Pilgrims’ Progress: This Far, and No Farther?

Happy Thanksgiving!
I wish you’d all read Dave Eggers’ ’ new book, “The Every”, and tell me what you think. Especially the science mavens: is his scenario possible?

Here’s the central conundrum: people behave better when they know they are being watched, right? Sunshine is the best disinfectant, etc. Seriously, that is unquestionably true, isn’t it, it’s why we install security cameras, why we have Right to Know Acts.
If you don’t like that idea: what? you WANT to encourage crime and abuse?
That tension is one theme of the book. The other is: choice. Is it really good for people, is it even pleasant? Decisions can be agonizing, no doubt about that. One character articulates the undeniable truth that religions are always about finding THE path. ThE way, THE truth…you know the rest. THE One “whose service is perfect freedom”. (Get that? Service =freedom? How’s that for Newsspeak? Just sayin’….). So one of the goals of the global Corp, the eponymous Every, is to eliminate choice. People will only be able to get what’s “best” for them. And what they are getting WILL be good quality, and cheaper, , if someone who Knows Best controls manufacturing and food production. That’s the upside.

On Thanksgiving we celebrate (or we traditionally did) an act of volition by the Pilgrim Fathers. Kinda; they had already left England for Leiden, but they and their kids were getting Dutchified, which they didn’t like, plus King James was threatening to withhold anti-Spanish aid from the Dutch if they didn’t cede him back control over the expat colony. It’s complicated. So they applied to the King for a charter to Virginia and got it, not with an explicit guarantee of religious freedom, but a tacit understanding that if they didn’t bother James, he would t bother them. What they really wanted was religious hegemony—their own. (And Thank God for that!)
Now, of course, we hafta see this little band of, like, 25 Puritans (half the passenger on the Mayflower were not religious separatists, cue the Mayflower Compact) as vicious, selfish colonizers and oppressors.
Is there any such thing as “brave” any more? Doesn’t that word imply aggression or at least selfishness? Oh yeah and above all it implies individual choice and conscious risk. It’s brutal. It’s …brutISH.
Here’s the kicker: yes, choice CAN be that way, and submission, “meekness” CAN be virtuous and desirable if you’re focused on society as a whole. Can anybody deny that? WHO shall “ inherit the Earth”?

So if you read the book, please let me know: do you think it’s time to halt “progress”? And is halting the destruction of privacy and choice even desirable?

Wishing everyone a magnificent Thanksgiving feast in our land of plenty, the home of the brave!


I haven’t yet read Dave Eggers’ The Every, but I did read and review the The Circle, which to which The Every is the sequel. Here is my review of The Circle. Money quote:

You don’t need artificial intelligence or malevolent machines to create an eternal totalitarian nightmare. All it takes a few years’ growth and wider deployment of technologies which exist today, combined with good intentions, boundless ambition, and fuzzy thinking. And the latter three commodities are abundant among today’s technology powerhouses.

Lest you think the technologies which underlie this novel are fantasy or far in the future, they were discussed in detail in David Brin’s 1999 The Transparent Society and my 1994 “Unicard” and 2003 “The Digital Imprimatur”. All that has changed is that the massive computing, communication, and data storage infrastructure envisioned in those works now exists or will within a few years.

I have been urging people to read Brin’s The Transparent Society (link is to the book’s page on the author’s Web site, where you can read the first chapter for free) for twenty years. Brin’s argument is “The [ubiquitous] cameras [and microphones] are coming, whether you like it or not. The only question is whether access to them is limited to the Man or open to everybody. Choose wisely.”


No matter how cynical I get, I just can’t keep up".


Lily sends hugs and kisses :wink:

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Yes I loved The Circle. But I actually don’t think you’d have to have read it to enjoy this book.
I’m going to read your review.
…and having read it, I gather you think Dave’s scenario is bith possible and likely. And transpiring.

