How many folks, I wonder, who have engaged in the Tiny House Movement have ever actually lived in a tiny, mobile place? Because what those who can afford homes call “living light,” poor folks call “gratitude for what we’ve got.”
And it’s not just the Tiny House Movement that incites my discontent. From dumpster diving to trailer-themed bars to haute cuisine in the form of poor-household staples, it’s become trendy for those with money to appropriate the poverty lifestyle — and it troubles me for one simple reason. Choice.
The Tiny House Movement began in the ’90s, but has only been rising in popularity since the recession. And to be fair, it’s rooted in a very real problem: more and more people being displaced as a result of soaring housing costs, especially in tech-boom areas like the Bay Area.
It’s likely, from where I sit, that this back-to-nature and boxed-up simplicity is not being marketed to people like me, who come from simplicity and heightened knowledge of poverty, but to people who have not wanted for creature comforts. For them to try on, glamorize, identify with.
Such appropriation isn’t limited to the Tiny House trend, or even to the idea of simplicity. In major cities, people who come from high-income backgrounds flock to bars and restaurants that both appropriate, and mock, low-income communities. Perhaps the most egregious example is San Francisco’s Butter Bar, a trendy outpost that prides itself on being a true-blue, trailer park-themed bar, serving up the best in “trashy” cuisine and cocktails. With tater tots, microwaved food, and deep-fried Twinkies on the menu, the bar also serves cocktails that contain cheap ingredients, such as Welch’s grape soda. The bar has an actual trailer inside, and serves cans in paper bags, so that bar flies can have a paid-for experience of being what the owners of this bar think of when they think of trailer trash.
It’s but one example of an entire hipster movement — can it be called a movement when it’s a subculture rooted not in political consciousness, but in capitalism? — that has brought with it an ethos of poor-culture appropriation and the “re-invention” of things that have largely been tools of survival for poor, disabled, working class, and/or communities of color for decades.
April 25, 2017
April 3, 2017
Kim du Toit on a specific example of the use of jargon heavily sprinkled with three-letter acronyms (TLAs) and extended three-letter acronyms (ETLAs, or four-letter acronyms) to create or enhance the impression of their specialized insider knowledge, in this case among the pick-up artists (PUAs):
In every cult, there are people who try to set their group aside from the rest of the population with language — in other words, creating a shorthand that only the initiates or insiders know, which (I guess) makes them feel superior to outsiders. Many times, this language is made up of abbreviations or (my particular bête noir) acronyms that create a level of inscrutability to the casual reader or onlooker and render the simplest of statements completely opaque to the uninitiated. (I’ll talk another time about academic language, which shuns abbreviation and acronym in favor of dense, elliptical words and phrases used as a shorthand among fellow academics and gives the users a veneer of erudition, usually false.)
All this pales into insignificance by comparison to people who toss off expressions like “This beta orbiter tried to neg the AMOG in front of the SHB to increase his SMV.” Allow me to translate: “This weakling who hangs around pretty women trying to curry favor with them tried to cut down a charismatic man in front of a beautiful woman, in order to make himself more attractive to her.” (AMOG = Alpha Male Of [the] Group or Alpha Male Other Guy, SHB = Smokin’ Hot Babe [sometimes V(very)H(ot)B(abe), and SMV = Sexual Market Value.)
I speak here, of course, of the PUA (pick-up artist) community, in which the High Priests have created this entire glossary of acronyms to show that, yes, they are the gate-keepers of knowledge which, if you buy their training manuals or pay to attend their seminars, you too, Mr. Sad Beta Male, can unlock the secrets of access to SHB pudenda (Latin alert) and become a “notch collector” similar to these skilled exponents of the art.
