Adaptive Management and the Walking Dead

According to Rule 34, someone, somewhere finds this hot.

According to Rule 34, someone somewhere thinks this is really hot.

So. Another year, another season of The Walking Dead. Not the worst time to weigh in, now that the Season finale is behind us. An even better time would have been a few days back, but I was busy getting cowified and I’m still in the medicated recovery phase. Basically there isn’t enough bone between my maxilla and the overlaying sinus to properly anchor the titanium Terminator Tooth that has to ultimately go in there. So back on Tuesday they implanted in my face a lattice of bone fragments grown from bovine stem cells. Over the next few months my own osteoblasts will crawl all over that scaffolding; by the time they’re done there’ll be enough new bone up there to anchor the CN Tower.

In the meantime it hurts, and it’s puffy and swollen, and my tongue can’t keep from poking the stitches. On the plus side, the new tusk seems to be coming in fine.

*

Anyway.

*

Although we cancelled our cable years ago, television is a time-honored tradition at the Magic Bungalow. It’s not only our primary technique for educating the pones, it’s also the only time we ever get to see them. Fortunately, thanks to television, we get to see them a lot: we’ve shared everything from Breaking Bad to BSG to Game of Thrones on that bed (with occasional retro forays into Buffy and The Prisoner). Each series contributes its own educational insights. The Sarah Connor Chronicles introduces Turing Tests and the Singularity; Breaking Bad lays out the essential concepts of small business management; Buffy’s subtle progressive analysis teaches us that feminism consists of being a hot cheerleader with superpowers who teams up with a hot lesbian with superpowers who together triumph over the world’s assholes by beating the living shit out of them.

Only one of thse pones still likes The Walking Dead.  Guess which.

Only one of these pones still likes The Walking Dead. Guess which.

One show the four of us watched religiously was The Walking Dead; we’d climb onto Big Green every Monday to watch Ian Anderson’s son-in-law lead his merry band of survivors through a postapocalyptic zombie-infested hellscape where no one, curiously, ever used the word “zombie”. It was a glorious time, a family time, until the Meez decided it was too predictable and dropped out. “It never changes,” she said. “They wander around until they find some place to settle down and they start off thinking it’s wonderful. Then the wonderful place turns out to be horrible, and it gets bombed or burned to the ground or something, and they just go back to wandering around again.”

Let us chalk up to coincidence the fact that the Meez came to this conclusion about the same time she discovered sex and started holing up down in the Ponearium with her boyfriend. Let’s take her critique at face value. Her sister does not share that opinion (which is not to say that Micropone doesn’t have her own criticisms; her observation, for example, that by now the survivors should all be living in Ewok-like treehouse communities because Walkers can’t climb is particularly astute). Micro owns the graphic novels. Micro was on the edge of her seat waiting for the season finale (although, like many of you, she was pissed at the coyness of that final scene. I was fine with the cliffhanger; I just didn’t like the pacing of the scene that led up to it.)

Everybody's a critic.

Everybody’s a critic.

So: one show, two pones, two opposing opinions. The Meez isn’t alone in hers; a lot of folks have grown disillusioned with TWD over the years. The second season was especially trying for many: I remember one person who, afterward, facebooked that the prospect of watching Season 3 was like having an abusive boyfriend promise he wouldn’t beat you again if you just gave him another chance. (This person markets herself as a Serious Feminist; you can imagine the visceral revulsion a mere TV show would have to instill, to drive her to jokes about domestic violence). And complaints about the relentless, grinding sameness of seasonal arcs are laughably easy to find: Googling “The Walking Dead” with “repetitive” just got me 166,000 hits.

If you listen carefully, you'll actually pick out a few Walking Dead references in the lyrics.

If you listen carefully, you’ll actually pick out a few Walking Dead references in the lyrics.

I think all these people are wrong. And not just because I can’t watch an episode without thinking Wow, that guy is married to Ian Anderson’s daughter. He probably hangs out with Ian Anderson at Christmas. I wonder what they talk about. I wonder if he ever asked whether the “sleeping flies” lyric in A Passion Play was a nod to Shakespeare. I regarded the pacing of Season Two— all those motionless episodes spent on Herschel’s farm— not as a boring snoozefest, but as a deliberate slow burn that made the final climactic payoff all the more devastating. And I think those who complain about the lather-rinse-repeat cycle of Sanctuary-found-Sanctuary-Lost are completely missing the point. It’s almost as though they think The Walking Dead is a show about zombies or something.

It’s not, of course. It never has been, any more than The Road was about asteroid impacts. The Walking Dead is about lifeboat ethics— about what people are willing to do, to sacrifice, to stay alive. It’s a monte-carlo exercise in adaptive management: knock back the population, seed the survivors, set the clock running and observe the results. The scenario doesn’t have to change so long as the people do; in fact, the very point of the exercise is lost if the scenario does change. The point is to see how different people react to a common apocalypse.

There are as many different answers to that as there are survivors left in the world. You could be a complete wuss, an overweight schoolteacher with no skills and no hope— until you become the world’s best cosplayer, presenting yourself as a black-ops scientist with vital intel Who Must Be Protected At All Costs. You could be a military hard-ass with all the survival skills in the world, lacking the will to do anything but put a gun in your mouth— until some overweight dweeb tells you about a “mission” that gives you a reason to go on living. You could be the well-meaning survivors who try to establish a refuge for your fellow humans, only to see your loved ones brutally killed when marauders show up at the table you welcomed them to; if you survive that experience, you could well decide to be the butchers next time around, and not the cattle. You could decide to enforce a Darwinian regime where the tech remains relatively high but the consequences of not pulling your weight are— draconian…

Or you could just carve a big W into your forehead and go native.

"I wanna show you the new world, Carl." Uh, okay. Just hope 3D movies aren't a big part of it, though.

“I wanna show you the new world, Carl.” Uh, okay. Let’s just hope 3D movies aren’t a big part of it.

It doesn’t matter whether you set it in Terminus or Woodbury, Alexandria or Grady Memorial Hospital. It’s like Stephen Jay Gould’s metaphor for the irreproducibility of evolution: you can rewind the tape, start at the same point, and go off in entirely different and endlessly fascinating directions. (Here’s a new direction for you: The Bobbing Dead, the upcoming second season of the WD spin-off Fear the Walking Dead. Survivors on yachts, safe from zombie depredations until bacterial methane bloats enough walkers to let them float out to sea after the escapees. Tell me you saw that coming.)

Even when the characters stay the same, they change. Look at Ian Anderson’s Son-In-Law. Look at Carol Peletier, perhaps the most awesome character in an ensemble made of awesome. One begins the gauntlet as a career cop: the idea of rules, of recourse to the law is built into his DNA. Carol starts off as a mousy middle-aged battered wife; she knows with every thrown punch, with every “accidental” fall down the stairs, that there’s no cavalry coming over the hill. She knew it years before the apocalypse ever got off the ground.

So who fares better? The police officer— trained in the use of force and firearms, with years of experience under his belt— hears spectral voices from dead telephones. He wanders the forest in the grip of hallucinations. He veers between blood-eyed preemptive murder and a bucolic desire to farm tomatoes.

Meanwhile, Carol— in slow, irreversible ratchets— turns to steel. She leaves trolly paradoxes in the dust while everyone else is still wittering on about morality and the sanctity of human life. She makes the hard calls, kills the vectors and burns the bodies to protect the very people who cast her out for her heartlessness. She keeps a grim distance, surviving alone on her own wits; comes back in the nick of time to save, yet again, the people who’d have killed her if they knew what she’d done for them.

She doesn’t like it. Rick snarls that it’s Us or Them when he pulls the trigger, but Carol only grits her teeth. She wishes it were different. She pleads with her victims to walk away, before she guns them down. And in so doing, she confirms again the insight Rick Grimes shared with his fellow survivors a season or two back, a line that turns the entire premise of the series inside out: “We are the walking dead.”

And I haven’t even mentioned Michonne, or Daryl, Herschel or that glorious understated moment when Governor brushes his undead daughter’s hair…

So, yes. I come down firmly on Micropone’s side, and shake my head at her sister and all those others who complain about needless repetition and pointless deaths— as though the very pointlessness of most death isn’t a point in and of itself. To paraphrase someone whose name I’ve forgotten, most of us don’t get to be Mad Max; most of us just end up as one of those skulls piled up in the background.

There’s no drama in the center of one’s comfort zone, no excitement to be had in watching someone snarf Dorritos on a couch. Drama works by pushing people away from that center, towards their limits. Apocalyptic drama pushes to the limits of all of Humanity.

The Walking Dead goes even further. It quite deliberately asks whether retaining one’s Humanity is even a good thing.

I think it’s a question worth asking. More than once.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Thursday April 07 2016at 12:04 pm , filed under art on ink . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

57 Responses to “Adaptive Management and the Walking Dead”

  1. Wait a second. Did I miss another Wattsian beat down? What is the significance of the battered face? I feel like something passed me by in the recent ‘Crawl. All I know is you can’t blame this *particular* one on we in the U.S. We enacted a draconian border law measure precisely to decrease your chances of receiving another beat down within our borders. We care that much.
    .

