The Importance of Sidekicks

post by Swimmer963 · 2015-01-08T23:21:19.870Z · score: 128 (129 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 209 comments

[Reposted from my personal blog.]

Mindspace is wide and deep. “People are different” is a truism, but even knowing this, it’s still easy to underestimate.

I spent much of my initial engagement with the rationality community feeling weird and different. I appreciated the principle and project of rationality as things that were deeply important to me; I was pretty pro-self improvement, and kept tsuyoku naritai as my motto for several years. But the rationality community, the people who shared this interest of mine, often seemed baffled by my values and desires. I wasn’t ambitious, and had a hard time wanting to be. I had a hard time wanting to be anything other than a nurse.

It wasn’t until this August that I convinced myself that this wasn’t a failure in my rationality, but rather a difference in my basic drives. It’s around then, in the aftermath of the 2014 CFAR alumni reunion, that I wrote the following post.

I don’t believe in life-changing insights (that happen to me), but I think I’ve had one–it’s been two weeks and I’m still thinking about it, thus it seems fairly safe to say I did.

At a CFAR Monday test session, Anna was talking about the idea of having an “aura of destiny”–it’s hard to fully convey what she meant and I’m not sure I get it fully, but something like seeing yourself as you’ll be in 25 years once you’ve saved the world and accomplished a ton of awesome things. She added that your aura of destiny had to be in line with your sense of personal aesthetic, to feel “you.”

I mentioned to Kenzi that I felt stuck on this because I was pretty sure that the combination of ambition and being the locus of control that “aura of destiny” conveyed to me was against my sense of personal aesthetic.

Kenzi said, approximately [I don't remember her exact words]: “What if your aura of destiny didn’t have to be those things? What if you could be like…Samwise, from Lord of the Rings? You’re competent, but most importantly, you’re *loyal* to Frodo. You’re the reason that the hero succeeds.”

I guess this isn’t true for most people–Kenzi said she didn’t want to keep thinking of other characters who were like this because she would get so insulted if someone kept comparing her to people’s sidekicks–but it feels like now I know what I am.

So. I’m Samwise. If you earn my loyalty, by convincing me that what you’re working on is valuable and that you’re the person who should be doing it, I’ll stick by you whatever it takes, and I’ll *make sure* you succeed. I don’t have a Frodo right now. But I’m looking for one.

It then turned out that quite a lot of other people recognized this, so I shifted from “this is a weird thing about me” to “this is one basic personality type, out of many.” Notably, Brienne wrote the following comment:

Sidekick” doesn’t *quite* fit my aesthetic, but it’s extremely close, and I feel it in certain moods. Most of the time, I think of myself more as what TV tropes would call a “dragon”. Like the Witch-king of Angmar, if we’re sticking of LOTR. Or Bellatrix Black. Or Darth Vader. (It’s not my fault people aren’t willing to give the good guys dragons in literature.)

For me, finding someone who shared my values, who was smart and rational enough for me to trust him, and who was in a much better position to actually accomplish what I most cared about than I imagined myself ever being, was the best thing that could have happened to me.

She also gave me what’s maybe one of the best and most moving compliments I’ve ever received.

In Australia, something about the way you interacted with people suggested to me that you help people in a completely free way, joyfully, because it fulfills you to serve those you care about, and not because you want something from them… I was able to relax around you, and ask for your support when I needed it while I worked on my classes. It was really lovely… The other surprising thing was that you seemed to act that way with everyone. You weren’t “on” all the time, but when you were, everybody around you got the benefit. I’d never recognized in anyone I’d met a more diffuse service impulse, like the whole human race might be your master. So I suddenly felt like I understood nurses and other people in similar service roles for the first time.

Sarah Constantin, who according to a mutual friend is one of the most loyal people who exists, chimed in with some nuance to the Frodo/Samwise dynamic: “Sam isn’t blindly loyal to Frodo. He makes sure the mission succeeds even when Frodo is fucking it up. He stands up to Frodo. And that’s important too.”

Kate Donovan, who also seems to share this basic psychological makeup, added “I have a strong preference for making the lives of the lead heroes better, and very little interest in ever being one.”

Meanwhile, there were doubts from others who didn’t feel this way. The “we need heroes, the world needs heroes” narrative is especially strong in the rationalist community. And typical mind fallacy abounds. It seems easy to assume that if someone wants to be a support character, it’s because they’re insecure–that really, if they believed in themselves, they would aim for protagonist.

I don’t think this is true. As Kenzi pointed out: “The other thing I felt like was important about Samwise is that his self-efficacy around his particular mission wasn’t a detriment to his aura of destiny – he did have insecurities around his ability to do this thing – to stand by Frodo – but even if he’d somehow not had them, he still would have been Samwise – like that kind of self-efficacy would have made his essence *more* distilled, not less.”

Brienne added: “Becoming the hero would be a personal tragedy, even though it would be a triumph for the world if it happened because I surpassed him, or discovered he was fundamentally wrong.”

Why write this post?

Usually, “this is a true and interesting thing about humans” is enough of a reason for me to write something. But I’ve got a lot of other reasons, this time.

I suspect that the rationality community, with its “hero” focus, drives away many people who are like me in this sense. I’ve thought about walking away from it, for basically that reason. I could stay in Ottawa and be a nurse for forty years; it would fulfil all my most basic emotional needs, and no one would try to change me. Because oh boy, have people tried to do that. It’s really hard to be someone who just wants to please others, and to be told, basically, that you’re not good enough–and that you owe it to the world to turn yourself ambitious, strategic, Slytherin.

Firstly, this is mean regardless. Secondly, it’s not true.

Samwise was important. So was Frodo, of course. But Frodo needed Samwise. Heroes need sidekicks. They can function without them, but function a lot better with them. Maybe it’s true that there aren’t enough heroes trying to save the world. But there sure as hell aren’t enough sidekicks trying to help them. And there especially aren’t enough talented, competent, awesome sidekicks.

If you’re reading this post, and it resonates with you… Especially if you’re someone who has felt unappreciated and alienated for being different… I have something to tell you. You count. You. Fucking. Count. You’re needed, even if the heroes don’t realize it yet. (Seriously, heroes, you should be more strategic about looking for awesome sidekicks. AFAIK only Nick Bostrom is doing it.) This community could use more of you. Pretty much every community could use more of you.

I’d like, someday, to live in a culture that doesn’t shame this way of being. As Brienne points out, “Society likes *selfless* people, who help everybody equally, sure. It’s socially acceptable to be a nurse, for example. Complete loyalty and devotion to “the hero”, though, makes people think of brainwashing, and I’m not sure what else exactly but bad things.” (And not all subsets of society even accept nursing as a Valid Life Choice.) I’d like to live in a world where an aspiring Samwise can find role models; where he sees awesome, successful people and can say, “yes, I want to grow up to be that.”

Maybe I can’t have that world right away. But at least I know what I’m reaching for. I have a name for it. And I have a Frodo–Ruby and I are going to be working together from here on out. I have a reason not to walk away.


