Links: Markets, sexuality, public transport, and failure

* “A Rare (Earth) Case of Wisdom,” or “markets work.” That the latter is still worth saying in 2014 is distressing.

* “The Boardroom and the Bedroom: How both dating and finance have been screwed by the Internet” is entertaining throughout but consider that both may raise the returns to people with long-term orientations as all the short-term oriented people flee the market. Plus those who tire of volatility will return to fundamentals. Who has written the Random Walk Down Wall Street of dating? I only invest in index funds.

* Falling short: seven writers reflect on failure.

* “Public Transit: All About Density.” Supporting dense development means supporting the environment.

* “Why Schools Can’t Teach Sex Ed in the Internet Age,” and, perhaps relatedly though on another site, “Everybody Sexts.”

* Markets matter in general and mating markets matter in particular.

* Canon G7-X review; I have an RX-100, bought used, and it is excellent.

Getting good with women and how I’ve done almost everything in my life wrong: Part II

This is the second part in a series; The first part is here.

An interview between me and Tucker Max about how I used to suck with women and now I’m okay just went up on his Mating Grounds podcast. You should go listen or read the transcript. This essay grew out of my notes for that podcast.

Empathy

I did some online dating years ago, primarily in Seattle and a little bit in Tucson, and some of the girls I got to know showed me their message streams. Some messages were disgusting or outright idiotic, but most they were boring and poorly thought out: “Hey.” “How are you?” “Your profile is interesting.” Pretty girls get dozens of them every week. Hell, even average girls do. I was thinking, “If I were a girl, I’d get turned off by all this crap too.”

Most of the girls I talked to—even the ones who just wanted to get laid—were in fact tired of all that crap. They got so many low-quality messages, or messages from guys who’d copied and pasted an initially clever come-on but couldn’t follow-up. Those women wanted something a little different. They were bored, which is a point I’ll come back to later. Dating for women is different in important ways than dating for men, and I wish I’d understood that sooner.

Reading those messages also explained why I was doing fairly well, since I was deliberately trying to say something non-obvious and ideally slightly lascivious without being gross. That class of message stood out. Being tall and in shape obviously helped too. My photos were pretty good. I didn’t spend much time playing games, and if women didn’t want to meet quickly I would stop messaging them (which would often lead those who were reluctant to meet for whatever reason to want to meet).

The girls from the Internet taught me something else useful too: some said they liked online dating because it let them meet guys without their bitchy, judgmental, hypocritical friends around (they didn’t use those words, but that’s what they meant). Without the chorus of shame squawking in their ears, real desires emerge. The real upholders of the sexual double standard are actually women, not men.

Somewhere along the way I realized that lots of women are lonely and looking for connection, and that loosened me up as far as approaching women and asking them out. I’ve asked out women on the street, in buses (if you’re a guy on the prowl you should love public transportation), in grocery lines, on running trails. Usually the conversation starts with something observational, then moves to whatever is going on that day or week. If you have nothing going on, get something going on and get talking about it. Energetic people are on average more attractive than sluggards.

I’m still not inured to rejection—is anyone?—but if a girl on the street says no, it doesn’t matter. Move on. She’ll forget, and perhaps I’ll make some other girl’s day, and she’ll go home and tell her friends that a cute stranger was hitting on her.

This isn’t something I experienced directly, but a friend’s recent adventures helped teach me too. She’s posted to a well-known amateur porn site (without her face in the shots). On this site she gets a lot of responses from viewers, and she’s shown them to my fiancée and me. They’re voluminous, amazingly bad, and unintentionally hilarious. Hundreds of guys write to her, almost all of them saying some variation on “You’re so hot” or “I want to fuck you.” And these guys have no idea where she lives.

The messages were pathetic, and when we were reading them my fiancée said something like, “This is what all women have to deal with.” In that moment so much became clear to me. I knew that, intellectually, but seeing the really low-value, unsuccessful messages from guys on the Internet reinforced that point. It’s such a waste of time to send those messages. They’re more a fantasy projection that a real attempt to meet women, but every minute or second they spend sending “Ur so hot show me ur butthole” is a minute or second they’re not doing something useful. If I were a woman I couldn’t imagine looking for quality men on amateur porn sites. Yet these are doing so, and the way they’re doing it is all wrong, and yet they persist in doing it the wrong way.

