The Whippet #99: Values only mean anything when they’re in conflict


Good morning!

I’ve been thinking a lot about values recently. I mean things like justice, peace, loyalty, family, courage, etc. etc. I think it’s super important to understand your values, to make good decisions for yourself and for the world, but it’s also easy for those values words to replace thinking. You can use the word in a sentence without really having to think through the ramifications of what it means in terms of actions in the real world.

The main thing to know is that values only mean anything when they’re in conflict.

Almost every aggressive dictator on the planet values peace, for example - what matters is how they prioritise it. What do they value more than peace, enough to trade peace in for? What do they value less than peace, enough to sacrifice in order to get peace? Your average warmonger genuinely wants peace, but not as much as they want the natural resources of the country they’re invading. In their ideal scenario, the other country would just capitulate and give them the resources. Peace and resources, perfect! But assuming that doesn’t happen, which value gets sacrificed?

So yeah, literally ignore anyone who tells you they value anything, unless you know how they rank it among other values.

Out-of-context (unranked, unprioritised) values are also easy to weaponise. Abusive people do this all the time.

Let’s say I stole your bike. You watched me boltcutter the lock and I’m literally standing there with my hands on the handlebars.
You: “Hey that’s my bike! Give it back!”
Me: “It’s my bike. I’ve had it for years.”
You: “I just watched you cut the lock!”
Me: “Well, let’s just agree to disagree.”
You: “I do not agree to disagree! It’s my bike!”
Me: “Sorry, I don’t really like arguing.”
You: “I don’t like arguing, I’m having a very unpleasant time right now, I just want my bike back.”

Now you’re the unreasonable one, the one who won’t just agree to disagree, who just likes arguing and drama.

I could go further - maybe the bike only cost you $40. I could portray you as petty, as caring more about $40 than you care about our friendship. What you actually value in this situation is justice and truth - that’s why you’re so angry. But I could portray it as you valuing money and drama, while I value friendship and harmony.

(This example is more or less what the slogan “no justice, no peace” means by the way - you can’t harm someone then say “okay time for peace now!” when they get mad, it’s like a grown adult expecting “pinch and a punch for the first of the month no returns” to work.*)

More on clear thinking about values in the next issue, it turns out this is a big topic.

Sidenote for writers: an easy character arc hack is to give a writer two values and then think of a scenario that forces them to choose which one they rank higher.



* Okay google tells me this is a Commonwealth countries-only thing? Other readers: You know how little kids always have games that are basically just an excuse to hit each other? One in the UK, Australia, South Africa, etc. is that on the first day of the month you can punch and pinch someone and say “pinch and a punch for the first of the month”. And they can say “a kick and a flick for being so quick” (while kicking and flicking you) UNLESS you said “no returns” fast enough. This is fine for kids (I guess??) but if an adult ever hit you then said “no returns!!” you would not consider it a reasonable or binding agreement. Adults have to actually apologise and make amends.

Australia’s nocturnal parrot can’t actually see in the dark; keeps flying into fences

Honestly that’s the whole story. [Source.]

There’s only two species of Night Parrot in the world, they’re rare and also extremely reclusive. They were thought to be extinct, and the Wikipedia page has a list of sightings with 11 entries on it. Bigfoot has more sightings than that.

They only found out it can’t actually see very well because researchers found a dead parrot (add your own youtube link here if you must) and were able to dissect it and look at its eye shape and number of rods and cones and so on. Also because it had died by flying into a barbed wire fence. Lotta sympathy for this guy. Just a real rubisco of a parrot.

[Rubisco: the world’s most incompetent enzyme. Written about in Issue #74, first article after the intro.]


Lioconcha hieroglyphica

Rune mollusc!

My partner recently had to design a bunch of runes because he’s making a videogame about being a cute wizard, and he was correctly jealous of how skilled this mollusc is. Hire the mollusc!!

Learn the language of the mollusc. Protect the secrets of the mollusc.


Upsetting sugar


It’s the most upset you’ll be by something that’s totally fine and unproblematic! You can actually see a skull form at the 25-second mark.

Chemical explanation at wikipedia.


Underground Danish poet wrote coded anti-Nazi poems

In the 1940s, Danish engineer Piet Hein anonymously wrote thousands of short aphorism poems he called ‘grooks’.

For example:

TIMING TOAST

There’s an art of knowing when.
Never try to guess.
Toast until it smokes and then
twenty seconds less.

MY FAITH IN DOCTORS

My faith in doctors
is immense.
Just one thing spoils it:
their pretence
of authorised
omniscience.

CONSOLATION GROOK

Losing one glove
is certainly painful,
but nothing
compared to the pain,
of losing one,
throwing away the other,
and finding
the first one again.

They’re charming and seem like they were fun to write, there’s a tonne here.

But many of them were also meant to communicate messages to the Danish populace. For example, Consolation Grook was a plea not to collaborate with Nazis - afterwards, when we’re free again, you’ll regret what you gave up.

Also charmed by his gift for understatement here:

Piet Hein was president of the Anti-Nazi Union when the Germans invaded Denmark. “That was not the best thing to be on April 9, 1940 ,” he said.

[Source: LIFE Magazine 1966]


The Whippet on Cool Tools

Well, me, McKinley, on Cool Tools. I was interviewed by Kevin Kelly and Mark Frauenfelder for their Cool Tools podcast, talking about four tools that I use and love in my work and life. It’s only half an hour, because I talk fast!

There’s also an accompanying blog post, if you’re more of a ‘read’ than a ‘listen’ person.

Read and/or listen here.

If you like the premise (creators talking about the tools, software, quest items, etc that they use) - and you probably already know if that’s the kind of thing you like - the podcast in general is a great listen. Interesting conversations with interested people.

Unsolicited Advice: Expect a dopamine crash after an accomplishment

JesseDisasters on twitter asked a question about Dungeons & Dragons. The DM/GM is the sort of host/emcee and they roleplay a lot of the characters:

Hey DMs. You ever get like.. sad? Like immediately following a session? A few of my other DM buddies have relayed this to me, and I can totally relate. There’s this feeling that people were bored, or they thought the session was stupid. Regardless how many words of affirmation my party sends my way, I’m continually second guessing the quality of the content, my own delivery, and the consistency of my judgements. It usually goes away after a few hours, but that DNDepression is real, man.

Ash McCallan replied:

After high energy social engagement, especially one where youre performing, such as GMing or streaming, youll usually get a mood drop when coming "off stage" because of dropping adrenaline & dopamine levels. Know that it will happen & prepare aftercare. Water, chocolate, comfort.

Remembering that a mood crash doesn’t usually feel like something in you is changing, it feels like the external world is changing: neighbours make more annoying sounds, people are more rude, your writing is worse, etc etc.

I was shook by this because I experience it but had never learned to expect it or predict it. Last fortnight after I sent out The Whippet, my friend Peter said “Great whippet McKinley!” and I was like “oh good! I was worried about this issue, I felt like it was a bit flat.” And he said: “You say that literally every issue.” Which I hadn’t realised, but he has the chat logs to prove it.

So: I think this probably happens to other people too, after you’ve succeeded at something. It’s not quite the same as anxiety - you know, like you had a job interview and you pick over all the possible mistakes you might have made. That’s a real but separate thing. It’s noticeable when it’s some kind of achievement that isn’t a test, there’s nothing to worry about, but your whole mood drops suddenly for a few hours. And your emotions might not be related to the success, you just might feel really sad and hopeless about everything for a little while.

If you think this happens to you, start predicting it, not expecting anything of yourself for those few hours, and as Ash says, prepping aftercare.


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