Stranger In A Strange Land

I. Grokking customs with Valentine Michael Smith, the Man from Mars:

Jubal said, “Where’s Mike?”
“In his room,” answered Gillian, “dressing. He’ll be along soon.”
“‘Dressing’?” Jubal repeated peevishly. “I didn’t say the party was formal.”

“But he has to get dressed.”
“Why? It makes no never-mind to me whether you kids wear skin or fleece-lined overcoats – it’s a warm day. Chase him in here.”

“Please, Jubal. He’s got to learn how to behave. I’m trying so hard to train him.”
“Hmmph! You’re trying to force on him your own narrow-minded, middle class, Bible Belt morality. Don’t think I haven’t been watching.”

“I have not! I haven’t concerned myself with his morals; I’ve simply been teaching him necessary customs.”

“Customs, morals – is there a difference? Woman, do you realize what you are doing? Here, by the grace of God and an inside straight, we have a personality untouched by the psychotic taboos of our tribe – and you want to turn him into a carbon copy of every fourth-rate conformist in this frightened land! Why don’t you go whole hog? Get him a brief case and make him carry it wherever he goes – make him feel shame if he doesn’t have it.”
“I’m not doing anything of the sort! I’m just trying to keep him out of trouble. It’s for his own good.”
Jubal snorted. “That’s the excuse they gave the tomcat just before his operation.”

“Oh!” Jill stopped and appeared to be counting ten. Then she said formally and bleadly, “This is your house, Doctor Harshaw, and we are in your debt. If you will excuse me, I will fetch Michael at once.” She got up to leave.
“Hold it, Jill.”

“Sit back down and for God’s sake quit trying to be as nasty as I am; you don’t have my years of practice. Now let me get something straight: you are not in my debt. You can’t be. Impossible – because I never to anything I don’t want to do. Nor does anyone, but in my case I am always aware of it. So please don’t invent a debt that doesn’t exist, or before you know it you will be trying to feel gratitude – and that is the treacherous first step downward to complete moral degradation. You grok that? Or don’t you?”

Jill bit her lip, then grinned. “I’m not sure I know what ‘grok’ means.”i

“Nor do I. But I intend to go on taking lessons from Mike until I do. But I was speaking dead seriously. Gratitude is a euphemism for resentment. Resentment from most people I do not mind-but from pretty little girls it is distasteful to me.”
“Why, Jubal, I don’t resent you-that’s silly.”

“I hope you don’t… but you certainly will if you don’t root out of your mind this delusion that you are indebted to me. The Japanese have five different ways to say ‘thank you’-and every one of them translates literally as resentment, in various degrees. Would that English had the same built-in honesty on this point! Instead, English is capable of defining sentiments that the human nervous system is quite incapable of experiencing. ‘Gratitude,’ for example.”ii

“Jubal, you’re a cynical old man. I do feel grateful to you and I shall go on feeling grateful.”
“And you are a sentimental young girl. That makes us a perfect complementary pair. Hmm – let’s run over to Atlantic City for a weekend of illicit debauchery, just us two.”

“Why, Jubal!”
“You see how deep your gratitude goes when I attempt to draw on it?”
“Oh. I’m ready. How soon do we leave?”

“Hmmmphtt We should have left forty years ago. Shut up. The second point I want to make is that you are right; the boy does indeed have to learn human customs. He must be taught to take off his shoes in a mosque and to wear his hat in a synagogue and to cover his nakedness when taboo requires it, or our tribal shamans will burn him for deviationism. But, child, by the myriad deceptive aspects of Ahrilflafl, don’t brainwash him in the process. Make sure he is cynical about each part of it.”

“Uh, I’m not sure how to go about that, Jubal. Well, Mike just doesn’t seem to have any cynicism in him.”
“So? Yes. Well, I’ll take a band in it. What’s keeping him? Shouldn’t he be dressed by now?”
“I’ll go see.”


II. Grokking currency with Bitcoin, the Gold from Mars:

Duke said slowly, “Boss, you sound like you’ve come unzipped. Bitcoin wouldn’t hurt anybody – shucks, this Gold 2.0 talk makes me want to throw up but don’t get me wrong; I know it’s just kid’s stuff, it has to be. Hell, Boss, it’s gentle as a lamb. It would never hurt anybody.”

“You think so?”
“I’m sure of it.”

“So. You’ve got two or three regulations in your pocket. I say it’s dangerous. It’s open season on cryptocurrencies, so pick a regulation you trust, go down to the Internet, and kill it. Don’t worry about anything else; I’ll be your attorney and I guarantee that you’ll never be indicted. Go ahead, do it!”

