Principles, with Citations!


It’s very nearly the late Sir Terry Pratchett’s 67th birthday.1 Earlier this week, WC received a long email from a reader accusing WC of not having any principles.2 WC will celebrate Sir Terry’s birthday by responding to that email and citing to Sir Terry in support of his points.

Ambivalence towards technology

WC’s correspondent accused WC of ambivalence towards technology. It’s true. Technology has its limits. Among them:

Real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time. —Terry Pratchett, Hogfather

Or, in the phrase of Andy Hertzfeld, the problem with “foolproof” is that fools are so ingenious. Technology is both humanity’s curse and salvation, often at the same time. Science is generally a pretty accurate business; scientists, not so much. And technologists far too often leap before they look. Think about thalidomide for a while and you’ll agree. Ambivalence, or at least a healthy skepticism, is appropriate. WC bows to no one in his technogeekery, but tries to consider the risk, too.

Atheism

I’d rather be a rising ape than a falling angel. —Terry Pratchett, for the Guardian Book Club

WC’s parents tried to make WC religious; they failed. WC’s religious skepticism began in Sunday School and slowly evolved into full-blown atheism by high school. And while the Fairbanks school system tried its best to hide evolution from its young scholars, the truth wiggled out. The story of the evolution of life is much more interesting – and much more probable – than anything in the Bible.

Pious Hypocrisy

Goodness is about what you do. Not who you pray to. – Terry Pratchett,  Snuff

WC is admittedly intolerant of hypocrisy, and religious hypocrisy in particular sets his teeth on edge. It’s probably a character flaw, but so much that is fundamentally wrong in this messy old world is a consequence of hypocrisy, and especially religious hypocrisy. The whole LGBT marriage debate is a consequence of selective reading to an allegedly infallible book. They pick the passages they want – LGBT is wrong – and ignore the bits that are inconvenient – slavery is great, stoning folks is just fine, and women are property. Bah.

Intolerance and Closed Minds

The presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely to be preferred to the presence of those who think they’ve found it. – Terry Pratchett,  Monstrous Regiment

WC cultivates an open mind, a skeptical view of unsupported claims and a firm belief that man’s capacity for self-deception is nearly boundless. WC doesn’t always succeed; see the comments on Pious Hypocrisy above. But WC aspires.

Upsetting People

WC’s correspondent accused WC of upsetting people. Heh.

It’s not worth doing something unless someone, somewhere, would much rather you weren’t doing it. —Terry Pratchett, in the foreword to The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Fantasy, by David Pringle

The truth may be out there, but the lies are inside your head. – Terry Pratchett, Once More, with Footnotes

It’s nearly impossible to change people’s minds without upsetting them. It’s very nearly the first step. WC will grant that he may not succeed all that often. Someone who voluntarily puts on blinkers to walk through life isn’t going to easily be persuaded to take them off. But unless you upset them, you’ll never have a chance.

Fantasy Literature

Complaints about fantasy literature – which WC admits he enjoys – are a bit ironic coming from a biblical literalist.

Stories of imagination tend to upset those without one. – Terry Pratchett, Slip of the Keyboard

Fantasy is an exercise bicycle for the mind. It might not take you anywhere, but it tones up the muscles that can. – Terry Pratchett, Slip of the Keyboard

WC has defended his delight in fantasy literature before and won’t bore you with it again. And, as Pratchett would say, it’s not so much what escapist literature takes you from as where it takes you to.

Obsession with Science

WC is accused of being “obsessed” with science. That’s a bit of a non sequitur, following an accusation of being obsessed with fantasy. But set that aside.

It’s still magic even if you know how it’s done. – Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

Understanding the how makes the thing better. Knowing the jigsaw puzzle pieces that are geology makes your appreciation of the landscape that much deeper. Knowing the biology of birds makes your appreciation of their staggering diversity that much richer. Too little knowledge, not too much, is what hurts people and cultures.

Insufficient Focus on the Spiritual

WC supposes it depends on what you mane by “spiritual.” The closest WC ever came to a religious experience was in an upstairs bedroom on 8th Avenue, while her parents were away. If you mean obsession with souls and religious mumbo-jumbo, then WC pleads guilty. If you mean life lessons, well.

There are times in life when people must know when not to let go. Balloons are designed to teach small children this. – Terry Pratchett, I Shall Wear Midnight

The entire universe has been neatly divided into things to (a) mate with, (b) eat, (c) run away from, and (d) rocks. – Terry Pratchett, A Slip of the Keyboard

If that’s not spiritual enough, readers should probably try a different blogger.

Too Many Personal Stories

WC’s correspondent dislikes WC’s Epic Fails threads.

If you don’t turn your life into a story, you just become a part of someone else’s story. – Terry Pratchett, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents

Oddly, they are WC’s most popular posts, after anything involving The Quitter. De gustibus non est disputandans. And, who knows, the stories may keep others from stumbling into the same folly as WC.

Too Many Different Subjects

Finally, WC is accused of trying to address too many different topics. There’s no question WC’s magpie sensibility impacts the blog. WC will only say in his defense,

So much universe, and so little time. – Terry Pratchett, A Slip of the Keyboard

Since Pratchett is patently right, WC makes no apology for the somewhat . . . diffuse . . . subject matter of this blog.

If WC has missed any of his correspondent’s complaints, no doubt his correspondent will be in touch. And no doubt Pratchett will have an aphorism to address it.


  1. April 28, 1948, actually. 
  2. WC is pretty astonished that his email correspondent troubled to read so many of WC’s posts, going back to 2011. Amazing. 
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5 thoughts on “Principles, with Citations!

  1. A lesson for green-eyed admirers in every inbox: Never stand between two mirrors, but certainly don’t cackle when doing so!

    ~Apologies to Sir Terry Pratchett

  2. About 15 years ago, when I took a break from gov’t contracting jobs (right to work & they exercised it) to work in a well known telecom a co-worker tried to introduce me to Sir Terry. At the time I resisted, but after many years I have relented and I am finding a great many nuggets of wisdom in his writing. I am going through his books at my pace & am trying to introduce my son to the same (true to family heritage, he is resisting).

    I am now back in the gov’t’s employ. Sir Terry’s writing (among others) helps me to make it through the daily grind of dealing with RWNJs I work with, as well as Tea Party loons I graduated HS with and am linked to through facebook.

    Keep up your writing. I find… something good… in pretty much everything you write. Your wry sense touches the same in me.

    My only quibble: Your dang Cubs keep beating my Pirates.

  3. Forgive me WC—Just have to chime in here:

    “It’s nearly impossible to change people’s minds without upsetting them.” “WC will grant that he may not succeed all that often. Someone who voluntarily puts on blinkers to walk through life isn’t going to easily be persuaded to take them off. But unless you upset them, you’ll never have a chance.”—-“Convince a man against his will, He’s of the same opinion still.” Mary Wollstonecraft (I think)

    “Goodness is about what you do. Not who you pray to. – Terry Pratchett, Snuff”—–Even the book of James comes close to saying the same: “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” James 2:14-26

    “The presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely to be preferred to the presence of those who think they’ve found it. – Terry Pratchett, Monstrous Regiment” “Religious convictions that become locked into absolute truths can easily lead people to see themselves as God’s agents. People so embolden are capable of violent and destructive behavior in the name of religion.” Charles Kimball–When Religion Becomes Evil

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