Fireside Friday, November 27, 2020

Hey folks! Fireside this week. A bit of a change-up in terms of the coming attractions. I had planned to start “Textiles, How Did They Make It?” next, but I want to do a bit more reading on some of the initial stages of textile production (that is, the production of raw flax and wool) and I simply haven’t had the time. Instead, next week (hopefully!) we’re going to dive in to the last A Song of Ice and Fire/ A Game of Thrones topic I wanted to treat in depth: the Dothraki. It’s been long in coming – I am striking here while the iron is ice cold – but I wanted to make sure I had my details straight.

I am rapidly running out of Fireside Chat photos (fortunately fireplace weather is just around the corner) so instead, here is a picture of my AC:Valhalla Eivor snuggling a cat.
One might almost term it some kind of omen…

For this week’s musing, I want to return to last week’s discussion just briefly (this is going to be a relatively short musing, but I hope the recommendations will make up for it). “Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla and the Unfortunate Implications” certainly struck a cord; it has by far the single most first-day views of anything I have posted here and the second highest view count of anything on the site. It apparently achieved enough visibility that Darby McDevitt, the narrative director for the game and lead writer on multiple Assassin’s Creed titles, made a point of popping in on twitter to offer his own discussion and defenses to the claims being made. He makes some good points but also acknowledges some of the – necessary from his point of view – weaknesses of the story.

But I want to talk in more depth about one argument he made which bothered me a bit more, which was that the game made up for the unfortunate content of the early sections with much later portions of the game and its ending:

Which he then continued:

And I don’t want to sell him short here at all; he admits that there is something of a weakness to this approach. At the same time, there is something – I don’t want to say disingenuous, because he is open about this – perhaps discordant with this response, given how the Assassin’s Creed games are structured. It comes down to this: first, Assassin’s Creed games are very long; second (and as a consequence of the first), few players actually finish most of the game’s content; third, Ubisoft’s creative teams are very much aware of these two facts and indeed actively mobilize them as features of the game in how they are framed and marketed.

Now the premise of the original post was subjecting AC:Valhalla to the sort of analysis I’d use with a historical text or a piece of modern art of literature. And I think that is entirely fair: these games are cultural products, just like a film or a novel, and they deserve both the respect and the scrutiny that comes with that. But that in turn means we also should talk about genre and the limitations it places on the product. And when it comes to this point about fixing the game’s problems in the back half, genre matters quite a lot.

For those who are largely unfamiliar with the series, modern Assassin’s Creed games are designed as expansive, open-world sandboxes with very long playtimes (this is typically offered as a feature – a lot of game for your gaming dollar, euro, or what have you). Generally, the mainline entries in the series have a minimum intro-to-credits time investment of around 50-80 hours and fully completing all of the side content often doubles that figure in terms of the total time invested. For story-driven experiences, these games are absolutely massive and the time investment they demand in order to actually get to the end game content is huge.

Completion rates for these sorts of games – for games in general, but especially for very long open world sandboxes – are extremely low. Now, the folks designing these games know this. Just about every major game developer has systems for tracking statistics like who does what content, where do players succeed or fail and game completion rates; since nearly all games these days need (or at least request) an internet connection (at the very least to download patches) it is pretty easy to get that data. Often developers will celebrate successful games by releasing some of this data in fun infographics listing how many quests have been completed or what enemies are most troublesome, that sort of thing. I don’t very much mind this sort of limited data collection – it is doubtless very valuable for making better games; some people I know mind it very much and I respect their reasons. But the point is that it is very common and Ubisoft clearly does it too. Which means they are obviously well aware of their completion rates when designing the games they make.

But there is another way that I know that the developers are thinking about game completion when they design the game. Because it is integral to the design and marketing of the game. This may take a bit more explaining if you unfamiliar with Assassin’s Creed. I should note that to explain this, I am going to have to drop absolutely massive spoilers for the earlier games in the series (but not for Valhalla), so you have been warned.

The story of each Assassin’s Creed game is fundamentally bifurcated. Each story begins as a work of historical fiction, set in an identifiable historical era, studded with actual historical figures and events from that era. This is the part of the game everyone is familiar with and the only part which appears in marketing materials (or even, generally, reviews). If you have only a passing familiarity with these games, this is probably the only part of their structure you are aware of. But anyone who has played any of these games to the end knows that each Assassin’s Creed game goes through a by-this-point-predictable series of reveals which fundamentally re-contextualize the story. These reveals, by now old hat to long time players, are still reveals because they are new to the player character who is generally different in each game (and to many players who, on account of the low completion rates, may be reaching ‘the big reveal’ for the first time in any given game).

The first major reveal is that the political forces the character believes are arrayed against them are, in fact, being manipulated by a vast evil conspiracy to control humanity which is either termed the Order of the Ancients (pre-1189 or so) or the Templars (post-1189) and that this evil conspiracy is opposed by an equally vast (morally grey) conspiracy looking to liberate humanity called the Assassins. That reveal tends to happen about 10-25% of the way through the game, sometimes earlier, sometimes later. It slowly becomes apparent that these factions either wield or are seeking powerful, seemingly magic objects.

The second major reveal is that the objects these factions are seeking – and indeed, the factions themselves – are under the control of a species of immortal, highly technologically advanced aliens who present themselves to humans as gods (I am calling them aliens because they are not humans; they are presented as probably also being indigenous to Earth, though) some of whom still exist and continue to meddle in human affairs wielding fantastic technological powers. The ‘magic’ objects are actually advanced alien technology. These aliens often correspond to the pantheons of various pre-modern paganistic religions, such that the player may meet figures like Poseidon or Hades, who are in fact these aliens.

And if you have never played these games before, but only absorbed the marketing material, you are probably responding to all of this with some degree of confusion. These games are actually about ancient super-technological aliens manipulating vast conspiracies? Yes! But only sort of. Integrating such strong science fiction and fantasy elements in historical fiction carries risks, both because genre subversion is going to irritate people who are there for the historical fiction, but also because presenting a clear technological explanation for things like the player’s heroic abilities (they’re part techno-alien) or visions and intuition (not magic or mysticism, but alien tech) strips away a lot of the mystery and mysticism makes this genre appealing to people.

But the developers have found their way to have their cake and eat it too. By repeating the same reveal pattern in every single game and (almost) never beginning an entirely new game with a post-reveal character who is aware of and already interacting with all of this crazy alien stuff, the developers ensure that casual players who only ever play the first 30 hours or so will have a relatively pure historical fiction experience, with perhaps a bit of plausibly silly evil conspiracy thrown in. Meanwhile, the committed, long-term fans will plow to the end of each game to advance the meta-plot about the techno-aliens which connects all of the games (and pays off the modern-world framing narrative, which is also, by the by, massively de-emphasized in the early parts of the game but is often where the true climax in the late game occurs).

You can see this in the marketing for these games themselves. If you look at the promotional material for Odyssey or Valhalla, you will note that the Isu techno-aliens and their plot doesn’t appear (and neither does the modern-world framing story). The games are marketed – towards that casual audience – entirely as historical fiction experiences. And because that information is buried back deep in the game as a big reveal (even though by this point series regulars know this reveal is coming), it isn’t generally discussed by reviewers either (many games will actually condition review copies on not discussing this material; I have no idea if Ubisoft does this but the raw consistency with which reviewers do not discuss the late game techno-alien reveals suggests to me that at least everyone understands, even if in an unspoken way, what is going on). To a degree, I feel like I am breaking kayfabe even bringing it up.

All of which is to say, Ubisoft uses the length of their games and delayed reveals to intentionally segment their player-base, allowing them to deliver one sort of experience to one group of players (a grounded, somewhat realistic historical fiction action game) and a different experience to another group of players (a conspiracy and science-fiction soaked massive meta-plot), based on how likely those players are to complete the game, or more correctly, how likely they are to get through the first half or so.

In short, the developers at Ubisoft’s various studios, including Ubisoft Montreal (which makes most of the mainline AC games and made AC: Valhalla), know full well that most players will not see the back half of their Assassin’s Creed game, because that is a major design feature of the game.

And that is why I find the argument that fundamentally boils down to “we try to overcorrect by showing a gradual weakening of the Norse’s dominance […] giving greater exposure to Saxons and their strengths [later in the game]” because the designers here know that most players will never see that part of the game. It is core to their marketing strategy that continues to present a game about techno-aliens as grounded historical fiction!

Now I can understand the frustration that a writer (or a narrative director) is going to have working in that situation. Setting up a status quo and then subverting it is a big tool of fiction writing and can make certain messages land harder. It is painful to take that tool out of the tool-kit. But I think, when dealing with tricky subjects (like the history of raiding slavers often lionized and used as emblems by modern violent white supremacists) there has to be an awareness that the responsible part of the narrative cannot be consigned to the part of the game almost no one plays. The completion rates for Odyssey were less than a quarter. I wonder what portion of players made it to the back 10-15 hours of the base game where the techno-aliens appeared; I cannot imagine it was over half.

Game developers, including game writers, work within the constraints of their medium. If the failing here was that they did not take into account – as professional and experienced veteran game writers – that their entire game was built around a segmented player base, most of which do not play the entire game, well, then that is a failing indeed.

Consequently, I am not persuaded that Valhalla‘s problems become understandable in light of the late game experience, because the game is – like every game in this series – fundamentally designed around the known fact that most players do not see that late game experience. By virtue of the genre and the design, the nuance has to be upfront, in the part of the game everyone plays, not hidden in the game-dev equivalent of fine print for just the hardcore fans. None of which is to bash on McDevitt who has a hard job, made harder by the very structure of the games he has to construct and the tricky historical ground they are set in. Nevertheless, I do not think late-breaking reveals can save the tone or implications of these particular works of fiction, where are fundamentally built around the assumption that most players will not see them.

So I think my criticism of Assassin Creed: Valhalla‘s story and setting holds, regardless of any late-game reveals.

On to the Recommendations!