And our friend is not the primary motivator for them. She’s reasonably attractive but not incredibly spectacular—most guys and girls who have a taste for other girls would be happy to date her. But you won’t see her on a Victoria’s Secret runway. she’s getting this kind of response, which is a distillation and intensification of what many women experience otherwise. In real life most guys won’t go up to women and say “show me ur butthole” for good reason; online, with the cloak of pseudonymity, they’re willing to. In real life, guys would probably like to say that, but they can’t or don’t.

On a separate subject, reading Norah Vincent’s book Self-Made Man taught me about the lack of empathy women have for men. So did stories told by women about gross and very insistent guys, or nasty comments from parents and other girls. Reading “The Daughter-Guarding Hypothesis,” since it showed how fear and loathing around sexual behaviors get inculcated in women from an early age.

Looks count

Looks and style matter, and like many nerds (and especially nerds growing up in nerd-infested places like Seattle) I wanted to believe they didn’t. But people make snap judgments for reasons that I now realize are quite good: we communicate a huge amount of information based on what we wear, how we hold ourselves, and so forth. For both men and women wearing clothes that fit matters. Women learn this almost immediately; it took me until I was 25 to figure it out.

Still, when I was 14 or 15 I started lifting and running consistently relatively early, and that was a definitive advantage that continues to be an advantage—not only in dating but in long-term relationships. If you’re old enough to know people who’ve been in long-term relationships, you’ll have seen the pattern in which one or both parties in a long-term relationship let themselves go, which usually coincides taking their partner for granted. That’s probably a mistake at any time or place, but it’s really a mistake in contemporary American society, since in this society and culture the rigors of the dating market never really end. That may be a bad thing but it is a thing. You can’t let yourself go, both for your partner’s sake and because you never know when you’re going to be involuntarily dumped back into the market.

Younger people probably shouldn’t be focused on very long-term relationships because they change so much. I didn’t have a somewhat stable, developed personality until I was 24 or so. People evolve through their lives but that evolution is particularly rapid and pronounced from puberty well into the 20s. If you’re 20, chances are you won’t be dating the same person for five years. Understand that you’re going to be on the market a lot, and it’s difficult or impossible to hide from market tests.

Guys who pay attention to their posture, to what they wear, and to their workouts are in the game. Guys who don’t probably aren’t. That doesn’t mean guys have to become obsessed with these issues—I never have been—but it does mean being aware of them and taking care to do them right.

The last part is here.

Getting good with women and how I’ve done almost everything in my life wrong: Part I

An interview between me and Tucker Max about how I used to suck with women and now I’m okay just went up on his Mating Grounds podcast, and you should go listen or read the transcript. Then again, when I told my fiancée that I used to suck with women and now I’m okay, she said, “Wait, when did that happen?”, so at least one person thinks I’m falsely advertising.

Let’s take this paragraph to wait for you to listen to the podcast and come back.

Okay. I hope you enjoyed. When Tucker first asked if I wanted to be on the podcast, I thought I should say “No” because I think I’ve had a growing up trajectory that hits the broad bounds of normal. But a lot of the guys listening to the podcast are in the 13 – 22 age range—in other words, they’re in the place I was. So I began thinking about what I would tell my earlier self and what I think I’ve learned. The answer turned out to be “quite a bit,” though most of it is likely to be obvious to older guys who have their lives together.

This started as notes, eventually morphed into paragraphs, and then by accident I had an essay. Call it a hazard of the writing life.

Growing up

Recently my Dad said, correctly, that I was a pretty weird kid. When your parents say you’re weird, you know it’s true. I don’t entirely know now why I was weird from ages 10 – 14 or so and I still don’t know why I chose a lot of non-functional behaviors, like obsessively playing video games and Magic Cards. I do have an exacting, precise, nerdish disposition, but that alone doesn’t explain why I was such a pill.

Eventually and with much effort I grew out of that phase, and despite the unpleasantness at the time I did learn some useful, actionable things. Like: choose hobbies that increase your overall attractiveness. Those are very rarely video games. Almost no girl is like, “I want a level 50 wizard.” No girl is saying, “I want a guy who gets home from school and watches five hours of TV.” They want the guy who is making the TV or the music, or who is an athlete, or who has some other status markers that matter to both men and to women.

In high school and college in particular, sports and music are probably the biggest, most prominent, and most important actionable things. If you have the choice between playing the latest video game or playing your guitar, choose guitar. If you have a Friday night in which you can play video games with your friends, like you always do, or go do almost anything else, choose the other thing. Try to make the other thing happen. The number of women who fantasize about a highly ranked StarCraft player is low. My fiancée was listening to the Podcast and heard me describe playing Starcraft on Korean servers, and she said, “How many hours did you spend playing?” The answer is… depressing.

