"Talks a good game about freedom when out of power, but once he’s in – bam! Everyone's enslaved in the human-flourishing mines."

OT92: Ocean Thread

This is the bi-weekly visible open thread (there are also hidden open threads twice a week you can reach through the Open Thread tab on the top of the page). Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit or the SSC Discord server. Also:

1. This is your last chance to take the 2017-2018 Slate Star Codex reader survey. I will be closing it tomorrow.

2. New ad on the sidebar: Shearwater, a Boston tech startup that helps universities run mentorship programs, is looking for software engineers.

3. Happy new year!

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971 Responses to OT92: Ocean Thread

  1. Wrong Species says:

    New Black Mirror discussion thread here.

    • Wrong Species says:

      I just finished the second episode of the new season.

      Gur cbvag bs gur rcvfbqr jnf gung gur grpuabybtl gur zbgure hfrq gb fcl ba ure qnhtugre jnf jung hygvzngryl qebir ure njnl. Ohg gurer jrer znal ceboyrzf rira jvgubhg vg. Ybbx ng jung Fnenu znantrq gb qb va n fubeg crevbq bs gvzr. Fur, nf n 15 lrne byq, unq frk jvgu jung nccrnerq gb or na 18 lrne byq, tbg certanag naq qvq pbpnvar nyy va gur fnzr avtug. Gur sngure jnfa’g nebhaq, cebonoyl orpnhfr ur yrsg gurz. Gur zbgure frrzf gb unir n guvat sbe qvegontf, n genvg gung tbg cnffrq qbja gb ure qnhtugre naq va n svg bs natre, Fnenu orng ure zbz hapbafpvbhfarff. Grpuabybtl jnf abg gur pbagevohgvat snpgbe urer, whfg gur znavsrfgngvba.

      Nyfb, zvabe guvat. Zbfg Oynpx Zveebe rcvfbqrf unir n qvfgvapgyl 21fg praghel gbar. Gurl’er nobhg gur jnl gung grpuabybtl vfbyngrf hf sebz bguref. Ohg guvf rcvfbqr pbhyq unir orra jevggra va gur 80’f. Vg’f nobhg n eroryyvbhf qnhtugre jub ehaf njnl sebz ure snzvyl orpnhfr fur’f znq ng gurz. Fur farnxf nebhaq naq gb tb unat bhg jvgu ure sevraqf naq qevax. Fur pnyyf ure oblsevraq orsber grkgvat uvz. Gurl rira zragvbarq gur Oernxsnfg Pyho. Irel qvssrerag guna gur hfhny Oynpx Zveebe frggvat.

      • Well... says:

        Technology was not the contributing factor here, just the manifestation.

        Just like in most of the other episodes I’ve seen. (Limited to seasons 1 and 2.)

        Most Black Mirror episodes have a distinctly 21st century tone. They’re about the way that technology isolates us from others.

        Seems to me most of the episodes (again, the ones I’ve seen anyway) are just about how technology contributes to some kind of an ordeal people go through, usually revolving around Love Problems. There’s no or very little deeper criticism of our complacent attitudes toward technology and its role in our society, its impact on our culture, etc. even though that is the criticism that would be more interesting, and also what we probably need to see more of.

        • Wrong Species says:

          Characters in Black Mirror are usually loners, except for the odd family member or two. Almost every episode has some kind of isolation from others. Look at the first two seasons:

          The National Anthem: Everyone is too busy staring at their phones to see what’s happening in the real world.

          15 Million Merits: The protagonist doesn’t seem to have any friends until he meets the girl. He ends the episode as lonely as he started

          The Entire History of You: They would rather have sex with a memory of themselves than be with each other in that moment.

          Be Right Back: A woman is so lonely and heartbroken after the death of her boyfriend that she tries anything to get him back.

          White Bear: A woman is facing this nightmarish reality all by herself

          Waldo Moment: The protagonist is depressed, unsatisfied with life and is alone at the beginning and end of the episode.

          You can similar themes in some recent science fiction movies like Ex Machina and Her.

          • Well... says:

            I agree, I think you have identified a common theme. Do any of the episodes present ideas about how our attitudes toward technology contribute to this isolation?

          • Wrong Species says:

            Most of the plots couldn’t have happened without the technology used in them. In Be Right Back, without the tech, the woman would have just grieved. In The Entire History of You, the husband might have dropped his suspicions instead of ruminating over his wife’s possible infidelity. I don’t know what you want from Black Mirror. Should they just make each episode of a video of part of the Unabomber’s essay? “Not anti-tech enough” is a strange criticism of Black Mirror.

          • Well... says:

            In Be Right Back, without the tech, the woman would have just grieved.

            She’d have kept obsessing over all the artifacts from her dead boyfriend left over on social media, which she has no way to avoid or dispose of.

            In The Entire History of You, the husband might have dropped his suspicions instead of ruminating over his wife’s possible infidelity.

            I got the impression that the husband was a paranoid jealous type who’d have found a reason to be jealous anyway. Maybe he’d ruminate using social media instead of the instant replay machine built into his eyeballs.

            I don’t know what you want from Black Mirror.

            See below.

            Should they just make each episode of a video of part of the Unabomber’s essay?

            Hah, warmer!

            “Not anti-tech enough” is a strange criticism of Black Mirror.

            It’s that Black Mirror’s criticism of tech is very shallow. A guy breaks up with his girlfriend, technology is somehow involved, and so if you’re a Black Mirror writer now you have your criticism of technology and you make an episode about it.

            Technology changes society comprehensively–from top to bottom–yet at the same time the change is often largely unnoticed or at least un-cared about. We create and adopt new technologies because of the benefits they promise us, but they often come with side-effects, most of which are unseen, and they always require us to give something up, and what we give up is also mostly unseen.

            Showing something unseen in a TV show is challenging but I believe it can be done. Instead Black Mirror always takes the easy route and shows the obvious low-hanging fruit of Tech Problems, but these are also typically the most easily avoidable or else the ones that aren’t really tech problems at all (e.g. jealous husbands and obsessive widows).

          • cassander says:


            It’s that Black Mirror’s criticism of tech is very shallow.

            Do you really think the point is to criticize technology as such? I don’t think that’s the point at all. The point is to tell devastating little tragedies. A tragedy, properly constructed, is not “a bunch of bad shit happens to someone.” A good tragedy require that (A) you have well meaning people (B) presented with a series of choices (C) from which they choose poorly (D) but for reasons that are at least understandable if not outright sympathetic (E) and it all ends badly. Technology is just used as a catalyst.

            History of you is a good example of this. The grain doesn’t make Liam unhappy, it just allows him to make progressively worse and worse decisions that end up with him alone and miserable. The problem isn’t the grain, it’s Liam.

          • Cliff says:

            Isn’t the problem the cheating wife who cuckolded him?

          • Wrong Species says:


            Looking at social media posts is not the same thing as having an exact replica of your husband. That’s the point. The tech problems built off a normal problem but then strongly intensifies it. That makes a difference.

            What exactly are the hard tech problems anyway? What would you make Black Mirror about?

          • Well... says:

            There are a lot of hard tech problems. Just to choose one at random, how about the way older generations have trouble relating to their own children in a world where their children approach life and solve problems differently because of new technology.

            Amish grandchildren grow up working right alongside their grandparents, doing the exact same work in the same or almost the exact same way. I can’t even fathom what that would be like, to have that kind of a sense of rootedness and depth. To know that everything I need to know can be taught to me by my family or at least the people in my small community.

            Now I’m not saying it’s a major catastrophe that we’ve lost this, and I disagree with the Unabomber that we need to blow up everything we’ve got and go back to living in huts [to get back to it]. But it is Something Worth Considering, and I think a TV show episode about it, written the right way, would give people pause to think about what their technology is forcing them to give up.

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            Seems to me most of the episodes (again, the ones I’ve seen anyway) are just about how technology contributes to some kind of an ordeal people go through, usually revolving around Love Problems. There’s no or very little deeper criticism of our complacent attitudes toward technology and its role in our society

            I haven’t seen a whole lot of Black Mirror, but I thought the first episode did a good job of delving into how social media (and the ubiquitous upvoting/downvoting and ratings systems that are a part of the online world) changes and warps the way people think. No one can relax and be genuine, no one says what they really think, they’re constantly looking at their numbers and trying to boost them. The idea of a society where that dynamic is completely inescapable is pretty damn scary to me. It also wasn’t a Love Problem story.

            Rather than isolation it seemed to be more of a “hell is the other” kind of theme. It’s only when the main character is isolated in a prison cell at the end, cut off from the network, that she has a moment of real peace.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Well…, work has been changing among the Amish more than you might think. They have a lot of children, and not enough land for all of them to go into farming so they’ve started a lot of small businesses.

            On the other hand, their culture doesn’t scatter families the way the mainstream does.

          • Wrong Species says:


            You say the first episode of Black Mirror but it sounds like you’re talking about the first episode after it moved to Netflix, Nosedive. I’m assuming that’s what you meant.

            The thing about Nosedive is that, yes, the protagonist is constantly interacting with various people but think about how superficial all her relationships are. The only exception is her brother, the odd family member I pointed out. People on Black Mirror generally don’t have friends. On the one hand, it goes along with the general pessimism of Brooker. But it’s also a reflection of our society right now. George Orwell could imagine a dictator brainwashing us in to believing two plus two is five but I don’t think he could have predicted we would so willingly isolate ourselves from others.

          • Mark says:

            History of you is a good example of this. The grain doesn’t make Liam unhappy, it just allows him to make progressively worse and worse decisions that end up with him alone and miserable. The problem isn’t the grain, it’s Liam.

            Isn’t the problem the cheating wife who cuckolded him?

            Yeah, I thought the thing about ‘The Entire History of You’ is that you think the grain is making him make worse and worse decisions, but then actually they end up being good decisions, because his wife is awful.

            (Although, it is implied that the marital problems are because of him being a suspicious madman in the first place. But, then again, he was right to be suspicious.)

            Better to be alone than living a lie. But, the lies she told have a damaging effect.

          • Aapje says:


            There are a lot of hard tech problems. Just to choose one at random, how about the way older generations have trouble relating to their own children in a world where their children approach life and solve problems differently because of new technology.

            That isn’t really a ‘new tech’ story though. That issue goes back to the industrial revolution at the very least, where people left rural areas to go work in the city. If you generalize it even further, upwardly mobile people have very similar issues, where their new class has different rules than the class that their parents are part of.

            [spoilers for episode 1]:

            So IMO it has to be something more specific about how modern society/tech has this in a different way. For example, the first episode showed how technology to clone (real) human minds can be used to create a virtual society where someone can play God over cloned minds. That is not something that is possible now or in the past. I didn’t like how black/white the storytelling was, but as a warning story about the potential of new tech I thought it made a good point.

            [spoilers for episode 2]:

            I thought that the second episode of the current season had a chance to investigate how the girl being shielded from bad things could screw her up, making her unable to cope with injury/violence/sex/etc and/or learn how to deal with emotions. They actually seemed to address this until the part where they turned off the content filtering, but then there was a montage showing the girl learning to cope. Afterwards, it became just a story about a pretty normal rebellious teenager who has a bad boyfriend and where the parent betrays the trust of the teenager. That was a story that could have been told pretty much the same without the spy tech, where the parent figures the sex and drugs things out the traditional way (like the mother partly did, when she called the other parent and heard the daughter was not there).

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            Yeah, I thought the thing about ‘The Entire History of You’ is that you think the grain is making him make worse and worse decisions, but then actually they end up being good decisions, because his wife is awful.

            (Although, it is implied that the marital problems are because of him being a suspicious madman in the first place. But, then again, he was right to be suspicious.)

            Better to be alone than living a lie. But, the lies she told have a damaging effect.

            I mean, just because you’re right, it doesn’t make your thought process retroactively correct. But the ambiguity of the episode is that makes it (arguably) the best in the series. That’s what, to me, brings down the last season: Eps 1 and 6 in particular, it drops it and just goes with a traditional ending that makes the whole thing worse in retrospect.

          • Saint Fiasco says:

            The point of The Entire History of You was not the infidelity. It was the way people cope with bad memories.

            The guy botched a job interview and he ruminated on that all day, perhaps a bit more than normal because he had perfect memory. It amplified a mildly bad thing into a very bad thing.

            Then his relationship went to shit (I’d argue the reason is incidental) and his perfect memory turned a very bad thing into a life destroying event. He could only begin to get his life back on track when he removed the implant, re-gaining the capacity to forget. The episode ends on a relative high note, with hints of hope for the future as the guy finally has a chance to move on.

          • Well... says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz:

            Yeah, I know. I used them as an example anyway because from what I’ve read they are aware of that particular advantage of slowing down their technology adoption rates (grandfathers and grandsons being able to relate to each other), so it’s a real-world example, even if there are increasingly forces working against it.


            True I suppose, but I never really said I was only talking about 21st century tech anyway. The social issues that the industrial revolution’s technology created are in many ways the same ones we’re still dealing with, so I don’t see the problem in drawing the line there. Just because it was a few hundred years ago doesn’t mean we can’t think critically about it, nor does it mean there’s nothing we can do going forward. (Back to Kaczynski, his manifesto was called “Industrial Society and its Future”.)

        • mupetblast says:

          The first episode in the new season is very ambitious, and also the most outlandish of the eps (though I haven’t yet seen the last two I confess). I liked Crocodile, ep 3. Had a very Hitchcockian feel and excellent acting. Of the first four it’s also the most restrained and mild in its sci-fi elements.

          • cassander says:

            I’m curious what you mean by outlandish, exactly. I mean, the setting is a bit odd, but it’s basically got the same theme as the rest of the episodes, copying people’s consciousnesses for your own purpose is bad and if you do it you’re bad and should feel bad, even if you do it for good reasons.

          • Zorgon says:

            I’d take “outlandish” as a polite way of saying “incredibly stupid”, personally.

      • cassander says:

        Yeah, I thought that episode was going to go in a VERY different direction. As it ends, it feels very unfinished. And it’s not like the kid npghnyyl znantrq gb qrfgebl gur TCF puvc va ure urnq, fur whfg oebxr gur pbafbyr n yvggyr. Rira jvgu gur guvatf bhg bs cebqhpgvba, fbzrbar’f tbvat gb or noyr gb trg ure n ercynprzrag, be ng gur irel yrnfg, gnc vagb gung genpxre.

      • I’m three episodes into it now. This new season does seem to have a slightly different feel from earlier ones; things don’t look as futuristic. There are a few select elements of future technology in each episode, but otherwise things mostly look and feel like the current day; even things like kitchen appliances look contemporary or even slightly old-fashioned, instead of the “five minutes into the future” look the incidental stuff in the background tended to have in earlier seasons. (Exceptions are the apartment door in one episode and hotel room in another that had changing images on the walls and doors that greeted the inhabitant by name. The people in those places were presented as somewhat upper-class, while people shown in houses with more ordinary looking appliances were more lower or working class, so probably could still only afford 20th-century-style stuff even in the future.)

      • Mark Atwood says:

        I don’t think that Black Mirror, or at least many episodes of it, is not so much about technology, as that it’s can’t NOT be.

        It’s not possible to tell most personal stories set in the present in a realistic setting, without tech being as present as clothing and air. And if a writer wants to explore any tendency in the current human experience and amplify it by running forward in time even just a few years, the tech will just get that much more present.

        The only way to tell a contemporary or day after tomorrow personal story about WEIRD people now that doesn’t have tech is to write a post-apocolypse story, and then it will be difficult to make the story not be about tech’s absence.

    • BillG says:

      Favorite episodes of the season were Hang the DJ (beautiful exploration of love, transcendental, less “realistic” scifi premise) and Arkangel (any exploration of Oedipal crises seems timely in 2017/2018….)

    • Baeraad says:

      I’ve watched the fourth season. I wasn’t a fan of it, for the most parts.

      Rcvfbqr bar: n terng rcvfbqr, ohg V’z naablrq jvgu gur rgreany ersenva bs “areqf ner rivy naq ragvgyrq” gung V srry yvxr V’ir orra urnevat sbe gur orggre cneg bs n qrpnqr abj. Qba’g trg zr jebat, V fgvyy purrerq ng gur ivyynva trggvat uvf pbzrhccnapr, ‘pnhfr frevbhfyl, jung n qbhpur, ohg V fgvyy srry gnetrgrq.

      Rcvfbqr gjb: zru, V qba’g nterr jvgu gur zbeny. Vqvbg grrantr oengf qb abg qrfreir cevinpl. Abg gung gung rkphfrf gur zbgure tbvat nyy cflpub fgnyxre ba ure qnhtugre, gubhtu – V zrna, jungrire unccrarq gb gur svar zngreany genqvgvba bs jnvgvat hc sbe lbhe phesrj-oernxvat bssfcevat naq haybnqvat n qbhoyr junzzl bs “V Nz Irel Qvfnccbvagrq Va Lbh Lbhat Ynql” naq “Lbh Ner Fb Tebhaqrq” ng gurz jura gurl svanyyl perrc ubzr? Frevbhfyl, vqvbg onyyf jrer uryq nyy bire.

      Rcvfbqr guerr: obevat, obevat, obevat. Vg’f whfg lbhe hfhny “gelvat gb trg njnl jvgu zheqre” cybg jvgubhg nal erny gjvfgf gb vg rkprcg sbe na rkgerzryl fznyy bar ng gur irel raq.

      Rcvfbqr sbhe: Bxnl, guvf bar V npghnyyl yvxrq. Irel shaal, irel crefbanoyr, naq n avpr penpx nafjre gb gur dhrfgvba jr’ir nyy gblrq jvgu ba bppnfvba – ubj qb qngvat fvgrf pnyphyngvat gubfr jrveqyl cerpvfr pbzcngnovyvgl fpberf?

      Rcvfbqr svir: Zber obevat. Lrnu, lrnu, ebobg ncbpnylcfr, V’ir frra vg orsber. Ab gjvfgf, ab fhecevfrf, abar bs gur plavpny fbpvny pbzzragnel gung V rkcrpg sebz guvf fubj. Gur bayl guvat gung jnf rira bar vbgn vagrerfgvat jnf univat n zvqqyr-ntrq jbzna sbe n fbyr cebgntbavfg va n fheiviny fpranevb.

      Rcvfbqr fvk: Nabgure rcvfbqr V xvaq bs yvxrq, gubhtu zbfgyl orpnhfr gurl nccrnerq gb ybjre gurve nfcvengvbaf gb jung gurl jrer pncnoyr bs npuvrivat, juvpu jnf n fbeg bs Gnyrf sebz gur Pelcg guvat.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I don’t think the episode is necessarily an anti-nerd episode, although it’s easy to see it that way. It’s like the Columbine shooters, in a way. They probably wouldn’t have done what they did if they weren’t bullied.

        • Baeraad says:

          I dunno, some of the guy’s coworkers were a bit on the douchy side, but they didn’t seem to be so much bullying him as mostly ignoring him. Even at the start when it seemed like he was just indulging in a self-indulgent fantasy because reality was too harsh for him, I had a hard time sympathising with him, because his reality wasn’t that damn harsh.

      • cassander says:

        I did really like the tales from the crypt aspect of the last one, and really liked the first half jurer gur ubfg aneengrq gur guerr fgbevrf va n ebbz shyy bs rnfgre rtt cebzcgf. V’z n yvggyr fnq jvgu ubj vg raqrq, npghnyyl, orpnhfr V jnagrq gb tb onpx gb gung cynpr naq urne fbzr bgure bs gubfr fgbevrf. V yvxrq gur zrgn-arff bs gur frghc na gur npghny raqrq cebirq n ovg….cerqvpgnoyr.

    • liskantope says:

      Just finished E1 of the new season. It could inspire a bit of discussion about the ethics surrounding creation of sentience (although I think the episode makes the ethical calculus pretty unambiguous), but for the moment all I can say is “wow”.

      • cassander says:

        I really hope there’s a sequel to that episode in the next season that shows what’s happened to the crew after living in a procedurally generated eve online and encountering no one but gamers for years, maybe decades.

        • liskantope says:

          Yeah, I also thought that one was begging for a sequel, though so far that doesn’t seem to be a thing Black Mirror does. I’m also curious about what will happen to the Daly character when he’s discovered permanently plugged in. The episode implied that everyone’s fates were resolved at the end, but by no means are they set in stone.

    • stoodfarback says:

      Birenyy, guhzof hc. Bayl pbzcynvag vf gung vg’f yrff sbphfrq ba ernyvfz. Gur vzcerffvba V tbg sebz cerivbhf frnfbaf jnf “yrg’f rkgencbyngr n pregnva grpuabybtl (be n srj) gb na nofheq qrterr, naq frr jung fgbevrf jr pna znxr va gung jbeyq”. Guvf bar srryf yvxr gurl fgnegrq jvgu n fgbel, gura svyyrq va gur grpuabybtl gb znxr vg cbffvoyr. Gung’f abg arprffnevyl n onq guvat, ohg vg qbrf yrnq gb fbzr naablvat oernxvat bs fhfcrafvba bs qvforyvrs. Vg’f n ybg zber yvxr glcvpny fpvsv fgbevrf, yrff bs jung znqr oynpx zveebe fcrpvny. Fgvyy irel rawblnoyr gubhtu.

    • Zorgon says:

      Gah. Wrote a huge long post, hit the wordfilter somewhere. Suffice to say I’m deeply unimpressed with the rest of the season (except for Episode 5, which would make a great breakaway series).

    • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:


      Not Written By Charlie Brooker Tier:
      The Entire History of You

      John Hamm Makes Everything Better Tier:
      White Christmas

      It Looks Pretty Tier:
      15 Million Merits
      San Junipero
      Hang the DJ

      This Is a Flower Pot Tier:
      The National Anthem
      Shut up and Dance

      The Rest Tier:
      The Rest, except for The Waldo Moment

      Who OKed This Tier:
      The Waldo Moment

  2. Anon. says:

    With the expulsion of Tarquinius Superbus, the last Etruscan king, and the establishment of the Roman Republic in 509 BC (245 AUC), supreme power (imperium) resided in two consuls, who were elected annually. From 222 BC they assumed office on March 15 (the Ides of March), just before the vernal equinox. (Prior to that year, consuls assumed and left office depending upon the exigencies of the moment.) It was spring, and March, named after Mars, the god of war, was the start of the military campaign season. In 153 BC, however, consuls began to assume power on January 1 (the Kalends of January), which now marked the beginning of the consular or civil year as well as the calendar year–although, even when the year had begun in March, it is likely that the first crescent moon after the winter solstice, when light begins to increase over darkness, marked its natural beginning.

    Why the consular year began on January 1 was due to the Second Celtiberian War. In 154 BC, there was rebellion in Spain. Quintus Fulvius Nobilior was designated consul for the following year but could not assume office until the Ides of March. Given the military situation, the Senate decreed January 1 to be the start of the new civil year, which permitted Nobilior to be inducted and depart with his legions that much sooner. He still was delayed in arriving, however, as can be determined by a severe defeat late in August, a loss so disastrous that the day on which it occurred was declared a dies ater and subsequently was considered unlucky. Indeed, Appian relates that no Roman general would willingly initiate a battle on that day. (July 18, 390 BC, when the Gauls defeated Rome in the Battle of the Allia was another “black day.”)

    • Sfoil says:


      (I couldn’t find it on Google either)

    • Douglas Knight says:

      I don’t think the parenthetical last sentence is quite right. According to Attic Nights 5:17, they generalized the defeat in the battle of Allia to the day after every kalends, ides, and nones. And thus they generally called them postridie (“the day after”), rather than dies ater. Whereas, the defeat by the Celtiberians did not fit that pattern and so has a special name. (That’s not to say that dies ater is wrong, I just think it’s a lot less common.)

  3. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Continuing off a tangent in the last OT:
    Ladies, how much do you have to deal with unwanted sexual attention, and how crude/offensive/hurtful are the men doing it?
    Do you think this is equal/less/more for women who are less attractive?

    • gemmaem says:

      I haven’t had to deal with it for a few years now. There are a few possible explanations for this. One is that I’m in my early thirties. Another is that I’m now married; it’s possible that the wedding ring makes a difference. Yet another possible explanation is that I moved back to New Zealand, and my experience is that American men are a lot more likely to approach a woman who is a stranger than New Zealand men are.

      I strongly suspect that age is a massive factor in these things, and I don’t mind that I’m getting older. Older women may well be less attractive to the casual eye, but I think older women also get less aggressive attention in part because younger women are more obviously vulnerable, and I certainly don’t miss that part.

    • Loquat says:

      I’m in my mid-30’s, live in the USA, been IMO reasonably attractive my whole adult life, virtually never had any noticeable amount of unwanted sexual attention. (Seriously, when the whole #YesAllWomen thing got started I was honestly baffled by it, because that stuff just doesn’t happen to me.) My sister, roughly similar attractiveness level, has mentioned to me that she gets catcalls and comments on a regular basis. I think this can be primarily chalked up to our different lifestyles – specifically that she’s spent quite a bit of her adult life in urban environments and enjoys nightlife, while I’m a homebody who tended to stay out in the suburbs.

      • rubberduck says:

        Early 20’s, raised in the suburbs, same deal here. I’m not very social, but on the other hand I’ve solo traveled a lot and cosplay/go to conventions (apparently female cosplay attracts creeps but I’ve never experienced that personally). I can count all of two incidents that even struck me as vaguely creepy, and both were in situations where there was a communication barrier so I might have just come off as more flirty than intended.

        Lifestyle definitely plays a part, but I also think at least some of it has to be a person’s aura (for lack of a better term). I remember some blog post (not sure if it was SSC) talking about how Scott has this aura that makes people around him more calm and reasonable, and I think I have an aura that repels creepy comments. I’ve been described as intimidating before, despite being physically weak and not very angry, so I’m guessing it’s something in the body language. If it keeps harassment away I’ll take it, though finding a boyfriend is basically impossible.

        • entobat says:

          Would you mind going more in-depth about why this makes finding a boyfriend impossible? How do guys react when you approach them?

        • My about to be daughter in law reports frequent cat calling. My daughter, about the same age, and my wife have never experienced it.

          I don’t think the difference is in where they live. The former is tall, red headed, good looking, self-confident. The latter two are short, average looks, shy. One might expect the self-confident/shy division to go the other way, but apparently not.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Tall, red-headed, self-confident. Recent anecdotes…

            1. In the gym, GenX male members asked “Can I touch that ass?” “NO” “OK, no touching. Can we bounce a quarter off it?”
            2. In a grocery store, 50+ white man stands between me and the man I’m with and says “Do you know you’re beautiful?” “Well my man says so. Now get out of our way.” He wont, so I tell Man I’m walking backwards to report this jerk.
            3. In a different grocery store, a young black man I’ve never seen before uses the line “I haven’t seen you since high school! Let’s catch up over coffee.” I tell him that’s a terrible line and he offers me a handshake. Then he follows me around while his taller friend who looks like a young Snoop Dogg looks on in disbelief.
            4. While walking to my front door on a busy street, a 30-something white riff raff type yells “I’m your husband, I’m your brother, whatever you want!” Saying “go away” makes him lob threats. Running to my front door and calling 911 produces no results, as such perps reliably wander away before a police car arrives.

          • James says:

            “Well my man says so. Now get out of our way.”

            Great response. (As for all the others: eurgh.)

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @James: Thanks. Note that while “eurgh” applies to everything, I only felt endanger>ed by #4. While that was a gendered bad experience men don’t deal with, I said “women have it easier than men in the present day West” in part because I know intellectually that men are more likely to be assaulted by the drugged underclass that creep belonged to.
            Humans are fallen.

        • Loquat says:

          I’ve been told I successfully intimidated guys in college, so sure, an aura of intimidation could totally be the reason. I haven’t had nearly as much trouble finding boyfriends as you apparently have, though – I had multiple relationships before eventually settling down with my husband.

        • Garrett says:

          I’m male and having trouble finding a girlfriend in-part because I involuntarily come off as creepy. Care to chat?

    • mindspillage says:

      I get almost no unwanted sexual attention. I’m in my mid-30s and work in tech law/policy–lots of time spent around mostly-male groups of software engineering types; I’m also a classical musician (mostly unpaid now, but still actively performing), which is more gender-balanced. I’m average-looking and pretty much always have been, and I used to assume that this was why I didn’t get much unwanted attention, but other people whose looks are comparable report much more harassment than I do.

      I assume it is a mix of things. One is that I don’t have a very stereotypically feminine manner or self-presentation (I’m noticeably feminine rather than androgynous, but I do not think any of “hot”, “cute”, “pretty”, or “girly” would work as descriptions of me), and I’m willing to tell people to stop unwanted nonsense rather than trying overly hard to be polite. And probably I am oblivious to some attempts, where I don’t actually notice it was intended as a come-on.

      I think because it is so rare for me that I don’t find the sexual aspect particularly offensive or hurtful–I am generally frustrated and offended when people take my opinions less seriously because I’m female, but they don’t have to actually harass me or think of me as an object of sexual desire for that to be true.

    • Jade says:

      Early-20s living in a big US city. I would say I’m conventionally attractive (I do model), and I’m the 99.9% of female height. So I attract gobs of attention, good and bad.

      Overall, while pretty much all of the attention I get is unwanted (social anxiety, leave me alone), I wouldn’t think of most of it as being crude/offensive/hurtful. Outside of a handful of instances of actual sexual assault (usually random men trying to groping me on the street or on the subway) and a few guys who would not take no for an answer to the point where I felt threatened, dealing with the unwanted attention isn’t really a big deal and I don’t really mind it either way.

      The worst that I could say about the attention most men give me is that it’s often objectifying and/or said or done with the ulterior motive of wanting to date/fuck me, but even then I try to give the benefit of the doubt and accept most as kind and well-meaning gestures. Sure, it can sometimes leave you jaded and self-conscious about your worth beyond your looks, but I suppose dealing with that is just part of having through no effort or fault of my own a lucky combination of genetic/physical features.

    • Lillian says:

      In the last two years of living in a major metropolitan area in the United States, i have experienced a grand total of one instance of unwanted sexual attention. It happened late summer 2016, i was walking home during the afternoon wearing a very pretty blue satin cocktail dress. A random middle aged mestizo man in an SUV slowed down, complimented me, and asked me to get in his vehicle. After i refused a couple of times, he switched to offering to treat me to any of the nearby restaurants. In the face of continued refusals, he continued to ask with increasing desperation, until i started ignoring him, at which pint he gave up and drove off. As he did so, i deliberately took a wrong turn in a direction away from my house, and then double back along an alley once i had broken line of sight, ensuring that he would not be able to find me if he tried to intercept me further down that street. And that was the end of a brief but scary encounter.

      Unlike many other women, i don’t consider men shouting compliments at me to be unwanted sexual attention, i love it when people tell me i’m beautiful. If the man i describe had simply driven off after i first refused him, i would probably be reporting that i had received zero unwanted sexual attention in the last two years. Also if he had calmly began with an invitation to a restaurant, i may have considered it. However, just asking me out of the blue to get in his car is a red flag, not respecting my no is a reg flag, and the powerful stench of desperation about him was a huge red flag. Hopefully he doesn’t live near me, i’d rather never see him again.

      However, appreciated sexual attention is also pretty rare, just less so. One of the highlights of my year happened just after i finished a modelling job, so i was dressed to the nines with my hair done up, and i looked great. Walking down the street i encountered five workmen who were changing the washing machines of a building, and had completely blocked the sidewalk. As they notice me approaching they all just stopped and stared, dumbfounded. One of them quietly mumbled, “Sorry” when i moved to the curb to get around their blockage. A couple of seconds later another says, “She’s so pretty” in tone of utter disbelief, like he’d just seen an angel. That whole day was a good day, but that precise moment was by far the best of it.

      • James says:

        However, appreciated sexual attention is also pretty rare, just less so. One of the highlights of my year happened just after i finished a modelling job, so i was dressed to the nines with my hair done up, and i looked great. Walking down the street i encountered five workmen who were changing the washing machines of a building, and had completely blocked the sidewalk. As they notice me approaching they all just stopped and stared, dumbfounded. One of them quietly mumbled, “Sorry” when i moved to the curb to get around their blockage. A couple of seconds later another says, “She’s so pretty” in tone of utter disbelief, like he’d just seen an angel. That whole day was a good day, but that precise moment was by far the best of it.

        That’s so sweet.

        Similarly, I was surprised recently to hear my colleague describe the warm fuzzy feeling she gets when cat-called by builders. She said that as long as the comments aren’t vulgar, it brightens her day. (Wolf-whistles, in particular, she explicitly included in the good category.)