Over at Kiwi Hellenist, Peter Gainsford has an excellent rundown of the (lack of) evidence for ancient Mediterranean use of cannabis as a psychoactive subsistence. I have certainly encountered the assumption that the Greeks and the Romans used cannabis this way, often rooted in the assumption that cannabis use of this sort is some sort of fundamental human universal (often in the form of statements to the effect that ‘people have been getting high off pot forever’). But this is one of the classic traps of doing history: assuming that current values, knowledge or practices are so obvious or just plain normal that they must have existed in human societies ‘since forever’ when in fact different societies are often very different from each other! Gainsford does a solid job in showing that there really isn’t much evidence for this sort of usage among the Greeks or Romans, even in the very sort of texts (either the medical corpus, or the botanical works of folks like Theophratus or Pliny, both of which are obsessed by the uses and properties of plants) to suggest it.

Meanwhile, over at Tod’s Workshop, Tod continues to produce some of the best and most interesting archery tests using his ‘lockdown longbow’ (a crossbow designed to achieve launch velocities and energies equivalent to a 160lbs-pullback longbow). Most interesting and most recent is his “Arrows vs. Brigandine” test, a particular set of tests I had long wanted to see; brigandine was one of the most common armors of the later Middle Ages (often worn by poorer combatants) but is rarely tested or even considered when compared with the higher status rigid plate defenses. Each time I watch one of these tests, I do so with my own Archery, Distance and ‘Kiting’ post open. This time I was somewhat surprised by how well the arrows performed, although looking back at what I wrote, I shouldn’t have been. It is important to keep in mind, after all, that Tod is testing at extreme close range, with a bow at the very top end of the likely launch energy distribution, and with a direct fire angle: effectively perfect conditions for the bowman (or worst-case conditions for the armor). In those conditions, relatively thin steel plate is vulnerable to the most powerful bows. But it is exciting to see the thing demonstrated!

Meanwhile, a new administration is beginning to look at staffing the major security agencies and that makes it a pretty good time to think about security policy. Reaching back into the summer, I’d like to recommend two podcasts from the Net Assessment podcast over at War on the Rocks, the first about (but not with) Michèle Flournoy’s June article in Foreign Affairs and the second with Emma Ashford over her article (also at Foreign Affairs). Flournoy is the most likely person at the moment to end up as the Secretary of Defense and her position likely represents what Biden White House policy will look like, at least in its ideal state. Ashford, by contrast, (and also Chris Preble in the podcast, both of whom have been through the Cato Institute) takes the opposite view of the issue and complains generally about what she views as a false foreign policy consensus. My own views align more closely with Flournoy’s (something that was very much in evidence in a set of twitter conversations I had with Ashford) but the ‘restrainers’ (that is, those arguing for a more limited, ‘restrained’ role for American foreign policy) absolutely have a point about the willingness to spend lots of money. I do find the argument for allies to adopt ‘porcupine‘ strategies (and for the USA to assist that with arms sales), as advanced by Preble, Ashford, and others, compelling but also not sufficient in the absence of a credible way to deliver meaningful conventional US forces into the theater in a time-table that matters.

Finally, a book recommendation! This week, it’s a book I realize I mention regularly in the blog and in the comments, but haven’t actually got around to directly recommending, Azar Gat, War in Human Civilization (2006). Since I have complained quite a bit about ‘megahistories‘ lately, it seems only fit to offer a proper macro-history that I think it done responsibly. Gat’s book is not a history of battles, but of war in the broad sense. He thesis starts with the questions why humans do war (beginning with the motives of food and sex and then moving to more complex motives which derive from those) and then based on those motivations, the assessed how war has shaped humans.

Perhaps the most explosive of these arguments, but one I find very convincing, is his argument that military mortality in the deep past of human history when we all lived as hunter-gatherers was high enough, for long enough that it exerted evolutionary pressure on the emergence of anatomically modern humans; that is, stated bluntly, humans are evolved for war. This argument, which emerges in his first chapter, is a point of fierce debate among archaeologists and anthropologists (it is rooted in rival conceptions of human nature, after all) but I think Gat has the right of it, and I recall reporting when I first read the book that I wished I could ‘frame Gat’s first chapter,’ a position I still hold.

Subsequently, he sees the rise of the state as a consequence of that human propensity for war, in an argument that will not be entirely unfamiliar to blog readers, as I used it as part of the basis of some of the Fremen Mirage. At the end, he concludes that the human propensity for war has become maladaptive, due to the rising power of human productivity (meaning the war is no longer the best way to get resources as compared to industry and trade) and the rising destructiveness of war (meaning that the costs of war outweigh the gains). Consequently, as Gat poses it, the question is if we can hold off on destroying ourselves (with nuclear weapons) as our genetic programming would suggest long enough for evolution (either social or genetic) to catch up to our sudden, newfound destructive power.

I especially recommend Gat to anyone who has read, or is considering reading Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature, a book I am continually asked if I have read. Quite frankly, I think Gat simply has the better, more rigorous form of Pinker’s argument (which naturally also means somewhat different, more reserved conclusions).

138 thoughts on “Fireside Friday, November 27, 2020

  1. “I am calling them aliens because they are not humans; they are presented as probably also being indigenous to Earth, though”

    Are they lizardmen, though?

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  2. If it’s an early stage reveal that events are being controlled by secret ancient conspiracies, it sounds to me as if there shouldn’t be much danger of ‘Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla’ being mistaken for a historically accurate product, anyway, except by someone naturally disposed to believe in secret ancient conspiracies.

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      1. Bret says the everything being controlled by secret conspiracies reveal is 10-25% in:
        ‘…The first major reveal is that the political forces the character believes are arrayed against them are, in fact, being manipulated by a vast evil conspiracy to control humanity which is either termed the Order of the Ancients (pre-1189 or so) or the Templars (post-1189) and that this evil conspiracy is opposed by an equally vast (morally grey) conspiracy looking to liberate humanity called the Assassins. That reveal tends to happen about 10-25% of the way through the game, sometimes earlier, sometimes later. It slowly becomes apparent that these factions either wield or are seeking powerful, seemingly magic objects…’

        Historical authenticity looks to me (granted I don’t believe in millennia old secret conspiracies in the real world) like it’s already being clearly thrown out 10-25% of the way in, and 10-25% in is what looks to me to be an ‘early stage’.

        As far as I can understand Bret’s explanation, there’s another ‘reveal’ about who is controlling the conspiracies, much, much later, but it seems to me that any sense that this is an accurate depiction of historical events, cultures, and characters should be gone long before that.

        It’s a ‘loosely real-world Viking themed’ product in much the same way as Paizo Publishing’s Ulfen & Land of the Linnorm Kings are loosely real-world Viking themed.

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    1. I don’t think so. Many players could think something like: “Well, obviously the ancient conspiracies are made up, but the Viking stuff is real.” If a piece of fiction mixes obviously fictional element with elements that seem historical to a non-expert, some people tend to separate the more obvious fictional elements out but still accept those that aren’t obviously wrong to them.

      Many readers of The Da Vinci Code thought that what the book says about early Christianity is true. Many viewers of Game of Thrones thought that it accurately represents how feudalism worked in medieval Europe. So I’d say the danger is very much there.

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      1. If ‘The DaVinci Code’ is being treated as a serious historical textbook and expose on the workings of the modern Catholic Church anywhere, rather than as an escapist thriller story, it seems to me that the education system has gone badly wrong.

        Although I think G.K. Chesterton (from his admittedly biased Christian point of view) had his Father Brown character comment in at least one story that when people stop believing in god they start believing in even whackier things instead…

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  3. The infographic linked from under text “listing how many quests have been completed” doesn’t actually contain any information about quest completion rates. Is there any official information about this from CDPR?

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  4. Seems to be missing the link for “Arros vs Brigandine” though maybe it’s my eyesight failing:

    Also, Bret’s linked to Lindybeige before, and I thought his latest was interesting, assuming you want to see someone talk to camera for an hour about the practicalities of Medieval Transport:

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  5. You shouldn’t be surprised that you drew a huge batch of views with your take on AC:Valhalla: this was the timeliest and bluntest piece of writing I’ve seen on here to date. It reads harsher than your takedowns of last-season GoT, and all the more because it starts with you saying it was a fun game (paraphrasing).

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  6. Aliens fighting it out over humanity is an SF theme going back to the Golden Age and E.E. Doc Smith, at least. It’s a perfectly good plot and can be done very interestingly and effectively but distorting history into good guys and bad guys is a definite hazard and it sounds like Assassin’s Creed may have fallen afoul of it.
    Personally I find scandinavian civilization and the custom of going a Viking extremely interesting and have no problem accepting the dark side, raiding, pillaging and slaving, alongside the building and trading but my detached and non judgemental approach to history and anthropology is apparently quite rare.
    I can’t wait for the article on the Dothraki. Like the Ironborn Martin seems to have taken a violent Real World civilization and dialed it up to eleven, indeed to the point that it is basically dysfunctional and probably wouldn’t survive.
    I also look forward to the textile articles. Textile work is often if not always gendered as feminine and thus becomes intertwined with the culture’s conception of gender in very interesting ways. The Swift magic of Norse women was based on textile work and of course ‘she worked wool’ was high praise implying the lady so described was an ideal Roman matron.

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    1. It’s an old observation at this point, but a lot of “ancient aliens” type stuff, dating back at least as far as Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods, can be read as motivated by a not-so-subtle racist undercurrent: in so many words, “no way nonwhite people could’ve built all those impressive monuments and stuff without space aliens helping them.” The long-running Stargate franchise for instance is framed around the premise that the deities of pretty much all ancient mythological traditions are actually the overlords of a species of evil space aliens, with the crucial and telling exceptions of Norse and Arthurian legend, which are two different species of benevolent space aliens.

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      1. I’ve actually read stuff by Daniken, and yours is the first mention of race in that context. Didn’t realize it’s that fashionable.

        As for Stargate, there are benevolent deities (ie aliens) depicted in several pantheons. Romans come to mind. But never mind, if they’re racists, they’re racists, no two ways about it.

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      2. I’ve never bothered to look into these “ancient aliens”-hypotheses, so maybe the question is dumb, but how do they manage to argue that the aliens only help non-white people? Do they really claim that all the impressive buildings outside Europe are built by aliens, but impressive buldings inside Europe are built without any alien help? Or is there some time threshold after which there is obviously no more alien interference and everything is just down to the people themselves? (Allowing them to choose that time threshold at a convenient time for their argument)

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          1. I think the idea is that the aliens’ intervention came specifically during the time period when “white” civilizations were building less impressive monumental architecture than “nonwhite” civilizations, on the grounds that since whites out-achieving nonwhites is the natural order of things, nonwhites out-achieving whites is an anomaly that requires some kind of outside explanation.

