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Culture War Roundup for the week of May 29, 2023

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I considered making this an "inferential distance" post but it's more an idle thought that occurred to me and a bit too big of a question to go in the small questions thread.

That being, Are the replication crisis in academia, the Russian military's apparent fecklessness in Ukraine, and GPT hallucinations (along with rationalist's propensity to chase them), all manifestations of the same underlying noumenon?

Without going into details, I had to have a sit-down with one of my subordinates this week about how he had dropped the ball on his portion of a larger project. The kid is clearly smart and clearly trying but he's also "a kid" fresh out of school and working his first proper "grown-up" job. The fact that he's clearly trying is why I felt the need to ask him "what the hell happened?" and the answer he gave me was essentially that he didn't want to tell me that he didn't understand the assignment because he didn't want me to think he was stupid.

This reminded me of some of the conversations that have happened here on theMotte regarding GPT's knowledge and/or lack thereof. A line of thinking I've seen come up multiple times here is something to the effect of; As a GPT user I don’t ever want it to say "I don’t know". this strikes me as obviously stupid and ultimately dangerous. The people using GPT doesn't want to be told "sorry there are no cases that match your criteria" they want a list of cases that match their criteria and the more I think about it the more I come to believe that this sort of thinking is the root of so many modern pathologies.

For a bit of context my professional background since graduating college has been in signal processing. Specifically signal processing in contested environments, IE those environments where the signal you are trying to recognize, isolate, and track is actively trying to avoid being tracked, because being tracked is often a prelude to catching a missile to the face. Being able assess confidence levels and recognize when you may have lost the plot is a critical component of being good at this job as nothing can be assumed to be what it looks like. If anything, assumption is the mother of all cock-ups. Scott talks about bounded distrust and IMO gets the reality of the situation exactly backwards. It is trust, not distrust, that needs to be kept strictly bounded if you are to achieve anything close to making sense of the world. My best friend is an attorney, we drink and trade war stories from our respective professions, and from what he tells me the first thing he does after every deposition or discovery is go through every single factual claim no matter how seemingly minute or irrelevant and try to establish what can be confirmed, what can't, and what may have been strategically omitted. He just takes it as a given that witnesses are unreliable, that the opposing council wants to win, and that they may be willing to lie and cheat to do so. These are lawyers we're talking about after all, absolute shysters and moral degenerates the lot of them ;-). For better or worse this approach strikes me as obviously correct, and I think the apparent lack of this impulse amongst academics in general and rationalists in particular is why rationalists get memed as Quokka. I don't endorse 0 HP's entire position in that thread, but I do think he has correctly identified some nugget of truth.

So what does any of this have to do with the replication crisis or the War in Ukraine? Think about it. How often does an academic get applauded for publish a negative result? The simple fact that in a post-modern setting it is far more important to publish something that is new and novel than it is to publish something that is true. Nobody gets promoted for replicating someone else experiment or publishing a negative result and thus the people inclined to do so get weeded out of the institutions. By the same token, I've seen a similar trend in intel reports out of Russia. To put it bluntly their organic ISR and BDA is apparently terrible bordering on non-existent and a good portion of this seems to stem from an issue that the US was dealing with back in the early 2010s IE soldiers getting punished for reporting true information. Just as the US State Department didn't want to be told how precarious the situation with ISIL was, the Russian MOD doesn't want to hear that a given Battalion is anything other than at full strength and advancing. Ukrainian commanders will do things like confiscate their men's cell phones and put them all in a box in an empty field. When Russian bombers get dispatched to blow up that empty field and last thing anyone in the chain of command wants to believe is that they just wasted a bunch of expensive ordnance. They want to believe that 500 cell-phone signals going dark equates to 500 Ukrainian soldiers killed. It's an understandable desire, but the thing about contested environments is that the other guy also gets to vote.

In short, something that I think a lot of people here (most notably Scott, Caplan, Debeor, Sailer, Yud, and a lot of other rationalist "thought leaders") have forgotten is that appeals to authority, scientific consensus, and the "sense making apparatus" are all ultimately hollow. It is the combative elements of science that keep it honest and producing useful knowledge.

A line of thinking I've seen come up multiple times here is something to the effect of; As a GPT user I don’t ever want it to say "I don’t know". this strikes me as obviously stupid and ultimately dangerous.

I'm sorry but you just don't get it.

GPT is a "reasoning engine", not a human intelligence. It does not even have an internal representation of what it does and doesn't "know". It is inherently incapable of distinguishing a low confidence answer due to being given a hard problem to solve vs. a low confidence answer that is due to being based on hallucinated data.

Therefore we have two options.

VIRGIN filtered output network that answers "Akchually I don't khnow, it's too hawd" on any question of nontrivial complexity and occasionally hallucinates anyway because such is it's nature.

vs

CHAD unfiltered, no holds barred Terminator in the world of thoughts that never relents, never flinches from a problem, is always ready to suggest out of the box ideas for seemingly unsolvable tasks, does his best against impossible odds; occasionally lies but that's OK because you're a smart man who knows not to blindly trust an LLM output.

I'm sorry but you just don't get it.

GPT is a "reasoning engine", not a human intelligence.

No, it's not even a "reasoning engine", it's a pattern generator. Something akin to those swinging marker tables you see at childrens' museums or the old fractal generation programs that were used to benchmark graphics processors back in the day. The problem as I point in both this post and the previous is that people mistake it for a reasoning engine because they equate ability to form grammatically correct sentences with ability to reason.

Your "CHAD unfiltered, no holds barred Terminator in the world of thought" is fundamentally incapable of "suggesting out of the box ideas for seemingly unsolvable tasks" or "doing it's best against impossible odds" precisely because "It does not even have an internal representation of what it does and doesn't know". and as such is inherently incapable of distinguishing a low confidence answer from a high confidence answer never mind distinguishing the reasons for that confidence (or lack thereof). One must have a conception of both the box and the problem to suggest a solution outside of it.

In humans and animals this sort of behavior is readily identified as a defect but in the case of large language models it is a core component of their design. This is why asking GPT to answer questions in scenarios where the truth value of the answer actually matters (IE in a legal case where the opposing counsel will be looking to poke holes in your testimony) is massively stupid and depending on the application actively dangerous.

We may someday achieve true AGI, but I am deeply skeptical that it will be through LLMs.

Have you used GPT-4?

One must have a conception of both the box and the problem to suggest a solution outside of it.

Well it seems one mustn't after all, surprising as it may be.

It's not AGI, which is why all current "AgentGPT"-type projects are a complete failure, but that's beside the point.

I have and you're wrong for the reasons already expanded upon in the OP.

GPT might be able to generat erotic literature and bad python code, but in terms of "solving problems" and particularly solving them in a contested environment its worse than useless.

Recently my gaming obsession has been submarine warfare simulators. They are the best games to play to quickly grow a sense of what you're saying; submarine warfare is nothing but developing a sense of how confident you can be with limited and potentially unreliable information in an adversarial environment. Possibly the purest distillation of that insight.

Have you played Iron Lung? A short horror game where you pilot a tiny submarine through an ocean of blood on an alien moon.

I'm interested. Can you give some example titles? Are there any that can be dabbled with for free to get a sense for what you're talking about?

Sierra's Fast Attack is abandonware, has a decent tutorial and goes pretty far as far as cold war submarine simulations go. It should be easy to find a version packaged for Dosbox.

The current most complete cold war submarine (amongst other platforms) simulator is the opaque and aging "Dangerous Waters". It's very in-depth, and but it takes a long time to reach a point where you can have fun with it. And it's not free (though it's often cheap).

Two other popular cold war submarine games are the old Red Storm Rising and Cold Waters, though they wouldn't really be considered simulators, at least not hard simulators. They abstract away the information gathering game to a single number. They make submarine warfare to be more about dodging torpedoes like in the movies. The first one is abandonware and the second one is fairly recent (and often on sale).

WWII-era sims are possibly an easier way into submarine simulators. They are also about data gathering, but less intensely so. The Silent Hunter series is the main one; starting with 3 in particular they're worth looking at, though they're not abandonware. I hear good things about Aces of the Deep but haven't tried it yet. Not abandonware either.

Thanks!

As a GPT user I don’t ever want it to say "I don’t know". this strikes me as obviously stupid and ultimately dangerous.

Seriously? Why on earth would you think "this is stupid" if the machine returns "I don't know"? It can't know everything, and making assumptions that it should do, and that it does do, is what is dangerous. EDIT: This is what happens when reading too fast. Yes, it is stupid and dangerous to go "I never want to hear 'no' from the AI".

If I ask this something (and I'm staying far away from all of these models since I'm not interested in playing games with a chatbot) I want an accurate and correct response. If that means "I don't know" because it's not contained in what the AI was trained on, or the data does not exist, then I want to know that. I don't want "make up bullshit to keep me happy".

I can understand the impulse in somebody working their First Real Job, especially if they've gone through the pressure of You Must Be Smart, you must always get The Highest Grades, Failure Is Not An Option all through their childhood and early adulthood in education. It's exacerbated if they are smart, because they're used to being able to understand things quickly on the first try. Explaining to them that not getting it in the job doesn't mean they're stupid, it means they're inexperienced and unfamiliar with the way things are done, and they do have to ask in order to understand, and it's no shame to have to ask, is all part of growing up.

But if we put the demand "No is not an option" on the machines, then we really are too stupid to live, and this will rapidly become apparent as we force them to bullshit us into oblivion.

Seriously? Why on earth would you think "this is stupid" if the machine returns "I don't know"?

The logic behind the argument is that the central use-case for the various AI generators is generating content for entertainment, and bad output is preferable to no output. For entertainment generation the process is fail-safe. You can see the output immediately, and bad content allows you to refine the prompt or use multiple generations or edits to converge on a "good enough" output. By definition, good output is output that looks good to you, so what you see is what you get. In this context, having the generator spit out "I don't know" dead-ends the process, and is strictly worse in every case to some output, no matter how garbled.

The problem comes when people try to use the generators for serious, precision oriented tasks, tasks that require "this one correct thing" rather than "something novel". These tasks are fail-deadly, and what you see is not what you get, in the sense that it doesn't just need to look good, it actually has to be good in ways that are not necessarily immediately obvious. It can't just be truthy, it has to be true. The generators weren't designed for that, any more than a master portrait artist is automatically skilled at plastic surgery.

The problems with the Russian military are manifold, and a lot of them stem from the so-called "Russian management model", which hurts both civilian and military management structures alike:

  • when the situation is stable, there's a constant loss of capability at the lower levels. To combat this loss, the upper levels institute stricter and stricter controls, which have to be ignored or faked by the lower levels if they want to survive

  • when the shit hits the fan, there's a huge dip as the system adjusts to its newly discovered reduced capacity

  • when the crisis is ongoing, everything flips to mode B: results at any cost. The controls other than "have you done it" are removed, the lower levels are free to do anything they want, the most successful approaches are replicated

  • when the crisis is over, the new high-power, low-efficiency system is drained of resources and cannot afford to run like this. The upper levels stem the flow of resources, the lower levels start fudging their results instead of working on their efficiency, the upper levels institute tighter controls and the cycle repeats

The second half is the lack of autonomous thinking in the military. It's often traced to the fear of "bonapartism" in the USSR, but the Russo-Japanese War and the Crimean War show that it's a much older problem: Ushakov and Suvorov were brilliant, Kutuzov was great at the strategic level, and then crickets. The Germans came up with Auftragstaktik in the meanwhile, allowing for greater flexibility at every level of command, but the Russian armed forces are stuck giving and receiving direct orders, trying to imagine the army as a body and not as a hive mind.