        It was surprising to me because I’m used to thinking of anything in that vein as unwelcome harassment. I see I’ve a lot to learn.

        • Aapje says:

          It was surprising to me because I’m used to thinking of anything in that vein as unwelcome harassment. I see I’ve a lot to learn.

          I think this is a result of how one-sided the debate about this is. I would say that there pros and cons to cat-calls. One the one hand, it’s pretty obvious how compliments (can) boost the ego and (especially) give a feeling of being sexually desirable. I’ve seen women (including the most extreme feminists) complain about losing this benefit as they age.

          On the other hand, some men expect a response from their cat-call(s). This can be pleasant to women who like to flirt and/or are good at it, but unpleasant to those who don’t want to and/or can’t. Also, some men respond badly when not getting a response they want, which can be threatening/scary.

          I would argue that different women (or men, for that matter) have a different appreciation of cat-calls, as they differ in:
          – how much ego boosting/being shown that they are sexually desirable matters to them
          – whether they like/are good at flirting
          – how anxious/fearful they are. Some women seem to see a cat-call on par with someone brandishing a knife, while others assume good faith.
          – how many cat-calls they actually get (presumably based on looks & ‘aura’ & gender). I’d expect the law of diminishing marginal utility to hold, so each extra cat-call is appreciated less/disliked more than the former.
          – what kind of cat-calls they get (differences in looks and aura may attract different kinds of cat-calls, so some people may get much nicer cat-calls than others)

          I think that some people would be happier with more cat-calls and some with fewer, although there is probably an extremely strong gender difference. Most men would probably be very happy to get more compliments, while a large percentage* of women probably prefer fewer.

          * Unfortunately, my quick attempt to look for research, to figure out how many women want fewer cat-calls, shows little more than agenda-based ‘science.’ A complicating issue may also be that cat-calling is probably a term with a ‘floating definition’. I strongly expect that many people classify pleasing cat-calls as ‘compliments’ and only displeasing cat-calls as ‘cat-calls’ (but where many people actually disagree on which category a specific cat-call belongs to). Such crappy definitions really make it hard to discuss the issue rationally.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I’m not sure I want to do personal specifics, but it seemed to me that SJWs were overestimating how frightened women generally are of men. So I took a casual survey on facebook, open to both men and women about how frightened they were and (as a sort of surrogate) how cautious they were.a

      Only a small minority turned out to be frightened/cautious, and all of them had been significantly attacked first (one had been mugged).

      Thinking about it, I may have an underestimate of frightened/cautious people since they might not have wanted to go public about it, but I doubt they’re more than a somewhat larger minority.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        In the last OT, @Deiseach was saying that women have it harder than men not because of fright, but because of hurtful vulgar speech like below-average men saying things like “She’s only conventionally attractive, but I’d do her. I’m not as fit as I used to be.”

      • imoimo says:

        That survey does sound like it’d self-select for people who haven’t had bad experiences (and people who have had them and are vocal about it, but I suspect that group is relatively small and non-representative).

        But an academic-quality survey on this topic would be really interesting. Does anyone know if this has been done?

      • Viliam says:

        It could be interesting to make a survey that would also ask some politically incorrect questions, such as: what was the ethnicity and social class of the man who harassed you.

        On internet we often ignore physical space and automatically assume that whether (or how often) a woman is harassed is a function of her traits (e.g. attractive, not attractive, assertive, shy…). The debate here is a good example. But maybe it depends more on the place she lives, etc.

        I am thinking now about the popular long video on YouTube that showed how often a woman was catcalled during a walk in the city. Then suddenly people stopped talking about the video after some viewers pointed out that most of those men were a minority population. My own hypothesis is that it was mostly a problem of social class, and the specific minority just happened to correlate with it in the city.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          I live in a Left coast metropolis where the inner city is white and hip and the poor area is racially mixed. My anecdotes involve a white lumpen on drugs, black millennial with only a high school education, white/Hispanic GenX gym bros, and a 50-something white man of unknown class.
          The college-educated middle-class gets it drilled into their heads to treat women by feminist principles, and this can be expected to correlate negatively with age.
          Poor men of all ages and races can be
          expected to act differently from men who have been through finishing school.

          • dndnrsn says:

            A better way to put this would be that college-educated middle-class men get it drilled into their heads that they have to seem to treat women by feminist principles. There’s no shortage of guys who publicly express feminist opinions, often quite stridently, whose personal treatment of women behind closed doors ranges from “boyfriend, asshole, general-issue” to “serial rapist.”

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @dndnrsn: ha ha yes.

          • Viliam says:

            There’s no shortage of guys who publicly express feminist opinions, often quite stridently, whose personal treatment of women behind closed doors ranges from “boyfriend, asshole, general-issue” to “serial rapist.”

            That makes a lot of sense, considering that people are likely to generalize from one example (themselves). A horrible guy can more easily believe, and thus more sincerely express the opinion that all men are horrible beings. Also more sincerely laugh at the idea that there is such a thing as an actually nice guy.

            While a decent guy will be like “hey wait, I don’t fit this description at all, and I am pretty sure there are other men like me”, inviting the wrath of the entire twittersphere. (“This is not about you!” “What? But I thought ‘all men’ literally includes me, doesn’t it?” “Just kill yourself!”)

          • dndnrsn says:


            Well, there are/could be a bunch of different things going on. Listed in order of most to least sympathetic (in my opinion):

            a-let’s be charitable; sincere repentance is possible. You can’t see what’s inside someone else’s head/heart.
            b-some guys are probably what you describing, figuring all men are like them.
            c-some guys do something similar to that, but as a self-perception defence rather than a mistake in gathering information: if all men are bad, then they bear less personal moral responsibility for their actions.
            d-the worst are the guys who knowingly adopt it as a smokescreen.

    • Deiseach says:

      (1) Not for a very long time now, thank God! I did have two sort of serious instances, one a lot more serious (potentially) than the other. When I was twenty and working a summer job, the head of the department waited till everyone else had gone to lunch, called me back to talk to me about something, stood behind me as I was standing at the desk and pushed his groin into my buttocks so I was caught between him and the desk (and no, this wasn’t “accidental brush of contact by standing too close”, this was deliberate). I reacted out of instinct because I was too shocked to think and so slid sideways to get myself free and made sure for the rest of the time I worked there I was never alone with him again or got into a position where he could come up behind me. Another one could have turned out serious, in the “on tonight’s news a report of an assault on a young woman” way; I was on a bus going home, a guy sitting beside me started pressing his knee against mine very hard and continued on from there; when we got to the end stop the guy who accosted me didn’t take no for an answer, followed me as I left and I started to run (literally) away and he kept following and only for the good luck of meeting someone I knew in a car driving by, who stopped and gave me a lift home – well, probably I’m being paranoid like all those silly women who avoid strange men on the streets at night and make those guys feel sad and angry (like a guy over on the sub-reddit talked about happening to him), right?

      (2) For less attractive women, it’s probably more crude (and more hurtful) in that the harassers do have an attitude of “I can get away with this because no-one would believe I’d hit on an uggo like this/they’ll be so desperate for any kind of male attention I don’t have to try hard”. Back when I was a lot younger, I had guys try to pick me up where it was very clear their thought processes were “yeah, this fat ugly bitch is gonna be so desperate for a man, she’ll be easy and will do anything I want”. If you have any kind of awareness above that of a rock, you can easily pick up on that kind of attitude – I don’t know why guys think women can’t tell, unless it’s that they’ve had success with unattractive women who were desperate (again, this makes me so glad to be asexual and aromantic because I would hate to be so conditioned by society that “you have to be in a couple or you’re a failure!”, I’d take “half a loaf is better than no bread” like that).

      I’ve seen – though how much is meant as a joke and how much is real – some discussion online and the consensus is (for example) “fat girls are easy if you just want someone to fuck but you don’t want to be seen in public with them because you don’t want people to think you can’t get anyone better, so don’t let them think they’re your girlfriend or they’ll expect you to go on dates with them”. I’ve also seen women online talking about how back in high school, they were the butt of jokes where a boy would ask them out or be attentive to them, only to reveal that it was all a joke, their friends dared them to ask the ugly girl, and how could she possibly think they would seriously like her?

      • markk116 says:

        I’ve also seen women online talking about how back in high school, they were the butt of jokes where a boy would ask them out or be attentive to them, only to reveal that it was all a joke, their friends dared them to ask the ugly girl, and how could she possibly think they would seriously like her?

        I have had this happen, although the gender roles are switched. I was a very fat little boy so “asking out the fat kid” was something girls dared each other to do somewhat frequently. Never bothered me much though.

      • Garrett says:

        FWIW, my second day of high school an attractive girl came up to me and asked for me by name. I stood up in an attempt to look as presentable as possible. She then poured a bottle of vinegar over my head.

        So some men cat get a feeling that any attractive woman who speaks to them must be up to something, too.

        • Zorgon says:

          I had a few occasions of that during my teens due to being the awkward, weird kid I was. It became such an issue that even though from about the age of 20 onwards I became “a catch” (apparently), well into my 30s I still on some level assume I’m being pranked when someone shows interest.

          • When rumors were brought to me, in early high school, that a very attractive and high-status girl had a crush on me, I took it for granted that they were pranking her, by jokingly pairing her up with someone as unsocial and unattractive as me. I felt sorry for her, and told my informants to quit picking on her.

            Years later, I found out she actually did have a crush on me.

          • Lillian says:

            This whole thing strikes me as a way to preserve the social hierachy by conditioning the low status individuals to be suspicious of high status defectors.

          • baconbits9 says:

            When rumors were brought to me, in early high school, that a very attractive and high-status girl had a crush on me, I took it for granted that they were pranking her, by jokingly pairing her up with someone as unsocial and unattractive as me. I felt sorry for her, and told my informants to quit picking on her.

            Years later, I found out she actually did have a crush on me.

            I think there is far more cross group attraction than people recognize, and that the peculiar nature of High School really punishes that. The assumption is often “he pretended to like her, he really must be a jerk trying to make her feel awful”, but I think the reality is often “he kind of liked her but was to cowardly to handle the judgement of his circle so he went along with the farce trying to have it both ways. Naturally it blew up badly and there were no scrip writers to tack on a happy ending”.

            People are pretty bad at figuring out what other people like and want, high schoolers have the double whammy of not knowing what they really want themselves (outside of someone hot). They end up playing crappy games because they don’t know better, they don’t know how to express deep emotions without hurting someone and they don’t realize how quickly their feelings can change.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            There are those poorly done studies Scott has mentioned before about attractive man/woman approaches strange woman/man and asks for casual sex and then they measure the responses as some kind of indicator for gendered desire for casual sex. And at least from the male perspective this always seemed ludicrous to me: if an attractive woman I don’t know asks for casual sex I assume she’s either a prostitute or is trying to lure me into some place her boyfriend can ambush and rob me.

          • Zorgon says:

            I think there is far more cross group attraction than people recognize, and that the peculiar nature of High School really punishes that.

            Very much so. Also an issue is the idea of leagues, which has always been entirely alien to me; quite a few people I’ve been intimate with have told me they thought I was “out of my(their) league” and I find the idea quite depressing.

            Some of these people I consider highly attractive, too. It seems to be strictly a status thing, not even particularly connected to in-group elements or mate-selection-fitness.

    • Marquis says:

      Living New Zealand, I’ve had all of one creepy experience with a male stranger, and just assumed for a long time that the whole thing was mostly an American phenomenon. Then I dated a trans woman for a while who, while about the same level of attractiveness as me, had an ‘indie’ style, coloured hair, and a general youthful/rebellious vibe (I usually wear business clothes and have a somewhat androgynous style). It was like walking into another world. She could not go anywhere without being yelled at, whistled at, pretty much anything you can imagine. It was also interesting to observe my own reactions as I took on a more stereotypically masculine (read: protective) role in response. I started carrying a pocket knife, which I did brandish once to scare off a random creep at night, and there was a situation when I wasn’t around and she was assaulted. Completely different worlds – after we broke up, my life carried on as usual and it was like knowing there’s an alternate universe out there but never seeing it again. I’m not quite sure what to make of it, to be honest.

    • Hyzenthlay says:

      Almost never, these days (I’m in my mid-thirties now). I actually can’t remember the last time it happened…been a few years at least.

      Though it didn’t happen to me that often when I was in my twenties either. I was sexually harassed at a couple of jobs when I was young, but overall it’s never been a huge problem. It’s hard to judge one’s own looks but I always thought of mine as about average, so I don’t know why it’s such a common issue for some women but not for me. Possibly part of it is that I’ve never worn makeup or feminine clothing.

    • methylethyl says:

      Like some of the other commenters: late 30s, haven’t had so much as an off-color remark in years. Fine by me. Looks described by others as: striking, but not pretty. Short. Introverted. Body-language apparently presents as standoffish and somewhat masculine. Never wore makeup, dress generally casual and comfortable, not terribly feminine. Have lived in both big city and small town settings in my youth, and never had any issues being catcalled. Don’t enjoy nightlife– more of a library person– and assume that not-hanging-around-with-drunk-men had a lot to do with not being harassed by them. Was occasionally propositioned by loathsome men, but I said no (or perhaps “go to hell”– I don’t recall) and it didn’t go any further. I don’t classify that as harassment, even if it was uncomfortable– someone who takes no for an answer the first time is not harassing me, even if they strike me as creepy. I have never felt my personal safety compromised by encounters with men.

      Once, while travelling in a foreign country where I did not speak the language, I caught a group of old men commenting on my chest size. I left immediately. Still not sure whether to classify that as harassment or just differing cultural standards about what’s appropriate. My feelings were not hurt, but it was kind of creepy. More recently, an old man I had just met called me “little lady”– in a sweetly polite way. I was delighted.

      I assume that more attractive women get more sexual attention of all sorts: good, bad, and everything between.

      Wanted/unwanted can be very subjective, apart from “already told the jerk no, and he wouldn’t buzz off”. I have an extremely low tolerance for dishonesty, and have (I think) a fairly objective assessment of my own looks– so when anybody (male or female) compliments me on my looks, this is always unwelcome. It instantly raises my hackles, and makes me wonder what they want from me that they can’t just ask. Married an aspie, of course 😉

    • Ozy Frantz says:

      For me, even fairly crude sexual attention tends not to be upsetting if I trust that the other person will take “no” for an answer. Unfortunately, this is often not the case.

      By far my most unpleasant experience of sexual harassment was in middle and high school, in which I was repeatedly crudely propositioned as a joke because I was so ugly that it was hilarious to think anyone might want to date me.

      I have mysteriously stopped experiencing street harassment (I attribute it to my green hair). Before that happened, I experienced street harassment about half the time I presented as female and spent a significant amount of time walking or on public transit. The usual case was, for example, a man commenting on how nice my ass is and then following me trying to convince me to have sex with him.

      I almost never go into nightclubs or bars, but the handful of times I have there were drunk men who hit on me and wouldn’t take “I’m flattered, but I’m busy” for an answer. I am uncertain if this was due to venue selection and if I went to bars more I would know which ones are drunk-obnoxious-man-free.

      In my adult life, I have never had a friend or acquaintance make me feel uncomfortable through hitting on me.

      The worst sexual harassment I ever experienced was because I was ugly, so I have a natural tendency to assume ugly women get the worst of sexual harassment, although I don’t know if this is true in the general case.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Anecdotally, female friends and acquaintances of mine seem to report more street harassment when they’re dressed worse, less well made up, etc. One speculated that it was because she looked less confident, and the kind of guys who holler at women tend to look for women who look less confident.

        • This is directly contrary to my (very small sample) evidence. My about to be daughter in law is tall, good looking, and very self-confident–and reports frequent wolf whistles (I’m not sure about anything more serious). My wife and daughter are short and shy, and report zero wolf whistles.

      • Ozy Frantz says:

        One thing I forgot to mention: by far the most puzzling unwanted sexual attention I have ever experienced was when I took out a W4W casual sex ad and received a message that consisted solely of a badly lit dick picture. It wasn’t upsetting or anything but I remain confused about what that man was possibly thinking.

        • Loquat says:

          As my father said to me one time after a man distributing leaflets for a strip club on a street corner wrote his phone number on one and gave it to me… “Well, NOT doing that wasn’t getting him laid, was it?”

  4. waltonmath says:

    When large portions of (United States) healthcare, seem insane, how do you know which parts to trust? My naive first guess says:

    -Vaccines are good.
    -Ambulances and emergency rooms are really useful.
    -Medications can help to treat chronic conditions, but doctors are biased toward overprescribing.
    -Again, surgeries are helpful, but there’s surgery bias.

    What do you think?

    • ajakaja says:

      Ambulances are really nice, but I’m glad to hear that ambulance usage has declined as Uber/Lyft usage increases in American cities, because ambulances are a very extravagant and costly solution to the general problem of “getting to a hospital”, which often does not require any of their offerings besides “a ride”. I know that, personally, being able to go to the hospital without paying for an ambulance if I’m in trouble increases the chances that I’ll… go.

      • Well... says:

        I’ve been told that the whole approach to emergency response has changed in the last few decades. It used to be that the point of an ambulance was to get a person to the hospital, accompanied by people with life-saving equipment and skills if needed. After the change, the point is now to bring the hospital to the person, so to speak. In other words, it isn’t supposed to be just a ride.

        • gbdub says:

          Much of what people call ambulances for (heart attacks, strokes, serious trauma) are things where starting effective treatment absolutely ASAP is essential and/or significantly improves outcomes. So “bring the hospital to you” makes sense.

          Of course there are a lot of things you might call an ambulance for where that is overkill and too expensive and you really just need a ride, a band aid, and maybe a splint/backboard till you get to the hospital. But it probably doesn’t make sense to maintain a low and high service set of ambulances and EMTs.

          Not sure how best to provide “non critical” but still “emergency” medical transport.

          • Well... says:

            Hm….what if it was a specialized kind of taxi service where your drivers were specially trained and licensed to operate sirens and zip around traffic, but not necessarily to administer medical care beyond, say, CPR and gently putting someone on a stretcher. And you can pay for it with your HSA.

        • engleberg says:

          The odd thing I’ve noticed about EMT calls is that a fire truck with very experienced and certified and well-paid paramedic/firefighters shows up first; then the ambulance with a couple guys making maybe 10$ an hour and EMT basic or intermediate arrives and takes the victim to the hospital. Lots of guys want to be firefighters. Competitive guys get serious paramedic certification, maybe after doing time on the ambulance, maybe just sitting around the firehouse, and if there aren’t any fires that night they send the truck.

          Can’t say this bothers me at all. It’s just a little odd.

        • AlphaGamma says:

          Evidence for this in the UK is that it is very rare to see an ambulance using its blue lights and sirens with only one crew member in the front (meaning that the other one is in the back treating the patient). Usually they are either using the lights and sirens on the way to the patient (with both crew in the front) or taking the patient to hospital without them.

          The ambulance service also operates Rapid Response Vehicles, which are either cars or motorcycles that carry some of the equipment of an ambulance (obviously more in a car than on a motorcycle), are single crewed, and cannot transport patients. The idea is that these can get to an incident faster than an ambulance and stabilise the patient until an ambulance can get there to take them to hospital if necessary.

          There have also been PSAs recently to tell people that arriving at a hospital by ambulance does not mean that you will be treated sooner when you get there, in order to cut down on unnecessary ambulance use.

      • achenx says:

        The one time I’ve been to the ER for myself was after a phone call with the on-call doctor at my GP’s office. Their advice was “go to the hospital now, and don’t drive yourself… an ambulance is probably overkill, but call one if you don’t have anyone to drive you.” Fortunately my wife was able to take me that time. Uber/Lyft being more widespread now would definitely improve situations like that, for if I didn’t have someone available but it wasn’t truly urgent enough to need an ambulance.

      • Evan Þ says:

        I’ve never been to the ER (except once while accompanying my dad), but the one time I needed to go to urgent care for a broken collarbone, I took a bus. If the bus hadn’t been running that day, I don’t know what I would’ve done – I was new in town, and my one local friend was out of town till that evening. I might’ve tried to tough it out, or I might’ve called my grandpa who wasn’t all that far away – but it would’ve been embarrassing to say “Hey, I just fell off my bike; please come drive over to bring me to the doctor!”

    • shakeddown says:

      General algorithm: The US healthcare system seems significantly crazier than other systems, so look what they do instead.

      • gbdub says:

        Crazier in payment systems perhaps, but the OP seems to be saying the treatment itself is crazy – I’m interested which parts of the treatment protocols / technologies are being critiqued.

    • Garrett says:

      I volunteer in EMS. There are several things packed into one statement:

      Ambulances and emergency rooms are really useful.

      Yes, they are. And for the emergencies they are intended for, are excellent. (By medical emergency, I’m referring to threat to life, limb, or organ function, including eyesight). The next question should be: what percentage of actual utilization is what these facilities are intended for? In my experience, it’s somewhere around 10%. Even in a upper-end socioeconomic area, many, many of our calls are for things like the flu. Or “I don’t want to be a bother by having my wife take me to the hospital”.

      During my ER clinicals I saw many people who came in for abdominal pain because they were pregnant but didn’t think they could be pregnant. Or for dehydration from being at the sports stadium for 4 hours in the summer without drinking any water. Or a sore throat.

      • TheContinentalOp says:

        I’ve been to the ER twice.

        First time I was bitten by a bat on a Sunday. I went to a Doc-in-a-box for the rabies vaccine and I was informed that I needed to go to the ER of the giant regional hospital for the vaccine. I felt pretty silly answering “1” when asked on a scale of 1-10 what was my pain level. I did appreciate getting pushed to the front of the line, even though I didn’t think it was necessary. Being pushed to the front of the line continued when I had to return the next day, 7 days later, 14 days later and 28 days later for the rest of the series of shots. (OK, I guess I’ve been to the ER 6 times not two)

        The other time was Xmas eve while I was visiting my parents in Virginia. I developed Shingles symptoms. The local urgent care was closed for the holiday. I didn’t want to have to wait until December 26th to start anti-virals so I went to the ER to get a prescription. If that hadn’t worked I would have tried to get a fake prescription from a Canadian Internet Pharmacy and see if I could buffalo RiteAid into accepting it.

    • WarOnReasons says:

      -Vaccines are good.

      While vaccines in general are a great thing, is there a way to know that individual vaccines are beneficial? For instance, a large meta-study about the effect of the flu vaccine did not find any clear benefits to it. Yet flu shots are still actively promoted by doctors and even by many supermarkets (including the summer seasons when its effectiveness is especially dubious).

      • Radu Floricica says:

        Source? This is a pretty strong statement.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Look at a graph of flu deaths per year. From that graph, predict which years the flu vaccine was wrong or had supply shortages. Then look at the years those factors were actually true.

          The flu vaccine works well in controlled lab studies (which is one reason I get it every year) but that’s different from working in the real world.

        • WarOnReasons says:


          The main problem with the flu vaccine is the fast mutation rate of the virus (as compared to most other infectious diseases). Generally the vaccines are evaluated by their efficacy, i.e. how much the vaccine reduces the risk of disease under controlled conditions (which in practice usually means testing them on the virus strain prevalent during the previous flu season). However, what we really care about is not efficacy but effectiveness (the reduction in observed cases of flu and flu-like illnesses after vaccination). While the flu vaccine efficacy is often very high, I have not heard yet of any studies that have proven non-zero effectiveness of the vaccine.

  5. Ivy says:

    How would one go about getting as complete a picture of one’s health as modern medicine allows?

    I’m happy to get general answers to that question, but I’ll give more context about my specific situation. These last few years I’ve been relatively sickly – frequently getting colds, generally lacking energy, with very slow progress on my physical fitness goals. Every time I go in to a family doctor for a cold, I get the usual “drink fluids, rest, and take symptom relief medication”, but no advice that helps deal with root causes. Do I have poor nutrition? Hormone imbalances? A weak immune system? Am I ill-suited for the climate I live in?

    I’ve done the usual doctor check-ups and had my blood checked for vitamin deficiencies, but I imagine professional athletes, actors who need to look a certain way, or smart rich people like Tim Ferriss or Peter Thiel have access to an much greater volume of info about how their body functions and where it goes wrong.

    Suppose I had on the order of 10k to spend + an excellent employer-sponsored insurance plan. How would I use this to maximize my chances of finding health “bottlenecks” – areas that, if treated or worked on, would yield the largest increase in one’s physical well-being? I live in the Bay Area but am willing to fly anywhere in the world if it would help.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      What a good question. I don’t know the answer, but I’m interested because reasons.
      I have an anxiety disorder treated with an SSRI. I am physically active but would consider myself sedentary until my fourth year of college. I am now past 30. I find cardio higher-impact than a brisk walk atypically exhausting. My health care network is Providence. When I tried going off my SSRI (Citalopram), I wound up in the ER for chest and left arm pain. I was released with a Holter monitor and an echocardiogram and treadmill EKG were scheduled. The cardiologist determined my heart to be in perfect health and my lungs were also determined normal.
      I still don’t feel like I’m in very good shape and don’t know where the bottleneck is. All in my head? 😛

      • Deiseach says:

        Could be something to do with the circulatory system rather than the heart, as such. I was very surprised to find out that the vascular system is considered separate from the heart when seeing a consultant; in my ignorance I would have thought “but isn’t the heart attached to the veins and stuff?”

        Nope, two different specialties. Your heart might be fine, but if you have some problem with veins/arteries you may need to see the vascular surgeon.

    • Charles F says:

      Retrying with some links redacted

      I half-suspect [link 1] had something to do with prompting this question, so it might not be very useful to you, but it’s got some useful information on the topic. Obviously $200k is outside of the price range here, but most of that was paying specialists to analyze and track everything over the course of the project, just getting a picture of the areas outlined there should be much cheaper.

      Some possibilities:
      – You’ve gotten checked for vitamin deficiencies, and probably a CBC as well, but there’s a lot more stuff you can track. See [link 2] for way more biomarkers than you care about. I’m basically gradually going through the popular ones at walk in lab. You’ve probably looked at everything in the general wellness panels, so maybe hormones are a good next place to look. There’s some immune system stuff too that could be worth looking at.
      (price range: a few thousand maybe? $100-$500 per panel)

      – Apparently sleep trackers have gotten pretty impressive. I haven’t ever used them, but tracking your sleep with a fitbit is a cheap/easy way to start.
      (price range: $100)

      – Genetic testing. Scott had a post a while back about using 23andme data irresponsibly that should get you started on looking at whether you might have any interesting genes to consider.
      (price range: $200)

      – Personal experimentation. Does your health improve if you go to a different climate? If you go on some trendy ketogenic or paleo or whatever diet? If you improve your cardio? If you do more resistance training?
      (price range: free)

      – Finding some sports medicine and nutrition specialists to help direct you instead of asking SSC.
      (price range: ??? probably a lot)

      Link 1 was to an article titled “I’m 32 and spent $200k on biohacking. Became calmer, thinner, extroverted, healthier & happier.”
      Link 2 was to an article titled “Hundreds of biomarkers I test in pursuit of focus, health, energy, confidence and happiness.”
      both by the same author, both got a bunch of attention a few weeks ago

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Sarah Constantin does medical research.

    • Muro says:

      The best idea (if you have money) is to get a consultation with an expert in health. By this, I do not mean just a doctor or a nutritionist, but somebody who keeps ahead of the literature and whose day job is to work with people like you, to fix problems like yours.

      Traditionally you would find them by reading lots of internet health sites, but below I will irresponsibly offer some of my recommendations.

      Precision Nutrition
      – Something to do with Chris Kresser
      – If you are into fitness, you could try Ben Greenfield

      I have never tried any of them, but I strongly expect they would help you.

      They all offer consults and coaching in how you could become healthier, for money. I recommend them in the order presented above.

    • gemmaem says:

      Did the increased sickliness over the past few years start right after you moved to the Bay Area? If so, moving from place to place can have this effect in that you’re not yet immune to the local viruses, so you get more colds and it takes longer to get over them. But if you’d lived there for a while before experiencing this, then feel free to ignore this comment.

      • Doctor Mist says:

        Tell me more. I can’t tell from the website whether it’s snake oil or not.

        • knownastron says:

          I haven’t tried the thing myself. But nothing on there is particularly implausible. They are on v2 of the ring. So that tells me that:

          a) they’re successful enough to make a second version
          b) there should be a fair amount of reviews for the v1 ring around

          The codeword “kevinrose” that gives you $100 off the full price. I’m tempted but haven’t pulled the trigger yet.

    • Tatterdemalion says:

      I believe the answer is “you probably shouldn’t”.

      Getting the most complete possible picture of your health involves submitting yourself to a number of tests that carry health risks in their own right. If you don’t have other warning signs for the conditions those tests test for, the expected gain in health from catching the condition early is outweighed by the health risks of the test itself.

      My understanding (based on conversations with some doctors, rather than any formal study, so caveat emptor) is that American doctors get paid by the procedure, and hence tend to overprescribe this kind of test compared to doctors in other first-world countries. This means that e.g. Americans have better cancer survival rates, because more cancers are caught earlier, but it carries its own set of health costs that are less well documented.

      • JRM says:

        Most of my health regrets are in not refusing treatment, so I’m in some agreement on this. As a lawyer, I see what happens when people don’t listen to their lawyers (mostly, but not entirely, bad things.) I try to be humble, but I’ve erred more with excess treatment. (Doctors of mine, on the other hand, damn near got me dead at 15 from not listening to my rather persistent claims that something was very very very wrong.)

        But it’s different if you have a problem and no one thinks it’s serious but you. I tend to believe self-reports of, “this is awful.” A friend of mine had the very-tired-all-the-time problem, and the doc told him it was because he was 30 and age is a thing. He did not believe the doc, and it turned out to be a fairly serious (but treatable) thyroid problem.

        On the OP’s situation:

        Step 1: Find somebody good. This is very hard. Get references and move up the chain. I worry that the health site ratings tend to rate niceness over competence, but I am convinced there is nonetheless a positive correlation between patient ratings and doctor goodness.

        Step 2: If you still have a problem, bite the bullet and find someplace elite. Stanford’s nearby. Go to Stanford. This may cost money.

        Step 3: If none of that works, try changes in diet or location or anything else.

        (Caveat: I’m not a medical doctor and have almost no special expertise in the subject. I am old compared to most SSC’ers and have had medical adventures.)

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Americans are culturally convinced that they can live forever if they just get the right tests or procedures. I’m not saying thread OP is like this, but since so much of America is, that will be what they get when they try to find their “complete picture.”

        Americans have better cancer survival rates, because more cancers are caught earlier

        Keep in mind that the mere fact that cancers are caught earlier will add more people to the denominator and increase survivability even if nothing else changes. America is still probably the best place to be if you have cancer, but it’s really hard to try to isolate the effects of each component.

    • Levantine says:

      I can only point to a tangentially relevant research:

      Last August, Art Robinson* gave a lecture on his ongoing research in metabolic profiling. Its ultimate, multigenerational goal is to provide every single adult in the country with a complete picture of his or her metabolism.
      His belief is that it can be attained in two or three centuries from now.


      His sons have been his research collaborators all their lives. If I were an ailing millionaire banned from, say, Mayo Clinic, I think I’d visit them and ask them for guidance.

    • rahien.din says:

      A brief word of general caution : running a lot of tests is not necessarily a good idea.

      There is an adage in medical training, “running a test is like picking your nose – you have to know beforehand what to do with the result.” The more mathematically-oriented version thereof is : you can’t determine the post-test probability of a disease if you don’t know the pre-test probability of the disease. Basic Bayesianism. Also, “I don’t know the pre-test probability” does not mean that the pre-test probability is 50%, it means that the pre-test probability is a distribution.

      And you could say “What’s the harm other than some lost drops of blood?” Unfortunately not the case. One of the most basic things people seek from a physician is certainty. Running a bunch of tests can actually be harmful to certainty – it’s an informational hazard. Moreover, in my experience the patients who feel most compelled to run a bunch of tests are the same folks who are most harmed by these informational hazards. I encounter this about once or twice a week in my practice.

      So I would be careful and judicious about the things you seek out.

      You need a physician that you trust, and on whose clinical reasoning (meaning, assessment of pre-test probability of disease) you can rely.


      By the way, this is no comment on your overall question. I’m not an adult physician, nor am I a generalist – you do not want any of my clinical reasoning regarding your symptoms. I do hope you feel better soon.

    • waltonmath says:

      You could go to talks / conferences on medical stuff and try to learn things from people there, potentially organizing a learning exchange or hiring someone as a consultant.