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        1. In a twist I’m sure they wouldn’t have predicted, stonehenge wasn’t built by the Celts, it was built by the neolithic people that largely preceded the Celts (and contributed some of their MtDNA to them). Those neolithic farmers were largely of middle-eastern heritage (and likely skintone, with modern Sardinians being the closest modern relations), mixed with Western Hunter Gatherer heritage which if the latest genetic analysis of Cheddar Man is representative were likely even darker skinned.

          So no, the Celts weren’t ecretly black, but the people who built stonehenge probably would be counted as such by anyone far-right enough to ascribe to the ‘ancient aliens’ theory for racial reasons.

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      3. A lot of ancient aliens type stuff simply started off with esoteric Bible interpretations. And there are even theories about Nazis who supposedly had occult knowledge and mastered secret technologies like flying saucers. If these guys needed help…

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      4. The Air Force Rah!Rah!Rah! in SG-1 is so much more blatantly reactionary that the racist reading of alien gods is gagging at a gnat. The “Norse” legends are Roswell grays, which sharply undercuts an imposed racist reading. The two characters from Arthurian legend who turn out to be “aliens,” are the *first* evolution of humanity, not precisely aliens. Of course, the *second* evolution of humanity is a truly dingbat concept.

        There are actually good things about SG-1 (largely Richard Dean Anderson’s jokes, a remarkably consistent mythology for a series and a character with a different perspective, Daniel Jackson, imported from the movie.)

        Also, SG-1’s racism is even more blatant in its Klingons, the Jaafa. (Forgot the spelling?)

        Reading motivations is a tricky business. I looked at the Stick character in Daredevil and thought it was awfully white savior…then when people who loved Stick couldn’t stand Danny Rand, Iron Fist, for being a white savior when Rand was never portrayed as badass, I read motivation. Namely, Finn Jones who played Loras Tyrell confirmed pillow-biter and sword swallower in Game of Thrones, was hopelessly tarred by association. And Danny Rand had lived in a monastery from childhood. Even Netflix fans of Daredevil can do the math: 20-something virgin. Thus I read the motivation of people who pretend they hate Iron Fist for white saviorism and bad acting and etc. as largely homophobia with a helping of contempt for the weak.

        As I say, reading motivations is a tricky business.

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          1. The Noble Warrior (of Color) who lacks “our” (white) technology and uses hand weapons and unhesitatingly adheres to the tribal code of honor without “our” sophisticated (white) moral dilemmas?
            Figures like Klingons (and it’s even more glaring in their Voyager copies, the Kazon,) and even that Jaffa are themselves incarnations of the supposedly positive stereotypes. Using stereotypes=racism.

            But of course the whole point of the response to WLGR’s comment was that readings like this have to be contextualized. The Jaffa, possibly due to feedback from Chris Judge, even develop politics in the very late Ori war sequence of SG-1. And even more to the point, judging personal motivations—and judging individual persons— by these readings, is even riskier.

            The whole SF tactic of treating “aliens” as functionally, other races, tends to be self-defeating. Klingons and Jaffa are biologized as genuinely non-technological, while other races are not biologically non-technical. For commercial reasons, it is convenient for producers and their employees to pretend the fictional science in SF is indistinguishable from magic…but the SF style of pseudo-realism where the impossible shenanigans are treated as if somehow connected to the real world (not just a possible real future, by the way) makes political commentary in SF very tricky to pull off. Very specific issues can be addressed in a simple comedy-adventure format fairly easily. In the case of SG-1, the examples of the episodes Enemy Mine and Ethon come to mind readily.

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          2. They even partly lampshaded this “Noble Warrior of Color” trope in the episode of the spinoff series Stargate Atlantis, where Christopher Judge’s Jaffa character from the original series does a guest cameo to coach Jason Momoa’s character in preparation for an interview with the Earth-based bureaucracy overseeing the Stargate program (because the Noble Warrior of Color is a rage-fueled hothead who deals poorly with the learned and sophisticated ways of the white man) and the character introducing them awkwardly intones “you two are… um… similar… in many ways… so you should have a lot in common!”

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        1. To be fair, it’s implied that the Norse deity race had a more humanlike appearance in the past before some kind of “genetic degradation” (now there’s a weird and problematic concept if ever I saw one!) led to their current appearance as Roswell Grays. The broader point still stands either way: nearly all ancient deities and folklore are the vestigial cultural memory of a deeply malevolent alien race of oppressive parasitic slavedrivers, except for Norse/Germanic deities who are benevolent, and Anglo-Saxon legends who (aside from being a “prior evolution of the human form” which as you’ve said makes zero sense) are so supremely benevolent that they’ve ascended to a higher plane of existence through their own enlightenment.

          The Norse carve-out is particularly telling though, for much the same reason as the Marvel Comics version, since actual Norse mythology wasn’t necessarily some huge glaring exception to the depiction of deities as vicious sadistic bastards who treat humans like a sociopathic kid burning ants with a magnifying glass for fun and are worshipped more out of fear than love.

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    2. I’m actually going against the grain here, but I think the Ironborn have more complexity than most people give them credit for and are one of the more interesting societies Martin has created, but the complexity isn’t really on the surface because none of the Ironborn (except Rodrik the Reader and Asha to some extent) question their own society very deeply.

      I could expand on this at length but basically the “Old Ways” don’t make any damn sense because they *aren’t supposed to*, they’re a revanchist fantasy made up by the Ironborn establishment in order to create a racial supremacist ideology that presents the Ironborn as the master race and the “greenlanders” as sheep who are fit only to be sheared. This is, obviously a really stupid ideology and is the reason the Ironborn turn out to be such losers again and again, because they’re operating under the assumption that they’re the master race. Balon thinks he can conquer the North for the same reason Hitler thought he could conquer Germany.

      There are *plenty* of reformers in Ironborn history who tried to gain power through trade and alliances with the greenlands – the Hoare dynasty is one, Balon Greyjoy’s father Quellon is another – but every time they are sabotaged by the reactionary forces who fear the reforms will undermine their traditional source of wealth and power – raiding, specifically raiding for the thralls who make up the base of the Iron Islands’ economy.

      (They’re right about that, btw – the reformer kings got away with a Hell of a lot, even religious reforms, but they always get overthrown when they try and abolish thralldom. Interesting, that.)

      TL;DR – You should stop imagining the Ironborn as Flanderized vikings, and start imagining them as the KKK with longships.

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      1. Exactly. A lot of fandom takes the bullshit propaganda of the reactionary faction at face value. Often people create a very mythologized view of the past and then try to resurrect that as it’s the Way Things Should Be which leads to a lot of ludicrous ideas because myth is not a good practical basis for social organization. But it doesn’t mean that’s the way things REALLY were in the Good Old Days, often the good old days were practical and realistic in the way that myths about them obscures.

        You get this process a lot in rusted aristocracies. When you get a military aristocracy they have to be fairly pragmatic or they’ll get killed. But when you get a military aristocracy that doesn’t do much fighting, either because of a prolonged period of peace or because changes in military organization means that the old military aristocracy isn’t much of a fighting force anymore despite keeping its social/economic power things start to get goofy. They don’t HAVE to be realistic because they’re not really out there fighting all the time anymore so you get more and more flights of fancy.

        This is where you get some of the more exaggerated concepts of honor. These rusted aristocracies can blather on about unbreakable honor since they’re mostly sitting at home and not in real danger or at least their PARENTS were sitting at home not in real danger resulting in the next generation getting fed ideas that are pretty damn suicidal in a real war before being thrown in the meat grinder. People in a more living traditions of course do care about honor but they don’t have the same kind of extreme and suicidal version of it you get once extended periods of conflict get mythologized.

        Mark Twain liked mocking the South for exactly this kind of goofiness which lead to their obsession with Sir Walter Scott and mythologized versions of the Middle Ages which helped give us the Civil War. Kind of similar in some ways to Japan in WW II.

        Like you said. I think a lot of the same applies to the Dothraki. They seem to have pretty limited conflicts with each other, get paid off a lot and do some minor slave trading. I’d assume that they’d be very different in terms of military organization than the original Dothraki that came in during the Century of Blood.

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      2. Overall, I agree with you, but…

        Balon wants to conquer the North? As I remember it, Balon just wanted independence, and to raid the North (which he’s very much capable of doing). Seizing Winterfell was Theon’s dumb idea, influenced by his mainland upbringing (to the mainlanders, wealth is land, so land is what they like to steal).

        Also, it took dragons to beat House Hoare.

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        1. Balon wanted parts of the North — the western coastal holdings, in particular — and took to styling himself as the ruler of the North when addressing Tywin Lannister.

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  7. Bret, as an avid reader of your posts who likely will never play these games, I am engaged by your own reveal (oka “spoilers”). I appreciate your candid approach.

    Meanwhile, here are 3 types I noticed. Perhaps others will point out others for your future fixes.
    struck a cord -> chord, (please! As in music, not rope)
    fiction, where are fundamentally built -> which
    motivations, the assessed how -> he assessed

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  8. A friend’s son is paying attention in history class only to see where the course content differs from the history he is learning in role-playing games. This means that someone who learns about a period of history only from a game is relying on the game to be accurate. If games are presented as based on true history they need to be accurate.
    This is also true of movies. The movie Woman Walks Ahead totally denied the true political motivation of the main character.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Eh, I’d prefer accuracy but I don’t think it’s vital. It matters what kind of inaccuracy it is, if it’s just stuff like giving people the wrong weapons and armor it’s not really a big deal (however annoying). It if indulges in the same tropes you get from literal Nazis then something of a bigger deal…

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  9. “…military mortality in the deep past of human history when we all lived as hunter-gatherers was high enough, for long enough that it exerted evolutionary pressure on the emergence of anatomically modern humans; that is, stated bluntly, humans are evolved for war”

    Sounds like evolutionary psychology.

    Also, I, too, look forward to reading about the Dothraki. As far as I can see it their depiction is no more offensive than the Ironborn; the way I see them is more “Conan on a horse” than “Mongols/Plains Indians are abhorrent”. But I may miss something, so it would be interesting to hear out a historian’s opinion.