    Re: The Walking Dead

    This is a stance that will likely infuriate some, as on the surface it seems like some sort of “Parents Morality Brigade” measure. But I bailed at some point in the 3rd or 4th season–not because of the wildly uneven characters and hackneyed writing, but because I had witnessed my *third* child handgun execution on that show. Of all the irrational social taboos we have, I think that portraying children both using guns, and being victims of gun violence is probably the last one we need to see eroded.

    It’s happening far too frequently on its own. We don’t need to spur it along for no artistic ambition greater than shock value.

  2. My congratulations and/or condolences on getting titanium Terminator teeth (or, as the joyless dental professionals call them, dental implants). I went through a similar process of extractions, bone grafts, implants, and implant crowns to replace some broken teeth that were beyond patching up with fillings or crowns. In my case this was because of osteogenesis/dentinogenesis imperfecta (let’s just say my mutant superpower is abnormal bone collagen) so the oral surgeon and I undertook this with a bit more trepidation than usual, as there’s basically no published clinical data on people with OI getting dental implants. For that matter, at the final followup exam where he happily declared “I guess implants do work in people with OI!” I replied “I think all we can really say is they worked in *me*.” I’m happy with the end result as they’re certainly much less hassle than dentures, although at first you have to get used to having *numb* teeth, as they no longer have the periodontal ligament to sense pressure.

  3. It’s like you read my mind.

  4. Wow! For a second I thought you attemped another border crossing.

  5. “the Meez came to this conclusion about the same time she discovered sex and started holing up down in the Ponearium with her boyfriend”

    In unrelated news:
    A Canadian sci-fi writer Peter Watts was found in his apartament with a shovel inserted halfway into his rectal cavity, after he was attacked by an unknown assailant. Dr Watts awaits his shovel extraction procedure in a nearby hospital.

  6. I watched the first season and it did nothing for me. There again my work in mental health probably means I’m not the target audience.

    So, Mr. Watts you had a run in with a cow? Or was this just a way of covering up the dentist abusing you?

  7. OMG! A dental implant process did THAT to you, man!?!?!? Holy Hell; I’d locate the surgeon with my remaining good eye and smack the living sh*t out of him. We had several implants done on my husband and it never got that bad!

    Oh. The. Horror.

    Also, yeah, agree, zombies are never about zombies; vampires are never about vampires; aliens are never about aliens.

  8. Suspect such trials as TWD chars experience make one decide what’s really important to them…if they manage to also retain some sanity, read: Keep the feral gut bugs at bay.

  9. Hello Watts people, it is I, Mesopone/the Meez (Emma works too), the ridiculously shallow and incorrect person/pone on the right in that one picture with the zombie foot thing. I just wanted to actually voice my full opinion on The Walking Dead and redeem myself, I suppose, because I feel that this particular blog entry presented me as someone who is not able to appreciate The Walking Dead and the concepts it explores, when really the show has been very significant in the way I’ve thought about such concepts and life as a whole and everything. I do, in fact, share some of Peter’s opinions, and contrary to what this article implies, I do not in any way think this is a bad show, when I was watching it or after I stopped, and the repetition he describes me citing as my reason for choosing not to watch is neither the sole reason nor the main reason I have chosen so.

    The Walking Dead is a great show. I never said it wasn’t! After watching each episode as a twelve- or thirteen-year-old, I would think a lot about the central concepts it explores behind all the gore – human nature, morality, adaptation, and deception. I was really especially interested in watching as characters like Carol (probably one of the best developed characters in any TV show I’ve ever seen) slowly began to adapt to the post-apocalyptic society-less world they now lived in, realizing that killing the zombies alone would no longer be enough to protect themselves, and as they began to shed the attitudes to killing they’d had in ordinary pre-apocalypse society and develop new ones. They killed people initially only if absolutely necessary, and then became more accustomed to killing people until they reached a point at which they were relatively okay with killing anyone who interfered with their group’s interests. Of course, especially when I was younger, this made me question my admiration of characters in the show, but then, would you really have a choice about killing people in this scenario? Watching as the show progressed and the collective attitudes of the characters, central or otherwise, changed, I decided nope, not at all, and then concluded that if this ever happens I’m probably just going to surrender myself to the zombies before I have time to take in the whole thing because that would be a whole lot easier. Evolution didn’t work wonders on me, that’s for sure.

    Along with Breaking Bad, of course, I found myself somewhere very different from the safe black and white good vs. evil narratives of Harry Potter and Star Wars, somewhere where the line separating good and evil had been completely blurred, if the two things even really existed anymore. Suddenly I actually had to THINK, and I think to an extent this thinking made me a younger me smarter, and for that I really do thank the good people at AMC. That’s what The Walking Dead really did for me, and I have no doubt that it’s still doing that for its audience right now.

    At the end of my grade 10 year, as Peter said, I stopped watching the show. I did not “drop out” exclusively because I “decided it was too predictable” or because I *discovered sex*; there are a few reasons I stopped watching. First is that, yes, I did find almost every arc of the show was fitting a framework that I didn’t find as interesting anymore; this framework involves finding a new place and new members for the group at that place, some type of conflict developing within the group that may lead to a death or two, the intervention of a Big Bad/hordes of zombies, and then having to move on, with a few new and old characters dead, either at the hands of humans or zombies, both at this point equally unclean. I am not a fan of shows with disposable characters or characters in very large numbers, so when I couldn’t even remember the names of half the people in the show, let alone care about them, I knew something wasn’t working for me. This is not to say that certain events and characters that happen within this framework can’t be interesting, it’s just I was growing a bit tired of it.

    I am not a zombie person (which is not to say that The Walking Dead is REALLY about the zombies at all). I’m not a horror person in any way (once again, which is not to say that TWD is a horror show). I’m also not a science fiction person (though I have definitely enjoyed science fiction before). I think zombie apocalypse/non-zombie still-apocalypse narratives are interesting, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to find new zombie shows or movies or anything. I didn’t have much interest in watching this show initially, but watching from my beanbag as Peter and my mother viewed multiple consecutive episodes I gradually developed an interest. A few seasons later, once The Walking Dead had done me my fair share of early adolescent thinking, with the lack of characters I liked and my disinterest in the arcs, and I will admit, the presence of a first boyfriend and a new life outside my beanbag, I was no longer getting as much out of it as I used to. My homework was piling up and EVERY SINGLE EPISODE ended in a fucking annoying cliffhanger that made want to punch many walls. This is pretty much my main personal problem with the show – at the point where I stopped watching, it was like a good 75% cliffhangers that pissed me off to the point where they began to overshadow any other dramatic and moving scenes in the episode. Whether this says more about me or the show, I do not know exactly. The similar consecutive arcs, the continuous piling up of new uninteresting characters followed by the disposal of these characters to draw some gasps from *totally unsuspecting* audiences, and those darn cliffhangers, when weighted against my intensive psychology tests, demanding musical projects in and out of school, and new boyfriend excitement, were enough to put me off of the show. (Okay, so I may have just reworded every one of my claims that Peter laid out in this article that I’m also trying to somewhat correct, but really there’s more to all my feelings about the show than initially presented.)

    If I’m trying to say anything here, it’s that I can see why watching the show would still be worthwhile at this point, it’s just that I’ve kind of become indifferent to almost every character and all the killing, and I think in general the show is now quite a bit different from the show that affected me so much as a slightly younger person. If you’re still as thoroughly invested in Rick and Carl and Daryl and Michonne and co. as you were at the outset, then I’m sure it’s still as good a show as ever. I’m still not 100% sure if I stopped watching because I was busy, or because I didn’t like it anymore, or because I’m growing up and it doesn’t mean the same thing to me that it used to. (Or maybe, as indicated by Peter, I just think with my uterus these days instead of my brain. What can I say? I’m only a mere Horny Teen Girl, what do you expect?) I also don’t really watch TV at all anymore, so there’s that. These days I mostly think about morals when studying the Mignonette case or the Milgram experiment or all kinds of other freaky cases starting with the letter M, and less when watching TV.

    Anyway, yeah, if I keep writing I’m going to drive myself crazy with proofreading (my apologies if I didn’t even do well with what I’ve written). The Walking Dead is a great show, and it’s done a lot for me, I just don’t watch it anymore. I’m very sorry.

    (On a side note, didn’t know you were such a family man, Peter! Very touching.)

  10. ‘Crawlsters, meet the Meez. Meez, ‘Crawlsters.

    As you can tell, I really lucked out in the step-kid department. I would have gladly put up with the usual shallow Bieber-fawning teeny-boppers simply as the price of admission for a relationship with the BUG; somehow I ended up moving in with a couple of brilliant articulate adolescents who take shit from no man.