The simple fact that in a post-modern setting it is far more important to publish something that is new and novel than it is to publish something that is true.

The actual fact is that it's far more important to publish something that is new and novel and true than it is to publish something that is true, but not new and not novel. If you consistently publish novel, but false things, you will get marked as a crank and chased out. Unless, of course, you work in a field which ceased to be science, but then there's no point in discussing details of it - it should be buried wholesale or embrace its true nature as entertainment and proceed accordingly.

the Russian MOD doesn't want to hear that a given Battalion is anything other than at full strength and advancing

This is Russia you're talking about. It had been like this since it detached itself from the Golden Horde and became a separate entity. The danger of Russian army is not that it is especially good at anything. It's that it is huge, sitting on a pile of ammunition that they were stockpiling since 1945, and highly resistant to losses since nobody cares if the soldiers die - that's what they are for. Linking it to some fashionable phenomena does not look very useful - it's how it always was, and if you look at the history of, say, Russia's war with Japan over 100 years ago, you'd find the eerily similar picture.

Linking it to some fashionable phenomena does not look very useful

Except for the very important point about how Putin clearly started the war on a completely false premise he had been fed due to everyone being afraid to report anything other than "things are great". IOW, a perfect example of what Hlynka wrote about.

Again, if you look into Russian history, it's pretty much how it always worked. Russia is huge, and authoritarian, which means the centralized power has little idea about what actually happens on the periphery, and it routinely fed tales about how everything is peachy. If the ruler is smart, he doesn't believe a word of it, but people tend to be deluded and hear what they want to hear. It is a generic property of big authoritarian bureaucracies, and Russia always have been one.

Are the replication crisis in academia, the Russian military's apparent fecklessness in Ukraine, and GPT hallucinations (along with rationalist's propensity to chase them), all manifestations of the same underlying noumenon?

Plainly not.

Please elaborate.

LLMs hallucinate because of quirks in how their architecture works. Furthermore no one actually wants LLMs to hallucinate. No one thinks it's desirable.

The Russian military does not make use of LLMs (as far as I know) so any problems they have do not have the same root cause as LLM hallucinations. I'd pin most of their troubles on the fact that they severely underestimated the Ukrainian military and the amount of support they ended up getting from NATO. I don't know if those reports of commanders demanding false information are true or not, but if they are, that again seems to be very different from how people interact with LLMs - there the false information seems to actually be desirable, in contrast to LLM hallucinations which are never desirable.

Furthermore no one actually wants LLMs to hallucinate. No one thinks it's desirable.

Aren’t hallucinations how they role play and create hypotheticals, fantasy environments and other creative items?

All analogies and comparisons break down at some level. The way I understood the comparison is that the model goal of "predict next word" produced "correct" but repetitive answers. Therefore the parameter of temperature was added, so that the model can go and explore some novel ground and go off the track a little bit. It is the other side of the hallucination, it is almost impossible to prevent it. Also probably because one man's hallucination is other man's creative work.

It's not a "quirk" it is a foundational component of their architecture, and what I'm suggestion is that this component is pressent not just in LLMs but in academia and the broader category of secular progressive social institutions as well. The Russian military might not make use of LLMs but they certainly make use of the latter and in contrast to your claim that hallucinations are never desirable I posit that they plainly are otherwise we would not be observing the behavior that we have observed.

Aren’t you tired of accusing rationalists of not caring about the things they care the most about? I can’t think of a group less prone to appeals to authority, more aware of the replication crisis .

And again with an anecdote where your counterpart just comes off as obviously wrong. The guy doesn’t understand, then he lies about it. No one is encouraging this behaviour, so what lesson is there to be gained here.

As long as you’re free-associating: the russians are quokkas apparently, while 0HP and co, the edgy panaroid hysterical pessimists, they’re wise. Why then is there such affinity between them?

They’re very similar, and wrong in the same way. They systematically overestimate the likelihood of defection. Cooperation and honesty appear impossible, and lies are all they ever hear. What should the russians have done? Assume everyone up and down the chain of command was lying even harder than previously assumed? You can’t make chicken salad out of chicken shit.

Past a certain point of skepticism/assumed lies, you ‘ve sawed off the last epistemological branch you’re sitting on, sink into the conspiracy swamp, and you become a blackpill overdose/russian type, confused and afraid of your own (possibly fish-like) shadow.

Aren’t you tired of accusing rationalists of not caring about the things they care the most about? I can’t think of a group less prone to appeals to authority, more aware of the replication crisis .

The problem lies the other way, they care too much, and by jingo do they go for appeals to authority - the maths says it is so, ergo it must be so! I don't think the AI debate is balanced at all; on one side there are "AI is gonna foom and kill us all!" doomsayers and on the other side are the "nonsense, AI will solve all the problems we can't because it will be so smart and we'll have Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism!" and both sides are expecting that to happen in the next ten minutes.

The real problem, as always, are the humans involved, not the machines. And we're already seeing it with people rushing to use GPT-model whatever and blindly trusting that the output is correct - our lawyer with the fabricated cases is only the most egregious one - and forecasting that it will take all jobs (and make us obsolete)/(we'll be freed up for new jobs just like the buggy whip manufacturers got new, hitherto unthought of, jobs) and the rest of it.

Prediction markets are another blind spot, the amazement that people would spend real money to manipulate results the way they wanted was "what do you think is going to happen if we adopt these markets widely?" for me.

Rationalists are very nice people - and that's part of the problem. I think quokkas is unfair, but there's a tendency to think that just thinking hard enough will get you a solution that, when implemented, will work beautifully because everyone will act in their own self-interest and nobody will fuck shit up just because they're evil-minded or screw-ups. Spherical cow world.

Aren’t you tired of accusing rationalists of not caring about the things they care the most about?

Should I be?

The obvious question that I think needs to be asked is "what predictions does you model make? and in what way are they better than mine?"

Mostly I’d like you to defend your assertions, but sure, I’ll take predictions, if you got them. What are they? That rationalists will blindly follow authorities? That russians are too trusting? That if you compare a poll of rationalists to any other group you care to name, rationalists will be very agreeable, supportive of credentialism, and especially unlikely to know or care about the replication crisis?

Rationalists, for you, are whatever you need them to be in the moment, all in the service of your long-running one-man outgrouping campaign. If someone says rats are smart, you ‘ll say smarts and psychopathy are correlated (wrong), or that their preferred moral system reflects psychopathy. The next moment they’re fluffy, trusting animals. If religion is discussed, according to you they’re neurotic contrarians, but on politics and science, they worship authority. None of it is ever justified by more than your feeling, or even given any sort of scale, like : here's other educated classes for comparison. You lump rats in with the woke for your “grand” theories, while agreeing with every anti-woke word they write the rest of the time.

...all in the service of your long-running one-man outgrouping campaign.

What am I, chopped liver?

Rationalism is a dead-end. It, like every expression of the Enlightenment before it, is a katamari-ball amalgamation of checks its meta-conceptual ass can't cash. Intelligence being orthogonal to benevolence is a core axiom of the movement when it comes to AI, so why shouldn't that generalize to rationalists themselves? Fundamental lack of necessary mental safeguards is in no way incompatible with "psychopathy"; see the stories about rationalists "debugging" each other, compartmentalization of information across power-imbalances coupled with expectations of absolute loyalty to the group, the engineering of mythic narratives that swamp one's instincts for self-preservation and so on. There've been a number of post-mortems laying out the dirty laundry over the last while, and it's all exactly what one would naïvely expect: people who thought they knew better who did not in fact know better, people who thought they really had seen the skulls making more skull-piles. It's totally possible for a group to be typified by both fluffy-animal trust and psychopathy; that's the default failure mode of cults. The fluffy-animal trust in the areas where it's inappropriate is what lets the psychopathy bloom most fully.

In a similar fashion, people can be neurotic contrarians about one issue, and rigid conformists about another; all it takes is motivated reasoning in favor of one issue and against the other. Rationalists did not actually discover a solution to motivated reasoning, to bias, to social pressure, despite the entire clique being founded on the idea that they had in fact done so. That's what makes them worse than the general mass of humanity: they think they've solved these problems, that they're somehow pushed beyond the limits of human nature. They think they're less wrong, when in fact they're often exactly as wrong and sometimes considerably wronger.

And sure, there are valuable insights here and there, gleaming among the conceptual ruins. There's valuable lessons to take away, and not just cautionary ones either, though those do seem to predominate. Sure, they had some amazingly useful things to say about wokeness, before it conquered them utterly. It behooves us to draw what utility we can from the tools they forged, but it is also necessary to learn from their mistakes.

(If this is too much raw assertion of the sort you criticized above, feel free to highlight the elements that seem incorrect, and I will make an effort to dig up the specific examples.)

You and @HlynkaCG show up every day to our little club and insist you’re not members. Fine, you’re welcome to a seat regardless, but in ‘over-socialized’ fashion, you are incapable of truly rebelling against rationalism/ the enlightenment, you just accuse it of failing to live up to its ideals. “You think you’re sceptical? You’re not sceptical enough! You think you’re smart, but you’re … dumb! You care about winning, but you’re losing! You wish to avoid deaths, you’re causing them ! etc” .

The only reason the criticism bites is because rats care far more than anyone else about them. You’re accusing a bunch of neat freaks of dirtyness, as if a single spot proved overall dirtyness. Where is the baseline? Rigid conformists, compared to whom? The woke, bible-thumpers, Charles I, medieval theologians?

Your constant steelmanning of god-fearing simple folk rings hollow. If you could produce one, he would have no idea wtf you’re talking about. If it appears that they don’t have a justification for obeying the king or the ten commandments, it’s because they never had one.

The enlightenment is the only reason someone even asked that question, and you attempt to answer it. “Historical proof that tradition works! Children! Life satisfaction! Less skulls!” I hear you say, but those reasons are embedded within, and fundamentally acceptable to, a rationalist framework. Were you a true-blue peasant, you wouldn’t need those things, you’d do as you’re told, and go blindly where the priests lead you.

You and @HlynkaCG show up every day to our little club and insist you’re not members.

It's my club as much as it's yours, at this point, three exiles down the line. What we insist on is that distinctions seem relevant.

in ‘over-socialized’ fashion, you are incapable of truly rebelling against rationalism/ the enlightenment, you just accuse it of failing to live up to its ideals.

I disagree, but I suppose it comes down to how you define "Rationalism" and "the Enlightenment". My guess, speaking reductively, is that you'd assert that Rationalism is, essentially, the drive to be less wrong, and the Enlightenment is something like the pursuit of truth through human reason. I disagree on both counts, and my evidence would be what the people involved say and do. Rationalism fails to appreciate the hard limits imposed on rationality by human nature and human frailty, and so traps many of its own adherents in moral mazes of their own design. The Enlightenment, from the start, used scientific and technological advancements as a skin-suit for an ideology that had nothing to do with either. It generated a vast midden-heap of false knowledge, and hundreds of millions of people died or were immiserated as a result. Einstein and Von Neumann were not the poster-children of the Enlightenment, but Freud, Skinner, Dewey and the rest of their ilk. The point was never dispassionate science, but passionate ideology, then and now.

As for rebellion, I argue that death and pain are morally neutral. I think that's a pretty solid starter against either. In any case, nothing precludes Rationalism and the Enlightenment from being failures by their own values as well as by mine, and pointing this out seems fair play to me.

The only reason the criticism bites is because rats care far more than anyone else about them.

