All-Powerful Losers

Consider the term “xenophobic.”

If you’re some kind of nerd, who knew Greek and Latin roots (see?  Nerd!), you might combine xeno (“alien”) and phobia (“fear”) and conclude it meant someone afraid of aliens.

But any reasonable member of enlightened society knows that it actually means hate.


Now, here’s the dilemma: if you demonize someone, that is, make them look like a demon, and ascribe to them hate, well, you risk making them look powerful.  Demons!  People, like, make pacts to serve demons!  We don’t want that!

But on the other hand, if you mock someone, and ascribe to them fear, you risk arousing people’s natural sympathy, and prompting the question, “What are they afraid of?”

The solution we have arrived at, of course, is to muddle the definition, and jump between the two  as convenient.



If you’re unclear: this is a bad thing to do—first, because it’s uncharitable, and second, because it rots your brain.  You can only say things for so long before you start believing them, so if you spout lies, you become ignorant.

And that’s never a good thing for the long-term.


The Interestingness Bar Has Been Raised

“I get theories like some people get headaches,” I told a friend a few minutes ago.  Well, I got one, and now I’m writing it down.

Why do we even interact with other people, amirite?  Empirically, the answer seems to be “Because you have to.”  Take away that need—that is, introduce Amazon, Netflix, and working from home, and someone can exist in a crowded city for days without talking to anyone.

I mean, c’mon, reader:  I’m more interesting than your next-door neighbor, right?   Plus I never ask to borrow anything.

That we can meet our needs without our neighbors means our neighbors can meet their  needs without us.

Thus the bar for “getting people to spend time with you” has been raised.  You are competing with Netflix, Amazon, and any of a million wonderful, great, fun, but nevertheless competing-with-you hobbies that our modern bounty has made accessible.



The Solicitous Bull

Once there was a bull who, aware of the stereotype, determined to be careful and judicious in all his conduct.  “First, do no harm,” was a phrase he’d heard the vet mutter, and he thought it was an excellent motto.

Wandering in the pasture, he chanced upon an ant colony.  “How do, ants?”  “Things are on schedule!” they replied, with unsubtle head-gestures to the nearby grasshoppers.  The bull went on his way, proud of himself for not stepping on the mound.

Spring came, and with it rain.  With his superior vantage point (five feet off the ground) the bull saw a small current of water coming for the ant mound—that is, a “small current” for him, but for the ants a diluvian cataclysm.

“Ants, the flood’s coming, time to go!” he warned, but they weren’t sure if he meant that like, metaphorically, or whatever.  And some didn’t really trust him, for past un-bull-like behavior (what kind of bull tries to avoid ant mounds?)

To be sure, he could have dug them up with his big, powerful hooves, but this might damage his relationship with the ants.

So they died.

Idiosyncrasy Credits

A few days ago I came across Jacob Falkovich’s “Predictable Identities” series, which introduced me to the concept of idiosyncrasy credits, or, better phrased for personal application, a “weirdness budget.”  The basic idea is that humans like predictability on a fundamental level, including in those they associate with.  To be able to predict someone requires that you be able to model them, and when trying to understand someone, it helps a lot to be like them.

There were several new ideas in here for me:

  •  The connection between difference and unpredictability:  the more different someone is from you, the less context you have about their life from shared experience, and the harder they are to model
  • The connection between unpredictability and aversion.
  • Explicitly modeling this as a continuous spectrum (credits) rather than an on/off switch

Survival Is The New Rebellion

Whatever you think of Trump’s actions in office, it remains that the prime piece arguing for his election in 2016, The Flight 93 Election, was a masterpiece:

…This is insane. This is the mark of a party, a society, a country, a people, a civilization, that wants to die. Trump, alone among candidates for high office in this or in the last seven (at least) cycles, has stood up to say: I want to live.



It is unavoidable:  the modern path leads toward suicide.  Whether the form is direct and immediate or elongated and minimized, it is no less real.


It’s high-status to commit suicide.  Oh the irony!  Because what are status instincts good for if not survival and reproduction?

One way you can (unimaginably! and yet!) fail to notice this, that you can mistake seeping rot for graceful decline, is to be blind to the past.  “Yes, people die, so what?  Is that such a great loss?  The world got along fine without me before I was born, 18-70 years ago.”  No, this isn’t about you,  no one cares about you, except the people who do care about you, because they’re in the chain.  Your parents.  Their parents.  And your kids.  And their kids.  That’s what’s at stake here.

What if everyone was dying, and nobody said anything?

I don’t mean to freak everyone out.  If the Polish government can’t do that, why should I think I could?

No, I mean to freak you out.

My great-great-grandfather fought in WWI.  He survived.  My presence is proof of that.

What proof will there be of your survival?  Or will it be like you died in some trench?

This post is not meant to cause despair in those beyond hope.  Whatever the ailment, there is a remedy, now or in the eternities, for those who will take it.  (I suspect it will come disguised as work or obligation).

But for those in a position, now—you are in charge.  It doesn’t feel like it, but it’s true.  Uncoordinated power is not, and you can choose to be more self-coherent than the surroundings.  The culture doesn’t mean to kill you, because it can’t mean anything.  And if, nothing doubting, you hack away at the kudzu—repeatedly—and wave a flaming brand at the wolves, they’ll recoil, surprised—but they will learn, at least enough to stay away.  By far, the greatest obstacle is your own doubt and timidity.


Take whatever measures you need to.  “Bomb shelter mentality” would be an exaggeration, an overreaction—but is it, if the only difference is that the bomb is going off at a timescale greater than Netflix rotations?

Take care of yourselves out there.