I started The Every this evening and found it delightfully cynical and funny, more so than The Circle, which was more ambivalent at the start. Here is a wonderful passage from chapter 2:

Capital-P Play was last year’s management theory, following multitasking, singletasking, grit, learning-from-failure, napping, cardioworking, saying no, saying yes, the wisdom of the crowd > trusting one’s gut, trusting one’s gut > the wisdom of the crowd, Viking management theory, Commissioner Gordon workflow theory, X-teams, B-teams, embracing simplicity, pursuing complexity, seeking zemblanity, creativity through radical individualism, creativity through groupthink, creativity through the rejection of groupthink, organizational mindfulness, organizational blindness, microwork, macrosloth, fear-based camaraderie, love-based terror, working while standing, working while ambulatory, learning while sleeping, and, most recently, limes.

This is Wodehouse-level mockery of pretentious airhead nonsense.


And the names of the programs/ apps:
Departy ( to help,people deal with condolences)
StayStïl ( to help figure our whether a trip anywhere is ethically worth it)
Friendy (to help people know whether someone is a true friend)
The book is a laff -a-minit, I can’t even remember them all.


The trip to the beach in chapter 21 is epic.

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I finished The Every earlier today.

It was both very dark and hilarious. My main take-away is that the assumption that most people, presented with a choice between freedom, with all of its risks and uncertainty, and velvet glove tyranny: being “nudged” to “make the right choice” and having their choices constrained by eliminating those deemed “anti-social”, would choose freedom, is simply incorrect.

This novel argues most people, given the choice, would reject freedom, and based upon the evidence of the last two years, I find this persuasive. Face it: a large fraction of our species is happy being told what to do, how to do it, and being immediately rewarded if they comply with arbitrary rules. Video games have programmed two generations with dopamine rewards from “achievements” in fantasy worlds.

What does this mean? I am now re-evaluating the goal of the New Hampshire Free State Project in the U.S. Not that I would ever consider moving back to an evil empire or that I don’t consider their attempt to establish a haven within one foredoomed, but they have a point that if a majority of the population values “equity, safety, and security” over liberty, then the rough-edged people who want to innovate, break the rules, and invent the future must self-assemble in a place where they can wall themselves off from the pervasive sclerosis and innovate in freedom.

I think this has a historical parallel in the development of North America. For most of the first two centuries of its history, people who came to North America had to give up everything in the old country, make a protracted and dangerous sea voyage, and build their future in a new land where they arrived with nothing and, in many cases, didn’t even speak the language.

These tend to be DRD4-7R people who seek novelty and are willing to roll the dice on their ability to prosper in a new land. When you open a new, unsettled territory, you get a lot of these rough-edged people and they create wonderful new things. A few generations later, regression to the mean kicks in, and native-born descendants who more resemble ancestors than their risk-taking “roll-the-dice” parents predominate and put an end to innovation and betterment of the society.

This is why initial immigrants to settlements in the Moon and Mars will be preternaturally inventive and productive but their kids, not so much. Without opening of new frontiers or immigration of misfits, they may put the Mars Social Equity Party into power. Then the productive and creative people will have to pull up stakes and depart to the Belt.


It is maybe also worth noting that an appreciable percentage of the immigrants to the United States subsequently returned to their homelands. There have been estimates that for some groups at some times, this could be as much as a third of the incomers. Darwinian selection was hard at work in those rougher times.


The depths of despair deepen. Your review of The Circle has taken me into the Mariana Trench.


I totes agree with your review.
Freedom entails constant choice and that can be agonizing, especially if at the same time we try to eliminate “prejudice”. We NEED our prejudices, okay—otherwise every single decision would be a massive, fraught undertaking.
Another word for it is “common sense”. Over time, such received wisdom often turns out to be neither widespread (“common”) nor particularly sensible, but so what? We still need it in each moment, day-to-day. Without it, we’re unmoored.
I think that’s another thing the book is very good on: how the campus immediately adopts any innovation, no matter how patently ridiculous. LOVE the image of all the men wearing kilts over their tight shiny jumpsuits!
When you stop trusting yourself, you cast about desperately for something else, ANYTHING else, on which to rely.
But I think also, as happens to Wes: he realizes any insane idea he throws out as a joke will become gospel, and he starts to believe in those insane ideas JUST BECAUSE other people do.
What is the difference between culture and fashion, we used to debate back in Anthro 101.
Only ONE character in The Every has a kid, the hapless Kiki—and she ends up demented. This suggests one answer: culture is what we are born into, fashion is necessarily ephemeral.
Talk about “freedom” you do not have freedom of thought nor freedom of religion if you cannot indoctrinate your children. The Every shows us a world where no one can, everyone is just constantly buffeted by the winds of fashion.


