Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Spoiler Alert

Seriously, people; there are a couple of major reveals in this bit. You really don't want to read it if you're averse to spoilers about Dumbspeech.

Really, you don't want to be here. This is for Colbert Platinum members only.

Fine, then.

You'll pick many a bean...

Good News for Modern Man:

Sometimes the voices argued amongst themselves, included him as an afterthought if at all. They told him he was becoming schizophrenic— that they were nothing but his own thoughts, drifting at loose ends through a mind that had lost its bearings. Jim Moore wouldn't shut up about coherent self-models and switches in the head. Brooks thought his friend may have been right, but he couldn't remember whether those switches had been installed by the Bicamerals, or the vampires, or something else entirely.

Sometimes the voices were almost fearful. They'd whisper about something skulking in the basement, something brought back from the sun that stomped on the floor and made things move upstairs. Sometimes, if Brooks kept very still, he could almost hear it snuffling beneath the floorboards. He could see the basement door bulge just a little, with the weight of something on the other side.

It had a name, although he couldn't remember how he'd learned it: Rorschach.

He fought back. He lay awake at night and tried to silence the voices, force them back into sheaths of silent thought. He clenched his teeth and strained, through sheer effort of conscious will, to undo the renovations in his midbrain. Rorschach came to him in his dreams. You'll never win, it said. Better men than you have tried. The Bicamerals tried. Jim Moore tried. Everyone who tried to kill you was really after me; where are they now?

"Valerie," Brooks croaked, but Rorschach only laughed. She was on my side.

It was such an uphill struggle. The light behind the eyes has never had the upper hand; I was never more than the scratch pad for a moments' necessary reminders. Brooks may not have heard these voices before but they'd always been there, hidden away, doing the heavy lifting and sending their status reports upstairs to a silly little man who took all the credit.

Now the voices realized they didn't need that little man any more. He was only holding them back. When he was gone the brakes would come off; what followed would be the radical embrace of true transcendence. Evolution would bootstrap into the Lamarckian age, and everything would change in an instant.

He no longer sought his answers among the ruins. He looked for them across the whole wide desert. His very senses were coming apart; each sunrise seemed paler than the last, every breeze against his skin somehow more distant than the one before. He cut himself. The blood spilled out like water. He deliberately broke his little finger and felt not pain but faint music. The voices wouldn't leave him alone; they told him what to eat and he put rocks in his mouth, because he could no longer tell bread from stone. They tempted him with promises of reconciliation, with the resurrection of his woman from the bastard abomination of meat and machinery that had engulfed her.

One day Brooks found himself walking the edge of a cliff, high above the desert. The ruined monastery shimmered in the heat but he felt nothing. He seemed a million miles away, as though watching the world unfold through distant cameras. You have to crank the amplitude, the voices said. It's the only way you'll feel anything. You have to increase the gain.

But Brooks was on to them. He wasn't the first to be tempted in the desert; he knew how that story went. He was supposed to defy the voices. Do not test the Lord thy God, he was supposed to say, then step back from the precipice and into history. It was right there in the script.

But he was not an automaton. Not yet. He was still Daniel Brooks, and he was slaved to no one's stage directions. He would make his own fucking destiny.

He threw himself into space. He flew.

He felt.


Pole Star

My buddy (and fellow author) Brent Hayward sent me this photographic evidence from Poland: evidently I've made it into the bookstores at Warsaw International Airport. I don't whether to be pleased by this news (there was a whole stack!) or depressed (they hadn't sold any of them; there was a whole stack…) Either way, though, this is the first time I've seen what the back of that edition looks like.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Living Dead

Meet Candidatus Desulforudis audaxviator, the bacterium that does it all: fix carbon, fix nitrogen, synthesize all essential amino acids, locomote — an organism that can exist totally independent of other life. It doesn't even need the sun. This fucker basically lives on sulfur, rock, and electrons*.

It's an obligate anaerobe, without even the most rudimentary oxygen resistance. A bug like βehemoth would kick its ass throughout most of the terrestrial biosphere (its natural digs are a couple of kilometers down in the crust, where no O2 has poked its corrosive little head for at least three million years). But that's not likely to be any kind of drawback out in space, and various talking heads are already nattering excitedly about the prospect of something just like this hanging out on Mars, or on the Saturnian moons.

