Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.

Cultivate someone with an earnest and heartfelt interest in fishing, until he learns how to grow his own skills and teach himself... and you can probably feed at least 12 people.

Which just might finally allow the other 11 to specialize into something more appealing to them than subsistence fishing.

Okay, a lot of this commentary hit "sideways." Let me see if I can unpack some of this.


A lot of what's missing is meditation.

TL;DR: It's a meditation metaphor movie, with some heavily Eastern themes and symbology.

I'm about 99% sure that at its thematic core, it's an "enlightenment/meditation metaphor" movie. I thought it does a really good job at being that, but that part is understandably not going to hit with everyone.

Did you notice that the damn circle has at least 3 different meanings or references, which all tie in neatly with each other? One of the major ones, that I think some people are likely to miss, is Ensō.

Ensō has a pile of deep associations and meanings in Zen, many of which they also touch on in other places in the movie. I thought they unpacked that symbol pretty masterfully, and that was pretty central to my enjoyment and understanding of the movie. However, it is something I expect a lot of western audiences to miss completely.

(I have not found a good extensive commentary to link, that unpacks this to my satisfaction. But this guy on twitter seems to get it.)

...on the art level, it also struck me as pretty chaotic. It's a flashy fighting movie, a family comedy, some cringe humor, a bit of an art movie... put it down for "a little of everything," really?

If I'd missed the theme, or God Forbid, if I had mostly tried to assess its merits in terms of how often she's making sensible or strategic goal-directed moves? The movie probably would have landed more as loud silly nonsense.

Some people like loud silly nonsense! I don't think I would have found just the loud silly nonsense all that compelling, though.

This one came with a really strong core theme, that I do think you missed or misunderstood.


Everything Else.

"The violence is pointless": The violence being pointless, is actually part of the point. While it's used to generate some initial attention and interest (...in people who find that interesting for some reason), the violence is also deliberately pointless, and the protagonist is supposed to slowly realize this and grow out of it.

(...however, the movie did handle grief with less maturity than a 5-year-old, basically by just ignoring it. I have no idea why! Maybe they really didn't want to slow the movie down? Bleh, even that reason doesn't feel entirely compelling to me, and it did undercut the movie for me a bit.)

"Weirdly NON-attention-getting": I'm pretty sure that the late stages of the movie are actively trying to be held in broad/diffuse attention, not single-point laser-attention. I think so, anyway?

This is kinda part of its whole deal as a "meditation metaphor" movie. Also ties in with its commentary on "looking around, even when what's immediately in front of you seems extremely urgent," as echoed in stuff like looking up from the circled receipt.

If that diffuse state-of-mind is uncomfortable or somnolent for you? You are not alone in that! It's a pretty common sentiment, actually. There are a whole lot of people who complain about finding parts of meditation uncomfortable or sleep-inducing, especially when it gets to the "broad/diffuse attention" step.

(...although this doesn't necessarily rule out that you found the movie boring for unintended reasons, though! To which, shrug it's cool if you didn't like it.)

Just distilling some relevant intuitions:

(This is all me thinking about the problem, and I make no claim that others will align with me on these.)


  • Typically, clusters of applications are assessed in 1 rung lower time-frames? Some topics get bumped up to same-tier of 1-tier-higher assessment, if assessors feel it advised.
    • ex: 10E4 is scheduled such that one can submit a grant application, do a 10E3 round, and come back to an answer.
      • cont ex: If the grant-making is running late, there are a bunch of 10E2 jobs opened up to help speed finishing it along? (The number of these is tracked, and marked on the 10E3 assessor's record, but this is generally considered better than running late.)
  • Low-order grant-making is mostly fast-turnaround for small amounts of money, and involves a lot of funding-based-on-past-accomplishments. About 1/2 of it gets funded informally by random friends, drawing from built-up social credit.
    • Involves "rant-branch" and "brief-branch" application rounds (about 10x as many are funded through brief-branch). Rant-branch has higher word limits, and slower turn-around.
      • Rant is for "this is a potentially-valuable idea I haven't distilled yet, is it worth putting in additional time to investigate/summarize/distill it?" It's reasonably common for it to get funded to 1 tier higher than the original grant-seeker lodged.
  • Your first round of 10E1s are funded by the state. There are also periodic "jubilees" where everyone gets a free 10E1 (solving starter problems)
  • High-order grant-making is slower in turnaround, and includes a lot of questions about order-of-magnitude and scope-of-problem/scope-of-potential-solution.
    • Writing summary sequences or field-wide Review articles are one potential way higher-order people demonstrate legible competence.
    • Some 1E(x) people spend their lives dedicated to distilling ~1-10 1E(x+1) persons for the sake of 1E(x-1) (sometimes called ghostwriters)

