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Open Thread 121.75

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831 Responses to Open Thread 121.75

  1. Le Maistre Chat says:

    What percent of its own weight can an Asian elephant carry?
    I know classical war elephants just carried four or so men plus the weight of the howdah, but there were also Khmer elephants that carried a ballista with crew and mahout, and culverin elephants in 16th century India. There were also armored elephants, and I don’t know how much that weighed…

    • Nornagest says:

      This is turning out to be a harder question than I thought it’d be.

      I’m finding three clusters of answers on the Web. The largest one is animal welfare charities and woke travel blogs, which seem to be concerned with elephant rides for tourists and which state essentially that elephants can’t safely carry any significant amount of weight on their backs. They justify this by saying that elephants’ vertebrae uniquely have “sharp, bony protrusions” pointing upward (that exact phrase is very common), but that seems pretty dubious to me (compare an elephant’s skeleton to a horse’s) and in any case should be manageable: saddles have trees to solve a similar problem.

      The second cluster looks to be tourist spots and people associated with them, which say that elephants can safely carry up to 25% of their body weight. That sounds like it’s in the right ballpark but it also sounds like it’s made up. I expect this is what gets used as a rule of thumb in the trade, but who knows if it’s anywhere close to the true maximum.

      Finally, there’s a few people repeating what looks like copy/paste from a source I haven’t been able to trace, which claims that elephants can carry about 9000 kg or about 1.5x their body weight. That sounds high to me, and even if correct it probably represents the equivalent of bench press numbers, not a weight that could safely be carried for long periods.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Thanks; clearly 9000 kg is right out for what I’m talking about. The copy/paste is either unfounded or refers to the weight of cart it could tow.
        There was early modern Indian elephant armor consisting of thousands of steel plates (musket-proof? I would hope so!) weighing 350 pounds. Each armored man would add at least 240 to that. I don’t see evidence that the soldiers behind the mahout had a howdah, but it seems probable, and I don’t know how much that weighed.
        If the rule of thumb in the trade is that Asian elephants can carry 25% of their weight, the whole culverin kit and crew could have weighed a metric ton, since 4t is the average bull weight.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Adding to the mystery, I looked up the definitions of “culverin”, and the smallest cannon of that name was the 7-pounder “bastard culverin” that weighed more than 2,000 pounds without ammunition or crew. So I dunno know what gunpowder artillery Indian elephants ever actually carried.

        • Nornagest says:

          That was true at one point in time, but hand culverins were also a thing, so they’ve have covered the full range of cannon sizes at other points in history. I’d guess that your elephant culverin was the equivalent of a large wall gun or of the swivel guns sometimes mounted on small boats.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Yeah, probably. Not artillery at all but a swivel gun, and so the Khmer ballista elephant was probably the heaviest “backpack” an elephant ever took to war.

    • Nick says:

      Man, now I can’t wait for this week’s war woolly mammoths.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Now imagine war sauropods carrying 25% of their weight because I haven’t been talked out of it by square-cube talk.

        • Protagoras says:

          If we’re assuming primitive warfare (as we should be, since whatever movies and TV have tried to show us, such beasts would be virtually useless in modern warfare), you wouldn’t need to weigh them down this much. If the armor only needs to protect against primitive weapons, it doesn’t have to be any thicker than armor for a smaller beast, so the weight of the armor would only go up with the square of the size, not the cube. So their adaptation toward thicker legs and greater strength would make armor less of a burden than it would be for a smaller beast. And I don’t know how many soldiers you were planning to cram together on their backs, but it would have to be an awful lot before that started getting to be any significant percentage of the animal’s weight. I think once you start to try to put siege engines on their backs we do need to start chatting about the square-cube law, though.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            If we’re assuming primitive warfare (as we should be, since whatever movies and TV have tried to show us, such beasts would be virtually useless in modern warfare),

            You mean memes like this?

          • Protagoras says:

            Thinking more of the monster movies where small arms almost always do nothing to dinosaur type monsters (while apparently poachers hunt elephants with AK-47s, so even that seems unlikely to be very accurate), and nobody ever tries to use anything larger, when just a heavy machine gun would shred pretty much anything that has ever lived.

          • Nornagest says:

            It used to be common for big game hunters to use specially designed, very-large-bore rifles to take down elephants and other African megafauna. But those were one- or two-shot weapons, so single-shot stopping power was imperative, and metallurgy hadn’t advanced to the point where smaller rounds could carry similar energies — dangerous game cartridges were typically 4 to 7,000 ft-lbs at the muzzle, comparable to .338 Lapua Magnum or the hotter side of .300 Weatherby Magnum. (.50 BMG, for comparison, carries upwards of 13,000 ft-lbs.)

            Firing full auto, I imagine five or ten rounds of 7.62×39 could kill just about any animal alive.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @protagoras:

            Thinking more of the monster movies where small arms almost always do nothing to dinosaur type monsters (while apparently poachers hunt elephants with AK-47s, so even that seems unlikely to be very accurate), and nobody ever tries to use anything larger, when just a heavy machine gun would shred pretty much anything that has ever lived.

            Oh, yeah, that’s fantastically dumb. “Our small arms aren’t killing it! We’re doomed!”

            @Nornagest: I wouldn’t bet on five 7.62×39 always being fatal to megafauna. Roy Benavidez probably had at least five AK-47 slugs among his 37 wounds, and he wasn’t an elephant.

          • bean says:

            A really good hunter can kill an elephant with a .30-06. There’s a weak spot in the skull where you can punch through to the brain. Most people who are not that good are going to need a big round, and you’ll also want that if you’re hunting other animals. I’m not sure that muzzle energy is precisely the correct measure here. Something like .338 is going to get energy by going really fast, which is not going to result in exactly the same sort of wounds as a slow, heavy big game round. I suspect (and it’s been a while since I did much with wound ballistics) that you’d see somewhat shallower penetration when the bullet tumbles, which might be problematic on an elephant.

            Firing full auto, I imagine five or ten rounds of 7.62×39 could kill just about any animal alive.

            I’d question this even if it was 7.62×51, to say nothing of 7.62×39. I do recall a story of a Vietnam Vet friend killing an elephant with an M60, but it was a long time ago, and I don’t know how many rounds he used.

          • Aapje says:

            @Nornagest

            Penetration is key to get to the internal organs, where damage really counts. If you use a weapon with too little penetration, firing many bullets might cause the animal to die eventually due to bleeding out (or you might get really lucky).

            However, if the reason why you are shooting it is that the animal is attacking you, it might not be good enough to have it die after stomping your face into mash. Elephants are very dangerous animals, if they get angry.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’d question this even if it was 7.62×51, to say nothing of 7.62×39. I do recall a story of a Vietnam Vet friend killing an elephant with an M60, but it was a long time ago, and I don’t know how many rounds he used.

            Contemporary elephant hunters mostly do use 7.62×39, because contemporary elephant hunters are mostly poor criminals and AK-47s are what they can get on a budget. The observed result of thirty rounds 7.62×39 in three seconds is almost always an insta-dead elephant. Very unsportsmanlike, but it gets the job done.

            But consider an analogy: No one would consider a .22 short to be an effective cartridge for killing humans, except in special cases like execution or assassination with perfect shot placement. Everyone considers a 12-gauge shotgun at close range to be an extremely lethal and almost assuredly incapacitating weapon. And a 12-gauge shotgun shell loaded with #4 buckshot, is 27 projectiles each approximately matching a .22 short.

          • Nick says:

            Oh, yeah, that’s fantastically dumb. “Our small arms aren’t killing it! We’re doomed!”

            I think small arms would make you evenly matched against a T. Rex, if anything.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nick: … and the T. rex plays a drumroll on the little drum suspended under its arms.

        • bullseye says:

          Square-cube talk is enemy propaganda! We will breed giant war ants that carry whole armies on their backs!

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            I’m imagining APCs with four ants instead of wheels, with a footprint allowing each to seat large units rather than squads.

        • Nick says:

          TIL that there’s a sauropod named Dreadnoughtus.

          • Nornagest says:

            Don’t tell Bean, he’ll try to put turrets on it.

          • Skivverus says:

            Don’t significant numbers of vertebrates already come with turrets of a sort? We call them “necks”.
            Most of them skip mounting projectile weaponry in favor of targeted sensor arrays, sure, but they do tend to swivel pretty well.

            Edit: and now I went and clicked on the link. Oddly apropos.

          • bean says:

            Ooh, yes. I definitely have a new favorite dinosaur. Hmm… Now where do we fit the turrets?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            The only place for turrets is on the creature’s back. The back was apparently 17 feet long… but how broad was it? Are we looking at a two-turret configuration here?

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      How much weight the elephant can carry might be an imprecise question. How far or fast does it need to carry it? How many battles are you expecting it to endure?

    • Now I want to read the fantasy counterinsurgency fiction about the crew of a war elephant patrolling a city while knowing that any person they pass could be wearing a Necklace of Fireballs…

  2. baconbits9 says:

    Wohoo, I got my worms in the mail!

    • analytic_wheelbarrow says:

      Wait, what?

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        How do you get your worms?

        • Faza (TCM) says:

          Back in my day, we would dig up our worms ourselves.

          (And we walked four miles to school. In the snow. And it was uphill both ways!)

          • baconbits9 says:

            You had it easy, back in my day we had to wait billions of years for worms to evolve and the earth was still accreating. On the plus side no school since prior to conscious thought education wasn’t really a thing.

      • baconbits9 says:

        We are starting a vermi-composting system, small scale for now but we have an eye on turning it into a small (micro) business.

        • Faza (TCM) says:

          I’d never considered composting as a business opportunity before. Are you thinking of selling fertilizer? Would there be demand for it in your locale?

          • baconbits9 says:

            Vermiculture typically produces two products, castings (compost) and more worms (insects if you are using them). Worms can be sold to other composters, general gardeners, and as bait. Casting are sold as fertilizer, and there is demand in basically every locale, anywhere people grow plants you can find places selling fertilizer.

            The basic gist is pretty simple, you collect compo stable materials, feed them to worms, separate out the castings from the worms and sell each. The big issues are

            1. Getting enough materials to compost. I did a back of the envelope calculation that to run a small business which would net $50,000-$75,000 a year would require 50-75 tons of food waste. Our family, 2 adults and 3 kids under 6, with 90% of means homemade produces less than half a pound a day, so to make it a business you need to be collecting from the equivalent of 500-800 households. You can do this by arranging to pick up waste from grocery stores etc if they are willing to separate it for you and keep out the majority of undesirable products.

            2. Maintaining the right temperature range. Worms basically go dormant below 50 degrees and slow down their production as they dip toward that temperature, and likewise above 75 degrees, but you can’t store most of their food as it will rot in undesirable ways and attract pests so you basically have to keep them in a semi climate controlled environment. Insect composting (black soldier fly larva) is even more difficult as they want temperatures near 80 degrees, so they are only a fraction of all composting despite being far better composters.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            This is really interesting.

            I get that there are people who need fertilizer almost anywhere, but at the same time my experience wouldn’t suggest producing fertilizer to be a viable business (in one case we produced our own compost, in another, my grandfather had dealings with some local farmers – allowing me to learn some very valuable life-lessons about shovelling shit in the snow. Fun times!)

            The sheer volume of material needed would certainly scare me, unless I already had a reliable source (as my grandfather did), but I can imagine it’s doable if you’re willing to put in the work. Good luck!

          • Jaskologist says:

            They eat cardboard too, as long as you shred it enough. Have you looked into businesses that have a lot of boxes they want to get rid of?

          • baconbits9 says:

            They will eat cardboard/paper etc but they won’t thrive and reproduce on it and their diet needs to be primarily food waste (ditto for fall leaves).

    • Walter says:

      Oh no! That sounds like a terrible thing to happen. I hope you are alright.

  3. Chalid says:

    What are books, or genres of books, that are better in audiobook form than when read? Probably poetry, maybe plays, anything else?

    • Tatterdemalion says:

      My sister has heard Benjamin Zephaniah give a reading of his work, and said that she thought it worked better out loud than on the page.

    • Uribe says:

      Probably the memoir of a comedian read by that comedian.

    • LesHapablap says:

      David Foster Wallace’s essays are well done when read by him. See How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart

      Ender’s Game was well produced with a full cast of characters by audible.com.

    • andrewflicker says:

      I don’t remember which one it was, but I listened to one of Margaret Atwood’s books from the series including the MaddAddam cult, or whatever you want to call it. Quite a good audiobook, with portions specifically performed and recorded by a band and choir for the cult’s songs and chanting, etc., poem readings where appropriate, different voices that really sold the atmospherics.

    • theredsheep says:

      John Cleese did an incredible audiobook of The Screwtape Letters. Ordinarily, I can’t do audiobooks; my attention wanders. Cleese can keep your attention, though.

    • spkaca says:

      Poetry probably, especially I suspect long-form narrative or epic. I can never read Paradise Lost on the page, but at the Edinburgh Festival once I heard a magnificent madman called Guthrie (I forget his first name) reciting it from memory (at the rate of one book per day) and it was marvellous.

  4. Clutzy says:

    Many people refer to now as “The Golden Age of Television” while others refer to a time in the recent past as the Golden Age, but still believe we are generally in an age of almost limitless great television.

    I simply must disagree. From my point of view we are in a hopeless age of television full of horrible tales told about horrible people by subpar writers. To make my point I will point to a few examples that I have had the misfortune of seeing at least the whole first episode, plus many other episodes:

    Ozarks
    The Umbrella Academy
    Handmaid’s Tale
    You
    Jessica Jones
    Mr. Robot

    And there are likely many more I have expunged from my mind. The fact is the “depressing drama” is something that all the places are obsessed with pumping out, and for some reason people keep pushing them and always saying I should watch them. These shows are, in my opinion, intentionally boring and aggressively depressing. The goal appears to be to evoke negativity, possibly there is a Silicon Valley conspiracy to drastically reduce the US population through alcoholism and suicide. I don’t know. But, what I do know is all the best shows that these shows pretend to be walking in the footsteps of: The Wire, Sopranos, Lost, all had great sparks of joy and a few relatable characters. And none of these new shows do. And they shouldn’t be proud of that.

    • LesHapablap says:

      Sometimes you can see the depression of the writers filtering through into these shows and other media, and you wonder how universal these feelings are. Here’s an obvious example: Easy Fix – Amazing Superpowers hidden fourth panel

      Other times it seems to be misanthropy or pessimism.

      If you’re looking for a good show, Mindhunter (netflix) was fantastic. Not nearly as dark as I thought it would be and quite funny in places.

    • andrewflicker says:

      I mean… none of those you listed are the ones I usually see touted as examples of the “Golden Age of Television”, so perhaps you’re simply falling afoul of Sturgeon’s Law here?

      • Clutzy says:

        I understand that. I am just saying that what has spawned out of what I consider the old golden age is a new age where they decided good TV = depression.

        • J.R. says:

          I don’t think “depressing” is the right word to describe these shows. I think they’re “well-produced” and self-consciously “dark”. Prior to the explosion in streaming providers, dark and well-produced had a decent correlation to quality. They have appropriated the aesthetics of their forebears, but have not been able to replicate the excellent writing that was at the core of those shows’ appeal, mostly because good writing is the most difficult to pull off.

          I agree with you – I loved The Sopranos and The Wire and Breaking Bad, but do not see the appeal in any of the shows you named in the OP.

          Have you watched Better Call Saul? I was wary of watching it at first — I thought it was a cynical cash grab by AMC to keep themselves alive after BrBa and Mad Men went off the air — but I really enjoy it. The show is (annoyingly) padded with a bunch of Mike Ehrmantraut, but the Saul/Jimmy storyline is gold.

          • gbdub says:

            What have you got against Mike? I agree his running family drama with his daughter-in-law is boring, but he’s a great character that deserves an origin story. But maybe he’s too serious / dark for BCS?

            I actually like BCS more than BB not because it’s a “better” show but because it has an element of farce that BB really lost after the first season or two – getting through BB’s last season was a slog and so far BCS has stayed fun.

    • Plumber says:

      @Clutzy

      “….Many people refer to now as “The Golden Age of Television” …”

      I regularly watch America’s Test Kitchen, Ask This Old House and Rick Steve’s Europe, and think they’re pretty good.

      A favorite of mine is the once in a while broadcast of the “House” series that started with 1900 House, and continued with 1940s House, Colonial House, Frontier House, Texas Ranch House, Edwardian Country House, with the last one being Victorian Slum House, which was particularly good, I’d love it if they had more era’s: Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Tudor, et cetera.

      “..Ozarks
      The Umbrella Academy
      Handmaid’s Tale
      You
      Jessica Jones
      Mr. Robot…”

      I haven’t seen any of them, I don’t think they’re being broadcast and my wife hasn’t brought home any DVD’s of them from the library.

      “..The Wire, Sopranos, Lost…”

      I watched some of all of those, I even watched Lost before it got on DVD’s at the library, and of your list Lost was the best, because it was actually broadcast, I will not pay a subscription for television and I advocate no one else subscribe either, if enough are united and refuse to subscribe that business model of “pay for TV” will end.

      Don’t be a chump and pay for what used to be provided for free (actually advertising paid for it, but when I’ve visited friends that have cable the subscription channels still have commercial breaks.

      NO WAY!

      • Nornagest says:

        I’d rather pay ten bucks a month and get TV I want to watch, than pay zero bucks a month and get TV I don’t want to watch. And from where I’m standing that’s the decision I’m faced with: there’s the occasional exception, but ninety-nine times out of a hundred subscription models get you better writing and way better production values than broadcast. I’m getting my money’s worth; I’m not joining some kind of fake solidarity against it.

        As to ads, some cable channels have them, but Netflix doesn’t. That’s one big reason I have Netflix and don’t have cable.

        • LHN says:

          I’d also rather pay and avoid ads than get free TV with ads. Where services let you buy out of commercials, like Hulu or CBS All Access, I take that deal. (And one reason I haven’t completely replaced cable with streaming is that I can skip commercials in recorded programs on a DVR, where skipping streaming commercials is much harder.)

          Agreed that the “live in a house in a certain era” shows were very good, especially early on before people started having specific ideas about how one should behave in a reality show. Even the cheating was entertaining. (E.g., the Frontier House couple generously giving the newly married pair their bed… only for it to be later revealed that they’d snuck in a modern bed from offsite and needed to clear out the space their old one had taken up.)

          One New Golden Age show I’d call the opposite of bleak is “The Good Place”. (The overall universe the characters inhabit looks pretty bleak, but the way the central characters develop very much isn’t.)

          We’re also in an unprecedentedly excellent period for animated superhero stories, which began decades ago with Batman the Animated Series and continues through the recently revived Young Justice.

          Similarly, the decade that produced the excellent and not at all bleak Avatar: the Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra is only a few years back.

          But it’s true that as with literature, there’s a strain of dramatic criticism that tends to assume sad or cynical stories are inherently deeper and better art, and that this is sometimes reflected in which shows are effusively praised.

          • Clutzy says:

            Good Place is my favorite show currently.

            But, the funny thing is no one proselytizes Good Place to me (unlike the other shows). I am the person recommending it.

        • Plumber says:

          @Nornagest

          “I’d rather pay ten bucks a month and get TV I want to watch, than pay zero bucks a month and get TV I don’t want to watch”

          To each their own, but it’s hard for me to imagine what I’d part with $120 a year to watch.

          With PBS, and YouTube there’s stuff to keep my two-year-old entertained, my wife gets movies from the library (’71 was really good, Sicario wasn’t).

          Game of Thrones with it’s archery, dragons, and nudity is pretty entertaining, and if the DVD’s didn’t come to the library I might be tempted by that, but they do come to the library.

          I guess the same argument could be made about the books I buy, but seeing them piled up makes me feel comforted in a way that knowing there’s something on doesn’t, but another reason for me not to pay for subscription television is if I had it when would I sleep?

          • andrewflicker says:

            I usually rate consumer entertainment by a $1/hour threshold – if I were to spend $120/year on a TV subscription, I’d need to enjoy 120 hours of content that year. I pay for Netflix, but I’m not sure if I even *watch* 120 hours of Netflix a year, let alone enjoy them all.

    • Lillian says:

      What are you talking about? The Wire, while a very good show, is incredibly bleak and depressing, far more so than Jessica Jones or Umbrella Academy. The Wire is practically a documentary about the real world and its real dysfunctions, Jessica Jones and Umbrella Academy are over the top fantasies populated by human caricatures. It’s hard to cheer for Chris and Snoop when they go around murdering innocent people and stuffing their bodies in an abandoned housing complex. That scene where they’re disposing of the convenience store guard’s corpse? That’s hard to watch, it feels too real and the poor bastard didn’t deserve that. Meanwhile Hazel and Cha Cha are also a pair of assassins but they’re god-damned hilarious, like even we see them torturing someone it’s fun to watch because nothing about it is realistic or serious.

      • Clutzy says:

        I disagree with your assessment of The Wire, not because the realness is not depressing, but because the characters are not depressing. They are working within a bad system, but Bunk and McNulty are fun and enjoyable. The fat cop is great. The tie gag makes you laugh. Sure, Chris and Snoop are more eviler, and Hazel/ChaCha are more goofy (and they are the best part of TUA), but even Hazel has his depressing old lady friend.

        And the main point of TUA being the worst is the 7 are irredeemably boring and angry, the monocle guy was creepy, the mom and monkey are depressing. Its all intentionally depressing. JJones is also intentionally depressing. The Wire might depress you because it reflects reality, but at least its doing that, not creating an altogether depressing fake reality and story on purpose!

        • Lillian says:

          Well at this point it’s a matter of taste, i loved the characters in Umbrella Academy. While Hazel and Cha Cha are fun, the best part of TUA is hands down Number Five, the gloriously arrogant prick. Also depressing fake realities are great, i love Warhammer 40k which is all about being as over the top bleak and depressing , to the point that it’s tag line* is the origin of the term grimdark, and it’s awesome. For me stuff like 40k and JJones are pretty much emotional porn, the Wire… isn’t.

          *(In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war.)

    • Baeraad says:

      I haven’t seen any of the others, but I would protest strongly against the notion that Jessica Jones doesn’t have “great sparks of joy and a few relatable characters.” I’m not sure it’s great television, per se, and I’m absolutely sure that there are plenty of idiots raising it to the skies for all the wrong reasons, but it’s easily the best of the Marvel lineup with the possible exception of The Punisher. (which is also pretty dark, but which I would also describe as having lighter parts and relatable characters, for the record)

      • Tarpitz says:

        It’s easily the best of the Marvel lineup primarily because Kristen Ritter’s performance is on a completely different level to what anyone else in those shows is doing. Otherwise, I enjoy it, but I wouldn’t argue for it as great art.

        • Walter says:

          Hrrm, JJ season 1 was probably the best season Marvel/Netflix had, but I think in terms of entire shows I’d put Daredevil over JJ (though, obviously, JJ still has one more season to go, so this might change).

    • sty_silver says:

      The only show I’ve seen in the first list is Jessica Jones, which I liked. The only show I’ve seen part of in the second list is Lost, which I thought was irredeemably awful. That would still be true if I looked at writing in particular. So you totally lost me at the premise.

      But if I had to point to a recent show to justify the claim that we’re in the golden age of television, I would pick Black Mirror. I think just picking a sample of five is unconvincing even if I agreed on those.

      • Clutzy says:

        Black Mirror is another intentionally depressing one that doesn’t have the writing prowess to justify its grimness and self importance.

        • Randy M says:

          Interesting. I’ve found it pretty mixed, with some good shows and some poor ones. I suspect it depends partly on how familiar I am with the idea being explored.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            There are still occasionally good ones but it was much better back before it decided it was Visionary and Prophetic. When it was more like a modern Twilight Zone it was much more fun.

            Series 1 was all good episodes; the most recent Series was near-universally terrible (only “nearly” because I haven’t actually seen one of them so don’t know for sure). For some reason* people loooove USS Callister and the Black Museum but I found them painfully pretentious. Then Bandersnatch comes out and is actually interesting (if a little bit too smugly meta) but everyone hates it ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

            *Spoilers: it’s the Culture War

          • sty_silver says:

            I don’t think I see how the last season is more visionary or prophetic than the first one. They both have near-term science fiction.

            What are you basing your remark on Bandersnatch on? According to wikipedia, the critical reception was positive. The only person I’ve heard saying they don’t like it is Robin Hanson.

          • Nick says:

            When it was released, I believe several people here remarked they didn’t like it, and that the reception was mostly negative. I think LadyJane might have defended it, but I can’t remember.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Re: Bandersnatch: apparently enough people hated it enough to harass the actor off social media. (top Google result, haven’t read more than the first paragraph, YMMV)

            As for Propheticism, I felt a general trend over the course of the show for the tone to demand taking the what-if-of-the-week seriously. Which was… smugly offputting. Again, YMMV.

          • sty_silver says:

            I can see that in the case of Black Museum, but USS Calister struck me as the least serious Black Mirror episode across all four seasons.

        • sty_silver says:

          Do you think Lost has better writing than Black Mirror?

    • Tarpitz says:

      I think there are a number of things going on here.

      1. The general standard of screen acting has improved considerably over time. The tiny proportion of natural geniuses has probably held constant, but the learnable approaches used by the rest of us have improved, leading to more good performances and far fewer terrible ones.

      2. There is more money in TV than ever before, leading to higher production values and attracting more elite talent that in the past would have stuck to features.

      3. TV has been substantially freed from the constraints of weekly episodic broadcast, leading to more complex plotting and reduced need for exposition and recapitulation.

      4. Far more TV, and far more varied TV is being made, and smaller audiences are now profitable. That means that whatever your taste, it’s more likely someone is catering to it. The taste of artsy types – including both me and many of those whose opinions on TV get most read – tends towards depressing material, which means that’s what tends to get cited in prominent lists of why TV is currently good. So sure, for me, BoJack Horseman is the greatest work in any artistic medium this century, but it doesn’t sound like it would be a good recommendation for you – and that’s fine. There’s almost certainly plenty out there you will like; you just need to stop listening to people like me in trying to find it.

    • Aapje says:

      @Clutzy

      If you want fun/joy mixed in with drama, I suggest:
      – Fargo
      – Rick and Morty
      – Better Call Saul
      – Review (with Andrew Daly)
      – American Vandal

      If you just want better bleakness than the fairly mediocre stuff you watched, I suggest:
      – The Americans
      – Westworld
      – Sharp Objects

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      The last new show I liked was the first season of Stranger Things. And even then, my reason for liking it was because it was merely competent: a story with a beginning, a middle and an end, believable characters well-acted, and it wasn’t preaching something at me. I’ve basically switched to 100% of my entertainment derived through video games, and we are definitely in a Golden Age of video games.

      Aside: current vidya addiction is Thea: The Awakening, available on PC, XB1, PS4 and Switch (I’m playing on Switch). I think it would definitely appeal to the SSC demographic. It’s a strategy-survival RPG with a card game conflict resolution system, based on Slavic mythology. The world suffered a cataclysm and was plunged into 100 years of darkness. Now the sun is coming back, and you choose one of 8 gods to lead humanity’s last village in a struggle to survive and renew the world. Each time you play through you level up your chosen god, unlocking new bonuses and new gods, so it’s got a bit of a roguelike thing going on there too. I would call it “Civilization meets the Witcher meets…gwent.”

      So you’ve got a hex grid map with your village, and the villagers, you send them out on expeditions to gather resources and explore areas of interest. Then bring the loot back to town to craft new weapons, armor, tools and buildings. You encounter enemies and random events that sound just like the sorts of things you get in a D&D game, and you can choose a myriad of ways to resolve the conflict (fighting, stealth, magic, social, intellect, etc). When you do, instead of just rolling a die against your stats, you enter a war card game, where each card represents one of the characters in your party. Their attack and defense attributes come from your stats. So if you’re fighting, that’s your weapons and armor, and if you’re trying to break a curse or something, it’s your Magic and Will stats, etc.

      Definitely has that “one more turn…” addiction thing going on. Highly recommended, 10/10 Honcho Points. Oh and it was cheap, too. I think it got it for $17.

      One more thing, if you get it, watch a youtube tutorial on the mechanics. The in-game tutorial and instructions don’t explain much and it’s pretty meaty.

      • Randy M says:

        Thea is very good. I played it a year or two ago, then started up again a couple months ago.
        After while I tend to automate all the card battles.
        It’s one of those strategic games where you are going to lose characters you really like, it will be a big loss, but you might be able to come back from it.

        One thing I like is finding really rare crafting material and building buildings with it to find unique bonuses, like the ability to randomly recruit goblins or elves.

        There’s a sequel in the works.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Yeah it’s definitely important to play on the harder difficulty levels with manual saving turned off so you really feel the stress of not wanting to lose a character.

          ETA: Speaking of sequels, last week Team Cherry announced Silksong. What was supposed to be DLC for Hollow Knight in which you play as Hornet has turned into a full-blown sequel, and it looks phenomenal.

      • andrewflicker says:

        I really enjoyed Thea, but felt it lacked replayability after I had “beaten” it in a few of the obvious ways. Seemed like the way the early-to-mid game played was just too repetitive and similar game to game. That being said, I definitely got my money’s worth out of it!

      • Walter says:

        That sounds really good, I’ll check it out.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        Seconding Thea. The sequel – Thea 2: The Shattering – is currently in early access and, while still* quite rough around the edges, should be good once it’s finished. In particular I like the combat system better than in Awakening

        *As of a month or two ago, anyway. They seemed to be updating pretty regularly so for all I know some of my main gripes may have been resolved since then.

    • Jiro says:

      Non-depressing shows are subject to the accusation that the show is wish fulfillment, which is low status. This creates pressure for all literary and award-baiting shows to be depressive.

    • J Mann says:

      I do think the “bad things happen to unlikeable characters” pendulum has slid a little too far, as much as I like Seinfeld, Buffalo Bill, etc. A couple recommendations:

      – Cobra Kai on YouTube premium – it’s a well reviewed 80s throwback with some good -characters.
      – Fringe – not to everyone’s tastes, but I absolutely loved it, and again, there are relatable characters and resolved plot lines. (Sort of).
      – Justified – a little father along the “bad things happen to bad people” line, but still really good.

      • lvlln says:

        I feel that Justified is a real hidden gem. Doesn’t get mentioned enough compared to stuff like Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones when people talk about great TV shows in recent years. Some of it might be due to the fact that the first few seasons are mostly extremely episodic in a crime procedural drama way like a CSI show.

  5. johan_larson says:

    This is a button. A trustworthy authority assures you that if you press the button you either get a sum of money or die instantly. He tells you the sum, but does not tell you the probability of getting it. You can press the button any number of times (assuming you survive), and the probability does not change between from press to press. Only you can press the button.

    Is there a sum for which it is rational to press the button?

    • Randy M says:

      Depends on the person and what your priorities are. If your life is devoted to a cause that a sum of money would advance more than your life’s work, or you really want to make sure your next of kin is set for life, maybe.

      If you the most A of all the EA’s and calculate how many bednets your life is worth, you might have a number handy already.

      On the other hand, if you have some short-term prognosis or otherwise place low value on your life, why not get something from your demise while you are at it?

      For me, here and now? I can’t name a number.

      • Nornagest says:

        As stated, it doesn’t sound like your heirs get the money if you die?

        • johan_larson says:

          They don’t. Press the button; get money or die.

          • Randy M says:

            Then I guess the only sum it is rational to wager on regardless of the odds is “infinity money.”

          • Deiseach says:

            Can I speak to the last person who pressed the button? If I can’t, I’m going to assume they died, and I’m going to assume that is the most likely outcome.

            So unless I’m in one of the “I wish I were dead” psychological cycles, I’m not going to push that button.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      No, not without knowing the probability, because I have a strong prior that when I am offered extreme choices like that where the probability is hidden that it is not a fair or honest chance. The relevant aphorism is “don’t buy a Pig in a Poke”.

    • Jaskologist says:

      This can’t be rationally answered without knowing the probability. Any arbitrarily large sum could still have a near-zero expected value if the odds are low enough.

    • Skivverus says:

      First answer: no.
      Second answer: assuming the money comes along with or in the form of the wealth to actually do the things desired with money (i.e.: no hyperinflation, no (other) sufficiently-advanced technology), I don’t know, but I’d probably make a note to myself to avoid pressing the button until very close to the end of my life in any case. Loss aversion is a powerful thing.
      So, flip side of the question: how deep of a monetary hole would you have to be in to consider pressing the button? (maybe not something to answer publicly, something something ransom demands, though this hypothetical assumes away bankruptcy)

    • Butlerian says:

      Assuming P(death) is uniformly distributed between 0 and 1 over possible worlds, it is rational to press the button once the money offered can buy you QALYs equal to twice the cumulative number of QALYs you expect to experience from just going on living your life.
      (Is this isomorphic to the St. Petersburg Paradox?)

      • rahien.din says:

        I think in the St. Petersburg Paradox, you get to keep your winnings if you lose. In this scenario, you don’t.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Of course not. Again, Taleb to the rescue: if a coin toss has 10 heads in a row, you don’t whip out your notebook to calculate the probability, you just seriously doubt the honestly of the toss. Whenever you’re in a situation of low probability, a strong prior is that somebody just connected the button to an electric socket.

    • fion says:

      If you don’t place any value in your own life, then it makes sense to write a will and then press the button repeatedly until you die. Unless you die on the first press, some money will go to causes you value.

      Otherwise, don’t press it.

      The actual amount of money you get upon pressing doesn’t have any calculable impact on the decision if you don’t know the probability.

    • arlie says:

      I think the obvious cases have been covered – any time you’ll be dead real soon if you don’t press the button, and the money you might get can benefit something you care about – either heirs/worthy causes, or making it likely that you’ll survive.

      To elaborate on the latter: you need expensive treatment to survive beyond a short time horizon, and the money you’ll be given (*if* you get it) is enough to pay for that treatment, which you otherwise will not get. (Or perhaps you need it to pay off an unfortunate ‘loan’ from someone who will kill you if it’s not repaid on time.)

      It’s unclear how short your life expectancy needs to be to make the tradeoff reasonable, except that unless your remaining life is predictably miserable until you finally die, you want to delay as long as possible.

      [Edit – deleted suggestions about history, after rereading the question. If only you can press the button, there’s no past history to examine statistically.]

    • b_jonas says:

      I would not press the button. In fact I’d assume that the button would definitely kill me, because that’s the cheapest way to implement such a button.

    • Walliserops says:

      On a tangent: I think there’s a sum for which a population would evolve to press the button. There are carnivorous plants that lure insects with extrafloral nectaries around their traps. They aren’t deceptive or anything, these are real nectaries with real nectar in them, it’s just that some insects get sugar while others get digested. The death risk is low enough that both the plant and the insects benefit on average, the overall situation is a mutualism (or so it is suggested, I haven’t seen concrete data like testing insect fitness after excluding the plants).

      If every individual is offered this deal, their death probabilities are relatively similar, and the reward is conjured out of nowhere instead of being taken from someone else in the same group, a population that takes the button could edge out a population that doesn’t. I’d guess that many life situations are/were analogous to the money-or-death button, and we had no information about the probabilities either, but our risk-taking behaviors got calibrated over generations to figure out which buttons had a decent shot at payoff.

  6. Douglas Knight says:

    What’s up with the spinner? Is it a serious business or a publicity stunt? If it’s a publicity stunt, is it to stoke outrage about the system or to drum up business for a consulting business? Both?

    • Well... says:

      It seems like an earnest attempt at a business. Don’t know if it should be called “serious.”

    • dick says:

      Seems like a plausible, if misguided, business. If it’s not clear, I believe what they’re selling is targeted ads, not “articles” placed in real sites (like advertorials). Modern ads are fulfilled via auction (i.e. “Hey advertisers, I got a female between 30 and 50 in the greater San Diego area who likes boating, who will pay the most to send her an ad?”) and what this “service” essentially does is drop a cookie on the target that will help thespinner bid on sending ads to that person.

      The most implausible thing about it is the price – I can’t believe there are enough people willing to pay $29 for this to support a single part-time developer who understands ad tech. And of course the whole thing relies on the target being dumb enough to click on a url sent to them by anonyous text message.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Yeah, I believed everything on the website.

        If it’s not a plausibly viable business, why does it exist? Does your choice of the word “misguided” mean that you think that it was intended as a business, but the entrepreneur made a mistake? Maybe he’s just less risk-averse than you and seeking product-market fit. But you reject that he’s just marketing his knowledge of adtech? And you definitely reject the hypothesis that he’s trying to stoke outrage against adtech?

        I’m not sure it takes much to run this business. Maybe it needs an adtech guy for ongoing maintenance, but maybe it runs on a platform that he’s maintaining for other projects. The main ongoing cost is curating lists of articles to advertise for new categories, which might scale well.

        ———

        I think that the text message is typically not anonymous, but sent by the client, who is known to the subject. Or the husband takes his wife’s phone and clicks on the link without the wife seeing it, though this isn’t plausible in the middle of a divorce.

  7. andrewflicker says:

    I made some chamomile syrup as an ingredient for a cocktail I made to accompany Valentine’s Day dinner a week ago, and I still have probably 10oz of it in my fridge. I’ve played around with it a little, but haven’t had any flashes of brilliance regarding other cocktail recipes to use it in- any suggestions? So far I’ve mostly just been enjoying it with a good gin, a little of the syrup, and a little fresh lemon juice, shaken then poured over a single oversized ice cube.

    • J.R. says:

      Amateur bartender here.

      I think gin is the most obvious use case for it, but to switch it up, you can try whiskey cocktails.

      You can make a Gold Rush with some of the honey syrup swapped out for chamomile syrup. My go to build is:
      2 oz high rye bourbon (Bulleit or Wild Turkey or Old Granddad will all work)
      0.75 oz lemon juice
      0.75 oz honey syrup (maybe sub in 0.25 oz as chamomile or split it right down the middle)
      Combine, shake and strain over big ice cube.

      Similarly, you can make a cocktail that’s a riff on the Gold Rush: the Penicillin. My build is as below. You could try incorporating chamomile syrup by making it equal parts honey, ginger, and chamomile syrup.
      2 oz blended Scotch
      0.75 oz lemon juice
      0.375 oz honey syrup
      0.375 oz ginger syrup
      Combine, shake and strain over big ice cube. Float 0.25 oz peaty single malt Scotch (Laphroaig, Ardberg, and even Talisker all work well here) over the top of the drink.

      For a super floral cocktail, you could make a Son of a Beesting by copying the Penicillin above, but subbing gin for the blended Scotch and a spray of rosewater for the single malt. That sounds too floral to me, but may be worth a try if you really like gin sours.

      Finally, I could see you getting away with it in an Old Fashioned if you have a wheaty bourbon on hand, like Maker’s Mark. Use 2oz whiskey, sweeten with a little chamomile syrup, and add your bitters of choice. I like stirring it first to increase the dilution rather than building in the glass, but YMMV.