    • methylethyl says:

      A good thyroid workup could be useful, though sometimes it is hard to convince a doc to order more than a TSH reading– a decent test will also include things like antibodies (there’s more than one!), T3, T4, rT3, and ferritin. Chronic colds can be associated with low thyroid function, but there are lots of other symptoms as well– if chronic colds are the only box you check on that (long, long) list, it might not be a profitable rabbit hole to go down. But thyroid issues are notorious for causing hard-to-pin-down chronic problems in seemingly-unrelated body systems.

      Glucometers are cheap and easy to use (roughly $40 for a meter and a supply of test strips at Walmart), and it might be profitable to experiment with one, to see what your glucose levels do after your most common meals (up to four hours out– if your glucose is staying elevated for hours after you eat, OR if it’s plummeting at hour 3, it can make you feel like garbage all the time). Your insulin/glucose levels can be deranged for years before it affects your fasting glucose (which is what’s on your routine bloodwork).

      FWIW, I did the glucometer experiment, found my numbers were abysmal in both the high- and low- directions, and going low-carb stabilized things. Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, I also stopped getting bronchitis 1-2x/year (I’ve had it once in the last six years).

      • knownastron says:

        I’ve run into a similar problem with getting a doctor to do a comprehensive thyroid test (in Canada). Now that I am in the US (Bay area) does anyone know if there’s a private clinic or something that I can just pay for the tests?

        I also get energy crashes from eating and have always suspected my insulin/glucose levels. Do you have a good source for what I’d be looking out for if I did the glucometer?

        Thanks for the informative post.

        • methylethyl says:

          If you’re looking for a doc to run a thyroid panel and getting stonewalled by your GP, finding a naturopath or functional medicine doc might help (I have mixed feelings about naturopaths, but they seem more willing to do a thyroid panel than most docs).

          Glucometers: There are lots of good primers out there on how to use them, and how to interpret the numbers. This page explains the basics in clear terms.

          Jenny Ruhl has a sort of diabetes information clearinghouse that probably covers far, far more than you are actually interested in here.

          Information covering the “hypo” end of things is a bit tougher to wrangle, but if you’re seeing numbers under 70 on your meter, it’s worth poking around for more info on hypoglycemia (at least one form of which can be caused by hypothyroidism).

          Also, in case you’ve never looked at glucose measurements before, there are two different scales, and which one your glucometer uses will mostly depend on what country you buy it in. It’s easy to tell them apart once you know what you’re looking at, but can be confusing if you haven’t encountered it before. Here’s a link to the different scales. . US uses mg/dl, outside the US is more likely to be using mmol/L– this is also important when reading diabetes-related research.

  6. Deiseach says:

    Half an hour into the new year here so Happy New Year to you all and may it go well for everyone!

  7. Well... says:

    Hot dogs are blander than real sausages. American cheese is blander than real cheese. Are the American versions of foods blander in general?

    Compared to other authentic cuisines I’ve tried enough to feel confident generalizing about or else been told about by people whose tastes and experience I’m confident in, I find American cuisine less bland than most (i.e. at least half of) others. Are most cuisines just very bland, or is there some other discrepancy going on here?

    • fahertym says:

      To take it to the next level, is there a unified thesis on why European/American food is more… bland (for lack of a better word) than East Asian food? Or do I just think this because I’m American and don’t like spiciness?

      • SpaghettiLee says:

        The theory I remember hearing is that food spoils quicker in hot humid climates, and spices help slow that or at least hide it.

        • Tatterdemalion says:

          I have been told that European food used to be much more heavily spiced/flavoured for precisely that reason, which fits with that theory.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Unfortunately, I can’t find my favorite link (I remember it had a yellowish background, which doesn’t help) on the subject, which culminates in pointing out the medieval people spiced their vegetables as lavishly as they spiced their meat. They used heavy spicing because they liked it and because it was a way of showing off. The idea that the spices were to cover the taste of rotting meat is Victorian [citation needed]– they went in for bland food and couldn’t imagine that anyone would like it, and (Protestants vs. Catholics) didn’t like the Middle Ages.



          • Lillian says:

            This is a myth, people have known since the dawn of time that spoiled foods will make you sick. So nobody would willingly eat spoiled foods unless they are desperate, and desperate people can’t afford spices. What is true is that many herbs and spices have anti-microbial effects, which helps prevent spoilage.

            As for hot and humid climes, really spicy food makes you sweat, and sweating cools you off. This may be the reason why spicy foods became so popular in South-Asia and Mesoamerica. Capsaicin also has anti-parasitical properties, and warmer climes tend to have higher parasite loads.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Another possibility is that people generally like spices, and (so far as I know) spices are more common in hot climates– perhaps because the plants do more to protect themselves from insects.

          • engleberg says:

            Hot sauce opens your nose so you get more oxygen- a mild upper. Also there’s some macho competition to endure the strongest taste. And the point of bar food is to give you a thirst. All of these reasons have been around forever.

            Paul Fussell’s Class claimed US food was super bland. Maybe it is, but foreign food tastes foreign. Anyone on SSC grow up eating Yak intestines or kimchi and think they are bland? Compared to all that weird foreign stuff at McDonalds?

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I just discovered I like the pig intestines at my local dim sum place. A little chewy and lightly black peppered. I have no idea whether yak intestines are much different, though it wouldn’t surprise me if omnivore vs. ruminant matters.

            I’ve had Tibetan food in Montreal, and it was pleasant but not especially spicy.

            For a long time, such kimchee as is available in Philadelphia was too hot for me, but lately I’ve been seeing some mild kimchees.

          • Well... says:

            i was always nauseated by kimchee as a young kid (raised by adventurous eaters, kimchee was often in the house). Then in my 20s when I had four Korean roommates, they used to eat it in the kitchen and I still always had to leave the room. The smell of the fermentation triggered my gag reflex. I get a much slighter but similar reaction to sauerkraut.

            I can’t even fathom how I’d do with kiviak.

          • bean says:

            What is true is that many herbs and spices have anti-microbial effects, which helps prevent spoilage.

            I think this explains why food gets spicier as you get closer to the equator, with a side of better availability, because plants are making those to stave off said parasites/microbes which no longer get killed by the cold.

          • I have been told that European food used to be much more heavily spiced/flavoured for precisely that reason

            When someone claims that medieval food was heavily spiced, the first question to ask is how they know. With rare exceptions, medieval recipes do not include quantities.

            Medieval food was differently spiced–that’s clear. Such evidence as I have found–details if people are curious–suggests that the quantities of spices are comparable to what we end up with when we adjust quantities to taste.

          • Well... says:

            I am curious.

            In fact, since you’re into medieval cooking, if you can link to webbed recipes or cookbooks I’d be very interested to read them. Didn’t you write one?

          • @well:

            My wife and I have a cookbook with about 300 recipes, both the original and our worked out version.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            David: Thanks for the cookbook link, that’s fascinating and well edited.

            You don’t seem to say in detail how you are dosing the spices, however, at least in any of the recipes I scrolled to. Experimenting to discover what tastes good is one option, of course, but tastes may differ and it’s not clear that’s historically accurate. You implied upthread you had some methods for more accurately estimating their quantities?

          • Well... says:

            Aptonym warning: Elizabeth Cook!

          • @Andrew:

            Quantities in the recipes are entirely trial and error, save for the rare case where there are quantities in the original.

            I have three different reasons to believe that the spice quantities they used were consistent with our tastes:

            1.Le Menagier, late 14th c. French, has a hippocras recipe (spiced wine) which gives sugar and spices by weight, wine by volume (“quart by Paris measure”). When I originally made it I found it too sweet and too highly spiced, so cut the sugar and spices in half. Eventually I checked the units and discovered that a quart by Paris measure was nearly two quarts (modern unit), while the ounces were about the same as our ounces. So I had corrected it back to about the original ratios.

            2. My wife translated a 15th c. cookbook (Du Fait de Cuisine) that was a description of how to do an enormous feast–two meals a day for two days for several thousand people. It included a shopping list. Using that, I estimated the ratio of spices to meat for the whole feast, compared it to the ratio in recipes we had worked out to taste, found them similar.

            3. There is a 10th c. Islamic cookbook that, unlike most period cookbooks, often gives quantities. We follow the instructions and the result generally tastes good.

      • gbdub says:

        Aren’t most of the spices that make those cuisines spicy native to the areas? There aren’t that many hot spices native to Europe. People went crazy for black pepper when it became available, and the Brits love their Indian food, so it doesn’t seem like Europeans are intrinsically anti spice.

        As for hot dogs / American cheese, I’m guessing those are bland just because they are designed to appeal to a wide range of tastes, particularly kids who are often picky about heavily spiced food. Also American cheese is basically a condiment – most people don’t eat it plain. And hot dogs are usually served heavily dressed (like hamburgers, which are also “bland” compared to sausages).

        • Black pepper, long pepper, ginger, all had to be imported to medieval Europe, but they were all used, along with cubebs, grains of paradise, and probably other hot spices.

          What they didn’t have were the capsicum peppers from the New World.

          • gbdub says:

            Wouldn’t something requiring importation be out of reach of the common peasant, and not necessarily find its way into the basic cuisine, the way that something you could pluck from your back yard would?

          • Imported spices were expensive. The surviving cookbooks are not for peasants–they represent upper middle class and above.

            My guess is that European peasant food would be limited to herbs and spices that grew locally, such as mustard.

          • gbdub says:

            So how much of what we think of as “German food” or “British food” was originally upper class cuisine vs. peasant food? If it’s mostly the latter, lack of available spices could still be a reasonable explanation for their comparative “blandness”.

        • Mary says:

          Oddly enough, the introduction of red peppers all but drove black pepper out of India. (Fifty years after Columbus, we have a poet in India hymning the praises of it.)

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      I would guess that common fare in places with a low number of native spices would tend to be bland. And those which aren’t bland would make use of whichever spices are most common.

    • rahien.din says:

      I have always heard that American-style “Chinese” food is that it is way more heavily flavored than the original Chinese dishes (particularly, sweeter).

      • Well... says:

        I believe it. I’d believe if someone told me it was also way greasier. It really tastes like greasy sugar syrup most of the time.

        • Evan Þ says:

          I think your problem might be the “Chinese food” you get is too Americanized. I’ve had some really good not-very-sweet dishes when I go out to eat with my Chinese friends, and by and large, the dishes they recommend as authentic are usually less greasy.

          (The general guideline I’ve heard to find authentic X-cuisine places is to look for where the people of X ethnicity are eating. Obviously, this works better in some cities than in others.)

          • Well... says:

            Yes, I’ve been to a few nicer sit-down Chinese restaurants with fabric tablecloths, and there the food is usually consistently less greasy/sweet. Seems more authentic too, especially since there are more exotic ingredients.

            I came up with that same guideline myself. I think it’s the kind of guideline that’s passed down from parent to child.

          • herbert herberson says:

            My experience with Chinese-food-in-China (specifically, Beijing and Yunan), was that it was much, much greasier, to the point of giving you a bout of digestive problems–if you ate it like you eat American Chinese food.

            But, you weren’t really supposed to do that. The intent was to basically make a flavorful garnish for your rice, not an entree served along with a side portion of rice.

          • Evan Þ says:

            I think @Herbert has the rest of the answer. At the very least, make the rice an equal partner in the meal. When I go out to eat with my Chinese friends, we always order a very large bowl of rice.

            I should’ve said that earlier; I guess after eating Filipino-inspired food (which has the same principle) at home for the last several years, I forgot how nonintuitive it is.

          • Well... says:

            Does the inclusion of all that rice, in such large proportion to the “main dish”, make it…blander?

          • Evan Þ says:


            Yes, in comparison to less rice, it does.

            Adjust the rice in proportion to your preferred tastes.

      • onyomi says:

        It depends very much on the region of China.

        I find American Chinese food pretty bland compared to most authentic Chinese food. American Chinese food is most similar to Cantonese food (albeit with more deep fried and sugary sauce-coated items, like General Tso’s chicken, invented in the US by a Taiwanese immigrant), which is one of the less heavily seasoned cuisines of China. Chinese cuisines with more heavy spicing include Sichuan, Hunan, and most Northern Chinese food (most of the menu items called “Sichuan” and “Hunan” on American menus are inauthentic).

        And yes, Americans do seem to love sugar (one of my pet peeves is that American Thai food is almost always too sweet and inadequately spiced), though there are also regions of China where they like sweet as well, especially the area around Shanghai.

    • youzicha says:

      Within America, the Midwest is famous for having the most bland food. I’ve heard a few different theories:

      * These are farming regions, so they had access to the freshest and most high quality ingredients, so they needed less seasoning to taste good.

      * People there immigrated from north or central Europe (Germany, Poland, Scandinavia), which also have bland food.

      * Some kind of trend around the turn of the century where blandness was considered medicinal and healthy, perhaps augmented by some signalling thing where only rich people could afford things that tasted well without spiced.

      • Well... says:

        Sub-Saharan African food is pretty bland in my experience.

        I’ve been told that Mexican food (in Mexico) is fairly bland too.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          Ethiopia is considered to be sub-Saharan.

          • Well... says:

            I don’t know that I’ve had Ethiopian food, but there are a number of Ethiopian restaurants nearby so I’ll try them soon. I anticipate it being similar to middle eastern food.

            I’ve had food from places like Nigeria, Zimbabwe, etc. and it was always quite bland.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I haven’t seen anything else like Ethiopian food, and a lot of it is quite spicy.

          • Well... says:

            Really? It’s not similar to middle-eastern? I’ve had a lot of Somali food (made over the course of a summer by a Somali woman I was working for at the time; sometimes she would instruct me on helping her cook so I also saw what went into it) and it just tasted like slightly more piquant middle-eastern food. E.g., ful is basically hummus but made with fava beans instead of garbanzos, and with the addition of cayenne pepper.

            Do things really change that much as you hop over the border from Somalia to Ethiopia? I can see some plausible reasons why they would (i.e. national rivalries between the two countries) but also some plausible reasons why they wouldn’t.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I could tell you about Ethiopian food, but I thought you might want to be surprised.

          • Brad says:

            The basic pattern of the Ethiopian meal I had was similar to Indian meals I’ve had — rich, flavorful sauces sopped up with bread (many other cultures have at least a few dishes that follow a similar pattern). The most unique thing about it was the bread (injera), which doesn’t taste anything like anything else I’ve had.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I think of Ethiopian food as distinctive because of the bread, which is not just flat but floppy. It’s frequently brought out folded on a plate, and looks like light brown napkins.

            While assorted Indian breads are available in Indian restaurants, the default seems to be eating the entree with rice. I don’t know whether that’s more typical in America than India.

            I originally found Indian spicing a little challenging. Not just because of heat, but because they were on the edge of nauseating. I’ve since gotten to like them.

            I think Ethiopian spices are in a completely different range.

            I’m not sure I can do a simple description of Middle Eastern food, but it’s a lot milder than Ethiopian. Also, you use silverware.

            With Ethiopian, you tear off pieces of the bread to pick up the sauce. The only silverware you need is a big spoon to put the sauce on the bread.

          • Well... says:

            With Ethiopian, you tear off pieces of the bread to pick up the sauce. The only silverware you need is a big spoon to put the sauce on the bread.

            Just like middle eastern. Ms. Lebovitz, have you never been to Israel??

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I haven’t been to Israel.

            I’ve eaten at both Israeli and Arab restaurants in Philadelphia. I’ve done the flatbread and humus thing, but that seems like a side dish rather than the main act.

            Also, the Ethiopian sauces soak into the bread, which makes it seem like a rather different experience.

          • If you look at the very early middle-eastern sources such as al-Warraq, a big 10th century cookbook, rice doesn’t seem to be used as something to serve dishes over and there are flatbread recipes.

          • Well... says:

            When you go to Israel (with the name Lebovitz you likely have access to a fund that facilitates a free trip, wink wink) try some of the Arab food there. It closely matches the way you’ve described Ethiopian, but anyway it’s just very very good and if you’re like me and you perceive eating to be one of the main benefits of being alive, it’s a worthwhile experience.

          • quaelegit says:

            I have been to Israel and eaten at Ethiopian restaurants in the U.S. (although that was years ago so my recollections might not be great).

            My impression is that Israeli cuisine tends to be very similar to other eastern Mediterranean or Middle Eastern cuisine. Ethiopian… really isn’t.

            Like I said, I haven’t had Ethiopian food in years but I mainly remember the flavors being weird and unlike anything I’d ever tasted… there was a lot more sour dishes than I was used to (which to be fair I’m American so that’s not saying much), but there was more to it also. I don’t remember how spicy it was compared to other foods, but I had a low spice tolerance at the time so even if we ordered spicy dishes I might not have tried them.

            I don’t know anything about Somali cuisine, but I it’s not surprising to me that it’s much more similar to ME cuisine than Ethiopian is — Somalia (at least the coast) was very connected to the Indian Ocean trade network, while Ethiopia was relatively isolated in the highlands. Look at the religious demographics of the two modern countries — also very different 😛

            Also agree that food in Israel is amazing — especially the fresh vegetables and hummus/ful/other spreads!

          • Brad says:

            The food in Israel is great the first few days. But the 50th time of having one of the same four dishes that they make there is not so exciting.

          • zoozoc says:

            Just want to second that Ethiopian food is pretty unlike any other food I have had (granted I have not had a ton of African food). There is a lot of yogurt-type stuff, and their “bread” is very very unique (spongy like, sour). The meal we had consisted of a bunch of different smaller dishes that were consumed by grabbing with the “bread”.

          • Well... says:

            OK I’m sold. Next time I eat out it’s going to be at one of the local Ethiopian places.

          • Lillian says:

            If you go to an Ethiopian place, and they have mead (honey wine), i strongly recommend you order some. Not only is mead just delicious in general, it goes great with their food.

            Oh also! There is one kind of food that is very similar to Ethiopean food: Eritrean. However given that Eritrea is pretty much just a breakway part of Ethiopia, that’s pretty much a distinction with a difference.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Anyone willing to second that mead recommendation? I’ve had it before, and wasn’t terribly impressed. Too sweet for my tastes.

          • @A Definite Beta Guy:

            I don’t have enough information about Ethiopian mead to comment on it, but mead in general is just an alcoholic drink of fermented honey so, like wine, can be sweet or dry. If you ferment out most of the sugar it’s dry.

          • Brad says:

            I wasn’t a fan of the mead either, but then I also wasn’t a fan of the inerja. Maybe if you like one, you’ll both. Might as well go whole hog, I suppose.

          • Lillian says:

            Okay, full disclosure: i eat Kool-Aid mix with a spoon. The mead being sweet is kind of the selling point for me.

          • I enjoy the injera at the start of the meal but by the end the cumulative sour effect starts to get to me.

            Ethiopian food does not strike me as very similar to Middle Eastern.

        • Lillian says:

          The Senegalese food i’ve tried had a nice variety of herbs and spices to it, including some that are unique to West African cousine.

          You can’t really generalize about Mexican food in Mexico, since it varies by region. Some regions love their hot sauces, other regions not so much.

        • add_lhr says:

          SSA is a pretty big category. I find most food from East Africa to be extremely bland, same thing with some Southern / Central African food. Exceptions in these parts are Mozambican food, which is generally quite flavorful and excellent, especially the food from the central coast, and of course Ethiopian food which is very flavorful and features some quite spicy dishes (although I wouldn’t describe the cuisine as “spicy” a la Sichuanese for example.

          In my experience, a lot of food from West Africa – especially Nigeria and to a lesser extent Ghana – is extraordinarily spicy (the various pepper soups and meat stews), and if not spicy, then very strongly flavored with dried fish. Jollof rice, one of the main accompaniments across the region, can be very spicy in quantity. On the other hand, a lot of these same stews are eaten with plain pounded yams or maize meal. Ivoirian cuisine has a lot of great flavors, although is served with some very bland starches (e.g plantains and a preparation of cassava flour).

          • Well... says:

            Thanks, that expands in very useful detail.

            The plain yams/cornmeal/other starches was the main thing I was thinking of, and which I remember as being consistent across many of those cuisines, and is what made me generalize it as bland.

      • Adrian says:

        […] Germany […] bland food

        Huh? I wonder where that misconception comes from. Traditional German food from the southern regions tends to have a very strong, savory flavor. Examples: Handkäse, Saumagen, Sauerkraut, most sausages, many sauces served to red meat.
        Maybe people confuse “bland” with “not hot/spicy”?

        Things might be a little different for the northern regions, since they eat more fish there.

        • quanta413 says:

          I think it’s partly a matter of taste. I don’t think bland = not spicy (for example, I think Italian food is usually neither bland nor spicy), but I found Bavarian food pretty bland overall. Weisswurst, knockwurst, and a bunch of other wursts tasted very bland to me. I wouldn’t say those foods were bad, but they required mustard and sauerkraut for my tastes. I agree Sauerkraut is not bland. The big baked pretzels could be tasty when fresh, but were also kind of bland.

          • Well... says:

            Spätzle is kinda bland unless you count “salty” as “not bland” (hot dogs are salty too), and German potato soup is rather bland. I agree a lot of wursts are bland too, although certainly not all. I don’t think I’d count sauerkraut as bland. Most German cheeses I’ve had were very pungent.

            And then of course there’s dessert, where the Germans are world rulers.

            Overall I think German food is about 6/10 on a blandness scale, where 10 = least bland.

            I’d put American cuisine at 7 or 8.

            Cuisines in an east-west band from about Morocco to Vietnam all score 10.

            The blandest food I’ve had was Zimbabwean, which was a lot of unseasoned or under-seasoned yams, rice, freshwater fish, and cornmeal.

          • Tandagore says:

            Interesting, can you elaborate your part about German desserts a bit?
            I’m not an expert, but my intuition was that German desserts are mostly good when they were influenced by their neighbours. The Czechs have good stuff, the Austrians are really good (although I may be biased here).

          • Well... says:

            I dunno, German chocolate? German cakes? German candies? German ice cream?

            I was being a bit hyperbolic; I’m sure Dutch, Austrian, Swiss, Belgian, etc. desserts are just as good on average. All those northern continental European countries do dessert phenomenally well.

        • quaelegit says:

          IME, sauerkraut as made in the U.S. is usually pretty bland as in flavorless. Where do I got to get better sauerkraut? 😛

          • Nornagest says:

            Make it. It’s dead cheap and surprisingly easy. The only specialized equipment you need is a fermentation airlock, which can be had from Amazon or from beer-making outlets, costs about twenty bucks for a pack of four, and can be reused indefinitely. You do need to put it somewhere you don’t mind smelling of saeurkraut for a week, though.

            Then you can use the same setup for kimchi (also very easy) and sour pickles (a little trickier).

          • Anonymous says:


            You don’t need any specialized equipment. A bucket, a lid smaller than the bucket’s diameter and a stone will do.

          • Nornagest says:

            Sure, you can do it that way. Anything fermented gets much pickier about sanitization if you’re not creating an anaerobic environment for it, though. I like the airlock method because you can pretty much just set it up and forget about it for a week.

          • quaelegit says:

            @Nornagest, Anonymous —

            Thanks for the advice! I’ll have to look into recipes (I have very minimal kitchen equipment since moving in June) but I want to try this.

    • gemmaem says:

      The very American tendency to pair sweet and salty flavours is certainly not bland. Think salted caramel, iced pretzels, even PB&J. Americans do that pairing often and well. But it’s a very different style of flavour to that provided by spice.

    • CheshireCat says:

      Interesting, I never thought of American food as being particularly bland. In fact a lot of stereotypically American cuisine feels way overflavored to me. Part of the reason I appreciate Japanese food is that it tends to be subtler and more nuanced than what I’m used to. But then again, that’s the opinion of an American eating Japanese food in America so that might not be a great representation. (I’ve only ever actually been to Japan once, but the food was fucking AMAZING.)

      At any rate, America is such an enormous and diverse country that it’s difficult to say with any sort of accuracy that “American food is blander” than any other country’s. I wouldn’t consider any of the Mexican, Thai or Indian places within a few miles to be particularly bland. The food is one of the best things about living in a melting pot.

      • Well... says:

        I don’t think American food is bland overall either. (See my comment here.)

        Tex Mex, New York deli fare, Cajun, Southern, and even the American versions of Chinese and Italian food all strike me as very rich in flavors.

        The blandest American sub-cuisines are probably stuff like fast food (which is merely salty, even when it’s nodding toward Mexican or Italian) and processed food (Spaghettios, etc.), which make up a huge amount of many Americans’ diets.

    • rubberduck says:

      The specific examples you cite (hot-dogs, “American cheese”- I’m interpreting this as those disgusting orange slices of goo that people put on hamburgers?) seem optimized to be cheap to produce and keep for a long time, like the equally bland canned foods. Do you still think American food is bland if we’re talking about something you’d get in, say, a diner? Because IMO the second type seems to be overly salty or sweet, depending on the dish, rather than overly bland.

      • Well... says:

        I don’t think American food is bland overall (diner food notwithstanding; diner dessert food not notwithstanding). That’s the discrepancy I was talking about, because I was pairing that impression with my observation about particular American versions of various foods being generally blander than the originals.

      • Doctor Mist says:

        American cheese is designed to melt well, hence its prototypical use on a cheeseburger. Sharp cheddar on a cheeseburger is really preferable, but it doesn’t have the same consistency. I don’t know why American cheese gained prevalence over tastier melting cheeses like Muenster, unless it’s just that it’s usually orange.

    • outis says:

      I think this whole thread has been irredeemably compromised by fahertym misusing “bland” as an antonym for “spicy”.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      It seems to me that American food has become less bland in recent years, presumably as a result of Hispanic influence.

      There are jalepino chips and such which can be pretty hot.

      I got guacamole at a nearby supermarket (A&P, food ranges from very ordinary to somewhat fancy). It was actually a little sharp for my taste, and I’m fonder of capsaicin than a lot of Americans. It wasn’t even marked as being spicy.

  8. rlms says:

    Preliminary responses to the survey linked by my username:
    13 answers; 10 legitimate and 3 troll.
    Two of the questions were answered very accurately, two moderately accurately, one pretty inaccurately.
    No-one yet has correctly guessed my old handle.

    • Mark says:

      I don’t want to do an anonymous survey – I think we should have a frank and open discussion about this issue, here.
      (I want to know if my answers are right.)
      So, at the risk of ruining your experiment, here are my answers:

      (Don’t read unless you’ve already had a guess.)

      27 lrne byq znyr sebz Oheayrl va HX. Yvoreny Qrzbpeng fhccbegre. NQUQ.

      Cerivbhf anzr: eblfgtare

      • rlms says:

        Traqre, cbyvgvpf naq pbhagel pbeerpg. Nobhg fvkgl zvyrf njnl sebz zl rknpg ybpngvba (jul Oheayrl?!), rvtug lrnef bhg sebz gur pbeerpg ntr. V’ir abg orra qvntabfrq jvgu nalguvat, naq V qba’g guvax V’z cnegvphyneyl pybfr gb nquq. Jebat cerivbhf unaqyr.

        • Mark says:

          V thrff lbh whfg frrz yvxr n Oheayrl-glcr crefba.

          Npghnyyl, nsgre V nafjrerq guvf, V erzrzorerq gung nobhg 6 zbaguf ntb lbh znqr n pbzzrag nobhg “gur jebat fvqr bs gur Craavarf”, fb vg jnf cebonoyl fgberq njnl fbzrjurer va zl fhopbafpvbhf gung lbh jrer sebz Lbexfuver/Ynapnfuver.

          V guvax jvgu zl anzr thrffvat V’z erylvat nyzbfg ragveryl ba lbhe rneyvre pyhr gung jr pbhyq jbex bhg lbhe erny anzr sebz vg. Jnf guvf n ovg bs n erq ureevat?

    • outis says:

      I have been reading the comments for a while, and I don’t remember your username at all. So I would say “Other – Narcissism”.

  9. Mark Atwood says:

    I am reading “The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Avalon”. I am… not happy. Very very much Not Happy. I have this growing bubble of rage and disgust and horror, that wants to start smiting and burning, especially everything and everyone rooted in that place and time and era of Berkeley utopian “sexual liberation” ethos, and everything and everyone from the “Fans are Slans” era of SF.

    • engleberg says:

      @’that time and place’, ‘Fans are Slans era’-

      Have things changed since?

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Things have probably changed– the larger culture takes sexual abuse of children a lot more seriously than it used to, and I don’t think fandom is different from the larger culture in that regard.

    • Reasoner says:

      Is it really reasonable to judge an entire group based on a single individual?

      • John Schilling says:

        Minor nit: Walter Breen and Marion Zimmer Bradley were two separate individuals, unless we are going very old-school w/re the institution of marriage.

        More importantly, the judgement isn’t “Breen and Bradley were child abusers, therefore (1960s Berkeley) Fandom Bad”, the judgement is that everybody in 1960BF knew that Breen at least was a child abuser and did nothing about it, therefore 1960BF Bad. Unfortunately, I suspect that covering for prominent members of your community who are molesting small children is default human behavior. So, Humanity Bad, and we may only be distinguishing between the humans who have faced this particular moral dilemma and those that didn’t.

        • albatross11 says:

          Teresa Nielsen Hayden has a sequence of tweets about this that might add some context here. I know she’s been involved in fandom for most of her life, and is likely to have a pretty accurate picture of what went on.

          • John Schilling says:

            TNH is correct to note that the scandal is properly limited to bay-area fandom ca 1960 vs Walter Breen, that ex post facto attempts to bring non-fannish pros, non-bay-area fans, and MZB as more than “just” an enabler to Breen, are based on facts not commonly known at the time.

            But TNH herself was only a young child at the time, so not a primary source(*) and she doesn’t seem to be telling us who her sources were. Bill Donaho’s contemporaneous account is probably a more reliable record of what was known at the time by the Berkeley-area SMOFs at least.

            * Well, unless she were one of Breen’s victims, but I don’t think that was the case.

          • Years ago, I heard the story directly from one of his actual victims.

            I don’t remember all the details, but I came away with a pretty intense distaste for MZB, just for being an enabler. From what I heard back then, it was impossible that she didn’t know what her husband was up to.

            At the time, a mutual acquaintance was still arguing that Breen’s expulsion from the 1964 Worldcon was a horrible injustice, on pseudo-legalistic grounds.

            My understanding was that Breen disappeared from fandom after the expulsion, but the controversy dragged on for years.

          • Mark Atwood says:

            It is also worth reading the transcripts of MZB deposition. I remember them going online very soon after the WWW first became a thing in the mid 1990s.

            So much for TNC’s tweet “Another important point: MZB was never named as an abuser or enabler in the original fan feuds. There was no whiff of her being involved in whatever had been going on.”.

            It may not have been in the “original fan feuds”, but as soon as those deposition transcripts went online over 20 years ago (and several years before MZB died), everyone honest knew she was a knowing enabler.

          • John Schilling says:

            My understanding was that Breen disappeared from fandom after the expulsion, but the controversy dragged on for years.

            Fandom has been inherently suspicious of “banning” people for reasons going back to Moscowitz vs the Futurians, and of course fandom was run primarily by nerdy white guys with unconventional beliefs who expect to be the first ones banned from any place banning is going on, so there was no help for that being a controversial decision. Short of actual video of Breen caught in the act, people were going to suspect the concom of exaggerating his crimes to sustain some personal or political feud.

            It was still the right thing to do, done too late. And yes, even if we discount everything Moira Greyland said and everything she suffered, MZB is still a villain of the tale for her obvious, knowing support of Breen.

        • Mark Atwood says:

          According to Moira’s book, Breen would regularly hold forth and have discussion circles about his Grand Vision about a Free Love Future Sexual Utopia. *Somebody* attended those discussion circles.

          Moira also specifically named Bonewits, and the stories that MZB would retell Moira about MZB giving Moira as a little girl to Bonewits to regularly abuse (think about the horror just in that statement) also implicated many of the other people at the area neopagan communes that Bonewits circulated through. Those people knew.

          And MZB’s cute little quote about children don’t want sex only because “society” brainwashes them… was pretty well known in fandom . I remember it, I was there.

          And then you just have to read all the Free Love Future SF published in the 1960s and 1970s. Especially the New Wave (yuck). Lots of SF writers knew of that Grand Vision well enough to include as the “of course it will be this way” background of the settings they created and wrote about.

          I’ve met TNH. One of the most repellent people I’ve ever met.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            This is a sidetrack, but I don’t think New Wave was especially in favor of free love because New Wave was basically pessimistic– they wrote more explicitly about sex, but it wasn’t as though sex was making people happy.

            Or possibly you define New Wave differently than I do, or are thinking of stories which haven’t occurred to me.

