Stockholm Syndrome and Sperm


In January 1973, Jan Olsson walked into a bank. For the next six days, he held four employees hostage in an audacious heist that captivated all of Sweden.

To put it mildly, the Swedes did not handle the situation well.

First, the police mistakenly identified Jan as another guy with the same name. They then sent in the wrong Jan Olsson's teenage (!!) brother into the bank to negotiate alongside a criminal psychologist. Surprised and confused, the real Jan shot at the pair.

Then, the police, who had no training in hostage negotiation, tried to show overwhelming force. They surrounded the building and continually threatened to break in and start shooting. This ratcheted up tensions unnecessarily.

Finally, one of the hostages called the Prime Minister in a desperate plea to avoid the police storming the building. The P.M. was not reassuring, telling her that "you'd have to content yourself [with the fact] that you will have died at your post."

Thankfully, the police were able to eventually capture Jan without any loss of life and rescue the hostages.

But then something strange happened: one of the hostages refused to testify against the kidnapper.

This is the story of the birth of "Stockholm Syndrome", where a victim ends up identifying more with the perpetrator than the authorities. And it turns out Stockholm Syndrome is mostly bullshit.

Nils Bejerot, the psychologist who coined the term, was the same psychologist who went in with the random teenager to negotiate with the bank robber. He was so upset that the female victim wouldn't testify that he invented a new diagnosis to discredit her.

Here's the problem: he never spoke to the woman he based the Syndrome on. When asked years later, she was clear and adamant. From her perspective, the police were incompetent. They were unnecessarily antagonistic, eager for a macho shoot-out on television. And the prime minister himself had told her to prepare to die.

Her conclusion was reasonable: the police weren't concerned about her dying and were putting her in more danger than the hostage taker.

Her reluctance to testify was not because she had fallen in love with the captor, but rather because she was so angry at the police.

As journalist Jess Hill puts it, Stockholm Syndrome is "founded on a lie and riddled with misogyny". It turns out it's almost never used as a real psychological diagnosis, and instead is just used by the media and movies to make stories more interesting.

And just like that, one of my favorite movie tropes has been discredited 😢


Kevin Kelly is the founder of Wired magazine and a generally super interesting guy. He just put out a list of 99 Bits of Unsolicited Advice that takes maybe 3 minutes to read but has a number of gems. Below are a few of my favorites, but I do recommend quickly reading the whole list.

  • It’s not an apology if it comes with an excuse. It is not a compliment if it comes with a request.

  • The greatest rewards come from working on something that nobody has a name for. If you possibly can, work where there are no words for what you do.

  • Don’t create things to make money; make money so you can create things. The reward for good work is more work.

  • Compliment people behind their back. It’ll come back to you.

  • Every person you meet knows an amazing lot about something you know virtually nothing about. Your job is to discover what it is, and it won’t be obvious.

(s/o Brij Dhanda for sending this my way!)



The human race is on a trend line toward becoming unable to reproduce itself.

About 10% of men are infertile, and even the men that are fertile only produce about 50% as much sperm as their grandfathers did. And that number is getting worse every decade.

Why is sperm disappearing? Turns out, the answer is hiding in plain sight: plastics.

Compounds used to make plastic soft (like phthalates) and harder (like BPA) are known as "endocrine disruptors". Once they get into your bloodstream, they mimic estrogen and cause you to produce less testosterone and fewer sperm.

Unfortunately, it's nearly impossible to avoid endocrine disruptors. They're in water bottles, sales receipts, medical devices, paint, liquid soap, and food containers. They are everywhere, and we are all facing a barrage of them every day.

The next obvious question: what can be done to prevent further reduction in sperm?

Action on a societal scale is difficult. As discussed in my issue about the conspiracy of recycling, the chemical industry is strongly against efforts to reduce plastic use. Like Big Automative, the chemical industry has fought against regulation with lobbyists and their own "scientific" studies that show plastic is not harmful.

On a personal level, leading reproductive researcher Shanna Swan recommends avoiding plastic as much as possible. Use glass containers, use a cotton/linen shower curtain, avoid air fresheners, and so forth.

So if global warming hasn't gotten you to care about your plastic use yet, maybe your sperm count will.