Writing Prompt #12 | October 18th, 2017

Prompt: You accidentally end up as a character in your own story. You need to blend in at all costs: if the characters realize you’re the narrator, it will create a paradox, and you will die. (Reddit link, to the /r/WritingPrompts post and my submission.)

Start: Sometime this morning.

The young couple sits on the double-sized bed, facing each other with embarrassed determination in their eyes. They both know what they want—each other—but are wary of the risk of rebuke.

She stretches out her hand and touches his arm gently. He looks away, feeling his face turn red. This moment of weakness betrays his naivety towards love; she realizes straight away that this might be his first time. This emboldens her to take the lead.

Rising from her legs-crossed position to her knees, she leans forward and pulls herself closer to him. Awkwardly, he embraces around the girl who he had only mere weeks ago only dreamed of ever holding in his arms. The smell of the fragrance of her shampoo overwhelms him as he finally realizes what they are about to do.

But he moves his hands off of her, then firmly takes her by the shoulders and pushes her back. She, rattled, looks at him with questioning eyes.

“Do you… not want this…”

He sighs and shakes his head.

“It’s not that. It’s just…”

“It’s just that…”

“…I can’t do it with him sitting right there.”

The couple looks over to me with wary eyes. I, uncomfortable with suddenly being the center of attention, chuckle mechanically.

“Just keep going.”

“…Dude. Can you give us some privacy?”

His words urgently plead me to take my leave. But I cannot. For this is a young adult love story and I am its narrator, and my duty to the reader defines my entire existence. I am ever-present, commenting on the events which unfold before me and putting them into words for the enjoyment of all.

“I won’t get in the way. Just pretend I’m not here.”

“Please, Mr. Stranger… Can you give us just an hour or so to ourselves?” She chimes in, trying to negotiate for some alone time so they can make love in peace.

Oh, how much I would love to grant their request. We narrators usually leave the characters be in their intimate moments, as going to the washroom or engaging in coitus are often not of interest to the reader. Unfortunately, the author of this novel wants to sell sex with this trashy young love plot line, and so I need to be here to give a play-by-play of all the events.

“Would it fix the problem if I just change where I’m sitting? I can just crawl under the bed and listen instead.”

“…Dude. How does that make it any better?”

“Look, man, I have my reasons for being here. Do you really think I want to stay here and watch you blow a load after thirty seconds of thrusting?”

“Wait, what? Thirty seconds?”

She looks at me and then him with bewildered eyes. Apparently, the brevity of the time I predicted surprises her.

“I mean, yeah. Isn’t this going to be his first time or someth—”

“Are you trying to pick a fight or something? What are you playin’ at?”

This male protagonist gets angry at this kind of stuff, I guess. Maybe I said too much.

“Sorry. Slip of the tongue.”

The female protagonist, in her usual passionate fashion, looks at her lover with sparkling eyes.

“Don’t worry. If Mike can last an hour, then so can you.”

I burst out laughing as I consider how to properly narrate this turn of events.

“An—an hour? He was that good?”

“You can do way better than that, right?”

His face turns pale as he thinks back to his late-night porn surfing. He cannot recall spending more than ten minutes before blowing a load. He begins to imagine his current girlfriend, the wonderful girl before him, getting absolutely pounded by her jacked ex-boyfriend.

Sometimes, I regret being able to read people’s minds like this.

“It’s fine, man. Just focus on making it past the first thirty seconds.”

“I’m gonna last way longer than thirty seconds, man! Shut it and leave!”

“Are you sure you don’t need some advice on sex?”

“I’ll be just fine, thank you very much!”

Giving up on thinking of a proper way to end this scene, I walk out of the room and decide to just end things there. Closing the door behind me, I hear a small snippet of their conversation:

“…Shall we continue?”

“Nah. Let’s just watch Netflix instead.”

End: Later in the morning.

Elapsed Time: I forgot >.>

A little writing exercise to prepare for a short story contest.

Writing Prompt #12 | October 18th, 2017

Conquer With Ink

This is a 250 word mini-essay written as part of a diagnostic of English proficiency.

The nature of open-ended writing lends itself to overthought and pretentious pieces of literature. A bright, young mind capable of holding intellectual discussions on any topic and making thoughtful commentary on an issue suddenly becomes confused when directed to wander aimlessly in the vast wasteland of free thought.

It is oft-said that putting a man in a desert fully equipped and setting him off towards an oasis is authoritarian, while leaving him among the dunes to fend for himself is libertarian. We daring explorers are trapped in the emptiness of a vague, unexplored, undefined thought-space. Though meandering around does result in some revelations concerning the workings of this desolate ecosystem and might even reveal ways for us to survive by our own merits, there is a crippling fear of independence innate to all of us. We all secretly yearn for the days when we were told to hobble over to Mommy, or to draw a pony, or to solve a math problem, or to submit a ten-thousand word essay on banana picking. Somehow, being forced down a path without control over the direction is so liberating; rather than realizing escape from an oppressive system, we are absolved of that pesky gnat—responsibility—which annoyingly buzzes right next to our ear and nips at us during high noon.

Tackling the unknown—venturing into an uncharted world!—is the ultimate test of one’s soul; the intrepidity of a diligent student of life is truly tested only by a blank sheet of paper.

Conquer With Ink

LEGO and Human Development: A Lesson in Economics

Little Timmy finally got his first big kid LEGO set and is happily working on building it carefully according to the manual. After a few hours of trial, error, and some smart organization along the way, he finally finished building his toy exactly the same as pictured on the box. He, proud of his achievement, puffs his chest out as he shows the fruit of his labors to Mommy.

But then, boredom sets in. He already finished building the toy, and now doesn’t know what to do. He thinks back to those hours of fun building that toy and wants to feel it again. He wants to go back to a better time.

Mommy sees Timmy’s boredom, and decides that more toys isn’t a bad thing for a growing child of Timmy’s age. So, she goes to the store and gets him a new, harder LEGO set to try his hands on. After all, if Timmy works his way up, maybe he will develop the thinking skills needed to build something truly great someday!

She shows the new set to Timmy. Instead of taking it in his hands, Timmy turns around and smashes his old LEGO set. Absolutely befuddled, Mommy watches as Timmy happily builds his first LEGO set over and over again while the new one sits next to him, unopened and gathering dust.

Do you think Timmy should just get on with it and open the damn box already?

Congratulations. You now know why trade protectionism and aversion to automation are ridiculous.

If we upgrade young Timmy playing LEGO to dedicated workers helping to advance a country, we realize that recognizing the faults of protectionism is all but child’s play.

We have people who worked hard their entire lives, gave their entire beings to bettering their society, and finally helping to build their country to a point where their job is now obsolete. Maybe a new industry outpaced the old one in function and efficiency;  maybe their country became wealthy enough to research automation and AI; maybe their currency’s buying power has strengthened to a degree that large businesses can pay another country’s people to do the same work at half the cost; maybe those country’s people even went across the border and are happily working without asking for raises.

Either way, your society jumps ahead yet another step. You’re happy for your country, but you’re also out a job. And it’s hard to smile when your stomach is rumbling.