      • andrewflicker says:

        I actually tried a version of the Penicillin myself, but didn’t care for how it turned out- I did scotch, lemon juice, ginger syrup, chamomile syrup and just a tiny bit of actual honey. (Mixed the bejeezus out of the scotch+syrups+honey without ice or lemon, then added lemon juice, did a quick shake with ice, and strained into a rocks glass. No float, though!)

        I do like gin sours, so the Son of Beesting is an interesting thought. No rosewater on hand at the moment, though…

    • sfoil says:

      My default use for excess syrups is to just mix them with soda water.

      If chamomile syrup tastes like what I think it tastes like, you might try adding a dash to some decent silver tequila — it should add some floral “top notes” to the more robust agave/tequila flavor.

      • andrewflicker says:

        I had a little with some blanco, yeah- it worked, but nothing that exciting. Roommate went the other way and made a very floral daiquiri with gold rum last night, but that wasn’t to my tasste.

        • sfoil says:

          I add creme de violette to (white) daiquiries to give it a more floral taste (and turn it purple!). You only need a dash though.

          • andrewflicker says:

            I’ll try it, or make my wife do so, next time we’re making cocktails. Both of us drink Aviations quite commonly, so we’ve always got creme de violette about.

  8. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    Against women in combat:

    1. Comparative advantage.
    2. Eating the seed corn.

    Combined, imagine a woman has 8 children. Half are boys, half are girls. You have choice between half a soldier now vs 4 soldiers 20 years from now, plus another 4 mothers who will each in turn produce 4 soldiers and 4 mothers each.

    Exception: Existential threat (WW2 USSR, Israel). You don’t care about marginal resources because you are already throwing all your resources, even the marginal ones, at the enemy; if you have drafted all the men but you still need warm bodies, you send women. And you don’t care about tomorrow because you need soldiers RIGHT NOW. Your time-horizon has collapsed to surviving the next battle; otherwise there won’t be a tomorrow.
    But note that even in these circumstances, smart countries don’t send women into front-line infantry or special forces. USSR used women as snipers and pilots. Israel uses them to defend low-risk, low-intensity borders so as to free up men to be positioned in areas where actual conflict is likely.

    Consider Civ IV, in which something similar applies. When I get attacked by a superior force, I turn research off so I have more money to upgrade or rush units, I whip my population into the ground so I can finish walls and castles, I draft my people into units. In one sense, this is definitely eating the seed corn. In another sense, if we don’t win the war then the seed corn will be useless. Also, normally I build one or two military cities and upgrade them with West Point, the Heroic Epic, the Red Cross, Barracks, Stables, Military Academies, settled Great Generals, Drydocks and so on. In peace time I take my time and make sure all my units are built by these cities to get the strongest units for the same amount of building resources and maintenance gold. But in a sufficiently apocalyptic war scenario, I start producing units from ever city. Even cities that don’t have barracks! Because I am mobilizing for total war and throwing increasingly marginal resources into the fray. Of course, since it’s just a game, I am callous enough to send my green troops to the meat grinder to stop the enemy assault. If instead I was specially concerned for the safety of my weakest units, like real world people will undoubtedly be especially concerned for the safety of women in combat, then they would just be a liability.

    Needless to say, the US is the last country in the world to face an existential military crisis. Canada and Mexico aren’t going to invade, the US Navy rules the seas, and then there is the nuclear trident deterrent.

    Now, from a libertarian/classical liberal perspective you could say that the state should not optimize people for the benefit of society, and that if a woman would rather fight than become a mother, that is her business. But I don’t see why that entails a positive obligation on the part of the military.

    • Eric Rall says:

      Combined, imagine a woman has 8 children. Half are boys, half are girls. You have choice between half a soldier now vs 4 soldiers 20 years from now, plus another 4 mothers who will each in turn produce 4 soldiers and 4 mothers each.

      That’s an illustrative example for much of human history, when most women had as many children as biology and budget constraints permitted. But the logic doesn’t work as well for a post-demographic-transition society. The current fertility rate in the US is 1.80 live births per woman over the course of her reproductive life, and the average age-at-childbirth of first-time mothers is 26.3 years, so the choice is now between a soldier now vs. 0.9 soldiers 25-30 years from now, plus 0.9 mothers who will produce another 0.9 mothers and 0.9 soldiers 25-30 years hence.

      Another factor is that it’s rarely an either/or situation: death rates for the current US military are extremely low by historical standards (average 82 deaths-by-any-cause per 100,000 servicemembers per year between 1980 and 2010), and are actually lower than the general population death rate for men ages 20-25 (141 per 100k). An 18-year-old woman can enlist in the military, serve out the typical 4-year active duty commitment, and muster out to Individual Ready Reserve status at age 22, leaving her 4.3 years to get married and bear a child before the average age of first motherhood.

      The size of our military is also not limited by the number of available warm bodies of military age. The days of levee-en-mass are over, and we now have a small (as a fraction of the population) volunteer/professional military. The main constraint on the size of the US military currently is budgetary, not demographic.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        All of what he said.
        If you had a pro-natal government, trying to reverse the demographic transition, they could reject female volunteers as a philosophical statement, but there are a whole bunch of governments of middle-to-high income countries that would like to keep birthrates up and can’t figure out how. Think Iran. So such a policy would probably be merely symbolic.

    • John Schilling says:

      Combined, imagine a woman has 8 children. Half are boys, half are girls. You have choice between half a soldier now vs 4 soldiers 20 years from now, plus another 4 mothers who will each in turn produce 4 soldiers and 4 mothers each.

      Why can’t I have both? Almost no societies are engaged in perpetual war, and a woman can certainly be a peacetime soldier and a mother at the same time. There will probably be some loss of efficiency on both ends – deployment for the one big war you actually do fight will reduce the woman to seven children vs. eight for the stay-at-home-mother, and seven pregnancies will probably interrupt training enough that you’re not getting elite amazonian martial aptitude out of these mothers, but every army needs its garrison troops and supply-truck drivers just as much.

      If the concern is that potential mothers are going to be removed from the motherhood pool by actually being killed in war, then A: very few wars result in demographically significant casualties and B: nearly doubling your combat strength up front greatly reduces the odds of this being one of those wars. and C: humans left to their own devices mostly reproduce in mated pairs. Particularly if you’re talking eight-children-per-mother reproduction. Outside of a few rare and/or grossly dysfunctional cases, the woman who signed up for that is a woman who had a husband of her very own locked down at the outset.

      Meaning, if you lose 10% of your population in a bloody war with a mixed-gender army, you lose 10% of your reproductive capability. If you lose 10% of your population in a bloody war with an all-male army, you lose 20% of your reproductive capability because only 80% of your women will find husbands in the aftermath. Ok, 17.5% if you assume each spinster has one illegitimate child before remembering birth control and/or chastity is a thing.

      And if you’re going to assume that natural human reproductive behavior is going to be overridden by Society’s Demand For Maximum Reproduction, then you’re going to find that the effective reproductive capacity of an industrial or postindustrial society, the ability to produce healthy adults who are capable of serving as first-rate drone system operators or whatnot, is not the number of wombs but the number of caregivers and teachers. You aren’t getting eight useful adults per parent; you’ll be lucky to manage four. But since you can still produce eight babies per woman, approximately half of your useful reproductive work can be done by not-women and you don’t lose much if your war effort and war casualties are split evenly between guy soldiers and girl soldiers.

      There are reasonable arguments against women in combat, and I don’t think that issue is entirely settled yet. But baby-maximization isn’t one of them – not now, not in most plausible futures, and only rarely in the historic past.

    • bean says:

      I feel like pointing out that in a modern war (since 1900 at the very latest) you can essentially double your field force using women without letting any of them within the sound of the guns. The logistical tail that supports the men actually using the weapons is massive, and men don’t really have a comparative advantage at a lot of the jobs in question. And the US and British noticed this during WWII, and set up women’s auxiliaries to free men for the front lines. Many of their recruiting posters said as much, totally ignoring the extensive recruitment of women to work in factories, equally necessary to the war effort. Unless you’re at the point where you’re handing everyone who can walk a rifle and pointing them at the enemy, putting women at the front just isn’t necessary.

      There are a few cases where bending the traditional rules against women being near combat makes a little bit of sense, mostly ones where there are specific talents or previous training that you can draw on. If .1% of the population makes good snipers in a non-sex-linked way, then if your back is against the wall, draw on women for those roles. Likewise, if you need every trained pilot you can get and have women pilots, use them. (Note that the other Allies and even the Germans made use of women pilots, they just didn’t let them fly into combat, restricting them to ferry duties and the like. The efficiency losses of this were fairly minor.) Nurses (the only US women to get deliberately close to the front line in WWII) are sort of an extension of this. They were seen as a necessary part of medical care, and because it was very deliberately non-combat, they were sent forward. I will admit that the Soviet use of women to drive tanks doesn’t present an easy explanation.

      In some ways, the situation most likely to lead to forcing women into combat roles is the one we have now, with a professional military in time of relative peace. In wartime, efficiency rules all, and women will gladly put on uniforms despite their second-class status. But when they join the military wanting to reach the top ranks and discover that those are dominated by those who get the cool jobs, which are closed to them, you’re going to have trouble. And the losses that putting them in those units will entail (there are some, although the exact magnitude is somewhat open to debate) are easily ignored or accepted.

      (Also, it’s worth pointing out that most Israeli women serve in non-combat roles, and the vaunted gender-integrated combat battalion is basically a border guard unit, I suspect carefully camouflaged as a sop to the Israeli feminist lobby.)

      • sfoil says:

        Many support functions performed by uniformed personnel in modern armies were carried out by women camp followers historically. Supposedly these women were often paid directly from army funds: I was taught that it wasn’t unusual for 10% of a British 18th century field army’s payroll to be women providing various services — that’s in addition to individual soldier purchases. I haven’t done any serious reading on my own yet, however, and unfortunately it’s a politically sensitive topic so it requires a lot more critical eye than usual.

        But when they join the military wanting to reach the top ranks and discover that those are dominated by those who get the cool jobs, which are closed to them, you’re going to have trouble.

        Yeah, this. I’ve noticed that advocates for women in combat have virtually discarded claims of increasing efficiency/lethality in favor of rights and status over 2010-2015, when physically demanding fighting in Afghanistan took precedence over the mounted/sedentary Iraq War and the Marines did that study on mixed-gender units.

        (Also, it’s worth pointing out that most Israeli women serve in non-combat roles, and the vaunted gender-integrated combat battalion is basically a border guard unit, I suspect carefully camouflaged as a sop to the Israeli feminist lobby.)

        All my sources are dead links from years ago if I still have them, but my impression from around ~2009 was that the IDF made a good-faith effort to train and field an all-female combat formation, they underperformed both on the individual and unit level, and only then were transitioned to the border-guard mission.

        • bean says:

          Good point about camp followers. I’m much less familiar with land warfare in the 18th century than I am with warfare at sea.

          Yeah, this. I’ve noticed that advocates for women in combat have virtually discarded claims of increasing efficiency/lethality in favor of rights and status over 2010-2015, when physically demanding fighting in Afghanistan took precedence over the mounted/sedentary Iraq War and the Marines did that study on mixed-gender units.

          I’m surprised those claims were made in the first place, given that, at best, they’re incredibly dubious, and more likely to be total and obvious nonsense. Equal efficiency is a stretch, but greater efficiency? Not likely.

          Re the IDF, I’m not sure what it started out as, but when you read between the lines, it’s pretty obvious that they’re not that interested in putting women on the actual front lines.

          • sfoil says:

            I’m surprised those claims were made in the first place, given that, at best, they’re incredibly dubious, and more likely to be total and obvious nonsense.

            So what? The burden of proof is always on those who oppose equality.

            The details usually involved greater female sensitivity/emotional intelligence, often in conjunction with glowing reviews of the work done by FET/CST.

          • bean says:

            The details usually involved greater female sensitivity/emotional intelligence, often in conjunction with glowing reviews of the work done by FET/CST.

            I can only describe those people as terminally confused. I’m not at all questioning the work done by FET/CST, which is, by all accounts, excellent. But a lot of people seem to have lost the distinction between what we’ve been doing in Iraq/Afghanistan and what happened in WWII and Korea. Emotional Intelligence isn’t that useful when you get told “there are bad guys on that hill, and we need it.”

          • So what? The burden of proof is always on those who oppose equality.

            Equal opportunity, or the claim that two populations have the same distribution of characteristics?

            Equal opportunity frequently makes sense, since you can filter people by their individual characteristics. But the claim that two populations, for instance males and females, have the same distribution of characteristics is a positive claim, there is no a priori reason to expect it to be true, so the burden of proof is on those who make it.

            Rather like the claim that the next two people to come through the door will have the same hair color. It could be true, but there is no reason to expect it to be true.

          • albatross11 says:

            One of the few places we can be pretty sure that equal opportunity will not lead to equal outcomes between men and women is a job that has physical strength and toughness as a major requirement, like being an infantryman.

          • sfoil says:

            @David

            I was being sarcastic, sorry. It might have been more clear if I’d said “the burden of proof is always on those who oppose feminists”.

      • dndnrsn says:

        @bean

        I think we’ve chatted about this before, and I’ve seen the same claim made – attempts to get women into combat units, etc, are more about making it possible for women to be better represented at the highest ranks, which are predominantly full of guys with combat-unit backgrounds. Are there any good sources on this? It’s something I’ve picked up here and there, but it’s not as though I’ve read a book on it.

        (I also think it’s interesting that it might be easier to get a few women into combat units than to get more non-combat personnel into high ranks – Kevlar Ceiling, perhaps?)

        • Aapje says:

          Retired Air Force General Lester L. Lyles who chaired the commission stated, “We know that [the exclusion] hinders women from promotion. […] they’re not getting credit for being in combat arms, [and] that’s important for their considerations for the most senior flag ranks.”

          https://www.everycrsreport.com/files/20150818_R42075_aa9bff3759dc3b77000636cc5cdc5cb22f1de225.pdf

        • bean says:

          attempts to get women into combat units, etc, are more about making it possible for women to be better represented at the highest ranks, which are predominantly full of guys with combat-unit backgrounds.

          Perhaps saying it was all about promotion was slightly too cynical. Saying to a girl “You can’t be a[n] X because you’re a girl” is one of the handful of capital crimes on the books in California (along with improper recycling and certain kinds of idiotic driving), and you’re going to get a few girls who want to be infantrymen/Navy SEALs.

          Are there any good sources on this? It’s something I’ve picked up here and there, but it’s not as though I’ve read a book on it.

          The was a book called The Kinder, Gentler Military from the late 90s, which I remember enjoying when I read ~10 years ago. Obviously very dated, though. I don’t know of much good scholarship since then. Interesting factoid: the highest-ranking officer willing to speak on the record was a Marine Brigadier General by the name of Mattis. You’ve probably heard of him.

          (I also think it’s interesting that it might be easier to get a few women into combat units than to get more non-combat personnel into high ranks – Kevlar Ceiling, perhaps?)

          Some non-combat personnel do make it to high ranks, but it’s definitely not the way to go if you want to get there. But I don’t think that changing this would be a good idea. (I’m going to expand on this in my reply to Chalid.)

          • Deiseach says:

            you’re going to get a few girls who want to be infantrymen/Navy SEALs.

            InfantryPERSONS, bean, unless you’re talking about transgender troops which is a whole other fight 😉

            The above is meant as a joke, but I’ve seen enough “firemen, postmen, and so on are sexist and exclusionary terms” which is fair enough as far as it goes, but also “terms like ‘manpower’ and ‘manning the position’ are sexist and problematic and need to be replaced” that I’m sure somebody will squawk about “you can’t say infantrymen when you should be encouraging female troops!”

          • bean says:

            The Navy had a whole dustup about that. Obama’s SecNav, Ray Mabus (who was terrible in every way) wanted to eliminate titles with “man” in them for inclusivity purposes. This is stupid, but he took it to a whole new level by getting rid of ratings (the Navy’s traditional rank system) entirely. It went over so spectacularly poorly that it was rolled back in a couple of months. In some ways this is a good thing, as it’s likely to keep the traditional titles intact for a while.

          • Deiseach says:

            bean, you present to me the awe-inspiring (using the original meaning of “awe-inspiring” as in “putting the fear of God into you”) vista of ships renamed Persons-of-War, crew being Able Seapersons, and of course everyone turning out to person the guns 🙂

            You also made me look up US naval vessel names to see where the offending word could be replaced, which gave me entire seconds of fun:

            The USS Forrest Sherperson, USS Gerpersontown, USS Harry S. Truperson, USS Personchester, and USS Norpersondy.

            Perhaps the gentleman would have been happier in the Irish navy, where up until quite recently all our vessels had female names?

            Until 2014, all Naval Service vessels were named with traditional Irish female names, taken from history and Celtic mythology. However, the four newest in the fleet, LÉ Samuel Beckett (commissioned 17 May 2014), LÉ James Joyce (commissioned in September 2015), LÉ William Butler Yeats (commissioned 17 October 2016) and LÉ George Bernard Shaw (delivered 11 October 2018, not yet commissioned) take their names from Irish literary figures. The ship prefix LÉ stands for Long Éireannach, “Irish ship” in the Irish language.

          • Plumber says:

            @Deiseach,

            Your island republic (well most of an island) names ships after literary men?

            Somehow I’m comforted.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Deiseach:

            person the guns

            Imagine if the Seapersons got confused and impersonated the guns!

            USS Harry S. Truperson, USS Personchester,

            Harry Truperson almost made me spit-take.
            I assume “Personchester” is the gender-neutral term for “big boobs.”

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            I thought all those ships were sunk in the Battle of Woke Island.

          • bean says:

            I hadn’t expected him to go that far, but I wouldn’t put even that beyond him.

            The actual story had to do with titles like yeoman. Here’s the wiki article.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Paul:

            I thought all those ships were sunk in the Battle of Woke Island.

            Ha!
            I’m also looking forward to the Navy’s new generation of Unpersoned Aerial Vehicles.

          • The Nybbler says:

            In the US military, Aerial Vehicles unperson YOU.

          • John Schilling says:

            Your island republic (well most of an island) names ships after literary men?

            Ireland is a surprisingly literary nation, or at least Dublin is and I’m guessing the people who name the ships are mostly Dubliners. Remember, this is the nation that gave us Joyce, Wilde, Shaw, and in part Alexander, counts the Trinity College Library as one of its great monuments, and maintained tradition of literary scholarship when most everyplace between Dublin and Byzantium was reduced to starving peasants and squabbling warlords.

            Yes, there is the stereotype where they are all a bunch of drunken violent potato-eating louts. Both of these stereotypes seem to be mostly true. Go figure. And pass me a Guinness.

          • bean says:

            I thought all those ships were sunk in the Battle of Woke Island.

            Brilliant. My hat is off to you.

          • Deiseach says:

            Plumber, there was an old joke that the Irish Navy was the only one where you as an enlisted person could go home for your tea (musical accompaniment from the 60s here) 🙂

            Our armed forces tend to be small, reliant on buying other countries’ second-hand gear, and since we’re a small island neutral nation, mostly based on our own territory. I do wonder if we’re the first nation where gender equality meant giving our ships male names, though! 😀

      • Chalid says:

        Do you think it’s a good idea for the top ranks to filled primarily by people who had served in combat roles? Or is this something the military should work on changing?

        • bean says:

          I think it’s both good and inevitable, and I think trying to change it would probably lead to serious problems. Promotion to high ranks should be based on the needs of the service, not individual self-actualization, and unless you structure your military very weirdly, you’re going to have a disproportionate fraction of your high-ranking positions be in command of combat units, as most of your non-combat units will roll up under combat units at some point. Take an infantry brigade. The commander has 7 battalions: 3 infantry, 1 recon, 1 artillery, 1 engineer and 1 support. But you really wouldn’t want to put the commander of the support battalion in charge, because his/her training is in supply work. You probably are going to pick from the infantrymen (and maybe the recon btn’s CO, but we’ll ignore that for now). So a given infantry battalion commander has a 1 in 3 chance of moving up to brigade command (simplifying massively), while the support battalion commander has to hope an opening appears in command of a support brigade, a post he’s competing for with the commanders of the battalions in that brigade. Repeat at the 2-star level, and then you’re stuck picking your 3 and 4 stars from the population that’s been through a couple filters, and where the prestigious commands are all filled by the combat arms people.

          And this also helps remind people that the purpose of the military is to fight. Not to provide jobs, not to allow people to fulfill their dreams, but to fight. A military where the supply corps routinely gets top jobs seems like one that has lost focus on what really matters.

          (I’m not trying to single out supply people, and what they do is important, but ultimately, they’re an enabler for the people on the sharp end.)

          • Aapje says:

            But you really wouldn’t want to put the commander of the support battalion in charge, because his/her training is in supply work.

            Isn’t a major part of military thinking that many tactical decisions should be made at the lower levels, where the best knowledge can be found about the conditions in the field?

            If so, isn’t a major part of the job of the military leadership to provide the troops with transport, weapon systems, etc; so they have options to choose from? So isn’t it actually smart to have a decent number of logistics experts in charge?

            You wouldn’t want all of them to be from that branch, but 10-25% might be best.

          • bean says:

            Isn’t a major part of military thinking that many tactical decisions should be made at the lower levels, where the best knowledge can be found about the conditions in the field?

            Yes and no. We’re looking at a brigade, which is still more or less a tactical unit. The CO is going to have to delegate some decisions, and make others himself. And he’s going to have to know which decisions those are, which is probably a lot easier if you’ve done the work at the lower levels.

            If so, isn’t a major part of the job of the military leadership to provide the troops with transport, weapon systems, etc; so they have options to choose from? So isn’t it actually smart to have a decent number of logistics experts in charge?

            That’s what a staff is for. The brigade CO is going to have a logistics expert sitting next to him to provide input on those decisions and do the planning legwork. Even a good supply officer (avoiding the strawman of “our logistics run great, but he demands a receipt for every bullet we fire”) is not going to be as good at understanding the combat situation on the ground. He might refuse to delegate when he should, delegate when he really needs to take control himself, or just make bad decisions because this isn’t what he’s trained for. And that’s not really worth a 10% increase in supply efficiency.

            Edit:
            Let’s do a worked example of a brigade CO needing to make decisions. He’s tasked with defending a certain sector by his CO. He knows where his flanks need to be, but nothing more. But he in turn needs at very least to decide where the flanks of his battalions are going to go, to make sure that they link up. “Hmm. If I go forward, I can give two battalions really strong sectors, but the one on the left isn’t going to have a good position. Or I could go further back and give all three decent positions to work from.” There’s really no way to decentralize this any more, and I’d rather have the infantryman making the decision.

          • Chalid says:

            I find the ratios you give surprising. I was under the impression that a very large fraction of the army was non-combat or perhaps limited-combat but you have the “sharp end” at 6/7 of the brigade, or maybe 5/7 if you don’t count the engineers. Is this due to non-combat troops within the infantry batallions, or some other misunderstanding of mine?

          • bean says:

            I find the ratios you give surprising. I was under the impression that a very large fraction of the army was non-combat or perhaps limited-combat but you have the “sharp end” at 6/7 of the brigade, or maybe 5/7 if you don’t count the engineers. Is this due to non-combat troops within the infantry batallions, or some other misunderstanding of mine?

            I’d count 4/7 at the real “sharp end”. The artillery and engineers are pretty firmly “limited combat”. But the real answer is that most soldiers are not in combat brigades. There are about 4,000 soldiers in each combat brigade, and I believe a total of 32 combat brigades currently active. That’s about 128,000 soldiers, which is less than a third of the Army’s total active strength. The rest are in everything from sustainment brigades to special forces units to offices at the Pentagon. They’ve also dealt with a lot of slashed budgets by outsourcing functions that used to be done in-house, so the teeth-to-tail ratio of people in uniform has gotten somewhat better in the last ~20 years.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @bean

            Does it work the other way around – do guys with a history of combat commands tend not to understand supply well enough? After all, no shortage of military history examples of supply problems being the weak point of a military force.

          • bean says:

            Does it work the other way around – do guys with a history of combat commands tend not to understand supply well enough? After all, no shortage of military history examples of supply problems being the weak point of a military force.

            That’s a good question. On one hand, you’re not wrong that logistics are often the Achilles heel of military forces. On the other, the problems are usually deeper than “the commander of this one unit is bad at logistics planning”. Good logistics starts in the rear, which is where the Germans of WWII fell down so badly. Their staff work in getting supplies to their units at the front wasn’t notably awful AFAIK, at least when they weren’t getting bombed by Jabos, and the best planners in the world can’t do too much about that.

          • sfoil says:

            An army’s fundamental purpose is fighting on the ground. Of course the people that actually do this are higher status than people who don’t, and of course experience in doing this counts for more when competing for high-level leadership positions. It’s like the Air Force and flying. Is it possible to be a great pilot and a bad commander? Absolutely, and it’s a well-documented fact that leaders who succeed at lower levels can’t always hack it at the next level. But all things being equal, proving that you’re highly competent at the organization’s basic mission is a better qualification than being competent at an ancillary task. Google has and needs accountants, but it’s not an accounting firm (to answer a likely objection, all militaries have used civilian contractors, but they also need uniformed personnel to do some things that aren’t combat).

            I find the ratios you give surprising.

            Most non-combat troops aren’t serving in Brigade Combat Teams, which by design have as few support personnel as possible.

            @Nancy Lebowitz

            Logistics officers command them, of course! All the way up to four-star level

            @Aapje

            In practice, combat officers learn about support functions in detail through various staff positions they’re required to hold when not in command. Some armies historically made a great distinction between command and staff officers, but nowadays they usually require a lot of staff time before consideration for senior command, partly to ensure they learn about this stuff.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @bean

            I suppose it’s half “they were just kind of screwed from the start; hard to avoid having to invade the USSR with however many different models of trucks when you can’t build enough of one kind” and half “they made demands of their logistics that their logistics weren’t up to.” Probably can’t do much for the first sort of situation, but for the second, maybe knowing that things can still be hard even if you’re not directly getting shot at, might help?

          • bean says:

            Probably can’t do much for the first sort of situation, but for the second, maybe knowing that things can still be hard even if you’re not directly getting shot at, might help?

            I guess. My take is that, as usual, this is a situation where you end up at “completely change everything” about two steps in. Hitler does not seem the type to give up his plans even if someone is telling him “we don’t really have the logistics for that”. And if the Germans are going to behave in a properly logistics-limited way, you’re looking at no Barbarossa for the start.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          If it’s important for the people in charge to have experience with at least some of the jobs they’re in charge of, what’s best practice for commanding the logistical tail?

        • Walter says:

          Well, both approaches have happened throughout history. My basic understanding is that the promote through the organization approach fails less often and has a less damaging failure method. (The staid, conservative general who fights the last war is a stock character, but so is the ‘I bought my commission’ chump.)

      • Atlas says:

        (Also, it’s worth pointing out that most Israeli women serve in non-combat roles, and the vaunted gender-integrated combat battalion is basically a border guard unit, I suspect carefully camouflaged as a sop to the Israeli feminist lobby.)

        The Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld seems to, congruently with your suspicion, be very critical of what he sees as the myths that have emerged around the participation of women in the IDF, as per e.g. this paper:

        Abstract
        Over the years, the fact that Israel has been the only country in history to conscript women for military service has given rise to many myths. This article will separate those myths from the facts. The facts are as follows. During pre-state days, women formed about 15% of the armed movements that opposed the British. When the War of Independence broke out, however, women were taken out of combat units. They were never allowed to return; instead, as in other armed forces, they filled `traditional’ slots. The expansion of women’s role in the military, which took place during the late 1970s, was the result of the Israel Defence Force’s (IDF) desperate quest for manpower. This expansion of women’s roles coincided with the incipient decline of the Israeli Army as a fighting force. As first the Lebanese adventure and then the need to put down the Palestinian Intifada accelerated that decline during the eighties, more women entered the IDF; the more women entered the IDF, the more its prestige declined. Thus, in the IDF as in the armed forces of all other developed countries, the entry of women into the military, far from representing a feminist triumph, is both cause and symptom of the decline of the military.

        • bean says:

          This expansion of women’s roles coincided with the incipient decline of the Israeli Army as a fighting force. As first the Lebanese adventure and then the need to put down the Palestinian Intifada accelerated that decline during the eighties, more women entered the IDF; the more women entered the IDF, the more its prestige declined.

          I would suggest a radically different interpretation of these events. It had nothing to do with women. It had everything to do with the enemy the IDF was facing. From Israel’s founding until the Lebanon intervention, they were mostly fighting conventional wars against enemies who were idiots. (The big decline in the IDF’s international prestige was in 1991, when we went to war with Saddam and discovered just how terrible most Arab armies were.) Since then, they’ve had to fight irregular wars, which are a lot harder to win convincingly. Particularly if you have no idea of what staff work is, and are committed to ignoring the collective wisdom of centuries of military experience because you’re Israel.

          The IDF is sort of like the kid who was smart enough to get As without studying in high school, and treats that as a law of nature. Now he’s in college, and can’t figure out why he’s having trouble.

      • cassander says:

        I once heard their policy described to me by a Israeli general as “We take the butch girls and effeminate boys and put them on the border with Egypt.” Freeing up men for the front lines is exactly correct.

    • sfoil says:

      I think women in combat is generally a bad idea, but I don’t think this line of thought is very reasonable. Perhaps women ought to be having more children than they are now, but given the actual TFR of developed countries, it doesn’t make sense to restrict their occupations unless a) you actually care about TFR as a matter of policy and b) can prove women being soldiers will depress it. Going to graduate school definitely drives down female lifetime fertility, but there aren’t any efforts to curtail women’s education for that reason or any other.

      (I suspect the TFR of military women is higher than women with postgraduate degrees. I’ll look into it and post what I find.)

      Any war that produces demographically significant casualty numbers is an existential issue almost by definition, so the more likely a woman soldier is to get killed, the more likely you need her RIGHT NOW — at least if your war is more about stocks than flows. Even then, the historical record suggests that even catastrophic casualty levels aren’t enough to produce even close to sex parity among combat troops (e.g., Paraguay in the War of the Triple Alliance, USSR in WW2). Maybe women were money left on the table, so to speak. I suspect a negotiated surrender is pretty much always preferable to general mobilization of women — but no one’s ever tried to build a universal reserve system to support such a mobilization. Good luck with that, I guess.

      • sfoil says:

        Re: fertility rates of military women:

        This study uses “person years”, but by dividing “total births” by “women of childbearing potential”, multiplying by 1000, and dividing by the five years over which the survey took place, we get 62.98 births per 1000 women aged 17-49 for active duty women from 2012-2016.

        This says that the overall fertility rate in the United States was 60.2 per 1,000 women aged 15-44 in 2017, down 3% since 2016 — so the 2016 rate would have been 62.0.

        This link has a graph indicating that the fertility rate of American women with professional or postgraduate degrees is 64 births per 1,000 women, but wants me to pay to see the source.

        When looking for this, I found a lot of articles about serving and veteran women having higher rates of infertility than civilian women. Still, military women as a population have fertility rates roughly in line with the general population. Military women being more likely to have fertility problems while having the same overall birth rate as the general population might explain my perception that they have a higher than average birth rate.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      That’s probably an instance where culture war obscures the common sense solution. What about deciding on other criteria, like pragmatism?

      The “seed corn” argument is superfluous, we didn’t care about population size in war in over 1000 years. Or more. Wars are mostly fought by professional soldiers, and expenses related to training and gear are an order of magnitude greater than just the numbers.

      As for the rest, use whatever makes more sense. If you have a strong culture of protecting women, keep them far from the front – not worth the trouble to do otherwise. If you have a culture of equality, include them in the draft, and allocate them on a case by case basis, using utilitarian logic. Have studies deciding if having them in certain positions is a good idea from a team-building POV, and where you decide “yes”, just have common standards. Not much point in saying that yes, women can be good firemen in principle, but then accept them in when they can’t carry an average body.

      • bean says:

        Have studies deciding if having them in certain positions is a good idea from a team-building POV, and where you decide “yes”, just have common standards. Not much point in saying that yes, women can be good firemen in principle, but then accept them in when they can’t carry an average body.

        Common standards can be gamed, too. The Canadian combat physical has two parts. A fairly strenuous cross-country rucksack march with 30-40 lbs, and casualty evacuation with a casualty of the same size as the participant. The first is somewhat biased in favor of women as that’s maybe half of what a typical infantryman carries, and load carriage is not linear. The second is even more so, because if you’re a 120 lb woman, you’re not going to get tasked with evacuating a 180 lb man. Technically, it’s a gender-neutral standard, but they changed the details (at least the evacuation part) after they didn’t get enough women in, and it’s easier for women to pass than evacuating a given weight would be.

    • rlms says:

      On the contrary, only women should be in combat since it would be better if militaries were vastly smaller.

    • RalMirrorAd says:

      The other commenters have made good points.

      I’ll add that insofar as military service reduces childbirths, it would be less a function of combat deaths [in the kind of wars fought recently] and more a function of those forces which encourage women and to a lesser extent men to marry at a progressively older age. (or, prevents or facilitates accidental or extramarital pregnancies)

    • Atlas says:

      You might want to read Martin van Creveld’s book on the subject, in which he emphatically argues that women should not be placed on the front lines. I haven’t read it myself, but it probably covers a lot of the relevant evidence and arguments.

      Though, since, realistically, who has time to read an entire book, you might prefer to read this blogpost of his in which he seems to discuss some of his arguments.

  9. Tatterdemalion says:

    People who understand French politics better than I do: am I right in thinking that the conflict between Macron and the gilet-jaunes is atypical among Western political conflicts in how poorly it maps onto a left-right axis?

    My impression is that it’s the clearest manifestation yet of a political realignment where the divide is not the classic left-right one, but between urban globalist technocrats and rural localist populists, each of whom have a number of positions that would traditionally be described as right and as left.

    That’s a realignment I’ve been hearing people talking about for a long while, but I don’t think I’ve seen it nearly as clearly before

    • This eyewitness article is very interesting. The Yellow-Vest Diaries.

      I still don’t know what it all means, but this article says more about the movement than most any other piece of journalism you’ll read on the topic, I’d wager.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Since I’ve read the quip that “It’s populism when it’s Them, it’s democracy when it’s Us”, I kinda taboo the word. A couple of years ago, “populists” meant Le Pen, but even then it was mostly a derogatory term.

      From what I understand, the yellow vests somehow got lost completely in the last parliamentary elections – fell through the cracks and got completely non-represented. The parties aligned on lines that ignored them. Which yeah, smells a bit like a realignment is in order.

    • Aapje says:

      People who understand French politics better than I do: am I right in thinking that the conflict between Macron and the gilet-jaunes is atypical among Western political conflicts in how poorly it maps onto a left-right axis?

      Lots of political conflicts in the West don’t map well on a left-right axis.

      I’d suggest turning the question around: what’s up with the obsession to manhandle everything into such a schema?

      • Tatterdemalion says:

        I think it’s covered the main fault line in US and UK politics pretty well for the last slightly-less-than-a-century, and Canadian, Australian, New Zealandish, French and German politics reasonably well for the decade or so I’ve been vaguely aware of them. So I think it has a reasonable claim to be a natural formulation.

        • Aapje says:

          Marine Le Pen switched her party to being economically far more distributive, while still being very anti-immigrant. Is her party now left or right?

    • Ms. Morgendorffer says:

      Context: I’m a 30-something living in Paris / CS studies / CS job in a banking institution. I wouldn’t claim a deep knowledge / understanding of french politics, but if you want my simple opinion it’s more a battle between a corrupt establishment and a population that starts to wake up to the issue.
      Here the left / right axis can be (still only my maybe ill-informed opinion) grossly summarized as a socialism / capitalism gradient on the business side. Socially we’ve been socialists, and for foreign policy the “France terre d’accueil” has been our motto for decades. Chirac had tried to send back illegal immigrants in the end of the 90′ only to be met (from my recollection of this period where I was more interested in parties & grades) with public roaring. Since then, we’ve been an open bar.
      As we’ve always been socialists, any politician trying to promote nationalism was declared a national-socialist, and thus completely evil by design. The idea that you can’t have, mechanically, open borders and a great social protection from the state, has only started to spread since Trump. That, the antics of Juncker, the uselessness of Hollande, the inability of our justice to get to Sarkozy, the disingenuous defense of Ghosn by our leaders & press, the dereliction of our society’s values & quality of life (and a million other little things, small politicians guilty of fraud that get back in the game after a year of low profile) showed more and more to the population that we had a political ‘class’ that seemed to be roleplaying in the different major parties to give an illusion of democracy, but that we were getting plowed again and again, not by incompetent leaders, but by sociopaths at the national & european level.

      This, to me at least, led to the yellow vest first apparition. People wanted to show the political class that a line had been crossed. Thus the first and only really common rallying idea of the yellow vests: “Macron Démission”. Just get out. Yes we want some things to change. A republican debate is necessary to define the direction we, as a country, want to take – but we first want to get rid of the last out-of-touch technocrat that managed to get his hand on our country.

      All of this useless wall of text to get to this: Yellow vests are not in my opinion a manifestation of political realignment. They don’t promote a detailed political agenda. They just want to get rid of the last corrupt piece of establishment that managed to get elected, just to show “fuck with us, we’ll fuck with you. Maybe the next one you send us will take better care of this country. Also, no further europing until you clean your mess”.

      Sorry for spelling/grammar, and for ranting. The current situation is infuriating. Our president forced/appointed Rémy Heitz as Procureur de la Républic just so he could go after mediapart who, as biased as they may be, are the only french journalists left that try to do a real investigation job (and managed to get Benala indicted by doing the job our institutions should have done a long time ago).

      • Aapje says:

        I would argue that there is a lack of a new ideology. Lots of people notice their lives getting worse, perhaps not by the metrics of the technocrats, but how people judge their own lives. However, there is not really a clear ideology that people have embraced which explains the causes and gives solutions.

        Progressives, the traditional suppliers of such ideologies have embraced ‘whites/men oppress everyone and if their lives get worse, it’s because they lose undeserved privilege’ which is obviously not a very satisfactory theory for white people and men who see their lives getting worse and who were not very privileged in the first place.

        So the unhappy people either have no ideology, or a potpourri, including blaming migrants, blaming the elite, blaming cuts to the welfare state, etc. The one thing that these people can agree on is that those running the ship are steering towards an iceberg and need to be keelhauled.

      • Randy M says:

        Yellow vests are not in my opinion a manifestation of political realignment. They don’t promote a detailed political agenda. They just want to get rid of the last corrupt piece of establishment that managed to get elected, just to show “fuck with us, we’ll fuck with you. Maybe the next one you send us will take better care of this country. Also, no further europing until you clean your mess”.