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    1. Personally I found the Ironborn kind of offensive. The RW basis for their culture were traders as well as raiders and eager to win new lands to work. The economic base of the Ironborn is laughably inadequate but nobody but Asha Greyjoy recognizes the fact.

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      1. I actually have a whole thesis about how the current version of Ironborn society and the entire concept of the “Old Ways” are a revanchist fantasy made up to justify a racial supremacist ideology that legitimizes the Ironborn ruling class and their wars of conquest.

        If you look at Ironborn history, they’re doing trade and diplomacy just as often as they’re pillaging their neighbors, its just that the Ironborn are trapped in a cycle where reformers are sabotaged by reactionary interests whose status is threatened by those same reforms, setting back Ironborn society and starting the cycle over. Balon and Asha are just the latest iteration in this dialogue.

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        1. that feels more like a headcannon you just made up with very loose context and without much evidence, also if the reformers have always been beaten down by revanchist fantasists for the majority of their existance doesn’t that make the majority of their history just the revanchist fantasy?
          Fantasies like that are usually revival of cultures so long dead no-one can remember them or in the face of a majour defeat, if it was a reaction to roberts rebellion then this uptick would’ve been commented on by people who remember it’s arisal.

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        2. It’s not an uncommon interpretation within the fandom (see, e.g., https://racefortheironthrone.wordpress.com/2014/07/23/chapter-by-chapter-analysis-acok-theon-i/), and there’s a decent amount of support for it in the text (the clownishness of the character who most fully embodies the purported value of the Old Ways, Victarion; the ease Euron has at exploiting them to obtain leadership; details that indicate that fundamental aspects of the Old Ways, like raiding, have barely been practiced in recent centuries)

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    2. There’s a blurry line between evolutionary psychology and evolutionary *physiology.* At some point you can’t dismiss the claim “evolutionary pressures have influenced humans” in and of itself without also dismissing the theory of evolution itself. The question is *which* features we see in modern humans have evolved, and how, and why.

      “Evolutionary psychology” has a bad reputation because there’s some bozos out there who try to pick arbitrary bullshit statements about humans and retroactively justify them with poorly sourced claims about human behavior in the ancestral environment (“men hunted mammoths while women picked berries”). But the behavioral patterns of every species we observe shows signs of *SOME* form of evolutionary adaptation, and it should not be a controversial claim that humans follow this rule. It’s just that the specific patterns of behavior that humans evolved probably don’t align perfectly with, say, the specific claims MRAs would like to be true. And furthermore that even if we did evolve behavioral patterns, it doesn’t mean we’re logically compelled to follow those patterns against our better judgment.

      More generally, my point is just that we shouldn’t let the existence of fools who use pseudo-scientific arguments to justify their foolishness become a reason to be broadly suspicious of *all* attempts to use scientific fact to justify arguments.

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  10. Judging from how the later-game plot is described here, I think you might be giving the devs too much credit by assuming that the later-game content would somehow redeem the early game’s ideological shortcomings even if most gamers did get to it. By my reading, much of the ideological problem with the game’s presentation of Viking colonialism in Britain (particularly its insistence that the frontline Viking shock-troops like the player-character were 100% nonviolent toward civilians) can be summed up as: “hey, we white Anglo-Saxons had to deal with Viking settler-colonialism and it wasn’t so bad, so what are all you nonwhite folks complaining about?”

    If the later-game historical plot development is that the Anglo-Saxons eventually get wise to the Vikings’ shortcomings and defeat them, doesn’t that only make this problem even worse? “Viking settler-colonialism wasn’t so bad, look how easy it was for us to eventually defeat! Gee, I guess there must be something wrong or inferior with all you folks still complaining about settler-colonialism, if you can’t defeat your colonists as easily as we defeated ours!”

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    1. By my reading, much of the ideological problem with the game’s presentation of Viking colonialism in Britain (particularly its insistence that the frontline Viking shock-troops like the player-character were 100% nonviolent toward civilians) can be summed up as: “hey, we white Anglo-Saxons had to deal with Viking settler-colonialism and it wasn’t so bad, so what are all you nonwhite folks complaining about?”

      I don’t think that a self-consciously diverse creative team based in Montreal is likely to think in terms of “we white Anglo-Saxons”. If you want an ideological problem with the game, the big one is probably its portrayal of the Church, given that Christianity is currently the world’s most persecuted religion (see, e.g., https://www.huffpost.com/entry/christianity-most-persecuted-religion_b_2402644 ) and very few people in the West (and practically no-one with any power) seems to care about this if they’re even aware.

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      1. I get it, you’re taking the design team’s little “wokeness disclaimer” entirely at face value and you don’t seem to think a team capable of putting out a statement like that is capable of producing content that might mesh with right-wing or even white supremacist ideological themes, but Bret’s original post on ACV spells out a quite convincing argument that you’re wrong about that.

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        1. You don’t need to take “wokeness disclaimers” entirely at face value to recognise that people who put out statements saying how diverse they are tend not to view “white Anglo-Saxons” as their in-group. Even if you want to take a death-of-the-author approach and say that the beliefs and attitudes of the game’s actual designers are irrelevant, white supremacists are more likely to adopt pagan Viking symbolism and aesthetics than Christian Anglo-Saxon, so I would expect them to identify with the game’s Viking protagonist rather than his Anglo-Saxon victims.

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          1. Well the “death of the author” approach seems pretty central to Bret’s original point, in the sense of “hey I’m sure y’all didn’t necessarily intend to design a game with pro-colonialist and/or white supremacist ideological themes, but you did.” If his intent was merely to point at the game designers and shriek “raaaaaacist!!!” like Donald Sutherland’s point-and-shriek at the end of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” I’m sure he’d have been capable of writing a post like that instead.

            That said, I’m not sure what’s so confusing here. It’s one thing to argue the presentation of Vikings as heroic protagonists and the whitewashing of their murder/slavery/etc is problematic for playing into many white supremacists’ fondness for sanitized Norse pagan symbolism over later European Christian symbolism, and I agree with that argument to an extent, but what I’m focusing on is something slightly different: the presentation of Viking colonialism in Britain as essentially benevolent is problematic because it plays into sanitized pro-colonialist ideological fantasies (shared by white supremacists but not exclusively, i.e. a disturbing number of mainstream Western liberals and neocons seem to harbor such fantasies too) about the essential benevolence of settler-colonialism writ large, and its neutral if not positive impact on the peoples whose land it targets. The devs might’ve responded to the first argument by pointing to the later-game content in which Alfred the Great leads the Saxons in getting their act together and kicking some Viking butt, but like I said, that response doesn’t really address the second argument at all, in fact it arguably only makes those problems even worse.

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          2. But the second argument isn’t one that actually seems to get made. Nor do I think it’s likely to get made, mostly because the kind of people who’d support clearing out brown-skinned people to make room for white settlers would be more likely to identify with the Vikings than the Saxons, and so would be unlikely to boast about how (supposedly) easy it was to defeat the Vikings, or to make arguments that start “We white Anglo-Saxons…”

            a disturbing number of mainstream Western liberals and neocons seem to harbor such fantasies too)

            No mainstream westerners, of any political persuasion, want their country to engage in settler colonialism. And no, economic domination of another country isn’t the same thing.

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          3. I guess you didn’t read Bret’s original post too closely then, because he makes precisely this argument about the whitewashing of colonialism, very explicitly:

            And that, of course is the problem: the broader implications of this kind of game design for thinking about colonialism. I do not think we are all collectively bothered by how Viking-themed products make us think about 9th century settler colonialism in Northern Europe. But colonialism more broadly, and the still popular fantasy of colonists finding empty ‘virgin’ lands to settle, is still a major issue in the consciousness and politics of many countries.

            If you want to dispute any of that, you’re welcome to try, but don’t play this game of “I’ve never heard anybody make that argument, therefore I’ll act as if there’s no reason I should respond to it at all.”

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          4. I think you need to reread the previous posts more carefully. I was explicitly responding to the second argument, namely, “Viking settler-colonialism wasn’t so bad, look how easy it was for us to eventually defeat! Gee, I guess there must be something wrong or inferior with all you folks still complaining about settler-colonialism, if you can’t defeat your colonists as easily as we defeated ours!” As I said in my last post, I’ve never come across any example of this argument in the wild. If there are people who actually make it, feel free to give a few examples.

            I guess you didn’t read Bret’s original post too closely then, because he makes precisely this argument about the whitewashing of colonialism, very explicitly:

            I’m afraid you’ll have to spell out the connection more clearly for me. What exactly does “There is a popular fantasy of colonists finding empty lands to settle” have to do with “We beat the Vikings, so if you can’t beat us, you suck”?

            If you want to dispute any of that, you’re welcome to try, but don’t play this game of “I’ve never heard anybody make that argument, therefore I’ll act as if there’s no reason I should respond to it at all.”

            I’ve already given a response — namely, that I think white supremacists are likely to identify with the Vikings in the story rather than the Anglo-Saxons, and so are unlikely to make an argument that requires them to associate themselves with the Saxons. You can try and show that I’m wrong if you want — say, by finding examples of real-world white supremacists making the argument — but to act as if I haven’t given a response at all is disingenuous.

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          5. The goalpost-shifting is getting pretty absurd. The issue we’re talking about here is the game indulging in tropes that whitewash the hardship and suffering caused by colonialism in general, and the specific relatively-novel historical backdrop of “Viking colonists vs colonized Saxons” doesn’t necessarily change that, except to the extent that it might make it easier to pass through someone’s “wokeness filter” undetected.

            Something tells me that given how much you’ve been twisting yourself in knots to avoid getting the point, no amount of extra convincing is gonna do the trick.

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    2. My point of view is that this game might have a bad influence on *both* wannabe neo-nazis Übermensching their way through Last Anglo-Saxon Men, *and* wannabe Daesh martyrs being fed the idea that these Christian kafir are really weak and bad.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Though TBH I think the worst influence (in terms of overall effect) would be on Western liberals who get confirmed in their prejudices that the Christian Church is useless and exploitative, and so do absolutely nothing whilst actual Daesh types go around slaughtering Christians in the Middle East.