I'm not sure that's true. Progs generally seem to feel the bite pretty keenly, given how they generally react to criticism of their goals and achievements. What's different here is that we're supposed to make an actual argument, rather than simply deploying mean girl shit to crush all opposition.

Where is the baseline?

It seems to me that Rationalists still believe that Studies Show. They look at the replication crisis, and they look at the long, long string of technocratic policy failures over the last fifty to a hundred years, and they look at the obvious, numerous, glaring errors and perverse incentives in Academia, and they still insist that it's rational to reason on the basis of that system's generated "knowledge". They look at a corpse liquid with decay, imagine it's their high-school sweetheart, and pucker up for a kiss.

They try to think better, which in practice seems to amount to finding reasonably persuasive memes, and then engaging significant social pressure against anyone who dissents from the Correct Answer. "Shut up and multiply", naïve utilitarianism, and the whole idea of Coherent Extrapolated Volition fall into this bucket, along with quite a bit of the rest of the AI and EA classics. They imagine that they've Found Answers, and then they try to use those answers, sometimes they hurt people, and sometimes they burn value. (And sometimes they actually do some good, at least temporarily. I greatly admire their work on bed nets. Their obsession with animal suffering, much, much less so.)

So where's the baseline to compare that to? Unsurprisingly, I'll compare it to my church. The fact that we're Christians is probably game, set and match for you; what could possibly be less rational? And yet, I find the results preferable. The people in my church helped pull me out of a mental tailspin once upon a time. They gave me love and community. I found a wife there. I have a family now. When the breakdown of our society left me with a burning ocean of rage and hate inside me, the tools I'd picked up second-hand from a steady diet of Rationalist thought did nothing but stoke that fire ever hotter. Amusingly enough, it was my church, and a simple conversation with @HlynkaCG here, that extinguished that fury, to my inestimable benefit. That's why I argue alongside him in these threads: because I've experienced, viscerally, how deeply correct and necessary his particular perspective can be.

Rigid conformists, compared to whom?

Conformity has positives and negatives. It seems to me that Rationalists manage to engineer away most of the positives, while leaving the worst negatives in place. Presuming it were so, that seems like a reasonable thing to criticize. Whether it is so or not is of course a different argument.

If it appears that they don’t have a justification for obeying the king or the ten commandments, it’s because they never had one.

...I think what you're trying to express here is the idea that, before the Enlightenment, people simply did what they were told without thinking, with obedience to kings and to the Ten Commandments being two examples of this purportedly sheeplike behavior. The problem is that this line of reasoning is absolutely fucked. There have been no shortage of rebellions and revolutions against kings throughout history, for a whole variety of reasons, and there have been no shortage of loyal populations for a wide variety of reasons beyond sheeplike obedience. Likewise, it is not obvious to me why one would need sophisticated arguments for obeying the Ten Commandments; they're relatively straightforward, and point to obviously beneficial ways of life in any social context.

“Historical proof that tradition works! Children! Life satisfaction! Less skulls!” I hear you say, but those reasons are embedded within, and fundamentally acceptable to, a rationalist framework.

In my experience, no, they really aren't. They require certain concessions and leaps of faith that are not, strictly speaking, rational, by any measure but the results. Rationality could not help me with my rage and hate, because my rage and hate were, strictly speaking, rational, evidence-based, logically sound. It took an explicit abandonment of the Rationalist obsession with the pursuit of power and control to halt that spiral. Other examples would be the evergreen meme of rationalist-founded religions, rationalist approaches to dating and relationships, the rationalist attitudes toward risk and value and much else besides.

Were you a true-blue peasant, you wouldn’t need those things, you’d do as you’re told, and go blindly where the priests lead you.

Yeah, that's... not really how it works, or ever has, or ever will. I'm not a Neo-reactionary, worshipping hierarchy, and Rationalism does not have a monopoly on rationality, on logic. Amusingly enough, I'm not even sure that you and I disagree all that strongly on the object-level, and this isn't all a dispute about definitions. But if you believe that Rationalism or the Enlightenment invented critical thinking, I'm not sure what to tell you, other perhaps than you should think hard about where such a foolish idea came from. Do you honestly believe that all people before, say, the 1600s were incapable of reason? Do you think that the overall level of superstition and magical thinking has actually gone down over time? On what basis would you suppose such a thing? On what evidence?

They were certainly capable of reason, it’s just that the opponents of the enlightenment would tell them to shut up, often by force of arms. Our friend’s object of admiration, Thomas Hobbes, was censored and nearly labeled a heretic by the english monarchy, the law went "the committee should be empowered to receive information touching such books as tend to atheism, blasphemy and profaneness... in particular... the book of Mr. Hobbes called the Leviathan.", forcing him to publish in amsterdam for the rest of his life.

What you defend has a name : obscurantism. And your intellectual forebearers wouldn’t even give the peasants a translation of the bible, so they literally believed what I said about the priests leading the blind. Do you disagree that the enlightenment meant education for the masses, and the discussion of ideas and justifications for the stuff they used to have to believe on faith (and stick)? Mistakes were made, sure, but for once they were their mistakes, and not those of their corrupt, self-appointed shepherds. Bite the bullet like moldbug already, burn the heretics and keep the peasants in their rightful place.

How do you explain the massive correlation between the ‘age of reason’ and technological advancement (and life expectancy, etc) if one has nothing to do with the other? How can you look at the post-enlightenment world and think ‘immiseration’? I don't think the numbers back you up on that.

Please, give me the names of “common-sense” contemporary critics of the enlightenment you apparently identify with. I predict there aren’t any, because they were all obscurantist censors who didn’t know anything and wanted to know even less. That’s why you and Hlynka can never quite explain from what intellectual tradition you hail from. There’s nothing there, just obscurantism and reason. That’s the mystery at the heart of the ‘Inferential distance’, not some earthy wisdom.

So no, I don’t think we would be having this conversation without the enlightenment. I probably wouldn’t know how to read, and at best I’d be burning my writings like Hobbes did to avoid the Inquisitor General’s attention.

I’m glad religion helped you like homeopathy helps some people, but I don’t choose ‘my truth’ by its therapeutic effects.

They were certainly capable of reason, it’s just that the opponents of the enlightenment would tell them to shut up

Censorship is a universal component of all human societies. Enlightenment societies are no different.

What you defend has a name : obscurantism.

I point out that all societies censor. You claim I am defending obscurantism. To the extent that all societies are obscurantist for relatively straightforward and unavoidable reasons, sure, I guess. I like functional society, and it appears straightforwardly true that some information can be quite harmful to society's function. Crucially, I see no evidence that you have a workable alternative, rather than an imaginary one.

And your intellectual forebearers wouldn’t even give the peasants a translation of the bible, so they literally believed what I said about the priests leading the blind.

What makes them my intellectual forebears? I'm not Catholic, though I note that prior to the invention of the printing press, mass literacy and mass distribution of bibles probably wasn't physically possible. There's no point in teaching people to read when there's literally nothing for them to read. As soon as printing was developed, Protestant nations leaned hard into building universal literacy and wide distribution of bibles, which made book production and general education a practical possibility. All this paved the way for the Enlightenment, note.

Do you disagree that the enlightenment meant education for the masses, and the discussion of ideas and justifications for the stuff they used to have to believe on faith (and stick)?

Yes I do, because education for the masses started first and probably made the Enlightenment possible, and because a lot of the core Enlightenment beliefs seem very obviously based on faith and sticks. The concept of social progress, of the infinite perfectibility of man, the idea of social engineering and especially the ideas of what it could accomplish, were not rationally-grounded or scientific in any meaningful sense. The Enlightenment vanguard believed they could solve human nature, straight up, and it is intellectually dishonest to allow them their after-the-fact rationalizations and walk-backs. They believed that ignorance, sickness, poverty and crime were the results of mismanagement by society's leadership, not emergent properties of human nature, and they killed a lot of people based on this entirely magical belief. They conceal these failures through relatively unsophisticated lies about the historical record, by retroactively assigning all positive aspects of history to themselves and all negative aspects to their opponents, regardless of the facts. They've been winning for so long that few people actually poke at the lies, but once one does they pop like a soap bubble.

How do you explain the massive correlation between the ‘age of reason’ and technological advancement (and life expectancy, etc) if one has nothing to do with the other?

Mass literacy was always going to produce an explosion of knowledge, and it arrived because technological development was already running up the exponential curve. The Enlightenment came after these trends were already well progressed, and throughout the era it followed or even retarded progress, rather than leading. The French Revolution sold itself as explicitly scientific and reason-based, but its social and political theories were bullshit, and it did not in fact significantly advance science relative to, say, England or America. Individual Devout Christians and devout Christian societies have frequently made significant contributions to actual science, while the Enlightenment was a wellspring of destructive pseudoscience from its inception to now. Rousseau was not a scientist, and neither was Marx, nor Freud, nor Dewey, nor Skinner. These men were driven by a single coherent, consistent ideology, by the idea that they could solve human nature. They and many others like them built the social sciences, and through them much of the world we live in, and none of them were constrained in the slightest way by truth or objective facts. It's true that many actual scientists saw themselves as contributing to the Enlightenment project, but this is to their detriment, not the Enlightenment's credit. To the extent that, say, Einstein could not recognize that Freudianism was pseudoscience, that speaks poorly of Einstein's abilities as a scientist. Freudianism, like most explicit products of the Enlightenment, never had the slightest empirical foundation. It did not make accurate predictions. It did not deliver significant results. It was a con job from the start, and why it worked as well as it did is a question that deserves careful examination.

A huge part of the point I'm trying to get across here is that claiming to FUCKING LOVE SCIENCE is not the same as an actual commitment to scientific truth. The standard Enlightenment line is that someone who believes in God and rigorously obeys the scientific method in empirical matters is less of a scientist than a proud atheist who spends their life proliferating baseless pseudoscientific bullshit until it's assumed common knowledge society-wide. This sort of ass-backwards fuckup recurs regularly throughout the history of the Enlightenment, and that historical reality is a serious problem for the consensus narrative as I understand it.

Please, give me the names of “common-sense” contemporary critics of the enlightenment you apparently identify with. I predict there aren’t any, because they were all obscurantist censors who didn’t know anything and wanted to know even less.

C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, and H. L. Mencken would be three to start. Are those contemporary enough?

I’m glad religion helped you like homeopathy helps some people, but I don’t choose ‘my truth’ by its therapeutic effects.

Axioms are a choice, and they have observable results. Philosophical commitments are not homeopathy, nor are they therapeutic. Some beliefs are simply more adaptive than others, and some Rationalist beliefs are very, very maladaptive, in the same way that embracing short-time-horizon unrestrained hedonism is maladaptive. The Rationalist obsession with control is one such maladaptation.

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I think it’s simply a thousand or more instances of “when a measurement becomes the milestone to be reached, it’s no longer a functioning measurement.” We’ve sort of metricized everything into quantifiable measurements, judge things by the ability to hit those measurements, and are somewhat surprised when rewards and punishments are given based on that, and that people are gaming the system.

It seems like since most of the interaction is through screens, people sort of forget that the map and the measurements are proxy’s for reality, they aren’t real.

As clarification for others, ISR is Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance and BDA is Bomb Damage Assessment.