    I think, domestically at least, I might be one of the luckiest curmudgeons on the whole damn planet. I live in constant fear that one of these wonderful mammals is gonna get shmucked by a bus.

  11. PS Also The Meez is a writer, but she never shows us any of her writing. I don’t know why. I swear this is more of her prose than I’ve seen in the past six years.

  12. @Emma. Ditto on Carol. And, to be honest, have been looking forward to the next parts of Fear since it may have fewer zombies-among-the-trees scenarios. Hopefully we won’t be beaten over the head with bobbers.

    While Peter’s point is well taken, there is a certain amount of fluff/repeat/insert-minor-less-often-major-character-munched-by-walkers-let-effects-folks-sort-out-details to it. Among the trees, typically. This is where the more tongue-in-cheek, sometimes silly–zombie George R.R. Martin once made an appearance–Z Nation might be better. They can more easily get away witch things like alt-z’s who are extremely fast and stronger due to being irradiated, etc, but then it probably is about zombies. And Murphy is kind of Lost in Space’s Dr. Smith done correctly. Plus it’s got Nat Zang and Matt Zedeño.

  13. i remember reading this from The Daily Beast a couple of seasons ago, about Rick as the ultimate hero: “. Broken down, Rick’s story follows the pattern of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, or hero’s journey. In the book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell explores the similarities among heroic tales from all cultures and time periods. He notes that most of these stories follow a three-cycle structure. The hero first enters a period known as separation, where he leaves his past and enters a new life of adventure. Next, he enters the initiation phase, traveling through the underworld to face a series of trials which transform him from the person he was into the hero he is meant to be. Finally, in the return, he emerges anew, free from the troubles of the past”
    He has transformed several times over the years, but I have never seen him so broken, in such despair, and so hopeless as in that last episode. I was really very upset.

  14. Deseret,

    Thats not even its final form!,
    wait until the tusk growing is complete:
    [img src=”http://www.filmfad.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Tusk-Jason-Long-www.filmfad.com_.jpg”]

  15. So strange to think of Peter having a family. I wouldn’t think he would doom the world with such relish on so frequent a basis in his books with the young wards running about. Their power to skew our thinking to the irrational is well known.

    Case in point, my own “Please, can’t we think of the children!” objection to TWD. It’s so frustrating now to hear people describe that show as “good”. Evidently it improved at some point after the dismal first three seasons. It seems like I picked exactly the wrong time to have my weird burst of conscience. Just goes to show you how much use that is.

    Oh, and Peter. Have you ever considered staying away from medical professionals altogether? With your luck, after a certain point, “tough it out and hope for the best” has to start looking like a viable alternative.

    .

  16. On Rule 34: Many years ago at one of my oncology research gigs, a hipster PI (maybe proto-hipster, techincally, given how long ago this was) suggested (often, in public) that chemo regimens be marketed to the goth/emo/rave club scene, with commensurate price tags, in order to fund basic screening services and hopefully first-line treatment for those without pockets.

    Naturally, he professed shock and ignorance when a couple weeks later I asked him (with cash offers in hand) how to procure some gemcitabine and methotrexate (for starters) before Thursday for immediate distribution.

    Naturally, I was let go immediately subsequently for reasons totally unrelated to publicly punking the institute’s (literally) designated punk.

    Offer to rip out people’s teeth and/or bits of jaw for cash. You’re famous enough, you’ll get takers.

  17. ScottC: Of all the irrational social taboos we have, I think that portraying children both using guns, and being victims of gun violence is probably the last one we need to see eroded.

    Huh. That doesn’t really matter to me one way or the other. Once you’re racking up the body count, I’m pretty much indifferent to the age of the victims. (Although there’s been some interesting work on the relative value of human life suggesting that very young children should be valued significantly less than, say, someone in their early twenties.)

    In fact, given that the role of children in TV dramas is frequently to go do stupid things that force more sensible adults to go rescue them at great risk, I’m frequently glad to see the little fuckers getting mowed down.

    Ste: In unrelated news:
    A Canadian sci-fi writer Peter Watts was found in his apartament with a shovel inserted halfway into his rectal cavity, after he was attacked by an unknown assailant.

    That was no lady. That was my wife.

    ScottC: So strange to think of Peter having a family. I wouldn’t think he would doom the world with such relish on so frequent a basis in his books with the young wards running about. Their power to skew our thinking to the irrational is well known.

    Well, in my defense, I have no genetic investment in either of them (obviously, given how good-looking they are). So my faculties aren’t that compromised. I was perfectly willing to hate them on sight, before we met.

    Case in point, my own “Please, can’t we think of the children!” objection to TWD. It’s so frustrating now to hear people describe that show as “good”. Evidently it improved at some point after the dismal first three seasons.

    This is the kind of thing that needs to be argued over beers. Even people who hate the show now tend to think it was pretty awesome when it started. I am utterly mystified by any creature strange and cryptic enough to hate TWD right out of the gate, and ever onward.

  18. Peter Watts: This is the kind of thing that needs to be argued over beers. Even people who hate the show now tend to think it was pretty awesome when it started. I am utterly mystified by any creature strange and cryptic enough to hate TWD right out of the gate, and ever onward.

    Really? That bit of disconnect is distressing to me–I can’t be that out of touch. I thought it was generally consensus that the show was terrible in the early outing, and gradually became more respectable.

    The characters were all over the place (I can’t be the only one who still has Lori flashbacks). The interminable, plodding storylines (wait, they’re still on the goddamn farm?). The scenery chewing (Andrew Lincoln emoting a series of ridiculous facial expressions at Carl over Lori’s Death). Carl himself–at times I wasn’t sure if the show wasn’t actually a black comedy about how my fucked up they could make Carl by the end of it, not to mention the amusing “Where’s Carl” memes. The hilarious stereotypes and ethnic tokenism–it was a running joke who that show could only support a single black character at a time, and if a new one showed up you knew who was due to be zombie food (alas, poor T-Dawg). Also, the show had a character named T-Dawg.

    Peter Watts

    Huh. That doesn’t really matter to me one way or the other. Once you’re racking up the body count, I’m pretty much indifferent to the age of the victims.

    Well, I did say it was irrational.

    I come from the land down south though, where you may be aware we have a tiny bit of a gun violence problem. These things are on our minds more. For the longest time in media it was a taboo to actually show an adult capping a kid. If it happened, it took place offscreen or was implied.

    I don’t have a fundamental objection to to depicting kids with or the victims of guns. I just think if you’re going to go there, you have to earn it by having something to say about it–an agenda higher than shock value entertainment. The Wire season 4 featured child on child gun violence, but The Wire is a thoughtful show with a lot to say about the endemic violence in our culture.

    TWD, despite the points made in your thoughtful critique, has never really aimed to be much more than entertainment. With respect, I don’t find the questions it asks nearly as interesting as you seem to. In fact, it perfectly illustrates the rather disturbing murder empowerment fantasy I find at the heart of so much modern zombie fiction.

    The genre may have started with some interesting things to say, a la Romero, and derived its horror from common cold war themes like being the last man standing again the menace wearing your neighbor’s face. It has since devolved into a ritual celebration of characters being empowered to kill the people around them by removing their “humanity”, and imbuing them with just enough menace to be reasonably considered a threat, while simultaneously removing their intellect and mobility so they can’t really be *too much* of a threat. Set em up, knock ’em down. Kill em with hockey sticks and Cuisinarts and dumptrucks full of chainsaws. Anything for a new thrill.

    Now, I’m not a “violent video games makes people violent” guy. I would actually prefer it if more video games would allow me to wear the severed heads of my opponents as a sort of party hat. But I don’t like the part of me that a lot of modern zombie fiction, and TWD in particular seems to be pandering to. I would have not though it possible, but I simply found my own personal threshold for violent entertainment. I saw my third child being capped on that show for entertainment purposes, and some part of me said this is not Ok. I don’t find this entertaining, and you haven’t earned any claim at being more than that.

    So there you go. I’m either being preachy or a drama snob, or both. It does reassure me though that I still have a limit, even if it pops up in irrational cases. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to my historical fiction featuring men dying by the thousands after having their guts spilled by pointy metal sticks on a battlefield.
    .

  19. Dr.No,

    Wow. Hadn’t even heard of that Kevin Smith film.

  20. Re: Peter Watts, the tooth

    Oh wow.
    Didn’t know tusks are something cows are supposed to have.
    Are you sure your implant is really bovine?

    On a more serious note, good luck with your new robot tooth. One small step towards finally transcending the limits of the flesh :)

    As to Walking Dead… I didn’t “hate” it right out of the gates, but I grow weary of “shambling zombies +/- END CIVILIZASHUN” fiction extremely fast.
    It’s just kind of … dumb, even when it does a very thorough job of trying to stay smart. And not in a cute, Dr. Who technobabble kind of dumb.
    An grating and pretentious kind of dumb, ensuring that zombie fiction has very short half-life for me.