As an aside, choosing things that are “actionable” matters too. To some extent, thoughts and beliefs that do nothing whatsoever to change actions don’t matter. So if you’re reading this and thinking, “I suck” or “I suck with women” or whatever, that may be interesting, but the only really interesting thing is the steps you can take right now to make things better. For me, quitting video games was in and of itself a huge boost.

There are certain domains that simply don’t interest women or interest them very little. Video games is one such domain. Sports as a spectator activity are another: very few want to know about the travails of the Knicks, or how the ’92 NBA Championships or whatever changed the world. There are of course exceptions. But guys who play a ton of video games, as I did, or watch four hours of sports a day are, all else being equal, handicapping themselves. I’m not saying you should never play video games or watch sports—plenty of successful guys do—but they should be done in measured ways. As a teenager I was for whatever reason incapable of playing video games in a measured way. They became a substitute, rather than a complement, to the real world, and that is a problem.

There are other, more valuable domains that still don’t in and of themselves interest women much. I’ve never seen women discuss among themselves Unix systems programming, or for that matter any kind of programming. Few women are hunters, or deeply interested in the minutia of cars. It is possible to attract women as a second-order effect by doing these things—tech millionaires probably do okay if they’re famous, and domain mastery can be sexy in the right circumstances—but they’re not as good as being an athlete, or a musician, or a comedian, or better still an athletic musician who does some comedy too.

What else? I wish I’d learned when I was younger how to relax. Talk to people. Try to have fun. I wish I’d understood that almost everyone is having the same problems and feelings I was, but they weren’t expressing those feelings. That includes all the embarrassing experiences and sensations. I wish I’d realized that funny stories often follow a simple formula: they are embarrassment + time.

It sounds insanely simple but for whatever reason I was really bad at interacting with people, and I terrified of social judgment. But that judgment isn’t actually all that important, and most people will respect effort more than no effort at all.

I was really afraid of girls when I was an early-ish teenager, for reasons not obvious to me anymore. It’s really hard to debug the mind of the 13-year-old you used to be. I don’t think it was totally logical. Maybe it was evolutionary. Maybe it was my own psychology at the time. I had a disproportionate fear of negative consequences. Maybe I was scared of being isolated than I already felt. I hadn’t realized that in many if not most domains, any individual can choose to be in the game or out of the game, and I chose to be out of the game.

Change came slowly. At some point too I began thinking about most of the magazines that women read and the shows they watch, and they’re all about relationships, all the time. The vast majority of women are intensely interested in men and attracting men. Seems obvious in hindsight, but it’s useful to state explicitly. The metrics they use to evaluate men are similar to but subtly different than the ones men use to evaluate women. So many attractive women are insecure about their bodies, and they make themselves more insecure by looking at all these Photoshopped models. It’s crazy. In some ways women have more unreasonable standards for themselves than men do for them!

I also had almost no positive role models for dealing with women. I didn’t have older cousins or brothers or whatever, and I wasn’t easily mentored (this is one reason why I think Mate, the book Tucker and Geoff Miller are writing, is so important). My ideas about women came from Disney movies or pop culture or fantasy novels, none of which are terribly accurate or do a good job of representing what women are like. In advertising everyone is ready to fall into bed all the time, or buying the right jeans makes you sleep with someone.

In fantasy novels of the sort I read women, to put it politely, the psychology of the female characters did not (and does not now) map well onto actual women. To put it less politely, these novels idiotically portrayed women as either highly virtuous prizes to be won by male heroes or villains or as evil sluts. This generalization includes the fantasy novels written by women.

In actuality, of course, the vast majority of women are neither and do not like being treated as highly virtuous prizes or as evil sluts, and by now I don’t even like using the word “slut” for reasons articulated well by Mark Liberman, since “it projects bad associations based on a framework of ideas that I don’t endorse.” By now, too, I’ve also realized that most sexual shaming occurs from women to women, rather than from men to women, and most man to woman sexual shaming occurs because the former can’t get the latter and retreats to social attacks as compensation.

Teachers or other adult figures didn’t help me much either, and being a teenager can be very isolating in American society because one only has equally ignorant peers for information. Teachers have strong incentives not to be level with students, because if they tell students important truths about social relations or male-female relationships, parents will go ballistic. As kids begin discovering essential truths they often feel “the world [is] corrupt from end to end,” but we then propagate the cycle with our own children.

