Monthly Archives: December 2014

Rational Relationships: The Motte-and-Bailey Doctrine


The motte-and-bailey doctrine is a concept created by Nicholas Shackel as a critique of post-moderism. I was introduced to it through Slate Star Codex

The writers of the paper compare this to a form of medieval castle, where there would be a field of desirable and economically productive land called a bailey, and a big ugly tower in the middle called the motte. If you were a medieval lord, you would do most of your economic activity in the bailey and get rich. If an enemy approached, you would retreat to the motte and rain down arrows on the enemy until they gave up and went away. Then you would go back to the bailey, which is the place you wanted to be all along.

So the motte-and-bailey doctrine is when you make a bold, controversial statement. Then when somebody challenges you, you claim you were just making an obvious, uncontroversial statement, so you are clearly right and they are silly for challenging you. Then when the argument is over you go back to making the bold, controversial statement.

An example:

The religious group that acts for all the world like God is a supernatural creator who builds universes, creates people out of other people’s ribs, parts seas, and heals the sick when asked very nicely (bailey). Then when atheists come around and say maybe there’s no God, the religious group objects “But God is just another name for the beauty and order in the Universe! You’re not denying that there’s beauty and order in the Universe, are you?” (motte). Then when the atheists go away they get back to making people out of other people’s ribs and stuff.

SSC give several more examples, which are very helpful if you’re not quite getting the concept. To me, it refers to a situation where your position is not easily defended, so you retreat to a stronger position when challenged. Then, after the challenge is over, you go back to the weaker position.

We do this all of the time in relationships. The most common area I see this in is STI risk. STI’s are a real danger, and taking precautions against STI’s is an extremely defensible position. “What?! I just want to be safe” is the motte. The bailey ends up being all kinds of emotional needs, accommodating jealousy, or soft veto power. There is almost no restriction that one could put on a partner that could not be somehow justified by pointing at STI risk. Want veto power (bailey)? Just say you don’t trust the other person’s sexual safety (motte). Want to cut your partner’s dating pool significantly (bailey)? Insist that all partners receive extensive STI testing every six months (motte). Want to be the only person who gets to do kink with your partner (bailey)? Point out that it’s riskier from a sexual health perspective, and say you’re not comfortable with that risk level (motte).

It can also be used with other legitimate concerns. Don’t want your partner to stay overnight with other partners (bailey)? Claim that you can’t sleep alone (motte). Want to limit the amount of time your partner can spend away from home (bailey)? Come up with a household duty schedule that conveniently requires your partner to be home most of the time (motte). Want to make sure your partner stays closeted (bailey)? Say that your boss is a total bigot and would fire you if they found out you were poly (motte).

The motte-and-bailey doctrine is so dangerous precisely because the “motte” positions are really good reasons. It’s totally legit to want to minimize your STI risks, and communicating that to a partner is something we should all do! Some people can’t sleep alone! Some people have terrible bosses! There is no way to tell the difference between when someone has an honest issue and when someone is just trying to control their partner.

Worse, we can even fool ourselves with motte-and-bailey thinking. Human motivation is complicated, and there are often multiple reasons motivating us for a single action or position. Often, when examining our motivations, we will seize on the most palatable motivation and ignore the others. So it’s possible that we can have legitimate fears about STI’s, but weigh those fears more heavily because we have unaddressed insecurities which motivate us to control our partner(s). Our fears about coming out may be less about getting fired and more about wanting to avoid conflict or awkwardness with our friends.

The only real solution is to rigorously examine and communicate our motivations, which can be incredibly demanding and difficult. It’s not easy to sort out your primary motivation from numerous contenders. The key question is this: but for your stated reason, would you be comfortable with the behavior at issue? For example, if there was no risk of STI’s, would you be ok with your partner dating promiscuous people? If your job was safe, would you have any objection to coming out? If you would still object, then your stated reason is not your actual reason.

Knowing and admitting our motivations is a key step toward personal growth, and the growth of a relationship. We must always be vigilant that our motivations are what we think.


Rational Relationships: The Sunk Cost Fallacy

“We must do whatever it takes to justify what we’ve already done” – Stephen Colbert

The sunk cost fallacy is one of my favorite concepts. I first encountered it in business school. In the business word, “sunk costs” are any past costs that cannot be regained. The sunk costs fallacy describes an occurrence whereby managers will overvalue a project based on the sunk costs invested in it, rather than the prospective future gains.

A simple example is buying a stock. If you pay $1000 for ten shares of stock, that $1000 is a sunk cost. The current value of the stock is independent of the price that you paid for it. The only way to accurately value the stock is to determine its price at the current moment or to attempt to estimate its future value. However, if the market will currently pay only $900 for your ten shares, then there is psychological pressure on you to continue to think of your stock as worth $1000, even if its actual value is less than that.

