Stranger In A Strange Land II

III. Grokking money with Valentine Michael Smith, the Man from Mars:

He had decided not to reread the Encyclopedia Britannica;i the flood of mail gave him brighter glimpses of the world. He read it, grokked what he could, remembered the rest for contemplation at night while the household slept.

From these nights of meditation he was beginning, he thought, to grok “business,”ii and “money,” and “buying,” and “selling,” and related unMartian activities-the articles in the Encyclopedia had always left him feeling unfilled, as (he now grokked) each one had assumed that he knew many things that he did not know. But there arrived in the mail, from Mr. Secretary General Joseph Edgerton Douglas, a check book and other papers, and his brother Jubal had taken great pains to explain to him what money was and how it was used.

Mike had failed utterly to understand it at first, even though Jubal showed him how to make out his first check, gave him “money” in exchange for it, taught him how to count it.

Then suddenly, with a grokking so blinding that he trembled and forced himself not to withdraw, he understood the abstract symbolic nature of money.iii These pretty pictures and bright medallions were not “money”; they were concrete symbols for an abstract idea which spread all through these people, all through their world. But these things were not money, any more than water shared in water ceremony was the growingcloser. Water was not necessary to the ceremony . . . and these pretty things were not necessary to money. Money was an idea, as abstract as an Old One’s thoughts-money was a great structured symbol for balancing and healing and growing closer.

Mike was dazzled with the magnificent beauty of money.

The flow and change and countennarchingiv of the symbols was another matter, beautiful in small, but reminding him of games taught to nestlings to encourage them to learn to reason correctly and grow. It was the total structure that dazzled him, the idea that an entire world could be reflected in one dynamic, completely interconnected, symbol structure. Mike grokked then that the Old Ones of this race were very old indeed to have composed such beauty, and he wished humbly that he might soon be allowed to meet one of them.v


IV. Grokking wealth with Jubal Hershawvi

“That’s beside the point,” Captain van Tromp answered stiffly. “I’m a professional man.”

“Meaning there isn’t enough money on this planet to tempt you into giving up space ships. I understand that.”

“But I wouldn’t mind having money, too.”

“A little more money won’t do you any good, because daughters can use up ten percent more than a man can make in any normal occupation regardless of the amount. That’s a widely experienced but previously unformulated law of nature, to be known henceforth as ‘Harshaw’s Law.’ But, Captain, real wealth, on the scale that causes its owner to hire a battery of finaglers to hold down his taxes, would ground you just as certainly as resigning would.”

“Why should it? I would put it all in bonds and just clip coupons.”

“Would you? Not if you were the sort of person who acquires great wealth in the first place. Big money isn’t hard to come by. All it costs is a lifetime of singleminded devotion to acquiring it and making it grow into more money, to the utter exclusion of all other interests.vii They say that the age of opportunity has passed. Nonsense! Seven out of ten of the wealthiest men on this planet started life without a shilling – and there are plenty more such strivers on the way up. Such people are not stopped by high taxation nor even by socialism; they simply adapt themselves to new rules and presently they change the rules.”

But no premiere ballerina ever works harder, nor more narrowly, than a man who acquires riches. Captain, that’s not your style; you don’t want to make money, you simply want to have money-in order to spend it.”viii

“Correct, sir! Which is why I can’t see why you should want to take Mike’s wealth away from him.”

“Because Mike doesn’t need it and it would cripple him worse than any physical handicap. Wealth-great wealth-is a curse . . . unless you are devoted to the money making game for its own sake. And even then it has serious drawbacks.”

“Oh, nonsense, Jubal, you talk like a harem guard trying to convince a whole man of the advantages of being a eunuch. Pardon me.”

“Very possibly.” agreed Jubal, “and perhaps for the same reason; the human mind’s ability to rationalize its own shortcomings into virtues is unlimited,ix and I am no exception. Since I, like yourself, sir, have no interest in money other than to spend it, there has never been the slightest chance that I would acquire any significant degree of wealth just enough for my vices. Nor any real danger that I would fail to scrounge that modest amount, since anyone with the savvy not to draw to a small pair can always manage to feed his vices, whether they be tithing or chewing betel nut.”x


“Captain, you obviously don’t know what an Old Man of the Sea great wealth is. It is not a fat purse and time to spend it. Its owner finds himself beset on every side, at every hour, wherever he goes, by persistent pleaders, like beggars in Bombay, each demanding that he invest or give away part of his wealth.xi He becomes suspicious of honest friendship – indeed honest friendship is rarely offered him; those who could have been his friends are too fastidious to be jostled by beggars, too proud to risk being mistaken for one.