          • Mark Atwood says:

            The ones that pop immediately to mind on this very topic are:

            Brave New World
            The Riders of the Purple Wage
            The World Inside
            I, Weapon
            Love Conquers All

            I may give the first one and the last one a pass, since it can be argued that they are cautionary dystopias “if this sort of thing goes on, then that sort of thing will be normalized, and that will be terrible”.

            And then, there is everything written by Chip Delany.

            I know I’ve read a lot more weirdly gross Free Love Future SF, back in my indiscriminate “read everything in every library with the rocket ship logo taped to it’s spine” days.

    • Deiseach says:

      The 70s were fucking crazy and the sexual liberation types really went all the way to the far side of crazy. These were formative years for me (entered into my teens during that decade) – is it any wonder I turned out conservative and not thrilled by progressive sex-positive modern politics? If you want to know why I do think there is a slippery slope, the 70s are the goddamn reason why.

      A lot of the gay rights campaigners like to bury their history of the time (see Peter Tatchell and his “I’ll sue anyone who calls me an advocate for paedophilia” due to some unfortunate connections at the time) – but they were involved in the whole “not alone get the age of consent for gay sex to the same as straight sex, do away with an age of consent altogether” and they were useful idiots for the “man-boy love” set, as per this article from 2001:

      The recent revelations that some of the heroes of the 1968 revolution in France were advocates and defenders of “paedophilia” is one example of how you can get it wrong. They saw sex between adults and children as part of the wider anti-authoritarian movement against the establishment. And it must be acknowledged that gay men have been some of the most vocal apologists for this gross activity. Let’s look at the evidence.

      In the late 70s, when the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) reared its ugly head, it won support from some gay men and libertarians, who bought the line that these abusers were an “oppressed sexual minority” and invited them to join the “rainbow coalition” of transsexuals, adult nappy wearers and other “sexual outlaws”. The hideous PIE publication, Paedophilia: The Radical Case, was favourably reviewed by Gay News and other gay publications.

      What is different today? In the late 90s, Peter Tatchell of Outrage!, now campaigning for lowering the age of consent for all to 14, reviewed a grotesque and shocking book, Dares to Speak: Historical & Contemporary Perspectives On Boy-Love. Tatchell wrote: “Abusive, exploitative relationships are indefensible but… [there are] many examples of societies where consenting intergenerational sex is considered normal, acceptable, beneficial and enjoyable by old and young alike.”

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      Is Moira Greyland going to get the residuals from sales of her parent’s works? If so I’ll still occasionally buy them.

      • CatCube says:

        It doesn’t seem like it. Assuming the page I linked to is in fact by Greyland’s brother, she and him were disinherited and the estate went to MZB’s lover (who IIRC, was complicit in the abuse).

      • Mark Atwood says:

        MZB’s actual publishers are donating the money from reprint and ebook sales to various child abuse recovery charities.

        The actual authors royalties from MZBs book are going to a trust that was set up by Elisabeth Waters (blogspot,fanlore, more), who was MZB’s live in lover and business manager. Waters was present, aware, and complicit in what was going on. The primary purpose of that trust now appears to be… to pay money to Elisabeth Waters (link to analysis of the Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust)

        I can’t find any statements about the royalties and publisher’s incomes of Breen’s books. Given that he died while facing lawsuits from some of his victims and some of his victims’ parents, the royalties probably go to those judgements. I can’t find any statements from his publishers. The coin collecting community appears to be slowly burning his ghost out of their hobby, especially driven by the discovery that he was willing to falsify coin certifications in exchange for money. (link to Confronting Breen at CoinWeek)

        Moira also directly accuses Isaac Bonewits. His books are still in print, and I have seen them shelved and read at various houses I’ve socially visited, and my social media feeds still occasionally have “Christian are the worst, ugh!” memes that quote him.

      • Mark Atwood says:

        It looks like my post answering that question was vanished, probably because it names and links to the still living person who is getting the money.

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          I got it at least. The pertinent bit that I recall is that the publisher donates their profits to child abuse charities while the author residuals go to someone who is likely to have known about the abuse yet did nothing (e.g. what CatCube says above).

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          Also (posting as a second comment in case this is delete worthy): “Isaac, yes that Isaac” may have been as bad as his son with respect to this topic.

    • Viliam says:

      I was curious, so I downloaded and started reading the book. I only got to about 15% (I am really low on free time these days) and my resulting feeling is “it’s good to know that both these people are dead, so I don’t have to go and strangle them”.

      First, no matter how you feel about “patriarchy”, remind yourself that reversed stupidity is not intelligence.

      Second, if you ever worried about power disparity in relationships, then not fucking children should be your obvious conclusion. Anything else means that you are delusional and dangerous to people around you. Children are not consenting adults, especially when their survival literally depends on you.

      Third… maybe I missed something important from the rest of the book, but I believe that things like this are sadly quite frequent. (I mean, a minority of population, but still very high in absolute numbers.) That means, the fact that it happened in SF community does not provide much evidence about SF community, because such things happen literally everywhere. But I agree that the spirit of “sexual liberation” can be used as a convenient cover. — By the way, I am kinda pro- sexual liberation, but I take it as a reminder that there is never enough emphasis on the “adult” part of the “consenting adults”, and that if you are going to mess with some other Chesterton fences, you should be even more careful about defending this one, because it will have to carry more weight than usual. Essentially, anyone who even tries to “start a debate” about it should be highly suspect of preparing a safe space for child rape.

      • and that if you are going to mess with some other Chesterton fences, you should be even more careful about defending this one

        Given the context, this seems to assume that modern ideas of what counts as a child for sexual purposes are the norm of past societies.

        They are not. As I have mentioned before, under rabbinic law a woman was legally adult at twelve and a half (plus some evidence of puberty) and free to marry any adult man (thirteen and a half + …) who wanted to marry her.

        In 1880, the age of consent was set at 10 or 12 in most states, with the exception of Delaware where it was 7

        (Wiki). It was 14 in Hawaii until 2001.

        A norm against intercourse with pre-pubertal partners is, I think, common, but a norm against intercourse with a partner who is post-pubertal but young is not.

  10. bean says:

    The Naval Gazing series on Armor concludes with Part 4.
    Also, reminder that I’m taking feedback on future topics.

    • Sfoil says:

      Battleship shells relying on sheer weight for penetration makes sense but before I read your article I didn’t even think of it. As a modern I associate armor penetration almost entirely with shaped charges (mostly) and ultradense high-velocity projectiles (the rest of the time). I suppose old naval shells could be said to fall into the latter category.

    • gbdub says:

      This was pointed out by another poster on a previous thread but I didn’t see it get answered – the US battleships appeared to be designed with immune zones that represented relatively extreme ranges compared to actual naval combat. In the event this didn’t matter much as the aerial bomb and torpedo became the primary anti-battleship weapons in WWII, but I wonder, did any battleship design concepts try to take the shorter realistic combat ranges into account? Or was it simply impractical to design ships to be immune to battleship caliber weapons at ~10,000 yards?

      Would there be any clever designs that could mitigate close range large caliber fire, assuming a belt designed to actually prevent penetration would be impractical? Maybe some sort of heavy compartmentalization, with armored interior bulkheads designed to contain shell explosions into single compartments?

      I think we’ve already had some discussions on more lightly armored big-gun cruiser concepts (which might have better served the actual Iowa roles of AA and fire support). But I wonder if you’ve had any other thoughts since then? Aesthetic preferences for the battleships aside, if you had the resources to build the Iowa class, but the foresight to know how they’d actually fight WWII, how would they have been designed?

      • bean says:

        Would there be any clever designs that could mitigate close range large caliber fire, assuming a belt designed to actually prevent penetration would be impractical?

        Bismarck came as close as anything to doing this. A heavy belt, backed by the deck slopes, works pretty well against close-range shells. AIUI, they never managed to get anywhere particularly vital during the last battle. But it wasn’t a perfect system, as evidenced by PoW’s hit at Denmark Strait. And the ultimate problem was mission-kills, which couldn’t really be armored against. Maybe some day I can do a full breakdown of what actually killed battleships, and use that to work backwards into a better armor scheme. But that’s going to take a lot of time and effort.

        Maybe some sort of heavy compartmentalization, with armored interior bulkheads designed to contain shell explosions into single compartments?

        That might have worked. Again, more analysis is needed.

        Aesthetic preferences for the battleships aside, if you had the resources to build the Iowa class, but the foresight to know how they’d actually fight WWII, how would they have been designed?

        Assuming I could be confident they wouldn’t have to fight in heavy surface actions (which I’m still not sure would be a good assumption in an alt-hist), I’d probably look at something a bit smaller. Say, 30-35,000 tons, 20 5″, 4-6 16″, 33 kts, and lighter armor, particularly on the belt. Lots of good positions for light AA.

    • Aapje says:

      You forgot to explain what STS stands for (and what it is). It’s Special Treatment Steel, a high-percentage nickel steel that can support high loads and thus can be used as structural steel, unlike traditional armor plate.

      I also found a link that seems to disagree with your first footnote:

      Testing by the U.S. Navy in 1921 of thick STS and face-hardened plates showed that the face-hardened armor only had an advantage when the damage that it caused the projectile was above a certain level (shatter of uncapped projectiles was always well above this level); if not, the hard, brittle face either did nothing to help or, in many cases, actually made the armor inferior to its unhardened form. As projectiles improved, the conditions where face hardening was the preferred solution became more and more limited. In fact, the U.S. Navy retained homogeneous armor for its heaviest turret faces during World War II when they discovered that it was better than any face-hardened armor against their own virtually indestructible armor-piercing projectiles when hit nearly square-on, as would be the case for a turret pointed directly at an enemy warship (face hardening was retained for thinner cruiser turret faces because the hard face caused less of a problem in these lower thicknesses and because uncapped projectiles were more likely to be used against the ship).

      PS. Also, I didn’t get feedback when I tried to comment directly on your blog. I have no idea whether you now have two comments in the review queue or whether my comment simply was not accepted.

      • bean says:

        I have to approve comments manually. The first is approved, the second deleted. I’ll reply there.

        • Andrew Hunter says:

          Yeah, can you turn that off? It’s really annoying.

          • bean says:

            I can’t. The alternative is CAPTCHA, which is also annoying, although potentially less so.
            The alternative to that is giving people accounts, which allows them to comment without my approval. I have to set them up manually, but it’s pretty easy to do. Comment feedback post.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            You can’t? Would the spam really be that bad?

          • bean says:

            I actually have no direct control over that. Said Achmiz is the one who would do it. He offered me CAPTCHA or approval, for reasons I assume made sense to him. I got a couple pieces of spam in the first week or two. None since.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            Hi Naval Gazing commenters,

            Re: commenting there:

            1. Yes, without any protection, the spam would be bad. I almost certainly can, but won’t, enable totally open commenting. I’ve seen what happens to blogs with that sort of system; left alone, the comment sections fill up with crap. It’s just not feasible for me (nor, I suspect, for bean) to provide the ETERNAL CONSTANT VIGILANCE™ that it takes to keep a fully-open comment section spam-free.

            2. The captcha system that I use is really not very annoying at all! Take a look: this is what it looks like on my own blog. Just a string of four numbers—no mucking about with “click the pictures with roads” or anything like that.

            (It turns out that just that small level of protection is enough to kill most spam.)

            It seems to me like “captcha for non-account-holders, and account-holders can post freely” is a reasonable policy. Of course, it’s bean’s blog and so his decision! Whatever he decides, I’ll make it happen.

  11. Nancy Lebovitz says:


    Interesting from a bunch of angles– partly just how unlikely it was for him to find his solution, with an added layer of moderate unlikelihood of him finding enough executive function to apply the solution.

    Also, it’s a case of a person needing a lot of financial support before he solved his problems.

    We’ve also got a possible question for the next survey. Does the world ever seem as though it’s moving too fast for you? Too slowly?

  12. albertborrow says:

    Scott: has http://slatestarcodex.com/top-posts/ been depreciated for http://slatestarcodex.com/about/, or is that an unintentional change in the top bar? I figured it was the former, at first, but then I discovered that the page still existed, and can be found by Google search. If you have phased it out, it might be best to hide it from search engines and the like.

  13. Atlas says:

    Does anyone else ever reflect on what a ludicrously, incomprehensibly, improbable occurrence their particular existence is? I was just thinking about that old joke referenced both by David Benatar in Better Never to Have Been and David Friedman in a discussion of anti-natalism a few OTs ago that goes like: “Life is so full of suffering, it would have been better to never have been born. But who has such luck? Not 1 in 100,000.”

    It’s a funny joke, but it seems to me that it’s got the probability the wrong way around. Consider:

    For you to exist, your parents had to conceive and give birth to you [citation needed]. I don’t remember enough from high school biology to even ballpark the odds of a particular future person arising at the moment of conception, but it seems like it’s probably well, well within 1/10, which is all I need. For your particular conception to occur, your parents had to have a child. According to the website BabyMed, there is a 20-25% of a sexually active couple conceiving a child each month. (There are obviously about a billion complications you could raise about this figure, but they only strengthen the conclusion I’m moving towards.) For your parents to have had a child, they would have needed to meet and (jokes aside) decide to have a child—let’s say that there’s a 1/5 chance of that occurring, rather than your parents not having children or having them with other partners.

    This has been an extremely simplistic view, but we’re already at a plausible ~1/250 upper-bound chance of you in particular existing—if your parents hadn’t had intercourse on that specific night or if your father had married a different woman, you would not have existed. But for all this to happen, your father and mother in particular needed to exist, and then their fathers and mothers would have needed to exist, and then their fathers and mothers would have needed to exist, and so on…pretty soon you reach numbers that are so large/small that they’re meaningless to the human mind.

    As long as any condition in this chain wasn’t fulfilled, you in particular wouldn’t have existed. From something relatively trivial like the decision of one of your ancestors to move to a particular city in a particular country, to something relatively important like Earth being suitable for life, any difference would suffice to prevent your particular existence. It’s like a row of dominoes that extends from Alaska to Argentina falling in perfect order, after having been set by a man who’s won the lottery 500 times in a row, each time while getting attacked by a shark while surfing.

    I don’t know what if any implications I’m trying to raise here—I guess insofar as you are on the whole happy that you exist or unhappy that you exist, the sheer improbability of your particular existence might magnify your pre-existing feelings about existence. (The original joke might be reworked: “Non-being is so much better than life, it is a great tragedy to have been born. But who is so unfortunate? Only 1 in 100 trillion.”)

    (Also, I’m sort of assuming that it makes sense to say “things could have happened in a way other than they did”, which perhaps isn’t true, I’m really not qualified in the slightest to judge such a question.)

    • KG says:

      I have reflected on this, but kind of not in the same way.
      Mostly I’ve just wondered why people say things like this. Sure, your individual life could not have begun if certain circumstances were different, but that just means something else would have happened instead. Maybe someone else would have been born. The probability of that would be just as tiny. The probability of any specific person being born is tiny, right?
      But now that I think about it, if you don’t believe in a deterministic universe and do believe in souls or something, I guess you would find life a lot more mystical. That’s not something I can personally relate to, and perhaps as a consequence I don’t ascribe much feeling to the fact that I exist. It’s just something that happens to be the case.

    • JulieK says:

      For this reason the science-fiction trope of parallel universes with equivalent people in each is impossible.
      In a fantasy, you can at least say it works by magic. (A magic link syncing two worlds is invoked in Witch Week by Diana Wynne Jones, and my headcanon is that it applies to all of DWJ’s Related Worlds.)

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        It isn’t impossible, it’s just that highly similar universes would be very hard to find. You also wouldn’t get the same people in universes with significantly different pasts.

        Naomi Novik admits this in regards to her Napoleonic wars with dragons series. It’s a nonsense premise that she’s using for the fun of it.

        I’ve played with the idea of an Analog-style story about a parallel universe viewer. The punchline is that you can get very little useful political advice out of it. You could probably avoid some disasters and you could certainly get some technology, but the outcomes are too varied and chaotic to make predictions about much.

        Thinking about it now (and it’s fine with me if someone wants to write and try publishing a story with the premise) it’s possible that universes with viewers might tend to converge, or at least form large clumps of similar universes.

        • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

          Typically, I think, the physical laws within the work of fiction that allow the characters to have any sort of contact with other universes remain unspecified, so as a reader/viewer you can always choose to assume that these physical laws have the effect of preferentially linking together those universes that by sheer coincidence happen to contain analogous people despite historical differences.

          That’s my usual excuse for the Star Trek mirror universe, anyway. 🙂

        • JulieK says:

          I’m thinking of a situation where two universes have the same people – okay, let’s say that part can happen – and a generation or two later they *still* have the same people, despite being very different in other ways.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            Yeah, that can still work, if you assume there are multiple timelines. After the first interaction, from the perspective of the people involved each universe has an infinite number of possible futures, and two generations later each of those possibilities has become a separate timeline.

            When contact is re-established, each timeline in universe A is matched up with one of those timelines from universe B that contains the same people. (We can assume that’s guaranteed to be possible because Infinity is Big.)

            Far-fetched, but not all that much more so than some other science fiction tropes. No good for a hard science fiction setting, of course.

    • Incurian says:

      I am much more troubled by the apparent existence of the universe.

    • Mark Atwood says:

      It is my understanding that the physical process of the chromosomes pair combination from sexual conception is on the knife edge of a exquisitely sensitive chaotic system, evolutionarily driven to optimize the “butterfly effect”.

      Which screws up a lot of time travel fiction. If you use a time machine to move a pebble on a beach on a deserted island 100 years ago, every sexually conceived being within the lightcone of that event, including every single human being, will be the result of a different dice roll as intermingling chromosomes pair and part.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        It’s been a while since I took chaotic dynamical systems as a non-math major, but one of the keys I recall from that is that a node has to be an attractor or repeller to cause the kind of divergence you’re talking about.

        The key is that it’s hard to identify the nodes in the first place (without iterating the system), not that everything is a node.

        And realize that there are both attractors, which tend to make initially divergent start points lead to the same path, as well as repellers (or whatever they are called), which tend to make initially close start points lead to wildly different paths.

        While any given chromosomal rearrangement and combination may be on that butterfly-effect divergent knife edge, there’s no reason to assume that a random rock on a beach will affect any of them.

      • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

        As soon as you permit time travel (of the sort that can change the past) you’re facing so many logical problems that I don’t think this one is a particularly big issue.

        Poul Anderson’s Time Patrol perhaps did the best job of keeping everything looking like science fiction rather than fantasy, but largely only by virtue of claiming that the mechanics behind it all was too hard to try to explain to the reader, and that only the post-humans of the far future really understood it anyway. (It indirectly addressed your point, I believe, but only coincidentally; IIRC, the likely intent of the dialog I’m thinking of was primarily to distinguish his version of time travel mechanics from Ray Bradbury’s then-famous Sound of Thunder.)

    • Randy M says:

      Anyone who has contemplated time travel in a serious way has probably had this thought. You don’t even mention that you are the result of one in a million (billion?) sperm all competing, and who knows what factors could change the result of that lottery producing a similar but slightly different–or even profoundly different in some cases–person.

      It is a good demonstration of the anthropic principle, because people do exist [citation needed], but any particular person is insanely unlikely, moreso the further back your vantage point.

  14. CheshireCat says:

    For about 10 years now I’ve had very deadened emotions. Every psych I’ve been to seems to think it’s depression, but it doesn’t really follow an ordinary symptom cluster and I haven’t really responded to any treatments yet. I’m starting to wonder if this is just something that happens to everyone when they start becoming adults, if there really is something wrong with me at all.

    Basically, I’m at the point where I’ve mostly run out of ideas, and asking strangers on the internet seems about as likely to help as anything else. Not expecting any response, but if anyone wants to brainstorm then I’m all ears. Apologies for the length.

    The deadening began suddenly, following a textbook major depressive episode I had in middle school. I went from crying all the time, feelings of worthlessness, etc to feeling mostly numb but otherwise normal, which was a welcome change at first. Since then the numbness either stayed the same or very slowly got worse, I’m not sure. Not every emotion is affected the same; I can still laugh and have fun, get annoyed, anxious or frustrated, etc. But things like anger are much harder to provoke, and emotions like grief and pure happiness/joy are essentially completely absent. In the decade since, I lost both of my closest grandparents and a beloved pet. I remember sobbing uncontrollably but not actually feeling much of anything, other than the simple pleasure of crying for the first time in a while.

    There are only two times that this has temporarily abated, even a little. Both involved consuming works of fiction that I found highly emotional and immersive. The stronger of these events took place in 2012, and for about a period of a month I could feel emotions in much the same way as I used to. I also experienced levels of motivation and energy that were practically superhuman for me. Almost like a manic episode, but without any negative symptoms. I started a running routine, reading new books, resolved to be more social and all other kinds of self-improvement regimens. Eventually the emotional reawakening, and the motivation that came with it, gradually began to die down, until I was back to where I was before. The other took place in 2015 and was the same but much lesser, shorter and without the motivational effects.

    I sometimes get little “glimpses” of feeling the way I used to experience it, but usually this is very subtle and extremely short lived (<1 second). The exception is while I'm dreaming, where my emotions seem almost normal again. If I didn't get emotional nourishment from dreams and media, I'd barely get it at all.

    Treatments I've tried:

    – Zoloft, don't remember dose (50/100?) but I don't think I took it for longer than a few months. No relevant effect
    – Wellbutrin, 150 and then 300mg, for at least 2 months. No relevant effect
    – Trintellix 10mg, not longer than 2 months due to it causing bad insomnia. No relevant effect
    – I tried psilocybin "magic" mushrooms, wrote about my experiences here. Tried a variety of different doses, with the highest being 3.5g. It was fun but did nothing for my depression.
    – Remeron 15 and then 30mg. I’ve stuck with this one the longest, 4 months, due to a useful side-effect (sleepiness). I think it may be treating something resembling traditional depressive symptoms a little, but it has had little appreciable effect on my emotions. I would maybe describe it as treating depression that I wasn’t actually feeling. But other than that, the effect has been minimal. I might consider going to a higher dose, though, since I have yet to experience any negative side effects.
    – I started a moderate intensity strength training routine, might be helping with underlying depressive symptoms as above
    – Folic acid supplements, no relevant effect
    – Saw a therapist for about a year, no relevant effect
    – Had bloodwork done, complete blood count + looking for hormonal/thyroid abnormalities, everything normal.
    – Alcohol, weed and caffeine have no relevant effects on my emotional state.
    – I take ADHD medication, currently Adderall. Effects on emotions are mostly irrelevant except to note that stimulant medications have an enormously beneficial impact on my ability to self-motivate and direct effort. Without the meds I’m basically at the whims of a dopamine system starved for any kind of stimulation at all.

    Have not tried: Any sort of MAOI, ketamine treatments, ECT, meditation and a lot of other less typical treatments.

    TL;DR My emotions are very dulled, often diagnosed as depressed but have not meaningfully responded to any treatment after 4 conventional medications and a handful of less conventional ones. Looking for advice or insight.

    • Markj3264 says:

      I don’t usually post comments here (though I am a regular reader of this blog), but this sounds so uncannily similar to what I have experienced over the past 5 years, right down to the major depressive episode followed by emotional deadening; brief moments of feeling again; short periods of abatement caused by reading works of fiction; crying for lost family members without feeling anything; wondering whether this is simply due to ‘becoming an adult’, etc. that I thought I should describe my own attempts to overcome this.

      I too have tried visiting a therapist, tried several different conventional depression medications (SSRIs), meditation, some diets/dietary supplements, (fairly intense) weight training, all to no effect (or actual worsening). If you would like to contact me privately, I am happy to provide more details/dosages of the above. Blood tests also indicate that I am in perfect health; one significant difference is that I have never used ADHD medication or psychedelics. Alcohol/coffee also have no effect.

      The only practice that I have found to be somewhat effective is performing large amounts of cardiovascular exercise on a daily basis, such as going for a 6-7+ mile run every morning and afternoon. After about a week or so of this I experience a gradual lessening of symptoms. Sadly, due to the constraints of my work I have never been able to maintain for long enough to tell whether a complete recovery is possible.

      I would also be open to hearing any helpful suggestions from strangers on the internet.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Would you and/or CheshireCat care to say what fiction gave temporary relief?

        Having fiction work at all is weird if you frame anhedonia as a medical problem.

        • CheshireCat says:

          Sure. The stronger event for me in 2012 was caused by playing the visual novel Katawa Shoujo. I used to frequent its forums, and this kind of unusually strong emotional reaction was shockingly common, especially among introverts and depressed people. (Probably something to do with the fact that the main character starts out as a depressed introvert)

          The second was caused by watching Steven Universe. Great show.

          Bojack Horseman is also worth mentioning for being the first show to actually make me viscerally disgusted by the actions of a character. So that’s something I guess?

          And sure, @Markj3264. If you want to email me privately, I’ve set up an email for this purpose. It’s Lacks_Affect2@gmail.com, but without the underscore.

          • Soledad says:

            It’s uncanny how similar my own situation is to your own. I was severely depressed in middle school and then suddenly became numb and have been this way ever since. I can still laugh and have fun, but I don’t really have strong emotions. I have had times where I felt emotions again, only for it to fade away. I even got an emotional reaction from watching Bojack Horseman, except in my case, it was a near catatonic grief that lasted for a couple days after watching the episode “That’s Too Much, Man”, causing me to fail a test. Nothing in my actual life ever made feel that terrible.

          • CheshireCat says:

            I’m glad to hear that my situation resonates so well with anyone else. Hopefully we all can sort ourselves out someday.

            And I know what you mean about Bojack. For me it was (ROT13) Gur yvggyr nep jurer Obwnpx erivfvgf uvf sevraq va Nevmban. Gur snpg gung ur jnf tbvat gb fyrrc jvgu ure qnhtugre shpxrq zr hc. V’z abg rira ragveryl fher jul. Ohg V unira’g jngpurq na rcvfbqr fvapr. I really need to try to get back into it though, because I heard it gets really good (and really depressing)

          • Soledad says:

            The rest of the series is really good but if you’re going to finish, I would pick a day where you don’t have any responsibilities, like a Saturday, because I wasn’t exaggerating.

            It’s funny. I never tried therapy or meds, mostly because I’m still on my parents insurance at 23 and don’t want them to know but also because I figured it wouldn’t change anything. That sounds like an excuse but maybe I was right after all.

          • Tarpitz says:

            Escape from LA is actually my favourite episode of any TV series ever (hence, you know the fact that my handle here is a reference to it) but… yeah, I mean I think a huge part of the thing with Bojack is that it presents an extremely well-drawn character you empathise with doing terrible things – not cringeworthy things, awful things – such that you understand why he’s done them and worry that you might do them too in like circumstances. Honestly, I’m not sure how close nyzbfg fyrrcvat jvgu Craal is to the worst – fnobgntvat Gbqq’f ebpx bcren probably does more expected harm to the victim, and oheavat n zvyyvba qbyynef gung jbhyq unir tbar gb punevgl gb fcvgr Qnavry Enqpyvssr has pretty much got to destroy more utility.

            To the broader subject, I’ve had somewhat similar experiences with extended anhedonia that I’m not entirely convinced went along with depression. One thing I’ve noticed is that being romantically infatuated with someone dispels it pretty much entirely while it lasts, in relation to all aspects of my life not just ones connected with them. Not that this “solution” is unproblematic, or accessible at will…

        • Markj3264 says:

          I don’t want to post information that would be too identifying, but for me the books were: Hardy’s Jude the Obscure (which elicited a response more akin to the catatonic grief that Soledad describes, perhaps because, like CheshireCat, I could identify with a protagonist); and the autobiography of Bertrand Russell (not exactly a work of fiction [citation needed], but inspired a similar kind of ‘manic episode’, though less drastic).

          • Tarpitz says:

            Jude is brutal. The episode where Yvggyr Sngure Gvzr unatf gur bgure puvyqera naq uvzfrys got to me in a way fiction almost never does; the only comparable experiences I’ve had were the couple of pages in The End of the Affair where Znhevpr svefg ernqf Fnenu’f qvnel and the bit in Use of Weapons when gur erny/bevtvany Mnxnyjr trgf gur punve.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      The technical name for what you’re talking about is anhedonia. Psychiatrists don’t talk about it much except as a depression symptom, but online patient spaces talk about it a bit more. Nothing is great for it, but people tend to talk about MAOIs as better than other stuff, and a few people report good results from rhodiola, a supplement which might be a weird MAOI in ways.

      • CheshireCat says:

        Odd, I thought anhedonia was just the lack of pleasure from pleasurable activities. I definitely have some anhedonic features, but I can still take pleasure in my hobbies, and sadness/grief is one of my most strongly inhibited emotions. Can it affect other emotions than just joy/pleasure?

        Thanks for the info, though. Are there specific patient spaces for anhedonia?

      • Markj3264 says:

        Thank you for the information! I shall try a rhodiola supplement and report back on my experiences.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Do you think you’re depressed but just not responding to treatment or do you think it’s something else with depression symptoms? Because it definitely sounds like depression. If you don’t mind me asking, what’s your self esteem like?

      If you honest-to-god want to feel some strong emotions, the best, although probably not recommended, way to do it is something dangerous. Take up an extreme sport, drive way too fast on the highway, get in a fight. Fear is a strong stimulant.

      • Charles F says:

        If you honest-to-god want to feel some strong emotions, the best, although probably not recommended, way to do it is something dangerous. Take up an extreme sport, drive way too fast on the highway, get in a fight. Fear is a strong stimulant

        Keep in mind that this will wear off too if you spend a lot of time thrill-seeking. Eventually you won’t get as excited as you used to even in actually life-threatening circumstances.

      • CheshireCat says:

        “Do you think you’re depressed but just not responding to treatment or do you think it’s something else with depression symptoms?”

        I don’t know. I thought it was depression for a long time, but depression that lasts for 10 years without major fluctuations and only presenting a small portion of the symptoms strikes me as odd. Add to that the fact that I haven’t been responding to treatments at all and I’ve started to get a little skeptical. I’ve even had more typical depressive episodes, on top of whatever this is, that have gone away on their own. But depression is still my best guess.

        My self esteem was really poor in high school, when I was socially isolated and had no friends. I’ve been working on it for years and have made a lot of improvements in the past 2. I would say that it’s been pretty good for a while.

        I’ve considered skydiving, not for any treatment reasons, informal or otherwise. It just sounds fun to maybe shake things up a bit.

      • Soledad says:

        It’s interesting that you mention driving too fast. One of the things I do sometimes is go find an isolated road with few stop signs and race through it blasting classic heavy metal at full volume. It provides a dopamine rush for a good hour or so.

    • Incurian says:

      How are your relationships with other people?

      • CheshireCat says:

        I’d say they’re okay. I don’t have many interpersonal connections, but the few I do have are high quality and I work hard to maintain them. The nature of whatever I’ve got going on upstairs can make it hard to relate sometimes, but otherwise it’s pretty normal.

        I do have a hard time making new friends, though. I’m naturally shy but it might be more fundamental than that. Maybe I just don’t feel that drive to form other connections that others do. I also have basically zero interest in romance right now.

    • TentativeQuestioning says:

      These are the things that I know have affected or still do affect me, so I offer these:

      Gender dysphoria
      Dealing with narcissists/had a narcissistic parent
      Not taking my life in a direction I really want it to
      Terrible sleep schedule

      Solved by:
      Cutting off ties with these people, reprocessing my attitude towards people so I’m not subconsciously scared of people (/r/raisedbynarcissists and /r/CPTSD is a good start)
      Figuring out what I really want even though it’s hard and moving towards that (for me particularly, I don’t want to live where I am, I want to go to trade school instead of college, and I want to not be dependent on others for money. Also the transition)
      Straightening out my sleep schedule

      Also I remember, on this blog I think, someone talking about a guy who set up a very bright room for someone else to help them with their mood, and it worked, but it had to be ultra-bright- dozens of very powerful lightbulbs or so. I haven’t tried it though.

      Also some therapists don’t work for some people. Rarely I hear about people people who go through dozens of therapists and it doesn’t work, but if you’ve only seen one or two it might be worth trying others. I know I didn’t really like my first few ones.

      Changing up your diet could do something. There’s a plethora of them – for me, going low carb helps a little.

      If media is making you happy, perhaps it’s giving you something that you’re missing? I don’t really know.

    • Aapje says:


      I can still laugh and have fun, get annoyed, anxious or frustrated, etc. But things like anger are much harder to provoke, and emotions like grief and pure happiness/joy are essentially completely absent.

      I have the same, but I don’t view this as a problem. I was depressed for a period in high school and don’t think I’m depressed now, because my current state feels far different.

