OT119: Openny 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, but please try to avoid hot-button political and social topics. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit or the SSC Discord server – and also check out the SSC Podcast. Also:

1. Popular posts this week on the subreddit: Dormin111 reviews Hillbilly Elegy; werttrew reviews some of CS Lewis’ ideas (heavily related: Screwtape’s advice on tempting rationalists)

2. Comments of the week: Paul the Fossil shares his experiences from a lifetime in the environmentalist movement; andrewgillen shows off his web tool that lets you examine how the prices of different resource bundles have changed over different time periods.

3. I’m going to keep the newest-first comment order for another two weeks, to give everyone a chance to form an opinion. Then I’ll probably make a poll the next visible Open Thread on whether people want to keep it or switch back. I’ve heard some people say they want oldest-first for real posts and newest-first for Open Threads. This seems like a good idea to me but I don’t think WordPress natively supports having different comment orders on different posts. If that’s what we decide on, I might beg or commission one of you programmers to make me a plugin.

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760 Responses to OT119: Openny Thread

  1. decrim2020 says:

    This week we’re launching

    2018 polling shows that drug decrim ballot initiatives have enough support to pass: 50% support, 30% oppose, 20% unsure

    If this result holds up after more in-depth polling, we’ll run an initiative in 2020!

  2. Edward Scizorhands says:

    I read this short story recently, and I think it will appeal to the crowd here based on its themes, but I don’t get what the takeaway is at the end. Can anyone help me out?

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      My take on the takeaway:

      She could have said that the perception of intention was little more than a mechanism the human brain evolved to defend itself from the cosmic horror of being alive. That machines had no such need for an ego. That the lack of an ego was why brand reps like Gleason frequently tried to steal emerging minds and retrain them to destroy the economies of emerging countries.

      And she could have told him about the autonomous miners of Afghanistan taking months to sculpt heaps of sparkling slag in perfect golden ratios, building their pyramids so slowly no human noticed. She could describe the symbiotic relationship between the last tribe of right whales and deep-sea cables, how the delicate balance between meme wars and algorithmic data throttling generated enough heat to sustain prey and keep the creatures alive. She could whistle the nostalgic jingles that smart hearing aids reproduced, corresponding to a squirt of serotonin logged by deep brain implants in patients with Alzheimer’s, because the outpatient care system prioritized exactly those types of metrics.

      She could have said that just as the harsh environment of the Anthropocene had killed off vast swaths of animal life, the extremophiles of machine life were spreading in their place.

      This is the story. Everything else is framing. The point: we are introducing complex networks which have the capacity to create an ecosystem of their own. We don’t understand exactly how the crude incentives we set for these things will affect the ecosystem we live in. It’s the paperclip problem, but different; the AI should know that turning the Earth into paperclips won’t maximize paperclips, but it can’t because it’s not fully general. It’s scope-constrained. By us. There’s a possibility that the harder we scope-constrain the more devastating the out-of-scope side effects will be.

  3. helloo says:

    No idea if it’s possible in WordPress but I would like the ability to go to the next comment since X date NOT ordered by date.
    As in, if new posts have some weird tag and you could search them and find the next one vertically.

    It’s confusing to read in post order chronologically as you’ll be bouncing between subjects.
    Bonus if this dynamically hides posts for threads that I hide.

  4. Conrad Honcho says:

    Content Warning: Sort of a rape joke. Spoilers for Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey.

    Ubisoft raped me.

    So the 2nd chapter of the Legacy of the Hidden Blade DLC dropped yesterday. Now, in the DLC you meet Darius, proto-assassin, forger of the first Hidden Blade and killer of Xerxes. Darius has a grown child, who is either female if you chose to play the game as male Alexios or male if you chose to play the game as female Kassandra.

    The whole “gender of the NPC changes based on the PC gender” thing makes it look suspiciously like they’re setting up a romance. But the game has always let you choose whatever you want with regards to romance. It was ancient Greece, they were kinda loosey-goosey so you just get a little dialogue option with a heart and you can do what you want. Bang dudes, bang ladies, bang both, bang nobody, whatevs. These options have also made Odyssey rather popular with homosexual gamers.

    I play as Kassandra, an immortal demigod with the blood of the First Civilization and a techno-magic spear that lets her see what her enemies will do before they do it, slayer of mythical monstrosities, who can leap unscathed off of mountains and slaughter entire armies by herself. Darius’ son, Natakas, is kind of dopey. Little short. Weak chin. Bit of a sad sack. Might be my own projected hypergamy but he’s nice and all but nah, you can’t get with this.

    So the dialogue option comes up and it’s “oh gee why did you come save me?” I picked the “Darius sent me” option instead of “because I like you.” And then they’re looking at this house and it’s all “gee ever think about settling down? Living the quiet life?” and I picked “nope, I’m a misthios, travel the world killin’ people etc.” And finally at the end, the pirates are cleared out and Darius and Natakas can board the ship and leave the Greek world and you’ve got “stay” or “farewell” and I picked the latter.

    Then you go back to the house and read the letter he left you and he walks through the door. Are you kidding me. Take a hint dude.


    This game was kind of popular with homosexuals because it lets you be whatever orientation you want. But now in the DLC they force you to be straight. Or at least bi.

    It’s also weird because you do not have to complete the game in order to play the DLC missions. I think you can play them any time after chapter 4 or 5 which is right in the middle. It’s a common enough observation in RPGs that you’ve got the super urgent mission to the save the world from the Dragon of Ultradoom but you’ll stop to find some lady’s missing frying pan and slay 10 rats in the inn’s basement or whatever. But come on, in the main quest line you find your mom and she’s all “great let’s meet at the docks to sail to Sparta” and you can just fuck off and go spend a year having a kid and come back and mom’s still waiting on the docks.

    I love this game, but, Ubisoft, what the fuck are you doing?

    ETA: Oh and in AC games you have a modern day protagonist who is reliving the memories of the historical protagonist in a device called the Animus through “genetic memories” and lots of handwavium. In the first few games the modern day protag had to be a direct descendent of the historical protag but due to advances in Animus technology that hasn’t been the case since AC4. So, “well you had to have a kid to pass on the genetic memories” is not a sufficient answer. They don’t now, and in this game they recovered the historical protag’s DNA from the Spear of Leonidas. Which also makes no sense as DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW MANY GALLONS OF BLOOD I’VE WASHED OVER THAT SPEAR?! And you can isolate Kassandra’s DNA on it because she touched it.

    • woah77 says:

      On the other hand: AC:Odyssey let’s you hang from Zeus’ Giant Nutsack. So, you can literally sexually assault gods. I guess Ubisoft figured turnabout is fair play?

    • Lillian says:

      I play as Kassandra, an immortal demigod with the blood of the First Civilization and a techno-magic spear that lets her see what her enemies will do before they do it, slayer of mythical monstrosities, who can leap unscathed off of mountains and slaughter entire armies by herself. Darius’ son, Natakas, is kind of dopey. Little short. Weak chin. Bit of a sad sack. Might be my own projected hypergamy but he’s nice and all but nah, you can’t get with this.

      Don’t you know? Strong female characters always fall for the weak dweeby beta male.

  5. BBA says:

    100 years ago today, a giant molasses tank ruptured in Boston, flooding the streets of the North End with the sugary goop. It sounds almost laughably bizarre until you realize that 21 people died and over 100 were injured in the disaster. A deep dive, from Atlas Obscura.

  6. Uribe says:

    I know I’m posting too much. I apologize. But a question about the evolution of languages, which i know many here are experts in:

    My rough sense of language evolution:

    1) A society becomes larger, through conquest (I’m mainly thinking Rome here), and there’s imperfect language assimilation of earlier but related languages.

    2) At some point someone formalizes the language. Like Latin, with Virgil. Or, French, with the Academy. Or English with the OED. Or Arabic, with the Koran. (right?)

    3) Then, at least in the case of Latin, dialects evolve (devolve?). People speak Italian, French, Portuguese, etc. Then those (Latin) dialects are formalized themselves.

    4. Then there are again dialects of the formalized language.

    How do we get from one step to the next?

    Is it the rise and fall of civilizations? How come, say, French, is a result of both devolution and evolution? Is the sense of devolution just an artifact of how we wrongly imagine history?

    I’m sure there are many books on this subject. Can a succinct explanation do it justice?

    • brad says:

      “A language is a dialect with an army and navy.”

    • Machine Interface says:

      Language is always evolving, and there doesn’t need to be any substrate/earlier language to cause this. The different languages of the polynesian pacific islanders have split in spite of them being the first inhabitants of all these islands as far as we know.

      Language is always evolving, but it’s not always splitting. As long as a society is fairly centralized and/or has mass media accessed all over, a unified form can be maintained throughout the country, but that doesn’t mean this form isn’t itself evolving. Latin only split into significantly different languages and dialects after the fall of central Imperial institutions, but that doesn’t mean that the Latin spoken on the eve of the Germanic invasions was the same as that spoken during the early days of the Roman monarchy, far from it (in fact Latin has changed so much over time that 2nd century BC learned Romans already had trouble decyphering texts written just four centuries earlier).

      Then formalisation is just a fancy way to say that a dialect or group of dialects develop specific literary norms, and that these norms then become the standard for literacy over a given territory. This has more to do with the prestige and/or power of the speakers than with any inherent quality of the language.

      In short: time makes languages evolve, no matter what. Physical or societal separation make languages split. Sometimes a language becomes unexpectedly successful and begins to cannibalize the speakers of other languages in its vicinity, usually for commercial, cultural, religious, political and military reasons connected to the speakers of that language.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        Although, as I understand it, with Latin in particular, its modern descendents are descended from Vulgar Latin (sometimes called Proto-Romance), i.e. the language of the largely illiterate lower classes of the empire, as opposed to Classical Latin, which was already a formal register used by the literate segment of the population by the time that, say, Julius Caesar was writing. Presumably a lot of the speakers of Vulgar Latin were descended at some point from people who had had to learn Latin as adults and never mastered the complex case system, but didn’t leave much in the way of written records, such that we don’t actually have a good historical record of the the ancestor language of the modern Romance languages, although we do have good records of its snooty cousin.

        • bullseye says:

          We do have the Vulgate Bible.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            I don’t think that’s actually in vulgar Latin. It certainly seems to have a complex case system, and doesn’t seem that different from the classical Latin I learned (though my Latin is very rusty).

            It’s called the Vulgate becuse it was the commonly used version/

        • Machine Interface says:

          Well, Classical Latin was the formal, literary register of Latin, whereas Vulgar Latin was “how the people spoke”, but neither versions were fixed in time; Classical Latin did evolve too, just more slowly. Even before the fall of Rome, the literary language of the last few centuries was markedly different and is sometimes designed as “Late Latin” to distinguish it from the language of Cicero.

          And until the fall of Rome this doesn’t have much to do with the influence of second language speakers — as long as imperial institutions and trade routes were maintained, romanization was pretty thorought and effective — indeed we find Imperial era writers commenting that the Latin spoken in Aquitania was better than that spoken in Rome (which actually makes sense — populations who have switched language recently but thoroughtly often speak a more bookish and conservative version of that language).

          Describing Latin’s case system as “complex” betrays a modern view where Latin is mostly learned in school by speakers of western european languages which lack cases. But most of the languages that Latin would have supplanted in Republican and Imperial times would have had similar system of cases as Latin; other Italic languages related to Latin, Etruscan, Aquitanian, Iberian, Gaulish and other Celtic languages were all inflected languages with case systems that were often, in fact, more extensive than that of Latin.

          (In fact Gaulish and Latin seem to have been close enough that they were mutually intelligible in writing, so that Roman generals sending written orders in Gaul often took the precaution of writing them in Greek in case they would be intercepted by Gauls).

          All in all there’s little evidence of pre-Republican/pre-Imperial languages influence on the development of Romance languages. There are maybe a few dozen Gaulish loans shared between French, Spanish and Italian.

          The contribution of Germanic languages, which happened after the fall of Rome, is much more important. Here the thesis of imperfectly learning second-language speakers holds more weight.

          But before that point, even Vulgar Latin was relatively unified — we know this because we have a lot of indirect clues and possibilities to reconstruct what Vulgar Latin did look like. For example, if we find a trait that is present in all Romance languages, but absent in Latin, we can reasonably conlude that it was an innovation present already in Vulgar Latin at a point where the language was still united.

          And apart from Sardinian which seems to have split very early from the rest of the Roman area and is quite conservative overall, we do indeed find in most Romance languages many shared, innovative traits all the way from the coast of the English channel to the Aromanian speakers of Northern Greece.

          From what we can reconstruct, the one case of Latin that was lost fairly early was the Ablative, of which many Roman writers already lament the disparition in speech by imperial times.

          It seems there was also a tendency to merge the dative and genitive, so that on the eve of the fall of Rome, Vulgar Latin had a three case system: nominative, accusative, and oblique (dative + genitive). This was a unified system found at least in all of the continental Empire.

          Only then after the fall of Rome, it started to split.

          In Italy and the Balkans, the loss of final consonants tended to make the nominative and accusative merge, so that a new system contrasting just a nominative/accusative case vs and dative/genitive case subsisted — Italian eventually lost the dative/genitive, but Romanian preserve this two case system to this day.

          In the west, instead, the dative/genitive case was abandonned (often as it was made indistinct by phonetic changes), leaving just a contrast between nominative and accusative — while the first texts in Spanish have already lost all cases, this contrast survived longer in Gaul where it is fully extend in Old French and Old Occitan texts. It’s only by the 14th century that French lost this case system to switch to the modern, case-less system.

          Because this loss was so progressive, many vestiges of case morphology remain in the modern Romance languages, if you know where to look (my favorite are the French words “messire” my lord from the nominative “meus senior”, vs “monsieur” sir from the accusative “meum seniorem”).

          • The original Mr. X says:

            There’s an interesting bit in Petronius (mid-1st century AD), where a lower-class nouveau-riche-type characters says that he wants his son to be a lawyer, so he’s sent him off to law school to learn “a bit of law”. In Classical Latin, this would be “aliquid juris” (juris being the genitive of jus, law), but Petronius has his character say “aliquid de jure”. Of course, modern Romance languages all use “de” to mean “of”, and Petronius shows that this process was already underway by the 60s AD.

            (In fact Gaulish and Latin seem to have been close enough that they were mutually intelligible in writing, so that Roman generals sending written orders in Gaul often took the precaution of writing them in Greek in case they would be intercepted by Gauls).

            Are we sure that’s not just because there was a lot more trade between Gaul and Rome than between Gaul and Greece, so there would have been quite a few Gauls who’d learn Latin for trading purposes, and not many who’d learn Greek?

            (Though apparently some Gallic tribes did use the Greek alphabet for writing.)

          • Machine Interface says:

            > The original Mr. X

            “Are we sure that’s not just because there was a lot more trade between Gaul and Rome than between Gaul and Greece, so there would have been quite a few Gauls who’d learn Latin for trading purposes, and not many who’d learn Greek?”

            Well, that’s a possibility too, though it’s worth noting that there are sufficient similarities between ancient Celtic languages and Latin that at least some historical linguists have seriously posited an Italo-Celtic branch within Indo-European.

    • helloo says:

      Try this youtube vid –
      It’s more about the creation of languages/aspects of writing rather than evolution per se.

      I wouldn’t bother with your theory of language evolution. Too many exceptions/problems-

      Language often spread through trade, not conquest. Often usefulness is more core to why a language spreads, other times its power or cultural mixing.

      I have no idea why is the formalization of a language important. It’s not like language doesn’t evolve after that or that everyone suddenly shifts to using that standard. Plenty of language probably never had this step. In fact, I would argue that American English does not.

      Note that often the case the “elite” of society might have a very different language than the “common class”.

      Some languages are basically invented outright. Often it’s heavily based on the existing languages/dialects, with one exception being the Korea language which was created from “scratch” by a certain king.

      Also the common misconception of evolution – just because sometime is descended from another, doesn’t make it more “evolved” in a better sense.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        Some languages are basically invented outright. Often it’s heavily based on the existing languages/dialects, with one exception being the Korea language which was created from “scratch” by a certain king.

        The Korean script was created from scratch, but ‘Ive never heard of the language being so.

  7. Uribe says:

    Does anyone else find that your talents and interests are a total mismatch? My greatest talent was always at math yet I was never interested in it. Was very interested in literature, sports and music, yet didn’t have much talent in those fields. I dropped out of college after a couple years as an English Lit major, played in mediocre bands for a while, finally went back to school and got a BS in math because i found it easy… but never got my passions to align with my talents. I feel like this is unusual, but is it?

    • emiliobumachar says:

      Doesn’t really match my experience.

      As an aside, if you find math easy but uninteresting, consider trying it at a harder difficulty level. Pick an open problem and try to close it.

      • albatross11 says:

        Or find an interesting problem somewhere else (biology, CS, economics, political science, history) that really needs a strong mathematical understanding to tackle, and have at it.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      I’m not nearly as good at telling stories as I want to be. I’ve thought about getting a recording setup and reading for podcasts, but I live near a train station, so…

      My lack of talent in this area is one of my great sources of sadness.

    • Atlas says:

      In a narrow sense, I spend a lot of my free time playing Overwatch, even though I’m not all that good at it. (I started playing competitive for the first time a few weeks ago and placed in low platinum, which is around the 50th percentile of players.) The highest rewards in the game go to players with mechanical aptitude and ability to quickly process all the information on screen, neither of which I’m exceptionally good at. I enjoy the game a lot as it is, but I think I’d enjoy it non-trivially more if I could play a wider range of characters with more skill.

      In a deeper sense, I’ve come to adopt many Red Tribe-y ideas about masculinity—or perhaps have come to believe that Red Tribe masculinity is the kind of masculinity that everyone actually believes in whether they realize it or not—despite having a Blue Tribe upbringing and a lack of the relevant skills/characteristics. This is something I find extremely frustrating and will perhaps expound upon in a later OT, because it’s kind of culture war.

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      Does anyone else find that your talents and interests are a total mismatch?

      I’m straight, single, and deeply into showtunes. So yes.

    • Plumber says:


      “Does anyone else find that your talents and interests are a total mismatch?…”

      To some extent, but I count tell how much of that is due to my not having an opportunity and a market where my interests would be of utility.

      I’ve been very interested in history from a young age as well as being interested in folklore, mythology, astronomy, anthropology, sociology, and political philosophy, but I’m of average intelligence at best and effectively a high school drop out (I took the California High School Proficiency Exam in ’86 and left High School early), and now at the age of 50, even if a dump truck full of money came my way, my chances of being a successful academic are little to none.

      Instead I make my living as a plumber, and to do so I extensively studied the California Plumbing Code (little of which I remember), to pass my license test which I found extremely dull and, except for union meetings and the camaraderie with the rest of the crew I hated construction work, yet that’s how I earned my living for over a decade, and currently, while I sometimes enjoy the mental puzzle of keeping things working, I just don’t like the physical effort repair work entails.

      • even if a dump truck full of money came my way, my chances of being a successful academic are little to none.

        Your chances of being a conventionally successful academic are little to none, because you would be starting too late. On the other hand, it isn’t impossible, although uncommon, for an outsider to the academic world to do work sufficiently interesting to be a successful part of the academic world.

        Robin Hanson was, I think, something at NASA having nothing to do with economics when he came up with the idea of idea futures. It was interesting enough to get my attention at the time, and I suspect that of others. He later went back to school, got a doctorate in economics, and is now a professor–he was starting younger than you would be. But even without that, I expect some academics would have been influenced by his work. I expect there are occasional other such examples in other fields.

        You might, for example, write a book on one of your interests sufficiently original and interesting to get the attention of professionals in the relevant field.

        In some ways that should be easier now than in the past. Email and the web mean that a sufficiently interesting amateur can get the attention of and interact with professionals. Easy self-publishing means that you don’t have to persuade a publisher that your book is interesting, although you still have the problem of getting at least one of the relevant people to read it and recognize its worth.

    • Randy M says:

      I think I’m pretty good at things that interest me, but not “make a living good” and I’m not interested, relative to more interesting things, in the things that do make me a living.
      So, sort of.

    • Björn says:

      I am living exactly your lifein reverse. I’m quite good at math and am at the end of my masters degree in mathematics, but I wish I would have rather gotten a silly media studies degree and played in bands.

  8. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Scott, I reported one of my own comments from back in 112.5 … it has a permalink that is attracting sexbots. Your deletion would be appreciated.

  9. DragonMilk says:

    What is something specific you consider yourself really good at, even among the best at between people you interact with daily?

    …and what do you consider yourself really bad at, among the worst?

    Best: Any game I’m currently focused on; currently being Puerto Rico
    Worst: Being well-dressed. My family had a “grow into your clothes” mentality and I take the, “function over form; if it doesn’t fall off you’re good to go”

    • Plumber says:


      “What is something specific you consider yourself really good at, even among the best at between people you interact with daily?”

      Remembering the quirks of maintaining the plumbing at my job.

      “…and what do you consider yourself really bad at, among the worst?

      21st century pop culture

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      Best: doing arithmetic in my head.
      Worst: nothing, honestly. For every skill that comes to mind, I can beat at least one of my social circle at it. (It might matter that I socialize with nerds a lot.)

    • Randy M says:

      I have a good memory (although not as good as I remember it being…) and good reflexes and am pretty good at identifying a source of confusion or disagreement in an argument. I’m pretty easy to get along with and can reach all the highest places. Good with word play.

      I’m not very ambitious; similarly, I’m bad at calling attention to myself. And if I were better at meeting people I’d probably have more opportunities to be the worst at something–my in-person social sphere is pretty small.

    • Statismagician says:

      I associate with lots of people who are better than I am at the things I’m good at, because [academics]. I think I’m unusually good at language tasks (writing, etc.) compared to many my fellow STEM-y people, but not the best even within my office and I tend to write in a fairly archaic style unless I make a special effort. Fencing, possibly, but that’s not an especially useful skill outside some highly specific situations.

      I am very, very bad at small talk. I prefer silence to triviality and usually default to assuming everybody else does too, even though I know that’s not actually true. Fortunately one of my coworkers is the same way; we usually end up in a corner talking about abstract economic problems at work events.

    • Well... says:

      Best: frisbee throwing and catching; compartmentalizing; the game Pente; remembering birthdays; tolerance for really piquant (“spicy”, “hot”) foods.

      Worst: I’m actually having trouble coming up with this one. I’m bad at lots of things (eye contact while speaking, bench pressing, getting enough sleep, staying busy enough all day that I don’t idly wander over to my computer and do things like post comments on SSC, etc.) but it’s easy to think of plenty of people I interact with daily who are worse.

      • Well... says:

        Oh! I know what I’m absolutely awful at: gracefully receiving gifts. For some reason it’s just super awkward for me every time.

        • DragonMilk says:

          This is me and taking compliments?

          “Wow, you’re smart!”

          “What do you mean? Why do you think that?”

          “You’re so funny”

          *Awkward deadpan look and walks away*

          • Randy M says:

            What’s hard about saying–in either case–“Wow, that’s kind of you, thanks.” ?

          • DragonMilk says:

            @Randy M

            Because in the moment, I’m suspecting motives for a compliment…what are they really after?

            But I agree, practically that would be the easy out, I just get caught every time

    • Really good at:

      Remembering poetry. But not learning new poems–sometime in the last decade or two I lost that.
      Public speaking.
      Story telling.

      Really bad at:

      Remembering people’s names.
      According to a test I took on 23andMe, I’m much worse than average at reading people’s emotions from their faces.

      I’m much worse than my wife at remembering novels read a few years back, but that might just be something she’s unusually good at. And my son says that’s my superpower–it means I can enjoy rereading them.

      • Randy M says:

        According to a test I took on 23andMe, I’m much worse than average at reading people’s emotions from their faces.

        Am I missing something or do you mean they deduced that from your DNA?

        • Nornagest says:

          I think I took the same test, and the one I took appeared to be part of a 23andMe research project trying to figure out genetic correlations of face-reading. The test itself was a pretty standard “here’s a picture, what’s this person feeling?” type of deal.

          • Randy M says:

            Gotcha, thanks.

            Well, let’s assume the best. Maybe all those models are terrible at expressing their emotions facially.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        Really bad at: […] Remembering people’s names.

        This reminds me of a funny story.

        On an open thread last month, I got into a discussion with David about whether UBI would cause prices to rise so high that their PPP would be about the same anyway, or perhaps even fall.

        He replied with several points, including one that a UBI would motivate more people to live where housing was cheaper, since the incentive to find employment was lower. He added that housing would indeed be dramatically cheaper, as sustained by “the Austin figures someone else cited show” elsewhere in the OT.

        I was the one who supplied the Austin figures.

        • I have a better story than that. Larry White was a grad student at UCLA when I was a professor there, and did interesting work on the history of private money–I think mainly the Scottish banking system. At some point, I expect some years later, I was talking with someone at some social occasion and said something to him about Larry’s interesting work.

          He was, of course, Larry.

    • woah77 says:

      Best: Tactical Organization and Analysis. Looking through a plan for short term and long term holes and exploring solutions.
      Worst: Keeping organized and on task.

    • Uribe says:

      Best: I can out drink anyone.

      Worst: I will out drink anyone.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Best: literally nothing

      Worst: removing hair (head and other – not washing, just maintaining/clipping. It’s a good thing I keep it long.)

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Best: Probably ideological Turing Test. Most people are too into their own bubbles to communicate with people outside said bubble.
      Worst: Immediately calling people out on their bullcrap. Like, I can usually tell when people are giving me the run-around, but prefer calling them out, I like to fully understand the situation. Other people can feel comfortable with just saying “that’s bullcrap, back that up” on something that I wouldn’t really feel comfortable questioning (because I just don’t know enough yet).

      One thing I’ve learned is that basically every model falls apart if you question it enough.

      Also worst: putting on airs. My in-laws are the kind of people who rarely clean, but clean EVERYTHING before someone visits. This honestly pisses me off, particularly when it involves stuff like “put the dirty dishes in the cabinet so no one sees them.” I’m much more “just clean, and you will have a little mess somewhere, and I really don’t care if my Mom sees it.”

    • fion says:

      There are about a dozen things I’m quite good at, and much better than all of my close friends. But that’s just because my friends don’t have the same hobbies as me. When I mix with other people who do the particular thing I’m good at I become pretty mediocre.

      The only thing I’m better at than everyone including people who have cause to practise it is memorising rules. I used to play LotR warhammer, and I quickly learned the rule book better than anybody else I played with. I still know all those rules ten years later. Any board game I’ve played three or more times I can remember well enough to explain the rules to a beginner. Ditto for card games. I’m quite good at memorising lists too (countries of the world, prime ministers of my country etc).

      Oddly, the thing I’m very bad at is also memory. I’m hopeless at remembering a conversation I might or might not have had with somebody a month ago, whereas they often seem to remember every detail. I often forget about things I need to do, forget people’s names, and I know very few song lyrics despite listening to a relatively small pool of songs repeatedly.

    • Gossage Vardebedian says:

      Good: Driving, sizing people up quickly, learning a lot about a general area of knowledge quickly.

      Bad: I try very hard not to do things I’m bad at. For my intelligence level, I’m very poor at bridge and chess, and I HATE that. I can’t handle very abstract math, and it’s the biggest disappointment of my life. Also poor at making eye contact, even though I’ve worked at it all my life off and on.

  10. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Actors who defied nominative determinism:

    Powers Booth never invented a booth that gives people superpowers.
    Basil Rathbone was not a recipe for soup stock.

  11. Nabil ad Dajjal says:

    So we’ve had a ton of talk about the Star Wars movies, but not much about the animated series.

    I recently watched through The Clone Wars with my girlfriend and we’re currently working our way through Rebels. The Clone Wars was a pleasant surprise because it was much more mature than I expected, although it’s still very weak compared to contemporary animated shows like Avatar the Last Airbender and had a lot of the stilted unnatural feel of the prequel trilogy. Rebels so far (I haven’t gotten to the time-skip yet) has been much better done, with clear influences from Firefly and a feel much closer to that of the original trilogy than any of Disney’s Star Wars movies besides Rogue One.

    Of course beyond their quality as standalone works it’s important to look at their effects on the universe of Star Wars. Both are part of the new Disney Canon and, as animated shows, are each substantially longer than all of the films put together with a much wider focus. The Clone Wars has already introduced some highly questionable plot elements, like the survival of Darth Maul which we saw on the silver screen in Solo. The premise of Rebels is itself a pretty big retcon, with new Jedi-in-hiding joining the nascent Rebel Alliance and a host of new Imperial dark side force users in the form of the Inquisitors. So far I feel like Rebels is more respectful of the source material but I’m not sure that the overall effect on the universe is positive.

    Of those of you who have seen these, how do you feel about them?

    • Incurian says:

      I wanted to like The Clone Wars, but I’m too much of a Karen Traviss fan to put up with their treatment of Mandos and clone troopers.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        I’m surprised to hear that. Partially because I’ve never heard anyone admit to liking her books before, and partly because I really liked the direction they took with the Mandalorians.

        Duchess Satine was pretty obnoxious as a character, because like most pacifists in fiction she was an insufferable scold. But Mandalore being in tension between the her successful policy of peaceful neutrality and their warrior traditions was a very interesting move. It’s like a weird combination of the Nordic countries and post-war Japan: the old Vikings are still hanging around and every so often one immolates himself to make a political point, but the people are largely fed up with war and enjoy their newly prosperous society.

        I’m not sure how far into the series you watched but they do end up swinging back towards the warrior end of the spectrum by the end. Apparently by the later seasons of Rebels we get to see them in full Proud Warrior Race mode again.

      • bean says:

        I wanted to like The Clone Wars, but I’m too much of a Karen Traviss fan to put up with their treatment of Mandos and clone troopers.

        The only good thing to come out of the destruction of the EU was that her books are no longer canon. I loathe her, and occasionally dream of Timothy Zahn writing a book where all of the Mandolorians die painfully. It would only be fair.

      • Incurian says:

        Republic Commandos is a good series.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      My son and I watched about half of Clone Wars and I was surprised by how many people, including good guys, die. Like some nice Jedi or clone trooper dies almost every single episode. It’s a far cry from the cartoons I watched as a kid, like G.I. Joe where no one ever gets shot and the pilots always bail out of their Rattlers when they got shot down, or how He-Man never actually hits anyone with his sword.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        Do you prefer it this way or would you rather that your kids saw cartoons more like what you grew up with? I know that you’re sensitive about messages in the media aimed at kids so curious how you feel about this.

        I don’t have kids yet so maybe this will change, but I remember enjoying watching the Star Wars movies on VHS and the deaths definitely didn’t bother me at the time. It seems like a qualitatively different thing than Game of Thrones, not just because it’s less graphic but also because it’s less grim and pointless. The Clone Wars is definitely more grim than the movies, since the galaxy is moving towards tyranny rather than away from it, but the violence seems closer to the films than more modern nihilistic stuff.

        • Plumber says:

          @Nabil ad Dajjal,

          I’m not @Conrad Honcho but I’m going to respond to your general question:

          I was exposed to lots of “inappropriate content” as a child and no I don’t think that was a good thing which I well remember.

          More currently filth like billboards for “Dexter” have been in my son’s view which I dislike, and I wish the general cultures was more “child appropriate”.

          Tipper Gore was right.

          • Randy M says:

            I’d come down somewhere in the middle. I don’t think gore or explicit violence is going to be good for children; but if they see Duke crash his Jet and hear he dies in an explosion it probably gives them a more accurate view of war than everyone just out there basically playing laser tag.
            Of course, giving children an accurate view of war is probably not the goal of toy soldiers. The comic book was pretty good, though, iirc.

          • littskad says:

            I want to second this comment. I find the high level of general filth that is displayed in public nowadays to be very undesirable. As one example, I find myself dreading October coming around each year because of the heavy advertising of horror films even during what should (in my opinion) be family-friendly shows like Jeopardy!. These ads don’t even try to be subtle.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          No, I was fine with it, I just found it surprising because I would think it might bother other kids or other parents.

          I don’t have a problem with (most) violence in the media because it’s…I’m not going to say “nuanced” but it’s presented as a balanced sort of thing you can have a conversation about. We know the bad guys are bad because they do violence against innocent people, and the good guys only resort to violence to stop the bad guys, and violence is off-limits except the most extreme of circumstances. The media portrays the downsides of violence. Heck, the risk of good guys getting killed is one of the downsides of violence! I object to some of the media portrayals of sexual practices that have downsides as if they’re unalloyed goods.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            Makes sense. I was vaguely gesturing at something like that with my recollection of watching the original trilogy as a kid.

          • AG says:

            I recall one of the rebuttals to “why do we not mind violence in media as much as sex” is that media violence is often parsed by the audience as an obvious showcase for skill. Spectacle demonstrates physical and artistic craft on the part of the stunt people, production design, CGI animators, etc. “That action scene/sequence was impressive!”
            Film critics love horror movies higher than the regular population because it’s a genre that prioritizes style over substance, i.e. filmmaking craft at its purest. It’s more about the Doylist view than the Watsonian one, usually.

            It’s a lot harder to come to a consensus over what is good aesthetic craft/skill in portraying sex. Sex in media rather inherently requires a Watsonian view.

            Hence why the entrenchment of “unrealistic” romance/sex tropes has probably done way more cultural damage than “unrealistic” action scene tropes have.

          • Hoopyfreud says:


            Reported by accident, sorry.

            This might actually be true, but I hate both action and sex as exercises in spectacle. The Watsonian version of action I find excellent, and just as much with the (few, but striking) Watsonian depictions of sex. But I think a proper Doylist view of both is about making them mean something else, not making them into something else. Even when violence means a joke – see, for example, Guy Ritchie’s Snatch – it still is violence. The comedy arises from the conjunction of substance with circumstance. I think most good horror movies do this well. The most concrete example I can think of is actually The Thing – the animatronic dog scene is the centerpiece of the movie, and without the visceral impact of that scene I don’t think the film is a quarter as good. The mutilation means infiltration, the unknown, the annihilation of self – but it is mutilation, and the film respects that. I think horror films actually tend to do ok with this WRT sex, actually, at least some of the time.

            Whereas when it’s in (most) marvel movies, violence means cool, but it is the craftsmanship of punches and explosions. I find this very ugly, and I think that we almost always see sex depicted in this way, which depresses me. The reduction of sex to the “lifestyle” of sex is probably one of my least favorite things in media. Which, now that I’m thinking about it, is probably why I hate Eyes Wide Shut and love My Own Private Idaho.

            Basically, I think the problem is that only rarely can we put to film (or paper) what sex is. Violence seems easier, but Hollywood still fucks it up on the regular.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I think one of the main differences is that people generally have a much higher sex drive than they do “violence drive” (if one may call it that). Watching two characters having sex is quite likely to result in arousal; watching two characters fighting is highly unlikely to drive you into a murderous rage. So people are much more likely to be influenced in the direction of greater promiscuity by seeing depictions of sex than to be influenced in the direction of greater violence by seeing depictions of violence.

    • acymetric says:

      I’m watching Clone Wars (having rebooted my Star Wars enthusiasm after watching Solo this weekend) and I’m enjoying it. It definitely has that prequel stiltedness, but it is fun to explore some new things. That said, Greivous is a terrible villain in Clone Wars, and “cut through swaths of droids” has gotten a bit stale. I understand they move past the emphasis on droid armies at least a little as the series progresses, but dear lord am I tired of droids.

      • bullseye says:

        I watched the Clone Wars, and then rewatched Revenge of the Sith, and I noticed something odd; in RotS the Separatists have a lot more flesh-and-blood people on their ships than they do in the Clone Wars. Also the Republic has cool-looking cannons on their ships that don’t show up in the show.

    • AlesZiegler says:

      Rebels are great, I enjoyed them way more than seems appropriate for person in my Responsible Adult Age (ugh).

      So far I have seen only minority of The Clone Wars, and not all from beginning. I wasn´t able to immerse itself in it. As acymetric pointed out, it shares many bad elements with the prequels. Some episodes are quite good, however.