209 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2015-01-08T23:22:51.785Z · score: 61 (61 votes) · LW · GW

For what it’s worth, I endorse this aesthetic and apologize for any role I played in causing people to focus too much on the hero thing. You need a lot of nonheroes per hero and I really want to validate the nonheroes but I guess I feel like I don’t know how, or like it’s not my place to say because I didn’t make the same sacrifices… or what feels to me like it ought to be a sacrifice, only maybe it’s not.

comment by undermind · 2015-01-16T05:45:06.924Z · score: 22 (22 votes) · LW · GW

“Clever kids in Ravenclaw, evil kids in Slytherin, wannabe heroes in Gryffindor, and everyone who does the actual work in Hufflepuff.”

You've already said it. But it doesn't hurt to repeat.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-22T17:36:40.504Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

My girlfriend and I always joke that Hufflepuff needs to seize the means of production.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2015-01-08T13:54:40.499Z · score: 51 (51 votes) · LW · GW

I suspect this is a consequence of the situation that rationalists often feel alone. Not necessarily alone as people (although that also happens), but alone as rationalists. Before I found LW, I was in a situation where I had a few friends, but probably none of them would be interested in the kind of debates we have on LW.

If there is only one person in the whole Shire who cares about destroying the ring, would we want that person to be Frodo or Samwise? Frodo would probably try the mission alone, even if less efficiently. Samwise would probably settle for the second best mission, for a mission where he could find a hero to follow.

In different situations different traits are required. In a situation where the individuals are isolated, we would probably want every individual to be a hero, because heroes can act in isolation. On the other hand, in a functional community, having a few highly efficient heroes is probably better than having too many heroes with low efficiency.

So maybe we could use the presence of integrated sidekicks as a measure of health of the community.

This reminds me of some unhealthy behavior I have seen in Mensa: people who have spent so much time in their lives trying to prove their intelligence, that when they finally find a group of their peers, all they can do is continue signalling their intelligence by solving yet another meaningless puzzle, over and over again. Similarly, I guess many wannable rationalists have spent too much time in their lives trying to be the only sane person facing the crazy world, that we may have a problem updating to cooperation with other people who share similar values. It is difficult to cooperate optimally with other rationalists, if we never had an opportunity to learn this behavior in the past.

comment by Swimmer963 · 2015-01-09T16:22:22.516Z · score: 14 (15 votes) · LW · GW

Hmm. I grew up with a different experience. Don't remember feeling especially alone-as-a-rationalist. Some parts of my childhood were unusual; my parents are pretty exceptionally sane, my brother is as interested in rationality as I am. And I think to a large degree it's just a personality difference. From the outside, it sometimes looks like other rationalists are trying to conclude that other people are dumb or unstrategic. (Including Eliezer). This makes no sense to me.

I sometimes wish I could drag various rationalists to my job at the ICU for a while, make them see the kind of teamwork and cooperation that happens in a place where cooperation is a default and a necessity. Nurses, for the most part, just cooperate. Even when there are conflicts. Even when they don't like each other. (Although the degree of "agency" that the team as a whole has does vary with how much the individuals like each other and get along.) I don't know how to make this magic happen on demand, aside from applying selection bias to get the kinds of people who want to be nurses, and then giving them hard-but-manageable problems to solve. And I think I did learn a lot about cooperation at work.

Now I'm curious about the other implications of a society where individuals are isolated. What does that even look like? What do people spend their time doing? What causes the isolation? ...Sci-fi plot brewing.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2015-01-11T15:16:12.094Z · score: 9 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Some parts of my childhood were unusual; my parents are pretty exceptionally sane, my brother is as interested in rationality as I am.

There was a research (sorry, I don't have the link) about highly intelligent children, whether they later in life became successful people or losers, and the conclusion was that it mostly depended on the family. If the family provided models of how to use high intelligence for professional success (e.g. the parents were doctors or lawyers), the children became successful and integrated; if the family didn't have such model (a gifted child in otherwise average family), the children often became weird loners. But if I remember correctly, if those loners had families and their own highly intelligent children, the second generation was okay.

Of course rationality is not the same as high intelligence, but I suspect there is a similar effect of being a weirdo in one's own family, versus being a part of the team. There are differences: High intelligence is often considered a positive trait by average people; the problem is it creates unrealistic expectations (if you have high intelligence, you are supposed to magically overcome any problem and should never need any help). Epistemic rationality probably doesn't get much respect from irrational people (not believing in group dogma makes you seem evil; not doing the stupid things that everyone else considers smart makes you seem dumb). Also, when highly intelligent people sometimes dream about becoming average, they know it is impossible (without brain surgery or similar); but for a lonely rationalist, becoming irrational feels like a realistic option they could take any time, so it feels like their troubles are maybe just all their own fault.

When I imagine having a rationalist sibling, my emotional reaction is: "By this time we would have already conquered the world together!" Which most likely isn't literally true... but it illustrates how it can feel not having one.

I sometimes wish I could drag various rationalists to my job at the ICU for a while, make them see the kind of teamwork and cooperation that happens in a place where cooperation is a default and a necessity.

Some kind of teamwork should definitely be a part of a rationalist group training.

Sci-fi plot brewing.

Done.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2015-02-12T02:07:01.783Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

about highly intelligent children, whether they later in life became successful people or losers, and the conclusion was that it mostly depended on the family. If the family provided models of how to use high intelligence for professional success (e.g. the parents were doctors or lawyers), the children became successful and integrated; if the family didn't have such model (a gifted child in otherwise average family), the children often became weird loners. But if I remember correctly, if those loners had families and their own highly intelligent children, the second generation was okay.

Being highly intelligent comes with it's own opportunities and pitfalls.

Having people close to you with life experience relevant to your life is a huge advantage, as would having people close to you with useful social connections to professional fields that leverage intelligence.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2015-02-12T11:03:01.678Z · score: 0 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Being highly intelligent comes with it's own opportunities and pitfalls.

Yes. The question is whether those disadvantages of high intelligence are intrinsic, or merely a consequence of incompatibility with the majority which is of the average intelligence. In other words, if the people with higher intelligence could create a society (or a sufficiently supportive subculture) where they would be the norm, whether they would still have some disadvantages compared with the average people, or whether all their disadvantages would then disappear.

A naive argument for the intrinsic disadvantages is the just-world hypothesis: people believing that when the Creator Fairy creates a new soul with higher IQ, the sense of justice makes the fairy balance it with less health or less happiness, because not doing so would simply be too unfair.

A more convincing argument called Algernon's law says that if intelligence would be a pure advantage, evolution would have already made us smarter, up to the level where there is some tradeoff in fitness. A possible counter-argument is that our environment changes faster that human biology. The fittness tradeoff for higher intelligence could be something that was a huge problem thousands of years ago, but is not a problem now: for example needing more calories.

On the other hand, if highly intelligent people are successful as long as they have highly intelligent families and friends, that would be an evidence that the disadvantages mostly come from incompatibility with the majority. Which means, the disadvantages could be solved if the highly intelligent people managed to cooperate at overcoming them.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2015-02-13T00:35:52.991Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

On the other hand, if highly intelligent people are successful as long as they have highly intelligent families and friends, that would be an evidence that the disadvantages mostly come from incompatibility with the majority.

A human will be a greater success in a human tribe than a chimpanzee tribe.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2015-02-13T06:52:25.524Z · score: 0 (1 votes) · LW · GW

At climbing trees, a human in a primitive human tribe will still be less successful than the chimps.

So, are there any tree-climbing equivalents for highly intelligent people? Or is everything merely a question of having the right tribe?