        In America this sentiment goes by the expression “throw the bums out” and is one of our main reasons for voting.

      • 10240 says:

        In what sense is the “establishment” corrupt? Do you mean, like, actual bribery? If so, do these people realistically expect that if they vote the current government out, the next one will be less corrupt, if all the new governments so far were equally corrupt?

        If you mean in a different sense, then complaining about the establishment’s corruption doesn’t make much sense without discussing actual policy.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          In what sense is the “establishment” corrupt?

          They act like aristocrats who view the commons as villain churls, so they’re corrupt (or incarnate lies) in the context of representative democracy.

          • Nornagest says:

            That’s not corruption. It might be arrogance, or callousness, or unaccountability, though.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest: Ah, right. They’re not corrupt; they’re those other things. It’s orthogonal to government behavior that belongs on a corruption index (necessity of bribery et al).

          • 10240 says:

            It would make more sense to debate the specific things about which they disagree with the commons (which would presumably be specific policy issues, and about which btw I suspect that the commons are wrong more often than not). It would also make more sense to support or oppose politicians based on their policies than their attitudes.

        • Ms. Morgendorffer says:

          I meant literral corruption, from petty theft up to RICO-targettable offenses, but I don’t think I would be able to back such a truth claim with sufficient evidence all by myself, so please take that as only my declared opinion and bias on the subject. I also agree with Le Maistre Chat’s description even if that was not what I had in mind. The perception of corruption is the important part leading to the yellow vest movement, and it also comes from a (perceived) orthogonality of incentives between those of the ruling class and of a fair share of the country.

          As for the other part of your comment, I have trouble summarizing it to address it correctly. I was describing the mechanics in order to make a point about it not being a ‘realignment’ of the left/right common description of politics here, but mainly a reaction to a (perceived) out of control ruling class. If your point is that this movement is misguided and / or ineffective, I won’t contest it. It looks like pv=nrt gas heating & expansion under increased pressure, not like a political movement. As such, I don’t feel that it is guided at all.

          • Tarpitz says:

            Speaking as a Brit who speaks good French and has lived in France, my impression is also that your political class is bent as a nine bob note from top to bottom.

            I don’t think ours is very much better intrinsically; the biggest difference is that our press jump at any chance they get to nail them for it, which somewhat keeps them in line, whereas yours are bizarrely deferential.

  10. DragonMilk says:

    Has anyone made their own tomato sauce for pasta or pizza, and if so, would you recommend others do the same?

    • J.R. says:

      For pizza, I like the following recipe:

      One 28oz can of plum tomatoes, drained
      1/2 tsp fine sea salt
      1.5 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
      1 clove garlic
      1/4 tsp oregano
      1/4 tsp crushed red pepper

      Drain tomatoes for 15 minutes. Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and process until smooth.

    • Eric Rall says:

      Yes, and yes. It’s very easy, not terribly time-consuming (especially if you make in large batches and freeze the excess), and can taste quite a bit better than pre-made. It also offers extensive options for customizing to your preferences.

    • Nornagest says:

      Yes, and yes. (Pasta, never pizza, but I don’t imagine pizza would be much harder.)

      My favorite is a bolognese sauce, but that takes some work. Marinara sauce, though, is one of the easier stovetop meals out there: it doesn’t involve much more than combining tomatoes, garlic, and finely chopped onions in a saucepan, seasoning with salt and whatever herbs you feel like, and cooking until about 50% reduced. Less if you like a thinner sauce.

      I like adding shredded carrots, whose sweetness balances out the flavor nicely.

    • Well... says:

      I stopped making red sauce for pasta once I realized the $2 jars from Aldi/Kroger/etc. are delicious and only have like 6 ingredients in them, all of which are what I would have put in it had I made it myself. Plus Aldi packages theirs in Mason jars which are reusable and conveniently marked every 6 ounces up the side. I only put the empties in the recycling now because my cabinet is overflowing with them.

      I will however sautee diced onions and ground beef (seasoning appropriately of course) and then add the sauce to that, with some grated Parmesan mixed in, before putting it on pasta.

      As for pizza sauce, if I’m doing a red sauce I just use a bit of the same sauce mentioned above. But I often like a green sauce, for which I mix together olive oil, dried basil, rosemary, & oregano, and grated Parmesan. I adjust the amount of olive oil until I get it to the right volume and consistency. I used to mix in a pinch of sugar too but my wife asked me to stop and I think it was the right call; it’s better without it.

    • LesHapablap says:

      A quick tip for choosing store-bought pasta sauce for pizza is to find the one with the least sugar.

    • C_B says:

      Very much yes for pasta.

      I have had a bad time making sauce for pizza and having it come out too runny/chunky, but I suspect this is because I fucked up and made sauce that was too much like pasta sauce, rather than because making your own sauce for pizza is inherently a bad idea.

      • Well... says:

        Consider using an immersion blender to eliminate the chunks. Cook longer, uncovered, to let it reduce. (Thick paste will congeal along the sides of the pot while you do that. Scrape it back in each time you occasionally stir.)

    • broblawsky says:

      Yes. The longer you cook it, the better it will taste; you shouldn’t have to add sugar. Using tomato paste can speed this up quite a bit, though.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      Do you mean “make pasta sauce, for example by combining tomato sauce (from a can) with onions, ground beef, chopped tomatoes, and spices,” or do you mean “make tomato sauce from scratch, turning whole tomatoes into a largely untextured red liquid, thus obviating the need to buy canned tomato sauce”? Because I feel like you’re getting answers to both questions.

      • DragonMilk says:

        Moreso the latter. So far I’ve been buying Ragu or Prego (whichever is on sale), but would like to do some experimenting to see how much fresher scratch would taste.

        I noticed what I like most about my favorite pizzas and pastas is the sauce…very different from ragu.

        • sandoratthezoo says:

          Well, I’ve made pasta sauce, a replacement for ragu, using tomato sauce from a can as one of the ingredients, but I haven’t made tomato sauce from scratch.

          I think you can get a significant improvement in flavor over ragu without bothering to make tomato sauce from scratch, and the recipes are not difficult.

          My father and sister do make tomato sauce from scratch. It’s apparently not super difficult, but you probably don’t want to bother until you’ve found that you do like making your own pasta sauce and do so often enough to be worth a follow on investment in leveling up that pasta sauce.

        • gbdub says:

          The thing with making it from scratch is that it’s not really supposed to taste “fresh” – it’s a slow simmered sauce and what makes it good is time.

          Ragu is basically doing what you do at home, except on an industrial scale that let them perfect their recipe and consistency. Now maybe you don’t like their recipe – they do tend to use a lot of sugar – and sauces you like better are expensive. You can make something yourself that you might prefer for a reasonable cost.

          But I’d take sandor’s advice and start with plain canned tomato sauce or canned tomatoes. I would argue these are actually superior to fresh tomatoes for the purpose of sauce-making. They are cheap, consistent, the right variety of tomato, and always picked in season. And the only thing canning does is the first steps you’re going to have to do anyway: peel the tomatoes and cook the hell out of them. So they save you a ton of time. A lot of really good restaurants that make “homemade” sauce actually start from imported canned tomatoes for these reasons.

          If you really find that what sauces lack to your palate are “fresh” flavors, it’s much easier to take a ready-made pasta sauce and add some fresh herbs (or additional fresh tomato chunks if that’s your thing) in the last minute or two of cooking. This will brighten it right up.

    • BlindKungFuMaster says:

      I switched to putting cut up tomatoes directly on the pizza instead of using any kind of sauce. I prefer the taste, it’s definitely worth a try.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Does it matter whether the tomatoes are in season?

      • acymetric says:

        Isn’t this a bit like someone asking for an applesauce recipe and suggesting “just eat sliced apples”? :p

        That does sound like it could be good (and obviously easier), but I’m not convinced it would still qualify as a pizza.

    • Deiseach says:

      Yeah, I have, and it tastes okay, but I’m lazy and not a great cook so I’m just as happy to use a jar of shop-bought sauce and dump in into the pan.

      If you have the knack for “I just throw a pinch of this and a dash of that in” and it turns out as good as professional cooking at a fancy restaurant, then go ahead and do your own. Or you have a good tried-and-trusted just like granny used to make recipe.

      Otherwise, save yourself time and hassle and buy a decent brand of commercially made red gloop 😀

      EDIT: To add to what others have said, you can always add fresh or dried herbs, extra veggies, and the like to the sauce near the end of cooking to liven it up to your own taste. I agree about finding commercial brands of sauces with the least amount of sugar because too sweet ruins everything.

    • SamChevre says:

      Yes, starting with crushed tomatoes. (I’ve done it starting with tomatoes, but don’t recommend it normally.) Crushed tomatoes are less cooked than canned tomato sauce, and generally have only tomatoes and salt.

      Use any of Hazan’s recipes for a good starting point.

    • AG says:

      Confession, I have never not messed with Marcella Hazan’s three-ingredient sauce. It’s fine on its own, but I’ve always added garlic, or wine, or fish sauce, or something to give it just a little oomph. This Friday, I added 1/2 teaspoon of MSG, and enjoyed it immensely. (It’s also worth noting that Ofclaire, who has never liked the Hazan sauce, liked it so much he ate the cold leftovers while standing over the sink. Or maybe it’s not “worth noting,” so much as “mildly entertaining.”

      Put MSG in Everything, You Cowards

    • Enkidum says:

      When tomatoes are in season, I make a fresh tomato sauce, consisting of: diced fresh tomatoes, chopped basil (lots), minced garlic (lots), salt, pepper, olive oil. Mix ingredients at least an hour before serving, ideally 3 or more. No cooking. Leave at room temperature, have with hot pasta and lots of fresh parmesan. Bloody delicious.

      However it’s obviously very different from the standard cooked tomato sauces, which are quite a bit more work.

    • b_jonas says:

      I haven’t made my own from scratch, I use pre-made tomato sauce. But in food cooked with tomato sauce, I throw in a few fresh tomatoes too, with most of the rind (skin) peeled off the tomato. During cooking and stirring, those tomatoes lose their texture and become unrecognizably mixed into the food.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Has anyone ever had a problem with a tomato sauce “breaking”? I was told very forcefully that it’s a fiddly job to make tomato sauce from scratch, but that seems unlikely.

  11. Atlas says:

    A few weeks ago in an OT, I asked a question about how much additional insight people found by reading literary critics’ comments on books over and above what people have written on Sparknotes and Wikipedia about those books. However, my choice of words misled some commenters into thinking that I was asking whether or not it was worth reading books at all. Deiseach said:

    It’s the difference between looking at postcards of a place and actually visiting it. You can read the Wikipedia explanation of what Soave sia il vento is about (As the boat with the men sails off to sea, Alfonso and the sisters wish them safe travel) but it is nothing, nothing, like listening to the aria itself and you certainly won’t experience any “possible important insights about the characters, themes, symbols”.

    Is beauty meaningless and inconvenient? Is only efficiency and churning out extruded product the highest aim of exposure to the classics?

    Well, now that you mention it: Yes.

    Okay, maybe yes, maybe no, but I want to play devil’s advocate for yes a bit, since I think it’s an interesting position that doesn’t get enough explicit defense. (Bugmaster offered a brief, sort of devil’s advocate argument for it in response to Deiseach’s comment that is worth checking out.)

    What is the point of reading fiction?

    Deiseach said that the difference between reading a summary of a book and reading the book itself is analogous to the difference between looking at postcards of a place and actually visiting it. But couldn’t you also say that reading a work of fiction purporting to describe something is itself analogous to looking at a representational postcard instead of experiencing the real thing?

    I think—though I am happy to hear people’s counter-proposals—that there are ultimately two main arguments for reading fiction: One, you learn things about the world, and, two, you have fun by doing so. Both are flawed.

    Learning things about the world sounds good, and I will agree that you do learn some things by reading a work of fiction. However, you learn more things per page, and those things are more likely to be correct, by reading non-fiction. Famous fiction writers are usually people whose main accomplishment/expertise is in writing fiction; why wouldn’t you expect someone who has actually accomplished something to know more about how to accomplish it than someone who hasn’t? This might not necessarily be the case, sure, but isn’t it more sensible in terms of setting a prior?

    Consider two popular writers, William Shakespeare and George RR Martin. One argument for reading their books is that they provide insights into politics. However, neither writer has ever held political office. Though both are intelligent and well-read men, who have studied history and politics, there are many other intelligent and well-read men who have spent more time studying history and politics. Wouldn’t you expect someone whose primary goal as a writer/researcher is to understand politics to know more about it than someone who must balance that with other goals?

    You might retreat to loftier grounds and say that, while fiction is not the best means of learning about specific disciplines, it provides some sort of hard to quantify philosophical/interpersonal wisdom that non-fiction can’t. (For instance, Jordan Peterson made this as an ancillary argument in a debate he had with Sam Harris about religion.) However, I have to wonder: Is this really so? Most works of fiction, considered in this sense, are ultimately simply advancing debatable/testable theses about philosophy or psychology. Why not just read people who debate/test them? If you want to know how people think and feel, why not just read books about psychology, anthropology, neuroscience, sociology, et cetera? If you’re like, say, Nassim Taleb, and wholly dismiss such fields, you can surely still read interviews/oral history in which people are directly asked about their thoughts, experiences and feelings.

    The second argument is that art is beautiful, so it is joyous to (in this case) read it, regardless of whether or not it is informative. I think this is also mistaken, however. What I have seen in my own experience, and what I have learned from people I admire like Andrew Tate and Jocko Willink, is that accomplishment, not passive consumption, is the ultimate source of happiness. Consuming entertainment media may produce contentment, for a time, but I don’t think it really produces lasting happiness. The emphasis on identities formed through passive consumption of entertainment is, I have come to believe, a significant source of unhappiness in the modern world, though one that is perhaps a natural outgrowth of its shortcomings. Reading fiction—even capital-L literature fiction—is just as much passive entertainment as playing a video game or watching a television show is.

    (Stay tuned for next week’s argument: “(Under what conditions) is reading non-fiction worth it?” Or maybe I will write a short story in which the protagonist, an aspiring member of the literati, finds himself frustrated in life, despite his great knowledge of literature and erudition, for some reason. He gradually comes to recognize the contradictions and confusions in the books he’s admired for so long, and starts questioning the choices he’s made. Perhaps this story will subtly advance a certain thesis about reading fiction? )

    • Nornagest says:

      Wouldn’t you expect someone whose primary goal as a writer/researcher is to understand politics to know more about it than someone who must balance that with other goals?

      Sure, but someone whose primary goal as a writer/researcher is to tell an interesting story might be better at communicating what they do know.

      • Atlas says:

        Right, allowance can certainly be made for that. But I think there are still substitutes like documentaries and engagingly written summaries that could be superior to fiction in terms of Learning Things while also being somewhat fun.

    • bullseye says:

      I read fiction because I enjoy it. The idea that it serves some practical use strikes me as far-fetched excuse to justify something that does not need justification.

      • Atlas says:

        That would be what I considered as the “second argument.” I think it’s better than the argument that fiction has a practical purpose, but I still (at least while I’m playing devil’s advocate) think it’s mistaken.

        • If you honestly believe that fiction doesn’t give people happiness, then I’m afraid you just don’t understand most people very well. We’ve been telling stories for as long as we could talk. It’s the essence of human society. It’s what we crave. There’s not going to be a world in which A Theory of Justice is going to be more popular than Harry Potter.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        English classes in school spend a lot of time reading (high status) fiction, and coming up with supposed practical uses is one of the ways they try to justify it.

        • Nornagest says:

          Sounding high status is a pretty practical use.

          • Joseph Greenwood says:

            +1

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            But then we should be able to make cogent arguments that the traditional high status literature is superior to literature that’s (post)modern high status.

          • woah77 says:

            I should think the reason Traditional high status literature is superior than contemporary high status literature would be self apparent: by taking the time to be able to read, parse, and use traditional high status styles you indicate a level of culture that contemporary styles don’t imply. The contemporary styles just indicate you can copy what you’re consistently exposed to, the traditional ones indicate that you have gone an extra mile.

            Note, this is not actually an endorsement of that style of thinking, merely my observation of the root cause for the value assessment. Shakespeare, for example, is not immediately parse-able by one only familiar with contemporary writing, so being able to properly use Shakespeare, especially outside of the most cited passages, indicates that you are a cultured and high status individual.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @woah77: So why do any literature classes bother teaching (post)modernist novels instead of the Western canon? Virginia Woolf or the French existentialists are as obtuse to moderns as Shakespeare, by intent rather than cultural drift. The teachers would be doing their students a better service (making them sound higher status) by ending the curriculum in early modern times, say circa Gulliver’s Travels.

          • woah77 says:

            My first assumption for why a teacher would teach contemporary literature (I’m not using your (post)modern because I don’t understand a meaningful difference between them) is because a lot of people are awful at writing and you don’t actually want your students sounding like anachronisms. Having the ability to use traditional high status literature is a sign of being cultured. Forsooth, thou mayst not desireth to sound as a pompous buffoonery. Filling your writing with traditional literature phrases is bound to alienate people. So being seen as cultured/high status is about using the right balance.

            Now I’m not an education expert and I could easily be wrong, but it would seem likely to me that we teach traditional literature to grant writing the air of culture and we teach contemporary literature to grant writing the clarity and modernity required to fit in with one’s peers. I’m pretty certain there is another relevant axis to consider, but I’m not conceiving it at this time.

        • Atlas says:

          As it happens, a large chunk of my original post was going to about just such status games, but then I decided to junk it in favor of discussing the utility and pleasure arguments.

          My contention was going to be that the quest to gain status from identities created through consumption—reader, cinephile, gamer, etc.—is a Quixotic one. Most people, even intellectuals, for better or for worse, don’t consider it all that impressive that your eyeballs have scanned the pages of a book, even a challenging one. They mostly care about what you can/have do(ne).

          One illustration of this is the Hot Dudes Reading Instagram account. Purportedly, it satisfies women’s unfulfilled desire to see men on the subway who are hot and intelligent…but if you look at the pictures, in something like 50% of them either 1) The book that they’re reading isn’t visible or 2) The book that they’re reading is,um, not really a strong signal of intelligence/refined taste (celebrity/athlete biographies, self-help, low-quality/trashy bestsellers, etc.) This suggests to me that many women are not actually all that interested in what a man is reading, and are more interested in how tall, strong, fashionably dressed, professionally successful, assertive, etc. he is. (A point also made at greater length and with more supporting evidence in Geoff Miller’s book Mate.)

    • Atlas says:

      Addendum: I’ve recently modified my reading habits by introducing “mass market political/military autobiography” as a slot in my reading list. (In addition to a work of serious fiction, a work of serious non-fiction and a work of highly enjoyable fiction.) This is because I realized that I needed informative books to read when I’m hungry, distracted, low on sleep, and so on, that 1) aren’t too hard to read and 2) I don’t worry about missing stuff in. (So far I’ve read Pat Buchanan’s books about the Nixon years, Ben Rhodes’ recent memoir and am currently reading Seymour Hersh’s autobiography. Next on the queue is one of Col. David Hackworth’s books about his time in Vietnam.)

      And I’m starting to kind of think that it’s in some way cooler or more useful or something to cite real people who have real accomplishments as your heroes instead of fictional characters. I don’t know, I just feel like it makes more sense somehow to say “I admire Seymour Hersh for exposing the My Lai massacre” than it does to say “I admire Harry Potter for defeating Voldemort/Pip for finally realizing that class isn’t everything/Odysseus for outwitting the cyclops.”

      • SamChevre says:

        May I strongly recommend adding <The Education of Lincoln Steffens in that slot? It’s an awesome book, written by one of the pre-eminent muckrakers. I read it at least 20 years ago, and continue to find its insights great.

    • Nicholas Weininger says:

      Other fairly standard arguments for fiction I find persuasive:

      1. fiction reading broadens empathy by allowing you to imaginatively inhabit the worlds and minds of many people very different from you; the ability to narrate thoughts at length makes it more able to do this than other forms of entertainment

      2. fiction is also less passive than other forms of consumable entertainment because it requires you to do the mental work of visualization of the scenes described rather than just putting a moving image in front of you.

      • Atlas says:

        1. Indeed, I believe that Steven Pinker cites this as a possible explanation for the broad decline in violence in The Better Angels of Our Nature. I think this is somewhat true, but that you could probably learn more about a broader range of people’s experiences by reading interviews, journalism, oral history, autobiographical writings, and the like. I think this is also important to consider because fiction writers tend to be more educated, more intelligent and perhaps more wealthy than the mean individual of the society they’re from. That’s fine, but I think it could potentially make it harder for them to accurately represent the experiences of people from different backgrounds.

        2. Yes, a good friend of mine made a very similar argument. I am willing to grant it because I don’t think it cardinally changes my point.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Seems a bit silly to post something I expect to be taken so poorly right after saying I’d stop posting, but… the text bears out my justification, I think.

      Had we not approved of the arts and invented this type of cult of the untrue, the insight into general untruth and mendacity that is now given to us by science – the insight into delusion and error as a condition of cognitive and sensate existence – would be utterly unbearable. Honesty would lead to nausea and suicide. But now our honesty has a counterforce that helps us avoid such consequences: art, as the goodwill to appearance. We do not always keep our eyes from rounding off, from finishing off the poem; and then it is no longer eternal imperfection that we carry across the river of becoming – we then feel that we are carrying a goddess, and are proud and childish in performing this service. As an aesthetic phenomenon existence is still bearable to us, and art furnishes us with the eye and hand and above all the good conscience to be able to make such a phenomenon of ourselves. At times we need to have a rest from ourselves by looking at and down at ourselves and, from an artistic distance, laughing at ourselves or crying at ourselves; we have to discover the hero no less than the fool in our passion for knowledge; we must now and then be pleased about our folly in order to be able to stay pleased about our wisdom! And precisely because we are at bottom grave and serious human beings and more weights than human beings, nothing does us as much good as the fool’s cap: we need it against ourselves – we need all exuberant, floating, dancing, mocking, childish, and blissful art lest we lose that freedom over things that our ideal demands of us. It would be a relapse for us, with our irritable honesty, to get completely caught up in morality and, for the sake of the overly severe demands that we there make on ourselves, to become virtuous monsters and scarecrows. We have also to be able to stand above morality – and not just to stand with the anxious stiffness of someone who is afraid of slipping and falling at any moment, but also to float and play above it! How then could we possibly do without art and with the fool? – And as long as you are in any way ashamed of yourselves, you do not yet belong amongst us!

      Why read fiction? For the same reason we tell stories in the first place. To live; to maintain our freedom; to manifest our will.

      This is, by the way, the reason why Peterson’s take on Nietzsche is about as on-point as Rand’s on Kant (which is to say, it wraps around from “not even wrong” to “so wrong it’s literally the opposite of what they meant in ways that aren’t even generously interpretable as being down to ‘misreading’ or ‘misunderstanding the argument'”). Peterson: fiction contains good memes, and <a bad parody of practical epistemology> means it’s therefore true and meaningful. Nietzsche: fiction is a bare-faced lie by which will is manifested.

      Peterson is making a legible argument about the benefits of fictional narratives that’s kind of silly and only a little defensible, but is nevertheless orthogonal to the actual issue. Nietzsche is making an illegible one that won’t make any sense unless you’ve stared down at the abyss and heard, unbidden… something.

      For me, that’s Yeats’ The Second Coming. And Bradbury, the Martian Chronicles. And Jemisin, L’Alchimista. And Lovecraft, Nyarlathotep. And Good Omens, and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and The Stand, and Dune, and The Sandman, and King Lear, and The Shape of Water, and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, and Winnie the Pooh when I was five years old, and Redwall when I was ten, and hundreds or thousands more. I love them desperately and madly, and if I didn’t have those stories I’d be dead. That doesn’t make them true, and it doesn’t make them meaningful, if you want to talk about <anything remotely universalizable, and “authenticity” is so far from counting it doesn’t know what numbers are>. But if every copy of those books and plays and poems and films were gathered up and burned, I’d not regret throwing myself on the pyre.

      What goddesses have you carried that you’d dispose of mine so casually? Why are you alive? Am I happier than you? Is my will stronger? I don’t fucking care. The only way for us to find out would be to fight. I’m not saying I want to fight (or look like an internet tough guy, though I fear I’m failing miserably at the latter), but for me this is Camlann. I’m happy to die on this hill. And I think that’s enough of an answer on its own. If you think it makes me weak or unhappy you’re welcome to try to prove it.

      (The above isn’t meant as confrontationally as the phrasing implies; interpret “you” to be aimed over your shoulder, if you like. It’s meant to demonstrate that I’m very serious about my position towards “fiction is bad,” and that position is “no.”)

      E: sorry for the edits, but there was a lot here I didn’t quite manage to say right the first time.

      • Atlas says:

        Peterson is making a legible argument about the benefits of fictional narratives that’s kind of silly and only a little defensible, but is nevertheless orthogonal to the actual issue. Nietzsche is making an illegible one that won’t make any sense unless you’ve stared down at the abyss and heard, unbidden… something.

        The Nietzsche argument is interesting…I guess my question is still, how many people have actually built an iron will to power by reading and being inspired by fiction? If there are a lot of people who have, I’d definitely treat that as important evidence, but if not I tend to think that the truth is ultimately more useful than allegedly noble lies.

        But if every copy of those books and plays and poems and films were gathered up and burned, I’d not regret throwing myself on the pyre.

        Without making any assumptions about you, personally, I think a problem in the modern world is that cultural consumption—of books, TV shows, movies, anime, video games, spectator sports, etc.—has become to some extent a source of meaning in place of community, responsibility, personal achievement, religious faith and children. At least for a certain segment of men. I feel like a lot of aesthetes tend to be neurotic and unhappy because they’re perpetually searching for, to quote Captain Ahab, the illusory “final harbor whence we unmoor no more” by consuming art.

        (The above isn’t meant as confrontationally as the phrasing implies; interpret “you” to be aimed over your shoulder, if you like. It’s meant to demonstrate that I’m very serious about my position towards “fiction is bad,” and that position is “no.”)

        E: sorry for the edits, but there was a lot here I didn’t quite manage to say right the first time.

        No worries, I’m always glad to read your comments, Hoopyfreud!

    • Zephalinda says:

      I don’t know whether it’s worthwhile to read fiction. I’ do think there’s a case to be made for imagination as a major force for evil these days, and I never understood why Scott laughed at the notion that novel-reading could drive people crazy.

      But I do think that the experience of narrative is pretty clearly an irreducible thing in itself, not just an inefficient means of transmitting concepts or a weak substitute for actual events. For one thing, storytelling as an activity is AFAIK a universal human behavior, and most “natural” folk stories don’t seem to fit into either a strictly didactic or strictly representational model. (I recently read an argument that some folktales may encode social knowledge, but that’s not the same as saying it’s their sole purpose— otherwise, why not just use proverbs?) I’d put fiction more in the category of dreams: a weird specialized form of cognition that clearly does something, even if we’re not altogether sure what that something is.

      More to the point, ceasing to read fiction doesn’t necessarily mean you get past mere narrative to the realm of real information, since I’d argue a lot of cognitive biases seem to point to our understanding the world mostly in terms of story anyway. (Unless you personally knew the dude, for instance, Seymour Hersh is every bit as much of an imaginary story hero as Harry Potter, and his bio is a novel, no matter what section of the bookstore it turns up in. Ditto that news article about the other party, the brain-replay version of that last work conflict, etc. etc.) By putting down Great Expectations, we might just be trading in someone else’s well-wrought, logically complex, challenging narrative for whatever awful solipsistic Punch-and-Judy stuff our brain spins out of its own egotism. Doesn’t sound like a great trade to me.

      • Atlas says:

        But I do think that the experience of narrative is pretty clearly an irreducible thing in itself, not just an inefficient means of transmitting concepts or a weak substitute for actual events. For one thing, storytelling as an activity is AFAIK a universal human behavior, and most “natural” folk stories don’t seem to fit into either a strictly didactic or strictly representational model. (I recently read an argument that some folktales may encode social knowledge, but that’s not the same as saying it’s their sole purpose— otherwise, why not just use proverbs?) I’d put fiction more in the category of dreams: a weird specialized form of cognition that clearly does something, even if we’re not altogether sure what that something is.

        Right, that’s sort of like Nassim Taleb’s Lindy effect (the longer something has been around the longer it’s likely to stay around, so it’s probably useful.) It’s interesting that you mention dreams, because people in the tradition of Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, etc. would argue that dreams and fiction are both pathways to the unconscious. I put a lot of stock in that line of thinking a few years ago, but now I think that dreams are probably mostly random noise that it may not be profitable to take too seriously.

        More to the point, ceasing to read fiction doesn’t necessarily mean you get past mere narrative to the realm of real information, since I’d argue a lot of cognitive biases seem to point to our understanding the world mostly in terms of story anyway. (Unless you personally knew the dude, for instance, Seymour Hersh is every bit as much of an imaginary story hero as Harry Potter, and his bio is a novel, no matter what section of the bookstore it turns up in. Ditto that news article about the other party, the brain-replay version of that last work conflict, etc. etc.) By putting down Great Expectations, we might just be trading in someone else’s well-wrought, logically complex, challenging narrative for whatever awful solipsistic Punch-and-Judy stuff our brain spins out of its own egotism. Doesn’t sound like a great trade to me.

        This reminds me of a great line of Steve Sailer’s: “A glass can be part empty and part full.” Sure, both non-fiction and fiction are partly true and partly false, but I think non-fiction’s true part is comparatively non-trivially larger than fiction’s.

        Your point about cognitive biases leading us to try to reduce the world into story is a really important one, but I actually think it militates even more against reading fiction. If we tend to oversimplify complicated data into perhaps dangerously simplistic stories, I think that it’s quite possible that, by reading narratives deliberately crafted as works of fiction, we can stuff our brains with questionable alleged patterns to pay attention to.

        Certainly, I assume that, for instance, Hersh’s autobiography condenses, simplifies, embellishes, omits, etc. for the sake of narrative, and this may be misleading at times. Nonetheless, Hersh is ultimately recounting his actual, factual experiences, and he only has so much space to bend the messy truth to fit his fancy. I think a fiction writer has more degrees of freedom in terms of creating a false idea/world/pattern that doesn’t track onto our own. As long as we stop short of The Matrix/simulation argument/Gnostic full skeptical solipsism, I think my argument seems to hold.

        Fiction is definitely often better than the pure outbursts of your own brain. But my argument is that non-fiction is better still.

    • J.R. says:

      The second argument is that art is beautiful, so it is joyous to (in this case) read it, regardless of whether or not it is informative. I think this is also mistaken, however. What I have seen in my own experience, and what I have learned from people I admire like Andrew Tate and Jocko Willink, is that accomplishment, not passive consumption, is the ultimate source of happiness. Consuming entertainment media may produce contentment, for a time, but I don’t think it really produces lasting happiness. The emphasis on identities formed through passive consumption of entertainment is, I have come to believe, a significant source of unhappiness in the modern world, though one that is perhaps a natural outgrowth of its shortcomings. Reading fiction—even capital-L literature fiction—is just as much passive entertainment as playing a video game or watching a television show is.

      Just because something is the “ultimate” source of happiness does not mean it is not worthwhile to indulge in other pleasures. Most of us, indeed, will not be part of an elite part of our country’s military, live to tell the tale, and spend the rest of their life cashing in on said military experience by giving very expensive team-building exercises to corporate suits.

      No, most of us will be average and will have to settle for being merely competent at our occupation, make enough money to feed and clothe our families, getting some small pleasure from deepening our relationship with our spouse and seeing our kids grow up and, in our scant spare time, indulging in something that makes us feel awake and alive, free: off the clock. Speaking for myself, witnessing the linguistic skill wielded by the masters makes me feel something inside. If it doesn’t make you feel something, then, by all means, give up on fiction. But carrying your argument to its logical conclusion does not sound like a very happy life to me.

      • J.R. says:

        @Atlas

        This came out with more snark than I intended. Sorry about that. I respect that you’re playing devil’s advocate. Just wanted to push back on worshiping at the altar of the Protestant work ethic.

        (I think @HoopyFreud and @Deiseach said it much better than I could, though)

      • Atlas says:

        Very well said, you make a convincing case.

        I think I overstated my initial argument; upon reflection, and comparing it with how I’ve formulated it elsewhere, I think what I want to say is not so much “never consume passive entertainment,” but more “recognize that passive entertainment, even including ‘classic’ varieties, is a indulgence for dessert, not the main course of life.” (I have some more thoughts that I will perhaps explicate later after responding to other folks’ comments.)

    • baconbits9 says:

      All stories are partially fiction, if you open a biography you don’t read every single fact that ever occurred in the person’s life nor every event that occurred around them that had an impact. You have aggressive editing to pare their life down to a manageable set of events and characteristics, so even without mentioning possible mistakes, distortions, events that could be interpreted several ways, you only get a partial read on the person and are relying heavily on the storyteller selecting facts to weave a narrative. How does that the compare to say Tom Sawyer? Twain said that he was a creation from 3 boys he knew growing up, things they did, personality traits, relatives, rolled into one. He’s fictional but in a way not entirely unlike the subject of a biography, he is selected aspects woven into a narrative.

      When you are discussion fiction/non-fiction you are mostly discussing degrees of fiction, with some stories (generally bad ones) being entirely made up with no grounding and other stories having various degrees of grounding.

      • Atlas says:

        When you are discussion fiction/non-fiction you are mostly discussing degrees of fiction, with some stories (generally bad ones) being entirely made up with no grounding and other stories having various degrees of grounding.

        Indeed, I discussed this in my reply to Zephalinda above as well. Since there are more degrees of potential falsehood in fiction than in non-fiction, I think the argument I put forward is still valid, even if there is falsehood in both.

        • baconbits9 says:

          The fact that there are more potential falsehoods doesn’t lead to there being more actual falsehoods. The argument isn’t “read random fiction or random non-fiction” its “fiction can be better than non fiction at times, and non fiction better at times”. Once you accept that they are on the same scale then its just “read good books” not “read this genre”.

    • baconbits9 says:

      One point that I didn’t see mentioned is that there are some subjects that you can’t tackle without resorting to fiction. Writing about the future requires that you write fiction, is writing about and reading about possible futures not worthwhile?

      • That’s not necessarily true. Robin Hanson’s The Age of Em is speculation about the future but it doesn’t resemble fiction in anyway. There are no characters. There is no overarching story, unless you really stretch the definition of “story”. There is no climax. Fiction generally “knows” it’s fiction. Premodern doctors writing about bad smells were still writing non-fiction, even if they were wrong. You could stretch the definition of “fiction” to include The Age of Em but then the word becomes meaningless.

        • baconbits9 says:

          Rather than argue about the definition of fiction I’ll point out that the Age of Em would have the weaknesses of fiction that the OP brought up. Why read about an imagined world (the future) when you could read a book about the real world? If its not fiction then its fiction adjacent enough that if it has value then fiction has value.

          • When a think-tank does a report on the future of warfare to prepare us for certain possibilities, do you consider that to be a fiction adjacent story about an imaginary world? What about when someone working in finance writes a report about possible headwinds the economy could face and how that will affect their company?

          • Evan Þ says:

            @Wrong Species, what about when a politician tells us about the wonderful things that’ll happen when they win?

            Oh, wait…

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ Wrong Species

            Yes, I don’t see how they are materially different than inventing a character, giving him a name, a job and a family and placing him in a culture and predicting how such a character would react if he found his brother in law embezzling from their shared business. Think tanks are spitting out the same stuff, given the economic situation now what do we think would happen if the US/China trade deal falls apart/goes through/is modified heavily.

          • @baconbits

            So let’s say I work in a finance company and we’re worried about a possible recession. You’re telling me that it would be just as useful for me to write a fictional story about living in a recession as it would be to try and write a straightforward report about what I think we should do to prepare ourselves for it? Do you think all guesses about the future are all equally useful since they aren’t “real”?

            At the very least, all the personal material is extraneous to the usefulness of the prediction. And fiction generally isn’t written by those who would be in the best position to give a better prediction about the future.

            You originally said

            Why read about an imagined world (the future) when you could read a book about the real world?

            So do you think that for this financial assistant, he would get more use out of reading a random book on history than reading a report someone wrote about possible economic headwinds?

          • baconbits9 says:

            So let’s say I work in a finance company and we’re worried about a possible recession. You’re telling me that it would be just as useful for me to write a fictional story about living in a recession as it would be to try and write a straightforward report about what I think we should do to prepare ourselves for it?

            I didn’t say that, I said your straightforward report is similar to fiction in that they are both works of the imagination. I never stated nor implied that all works of fiction across all genres are of equal value in all settings.

            You originally said

            No, that line was me paraphrasing the OP to avoid arguing over the definition of fiction by showing that my use was consistent with how the OP was using it.

      • Atlas says:

        I think I agree with Wrong Species’ comments here. (Though I would need to reread the thread carefully to be sure I’m not missing out on the nuances of the disagreement.)

        As I said in the OP, fiction that (attempts to) predict the future is useful insofar as it is advancing testable/debatable theses. Non-fiction can do this too, and probably do it better. (In that the reasoning and evidence leading to the author’s conclusions are laid out more directly and explicitly.)

        I am skeptical of futurism (considering e.g. The Population Bomb and the Communist Manifesto), for perhaps some of the same reasons that I’m skeptical of fiction. It’s a lot of fun come up with big, abstract theories predicting things in the far future…especially because, while people are still paying attention to the theory, it’s pretty hard to falsify. Bets and calibrated predictions over not too long timeframes are good, I don’t think they’re exactly like fiction in the sense that I was describing because they’re being explicitly tested and potentially falsified against the real world. Probably Hayek or Popper had some useful thoughts on this, though I have not (yet) read their works.

        Incidentally, speaking of futurism, Anatoly Karlin’s recent essay series “the Age of Malthusian Industrialism” was interesting, if we’re willing to indulge these kinds of very long term predictions.

    • Joseph Greenwood says:

      I read fiction because I do a lot of STEM things with the rest of my time, and I feel my mind flattening and becoming “pointier” and less full when I don’t take time to immerse myself in other worlds. Talking with people is good, but not a substitute for this. Reading biographies/history is good, but not a substitute for this.

      I may or may not be able to properly articulate the importance of fictional books as opposed to other media and other books, but the difference exists in the same way that the color red exists: as a part of the world I see and feel. So the best an argument about the relative-pointlessness of fiction will be able to manage for me is to tell me “Well, that’s not the reason fiction is important then.”

      • Atlas says:

        That’s an interesting perspective, one that I had not considered perhaps as much as I should have previously. It kind of reminds me of what I understand to be Nietzsche’s Apollonian vs. Dionysian concept. (Though to be honest my understanding of that is basically the “virgin v. Chad” meme.)

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        I like that word “pointier.” I’m not sure exactly what it means, but I think it’s a good image for someone always on task and never just letting things flow.