You look around you and realize that you’re not the only one. Many of you, who mined coal or worked cash registers or scrubbed toilets, were replaced by nuclear power, touchscreen order menus, and foreign workers, respectively. You all are angry; not just from having thinner wallets, but also from the feeling of uselessness and from the uncanny feeling that your old life was stolen from you. From you, a dedicated citizen of your country, who deserves much better than this.

So, you all march to a voting booth and demand that your government bring back the good old times. That they make your country great again.

Stimulus packages for mining companies; labor unions awarded money by the federal government use it to rally against automation of workers’ jobs; laws restricting both the influx of foreign workers and tariffs on the use of external labor. The government starts churning out policy after policy, and the market has no choice but to accept the new status quo. Coal is artificially propped up and survives in the face of greener alternatives; large companies are muscled into keeping keeps instead of automating them through unions crying “All our workers or none of them”; labor costs shoot back up. Those who were angry are now quelled, and go back to throwing themselves into the work they had done for their entire lives.

If only they looked up, and realized that their country had lost all the progress it made. All the progress that they themselves worked for.

People want their jobs back. They don’t want to see robots or workers in other countries doing their jobs. They want those jobs back, no matter what it takes. And yet, the number of job vacancies in their country waiting to be filled might alarm them. In the United States, this number is in the millions. Many of those jobs could be filled nearly immediately by the experienced workers now out a job. But they aren’t, because those experienced workers don’t want change. They want their old life, and they want it now.

The sad truth is, you lost your old job because society didn’t need you to do it. Yes, the role you filled was important and helped to advance your country. But why does it have to be you—or another fellow citizen or any human, even—who fills it? Plenty of jobs that were once popular are now utterly out of style. At one point, most civilizations were focused on farming; when agricultural jobs were lost to farming technology, you can bet your prettiest penny that farmers protested. There were once jobs where a reader would bellow out the morning news to entertain cigar rollers; the spread of electronically-transmitted media and of automation of the cigar rolling process removed both of these careers. Heck, you could once make a living if you could read at all; too bad literacy rates have since skyrocketed.

No one is protesting to ban tractors, or pushing governments to offer stimulus packages to companies who hire cigar rollers, or suggesting that reading be no longer taught in schools so that the market for readers will return. But these propositions are no more asinine and backwards than the protectionist ones proposed by people of all political affiliations.

Of course, this knowledge isn’t going to fill rumbling tummies; however, action will. Either find a job that’s available, or become a job creator who can pull yourself and your peers out of unemployment while also benefiting society. Even a simple high school education in many Western countries is far superior than the education level of many of the workers you’re complaining about. If you think you deserve better, prove it. You will get more once you do more and complain less.

Imagine if Timmy just kept building that first LEGO set over and over again while his friends moved on to building model planes, then tree houses, then whole buildings, and finally entire empires.

The idea that artificial market protections for workers will make your country stronger compared to other countries is plainly absurd.

Other countries are moving forward. They aren’t trying to maintain old industries or trying to bring back some kind of legendary “good old days”. Instead, they are continuously changing their approaches in development and always trying to further society more and more. They aren’t worrying about hurt feelings or the stubbornness from a few who don’t want to move to new industries. They’re moving forward, because they know that now is the good days. Days have never been better. Meaning, even better days lie beyond tomorrow.

Many people propose protectionism not as a way of protecting their own citizens, but rather of maintaining superiority over other countries. The idea is as follows: relative world power is a zero sum game (true by definition). Another country getting richer leads to them gaining power (also true). That country gaining power, therefore, decreases your own power in comparison.


Why would you not want to effectively use another country’s work force as your own means of production to advance yourself? When a shrewd businessman contracts a smaller company to do work for him, he doesn’t see this as “losing power” in the industry. Rather, he is giving the smaller company a small amount of power to gain a huge amount for himself. Scale this out to countries engaging in bilateral trade, and you see that the same applies on the international politico-economic stage.

If the world was an continuous one-on-one game, then yes, the larger party halting globalization and starving out the other might be a play to consider. Too bad that’s not how the real world works.

Let’s take a look at China. The country that many Americans feel is the United States’ greatest economic bane.

Ancient China sprang into one of the richest civilization in human history after agricultural methods improved; this is because instead of the entire populace toiling their days away in the fields, they could instead focus on commodities, art, culture, and innovation. The Silk Road became a means for the Chinese nation to then experience the fruits of other civilizations’ efforts. Fast forward to modern China, and the country accomplished the most drastic economic growth in human history through trade liberalization and vast investment in nearly every single country that the United States is looking to get out of supporting. Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East are now effectively economic engines for China and not the West. China is currently projected to surpass the United States in GDP by 2018, thanks to its globalist policies.

When living in a world where you feel “cucked” by China, maybe do what the Chinese do?

TL;DR: You “create jobs” when you enact protectionist measures because you literally forced your entire country to take a step back. So now, you forced a market for jobs that basically just re-build the infrastructure you yourself destroyed.

This is about the same as being bored after having built your LEGO toy, then taking it apart just so you can build it again and not be bored. If we translate boredom into “unemployment due to becoming obsolete”, then we should logically conclude that the right decision isn’t destroying what we had just to reduce boredom, but rather find something new to be interested in.

Come on, Timmy. I’m not Mommy, but I gotta step in to tell you: Find a better use of your time. Go outside to play. Read a good book. Maybe even create your own toy or game that you and your friends can all enjoy together.

Or, for now…

Open the damn box.

LEGO and Human Development: A Lesson in Economics

A Discussion on an Article about Fat-Shaming

The article in question: “Dear non-fat friends,


Anyone who happens to check my blog knows that I love debating controversial topics. I feel like a lot of the time current views on any topic, no matter how well-meaning, are inherently pretty problematic. In most of these cases, I am also aggravated by a sense of hypocrisy.

Sometimes, it’s hard to just sit down and write an article up about my thoughts, because often our views are so nebulous that writing everything down would probably just result in a wordy, nonsensical book. For this reason, I am very appreciative of anyone who posts thought-provoking material, even if I personally hate the stance taken.

This discussion stems from OP‘s shared link on Facebook to the Tumblr post above. Many people jumped in to respond, and although I felt that many of the people commenting had sufficiently questioned one of the troublesome parts of the Tumblr post, OP would continue to claim two points as given:

  1. Posting about being happy having lost weight is “hateful bigotry”;
  2. Being the target audience of said “hateful bigotry” gives you moral license to wish ill on others, citing “schadenfreude”.

Much of the disagreement stems from bewilderment at the lack of charity necessary to conclude point 1, and disbelief at any reasonable moral basis for believing point 2.

I will be copy-pasting the entire discussion here, replacing everyone else’s name to protect their privacy and touching up the original text a bit for readability. Although the replies were often wordy (alluded to many times by people in the conversation), I feel that they are excellent case studies on intellectual discussions on Facebook.

For starters: I am a bit regretful of the tone some of my replies took. Specifically, at one point I started suggesting adverse characteristics of OP‘s character, citing his belief in point 2. In the first place, sticking to dismantling point 1 would have been sufficient for the sake of the discussion; however, I jumped on the fact that I had a “moral high-ground” on this topic and probably unknowingly belittled him with my stance. I realized that this is a pretty common occurrence in discussions; the exact focus of the point being made ends up shifting just like the terrain in a duel, resulting from endless blows and parries that result in one person eventually wresting the higher ground.