    So TWD overstayed its welcome in my entertainment schedule rather quickly.

  21. ScottC: ethnic tokenism

    *Racial. Not ethnic. Racial.
    .

  22. ScottC:

    So there you go. I’m either being preachy or a drama snob, or both.It does reassure me though that I still have a limit, even if it pops up in irrational cases.Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to my historical fiction featuring men dying by the thousands after having their guts spilled by pointy metal sticks on a battlefield.
    .

    One thing to remember is that one can dislike fictional depictions of violence without needing a rational reason for it. It’s supposed to be entertainment, and if you are not entertained, it doesn’t work.

    I found that I don’t enjoy watching gory and/or visceral and visual violence in movies and on tv. I don’t find it exciting, only slightly disturbing. That means that I don’t watch zombie movies (or things like spartacus), as this kind of violence is a core feature of the genre. I don’t have to have a strong moral stance on it to dislike it*.

    The only zombie-thing I do like is the iZombie tv-series, but that is quite light hearted and the violence isn’t very visual.

    *And it would be strange for me to take such a stance, as I spend my days being part of the production of violent video games.

  23. Markus2: One thing to remember is that one can dislike fictional depictions of violence without needing a rational reason for it. It’s supposed to be entertainment, and if you are not entertained, it doesn’t work.

    I found that I don’t enjoy watching gory and/or visceral and visual violence in movies and on tv. I don’t find it exciting, only slightly disturbing. That means that I don’t watch zombie movies (or things like spartacus), as this kind of violence is a core feature of the genre. I don’t have to have a strong moral stance on it to dislike it*.

    Well that’s reassuring, because I am all over the place on what I get squeamish about. I’m fine with cartoonish violence that’s so over the top you can’t take it seriously, but I do get really sensitive over serious and convincing depictions of one person inflicting suffering on another.

    I can illustrate this with the difference between two Tarantino movies. I love Kill Bill because it’s basically a cartoon with geysers of blood spraying 20 feet in the air, and implausible killing scenarios. I like Reservoir Dogs too, but I *cannot* watch the scene where Michael Madsen tortures and mutilates the captive police officer. It’s a far more intimate and convincing portrayal of sadism, and it hits me both on the empathy front with the cop’s suffering, and my utter contempt for Madsen’s character who is just such a colossal…asshole. It seems like there should be a stronger form of the word “asshole” that keeps the douchey connotation but elevates it to monstrous proportions. “Monster” is inadequate. I’m only willing to follow anti-heroes so far ( in another unpopular stance, I bailed on Breaking Bad too because after a certain point I lost the ability to feel anything but contempt for this character, and ceased to find it entertaining.)

    To this day I’ve never been able to watch the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Tobe Hooper’s faux documentary style crosses some threshold of realism for me, and I can’t seem to find the campy fun in it most people can. I saw that poor girl being put on the meathook when I was a kid, and I had a seriously uncool and embarrassing reaction which involved me running out of the house.

    I will watch entire armies inflicting the most terrible carnage on each other though, and applaud the realism. Go figure.
    .

  24. Dr Watts, you are seriously not the preferred poster-child for the concept of “painless dentistry”. I hope this turns out well, and soon. That can’t be much fun. I’m shy a molar and probably ought to go through that, but while I would love to be as admired as you are, I’d rather do it for writing rather than for looks. But I digress.

    Zombies in general is a concept I consider as a weird mash-up between any metaphor/allegory the writer/director/producer wants to flog, and a timesaving cheapness. The original “Night of the Living Dead” was really just trying for the horror, and whatever saving graces it had as social commentary sort of crept in at the last moment, but a precedent was set. Prior to that film, I might add, almost all zombie films were metaphors on drugs, either on the results of addiction or more frequently on the ideas of mind-control and/or forced addiction combined with psychological manipulation. Remember, the Haitian “bokors” did use a combination of drugs and religion to provide a means of control for habitual small-time criminals, not too far different from what we in the States are starting to do with the appalling marriage-of-convenience between psychiatric outpatient services, courts/corrections, and police departments. By using preexisting belief systems as well as brain-damaging drugs, a delusional system is imparted which turns habitual offenders into manageable minions. I’m still waiting for someone to write a zombie film or broadcast series with this particular metaphor of zombies representing the world’s highest rate of incarceration, though it might not be necessary as our funding crisis continues to try to empty the prisons concurrently with seeking even higher rates of conviction… we may soon watch something like this in Real Life. Parole and probation supervisory personnel are an expanding career niche and will be hiring for the forseeable future. Yet I remember that in the older zombie flicks, the moment when the person responsible for zombification loses control, that’s when the zombies stop being useful servitors and start milling about with the gnashing of teeth. What are the non-criminal and unconvicted to do, when the parole and probation systems break down and the nice people are outnumbered 20-to-1 by the malicious and the wicked? I expect they’d go through the exact same changes as we see in the characters of TWD.

    Of course, the other bit about zombies — cheapness in film production — comes probably from late-night creative discussions. Trying to get a script together about one of those post-pandemic survivalist stories, it’s pretty obvious that if something kills 99 percent of people but has little other effect, people will be outnumbered about 100-to-1 by increasingly hungry dogs. I can imagine the producer saying “so where the hell will I get hundreds of dogs that will actually take direction? Can you imagine the costs?” -and when the writer shrugs, the producer says “what about zombies. Can we do zombies? Zombies cost almost nothing, bit-players and ketchup”. The writer assents, and it’s zombies in the movie, instead of dogs. Far smaller a budget, you have all of the same opportunities for character development, and no hate-mail from the SPCA.

  25. […] not want any more story ideas. But the little monsters keep coming. The latest one just sprang from a blog post by Peter Watts, one of my favorite SF writers (and thinkers). The bulk of the post (you can skip […]

  26. Personally, I doubt I’ll ever get sick of zombies as a whole. They’re my favorite supernatural horror monster, especially the slow ones. Because it lets me imagine myself in the scenario. I mean, I can do that with any monster, I guess, but let’s face it… if I’m going up against a vampire, I can shout “stab him in the chest with a wooden stake!” all I want, but I know I’d probably be dead before I could even find the stake. Most vampires are super strong and super fast. Similarly, werewolves… don’t know where I’d get anything with silver in it if one was attacking me. Most other monsters are the same way. In order to imagine myself in the situation, I usually have to imagine myself being someone completely different, which tends to take me out of it, at least emotionally. It’s harder to be afraid if I can’t see myself there, I might root for and empathize with protagonists if they’re engaging, but it’s at a distance. But in a zombie apocalypse story? It’s usually relatively easy to fend off, or avoid, a single zombie, even a few. They’re slow, relatively weak, etc. It’s just that they horde. But you can plan around that, think of ways to distract them, judge whether it’s worth it to try and sneak through a group while pretending to be one, use almost any weapon on hand to knock ’em down. I can make longer term plans about fortifications, or getting food and water. And imagine how I’d deal with other survivors, who are also just people. Suddenly I’m invested and excited even when the characters aren’t interesting (and let’s face it, in zombie movies, they usually aren’t).

    Of course, some are better than others, and yeah, some might get formulaic on the long term. With Walking Dead, I still like it, but it could be better in a lot of ways. It’s a show I watch for fun while acknowledging it’s not great. I have noticed that lately they seem to be taking less liberties with the source material… maybe killing different people (and gradually settling into the TV notion of a “core, untouchable cast”, which is why I don’t think the person dead from the comics will die here) and shuffling other people into the roles originally set for somebody else, but a lot of the basic script moments are the same. It’s the better for it, right now anyway, IMHO (because a lot of times how they diverge, especially recently that ridiculous “Jesus is left on the side of the road but he unties himself and gets on top of a moving truck full of supplies” time-filler shows that they’re not the best writers left on their own). And if that’s the case, the “endless, predictable cycle” may be pausing at least for a couple years worth of TV show story (though I’ve fallen behind on the latest issues so maybe they go back to it after). Though I’m sure you can still get your fix on Fear The Walking Dead (which I also like, though not as much). But it’s fun. It’s not as deep or groundbreaking as it thinks itself to be, but there are some good characters, fun action, and the ability to feel superior to characters by pointing out how many smarter ways there are to do things than they way they did it. I’d certainly rather watch it than another cop or lawyer show, or sports for that matter.

    And of course, you get the added bonus where you can laugh at or have fun trying to explain away moments where production got lazy, were clueless about a consequence of the world as they set it up, or simply couldn’t feasibly work around an issue (why are all the lawns still cut? Well, either the zombie virus gets into the grass and, rather than making zombie grass, just stunts growth to a coincidentally lawn-length, or that nobody’s yet noticed that zombies, when flesh isn’t nearby, tend to graze, like sheep… take your pick!)

  27. Walking Dead.

    Meh. First series was good, and I’d watch it again. Especially liked the bit with the CDC scientist.

