Congress Shall Make No Law.

Freedom of Speech, Chomsky

So I was going to ignore “politics” for awhile. Unfortunately, Freedom of Speech has become a hot social issue… I know, right? This is America, and we’ve got this little sentence in our founding legal contract.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

So, you may have been hearing about the recent campus riots where crowds of “liberals” (and I put that in quotes because the students rioting might be progressives but they aren’t liberals by any meaningful definition of the term anymore) managed to shut down speeches by speakers they felt should not have been allowed to spread their dirty filth on hallowed campus grounds. Hate speech is violence, so apparently they were acting in self-defense. And yes, that is how some of the rioters have been justifying their act of denying those they despise the right to speak in a public forum and others the right to peaceably assemble to listen to them.

Now, to be clear, I have little patience with much of what some of those speakers had to say. But I would feel the same about the riots if the speakers had been Flat Earthers, or anti-religious zealots calling for a constitutional amendment banning Hate Speech, or anti-white racists who claimed that whites are a subhuman species responsible for every evil in the modern world. Let them open their mouths in a public forum and argue their point with anyone who wants to come out and listen to and debate them.

But this morning I read a New York Times editorial, by a university provost, that forced me to sit down and actually refute it. I strongly recommend before reading on that you read his think-piece.

Read the article? Good, now here we go.

Speech Must Advance a Common Public Good.

As erudite as Dr. Baer is, he starts to go wrong fairly early in the article, a sure sign that his basic premise is flawed. You begin to see it here:

During the 1980s and ’90s, a shift occurred in American culture; personal experience and testimony, especially of suffering and oppression, began to challenge the primacy of argument. Freedom of expression became a flash point in this shift. Then as now, both liberals and conservatives were wary of the privileging of personal experience, with its powerful emotional impact, over reason and argument, which some fear will bring an end to civilization, or at least to freedom of speech.

But the question of whether or not to “privilege” personal experience over reason and argument isn’t a question of free speech. You can decide to pay more attention to personal experience without shutting down those who want to privilege reason and argument (or mix both) in coming to their conclusions.

He conflates Freedom of Speech with something that doesn’t exist: Freedom to Be Taken Seriously:

“Instead of defining freedom of expression as guaranteeing the robust debate from which the truth emerges, Lyotard focused on the asymmetry of different positions when personal experience is challenged by abstract arguments. His extreme example was Holocaust denial, where invidious but often well-publicized cranks confronted survivors with the absurd challenge to produce incontrovertible eyewitness evidence of their experience of the killing machines set up by the Nazis to exterminate the Jews of Europe. Not only was such evidence unavailable, but it also challenged the Jewish survivors to produce evidence of their own legitimacy in a discourse that had systematically denied their humanity.

Nobody needs to take the Holocaust-denier seriously, and nobody needs to debate him (although it is certainly a good idea if someone at least debunks his “facts”). But Dr. Baer is leading to something more dangerous:

“Lyotard shifted attention away from the content of free speech to the way certain topics restrict speech as a public good. Some things are unmentionable and undebatable, but not because they offend the sensibilities of the sheltered young. Some topics, such as claims that some human beings are by definition inferior to others, or illegal or unworthy of legal standing, are not open to debate because such people cannot debate them on the same terms.”

Not open to debate. To see the problem here, let’s substitute a few facts to create a hypothetical: instead of Lyotard, we have Unbeliever X.

Unbeliever X tours America arguing that not only is there no God, but religion is responsible for most of the evils of the modern world. Furthermore, religious superstition and bigotry is the reason why we’re not living in a utopia right now, and we need to amend the constitution to outlaw all institutions of organized religion as Enemies of Reason and of The People. Mr. X categorizes everyone who witnesses to profound personal encounters with the divine spirit or offers argued reasons why he might be wrong as delusional or deceitful, systematically denying that their position can be both rational and moral. Believing church-goers are either ignorant or mistaken, in which case they must be re-educated, or they are evil, in which case they must be cast from society. At minimum, in order to vote, citizens must take an oath denying all religious convictions and so prove that they can vote rationally. Progress demands it.

There are probably at least some militant atheists who believe all that, but that’s not the point; the point is Unbeliever X’s view is diametrically opposed by a great majority of Americans, and is deeply, deeply de-legitimatizing to all religiously inclined American. So should his free speech be restricted? Should religiously inclined students riot to shut down his speech when the local student-atheist club invites him to speak on campus? Because insulted and threatened groups feel it’s not open to debate?

Who decides what is or is not open to a debate? A national majority? A violent minority? Lawmakers? College presidents or student senates? Dr. Baer seems to completely miss the worm in the apple. Instead, he believes that speech that does not “lead to the truth” is not worth protecting. Such not-good speech must be restricted so that freedom of speech for “those who previously had no standing” may somehow increase.

The great value and importance of freedom of expression, for higher education and for democracy, is hard to underestimate. But it has been regrettably easy for commentators to create a simple dichotomy between a younger generation’s oversensitivity and free speech as an absolute good that leads to the truth. We would do better to focus on a more sophisticated understanding, such as the one provided by Lyotard, of the necessary conditions for speech to be a common, public good. This requires the realization that in politics, the parameters of public speech must be continually redrawn to accommodate those who previously had no standing.