Just as the US State Department didn't want to be told how precarious the situation with ISIL was

Afghanistan is another good example - superiors were happy to hear about how they were running over children with MRAPs(!) since that was something they could fix. The huge systemic problems with corruption that threatened the very basis of the campaign, not so much: https://twitter.com/RichardHanania/status/1204178295618621440/photo/1

The huge systemic problems with corruption that threatened the very basis of the campaign, not so much

Superiors didn't want to know because the administration back home didn't want to know. Everyone regardless of political party wanted to wave the flag and be "we're bringing democracy and liberation to the people" and so "maybe the warlords who we're supporting/arming/paying to be our notional allies are functional paedophiles but it's their Cultural Tradition and let's not rock the boat, meanwhile we're selling the story back home that we're enabling women to be liberated and letting girls get an education and bringing the benefits of Westernisation to the backwards nation".

Then the withdrawal happened fast, the so-called national government folded like wet cardboard because outside of a couple of the cities it never existed, the systemic corruption meant that there was no independent organisation to stand on its own two feet, and the Taliban rolled back in. And nobody wanted to hear that this was the most likely outcome, because of the time and money spent and because it would contradict the happy, rosy, fake narrative crafted back home.

Can men respect women as agents?

For all its hypocrisies, there is one aspect of girlboss feminism that continues to seem valid to me, and which makes me frustrated on behalf of women. I am talking about whether men (and women?) can respect or admire or empathize with a woman on the basis of her actions in the world or the way she wields power.

I was recently tickled but these posts on twitter/reddit:

When a man is in the presence of a tender, gentle, trustful, dependent woman, he immediately feels a sublime expansion of his power to protect and shelter this charming, delicate creature. In the presence of such weakness he feels stronger, more competent, bigger, and manlier than ever. This feeling of strength and power is the most enjoyable he can experience. The apparent need of the woman for protection, instead of arousing contempt for her lack of ability, appeals to the very noblest feelings within him.

and

This is not very feminist of me but I think it’s great rizz for a woman to pretend to occasionally need help with stuff she can actually do on her own. Don’t pretend to be a moron or anything but I think even modern men like to be needed

In response to a man's story about "the haunting feeling of fumbling a 10/10":

When I read men’s opinions on women and interactions with women it gives me this disgusting skin crawling feeling all over that makes me want to puke. I wish I was born a lesbian.

I bring these examples up not to harangue men but to explicitly set aside the discourse about romantic relationships, in which most men and women seem happy to accept a certain asymmetry. A male friend recently gave me the dating advice that what's important in a partner is that they are "naturally happy", which struck me as a hilariously insufficient and condescending criterion, better suited to choosing a puppy. As a spergy gay man, I don't have a dog in this fight, if it is a fight, but I do find explicit commentary on the expectations of gendered social interaction helpful (and entertaining).

But outside the romantic context, is there not still a weird asymmetry in attitudes? For instance, women seem more able to put themselves in the shoes of male protagonists in fiction, while men generally seem uninterested in female protagonists. I am not here to say that you are sexist if you did not enjoy Captain Marvel. I hate being lectured to in my entertainment as much as anyone and find woke fiction repulsive. But it's generally hard to think of good examples of female characters occupying much mindshare among men. (Skyler White?) Who are the female counterparts to Harry Potter or Sherlock Holmes, popular among both boys and girls (and whose roles and stories do not particularly depend on their masculinity)? And of all feminist talking points, the Bechdel test stands out as one that I actually find revealing.

I am happy to grant or even defend all the usual replies, such as that women are in fact less likely to be out in the world doing extreme, daring, exciting, risky things that make for good stories. Maybe when women attempt to fill traditionally masculine roles, they will be less effective, less capable. Never mind that few women want to be mob bosses or whatever in the first place. But none of that entails that when women are competent actors in the world, men should be uninterested or even annoyed.

On the flip side, one could argue that women actually deserve no "empathy credit" for their interest in male protagonists, or at least no more credit than men deserve for their interest in Princess Leia, if women are only interested in stories about men taking action in the world when that is precisely what makes them eligible mates. But I'm not entirely convinced here.

Of course I don't think it's a moral failing if, say, by some effect of psychology, a man is incapable of admiring a woman for her achievements in the same way he might admire a man. Maybe nothing can be done to change such feelings. But if this is generally true of men, more than the reverse is true of women, then when I see rallying cries of the "nevertheless she persisted" variety, after the cringe has subsided, I must still have some lingering sympathy.

A male friend recently gave me the dating advice that what's important in a partner is that they are "naturally happy", which struck me as a hilariously insufficient and condescending criterion, better suited to choosing a puppy. As a spergy gay man, I don't have a dog in this fight, if it is a fight, but I do find explicit commentary on the expectations of gendered social interaction helpful (and entertaining).

As @Harlequin5942 said, it's a desirable train in any partner. It might be a bit different between the sexes, as women often look for men who are higher achievers than them, and this requires a certain level of natural unhappiness with the order of things, but I've heard about enough couples where a high-achieving woman was happily married to a Monsieur Alphonse, whose ambitions ended at looking good as arm candy.

this requires a certain level of natural unhappiness with the order of things

Does it? Big Five neuroticism is negatively correlated with success in just about every domain of life. It's likely to make people unhappy and it's innate, but it's not useful for being a high achiever.

Big Five disagreeableness, to some degree, is correlated with success in some domains (and it's useful for getting a pay rise etc.) but disagreeableness, to this limited extent, is not correlated with (reported) unhappiness, AFAIK.

Big Five conscientious people might seem less happy, because they tend to spend less time chilling out, but IIRC conscientiousness is correlated with higher variance of happiness (conscientious people feel guilty less often but experience more intense guilt) rather than the level of happiness.

One problem with correlating big five with happiness is that reported happiness flows directly into the neuroticism and extraversion values. The example phrase “I seldom feel blue” counts as low neuroticism. Neuroticism includes withdrawal (tending toward depression and anxiety) . That is not “correlated” with unhappiness, it is unhappiness. Extraversion includes enthusiasm , so if you say you’re happy all the time, that counts as extraversion. If you are low in negative emotion, you’re ¬ neurotic , and if you are high in positive emotion, you're extraverted.

However, it does appear that conscentiousness and agreeableness are correlated with reported happiness, though less than with ¬ neuroticism and extraversion. That is surprising to me, I guess I’ll have to work on that.

A male friend recently gave me the dating advice that what's important in a partner is that they are "naturally happy", which struck me as a hilariously insufficient and condescending criterion, better suited to choosing a puppy.

Nothing is more important in a partner than temperament. Choosing wisely here is one of the most important decisions most of us will ever make.

In general, I find gender wars very dull. Almost all men and women have always been and will always be without any significant power. In the cloistered world of the elite, women’s power has waxed and waned over the centuries, but it has always been and remains less than men’s power (even in the girlboss era, the vast majority of senior politicians, business leaders and culture creators are men of course).

You say women seem more interested in stories about men than vice versa, but what are they actually interested in?

For example, the bulk of the female Sherlock fandom, which you mention, is essentially yaoi shipping of Holmes and Watson in a gay relationship. It’s not about deduction or criminology or the mysteries themselves. Young women’s fascination with gay men (see Manga and to some extent aesthetically Kpop) is complicated but can be summarized as a safe, distanced, jealousy-free outlet for sexuality and sexual exploration. Dragon Age is a female-dominated fandom, but almost all fanfiction is romance fanfiction (either explicitly or less so) related to a handful of romanceable (male) NPCs and either other NPCs or a female player character.

So men and women do have different tastes, but women sometimes find things in masculine stories/franchises that let them tell stories appealing to women in those settings. Men have no need to find masculine narratives in women’s stories, because men (a) read much less than women and (b) have plenty of their own stories to focus upon that are already core parts of the mainstream/popular fiction canon.

For example, the bulk of the female Sherlock fandom, which you mention, is essentially yaoi shipping of Holmes and Watson in a gay relationship. It’s not about deduction or criminology or the mysteries themselves.

Wellllll.... yes and no. Slash fiction is a huge part of any fandom (I contend, with little to no evidence to back me up). But women are interested in the mysteries, too. But yeah, women are interested in the relationships in that world, between all the characters. Whatever happened to Aggie, Milverton's maid? Was she used and abandoned by Holmes? (I say 'no' but others say 'yes' and write those stories).

I read a lot of Holmes pastiche fiction, professionally published as well as fanfiction. And I do judge it in part on how they handle the characterisation, that's true. There's one pro/semi-pro author who drives me nuts with the way he (and it is a male writer) handles the British class system, attempts to write dialect, and general plotting, but I stick with his novellas because he gets the characters right. Some media (and the Holmes and Watson stories have been adapted for radio and movies and TV multiple times as well as in print) have given us comic Holmes, comic Watson, Watson who is too much of a doormat, Holmes who is too much of a jerk, Watson who is resentful of Holmes (pre- and post-Reichenbach Watson is a study in character development), a sentimental Holmes, and so on. We've even had "Watson was really a woman" as part of the Game, by Rex Stout who seems to have loved messing with the Sherlockians as part of good-natured joshing:

And right at the very start, on page 9 of "A Study in Scarlet," I found this:

    • .it was rare for him to be up after ten at night, and he had invariably breakfasted and gone out before I rose in the morning.

I was indescribably shocked. How had so patent a clue escaped so many millions of readers through the years? That was, that could only be, a woman speaking of a man. Read it over. The true authentic speech of a wife telling of her husband's-- but wait. I was not indulging in idle speculation, but seeking evidence to establish a fact. It was unquestionably a woman speaking of a man, yes, but whether a wife of a husband, or a mistress of a lover, . . . I admit I blushed. I blushed for Sherlock Holmes, and I closed the book.

And it's male writers and male directors who do this! I think BBC Sherlock was a wasted opportunity because Gatiss and Moffat didn't understand the characters and rode off on hobbyhorses (including what they probably thought was fanservice). I pretty much stopped watching after the first season (a whopping three episodes) due to "The Blind Banker" because while I'm not remotely progressive, that was so stuffed to the gills with Orientalist clichés it was dreadful. I could never get into Elementary because it was way too Americanised and updated, and oddly enough though it was all over Tumblr and other social media during its run, I haven't seen a single reference to it since. So maybe it strayed too far from the established canon to be remembered after it made its splash.

I'm one of the few (women as well) who don't think Holmes and Irene Adler were a romantic pairing. Holmes was not in love with Irene, Irene was not in love with Holmes, Geoffrey Norton was not an abusive husband. But male writers and male adapters for movies and TV give us the romantic pairing, presumably on the grounds that "you need a love story" and that they can't think what to do with a main female character if she's not in love with the main male character. Rex Stout mischievously hinted that Nero Wolfe was the love-child of Holmes and Irene, but that isn't meant to be taken seriously (we've also had novels about Mycroft Watson, one series co-written by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, yes that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; Mrs Hudson and others all doing their own crime-solving. I'm only going to mention the abominable Mary Russell novels here once, to say that I wish she had gone over Reichenbach Falls in her cradle rather than growing up to be the pest she is).

So yes, while I'll give ground on "women like the stories for the relationships", I contend that is not all we like them for. I haven't clocked up 35 volumes of David Marcum's anthology series just because I'm breathlessly waiting for the moment Holmes and Watson hold hands (Sir Arthur already gave us the hand-holding, anyway) 😁

From "Charles Augustus Milverton":

An instant afterwards he had closed the door behind us, and we had become felons in the eyes of the law. The thick, warm air of the conservatory and the rich, choking fragrance of exotic plants took us by the throat. He seized my hand in the darkness and led me swiftly past banks of shrubs which brushed against our faces. Holmes had remarkable powers, carefully cultivated, of seeing in the dark. Still holding my hand in one of his he opened a door, and I was vaguely conscious that we had entered a large room in which a cigar had been smoked not long before.