For me getting hobbies helped. I did notice that people who were more successful just did a lot of stuff. Hobbies meant running and working out. They meant getting jobs. They meant writing for the newspaper. They meant reading. Reading is essential, and when I moved on from fantasy I mostly read literary fiction and interesting nonfiction. Both helped me develop more empathy and understand what other people feel, even if most people won’t admit those feelings to anyone but their closest friends.

Recognizing that other people were doing the sorts of things I wanted to be doing helped. What were they doing that made them successful, and what was I doing that made me unsuccessful? I began asking those kinds of questions and fishing for answers, which took a long time to come to fruition. Have you ever been in a situation in which the obvious losers of a group call the obvious winners of a group losers in order to make themselves feel better? Me too. Except that I was among the losers, and I wanted to not be.

Clearly some guys do much better with women than others, and it’s not a bad idea to figure out what those guys are doing. The same is true of women: I’ve met women who are great at flirting, who are great at making guys feel like a million bucks, and who are pragmatic about the guys around them. They do great. I’m thinking of one girl in particular who I was friends with in high school, who consistently had boyfriends and fuckbuddies and so forth because she was fantastic at making guys feel great about themselves. She smiled at guys she liked, laughed a lot, made plans to meet (and didn’t flake), and so forth. She not surprisingly batted way out of her league and had a spectacular sex life for someone her age.

Reading

No single book from that period stands out as definitive, but in college I discovered evolutionary biology, which was tremendous. Evolutionary biology gets unfairly maligned in various forums, and the pop version of it sometimes get fairly maligned in others, but reading it suddenly made a lot of previously inexplicable behaviors explicable. Why do girls say they hate dating assholes yet keep dating assholes? Why are “nice” guys so often unsuccessful (the scare quotes around “nice” are key). Why do so many people say various things and then act contrary to the things they say? Why is Saturday night behavior so often regretted Sunday morning?

I wouldn’t argue that evolutionary biology has all the answers about every facet of human behavior, and I would argue that people diverge widely along many axes, but I will argue that evolutionary biology describes the way average human male and female reproductive incentives differ and how that gives rise to most of the observable conflict one sees on average between the sexes. I’d also argue that understanding evolutionary biology is one way of consciously overcoming whatever ingrained behavior might be primarily genetic; if you want to act contrary to what you think the default path might be, it helps to understand the default path and how it came to be. Where did I start? I don’t remember. Miller’s book The Mating Mind found its way to me early. So did The Evolution of Desire. Both are excellent places to start.

There are also a reasonable number of people—though they’ve got to be a small percentage, for obvious reasons—for whom understanding sex and dating simply isn’t a priority, and if you’re one of those people, I don’t know why you’re reading this essay. Those people presumably go find other productive things to do.

Most of what I began to do in high school is in the podcast. I mentioned getting a job (briefly at an Old Navy, then at a YMCA, and later in college as a lifeguard, which I should’ve started in high school). I started doing simple stuff like… talking to people, and saying yes to events, and so on. For someone who was pathologically unhappy from ages 10 – 14, that was a big step.

There wasn’t a definitive, epiphanic moment for me. Progress was slow, and had I somehow known what I know now it would’ve been much faster. But I did notice that when I was a teenager—and really for my entire life—I’ve heard people confidently state stuff that is totally wrong. In high school heard all these guys bragging about all this stuff that at the time I couldn’t judge, really, but that I now know to be at best wrong and at worst incomplete.

Let’s take one example: I’ve heard, and you probably have too, guys confidently make pronouncements like, “Women just want money” (Tucker and Miller did a whole podcast on the subject.) But I know plenty of guys who do really well with lots of great women yet don’t have a lot of money. Musicians are a classic example. It is true that having “enough” money helps, but the amount a guy has to have to really hit the gold digger set is astonishingly high—so high that it’s probably not worth pursuing if your goal in a modern Western country is to maximize your success, defined however you’d define it, with women.

One can see this all over, but to take one literary example, think of Matt from Megan Abbott’s novel Dare Me. The novel is about a cheer team ruled by a top mean girl, only to be roiled when a young coach shows up (this sounds like a teen novel, but it’s not: the rivalry leads to murder, affairs, and to the real-world issues rather than “young-adult”-literature-world issues). But Matt, the coach’s sad sack husband, works all the time.

