‘Hold-my-beer’ Precedent

He was preceded by the president, setting a precedent which endures to this day.

Now there is a new superhero that could inspire and maybe even bring world peace… 🙂

Precedents are something few of us realize the value of until we’ve set them. They shape nearly everything we do: from what time your kids go to bed, to how the law is interpreted. Naturally they’re a huge part of writing too.

Setting a precedent is easy. “Okay, Susie, you can stay up to watch the end of Borkman and the Avengers.” When you try reversing that tomorrow, you’re in for all sorts of trouble. Even if you just say ‘no’ every time after, Susie – and – and Susie’s sibs, and her friends with their parents will now know it is possible and will throw the precedent at you endlessly. Trust me on this one: these are mistakes I have made. If you don’t believe me… ask any parent. The basic, sensible rule is: unless you want to set a precedent, and are prepared to accept the consequences – even the ones you haven’t thought of… don’t.

One of the most obvious of these consequences is that if you set a precedent with Joe (who you hate), circumstances may change, and that very precedent may be what happens to you, in your turn. Had you set a different precedent for Joe, that would have happened to you instead – which makes an excellent reason for being very, very careful about that precedent. It’s a not uncommon plotline in many books, particularly where the villain gets precisely the comeuppance he inflicted – or tried to inflict – on the hero.

It extends into real life too. To give two socio-politically pertinent examples – from Turkey (a country I watch as a geopolitical indicator, as a bridge between East and West.):

‘Hate speech’ – a precedent has been set widely is the idea of prosecuting someone for words they say or write which are deemed hurtful or harmful to another group is a good thing to do. So: for instance advocating genocide or claiming your race or religion superior because such-and-such is inferior or attacks on gay marriage… could get you punished for hate-speech and certainly accused of it. Maybe you think this sounds a good idea…  Except… whoever is in power determines what arbitrary lines may not be crossed before it is ‘hate speech.’ Translated for meaning: “if we don’t like or want others to hear what you say, we can decide it is ‘hate-speech’.”

And that may not be what you think is hate-speech – or fits in the list above. As in the Turkish government have now deemed any pro-homosexual speech ‘hate speech’. You could end up in jail… for precisely opposite of what could end you in trouble elsewhere, where they also think it is a good idea.

‘De-platforming’ – Another precedent set and accepted and much beloved by the modern Left – those in power should be able to effectively silence any dissent, and isolate dissenters by denying them a public place – be that a convention, Twitter, or a book for sale to the public. The puppy-kickers and indeed SJW’s believe de-platforming an important and completely justified tool… in their hands. They’re in power and think it a great idea.

In Turkey, the Islamists are in power. They too think it is a great idea, and are de-platforming any dissent. Only the people being de-platformed… are the ones demanding it be done to others here.

I should imagine there are a few people in Turkey who wish the precedent had remained ‘I disagree with every word you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.’

The defining characteristic of those who set precedents they’d hate to be on the receiving end of… is that they’re stupid or vain (or most likely, both) enough to be unable to even imagine not being in power. Every time I hit this in a book I cringe a little and say ‘can’t you see this coming at you like the certainty of the seasons or taxes?’ Real life doesn’t have to exhibit common sense, of course. One merely has to think of the precedents set with abusing the IRS and FBI for one party’s political gain, to see this ‘we will be in power forever, so we’ll never be on the receiving end of the abusive precedents we’ve set’ mentality. I’d guess some of those people would like to reconsider the precedents they set, now.   I must admit I read about the various left-wing activist judges, and wonder how in hell you manage to be that stupid and ignorant of history – and still pass bar exams? Have the standards dropped so low that a grasp of history is no longer required?

Because that too is a precedent – one so strongly established through history that it is undeniable: Power does not endure. Sooner or later, even if it is not your current deadly foe, a new foe will arise and use your own precedents on you. They might set some new ones, but those are easier to wind down than your own, turned against you. Ask Harvey Weinstein. He thought he were right up there with those in power and could safely support various precedents set by their own side. Harvey obviously thought sexual harassment complaints and the idea that the victim must always be believed regardless of evidence, would never apply to him. I think we can safely say he was wrong. About the best you can hope for is dying before your power wanes – which is the sort of gamble that I’d say was determined by your age.