Some even-less-ordered thoughts on this:

  • There's probably some kind of rotating board full of scattered pre-structured 1E1 and 1E2 job listings that people have pre-funded, which fast-turnaround people can pull from if they don't have a unique 1E1 or 1E2 idea themselves.
    • (1E0 might be too small for this? Hm.)
    • Similarly, 1E2s can pool together the resources to fund a 1E3 on an issue they find relevant. This has somehow been streamlined, method TBD.
  • Somebody needs to be able to restructure and break a subset of 1E(x) problems into 1E(x-1) and 1E(x-2) jobs.
    • People who do this successfully, should probably gain a fair amount of prestige for it (especially if they break it into a smaller time-block in total, or have enabled substantial parallelization of something time-sensitive)
  • 1E(4)s and higher often develop obnoxiously dense tangles of infralanguages and jargon, as a manner of course. This is treated as normal. 1E(4)s who remain legible to 1E(2)s (especially those who are able to translate other 1E(4)'s work to something similarly legible) are called "bridges," and are appropriately prized.
    • This overlaps some with ghostwriters, but is also its own distinct sub-category of researchers. (It's important that bridges aren't all subordinated into 1E(3) work.)
    • There are occasionally bridge & ghostwriter conferences, which tend to be followed by a tidal wave of applications to write or update various dictionaries and encyclopedias.
    • Similar to the current world: Some fields/jargon-sets/infralanguages that have solved the onboarding problem, are widespread enough to have their own conferences, specialized grant ecosystems, assigned ghostwriters, etc.

Geoff tweeted about it, I forwarded that to you.

But after thinking a bit more, including hearing a little more background context from Aella? I think the tension here predates that, and that this is predominantly a reaction to the MAPLE post. Please treat this mostly as a side-note.

There's no recording anymore, but I actually appreciated him on the stream. My overall take on the author is "has a lot of compassion, but I don't always trust his discernment."

Yeah, some of this gets the facts wrong, or a bit off. I don't think this was fact-checked very competently, and in this sort of context, that does matter.

(ex: I can confirm that mittenscautious was not Aella, although Aella was indeed a housemate to Persephone.)

...I hate dishing based on something this speculative, but I do think it's a potentially relevant piece of context...

Aella and Geoff (Executive Director of Leverage) have a lot of enmity towards each other. This is just straightforwardly true.

If I am identifying the author of this Aella-attacking post, correctly? The author of this post was a special guest on one of Geoff Anders' Twitch streams.

I'm normally a mistake theorist, but I find it really tempting to interpret this as the end result of talking to a really skewed sample of people.

(And I might be assigning better-than-even odds that Geoff was involved in that process, somehow.)

UPDATE: I'm updating a few steps in the direction of "I may have gotten some of the causality here, backwards." Tension with Aella predates that. Disliked Aella's MAPLE post, and this might have been some of why he and Geoff got in touch.

It feels worth pointing out that Universities seem to try to set up this sort of absurdly protective bubble, by design. Uni extracts sometimes-exorbitant rent, while doing so; Leverage was at least usually paying people salaries.

Meanwhile, a lot of US bureaucracy appears almost... tailor-made to make life more complicated, with a special exception to that reserved for "full-time employees of large corporations"? (I think that for historic reasons, some of their bureaucratic complications are consistently outsourced to their company to handle.)

Against this societal backdrop, I find it hard to fault Cathleen or Leverage for trying what they did. While also not being too surprised, that it led to some dependence issues.

(Maybe having a hard "2 years" limit, and accepting a little less "heroic responsibility," would have downgraded a lot of issues to just "University dorm level.")


I really appreciate Cathleen being willing to talk about it, even given the reasonable expectation that some people are going to... be jerks about it, misinterpret things, take things out of context, and engage in ways she won't like. Or even just fail to engage in ways that would be good for her?

I don't always see eye-to-eye with Cathleen, but she poured a lot into this project. She is not exaggerating when she conveys that she was responsible for a really giant pile of ops and maintenance tasks at Leverage.