I hate this type of conversation, and yet I ended up driving this shift myself. For that, I am a bit disgusted at myself, although I still do not yield any of the points I made.

Another note: People’s core values often lead them to make acrobatic leaps in assumptions that look plainly ridiculous to outsiders (see: “I know Jesus exists because God’s word tells his story”). I wonder if the best way to approach these discussions is to just attack the core values in the first place, since it basically cuts off all the other stemming problematic viewpoints from their source.

Then I realize that the reaction of pretty much anyone when having their core values attacked is less than civil. Usually resulting in tears, hurt feelings, and probably a few rounds of Facebook blocks.

In any case, I did not enter this discussion to dismantle someone else’s personal moral code and core beliefs. I did it because I read something I found problematic, and entered a discussion on it.


Full Cast:

  • OP – original poster
  • P1 – the person who responded before I did.
    • (I am extremely thankful to him for taking the first step in addressing the exact part I found problematic; I had seen the original link three days before and felt uncomfortable commenting on it. He helped pave the road for a “meaningful” discussion. Props to him.) 
  • MIN – me.
  • P2, P3, … – other respondents. I will keep ticking up the number as I go without too much explanation, especially since the discussion is still somewhat ongoing.

[P1]first response; the catalyst.

“- Post about your eating & exercise plans using fat-negative descriptions of yourself. “No more fatass self in 2013!” “Feeling gorgeous now that I’m not fat!” etc. If you are healthier and more fit, great. I am happy that you’re taking care of your body. But please don’t shame me and my fatness in the process. I didn’t ask to be tacked on to your baggage, thanks. And when you gain it all back, rest assured I will feel a healthy amount of schadenfreude.”

This paragraph seems… out of place in an essay supposedly advocating mutual understanding between people of different lifestyles and weights.

Person A: I do not like a trait I currently have, so I’ve decided to change it. The changes I plan to make are difficult but socially rewarded so I’m attempting to use an announcement in a public forum to force myself to act on them. Optimism!

Person B: I am not making said changes and consider this a personal insult despite the fact that this comment is a general statement of intent that is in no way personally directed at me and actually has nothing to do with me at all. That said I’m insecure and decided that everything is about me, so fuck you!
Furthermore (again because I’m insecure, but this time also a bully) I’m going to hope that you fail so that I can gloat that you tried and failed and tell you how much worse that is that not having tried at all because I’m apparently 15.

You can be fat and still be a shit to other people about their weight and lifestyle, and if you’re the person hoping for someone’s dreams to fail solely so that you can shit on them and gloat like an asshole, you’re the problem, not them. Person B is an insecure shit head, period. That said… Person B appears to be the author as far as I can tell, so I’m a bit less than impressed with this essay as a result.

[OP]what I strongly feel is an immensely hypocritical reply; if he hadn’t shared an article which lacked any amount of charitable interpretation of others, I would have agreed with him.

I feel like you are not imagining the author complexly enough to fully empathize with her experiences, and as such her position is not as you describe.

Let’s be clear, the problem isn’t that Person A is making a public announcement in order to secure motivation to accomplish this goal. The problem is that, for whatever reason, Person A is further promoting highly problematic and commonly held social values in the way they are communicating them. When someone takes an action that is centered in or is influenced by oppression, and then glorifies and promotes as acceptible this oppressive idea in a public way while communicating about that action, the communication is oppressive even when the action itself isn’t.

As for person A’s last comment, I feel that when taken in complete context, it’s clear that the author doesn’t want Person A to fail. She even says, she’s happy Person A is pursuing her goals. However, we have to acknowledge that Person A in significantly more likely to fail than to succeed (every study on dieting and lifestyle change has shown this). Person B isn’t saying that she wants this to be a reality. Merely that, when it does, she will react in characteristically human and find pleasure in that unfortunate result. Could she have been a bit more clear by using the word “if” then “when”? Sure. But colloquially, writers often use “when” when referring to events that are likely, but not guaranteed, to happen. As a result, could you have read generously and offered the author the more reasonable interpretation of their statement? Absolutely.

[MIN]my first reply; so far, so good.

Can I point out that this blatant double standard is quite aggravating?

Your stance is obviously giving more charity to Person B than to Person A. Person A says something and probably could have worded it better, so let’s pounce on him and shame them + misrepresent them for their error! But Person B? Let’s give *excessive” leeway for their language and coddle them because they fit one of the Tumblr community’s immunity categories.

If we start off with the assumption that neither of the two are bad people, why is it that Person A is “oppressive” while Person B is simply “characteristically human”?

In fact, I think it should be quite the opposite. Even if we take the stance that Person A is saying “being fat is bad and I am getting better because I am getting less fat!”, this is irrefutably less problematic than “I presume and derive pleasure from the failure of people who rub me the wrong way”. In fact, the second viewpoint is actively more harmful for a society.

As you would say… Person B is “further promoting highly problematic and commonly held social values in the way they are communicating [their ideas]”.

Anyway, imagine these statements:

“A woman posted on Twitter that all men are rapists; when she gets sexually assaulted, I will feel great about it.”

“A gay person was smug to me about me being straight; when they gets hurt for his sexual orientation, I will feel great about it.”

“A fat person misrepresented my Facebook post and shamed my efforts to improve my body image; when they die of heart failure or stroke, I will feel great about it.”

Let’s bask in how disturbing this is.

Of course, my personal stance is that Person A has the right to their benign Facebook posts as much as Person B has the right to their own actively-militant Tumblr articles.

As an aside, I am glad that you changed your stance on statistics; if you accept “when” as a conditional marker (“In the case where Person A fails, I am highly likely to derive pleasure from this result”), can you also accept “normal” as a simple probabilistic marker? (Editor’s note: this is a jab at another post OP made which characterized the use of “normal” as homophobic, racist, etc.)

[P1]adding on to what I said/giving his own views on the subject.

“*They* are simple whereas *we* are complicated”:
If this were ANY other situation I can’t imagine you defending her, is it not possible you are taking this position because she agrees with you? That you are defending a fairly indefensible statement that is in no way complicated, and is in fact very very clear because you like the other sentiments expressed by this individual? I really can’t imagine you being ok with someone in, say, any of the situations above that MIN has suggested claiming that their “Schadenfreude was human”. I think you’d be calling them out like I called her out. Hell if a thin person said EXACTLY the same thing (that an overweight person would (or might) fail to lose weight and that they would be there to laugh at them if/when they did) I have literally zero doubt you’d call them out. Why does being fat immunize the author from being an asshole?
If you want empathy you have to show it, if you want me to reach across, you also have to reach across, that’s how it works. Hypocrisy helps no one, and pisses off everyone that you’re trying to convince. Just have a look at the “Feminists” that unproductively hate men. Their greatest achievement is what… creating the MRA talking points out of whole cloth? Giving shitty people that have no purpose the ability to point at them as justification for their shittiness?
This is not good, she is not making a good point. She is being petty and mean while claiming people shouldn’t be petty or mean to her, and she’s asking that people not have schadenfreude towards her while openly saying that she would (and does) ABSOLUTELY have schadenfreude towards them and others for similar reasons. Someone trying to lose weight feels vulnerable just like someone carrying weight, if she’s a shit to that person for feeling vulnerable and bad about themselves and trying to lose weight because of that then frankly she deserves to have people be a shit to her, I’ll save my sympathy for people who aren’t themselves bullies.
A less rational version of me reading this essay would lose empathy for the obese, not gain it. Fortunately I’m me so instead I just think the author is an asshole and stop there.

