The Inverse Bechdel Test

Female psychology and fiction: Thoughts inspired by (the first 53 pages of) A Darker Shade of Magic, by Victoria Schwab.

I’m a dimension-hopping wizard. You’d think the author would be able to do something interesting with me.

This novel suffers from a common problem with its beginning.

1) The problem: Not much happens in the first 53 pages, where I paused to record these thoughts. E.g., the opening scene has the magician Holland conversing with a prince. But we don’t hear much of the conversation and it’s not enough to pique our interest. Worse, the initial conversation between another magician, Kell, and a King doesn’t realize its promise. When Kell delivers a letter from a monarch in one universe to a monarch in another, we expect some earth-shaking development that will precipitate the story: A declaration of war or something. Instead, we get a polite inquiry about the recipient’s health: The royal equivalent of “Howya doin?! Arite, check ya later!” Huh? Something should have happened there. Fifty-three pages in, almost nothing has happened.

2) Why does this problem occur? Note: The first 53 pages are almost 100% super-alpha males – kings, princes, and powerful magicians – and almost 100% of their “screen time” is them talking to other super-alpha males. Of course alpha males, especially super-alphas like kings and princes, are intrinsically fascinating from a female point of view. But from a male point of view, well, no.

In the funniest example of this problem, a prince (super-alpha) discusses his birthday party plans with his parents (King (super-alpha) and Queen) and brother (powerful magician and adopted prince; super-alpha). To a male reader, this is like some accountants planning a birthday party. Maybe the author and her female readers are rapt, because ALPHA MALES!!! But this male reader, and I imagine most male readers, are thinking, “Planning a birthday party? Why are we being shown this?”

In fact, this scene is actually two entirely different scenes, depending on the audience. For the (female) author and female readers, the scene is OH MY GOD, SUPER-ALPHAS!!! For a male reader, the scene is some accountants talking about a birthday party.

There’s nothing wrong with women being attracted to alpha men, any more than there’s something wrong with men being attracted to young, beautiful women. But if a novel is intended for both sexes – as opposed to being romance porn for women – it should not contain scenes like the above. I’m not objecting to porn, I’m just saying, sort out your goals and intended audience before you start writing.

All of this leads me to propose, for female writers, an analogue of the Bechdel Test (the test feminists use to assess female roles in fiction). The Inverse Bechdel Test is:

Would a scene that features men be equally interesting if the men were all accountants?

If not, you might be letting female sexual preoccupations overwhelm your authorial professionalism. Honestly ask yourself whether the scene should be there.

Index page for my Red Pill in Fiction posts:


The Mind Cannot Foresee Its Own Advance

There’s a proposition that if you’re rational, the future evolution of your beliefs is unpredictable to you.

This is relevant to everything, including, importantly, politics.

It’s easy to explain why it’s true:

Suppose you’re rational. Then anything that is predictable based on your current information, you have predicted. (Presumably you weren’t shocked when the sun rose this morning.) In other words, predictable events are already incorporated into your beliefs.

It follows that the only thing left to change your beliefs over time is new data that wasn’t predictable.

That immediately implies that if you’re rational, the future evolution of your beliefs over time is unpredictable to you.

(Thus the title of this post, a quote from economist and political philosopher Friedrich Hayek.)

Contrapositive: If you can predict the future evolution of your beliefs, you’re not rational.

The implications are kind of astounding.

For one thing, there’s an old notion that “social advancement” is objectively assessable, and we can predict how society’s views will evolve as society becomes more advanced. We do this by looking at the recent direction of changes in our beliefs, and inferring that in the future, they will continue to change in the same direction.

WROOOOOONG! (Insert grating buzzer sound here.)

If you’re thinking this way, you haven’t really understood your own notion of what it means to be advanced, if your notion of “advanced” involves rationality.

E.g., suppose in 1933 everyone had said, “Hey, we just repealed Prohibition! So obviously what a more advanced society than us would do, would be to go further in the same direction and FORCE everyone to drink alcohol!”

Ah, not so much, no.

While that example is fanciful, try this one:
In the past, it was illegal in some areas to wear the clothes of the opposite sex. Now we’ve gotten rid of those laws, and some seem to think a straight-line extrapolation of that change implies that the next, more advanced step is to fine businesses for calling a woman a woman. Apart from the question of whether this is really a straight-line extrapolation of anything, that’s not the way to forecast society’s more advanced beliefs anyway.

Actually, if you’re rational, the path of your beliefs through belief space will be what’s called a random walk, or, more poetically, a drunken walk. That means that for your beliefs to change in any direction is equally likely, in an expected value sense. It won’t be a continuation of their past direction (except by coincidence).

See the link above for what a random walk looks like.

It looks like chaos.

This isn’t saying reality won’t be like the past – you can expect that Earth’s gravity will be tomorrow what it is today – it’s saying your beliefs’ future trend won’t necessarily be like their recent trend. In other words, if you revised your estimate of Earth’s gravity upward today, you can’t conclude that you’re probably going to revise it upward again tomorrow.

It’s easy to see why this has to be the case. Otherwise you’d say something like this:

“I currently believe Earth’s surface gravity is 9.81 meters per second per second, but I expect to receive new information tomorrow which will make me believe that it’s 9.82 meters per second per second.” That would be fucktarded, in technical terms. Obviously if you really anticipated that, then your current belief is that it’s 9.82!

An implication: If you’re not perpetually surprised by the changes in your own beliefs over time, you’re doing something wrong intellectually.

If you’re rational, every now and then the change to your beliefs will be very large. Some propositions that seem outrageous to you today will seem indisputable to you some number of years from now.

Sweet Troll Job!

This is one of the best troll jobs I can recall. (Via xenosystems December 2016). The only other contenders are trolling Hillary What’s-her-face into attacking Pepe on her campaign web site (“That cartoon frog is more sinister than you may realize”) and Godfrey Elfwick (Winner, Best Overall Body of Work).

To get the flavor of it, you have to read the comments, which are simply epic in their trolling trollyness. Whoever triggered the dorkwads at Columbia with this pamphlet is possibly the Grand High Ascended Master of Troll-Heim.