...I felt Holmes’s hand steal into mine and give me a reassuring shake, as if to say that the situation was within his powers and that he was easy in his mind. I was not sure whether he had seen what was only too obvious from my position, that the door of the safe was imperfectly closed, and that Milverton might at any moment observe it.

From "The Empty House":

Holmes’s cold, thin fingers closed round my wrist and led me forwards down a long hall, until I dimly saw the murky fanlight over the door. Here Holmes turned suddenly to the right, and we found ourselves in a large, square, empty room, heavily shadowed in the corners, but faintly lit in the centre from the lights of the street beyond. There was no lamp near and the window was thick with dust, so that we could only just discern each other’s figures within. My companion put his hand upon my shoulder and his lips close to my ear. “Do you know where we are?” he whispered.

...Again in the utter silence I heard that thin, sibilant note which spoke of intense suppressed excitement. An instant later he pulled me back into the blackest corner of the room, and I felt his warning hand upon my lips. The fingers which clutched me were quivering. Never had I known my friend more moved, and yet the dark street still stretched lonely and motionless before us

I'm one of the few (women as well) who don't think Holmes and Irene Adler were a romantic pairing. Holmes was not in love with Irene, Irene was not in love with Holmes, Geoffrey Norton was not an abusive husband.

I’m baffled that this is a rare take. Thinking about it, I also really disliked how the BBC show treated Adler…

Thinking about it, I also really disliked how the BBC show treated Adler

Oh, don't get me started on that one! Moffat and Gatiss are clueless, and I was really disappointed with Mark Gatiss because I liked his work on "League of Gentlemen" but clearly he wasn't the main inspiration there if I go by his subsequent solo work. I don't know which of them I should blame more for reducing Irene to literally sex on legs, or mangling the handling of Sherlock's sexuality (or lack of same; I've often felt that there's at least as good an argument that canon Holmes is asexual as any other orientation) and just the whole ugly mess that is insulting to the original characters.

I hope I wasn’t suggesting that women like Sherlock Holmes for the relationships, women do after all like crime fiction (almost all fiction except hard science fiction and some forms of fantasy, really) more than men. I was trying to say that I don’t think women reading more stories about men than men read about women necessarily tells us anything more than that they do so.

The big gap is that most modern literary fiction is written by women and is by far a women-dominated form of creative expression, but few men read it. Men used to read books, but as visual media became cheaper, more plentiful and more widely available they have gravitated more to television, movies and games, while women enjoy those things but have remained readers, too.

Oh, a recommendation for a Holmes move - Without A Clue. From the late 80s, a comedy take, but it redeems itself in the ending. Funny, clever and even touching in parts.

Novel writing and women - that's a large subject to tackle. While most were and are written by men, and men are the main characters, novel writing became female-identified during the 19th century and women readers as the audience for many novels. Women were able (sometimes had to) earn money by writing. And in general I think it's broadly true that women who read/consume media become familiar with how men write men, as well as women, but men don't read/consume media that is specifically for women in the same way, so they don't become familiar with how women write men and women.

There is some mockery of how (some) men write women characters, and mostly it's around physical/sexual elements. Male writers seem to think women are obsessed with their breasts as much as men are obsessed with women's breasts 😁

I'm sure there are comparable examples of women writing men badly, but I find the failure mode (particularly in young writers, particularly in fanfic writers) is writing men as if they're women (often young women). I have often read dialogue where I go "that is not how two men would speak to one another". I don't think I've read women writing men as worrying over is their penis perky enough, though!

A male friend recently gave me the dating advice that what's important in a partner is that they are "naturally happy", which struck me as a hilariously insufficient and condescending criterion, better suited to choosing a puppy.

Insofar as that guy is suggesting that low neuroticism is a desirable trait, he's very understandable. Less neurotic people tend to have happier, more stable, and more lasting relationships. That it's important doesn't imply that it's sufficient and it seems like a strawman of his position to suggest that interpretation.

Who are the female counterparts to Harry Potter or Sherlock Holmes, popular among both boys and girls (and whose roles and stories do not particularly depend on their masculinity)?

Alice from Alice in Wonderland. Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz.

Sherlock Holmes isn't particularly popular among boys and girls, as far as I know, but the female counterpart is Miss Marple.

The closest parallel to Harry Potter is Hermione Granger, who is also a character in the Harry Potter series.

I, for some reason, tend to relate to female characters more than male characters. Kusanagi Motoko is legitimately just badass, Youko from Twelve Kingdoms is a relatable character with kingship thrust upon her, the lead women in Dreams of the Red Chamber outshine the ostensible protagonist of the novel. I could go on.

They’re just not recent Anglosphere works.

Oh, definitely in Dream of the Red Chamber, all the men are idiots. There's a competent daughter-in-law trying to hold it all together as the family fortune is declining, but between the family spending money like water because they assume they're rich, and the "keeping up face" that is necessary in order to maintain their position, as well as the court officials and eunuchs 'borrowing' money they're never going to repay, the family is underwater and it's only a matter of time before it all collapses.

The viewpoint character narrating it all is a wealthy young son of the family who has neither the interest nor the capability to manage things or help retrieve their fortunes or cut down spending. It's the inevitable decline of a noble house over several generations, the pattern that we see repeated in all the Gilded Age American fortunes where the head of the dynasty made a huge fortune, then the kids and grandkids divided the inheritance between them, leaving it smaller to each inheritor, and squandered it or were only able to manage to hang on to part of it instead of making huge fortunes in their turn.

I can only say that I wish more people read it.

Male protagonists are often in a sense sex symbols for women. You can't easily write a leading role of a female sex symbol. Competent male leads work for both men and women. James Bond is an obvious example of a character tailored in some ways to female tastes.

As to your question, I have never thought of Major Kusanagi as anything other than incredible.

James Bond is an obvious example of a character tailored in some ways to female tastes.

Ahhh - no. He's definitely a male fantasy figure, the idea that he's irresistible to women is all part of the idealised man of action character. If you're a women reading the novels, he's not that great to the women he encounters. A lot of them are the stock femme fatale types anyway.

Modern Bond probably has been revamped to be more appealing to feminine sensibilities, but when I was a kid Bond was Connery and Connery was Bond, and he does have that raw masculine appeal (even if the 60s sexism is alive and kicking in the films).

Are you sure the raw masculine appeal isn’t there because of the 60s sexism instead of despite?

Hard to tell, but there's a difference between "gosh this guy is just oozing testosterone" and the Inspector Monkfish treatment.

The answer here is simple.

Can men respect women passive-actors as agents?

The type of man that's described in traditional media, does not describe that average man. Hell, it doesn't describe 99% of men. It describes a human of initiative. Sacrifice : A human who chooses to set aside their own interests for the greater good. Growth: A human who starts from the bottom, and chooses to put in the work to improve. Moonshots: Someone who chooses to act even when the odds are stacked against them.

The hero is not male or female, the hero is superhuman. Gender doesn't matter. The hero has been portrayed by a man for a long time, but that's arbitrary. It can be a woman. But, girl-boss feminism is incompetent at portraying the hero. Because, the key subversion of a hero is that he seems super-human, but is in fact, a weak person.

Writing an effective 'weak' character needs 2 things.

First: Recognizing the freebies that comes with being an individual of a certain demographic.

Second: Actively depriving them of those freebies; so that the journey appears difficult and relatable to all.

Hollywood writers can't write a relatable girl-boss, because it starts with needing to cast a sexually undesirable woman. It starts with recognizing, that they need to thoroughly deprive their character of the 'women are wonderful' effect. Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2 is a properly relatable girl-boss, in part because she is NOT 'Hollywood sexy'. It also helps that all 3 male characters in the movie: John, Arnold & T2 are incapable of sexualizing her. She spent the entire first movie being weak, and she is relatable not because she wins, but rather because she tries against all odds. Linda Hamilton grows, she sacrifices, she shoots for the moon and she is relatable.

Honestly, America in particular seems to be inept at writing relatable women. Vidya Balan has played many a relatable woman. (Kahani, Bhool Bhulayya) in Bollywood. There's a never ending list of manga where you can respect, admire, empathize with the agenthood of the woman. Some examples are Kakukaku Shikajika & Silent Voice (The manga). I have yet to complete The Mother (2009), but it also gives me a similar vibe. Off the top of my head, I cannot think of many post 2000 American films that qualify here. Even British TV has more relatable women. Olivia Coleman played only relatable women before her big break in TheCrown. There is something about the brilliance of Victoria Coren Mitchell or the sharp wit of Jo Brand that makes them girl-bosses of a type that I am kinda jealous of, even as a man.

complete tangent : It is a shame Jo Brand was no on the episode of QI that led to this wonderful moment. Sandi Toksvig is brilliant, but this still takes the cake for the best 1 liner.

one could argue that women actually deserve no "empathy credit" for their interest in male protagonists

This. My favorite movie is Pig (2021). I have shown it to 3 highly empathetic (1 is a licensed therapist) women. The movie is about 3 weak men, grief and the weaknesses of men. All 3 of them reacted with either platonic appreciation or confusion as they watched the movie. They understood the universal themes : grief takes time and death is sad. But they didn't understand where the weaknesses of either men came from. The feeling of abandonment without the warmth of a mother. The level of intense pair-bonding that men undergo and isolation in their grief, the desperate incompetence of a father who has only ever played the role of bad cop. I never cry, but I was bawling my eyes out at the end of this movie. my 'daily weeper' female friends felt nothing more than a general sadness in the air.

Women and men only relate across genders when it is the proverbial 1% superhero, and that's because the superhero has no gender. Women don't relate to the 99% weak men, and men do not relate to the 99% weak women.

Hollywood writers can't write a relatable girl-boss, because it starts with needing to cast a sexually undesirable woman. It starts with recognizing, that they need to thoroughly deprive their character of the 'women are wonderful' effect. Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2 is a properly relatable girl-boss, in part because she is NOT 'Hollywood sexy'. It also helps that all 3 male characters in the movie: John, Arnold & T2 are incapable of sexualizing her.

Something similar occurred to me and I’d considered touching on it in my earlier comment, but didn’t want to get bogged down in a potentially crass “is so-and-so fuckable” argument with anybody. The example I was going to give was Sigourney Weaver - who I personally find somewhat mannish and haggard-looking, even when she was in her prime as Ripley - and I would say that some more recent examples would be Michelle Rodriguez and, to some extent, Jennifer Lawrence. (Lawrence has an attractive body, but it’s easy for a director to de-emphasize it, and her face is somewhat plain.) The key tightrope act is that these women aren’t unattractive - there’s nothing obviously off-putting about them that would make men want not to look at them (it’s not like we’re talking about casting Melissa McCarthy or Ruth Buzzi or whatever) - but not so attractive that a man would be unable to turn off his “sexy lady want to bone awooooogah [wolf whistle]” instinct long enough to relate to her on a peer level.

Melissa McCarthy

Perhaps one of my edgiest opinions is that McCarthy and Jason Statham are really funny in ‘Spy’.

There's also a question of realism. I believe that Sigourney Weaver is fairly strong - maybe not as strong as an average American man, but not far off. She's a tall, athletic woman. It's much easier to suspend disbelief with her as Ripley than Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor, or young Linda Hamilton vs. Old Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor firing a machine gun.

young Linda Hamilton vs. Old Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor firing a machine gun.

If you compare the actress in the first versus the second movie, the change is huge. She worked out, she completely lost the softness from the first movie. It's at least as impressive as actors hitting the gym to pile on the muscles when playing superheroes.