[OP]asserting that the link author’s spite and active failure seeking is morally sound.

If the author was at all as you described her, then yes, I would agree with you. Except she’s not. Well, for one, she’s not an asshole: while maybe it’s not epitome of ideal human behavior, I’m not going to fault someone for experiencing satisfaction when life directly demonstrates how wrong someone was as they directly promoted problematic ideals. Second, feeling vulnerable and bad about oneself is no way an excuse to promote hateful bigotry. Again, because the point here isn’t that the person is trying to lose weight. The point is that the other person is promoting and enforcing harmful and widely accepted ideals as the motivating factor of their decision to change their lifestyle, and when it turns out their hateful ideas didn’t actually produce the intended results, she’s going to experience some satisfaction in that. Again, not in their inability to lose weight, that’s a straw man. But in how their problematic and harmful ideals have failed them.

Unrelated, I’ve promoted in the past many situations when it was OK to feel schadenfreude at the misfortune of others who made poor decisions or communicated in problematic ways. When Harper lost the election. When rapists get convicted for once. When individual police officers get held responsible for their crimes. When shoplifters get caught. Hell, even something as simple when people playing decks I don’t like lose at Magic, and that’s not in any way a problematic thing to do. This is something that’s pretty characteristic of me. I’m actually kind of surprised you are taking the position that experiencing schadenfreude in these kinds of ways is unreasonable.

[MIN]where my language starts going off the rails a little.

I don’t understand how the very personal opinion of “I would be happier/more confident if I became happy with my body image” is bigoted or hateful. Fact is that some people find themselves unattractive when they have a few extra pounds on. Maybe it’s even just hating the feeling of something peeking over your belt or the tightness in your clothing (I have experienced both and these are basically the primary catalysts for me ever getting off my ass).

> “No more fatass self in 2013!” “Feeling gorgeous now that I’m not fat!”

These two actually look very benign to me (at least, not “hateful” or “bigoted”; maybe a bit insensitive depending on their circle). The first would probably benefit from substituting “fatass”, since it’s being used as a placeholder for “lazy”; however, it just strikes me the same as saying someone dresses “gay” (which is an unfortunate substitute for “upper middle class urban liberal”). The second one says “I think I look better thinner”. This is their own opinion on their own appearance, and they happened to broadcast it. In any case, is it a crime or debilitating to be not “gorgeous”? I definitely don’t consider myself “gorgeous”, but I’m trucking along

Anyway, literally everyone can benefit health-wise from an extra half hour of exercise a day if they had that time. So, posts from people lambasting their own sedentary tendencies isn’t really unthinkable.


“I’m not going to fault someone for experiencing satisfaction when life directly demonstrates how wrong someone was as they directly promoted problematic ideals. ”

You know this is literally the same mindset God-hates-fags nuts had when celebrating the Orlando shooting?

The mindset of “I enjoy the pain and suffering of people who have different viewpoints” is inherently dangerous and morally suspect. No matter what the viewpoints are. If someone derived pleasure from watching a Nazi get tortured, I might be able to understand it (in the same way why I “understand” why people enjoy raping and killing), but it doesn’t really change how corrupt the activity is.

[P2]her next few replies dive into the difference between malicious desire for suffering and feeling that justice was served.

OP, your other examples of schadenfreude don’t actually demonstrate schadenfreude. When a criminal is convicted of a crime the satisfaction people feel stems from a sense of justice on behalf of the victims, not pleasure at seeing others suffer. When a politician loses an election people affiliated with other parties feel happiness because they wanted a different set of policies to be instituted, not because of pleasure at seeing an individual’s failure. When a magic player takes joy at winning a match it’s in a context where the people playing have agreed to compete and are there for that purpose. Everyone goes in knowing there will be winners and losers and everyone is ok with that. None of this is equivalent to what the writer described in this post.

[OP]his thoughts on his own schadenfreude.

P2: Ok, that’s reasonable. I mean, I know personally, the sense of justice is one part of it, but so is the part of it that’s vengeance, them knowing that something bad is happening to someone who’s actions have caused harm, which has always felt to me more closely related to schadenfreude then the feeling you get from knowing that a wrong has been righted. There are times when I’m happy someone has come to justice but I don’t want anything bad to happen to them, and that feels one way. There are other times where the justice they experience shows them reflects some of the hurt they’ve caused, and those situations feel like an entirely different kind of satisfaction. To me, schadenfreude has always been so much closer to the latter than the former.

Maybe this offers some clarity. When Layton passed away, I mourned. If Trump were to pass away suddenly, I would probably feel quite happy. If our current leader passed, I don’t know how I’d feel, but it would be somewhere in between. Surely at some point along that spectrum, my feelings turn to schadenfreude, no? When they become less explained by knowing that someone is no longer able to cause harm and towards feeling good because someone I felt so strongly about experienced something bad happening to them? There has to be more than just a sense of justice here.

[P3]he had been liking comments for a while now.

I think if we’re talking about the levels of pleasure derived from the misfortune and death of other living thinking human beings we need a stronger word that schadenfreude.

[P2]still incredibly civil in tackling OP‘s viewpoint on “schadenfreude”.

I know what you’re trying to say but I still think it’s different. The desire for revenge still stems from wanting to see a wrong righted. Yes, it’s a different feeling – there is less detachment, more emotional investment – but I think the root of it is still justice. Even if that feeling doesn’t reflect the most noble side of our character I still think it’s fundamentally there because of a desire for the virtue of justice (…and anger when justice is absent.) In the example you give of politicians dying, I would think the hypothetical feeling of happiness if Trump were to die would stem from having watched him take actions that you felt were unfair, and a death would bring about a feeling of fairness. On the other end of the spectrum Layton’s death felt very unfair so it led to mourning. Deriving joy from seeing vengeance might be a type of schadenfreude, but what’s being talked about here is a situation where no crimes have been committed. The writer isn’t describing a situation where they were a victim of violence or unfair laws. They aren’t even describing a situation where they were made fun of. They are literally just sitting back and waiting for something bad to happen to someone else for their own pleasure.

[MIN]the specific comment I regret wording the way I did. But hey, it expresses how I felt in the moment, and so is a true expression of myself. Welp.

…I find it pretty disturbing that anyone can just casually celebrate a death like that.

If Trump died, a HUMAN BEING died. Trump represents a set of very unsavory ideals and personality defects, but he also represents a one-person minority called his own self. I can understand people celebrating the changes that would occur if Trump died (aside: President Pence would almost certainly be worse), but finding the bulk of pleasure from his very death and suffering? WTF?

Schadenfreude is usually attached to a much more passive action (sitting back and deriving a guilty sense of pleasure from people’s failures and misfortunes). Pretty corrupt, but eh. What you describe is openly embracing people’s misfortunes. I think there are a few choice words for people like this. “Sociopath” immediately came to mind.

(EDIT: Just thought of a better word: “sadist”.)