His wife cheats on for many reasons, but boredom is a prominent one. This is how Matt appears to the novel’s protagonist and to his wife: “He’s working. He never, ever stops.” Or: “He is always on his cell phone and he always looks tired.” Or: “He works very hard, and he’s not interesting at all.” Among many contemporary women boredom is the greatest enemy. Most have “enough” money, and even those who don’t are often bored by their low-skill service-sector jobs or by their schooling and would rather choose fun, exciting, louche guys over stable boring guys. That may be a fault of the women themselves—now more than ever a propensity to boredom is really a character fault in those lacking curiosity—but it’s still pervasive enough to merit mentioning.

A guy can’t cure every woman’s boredom and nor should he try. I’ve tried in my own life, without much success. It took me shockingly long to figure out that I’m the wrong guy for a lot of girls—if you don’t like books, or talking about ideas, or whatever, or if you want to go out four nights a week—but I am really, really the right guy for some girls—and those same girls find a lot of guys annoying, shallow, or boring. For example I’ve met girls at book readings, where the baseline crowd is 40+. A girl in her 20s stands out, like I did as a guy at the same age.

Anyway, I won’t say Dare Me is a great novel but it is told via an unusual voice and it is more honest than most novels that might loosely define its genre. It does have a less varnished understanding of how many women feel than most novels. One problem with much narrative art is that it is designed to flatter its readers’ and watchers’ existing prejudices and self-conceptions. It takes a little more effort to find art that doesn’t. Dare Me has interesting things going on for those who care to look closely at it. Matt has an important lesson for guys: he misallocates resources because he assumes that coach just wants more money.

She doesn’t: she wants attention, she wants sex, she wants to feel desired—she wants the things most women want. Money is great, but in most situations most guys don’t need that much money. They need to be able to buy drinks and event tickets and pay some amount of rent. They need enough cash to have clothes that fit, and that amount is arguably lower than it ever has been thanks to “fast fashion” and related developments. But they don’t need enough money for luxury cars or exotic vacations or flying first class or the many other things that guys imagine will get them laid. That’s one of many important points Miller makes in Spent, too.

The amount of money needed to play that game is absurd. It means making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, or having a million dollars or more. For most guys, the kinds of jobs and businesses that yield that kind of cash consume way too much time and energy. For most guys, unless you love the work for its own sake—if you get your jollies from building website backends or financial accounting, do it—playing the money game is a waste of time. Tucker and Miller discuss this more at the links in the paragraph above.

I’m not entirely sure where the association with money and romantic success comes from; perhaps it’s from art, or from the fact that guys who are ridiculously, absurdly wealthy can use their money to attract women, but even then they’re a) probably not having the highest quality relationships and b) again, that domain is blocked for most guys most of the time. By definition we can’t all be in the top 5%. The key is understanding when being in the top 5% or top 1% matters and when being average or above average is sufficient.

Most women also aren’t gold diggers and don’t like being treated as such. The number of actual gold diggers is small, but, as with sociopaths or bipolar people, they can be quite costly if they’re not recognized rapid.

You’re better off focusing on knowledge and activities that don’t require tons of money. In addition, the more you as a guy reading this interact with women, the better off you’ll be. You’ll start to empathize with women, and that will help. I’ve had a couple experiences that really helped me in that regard.

Part II is here.

Links: Polyamory is boring, Israel, relationships and books, startups, adjuncts and more

* “Polyamory Is Boring” (see especially the Know-Nothing thought experiment) and, relatedly, “Polyhacking.” The comments are great in both, especially about fiction’s relationship with monogamy.

* Jeffrey Goldberg: “Even Israel’s Best Friends Understand That It Is Disconnecting From Reality.” Following Israeli politics even from a distance is depressing.

* New York Times essays: “Have You Ever Had a Relationship End Because of a Book?” I haven’t, but I have had relationships end due to a total lack of books.

* “Fundraising Acceleration Is The New VC Investment Thesis;” for many years I’ve thought about writing a novel set in and around startups and it may now be number two or three on the docket. I think I may go very lascivious first.

* The Myth of Chinese Super Schools.

* Someone found this blog by searching for “sex japan drunk,” for reasons not obvious to me.

* Catherine Stukel delivers what shouldn’t be news: Is That Whining Adjunct Someone We Want Teaching Our Young?

* “A sexual harassment policy that nearly ruined my life;” expect to see more of these stories.

