Build Not Upon…

Cloak of Shadow wrote a lovely fic here. It’s obviously the domain of a blog devoted to the power of communities.

There was once a woman who built her house upon the sand, acting against the wise counsel of her elders. The rains came down and the flood came up, and the house went tumbling down into the water with her within it, and she soon drowned.


There was once a woman who built her house upon the sand, acting against the wise counsel of her elders. And while she was away on a long trip, the rains came down and the flood came up, and she returned to find the house gone, and her fortune with it, and they say she never had another home of her own again.

The famous biblical parable is interpreted in terms of unorthodox social community. There are two Approved directions for community in modern America: throw everything in to your job, or throw everything into your heterosexual nuclear family with 2.3 kids. (A third path might be devotion to a larger extended family which either includes your nuclear unit or adopts you into theirs.)

We exist at a cultural moment where stepping outside these paths is not legally forbidden… but it is socially discouraged. It’s impolite to tell people not to pursue their chosen path, so this discouragement comes in the form of skepticism.  Particularly afterwards. If a heterodox relationship fails – be it queer, or a polycule, a bash full of platonic friends, or involving BDSM power dynamics, or one with a large age gap, a community based on an all consuming hobby – the failure will be blamed on the weirdness (ignoring how many normal social relations fall apart.) And in the rush to say “I told you so”, often sympathy will be lost along the way.

In these entry passages, the heroine was warned against taking up with a weird life path, she ignored them, and it ended badly. In the original scenario it destroyed her life along with it, and in the first subversion, she is too full of despair – or out of time or trust – to ever try bonding again.

There was once a woman who built a house upon the sand, acting against the wise counsel of her elders; and, being wealthy, she built it beautifully, beyond the dreams of architecture. And while she was away on a long trip, the rains came down and the flood came up, and she returned to find the house gone. But the better part of her fortune remained to her, and her friends at once urged her to build a grander home upon the rock, and forget her youthful folly.

Our heroine retains her youthful beauty and can form a community again, and this time is urged to do so more in line with expectations. (Who knows if she does?)

Not to mention the class aspect. If young white people do weird things in their twentysomethings, no harm done, they can go have a normal stable life later.

There was once a woman who built her house upon the sand, for she had been raised inland, far from the sea, and her elders had not known to counsel her otherwise. And while she was away on a long trip, the rains came down and the flood came up, and she returned to find the house gone, and her fortune with it. So she returned to the houses of her elders, who dwelt inland, and they found a place for her in the home of her cousin, where she lived for the rest of her days.

Of course far from cosmopolitania people might not even be worldly enough to warn of weird relationship structures. And if she engages in one, and it goes badly, she might just return home and take up with the aforementioned extended family model.

There was once a woman who yearned to build her house upon the sand, but whose elders had counseled her against it. And so she went away and studied, and in time she returned and built a house on stilts upon the very edge of the beach, well-pillared against the storm. And she dwelt in that house for the rest of her days, and spent most of her time in maintaining it.

If she works hard enough, and plan for what might go wrong with thoughtful deliberation, she may even stably survive in her chosen social family. But striking out on your own like that often requires perpetual effort in a way that prepared paths do not.

There was once a woman who yearned to build her house upon the sand, but whose elders had counseled her against it. And so she went and she searched the shore until she found some place where the beach was sheltered and solid and rocky, and there she built a house beyond the dreams of architecture. And they say she was very happy there, although she had a great deal of difficulty getting her mail delivered.

… or it just may be difficult to interface with the normal world again.

There was once a woman who built her house upon the sand after much study, and did not complain that it required a great deal of maintenance. But it was built on stilts, and the day came when she could no longer climb the stairs to her front door, and had to move in with her daughter, who dwelt inland.

… or when she reaches old age, it may be that these new-fangled communities are not as useful anymore and have not been tested at all life stages. So then she might need to retreat once more to the traditional.

There was once a woman who built her house upon the rock, in accordance with the wise counsel that had been given her. And she dwelt there unremarkably for the rest of her days, and only occasionally complained that she had no view of the water.

Maybe she just gives up on her dreams, goes with the herd, and laments it occasionally.

There was once a woman who built her house upon the rock, in accordance with the wise counsel that had been given her. But desiring a view of the water, she uprooted certain of the trees that stood atop the cliff face that separated her from the ocean. And in time the cliff washed away under the rains and floods, and the house came tumbling down with her within it, and she soon drowned.

It’s also possible to wear a “beard” of nominally adopting the traditional lifestyle, but code-switch into your preferred relationships behind closed doors. And this too may carry danger (in fact, worse risk than most of the other solutions.)

There was once a woman who built her house upon the rock, in accordance with the wise counsel that had been given her. And she dwelt there happily and unremarkably for the rest of her days, until the plague rose in that country, and laid low all those souls within it.

Of course, following social norms is no protection against disaster, and we might all die due to Out of Context circumstances away. This is often considered an argument for living a life that might be brief as you enjoy it.

There was once a woman who built her house upon the sand, having been encouraged to do so since her earliest youth. And the rains never came, and no flood ever touched her beach, and she dwelt there all of her days. And everyone agreed that this was proof of her great skill and cleverness.