It’s bad enough when used in a sentence, but when used graphically or in a chart to illustrate a concept or theory, it becomes completely opaque. Here’s a beauty which attempts to show the correlation between a woman’s looks and the likelihood of her being bitchy:
VHB10 -> BQ 0
HB9 -> BQ 0-1
HB8 -> BQ 1-2
PJ7 -> BQ 3-4
PJ6 -> BQ 5-7
PJ5 -> BQ 6-10
PJ4 -> BQ 4-10
UG3 -> BQ 1-8
UG2 -> BQ 1-4
UG1 -> BQ 0-3
VUG0 -> BQ 0-1
VHB = Very Hot Babe, HB = Hot Babe, PJ = Plain Jane, UG = Ugly Girl, VUG = Very Ugly Girl, and the numeric qualifiers 1-10 are the common delimiters on the Female Hotness Scale (FHS). BQ, by the way, is Bitchiness Quotient, and the numeric qualifiers there are the levels thereof.
Note that this is presented as a scientific analysis or model, when in fact it’s no such thing: it’s a creation solely of the writer’s observation or theory and not by actual, you know, data — but creating acronyms gives it quasi-scientific gravitas — damn it, another Latin word, but you know what I mean, right? It’s kind of a pity, because the author at Chateau Artiste has an excellent way with the English language, when he’s not talking utter bullshit like the above. (Credit where it’s due, though: he also called Trump for the overwhelming electoral victory long before anyone else did, so he’s a more-insightful observer of trends than most mainstream media pundits.)
I’m really bad at fighting. Oh, not physical fighting, though I suppose I’m bad at that too at this point, since I haven’t been exercising like I used to and I’m not twenty anymore.
And I don’t mean I’m not good at landing metaphorical blows. No. The part I’m bad at is staying angry.
It’s funny, as much as we get accused of “hating” the only things and people I’ve hated are historical people and regimes that have killed millions of their citizens. Yeah, yeah, I hate red and black fascism, aka Nazism and Communism like I hate hell, all Capulets and … well. Not thee. The other things I hate are more things I strongly dislike: Licorice, bad, preachy books, teachers who don’t do their job, cold days. I don’t spend my time sitting around and going “I hate you snow, I do.” I just mumble disconsolately about not being able to walk and my fingers hurting with cold even while inside.
There is on the left this certainty that women are more peaceful than men that I think comes from two things: first the empathy which women have, or at least display more, which is part of raising infants; two women’s inability to stay burning at peak flame and the ability to find excuses for even the worst misdeeds, in order to keep their “tribe” together. What my mom called “Mothers always love the worst child the best.” (I never asked whether this was an admission I’m her favorite.)
This doesn’t mean, mind you, that women are not capable of aggression and war. I’ve said before that having attended an all-girl high school I could tell these people something about women and fighting.
It’s just that when women are bad, they’re very, very bad. They tend to fight in an underhanded way that leaves plausible deniability and the ability to pose as an angel before the world.
Sarah A. Hoyt, “Weaponized Empathy”, According to Hoyt, 2015-09-06.
March 7, 2017
Men are bigger and stronger than women. We’re talking women on average, of course. I think right now I’m bigger than my husband, though he’s still stronger. And probably Lizzy Lifter is stronger than Geoffrey Geek who spends his entire time playing computer games and never sees the sun. BUT on average, over the population, men are so much stronger/faster/physically able than women that any random man can overpower any given woman.
So, why aren’t ALL women victims of domestic abuse? Why are women even outside, without being raped? (And if you think all women are victims, you must be living in an Arab country, where those two above are the pre-assumptions of the cultural norms.) How is this possible? Why don’t men press home their advantage?
Well, first because men aren’t a group with “group consciousness.” Contrary to what “feminists” seem to think, men are not alien creatures who reproduce by fission. They’re women’s children, friends, brothers, fathers. So of course, being human, they care for some women and they’re decent enough to extrapolate their feelings to strange women. (And Women’s Studies programs make a lot of those.)
But more than that, there’s a built in noblesse oblige that prevents men from pressing home their last advantage. Our society runs with it, and is soaked deep with strains of female privilege.
Well, take your three year old boy to a playground. Have him get in a fight with a girl. At that age, their strengths are equivalent, and the girl might be larger and stronger (girls develop faster.) Have him punch her. What do you do? You pull him back and say “you don’t hit a girl. Ever, ever, ever.”
