Projects update 2017-03-15

I've been making a lot of progress on Ravelling Wrath. The second chapter is now about 4500 words long. That's already 600 longer than the first chapter, and I'm not nearly done with it yet! I might even end up splitting it into two chapters. We'll see.

I haven't made progress on any other projects this week. My hands still aren't doing great. It's also been very dry, which makes my throat less comfortable, so I can't always dictate a lot. I've had a few ideas for blog posts, but I'm saving most of my throat usage for the story.

– Eli

Projects update 2017-03-01

I'm almost finished writing the first chapter of Ravelling Wrath, and I've written part of the second chapter as well. With any luck, I'll be able to post Chapter 1 next week.

The illustrations are a bit of a problem. My hands aren't up to doing that much drawing yet. But since I don't know when they'll be ready, I don't want to stall posting the written part. I think I might post it with just sketches instead of the finished drawings. I can come back and replace them with the finished versions later, and in the meantime, it'll be better than nothing.

Also! My sibling and I have been making a silly game called Portaltron. It's like the classic arcade game Tron, but the paths you leave behind are rows of the portals from Portal. I don't have a good guess about if/when we'll finish it, though.

– Eli

A slight change to my blog schedule, and an update on my projects

My “post something every Wednesday” schedule hasn't been working very well for me lately. I keep putting off writing a blog post into Wednesday, then feeling lethargic on Wednesday and not wanting to write one. Now, this isn't entirely a problem – after all, it's gotten me to write some good posts, even if I didn't 100% enjoy the process. However, there's an extra issue:

A lot of the time, I've been working on some other project that I'll post here eventually, but it isn't ready to post by Wednesday. So when Wednesday rolls around, I interrupt myself from that project in order to write a blog post. My blog posts are Serious Business and take a lot of mental energy, so writing one really disrupts my flow on the other project.

So I feel like I need to change my schedule. The problem is, if I just skip Wednesdays when I need to, I'm worried that I'll [...]

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When is it justified to ask whether violence is justified?

I was thinking of writing a post called “When is violence justified?”, but then I decided to write this post instead.

Here's the ideal case: Joan is thinking of doing something violent. However, that violence is bad. You ask whether it's justified, and Joan realizes it's bad and decides not to do it.

But that's not the only thing that happens when you ask the question.

  • If you ask in public, other people make their own decisions about whether Joan's violence is justified. This can be good, if they are well-informed and make the right decision. But it can also be bad. A lot of people will jump from “Joan made a bad choice” to “Joan is a bad person who deserves less help”. They might even want to punish Joan, even though punishment is also violence and might also be unjustified.

    This is less of a worry if you ask Joan privately, rather than in public. But it's not totally gone, either. If Joan decides that the violence was unjustified, ze might mistreat other people who do similar violence in the future.
  • A lot of people have unhealthy moral beliefs about their own actions, too. Joan might feel excessively bad, or even punish zemself, if ze thinks ze's done something bad. This can be especially harmful if Joan decides the violence is bad but then does it anyway (which can happen for a lot of different reasons).
  • Maybe Joan makes the wrong decision. Maybe the violence was necessary to prevent a greater evil, but you talked zem out of it. Or maybe it was a bad idea, but talking about it made zem get attached to the idea of doing it. I'm not too worried about these cases, because it's generally easier to make the right decision if you talk about it than if you don't. But if neither of you has all the facts, it's not so good. If you ask for a justification too early, Joan will come up with one based on zir current knowledge. Then ze might think ze's found the right answer, and be less receptive to learning new facts that might change the answer.
  • By asking the question, you imply that Joan's violence is an important thing to worry about. Like any other statement, this implied one – “Joan's violence is an important concern” – can be correct, incorrect, or misleading.

Let me elaborate on that last one. If you talk about [...]

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Let my writing shake the world.

(Content warning: physical violence used as a metaphor.)

I don't want my writing to be memorable like a beautiful sunset. I want it to be memorable like being stabbed in the face.

I want not pleasure, but awe. Not the beautiful, but the sublime. Not “that was cool”, but “holy shit!” I want my work to change you. I want to show you something you've never seen before. Something that shakes the foundations of your beliefs. I want to take what you thought was simple, and make it seem bizarre. I want to take what you thought was bizarre, and make it seem simple. I want to show you the truth hidden in plain sight.

If someone says to me, “I liked your story”, that's nice, but it's not what I'm after. I want to hear “I never saw things that way before”. Or “That was fascinating”. Or “I'm still processing it”. Or “I didn't think that was possible”. Or “I can't believe I didn't realize that before”. Or “I'm going to remember that next time I...” Or even “What the fuck did I just read?”