It is cool. It is, quite literally, a complete ecosystem bundled into a single species, a biosphere crammed into two-and-a-half megabytes and a crunchy shell. Astrobiologists the world over have been creaming their genes for a week now. It's such a science-fictional little beast that its very name was lifted from a Jules Verne novel— but what really sticks in my mind about this little Swiss-army knife is a feature that's actually pretty common down there.

If it's anything like other deep-rock dwellers, D. audaxviator reproduces very slowly, taking centuries or even millennia to double in numbers. It's a consequence of nutrient limitation, but might we be looking at a kind of incipient immortality here? The textbooks tell us that one of the defining characteristics of life is reproduction. But if you think of life as the propagation of organized information into the future — the persistence of signal, rather than merely its proliferation — then reproduction is really just a workaround. The chassis that carries the information wears out, and must be replaced.

It doesn't take much, here at the dawn of Synthetic Biology, to imagine an organism with unlimited self-repair capabilities; something that can keep its telomeres nice and long, which sweeps away all those nasty free radicals and picks up the broken bottles in their wake, which replaces an endless succession of disposable Swatches with a solid gold Rolex which can hang in there for a billion years or more. Hell, you could even postulate some kind of Lamarckian autoedit option on the genes, so the organism can adapt to new environments. Or you could just limit your organism to extremely stable environments that don't require ongoing adaptation. Interstellar space, for example. Or deep in a planetary lithosphere. In some ways, this could be a superior strategy to conventional breeding; at least you wouldn't have to worry about population explosions.

I wonder if, somewhere down there, D. audaxviator or something like it has given up on reproduction entirely. Maybe it keeps the machinery around as a kind of legacy app that no one uses any more and just ticks slowly onwards, buried beneath all that insulating and protective rock, unto the very end of the planet.

The textbooks would call it dead. I'd suggest our definitions may need an upgrade.

*Of course, the fact that it can live independently doesn't mean that it evolved independently. A bunch of its genes have been cadged from Archae via lateral transfer. Its genes also contain anti-viral countermeasures; whether it siphoned those off incidentally from donor species or actually uses them to guard against parasitic code, there's obviously a history of contact with other life in this bug's family tree.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"To Prove Free Will, You Have To Do Something You Don't Want To."

I stumbled upon the premiere of this new television show last night. It contained the eponymous line, which is a bit pithier than the usual prime-time broadcast dialog. Even cooler, this line was a quote from a psychopathic assassin named Edward who'd recently been upbraided by his boss for gratuitously killing his target; in a nice subversion of expectation, the boss's real objection was that she'd wanted that target brought in for torture, and she suspected Edward had pulled the trigger out of an abundance of mercy.

But the real kicker is that the dude hearing the quote was a surgically isolated self-aware chunk of Edward's own temporal lobe. We're talking technologically-induced multiple personality disorder; we're talking the ultimate sleeper agent. Each persona is activated and deactivated by remote control; Henry, the milque-toast family man, doesn't even know that Edward exists. He honestly thinks he's just some kind of efficiency consultant who has to travel a lot. They're basically the Gang of Four with fewer options, and the whole arrangement works great until the snooze button fucks up and Henry the family man boots out of turn, to find himself holding a sniper rifle in a foreign country.

The show is "My Own Worst Enemy", and it stars Christian Slater, and perhaps because I had no expectations — hell, I had no awareness — I liked it quite a bit. I liked watching the two personae, only one of which is conscious at any given time, learn to communicate with each other using notes written on their hands. (Edward is mightily pissed that Henry drives his car. Henry's not so keen on the thought of Edward fucking his wife. They fight crime.) I liked the relatively light touch with they dealt with questions of human identity.

If they continue to do that — if they explore the neurology of individuality, the nature of sentience, all those nifty philosophical issues that science fiction is custom-made to deal with — this show could turn into something really special. Or it could deteriorate into a weekly spy show whose failed attempts at comic relief boil down to "So, you using the body tonight?" or "But honey, it was the other me with that woman!" In which case it might even be lamer than Fringe.

I really hope they go the first route. Especially since it looks like The Sarah Connor Chronicles won't be with us much longer.