Anyway. The right characterizing the left as witch-hunters and detached-from-reality maniacs pretty much comes from this sort of social and moral vigilantism. Wishing ill against your enemies is already something to be thoroughly ashamed of, but wishing ill against them for the sake of seeing them suffer? Inexcusable.


Feeling that a person deserves harm for their differences from you (in your case, sometimes their “crime” is simple words) is incredibly easily spread to feeling an entire group deserves harm for widespread differences.

Upgrading from “Hitler” to “Nazis” to “German right-wingers” to “Germans” would be seen as banal by almost anyone. And yet, in America people casually go from “Trump” to “The Republican House and Senate” to “conservative voters” to “white people” as if it were nothing.

Right-wingers quote the immense difference between the crime rate of Latinos and blacks and the rate of extremism among Muslims. Left-wingers try to quote some fundamental moral gap between the lowly ignorant plebeian cis white males and other “oppressed” groups. If we set aside our convictions of the superiority of our ideals and core values, we would see that both of these mindsets cause IMMENSE harm. In the case of the latter, it also lost one of the easiest elections in history.

[OP]dismisses comments on how what he’s describing isn’t something corrupt that extends beyond just schadenfreude with an article on schadenfreude >.> Also, doesn’t shift on his characterization of people posting about losing weight.

Listen, I’m not going to respect attacks against my character. This isn’t a conversation about the various ways people, communities, and society at large has (and will continue to) find satisfaction in the misfortune some others experience. Schadenfreude is not evidence of psychological impairment. (http://www.chronicle.com/…/the-neuroscience-of…/29659 has links to relevant primary sources) (Editor’s note: big difference in idly deriving pleasure and actively wishing for that pleasure to be indulged.)

So, on to the contributions which don’t explicitly and exaggeratedly discolor my positions.

: If we want to adopt a broader definition of justice to satisfy these ideas (which I’m totally find with doing, justice is obviously something that just exists outside a courtroom), then sure, what you’re saying makes perfect sense. Except when you say that there isn’t any “justice” experienced in the situation described by the author. I’ll clarify:

“They aren’t even describing a situation where they were made fun of. They are literally just sitting back and waiting for something bad to happen to someone else for their own pleasure.”

This isn’t a situation where they were made fun of directly, sure, but rather a situation where someone promoted a problematic series of ideals and values that have justified years of people making fun of them, among other even worse outcomes. Again, the problem isn’t that the other person is attempting to lose weight. The problem is that the other person is perpetuating sizism and colouring it as acceptible as justifications for their decision. When someone is using shitty ideas to try and accomplish some goal, and when the promotion of those shitty ideas contribute to the harm other people experience, and if the goal ends up not being accomplished, then that is a form of justice: their shitty ideas isn’t resulting in the outcome they were hoping for.

In other words, if someone says something akin to, “I want to lose weight because fat people are disgusting and I can’t believe I’m among them and fat people should all stop existing.” (or some less-exagerated verion of the same sentiment) then yes, there is justice in that particular initiave failing, for the reasons I’ve described all throughout this post. Contrast to “I want to lose weight because I want to be able to ride rollercoasters. Sure, it sucks that rollercoasters are designed to exclude fat people, but as a single person I can’t really change that, so while I keep fighting to change how we design roller coasters I’m also going to change myself so that I can ride them myself.” Which is not problematic, not harmful to other people, and it would be a tragic shame if they couldn’t accomplish that. Hell, even if they said something like “I want to lose weight because I want to and I don’t have to justify myself to you.”, that is again completely reasonable, and more power to them.

Can you understand why there is the difference I’m trying to describe here? And if so, why doesn’t the difference in intent and in harmful ideas promoted change your perspective?

[OP]me trying to be a bit more emotionally detached from the conversation and trying, once again, to explain expectations for oneself vs. for others.

Why does someone feeling that they themselves being fat feels disgusting amount to them thinking all fat people are disgusting?

I feel gross when I’m not at my normal body size. I also don’t especially care about other people’s body size. This is simply because if I have a few extra pounds or not enough pounds, I have to experience it myself. Meanwhile, I don’t have to experience someone else’s fatness or thinness. So, it should be perfectly natural to say “It is not okay for me myself to be fat, but I don’t care whatsoever about other people”.

Hell, even if they thought fat people are disgusting. Is it not their right to think in this way? They aren’t violating your rights (via violence or discriminatory actions). Suffering and being hurt or set back simply for having adverse (or maybe straight up immoral) opinions is not “justice”. It’s just more sadness and pain in the world.

[P1]this is long as heck. I put his two split comments together.

So many words (this has been cut up because even Facebook thinks I’m verbose).

Schadenfreude vs hypocrisy: This conversation went in a strange direction while I was absent, let me clarify my position: My problem is with hypocrisy, the schadenfreude is just a bonus. Her point is “I don’t want people not constantly considering my feelings 100% of the time, even when I’m not involved in the situation in any way, oh by the way I’m going to laugh when other people feel bad under some set of conditions that pretty closely resembles my own.” This is why she’s an asshole, because within her own paradigm calling people out for things you don’t approve of (like say, being overweight, a thing many people don’t approve of) is mean and assholish and shouldn’t be done because it’s none of their business and people have totally suffered enough… oh unless it’s her, then she can totally laugh at that fatty dieting because fuck overweight people that don’t act exactly like her. If her view was “I make fun of other people and they make fun of me, I’m callous and it’s great” or “I consider other people’s feelings and expect them to consider mine” or better yet “I expect to get made fun of because I live on earth, but won’t do the same to others because I’m mature” then I wouldn’t have nearly the issue I do, these bring up their own issues in some cases but none is as repulsive as “I demand that you do a thing I absolutely would not and do not do.” Literally the least someone can do if they ask you to do something is do it themselves under the same conditions, otherwise they’re… well, as I’ve reiterated, a presumptuous asshole.

Schadenfreude in general: I am not jumping in here because I feel it’s kind of off topic. The argument of “when if ever” it’s morally right is probably beyond the bounds of this discussion but I will say that this situation is not even close to that list. Someone attempting to improve their health and not assuming that a random person will take their self criticism personally isn’t even particularly bad, let alone “I hope you feel random pain” bad.

Harmful ideas: Obesity is not a religion, nor is it a race. As such it appears to fall somewhere between “Disability” and “Life choice” in terms of how we should be sensitive toward it depending on who you’re talking about and who you ask (which is fine, both of those things deserve sensitivity in various contexts anyway). That said I’ll be using those models to explain my position on each of the “harmful ideas” I think you’re referring to. This is the meat of my essay so feel free to add any harmful ideas I don’t cover, or talk about any that I do, or tell me I’m full of shit and don’t know what I’m talking about. This is a situation that I am, to at least some degree “feeling out” as we speak, as such I don’t claim to have perfect knowledge here. So expect somewhat half formed ideas and a lot of text. You’ve been warned.

-The idea that people who are overweight are less healthy: Taking averages into account, this is objectively true. Feelings don’t beat science. That said I’ve discussed this previously and don’t plan to dwell on it. No model can impact this since it’s just a science question as opposed to a social one. New science could change things obviously, but pretty much nothing else.

