Pseudonym Writes

Just another site by someone who refuses to give their own name.

Fantastic; or, Reed Richards is Useless

I never liked biology.


Even before I was a superhero, I was gifted. My intelligence just a little too far outside the bounds of the bell curve. It wasn’t even intelligence, not really; not as I’ve come to understand the term. It was … insight.

When I was eleven, some fellows from the government came to see me. They weren’t interested in the fact that I’d build something that could probably vaporize a city if scaled up correctly in my dad’s garage, which was a surprise; what I’d later realize was the first fumbling steps toward a teleporter. No, they were interested in my science project: enhanced frogs, intended to help the species repopulate and bounce back from the edge of extinction.

I turned them down, of course. I didn’t want to be that guy. But it bothered me that the government – the military, if I was honest with myself – were interested in my frogs.

I turned that same insight that had told me how to mix chemicals so my frogs would grow up big and strong, and have lots of babies, and breed true, on something new. I asked that part of myself why the military guys would be interested in my frogs; at which point, of course, the answer was obvious – trivial, even – and I felt silly that I had ever wondered. Embarrassed, even.

And that might have been the end of it, if I hadn’t kept thinking about my frogs.

I had looked for insights into how to make my frogs stronger. And I’d found them. Now I wondered what would happen, when I released them into the wild.

It was, of course, obvious. I stopped doing much biology, after that.


We were all pretty gifted, my little team. We had to be. We were the best, and “the best” has no respect for bell curves.

I had singlehandedly rebuilt NASA. Nobody mentioned it, of course, but it was true. There were maybe five people who could have done that – more now, of course – and I had been the only one to try. I’m still quietly proud, of that.

I’ve long since considered the why of why we were so gifted, of course. It’s hard to get truly solid answers to these things. We were all a little bit … inhuman, I suspect. John was unruly, had difficulty with boundaries; Susan had difficulty in social situations. Benjamin can plot movements, forces and vectors and breaking points, better even than I can when I turn my mind to it – which is saying something, believe me – but he was just a little too quick to use those trajectories and stress points to take someone apart if they go in his way.

And I was … myself, I suppose. It could have been Asperger’s, or ADHD, or simple emotional problems; but it wasn’t.

We weren’t entirely human, even then.

And then we went to investigate a comet that wasn’t a comet, like a cloud of exotic gas skimming the atmosphere; and then we got superpowers, and then everything went to hell in a handbasket.


I’m not actually all that worried about supervillains, in the end.

Sure, we’ve been getting steadily better at human enhancement since the 40s; and sure, pieces of magical god-tech occasionally fall from the sky and give some god-forsaken eye beams or whatever. And sure, some of them will occasionally use that for evil. That’s not what concerns me.

I’ve heard the occasional supervillain rant at me about the Neanderthals, about how my kind or theirs has to be wiped out, because this planet is a small place and supers will inevitably outcompete the others. I’m not particularly worried, honestly. It’s like seeing a disabled person ranting about how it’s them or us, no species can possibly survive in the same ecological niche as an identical species that also has legs.

I’ve never taken military contracts, myself, but I know plenty of people – good people – who have. Heck, I have good friends who were made in military contracts. There’s really only so much ability to kill people a single person can have, and the military already has that power.

No. But let me tell you a story.


Once upon a time there were two kingdoms in the desert; the Ussians and the Ussars.

Now, the two kingdoms really had a great deal in common, from an outside perspective – even their names sounded similar, and they had similar beliefs and ways of life, although the Ussars were somewhat poorer – but, as is so often the case, they had different religious beliefs, and so considered themselves bitter enemies.

Now, the Ussars were quite worried, because a magician who worked under the Ussians – Alberto – had recently summoned a powerful demon, which destroyed their only mutual enemy, the Naztecs. These Naztecs were thoroughly nasty people – they were aggressive conquerors, and they practiced blood sacrifice of their own people and of captured children – and they were their enemy to boot, so both kingdoms were glad to see the back of them. But still, it was worrying to see that they had so much power.

Indeed, the Ussars feared that the Ussians might summon the demon against them, and it would devour their land, too; so that the Ussians would live alone in the desert, and rule supreme among the desert-dwelling nomads. So they sought out a wizard of their own, and compelled him to learn for them the name of the demon; and they swore a mighty oath, sealed with magic, that should the Ussians attack they would summon the demon themselves and set it upon Ussian kingdoms. And the Ussians swore this oath as well.

And so there was peace, if an uneasy peace; and all was well, but for the petty atrocities all kingdoms commit from one time to another against rebels or the poor.

But one day, two bands of them met in the desert. There was a mountain there, which some said was filled with gold – although in truth some say it was barren, and they were fools – and they quarreled over who had rights to it.

Now the story diverges. Some say that one man drew his dagger and stabbed another; while others said that a snake sprung up from the undergrowth and struck him.

And the chief of the Ussars had to make a dreadful choice; for he was sworn to send at once to destroy the Ussians if they attacked his subjects, and he knew they were sworn to destroy him and his own, if they saw the demon on the horizon. But he truly did not know if they had done so. Was he to destroy them both over a rattlesnake in the desert?

The king slept fitfully that night, and when he awoke, he sent a letter urging restraint to all his men, and forbidding the wizard to take action, for he did not believe the Ussars were such fools that they would do this thing. And that day, the king of the Ussars fell from his tallest tower, and the oath was broken, and both kingdoms swore less binding treaties to hold them to peace – although neither truly wished to give up the power the demon granted them to defend themselves.

Again, uncertainty: some say the king threw himself from the tower, for he saw that such mistakes were inevitable, and his death was the only path that did not end in an empty desert and the demon’s mocking laughter. Others say he was forsworn that day, and the gods hurled him from the tower for breaking his oath. Others still say that the gods saw that he believed the reports that the Ussians had attacked, and they acted to destroy him before he could wipe out his subjects.

Myself? I think his aide wrote the orders to stand down, after hurling his master out the window – before he could ensure both their deaths, and the two kingdoms alongside them.


It’s obvious that my genius does not exactly extend to writing. Still … I think it’s a story worth telling. As you’ve doubtless guessed, it’s a true story; it could be based on one of a dozen such incidents from the height of the Cold War. Perhaps I’ll knock together a scriptwriting AI that can polish it later.

The average supervillain is capable, given time and a lack of organized opposition, of leveling a city. Some are capable of less, or of more subtle (but no less damaging) forms of destruction. Some – myself included – are capable of much, much more.

I once fought a man who could call down planet-killer asteroids from the sky. One of my closest friends once created an AI – a flawed upload of his simulated brain – that was quite capable of turning the world’s nukes on us had it not been stopped. I, personally, have destroyed far too many of my inventions after I thought to ask myself whether they could destroy the entire planet and found the answer not to my liking.

The military has, on the quiet, people who can level a city block with their bare hands, or dodge and weave through an entire squadron of soldiers and machine-gun fire, or blow people up or whatever. I don’t really care that much. Sure, a war fought with superpowers could be devastating, but no more so than a war fought with conventional weapons. And if they go rogue, well … it’s not as if treason is a new concept to most militaries

But every day, someone enhanced with some supersoldier formula has a child, or a company brings out a product that makes you a little closer to superhuman, or someone … gifted, like me, has an accident near some hi-tech machinery that makes them a bit more gifted.

And society simply doesn’t know how to cope when civilians can divine someone’s secrets with a few minutes work, or construct a bomb capable of levelling buildings in their kitchen, or 3D print a gauntlet that will let them blast a hole in someone’s chest if they piss them off.

Vigilantism helps hold things together, when there are only a handful of telepaths and geniuses and gods. Now. But every day we all get a little bit more advanced, a little more powerful; and one day we’re going to be powerful enough that we can’t restrain each other.

And then someone will end the world, not because they’re a supervillain, but because of some stupid mistake. And it won’t be their fault. It’ll be the fault of all of us, the scientists and visionaries and so-called geniuses who made everyone a little bit more powerful in exchange for making ourselves a lot more powerful.

Who did you blame, in the story? The soldiers? Or the kings?


The government has introduced laws, cracking down on superhumans. They’re right, of course. Obviously right.

But everybody prefers making things just a little worse for everyone, in exchange for making things a lot better for themselves; even when they know that everyone is going to keep making things a little worse until we’re all dead.

Vigilantes work to stop the occasional person who goes out of line. They don’t work to enforce laws, not when any real subset of the population wants to break them. For that, you need policemen; and we don’t have policemen for superheroes.

So I’m turning to biology. I can clone the tissue required for most powers; and I have the insight to build technology capable of replicating anything else.

There’s a god sitting on a slab in front of me. I made him. He’s physically strong enough that he would probably cause a nuclear winter if he hit the ground full-force. He has weapons enough to fry effectively anything that gets in his way. It’ll mostly be equipment, hopefully. I have the insight to tell this one how to beat anyone he needs to. There will be others. They’ll help keep the peace, a stopgap measure until we can get more supers to do the job. And they’ll get rid of anyone too powerful to contain.