When you tell your friends about it, I don't want to make you say “You should read Eli's book. It's a high-quality piece of literature.” I want to make you trip over yourself trying to retell the whole story, because you have no other words to express what you've just experienced. I don't want to be like some other famous story. I want to become a point of reference that you use to explain the rest of your world.

Only after I have changed human nature – that is when I will have mastered my craft of writing.

– Eli

Bad actions and punishment

“If you do something bad, you should be punished.” That's something a lot of people believe. But it's much more complicated than that. In this post, I'm going to explore the morality of punishment.

Since I'm going to be talking about morals, let me be precise about my terms. If I say an action is good, I mean it ultimately causes more good than harm. Bad means it ultimately causes more harm than good.1 For clarity, I'll try to avoid using other meanings of those words. Also, punishment can include any action intended to punish. Prison, social censure, physical violence, “time-outs” – anything. Each have their own issues, but some things are common to all of them.

Costs and benefits of punishment

Punishment is inherently a form of harm, so it's always bad unless it also causes more good. I think of this as a moral cost. You don't want to pay the moral cost unless you get a big enough moral benefit. So what are [...]

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How will creative workers be paid?

Suppose you work all day building tables, and you want to get paid for your work. You can have a pretty straightforward business model. You can show people your tables, and say, “Give me X dollars, and I will give you one table.” People need tables, and they can't pull free tables out of thin air, so you'll probably be able to find people to buy them.

If your work is ideas, things are different. A good idea can be shared with everyone for free. Indeed, that's what should happen, to make the world better for everyone. But how will the worker get paid? Even if you tried to hoard your ideas and sell them, you wouldn't be able to show them to potential buyers without giving them away.

When I talk about “creative workers”, you might think of artists, writers, and musicians. But I also mean any [...]

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Does the law control personal relationships?

Laws often try to regulate personal things. The law has its own opinions about what your name is, who your family is, where you live, and so on. But these don't always match reality. You might go by a different name. You might live with a different family. You might spend most of your time in a different place.

When the law is wrong about your life, that can cause problems. Some are minor inconveniences, but others are much worse. I've heard of laws giving “family members” the right to make decisions for someone, even after the person severed all ties with them for being abusive. And of course, the law can endanger trans people by outing them by using an incorrect gender marker.

For this post, I'm going to use the example of gay marriage. I'm not a huge fan of marriage, but I think it makes a good example here. In many countries, there are laws that give certain privileges to straight couples, but don't give those privileges to gay couples. This is absolutely unfair. But I'm going to look at a much subtler question: do these laws prevent gay people from getting married?

The argument for “no”

When people say “marriage”, they're usually talking about a [...]

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Positive and negative characterization

If you're acting on stage, and don't have real furniture, you can use pretend furniture instead. You can put things on an imaginary table. You can eat breakfast at the imaginary table. You can chop vegetables on the imaginary table.

But to make it feel real, you also have to walk around the table whenever you want to get somewhere. The moment you walk through the table, the illusion is broken. Now, the audience may not be paying attention to the table, so they won't consciously realize what happened. But as soon as someone walks through the table, the audience will automatically stop believing in it. They just won't know why.

Chopping vegetables on the table is positive characterization. Never walking through the table is negative characterization. In general, positive characterization is when it's interesting that you did something, and negative characterization is when it's interesting that you never do something. (Or that you always do something, which is similar to never-not-doing the thing.)

I think about this a lot for characters in my stories. When I'm designing a character, I think: what are some interesting [...]

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What my internal language is made of

This post is part of a series about my internal language. It might help to read the first post first if you haven't.

What is my internal language made of? It's pretty hard to explain.

Normal English has a few words talking about what goes on inside the brain. Think. Feel. Visualize. Imagine. But those words aren't very specific. The brain actually has a lot of different subsystems, which all work in different ways. Scientific language gets into a bit more detail: We have visual processing, spatial processing, language processing, working memory, long-term memory, and a lot of other things. (We know that these are separate because you can damage specific parts of the brain and cause one of them to stop working, while the others work just the same as before!) But even the science is pretty imprecise about a lot of things. I'll have to make up some of my own terms.

All my thinking relies on my main network. Scientifically, I think I'm referring to my long-term implicit memories or maybe semantic memories. (I'm not sure there's actually a distinction between those two things, at least for me.) Most of these memories are about relations between words.

When I say “words”, I don't just mean English words. Everything that [...]

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