At which point if the girl is a little sh*t who wasn’t taught her part in the bargain, she will beat him to a pulp, but never mind.
You do it because you have to. This is not some fossilized rule. It’s because if your boy doesn’t have that trained into him REALLY early, he’ll hit thirteen and seriously injure a girl. Worse, in an intimate relationship with a girl (should he turn out to like them) he will lose his cool (we all do) and suddenly become a wife abuser. Because the chances his wife will be smaller and weaker than himself are high.
So you tell your three year old this “arbitrary” rule and establish the boundaries of “female privilege” to stop him from becoming a monster when the imbalance of (physical) power sets in.
Of course, the rule has its opposite. Because women have power too, in the relationship. Oh, sure, not at three, when they’re just annoying, extra-whiney little boys as far as boys are concerned. (Average, statistical girls, that is. Some of us were Vengeance of G-d hellions.)
I tell you as the girl who was often pulled back from these with “girls don’t fight” or “girls don’t hit boys in public” but most often (my being outsized for my time and place) with “you don’t hit people smaller than you. Ever, ever, ever.”
Sarah Hoyt, “Noblesse Oblige and Mare’s Nests”, According to Hoyt, 2015-05-05.
February 28, 2017
Published on 7 Oct 2016
You can make this fun DIY medieval torture device in a weekend! FREE PLANS and full article►► http://woodworking.formeremortals.net/2016/10/how-to-make-medieval-stocks-pillory/
February 17, 2017
When I was a teenager in the 1970s, there was not yet anything you could call “geek culture”. Sure, there were bright kids fascinated by computers or math or science, kids who were often “poorly socialized” in the jargon of the day and hung together as a defensive measure; I was one of them. But we didn’t see ourselves as having a social identity or affiliation the way the jocks or surfers or hippies did. We weren’t a subculture, nor even a community; we didn’t even have a label for ourselves.
Slowly, slowly that began to change. One key event was the eruption of science fiction into pop culture that began with the first Star Wars movie in 1977. This was our stuff and we knew it, even though most of us never joined the subculture of SF fandom proper. Personal computers made another big difference after 1980; suddenly, technology was cool and sexy in a way it hadn’t been for decades, and people who were into it started to get respect rather than (or in addition to) faint or not-so-faint scorn.
You could see the trend in movies. War Games in 1983; Revenge of the Nerds in 1984; Real Genius in 1985. To kids today Revenge of the Nerds doesn’t seem remarkable, because geek culture is more secure and confident today than a lot of older tribes like bikers or hippies. But at the time, the idea that you could have an entire fraternity of geeks — an autonomous social group with reason to be proud of itself and a recognized place in the social ecology — was funny; all by itself it was a comedy premise.
The heroes of Revenge of the Nerds were people who created a fraternity of their own, who bootstrapped a niche for themselves in Grant McCracken’s culture of plenitude. The movie was an extended joke, but it described and perhaps helped create a real phenomenon.
The term ‘geek’ didn’t emerge as a common label, displacing the older and much more sporadically-used ‘nerd’, until around the time of the Internet explosion of 1993-1994. I noticed this development because I didn’t like it; I still prefer to tell people I hang out with hackers (all hackers are geeks, but not all geeks are hackers). Another index of the success of the emerging geek culture is that around that time it stopped being an almost exclusively male phenomenon.
Yes, you catch my implication. When I was growing up we didn’t have geekgirls. Even if the label ‘geek’ had been in use at the time, the idea that women could be so into computers or games or math that they would identify with and hang out with geek guys would have struck us as sheerest fantasy. Even the small minority of geek guys who were good with women (and thus had much less reason to consider them an alien species) would have found the implications of the term ‘geekgirl’ unbelievable before 1995 or so.
(There are people who cannot read an account like the above without assuming that the author is simply projecting his own social and sexual isolation onto others. For the benefit of those people, I will report here that I had good relations with women long before this was anything but rare in my peer group. This only made the isolation of my peers easier to notice.)