Friday, October 10, 2008

Fear and the French

I've gone back and posted a coda at the end of Wednesday's fear and religion entry; the recent hysteria at Republican rallies is chillingly consistent with Oxley et al's findings that Conservative=Fearful. But let's move on to fear and horror of a more existential sort, the kind you might find in the shadow of a black supergiant half a half lightyear into the Oort:

These are a couple of cover concept sketches for the upcoming French translation of Blindsight (tentatively scheduled for release in April 2009). The artist goes by the name Sparth: whether that's a Christian name, a surname, or merely an online handle I do not know, but I really like the work (more of which can be found here). I'm tending more to the green iteration, since it conveys a greater sense of creepy dread and alien surveillance. OTOH, Theseus looks especially beautiful in the blue treatment.

Enjoy. The illos are, of course, also archived in the Gallery for easy long-term access.


Thursday, October 9, 2008

And While We're On the Subject...

Courtesy of the Shoe-On-Other-Foot Dept...


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Understanding Sarah Palin: Or, God Is In The Wattles

Here's a question for you. Why hasn't natural selection driven the religious right to extinction?

You should forgive me for asking. After all, here is a group of people who base their lives on patently absurd superstitions that fly in the face of empirical evidence. It's as if I suddenly chose to believe that I could walk off the edges of cliffs with impunity; you would not expect me to live very long. You would expect me to leave few if any offspring. You would expect me to get weeded out.

And yet, this obnoxious coterie of retards — people openly and explicitly contemptuous of "intellectuals" and "evilutionists" and, you know, anyone who actually spends their time learning stuff — they not only refuse to die, they appear to rule the world. Some Alaskan airhead who can't even fake the name of a newspaper, who can't seem to say anything without getting it wrong, who bald-facedly states in a formal debate setting that she's not even going to try to answer questions she finds unpalatable (or she would state as much, if she could say "unpalatable" without tripping over her own tongue) — this person, this behavior, is regarded as successful even by her detractors. The primary reason for her popularity amongst the all-powerful "low-information voters"1? In-your-face religious fundamentalism and an eye tic that would make a Tourette's victim blush.

You might suggest that my analogy is a bit loopy: young-earth creationism may fly in the face of reason, but it hardly has as much immediate survival relevance as my own delusory immunity to gravity. I would disagree. The Christian Church has been an anvil around the neck of scientific progress for centuries. It took the Catholics four hundred years to apologize to Galileo; a hundred fifty for an Anglican middle-management type to admit that they might owe one to Darwin too (although his betters immediately slapped him down for it). Even today, we fight an endless series of skirmishes with fundamentalists who keep trying to sneak creationism in through the back door of science classes across the continent. (I'm given to understand that Islamic fundies are doing pretty much the same thing in Europe.) More people in the US believe in angels than in natural selection. And has anyone not noticed that religious fundamentalists also tend to be climate-change deniers?

Surely, any cancer that attacks the very intellect of a society would put the society itself at a competitive disadvantage. Surely, tribes founded on secular empiricism would develop better technology, better medicines, better hands-on understanding of The Way Things Work, than tribes gripped by primeval cloud-worshipping superstition2. Why, then, are there so few social systems based on empiricism, and why are god-grovellers so powerful across the globe? Why do the Olympians keep getting their asses handed to them by a bunch of intellectual paraplegics?

The great thing about science is, it can even answer ugly questions like this. And a lot of pieces have been falling into place lately. Many of them have to do with the brain's fundamental role as a pattern-matcher.

Let's start with this study here, in the latest issue of Science. It turns out that the less control people feel they have over their lives, the more likely they are to perceive images in random visual static; the more likely they are to see connections and conspiracies in unrelated events. The more powerless you feel, the more likely you'll see faces in the clouds. (Belief in astrology also goes up during times of social stress.)

Some of you may remember that I speculated along such lines back during my rant against that evangelical abortion that Francis Collins wrote while pretending to be a scientist; but thanks to Jennifer Whitson and her buddies, speculation resolves into fact. Obama was dead on the mark when he said that people cling to religion and guns during hard times. The one arises from loss of control, and the other from an attempt to get some back.

Leaving Lepidoptera (please don't touch the displays, little boy, heh heh heh— Oh, cute...) — moving to the next aisle, we have Arachnida, the spiders. And according to findings reported by Douglas Oxley and his colleagues (supplemental material here), right-wingers are significantly more scared of these furry little arthropods than left-wingers tend to be: at least, conservatives show stronger stress responses than liberals to "threatening" pictures of large spiders perched on human faces.