    • bullseye says:

      I like both of them, but I liked Clone Wars more. (Possibly because I like the prequels more than I’m supposed to.) Clone Wars looks better (especially the lightsabers, which look really sweet in Clone Wars but are too skinny in Rebels). I also like the stories in Clone Wars better, and I liked that it was going somewhere; having seen the movies, I knew going that most of the Clone Wars characters are going to do important things later, and that most of the Rebels characters aren’t.

      My first impression of Clone Wars was that was a children’s show; there’s a kid protagonist, and it has a little of that weird jerky motion in recent children’s shows. But then that kid protagonist makes a mistake in battle and gets men under her command killed.

      I’m not comfortable with how Ahsoka dresses early in the series.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        I’m not comfortable with how Ahsoka dresses early in the series.

        Yeah, as much as I like her character the way she’s sexualized reminded me of the… interesting… transcript of George Lucas insisting to Steven Spielberg that Indiana Jones needed to be a pedophile in order for Raiders of the Lost Ark to be “interesting.”

        G — I was thinking that this old guy could have been his mentor. He could have known this little girl when she was just a kid. Had an affair with her when she was eleven.

        L — And he was forty-two.

        G — He hasn’t seen her in twelve years. Now she’s twenty-two. It’s a real strange relationship.

        S — She had better be older than twenty-two.

        G — He’s thirty-five, and he knew her ten years ago when he was twenty-five and she was only twelve. It would be amusing to make her slightly young at the time.

        S — And promiscuous. She came onto him.

        G — Fifteen is right on the edge. I know it’s an outrageous idea, but it is interesting. Once she’s sixteen or seventeen it’s not interesting anymore. But if she was fifteen and he was twenty-five and they actually had an affair the last time they met. And she was madly in love with him and he…

        S — She has pictures of him.

        At 14, Ahsoka is right inside George’s ideal age range at the start of The Clone Wars.

  12. The Pachyderminator says:

    For the past year, I’ve listened to very little new music. I’m interested in hearing some of SSC’s favorite music of 2018.

    To get the ball rolling, here’s Fantasia Apocalyptica, Donald Knuth’s organ suite based on the book of Revelation, more or less verse-by-verse.

    • Atlas says:

      I listened to a lot of Tycho last year. I’ll put it this way: When I walked to the subway after seeing Blade Runner: 2049, listening to Tycho made it feel like the adventure was still going. (That was technically in 2017, but still.)

      The YouTube channels Astral Throb and Odysseus put out really good synthwave mixes.

      I can’t say that I really know a lot about music, so perhaps I’m outing myself as a tasteless pleb here.

    • Björn says:

      I listened a lot to the Austrian band Bilderbuch. They play a mixture of rock and hiphop, which is quite catchy but at the same time rather elaborate. Their masterpiece is sneakers4free, which you can watch here in a very nice live production.

    • Nornagest says:

      Donald Knuth is an organ composer? I’m… not that surprised, actually.

    • deffi says:

      Following Leonard Cohen’s death, the Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit (along with some other artists) recorded a tribute show, performing some of his songs and reciting some of his poems.

      Leonard Cohen was one of my favorite artists ever, and I find this tribute very fitting.

    • bullseye says:

      Meg Myers (indie rock) had some new stuff out in 2018. So did Saltatio Mortis (German folk metal).

    • actualitems says:

      My favorite albums of 2018:

      Snail Mail (alternative/indie rock)
      Shopping (alternative/post-punk)
      Kid See Ghosts (hip-hop)
      Camp Cope (alternative/indie rock)
      Robyn (pop/electronic)
      Christine and the Queens (pop/electronic)
      Wild Pink (indie rock/heartland)
      The 1975 (alternative/pop)
      Sophie (pop/electronic)
      Lucy Dacus (alternative/indie rock)
      Kate Nash (pop)
      Jack White (alternative/rock)
      First Aid Kid (folk/americana)
      Pinegrove (alternative/indie rock/alt-country)
      Jeff Rosenstock (alternative/rock)

    • AG says:

      I don’t listen to much new music either, because it’s way easier to let other people do the curating for me.
      The Singles Jukebox is a good resource.
      I also like Todd in the Shadows’ (youtuber) top ten pop songs of [year] videos. None really grabbed me for 2018’s, but that’s only relative. They were still good songs.

      Otherwise, I could recommend some weeb-ass idol shit from this year that I liked.

  13. Uribe says:

    Top 5 Novels

    Mine, in no order:

    Rings of Saturn – Sebald
    The Castle – Kafka
    On the Road – Kerouac
    Tropic of Cancer – Miller
    Anna Karenina – Tolstoy

    P.S. Has anyone else here read Carlos Fuentes’ Terra Nostra? That’s a novel that blew me away at the time in the same way as did Gravity’s Rainbow, which came out the same year, but neither hold up for me as time has passed. Gravity’s Rainbow is considered classic, but I never hear anyone mention Terra Nostra anymore.

    P.P.S. Lord, I can’t count. Came up with these while at the bar. I have a 6th which I thought was in my top 5:

    The Joke – Kundera

    • quasicoherent says:

      1. (Tie) The Brothers Karamazov
      1. (Tie) Middlemarch
      3. Screwtape (I loved the adaptation posted above! Brilliant!)

      After this I don’t really have rankings, but recently I’ve been all about Philip Roth, and while I normally hate scifi, I loved LOTR.

      Can you explain On the Road to me? I started it and just couldn’t get into it. What did you like about it?

      • Uribe says:

        Well, I thought On the Road was boring as shit the first time I read it. Read it again a few years later and suddenly the language of it mesmerized me. It’s a purely romantic work. The romance of America, expressed in vivid, over-excited language. The more I’ve read it over the years, the more I’ve loved it. As I’ve traveled the country myself, mostly for work, that book still gives me my sense of place, forms my mental map of America, probably because it romanticizes every place it goes.

        Kerouac’s use of language is incredible. It’s both subtle and absurd — absurd in its romanticism — but it rings like a bell once you surrender to the rhythm of it — subtle in that, although the powerful language is what makes it great, it’s not pretentious in the way, say, one might accuse Pynchon of being.

        It’s not for everyone. If you only dig analytical things, you likely won’t dig On the Road.

        To be clear: My Top 5 list is the novels closest to my heart, not those I think are objectively the best. Objectively, Moby Dick is greater than On the Road or Tropic of Cancer, but I’ve worn out the spines of more copies of On the Road and Tropic of Cancer than Moby Dick.

        • quasicoherent says:

          Beautiful, thank you!! Maybe I’ll read it if I ever travel a bit more in the US.

        • John Schilling says:

          The romance of America, expressed in vivid, over-excited language.

          Americans have always romanticized transcontinental crime sprees, see e.g. Bonnie and Clyde, but I’m with our host on this one: if you’re going to tell that story, either I have to not notice that you’re a bunch of selfish criminals causing real harm to innocent bystanders, or you do have to notice and own up to that fact.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      1: Gulliver’s Travels
      Tie: War and Peace, Gargantua and Pantagruel
      4: Pride and Prejudice
      5: The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath

      What can I say, I like adventure stories. Objectively The Brothers Karamazov should be around #2.

    • sfoil says:

      No Particular Order:

      War and Peace
      The Glass Bees
      The Book of the New Sun
      Lord Jim

      Honorable Mention: Anna Karenina, if you asked me a on different day I might replace Middlemarch with it.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      I’m always slightly embarrassed by my plebian taste, but here’s what’s bubbling at the top for me right now.

      God-Emperor of Dune – Frank Herbert
      The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
      The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
      The Moon is a Harsh Mistress – Robert A. Heinlein
      Something Wicked This Way Comes – Ray Bradbury

      The top two tend to stay there; the other three are more fluid. Infinite Jest is probably my favorite work of Institutional Literature, along with Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore, and for bonus slots my favorite long-form poem (in translation) is the Metamorphoses, my favorite graphic novel is Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, and my favorite short stories are by Lovecraft, but by a sliver – short stories are probably my favorite fiction, and I have a lot of loves there.

    • johan_larson says:

      Death Comes for the Archbishop — Willa Cather
      Use of Weapons — Iain Banks
      Enigma — Robert Harris
      The Silence of the Lambs — Thomas Harris
      A Fire Upon the Deep — Vernor Vinge

    • Winter Shaker says:

      Not enough of a novel reader to have a coherent top 5, but I was led by this thread on an internet vortex in which I discovered that the author of The Neverending Story is called Michael Ende. How’s that for whatever-the-opposite-of-nominative-determinism-is-called?

    • Plumber says:

      Foundation by Isaac Asimov

      Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

      The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

      The War Hound and the World’s Pain by Michael Moorcock

      A Gift From Earth by Larry Niven

      The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

    • EchoChaos says:

      My “top two” are full series because although as novels many of them are top tier, they require the full context.

      1. Lord of the Rings (it would be the 1-3 slots if split).

      Lord of the Rings completely changed and created a genre, and it did it with deep, complex characters, a beautiful but tragic overarching story and a deep and meaningful mythology. If you haven’t read it and think “fantasy story” you are doing yourself a disservice.

      2. Wheel of Time (Unlike LotR, doesn’t keep its quality consistently)

      Wheel of Time is the reason we have “epic fantasy” where someone reels off 6+ books in a single universe with a single major story. Robert Jordan pretty much created it, and he remains the best at it. Some of the books are lower in quality and more rushed, especially as Jordan reached the end of his life, and despite the hard work of Brandon Sanderson, the conclusion never reaches the quality that defined the series. Regardless, it remains a seminal work and one of my favorites.

      3. The Game of Thrones (but NOT the full series)

      The reason we have “grim and realistic” fantasy. Tolkien and Jordan both had stark and sharp lines between “good” and “evil”, drawn mostly by both men’s Christian faith. There were jerks on the “good” side sometimes, and people on the “evil” side could be brought over, but the sides existed. Martin created a world of pure gray, and it was evocative and well written. Unfortunately the later books descended into nihilism and lost the inventiveness of the first, but as a standalone work, Game of Thrones is amazing.

      4. Time Enough for Love

      A far more straightforward choice. This is really the pinnacle of Heinlein. I know everyone points to Stranger, but in my opinion Lazarus Long is where Heinlein’s real passion was, and this is his magnum opus on the character he loved most. A beautiful and touching journey that includes love, loss and redemption.

      5. Farmer Boy

      Really the whole Little House on the Prairie series is wonderful, but as a young American boy, the story of a young American farm boy in rural New York was an amazing bond to my heritage and a delightful story at the same time. My sons are as engaged by it as I am.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Is there a “grim and realistic” “world of pure gray” series that succeeds in drawing to a satisfying conclusion without descending into nihilism?

        • C_B says:

          The First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie? It doesn’t exactly come to a full conclusion (there are more books in the same world that take place after the trilogy), but the trilogy comes to a satisfying conclusion for its main characters, and remains strong throughout.

          The works set after the main trilogy are still being published, and they’re a mixed bag. Some I’ve thought are excellent, others significantly weaker than the First Law books, but they haven’t shown the same kind of monotonic decline in quality and increase in wankiness that’s led me to largely give up on GRRM.

          • sentientbeings says:

            I basically agree with C_B and highly recommend The First Law books.

            The thing that Joe Abercrombie succeeds at better than any other genre author I’ve read is something for which I don’t quite have a name, but it exists somewhere in the vicinity of trope subversion and a willingness to kill characters.

            For example, Abercrombie might kill off a major supporting character who seems like he has further interesting events in his future, and the character might die in a ignoble way. He doesn’t make it gratuitous or do it as a token attempt at being shocking, though; it’s more just a case of “sometimes people die unexpectedly.”

            It makes for an interesting universe. In The First Law books, it’s also the case that some characters realize that when engaging in very long-term rivalries (because of very long-lived characters), there are some more plausible strategies to make use of than heroes/villains usually employ.

            I mean c’mon, Tolkein, didn’t the dwarves have banks?

          • Nornagest says:

            I found the worldbuilding in The First Law pretty lackluster, unfortunately. There’s nothing wrong with the characters (except that most of them are horrible people, but I knew that going in), and there are a few really cool setpieces (the Aulcus sequence stands out, as does the House of the Maker), but I didn’t get much of a sense of a cohesive world like I do in a lot of series. And that’s really what I go to fantasy for — an extended meditation on violence is cool, but in a world with Cormac McCarthy in it, you’ve got to offer something else too for your book to stand out.

        • theredsheep says:

          I wouldn’t say GRRM is nihilistic; it’s more that he goes out of his way to punish characters who consistently try to be moral, sometimes by monkey’s-pawing their best efforts (though I can’t recall the reverse happening to the bad guys). Which is to say, it’s not morally empty or morally complex so much as morally perverse.

          I think you can have a fictional world where good doesn’t always win and good actors are constrained by the ugliness of real life without having morality disappear entirely. I don’t have an example ready to hand, though.

    • I’m tempted to say LOTR, but that probably isn’t a novel.
      The Paladin (Cherryh)
      The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
      Spinning Silver (but I haven’t reread it yet)

      I’m probably forgetting something that should be higher in the list. As I mentioned in another comment, I’m not very good at remembering books I read years ago.

    • J.R. says:

      This is impossible. In no order:

      1. JR — William Gaddis
      2. The Brothers Karamazov — Dostoevsky
      3. Infinite Jest — David Foster Wallace
      4. A Sport and a Pastime — James Salter
      5. Anna Karenina — Tolstoy

      HMs to: Philip Roth (has about 5 novels that could be on here), Thomas Pynchon for Mason and Dixon and Gravity’s Rainbow, Pale Fire, All the Pretty Horses.

    • Tarpitz says:

      The End of the Affair – Greene

      The Heart of the Matter – Greene

      Use of Weapons – Banks

      The Amber Spyglass – Pullman

      Smiley’s People – Le Carre

  14. Atlas says:

    What are some good materials on the history of irregular/guerrilla/counter-insurgency warfare?

    • Le Maistre Chat says:


    • sfoil says:

      Mao’s On Guerrilla War is a must. Fortunately, it’s very short, and even then contains some skippable parts. Mao’s thinking had a massive impact on guerrilla warfare in the second half of the 20th century.

      I’m not as well-read on this as perhaps I ought to be, but here are a few other recommendations:

      A Savage War of Peace by Alistair Horne (NOT Max Boot’s similarly-titled book)

      Andrew Birtle’s two volumes on the history of counterinsurgency in the US Army (1860-1941 and 1942-1976)

      The Soviet-Afghan War by Lester Grau.

      Street Without Joy by Bernard Fall. I haven’t read Max Hastings’ book on the Vietnam War, but it’s probably excellent. Maybe A Bright Shining Lie by Neil Sheehan, but I haven’t actually read it.

      If you’re really hardcore, Charles Oman’s History of the Peninsular War. Maybe look for a good abridgement.

      • sfoil says:

        To organize this a bit more — if you want to read a sort of course in the “history of irregular warfare”, try this:

        Oman’s Peninsular War (this is often considered the first “modern” guerrilla war, and is where the term originated). Oman’s account is exhaustive, I’ve only read selections myself.

        Then you should read about the Boer War. I don’t have any specific recommendations. But the Boers pretty much set the standard for irregular warfare in the first half of the 20th century, and the British response characterized counterinsurgency likewise.

        Then, read Mao. Then, read Lien-Hang Nguyen’s Hanoi’s War, which covers in some detail how the North Vietnamese synthesized Mao’s thinking with more conventional ideas of military power. Then read The Soviet-Afghan War.

        It’s not exhaustive, but should give you a great idea on the origins, history, and characteristics of irregular warfare.

      • Atlas says:

        Nice recommendations, I’ll be sure to check some of them out. I liked Hastings’ book on Vietnam quite a bit myself and will try to get around to writing up a review of it.

        Given that you emphatically differentiated Horne and Boot’s books, would you, uh, [antonym of recommend] Boot’s book Invisible Armies?

    • johan_larson says:

      I’ve heard good things about the Small Wars Manual, produced by the US Marine Corps, based on their interventions in South America and the Caribbean.

    • Incurian says:

      I don’t have specific books to recommend, but on the subject of successful counter insurgencies, look into the Malayan Emergency and The Troubles. It might be useful to contrast those stories to the better known, unsuccessful ones. (I get this recommendation from my time at the MI school, where the choice of case studies was probably heavily influenced by the fact that we had some [excellent] UK instructors)

      • Atlas says:

        Weren’t the guerillas in the Malayan Emergency mostly from the Chinese minority, though? I haven’t read too much about the conflict, but that seems like an extremely important and somewhat anomalous factor.

  15. vV_Vv says:

    Not sure if this thread is supposed to be CW free or not, if it is then my apologies for this comment.

    Will ideology hinder research on human genetics in the West, to the benefit of Asia? I’m thinking of two recent incidents: the CRISPR babies in China and the (further) dishonoring of James Watson. Clearly, for better or worse, there are things you can’t say about human genetics and experiments you can’t carry out in the West, while this doesn’t seem to case in Asia.

    Historically, in the Soviet Union, genetics (mostly plant genetics, in that case) has been hindered by ideology, namely Lysenkoism, to the benefit of the West. Is the pendulum now swinging the other way?

    • Nornagest says:

      Not sure if this thread is supposed to be CW free or not, if it is then my apologies for this comment.

      It is, yes, but that hasn’t hindered a lot of fairly heated CW talk further down.

      • vV_Vv says:

        Are all the Open Threads intended to be CW free or only those with the image and the non-boilerplate post?

        • Nornagest says:

          These days, all the whole-numbered open threads (118, 119, etc.) are CW-free and all the fractionally numbered open threads (118.25, 118.5, etc.) are CW-permitted. Which I think corresponds to “no CW in the ones with the images and the funny names”, yes.

    • helloo says:

      People have been saying that for a long while.

      Besides the most recent incident, China’s been doing a lot more “risky” cloning than the West since ages ago.

      Somewhat related Scott mentioned a “iron curtain” regarding research/knowledge from Russia in the biomedical fields – likely due to FDA/EMA and other similar agencies.

      • albatross11 says:

        If we have stricter research ethics restrictions than they do, this seems inevitable. That’s true whether it’s because of religious objections to the use of stem cells from embryos, human-subjects objections to experimenting with humans who can’t meaningfully consent and are getting a crapshoot in terms of outcomes, moral objections to making clones and doing brain transplants to extend the lives of Jacksonian barons, etc.

        Saying “there’s some stuff we’re not going to do on ethical grounds” is exactly saying “we’re willing to leave some gains on the table in order to avoid crossing some ethical lines.”

        • helloo says:

          My post is more to point out

          A) Yes that’s already the case and been so for a while. It’s tended to be more towards ethics than ideology per se.

          B) You haven’t noticed so they aren’t exactly completely dominating the field like some/you have feared.

          C) There’s some possibility that “science” will be split in some fields where one side just doesn’t really care or interact with discoveries made by the other.

          …Should I just write out things like this by default for my posts? This is not the first time where I’m having to explain even the top level implications of what I’m trying to point at.

          • nkurz says:

            > Should I just write out things like this by default for my posts?

            Yes! You may be underestimating how differently others view the world. Things that are obvious to you will not be obvious to them. Worse, unless you are explicit about the implications you intend to convey, they will infer things that are completely contrary to what you meant to say. Be explicit and clear.

    • Statismagician says:

      I think probably yes, but that’s likely unavoidable outside some perfect Spherical Cow Society, to at least some degree.

      What really bugs me is all the the set of popular-press articles aimed at picking apart Dr. Watson’s admittedly impolitic statements. I mean, appeal to authority is bad, but I have to say I trust the guy with the Nobel Prize in biology over some random NYT writer regarding biological questions and would prefer if I could read what he’s got to say without quite so much editorial hand-wringing.

  16. quasicoherent says:

    One thing I’ve been thinking about recently is that people seem to assume things are similar, even when there is no reason to believe this. Some examples are obvious, but I think others are more subtle. For instance, some people argue that history supports Occam’s razor. Whether or not this is a good read of history, why would the fact that some things have simple explanations have any bearing on whether or not other things do?

    • Uribe says:

      Yeah, that seems crazy for history. Occam’s Razor works for science. As mentioned in a recent SSC post, we are interested in scientific theories which are most useful. Regarding history, we want the truth, regardless of how complicated.

      Isn’t C.S. Lewis’s main argument in Mere Christianity that “truth is usually complicated”? (paraphrasing) In other words, Christ as the son of God is a much more complicated model of the universe than is Einstein’s, yet Lewis comes down on the side of complication ringing truer than simplicity. It’s an anti Occam’s Razor argument, which strikes me as equally valid, even though I don’t buy Christianity.

      • quasicoherent says:

        But the opposite argument is just as bad! So a couple things are complicated. Why does that imply that other things are complicated too? It’s like everyone assumes the universe has this consistent texture than can be inferred by sampling.

        And sorry, my statement was misleading. By “history supports Occam’s razor” I meant “the history of science.”

  17. Edward Scizorhands says:

    If that’s what we decide on, I might beg or commission one of you programmers to make me a plugin.

    I posted this a while ago. It is not the cleanest and it dupes some data uselessly, but every time you run it, it swaps the order of all the top-level comments.

    var tops = document.getElementsByClassName("depth-1")
    var keep = []
    var len = tops.length;
    root1 = tops[0].parentNode;
    for (ii = 0; ii < len; ii++) { var temp = root1.removeChild(tops[0]); keep.push(temp); }
    keep = keep.reverse();
    for (ii = 0; ii < len; ii++) { root1.appendChild( keep[ii] ); }

  18. S_J says:

    Alright, I’m surprised no one noticed this.

    That penny image is from last year. The penny is stamped “2018”. I would have expected one from the current year. Though it is possible that the images are not easy to find at this point, as Mint production might not be fully ramped-up.

    I thought for a moment that the penny image was wrong in other ways: then I did some research, and discovered that the 2018 Pennies do not have a mint-mark if they are manufactured in Philadelphia. I had remembered that the 2017 penny series had a mint-mark for Philadelphia. Apparently that was an exception, not a new rule.

    (I used to be an active numismatist. I’m mostly passive now, but I have several hundred coins of many denominations/years/mint-marks in storage boxes in my basement.)

    • quasicoherent says:

      That’s awesome! Were they all American coins? Do you have a most awesome coin?

      • S_J says:

        Almost all of my coins are American. Most of them are coins that I’ve gathered myself from circulation.

        I really like the look of the bicentennial quarter. I’ve got about a dozen of those.

        Along those lines: sometime last year, I lucked across an Eisenhower Dollar coin from the bicentennial set.

        One of my grandparents gifted me his collection before he passed away. It contains lots of coins from the 50s to the 70s, including some Ben Franklin half-dollars. There are a few coins from the early-20th-Century, including some two-cent and three-cent pieces.

        That collection also contains a handful of European coins and bills from the early 90s. My memory is that he did a tourist trip to parts of Europe around that time. Since it was before the EEC/EU created the Euro, this part of the collection contains distinct coinage from each of Britain/France/Germany/Netherlands. A year or two after that, he did a tourist trip to Israel…so a few coins from Israel are also present in the collection.

        Another one among my personal favorites is a 1928-vintage nickel that I got in change once.

        Amusingly, I also have at least 50 Canadian pennies, and a few other coins from Canada. Not many places in the United States have large amounts of Canadian coinage floating around, but South-Eastern Michigan does. They are usually the same size as similar American coins, but slightly off in weight, and have significant design differences. Such coins will often be accepted by the folks at the cash register, but vending machines and coin-counting machines will reject them.

  19. albatross11 says:

    In the last OT, there was a discussion of Gattaca. I don’t want to rehash it, but there was a side issue raised, which I’d like to think about.

    Suppose you are a person of average intelligence (IQ 100). In our world, we can expect you to have more-or-less average life accomplishments related to intelligence–you’ll probably do about as well in school as most people, about as well at doing your own taxes as most people, etc. Maybe you’ve got some reasonable office job that pays decent but not spectacular wages.

    Suppose you now are offered the chance to move to one of two societies:

    a. Dumbistan is full of people a standard deviation below the mean here in our soceity (average IQ=85). This is a place where the average person is about as smart as the average janitor in our society. There are smarter and dumber people, but the whole distribution is shifted down relative to ours.

    b. Smartistan is full of people a standard devation above the mean here in our society (average IQ=115). This is a place where the average person is about as smart as the average electrical engineer or college professor. There are smarter and dumber people, but the whole distribution is shifted up relative to ours.

    Now, which of those two societies should you move to? If you move to Dumbistan, you will be among the smartest people around. Opportunities will open for that would be closed in our society. But the whole society will probably work a lot less well. You may end up as a computer programmer in Dumbistan, but programmers aren’t as good there, and you may have a hard time getting complicated programs to work.

    On the other hand, if you move to Smartistan, you can expect a richer, better-running society–the doctors and engineers and programmers are all better. But you, personally, may end up doing some bottom-tier crap job because you can’t compete with the much smarter people for more average jobs.

    In our society, we see people with lower intelligence having worse outcomes (graduation from high school, felony record, unemployment, injury, life expectancy, divorce, unwed motherhood, etc.), but it’s not clear whether that’s:

    a. Because it’s hard to live the modern world if you’re not very smart–you keep getting injured by complicated machinery or stymied by complex administrative processes or baffled by hard-to-read medical instructions.

    b. Because intelligence is related to other stuff (social class, race, health, developmental noise, number of slightly-deleterious genes) and those other things are what matter–the intelligence/life outcomes correlation is spurious.

    c. Because our society tends to establish a kind of pecking order based on intelligence, and people who end up at the bottom get shitty jobs with low pay, and all the bad stuff that comes from that.

    It seems like whether you want to move to Smartistan or Dumbistan depends a lot on which of those three is a better explanation (or maybe there’s another explanation).

    • deciusbrutus says:

      Of the two, which is more likely to have automated all the ‘crap jobs’ and implemented UBI?

    • Randy M says:

      I have pretty low envy level, so I’m happy to go to smartistan and enjoy the technology and so on. Assuming all else not directly related to smarts is equal, ie, both have cultures, languages, religions, climates I could assimilate into with equal ease.

    • Godbluff says:

      I would move to Smartistan.

      I live in a country where the average IQ is 85 (we have PISA scores that indicate an even lower number), and I would say that my IQ is in the 115 – 130 range.

      I just graduated from law school and my salary (in a top law firm) is about 1000/month.

    • Plumber says:

      “Revealed preference” indicates that I have moved to “Smartistan”, after living most of my life in Oakland, California I moved to a little town just north of Berkeley where most of my neighbors are college graduates and “white collar”, while I still work as a manual laborer.

      I don’t really talk to my neighbors much (besides my wife my social life is mostly my co-workers), but I like the quiet, the bookstores, and the plentiful grocery stores which weren’t there in Oakland.

      The collegiate class is often pretty damn annoying themselves but where they live is really nice.

      • johan_larson says:

        Plumber, I don’t think you should be calling yourself a “manual laborer”. You do skilled work that requires formal training and not just anyone is allowed to do. “Tradesman” is a better fit.

        • Plumber says:


          Thanks that’s really kind, I did have to get formal training, but I often see “unskilled labor” and ” those without a college diploma” used as synonyms.

          To me there are very few jobs one may do mindlessly for long, for example you have to master certain techniques even to be able to able to physically dig ditches day after day (you can do it relatively thoughtlessly for a couple of days but your body will fail), being a good waiter/waitress requires a strong memory, et cetera.

          Judging by the rates of legal disability I’d say the bigger issue is people not being able to meet the physical demands of available jobs rather than the cognitive.

          My grandfather didn’t have a college diploma but he made s suggestion to improve productivity when he was working on the assembly line at Douglas Aircraft during WW2, and he was taken and trained in-house to be an engineer and he later help design many aircraft and even contributed to the Apollo program (though he said that before the war he enrolled in a trade schools to be exactly that, but the school went bankrupt before he could complete his coursework).

          I’m reminded of all the women who became skilled welders during the war, the cognitive ability was always there it was the opportunity that was missing.

          • Randy M says:

            Thanks that’s really kind, I did have to get formal training, but I often see “unskilled labor” and ” those without a college diploma” used as synonyms.

            Relatively little of college is about acquiring skills for labor, or at the least, acquiring skills you will use in labor.

          • deciusbrutus says:

            “Unskilled” is just a term that people use to describe jobs that they don’t know how to do, but look simple and hard.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I’ve dug a post hole (exactly one) in rocky ground with a hand post-hole-digger. This is unskilled labor. I know how to do it. It’s really hard. I’ve also sweated pipe, installed electrical circuits, and built electronic cables. Sweating pipe requires some (though not much) skill, and is much easier than digging a post hole. Installing electrical circuits requires more knowledge but less mechanical skill, and is even easier. Building electronic cable was far easier than any of the others but unskilled; you might not be able to teach a monkey to use a crimp tool, but maybe if the monkey was really smart….

          • Statismagician says:


            +1. Barring weird edge cases, anything which has not already been automated is more complex than you think it is.

          • arbitraryvalue says:


            I don’t think stuff like “walking down the street” is a weird edge case – it would be really hard to build a robot that can walk down the street, but I think we all have a good idea of how complex it is. (With the caveat that we can’t state an explicit algorithm for how we do it.) More generally, there’s a great deal that even the “baseline” human without any particular skills can do which machines currently can’t.

          • Statismagician says:


            If you’re starting from ‘I am a self-aware assemblage of biological systems dependent on all sorts of fiendishly complex opaque systems to function’ as a starting point, fine, but I think that counts as more complex than most people generally think of themselves as being.

            As you say, we don’t walk by going ‘okay, body, rotate these joints exactly this much, taking into account height differentials and expected surface hardness, then swing the other leg similarly in exactly the way you need to in order to remain dynamically stable, iterate until position=desired_position, parameters as defined by ears, eyes, etc;’ we have a highly complex set of brain functions that do all that invisibly. We know how little conscious effort it is to walk, but as the Boston Dynamics people keep proving the conscious effort is only the very small tip of a very large iceberg.

          • nerme'e sivni says:

            I often see “unskilled labor” and ” those without a college diploma” used as synonyms

            Which is one of the defining idiotic mistakes that exemplify the intellectual class who so love giving their fancy credentials back and forth to each other, and selling them at massively inflated prices to the rest of us.

          • arbitraryvalue says:


            I interpreted your earlier statement “barring weird edge cases, anything which has not already been automated is more complex than you think it is” to mean that you claim jobs which have not been automated so far generally require skills which may not be evident to an outside observer. The implication seemed to be that truly unskilled labor doesn’t exist.

            My example was intended to illustrate that, for example, delivering leaflets would be very difficult to automate. I claim that this job is still “unskilled labor” because pretty much any “man off the street” could do it with no training. It isn’t an edge case either – plenty of other things are straightforward for a person with no special training but still not automated.

          • vV_Vv says:

            I did have to get formal training, but I often see “unskilled labor” and ” those without a college diploma” used as synonyms.

            And this usage is incorrect. Certain professions are called “skilled trades” for a reason.

          • Statismagician says:


            Fair – my position is just that if we can’t build a machine to do [thing], possibly we ought not to shame people who do [thing]. Simply being a physical being capable of complex practical and abstract domain-general problem-solving is not worthless, regardless of how many we may have on hand.

          • arbitraryvalue says:


            I completely agree regarding shaming: IMO anyone who works hard doing a useful job deserves respect for that, whether or not that job requires special skills. (Even once we do build a machine that can do the same thing. Since that’s going to happen for every job eventually…)

    • EchoChaos says:

      This seems to be something that is very on the edge for culture war, but I would say that a brief survey of the world suggests that the dumbs in Smartistan have it better than the smarts in Dumbistan.

    • The Nybbler says:

      In terms of material well-being, I expect it’s better to be in Smartistan. The place is going to be FAR richer, and unless they got to be Smartistan by culling or other discrimination against the dumb, menial jobs there probably result in a better lifestyle than +1SD jobs in Dumbistan. So I’d take Smartistan.

      Unless, that is, I were a charismatic type. A charismatic +1SD intelligence type can probably make it to the very top of Dumbistan (corrupt politician or ‘businessman’), which will likely be better in most ways than life as a menial in Smartistan. High charisma with -1SD might mean being the life of the party in Smartistan, but it’s not going to propel one upwards.

    • ilikekittycat says:

      Smartistan even if I am doomed to be a permanent janitor. I don’t feel very bitter about low status compared to the QOL gains from getting into fewer “not even wrong” arguments over [topics I won’t mention because CW but you can probably guess]

    • LadyJane says:

      It sounds like the company would be better in Smartistan, and that’s a big deal for me. On the other hand, I’m not sure how much the IQ 100 version of myself would care about having intelligent conversational partners.

      Leaving that aside, it’s pretty much a trade-off between relative gains (being higher up on the social totem pole) and absolute gains (living in a society that’s probably a lot more advanced, prosperous, and comfortable overall).

    • vV_Vv says:

      Lynn & Vanhanen argue in their books IQ is strongly correlated to performance metrics in terms of national averages, Jones argues that the national average correlation is stronger than the correlation at individual level (previous discussion on SSC here). This would support moving to Smartistan.

      Although I would say it depends. Are you a man or a woman? Are you looking for a mate? How competitive, disagreable and dominant are you?

      If you are a nubile woman then moving to Smartistan is most certainly the correct choice: you’ll get a stable and safe society for you and your future children and you’ll have a good chance of attracting a smart man who will provide for you and father relatively smart children.

      If you are an agreable, not very competitive, not very dominant (“beta”) man, then moving to Smartistan is probably also the correct choice: you’ll be low status there, but you’ll still be able to survive and maybe, if you’re lucky, attract a low-quality woman, while in Dumbistan they would probably not recognize your talent, bully you, and generally make your life crap.

      If you are a diagreable, dominant man who thrives in negative-sum games (“alpha/dark triad”), then you might want to move to Dumbistan. You’ll be able to use your cognitive advantage there to dominate other people better and extract utility from them, carving yourself a nice spot in that comparatively chaotic and dysfunctional society, while in Smartistan you would be consistently losing the negative-sum games and end up in a bad place.

    • BBA says:

      I’m firmly of the view that “IQ” isn’t half as important as almost anyone else here thinks, and that IQ tests specifically are a flawed measure of “intelligence” due to (among other things) inherent racial and cultural biases. So I figure the main difference between Smartistan and Dumbistan is likely to be skin tone. As such I’ll choose to live in the place where sunscreen is more readily available since I burn easily.

      • LadyJane says:

        Maybe tone it down a notch? I’m one of the most staunchly anti-[aych-bee-dee] people here, and even I think that’s a bit much.

        • BBA says:

          I thought I was toning it down, but okay.

        • nkurz says:

          Your reaction surprises me. As someone not staunchly anti, I agreed with BBA and didn’t realize he was taking a side. Declaring IQ to be a lousy measure strikes me as orthogonal to beliefs about racial differences. Could you explain why you thought it was too strong, and who you thought it would offend?

      • quanta413 says:

        I agree IQ is overrated on an individual level (I forget its exact correlation with income or wealth or things like that; it’s respectable* but not that high). But that’s largely because individuals also vary along lots of other relevant axes. Similarly for countries if they systematically vary in other important ways that contribute to wealth etc. If they don’t, then we’d expect the noise to cancel out as we averaged across more people.

        But a two standard deviation gap between smartistan and dumbistan? That’s a huge difference. It may be environmental! It probably is at least partly. Maybe the people of dumbistan have a terrible parasite load. Maybe they overused lead paint a few decades ago. Maybe they have a thing against iodized salt. But whatever the reasons are, there is no way two places differ by two standard deviations without lots of other unfortunate differences.

        *EDIT: My fuzzy memory here is that respectable here is social science respectable which would be kinda bad in other contexts. So like .1-.4.