So he has expressed his approval of terms like “Not open to debate,” and “the necessary conditions for speech to be for a common, public good.” And what does he suggest be done with speech that is not open to debate (by his judgement, I suppose) and not conducive to the public good (by whose judgement)?

Simple; let it be restricted to that cesspool of all things bad, the internet. After all, if someone wants to read something not open to debate, or to debate something not judged conducive to the public good, he or she can go there. Since the internet is available, how is shutting down a speech by the Not Good an infringement of Freedom of Speech?

Lest you feel that I am exaggerating, here’s his conclusion:

The idea of freedom of speech does not mean a blanket permission to say anything anybody thinks. It means balancing the inherent value of a given view with the obligation to ensure that other members of a given community can participate in discourse as fully recognized members of that community. Free-speech protections — not only but especially in universities, which aim to educate students in how to belong to various communities — should not mean that someone’s humanity, or their right to participate in political speech as political agents, can be freely attacked, demeaned or questioned.

In other words, Hate Speech is not Free Speech. I’ll leave that conclusion there, but now that I’ve laid out what Dr. Baer thinks, what do I think? Do I have a different, constructive, definition of Free Speech?

Freedom of Speech is Simply Freedom

The founders and ratifiers of our government system were deeply hostile to government power. To be more specific, they were hostile to creating a system of government that might lead to rule by a “distant and arbitrary” power. After all, they had only recently finished revolting against the distant and arbitrary power of London; they had no intention of filling the vacuum with a geographically less distant but no less powerful capital on our side of the Atlantic.

They were also deeply studious thinkers, well-read in history and in political theory, and cognizant of all of the potential usurpations of government power by historic example. How paranoid were they? Paranoid enough that, to win ratification, the Constitution’s backers had to swear on their immortal souls that the the first order of the new government would be to write out and vote into law a Bill of Rights explicitly laying out what the new national government could not do.

What was their attitude towards Freedom of Speech? Optimists like Thomas Jefferson argued that, in a free marketplace of ideas, where truth may freely do trial by combat with error, truth would win out. In other words, he considered Free Speech an inherent good. Lyotard and Baer obviously think that Jefferson was, at best, a Pollyanna. (He was certainly arguing from a rather privileged point of view).

But the majority of the new Americans didn’t share Jefferson’s sunny opinion of the positive social good of Free Speech; they defended all speech (outside of a couple of very, very narrow parameters like incitement and libel), because, again, they were deeply suspicious bastards. They understood that any power you give a government for good reasons can be used for bad reasons. Governments naturally seek to expand their powers, and to make the broadest use of the powers they are given.

In other words, no party or group will stay on top for ever, and rational people fear what their political enemies might do with the powers they hand over to government, once those enemies wield the levers of power for their own benefit. If that sounds too abstract, go back to the Holocaust/Atheist examples. Who decides what is not open to debate? The correct answer is nobody. Instead, as a free person, you decide what is worth your time to listen to, or what is vital for you to debate. If you don’t want to listen, don’t listen. If you don’t want to debate, don’t debate. But don’t tell anyone else that they have no right to express their opinion in any venue that will allow them to, or seek to shut down or block access to a public platform they have been given. They are entitled to their soapbox and to their willing audience. If they are not, then their speech isn’t free. And if theirs isn’t free, then yours isn’t either; it’s only tolerated for now.

And yes, this means allowing some people whose opinions you consider to be truly vile to speak on your college campus. If you exercise the Mob Veto to shut down speech you find abhorrent, you set the stage for the mobs who find your speech abhorrent to return the favor. If your rewrite the laws to favor Good Speech over Bad Speech, using what you think are perfectly rational criteria, you give government power to someday favor what you consider deeply bad speech and suppress what you consider good speech.

Remember the lesson from A Man For All Seasons.

Alice More: Arrest him!
More: Why, what has he done?
Margaret More: He’s bad!
More: There is no law against that.
Will Roper: There is! God’s law!
More: Then God can arrest him.
Alice: While you talk, he’s gone!
More: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law!
Roper: So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!
More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast– man’s laws, not God’s– and if you cut them down—and you’re just the man to do it—do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law for my own safety’s sake.

If the Devil himself is invited to speak on campus, by all means protest as loudly and as eloquently as possible. But let him speak unhindered, and let those who wish to listen and debate, listen. Not for his sake, but for yours.

To be absolutely clear, we have not enshrined Freedom of Speech in this country because we hope that the resulting speech will be valuable and serve some social good; when it does, that’s just a bonus. We have enshrined Freedom of Speech because we know that the first liberty to fall before creeping tyranny is speech.  Free Speech isn’t meant to make the world a better place, although when Truth does win out in the marketplace of ideas, it’s a wonderful thing. Free Speech, like Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Assembly, is a safeguard against government, written into our founding document by people deeply convinced of the corruptibility of all human institutions and of the tendency of all governments to increase their power.

So, for our safety’s sake, we will put up with the idiots, the ignorant, and the hateful, because tolerating their speech protects the freedom of our speech. That is the greatest common public good of all.

