Under What Rules?

When Death Can Be Gamed, Anything Can Be Gamed

Tom Nickel
7 min readMar 4, 2023
image by Thomas Hawk, Flickr

When my grandson Charlie was four or five and just learning about games he’d ask me to play, Chutes and Ladders and I’d say, “OK, but which rules are we using?

By his rules, he didn’t have to go down big slides. He could just miss them. That’s OK with me, I just wanted both of us to be clear.

You could ask that question about rules for a lot of things; for example:


There are supposedly a set of rules for the activity humans made up and eventually called, ‘Science.’ The rules involve elements like objectivity, control of variables, and replicability.

Then there’s the rules that determine how the Science activity actually occurs in the world, the ‘House Rules’ you might call them. These include the rules governing how people qualify to do Science in the first place, or how they get money to pay for their Science. These House Rules affect the outcome of Science activity as much as the canonical rules, as much as my grandson Charlie’s personal rule about avoiding slides.

When someone asks me, as people often have during the Covid years, “do you believe in Science?” I have to ask the same question I ask Charlie: “What were the rules? What economic factors could have influenced the outcome? What selection factors could have affected the results?”


Last year at this time it was all, ‘what do you think about the Metaverse,’ but this year’s topic so far is a two-letter word. There aren’t that many Really Important two-letter topics, outside of Xi or OJ, but AI definitely qualifies.

Should we fear AI?’ is the big underlying question and as you must suspect I am going to ask, “under whose set of rules, Charlie?”

We know for certain that some online locations we give our attention to use data in ways that are unhealthy for human relations but healthy for shareholder relations. It is fairly predictable that AI as a tool put into wide distribution by the same entities would be used in the same ways.

I don’t fear AI but I am very leery of AI as provided by global organizations with imperatives which are only occasionally aligned with humanity’s … just like I am about:


I do not fear the Metaverse either. But I sure know better than to expose myself to the vortex of manipulation that is Facebook; the company that thought it could mentally-manipulate all of us simply by changing its name.

But that’s just me. Do I fear that some dark version of a Metaverse could emerge and suck any remaining soul out of the rest of humanity, even if I alone resist?

Not really. Which is not saying it couldn’t happen, simply that I don’t fear it.

The only way to counter societal options that may not be favorable to society is to provide a more attractive alternative. I do not think it will be all that difficult to provide a more attractive alternative to anything that currently calls itself a Metaverse.


Well, what is a drug? Which ones are regulated and in what ways? Whose rules?

To me it is just plain strange that the jurisdictions within a single nation, the U.S., do not all agree on what substances are even OK to possess. House Rules.

But there’s a larger rule set within which drugs are made available or even created in the first place. They must meet the needs of the organizations that do the development, production and distribution.

At one time, drugs were developed, produced and distributed by individual humans, not organizations. The humans were specially trained by their predecessors and are now called, at least in some places, Shaman or Medicine-Men by scholars.

In the areas of State control asserted over almost all parts of the planet now, the ability to regulate most drugs is also asserted.

Protecting humans through safety rules is part of the regulatory structure but the more important part, and the only reason some drugs (e.g., nicotine, alcohol, cannabinoids) are legal in many jurisdictions, is the revenue they generate. State regulation of revenue is another name for the State making sure it gets as much of the money as possible.

If it seems like the regulatory roles of ensuring human safety and get-money-for-the-State-itself might not always be in harmony, you see why, when someone asks me, “what do you think of legalizing drugs,” I have to ask: “By What Rules, Charlie?”

Drugs can be medicinal in the broadest sense of the word when the rules surrounding them are based not just on human safety but human thriving. But human safety and thriving are not the primary factors in any House Rules anywhere.

