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Co-founder of Elgg and Known; former investor at Matter;
CTO at The 19th.

benwerd

benwerd

benwerd

19thnews.org

 

Tonight I needed to use something called a Windi on my baby, and I might need a whole therapy session just for that.

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Pet Door Show

My sister Hannah Werdmuller hosts a new music show, Pet Door Show, on Shady Pines Radio every Thursday from 2-4pm (5-7pm ET, 10pm-midnight UK time). She describes it as “a unique, cross-genre playlist of new music by independent, under-the-radar artists from all over the world” - and Hannah’s eye for equity really shines through. All the music is new and underheard, and it’s all beautiful.

She puts a ton of work into it: it reminds me of John Peel’s old BBC show in both form and quality. There’s lots of really excellent new music I definitely never would have heard otherwise.

The best way to listen is live on shadypinesradio.com, but there’s a collection of old shows over on Mixcloud. It’s all fully-licensed, so musicians are compensated appropriately.

I mean it: it’s really, really great. Worried you’ll miss it? Click here to add it to your calendar. If you download the Shady Pines Radio app from shadypinesradio.com and subscribe to Pet Door Show, you can also receive a mobile notification when it’s on.

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I’ve 100% become one of those people who just talks about his baby and assumes you’re as interested as he is. Suspect this will get worse, not better, over time.

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A sure sign of a truly toxic culture is badmouthing people behind their backs. When that level of infighting starts, I don't know that it's possible to save a community - particularly if it doesn't see the importance of building something more supportive.

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Came within moments of accidentally pouring the baby a cup of coffee into his bottle this morning, so as you can see, we all had a great night.

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Generating genre novels with OpenAI

I asked OpenAI to write me outlines for some genres of novels, all set in the same post-apocalyptic commune in California. Here they are, verbatim. Prompts in bold are mine; the AI wrote everything else.

 

Write an outline for a horror novel set in a post-apocalyptic commune in California.

The Last Resort

A group of survivors band together in the aftermath of a nuclear apocalypse, vowing to start anew in a remote commune in California.

But as they settle into their new life, they realize that the outside world is not as dead as they thought.

Strangers begin to show up at their doorstep, seeking shelter from the harsh conditions.

At first the newcomers are welcomed, but as their numbers grow, the commune members start to realize that they might not be the only ones left alive.

And as supplies start to run low, the group must decide whether to open their doors to the outside world… or close them for good.

As tensions mount, the commune is forced to confront the dark secrets hiding in their own ranks.

And when they finally come face to face with the true nature of the outside world, they realize that the real horror is only just beginning.

 

Write an outline for a zombie novel set in a post-apocalyptic commune in California.

The novel opens with the protagonist, a young woman named Scout, waking up from a dream in which she is being chased by a horde of zombies.

Scout lives in a post-apocalyptic commune in California that is slowly being overrun by zombies.

The commune's leader, a man named Elias, is Scout's lover and the father of her child.

Elias is a cold and distant man who is more interested in the survival of the commune than in the people who live there.

Scout is torn between her love for Elias and her desire to protect her child from the dangers of the outside world.

When the commune is finally overrun by zombies, Scout is forced to flee with her child.

They are pursued by zombies and Elias, who is determined to get his hands on the child.

Scout and her child eventually find refuge in a safe haven, but not before Elias catches up to them.

In the final confrontation, Elias is killed and Scout and her child are left to rebuild their lives in the safety of the haven.

 

Write an outline for a young adult novel set in a post-apocalyptic commune in California.

The novel follows a group of teens who have grown up in a post-apocalyptic commune in California. The commune is a safe haven for survivors of a nuclear war that wiped out most of the world. The teens have never known anything else, and they are content with their lives. However, when a group of newcomers arrives at the commune, the teens start to question everything they know. The newcomers are from a different part of the world and they have a different way of life. The teens are intrigued and start to explore the new ways of life. They soon realize that the world is much bigger than they thought, and that there is more to life than just surviving.

 

Write an outline for a literary fiction novel set in a post-apocalyptic commune in California.

The novel follows the story of a group of survivors who band together in the aftermath of a global apocalypse. They set up a commune in the California desert, where they struggle to build a new society while battling the elements and fighting off raiders. Through their trials and tribulations, they come to realize that the world is not what it once was, and that they must work together if they want to survive.