What changed? Several things. One is that geek guys are, on the whole, better adjusted and healthier and more presentable today than they were when I was a teenager. Kids today have trouble believing the amount of negative social pressure on intelligent people to pass as normal and boring that was typical before 1980, the situation Revenge of the Nerds satirized and inverted. It meant that the nascent geek culture of the time attracted only the most extreme geniuses and misfits — freaks, borderline autists, obsessives, and other people in reaction against the mainstream. Women generally looked at this and went “ugh!”
But over time, geeky interests became more respectable, even high-status (thanks at least in part to the public spectacle of übergeeks making millions). The whole notion of opposition to the mainstream started to seem dated as ‘mainstream’ culture gradually effloresced into dozens of tribes freakier than geeks (two words: “body piercings”). Thus we started to attract people who were more normal, in psychology if not in talent. Women noticed this. I believe it was in 1992, at a transhumanist party in California, that I first heard a woman matter-of-factly describe the Internet hacker culture as “a source of good boyfriends”. A few years after that we started to get a noticeable intake of women who wanted to become geeks themselves, as opposed to just sleeping with or living with geeks.
The loner/obsessive/perfectionist tendencies of your archetypal geek are rare in women, who are culturally encouraged (and perhaps instinct-wired) to value social support and conformity more. Thus, women entering the geek subculture was a strong sign that it had joined the set of social identities that people think of as ‘normal’. This is still a very recent development; I can’t recall the term ‘geekgirl’ being used at all before about 1998, and I don’t think it became commonly self-applied until 2000 or so.
Eric S. Raymond, “The Revenge of the Nerds is Living Well”, Armed and Dangerous, 2004-12-20.
February 13, 2017
Yesterday I was hanging around in the kitchen with my older son, waiting for the coffee to brew, and he made some joking comment about my being oppressed when I was growing up.
I told him I was oppressed enough, or at least women were, in that time and in that place – as they still are in many times and in many places.
Yes, I like to point out and do – often – that it wasn’t a gigantic conspiracy of men against women that kept women down for six thousand years because frankly most men can’t conspire their way out of a paperbag. (I suspect women are naturally better at it. No, don’t hurt me. Just women seem to be naturally more socially adept. But even women couldn’t manage a conspiracy of that magnitude.) And I like to point out – and do – it wasn’t shoulder to shoulder but the pill and changes in technology that liberated women or at least that made attempts at liberation reasonable instead of insane. (Of course, shoulder to shoulder makes for better movies and books, which is why everyone believes it.)
However, as I told the boy, given the conditions biology set up, women were “oppressed” enough in most cultures and in most places. Yes, men were oppressed too at the same time, because this type of shackles is double-sided, but the oppression of women lingered a bit longer than that of men – say a good couple of generations by habit and custom and because humans simply don’t change that fast. Which is why the oppression of women is remembered as such and the men are remembered as being on top.
So I told him in Portugal, until the seventies, women weren’t allowed to vote and, oh, by the way, a married woman couldn’t get a job outside the house unless her husband signed papers saying that they needed it, due to economic hardship. (Which of course, meant the dumb bastard had to sign a paper saying he wasn’t man enough to support his family. Made it really easy on him, it did.) I’m sure there were other legal and economic hobbles that went with that. And I told him of course in many many countries in the world that inequality persists, only much worse.
Which is when I realized he was squirming and looking like he’d done something wrong.
Guilt. My poor kid was feeling guilty of being born male.
Guilt is a useful enough emotion, in small doses and well administered. For instance when I was three I stole some very small coin from money my mom had left on the kitchen table. I don’t remember what – the equivalent of five cents. I stole it to buy a couple of peanuts at the store across the street (they sold them by weight. In the shell.) My mom made it clear to me I’d made it impossible for her to buy her normal bread order when the bakery delivery (no, don’t ask. Delivered. Door to door. Every morning. I missed it terribly my first years in the US, but now they don’t do it in Portugal either, anymore) came by the next morning because she didn’t have the exact change. It wasn’t strictly true. The money amount was so small she just said “I’ll make the rest up tomorrow.” But she told me it was, and how she had to be short a roll. My understanding there were larger consequences for my stupid theft made me feel guilty, and that ensured I never did it again. The same, with varying degrees of justice, managed to instill the semblance of a work ethic in me in relation to school work.