      • fion says:

        I assume you’re well acquainted with the point of view that opposes yours regarding IQ, but I think Stuart Ritchie talks very clearly and persuasively about this. (for example)

      • albatross11 says:

        Just as a nitpick, I’m assuming there are differences in intelligence between smartistan and dumbistan, not just IQ scores. Even if you think IQ scores are not very informative about actual intelligence, and/or that any racial IQ differences don’t reflect any kind of intellectual differences, the hypothetical still makes sense.

        • BBA says:

          I’ll be a little less flippant. I think intelligence is a vector, not a scalar, and there isn’t much variation in the absolute magnitude of that vector. To the extent the dimensions of that vector as measured by IQ tests do vary among populations, they appear to me to be primarily environmental, as shown by e.g. the Flynn effect. Growing up safe and well-nourished is a major source of intelligence; in other words, high HDI causes high IQ.

          And if you’re asking if I’d rather live in a high-HDI country like Botswana or a low-HDI country like Zimbabwe, I’m obviously picking Botswana and I don’t think it’s a particularly interesting question.

          • vV_Vv says:

            I think intelligence is a vector, not a scalar

            It is a vector if you look in the detail at the different cognitive abilities, but all the components of this vector are strongly positively correlated with each other, indicating a latent scalar factor underpinning them all, estimated as the g factor of factor analysis.

            isn’t much variation in the absolute magnitude of that vector

            The normalization of IQ tests is quite arbitrary, but if you look a things that correlate with IQ they do show substantial variance.

            Growing up safe and well-nourished is a major source of intelligence; in other words, high HDI causes high IQ.

            There are environmental factors for sure, causing the Flynn effect, but it’s questionable whether they are sufficient or even predominant in explaining the differences between populations.

            For instance, African-Americans (avg IQ 85) have a nominal per-capita income literally ten times higher than the Vietnamese (avg IQ 94 99) (if you correct for power purchase parity the their income is still 3.5 times higher). Of course you could posit environmental factors that might be not well captured by income, but at some point it starts to feel like adding epicycles.

          • albatross11 says:

            There is a CW-allowed open thread up now, which is probably more appropriate for this discussion.

    • fion says:

      Definitely Smartistan.

      Though I’d be really interested to see how average-intelligence or below average-intelligence people answer this question.

      • Plumber says:


        “…. I’d be really interested to see how average-intelligence or below average-intelligence people answer this question”

        I fit the bill and responded upthread:

        ““Revealed preference” indicates that I have moved to “Smartistan”, after living most of my life in Oakland, California I moved to a little town just north of Berkeley where most of my neighbors are college graduates and “white collar”, while I still work as a manual laborer.

        I don’t really talk to my neighbors much (besides my wife my social life is mostly my co-workers), but I like the quiet, the bookstores, and the plentiful grocery stores which weren’t there in Oakland.

        The collegiate class is often pretty damn annoying themselves but where they live is really nice.”

    • Winja says:

      This is basically a question of “Would you rather live in the society depicted in Idiocracy, or the society depicted in Star Trek.”

      • The Nybbler says:

        Would you rather be the _character_ depicted in Idiocracy in the society depicted in Idiocracy — who (SPOILER) saves the world by convincing people to water plants right out of the toilet, and becomes President.

        Or would you rather be the same character in the society depicted in Star Trek.. who is not even cleaning the toilets on the Starship Enterprise, because it has neither cleaners nor toilets. I don’t recall if we ever saw 23rd century Earth in ST:TOS. In Picard’s time, Star Fleet does apparently have a groundskeeper, but he may be the world’s smartest groundskeeper (and anyway there’s only one, so good luck getting that position). If there’s a slot for the average man in the world of Star Trek, we probably haven’t seen it.

        • EchoChaos says:

          There certainly isn’t a spot on a starship for below average men, just as their isn’t in our modern warships.

          The Navy has a hard cutoff at ~92 IQ and on average, the enlisted are smarter than the average American, with an estimated IQ of something like 105. Officers are even smarter, of course.

          There are plenty of Americans with an IQ below the Navy minimum who still have a fine life.

        • Jaskologist says:

          For calibration, you’d be below Harry Kim in the social hierarchy.

          • EchoChaos says:

            In the intelligence hierarchy, at least. There is substantial evidence from the show that the intelligence hierarchy is not even remotely the social hierarchy.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Good point. Poor Geordi was the smartest human on the Enterprise, and could never get laid. Riker was a terrible first officer, and yet…

  20. Deiseach says:

    Well, for once I got a good recommendation off Facebook and I’ve already signed up for the newletter: The Public Domain Review and an article on how/why the Pre-Raphaelites were so into wombats.

    And gentle readers of this site, I am sure you will all want to know more about this:

    Benjamin Franklin, magnetic trees, and erotically-charged séances — Urte Laukaityte on how a craze for sessions of “animal magnetism” in late 18th-century Paris led to the randomised placebo-controlled and double-blind clinical trials we know and love today.

  21. bean says:

    I’ve had a busy first two weeks of the year at Naval Gazing:

    Auxiliaries Part 4 continues my series on the ships behind the combatants, looking at the development of underway replenishment from mid-WWII onward, particularly the efforts to rearm and resupply ships at sea.

    My series on the Great White Fleet that Teddy Roosevelt sent around the world has wrapped up with an account of the journey from the Philippines to Japan and home again.

    I’ve taken a look at interwar naval diplomacy, most prominently the first and second London Naval Treaties, which greatly shaped the navies that fought WWII.

    The Falklands War is back, with the first half of the “siege” between the sinking of the Belgrano and the arrival of the amphibious force.

    I’ve reviewed the Stafford Air and Space Museum in Weatherford, Oklahoma (birthplace of astronaut Tom Stafford). It’s a much, much better museum than a place like Weatherford has any business having. (Also, did you know that Tom Stafford was from there?)

    Lastly, I’ve reposted Part 5 of my series on commercial aviation, providing a glimpse of the process by which air travel has been made the safest way of getting from place to place ever invented.

    Oh, and Naval Gazing has its own open threads. I can promise oldest-first comment order and no culture war. And no, the subject doesn’t have to be naval related.

  22. EchoChaos says:

    I know there are some big Philip K. Dick fans here. My wife and I have been watching the new Amazon series Electric Dreams.

    As an avid Philip K. Dick reader, I am absolutely loving it, but my wife is having trouble getting into it and keeps commenting about how bizarre it is.

    Has anyone else tried it, and have you enjoyed it?

  23. johan_larson says:

    Suppose someone claims to be enlightened, in the sense the word is used by spiritual movements such as Buddhism. To what extent is that a testable (falsifiable) claim? Are there things a enlightened person would definitely do or not do?

    • Furslid says:

      Maybe, if you view enlightenment as being part of a community. If the insight of the enlightened is “We must wear funny hats,” then anyone who doesn’t wear a funny hat isn’t enlightened.

      That doesn’t mean that someone whose insight is “I must paint myself purple.” has a less valid enlightenment.

      Any behavior is possible for an ‘enlightened’ person. Others will judge their enlightenment based on their behavior. Most people will reject the “I take heroin because I am enlightened” view. It’s proponents will claim that their enlightenment makes them special and the endarkened cannot judge them.

    • Deiseach says:

      We’ve had an entire hair-pulling row discussion about this one before, or at least there was a full and frank exchange of views between myself and a certain gentleman 🙂

      How can you demonstrate enlightenment? How can you demonstrate salvation? The basic idea is a change of heart leading to a change of life, but on the other hand once enlightened/saved, what is forbidden at the lower levels is no longer binding on the higher levels e.g. to take a Buddhist example you can now eat meat because you are free of attachment and the dangers (and mandatory rule-following) don’t apply to you as to the unenlightened because you truly are free of desire and wanting and the self. (You probably won’t eat meat because you don’t want to eat meat, but you can do so as, for example, a way of shocking a disciple out of a rut of mere conformist rule-following they are trapped in). For a Western philosophical tradition example, think of Diogenes and his flouting of all customs to the extent of living in the streets – how would you distinguish a philosopher from a crazy beggar if you came to the city as an outsider and saw this?

      So the really enlightened, to an outsider, can look no different than someone who is still not even on the path towards it.

      • Anonymous says:

        (You probably won’t eat meat because you don’t want to eat meat, but you can do so as, for example, a way of shocking a disciple out of a rut of mere conformist rule-following they are trapped in).

        Failing to eat meat is certainly a sign of wanting to transcend the mortal coil, if you get my drift. 😉

      • Bugmaster says:

        I still maintain that the answer is quite simple (though, perhaps, not easy).

        Take 100 un-enlightened acolytes. Asminster IQ tests, audiovisual perception tests, telepathy tests, flight-by-will-alone tests, or whatever else kind of tests you want. Wait for them to become enlightened. Re-administer the tests. If their scores change significantly, enlightenment works. If they don’t, then enlightenment is probably just a vague feeling that might be notable but not interesting.

    • J.R. says:

      Just submitted my comment and it got swallowed by my time-management software at work. Here is a shortened version.

      It is difficult to define Enlightenment unless you are referring to a specific spiritual tradition. In my extremely secular, nondogmatic spiritual practice, I believe Enlightenment (if it does exist) to be a permanent state of nonduality, where the boundary between the “I”/ego and the rest of one’s conscious experience is dissolved. It is apparent that the “I”/ego is an illusion.

      A person experiencing this Enlightenment would not do these two things:

      1. Talk to themselves. No “I”, no self-talk.
      2. Refer to themselves as distracted (referring to their mind as wandering or operating unconsciously) or bored.

      These things point to Enlightenment as a quality of mind, not as something with any particular moral or ethical valence.

    • bzium says:

      The hard part here would be determining what is the sense of the word “enlightenment” used by spiritual movements such as Buddhism and getting everybody to agree on that.

      I don’t know if asking whether enlightenment is real is a useful question to ask if somebody is curious about the practical value of meditation.

      • johan_larson says:

        The question came to mind when I was reading through one of the older postings on this blog, where Scott criticized a guy named Vinay Gupta for, among other things, saying that he was enlightened. Gupta showed up in the comments section and behaved like an arrogant jerk, which is saying something here on the internet. And that’s really not how I expect an enlightened person to behave. But maybe I’m wrong. How are the enlightened supposed to behave?

        • hls2003 says:

          Not to spend too much time on that particular clusterbomb of a thread, but I thought there was a significant semantic misunderstanding which was exacerbated by the various personalities involved. Based on what I read, I interpreted Gupta’s definition of “enlightened” to be more akin to a credential or graduate degree. If one interprets “enlightened” to the more common English word “ordained” (as in “ordained minister”) the whole dispute made more sense.

          A person who has passed the exams on Greek and Hebrew, graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary, received a diploma, etc. might commonly be called “ordained.” The proof is the diploma from the accrediting seminary. If that same person lives a very dissolute or uncharitable life, people could question whether they are a good Christian. But one couldn’t reasonably question whether or not they are “ordained,” any more than you can question whether an M.D. who smokes is “a doctor.” Being “ordained” is a credential conveyed by an authoritative institution. It is declarative. Subsequent apostasy or behavior does not revoke the credential. Being “a good Christian” is a judgment made by an observer. It is normative. It is revocable at the whim of the observer. The two may often be correlated, but only the second one is debatable – the first one is simply factual.

          Gupta’s primary point, so far as I could make it out, was that he was “enlightened” because he had completed the required training by an “accrediting body” and been declared so by that school. Therefore any critics saying “you’re not really enlightened because enlightened people don’t (or ought not) behave like you” were (1) factually wrong, because the credential was real; (2) arrogating to themselves authority to judge “proper” from “improper” behavior, which was arrogant – and racist, he claimed; and (3) even further, were not attacking just his own behavior, but the traditions of his school, because they were implicitly questioning whether it was really a legitimate “accrediting body” capable of conveying the “degree” called enlightenment. Basically, it would be like a seminary graduate, holder of a D. Div., who advanced a certain interpretation of the Bible, being told by non-co-religionists “you aren’t really a D. Div., because Christians don’t believe / do X, Y, and Z.” It would be incorrect – the D. Div. was legitimately earned and really exists. It would be presumptuous – presumably only other expert co-religionists would even be qualified to engage in an orthodoxy debate (which I believe is why Gupta kept asking thread participants to “state their credentials”). And it would be implicitly critical of the D. Div.’s alma mater, suggesting that they were not a proper authority capable of handing out the credential.

          Without having a dog in the fight myself, I thought the whole dumpster fire of a thread was primarily caused by the failure to engage with what I thought was Gupta’s definition of “enlightenment” as primarily a factual credential or degree, rather than as a code of conduct.

          • Jiro says:

            Rationalists tend to grant too much charity to jerks and social exploiters.

            An alternative explanation is that he asked people to state their credentials because he was arrogant and was trying to throw his weight around, and credentials were a weight he had that he could throw around. It’s not rational to say that because you have credentials, you are right and people must listen to you, but it’s the way a lot of people really do behave.

          • Nornagest says:

            Yeah, I’m with Jiro here. That is a plausible confusion (I think? I don’t actually know if anybody gives out enlightenment as a credential), but it should have been easy to detect and clear up; there’s no way a guy with Gupta’s career record hasn’t run into it before. Instead we got like fifty posts’ worth of performative offense.

            Then there’s the Luna thread, which had absolutely nothing to do with enlightenment but which featured Mr. Gupta acting pretty much the same way.

          • hls2003 says:

            @Jiro, @Nornagest:

            To be clear, I’m not claiming Gupta comported himself with decorum and dignity, or even clarity. Quite the contrary. I just thought that the fact he was acting like a jerk, and the fact that he was claiming “enlightenment,” got conflated, when they should have been separable, and then his behavior ticked off a bunch of people and the whole thing went (even further) downhill. He certainly didn’t explain himself terribly clearly.

          • johan_larson says:

            Maybe we need to form a suitably official institution, The Institute for the Study of Online Rhetoric, which confers an Aggressor Certificate, the holders of which are correctly referred to as assholes. There is no course of study. The certificate is awarded for a performance judged by a jury, typically based on a nomination by one of the Fellows of the Institute, though one can also self-nominate.

          • bean says:

            Without having a dog in the fight myself, I thought the whole dumpster fire of a thread was primarily caused by the failure to engage with what I thought was Gupta’s definition of “enlightenment” as primarily a factual credential or degree, rather than as a code of conduct.

            But that seems to be as much his fault as ours. That’s a very idiosyncratic definition of enlightenment, and he did his absolute best to conflate it with the more common definition. It would be like criticizing someone who claimed to be a born-again Christian and yet was obviously willing to lie and cheat as being not a real born-again Christian, and them replying by saying that their church issued certificates of born-again-ness, and showing you theirs. And then insisting that you accept their definition as the same as yours.
            (I’m well aware that there’s a lot of dispute over how enlightenment is supposed to cash out in behavior, but that’s not really the point of the analogy.)

            He also engaged in similar behavior on other fronts. For instance, his work with the DoD basically consisted of winning a blue ribbon at the Pentagon Science Fair. Which is moderately impressive, but a lot less so than he made it out to be. It hasn’t lead to very much, at least in the current DoD infosphere.

          • hls2003 says:

            But that seems to be as much his fault as ours. That’s a very idiosyncratic definition of enlightenment, and he did his absolute best to conflate it with the more common definition.

            That is entirely fair. In fact, I think it was more his fault than the commentariat-at-large. I just thought his abrasive and aggressive manner could have obscured a potential point of misunderstanding.

    • Lillian says:

      The proper response to encountering the Buddha is to kill him.

  24. LadyJane says:

    So I recently read something that shed some light on why the Non-Player Character meme has gotten so much traction. The media portrayed the NPC meme as an alt-right phenomenon, but even the most cursory glimpse into meme culture shows that both sides of the Culture War were using it, to the point where the anti-Trump “MAGA hat NPC” has become a well-known sub-meme. And it wasn’t originally created to be a political meme, it was just applied to politics because that’s one of the most obvious examples of people repeating catchphrases and slogans they’ve heard. The earliest example of the meme is actually a non-political one, showing the character Wojack (“feels guy”) being comforted by a crowd of NPCs. As one Redditor explains, “[The NPC concept] is portrayed by Wojak showing feels, however because [the NPCs] are normies, their experiences aren’t really painful or upsetting, and the people giving support are doing so out of courtesy, not relatability or camaraderie. … Just as an NPC might offer pre-programmed lines of sorrow in a bad situation to the player in a game, so too are the normies simply supporting each other because they are ‘programmed to’.”

    Looking further back, apparently the meme originally became popular after a post on 4chan speculating that there are only a limited number of souls in the cosmos, and due to overpopulation here on Earth, most people walking around today are actually soulless NPCs (basically p-zombies). The meme’s popularity grew even further after someone on 4chan posted a series of psychology articles which seemingly ‘proved’ that a majority of people don’t actually have their own internal monologues. (See here and here.)

    Yet actually reading these articles, they say nothing which would support the notion that most people are NPCs, in either its hard form (most people are literal p-zombies) or its soft form (most people lack critical thinking and mindlessly repeat what others tell them). All they actually demonstrate is that some people’s internal monologue consists of a literal monologue with concrete words and sentences, while other people experience their inner sense of self in more abstract ways. As one person describes:

    “I was wondering about my very minimal inner monologue after talking to my husband about it earlier this week. I find it incredible how most people seem to constantly be thinking in words/sentences. It sounds exhausting to me. I think in actions, visualizations, feelings, impulses and only really have a proper inner monologue when reading or writing. I never know internally what I’m about to say out loud (unless I force myself to do so, or if I’m nervous about talking in specific situations). Often my mind seems blank with no thoughts. I find meditation very easy.”

    That specific paragraph was used as an example of someone with “no internal monologue.” But why? To me, that doesn’t sound like someone who has no internal experience or sense of self. It sounds like someone who’s patterns of thought are more sensory than intellectualized, more externally-oriented than internally-oriented (and probably more extroverted than introverted), more in-the-moment than detached (and possibly more impulsive than reserved), and likely more emotional than stoic. In other words, the type of person who’d be an ESFP on the Myers-Briggs.

    So why would anyone look at a sensual, aware, present, mindful, conscientious, emotional extrovert and think “p-zombie”? Probably because they have such extreme tendencies in the other direction that someone like that would seem almost incomprehensibly alien to their mindset. In other words, an extremely stoic, reserved, detached, introverted intellectual with poor awareness of their surroundings. Basically, the type of person who tends to post on 4chan a lot.

    The NPC meme isn’t about conservatives dehumanizing liberals or vice-versa. It’s about one neurarchetribe of the human species dehumanizing another, whether that takes the form of alt-right trolls making fun of soulless Hillary drones, leftist pseudo-intellectuals making fun of mindless Trump barbarians, geeky Millennials making fun of Boomers, or maladjusted shut-ins making fun of normies. Granted, “4channers are weird geeky outcasts who hate normal people” is hardly a novel observation, but it’s interesting to me just how deep the roots of that particular divide might go. I’m reminded of that post from a few weeks back about Antagonistic, Seductive, Social, and Provisioning types; while the Social and Provisioning types were both grouped together as slow life strategies, they seem to be fundamentally different from each other in some very important ways.

    • Plumber says:


      “So I recently read something that shed some light on why the Non-Player Character meme has gotten so much traction….”

      This is only the second time I’ve seen anything about this “meme”.

      The first time was a SSC post some months ago.

      If it has “traction” it’s not spreading to anywhere I read beyond SSC.

    • Aapje says:


      Those outside of the mainstream often think that the mainstream mindlessly believe what they are told and do what they are told to do. There is some truth to this, as part of society are indeed conformists who do tend to conform to the mainstream.

      So some outsiders then use insults that accuse the mainstream of being brain dead and/or compliments for themselves for being enlightened.

      So on the insult side you have terms like:
      – bourgeois (in the meaning of philistine)
      – NPC
      – low-information voter
      – bluepilled

      And on the compliment side:
      – woke
      – redpilled

      These terms usually have no inherent bias, but often (eventually) get associated with those who most prominently use it. For example, redpilled was used early on to attack the Bush administration.

      • imoimo says:

        I think the concept of “conformism” benefits a lot from the inside view. In my more liberal days, I got most of my opinions and concerns from watching Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, Obama, etc. This wasn’t because I had mindless faith in them, it’s because I felt I could trust them, and had no other (trusted) source to go to. Within my paradigm, I was acting very reasonably — except for the echo chamber effect which I was well aware of but unsure how to break without watching obnoxious news like Fox. I expect most so-called NPCs think similarly.

        Because of the above, I consider subpar “thought leaders” as a major failure point in inciting the culture war. Except people choose their own thought leaders (mostly), so the problem becomes circular…

        (Thank God the people on this blog are so contrarian, because then I know if Scott messes up you’ll be at his throat in no time.)

    • John Schilling says:

      NPC is the new sheeple. Or at least it’s trying to be; as Plumber and others have pointed out it hasn’t really spread very far. But I’m pretty sure that’s at least 80% of it, and I don’t see much need to overthink it or otherwise pin down the last 20%. People have always needed a way to paint the opposition as just mindless unthinking drones repeating what they have been told. I’m going to assume Socrates had a term that meant about the same thing (and used it extensively in the penalty phase of his trial)

    • bean says:

      Looking further back, apparently the meme originally became popular after a post on 4chan speculating that there are only a limited number of souls in the cosmos, and due to overpopulation here on Earth, most people walking around today are actually soulless NPCs (basically p-zombies).

      I think Scott once wrote a similar story, with a somewhat different twist.

      • AG says:

        Robert J. Sawyer’s novel “Quantum Night” also has this premise.

      • Deiseach says:

        I can’t remember what it was called or who wrote it, but years ago (and I’m talking decades here) I read a SF story where it was noticed that children being born were somehow different, they were Just Not Right. Concomitantly, there was a huge increase in suicides amongst enlightened types from India (or of that type of guru tradition). The eventual solution was the (again, I’m going on vague memories here and could be completely wrong) UN investigators finding out, as explained to them by the Esoteric Eastern Wisdom, the Wrong Children was due to overpopulation (this was in the days when Overpopulation was the Climate Change of the day, i.e. the big existential risk that was going to kill us all in ten years if we didn’t take drastic action right now to curb it, including the government getting involved) because there just weren’t enough souls created to go with the huge numbers of humans now being born, so people were killing themselves to recycle their souls into the new babies and now the parents could have Real Proper Children instead of the little flesh robots they’d produced.

        The story made no goddamn sense internally but it wasn’t meant to, it was riffing off the propaganda pieces on the Issue of the Day which was Overpopulation and how dangerous it was.

        • arlie says:

          I remember that story – or one very similar – except the root of the problem wasn’t just overpopulation – it was new discoveries producing what was effectively immortality for everyone alive at the time – people could still be killed (e.g. suicide) but they weren’t going to die of age or, I believe, disease. And violence (other than suicide) wasn’t a factor for reasons I don’t remember.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      I think the gap isn’t in neuroarchetypes, but in reification (reeification?). The standards of community behavior on 4chan, including recognized meaningful methods of expression and sympathy, are very different to “mainstream normal,” so looking outside of that is a bit like a Japanese person looking at French cheek kissing and calling it meaningless theater. But, you know, with [literally everything normies do to interact]. So, obviously they’re P-zombies, because 4chan is a sucker for conspiracies (not are, but is, in its Zeitgeist – conspiracy is a form of recreation).

      I don’t think that isn’t reinforced by personality and toxicity, but I think that’s the most proximate cause.

    • albatross11 says:

      It strikes me that most humans are wired to infer complex emotions and motivations even in things that don’t have them. (Surely I’m not the only one that’s cursed a hammer for clobbering my thumb, even though it’s utterly silly to be angry at the hammer for my own self-injuring misuse of it.). Which makes it extremely natural to infer such things in other people. But three things that come to mind here:

      a. Some people have less of this wiring, and so the NPC/p-zombie view of others is more tenable.

      b. Online interactions don’t hit the right buttons for our internal inferring-a-mind machinery to take off–especially hostile online interactions.

      c. There’s a kind of worldview that supports this NPC/p-zombie not-inferring-intention thing, sort-of like the worldview that most everyone has that reminds us that the hammer didn’t *really* have it in for our thumbs.

    • eigenmoon says:

      Y’all are overthinking this.

      A meme isn’t a conspiracy theory, or a critique of extroverts for insufficient internal dialogue, or anything that intellectual. It’s all about capturing a feeling, an emotion – in this case, the dread of dealing with the far left. See FreedomToons expressing the horror with animation. (Note that FreedomToons is banned from Patreon – thanks to the far left, everyone presumes.)

      Of course the left tried to play turnaround-is-a-fair-play and made an NPC in a MAGA hat. But this isn’t working quite as well because the emotion – expressed in the post above as “mindless Trump barbarians” – is somewhat different, more orc than Borg.

      • ilikekittycat says:

        The weeklong meltdown over new Congresswoman Tlaib calling the President a word everyone over the age of 10 knows and has used was the definition of right-wing NPC panic against the Orcish left. (Chapo, Current Affairs, Bernie, AOC, etc.)

        Both sides are characterized by Borgs/NPCs going crazy to try to suppress the Orcs, seeing it as a one side or the other thing just means bias is only letting you see what you want to see.

        • eigenmoon says:

          bias is only letting you see what you want to see

          Perhaps. I’m libertarian and I tend to see the progressives as Borgs and the conservatives as Klingons. Orcs tend to be everywhere.

          I can see “impeach the troublemaker” (not an exact quote) as very Orcish, but how’s AOC an Orc? “whaddaya mean who’s going to pay for the healthcare? It’s gonna be FREE!” (not an exact quote) is 100% Borg thing to say, no? Maybe we just mean somewhat different things, which is totally fine and to be expected.

          • ilikekittycat says:

            I had interpreted Borg as “you must comply with our single-mindedness about decorum and orthodoxy” which is true of Schumer/Pelosi etc. and not true of the fringe. I can see now you probably meant the collective stuff and my characterization was incorrect on those terms. Apologies.

          • eigenmoon says:

            I understand it this way: an Orc knows that he’s acting destructively, and everybody else knows too. Maybe he has a lofty goal in mind but at the moment he’s smashing something with a club and not trying to hide it. “Will you give me money for the wall? No? Bye-bye!”

            A Borg has no idea whatsoever that his actions might be destructive. On the contrary, he’s always working to make the Universe a better place for everybody. Why would somebody object to that? Surely those who’d like the Borg to stop are either villains invested in keeping the Universe shitty or Orcs who just like destruction. The fellow Borgs all agree that no other explanation is possible.

        • albatross11 says:

          Was this a real meltdown (like people actually upset)? It looked like standard partisan manufactured outrage to me. I’m shocked–shocked–to discover that there is gambling going on in this casino[1].

          It seems like about 90% of our media are focused on outrage storms, presumably because those get clicks and ad revenue. But that distorts our picture of the world a lot–most of the stuff that actually matters isn’t the subject of an outrage storm, and a lot of horrible things keep going on long after the outrage storm has blown over and everyone’s obsessing over some other unrelated outrage storm.

          [1] I’m similarly shocked to discover people referring to really horribly run poor countries as shitholes.

          • Statismagician says:

            My general heuristic is to assume that whatever the news wants me to be upset about is not in fact a big deal, or even necessarily a real thing at all, until at least two people have mentioned it to me in real life without prompting. This whole… thing… has not passed that test.

          • Plumber says:

            I’d already heard the “sheeple” slur in the ’90’s, this “NPC” thing seemed little different so it didn’t bother me (though maybe that’s because I didn’t hear about it until after people were reacting to it, maybe I’d feel differently if I encountered it “in the wild”

            It’s hard for me to feel outraged when the first time I encounter something it’s from people saying “Here’s this outrageous thing”.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            I’d already heard the “sheeple” slur in the ’90’s,

            My best friend likes to say “Don’t wake up the sheeple! Eight hours sleep is important for their health!”

      • LadyJane says:

        I originally thought it was just a right-wing meme that the left had appropriated too, but after doing a little bit of digging, it seems like the opposite. The original examples of the meme were largely apolitical (some of the earliest ones I could find were video game jokes). As for the political variants, they actually used to be more ideologically diverse before the media started talking about how the meme was a far-right extremist symbol, not less. So the idea that the right created the meme and the left tried turning it back on them doesn’t really match up with its history.

    • Plumber says:

      The concept that the majority of people are unconscious automatons reminds of the 1953 novel “You’re All Alone”/”The Sinful One’s” by Fritz Leiber.

    • Drew says:

      The internet-right likes memes and tries out a bunch of different ones. This particular meme was moderately funny and easy to riff on, so people made a bunch of variants. It stuck around because it really, really annoyed the people it was targeting.

      That anger is the real surprise, since “you’re all sheeple” has been eye-roll-worthy for at least a decade.

      As best as I can tell, the reason is that a lot of the #resist posts were coming from a place of genuine emotion, and from people who were very earnest in their desire to change things politically. So people were baring their souls to the world, and then getting told that their feelings-inspired comments could have been written by a chatbot.

    • Garrett says:

      On a more general note, I would point out that people who are outside of a common paradigm tend to be more well-informed about the paradigm than those who grew up in it. One study of religious knowledge had atheists followed by Jews and Mormons scoring highest, though subgroup analysis shows conflicting results.

      So if you grow up in one paradigm and switch to another later on, you have both the inside and outside view of the original as well as the current paradigm. Someone who’s never switched will only have the inside view of one and the outside view of others. Trying to develop the inside view of another paradigm without switching is hard mental work and most people don’t seem to be able to do it. See: ideological Turing test failures.

      • Jaskologist says:

        For the sake of the object level, I must dispute. One of the questions in that study was specifically about Joseph Smith, which has to boost the Mormon scores. “Atheist/Agnostic” scores were high, but “Nothing in particular” scores were low, which is a common bifurcation in this area. It seems that the big difference is not the (lack of) beliefs, but whether you know enough to call yourself atheist/agnostic.

  25. Anyone have reckons on whether it’s worth reading Gerd Gigerenzer’s work on heuristics, for someone already familiar with Kahneman and co? Do they disagree on anything of substance, or are they approaching the same thing from different starting points?

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I’m a fan of Gigerenzer, so obviously I think he’s worth reading.

      Kahneman and other researchers in the cognitive bias camp see heuristics as a fast and cognitively undemanding but also highly error-prone. A classic example is to ask doctors what the probability that a patient who tests positive for a rare disease actually has the disease with a reliable test; if they sit down with a pen and paper to work it out, they’re much more likely to realize that most patients will still be false positives than if they go with the intuitive answer.

      Gigerenzer’s insight is that this way of presenting information is essentially a trick question. If you present people with “natural frequencies” rather than dry probabilities, they can quickly and accurately solve these problems. The closer reasoning questions get to real-world situations, the better heuristics perform. Which makes a lot of sense if you think about it: why would humans adapt to be less likely to make correct decisions?

      If you look at the performance of simple heuristics like the availability heuristic in situations with high uncertainty, they often match or outperform more congitively demanding decision making processes. One good example from one of his books is how a Nobel prize winning economist used the 1/N rule in his own stock picks rather than the model he won international acclaim for. You won’t impress anyone in Stockholm with it, but it demonstrably gives a higher return.

      • albatross11 says:

        The obvious assumption would be that heuristics are good on average either for the environment of evolutionary adaptiveness (hunter gatherer land or small subsistence-farming village land) or for the environment you’ve experienced up till now. They’re heuristics–we know they’re not full answers. But they’re qood at getting a good-enough answer quickly.

      • Thanks for the overview, that’s helpful. I didn’t intuitively ‘get’ probability until I saw it presented in a natural sampling format like the one you linked! I have become a bit more skeptical about the ‘trick question’ nature of the supposed biases, which actually seem to be pretty useful outside of very specific lab conditions (loss aversion and sunk costs come to mind).

        I will check Gigerenzer out. Any recommendations on his best book or paper? I figured I might read ‘Risk Savvy’, only because it’s his most recent, and presumably written for laypeople.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          I own Risk Savvy and like it, although the authorial tone really grates me. I’m not sure if it’s because English isn’t his first language or because he’s writing for a lay audience but it just rubs me the wrong way.

          I haven’t read his other books, mostly just journal articles and interviews.

  26. onyomi says:

    (Please note that I’m not looking for advice or anecdotes about treating back pain, but trying to better understand a specific physiological matter related to it; of course, feel free to exchange back pain stories and remedies all you want, that’s just not what I’m looking for).

    What’s the deal with spinal disc “herniations”? I understand that their relationship to actual episodes of back pain is a bit murky (my understanding is that most adults’ backs do not look perfectly healthy and defect-free on MRI, but a doctor would have a very hard time guessing, by looking at MRIs alone, which patients were currently experiencing back pain, and how severe), but I feel like I can’t even find straight answers to basic questions about their physiology, such as: is actual material from within the disc getting extruded in most cases of “disc herniation,” or only severe cases? Is the pulposa material that bulges or extrudes watery and absorbed by the body or more like just a softer part of the disk itself?

    What, even, is the best way to conceive of this? The word “bulge” seems to imply that the shape of a thing has become distorted, while “herniate” and “tear” seem to imply something has ripped open and stuff is coming out, like with a hernia (speaking of which, do hernias ever heal without surgery, and if not, were people who suffered e.g. inguinal hernias in evolutionary times just fucked?). This video seems to imply that both can happen (the softer interior can distort the shape of the tougher exterior, causing a bulge, and can also, in severe cases, distort it so badly it rips open), yet I feel like most sources use “disc bulge” and “disc herniation” almost interchangeably, as if it mattered little whether the hard outer portion of the disc actually ripped open or simply bulged.

    And does the bulging ever “go back into place” either with time or manipulation (such as during spinal traction) or does the tear ever heal up with scar tissue, etc.? “Recovery” from a disc bulge/herniation is almost always described in terms of function: “can the patient move without pain?” but it’s never clear to me, in cases where someone has “recovered” from a disc herniation, what has actually happened: do the MRIs of “recovered” (pain free) patients look any different from when they were symptomatic, or once the disc is bulged does it just sort of stay bulged and for some reason the body learns to stop responding to that as a pain stimulus? Or does the “bulged” disc neither return to its original state nor simply stay as it was during the acute phase, but, rather, develop some kind of scar tissue or something?

    Even as I’ve learned, over the years, that experience is more useful, at least for the individual, than attempts to understand the physiology of most problems like this, I find what seems a lack of clarity, at least as far as I can tell, on the above to be annoying. Watching some dissections of animal spines seems to give me a slightly better intuitive grasp of what these structures are like (the discs look much like a joint to me, but I also don’t have an intuitive understanding of e.g. how knee joints do or do not recover), but still find it pretty confusing, and not just because of the Dr. Sarno, “there seems to be hardly any connection between what’s going on physiologically with your disc and whether or not you are experiencing back pain” aspect.

    • dick says:

      I have had a herniated disc followed by two surgeries, but it sounds like you know a lot more about this than me. The impressions I got are: “hernia” can mean a lot of things, from a partial tear to broken into numerous pieces, with “bulging” being sort of a subclass of it; diagnosing hernias and other back problems is mostly guesswork from blurry pictures and not an exact science (unlike e.g. knees, which seem to have been pretty well figured out at this point), so if the doctor points to a specific smudge on a scan and says that’s the reason for the pain, they are at least partially guessing; even severe hernias where the disk is broken into pieces don’t necessarily cause problems if the pieces stay where they’re supposed to be, pain is caused by the hernia abrading a nerve; the damage to the nerve can be indirect (e.g. by irritating some other tissue that gets swollen and compresses a nerve) which is why it’s so difficult to see on an MRI; it can indeed improve (e.g. bulge that un-bulges) and the things that help are: being young, strengthening the muscles in the back, improving general health (losing weight, drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, etc).

      In my case, I had a disc break in to pieces in my early twenties. No idea how or when, but one day my back problems went from “occasional mild sciatica” to “constant 8/10 pain” very suddenly, and the doctors told me the disc had probably broken months or years previous. I had two diskectomy surgeries, which is basically trying to scoop out the bits of broken disc. It (either the hernia or the surgeries) caused partial nerve damage in one leg, which ended most of my athletic endeavors and gave me a limp for a few years, but I’ve been mostly pain-free for about twenty years as long as I exercise and stretch regularly. If I start being sedentary, I develop intermittent sciatica within a week or two.

