SFWA shenanigans

One of the problems of organizations that rely primarily on volunteers is that all too often, the people most prone to volunteering are the very last people you want in charge of anything. Charles Stross rightly waxes apoplectic:

The core of our report, in a nutshell, was this: SFWA should represent its members interests when asked to do so. (It should also poll the membership to figure out what they want to do.) In order to deal with members asking SFWA to act against copyright infringements, SFWA should establish a new copyright advisory committee to replace of the piracy committee, with set procedures (and a quorum of members required to implement them) to avoid anything like the earlier debacle recurring.

In addition, we made various other recommendations. (Mine included: avoid, at all costs, emulating the activities of the RIAA and MPAA. Rule #1 of being a professional writer should be: your fans are Not The Enemy. Unlike RIAA or MPAA, SFWA is actually a loose trade association of content producers — RIAA and MPAA are rather different organisms, funded by a cartel of major content distributors. Following their example would not only be disastrous and make enemies — I trust I don’t have to explain why — but would rapidly bring individual writers into disrepute with their readers, something I think most SFWA members have enough brain cells to realize would be disastrous.)

A further recommendation was discussed, but the general feeling was that it would be inappropriate to put it in the committee’s formal report. It was my understanding that it would be brought to the attention of the president of SFWA via a back channel. This recommendation was simple: that at all costs, Andrew Burt must be kept the hell away from the copyright committee. In view of his earlier activities, his appointment to it would automatically destroy any credibility the new body would have — not to mention sending out a clear signal that SFWA is a dysfunctional organization, institutionally incapable of learning from bad experiences.

Guess what’s happened?

Yup. I am not privy to his thinking, but our dear president and executive have voted to reinstate the old piracy committee, with Andrew Burt to chair it, under the new name of the SFWA copyright committee.

To say that this is a fuckwitted decision is an understatement. Under Dr Burt, the new copyright committee will almost inevitably devolve into a reincarnation of the old piracy committee. If I thought it’d do any good I’d be resigning in protest right now; only the expense of a life membership purchased a couple of years ago is restraining me right now. Clearly the current executive of SFWA is making damaging decisions and ignoring input from committees it appointed, and and in view of this I call on SFWA president Mike Capobianco and the rest of the SFWA executive — including Andrew Burt — to resign immediately. Meanwhile, I’d like to call on all other SFWA members who don’t want to see their organization commit public relations suicide to make their voices heard.

I don’t think Capobianco needs to resign, but I do think he needs to encourage Burt to get his poky little nose to get out and stay out of all of the various committees and sub-committees which he seems to find so very irresistible.

The rollback begins

I predicted a backlash against the New Atheism, but I had no idea that the Pope would get involved. Interestingly, he cuts right to the heart of the materialist matter:

Pope Benedict XVI strongly criticized modern-day atheism in a major document released today, saying it had led to some of the “greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice” ever known to mankind….

“We must do all we can to overcome suffering, but to banish it from the world is not in our power,” Benedict wrote. “Only God is able to do this.”

It is interesting how every significant atheist idea for making the world better and reducing human suffering almost invariably ends up with a recommendation to impose murderous dictatorship on mankind. From Meslier to Marx, from de Rouvroy, to Russell, from Heinlein to Harris, the atheist solution is inevitably simplistic, brutal and devoid of positive result.

And yet they consider themselves freethinkers, apparently without any sense of irony.

The curse of intelligence

Scientific American helps explain why so many smart people are so bloody useless:

Our society worships talent, and many people assume that possessing superior intelligence or ability—along with confidence in that ability—is a recipe for success. In fact, however, more than 30 years of scientific investigation suggests that an overemphasis on intellect or talent leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unwilling to remedy their shortcomings.

The result plays out in children like Jonathan, who coast through the early grades under the dangerous notion that no-effort academic achievement defines them as smart or gifted. Such children hold an implicit belief that intelligence is innate and fixed, making striving to learn seem far less important than being (or looking) smart. This belief also makes them see challenges, mistakes and even the need to exert effort as threats to their ego rather than as opportunities to improve. And it causes them to lose confidence and motivation when the work is no longer easy for them.

Praising children’s innate abilities, as Jonathan’s parents did, reinforces this mind-set, which can also prevent young athletes or people in the workforce and even marriages from living up to their potential. On the other hand, our studies show that teaching people to have a “growth mind-set,” which encourages a focus on effort rather than on intelligence or talent, helps make them into high achievers in school and in life.

I don’t think this tells the whole story, but it is a relevant element of the problem. The truth is that you can’t think your way to anything; I don’t think execution and hard work is 99 percent of the equation but it is more than 50 percent. I don’t think the intelligent are actually any less averse to risk than the norm – the overwhelming majority of people won’t lift their finger if it’s not of immediate material benefit to them – I suspect that it’s the realization of opportunity cost that is a larger factor among the highly intelligent. The “I wasn’t trying” defense becomes pretty empty once one is pushing thirty and begins to realize that one has accomplished absolutely nothing of any note despite one’s supposed intelligence.

I personally find it very difficult to concentrate on any one project for a long period of time, mostly because I get bored easily once things are past the strategic stage. I’m quite willing to work hard, but working hard at one specific thing and ignoring all the other opportunities out there is pretty much impossible for me. The problem is that as studies of the truly great have shown, it takes about ten years of near psychopathic concentration on an activity to reach a level of superlative excellence.

But the study is a real wake-up call to parents with highly intelligent children. There’s nothing wrong with being open about their intelligence, trying to hide it from them merely gives them a greater sense of elitism and contempt for those who attempt to deny the obvious. (Seriously, would you ever try pretending that a tall or fast kid is just like everyone else? It’s just as stupid to try to deny a child’s intelligence, which is equally observable to all and sundry, including the child.) But presenting it to the child as a challenge to excel rather than a fabulous aspect of his self is more likely to foster that excellence.

Talent and intelligence are great tools. But like all tools, their utility depends completely upon how – and if- they are used.