  • the strongest and best revenue producing substances are promoted in all merchandising decisions
  • marketing and sales staff are incentivized to sell the strongest and best revenue producing substances
  • the terms, ‘best’ and ‘highest quality’ have always referred to the strongest substances, not to the particular substance that might be the most effective for this human at this time.
  • if a substance cannot be projected as profitable, it will not be developed into a distributable drug regardless of the help it could provide

The overall rule-based structure surrounding most drugs in most parts of the world helps those substances serve the needs of organizations but not the needs of humanity.

I’m against it.


I am not against Death. I am pro-Death and have sometimes referred to myself as a Mortality Advocate. I think dying is good for us as individuals and as a species.

It is nothing new or ‘modern’ to have a small sub-section of society benefit from the rules surrounding death.

Can’t pay the Death Tax — Can’t be buried in a Sacred place — and you know what that means for all eternity.

“Are you in favor of assisted suicide?”

By what rules, Charlie?

The MAID (Medical Assistance in Dying) rules which regulate assisted suicide in Canada have been publicly criticized as, ‘too easy.’ Here’s another way of saying it:

MAID provides a path for disposing of people the State no longer wishes to take care of — people without homes, people with various non-fatal health conditions, people whose mental functioning is impaired

That wasn’t a quote. That was just my summary of recent reporting. Provide the path and it will be taken.

Mumukshu Bhawan Hospice, Varanasi, India, Author’s pic

One of the most difficult set of death rules for me involves Hospice, introduced as a human service to help people prepare for death.

“Do you think Hospice is a good thing that should be encouraged to grow?”

Not by the current House Rules.

I love Hospice. It has been one of the most meaningful parts of my life in many ways. It still is.

Under the rules currently laid out by the U.S. Government and its Medicare Administration, Hospice often does more harm than helpful support for people at the end of life. It is possible to serve the needs of for-profit organizations and not the needs of people at the end of life, within the rules, or at least within the way the rules are interpreted and enforced.

I have a physical reaction to organizations that recruit people into hospice when the service is not needed in order to take public funds that require little if any expense. When the people who were exploited this way actually need the service later, it is often not possible to obtain again.

“Do you love Hospice, Tom?”

Under what rules?

The rules that say it’s OK for doctors to help you die if you can’t be productive and come up with enough scratch to put a roof over your head?

No. I do not love Hospice played by those rules.

The system of rules that dominates most of the world now favors organizations over people.

This should be no surprise since the ultimate power around the globe is vested not in people, as in Kings or Monarchs or Kinship bonds, but in abstract organizations, like Nations and Corporations, for whom people are merely paid representatives exercising power for the abstract organization.

All fungible. Even FDR. Even Steve Jobs.

To me, these organizational forms are Artificial Intelligence because humans constructed them and organizations are intelligent, if ‘intelligent’ means capable of acting on its environment so as to sustain existence and grow.

Humans are being dominated by this form of AI right now.

That is why Science, AI, the Metaverse, Drugs, and Death itself are happening under the influence of a set of Home Rules that favors organizations.

The natural systems of which humans and all of our constructions are a part have their own rules.

Water changes state from solid to liquid when it reaches zero degrees celsius and just by following this and other rules, water will flood land in the coming years where a significant portion of humanity lives now.

Organizations will adjust and not care.

Humans can adjust too. As constructed systems break down, we will emphasize human relations over organizational forms in the way we organize and govern ourselves.

Charlie and the rest of us will operate under the same rules as the rest of nature, which we have been doing all along, pretending otherwise.

Image by David Denton

I am not a Globalist, a Nationalist, or a Centrist. I find the micro governance principles of Anarcho-Syndicalism attractive but I have no idea how they could be implemented. I understand the corporate form as an artificial intelligence (AI) with imperatives that benefit humans only accidentally.

My heroes are Marshall McLuhan, Buckminster Fuller, and Socrates. The older I get, the less I know, which I demonstrate regularly here on Medium and on Sub-Stack.



Tom Nickel

Learning Technologist focusing on VR, Video, and Mortality … producer of Less Than One Minute and 360 degree videos