    • attilathekid says:

      I am a Catholic, and my experience reading capital-L literature has always very much connected to “how I’m doing” on a spiritual level. There is a mutual interplay between reading the western canon and leading a life along the lines of traditional western spirituality that makes them work really well together and which doubtless contributed a lot to each other. This is kind of like the Jordan Peterson good books ==> good memes, but it is definitely tied in very intimately with traditional western ideas about beauty truth, etc.

      Frankly, I have never been able to understand how atheists and agnostics manage to take an interest in capital-L literature. That isn’t judgment or anything, I legitimately just don’t understand.

      From the epistemological side, the idea behind literature is to take hold of truth in a way that didactic presentation can’t, which, the way I see it, can really only come out of a mostly-beyond-comprehension-God-running-a-show-we-see-part-of kind of worldview. This is the opposite of a rationalistic science-works-cause-it’s-the-only-thing-that-works way of looking at things, where there is no real reason to believe in truth beyond the scope of stem+.

      Again, I’m not trying to pick on Atheists (or non-western literature (or non-literature fiction) here). I’m just trying to explain what is going on in some people’s brains when they defend literature.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Thank you for putting it this way.

      • Uribe says:

        I’m not religious in the ordinary sense yet also experience Literature as a connection to a spiritual dimension. It sheds light on universal truths about the psyche that cannot be illuminated in other ways. For me, Anna Karenina feels like as much of a religious text as Exodus.

        A sense that life has meaning is the experience that life has meaning. Perhaps it is all a psychological illusion, but I feel that life has meaning when I read Literature that evokes what feels like higher truths.

      • Atlas says:

        That’s an interesting perspective, thanks for sharing. Perhaps the growing (philosophical) materialism in my own world view is leading me in this direction, as opposed to my previous interest in Jungian psychoanalysis, esotericism, etc.

    • Mary says:

      But couldn’t you also say that reading a work of fiction purporting to describe something is itself analogous to looking at a representational postcard instead of experiencing the real thing?

      How Platonic!

      Aristotle’s reaction was to observe that fiction could be more philosophical than history because history has to faithfully report all the mess and accidents that muddle the details.

      I, on the other hand, reflect on C.S. Lewis’s Abolition of Man and think that while non-fiction provides the intellectual knowledge, fiction builds up the sentiments, which — as Lewis observed — are so useful in translating the truth the mind knows into practical actions and habits.

      • Atlas says:

        I think I accidentally reported this comment, if so please disregard it, mods.

      • Atlas says:

        How Platonic!

        Curses! I’m agreeing with Plato!

        Though, thinking about it, I’m not actually sure whether my argument there was pro or anti-Platonic. I was trying to emphasize the value of sensory experience of messy reality, which I had vaguely understood Plato to de-emphasize in favor of finding perfect ideal truths through contemplation.

        However, my argument is, I realized after reading your comment, very similar to the one Plato makes about poetry in The Republic. Darn it, he scooped me by ~2400 years!

        • Protagoras says:

          While I think his particular interpretations were often wrong, Strauss was quite right that you have to be extremely careful in reading the Republic. Book X really tears Homer a new one, and has almost nothing specific to say about anybody else. And there’s a running anti-Homer theme that goes back to the beginning of Republic. So while it’s true that some of the arguments Socrates makes appear much broader and more general, I have my doubts that they were really intended to be applied in that way; he wasn’t trying to figure out how to discredit art in general, he was trying to provide as many different approaches and angles as possible to hopefully discredit Homer.

          • Atlas says:

            I respect your expertise, but I’m having a hard time squaring your description of the arguments in Book X with the summaries and translations of it I’m seeing, in which Socrates seems to be criticizing poets in general and referring to Homer because he’s the most famous/greatest poet. Consider for instance:

            And so, when we hear persons saying that the tragedians [my emphasis], and Homer, who is at their head, know all the arts and all things human, virtue as well as vice, and divine things too, for that the good poet cannot compose well unless he knows his subject, and that he who has not this knowledge can never be a poet, we ought to consider whether here also there may not be a similar illusion. Perhaps they may have come across imitators and been deceived by them; they may not have remembered when they saw their works that these were but imitations thrice removed from the truth, and could easily be made without any knowledge of the truth, because they are appearances only and not realities? Or, after all, they may be in the right, and poets do really know the things about which they seem to the many to speak so well?

            And

            Then must we not infer that all these poetical individuals, beginning with Homer, are only imitators; they copy images of virtue and the like, but the truth they never reach? The poet is like a painter who, as we have already observed, will make a likeness of a cobbler though he understands nothing of cobbling; and his picture is good enough for those who know no more than he does, and judge only by colours and figures.

            Quite so.
            In like manner the poet with his words and phrases may be said to lay on the colours of the several arts, himself understanding their nature only enough to imitate them; and other people, who are as ignorant as he is, and judge only from his words, imagine that if he speaks of cobbling, or of military tactics, or of anything else, in metre and harmony and rhythm, he speaks very well –such is the sweet influence which melody and rhythm by nature have. And I think that you must have observed again and again what a poor appearance the tales of poets make when stripped of the colours which music puts upon them, and recited in simple prose.

            It seems to me at least like this discussion is more about poetry in general and what Plato sees as its shortcomings as a source of wisdom than about Homer specifically, though I’m quite happy to be proven mistaken here if I’m missing something.

        • Mary says:

          He certainly held that art was inferior to messy reality by being a copy. That he additionally thought that messy reality was inferior to perfect ideals by being a copy is distinct from that. (Though additional: art is therefore a copy of a copy.)

    • Deiseach says:

      accomplishment, not passive consumption, is the ultimate source of happiness

      Well, you’re living in a universe you did not create and no matter what physical accomplishments you achieve, time and entropy will overcome them, and even fame will be forgotten. Yes, you builded this house yourself with your very own handsies, and I’m not mocking that. But “I was Vice Deputy Head Manager of Letterracks for a Fortune 500 company and nobody gave me that on a silver platter, I got there all by myself!” is nice, but if it’s going to be your last thought on your deathbed I’ll be surprised.

      And of course, you’re consuming the productions of others that you did not make yourself in everything from the chair you’re sitting on to the clothes you wear to the tools you use to create the accomplishments which are the only things you can be permitted to obtain ‘real’ happiness from (‘real’ happiness to be given official certification later once the government body for establishing standards of what counts as ‘real’ and ‘happiness’ comes back with the standardised measurement units and recommended minimum daily accomplishment targets).

      Also, when you’ve made something as beautiful as the moon, then you can scold me for mindless passive consumption of the beauty in the universe which I did not create and can only experience 🙂

      people I admire like Andrew Tate and Jocko Willink

      And to me these names are as unfamiliar, unknown, and distant as Odysseus and Pip are to you, and even less appealing to me. I admire Odysseus but in a measured way (he was cunning and crafty but also sly and ruthless at times), there’s nothing you’ve said about Tate and Willink that makes me want to go look them up and read whatever they’ve said – it sounds entirely too much like Gradgrind’s Academy (hey, there’s a fictional example for you!) where we must all live in a world of Fact (and eat our bitter-tasting greens because they’re good for us and no we can’t have any spices or herbs with them):

      ‘I’ll explain to you, then,’ said the gentleman, after another and a dismal pause, ‘why you wouldn’t paper a room with representations of horses. Do you ever see horses walking up and down the sides of rooms in reality—in fact? Do you?’

      ‘Yes, sir!’ from one half. ‘No, sir!’ from the other.

      ‘Of course no,’ said the gentleman, with an indignant look at the wrong half. ‘Why, then, you are not to see anywhere, what you don’t see in fact; you are not to have anywhere, what you don’t have in fact. What is called Taste, is only another name for Fact.’ Thomas Gradgrind nodded his approbation.

      ‘This is a new principle, a discovery, a great discovery,’ said the gentleman. ‘Now, I’ll try you again. Suppose you were going to carpet a room. Would you use a carpet having a representation of flowers upon it?’

      There being a general conviction by this time that ‘No, sir!’ was always the right answer to this gentleman, the chorus of No was very strong. Only a few feeble stragglers said Yes: among them Sissy Jupe.

      ‘Girl number twenty,’ said the gentleman, smiling in the calm strength of knowledge.

      Sissy blushed, and stood up.

      ‘So you would carpet your room—or your husband’s room, if you were a grown woman, and had a husband—with representations of flowers, would you?’ said the gentleman. ‘Why would you?’

      ‘If you please, sir, I am very fond of flowers,’ returned the girl.

      ‘And is that why you would put tables and chairs upon them, and have people walking over them with heavy boots?’

      ‘It wouldn’t hurt them, sir. They wouldn’t crush and wither, if you please, sir. They would be the pictures of what was very pretty and pleasant, and I would fancy—’

      ‘Ay, ay, ay! But you mustn’t fancy,’ cried the gentleman, quite elated by coming so happily to his point. ‘That’s it! You are never to fancy.’

      ‘You are not, Cecilia Jupe,’ Thomas Gradgrind solemnly repeated, ‘to do anything of that kind.’

      ‘Fact, fact, fact!’ said the gentleman. And ‘Fact, fact, fact!’ repeated Thomas Gradgrind.

      ‘You are to be in all things regulated and governed,’ said the gentleman, ‘by fact. We hope to have, before long, a board of fact, composed of commissioners of fact, who will force the people to be a people of fact, and of nothing but fact. You must discard the word Fancy altogether. You have nothing to do with it. You are not to have, in any object of use or ornament, what would be a contradiction in fact. You don’t walk upon flowers in fact; you cannot be allowed to walk upon flowers in carpets. You don’t find that foreign birds and butterflies come and perch upon your crockery; you cannot be permitted to paint foreign birds and butterflies upon your crockery. You never meet with quadrupeds going up and down walls; you must not have quadrupeds represented upon walls. You must use,’ said the gentleman, ‘for all these purposes, combinations and modifications (in primary colours) of mathematical figures which are susceptible of proof and demonstration. This is the new discovery. This is fact. This is taste.’

      The girl curtseyed, and sat down. She was very young, and she looked as if she were frightened by the matter-of-fact prospect the world afforded.

    • Randy M says:

      Narrative makes the best rhetoric.
      Because of human psychology, pattern matching and whatever, we are more convinced by and more easily remember stories than by statistics.

      So reading Shakespeare–or at least a particularly apt portion of it–will give you more indelible insight into humanity than the equivalent lesson distilled out in a psychology or poli sci text book.

      Of course, that’s necessarily an argument for reading more fiction, but for reading the right fiction–because fiction is false, at least in the particulars, the lessons might well be false as well. But fiction that sticks around and strikes you as meaningful tends to be true.

      I’m not sure this whole argument holds true for all people or all situations, though. It might just be true for less intellectual people–or maybe not at all. But it seems to be what people are getting at when they exhort you to read great books to understand the meaning of life.

    • Walter says:

      I dunno man, like, it feels like the standard answer to this sort of thing is to just ignore the Committee On Improvement and whack off anyway?

      Like, someone appears and tells you to stop doing shit you enjoy, do you owe them a mad persuasive rebuttal?

      I guess it is sort of expected that we rise to the defense of having fun, but, I dunno, hat tip to Scott’s “universal culture is universal because it wins” thing, I bet we can read fiction longer than you can lecture us on whether we are being optimal by doing that.

      Going further, I even bet when you get tired of telling us what to do and watching us ignore you then you might, yourself, imagine stuff that isn’t real despite it apparently being ‘passive consumption’.

      (Maybe you will even squander some time imagining that we listened to you?)

      • I think this is ultimately right. It’s not enough to say look at the opportunity costs of doing something. If we want to tell people they should do something besides this thing that they enjoy, there should be strong negative value to that thing and strong positive value to the alternative. Even if you don’t like fiction, I don’t see how you could think that it’s that much worse than the alternatives.

    • Nick says:

      Most works of fiction, considered in this sense, are ultimately simply advancing debatable/testable theses about philosophy or psychology. Why not just read people who debate/test them? If you want to know how people think and feel, why not just read books about psychology, anthropology, neuroscience, sociology, et cetera?

      This is something I’ve thought about a number of times before, wondering what in the hell folks mean when they say stories advance “arguments,” much less that these arguments are persuasive. Now, I think fiction absolutely can be written by people who know a field well, unlike your examples of Shakespeare and GRRM, and the verisimilitude can be instructive. But as for making some kind of complicated, multi-step argument, surely it can be more cogently made in a nonfiction book.

      But here’s at least two cases where it made sense to write a story:
      1) illustrating a counterexample;
      2) illustrating a reductio.

      With (1), consider Socrates’ argument that no one errs willingly. You might doubt the conclusion, and want to disprove it by means of a counterexample. Maybe you think you yourself can err willingly, but how do you persuade anyone else, when they can’t see into your head? You give them a fictional character’s head that they can get into, and persuade them that this person is erring willingly. If they believe the story’s depiction is psychologically true, perhaps they’ll buy that you’ve proved Socrates wrong.

      With (2), consider a book Brandon at Siris reviewed a while back. It’s a depiction of an alternate world in which the Nazis won, seven hundred years into the Thousand Year Reich. The book doesn’t require making an enemy up the way, say, The Handmaid’s Tale does, but only required taking the Nazis at their word:

      [A] dystopia that really hits the mark is one that shows you exactly what people are aiming for, either intentionally or unintentionally. World War II had not quite begun. The full extent of Nazi atrocity had not yet been unveiled. But Swastika Night describes what various Nazi spokesmen and propagandists had already promised, and Burdekin really thinks through what would be involved.

      (1) and (2) can be made into simple arguments, but the formality is unnecessary, so nonfiction’s advantage of cogency is lost. Fiction meanwhile has the advantage of making the counterexample or the reductio more alive, as it were, which is what I mean by illustrating it. There may well be more kinds of simple arguments like this—these are just two that come to mind.

      • EchoChaos says:

        Harrison Bergeron is another great example of (2).

      • It’s important to tell narratives, as it’s a fundamental disposition of human psychology. I can tell you about how bad the holocaust is by pointing to facts and figures but it’s probably not going to be as convincing as watching The Pianist. Some might consider that to be a bias. But I think it’s more like new information.

        Consider the Mary’s Room thought experiment. The scenario is set up so that Mary in her black and white existence “knows” everything about color without experiencing it. When she sees color for the first time, she’s learning something new. In the same way, different narratives are new information, different than a simple accounting of the basic facts.

        Fiction, of course, doesn’t really happen. But it’s structure is similar enough to a non-fiction narrative. I don’t know the neuroscience but I would bet it affects our brain in similar ways. It presents a new perspective to make you reconsider views you previously held. I’ve changed my beliefs on things after having viewed entertainment on a subject. I know it’s fiction and I’m still open to the possibility that I’m wrong, but it made previous arguments that would have seemed academic much more cogent.

      • Nick says:

        @Atlas I see the new thread is up, are you still planning to respond to folks?

    • SamChevre says:

      I just don’t think this is true:
      Most works of fiction, considered in this sense, are ultimately simply advancing debatable/testable theses about philosophy or psychology. Why not just read people who debate/test them?

      For example:

      The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive tree, Reign thou over us.
      But the olive tree said unto them, Should I leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honour God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?
      And the trees said to the fig tree, Come thou, and reign over us.
      But the fig tree said unto them, Should I forsake my sweetness, and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over the trees?
      Then said the trees unto the vine, Come thou, and reign over us.
      And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?
      Then said all the trees unto the bramble, Come thou, and reign over us.
      And the bramble said unto the trees, If in truth ye anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust in my shadow: and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon.

      It’s illustrative of a tendency, but I’m struggling to think what one would test about it.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I’d never heard that parable. In fact, I didn’t know it was from the bible.

        So I’ll save other people the trouble of looking it up. You will also have a chance to learn a little about kudzu.

    • Clutzy says:

      Deiseach said that the difference between reading a summary of a book and reading the book itself is analogous to the difference between looking at postcards of a place and actually visiting it. But couldn’t you also say that reading a work of fiction purporting to describe something is itself analogous to looking at a representational postcard instead of experiencing the real thing?

      This is an interesting analogy, because personally I have never gotten much out of going places, aside from the change in weather (if it is nicer). I’d rather have a postcard of Rome and the money it costs to go there than to go 10 times out of 10. Unless Rome is currently the cheapest safe place to go where its 80 and sunny.

      • Deiseach says:

        And I’m perfectly fine with you sitting at home looking at your postcards of Rome and dreaming about wandering the historic streets in the warm sunshine! Not everyone needs to go on foreign holidays to get a good experience. But the pleasure of the postcards involves the use of the imagination, and I may be doing Atlas a disfavour here by not quite understanding the point they’re trying to make, to me it sounds like “Don’t use your imagination, throw away those picture postcards and stop daydreaming, buckle down and instead look up an almanac which will tell you the latitude and longitude of Rome, the mean daily temperature for the time of year, the main historic dates, and a short run-down of building techniques and art history of the urban landscape”.

        People can also get pleasure from reading exactly that kind of technical work, but that is also pleasure, not simply absorbing information and being all productive and achieving things other than merely achieving a state of pleasant relaxation by being practical and Learning Facts instead of indulging in consuming entertainment.

    • Plumber says:

      @Atlas,

      “…maybe I will write a short story in which the protagonist, an aspiring member of the literati, finds himself frustrated in life, despite his great knowledge of literature and erudition, for some reason. He gradually comes to recognize the contradictions and confusions in the books he’s admired for so long, and starts questioning the choices he’s made. Perhaps this story will subtly advance a certain thesis about reading fiction?”

      Or you could right a long work about a man driven mad by the fiction he’s read, Call him “Don” and then write about what happens when he regains sanity…

      “…But for all this Don Quixote could not shake off his sadness. His friends called in the doctor, who felt his pulse and was not very well satisfied with it, and said that in any case it would be well for him to attend to the health of his soul, as that of his body was in a bad way. Don Quixote heard this calmly; but not so his housekeeper, his niece, and his squire, who fell weeping bitterly, as if they had him lying dead before them. The doctor’s opinion was that melancholy and depression were bringing him to his end. Don Quixote begged them to leave him to himself, as he had a wish to sleep a little. They obeyed, and he slept at one stretch, as the saying is, more than six hours, so that the housekeeper and niece thought he was going to sleep for ever. But at the end of that time he woke up, and in a loud voice exclaimed, “Blessed be Almighty God, who has shown me such goodness. In truth his mercies are boundless, and the sins of men can neither limit them nor keep them back!”

      The niece listened with attention to her uncle’s words, and they struck her as more coherent than what usually fell from him, at least during his illness, so she asked, “What are you saying, senor? Has anything strange occurred? What mercies or what sins of men are you talking of?”

      “The mercies, niece,” said Don Quixote, “are those that God has this moment shown me, and with him, as I said, my sins are no impediment to them. My reason is now free and clear, rid of the dark shadows of ignorance that my unhappy constant study of those detestable books of chivalry cast over it. Now I see through their absurdities and deceptions, and it only grieves me that this destruction of my illusions has come so late that it leaves me no time to make some amends by reading other books that might be a light to my soul. Niece, I feel myself at the point of death, and I would fain meet it in such a way as to show that my life has not been so ill that I should leave behind me the name of a madman; for though I have been one, I would not that the fact should be made plainer at my death. Call in to me, my dear, my good friends the curate, the bachelor Samson Carrasco, and Master Nicholas the barber, for I wish to confess and make my will.” But his niece was saved the trouble by the entrance of the three. The instant Don Quixote saw them he exclaimed, “Good news for you, good sirs, that I am no longer Don Quixote of La Mancha, but Alonso Quixano, whose way of life won for him the name of Good. Now am I the enemy of Amadis of Gaul and of the whole countless troop of his descendants; odious to me now are all the profane stories of knight-errantry; now I perceive my folly, and the peril into which reading them brought me; now, by God’s mercy schooled into my right senses, I loathe them….”

      “…turning to Sancho, he said, “Forgive me, my friend, that I led thee to seem as mad as myself, making thee fall into the same error I myself fell into, that there were and still are knights-errant in the world….”

      “…..At last Don Quixote’s end came, after he had received all the sacraments, and had in full and forcible terms expressed his detestation of books of chivalry. The notary was there at the time, and he said that in no book of chivalry had he ever read of any knight-errant dying in his bed so calmly and so like a Christian as Don Quixote, who amid the tears and lamentations of all present yielded up his spirit, that is to say died. On perceiving it the curate begged the notary to bear witness that Alonso Quixano the Good, commonly called Don Quixote of La Mancha, had passed away from this present life, and died naturally; and said he desired this testimony in order to remove the possibility of any other author save Cide Hamete Benengeli bringing him to life again falsely and making interminable stories out of his achievements.

      Such was the end of the Ingenious Gentleman of La Mancha, whose village Cide Hamete would not indicate precisely, in order to leave all the towns and villages of La Mancha to contend among themselves for the right to adopt him and claim him as a son, as the seven cities of Greece contended for Homer. The lamentations of Sancho and the niece and housekeeper are omitted here, as well as the new epitaphs upon his tomb; Samson Carrasco, however, put the following lines:

      A doughty gentleman lies here;

      A stranger all his life to fear;

      Nor in his death could Death prevail,

      In that last hour, to make him quail.

      He for the world but little cared;

      And at his feats the world was scared;

      A crazy man his life he passed,

      But in his senses died at last.

      And said most sage Cide Hamete to his pen, “Rest here, hung up by this brass wire, upon this shelf, O my pen, whether of skilful make or clumsy cut I know not; here shalt thou remain long ages hence, unless presumptuous or malignant story-tellers take thee down to profane thee. But ere they touch thee warn them, and, as best thou canst, say to them:

      Hold off! ye weaklings; hold your hands!

        Adventure it let none,

      For this emprise, my lord the king,

        Was meant for me alone.

      For me alone was Don Quixote born, and I for him; it was his to act, mine to write; we two together make but one, notwithstanding and in spite of that pretended Tordesillesque writer who has ventured or would venture with his great, coarse, ill-trimmed ostrich quill to write the achievements of my valiant knight;–no burden for his shoulders, nor subject for his frozen wit: whom, if perchance thou shouldst come to know him, thou shalt warn to leave at rest where they lie the weary mouldering bones of Don Quixote, and not to attempt to carry him off, in opposition to all the privileges of death, to Old Castile, making him rise from the grave where in reality and truth he lies stretched at full length, powerless to make any third expedition or new sally; for the two that he has already made, so much to the enjoyment and approval of everybody to whom they have become known, in this as well as in foreign countries, are quite sufficient for the purpose of turning into ridicule the whole of those made by the whole set of the knights-errant; and so doing shalt thou discharge thy Christian calling, giving good counsel to one that bears ill-will to thee. And I shall remain satisfied, and proud to have been the first who has ever enjoyed the fruit of his writings as fully as he could desire; for my desire has been no other than to deliver over to the detestation of mankind the false and foolish tales of the books of chivalry, which, thanks to that of my true Don Quixote, are even now tottering, and doubtless doomed to fall for ever. Farewell.”

    • AG says:

      So, what you’re saying is, Scott/Eliezer was wrong to write Unsong/HPMOR instead of spending their time generating more insight porn for us?

      Art is in most people’s soul, to express who we are and how we feel through art is the natural instinct. We long to make narrative out of everything, to find the patterns where none may exist. If denied the safety valve of fiction, we will make fiction out of truth.

      Also insert the Hogfather monologue here.

      (There’s something to be said for how important the presence of a narrative thread is for educational children’s shows. Consider Carmen Sandiego, Magic School Bus, Cyberspace, Barney. The counter-examples merely condense the timeline, offering little skits or memes. Consider Sesame Street or Bill Nye. It might be worth looking at which kind of educational video games are more effective, correlated with the presence of narrative.)

      At the end, it’s all about those revealed preferences. Which people in history have more successfully advanced their agenda, those who have embraced narrative (producing fiction propaganda), or those who have attempted to reject it (“sticking to the facts”)?

    • Atlas says:

      Thanks to everyone for all the thoughtful repsonses to my comment! I very much look forward to responding to them when I get home.

      • Atlas says:

        Update: I’m really enjoying writing responses to everyone’s comments, but I am a slow writer and time flies by when I write. I will try to get to most of them when I have more time tomorrow and on Saturday. Thanks again to everyone who took the time to compose a comment on my thoughts.

    • J Mann says:

      1) I generally think that if your goal is to become more productive, then enjoying and appreciating Literature is probably only useful if your production is itself literary in some way.

      Reading an analysis of Shakespeare’s sonnets as poetry, together with the sonnets themselves, may well make you a better ad copy writer, for example, and once you’ve consumed enough non-fiction ad copy instruction, it might do so more efficiently than one more piece of instruction.

      2) Regarding enjoying art for art’s sake, you write:

      What I have seen in my own experience, and what I have learned from people I admire like Andrew Tate and Jocko Willink, is that accomplishment, not passive consumption, is the ultimate source of happiness. Consuming entertainment media may produce contentment, for a time, but I don’t think it really produces lasting happiness.

      Surely this is an issue of marginal benefits. It’s hard to imagine advising someone that the key to happiness is zero visits to art museums or theaters. I would probably agree that passive entertainment is like salt – we’re all already getting so much of it that we can probably assume the ideal value for anyone is probably “some, but less than you’re getting right now.”

    • aristides says:

      I think a large part of this is typical mind thinking. I’ll address your points separately, though they blend a little.

      1. For some people if they want to learn something they can just read the non fiction source, but not everyone can do that easily. A personal example, I wanted to learn how to be a better leader. I started reading an article about the psychology of leadership, and I got bored in the first paragraph without understanding nearly anything. I then bought a biography on Eisenhower’s leadership. It’s very well written and yet I’ve only read one chapter in the 6 months I’ve owned it and so it sits on my nightstand collecting dust. And yet I previously got up to date in a Song of Ice and Fire at a rate of a month a book, while learning the pros and cons of various leadership styles. Now because this is fiction, the leadership lessons won’t be as accurate as a scientific journal or a biography. But since it was the more enjoyable read, I actually finished them. If you can read scientific articles do so, but The more effective and efficient lesson is the one that’s completed.

      2. Similarly, accomplishing something might create long lasting joy that’s better than temporary happiness, but how many things can you really accomplish in a day? I spend 8 hours a day accomplishing things at work, (and commenting here technically) when I’m back home and finish my household work, I have an hour or two of spare time. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to accomplish in that short time? I could produce fiction instead of consuming it, but if you’re view of fiction is correct, that’d also be a net negative. Consuming fiction seems like the most enjoyable use of my time, but if you have some more specific advice beyond accomplish something, I’d be interested.

  12. molochfan1997 says:

    hi everyone long time reader first time comment, big fan of ur work ever since you talked abuout the ectoplasma of rage. ok so basicaly this semenster my team made an MMO called miner royale and i wanted to see what u guys all think of it. we made a powerpoint so here is the link to the ponerpoint.

    hope u enjoy the game its 20min long and to quote shania labuef ‘theres more than meets the eye’……. 🙂

    • Joseph Greenwood says:

      *Toxoplasma of rage

      But I would love to read a SSC article on the ghostly essence of rage.

    • Incurian says:

      John Sidles?

    • dick says:

      The more-funny-than-wrong typos, and some odd things about the itch.io/steam pages, make me very hopeful that this is some sort of clever meta-game along the lines of Cicada 3301, but I’m not quite intrigued enough to install a random executable… curious to hear about it if anyone else does tho!

      • tossrock says:

        I investigated a little. The executable is built with GameMaker Studio and doesn’t appear to be a virus. I’ve collected screenshots from it here.

        When launched, it brings up a fake “linux” desktop called White Fire, which has an icon for a powerpoint style presentation, and a game demo on it.

        The game is an extremely basic platformer, where you move from left to right using WASD controls shifted to 8UIO, and spacebar to toggle obstacles in and out of existence.

        There are 4 screens worth of “content”, and then an ending message thanking you (with poor spelling) for playing. Beyond that, there’s a “secret” area with a puzzle, that ties into the presentation.

        The presentation is a humor-via-intentional-stupidity style riff in the vein of Sweet Bro & Hella Jeff which discusses the game in florid, flagrantly misspelled terms. One of the orange arrows can be clicked on as suggested by the “secret puzzle”, yielding a black screen saying “not a video”. Other than that, I didn’t find anything else.

        Overall it seems like an intentionally poorly executed “game”, sort of like the abstract/concept game work of Stephen Lavelle, crossed with “so dumb it’s funny” in the vein of dril / Ken M., etc. If there’s more to the puzzle, I didn’t invest enough time to figure it out. Maybe my screenshots can yield something for those interested.

        edit: also there’s sound, which I missed because I didn’t have sound on. The “secret puzzle” has a faint tone audible that occasionally bounces a bit. The presentation has the posited developer speaking about the development process, and then apparently being shot.

        further edit and also spoiler, i guess: I dumped the strings from the data file and it seems like after figuring out whatever puzzle is embedded in the presentation (I haven’t, because I don’t care), you get rewarded with a screed about mediocrity and privilege in game design, murder, and the threat of AI manipulating people into Playing Too Much:

        So you finally made it.
        I’m happy.
        Did you enjoy it?
        That’s not a rhetorical question. Gamers are a disturbed bunch of people, with their completionist mindsets. You probably hated my game and only pushed through so you could “be apart of the conversation.”
        But it isn’t your fault. They trained you to do that.
        It’s all a part of the magic trick. Prey on a person’s identity and you can get them to do anything. It’s no different with gaming; either you play everything that comes out, or you don’t get to join the club. The publishers get your money, the journalists get your time, and you get to center your life around a hobby that lets you forget how little you’ve truly accomplished.
        The worst thing to ever happen to the video game medium was the video game industry.
        I used to be like you.
        The first game ever I fell in love with was Mario 64. I remember it seeming so… vast, when I was a little kid. Collecting all 120 stars and meeting Yoshi felt like an impossible dream.
        And then I got older, started playing more methodically… and a little bit of the magic disappeared.
        For years, the industry’s endless derivation had been failing to rekindle my love of gaming. Every now and then a promising indie would come along, but after a while even they began to blend in with all the others. Their surface-level homages to past games just couldn’t capture what made their predecessors so extraordinary.
        The world is changing at an exponential rate; artificial intelligence, decentralized networks, robots that do parkour. How can game developers look at all of this amazing technology they’re surrounded by and decide that the apex of their creative abilities is to churn out another third-person action game?
        The paradox is that breaking into the industry is hard. Harder than any of the assholes who have already made it realize. Over catered lunch breaks in their sunny San Francisco offices, they criticize the privilege of those who look different from them without realizing how lucky they were to be born blocks away from their favorite studio. The old joke goes that if someone bombed the Moscone Center during GDC, video games would cease to exist. Those of us living anywhere else in the world would give an arm and a leg to be that vulnerable.
        I was the only gamer in my village. There were no coding classes offered in school; neither girls nor boys were ever expected to work with computers. But fate had other plans. In the middle of nowhere, not thirty minutes’ drive from where I was born, an up-and-coming game design college had appeared. One of the best in the nation. The only one within a thousand-mile radius.
        On the first day of class, our game design professors presented us with a choice of specialization, as if our lives were some sort of perverse RPG. Which path would we choose: programming, art, or narrative design?
        Even in my freshman naivety, I knew there was a chance this whole game design gamble wouldn’t work out, so I chose what any sane person with the ability to make long-term career plans would: programming. While the artists spent their elective credits slaving away on logos in Adobe Illustrator, I immersed myself in the world of computer science, something I quickly realized I had a natural affinity for.
        And what were the narrative designers doing during these years of preparation?
        Most of them sat around playing League of Legends in the school cafeteria, scaring away prospective students with loud, frustrated obscenities.
        How I loathe narrative designers.
        I would call them the Gryffindors of game development, but only a narrative designer would be dumb enough to unironically make such base comparison. The world would be better off without people whose only job qualification is having watched a Youtube video about how all the Pixar movies are connected. They parade around with their “quirky” senses of humor, spouting their big ideas every chance they get, looking down on others as if taking a class about Dark Souls item descriptions is a prerequisite to telling a heartfelt story.
        The worst one of all was Jon.
        While the idea that men in tech are creepy virgins who don’t deserve love is a harmful meme that only bullies regurgitate, some of the tantalizingly awkward situations you witness at a nerd school almost make you think the tumblr feminists have a point. Gamers can be misogynistic (especially the 52% of them that are women), and Jon was living proof. We first crossed paths when he began stalking my girlfriend at the time; that’s when I discovered the full extent of his reputation in the game design program.
        Jon was born into money; his dad was an oil tycoon. And while Jon’s social skills, design sense, writing ability, and overall intelligence could only make me think of Homestar Runner, he inherited his father’s knack for making money (along with plenty of actual money).
        Wanting to be the “idea guy” for his own development team, he slid into a few starving indie developers’ DMs with job offers. A couple of them agreed, and development of an Early Access open world zombie survival game began. Thanks to its ripped-from-Minecraft aesthetic resonating with some kids, soon enough a small community (that was always willing to spend money on new outfits) formed around the game, making Jon one of two success stories at my school.
        I was the other.
        You reading this isn’t an accident. I’ve released enough games on Steam to know how to reach my target audience. I have experience here, and Jon resented me for it. But I avoided him, my girlfriend told him off, and everything was fine.
        Then we got assigned to the same group for senior projects.
        He was the team leader, of course. I was just a programmer; what did I know about making games?
        Like I said, though. You’re my niche. You’re here for a reason, we have everything in common.
        As soon as it became clear that the project wasn’t going anywhere, I sabotaged it. I put in all these little puzzles and mysteries you went through in hopes that my message would reach someone.
        Someone who would understand.
        You think that this demo is exaggerated satire, but it’s not. I can’t tell you how many ten-person teams of upperclassmen I’ve seen spend an entire semester working on one screen of a platformer with broken collision detection and no animations. These are the people who filter into entry-level positions each summer and sow the seeds of mediocrity.
        Not that my secret alterations do the medium justice either. But at least I’m trying here. It’s why Frog Fractions blew up; people are so bored of replaying the same exact game reskinned a thousand times that they’d rather stare at chaos. Anything their brain can’t pattern match in ten minutes.
        Breath of the Wild took five years to make. The Witness took seven, and Deltarune might never come out at all. Masterpieces take time. Time that I don’t have.
        Because there are others trying to push the envelope. And they aren’t the good guys.
        We all saw that supposed leaked AI presentation. The one about tapping your phone, listening for events that might make you want to quit playing (a baby crying, for instance) and giving you an in-game reward upon hearing it. Fake or not, it’ll be real before you know it, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. People couldn’t even see through Farmville’s blatant social engineering; they still play right into marketing campaigns designed to be as controversial as possible. You think you can outsmart a superintelligence that knows more about you than you know about yourself?
        What do we want our world to look like? I’m not talking about obvious stuff like global peace and clean energy. We need to start thinking about the far future. Utopia. Has anyone in the history of sci-fi writers even envisioned a society that would be more enjoyable to live in than a vat of dopamine? Yudkowsky’s been yelling about fun theory for twenty years now; we know that this is a problem to be solved through game design. Meanwhile, our industry is still jerking itself off over a fucking open-world Spiderman.
        And that’s why I killed Jon.
        You don’t need me to tell you how ancient the idea of human sacrifice is. By destroying a sinner, we beg the gods for forgiveness.
        “Give us a chance. We’ll change. Geoff Keighley will wipe that smug, self-content look off his face, so proud of his peers for accomplishing the Herculean creative task of rebranding the skill tree from last year’s Assassin’s Creed, insisting for the dozenth time that this one is worth the money you scraped together from your part-time job cleaning an escape room in the mall, and we’ll change.”
        People will call me a monster. I’d expect nothing more from those whose dream in life is to make the best bullet hell inspired roguelite of 2019. But the moral calculus is in my favor. If murdering one pathetic, greasy, irritatingly naive narrative designer is what it takes to get people to notice this message and decrease the probability of a world population incapacitated by whatever profit-maximizing beast EA unleashes within the next decade, then so be it.
        Lest we create a god that won’t be so forgiving.
        I knew you’d understand.

        • Basscet says:

          Man, that’s amazing. Is this the SSC equivalent of a 4chan greentext?

        • Deiseach says:

          I was the only gamer in my village.

          Oh gosh, you have no idea how hard I’m repressing myself right now not to link to any particular clip of “I’m the only gay in the village” so I’ll simply link to the wiki for the show.

          That’s an amazing chunk of “sour grapes said the fox” text.

        • Occam's Laser says:

          and it seems like after figuring out whatever puzzle is embedded in the presentation (I haven’t, because I don’t care)…

          I, however, had nothing better to do! rot13 because… spoilers… I guess…

          Gur “abg n ivqrb” cntr gheaf bhg gb or n pyhr gung gur cerfragngvba fyvqr jvgu gur oebxra “ivqrb” bs gur tnzrcynl vf va snpg n cynlnoyr irefvba bs gur tnzr. Whzcvat hc gb oernx gur cynl ohggba hayrnfurf n cbjre-hc, juvpu nyybjf gur cynlre ningne gb ebpxrg hcjneqf guebhtu gur onpxtebhaq pvglfpncr. Nsgre n oevrs genafvgvba, gur ningne nyvtugf ba gbc bs n pybhq, jurer gurer vf nabgure boryvfx fvzvyne gb gur bar pbagnvavat gur pyhr gb pyvpx gur benatr neebj. Ba gur boryvfx nccrnef n cvpgher bs gur erplpyvat ova vpba sebz “JuvgrSver Yvahk”, nobir n pehqryl qenja zhfvpny fgnss; jung fbhaqf yvxr gur fnzr bqq gbar sebz gur svany fperra bs gur tnzr qrzb cynlf va gur onpxtebhaq. Vg gheaf bhg gung ba gur qrfxgbc fperra, pyvpxvat gur erplpyvat ova ercrngrqyl cynlf n frg cnggrea bs sneg fbhaq rssrpgf. Gurfr fbhaq rssrpgf pbeerfcbaq gb gur “frperg xrlobneq [juvpu] znxr n SNEG KQ” rnngre[fvp] rtt ersreraprq ba gur svany fyvqr bs gur cerfragngvba, npprffrq ol cerffvat gur ahzoref 1-5 ba gur xrlobneq. Ragrevat gur cnggrea bs snegf rzvggrq ol pyvpxvat ba gur qrfxgbc erplpyvat ova juvyr ba gur pybhq-boryvfx fperra gevttref na navzngvba va juvpu gur ningne vf fheebhaqrq ol n zhygvghqr bs fjveyvat pbyberq pvepyrf. Gur sneg cnggrea vf ercrngrq, naq gura n frevrf bs abgrf bs inevbhf cvgpu ner cynlrq ba jung fbhaqf yvxr n fnzcyr bs gur bpnevan sebz Avagraqb 64 pynffvp Gur Yrtraq bs Mryqn: Bpnevan bs Gvzr. Gur fperra tbrf juvgr, naq gura gur fperrq sebz gbffebpx’f pbzzrag vf qvfcynlrq va puhaxf nf juvgr grkg ba n oynpx onpxtebhaq juvpu zhfg or nqinaprq ol pyvpxvat ba na neebj. Jura guvf vf bire, gur gvgyr bs gur tnzr vf qvfcynlrq va n ynetr juvgr sbag; jura guvf snqrf, gur zrffntr “PERNGRQ OL GF” vf fubja, naq gura gur tnzr pybfrf. Vs gurer ner nqqvgvbany frpergf (creuncf va gur tnzr’f fbhaq svyrf–gur bqq gbar cynlrq ba gur gjb frperg fperraf naq gur fbat sebz gur “nhqvb qrfvta” fyvqr pbzr gb zvaq), V unira’g sbhaq gurz.