    Second was extremely annoying, and I just stopped caring. Fart on them and their pointless drama. To hell with the stupid sentimentality, thinking of walking corpses and people. What a letdown.

    In my (not that extensive) experience with hairy situations, when going gets tough people get scared and they look to someone who has the confidence and nerves to decide. They don’t spend 60% of the time freaking out and divided for no good reason.

    Peter Watts: who take shit from no man.

    That will change.

    ‘The adaptive value of aw shucks’

    Female self-esteem seems to be hormonally influenced. It declines at puberty, reaches its lowest levels in late adolescence, gradually increases during adulthood, and peaks after menopause.

    ________


    It quite deliberately asks whether retaining one’s Humanity is even a good thing.

    That it even needs to ask that question says volumes about this age.

    ‘Humanity’ is idiocy. that leads to sending hunger relief to regions where they can’t feed themselves, so more people who can’t feed themselves off the land can be born. ‘Humanity’ is why parents can’t take their violent, adult autistic son, put a gun to his head and end what can’t be fixed. No, they’ll have to endure fights and fists and rages for decades to come.

    In a survival society, they’d have ended it. Why keep a child who is of no use at all?

    ‘Humanity’ is a luxury. It’s the genteel delusion that we are more than smart animals and that we don’t face ecological constraints on our own behavior and that we can all get along if we try hard enough.. Good times allow the people to cling to that delusion.

    The entirety of Western Civilization still operates under the idea that we were created and we have fallen from some noble state and if we just try hard we can be angels again. The only major political group that was slightly less deluded is now a byword for evil.

    We are now at that stage of history where the idea that a nation can protect its borders and refuse to admit unknown, potentially hostile strangers is seen as controversial.

    This will end well, if you like lots of shooting, yelling and burning cars.

    ScottC: The Wire season 4 featured child on child gun violence, but The Wire is a thoughtful show with a lot to say about the endemic violence in our culture.

    Despite that it completely failed to even get on the right page in places. The reason you have an endemic violence problem in the inner city isn’t your culture. (or lack of it)

    It’s that the other 87% of Americans are not descended from pre-civilized tribal societies with endemically high levels of violent mayhem. (See Keeley, Lawrence: War Before Civilization)

    They are descended from people who had been civilized for at least a millenium, and in whose societies murder was punished and violent thugs tended to met a swift and brutal end before they could manage to leave progeny.

    Social controls that prevent civilized people from murdering one another -the near certainty of being apprehended and jailed don’t work on dim, impulsive males in the full flower of testosterone-fueled youth. Stronger methods are required to get them to behave. (EO ~ Equal Opportunity).

    Of course you can’t use those self-same methods of social control on different people. Careful discrimination is needed. But you can’t have that because of equality before the law. Thus desiring to use one-size-fits all approach ends in chaos.

  28. Y.: They are descended from people who had been civilized for at least a millenium, and in whose societies murder was punished and violent thugs tended to met a swift and brutal end before they could manage to leave progeny.

    We are talking about post-Roman Europe here, right? Are you sure we’re thinking of the same place?
    .

  29. ScottC: We are talking about post-Roman Europe here, right? Are you sure we’re thinking of the same place?

    Post-roman Dark Age Europe had murder rates approaching that of tribal societies or present day Washington D.C.

    Indeed, it had tribes and clans till some later century (11th?) when the Catholic Church outlawed cousin marriage to a ridiculous degree wherever it could. Since then cousin marriage was kept as a custom only in niche demographics – Alpine valleys, royal houses, but not the general population.

    Which made keeping clan structure impossible and ushered in a more open, cooperative society. (https://hbdchick.wordpress.com/2011/04/04/whatever-happened-to-european-tribes/)

    Then that was followed by roughly ~800 years during which murder, robbery and such were punishable by death sentence.

    Coincidentally murder rates fell, until they reached their historic low levels early in the 20th century. Present day Europe is multiple times more violent, there is however slightly fewer deaths due to far better trauma medicine.

    And you do know that those crimes are most often commited by young men, for they’re foolish and overconfident.

    Estimates from England (best records) show that 1-2% of each generation’s males for centuries got either hanged or killed on the spot because they murdered someone. Impulsive dumb psychopaths, violent hotheads, etc

    There is a theory claiming that this removed the most violent individuals from the genepool, and over centuries lowered the mean genetic propensity for engaging in unlawful violence. Similar how hunters going after the biggest specimens make a species get smaller over time.

  30. @Y

    That’s all very interesting, but rather beside the point. Whatever your opinions on what you believe to be the conclusions The Wire draws, I cited it as a contrast in an artistic critique of certain elements of the TWD that I consider to be in poor taste, and lacking the mitigating ambition of the former. Whether or not either show is “right” in the views they espouse is irrelevant. My point was that I found some of the same aspects far more troubling on TWD because TWD panders and tries to shock for no reason other than to sell soup and body spray, while those same aspects in The Wire were part of much more sober, measured, and ambitious treatment.

    You’re trying to crowbar your usual biological determinism into an argument of personal taste.

    I personally don’t see much reason to celebrate the “lifeboat ethics” of TWD as Dr Watts appears to. After all, I would be one of the first ones to go in a “survival society”. I’m weak and oversensitive. A too-sensitive 2d/3d artist with appalling vestiges of human empathy is a distinct luxury of the civilized word. Normally in such a scenario the fact that I’m an extraordinary coward would be a plus, but I fear it is offset in this case by a complete and utter disregard for physical fitness. The rest of you “hyper-rational” Red Pill fetishists would be feasting on my supple, veal-like flesh before the zombies even got a crack at me.

    Figures. You start off life being harassed by by all the thuggish physically superior brutes around you for being a wuss and how do you live with yourself. So you retreat to more enlightened intellectual and creative circles just to find that a few years down the line, all the bullies now have PhDs and reams of statistics proving that you are in fact a wuss, and we’d all be better off if you’d please just kill yourself. I mean, Jesus guys. I could have saved you a lot of time and expense by just letting you talk to some beefy kids with awkward patches of early facial hair who figured out the same thing much more efficiently.

    That’s why I don’t find the questions TWD asks, at least in the manner that Dr. Watts has framed them, terribly interesting. It’s all so very…adolescent. That the world is terrible, people are awful, that the ruthless will always prosper at the expense of the weak, and that it’s all so terribly pointless, is nothing that your average moody, nihilistic teenager couldn’t have told you. We’re always looking for excuses to stop giving a shit and indulge our bestial natures free from quaint notions of “morality”, and there is always a market for fantasies that cater to this. They’re not profound. They’re utterly banal.

    I don’t doubt that TWD is effective and entertaining drama for fans of the genre. But while I haven’t watched it in a while and can’t say where the characters are at, I do know that if the main group ever does wholly surrender their (ew, yuck!) humanity, then there is no more show. At that point it just becomes a group of infallible hicks doing whatever they want, morally justified in killing everyone around them whenever it’s convenient, in ever-escalating displays of shocking violence to stimulate their numbed audience and… OMG WHAT AM I SAYING–of course that’s *exactly* what the modern zombie fanbase wants.
    .

  31. re: zombie genre variations

    Handling the Undead, by John Ajvide Lindqvist. A book about non-violent non-communicable zombie-ism. and on my to-watch list, They Came Back, a movie that sounds like a similar premise.

    It sounds like use of the genre to explore inconvenient people who may not be violent. maybe jobless, homeless, disenfranchised. I’ve read the first, but need to reread it because the story has disappeared from my memory.

    I’m not yet jaded on the genre. I’m jaded on the Sturgeons-Law failures.

  32. ScottC, you put up that ‘gun violence problem’ rhetoric here. It’s no more or less a sin in this context than crowbaring in biological determinism, which FYI is true. ‘Gun violence’ problem is really bogus, a propagandist’s conflation of multiple issues (gunshot suicides, ethnic gang crime and the real southern culture of violence, which is probably the least important factor).

    FTR, I don’t see anything wrong with gunshot suicides. It’s less horrible than hanging which 96% of people botch up and end up suffocating instead of with a broken spine. Forcing people to live is good ..why?

    ScottC: The rest of you “hyper-rational” Red Pill fetishists would be feasting on my supple, veal-like flesh before the zombies even got a crack at me.

    There’s no red pill fetishists here. And you’re missing out by disregarding personal fitness. The benefits are varied and manifold.

    . That the world is terrible, people are awful, that the ruthless will always prosper at the expense of the weak, and that it’s all so terribly pointless, is nothing that your average moody, nihilistic teenager couldn’t have told you. We’re always looking for excuses to stop giving a shit and indulge our bestial natures free from quaint notions of “morality”, and there is always a market for fantasies that cater to this. They’re not profound. They’re utterly banal.

    Careful there lest you set yourself on fire with all the straw sticking out. And no one, not me certainly, is suggesting indulging bestial natures is somehow laudable. But you can’t make good decisions in survival situations while trying to keep the luxury of always aiming for the moral high ground.