(Note: I am totally "yay, smart people!" However, if there is some intrinsic weakness we have, I want to know about it, so that I can think strategically about overcoming it.)

comment by buybuydandavis · 2015-02-13T23:41:10.692Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

At climbing trees,a human in a primitive human tribe will still be less successful than the chimps.

It's not whether he is more or less successful than chimps, it's what environment he will be most successful in.

From your comments, I took it as the usual career status and money scale. On a first approximation, being able to produce more intellectual product quickly should be an advantage, if used in accordance with the reward structure of the environment.

On advantages/disadvantages relative to less intelligent people, each in their best environments, I see a few issues.

Being on the tail of the human distribution likely means that the genes aren't as robust as more central genotypes. Less testing. I wouldn't be surprised if biologically based mental illness is more likely.

It is likely that there is some trade off between intelligence and other brain functions, some functional cost to more intelligence, depending on how you want to slice and dice brain function.

But in the current environment, I think the environmental disadvantages are so huge that I'm not losing sleep over the intrinsic disadvantages.

For starters, being shuttled through the usual factory school system is easily crippling for a smart kid. Not only does it fail to teach a kid what every kid most needs to learn - how to focus and apply himself, it rewards a smart kid just for being smart, which is about the most dysfunctional lesson he can learn.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2015-02-14T15:18:07.077Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I agree with this. All kids would benefit from a better system, but smarter kids could get greater benefits. In addition to the generally useful stuff, they could also learn about how to live specifically as a person more intelligent than others. Not just signalling their intelligence to the teacher.

Without systematical support, some of them will get the information from their family and friends... some will have to learn the hard way... and some will never learn.

comment by CCC · 2015-02-14T05:36:58.763Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

An incorrect inference may, under rare circumstances, lead to a useful and coincidentally correct conclusion that just happens to be hard to reach without the incorrect inference. (Of course, it requires being very lucky as well. People make incorrect inferences all the time, but there are very few well-known examples of it working).

For example, viewing heat as a liquid might result in designing a stove that transfers heat to a pot very well, despite heat not being a liquid.

An incorrect inference can be considered basically random - this can, I think, be imitated more efficiently and more reeliably in many cases by considering an evolutionary-algorithm approach to design, in short making random design choices and testing them extremely quickly. This also has the advantage that instead of needing to be lucky enough to hit the right inference first, it can keep going until a suitable design is achieved.

I don't really know if this counts as an intrinsic weakness...

comment by Lumifer · 2015-01-09T16:52:33.786Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Nurses, for the most part, just cooperate. ... I don't know how to make this magic happen on demand

Isn't this just a job requirement and so there is selection pressure? Consider what would happen to a nurse who wouldn't "just cooperate" in the ICU. My guess is that he would be kicked out pretty quickly.

In fact, I suspect that a part of effective management at any organization is to make it so employees cooperate and don't spend their time and effort on turf or status fights. Of course, few organizations are managed effectively.

comment by robot-dreams · 2015-01-09T16:44:36.351Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I sometimes wish I could drag various rationalists to my job at the ICU for a while, make them see the kind of teamwork and cooperation that happens in a place where cooperation is a default and a necessity.

Sci-fi plot brewing.

I'd be very interested in a story that goes into detail about the Cyprus experiment (fill an island with all "alphas", instead of the usual "alpha, beta, gamma, delta, epsilon" distribution, and see what happens) from Brave New World.

Better yet, fill an island with all "rationalists" and see what happens.

comment by LizzardWizzard · 2015-01-13T14:15:53.861Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'd be very interested in a story that goes into detail about the Cyprus experiment (fill an island with all "alphas", instead of the usual "alpha, beta, gamma, delta, epsilon" distribution, and see what happens) from Brave New World. Better yet, fill an island with all "rationalists" and see what happens.

2 rationalists must come to agreement if they are truly rational, so they have great chances of survival, whereas "all alphas" will never succeed at dividing their responsibilities and all will end up doing the same thing and die, because they were just born this way, and there are no lower class people to do low-class kind of work, it's to difficult for them to reprogram

comment by Lumifer · 2015-01-13T15:49:11.265Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

2 rationalists must come to agreement if they are truly rational

No, they must not. The "common priors" requirement is not viable practically.

comment by LizzardWizzard · 2015-01-14T12:51:34.988Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

My choice of words was incorrect. i meant "more likely" to agree and to succeed at surviving

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-22T18:14:58.130Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I suspect this is a consequence of the situation that rationalists often feel alone. Not necessarily alone as people (although that also happens), but alone as rationalists. Before I found LW, I was in a situation where I had a few friends, but probably none of them would be interested in the kind of debates we have on LW.

I don't feel like "We are actually very alone in our tendency or desire to be 'rational'" has a high probability. I more feel like there's a cultural norm that intelligent people are supposed to be alienated loners, to such a hegemonic degree that you can easily get socially pigeonholed as "the Smart Guy" just for being, well, smart. Because once your trope-demographic box has been determined in elementary school, it plainly doesn't matter what you actually wanted to do or be with your life /s.

So maybe we could use the presence of integrated sidekicks as a measure of health of the community.

As a proxy, measure the number of females. Women are socialized to be sidekick-y by "the patriarchy" (no point debating the existence of such right now, but I'm giving a generalization based on all the reported experiences of all the very smart women I know), so an environment where they can be accepted and participate is usually an environment in which signalling heroism has been given a healthily low priority.

comment by graphictruth · 2015-04-24T19:53:17.248Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I just wanted to add a sidebar/support here. This Stanford study about how the "voices" associated with schizophrenia vary widely according to culture suggests that culture (and of course family) have a profound effect upon the expression of any trait; perhaps to the extent of forcing something that becomes a clinical disorder.

For instance, the leader/follower ratio. You can even assume perfect rationality on the part of all actors; even with that assumption, nobody can rationally act outside of what their context will permit. That context is culturally enforced; suppressing or limiting the expression of various sorts of personality and intelligence. So a person who could be a leader still requires a context that will permit that. Family support, access to education, etc. This is also true of becoming an effective "sidekick," or any other set of traits.

And obviously, while context is required to effectively express a trait, no context will help if it's a trait you don't have in the first place.

But it's simple to point to various traits - Sexual and gender issues, the hearing of voices, asperger's autism, multiple personality and dissociation - that different cultures react to and deal with in wildly different ways, causing very different expressions. It seems unlikely that various forms of intelligence and degrees of competitiveness/assertiveness would be immune to this.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-01-08T23:41:05.936Z · score: 24 (24 votes) · LW · GW

Two different types of sidekicks need to be distinguished: second in command, and assistant.

A second in command is someone who can at need temporarily take charge when the leader is absent or incapacitated, and at other times be engaged with the leader doing the same work, but leaving most of the initiative to the leader. Samwise is a second in command.

An assistant is not in the chain of command. Nick Bostrom is looking for an assistant, not a second in command.

comment by Swimmer963 · 2015-01-09T16:09:03.315Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · LW · GW

Hmm. That's true. I'm not sure how much this is actually a dichotomy in practice, as opposed to a gradient where some sidekicks are more assistant-like, some are in the middle, and some are more second-in-command like. I'm also not sure to what degree the same people are attracted to both second-in-command and assistant roles, and whether it's for the same reasons. That would affect whether it makes sense to classify them together for this purpose. I can come up with imaginary characters who would only be interested in second-in-command, or only in assistant roles, but they both appeal to me for many of the same reasons.