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  11. Regarding Tod’s brigandine video, this is the first time he’s tested any metal that can approximate medieval metal. Because of slag content, the fracture toughness of even high carbon, heat treatsd medieval steel is sufficiently low that it barely offers more protection than mild steel. While the shape of a breastplate who help deflect arrows, I think his original myth busting video is misleading, and we’d be more likely to see results like the brigandine.

    Of course, I don’t believe that a 160lb@30″ bow was necessarily very common in 1415, nor do I think that an archer who had been this long on campaign, had suffered a bout of dysentery and hadn’t eaten a good meal in well over a week could have drawn a 160lb bow even if they were common.

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    1. I think that’s right. I haven’t seen detailed metallurgical studies of medieval plate metal, but I’m not sure I’d assume without tests that the slag content was high. Tests of Roman lorica segmentata plates showed surprisingly low slag content – but I don’t know if that is also true of medieval breastplates. I’m not deep enough in the metallurgy in the period though so you may know better than me.

      Certainly, I think that Tod is giving the bow its absolute best-case – the strongest reasonable bow, at short range, with direct fire and no obstructions (like shields). Real battle performance would, presumably, be reduced by these factors changing.

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      1. To quote Alan Williams:

        “Compared with modern (virtually slag-free) material the presence of 1% or 2% of slag would have reduced the fracture toughness by anything up to a quarter.

        Armour with a low slag content like that found in the best products of North Italy and South Germany, might have lost only 10% of the toughness of a modern metal, while munition armour of high slag content might be diminished by 20% or more. The energy required to defeat such armour would consequently be reduced considerably. It should be noticed that reduction in slag has a much greater effect than increasing the carbon content. ”

        He covers this in some detail in Section Nine of “The Knight and the Blast Furnace”, giving both measurements of slag inclusions (although necessarily only a small number) and a discussion of how this relates to their protection (the relevant pages are p932-934 and p939-942). He also includes a table on p934 that lists the approximate protection factors for four types of armour relative to 0.2% C mild steel: iron muntion armour (0.5), moderate quality low steel armour (0.75), Milanese medium carbon steel (1.1) and Innsbruck hardened steel armour (1.5).

        Based on this information, the armour replica Tod tested best aligns with the fourth category, although it’s likely to represent the very pinnacle of that category, while the original example more likely belonged in the third category. I used to be resistant to the idea, but likely at least half of the men-at-arms, and possibly more, would have been wearing armour in the first two categories, although not enough work has been done on the import of Milanese armour to France (some circumstantial evidence suggests it was significant) and none that I’m aware of has been done on the metallurgy of French and Flemish armour of the period. Clifford J. Rogers’ use of the limited German and English armour we have from the period is, I feel, not entirely the best guide for French armour at Agincourt.

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      2. Tod did do a set of longer-range tests mainly to figure out how much energy would be lost at greater distances. While he didn’t do any indirect fire, I think he did produce enough data that indirect fire energy could be worked out with some calculus.

        The bigger challenge would be to test penetration at those energy levels, but even the 15% fall-off from his 100m test didn’t change penetration much.

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  12. Textiles: hah, I just read Women’s Work and am nearly done with The Golden Thread, which got mentioned in comments in a July Fireside.

    I also recently read Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, with its own cause for ‘humanity’, particularly food sharing, gendered division of labor, and being able to sleep on the ground without getting eaten by big cats.

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    1. Loved Catching Fire. Not every day that you read a book of ancient prehistory that also totally changes your view of a mundane activity that you do every day. Ever since I read it, I see cooking and other processing as effectively adding calories to my meal

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  13. As far as the contrast between Gat and Pinker, one of the aspects of “Better Angels” that seems to spark the most backlash is his insistence, in an almost Breitbart-esque aggrieved reactionary anti-intellectual culture-warrior kind of way, that any concept of “violence” more sophisticated than a single-sentence dictionary definition is tout court beyond the scope of his concern. For instance, as the post I linked in last week’s thread points out, the way he reduces questions of economic inequality to “the fact that Bill Gates has a bigger house than I do” is jaw-droppingly callow, but more to the point, it elides the fact that unequal economic relationships (particularly those that lead to genuine death and suffering, unlike the smallness of Steve Pinker’s house relative to Bill Gates’) generally are enforced through violence, or at least through the ever-present threat of violence, and it seems fairly absurd to argue that someone starving to death because the only available food source is under armed guard is on a categorically different moral plane from someone being killed by armed guards while trying to stealing food.

    So I guess a baseline question about Gat’s book would be, does he engage with questions like that (for simplicity’s sake, call it the structural violence question) in a more sophisticated way than Pinker does? Because even assuming someone has enough scholarly chops in the relevant disciplines to avoid Pinker’s objectively galling data missteps, the bigger-picture problem in my view is whether such a reductive approach to the concept of “violence” is really capable of leading to broad-minded or conscientious scholarship at all.

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    1. It is rather bold of people in the modern day to assert that warfare is getting rarer when the United States has been in constant war in the Middle East for two whole decades now.

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      1. It’s rather bold calling others bold without checking your facts. Warfare is vanishingly rare nowadays for the vast majority of humanity.

        Also, don’t confuse military occupation with waging war. It’s the same soldiers doing it, but wholly different actions.

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        1. Is military occupation not a component of warfare? Are guerilla activity, and efforts to root out such, not a form of warfare?

          Military occupation is a continuation of war by… well, frankly, by the same means, just with less return fire. To be sure, there’s a gradient of some sort, there are cases where military garrisons are present in friendly territory and nothing that could plausibly be called “war” is going on. But the state of affairs in which foreign garrisons occupy land and assert authority over the land by force or the threat of force? That’s just an extension of war.

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    2. The people who talk about ‘structural violence’ are similar to the kinds of people who believe that calling someone a bad word is the same as attacking them, and very often the kind of people who devalue the idea of violence to justify attacking their political opponents or destroying historical sites for ‘violence’.

      If I have food while another man does not am I now violent?
      Is the starving man now acting only in self defence when he murders me for that loaf of bread?
      What about feeling bad ’cause I don’t have a yacht? Depression kills people you know.

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      1. A better point of comparison might be, say, the ongoing US-backed Saudi war in Yemen, which is all but explicitly intended by the Saudi regime to blockade food and medical supplies into enemy-held areas of Yemen in order to kill/stunt as much of the “enemy” civilian population as possible. Obviously these conditions are created and maintained through military force, yet the deaths through direct “violence” of Saudi weaponry are likely a small fraction of the deaths via famine and preventable diseases like cholera, which by the standard you’re applying would seem to place them in an entirely separate moral category.

        This sort of obvious reductio ad absurdum to a simplistic Pinkerian violence/nonviolence dichotomy is part of why people who focus on concepts like “structural violence” see it as a necessary aspect of understanding what “violence” means in general, and Pinker’s slapdash smarmy dismissal of those kinds of critiques comes across as crass reactionary anti-intellectualism.

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        1. And most historians, including those who Pinker bases his estimates on, will include the excess civilian casualties during wartime as deaths caused by violence. No historian I’ve read in the past few decades thinks that only soldiers were killed by enemy action in WW2.

          Pinker, and many others who study the subject, distinguish between violence and structural violence because if you decide to count deaths caused by unequal economic relations enforced by the threat of violence, that’s almost every death in the entirety of human history and pre-history. And it would stop you distinguishing between the behaviour of the Saudis in Yemen and, say, Switzerland – both are equally bad.

          For someone studying why groups/cultures actively use violence against other groups/cultures, it is not a “simplistic dichotomy”

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          1. OK, so Pinker et al want to have their cake and eat it too: they get to go full reactionary grandstanding mode about how their concept of violence vs nonviolence is a matter of simple and unambiguous dictionary definitions, unlike you ivory-tower egghead SJWs with your microaggressions and rape culture and blah blah blah… except in cases where this maximally simplified view would make them seem absurd and unserious, in which case presto changeo, deaths from famine and disease and so on now miraculously count as “violence” too.

            And yes you’re right, the more seriously you try to take concepts like “structural violence,” the more it can get genuinely difficult to separate deaths that have to do with “violence” from deaths that don’t. At least in my view, if one was a serious thinker, one might take this as a sign that “violence” is a concept with genuinely difficult and thorny implications, and thus probably shouldn’t be seized on as a basic empirical unit of analysis for building highly ideologically-charged arguments about the relative merits of different forms of human society. But maybe that’s just me!

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          2. the more seriously you try to take concepts like “structural violence,” the more it can get genuinely difficult to separate deaths that have to do with “violence” from deaths that don’t. At least in my view, if one was a serious thinker, one might take this as a sign that “violence” is a concept with genuinely difficult and thorny implications, …
            And haven’t people who aren’t Steven Pinker being doing exactly that for centuries if not thousands of years? I’m just an enthusiastic reader of history, but even I have read a little John Stuart Mill and Marx and Kropotkin over the years. (But don’t ask me for serious discussion of them.)
            Pinker writes up front in his book what he’s studying. You seem to be complaining that he should have written a different book.
            How about recommending some books that do study structual violence?

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        2. Furthermore, it would be a historic change of some note if “structural violence” in the form of economic inequality largely replaced actual violence in the form of killing people with swords or guns. I’m not sure that has in fact happened, but if it has, it’s a change that merits examination and analysis.

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          1. It did in fact happen – it’s called “agriculture”. Forager populations have high levels of direct violence, but skeletal analysis (and ethnography) show them to be generally well-nourished and free of disease. Agriculture marks a shift to higher disease burdens and more malnourishment – along, of course, with higher levels of social stratification.

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        3. “OK, so Pinker et al want to have their cake and eat it too: they get to go full reactionary grandstanding mode”

          WLGR, I think you should consider that a reactionary, if the term has any meaning, wants the world to be as it was at some point in the past. Pinker was writing that life was WORSE in the past. You are disagreeing with him.

          If words have any meaning, the reactionary in this disagreement is yourself.

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          1. Except there’s a pretty specific set of associations I’m talking about here as far as the term “reactionary”: the longstanding right-wing reaction against perceived left-wing intellectual tendencies in academia, which in its most extreme form contains shades of the Nazi-derived anti-Semitic conspiracy theory of “cultural Marxism,” but even in its milder variants is still built heavily on anti-intellectual demagoguery against a perceived effort by Marxist and/or postmodernist academics (a distinction between Marxism and postmodernism is rarely made in these diatribes, despite the rather obvious differences between the two) using pointy-headed social-justicey obfuscations to undermine good old traditional Western values or something to that effect.