The sunk cost fallacy comes from people’s natural tendency toward loss aversion. For almost everyone, the pain of receiving something and then losing it is greater than never having it in the first place. In other words, we tend to feel losses more strongly than we feel corresponding gains. Because of this, we tend to try to avoid losses more than we try to pursue gains. The sunk cost fallacy is a result of loss aversion, because we tend not to see sunk costs as “losses” until we dispose of the object paid for. When you buy those shares of stock, you have lost $1000, but it doesn’t feel like you’ve lost $1000 because you’ve simultaneously gained a stock that’s valued at $1000. If the price of the stock drops to $900, you’ve lost the equivalent of $100, but it doesn’t feel that way unless you sell the stock. If you sell the stock for $900, you’ve gained $900, but it feels like a loss of $100. This is the feeling that enables the sunk cost fallacy.

This is a problem for business people. Let’s say my company decides to research a new widget, incurs substantial R&D costs, and tasks me with the decision whether to introduce the widget into the market. There is a temptation to see the large amount of R&D put into the widget and conclude that the widget will be profitable and we should launch it. However, the amount of R&D spent has no bearing on whether there is sufficient demand for the widget. If I actually relied on the sunk costs to make my decision, it would be a disaster. Profitability depends on demand, production costs, overhead, advertising, and a whole host of other factors, none of which are sunk costs. Sunk costs are completely irrelevant to the value of the widget.

The sunk cost fallacy is that little voice that encourages us to finish the book once we’ve read half of it and decided that we don’t like it. It’s what keeps us driving the wrong direction rather than turn around (literally and figuratively). It’s what keep us using the fancy $150 universal remote long after it’s apparent that the cheap $10 remote is more user-friendly and useful.

It’s also what keeps us in bad relationships. People change. Often, those changes will result in formerly good partners no longer being good matches for each other. In those circumstances, it’s best that couples break up or transition to some other form of relationship. It is often the case, though, that couples will look at their history and conclude that too much time, effort, and energy has been invested in the relationship to end it.

This is a mistake. There are certainly plenty of reasons why long-standing partners might not want to break up. Their experience with each other may show them that they are only in a temporary rough patch. Their lives may be so entangled that leaving the relationship would be incredibly painful. Their issues may just not be as bad as they seem.

But it’s a mistake to think that the amount of investment in a relationship automatically adds value to that relationship. It doesn’t. The value of the relationship consists of what is happening in the present and in the future. The past is done. The past is useful in predicting the future, but the past by itself doesn’t actually add any value. The length of a relationship or the amount of effort put into a relationship doesn’t actually add value. If it’s clear that a relationship won’t serve you in the future, your previous investment in the relationship won’t change that.

Rationally evaluating our relationships requires acknowledging that their value is derived only from our reasonable future expectations. Sunk costs are unrecoverable.

Adventures in Therapy: Hulk SMASH

As you recall, I decided to try adding Wellbutrin to my brain meds to see if I could deal with some increased depression I had been experiencing.  The first couple of days were me being kind of high and feeling a little jumpy.  Then I stopped feeling those ways and waited for the actual effects of the drug to take place.

After a few weeks, I wasn’t really feeling any better but was still giving it a shot thinking that  it might change OR that the dose I was on was too low and that I would get it increased this week.  However, on Friday night I decided that I was going to stop taking the Wellbutrin because I finally noticed an important correlation between taking the drug and getting pissed off all the time.

See, I noticed that I not only felt a little more depressed, but also that the depression was now combined with simmering frustration and anger.  This is a pretty nasty combo because if it is due to meds, it could be lying and this combo tends to make you really question your life decisions.  The depression makes you feel despair and the anger makes you want to rashly do something about it, regardless of the facts.

At least, this has been my experience.  I know I’ve said this a bunch of times, but it bears repeating: mental disorders like depression lie because the chemicals in your brain change your perception of reality.  Medications change the cocktail in the brain.  If you get the right thing, it raises or lowers the offending chemical to improve your outlook and ability to cope.  If you get the wrong thing, it can drive you further into the hole.  Depression lies and medication can lie too.

As I’ve mentioned, it helps me a great deal to think about my mental health in terms of chemistry and this has been no different.  But I don’t always notice the overall trend right away.  After two weeks of being on Wellbutrin, I found myself getting really frustrated over small things.  There were then enough small things that I concocted an entire tale of woe that was about how I’m in the wrong job, wrong house, and wrong part of the country.  I was constantly screaming in my head that SOMETHING NEEDS TO CHANGE!  I would stomp around about trashcans being left out after trash day.  I would be fine and then would become frustrated for no real reason.

angry hulk

At some point I started communicating out loud that I was frustrated or angry and that it wasn’t making sense to me.  While out with Wes and Amber on Friday night, I said a few times, “Ugh, I’m just angry all the time.”  Wes said I was like Bruce Banner in The Avengers when he was like, “my secret is that I’m angry all of the time.”  It was relevant because despite being generally more angry and short tempered than usual, I was doing a relatively good job not taking it out on everyone, except when I failed to do that.  I was isolating myself more and was thinking that becoming a hermit in the woods was once again a good plan for me. By the time I got home that night, I was smoldering over nothing and finally remembered some of the message boards I read when deciding to try out Wellbutrin.  A lot of people said it was great but a significant number of people reported having trouble with rage while on it.  Finally this thought crept into my mind and I put it together.