I’m not an idiot, even if I’m … not a genius, not really. I know what resentment this sort of thing breeds. Imprisonment without trial, summary execution. Legalities aside, I just became a supervillain who makes other supervillains.

But … I asked myself, once. How can humanity survive the next few decades? And the answer was not like this.

Genie of the Lamp

I’ve failed.

I’ve bent the Sultan’s ear to my words with my petty hedge-magics; and the corrupt palace guards who support him listen to me, if they know what’s good for them. But I’ll never be able to throw the fat sultan from a throne he barely knows the meaning of; never be able to restore justice to Agrabah without the power to overthrow the kingdom! Without the Djinn, the Shining One of gold and frankincense, we are all lost.

I’ve failed my country and my God, and in a thousand years, Agrabah will sink beneath the sands and be forgotten.


I had thought myself so clever.

I pored over books and scrolls and legends, sifting the rules and the histories for a key to power. The Fae were bound, long ago; and the places where they walk the earth are wilderness, space and time tortured by their alien favour.

A child turns away a hag’s offer of a gift, knocking at his door, and she rises terrible and gleaming to turn his retinue to clockwork and polished wood. A Good Neighbour, uninvited to a christening, spins green-glowing fire to strike the child with poisoned needles. A dead child, beautiful in her sunlit tomb, kindles love for her in men’s hearts until they burn their queen alive for daring to strike her down.

No. I will find no useful power there.

But in Arabia, our fiends were bound to serve us long ago, with seals and craftiness and magic. They can still grant boons to men, but limited ones, and they cannot curse us for offending them.

The markets here hold things capable of wonders, if you know where to look, and how to ask them.

And so I sought tales of Zion.


I wish I could say I was betrayed, misled by prophecy. But I can’t. This is my own doing, in the end.

I had found the Cave, and questioned the cave-guardian. I, a sorcerer, if a mean one, could not enter in search of power and live. Even my usual allies could not approach; consumed before my eyes by a sentry-beast of light and molten rock.

The whole structure was a test. The strong had no need of it’s gifts; and the weak would misuse them. Only someone with inner strength, yet outward weakness, could enter the final trial.

To keep things short – I found a boy. Of poor birth, illiterate, but talented. He was rotting in jail – not for stealing just to eat, but for humiliating the guards while he did it, making them look like fools. A good lad, bright. My auguries confirmed it.

Too good a fit, perhaps. Too poor a boy, one with too much potential. The cave must have tempted him with wealth, and power, a chance to change his station in life, and he took it.

And the cave took him, and sealed, and it took Zion with it. The lamp and it’s boons are beyond my grasp, and Agrabah an everyone in it will wear to dust before another chance such as this come close to the grasp of men.


He lives! Oh, praise God! The boy succeeded after all!

The idiot used one of the creature’s gifts to save himself from the cave’s wrath, and take some of it’s treasures with it. Worthless trinkets compared to the lamp, but he can have them.

He’s wasted another to give himself illusory riches, and a way in at the royal court. Not a bad wish, as these things go; he could do some good with the modicum of power it provided, and you can’t wish to increase your number of wishes.

But you can wish for more power yourself. That’s what he missed, what they all missed, even Solomon himself; a spirit can’t do things beyond it’s power, and it won’t give you more than it is bound to do – but it can give you some modicum of power yourself.

Let the boy keep his fairy gold, if he uses it well. I shall be the most powerful sorcerer-king the world has ever known; infinite cosmic power in the hands of a mortal man.

Agrabah will stand forever, shining, perfect and unforgettable.

Sick and Wrong

[content notes: homophobia, spiders, liberalism, conservatism, conclusions drawn from introspection rather than evidence]

There is a popular refrain in liberalism: “just because something grosses you out, doesn’t mean it’s actually wrong.”

When asked to defend this, the usual defence of this sentiment is that something is “not hurting anybody”. This is, taken literally, nonsense.
Look, everybody likes hedonic utilitarianism. Pain is bad, pleasure is good, right? I tend to use it as a rule of thumb myself, sometimes. But isn’t *true*. Pain is bad, pleasure is good, yes (maybe – there are probably exceptions to that rule.) But people want *more* than pleasure and the absence of pain.

It’s neurologically trivial to constantly stimulate the areas of the brain responsible for “pleasure”; even before you figure out how to fiddle with the insides of people’s heads, most societies have crude biochemical ways of approximating that. But this is almost universally regarded as a pretty sorry fate. This isn’t sour grapes, either, born of the practical difficulties of financing a life of bliss; most people, if you give them the choice, don’t *want* it. People want occasional moments of pleasure, yes, but there is no demand for wireheading, and – anecdotally – people don’t take drugs if they *expect* to become addicted. It’s a *risk* they undergo to have a bit of fun.
Conversely, chloroforming a homeless person so you can murder them in their sleep is generally considered unethical, even though it wouldn’t *hurt* them at any point in the process.
Look, what humans value is complex. We want art and happiness and meaning and challenge and and and … not all of that can ever be reduced to “happiness” or “preferences” or “telos” or whatever other simplification you just came up with, in my experience.

But that isn’t to say morality doesn’t exist, anymore than pointing out how complicated math is means 2+2 doesn’t equal 4. Some things are just inherently wrong. (Let’s not get into what “inherently” means, here, please.)
We don’t actually need to understand what that means, to discuss it meaningfully. Because *we care about morality.* Our consciences point us toward *something*, and we can talk about that-thing-our-consciences-point-toward as the Good.

So … when feel like something is disgusting and, in a word, wrong – that *is* evidence that thing is unethical and should be prevented?


My suspicion is that there are two feeling that are being conflated here – grossness, and wrongness.

Grossness – the feeling that something is disgusting, gross, horrible – is a real and important feeling.
It’s roughly analogous to taste. Some things taste really bad; that’s because we evolved to instinctively avoid them, because they’re usually dangerous and unhealthy. Other things taste delicious, which is because we instinctively seek them out. Which is perfectly reasonable; you can’t expect humans to understand everything on the first try, and some things are important.
But there’s more to it than that; much of our tastes are learned, unconscious associations (for example, if you fall ill immediately after eating something, you’ll probably go off that food; even if it had nothing to do with it.) Others are genetic. Some are even based on other, subtler things; what you “need” at a particular time can be down to a complicated combination of biochemistry, neurochemistry, and Pavlovian association.
In short, we can *account* for taste. Cyanide is known to be both poisonous and fairly tasty, so we avoid it. Pizza is known to be delicious but relatively unhealthy, so we try to eat some (to experience the pleasure) but not *too* much. Many medicines taste disgusting. But *by and large*, we just go with it.


Grossness is similar. SPIDERS!

Personally, I rather like spiders. I think they’re cute little things. But even I freak out a little when I look at my reflection to find there was one sleeping on my headphones and it is now exploring my face.
This makes perfect sense. You don’t want to get creepy-crawlies anywhere they shouldn’t be, in case they lay eggs or whatnot. Spiders are *inherently* gross (to humans); but I’ve learned not to find them disgusting most of the time.
And in some cultures, they eat spiders.


Being gay is bad for you.
There’s a higher risk of disease transference, at least among men. But worse still, it’s bad for your *genes*. Making out with someone of the same sex – even if you don’t mean it to go anywhere – would risk activating all the handy mechanisms evolution has set up to make mates pair-bond and look after the children; and human children do need such a lot of looking after. From an evolutionary perspective, having this misfire is Very Bad Indeed, even if the host were to live *longer* (lesbians are less likely to go through humans’ unusually risky childbirth process, for example.)
– Science would like to chime in and say that, while there are almost certainly genes that are more or less correlated with homosexuality in humans, that is probably a *tradeoff*. Any gene that made everyone that had it would almost certainly go extinct. Such genes as persist are surviving by providing other advantages. (Fruitflies with gay siblings have been found to have more children, as this logic would obviously predict, although research into humans has yet to show anything really conclusive.) Personally, I’d imagine there are quite a few such genes, impacting homosexuality risk in different ways and offering different reproductive advantages –
So it’s not surprising that gayness is kinda gross. When internet trolls want to gross someone out, there are four things they go for – serious injury, particularly horrible diseases, bodily fluids, and gay sex. Preferably in combination.
… seriously, ew.

It’s also not surprising that some people don’t share that taste. Entire civilisations have institutionalized gay sex of various kinds. I’m *not* going to list fetishes that are kinda gay in one way or another, if it’s all the same to you, but they exist.
And then there’s the gender stuff. Heterosexuality has to activate based on both you and your partner’s sex, just like a taste for various nutrients has to activate when you’re in need of those nutrients. People who are atypical of one sex or another might accidentally activate the recognition mechanisms for the other one in people. The mechanisms for creating disgust at the idea of your on sex might fail to activate, and the mechanisms for creating desire for the opposite sex can likewise fail. And let’s not even get into how much of gender is designed to conform to semi-arbitrary signals decided on by your society, or to be learned via association with other things throughout your life, or even based on your own explicit beliefs about things.
There are just … *so* many ways it can fail. But how should we react when it does?

Because, ‘yknow, just because something is gross doesn’t mean it *isn’t* bad. Horrible torture is really, truly*disgusting*, but it’s also one of the most obviously, uncontroversially Bad things out there. Slipping faeces into someone’s food is both pretty disgusting and, y’know, terrible. Indeed, because our instincts were created largely to warn us against things *we don’t want to happen*, things that are absolutely horrible also tend to be terrible ideas.
We could try reasoning from first principles, but of course most of us don’t actually *agree* on those very much. I think you’ll agree that most people’s attempts at “first principles” are horribly flawed. I’m sure Objectivists have no problem with homosexuality, but “A=A” is not actually a good or even sane principle to extrapolate your ethics from. To be fair, though, most sets of First Principles can only be argued to condemn homosexuality if some external source of ethics condemns it; if God wants it, and humans “really” want it, then that wipes out most of the possibilities; and both of those, as Jesus tells us, essentially reduce to morality.
So *is homosexuality wrong*?

There’s a trick I know, for telling what motivates your distaste for something.
It doesn’t tell you what’s *right*, because you don’t know that. It only draws on what’s already in your head, on your own motivations. If you don’t know that berry is poisonous, you *really do* hate it because it’s bitter, not because eating it is a bad idea. But nevertheless.
Do you care if something is going on where you can’t see it?
With torture, the answer is obviously yes. I care a heck of a lot if someone is being tortured in the next room, or even in Guantanamo Bay.
But with *images* of injury – which are equally disgusting, often worse, because they can be taken with an aim to shock – not only do I not care, I’m positively glad that doctors with stronger stomachs are doing it for me.
So … gay sex?

Guys: please do not have gay sex next to me. Or anywhere I might see you. In fact, let’s just extend that to any sex that doesn’t involve someone I’m attracted to, shall we?
(Insert “sexy lesbians do what you want, please” joke here.)
But elsewhere …

Look. I like to think I understand sexuality and attraction in relatively excruciating detail.I don’t care who you are; there are people out there who find things sexy that would *boggle your mind*. But as long as your weirdness it doesn’t cross any lines, nobody really tends to mind. So, based on what we know of sexuality … *is* it crossing any lines?

Having children is good, and gay people tend not to be doing too much of that. And surrogacy – of which you could argue adoption is an involuntary subset – has other problems, not least of which is that kids tend to want to *know* who their biological parents are and were, no matter how much they may well love *you*.
But gay relationships are still *ordered toward* having kids together, even if it’s physically impossible to have any within them; they still pair-bond, they’re still just as likely to *want* children as anyone else. It’s the same emotional architecture, just pointed toward someone other than normal. It’s like infertile people; sure, no children, but everything else we value is still there in the relationship. Even the Catholic Church says it’s OK to have sex in ways you anticipate won’t produce children, as long as it doesn’t break any other rules.

Yeah, yeah, there are minor disease risks, less with our current technology, gay people already know about those, let’s move on.

It’s not injuring anyone, consent seems to be OK, no obvious psychological or safety risks beyond the usual and homophobic –
– can we talk about what a terrible word that is? Homophobia? It’s not a phobia, people. Phobia has an established meaning, and you know full damn well that’s not it. It means we don’t even have a damn *word* for *actual* homophobia, which almost certainly exists and is a real, if hopefully not too crippling, mental condition. Literally the only reason for using that word is to take cheap shots at your intellectual opponents for being “irrational” when they’re not able to complain about it. It’s stupid. I’d suggest using “heteronormativity”, which is a preexisting if slightly longer word and slightly more accurate from a social perspective to boot-
– heteronormative objections, attacks, prejudice etc; which are pretty obviously fading into nothingness with astonishing rapidity in our culture.

So yeah, I think people’s objection to homosexuality starts out with “it’s gross” – a reasonable starting place! – and continues to a few relatively flimsy objections, which are basically false and/or misguided. People think homosexuality is wrong because they think it’s sick. But it’s just kinda weird.

Gayness is, I think, about as objectionable as the way your favourite food is made. Kinda gross, yeah; maybe even slightly unhealthy. But the end product is love, and I think we can all agree that stuff is very tasty indeed.

Privilege vs. Forces

Thing of Things

I’ve been thinking about alternatives to privilege-based models of oppression.

For the unfamiliar: the privilege-based model essentially divides the world into the privileged and the oppressed. For instance, white people are privileged and people of color are marginalized; straight people are privileged and LGBA people are marginalized; thin people are privileged and fat people are marginalized. The privileged group has negative opinions about the oppressed group. In addition, various institutional things screw over the oppressed (for instance, redlining, the illegality of gay marriage, and too-small airline seats).

However, I think there are some serious problems with this sort of model.

First, there’s the problem I wrote about in this post. Privilege models fail when the intersection of a privileged identity and a marginalized identity ends up giving you worse outcomes than the intersection of two marginalized identities. For instance, men of color are far more likely than women of…

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Some Random Thoughts On “Sneer Culture”

What is “sneer culture”? It’s … a thing … oddly, I can’t find where I first heard the term defined.

Try this:

When I think of sneer culture, I think of people who would never donate a cent of their own money to help the fight against AIDS, but will always go out of their way to mock HIV denialists and make them feel stupid, even if they’re minding their own business and not bothering anybody. This seems to me unvirtuous – I explained part of the reason here. But I think another reason is that when there are nonconformist beliefs that seem correct to me, or at least to have some fragments of correctness in them that are worth teasing out, the sneer culture people mock them just as hard as the HIV denialism. And when there are popular beliefs that are just as wrong as HIV denialism but would take some courage to go up against, then they don’t contradict them at all.

There’s correcting false beliefs as a terminal goal – which is rarely best achieved by mocking people – and there’s mocking people as a terminal goal – for which it is often useful to choose targets with false belief. People who have mocking people as a terminal goal scare me.

Or this:

What sneer culture members have in common is that they’re strongly reinforced by sneering, seek out provided info that they can sneer at, and hang out with other people who sneer at things in a group where they know they have an approved target.  There are more skillful professional sneerers who specialize in feeding those audiences, but the masses below are just as much a part of the culture.  “Lol homeopathy” skepticism is sneer culture, just as “Burn down the churches” atheism is hate culture, but neither of these are apex predators of Blue-coded spaces (if I understand correctly what that term means).

When I was writing the Sequences I was, in retrospect, flirting perilously close to sneer culture about religion, even though I had guardrails against ad hominem (there is nowhere I was flirting with hate culture, I think; I knew what Diane Duane would say about that).  I would not write “The Amazing Virgin Pregnancy” again, knowing what I know now.  It is too dangerous to seem to be inviting other people to laugh with you at an approved target.

Personally, my favourite definition is this.

Feh. I just typed up a whole thing on Sneer Culture and then my computer crashed and I lost it. I’ll probably write something shorter and stick it on Tumblr instead.

Anyway, I can assure anyone who’s wondering that there is Sneer Culture in the Red Tribe.

Red Tribe media works pretty much the same (terrible) way Blue Tribe media does. There are Red Tribers who will helpfully explain to you that there are studies disproving gay marriage, environmentalism, anti-racism and anti-sexism, abortion, taxes, every “sex-positive” thing; in fact, pretty much everything controversial (except for gun control, for some reason, the debate around which runs on Obvious Truisms.) A lot of transphobia runs on Sneer Culture; practically all of it, in fact. There’s a lot of sneering at the idea of feminists proudly dressing like “sluts” and then getting angry at anyone who helpfully suggests this might attract rapists.

I think Sneer Culture is extremely bad for it’s members, but arguably a useful resource, in that it’s existence can helpfully point out the weak points in essentially any movement. This requires people to actually seek out and engage with the actual criticism of their own ideology, however.

If you’re dealing with a certain kind of scrupulosity-type thing, I find reminding yourself that the Hated Enemy actually does contain plenty of terrible people can be useful for the purposes of helping you steelman the stupider people on your own side. Of course, you should only do this if you’re already being at least this charitable to the other side.

In conclusion: ner ner neh ner ner, Christians were talking about this problem and devising countermeasures before your civilization’s antecedents first arose. The recommended countermeasure is “humility” (not congratulating yourself on ow much more humble you are!), and remembering that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, especially you. IOW: you are anaspiring rationalist, not a True Rationalist, and you are wrong about some things you are currently very confident in.

In The Future, No-One Will Care About Security

The present is weird.

The present is always weird, of course – because every age is a product of a thousand strange and complicated forces, and they twist our societies into truly odd shapes. And people always seem to forget it, every time, because “normal” is … normal, to us. Even if it might take years of study for an outsider to understand our particular period in history. If you were an outsider.


Anyway, this is on my mind because I was reading some reviews of the classic sci-fi short story The Cold Equations. I won’t spoil it, if you haven’t read it – although it’s a pretty straightforward piece, especially now, when the twist feels less twisty because we’re not in the same cultural context it was written in. (Good, though, in my opinion.)

The story opens with a conventional-ish rocket being launched on a vital supply mission from a Hyperspace cruiser dropped briefly into realspace. The lone pilot in this stripped-down little ship – which has distinctly limited fuel – discovers a stowaway hiding in the cupboard …

… and about half of the reviews I’ve seen begin complaining that this is completely impossible.

Now, you can quibble over whether the cupboard is clearly far to large for a supposedly bare-bones mission – whatever, it’s part of the conceit, who died and made you in charge of worldbuilding? The author says the cupboards on a mission like this are big enough, just go with it. But the biggest sticking point seems to be the simple idea of stowing away on something.

After all, why didn’t they have tighter security? Someone could have put a bomb in there, or something! What were they thinking?


Modern terrorism is really quite interesting. Yeah, I know, I’m on a watchlist now. But it is.

I’m Irish, so perhaps I have a slightly unusual relationship with terrorism. It wasn’t so long ago that being literally blown up by terrorists was an actual, ever-present threat in parts of Ireland. That, and the fact that every flight I’ve ever been on had holes in their security you could drive a truck though (I know, watchlist) makes the whole “war on terror” thing seem … a little silly?

And it is silly, I should make that clear. Not because I’m Irish; the same sort of overreaction happens all the time and everywhere, now. It’s not a national thing, it’s a cultural thing.

(Hmm, how long ago would that sentence have been an oxymoron, because “cultures” and “nations” were the same thing?)

Some kid goes into his highschool and shoots the place up. Now, there are genuine questions why this happens (it doesn’t, here in Ireland.) But still.

There is an immediate national, even international crisis. Is is because gun laws aren’t tight enough? Is it because our modern media glorifies violence? Is it because of videogames, or mental illness, or are we not reaching out to kids enough? Is it … across the country, across the goddamn world, debates rage and untested new policies are implemented … because of, perhaps, at worst, maybe two dozen people died.

In a world of seven billion people. In a world where, by my back-of-an-envelope calculations, your child is about five hundred times more at risk crossing the street. This is such a miniscule risk the human brain is literally incapable of comprehending how small it is; it is so small you physically can’t take it into account without overcompensating by several orders of magnitude.

It’s a small flipping risk, is what I’m trying to say.

But it’s a news story. So it’s available.

And people rail at Republicans for wanting to play with their guns at the expense of children’s lives – won’t somebody please think of the children! – even when, as far as I can tell, the best available (terrible, unreliable) evidence suggests that guns in the US save a slightly more than they kill. Even when, according to this random internet article I just googled up for a handy talking point, the GOP preventing people from getting “Obamacare” cost maybe 10,000 lives in 2014.

But yes, I’m sure fifteen, twenty people a year dying from something you have no actual evidence is causally connected to Republican policies is just as important, maybe more so.

(Not that conservatives are exactly off the hook, since “videogames/rock music/D&D are corrupting our kids!” codes conservative, and the anti-videogame thing has been almost exclusively founded on the idea that they somehow caused school shootings.)

Why do we do this? Why do we panic about school shootings and terrorist plots, and pass stupid laws to “stop” them? Why do we freak out about illusionary plagues and This New Sex Thing kids these days are totally doing and crime waves that are absolutely sweeping the nation, we swear, look here are three similar news stories (one of which is fake and one of which is out of context)?

Well, duh, it’s the media.

But seriously, this is massively skewing our society’s perception of the world and it’s risks. Why do you think we don’t let children play on the street anymore? Why do you think we have fad diets, and health scares, and Cancer Cured In Mice Using Lingonberries?

There’s no War On Heart Disease, or War On Malaria, or even a War On Cars.


Gosh, but terrorism is really popular among … well, even in the “western” world, honestly. Makes you long for the days when wars were fought by armies lining up in neat lines, doesn’t it?

(Yes, it does. The Geneva Convention is founded on the premise that combatants won’t attack civilians or use unnecessarily inhumane weapons, on the understanding that enemy combatants will do the same. Asymmetrical warfare breaks that essential symmetry.)

So … why?

Personally, I blame Western Imperialism. But not for the reasons you think.

See, The West(tm) has a significant tech advantage in warfare. But more importantly, they have a significant money advantage, and and industrial complex backing them.

In the Bad Old Days, this meant you went and found someone who didn’t have those things and told them you were in charge now, Or Else. (And then you shot a few, just to be clear on that Else was.) These days, this generally considered uncouth and in any case too hard, so we just roll in when someone’s doing something we don’t like for *ahem* incredibly subtle strategic reasons. Same difference. You show up with an army, to a place without much of one.

When the other side has tanks, and air support, and more troops, and is usually armed with better weapons, and they have some fancy new toys they’re dying to try out … well, it’s a tricky strategic problem, to put it lightly. The Roman Legions couldn’t have done it, for all that they toppled nations and steamrollered vast armies. Historically, quite a few civilizations have essentially (to simplify a bit) been wiped out for having much lower military disparities with their enemies. If this was an episode of Star Trek, it would be beyond Kobayashi Maru it would be somewhere between the Borg, and one of those space-god races from TOS that you tried very carefully not to offend in case they squished you.

How do you fight a war against an enemy that’s more powerful on almost every conceivable dimension?

Well, a solution was found, of course. It’s obvious to any modern tactician.

That solution was that you find one of those big, powerful military installations; or, better still, a bit of the huge civilization backing them; and you blow it the fuck up. And then you disappear, and you do it again and again, and again …

… it’s actually kind of a terrible strategy, in a way. You pretty much have to use isolated cells, because otherwise you’re too easy to find; which means it’s impossible to call off the attack or make any kind of coherent demands. It’s pretty much impossible for you to take down a civilization that way, and it’s close to impossible to take down much in the way of serious military infrastructure that way. You’re now engaging in the aforementioned asymmetric warfare, which means you’ll be treated somewhat worse than most societies have traditionally treated spies and traitors and criminals. You’re massively, massively pissing off the enemy, which means your “side” will suffer atrocities.

In fact, there’s a serious case to be made that terrorism has never worked – and I say this as a citizen of a state that was literally founded by terrorists, as a result of a lengthy terrorist campaign. The only way terrorists ever win is when both sides are so tired of fighting they both give in to each other at once; and even then, it’s a leaderless cell structure, so all the worst bits of your “organization” will cheerfully keep on going until they’re all dead or they find something better or even more illegal to do.

Even the silliest organization tends to realize that negotiating with blackmail is a bad idea, so you don’t even have that. You just … fight.

But it’s the only weapon that works against the imperial war machine. You can see yourself, your movement, is making a difference, making the enemy hurt some fraction of the hurt they’ve caused. And the effect is magnified, compounded, in the funhouse mirror that is modern media; until your little campaign becomes, reflected, a vast host marching beneath a glorious banner, rising up to overthrow the Empire …

It’s all smoke and mirrors, of course, even if the smoke is coming from the barrel of a gun. But in a world where things are just right, when the panopticon sees enough to be afraid but not enough to catch you, when you’re vastly outclassed but can still improvise large-scale devastation on a short timescale, when every attack that fails is forgotten while every attack that succeeds is written in fire in the minds of nations … it can work. For a while.

It doesn’t work for anyone, of course. But it works, just the same. For a moment, when things line up just right.

For the present.

On Libertare

[Epistemic status: sounds vastly more confident than I actually am.]

“I have your answer. But I will have to make something clear before I deliver it. If you will permit me?”

Lord Iron opened his hand in motion of deference. Olaf cleared his throat.

“Wealth,” he said, “is not a measure of money. It is a measure of well-being. Of happiness, if you will. Wealth is not traded, but rather is generated by trade. If you have a piece of art that I wish to own and I have money that you would prefer to the artwork, we trade. Each of us has something he prefers to the thing he gave away; otherwise, we would not have agreed on the trade. We are both better off. You see? Wealth is generated.”

-Daniel Abraham, “The Cambist and Lord Iron”

I’m far from the first to notice that Libertarians, as a group, seem to have very different view on the world to other people.
As a political movement, of course, they don’t quite seem to fit onto the familiar spectrum. We all know there’s the radical Left, the moderate Left, the moderate Right, and of course the radical Right – with possibly some room for “centrists” in the middle – but where Libertarians fall on this scale is unclear. These “classical liberals” believe in relaxing our restrictions on sexuality, drugs, and even such unquantifiables as “freedom of speech” and “freedom of movement” – yet their attitude, to liberals, is baffling. They side with the rich, the upper-class, the system; they battle hardest for the freedom, not of peasants, but of kings. In short, they vote Republican.

But it is in arguments that these deep-rooted disagreements truly reveal themselves.Libertarians see the world through a different paradigm than other people; yet this paradigm uses familiar words to express itself. In conversations and debates involving libertarians, people often talk past each other, sometimes without noticing. They draw on different assumptions, and people often find themselves stymied by the other side’s apparent inanity or simple evil. “Wealth creation”, “initiation of force”, “market inefficiencies”; terms that are at once commonplace, and frustratingly idiosyncratic in the encoded assumptions they bear for both sides.

But, of course, the central thesis of libertarianism is simple. Any libertarian can explain it to you, and usually will, when your point of disagreement becomes clear. And yet, it seems that most people cannot see it’s obviousness, it’s intuitive appeal once understood.



The central thesis of libertarianism, as an ideology – and I can say this, for once, without fear of contradiction; for it really is extraordinarily simple – is this:

Imagine a world in which there is no such thing as force. There is no violence, no coercion.

But neither is this world perfect; there is inequality, and want, just as in our own. Different people have different resources, different skills.

Now; suppose a rich woman, in this universe, possesses something that a poor man desires dearly. Let us say that it is food; and without it, he shall starve. But the only thing he has that the rich woman desires is his own back-breaking labor; the metaphorical sweat of his brow.

She offers him the food, barely enough to scrape by, in exchange for toiling painfully in her food mines. He accepts.

What just happened?

From a traditional liberal perspective – now there’s an oxymoron for you, politics fans; aren’t liberals supposed to be the great innovators? – the woman has just exploited her advantage over the man to force him into helping her, at great cost to him.

But how can this be? We specified that there was no force in this world, no coercion. He agreed to the contract of his own free will; no force on this earth could have compelled him otherwise, by definition. Indeed, even now, he is free to walk away from the deal.

So why did he agree?

The answer, of course, is simple: he valued the food more than the pain of the labor. Indeed, the rich woman has helped this man out; she exchanged her food for something worthless to him, an act which saved him from starvation. There is no conceivable way she has harmed him; if she were to disappear, he would die for want of her help.

(The man doesn’t have the right equipment to refine food ore into edible food himself.)

The utility calculation is simple:

Poor: death costs 100, work costs 50
Rich: workers add 10, food costs 1
(This is just an example)
Trade: -50, +10, -1 = 41 sadness
No Trade: -100 = -100 sadness

Restricting trade is evil; free trade both saves an improves lives. How could it not? Both parties will only agree to a deal if it benefits them, so every deal made must benefit both parties.

This is a very persuasive argument.

And, of course, the conclusion naturally follows:

The reason the real world is so unhappy, so unlike the model, is obvious: some people are using force, which upsets the model. We imagined a make-believe world where everyone played nice; but this simply isn’t so. By forcing people to take “deals” they don’t want, or preventing them from making deals that would benefit everybody, we have allowed sin to enter into the world.


This is a very persuasive argument.

Seriously. It’s just unintuitive enough to be insightful; and it explains everything. Best of all, it’s essentially airtight; what I just presented was a crude sketch, an example of something that has been proven mathematically. It’s a damn theorem. Free trade is always, always better than preventing trade.

Yet I don’t buy it.

Here’s a question for the non-libertarians in the audience: what should the woman do?

… well, she should just give him the food, if he needs it that badly. It barely costs her anything.

Now, hang on a second. I’m getting at something important here.

This is the utility calculation for charity:

Poor: death costs 100, work costs 50
Rich: miners add 10, food costs 1
(This is just an example)
Trade: -50, +10, -1 = – 41 sadness
No Trade: -100 = -100 sadness
Unbalanced Trade, -1 = 1 sadness

That’s pretty damn good, no?

That’s a tiny fraction of the downsides in our trade; and it’s a hundred times smaller than the downside of the baseline situation. (It is, in fact, the optimal situation.)

In fact, this is something like what mathematicians call the Ultimatum Game. In the Ultimatum Game, one player offers the other a sum of money; no more than $100. If the other accepts, they keep the remainder. If they refuse, both players get nothing. The rich woman holds all the cards; the poor man has only the option of refusing her offer. In the Ultimatum game, as in our deal, the incentives converge on a single solution: the rich woman gets almost everything, the poor man gets a pittance.

Yet in reality, people refuse to act that way in the Ultimatum Game. When offered an “unfair” deal, they would rather everyone suffered than allow that sort of thing to continue.

This is, from a traditional perspective, irrational. It can be proved mathematically. No money is strictly worse than only a small amount of money.

Why do they do it?


When the Ultimatum Game is iterated – when the same people play it against each other over and over – then it becomes rational to refuse poor deals. By showing the other player that you demand fairness, you force them to take your own happiness into account; not merely their own. In the end, the risk of refusal is too great to risk anything but a roughly 50/50 split.

In a way, refusing the money in the iterated Ultimatum Game is a form of implicit threat – “do as I want, or I will damage your profits”. It’s a way of introducing force into the forceless, abstract world of the game, in a way. (And, of course, because people behave in this manner, real players in the Ultimatum Game know to propose a reasonably fair deal.)

In the real world, however, we have other means. We have governments, and laws. We have morals. And, yes, we have force.


So what does this mean for libertarianism?

I lied, earlier. Libertarianism is about more than this one argument; about more than just free trade. They also have a great appreciation for the effect of incentives on human behavior, and of corruption in governments and other institutions where pay is not determined by results. Those things are important, and we need people who pay attention to them.

But … no. There are other flaws in the idea that markets lead to ideal outcomes; tragedies of the commons, externalizes, and simple irreconcilable differences between the model and reality. But ultimately, these were all caveats; you can add epicycles, ways to allow the model to account for only most of reality. But it doesn’t. At all.

Markets are useful things. Incentives are important. But the incentives of markets do not align with ours. Markets force people to innovate and actually perform, yes, but they also force them to charge whatever the market will bear.

Our example earlier was unrealistic; in truth, the rich person would have demanded almost twice as much work, only slightly better than dying. Markets grind slowly, but they grind exceeding fine, and who among us can resist them?

Bringing a free market into existence really doesn’t usher in utopia. Utopia is possible (I hope.) But that particular way of organizing things doesn’t summon it. The invisible hand of the markets reallyisn’t friendly (or Friendly), no matter how much it’s direction is derived from your own wishes.

All it summons is a vast, omnipresent demon, to drain away our last vestiges of morality with tempting bargains that spiral us all ever downward.

Hail, Libertare, god of the markets.

A Meditation on Mutually Assured Destruction


From The Sixth Meditation on Superweapons, by Scott Alexander:

Suppose you were a Jew in old-timey Eastern Europe. The big news story is about a Jewish man who killed a Christian child. As far as you can tell the story is true. It’s just disappointing that everyone who tells it is describing it as “A Jew killed a Christian kid today”. You don’t want to make a big deal over this, because no one is saying anything objectionable like “And so all Jews are evil”. Besides you’d hate to inject identity politics into this obvious tragedy. It just sort of makes you uncomfortable.

I know a guy who feels uncomfortable with Scott’s writing.

He enjoys, and agrees with, most of Scott’s essays. They’re both useful, and informative. We often discuss things Scott has written on, and make use of concepts Scott has invented or popularized.

And yet.

The other day, we were discussing feminism, and men’s attitudes toward it. We had been looking at a survey that suggested many men – an alarmingly high number – both gave the “correct” definition of feminism (“equality”) and endorsed the statement “men cannot be feminists”. Almost as many men believed “feminism” meant “equality, agreed men could be feminists, and yet were not feminists themselves.

(This was a local, informal study, BTW.)

I mentioned something useful Scott wrote that seemed relevant. But my friend, I learned, had grown somewhat uneasy with Scott’s arguments.

When he read Scott’s recent essay, Untitled – which I rather liked, and said so – something didn’t seem right to my friend. Something, in fact, which he’d noticed a great deal in Scott’s writing.

But also, there was this:

Some Jews are rich, therefore all Jews are rich, therefore all Jews are privileged, therefore no Jew could be oppressed in any way, therefore Jews are the oppressors.

And much the same is true of nerds. In fact, have you noticed actual nerds and actual Jews tend to be the same people?


And this is why it’s distressing to see the same things people have always said about Jews get applied to nerds. They’re this weird separate group with their own culture who don’t join in the reindeer games of normal society. They dress weird and talk weird. They’re conventionally unattractive and have too much facial hair. But worst of all, they have thechutzpah to do all that and also be successful. Having been excluded from all of the popular jobs, they end up in the unpopular but lucrative jobs, for which they get called greedy parasites in the Jews’ case, and “the most useless and deficient individuals in society” in the case of the feminist article on nerds I referenced earlier.


So let me specify what I am obviously not saying. I am not saying nerds have it “just as bad as Jews in WWII Germany” or any nonsense like that. I am not saying that prejudice against nerds is literally motivated by occult anti-Semitism, or accusing anyone of being anti-Semitic.

I am saying that whatever structural oppression means, it should be about structure. And the structure society uses to marginalize and belittle nerds is very similar to a multi-purpose structure society has used to belittle weird groups in the past with catastrophic results.

Now, my friend knows Scott wasn’t saying saying nerds have it “just as bad as Jews in WWII Germany” or any nonsense like that. In fact, look above:

… let me specify what I am obviously not saying. I am not saying nerds have it “just as bad as Jews in WWII Germany” or any nonsense like that.

And yet, he seems to be going out of his way to include “Feminism” and “Nazi Germany” together in his sentences.


It’s not because they’re a good counterexample for “nerds are rich Silicon valley CEOs, you think they’re not privileged?” It’s an actual argument, not just the kind of “your argument proves too much” one-liner Scott is famous for. What is he saying?

the same things people have always said about Jews get applied to nerds. They’re this weird separate group with their own culture who don’t join in the reindeer games of normal society. They dress weird and talk weird. They’re conventionally unattractive and have too much facial hair. But worst of all, they have the chutzpah to do all that and also be successful. Having been excluded from all of the popular jobs, they end up in the unpopular but lucrative jobs, for which they get called greedy parasites in the Jews’ case, and “the most useless and deficient individuals in society” in the case of the feminist article on nerds I referenced earlier.


There is a well-known, dangerous form of oppression that works just fine when the group involved have the same skin color as the rest of society, the same sex as the rest of society, and in many cases are totally indistinguishable from the rest of society except to themselves. It works by taking a group of unattractive, socially excluded people, mocking them, accusing them of being out to violate women, then denying that there could possibly be any problem with these attacks because they include rich people who dominate a specific industry.

… he’s constructing a reference class.

This is a reference class – a category, a handy box to place things in – that includes two examples: “these feminists I quoted” and “these Nazis I quoted”.

It includes something definitely bad, and your oppenant’s arguments. But what use is this category? What predictions does it make, beyond “badness”?

There’s a name for this. Scott named it. It’s called the Worst Argument in the World.

My friend called it “Godwinning“, and he stopped reading the article.


Still, the Jew thing is beside the point, right?

The actual point of the article stands? The other arguments, and the point that Jews are an important counterexample to the idea that “Some nerds are rich, therefore all nerds are rich, therefore all nerds are privileged, therefore no nerd could be oppressed in any way, therefore nerds are the oppressors.”

Even if Scott, understandably frustrated, devoted a little more space than necessary to comparing his opponents to Nazis; shouldn’t we steelman it, pay attention to the strongest version of his argument?


Let’s talk about the correct definition of Feminism.

Feminism doesn’t mean “equality”, except when used between feminists, discussing what would be the “feminist” response to something. Feminism is a movement, and a political ideology. Feminism is a thing people identify as.

It is, in fact, a tribe.

Now: suppose you’re a feminist on the internet. The big news story is about a group of SJWs who said they hated men. As far as you can tell the story is true. It’s just disappointing that everyone who tells it is describing it as “These crazy feminists”. You don’t want to make a big deal over this, because no one is saying anything objectionable like “And so all Feminists are evil” – sure, the people who hate feminists are, but they’re no more credible than conspiracy theorists who think the latest news story proves the government caused 9/11. Besides, it’s important to make sure people know this person is wrong and completely beyond the pale.

The next day you see a popular blogger has written a post on how feminists were awful to him, and sent him death threats, and made vaguely racist and ableist comments. This sort of thing happens a lot on the internet, and you certainly feel for him. It seems kind of pedantic to interrupt every conversation with “But also a lot of feminists have been receiving death threats, and even though a disproportionate number of the people who sent them to you were feminists, that doesn’t mean the feminists are disproportionately active in sending these messages compared to their numbers.” So again you stay uncomfortable.

The next day you hear people complain about the awful SJWs who are ruining politics and oppressing free speech. You understand that really, free speech and and discourse are important topics. On the other hand, when people start talking about “Political Correctness” and “the need to protect men from Feminists” and “rules to stop SJWs from interfering here”, you just feel worried, even though you personally are not doing any horrible stuff and maybe they even have good reasons for phrasing it that way.

Then the next day, you get in an argument with your co-worker. It’s the sort of thing that happens a lot – he was rude to you, and when you complained he started going on about his “rights” and “freedom” and other high-minded things you know he wouldn’t give a damn about at any other time.  He takes you aside and tells you you’d better just give up, admit he is in the right, and apologize to him – because if the conflict escalated everyone would take his side because you’re well-known for being a feminist (and a woman, I guess, in this scenario, because Stereotypes.) And everyone knows that Feminists hate men and are basically bullying self-absorbed conversation-ruining free-speech-silencing scum.

Is he right?

Well, that depends on where you’re having the conversation.


Scott would argue that feminists are building a superweapon to attack him. And he’s right, actually. But this isn’t the superweapon.

Neither is this:

Pick any attempt to shame people into conforming with gender roles, and you’ll find self-identified feminists leading the way. Transgender people? Feminists led the effort to stigmatize them and often still do. Discrimination against sex workers? Led by feminists. Against kinky people? Feminists again. People who have too much sex, or the wrong kind of sex? Feminists are among the jeering crowd, telling them they’re self-objectifying or reinforcing the patriarchy or whatever else they want to say. Male victims of domestic violence? It’s feminists fighting against acknowledging and helping them.

Yes, many feminists have been on both sides of these issues, and there have been good feminists tirelessly working against the bad feminists. Indeed, right now there are feminists who are telling the other feminists to lay off the nerd-shaming. My girlfriend is one of them. But that’s kind of my point. There are feminists on both sides of a lot of issues, including the important ones.

You know what transgender people, sex workers; people who have too much sex, or the wrong kind of sex, or kinky sex; victims of domestic violence, and nerds … well, you know what they all have in common?

They were unpopular before feminism.

And that’s the problem, really. That’s what my friend pointed out, and what I realized had been bothering me the whole time. Scott mentions how everyone who posts about this topic gets a lot of messages from people saying “that’s ME!”, and he’s clearly correct, because many of these comments are visible to the public. I’ve seen them. But you know what the most common type seems to be?

“Yes, I experienced this, but it had nothing to do with feminism.”

Let’s look at the insults Scott shows us, that exemplify “feminist shaming tactics”:

Whether we’re “mouth-breathers”, “pimpled”, “scrawny”, “blubbery”, “sperglord”, “neckbeard”, “virgins”, “living in our parents’ basements”, “man-children” or whatever the insult du jour is, it’s always, always, ALWAYS a self-identified feminist saying it. Sometimes they say it obliquely, referring to a subgroup like “bronies” or “atheists” or “fedoras” while making sure everyone else in nerddom knows it’s about them too.

Do any of these strike you as particularly feminist terms?

Because I hang out with a lot of feminists, but I also read a lot of anti-feminist things. And I seem to see a heck of theses terms there. These are not feminist terms; they’re just terms.

But hey, it’s still important, right? Even if it’s not just feminists doing this, they need to stop, right? Shouldn’t feminism be fighting gendered stereotyping and policing, wherever it may be found?

Well, yeah, actually.

But … well, Scott is a better writer than I am:

Sometimes I read feminist blogs. A common experience is that by the end of the article I am enraged and want to make a snarky comment, so I re-read the essay to pick out the juiciest quotes to tear apart. I re-read it and I re-read it again and eventually I find that everything it says is both factually true and morally unobjectionable. They very rarely say anything silly like “And therefore all men, even the ones who aren’t actively committing this offense I’m arguing against, are evil”, and it’s usually not even particularly implied. I feel like the Jew in the story above, who admits that it’s really bad the Jewish guy killed the Christian child, and would hate to say, like a jerk, that Christians aren’t allowed to talk about it.

Scott put it right at the top of the post: this is a ten-thousand word rant about feminism. Not about nerds. Not about bullying. About feminism.

And Scott writes a lot of those.


Is this justified?

I said earlier that Scott is right when he worries feminists are building a superweapon to attack him, and I meant it, too. Modern social justice is increasingly defined, not by their compassion for the victims, but by their rejection of the “oppressors” – and the oppressors don’t exist.

Sexism exists. Racism exists. Many, many other forms of discrimination and stereotyping exist – among them all those attacks on transgender people, sex workers; people who have too much sex, or the wrong kind of sex, or kinky sex; victims of domestic violence, and nerds we mentioned earlier.

It’s easy to demonstrate that women and minorities are, for example, turned down far more often when they submit identical resumes … by both men and women, of all races.

And that’s the problem. Sexism, racism; homophobia and transphobia and every other horrible little stereotype … these are all real problems, real “oppression”. But this oppression is mediated by society, not a separate class of “oppressors” But by attacking the “oppressors”; the “privileged” (and yes, privilege is real); those who aren’t members of those oppressed groups – in short, people like the Scotts and me and the friend who started this essay, white straight cismales – we are not solving the problem. We’re just creating a class of people who think that feminism means “equality”, yet men can’t be feminists, because “equality” means fighting men.

And then Scott and I look around and find we’re the “bad guy”, and everyone knows people like you are racist misogynistic scumbags.

(Although, actually, you know, I’ve never had serious or indeed mild trouble with people telling me to shut up because I’m one of Them … but Scott Alexander has. Serious trouble, quite beyond internet arguments. These things happen. I’m a lucky, lucky guy.)

So if you find yourself looking down the barrel of a superweapon, what do you do? What do you do, when one tribe is gathering strength to attack you, and you’re looking defenceless? Are we justified in building anti-feminist, anti-social-justice superweapons?


This rule of “never let anyone build a conceptual superweapon that might get used against you” seems to be the impetus behind a lot of social justice movements. For example, it’s eye-rollingly annoying whenever the Council on American – Islamic Relations condemns a news report on the latest terrorist atrocity for making too big a deal that the terrorists were Islamic (what? this bombing just killed however many people, and all you can think of to get upset about is that the newspaper mentioned the guy screamed ‘Allahu akbar’ first?), but I interpret their actions as trying to prevent the construction of a conceptual superweapon against Islam (or possibly to dismantle one that already exists). Like the Jew whose best option would have been to attack potentially anti-Jewish statements even when they were reasonable in context, CAIR can’t just trust that no one will use the anti-Muslim sentiment against non-threatening Muslims. As long as there are stupid little trivial disputes between Muslims and non-Muslims over anything at all, that giant anti-Muslim superweapon sitting in the corner is just too tempting to refuse.

Scott is not the only anti-feminist (believe it or not.)

So … yeah. It’s late and I’m tired. You just get a bullet point. Scott is not the only anti-feminist in existence, and they have access to anti-feminist superweapons too. Them man-hating lesbians tryin’ to pretend sex you regret in the morning is “rape”, and all that.

Scott is not the only person out there who objects to something he calls “feminism”.

Even if you are going to use – let’s be clear here: a glaring generalization about how Feminists sure do [thing that everyone does] a lot, huh? – in order to fight Bad Things present in feminism; even if it’s only used to target unfair generalizations about other groups; it can be and, empirically, is used to attack feminism of every kind.

(In other news, I only ever hear people mention Nice Guys in the same breath as complaints about feminism. I Wonder Why. Yes, feminists do talk about it, but not nearly as much as anti-feminists do. And … *sigh* … yes, the same goes for Dworkin, no need to point that out in the comments every damn time, people.)

Now the feminists would say that I too have a superweapon called “patriarchy”, and that they’re just continuing the arms race. This is true, but it doesn’t lead to a stable state like what the guns rights advocates claim would happen if everyone had guns where we would all be super-polite because nobody wants to offend a guy who’s probably packing heat. It leads to something more like a postapocalyptic anarchy where everyone has guns and we’re all shooting each other. If there’s a conflict between a man and a woman, and the people involved happen to be old-fashioned patriarchalist types, then the man will automatically win and everyone will hate the woman for being a slut or a bitch or whatever. If there’s a conflict between a man and a woman, and the people involved happen to be feminists who are familiar with the memeplex and all its pattern-matching suggests, then the woman will probably win and everyone will hate the man for being a creep or a bigot or whatever. At no point does everyone become respectful and say “Hey, we’re all reasonable people with superweapons, let’s judge this case on its merits instead of pattern-matching to the closest atrocity committed by someone of the same gender”.

It also seems to me that the patriarchy is sort of an accident, where men ruled because they were big and strong and couldn’t imagine doing otherwise and their values just sort of coalesced over time, and the struggle seems to be getting them to realize it’s there. Whereas the feminists know all about discourse and power relations and so on and are quite gung ho about it and they’re staying up late at night reading books with titles like How To Build A Much Deadlier Superweapon (I assume this book exists and is written by Nikola Tesla).

I’m all for mutual superweapon disarmament, but I’m not sure I like the whole mutually assured destruction thing as much. My history, and I think the history of a lot of people who are liberal and pro-choice and so on and so forth but really wary of feminism and social justice – is that we spent our college years totally supporting social justice and helping out in the superweapon factories because it’s our duty to fight rape and racism and so on and since we were nice respectful people obviously the superweapon would never be used on us. Then we got in some kind of trivial disagreement with a woman or a minority or someone, or we didn’t want to go far enough. Then they turned the superweapon on us, and it was kind of a moment of “wait, this was sort of the plan all along, wasn’t it?”

I give you … Jedi Knights, in the nWoD!

I’ve been sitting on this one for a couple of months now. It uses the Second Edition rules released with God-Machine Chronicle, available for free here.

Light Sabres (Style, • to •••••)

Not as clumsy or random as a blaster … an elegant weapon, for a more civilized age.

Prerequisites: Weaponry Specialty: (Force)

You’re trained in wielding coherent plasma weapons in hand-to-hand combat, exploiting their unique properties. Drawing on intuition and the Force, you can manoeuvre the superheated “blade” exactly where it needs to be – whether that’s between you and blaster fire, or buried in an opponent.

You cannot apply these lessons unless you actually have such a weapon available to hand.

Defensive Combat (): You are trained in avoiding damage. Use your Weaponry to calculate Defense rather than Athletics.

Precision Shot (••): With this level of training, your character knows how to effectively disable a victim instead of focusing on the kill. When attacking a specified target, you may reduce your weapon’s damage rating one-for-one to ignore penalties for shooting a specified target (see God-Machine Chronicle p. 203). For example, if you’re using a sniper rifle (4 damage weapon), and attacking an arm (–2 to hit), you could choose to use 3 damage reduce that to –1, or 2 damage to eliminate the penalty entirely.

Redirect (•••): When you’re being attacked by multiple opponents, you can direct their blows against one another. When you Dodge, if your Defense roll reduces an attack’s successes to 0, your attacker rolls the same attack against another attacker of your choice.

Drawback: You may only redirect one attack in a turn. You cannot redirect an attack against the same attacker.

Warding Stance (••••): Your character holds their weapon in such a way as to make attacks much harder. If your weapon is drawn, spend a point of Willpower reflexively to add the weapon’s damage rating as armor for the turn. This will not protect against area-of-effect attacks or autofire.

Rending (•••••): Your character’s cuts leave crippling, permanent wounds. By spending a Willpower point before making an attack roll, their successful attacks cause one point of aggravated damage in addition to the weapon’s damage rating. This Willpower point does not add to the attack roll.

Intuitive Defence (Style, • to •••••)

Try that again, Luke … this time, let go of your conscious self, and act on instinct.

Prerequisites: Wits •••, Empathy Specialty: (Force)

You are almost preternaturally good at sensing your opponent’s intentions in combat. Maybe you practice a martial art that focuses on intuition and body language, or else you’re just very good at not being where your opponent wants you to be.

Like a Book (•): You can read your opponents and know where they’re likely to strike. When facing an unarmed opponent and not Dodging, increase your Defence by half your Brawl (round down).

Studied Style (••): You focus on reading one opponent, avoiding his attacks, and frustrating him. Attacks from that opponent do not reduce your Defence. If your Defence reduces his attack pool to 0, his further attacks against you lose the 10-again quality.

Secondary Targets (•••): When engaged, your character is constantly aware of everyone in their vicinity; nothing close is safe. As long as your character has their Defence available to them and is not Dodging, any character coming into arm’s reach takes 1B damage. This damage continues once per turn as long as the enemy stays within range and occurs on the enemy’s turn. If you spend a point of Willpower, this damage becomes 2B until your next turn.

Counter-Strike (••••): You wait until the last possible second then lash out at your opponent’s elbow or wrist as they attack, hoping to cripple their limbs. When Dodging, roll an attack instead of your Defence. If you score more successes than your attacker, you deal one point of damage per extra success, and inflict either the Arm Wrack or Leg Wrack Tilt (your choice).

Drawback: Spend a point of Willpower to use this manoeuvre.

Like the Breeze (•••••): You step to one side as your opponent attacks and give them enough of a push to send them flying past you. When dodging, if your Defence roll reduces an opponent’s attack successes to 0, you can inflict the Knocked Down Tilt.

Drawback: You must declare that you’re using this manoeuvre at the start of the turn before taking any other attacks.

Mystery Cult: Jedi Order

My ally is the Force – and a powerful ally it is.

Jedi believe everyone is guided by the Force, an energy field that surrounds all living things. Suffering and fear disturb the Force, twisting it, and damaging the minds and bodies of mortals. By focusing on their connection with the Force, they can learn to channel its energies, to help them in their duty to maintain balance and order in the universe. The Order seeks out children with a connection to the Force – those with Supernatural Merits, templates and abilities – and teaches them to ignore their Virtues and Vices in favour of greater harmony, meditating on the Force to gain strength and insight.

In game terms, prospective initiates must have a Skill Specialty in the Force and at least some minor supernatural ability or talent.

Cultists: Dour knight, starry-eyed farmboy, librarian, impatient apprentice, hands-on general, cryptic old master

Initiation Benefits

All initiates must learn to feel the Force in all things, reaching out with their feelings, before they can advance. They may purchase Interdisciplinary Specialty: (Force) for free.

•• With training, Jedi can manipulate crude matter – given concentration and focus. They gain the Telekinesis Merit at one dot. Those Jedi that already possess some measure of ability increase it by one dot instead.

••• Knights of the Order are taught to focus their minds on a single task, blocking out distractions to focus on the force. They gain a variant of the Biokenesis Merit (at two dots) that affects Finesse Attributes.

