Skip to content

The Whippet #45: Wolves are a terrible metaphor

McKinley Valentine — 6 min read

On this page

Good morning simulacra!

One of my pet bonnet-bees is use of the word 'real' to mean 'legal'. As in: 'What's your real name?'

Your real name is the name you use

What's more real, the name used by my friends and loves ones, or the name registered on a government database? When you use 'real' to mean the latter, you're ceding a lot of ground to the government on who gets to define what matters. I know most people use the word 'real' out of habit than a genuine belief that culture and community are less real than bureaucracy, but we make lots of mistakes out of habit so that's no defence of continuing it.

(Since people get curious, McKinley Valentine is both my real name and my government-registry name, but this hasn't always been the case. Paperwork naturally trails behind life.)

Actually, and I direct this especially to anyone who uses a name that's not on their birth certificate but feels shady about "lying" when someone asks if it's their real name, any name you use in practice is your legal name as well as your real name, at least under Australian law. It's like a de facto relationship - legally the government considers it to be your name; you don't actually change your name when you do the paperwork bit, you register a change of name. Changing the name, you do on your own.

So if some petty person pushes and asks for your real or your legal name, you can quite truthfully give them whatever name you use.

In the sign-up form for The Whippet, I very deliberately ask for your preferred name, not your first name, since I believe so strongly in everyone's right to have a different name every other Thursday. Most people do put in what I figure is their regular name, or a shortened version of it, but some of them are spectacular.

Special hi to Winnebandiger the Sumptuous and Catmarriage <3

"Why do wolves hunt in large groups when a single wolf can take down a moose?"

1. Okay I did not know that about wolves/moose.

2. Ravens! Ravens are really skilled scavengers. A wolf can only eat so much in one meal. If a single wolf kills a moose, ravens will finish off the carcass before the wolf can return to it. It's not efficient. "A pair of wolves loses about 37 percent of a moose carcass to ravens while a pack of six wolves loses just 17 percent." These researchers reckon wolves and ravens co-evolved alongside each other.

3. Wolves continue to be a terrible metaphor for techbros. Wolf Communism is more efficient, alphas/betas are a myth, and lone wolves don't survive in the wild (although I struggled to find a citation for that last one).

A bit over the top

If you've been to the NGV (art gallery in Melbourne) you've probably seen this intense painting. It's titled Anguish, because of course. I say this with love, I'm absolutely in favour of heavy-handed imagery and representational art.

I looked up the artist, a 19th century dude called August Friedrich Schenck, and it turns out his entire oevre is 'livestock having a hard time of it'.

This seems excellent to me; it must be so nice to know exactly what your deal is.

Mantra for Facing Reality

This is an extremely good mantra to remember when you're struggling to be honest, with yourself or with someone else (thoughts like 'I don't want to be in this relationship' or 'I want to change the boundaries of this relationship' , for e.g., are pretty hard to face even internally) although it's from the Rationalist community so they probably meant it more for facing up to whether God exists.

Litany of Gendlin

What is true is already so.
Owning up to it doesn't make it worse.
Not being open about it doesn't make it go away.
And because it's true, it is what is there to be interacted with.
Anything untrue isn't there to be lived.
People can stand what is true,
for they are already enduring it.

It reminds me of Captain Awkward (the advice columnist)'s perpetual advice when someone says "How can I [enforce a boundary] without making it awkward?" (e.g. like telling your uncle to stop making homophobic comments). And the answer is: It's already awkward. Because you're so unhappy you're writing into an advice column. All you'd be doing by enforcing the boundary is sharing the awkward around more equitably.

Mantra for Avoiding Reality

JRR Tolkien on escapism (specifically re: fairy tales and fiction)

Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it. In using escape in this way the critics have chosen the wrong word, and, what is more, they are confusing, not always by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter.

Semi-related: When I lived in Newcastle and wanted to live somewhere that wasn't Newcastle, the boy I was dating told me I was just trying to run away from my problems, instead of facing them. But running away from problems is a great solution! Especially if your problems are location or milieu-based. There's no honour in wasting years of your life wrangling with a problem you could have just walked away from.

Touchstone (metaphor)

as in phrases like 'cultural touchstone', kind of a benchmark for quality.

It's a real thing! It's a rough black rock that you would carry around with you and scrape gold against to test if it was real. Gold is soft and would leave a mark on the touchstone.

Sorry about the logo, feels a bit gross, but it's interesting because I've seen it a million times and not thought about what it's trying to represent.

Unsolicited Advice

On favour-sharking (emotional loan-sharking)

Favour-sharking is when someone does a favour for you totally unasked for and possibly unwanted, in order to make you feel obligated to them. It's a method of manipulation. This is a classic of both sleazy dudes and overbearing relatives.

The two main ways of combating it are:

  1. Cheerfully accepting the favour while discarding the weight of obligation - i.e. treat it like a regular, no-strings favour and enjoy your free meal / clean dishes / whatever. Only works if you can actually avoid feeling burdened.
  2. Cause a scene by enforcing the boundary (ie literally physically preventing the favour from being transferred)

Obviously this is after having a reasonable conversation where you just say you don't want the thing. If you're used to favours coming with strings, it's really easy to project strings onto perfectly decent favour-offering people. Most of the time people are being sweet because they are sweet-natured people who want to be sweet to you.

It's pretty easy to accidentally favour-shark someone if you're not paying attention - thinking your favour was stringless but finding yourself resentful of the recipient afterwards. You can sort this out with some standard self-awareness and processing, it's not terminal.

A thing you will also see is people favour-sharking the universe - going through some unnecessary self-sacrifice or hardship and getting bitter when their life doesn't go well in accordance with how much they sacrificed. I suppose it's the same as believing in the myth of meritocracy, but with a bit more martyrdom thrown in. Like equating suffering to doing good, just because doing good sometimes does require suffering, or at least work.

If you want solicited advice, send questions to or just reply to this email.

There are two main ways you can support The Whippet!

1. With money. A classic stand-by! Patreon lets you pay anything from $1 a month (50 cents an issue!) to infinity dollars a month (still infinity dollars an issue). It's not locked in or anything though, you can cancel/pause any time. Click here for Patreon

2. By telling a friend how it's good and they should read it:

Also, if you're not subscribed and you want to be, subscribe here!


Sign in or become a Whippet subscriber (free or paid) to add your thoughts.
Just enter your email below to get a log in link.