sounding smart

a classic thing that happens is someone says "i think the reason is blah" and then another person says "i think it's something else" and then a third person says "it's a bit of both" or "it's somewhere in between" or something like that.

it's such a reliable thing to be able to say and it takes so little effort, yet you can sound quite wise saying it. oh shit! it's both things?

i'm not trying to be derisive. it's just a fact of how conversation often works. it's like the rule of threes in comedy. it has to be three things because if you only have two things then there's no expectations to subvert.

euclid could have put it in the elements. look:

a graphic outlining the geometric necessicity of three examples in order to create expectations. the first example sets the premise, the second example creates a direction for the audience's expectations to take, and the third example subverts those expectations by not being in the direction the audience was thinking it would be. the graphic uses a paraphrased conflation of two of my favourite jokes to make this point: the orange head man joke and the joke about the men stranded on an island where one man wishes that his head was stuck nodding for the rest of his life.
interestingly, the third guy wishing for a trillion dollars would also be pretty funny

when three people at a party undertake the great pastime of trying to work out what the fuck is going on, one person will eventually propose their theory. someone else will then disagree in some way and suggest an alternative. then the Canny Third Person swoops in.

"I see the disagreement you two are having. Allow me: it's a bit of both."

"Oh, sick! Thanks, man!"1

no one is trying to be bullheaded in this process. it's just how these sorts of conversations have to be staked out. the mechanisms of the world are multifactorial, but no First Guy with a shred of compassion is going to enumerate their complex 10-factor weighted model of Blah to two strangers. they're going to say what they think the main factor is. then the Second Guy will dilligently remind them of the second main factor and how it's equally if not more important. then you step in and moderate and eventually we hone in on the amount of truth we have the patience to find.

or, you can instead make this meta observation about the mechanics of dialectics and really shut shit down.

party on.

1 to be clear, i am often the third guy


i realised recently that there are at least two ways in which we ask the question "is x a y?"

it was when i asked "is Terminator a monster?" which is the sort of question i like to ask, to get into all the necessary-but-not-sufficients of dumb shit conceptual analysis. does a monster need to be biological, or more fundamentally, not understood? are all monsters morally permissible to kill?

there is a tweet that responded to Chess Is Not A Game by Deborah P. Vossen that i can't find. it said something to extent of "What the author fails to consider is that chess is, in fact, a game." because the other way we ask these sorts of questions is the Family Feud way. if you surveyed one hundred people with "Name a monster" - zero of them would say Terminator. they would say Dracula or Zombie or Frankenstein. and so in that sense, Terminator is not a monster. it is important to be considerate of your friends and realise this, when asking these sorts of questions.

but... y'know... if a new Terminator film came out that played with this idea, and used a lot of monster movie tropes, and it was a huge success, maybe twenty years from now a few people would think of the T-800 instead of Dracula.

a headshot of the t-1000 from terminator 2. the one that can turn into liquid metal
these things are fluid!
( if you're enjoying reading this so far you should read this newsletter post on a similar idea which writing an inline image joke just reminded me of )

a classic mistake people make is believing that the groups denote something as real as the things themselves. This is why I’m no fun when people ask shit like, “Is a hot dog a sandwich?” I know it’s a joke question. But what do you people want from me? Oh, let me contemplate the Platonic ideal of sandwich, which definitely exists, and then get back to you. I just don’t think that’s how language works. “Sandwich” is a word we deploy in specific situations to effect communication; it is a concept we have invented in order to do things. I don’t know if a hot dog is a sandwich, man; what I do know is that if you asked me for a sandwich and I brought you a hot dog, the likelihood that you’d be confused or irritated is higher than it would be if I brought you a PB&J. Does that mean a hot dog is only 70% of a sandwich? Angels on a goddamn pinhead, I tell you.

anyway. the reason i'm mentioning all this is because i just got back from a trip and an underappreciated way in which new places feel different is food.

food is, of course, one of the top answers on the board for the Family Feud version of the question "Why do different countries feel different?".

i mean supermarket food.

yes, restaurant food in different countries is different too, but i think this means less when travelling in The West as i just did. every restaurant in my city already tries to distinguish itself with its menu and branding such that when taken together, they all collapse into a single category of "good restaurants" that is no different from any other western city's. some cities have a restaurant that is uniquely good that mine doesn't have, but that doesn't move the needle overall as to why one city will feel different. i imagine this argument breaks down when visiting a place with vastly different restaurant norms such as japan, though i have not been there, so i don't know.

but as for a supermarket in a western city, i go to mine most days. i'm effectively doing spaced repitition on a thousand brands and products, the gestalt of which is a sensation of image-culture that isn't distributed anywhere else in the world. of course it's still all the same stuff: cereals, bread products, tomato sauces. what matters is that every label is different from the labels of the cereals, bread products, and tomato sauces that i've familiarised myself with over years of listing around the aisles of my local.

new town, new supermarket. nothing's in the right place. everything seems to have been misplaced.

it also contains all the food that i actually most often eat, that i will tend to eat less of when i'm home.

so if you're back from a long trip and trying to get grounded again, go to the supermarket