 

Write an outline for a romantic novel set in a post-apocalyptic commune in California.

In the wake of a devastating global war, a small group of survivors band together to create a commune in the remains of California. Through hard work and determination, they are able to create a self-sustaining society, but not without cost. The commune is constantly under threat from raiders and other groups seeking to take what they have built. But the biggest threat to their way of life comes from within, as tensions begin to rise between those who want to maintain the status quo and those who yearn for something more.

As the commune begins to unravel, two people emerge as the leaders of the two factions. On one side is Sarah, a young woman who believes that the commune can be a force for good in the world and that they should reach out to other survivors. On the other side is Aaron, a man who is convinced that the only way to protect the commune is to cut themselves off from the outside world.

As the two sides clash, Sarah and Aaron find themselves drawn to each other, even as they realize that their relationship could tear the commune apart. But with the commune on the brink of collapse, they must choose whether to save it or follow their hearts.

 

Write an outline for a humorous novel set in a post-apocalyptic commune in California.

The world has ended, but a group of Californians have survived and formed a commune.

They are a self-sufficient community, but they are also bizarre and quirky.

They have to deal with the everyday challenges of post-apocalyptic life, but they also have to deal with the fact that they are living in close quarters with a bunch of weirdos.

They manage to get by, but just barely. And they do it all with a sense of humor.

 

Write an outline for a crime fiction novel set in a post-apocalyptic commune in California.

Life in the commune is hard, but it's the only life Kate knows. She's never known anything else.

The commune is run by a ruthless leader who will do anything to keep everyone in line.

There are rumors of a rebellion brewing, and Kate finds herself at the center of it.

She's not sure if she wants to be a part of the rebellion, or if she just wants to stay alive.

With the commune's leader on one side and the rebels on the other, Kate has to choose sides.

She's not sure who to trust, but she knows she has to make a choice.

Kate has to decide whether to fight for the life she knows, or risk everything for a chance at something better.

 

Write an outline for a children's novel set in a post-apocalyptic commune in California.

The novel follows a group of children who live in a post-apocalyptic commune in California.

The commune is a safe haven for the children, who are able to live and work together in harmony.

However, when the outside world begins to intrude on their peaceful existence, the children must band together to protect their way of life.

Along the way, they learn about the value of cooperation, teamwork, and self-sacrifice.

In the end, the children are able to triumph over the forces that threaten their commune, and they emerge stronger and more united than ever before.

 

Write an outline for a magical fantasy novel set in a post-apocalyptic commune in California.

In a post-apocalyptic world, a group of survivors come together to form a commune in California.

The commune is a magical place, where the residents can use their powers to help the community thrive.

However, not everyone is happy with the commune. Some people want to exploit its power for their own gain, while others believe that the commune is a sign of the end times.

As the commune faces challenges from both within and without, the residents must band together to protect their home.

Along the way, they will discover new powers, make new friends, and battle enemies old and new.

Ultimately, the commune will face its biggest challenge when a group of powerful outsiders threatens to destroy it.

But with the power of magic on their side, the residents of the commune will fight back and prove that they can build a new world from the ashes of the old one.

 

Write an outline for a Russian novel set in a post-apocalyptic commune in California.

The novel opens with the protagonist, a young woman, waking up in a post-apocalyptic commune in California.

She has no memories of her life before the apocalypse, and is taken in by the commune's leader, a woman known as The Mother.

The protagonist quickly learns that the commune is a safe haven for survivors of the apocalypse, and that they are constantly under threat from raiders.

The commune is self-sufficient, with a garden, livestock, and a small store of supplies.

The protagonist begins to settle into life at the commune, making friends and helping with the daily tasks.

However, the peace is shattered when the commune is attacked by raiders.

The Mother is killed and the commune is destroyed.

The protagonist is captured by the raiders and taken to their base.

The raiders are a group of survivors who have banded together and live by raiding other communities.

The protagonist is forced to work for the raiders, and soon becomes one of their deadliest members.

The novel ends with the protagonist leading a raid on her former commune, killing all of the survivors.

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Wanted: ProductHunt for indie tinkerers and developers outside of a startup context. (I love ProductHunt; I just also want something else.) Does that exist? Could it?

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Your 401(k) hates you

This is an edited version of a piece I wrote a few years ago elsewhere, which I’m now updating and publishing here. At the time, I was working on understanding what might be an interesting evolution of retirement plans.