I kind of feel like it has to do with the sidekick's competence and also the scale of the project. If the project is of a scale where it's possible for the hero to make most of the decisions, and the sidekick is new to it and finds assistant-work hard enough, it'll tend towards that role. If the sidekick and hero keep working together, as they both learn and grow, the hero will want to move on to larger-scale projects, and at some point there will be too many high-level decisions for the hero to make all of them, and at this point the sidekick will have been working with them for a long time and learned a lot, and it seems like it might naturally turn into a second-in-command role. But this would only happen in a situation where roles are fluid; if it were a standard case of a CEO and their executive assistant, the role would be unlikely to change that much. (Although EAs do have quite a lot of decision-making power.)

comment by SaucePear · 2015-04-22T09:36:19.198Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I have a strong desire to be a 'second-in-command' type of sidekick.

Backing up slightly, this post resonated with me very strongly. All internal fantasy, from childhood to adulthood has been about me entering the world of the hero and suborning myself to them to act as a sidekick. I didn't realize others felt differently for quite some time.

I feel the second in command style works better for me because I am attracted to heroes with slightly different preference weightings than myself. In places where the task conflicts with the heroes preferences, I could step in and relieve their distress by performing it instead. I don't know that this specifically distinguishes it from an 'assistant' however.

Going with my intuition, I would suspect that there are people who would feel drawn to the different roles. For instance I would not like to be an assistant because I'm an excellent emergency back-up leader and would be wasted in that capacity.

comment by gjm · 2015-04-22T13:46:50.500Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

(Pedantic correction; read on only if you prefer being right to not being corrected.)

"Suborn" doesn't mean what I think you think it does. You mean "subordinate"; to suborn someone is to bribe them to do something bad.

comment by emr · 2015-01-09T21:35:23.610Z · score: 19 (23 votes) · LW · GW

I'm trying to understand why I have a strong aversive reaction to this sort of discussion. If I'm honest, I feel worried that people who identity as "sidekicks" risk being exploited by those who identity as "heroes". A healthy community will tend to discourage this sort of taxonomy in various ways in order to avoid the risk of abuse, but the core members of the rationality movement seem to not recognize the social necessity of doing this.

And yet the response is not "maybe invoking the hero archetype at every possible opportunity is a bad idea", but rather doubling down on the idea that the leading figures of our movements should be modeled as genuine Lord-of-the-rings heroes. And since not everyone can bring themselves to believe that they are Frodo, we decide that invoking another high-fantasy archetype is the right solution?!

comment by Swimmer963 · 2015-01-10T06:47:59.642Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW

I'm curious as to why you so strongly think that sidekicks risk being abused, and that "healthy" communities will discourage this dynamic hard. I– I don't want to say that I want to be exploited, but I crave being useful, and being used to my full usefulness. I don't think this desire is unhealthy. Yes, this means that it's always tempting to throw too much of myself at a project, but that's the same problem as learning not to say yes to all the overtime shifts at the hospital and end up working 70 hours a week. I guess you could say that someone I was working for could "abuse" me by forcing me, or coercing or sweet-talking me, into the equivalent of "taking all the overtime shifts." But (in my limited experience of this) the leader's more common motivation seems to be in the opposite direction–of being afraid of pushing their sidekick too far.

I'm wondering whether you have some different experience of this, and would be interested in your elaboration if you have one.

comment by cousin_it · 2015-01-10T10:21:18.792Z · score: 16 (20 votes) · LW · GW

I also had a weird reaction to your post, like emr and someonewrongonthenet. Personally, I feel that it's healthy to work as an assistant to someone (and stop thinking about work when you leave the office at 6pm), but it's unhealthy to be the assistant of someone (and treat them as a fantasy hero 24/7 and possibly sleep with them). Yay professionalism and work/life balance, boo medieval loyalties and imagined life narratives!

That's also the advice I often give to programmers, to think of themselves as working for a company (in exchange for money) rather than at a company (as part of a common cause). That advice makes some stressful situations and conflicts just magically disappear.

You could say that a world of inherently equal professionals exchanging services, without PCs or NPCs, is too barren to many people. Some people actually want to feel like heroes, and others want to feel like sidekicks. Who am I to deny them that roleplay? Well, some people also want to fit in the "warrior" role, being fiercely loyal to their group and attacking outsiders. We have all kinds of ancient tribal instincts, which are amplified by reading fantasy and bad (hero-based) sci-fi. I feel that such instincts are usually harmful in the long run, although they seem to make sense in the moment.

comment by Swimmer963 · 2015-01-10T16:34:19.305Z · score: 17 (17 votes) · LW · GW

Personally, I feel that it's healthy to work as an assistant to someone (and stop thinking about work when you leave the office at 6pm), but it's unhealthy to be the assistant of someone (and treat them as a fantasy hero 24/7 and possibly sleep with them).

I think this is exactly what Brienne is talking about when she points out that society doesn't look kindly on people who want to serve others. And... I think maybe you're pointing at something real. It does seem possible that when "being" an assistant breaks, it breaks harder than when "working as" an assistant breaks. So it's a higher-stakes situation to put yourself in. (Both for the leader and for their assistant).

I don't think that negates any of what I said in the post though. Half of my point is basically just "some people are the kind of people who want to be nurses, no, really." Like, it seems to be really hard for people who aren't those kind of people to understand that for me, roles that aren't especially high-status but involve being really useful to other people hit all of my happiness buttons. That people are actually different and that their dream job might be one I'd hate, and vice versa.

The other part probably only makes sense when aimed at people who have taken the concept of "heroes" on board...which large portions of this community have. And that point is mainly: if you're going to accept that heroes and people who want to be heroes are a thing, you've got to have the concept of sidekicks too, otherwise you have a broken unhealthy community. It sounds like you're arguing that it's best not to take either concept on board. Maybe. You can argue that point.

That's also the advice I often give to programmers, to think of themselves as working for a company (in exchange for money) rather than at a company (as part of a common cause).

I'm not sure I have that switch? I've developed strong feelings of loyalty towards every job I've had. As a nurse, this loyalty is felt only a little bit towards the hospital where I work; I feel more of it for my immediate colleagues, and the rest of it towards some abstract "Profession of Nursing." I'm not sure how to stop feeling that way, or honestly why I'd want to stop.

We have all kinds of ancient tribal instincts, which are amplified by reading fantasy and bad (hero-based) sci-fi. I feel that such instincts are usually harmful in the long run, although they seem to make sense in the moment.

This comes across a little bit as saying "hey, don't have emotions!" Which...yeah, maybe emotions cause a lot of problems, but not having them isn't an option. And I'm not sure that not having narratives is an option either. It seems to me that I'm going to think of my life as a narrative in any case; I might as well try to understand and analyze and shape it. (Just as I shape my emotions, trying to lean away from the emotions that seem net-negative...but the way to do that is to guide yourself towards different emotions.)

comment by BrienneYudkowsky · 2015-02-10T20:34:40.782Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure why we're focusing in on narratives here, but I suspect it's for not very good reasons. Whether it's good for some people to "think of themselves as sidekicks" seems less important than whether it's good for people to actually perform the actions of a "sidekick". We can talk about how to promote or discourage the set of actions once that's settled. I'd much rather present a breakdown of what I actually do day to day and why, and then have people point out what precisely it is that I'm doing wrong.

comment by cousin_it · 2015-01-10T18:30:56.964Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure how to stop feeling that way, or honestly why I'd want to stop.

