The Moral Of The Story

by Scott Alexander 3y18th Oct 20164 min read2 comments

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[content warning: puns. This is mostly self-plagiarism from my Tumblr and Twitter]

Once upon a time there was a small desert village with a single well outside town. One day a young woman went to the well to fetch water, and the well heard her crying, and asked “What’s wrong?”

She stopped her sobbing and asked the well “You can talk?”

“Yes,” said the well. “Long ago, the witch who lives in this town gave me life so I could serve as a guardian to the townspeople.”

“Alas,” said the young woman. “I am the daughter of that witch. She lived in peace with the townsfolk for many years. But the new mayor, who is a violent and hateful man, riled the people up against her, and they burned her at the stake. I am young and still do not know very much magic. I tried to curse them, but my curses fizzled. Now I worry I will never avenge my mother’s death.”

“Do not be afraid,” said the well. “I will take care of this.”

The next morning, when the Mayor came to fetch water from the well, he heard an odd noise coming from the bottom. He peered over as far as he could to see what was happening. Then an impossibly long arm shot up from the bottom of the well, grabbed the mayor, and pulled him into the well shaft. There was a horrible crunching sound, and nobody ever saw the Mayor again. The townsfolk apologized to the witch’s daughter, and they all lived happily ever after.

Moral of the story: Living well is the best revenge.


Pixar’s movie Up won the Academy Award for “Best Picture” and was widely hailed as one of the best children’s films of the decade. In fact, some people argued it was too good, and that kids were ignoring school, chores, and other responsibilities to watch it again and again. They said that along with the cute plot, the short, catchy name gave it an almost drug-like addictive quality. This made a lot of people very angry, and Pixar agreed to give its addictive must-watch movies longer names in the future.

Moral of the story: Do not call Up what you cannot put down.


There’s a new report out of CERN that a team of scientists has unraveled the structure of the photon. Apparently this started years ago when some equations showed that photons acted like tiny “hands” – structures with a “palm” and radiating “fingers” – which “crawl” across time/space and “grab” the solid particles they interact with. This explained most of the properties of light but wasn’t an exact match for the data. The latest result is that single photons are actually made up of hundreds of these shapes, all joined together into a single particle, and this is how they’re able to travel so quickly.

Moral of the story: Many hands make light work.


Once upon a time there was an ugly duckling. All of the other ducklings had grown their beautiful white soft downy feathers, but this duckling had no down feathers at all and was bald and ugly and all the other ducklings teased him.

He went to the mysterious crow who lived in the woods and asked for help. The crow said to repeat the magic words “HOCUS POCUS” at midnight with a full moon, and then he would grow his down feathers. The duckling tried that, but the moon just laughed at him and said the magic had no power here.

So he went to the creepy raven who lived in the swamp and asked for help. The raven said to repeat the magic words “ABRA CADABRA” at high noon on a sunny day, and then he would grow his down feathers. The duckling tried that, but the sun just laughed at him and said he wasn’t bound by the magic.

So he went to the wise old owl who lived in the tallest tree and asked for help. The owl explained that the duckling should just ignore the mockery of the other birds and accept that he was okay just the way he was, because there were no magic spells to make ducklings grow feathers.

Moral of the story: You are beautiful, no matter what they say. Words can’t bring you down.


Once upon a time a young lady died and went to Hell. At the check-in desk, Satan asked her age. She was in her twenties, but looked much younger; she thought quick and realized that even in Hell, they probably wouldn’t be mean to children. So she told Satan that she was twelve, and sure enough he said she wasn’t old enough to be held accountable for her sins, and ushered her off to a more peaceful part of Hell reserved for ages eleven through thirteen. She met the other sinners there and realized that many of them, like her, were older people who had lied to get out of their punishment.

Satan began to suspect something like this was going on, so he set up hidden cameras in the 11-13 wing of Hell, trying to catch people acting like adults or admitting to one another that they had lied about their age. But there were hundreds of millions of sinners and Satan couldn’t monitor all the cameras himself. So he went up to the mortal world and asked for the best supercomputer they had. The mortals recommended a newer model of Deep Blue, the supercomputer that had first beaten a human world champion at chess. Satan picked one up from IBM and went back to Hell, where he programmed the Deep Blue to monitor all of the hidden camera feeds at once and report any suspicious activity.

Sure enough, after a few days, he got thousands of reports of people acting older than thirteen. He hunted them down and removed them to Hell proper, where there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. And it all could have been avoided if they had just stuck to their charade and acted as young as they said they were.

Moral of the story: Don’t get caught, be tween – the Devil and the Deep Blue see.


By 2050, screens have shrunk and become more flexible until the dream of “programmable paper” becomes a reality. Citizens of the future read newspapers like the ones in Harry Potter that include moving images and even videos of important events. This new technology even makes it as far as the US Post Office, where they decide to include programmable stamps. Instead of a static picture of eg George Washington’s head, it will have a moving image of Washington speaking and giving his famous Farewell Address.

Unfortunately, the technology isn’t ready for the kind of abuse that envelopes undergo on their travel throughout the country and the world. Most of the computerized stamps become corrupted and “crash”; in a particularly common bug, they try to reload but just end up displaying “GENERATING IMAGE…” permanently. The government has no money to fix the problem, so people just get used to stamps on their letters that say “GENERATING IMAGE…” instead of having interesting pictures on them.

Moral of the story: If you want a vision of the future, imagine a human face booting on a stamp forever.

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