“Worse yet, his life and the lives of his family are always in danger.xii Captain, have your daughters ever been threatened with kidnapping?”

“What? Good Lord, I should hope not!”

“If you possessed the wealth Mike had thrust on him, you would have those girls guarded night and day-and even then you would not rest, because you would never be sure that those very guards were not tempted. Look at the records of the last hundred or so kidnappings in this country and note how many of them involved a trusted employee – – and note, too, how few victims escaped alive. Then ask yourself: is there any luxury wealth can buy which is worth having your daughters’ pretty necks always in a noose?”

Van Tromp looked thoughtful. “No. I guess I’ll keep my mortgaged house-it’s more my speed. Those girls are all I’ve got, Jubal.”xiii

“Amen. I was appalled at the prospect. Wealth holds no charm for me. All I want is to live my own lazy, useless life, sleep in my own bed – and not be bothered!”


V. Grokking people with Valentine Michael Smith, the Man from Mars:

“Mike, what happened?”
“Jill … I grok people!”

“I grok people now, Jill, Little Brother . . . precious darling , little imp with lively legs and lovely lewd lascivious lecherous licentious libido . . beautiful bumps and pert posterior . . . with soft voice and gentle hands. My baby darling.”

“Why, Michael!”

“Oh, I knew all the words; I simply didn’t know when or why to say them . . . nor why you wanted me to. I love you, sweetheart – I grok ‘love’ now, too.”

“You always have. I knew. And I love you … you smooth ape. My darling.”
“‘Ape,’ yes. Come here, she ape, and put your bead on my shoulder and tell me a joke.”
“Just tell you a joke?”
“Well, nothing more than snuggling. Tell me a joke I’ve never heard and see if I laugh at the right place. I will, I’m sure of it-and I’ll be able to tell you why it’s funny. Jill … I grok people!” “But how, darling? Can you tell me? Does it need Martian? Or mindtalk?”

“No, that’s the point. I grok people. I am people … so now I can say it in people talk. I’ve found out why people laugh. They laugh because it hurts so much . . . because it’s the only thing that’ll make it stop hurting.

Jill looked puzzled. “Maybe I’m the one who isn’t people. I don’t understand.”

“Ah, but you are people, little she ape. You grok it so automatically that you don’t have to think about it. Because you grew up with people. But I didn’t. I’ve been like a puppy raised apart from other dogs-Who couldn’t be like his masters and had never learned how to be a dog. So I had to be taught. Brother Mahmoud taught me, Jubal taught me, lots of people taught me . . . and you taught me most of all. Today I got my diploma – and I laughed. That poor little monk.”

“Which one, dear? I thought that big one was just mean … and the one I flipped the peanut to turned out to be just as mean. There certainly wasn’t anything funny.”

“Jill, Jill my darling! Too much Martian has rubbed off on YOU. Of course it wasn’t funny – it was tragic. That’s why I had to laugh. I looked at a cageful of monkeys and suddenly I saw all the mean and cruel and utterly unexplainable things I’ve seen and beard and read about in the time I’ve been with my own people, suddenly it hurt so much I found myself laughing.”

“But- Mike dear, laughing is something you do when something is nice – . . not when it’s horrid.”

“Is it? Think back to Las Vegas- When all you pretty girls came out on the stage, did people laugh?”

“Well … no.”

“But you girls were the nicest part of the show. I grok now, that if they had laughed, you would have been hurt. No, they laughed when a comic tripped over his feet and fell down . . . or something else that is not a goodness.”

“But that’s not all people laugh at.”

“Isn’t it? Perhaps I don’t grok all its fullness yet. But find me something that really makes you laugh, sweetheart . . . a joke, or anything else-but something that gave you a real belly laugh, not a smile. Then we’ll see if there isn’t a wrongness in it somewhere and whether you would laugh if the wrongness wasn’t there.” He thought. “I grok when apes learn to laugh, they’ll be people.”

“Maybe.” Doubtfully but earnestly Jill started digging into her memory for jokes that bad struck her as irresistiblY funny, ones which had jerked a laugh out of her . . . incidents she had seen or heard of which had made her helpless with laughter:

“-her entire bridge club.” Should I bow?” Neither one, you idiot_instead!” -the Chinainan objects.” “-broke her leg.” _make trouble for me!” -but it’ll spoil the ride for me.” – and his mother-in-law fainted.” Stop you? Why, I bet three to one you could do it!” ~omething has happened to Ole.” -and so are you, you clumsy os!”