Well, one reason is to avoid driving down wages and worsening working conditions for yourself and everyone else in your profession. It's not a coincidence that the jobs that people feel "passionate" about are the jobs where it's hardest to make a living, like writing or music. I wrote a post about that.

It sounds like you're arguing that it's best not to take either concept on board.

Yeah, pretty much. The whole PC vs NPC idea feels slightly distasteful to me.

comment by Vaniver · 2015-01-10T17:16:46.518Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

That's also the advice I often give to programmers, to think of themselves as working for a company (in exchange for money) rather than at a company (as part of a common cause). That advice makes some stressful situations and conflicts just magically disappear.

I hope you wouldn't give this advice to cofounders or early employees with an ownership stake, though, and that may be a better lens for viewing these sorts of relationships.

comment by cousin_it · 2015-01-10T18:37:58.644Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think a cofounder should be a sidekick. It's more of a partnership, with voting and all.

comment by Vaniver · 2015-01-11T03:06:43.059Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

So, I think that a sidekick can feel some ownership over what their hero does, and that feeling that will make them a better sidekick (in part, because they will be less likely to stop thinking about it at 6 pm).

I'm also having a hard time disentangling this in my mind from thoughts about households: in some sense, couples cofound a household together, and it seems counter-productive to think about that in solely mercenary terms, or to 'clock out' of your household.

I think I also find myself unhappy with what might be reflexive egalitarianism that is unhappy with unequal splits of decision-making power or status or so on. It's okay to be unseen; it's okay to be a junior partner; it's okay to be a servant. A lot of talk about 'purpose' emphasizes having 'something bigger than yourself,' and it seems to me that finding purpose in the people around you is something worth applauding.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-22T19:16:13.068Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That's also the advice I often give to programmers, to think of themselves as working for a company (in exchange for money) rather than at a company (as part of a common cause). That advice makes some stressful situations and conflicts just magically disappear.

It is also a great way to avoid receiving job offers. "Your company is my cause" is one of the socially-necessitated blatant lies of our age.

comment by cousin_it · 2015-04-23T01:27:24.260Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Oh, I never said they shouldn't lie.

comment by Nepene · 2015-01-13T00:35:59.178Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I am from Britain and I can say with experience that working for a company in exchange for money is not an effective way to avoid 24/7 sleep with the hero situations. I know quite a few people who have a poor work life balance because they are working for a company and have more stressful situations and conflicts. I've seen people work themselves to depression, divorce, and death thanks to my involvement with the very toxic British banking culture.

Your avoidance of such things dependends on the independent variable of how assertive you are at managing your work/life balance and how good your goal setting is. It's quite easy to overwork yourself for money. Wanting to be a sidekick or a hero or a equal professional doesn't increase or decrease your skill at maintaining a work life balance or your goal setting skills any more than it increases your physical strength or intellect.

comment by AspiringRationalist · 2015-01-20T01:26:57.113Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Banking has that reputation in America too. I would hazard a guess that the problem is banking, not Britain (I used to work in finance, though not in banking specifically).

comment by emr · 2015-01-11T05:11:43.389Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

You can't be the sidekick of a hero anymore than you can be the student of an enlightened spiritual guru, or the patient of witchdoctor. If you go looking for a hero, who do you think you will find?

There is no chance that a Frodo-style hero exists, and that you've correctly identified one (versus an admirable non-hero or a fool or a charlatan), and that the hero needs the help of a sidekick to function as a hero (versus someone they can hire, or the support of standard social relationships) and that a genuine hero is going to be like "why yes I am a hero please quit your nursing job and be my (first? second? third?) sidekick in order to marginally increase my odds of saving the world".

The danger is to those people who can recognize that they themselves are not gurus, witchdoctors, heroes, perfect rationalists or ubermensch-programmer-super-geniuses-saving-the-world, but still believe that there are large and identifiable classes of people out there who actually are. And who then feel that the only way to have a non-shameful standing relative to their largely imaginary peers to find one to team up with!

That said, my critique is more against the notion that there is a special class of heroes waiting to be paired up with sidekicks than against the value of "sidekick" role. I feel that I'm deeply sympathetic to the heart of what you've said. A more constructive take that tries to avoid the problems that concern me might be:

The desire to be useful and serve others is present in both roles. If anything, the narrative "hero" in (mainstream, modern, Western) culture is someone who makes themselves a deeper servant to more people at greater personal cost. There is a sacrificial theme to our hero-stories, going back at least to early Christianity.

Human undertakings are always deeply cooperative. Those who are higher up in a hierarchy of influence function in a large way as the servants of those below. As a nurse, you serve the patients you care for. The people who organize your work (assign shifts and tasks) mostly act to help you do your job better. And so the teacher serves the students; and the general serves the soldiers. Who are the heroes and who are the sidekicks? Something has gone awry if a community thinks that the arrow of agency points in a single direction.

An occupation like nursing has as much a heroic aspect as a leadership role has an aspect of service (to the people the leader is coordinating).

Once you split out status-seeking motivations, the psychological difference between those who want to be heroes and those who want to be sidekicks is probably not about wanting to useful overall, but about the specific manner in which a person wants their usefulness to be manifested: Aspiring heroes want broad and diffuse usefulness, and aspiring sidekicks want concrete and individually-manifested usefulness. As always, it's can be pretty hard to figure out which approach is more valuable. There are plausible reasons, relating to the status concerns, to think that contributions of sidekicks are undervalued.

I don't really identity with either role, so I'm curious if my attempt to explain the psychological difference (heroes help in a diffuse/general/far way and sidekicks help in a specific/concrete/near way) seems reasonable to those who identify more with each role.

comment by Jiro · 2015-01-12T02:45:31.801Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Something else to remember: The Lord of the Rings took around six months. And considering that hobbits live longer than humans, by human standards it's more like 4 months. In other words, heroes and sidekicks in pieces of fiction do not use up all their life or pawn their future in order to be heroes or sidekicks. Perhaps if they get unlucky (Frodo was injured), but that's only a chance.

Even superheroes, who seem to be an exception to this, are saved by the genre conceits that 1) for some strange reason, if you're not specifically obsessed like Batman, being a superhero doesn't completely preclude a normal life, and 2) although the timescale of comic books means we don't see it much, superheroes eventually stop being superheroes, and starting a family is one of the biggest reasons for one to stop.

Even if heroes and sidekicks existed in the real world, dedicating your life to Eliezer's cause is a lot more extreme than being a hero or a sidekick, and should be thought of with appropriately greater skepticism.

comment by Kenny · 2015-01-20T19:00:21.812Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Aren't you cherry-picking, even from the single work of fiction you mention? Sure, Frodo and Samwise didn't dedicate their lives to be heroes. But Gandalf and Aragorn did.

And your superhero genre conceits don't seem to match what I've read. It's a near-universal trope of superhero comics that heroes can't lead normal lives and that when they do, they're inevitably reminded of the inherent dangers, e.g. perfect hostages in the form of their loved ones. And it's also another near-universal trope whereby the retired hero is called back into service in The Hour of Dire Need.