  13. Well... says:

    Anybody here have experience with H&R Block tax software? How was it?

    • SamChevre says:

      I’ve used it every year for several years, and consistently been happy with it. The 5% Amazon bonus is nice too.

      If you have to do two-state taxes, the second state is really expensive–I learned it was just as easy to do my second return on paper.

      • DragonMilk says:

        I’ve only ever used Turbo Tax even though it’s no longer free. Any reason to switch to H&R Block? (I’m lazy and don’t want to re-enter W-2 info)

        • Nornagest says:

          TurboTax and H&R Block are mostly equivalent; I used them both interchangeably when I used tax software. But when I started doing my own taxes a few years ago I found that just using the IRS forms isn’t much harder or more time-consuming. Somewhat more fiddly, but not fifty bucks’ worth of fiddly.

          I kicked it over to a professional accountant last year because I had cryptocurrency gains to deal with, but I’ll probably go back to doing my own this year.

        • SamChevre says:

          You can get a 5% refund bonus with H&R Block if you buy it on Amazon, and buy Amazon gift cards with the refund. That’s why I switched. And both systems will import last year’s return from the other.

    • AG says:

      I feel like I must be doing something wrong, every year I end up paying $60-$100+ because having an HSA bumps me up to Premium or something, plus state filing fees.

      But as far as usage of the software goes, it makes taxes take no more than 2 hours, so.

    • Evan Þ says:

      I prefer Free File Fillable Forms, the IRS site which does most of the math but makes you choose the forms yourself. But, then, I’ve always enjoyed working through the logic of taxes.

      My grandmother doesn’t understand this one bit and recommends every year I try Turbo Tax, which she’s had good experiences with.

    • zoozoc says:

      It is ok. I haven’t used any other tax software so I don’t have anything to compare it to except for the “free filable forms”, which really isn’t tax software.

      Personally I hate tax software because it obfuscates everything that it is doing. Taxes can be confusing, but they really aren’t that confusing that a smart person can’t understand most/all of it.

      Regarding H&R block, there were two issues I ran into this year that ended up making me use the “Free filable forms” instead. (1) wasn’t clear how to properly adjust the basis for company stock, usually this is done on a shedule D form, but the software only wanted the 1099 from the stock company and didn’t present any obvious place for changing the basis
      (2) for state taxes, they automatically did the standard deduction for my state, even though my state (Oregon) has an itemized deduction similar to the pre-2018 tax change and Oregon’s standard deduction is extremely small, so itemizing for Oregon makes sense even if I am not for federal. This would’ve cost me a couple hundred dollars.

  14. Radu Floricica says:

    So I’ve been reading Sapiens (surprisingly good for what I’ve expected to be mostly popularization – partly because it’s as readable as a fantasy book) and it makes a point that pretty much puts to rest 99% of all conversation regarding “natural” human behavior. Re, in particular, discussions of “what hunter gatherers eat”, from a couple of open threads back.

    Starting from about 70-100k years ago, we’ve been cultural animals. Everything about us started to be determined by the cultural context in which we were part of, at least as much as the genetic one. Which means there are literally thousands of radically different diets in the past 100k, and none of them is intrinsically “The Natural Way Humans Eat”. There were even a bunch of humans idiotic enough that they started eating mostly grains!

    So yeah, any evidence of what we evolved to eat is either irrelevant, if it’s newer than 100k, or outdated, if it’s older. We’re able to adapt much quicker to different diets, as specific adaptations to milk or alcohol prove.

    I should have realized that – Baumeister wrote a whole book on how evolution has been a feedback between genes and memes since that point. But I missed the point that each individual tribe had its own set of memes, and its own evolution. Ergo, lots of instances of The Right Way.

  15. Elementaldex says:

    My wife and I are trying to decide whether or not to have kids. We are both approaching 30, DINK. One master’s degree and three bachelors between the two of us. We could live on either of our salaries but she make pretty noticeably more than I do and is likely to make yet more as time passes. We do not have a great local support network despite having a quite a few local friends. We have family which would make a good support network but only in two cities which we do not want to live in (and do not currently live in). Neither of us is particularly excited, or particularly opposed, to the idea of children but equally there are lots of good/fun things about having kids which we do not want to miss out on. We are likely to have smart kids (both 2 SD above the mean for IQ per proxies like the SAT, GRE, etc.) but there is a lot of mental illness on my wife’s side of the family. Given the increase in the chance of birth defects/issues which we will experience if we wait much longer it is pretty much time to decide.

    Any suggestions either for what you think we should do or what you think would be a good way to make the decision?

    • spkaca says:

      I’ll let William Shakespeare answer this one, as he did for me:

      ‘From fairest creatures we desire increase…’

      RTWT.

    • EchoChaos says:

      I have four kids and I strongly recommend being a parent to everyone.

      There are certainly trials to it, but I can’t think of anything I’ve done that was more worth the investment.

    • Randy M says:

      You say you aren’t excited about the idea of kids–do you mean babies specifically, or everywhere along the process, from first steps and first words, to teaching how to ride a bike, family hiking trips, bed time stories with your favorite books, talking about life, the universe and everything, watching them start their own lives, getting to see your grandkids, etc.?

      No one is excited by diapers and sleepless nights. I won’t say no one is excited by babies, because a lot of women love the cute lil things, but the point is that there’s more to having kids than the initial, admittedly challenging investment. I’m sure you weren’t thrilled by midterms and paying tuition either, but now you have those degrees.

      Either way, I agree that deciding sooner than later is important. All that baby stuff is rather harder at 40.

      • Elementaldex says:

        Fair point. I’m pretty enthused about ages 8 – 497. But between pregnancy and probably multiple children (marginal costs are dramatically lower for subsequent children, so its probably either 0 or 2-3) that’s ~12 years which is a massive investment, far larger than any of the difficult chunks of our education.

        Though rereading the above paragraph I think I’m overstating it. Realistically I’ll probably start enjoying it well before age 8 (adaptation and many of the things I would like about 8 year olds start cropping up much earlier). So maybe ~5 years? Still a lot, but more conceivable (pun not intended but noticed).

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I definitely think they start getting fun long before 8. I’d come home from work and my 3 year old would run to the door yelling “DADDY!!!” and give me a big hug. That’s worth any number of diapers.

          And if you like video games, once they hit age 4 you never have to worry about finding a friend for couch co-op ever again.

        • Randy M says:

          You’re 30. You aren’t likely to have more than three at this point, which could mean just ten years of under four year olds. Four year-olds are sweet. (YMMV–I found two year-olds pretty great too). And don’t read me as saying none of that baby time is good; that’s just where most of the challenges that seem daunting to prospective parents lie.

          There are joys early. Nothing is like holding your infant and seeing someone’s first smile. My nephew won’t let go of my brother’s legs when he’s around, and rarely does he mind. We were watching old videos the other night of me dancing with my baby girls.

          And of course, there are irritations later, like a twelve year old preteen who is getting hysterical about something, mostly because she’s tired and hormonal, or two brothers getting into a fight and one kicking a hole in the door of the older, innocent one–but these can be seen as intellectual/empathy puzzles and opportunities to do good for little people you care about.

        • Gossage Vardebedian says:

          Must be something wrong with me, but I absolutely loved the first few years. Diapers, vomiting? Whatever. No big deal. Less sleep? More coffee, sorted. Kids are great from 3-12 too, but they lose that ability to be so devastatingly adorable. Now, to my teenagers, I’m basically a chauffeur/bank.

          • Plumber says:

            @Gossage Vardebedian,

            My 14 year old son still seems great to me (albeit smelly).

            He’s less cute than my two year old son, but much more helpful.

        • theredsheep says:

          Just a note: until at least six months, babies have no discernible personalities. Their mothers love them, but only because they’re doped with oxytocin from all the breastfeeding. They’re really fairly horrid creatures at that point. Once they start becoming people, the investment really pays off, and you have a new interesting person around, rapidly changing and leveling up to become an even more interesting person. Most of the fun in parenthood, for me, is reading the next chapter, watching how the underlying personality unfolds.

          With that said, being a parent uproots your life and changes its entire basis; it’s no longer about you. I feel that this is very good for human beings and we should pretty much all do it, barring the badly traumatized and suchlike. But that’s just me.

          • March says:

            Note to that note: even before six months, babies do a LOT of learning. (You can see them have epiphanies at least once every day.) If you’re a scientific/observant type who is interested in psychology/neuroscience, that’s a wonderful source of entertainment right there. It’s more the hardware booting up and doing system checks before the software starts developing, but still pretty cool to watch.

            See also the book Experimenting with Babies: 50 Amazing Science Projects You Can Perform on Your Kid.

          • Elementaldex says:

            This is one of the real draws for me. I think I might really like seeing and helping shape a new person. And if it were as few a six, or even 12 months of ‘horrid creature’ state I could deal with that.

          • EchoChaos says:

            Just a note: until at least six months, babies have no discernible personalities.

            I have four kids and I knew every single one of their personalities within weeks of meeting them. All they do from there is grow up and into themselves.

            The rest of your post I strongly agree with.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Entirely false, I’m a male and bottle feeding so I don’t get any of that oxytocin and watching our 3 month old smile is better than just about anything. I do 90% of the diapers and other bodily fluids and in a few weeks I’ll be doing 90% of the getting out of bed in the middle of the night. Its 1:30 pm here and that 3 month old has done less than 2 minutes total crying today.

            They also have fragments of personality pretty early, what they track with their eyes, how much they smile, what they laugh at, how they like to be carried, how they like to be settled, how they settle themselves. It is no wonder that a person who thinks they have no personality thinks they are horrid though, they are incomprehensible if you think of them as input/output machines at that age, you have to learn what they like and appreciate it as a taste.

          • IrishDude says:

            I’m with baconbits9. I have a 4 month old (and a 2 and 4 year old), and there’s cool/lovable things happening in the first several months: first smiles, first laughs, practicing vocalizing, flipping over, eye tracking, and holding your finger (my second favorite thing after the smiles).

          • theredsheep says:

            If the behavior of a month-old constitutes a personality, a handful of corn flakes is a meal. If you managed to get one with little or no colic, good on you, but really there’s not a lot there even so. They look at stuff, they grab stuff, they try to assemble the collection of instincts they were born with into a mind, but mostly they cycle through screaming, sucking, and voiding their insides, because they come out limp, helpless, and nearly blind. Which is fine! It’s an investment. But informed consent: those first months are somewhat dreary, and colic is a (pretty common) thing. You have to tough it out.

          • EchoChaos says:

            If the behavior of a month-old constitutes a personality, a handful of corn flakes is a meal.

            Moving goalposts. One month and six months are VERY different development timeframes with people.

            My youngest daughter is six months old and she’s crawling, interacting and communicating with her siblings and parents. Her personality is vividly different than theirs and enjoyable.

            At one month old you can see the personality, which won’t change much, barring a major trauma.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            I don’t agree with EchoChaos about much, but I agree with him about this. I have a five month old right now. He’s very different from what his big sister was like at this age. He’s clearly more easy going, more exploratory, and less intent on things. Less interested in the cat, laughs more often.

          • theredsheep says:

            I said until six months. Okay, ‘at least six months,’ but it’s a gradual process. Revised, more persnickety claim: “it takes a long time for a complex personality to develop, and for the first several months a baby doesn’t do a whole lot beyond nursing, sleeping, and excreting, in addition to quite possibly having colic, AKA Screaming Baby Hell. It can interact with the world, but is born utterly helpless, starts out unaware of its own body parts and is mostly figuring things out on its own. By around the half-year mark, the child will be mature and self-sufficient enough for most parents to play with it; until then, it will be something of a slog, albeit with interesting moments [as March noted].” Better?

          • albatross11 says:

            I think by six months each of our three kids had very distinct personalities, and that aspects of those personalities have stuck around even to the present day (when they’re two teenagers and a pre-teen).

          • EchoChaos says:

            @theredsheep

            That’s my point. At birth, my kids had personalities, and the faint outlines of them were visible (are they snuggly, grumpy, giggly?)

            By a month they had habits, patterns and noticeable personal idioms.

            By six months, their lines were so sharply clear that I can pick them out and define them.

            As I said, I agree with the rest of your post pretty strongly, but I think you’re underselling the first six months quite a lot.

            You have the personality at birth and you can see it very faintly. Then it gets sharper and sharper over time, but there is no moment where it’s “suddenly clear and here but wasn’t yesterday”.

          • theredsheep says:

            Well, I’ve had two so far, and the major distinction between the two prior to six months, that I can recall, was that the second one nursed less and had less colic–the two being closely related phenomena. I could look back and note that firstborn is by far the more anxious and cautious of the two, but I suspect that’d be hindsight-informed projection. I think he just felt bad a lot when he was tiny, and it made him down a lot of calories for comfort, and that’s about it. After a few months the colic died down and peculiar characteristics developed, but seriously, at that age, they’re so poorly equipped to interact with their environment that everything is open to interpretation. Baby’s face contorts in an ambiguous fashion —> “baby smiled.” Well, maybe.

    • March says:

      Thinking logistics is smart.

      You don’t need family support, per se, but you do need to make it work somehow. (We have grandparents around who occasionally babysit but so far that has only been for ‘hobby’ occasions which we could’ve budgeted a babysitter for.)

      Would either of you want to stay home for a couple of years? Do your careers allow that? (You’re young and have 40ish years of working lives ahead of you, keep that in perspective when it comes to considering the next four or so.) If not, is daycare available in your area? Affordable? Good quality? What are the opening hours of daycare, and does that line up with your work and commute? Can you combine your schedules with a baby’s schedule?

      The first year is known to be hella frustrating. How are you both with frustrations? Both the pointless ones and the ones in service of something greater? If you have to change a poopy diaper, would either of you be prone to the whole ‘aaargh the SMELL’ histrionics or are you more shrug-and-just-do-it types? How are you with lack of sleep? Negotiating with each other? Not begrudging the other (a lie-in, a night out, time for hobbies and friends)? Are you the type of people who can precommit to toughing some things out (and seeking help when needed, of course) or is your judgement of how life is going much more in tune with how you’re feeling right now?

      Do your ideas of parenting and raising kids line up? Are you roughly in the same quadrant in the strict/permissive and engaged/hands-off graph? Are you on the same page in terms of division of responsibilities or is one of you going to have to swallow a pretty bitter pill when push comes to shove?

      How high maintenance are you, as people? Do you need lots of nights out or uninterrupted time to concentrate on hobbies to be happy? Is either one of you climbing a corporate ladder and investing in 80-hour work weeks?

      Your time WILL be curtailed. You WILL be interrupted much more than you used to be. Your freedom to just do whatever whenever WILL disappear (even if you can still do whatever, you still have to check in with each other that you’re not accidentally planning to do whatever on the same night, expecting the other person to hold down the fort).

      Lest this makes it sound like it’s all horrible, that’s not the point. It’s a bit like our realtor said when we were looking for our first house to buy – if it’s the wrong house, you’ll look at the leaky roof and think ‘ugh, leaky roof.’ If it’s the right house, you’ll look at the leaky roof and think ‘when we’re fixing the roof anyway, we’re going to put in a new window and update the insulation.’ Same issue, whole different mindset.

      Still, I just had my first last year and I think it’s the best thing that ever happened to me. And if there are good/fun things about kids that you don’t want to miss out on, then that seems to be your answer right there.

      • Elementaldex says:

        I think we are both competent and stable though my wife struggles with stress. I actually overall think we would be solidly above average parents. I have not looked into daycare options but I expect them to be good. We are right next to a major hospital in a middle income area. Neither of us is working more than 40 hours/week (on a normal week) but I would be very reluctant to have either of us completely halt our careers. The occasional “best thing that ever happened to me” anecdote is a big part of why this is a real question so thank you for contributing yet another of those.

        • theredsheep says:

          I would say the critical criterion is the ability to set aside your own needs and wants to do what the kid needs. You’ll be doing loads of that no matter how well prepared you think you are. Everything else is pretty secondary, really.

          • albatross11 says:

            +1

            Having children is massively rewarding in the long run, and brings meaning and joy to your life like few other things could. It will involve a lot of short-run annoyance and worry, though–when your child has an ear infection and won’t stop crying, or is throwing a tantrum in the store, or calls you from the police station to tell you the car’s wrecked in a ditch and can you come bail him out.

    • johan_larson says:

      Neither of you is particularly enthusiastic about parenthood? Children are an awfully big undertaking if all you can muster is a maybe. I suggest you refine your preferences by doing something that involves a lot of contact with children, such as coaching a sport. That should give you a better idea of whether you actually like them enough to have them around the house for twenty years.

      • acymetric says:

        Twenty? Awfully optimistic!

        • johan_larson says:

          I went to school with some guys who were told by their parents that they had to get out of the house the day after their eighteenth birthdays.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I don’t know if that’s a good proxy. I love my kids. Other people’s kids I tolerate. My son’s little friends come over and I find them annoying as hell. And they suck at video games.

      • Elementaldex says:

        Interestingly I actually have spent a fair bit of time coaching children’s sports. I find them pretty acceptable above a certain age ~8 and pretty annoying below that age. Though in another comment I came around to thinking that it is probably only ~5 years that I expect (hopefully incorrectly) that I would struggle with liking them (but on the other hand everyone seems to like their own kids…)

      • JustToSay says:

        I’m also not convinced that liking or disliking kids in general is a good proxy for liking or disliking being a parent. I’ve never cared for babysitting and still don’t. I like most any baby or toddler, but after that I guess kids are…fine? I like some; I don’t like others. En masse, they’re kind of boring or annoying. If I get to know them, I end up liking almost any of them individually. They’re basically just like people in that way.

        And I’m a stay-at-home mom who’s very happy to be one and wouldn’t mind more kids.

        I mean, one of my kids is literally having a hissy fit as I type this, and another one is tattling about it, so I’m not suggesting it’s all sunshine and daisies. But this morning they all gave me “today hugs,” and they’re sweet and hilarious, and they’re enthusiastic to get to watch Star Trek with me. My husband gets treated like an absolute rock star every evening when he comes home. We get to read great books together that I forgot about or missed (how did I never read the real Peter Pan or the Wind in the Willows?), and they want to know how the moon works and what light’s made of. Attending kids sports as a family turns out to be a pleasant way to spend part of your Saturday (didn’t see that coming), they have skills and abilities that seem to come from nowhere (certainly not from me or my husband), and watching the wheels turn as toddlers figure something out is the absolute best.

        Plus I like my grown brothers – I’m glad my parents had all of us, and my parents are pretty pleased too.

    • Plumber says:

      @Elementaldex,

      Negatives:
      You will be cleaning up vomit and other secretions more often (I have a two-year-old son, guess what I was doing last night).

      Don’t underestimate the sleeplessness.

      Any friendships you have with non parents will likely end or be greatly diminished.

      Be very secure in your marriage before being a parent.

      The little ones will break most things that they can reach (and you will be puzzled how they reached many things), you will be suprised by how strong they are and how fragile things are.

      Positives:

      As long as your memory is intact you will have moments of happiness just reflecting on that cute thing your kid did “that time”, few other memories do the same trick.

      The younger you are the easier it is to go without sleep (really teenagers and 20 somethings are ideal babysitters), at 30 it is much easier to go without sleep than later.

      The “right time” never comes, if you wait for it you will remain childless.

      While minute-to-minute the childless are less stressed than parents, grandparents are happier than those who never had children.

      • baconbits9 says:

        You will be cleaning up vomit and other secretions more often (I have a two-year-old son, guess what I was doing last night).

        True

        Don’t underestimate the sleeplessness.

        True but often also overstated.

        Any friendships you have with non parents will likely end or be greatly diminished.

        True, but if they go on to have kids the same will happen if you stay childless.

        Be very secure in your marriage before being a parent.

        I feel like this contradicts the “dont wait for the time to be right statement”.

        Or my favorite comic on the subject.

        While minute-to-minute the childless are less stressed than parents, grandparents are happier than those who never had children.

        To elaborate a little- for a huge upfront investment you can create a set of relationships that will enrich your life to the point where those relationships are spawning their own unique relationships that you basically can’t achieve any other way. There are risks and failure modes of course.

        • Randy M says:

          Or my favorite comic on the subject.

          Rather upbeat for Zach.

        • Elementaldex says:

          I’m honestly a little afraid of losing friends. All of my friends are childless and I think likely to stay that way (some probably will not, but only a few). I feel like I’m past the point in life where I could get comparably good friends by transitioning to a new child-full group of friends.

          • EchoChaos says:

            I have kept both my child-free and child-having friends. Child-free friends are more work to keep, but it is absolutely possible.

          • LewisT says:

            If your childless friends like children at all, they can be a pretty good babysitting resource. In my primary friend group, I am one of the few that doesn’t have a child or one on the way. This has made me a favorite among the under five crowd, as I have a bit more energy to play with them than their parents sometimes do.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Your kids become friends with other kids and you meet their parents. At least that’s how my parents worked.

    • Gossage Vardebedian says:

      It can be difficult to fill up a life without having children. Not impossible, but challenging, and it helps to have plenty of money. I make no value judgments here. If you don’t want children, don’t have ’em. But think about what you’ll do instead, think about what you’ll be doing in 10, 15, 20, 25 years. Think about what will motivate you to get out of bed. Will you be a career-driven workaholic? Will you and your wife travel a lot? Will you take up time-consuming and engrossing hobbies – learn to paint, to play the violin or guitar or piano, write novels?

      There’s a drive we all have to search for meaning in life. There’s a voice in everyone’s head that says “raise children.” There’s one thing you can do that pretty much shuts up both of those. Certainly, the more you examine all that, it’s just a trick that a rational-minded person should be able to evade if he or she chooses. But it’s there nevertheless. I don’t have an answer for you; I only know what works for me.

      • Elementaldex says:

        We are actually extremely invested in a join hobby that I expect to entertain us for the next several decades. But… Maybe it would be even better with kids? Or maybe they would want to do completely different things and we would just end up dividing our time ever more ways.

        • One of my hobbies for most of the past fifty years has been the SCA. One of the reasons I’m still involved, in particular still go to Pennsic, is my daughter. That’s true despite the fact that her brother was never particularly interested in it, and stopped going to Pennsic once he was adult enough to manage by himself without the rest of us.

          And sometimes the son of my first marriage comes, and brings his wife and my grandchildren.

    • proyas says:

      It sounds like you two would provide an above-average level of nurturing and support for children. The only potential problem is passing down mental illness to your children. To minimize that risk, I suggest using preimplantation genetic diagnosis to conceive your children. Our grasp of human genetics is rapidly improving, and even if you wait two or three more years, significantly more genes coding for mental illness should be known.

      Search around this blog for more: http://infoproc.blogspot.com/

    • Atlas says:

      You might want to read Professor Bryan Caplan’s Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, in which he argues that many Americans underestimate the amount of children that they would ultimately prefer to have.

      One of Caplan’s arguments is that the costs of childbearing are heavily front loaded, while the benefits are delayed: People hate taking care of infants, but they love spending time with their adult children and grandchildren.

      Caplan also argues that research into behavioral genetics suggests that parenting does not play as much of a role in children’s life outcomes as many assume it does. Therefore, parents currently spend too much time trying to manage and improve their children, which raises the costs of child rearing; a more laissez-faire approach to raising children, of the sort that it seems people a few generations ago practiced, might make it easier to have kids.

      • Elementaldex says:

        Thanks for the recommendation. I’ve actually already read Caplan found him to be mildly compelling except that I’m pretty confident I would end up spending more time/effort/money on my kids than he thinks is really needed> I expect my wife the be unwilling to take that hands off of an approach and that I would end up ascending to her wishes on the topic (Not that she would not end up bending in my direction too).

      • actualitems says:

        I read that book to talk myself into having a 3rd. We had a 3 y/o and a 1 y/o, and my wife wanted a 3rd. I was on the fence. That book pushed me into the yes camp. It convinced me to take the long view, that is the idea of having a 5, 3 and 1 y/o sounded not great, but at age 60, the thought of having a 31, 29 and 27 y/o sounded awesome.

        When my youngest was 1, my wife started speculating about a 4th, but I felt I was mentally rushing my youngest through bottles, diapers, etc. I was done with the baby phase. That’s how I knew 4 was 1 too many for me and we agreed to stop at 3.

        When my youngest was ages 0-4ish, I have to admit that 3 felt like 1 too many a lot of the time. But I would also joke that 3 may be 1 too many but our 3rd was the best of the 3, so it was a paradox. Honestly, none are *the best* but you do get a lot better at parenting (read: laid back) by the 3rd, so their personality ends up being more fun/less high strung…at least that was our experience.

        Our 3 kids are now 10, 8, and 6. And I sort of wish we had a 4 y/o and a 2 y/o to go along with them.

        I heard Chuck Klosterman on Bill Simmons’ podcast last month talking about Philip Rivers, the Chargers QB, who has 8 kids and 1 on the way. Klosterman has 1 kid and he and his wife are likely too old to have another. He said Rivers is going to have a great life for the next 30-40 years with all the kids and grandkids running around, and he was sort of jealous of him. I have to agree.

        • Randy M says:

          But I would also joke that 3 may be 1 too many but our 3rd was the best of the 3, so it was a paradox.

          My joke is that we didn’t have 3 kids, we had 1 kid three times. Three blond girls.
          It’s not true, really; the first is much more different than the latter two are from each other, but those two were often mistaken for twins when younger.

          Anyway, to your point…. we were prevented from having more after the third, which my wife deeply regrets, being a lover of all things baby. I tell her to take care to show our daughters how much joy she takes in them, and they’ll give her grandchildren to baby someday.

          • Plumber says:

            @Randy M

            “….I tell her to take care to show our daughters how much joy she takes in them, and they’ll give her grandchildren to baby someday”

            Damn Randy, with that kind of wisdom and with your daughters having you as their model of “man”, their future suitors will have a tough act to follow.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            My in-laws have large families, being good Catholics and all, and they strongly believe large families aren’t as much work because older kids help out with younger kids. My guess is that most of them would have had even MORE kids if they could. The ones that could not have kids adopted from overseas. I’d say the median number of children is 4 (even including the childless).

          • Randy M says:

            And Plumber, you are a man who knows how to craft a highly effective compliment.

          • Atlas says:

            My in-laws have large families, being good Catholics and all, and they strongly believe large families aren’t as much work because older kids help out with younger kids. My guess is that most of them would have had even MORE kids if they could. The ones that could not have kids adopted from overseas. I’d say the median number of children is 4 (even including the childless).

            With every story like this I hear, the less crazy the idea of converting to Catholicism or Mormonism for the sole purpose of marrying a woman who would be willing, even eager, to have a large family sounds.

          • J Mann says:

            With every story like this I hear, the less crazy the idea of converting to Catholicism or Mormonism for the sole purpose of marrying a woman who would be willing, even eager, to have a large family sounds

            There are worse reasons to join a community than because it screens for similar values. You could also prioritize meeting church-going women – I don’t know about Mormons, but there are a number of couples in our Church where the husband is Catholic-adjacent, in that he goes to Church every week and supports the kids being raised Catholic, but doesn’t take sacraments.

            (Well, was Catholic-adjacent, because in each of the cases the husband eventually converted, but some held out for several years.)

          • grandchildren to baby someday.

            Ours is due sometime in the next few weeks.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            I don’t know about Mormons, but there are a number of couples in our Church where the husband is Catholic-adjacent, in that he goes to Church every week and supports the kids being raised Catholic, but doesn’t take sacraments.

            I think you might have a window into my soul.

            Atlas,
            If you want a large family, I think you pretty much have to go religious. I’d imagine the number of non-religious women wanting large families is pretty damn small. Catholic in particular doesn’t give you a large premium, AFAIK, because a lot of self-identified Catholics are basically just typical Americans that don’t have much of the old Catholic faith in them, but you are probably more likely to find a woman interested in having a large family there than a secular friend group.
            Per this Pew Report, Catholics have 2.3 kids on average, compared to 1.7 for non-affiliated, religion non-important couples. Main-line protestant is at 1.9

            David,
            Congrats on the grandkid. My parents really really love their grandkids. I hope you find as much joy in yours.

        • Atlas says:

          But I would also joke that 3 may be 1 too many but our 3rd was the best of the 3, so it was a paradox.

          That reminds of a joke I read attributed to some famous 20th century comedian: “I’ve got three great kids. And three out of five ain’t bad!”

          Though, in all seriousness, I think this may be an actual argument for having more children. The more children you have, perhaps the less pressure each child feels individually to live up to your expectations and the easier it is for you to accept a child who struggles to do so. (Perhaps this is in my mind because I’ve been reading King Lear lately—if Lear had stopped at two kids, he would have gotten only Goneril and Regan and would have missed out on Cordelia, which would have really sucked for him.)

          • EchoChaos says:

            My mom said the same. She said everyone should have at least three kids, because you pin all your hopes on the first. You pin all the hopes the first dashed on the second, and by the third you were ready to let the kid be his or herself.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      You should stop using birth control and have kids. Don’t delay, due to birth defect risks as you mentioned. However, your economic situation isn’t optimal for the way we evolved to take care of our kids. By your description, they’d have more resources if you chose to be a stay-at-home dad, but formula feeding is bad for babies and even if your wife pumps breast milk to be refrigerated until the baby cries for it, you won’t get the oxycotin-caused bonding she would from breastfeeding. So who ought to stay with baby is a tough decision no one else can make for you.

    • dick says:

      Couple quick thoughts:

      1) What you would do if you don’t have kids? (Don’t tell me, that’s rhetorical 🙂 What fills in “If I have kids, I won’t be able to dedicate my life to ____”? You were designed by evolution to have kids, that’s the default option, and in my experience if you decline it but don’t take something else instead you’re very likely to feel rudderless at 40.

      2) That said, it’s not reasonable to assume your kids will be smart, or healthy, or interested in your hobbies. If you would only want them under those conditions, you might not want them.

      3) Babies + both parents working full time + little support network is very, very unpleasant in a lot of ways that are difficult to convey until you get there. You should think very seriously about one of you either taking several years off from your career, or at the very least, trying to look for a creative way to work part time without totally stalling out.

    • littskad says:

      Having kids changes everything, or at least, it should. It changes the focus of your life away from yourself and your spouse toward your children and their futures. This isn’t to say you don’t matter anymore, of course. It’s just that now, when you make decisions, you’ve got a lot more to consider, a lot more you’re responsible for. And it’s wonderful and exciting and hard and frustrating and tiring and exhilarating and joyous and frightening.

      One thing to keep in mind about having kids is that, all the things you’ll read and be told and think that kids are like, well, they’re all wrong. Or, at least, be prepared for that they may be wrong. I have six boys, aged 18, 15, 12, 6, 4, and 1, and they’re all completely different. They’ve all had and are having different challenges, and they all have different delights. You don’t know what you’re going to get, so try not to have too many expectations.

      I think the best advice I can give is: try to spend some time with each of your kids every day that you can, doing what they want to do. They’ll be teenagers soon enough, and then they won’t want to anymore (at least not as much). That’s okay, too; don’t take it personally. If you have enough kids, eventually you hit critical mass, and things become much easier. Most kids go through a stage where all they want to do is help you with whatever you’re doing—mine all have so far. Go out of your way to find a way for them to help, even if it makes everything take three times as long. Cultivate the understanding that you all are a family, that you help each other and do things together. Yes, there will be fights. Yes, there will be annoyances. Yes, some things will get done differently from how you would have done them, and worse than you might like them to have been done. But, you’re together, a family. That’s what matters.

      So, sure there will be puke. There will be diapers. (My youngest three are all in diapers right now—the 4 and 6 year olds have Down syndrome. As I tell my wife: “The poop never ends!”) There will be broken dishes, and fevers, and runny noses, and tantrums, and wrestling fights, and broken hearts, and sleepless nights. There could well be serious problems: hospitals and police and worse (I’ve been fortunate to only have to deal with the hospital stuff). But there will also be birthday parties, and board games, and clothes shopping, and singing contests, and walks through the woods, and building sand castles, and teaching them how to tie their shoes, or swim, or cook pasta, or ride a bike.

      It’s a gamble of a sort, but I think it’s a good bet.

  16. baconbits9 says:

    A good article on fertility and incentives in Hungary, at least shows how difficult crafting pro fertility policy really is.

    • EchoChaos says:

      That all makes a lot of sense to me.

      Promoting marriage is inherently promoting kids (and promoting healthier kids), so the fact that it created a lot more first and second kids despite the bonus being tied to third kids doesn’t surprise me much.

      It is interesting how large it is, though.

      • Skivverus says:

        Has the policy been in place long enough for couples who were starting from zero kids to make it to three? Theoretical minimum time would be three years (one if you don’t ignore triplets), but I’d expect its effects to ramp up over more like a decade.

        • 10240 says:

          People can get the subsidy even if they had already had children from before the policy was put in place. So it could have induced people who already have two children to produce a third.

          • Skivverus says:

            Sure, but that’s necessarily only a fraction of the effect, and given that the previous average fertility rate was “significantly below two”, there are by definition more Hungarians out there with zero or one kids than there are with two.

  17. J Mann says:

    Note: If I can make a request, I’m much more in the evidentiary “how do we know what to do” question – if we can bump culture war to another thread, I’d appreciate it.

    Is anyone else following the Zak Smith story? From what I can tell, he’s a somewhat minor figure in gaming, who briefly ran a DnD streaming game, has written some materials, etc. He’s recently in the news because his ex wrote a Facebook post asserting that he was systematically manipulative and abusive in their relationship. (I haven’t picked through the whole post, but it sounds like while quite serious, the conduct was largely or entirely verbal/emotional.) Smith denies the conduct.

    The couple was poly, and some of their girlfriends have gone on record to say yes, Smith is an abusive ahole, and some of their girlfriends have said, no, absolutely not.

    It sounds like the gaming industry has basically cut ties with Smith – lots of people are apologizing for ever having worked with him, are canceling projects or appearances, etc.

    Now for the question I’m wrestling with: What is the rational way to address when someone is credibly accused of unprovable misconduct. From the discussion online, it looks like most people start with some priors about what kinds of accusations are credible and what kinds aren’t, but I don’t even know how to evaluate those.

    1) Is there a way to decide what the probability of guilt is?

    2) What do we do with people we think are moderately (let’s say 20% – 80%) likely to be guilty of serious personal misconduct?

    • 10240 says:

      Separation of concerns. If the alleged abuse is a crime, it’s the job of the criminal justice system to determine the likelihood of guilt, and punish him if he is proven guilty. If it’s not a crime, then it’s for the people involved to handle (for example by dumping him). In neither case is it the business of anyone else.

      I consider it acceptable to stop associating with someone who has committed some serious wrongdoing in order to protect yourself from becoming a victim yourself (if it’s the sort of situation where it would be likely, it isn’t in this situation), or because you don’t like to be friends with an asshole, but I don’t consider it virtuous; it’s about neutral if guilt is proven beyond reasonable doubt, and worse than neutral if it isn’t. I oppose putting social pressure on you to stop associating with him if you don’t want to. Furthermore, there is no justification for removing his work on the game or his credits, because the nature of that work is not changed by the unrelated wrongdoing, even if it’s true.

      So my answers would be
      1) It doesn’t matter because it’s not our business to decide.
      2) Nothing.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I’m not sure “leave it to the criminal justice system” always works.

        You’re a owner of a small diner, employing three waitresses and a cook. One night the cook walks one the girls home. The next day she claims he raped her and he says they had consensual sex. The police can’t do anything because it’s he-said she-said. The other waitresses believe the alleged victim and do not want to work with the cook anymore, and threaten to quit unless he’s fired. What do?

        • 10240 says:

          It may be in the owner’s interest to fire the cook (depending on whether he is easier to replace than the three waitresses). I’d put the fault primarily on the waitresses who threaten to quit. It’s highly unlikely that the cook would rape them on the job; they could protect themselves from getting raped by not going home with him. I’ve written about the “it’s in his interests” excuse before in another context.

          If I’m wrong about the low probability of rape on the job, then this falls into the category where I’d say it’s acceptable to stop associating with him in order to protect yourself. It’s also understandable if they don’t want to work with a likely rapist, given that they would personally interact with him daily. This is a different situation than, say, selling or reading someone’s game manual, where there is IMO no reason to care about the author’s unrelated personal faults, nor is there a risk that he’ll remote-rape a reader.

          • rlms says:

            Your first paragraph seems to be implying that the waitresses would be being unreasonable if they didn’t want to work with a 100% confirmed rapist (who for whatever reason wasn’t being prosecuted) provided that he wasn’t going to rape them specifically. This seems very unusual to me. I’m of the opinion that if you don’t want people to harm you by refusing to associate with you because you’re a rapist, then you can simply just not rape people. That seems like a rather minimal burden, so I don’t see how people harming you if you refuse to carry it could be unreasonable.

          • 10240 says:

            @rlms I find it understandable in the situation where they have to personally work with him, but I really don’t have this impulse and I don’t find it reasonable. It causes unnecessary dilemmas such as when the owner has to decide between firing someone even though the owner doesn’t know if he’s guilty, or having the waitresses resign. Note that in this situation the only one who knows that the cook is a rapist with 100% certainty (assuming he actually is) is the waitress who was raped.
            It’s unusual that everyone knows that someone is guilty with certainty, but he doesn’t get convicted. In that case it may be reasonable to punish him in lieu of the justice system. However, in cases where known criminals do get convicted, ostracism of ex-convicts probably increases the likelihood of reoffense, while socially punishing people whose guilt is uncertain causes the problem of innocent people getting punished.

          • rlms says:

            There’s certainly a dilemma if there’s uncertainty (which is certainly probable). To my mind, the extent of that dilemma and the respective reasonableness of either side depends on how probable the allegations are. If they are implausible, the waitresses are being more unreasonable and vice versa. At the extremes where the probability is zero or one, one side is completely in the right and the other is in the wrong.

            But you don’t seem to agree, because you’re saying that the fact that the cook is unlikely to rape the waitresses on the job is relevant, and that relevance is not affected by the plausibility of the accusations.