She gave up on “funny” stories, pointing out to Mike that such were just fantasies, not real, and tried to recall real incidents. Practical jokes? All practical jokes supported Mike’s thesis, even ones as mild as a dribble glass-and when it came to an interne’S notion of a practical joke-Well, internes and medical students should be kept in cages. What else? The time Elsa Mae had lost her monogrammed panties? It hadn’t been funny to Elsa Mae. Or the- She said grimly, “Apparently the pratfall is the peak of all humor. It’s not a pretty picture of the human race, Mike.”
“Oh, but it is!”


I had thought – I had been told – that a ‘funny’ thing is a thing of a goodness. It isn’t. Not ever is it funny to the person it happens to. Like that sheriff without his pants. The goodness is in the laughing itself. I grok it is a bravery . . . and a sharing . . . against pain and sorrow and defeat.”

“But- Mike, it is not a goodness to laugh at people.”

“No. But I was not laughing at the little monkey. I was laughing at people. And I suddenly knew that I was people and could not stop laughing.” He paused. “This is hard to explain, because you have never lived as a Martian, for all that I’ve told you about it. On Mars there is never anything to laugh at. All the things that are funny to us humans either physically cannot happen on Mars or are not permitted to happen- sweetheart, what you call ‘freedom’ doesn’t exist on Mars; everything is planned by the Old Ones-or the things that do happen on Mars which we laugh at here on Earth aren’t funny because there is no wrongness about them. Death, for example.”

“Death isn’t funny.”

“Then why are there so many jokes about death? Jill, with us – us humans – death is so sad that we must laugh at it. All those religions – they contradict each other on every other point but every one of them is filled with ways to help people be brave enough to laugh even though they know they are dying.” He stopped and Jill could feel that he had ahuost gone into his trance state. “Jill? Is it possible that I was searching them the wrong way? Could it be that every one of all those religions is true?”

“Huh? How could that possibly be? Mike, if one of them is true, then the others are wrong. Logic.”

“So? Point to the shortest direction around the universe. It doesn’t matter which way you point, it’s the shortest … and you’re pointing right back at yourself”

“Well, what does that prove? You taught me the true answer, Mike. ‘Thou art God.'”

“And Thou art God, my lovely. I wasn’t disputing that … but that one prime fact which doesn’t depend at all on faith may mean that all faiths are true.”

“Well . . . if they’re all true, then right now I want to worship Siva.” Jill changed the subject with emphatic direct action.

“Little pagan,” he said softly. “They’ll run you out of San Francisco.”
“But we’re going to Los Angeles … where it won’t be noticed. Oh! Thou art Siva!”
“Dance, K.ali, dance!”


This story owes everything to Robert A. Heilein.

___ ___ ___

  1. Not Wikipedia, not Quora, not Yahoo Answers. Britannica. It still exists. And it’s still the gold standard. []
  2. What is business, you ask? It takes many forms, all of which entail action. []
  3. And would’ve then been well on his way to grokking Bitcoin. []
  4. “Countennarching” appears to be a military manoeuvre of sorts, though a more precise definition eludes me. []
  5. In a sense, Satoshi Nakamoto is our “Old One.” []
  6. JH is in many ways reminiscent of MP. Hershaw, being many years Popescu’s senior, perhaps foreshadows the crypto-monarch’s development. MP’s already got the harem… []
  7. I’d argue that the diversity of discussion topics on #bitcoin-assets demonstrates that one can make money and pursue other interests. []
  8. This is very much the difference between Coindeskers and -assettes. The former wants to “increase adoption” in order to have places to fritter away their wealth, while the latter want to put up barriers to entry to the man club. []
  9. This is so true. We are not rational but rationalizing. []
  10. Are you savvy enough not to draw to a small pair? Or did you get that Masters? Or that PhD? []
  11. Like every “investment” and on the Bitcointalk forums and the other play Bitcoin “security” exchanges. []
  12. If the family of a wealthy man is always in danger, he’s not striking enough fear into the hearts of men. []
  13. This is the choice the vast, vast majority of people make. Captain Van Tromp is the Everyman. []

3 thoughts on “Stranger In A Strange Land II

  1. Note 12 is particularly apt.

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