After reading about how best to decrease the dose, I saw that generally a doctor will have you decrease it 100-150 mg a week.  Since I was only at 150 mg, I figured it would be safe to just stop taking it.

The difference after a couple of days of not taking it has been impressive.  That smoldering rage has left and little things haven’t been getting to me.  Our bodies are so whacky and fascinating!

I’m happy that it didn’t get worse and that I didn’t do anything rash like quitting my job, moving out and revisiting my old barista career.  I’m glad I have patient people around me who trust me to get through these strange changes in my mental weather and support me in trying to get down to the bottom of what’s going on with me and help me figure out what’s internal and what’s external.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do next.  After stopping the Wellbutrin, I feel better than I did before I began.  It still might be time to up my dose of Zoloft to get the best benefits, but I’m not super worried anymore.  Keep moving forward, right?  Right.

bruce banner

Wherein I Talk Too Much about Art Supplies

When struggling with physical and mental illness, work and home frustrations, and still healing from the difficulty whirlwind that has been 2014, it’s good to stop and take notice of little bright spots when you can. Don’t get me wrong, there have been plenty of bright spots in the year, but now that winter is setting in and darkness arrives each day so much earlier, struggles are often amplified and it’s important to give yourself a break from the bleak every now and then.

Really this post is for me to wax poetic about the art supplies I have waiting for me when I get home. I’ve been tracking the shipment and just saw that my stuff has indeed arrived! Oh, how I love thee.

For those of you who don’t know, this year I discovered the wonderful world of high-end markers. I’ve always liked nice pens and markers in general. I doodle a lot and as any “serious” doodler knows, satisfying doodling is all about the feel of the pen on the paper, the flow of the ink, and the boldness of the color. I was, however, only acquainted with the likes of Crayola and Sharpie markers and had largely ignored them as an artistic medium once I hit my teens.

Back then I painted with acrylics and slowly graduated to the optimized dry vs. blendability speed of alkyd oils. I never really dug linseed oils because OMG HOW LONG DO I REALLY WANT TO WAIT FOR THESE THINGS TO DRY?! Then I drifted more towards colored pencils and water soluble crayon. Then I was doing straight up graphite pencil drawing.  Like these:

bowl sweet bowl pitcher plants

Then one day this year, I wandered into Staples.

Staples was having a mega sale and I was able to buy two big sets of multi-colored Sharpies for $20. I started playing with them and realized that markers were the perfect medium for the kind of style I really like. Basically, I like to draw everything in “stained glass” style, with dark outlines and bold solid coloring. I also found that I liked the way shading looked with markers because you could see the gradient as a series of lines. Here’s an example:

A Squid At Home

Within a few weeks, I had filled a sketch book with abstract drawings and had killed many of the Sharpies. As it turns out, Sharpies aren’t really built for heavy ink coverage.

By then I was hooked and decided that I needed to go to the next grade of art markers. This meant grabbing a set of Prismacolor markers. These were definitely way more expensive than Sharpies and they seemed to be worth it. Their colors were super saturated and vibrant. My complaint however is that these markers are expensive and not refillable and don’t last any longer than Sharpies do (for the type of art I do).

And so it was that I went in search of a higher echelon set of markers. Art supplies are one of those categories of materials where you really do get what you pay for. There’s a lot of stuff that I don’t care that much about. If it’s cheap, it’s cheap and I can make it work or I find something that works really well but is lower cost because it lacks a bunch of unnecessary features. But artistic media quality is directly proportional to its price bracket. And that’s how I found out about Copic markers.

I had noticed Copics while on Amazon looking for Prismacolors. The price difference was pretty huge and I wasn’t ready to make that kind of financial commitment. After the Prismacolors died in a disappointingly short time, I decided to look into these fat cat markers and see what all the hub bub was about.

The main advantage that I saw from websites was that Copic markers are refillable. This is huge. Sure, one marker costs $8, but a bottle of refill ink costs $8 and is good for 5 or 6 refills. The nibs on Copic markers are also replaceable. Basically, Copic markers appeared to be a true investment with good returns. To me it looked like the price was about the endurance and longevity possible with them and since this was my number one complaint, I knew that I needed to try them.