            Pinker certainly doesn’t define himself as a right-winger, but his pop-oriented writing echoes these sorts of baseline reactionary tropes about lefty academic obscurantism vs traditional common sense (particularly spelled out in “The Blank Slate,” but carried over into “Better Angels” and “Enlightenment Now”) strongly enough that trying to deny the connection altogether would be too cute by half.

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          2. Pinker certainly doesn’t define himself as a right-winger, but his pop-oriented writing echoes these sorts of baseline reactionary tropes about lefty academic obscurantism vs traditional common sense (particularly spelled out in “The Blank Slate,” but carried over into “Better Angels” and “Enlightenment Now”) strongly enough that trying to deny the connection altogether would be too cute by half.

            “Tokugawa Ieyasu and the 16th-century Church of England both said that Jesuit missionaries were subversive fifth columnists, therefore Ieyasu was basically an Anglican.”

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          3. Pinker’s deceptive graphs alone are enough to disqualify him as an honest controversialist.

            And his definition of violence are too lax in defining “war” while at the same time neglecting one of the most common forms of violence, infanticide. If you’re going to get violent with the language and turn “homicide” into war, do not be selective about it. Again, the bad faith argumentation is astounding.

            Quibbling with WLGR over “reactionary” is diversionary. And there is no way to pretend that everything is getting better and better isn’t a defense of the status quo into the future, so even that quibble is shaky.

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      2. Or they might be people aware of places like Wind River (life expectancy 49), or Palm Island, or the 95% reduction in US workplace deaths over the 20th century as government and unions forced change. Or Amartya Sen’s work on famines…

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  14. “…..I am striking here while the iron is ice cold….”

    So you are cold working those posts, and they should have excellent durability. See, I’m learning! 🙂 I’ve been buying a bunch of new household stuff, including clothes and sheets, over the past couple of years, which will add a bit of appreciation to the textile post when it comes. (“buying household stuff” means obsessively looking up what I am getting to get exactly what I want, hopefully done properly to have good quality.)

    On shooting an arrow through armor: Have people ever just done a big battery of tests: collect samples of several armor materials, shot arrows at several energies at several angles, plus any other variables involved, and put that data together? Seems this sort of controlled extensive experiment would be called for in this area.

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        1. I don’t know where you live, but there appear to be copies at the Columbia and NYU libraries in New York. https://www.worldcat.org/title/knight-and-the-blast-furnace-a-history-of-the-metallurgy-of-armour-in-the-middle-ages-the-early-modern-period/oclc/906990791?referer=br&ht=edition. Unfortunately, I don’t think they are open right now, but presumably they will be by spring. There are various ways to gain access to those collections even if you are not a student.

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  15. This discussion of video games and history makes me think about my MA Public History final project, where I went into some of these issues, although in rather less depth than Bret does here. It’s been a year or two since I posted on it, since my intent was to do a post on the way AC: Odyssey moving to a branching-story structure said interesting things about its conception of history and the presence of Herodotos in the game, but, as Bret notes, I’m one of the many who never finished the damn thing. I need to go back and make the post (and finish the game) some time.

    (the project is accessible here: https://ludohistorical.wordpress.com/)

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  16. As a side note by the way, on the “most players won’t see the late-game content” thing, in both Assassin’s Creed Origins and Odyssey, only about 30% of all the people who acquired either game actually played the storyline all the way through, at least on the Xbox.

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  17. Dr Devereaux, I just saw your November 27th tweets, and just wanted to say we appreciate the work you adjuncts do. My dad is an adjunct as well, so I have gotten to see the multiple hats, academic and otherwise, that he has had to juggle. I hope in the short-term a permanent position for you. Long term I hope for a change toward more permanent positions in academia. Thank you for your blog, it has always been illuminating. A belated Happy Thanksgiving to you.

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  18. I’m looking forward to the fabric presentation. “Production of raw flax and wool” – growing flax, keeping sheep? Other fibre plants included nettles (remember the fairy tale of the princess who had to make shirts of nettles to turn enchanted brothers from swans back to humans?) and hemp, please include them. Once processed they are hard to tell apart from each other or flax. Plus both flax and hemp produce an edible seed if there is a surplus.

    Any possibility of including cordage in the series? All those sailing ships needed lots of cloth for the sails and ropes for controlling them.

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      1. Yes, all the stem based plant fibres need retting and braking and so on to get the fibres out of the stems. Flax gets all the fame and the others get neglected.

        Processing a fleece is equally laborious, just in a different way.

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  19. I find the fire ratio claims of SLA Marshall very hard to believe in light of the genetic, archaeological and historical evidence for the high prevalence of genocidal warfare in our species. Yet reputable military historians like Beevor do believe they have some merit. Is this a commonly held view among experts?

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    1. My limited understanding is that SLAM’s work is now considered flawed, but separating the truths within from the fluff he added makes it hard to totally discard said work. Its complicated.

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  20. You say ” (many games will actually condition review copies on not discussing this material; I have no idea if Ubisoft does this but the raw consistency with which reviewers do not discuss the late game techno-alien reveals suggests to me that at least everyone understands, even if in an unspoken way, what is going on).”

    I came across a review of AC: Valhalla that does mention (and complain about) the whole Animus/Isu thing:
    https://www.theregister.com/2020/11/27/assassins_creed_valhalla/

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  21. This is off-topic here, but comments under review of Shattered Sword are closed. I just finished the book and it was great. It made me understand what the doctrine is about in practical terms, so thank you for the recommendation.

    One thing struck me at the very end: it seems to me that the authors don’t read Japanese. It seems they contacted Japanese historians quite late in the process and in a way which suggests they were not familiar with the state of their research. The authors also say that the Japanese sources are becoming more accessible because of improvements in translation software.

    Is my perception true? Were they able to write this book without the ability to read the Japanese documents themselves?

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  22. “Pinker writes up front in his book what he’s studying. You seem to be complaining that he should have written a different book.”

    To be fair, IIRC Pinker isn’t just summarizing studies on physical violence, but making a claim that the decline in those sorts of violence means the world is getting better. So pushing back with “okay, maybe you were less likely to be outright murdered in an agrarian state, but the increase in degradation and forced labor means things weren’t better” is a fair counter-move. Likewise I recall him talking about and praising the decline in animal cruelty as casual entertainment, but arguably we’ve gotten worse in animal cruelty as practical business model (factory farming of pigs and chickens).

    It’s been long enough that I don’t recall all of what he did say. And I do recall him talking about multiple time scales; arguably the total violence levels of hunter-gatherer society vs. early agrarian states is simply not all that relevant, even if theoretically interesting.

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  23. On the topic of how rarely people finish video games, I’d like to point out that it’s not *quite* as bad as you might think from the raw percentages, because you need to ask what exactly that’s a percentage OF.

    When I look at the Steam global achievement stats for a game with a “finish the game” achievement, I typically see about 20-30% of players have that achievement.

    However, when the game also includes an easy achievement that is earned after 30-90 minutes of play, I usually see only about 70% of players have THAT achievement. They’re losing almost as many players in the first hour as in the entire rest of the game combined.

    So if you look at the completion rate as a percentage of only the players who did more than dip their toe in the water, that 20-30% jumps to more like 30-45%. (Of course this varies depending on the game.)

    That doesn’t particularly change your general point that game creators need to think about how their game looks to the substantial fraction of players that play only a part of it and then stop. But any time you cite statistics in support of an argument, I think it’s important to examine what those statistics actually mean.

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  24. Thanks very much for the recommendation of Gat’s book. It’s amazingly good, and super relevant to both my teaching and some of my research sidelines.

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  25. Clicked on a few of the links in the text. On the megahistories, the twitter feed on Turchin was unfortunately just abuse by an Authority. But then the main text actually dares to cite baseless speculations about how humanity evolved for war in deep prehistory! Flirting with dingbat evolutionary theories is the biggest symptom that Turchin actually is a crank trying to use math as a substitute for a scientific understanding of history. Turchin trying to estimate Roman mining of lead using things like lead pollutants in the archaeological record etc. (and etc. and etc.) is much more convincing than someone blathering about early man. Blasting Turchin to endorse EP fantasies, and lukewarmly endorse the should-be-notorious crank Pinker?

    There are actual serious criticisms to make of Turchin, by the way. Again, the most telling is his flirtation with evolutionary theories of human nature. Hardly anyone survives going down that rathole.

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  26. I never thought of the Klingons as untechnological. They build starships!

    SG-1 Jaffa: not entirely of color, though their most prominent member is, and looking at images they may tend darker than the SG-1 staff. OTOH I recall nothing about them being “biologically” untechnological, nor are they particularly alien. They’re humans with Goa’uld larval implants, kept ignorant by the Goa’uld to shore up the latters’ claims of divinity.

    And while having dark skinned slaves has unfortunate resonance, it makes sense given the show’s mythology — humans being taken away 2-5 millennia ago — that Jaffa would generally be darker than northern Europeans. Though the same applies to all the other off-world human populations, and I’m not sure the show stuck the landing there.

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    1. Klingons are the equivalent of Communists in Star Trek. They built starships and had scientists. But nobody likes Star Trek anymore, they like Next Generation/DS9. Those Klingons are warrior fetishists who are so anti-technological they prefer knives and batleths (spelling?)

      SG-1 is a little more complicated, yes. As to being “not entirely of color,” the only repeating white Jaffa character was Bratac (spelling?) The larval implants are in a pouch genetically engineered which makes them biologically at best variants of humans. It is not at all clear that Jaffa and humans can still interbreed. Of course, the Jaffa being a trope for people of color means that no matter what the text of a given episode says, intercourse between human women and Jaffa is miscegenation…and rape would be multiply problematic.

      But, one more time, relying on coded readings is very tricky business. Realizing that Chulack was a non-technological planet is easy to miss, for instance. So, is denying the Jaffa were non-technological endorsement of notions about how people of color don’t have white technology? Or is it just not thinking? Assuming everyone is using their decoder ring is perhaps not a wise assumption.