The 401(k) was created by accident as a result of tax reform in the late seventies. Section 401(k) of the 1978 Revenue Act allowed employees to defer bonus or stock option compensation without incurring taxes. An enterprising benefits consultant suggested that this could be a good way for companies to provide a retirement savings account — essentially a hack on top of the Revenue Act clause — and the rest is history. When the IRS declared that ongoing salary deductions could be put into these savings accounts a couple of years later, the race was on.

By the mid eighties, over half of all the large firms in America offered a 401(k). Today, the 401(k) is simply how retirement plans are done.

There was a simple reason for the change. Even though the returns for employees were less certain than a traditional pension plan, they were far cheaper and more predictable for employers. This was a double-edged sword: on one hand, employees didn’t have the security they had previously enjoyed. On the other, more employers could provide retirement plans at all.

The net effect, however, is that employees are essentially bribed to take part in the stock market in the name of protecting their retirements. As we’ve seen, the dynamics of the stock market are not necessarily in their favor — and as it turns, out, most people saving for retirement don’t get to choose where their money goes.

In practice, the 401(k) is a support plan for fossil fuels, arms companies, and all kinds of heinous shit.

Clearly, retirement plans need regulation in order to protect the ordinary people who are trusting their futures to them. But the legislation that governs 401(k)s, ERISA, actually makes it hard for providers to let people invest in anything other than that default basket of heinous goods. ESGs — Environmental, Social, and Governance investments — are difficult to add to a retirement plan’s lineup. The Trump administration made it even harder for a retirement plan to add them.

Care about climate change? You’re shit out of luck.

Don’t want to invest in arms? You’re shit out of luck.

Private prisons? You get the idea.

If you want to save for retirement based on your values in a 401(k) plan, you’ll more than likely find you can’t. And most of the traditional target date funds contain companies that you’d probably be upset to know you were investing in. Some plans let you open a brokerage window and pick your own investments instead of the default funds, but it’ll cost you more.

The total AUM in these retirement plans is north of $28 trillion, while the total US stock market value is somewhere around $85 trillion. In other words, a third of the markets are invested in by people who don’t have full control over their investments. While, clearly, segments like private prisons are a small portion of an individual’s retirement investments, in aggregate these allocations represent enormous sums. Investments on the public markets prop up the share price of these companies, incentivizing investments in harmful industries. Investment advisors are financially incentivized to keep you within this system, perpetuating the harm. And even when these plans work, they only work for the relatively wealthy people who have the financial access and means to contribute to their maximum levels.

What’s the solution? If we have to move forward with 401(k)s and similar products, we need to allow more sustainable investments to be part of a lineup, while maintaining strong consumer protections. Eventually, we need to move to a world where everyone can invest directly into their communities instead, through public means, in an inclusive way. That will take real change, and real will. I’m not sure if that’s a place we’ll get to, but it’s something I’d love to see.

 

Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash

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To be honest, when people said that parenting was the hardest thing they’d ever done, I thought they meant emotionally or spiritually.

In unrelated news, will I pass out randomly during the day today? Let’s find out

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TV show pitch: a gritty Golden Girls reboot set 200 years in the future.

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A small website redesign

I’ve changed my website around to reflect that, at least for the time being, I’m doing more bookmark-saving and posting of short notes than long-form writing.

I was actually inspired, of all things, by The Verge redesigning its website to be more blog-like. I’m constantly sharing links to stuff I find interesting, but they’ve been buried on my site until my end-of-month roundup posts. This change makes them much more prominent. Honestly, the essence of the web is really about linking out to what you find useful or interesting, so this is kind of a return to web basics.

As a technical by-product, RSS subscribers will also receive these link posts as they’re published. Hopefully that’s not too disruptive.

I spent a couple of hours making an adjustment to the stock Known template Market Street (which I’ve used on my site for years) in order to allow for more compact posting of notes, links, and photos. The new one’s called Cornmarket Street, after the main shopping street in my hometown, and I like it more than I thought I would. I can easily imagine adding more content types over time: I’ve never posted links to hardware I like, for example, but I’m an unabashed tech nerd, so there might be a place for that. Lately I’ve been loving the Fujifilm X-T4, after my friend Jesse Vincent suggested that I wouldn’t regret getting a new camera to capture photos of my baby. He was super-right, as usual.