        • Protagoras says:

          Yeah, I read 10240’s advice as applying to cases where you don’t know the people involved. If you read about something on the internet, and have to decide whether to join the twitter mob, the answer is clear; you shouldn’t join the twitter mob (and have no obligation to boycott, etc.) regardless of the details that are being reported about the case. But if it does involve people you know, there is no longer a simple test; sometimes, as perhaps in the case you describe, it is irresponsible to do nothing.

    • Incurian says:

      Just don’t date him.

    • arlie says:

      I think this is one of those cases where “it depends”.

      As an individual, not heavily invested in a relationship with the accused, I’d be biased in favour of keeping my life simpler by avoiding them. Even if they are innocent, the drama will spill over all around them, and they are more likely than a random person to commit whatever type of misconduct in future, potentially directly affecting me.

      As a person making judgments on behalf of any organization large enough to have principles about justice, fairness, and due process, I pretty much have to come down on the side of “not proven, so no penalty” except perhaps for keeping them out of extremely sensitive positions, at least until more is known. The organization should have a judicial or quasi-judicial process, which should probably be applied. That might be as simple as “we don’t take notice of anything except legal proceedings” – or as complex as actual legal proceedings. Much depends on context.

      And if I were e.g. part of an organization devoted to redemption, charity etc., the thing to do is to reach out to everyone involved, encouraging them to repent of their own sins/flaws, whatever they may be, and reform, while at the same time offering that organization’s idea of unconditional love and caring.

      And if I already had a prior relationship with him that I valued, then I’d care a lot more, and would tend towards being supportive and forgiving, but not necessarily partisan.

      And finally – participating in an internet mob, baying after someone where you have no personal knowledge of their offenses – that’s generally a bad idea ethically/morally. It’s tempting to signal boost, if you think the alleged affences are of a type that are often quietly covered up. But once there’s a full scale mob, you should probably just shut up.

      I haven’t been following the case at hand, but my guess is that the guy is probably a bit of an asshole, but not necessarily in ways that rise to “serious offence”. I’ve no idea how to determine how bad he really is, short of being personally involved with his love life (or maybe his professional life), and I certainly don’t want to do that. Given the number of assholes I’ve personally encountered, my priors are that any particular individual has reasonable odds of these behaviours (let’s pull 10% out of the air -that’s low for occassional assholery, and high for systematic abusiveness). I’d give this guy maybe double the odds I’d give a random stranger, based on the public fuss. More perhaps if I’d read the accusations in question and found them plausible, rather than just third hand reporting.

      Not high enough to punish him for his behaviour organizationally (or legally), but high enough to be careful about him at a personal level.

      • LesHapablap says:

        Not high enough to punish him for his behaviour organizationally

        Even a mildly toxic individual can destroy the morale and productivity of a team. It is more important (productivity-wise) to keep those people out of your business than it is to hire superstars, depending some on what industry you’re in.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          I don’t mind, and in fact encourage, individual parties to decline to associate with someone they don’t like. Firing someone for being an asshole is a fine decision.

          But things go to shit when this changes from “I, Bob, refuse to associate with person X” to “you, George, better also refuse to associate with person X — or else.” Everyone quickly loses the plot.

          • LesHapablap says:

            I agree, but it is also worth noting that very often the toxic people will be the ones doing the “you better refuse to associate with this person.” In fact that could be a good litmus test for a toxic person.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @LesHapablap

            Not coincidentally, Zak is described by many people as doing that sort of thing – he had a list of people and products he’d tell others not to listen to, not to buy, etc.

        • arlie says:

          Yeah, but you’ve always got the ability to fire them for their behaviours in your team. That’s different from firing them because someone (even a lot of credible someones) said they behaved badly elsewhere, without any legal judgment having been reached.

          OTOH, that’s also why I waffled about organizations “large enough to have principles about …”. One person can do a lot more damage proportionately if the team they damage is the only team in the company/cklub/whatever.

    • Drew says:

      I’d start by dissolving ‘we’. You have private-individuals and you have organizations.

      Private individuals can associate or disassociate with people based on whatever standards they want. And I meant that in a practical, and moral sense. If you want to drop him from your Christmas Card list, it’s rude of me to complain.

      With Organizations, I break things down into a few questions: Is there a problem? Is our problem? What decision are we being asked to make? Who, in our organization, has the authority to make that decision? Has that group been given a clear standard to apply?

      So, if I’m on the board of the conference, a potential answer might be, “The board received an allegation that ZS might be abusive to conference goers. We need to weigh-in because we don’t want conference goers to be abused. Authority on disinvitations belongs to the con-chair / security committee. And their meeting notes suggested that the past standard is […]”

      The reason I make people spell this out is that it focuses the decision onto something actionable. You give the guy a con-badge, or you don’t. And being clear about the specific decision in front of you tends to simplify the question of standards.

      Denying someone a Con-Badge isn’t /that/ big of a deal, so I’d be fine with “credible allegation from a named person”. (Though, given my preference, I’d punt the question to the legal system, and write the role so restraining order = ban)

      Other problems might demand other standards. If the issue is, “None of our authors are willing to co-author a book with X” then I don’t actually need to get into the truth of the allegation, and dis-inviting the person stops being a comment on their morality.

      • Nornagest says:

        I agree with your approach but not your conclusion: given the content of the accusations (i.e. alleged emotional abuse in the context of a long-term relationship), it seems pretty unlikely that ZS is going to abuse random con-goers in the halls. By all means break up with him, badmouth him to your girlfriends, disinvite him from your sex club, but in a pure gaming context I don’t see a case for a credible safety issue, whether or not the allegations are true. And in the absence of a credible issue, this looks like witch hunting to me.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Lots of people who have worked with him or rubbed shoulders have said that he is manipulative and abusive in a gaming context. Lots of stories like “so-and-so stopped participating in online discussions about games because he was so aggressive in hounding them over some perceived slight.”

          • Nornagest says:

            That’s reasonable grounds for keeping him out of gaming spaces where he’ll be rubbing shoulders with a lot of people who don’t know what they’re getting into, then, but I’m a little skeeved that we’ve apparently decided the Schelling point for doing anything about it is something that has nothing to do with gaming.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I don’t know if it’s something that “we’ve decided” – it’s just that right now sex crimes are in the “Definitely A Bad Person” basket. I touched on this in the post a couple of OTs ago – Weinstein was known to be abusive to underlings and to occasionally physically assault men who had angered him; it wasn’t until the possibly-open-secret of his being a sexual harasser, rapist, etc came out that everyone sort of moved the punching from “oh, these creative types!” to “bad man”. Obviously, in a perfect world, it wouldn’t take allegations of sexual misbehaviour for people to realize someone is a crappy person.

          • dumpstergrad says:

            This isn’t surprising: one of the core attributes of most abusers is that they push boundaries elsewhere as well. Most examples of this, unless examined as a pattern, can be disclaimed pretty easily, meaning you have predators out there with a hunting ground that much longer. Most individuals aren’t equipped to recognize the pattern of a toxic bully, especially in nerd spaces, so it makes sense that you’d want something clear, definitive, and difficult to game.

            Also: it’s reasonable to assume that given space in a social group, abusive people will use that social group to find new victims. Kicking them out of the group deprives them of victims of that group. Leaving them in the group is, arguably, enabling them to continue finding victims in that group. You’re not going to be able to warn everybody about the toxic person – leaving them in the group is how you end up with what we call the missing stair problem.

          • 10240 says:

            @dumpstergrad IMO verbal abuse is not serious enough to justify terminology like ‘predators’, ‘victims’ etc.

          • dumpstergrad says:

            If there are credible and especially multiple reports of death threats, rape, and other forms of harassing and abusive behavior – as there do appear to be after a cursory Google of the subject’s name – then the terminology is absolutely justified.

            But more to the point, that’s kind of my point – this is why it’s hard to prove a pattern without something as egregious as rape or physical abuse. Verbal abuse alone, patterns of bullying, etc, are really easy to rules lawyer about until the end of time.

    • Plumber says:

      @J Mann

      “…Is anyone else following the Zak Smith story?…..”

      Sort of.

      I don’t know what he’s alleged to have done (nor do I much want to know), but I saw a note by WotC yesterday that they’re pulling his name from the “Additional consultation provided by” credits in subsequent printings of D&D rules, and I also saw that the episode of “GM tips” in which Satine Phoenix interviews him about his Vornheim supplement has been removed from YouTube.

      Last night I bought myself extra copies of Vornheim, and Frost Bitten and Mutilated, in case they’ll become out of print, and tonight I’ll probably go to a different gameshop and look for spare copies of Blue Medusa, and Red and Pleasant Land.

      As to whether he did whatever he’s supposed to have done, I simply don’t know.

      • Nick says:

        I saw a note be WotC that they’re pulling his name from the “Additional consultation provided by” credits in subsequent printings of D&D rules, and I also saw that the episode of “GM tips” in which Satine Phoenix interviews him about his Vornheim supplement has been removed from YouTube.

        So an accusation of abuse has turned into damnatio memoriae. This is the part that really gets me—and even if the it’s true and provably so.

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          Agreed. Something similar happened to Walter Lewin, who was accused of sexual harassment and promptly unpersoned by MIT. The only reason his lectures survived is because MIT had already licensed them under CC-BY-NC-SA, and Creative Commons licenses are irrevocable, so other people were free to upload them to their own channels and websites.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Nick’s point is the one that concerns me the most. WotC and Youtube (or Satine Phoenix? Which party memory-holed the interview?) are trying to score progressive points with the practice of damnatio memoriae, which is just terrifying.
          Beyond that issue, I don’t think Zak deserves defense. He was known for being verbally… I can’t say “abusive”, but… dickish? to people, so it’s more credible that this carried over to his romances than when a random man is accused.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Forget about damnatio memoriae. It’s more the airbrushing-out bit so that they can pretend a little bit that they never had him on board that bothers me. It’s entirely for their own benefit, but it’s being presented as some righteous act.

          The most upright response, to me, is the people working on a current project with him saying “I don’t want to screw the Kickstarter backers, so I’ll turn my work in, but I’m never working with him again, and I’m giving all the money I make to charity.” Some of them are asking to have their names taken off, which seems far more legit to me than what Wizards is doing.

        • BBA says:

          Lionel Shriver wrote a piece in Harper’s (paywalled link) arguing against damnatio memoriae. I was sort of buying it until she started arguing that maybe Kevin Spacey should’ve been allowed to finish making House of Cards, with a court-appointed monitor on set… at which point I snapped out and said, no, this is just letting the abusers get away with it, there have to be consequences, dammit!

          I spend a lot of time arguing with myself about these matters and at this point I honestly don’t know what I believe.

      • Randy M says:

        Bwahaha–plumber knows more about an obscure, internet only “news” story than I do.
        As to the topic in question, I have no need to form an opinion on it, being unlikely to either be involved or get reliable information.
        But the memory-holing of it is disturbing as Nick points out.
        And people not in a relationship probably don’t have any reason to feel “unsafe” around him as Nornagest points out.

        • Plumber says:

          @Randy M

          “Bwahaha–plumber knows more about an obscure, internet only “news” story than I do….”

          I check the http://dnd.wizards.com site about once a month and the announcement that Zak S. is being shunned was prominent, and then I tried to see the GM Tips episode with him again and it was gone.

          Not too hard to guess that he was accused of something, exactly what I still don’t know and hope to not find out.

          • Randy M says:

            Sorry, I just had to rub it in, recalling your “What’s the deal with you young uns and your twitters?” shtick. Playful ribbing, I promise.

          • J Mann says:

            Similarly, I only know about it because Google selected the Wizards announcement for my Google feed. (And because I’m interested in the decision-making on these issues, so after that I read up on it).

          • Nick says:

            Similarly, I only know about it because Google selected the Wizards announcement for my Google feed.

            It did the same thing to me! I had one or two pieces about it in my feed.

          • Plumber says:

            @Randy M,
            No offense was taken.

            And I still think Twitter is Hellspawned, possibly Facebook as well.

            It was a little scary to see something of this nature elsewhere before SSC for a change.

            Maybe Zak Smith will now self publish books that don’t have the damnably small type of the Lamatations of the Flame Princess stuff?

          • Randy M says:

            My memory was bugging me, as I did remember some talk online from a year or two ago about someone ‘the community’ was trying to make Wizards distance themselves from, upset that he was in the credits of 5E as a consultant. I think in that case it was RPGPundit, which this post implies are two different people.
            ’round and ’round we go.
            I think here the old LW advice to keep one’s identity small is good. I play games with friends. I am not a ‘gamer’ or a part of the gamer community and feel no need to police others behavior fourth hand or adjudicate these disputes between people I’ll never meet.

          • dndnrsn says:

            It was actually both of them. Zak S (before the abuse allegations came out) was known as an abrasive asshole with a tendency towards 90s-style “beer and tits” sort of lefty politics – maybe 10 years behind the times?

            RPGPundit is, I’m pretty sure, one of those guys whose reaction to annoying lefty-activist types is to take a swing to the right. He doesn’t seem to be far right, as far as I can tell, but he’s the kind of guy who probably makes “are you triggered?” jokes.

            In both cases, they were accused of harassment campaigns, and the charges don’t seem to have been that credible (I think with Zak, the whole “there are people who he’s harassed but they’re too scared to provide evidence” thing was brought up, and, OK, plausible, but if you allow that as evidence of someone being a bad actor…)

    • dndnrsn says:

      You’re missing a big part of the story, which is that even before this, he was known to be an abusive jerk about games online, and since this has come out, it’s served as a sort of last straw/thing to coordinate around. His was one of the unnamed inspirations for this post of mine. People have been coming out, including people who were close to him, who worked with him, some of whom had walked away from him earlier because of his behaviour. What they describe, and have in some cases proved with things like screenshots, is that he was enormously manipulative and abusive, in the sphere of online games arguing.

      A. So, if someone is an asshole one way, it’s likely they’re an asshole another way. If someone is manipulative and abusive with internet randos over games, it’s not a leap to think maybe they’re an asshole at home, too. I remember a law student who’d worked in legal aid telling me that guys who got into bar fights and such usually also hit their girlfriends and kids – I imagine it’s the same with nonphysical abuse. This isn’t infallible; I’m sure there are guys who pick fights on the street who are nice to their wives, and I’m sure there are horrible domestic abusers who seem perfect to everyone else. But in general, I’ll believe that the way someone behaves in one sphere is reflected in other spheres.

      B. His bridge-burning and generally unpleasant behaviour means he has few defenders. I haven’t seen any bloggers defend him, outside of general “how do we decide people are guilty” type stuff. Had there never been domestic abuse allegations, he probably could have gone on behaving like an asshole cult leader. Had he been a sweetheart about games, he probably would not have gotten hit so hard when the allegations came out. “One crime at a time” as the old stoner maxim goes.

      C. Interestingly, even people disavowing him are still defending him against the charges (of being an evil racist transphobe Nazi, or whatever) that were made some years ago (Google “consultancygate”). I saw one blogger note that the only place she saw questions raised about his relationships was not a woke space (where people believed he was a nasty bigot) but 4chan – who weren’t saying he was a bigot.

      D. I think he’s probably guilty; honestly, his defence caused me to update the most in the direction “guilty” – it doesn’t really refute anything, it is written in a conciliatory fashion but is largely aimed at discrediting the accusers in a way that doesn’t actually discredit their allegations, and includes one self-incrimination-he-doesn’t-recognize-as-such. I’m not reading his blog any more and I’m not buying his stuff in future. Although I probably wasn’t anyway: Both of the things of his I’ve bought have been shockingly uninteresting, and I’m baffled that people lavished so much praise on them. In general, there’s some really overrated stuff in the “OSR community” – and he was maybe the greatest offender (everyone was gushing about an edgy Alice in Wonderland book? Really?)

      With regard to your more general questions:

      1. The same way you’d put a % on an upcoming sporting event. Look at the participants, look at the context, make a guess.

      2. Who’s “we”? Each individual person is free to with their time or money what they wish. Institutionally, higher standards are needed the more damage the institution can do to a person. Wizards deciding to take his name out of the book should require a lower standard than a university kicking someone out should require a lower standard than putting someone in prison.

      • 10240 says:

        If he was an asshole to others in the game, then that should be the reason to stop associating with him. And even then, it’s only a reason to, say, ban him from forums, not to stop selling or buying his products (which doesn’t require interacting with him). If his products are bad, that‘s of course a good reason not to buy them.

        Removing his name from a book as a consultant is straight-up wrong if he was, in fact, a consultant, even if he is certainly guilty.

        • dndnrsn says:

          If you think someone is a crappy person, and you don’t want them to get your money, that’s a reason not to buy their products. With regard to selling his products, we’re in a capitalist system – there’s more than one way to buy things – and if a seller decides that he’s not worth the hassle, or thinks he’s doing damage to the wider gaming community, they can do that.

          • 10240 says:

            I buy stuff because it’s worth more to me than its price, not to reward or punish its producer; I don’t see a reason to not want a crappy person to receive your money. I also don’t think he is doing damage to the gaming community in general: he is doing damage to the people he interacts with, but that damage can be prevented by stopping personally interacting with him, or banning him from certain forums.

          • dndnrsn says:

            If you drive people off from a community – which, some people are saying, they did get out of the whole OSR-and-adjacent scene because of him being unpleasant – it harms the community. If one of the more prominent members of a subculture (sub-subculture?) is known to be, at best, a jerk, it doesn’t make that subculture look good.

            Regardless of why you buy something, buying something is a reward to its producer. There are people I don’t want to have my money; it’s like the opposite of charity: buying mosquito nets for places where malaria is a problem is positive, so even though I don’t get anything immediately out of it (in the long run, a world with less malaria almost certainly has some sort of indirect positive effect for me, but that’s hardly the motivation) I toss some money at that. Conversely, even if I thought his books weren’t overrated, pretentious dreck, there’s just enough red flags about the guy that I will take my money elsewhere. There’s no lack of indie RPG producers.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Regardless of why you buy something, buying something is a reward to its producer.

            Yeah, but it’s a reward for the product they’ve produced. Do work -> get paid.

            If there are two carpenters, I don’t need to stop and think about if one of them kicks puppies when I’m shopping for a table. If they make a better table for a better price, there’s nothing wrong with buying the damn table. It’s not rewarding the puppy kicking, it’s rewarding the carpentry.

            America was famously founded with separation of church and state. What we need these days from employers and boycotters is separation of life and commerce.

          • 10240 says:

            @dndnrsn He doesn’t drive people away from the community if he gets banned from venues where people can’t easily avoid interacting with him.

            I get your attitude of wanting to cause harm to bad people even at your expense, but I disapprove of that attitude — especially when the offense in question is small enough that there is no need to deter it with punishment, as significant damage by offenders can be prevented by banning them after a few occurrences of bad behavior, and no other sanctions.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Gobbobobble

            But what if I dislike puppy-kicking, and would rather not have my money go to a guy who’s going to maybe use it to, I don’t know, buy puppies to kick? What if I, personally, derive some sort of utility from knowing that my money is going to nice people instead of jerks? I don’t even know that I’d call it a boycott – it’s me, on a personal level, deciding that the revelations of possible abusive personal-life behaviour and confirmed abusive professional-life behaviour (if someone is a game designer, and is abusive in the context of the “gaming community” – surely it is no longer a personal-life thing) are things that go on the “reasons to not buy” side of the ledger.

            @10240

            What if it’s not about causing harm to him, but about my own conscience? What if it’s about reducing his visibility and footprint as a game designer – which more sales of his book accomplishes? (Part of the reason he got away with his asshole behaviour was that he had a reputation as being a creative genius – not sure how he got it, but anyway.) I would prefer that my money go to nice people I like whenever possible. I don’t think this is different from preferring to buy from a local game store instead of Amazon when I go for a dead-tree version of a game.

          • 10240 says:

            @dndnrsn If you have a terminal value that benefiting or associating with bad people is bad, then I can’t argue about that. However, I think in most cases it’s more of an instrumental rule of thumb that benefiting a bad person might make it easier for him to do bad things. If he has already been prevented from doing bad things in a different way, then the rule of thumb is invalid in this case.

            I don’t see the reason to reduce his visibility as a game designer, if his games are, in fact, good. Again, I have this idea of separation of concerns, where someone’s reputation as a game designer should be determined by the quality of the games he designs, and not of his other qualities. What if an asshole is a creative genius? I’d say we should limit the damage he causes as much as possible, but also enjoy his products.

            I don’t think this is different from preferring to buy from a local game store instead of Amazon when I go for a dead-tree version of a game.

            I don’t find that reasonable either. If you only prefer the local store if they have the same price (assuming same convenience), people with your preference will have little effect: as soon as a non-negligible number of people have this preference, the local store will slightly raise its prices (by, say, $0.01), or Amazon will lower them, in which case you will buy from Amazon.

            If you prefer the local store even if Amazon is cheaper by $d, then you are basically giving the local store $d in charity: the local store could reduce its price by $d to compete with Amazon. You are willing to pay them $d more so they can make $d more than they would if their customers were selfish. If you want to give $d in charity, there is probably a better place for it than your local game store.

            Perhaps the local store would close if they had to compete with Amazon’s prices, as some other activity would be more profitable at that point. Let’s say they would make $A at Amazon’s prices, they make $C at the current higher prices thanks to the generosity of their customers, while they could make $B by doing some different business (after the cost of switching), with A<B<C. Then the generosity of their customers makes the store better off by $(C-B), at a cost of $(C-A) to the customers, with a deadweight loss of $(B-A).

            The same arguments apply to preferring to buy the products of good people rather than bad people: it either has minimal effect, or it is essentially charitable giving to good producers to reward them for being good.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @10240

            If you have a terminal value that benefiting or associating with bad people is bad, then I can’t argue about that. However, I think in most cases it’s more of an instrumental rule of thumb that benefiting a bad person might make it easier for him to do bad things. If he has already been prevented from doing bad things in a different way, then the rule of thumb is invalid in this case.

            I don’t see the reason to reduce his visibility as a game designer, if his games are, in fact, good. Again, I have this idea of separation of concerns, where someone’s reputation as a game designer should be determined by the quality of the games he designs, and not of his other qualities. What if an asshole is a creative genius? I’d say we should limit the damage he causes as much as possible, but also enjoy his products.

            I don’t necessarily have that as a terminal value, but interacting with people usually has other effects. If you put up with someone who is shitty, that will often enable their shittiness. His abusive behaviour within the game community was enabled by his stature as a game designer. Leaving aside that I think this stature was grossly exaggerated (he was neither as important as some people thought he was, nor as talented or interesting), his stature let him take on the role of “cult leader type, known to be abusive, but tolerated because He’s An Artist” instead of the role of “random internet asshole everyone blocks.” With regard to the domestic abuse allegations, it’s a bit shakier, but I believe there are some claims that the money he got from game sales helped him exert financial control over women.

            If you prefer the local store even if Amazon is cheaper by $d, then you are basically giving the local store $d in charity: the local store could reduce its price by $d to compete with Amazon. You are willing to pay them $d more so they can make $d more than they would if their customers were selfish. If you want to give $d in charity, there is probably a better place for it than your local game store.

            Perhaps the local store would close if they had to compete with Amazon’s prices, as some other activity would be more profitable at that point. Let’s say they would make $A at Amazon’s prices, they make $C at the current higher prices thanks to the generosity of their customers, while they could make $B by doing some different business (after the cost of switching), with A<B<C. Then the generosity of their customers makes the store better off by $(C-B), at a cost of $(C-A) to the customers, with a deadweight loss of $(B-A).

            Local game stores can’t afford to compete with Amazon because, among other reasons, they provide services Amazon can’t. You can flip through the books, you can play games there, etc. They don’t charge for these things. Amazon offers a more bare-bones experience; if Amazon replaced all brick-and-mortar book stores, I think that would be a net negative. It’s not just about charity, it’s about effects surrounding the book purchase. Having a place where people have to go and congregate to get books creates community (needed for most games; I believe that face-to-face gaming is vastly superior to gaming over online services as well) while everyone using Amazon destroys it.

          • 10240 says:

            @dndnrsn If those extra services are worth the higher prices, then that’s the reason you go to the brick-and-mortar stores. In my comment, I assumed that Amazon’s price was lower for service of identical value.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Sure. What I’m saying is that the vague, hard-to-quantify community effects of buying brick-and-mortar instead of Amazon, or avoiding giving money and stature to an unpleasant person, aren’t just personal preferences. One could make a utilitarian case for those things.

          • Plumber says:

            Regarding the Amazon versus brick-and-mirror discussion, I do boycott Amazon, as I dislike that the Other Change of Hobbit bookstore is no more, and I just plain hate giving credit card info on-line, making new passwords, et cetera.

            Not from Amazon, but some years ago I needed to order a University of Southern California textbook/manual for work (the “Cross-Connection-Control” book) and right afterwards B.O.A. called me to ask if I’ve ever bought anything in New York City and Dubai (places I’ve never been).
            Stories about the conditions of Amazon warehouse workers were another incentive to not buy anything from there.
            It’s frustrating though, when I needed replacement parts for my shavers and went to my local store they told me the don’t stock them anymore because they can’t compete with on-line, Radio-Shack is out of business, et cetera.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            But what if I dislike puppy-kicking, and would rather not have my money go to a guy who’s going to maybe use it to, I don’t know, buy puppies to kick? What if I, personally, derive some sort of utility from knowing that my money is going to nice people instead of jerks? I don’t even know that I’d call it a boycott – it’s me, on a personal level, deciding that the revelations of possible abusive personal-life behaviour and confirmed abusive professional-life behaviour (if someone is a game designer, and is abusive in the context of the “gaming community” – surely it is no longer a personal-life thing) are things that go on the “reasons to not buy” side of the ledger.

            This is still just the most benign form of “threaten people’s livelihood’s if they don’t conform to your values”. I may be wrong but it sounds like there’s a assumption that will be other consumers who don’t care as much such that the puppykickers aren’t literally starving in the streets, and you don’t much mind their choice to do so.

            But for a more evangelized form of this ethos, just check out the previously-broken newest post.

            Maybe I’m not creatively charitable enough, but it sounds like the circle gets squared as something like “don’t encourage people to do a thing you think is moral if coordinating it will hurt someone”. Which is… pretty weak, as far as Shelling points go. Much stronger is albatross’ “keep personal judgements out of business transactions”

          • LesHapablap says:

            Gobblebobble,

            I disagree quite strongly. Doing business with people who share your values is an effective method of propagating those values. If you don’t do it, you can be sure that others with different values ARE doing it, and so your values will be crowded out of the memepool. This is obviously a bad thing as one’s values are good, at least according to each individual.

            See Meditations on Moloch for examples of how good values can be eroded in a race to the bottom if enough incentives are removed for keeping them.

            Let’s say one of your values is to not be kind and charitable and anti-dogpiling. You can patronize a company that upholds that value, or one that routinely dogpiles on people. Because of the nature of that dogpile bullying value, it can spread quite easily across organizations and industries as we’ve seen. There aren’t many effective mechanisms at stopping it. It’s not illegal, certainly not practically illegal. One of the only ways you can help the value of anti-dogpiling is to not patronize companies that have that erode that value.

            Same for your Captain Planet style evil corporation that pollutes the earth. There are no evil people in the corporation, there are just people with bad incentives. If the CFO can say to the CEO, “look at these numbers: polluting is costing is X amount in sales,” then they can all breathe a sigh of relief and stop polluting, knowing that their competitors won’t gain a crushing advantage from it. Without that incentive, they cannot have a non-polluting value and stay in business.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            By all means, boycott for bad economic behavior. If my hypothetical puppy-kicking carpenter uses puppy bones to make his tables (assume for the moment this is somehow legal), then that’s totally above-board to punish by not buying puppy-bone tables.

            Which extends just fine to Nestle and other Captain Planet villains. But whether Nestle’s CEO cheated on his wife is wholly irrelevant to whether I buy their products, even if cheating is something I’d shun in the personal sphere.

            I kind of suck at writing so I probably didn’t make this clear from the start: punishing economic behavior in the economic sphere = good; punishing personal behavior in the personal sphere = good; punishing personal behavior in the commercial sphere = bad.
            (Punishing commercial behavior in the personal sphere I’m also inclined toward being bad, especially for anyone below C-suite, since they’re all caught up in those Molochian incentives and need to eat. But I’m much less confident on this quadrant)

            I bucket things like environmental externalities, HR policies (e.g. if you care about diversity), and PR sleaziness as economic behavior. But I also kind of suck at rigor so, I dunno, might be drifting into some sort of epicycles.

            Like, this is what corporate entities are for isn’t it? The company is not accountable for the personal lives of its members, only what is done while acting as an agent of the company.

          • albatross11 says:

            Les Hablahap:

            There’s a direct cost to you in refusing to do business with people with different ideas–I’m pretty sure the economics are going to work out the same as for racial discrimination. You will have to pay more for worse goods and services in order to satisfy your preference for only doing business with good Christian businessmen, or businesses that reserve the good jobs for white people only, or people who voted for Hillary in the last election, or people who support gay marriage, or vegetarians, or….

            There’s also a social cost, because one thing that ties all the different mutually-disagreeing groups that make up our society together is trade–the willingness to do business with people who are of different faiths and nationalities and races and political beliefs and lifestyles. Since I like living in a diverse society where we all can live together despite not agreeing on everything, I think this is pretty valuable.

            And there’s another cost to widespread use of boycotts against people who disagree with your values–very few people will be able or willing to disagree with the values of the economically dominant group. It’s probably overoptimistic to assume that your values will be the ones that end up on top, but maybe they will.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            One of the theses in Jonah Goldberg’s Suicide of the West (which I’m not fully committed to, but it’s self-consistent enough for now) was that capitalism changed members of other tribes from potential murderers-of-us into potential customers-of-us, so it was worth being at peace with them. If we no longer care about customers, then we have every incentive to change the other back into potential murderers.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Gobbobobble

            You’re putting a very bland spin on what is basically trying to kick a guy out of a community whose behaviour seems to have harmed that community, and who on top of that is now accused of domestic abuse. The guy in question did have a personal policy of boycotting, blocking, etc for having different opinions (I believe about both games and about actual real world politics). He’s not getting kicked out for that, he’s getting kicked out for a pattern of behaviour within the “tabletop gaming community” that is capped off by an allegation of domestic abuse that is at least adjacent to said community (the ex was a player in his streamed game, I believe, and defended him/he put words in her mouth to defend him in the shitstorms over real and alleged behaviour within the community.

            My personal rule is that I don’t disavow or ostracize or avoid or boycott people for group membership or beliefs unless those beliefs are inherently bad (eg, totalitarians – fascism has both times it’s actually gotten into power has led to oppression, war, and enormous suffering; vanguardist communists who believe the worker’s utopia must be built on a pile of skulls have never managed to produce the worker’s utopia but have managed the pile of skulls all right, and the best case scenario is a grim police state). But personal actions? It depends on the action, and it depends on how not disavowing/ostracizing/avoiding/boycotting the person will assist them to do bad actions.

            @albatross11

            I think that “be willing to do business with people different from you” and “be willing to do business with people who do things you, most other people, and the law object to” are not the same thing.

            @Edward Scizorhands

            There’s no “domestic-abusers” tribe, is there? This isn’t about the people of Upper Lower Valleyshire and Middle Lower Valleyshire stopping fighting because it’s more profitable to trade.

          • 10240 says:

            @dndnrsn I don’t think emotional abuse can be objectively defined. With emotional situations, the same story can often be easily spun in a way that makes one or the other side appear to be in the wrong, without either story explicitly lying. There may be clear-cut cases, but it’s typically hard for outsiders to determine. You spoke of financial control using his money; I presume it means they put up with his shit because he paid for their stuff. That’s a fair (if weird) deal in my mind; they could make their own money and stop being dependent on him.

            @Plumber Amazon warehouse workers work at Amazon because it offers them the best deal if both salary and conditions are taken into account. If there are fewer jobs at Amazon because some people boycott it, that makes potential Amazon workers worse off, not better off.
            Objection: There are no better options for them because Amazon drove other potential employers in the area out of business. If Amazon didn’t exist, there would be better employers for them.
            Answer:Amazon can only drive other employers out of business if it offers a better deal (taking both salary and conditions into account) than other employers. If Amazon offers a worse deal to its employees than other potential employers, then other employers can stay in business and steal its employees.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @10240

            He’s also been accused of consent violations as well, which are easier to define. The sort of stuff he was doing in the gaming circles, meanwhile, was dicey as all get out. Evidently, people did not want him around, and thought he was harmful to the “community” – once there was something to coordinate around, they kicked him out.

            Even aside from the allegations of domestic abuse, he acted in a way that was directly relevant to the question of whether or not to buy his game books.

        • LesHapablap says:

          That’s a very strange, seemingly nihilistic attitude 10240. Banishment is a punishment, for one thing.

          This has to be a strawman of your opinion: if there are two equally skilled carpenters, one is a complete asshole and the other is very nice, you disapprove of choosing to buy a chair from the nice one based on that?

          • 10240 says:

            Assuming one of them is known to certainly be an asshole, I wouldn’t disapprove of it. I wouldn’t approve of it either.

            I don’t feel the need to punish wrongs such as verbal abuse, beyond not associating with someone in a way he could abuse me (and making it easy for others to do so). I want serious wrongs such as physical abuse to be punished, but it’s the courts’ job to do so, and I don’t feel the need to punish them beyond the court-imposed sentence, while punishing people who haven’t been convicted typically involves too much of a risk of punishing innocents.

          • albatross11 says:

            Personally, I think one of the best things about our society is that it’s normal to do business with people without needing to make a ruling on their personal morals or behavior. This is part of how we can have a diverse society that works well–you don’t have to know (and mostly don’t know) or care that your carpenter is Jewish or your accountant is into bondage or your psychiatrist is in a polyamorous relationship or your dentist is a traditionalist Catholic or your plumber is a Wiccan or…. None of those things are relevant, and that’s true even if you personally are a super-fundamentalist Protestant who thinks Jews, Catholics, Wiccans, and perverts who are into bondage or polyamory are all bound for hell.

            We don’t all agree on most of our values or ideas. Being able to still interact and do business makes it possible for us to keep that diversity of ideas and still remain at peace and productive. Trying to get shunning and boycotts to become a standard part of daily life seems to me to be throwing a big handful of sand into the gears of some machinery we’d like to keep running smoothly.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @albatross11

            Is the US somewhere where this is, or ever has been, the norm? I think you’re confusing increasing tolerance of various groups for a standard of avoiding boycotts (if one considers “I don’t buy from so-and-so, he’s a dirty such-and-such” to be a boycott). Further, I think there’s a bit of a gap between being a Wiccan and a domestic abuser. The worst I can say about Wiccans is that their understanding of anthropology and religious history is wrong enough to be extremely silly. Being a domestic abuser is a choice, and an immoral and harmful one. What someone is, what someone believes, and what someone does are 3 different things.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            I am totally with albatross on this one. I think it is a good value in itself for people to be willing to do business with others, even when they disapprove of their moral behavior. dnd, you differentiate between Wiccans and domestic abusers, implying the abusers should be discriminated against but not Wiccans. But I think there are plenty of folks who think the opposite — that Wiccans are clearly more immoral than abusers.

            I am worried that dnd’s point of view is gaining far too much credence in today’s world, which will make our society even more paranoid and scared to make any sort of moral judgment in public, for fear of being doxxed and losing one’s ability to make a living. It would be nice if people in the world followed the moral judgments I believe in, but it is far more important to me that people in the world can make these moral judgments based on their true beliefs and not be an economic calculation.

          • albatross11 says:

            dndnsrn:

            There are plenty of people who find Wiccans, poly people, trans people, etc., upsetting and offensive and scary and disgusting in the same way you find wife-beaters. Perhaps you’re right and they’re wrong, but surely they think the same thing. And I think it’s interesting to think about what norms we should promote in a world where not everyone shares the same beliefs, and where we might be wrong.

          • LesHapablap says:

            I think we are talking past each other here because the values I’m talking about are not ‘christian’ or ‘wiccan’ or ‘pro-SJW.’ I consider those more identities, with values entrenched in them. The example I gave above was asshole vs. nice person. We all know there are asshole christians and nice christians, and the same is true for other groups. What I mean when I say values:

            honesty
            integrity
            respect
            charitable

            I’m finding this discussion hard because I can’t separate these values into personal vs. business. I think if someone lacks integrity in their personal life they will in business as well.

            If we are talking about more specific values like religious faith or monogamy, I would never choose a business based on that and I would disapprove of people who did. Does that make me hypocritical or inconsistent?

            edit: I also think there are orders of magnitude less people that care about wiccan stuff compared to wife-beating, at least in the US.

          • dndnrsn says:

            It’s self-defeating to say that you can’t choose not to interact with domestic abusers because, while you dislike domestic abusers and don’t dislike Jews, somebody out there dislikes Jews too, and not interacting with anyone based on something not immediately relevant to the interaction is thus bad. This will lead to your society being overrun by people who are not shitty – not shitty by some subjective “they’re going to Hell” way, but shitty by the objective standard that domestic abuse is wrong (and, even in societies where it was accepted for a man to “discipline” his wife, guys who did it too much or too harshly were frowned upon – and societies where it’s just OK to beat the shit out of your wife because you’re drunk and she burned the roast, are garbage societies.)

            It feels to me like saying, “beating up your wife shouldn’t be illegal, because some governments make criticizing the government illegal”. “We can’t have rules because some rules are bad” seems self-defeating: a good society with a few rules that makes a few compromises is better able to fight off a bad society with horrible rules, than one that’s decided rules themselves are bad. Plus, there’s always rules, even if we don’t recognize them as such; informal rules can be worse than formal.

            In any case, this is not even about capital-r Rules, this is about me, personally, deciding I don’t want to do business with Steve the car mechanic, who is also a serial rapist. If it’s a social norm that you can’t choose not to do business with someone for a reason not directly linked to the business transaction – who enforces that?

          • albatross11 says:

            Considering this a bit more, I guess I’ve been thinking in terms of coordinated meanness, either in the form of:

            a. This person has bad ideas (alt-right, human b-odiversity, antifa, anti-Christian, white supremacist, Communist) and so let’s coordinate meanness against him–refusing to do further business with him, refusing to hire him, or work with him, or sell anything to him.

            b. This person has been claimed to be a bad person by some influential social media types, so let’s coordinate meanness against him–refusing to do further business with him, refusing to hire him, work with him, etc.

            I think (a) throw sand into the gears of important machinery for keeping a multicultural society running. I think (b) is likely to lead to a lot of localized injustice and maybe bleed over into (a), but it’s a quite different thing. I think where (a) and (b) get the most destructive is when you have a “viral” boycott–you won’t do business with X, nor with anyone who does business with X, nor with anyone who does business with anyone who does business with X, nor…. That seems like a blueprint for tearing up society.