Posted in The Radical Moderate | Tagged | 17 Comments

Free Falling

Free Fall

I just realized it’s been well over a month since my last blog post. Since the past few posts have either been about my RPG or politics, I thought I’d surprise everyone with a blog talking about someone else’s work for a change. So let me introduce you to Free Fall.

Free Fall is a long-running internet strip. Long running; Mark Stanley started drawing it back in 2006, and its up to around 3,000 strips now. It starts off in black and white, but eventually goes to color.

So what’s the strip about? Well the main characters are Sam Starfall, Florence Ambrose, and Helix. Sam Starfall is a larcenous squid in an human-shaped environmental suite and captain of the Savage Chicken. Florence is a genetically enhanced Bowman’s Wolf and the ship’s engineer. Helix is a very simple robot.

The ship’s computer keeps trying to kill Sam. It’s programmed to protect humans and itself, and considers Sam a grave threat. It’s more or less right.

So what, exactly, is the story? Well it starts of pretty simply, running as an episodic sit-com series of insane adventures, most of them kicked off by Sam doing something stupid, criminal, and often both. But as it goes along it develops into a deeper exploration of several science-fiction questions. The main one is “What will happen once robots are sufficiently advanced to completely replace humans in the economy?” It also asks what would be our moral responsibility to robots we’ve advanced to true sapience and self-awareness. We’re not talking SkyNet, here, or even I Robot’s robot revolution; we’re talking about fully self-aware robots who have only the best wishes for humanity (who are their gods, after all), and no intention of taking over to run things for humanity’s sake. One conclusion being played with is that the robots are still a terrible threat to humanity’s future as a species. Why? Read it and see.

I’ve made it sound serious. Yes, some themes are serious, but it’s a Terry Pratchett kind of seriousness; the situation might be serious, but the people involved in it are hilarious. Mark Stanley has a true gift for whimsy that will make you giggle insanely at inappropriate moments; at least if you’re at work. In fact the whole strip is Not Safe For Work, and not for the normal NSFW reasons. So read it at home. Pick some time when you have a few hours you can use to catch up. Maybe a weekend (nearly 3,000 strips, remember).

To entice you to check Free Fall out, here is some representative dialogue:

Sam: Bottom line. How safe is a .2 millirem dose [of radiation]?
Florence: It’s safer than driving with you across town.
Helix: Florence, standing in a burning building while blind circus midgets throw knives at you is safer than driving across town with Sam.
Florence: You’re right. Bad example.

Florence: Your helmet, that’s not what you really look like, is it?
Sam: Immigration insisted I don’t show my real face. Apparently my race triggers a nurturing response in humans. They would take one look at me and immediately begin to regurgitate their last meal for me.
Florence: I can see where that would be a problem.
Sam: I mean, how do you politely say “No” to something like that?

So far, neither the government nor the media is involved, so we still have a chance of coming up with a workable solution. Florence

Oh, hush, or I’m not going to let you alter social structures on a planetary scale with me any more. Florence

Sam: Helix, we’re just going to talk. There’s no need to bring the stick.

Helix: But you’re better at talking than I am. When you talk, sometimes I get confused. My ideas of what’s right and wrong get mixed up. That’s why I’m bringing this. As soon as I start thinking it’s all right to steal from our employees, I’m going to start hitting you with the stick.

Sam: It’s reasoning like that why you’re not allowed on corporate boardrooms anymore.

Florence is good at keeping things civilized, because she makes it so clear what will happen if things get uncivilized. Helix

Good afternoon, sir. The spaceport computer informs me that you are my inspector. I am 1071-CCN, standing by for inspection. Standing by. I would like to say I’ve still got the greatest enthusiasm and confidence in this inspection. ….. Still standing by. Sir, might I suggest your time could be better utilized by inspecting my rear end instead of the engineer’s. Ship’s Computer

Seriously, NSFW and you’ve got to read this Free Fall. You’ll thank me.
Marion G. Harmon
Posted in Comic Reviews | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

A Good Month


So we’re in the last week of the Kickstarter, and closing on the milestone which will unlock the sweet hardback printing of the Wearing the Cape Special Edition. For everyone who has been waiting for this, the ebook and paperback stretch goals have already been unlocked; whatever happens the book is getting a professional edit, new cover, and interior art. That will be sweet.

Just to make sure everyone knows, the ebook is priced at $9.00, and the paperback + ebook at $19 (the ebook becomes free). If the hardback printing happens, that will be priced at $29.00, for both the hardback and ebook.

If anyone following this blog is wondering how to get the book without pledging for the game stuff (and yes, I know I have readers who aren’t that interested in tabletop role-playing games), all you need to do is go to the Kickstarter page and pledge $1 to become a Cape-Watcher, adding another $9, $19, or $29 depending on which publication (ebook, paperback, or hardback) you want.

Oh, and if you want to make sure that the hardback printing gets unlocked, spread this around! Tell all your friends! We’ve got 5 days to bring in $5,000 dollars. Not impossible, but some work required.

I’ve got to say, this campaign has succeeded to a degree I really didn’t expect; I would have been glad to just hit the $15,000 milestone so I could publish the gamebook and sourcebook. Instead we’re funded at 450% of the initial goal with 5 days to go. Thank you, everyone who has been participating in this.

