Lifehack: read more Pratchett

Given the name and origins of this blog I was honour-bound to link to this io9 article about 10 Discworld quotes you’ll desperately need for the next four years:

There is almost no subject that Terry Pratchett hasn’t explained better, funnier, and more times than just about anyone else on the planet. Reading his Discworld novels is reading a master at work, and it seems like he gets more relevant the more time passes.

I’ve just started a too-long-put-off reread of Monstrous Regiment and right from the get-go the wisdom and vital social commentary are dropping:

There was always a war. Usually it was a border dispute, the national equivalent of complaining that the neighbour was letting his hedge grow too long. Sometimes it was bigger. Borogravia was a peace-loving country in the midst of treacherous, devious, warlike enemies. They had to be treacherous, devious and warlike, otherwise we wouldn’t be fighting them, eh?

So this is part of my self-care for the election year ahead: read more Pratchett. It’s damn good for the soul.

QOTD: Pratchett on privilege

The parents of two pupils from St Bede’s College got a court injunction so their sons could row in a competition. The school had cut them from the team after they were given formal warnings by Police and Aviation Security about jumping on the baggage conveyor at Christchurch Auckland Airport.

Which just brought to mind a quote from the Terry Pratchett novel Night Watch:

“That’s the way it was. Privilege, which just means private law. Two types of people laugh at the law: those that break it and those that make it.”

In a post-9/11 world where you aren’t even allowed to joke in the line for passenger screening, the rules clearly don’t apply to the sons of rowing commitee chairmen from decile 9 integrated schools.

Or Cabinet Ministers.

QOTD: By jingo

It was so much easier to blame it on Them. It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us. If it was Them, then nothing was anyone’s fault. If it was us, what did that make Me? After all, I’m one of Us. I must be. I’ve certainly never thought of myself as one of Them. No one ever thinks of themselves as one of Them. We’re always one of Us. It’s Them that do the bad things.

– Terry Pratchett, Jingo

More meaningless numbers

It’s that time of year when the Government trumpets the success of its welfare reforms. Look! they cry, benefit numbers are down! The repressive, labyrinthine, victim-blaming system works!

I’ve written before about the way National have perfected the art of throwing out context-free figures, knowing they’ll be interpreted as “proof” of something.

It always makes me think of another quote from Pratchett:

“Samuel Vimes dreamed about Clues. He had a jaundiced view of Clues. He instinctively distrusted them. They got in the way. And he distrusted the kind of person who’d take one look at another man and say in a lordly voice to his companion, “Ah, my dear sir, I can tell you nothing except that he is a left-handed stonemason who has spent some years in the merchant navy and has recently fallen on hard times,” and then unroll a lot of supercilious commentary about calluses and stance and the state of a man’s boots, when exactly the same comments could apply to a man who was wearing his old clothes because he’d been doing a spot of home bricklaying for a new barbecue pit, and had been tattooed once when he was drunk and seventeen* and in fact got seasick on a wet pavement. What arrogance! What an insult to the rich and chaotic variety of the human experience!”

The point is, the only thing you can really say when you find footprints in the flowerbed is that someone stood in the flowerbed.

And the only thing you can really say when the government cries “there are 13,000 fewer people on benefits” is that there are 13,000 fewer people on benefits. You don’t know why, unless they also produce figures on where those people went – how many moved into permanent jobs (and have stayed in them), or emigrated to Australia, or simply vanished from the records?

And you absolutely do not know that “the reductions we’re now seeing will mean fewer people on benefit in the years to come which means we’re going to see healthier, more prosperous households.”

The only basis for that statement is ideology: Anne Tolley thinks benefits are unnecessary handouts which stop people from being ~incentivised~ to feed their children through work, ergo people not being on benefits must mean economic prosperity.

Or at least, that’s the argument she’s peddling.

But because most people outside of the Cabinet are basically good-natured and compassionate, it works: we assume that benefits exist to help people who can’t work, and they stop getting a benefit when they’ve gone into work. And we assume “work” means a good, steady job. So a drop in benefit numbers must be a positive thing!

If we got the real figures – how many people were forced into terrible jobs, only to lose them 89 days in and be placed on a stand-down, or how many people just gave up and turned to begging, or how many people were so bullied and demoralized by WINZ that they’re making themselves sicker by doing work their doctors say is unhealthy for them – we would have a very different idea of the “success” of National’s welfare reforms.

That’s why they pretend that only the numbers matter.

So what is the Boots Theory?

With my change of Twitter handle a few people have asked about the name, “Boots Theory”. So it’s as good a time as any to re-post one of my favourite Terry Pratchett quotes, from Men at Arms.

The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

This was the Captain Samuel Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness.