Pseudonym Writes

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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 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.

Why?

II

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.

III

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?

Incentives.

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.

Coda

https://twitter.com/robertskmiles/status/550990465366249472

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

I

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.

Why?

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 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.

[…]

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.

II

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?

Maybe.

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.

III

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

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.

IV

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?

V

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.

Response to Scott Adams on Tom Perkins, Godwin’s Law and Stigmatizing the Wealthy

What the heck. I know I don’t update this place enough, and here’s a ready-made thing I was already ranting about over there, dashed off after I read the article in question.

This is the post I’m replying to:

Scott Adams Blog: Nerds Are Taking Your Lunch Money

And here‘s a example of the stuff he’s responding to – it’s among the most popular examples, and it’s from the Huffington Post. In case the words “Godwin’s Law and Stigmatizing the Wealthy” in the title doesn’t let you predict what they’ll write. In other words, it’s not all wrong, but … pretty much content-free stuff you could generate by the page without needing to know the issue in question or believe a word of it, and possibly without human intervention – never let it be said I didn’t represent an opposing side in an argument fairly.

***

“For starters, using a Hitler analogy is almost always a self-refuting argument. And by that I mean that if you need to invoke a Hitler analogy, there’s probably something deeply wrong with your point of view in the first place.

“But I said “almost always.” Interestingly, the Hitler analogy actually works in this particular case.”

Scott, the problem with Hitler parallels isn’t that they’re factually incorrect – they’re usually true – it’s that the negative connotations are just noise, noise that drowns out any information that was present in the discussion. That’s why they’re the last refuge of the desperate.

The poor and middle-class rising up and dragging the wealthy and powerful from their homes to answer to sham “justice” – this is a legitimate concern (obviously). But if that was his point, he would have used the French Revolution, not Nazi Germany.

Instead, he tried to FORCE the point that demonizing a subsection of your population = BAD BAD BAD, using a cheap trick. No-one can seriously argue that the Nazis were right, and as long as you’re factually correct, arguing that they didn’t do it is doomed. An argument that can’t be defended against no matter if the thing under discussion is actually bad or no – rendering what could be a valuable discussion utterly useless for determining something.

And everyone knows it, so it backfired immensely. Tricking people who know they’re being tricked is hard, especially when you’re too busy tricking them to notice how obvious you’re being.

Now, in my fairly certain opinion, it IS bad bad bad BAD. And while I don’t share your assessment of the odds, there are clearly serious points in favour that need to be discussed – maybe even enough to raise the probability to 5% from the prior.

But that’s not what he tried, is it?

***

This simple comment is already way too long, so I may as well put my money where my mouth is and actually discuss some of those points that need discussion. Read the rest of this entry »

Level 300

toll

source oglaf.com

At low levels, your average magic-user is balanced against their pointy-stick-wielding brethren by being very easy to kill, so they need fighters to protect them. They sacrifice raw numbers – especially defence – for versatility.

The trouble with this is, of course, that if you’re versatile enough it becomes increasingly easy to compensate for any weaknesses, while those focusing on armour and damage dealt find they can hardly keep up with fireballs and force fields. Additionally, supernatural powers are often simply more useful – because the designers picture a mage of a certain power level doing things a similarly-skilled barbarian could hardly dream of.

This is a standard problem, and it ultimately stems from the fact that people have trouble imagining what a “mundane” fighter can do once they reach levels of ability that aren’t, well, mundane. Sure, they can hit harder, jump further, etc etc; but that simply doesn’t scale.

One way to make combat less boring and more creative – this applies generally, not just to this issue – is to have various maneuvers that can be used at a penalty. Thus, rather than doing more damage to some orc’s hit points, you might lop off his sword hand – or maybe, at an appropriately large penalty, his head.

But here’s something very, very common in pretty much every portrayal of hypercompetent fighters, that doesn’t really seem to show up to the same degree in games supposedly simulating them – holding off large numbers of opponents singlehandedly. Examples are probably already springing to your mind, here. But game designers have learned that extra actions are rare and precious things, so they tend to be doled out sparingly if at all. The solution, of course, is simple when you think about it: you want “fighting multiple opponents at once”, so just allow them to split their bonuses between multiple opponents. Depending on your core mechanic, this will almost certainly mean a penalty to each attack, since you’re starting with a certain basic level of competence for most tasks.

How much should this cost? Well, ideally, fighting two guys should be about twice as hard as fighting one of them. So if your system doesn’t feature exponential increase, then this isn’t going to get very epic, but then if you wanted epic then you might want to rethink that anyway. (Yes, D&D levels/CRs are supposed to be exponential.) Also, hitting one guy while blocking another should be possible, although the reduced complexity (and added simplicity! Reward your player for helping you do your job) means that cleaving through five men at once or whatever may be easier, if you want.

And, of course, one man against an army will need rules for “they can’t all reach me at once”, probably about equal to any cap you place on multiattacks. But really, that depends on your design goals, there’s no one perfect number here. Unless you’re using minis, in which case this is not even slightly an issue.

Ex Cathedral

There’s an interesting phenomenon, in religion, called left-hand path religions.

Most religions have something Bad to define themselves against. Maybe there are evil spirits going around tricking people into sin. Maybe the only way to reach Nirvana is to give up all attachment. Maybe psychiatrists are an evil conspiracy, older than man, dedicated to our enslavement (I’m looking at you, scientologists.) These are usually real, on some level, in the sense that you can hold witch hunts against them and so on; maybe what you’re attacking isn’t exactly what it sounds like in the pulpit, but whatever.

But the thing is, there’s nothing so awful, so laudable when fought, so filled with negative connotations, that you can’t argue in favour of it. You may not be right, of course, but the handy thing is that you can claim it as a subset of something that really is useful and then argue in favour of that instead.

And so your bogeyman takes on a life of it’s own. Some people – not most people, not a lot of people, but some – decide they rather like the sound of this “Satan” guy. He gave us the knowledge of good and evil, and knowledge is good, right? And I sure don’t like the priests, they say XYZ are bad, and I like XYZ; and they say Satan wants XYZ ‘cos it’s bad. Hey, he’s a rebel angel, right? They’re probably just badmouthing him because he rebelled against their stupid dogma! Yeah!

This is where real Satanists come from. And every major religion has it’s equivalent – . They generally have a somewhat different view of everything from their parent faith – they don’t believe all the same stuff but throw their lot in with the villains, although they may phrase it that way; they construct a narrative in which the “villains” are heroes with bad publicity. Of course, without people getting suspicious of the official story, they wouldn’t be able to attract them to their alternate view of events.

So now you know.

***

But then, don’t other movements construct bogeymen?

I’ve long been intrigued by the idea of progressivism-as-religion. You have your tenets, like “all men are created equal”, and the various things people derive from that. You have evangelists preaching to homophobes to repent and vote for gay marriage. You have your heretics and your minor schisms, where someone says something that, if subjected to lengthy analysis, is sexist or racist or something and everyone freaks out about it.

Progressives go on about how X is totally sexist/racist/etc and it’s old white men trying to screw people over and cling to power. How we need to fight (minor thing) because it’s technically sexist/racist/etc, and thus Bad. Because of all the political nonsense involved, there’s usually somebody, even if they’re just a vocal minority, claiming that the actual right choice is sexist/racist/etc and must be fought.

Hmm.

Now, in point of fact, there are people who define themselves as the “conservatives” liberals talk about. They’re often from liberal backgrounds themselves. The standard term is “reactionaries”; many seem to stem from Moldbug’s long-winded blog Unqualified Reservations, but in the grand tradition of Left-Hand Paths there are plenty of unrelated groups with only their origin (progressive strawmen and other poor arguments) in common … although this is where it gets confusing, because you get people who belong to more than one of these movements at once (MRA PUAs, for example, I ran into just the other day) and usually they treat them as kind of the same thing (we see through the feminists’ lies!); and there are people who the original bogeyman was derived from, like Stormfront. I haven’t seen it yet, but I don’t doubt somewhere, there’s somebody busy appropriating the terms of one or more of these movements for use by original-flavour conservatives (who, of course, wouldn’t touch most of this stuff with a twelve-foot pole.)

One cannot but wonder – how many communists sprang up under McCarthyism? A lot, I’ll wager.

The mechanics of the so-called sexual revolution’s success are still disputed, but I note with interest that free-love type movements show up with amazing regularity right up to the one that caught on. Early feminism contains a lot of fascinating nonsense that mostly straightened out when it became a mainstream political movement, like advocating converting to lesbianism. Does this happen to any ideology that becomes popular enough?

 

What examples have I missed? Or is my brain seeing patterns that aren’t there?

Free RPG – Powers and Principalities

This game is basically a monument to the fact that Exalted is hyped up as The Game Where You’re God-Tier. And that I’m the sort of Simulationist type who wants to be able to recreate stuff they’ve read/scene/whatever. And that I’m a fan of Superman, everything Neil Gaiman has ever written, and also real-world mythology.

And I’m a total RPG nerd.

(Mechanics after the jump.)

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