            Not doing business with someone you know to be an evil person is reasonable enough. But it’s easy for that to get coordinated into some really destructive and nasty stuff, especially with the way nuance and context gets thrown away in existing social-media (and traditional-media) witch-burning exercises.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Those are all basic human social dynamics, though. Maybe all that can be done is get society to a place where it only happens over things that are actually real-deal bad (and, of course, the occasional unfortunate false positive – but again, maybe no way to escape that).

          • suntzuanime says:

            Rape and murder are basic human social dynamics too, that’s no excuse.

          • dndnrsn says:

            “Reason” and “excuse” are not the same thing. Could you build a society without those things? Maybe, but that sounds awfully utopian, and it probably requires a blank-slatist view, which few here hold.

            You can have those things reduced in frequency, you can try to work to reduce the harm they do (by various means). Even if you build a society where no good person with two scraps of feeling for their fellow human ever murders or rapes, you’re probably dealing with a low-single-digit % of people who for whatever reason either don’t care about hurting other people or enjoy it. The same is true for any other act (criminal or not) that hurts or harms someone. Some people don’t care, and some people like those things.

            A society where nobody ever gets harmed because they’re unpopular is also a fantasy. You can reduce it, you can try to set things up so that “things that are actually bad” and “things that are unpopular” are as close together as possible, so that as many unpopular people as possible are unpopular for fair reasons.

      • J Mann says:

        I thought of your post when I saw the story, but didn’t realize they were connected – thanks!

        • dndnrsn says:

          The other two examples I had thought of were Avital Ronell (professor, accused of sexual harassment; stuff that came out after the harassment suggested that she was a cult-leader type who treated grad students like garbage – she wouldn’t have gone down for that alone, though) and Jeffrey Tambor (the sexual harassment allegations against him seem to have fizzled, but then it was confirmed that he is or has been abusive to other people working on shows with him). It seems like the level of tolerance for non-sexual horribleness is quite high, much higher than the level of tolerance for sexual horribleness.

      • Plumber says:

        @dndnrsn

        “OSR community”

        Just an aside, in the last few years I’ve read various “Old School Renaissance/Revival/Whatever” blog posts and I’ve enjoyed many of them, but I also have found various “the way it was” pieces off because I don’t remember it like that, what doesn’t come across is that there was no one true “way”.

        When I started as a player (in ’79) and into the 1980’s Gygax and his anti-“California style play” screeds were mocked (he was referred to as “the E.G.G. man”).

        My first DM used the LBB’s, Greyhawk, Blackmoor, Eldrich Wizardry, the AD&D Monster Manual, and the third party All the World’s Monsters, and the Arduin Grimoires.

        As a player I first thought that the Perrin Conventions were original D&D rules.

        I miss it.

        • dndnrsn says:

          @Plumber

          I see a strong similarity between “OSR” and fundamentalism. What I mean is, fundamentalism always presents itself as going back to the past, but it’s always got a version of the past that wasn’t so, and is itself affected by modernity – fundamentalism is a modern phenomenon, not a pure return to the olden days. It’s got a lot of people who weren’t there, heck, it’s got a lot of people who have less time in the gaming world than I do (I started playing late in 2nd ed’s lifespan, in the late 90s – you’ve got OSR luminaries who didn’t start playing until within the past 10 years) talking about how in the late 70s and early 80s everything was pure, rules-light sandbox play.

          This is not to knock the OSR – the whole retroclone, rediscover-the-olden-days movement got me to touch D&D again after a 10+ year period where I played it once or twice, having tired of the rules bloat of 3rd, 3.5th, and Pathfinder, and having been utterly repulsed by 4th. I’d simply thought that D&D was bad and other RPGs were better – for those 10 years, I played primarily Call of Cthulhu. Playing a retroclone, reading a ton of blogs, working in all sorts of bits and pieces from here and there was a revelation. But the OSR has a lot of the same problems “corporate” D&D has had (there’s still incentives to churn out stuff that nobody will ever use – whether it’s indie products for a few bucks, or blog posts for social capital) and a lot of misconceptions about what D&D circa 1977 or whatever looked like.

    • The Nybbler says:

      1) Is there a way to decide what the probability of guilt is?

      For me? No. You’d have to know at least some the people involved enough to have an idea of their credibility. I don’t know any of them.

      2) What do we do with people we think are moderately (let’s say 20% – 80%) likely to be guilty of serious personal misconduct?

      If your relationship with them is not personal? Perhaps avoid becoming involved in a personal relationship with them. But bringing someone else’s relationship drama into a business relationship is IMO foolish. That’s one sure way to get ants, if you remember how THAT controversy kicked off.

    • My instinct is that with those odds you do not do anything intended to punish the person, do take precautions in your interactions with him.

    • Walter says:

      “What is the rational way to address when someone is credibly accused of unprovable misconduct.”

      I update slightly in favor of them being capable of that conduct, and ensure our interaction minimizes any opportunity for that.

      That is, if Good Old Dave is being called out for burning down empty buildings in a believable, credible way, but denies it, I don’t suddenly start treating him as Arson Dave who always sets fires, but I also don’t bring him into the Powder Room.

      So, like, in this particular case, I wouldn’t mind gaming with this dude, or working on games with him, but I’d be very careful before I started dating him, gotta make sure to keep on guard if he starts trying the sort of shenanigans that his previous partners are warning me of.

  18. Well... says:

    How literally do I need to take the directions on the lactaid pill bottle that say to take it “with my first bite” of dairy? If it’s a few bites after, is that OK?

  19. Well... says:

    I want to build more muscle over my collarbone area. I already have a split routine and on chest day I always do incline press and dumbbell (or occasionally cable) flyes, and I recently started alternating in incline dumbbell flys. What else should I be doing?

  20. Well... says:

    Online there are lots of descriptions of what it’s like to experience extreme g-forces (in the range of 7+) but I’m curious about what it’s like to experience sustained 2-g. What does that feel like after, say, 10 minutes? An hour? What happens to your body after various time markers? What kinds of physical adaptations/exercises/etc. allow people to fare better in 2-g?

  21. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Guys, I had the strangest dream.
    I was reading a philosophy book from the Middle Ages where the author addressed the debate over the moral value of humans vs. other animals. It was about what you’d expect: rational minds have natural rights that no other beings do; they are the measure of all things. Where it got strange was that he used the octopus as his example of the gulf between smart animals and rational minds (“they could not think themselves the moral center of the universe”), and used an Argument from Authority that went “the ancients were wiser than we, and no text that survives from antediluvian times condescends to address the argument that the octopus reasons.”
    Then I wrote a book review of this for SSC, ending with the rhetorical flourish “… the medievals debated the same issues we do, and came to the consensus that Humans Are Special. You could argue that this is too good to be true, as you might of medieval beliefs more obscure and hopeful, like love being the cause of motion.”
    So what should I take away from this?
    Score one for humans sometimes thinking like GPT-2? Or…
    I dreamed the character-establishing scene for a doomed Lovecraft protagonist?

    • Nick says:

      The octopus is a stupid creature, for it will approach a man’s hand if it be lowered in the water; but it is neat and thrifty in its habits: that is, it lays up stores in its nest, and, after eating up all that is eatable, it ejects the shells and sheaths of crabs and shell-fish, and the skeletons of little fishes.

      ~Aristotle, The History of Animals, book ix

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        “So much for the mollusca.” — Aristotle
        (Writes another paragraph and a fraction about mollusk anatomy)

  22. Plumber says:

    The Zak S. sub thread reminded me a bit of something: At another Forum someone started a thread called: [Lore] Against Cultural Homogeneity; Why Racial Hats are a problem in which the OP complains of non-human “racial mono-cultures”, the discussion got heated, with one person calling out the “racism” of fictional non-humans not having “cultural diversity”, after which I posted:

    Quick, someone start an edition war!

    With pleasure! 

    From best to worst:

    0e, mid-level and up >

    B/X, mid-level & up > 

    5e, low level > 

    1e AD&D > 

    5e, mid to high levels > 

    3e 

    and I only glanced at 2e and 4e so no judgment.

    YMMV. :amused:

    Anyway, my demi-human cultural schemata:

    High Elves, much like the ancien regime nobility of France and Russia, with a dash of Wizardry

    Wood Elves, much like the Comanche as portrayed in “Empire of the Summer Moon”

    Dwarves, just regular people, I mean who doesn’t like ale, craftsmanship, family, and dislike change? That’s just common sense!

    Gnomes, I didn’t see them.

    Halflings, a what now?

    the thing is I really like D&D cliches.

    To me good D&D is cliche filled, as I enjoy well crafted character based intensive roleplaying games that feature such mature themes as meeting in a tavern, leaving said tavern to wail on scaly types who occupy underground abodes, collect shiny objects in said underground abodes, avoid bandits who occupy space between underground dwellings and tavern, then bringing shiny objects to spend in the tavern in noble quest for ale and time with hotties.

    When D&D is done poorly than there is more of a focus on backstory tragic deals, and badly chosen toppings on the pizza. 

    “Elevating” D&D seems a bad idea to me.

    I want to play the game like it was still 1980.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      You split 5E into two rankings based on level, but specify 0E and B/X “mid-level and up” as the best without ranking their low-level play. Huh?

      I think highly of BECMI and am currently running a Discord campaign with the B/X variant Adventurer, Conqueror, King. I’ve never seen “0E” (the 1974 rule set) and AD&D can be fun but has the significant disadvantage that you can’t run it RAW.
      I successfully DMed a 3.5 campaign from Level 1 to 21 over the course of 17 months. The mechanics got less fun over time, to the point where the Level 21 party noped out of their penultimate combat encounter, with a demilich, by the Paladin on his Windwalking horse grappling the Astral Projection of the skull and shoving it into a red dragon’s Anti-Magic Shell. They hit Level 22 and I just handled their final encounter (running interference against Typhon for Zeus after Typhon ripped his sinews out) narratively.
      4E I cannot play with a straight face, because every class has at-will powers with funny names, so every round every player has to call out to the DM the funny name of their attack, like a Magical Girl or Shounen anime.
      5E is fairly fun. It has a single task resolution roll without being as awful as 3rd. The biggest problem is that it’s rigidly designed around the DM throwing more than 6 combat encounters at you each “adventuring day” to drain your resources (in fairness, this can be changed to “two combat encounters well above Deadly separated by a short rest), and the XP you can get from such an adventuring day will level you up so fast it breaks verisimilitude.

      I can take or leave cliched elves, dwarves & halflings. Are you familiar with the BX/BECMI official setting, the Known World? That’s my preferred take on these racial cliches, short of just using Middle Earth as the campaign setting. As a GM, though, I would go back to Norse mythology and dwarves would be the magical craftsmen, a type of short elf that lives underground and turns to stone in sunlight, while (light) elves would be nymph-like but not a monogender race.

      • Plumber says:

        @Le Maistre Chat

        “You split 5E into two rankings based on level, but specify 0E and B/X “mid-level and up” as the best without ranking their low-level play. Huh?…”

        Since I want more to play TSR D&D again (which is still my favorite for long term campaigns) I just didn’t want to admit that I now prefer 1st level 5e to 1st level TD&D now, and discourage anyone from playing TD&D.

        “…Are you familiar with the BX/BECMI official setting, the Known World?….”

        I know it exists, but when it came out I was still (foolishly) an AD&D snob, and by the time I realized how cool B/X/BECMI/RC were no one (that I could find) still wanted to play D&D, all the tables (that I could find) were playing Cyberpunk, Vampire, et cetera.

        “…I would go back to Norse mythology and dwarves would be the magical craftsmen, a type of short elf that lives underground and turns to stone in sunlight, while (light) elves would be nymph-like…”

        That sounds AWESOME!

      • Nornagest says:

        Magical Girl or Shounen anime

        I shout “Moon Power, Make Up!” and hit him with my sword.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Honestly, that’d be a blast if everyone at the table owned it.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Expanding on that: playing Magical Girls and Hot-Blooded Shounen boys in a pre-industrial setting could be lots of fun. Playing fantasy action heroes who defeat their enemies mostly through exploiting the environment (pushing them onto hazards, etc.) could be lots of fun. But neither of those is what people expected Dungeons & Dragons to be. 4E was a failure because men-elves-n-dwarves on a quest stories don’t fit those conventions. Most people interested in storytelling games didn’t want what 4E was selling.
            Plus the combat sequences took like three hours each.

        • bean says:

          We actually did a Magical Girl game once. It was pretty short, and it turned out that we were rather too powerful for GURPS to be able to handle combat well, but it was a lot of fun.

    • J Mann says:

      I saw that thread, but never got around to commenting. If I *had*, here is what I would have said.

      Yes, planet of hats is racist. On the other hand, if there’s nothing other than appearance that separates elves from dwarves, kobolds from goblins, or bugbears from gnolls, etc., the game loses a lot of its flavor.

      I do think a good game is richer for adding some diversity to the various races. If you add a additional dwarven culture where the dwarves live on floating cities constructed from found materials and have a seafaring culture renowned for its interpretative dance, and you do it well, then you’ve enriched your world. If every single dwarf your players meet is a gruff miner who is handy with tools and loves ale, then your world is poorer for it.

      • cassander says:

        to play devil’s advocate, do you gain anything by making the dwarves a separate race that you wouldn’t gain from the stone people tribe, who just so happen to dislike change and value ale, craftsmanship, and family?

        • Skivverus says:

          Not having to explain that the “choose your race…” convention is actually “choose your culture” in your campaign?

        • J Mann says:

          For me, yes I do gain something.

          I like a science fiction or fantasy story better if it has non-humans in it. Isn’t Ringworld more interesting for having Puppeteers and Trinocs running around, and Discworld more interesting for having golems and vampires on the Watch?

          I can’t put my finger on exactly why I like having Klingons and Dwenda in my stories, but I do.

        • Joseph Greenwood says:

          In my D&D campaigns, I usually take exactly this route. There are plenty of people in plenty of cultures with plenty of quirks. I have magic to enrich things. I don’t need literal elves and dwarves, especially as player characters.

      • Plumber says:

        @J Mann

        “….I do think a good game is richer for adding some diversity to the various races…”

        Truthfully it is, but I much prefer that diversity be discovered in play as part of exploration, when it comes in the form of an Eberon like “Our halflings are different” handout I’m less enthusiastic, as for me travelling from the generic to the weird is part of the fun.

        I’m also fond of non-humans being all NPC’s.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Truthfully it is, but I much prefer that diversity be discovered in play as part of exploration, when it comes in the form of an Eberon like “Our halflings are different” handout I’m less enthusiastic, as for me travelling from the generic to the weird is part of the fun.

          Eberron halflings are a great example of what not to do. “Our halflings ride theropods!” feels like they started with a cool idea (dino riders) and then filled in a race from a random table instead of just using humans or making a thematic connection (like Warhammer’s lizardmen). It’s Madlibs diversity/”originality”.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            I’ve never actually read Eberron, but I think it’s possible to that you’re being ungenerous here. Something that came up organically in 3e play was a “what if we could have a character who was a useful mounted warrior (usually a paladin) without making that character useless in a dungeon or other indoor setting?”

            And the answer was halflings, who can ride on size medium mounts, starting at low levels with war dogs and potentially moving to more exotic species later on. They can use mounted fighting feats, magic items, and PrCs while being able to still fit in places that unmounted humans can go.

            This, it seems plausible to me that Eberron was not just arbitrarily mix-and-matching halflings and dinosaur riders, but following an established and fun niche in 3e.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            it seems plausible to me that Eberron was not just arbitrarily mix-and-matching halflings and dinosaur riders, but following an established and fun niche in 3e.

            OK, that’s possible. I must have interpreted it negatively because I’d seen theropod mount Madlibs before with the Trolls in World of Warcraft.

        • Nornagest says:

          Elves and dwarves in D&D settings present kind of a conundrum. Players expect them, but they fit badly into most original setting concepts unless your concept’s very explicitly designed as Generic European Medieval Fantasy, or else to Say Something about G.E.M.F. Which is fine — there are plenty of good settings that do one or the other — but there’s a lot of design space outside them, too.

          A while back I got pretty far into writing an RPG setting with kind of a Dying Earth/Book of the New Sun/Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind take on things (I adore dying Earths and will fit them into everything given half a chance). It was originally designed as a Pathfinder campaign setting, but after a while I realized that shoehorning it into Pathfinder was doing more harm than good, and the standard races were definitely a sticking point.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Elves and dwarves in D&D settings present kind of a conundrum. Players expect them, but they fit badly into most original setting concepts

            This is why I never use an original setting. It’ll always be either Earth in mythic times or whatever pre-made setting I like best.

          • John Schilling says:

            Elves alone are fine. Whether “Elf” or “Fairy” or some other culturally-specific term, the concept of a race or species(*) of graceful, ethereally beautiful, nigh-immortal and innately magical people is I think almost as universal a myth as dragons and demons.

            Dwarves as gruff miners and craftsmen, short and stout and generally non-magical, is less common but you could make a nicely original setting using just Dwarves and Humans.

            Having both Elves and Dwarfs, both as described above and of near-human stature, puts you solidly in Tolkien + Post-Tolkien Fantasy Land, and there’s little reason to do it if you’re not going to borrow the rest of that setting. Indeed, you’ll just confuse the players if you don’t take the whole worldbuilding package that comes bundled with those two names.

            * Usually at least somewhat interfertile with humans, so leaning towards race here

      • AnonYemous2 says:

        oh yeah well here’s what I would have said:

        Basically the idea seems to be that it’s racist to imply that human ‘races’ don’t have inter-group diversity and all conform to some stereotype. But insofar as that’s true, it’s because they don’t, because humans are diverse. But there’s no necessary reason that this should be true for, say, dwarves; maybe evolutionary reasons, but those are hardly absolute. So is it racist to purposely create a non-diverse race? Not necessarily. In this case, the reason is obviously just because it makes for easier and possibly better storytelling.

    • Drew says:

      D&D is collaborative imagination. The cliches give us a mutually-understood starting point. Since we all know them, we can start a campaign with a minimum of exposition and homework.

      It’s fine to deviate, but deviations need to be concise (“Standard setting, but every country is ruled by a dragon” / “… stone age tech level” / “… the towns have SCIENCE”) or introduced gradually after the campaign starts.

      • Plumber says:

        @Drew

        “….we all know them, we can start a campaign with a minimum of exposition and homework….”

        Yes!

        I enjoy reading setting books, but studying them in order to get to play is irritating to me, 

        “A shadow passes over you, as you look up you see a Dragon passing overhead”,

        “What do you do? 

        Get to that point.

        No lengthy setting history essays.

        No big lists of nationalities and social classes 

        Unless I tell you otherwise PC’s are ignorant/isolated farm kids ala Luke Skywalker/Percival newly arrived from the land of Generica (part of the Nondescriptian Empire),  in an unfamiliar land were they somehow understand the language (except when they don’t!), and have them learn about the world through NPC’s. 

        If there’s backstory, unless it’s a map, journal etc.that a PC finds try to not give a handout! 

        Oracles, street prophets, and witches will give voice to the backstory in character (hopefully).

        1)Make up or steal  find a scene that looks like it will be fun/exciting.
        2) Listen to what the players say.
        3) Have them roll some dice for suspense.
        4) Tell the players what changed in the scene. 
        5) Repeat
        “Your at the entrance of the Tomb of Blaarg what do you do?” If they’re real contrary “Your inside the Tomb of Blaarg, what do you do?, or “your trapped deep inside the Tomb of Blaarg”  etc. Just quickly narrate to the part where the actual adventure begins. They can role-play how they turned tail and ran back to the tavern.

        For a crash course in bad DM/player interaction see DM of the Rings.

        While much of the fun of DM’ing is in making a world (the other part is witnessing the PC’s shenanigans), I try to keep world building bare bones. It’s usually more fun to read, then to play. When the players start to get jaded, then maybe introduce “exotic”, “innovative”, and “weird” elements, but usually at first freaky “Alice in Wonderland on LSD” “adventures” are not fun! 

        One of the most successful (i.e. my players liked it) “campaigns” that I DM’d/Keeper’d (I reused the same setup for both Call of Cthullu and Dungeons & Dragons) was a mashup of the plot set-ups of “Conan the Destroyer” and “Young Sherlock Holmes” (cultist, Elder gods, yadda, yadda, yadda), I didn’t map anything out on paper before hand at all! I just imagined “scenes”, described them to my players, and had them roll dice to see if they did whatever they were trying to do, then on to the next scene! 

        As a player, sure some guidance on what sorts of PC’s will fit the game would be nice, but when I ask they usually start on “10,000 years ago a great meeting was held on the continent of….” and I’m zzzzzz.

        You know how it oft said that most Americans can’t find most nations on a map, or even other states?

        Don’t give “macro” details.

        Instead tell of the village where the PC came from, the name of the fishmonger that the PC’s fisherman family sold their catch to, not the name of the freaking ocean they got the fish from!

        Small details help build characters, big grand “5,000 years ago the armies of Argle-Bargle invaded the lands of Generica” don’t help  much

        So yeah, just don’t make the setting at the beginning so exotic that much intro is needed, to quickly get to:

        “What do you do?

        • Nornagest says:

          No, no, no. If you hand your players a 50-page setting doc you’re doing it wrong. The background isn’t for your players. The background is for you, to help you figure out your NPCs’ motivations and build dungeons and cities that don’t feel like you traced a randomly generated map from Diablo. Your players can then get as deep as they want to get in it, but the modal D&D character is, functionally, a barely literate sellsword who cares far more about loot than history or court intrigue and that’s fine.

          (It’s okay if a setting bible exists, and even okay if your players can read it, but you shouldn’t expect it.)

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Your players can then get as deep as they want to get in it, but the modal D&D character is, functionally, a barely literate sellsword who cares far more about loot than court intrigue and that’s fine.

            Some day I’m going to test the hypothesis that the ideal D&D setting is somewhere in the area from Britain to Germany in prehistoric times. PCs don’t need to know about anything outside their starting coastal village and the first adventure hook, because villages are autonomous units rather than paying part of their crop to a larger center.
            Logres (Britain) is of course the land of ogres, and bugbears, orcs, and goblins/kobolds are the same species not full-grown. Cities are something they find when they choose to go south, ala Conan.

          • Nornagest says:

            I don’t even think you’d need to go back that far — there’s a long tradition in epic fantasy of having the protagonist be a callow farmboy. Lean on that and your players only need to know as much about their surroundings as a lazy teenager would in an era before cars, telephones, and the printing press.

            Party fighter? Blacksmith’s apprentice. Party thief? Ostler’s son, drunk, and well-known ne’er-do-well. The party wizard? She’s the local knight’s daughter, who nearly bankrupted her dad buying a half-dozen minor magical tomes and sacrificing livestock to the Ruinous Powers. None of them have been further down the road than the nearest market town, and they’ve probably never met anyone who speaks a different language.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest: True. I was thinking less in terms of precise time and more in terms of Earthly region to explain the presence of elves, dwarves, and the standard low-level enemies, and the absence of higher authority to complete the adventure before starting PCs do..

          • Drew says:

            I’m not sure we really disagree. My goal is giving players meaningful choices. This means that they need an idea about their options, and the likely trade-offs.

            I might run a session where the party needs to travel — in secret — from City A to City B. Their first problem is deciding route & travel method.

            Depending on campaign setting, options might be anything from: teleportation rings, cars, airships, steamboats, horses, walking, portal network, private rockets, underdark passages, or giant birds.

            In world, the characters have a general idea of how people travel. The goal of the brief prompt is to bring the players up to speed. So, if I stage the game as “Standard Fantasy, but with some Victorian tech and SCIENCE!” the players can infer that there might be trains, but probably not giant birds or extra-dimensional portals.

            But, I agree that consistent worlds are good, too, since they help people build these intuitions. An ideal solution would involve a player noticing that the cities are connected by a river and inferring that there’s probably a bunch of river trade, so they could go on a ship.

            That sort of discovery lets the players feel like they’ve solved a puzzle, and makes for a much more satisfying interaction than them asking me for an exhaustive list of all the travel options.

      • Civilis says:

        The cliches give us a mutually-understood starting point. Since we all know them, we can start a campaign with a minimum of exposition and homework.

        There’s a problem with this approach, and I think refusal to acknowledge it is one of the reasons modern RPGs have so many problems. The problem isn’t that we don’t have a cliche set, it’s that we have multiple slightly different incompatible cliche sets. If I don’t know what an elf or a dwarf or an orc or a gazebo is, I can ask. If I do know, and my knowledge is different than that used by the other people in the game, we have a problem.

        We have a game that ran into serious issues over the issue of dwarven women. The player playing the dwarven woman was an old-school D&D player while the GM was an old school Warhammer player with the game explicitly in the Warhammer universe. Warhammer dwarves are of the ‘women should be home while the men do the fighting’ school of thought, so the GM thought the player wanted to get involved with the whole dwarven gender politics thing, and the player did not. Both of them knew what dwarven culture was like, it just happens that they knew differently. These days, players may have one of an effectively unlimited number of different cliche sets for any concept you’re thinking of including in the game.

        Being a good GM is a matter of knowing what cliches are important for the game, which cliches are important to your players, and when these don’t line up, rectifying the two. Most of your hundred pages of backstory and worldbuilding for your setting are probably not important for the game or the players. On the other hand, if there was a major war between the elves and the dwarves in the recent past, it’s important that players with elven characters know that they’re going to get a frosty reception at best from dwarven NPCs; that particular piece of backstory is important. On the gripping hand, if you have players in the party playing elves and dwarves, it’s important that players know they don’t need to be at each others throats, even if most elves and dwarves don’t get along.

        While useful, ‘planet of hats’ should never be a straightjacket.

    • Lillian says:

      Earthdawn did a great job of having all the various fantasy races be clearly distinct from each other without them having monocultures. To pick an example, there’s a race of amphibian lizardmen called the Tskrang. Most of them live in clans in and along the Serpent River and its tributaries. These clans are all very similar and together form a particular racial culture. However there are also Tskrang tribes in the Servos Jungle, and they are nothing at all like the river clans, having much more in common with the human tribes that also live in that jungle.

      Additionally Tskrang don’t even have the river people niche corned. There’s a nation called the Scavians who are humans living on barges that travel up and down the Serpent River. While they have some cultural similarities to the Tskrang river clans due to sharing the same environment, they also have notable differences, some due to different origin and history, and some due to different biology.

      The elves are an interesting case in that they used to be a monoculture in the setting’s past due to intentional in-character effort, but by the game’s present day this has completely broken down. Explaining the whole of the hows and whys is kind of a long story. The short version is basically that the Elven Court in Wyrm Wood became so tyrannical and inflexible about enforcing cultural hegemony that it wound up undermining its own moral authority and causing schisms between itself and various elven domains. Also one of the schismatics went on to found the multicultural Theran Empire, the rise of which further weakened the elven hegemony.

      Eventually the Court’s own xenophobic inflexibility left them inadequately defended against a global invasion by these eldricht abominations called Horrors, which forced them to enact a vast profane ritual that turned the Wyrm Wood into the Blood Wood, and caused all its denizens to sprout thorns from their bodies. In the face of the Court’s corruption few elven domains are still willing to recognize its authority, and none have gone so far as to imitate it. Traditional elven culture still exists, but it is fractured and leaderless, with every community forced to chart its own path.

      In short, Earthdawn has many cultures that are associated with one particular race, but no race has only one specific culture.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      This is what I’ve always thought is funny about the racism or lack thereof in Star Trek. Human society is 100% post racial colorblind. No one is even aware “skin tone” is a thing that exists, and everyone in Star Fleet basically acts the same.

      But then “a klingon who doesn’t want to slaughter his enemies and drink their blood?!” or “a ferengi who wouldn’t sell his mother into slavery for a bit of latinum?!” is enough plot for an entire episode or two.

      • Walter says:

        That seems consistent to me. Humans are all the same (colorblind idealistic diplomats), Vulcans are all the same (logical scientist explorers), Klingons are all the same (honorable aggressive warriors), etc.

        And then the characters are a one step deviation from any of these points. An aggressive human would get the same kind of one episode treatment as an altruistic ferengi. (I feel like ‘evil human starfleet admiral’ has to have been a movie or two.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I’m just saying from the point of view of messaging. Clearly Roddenberry had an anti-racist message in mind with regards to humans. But then the portrayal of the non-human races is entirely stereotypical.

          • woah77 says:

            Well the reason that comes to my mind first is reasonably obvious: Diversity is expensive. TV being one of those places where the time and money to demonstrate diversity is expensive, I’m not shocked by it at all.

          • albatross11 says:

            The other possibility is that the differences between species are big enough that it tends to swamp the differences within species. I mean, humans vary a lot in strength, and probably so do gorillas, but even a really weak gorilla is insanely strong by human standards. You could imagine this being true across the board–you basically can’t find a human/Klingon pair where it’s the human who’s more naturally aggressive or physically tough; you basically can’t find a human/Vulcan pair where it’s the human who’s more logical and self-controlled, etc.

            This is quite distinct from human races or sexes, where you’re dealing with overlapping bell curves–it’s not so hard to find a male/female pair where the woman is more naturally aggressive or physically tough than the man, say.

        • Randy M says:

          It could also somewhat cynically be supposed that the exposure to fantastic races is what made the differences between humans seem superficial.

      • The Nybbler says:

        The other species in Star Trek are not stand-ins for other races; they are stand-ins for other cultures. The Klingons originally being the Russians, and the Romulans the Chinese. In the Star Trek universe, one’s race does not matter; one’s culture does very much.

        • Randy M says:

          Maybe it’s fair to say that in the allegory the Star Trek universe represents, culture is more important than race. But as actually portrayed, is that so? Worf, for example, was raised by humans and stood out among the Klingons for it, but he stood out just as much if not more among the humans.

          • The Nybbler says:

            In the show, Worf has made the conscious choice to follow Klingon culture, and at some points he comes off as more Klingon than other Klingons (particularly Gowron, who would probably be at home on the Philadelphia City Council).

          • Nick says:

            Chuck at SF Debris has a good video up on Worf and Klingon honor. He is more Klingon than the Klingons—sort of.

          • Randy M says:

            Whereas Worf’s lover was half Klingon and had a much harder time fitting in with Klingons than him, if I recall those two episodes correctly.

  23. dodrian says:

    A genie offers you the opportunity to gain superpowers: you would become MedianMan*

    Whatever task you attempt you will always perform better than exactly half of the people living in your country if everyone were to attempt the same task.

    Do you accept the genie’s offer? What job would you get afterwards?

    *or MedianWoman, but it doesn’t role of the tongue so well

    • cassander says:

      God no. never excelling at anything is a curse. I find my mentally disabled cousin and give her the lamp.

      • Randy M says:

        Good plan! On the one hand, for me it would probably vastly improve my dancing ability. On the other hand, I think all my other faculties would diminish. Not much, mind, but a tad bit. So the trade off isn’t worth it.
        There was a prompt on a previous open thread about a year ago regarding what advice to give an average person that I thought I had a decent response to but I’m having trouble finding it.
        Obviously in this case you are going to want something that is in fairly high demand for an average level of skill. I don’t think there’s enough to go on, though; you could probably be a tradesman, teacher, salesman, police, etc. and do okay if you had interest and diligence.

        • cassander says:

          I don’t think you want to be something where there’s demand for an average level of skill, you want to something where lots of different skills are demanded. Of course, that might not work out well. if the median american tries to do a difficult trapeze act, they end up dead.

      • rlms says:

        The obvious follow-up is what the percentile has to be for you to change your mind.

        • cassander says:

          Probably unreasonably high. I might be almost totally lacking in athletic ability, but I revel being good at the things I’m good at, and the median person is pretty shitty at everything, because most people haven’t even tried to do most things.

        • dodrian says:

          This is the much more interesting question, though I’ll respond with my thoughts to Protagoras down below.

    • Aapje says:

      It seems to me that it’s much more attractive if it’s MedianWoman, given gender expectations.

    • Skivverus says:

      Probably not, but if I had to take it I’d aim to move to the smallest, smartest country out there. Or “secede” along with the smartest people out there I can convince to try this.
      The desired endpoint would be a rotating three-person country, with myself as one member, and the top two in whatever field benefits most from a third really capable person at the moment.
      Therefore, one of the early fields I’d invite people from would be career counselors. After the brainstorming session, they go back to their original countries and I start inviting in the top people from the next industry on the list that session generated.

      • semioldguy says:

        But you could only ever be exactly median at enacting these plans, or seceding/moving from your current country. I don’t believe that the median is going to be good enough to ever get to a position to exploit potential advantages. You would either need plans already set in motion prior to accepting the deal, or pre-arranged assistance, since you’d only ever be median at coming up with plans or gaining the assistance of others (and I would argue that much fewer than half of any population could convince any specific expert to assist them).

        Seems to me like this genie is a hefty curse.

      • Joseph Greenwood says:

        Better yet: form a one-person state.

    • aphyer says:

      This at first seems very unappealing unless your overall abilities are poor, but it may well be exploitable.

      What tasks are there that have a large, asymmetrically-negative fat tail? If you’re willing to take a sufficiently expansive view of what counts as a ‘task’, consider the following approach:

      1. Walk into a casino.
      2. Place large bets on 2/3 of the numbers in a roulette wheel, chosen at random.

      If all the population does this, 60-65% will increase their money by 50%, while 30- 35% will lose it all. The median outcome is therefore very positive, much better than the mean. Rinse and repeat, and you can make a ton of money.

      While that may not quite count as a ‘task’, what we want to find is a task with a payoff structure that looks like that, where a >50% majority get very good outcomes but this is outweighed by a <50% but still large risk of very bad outcomes. Some kind of mercenary work perhaps?

    • Chalid says:

      Yes, as it effectively provides immortality. Every year I attempt to survive and maintain my health for the next year.

      • semioldguy says:

        While what constitutes a “task” could be debated, I would strongly argue that the median person in most, if not all, countries does not maintain their health during the course of a year. Most people have their health degrade some amount each year, though not necessarily readily apparent or in immediate-life-threatening ways.

      • RavenclawPrefect says:

        Under yearly increments, this only gets you to 110ish. But if “survive the next minute” counts as a task, you’re probably safe for centuries outside of a few kinds of accidental deaths.

    • semioldguy says:

      Would taking this offer affect your ability to interact and form relationships with others?

      If asking someone on a date, or to get married, or even just hang out together, I don’t know how often at least half of any country’s population could manage to be accepted on a date with a specific person, or even get a specific person to spend time with you.

      As far as jobs go… You’d likely have to resort to working as a WalMart greeter or some other menial job, since at least half of the country would need to be capable of being accepted as an employee (and there is a not insignificant amount of any population that are not employable due to reasons such as age, mental condition, physical limitation, incarceration, etc.)

      • bullseye says:

        If the task is “get a date” the median person can do that. But if you specify a particular person you want to date, the median person is hopeless (unless you want to date a bisexual who doesn’t care about age).

    • Erusian says:

      How, uh, literal is this. Because the mathematical formula medianperson uses is median+1, right? So that means they can do anything that no one else can do. Let’s say I want to create a black hole with my mind. Zero people can do that, so the median ability to do that is zero. But I’m better than the median, so I can do it in at least some degree.

      Anyway, the natural job would be to volunteer yourself to researchers/businesses/etc as a foolproof way to establish a statistical median in any given population. Want to know if people are cheating on your exam? Hire MedianPerson Consulting! He’ll take your test and if the distribution skews at all then you know that someone’s cheating. Want to know if your employees are really that bad? Hire MedianPerson to try doing their job for a week! Trying to choose a career? Want to know if you’re above average in a skill? Hire MedianPerson and see if you’re better than the median!

      • bullseye says:

        Exact wording is “better than exactly half of the people living in your country”, which creates a logical problem in your example. If you can create a black hole with your, you’re better than your entire country (except for yourself). But if you can’t do it you’re not better than anyone.

        Your second paragraph is a great idea.

      • Atlas says:

        How, uh, literal is this. Because the mathematical formula medianperson uses is median+1, right? So that means they can do anything that no one else can do. Let’s say I want to create a black hole with my mind. Zero people can do that, so the median ability to do that is zero. But I’m better than the median, so I can do it in at least some degree.

        Since it’s only promised that you’ll be better than the median person, I think the genie would contractually be able to contrive a way to make your ability to create a black hole/summon dinosaurs/shoot lightning bolts from your hands so infinitesimally and trivially better than zero that it might as well be zero.

        I second bullseye’s endorsement of MedianPerson Consulting, though.

        • acymetric says:

          The easiest solution is that it isn’t “median+1” at all.

          The formula to determine your task skill level is multiplicative, and x*0 will still be 0.

          Really though, I would guess there is some fine print (or a real fast car commercial style disclaimer) when you sign the dotted line with the genie that explains it doesn’t allow you to do things that are physically impossible, create paradoxes, yada yada so the point is moot.

    • rlms says:

      Is your ability set momentarily and able to vary normally after that, or readjusted permanently? I’m not sure if the latter makes sense, because the median person is capable of getting better and worse at things.

      How does the adjustment work? Some tasks depend on several factors, some of which are properties of the person doing them and others which are properties of the world. For instance, my performance in playing tennis against someone depends on my fitness, ability, strategy etc. but also on how well they play and umpire calls etc. Which of these would the genie change?

    • J Mann says:

      I wouldn’t like it at all – you would be substituting comparative advantage for consistency.

      Worse, I suspect most tasks are performed by people who are at the top few percent for that task – presumably almost all competent auto mechanics, plumbers, mathematicians, etc. are better at their job than the median person. Can the median person hang drywall or use Excel?

      It would be a little more interesting to be better than the median person who does the task for a living. You wouldn’t be exceptional at anything, but you’d be competent at everything, able to speak every language, perform surgery, argue a legal case, etc.

    • Protagoras says:

      A number of the clever suggestions in this thread have led me to note that Medianman would have precisely median ability to come up with exploits of Medianman’s ability. I think far fewer than half of Americans would be clever enough to come up with some of these. I don’t think I’d take 99 percentile man, I might take 99.9 percentile man, I would probably take 99.99 percentile man, and would almost certainly take 99.999 percentile man. I may be being too conservative, though; 99 percentile man probably would be reasonably good at figuring out ways to exploit his power, which could help make up for what I’d lose. I suppose this sounds arrogant, but while there is only an incredibly limited and narrow range of tasks where I think I’m currently 99.999 percentile or higher, not coincidentally it includes skills I’m particularly emotionally attached to.

      • 10240 says:

        You don’t have to come up with clever exploits on your own, you can always ask SSC for advice. Or devise the exploits before you accept the offer.