Our social norms are contingent and sometimes arbitrary. One can easily imagine them being the exact opposite, and being praised for your desired lifestyle, just as much as your chosen community dragging you down to doom.

(Consider the gifted person told to follow their dreams, gets a PhD in something non-STEM, and… you know the rest.)

There was once a woman who built her house upon the sand, having been encouraged to do so since her earliest youth. And while she was away on a long trip, the rains came down and the flood came up, and she returned to find the house gone, and her fortune with it. And everyone agreed that this was the fault of her unworthiness, and barred her from their doors.

… and one can imagine these different social norms still belong to a community that is cruel and judgmental, and when the vagaries of life do lead to ruin, still castigating her for her disfavor from above, even though there was little she could do.

There was once a woman who yearned to build her house upon the sand, where she might have a view of the water. But she went away and studied, and when she returned she instead built a house upon the rock, and to it she appended a tower that rose higher than the trees, from which she might observe the ocean unimpeded.

Perhaps she tries the same beard scenario, but with only a little bit of putting herself into her preferred lifestyle, taking more creativity and care in figuring out how.

There was once a woman who had a friend, with whom she loved to walk along the beach and watch the sunset. And where they lived is not important to this story or any other.

Friendship. Sometimes people are worth the risk.

Note that this is not the only axis to view the interpretation through. Any obsession that is unorthodox, or other cultures that value mainstream defaults. One could even critically analyze this entire thing in view of the financial crisis – lost houses, hoocoodanode, “if the world blows up, the world blows up.”


Having a Baby vs. Having a Cat: A Response to The Oatmeal


The Oatmeal, a popular webcomic, recently published Having a Baby vs. Having a Cat. This is my response:

Ironically, the main reason I don’t have a dog or cat is that I don’t like cleaning up poop.

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Otters vs Possums

Aella had an essay last year that I thought was a much less offensive version of the famous Geeks, Mops, and Sociopaths essay.

       Community forms based off of a common interest, personality, value set, etc. We’ll describe “people who strongly share the interest/personality/value” as Possums: people who like a specific culture. These people have nothing against anybody, they just only feel a strong sense of community from really particular sorts of people, and tend to actively seek out and form niche or cultivated communities. To them, “friendly and welcoming” community is insufficient to give them a sense of belonging, so they have to actively work to create it. Possums tend to (but not always) be the originators of communities.

This community becomes successful and fun

Community starts attracting Otters: People who like most cultures. They can find a way to get along with anybody, they don’t have specific standards, they are widely tolerant. They’re mostly ok with whatever sort of community comes their way, as long as it’s friendly and welcoming. These Otters see the Possum community and happily enter, delighted to find all these fine lovely folk and their interesting subculture.

(e.g., in a christian chatroom, otters would be atheists who want to discuss religion; in a rationality chatroom, it would be members who don’t practice rationality but like talking with rationalists)

Community grows to have more and more Otters, as they invite their friends. Communities tend to acquire Otters faster than Possums, because the selectivity of Possums means that only a few of them will gravitate towards the culture, while nearly any Otter will like it. Gradually the community grows diluted until some Otters start entering who don’t share the Possum goals even a little bit – or even start inviting Possum friends with rival goals. (e.g., members who actively dislike rationality practices in the rationality server).

Possums realize the community culture is not what it used to be and not what they wanted, so they try to moderate. The mods might just kick and ban those farthest from community culture, but more frequently they’ll try to dampen the blow and subsequent outrage by using a constitution, laws, and removal process, usually involving voting and way too much discussion.

The Otters like each other, and kicking an Otter makes all of the other Otters members really unhappy. There are long debates about whether or not what the Possum moderator did was the Right Thing and whether the laws or constitution are working correctly or whether they should split off and form their own chat room

The new chat room is formed, usually by Otters. Some of the members join both chats, but the majority are split, as the aforementioned debates generated a lot of hostility

Rinse and repeat—

One thing she misses is that the Otters DO have a belief system they will enforce, their own ideology as it were, and if they become too dominant they’ll kick people out too. Your weird little subculture will take up whatever the norms of the mainstream culture is, and prosecute based on that. The famous-but-somewhat-incorrect NRX quote is “Every organization that is not explicitly right-wing, becomes more left-wing over time.” So even if you’re, say, a super-tolerant universalist that wants no one to be kicked out ever, you have to struggle with the standards the Otters will eventually set up too.

Rod Dreher Comments Section

The unfortunately named Big Block of Cheese Day tumblr delves into conservative comments sections so we don’t have to.

I read Rod Dreher of The American Conservative because he‘s always bumping up against the negative consequences of movement and social conservatism, but is always pulled by his fanatical devotion to the church, with all the anti-porn, anti-trans and fetus-obsessed politics that come with it. He’s been vacillating like this for over a decade.

The comments section may be the most interest thing about his blog, since it’s not the usual cavalcade of name-calling you get in spaces where liberals and conservatives meet. They’re actually willing to call out their own side and have internal debates. It’s a window into a world you don’t see here. This is why I was so interested in the commentariat’s view of this article about women unsatisfied with unambitious and immature modern men.