And thank you, everyone else who has enjoyed and boosted the series over the years; this wouldn’t have gone anywhere without you.

See you in 5 days.

Marion G. Harmon

Posted in Wearing the Cape | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

We REALLY Have Launch.


Seriously, folks. Due to an interesting oops (I had no idea the green button would do that, I swear), the Kickstarter campaign for Wearing the Cape: The Roleplaying Game has launched. Hey, I’m just rolling with it, so see you there.

Marion G. Harmon

Posted in Wearing the Cape | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

We Have Launch.


Longest project I’ve ever worked on.

So this is it. Crossing my fingers and praying there are no other obstacles, the Kickstarter Campaign for Wearing the Cape: The Roleplaying Game will launch February 1st. It’s been a long, long road.

So what to say about it?

First off, I can’t believe it’s finished. Now that the production phase of the project is complete, I can confidently say that, if I’d known just how much would be involved in making the game a reality, I wouldn’t have done it. I’d have paid someone else to do it.

First off, there’s the art.

I thought I knew what I was doing there. After all, I’d been good at finding great cover artists, right? Not just once, with my discovery of Viktoria Gavrilenko, but twice, the second being Jamal Campbell. Well…

The art has wound up being mostly the work of four artists, with another two thrown in. All of them good, but all of them having to wait upon my art direction. After all, none of them were psychic. Also, only one of the main four artists (Jamal), was a superhero artist (he now does lots and lots of comic covers for Marvel and Boom, the reason I needed to bring on more artists). It all still turned out pretty darn good, though; Kasia and Christopher picked it up to to marvelous work. Here’s a sample:


I told myself at the beginning of the project that I wasn’t going to settle for less than great art, and I didn’t. I wish there was more of it, but then the gamebook still wouldn’t be finished. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in five years of self-publishing, sooner or later you’ve just got to get it done.

Aside from the art, my biggest obstacle with WtC:RPG had been the system itself. I was not about to try and design a whole new RPG system from scratch. “Darn it, Jim! I’m a writer, not a game designer!” You may remember, a couple of years ago, I thought we had it nailed with the Cortex+ system, a “universal” system used by Margaret Weis Productions. They caught my attention with the Firefly RPG and, even more impressively, Marvel Heroic Roleplaying. It looked perfect, and I corresponded with them before throwing together a gamebook for their approval.

Then I learned that MWP would not allow me to do a stand-alone gamebook; we could only produce a Wearing the Cape Sourcebook for use with their Heroic Roleplaying system. That might have worked, but they never published the core system—it was always “coming soon.” (As an update to that, MWP has recently licensed the Cortex System to Cam Banks, who is an excellent game designer, for further development. Good for them; if they do great things with it—which I expect—then there may yet be a Cortex System gamebook for Wearing the Cape in the future.)

But all that work wasn’t totally wasted; I had the world-background stuff written, and I just had to find another system. I found it in the Fate Core system.

Fate Core is in many ways a foundational system that inspired specific parts of the Cortex+ system. The great news with Fate Core is that unlike Cortex, it is a fully open-source system; I was able to make the complete and stand-alone gamebook I wanted with it.

Now I just needed to learn a new game system.

One that was completely different from any tabletop RPG I’d previously played.

So, no problem. I read, reread, and re-reread obsessively, picking up several of Evil Hat’s worked gamebooks to see how the Fate system worked out in a developed setting. I joined Fate Core’s Google+ community and asked lots of questions before starting to answer questions from other newbies. Comparing my answers to the answers of Fate veterans was a great way to see if I’d gotten it right—sort of like answering essay questions in school. And I pulled together not one round of playtesting but two, with gamers who’d played with Fate before, as well as gamers who, like me, hadn’t even heard of the system before playtesting began. They helped a lot.

The end result of it all is a game system that isn’t quite Fate Core. Call it Fate Core Compatible. There were a couple of things I wanted to do that Evil Hat’s excellent system didn’t quite stretch to, but fans of Fate Core will have no trouble with it—or with dropping my little additions and playing it with straight-up Fate Core if they want to.

And it’s finished. I can’t tell you how amazing that feels.

So, what about the Kickstarter Campaign? How does that work, and why am I doing one? Kickstarters are normally for selling an idea and convincing backers to pledge money so that you can make a game or whatever it is you want to produce, and my production costs are behind me, right?

Not quite.

I have produced the gamebook on a pay-as-I-go basis, which means that the development and art is paid for. It’s all sunk costs now. But to fund the print run of the quality hardback gamebook, now that’s another story. Basically, to pay for a print run of sufficient size to be economical, I need to scrape together another $10,000.

To do that, I’m offering a little extra for fans who want to help. The electronic edition of the gamebook will be a reward for backers who pledge at least $19 to help make it all happen. (After the Kickstarter Campaign is over, successful or not, the electronic edition will be available for purchase through DriveThru RPG for $25.) Fans who want the beautiful hardback printing of the gamebook will be able to get it (together with the electronic edition) as a reward for pledging $59 or more to the cause. Anyone who wants to go a little crazy can pledge more for some cool custom dice (see previous blog posts for pictures of those, they were a lot of fun to design).