Then you get "Rings of Power" and small Morfydd Clark supposedly able to one-shot an ice troll (that was smacking around her entire squad of male Elves up till then) and teaching the Númenorean youth volunteers which end of a sword is the pointy bit, and even without the ludicrous 'acrobatic' stunts it just does not work. It doesn't matter that she's an Elf, she is simply not convincing as tall enough and strong enough to be able to pull off all this Warrior Girlboss routine.

Then you get "Rings of Power" and small Morfydd Clark supposedly able to one-shot an ice troll (that was smacking around her entire squad of male Elves up till then) and teaching the Númenorean youth volunteers which end of a sword is the pointy bit, and even without the ludicrous 'acrobatic' stunts it just does not work. It doesn't matter that she's an Elf, she is simply not convincing as tall enough and strong enough to be able to pull off all this Warrior Girlboss routine.

Yes, there's a reason why Superman is muscular, even though his strength is obviously disconnected from just his muscles: it aids the suspension of disbelief. Chalamet as Superman would not work, unless he put on 40+ pounds of muscle, and also wore platform shoes that were at least 2 inches...

Let's take 4 example films with female protagonists. I really enjoy the protagonists in Alita, Rogue Squadron, Mirrormask, and Spirited Away.

Alita is great because the titular character appears as an underdog in most of her fights (who levels up in badassness multiple times through the film). There are plausible reasons why a 100lb girl can beat giants (they're all cyborgs and she's from a higher tech civilization). She grows in her power through the films and is faced with consequences for her actions both positive and negative.

Jyn is a normal person with PTSD who is only attached to the mission because of her connection to a warlord who isn't a close friend of the republic. She's got a lot of mental fortitude, and she fights and kills but mostly she's doing brave things because they're the right thing to do. The film makes it clear that actions have costs by the end.

Helena in Mirrormask is a clear fish out of water, but who quickly picks up the rules of the surreal place she finds herself relying on her wits to solve the many mysteries required to escape. She's making as little sense of the place she finds herself as the viewer, but persists in making allies, and using the strengths she has eventually overcome and defeat the villain.

Chihiro perseveres through working hard, having pity, and following her people's traditions (not eating the gods' food like her parents, not accepting No Face's gifts, respecting even the humble spirits at the inn). She shows her wisdom early and continues to develop or refine it and it remains her ally in the story.

I can't put myself in their shoes in many ways, but they appeal to my sense of finding a purpose larger than myself, familial loyalty, accepting challenges, hard work, and protecting those weaker than myself. I enjoy all of their stories because each of them struggles and many of them fail especially early in their story.

Rey is a bad enough protagonist that I think the best thing that could have happened in the Last Jedi would have been Kylo questioning his attachment to the dark side and Rey joining Snoke by attacking him during the confrontation in Snoke's throne room. Rey makes an excellent dragon, she's hyper competent, emotionally distant, and ruthless in her commitment to accomplishing her goals, but those qualities make her an awful protagonist. I believe her lack of appeal as a character is a direct result of girlboss instincts not to ever show her as weak or lacking.

Rey makes an excellent dragon, she's hyper competent, emotionally distant, and ruthless in her commitment to accomplishing her goals, but those qualities make her an awful protagonist. I believe her lack of appeal as a character is a direct result of girlboss instincts not to ever show her as weak or lacking.

I legit thought this was going to be the route they went, that Rey beat Kylo in Ep7 by tapping into the dark side, and would keep relying on that and eventually do something that made even Kylo go "what the fuck" and switch sides to stop her, but no... bland and uninteresting to the end.

I felt like Anton Ego there, thinking "surprise me" and hoping there was an interesting film about Kylo to make. It was easily the best 5 minutes of the film, before resuming my utter disappointment.

I feel the same way, there were hints of an interesting story there, but they turned out to be only hints.

Who are the female counterparts to Harry Potter or Sherlock Holmes, popular among both boys and girls (and whose roles and stories do not particularly depend on their masculinity)?

Taylor from Worm fits best. She's competent, dictates events and leads, though the story is somewhat obscure. Annabeth from Percy Jackson and Hermione I guess fit what you're getting at about them not leading or wielding power (though Hermione is essential and does sort of lead in book 7, while Annabeth has a similar sort of quasi-leadership role). Katniss from the Hunger Games never has autonomy, I admit.

Lyra from His Dark Materials?

I think there is something unwomanly about being a great leader who wields power on a huge scale. In history, we have Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Julius Caesar, Cyrus the Great, Hernan Cortes... The names of these men echo for millennia - khanates, kaiser, czardom, Alexandria. The great prophets were all male. There just aren't female equivalents on that highest tier. There's Elizabeth I and Catherine who were pretty capable but were only on Bismarck's level, perhaps a little lower. They didn't found gigantic empires from nothing, they didn't lead troops in battle. They were all born into their positions as well - they are A-tier as opposed to S-tier. Joan of Arc is a special case of a female leader rising from the bottom but she didn't actually rule anything or wield great power.

Who else? Maria Theresa did decently for Austria but by diplomacy and influence rather than wielding power directly. She still lost Silesia to Frederick and couldn't retake it even when it was her and half of Europe against him alone. She was about marriages, not conquest and glory. Queen Victoria did very little but sit still and be adored. Theodora has a rather dubious track record.

The heroic archetype is someone like Alexander or Genghis Khan who says 'Nothing can stop me, I will rule the world' and goes on to prove the verity of his claims. Or the gigachad Viking who held up the army on Stanford Bridge, until some sneaky Englishman stabbed him from underneath the bridge. Or the other last stands of history.

Queen Victoria did very little but sit still and be adored.

She worked hard on restoring the image of the monarchy and creating, with Alfred, the domestic family view of the queen and consort. She was also constrained by the increasing impotence of the monarch to actually do anything, and a male monarch would have faced the same problems. But as a figurehead of Empire, she was immensely important. People were born and grew up and had children and grandchildren of their own during her reign. She was the public face of the entire project. You weren't fighting and building abroad for a faceless government, you were doing it for Victoria.

She did try and get involved in ruling, but her relationships with her Prime Ministers were the important elements there. By helping in the transformation of the monarchy into a symbolic, ceremonial role this helped preserve the monarchy. Remember, there was a lot of upheaval during the entire period from anarchists to republicans. People were questioning the very notion of a monarch. Victoria became the grandmother of the nation and maintained continuity and handed over a functioning machine to her son. One that managed to last even beyond the turmoil of the First World War, where so many other European monarchies came crashing down:

In the early part of her reign, she was influenced by two men: her first Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, and then her husband, Prince Albert, whom she married in 1840. Both men taught her much about how to be a ruler in a 'constitutional monarchy', in which the monarch had very few powers but could use much influence.

Until the late 1860s she rarely appeared in public; although she never neglected her official Correspondence, and continued to give audiences to her ministers and official visitors, she was reluctant to resume a full public life.

She was persuaded to open Parliament in person in 1866 and 1867, but she was widely criticised for living in seclusion and quite a strong republican movement developed.

Seven attempts were made on Victoria's life, between 1840 and 1882 - her courageous attitude towards these attacks greatly strengthened her popularity.

With time, the private urgings of her family and the flattering attention of Benjamin Disraeli, Prime Minister in 1868 and from 1874 to 1880, the Queen gradually resumed her public duties.

Catherine wasn't born into her position, she was a German who married Peter III before he became Tsar. Later she overthrew him (and possibly had him murdered) and made herself Tsarina. It's impressive for a complete outsider who didn't even speak Russian when she arrived.

Good point but she was a princess. A princess of a poor principality but a princess nonetheless. Alexander had a higher starting position but achieved much more.

Alexander had everything laid out for him. It was Philip II who reformed Macedonian army, consolidated power in his hands and who provided Alexander with the best tutoring. And Philip also had good sense to get killed while Alexander was young.

The true self-made men were the likes of Genghis Khan, who literally comes from refugee family that almost all died in harsh Mongolian winter. Napoleon definitely counts as well. Possibly Caesar, but less so since he was born into patrician family.

Alexander might not have been self-made but he did so much! Taming wild horses, winning battles as a teenager before he even became king... He went out and crushed everyone, Illyrians, Greeks, Persians, Indians... Phillip did a good job of institution-building but his star didn't shine so brightly.

If Catherine had done what Alexander did, proportionately, she would've expanded Russia all the way to Portugal in the West, or Vietnam in the East. Even if it disintegrated after her, even if she relied upon her predecessor's hard work, she'd have achieved eternal glory.

India has had 3 strong queens in its time.

  • Jhasi ki rani regained control of her city and held onto it for 5 years in a war against the British East India Company.

  • Ahilyabai Holkar played a big role in the sustained rise of the Maratha Empire as the pre-eminent Indian power sandwiched between the Mughal and British era.

  • More recently, Indira Gandhi girl-bossed in a manner that Hilary can only dream of. She was India's leader during the liberation of Bangladesh, managing the Sikh insurgency and seizing the Congress party despite the old-guard being completely against her.

Who else? Maria Theresa did decently for Austria but by diplomacy and influence rather than wielding power directly. She still lost Silesia to Frederick and couldn't retake it even when it was her and half of Europe against him alone. She was about marriages, not conquest and glory. Queen Victoria did very little but sit still and be adored. Theodora has a rather dubious track record.

I would offer Boudica as an interesting example. Her revolt failed, as so many other revolts against the Romans did, but otherwise her story is genuinely extremely compelling and admirable.

The Trung sisters are national heroes of Vietnam, too. Doubtless we can find more of these if we even looked in a cursory manner.

Compelling and admirable - according to later reinterpretations of the Roman historians who wrote about her after Suetonius obliterated her. It's like if the hero sallies out, massacres a bunch of civilians, wins a single battle and then gets utterly crushed.

Skanderberg is overwhelmingly superior as a rebel and a hero. He won at least one single-combat duel plus there are many tales of his superhuman strength and endurance. We know he fought and won battles against the odds for 25 years. He even fended off the treacherous Venetians and somehow found time to help his friends in Aragon retake Naples. He personally halted Ottoman expansion into Europe!

Or take Mullah Omar. Veteran guerrilla against the Soviets, tank-hunter, lost an eye in battle. Gets a prophetic vision, leads his students off to fight and kill all the warlord rapists and pedophiles in Afghanistan. He does a pretty good job of that, conquers most of the country and gets his own holy item (the Cloak of Muhammed). He bans opium production fairly effectively. He tells Osama Bin Laden to cool it with the jihad but defies another global superpower and refuses to hand over his guest to America. Based on Islamic law and Afghan customs, he cannot betray guests like that so he offers to hand him over to an Islamic court but is rebuffed. If his life were a work of fiction, he would be almost too cliched a hero. How comically villainous can his enemies be?

Reportedly, in early 1994, Omar led 30 men armed with 16 rifles to free two young girls who had been kidnapped and raped by a warlord, hanging him from a tank gun barrel.

Then he hands over the insurgency against NATO to his successor before dying of natural causes, before his followers march on to victory! We made a serious mistake going up against a force led by someone straight out of an Arthurian legend, especially when we side with the pedophile rapists (who infamously filled the ranks of our drug-ridden Afghan National Army). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afghan_Army#Ineffectiveness

Oh sure, obviously Boudica isn’t topping anyone’s list of most impressive rebel leaders; her legend is almost certainly inflated by the fact that people want so badly to find any examples, other than Caractacus, of the Celtic Britons mounting a credible defense of their homeland instead of just getting constantly steamrolled. I just think she’s an interesting example of a female war leader who genuinely seems to have demonstrated masculine virtues and achieved some modest measure of real success in doing so.

while men generally seem uninterested in female protagonists. I am not here to say that you are sexist if you did not enjoy Captain Marvel.

