The Cost of Responsibility

Kage Baker was pretty serious about her civic responsibilities. She believed in a contract between citizens and the government, wherein rights are guaranteed – the Constitution does say so – but privileges must be earned.

By both contractees, by the way – she felt that the government was not automatically entitled to diddly squat, save by the consent of the governed. It needs to be watched as carefully as a small child appointed cookie monitor, she said once –  “because little people and little brains don’t grasp large concepts easily. Just cookies.”

What the ordinary citizens don’t grasp of their responsibilities, rights and privileges has driven professional philosophers to despair for millenia. Science fiction writers at least have the chance to get story ideas out of the mess. And Kage was a keen observer of this hysteria, which was the primary source of her vision of the 23rd century.

She envisioned NIMBY gone mad (ship the mentally inconvenient off-planet!) – animal activists liberating animals incapable of surviving in their current locations (chickens become extinct in urban Britain) – a new, secular Puritanism (“none of the God, all of the guilt”) – the emerging nations establishing economies by supplying “vices” to the First World (the Celtic Nations smuggling cream and whiskey, Jamaica smuggling coffee and rum). In Kage’s future, the primary danger to the ordinary citizen was that they had handed all their responsibilities to a faceless bureaucracy with the demand to be kept safe and comfortable – the bureaucracy responds by turning the world into a heavily monitored kindergarten.

Kage herself felt that you absolutely had to seize and exercise your responsibilities; otherwise, you had no right to demand your concurrent privileges. The one paid for the other. It’s a very simple equation. So she paid her taxes, though she took every legal deduction: blind obedience is not in the interests of the governed. She obeyed the laws, though she was grateful not to have to worry about having to choose between lawfulness and felony: she couldn’t have obeyed  the Jim Crow and Dred Scott statutes, she said, or stayed quietly at home when women marched for the vote and the young to end a war.

She walked a few picket lines, joined a few chanting mobs. She stayed on the edges, where the crowds were thinner and you  could reach the drink stands and spot the police.

Kage was, despite an unusually high level of probity, also quite willing to ignore laws she thought stupid. No one is perfect. And it’s the American way! It was just that her idea of reasonable civil disobedience was illegal fireworks, and drinking bottled cocktails in the car (her, not me. Drivers did not get to drink – that was insane). She never even tried to get out of jury duty, but used marijuana in the privacy (and safety) of her own home.

When the prize was a living wage for agricultural workers, she boycotted grapes – but, being a Californian, she also boycotted Florida oranges out of regional patriotism. Proselytizing was not her thing, though – preaching was vulgar, she felt – she just quietly tried to influence her immediate environment with some sensible locavorism. That was why she was so delighted when they began distilling Absinthe right there in dear old San Francisco …

All in all, Kage led an life aware of and involved with her community. She was simply very quiet about it. Her views were clearly outlined in her books, of course, but you had to examine them closely to discern which side of the insanities she described so well  she personally favoured … an examination influenced, of course, by your own species of cerebral termites. She actually got a few letters praising her idea of shipping social misfits to Mars, or scolding her for not more thoroughly espousing Goddess worship, vegetarianism, or the abuse and/or canonization of animals.

But that was all right, because Kage also believed in living by the consequences of your actions. Had she ever been arrested for engaging in what she considered logical civil disobedience, she’d have gone resolutely to jail. She stood by her statements. She stood by her actions. When she was wrong, she took her lumps; when she was persecuted, she yelled loudly about it.

Today’s lecture, Dear Readers, is partly to illustrate some of the deeper sources of Kage’s vision of the World-yet-to-come. It’s also a way to segue into my unhappiness with my brand-new flu shot.

I did my duty for herd immunity, you see, and got a flu shot. It will also theoretically cut down on what my insurance might spend to make me well if I were to fall ill with Influenza, or to cure any collateral victims I infected. And since I went to Walgreen’s for the shot, their charitable outreach program paid for a second shot to be given to someone who could not afford their own. Thrift, virtue and self-preservation! I was smug.

I have also spent the day in bed with a reaction to the damned shot. It’s not abnormal to run a little fever and have a few aches; it does mean I won’t get the full-blown disease later on. At Dickens Fair, I spend my weekends with 4,000 strangers every weekend – and my 1,000 actual friends are all inveterate huggers. So a mini-flu is a small price to pay for the protection of getting my vaccine. And it also gave me an excuse to write about Kage Baker’s philosophy, and how it got into her writing …

Besides, it was my responsibility. My privilege is to be protected by society – my right is to have access to the means of assuring my safety – my responsibility is to get off my spreading arse and do my part.

From the Eccentric Gospel of St. Kage, Scholar and Visionary. Intercede for us, Beata Domina, now and in the hour of our indecision. And its consequences.


About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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2 Responses to The Cost of Responsibility

  1. Wayne says:

    Ah yes, I fondly recall the horror on your sister Kimberly’s face when I espoused quite succinctly the philosophy of polite civil disobedience I shared with Kage with regards to fireworks, the beach, and Independence Day… Michael understood and I think Kage was quietly approving.


    • Kate says:

      Michael not only understood, he has espoused it as part of his core philosophy. Also, he was explaining the story to your daughter at rehearsals this weekend, which I found pretty amusing on so many levels …

      Kage totally approved, BTW.


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