And then there is the reward connected with Wearing the Cape: Barlow’s Guide to Superhumans (see the Dec. 3 post). Because nothing says “thank you!” quite like making you part of my world. That’s going to be a lot of fun. Seriously; growing up, I used to create my own personal characters to adventure in the worlds I most enjoyed. Just in my imagination, quite apart from the roleplaying games I so much enjoyed. Middle Earth. Narnia. The comics. Later the Honorverse and Vorkosiganverse. That’s how I learned character-creation and plotting. It will be interesting to see what others do with my own world.

So the campaign launches in nine days. What can you do to help?

Naturally I hope everybody who follows my blog wants something in the campaign enough to make a pledge. But also, these Kickstarter campaigns succeed or fail by word-of-mouth, so I hope that everyone who’s as excited about this as I am will spread the word wide. Link to the campaign on Facebook. Tell their friends about it. Get the word out that there’s a new, awesome, tabletop superhero RPG in town.

Because it is awesome. I’m sure I’m biased, just a bit, but I think that everyone who has been patiently waiting is going to be amazed.

I’ll see you there.

Marion G. Harmon

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Imagine. Please.


So this is it. The end of another year.

And I’ve got to admit, I can’t remember one when we have been more divided as a community (I’m speaking of my American readers here). The 2016 Election was the most rancorous election cycle in living memory. The two major parties and their electorates increasingly view the other party as the enemy in a Manichean struggle of Good vs. Evil. Righteous anger seems to be the prevailing sentiment on both sides, and it’s only getting worse. So I’d like to take this moment to suggest, or even plead for, a New Year’s resolution.

Imagine. Please.

To explain what I mean, here’s a counterexample.

“No U.S. president, I expect, will ever appoint a Secretary of the Imagination. But if such a cabinet post ever were created, and Richard Foreman weren’t immediately appointed to it, you’d know that the Republicans were in power. Republicans don’t believe in the imagination, partly because so few of them have one, but mostly because it gets in the way of their chosen work, which is to destroy the human race and the planet. Human beings, who have imaginations, can see a recipe for disaster in the making; Republicans, whose goal in life is to profit from disaster and who don’t give a hoot about human beings, either can’t or won’t. Which is why I personally think they should be exterminated before they cause any more harm.

“This opinion is presumably not shared by Foreman; you can gauge the breadth of his imaginative compassion from his willingness to extend it even toward George W. Bush, idiot scion of a genetically criminal family that should have been sterilized three generations ago.”

This quote comes to us from the relatively temperate year of 2004, and the pen of Michael Feingold. I could dissect Feingold’s hyperbole in all sorts of ways, but here I’ll simply point out that he himself perfectly illustrates the singular lack of “imaginative compassion” he ascribes to Republicans. To him, they aren’t human beings. He thinks they should be exterminated before they can do more damage.

So spoke the Nazis and the Bolsheviks; you could change a few nouns and the paragraph would read like a familiar anti-Semitic or anti-capitalist screed.

This is the failure of the imagination; reducing others whose beliefs and motivations you don’t understand to a literally subhuman category. You can use other words: barbarian, bigot, racist, sexist, hater, etc. I’ve talked a bit about this human tendency with The Syllogism:

  1. I am a rational/good human being.
  2. Because I am a rational/good human being, I believe X.
  3. If you do not believe X, you are either ignorant, stupid, or evil.
  4. Because you are ignorant, stupid, or evil, it is useless to debate with you and pointless to listen to you.

I don’t often talk about non-fiction books in this blog, but I have a book I strongly urge everyone to read, one especially appropriate to this year and our modern political climate; The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.

It is written by Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist. Haidt is a self-described liberal, but his research focuses on morality – its emotional foundations, cultural variations, and development. To quote the blurb, “He began his career studying the negative moral emotions, such as disgust, shame, and vengeance, but then moved on to the under-studied positive moral emotions, such as admiration, awe, and moral elevation. He is the co-developer of Moral Foundations Theory, and of the research site He uses his research to help people understand and respect the moral motives of their enemies.”

Haidt basically argues that conservatives and liberals disagree because they are being motivated by different moral matrixes. When they see each other as “evil”, it’s because they don’t understand the moral matrix the other is operating from (Haidt is not a moral relativist, and does believe in evil, he just doesn’t apply the word to most political or philosophical disagreements).

I don’t agree with everything that Haidt says, but I recommend this book to everybody. Why? Because he does a tremendous job of explaining liberals to conservatives and conservatives to liberals. Not in terms of specific political policies, but in terms of morality and ideology. He develops and works with a few axioms, two of which are:

There’s more to morality than harm and fairness.

Morality binds and blinds.

The second axiom sounds purely negative, but it’s not; rather it’s the acknowledgement that while a strong moral code can be a powerful tool for personal happiness and social order, at the same time it blinds us to the validity of competing moral codes. I could go on, but Haidt’s entire book is an exercise in the scholarly and scientific application of imagination to the problem of moral social conflict, and especially to the necessity of understanding the other side.