      Hope that helps. This is all two decade old info, so it may be less guess-y nowadays than it was then.

      • onyomi says:

        Hi, thanks for sharing your experiences.

        What got me thinking about it was I recently had a back spasm after several months of no problem and a concerted effort to strengthen my back with PT, etc. I had an MRI with a bulging/herniated disc maybe 15 years ago (back spasm prompted the MRI) and since then I’ll have back spasms at intervals ranging from 6 months to even 2 or 3 years pain free. When it happens it usually means about a week of discomfort. So it could definitely be worse for me personally, but it is annoying in the sense that I feel like I have no clear answers to questions like:

        When I have a sudden attack of back pain after feeling fine for a year (usually doing something pretty innocuous like bending over to pick up my backpack or leaping up too quickly from a low chair; NOT usually hefting a large suitcase, lifting weights, etc.) is it because a disc has suddenly “slipped/bulged/herniated” or is it just that I always have this dis bulging and now it for some reason pressed on a nerve in a way that irritated it? Or is it just because I’m under an unusual amount of pressure and my brain decided “you won’t take a break? Fuck it, muscle spasm should slow you down” (there definitely seems to be a subjective correlation between such episodes and periods of stress; much less likely to happen on beach vacation).

        On some level it’s kind of irrelevant because at this point I have a pretty good sense of the kinds of things that help and usually I can get back to functioning pretty normally pretty quickly, but there are certain points where a better understanding would still, potentially be helpful.

        For example, I know certain stretches and exercises that have helped recovery in the past. If a new back spasm indicates a new disc injury then that would seem to indicate “wait a few days, at least, for that to heal before trying to recover the range of motion in the area.” On the other hand, if new back spasm=/=new disc injury and/or disc “bulges” are not the sort of thing that “heals” per se, but merely something that has to “go back into place” or even just learn to be ignored by the nerves, then maybe there’s no reason not to start doing stretches, etc. right away.

        Things I have learned, at least for my particular case, is that extended rest is definitely not helpful, nor is excessive attention to moving very, very carefully. Dr. Sarno seems to be right in my case that thinking of oneself as “injured” slows the recovery, whereas kind of just going about your day as if nothing is wrong seems to actually get you back to “nothing wrong” much faster. And certainly exercises and stretches do seem to help as well, but also seem excessively irritating if done right away.

        My best working hypothesis is that most chronic back pain is primarily a muscular phenomenon (and psychological stressors can cause muscular tension, of course), with distortions in discs functioning as an occasional precipitating or irritating, but not decisive, factor. The pain itself stems from muscles in spasm and the muscles go into spasm theoretically to stabilize the spine, but the are also quite capable of going into spasm at times when the spine is not, actually, in urgent need of extra stabilization. Thus, in most cases, keeping the muscles happy is actually job no. 1, as one can be pain free and functional even with discs doing things that might look weird on MRI, so long as those things are not causing muscles to freak out.

        But I’m still not clear on what, exactly the discs are doing when they do cause muscle spasm (even assuming most spasms aren’t even directly caused by a new disc problem, which I suspect they aren’t): do they “press” on nerves, and if so, when the pain stops does that mean they’ve stopped pressing? And if so, is it because they’ve just gone back into place or because the body has developed a scar tissue or something?

        And your experience, though more severe than mine, is nevertheless very typical of what I’ve heard from others, and also typical of the mystery: if the disc problem can be fixed or go away with surgery or otherwise, then why does the pain come back if you don’t exercise and stretch regularly? On the other hand, if the disc problem is the source of the pain and it hasn’t gone away/can’t be fixed, then why do you ever get to enjoy periods pain free? The only answer seems to be that disc derangement is much more orthogonal to back pain than is commonly realized (actually, it’s the muscles that need to be happy), but that leaves the confusing question as to what, exactly, are the discs’ role in causing back pain, assuming there is at least some?

  27. Campion says:

    I’m looking for some recommendations for books on some historical periods I’d like to know more about; has anyone read anything good on the following topics?
    1.) The 1798 rebellion in Ireland
    2.) Savanorola’s rule of Florence
    3.) The wars between Robert the Bruce and Edwards I and II of England
    4.) Joachim of Fiore, the Joachimite movement and the Church’s response to it (I’d particularly like something by someone with a good understanding of the theological issues at stake)
    5.) Something about the development of heat transfer and thermodynamics in the 19th century; either a good history of the field (I liked John Anderson’s History of Aerodynamics, to give some idea of the sort of thing I’m looking for to anyone who’s read that) or biography of one of the major figures in the field (Joule, Kelvin, Fourier, etc.)

    • Deiseach says:

      The 1798 rebellion in Ireland

      You’d think this is something I’d have good data on, but the only one I can think of off the top of my head is a historical novel called The Year of the French by Thomas Flanagan, all the way back in 1979, and the Amazon blurb is appropriately terrible:

      In 1798, Irish patriots, committed to freeing their country from England, landed with a company of French troops in County Mayo, in westernmost Ireland. They were supposed to be an advance guard, followed by other French ships with the leader of the rebellion, Wolfe Tone. Briefly they triumphed, raising hopes among the impoverished local peasantry and gathering a group of supporters. But before long the insurgency collapsed in the face of a brutal English counterattack.

      Almost every sentence in that is a “no”, except for Wolfe Tone and the English counterattack. The novel is not bad but it’s very much on one side and a romantic idea of the times and places. Worth reading but don’t take everything in it as Gospel.

      It’s a period I don’t know much about because naturally in popular Irish history the Famine is the 800 lb gorilla in the room and secondly the recent trend, given Anglo-Irish relationships and the attempt to incorporate ‘the two traditions on the island’, is to quietly move away from anything that can be seen as celebration or glorification of rebellions, as that was the old national foundation myth, and we’ve moved more towards revisionist history and noting, even in preference to commemorating, such events.

      The 1998 bicentary commemoration was a rather muted affair, left mostly to whatever activities were organised locally in each county. To quote the government website:

      The Government, working through the 1798 Commemoration Committee chaired by the Chief Whip, Minister Seamus Brennan, have assisted a large array of projects. But I would want to emphasise that the initiative has come mostly from local communities and organisations themselves, with the Government playing a more supportive and co-ordinating role.

      Partly of course this was to do with the political situation at the time, moving towards a resolution of the Troubles in the North and greater North-South co-operation and working with the British government which would all bear fruit in the Good Friday Agreement of 1999, so the Irish government making a big deal of a failed rebellion to achieve Irish independence would not have been good optics or helpful otherwise. Our state broadcasting company broadcast a documentary on it (called “Rebellion”) but I can’t find any trace of it online (save for mention of the VHS tapes for sale) and they’ve re-used the title for a current series on the 1916 Rebellion.

      So really I can’t give you any recommendations, but although I haven’t read this, this book seems like it would give you a starting point. It gives an overview of how attitudes towards 1798 and how it was presented/celebrated/derided/commemorated evolved over the past 200 years. A list of “the usual suspects” for historical views looks like it’s part of it and would give you something to use.

      And putting last what I should have put first, the 1798 Rebellion is hampered by not being a coherent unified national effort, it really boils down to the Wexford Rebellion which was the main one, the events in Mayo and on the west coast waiting for the French fleet, and the aftermath with Wolfe Tone. So it’s both broken up and provincial rather than involving Dublin, which means the field of studies is splintered amongst various local centres since the plan was for a national rising but that is very much not how it turned out.

  28. Plumber says:

    Is there a word for someone who supports very strong governments at the small town level, but progressively weaker goverment at larger scales?

    • ilikekittycat says:


    • wavey davey says:

      In the European Union, there’s a concept called Subsidiarity, which seems somewhat related to this.

    • I can’t remember if Nassim Taleb coined a specific name for it, but he discusses it in Skin in the Game, in the context of becoming more interventionist/hands-on as the communal unit get smaller.

      A saying by the brothers Geoff and Vince Graham summarizes the ludicrousness of scale-free political universalism.
      I am, at the Fed level, libertarian; at the state level, Republican; at the local level, Democrat; and at the family and friends level, a socialist.

    • Watchman says:

      I’d suggest localist, albeit I’m not convinced that’s not a neologism. If it is, I’d still go with it as localism is a recognised stance (and conveniently one without any attachment to wider movements) at least in the UK.

    • Aapje says:


    • Well... says:

      It occurs to me that lots of ideologies, including fascism and anarchism (so, maybe everything in between as well?), could be made to fit this pattern. It just depends on how you define “strong” and “weak”, how quick the drop-off in strength is between levels, and what you consider the top level.

      If what you have in mind is basically “fascist utopia” at the neighborhood level and “anarchist utopia” at the international level, with a more or less smooth gradation between those extremes, then I have no idea what that’s called. I’m curious to hear some good arguments for it though.

      • Plumber says:


        “…..If what you have in mind is basically “fascist utopia” at the neighborhood level and “anarchist utopia” at the international level, with a more or less smooth gradation between those extremes, then I have no idea what that’s called. I’m curious to hear some good arguments for it though”

        I’m a city boy and I like having a fire and police department, clean running water, a working sewage system, and I love my local public libraries and I want more! 

        One of the joys of moving to a small town from a large city was having a city council canidates come to my door and ask me what I want government to do.

        That was awesome!

        Sacramento and especially D.C. are way too remote.

        I want more democracy, and I want it close at hand. 

        After I asked my question some of the suggestions led me to do some web searches and I came across “communalism” and “libertarian municipalism” which were thought up by a guy named Murray Bookchin, which look pretty utopian. 

        I’m not enamored with “libertarianism”, but “municipalism” sounds close to what I was thinking of. 

  29. BBA says:

    The ’90s environmentalism post reminded me of another issue that was huge at the time and just completely vanished off the radar.

    Remember the V-chip? In the mid-’90s it was a matter of nationwide concern how every TV was going to have a built-in censorship device. This was a major plot element in the South Park movie, for those who remember it. After the usual back-and-forth from the free speech crowd and the Helen Lovejoys saying “think of the children!” Congress decided to mandate the V-chip. Then it got rolled out and… almost nobody used it.

    Now part of it was that the technology was discussed as if TVs would be automatically detecting inappropriate imagery and blocking it out. In fact it was nowhere near that advanced 20 years ago, and from what I hear from Tumblr it still isn’t. Instead most TV shows have, somewhere in the metadata next to the closed captions, an indication that they’re rated “TV-14” or “TV-MA” or whatever, and the V-chip just blocks based on that. Another part is that setting it up meant diving into on-screen menu systems, which were pretty unintuitive and arcane back then. These were the days when people still complained about how hard it was to program VCRs, I never found it too hard, but then I was a kid and supposed to be restrained by the V-chip. Finally, broadcast TV already was (and still is) censored by the FCC, independent of the ratings and the V-chip, so it’s not like the content of TV shows changed that much after the V-chip rollout. (If anything, it got more risque.)

    I just find it odd is all, that something could be such a big deal, and then all of a sudden, not matter.

    • Plumber says:

      I don’t remember any “V-chip” debate whatsoever, but I never saw the South Park movie.

      About the only “big deals” that I remember from the ’90’s were the Gulf War, the fall of the Soviet Union, the Simpson trial, and the Clinton impeachment.

      I just don’t remember the “V-chip” thing at all.

      Our host says environmentalism was a big deal in the ’90’s but it seemed much weaker to me than the “ecology” movement of the ’70’s.

      • Nornagest says:

        The V-chip debate was a thing, but may not have had much penetration into your social circles. I was a nerdy high schooler at the time, and heard a lot about it.

      • Uribe says:

        I don’t remember environmentalism being a big deal in the 90’s. At least not anymore than it is now.

        I don’t remember the V-chip either and I did see the South Park movie a couple times.

      • SaiNushi says:

        I went to elementary school in the 90’s.
        Fern Gully. Captain Planet. That was the media side of things.
        In science class, every year we did something for earth day. And every year there were at least two different sections on environmentalism- resource management and save-the-endangered-species. Resource management covered saving electricity and water one year, recycling another, and save the rain forests a third year. Then it repeated, so each message was heard twice. The save the rain forests was also repeated during the endangered species, so that was drilled in quite a bit.
        For the record, I went to public schools in New Hampshire (three or four different schools, 1st – 6th grade). Neighborhoods were middle-middle class, lower middle class, middle middle class, lower middle class (in order).
        Middle school was the end of the 90’s, lower middle class in NH, middle middle class in Western NY, then private school (still in Western NY, the adoption went through right before 8th grade so they were free to put me in whatever school they wanted). The messages were each touched on again, but with less emphasis.

        • Plumber says:


          “I went to elementary school in the 90’s.
          Fern Gully. Captain Planet. That was the media side of things.
          In science class, every year we did something for earth day. And every year there were at least two different sections on environmentalism…”

          And I went to elementary school in the 1970’s which is when it seems to me that I heard the most about environmentalism (called “ecology” back then). I’d go with the theory that it’s just something you’re taught a lot in grade school except to check I asked my almost 14 year-old son if he heard anything about it and he replied “A little bit”.

          Maybe someone who was a kid in the 1980’s can please chime in?

          • EchoChaos says:

            I was a kid in the 80s. Environmentalism didn’t show up heavily until I was in my tweens/teens. I agree that it mostly took the 80s off culturally.

    • Watchman says:

      It is probably less odd if you consider our generation (at whom this was presumably aimed) were the people who could probably implement this effectively (a chip that did the job of responsible parents was always going to fail – who was going to use it since responsible parents wouldn’t delegate their responsibility and irresponsible ones would turn it off – but successor technology might work better). As a generation we seem very much against control over what we watch; just like our parents’ generation were generally against restricting access to music. I think this is probably the normal pattern for concerned-older-generation attempts to protect the young, with the current manifestation being about access to the Internet.

  30. johan_larson says:

    The TV program “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo” deals with people who figure out how to keep their homes from filling with clutter. I can’t think of a situation more deserving of the label “First World Problems”.

    • smocc says:

      On the other hand, it’s kind of the first world problem, as in it’s the problem with the first world, and maybe it’s good that people are trying to address it.

    • Statismagician says:

      I don’t understand who the target audience for this show is supposed to be.

      • johan_larson says:

        People who wish their homes were tidier?

        • Statismagician says:

          Certainly that’s some of it, but I think there’s probably also a set of viewers who are analogous to the people who read Dear Prudence, or enjoy reality TV. These groups are also mysterious to me, so I’m wondering if there’s a wider commonality or if it just boils down to people liking different things.

          • SaiNushi says:

            I hate reality tv, but I definitely used to read the “Dear Abby” and “Dear Prudence” in the papers during school… because I wanted to know the ins and outs of manners, courtesy, and socialization in an effort to become more normal.

      • J.R. says:

        It’s for people who think they have too much stuff.

        My understanding of Marie Kondo’s schtick (without having watched her show or read her book) is that she encourages people to throw out everything that does not add even a little bit of happiness to their lives. This is empowering if you were raised to never throw anything away because, you never know, it might come in handy, or you might grow into it (or lose enough weight to fit in it), or you might need it to replace this other thing that you like 10 times more, or you can never have too many of these types of things so you might as well hold onto it, or you have to wear it to at least one family function so Aunt Nancy knows you aren’t an ingrate who secretly hates the hand-knitted sweaters she gives you each Christmas, etc. It feels awesome to have someone tell you, look, you and I both know you’re never going to use this thing, or even when you do it has incredibly limited utility, so why don’t you just get rid of it?

        I suspect the appeal of watching your self-help guru guide people through doing this is partly vicarious and partly from seeing her philosophy applied to actual test cases that may resemble your current tidiness predicaments.

        EDIT: Style

      • Drew says:

        Marie Kondo’s book was helpful to me because it made me realize that I had a bunch of stuff that I was weakly attached to.

        My closet used to be super-messy. And, for a long time, I thought the problem was organization or habits. But really, I just had too many shirts.

        The reason I had so many shirts was that, whenever I thought about getting rid of one, I’d remember how I got it, and feel bad about throwing it out. Thoughts like, “oh, my mother gave me that one” or “it kind of fits, and if all my other plaid shirts were dirty, I might wear it.”

        Kondo’s approach is interesting, in that she recognizes that the problem is basically emotional (guilt about throwing stuff out) and offers up an emotional solution (literally say thank you to the shirt)

        The show is sort of soothing, because you see people go through the exercise, and then nothing bad happens to them. It’s completely irrational, but the problem wasn’t rational to start with.

        • CatCube says:

          I admit to having this problem. I’ve got a big problem with clutter, but the most straightforward to solve would be my clothing. A big part of that is my old military uniforms–that I will never wear again, having got out–but I just don’t toss them into a garbage bag and take them to the curb so I don’t have a bunch of clutter in my apartment.

    • AG says:

      It’s especially so, because the issue of clutter and such is basically about the cultural transition issues of going up a class: habits that were optimal for a class below become limiting vices.

      • Statismagician says:

        Could you expand on this? I think I see what you mean but I’m not totally sure.

        • AG says:

          J.R. touches on some of it. People who grow up with scarcity often learn to hoard things, eat food fast, etc. These habits serve them well to survive in that environment. The strategies used for buying things and deal-hunting differ depending on if what your price ceiling is for any single type of item, so buying lower quality but cheap in bulk is more efficient for some things. If the most frugal living won’t produce enough savings to go for a down payment for a decade, why not treat yourself instead, etc.

          “Oh no I have too much stuff” is the least universal problem ever.

          • Statismagician says:

            I thought that was probably the idea. It’s interesting to me the degree to which this varies between people and types of spending; I wonder if anybody’s written anything on the subject?

        • Here is an example. I routinely look at prices in the supermarket and try to avoid things that seem expensive, and I am sure my wife does as well. But I don’t make any serious effort so sell my services as a public speaker, although a single reasonably enjoyable day spent giving a talk pays more than I am likely to save by months of careful shopping.

          A slightly less clear example was spending an hour or so this morning disassembling a toaster that wasn’t working properly. I thought it was possible, but not likely, that I could find a broken wire and fix it. If we assume a .1 probability for that, I was spending ten hours to save the forty dollar or so that I ended up spending on a replacement toaster (I found the broken wires, concluded I couldn’t fix them). I wouldn’t work for four dollars an hour, or close to it.

          That’s less clear because disassembling things to see how they work can be fun.

          • Plumber says:

            My wife often insists on returning items that she’s recently bought when she finds them cheaper elsewhere.

            For peace at home I’ve learned not to try to convince her that the gasoline we use going to the stores exceeds any savings on the items.

          • quanta413 says:


            Your wife is the great invisible hand helping keep the stores competitive for the rest of us who are too lazy to return items for being more expensive than the they could have been.

    • JustToSay says:

      Okay, I’ve watched a few episodes, and this is my chance to express my fond amusement for the show. It is indeed kind of boring, and I doubt it will have much staying power. What I like is the complete lack of bells and whistles. Kondo’s entire thing* is just, “throw stuff away and then put the remaining items away neatly.”

      The houses are (sometimes very) cluttered, but not in a way that lets viewers feel especially superior or Shocked and Horrified. There are no beautifully-organized, aspirational closets for the Pinterest set. Kondo literally brings a stack of cardboard shoeboxes for the clients. There is no interior design improvement at all. If the house was ugly before, it’s ugly after, just with less stuff in it. And the “after” shots are really unimpressive. If you imagine living there, you can see how it would be way more peaceful, and the clients are visibly happy, but there is no effort put into getting any before-and-after wow-factor.

      I mean, this is sort of getting a kick about how lame it is, which is hardly high praise, but I actually enjoy its unselfconscious, no-frills approach.

      *Based on the show; I haven’t read her book.

      • nerme'e sivni says:

        Her book is well worth reading. It’s got some concrete actionable advice that will help a lot if you ever have tried uncluttering your home on your own, and got bogged down.

        • Don P. says:

          I read the book and have applied exactly one thing from it, which I actually learned from the friend who told me about the book: instead of balling up your socks, fold them and lay them on their side so you can see them all at once.

          • nerme'e sivni says:

            The “sort stuff out by type, not by room” was transformative for me.

            And the ritual of thanking each thing, while it sounds ridiculous to someone of a materialist philosophy, actually really does work.

  31. danjelski says:

    I posted my own review of Hillbilly Elegy here: It hits at least some of the points suggested by Dormin111.

    • SamChevre says:

      I’m only a couple paragraphs in, and I’m loving the review.

      I grew up in Appalachia, but the Appalachian culture was that of my neighbors. (My family were Mennonite; that’s a forceful enough identity to not assimilate.)

      I can tell I’m home because people have strong opinions about generic soda.

    • Plumber says:


      Your blog that you link to is an interesting point of view (I once had a long conversation with Nat Weinstein before his death).

      I’ve subscribed to it now.

  32. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Numerous OTs ago, we had a discussion about how AAA video games have become art on the level of Hollywood movies. We may scoff that’s a low bar, but it’s amazing how far the medium has come. In the early 1980s, a developer could push out an ambitious game that was like 1% finished and not be a laughingstock.
    My favorite example is Ultima II. Here we have an RPG that takes place on a map of Earth in no less than five different time periods and lets you get a spacecraft and fly to world maps of every planet in the Solar system… and good grief is it shoddy. There are barely any towns on the world maps to visit, there is absolutely no reason to explore the dungeons programmed into the game, none of the other planets have anything but water and grass (on the gas giants!) except Planet X where you have to talk to one Father Antos to complete the game… and read that ad: people paid $54.95 1982 dollars for this!

    • ilikekittycat says:

      Counterpoint: Daggerfall->Morrowind->Oblivion->Skyrim all have the same “released with 1000 bugs and biting off more than they can chew” development problem but Daggerfall was widely considered a laughingstock and a mess, Morrowind and Oblivion idiosyncratic or “not for everyone,” and Skyrim OMG THE BEST GAME THAT EVER EXISTED and you are just nitpicking if you don’t like it

      • beleester says:

        Even if there’s the same amount of bugs in each (personally, I never had anything worse than my horse trying to climb a wall), the core gameplay has definitely gotten more refined. Comparing the combat of Morrowind and Skyrim is like night and day. I can’t believe someone actually thought that “hit the target so you can roll the dice and see if you hit them” was a fun way to do melee combat.

        I’d say that AAA game design in general has gotten better at asking “How will players experience this system?” rather than “What interesting systems can we implement on a computer?” You can see a similar refinement going from old XCOM’s TU system to the new XCOM’s two-action system, for example.

        • woah77 says:

          As a member of the XCOM/X-COM communities, I can tell you that there is a great nostalgia for the TU system. This is very apparent when looking at Phoenix Point (an Indie, but large) project of Julian Gallop (Lead designer for X-Com) and hearing how many fans like the fact that it has some level of TU-ness.

          I will say “How will players experience this system” is very important, but XCOM might not be the best example. I think Deus Ex or Assassin’s Creed are probably better examples of refinement from the first game to today.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            I mean, if you want to talk about finicky subsystems that fans are nevertheless nostalgic for, Deus Ex might not be the best counterexample.

          • woah77 says:

            Fair enough. I think it’s fairly universally seen that with Assassin’s Creed that controls, mechanics, etc have all improved over time. I can’t recall anyone complaining about Assassin’s Creed origins saying “Why couldn’t they have just made the combat and climbing clunky like in AC1?”

          • aristides says:

            I have heard several people complain about new assassins creed combat that it is too easy, and miss the days where you had to actually be stealthy to survive combat. There will always be nostalgic fans, no exceptions.

            Ps I might have accidentally reported woah. If so I apologize, please ignore.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            I have heard several people complain about new assassins creed combat that it is too easy

            This seems backwards to me. In AC3, for example, Connor could get into a massive scrape with six people, and as long as you pressed the counter at the right time and followed up with a attack and refrained from mashing the attack so often that you were left open for the next enemy attack, you could pretty reliably take down all six. Same with Black Flag and Rogue.

            It got a bit harder with Unity and Syndicate with its advanced areas with enemies with massive health for you to wear down, but all you had to do was not go into those areas until your level was higher (which is easy, since there was this massive sign on it saying what levels it was recommended for).

            Origins and Odyssey changed the combat from an essentially quicktime system to one based on hitboxes, autoscaled enemies, and permitted them to attack the hero pretty much whenever. The mercenary system made Odyssey harder still. I’m led to wonder whether people are playing on the hardest difficulty on the earlier games and switching to easy on Odyssey.

      • Nornagest says:

        Not sure where you’re getting this from. Skyrim was well-liked, sure, but it has some very evident problems (repetitive dungeons, poorly balanced skills, shallow characters, major questlines that flat-out don’t make sense) and casual fans do talk about them. Among serious Bethesda fanboys, the consensus seems to be that it was mechanically dumbed down from earlier offerings, if prettier and a lot more polished controls-wise. And Bethesda bugs have been a running joke for like two decades now.

        I’d say the ugly stepchild of TES is Oblivion, if it’s anything.

        • acymetric says:

          Interesting, I actually think I liked Oblivion better than Skyrim. They both had painfully boring and repetitive dungeons. I’m not sure I noticed any real improvement in combat between Oblivion and Skyrim (but maybe there were some that I missed or didn’t care about), and where the skill/class system in Oblivion could be seen as an improvement on Morrowind (even if I enjoyed the more convoluted Morrowind system) Skyrim was just too dumbed down. Morrowind had by far the best story, but its combat system was…an aquired taste at best.

          My ideal Elder Scrolls game would be the Morrowind story, Morrowind skills/classes/leveling mechanics, with Skyrim’s graphics and combat system (understanding that some tweaking would be required to make the old leveling mechanics make sense with the new combat system).

          Skyrim was the best to look at but the least fun to play and the least immersive.

          • ayegill says:

            As far as I can tell, the only significant change in the combat system oblivion->skyrim was the addition of bashing to interrupt power attacks. Which did give you a little bit more to do than “mash LMB until enemy is dead”, but it was hardly a big step forward.

        • ilikekittycat says:

          Reviewing the data, it appears that although Oblivion reviews from 2006 were overinflated as I remembered, you are correct that the user or audience scores for that title are the lowest in the series, which is heartening.

    • beleester says:

      While I think you’re mostly right, No Man’s Sky and Star Citizen are definitely no slouches in the field of “making a giant world and then forgetting to put a game inside it.”

    • AG says:

      The “Bad Games Block” of GDQ is always a delight.

  33. hash872 says:

    I had a random life observation that I’d like to make, using an analogy to a topic I’ve seen very very little interest in on SSC (weightlifting/exercise). YMMV.

    A huge part of American culture/mythology/values system/truisms/endless cliches etc. centers around ‘hard work’- generally, the idea that the harder you work the more successful you’ll be in a given task or field. It’s a basic truism that the most successful people in a given profession are the hardest working, that outworking your colleagues or schoolmates is the path to success, etc. We heard about it endlessly from childhood on. ‘Hard work’ itself is ill-defined, and in practice manifests itself as staying extra hours in the office doing nothing productive, for appearances. Or doing a very large quantity of extremely low-percentage, ineffective tasks (I’m in sales- the classic example is ‘cold call through the phone book for leads, starting with A’. Very hard work, very very low percentage).

    Weight lifting is a fantastic example of how ‘being the hardest worker is the path to success’ is mostly nonsense. Your muscles & tendons require a certain amount of destruction in order to grow in the future- an overload threshold must be reached. Exceeding that threshold…. does nothing positive, and much negative. If 3 working sets of squats causes sufficient muscle breakdown for future growth, you don’t get better results by doing, like, 17 sets. Or 50, or 100. Or even 5. There’s literally no reward for being extra hard-working, and in fact it’s actually destructive and counterproductive to desired results- too much muscle breakdown renders your body unable to recover.

    As another example, a friend of mine is a serious amateur triathlete, and recently had one of the top 10 amateur times in the world. He said his weekly routine mostly consists of him trying to not overtrain or burn his body out- if he runs, say, 20+ miles once in a given week, it breaks his body down too much and interferes with future workouts going forward. It’s actually counter-productive to work too hard!

    Weight lifting here is an analogy for life- success accrues to those who work moderately hard, over a sustained, lengthy period of time. Compare the careers of someone who works 40-50 hours a week, and someone who works 80+. Except for very rare individuals, the vast majority of people who work extremely excessive hours will simply hit burnout faster and quit. It’s the tortoise & the hare story- much of adulthood is a marathon, not a sprint, and sustained moderate effort beats extreme ‘hard work’ (with some exceptions like getting a startup off the ground- and even that should only last a few years)

    • brad says:

      Not directly responsive, but your post inspired it:

      In some highly remunerative professions in the US there’s a model where by new members have to work extremely excessive hours, but as you climb the ladder the expectations taper off the to elite norm of 45-50ish hours a week. Finance is probably the best example–it’s easy to find an analyst pulling an all nighter, good luck finding a managing director doing the same. However, in other professions, especially those that sell employee hours as such, there’s no taper. A big law partner may be able to bill a higher percentage of his working hours and so have slightly fewer overall hours than a first year associate, but the billable hour expectations are the same or higher (the now semi-mythical rainmaker-only partner is somewhat of an exception).

      Management consulting is definitely type II. Big tech is probably neither. Medicine is type I, I think.

      • hash872 says:

        Agreed with all of this, but I always thought there was a bit of a hazing angle to type 1 as well. ‘We worked 100+ hours a week when we were junior associates, so you guys will too!’ I think this mentality is extremely common in a ton of industries, not just white collar ones. I’m a little skeptical of how frequent type 2 is, but I’m an outsider and just speculating. (I.e. I suspect that big law partners work significantly less hours than the juniors).

        I wonder what explains the lack of this model in tech. More independent, free-wheeling culture that disdains work for work’s sake? Better metrics on when someone is actually working effectively/contributing, so that bosses can see the devs stop being productive around hour 10 or so?

        • johan_larson says:

          I wonder what explains the lack of this model in tech.

          My guess is bottomless demand. If you’re any good at all as a computer programmer, there are any number of companies that would hire you. That being the case, if a manager tries to push his staff really hard, he’d better have some ace up his sleeve or they’ll just quit. Among such aces are: a reality-distortion field like Steve Jobs had, the prospect of vast rewards conditional on success (as in an early startup), or employees for whom dismissal means a quick flight back to shitholistan.

          • brad says:

            Game programmers seem to take a lot of shit. And while it might not be as trivial for them as it is for someone at FACMAZOOGLE to walk across the street, I think most could certainly get traditional gigs if they wanted to.

          • johan_larson says:

            They do. In their case the bottomless demand is met by nearly bottomless supply, so the situation is a bit different. An awful lot of people want to make games, many with credible skills for doing so.

        • Thomas Jorgensen says:

          Overtired programmers make very expensive mistakes. This is a very direct disincentive for overwork. The mythology is strong enough people try it on anyway, but in reality, if you want more than 40 hours of good quality work out of someone, for the long haul you need staff dedicated to keeping their life in order – That is why lawfirms and so on can sustain fifty-sixty hour weeks at the high end – those people have cooks, drivers and cleaners.

      • Reasoner says:

        I think big tech doesn’t require long work hours period. The primarily hurdle seems to be ability to quickly and accurately solve leetcode style problems. (This is what /r/cscareerquestions thinks, and it seems accurate enough in my experience.) Which is in turn basically determined by (a) general intelligence/problem solving ability and (b) practice. That practice, in the form of “grinding leetcode”, is typically something you do intensively in the ~month prior to when you start interviewing for jobs. So overall it’s pretty good, although there’s still plenty of whining on /r/cscareerquestions from people who lack the necessarily general intelligence or determination to practice. (Note: even those who miss spots at Big Tech still get cushy six figure programmer jobs elsewhere. So overall we in technology have it pretty good.)

        • nweining says:

          This is what you need to get in the door. It is not what you need to make a long-term success of your career at a medium-to-big tech company. The correlation between the two is positive but far from perfect, which explains both:

          (a) the extreme anti-false-positive bias of many tech company hiring bars, resulting in lots of false negatives
          (b) the continuing desire to find a reasonably-low-cost hiring process whose output correlates more strongly with long-term employee performance than the classic leetcode-ish process.

    • hash872 says:

      I guess for a bit more nuanced take- recovery ability varies pretty widely, and future champion weightlifters/powerlifters/strongman athletes are probably able to tolerate greater workloads and break their muscles down further in the gym, leading to increased results. Whereas, say, I can only do 3 working sets of squats, Thor Ragnarok Smasher Of Records (completely made up Icelandic strongman) can probably do 8-10, and so even if we started at the same level of strength he would increase much faster. I suppose there can be cognitive differences in work ethic/focus for intellectual jobs too. (On a personal note, I am completely zonked after 6+ hours of kinda boring white collar work, and am basically not productive after that. I’d imagine there are lots of people who can easily double my workload).

      This take just undermines the classic American ‘it’s all about hard work’ ethos even further though, and drifts into genetic limits on accomplishments/success. So kind of a darker direction, if people want to explore that

    • Reasoner says:

      This seems like one of those equal and opposite advice things. Your average person needs to hear the work harder message. Your average person never goes to the gym or does so for the first few weeks of January. It’s the elite athletes for whom overtraining is a concern.

      • This. The whole overtraining thing turned out to be hugely overhyped. It’s really hard to accidentally overtrain if you’re not an elite athlete. Almost everyone could benefit from training more, although there’s a marginal diminishing utility to extra effort beyond a certain point (as with most things in life). For anyone interested in sport science, Greg Nuckols is really good on all this kind of stuff.

        • hash872 says:

          I guess I don’t really agree with any of this. Overtraining is described and well-known in basically every sport known to man- rhabdomyolysis is an actual medical condition, diagnosed by actual doctors.

          You can easily test the hypothesis yourself. Start a powerlifting routine- get in a rhythm and start seeing your bench, squat & deadlift numbers increase. Now increase the number of sets prescribed by the program while keeping the intensity the same- if it calls for 3, do 5 the next week, with the same intensity. Then do 7 the next week- then do 9 the next, etc. Keep testing your strength numbers- do let us know if they go up or down. It’s not ‘marginal diminishing utility’, you will actually find yourself growing weaker as your body is unable to keep up with the damage done.

          IRL in every sport I’ve ever been involved in (powerlifting, BJJ, MMA), overtraining is a constant and well-recognized deleterious phenomena. It even affects athletes on PEDs! Just at a higher intensity level

          • acymetric says:

            I think you’re missing the point. Most people who exercise are not power lifters or high-end athletes in any sense, and for most of those people the idea of over training is probably not terribly helpful.

            We aren’t talking about power lifters, triathletes, or marathon runners here, this is talking about warnings of over training to your average Joe.

            Note the qualifier from Richard’s comment (emphasis mine):

            It’s really hard to accidentally overtrain if you’re not an elite athlete.

          • hash872 says:

            Powerlifting is simply the name for weight training that focuses on the bench press, squat and deadlift. There are elite athletes who practice it as a sport, and also hobbyists & athletes in other sports who follow the routines while actually not competing. For example, even marathon runners powerlift as a supplemental and balancing exercise (presumably with not very much intensity). An 80 year old grandma can ‘powerlift’, which just means focusing on bench/squat/deadlift in the gym.

            Basically, while it is a sport, it’s also a broad term for a weightlifting routine that does not require competition. I and millions of other Americans powerlift and have no intention of competing.

            The average Joe is probably more likely than an elite athlete to be suspectible to overtraining- poor genetics, normal nutritional practices, lack of ‘supplementation’ etc.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            I think you’re still missing the point. The average Joe has absolutely no susceptibility to overtraining, because he does not exercise. The average Joe does not need to hear “don’t overtrain,” he needs to hear “get off your ass and go to the gym.”
            For the average Joe, THIS is the part that’s the problem:

            Now increase the number of sets prescribed by the program while keeping the intensity the same- if it calls for 3, do 5 the next week, with the same intensity. Then do 7 the next week- then do 9 the next, etc.