(I'm not sure how Leverage handled her sick days, but I would be surprised if it wasn't a whole thing. That feels like one way to point to just how large an amount she ended up being personally responsible for. One of the most grounded and productive people there.)

I'm sad to hear that this project hurt her, in the ways it did? (ex: overwork, lack of support, high interpersonal conflict environment)

I'm somewhat glad that she hasn't completely given up on the idea of well-intentioned ambitious projects, and I'm really happy that it sounds like she has a solid bubble of people now.

This is a lot of information, and there was a cost to writing it up, I'm sure. I can't really weigh in on whether it was worth what she gave up to do so, but I'm grateful that she shared it.

What to do when society is wrong about something?

I thought this aside was an extremely good snapshot of class of problem that I have seen come up in other contexts as well.

Briefly: People have a tendency to develop social bubbles that are, in a key way or two, way more comfortable or healthy for them. If you get strongly immersed in one, then "the rest of society" starts looking unpleasant or unhealthy, and what do you do with that when that hapens?

I don't find it easy to answer! But I'd be curious to hear from other people about variants of this scenario that they've run into, how they've handled it, and how that has gone.

(It sounds like Leverage had a bit of this dynamic, combined with a feeling that the norms were up for grabs. I had not previously pegged that down about Leverage, but having that context feels helpful for making sense of it.)

Some of the other F-grade feed-ins, for completion's sake...

  • A lot of people went to a bad high school. Some have learned helplessness, and don't know how to study. Saw the occasional blatant cheating habit, too.
    • Community colleges know this, and offer some courses that are basically "How to study"
    • So much of many middle-class cultures is just hammering "academics matter" and "advice on how to study or network" into your brain. Most middle-class students still manage to miss the memo on 1-2 key study skills or resources, though. Maybe everyone should go to "how to study" class...
      • Personally? As a teen, I didn't know how to ask for help, and I couldn't stand sounding like an idiot. Might have saved myself some time, if I'd learned how to do that earlier.
  • Nobody uses office-hours enough.
    • At worst, it's free tutoring. At best, it's socially motivating and now the teacher feels personally invested in your story and success.
    • "High-achievers who turned an early D into an A" are frequently office-hour junkies.
    • Someone with a big family crisis, is probably still screwed even if they go to office hours. Past some threshold, people should just take a W.
  • A few people just genuinely can't do math, in a "it doesn't fit in their brain" kind of way
    • My mom thinks this exists, but only accounts for <1%

TL;DR: As people get older, it's common for people to acquire responsibilities that make it hard to focus on school (ex: kids, elderly parents). Fairly high confidence that this is a big factor in community college grades.

As someone whose parent teaches basic math at community college, and who attended community college for 2 years myself (before transferring)...

I have absolutely seen some people pick up these skills late. The work ethic & directedness of community college high-achievers is often notably better than that of people in their late teens.

They also usually have healthier attitudes around failure (relative to the high-achieving teens), which sometimes makes them better at recovering from an early bad grade. Relatedly, the UCs say their CC transfers have much lower drop-out rates.

One major "weakness" I can think of, is that adults are probably going in fully-cognizant that school feels like an "artificial environment." Some kids manage to not notice this until grad school.

From my mom's work, I know that the grading distribution in high-school-remedial math classes is basically bimodal: "A"s and "F"s, split almost 50-50.

The #1 reason my mom cites for this split, is probably a responsibilities and life-phase difference?

A lot of working class adults are incredibly busy. Many are under more stress and strain than they can handle, at least some of the time. (The really unlucky ones, are under more strain than they can really handle basically all of the time, but those are less likely to try to go to community college.)

If someone is holding down a part-time job, doesn't have a lot in savings, is married, is taking care of a kid, and is caring for their elderly mother? That basically means a high load of ambient stress and triage, and also having 5 different avenues for random high-priority urgent crises (ex: health problems involving any of these) to bump school out of the prioritization matrix.

(Notably, "early achievers" on the child-having front usually also end up a bit crippled academically. I think that's another point in favor of "life phase" or "ambient responsibility load" theory being a big deal here, in a way that competes with or even cannibalizes academic focus/achievement.)

My take-away is that if you have a bunch in savings, and don't have a kid, then my bet is that learning a lot of curricula late is likely to not be a problem. Might actually be kinda fun?

But if you're instead juggling a dozen other life responsibilities, then God help you. If your class has tight deadlines, you may have to conduct a whole lot of triage to make it work.

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