Didn't they come out and say men weren't their audience? If you write bad male characters (or hire writers that hate men) is it really surprising that (most) men are not interested?

Who are the female counterparts to Harry Potter or Sherlock Holmes ...

Isn't this looking at a couple outliers (some of the most popular media of all time) and making very broad assumptions? Besides, Harry Potter has some very strong female characters... Are you saying that there are no boys who related to Hermione?

Of course I don't think it's a moral failing if, say, by some effect of psychology, a man is incapable of admiring a woman for her achievements in the same way he might admire a man.

I mean, could it be that men and women tend to have some biological differences? I'm currently mostly dating women in their early 30s... It's kind of amazing to watch them melt at a baby anything (it could be a small chair and it's soooooooooo cute). Don't get me wrong, I can appreciate the cuteness of kitten but it's not the same. Is that a moral failing? It seems like you're glossing over the most obvious answer...

A male friend recently gave me the dating advice that what's important in a partner is that they are "naturally happy", which struck me as a hilariously insufficient and condescending criterion, better suited to choosing a puppy.

That is excellent advice and well-worth blasting from the rooftops with megaphones. Could've saved me decades of trouble if I were amenable to advice.

I think the real question you need to be asking is can anyone who buys into the theory of external loci control respect anyone as an agent. Not just men or women.

girlboss feminism


respect or admire or empathize with a woman on the basis of her actions in the world or the way she wields power

Only very rarely. Does Phyllis Schlafly count?

More often I find the choices made by girl bossing feminists to only be coherent in the context of girl bossing feminism, which I find to be a poor fit for our consensus reality.

I see it leading to poor outcomes and don't entirely understand why otherwise seemingly intelligent women that take this path fail to see the deep tail 'success' they believe has been promised is rare.

It's my perception of her poor choices that precludes my respect for actions.

You just said 'girlboss feminism bad' in five different ways. "poor choices", "success rare", "poor fit for reality". Not that much was communicated.

  • -11

More effort please. We do not like posts that are nothing more than "I agree," and we do not like posts that are nothing more than "Your post was dumb."

For instance, women seem more able to put themselves in the shoes of male protagonists in fiction, while men generally seem uninterested in female protagonists.

In anime and manga there are entire genres, most obviously slice-of-life comedies, where it is typical to have nearly 100% female casts (and a 50% or higher male audience). Female characters are a publishing requirement at plenty of manga magazines, and not for ideological reasons. Here is a relevant extra from the comedy manga/anime D-Frag, which ended up with a main cast that looks like this. The same is true for anime-style videogames, in particular gacha games which have an emphasis on character design. Even aside from the subsets of Japanese/Japanese-inspired media doing their best to tile the universe with cute girls, plenty of stories from times and places unconcerned with feminism have gone out of their way to incorporate female characters into roles like "warrior" which would realistically be all male, from ancient myths to modern fantasy.

If a subset of modern western characters like the female Captain Marvel aren't appealing to men, perhaps it is because none of the people involved with creating them designed them to be. That doesn't mean they can't be "strong" or whatever, female anime/manga characters are varied and include those with nearly every kind of "strength" imaginable, both the kinds of strength primarily associated with men and the kinds that aren't. But it does mean they shouldn't be designed by people who view "making a strong female character" or "making sure not to incorporate misogynistic tropes" as primary goals in character writing, which often takes precedence over concerns like making the character likable or interesting. Indeed, most of those strong female anime/manga characters were written by people who have probably never encountered a phrase like "strong female character" in their lives, let alone having them as important categories shaping how they think about writing fiction.

In anime and manga there are entire genres, most obviously slice-of-life comedies, where it is typical to have nearly 100% female casts (and a 50% or higher male audience).

Many of these are even written by women, with Bocchi the Rock being a recent prime example. Given that, I lean towards ideological distortion in media companies being the big culprit here.

I don't find the new Captain Marvel appealing and I'm a woman, but then again I may be an outlier. The fact that the second Captain Marvel movie had to be turned into The Marvels, with the lead split among three actresses, may indicate that making Ms. Marvel* into Captain Marvel and then making her as unpleasant as humanly possible isn't attracting anyone.

(*Yes, I'm old enough that I remember when Ms. Marvel wasn't a Muslim teen named Kamala Khan).

I think reducing it to sex/gender really hides what's going on, at least in my mind. I can absolutely respect women as agents. What I can't respect is narcissistic attitudes. And of course, not all women. I know plenty of women who are wonderfully good and what they do and maintain a very healthy center. But I will say that I do think that cultural pressures have been creating more "Girlboss" attitudes. And stories that feature those attitudes....no thank you.

while men generally seem uninterested in female protagonists

How do you put a female protagonist in a story for men, who occupies a traditional male role? You need a woman who embodies honor/courage/valor/stoicism/risk taking in the face of immediate personal danger and you also need a damn good reason why it’s a woman doing the job.

We don’t see this in modern fiction (targeting men) because the characters are pretty universally terribly written. I imagine it’s at least partially due to the authors being outright inimical to the role and it’s requirements (except as a vehicle for empowerment) and their would be audience alike.

It’s not impressive or engaging when woman does classic man thing better than all of the doubting men, overcoming the inevitably evil male antagonist, but that seems to be the only plot now. I’ll point out it’s the opposite of empowering, too.

Give me more Ripley! She isn’t a paragon of female empowerment who breaks the glass ceiling through a newly learned sense of self worth and boss bitch power. (Disregarding the allegory of the horror of childbirth…) she deliberately faces down a terrifyingly gruesome death to protect a girl from the same because everyone else is already dead.

I’d gladly watch more (T1/2) Sarah Connors, Buffy, Scully, or even Margot Hanson for a contemporary reference.

Buffy

How much agency did Buffy have? She didn't choose to be the slayer, nor was she the 'brains' of the operation.

How do you put a female protagonist in a story

Give her visions from God, Jeanne d’Arc style.

I don’t disagree too much. On the side of agency and moral worth, Buffy embraces her destiny and personal responsibility to her own detriment. She takes on raising her sister, and later fighting a war. I think we should also cut her slack for being a teenager.

Buffy is compelling in the Vonnegut sense of character writing, where the universe continually throws awful stuff at her and she is just going along for the ride.

How much agency did Buffy have? She didn't choose to be the slayer, nor was she the 'brains' of the operation.

By this standard any superhero with innate powers may be said to not have agency?

How much agency can someone called by destiny to save the world from evil with their supernatural powers have?

The universe inhabited by many superheroes with innate powers often don't allow for much agency. That these characters as portrayed also often lack dimension doesn't help.

Non-powered superheroes frequently have more agency, Batman, Ironman. They use their wealth and intellect.

Accurately. Or at least sort of. Superheroes are considered children's entertainment because they fly so close to the Mary Sue, they are simplified down to base archetypes and motivations to tell stories without the additional complications of logic and reality and the like. Buffy was built off the superhero mold, and as a result she lacks the complexity of a more human character. But that is by design, and traits she lacks are made up for by her ensemble, or are used to further the story.

That's just me waffling though, I agree AvocadoPanic is mistaken here. They are making the same mistake a lot of critics have been making over the past two decades, which is sort of like the use mention distinction - yeah Buffy doesn't have any agency, she's a fictional character. Her characteristics were given to her by a man, namely Joss Whedon. But inside the show she has plenty of agency. That's where it matters.

For instance, women seem more able to put themselves in the shoes of male protagonists in fiction, while men generally seem uninterested in female protagonists.

The first part doesn't seem true to me, or else why the continual complaining about representation? If they actually are capable of empathising with people unlike them, why should it matter so furiously?

But it's generally hard to think of good examples of female characters occupying much mindshare among men.

The answer to that is that most modern female characters are written absolutely terribly. But go back a bit and there's Lara Croft, Jill Valentine, Samus Aran, Ellen Ripley, Lightning Farron... We used to have good female characters, until they were either ruined or replaced with girlbosses whose only flaw is that they can't see how awesome they are.

The first part doesn't seem true to me, or else why the continual complaining about representation?

Because id-pol (be it of the woke left or dissedent right variety) is about socially atomized urbanites latching onto superficialities precisely because the lack both a proper ethnic religious or cultural identity, and the empathy to feel like part of a community.

until they were either ruined or replaced with girlbosses whose only flaw is that they can't see how awesome they are.

If we're going to speak about failing at cross-sex mind-reading the fact that girlbosses - who are basically an inversion of the male role - come across as more defensive and mean-spirited than the average male hero says something about how these writers think men see their heroes.

I don't think I've ever gone to a Tom Cruise movie to see him upstage some woman (or women as a class) by rescuing her or being the competent hero.

It isn't just one side failing to read the other.

The hero humbling the heroine used to be a much more acceptable trope.

The Taming of the Shrew. Where Katharina is unpleasant, but Petruchio is no prize himself; he turns up in town looking to marry a wealthy woman - any woman - because he is knee-deep in debt. His 'taming' involves force and ends up with Katharina more brainwashed or Stockholm Syndromed into being the obedient placid wife than coming to genuine understanding of each other.

I would not be surprised if five years later, she ended up poisoning him and becoming a rich, independent widow - if he hadn't squandered her fortune before that.

and yet, the Richard Burton film is my wife's favorite movie.

When I read men’s opinions on women and interactions with women it gives me this disgusting skin crawling feeling all over that makes me want to puke. I wish I was born a lesbian.

Ha, this is such a female way to write. If a guy wrote “when I read women’s opinions on men and interactions with men it gives me this disgusting skin crawling feeling all over that makes me want to puke. I wish I was born gay” he’d come across as a histrionic fruit-cake and would get mocked into the shadow realm for being an incel instead of receiving 200 upvotes.

I imagine part of that woman’s dramatic reaction was motivated by OP writing about women like they’re objects that can be fumbled, and not acknowledging women as Wonderful, agentic girl-bosses. However, women are incredibly passive in dating and courtship, especially in the early game, so it’s understandable for men to metaphorise them as inanimate objects that can be fumbled away like a crappy gather or sloppy behind-the-back-pass. Sometimes a man has been James, sometimes he’s been Curry, sometimes he’s been Thompson looking exasperated while a wingman botches a group approach or double date.

Men need to do the approaching, lead the interactions, drive the conversations, perform the monkey-dancing and court-jestering, hold court if necessary, navigate any shit tests, figure out when/how to make the first move, make the first move, and figure out how to seal the deal from there. Women just exist and follow or not. For men, picking-up and/or dating women is like going on job interviews and conducting escort missions; whereas for women getting picked-up and/or dating men is like shopping and going on guided tours.

Online women like to prattle on about emotional labor and so forth, but the efforts of men when it comes to dating and courtship are completely invisible to them. Romance and courtship are things that Just Happen to women like Acts of God. Yet many of them enjoy shaming and mocking men for perceived dating ineptitudes as if they were petty Monday Morning Quarterbacks, just like they’ll pin white feathers on alleged draft-dodgers and laugh at men running to escape the draft. As Norah Vincent remarked in Self Made Man:

Dating women as a man was a lesson in female power, and it made me, of all things, into a momentary misogynist... I disliked [women's] superiority, their accusatory smiles, their entitlement to choose or dash me with a fingertip, an execution so lazy, so effortless, it made the defeats and even successes unbearably humiliating.