It's not a one-off effect, either. Measured in terms of blink amplitude and skin conductance, the strongest stress responses to a variety of threat stimuli occurred among folks who "favor defense spending, capital punishment, patriotism, and the Iraq War". In contrast, those who "support foreign aid, liberal immigration policies, pacifism, and gun control" tended to be pretty laid-back when confronted with the same stimuli. Oxley et al close off the piece by speculating that differences in political leanings may result from differences in the way the amygdala is wired— and that said wiring, in turn, has a genetic component. The implication is that right-wing/left-wing beliefs may to some extent be hardwired, making them relatively immune to the rules of evidence and reasoned debate. (Again, this is pure speculation. The experiments didn't extend into genetics. But it would explain a lot.)

One cool thing about the aforementioned studies is that they have relatively low sample sizes, both in two-digit range. Any pattern that shows statistical significance in a small sample has got to be pretty damn strong; both of these are.

Now let's go back a ways, to a Cornell Study from 1999 called "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments". It's a depressing study, with depressing findings:
  • People tend to overestimate their own smarts.
  • Stupid people tend to overestimate their smarts more than the truly smart do.
  • Smart people tend to assume that everyone else is as smart as they are; they honestly can't understand why dumber people just don't "get it", because it doesn't occur to them that those people actually are dumb.
  • Stupid people, in contrast, tend to not only regard themselves as smarter than everyone else, they tend to regard truly smart people as especially stupid. This holds true even when these people are shown empirical proof that they are less competent than those they deride.
So. The story so far:
  1. People perceive nonexistent patterns, meanings, and connections in random data when they are stressed, scared, and generally feel a loss of control in their own lives.
  2. Right-wing people are more easily scared/stressed than left-wing people. They are also more likely to cleave to authority figures and protectionist policies. There may be a genetic component to this.
  3. The dumber you are, the less likely you'll be able to recognize your own stupidity, and the lower will be your opinion of people who are smarter than you (even while those people keep treating you as though you are just as smart as they are)
Therefore (I would argue) the so-called "right wing" is especially predisposed to believe in moralizing, authoritarian Invisible Friends. And the dumber individuals (of any stripe) are, the more immune they are to reason. Note that, to paraphrase John Stuart Mill, I am not saying that conservatives are stupid (I myself know some very smart conservatives), but that stupid people tend to be conservative. Whole other thing.

So what we have, so far, is a biological mechanism for the prevalence of religious superstition in right-wing populations. What we need now is a reason why such populations tend to be so damn successful, given the obvious shortcomings of superstition as opposed to empiricism.

Which brings us to Norenzayan and Shariff's review paper in last week's Science on "The Origin and Evolution of Religious Prosociality". To get us in the mood they remind us of several previous studies, a couple of which I may have mentioned here before (at least, I mentioned them somewhere — if they're on the 'crawl, I evidently failed to attach the appropriate "ass-hamsters" tag). For example, it turns out that people are less likely to cheat on an assigned task if the lab tech lets slip that the ghost of a girl who was murdered in this very building was sighted down the hall the other day.

That's right. Plant the thought that some ghost might be watching you, and you become more trustworthy. Even sticking a picture of a pair of eyes on the wall reduces the incidence of cheating, even though no one would consciously mistake a drawing of eyes for the real thing. Merely planting the idea of surveillance seems to be enough to improve one's behavior. (I would also remind you of an earlier crawl entry reporting that so-called "altruistic" acts in our society tend to occur mainly when someone else is watching, although N&S don't cite that study in their review.)

There's also the recent nugget from which this figure was cadged:
This study found not only that religious communes last longer than secular ones, but that even among religious communes the ones that last longest are those with the most onerous, repressive, authoritarian rules.

And so on. Norenzayan and Shariff trot out study after study, addressing a variety of questions that may seem unrelated at first. If, as theorists suggest, human social groupings can only reach 150 members or so before they collapse or fragment from internal stress, why does the real world serve up so many groupings of greater size? (Turns out that the larger the size of a group, the more likely that its members believe in a moralizing, peeping-tom god.) Are religious people more likely than nonreligious ones to help out someone in distress? (Not so much.) What's the most common denominator tying together acts of charity by the religious? (Social optics. "Self-reported belief in God or self-reported religious devotion," the paper remarks wryly, "was not a reliable indicator of generous behavior in anonymous settings.") And why is it that religion seems especially prevalent in areas with chronic water and resource shortages?