On that subject, I’m also wondering what to do with my parenting content. Should I keep posting them here? I’m sort of feeling shy to, although there’s a lot I could write about. Is the same site that hosts my thought about web business models really the place I also want to write about disastrous midnight diaper changes? I’m still thinking about it.

Anyway, it’s the first time I’ve changed my site up for a few years, and I like it. Let me know what you think.

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I put him back to sleep in his bassinet whispering that I’d always be there for him, which is a lie. He’d better outlive me.

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I don't think it's a partisan comment to say that we're still veering towards fascism. The transfer of migrants to Martha's Vineyard - with falsified records so they can't be traced, no less - has me very worried. Where does this escalate to?

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Pet theory: every single horror film is based on some aspect of pregnancy, childbirth, or parenting. It’s the most primal experience we have, and the one most loaded with fear and doubt. And also the most biologically transformative.

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It’s amazing how different baby bottles are. NUK Simply Natural glass bottles are working out really well, after some false starts with other models. They look weird but there’s much less leakage and baby seems to love them.

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State of the nation

My colleagues at The 19th just launched our first nationwide poll:

In the weeks leading up to the 2022 midterm elections, The 19th and SurveyMonkey teamed up to conduct a poll to find out what women, particularly women of color, and LGBTQ+ people think about politics, politicians and policy.

It’s an important survey, and there were some interesting findings.

For example, 70% of Americans don’t trust politicians to make abortion policy:

That distrust spans the political aisle: 70 percent of Republicans and 74 percent of Democrats said politicians were insufficiently informed about abortion. It was also consistent across men, women and gender-nonconforming Americans.

LGBTQ+ Americans are more likely to experience healthcare discrimination:

Twenty-four percent of LGBTQ+ Americans said they had been blamed for their health problems while visiting a health care provider, compared with 9 percent of non-LGBTQ+ people. For LGBTQ+ and gender-nonconforming people, or those who said their gender was not male or female in addition to being LGBTQ+, that number jumped to 40 percent.

There’s significantly more to explore. You can read more over on the 19th News/SurveyMonkey poll homepage. And the full data is available to explore over on SurveyMonkey’s site.

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Congratulations to Ethereum for burning 99% less of the planet than it was this morning. This is a good thing.

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I loved Tintin as a kid but its racial and colonialist overtones don’t sit well with me as an adult. Is there something that fits the same box of adventure-filled, smart comic books with a global setting that aren’t about superheroes that children can devour?

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The world is not designed for equitable parenting

So far, I’ve been the primary nappy-changer in my child’s world. That’s not virtue signaling or trying to make a point: it simply seems fair that, given that I’m biologically incapable of breastfeeding or carrying a child to term, I help out where I can.

Aaron Hoyland’s tweet the other day is exactly how I feel:

Putting baby change stations in the women’s washroom (and maybe the family washroom if there is one) but not the men’s washroom sends a very clear message about whose responsibility you think raising children is, and frankly, I hate it.

The world isn’t set up for equitable co-parenting. Bathrooms are one example. Don’t click through to the tweet if you’d like to skip being angry for a morning: the comments are dominated by people making excuses for dads not changing their children, or trying to argue that it’s women’s work like we’re back in the forties. A mother’s sacred duty, apparently, is to be the sole person cleaning their child.

I’m completely on board with having changing tables in every men’s bathroom. I intend to use them; please give them to me. In return, I will spend money in your establishment.

Unfortunately, this chauvanistic design mentality doesn’t stop at bathrooms. They’re everywhere. I call them “mommy defaults”.

I’ve discovered that a lot of the parenting apps we use - primarily Huckleberry, which allows us to track events like diaper changes and different kinds of feedings - don’t provide for more than one parental user account. If both parents want to track events and gain access to the log, they need to share a password. We’re not logging frivolously (our child needed to go to the ER for dehydration on their first night home), and it’s crucial that we both have access to this data.

Even the Snoo, our expensive and overtly high-tech smart bassinet, only allows for one account. If we want to track sleeping and adjust settings, we once again have to share passwords. It’s not incredibly difficult to use a shared 1Password vault, but I expect most parents default to using something easily memorable, and therefore easily hackable.