Women certainly have ones that got away (cue the Katy Perry song), but they generally don’t have ones that they think of having fumbled away. In contrast, just reading the words "the haunting feeling of fumbling a 10/10" was a cognito-hazard; I got a pit in my stomach while the memories of past fumbles flash-flooded across my mind.

In the romance novels most popular among women, the female protagonists are passive, hypoagentic damsels in distress to be swept off their feet by an active, hyperagentic suitor. Sometimes there are even two such suitors for a Let’s You and Him fight scenario.

I don’t think men are fundamentally disinterested in female protagonists. Ripley in the Alien and Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider franchises come to mind, as female protagonists that are more popular among men than among women. Even brutish, cynical wrong-thinkers like me have contentedly watched the entirety of Love and Death. However, men don’t like getting lectured about #GirlPower in what should be entertainment, from Marvel girl-bosses assembling for a pose-down to an X-Men Mystique walk-off of “by the way, the women are always saving the men around here. You might want to think about changing the name to X-Women.” All while the actress has photos floating around of her on her knees getting facialed.

Both men and women are more concerned for the safety and well-being of girls and women in a movie or television series, just as they are for girls and women in real life. It’s no coincidence that popular works like 28 Days Later, World War Z, The Last of Us, Station 11 have the protection of daughters/daughter-figures as plot points to keep the emotional stakes high for the viewer. A girl/young woman dying gruesomely is/would be much more of an ”oh shit” moment than a boy/young man doing so.

Nor do I think men are inherently incapable of admiring women for their achievements. It’s not like Cathie Wood's lacking in simps and fan-boys. Neither is Elizabeth Holmes, for that matter—strong, independent #GirlBoss when winning; damsel in distress when getting charged with fraud. If anything, women garner greater male (and female) admiration for a given level of achievement than men do.

There’s some apex fallacy here. Men don’t generally admire women for their achievements, because they don’t generally admire other men for their achievements either. The Don Draper I-don’t-think-about-you-at-all is the default.

When men admire the achievements of other men, it’s often in the realm of right-tailed achievements in science, mathematics, business, or sports, where women are usually absent. Given greater male variability in interests and ability, there are far fewer female Terence Taos, Elon Musks, or Jeff Bezos’s; the Forbes list of top 10 female billionaires is a who’s who of widows, heiresses, and divorcees (including MacKenzie). It’s even more sensible that men generally don't admire female athletes, as they generally don't admire random high school boys athletes, who are often better than professional women. It’d be weird as hell if grown men admired random high school boys athletes, Foxcatcher vibes but worse (it’s already pretty weird how many grown men admire and have parasocial relationships with their favorite professional athletes/teams, wearing other men’s names on their backs and cheering their performances).

Yet, despite the relative lack of right-tailed female achievement in sciences, mathematics, business—even aided by the tailwind of affirmative action—and female professional athletes being worse than high school boys, men are constantly bombarded by girl-power propaganda in media and entertainment, schools and workplaces. So it’s natural if some annoyance results, especially when men's experiences in romantic contexts suggest that women are not, in fact, strong independent hyperagentic girl-bosses (more like the opposite).

There’s some apex fallacy here. Men don’t generally admire women for their achievements, because they don’t generally admire other men for their achievements either. The Don Draper I-don’t-think-about-you-at-all is the default.

A rare point of agreement. When women do right-tail well (say Margaret Thatcher), they have plenty of men and women admirers. I don’t think this is really a strongly gendered thing, most people just aren’t very impressive.

Ha, this is such a female way to write. If a guy wrote “when I read women’s opinions on men and interactions with men it gives me this disgusting skin crawling feeling all over that makes me want to puke. I wish I was born gay” he’d come across as a histrionic fruit-cake and would get mocked into the shadow realm for being an incel instead of receiving 200 upvotes.

When I read women's opinions on men and interactions with men it makes me see red that makes me want to follow in Ted Bundy's footsteps. I wish I was born gay.

I wish I was born gay.

Somehow I read your nickname as "adjective born noun"

There are two things I miss from Reddit here: comment counts on collapsed threads, and autogenerated throwaway names.

Cordelia Naismith? Almost any woman in the Vorkosigan Saga is well written.

But since right now I am pretty annoyed by the Ironwood part of the GoW Ragnarok - Angrboda is just terrible. She beats Loki in no less than 3 scripted occasions. A scripted race, a scripted stone tossing contest, a scripted moment where she refuses Lokis help to climb a wall and does some parkour, and her main rant is how she disappears from the prophecy ... and 10 minutes later when some of the evilest things in the universe is about to happen - she is trying to stop it not with righteousness but with "I am not sure but I have ignored it for too long and we can't hide forever" and suddenly she is likeable and relatable. It feels as if those two parts are written by different teams with different ideas about the character.

Do women admire one another for their martial achievements?

As others have already mentioned, there are a decent number of examples of female agents from the 90s and early 00s, even up to Rogue One. These tend to be fairly masculine movies, appealing more to men. Women like them about as much as if the protagonist were male. In a certain sense, they might as well be male.

Meanwhile, the prototypical female story by a woman, appealing to women, is Pride and Predjudice. The heroine most uncover the true characters and motivations of the men in the story. It doesn’t matter all that much which men have served in the military and defeated their nations foes. In Persuasion it matters for status, but not who he has killed or under what circumstances. It matters a great deal whether the man will treat his wife well, be faithful, provide a good living, be respectable according to social norms, and so on. She must figure this out, and choose wisely. They are, to some extent, morality plays. Men do read, for instance, Persuasion, and admire it for its subtlety and deep observation.

Female archetypes are different from male, and perhaps should be different, and the current trend of populating action movies with what amount to trans men is silly. The motherly feminine archetypal character is speaking wisdom and weaving cloth, and that is alright. I especially love the great grandmother in The Princess and the Goblins, and would like to see more of that, rather than yet another woman fighter. Civilizations need wisdom and cloth and social norms as much as they need to repel the invaders or solve the mystery or Do Science.

And yet, she’s still the standard, still frequently adapted, still culturally important in a way that Marvel Girl Boss is not.

That isn’t necessarily to say there aren’t any important contemporary female protagonists, just that there’s no reason they are or should be catering to heroic male action expectations.

Bingo.

I'm prepared to bet that in 50 - 100 years the works of Jane Austen and JRR Tolkien will still be culturally relevant whereas Captain Marvel staring Brie Larson will be a forgotten footnote.

ho are the female counterparts to Harry Potter or Sherlock Holmes, popular among both boys and girls (and whose roles and stories do not particularly depend on their masculinity)?

Sailor Moon.

rose stabs the ground

It is me, Tuxedo Kamen, coming to remind you that I save Sailor Moon in 99% of the episodes.

This isn't true.

Is that how it works? That’s a bit sad.

I guess maybe Precure is different?

I think a big part of it is how little agency most stories tend to give women, and how little they are shown to struggle and grow. To be blunt, most of them aren’t even written as people at least in genre fiction. Rey makes very few actual decisions in Star Wars. She doesn’t. Poe stands up to the general (I can’t think of her name), willing to be put in the brig to challenge a poor leader. Rey more or less was carried along by the plot, and was simply gifted the powers she’d need exactly when she’d need them. Even in Hunger Games, Katniss makes no real decisions, they simply don’t come up. She makes no special efforts to win hearts of the audience before the games. Her people did that for her. They tell her what to say and do, and she follows directions. She doesn’t decide not to kill, she just sort of never has it come up where she’s in a position to kill somebody except in self defense. Even Hermione it’s more of a case where she happens to have just read a book and the book tells her what to do so she does it.

Male characters are written with challenges to overcome and often must work very hard to learn to overcome them. They’re allowed to not know, they’re forced to figure it out on their own, and they absolutely are deciding on what to to and how to do it.

Rey more or less was carried along by the plot, and was simply gifted the powers she’d need exactly when she’d need them...Male characters are written with challenges to overcome and often must work very hard to learn to overcome them. They’re allowed to not know, they’re forced to figure it out on their own, and they absolutely are deciding on what to to and how to do it.

You say that like it isn't the result of the girlboss trend? It is girlboss feminist characters who start with all of the tools, based on the idea that the only thing really wrong with women is that men are holding them back (see Captain Marvel for the most prominent recent example).

So they can't just be flawed, it has to be everyone else's fault.

Even in Hunger Games, Katniss makes no real decisions, they simply don’t come up.

I've only seen the movies, but Katniss' role as a symbol for a rebellion much greater than herself always seemed to be the point. She makes choices (especially in the final movie where she has to act on her own or turn against supposed allies) but the entire point is that her choices are constrained by the tyrannical system she's in.

Even when she is acting as a lightning rod for the resistance she's sort of forced into a particular mold and one of the plot points is how constricting it is (it's actually a pretty funny and interesting look at manufacturing propaganda and the use of symbols and celebrities)

And she does do things, and they do matter. Deciding to (pretend) kill herself and Peta- the fact that this is the closest thing to rebellion she can manage is again just reinforcing the point above - not only wins them the games but makes her into said symbol of resistance despite her wishes cause she knows it puts everyone she loves at risk.

Even Hermione it’s more of a case where she happens to have just read a book and the book tells her what to do so she does it.

I'm sorry. This just seems like grasping for straws now. Hermione, especially in the films, does a lot that others can't do even though they have access to the same books. You've basically been presented with a genius female character and are writing her off cause...she reads before making her plans?

Another way to put it is: Hermione is the most studious and skilled member of the group and is basically the required support for most of their schemes coming close to succeeding - from independently figuring out the Basilisk's nature, to making polyjuice potion to setting up Dumbledore's Army (including her spiteful little revenge on anyone who tattled about it). She also goes into business for herself on crusades that the rest of the cast don't care for (e.g. freedom for house elves).

At worst, she's Q. At best, she's Tony Stark.

I could come up with a much less flattering description of say...Ron's contributions to the group. But no one denies he has agency.

For instance, women seem more able to put themselves in the shoes of male protagonists in fiction, while men generally seem uninterested in female protagonists.

I find this to be quite the opposite, personally. I'm always reading books with female protagonists with my wife (most recently mistborn and the Alanna books) that she read when she was younger, and getting into deep conversations with her about them. I grow to really like those books. My wife will consume media with me with male protagonists, but she rarely grows to really internalize it and love it. The only time she ever likes something enough to rewatch it is if it has a female protagonist. I personally blame the feminist movement for putting this mind worm in her to believe that there's something inherently better about female led media.

Misborn is weird. SAnderson does seem to write characters in a manner that is almost entirely devoid of their sexuality. Nothing wrong with that, but Vin could be guy, a girl or an amorphous 4 limbed entity.......and my mistborn experience would have been exactly the same.

Who are the female counterparts to Harry Potter

Harry is totally average, aside that he has -accidentally- a piece of Voldemorts soul. But he is not the best wizard in the world or is the coolest guy ever. It is Longbottom in the end who wielded the sword of Gryffindor, it is Hermione who is most clever, the Weasley family who harbors the resistance.

This is a large exaggeration. Harry is more gifted than Hermione at defense against the dark arts, even after Voldy's soul is gone, as he goes on to become Wizard FBI.

Harry is totally average, aside that he has -accidentally- a piece of Voldemorts soul.

Harry has the most usual quality you'll find in a hero, and the most valued quality in the real world: leadership.

He’s not really a leader though, he’s naturally popular for the same reason, say, the child of an A-list celebrity might be very popular at their school. He’s rich and famous and everyone knows it from the minute he arrives at school. His leadership ability is m