      However, it didn’t begin suddenly for me, nor did I have ‘glimpses’ of temporarily getting to a more emotional state. So I may not know what I am missing…

      I attribute my relatively weak emotions to being neuroatypical, severe ‘overanalyzing’, as well as having developed a high level of stoicism to cope with abuse, but this is just a rationalization which may not factually correct.

      In the decade since, I lost both of my closest grandparents and a beloved pet. I remember sobbing uncontrollably but not actually feeling much of anything, other than the simple pleasure of crying for the first time in a while.

      I didn’t feel any significant emotions when my grandparents died either. I didn’t cry at all (and haven’t for many years).

    • Thegnskald says:

      Four things helped me, although I am still not fully past anhedonia:

      Large doses of vitamin D (I take 10,000 IUDs a day)
      Moving south and getting more sunlight
      And giving myself permission to feel miserable

      The last was the hardest, and possibly the most important. Previously I had just been trying to give myself permission to feel happy. It wasn’t until I gave myself the option of feeling bad that things started to improve.

  15. Yaleocon says:

    I have a weird question; weird answers are fine, probably even preferred. Closely related to Hume’s problem anti-inductivist argument, although it is trying to strike at a metaphysical rather than epistemic issue.

    Why do the laws of physics keep working? Assuming that they will still be the same one second from now, what will have made them stay that way rather than changing?

    • Anatid says:


      1. Perhaps all mathematically consistent universes exist, and the ones that are simpler to describe in some information theory sense are “more real”. Universes with unchanging physical laws are simpler to describe, so we should expect to find ourselves in one of those.

      2. Even if simpler universes aren’t “more real”, there is a selection effect: universes with laws that change from moment to moment are less likely to evolve minds that can ask your question.

    • Laplace says:

      What we call the “laws of physics” are just the fundamental rules on which our universe operates. If these rules were not constant in time, but rather changing from one moment to another, we would call the meta-rules that govern how the rules change the laws of physics instead. So it’s really primarily a semantic issue.

      If you’re trying to get at the more concrete issue of why physicists usually demand new theories be time translation invariant when they come up with them, I think the answer is just empirical observation. Everything we’ve observed about our universe seems to imply that there are no “special” points in space or time, i.e. where you put the origin of your coordinate system in spacetime doesn’t matter, only the relative distances between stuff are relevant.

      If you’re wondering how we know that the universe runs on any set of mathematically describable rules at all, the answer is we don’t. We just hope this is the case, because logic is the only tool we have for dealing with reality, and if it turns out to be faulty we’re probably screwed anyway.

      • Yaleocon says:

        The semantic point is taken. Let me rephrase my question, then. Some very particular facts need to hold true in order for atoms to exist. The nuclear forces and EM force need to be calibrated super carefully. So interpret my question as asking about those particular “laws of physics”–what stops those forces from changing, such that atoms no longer exist?

        You’re right that if they did change, there would still be “laws”, it’s just that the old ones would be invalid. But it seems important that they not change that way; I like atoms, and I’d have a hard time without them.

        • baconbits9 says:

          Newton’s first law?

        • imoimo says:

          Nothing really? Maybe the laws are in fact unstable and we’re just lucky that they seem stable on our time scale. If so, maybe one day physicists will be able to see evidence of this.

          (Though I agree with Laplace that this is largely semantic. The non-semantic version of what you’re asking is “what if physics stopped obeying laws that are describable by math” which is a much weirder/scarier prospect. Relevant here is this famous essay by Eugene Wigner — “The Miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve. We should be grateful for it and hope that it will remain valid in future research and that it will extend, for better or for worse, to our pleasure, even though perhaps also to our bafflement, to wide branches of learning.”)

          • John Schilling says:

            Nothing really? Maybe the laws are in fact unstable and we’re just lucky that they seem stable on our time scale. If so, maybe one day physicists will be able to see evidence of this.

            We can look at light from stars ten billion years old and see the spectral lines in the same relative positions as they are in our closest neighbors, implying that atomic-scale quantum mechanics is stable over that time scale. And nuclear-scale quantum mechanics given that the stars still burn, and gravity given that they hold together, etc.

            You can perhaps try to piece together a system where everything changes over cosmic time but all the changes exactly cancel out so that ancient stars look like they work exactly like modern ones, but that’s going to involve an awful lot of entities being multiplied beyond necessity and basically equates to a Lying God hypothesis.

          • imoimo says:

            @John Schilling

            I was imagining something more like, “our entire universe has spent its existence thus far — possibly excluding the early universe — in a quasi-stable state.” That would mean the coupling constants in our theories (for strong force, electromagnetism, etc.) appear constant but are actually changing verrry slowly, or perhaps oscillating by small values. Perhaps in the year 8370957623189 AD that slow change will reach a critical point and become a very fast change (either in one place locally, or globally for the whole universe) and matter as we know it will fall apart. Or perhaps such a change is already happening locally somewhere in the universe, and the light from that change either hasn’t reached us yet or for weird physical reasons never will reach us. (How will such a change affect photons? Will it cascade to the space around it or self-destruct and disappear?)

            To be clear, I doubt anything like this will happen/is happening. It requires a lot of coincidence in our favor. That being said, someone with more background in Quantum Field Theory and/or Cosmology than I might be able to make more concrete comments about possibilities such as “could the strong force coupling constant change over time?”. I’ve heard of experiments investigating whether the speed of light is really constant or secretly time-dependent, so I know this is something that people think about.

        • Laplace says:

          Nothing really. There is no deep mathematical or philosophical reason to suppose that atoms will keep existing the way they always have. For example some physical theories have our universe exist in a false vacuum that might collapse into a true one at any given moment with some small probability, changing physical constants and with them particle behaviour to the point that atoms are no longer a thing. This is one of the many fun potential existential risks our civilization faces.

          I’m not sure how likely such a scenario is considered to be, but it’s definitely not an excluded possibility at this point, and if it ever becomes such it will be because experimental observation gives us new Bayesian evidence that makes that hypothesis more unlikely, not because there’s some deep philosophical principle that demands that the fine structure constant always keeps it’s value of 1/137.

        • DocKaon says:

          The Standard Model of Particle Physics contains a fairly large number of physical constants which are not set by anything in the theory. They are constant in our current theories, but a more complete theory could have them change and there have been proposals along those lines.

          Whether they change is an experimental question which is probed via a variety of methods including measurements of the Oklo natural nuclear reactor, spectral lines from distant astronomical objects, and atomic physics laboratory experiments. There have been some reports of variation, but I don’t believe that the evidence is conclusive yet.

    • herbert herberson says:

      Isn’t the answer pretty much “no one knows and if anyone ever does they’ll have created a Unified Field Theory aka the problem Einstein spent the last half of his life trying and failing to solve”?

    • Randy M says:

      At the least, if we were in the kind of universe where fundamental constants were apt to change, it would probably not allow the development of intelligent observers.
      If you want to conclude that other potential universes operate more capriciously, that a philosophical consideration, but I think you’ve reached one of those lines of inquiry that are at the bottom of deep wells of “why?” Physics describes the way things are; inasmuch as it answers “why?” it simply gives a name to the phenomena and declares “because it is.”

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        It would depend on how fast physical constants changed.

        It the constants tended to change approximately every 10 billion years with a good bit of variation, then maybe we just haven’t seen it yet.

    • yodelyak says:

      I think you might find it helpful to take a break from using pointers like the word “laws” to think about stuff–laws, trends, change–other than the universe of object-level things, in favor of spending a bit of time with philosophy of language.

      Basically, I think the answer to Hume’s problem is that what we call knowledge is just the predictive imaginings produced by the programming imparted on a neural net (human brains plus language) by the so-far events of the universe, that we know about. It isn’t a promise of future consistency, nor a promise that the past has actually been consistent so far. You haven’t got any such promises, nor have any of us… not that that will stop you from forming predictive imaginings.

  16. soreff says:

    Happy New Year, everyone.

    Odd thought/question:

    Over a long enough time, records are garbled and lost, people and events are forgotten.

    Of the famous names in Western civilization,
    which name would you guess will be the last one to be forgotten?
    My guess is probably Pythagoras, since his theorem is so central to geometrical calculations,
    and these in turn are so central to so much else in science and technology.
    But there are many plausible contenders.
    Who do you think will be the last one to fade into the mist?

    • SpaghettiLee says:

      Jesus. If religious figures don’t count, then maybe Caesar. They’ve both lasted 2,000 years already.

      • KG says:

        I was trying to think of someone with a more “famous” name than Jesus and came up short, but then I thought about the fact that Jesus wasn’t even his name. Does it count as a name that won’t be forgotten if almost no one remembers his real name?

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          I was thinking in terms of expanding the possible answers– Caesar has given rise to many words meaning leader.

          This is sort of his name being remembered and sort of not, since in general it isn’t attached to his person.

          There’s also a question about what being remembered means– do you mean the general public, or among specialists?

          • soreff says:

            Good points!


            There’s also a question about what being remembered means– do you mean the general public, or among specialists?

            What I’d had in mind was remembered by specialists.
            (The context is that
            I’d just reread Fred Hoyle’s “October the First is Too Late”,

            [spoiler alert]

            and it includes a rather grisly future history, set from the point
            of view of a civilization from 6000 years from now, which included
            three more world wars (each presumably nuclear). Each of these
            was a near-extinction event, and wiped out most knowledge
            as well)
            In other words, I was thinking in terms of the
            order in which the names will be totally lost.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          but then I thought about the fact that Jesus wasn’t even his name.

          Sure it was; the Greek version of his name.

    • cmurdock says:

      I had the same thought recently, and Neil Armstrong came to mind.

      • Well... says:

        I’d bet there are a lot of (>10 million) Americans around today, over the age of 16, who have no clue who Neil Armstrong is.

      • John Schilling says:

        Christopher Columbus / Cristoforo Colombo is substantially more famous than Leif Erikson. Armstrong was a great guy, and ditto Gagarin, but depending on how the Space Age plays out they seem likely to end up as footnotes to history.

        It may help that the timebase of our entire information infrastructure dates to Armstrong’s first footstep on the moon :-)

    • Deiseach says:

      Galileo – he is already mythologised (the “eppur si muove” anecdote which is already on slightly shaky historical grounds to begin with being given some extra oomph by a website claiming it was delivered on his deathbed) and is so often invoked by those with axes to grind over “my ground-breaking idea is not being taken seriously, they persecuted Galileo and they’re persecuting me!” that in a thousand years time, the Sacred Name of Galileo the Martyr will still be used (the facts may be lost in the mists of time, but the story will have settled on a satisfactory form to be transmitted).

    • rahien.din says:


      He had his fingers in so many pies, ranging from physics, mathematics, and optics to occultism and alchemy.

      Facets of his work are essential to any modern scientist, with the additional mystique of who-discovered-calculus-really? Other facets are almost aphoristically accessible to just about any person – who hasn’t heard of “Isaac Newton under the apple tree”? Other facets of his work provide less conventional avenues for meeting him, such as the origin of the color indigo.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Nimrod, but the name will be identified with Elmer Fudd.

      • rahien.din says:

        See, this is an important point. The name most likely to remembered is not necessarily the name most likely to be remembered accurately for its initial owner.

      • pontifex says:

        Also Elmer Fudd will be re-interpreted as a figure of great wisdom, rather than a comedic figure. The people of the 20th century knew that you have to be “vewy vewy careful”! (A similar thing happened with Shakespeare’s Polonious, who was originally intended to be a verbose buffoon.)

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      Of the famous names in Western civilization, which name would you guess will be the last one to be forgotten?

      At this state in our civilization names are guaranteed to be remembered as accurately as we had recorded them since the invention of the printing press.

      The only thing which would stop this would be a fall of civilization, including writing instruments.

      So I’d go with either a religious name (as religions would be the fall back for the majority after a civilization collapse), or the names of those who most helped survive the civilization collapse. These latter names we don’t yet know.

      Any theorems, laws, etc… would be simplified in name to aid memory (e.g. the Triangle rule for Pythagorus’ theorem, the motion laws for Newton’s laws).

      • AlphaGamma says:

        the Triangle rule for Pythagorus’ theorem, the motion laws for Newton’s laws

        At least according to Cixin Liu, this was the terminology used in China in the period around the Cultural Revolution for political reasons…

    • outis says:

      I wouldn’t be too sure about Pythagoras. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a push to replace all of those names of dead white men that are attached to mathematical and scientific concepts, since it is unfair and hurts representation.

    • LewisT says:

      I agree with SpaghettiLee that Jesus is the most likely to be remembered. I am reasonably certain that Christians are and will continue to be more careful to teach their children about Christ than anyone is or will be to teach their children about Pythagoras. Plus, in the event of a catastrophic civilizational collapse, I would expect there to be a rise in religiosity.

      If Jesus doesn’t count by virtue of being Middle Eastern, I agree with anonymousskimmer that the name is likely to be that of someone not yet born, who will become famous due to his efforts to preserve civilization. My second guess would be Hitler.

      As far as I can figure, the name that is least likely to be forgotten must be of someone who had great influence throughout Europe, not just in one or two countries. Under that assumption, a partial list of contenders would be Hitler, Stalin, Napoleon, Charles V, most of the popes, and the Roman emperors. I think we can probably strike Napoleon, Charles V, and any the popes* from that list as a start, leaving Hitler, Stalin, and the Roman emperors. Hitler strikes me as more (in)famous than Stalin, so Stalin’s out. Of the Roman emperors, I think Julius Caesar is the most likely to be remembered. So why Hitler and not Julius Caesar? Obviously it’s too early to tell how well-remembered Hitler will be in 2,000 years’ time, but I think there’s a decent chance he’ll be remembered at least as well as Julius Caesar is today. And since Hitler will have lived more closely in time to the future collapse of Western civilization than Julius Caesar, I think it’s likely that his name will endure better than Caesar’s.

      Plus, I assume Hitler’s name is not likely to be forgotten any time soon by Jews, and Jews have demonstrated an ability to survive as an intact group despite substantial obstacles for at least 3,000 years. As such, I would expect the Jewish people to retain their identity and at least some of their history despite any future civilizational collapse. And one name I would expect them to retain longer than many others would be that of the person who did more than anyone else to try to wipe them off the face of the earth.

      *Even if the papacy survives another civilizational collapse, I think it’s probably fair to say that the names of individual popes are likely to be forgotten.

    • herbert herberson says:

      Jesus is the right answer, but I wanna say Batman because I legitimately think he’ll be in the top ten. Or, at least on the archetype level: I think “tortured dark hero that uses smarts and gadgets to fight crime” will be the most lasting aspect of American culture (altho “extremely tall folksy statesmen with a distinctive hat and a tragic death” will also be a strong contender)

      • cmurdock says:

        Batman is popular now, and recent. Stories and characters can be immensely popular for an extended period of time and then just die out– the Matter of France, the Alexander Romance, Dionysus, post-classical versions of the Trojan War (Dares and Dictys), Prester John, etc.

    • rlms says:

      Pythagoras didn’t invent his theorem (I’m not sure what it’s called in e.g. China and India, where it was discovered earlier), so I wouldn’t be surprised if he becomes relatively unknown even without civilisational collapse (for instance if China dominates the world of science in a century or two). Other than those already mentioned, I think George Washington is a possibility: I can imagine American civic religion outcompeting Christianity.

      • Evan Þ says:

        Other than those already mentioned, I think George Washington is a possibility: I can imagine American civic religion outcompeting Christianity.

        I guess I can imagine it too, but I think it’s really unlikely. Christianity is worldwide and quickly growing in Africa, while American civic religion has understandable difficulty catching on anywhere outside America. Even in America, there’re subcultures trying to pull down American civic religion in general and George Washington in particular.

    • Randy M says:

      There are a lot of places named Washington. He’s pretty much locked in while English is spoken. I don’t know if the civilization that comes after us will bother to remember the name, but it seems likely to last through a couple eras.
      Similarly, it’s amusing how long the name of an otherwise not terribly influential cartographer has persisted, and he might well be the winner.

      • quaelegit says:

        >There are a lot of places named Washington.

        And there are/were a lot of places named Alexandria, so that’s a competitor. Also Victoria! (Capital of British Columbia, capital of the Seychelles, Victoria Falls…) 😛

        > otherwise not terribly influential cartographer

        Amerigo Vespucci? 😛

    • John Schilling says:

      I wanna say Batman because I legitimately think he’ll be in the top ten.

      What makes you think Batman will last any longer than the Lone Ranger? The archetype may endure, but the incarnations are ephemeral.

      • herbert herberson says:

        Nothing more or less than a gut instinct that there’s a real element of novelty there that is going to stick with people a long, long time.

        • John Schilling says:

          What do you see as the novelty? “Wealthy playboy dilettante is secretly a masked crusader fighting crime and injustice” goes back at least as far as Zorro and the Scarlet Pimpernal, long before Batman and quickly forgotten when we stopped caring about their particular times and places. Also, that archetype may be shifting to point more towards Tony Stark as we speak. “Lone survivor of a criminal massacre is driven to become a masked crime-fighter” gives you Batman, but it also gives you the Lone Ranger and we stopped caring about him when Clayton Moore forced us to take him out of circulation for a generation. The Frank Miller “dark and angsty tragic antihero” version comes into and out of style every other generation probably all the way back to Homer(*). I don’t see much novelty in Batman except for the specific combination of generic tropes, and I don’t see how he endures for millennia when nobody else filling a similar niche has lasted even a century.

          * Now wondering if Actual Homer had separate tales of Golden Age Achilles, Silver Age Achilles, and Dark Age Achilles that he could evoke for different audiences, with Athenian fanboys arguing over continuity until “Crisis in Infinite Troys” rebooted the whole thing.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            Worst. Epic. Ever.

          • herbert herberson says:

            The darkness. Batman looks scary, typically sounds scary, takes an animal that is widely feared as being not not just scary, but creepy/revolting, as his motiff, and uses fear as a weapon. He is a terrorist hero, and while cultural history is certainly full of heroes who cause fear into their enemies, I can’t think of any from history where that isn’t simply a function of their power or dangerousness, but of an intentional ensemble.

            That’s not to say that you can’t find elements of that in other 20th century characters, like the ones you mention, or the Shadow–but bringing together a full package of elements that had been workshopped in other contexts is not nothing. I’m sure that before anyone heard of Odysseus the dark age Greeks told stories of clever heros, or heroes who survived a divine grudge, or who got lost coming back from a war.

          • John Schilling says:

            The darkness. Batman looks scary, typically sounds scary, takes an animal that is widely feared as being not not just scary, but creepy/revolting, as his motiff, and uses fear as a weapon. He is a terrorist hero,

            You thought Adam West was playing a dark, scary, terrorist hero?

            Grimdark goes into and out of style, and e.g. Edmond Dantes was as dark and scary as Bruce Wayne ever will be. And check out the original versions of some of the lighthearted Disney fairy tales sometime. Right now grimdark is in. And Frank Miller was the first to apply it to an A-list superhero, and he chose Batman so for a while Batman was grim and dark and if that’s what you grew up with, if you can’t pull back, you don’t see anything else.

            But in the long run, Adam West’s Batman is as real as Miller’s or Burton’s or Nolan’s. Just as e.g. Roger Moore’s James Bond is as real as Daniel Craig’s. And none of them will be remembered in a thousand years, because none of them invented the dark scary antihero – or anything else truly original or worth remembering for more than a few generations.

    • Michael Handy says:

      The names on the Apollo 11 plaque. They’ve got at least a few hundred million years for a successor civ to discover them. Neil A. Armstrong; Michael Collins; Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr.; Richard Nixon.

      Yep. Nixon.

  17. chocoearly says:

    Diversity in the workplace has been a hot topic lately, but does a “diverse” workplace actually contribute to increased productivity? What’s your opinion of the utility of diversity? There’s a lot of talk on SSC about tribalism and the like, and I’m imagining situations where a non-diverse team is actually more adept than a diverse one because of fewer tribal problems to overcome.

    • quanta413 says:

      I would say it strongly depends how you define diversity and what the task at hand is. For most definitions of diversity used (read: basically ethnic/racial, gender, and sexual orientation), I think it doesn’t help or hurt most tasks very noticeably. There is almost always a large list of more significant issues that a team should solve first if the goal is improved team performance.

      For an example where the standard diversity does matter, if your goal is to make a national marketing campaign that will reach all of the U.S., it’s probably a good idea to have a broad spectrum of people at least eyeball it including someone who either is or can successfully emulate the mind of conservative white people. It’s usually not a good idea to accidentally piss people off.

      The nonstandard diversity will almost certainly matter if your goal is to run a business. If you’re a software company, you will likely want real marketers at some point and not just engineers. Ditto for needing real lawyers, etc. But I think companies who fail to achieve this sort of diversity (the diversity of actually filling all the different jobs) tend to sink pretty fast.

    • johan_larson says:

      I’ve heard the claim that “diverse” teams perform better, but I’ve never seen that claim rigorously sourced.

      Also, when people in an American (or Canadian) context talk about “diversity” they generally talk about very specific notions of diversity. They are interested in diversity of race, sex, and maybe sexual preference. They’re probably not interested in diversity of wealth, profession, training, worldview, or lifestyle. As far as I can tell, diversity is code for inclusion of whatever groups the left is worried about, and right now that means women, blacks, gays, transsexuals, and Latinos.

      • ilikekittycat says:

        Representation of low wealth/profession/training etc. people in important/powerful circles is what the left is worried about by definition

      • Mary says:

        Witness that James Damore’s memo suggesting things that would make people who are actually different more comfortable in a workplace designed for other people is called an “anti-diversity” memo.

    • dark orchid says:

      This discussion could probably profit from tabooing the word “diversity”. Joel Spolsky (who created a large part of Excel and Trello among other things) says in “Sorting Resumes” (2006) [1]

      Before I start a massive flame war of international scope by using the loaded term “diversity,” let me carefully define what I mean by this. Specifically, I’m looking for people who come from enough of a different background than the existing team that they are likely to bring new ideas and new ways of thinking to the team and challenge any incipient groupthink that is likely to keep us boxed into our own echo-chamber way of thinking about things. When I say different background, I mean culturally, socially, and professionally. Someone who has a lot of experience with enterprise software may bring useful diversity to a team of internet programmers. Someone who grew up poor is going to bring useful diversity to a startup full of Andover preppies. A stay-at-home mom rejoining the workplace may bring useful diversity to a team of recent graduates. An electrical engineer with Assembler experience may bring useful diversity to a team of Lisp hackers. A recent college graduate from Estonia may bring useful diversity to a team of experienced management consultants from the midwest. The only theory here is that the more diverse your team is, the more likely that someone on the team will have some experience in their background that allows them to come up with a different solution.

      Defined that way, diversity is tautologically useful for your workplace.

      [1] https://www.joelonsoftware.com/2006/09/08/sorting-resumes-2/

      • shakeddown says:

        On the other hand it reduces group coherence, which can also be useful.

        • Aapje says:

          I would say that you have idea-generation and idea-acceptance. Diversity increases the former, but makes the latter harder. Too little and too much of each is probably a bad idea. If many ideas are generated or too many objections are raised & people strongly resist accepting the ideas of others, you get analysis paralysis and never get anything done. If idea-generation is low and idea-acceptance is too high, people are not critical enough and go along with bad ideas.

          A complicating factor here is that one common definition of ‘diversity’ seeks to achieve an environment with people of different genders, races, sexualities, etc; but all with the same political beliefs, belonging to the same social class, having the same lifestyle, etc. I would argue that such an environment more often suffers from a lack of meaningful diversity, rather than an excess of it.

        • James C says:

          Group coherence can be trained, however, where as employee backgrounds can’t be changed.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Defined that way, diversity is tautologically useful for your workplace.

        Only because there are no possible consequences mentioned. Sticking a 35 year old, re entering the workforce mom on a crew with only college grads could provide a better perspective or it could isolate her and lead her to be less productive.

    • Anonymous says:

      I think there are studies that show that undiverse teams do better. But I’m on one of these newfangled mobile devices, so doing stuff like looking through research is difficult.

    • Baeraad says:

      I don’t know about all kinds of diversity, but I do firmly believe that a balance between men and women makes for better quality, if not necessarily a larger output. Both are prone to being excessive in their way of thinking – having to convince someone of a different hormonal makeup that your plan is a good one makes for an excellent test of whether it’s actually good or whether it just seems good to you because it aligns with your irrational instincts.

      Though those discussions will take time, so if your goal is to shovel something passable out quickly, then you might be better off with a homogenous workplace, yes.

    • Incurian says:

      As I was going through intelligence training, I found diversity to be extremely valuable. Nearly everyone in my squad had a different background – artillery, aviation, armor, infantry, etc. – which brought not only different specialized knowledge to the table, but we had different ways of thinking about situations. We all learned a lot from each other and put our collective wisdom to good use in ways that would not have been possible if we all had the same background.

    • Tenacious D says:

      Linguistic diversity (assuming fluency in a common language) certainly contributes to increased productivity in my experience. Having members of the team that can talk to potential clients from around the world in languages they’re more comfortable in is a real advantage.

    • maintain says:

      What about diversity with regards to productivity? Like, a team with some people who are very productive, and other people who are not very productive.

      “I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.”

      –Bill Gates

      “I divide my officers into four groups. There are clever, diligent, stupid, and lazy officers. Usually two characteristics are combined. Some are clever and diligent — their place is the General Staff. The next lot are stupid and lazy — they make up 90 percent of every army and are suited to routine duties. Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the intellectual clarity and the composure necessary for difficult decisions. One must beware of anyone who is stupid and diligent — he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always cause only mischief.”

      — Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord

      • cassander says:

        A somewhat more elegant version. Someone asks Napoleon “Your majesty, how do you choose your marshals?”

        Napoleon says “The stupid and lazy I make common soldiers. They are good for nothing else. The smart and hard working I make officers, for they will know what needs to be done and take great care to ensure every detail is correct. The smart and lazy I make Marshals, for they will also know what needs to be done, but will not bother with the details best left to lower ranks.”

        Then the man asks “but that leaves out the stupid and hardworking, what of them?”

        Napoleon says “Them……I shoot.”

    • Izaak says:

      There’s at least one story out there about a soap dispenser that has a sensor which doesn’t recognize hands being waved in front of it if they have dark skin. Presumably, this is because the team that developed the sensor didn’t have any people on it with dark skin, and so they never noticed this flaw.

      • Evan Þ says:

        I’ve heard the same story about automatic faucets.

      • Deiseach says:

        I have white and pink hands, and I’ve waved them under enough hot-air hand dryers in bathrooms to know that the damn sensors don’t work for anyone. (The many times I’ve wished they’d go back to old fashioned ‘towel onna roller’ as I try to dry my dripping mitts!)

        Racist soap dispensers sound a bit like an urban fable, to be honest.

      • The Nybbler says:

        There’s also a story about a racist camera which detected Asians as blinking when they were not. Presumably this is because the team that developed the sensor didn’t have any Asians on it, and so they never noticed this flaw. The problem with this presumption is that the camera is the Nikkon S630. Developed in Japan. By Japanese people.

        If there’s anything to the soap dispenser story at all, it’s probably similar; it really is just harder to detect people with darker skin. And those things are notoriously unreliable anyway, the sensors get dirty or are installed poorly, which would affect already marginal situations more.

      • James C says:

        I hear Amazon’s Alexa has a lot of trouble understanding Scottish accents. Clearly no true Scotsman works for Amazon.

      • lvlln says:

        Presuming this story actually occurred, it seems to me that the problem has almost nothing to do with the skin colors of the team that developed the sensor and almost everything to do with just poor market research when developing the product. That is, regardless of whatever shade the skins of the development team were, they should have done enough of the basic research to recognize the expected skin shade of the potential users of their product and designed it to work for them accordingly.

        It seems to me that to prevent this issue from happening again, the solution is to improve market research specifically with respect to the skin colors of the people expected to use the product. And attempting to solve it by increasing the diversity in the shade of skin of the members of the development team doesn’t seem like it would be that helpful.

    • Muro says:

      I was under the impression that women are more prosocial/better teamworkers than men, which means they are better suited for a lot of jobs.

      But, I guess men have some advantages as workers as well- they don’t take time off to raise children, and are more likely to prioritize work over family (which is beneficial for the company).

    • Jiro says:

      This is silly. People on the left talk about “diversity” because in Bakke, the Supreme Court of the United States said that affirmative action is permitted for the sake of “diversity”. If they had said that affirmative action was permitted for the sake of something else, whatever they had said would be claimed by the left to be good instead. I’m surprised the collective wisdom of SSC isn’t more aware of this.

      • outis says:

        This is extremely interesting, thank you.

      • rlms says:

        Reversed Supreme Court judgements are not intelligence.

      • DocKaon says:

        It’s nice that you know that a significant fraction of the American population is lying about their motives. It must be so much easier to make decisions when you can just ignore the arguments of your political opponents because they’re liars.

        • The Nybbler says:

          When the NBA (overwhelmingly black in a majority-white country) gets top marks for diversity, it’s very easy to conclude that “diversity” does not have its plain meaning.

          • baconbits9 says:

            This is really ungenerous. They got an A in part because of the number of women in the league offices and relatively high number of female executives and minority executives and coaches outstripping other sports leagues, along with high international representation in the player pool as specified in the link you provided.

          • The Nybbler says:

            For race, the NFL received an A+ for both players and assistant coaches,

            The text of the reports make it clear: “Diversity” just means more people in the categories they like, and fewer white men. Though there’s a a hierarchy in race: “Although the total percentage of players of color has reached an all-time high at 42.5 percent, there has been a concern in Major League Baseball about the relatively small and declining percentage of African-American players which dropped to 7.7 percent on Opening Day 2017, the lowest in the years TIDES has been tracking this.

            Note this under-representation of African-American players is far less than the under-representation of white players in the NFL, yet there’s no concerns about the latter.

          • baconbits9 says:

            The text of the reports make it clear: “Diversity” just means more people in the categories they like, and fewer white men.

            This is again ungenerous. The assistant coach grade of A+ is for 31.3% representation. Their grade for professional administration for race is an A- for 27.3% and for Gender it is a B- for 35.9%. It is clearly not just a higher % = higher score situation.

            Also a quote from one of your links

            The percentage of players of color is so high that any slight change would not affect the

            This would all be consistent with Diversity being equal to a minimum level of representation, and not at all consistent with “as many minorities as possible, and as few white people as possible”.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The player grade is A+ for 75% black. The scoring is simple enough: full marks are attained if minority representation is at least nearly as high as it is in the population. See the chart on page 22. Less than 70% whites = A+, less than 55% men = A+. Doesn’t matter how much less.

          • baconbits9 says:

            The player grade is A+ for 75% black. The scoring is simple enough: full marks are attained if minority representation is at least nearly as high as it is in the population. See the chart on page 22. Less than 70% whites = A+, less than 55% men = A+. Doesn’t matter how much less.

            And? As I said, the correct interpretation is that diversity represents a threshold for specific groups. You started out with

            When the NBA (overwhelmingly black in a majority-white country) gets top marks for diversity

            But this isn’t true. The players are disproportionately black, but with coaches, league positions, front office, ownership in which white males are widely over represented it turns out the league actually is reasonably close to proportional representation.

            If we took your critique seriously we would have a report card of

            1. Players- F, really disproportionate representation.
            2. Owners- F, really disproportionate representation
            3. Upper front office positions, D or F
            4. Overall Gender, F (no women players, WTF?)

            Final score D or F, for a league that shouldn’t be getting that score by your definition.

            Why didn’t they score gender for the players? Because everyone knows that women aren’t going to compete with men on the court. You know what everyone else knows? That there was serious, intentional, structured discrimination against groups in living memory which was manifested in these sports leagues, and that the large swell of minority players since they were reduced and eventually eliminated actually demonstrates that the damage caused was far in excess of the expected levels a proportional representation analysis would lead you to believe.

            Long story short, while the actual report is itself probably on the silly side of PC, your reaction is petty and exaggerated, and shouldn’t be extrapolated across the entire country.

          • John Schilling says:

            It is clearly not just a higher % = higher score situation.

            According to the methodology section on page 18-19 of the report, it actually is. More POC = higher score and more women = higher score, monotonically, until you get to the maximum ‘A+’ rating in both categories (at 30% POC and 45% women). At which it point it stays at ‘A+’, not dropping an iota even if the league were to go to 100% women of color and impose a ban on hiring white males.

            Yay diversity, rah rah rah.

          • Randy M says:

            If we took your critique seriously

            If you don’t take his critique seriously, then it is okay for certain positions to be disproportionately filled by certain demographics. Like, blacks are more suited to being players, whites for managers, etc. This has implications, and is quite heterodox for the diversity crowd.

          • albatross11 says:

            So, silicon valley is also extremely diverse by national origin, and a large fraction of the techies aren’t white. Presumably they should also get top marks for diversity, right?