I agree that one should be more skeptical of dedicating one's life to Eliezer's cause than a character typically depicted in superhero comics might be given the prospect of super-powers. But let's not forget that Hero is a trope with Real Life examples and dedicating one's life to something is a pretty common occurrence.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-22T19:01:20.212Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that one should be more skeptical of dedicating one's life to Eliezer's cause than a character typically depicted in superhero comics might be given the prospect of super-powers. But let's not forget that Hero is a trope with Real Life examples and dedicating one's life to something is a pretty common occurrence.

In my experience, a lot of people seem to expect that you've dedicated your life to something, as if plain, ordinary human beings who just want to be human beings are not even fantasy novel NPCs but just failing to follow the social rules of real life. I think this might have something to do with the pretensions to Great Purpose of the white-collar professional classes, but I still don't really get it.

This bugs me a whole lot, because despite quite like LW-ian type stuff related to math, statistics, science, machine learning, blah blah blah, it all looks more than a little crazy from the outside, and I also just can't wrap my head around dedicating a whole life to a thing, as if things are allowed to be bigger and more important than people.

"You've only got one life, but you can get a new cause on any street corner!"

-- Rincewind, summarizing my feelings on the subject of causes, including those I genuinely support.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-01-20T19:33:35.450Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

But Gandalf and Aragorn did.

Gandalf, yes -- he does say that that the point of his existence was to be the counter to to Sauron -- but Aragorn, no. He was a ranger before and became a king after, with just six months of heroism in between.

comment by Nornagest · 2015-01-20T20:25:53.274Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Gandalf's essentially an angel, so I'm not sure concepts like dedicating one's life to something conventionally apply to him. But "ranger", for Aragorn, seems to cover an awful lot of heroism -- and I wouldn't be surprised if "king" did as well.

Being a hero in epic fantasy is often less about what you do and more about what you are. Lord of the Rings handles that in an interesting way, by arranging events such that the fate of the world hinges on the actions of characters who're decidedly unheroic by genre standards -- antiheroes in the classical, not the grimdark, sense of the word -- but it plays the mantle-of-destiny thing more or less straight if we're talking about anyone who isn't a hobbit.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-01-20T20:39:47.823Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Gandalf's essentially an angel, so I'm not sure concepts like dedicating one's life to something conventionally apply to him.

Well, a Maia, and while I think his life was dedicated to a particular cause, there are enough hints that it's not Gandalf himself who did the dedicating :-/ Though he certainly seemed to be perfectly fine with that.

antiheroes

I don't think so -- the hobbits are not "anti", they are unexpected heroes, but pretty straight heroes otherwise.

comment by Jiro · 2015-01-20T20:26:23.047Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Also, Gandalf is a Maiar, a supernatural being. He's not a human, or a human stand-in such as a hobbit.

If I build a battle robot and the robot goes to battle, is it a hero?

Are angels heroes?

It's a near-universal trope of superhero comics that heroes can't lead normal lives and that when they do, they're inevitably reminded of the inherent dangers, e.g. perfect hostages in the form of their loved ones.

"Normal life" is a relative term. I can think of few superheroes who are in a situation analogous to what was described by emr above with respect to Eliezer's consort. There are certainly individual obstacles that superheroes face that normal people don't, but the overall effect of these obstacles on the superhero's life is limited, even if they loom large in an individual story.

comment by Nornagest · 2015-01-20T21:46:22.620Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If I build a battle robot and the robot goes to battle, is it a hero? Are angels heroes?

The smartassed answer would be "decades of anime say yes", but the real answer is that this is the kind of thing we could argue about for hours without making progress, because the word's broad enough to encompass several mutually contradictory meanings.

This thread is happening in the context of a larger discussion about heroic responsibility, however, and I think "sidekick" here is most productively framed against that concept. Heroic responsibility means shouldering all the ills of the world; a sidekick's responsibility is doing whatever the hero needs done so that they can more effectively get to the heroing. These approaches are rare in media; even Frodo and Samwise, the examples of the OP, only count in a kind of loose, metaphorical sense. But that doesn't really matter, because we're not doing media analysis here, we're doing motivational psychology.

I'm not yet convinced that this is the healthiest or most productive way to conceptualize heroism or sidekickkery, at least for most people (you could insert a long-winded digression about Fate/stay night here, but it wouldn't mean much to people that haven't played the game). It beats arguing semantics, though, so let's stick with it for now.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-01-20T20:46:00.138Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If I build a battle robot and the robot goes to battle, is it a hero?

In which sense is Gandalf similar to a battle robot in the way that, say, Aragorn is not?

Besides, if you think of Maiar as battle robots, not only Gandalf is not a hero, but Sauron is not a villain either.

comment by c_edwards · 2015-01-18T18:22:45.753Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think there might be some ambiguity with the "sidekick" thing. I understand framing this as a hero and side-kick dynamic, but I think it might be easier to create a mental model of a team with some people playing more of a support role. [For consistency with other posts, I'm going to largely phrase things in terms of hero and sidekick] Either way, though, I see two general way things can go, one healthy and one unhealthy.

"I am going to do whatever I can to help this hero, no matter what" is a version of side-kicking I see a lot in books. And I recently pulled myself out of a relationship where I fell into a similar dynamic (although without my partner actually falling into the "hero" role). The "do anything, come what may" aspect is very dangerous. And when I first read this post, that was the part that I found slightly disconcerting.

However, there's another style of support/sidekicking that seems very healthy and productive to me:

"I am going to find a person or persons who are effective at achieving goal(s) I find important, and do what I feel appropriate to help them achieve those goals for as long as it seems like the right thing to do (where a condition of "right thing to do" is that they are treating me well)." This is a much more specific and conditional statement, and one that to me feels both powerful and healthy.

Reading some of the followup posts suggest that you and Brienne both fall into the second camp:

Brienne has been pretty explicit that if she's working with a hero, and finds out that they're wrong about a fundamental >thing and thus that she could make more impact on her own, she would do it, even though it would be a personal >tragedy.

The fiance of my best friend plays a supporting role (not a supporting actor, mind you) at a major movie production company. She doesn't act, she doesn't design things, she doesn't get credit for all the big achievements. She just keeps all the different parts working together, keeps everyone on schedule, and when necessary handles the details necessary for the big name actors to be at their best (accommodating dietary needs, etc). The high status individuals like actors and animators may be more directly involved in producing the movies, but without this supporting individual and others like her, big productions would never be possible. I feel that many large endeavors (and perhaps even small ones) need people who can play such supporting roles.

I think the danger of the hero-sidekick dynamic is if there is such a strong bond of loyalty to the individual that either the hero or the sidekick is willing to tolerate being treated poorly, or interacting with someone who is no longer important in achieving the overarching goals. And because you can have heroes without sidekicks but you can't have sidekicks without heroes, I would expect asymmetry in what sidekicks and heroes would naturally tolerate. But ultimately you are trying to WIN, which means that - emotional ties aside - the hero isn't as important as how your contributions are helping to achieve your stated goals. Which means that, as a rationalist, you should work with a hero only for as long as that is the rational thing to do. It's the potential for irrational loyalty that makes this subject slightly uncomfortable to me.