However, the guilt my son was feeling was stupid, counterproductive, all too widespread AND poisonous.
Stupid because he could hardly be held accountable for something that happened thirty years before his birth, even if he has the same outward form as the people who benefitted from an inequity. (And benefitted should be taken with a grain of salt here. Countries in which women are kept down might offer an ego bo for the guys, but they are far less materially prosperous on average. Everyone suffers.) Counterproductive because guilt by definition can never be collective. Well, not beyond a small group like, say the Manson family. You get beyond that and you can’t assign blame with any degree of accuracy. So, going and yelling at my father, say, for “keeping women down” when I was little would be as insane as yelling at my son. Why? Well, because a) he didn’t and wouldn’t (he was raised by a strong woman, practically on her own, while my grandfather was in Brazil, working and grandma ruled the extended family with an iron fist.) b) to the extent he enforced societal rules, it was usually to keep us from getting in trouble with society in general (which, btw, included women. In fact women were the greatest enforcers of “you shall not be seen anywhere with a young man you’re not dating” rule that got me in the most trouble.) c) his standing up and talking given who he was and the amount of social power he had (or in fact didn’t have) would have changed nothing except get him treated like a lunatic.
Sarah Hoyt, “The Sharp Edge of Guilt, a blast from the past March 2010”, According to Hoyt, 2015-06-05.
January 28, 2017
Food is important. Mark and inwardly digest. Chew your food. Taste it. Swallow what you have put into your mouth before reloading. Your mouth is busy, give it a chance. Indeed, pause from time to time, to think it through. Converse with your neighbours.
My mother taught me as much. Would that she had taught some others. Americans eat very fast. Our franchise establishments actually advertise their serving speed. (This is barbaric.) They also put signs, when their “outlets” are in downmarket locations, specifying the time you have to eat before your presence is interpreted as “loitering.” Woe to the diner not wearing a watch, for they have not the courtesy to place a clock by the sign, to let him adjust his swallowing to the time available.
My own advice would be, don’t dine where you’re not welcome.
David Warren, “Elevated Discourse”, Essays in Idleness, 2015-06-11.
January 20, 2017
In A.D. 2101
War was beginning.
Captain: What happen?
Mechanic: Somebody set up us the bomb.
Operator: We get signal.
Captain: What !
Operator: Main screen turn on.
Captain: It’s you !!
CATS: How are you gentlemen !!
CATS: All your base are belong to us.
CATS: You are on the way to destruction.
Captain: What you say !!
CATS: You have no chance to survive make your time.
CATS: Ha ha ha ha ….
Operator: Captain !!
Captain: Take off every ‘ZIG’!!
Captain: You know what you doing.
Captain: Move ‘ZIG’.
Captain: For great justice.
January 7, 2017
December 17, 2016
Amy Grief links to a fake Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) merchandise website:
How often do you get frustrated with the TTC? If you take it regularly, you probably have a love-hate relationship with the Toronto transit system. And two Torontonians captured that feeling perfectly with their new website NotInService.ca.
The site riffs on the TTC’s new online shop, but instead of celebrating the Red Rocket, the fake merch depicts all of our biggest transit woes. For instance, there’s a mug that says, “ongoing fire investigation at eastbound at Pape Station,” and a t-shirt that reads, “due to an earlier delay, you may experience longer than normal travel times.”
According to the site’s creators, who posted about it on Reddit, they were inspired by subway ads for real TTC merch and wondered who would actually buy it.
Update, 19 December: BlogTO is reporting that the fake merchandise store has miraculously turned into an actual merchandise store.