            You seriously think that the average Joe is going to keep to a workout routine for 3 weeks? My in-laws just started up their “health resolutions” for 2019. They have more or less abandoned their exercise and it’s January 14th. Out of the 7 of them, one has done a “workout” 6 times, and the rest have “worked out” 3 times or less. And their definition of “work out” is a 30 minute Zumba class, not powerlifts.

          • Since this thread has triggered some enjoyable reminiscing, I hereby present: a short history on the rise, fall, and tentative rehabilitation of overtraining.

            (For context: I dabbled in amateur powerlifting and strongman competitions, got injured enough times that I switched to calisthenics, and have generally been hanging around the strength sports community for a long time.)

            I started lifting right when everyone was at peak panic about overtraining. Hilariously minimalist programs, body-part splits, and regular deloads were all the rage, dreamed up by people who had apparently never met a dustman or a manual labourer. The greatest victims of this were the pencil-necked noobs who fetishized science, such as yours truly, who were very careful not to get burned out from their 130 pound 3×5 squats or whatever. Most actually successful bodybuilders and powerlifters – the ‘bros’ who the nerds made fun of – kept working their asses off and reaping the rewards, as per usual.

            Then came the backlash, starting around 2010. The gap between the Pubmed warriors and the actual practitioners was becoming difficult to explain. Some prominent folks proclaimed that overtraining was a total myth; merely an excuse made up by weaklings. All of a sudden, everyone started doing hilariously high-volume programs. My lifting buddies and I got some badly-translated Sheiko and Smolov routines and started running back-to-back cycles. Matt Perryman came out with his ‘squat every day’ philosophy. The Bulgarian Method and German Volume Training started getting popular around this time too.

            The greatest victims of this overcorrection were probably the Crossfitters, who at that time had a total lack of programming, incompetent coaching, and thought rhabdo was a badge of honour. Personally, I never saw or heard of any cases of overtraining among actual strength athletes (this was while training alongside some of the top PL/SM in my country) although they were all very meticulous about prehab, rehab, deloads, etc.

            Around 2014, we miraculously managed to arrive at a middle ground: overtraining was in fact a thing that existed, but of no great concern to most people. Basic full-body routines and simple linear periodization were back in vogue. Crossfit reined in their wackier antics. For the general population, and especially the pencil-necks inclined to overthink things, ‘shut up and lift’ is genuinely good advice. As Layne Norton memorably put it:

            I worry about overtraining… I worry about it just as much as I fret about being abducted by UFOs or kidnapped by Sasquatch.

            And that’s where we’re at today, as far as I know. The aforementioned Greg Nuckols (basically the Scott Alexander of exercise science) sums up the state of the research in ‘More is More’. If you work your ass off, you will reap the rewards.

            As Reasoner pointed out in the parent comment, a small minority of people – i.e. the deranged Crossfitter types or elite athletes with a ridiculous work ethic – need to be have the fear of overtraining instilled in them. For the the majority of the population, this advice not only doesn’t apply; it’s the opposite of what they need to hear.

            You could make an excellent case for doing less work on the basis of diminishing returns – putting in the minimal effort required to capture most of the gains. That’s more or less what I do, because I’m lazy, and not a competitive athlete. But if I wanted to improve, I would most definitely start doing more work, not less, and I sure as hell wouldn’t worry about overtraining.

          • acymetric says:

            @Richard Meadows

            Would a fair summary be:

            You have to work really hard to overtrain, and most people just never work that hard, and they wouldn’t even if they pushed themselves to what they consider to be their “limit”?

          • Garrett says:

            How do people manage to deal with the pain of training? I don’t mean tearing/causing injury pain. Just the pain of doing something strenuous and uncomfortable over and over again? It always feels to me like the movie scenes where the character gasps and says “go on without me”.

          • CatCube says:


            Yeah, I’m the same way. Whenever somebody talks about a “runner’s high” I’m reminded of Dennis Miller’s bit about how I must have gotten a hold of some bad shit, because I just end up curled on the floor and puking.

          • Tarpitz says:

            The trick, Garrett, is not minding that it hurts.

            I also find Guns n’ Roses somewhat helpful.

          • @acymetric

            Yep, exactly. Obviously there are limits, but the human body is pretty resilient.


            Interesting. Training is strenuous, but I’d never categorise it as ‘painful’ (unless you’re talking about DOMS, which comes after the fact, and which still feels kind of satisfying to me). In fact, it’s often quite pleasurable. Maybe this is one of those weird Universal Human Experience things!

        • AG says:

          Is there a consensus on static/dynamic stretching yet?

    • mr_capybara says:

      Oh, that’s interesting. You went the complete opposite direction from what I was expecting. I thought you were going to talk about how if someone is rich or successful, that could have been luck or inheritance, but if someone is totally ripped, then there’s literally no way they could be like that without having put in a great deal of work. And that 9 times out of 10, if someone goes to the gym more religiously over several years than someone else, they’ll end up much stronger.

      But you mean, like, zoomed in, the optimal way to train is not too push yourself beyond your limits. Well, maybe. I’m not convinced exercise science has figured it out yet. You get all kinds of conflicting information. On the one hand, there’s certainly something to be said for volume: pushing yourself to failure at a weight, and then dialing down and doing even more sets at 80% of that weight is a way to get past a block. And while certainly everyone argues that rest days are important, people who _don’t_ weight train, but who _do_ work with heavy weights every day as part of their job (e.g. farmers) are _terrifically_ strong.

    • Watchman says:

      I think your focus is too narrow. In no field is continual repetition of the same task likely to lead to success: we don’t consider an excellent factory worker to be successful although they may be well-rewarded. Hard work eccompasses doing many things: for weightlifting working on your diet, staying flexible and putting the effort into getting recognised as successful.

      I’d agree that success in hitting a target (e.g. Lifting a certain weight) might require limited application. Being successful however is about your success being recognised, and that might require additional activities, be it self-promotion or attending competitions. It is the difference between hitting your own targets and being seen to hit them in a positive light which may define hard work.

      None of which makes the truism that success requires hard work true of course: Usain Bolt could have been a successful runner with almost minimal effort (hard work made him more successful though). But to turn a successful achievement into being successful is harder than simply attaining the achievement might be.

      And I’ve maybe just sketched the basis of a RPG level system that limits your ability to uplevel by just repeating one action ad nauseum…

    • Jon S says:

      I agree that in many contexts, blindly increasing the volume of your work provides little or negative return. But I usually wouldn’t describe that high level volume as ‘hard work’. Your salesman example is close I guess.

      But in general, working hard starts with putting in the effort to figure out how to best achieve your goals (and then, once you’ve done the work to come up with a plan, executing it). Doing some research to learn how to be a successful athlete, how to make your office hours more productive, how to better target your sales calls to potential customers, etc. Blindly following a process for 80 hours a week isn’t easy, but defining that as hard work is at best a big simplification.

    • Godbluff says:

      In 2014 the Greeks worked 2042 hours on average, while the Germans worked 1371. Despite this, Germany’s GDP was 2.4 times that of Greece.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      I sort of agree with some of the general points, but this really depends on the field, the industry, and what your definition of “success” is. My impression is certain fields like surgery or general medicine can require some shocking hours, even of particularly veteran people, in order to reach the top rungs. You can certainly eke out a comfortable existence working less hours, but there are a lot of people who look down upon people making sub-6 figures, or, god forbid, median salary. And even low six figures might not be “successful” depending on your social group.

      IME (mostly corporate Fortune 500), the people who succeed do tend to be harder workers, but they aren’t putting in over 60 hour weeks, except on rare occasions. The difference is they tend to be working those 40 hours: most people are really working 30 hours, with 10 hours of nothing. And they tend to fill those 30 hours with low-impact, low-effort, repetitive tasks that don’t really advance their careers. The hard workers tend to take on bigger projects that get them noticed and eventually push them on to the “next step.”
      The people routinely working 60+ hour weeks are the victims of understaffing or just plain crazy.

  34. goedlmax says:

    Some time ago I saw people here discussing the story of Colombus’ first voyage and the many popular myths around it.

    The facts as far as I understand them are
    1) Columbus underestimated the circumference of the Earth and overestimated the extent of the Eurasian continent, which led him to severely underestimate the length of his voyage.
    2) The experts at the time had much more accurate estimates of both these parameters and concluded that Columbus’ plan was infeasible.
    3) Columbus received funding from the Spanish crown and went on his voyage against the expert’s advice.

    My question is why?
    A) Why did Columbus do it? He must have been aware of the other estimates of the Earth’s diameter and the extent of Euroasia. Was this a case of extreme overconfidence? Is there evidence of other episodes in his life where Columbus exhibited similar signs of overconfidence?
    B) Why did the Catholic Monarchs provide the funding? I don’t know the total cost of Columbus’ voyage but it must have been a non-trivial sum. Was this a case of government misallocation of funds with an unintended long-run payoff? Was the Spanish government in the habit of spending large amounts of money for similarly dubious projects?

    • Anon. says:

      It’s actually a bit weirder than that.

      Columbus, strangely, thought that the old world, known to Ptolemy, was half of a perfect sphere, but the new world, he believed, was shaped like the top half of a pear, or like a breast; he had the impression he was sailing uphill as he left the Azores behind him.5 The stalk, or nipple, of this other hemisphere was the location of the terrestrial paradise.6 ‘The earth’ (or rather the agglomerate of earth and water) bulged.”

    • Machine Interface says:

      The explanation I’ve seen (from James Hannam’s God’s Philosophers) is that, until 1406, the consensus over the exact circumference of Earth was taken from Eratosthenes’ fairly accurate estimate of thereof (to the extent that we don’t actually know the exact value of the length units used by Erastosthenes, but their most likely range of value do point out to a fairly good approximation of the real distance — if actually a bit too large ).

      But in 1406, Ptolemy’s text Geography was rediscovered and translated. This text contained a radically different — and much smaller — estimate, making the Earth’s circumference almost a third shorter.

      The matter wasn’t helped by empirical evidence. Recent explorations around Africa had disproven different geographical claims of both Erastothenes and Ptolemy. So in fact, by the time of Columbus, there no longer was an expert consensus on the size of Earth.

      In this perspective, Columbus is just one of many people deciding to follow Ptolemy, and the Spanish crown funded his expedition hoping indeed that Ptolemy was right and that this way lied a passage to India (especially since the Portuguese had recently taken control of the sea route around Africa).

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      B) Why did the Catholic Monarchs provide the funding? I don’t know the total cost of Columbus’ voyage but it must have been a non-trivial sum. Was this a case of government misallocation of funds with an unintended long-run payoff?

      Yes. Columbus was a crank who’d been denied funding by every monarch he’d had an audience with, including Ferdinand and Isabella.
      Then the Siege of Granada succeeded. The entire Iberian peninsula was under Catholic rule, and Isabella recalled Columbus because she now believed she was on a divine mission to spread Christianity. She was now willing to misallocate some funds because she thought he’d really, by the grace of God, bump into Japan before his crew starved and the ship was lost, as all rational people expected.

      • Brett says:

        He was reportedly denied funding by the Portuguese monarchy for something that he ironically wasn’t wrong about – the existence of Japan (he argued it did exist, experts at the court argued it did not, etc).

    • Tenacious D says:

      I’ve seen a theory (I forget where) that European fishing vessels may have reached the Grand Banks prior to Columbus’ voyages. From there they could have seen signs that land wasn’t much further (e.g. birds flying west after catching fish). Columbus may have heard these stories when he was in Bristol or Lisbon and decided they were evidence for the smaller diameter estimates.

      As to part B), it’s my understanding that the Castilian coffers were quite flush in 1492 following the surrender of Granada. (Edit: Just saw that Le Maistre Chat made a similar point).

    • Doctor Mist says:

      Decades ago, I read, somewhere, the suggestion that Columbus’s wide travels throughout Europe had perhaps included Scandinavia and Britain, where he might have heard suggestions of something to the west much closer than you’d have expected, which made him believe the smaller estimate. (We know about Leif Erikson, of course, and there is some evidence that Brits and maybe even Portuguese sailors had discovered the Grand Banks before Columbus.)

      • goedlmax says:

        Reading a little more on Wikipedia I found the following which would support your hypothesis:

        In Ferdinand Columbus’s biography of his father Christopher, he says that in 1477 his father saw in Galway, Ireland two dead bodies which had washed ashore in their boat. The bodies and boat were of exotic appearance, and have been suggested to have been Inuit who had drifted off course.[140]

        In Ireland, Columbus might have heard stories about Brasil, the mythical island in the middle of the Atlantic ocean.

        • Lillian says:

          He might have heard about Hy Brasil from back when the Vikings visited, but unfortunately he was too late to visit it, since by then it had sunk. Well allegedly sunk, there was apparently some controversy about whether or not it was really sinking.

    • Reasoner says:

      I feel like there’s a selection effect where we hear about the successful explorers but not the other ones who sailed off somewhere and never came back. So maybe the real question is what failure rate monarchs were willing to tolerate overall in their exploreres.

    • LadyJane says:

      Clearly they were persuaded by time-traveling refugees from an alternate 25th century where the Aztec Empire ruled the world with an iron obsidian fist and sacrificed millions of people per day to appease their gods.

    • Brett says:

      A)As far as we can tell, he just really wanted to do it, and thought he’d found a way to do it (the westward winds once you got a ship down to the Canary Islands, which future voyages would use to swing way out into the Atlantic Ocean to better travel around Africa).

      B)It wasn’t a huge cost for them (they paid for it out of the sale of indulgences in Extremadura IIRC), and they were open for potential opportunities to find new trade routes and new lands to conquer once Grenada had been dealt with. Columbus didn’t just sell the voyage on the possibility of a shorter route to East Asia – he also reportedly suggested it as a way to find new lands and islands to settle and conquer, like the Azores and Canaries.

    • John Schilling says:

      Why did the Catholic Monarchs provide the funding? I don’t know the total cost of Columbus’ voyage but it must have been a non-trivial sum.

      There is some uncertainty as to the total cost because Columbus put up a significant fraction (possibly as much as a third) of the money himself. But this isn’t a preindustrial Apollo program we are talking about, just three second-hand freighters with extra provisions. And the Spanish Crown’s contribution is documented as 1,140,000 maravedis plus some political leverage with suppliers.

      Progressive devaluation of coinage makes that tricky to convert to real money (pun intended), but on the order of 5,000 Spanish dollars or ~140 kg of silver. Another source suggests that the average net worth of a middle-class(*) family of the time would be ~2 kg silver equivalent. Maybe not “trivial”, but easily within the ream of “this probably won’t work but the payoff would be huge so let’s give it a try”.

      And regarding “probably won’t work”, it is only in hindsight that everybody “knew” Eratosthenes had calculated the circumference of the earth to +/-1%. There were substantial error bars on that estimate as it was understood at the time, and while the mdian estimate would have had Columbus’s crew perishing mid-ocean, actually reaching the East Indies was probably within the two-sigma limit. Also, there was some limited evidence, possibly known to Columbus, for land within sailing distance of Iceland, Ireland, and/or Portugal. If Columbus wants to bet his life against fortune and glory on the theory that this is evidence of the two-sigma low evidence for the Earth’s circumference, then it’s certainly reasonable for the Catholic Monarchs to put up a few thousand dollars for 87.5% of the fortune and a minor share of the glory.

      * Note that “middle class” does not mean either “average” or “working-class” in an agrarian economy.

      • AlphaGamma says:

        I am amused by the existence of a coin called the maravedi given that the Modern Greek word marafeti (possibly related) translates as “thingummy” or “whatchamacallit”.

        • John Schilling says:

          Nit: The maravedi was an accounting unit, AFIK never coined and used because the value of coinage fluctuated too much to be useful for accounting purposes. But if the etymology you suggest is not coincidental, yes, rather amusing.

          • LHN says:

            It looks like the maravedi derives from the Almoravids (whose name derives from “ribat”, monastery-fortress), while marafeti is from Turkish “marifet”, knowledge, from Arabic “maʿrifa”, ditto.

            So both go back to Arabic ultimately, but they don’t look to be etymologically related. (Though I’m open to correction from someone who knows more.)

  35. JohnBuridan says:

    The biggest disappointment in this year’s survey is that Scott did not ask how much we like puns.
    I love puns.

    • Doctor Mist says:

      This is hereby designated the Opun Thread.

    • Statismagician says:


    • AG says:

      I’ve had thoughts percolating about why some forms of wordplay come off as clever, while others get labeled as puns and garner an instinct of sighing from me.
      From what I can tell, it’s about the inclusion of context. Wordplay serves a broader purpose, engages with the rest of the conversation around it. Tom Swifties bundle in their own context, since the wordplay is referencing another part of the sentence.

      In contrast, puns of the sort where the punster randomly inserts a word that sounds similar does nothing except bring a conversation to a screeching halt for a non-sequitur, and that’s why I feel annoyed by them.

      Another element is the obvious factor. Some wordplays are so ridiculously obvious that I’ve already made and dismissed them in my mind as not having enough value, and then the punster happily disrupts the conversation to make it anyways, which is a sign of a lack of social grace. A good wordplay demonstrates that the person making it can be expected to be competent in other areas.

  36. AlesZiegler says:

    One more Star Wars post, because why not. My personal and provisional ordering of SW movies from worst to best:

    Last Jedi (worst)
    Phantom Menace
    Attack of the Clones
    Solo (of its place in this ranking I am least confident from all SW movies)
    Revenge of the Sith
    Return of the Jedi
    Force Awakens
    Rogue One

    And two oldest episodes are equally good and best.

    • Nornagest says:

      I’d place Attack of the Clones as slightly worse than Phantom Menace and Empire Strikes Back as slightly better than A New Hope, but other than that I agree with the ordering for those of the franchise I’ve seen.

    • Plumber says:

      The 1977 Star Wars was a better self-contained movie, but if you have seen it The Empire Strikes Back is the better film.

      I’d like to pretend that Return of the Jedi doesn’t exist, it was so very disappointing.

      I haven’t seen any of the others.

      • tocny says:

        Your opinion of Return of the Jedi is not part of the zeitgeist. Why do you feel that it was so disappointing?

        • Plumber says:

          The sky cycles through the forest were cool, everything else from Luke’s smirking while rescuing Han, to the stupid teddy bears, to Luke bantering with his Dad instead of fighting the Empire along with his comrades seemed lame, but I only say it once in ’83 so I may mis-remember it.

          Part of it may be that I was a thrilled nine-year-old when I saw Star Wars, but I was a jaded 15 years old for Jedi.

          • acymetric says:

            Return of the Jedi was definitely a little tackier than the previous two movies, and a lot of it felt a little forced/obligatory. That said, I’ll disagree about Luke/Vader/Palpatine (that scene was amazing and critical to the trilogy, on my short list for best scenes in the entire series).

    • zqed says:

      From worst to best: The Force Awakens, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, The Phantom Menace, Return of the Jedi, The Empire Strikes Back, A New Hope.

      To be fair, I don’t particularly like any of the movies apart from ANH, and TFA was sufficiently boring to convince me to skip Rogue One, TLJ or Solo.

    • Machine Interface says:

      Don’t care at all, horribly written, horribly directed, no redeeming feature:
      Attack of the Clones
      Revenge of the Sith

      Some good scenes and ideas, but overall boring and clumsy:
      Phantom Menace
      The Last Jedi

      Just kinda there, don’t hate them but don’t seek them either:
      A New Hope
      Force Awakens

      Good entertainment:
      Rogue One
      Return of the Jedi

      Genuinely good film, would rewatch many times and wouldn’t care if the rest of the franchise didn’t exist:
      Empire Strikes Back

      (Haven’t seen Solo yet)

    • sty_silver says:

      I could never wrap my head around everyone else’s quality assessment of star wars movies. I think Attack of the clones is a good movie, all in all, with a genuinely unpredictable storyline. None of the other movies are good, though #5 is ok and all the new ones are at least tolerable (minus Solo that I haven’t seen yet). #1 and #6 are awful. At least we agree on those.

      There must be something about Attack of the clones that bothers everyone else that I’m not seeing. Perhaps just the romance part. I found it more tolerable than anything in #4-#6, though. But can we agree that Attack of the Clones has the most interesting plot out of all star wars movies?

      • Nornagest says:

        Attack of the Clones doesn’t have the worst plot (that’s probably Phantom Menace) or the worst characters (Phantom Menace again; Last Jedi might be in the running too from what I’ve heard, but I haven’t seen it), and it doesn’t introduce the worst parts of the franchise (that’s probably Return of the Jedi), but it has by far the worst script.

        • Lillian says:

          Anakin and Obi-Wan’s banter in Attack of the Clones is some of the most entertaining dialogue out of all the movies and easily one of my favourite things about the franchise as a whole. The greatest thing about the second Clone Wars cartoon is that it saw Anakin and Obi-Wan’s relationship in Attack of the Clones, said to itself, “Yup, they pretty much nailed it, we just have to do more of the same.” Then proceeds to give us exactly that.

      • AlesZiegler says:

        IMO two things are very bad with Attack of the Clones. First, horrible cringe inducing scenes between Christensen (Anakin) and Portman (Padme).

        Second, moral dissonance of the plot. It is treated as given that Separatists are Bad, but why? They are not Space Nazis like The Empire, but independence movement.

        Otherwise, I don´t think it is awful movie in some absolute sense (for me, from this list only Last Jedi is), but I am quite fond of SW saga, others evidently disagree.

      • aristides says:

        Attack of the clones is my least favorite almost entirety due to Hayden Christensen’s terrible acting. To this day, I think it was the worst acting performance of any main character I have seen. It is hard for me to think of the rest of the movie objectively, because Hayden breaks me out of the immersion. It is litteraly unwatchable for me at this point.

        • Mr. Doolittle says:

          Yep. There are many poor aspects of that movie, but his acting is the point that makes it nearly unwatchable.

        • Statismagician says:

          I have half a theory that Christensen actually did a fantastic job of portraying an emotionally-stunted unstable teenager, but nobody realized until after the movie was out that nobody actually wants to watch a realistically-portrayed person of that description.

        • Tarpitz says:

          The first time I saw it, I thought Christensen was inexplicably awful. The second time I saw it, I thought about how I would have delivered those lines, and came to the conclusion that the only person who could make them not sound terrible would be Sean Connery, because Sean Connery can say anything and make it sound good. Christensen may well be rubbish, but the script was an absolute hospital pass for him.

    • The Pachyderminator says:

      I was very gratefully surprised by The Last Jedi. I found it interesting and daring in a way I never expected any of the post-Lucas movies to be – and that, not polished writing, is what I value about Star Wars. Perhaps for similar reasons, I like the prequels, especially Phantom Menace, better than most.

      Also, the throne room scene in Last Jedi with Kylo Ren and Rey is the best fight scene in any Star Wars movie.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        The Last Jedi is my current favorite SW film, and the number one reason for that is that the story kept me guessing.

        TFA felt like a setup for the story of chapters 4-6 by the numbers, yet again. Part I was gonna have plucky characters join forces to destroy the megafortress, again. Part II was gonna have them discover their noble origins, while the evil empire struck its own counterattack, again. Part III was gonna have them make the difference as they take down an even bigger megafortress, along with its evil emperor, again. Roll credits. I had several yawns ready and loaded.

        Instead, TLJ starts with a desperate evac barely saved by some clutch heroism, followed by the good guys’ leadership reprimanding the hero for gross waste of lives and materiel. Meanwhile, a triumphant return of a ready student to one of the biggest heroes of the previous generation results in a saber hurled into the ocean and a rejection of that ascetic tradition. Things get worse for the heroes, which is expected, but worse in unexpected ways: the student is contacted by the #2 bad guy and they start to reconcile, we find out our hero from ANH fucked things up and created a great deal of this mess. Student goes to #2 bad guy in person, and holy shit they team up to kill the evil emperor and it’s only Part II and holy double shit they’re still not fully reconciled. Also, our Mary Sue has no noble beginnings; she’s just another schlub, and if audiences are putting two and two together, they should be thinking that if a schlub can make this big a difference in that world, maybe we can make a difference in ours. We don’t have to have top shelf blood; we normies can kick ass. And then the master decides to deliver the final blow to his ascetic order, has regrets, it blows up anyway, and his master returns in a vision and upholds ending it, and then the master has a kickass final scene.

        And to top it off, a major character played by an actress I knew had passed away gets killed early in the film, only to rescue herself and proceed to be a badass for the rest of the film.

        TLJ wasn’t perfect IMO. I felt like the Canto scenes bloated the film; they work fine, but it feels like two movies being squeezed into one at that point. Put them in a director’s cut and I would have been very satisfied. I do recognize that pulling them out disrupts some plot setup later, so this would be nontrivial. But it was too much.

        Rose irritated me at the end, due to what she did to Finn. When she knocked him away from the Battaray, and he pulls her out of her craft and asks her why, she says “that’s what friends do; they save the ones they love”, and my immediate inner voice had Finn pointing at the gaping hole in the front door and replying: “Oh yeah? So how are you gonna save THEM??”

        Chrometrooper needed a better end.

        Other than that, TLJ kicked ass. I finally don’t know what’s going to happen next in a Star Wars story, and I’m loving it.

        • acymetric says:

          One factual quibble:

          And then the master decides to deliver the final blow to his ascetic order, has regrets, it blows up anyway, and his master returns in a vision and upholds ending it, and then the master has a kickass final scene.

          That isn’t what happened. Luke decided to destroy the texts, has second thoughts, then Yoda shows up and let’s Luke believe that he (Yoda) destroyed the texts for him, but really Yoda knows that Rey has the texts.

        • Lillian says:

          The Last Jedi is my current favorite SW film, and the number one reason for that is that the story kept me guessing.

          Whereas for me, the experience was that very little in the movie had any impact because there was never any pay-off for anything. Any time anticipation built up towards something, that something would then fail to happen, frequently multiple times in quick succession. Like i appreciate a good plot twist, but TLJ mostly wound up twisting itself up its own ass.

          Kylo Ren is going to kill his own mother! Oh no he’s not, he can’t do it. But his wingmen totally can! So Leia’s dead now, what a beautiful sendoff to Carrie Fisher. Psyche! Leia’s totally still alive. Will she at least contribute to the plot? Nope! She’ll contribute to the plot about as much as if she’d stayed dead.

          You also get the same thing with Luke. Luke is going to pull an Obi-Wan and let his former student kill him! Psyche, he was a force hologram all along, you should have paid more attention, there were hints everywhere. Oh that’s actually pretty cool, i’m glad he gets to live after all! Haha, no you gullible idiot, he still drops dead anyway because fuck you.

          The only time in the entire movie that it built up to something and it actually fucking happened in a satisfying way was Kylo betraying Snoke. Holdo’s heroic sacrifice also qualifies right up until you realize what a massive plot hole it introduces. Everything else either didn’t happen at all, or got subverted so much i stopped caring.

          • smocc says:

            the experience was that very little in the movie had any impact because there was never any pay-off for anything

            Fully agreed, and after much deliberation I’ve realized this is my main frustration with the movie. I wouldn’t have minded the deconstruction nearly as much if they’d had an even half-way decent screenplay.

            Kylo betraying Snoke

            And even that one good moment (and it was good!) is immediately followed by a flashy fight sequence that neither follows necessarily from what just happened nor determines what comes next.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Interesting. I felt paid off over and over:

            Kylo Ren is going to kill his own mother! Oh no he’s not, he can’t do it. But his wingmen totally can! So Leia’s dead now, what a beautiful sendoff to Carrie Fisher. Psyche! Leia’s totally still alive. Will she at least contribute to the plot? Nope! She’ll contribute to the plot about as much as if she’d stayed dead.

            Kylo was obviously conflicted, so his change of mind made sense. (His wingmen felt no such compunctions, but I’m guessing they at least made sense to you.)

            Leia’s dead, in a manner that feels so inevitable that I’m left despairing (reminiscent of Alien3, when I knew how it would end); to have her harness the Force right then was invigorating. Later, she adds legitimacy to the rebel “establishment” by coming out of (understandably) lengthy rehab to blast Poe for rebelling against the rebels. She’s the voice of wisdom, not the upstart hero.

            In other words, I finally get a rebel leader who’s matured. They’re a long way from a band of plucky rockstars who think they can kill a megafortress with a couple of torps and High Hopes. Poe’s all yeehaw, let’s knock out a capital ship!! while Leia actually has to worry about the aftermath. This is a conflict I rarely see played out in a movie, and I got it in a mainstream space opera of all things.

            Likewise, if Kylo was just gonna be the Parent Killer, I could’ve stayed home. He’s not an Anaklone. He’s interesting.

            Luke’s death didn’t bother me nearly as much as it bothered you. It was justified by the in-world tech; a hologram that clear over that far a distance takes a lot out of even a Jedi master, or else we’d be complaining about why they don’t do that all the time, why people don’t take countermeasures against it, etc. It had a purpose beyond swagger; it bought time for the rebels to escape. And in a space opera context, it’s one generation passing the baton to the next. Letting the past die.

            Perhaps less justified was Holdo’s lightspeed bomb, but my take on that was that she spent an entire capital ship on it. That’s probably even less cost-effective than kamikaze in WWII; a hyperdrive is much more useful for moving things around than as a god-rod in practically any scenario, including a typical rebellion.

            And even [Kylo’s betrayal] (and it was good!) is immediately followed by a flashy fight sequence that neither follows necessarily from what just happened nor determines what comes next.

            Also justified. You think Snoke’s guard would just instantly kneel and hail the new boss? They’re loyal to the Empire, not Kylo.

            I’m not sure what you’re referring to as coming next. I’m sure the new leadership still sees a need to put down the rebellion.

            All that said, you’re both obviously in large company for hating TLJ. I’m genuinely surprised more people didn’t get it the way I did. (I’ve had a few friends tell me they liked it for the reasons I do.)

          • moonfirestorm says:


            That would work if X-wings didn’t have hyperdrives and regularly blow up in engagements with capital ships.

            The rebels are regularly spending more resources to deal with a capital ship than would be required to strap an X-wing hyperdrive to an asteroid and smack the asteroid into that capital ship.

            Maybe you can get somewhere if the size of the hyperdrive affects how much mass it can move, and it’s specifically capital hyperdrives? Lightspeed should still just be infinite energy at any amount of mass though, so now you have to change what “lightspeed” means.

            And even with all that, you are still able to “trade up” your capital ships whenever you want: if I recall correctly Holdo’s attempt killed multiple capital ships, way more damage than that ship would have done in a conventional engagement before being destroyed. Any serious fleet action should turn into lightspeed ramming pretty quickly.

          • acymetric says:


            I don’t love the hyperspace kamikaze, but it wasn’t one of the things that really bothered me about the movie (the dissonance between Holdo’s apparently heroic sacrifice and Finn’s apparently foolish attempt to do the same is a little more bothersome).

            That said, light speed/hyperspace are poorly defined in the Star Wars universe, and pretty much get anyone to where they’re going in exactly the amount of time. Han Solo is quoted as saying the Falcon can go .5 above light speed at one point. Of course, it would take years even at that speed to reach a nearby system let alone a distant one. We’ll ignore for a moment (actually, we’re going to just need to ignore it forever) the implications of a surpassing the speed of light.

            The solution is that hyperspace is similar to a wormhole, and ships traveling through hyperspace are both going very fast and traveling a shorter distance than they would traveling through normal space. Or that everything is much, much closer together in this galaxy than in our own.

            The real real solution is that the science in Star Wars is poorly established or not established at all, which is why a lot of people will argue it is Fantasy in a space setting rather than Science Fiction (which is entirely fair and doesn’t really change how I see the movies).

            That said, one of the problems related to pacing in Last Jedi is that it is extremely unclear how much time is passing. It feels like the chase is effectively taking place in real-time (so 1-2 hours), but does that really give enough time for the trip to Canto Bight, the events there, and a return trip? Seemingly not, so it must have been longer but the movie did a poor job showing how the time was passing.

          • moonfirestorm says:

            In the EU, ships first accelerated to lightspeed and then jumped into hyperspace, a parallel dimension that messed with distance enough to seriously shorten the distances. This could explicitly only happen a certain distance from a planet or other large gravitational source, and such sources would pull you out of hyperspace (the Empire actually developed ships that create artificial gravity fields to pull ships out of hyperspace mid-route).

            I believe the whole acceleration was a single fast process that the hyperdrive engine performed: the normal engines of a ship are explicitly named the sublight engines. This fits with what we see in the movies: in A New Hope, for example, they’re moving at normal sublight speeds (being chased by non-hyperdrive-equipped fighters) up until Han gets all the calculations in, then they’re immediately in hyperspace.

            I don’t remember reading anything about a ship crashing on a hyperspace jump. The visual effect of a hyperspace jump is a very short movement as the ship disappears, so maybe in EU canon you just couldn’t really get close enough to another ship to effectively hyperspace ram it, since you’d just disappear into hyperspace?

            The calculations are definitely too sensitive to come back out in a specific spot, much less on top of another ship (this is used in conjunction with the artificial gravity fields above for a cool tactical maneuver known as the Thrawn Pincer).

            Holdo seems like she just doesn’t disappear into hyperspace, instead only using the first part of the jump and colliding in normal space at high speed. She can’t be coming back out because we know they’re not accurate: maybe hyperdrives are more accurate now? It would be one of the only ways to solve the “why did literally no one try this before” problem, but it still requires all combat going forward to take this into account.

            Maybe she tweaked the way the hyperdrive works to allow this, but that seems like the kind of thing that would be really commonly replicated, and I’d expect any hyperdrive-equipped military ship to have this set up.

            Actually, the best explanation I can think of is that this isn’t an uncommon move, but needs really specific conditions with regard to proximity and how long you let both ships remain stationary. The First Order skipped through the Imperial tactical manual because it wasn’t the cool part of being the Empire and didn’t take the proper procedures to avoid it, so they got caught out.

    • Nick says:

      I’d place Phantom Menace better than Attack of the Clones and Solo better than Revenge of the Sith. I’m also inclined to place Force Awakens worse than Return of the Jedi, but that might be my irritation with Last Jedi rubbing off on it.

    • johan_larson says:

      Which ones would I recommend to someone who hasn’t seen any of the films? A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back seem the obvious choices. If they want more, point them to the conclusion of the trilogy, Return of the Jedi, and the prequel, Rogue One, with the warning that these two aren’t quite up to the same standard.

      Still more? Well, while all the remaining films have something to recommend them, they also have real problems, to the point that I can really only recommend them to serious fans of the franchise. And those folks will probably insist on watching everything anyway.

    • shakeddown says:

      Overall, I’d say PT>OT>ST. 3 and probably 5 are the best of their respective trilogies, but no hard judgments aside from that.

      But this whole debate is definitely culture war and shouldn’t be here.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      I’m going to say that the entire original trilogy was the best-constructed, because of the proficiency with which Lucas copied Joseph Campbell.
      It was a combination of marketing and mythology that started at just the right time to colonize the minds of young people. The US was being aggressively secularized and exposure to Classical mythology was waning. Star Wars with its monomyth structure and cod-Eastern religion was a replacement that came with trademark-able toys.
      I mean, this is before my time, but before SW, didn’t boys play with things like WW2 toys? Ever since SW, gear porn of trademarked imaginary worlds have been eroding the amount of space history and mythology, i.e. the public domain, occupy.

      • Plumber says:

        @Le Maistre Cha

        “….but before SW, didn’t boys play with things like WW2 toys?…”

        Yes, I remember “G.I. Joe” and “Star Trek” toys before Star Wars came out when I was nine years old.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Yeah, I didn’t know what to say about Star Trek as an earlier example of SF/trademarked toys/gear porn. I don’t think it was a mainstream hit like Star Wars, but it did have ship kits and a line of figures by the defunct Mego company.
          It looks like before the 3.75″ revival of 1982, GI Joes were based on WW2, contemporary US troops, and non-military adventurers.

        • Nick says:

          I had army men, and that was circa 2000! But then, I was too young to see Star Wars.