      Also, in SG-1, the name for the humans is “tauri,” which means “slaves,” as we are told. Which means the almost entirely white air force in SG-! is explicitly identified with slaves!.

      On top of that, SG-1 is an action/comedy series, whose major draw was quips from the cool guy. It rarely did “serious.” There are more farces in SG-1 than dramas, I suspect. (Not strongly enough to do a study, though.)

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      1. IIRC the original Trek was pretty explicit about the Federation-Klingon relationship as a Cold War allegory right down to the obvious Chernobyl/perestroika/August Coup parallels in “Undiscovered Country,” which is revealing in more ways than they probably intended given how the rest of the franchise ended up treating the Klingons, because the coding of Russians as people of color (“Asiatics,” “Orientals,” “Mongoloids,” etc) innately prone to hotheaded barbaric savagery, and by extension communism itself as something akin to “drapetomania,” was an ideological framework employed by the Nazis as part of the eugenicist justification for their settler-colonization and ethnic cleansing of the Slavic East.

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  27. I just want to ask how it’s possible you don’t have tenure when you have this photo. Have you sent it to your tenure committee? It’s the most professor-looking picture I’ve ever seen, except for some of Einstein.

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  28. A late reply, because while I found your blog earlier last year, it has taken me a while to read through the various assorted topics and discussion threads arising from same. To refresh anybody who might read this, I am an unabashedly a dilettante of history. My main interest is how technology affects war, in short a wargaming nerds appreciation of weapons and how armies fought.

    However, my former professional of cognitive behavioural therapist is what prods me to comment on your excellent blog.

    In particular to your criticism of the game company’s response to criticizing there product, where I think you’ve fallen into a common psychological trap or if you prefer, display a particular cognitive bias of Western academic beliefs; namely that facts changed opinions.

    Assuming I’ve understood your post correctly as I may have inferred a position that you did not mean to imply.

    What the research shows is that facts don’t change opinions. The response to facts ranges anywhere from denial to outright hostility from being shamed. There are exceptions of course, but this response to being confronted is driven largely by evolutionary biological mechanism encapsulated in the fight-flight-freeze response.

    The assumption that by having more factual historical education, in and by itself, is unlikely to cause a reduction in extreme beliefs prevalent in the ideologies of either the left or the right.

    Emotions are the key to our beliefs.

    These start when one is born, and the environment you’re brought up in feeds your experiential growth. Leaven with classical and operant conditioning, and by around the age of four or so you have the foundations laid for who you grow to become.

    As time goes by, more core beliefs are laid down, and we build our assumptions on them.

    By your teenage years your thoughts are driven by hormones, genetics, and experience. This is why it’s difficult to change beliefs and or habits. Not impossible, just hard. Harder than you think unless one has an epiphany from a traumatic event.

    If I want to try and change a persons opinion, I don’t start with facts, because one has to know if the other person wants to change their opinions or needs to for practical reasons.

    Even when those criteria are met, it’s hard to change people’s opinions/beliefs. It just is. Otherwise how does one understand therapeutic outcomes being so low, or relapses after a successful course of treatment?

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    1. What the research shows is that facts don’t change opinions.

      This is a very common belief, and I have found that those who hold it find it very emotional satisfying and respond with everything from flat-out denial to hostility when it’s challenged.

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      1. Well, change my opinion. Use the research to disprove me. I’d be happy to read that I was wrong, but maybe I should have included in my post my former profession?

        I admit, that I’ve been retired for the last few years and could easily have missed new research in the field of psychology that upends what I was taught at the KCL Institute of Psychiatry.

        I will go away and do some searches, and we can meet back here as and when you post a reply.

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          1. Offer something far more precise than “the research.” Especially given the replication crisis.
            Do you want citations, because I have citations, I will pepper a few throughout this reply; or do you mean you want other evidence?
            If the latter, I can point to the widely reported Brexit results, where Britain voted to leave the EU. At any time facts are produced by either side of this debate, the other-side denies them (also commonly used to reply to any commentator when outraged by using the phrase ‘feelings are not facts.’
            Sutherland, S., 1992. Irrationality. The enemy within. London. Penguin.
            I’m glad you mentioned the replication crisis, because I would otherwise have had to justify raising it in any reply to you. The main reason for the crisis is that social scientists tend not to have a firm foundation in statistics, which falls under mathematics, and therefore don’t understand what a ‘power’ calculation truly means.
            For example, a P value of 0.05 is incorrectly determined to mean the Null hypothesis has been disproved. This is not correct. All it serves is to suggest that the methodology shows further research is worth undertaking (basically a better than 50/50 chance you might be right, not that you are right: a significant result). Furthermore, nothing is proven, only not yet disproven.
            CLEGG. F., 1990. Simple Statistics a course book for the social sciences. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press.
            Moving on from statistics, let’s look at beliefs. To understand beliefs one should probably start with learning theory, but skipping Vygotsky ‘Scaffold theory’ for the moment though, it is probably more useful to jump to schemas. Schemas are the packaged up bundle of one’s formative experiential events, and a chain of assumptions derived from same, underpinned with an emotion that anchors the belief e.g.: I am weak.
            Schema therapy has its critics, but not from the methodology per se, but from the process where metaphorically a therapist might open a can of worms for the client, spill then on the floor, and be unable to get the worms back in the can before the end of the session.
            James, I. 2001. Schema therapy: The next generation, but should it carry a health warning? Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy 29 (4):401-407.
            To understand why emotions are the root of all beliefs, and that facts alone cannot change a persons mind who may be opposed to said facts I suggest starting here:
            BARON-COHEN, S. (editor), 1997. The Maladapted Mind: classic readings in evolutionary psychopathology. Hove. Psychology Press.

            Then we can move on to discussing the mechanism of change, which actually assumes that one has already understood how to confront people who disagree with you.* A technical, who am I kidding all these citations are technical at one level or another, guide to the current process as practiced, bypassing all the prior foundational work in the field by Skinner, Watson, Beck etc. can be found here.

            Bennett-Levy, J. 2003. Mechanisms of change in cognitive therapy: The case of automatic thought records and behavioural experiments. Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy 31 (3):261-277.

            For a less behavioural perspective then I’d recommend Padesky’s work.

            Padesky, C. A., 1996. Guided discovery using Socratic dialogue. Newport Beach: New Harbinger Publications.

            I hope that this reply satisfies your demand for more precise answer?

            * For those who don’t understand the value of de-escalation when confronting or being confronted by people who are strongly opposed to your position, I recommend the following book (caveat it’s written by an American who uses five words when one would do).

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          2. Clearly my reply didn’t satisfy you. Sorry about that. I’ll try again.

            Why should I believe it is such a lack and not because they are dominated by their feelings rather than facts?

            Because by and large, all humans are driven by feelings, which are generated by visceral processes, production of adrenaline, or by sensory input.

            But how would that materially change the fact that social sciences generate articles with statistics that either have a strong power (by social science standards) and large error bars, or a low power and small error bars? My explanation that not understanding statistics is at the root of the problem still stands.

            ARP OC:Schemas are the packaged up bundle of one’s formative experiential events, and a chain of assumptions derived from same, underpinned with an emotion that anchors the belief…

            Mary Q: This does not support your claim. You asserted that it was determined by feelings, not we start with the facts at hand and then build on them, and then have feelings about them.

            Okay, it seems clear to me that we’re talking at cross purposes. If I’ve understood your objection correctly (I fear I may not have), you seen to believe that people start with facts and then derive their feelings accordingly.

            Are you trying to argue that as we’re a product of our genes, they provide parameters to our behavioural responses; some simple, some complex from evolutionary biology. Biology is a subset of chemistry, and chemistry is driven by physics. Therefore one can make an argument that all behaviour is already predetermined?

            However, babies are not born with a set of beliefs, these are built up over time: experiential learning. As Aristotle said, and the Jesuits used to do, “Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man.” But I digress.

            If so, then we’re talking about agency or free will. The ability to make a choice.

            Piaget would say that babies grow up and go through different stages of cognitive development. Though I would prefer Vygotsky’s Scaffolding model to describe how a child learns to Piaget’s Freudian inspired developmental model.

            The ability to put facts before feelings is however an uncommon phenomenon. Piaget called this abstract formal thinking, but reckoned only 30% of the population reach this stage, and of those who do, 90% of the time they working at the concrete operational level.

            If that’s not compelling enough, how about the Gell-Mann amnesia effect coined after physicist Murray Gell-Mann by Michael Crichton?

            He used this term to describe the phenomenon of experts believing news articles on topics outside of their fields of expertise, even after acknowledging that articles written in the same publication that are within the experts’ fields of expertise are error-ridden and full of misunderstanding.

            It appears to me that you’re being argumentative because I’ve hurt your feeling with some evidence drawn from science and psychology that challenges your assumptions about how people really think. I can’t be bothered to answer any further questions without evidence that this is not so.

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          3. If I’ve understood your objection correctly (I fear I may not have), you seen to believe that people start with facts and then derive their feelings accordingly.

            No, I am observing as a fact that you said that they did. One’s “formative experiential events” are the facts at hand, and “a chain of assumptions derived from same” are when one does “build on them.”

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          4. It appears to me that you’re being argumentative because I’ve hurt your feeling

            Argumentum ad hominem is a logical fallacy.

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          5. And again, Fact don’t change people’s opinion evidence from non-political confrontations.

            Plate tectonics didn’t win over geologists until all the old deniers died.

            Einstein thought there was a God who didn’t play dice (though in his case the God was mathematics, just to be clear, and the facts don’t support his position).

            String theorists are still promoting branes etc. even though there’s no evidence to support their hypothesis (Lost in Mathematics as Sabine Hossenfelder would argue) or the existence of more than 4 dimension of space-time.

            Scientists are arguing over a replacement of the LHC despite the evidence to the contrary that they won’t find evidence to support super symmetry.

            People think atomic power stations are unsafe. because radiation kills people, yet 2 million a year die from air pollution generated from ‘safe’ coal power.

            GMO foods are unsafe, whereas the opposite is true.

            “A scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” Max Planck.

            A few examples to support my assertion that facts don’t change opinions/beliefs. I have come to believe we have failed to communicate or in the worse case, you are trolling me.

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          6. “A few examples to support my assertion that facts don’t change opinions/beliefs”

            Nope. Your assertion was that merely that facts don’t but that feelings do.