We seem to have been going through a ‘hold my beer’ series of stupid precedents in the sf/fantasy world – all based either on the works of super-beer-woman or else on the incredible hubris of ‘look on my works ye mighty’. Maybe we could consider renaming WorldCon OzymandiCon. First we had the David Gerrold Wooden Assterisk fiasco facilitated by Sasquan’s staff, to say nothing of the lovely precedent set at the awards.

I imagine MidAmericon II looked at that and said: ‘Hold my beer’ and invited the guy who managed to prove to world he knew the results of the Hugos while they were embargoed (so either he was part of an orchestrated cheat, or someone in the Hugo administrators had broken all the rules and informed him – so he could break that one) as their GoH, gave confidential voting records to a partisan group allied to people with a strong commercial interest in the outcome, and then kicked out Dave Truesdale on CoC violation accusations – which, when he made available the recording they were unaware he had, turned out to be a display of arrant dishonesty. Because this is hold-my-beer-precedent setting stupid, the perps suffered no penalty at all.

My mind’s eye sees WorldCon San Jose looking at this and saying: ‘Wow… tough one. But, hold my beer…’ And they promptly banned Jon Del Arroz for a ‘pre-crime’ (I think Philip K Dick would be horrified to find that it was the Science Fiction Establishment that first actually put into practice his disturbing vision – that is, punishing someone in advance because you ‘know’ they will commit the crime.) The ‘pre-crime’ turns out to be neither illegal nor in fact not allowed by the convention’s own rules. That’s besides undermining the fundamental principles of law: You can’t be guilty of a crime you haven’t committed yet. If you were thinking of blowing up a building, you can be arrested for conspiracy (but without any signs of tangible preparation, that would probably fail) but you cannot be arrested for blowing up the building… until you blow up the building. I doubt if there is a special exception for sf Cons, somehow. If the organizers could actually see the future, they’d be buying lotto tickets.

Ok, WorldCon San Jose wins. That has to be the single dumbest precedent set by any WorldCon committee, ever, despite stiff competition. What in hell are the next year’s going to do for their ‘hold-my-beer’ session? Even getting televised getting up on stage in the Hugo awards and setting their own farts on fire, while wearing nylon underwear… just wouldn’t cut it. Well done, chaps. You’ve just set a precedent whereby it is acceptable to refuse entry to any paid-up attendee… because they might possibly do something the people in power right now don’t like, on an arbitrary scale of ‘don’t like’.

Think Turkey (the country, not the collective intellect of this ‘hold-my-beer’ group). Power is transient. Does anyone seriously imagine this precedent will somehow magically not be a precedent when that power moves along? How you use that power while you have it, sets the precedent that will determine just how your – or your group – survives their time out of power.

So: using this as a foundation to get back to writing – which is difficult because if you make a villain this inordinately short-sightedly dim-witted, you’re kind of limited to flash fiction. That’s the problem with fiction: people have to suspend disbelief, and this sort of level of hubris and short-sighted arrogance is very hard to believe. Yes, I know: ‘But Hilla…’ the problem is in fiction you’d have to cover 40 years of building up such a level of hubris. That’s possible, but that’s what it would need. And even that would be hard to believe.

Precedent, however, remains your tool, if used well, and with thought.  You see, pecedent is how you prime your audience. How you foreshadow the hero and the villain’s actions and behavior. It’s what we expect of the character, what we expect of the story.  There’s bloody murder on page 3? We know there will be mayhem throughout. She’s an arachnophobe who runs screaming when she sees a spider? You have her making passionate love to the spider-god in the penultimate scene? You’re going to have set some serious precedents when it comes to conquering fear, or being aroused by it. If you like, all the lead up scenes in a book are really setting precedents in the reader’s belief of what the character is likely to do. If you don’t do that, I guarantee your book will follow another precedent, and be thrown across the room in disgust.

Don’t set precedents you (or your character) don’t want… if you’re suddenly on the receiving end, unless you’re really trying to punish yourself, or your character.

And, like watching a slow-mo trainwreck I have no way of stopping, I await the next WoldCon ‘Hold-my-beer’. Because that’s the precedent they’ve set.