One of the things that I have found incredibly valuable for my romantic life, which seems equally valuable here, is to create a list of your goals, what you're looking for in a partnership/team, what you're happy doing and what you're unhappy doing. While, as rationalists, we should be capable of setting aside our emotions while in the midst of a personal relationship (romantic, or platonic hero-sidekick, or really any other) to evaluate whether it's the right thing, it's much easier if you have a preexisting guideline. This, in turn, should drastically reduce the likelihood of exploitation by a less-than-perfect "hero".

comment by taryneast · 2015-01-08T04:47:39.243Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · LW · GW

If you're at all familiar with the SCA, one of the three peerage orders is that of the Pelican: http://www.sca.org.au/pelicans/ it awards people for outstanding service (seriously, to get one, you have to have run many events over a decade, and worked damn hard making people happy to get it). You are unlikely to get one unless you consistently, and sustainedly want to serve the needs of others for long period of time.

You strike me as potential Pelican material...

Note: The fact that this community (the SCA) consistently gives accolades for service is, I think, one of the reasons why it is so successful at being a Community.

By contrast, the other two peerages: Chivalry (for sword fighting) and Laurels (for making cool stuff) are both "Look what I did/made" orders... full of heroes (the former more than the latter, in my mind). Which is great and necessary and really cool... but without the Pelicans, the Society as a whole wouldn't exist.

My suggestion: adopt and help sustain a community of rationalists near you.

comment by Swimmer963 · 2015-01-08T11:24:07.077Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Neat! I didn't know that was a thing. Society consistently surprises me by being cooler and bigger than I expect.

Edit: I'm trying to find out what 'SCA' stands for and the first google result was "Sudden Cardiac Arrest." Google knows me way too freaking well.

comment by Weedlayer · 2015-01-08T17:00:29.567Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I'm fairly confident it stands for "Society for Creative Anachronism".

comment by jsteinhardt · 2015-01-10T19:42:16.250Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

I think an interesting related meme is "leadership as service". This idea certainly existed in the Boy Scouts when I was in high school, and a related idea of "management as service" exists in at least some good tech companies.

I don't personally like the "hero" narrative that much but I am highly ambitious and willing to do things even if no one else is doing them. Nevertheless, in fact, as a result of this, I often end up in what might seem like "sidekick roles". I've oftentimes taken on logistical tasks even though it's easy to argue that my comparative advantage is elsewhere. Why? Because if I don't, then some important thing won't get done, and that's all that matters. This is what I think Eliezer means when he refers to "heroic responsibility", and I think you among all people I've met exemplify this the most. So that's one interesting observation.

Another observation in my personal experience is that it's extremely difficult to take a "hero" role in more than one thing at once, simply because it's too time-consuming. I have several causes that I contribute my time to, but in many cases my ability to do so is limited by someone else willing to take the lead and spearhead the project. But again interestingly, that person often ends up performing "sidekick-like" tasks while I am more free to focus on creating value directly. I think this again inverts the narrative: who do we call the "hero" and who do we call the "sidekick"? One person is taking the lead but only creating value indirectly by allowing a group of other people to be more productive. The other people are the ones that are directly creating value, but are working within a pre-existing system. I don't know if you think that this relates to the ideas in your post or not, but I thought it was another interesting observation either way.

comment by shminux · 2015-01-08T04:41:45.972Z · score: 13 (17 votes) · LW · GW

Great post, as usual! Every time I see your post I anticipate reading it in delight, and am never disappointed. Hope you and Ruby will accomplish great things.

I cannot help but notice that all non-fictional sidekicks you mentioned are female. I tried to think of famous real-life examples of a dependable and trusted companion who makes the hero what he or she is, and had trouble finding more than one or two males. I wonder if this is more or female trait, whether by nature or nurture, or the result of the infamous patriarchy, or maybe I just don't know of many.

comment by Jacobian · 2015-01-08T05:46:55.679Z · score: 16 (18 votes) · LW · GW

Have you heard of Charlie Munger? Most people probably haven't, which is part of why he's a great (male, real life) sidekick. Munger is the vice-chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and has been Warren Buffet's right hand man for decades. Munger is one of the examples in Michael Eisner's (former Disney CEO) book on partnerships. One of the book's main points is that 50-50 is a very unstable split in a business partnership, but if one of the partners is willing to stand half a step lower the couple can achieve more.

You see this example a lot in sports, and by "you" I mean me because I've met few rationalists who care about sports as much as I do :) Scottie Pippen would've been an excellent player on his own, but being Michael Jordan's sidekick made him an all-time great.

Since professional sports is very competitive and rewards "alpha dogs" with all of the money and fame (endorsement deals, max contracts, hottest groupies), players who could have been amazing Robins become mediocre Batmans. If players were only paid based on winning championships, I'm sure that would change. If your goal is to save the world, that's the only goal and no one cares about "individual stats". With this goal drawing quite a few heroes, being a sidekick may well be the best, noblest, and most effective way to contribute.

comment by Vaniver · 2015-01-08T15:58:57.721Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Since professional sports is very competitive and rewards "alpha dogs" with all of the money and fame (endorsement deals, max contracts, hottest groupies), players who could have been amazing Robins become mediocre Batmans.

Startups generally give most of the fame to founders, but they give enough of the money to early employees that it seems better to try to be an early employee at a great startup than a cofounder of even a good startup (given what the difference between great and good cashes out to in startups). And so there's the same issue of "are you optimizing for fame, or money/saving the world?"

comment by Jacobian · 2015-01-08T23:27:46.996Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Do start-ups distribute according to a power law? In that case they would be somewhere in the middle between sports and saving the world.

In American sports leagues there's a salary cap that's the same for each team (flat distribution). Being the second best player on a championship team almost always means less money than being the #1 star on a bad one. Usually athletes only start taking pay cuts to play for contenders towards the end of their careers. If start up earnings are distributed exponentially, it would seem that being #5 on a top 20 start-up is better than #1 on top-200 one. On the other hand, you mentioned other incentives, like fame (decision power, ego..) that would confound the issue. It's hard to care about "the company" as a goal separate from yourself, otherwise being fired from a company wouldn't change our opinion of it (for those who haven't ever been fired: I have, it does). If you're trying to save the world, the payoff distribution should be discrete: 0 if you fail, [your favorite number here] if you win. If Sauron wins, all hobbits are equally screwed. Once the ring was destroyed, did Frodo get a higher payout than Sam? Not if you derive positive utility from having 10 fingers :)

comment by Vaniver · 2015-01-09T00:34:58.462Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Do start-ups distribute according to a power law?