It seems to come down to two things: surveillance and freeloading. The surveillance element is pretty self-evident. People engage in goodly behavior primarily to increase their own social status, to make themselves appear more valuable to observers. But by that same token, there's no point in being an upstanding citizen if there are no observers. In anonymous settings, you can cheat.

You can also cheat in nonanonymous settings, if your social group is large enough to get lost in. In small groups, everybody knows your name; if you put out your hand at dinner but couldn't be bothered hunting and gathering, if you sleep soundly at night and never stand guard at the perimeter, it soon becomes clear to everyone that you're a parasite. You'll get the shit kicked out of you, and be banished from the tribe. But as social groupings become larger you lose that everyone-knows-everyone safeguard. You can move from burb to burb, sponging and moving on before anyone gets wise—

unless the costs of joining that community in the first place are so bloody high that it just isn't worth the effort. This is where the onerous, old-testament social rituals come into play.

Norenzayan and Shariff propose that
"the cultural spread of religious prosociality may have promoted stable levels of cooperation in large groups, where reputational and reciprocity incentives are insufficient. If so, then reminders of God may not only reduce cheating, but may also increase generosity toward strangers as much as reminders of secular institutions promoting prosocial behavior."
And they cite their own data to support it. But they also admit that "professions of religious belief can be easily faked", so that
"evolutionary pressures must have favored costly religious commitment, such as ritual participation and various restrictions on behavior, diet, and life-style, that validates the sincerity of otherwise unobservable religious belief."
In other word, anyone can talk the talk. But if you're willing to give all your money to the church and your twelve-year-old daughter to the patriarch, dude, you're obviously one of us.

Truth in Advertising is actually a pretty common phenomenon in nature. Chicken wattles are a case in point; what the hell good are those things, anyway? What do they do? Turns out that they display information about a bird's health, in a relatively unfakeable way. The world is full of creatures who lie about their attributes. Bluegills spread their gill covers when facing off against a competitor; cats go all puffy and arch-backed when getting ready to tussle. Both behaviors serve to make the performer seem larger than he really is— they lie, in other words. Chicken wattles aren't like that; they more honestly reflect the internal state of the animal. It takes metabolic energy to keep them plump and colorful. A rooster loaded down with parasites is a sad thing to see, his wattles all pale and dilapidated; a female can see instantly what kind of shape he's in by looking at those telltales. You might look to the peacock's tail for another example3, or the red ass of a healthy baboon. (We humans have our own telltales— lips, breasts, ripped pecs and triceps— but you haven't been able to count on those ever since implants, steroids, and Revlon came down the pike.) "Religious signaling" appears to be another case in point. As Norenzayan and Shariff point out, "religious groups imposing more costly requirements have members who are more committed." Hence,
"Religious communes were found to outlast those motivated by secular ideologies, such as socialism. … religious communes imposed more than twice as many costly requirements (including food taboos and fasts, constraints on material possessions, marriage, sex, and communication with the outside world) than secular ones… Importantly for costly religious signaling, the number of costly requirements predicted religious commune longevity after the study controlled for population size and income and the year the commune was founded… Finally, religious ideology was no longer a predictor of commune longevity, once the number of costly requirements was statistically controlled, which suggests that the survival advantage of religious communes was due to the greater costly commitment of their members, rather than other aspects of religious ideology."
Reread that last line. It's not the ideology per sé that confers the advantage; it's the cost of the signal that matters. Once again, we strip away the curtain and God stands revealed as ecological energetics, writ in a fancy font.

These findings aren't carved in stone. A lot of the studies are correlational, the models are in their infancy, yadda yadda yadda. But the data are coming in thick and fast, and they point to a pretty plausible model:
  • Fear and stress result in loss of perceived control;
  • Loss of perceived control results in increased perception of nonexistent patterns (N&S again: "The tendency to detect agency in nature likely supplied the cognitive template that supports the pervasive belief in supernatural agents");
  • Those with right-wing political beliefs tend to scare more easily;
  • Authoritarian religious systems based on a snooping, surveillant God, with high membership costs and antipathy towards outsiders, are more cohesive, less invasible by cheaters, and longer-lived. They also tend to flourish in high-stress environments.
And there you have it. The Popular Power of Palin, explained. So the next question is

Now that we can explain the insanity, what are we going to do about it?