  1. These kinds of precedents makes sense if you accept the Marxist concept of History as an inexorable tide that always flows in one direction. Consider how often they say “You can’t turn back the clock.”

    Not “you shouldn’t” or “it’s wrong” to turn back the clock, but “you can’t”. It’s an article of faith that once something has changed in what they consider to be the “right” direction, it is physically impossible to reverse it.

    Combined with that is the idea that if a foolish official or electorate does “go backwards” they will roll back all of the so called progress equally. Thus in the mind of a Marxist, hate-speech legislation is tied to the progressive ideals that it is meant to enforce.

    And that explains the shock that comes when someone uses anti-defamation or anti-discrimination laws in defense of someone on the “wrong” side of history. They honestly believe that someone who, in their minds, is from a more primitive era shouldn’t be able to use modern tools.

    They are like white settlers who build a palisade designed to stop arrows who suddenly find that the Indians have rifles and know how to use them.

    1. the direction they are flowing seems to be ‘off a cliff, like lemmings’

      and they don’t seem to have any ‘blockers’

    2. Instead of an arrow of history, we should perhaps talk about the boomerang of history – when thrown properly (or improperly in this case- think the Bugs Bunny interpretation), it whips around and hits you.

      1. The arc of history bends towards measurement error. Any analogy with an easily described mechanical system makes it sound easier to measure, calculate, and change to order than it really is. Even a ‘fifty body system with significant gravity interactions, and no pattern beyond that’.

        Forecasting from history is always extrapolating outside the bounds of the dataset. Like “we don’t know what the o-rings do at that temperature, so they’ll be fine”. Maybe it can be done as an art, but never as a science or an engineering discipline. As an art, it is very prone to error, and depends on artistic skill and the situation. A man can’t just chisel a forecast into stone, and use it over and over again in every situation. It will be wrong, useless, or both.

        There’s a major uncertainty in forecasts that isn’t present in history. The heart of every individual at the current time can not be known by any man. Sometimes that will be a significant factor in what happens. In history, people have already acted. We don’t have to guess from what little information there was on hearts at the time.

        1. That stone with the forecast will be shacked to the writer for the rest of his/her/xirs life.

                1. I imagine so. The one I actually saw in person was at the Bozeman Trail restaurant in Buffalo, WY on the return leg of a western vacation, and it was slightly different. Alas, I had no photo.

      2. Another consideration regarding “Progress”. One era’s cutting edge science is often the next’s era’s foolish pseudoscience.
        Especially if the “scientific planning” involves telling humans what to do.
        Perverse incentives, friction, and unintended consequences tend to be the rule in such situations.

    3. Misha, as I said – Turkey or indeed Afghanistan (in Kabul mini-skirts were worn in the 1960’s) kind of make a joke of their ‘one direction’.

  2. Actually, those palisades of logs set into trenches worked well against rifle fire. But it does bring to mind General Lee and Fort Pulaski. General Lee didn’t worry about Fort Pulaski falling because he had helped build it. But Lee helped build Fort Pulaski in the days of smooth bore canon, and now there was such a thing called rifled canon. So it was that the fort General Lee didn’t worry about fell within a matter of hours. And to this day you can see some of the damage done by Union rifled canon to the walls.

  3. Harvey Weinstein operated on a precedent that such things were done in his business. It was an old one that dated back to at lease vaudeville and probably before. What he could not envision was an end to the precedent, because how he operated was how things were gone.

    It’s easy to call that short-sighted, and perhaps it is. But to recognize something outside of precedent one must realize there exists something more than the established way of doing things. Go back two centuries before Weinstein, and a man would have faced the precedent of at best being bull whipped by an angry male relative and at worse called to the field of honor. The gentlemen of that era would just as likely never had envisioned a time when you didn’t apply a generous amount of bull whip or a dose of lead for such things done to kin.

    How much, then, is precedent, and how much is our minds forming nice, comfortable, ruts about the way things work? And what nice, comfortable, ruts are each of our minds in right now?

    1. I kind of like the mental picture of Harvey the Perv being horsewhipped or caned by an angry male relative, actually. As ye sow, so shall ye reap.

  4. Schadenfreude – not just for 2016 anymore. I’m expecting a good decade of it now.

    I’ve tried explaining the hazards of precedent and unintended consequences to several people, but most can’t seem to grasp that things will change against them at some point.