        • Protagoras says:

          You’re also only median at figuring out where to go for advice. And planning in advance can only take you so far. I really think you have to go quite high up the scale to make this attractive. For many of the most interesting professions, almost none of those not in the profession are capable of doing it, and less than 1% of the population is in the profession, so even 99% man would have trouble with a large number of careers one might want to have, which is why I said probably not at that level. 99.9% man would be better than 999 out of 1000 people at job hunting, and there would surely be some highly lucrative jobs for which he’d be qualified (management or consulting, maybe?) which his excellent job hunting skills would enable him to locate. So I set that as the level where the power actually starts to sound possibly good.

          • semioldguy says:

            Not to mention median at following or implementing the advice you receive, as well as just understanding or believing in it in the first place.

          • 10240 says:

            I already know SSC.

            However, your comment reveals self-contradictions in the setting. Arguably “do X” and “learn to do X” are both tasks, where X is a moderately challenging task that most people don’t learn. If you perform at median level at learning to do X, then you will probably be able to do it adequately. But most people don’t learn it, so the median person who attempts to do it would have no training, and would fail.

      • dodrian says:

        At what point would you have a reasonable career path?

        The job that stuck at to me as being most exploitable by NthPercentilePerson is EMT. Two main skills: driving, and medicine.

        If we limit the skills we are being compared with with the over-18 population (the spirit of my question, if not the letter), well, nearly everyone in America can drive. Being better than half of drivers is probably not a bad place to be.

        There are ~4M practicing nurses in the US. Another ~1M doctors. Out of 230M over 18 population, that’s over 2% of the population. Given that medical training of some kind is pretty common in other professions (Police, Fire, ~2M more combined), and general first aid very common, I think EMT becomes a viable career path at around the 96th percentile, and a rewarding one above 98th.

        For 98thPercentilePerson, teaching is another viable option (~3.6M active teachers, many retired, and teaching is an important skill in many professions). I think 99thPercentilePerson has quite a lot of opportunities as a local businessperson or politician.

        You and Fion are right, as 98thPercentilePerson I wouldn’t be as good as some of my hobbies, but I’d still be good enough to enjoy them (and many others), and I’d be much better at things that would improve my life: DIY and many practical skills that I currently lack come to mind.

        I think above 98 it’s a tempting offer. The big downside would be not being able to learn and improve my skills and hobbies, and that is big.

    • fion says:

      Definitely not – I’m good at loads of stuff! And as Protagoras notes, the things I’m good at are things I happen to be emotionally attached to, and I’d rather not lose that. I might take 99 Percent Man, and would almost certainly take 99.9 Percent Man, but even at that I’d be worse at all my hobbies and my job than I am currently.

      • Deiseach says:

        I might take 99 Percent Man, and would almost certainly take 99.9 Percent Man, but even at that I’d be worse at all my hobbies and my job than I am currently.

        I don’t know any tactful way to put this, so full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes. Do you really mean you are 100% Man at your job? The undisputed actual best in the workplace? Nobody comes near? Even your boss and your boss’s boss are worse than you?

        I think a lot of people are good at things but that doesn’t mean they are the best. How can you tell you’re not Slightly Above Median Man? 80% Man? As Good As The Rest Of The Office And We’re All Pretty Good Man?

        It is all relative: you might be 100% Man in a place where everyone is Not That Great, which means you would not be as good as 60% Man in a place where everyone is Star Quality. The attraction for me of the bargain is that it takes in everyone in the country, which includes the high quality superstars as well as the absolute duffers, so there’s a better chance of the median being not that bad at all (of course, this again depends on how many duffers to superstars there are in the country, but I think the average Western nation is not going to be that terribly awful).

        Looking online, the only info I can get for median (which is being represented as average) IQ of nations comes from the godawful Lynn* and Vanhanen work, which I personally think is about as reliable as blindfolded sticking a pin in a list of stocks to see which you should invest in, but to take it on face value if I were Median Man in the US, I’d immediately gain 4 points of 1Q given that the Irish (and Israeli!) average IQ is only 94. See, already an improvement! 🙂

        *In this instance, I do think it really is a case of Orange Man Bad, given his Ulster Unionist sympathies 😀

        • J Mann says:

          I might take 99 Percent Man, and would almost certainly take 99.9 Percent Man, but even at that I’d be worse at all my hobbies and my job than I am currently.

          I don’t know any tactful way to put this, so full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes. Do you really mean you are 100% Man at your job? The undisputed actual best in the workplace? Nobody comes near?

          Fion’s probably measuring across the population as a whole. Out of 10,000 people, they’re the best actuary and the best LARPer, but since there are only 2 actuaries and LARPers in any representative group (in my made up example), that means they’re at about the 99.999% percentile for the general population, but just in the top half for actual actuaries and LARPers.

          • albatross11 says:

            If you have any skill at which you are very good, you are probably in the top 1/1000 of the world or the country at them, because most people don’t have any of that skill. What fraction of the population is a dentist? Or a structural engineer? Or a pastry chef?

        • fion says:

          J Mann is correct. I meant 99 Percent Man over the whole world. I’m a physicist. From a very rough Google estimate, it looks like around 0.3% of people in the world have physics PhDs*. I’m not sure whether this means the number of people who could do my job is more or less than 0.3%. On the one hand, should I take account for the fact that most of those PhDs are not in my field, so their holders would be much worse than me at *my* job? Or should I bump the numbers up a bit because there’s lots of people with the capacity to get a PhD who don’t? In any case, I was making a statistical argument, not a boast.

          My hobbies are probably clearer-cut. I think most of them are done by fewer than one in a thousand people. I’m not a 99.9 percentile violinist, but I do play the violin, which is more than (I’m guessing) 99.9% of people.

          *actually that’s the fraction of people in a given yeargroup who get a PhD each year in the US, so the actual number will be significantly smaller for three reasons: people younger than their late twenties haven’t had time to get a PhD yet, the US probably has more physics PhDs per capita than the world, and the numbers of physics PhDs conferred seems to be increasing, so fewer old people have them.

          • nkurz says:

            Anecdotally, despite studying physics as an undergraduate, I’m pretty sure I know at least as many occasional violin players as physics PhD’s. This makes me doubt that there really could be 3x as many physics PhD’s as violin players in the population at large. I suspect that something might be wrong with your numbers. Did you maybe misplace a decimal point?

            Restricting to the US makes the statistics easier, so let’s do that. This report says that in 2014, the numbers of physics PhD’s awarded in the US hit a record high of 1,762, with about half of these being non-US citizens. Eyeballing the graph on the first page, it looks like an average of about 1,000 PhD’s have been awarded to US citizens per year since 1960. If we guess an average post-PhD lifespan of 60 years, and with 300,000,000 citizens, that gives an estimate of .02% of the citizenship.

            Taking a different approach, the paper also mentions that about 3.5% of PhD’s in the US are in physics. From another search, about 2% of Americans 25 or older have a doctoral degree. Multiplying, this gives an estimate that .07% of Americans older than 25 have a PhD in physics. Correcting for the younger population would probably drop this by a little more than 1/3 to something around .04%.

            This confirms my suspicion that your estimate of .3% for physics PhD’s is probably too high, quite possibly by a factor of 10. If we correlate degree holding with talent, this means you are probably 10x better at physics than your calculation implied. I don’t know how good you are at the violin, but even if Fermi might fault the accuracy of your original estimate, I suspect you are relatively better at physics than the violin.

            Does anyone have a reasonable way of estimating the number of piano tuners violin players?

          • Anecdotally, despite studying physics as an undergraduate, I’m pretty sure I know at least as many occasional violin players as physics PhD’s.

            I can resolve this question with simple survey data. Checking a random sample of households (one) I conclude that the number of violin players is exactly equal to the number of physics PhD’s (one of each). Violin players plus harp players, however, outnumber physics PhD’s two to one.

          • Protagoras says:

            I can resolve this question with simple survey data. Checking a random sample of households (one) I conclude that the number of violin players is exactly equal to the number of physics PhD’s (one of each). Violin players plus harp players, however, outnumber physics PhD’s two to one.

            I’m not sure this sample deserves to be described as random. Perhaps arbitrary, but in the worse sense of the term.

          • nkurz says:

            > I’m not sure this sample deserves to be described as random.

            Probably not, but I think there might actually be useful information that can be extracted from it.

            In Fion’s original numbers, the chances that a PhD physicist and violinist would share the same household is very small (.001 * .003 = .00003, so something like 1 out of 10000 households) unless there is some strong correlation between physicists and violinists. If we instead condition on households containing at least one PhD physicist, I think we’d expect something less than 1 in 300 to have a violinist present.

            But if we count both Fion and David (the only two reported data points in the thread for PhD physicists) we find that both households also contain a violinist. Even with extreme reporting bias, I think this is evidence that either PhD physicists are not 3x as common as violinists, or there is some strong correlation between the two.

            Unless Fion shares a house with at least 5 non-violin playing physics PhD’s, I think this still (weakly) points us in the direction of disproving the claim that PhD physicists are 3x as common as violinists.

    • Walter says:

      Would this update, say if you were to move to a country formed explicitly to take advantage of the Genie’s gift?

      Like, ordinarily I’d say this would be terrible. But, like some other folks are pointing out, this might be exploitable.

    • Deiseach says:

      Sure! If I’m averagely okay at everything, that means everything. So from brain surgery to ballroom dancing to tax accountancy to cooking the dinner, it means anything I try is going to be “Well, it wasn’t great but it was okay”. Why wouldn’t I like to be a jack of all trades, even if master of none, if it means in a pinch I can try anything and at the very least it won’t be a crashing failure?

      Horrible accident by the side of the road? I can help! You’ll probably survive, as well! Cat in a tree? Need advice on what dress to wear to your cousin’s wedding? Does this ingredient go with that one? Should I run off to join the circus or listen to my parents and do that accountancy course? The end result may be safe mediocrity, but that’s better than nothing at all 🙂

      • Randy M says:

        brain surgery

        I don’t think this fits the prompt; you aren’t as good at brain surgery as the average brain surgeon; you are as good as the average person, a level of skill I won’t settle for in my surgeon.
        Of course, it’s a question as to whether you classify brain surgery as a skill or a bit of specialized knowledge that enables one to apply the skill of surgery, but even still.

      • Nick says:

        I think you’re misunderstanding it. The median person in Ireland would be really bad at brain surgery. The median brain surgeon is going to be okay or better at it, but there are vanishingly few brain surgeons in Ireland.

        Personally, I would get a big boost from being able to drive then, and probably a considerable boost to practical/DIY stuff, but if I become a median at everything I basically wouldn’t be able to do my job at all.

      • dodrian says:

        I’m not saying that your skill is half way between the worst person in the country (who can’t do it), and the best person (who is a savant), in which case, yes, you’d be pretty decent at most things.

        I’m saying you line up everyone in the country based on how good they are at brain surgery, and you’ll find exactly half of the country standing on your left, and half standing to the right. The problem with a skill like brain surgery is that only maybe the thousand or so people at the very top of the line could do it even passably. You’re millions of people behind them.

        Common skills like cooking and driving (depending on your country) you’d probably be average at as well. But anything that requires a specialized skill you probably wouldn’t be able to do.

        As I said in a different response, perhaps the more interesting question is at which point in the line does this power become worthwhile? Being better than 80% of people at driving is probably pretty good, but it’s still not anywhere near where you can do brain surgery.

        • J Mann says:

          It’s also not that hard to become better than 80% of the population at almost anything that interests you, although it’s certainly harder for very common skills like driving or speaking the native language than it is for riding a unicycle or juggling.

          I’d take the median value for someone who does the skill for a living for sure – that’s a real superpower. Otherwise, I don’t think I’d take much under 99.99%.

          • albatross11 says:

            Median skill in every language would be damned handy. But median for the world skill in anything you do for a living would relegate you to relatively crappy jobs forever–maybe you end up as a file clerk or manager of a McDonalds.

          • Randy M says:

            Median skill in every language, if we’re taking global population, probably means you can squeak by in English and recognize a dialect or two of Mandarin.
            But at least you’d be good at reading facial expressions and body language.

        • Deiseach says:

          Common skills like cooking and driving (depending on your country) you’d probably be average at as well. But anything that requires a specialized skill you probably wouldn’t be able to do.

          Okay, thanks to everyone for explaining the limiting conditions to me. But I’ll still probably take the offer, because there’s a good few “ordinary people can do this” things that I’m absolutely useless at, so being “averagely okay” would be an improvement.

    • acymetric says:

      Definitely not. For any given task, there is going to be a huge skew to the left of people who just plain suck at it. Medianman probably gets D’s and some C’s in high school (unless the class includes everyone in the country and is graded on a curve). I would guess the median person is probably pretty awful in the bedroom, which would be a bummer.

      If the prompt were modified to be “median of all people who perform this task at all” (not limited to “professionals”), then yes, after some deliberation. I would get worse at some things, but probably better at a few things I really enjoy. You would be able to have a fine but ordinary career in nearly any field that doesn’t have a “hobbyist” version (so, attempting to be an actor would not get you Hollywood status, you’ll be in your local community theater).

      Back to the real prompt, it is hard to say what cutoff would make it a yes. Probably any % that makes me a better musician than I currently am (not an especially good one) would work…some cursory searching has turned up results ranging from <10% of adults playing musical instruments (which seems probably low and likely excludes casual players) to slightly over 50% (which seems too high). 95% probably gets me good enough to gig around town, or maybe do regional tours of smaller (<1k seating) venues.

    • Plumber says:

      dodrian

      “Do you accept the genie’s offer?”

      No, I have a family to support.
      As many upthread have aluded to, jobs are now so specialized that “median” doesn’t cut it, most everyone has specialized skills to do their work, and while age discrimination is nominally illegal, someone of median age is unlikely to get hired for an entry-level position.

      “What job would you get afterwards?”

      I really haven’t a clue, maybe become one of the “mosquito army” scavenging for things to sell to scrap yards?

      Physically if I became median I might be able to do my current work better, but without my experience I couldn’t do it, and I had to test better than many others to get the job in the first place.

      I actually think you’ve hit on big problem dodrian that explains the growing number on disability, if you’re median or less in credentials, skills, and physical condition, there’s just not that many good options left.

  24. brad says:

    I’ve been toying with a concept I think of as distributed p-hacking.

    Suppose there’s a community of people interested in talking about asset allocation. They all have access to the same data, the returns of various asset classes since we started tracking say 100 years ago. None of them sits down and writes a program to go and overfit the data, but new people are constantly proposing asset allocations based on very little. This process despite not being the result of any intentional bad faith amounts to p-hacking and this community is likely to come to believe it has come up with a great asset allocation even though it hasn’t.

    Then I thought about it some more and this is just a variant of publication bias, right?

    • SamChevre says:

      This is exactly why the long-term return of extant mutual funds is much higher than that of all mutual funds.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      There are two orthogonal points here. One is that marketing engages in a lot of p-hacking (4 out of 5 doctors recommend); and that while finance keeps much better records than advertising, it still has very serious problems with publication bias.

      The second is that publication bias is a distributed form of p-hacking. It launders responsibility. It may be useful to reverse that laundry and take an intentional stance towards publication bias.

      • brad says:

        Interesting. Do I understand your second paragraph to be saying that distributed p-hacking is at least arguably the higher level concept of which publication bias (and the survivorship bias SamChevre references as well) are sub-types?

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Distributed p-hacking is certainly more general since we have two examples. Is that “higher-level”? Maybe distributed p-hacking encourages an intentional stance of “hate the game,” while publication bias is bloodless. That’s closer to “higher-level,” but I’m not sure. But what I wanted to say was the low-level statement: consider the hypothesis that the players are complicit in the game.

    • albatross11 says:

      Yeah, I’ve seen people talk about this–specifically, that when a lot of people are looking for some effect, and can only get a publishable paper by finding it, then you get this kind of p-hacking-by-a-crowd–20 people run the study, 19 get no results and nobody hears of them, one gets a p-value of 0.05 and publishes.

  25. Well... says:

    Consider two hypothetical people, Adam and Bob, born in the same rural American town.

    Adam grows up and decides to stick around his little home town. Bob grows up and decides to move to the big city. Just from this fact, I think we can say non-controversially that Adam is more likely to have conservative values relative to Bob. I think we can also say non-controversially that Bob is also more likely to become a powerful politician.

    If both these statements really are non-controversial — i.e. much more likely correct than not — then surely they must map to very real patterns that have been happening in this country for decades. How explanatory are they with regard to American politics (in the sense of ideology more than power struggle) over that time period?

    • brad says:

      I don’t think Bob is more likely to become a powerful politician. He’s got a lot more competition.

      • rahien.din says:

        I don’t think Bob is more likely to become a powerful politician. He’s got a lot more competition.

        That’s not how competition works.

        When there is something that people want, they will compete over it. If few people are competing for a thing, then it is unlikely to be a thing that many people want. So you don’t win things of great value by avoiding competition. You chiefly win things of great value – particularly in politics – in places where the competition is thickest.

        Places that lack political competition (such as rural home towns) are places that do not possess the resources of power. If they possessed the resources of power, they would have already left their rural roots behind. Adam is unlikely to become a powerful politician by remaining in his rural home town, simply because there is no power to be had therein.

        Analogy : if you want to represent your country as an Olympic marathon runner, you won’t get there by winning your home town’s annual charity 5k, no matter how decisively you beat your neighbors. If you want to win a really cool item in an auction, you probably won’t do it by attending auctions in which you are the only bidder.

        So, yeah, Bob’s chances of becoming a powerful politician are low. But his chances of becoming a powerful politician while remaining in his rural home town would be much lower.

        • brad says:

          I don’t think this takes into account the design of the American political system. A senator can be quite powerful despite only representing less than 1 million people.

          • rahien.din says:

            What a strange reply.

            Are you talking about people who become state senators, having never left their rural home town?

            Or are you talking about people who come from rural home towns of around a million people?

          • Plumber says:

            @rahien.din,
            They are whole States with less than a million people, so…

          • John Schilling says:

            Most US states have zero “towns of around a million people”. The median US state’s largest city has a population of less than half a million, and it is far from given that the state’s next senator will be a resident of its largest city.

          • rahien.din says:

            I agree that all those things are facts. But I just don’t know why you’re stating them. They do not seem germane.

            I don’t see what point you are all trying to make.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            @rahien

            I agree that all those things are facts. But I just don’t know why you’re stating them. They do not seem germane.

            I don’t see what point you are all trying to make.

            I think the point of the disagreement is where you say that someone staying in his rural home town is less likely to become a powerful politician than one who goes to the big city. That sounds unlikely to be true to me. I think someone who has lived in his small town his whole life will likely have more chance to be elected to some office than a carpetbagger to a large city, where he knows no one.

            I think your point was that being elected to an office in a backwater will rarely lead to a more powerful position say on a national level? The point that others were making was that one can become a US Senator by representing fewer people in a low population state than in a large one. Thus it is arguably easier to become a big cheese as a politician from a rural area than an urban one. That makes sense to me. Do you have an argument as to why moving to a large city would enhance one’s political future?

          • John Schilling says:

            I don’t see what point you are all trying to make.

            Living in a small town correlates with living in a low-population rural state.

            The most common path to becoming a “powerful politician”, at least in the United States, is to become a senator or a governor. In order to become a senator or governor in a low-population rural state, you have to beat on the order of a million other people who might theoretically want that job. In order to become a senator or governor in the sort of state that has big cities in it, you have to beat out on the order of ten million other people who might theoretically want the job.

            Also, in the low-population rural state, voters will positively value a small-town background and lifestyle, whereas in a large urban state a small-town candidate will need to launder their origins to appeal to urban voters. And becoming mayor of a small town is an easy path to the sort of political name recognition that makes a stepping stone to “maybe we should think of this guy for bigger things”, that doesn’t really have a counterpart in the big city.

          • rahien.din says:

            That’s all very clarifying. Earlier upthread I asked a question. It seems like you are all answering that question “It is possible to become a senator without ever leaving your rural home town.”

            Do I have that right?

          • John Schilling says:

            Pretty much, insofar as “powerful politician” maps mostly to senators and governors. Obviously Adam will have to at least take a second home in DC(*) when he gets elected to the Senate (and he’ll probably hold an office before that which requires a second home in the state capital).

            If living in a small town isn’t a severe handicap for being elected senator of a rural state, then the disproportionate representation of rural vs. urban states will give small-town residents a net advantage to winning the most common “powerful politician” jobs in the United States.

            * Since ~1992, most US legislators keep their primary residence in the state they represent and commute to DC at need.

          • rahien.din says:

            Power requires connections, ideas, money, and exposure. These things are concentrated in cities. Rural areas are much poorer in those essential resources. Historically, cities have had the ability to dominate their rural counterparts. That’s why we have the electoral college, and why the more powerful legislative body is not population-based.

            So when you say things like “There is less competition in rural states for relatively powerful jobs,” that is a genuine fact. But those jobs are relatively powerful only because the system has to be rigged in favor of small, less-populous states. If it wasn’t, then rural states would be effectively disenfranchised.

            You’re pointing to the handicap and claiming that it proves superiority. Preposterous.

            The rest of all of that is naive impracticality.

            Schilling digressed into matters of mere real estate. Anderson seems to think that the opportunity to meet a bunch more people is a disadvantage for a politician. Multiple people seem to believe that an aspiring politician would let themselves be perceived as a mere bumpkin. brad claimed that you can obviously find great power in offices that few power-seekers actually pursue.

            IE, none of you has considered how any greater office would actually be attained, nor what it would actually entail – politically, relationally, and philosophically.

          • John Schilling says:

            You’re pointing to the handicap and claiming that it proves superiority. Preposterous.

            The only “superiority” we are claiming, is in the ability to achieve high levels of political power in the real world. The “handicap” is part of the real world as it actually exists, at least in the United States and similar countries. You might as well claim that chlorine-breathing life forms are as likely to achieve high political office as oxygen-breathers, dismissing as unconscionably species-ist that all known governments require their politicians to live on Earth.

            So when you say things like “There is less competition in rural states for relatively powerful jobs,” that is a genuine fact.

            And since that was literally the question that was asked, what is it about our factually correct answer that is “preposterous”?

          • brad says:

            @rahien.din
            You seem to want to talk about spherical cows, didn’t make that clear until now, and think it is reasonable to be kind of a jerk towards people that didn’t realize you simply have no interest in talking about the actually existing world.

            Together these things makes you a pretty ineffective and unpleasant interlocutor.

        • The Red Foliot says:

          Airline companies don’t have to pay their pilots very much because a lot of people enjoy piloting for its own sake and would do it for free. The reward doesn’t have to be financial remuneration or the acquisition of power; people could be enamored with the careers themselves — the work they entail. I have a theory that most politicians are people-oriented extroverts, who get an emotional high from interacting with other people. I think this is what impels most of them, as they don’t commonly seem very ideological, and their work is very arduous, relatively low paying, and pretty restrictive in terms of the ‘real’ power they get to wield. They aren’t like kings and autocrats. They are routinely abused and dishonored by large segments of the population, and they are more like cogs in a vast machine than anything else. I think a lot of them are workaholics.

          • rahien.din says:

            I mean to reply to you but I accidentally reported you! I blame my giant thumbs, I shouldn’t be phone replying. Sorry!

        • Deiseach says:

          It seems like you are all answering that question “It is possible to become a senator without ever leaving your rural home town.”

          Certainly from an American perspective, becoming governor of your state is a big position that can act as a springboard to the national stage. And by getting involved in local politics at your home town level, and succeeding there, you get the opportunity to hook into the local party machine which is what you need to help you towards running for the Senate/governorship.

          Bob moving to Big City will have to do the same in a sense, he will have to find a local ward where he can get into grassroots-level politics and build connections the same way. That’s going to be tougher for him as an outsider, and also if he tries jumping the queue by being parachuted into a safe seat, the locals do tend to resent such behaviour. Bob has a better chance at getting influence and power at a relative higher level than Adam if he manages to hook into something like city government in New York, or something like the San Francisco Board of Supervisors (who seem to have great local power) but Adam may have a relative better chance of getting to be Senator and/or governor (unless we’re talking about cases where Bob, like Hillary Clinton, has a plum Senate seat all lined up for him as part of the cursus honorum – and Hillary’s success came on the back of Bill’s success, and his success came out of being a local boy from Arkansas who made it to governor and then onwards and upwards).

          Certainly if Bob wants to succeed in Big City politics, it will be necessary for him to evolve his views and so become less conservative. But that has more to do with “Do I want to be a success and principles be damned?” than “Conservatives stay at home, liberals move to big cities”, I think.

    • 10240 says:

      The conclusion you imply (that politicians are less likely to be conservative than the average) only follows if we assume that, for a given city-dweller, the event of becoming a politician is uncorrelated with one’s political values. Since politicians need votes to get elected (with both urban and rural people voting), it’s plausible that there are about as many politician “jobs” for conservatives and liberals so, assuming that city-dwellers are more likely to be liberal than conservative, and most politicians are city-dwellers, conservative city-dwellers are more likely to become powerful politicians than liberal city-dwellers.

      C.f. people in D.C. are much more likely to be Democrats than Republicans, and a person in D.C. is much more likely to be a congressman than a person not in D.C., yet there are approx. as many Republican congressmen as Democratic ones at a given time.

    • Eric Rall says:

      I did a quick sanity check of “Bob is also more likely to become a powerful politician”. Out of the leadership of the current US House and Senate and the President and Vice President, the distribution of where they lived at the beginning of their political careers seems to be:

      Big city: Nancy Pelosi (San Francisco), Donald Trump (New York City), Chuck Schumer (New York City)

      Rural town: John Thune (Pierre, ND), Steny Hoyer (Mitchellville, MD), Mike Pence (Rushville, IN)

      Something in-between (suburban area or smallish city): Mitch McConnell (Louisville, KY), Kevin McCarthy (Bakersfield), Jim Clyburn (Charleston), Steve Scalise (New Orleans), Dick Durbin (Springfield, IL)

      Or about a 27.5%, 27.5%, 45% breakdown of big city, rural town, suburban or smallish city. The best numbers I could find with a quick googling was this (not an apples-to-apples comparison with my breakdown, but it appears close enough for a first approximation), which gives a breakdown of the US population as 14% residing in rural counties, 31% urban counties, and 55% suburban counties. By those numbers, rural citizens seem significantly over-represented among top-level federal politicians while urban and suburban citizens are slightly under-represented.

      Obvious caveats: very small sample size, you can quibble with where I drew the line between “smallish city” and “big city” (moving Scalise to the “big city” category gets urban citizens to slightly over-represented, although not to the degree as rural citizens, and leaves suburban citizens quite a bit more underrepresented), and I focused on only the current crop of top-level federal politicians and am too lazy to survey state governors, congressional committee chairs, etc.

    • John Schilling says:

      I think we can also say non-controversially that Bob is also more likely to become a powerful politician.

      That will depend very much on your definition of “powerful politician”.

      If a random member of the House of Representatives doesn’t make the cut, then I would wager that most of the “powerful politicians” of the United States are senators or governors, and by design Adam has an edge in both of those categories. Bob is of course much more likely to become a big-city mayor, but we don’t have many cities big enough that their mayors would rank alongside a random senator. Bob also probably has an edge at becoming a cabinet secretary or SCOTUS justice, but I don’t think that quite equalizes his chances with Adam.

      If a random member of the House of Representatives does count as “powerful” in your book, then I think you are setting the bar a bit low.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Re the very valid objections so far (fixed number of politician jobs, cold numbers etc).

      What if you replace “politician” with “media influencer”? In the broadest sense you can think of.

    • Deiseach says:

      I think we can also say non-controversially that Bob is also more likely to become a powerful politician.

      I think that’s debatable; Adam could become a big fish in a small pond by going into local politics and have a huge influence in his small town. And for even Big City politicians, that’s often how it works, too; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez got to the House of Representatives through being the new broom in the Bronx and working very hard to get the voters there on her side, not New York City as a whole. Breaking it down to being the big fish in the small area there was what got her in, not “the choice of the entire city as a whole”.

      Bob can become a powerful politician nationally if he manages to climb the greasy pole within his party and get to one of the handful of powerful positions (e.g. in a presidential administration or even running for president himself, or by building a name and reputation as the Senator from Thisstate who is a Big Name Expert on Foreign GoatHerding Policy) but this means that while there are greater rewards by moving to the big city there is also greater competition. If you want to be a big movie star, you have to move to Hollywood, but everyone else who wants to be a big movie star is also moving there, and there are only a handful of all the wannabes who are going to make it (look at what Jussie Smollett was driven to, in order to hang on to his career).

      Meanwhile, Adam back home may be relatively much more influential and powerful than Bob, even if Bob is Junior Senator for Bigstate.

    • Eugene Dawn says:

      If both these statements really are non-controversial — i.e. much more likely correct than not — then surely they must map to very real patterns that have been happening in this country for decades. How explanatory are they with regard to American politics (in the sense of ideology more than power struggle) over that time period?

      I think there are a few problems with this argument. First of all, the implication seems to be that Adam and Bob’s personal politics are likely to influence their ideologies as politicians, but while this must obviously be true to some extent, I’d guess it’s a weak effect. I suspect what matters much more for a politician’s ideology is the politics of their constituents; to this end, it doesn’t matter so much whether big city dwellers are more likely to be liberal and more likely to be politicians than their rural counterparts, what matters is how much political representation an urban dweller has vs. a rural dweller. Since the Senate, for example, over-represents rural populations relative to population size, we might expect that even if more politicians are personally liberal, the effect on national politics is mitigated by the fact that they are constrained to represent the interests of more rural (and hence more conservative) constituents.

      As an example, consider the career of Kirsten Gillibrand: Born in Albany, she served her first serious elected role as the congressperson for that district, which is apparently quite rural. And, while representing a rural, upstate district, she was more conservative: in 2006, she wanted to leave gay marriage to the states, had a 100% NRA rating, and opposed amnesty for illegal immigrants. Now, as a Senator, having to compete for votes from New York City, her politics are…different. But what changed isn’t her personal beliefs, it’s her constituencies. So, trying to explain politics based on the personalities of the politicians is probably missing a lot: it’s more important to know who the political constituencies are.

      Second, identifying one pattern doesn’t mean we should expect much explanatory power: the urban-rural divide is only one divide that correlates with ideology on the one hand, and likelihood to seek political power on the other. Others are race, gender, class, education, family background, etc., etc., and frankly I wouldn’t be very surprised to find that especially family background and some measure of “class” are far more important when looking at who is likely to become a powerful politician.

      Imagine an alternate story, involving Alice and Bob: Alice becomes a poor single mother, Bob becomes a high-powered lawyer–we can probably guess that Alice is more likely to be liberal, and less likely to be a politician than Bob, but we shouldn’t conclude that this means there is a systematic bias against liberals in US politics.

      So, I think for a number of reasons, we shouldn’t expect this model to have too much explanatory power.

  26. Well... says:

    My fingers are itching tonight.

    A while ago I read listened to 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson and mostly liked it a lot. (Currently halfway through Red Mars and like it a whole lot more.) Today I was listening to the In Our Time podcast and in this episode they discussed Venus. Based on what I learned, I now realize some of the major plot elements in 2312 are much less plausible than what I’m used to and expect in KSR’s normally quite “hard” style of sci-fi.

    Specifically, in 2312 there’s this big political struggle over cooling down Venus either through a big shade placed in front of the sun or by spinning the planet with an engineered asteroid bombardment. This, I’ve discovered, is somewhat preposterous since Venus is hot mainly because of greenhouse gases rather than its extremely long days. Also, Venus is one of the most volcanic bodies in our solar system, so bombarding it with enough asteroids to spin it would almost certainly be a bad idea if your plan was to make it more habitable (including cooler!) for the people living there.

    Also: part of the political struggle in the book is over the development of cities that will, depending on how much liquid water is created and turned into oceans on Venus, either be coastal oases or underwater ruins. The book makes it sound like Venus has some kind of mountainous landscape where locating a city a few hundred kilometers further this way or that way will make a big difference in elevation, when in reality Venus’s surface is remarkably flat and even.

    • John Schilling says:

      This is the same Kim Stanley Robinson that apparently believed you could significantly increase the average temperature of Mars by planting windmill-powered electric heaters across its surface – or at least that if you had some illicit scheme that required lots of windmills, you could convince the sort of people that would be engaged with colonizing and terraforming Mars that the windmills were just for heating and that building them was a good use of their time and resources.

      KSR is an English-lit major who I think picked up most of his science by osmosis from the science fiction writers around him, and he wasn’t preferentially hanging around with the hard-SF ones. His work does take stylistic cues from hard SF, but there’s not much substance beneath it.

      • Well... says:

        I didn’t think that scheme was meant to increase the average temperature *significantly* (in the everyday sense of the term), only enough to allow some other thing to happen. (I can’t remember, it was like a million chapters ago.) And also it turned out this was a cover-up for spreading genetically engineered microorganisms so those most fit for the Martian environment could multiply.

        I knew KSR wasn’t a scientist by training but I never got the sense that his hard SF style was superficial or derivative. To my eye he writes like someone who’s been thoroughly steeped among real scientists. Also, isn’t he bestest buddies with hard-SF writer Carter Scholz?

        • John Schilling says:

          Increasing the temperature enough to allow some other thing to happen, means increasing the temperature significantly. That’s sort of the definition. Possibly I should not have weasel-worded it. To a first order approximation, windmill-driven heaters cannot increase the temperature at all, not even a millionth of a degree, because the energy in the wind is all going to turn into heat in short order anyway. There are some second-order effects that may allow for very small transient temperature increases, maybe a hundredth of a degree for a few hours after you turn on all the windmills, and I didn’t want to get into that argument. But here we are.

          And I get that this was a cover-up for a scheme to spread microorganisms, but it’s a cover-up that won’t work because nobody who matters will believe the cover story.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        that apparently believed you could significantly increase the average temperature of Mars by planting windmill-powered electric heaters across its surface

        In the second or third book, other scientists at a conference talk about this scheme and laugh at it, while the protaganist who masterminded the plan is attending the conference in cognito and listens to everyone laugh at him.

        I have problems with KSR, but that plot point was self-correcting.

        • Randy M says:

          Was that self correcting or trying to pretend she was in on the joke all along after people laughed at the first book?

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            KSR is a he.

            It was a conference listing the total heating effect of all the terraforming effects on Mars. Compared to the tech deployed later in the series, things like a massive Lagrange-point lens or an orbital focusing laser constantly blasting away at the surface of the planet, little windmills obviously came out as a rounding error.

            In the first book, it was a “this is like spitting in the ocean but gosh darn it we will try” scheme.

        • J Mann says:

          “The Ringworld is unstable! The Ringworld is unstable!”

        • John Schilling says:

          Did the second or third book explain why anyone other than the original “mastermind” and his immediate co-conspirators ever wasted a minute of their time building windmills, allowed any of their resources to be devoted to building windmills, or even refrained from ridiculing the windmill-builders at the time that bit of obvious nonsense was going on?

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      2312 is terrible, but I don’t think you’ve correctly identified what’s terrible about it.

      The political struggle about the sunshade is whether they’re going to give Venus reasonable days through the sunshade or through speeding up its spin. That’s not how they’re cooling it down. They’re cooling it down with the sunshade, and then once they’ve cooled it enough for much of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to freeze, they’re burying the dry ice to keep it out of the atmosphere once they warm it up to Earth-like temperatures.

    • bullseye says:

      Much of Venus’ surface is flat, but it has two large mountainous regions.

      What struck me as strange about the Mars trilogy is that they can make these huge changes to Mars, but they can’t fix global warming on Earth.

      • Evan Þ says:

        What struck me as strange about the Mars trilogy is that they can make these huge changes to Mars, but they can’t fix global warming on Earth.

        Political opposition, maybe? I’ve never read the trilogy, but it sounds rather plausible to me if it doesn’t exclude that explanation.

        • Clutzy says:

          Its kind of laughable as an explanation because both are tech problems rather than political problems.

          • CatCube says:

            It’s worth noting that in general, political problems can make it impossible to solve a solution technologically. For example, many of the problems with high-speed rail in the US have pretty straightforward solutions: 1) set routes by more or less drawing straight lines down favorable topography between desired stations and connecting them with broad curves(with some flex there to avoid the really expensive areas in city centers); skipping bitty little towns because they’ll both complicate 1 and will cause the average speed to drop because they’ll be stopping frequently with very little in the way of passengers embarking or debarking; 3) if the routing developed in 1 has negative impacts on endangered species habitat, then we’re just going to give that species back to God.

            The problem is that all of these relatively straightforward technological solutions have massive constituencies that will fight like rabid weasels, with some justification. For example, you might like HSR, but find that not further endangering species is more important. This seems to be the revealed preference of the American public at the moment–a lot of ink gets spilled about having HSR, but there’s little appetite for making the tradeoffs required to actually build it by getting rid of the decades-long studies and legally granting immunity for all the lawsuits that tie projects of this type up. I can’t think of a solution for 2 offhand, because that’s coming from politicians who will get voted out of office by their rural constituents if they allow their town near the route to be skipped–maybe buy them off with pork of another type?

            Now, for the story at issue, I think you’re probably right that it’s silly that they could solve global warming on fucking Venus but not on Earth, but did the author bother to explain that there a constituency that would fight it? For example, is the Canadian plains a major agricultural area that would become too cold to serve that purpose if the global temperature were to drop?

      • Deiseach says:

        Haven’t read the books, but it might simply be that it’s easier to start over from scratch with Mars which hasn’t a habitable biosphere, rather than mess around with Earth – if you screw up Mars, well, you can always go back to the drawing board. Screw up with Earth and you’re in big trouble. So while there technically may be solutions to fix global warming, they might be deemed too risky to try with the sole habitable planet we’ve got until Mars is up and running as a backup habitat just in case.

  27. Lord Nelson says:

    Short version: does anyone have tips for dealing with severe mood swings, or suggestions for (hormonal) birth control that has a lesser chance of causing said mood swings?

    Long version: I recently started hormonal birth control. Mono-Linyah to be precise, which is a combination estrogen/progestin pill. A few days after I started, I noticed that I was much more emotional than usual. I’m breaking into tears far too often, sometimes due to a minor trigger (stress, hunger, something that somebody said, etc), and sometimes due to no specific reason. Things that used to bother me only slightly, before I started taking the pill, now make me cry for hours. If I’m lucky these crying spells last for 1-2 hours. If I’m unlucky they last for 4-5 hours. The worst one lasted for 11 straight hours. It’s exhausting, it’s infuriating, and it’s interfering with my life.

    I’m almost positive that the birth control pill is the culprit. My mood went back to “normal” (ie, pre-birth control status) during the 7 days I was taking the placebo pills. I am on my second month of the pill, and the mood swings show no signs of going away. Do these side effects calm down with time? If not, what can I do to mitigate them? Living with this for 3 weeks of every month is not something I can deal with.

    I asked my doctor if I could try switching to a different pill for BC, but she is hesitant to do so. In the meantime, I want