And this is important. Understanding does not mean agreement, and The Righteous Mind does not attempt to proselytize conservatism to liberals or liberalism to conservatives. Instead, I think anyone who reads this book will come a long way toward understanding how people he knows, family, friends, people he thinks or thought were good people, voted differently than he did in this divisive election.

If you’re a Democrat who wants to know how a good person could have voted conservative, read this book.

If you’re a Republican who wants to know how a good person could have voted liberal, read this book.

Because understanding doesn’t mean agreement, but it can help with acceptance.

And in 2017, we’re all going to need it.

Happy New Year.

Marion G. Harmon


Posted in Book Reviews, The Radical Moderate | Tagged | 4 Comments

Good Will to All.


No big news to share, no deep opinions. Wearing the Cape: The Roleplaying Game moves forward (with art still the current bottleneck), and drafting for Recursion (what will hopefully be one of two Wearing the Cape books for next year) continues. Meanwhile I just wanted to wish everyone a merry Christmas; 2016 has been a stressful year for all of us, and we can all use this seasonal celebration of joy and good will. To quote Dickens, God bless us, every one.

“One candle’s light dispels the night.  Now our eyes can see.”

Merry Christmas.

Marion G. Harmon

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Wearing the Cape: the Kickstarter.

Cover Flight

Coming soon, to a Kickstarter page near you!

I have been telling everyone that, once Team-Ups and Masterminds was behind me, I would be focusing on Wearing the Cape: The Roleplaying Game to drive the project through to completion.

So now the good news.

Although the Kickstarter campaign will not be launching in December as planned, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Here’s why; unlike most Kickstarter projects, when this Kickstarter campaign launches (hopefully in January), the primary product to be funded will already be finished. What this means is that Wearing the Cape: The Roleplaying Game will already be fully produced as a downloadable set of game rules. That’s right, it will be an ebook, fully laid out and with all the art, ready to read, enjoy, and play.

I realize this is not the “traditional” way a game is produced by crowd-funding; I decided to take this route because I had no idea if I could actually do it. Yes, I have years of roleplaying game experience. Yes, I found a great open-source game system, readily adaptable to the task of bringing the heroes and world of the books to life. Yes, I have five years now of self-publishing experience.

But a roleplaying game? Designed, produced, indie-published without the backing of an established game company? I had no idea if I could do it, or how long it would take, and I have seen too many Kickstarter campaigns that promised everything and a set delivery date, then folded years later promises unmet. I wasn’t going to do that.

So I wrote a draft of the game, solicited playtesters, found the artist. Found another artist. Found a third artist. Got help with the graphics and layout (lots of help). Went through two rounds of playtesting, with veteran Fate players and novices. Sought and received the input of two seasoned writers of Fate System games. Payed the art and development costs as I went. Found a small press willing to do the full print run of the quality gamebook at a reasonable price.

As a result, I will be able to promise everyone who decides to back this dream project two things: 1.) the week the Kickstarter campaign ends, they will be receiving their tickets to download the full copy of the finished game, and 2.) the instant the campaign ends, the small publisher will receive their money and commence printing of a fully prepared book.

In short, the purpose of the Kickstarter will be to fund the printing and distribution of several hundred quality hardback edition of the gamebook.

But that’s not all the Kickstarter is going to be about; like most Kickstarter campaigns, this one is going to have room to grow.

First, I’ve found a dice company able to stamp high-quality custom dice; as a Stretch Goal Add-On, Wearing the Cape fans who want custom dice to play their game with will get them as part of a deluxe package.

wtc-dice(Don’t panic; the game will be perfectly playable with standard Fate Dice or  6-sided dice.)

Second, Kickstarter campaigns form communities of enthusiastic people with lots of input to give, and I’m going to take full advantage of that. I have decided to produce, as a second Stretch Goal Add-On, Wearing the Cape: Barlow’s Guide to Superhumans.

Barlow’s Guide will be a sourcebook. The core game only has room for around 30 pages of background for the Post-Event World, and only the Sentinels—as seen at the beginning of Wearing the Cape—are fully written up. Most of the campaign background only deals with The Event and it’s aftermath in the US. So Wearing the Cape: Barlow’s Guide to Superhumans will go far beyond that. The sourcebook will hugely widen the background, to include experiences of The Event in other countries and describe how many parts of the world dealt with superhumans over the 10 years between The Event and the beginning of the series. Wearing the Cape fans will be polled for places and capes they would like to see in the sourcebook.

Also, there will be a limited number of pledge slots for fans who want to put their own cape characters into the official Post-Event World! They will need to pay extra for the excellent character art that will portray their personally designed heroes  (I have gained the commitment of the artist who did the cover art for Team-Ups and Crossovers for the individual pieces).

Throughout the 35-day campaign, I will be publishing Kickstarter updates tracking the ideas and work to go into Wearing the Cape: Barlow’s Guide to Superhuman—which will also be released as an ebook within 3 months of the end of the Kickstarter.

Will there be anything else? I’m not sure, but if the campaign does as well as I hope then I am considering adding a third Stretch Goal Add-On: a special hardback edition of Wearing the Cape, re-edited and with interior art pages.