Insanity in academia, or, reason #1,103 why you should stay out of grad school: Kangaroo courts

In “In the Middle,” a medieval studies group blog, Dorothy Kim and Jonathan Hsy have a post reasonably titled “Medieval Studies, Sexual Harassment, and Community Accountability.” But the body isn’t reasonable: Kim wants to adopt policies that demand being “Victim-Centered,” which in her view means among other things:

Don’t ask for ‘proof’.
Don’t treat ‘both sides of the story’ as if they hold equal weight.
Do not engage in any type of victim blaming behaviour.
Listen to the victim. Do it. And don’t judge.

And she quotes approvingly:

Did a woman just report getting sexually harassed? Eject the man from the conference.

This reminds me of the Harvard law professors who are protesting, for good reason, changes to Harvard’s policies.

We have adversarial legal and conduct systems because those systems are designed to balance the rights of the accused with the rights of the accuser. Being able to confront one’s accuser and hear the evidence against a person is part of that process—and for a good reason. False accusations exist and they too are a serious problem.

Formal bodies of almost any sort should have to adhere to evidentiary requirements and assume innocence. Otherwise you’re running a witch hunt. That witch hunt won’t necessarily be limited to men, either, as Jane Gallop writes in Feminist Accused of Sexual Harassment.

If I went to a conference with rules like this I’d be tempted to accuse a woman of sexual harassment just to see what happens. Performance art may be the only appropriate respond to insane policies. I wonder too if Kim, Hsy, or the various approving commenters have read Francine Prose’s novel Blue Angel.

I’m also curious about what sexual harassment constitutes. If a woman says to me, “Wanna come to my room and have a drink?” does that count? It shouldn’t. The line is tough to draw and is close to “I know it when I see it,” which may be one reason why it’s hard to draft good rules—and publicly available rules that are specific enough to be understood are another legal hallmark developed over centuries to prevent unfair punishment. If a woman offers to hug me and I feel uncomfortable, should that count? Possible examples proliferate.

Anyway, this post is also worth discussing because most of the comments about academic looniness and unreasonableness either blown out of proportion or misunderstood or whatever. In Kim and Hsy’s case, here are academics being their own worst stereotypes; the post reads like Rush Limbaugh-style caricature. It’s also a good example of yet another reason you should avoid grad school. See also “The ignorance and ideological blindness in the college sex articles: Kathleen Bogle and Megan McArdle.”

(I originally left a version of this post as a comment; perhaps not surprisingly, it was deleted. The open flow of ideas is not appreciated in all quarters of academia!)

Life: What is Los Angeles? edition

“One day the whole world was going to look like Los Angeles, he decided, not a city, nor the absence of a city, just ruined countryside, with houses squeezed between highways which never tired of whispering the lie that it was more interesting to go somewhere than to be here. The entire westward drive of American history seemed to have piled up on the beach, and the descendants of wagon-crazed pioneers, refusing to accept completely the restraint of the world’s widest ocean, frantically patrolled the edge of the West, like lemmings in therapy.”

—Edward St. Aubyn, On the Edge, which is good but still only a lead up to Bad News.

As for Los Angeles in specific and the California temperament in general, “Refusing to accept restraint” is a good thing: it drives technology, progress, and the whole human enterprise. No wonder Silicon Valley is in Silicon Valley and not somewhere else, somewhere where restraints are accepted rather than challenged.

Unfortunately in many domains California is now quite willing to accept restraint, to the detriment of everyone.

“Sisu:” a new favorite word that comes from Finnish and was popularized by war

A Thousand Lakes of Red Blood on White Snow” brilliantly describes how tiny Finland successfully fought the Soviet Union twice during World War II:

Thus with a thousand lakes of warm red blood on cold white snow did the Finns purchase their escape from assimilation into the Soviet Union, ensuring that when the Iron Curtain was drawn, it ran along the eastern side of Finland rather than the western one.

The word “sisu” captures the mindset necessary to persevere against formidable, unlikely odds, though it is unlikely to have the resonance it needs unless you’ve read the entire article:

Sisu resists exact translation into other languages but loosely translated refers to a stoic toughness consisting of strength of will, determination, and perseverance in the face of adversity and against repeated setbacks; it means stubborn fortitude in the face of insurmountable odds; the ability to keep fighting after most people would have quit, and fighting with the will to win.

Sisu is more than mere physical courage, requiring an inner strength nourished by optimism, tempered by realism, and powered by a great deal of pig-headed obstinacy.

“Grit,” “stoicism,” and “tenacity” express similar concepts in English.

Anyone know a good, general history of Finland? Many people are currently enamored of its schools, but perhaps the same cultural thing that enabled the country to fight the Winter War also enable it to succeed educationally where others fail.

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