-The idea that losing weight is a good thing: Ignoring philosophical discussions about the definition of “good” for a moment it is generally considered “good” to be more healthy. If someone CAN lose weight in a reasonable way (for example they are overweight because of a poor diet, which is certainly the case in at least some cases) then it is not a bad thing to encourage them to do this as I understand it, even if many other people are for a variety of reasons unable to do this or don’t wish to do this. Using the life choice model being overweight is an objectively unhealthy life choice (smoking would be comparable in terms of impact), so someone deciding not to do said thing is good, though people who do decide to do said thing should be respected and left alone. Using the disability model someone overcoming their disability is good, and should be applauded, even if other people are unable to overcome theirs (and they should still be supported). In neither case should any person be mocked or belittled, but the person who is making progress should absolutely be given encouragement in both cases, just as the person who is not making progress (be it because they are comfortable where they are or unable to) should be treated reasonably and supported, or left alone at worst.

-The idea that the person who wants to lose weight is somehow personally attacking people who choose not to lose weight by claiming they think it is better for them to lose weight than not to, or that they like having lost weight (Note: the attractiveness and bullying issues are addressed separately below): This isn’t true in ANY context that I can think of. If someone decides to quit doing something that is their prerogative (assuming they are able to), as long as they don’t call people out personally both models are fine with this. A smoker quitting smoking can make all the fuss they want about food being tasty or how proud of themselves they are and their smoker friends can suck it up. A deaf person that gets a hearing aid and can hear for the first time is absolutely entitled to post about how great it is to hear for the first time. If their deaf friends feel the need to shit all over their joy and “hope they go deaf again because you’re totally being a dick about it” then that person needs new friends, that level of shitty behavior is absolutely unreasonable. We don’t get a lot of nice things in this life and if someone feels the need to shit on someone else’s one nice thing because they’re hypersensitive that’s inexcusable.

The idea that overweight people are being insulted and belittled, or that they somehow should be insulted or belittled (aka bullying): This is a problem obviously, no one should be insulted and belittled, particularly people who aren’t doing things that harm other people. The disability model is very helpful here for the zero people in the audience who can’t figure out why (my facebook feed isn’t exactly known for this). The life choices model doesn’t differ as much here as it looks like it does since harassing people that make different choices to you still makes you an asshole. Making fun of a person because they have problems with ______ is shitty pretty much regardless of the source of those problems (and if it’s not a problem to said person then doubly fuck off). That said there is a difference between saying “It is better if people can overcome ______” or “People are healthier if they ________” and saying “People who are ______ are bad or should be mocked.” I feel that it’s nearly strictly better to be able to say, hear, but I feel that deaf people deserve a lot of sympathy and that one should work very hard to make as many things as possible accessible for them. It is unacceptable to make a person miserable by ignoring their needs when they are incapable in some way. Their life IS hard enough, on this me and the author agree.

The idea that overweight people are unattractive sexually: This is a strange and delicate one. People find ALL SORTS of things attractive or unattractive and tend to voice those opinions a lot (disabilities and life choices are both on this list, as well as race, religion and anything else you can think of). People’s determination of physical attractiveness in others is by its nature both superficial and unfair (since it is, by its nature, both selfish and often fairly senseless). It’s a primal thing where people look for characteristics in a mate, and trying to adjudicate it is more than a little bit like herding cats. That said people tend to find characteristics that are indicative of good health attractive, and characteristics indicative of high status. Obese people in our society are generally seen as unhealthy and (probably more importantly) of lower status. This isn’t fair at all but it’s at least as unfair that people find burn victims sexually unattractive and indeed they do (in droves). People have been claiming that other people *should* be attracted to all sorts of things forever with little to no success. Hell we haven’t even gotten people to consider personality and intelligence to be more important than appearance, let alone equalized various appearances.

[P4]a voice in support of OP. Although I hate her characterization of other comments as “thin privilege”, I was a bit happy that OP didn’t have to tackle on so many people alone without feeling acknowledged by someone who agrees with his points. Note: I didn’t wish him ill just because I found his stances problematic.

Loved the article. Also OP I don’t know how you deal with all these people’s bullshit. (Editor’snote: Ouch.) Every time you post something about fat phobia and fat shaming, so many people comment with their thin privilege and concern trolling. I can barely read all of it without closing my computer and just giving up. Anyway, I’m proud to know you, you are strong as hell, and I love everything you are posting. PS – Roxane Gay is releasing Hunger and I’m so fucking excited for it – she wrote a memoir from the perspective of eating and her body… I can’t wait.

[OP]I was so tempted to tell him I didn’t need his faulty tools, but that’s just mean. I can stand being condescended upon, so eh.

I do it because I know some people have worked through their biases a little bit more thoroughly than others, and I want to make sure those who have know I’m appreciative of it, and those who haven’t have the tools if they ever want to work on it . Thank you so much for the words of encouragement!

[MIN]I do try tackling P4‘s characterization of other respondents, though.

…I can solidly say that many of the people commenting against his points are not thin (see: me) and don’t have “thin privilege”. I can’t speak for others, but I sincerely wish that very overweight or underweight people can integrate with society without being set back (I support larger roller coaster seats and restaurant booths), but also without having to be coddled. Equality is everyone being accommodated to the same extent. I don’t want to have to deal with fat people in some extra careful way, while also being expected to entertain hypocrisy.

Concerning “thin privilege”: Being fat is much more similar to being uneducated than it is to being black or gay. Being fat is primarily a result of lifestyle choices (the strong correlation between shifts in lifestyle and growing obesity rates is pretty damning), which are in themselves heavily influenced by socioeconomic status.

Sure, it’s not fair that some people are born with exceptionally suitable metabolisms for their preferred lifestyle and others aren’t. About as unfair as the fact that some people can afford to get expensive degrees and others can’t. It’s unfair, and I feel for people being wronged by the unfairness.

However, I will continue to seek a certified doctor when I am sick, or a top law school graduate when I go to court, or a computer science major when I want someone to help me develop an app. This is “discriminating by education level”, but I assert (and most people would, too) that this is totally normal and reasonable.

In the same way: some roller coasters (as they are currently built) literally cannot accommodate people above or under a certain weight. It might be plainly dangerous to put a small child or a larger individual on one of these rides, so I actually think it would be MORE unfair to fat people to allow them on these rides and then get hurt.

Booths in restaurants are confined by space. It is not illegal for a restaurant to simply not have space for you to sit. One of my favorite restaurant only seats like ten people, so if I’m the eleventh, too bad for me. Similarly, if one person happens to take up as much space as two average people and a chair that size is unwieldy and hard to put in the establishment, I can understand why you might not always be accommodated.

Both these situations are sad, but they are clearly distinct from just having a different skin color (no roller coaster is gonna break just because a black dude is sitting on it) or being gay (it’s not like anyone is having sex in a restaurant, in any case).

Anyway. Disliking hypocrisy and certain moral judgments doesn’t amount to fat shaming. Also, generalizing all dissenting voices as just “thin privilege” is just silly, since for starters I find some real problems with the idea of thin privilege.

[P5]casually makes fun of her own dyslexia. What a queen ❤

If I make a point of reading every time P1, MIN and OP have a discussion I’d probably. have fewer dyslexic issues.

this article has alot of problems but I want to draw a parallel about a person taking issue with another’s sharing of a change they enjoy.
What if A shares her progress in anger management through meditation. Should people with greater trauma be upset she is promoting a method that might not work for everyone but has evidently given her good results that make her ability to function better?
What if a trans man shares his feelings of empowerment after having breast removal. Should a cis woman object ’cause he’s promoting the idea that being masculine makes you more confident? It also makes her uncomfortable and wouldn’t work for her.