When the TTC parody shop launched on Friday, many regular transit users went nuts because the merch accurately captured their (not-so-pleasant) experience riding the Red Rocket.
That’s why the site’s now live and you can actually buy the alternative TTC merchandise. The site says it’s “open just in time to be late for the holidays,” which really reflects the whole spirit of this enterprise.
December 15, 2016
In the New York Times, John Tierney says most of us are trying too hard and should just relax about our gift-giving efforts:
Social scientists bear glad tidings for the holiday season. After extensively observing how people respond to gifts, they have advice for shoppers: You don’t have to try so hard.
You’re not obliged to spend hours finding just the right gift for each person on your list. Most would be just as happy with something quick and easy. This may sound too good to be true, but rest assured this is not a ploy by some lazy Scrooges in academia.
These researchers are meticulous analysts of gift-giving rituals. Whether they’re drawing lessons from Kwakwaka’wakw Indian potlatches or Amazon.com wish lists, I’ve always found them the wisest mentors for the holidays, and this year they have more data than ever to back up their advice:
Don’t aim for the “big reveal.” Many shoppers strive to find a sensational toy or extravagant piece of jewelry that will create drama when it’s opened. But drama is not what recipients want, according to a new study by Jeff Galak of Carnegie Mellon University.
He and his colleagues have found that gifts go wrong because the givers are focused on the moment of exchange, whereas the recipients are thinking long-term: Will I actually get any use out of this?
Don’t “over-individuate” your gifts. People too often give bad presents because they insist on buying something different for everyone.
In experiments using greeting cards and gifts, psychologists found that people typically feel obliged to choose unique items for each person on their list even when the recipients wouldn’t know if they got duplicates — and even when one particularly good gift would work better for everyone.
The more gifts you select, the more likely you’ll pick some duds. If you can find one sure thing, don’t be afraid to give it more than once.
December 10, 2016
I continue to be amazed by this idea, about the passage of time. Photos, for instance, revive vivid memories from, say, forty and fifty years ago. And what was so commonplace then, so often boring, is now gone forever. It has become mysterious, fascinating to the philosophical mind: how can these things have been? How could I not have known, at the time, that the everyday was so exotic?
But we are charmed, and then return to another everyday. We have been briefly entertained, as by a TV documentary.
These pictures present faces one once knew well, but far away in another country. (And “the past is a foreign country,” anyway.) One adds forty or fifty years to the face of each remembered person, or death to those a little older. Yet in the pictures they are all young and blythe, and I can remember being among them, “as if it were yesterday.” Those times are now forever lost to our living sight: though not from God’s omniscience.
Each, let me add, went in his own way, yet there is a commonality. I can imagine going back to an old neighbourhood — now as a traveller from the future — and finding it physically not much changed. One’s heart beats: one wants to run up and knock at a door, at all the doors — “I, Tiresias.” But then one’s heart breaks. For behind each door, a shock of non-recognition. Those people don’t live here any more. The neighbourhood that appeared unchanged is verily changed beyond recognition. It is another place now. No one knows who you are.
The idea is quite a simple one: all is lost, so that in a few more years, even these pictures will mean nothing to anybody. Unless they happen to be “quaint,” in some collectable way. But the idea in itself — of our inevitable extinction — is more immediately lost, unless it can be articulated. It is not fact-checkable, in any given moment. It requires poetry, to keep it alive in our souls.
We feel nostalgia, for people and places and things, but we have lost the ability to be “Japanese” about it: to begin to grasp the incredible poignancy of our condition, and bring it into our lives as a constant, so that it applies to our present, too. To live, as it were, on the cusp of eternity.
David Warren, “On the transience of things”, Essays in Idleness, 2016-11-29.