          • John Schilling says:

            and a large fraction of the techies aren’t white

            That depends on whether Asians count as “white” this week.

          • baconbits9 says:

            According to the methodology section on page 18-19 of the report, it actually is. More POC = higher score and more women = higher score, monotonically, until you get to the maximum ‘A+’ rating in both categories (at 30% POC and 45% women). At which it point it stays at ‘A+’, not dropping an iota even if the league were to go to 100% women of color and impose a ban on hiring white males.

            So in other words it is NOT that, it is a threshold where by hitting X% gains maximum diversity points, but no excess for X+1%. In other words there is not external pressure/motivation/initiative from such a report to increase the representation beyond that point. Do this much work for a C, this much for a B and this much for an A, and any extra work is totally up to you means that at some point extra work is not reflected in the grade received.

            It is perfectly possible for a group aiming at ending discrimination to take this type of stance without it being a direct attack on white people, and as such his reading is an overreaction to a crummy process.

            If you don’t take his critique seriously, then it is okay for certain positions to be disproportionately filled by certain demographics. Like, blacks are more suited to being players, whites for managers, etc. This has implications, and is quite heterodox for the diversity crowd.

            A reasonable position, but he didn’t say that, he said “the NBA is overwhelmingly black”.

            Finally I take issue here because is this not an area where the PC police actually have a damn point? Seriously there was wide spread, systemic discrimination in sports for decades and it turns out that minorities are functionally hyper competent in these areas. They were actually denied access by what amounted to a vast white conspiracy to keep blacks and latinos down. Not only that it appears that the incorporation of minorities has led to more popularity, more fame and greater earnings at every level of these sports, so its not obvious that it is a negative sum game for the majority

            The PC push has tons of flaws, and is in general detestable to me in a lot of ways, but cheering the fact that a deeply racist structure has been reformed in a major way leading to great results for many black, white, and latino people with relatively little input from an invasive government doesn’t appear to be one.

          • baconbits9 says:

            So, silicon valley is also extremely diverse by national origin, and a large fraction of the techies aren’t white. Presumably they should also get top marks for diversity, right?

            What would be the actual numbers?

          • The Nybbler says:


            Not a single company listed would get less than an A+ on race using the TIDES methodology.

            Racial Diversity = Fewer white people, more black people. Latinos and Asians change depending on context; TIDES is concerned about Latinos replacing blacks in MLB (though their scoring does not reflect this, only the text).

          • baconbits9 says:

            Racial Diversity = Fewer white people, more black people. Latinos and Asians change depending on context; TIDES is concerned about Latinos replacing blacks in MLB (though their scoring does not reflect this, only the text).

            You are contradicting yourself. Clearly Racial Diversity doesn’t boil down to fewer white people and more black people. You are, in all likelihood, going to continue to act as if the discussion started as a defense of such reports, and not a criticism of your over reaction to them. That is what it is though, you are interpreting results in the most negative light that you can, which is both unnecessary as their are many legitimate complaints to be made, and pretty damn tone deaf when it comes to the history of minorities and specifically blacks in US sports.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Clearly Racial Diversity doesn’t boil down to fewer white people and more black people.

            By the TIDES quantitative scoring methodology, it boils down to “few enough white people”. The “more black people” is not in the scoring but is indicated by the text, which I’ve quoted several times already.

            pretty damn tone deaf when it comes to the history of minorities and specifically blacks in US sports.

            A definition of “diversity” which gives full marks for a theoretical all-black team is not justified by any sort of history.

        • fortaleza84 says:

          It’s nice that you know that a significant fraction of the American population is lying about their motives.

          It’s more frightening than anything else. It’s as if there’s a plague which has turned most of the population into brain-eating zombies.

    • outis says:

      In every rationalization of the supposed benefits of “diversity”, the effect is mediated by intellectual diversity: you need to have queer Honduran hamsterkins on your team because their unique lived experience gives them access to unique ideas and insights that nobody else could have. In that case, it would make sense for companies to seek greater intellectual diversity directly, instead of hoping to reach it as a side effect of optimizing for a vague proxy. But if you follow that obvious conclusion, you get fired.

      So it’s obvious that it’s all pabulum.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      “Diversity” is valuable to the extent it allows different viewpoints on the same point, IMO. It really belongs in the same ballpark as “new blood” and “think outside the box.” The best analogy here is the military guy talking about benefiting from the artillery, aviation, and infantry guy all getting together. These guys should all have different viewpoints on the same operation, all of which need to work in tandem to accomplish the objective.

      In our accounting teams, we have this all the time. Normally our biggest problems come from the sales team, who invent new legal language and deals without telling anyone else, which means we have to make guesses about how to bill it and collect it. They are in turn pissed because we are billing something in a way that reduces revenue below what they expected, making their numbers look bad.

      We also have problems on the collections side with the billing side, but we don’t understand their systems and processes very well. Meanwhile the billing side doesn’t understand our side, so they think nothing of changing years of billings, which makes accounts almost impossible to reconcile and customers refuse to pay because they cannot make sense of their statements.

      My personal thought is that most workers are not working on these cross-functional teams, and “teamwork” is overrated. I think executives and managers overrate these things because practically everything they do involves a large degree of cross-departmental communication. MOST cross-functional problems are SOLVED problems: the SOPs solve them. The major problem is a total lack of diligence, not diversity. The SOP cannot solve the problem if the lazy workers refuse to follow the SOP.

      So, I think diligence is more important.

    • Viliam says:

      In my experience as a software developer…

      I had a great work experience with a colleague whose education and experience was almost the opposite of mine. My education contained a lot of math and theory. His education contained a lot of work with various frameworks. The awesome thing was that when we received a project to do together, we had opposite opinions on which parts were “easy” — so each of us took the part that seemed “easy” from his point of view, and was happy to avoid the other part. I wrote a recursive parser and interpreter of a domain-specific language. He wrote editors and wizards. The customer was shocked to see how quickly we completed the product, and how quickly we could add their new requirements.

      I also had a great work experience with a colleague whose education and experience matched mine. Not only we quickly understood each other, but more importantly, we had the same opinion on what are the “best practices” and in which direction should the code ideally move. We didn’t fight over architecture; we agreed that refactoring is an essential part of development. Within the company, our team used the best tools (such as automated testing, continuous integration, etc.), and produced code with least bugs.

      So… I have good experience with both diverse and non-diverse teams. This is still true even if by diversity you mean “different genders”; except in that case, the former would be an example of a non-diverse team, and the latter an example of a diverse one.

      I can’t say much about diversity in sexual orientation, other than my kinda conservative belief that if your sexual behavior is widely known at the workplace, something probably already got horribly wrong. Maybe that’s just me, but I try to keep my sexual life, and my private life in general, out of workplace, so most colleagues had no idea about it. (If you want to deny my experience by saying something like “X by default”, I’d like to add that despite my discretion, or perhaps precisely because of it, some people made guesses behind my back — and their hypotheses were all over the spectrum.) I actually regret the fact that I have to tell HR about my marital status and number of children, because in my opinion that is simply none of my employer’s business.

      What I consider more important for the productivity of the team is… uhm, the ability to speak freely, for all members of the team. Diverse experience means nothing if you are not allowed to communicate it. Diverse preferences mean nothing if you are not allowed to act on them. (I mean, I had a job where managers on purpose assigned database design to front-end guys, and CSS tweaking to back-end guys. Predictably, the code base was a mess, we had tons of bugs, and we consistently missed all deadlines, but the managers congratulated themselves that they made everyone replaceable. Until one day the whole team quit.)

      The biggest obstacle to this is typically a presence of an “alpha male” on the team; and yes, it is almost always a male (although in one case I have also seen an alpha female, and she had similar impact). Someone with strong opinions and low agreeableness, often with some support from management. In such case, the team cannot exceed the given person’s experience, because other people’s suggestion are mostly rejected. I have seen a situation where such person was thoroughly incompetent, but the management trusted them anyway. I have also seen a situation where such person was quite qualified (although not as much as they believed themselves to be); unfortunately they had a few mistaken beliefs and refused to update on them even in face of evidence, and dismissed anyone else’s qualification.

      Conclusion: If I would have to make a statement about gender diversity, my best guess is that when the woman is a member of the team “naturally” (i.e. because she is a good coder, just like anyone else), her presence is probably an evidence that the team is healthy (to say the least, she was not harassed away). However, adding a woman to the team just because “she is a woman, and we need diversity” might backfire horribly; you may add exactly the dominant personality that will ruin the team (and in addition she will have the perfect political clout: criticizing her will be inherently sexist). But I have never seen a situation like that; judging by Google’s example, the dangerous personalities will most likely apply for a HR position.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I think everyone’s given you the benefits of diversity. With regards to

      a diverse one because of fewer tribal problems to overcome.

      though, you’re only looking at internal tribal problems. Diversity also presents a larger surface area for attack.

      Imagine a half black, half white workforce that’s trying to unionize. Management is opposed to this union, so an operative puts a bug in the ear of the white workers that the blacks only want a union so they can be lazy and mooch off the white workers, and a bug in the ear of the black workers that the white workers are evil racists, who want control of the union rules so they can eventually expel the blacks and replace them with whites. Distrust is sown and the union fails.

      “DIVERSITY IS OUR STRENGTH” is one of those “FREEDOM IS SLAVERY” types of Big Lies. Diversity has advantages, but it also presents great challenges that can only be overcome through struggle. But you can’t simply add diversity to acquire strength. If you’ve got a pen full of cats and dogs fighting each other, throwing in a bunch of lemurs and badgers doesn’t really make the group stronger.

  18. Andrew Hunter says:

    Happy New Year, SSC. I turn 30 in five days.

    I kinda feel like I have squandered my entire twenties, and made every major decision wrong, mostly in irreparable ways. Other than serving as a cautionary example for other people, is there much I can do with this knowledge? I deeply wish for the ability to get a do-over on, well, pretty much anything major I chose since 13 or so? (9 or so, really, but 9-13 didn’t matter all that much even though i did all the stupid things.) But that’s obviously impossible.

    I’m not sure what the next best option is. I can hardly fake a new life.

    • johan_larson says:

      You’re a software engineer at Google in Seattle, right? Those are very good choices of profession, employer, and location. An awful lot of people would love to be in your shoes.

      Don’t be so hard on yourself.

      • Reasoner says:

        Yeah, seriously.

        Also, tell us what mistakes you think you’ve made so we can learn from them?

      • Andrew Hunter says:

        Seattle is a city full of pathologically unfriendly passive-aggressive terrible people. I have spent five years trying to become friends and get close with anyone. I still know more people in San Francisco who would do me the slightest favor. Now, practically speaking, I’m stuck here.

        As for the rest, that entitles me to be blamed for everything that goes wrong in current culture and despised as a subhuman loser. By the way, Google stopped being a haven for people like me about six years ago. Now it’s a place where “techies” have to apologize to everyone else for their presumption in wanting to be part of society. A pair of recruiters spent fifteen minutes talking about how ugly I was and laughing at me while I waited for a meeting near their desks a few years back. That is not something that would happen anywhere that respected people like me.

        • Brad says:

          You aren’t stuck there. You have a bunch of money saved up. You have valuable skills.

          You could quit tomorrow, move to NYC, and find a job at a bank or a startup without any problem. You could go on the expat circuit and land in Croatia, Czech Republic, or Thailand living high on remote contract work. You could move to Minneapolis, St. Louis, or Cincinnati and be the hotshot at some enterprise software shop.

          Sure, none of these choices are going to get you a wife and close circle of friends from your undergraduate years at Yale, but that’s not the one and only path to happiness.

          This whole “it’s too late” is an excuse to not take scary steps that would upend your comfortable but unsatisfying existence. I’m the better part of a decade older than you and wasted significantly more time, and am in the midst of upending my life. I don’t know how it will work out, but one way or another next year won’t be the same as last.

        • johan_larson says:

          I’m sorry you’re unhappy. But 30 isn’t too late to change things. Some door have closed — you can’t become a pro athlete starting at 30 — but most are still open.

          If you had it all to do over again, where would you be living, what would your profession be, and who would you be working for?

        • Loquat says:

          Have you considered changing to a less trendy employer? My husband, reading over my shoulder, is going on about all the white guys being at boring nuts&bolts companies like Oracle.

          Or, if you’re willing to un-stick yourself, try moving. Houston and Austin are both pretty nice, and I hear good things about Minnesota if you’re willing to put up with a serious winter.

          ETA: I totally felt like I wasted my 20’s, too. At 30 I was working a crappy no-benefits job with a killer commute. But, well, I put in some effort to change it and wound up with my current job instead, where I’m pretty happy.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          The culture in the Big Software Cities (Seattle, Boston, Silicon Valley, NYC) would tell you that there are no jobs of your kind anywhere else in the country. They are wrong. It’s hard for you to see it because you are immersed in it, but it’s okay.

          Roll a d20, add 10, and then look at the entry with that number from this list: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Metropolitan_Statistical_Areas. Start looking for communities of you areas of tech interest and you will very very likely find there a bunch of people interested in that already.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Also, consider that just because you have programming skills does not mean you have to work for a company that sells programs. I have an electrical engineering degree but I do coding and database work in healthcare. I work in a comfy red state with a wonderful community. I make almost as much as I could in a tech haven city, but my cost of living is far less.

            Conrad Honcho’s Mule Theory of Employment:

            Whatever you do, do not be the Mule. The Mule is the person who makes the product or provides the service that the company actually sells. If you’re working at McDonald’s, the burger flipper is the Mule. If you’re working at a hospital, the doctors are the Mules. And you know what you do with Mules? You whip them. The entire rest of the organization is designed around extracting as much labor from the Mules as possible.

            So what you want to be is Mule Support. The rest of the organization doesn’t really know what you do, or look that closely at it unless you screw up. Nobody in management is looking at reports of exactly how many dollars per hour you’re generating because you’re not part of the dollar-generating apparatus.

            I don’t have huge deadlines that make or break the company. Nobody cares if I skip out early to pick up a sick kid from school, so long as I get my job done. Nobody really bothers me at all.

            My father described it a little differently. He liked being “non-essential personnel.” He was a judge in the US Navy. Important job, sure, but not really part of the core mission of killing the enemies of our nation and breaking their stuff. Mule Support. Well, whenever a hurricane or something would shut down the naval base, the memo would go out: “non-essential personnel should stay home.” And my father would gleefully say, “I, am non-essential personnel!”

            Don’t be the Mule. Be non-essential personnel.

          • James says:

            Yeah, I’m a coder working for an architecture firm, basically writing the CRUD screen web app that we use internally for our admin. It’s a nice gig and I’m really glad I don’t “work in tech”. Good pay, reasonable hours, friendly people, no crunch insanity, and as I’m the only techie there, I can do things how I see fit technically (and spend plenty of time commenting on SSC without anyone being able to tell that I’m getting things done that few percent slower than I could have).

          • Brad says:

            Whatever you do, do not be the Mule. The Mule is the person who makes the product or provides the service that the company actually sells.

            Funny, I’ve more than once heard nearly the exact opposite advice. I guess it all depends on what you hope to get out of a job.

          • Nornagest says:

            The mule has a harder job, but is also less likely to be downsized and more likely to be promoted (if the mule happens to be in one of the increasingly rare companies that actually does internal promotions). Whether the mule is paid better or worse than mule support depends on the economics of the industry.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            CH: be a loser
            Brad: be a sociopath
            What they have in common: don’t be clueless.

          • Brad says:

            Thanks for that link, I was confused and a little insulted.

          • Aapje says:


            Yeah, I was afraid that not recognizing the reference might result in such an interpretation.

            BTW, I think that Douglas Knight is wrong to classify you as being pro-sociopath anyway. Venkatesh’s model doesn’t neatly map onto Mule/Mule Support.

            Basically, in Venkatesh’s model, the sociopaths are those who seek upward mobility in the organization and actually have the skills to achieve that. The clueless are people with the same goal, but who don’t have those skills, so they expend a lot of effort, but the benefits go to the sociopaths. The losers are those who believe that they don’t have the skills for upward mobility and who refuse to expend effort where the benefit doesn’t go to them. These are people who do the minimum required for the job.

            It’s a rather cynical model based on the assumption that people are pretty much exclusively motivated by selfish desires.

          • Brad says:

            I think age probably plays a role. Look at Nornagest’s post; do people under thirty have a visceral sense of what being at risk of being downsized is like (or a bear stock market for that matter)?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I guess it all depends on what you hope to get out of a job.

            Work to live not live to work.

            I generally reject the idea that one should go for a “rewarding” career. The vast majority of jobs suck. It’s called “work” for a reason. If “success” means “being excited to go to work every day” then probably 95% of people are failures.

            This is a CW free thread I believe but if you’re interested in discussing why I think this is especially tragic for women and the way “women in in the workforce” has been sold to women and girls we can do that in the next thread.

            The mule has a harder job, but is also less likely to be downsized

            I don’t think there’s really any hard and fast rule about that. Ford could lay off autoworkers (Mules) because of robots, or they could lay off IT staff (Mule Support) because of outsourcing. But management is probably paying way more attention to your productivity and how necessary each assembly line worker is, but probably don’t really have much of any way of measuring how productive the IT staff is.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            This is not, in fact, a culture war free thread, so you’re free to discuss whatever it is you want.

          • rlms says:

            I think the likely Mule/Support tradeoff is more stress, higher reward for the skilled/less stress, lower reward for performing well. Although this is only relevant for comparable jobs: it’s probably better to be working on McDonalds’ website than flipping burgers, but even though the Mule/Support dynamic is the opposite way round, you would make the same choice at Google.

          • Aapje says:

            More than 80% of McDonald’s restaurants are franchises. I would argue that you then have different companies with the same name.

            It seems to me that the primary process of McDonald’s the franchisor includes marketing, to maximize the well-being of McDonald’s restaurants, which then in turn results in more franchise payments to McDonald’s the franchisor. As such, someone who works on the website would then contribute to the ‘unique selling points’ of McDonald’s the franchisor.

        • vulcanii says:

          Hey Andrew,

          I worked at Google in Seattle for six months and found it an absolutely miserable and awful experience just like you describe. I left about a year ago, but I still live in the area. If you’re interested in getting coffee and making a friend, email me at vulcaniissc@gmail.com

        • Scott Alexander says:

          I don’t know if you’ve tried this, but there’s a decent-sized rationalist community in Seattle and all the people there seem pretty nice to me. If you need introductions, email me.

        • Mark Atwood says:

          Andrew, I live in Seattle. Want to get coffee at Ada’s Technical Bookstore sometime?

    • Rachael says:

      Whatever you would do if you had a do-over, do those things now. 30 isn’t that old. You’re one decade into an adulthood that might last six decades.
      If it helps, pretend you’re really 50 and have been miraculously sent back to age 30 and given a chance to charge things.

      • Andrew Hunter says:

        Well, the biggest issue is that most of the things I should have done are no longer an option.

        One of the biggest mistakes, for example, was thinking that college was about learning things: I chose to go to my undergrad because I judged that I’d learn the most interesting things there. College is actually about building a social group (and being the single best time to find long term partners you’ll ever have: Yale is essentially a dating service for society’s elite.) I turned down an Ivy League school. Too late now. I will never have that opportunity to build a social group again, and I’m stuck trying to do it as an adult, when no one wants to meet new people (and new people without friends are assumed, correctly, to be losers no one wants around.)

        (Ironically, I used to joke about falling off the face of the earth, faking a new identity, and starting again in college. Whether or not that was a good idea, I certainly can’t credibly fake being 18 anymore, so…)

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          Ironically, I used to joke about falling off the face of the earth, faking a new identity, and starting again in college. Whether or not that was a good idea, I certainly can’t credibly fake being 18 anymore, so…

          If you wanted to go that route you could try a technical program at a community college. When I did that in my late twenties the particular program I chose in the particular locale* was filled with people close to my age or noticeably older. If I had any desire for a social network the signs were obvious that I could have had one.

          * – I actually went to 3 campuses and online for this program, one of the campuses met this criteria in a town which had recently closed a GE (IIRC) plant and which had another industry opening up.

        • engleberg says:

          Optimism of the heart, pessimism of the head is an ideal state. You are halfway to perfection. Lift till you puke for a half hour once a week, and you will be a miserable exhausted loser with muscles sagging from exhaustion for hours afterwards. But the rest of the week you will be comfortably strong, and this will raise your morale.

        • Orpheus says:

          Have you considered going to grad school? If you are unhappy with your current job, location and social circle (or lack thereof) doing a PhD somewhere far away may be a good solution to those problems.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Man, I think you’re looking at this the wrong way. Mrs. ADBG was Ms. Popular back in high school and college. She had lots of friends. She rarely ever sees or talks to them. They just don’t live near us, since she did that “All Upper Middle Class white children need to go out of state for college or else they are Losers” thing, and her entire social circle evaporated upon graduation.

          Even in college, she had stupid situations like her roommate cancelling cable without telling anyone else in the house, people leaving the house and hiding their dishes in cabinets which caused a roast infestation, epic screaming matches, you know, that sort of thing. Because college students are immature.

          I had a decent number of college friends, but there are only 2 I talk to or see on a regular basis anymore. Most of my current friends (and I have a ton) come from other people that my college friends met, or friends from meet-up.

          I’d highly recommend giving Meet-Up a shot, though it may not work so well with the Seattle Freeze.

        • Jon S says:

          Orpheus suggested a PhD program… I’d also suggest an MBA as a possibility. It’s almost explicitly all about ‘networking’ (much of which seems to consist of undergrad-style partying).

        • Hyzenthlay says:

          College is actually about building a social group (and being the single best time to find long term partners you’ll ever have: Yale is essentially a dating service for society’s elite.)

          I do think this is true for a lot of people, and many young people would benefit from hearing this. I think the message doesn’t get pushed because there’s an assumption that young people will just naturally form relationships when they’re in that environment, but for introverted, nerdy people that’s really not the case.

          I remember on my first day of college one of the professors gave a speech about the importance of studying hard and making classes a priority and he said something like, “no one my age ever says ‘I wish I had gone to more parties in college.'” And even at the time, I remember thinking that that was probably bullshit and that there were probably large numbers of people who regretted not going to more parties, not making more friends, or not dating more people/having more sex when they were in college.

          Though, also, I don’t think college is the end-all and be-all of social life. Most of the people in my (very limited) social circle I met while I was college-aged, but I didn’t meet them in college. They’re people I met online and then found out we lived reasonably close together.

    • Anonymous says:

      Learn. Adapt. Do better.

    • Mark says:

      Subsistance farming or urban foraging.

    • Baeraad says:

      For what it’s worth, my twenties were a long string of failures, humiliations and mistakes, too. I don’t think that’s a very unusual thing.

      Also for what it’s worth, my experience is that you eventually make your peace with not having lived a perfect life. You sort of learn to like what you’ve got, and make the best of the opportunities you still have.

    • Well... says:

      Unless you’re in a seriously bad (e.g. life-threatening, abuse- and degradation-filled, etc.) situation, you don’t really get to savor your regrets.

      “What does ‘not getting to savor your regrets’ mean?”

      It means that for any given regret, you can point to a way in which it has affected your life’s trajectory and brought you to your current situation. “But for my dumb decision back then, I wouldn’t be where I am today.” If where you are today has anything going for it, then you owe some of that to the dumb decision you made back then. It was still a dumb decision, but without it you likely wouldn’t have the good things in your life that you currently enjoy.

      “But I might have had other, even better things in my life to enjoy, had I made better decisions!”

      How would you know you’d made better decisions? I put it to you that even if you could get a do-over and correct each dumb decision, you’d wind up at age 30 regretting the same amount of dumb decisions and wishing for a do-over. We are programmed by evolution to sit in front of our mental replay machines analyzing memories of our past for ways in which we could have done better.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Do you mean stupid things that hurt yourself? That hurt other people? That caused you to miss opportunities? That wasted time?

    • Anonymous1191 says:


      I spent my 20s in the haze of an addiction. I burned every social bridge I had, exhausted all goodwill, and ended up both homeless and in very precarious health. My primary activity every day was trekking around collecting bottles and cans to turn in to the recycling center for minuscule amounts of cash. I spent my 30th birthday in an institution.

      I am 38 now. I have a house, a lovely wife a decade my junior. I have full custody of my kids. I have a professional career in one of the more prestigious companies in my field/area. I have substantial savings (if, also, a substantial amount of loans I am working to pay off). I even have the best dog a man could ask for. I am happy.

      What changed? I did the hard thing, the to-20s-me impossible thing, and beat the thing that was pushing me down. For me, that was my addiction. I kept coming back and back and back, failing and failing and failing, until it worked. It took several years. I went to professional school–in my 30s!–and met aforementioned amazing woman. What I did, specifically, is less relevant to anyone else than the throughline: small, hard, tedious, incremental improvements, every day, until I got a better life.

      I have read some of your troubles, that you have posted previously. Details-wise, our situations differ. What I want to say is a couple of things. One, 30 is young. You have not wasted your life. Listen to the older folks here; what they are telling you is true. I am healthier, happier, stronger, more energetic, more skilled, more adventurous, at 38 than I was in the morass that was my late 20s. In other words, I feel younger now than I did then. There is a point where people think you’re old, and you begin to suffer in others’ esteem because of that. Urban coastal tech-dominated society wants you to think that point is in your late 20s. It is not. You’re not there yet.

      Two, whatever the hard thing is that you feel you have to do to improve your life, do it. Everyone, in a hard spot, flails for the quick fix that will turn everything around. Do I dump this person? Do I quit my job? Do I move to that place? If everything is bad, and you have an idea that seems like it could fix everything in less than, say, six months, the idea is probably a pleasant fantasy. Remaking a life–your do-over–is a slow thing. An ocean liner, turning course one degree at a time. It took me several years of slow, tiny tiny tiny incremental improvements to get to a place where I could look around and go, “Huh. Things are better than they used to be.” Once you hit that point, everything seems to accelerate, and the good stuff comes faster and faster.

      Three, in the scheme of a life, a couple years well-invested are well-invested indeed. Far more dangerous is the creeping malaise of do-nothingism. If you’re not happy, do something different. Even a few years casting about trying different things before you hit on what works for you is better than coasting through those years and finding yourself right where you are now. If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten. In the thick of it, sure, it feels like forever and nothing is happening and why did I get myself into this. From the other side, you’ll be glad to have spent that time, and you’ll find that you picked up a lot of valuable things that you didn’t even realize were valuable before.

      I know all of this is vague and handwavy. It has to be, because I’m not you and you’re not me. But the takeaway is:

      tl;dr: Do something. And if that doesn’t work, do something else. Emphasis on the “do.” You can lose a whole life waiting for things to change. 30 only feels old to 30-year-olds. 30 is terribly, terribly young. Don’t give up one-third(!) into your life. Small, incremental changes add up, and any meaningful change requires time and effort. You have that time and energy. Future-you will appreciate past-you’s efforts.

    • Deiseach says:

      Congratulations, you are an ordinary human being 🙂

      Most of us feel that “oh no, I wasted all my chances” once the bright infinite vistas of teens and twenties are past. (Maybe some of us really did). Now we’re pretty much settled into something like a job or career or relationship or buying a house or other decision that means we can’t just throw it all over and go do something else, or at least not easily.

      You probably did make stupid choices. Everybody does. Unless you have a time machine to see “if I pick A over B, what will happen?” there is no way (apart from the traditional ones of advice from others, experience, the little voice of conscience) to tell what will be a good or bad choice. A choice can look good under one set of circumstances and turn out bad when those circumstances change.

      Right now you’re in reasonable health, have a job, are not suffering from debilitating addictions, and can function pretty much as a normal member of society. That’s doing okay!

      And you’re not stuck. It might be a bad choice to decide to give it all up and go live as a charcoal burner in the forest. Or not, I don’t have a time machine. Do you want to live as a charcoal burner? Do you think you could avoid starving to death or getting eaten by a bear?

    • Incurian says:

      I’ve heard good things about Austin.

    • rahien.din says:

      Let me echo what everyone else has said.

      Your twenties are a sort of Dunning-Kruger decade – you don’t know enough to realize how dumb you are, most of the time, even when you succeed. You hit your 30’s and you finally can see your life in some detail and perspective. (Also, since you’ve got a Y chromosome, your brain is probably fully-myelinated for the first time in your life.) The fact that you feel compelled to evaluate your life in this fashion is evidence that you have developed grown-up evaluative faculties. The fact that you are going meta on your evaluative faculties is further evidence thereof.

      Trust me, and everyone else here : everyone worth their salt goes through this.

      And I can not stress this enough : these newly-operational abilities are the exact result of all your past decisions and reactions. Every single one of those decisions, right or wrong, was another brick laid in the nice mental house in which you now live. You can’t have the grown-up brain without having had the immature brain.

      The only option is : go forth, relying on your ever-improving brain, and not getting too bent out of shape about things.

      • aNeopuritan says:

        I’m in a similar situation to Andrew*, and I don’t remember ever *not* having that capacity (including *way* before 30). It didn’t help; in retrospect, I’m not even convinced it was supposed to.

        *: minus the good parts.

      • Halikaarn says:

        Man, did I need to hear this. The last year (in which I left the Midwest for the Bay Area, drastically reduced my socializing time, and had some frustrating career setbacks) has been happy and positive in many ways (I’m in better physical shape, have more time to spend on intellectual projects and reading, am 2000 miles further from things that stressed me out for most of my life). But the big downside of this has been a steady stream of Dunning-Kruger realizations that make me feel really stupid and laggardly with regard to life decisions made in my 20s. Forgiving myself, having any confidence in my ability to correct my course, and taking concrete steps to do so have been constant battles.

    • cassander says:

      In my 20s, at one point, I dropped out of school and joined the circus. And that doesn’t even make the list of bad decisions I made in my 20s. You’re probably doing fine.

      • Aapje says:

        Now I want to do what you did in the circus. My guess: bearded lady.

        • cassander says:

          If I am a little drunk or feeling a bit perverse (the two tend to come together) I tell people I tamed lions. I can go on for about 20 minutes of totally invented lion taming facts. Really though, I was the technical director and co-producer. It was a very small local show that had no animals.

      • Nornagest says:

        That’s almost impressive. It reads kinda like making a career out of bootlegging whisky eighty years after the end of Prohibition; I thought running away and joining the circus stopped being a viable choice around the same time.

    • Doctor Mist says:

      By the time you’re 30, the number of different lives you might have led completely dwarf the one life you did lead. It can be daunting to think of all the experiences you missed.

      It won’t directly answer your question, but I strongly recommend William Irvine’s A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy. One traditional component of Stoicism is fatalism, but Irvine suggests that in practice this principle was honored mostly not by resignedly accepting whatever comes, but rather by sensibly accepting that the past cannot be changed.

      Of the things about your life that you wish were different, some you can’t change and some you can. No, you cannot be 18 again. But you could probably get an Ivy degree, if you really want one. It’s completely false that you are trapped in your current job.

      • Randy M says:

        By the time you’re 30, the number of different lives you might have led completely dwarf the one life you did lead. It can be daunting to think of all the experiences you missed.

        This is the third topic on this open thread that hits the same theme of the improbability of a facet of life (genetic existence, the laws of physics, any person’s life history). What might have been, what still can be… appropriate for the time of year, as well.

    • The Nybbler says:

      As others have pointed out, you’ve managed to make a shitload of money from Google, so you haven’t done everything wrong.

      As for meeting other people, I gather you have some friends and have dated quite a few people, which puts you ahead of where I was around age 30 — which is about when I started dating my now-wife of 11 years.

      Seattle is a city full of pathologically unfriendly passive-aggressive terrible people. […] Now, practically speaking, I’m stuck here.

      Why? Houses can be sold or rented out. Jobs can be changed. Most of the time I’d suspect that the problem was within rather than without, but Seattle has that kind of reputation (not to mention a lousy gender ratio). GTFO.

      As for the rest, that entitles me to be blamed for everything that goes wrong in current culture and despised as a subhuman loser. By the way, Google stopped being a haven for people like me about six years ago. Now it’s a place where “techies” have to apologize to everyone else for their presumption in wanting to be part of society. A pair of recruiters spent fifteen minutes talking about how ugly I was and laughing at me while I waited for a meeting near their desks a few years back. That is not something that would happen anywhere that respected people like me.

      Last first… who cares what recruiters think? The best of them are good salespeople, basically. The worst would be underqualified on a used car lot, and I’m pretty sure Google doesn’t have a good procedure to sort between them. As for Google’s internal environment… yeah, it’s shit. Seems to have begun with Larry Page taking over and the Socialquake and it kicked into high gear with the Culture War in 2015. I kept myself sane largely by pushing back on internal forums until they decided that was unacceptable. As Vic Gundotra would say, “You don’t have to work for Google; there are alternatives.” Possibly not quite as lucrative, but in the same ballpark.