    I like the new layout. It’s very clean and easy to read.

    1. One caveat about that, I don’t like that I have to expand the story to see the author’s name.

  5. What I don’t get is that it seems to be more common in people who reject the idea of balancing costs– say, this may be a really great idea, but it has this other result. Which one do we want more, are there any other costs, etc.

    Nope, it either gets flatly rejected, or flatly accepted.

    Makes my head hurt.

      1. Heynow, there were some very practical mystics who were saints….hm. They usually had a sense of humor, too, at least the ones I like. Maybe it’s the god that’s the issue.

        1. Eh, and the type of mystic. You have the ‘believes in mystical things’ mystic. And you have the ‘chant so the demon goes away, no I don’t know why it works or why this word/name works and that doesn’t… MAGIC!’ mystics. The ‘I cast you out in the name of Jesus Christ whom Paul preaches’ sort who are always surprised when the demons attack them.

          1. Yeah, my favorite is the ones with visions who said things like “Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, it is no wonder you have so few of them!”

        2. Eichmann had a mechanical engineering degree, and I’m pretty sure that the techniques he used to troubleshoot the Holocaust were engineering techniques.

          The techniques of science and of engineering can be used for good or for ill. This principle may also have some validity for mystical techniques.

          Approximating goodness is a challenging goal.

          Thinking is also hard.

          Someone trained and competent still needs to work to avoid magical thinking when executing a scientific or engineering technique. (And as currently practiced, science and engineering have mysticism that is easily found.)

          Mystical techniques for ‘knowing’ are really easy to wander into.

          It isn’t surprising that someone may say ‘because’ if asked how they know something, or why they make an assumption.

          I wouldn’t be surprised if extant well known records of church fathers oversampled the intellectually rigorous ones.

  6. For writers, the precedents you set for things like the amount of sex and how much is on the page before the door is closed an set readers expectations of all your books. And the amount of gore, and perhaps the pace.

  7. I’m rather skeptical about sexual harassment complaints. Probably from having been unjustly threatened with one. One of the reasons why I’m a firm believer that it’s better to let 10 child molesters get away (and catch them with the good later) than to wrongly punish an innocent man.

    1. Mike, please. There is no such thing as an innocent man. Because PATRIARCHY!!!

      Please report for re-education immediately.

  8. There is a saying which covers this. “What goes around, comes around.”

    Misha Burnett made a very interesting comment about the Marxist “tide of history,” and how the tide only ever flows in one direction. That’s why they call themselves Progressives, because they are making “progress.” They move from a more primitive state to a more advanced state, as if refining their base human ore into fine metal.

    The problem with this type of thing is that it is a fantasy, of course. Life does not work that way.

    Humans have a nature, that arises from the combination of their minds, bodies and their environment. Marxists deny that this is so, but the fossil record does not lie. The tools, processes and daily routines of ancient man are identical to those of people now whose environment is similar. We have not changed. We are the same as those ancient ones.

    What I mean when I say that is that we are -measurably- the same. You can tell when you compare to a sentient non-Human like Neanderthal. They were NOT the same as us. They had a different nature, and it shows up in things like where they put the fire pit. Humans -always- put the fire pit in the same spot. There are European sites where the fire pit location is stable for 3000 years or more.

    Neanderthals put the fire pit anywhere. That is different. It is so different that it serves as a marker for a radical change of mentality from Neanderthal to Human. Their very nature was different.

    But, it seems that Love springs eternal, because now there aren’t any Neanderthals left. They all married cute Humans and had cute Half-ie babies for a few thousand years.

    Now, the Marxist view of history is that the fierce and much more advanced Humans killed them all, but the genetics don’t lie. If you’re a blondie or a red-head, your great^n grandad was a Neanderthal. If you are “neuro-diverse,” you got more than your share of Neanderthal genes. (Thanks a bunch, great^n Grandad.)

    And Marxists fricking hate it when you point that out. Because it makes them look bad, and screws up their Tide O’ History narrative.

    Another thing they really, really believe in is making people shut up. Free speech is for the Anointed, those who have refined their common ore and become “Woke”, as the friggin’ SJW brats love to say these days. The Floppy Cameltoe had a whole blog post the other day about “community standards” and how Twitter should de-platform Trump.