•••• Master Jedi begin to sense faint echoes of the future and of distant events. They gain a variant of the Omen Sensitivity Merit, which focuses on their emotions instead of meaningful coincidences.

••••• The greatest Jedi possess deep wisdom and understanding. By drawing on their experience, they can mimic the Common Sense merit.

Temperate (••• or •••••)

Great warrior, hmph? Wars do not make one great.

Effect: Your character was raised around the Jedi, and you grew up viewing Jedi Knights as the ideal to aspire to. Whenever you forgoe an advantage or undergo a risk to follow the Order’s philosophy of pacifism, humility and obedience, you refresh your Willpower as if you had fulfilled a Virtue. The limitations of how many times you may refresh Willpower using a Virtue remain the same (twice per Chapter,) but it’s up to you which Virtue is used each time.

At five dots, they may treat it as a second Vice as well, regaining a point of Willpower whenever they solve problems with diplomacy and the minimum of flair. They may still only regain one Willpower per scene in which they indulge themselves.

Available only at character creation.

Dark Side (•• or •••)

Is the Dark Side stronger?”

“No! No. Easier …”

Prerequisite: Occult Specialty: (Force)

Effect: Jedi techniques, like most Supernatural Merits, are fuelled by Willpower; and Willpower is renewed by indulging one’s Virtue and Vice. The Jedi Order frowns upon such unrestrained emotion, claiming it disturbs the Force and corrupts both mind and body. But some Force-users choose to draw on their deepest desires, to give them strength and courage when they need it most. With this Merit, your character may indulge their Virtue as if it were a Vice, giving them that little boost when they need it – although they may still only regain one Willpower per scene in which they indulge theself.

At three dots, they have justified their actions in a more rigorous manner; creating a philosophy in which emotional needs should be accepted as not only a part of you but a moral good – allowing hem to use their powers more often and focus harder on what they want, living their life to the full. In game terms, they treat their Vice as a second Virtue, regaining all spent Willpower whenever they risk themelf or throw away an opportunity in order to pursue their Vice. The limitations of how many times you may refresh Willpower using a Virtue remain the same (twice per chapter,) but it’s up to you which Virtue is used each time.

Creating Jedi Characters:

Jedi often learn other, less standardized techniques than the above Merits.

The most common are represented by the merits Fast Talk, Quick Draw, Danger Sense, Fighting Finesse, Choke Hold, Iron Will, Indomitable, Fast Reflexes, Meditative Mind, Demolisher, Iron Stamina, Direction Sense, Professional Training, Area Of Expertise (Force), Ambidextrous, Fleet Of Foot, Allies, Mentor, Retainer, Small Unit Tactics, Aura Reading, Claivoyance, Mind Of A Madman, Psychometry, Biokenesis, Telekenesis (which stacks with the second dot of Mystery Initiation: Jedi), Telepathy, and Unseen Sense. However, none of these are standard Jedi training, even among specialized sects.

Some Jedi possess a template that grants them other abilities; these Jedi often view their powers as an extension of the Force, and many learn “upgrades” of other Jedi techniques that leverage their unusual abilities.

In addition to the powers they gain from the Force, most Jedi carry a “lightsaber”, a sort of overclocked cutting torch. Although it wouldn’t usually make for a very effective weapon, it has one unique advantage: the “blade” is completely weightless, being a jet of superheated plasma projected from the handle.

This makes it relatively easy to conceal when deactivated; but more importantly, it can be moved with incredible rapidity during combat, allowing those with some sort of precognitive ability to react inhumanly fast to incoming attacks. In game terms, a “standard” lightsaber is a mêlée weapon with the following game traits:

Damage 3

Initiative 2

Strength 1

Size 1

Availability •••

Special: takes a -3 untrained penalty to use without Weaponry Specialty: (Force) due to specialized function.

However, lightsabers are usually handmade by the wielder, or a close friend or family member; and they are often heavily customised. While most lighsabers resemble swords (hence the name), some are more like daggers, whips, or even quarterstaves made of coherent plasma. If such a custom weapon is required, adapt a normal mêlée weapon by increasing the Damage rating by two or adding 9-again, lowering the Size to that of the weapon’s handle, and increasing the Availability by two to represent the item’s specialized nature.

Con Artists Are Basically Rapists: An Analogy.

[Content note: this post is about rape. What might not be clear from the title is that it also uses offensive language.]

So I’ve been reading. (What did you *think* I do instead of updating my blog?)

And recently, I read a comment on a blog that was the most perfect example of an argument I see a lot. Unfortunately, I’m having trouble finding it, but whatever.

So there’s an extremely involved and heated debate over wearing “slutty” clothing increases your risk of getting raped. I have no idea which side of this discussion is right, and – thank God – I have yet to need that sort of information.

But interestingly, both sides of this argument seem to believe that the other side is deliberately twisting the *focus* of the discussion, above and beyond any disagreement on facts.

Folk-psychological discussions of rape run roughly as follows:

I *would* be inserting my perfect archetypal quote that sparked this post here 😦

>Rape “survivor”, eh? Was she by any chance a drunken slut, out cruising by a dicking, and now she’s complaining that someone gave her one?

Now, assuming more than three people read this, responses to above pseudo-quote run roughly as follows:

50% “Wow, these people are terrible to say such an awful thing.”
25% “Objection, sir! That is a strawman!”
25% “Just goes to show how messed-up society is that this is even controversial.”

And they’re right.

Firstly, this is a somewhat *blunt* expression of this position. Many people are more politic in their phrasing. But, at the risk of biasing you against it, I do think this is the clearest expression of this – which is, I wish to emphasize, is merely the *reaction*, and a populist one at that.

Now, the strong version of this position is as follows:

>Assuming that signalling promiscuity or sexual availability is, in fact, a significant risk factor for rape; then ridiculing the common reaction is not only misleading, but actively dangerous. We *should* emphasize this risk, in roughly this fashion – and attempting to deny women a degree of responsibility for their actions will inevitably lead to irresponsible actions and thus *more rape*.

I don’t know if sluttiness – I won’t come up with a definition for “sluttiness”, incidentally, because it’s an inherently slangy concept – is actually a risk factor, let alone to what degree. But this argument has always seemed reasonable to me.

The primary counterargument/response to it is as follows:

>Why the [swearword] are you trying to blame the rape victim, here? They are well within their rights to dress however they like; and they are not the one who decided to rape someone! We should be focusing on stopping rapists, not blaming women for being attacked!

And this response has always seemed a touch problematic to me.

Of course, there are various issues inherent in this whole conversation, framed as it is withing the folk concept of rape (which I do know is inaccurate in other ways, regardless, that we needn’t go into here.) But still.

So, the other day, something occurred to me.

Con artists.

I’ve always been interested in con artists. Now, for those who don’t know, it is indisputably true that con artists target criminals – or rather, those willing to engage in obviously unethical and/or illegal activity. Everyone who knows about con artists acknowledges this.

(Put simply, it is rather hard to report someone who scams you, when they had done so by tricking you into believing you could (say) rig a horse race together and they only needed a little seed money. There is a certain tendency to want to keep the event quiet.)

So, by the logic above, you would think experts would speak of a con artists’ victim much the way many speak of a rape victim:

>Got “scammed”, eh? Were they by any chance a greedy bastard looking to rip someone off, and now they’re complaining that someone got them instead?

But, you know, they don’t. The very idea seems ridiculous. How do they react?

Well, everyone knows that you should avoid being unethical. It’s essentially part of the definition. “Unethical” things refer to those things which one should not do. Telling someone “don’t be unethical” is nothing new, wont change their behavior, and won’t prevent them being scammed.

So instead, they tell you that you should be especially careful when you are offered something that seems … underhanded. Then they provide you with various warning signs and strategies, that you can apply regardless, because not all cons use that strategy. (And, of course, just because you aren’t a paragon of money-related ethics doesn’t mean you “should” be robbed.)

And, you know, I think they’re right.

This analogy has changed my opinion of this whole discussion.

I still don’t know which side is right about the facts – I don’t have the background in statistics to wade through the politically-motivated nonsense even if I wanted to – but I now agree that one side is, in some sense, trying to shift blame from the perpetrator to the victim.

And that’s bad.

I mentioned earlier that I was deliberately using the term “slutty”, as in “she was probably dressed sluttily”, rather than more abstract terms. I don’t usually do this, but I felt it captures the point better in this case.

Here’s the thing – “slutty” is not a synonym for “promiscuous” or “sexually available”. Not an exact one, anyway.

Slutty refers to being too promiscuous, too sexually available. It is, by definition, something you should not be. Not everyone draws the line in the same place; but, barring attempts at “reclaiming” it, everyone knows that on the far side of their personal line is “sluttiness”.

It is not useful advice to tell someone to do something they, by definition, already know not to do. What we need to do is give them advice for what to anyway.

Whether someone foolishly acts too sexually available, or not – if they get raped, then that, I think, is what they need help with.