      • pseudon says:

        Was your internal social media profile picture at the time, by any chance, featuring a white sports car?

      • Chalid says:

        Most of the time I’d suspect that the problem was within rather than without, but Seattle has that kind of reputation (not to mention a lousy gender ratio). GTFO.

        Maybe it’s within, maybe it’s without, but either way he should switch both jobs and location. If the problem is without, then changing his life makes the problem goes away; if the problem is within, at least the new set of experiences will give him a clearer idea of what the actual problem is and he could stop unproductively blaming his environment.

        Actually I’d say everyone should switch jobs at least once or twice in their twenties even if they aren’t unhappy, to get more of a sense of what is available and of what kinds of environments they need in order to be successful.

      • Aapje says:

        Possibly not quite as lucrative, but in the same ballpark.

        Not quite as lucrative compared to Google is still very lucrative compared to the average income. Earning a little less in a more pleasant location isn’t the end of the world.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Hey man,

      From what I’ve seen, you’re better looking than I am, you’re some kind of lightning box magician instead of a humanities schmoe like I am, and we’re both doing the Brazeelyun yooyeetsu, so we’re equal on that count. And hey, I’m gonna be 30 sometime soon, too.

      Calm down. You might feel like a failure, but there are definitely people to whom you are sitting right there in the win position.

      C A L M D O W N.

      (But keep drilling; it’ll get ya better at that BJJ)

    • SamChevre says:

      I’m trying to sympathize, but comparing where you are and where I was is so different…

      When I was thirty, I was just pulling out of the miserable mess that was my twenties. I’d finished college (started in my mid-twenties and nearly died of depression once in the process), started a job, gotten laid off after 6 months, done a mess of odd jobs, started another job when I was 28 with a company that was not well-run. I’d just started dating, for the first time ever. My parents still wouldn’t eat in the same room as me.

      I’d say that feeling like things are really not going well, at 30, is not uncommon.

    • Atlas says:

      Happy New Year, SSC. I turn 30 in five days.

      I kinda feel like I have squandered my entire twenties, and made every major decision wrong, mostly in irreparable ways. Other than serving as a cautionary example for other people, is there much I can do with this knowledge? I deeply wish for the ability to get a do-over on, well, pretty much anything major I chose since 13 or so?… But that’s obviously impossible.

      I’m not sure what the next best option is. I can hardly fake a new life.

      Firstly, a Happy New Year to you as well.

      Secondly, for whatever it’s worth, I turned 20 about a month ago, which I mention because I am thus kind of in the position you say you wish you were in. And instead of rejoicing along the lines of “how awesome is it that I have my entire twenties in front of me?” I’ve mostly been agonizing along the lines of “God damn it, I just wish I could reload a save at the beginning of my teenage years.”

      So this makes me think that, whether you/I/we can “feel” the truth of this intuitively, the desire to go back and change the past is at least generally a Sisyphean one. I conjecture that generally either one knows how to pursue the good life, and thus pursues it in the moment, or one does not know how to pursue the good life, and thus would carry the same confusion with them given the chance to venture into the past.

      There’s been a lot of Stoicismposting on the thread, and I don’t know how valuable you’ve found it, but my two cents’ worth is my understanding of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s conception of eternal recurrence. My probably too simplistic (but I think instrumentally valuable) interpretation is:

      You should seek to live your life such that, if you had to live it over and over again exactly the same way for infinity, you would be content with that fate.

      So to return to the original question of:

      Other than serving as a cautionary example for other people, is there much I can do with this knowledge?

      It seems to me that perhaps you could conclude that looking for the moment, or moments, in the past where if only you could go back and make a different decision and then you’d be happy is like being on the hunt for a creature that never existed in the first place. You’ll never catch that fish of “aha, this particular decision is the one my happiness depended on!” It’s probably more like happiness—or at least contentment— is a certain sort of forward looking amor fati, where you have a calm mindset of “well, I’ll do the best I can and take the bitter with the better.” Like the mindset of the serenity prayer or of the titular wanderer in “Wanderer Above a Sea of Fog”.

      • aNeopuritan says:

        If you, at 20, did screw something up in the recent past, I’m pretty sure it’s fixable. You have plenty of reproductively healthy years ahead, and are *far* from a risk of unemployability due to age. Even if you start from 0 about “being qualified for a good job and a good wife”, there’s no reason to doubt you can get somewhere decent by 30 – if your *starting* place for either of those is 30, though …

    • Jaskologist says:

      How much of this feeling is due to not having found a long term mate yet?

      • Andrew Hunter says:

        It’s a significant contributor, but I could probably manage without one if I had regular contact with people who treated me well and cared about me, even if I weren’t sleeping with them.

        • Evan Þ says:

          I’ve lived just outside Seattle for the last four and a half years, and I’ve made at least three very good friends. I’ve met all of them through church – I know Seattle’s one of the least-churched cities in the country, but have you considered that?

          Also, have you tried the rationalist meetups in Madison Park? I’ve only gone to one of them, but I had a lot of very good conversation there.

          Finally, have you tried book clubs? I found a sci-fi / fantasy book club through the University Bookstore, and while I wouldn’t say I’ve made any deep friendships there, we’re all at least good, polite acquaintances.

        • LewisT says:

          I seem to recall someone (EDIT: Universal Set) once suggesting that you look into moving to a mid-sized city in the Midwest. If the people in Seattle are genuinely as terrible as you say they are, and if a major part of what’s making you so unhappy is a lack of companionship (either a mate or close friends), I do think moving to the Midwest/Rust Belt might be a significantly positive, albeit risky, move. I’ve never lived outside the Midwest (EDIT: actually, near where Universal Set lives), so my experience is quite limited, but I have friends who live or have lived outside the Midwest, and almost all of them agree that people are just friendlier and more caring here than they are in the coasts (the rural South is also an option if you’re looking for friendly people, but I have a feeling you wouldn’t fit in as well there).

        • If historical recreation strikes you as interesting, you could try out the local SCA. I don’t know the Seattle people in particular but several of my closest friends were acquired through the SCA, and I have a generally positive impression of the kingdom Seattle is in (An Tir).

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            I’d been thinking about the SCA recently (unconnected with this whole thing.) It’s a bit of a hard bootstrap to start, but I may make an attempt soon.

          • Barely matters says:

            I can second this.

            I know a few of the Seattle Knights from years ago, and as far as long range acquaintances go they’re doing pretty well in terms of being level headed, stable, quality people with good life trajectories. Many of them have paired off and settled down with their SCA partners compared to the rest of the group that I met them through, who are still largely doing the normal millennial floundering. None of them earn as much as you do (As many of them grew up on farms, giving them access to the horses that they armor and ride), so there might be some culture clash, but they’re system oriented nerds through and through and I’d guess you’d get along with them fairly well.

          • @Andrew:

            I don’t know An Tir, but a few general comments on the SCA.

            It’s a lot of different things for different people. For some it’s mostly about our version of dark ages foot combat done as a sport. For some it’s about recreating some particular part of past culture for the fun of it–cooking from a 10th century cookbook, making jewelry based on museum pieces, making shoes, calligraphy and illumination, poetry, story telling. For some it is two or more of the above.

            For some, probably the majority, an SCA event is basically a costume party for people interested in the Renaissance and/or Middle Ages. For others it’s a joint fantasy–trying to imagine, for at least a few hours, that you are a medieval person interacting with other people. For some it’s mostly the former but occasionally the latter. And someone who treats it as a costume party may also be seriously interested in his particular area and doing good, original, historically accurate work in that area.

            It’s also its own subculture, with customs and jargon not all of which are historically correct. And its own social network.

            For some people it is important mainly as the latter. When I arrived in California with my elder son and a moving truck full of stuff, I was met by two SCA people, one of whom I knew from when he lived in Chicago, who helped us unload. When the husband of one of our SCA friends had serious medical problems, my wife and daughter made up a bunch of food to bring over so she wouldn’t have to worry about feeding herself until the crisis was over. That sort of thing is pretty normal.

    • outis says:

      Happy New Year, Andrew. I’m in a similar situation to you, and in fact I opened a similar but vaguer thread[1] a few OTs ago. I’m a bit older and less athletic, but I’m not going to try to compete on who has it worse.

      On one hand, I wish I could go back to when I was 30; I know I could do so much better with my life. So, you could imagine being me and feeling like you were given a few extra years.
      On the other hand, at 30 I wished I could go back to being 25. At 25 I wished I could be 20 again, and so on.
      To be precise, at each of those times, I wanted to go back to when I was 14; I guess that’s about the age when everyone’s life gets messed up. But I have always felt that I was 5-7 years too old for what I wanted to do, or 5-7 years too late for it.

      It’s strange, because each time I think “it’s too late”, and each time it actually turns out that I can do a lot more and get a lot better. But each time I fail to catch up. Against my depressed predictions from years ago, I won many battles, but lost the war; it was not too late to finish school, get a good job, etc.; but sadly, it seems that it was too late for me to be happy. So I can say that I am doing much better than I imagined possible, and yet I’m just as unhappy as I feared. Has something similar happened to you?

      For me, too, the problem is social life and relationships. I can make friends, but I keep losing them (in part because there must be something wrong with me, in part because they leave the city), and now I’m back to feeling lonely. I also feel like I lost the best chance of finding friends and love in college, and that’s what’s really hurting me now.

      Maybe we could be friends?

      [1]: BTW, sorry for not replying to most people there, things move too fast. I keep meaning to post a response in a new OT, but I’ve been too busy.

      • Inside a semicircle of displays says:

        I also feel like I lost the best chance of finding friends and love in college, and that’s what’s really hurting me now.

        That’s what I thought, until I figured out the entire “friends of friends” situation. I’m 32 now and I’d say that I made over half of my friends over the past five years, well after I finished my education, meeting them via existing friends. Same with romantic relationships.
        (Side note: I’ve got zero people from school I still keep in contact with, I guess interests diverge too drastically afterwards)

        I can make friends, but I keep losing them (in part because there must be something wrong with me, in part because they leave the city)

        I tend to move around quite a bit, and one of my closest friends lives over 500 km away. But there’s a reasonably priced direct flight – that might be a necessary prerequisite to sustain long-distance friendship kind of things.

        Maybe we could be friends?

        I’m not him, but I’d be happy to make your acquaintance.

        • I tend to move around quite a bit, and one of my closest friends lives over 500 km away. But there’s a reasonably priced direct flight – that might be a necessary prerequisite to sustain long-distance friendship kind of things.

          I am currently in a room of a friend’s house in Boston, along with my wife and our two adult children (one bed, two air mattresses). We are there because another friend started a New Year’s party at her house nearby about forty years ago. She died a few years ago but her widower has continued the party. I have been there every New Years for about the past forty, save for one year when I had surgery in late December. It’s a chance to maintain connections with friends who live on the opposite side of the country from where we now live–and for my children to establish friendships with members of the same social network.

          Today we fly to Chicago, where we will spend a few days with friends near there before flying home to San Jose.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Enjoy Chicago. Sorry about the weather. At least the River looks pretty and smells less putrid when it’s frozen over.

        • Randy M says:

          I’ve never had a great ability at making friends, so I decided to start from scratch.

          Okay, bad joke and probably not terribly funny to those looking for romance–for consolation there, read the other people saying they found mates in their thirties up thread.

          Anyway, I keep in touch with one friend from my childhood–which is about half of my childhood friends. In college I was a lot more outgoing, had a pretty good social life, and after graduation I’ve seen one person (other than my wife) from college regularly. And by regularly at this point I mean on my birthday. My gaming groups regularly sputter out from lack of attendees. There’s no animosity, but simply not being anyone’s priority isn’t all that great either, though I’ll concede to being part of the problem, not often taking the initiative.

          Anyhow, lack of close connections seems to be a sad part of modern life. I’m on the west coast as well, perhaps it’s different in the middle states or other countries.

        • outis says:

          Where do you live?

          BTW, notice that Andrew did not take me up on that offer. Which does not surprise me: even people who are lonely do not really want to become friends with people whom they see as having insufficiently high social value. It’s the same process by which a man can long for a relationship while ignoring the ugly women he would have a chance with.

          And I’m not saying it’s wrong. I do the same thing. Having a low-quality friend (or, worse, partner) actually makes your personal value worse, and a low self-value is one of the biggest problems of lonely people to begin with.

          • nimim.k.m. says:

            Which does not surprise me: even people who are lonely do not really want to become friends with people whom they see as having insufficiently high social value.

            In cases like this, I don’t believe it’s about “social value”. It sounds too simplistic (similar to obsessing over “status hierarchies” that have been discussed many times here on OTs).

            More like, fostering a successful friendship needs some positive ties. Friendship based on both friends-to-be having not much in common except that both are lonely sounds potentially very awkward.

            Also, at least while I’ve been battling with loneliness, I would detest any offered “friendship” that I sensed was initiated and maintained only out of pity, instead of say, genuinely thinking I’m person they like to be friends with.

          • outis says:

            I used not to care or even really believe in social status, but eventually my normie simulation has advanced enough to realize that it’s real, and really important. Maybe at some point I’ll loop back into not caring, who knows. But it remains a very useful concept to understand personal interactions.

            I am not offering friendship out of pity, I think Andrew sounds interesting. Also, if you look at the other posts, he picked up higher-status posters on their offers right away.
            A possible confounder is that I’m pseudonymous, perhaps he only feels comfortable meeting other real-name users.

    • dodrian says:

      Given your other comments about a desire for deeper social group/community, I would encourage you to look at local community choirs, bands, troupes, studios, etc, with the intention of starting a new hobby.

      From my experience singing in choirs* working as a group to prepare a performance is a great social-bonding activity. They tend to have a good number of people who are proactive in organizing other social events (dinner, parties, etc), and it makes it easier to network and meet people outside of that group too (I ended up with two great roommates because I mentioned to a choir friend that I was looking for a house-share, and he knew others). If you’re certain that singing isn’t your thing (though I’d still encourage you to try if you haven’t sung since elementary school), I imagine that community theater would be similar (with more roles available, as sound or lighting technicians, stagehands, set workers, etc), as would dance (my 30-something single balding friend loves ballet). Art classes at local studios/community college might also be good, though I would think working on an individual piece is less socially-enriching than working on a performance as a group.

      I found taking up an art especially rewarding as all my other activities/hobbies are pretty stereotypical for a computer engineer, and solitary to boot. Others have said similar things about joining a sports team, though they tend to be more single-gendered activities

      *FWIW, I’ve only ever encountered two people I genuinely believe are tonedeaf, and unable to be taught to sing. Most of the community choirs I’ve been a part of were happy to have a new face, and not very bothered about if they could sing or not – and I originally joined unable to read music.

    • SUT says:

      I want to steelman Hunter’s Dilemma. Maybe Morrison said it best:

      People are strange when you’re a stranger
      Faces look ugly when you’re alone
      Women seem wicked when you’re unwanted

      It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or successful; nobody in middle class society will treat you better at 30 based on a six figure bank account. Also most of your friends who don’t do as well will be supported comfortably enough by their family. And if materially you’re a success (but still Strange) you think to yourself – My God, how much worse will this get if were to ever fall out of the 0.1%?

      The addiction story from Anonymous especially strikes me as failing to imagine what OP’s experience is like: He is not going to be able to get a Associates Degree and sweet talk his way into the American Dream after being 90 days sober. He is Strange – corporate recruiters, whose main responsibility is to put on a polite public facade for thirty minutes, can’t help but trash him. He is not someone people want to give opportunities to, he needs to smarter and better qualified than others.

      Also if you’re in an upper middle class job in an upper middle class city, approaching middle age, most people are just going HOLD on friendships. If you’re charismatic, you can get these people to BUY. And if you’re volatile low class, people often SELL their whole portfolio, which makes it easier to be a rebound friend. It’s the paradox of stability for lone men in these milieus: it makes meeting people and forming bonds the most difficult for people who really do fit all the criteria for ‘buddy’.

      There are large problems here that I don’t think people are appreciating, and I don’t know if the standard answer of Choir/Meditation/Travel works.

    • Matt C says:

      You’ve made other posts like this one. You sound fairly unhappy and extremely unsatisfied.

      If you don’t like what you’re getting, you have to change what you’re doing. Not easy, but it’s the only real option.

      > [about Seattle and Google] Now, practically speaking, I’m stuck here.

      Unless there is something important you have not mentioned, you are actually not stuck. You are single, 29, in good health, intelligent and conscientious, in possession of valuable skills. You are not stuck.

      See Brad’s post about upending your life. You’re 29, single, unhappy with work, unhappy with your town, feeling unloved and unvalued. Sounds like a good time for you to upend your life. You are a capable and resilient guy. Forget about your bank balance for a while. Forget about what “they” might think or say. Quit your job and try something different. Take a leap and come back in a few months and tell us a story about what happened.

      Oh, and there aren’t any do overs. I feel you, sometimes I want one too, but once through is all you get. Good luck.

      • Oh, and there aren’t any do overs.

        I have a story about that.

        • Matt C says:

          Did you ever have to make up your mind . . .

          I can’t imagine leaving my family for anything in the real world. But getting to live the prime of my life over again would be a temptation, I admit.

          I wonder how much of one’s good sense and maturity comes from actually learning from experience, and how much is just having a body where the limbic system has finally started to settle down. Maybe if I woke up nineteen again I’d find myself acting about the same as I did the first time around.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          Interesting story.

          I realize this isn’t the point of the story, but if you don’t return to the future, would the original version of you still go on with your original family?

          • I assume so.

            I may have inconsistently assumed that if the narrator chose to return to his original life he would vanish from the new life, abandoning his girlfriend.

            But neither assumption is central, since I was mostly imagining the situation from the standpoint of his consciousness, not the effect of his choice on others.

            I wrote the story a fair while ago so can’t be certain of the details in my mind at the time. I think it’s the only prose short story I have written in the past fifty years.

    • pontifex says:

      I felt the same way when I turned 30. At the time it felt like I was super old and I had squandered my life.

      Now I’m years older and I don’t feel the same way. What changed? Meeting my wife and getting married was very positive. I started to accept that I will never be Larry Ellison or Bill Gates, but I can do a pretty good job of being me.

      I think you do have some friends here on SSC. And I’m sure you have a lot of savings.

      If you truly want to get out of Seattle, you can do an internal transfer at Google, right? Or if Google has gotten too PC for you (I know it is for me) then find a better employer. They are out there. Do keep in mind that it’s hard to come back to Google once you leave (you’ll be off the management fast track). But that track is a lottery anyway– it’s not worth giving up your happiness for that for most people.

    • rks says:

      real advice: move to Eastern Europe (particularly).
      after working at Google I’m sure you can arrange some remote gig to support yourself, or just spend your savings, or become an ESL teacher (you can do this without any diplomas for meager compensation but you’re already rich so whatevs).
      the change in the environment plus guaranteed pretty ladies’ attention will help you think more objectively about your life and where you want to move it further.
      I expect you may tell yourself “that will set my career/life back” or whatever but then you are already thinking that your life is irreparably damaged. so not losing much, eh?

      • Aapje says:

        That seems a little too radical & unnecessary, when sufficient cultural diversity exists in the US and Western Europe & Andrew’s dating prospects would probably improve significantly merely by moving out of a region with a large gender disparity disfavoring men. Also, I’ve heard from various sources that Eastern European relationship culture involves high levels of drama, which may be unpleasant to a Western person/man.

        I also don’t see why it would make sense to become jobless or an ESL teacher when IT skills are in high demand. For example, the Czech Republic* seems to have a significant shortage of IT people. I know for a fact that there are international organizations in Western Europe where programmers who only know English can find a job. I strongly suspect that the same is true for some international organizations in Eastern Europe.

        * That country seems to have westernized sufficiently to be a viable choice (just like Estonia), but I would be wary of moving to some of the other Eastern European countries.

    • Mark Atwood says:

      FWIW I went and had coffee with Andrew last night.

      I’m still gelling my impression in my head. I’ll share my response to this post of his in light of that meeting after it gells some more, with his permission.

  19. johan_larson says:

    Happy new year everyone! May your resolutions hold at least until February.

    Just a reminder that we’re talking about The Last Jedi, with spoilers, here:

  20. actinide meta says:

    Scott at one point signal boosted Sarah Constantin’s report on Dr. Paul Marik’s sepsis treatment. Sepsis is a major cause of death worldwide and existing treatments do not prevent a high mortality rate. Marik’s treatment is a combination of cheap drugs and vitamins and there is anecdotal and retrospective evidence that it works much better, and in vitro evidence to support the mechanism of action. But there is a huge graveyard of promising treatments for sepsis that didn’t work out in randomized trials, so the odds are against it being for real.

    There is now a large private foundation funding a large multicenter RCT in the US, which is great, but the cost and schedule have both ballooned, which is not so great (*millions* of people die worldwide from sepsis yearly, so conceivably a “holocaust worth” of QALYs will be lost while we wait for data). I have been approached by a doctor in South Africa who wants to run a cheap randomized trial; besides maybe being faster (perhaps even fast enough to be hypothesis generating for larger studies) it would give very valuable information on how the treatment works in a third world patient population and care setting (the largest number of deaths occur in such places). I am still awaiting a full proposal, but if the costs are within 4x of the initial estimate I can fund it myself, so I’m not raising money. And there is enough institutional support and personal connections that I’m not too worried about fraud. But I’m concerned that the people involved might be inexperienced and get things (including budget estimates) very wrong, and I’m not competent to evaluate a proposal in this field. So I’m seeking one or more people with either clinical trials or critical care experience who are willing to take some time to read a proposal and ask questions. Is there anyone here who can help or knows someone who can?

    • Deiseach says:

      the cost and schedule have both ballooned

      Finagle’s Laws. Everything takes longer. And costs more.

      • quaelegit says:

        And this still applies when Finagle’s Law is taken into account. (Or is that Hofstadter’s Law? 😛 )

      • benquo says:

        That’s actually true mainly in contexts where there are systemic incentives for fraud and lowballing (e.g. once you start funders wanna pay for completion lest they be embarrassed, and there’s enough turnover that they don’t learn to distrust you in particular).

        In other words, that’s only ALMOST universally true.

    • Carl says:

      Saw the note in the open thread – I work in South Africa, specifically on encouraging collaboration between USA / RSA, and my personal research is in infectious disease. I have some experience with trials (on the theory side) and probably know some of the right players.

      Which is to say — I’d love to help. I’m completely new to wordpress, however – what’s the best way to turn this into one-on-one discussion?

      • nevernot says:

        I also came here from the open thread. I have a background running non-medical field RCTs in developing countries and some exposure to the medical / clinical trials space – would love to help out as well, looking forward to instructions on how to reach you or get involved.

      • actinide meta says:

        I don’t know of a great way to establish contact using this commenting system, so we will improvise.

        @Carl, I will reach out to you using the e-mail address linked in your profile.

        @nevernot (and others), I don’t want to post my real e-mail address permanently here, but I have created a disposable one: meta@getnada.com. E-mail me at that address in the near future and I will get back to you from my real address.

        I am still awaiting an actual proposal from the investigator (I was told to expect something in “January”).

  21. Null42 says:


    Anyone see this?

    Does this prove you really can ‘fake it till you make it’ as an MD assuming you prepare appropriately? Or was this guy just getting around the limits on FMGs? I’m not clear from the article.

    • rahien.din says:

      On one hand, if the hospital’s claims are true, he completed appropriate medical training, and maintained appropriate certifications and licenses. In some sense – especially in the risky and litigious realm of OB – this is evidence of competent performance. It’s hard to even say he was trying to “fake it till you make it” because he doesn’t seem to have been fake. Again, insofar as we can believe those claims, he did his job.

      On the other hand, what the hell? This business of a fake name – and repeated SSN fraud! – is not a one-time thing. It’s a very consistent pattern. There’s something very wrong here. And, in a very particular sense, the hospital was paying him to provide a true identity. He definitely failed his duties in those regards.

      • Deiseach says:

        Whatever about his qualifications, if I go by the facts as presented in that story the guy came to the US on some kind of tourist/holiday visa, seems to have intended to overstay as an illegal immigrant (a lot of Irish did the same, so can’t throw stones there) but started off with getting fake ID (social security numbers etc.) in order to try and qualify as a doctor, or have any qualifications he may already have had recognised.

        So it sounds like he may have been a failed doctor/medical student in his own country and knew he had little to no chance of legally getting work in America. The habitual fake ID is a big red flag here and though I have no idea of the law, surely is a criminal offence? I’m not entirely sure if identity theft was involved (stealing and using the name of a legit African doctor who had real qualifications to back up his claims) but the fact that he relied on stealing or faking social security numbers to create and maintain a fake identity is very dubious practice indeed and inclines me to think he wasn’t properly qualified in his home country (re-sitting an American licencing exam three times until you scrape a pass isn’t great either, no matter how his lawyer tries to make it sound).

  22. Zephalinda says:

    From “Concept-Shaped Holes Can Be Impossible to Notice”:

    Number one, I read some good anthropology about primitive and medieval societies, which actually described pre-atomized life and the way that there was barely even an individual identity and the community determined everything you ever did.

    I’d like to investigate this subject further, specifically as regards life in the Middle Ages. Anyone have ideas for medieval anthropology readings that match what’s described here?

    • cassander says:

      It’s not medieval, but there’s a great book, peasants into frenchmen, that is a sort of a social history of rural france from 1815 to 1914, or a little beyond in a few places. It’s very much about the death of that lifestyle, and how it took much longer to die than is commonly assumed.

  23. Tenacious D says:

    There’s a good documentary on the early years of Bitcoin called “Banking on Bitcoin” that I watched a couple of days ago. It even includes a case of nominative determinism: Benjamin Lawsky as the financial superintendent who came up with the regulatory framework for cryptocurrencies in New York state.

  24. McLovin says:

    One of my goals for the new year is to learn more about bioengineering/synthetic biology/CRISPR/etc. Does anyone have any books, articles, or online courses they would recommend to someone interested in this who’s biological knowledge is mostly what I’ve picked up learning bioinformatics? The more “practical”, the better.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      NEB has a variety of videos and “Zines” (these are instructional advertisements). The Zines seem fairly simple (I’ve only looked at one), but visually and verbally describe the basics of their topic. You can print them here: https://www.patreon.com/posts/print-your-own-x-12424124

      If you’re in the Bay Area you can contact LBNL and see if their JGI, JBEI, or Potter Street locations can fit you into a tour. These tours are fairly speedy (half an hour or so), but very practically describe how they do Synbio or etc…. (I’m not actually sure if Potter Street does Synbio, but know that the other two locations do.)

      JBEI: https://www.jbei.org/about/visit/
      JGI: https://jgi.doe.gov/contact-us/
      LBNL in general: https://www.lbl.gov/community/tours-faq/tours/

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      Can you be more specific about what you want?

      If you’re looking for a broad understanding of what’s going on in biology today, Cell’s review journals (“Trends in X”) are considered very good. No review article can really substitute for reading the primary literature but it’s a good jumping off point. I should probably read more of them myself to be honest.

      If you’re looking for protocols and tools related to CRISPR in particular, it depends a lot on what exactly you’re interested in. Knock outs and knock ins need different approaches, as do different model organisms. Regardless, GuideScan is AFAIK the best resource available for finding good cut sites which is the one constant.

  25. rahien.din says:

    – First and Foremost –

    Dear all,

    Thanks for enriching my 2017. This was the first year I commented here in earnest, and it has been a hell of a lot of fun to try and keep up with all you amazing people. Here’s to another!

    – End of the year music lists –

    I’m interested in your favorite music you encountered in 2017 (primarily stuff that was released in 2017). This is entirely selfish, as the SSC commentariat is more intellectually and aesthetically diverse than any other community I interact with. I’d love to feed my own musical omnivorism with your recommendations.

    Give me your list of songs/albums, however many you want, and give me at least some blurb about why each one was so good.

    • Well... says:

      The only band I got into in 2017 was Snapcase. They formed maybe 25 years ago and split up maybe 15 years ago. (I believe they did a reunion show back in 2011 and another in 2015 and that’s all folks, but I’m going from memory here.) Their album “Progression Through Unlearning” is phenomenal.

      • Well... says:

        Oops, you wanted a blurb.

        “Progression Through Unlearning” is track after relentless track of raw energy. It’s an onslaught of Get Up Off Your Ass and Headbang. The riffs are intricate but groovy, while at the same time unbelievably heavy, and something about them, even with the volume turned down, is just always really loud.

        Now, the “singer” doesn’t do much else besides scream/yell, and I think actual singing might have served at least parts of some of the songs better, but his style definitely works nonetheless. The only other criticism I have of the album is that it probably could have used one or two down-tempo songs just to give the listener a break and some counterpoint to the amped up white-knuckle ride that is the rest of the album. But that isn’t too big a problem anyway, especially since the album’s only a little over half an hour long.

        One of my favorite things about the album is the sound of the drummer’s snare, which he’s tuned really high. For whatever reason it reminds me of when you’re wearing a helmet and you get thwacked in the head with a rock. In general I really like the crisp production on this album. Apparently many people have commented that it’s remarkably well-produced for the genre.

        You can listen to the full thing here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UBOh3mf-oM0

        • rahien.din says:

          This is such a bad-ass record. And you’re totally right about the production. It wouldn’t be the banger that it is without that precise production.

          The high-pitched screamed vocals remind me of Karp.

          • Well... says:

            You clearly have good taste in music. I haven’t heard of Karp, but if I love “Progression Through Unlearning” (and if I’m already familiar with Helmet*), what other bands/albums should I listen to?

            *I showed PTU to a friend and within a minute or two he nodded and said “Yup, sounds like Helmet turned up to 11.” I thought that was the most apt 1-sentence description of Snapcase I’d ever heard.

          • rahien.din says:

            Karp are this goofy/snarly/sludgy post-hardcore band. They’re pretty fun! The singer sounds like Jim Ward’s evil twin.

            Helmet turned up to 11

            That’s a hell of a good description.

            what other bands/albums should I listen to?

            The ones I know are probably pretty familiar to you :

            Sepultura’s Chaos A.D. has a similar stripped-down confident stalk, it grooves hard, and the drumming is rhythmically interesting. They’re a good bit thrashier.

            Early Mastodon is kind of like Helmet on psychedelics – right down to Brann Dailor’s vocal stylings.

            Refused’s The Shape of Punk to Come : A Chimerical Bombination in 12 Bursts uses space a little bit like Helmet, and brings in the same kind of jazzy influences, but with a more frantic energy. (You do have to put up with some spoken-word anti-capitalist diatribes. Refused were a band too anarchist to remain a band.)

            (I guess, technically most numbskull nu-metal is heavily indebted to Helmet…)

    • James says:

      I don’t really keep up with current music so I haven’t much to say on 2017 releases; I’m not sure I’ve listened to a single one. I like Fever Ray a lot so I’m looking forward to listening to the album she just released when I have a moment and am in the right frame of mind.

      I like your comments, though I think I might sometimes get you mixed up with someone else.

      Edit: OK, Boys was a fun single. That’s all I got. (Could this be the least SSC-aligned aesthetic possible?)

    • Anon. says:

      If you’re into post-punk, give Drab Majesty a try.

    • rahien.din says:

      Here’s mine in no particular order :

      Goldfrapp, Silver Eye. I love Goldfrapp’s breathy elastic strut. IMHO this is the first album that unites their thumping electronic pop with their experimental folky leanings into one lush package.

      The Great Old Ones, EOD…. A fantastic slab of melodic fourth-wave black metal with the perfect blend of suffocating aggression and awed/horrified atmosphere. No one else does Lovecraftian atmosphere and Chthonic roars better. Secret weapon is their drummer.

      Dyscarnate, With All Their Might. Brilliant, tight, modern death metal. They forge a host of influences into a targeted, grooving assault – they do it so well that they got overlooked as a meat-and-potatoes band. Bonus points for indirectly getting me to listen to Behemoth’s Evangelion.

      Lo-Pan, In Tensions (EP). Soaring, muscular, regal stoner rock built for the open road. Every riff feels like a wheel turning, moving and not moving, like driving a muscle car through the desert.

      Moonchild, Voyager. Beautiful, creamy-smooth modern R&B with a jazz sensibility. Sexy as hell. Displaced Zero 7’s Simple Things as my longtime-favorite chillout music.