What will all this look like? That’s still a bit up in the air, but I’ve roughed it out like this.

Wearing the Cape: The Roleplaying Game (PDF): $19.

Wearing the Cape: The Roleplaying Game (hardcopy): $59. (PDF copy and US/Canada shipping included.)

Hardcopy with Dice: $75.

Wearing the Cape: Barlow’s Guide to Superhumans (PDF): $19.

Wearing the Cape: Barlow’s Guide to Superhumans (hardcopy): $49. (PDF copy and US/Canada shipping included.)

Wearing the Cape, Special Edition (ebook): $9.

Wearing the Cape, Special Edition (paperback): $19. (Includes ebook)

Wearing the Cape, Special Edition (hardback): $30. (Includes ebook)

A Barlow’s Guide entry for your hero: $200 (Includes WtC:RPG hardcopy, PDFs for WtC:RPG and WtC:BGtS, and a print of your hero.

And if all goes well, backers will be receiving their e-copies of WtC:RPG in February. Thoughts, anyone?


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Dead-Tree Edition Finished!


Hello everyone, just thought I’d catch you up on the latest Team-Ups and Crossovers publishing news.

The Paperback Edition is Out!

It’s always a huge relief to get the last step of publication, the print-on-demand paperback edition, out of the way. Readers who are waiting for the print edition can order it today at the Createspace online store. It will take a few days to become available on Amazon.

Glitches and Fixes.

Some purchasers of the ebook may have discovered an infuriating glitch in the file; on some ebook readers, large blocks of text were whited out in the Astra Gets Grrl Power short story. The easy fix to this was to change the reader’s background to sepia (or black), but how is anyone to know that? Fortunately, we were able to discover the bad code creating the problem, scrub it, and re-upload a fixed ebook file to Amazon. In cases like this, Kindle Direct Publishing sends out notices to all previous purchasers alerting them to the fix and offering the option of updating their e-copy. Hopefully everyone has received one (if you haven’t, contact Amazon).

The good news in this is that, although it caused production of the paperback edition to run a little late, we also found a few typos and grammar errors that escaped the final edit-round. They have been fixed in the re-uploaded file (and of course in the paperback edition file).

Sales and Ratings.

It’s always nervous-making, the first 3 or 4 weeks, wondering how the new book will perform in sales and waiting for reader reviews to begin coming in. I’m happy to say that reader reception of Team-Ups and Crossovers has been very gratifying. Although released later this year than I wished for, T&C has enjoyed robust sales and tracks to do at least as well as Ronin Games did last year. Also, with just under 40 reviews, Team-Ups and Crossovers looks poised to continue the 4 1/2-star run of the rest of the Wearing the Cape books, so thank you to everyone who has posted thoughtful/critical reviews on Amazon!

Wearing the Cape: The Roleplaying Game.

I now get to turn my undivided attention to getting WtC:RPG ready for the December Kickstarter campaign. The art continues to come in, and the writing side is nearly complete.


This project has been a dream of mine, and I’ll be glad to see it finished!

That’s it for now; if I don’t post again in the next week, have a wonderful Thanksgiving! Remember, it’s the family, not the turkey, that counts.


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The Radical Moderate 6: Chill, Everyone.


I went to sleep last night with the election undecided. I woke up this morning to learn that Donald Trump had won. I also woke up to find half the country losing its mind.

I did not vote for Trump. I am a constitutional conservative/classical liberal, yet despite the fact that a Hillary Administration would almost certainly have further eroded our constitutional rights, I couldn’t give Trump my vote; it’s the first time in my life I haven’t voted for the Republican candidate at the top of the ticket. So let’s say that this morning I’m feeling mixed emotions.

But I have one thing to say to both sides of this year’s bloodless war (because that’s what elections are).

Chill, everyone.

And I mean that sincerely.

A little perspective might be in order, here. For those who were politically active or aware, eight years ago when President Barrack Obama, our then most left-leaning US senator, won the White House, there were people on the Right firmly convinced that he was going to create a corps of Brown Shirts, put dissenters in re-education camps, etc.

Didn’t happen, of course, but today a significant number of otherwise intelligent people are convinced that Donald Trump is going to inaugurate a wave of government thuggery against racial minorities, against women, against homosexuals, against illegal immigrants, against everyone not of the Master Race (and I use MR intentionally, since many of them pretty much think Trump is Hitler).

But that’s not going to happen, either.

And yet the fear and despair is very real. I’d be tempted to call it overblown, except I remember many feeling variations of all this when Reagan won, when Clinton won, when Bush won, and when Obama won. Reagan was going to trigger WWIII, Clinton was going to abolish the 2nd Amendment and socialize the country, Bush was going to sell the country to his cronies, Obama was going to (see above).

Why is that?

It’s really very simple. Everyone has the quite rational fear that the opposition’s victorious candidate will try and push the country in a direction they won’t like. That’s what elections are about. That makes the day of their loss a day for gloom, naturally.

But the fear? I have a rational and intelligent friend who wrote on Facebook this morning:

 “I woke up this morning and cried. My heart is broken and I’m terrified of walking out my door. I don’t know if violence against people like me, people of color, women, the LGBTQ community, is going to be state sanctioned or not.”