The fact someone can over come a certain problem and is happy about it doesn’t mean they are insulting another person who can’t/won’t. I’m using problem relative to what the improver is trying to change. Though there is plenty of evidence that being over weight is inherently unhealthy. so is shitty dieting but those aren’t the only options.


If they are using their change as a vehicle to promote hateful and oppressive ideology, then yes, there is a problem with that. But the problem isn’t with the change. The problem is with the hateful ideology.

[P6]thank you thank you thank you.

You keep saying this, but you keep failing to make the link between “celebrating a personal change” and “promoting hateful ideology”. This seems like a pretty important gap, because nobody you’re arguing with thinks that one can be inferred from the other. If you want to make in-roads, answering the question “why does posting ‘yay I’m not fat anymore’ inherently spread oppressive ideology regardless of the poster’s intentions” or something like that is essential.

Katt specifically challenged that link when she said “The fact someone can over come a certain problem and is happy about it doesn’t mean they are insulting another person who can’t/won’t. I’m using problem relative to what the improver is trying to change.”

Nobody who you’re arguing with thinks that the poster is using their change as a vehicle to promote hateful ideology, so this response is going to be thoroughly unsatisfying. If you’re genuinely trying to convince people that such posts can be problematic, then that’s the piece that’s missing.


Though I don’t really blame anyone for not wading through my rather long post above I actually make a crack at dissecting problematic ideologies in various combinations. The end result is that there is no implied statement/context applied by viewer combination I can think of that’s actually a problem. So yeah, Chris Braithwaite is correct, until an explicit hateful ideology is brought up I will remain unconvinced (and if said ideology matches anything from the list above, I’ll likely be using my cut/paste function).

[P5]you hurt me 😦

It is hateful for B to say that B is healthier for being less fat.

[MIN]another long reply.

Saying someone is healthier is hardly “hateful”; maybe it’s insensitive if you want to make a judgement on one individual like that, but if it’s in reference to a large group you are stating an uncomfortable fact and not hate speech. If there was a black man and a white man standing there, there might be situations where “the black man is darker because he’s black” is wrong (there are some really pale or even albino black people and many darker white people), but that’s not the point.

There is a way of looking at this as a rational mathematically-inclined person: The mean of two groups may have an obvious disparity, but the variance within the group might be huge. Comparing races is actually very much benefited from keeping this in mind; if we compared education levels and salaries for Jews and blacks, it is quite evident that Jews are as a group receiving more education and more money. Problems arise if we just point at a black guy and assume he’s poor and stupid because he’s black (this is stereotyping and is plainly mean), but if we have a million randomly-selected black people and a million randomly-selected Jews and were told to bet on which one had more money and education, we all know who we would bet on.

In the same way, I put my money on average-weighted people if we had to discuss if they or fat people are healthier. Although if we changed the game to one randomly-selected average person and one randomly-selected fat person, I am bound to lose a lot of money at some point.

“Average-weighted people (defining “average” as the “intended” equilibrium size based on genetics) are healthier than exact-copy equivalents with more weight than what is normal for them” isn’t hateful at all; it’s a simple fact. If someone is at their “healthiest” and you add or take away weight, they are going to be less healthy.

Keep in mind that health can also encompass body image, social image, mental health, etc. If someone losing weight had negligible effect on their actual health (maybe they basically “mirrored over” the bell curve”) but became much more confident, more socially accepted by their choice of peers, and happier as a result, I assert that this specific person did become healthier from being less fat.

Note: this specific person.

In Magic terms: If I had a box of Dark Ascension and a box of Khans of Tarkir and was allowed to crack one open to sell everything inside (note: not allowed to just sell the box), I think I would be soundly justified in picking the box of Khans. I can think of trivial cases where the Dark Ascension box will outvalue the Khans box, but we don’t think too much about it because we realize we made a statistical judgment. If we just have one pack of each, Dark Ascension might actually manage to beat out Khans a lot of the time (since most of the time we’ll just be hitting Dark Ascension bulk rares vs. much more numerous Khans bulk rares). But we’re not talking about individual packs. (Editor’s note: every single person commenting either plays Magic or runs a local game store.)

OP stated that he will reply more after work. I look forward to updating this and offering more commentary later.

A Discussion on an Article about Fat-Shaming

A Page From Her Journal – Worms on the Sidewalk

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Whenever it rains heavily, I always arrive late for school.

It’s not because of what you might think; I don’t get a drive or take the bus, nor do I stay in bed longer because of how cozy humid days are or how gloomy grey days are, nor am I even particularly bothered from stepping in puddles or getting wet. Rather, I spend too much time saving worms from off the sidewalk.

Honestly, it’s kinda gross to go outside and see worms strewn everywhere, wriggling around in all their glory. What’s grosser is when they’re squished by people walking, biking, and driving. Their remains, which bake in the sun for the next few days until they shrivel, disintegrate, and eventually disappear, are so disgusting and yet so pathetic.

It seems strange that these worms commit these acts of apparent suicide, but the reason is simple: the worms crawl onto the sidewalk because the dirt is flooded and they’ll drown if they stay. This is an act of perceived self-preservation. I wonder what percentage of worms that hang out on the sidewalk die as a result of not being somewhere safe from human feet. Based on the gruesome wake left by the worms’ exodus from the soil, my immediate reaction is that they would likely drown if they stayed underground or in the drenched grass, but would almost certainly die if they remained above ground.

And so, whenever I see a worm on the sidewalk, I pick it up and put it back onto the grass. I do it even when people walking by give me funny looks or make disapproving noises, because I think it’s the right thing to do. But is it really worth my time to stop and throw each one of them back onto the grass?

Actually, this question is two-fold: Should I save them, and would they want to be saved?

The thing is, they chose to climb above ground. I should respect that, right? I should probably let them make their own mistakes. If I see their lives as inherently valuable, I should let them be the masters of their own fates. The problem is, with only 302 neurons compared to our 100 billion and eyes much less perceptive than that of humans, it’s not like worms have spectacular foresight or reasoning. That means they chose to leave the safety of the ground without the information that they would probably die by leaving. And yet, I am convinced that if they knew, they would stay on top of the grass as a compromise, or stay near the edge of the wet sidewalk, or prepare in advance to prevent this tragedy in the first place.

The dilemma is if my intervention is aiding the worm with my “superior” judgment, or if it is basically sentencing the worm to a different fate than it set out to seek.

Since I know better, is it my duty to save them? Would they want to be helped? Should it matter whether or not they want it? If I can so freely strip a worm of its free will and agency, why do I value its life to this extent?

I don’t know. Maybe I’m thinking too much; they are just worms, after all. Low intelligence beings. Just single organisms among their vast populations. Easily replaceable.

Unlikely missed.

I sometimes even wonder if, when seeing a worm that has already been trampled by the people walking by, I should stamp the poor thing out and end its misery. If doing this would alleviate its suffering just the slightest bit, and help bring about a timeline resulting in the least amount of unnecessary suffering.