So I went and bought myself a $400 set of 72 markers for my birthday. The ink flow is lovely and the colors, while not quite as vibrant as Prismacolor, are quite satisfying. But here’s the most impressive part: I bought those markers in March and use them often and none of them have run out of ink. Talk about quick return on investment!

Now, the longevity of these markers is likely also due, in part, to the paper I use now. Did you know that there is special marker paper? I didn’t until I was farting around on the internet. Marker paper is just absorbent enough for quick drying of the ink, but it doesn’t allow the ink to bleed through. This is likely due to a very high quality clay coating on the paper’s surface and some kind of proprietary method of something or other in the paper fibers. I tried to look it up on the internet and it’s just a bunch of ads for “revolutionary blah blah blah”. But regardless of the possible advertisement smoke and mirrors, marker paper is really fab stuff. Because it doesn’t soak up so much ink, way less ink is required for uniform coverage. I particularly like Bee brand because it has some heft to it. Copic makes a pad too, but the paper is super thin and, while I am impressed that the markers don’t bleed through the stuff, I don’t like how flimsy the sheets are.

In addition to discovering the wonder of Copic markers, I also discovered the awesomeness of paint markers. I have always liked paint markers, but I didn’t really have an application for them in a lot of my work. Or, more to the point, I hadn’t really embraced mixed media yet. But when I started playing with all this stuff, I happened to have a silver metallic solvent-based paint marker and was amazed at how much it added to my pieces.

I went on a hunt for a rainbow of “true metal” looking colors and have been strangely unsuccessful in finding what I want. There are a lot of sets of cheap “metallic” markers that achieve a pastel metallic look using pearlescent pigments in the inks. This is a cheat, really, because metallic = sparkly, right? But it doesn’t. Metallic is shine. Metallic is high reflectance! The pearl markers have their place and are perfect for certain accents, but when I want metallic blue I want it to be ultramarine and look like I could color a Schwinn with it. There is seemingly not a market for “true metallics” other than silver, gold, and copper. I have a “red” one too, but it’s more of a rust color. I, of course, appreciate that because rust is oxidized metal, so the color is at least thematic.  The closest thing I have found recently is this metallic paste that you can rub into paper.  It’s interesting, but I’m still learning what it can do and it seems kind of limited.  Here was my first attempt:

metal tree

OK, so this post really shows that I’ve been working with the printing industry for a long time. I don’t really talk about doing art in flowery ways anymore. It’s been replaced by the practicality of image production. There is plenty of creativity but I generally find talking about the artistic process pretentious and boring (this goes for every kind of art I do, whether it be drawing or acting or playing music). What I really enjoy thinking about is how to physically get different aesthetic results and I really REALLY enjoy seeing how different materials work together. As it turns out, this is quite a large part of my job. Every day, I guide customers through their desired printing/coating process. It’s commonly called technical service, but it could easily be construed as an aesthetic enabling. The best looking/performing print jobs require the optimum combination of appropriate equipment, paper, ink, and coatings and there are just so many options out there that I have learned a ridiculous amount about how to make printed media look good. Apparently, this type of thinking comes home with me every day too.

A few years ago I read Kurt Vonnegut’s Blue Beard, a fictional autobiography of an abstract expressionist who hit his stride in the 60’s. There’s a lot of great stuff in the book but one of my favorite parts is about the artist using a new brand of paint for a whole series of huge paintings. Something was wrong with the paint though and after just a few weeks, all of the paint on the canvases was bubbling and flaking off. I always enjoy when the scientific reality of art is highlighted. Art oft becomes science and science oft become art.

Anyway, as I said at the beginning of this thing, I ordered some stuff from and it’s totally waiting for me on the porch. What did I get? Thanks for asking! I got a fancy case/binder thing that can hold all of my markers and also a sketch pad. It seems to be compact and has a SHOULDER STRAP. I’m excited about this because it allows me to keep everything in one place and should be compressed enough for me to more easily bring the whole shebang traveling with me. Do you know how hard it is to just pick a few colors to take with you when you have a whole 72 to choose from? I also got a few metallic acrylic paint markers (blue, green, and black) in a brand I haven’t tried before. I also got a smaller pad of Bee brand marker paper (to fit in my case thingy!) and a totally different kind of paper called Graffiti paper. Apparently, it is made to accept all sorts of media include, as the name suggests, spray paint and such. I am looking forward to seeing what it’s like. There is little that is more fun to me than nerding out over art materials.

So…there’s a review of some things. It’s true that I’ve been having a bit of a hard time lately, but I keep trying to find ways to cut through it. Good tools and creation of art that doesn’t require an audience to enjoy are good ways. Sure, I like showing my art off, but it’s one of the few things I do where the process of creating is more satisfying than the “public” reaction.

Is it time to go yet? I’d like to art please!