Coda 10/10/08: And as the tide turns, and the newsfeeds and Youtube videos pile up on my screen, the feature that distinguishes right from left seems ever-clearer: fear. See the angry mobs at Republican rallies. Listen to the shouts of terrorist and socialist and kill him! whenever Obama's name is mentioned. And just tonight, when even John McCain seemed to realise that things had gone too far, and tried to describe the hated enemy as "a decent man"— he was roundly booed by his own supporters.

How many times have the Dems had their asses handed to them by well-oiled Republican machinery? How many times have the Dems been shot down by the victorious forces of Nixons and Bushes? Were the Democrats ever this bloodthirsty in the face of defeat?

Oxley et al are really on to something. These people are fucking terrified.

Photo credit for Zombie Jesus: no clue. Someone just sent it to me.

1And isn't that a nice CNNism for "moron"? It might seem like a pretty thing veil to you lot, but then again, CNN isn't worried about alienating viewers with higher-than-room-temperature IQs.
2And to all you selfish-gene types out there, where you been? Group-selection is back in vogue this decade. Believe me, I was as surprised as you…
3Although we might be getting into "Handicap Principle" territory here, which is a related but different wattle of fish. I confess I'm not up on the latest trends in this area…

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Friday, October 3, 2008

Head Cheese Gone Wild

I was plenty pleased when little porridges of cultured neurons took their first baby steps towards running flight simulators or operating robots in the lab; I was downright smug when folks noticed that I'd got there first. Now, though, researchers from the Missouri University of Science and Technology are planning on putting head cheeses in charge of real-world power grids in half a dozen countries, including China and Mexico (but not including, interestingly enough, the United States). According to this article, "…these networks could control not only power systems, but also other complex systems, such as traffic-control systems or global financial networks."

Traffic control systems. Financial networks. Being run by meaty neuron networks whose thought processes are, by definition, opaque. For real.

I wrote a trilogy about just this scenario. It did not end well (just ask Kirkus). Maybe someone could pass a copy on to this Venayagamoorthy dude.

Next up, two papers in today's issue of Science: one on the evolution of religious belief, the other on the perception of imaginary patterns under conditions of perceived helplessness. These dovetail nicely with some slightly staler findings on the arrogance of stupid people, the inherent fear responses of political conservatives, and last night's competing North-American neocon/centrist debates. But I have to actually watch those debates before I blog on that. (I was out at Don Giovanni last night. I didn't even know that they had dry-ice smoke machines in 1787…)

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Thursday, October 2, 2008

For want of a nail.

For decades now, experts from all walks have provided sage wisdom about the need to save for my declining years. We no longer live in a word of services, they've told me. We live in a world of ownership. It is not enough to save. You must invest. And this can sometimes be hard to hear — because although it's hard to argue against saving for one's old age, your average hard-sf author is generally lucky to have enough cash saved up at any given time to keep going for just the next year. Being told that you have to take that cushion and invest it — that you must hack your life-support horizon down to two or three months and put everything else into an untouchable account to grow and mature while you just kinda hope that the Russians aren't lying to you about the money for next month's groceries being in the mail, and that Tor will only withhold 70% of the royalties they owe you rather than the 100% they kept last cycle — well, it's a bit scary. It's Dumpster Daring is what it is, and the Dumpster is not easily mocked. And given that conventional economics seems founded on premises so absurd you wouldn't even find them in the AD&D Monstrous Compendium (endless growth from a finite-resource base? Value-added information?), you gotta wonder if — given the luck of the average hard-sf writer — the whole house of cards might not collapse the day after you bit the bullet and trusted your life's savings to the Wisdom of the Market.

So my response to all this well-meaning advice, only half-joking, is that my RRSP is contingent not upon maximizing my own wealth, but upon the catastrophic elimination of everyone else's. My retirement plan is to wait until the financial apocalypse levels the playing field between the haves and have-nots, then head out to search the rubble for tinned goods wielding the archetypal Treehouse-of-Horror "board with a nail in it". I'm taller than most, with a longer reach. I exercise. I've already got the board, and enough generalized anger stored up to use the fucker at the slightest excuse. (I've also got an investment account at e-trade, but I have never made a single transaction with it; it's just a place to park my cash where the Revenue-Canada tapeworms can't feed off it.)

That was my plan. As I say, conjured partly in jest. But if y'all look around the current economic and political landscape this week, you might agree that all that writing about the future may have actually stood me in good stead for once.

Now all I need is a big, rusty nail.


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