  33. Y.: There’s no red pill fetishists here.

    Balls. That’s your whole gimmick, right? Overly reductive biological determinism, fashioning your very identity around the notion of how you see through the illusion of the simulation and are above such quaint constructs as humanity and morality, based on whatever scrap of fragile, trendy pop-sci you can get your hands on. Sneering contempt for anyone not yet willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater and abandon any pretense of humanity for your idea of rationality?

    You know what would be refreshing? If more people making rigid BD arguments were somehow finding that it was *their* particular social group that was somehow genetically doomed to be inferior, and that the world would be better off without them. But no, their arguments always suspiciously align with the oldest and most mundane prejudices.

    .

    Y.: The only major political group that was slightly less deluded is now a byword for evil.

    Case in point. How very human.

    .

    ****

    Dr. Watts. Sorry for dumbing down your blog. I usually only show up here with my provincial values and hopeless Blue Pill irrationality in the hopes that you might be willing to keep me around as a pet. Perhaps some sort of thrall. It’s clear I don’t belong, though. And frankly, Y scares the shit out of me.
    .

  34. ScottC: Sneering contempt for anyone not yet willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater and abandon any pretense of humanity for your idea of rationality?

    From my (admittedly limited) exposure to individuals who fetishize the Red Pill, I’d say that they would be the first to go in a TWD-type situation. Red Pill-ers correspond more to the socially-isolated-gamer type than the alpha male type – definitely the guys you’d want on your side in a TEOTWAWKI / SHTF scenario, as long as said scenario is unfolding on a screen and you get to respawn if you make the wrong decision. And the Cheetos and Mountain Dew are in abundant supply.

    Speaking about Red Pills and biological determinism, there should be a study on how and why socially low-ranking males (Omegas?) fall prey to various RP/PUA frauds. Is it a case of mitigating the subordination cost? Or is it more culturally influenced?

    As to TWD, I actually liked Season 1 and was more or less done with the show by Season 3. The fact that I’m still watching it in Season 6 (or whatever this is) is pretty depressing.

  35. Fatman,

    Apart from anything else they have “Defector” written all over them, so the pathetic weak cooperative humans are likely to decide that they are too dangerous to have around and throw them under a bus at the first available opportunity.

  36. ScottC: Balls. That’s your whole gimmick, right? Overly reductive biological determinism, fashioning your very identity around the notion of how you see through the illusion of the simulation and are above such quaint constructs as humanity and morality, based on whatever scrap of fragile, trendy pop-sci you can get your hands on.

    Red Pill has a rather specific meaning in this context, and I find its claims rather far in excess of the available evidence. I’m not a fan. Furthermore, its focus on sexual and relationship matters makes it of little interest to me, because neither is of any use from my perspective.

    Also, I’m not for the simulation argument, or anything like that. Yes, human nature is ridiculous, and I envy the God-botherers for being able to think they know how things are without feeling the urge to get drunk, but what can one do? It’s not like you can go to a pharmacy and order a dose of catholicism.

    ScottC: You know what would be refreshing? If more people making rigid BD arguments were somehow finding that it was *their* particular social group that was somehow genetically doomed to be inferior, and that the world would be better off without them.

    Oh, you want a black racial realist? Sure, here you go.
    There is also Jayman, but he’s a mutt, so doesn’t really count imo. Scottish, Japanese and Jamaican ancestry – not exactly a brother.

    As far as my own ethnic is concerned (insofar as there is one), we’re doing ok I guess. Though of course we’re inferior to Ashkenazi Jews (beating that average IQ of 115 is hard), and probably a few other ethnic groups. Wouldn’t say we’re doomed, compared to the global mean this area is comparatively well off. However, we’re boned, unless the EU wises up and starts curbing migration like say, Israel.

    ScottC: And frankly, Y scares the shit out of me.

    Simple disagreement scare the shit out of you? Please grow a spine and do stay. Echo chambers like say, are boring, and diversity of opinion is beneficial in this context.

    Fatman: And the Cheetos and Mountain Dew are in abundant supply.

    From my admittedly limited exposure to Red Pill (it’s of little intrinsic interest to me, and they’re not as entertaining as say, Heartiste, to make up for it), I do believe Red Pillers are somewhat more concerned with physical fitness than the average person, and also somewhat disdainful of gaming as a hobby, likening it to watching soaps or junk TV and you can find exhortations to quit playing games in there.
    This thread seems to bear that out. So, real red pillers probably don’t eat Cheetos and Mountain Dew in abundance.

    It’s amusing really. Not all gamers are physically inactive couch potatoes who never do anything in the real world. Stereotypes are useful – but they have their limitations.

  37. Peter D: especially recently that ridiculous “Jesus is left on the side of the road but he unties himself and gets on top of a moving truck full of supplies”

    Dude, he’s Jesus. The original zombie. You think the guy who walked on water and fed a vast multitude with a few juniper berries wouldn’t have a few Houdini tricks up his sleeve?

    Unless you don’t think he’s the real Jesus. But how could he not be? The apocalypse has happened. The damned and the dead rule the Earth. The prophecies have been fulfilled. It’s exactly time for the Second Coming.

    I think he just maybe slept in, and caught a later bus. And now he’s making it up as he goes along.

    Kind of like the first time.

  38. Y.: ‘The adaptive value of aw shucks’

    That’s kind of fascinating. I don’t have time to check with the original sources, but if the author’s describing them correctly it would definitely explain some stuff.

  39. ScottC: That’s why I don’t find the questions TWD asks, at least in the manner that Dr. Watts has framed them, terribly interesting. It’s all so very…adolescent. That the world is terrible, people are awful, that the ruthless will always prosper at the expense of the weak, and that it’s all so terribly pointless, is nothing that your average moody, nihilistic teenager couldn’t have told you.

    True enough (although personally, I think that being a moody nihilistic teenager probably doesn’t get the credit it deserves). But these are not the sorts of things that Hollywood Television would ever show you, until recently. While I was growing up, series television was full of decent white-hatted people prevailing in the last act over nefarious villains. Spock’s cold-blooded logic would ultimately fall before McCoy’s mushy humanism. Predatory aliens would come within a hairsbreadth of conquering the Earth until a little girl taught them about Love, or some overlord saw The Great Potential In Your Young Species. McGarrett always got the bad guy, and have-to-kill-ten-to-save-a-thousand scenarios always came with escape hatches that let the good guys keep their hands clean. Maude once had an abortion, half of ‘Murrica cut up their credit cards in protest, and the episode never showed up in reruns.

    Moody nihilistic teenagers would’ve done a way better job, in my opinion.

    Maybe we’ve been enjoying an embarrassment of riches the past decade or two. Certainly the rise of cable has freed us from the dictates of Standards and Practices and the pathological demands of advertisers to never show anything that might alienate the old farts in Podunk Kentucky. And if TWD disappeared, we could always turn to Game of Thrones for our helping of grimdark (although that show is more about political Darwinism than the literal kind). But it wasn’t that long ago that almost everything that came out of the spigot was optimistic, goodness-will-prevail pap.

    I myself am nowhere near tired of drinking the antidote to all that. But obviously, YMMV.

  40. ScottC: You know what would be refreshing? If more people making rigid BD arguments were somehow finding that it was *their* particular social group that was somehow genetically doomed to be inferior, and that the world would be better off without them. But no, their arguments always suspiciously align with the oldest and most mundane prejudices.

    Actually, Philip Rushton (who’s white) ended up putting Asians ahead of Caucasians along whatever cultural/gestational axes he was using as his metric that week. He didn’t get much credit for that (possibly because he put whites ahead of blacks on the same scale). And I’m certainly not citing the man as any kind of rigorous researcher (as I recall he relied heavily on incompatible third-party data sets for his comparisons; you can count on the fingers of one thumb the number of times he actually collected his own data). That should have been enough to question his findings even among those unbothered by the fact that he got research funding from the David Duke Fan Club.

    I’m just bringing it up as an example of someone whose findings didn’t put his own tribe on top.

  41. Also, can I wade in here with a plea for— what, more civility? More tolerance? Can’t quite find the words.

    I like to moderate with a really light hand, here. A fundamental attribute of empiricism is the awareness you could be wrong about anything, pending evidence. So debate is healthy, even heated debate; if you want a comfy bubble where commenters get banned the first time they take a shot at tribal standards, there’s no shortage of other blogs to visit. This ‘crawl, I like to think, is a place where people are smart enough, and tough enough, to withstand (and even invite) the occasional punch in the nose. Think of it as a less-nasty subspecies of peer review

    This does not mean that I tolerate outright offense, dished out for no other purpose than to give offense. (I don’t think racial epithets carry much useful information, for example, so anyone who throws those around gratuitously is gonna find themselves unpersoned pretty damn quick.) But it does mean that I tolerate unpopular points-of-view, so long as they’re cogently argued. Hell, if they’re sufficiently cogently argued, I might even come around to arguing them myself.