Finally, the biggest, most irritating version of this is that every provider - starting with hospitals and pediatricians - wants to have a single parental contact number. Go visit parenting forums and you’ll find message after message complaining about this, for good reason. The assumption that there’s one primary carer in parenting is deeply baked into institutional service design, and perpetuates inequality every time it arises. As the dad, I really want to take on my fair share of making appointments, dealing with administration, and otherwise caring for my child.

You can take the boy out of startups, but you can’t take startups out of the boy, apparently. My solution has been to treat our baby like a call center and set up a 24/7 virtual support line using a tool designed for that purpose. Now, we can provide a single number for text messages and calls, but we’re both essentially baby support agents. Whoever picks up first takes the call. It’s not the cheapest, but I couldn’t find an app or other solution that would allow us both to effectively be primary carers in someone’s database. Our own contact details are abstracted away.

The nice thing about this solution is that it also allows for additional caregivers. For example, I have to wonder how my friend David Jay - who is an adoptive third parent - deals with these design defaults. Families come in lots of shapes. Many people also care for children in a communal, village-like environment. Creating a baby call center allows you to bring anyone into that circle, even temporarily. Obviously, I’ve been using tools for business sales and support to achieve this, but maybe there’s a genuine startup here?

There are real cultural headwinds to overcome: just go back to those replies to Aaron’s tweet. Lots of people have lots to say about the place of fathers vs mothers, using language that isn’t far off from “a women’s place is in the kitchen”. They must be overcome, and they will be.

If you’re designing a parenting app or service, I implore you: dads are carers too. Please let us be by giving us full access to services designed to support our child. We’ll reward you with our loyalty. The dads are ready.

 

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

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A letter to my mother on the event of my child's birth

Dear Ma,

My child was born last Friday. I wish you could meet them.

The first time I saw their face in person (strikingly similar to their 3D ultrasound, but here, not an echo of a person but a real-life human being in front of me), they couldn’t breathe. The doctors whisked them away to a table, and I followed quickly, dumbly, the delirium from sleeplessness and from the surrealism of it all instantly snapping into pure, adrenaline-fueled presence. They put a mask on their face and applied pressure to their lungs, asking each other why they weren’t crying. Finally, there was a sound, like a tiny grunt. And then a little sigh. Finally, they opened up into a small cry; then, another, louder one. The smallest little human I’ve ever seen, finally arrived. I fell in love immediately.

The last time I saw you, just over a year ago, you were in a bed in the same institution, your donated lungs breathing fainter and fainter. I kissed you on the forehead and told you I loved you. You’d told me that what you wanted to hear was us talking amongst ourselves; to know that we’d continue without you. In the end, that’s what happened. But I miss you terribly: I feel the grief of losing you every day, and never more than when my child was born.

They’re so incredibly cute. I just want you to see.

I’ve been thinking about the cassette tape recording we have of when I was born. “It’s a baby!” you exclaimed, and we’ve always thought it was funny, because what else would it be? But I now understand that the enormity of that moment is stunning: a potential human made up of ideas and imagination, that we can only guess about, turns into a real-life human being. It’s a baby. Holy shit. Everything suddenly changes. Everything.

(I want to digitize that recording. Tapes degrade. It might even be gone already.)

You were always so good with children. Famously so. Babies loved you; children loved you. Every photo I have of you with a child is of you looking delightedly at each other, fully present in a joyful interaction. When you did your career about-face and became a schoolteacher, it was the most natural thing in the world, because it just made official what you’d always done. Of course, I saw the benefit of that care and love, too. I wish they were able to feel it directly. As it is, in this worse universe that doesn’t have you in it, I’ve been intentionally trying to channel you. I’ve been trying to imagine how you would have shown up with them, and what your advice for me would have been. I’ve been trying to convey that good-humored warmth I always felt. You made me feel safe: physically, yes, but more than that, emotionally. I want to make them feel safe, too: to be who they really are.

They have the privilege of a tightly-knit family. I can’t wait to introduce them to my dad, and to my sister, who are the best people I know. I want them to be deeply involved in their life. You will be too, through us, but I wish it could be through a hug or smiles or belly-kisses.

I guarantee you would have loved them. I guarantee they would have loved you.

Erin’s quickly turned into such a good mother, Ma. She really is; you’d love it. She’s so attentive, and smart, and worried about them, and prepared in all kinds of ways that I would never think to be. So far, we’ve made a pretty good parenting team. There’s so much to learn, so much to get better at, so much to worry about. But she’s good. It’s fun to think of them having fond memories of her in the same way I have fond memories of you.