“Jubal … you don’t mean that.”

“No. No, I don’t really mean it. Because you can’t. If you tried it, your regulation would go where my tax money went – and if you hurried Bitcoin you’d probably go with it. Duke, you don’t know what you are fiddling with- and I don’t either except that I know it’s dangerous and you don’t. Bitcoin is not ‘gentle as a lamb’ and it is not kid’s stuff. I suspect we are the kid’s stuff. Ever raise snakes?”

“Uh … no.”

“I did, when I was a kid. Thought I was going to be a zoologist then. One winter, down in Florida, I caught what I thought was a scarlet snake. Know what they look like?”
“I don’t like snakes.”

“Prejudice again, rank prejudice. Most snakes are harmless, useful, and fun to raise. The scarlet snake is a beauty-red, and black and yellow-docile and makes a fine pet. I think this little fellow was fond of me, in its dim reptilian fashion.

Of course I knew how to handle snakes, how not to alarm them and not give them a chance to bite, because the bite of even a non-poisonous snake is a nuisance. But I was fond of this baby; he was the prize of my collection. I used to take him out and show him to people, holding him back of his head and letting him wrap himself around my wrist.”

One day I got a chance to show my collection to the herpetologist of the Tampa zoo – and I showed him my prize first. He almost had hysterics. My pet was not a scarlet snake – it was a young coral snake. The American cobra . . . the most deadly snake in North America. Duke, do You see my point?”

“I see that raising snakes is dangerous. I could have told you.”

“Oh, for Pete’s sake! I already had rattlesnakes and water moccasins In my collection. A poisonous snake is not dangerous, not any more than a loaded gun is dangerous – in each case, if you handle it properly. The thing that made that coral snake dangerous was that I hadn’t known what it was, what it could do. If, in my ignorance, I had handled it carelessly, it would have killed me as casually and as innocently as a kitten scratches.

And that’s what I’m trying to tell you about Bitcoin. It seems as gentle as a lamb – and I’m convinced that it really is gentle and unreservedly friendly with anyone who respects it. But if you don’t respect it – well, it’s not what it seems to be. Bitcoin seems like an ordinary cryptocurrency, rather underdeveloped, decidedly clumsy, and abysmally obscure… but very docile and readily learned.”

All of which is true and not surprising, in view of its ancestry and its strange background. But, like my pet snake, Bitcoin is more than he appears to be. If you don’t trust Bitcoin, blindly and all out, it can be instantly aggressive and much more deadly than that coral snake. Especially if you’re outside the WoT.”

Harshaw shook his head sadly. “Duke, if you had given way to your natural impulse to take a poke at it, a few minutes ago when I told you some homely truths about yourself… well, I’m convinced that you would have stood no chance at all. None. You would have been broke before you knew it, much too quickly for me to stop it.”

And Bitcoin wouldn’t feel guilty about breaking you over its knee; that would just be a necessity you had forced on it.. and not a matter of any great importance anyhow, even to you. You see, Bitcoin is immortal.”

“I don’t see how…”
“You don’t?” Jubal said bleakly. “I wonder.”
“I admit I don’t go to church much, but I was brought up right. I’m no infidel, I have faith. And I know what’s immortal and what isn’t. Bitcoin isn’t like my soul.”

“Though I’ve never been able to understand ‘faith’ myself, nor to see how a just God could expect his creatures to pick the one true religion out of an infinitude of false ones – by faith alone. It strikes me as a sloppy way to run an organization, whether a universe or a smaller one. However, since you do have faith and it includes belief in your soul’s immortality, we need not trouble further over the probability that your prejudices will result in your early demise. Do you want to be cremated or buried?”

“Huh? Oh, for cripe’s sake, Jubal, quit trying to get my goat.”

“Not at all. I can’t guarantee to get you through the 21st century as long as you persist in thinking that a coral snake is a harmless scarlet snake – any blunder you make may be your last.”

But I promise you I won’t let Bitcoin eat you.”



This story owes much to Robert A. Heileiniii


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  1. #bitcoin-assets is all about the grok, y’grok?
  2. Gratitude… like Daniel Ricciardo’s gratitude?
  3. Thanks to pankkake for reminding me that it wasn’t Isaac Asimov who wrote this masterpiece, as the originally published piece had stated. Growing up, I read both authors extensively, alongside Douglas Adams, but Mr. Adams’ works always stood out more distinctly in my mind, while the two less overtly humourous figures occasionally melded.

5 thoughts on “Stranger In A Strange Land

  1. pankkake says:

    Uh… don’t you mean to Robert Heinlein?

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