It’s a concern shared by left and right for different reasons. The right is obsessed with family formation, birthrates and raising men who are successful enough to let (make?) women stay at home. The left is concerned that unsuccessful men are a burden and annoyance to women.

Dreher also gave readers a prompt:

I’m curious to hear from readers of all generations about their own experiences on this front, and their experiences with their adult children. What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self? What advice would you give to parents in the middle of raising kids, who want to raise them to be desire marriage and family?

Interesting responses after the jump:

Continue reading “Rod Dreher Comments Section”

Max Gladstone books

The Blue Lady’s little church—she still felt weird when she used that word—was growing now, on Kavekana. Street kids told Lady stories to other kids. They came to Izza sometimes, asking which story was right and which wrong, and she, scared by what saying “wrong” would make her, guided the stories that did not fit her goddess into ones that did. She made new rituals and upheld the old. Two years had passed since they last mourned a god. They rescued kids from Penitents. Someday it would end, of course, in fire, or a knife across her throat, or with Craftsmen’s demon chariots in the sky. She didn’t have any illusions about what the world did to people who tried what she was trying. But she might as well build with passion, and enjoy the building while it lasted. What other choice did she have? Shivering in some godsforsaken corner until the world tore itself to shreds anyway? Because doom came. It found you wherever you ran. She knew that as well as anyone.

“The Ruin of Angels”

Just a reminder to anyone who didn’t know, that the Craft series by Max Gladstone has a fantastic thematic focus on tribes vs legalistic society.  It is probably the most endorsed modern book series for this blog.

The Legion of Lonely Men

By Stephen Thomas at Longreads:

In its aftermath, an inquiry found, unsurprisingly, that the majority of those who died were poor, old, and lived alone. More surprising was the gender imbalance: significantly more men died than women. This was especially strange considering that in Chicago in July of 1995, there were more old women who lived alone than old men.

What made these men more vulnerable than the women? It wasn’t physical circumstances. Both groups lived mostly in “single room occupancy” buildings, or SROs—apartments of one room in what used to be called flophouses. It was social circumstances. The phrase “No known relatives” appears repeatedly in police reports of the dead men’s homes. Letters of regret were found on floors and in backs of drawers: “I would like to see you if that’s possible, when you come to the city”; “It seems to me that our family should have gotten along.” The single rooms of the deceased are described as “roach infested” and “a complete mess,” indicating few or no visitors. The women, according to Eric Klinenberg, who wrote a book on the heat wave, had people who checked up on them and so kept them alive; the men did not. “When you have time please come visit me soon at my place,” read another letter, unsent.

What conditions lead to this kind of isolation? Why men?

The IKEA Humans

Jacobite article by Samuel Biagetti

Still, there is a good chance that Jennifer and Jason actually like their IKEA dressers, and prefer them to the old oak chest that their grandparents tried to foist on them. Indeed, the extraordinary popularity of IKEA testifies not only to its convenience but to its ability to appeal to the middle-class self-image. Jennifer and Jason are drawn to IKEA because it reflects who they are: they too are modern, movable, and interchangeable, their wants satisfiable in any neighborhood with a food co-op and a coffee shop. More fundamentally, Jennifer and Jason are untraceable, a “composite material” made from numberless scraps and pieces. They have a long catalog of home towns, and their accents are NPR neutral. They can probably rattle off the various nationalities in their family trees — Dutch, Norwegian, Greek, and Jewish, maybe some Venezuelan or Honduran for a little color. From these backgrounds they retain no more than a humorous word or phrase, a recipe, or an Ellis Island anecdote, if that. They grew up amidst a scramble of white-collar professionals and went to college with a scramble of white-collar professionals’ kids. Their values are defined mainly by mass media, their tastes adorably quirky but never straying too far from their peers’, and like the IKEA furniture that they buy in boxes, they too cut themselves into manageable, packaged pieces and market themselves online. They are probably “spiritual but not religious.” They have no pattern or model of life that bears any relation to the past before the internet. For all intents and purposes, they sprang up de novo in the modern city. Whereas the Veneerings’ high fashion covered over an essential vulgarity, Jennifer’s and Jason’s urbane style masks a hollowness.

It may be tempting to call Jennifer and Jason, and the the group of people whom they represent, “cosmopolitans.” ( And indeed, IKEA, with its vaguely exotic Swedish names, provides a dash of cosmopolitanism on the cheap.)  However, Jennifer and Jason are something newer and more bizarre than cosmopolitans: as Ross Douthat aptly pointed out in the wake of the Trump election, the increasingly insulated college-educated classes of the coastal cities do not grapple with real, substantive differences in beliefs and values, associating instead with cliques of like-minded classmates. In addition, classic cosmopolitans seek out what is best in others’ traditions while showing a fierce pride in their own — a Jordanian extolling the majesty of Petra, a Mexican diplomat breaking into lines of Octavio Paz, etc. Westerners like Jennifer and Jason show no such pride or attachment, instead leaping at opportunities to mock the foibles of their native lands.