December 5, 2016
It’s from a brewer in Houston I’ve never heard of, so the chances that it’ll appear in the government monopoly liquor stores here in Ontario are pretty small:
A Christmas Story is such a staple of the American holiday season that in 1997, Turner Broadcasting’s TNT or TBS networks began running “24 Hours of A Christmas Story.” All day long on Christmas Eve and all day long on Christmas Day, you can turn on the TV and catch A Christmas Story. When the screaming kids have finally gone to sleep, and you’re done with all your wrapping, you can sit down and catch a true American classic that will let you unwind, make you laugh, and remind you of the Christmas frustration of kids everywhere.
When you sit down to watch the movie, grab a beer. It will undoubtedly help you relax. Christmas is stressful, especially as a parent. You can see this in the character of “the Old Man” in Ralphie’s story. His father is always trying to balance a battle against his angry furnace, the neighbor’s wild and hungry dogs, and the stress of balancing life with his kids and his job.
In the mid-twentieth-century, middle-America setting of A Christmas Story, “the Old Man” probably drank some pretty boring beer to relax at the end of a long day. You, my friends, have many more options. There are plenty of Christmas beers, and we’ll get into them in the coming weeks, but there is one you just can’t pass up if you’re a fan of A Christmas Story (and let’s admit, you all are).
Karbach Brewing Company out of Houston makes a beer called Yule Shoot Your Eye Out. With a wonderful reference to the classic line from A Christmas Story, the gang at Karbach take it one step further with a representation of the famous leg lamp on the can.
October 29, 2016
My last IQ-ish test was my SATs in high school. I got a perfect score in Verbal, and a good-but-not-great score in Math.
And in high school English, I got A++s in all my classes, Principal’s Gold Medals, 100%s on tests, first prize in various state-wide essay contests, etc. In Math, I just barely by the skin of my teeth scraped together a pass in Calculus with a C-.
Every time I won some kind of prize in English my parents would praise me and say I was good and should feel good. My teachers would hold me up as an example and say other kids should try to be more like me. Meanwhile, when I would bring home a report card with a C- in math, my parents would have concerned faces and tell me they were disappointed and I wasn’t living up to my potential and I needed to work harder et cetera.
And I don’t know which part bothered me more.
Every time I was held up as an example in English class, I wanted to crawl under a rock and die. I didn’t do it! I didn’t study at all, half the time I did the homework in the car on the way to school, those essays for the statewide competition were thrown together on a lark without a trace of real effort. To praise me for any of it seemed and still seems utterly unjust.
On the other hand, to this day I believe I deserve a fricking statue for getting a C- in Calculus I. It should be in the center of the schoolyard, and have a plaque saying something like “Scott Alexander, who by making a herculean effort managed to pass Calculus I, even though they kept throwing random things after the little curly S sign and pretending it made sense.”
And without some notion of innate ability, I don’t know what to do with this experience. I don’t want to have to accept the blame for being a lazy person who just didn’t try hard enough in Math. But I really don’t want to have to accept the credit for being a virtuous and studious English student who worked harder than his peers. I know there were people who worked harder than I did in English, who poured their heart and soul into that course – and who still got Cs and Ds. To deny innate ability is to devalue their efforts and sacrifice, while simultaneously giving me credit I don’t deserve.
Meanwhile, there were some students who did better than I did in Math with seemingly zero effort. I didn’t begrudge those students. But if they’d started trying to say they had exactly the same level of innate ability as I did, and the only difference was they were trying while I was slacking off, then I sure as hell would have begrudged them. Especially if I knew they were lazing around on the beach while I was poring over a textbook.
I tend to think of social norms as contracts bargained between different groups. In the case of attitudes towards intelligence, those two groups are smart people and dumb people. Since I was both at once, I got to make the bargain with myself, which simplified the bargaining process immensely. The deal I came up with was that I wasn’t going to beat myself up over the areas I was bad at, but I also didn’t get to become too cocky about the areas I was good at. It was all genetic luck of the draw either way. In the meantime, I would try to press as hard as I could to exploit my strengths and cover up my deficiencies. So far I’ve found this to be a really healthy way of treating myself, and it’s the way I try to treat others as well.
Scott Alexander, “The Parable of the Talents”, Slate Star Codex, 2015-01-31.