At your suggestion, Hypatia, I invested in a copy of “The Every”. The author addresses some important timely issues, and he is capable of wonderful writing. The snowflakes’ bus trip to see the elephant seals is worth the price of the book all by itself! But …

608 pages - The Every
282 pages - 1984
288 pages - Brave New World

In days gone by, there were editors. According to Mark Steyn, when Agatha Christie wrote her first novel, “The Mysterious Affair at Styles”, it was rejected by publisher after publisher. Finally, a publisher suggested to her that she rewrite the denouement – and she went on to become one of the most-read writers in history. Rumor is that the publishing industry these days relies on the Daughters of Privilege, with their recent credentials in some soft subject from a name-brand college, supported by their parents while they work as unpaid interns. Unfortunately, good editing is dead.

I don’t mean to single out Eggers for this criticism; it afflicts so much of today’s writing. But Eggers’ book is a classic example of how the publishing industry has gone wrong. It reads like a first draft, before a careful editor has taken a red pen to it and sent the author back to improve the text by cutting out the fluff, focusing the story line, and strengthening the characterizations. The homeless people outside the fence at The Every sound just the same as the pampered & carefully-selected Everyones inside the fence!

Well edited – and half the length – The Every might have sat on the shelf next to Orwell and Huxley as a warning fable for our times. But it is a fable. Eggers has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for three decades. He lives in the world of symbolic analysts; he seems to have little understanding of the world outside where people actually make the phones & lycra and grow the bananas & papayas on which his Everyones depend. Although his novel is thus unrealistic, it could have been a great crystallization of important concerns of our time. I hope Mr. Eggers gets himself a good editor for his next book, because he clearly has talent.


Thank you, you just saved me the expense of buying the book. I don’t need to buy another doorstop.



SO much of what is published today seems to have been written by someone who was paid by the page. A decent editor could cut the drivel in half. Tom Clancy is a great recent example. His first book - Hunt for Red October was a great tale. His later works were 300 page books written in 800 pages that could have had whole chapters or themes erased without any lessening of the story.

Writers today simply don’t seem to know how to write. Good writing requires not only an idea to write about but the discipline to compact it to tight term limits. That usually requires a good knowledge of the language, something not taught today much it seems.


I have had a theory about the origin of these door-stop novels for some time. I don’t know if it’s correct, or the phenomenon is entirely due to the demise of copy- and content-editing by the big publishers, but it seems plausible to me. I developed it after observing both Stephen King and Tom Clancy, who originally wrote brief, tightly-plotted, and action-packed novels, in their later careers, crank out “damn’d, fat, square books” with sub-plots that go nowhere, characters that disappear, and long passages of narrative and dialogue that do not advance the story.

The theory is that once a writer becomes successful, consistently cranking out books that sell well and are bought by Hollywood for big budget movies, editors at their publishers are less inclined to cut the work of their star author, and authors who don’t like having their work cut by editors have enough clout over the publishers to override editorial judgement. Robert Heinlein said that he never rewrote his work but savagely cut it before submission, often discarding as much as 50% of the manuscript he had originally written.

Or, it may just be incompetence and budget cutting by publishers. Just yesterday I came across an instance of “supercede” in a popular science book from top-tier publisher Basic Books.

Several science fiction authors who have published with the big New York houses and have now moved to independent publishing have remarked that, after assembling a good team, their work receives a much better job of copy editing and fact checking by volunteer “beta readers” than they ever got from legacy publishers.

Although The Circle (which itself was 500 pages) was not a success by King/Clancy standards, it was picked up by Hollywood for a Tom Hanks movie that made US$ 40 million, so Dave Eggers may be in the “doorstop risk” category now.


Since I read the book on Kindle, I wasn’t conscious of its heft. But I reckon you three are right, it is pretty long, and one thread I can think of that seems to go nowhere is Mae’s sonogram. WTF?