            I have come to believe we have failed to communicate or in the worse case, you are trolling me.

            Ad hominem is a logical fallacy

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          7. I think you both need to consider the possibility both that this discussion is self-demonstrating as an anecdote (but that the plural of anecdote is not data) but that also and more importantly it is possible for two people to communicate effectively and in good faith and nevertheless not agree on complex problems.

            The important thing is in handling such disagreements with kindness and intellectual charity.

            Liked by 1 person

          8. The main reason for the crisis is that social scientists tend not to have a firm foundation in statistics,

            Why should I believe it is such a lack and not because they are dominated by their feelings rather than facts?

            Schemas are the packaged up bundle of one’s formative experiential events, and a chain of assumptions derived from same, underpinned with an emotion that anchors the belief

            This does not support your claim. You asserted that it was determined by feelings, not we start with the facts at hand and then build on them, and then have feelings about them.

            Like

  29. Missed the last citation, sorry. Here it is:

    he Power of Positive Confrontation: The Skills You Need to Know to Handle Conflicts at Work, at Home, and in Life by Barbara Pachter & Susan McGee

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  30. “Fact don’t change people’s opinion”

    Are you trying to use facts to convince us of this? Irony.

    “Plate tectonics didn’t win over geologists until all the old deniers died.”

    I was a geology major and I think this is incorrect. My impression is that the field resisted the idea of continental drift for a few decades, because it seemed absurdly lacking in mechanism — sure Africa and South America ‘fit’, but really! Then the seafloor spreading data came in, and the field was convinced this was real and looked for a mechanism, coming up with plate tectonics, which swept the field in the 1960s. I was taught by professors who lived through this. I did hear of the occasional holdout for orogeny but more as Professor Crank, not The Old Guard.

    “Einstein thought there was a God who didn’t play dice”

    So what? He’s just one guy. He’s not even ‘old’, he was part of the young Turks who contributed to quantum mechanics.

    As a lay observer, I got to live-watch a paradigm shift in cosmology. People debated whether the universe would start contracting, ending in a Big Crunch, or expand forever at asymptotically lower rates. No one considered an accelerating universe, that would be absurd, where would the energy come from, the cosmological constant was Einstein’s biggest mistake, etc.

    Then two different groups reported supernova data, and pretty much overnight the field flipped to believing in (and being baffled by) a universe with accelerating expansion.

    Over in psychology, the debate had long between over how much personality traits were determined by nature vs. nurture, genes vs. upbringing. No one advocated for the currently accepted result (last I checked, I may be out of date) that Big Five personality traits are 50% genes, 45% “non-shared [across siblings] environmental factors” (which I guess might include random brain wiring) and only 5% “shared factors” i.e. your upbringing by your parents. Again, this was all too fast for generational turnover to be a factor.

    I know there’s that Max Planck quote, and most of the names in the development of quantum mechanics are young… but I’ve never heard of actual strong opposition to the ideas, and prestige and Nobel prizes seemed to flow quite fast, for both quantum and relativity.

    I don’t know of any cases where scientific progress had to wait for generational die-off, really. At least in the sciences, facts do win. Now, if one said that progress depended on a new generation seeing things with new eyes and coming up with new ideas, then convincing the elders, that would be somewhat more plausible.

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    1. ‘He’s not even ‘old’, he was part of the young Turks who contributed to quantum mechanics.’

      That is, he wasn’t old relative to quantum mechanics, not part of some old guard crankily resisting new-fangled ideas. And I doubt he was resisting the predictive claims of QM, instead he was looking for an underlying mechanism that didn’t depend on randomness.

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    2. Yes, it is ironic isn’t it, but that’s what the research shows. I can run facts at an argument, but fail to change people who will resort to their own cognitive biases to refute said facts.

      With regard to your points. You may think I’m wrong, but go away and research the history. I don’t say that to be argumentative, this is AFAIC just a discussion, and you may be surprised by what you learn, or not.

      With regards to cosmology, yes but… there’s a difference between things that can be measured and theories that derive from said evidence, and the ability to change opinions with facts, even when the evidence supports that it doesn’t. Not trying to pick hairs here, but this was a matter of professional concern.

      The Nature versus Nurture debate is just the wrong question. It’s both; or the confounding variables can skew outcomes. BTW: the five personality traits thing is a tool to understand people, based on one model for a theory of mind.

      And again, excuse me for posting a counter here to your next point here. Clearly I have sparked a flurry of comments out of all proportion to my intent when I commented. Challenging heartfelt beliefs often does that.

      My science background is in medical psychology, so I probably count as a STEM person, though I would freely admit the science is pretty soft until you get into cognitive neuroscience.

      You don’t have to trust ‘my spin’ you can go and search for the evidence. I will help you. All the LHC stuff can be seen discussed by a physicist here: (https://backreaction.blogspot.com/2019/06/30-years-from-now-what-will-next-larger.html)

      String theory and Branes here:
      (https://backreaction.blogspot.com/2019/09/the-five-most-promising-ways-to.html)
      (https://backreaction.blogspot.com/2015/10/when-string-theorists-are-out-of-luck.html)
      (https://backreaction.blogspot.com/2011/10/adscft-confronts-data.html)

      Maths here:
      (https://backreaction.blogspot.com/2020/06/physicists-still-lost-in-math.html), (https://backreaction.blogspot.com/2019/10/the-crisis-in-physics-is-not-only-about.html)
      (https://backreaction.blogspot.com/2020/02/the-reproducibility-crisis-interview.html)

      LHC here:
      (https://backreaction.blogspot.com/2019/10/what-does-future-hold-for-particle.html)

      Yeah that a lorra, lorra, lot of reading. It should be obvious that I’m a bit of a science junkie. It also helps that my partner works for the physics departmental at Imperial College.

      Finally, because I can’t seem to reply directly to Bret’s comment, thank you for chiming in. I for one felt I was being harried despite my best attempts to communicate clearly.

      Like

  31. “String theorists are still promoting branes”

    I doubt either of us are well-qualified to judge why they do so, and anyway they’re not evidence of failure to be convinced by data, because there’s simply a huge *lack* of data for what they’re interested in. Phenomena where both quantum mechanics and general relativity would be significant are an observational void, and we need such observations to be able to try to reconcile the two seemingly incompatible models.

    “Scientists are arguing over a replacement of the LHC despite the evidence”

    I haven’t followed this but I don’t trust your spin on it. The LHC is a powerful experimental tool, regardless of what you expect to find.

    “People think atomic power stations are unsafe. because radiation kills people”

    Also because things like mass evacuations a la Chernobyl and Fukushima scare people. It’s not that easy to compare “this is mostly safe but occasionally causes big disasters” with steady attrition; simple expected value calculations aren’t necessarily appropriate.

    “2 million a year die from air pollution generated from ‘safe’ coal power.”

    I think most people aren’t *aware* of such a fact. It’s impossible to be convinced by what you don’t know!

    “GMO foods are unsafe, whereas the opposite is true.”

    IIRC polls found that the more that people know about genetics and biology, the more comfortable they are with GMOs. That’s the exact opposite of your claim. E.g. https://www.pewresearch.org/science/2016/12/01/public-opinion-about-genetically-modified-foods-and-trust-in-scientists-connected-with-these-foods/ where people with ‘high’ science education, and people with postgraduate degrees, are most likely to say GMOs are neutral with respect to health. (Though it’s not a strong effect, and actually having a medium knowledge or a mere college education seems to cause the most alarm.)

    Also ht tps:// http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2019/01/26/687852367/people-strongly-against-gmos-had-shakier-understanding-of-food-science-study-fin (I’ve put spaces in the URL, too many links looks like spam.) “People who most intensely oppose genetically modified food think they know a lot about food science, but they actually know the least.”

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    1. “Scientists are arguing over a replacement of the LHC despite the evidence” I haven’t followed this but I don’t trust your spin on it. The LHC is a powerful experimental tool, regardless of what you expect to find.

      You don’t have to trust my spin, I’ve put links in the previous post. Go read and make up your mind for yourself, but don’t assume because I’ve failed to communicate clearly to you that this makes me wrong. Just saying, be kind.

      “GMO foods are unsafe, whereas the opposite is true.” IIRC polls found that the more that people know about genetics and biology, the more comfortable they are with GMOs. That’s the exact opposite of your claim..

      I think you’ve misread my sentence. I’m saying they’re safe, but most people don’t believe so when told so.

      The assumption that facts change beliefs is based on the belief that people understand facts, whereas some do the majority fail to do so, not because they’re stupid, or uneducated, but that the effort to process information means that people fall back on heuristic rules of thumb, which are rooted in the complex interaction between genetics, nurture, and confounding variable.

      Hope that helps. If not don’t worry. It’s not important, by the time you’ve gone and done something else you may well forget about it all, which is probably for the best (humour tag).

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      1. I’m saying they’re safe, but most people don’t believe so when told so.

        Being told something by a purported expert does not prove it is a fact.

        Indeed, nowadays it’s often evidence against it.

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        1. Kindly consider that you’re just jumping in for reasons that I have no clue to. We’ve already been asked to be kind to each other, this is me kindly asking you to stop reacting to whatever you perceive me as doing wrong.

          The thread has ironically proven that even discussing facts/evidence will not change people’s opinions.

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          1. Then I will kindly explain my motives to you.

            You adduced as evidence that people do not believe things when told them by purported experts.

            I pointed out the fact that this is not in fact evidence because of the unreliability of purported experts, to engage with your claims in an intellectual discussion.

            Liked by 1 person

          2. Okay, got you, I think.

            Let me clarify, It’s not just that people do not believe things when told to them by ‘purported’ experts, but also that people will tend to dismiss facts that go against their beliefs. A good (bad) example of this is the vaccines cause autism furore.

            The mechanism of such derives from what we currently theorize as an affect heuristic., which makes changing peoples mind difficult: my assertion that facts alone will not change peoples beliefs holds true for the majority of people.

            Not all, Brett has changed my beliefs through facts in this blog, but mostly because I’m open to learning new facts. Not everybody is.

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          3. @Ashley: I’m open to learning new facts. Not everybody is.

            I know that for me, this “fact” in itself was a surprising discovery!

            Liked by 1 person

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