    I would really, really like it if such rough-and-tumble debate could happen in better spirits than is sometimes the case. Nigel’s tirade in the wake of my “Dumb Adult” posting, which right out the gate he starts by describing as “total horseshit”, is a great example; he’s vulgar, he’s impassioned, and he makes substantive points.

    Then there are these other exchanges, which are not just impassioned. They’re bitter, and angry, and contemptuous. Lately at least, most of those happen when Y weighs in.

    Y can be a total dick. (So can I, but it’s my blog.) I actually have banned him once or twice. But the fact is, the dude does what this ‘crawl is supposed to encourage; he argues. He may argue for shitty points of view, but he “shows his homework” as they say: he links to sources, and while some of them are crap, others hail from respectable peer-reviewed journals. (Some of them do both at the same time.)

    Scott, you object to Y’s clichéd biological overdeterminism. I agree he goes too far sometimes, but you know what? Most people don’t go far enough. The world is jam-packed with those to whom the very concept of sociobiology is anathema, people who consider it offensive to even admit that yes: we are mammals, we were forged in the same evolutionary furnace that built cats and spiders and sticklebacks— and dammit, a lot of our behavior is informed by legacy circuitry millions of years old. A lot of people regard me as way off the deep end of biodeterminism. I think they’re full of shit— I give more weight to those who’ve spent a few decades studing actual biology, and less to those idealogues over in the Humanities Department— but still. There are people out there who decry the use of “female” as “dehumanising”; do you really think they’d draw much of a distinction between some of my bio-based blog posts and Y’s comments thereupon? Far as I’m concerned, Y is a counterbalance; a rude, sneering boor who, more often than most give him credit for, makes substantive points once you look past the bluster and insult.

    Y: I don’t need to tell you that you can be a dick. You know this. You revel in it. And I wish you’d tone it down, because you’re actually scaring the locals and I have enough trouble attracting people to this blog without you driving them away (not just Scott, btw; I know of others who scatter when you show up). I don’t know you, but I’m pretty sure you can easily make your points without sneering.

    I’m sorry if this whole long-winded diatribe boils down to just another iteration of “can’t we all just get along?” I know it’s dumb. I know it’s cliché. And hopefully, it’s not very Wattsian.

    But, well, can’t we?

  42. Peter Watts: Scott, you object to Y’s clichéd biological overdeterminism.

    The “aw shucks” article is an argument against biological determinism and in favor of a more cultural-determinism interpretation, since the researcher claims to have found differences between African-Americans and Caucasians of the same age and gender.

    Assertions about IQ differences between members of different races died out at about the same time as phrenology. Collective identities are generally popular when one’s individual abilities are in doubt. “We are smarter than them” is a much safer statement than “I am smarter than him/her”. But if there are actual studies on the topic, I’d love to read them, even if they’re sponsored by David Duke.

    Y.: Not all gamers are physically inactive couch potatoes who never do anything in the real world. Stereotypes are useful – but they have their limitations.

    I was thinking more along the lines of inability to attract women correlating strongly with disdain for feminism, etc. No offense to gamers – I play video games myself, albeit not as often as I’d like to.

  43. Fatman: The “aw shucks” article is an argument against biological determinism and in favor of a more cultural-determinism interpretation, since the researcher claims to have found differences between African-Americans and Caucasians of the same age and gender.

    No, it’s not.

    Conclusion:

    Another example may be female deference. In early modern humans, women tended to feel deferential in the presence of men, but this tendency was weak because a woman’s interactions with her husband were infrequent and less important for her survival and the survival of her children. This is still the case in human groups that never left the tropical zone.

    As humans spread beyond the tropics, this behavioral tendency became more easily triggered, particularly during the ages of 15 to 18 when young women entered the mate market. This evolutionary change came about because women in non-tropical environments were more dependent on men for food, particularly in winter. Women were, so to speak, in a weaker bargaining position than men, first of all on the mate market and later during pregnancy and infant care.

    Bushmen and pygmies are now estimated to have split off from the rest of the human population cca 300k years ago.

    There might be ‘only’ 150-200k years of separate evolution of Eurasians and Bantu sub-Saharan Africans. Or only 100k. But big differences can arise quite fast – if you look at Ashkenazi intelligence for example.

  44. Fatman: I was thinking more along the lines of inability to attract women correlating strongly with disdain for feminism, etc. No offense to gamers – I play video games myself, albeit not as often as I’d like to.

    You’d have to find something to back that up. Feminists seem to disdain ‘male feminists’ and prefer not dating them.

  45. Y.: You’d have to find something to back that up. Feminists seem to disdain ‘male feminists’ and prefer not dating them.

    You’re getting a bit mixed up here. Google “straw man argument”. The article you linked has nothing to do with the part of my comment you’re quoting.

    Furthermore, it’s an opinion piece. If that’s how you establish a “backing that up” standard, I’ve already done that.

    Peter Watts: However, we’re boned, unless the EU wises up and starts curbing migration like say, Israel.

    Iunno man, I think you’re seriously underestimating the EU’s ability to assimilate the economically impoverished and culturally backward.

    It’s OK. I once held the same view.

    Also you might be falling victim to a view common among USians – seeing “Europe” and “the EU” (and similarly “Africa”, and to a lesser extent “Asia”) as a somehow homogenous in terms of race, culture, etc. It’s actually a hugely diverse patchwork quilt of humanity. If you’re into biological determinism, you could spend several lifetimes trying to make sense of it.

    Back in ’04 and ’07, the EU was enlarged to include many of the former Soviet slaveholdings (formerly Austrian/Russian/Turkish “colonies”). Poor countries with massive peasant populations, quite culturally dissimilar (barring the more civilized region of the Baltics), etc. A LOLWUT moment if there ever was one – but ten years later, the EU project is still (kinda) clunking along. Even considering an expansion into the Balkans! I’ll admit to some bias in the matter, but a couple million Middle Eastern immigrants are a joke compared to Eastern Europeans.

    You gotta keep the faith.

  46. Hey all,

    Here is a paraphrase of feedback I gave to Peter about comments and posters.

    After a certain point I tune out, or just take a break from the comments here. Much of the time the point where I tune out is when Y starts conversations in the comments. I don’t know if the person running the Y account is trolling or not, but I’m not motivated to spend time on the threads even if, as Peter claims, he shows his work. By analogy, I don’t have a hobby anymore of participating in creationist discussions. Creationists will provide references and use rhetoric that skeptics wade through when responding. I used to enjoy reading all of that when I was younger and had recently deconverted. (I’m old enough that alt.atheism and talk.origins were readable. haven’t visited in a very very long time.).

    When the threads turn over to Y-generated discussions, I’ll tune out. If the comment threads turn over in to nothing but trolling and responses (whether well-reasoned or not), I’ll not bother, and maybe will end up emailing questions or feedback to Peter though that is way less than ideal since I don’t want to soak up energy from someone by contributing to the number of messages that show up in their inbox.

  47. I’m going to give a background so that people can see where I’m coming from to understand how I approach research news.

    I enjoy reading about the biological basis of behavior and it happens that I studied some of this in college. I did enough credits so that I could get a CS and Psyc degree. There wasn’t a cognitive science major at the time that wasn’t focused on philosophy instead of experimental things. In the psyc department, I actually focused more on memory and cognition in humans, but I did take some courses in bio psyc and animal behavior. I hung around the memory and cognition lab and helped proctor experiments on recognition memory. I think I learned more about experimental design and signal detection theory there than in the methods class I took for psyc. We designed within-subject experiments and looked for changes in d-prime.

    My formal education was long enough ago that I wouldn’t consider myself more than a dilettant when it comes to reading research, and most of the time I end up reading science bloggers and news articles about the research rather than the research directly and only a few times do I dig in to the articles and follow the citation trails.

    More recently, from a science about science standpoint, I took a job a couple of years ago for a prof at Columbia University to build a platform to allow scientists to share all of the code and data that underlies their research. Among other things, the culture in academia doesn’t tend towards sharing all code and data in supplementary materials. there is no incentive to spend time on these things… We didn’t have a lot of funding or partners to get very far with this, and it turns out I didn’t enjoy working in an academic setting (I have an industry background).

    If you want to go off on to a tangent, do searches for “reproducibility crisis” and you’ll be able to find some reading about sloppy (and even fraudulent) research and get a lot more context than I’d go in to here.

    One of my friends pointed me to an article a few days ago that has a section that mentions the problems with reproducibility in pharm research (it’s not just social psychology).

    http://www.firstthings.com/article/2016/05/scientific-regress

    Their findings made the news, and quickly became a club with which to bash the social sciences. But the problem isn’t just with psychology. There’s an ­unspoken rule in the pharmaceutical industry that half of all academic biomedical research will ultimately prove false, and in 2011 a group of researchers at Bayer decided to test it. Looking at sixty-seven recent drug discovery projects based on preclinical cancer biology research, they found that in more than 75 percent of cases the published data did not match up with their in-house attempts to replicate. These were not studies published in fly-by-night oncology journals, but blockbuster research featured in Science, Nature, Cell, and the like. The Bayer researchers were drowning in bad studies, and it was to this, in part, that they attributed the mysteriously declining yields of drug pipelines. Perhaps so many of these new drugs fail to have an effect because the basic research on which their development was based isn’t valid.

