrying capacity K of their environment. The optimal strategy is said to include:

  1. Competition is natural and unavoidable, so you’d better compete agressively;
  2. Only the most fit offspring survive, so delay and limit breeding to produce fewer but very fit offspring;
  3. Mates are chosen carefully and competed over, as the most fit mate produces the most fit offspring
  4. Large investment in raising the young, with both parents and the herd/pack taking care;
  5. Show loyalty and interest in the group you belong to, because that’s the group your mating prospects and survival depend upon.

You can see where this is going. Rabbits are the example typically given of an r-strategy species. It’s an appealing generalization – I recall seeing a video of a stoat hunting rabbits in a field full of rabbits. The stoat picked his target, and began to harass and exhaust it while the other rabbits continued to nibble away at the abundant grass. The stoat eventually killed it. (The stoat leapt on the rabbit’s back, bit through the rabbit’s spine at the neck, and then dragged the much larger prey away. Nasty little devils.)

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The other rabbits hardly looked up during the whole ordeal. Presumably, they went back to the warren and bred like, well, rabbits immediately after being sated with grass.

Wolves are given as the K-strategy poster-creatures. They compete with each other yet also hunt as a team, they spend comparatively large amounts of time and effort raising comparatively fewer young to be as fit as possible. Only mature, fit individuals get to breed. Wolves are loyal to their pack. They compete for the best mates.

Humans, it is proposed, are genetically disposed toward one or the other of these strategies, because our environments run to both extremes. When we’re settled and competing for resources with each other, K is successful and r would be out competed. But when we migrate to new places where there are no people, such as we hominids have done repeatedly for the last million years, then an r strategy wins. We’d just be wasting time with a K strategy, competing with each other when we could be out hunting the abundant game or gathering the abundant edibles – and breeding up a bunch of offspring.

Accordingly, r-strategy Americans end up Democrats or Socialists. while K-strategy Americans gravitate toward being Republicans or Libertarians.

There is more to read, which the author claims gives all the boring scientific evidence and reasoning for all this, but I think we’ve already arrived at a point where a boatload of prudent skepticism is called for. First off, like all sociobiological theories, there’s large dollop of Just So story here. The inquiring mind wants to know: how, exactly, would one even construct an experiment or field study to demonstrate any of this in the animal kingdom? Not saying it can’t be done, but it’s not obvious. How does one measure, for example, identify breeding preferences in wild populations, let alone group cohesion or how much a parent morns? While it’s easy to say an elephant mourns when its baby dies, and that a rat does not, how are we to measure this? How do we filter out the anthropomorphizing and confirmation biases?

Then, you’d need to replicate it across a bunch of species and environments to prove it out. Then you’d need the usual double-blind non-WEIRD study of people across a wide population – you know, like is almost never done – before applying any of this to human beings in general.

For starters. Then there’s the claim that there are genetic markers for behaviors as generally ill-defined as being liberal or conservative – or something, haven’t gotten to that part yet. I’m doubtful.

What I’m not doubtful of is the appeal of sociobiological explanations for complex human behavior. We’re into our second century of explaining what makes people tick based on some understanding of Darwin or other. Such explanations reveal much more about what the explainer is interested in than what’s going on in the world.

As a footnote, here’s my pet sociobiological theory: some people will only eat food with which they are familiar, others look forward to trying new dishes. (confession: heading off to a Peruvian restaurant tonight to celebrate our 31st anniversary. Why? Because I’ve never been to a Peruvian restaurant before. So you know where I fall.)

Here’s why, according to the theory which is mine: farms have been part of the environment of evolutionary adaptation for many thousands of years now. Settled people tend toward a set menu – what available on the farm and nearby. So natural selection has inclined them to be ‘eat what I know’ types. Meanwhile, other people migrate, such as across the Bering land bridge or on boats to Hawaii. They arrive at places full of edible stuff they’ve never seen before. For such people, the willingness to try new stuff is a must. Natural selection inclines them to go, say, to a Peruvian restaurant.

Of course, a spectrum of behaviors will exist here, as the fuddy-duddies and adventurous insist on marrying each other occasionally, mixing up all those genes. But the extremes prove the point.

Well? You convinced? How is this argument weak in a way other sociobiological arguments are not?