It’s also weird to think of them thinking fondly of me in the same way I love my dad. Those bonds are strong. I have trouble thinking about anyone loving me deeply, but I know I love deeply, and my dad is one of the people I love the most, so the possibility is there. I hope I can live up to that for them. It’s scary to think about.

I remember, very early on, going on a protest march with you. As a child, I inherited your buttons and proudly wore messages to ban the bomb and embrace renewable energy. (Those slogans seem like ancient history now, but also still so relevant.) Progressive values and the value of protest were normalized for me. Living in Oxford, we were surrounded by university, and you were both life-long students, so I was raised in an environment of debate and deep thought. Because I had parents who talked about the world, both around me and to me, I had a better sense of my place in it. I want that for them, too.

We seem to be backsliding into a world where nationalism is a respected value, and where fierce individualism trumps all, even as we plunge deeper into a climate crisis whose only real solution is for us all to work together. We have to think globally, as one people, and we have to care for people on the other side of the globe as if they were our neighbor. We have to call out our own governments when they oppress others, at home or abroad, and we have to be forces for equitable, inclusive, collaborative kindness in a world that is dominated by competition and profit. We seem to have forgotten the importance of community, and of acting collectively - or, worse, rejected it, as if being an actively participative part of a fabric of interconnected souls somehow impedes our individuality. On the contrary, I think it uplifts us. In a world where we all have a duty of care for each other, we can more truly be ourselves.

I got that from you.

I wish those ideas were a given, but they’re going to have to fight for it. We’re constantly re-litigating the same arguments about religion, bodily autonomy, the climate, when we could be building on what we’ve learned to climb ever higher. Their world will have fewer resources, constrained by a heating planet. If it also continues to have widening inequality and an addiction to wealth hoarding, it will also have more conflict. It will be a worse place to live: more dangerous, more authoritarian, more brutal. “Building a better world for our children” is no longer an abstract sentiment for me, and my fear is that they will have this realization one day too: they may find himself wondering how to show up to make a safer, kinder world for their child.

We need to make more progress.

You described yourself as having been radicalized. That word means so many things: to me, your values were never radical. They were simply common sense. We need to take care of each other; we need to love our neighbors, and understand that everyone is our neighbor; we need to undo systems of oppression and inequality. You worked for affirmative action and stood up in court to establish and protect the rights of tenants over landlords. You marched and donated to causes and let your worldview be known. You were a force of light in the universe, not just for how you acted towards everyone who knew you, but how you showed up in the context of wider systems. If you were radicalized, I guess I hope I am too.

You had no time for people who didn’t care about others: hardcore conservatives, neo-reactionaries, libertarians, and fascists. You cared about fairness and inequality. You were an ardent feminist. You were an anticapitalist. You believed in true representative democracy. You continued to learn and evolve your understanding of systems of oppression. I love all of those things about you - just a fraction of all the things I love about you. I want to model that way of thinking and acting for my child.

I want them to have broad horizons, and to understand that all of this - everything - can be changed for the better. Change is inevitable; how we change is up for grabs.

You were always so flexible: so up for the adventure. You traveled thousands of miles to have me in Europe. By the time I was three years old, I’d lived in four cities. As time goes by, I’m more and more impressed by your ability and willingness to just up and leave and try something new. My life has been much better off for it. I think your life was much better off for it.

Remember living in Oxford? You had that upstairs office above Daily Information, where you’d work on predictions for the telecoms industry - you predicted the rise of cellphones, home internet, ubiquitous broadband - while our Jack Russell terrier, Tessie, would patiently sit in her bed. At noon precisely, she would walk over to you to let you know it was time to take a break, and you’d take her on a walk to Port Meadow. Both you and my dad took classes when you wanted to, often just to improve your knowledge for its own sake; you didn’t have to worry about return on investment, or healthcare or education costs for your family. It all just worked, so simply. I miss that lifestyle. I miss the peace of it all: the lack of fear that comes from real support.

So I’m now faced with a similar question to the one you must have been considering. The US is such a big country, and it contains so much, but it’s also so isolated, and by extension, so isolationist. Save for tribal nations, you can drive for thousands of miles without hitting another country. It would be easy to grow up here and have a very insular worldview: look at all the people who swear blind that “America is the best country on earth” but have never lived or spent much time anywhere else, and who consider blind patriotism to be a virtue rather than the cult-like ignorance it is.