Another wrote:

“Sanity lost the Executive and Legislative branches tonight. And, there will be seats to fill on the supreme court in short order. All the branches of the US government are now poised to bring about the apocalypse. There may not be a minimum safe distance, folks.”

And why shouldn’t they? After all, the liberal pundits are saying pretty much the same thing.

“We thought that the nation, while far from having transcended racial prejudice and misogyny, had become vastly more open and tolerant over time.

“We thought that the great majority of Americans valued democratic norms and the rule of law.

“It turns out that we were wrong.

“I don’t know how we go forward from here. Is America a failed state and society? It looks truly possible. I guess we have to pick ourselves up and try to find a way forward, but this has been a night of terrible revelations, and I don’t think it’s self-indulgent to feel quite a lot of despair.”

Paul Krugman

“Our little gathering broke up in confusion, with more than one of our guests wondering if they would actually have to move. It’s something that I, as a native-born, white male — some of whose family were probably in this country circa 1620 — will have to consider, too, if my wife and I are to have any form of health care before we reach Medicare (assuming that Medicare will still be there, either). These are words I never thought I would have to write. This has indeed been a campaign full of surprises, and I fear it will take away all our words for good.”

Kevin Baker

And of course, this is the way they think about those who voted for Trump;


I will say it again: Chill. I would be saying the same to those on the Right in despair if Hillary had won.

Because this is what happens with every election; both sides demonize the other side’s candidate and voters to an extent that you would think, listening to them, that civil war is imminent. That the triumph of Fascism of The Left or Right is imminent. That the winning candidate is Hitler.

Underlying all this, naturally, is The Syllogism.

  1. I am a rational/good human being.
  2. Because I am a rational/good human being, I believe X.
  3. If you do not believe X, you are either ignorant, stupid, or evil.
  4. Because you are ignorant, stupid, or evil, it is useless to debate with you and pointless to listen to you.

During the heat of the election season, with candidates, supporters, and political pundits on both sides throwing every possible accusation of EVIL at each other, of course The Syllogism prevails. And on Election Day this means that, in the eyes of half the country, in the ashes of their loss, the ignorant, the stupid, and the evil, won.

Some people never recover their mental footing after an especially rancorous election; if you thought that Bush Derangement Syndrome was bad (and yes, Obama Derangement Syndrome), just wait till you see Trump Derangement Syndrome.

A little more perspective; when President Obama won, coming into office with a Congressional majority ready to help him advance his agenda, many Democrats believed that the voting shift foretold a Permanent Democratic Majority. Some Republicans thought so, too. It plainly wasn’t so. Yes, from the perspective of the Right great damage was done, but the Permanent Democratic Majority failed.

There will be no Permanent Republican Majority. And in the meantime, while from the perspective of the Left, great damage may be done, there will be no goosestepping gestapos knocking on their door. There will be no state-sanctioned violence against them. This is not the End Of America. It’s not even The End Of America As We Know It.

There are two reasons for this.

First, the great majority of those who voted for Trump are not, despite the frothing of much of the press, ignorant, homophobic, xenophobic, racist, sexist, haters. Just as when President Obama won, Trump has been swept into office by a protest-movement. And for most of the people in this movement it hasn’t been about racism, sexism, etc.; it’s been a populist and anti-establishment movement. Trump managed to pitch himself as the populist anti-establishment candidate, and won. The poisonous Alt-Right didn’t elect Trump, in fact they hurt his chances just like the racialists on the far Left hurt Hillary; both sides declared the other to be the full embodiment of their lunatic fringes. No, Trump won because he seized the tide and ran against a candidate just as noxious to the Right and much of the Middle as he was to the Left and much of the Middle.

That means that the above meme from American NewsX got it wrong, and America has not been revealed as Conrad’s new “heart of darkness”. As impossible as it is for many to believe, last night most Americans on both sides voted  with good intentions.

Second, we are a constitutional republic. While respect for the limits of federal power (and especially of executive-branch power) has taken a beating in this past administration, the checks and balances built into our system remain strong and so we’re not going to go the way of Venezuela. The Right has managed to take both the executive and legislative branches of government; well, the Republican Party has been in this position before. So has the Democratic Party. It won’t last, and while it does the Republican party is far from monolithic; factions within the party will check its excesses.

Meanwhile, despite recent erosion of the 1st Amendment, respect for our constitutional rights and liberties remains high; American citizens who voted Left are in no more danger now than American citizens who voted Right were before. Racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities are not in danger, any more than religious folk and gun-owners have been in danger under the Obama Administration. The Right is not now about to commence a march into fascism; it couldn’t even if it wanted to.

That’s the beauty of the American constitutional system. It thwarts all attempts at radical and rapid change.

The winners will exult for a time, until the more optimistic ones find that Trump is no more a wonder worker than President Obama turned out to be. The Right will win some legislative and policy victories. Then the pendulum will complete the rightward swing of its arc and swing left again. The cycle will continue.



Be kind to your friends and neighbors. Many of them have had a bad time.

M. G. Harmon

Posted in The Radical Moderate | 12 Comments