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The most ancient ritual but with a modern twist

I assume that this practice has now been banned by the millennials and younger generations, but in years past there was a tradition in high school yearbooks to vote on various “superlatives”, which would be included in a yearbook. You’d have stuff like “Best dressed”, “Best hair”, and “class clown” and so on.

Many of these items are purely subjective popularity contests, and the voting of the person as having best hair for example, is in itself a conclusion that the person voted for does in fact have the best hair. Other items are speculative about the future and the mere voting of someone as that thing cannot prove itself true. Or at least that’s what I thought at first.

Take “most likely to succeed” for example. At first glance you would think that a group of 17-18 year olds voting on which of their peers is going to be successful might have a straightforward future resolution — you could just wait for a while and then look at how everyone wound up and it might be obvious which people were more or less successful relative to each other. Of course, there are immediate problems with this.

For one, how long do you wait? What time horizon is the success being voted on? You could wait until the entire graduating class has lived their full lives and then go back and look at what they all did … but who is going to do this? Maybe their descendants could do it — but then you have people voting on what their grandparents and great-grandparents did relative to a bunch of other people they don’t do. This doesn’t seem great. You could also just wait like 4-5 years or something, but then you’ve got people who are going to have turned out to be utterly successful and just haven’t gotten there yet.

You could wait a middle amount of time — say 10 or 20 years, and take a snapshot of everyone at age 38 at a reunion and then declare a winner. This is probably better than waiting the entire life of all the people, but it has it’s own problems. The one massive problem of course is that “success” is a pretty big moving target without an objective answer. We all know people whose lives look great on paper but who are miserable; and we know people who have seemingly lived one tragedy after another and appear to be utterly content and stoic in the face of that. I’m not prepared to declare either of them more successful than the other.

There’s another problem as well. Let’s say you wait until the 20 year reunion and have that entire class review each other’s accomplishments (this is sort of messed up, but it’s a thought experiment ok?) and then vote on the actual most successful. If Penelope was voted most likely to succeed and then 20 years later everyone looks at whatever everyone did and they vote that Penelope did in fact out-success everyone else, is she the winner? Was the prediction correct? I guess it does in one sense but does not in some others.

The problem is that the 38-year-old versions of everyone are not the 18-year-old versions of themselves. They are not voting on the same thing. They can’t retroactively summon up their mental state the first time they cast the vote and think through who has most lived up to whatever their initial standards were. Those younger mindsets are lost to them and cannot be used in this voting. They are in some sense different people (who are gone now?).

Not only that, but I suspect that in any given alumni group you’d have a mix of people who would claim to have become a lot more certain about what “success” was than when they were 18 … but you’d probably have a really wide range of definitions amongst this group. You’d probably also have a group who at age 18 were sort of confident about what success meant but who at age 38 had become utterly uncertain about what it meant, or wanted to dismiss it as not even being a valid question in the first place.

Building some sort of time portal is appealing — you could bring information about the future back to the group of high school students and ask them to vote on the life outcomes (maybe you anonymize it?) for the entire class and see who they pick as being most successful; but that’s just a variation of the earlier problem. They are not qualified to judge the success of the lives of the actual 38 year old people, they are only qualified to vote on the speculative subjective success of their classmates.

If the older future people could interact with the younger past people you’d hopefully have a nuanced mix of attitudes ranging from “obviously I don’t have to listen to you, you don’t know anything yet” to “you’re right, this is actually really simple, we’re making it complicated” and everything in between; and basically all of these positions are correct.

I’m not sure what the conclusion is here. There probably isn’t one. Maybe that’s the point. If you send me your yearbook I’ll sign it with a nice note and send it back.

My order contained a substitute brand of inferior quality

The history of the discovery of knowledge about scurvy is pretty wild. It’s sort of depressing and also sort of uplifting at the same time. The claim of “The knowledge that consuming foods containing vitamin C is a cure for scurvy has been repeatedly forgotten and rediscovered into the early 20th century” is a pretty good summary of the whole thing, and the entire area of “things people knew at one place or time and subsequently lost to time” is eerie and overwhelming. The sheer amount of guys on boats just throwing stuff at the wall to see what stuck is an interesting ride.

The moral of the story is that eventually people figure out that you can give more citrus to everyone to prevent scurvy, and they start doing that in various forms on expeditions. I think a funny joke to play would be that if you were the lemon and lime juice guy and you were supposed to load up the ship with enough citrus to keep everyone scurvy-free for the whole voyage — to instead load it up with lemon-lime gatorade.

Things would probably be fine for a while but then a few months in people would start getting scurvy and you could fess up and be like yeah I admit it I used gatorade … but then you’d call up some of the other healthy shipmates and show them a cooler filled with a gatorade and ice mix and describe to them how you could dump it on the captain every time he made a found navigational decision at sea, and they’d all love you for having shown them that.