    Btw, for statistical analysis of results, rather than looking at p > 0.05 look at confidence intervals, and this is a fun demonstration of what happens with p values.
    https://youtu.be/ez4DgdurRPg

  48. Okay, given all that, and given my personal interests in cognitive psychology and social psychology (as it happens) I try to maintain an agnostic stance and wait to see followup studies that may or may not replicate the finding (for whatever type of replications, conceptual, exact, etc.).

    If I see a cool article, like maybe the one about posting a picture of Eyes causing less cheating, I will think the article is kick-ass but I will also maintain an expectation that it isn’t true until I see some more body of results that fit.

    If anything is really cool, or really outlandish, I’m expecting that the affect is smaller than reported, or perhaps the analysis was sloppy.

    I’m dreading finding out that the choice blindness results don’t hold because that shit is fucking cool. I’d really love to see some more work on that in different cultures, settings, etc. I am biased to think that research is valid, but of course I am biased to think that because it is so fucking cool.

    I bring this all up to explain how much work it would be to chase down every little thing that a creationist posts with citations to real or fake articles. Tedious! Not interested. I want to go play games instead.

  49. Fatman: Poor countries with massive peasant populations, quite culturally dissimilar

    Poland excepted (they never collectivized), the proportion of people engaged in agriculture in those countries was less than 5% on joining , and maybe at most 7%? (I haven’t looked at Romanians and Bulgarians, but they collectivized too, so no poor farmers left)

    Iunno man, I think you’re seriously underestimating the EU’s ability to assimilate the economically impoverished and culturally backward.

    Look at actual data before running your fingers over the keyboard. Romania or Bulgaria might be poor, but they’re light-years closer in culture to Western Europe than any Arab country.

    They don’t have a problem with inbreeding and resulting IQ depression, they don’t have tribes anymore, they don’t have honor killings nor religious fundamentalism. The only minority that goes in for cousin-marriages are gypsies, and they’re not assimiliating. They don’t want to.

    (And I believe they don’t go for serial double first-cousin marriages either, which can be as much as 20% of all marriages in certain parts of the mid-East)

    Sheila: By analogy, I don’t have a hobby anymore of participating in creationist discussions.

    The irony here is, that you are the de-facto creationist. Racism is obviously the null-hypothesis insofar as racial differences are concerned.

    But you’re in good company – all the nice people are liberal creationists too.

  50. Peter Watts: Dude, he’s Jesus. The original zombie. You think the guy who walked on water and fed a vast multitude with a few juniper berries wouldn’t have a few Houdini tricks up his sleeve?

    Unless you don’t think he’s the real Jesus. But how could he not be? The apocalypse has happened. The damned and the dead rule the Earth. The prophecies have been fulfilled. It’s exactly time for the Second Coming.

    Nah, I don’t believe he’s the real Jesus.

    I mean, in a TV show, I can buy the dead coming back to life to feast on the living. I can buy lawns that seem to get cut even in the apocalypse. I can buy people someone tracking vehicles on foot. I could even buy the second coming of Jesus as an apocalypse-ninja..

    But the “real” Jesus played by an actor who doesn’t look the slightest bit middle-eastern? Feh, that breaks my immersion.

    I mean, I suppose you could posit that he used miraculous powers to make himself look like a whitebread English actor because that’s what people in the area of the US that WD is set expect from their Jesuses (Jesii?) nowadays, but… a little plastic surgery seems like a far less interesting miracle than merely surviving the WD universe as another minority character.

  51. Peter, Peter, Peter.

    Your lack of Biblical scholarship is truly saddening. Everyone knows Jesus was white. You can see it in the divinely-inspired pictures of Our Savior that adorn every Protestant Evangelical Megachurch across the Deep South. White, white, white. Sometimes even blond.

    I can think of no better quote than from that old episode of M*A*S*H, in which Frank Burns wrestled with the claims of a PTSD-stricken soldier who had come to the realization that he was the Risen Christ.

    “He can’t be Christ,” Burns insisted. “Why, I’ll bet he wasn’t even born in America.”

  52. Some interesting stuff on IQ, especially the low end, improving over the past 80 years. Mostly increase in critical thinking is attributed, however impractical in daily use versus experience and observation. Science is credited and I think by extension we can thank scifi to a degree, at least the more hard stuff that makes one think.

    Also other factors, possibly improvement in in utero nourishment aiding brain development. US not as inbred as some stereotypes might imply. Reading comprehension hasn’t kept up and Millennials apparently have no better vocabulary than their grandparents. Lower math seems to be reaching a plateau.

    Beyond the Flynn Effect.

  53. Deseret: US not as inbred as some stereotypes might imply.

    US is not inbred at all, outside of certain communities, due to inbreeding having been illegal in most of it for some time. Meanwhile, mid-easterners continue in their double-first cousin marriage ways wherever they are. Amazing that is not banned hereabouts, but I imagine our forbears thought it was about as likely as eating your own leg. What you get from it is 4% of population siring a third of all severely disabled kids, as is the case with UK residents whose ancestors hail from the completely unironically named ‘Land of the Pure’..

  54. Y.: They don’t have a problem with inbreeding and resulting IQ depression

    I guess as long as we’re both pulling “data” out of our behinds, I’ll feel free to disagree with that statement :)

  55. Fatman: I guess as long as we’re both pulling “data” out of our behinds, I’ll feel free to disagree with that statement

    You don’t think inbreeding leads to idiocy and dysfunction?

    See here: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF01082310
    Lots of other examples.

    There is no tradition in Romania or Bulgaria of cousin marriage and incest. Definitely not among the majority population. Roma, being the adorable little bundles of joyful social dysfunction we all know and love are rumored to practice it, and certainly every time I’ve read about a criminal incest case it involved the Roma ethnic.

  56. @Y: Interestingly enough, in about 2010 one of the US states which doesn’t specifically prohibit first-cousin marriages received a bill in the legislative session to prohibit the practice. Even allowing for the continuation of such marriages as might have already existed so long as there could be no further progeny from it, the bill failed to pass and was in fact not even very close to passage by the end of the session.

    As regards inbreeding in the US, I think it happens more than you might expect but it’s probably not due to intentional marriages of cousin-to-cousin or comparable non-wedlock liaisons. It’s probably more a function of the fact that entire population groups, more or less, traveled effectively as units to colonize, in certain timeframes. For example, the “poor Palatines” who left the southwestern Germanies about 1700 or so through the next few decades. The shipping firms who provided much of the transportation were reluctant to set sail without a full hold and never moreso than when working at contract to the British Crown. Thus, significant elements of populations which had already been for some time in restricted-size breeding pools, were transported into even greater genetic isolation. Yet for SF speculation value we should note that they had just been through decades of very significant privation in terms of multi-generation wars, starvation, and assorted pestilences including the actual Plague. Most of the things that cull out the inbred had already come across them and had cleaned them out pretty well. The Southwestern Germanies were already pretty damned well emptied by the time the remainder decided to take advantage of unfounded rumors that the Queen of England was giving away free land in the New World.

    This is just an example, contrast and compare with the Huguenots, as odd a bunch of colonists as French Protestants as were the German Catholics who made up a large percentage of the “poor Palatine” migration. Interestingly, we see in recent histories such as Otterness’s Becoming German that the German migrants quickly abandoned sectarianism in most cases, marrying for love/convenience rather than at the behest or only with the approval of the Church, for perhaps the first (widespread) time in centuries. This may be an argument in favor of, as well as against, tendencies for inbreeding being expressed you may observe. Yet the willingness to drop religious affiliations and marry outside of faith may be thought to be signal of a willingness to marry outside of the ethnic group, as well. In many cases across the early frontiers, that might have been less a matter of choice and more of opportunity; the “poor Palatines” settled in frontier New York had far more access to the native populations, in terms of both social tolerance and physical propinquity, than they had to British populations, for purposes of marriage.

    Whatever: I am not really convinced that it has been so great a concern in the past as it will be a concern in the future. Expanding frontiers, especially the northamerican repopulation after the smallpox megadeaths in the indigenous population, have had their culling effects and also effects in forced mixing of previously isolated gene pools. In any case, the human genome is one of the least diverse known, almost right up there with cheetahs in lack of diversity through an entire species. Some have been suggesting this was because of a population bottleneck such as the Toba catastrophe, but I’d suggest that it’s more about the spread of modern linguistic capabilities. I suspect that we all need to be vigilant to prevent any more lack of genetic diversity.

  57. Y: the “male feminists” described in that article are not actually feminists; so, what’s your point again?