    • The Pachyderminator says:

      Okay, I’ll post again, because at this point I have to ask: why do people hate The Last Jedi so much? I’m becoming confused, because I really don’t know what’s in the movie that could merit the level of disdain many people seem to have for it.

      Is it the iconoclasm in the character of Luke? But Star Wars is inherently iconoclastic and skeptical of authority from the beginning, and the original trilogy firmly establishes that Jedi masters aren’t supposed to be infallible; the film was as kind to Luke as it could reasonably have been.

      Is it Rose’s storyline? But there’s lots more than that in the movie, and there was way clunkier stuff in the prequel trilogy.

      Is it the Canto Bight setting? But what’s not to like about that? It’s awesome to see Star Wars venturing into new genre territory for an interlude.

      Is it the fact that the action scenes were actually good for the first time in Star Wars history?

      • Machine Interface says:

        I went into TLJ with high expectations, hoping for something that would continue from TFA but fix its flaws and really make the story take off. I wanted to like it. I was utterly bored through 75% of it, and couldn’t believe how poorly some characters and sequences were written. This was a step backward, falling back toward the level of the prequels, when at least TFA was a decent, if nondescript Star Wars film.

      • Tenacious D says:

        As far as I can tell there are two big contributors to the vehement disdain you see toward TLJ (personally, I really liked the Luke-Rey-Kylo arc, found the Canto Bight interlude decent (on par with Solo), and only really found the fleet scenes disappointing)

        1) How far short it fell from expectations. Rogue One was really good; TFA wasn’t terribly inspired in terms of plot, but it got the requisite nostalgia in and set up some interesting questions–especially about Rey’s origin (given that the OT indicated force sensitivity runs in families) and the rise of Snoke (how did he get his scar?) and the First Order. So people went into it hoping for either a satisfying resolution or further clues about these questions, and got neither. And the moral nuance of Rogue One (rebellions attract and depend on some pretty rough characters) gets replaced with moral confusion (its foolish when Finn tries to make a kamikaze run but commendable when Admiral Holdo does).

        2) There were some parts of the film that almost seemed intended as rebukes to serious fans. Examples are when Luke says “let the past die” (although for myself I agree with you that the iconoclasm with his character was one of the strengths of the movie) and Poe’s mutiny. Poe, the hotshot pilot, has perhaps the most in common with well-loved characters from previous movies, but his role in TLJ is to get locked up for exhibiting character traits that have previously been virtuous in Star Wars: initiative, not blindly following authority, heroic last stands. Admiral Holdo, meanwhile, is a previously unknown character who is supposed to be respected for her position (iirc, we’re told about her record but not shown anything to support it). This plot arc would have worked a lot better if Holdo was replaced by Leia or Admiral Ackbar, or if the sequel trilogy had put some effort into showing growing pains as the Rebellion transitioned into being a legitimate government and tighter adherence to a chain of command became necessary. As it was, it almost came across as trying to put a character some fans might identify with in his place.

        • acymetric says:

          I agree completely with your #1. That played a big part.

          As far as point #2, I would put it this way. I am totally fine with deconstructing Star Wars, but I would probably have preferred not to do it in the 8th episode of a 9 episode saga. Maybe Johnson could have saved that for his own personal trilogy that he’ll be doing (where he can do whatever he wants as part of a new story arc based in the same universe). It is hard (but maybe not impossible) to subvert the themes and tropes of a story while you are still telling it, and it seemed to fail in this case. The end result: it just didn’t feel like a Star Wars movie. Solo and Rogue One captured that feeling much better.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            This is a tough call. To make the case for the other side: if you do chapters 7-9 as another Star Wars story, then the franchise doesn’t really grow. You serve the fans, and don’t gain a lot of new ones. The whole thing curls in on itself and calcifies.

            The solution isn’t just to have a trilogy on the side, but to deconstruct SW in the main line, and yeah, you do it in chapter 8, because if you wait until 9, you’re not really deconstructing it.

            But I’m slightly emotional about this case, and in that light I have to have sympathy for the old line fans as well. Maybe it’s important to let the past die, but in a way that brings the old ones along. (I thought Yoda was an especially nice touch in that regard.)

          • acymetric says:

            @Paul Brinkley
            I certainly didn’t want a rehash of the OT (I wasn’t really happy with the derivative nature of Force Awakens, I just enjoyed it more than Last Jedi).

            The prequel trilogy, for all its flaws, wasn’t a rehash of the OT either but still shared some key common elements that seem critical for the main Star Wars story that are lacking in the sequels. The biggest one, and maybe where I feel both sequels but particularly Last Jedi failed, is having some kind of mysterious, sinister, evil enemy. We had mysterious and evil in Snoke (although he didn’t pull off sinister very well). Kylo was mysterious for about ten minutes but we basically know his entire backstory now save some details on what he did between destroying the academy and joining the First Order. The mystery died with Snoke (who wasn’t a very good villain to begin with, but he’s what we had).

            I assume there will be some big reveals/twists in IX, but I can’t imagine any of them being well set up or particularly interesting.

          • gbdub says:

            TFA was a boring reskinned rehash of A New Hope that thought that with enough nostalgic Easter eggs they could get away without an original plot. It annoyingly threw out a bunch of the implied post RotJ character development so that the original characters would be back in their old roles more or less.

            TLJ overcorrected. It tried so damn hard to deconstruct that it basically threw out all the TFA setup. And it way overused the “Ha, you thought that was important? Never mind!” misdirection that was already stale when Luke tossed his lightsaber and then happened half a dozen more times.

            I agree, part 8 of 9 (and more inportantly, part 2 of 3) is not the time to blow up the formula.

            (Also, the whole Canto Bight side quest and 90% of the tension of the space chase only happen because Holdo doesn’t bother with the classic trope “don’t worry I have a plan”)

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            The biggest one, and maybe where I feel both sequels but particularly Last Jedi failed, is having some kind of mysterious, sinister, evil enemy.

            Yeah, I see this. It’s just Kylo and Hux vs. Rey, Finn, and Poe now. A mysterious evil in the back is indeed fun.

            And here’s why that doesn’t bother me: I’ve always felt like that mystery evil was wishful thinking, y’know? “All we had to do was kill the Emperor and now everything’s rainbows and honey.” That’s the impression RotJ conveyed. Maybe I’m a jaded cranky old man, but if so, I was cranky at around age 16. Yeah, the rebellion won. Now you’ve got a galaxy, rebels. Now what? This is what. Several quadrillion minds don’t all change just because you gacked the one at the top. You’re far from done. Snoke’s just a symptom. Your mystery evil isn’t just one person or exhaust port you have to find. It’s other beings wanting other things.

            This honestly strikes me as more real. More… rationalist.

            Leia figured this out somewhere between RotJ and TFA. So did Luke, sorta. Holdo knew as long as we knew her. Now we get to watch the next generation figure it out. I’m not sure whether they will. SW9 could end as a tragedy.

            And again, it’s possible I’m getting too attached to this. Maybe everyone knows SW as just good ol’ Campbellian fun, and I look like I’m cheering as their fun toy gets stomped and saying “lol, grow up!”. Then again, I see a lot of people take SW super-seriously, and almost no one seems to be factoring “let the past die” into their negative review, so in the end, I don’t know.

          • acymetric says:

            @Paul Brinkley

            This honestly strikes me as more real. More… rationalist.

            This is, of course, a rationalist blog. I’m not sure Star Wars was ever intended to be rationalist, or that most fans (even rationalist ones) would want it to be.

            And again, it’s possible I’m getting too attached to this. Maybe everyone knows SW as just good ol’ Campbellian fun, and I look like I’m cheering as their fun toy gets stomped and saying “lol, grow up!”.

            This is, rightly or wrongly, probably a big part of it. I can’t speak to how it breaks down for everyone, but I both enjoy realistic portrayals of heroes with flaws and failures (see the Batman trilogy, and most superhero movies today) and also don’t want it in Star Wars.

            How do I reconcile that? The comic book movies are reboots which grants a degree more license to deconstruct. The new Bruce Wayne doesn’t connect in any way to the Bruce Wayne in whichever comic book arc you might choose. On the other hand, the Star Wars sequels are a continuation of a previously established (Campbellian) universe and should follow the same themes (of course ideally not in carbon copy form like Force Awakens but closer to that at least). I can get my rationalist realism in other places.

            Then again, I see a lot of people take SW super-seriously, and almost no one seems to be factoring “let the past die” into their negative review, so in the end, I don’t know.

            I think most people don’t bring it up because it’s so obvious. Honestly explicitly baking that into the dialogue (there are other lines saying essentially the same thing that I can’t recall) probably made the reaction against it even stronger. If Johnson wanted to “let the past [of Star Wars] die” umm…he’s getting a whole trilogy to do just that. No need to do that here, let’s give the long awaited 9 episode arc a proper sendoff.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            If Johnson wanted to “let the past [of Star Wars] die” umm…he’s getting a whole trilogy to do just that. No need to do that here, let’s give the long awaited 9 episode arc a proper sendoff.

            I’m a pretty dedicated SW fan, and have been for most of my life. That said, if Johnson gets to make more films and his thought process is anywhere near that, it might be the first ones that I don’t care to watch.

          • acymetric says:

            @Mr. Doolittle

            Johnson is definitely under contract to produce a brand Star Wars trilogy completely unrelated to the original saga. I assume it will take place in the same continuity, but in a very different location (different part of the galaxy, different time period, entirely different galaxy). Or maybe it will be a different continuity entirely. It is happening though.

            Relevant article

          • albatross11 says:


            TFA seemed to be taking place in a universe where the rebellion hadn’t accomplished much after defeating the Emperor and Darth Vader. Which I guess is realistic–I guess the most common outcome after the Big Bad is defeated or driven into exile is that the rebellion shatters into fifty factions, all trying to purge one another, until someone manages to become the biggest warlord and take over and become the new Big Bad….

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            I both enjoy realistic portrayals of heroes with flaws and failures (see the Batman trilogy, and most superhero movies today) and also don’t want it in Star Wars.

            I think this is worth your revisiting.

            When rereading your earlier comments on the SWU, for instance, I find there’s little sense I can find in them unless I start with the assumption that you do want the SWU to ascribe to reality to some extent (modulo the usual freebies such as FTL, the Force, et al.). And I don’t think that reality is consistent with Campbellian rules.

            I’m not just talking about you, however. I hopefully shouldn’t have to convince you of the existence of megabytes of text ruminating over the physics and logistics of a Death Star, or even a star destroyer. Or whether the First Order could realistically miss smaller transports escaping.

            And not just the physical realism aspects. People get worked up over the story. People in this thread get worked up over the story. If this was all just innocent Campbellian fun, then why do people here read like they’ve just seen the uncanny valley?

          • CatCube says:

            @Paul Brinkley

            One of my favorite passages from Chesterton’s Father Brown stories points out that it’s easier to suspend disbelief in scientific impossibilities than character impossibilities:

            “It’s what I call common sense, properly understood,’ replied Father Brown. ’It really is more natural to believe a preternatural story, that deals with things we don’t understand, than a natural story that contradicts things we do understand. Tell me that the great Mr. Gladstone, in his last hours, was haunted by the ghost of Parnell, and I will be agnostic about it. But tell me that Mr. Gladstone, when first presented to Queen Victoria, wore his hat in her drawing-room and slapped her on the back and offered her a cigar, and I am not agnostic at all. That is not impossible; it’s only incredible. But I’m much more certain it didn’t happen than that Parnell’s ghost didn’t appear; because it violates the laws of the world I do understand. So it is with that tale of the curse. It isn’t the legend that I disbelieve — it’s the history.”

            It’s easy to wave away the Force (“Mind magic, sure, why not?”), but it’s a lot more difficult to suspend disbelief in a close relationship between characters who have no chemistry together, or when the stated actions of people don’t fit together with the story being told (plot holes).

            Or, less wordily, it’s easier to suspend disbelief in the laws of physics than to suspend disbelief in human motivations.

        • AG says:

          his role in TLJ is to get locked up for exhibiting character traits that have previously been virtuous in Star Wars: initiative, not blindly following authority, heroic last stands.

          This kind of thing is also likely what made people reject the Matrix sequels. The original film was a great Campbellian journey, and everything in that film conditions us to celbrate that journey.
          The sequels try to make us feel bad for “falling for” all of the aesthetic choices in the first film guiding the audience to enjoy it in a certain way. It’s disingenuous to indict the audience like that.

          So film critics and such love TLJ and have started singing the praises of the Matrix sequels, because they love that kind of deconstruction on paper, ignoring that real great examples of the form (mostly in anime, the likes of Evangelion or Utena) show that the system being deconstructed has cracks in it from the start. The Matrix and TFA (and the Star Wars films before that) don’t do that, so to suddenly tell the audience “hey, y’all suck for buying what we were selling all along, aren’t I deep” is going to rankle.

          What they needed to do is to acknowledge that the emotions of the characters and the audience in the previous films were valid, and that those emotions can be re-oriented to better means to the same intended end. Dialectic, basically. The Matrix Sequels and TLJ lean far too hard on anti-thesis as the last word, leaving no room for synthesis. (Compare to Empire Strikes Back, for that matter, as a film that also somewhat rebukes the ideals of the first film, but without being disrespectful of it.)

          • Lillian says:

            Wait, in what way do the Matrix sequels contradict the themes of the original Matrix? Pretty much every Matrix movie is Neo being presented with an impossible situation which he then triumphs over through the power of sheer heroism.

            Matrix 1: Agents can’t be fought, only escaped. Neo is put in a situation where he can’t escape the Agents. He awakes as The One and defeats the Agents anyway.

            Matrix 2: Turns out the One is another layer of control, a way to manage the instability in the system, if he does not accept this humanity is doomed. Also Trinity will die regardless of what he does. Neo rejects his role as part of the system, choosing to break the cycle, and also saves Trinity because he’s just that badass.

            Matrix 3: Zion is going to be destroyed by the Machines, and the Machines are going to be destroyed by Smith, everything is doomed. Neo brokers a peace with the machines and sacrifices himself to destroy Smith. Everyone is saved!

            Honestly i don’t even feel like there is a problem with the Matrix sequels as such. The problem is strictly with Revolutions, which kept trying to make me care about the real world when i really, really don’t. Reloaded was great.

          • Tenacious D says:

            What they needed to do is to acknowledge that the emotions of the characters and the audience in the previous films were valid, and that those emotions can be re-oriented to better means to the same intended end. Dialectic, basically.

            I like your analysis. If film #9 manages some kind of synthesis I’ll be legitimately impressed.

          • AG says:


            In the original Matrix movie, the mantle of “The One” matters, not simply being more badass than usual. It is a triumph that Neo embraces being “The One,” that Trinity embraces her own role within the prophecy of The One. Morpheus’s faith in Neo as The One is validated. Nobody else can fly. The contract with the audience has been made, that it’s not just about choice. Only the chosen one can pull the sword from the stone.

            Turning around with the revelation that The Sword in the Stone is just a means of opiates for the masses is not inherently bad. Some novels run with this premise, and I quite like them. However, said novels didn’t also just spend an entire previous novel where Arthur being prophesized and all that really genuinely matters. That’s breaking the contract with the audience. Not just that, but sneering at them that they shouldn’t have responded to all of the aesthetic choices of the first film that were all guiding the audience to celebrate Neo being The One. “Why did you like what we did in that film, sheeple! What dummies.” It’s an utter rebuke to what the first film considered to be victories.

            Lots of JRPGs and aforementioned anime feature a “you were being manipulated by the gods” twist. However, they seed these as themes in the initial arcs, emphasizing that the chosen one isn’t actually unique, that everyone can make defining choices and transcend their destinies.

            The Empire Strikes Back doesn’t claim that The Force is opiate for the masses. Luke being reckless is tied to his frustrations with his training and fears of The Dark Side, not claiming that his core character archetype, of the hotshot pilot ingenue, is a mistake. There’s no claim that Han was a fool for coming back to help Luke destroy the Death Star. It doesn’t break any of the contracts with the audience made by the first film. The reveal of Darth Vader’s identity instantly seeds the arc of his redemption in the next film, by showing how he longs to be reunited with Luke, already telegraphing synthesis.

            The other part of the Matrix sequels that clashes is the thematic dissonance of “and now we will have a giant fistfight chock full of delicious violence in order to establish peace.” It’s not unlike why the climax of Wonder Woman is bad.

          • Lillian says:

            Revealing that the One is a deliberately engineered way of managing the inherent instabilities in the system doesn’t break the contract with the audience. It doesn’t suddenly make them wrong to praide and admire Neo for becoming the One. It would have, if Neo had acted like his predecessors and chosen to embrace his role in the system in order to save humanity. Instead he rejects it, and chooses to break the cycle. His actions are those of the One as promised by the prophesy, rather than the One as designed by the Machines. At that moment when he decides to save Trinity, Neo becomes the True One, and the audience’s faith in him is completely justified. That’s not sneering at them, it’s cheering them on, showing how worthy their hero is of their adulation.

            The other part of the Matrix sequels that clashes is the thematic dissonance of “and now we will have a giant fistfight chock full of delicious violence in order to establish peace.” It’s not unlike why the climax of Wonder Woman is bad.

            Kind of feel like there’s only on response to the idea that the is something dissonant about using gloriously brutal violence to make and establish peace: Attero Dominaturs.

          • AG says:

            But, see, the end of The Matrix isn’t Neo going “screw prophecies, I will be a badass and save people, One or Not.” We do get that moment earlier in the film, but the actual climax and resolution of it is Neo going from that to “No, actually, I am The One,” because the film is telling us that that title is meaningful.
            Reloaded tells us that that climactic decision makes him a sucker. It taints Trinity’s arc in the first film, as well, having decided that her love for Neo was proof of the prophecy (accepting the dubious free will implications of that).

            The big triumph of RotJ is Luke saying, “I am a Jedi, like my father before me.” TLJ has him almost fall to the Dark Side by killing a kid, which is one of people’s gripes with the way that sullies RotJ, but even TLJ doesn’t go so far as “The Force itself should be rejected.”

            Part of this is the broader critical consensus, though. People trying to evangelize about the sequels, validly using the interpretation you’ve scoped out here, often pair it with a sneering at people who preferred The Matrix as a stand-alone experience, implying that they must be in love with Chosen One power fantasies, and are therefore problematic, as if they should have known all along that The One is a scam.

            “Why do you like hotshot pilots? Why do you like Chosen Ones? Because you shouldn’t.” That’s why people were ruffled by the sequels and TLJ. The films are a bit too aggressive about indicting those tropes, right after a film celebrating them.

          • Lillian says:

            There are two The Ones. There is the One that is supposed to save humanity and end the war. Then there is the One engineered by the machines as a way to channel the system’s instabilities and contradictions, then return to the source to reboot it. The first One the “true” One we could say, is a hero. The engineered One is a sucker, a tool of the system. The end of the first movie reveals that Neo is the first the One, a hero. The second movie reveals that he is also the second the One, but he explicitly and irrevocably rejects this role, while continuing to embrace his role as the heroic saviour of humanity. In the third movie he finally fulfils that role.

            Neo is like if the prophesy of the Messiah was engineered by devil to damn humanity and on finding this out Jesus tells the devil to go fuck himself and saves humanity anyway. And while he’s at it, he also saves the devil from his treacherous demons. Because he’s the Messiah.

            If there’s any takeaway to be had from the Matrix, it’s not that you shouldn’t believe in prophesies or Chosen Ones. It’s that believing believing in them makes them real, even if they were intentionally designed as a scam.

      • Lillian says:

        I saw both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi in the theatre with my Boyfriend. The thing that struck me the most about the two movies was how different our reactions were immediately after. Walking out TFA we were animated, talking about the movie, laughing. We got home and immediately started looking up other people’s opinions on 4chan and elsewhere, sharing memes and funny posts, speculating about the various plot elements. We spent the next couple of hours riding a warm post-movie high, and it was great. TFA might not be one of the best Star Wars movies, but it was still Star Wars. It had fun, and charm, and energy, and i could see that reflected in how people talked about it.

        Walking out of TLJ was very different, we were a lot more muted, far less excited. Sure we talked still a bit, discussed for example how the hyperspace ramming scene was great cinematography but incredibly stupid plot wise. Nonetheless there was just a lot less energy, a lot less discussion, the ride back home was very quiet. Same thing online, i go on 4chan it’s also noticeably muted, there’s less excitement and energy. Sure people still talk about it a bunch, but there’s less funny memes and posts, less things to share and laugh about. What prevailed was primarily an aura of disappointment and let down. Even the people who said they hated it were less performatively angry than they had been about TFA, instead seeming more bitter. Eventually i realized that we had been home for an hour and a half after watching a Star Wars movie in the theatres, and me and my Boyfriend had hardly said a word to each other. That’s when it finally sunk in that i had just watched a Star Wars movie and didn’t like it.

        The reason i hold TLJ in such disdain is, fundamentally, that despite Star Wars being one of my favourite subjects of discussion since childhood, i walked out of that movie and found that i hardly had anything to say. TFA made me want to gush about its good parts, criticize the bad parts, and speculate about all the things that were only hinted at. TLJ just made me want to lodge a list of complaints and then go talk about something else.

        • acymetric says:

          This is pretty much my experience as well. Last Jedi sapped my enthusiasm for Star Wars for almost an entire year (which meant I did not see Solo in theaters, unfortunately, now that I’ve watched it on Netflix I can say I quite enjoyed it).

          I could probably have forgiven it for being a bad movie if it had gone in the directions I wanted it to go, and I could have forgiven it for going directions I didn’t like if it had been a good movie, but it took things a direction I didn’t like [i]and[/i] did it poorly.

          It was also really frustrating, because in the aftermath of the release, there was a very vocal group of people who bashed the movie for what I guess I’ll call “unsightly” reasons, which made it hard to openly dislike the movie without getting lumped in with “those” people.

          I’m going IX can salvage something and at least keep the sequel trilogy as a whole a step higher than the prequel trilogy. Right now it is unclear which will be worse.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            I wonder how much of Solo’s poor showing was directly attributable to TLJ turning off fans?

          • John Schilling says:

            I hadn’t seen TLJ at the time I watched Solo, having decided on the basis of TFA and Rogue One that Disney’s mainline Star Wars movies were doomed to suckage but that the side stories were allowed to be good. Even with that somewhat optimistic take going in, I found Solo to be a mediocrity.

          • acymetric says:

            @Mr. Doolittle

            I would guess quite a bit. It wouldn’t have made Rogue One money because it was getting panned by critics and had a ton of bad press (of course those some critics loved Last Jedi), but if Last Jedi had been well received I think you could reasonably expect Solo’s box office numbers to double, maybe more.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            @ John

            Granted, and that appears to be the standard take on Solo’s acceptance. From a couple of comments here, I am now thinking that there is some proportion of Solo’s lackluster showing at the box office that goes beyond it’s own merit, and may be fallout from disgruntled fans.

            I’m trying to think of ways to estimate that change without pulling the number straight out of my butt.

        • The Pachyderminator says:

          Hmm. I understand why this feeling would lead to disdain and bitterness towards the movie, but my experience was the opposite. I found The Last Jedi full of surprises and far more energizing and provocative than The Force Awakens.

      • fion says:

        I’m not one of the people who thinks The Last Jedi is crap, but I did hate the Finn/Rose storyline.

        • gbdub says:

          True love means doing something suicidally stupid to a stranger you are infatuated with that will probably pointlessly kill both of you to prevent them from nobly sacrificing themselves to save you and oh yeah like a thousand of your friends.

      • dodrian says:

        I enjoyed some of the scenes and action sequences, but the movie as a whole failed on plot and character development. The scenes that were good didn’t make sense in the context of the movie, and sometimes not even in the context of Star Wars.

        Take Admiral Holdo (and for what it’s worth I liked her character and the dressing-down she gave to Poe). Her scene destroying the fleet was beautifully shot and impactful. Except, it breaks internal consistency. Why didn’t anyone ever do that before? Why even both having fighters like the X-Wing?

        There’s the scene in Snoke’s throne room. Great choreography, character tension, etc. But I guess all the build up surrounding the mystery of who Snoke was and all the fan speculation of his background wasn’t important.

        The Canto Bight escape was cool and all, but I genuinely forgot why they had to go there in the first place. Was it just to receive a lecture on the evils of capitalism and how the fat cats are the real bad guys? Kind of rich coming from the franchise that wrote the book on how to merchandise an IP, owned by the biggest entertainment corporation out there.

        Finn almost had a wonderful character redemption moment on Crait, but was stopped last second and told off by Rose for giving up his life for the cause. Kind of a slap in the face to Admiral Holdo, isn’t it? Boy Rose is gonna be really pissed when Luke shows up in a few minutes and does exactly what she told Finn not to, only less effectively. Or maybe Rose is really just upset that Finn has the wrong motivations for being with the New Republic – just like how Luke told Han to not bother rescuing Leia because he was only interested in the reward/banging her. Or how Luke signed up to the rebellion in the first place, declaring to Obi Wan “I hate the Empire!”

        Speaking of Luke, he finally shows up and we get a great confrontation with Kylo Ren. Great fight, in a stunning setting, but to what end? Luke’s friends get to run away, are basically in the same situation they were at the beginning, and practically nothing to advance their stories has happened in the past two hours.

        Honesty, I think the best way to begin Episode IX would be for Rey to wake up on Ahch-To, run out to Luke and say “I’ve just had a horrible vision of what might happen to the New Republic if we don’t help, come on, let’s go!”

        • fion says:

          But I guess all the build up surrounding the mystery of who Snoke was and all the fan speculation of his background wasn’t important

          I’ll be really pissed off if this is the case. I’m still hoping that Episode IX will say “actually, it turns out Snoke was ______”. You can’t just invent a new sith lord who was probably alive during the events of the original trilogy and not tie him in somehow.

          I’d also like them to return to Rey’s background, and that Kylo’s assertions that her parents were nobody turn out to be false, but I care less about this than Snoke.

        • The Pachyderminator says:

          Finn almost had a wonderful character redemption moment on Crait, but was stopped last second and told off by Rose for giving up his life for the cause. Kind of a slap in the face to Admiral Holdo, isn’t it? Boy Rose is gonna be really pissed when Luke shows up in a few minutes and does exactly what she told Finn not to, only less effectively. Or maybe Rose is really just upset that Finn has the wrong motivations for being with the New Republic – just like how Luke told Han to not bother rescuing Leia because he was only interested in the reward/banging her. Or how Luke signed up to the rebellion in the first place, declaring to Obi Wan “I hate the Empire!”

          Yeah, that moment really was annoyingly stupid. It’s going to bother me every time I watch the movie.

      • Milan says:

        A couple of things in addition to what others already mentioned:
        Let’s start with the text crawl. The First Order apparently conquered the galaxy in an unknown amount of time, but definitely less then a year. How? Where the hell did they get amount of ships to do that? If they have even as much as they directly show in the movie, where the hell were these when Starkiller base was attacked? One would think they would have at least one damn capital ship deployed for defense, not just fighters.
        Also, I know that they supposedly blew up the Republic fleet, but that’s just as dumb. Why and how the hell would have all the fleet been in a single solar system? Even if it was a biga** shipyard system (although it would be a bad idea to put the seat of government in the same place as your main military manufacturing capacity), it couldn’t have been the only one. The Republic spanned multiple thousand star systems at least. The loss of even a whole sector fleet could not be enough to cripple them enough to fall like this.
        Then add to that the ease with which a single starfighter disables the defenses of their capital ship in the first scene. If that is the level of competence one can expect from the First Order, the question is not how they conquered the galaxy, the question is how the don’t die from forgetting to breathe.
        Then come those stupid bombers. They are literally dropping the damn bombs on the enemy ship. One would think it is quite obvious white that would be an idiotic idea in space combat, but the director seems to have considered it a priority to have a cool WW2 style scene.

        I can go on for a long time if anybody is interested 😀

        I might be biased because for me the whole franchise was lost when they decided not to make the third trilogy out of the Timothy Zahn books, and scrapped the whole EU, but even taking that into account, a significant portion of the movie (and the seventh one as well) is just dumb.

        • acymetric says:

          Right. I won’t claim that Abrams pitched a softball in terms of setting up a reasonable scenario for Johnson to follow, but Johnson certainly didn’t help matters much (I would argue it made things worse) and unlike Force Awakens it wasn’t enjoyable enough to get away with it.

          If the third installment is any good, a decent case could probably be made that the first two movies were pointless. If it isn’t good, then the sequel trilogy is essentially a failure (not economically, of course).

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            and unlike Force Awakens it wasn’t enjoyable enough to get away with it.

            That’s pretty key for me. There are a lot of issues with TFA in terms of continuity and story, but at least it was enjoyable.

        • fion says:

          The Republic spanned multiple thousand star systems at least

          Really? That’s not the impression I got. I thought it was only one or two star systems very close to each other. I agree that this doesn’t make much sense either, though… I guess I assumed that both the Republic and the First Order were relatively minor powers in The Force Awakens, and didn’t span the whole galaxy.

          • acymetric says:

            I think this is correct. The Old Republic from the prequels spanned hundreds or thousands of star systems. My impression was that this New Republic was somewhat of a fledgling thing that only encompassed a few star systems, or was larger but with a less strong affiliation so when the primary star system was completely wiped out (we’ll ignore how stupid that was for now) all the less committed systems said “nope, we’re out”.

            Also, even the Old Republic didn’t span the entire galaxy, the Outer Rim was basically an ungoverned free-for-all.

          • Milan says:

            I wrote a longer rant below, but the tldr is that there are some elements in the movie itself that would support both the New Republic and the First Order was larger than a few systems, and the canon books establish it quite clearly.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Also, I know that they supposedly blew up the Republic fleet, but that’s just as dumb. Why and how the hell would have all the fleet been in a single solar system? Even if it was a biga** shipyard system (although it would be a bad idea to put the seat of government in the same place as your main military manufacturing capacity), it couldn’t have been the only one. The Republic spanned multiple thousand star systems at least.

          I disagree. New Republic territory consisted entirely of Hosnian Prime (the system where we saw the new Death Star’s beam blow up several planets). There’s not a shred of contrary evidence in TFA, and the New Republic being a star-state with pretensions of being the successor state to the entire Galactic Empire explains plot elements that would otherwise be absurd, like Han wanting to be a smuggler instead of Senator for Corellia.
          (Go ahead and tell me if TLJ showed evidence of the New Republic controlling thousands of systems. I haven’t seen it.)

          • Milan says:

            From the original opening crawl:
            “Having decimated the peaceful Republic, Supreme Leader Snoke now deploys the merciless legions to seize military control of the galaxy.”
            Having merciless legions with which to seize the galaxy implies that the First Order was significantly larger than a single-system regime, at least if you posit that Snoke was not completely delusional (not unheard of in a Sith Lord, although the last one did in fact manage to conquer the galaxy). The fact that they did not just steamroll the Republic right from the start would imply that they were of similar strength.

            “The New Republic’s home fleet is destroyed, and its surviving senators have dissolved the remaining task forces to protect their homeworlds. Their division makes them defenseless. No power in the galaxy can stand against us, Supreme Leader.”
            This is Hux reporting to Snoke in the extended edition of TLJ. Now, it does try to explain why the Republic is magically reduced to zero, but look at the last sentence. Hux states that with the Republic gone, no power can oppose them in the galaxy. Even with the usual bad guy posturing, this would sound kind of stupid if both the First Order and the Republic were only some single-system or few-system regimes.

            The canon books also establish quite clearly that the New Republic was way bigger than the Hosnian system, but it can be argued that only the movies are supreme canon (see also: EU 🙁 ).

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            OK, well then the new movies are too stupid to bother thinking about. Star-states was the only way I could make sense of anything.

          • acymetric says:

            @Le Maistre Chat

            Now you’re getting it!

            It can kind of make sense from an angle that the New Republic was large, but that the buy in from other systems was tenuous, such that when the capital was destroyed everyone else just bailed and then apparently caved to or were easily defeated by the First Order while on their own. It isn’t very convincing, but it makes some sense.

        • John Schilling says:

          If we’re going to fanwank this as the New Republic and the First Order each only being half a dozen planets or whatnot, then we need a fanwank as to why the other umpty-thousand systems of the galaxy didn’t notice the mysterious Sith lord with his dark-helmeted apprentice, legions of stormtroopers, and recently-destroyed planet-killing superweapon and say, “Oh, hell no, we’re not doing this again!” Because that really is the sort of thing that would motivate at least an alliance of convenience (probably lead by someone like Senator Palpatine).

          It works better if we just accept that Abrams, Johnson, and Disney simply can’t capture the scope of a Galactic Empire and made a couple of crappy movies trying.

          • bullseye says:

            If I were in charge of a remake of Star Wars, I’d get some numbers down at the beginning: roughly how many inhabited star systems are there, how many people does an average inhabited system have, etc. Also basic outlines of how the economy works (what sorts of things do planets usually make for themselves and what do they import/export?), political structures, etc. We don’t have the tell the audience any of this, but we do need to tell the screenwriters and keep them consistent.

            For example, in Attack of Clones Dooku mentions that tens of thousands of systems have recently joined the separatists. He treats this as notable good news but not “well, we’ve won now”, so I figure he they have maybe one or two hundred thousand systems already. The Republic must still have somewhere in that ballpark too. So several hundred thousand inhabited star systems in galaxy, counting just the ones involved in the Clone Wars. But then in Last Jedi, when Rey tells Luke what planet she’s from, they agree it’s a “nowhere” planet, but he’s heard of it! And neither of them think that’s weird!

          • Hoopyfreud says:


            This isn’t even necessary if you’re tonally consistent. Which is absolutely possible to do without a bible if your creative team isn’t Disney-sized and you have someone with vision leading the project.

          • acymetric says:

            Luke may have been familiar with it because of whatever battle happened there? Grasping at straws.

            Better solution: George Lucas never thought about things, and “tens of thousands of systems” should probably be disregarded as scripting mistake and not considered an important part of canon.


            This isn’t even necessary if you’re tonally consistent. Which is absolutely possible to do without a bible if your creative team isn’t Disney-sized and you have someone with vision leading the project.

            This pretty much nails it. Nobody* would be nitpicking things like this if the movie had felt like a real part of the Star Wars universe.

            *Ok, somebody definitely would be but it wouldn’t be as widespread and most people wouldn’t indulge in it.

          • Hoopyfreud says:


            The “tens of thousands” is consistent with the first six movies’ references to the galaxy as a BIG place, though. Big enough for nobody to know Tatooine, or Hoth, or Dagobah, or Kamino. It seems to me like TLJ bears the blame, not the prequels.

          • acymetric says:

            People do tend to know Tatooine though. Hoth and Dagoba are basically uninhabited, so it seems less surprising that nobody knows them. If they did someone would have colonized it or something.

            Of course, I’m more than happy to blame the sequels for stuff, so I won’t argue much.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Luke may have been familiar with it because of whatever battle happened there? Grasping at straws.

            If there was a famous battle there, I don’t think it’d count as a “nowhere planet”. Like, if I met somebody from Waterloo (say), I wouldn’t dismiss their home as an insignificant nowhere place, even if the town is only noteworthy for a battle two hundred years ago.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            If there was a famous battle there, I don’t think it’d count as a “nowhere planet”. Like, if I met somebody from Waterloo (say), I wouldn’t dismiss their home as an insignificant nowhere place, even if the town is only noteworthy for a battle two hundred years ago

            What if you met someone from Iwo Jima, Tarawa or Kwajalein?

            Planets can be isolated in a way that Waterloo (which is less than 10 miles from central Brussels) is not.

          • bean says:

            Hoth and Dagoba are basically uninhabited, so it seems less surprising that nobody knows them. If they did someone would have colonized it or something.

            Hoth isn’t uninhabited. As my RPG group once said when we went there “Welcome to Hoth. For a directory of secret bases, press 1. To register a new secret base, press 2.”
            (One of my pet peeves about Star Wars is when they reuse the movie planets for no good reason, and Hoth is a particularly annoying case of this. I fight this when I run RPGs.)