      Soap Revelations, Little Oceans. This is what prog could be if it cuts loose of Dream Theater and all the deedly-deet. Propulsive, grand, layered, and spanning the spectrum of emotion – but still focused. Some of my favorite melodies in unconventional meter.

      Voyager, Ghost Mile. And this is what djent could have been. Intricate rhythms ripping through reverb-drenched expanses, all propelled by Daniel Estrin’s amazing vocals and a grip on drama that just never lets go. I get a MSR every time they hit the blastbeat in “Ghost Mile.”

      Charly Bliss, Guppy. Pop punk is always at its best when it has a killer instinct, and this one doesn’t let up. Like Spiraling-meets-Weezer, but dirtier. Eva Hendricks is a spectacular vocalist, letting her voice murmur, soar, shrill, clip, and crack at all the right moments.

      Archspire, Relentless Mutation. Here’s the album that taught me to like tech-death. For an album this crystalline and composed to sound so organic and so fun is an incredible feat. I don’t know how they managed to make such a harmonious album out of the rapid-fire vocal delivery, the roll-heavy drumming, and the spiraling guitar and bass lines. But this band is blisteringly tight. Some of the album’s best moments are the moments when the band goes jarringly quiet, or when a single guitar is exposed over a barrelling drumline – it’s that use of space that really pushes this one over the top for me. Turns out (hi, Pyrrhon, Artificial Brain, Dodecahedron) that one doesn’t need to be hyper-dissonant, disgusting, airless, or asphyxiatingly harsh to make the year’s best metal album. You had me at “Involuntary Doppelganger.”

      Darkest Hour, Godless Prophets and the Migrant Flora. Towering, chaotic, savage metalcore. Every aspect – the injections of doom, the deathy breakdowns, the sudden melodies – just mashes the accelerator down even harder.

      The Night Flight Orchestra, Amber Galactic. Pitch-perfect 80’s rock filtered through two dudes from Soilwork. Filled with all the strutting guitar lines, spacy keys, wailing hooks, and songs whose titles are girls’ names you could ever want to pump your fist to.

      Meliorist, ii (EP). Nu-prog needed the propulsiveness of metalcore to have a reason to live. Metalcore needed the jazzy thoughtfulness of prog to be less numbskull-y. (And BTBAM always had too much banjo.) Meliorist nails it. Bonus for the Alan Watts sample in “New Chapter.”

      Dvne, Asheran. Someone grab Brann Dailor by the chin and tell him “No, like this.” The spacy, tribal, fuzzed-out middle ground between Isis, Intronaut, and Elder.

    • rlms says:

      Not sure if I first listened to them in 2017, but to date the band I have found through SSC is Streetlight Manifesto (ska-punk). Not sure how much more well known it became in this crowd thanks to the Hugo nomination, but assuming it’s still fairly obscure I think a lot of SSC readers would like clipping.’s album Splendor & Misery (experimental hip hop space opera).

    • Vitor says:

      Not 2017 releases, but these two stand out for me among the music I first heard in 2017:

      Arbrynth – Arbrynth: hard to describe. Something like melodeath but way more chill, also semi-acoustic. Going a bit in the direction of neofolk maybe, with its slow, dark melodies carrying a deep emotionality. It’s a bit rough around the edges, but that hardly detracts from it.

      Stavroz – The Ginning: deep house with a variety of acoustic instruments such as guitar and sax carrying its rich and intricate melodies. To me, it just feels much more alive than most other electronic music.

    • sty_silver says:

      Since you said ‘primarily’ rather than ‘exclusively’, and since this year was great in terms of discoveries but lacking in terms of new releases for me, here are some things not released in 2017…

      1. Program Music I (by Kashiwa Daisuke)
      This is sort of a mixture of classical music, rock, and electronics. I’m not familiar with that kind of music at all and didn’t really expect to like it – but man it’s ridiculously good. I’ve rarely been this impressed by anything. It makes almost every other album I’ve ever listened to look childish in comparison.

      The bulk of the music is carried by strings and piano, but editing plays a major role also. There will be samples, such as of laughing or of running water, sometimes only played for a second, or going in and out, or used in various other hard-to-describe ways. Often, the music will cut out for the faction of a second, like if something with the recording wasn’t right, only it’s deliberate and very effective.

      The first track is roughly 35 minutes long, it has numerous different themes which are all in themselves beautiful, but the way it transitions between them is probably the most noteworthy part of it. It’s a multi-faceted, digressive, playful sort of track.

      The second track is roughly 25 minutes. Here, Kashiwa found this really weird effect… sound… thing that on first listen I almost found a bit unpleasant but at the same time weirdly captivating and emotional, which is used over and over again. This track is much more focused, dense, spastic. The second half leads to a grand climax which lasts for about 5 minutes. The most common critique I have of music, aside from it being too simple, is that the good ideas aren’t explored far enough, and wow if ever an idea was explored skillfully and to its fullest extent, it is here. Every second of the finale is gold.

      2. Mariner (Cult of Luna & Julie Christmas)
      This is extreme metal – if you’re not into that kind of music, this is probably not a good entry point. It also was released in 2016, so that’s only one year off.

      Why is it good? I find Julie’s vocal performance phoenomenal, but that’s in a sense of being emotional, shocking, and frankly insane, not in a technical sense. It’s a stark contrast to the music which is known for its large, atmospheric soundscapes.

      Listening to this track will give you a fairly good idea whether it’s for you. Another album which goes all out on the final track.

      3. Every Joe Hisaishi soundtrack for Studio Ghibli
      Particularly of My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s delivery service, Spirited Away, and The tale of Princess Kaguya.

      This is just really pleasant orchestral music. Samples [url=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vD1yAEWpzeQ]here[/url], [url=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6e3KFHmNyGE&t=678s]here[/url], [url=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qg-g2DH8GZw&t=2819s]here[/url] or [url=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qg-g2DH8GZw&t=974s]here.[/url]

    • sty_silver says:

      Since you said ‘primarily’ rather than ‘exclusively’, and since this year was great in terms of discoveries but lacking in terms of new releases for me, here are some things not released in 2017…

      1. Program Music I (by Kashiwa Daisuke)
      This is sort of a mixture of classic, rock, and electronics. I’m not familiar with that kind of music at all and didn’t really expect to like it – but man it’s ridiculously good. I’ve rarely been this impressed by anything. It makes almost every other album I’ve ever listened to look childish in comparison.

      The bulk of the music is carried by strings and piano, but editing plays a major role also. There will be samples, such as of laughing or of running water, sometimes only played for a second, or going in and out, or used in various other hard-to-describe ways. Often, the music will cut out for the faction of a second, like if something with the recording wasn’t right, only it’s deliberate and very effective.

      The first track is roughly 35 minutes long, it has numerous different themes which are all in themselves beautiful, but the way it transitions between them is probably the most noteworthy part of it. It’s a multi-faceted, digressive, playful sort of track.

      The second track is roughly 25 minutes. Here, Kashiwa found this really weird effect… sound… thing that on first listen I almost found a bit unpleasant but at the same time weirdly captivating and emotional, which is used over and over again. This track is much more focused, dense, spastic. The second half leads to a grand climax which lasts for about 5 minutes. The most common critique I have of music, aside from it being too simple, is that the good ideas aren’t explored far enough, and wow if ever an idea was explored skillfully and to its fullest extent, it is here. Every second of the finale is gold.

      On youtube here and here.

      2. Mariner (Cult of Luna & Julie Christmas)
      This is extreme metal – if you’re not into that kind of music, this is probably not a good entry point. This was released in 2016.

      Why is it good? I find Julie’s vocal performance phenomenal, but that’s in a sense of being emotional, shocking, and frankly insane, not in a technical sense. It’s a stark contrast to the music which is known for its large, atmospheric soundscapes.

      Listening to this track will give you a fairly good idea whether it’s for you. Another album which goes all out on the final track.

      3. Every Joe Hisaishi soundtrack for Studio Ghibli
      Particularly of My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s delivery service, Spirited Away, and The Tale of Princess Kaguya.

      This is just really pleasant orchestral music. Samples here, here, here or here.

      • rahien.din says:

        I listened to Mariner last year, and while it never got into my rotation, I agree it’s an excellent record.

        I have really enjoyed your recommendation of Joe Hisaishi. Do Japanese composers share a particular sound? Listening to Hisaishi, I’m sometimes reminded of Nobuo Uematsa and sometimes of Yoko Kanno.

    • KG says:

      She’s not from 2017 and to be honest I discovered her at least a few years earlier, but recently I’ve come to the realization that Cake Bake Betty is my favorite music artist. Almost every song she’s made (which is honestly not a lot) I love, and they’re all very weird lyrically. I started with One By One.

    • Muro says:

      Most definitely “Without Warning”, by Offset and 21 Savage. Ghostface Killers, Ric Flair Drip are my favourite tracks.

    • Loquat says:

      It’s 2016 rather than 2017, but I really liked King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s album Nonagon Infinity (9 songs where each feeds into the next so you can totally play it as an endless loop).

      They also managed to release not 1, not 2, but 5 albums in 2017, but I still like NI best.

    • pontifex says:

      I’ve been listening to a lot of synthwave. Volkor X, Carpenter Brut, Perturbator.

    • aNeopuritan says:


      Pretense of a blurb: contains songs called “Miðgarðsormur”, “Hel”, and “Loki”; lyrics in medieval Icelandic poetic metric.

    • Urstoff says:

      My two favorites from the year:

      Archspire – Relentless Mutation

      An amazing tech-death record on every level, with great songwriting, which is a rarity for tech-death.

      Dodecahedron – Kwintessens

      From the huge wave of dissonant death metal (e.g., Artificial Brain, Pyrrhon, Ingurgitating Oblivion), this one is my favorite. It is definitely an album and not just a collection of songs.

    • Montfort says:

      I put a lot of bands and albums on a list to check out earlier this year and never got around to it – maybe I’ll get on that. But here’s what stuck with me enough to make it into my collection from 2017 (and then subsequently seemed good enough on repeated listens to stay in rotation).

      “Aathma” by Persefone – prog metal with a little bit of death flavor. Primarily I judge music based on whether it can hold my attention and for how long, and even ~9 months since its release it’s still doing pretty well at distracting me from writing this comment. I found the lyrics a bit banal (though, to be fair, presumably English is not their first language), but the music is very expressive. Paul Masvidal (founding member of Cynic) even makes an appearance on “Living Waves.”

      “C​:​\​>COPY *​.​* A: /V ” by Master Boot Record – a fusion of chiptune and heavy metal. MBR is pretty much the best at this genre intersection (that I know of), and this is another solid album. Good texture to the sound.

  26. BBA says:

    Interesting fact regarding airline safety: There were no jet airliner crashes anywhere in the world in 2017 and only two fatal crashes involving turboprop planes.

    • gloster80256 says:

      That is interesting indeed.

    • JRM says:

      That is a cool fact! Wow!

      I was just talking to a NASA subcontractor employee last night, and if I understand it correctly (and I might not) they have an airspace reporting system where you can self-report screwups/problems and there’s no punishment for reporting even if the screwup is your own; it’s designed to fix problems. I think it’s this.

      The process is designed to see also if there’s repeated “human error,” which could be a sign of process problems. It sounded like a better government program than most. And that’s amazingly safe airspace this year. As an occasional kvetcher about government, I’m glad to see positive results from this and other programs.

      • CatCube says:

        You’ve got it correct. It’s the Aviation Safety Reporting System, Wikipedia explanation here.

        The reports are anonymized, and you get a form pointing to the incident report (by number, I think). If the FAA decides to pursue and enforcement action, apparently having that form will make them go much easier on you. (Note that I’ve read that on official media for the system, but have never had any interaction to know if that’s actually true or not.)

      • temujin9 says:

        NASA’s blameless postmortems are an exemplar in the software industry.

    • bean says:

      Saw this too. Good work to everyone involved. There’s a spectacular amount of effort that goes into this.

    • CatCube says:

      The last fatal accident in the US was in 2013, with Asiana Airlines Flight 214, where only three people died. As a side note, two of those fatalities were due to not wearing seatbelts on landing, when they were thrown clear during the accident. So that’s why they make you wear them on landing.

      The last one before that was in 2009, with Colgan Air Flight 3407 crashing with the loss of 50.

  27. Mark says:

    I’m in my mid-thirties, and I don’t have enough money to live in a house, and be a normal person.

    Does anyone have any good advice on professions or trades where there is a fairly clear pathway to earning money?

    My dream would be to become some sort of cowled wise man. Or a master craftsman with a lustrous beard living in the 17th century (but with trains and medicine).

    So, basically, I’m not sure that my passions are a sensible guide to the kind of work I should be doing.

    I think I’m looking for a job where there is a clear pathway to getting a job in that field (not something that would require 10 years of specialist education/luck), something that doesn’t require a great deal of passion (just a job), that pays reasonably well (average pay/conditions), with room for development and progression, and that doesn’t involve too much forced enthusiasm.

    • johan_larson says:

      Are you looking for white-collar desk work?

      How many years of training would be acceptable?

      Can you pay for your training or does it need to be free or nearly free?

      • Mark says:

        White collar desk work would be fine, as long as it’s not completely routine work, with some sort of skill (or possibility of gaining a skill) that means I’m not completely at the mercy of the company I’m working for.

        So, it’d be fine as long as the work left me with some time, and money, to be able to do healthy outside stuff, and the skills gave me the option to have reasonable working conditions.

        Training – I could probably do a year of training (without pay) if I was more or less guaranteed a job at the end of it. I can pay for it, but I really don’t want to waste time/money on something speculative.

        • johan_larson says:

          How would you feel about working for the armed services? They offer training, including quite sophisticated training, for those who qualify. It’s free, and some of the technical training is transferable to civilian occupations.

          Unfortunately the pay for enlisted personnel tends to be kind of sad, though the benefits are good.

          The max enlistment ages are air force:39, army:35, navy:34 and marines:28.

          • Mark says:

            Would be interesting, but I’m British and I’m over the maximum age for British armed forces.
            I also don’t meet residency requirements, as I have lived abroad within the last five years.

          • Evan Þ says:

            French Foreign Legion?

        • Deiseach says:

          White collar desk work would be fine, as long as it’s not completely routine work, with some sort of skill (or possibility of gaining a skill) that means I’m not completely at the mercy of the company I’m working for.

          Accountancy. At minimum, an accounting technician course (lets you go on then to get more qualifications if that’s what you want). Seems to be a good chance of getting a job out of it, definitely is a transferable skill. Depends on whether or not you think it would bore you to tears 🙂

          Looks like there are two rival bodies in the UK to train as an accounting technician if that whets your interest.

          • Mark says:

            Thanks – I’ll look into that.

          • Yes, I was going to suggest this under the main post, but instead I’ll talk about it here.

            I became an accountant about 40 years ago, because I was looking for a profession where I was in demand so I didn’t have to beg for a job. It only kind of worked. It took 45 interviews after college to land a job, and I had difficulty switching positions once I had a job. But I think that was mostly me, because I am very bad at job interviews, and I was too ambitious to settle for certain positions. Once I had some experience, there was a lot of demand for my services, if I was willing to switch jobs with no upgrade. Now I find it very easy to get jobs, but I doubt you are looking for a position that will allow you a good work/life balance when you’re 60. 🙂

            Of course the reason there is demand for accountants is because many find it boring, so you don’t want it if it is too deadly to you. But if you like to play with numbers, without needing it to be higher math, you’d probably do okay.

            There are plenty of accounting positions that do not have a good work/life balance, such as at public accounting firms or large corporations, but there are lots of jobs with a good balance and decent, if not extraordinary pay, such as for the government or at smaller firms.

            You also said you would be willing to get more training up to a year. Since you already have a college degree, I think you would need at least a year to get to get credentials to get a professional accounting position (4 years at least in US if you had no degree). It might be two years — I’m not sure what the requirements are, especially in UK, and it depends how many business classes you’ve taken in the past.

          • Mark says:


    • The Nybbler says:

      The answer to this on September 25, 1979 was “cab driver”. But I don’t think that works any more. Unless you’re a natural salesperson, there’s not much you can do that is both lucrative and doesn’t require education/specialized training.

      • Mark says:

        I’m pretty introverted, so salesperson isn’t the first job that I’d think of doing.
        I’ve done work with elements of sales in it before (telesales and retail) I wasn’t especially bad at it, but I’m definitely not a natural networker, or anything like that.

    • Null42 says:

      Yeah, honestly, ‘do what you love’ works for about 1% of the population, the rest of us have to do jobs we’re not stoked about to make a living. Nothing wrong with that. My best guess is you want to have freedom of intellectual pursuit and want a job that will give you enough free time to do this. As such the most relevant thing would probably be that hours would be relatively limited.

      Of course, basic economics states that higher income derives from jobs that are harder to fill, including reasons like requiring years of specialist education, worse conditions (garbageman vs preschool teacher), and requiring social skills some people may not have, like bullshitting. So, basically, the more desirable the job and the more people can do it, the less it pays. (We’re ignoring stuff like CEO of a major corporation where you get your buddies to pay you an enormous salary, those are rare.) Ordinarily I’d say, you’re here, try programming, but I hear age discrimination is really bad in that field. Civil service jobs often have limited hours and aren’t too unpleasant albeit boring, but you might have difficulty getting hired if you don’t fit ‘diversity’ requirements. (People with more knowledge of these fields are welcome to correct me.)

      My point is: what’s the most important thing to you? Is it not bullshitting? (Sales is pretty easy to break into in many areas but is essentially bullshitting.) Is it having enough free time to read obscure books? Rank your priorities and go from there.

      And whatever happens, don’t beat yourself up over failing to be successful. Between automation, rising educational costs, and galloping inequality exacerbate by donor control of government, most of us are going to be losers in the days ahead. It’s not you, it’s America.

      • Mark says:

        My best guess is you want to have freedom of intellectual pursuit and want a job that will give you enough free time to do this. As such the most relevant thing would probably be that hours would be relatively limited.

        Yep… I’m really looking for a “work to live” type job, but I don’t mind putting in the hours as long as I have ‘normal’ free time and possibility of improving conditions with experience.

        My point is: what’s the most important thing to you?

        Work-life balance. I think the problem with a bullshit-type job is that I’m going to be unhappy with it, it’ll be playing on my mind. I just want to be able to go in and do something and not really have to think about it once I’m done.

      • Kevin C. says:

        And whatever happens, don’t beat yourself up over failing to be successful. Between automation, rising educational costs, and galloping inequality exacerbate by donor control of government, most of us are going to be losers in the days ahead. It’s not you, it’s America.

        I’ve never understood how this is supposed be at all comforting. If I’m a failure, I’m a failure. If my circumstances objectively suck, they suck. And they do these independent of other people. Whether I’m alone in my miserable state, or it is shared by millions of others, does not make it any less objectively miserable.

        (Edit: Note: this is also why I didn’t respond to Andrew Hunter above with a “you think you’ve got it bad, what have you got to complain about, my situation is so much worse,” like I easily could have. Because it doesn’t matter; my being worse off doesn’t change the facts of his situation any.)

        And problems being down to systemic issues, rather than personal failings, if anything makes it worse. Because one can have a chance at working to solve problems based at an individual scale. But there are no individual solutions to systemic problems, which means the possibility of addressing them is much diminished, and the hope of escaping one’s misery is increasingly false.

        As a related aside, in various therapies for both depression and stress tolerance, one technique they always seem to recommend is investigating or considering those in worse circumstances than yourself. I’ve only ever found this to make things worse, because it only seems to further emphasize the crushing ubiquity of misery, the slow decay of the world we live in, the general wretchedness of being alive, that Camus may have had the right question but the wrong answer, etc.

        • Mark says:

          Yeah, I kind of agree with this – if something is a real issue, just telling someone to not think it is, is unlikely to work.

          “Don’t worry, what’s the worst that could happen?”
          “Cheer up, might never happen”

          On the other hand, if people don’t have a strong emotional issue, it might be helpful.

          With respect to therapy, I think the basic idea is that if you can get someone to recognise that the root cause of their feeling isn’t the world, isn’t really rational, you can address the root emotional cause of the problem.

          So, I don’t think it’s designed to make you feel better, it’s designed to get you to a place where you can stop thinking?

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          Thinking about how other people have it worse doesn’t help me– it’s not just that I end up thinking about misery in the world, it reminds me that everything good in my life could be lost. And I might start thinking about a lot of people in worse circumstances are managing better than I am.

          Vaguely related: A woman finds out that focusing on gratitude made her depression worse.

          What she needed was acknowledgement that her situation was really bad rather than trying to force her emotions.

        • Hyzenthlay says:

          As a related aside, in various therapies for both depression and stress tolerance, one technique they always seem to recommend is investigating or considering those in worse circumstances than yourself. I’ve only ever found this to make things worse

          Yeah, I’ve never understood how this is supposed to be helpful. Like, if someone has just lost an arm, telling them, “Cheer up, some people don’t have any limbs at all!” would be a ridiculous thing to say. (Though, who knows, maybe there are some people who would find it comforting.) There’s always going to be someone who has it worse than you, but that doesn’t make your own problems any less real or any easier to deal with.

          I guess the idea behind this strategy is to make you appreciate what you have more–to switch from thinking “I’ve just lost a limb, I’m crippled for life” to “Well, I still have three limbs. Could be better, but could be worse.” And maybe the reason it does work for some people is that humans often tend to think in hierarchical or relative terms–i.e. how well they’re doing compared to other people. But if your suffering isn’t really based on your perception of how you compare to others, then it’s unlikely to be helpful.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I take it that your reference to craftsmen means that you’d be willing to do blue collar work?

      There will always be a need for plumbers, electricians, HVAC and the like. My information might be a few decades out of date but I don’t believe a four year degree is required, just a license and possibly some community college. It pays reasonably well so if you’re frugal and live in a low cost of living area you can own a house, send your kids to state schools debt-free and save up enough for a comfortable retirement. That’s what my dad did.

      • Mark says:

        Yeah, no objection, but I think I might be too old to become a tradesman? If it’s something that’s normally done through an apprenticeship I think it might be a bit tricky to get in on it?

        • Tarpitz says:

          You are definitely not too old to start in the one trade I actually know about (TV systems installation/maintenance) and I suspect the same would hold for becoming a plumber or a sparky (or a cabinet-maker, or whatever). However, there are real downsides to these jobs: they generally start at 8, often after a significant commute, and they are physically hard in a way that somehow doesn’t constitute satisfying exertion or burn calories but does leave you tired and sore at the end of the day, and generally disinclined to do anything useful. In the longer term, they wear you down at the joints, and are very hard to do once your body starts to go (typically some time in your 50s, based on people I’ve known) – this is where your starting age is a real consideration. The money when you start out is terrible, although it certainly can rise to very respectable amounts once you’ve been doing it for a while – another strike given your concern about starting age. They often involve working in cramped, filthy environments, or on high ladders, sometimes in bad weather. They also involve a ton of driving, often in heavy traffic. I’ve done this stuff as a job to live by on-and-off for a decade, and I don’t particularly recommend it. My last day of this stint is tomorrow and I can’t bloody wait – with luck, I may never have to go back.

          The one exception I know of: door entry system installation/maintenance. Buzzers for blocks of flats, that sort of thing. That’s a cushy gig that tends not to involve anywhere fouler than an electrical cupboard, with most of the work done at chest height with your feet on solid ground, indoors or in a porch, while having to exert very little force. See if you can find a course for that…

        • baconbits9 says:

          It might be tricky to find a set up, but 30 isn’t to old. If you find a 60 year old plumber who is going to work 5-15 more years he is going to want someone to do the harder things that his body doesn’t want to do anymore. 30 is as good as 20 (and maybe better because you are going to be more reliable) and you can perhaps even take over the business when he retires.

          A lot of small businesses just close up shop when the owners retire for the want of someone to pass them on to.

        • Mark says:

          Thanks – that’s useful info.

    • hyperboloid says:

      What kind of education do you have now?

      • Mark says:

        N1 JLPT

        I’ve dabbled in programming and maths (on-again, off-again studying for a graduate diploma in maths, but not really making much headway.)

        • johan_larson says:

          At least here in Canada, community colleges offer two-year degrees in computer programming. You should be able to find something similar in the UK, and use that to swing an entry-level job in software. The work is quite pleasant, and the industry is too short of qualified staff to treat people like crap.

        • rlms says:

          One of my family members did a few modules on computer science with the Open University and got a part time job as a programmer with no prior knowledge/certifications, so that’s something you could look into.

        • Mark says:

          Someone above mentioned agism in programming – does anyone think that would be a big issue if I got some low level qualification in programming?

          Is there really going to be a job there?

          • rlms says:

            I think the guy I know was in his 40s when he did it. There might be ageism in the exciting shiny jobs you probably wouldn’t want to apply for anyway, I don’t expect there’s much in less sexy roles.

            What’s your BA in, and how good is it? If it’s a science (or even if not), have you considered teaching? My impression is you can actually get paid to be trained as a science teacher.

          • Mark says:

            Yeah, you can get a bursary to complete teacher training – I have thought about it, but I’ve heard some horror stories about the conditions.
            Seems like one of those jobs where a lot of people are prepared to work over the odds because it’s their calling.

          • rlms says:

            I think the conditions probably vary greatly between schools. The average private school will be much nicer than the average state school. Unfortunately, I imagine that if the government pays for your training, they will want you to work for them.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      Where do you live or where are you willing to live?

      You mentioned elsewhere in the thread that you have done some programming stuff. Low-end remote webdev consulting can, as I understand it, pretty easily bring in like $50-80k per year, plenty to live in lost-cost-of-living areas with a pretty good life.

      • Mark says:

        I live in an expensive area of the UK – I don’t particularly want to move, and I think I’d rather sort out some stable work before I moved anyway.

        If I can’t get anything going in the next 18 months or so, I’ll move somewhere cheaper.

        Any idea what kind of stuff you have to be able to do to turn web development into a career?

        I have absolutely no design skill.

    • m.alex.matt says:

      Networking/IT is always a great path for someone with some mental accuity and just enough drive to get something done. Doesn’t require a college degree and on-the-job training is still kind of a thing, although it tends to be informal. You can make pretty good pay, even at the lower levels (although the dregs of helpdesk can be pretty flat in that department, unless you get really, really lucky), and you can do pretty great if you’re willing to put the work in to go higher up.

      You can study/train for a CCNA in a few months for anywhere from a few hundred (textbooks, maybe some equipment) to a few thousand (formal training classes somewhere) dollars. It’s not the meal ticket it would have once been, but it’ll get your foot in the door somewhere and IT is an industry where your experience and your connections will get you a long, long way after that.

    • cassander says:

      Nursing can be quite lucrative, at least in parts of the US, with more or less guaranteed employment. not sure about the UK.

      • Well... says:

        To be an actual RN you have to do quite a bit of school, I believe, and it ain’t cheap. You can become a nurse’s aid with far less school, but the pay is lousy.

        The actual work for both those positions is, from my perspective, really hard, stressful, etc.

      • Mark says:

        Maybe I’ll look into it – might be worthwhile to see if there are any volunteering opportunities.
        I feel like you have to be quite enthusiastic about caring for people to do well at that one though, also need a degree, so I’m not sure it’d be for me.

    • aNeopuritan says:

      “Or a master craftsman with a lustrous beard living in the 17th century (but with trains and medicine).”

      Elaborating on that to John Michael Greer when he has an Open Thread might pay off – something.

      • Mark says:

        I’ll check it out!

      • sophiegrouchy says:

        There was a very small new college that trained people to be master craftsmen in historic building techniques, so they can do things like repair historic sites. Was a lot of schooling, but possibly you wouldn’t mind since it would be exactly what you wanted to do. (and I think you can start doing some work well before you finish the program)

    • Randy M says:

      I’m in my mid-thirties, and I don’t have enough money to live in a house, and be a normal person.

      Do you mean a house you own or at least mortgage, or anything over your head at all? In the case of the latter, I’m in the same boat, renting an apartment. Housing prices are pretty nuts around here and I’m risk adverse.

    • Anonymous says:

      I’m in my mid-thirties, and I don’t have enough money to live in a house, and be a normal person.

      Renting is not a deficient way to live. (And I don’t say this just because I’m a landlord! 😉 )

      Does anyone have any good advice on professions or trades where there is a fairly clear pathway to earning money?

      Check out programming/IT work. It has a fairly linear payoff. Even if you’re a shitty programmer, you can earn some money consistently. You might not get rich, but the profession has a really low barrier to entry. If you can get yourself up to pass fizzbuzz, you’re probably in the top 10% of those applying for any position.

    • sunnydestroy says:

      I have a friend in a similar situation. This is in the US.

      If you’re living somewhere with reasonable amounts of construction then you can make decent money as a construction truck driver and hauler. It requires a commercial driving license, which you’ll need to go to school for. Unlike long distance truck drivers, you’ll be hauling locally. Once you make enough, you can have your own tractor and can make over 100K annually as an owner-operator. My friend has multiple family members who have purchased houses in the expensive SF Bay Area with this type of work.

      Another seemingly simple, but decent paying job that is construction-adjacent is tire washer. It’s literally what it sounds like–you wash the tires of trucks going in and out of construction sites so they don’t track dirt on public roads.

      A lot of construction sites hire on the spot for certain jobs. You can check out a few to see what they’re looking for.

      Something more technical that I know pays well, but might be difficult to get into is escalator technician.

  28. eddie.purcell says:

    Is there a consensus on how much we should believe Seth Abramson (@sethabramson)? He goes back and forth between seeming legit and seeming crack-potty to me (as a lay-person wrt law etc..), but his twitter threads on the Mueller investigation are compelling, and I want badly to but a lot of credence in them.

    In favor, it seems:
    -many of his predictions in the last few months have borne out.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seth_Abramson#Tweets_about_Donald_Trump seems to be a good reason not to take him too seriously

  29. OrneryOstrich says:

    Contra Scott on IQ differences
    Scott’s often said that IQ is like height, and that thinking of IQ the way you think of height is a good way to think about the topic with different emotional attachments. Some people are taller than others, and everybody generally accepts that. Being tall makes you better at basketball, and everybody generally accepts that. Similarly, some people have higher IQ, and having a higher IQ makes you better at doing important sciencey stuff to save the human race. For fun, he used Space Jam as a jokey example of saving an entire civilization through basketball.
    I think the analogy between IQ and height is great, but Scott doesn’t go far enough or think about the analogy as much as he should.
    Here’s how a truly unbiased observer would describe humans and height:

    All humans exist in the kiloscopic range, and are invisible to our naked eyes. Humans call each other “tall” if they are 0.002km, and “short” if they are 0.0015km. Someone who is 0.001km is one of the shortest of the short. The differences between heights are extremely important to humans – some refuse to mate with humans shorter than them, some refuse to mate with humans taller than them, and some have built their livelihoods and lives around a sport involving a hoop hanging 0.0033km off the ground. While the height differences between humans are imperceptible to us, humans are extremely competitive and consider all differences important.

    And I think IQ is the same way. Sure some humans are smarter than others, but the differences are tiny. We’re just really really good at sussing out these differences. We spend our childhoods finding niches where we’re slightly better at something than other people, and then we spend our adulthoods exploiting a niche where possible. Basketball is a good analogy not because it’s actually important for the human race’s survival, but because it’s a totally artificial test of height that’s basically designed to weed out the tall from the short. If IQ is important for a skill, that’s a sign that the skill is really just a competition with other humans.
    When Scott talks about IQ as a necessary skill to save the human race from technology we can barely comprehend, note that the root cause of every X-risk is still human intelligence (or meteors, I guess). Avoiding X-risk isn’t a situation where IQ is a key factor in achieving some objective cause – it’s still about outsmarting other humans.
    Here are my concrete predictions:
    1. We call a skill “zero-sum” if you can’t improve your standing without decreasing someone else’s. Shooting a basket is a nonzero-sum skill, but playing basketball is a zero-sum skill. If a skill is nonzero-sum, either nearly every human can learn to do it, or almost no human can learn to do it. There aren’t any skills that only, say, 75% of humans can learn to do. Anyone can cook, but not everyone can be the best cook.
    2. If we ever make contact with an alien race, it’s extremely unlikely that they’ll consider a chosen few of us to be intelligent. Either all of us are intelligent, or none of us are.
    3. Children will be more interested in a subject if they’re the best at it compared to their immediate peers, and being the best early on is a sure indicator that you will continue to improve at this skill throughout your life. What would happen if we gave a standardized test to children, then compared children with the same objective score but different scores relative to their class? I predict that being much worse than your peers will cause your skill to decline, being much better than your peers will cause your skill to stagnate, and trading ranks with a handful of people at the top of the class will make you thrive, no matter how “objectively” good at the skill you initially were.