When we build software, we learn that the settings we choose to be the defaults are incredibly impactful: those defaults permanently affect how someone will use the product you’ve made. It seems to me that this is even more true in life. Regardless of the choices they make later in life, the defaults I give my child will permanently affect their worldview. By traveling around and seeing the way different people live, not on a tour bus but immersively over time, we learn that there are lots of valid alternatives; we meet and get to know lots of ways of being, and understand that ours is not better than theirs. If we don’t, I’m worried that the way the community around us lives becomes the default, and that the rest of the world becomes a little scary. My child has multiple passports to draw on; they will have the ability to live in, or at least visit, so many places. It would be such a missed opportunity to not give them that perspective. The more easily we can all relate to people from different nations, the easier it will be to have a globally-minded, kinder world.

Make no mistake: I know you would want me to make sure they see alternatives to living like we do here, and I will make sure that I do. So much is wrong. Every school shooting is shocking, but the safety drills they make children do are almost as terrifying; the ideas that are traded as normal are so brutal. Violence is ingrained everywhere. What kind of country watches little bodies be slaughtered and refuses to take any kind of meaningful action? We still kill prisoners. The police commit murder. And we call this civilization? I don’t want my child to grow up thinking any of this is normal. They need to see that it’s a uniquely American problem by spending a lot of time outside of America.

But for all they can learn from it, international travel itself has a climate impact that is worsening the conditions that will make life harder for them over the coming decades. I don’t know how to reconcile that: I don’t think the world is better if people don’t travel. You often told stories of the times you lived in Italy, or Israel, or the UK before I was born. Your parents visited countries all over the world and often took you with them. We traveled often around Europe in particular. Maybe it’s because I inherited that background, or because our own relocations made my sense of place less tethered, but I think the ability to see the world face-to-face should be as accessible as possible.

I think you’d have a smart way to think about that, or to look at it from another angle. You might, I think rightly, point out that the bulk of the climate crisis lies in the hands of corporations and industry. That they spend time and dollars on casting the blame elsewhere. But you’d also care and worry about your own contribution: you wanted an electric car before most, you wanted solar, you supported renewable energy and the politicians who supported it.

As I write you this, my child is fast asleep, lying skin-to-skin on his mother. His face is unbothered by any stress or worry. He hardly cries. When he wakes up, I’ll check his nappy, keep him clean, and we’ll feed him. We’ll talk to him, and play with him, and sing and tell him we love him, and let him drift back off into slumber.

There are people in the world who would wish this sweetest human harm. They’re part-Jewish; they’re from more than one place; they are not being raised to believe in a religion; they are going to be raised to be in opposition to wealth hoarders and rent-seekers and nationalists, in a culture of broad, inclusive love. These would-be-objectionable traits are all the products of dead-end mindsets that should have withered away in the 20th century. With a small amount of luck they’ll live to see the first decades of the 22nd century, and I imagine those ideas still be with us then. But I hope they will be fringe by then, and I hope my child has a part to play in their demise. They do not deserve to define what the rest of us do.

I grew up knowing that my father and his family lived through a concentration camp when he was just a toddler; that my maternal grandfather was captured by the Nazis and thought dead; that my great grandfather escaped White Army pogroms in Ukraine. I heard my grandmother screaming through the walls every night as her dreams took her back. Through my family and the ripples trauma leaves across generations, I understand the consequences of hate. And I understand that the definition of “fascist” isn’t predicated on death camps and goose-stepping; it isn’t set in the early 20th century. It’s a mindset rooted in nationalism, tribalism, and the noxious idea that some people are inherently better than others. It’s an idea that did not go away at the close of the Second World War, is not limited to any nation (of course Americans can be fascist), and is so pernicious that my child and their children will both need to be aware of its toxicity, long into the future.

The period we’re living through now may be just the very beginning stages of a world with fewer resources controlled by ever-fewer people, who will use increasingly-authoriarian methods and appeals to existing divisions to try and maintain their holdings at the expense of others. Ma, the only way I can see through this is by living how you did: with kindness, by not holding back our opinions, and by active work to make everything better.

You showed me the way. I’ll try and do my best.

I love you. I miss you. I wish you were here.

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