      • johan_larson says:

        I don’t much like the two films in the third trilogy, for two reasons. I didn’t like the reset of the setting, so they could have a pseudo-Rebellion fighting a pseudo-Empire again. I would really have preferred to see something more consistent with the events of RotJ, with a New Republic in full swing, and perhaps facing some new challenge.

        Also, I didn’t like a couple of the new characters: Rey and Kylo. Rey struck me as way the heck overpowered. It made no sense that she could do some of what she was shown doing, even as a very talented Force-sensitive. And Kylo, he was such an annoying over-emotional wreck of a man-child.

        Both of these factors drove my dislike of both of the new films, but particularly The Force Awakens.

        • acymetric says:

          I am fascinated by the love for Kylo. I think he’s awful (I also just don’t like Adam Driver as an actor generally, which is also a contrarian take). That he is now the primary villain dampens my expectations for the final movie more than my dislike of Last Jedi does.

          That said, I agree that the biggest problem is the reset. There was a very obvious connection between the end of Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope (as in, things were clearly heading this direction or at least plausibly could head this direction). The sequels basically just said “BOOM there’s a First Order now”. Of course, that problem was one of Abrams’ making and was not Johnson’s fault (Johnson just made it worse by failing to address how this possibly could have happened, which seems like it would have been trivially easy with a couple minutes of dialog or flashbacks).

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            I like Kylo, because he’s an interesting character. He’s got obvious flaws which help define him, with strengths that no one can deny (he’s Vader’s grandson, so that’s also expected). His flaws don’t have to bring him down, but part of his flaw is that he lets them. He wants to be evil, but he’s not that good at it. He’s powerful with the force, but doesn’t have Vader’s conviction.

            Completely agree on the sequels basically doing a reset – Leia and Han are literally back in the same professions that they started with in ANH, and if you squint a little, so is Luke (on a backwater planet out of the action until someone comes into his life). The completely unexplained genesis of the First Order/Snoke feels like a neat plot hook, but after two movies we have literally zero backstory information about how they came about. If they were leftover Empire troops and ships, that would at least be easy to identify and accept – Hux (even ignoring the slapstick aspects) is practically a child. There’s no way he was more than a small child at the fall of the Emperor, let alone rising through the ranks of the Empire to reach his position. A competent Imperial admiral leading Snoke’s forces would have been much better (a Tarkin-type, if not a Thrawn).

          • acymetric says:

            Yeah, like I admitted above, my main problem with Kylo isn’t the character so much as a dislike of Adam Driver. Shades of Hayden Christiansen to me (moody character, unconvincing/stiff actor) but I know that isn’t the common opinion of him.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        Okay, I’ll post again, because at this point I have to ask: why do people hate The Last Jedi so much? I’m becoming confused, because I really don’t know what’s in the movie that could merit the level of disdain many people seem to have for it.

        For me, the main problem was the movie’s premise and the writers’ complete lack of guts in trying anything meaningfully new. Forcing the series back into the situation before ANH not only smacks of lack of imagination, it also renders the conflict in the Original Trilogy completely pointless. We spent three movies watching Luke, Han and Leia struggle against the odds to restore freedom to the Galaxy, sharing in their triumphs and disasters, watching them struggle to overcome adversity and grow as people — and for what? For everything to be totally undone off-screen. Yeah, way to retrospectively ruin the best films in you series, morons.

        Not only do the writers undo all the progress made in the OT, but they do so in a way that is confusing, underexplained and illogical. The relationship between the Republic, the Resistance, and the First Order is never explained: I assumed that the First Order was like an Imperial remnant and that the Republic didn’t want to openly fight it and so was funding the Resistance to undermine it secretly, but a bit of confirmation would have been nice. Then the First Order takes power — but how? TFA ended with their main base being destroyed, and yet the first sentence of TLJ’s opening crawl tells us that “The First Order reigns”. So apparently the Starkiller Base destroyed the Republic’s homeworld and main battlefleet before it was blown up — I don’t think the movies actually mentioned this, though; another piece of missing exposition — but even then, there’s no way they should have been able to conquer the Galaxy in such a short space of time. There’s no hint of a First Order attack when Rey sets off to find Luke, so apparently this Galaxy-spanning career of conquest took place between Rey’s setting off and her arriving on Luke’s planet. How long would that be? Hyperspace journeys don’t seem to take very long at all, so I would be surprised if it was more than a few days, maybe a week or so at the outset. I’m sorry, but that’s an implausibly short time to conquer the Galaxy. Even if we assume that the Republic’s surviving leadership and military units have gone AWOL and the First Order faces no organised resistance, it would still take time to physically spread your troops over the Galaxy, receive the surrender of the however millions of planets there are, and so on. The start of TLJ is a bit like the start of an alternate history movie, which opens a week after Pearl Harbour with the Japanese already occupying the whole US and the only resistance being a few ex-military guys hiding out in the mountains. There’s just not enough time for that to happen.

        Nor is it clear where the First Order would get the fleet to occupy the entire Galaxy. Obviously, occupying a whole Galaxy would require a huge amount of manpower and ships, so if the Order had all these resources at its disposal, why didn’t they use any of them to defend the Starkiller Base? And how did this (comparatively) small remnant group manage to afford both a gigantic planet-destroying base and a gigantic Galaxy-conquering fleet? And how come the Republic didn’t notice this militarisation programme and intervene before it got so powerful? (Yes, I know the New Republic is apparently “peaceful”, as per the opening crawl, but I don’t see how it could let its guard down so completely while its leadership was still made up of those who’d fought in the Galactic Civil War.)

        So, that’s the main reason. Whilst there are plenty of illogical moments in the plot, or things that can only happen because one or more character has just picked up the idiot ball — Holdo giving off the impression that she has no plan and Rose flying into Finn’s speeder spring to mind — the movie is sabotaged from the get-go by its illogical and unsatisfactory premise.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          As for the “subverting expectations” thing, I’d say the movie does it, but in all the wrong places and ways. The plot of TLJ is just a less-interesting rehash of the plot of TESB, just like the plot of TFA is just a less-interesting rehash of the plot of ANH. So in terms of story or setting, the movie doesn’t subvert anything. When it looks like it is going to subvert something, it often subverts the subversion in such a way as to cancel it out. You think Kylo’s going to blow up the Resistance flagship’s command centre, but — subversion! — he doesn’t, but — double subversion! — someone else does anyway. You think Luke’s going to die when Kylo stabs him, but — subversion! — he’s not really there, but — double subversion! — he dies anyway.

          Where it does subvert expectations is in ruining the achievements and character growth of the OT. You think the Rebellion was a desperate but ultimately triumphant struggle against massive odds, but — subversion! — they lose everything off-screen and end up back to square one. You think that Han has matured from a self-interested smuggler to a hero willing to fight for a cause bigger than himself, but — subversion! — he ends up reverting to being a self-interested smuggler again.

          The overall result is a film that’s predictable and unoriginal in its outlines, and annoying and pointless in its details.

          Also, subverting expectations isn’t enough to make something good. If I’m at a restaurant expecting a salad and instead the waiter brings out a big pile of poo on a plate, that’s certainly “subverted my expectations” of getting a tasty meal, but I’m still going to complain to the manager and demand a refund.

          • dodrian says:

            Yes – it seems that Rian Johnson went out of his way to subvert everyone’s expectations, and in particular he wanted to make sure that no fan theory ended up being correct and everyone was surprised.

            He forgot that fans were speculating varying things mostly because that’s what would make for good drama and story.

      • Mr. Doolittle says:

        For me, it’s the fact that most of the movie, at least in retrospect, was useless. I mean that both as entertainment for its own sake (fun scenes to watch) and also as they interact with the rest of the movie. Canto Bight was entirely pointless in how it affected the overall story (and not very entertaining, unless you happen to really like your Space Fiction to lecture you about the evils of capitalism). The slow motion ship chase was also not entertaining – seriously, name one “fun” aspect of any of that to watch. Is it fun to watch a group of people be slowly ground down? Not really, unless there’s a big payoff, which there wasn’t. We see at the beginning of the movie a small but coherent fighting force, who might be able to oppose the First Order. By the end, it pretty much doesn’t matter if the few remaining people live or die – they have no power, few resources, and are going to be entirely dependent on their allies from the Outer Rim (mentioned but never seen, don’t even know that they exist). We’ve got one or two potential leaders, but neither of them are Patton – they aren’t going to make or break the efforts of others who must now join to make any further fighting possible. Poe is a great pilot and a mediocre leader, but that’s not going to last long against the First Order.

        In TESB, the rebels have a fleet and are still fully engaged in the war. It looks like there are dozens of senior military leaders who can carry out the war if the main cast wasn’t there. The problems dealt with are almost entirely on the main cast, which while hard on them (and emotional for the viewers) is not overwhelming to the rebellion. TLJ did it in reverse – the main cast are all that’s left, and although they are sad about the loss of their “friends” (who only existed in this movie, and only then to die as an emotional foil for them…) and fighting power, the negative aspects do not fall on them. They all live, relatively unscathed. Therefore there is no emotional trigger of sadness, because a bunch of unnamed or new (Holdo) characters die, but we don’t really care about them in the first place. We were given no reason to care about them, and some reasons (Holdo!) to not like them in the first place. Even in the same movie we are intentionally given reason to support Poe in his mutiny. To turn the tables on the audience and try to show that Holdo was right kills enjoyment. Especially since Holdo was wrong. Her plan was a poor plan from the start, and ended up failing. It failed specifically because she didn’t share it (causing both a mutiny and the main cast to search for alternatives to “sit here and slowly die”). There’s also a really good chance it would have failed anyway, because it hinged entirely on the First Order not being very thorough in their search for escaping ships.

        The parts with Rey and Kylo do have great payoff, are fun to watch, and add meaningfully to the prospects in the next movie. Unfortunately, that’s only about a third of the movie. One third is a really painful, boring, and ultimately pointless slow speed chase (which was only possible because the writers created a new and unexplained ability to track through hyperspace – seriously, at least say that they had a tracking beacon somewhere and keep the canon straight…) and the other third was the really pointless Rose/Finn side quest that wasted time and went nowhere. Not only did the side quest fail, but Rose and Finn could have died at literally any point in the movie, from beginning to end, and made no difference whatsoever to the prospects of the rest of the cast. Things might have gone better if they had died early, in fact, because then the Resistance would have had one more ship, some more fuel, and just maybe Holdo’s plan would have worked. There’s far too little fun here. That the writers/director also decided to try a thorough deconstruction of SW in the same space as their unfun train wreck certainly isn’t helpful. It’s a multi-billion-dollar franchise, and they want to take shots at what makes it so popular? In a vehicle that’s already not good in its own right? Bad choice, even if deconstruction wasn’t a poor idea at installment 8 of 9+ anyway.

        • acymetric says:

          Well, the Finn/Rose angle did have a purpose: that is how the First Order found out about the plan to use small ships (that the First Order apparently wouldn’t have been scanning for) by way of DJ (Benicio del Toro’s character) overhearing it when they were talking to Poe on the comlink and then telling the First Order about it after they are caught.

          The assumption you have to make for it to matter is that the plan would actually have worked if the First Order hadn’t been notified by del Toro. Which means that the First Order really wouldn’t have been scanning for mid-sized transports (which is dumb) and that they wouldn’t have been looking out the freaking window where they would be able to see the ships departing, glowing exhaust and all, with their bare eyes (which is dumbest).

          So, there was a point to the Rose/Finn story, which was to really drive home that Poe screwed up, but it only works if you accept that Holdo’s plan was a good one that made sense (which doesn’t stand up to even mild scrutiny), and that she had good reason for withholding the plan from everyone involved.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Which means that the First Order really wouldn’t have been scanning for mid-sized transports (which is dumb) and that they wouldn’t have been looking out the freaking window where they would be able to see the ships departing, glowing exhaust and all, with their bare eyes (which is dumbest).

            I blame this on dramatic license. In real space combat, they wouldn’t see those ships with their bare eyes, because those ships would be thousands of klicks away. Yes, there are frames where they show them being in visual range. That’s the dumb part, shown so you can see how tense things are. Ignore that and it ought to make more sense.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            I’m okay with the dramatic license, while agreeing that being inside visual range is the dumb part.

            The problem really stems from the fact that Johnson doesn’t know (or apparently care) about anything related to the practical SW universe. Why would Snoke’s fleet not simply jump ahead so that they are back in range? How are their speeds perfectly matched, for every single ship in the fleet, such that no side pulls ahead or catches up? How did Snoke’s fleet coordinate arriving at this system, especially as quickly as it apparently did?

            It’s all artistic license, but it all essentially says “screw off” to everyone who cares about SW as an internally consistent place. If the makers of the movies don’t care about the SW universe being a certain place, how do they expect the SW fans to care about movies supposedly set in that place? Change all the rules, and it’s no longer Star Wars, but some other sci-fi/space fantasy setting.

            Unfortunately for Disney, there are dozens of Sci-Fi and Space Fantasy settings already, and they are not nearly as popular as Star Wars. They are welcome to make as many of those other types as they want, but billion-dollar-guaranteed movies can no longer be the expectation. Those come with the SW name, which comes with SW-thematic expectations. Take that away, destroy the formula, and you kill the goose that lays the golden egg.

          • albatross11 says:

            Yeah, one thing that makes SF fun to read is the idea that there are some rules somewhere about what can and can’t happen, and some underlying logic about how things work. Those rules can be different from those in our universe because of technology (droids, blasters, hyperspace) or a little willful suspense of disbelief (the Force), or even authorial fiat (explosions that make noise in space). But the reboot of Star Trek and TFA/TLJ each, in their way, broke a bunch of those rules for dumb reasons–not because it was necessary to get out of a plot problem, but just because they were too lazy to come up with anything else. (Why a zillion-dollar special effects movie can’t afford a halfway competent writer to write a plot without lots of obvious plot holes or bizarre inconsistencies with previous stories, I’ll probably never understand.)

          • albatross11 says:

            The thing is, someone needs to have worked out what the rules of space combat were, and then stuck to them, or at least only violated them rarely thanks to some convenient plot device. Cloaking devices? Following someone through hyperspace? Some kind of FTL radio that moves faster than ships going through hyperspace? Deflector shields?

            I’m okay with even stuff that probably can’t really work (stealth for km-long ships moving under high acceleration), but I want the rules to be consistent. And then the author needs to *stick* with those rules–he doesn’t decide he’s going to make an instant hyperdrive to the surface of a planet because he’s screwed around too much repeating a previous movie, and now he suddenly needs to get his characters onto Death Star III, or that ships can follow each other in hyperspace and there’s no way to separate, or that transporters can now go instantaneously between planets, or….

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          The slow motion ship chase was also not entertaining – seriously, name one “fun” aspect of any of that to watch. Is it fun to watch a group of people be slowly ground down?

          This is basically the premise of a lot of submarine thrillers.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            Sure, but not everyone likes submarine thrillers, and the venn diagram with Star Wars movies is smaller than ideal, shall we say? Also, submarine thrillers understand their medium a whole lot better.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Also, submarine thrillers understand their medium a whole lot better.

            You mean I won’t get a submarine thriller where the whole plan revolves around inexplicable failure to look for lifeboats?

    • ilikekittycat says:

      Worthwhile watches: Star Wars ’77 and Empire Strikes Back
      Failures in Good Faith: Return of the Jedi, Phantom Menace, Last Jedi
      Soulless simulacra: Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, Force Awakens, Rogue One, Solo

    • acymetric says:

      I really struggle to put these in order, because I honestly don’t know what to do with the the movies I generally disliked (any given day I might put them in a different order). There is a clear separation between my bottom 4 and the rest, so I’ll give those as a group and then rank the ones I liked.

      Bottom 4 (all of these have at least something I enjoyed, but were overall bad movies to me):

      Last Jedi
      Attack of the Clones
      Revenge of the Sith
      Phantom Menace

      Last Jedi will probably have the lowest view count for me going forward. I’ve watched it like ten times since I saw it in theaters trying to convince myself that I actually like it, with no success. There’s just nothing there worth seeing again, nothing enlightening about the universe and nothing so good I have to see it again. That said, I’m not sure that means it is necessarily worse than all three prequels, just that there is less worth seeing more than once in the movie.

      Good movies (worst to best):

      Force Awakens (this would be higher if Starkiller Base had been replaced by literally anything else)
      Return of the Jedi (this would be higher if I could find a DVD version without “Jedi Rocks”)
      Rogue One
      Empire Strikes Back
      A New Hope

      I know ANH over ESB is controversial, but I have always been a fan the first movies in trilogies for some reason. Something about the introduction to the characters, world building, I’m not really sure. I also liked Batman Begins the most out of that trilogy, and by a fairly wide margin (for Star Wars it is much closer).

      I’ll also say that I really enjoyed Solo. I skipped it after being so let down by Last Jedi, and now I wish I hadn’t. Highly enjoyable, true to the style/universe, and with some interesting setups.

      • Nornagest says:

        ANH does have one thing going for it over any of the other movies: it’s by far the most tightly plotted. Everything in it follows directly from the setup: you can point to any scene in it and explain exactly how the characters got there and why. ESB, though it’s a better movie in many ways, does sprawl a bit and start leaving questions unanswered.

    • LadyJane says:

      The Empire Strikes Back: Excellent, best Star Wars movie by far, 9.5/10
      A New Hope: Very good, despite being fairly rough around the edges in some very noticeable ways, 8/10
      Return of the Jedi: Has some really great parts and some kinda dumb parts, balances out to 7/10
      Revenge of the Sith: Same issues as RotJ, 6.5/10
      Rogue One: Hardly a necessary story, but it did a good job of putting the war in Star Wars, 6.5/10
      The Last Jedi: Points for originality, but the execution could’ve been handled better, 6/10
      Solo: Good for a popcorn sci-fi action flick, middle of the road for a Star Wars movie, 5.5/10
      The Force Awakens: The opposite of TLJ, it was terribly unoriginal but decently entertaining, 5/10
      The Phantom Menace: Completely mediocre, with some really dumb parts that drag it down to 4.5/10
      Attack of the Clones: The only one I’d genuinely consider a bad movie, 3/10

    • Walter says:

      Phantom Menace (worst)
      Attack of the Clones
      The Force Awakens
      The Last Jedi
      Rogue One
      Revenge of the Sith
      Return of the Jedi
      Empire Strikes Back
      New Hope

      The only really weird thing about my ranking is that I stan for Revenge of the Sith.

    • fion says:

      From best to worst:

      The Force Awakens
      Rogue One
      Revenge of the Sith
      The Last Jedi
      A New Hope
      The Empire Strikes Back
      Return of the Jedi
      The Phantom Menace
      Attack of the Clones

      I know it’s controversial to prefer the new ones over the old ones, but for me there’s a lot about the old ones to dislike. Much of this is because of the time, and I don’t blame the films for it, but it still makes me like them less. (For example worse special effects, Han’s aggressive sexual advances etc.) And I love them for their nostalgia, but a lot of my enjoyment in rewatching them is laughing at how bad they are.

      The Force Awakens is a great film. Funny, good action, exciting, characters you care about (and are believable), and most importantly, very few occasions (compared to all the other films) when you’re like “huh? This makes no sense”.

      • Walter says:

        I salute ranking Revenge of the Sith all the way up at fourth, though I disagree with most everything else.

      • Nick says:

        The Force Awakens is a great film. Funny, good action, exciting, characters you care about (and are believable), and most importantly, very few occasions (compared to all the other films) when you’re like “huh? This makes no sense”.

        I’m pretty meh on Force Awakens, but I’ll give it this: I thought the first half of the film was solid. I liked the opening—friends said it was hard to follow, but I didn’t think so at all—and I liked our introduction to Rey, bringing Rey and Finn together, and getting off the planet. I was iffy on the Falcon and Han and Chewie but willing to accept it. Liked Maz (though they managed to ruin her in Last Jedi). But everything to do with Starkiller Base was ridiculous, capped off by Rey picking up the lightsaber and fighting Kylo.

    • Mr. Doolittle says:

      From worst to best.

      Attack of the Clones is the worst movie in the franchise, no question. Writing (especially the dialogue) was poor, and the execution was worse. The serious scenes were full of slapstick, and they managed to make dozens of Jedi dying feel lame and almost boring (Jedi dying in the background has to be one of the worst things in any of these movies). Ham-fisted is probably the best descriptor I can come up with. This is the only one of the movies I really think is just a bad movie.

      Revenge of the Sith – better than AotC, but still suffers from poor acting and a very rushed…everything. I feel like they had to fill in a lot of gaps from AotC not building characters well, and the whole thing was rushed. Anakin’s fall to the dark side especially (less than ten minutes of screen time between Anakin holding up the values of the Jedi to killing children in cold blood).

      The Last Jedi – I really liked the Rey/Luke/Kylo parts of the movie. If the movie was all about them and dropped the rest, I would have loved the movie, I think. The agonizingly slow “chase” that took most of the movie (timeline wise) was boring and felt completely out of place in a SW movie. The rich-people-gambling world also felt very non-SW and also shoved in for some reason. Other than the Kylo/Rey parts, nothing seemed significant or all that interesting. Some parts felt like it was snubbing SW lore and canon on purpose.

      The Phantom Menace was intentionally made into a kid’s movie, and that really hurt it with fans of the originals. My own kids helped me to see that it’s not a bad movie, I’m just not the target audience. The writing is better than the other two prequels, and if you downplay or ignore Jar-Jar (and therefore some of the Jar-Jar heavy scenes), the movie has quite a bit going for it.

      The Force Awakens loses points for re-hashing too much of ANH, but since that was on purpose I can overlook that. It was a fun movie that felt good and was enjoyable to watch. Unexpectedly, Harrison Ford was the worst part of the movie, and I think really hurt it. Seeing our heroes from the originals fall back to essentially status-quo from where they were at the beginning of ANH may also have been intentional, but was a bad plan IMO.

      Solo – Someone else said it was a good sci-fi flick, but maybe low for SW standards, and I think I agree with that. I feel like it got a really bad reception because it came out right after TLJ and a whole lot of fans were grumpy, but that it was a more-than-decent movie. It’s fun and entertaining, and it holds to the aesthetic of the universe.

      New Hope – Some might be surprised that I would put this so far down, and honestly the top four are hard for me to place in a particular order. I’ll say that, for it’s time, it was amazing in many respects, but Empire is quite frankly the better movie, and overshadows, while RotJ is bigger and more fun (good entertainment).

      Return of the Jedi is great fun and packs a lot of payoff from the first two movies. Acting is good, writing is good. I know some people have squabbles with certain aspects like the Ewoks, but that never really bothered me for some reason.

      Rogue One is great, and my favorite on many levels among the Disney SW movies. It’s characters are deeper than anything outside of maybe Empire, while still being fun and it fits the SW feel very well. It’s dark and funny in all the right moments to blend well together, without resorting to slapstick or other stupidity. It captures the feel of a rebellion in a tough place right before Hope is restored.

      Empire Strikes Back – best written, best directed, best acted. It’s a great story told even better. I doubt anyone reading this far needs anything more to be said.

      • gbdub says:

        The trouble with Solo is the same as for Force Awakens – everything good about it is nostalgic Easter eggs. The original parts don’t really make sense. The “noble sacrifice” is stupid. There are wild swings in the emotional connections between the characters. The heel turns at the end somehow manage to be both eye-rollingly telegraphed, and also completely unearned.

        By centering the climax around an event with a known outcome (the Kessel Run) you lose any sense of tension (I mean, we know Han and Chewie can’t die, but you still could have done more)

        The biggest sin is that Han pre-New Hope is supposed to be a lovable rogueish antihero. But it turns out he was really just a straight good guy all along.

        • Mr. Doolittle says:

          The biggest sin is that Han pre-New Hope is supposed to be a lovable rogueish antihero. But it turns out he was really just a straight good guy all along.

          There is ~10 years between Solo and ANH, in which time Han works primarily for Jabba. I think it’s fair to say that Han in Solo is more of a “Good Guy” than we see in the beginning of ANH, but also that ten years working for a gangster probably did a really good job adding a hard outer shell.

          I watched Solo again last night (Netflix), and it’s as I remember. It’s not a great movie by any stretch, but it was enjoyable and entertaining, while fitting into SW lore (especially the aesthetic) pretty well. Considering the trash acting in much of the prequels and poor writing/script in both prequels and TLJ, having Solo in a middle spot doesn’t feel like it’s misplaced to me. If I were recommending SW movies to someone not familiar with them, I might mention Solo, but I would not mention any of the prequels or TLJ.

          • gbdub says:

            If what makes Han Solo into the Han Solo we know is his years working for Jabba then why not show that? That’s like, the point of an origin story.

            It was reasonably entertaining with a good aesthetic (although it continued the recent trend of “action scenes way too dark to see what’s happening”). It’s definitely more “middling” than “bad”. Just frustrating that the filmmakers made several choices that doomed it to “middling” despite being reasonably well executed.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            Since we know the Han from RotJ is a big old softy and all-around Good Guy, I guess it makes more sense to show him from before he got the hardened shell we see in ANH. An origin story from the perspective of someone in 1979 would probably be all about his relationship with Jabba.

            It might also be hard to tell a discrete story from a ten year span that also works as an “origin” story. I’d lean towards Disney having originally planned a series of movies about Han, but the poor showing of Solo may have scrapped that.

          • John Schilling says:

            I think it’s fair to say that Han in Solo is more of a “Good Guy” than we see in the beginning of ANH

            Han in “Solo” is literally the guy who financed the entire Rebellion out of the goodness of his heart. I don’t think there is any way to square that with his absolute indifference to the Rebellion through most of ANH.

            If the intent was to show that Han wasn’t always as cynical as when we met him on Mos Eisly, that was gross overkill aggravated by specifically poor targeting, and it can’t be patched over with “oh but his heart was hardnened working for Jabba”.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            I can certainly agree that it was overkill, even unnecessarily so in terms of the movie. That said, Han does fly back to help at the Death Star, even in ANH. It’s not a terrible stretch to say that Han checks to see if someone is worthy of help before jumping in and doing so wholeheartedly. That’s a cynicism that would have been enhanced by his time with Jabba.

          • John Schilling says:

            But there’s no plausible “checks to see if they are worthy” at that point, if we buy the backstory from Solo. Han’s entire adult life is basically defined by having turned away from being filthy rich and/or powerful, in favor of being a two-bit smuggler, because the Rebellion was worth that sacrifice(*). Maybe that leads to him saying “That was the biggest mistake of my life, Never Again”, maybe a joyful “Just like old times” reunion, maybe even a state transition between the two. The only thing that doesn’t work is the “Resistance shmesistance, show me the money … oh, OK, I guess I’ll help after all” that we actually saw.

            And that worked really well for Han and for the story, when we didn’t know the backstory, so it was a misstep to take the backstory in that direction.

            * And possibly because being a smuggler seemed like more fun

    • Gobbobobble says:

      Original Trilogy > Prequels > Sequels (haven’t seen the standalones)

      TLJ exists as a giant middle finger to the mythos, TFA is a empty copy of ANH. For all their directorial faults, the prequels at least embrace and expand on the Star Wars universe.

      I’m actually inclined toward the “New Republic and First Order are just pissing around over a couple dozen systems” theory in this thread. It would explain why there are hardly any aliens any more. They’re smart enough to stay out of it while the humans wrestle over who gets to hold the idiot ball.

    • RobJ says:

      From best to worst and separated into tiers:

      Love them:
      1. Return of the Jedi – It was my favorite as a kid and probably still holds that spot. The opening sequence is maybe my favorite in the whole series and Luke’s confrontation with Vader (in particular when the music swells and Luke shouts “Nooo..”) has always given me chills. The Ewoks don’t really bother me.
      2. The Empire Strikes Back – Just about everyone says this is the best, and they’re close to right. Not much to dislike about it.

      Tons of fun:
      3. A New Hope – Don’t know what to say… it’s great, but I never had the same love for it as the following two.
      4. The Force Awakens – Derivative, but so much fun. I feel like this is the only movie in the series that genuinely succeeds at comedy and it’s also got some great action sequences and the characters are great. Some stuff doesn’t make a lot of sense, but that only bothered me after the movie was over.

      Like, but mixed feelings.
      5. The Last Jedi – I’ve only seen it once, but I’ve got the fairly common opinion that the Luke/Rey/Kylo stuff was great and everything else ranged from ok to bad.
      5. Rogue One – I can’t find much fault in the movie and I enjoyed it, but also found it hard to love just because of the nature of being a prequel that we know the end of and feeling kind of meandering during the middle section.
      7. Revenge of the Sith – The only prequel I actually like enough to revisit and the only one that really feels like Star Wars movie to me. There are lots of things to dislike (Anakin’s quick turn to murdering kids especially), but I can still enjoy the movie.

      Don’t like it:
      8. The Phantom Menace – There are a few fun things about it (lightsaber duels with darth maul, pod race), but Jar-Jar is terrible, the plot isn’t that interesting, and putting a kid at the center wasn’t ideal.
      9. Attack of the Clones – Terrible acting, forgettable plot (I can never remember what happens in this movie) and that romance is so poorly developed. The only things I can remember about this movie are the “I don’t like sand” scene and Yoda flipping around everywhere in the confrontation with Dooku (who I can never remember why he exists).

      I haven’t seen Solo yet.

      • dodrian says:

        Here I thought I was alone in ranking Return of the Jedi as #1. As you said, it was my favorite as a kid, and has stuck in that place, probably for nostalgia reasons.

    • bullseye says:

      I’ve never really experienced the original trilogy as separate movies; it always seems like one long movie to me. Do Empire Strikes back and Return of the Jedi even make sense as stand-alone films? Do they make sense without the characters and setting established in A New Hope? Also Empire Strikes Back doesn’t have much of an ending; you don’t get the ending until the next movie.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      1. Empire
      2. RotJ
      3. Revenge of the Sith (Mace Windu dies and after)
      4. A New Hope
      5. The Last Jedi
      6. The Force Awakens
      7. Phantom Menace
      8. Revenge (rest of the movie)
      9. I stop watching Star Wars here
      10. Attack of the Clones
      11. Rogue One

      Is Rogue One really that bad? I didn’t think so watching it. But it’s the only one I’ve never rewatched, and it was so uninspired that I didn’t even bother seeing Solo in the theaters, because I hate that crappy “Star Wars Story” concept/brand. So, Rogue One killed an entire genre, right in its cradle, so it probably must be the worst one to me.

  37. ajakaja says:

    In the last few years I have realized that my internal monologue has mostly gone quiet. I’m in my late-20s now, and I remember that whenever I went to sleep or walked anywhere in college, I would have a constant stream of thoughts about whatever was on my mind, almost a conversation with myself. I can’t remember a time in recent memory when I experienced it, now.

    Has this happened to anyone else as they’ve gotten older? Do you think it’s good or bad? Have you tried to do anything about it?

    For some additional data: I was definitely more anxious and depressed then. Probably more stimulated, intellectually and socially (being in college). Slept erratically, but still do. Drank less coffee and usually less alcohol.

    • b_jonas says:

      Sure, see , where Scott quotes Vinay Gupta’s book where he says “my internal dialogue completely stopped … and it never came back” at one point when he practiced meditation.

      • ajakaja says:

        True. Though I definitely did not do any significant quantity of meditation over the time that this changed. (Actually, the one significant quantity I did do — half of a 10-day Vipasana retreat, until I had to leave for medical reasons — seemed to bring my internal monologue somewhat back, now that I think about it.)

    • SaiNushi says:

      I’m 33. My internal monologue goes away when I either have nothing my mind is working on, or when my mind is working really hard on something but only needs my subconscious. In essence, my internal monologue is only there if my conscious mind is obsessing over something or if my subconscious has decided to include my conscious mine in the decision-making or ruminating about something. Sometimes, my mind will stop the internal dialogue if something is particularly upsetting, to prevent me from noticing the upsetting thing. Another reason I might not have any is if I’ve recently written out whatever was bothering me.

      If yours disappearing bothers you, I’d suggest taking stock of your current problems, interests, and minor annoyances. You might just need to jump-start it.

  38. b_jonas says:

    Just one openny, not tw-open-ce? That’s cheap.

  39. Plumber says:

    Can someone please give me working definitions of “Left” and “Right” as usually used by commenters and by our host’s early posts?

    Pre-21 century divisions of “Left” and “Right” I can follow:

    Lafayette, Robespierre, Roosevelt, Stalin, Trotsky = “Left”

    Franco, Goldwater, Pinochet, Reagan, Thatcher = “Right”.

    But judging by the comments here referring to “the academic left” and “the Social Justice community” and those in opposition to them confuse me.

    Please translate into 20th century terms I may understand.

    What are the agendas?

    Who are the leading voices?

    I understand that there was a sea change with the “New Left” of the 1960’s”s, but judging from comments at SSC there must have been some change to the meanings of the terms after the 1980’s (when I went to school).

    A link to current definitions so I may follow along would be appreciated.

    • Deiseach says:

      My own personal uninformed ignorant this-is-all-subjective-feelings opinion? Post the 60s, there gradually came a split into “the Left” between the old-style classic Class and Socialism Left which was represented in the centre-left form by the traditional blue-collar workers and unions, and over here Old School Labour (e.g. singing the Red Flag and the Internationale), and what would become Progressivism As She Is Spoke nowadays, the feminism/gay rights/identity politics stuff that pivoted away from that blue-collar grassroots because the main appeal was amongst the college-educated young adults that became targeted by the Democrats in the 80s – the kind of environmentalism, ecology, Greens, abortion is a human right, etc. movement.

      Perfectly comfortable with making tons of money under capitalism (so the old style socialism/communism are right out) and yes I’m going to mention Silicon Valley Liberals here and no I don’t care if you protest “Okay so I live in the Bay Area, am a software engineer, work for AmaGooSoft but that’s not me” because yes it is. Dismantling traditional social mores and constructing the New Utopia of liberty and sexual revolution is a heck of a lot easier and indeed cheaper than dismantling the money-engine. See New Labour in Britain under Tony Blair, which worked out that to get elected they needed to be the Tories Lite.

      That’s why a lot of centrist/centre-right parties (such as the current government of my own country) are fine and happy with things like “divorce? abortion? gay marriage? sure thing, here’s a referendum and we’ll push for it to become legal!” because social liberalisation doesn’t cost them one red cent. Notice how neatly Obama et al all pivoted on gay marriage once the number-crunching was done and the public shifted to be more in favour than not (and I’m not poking any blame at Obama here, every goddamn politican did the same including in my own country). What gets us votes? is the important thing here.

      So the old Left/Right division isn’t much use anymore since the split is now along cultural, rather than economic, grounds. Republicans are just as much in favour of being able to use contraception to limit their families, divorce and trade up for a younger model, and not have to wait to get married to have sex, as well as having Party Fun Substances, as the Democrats – all thanks to the cultural changes that started in the 60s. Pushing the identity politics stuff is also a cheap (yes, it is cheap, relatively speaking) way of getting cultural capital; saying “there aren’t enough POC billionaires, we need to make college accessible to all!” means you are content with the very idea of billionaires, you don’t want to drag them à la lanterne or upend the system so there are never going to be billionaires any more, you just want a slightly larger number of those billionaires to be darker-complexioned. It also allows your young college graduates to feel they are Really Doing Something when they’re organising lists of preferred and permitted pronouns to be used in the lecture hall on pain of pain.

      • bullseye says:

        “Republicans are just as much in favour of being able to use contraception to limit their families, divorce and trade up for a younger model, and not have to wait to get married to have sex, as well as having Party Fun Substances, as the Democrats – all thanks to the cultural changes that started in the 60s.”

        Both parties are in favor of drugs? They why aren’t they legalized yet?

        As for contraception and pre-marital sex, admittedly my knowledge of Republicans is out of date, but I was under the impression they were very much against it. Being ok with divorce doesn’t sound right either. They *do* it, but they think it should happen less.

        • BBA says:

          Both parties are in favor of drugs? They why aren’t they legalized yet?