Speaking of editors: I love Thomas Wolfe’s novels. But, if you’d call them “doorstops” in the form we have ‘em, imagine how unwieldy they’d be if it weren’t for Scribner’s legendary editor, Maxwell Perkins. A.Scott Berg wrote a great book about him, “Max Perkins: Editor of Genius”. He also edited Fitzgerald and Hemingway, but they hafta have been a piece cake compared to the brilliant, gloriously verbose angel that was Wolfe!

But that’s “editing” on a whole different plane; as you point out, today, we don’t even have anybody picking up obvious and extremely distracting grammatical errors, like lay instead of lie. People are laying around all over the place.

I’m afraid Wolfe is dropping out of sight now. He didn’t have the glamour that still clings to Fitzgerald, to the laconic legend Hemingway. And given what you’ve said about “doorstop” books, you probably wouldn’t be inclined to follow my suggestion, but: I’m still going to recommend “The Web and the Rock”—while—if—you can still get it.


The only place it comes up again is during the bizarre interview with Gabriel in chapter 35.

Gabriel suppressed a smirk. “Did you see anything unusual in your medical evaluation?”

And there it was, at last. All she could do is tell the truth.

“Yes,” she said. “I saw what appeared to be Mae Holland’s sonogram.”

“Did you tell anyone about this?”

“No,” she said. His eyes were on his screen. His goddamned face, she thought. This was his experiment all along. He’d just confirmed it, and his face revealed nothing—no satisfaction, surprise, not even mild interest.

But this is Delaney’s interpretation. The author never confirms what it was actually about.

By the end of the book I was thinkin’ Delaney woulda gone the way of Wes, had she lived. (Yes I remember the late mention of the sonogram, but I still don’t see the point…)
But to return to my central question, about “progress”, leaving aside the literary merit of the book.
Can we deny that in general, there HAS been progress in human affairs, and it has been generally a positive thing?increasing human comfort, decreasing misery?
But how far should it go? Personally I believe a maxim I read somewhere years ago: any idea, any innovation, if carried to its extreme, turns into its own exact opposite.

Or maybe there’s no question of how far, the only question is, how fast? Is “progress” similar to eating: everybody has to do it, and it’s a good and pleasurable thing, but you have to,pace yourself?
Are Wes’ moms better off after they’ve been moved outta the trog district? Cleaner, comfier, safer?

Are “we” meaning modern humans in general, better off now that we’ve pretty much abandoned the idea , for example, that certain races , certain classes, are inherently inferior, that women are inferior? It’s hard to argue that we’re not better on some level, but then…a tipping point was reached, it seems, and we’re awash in #metoo and 1619 project-type reinterpretations of history.

It’s good to be sensitive and considerate of our fellows, but we’ve now carried it to the point that THE most sensitive among us get to control what everybody else can say.

JW, do you see the dilemma I’m posing about “progress” and what do you think?

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Seems to me “progress” has been hijacked, as most things today are.

Take your idea that women are “equal”. ?In what. If we postulate mental ability, certainly, though it seems they have certain proclivities that seem to limit the areas they excel at (like hard science). If we look at physical ability, not a chance. Women are now in combat, front-line units. We will reap the burden of that in future times. It’s bad enough the males aren’t tolerating the combat loads required of them these days; the women are being trashed but we won’t know that for another decade or two, when all the disability demands start rolling in. Meanwhile we don’t seem to be looking very hard at powered exoskeletons to carry the load, ease targeting, and help sustain life in case of injury without taking up the efforts of another being.

Then we look at female cops and firefighters. Female firefighters don’t seem to be able to carry the loads their male counterparts do, although I fully admit firefighting is not the primary business of Fire Departments. Ask any cop who works the streets and they will tell you being assigned a female partner is the partner from hell, especially if she’s at all good looking. They’ll get into more fights than you want to count. After all, ?which drunk male wants to “show off” when your partner looks like Erlacher, and not Raquel Welsh. (And face it - when dumba55’s get drunk, the Raquel Welsh scale suddenly moves higher quite quickly; if they were smarter they wouldn’t be a dumba55 in a bar, drunk, looking for a fight.)

I am not against females doing things they excell at. But to the great unwashed actual “differences” between sexes, which are both real and important - to individuals and society - are overlooked for “the cause”.