And yet, I pray that if I frantically throw myself in harm’s way, someone would come along to help me out. Even if I don’t see it for what it is at the time, and even if it traps me in this life of pain.

This is an introduction to the character Confidant, who has not been depicted so far. We will be releasing related scenes and content soon!

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A Page From Her Journal – Worms on the Sidewalk

I have a Liszt number of 5!

You are probably curious about what the hell the title means.

Well, let me tell you a few facts about myself:

  • My piano teacher, a professional conductor based in Montreal, studied at the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal under many accomplished teachers;
  • One of his teachers studied with Claudio Arrau, the world-reknown interpreter of Beethoven and Chopin;
  • Arrau studied with Martin Krause, a pupil of Franz Liszt;
  • Liszt studied with Czerny, who studied with the one and only Beethoven, who studied with Haydn.

This means that I can trace my “pianistic family tree” all the way back to Joseph Haydn.

Impressed? If so, the goal of this post is to inform you.

In the mathematics community, the “Erdős number” represents the “collaborative distance” between the legendary mathematician Paul Erdős and another person, as measured by joint authorship of mathematical papers.

Think of it as a game with these rules:

  1. Paul Erdős gets an Erdős number of 0 (the smallest Erdős number and the only one of its kind, since only one person is Erdős);
  2. Everyone who co-authored a paper with another person who already has an Erdős number gains that number for themselves and adds 1 to it.

This means that Erdős has an Erdős number of 0, all of the collaborators on his 1500+ papers has an Erdős number of 1, and the people who collaborate with these people (but not directly with Erdős) get an Erdős number of 2. The idea is that a lower Erdős number means a closer connection to Erdős number, and is an indicator of your mathematical glory. Studies have shown that the median Erdős number of Fields Medalists is 3, and only 7097 (about 5% of mathematicians with a collaboration path) have an Erdős number of 2 or lower. Pretty exclusive club.

(Note that since Paul Erdős is deceased, the lowest Erdős number someone can attain is now 2).

I propose that pianists ought to have their own big dick contest. Namely, the “Liszt number”, measuring one’s pedagogical distance from the great pianist (and the arguably first concert pianist). Here are the rules:

  1. Franz Liszt gets a Liszt number of 0;
  2. Being a music student, music teacher, or family member of someone with a Liszt number earns you that same Liszt number plus 1.
    (This includes theory and counterpoint teachers)

Remember that having this be instead a Czerny or Beethoven number wouldn’t change things very much, since you can always get from Czerny or Beethoven to Liszt in two or less steps.

Let’s look at the Liszt numbers of some important musical figures:
(A list of Liszt numbers.)

  • L. v. Beethoven: 2
    • His student, Czerny, taught Liszt.
  • W. A. Mozart: 3
    • He taught the composer and pianist Hummel, who taught Czerny, who taught Liszt.
    • (Note: this means that Beethoven has a Mozart number of 3.)
  • J. Haydn: 3
    • Taught Beethoven, who has a Liszt number of 2.
  • C. Czerny: 1
    • Taught Liszt.
  • P. Tchaikovsky: 2
    • Taught Alexander Siloti,  a student of Liszt.
  • S. Rachmaninoff: 2
    • Student (and first cousin!) of Siloti.
  • C. Arrau: 2
    • Student of a student of Liszt.

Some fun ones I decided to dig through Wikipedia to discover:

  • Charles Richard-Hamelin (silver medallist at the 2015 International Chopin Competition): 5
    • Student of Boris Berman, who was the student of the first International Chopin Competition winner Lev Oborin, who was the student of Konstantin Igumnov, who was as student of Siloti (who has a Liszt number of 1).

Remember how I traced myself back to Liszt at the start of this post? My Liszt number is 5. Same as Charles Richard-Hamelin’s. (This means I have  Richard-Hamelin number of 10 and he has a Min number of 10.) Must mean I am so good, right?

My dear friends who got to hear me butcher Beethoven’s Appassionata two weeks ago would beg to differ. Sorry, Great-great-great-great-great-grandpa Beethoven </3

Obviously, this crap is pointless.

And yet, I hear this kind of trivia used all the time as a source of pride, or as a way of gaining credibility. An unknowing parent or student would look at a teacher in awe as he dramatically trace his “musical lineage” right back to Beethoven. Except, any informed piano student would realize the sheer number of students that Liszt had would make even the fact that you studied with one of his original students not especially notable (in fact, Liszt was in retrospect a horrible teacher, assigning mindless finger exercises in the style of Czerny and focusing on “finger technique” when he himself didn’t even play like that).

In my specific case: Arrau was known to be a prolific teacher, and so he taught many of the top rising pedagogues of his day. I am not even sure how long my teacher’s teacher studied with Arrau, but I bet he was just one of hundreds of others.

The inverse, of teachers assessing a potential student’s lineage, is perhaps even more egregious: many music teachers keep tabs on the other teachers in the region, and may refuse to take students who previously studied at certain studios out of rivalry or some sort of perceived incompatibility.

You know what you should do, instead of fawn over “pedigree”?

Open your ears and your heart, and lose yourself to the music. The playing says it all. No need to ride the coattails of dead people.

The Erdős-Bacon number is defined as the sum of your Erdős number (connections between you and Erdős via authorship) and your Bacon number (connections between you and Kevin Bacon via film appearances). For example, Carl Sagan has a Erdős-Bacon number of 6 (Erdős number of 4 plus a Bacon number of 2).

I wish to define the Liszt-Gould-Yundi number, which describes the number of connections between me and each of these pianists (Franz Liszt, Glenn Gould, and Yundi Li) summed up.

My Liszt-Gould-Yundi number is 5 + 4 + 3 = 12. Get on my level.

Fun facts!

Marina Mdivani, a professor at McGill’s Schulich School, has a Gilels number of 1 and a Richter number of 3.

Lang Lang has a Schoenberg number of 3. He also has a Liszt number of 7 (hint: Lang Lang’s Rachmaninoff number is 5. Try looking on Wikipedia), as well as a Min number of 12.

I have a Vladimir Ashkenazy number of at most 9, and a Yin Chengzong number of 3. Both of these guys placed in the same International Tchaikovsky Competition. The latter was the arranger for the Yellow River Concerto.

S u ch   g o o d   l i n e a g e   s o   g o o d

I have a Liszt number of 5!

Just submitted a final essay to one of the best professors I ever had

Final essay about Chopin’s Ballade no. 1 and Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata


Hello Prof. [redacted],

I just submitted my final essay on myCourses. I will also attach a copy here.
Thank you so much for an amazing course. I learned a lot and became a much more conscious musician through thinking about the how’s and why’s of music. I hope to be able to take more of your courses in the future.
I also feel the need to apologize for my lack of class participation nearing the end of the semester. I understand that this was not proper conduct for a diligent student, and I will make sure to not let personal issues impede me from properly completing ongoing commitments and responsibilities. Related to this, I am very thankful for the talk we had the other day, even though I feel like it was mostly me ranting about my frustrations.
I wish you all the best in the future. You were the best theory instructor I ever had, and among the most inspiring teachers I have had across any subject. I am indebted to you for your great service of teaching, both in the classroom and out.
Tim Min
Just submitted a final essay to one of the best professors I ever had