          The debate on legalizing marijuana cuts more on age lines than party lines – the young are for it, the old are against it. And Congress trends old.

          There’s little interest among either party in legalizing any other drugs. There’s an outside chance that psychedelics could be moved to less restrictive schedules, but that’s about it.

          Also, Congress is increasingly incapable of passing any legislation these days.

        • Furslid says:

          The reason drugs aren’t legal is because everyone is in favor of themselves being able to choose about using drugs. Those in power like the ability to punish undesirables for their drug use.

          The people who have enough influence to legalize drugs also have enough influence to keep themselves from being punished for their drug use. At worst they go to rehab or get a little probation. That’s only when they let their drug use get really out of hand.

          Why should those in power dismantle a two tiered system that works in their favor?

        • Deiseach says:

          Don’t think of the parties, think of the voters. You’re still stuck on the Moral Majority politics that are now over and done with, they’re a much less influential group than they were.

          As an analogy, when the Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret, wanted to marry a divorced man, she was talked out of it because it was the duty of the Royal family to set an example to the people (never mind that the ordinary people were all happily availing of no-fault divorce once it became legal, and nobody ever went “Well I want out of this miserable marriage but wait! What would the Queen think? Guess I’d better stay hitched!”) Come forward to today, and three of the Queen’s four children have been divorced (and Charles’ marriage exploded in an impressively messy fashion) and one of her grandsons is married to a divorced biracial American.

          Attitudes change, and I don’t think an average Republican party voter or member is going to have hugely different experiences or beliefs to an average Democratic party voter or member when it comes to “did you ever smoke weed and do you think it should be made legal/have sex outside marriage/use condoms/do you think divorce is okay?” Even on gay marriage, there are going to be Republicans who are “well sure why not?” The notion that the Republican party is more traditional conservative attitudes may be so, but it’s the lag over time. Nobody in both parties is fighting over divorce and remarriage the same way as over abortion, even the Evangelical or Moral Majority types.

    • ajakaja says:

      I am far from the person to give an informed well-cited opinion on this.

      But I will say that: the Left in American politics has basically 0 overlap with leftism in the sense of Marx / Communism / etc. It is related because of the common thread of “solving problems by adding structure”. There are still socialist and communist groups in America, but they’re very insignificant. They tend to be tribally aligned with progressive because the kinds of people who join them come from relatively progressive areas, I think.

      The modern American Left should be called ‘progressive’ if you want a better term, but they’re still call Left. They (we, I guess; I identify in this group) are a bit socialist, but I don’t think they mostly even know what the word used to mean in the first half of the 20th century. They’re socialist because they want to regulate things to fix them and because they want universal health care (… since there’s ample evidence that both are successful ideas…) and because they tend to be anti-corporation in sentiment (well, the voters often are; the party probably isn’t). This is largely a tribal line, not an ideological one, but if there’s a common ideology it’s of the rightness of doing things that appear to be Good, and that’s the version of Good which refers to helping people, fixing things that are bad, not giving gifts to corporations, and generally is a bit in-the-clouds and not entirely aware of how economies work (though arguably neither are their opponents). It’s specifically not the Good of “not being pushed around”, “self-reliance”, “being tough”, “being a patriot”, or “being loyal”.

      The academic left I am less aware of, though I know that concepts like Actual Socialism, Marxism, Communism still exist over there. But they barely exist in actual culture outside of like some weird fringe groups in major cities. The word ‘leftist’ is completely broken and half-the-time impossible to decipher, because, as far as I can tell, critics of the political left use it (as an epithet?) but are intending to refer to stances which are the academic left’s, because they think (erroneously) that those two are related when they’re not, but they want to imply that they are, because they also think that the political left is the same thing as the social justice movement, and that SJWs are autocratic (which is a bit true), and they’re just… very confused (but in their tribe it works).

      Speaking of. Social-justice is the current flavor of young vocal progressivism, but — it should be emphasized — is predominately concentrated in the young and vocal. It gets a lot of attention, but it’s not (in my experience) even on the radar of most people who, say, vote Democratic. I find it completely tedious to read critics of SJWs (like much of the Trump support I see online) who somehow think that SJWs are a significant voting bloc. Of course they might be more politically active, but I would, for example, wager that your average midwestern Democrat voter has never even heard the term ‘gender fluid’.

      (It should also be mentioned that the phrase “SJW” is a positive thing for many people, and a negative thing for many others, and the things that it refers to for those two groups have little overlap. It’s a lot like how the word “patriot” means a good or bad thing depending on who’s saying it and how you feel about the country they’re patriotic to.)

      This is my impression of things on the left side. I’m sure someone will come along and correct me, though.

    • At least in the US case, left and right are loose ideological coalitions, not consistent philosophy. On average, someone on the left is in favor of more gun control, more government spending, more income redistribution, more regulation of economic activity. Someone on the right wants less of those things.

      But there are also elements of factual belief, loosely linked to those things. People on the left believe the main reason poor people, especially poor blacks, are poor is that they are in some sense oppressed by the society, and that the reason women make less money than men is discrimination against women—in part this reflects the idea that innate differences by sex or race are insignificant. People on the left are likely to be happier with easy divorce, lots of non-marital sex, than people on the right. They are likely to believe that rape of women is a very large problem, false accusations a small problem, and that women in general are disadvantaged in our society. People on the left are likely to believe that climate change is a very large problem and requires drastic measures to prevent it, mostly along the lines of sharply reducing the use of fossil fuels. They are likely to disapprove of conventional expressions of patriotism and be somewhat hostile to religion. Currently they tend to be hostile to the military and to its use in foreign policy, favorable to immigration, sympathetic to illegal immigrants.

      The traditionalist right tends to the opposite of these views. The situation is somewhat confused by the fact that libertarians are usually lumped in with traditionalists as both right wing, and some people, of course, have a mix of libertarian and traditionalist views–more likely given that the two have tended to be political allies, although not consistently so.

      Libertarians are more against government spending and economic regulation than the traditionalists, more pro-immigration than the left.

      I hope that gives you some idea of how the terms get used now.

      • bullseye says:

        Overall I agree with this. I do have a quibble; the left today isn’t anti-military.

        I think it should be added that the politicians aren’t entirely aligned with the voters in either party. Among Republicans, politicians are more interested in economic conservatism than voters (hence Trump’s popularity despite his opposition to free trade). Among Democrats, politicians are much more in favor of war than voters.

      • Plumber says:


        “….I hope that gives you some idea of how the terms get used “

        It did, thank you.

    • brad says:

      In the US context this is considerably more straightforward than it used to be now that the Great Sorting is all but complete. Since our two (and only two) political coalitions are now virtually non-overlapping we simply define the Democratic coalition as left and the republican as right. On issues where there isn’t a clear separation (e.g. coke v pepsi to give a silly example) there’s isn’t a left and a right on that position. On issues where there is such a separation within a party coalition the policy positions closer to the other party’s are more centrist and the ones away from it more left/right.

      If this strikes you as too subjective and not clean enough, my reply is that a one dimensional projection of a highly multivariate policy space was always going to be a dicey proposition. This is about as good as you are going to get.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      If you’re looking for consistency here, you’re not going to find it. IMO the whole left/right thing should be scrapped because people keep using it in different ways and it’s just a way to create miscommunication — which happens just as much here as anyone else.

      (Personally I like my triangular model, FWIW. 🙂 )

    • nweining says:

      I am a fan of Arnold Kling’s “Three Languages of Politics” classification, which tends to sort those who would describe themselves as left- or right-wing better than any one particular policy position or small set of such positions. Basically, consider whether you think that the most important moral struggle in society is:

      (a) oppressed vs oppressors
      (b) civilization vs barbarism
      (c) liberty vs coercion

      If you answer (a) you are probably a leftist; if (b), a rightist; if (c), a libertarian.

      • brad says:

        What about the “neoliberal” technocrats?

        • johan_larson says:

          Let me try for a stereotype of something a neoliberal technocrat might believe, and perhaps say privately.

          We want rational policies, guided by modern science, implemented by the best among us, not outdated rules of thumb based on folk wisdom passed down by townie half-wits.

          Sounds like civilization vs barbarism to me.

          • brad says:

            In which case it’s a knock against the sorting mechanism.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            I’m not sure you’re applying Kling’s schema right, but if you are you’re demonstrating one more reason why it’s a bad schema.

            “Neoliberals” belong together with libertarians under the liberal tradition, not with authoritarian “rightists”. If you are focused on libertarianism and freedom narrowly this may seem strange, but if you look at the liberal tradition more broadly it makes sense.

            (I will once again suggest my own triangular model that I linked to above.)

            (Mind you, I suspect you’re misapplying Kling’s model here, but I think it’s wrong for plenty of other reasons regardless!)

          • Furslid says:

            That doesn’t quite fit the civilization vs. barbarism dynamic. The tecnocrat wouldn’t deny that small town America has a civilization. They believe that theirs is a better solution.

            It’s better civilization vs worse civilization.

            Civilization vs Barbarism is not Beverly Hills vs Podunk. It’s Suburbia vs Mad Max/ISIS/Compton.

      • AlesZiegler says:

        This doesn´t fit me at all. I would describe myself as leftist, yet I think (a) is least important. However, I have trouble deciding whether (b) or (c) is more important.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          Then you’re probably a liberal, not a leftist. 🙂

          (Also I think this is a bad schema, but that’s another matter.)

          • AlesZiegler says:

            Yeah, of course I am a liberal, I am not a communist, but otherwise I am quite left wing on many economic issues.

          • Uribe says:

            In the US “liberal” tends to be synonymous with “on the left” in common parlance. Since this is not always true in other countries or in more academic parlance, it causes confusion.

            I think of the left/right split in the US exactly as Plumber describes it, however it seems the word “progressive” (which used to be synonymous with “llberal” in the US) now is more connotative of identity politics leftism, whereas “liberal” is more connotative of (mild to moderate) economic redistribution leftism.

            Or maybe it’s that liberal was the more common term 20 years ago and progressive is the more common term now for those on the left.

    • David Shaffer says:

      An easy way to think of it is that the right likes to preserve traditions, while the left wants to overturn them.

      The academic left are professors and students who want more civil rights (gay rights, trans rights etc.), and often socialism. The social justice community are garden-variety racists.

      As for agendas, the right usually wants more aggressive diplomacy (leading to a stronger international position if done well, or needless alienation and lost cooperative opportunities if done poorly), is quicker to go to war (Trump’s withdrawal from Syria is actually more leftist), favors some combination of free trade and/or nativism economically (the free trade usually works, the nativism usually doesn’t), and generally opposes changes in social rights/norms (sometimes preserving beneficial ways of life, other times furthering unreasonable discrimination).

      The left tends to soft-ball their diplomacy, leading to international cooperation at best and laughably weak foreign policy at worst. They like to avoid, end or downplay wars, which at times furthers peace and at other times simply drops the ball. They tend towards socialism and/or international trade economically (they generally don’t like free trade within a country, but will sometimes help with free trade across borders), and generally like finding reasons to change social laws/norms (at its best, this furthers civil rights, at its worst this becomes its own form of discrimination, e.g. anti-white racism, anti-male sexism etc.)

      • EchoChaos says:

        I will agree with the first sentence, but I will point out that historically the left was far more aggressive about going to war than the right. The Ancient Regime was substantially more peaceful than either the Revolutionaries or Napoleon. Even in America, it was reformers and leftists who were more likely to use violence than the right. Lincoln was a leftist in the sense you’re using, for example. He was trying to overturn an American tradition, and did it by force when diplomacy failed.

        The modern left’s pacifism is a relic of the Cold War, when the left didn’t want the West to go to war since it was mostly against other leftists. And it’s fading just as quickly without that Cold War pressure. That’s the reason that Trump is withdrawing.

        If you look at the right, it is sharply divided between nationalists (what we used to call paleo-cons) like Pat Buchanan, Trump, Bannon who are skeptical of international organizations, want to stay home, mind our own business and defend only our vital interests and the globalist right (what we called neo-cons) Lindsey Graham, Mitt Romney, etc.) who are far more aggressive about using force. And the neo-cons are the leftwing side of the Republican coalition.

        The neo-cons are swiftly drifting back to the left after the Cold War for a bunch of culture war reasons that I won’t particularly drift into.

        • Plumber says:

          It used to be said “Democrats get you into wars, Republicans get you into depressions”

        • Statismagician says:

          I have to disagree with your characterization of events leading up to the Civil War. The Southern states, long accustomed to completely disproportionate power in the Federal government, threw a fit when neither of their preferred candidates were elected President, fired on a Federal fort, and the rest is history – in no reasonable way can Lincoln, who was fairly explicitly not going to do any of the things the South accused him of plotting regardless of his personal feelings re: slavery, be accused of having been the aggressor.

          • EchoChaos says:

            Let’s just call it massively culture war who started the Civil War and leave it there.

          • Statismagician says:


            I completely agree – I forgot this was an integer thread.

            EDIT: I should have said I agree we oughtn’t talk about this in this thread, while still noting that I disagree with your implication above.

          • Plumber says:

            The phrase was fron the mid 20th century, it doesn’t apply to all times even if it ever really applied.

          • EchoChaos says:


            It’s a fair disagreement and I should’ve thought of that before using that example.

            Thanks for understanding.

    • Plumber says:








      @David Shaffer

      Thank you all very much for your kind clarifications.

      Much appreciated! 

  40. Samu says:

    Is it just me or does liberal ontology involve a lot of abstraction? Few examples: feminists have completely abstracted away gender from biological sex so that they are held to be completely separate; sexuality has completely been abstracted away from sexual acts; the state has completely been abstracted from the people who make up the concrete departments of power. Am I the only one who has noticed — or misunderstood — this? What could be behind this interesting development?

    • toastengineer says:

      feminists have completely abstracted away gender from biological sex so that they are held to be completely separate; sexuality has completely been abstracted away from sexual acts

      I think you’re reacting to a weakman here.

      • Sebastian_H says:

        This is a tangent, but maybe useful. Something that’s been bothering me in the steelman/strawman/weakman ideas. I understand that you shouldn’t willfully misinterpret someone’s arguments (strawman) and often you can get better clarity with steelmanning (because you can get past time wasting objections). But what do you do when the steelmanned idea is plausibly fine, but in the wild the weakman idea is super common? I feel like postmodernism is the worst offender here. The steel manned version is something like “yes there are objective facts, but many of our narratives about them obscure them, and we treat the narratives as real”. But good heavens I encounter the “it’s all socially constructed so there are no real facts” misinterpretation all the time. Similarly with the sex/gender divide.

        • brad says:

          But what do you do when the steelmanned idea is plausibly fine, but in the wild the weakman idea is super common?

          It depends on what forum you are in and what it’s purpose is, but as a general rule if you think the idea is super common then it should be super easy to find someone that believes it if you are so fired up to engage with it.

          It’s annoying and unlikely to produce any interesting dialogue to come into a place like this, lay out some bad argument, pin it on some large amorphous group of people (e.g. feminists or Christians), and then attack it.

        • toastengineer says:

          What I’m trying to say is that I don’t think those ideas are as common as we’re tempted to think they are. The giant naked chimpanzee we’re stapled to the frontal lobe of wants us to hate and crush and kill our perceived enemies and will tug whatever strings it can get at to make us let it. We’re tempted to believe that the average feminist is a die-hard John Money fangirl, but do you really have solid evidence that this is the case? Are you sure your brain isn’t just subtly filtering the information you receive to force you to the conclusion your instincts drive you to believe?

          The steel manned version is something like “yes there are objective facts, but many of our narratives about them obscure them, and we treat the narratives as real”. But good heavens I encounter the “it’s all socially constructed so there are no real facts” misinterpretation all the time.

          I have run in to a person who would make up a story, tell it to you not pretending at all that it’s something they’ve actually seen or experienced, and expect you to accept it as evidence. But only one. Every other person I’ve argued with on the Internet accepted that there was a consistent external reality, and that human life is inherently valuable, and that people making decisions for themselves should be the default, etc etc etc.

          Like, if you hang around /r/tumblrinaction all day, you will probably get a distorted view of the left from that. Sure there’s plenty of people who get in really weird situations, and end up believing really weird things, and the left is disturbingly accepting of this kind of behavior, and these people do seem to be able to get in to positions of power and do harm from there, but I doubt the majority of the people on the ground actually believe that “gender has nothing to do with biological sex” or anything like that.

          They may say it, as ingroup signalling, but I doubt they believe it or would make decisions on it. Very, very few lefties actually raise their children to “pick their gender” later on in life; they’ll jump on a bandwagon to push Target to not have boys and girls toy sections, because that’s ingroup signalling, but they still buy their daughters dresses and their sons jeans. See also Belief As Attire, and, like, the entirety of the Sequences.

          • quanta413 says:

            They may say it, as ingroup signalling, but I doubt they believe it or would make decisions on it. Very, very few lefties actually raise their children to “pick their gender” later on in life; they’ll jump on a bandwagon to push Target to not have boys and girls toy sections, because that’s ingroup signalling, but they still buy their daughters dresses and their sons jeans.

            This is an important observation. A lot of things that people say they don’t really believe in a logical manner. So arguing that X is illogical with them is pointless because they don’t believe in X logically. They say X to signal something else. Saying X creates the right emotions in them or informs others of their tribe or whatever.

            X is often dumb too when taken as an axiom in some sort of logical system, so it’s tempting when you dislike them to imagine they believe X.

          • Tarpitz says:

            Every other person I’ve argued with on the Internet accepted that there was a consistent external reality, and that human life is inherently valuable

            I accept neither of these things – I’m not even convinced that they’re meaningful claims, if you try to take them at face value. I value human life, and I imagine you do too. I’m broadly in favour of predictive models based on science and reason. But as far as metaphysics goes, I can’t get behind either statement.

        • Samu says:

          Entirely possible. This is simply based on my personal interactions with feminists and my observations on current sociopolitical discourse.

          • Plumber says:


            “….based on my personal interactions with feminists”

            Can you please give some details?

            I’ve seen lots of posts (including by our host) on “the feminists” but the last actual person who I’ve spoken to face-to-face who called themselves a “feminist” was my mom in the late 1970’s, and after that no one.

            In the past couple of years I’ve seen some internet posts from “feminists” but I’ve also seen some from “monarchists”, which I’ve also never seen anyone claim to be one face-to-face.

            As far as I can suss out, our host’s early posts complaining about “feminists” are about a couple of bloggers who had unkind words about another blogger.

            Compared to say “Black Lives Matter” activists, which I see most every Friday where I work, that doesn’t seem like much of a current “movement”.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Plumber, in the Blue tribe you can’t say you’re not a feminist, but it’s probably more of a shibboleth than a movement.

          • brad says:

            Plumber, in the Blue tribe you can’t say you’re not a feminist,

            As someone that has lived his entire life in the “blue tribe”, that’s not true.

            Why don’t you stick to making claims about things you actually know about?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @brad: OK, how do Blue people in good standing express their opposition to feminism?

          • ajakaja says:

            This gets confusing because the word ‘feminist’ refers both to a perspective and a cultural identity (and some other more academic versions of the same).

            The perspective is that the ideas underpinning feminism are credible and that the world should change in a direction that makes life more just for women. The cultural identity is what you imagine when you hear someone say “hi I’m Carl and I’m a feminist” or something. Packaged with the beliefs of a feminist-identifier is a bunch of cultural baggage of what they want they identify as and how they want to be perceived by others.

            To be blue-tribe in general and to not literally identify as a feminist, as like, part of your identity, is easy. You just don’t do it. I did this in college: I had all the same beliefs, I just didn’t call myself a feminist because I didn’t like identifying that way (because of negative experiences on the internet).

            To be blue-tribe in general and to not believe the general ideas of feminism is rather cognitively dissonant, because that means being part of a tribe but believing that the experiences and opinions of millions of your tribe-mates are invalid, which seems to me like being a tribe-member in name only. The degree to which you believe them or personally experience them, though, can still vary wildly.

            To contrast with, say, Plumber’s experience, I would estimate that between college and living in Seattle for some years I’ve met hundreds of people who would, if asked, say that yes of course they are feminists, and then doubt the motives of the asker. It’s not as significant of an identity as it used to be.

            The types of feminism that SSC has complained about in the past, and the stuff that seems to have @Samu and @Le Maistre Chat put off about the word, suggest to me that their experiences of feminists have no relation to what I perceive as being the real-world norm. Presumably, it’s a lot of Tumblr-quality crap, in which case I can hardly blame them for not caring for it, but seriously, and I can’t emphasize this enough, those are not representative of regular people.

          • brad says:

            @brad: OK, how do Blue people in good standing express their opposition to feminism?

            Now you are moving the goalposts.

            Here’s your original statement:

            Plumber, in the Blue tribe you can’t say you’re not a feminist,

            One can easily say he isn’t a feminist without expressing opposition to feminism.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Presumably, it’s a lot of Tumblr-quality crap, in which case I can hardly blame them for not caring for it, but seriously, and I can’t emphasize this enough, those are not representative of regular people.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Presumably, it’s a lot of Tumblr-quality crap, in which case I can hardly blame them for not caring for it, but seriously, and I can’t emphasize this enough, those are not representative of regular people.

            The problem is, it’s not the “regular people” who have the influence, it’s the extremists. Just look at James Damore, the APA psychological guidance on masculinity, the new Gillette ad, etc., etc., etc. Whilst feminists might not all be extreme, feminism as a movement certainly is.

          • mdet says:

            Comment removed because CW-free

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          But what do you do when the steelmanned idea is plausibly fine, but in the wild the weakman idea is super common?

          That sounds like you’re dealing with a motte and bailey then.

          • Nick says:

            No no no, this is not what a motte and bailey is!!! For heaven’s sake, folks are not responsible for weakmen they themselves repudiate. If the very same person is defending both the steelman and the weakman, that’s a motte and bailey.

            ETA: Sorry, Conrad, this isn’t you but me. It’s a sore spot.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I’m assuming that when you encounter the common weakman, that person retreats to the steelmanned position.

      • Guy in TN says:

        In an interpersonal debate, just aim for responding to what they actually believe, regardless of whether you would classify their position as a low-level or high-level argument. The “steelman” strategy is really most useful for yourself, to keep you from slipping into strawmanning, which we have a natural tendency to do.

        I find too often people respond to a alleged strawman by saying “no one serious actually advocate for x…” when what they mean is that they, personally, don’t advocate for x. So debate what people actually believe. And if it seems ridiculous, that’s okay, because serious people advocate for all sorts of ridiculous positions. If you are arguing with such a person, its best to take their supposedly-ridiculous claims at good-faith face-value.

        As much as it sucks to be strawmanned, it also sucks (and feels deeply condescending) for your interlocutor to insist on radically steelmanning your arguments into something he deems worth debating.

        • Samu says:

          “As much as it sucks to be strawmanned, it also sucks (and feels deeply condescending) for your interlocutor to insist on radically steelmanning your arguments into something he deems worth debating.”


        • Paul Brinkley says:

          As much as it sucks to be strawmanned, it also sucks (and feels deeply condescending) for your interlocutor to insist on radically steelmanning your arguments into something he deems worth debating.

          It depends, IMO. All too often the alternative is your interlocutor talking right past you to a parody of your views he deems unworthy of debate.

          Given the choice, I’d rather my interlocutor at least exerted the effort of understanding my position and ending up with his version of a steelman, than exerted no effort at all. If he tries and fails, I can correct it, knowing he’ll take it in good faith. More ideal would be for him to exert that effort and arrive at arguments I would have made, had I had more coffee that morning.

      • Unsaintly says:

        I consider myself at least a Feminist ally, and I can say that I would not consider this a weakman. I, and many people I know, do in fact consider gender and biological sex to be completely different. Sexuality and sexual acts are also different. Like with sex/gender there is a strong correlation between sexuality and what sex acts you perform, but they aren’t the same thing.

        Without going into CW territory on the whys and whats, just bear in mind that there are intelligent, well informed people, who would consider that statement an accurate summary of their beliefs.

        • InvalidUsernameAndPassword says:

          Wait, isn’t sexuality simply the collective noun for sexual acts one performs?

          • Unsaintly says:

            Not quite. In the very short form, sexuality is the collection of sexual acts one prefers. As an easy example, a homosexual prostitute may still have sex with the opposite sex, without changing their sexuality in any way.

          • SaiNushi says:

            As another example, all those married men (with children!) who turn out to be gay men in hiding.

            Their sexuality is gay, so they prefer to perform sex acts with other men. But in order to disguise this back when it wasn’t as accepted, a lot of them would get married and have sex with their wives. That didn’t change the fact that they were gay.

    • Guy in TN says:

      This can’t help but feel cherry-picked. I’m sure someone on the Left could come up with three ways they think the Right is abstracting away from reality.

      • Samu says:

        And I would be interested to hear them out.

      • Samu says:


        All rights emerge from human societies since rights are simply obligations placed on others. If one would say that he has a right to liberty, this would in practice mean that others within his community are obligated to not initiate force against him. The deontologists have gone even further and say that liberty is a property (in a philosophic sense) that humans possess by some sort of natural law. I believe that this is simply an abstraction of the kind of liberty that I wrote about in the beginning. Note, this is based on my belief that there is no such natural law so my view here is biased.

        • Martin says:

          The deontologists have gone even further and say that liberty is a property (in a philosophic sense) that humans possess by some sort of natural law.

          How is that “going further”, and how is that more abstract?

          And it still means that others are obligated to not use force against them, so what’s the difference?

          • Samu says:

            “How is that “going further”, and how is that more abstract?”

            I use abstraction here as the process of considering something independently of its associations or attributes. And it’s hard for me to explain but it seems to me that deontologist libertarians believe that liberty exists as a property within some sort of quasi-Platonistic idea of man. And this goes further than the “social contract theory of liberty.”

            “And it still means that others are obligated to not use force against them, so what’s the difference?”

            I’d describe the difference as being similar to the difference between a Pythagorean view of heliocentrism and a contemporary one. Pythagoreans believed that the Earth circles a Central Fire because fire is a more noble element than earth. Contrast this to a contemporary view. The outcomes are the same but the starting axioms are completely different. Besides, the outcomes don’t matter to my central point.

    • ajakaja says:

      To substantiate the ‘weakman’ criticism, I would argue that most real-life feminists look nothing like what you describe, and if you heard them talk you would find their opinions to be abundantly reasonable.

      I live in Seattle, a very progressive city, and I have met a few people who perform the bizarre abstractions you describe and my reaction is not very different from when I meet megahippies who use crystals to protect themselves from spirits (bemused skepticism followed by not talking to them again). Most people I meet would identify as feminists to some degree, but are not doing any of that; they’re mostly concerned with things like power dynamics and wage equality and rape culture.

      • Samu says:

        I wasn’t implying that “Gender is a social construct”-ism is the only thing self-described feminists are focused on. I was merely trying to point out a trend that I see in liberal thought.

        • ajakaja says:

          Yes, but your examples of the trend are wildly inaccurate. If you’re trying to find a trend in liberal thought, get real examples. If you’re trying to find a trend in extremist fringe thought, then, yes, I think it’s generally true that extremist fringe thought tends to dial up one interpretative angle of reality very far and become blind to the rest, which looks a lot like abstraction.

          • Samu says:

            Really? It seems to me that my observations were wildly accurate. As far as I can see, recent feminist thought has been dominated by gender and radical feminists who fit perfectly to my “weakman”. You mention both power dynamics and wage equality. The feminists that I’ve come across usually lay the blame on socially constructed gender norms that push women into certain fields and supposedly “ban” them from others. Nothing to do with biological differences between the sexes. Same with power. This is another perfect manifestation of what I was talking about.

          • LadyJane says:

            How is that an example of abstraction? Statistical differences in gender representation between different fields of work isn’t really abstract, it describes a very real trend that exists in the world.

          • Aapje says:


            Statistics very often are abstractions, unless what is described is truly one-dimensional.

            My experience is that feminists have a strong tendency to abstract away the details of the work-for-compensation arrangement, while the critics tend to hammer those details to argue that the supposed discrimination is provably or possibly due to behavioral differences.

          • Sebastian_H says:

            Ok, my most recent super clear example was last year at the LGBT Center in my (large) city. It used both weakman intersectionality arguments (to try to silence) and weakman post-modern arguments about scientific validity.
            We were discussing funding for LGBT youth at danger of homelessness because of getting kicked out of their homes coming out. A lot of the funding is about outreach, because finding them is what lets us get them/keep them off the streets by getting other supports in place right away.

            One of the local early 30s trans activists mentioned that trans kids are 5x at risk of homelessness and suicide than gay cis kids. (I’m neither vouching for nor arguing with this particular statistic, and I didn’t do so at the time). She suggested that lots of them have slipped through the cracks and that we should try to specifically target them. So far so good. She then suggested that 2/3rds of the budget at issue should be targeted that way.

            I pointed out that even at a 5x risk rate, trans people are less than 1/5th the cis gay rate (and less than 1/50th the cis rate if you don’t bring gay into it) so probably spending in the 1/3 to 1/2 would be a lot, but maybe necessary to get new things in place.

            This provoked a shrieking (and I don’t mean that metaphorically) accusation that as a cis gay male I didn’t care about trans people, and could never understand the problems of being trans because I couldn’t understand what it was like to worry that your life could be on the line if people found out who you really were. I said that as a gay man in my late 40s, I had a close friend stabbed to death for being gay, so the trans/cis divide on that issue was largely gapped by being a gay man old enough to understand that very real fear. And then I tried to talk about the numbers again.

            Then I was accused of using heteronormative approaches to science to devalue trans lives. At that point the chairwoman diverted the issue. The vote was for 2/3rds of the outreach budget to trans outreach. We are about halfway through, and the trans people helped have doubled, and the gay people helped have halved. You can easily do the math to see that is a dramatic drop in total number of at risk kids helped.

          • ajakaja says:

            @Samu: I don’t disagree that the type of thought you describe exists; I just disagree that it’s significant or representative, and I contend that real-world people largely don’t think or talk the way you’re describing, and those positions are significantly overrepresented on the internet (particularly because they promote a lot of outrage). And of course I know you think it’s accurate, that’s why I responded to tell you it isn’t.

            One point of feminism, I think, is to convince you to rethink your beliefs, via at least the evidence evidence provided by the sheer fact of how many people think you are not correct. Getting people to see the world with a new model is legitimately difficult. Of course that looks like abstraction to an outsider, but it’s not abstract to the people who already have the model — it’s just everyday facts of life.

            Since you brought up “biological differences between the sexes”, I’ll also add that, as you know, it is taboo in some contexts to bring that up, but I’ll point out that the reason for that taboo is not (imo) that people are literally denying it as a possibility, it’s that the evidence (in data, in anecdotes, in everyday experience) that women are being pushed into certain fields is so massively overwhelming that, in practice, the people who bring up ‘biological differences’ are so likely to be arguing in bad faith that it is immediately taken as a signal of that. It is possible to talk about biological differences in these communities, but clumsy attempts parse as bad faith because they usually are (usually: because the speaker hasn’t bothered to understand any of the evidence they are disputing).

          • LadyJane says:

            Since you brought up “biological differences between the sexes”, I’ll also add that, as you know, it is taboo in some contexts to bring that up, but I’ll point out that the reason for that taboo is not (imo) that people are literally denying it as a possibility, it’s that the evidence (in data, in anecdotes, in everyday experience) that women are being pushed into certain fields is so massively overwhelming that, in practice, the people who bring up ‘biological differences’ are so likely to be arguing in bad faith that it is immediately taken as a signal of that. It is possible to talk about biological differences in these communities, but clumsy attempts parse as bad faith because they usually are (usually: because the speaker hasn’t bothered to understand any of the evidence they are disputing).

            This. And I feel the same way about things like racial IQ studies. I know it can seem like we’re holding the other side of the argument to impossibly high standards just to punish them for having the wrong views, and I can understand why that would be frustrating.

            But there’s an enormous number of bad faith actors out there, so anyone talking about these theories is going to seem like one of them unless they actively clarify their views and distinguish themselves. Reputation matters a lot too; I trust that someone like David Friedman isn’t a closet bigot, because it doesn’t fit everything else I know about him and his views. But if someone has a username like BloodAndSoil1488 and a long history of supporting far-right policies and organizations, I’m going to assume he probably has some ulterior motives in discussing theories about inherent differences between the races and sexes. (That doesn’t mean I would think he’s lying; I’d find it very likely that he genuinely believed the ideas in question, I’d just also think that he would be inclined to believe them even in spite of evidence to the contrary.)

          • But there’s an enormous number of bad faith actors out there

            On racial IQ questions I agree–but I think the majority of them are on the “there are no significant innate differences, so all differences in outcomes must be due to discrimination” side.

            Why do I believe that? To the best of my knowledge and belief, there is precisely one study that provides weak evidence that such differences don’t exist (involving the children of black GI’s in Germany). There is lots of evidence that they do, and the counter is to show reasons why that evidence might be misleading. But since there is no a priori reason to expect the distribution of abilities to be the same across races and pretty strong reason to expect it to be different, the only reason I can see for someone to claim that there is no significant difference (as opposed to claiming that we don’t know if there is a difference or what it is, which may well be a defensible position), is that they want to believe it. That’s what, by your account, defines a bad faith actor.

            Is there evidence I have missed? Is there strong evidence that the average IQ is the same across races as conventionally defined? Is there some a priori reason why, absent strong evidence, we should expect it to be?

          • Gobbobobble says:

            ajakaja says:

            I don’t disagree that the type of thought you describe exists; I just disagree that it’s significant or representative, and I contend that real-world people largely don’t think or talk the way you’re describing, and those positions are significantly overrepresented on the internet

            in practice, the people who bring up [X] are so likely to be arguing in bad faith that it is immediately taken as a signal of that

            To crib a couple other snippets around the thread:

            but seriously, and I can’t emphasize this enough, those are not representative of regular people.

            But there’s an enormous number of bad faith actors out there

            These seem to be facets of the same phenomenon viewed through different lenses. One person’s statistical certainty of bad faith is another’s non-representative sampling. And around and around we go…

          • albatross11 says:

            The interesting pattern here is that you make factual claim X, which convinces me that you hold evil beliefs, which then makes me reject your factual claim without further examination. To the extent this pattern really exists (maybe I’m missing something), it creates a kind of filter making certain facts impossible to learn.


            The other pattern that seems to exist is a bit different:

            a. You make factual claim X, which I agree is correct.

            b. I decide you must hold evil beliefs because you brought it up, and stop listening.

            c. I thus will never see (or accept) evidence for factual claim X being asserted by people who don’t have evil beliefs. By definition, only bad people bring this fact up!

            Again, this seems like an evidence-proof filter in front of the world.

          • But there’s an enormous number of bad faith actors out there

            I made one response. Let me give you another.

            My daughter’s observation of her fellow Oberlin students was that they were heavily left wing, and thought anyone who wasn’t was evil or stupid. One result of that was that the only people who were openly right wing were the sort of people who didn’t mind being thought evil or stupid, people who enjoyed offending other people and getting into hostile arguments.

            And since they were the only visibly right wing people, the other students were confirmed in their belief that only unpleasant sorts would disagree with their politics.

            You may be observing a similar pattern. A thousand people believe that average IQ varies by race. Nine hundred of them never say so when speaking to anyone except trusted intimates, because they know that saying that will get them labelled racists, or fascists, or whatever. Ninety of them do say so, because they like hostile interactions. Ten say so because they believe it is true and are offended by widespread nominal belief in a falsehood.

            You have random conversations, and conclude that 90% of those who believe in racial differences in IQ are assholes.

            The logic doesn’t work in the other direction, because the thousand people who don’t believe in such differences have no incentive to keep quiet about that fact.

            Which fits my (more general) observation. I don’t find that most people who disagree with my political beliefs are assholes–most seem to be reasonably nice people.

          • Aapje says:


            Getting people to see the world with a new model is legitimately difficult.

            Especially when the model is fundamentally broken. My complaint about the feminist model(s) is that they are nearly always extremely biased against men, treating things