    The problem they have is that their cloud-castle can’t withstand people like Jon del Arroz coming along and demanding they walk their Diversity! talk. When a Marxist says Diversity! it means “Shut up, white cis-male oppressor!!!” It does not mean, “why yes, Hispanic person who is Conservative, please join our club.” Their narrative cannot withstand the notion of human nature being a thing either.

    100 years after the Bolshevik revolution and 100 million dead people later, the evidence that they are wrong is buried in mass graves all over the world. It is so massive and so pervasive they had to take over all of higher education and all of media to hide it. But it still keeps spilling out, and all they have left is de-platforming people and screaming SHUT UP as hard as they can.

    But sadly for the SJWs, the SMOFs, the Ivory Tower dickheads who have left an entire generation so buried in student loan debt that it will take them 30 years to dig out, Time is not an arrow and History does not move inexorably Forward. As TxRed said above, Time is a boomerang.

    What goes around, inevitably and inexorably, comes around. Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind.

    What does that look like for the WorldCon and the SMOFs? Well, I’m sure that eventually they will try to de-platform somebody with the will and the resources to mount an effective counter attack, and they will end up getting the shirt sued off their collective back. In the meantime, their reputation as something worth being part of is eroding like a sand-castle at high tide.

    I mean, nobody -has- to buy a WorldCon membership, right? And nobody -has- to care what book got a Hugo. More and more, we won’t.

    “The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.” Princess Leia Organa, 1977

    1. One side is of the view that people are basically good, but corrupted by society into something bad. Thus, the cure is to cast off the old rules, repressions, and constraints, and paradise will ensue.

      Whereas we tend to the opinion that people are basically bad, and have to be laboriously taught and disciplined into something if not good, then at least functional.

      1. The details of which way people are is a fruitful area for argumentation. Where the Marxists part ways with Reality is in assuming Humans are blank slates, waiting to have their lives written on them.

        Which is the most amazing BS. Even to those who don’t agree what way people go, that there IS a Human nature and that people ARE a certain way, this is amply supported by observable fact.

        I myself find it obvious that in Western society, most people are basically good-hearted, kind and helpful. Our society doesn’t really tolerate people being any other way, we are taught from the cradle that hard work, honesty and truthfulness are The Way. And in our culture, that is true. Those who behave otherwise are wretched outcasts who live a hand-to-mouth existence. Or, are fabulously wealthy and hide their true nature very well indeed.

        That’s what is ultimately going to be the thing that kills the SMOFs. When you openly behave unfairly, when you openly discriminate against people, the culture will inexorably turn against you.

  9. “We need to ban hate speech!”
    okay, but only I get to decide what constitutes hate speech
    “Wait what?! NO!”
    well, if it is so obvious, you should be fine with me deciding

    for some reason they never go for that

  10. Getting away from the political angle and more in the literary part…

    The precedent thing has always struck me as particularly important in sci-fi and fantasy. Sort of by definition, you’re dealing with things that don’t exist in reality, so people will accept pretty much everything you tell them about how your hyperdrive or magic wands work…but once you tell them how it works, they’re going to get angry if you change the rules without a damn good reason for it (an in-story reason, I mean, not just, “Well, if this still worked like that, my plot would be ruined). If it’s established early on that there’s a magic spell that can unlock any door, you can’t later have an extended plot where your magician spends several chapters not knowing how to get into a locked room. Or conversely, if it’s established in Chapter 1 that your graviton sensors can only detect objects within 1 AU, you can’t later have them finding ships in another star system–not unless you’ve had a subplot about developing the technology and expanding its range.

    The stranger the stuff you’re dealing with, the more internally consistent it has to be, or else it no longer feels like a story, just the author pulling stuff out of his butt to fulfill whatever plot need he has this chapter.

    1. Oh Dear. Hadn’t thought about it that way, but WIP requires juggling a bunch of disparate things. I need to make sure the reader knows WTH is going on. You can’t anticipate the horrible possibilities if you can’t tell whether or not something is dangerous.

      1. Moment of horror as Plucky Hero realizes the destructive potential of Magic Spell that can suppress the charge on electrons…

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