Paul Graham thinks so.

comment by homunq · 2015-02-22T14:30:14.131Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think you've misunderstood the question. As I understand it, it's not "is the distribution of startup values a power law" but "do startups distribute their profits to employees according to a power law".

comment by Vaniver · 2015-02-22T19:52:16.894Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

do startups distribute their profits to employees according to a power law

I hear that ownership is distributed roughly so that founders get 1/f, and early employees get 1/n^2, where f is the number of founders and n is the employee number (counting the first non-founder as employee f+1). (Both are obviously proportional; there's some constant term in there.)

comment by Kenny · 2015-01-20T19:23:26.898Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

one of the partners ... willing to stand half a step lower

That's a great description of why my wife and I have adopted The Dictator Principle for joint projects. The principle is just that someone must be The Dictator and, as the project leader, must be ultimately responsible for all decisions. Being ultimately responsible doesn't preclude delegation but it does prevent conflict arising from, e.g. "I thought you were going to do that! I thought you were going to do that!".

comment by Swimmer963 · 2015-01-08T11:23:38.779Z · score: 14 (16 votes) · LW · GW

I've also had this thought. A few people I've showed this too are explicitly bothered about the what-if-it's-a-result-of-the-patriarchy; one person is tempted to identify as a Samwise character, but reluctant to because Sexist Overtones. I...don't think this is the right response. It's a bit like saying "no, I'm going to be a doctor instead of a nurse because women are pushed into nursing by The Patriarchy." Maybe it's true, but it's orthogonal to whether an individual will like nursing or medicine more (although, honestly, they're not that different).

Other thoughts: everyone who wrote publicly about this was female, but most of the people who have emailed me privately to thank me for the post are male. So... Men feel more shamed about wanting to be sidekicks than women do?

I've already had the thought that the message I'm sending might be bad if it spread to society as a whole, because women may be pushed harder away from being CEOs than from being their executive assistants (or whatever the dichotomy), and even a well-written and nuanced pro-sidekick message is going to get parsed as "smart lady says your place is as an assistant." (If a man wrote this post, the message would be different, but I'm not a man.) I still this this message is pretty positive for the LW/CFAR/rationality community to hear; its biases run in different directions.

comment by Dirac_Delta · 2015-01-08T16:35:17.023Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

but most of the people who have emailed me privately to thank me for the post are male.

Maybe because most LW readers are male? I am not sure it necessarily leads to the conclusion that

Men feel more shamed about wanting to be sidekicks than women do?

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2015-01-11T19:34:03.201Z · score: 7 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I am not going to generalize from myself, only think aloud. I think I could feel comfortable as a sidekick, but it seems like in many situations I don't get this option.

Part of that is related to gender stereotypes: In the past, whenever I stopped being a leader in a relationship, my then girlfriend usually quickly replaced me with a guy who enjoyed that role. (I know there are also relationships with the opposite dynamic, but I never experienced one.) Another part is about money, which indirectly is also related to gender stereotypes: I feel a pressure to make a lot of money (maybe it's just in my head, but so far I haven't met any volunteer to pay my bills, so I treat it as real). Leaders make more money than sidekicks.

Sometimes I get into leading position by being the first one or among the first ones who care about a problem. If there are other people interested in the position later, they usually easily succeed to push me away, because I am not good at status fights and I don't enjoy them. Sometimes I am even happy that someone else took the role instead of me, although I may complain about some consequences later (such as completely losing the ability to influence things).

But this is all along one dimension. I would actually prefer a role of an expert: to be fully responsible for one aspect of the problem where I feel most competent, and leave other aspects to people who feel competent there. No a second-in-command, not a general-purpose assistant, but a domain expert: making decisions within my domain, and only providing suggestions elsewhere.

Unfortunately, it often doesn't work this way. I understand that even with domain experts, there needs to be a role of a leader: someone to make decisions outside of domains of all experts, someone to decide situations where two experts disagree, someone to choose project priorities and budget, etc. But, as Dilbert has shown us is various colorful ways, it often ends by the leader questioning all decisions of the domain experts, effectively wasting their contributions. In open-source programming I usually took the role of a translator, sometimes of an internationalization expert.

I think I am an egalitarian by nature. I am not professing a political opinion here; it's simply how I naturally behave unless forced to act otherwise. Sometimes it seems like people really don't understand this: they instinctively understand the roles of the master and of the slave. (Ironically, even people who publicly profess equality often have strict hierarchies; just different than their perceived enemies.) It's probably a very strong human instinct. And there are the few weird people where this instinct somehow fails; they passionately refuse to be slaves, so they are pattern-matched to masters, but they also fail to behave like real masters, which confuses and irritates the others. On the other hand, I suspect that egalitarianism doesn't scale well. So, my optimal role would probably be a member of a small group of equals; a specialist at some domain.

comment by Error · 2015-01-08T15:35:08.755Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I can't think of specific individuals either, but that's not surprising; fame tends to go to the hero rather than the sidekick.

I can think of a male archetype that fits it, though: classical Japanese samurai. It's an aesthetic that I actually find really appealing, albeit not something I think I could ever follow myself.

comment by John_Maxwell_IV · 2015-01-08T02:29:53.456Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Good post.

I wonder if there's a pattern of idea dissemination that goes something like this:

  • Someone discovers an idea that seems helpful for them in interacting with the world.

  • They find that the more strongly they identify with the idea, the more helpful it is.

  • They tell all their friends about the idea, because (a) this is part of identifying with it and (b) they want to help their friends.

  • Their friends, being similar people, also find the idea helpful and proceed to spread it similarly.

  • The idea gains sufficient traction that it's no longer "this weird idea I had", but the mantra of a (possibly powerful) faction.

  • At this point, some people who the idea doesn't sit well with notice the idea (which now has significant psychosocial power) and experience cognitive dissonance.

  • At this stage, the idea (hopefully) gets optimized to be more accommodating to those people, and harmony ensues.

In other words, to provide a purely descriptive picture of what may have happened here: Eliezer found the idea of thinking of himself as a hero useful. This idea was helpful for accomplishing his goals. These goals included writing, and this is one of the things he wrote about. People found this writing compelling, and many adopted the idea themselves. The more seriously you take the idea, the better it works, so presentations of the idea coming from people using it successfully tended to present it pretty forcefully. But for those for whom the idea didn't work, the forceful presentation turned them off.

I certainly am not in favor of turning away people who are interested in playing support roles. If you stayed in Ottawa and worked as a nurse for forty years, that'd be a loss as far as I'm concerned. And if you want to ignore everything everyone is saying about being a hero 'cause it's not working for you, that'd be absolutely fine (and maybe even encouraged) by me.

So I appreciate you wrote this post, and hopefully we can find a form of the hero idea that's still powerful and useful while also being non-harmful to you & others. (But, full disclosure, I'm a utilitarian and I don't think we should pretend that we can make all the people happy all of the time--if propagating the forceful version of this meme is what maximizes utility than by definition I'm in favor of doing that. And things may get tricky if there are people who find the idea aversive initially but can benefit from it in the long run. It might be useful to tag some kind of quick self-classification test to the idea... for example, if the idea of playing a support role strongly appeals to you and you find the hero idea aversive, that could be evidence that the hero idea is not helpful for you even in the long term and you're best off ignoring it or reinterpreting it.) (Another thought: maybe we could modify the idea to say "be more of a hero on the margin", which could be less aversive and also potentially more useful even for those who can benefit from ideas of this type. There are probably all sorts of creative possibilities I'm not considering here.)

comment by Fluttershy · 2015-01-08T08:56:59.417Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I think that there can be a difference between being Frodo's Sam, and being a real-life hero's personal assistant/sidekick/support. In the former case, Sam is fighting orcs, hiking through treacherous mountain passes, dealing with Sméagol, etc., which is quite similar to what Frodo is doing; in the latter case, the job of the secretary/personal assistant would be much different from the job of the real-life hero. I would be happy to be Frodo's Sam, but lukewarm about being, say, Bostrom's personal assistant.

comment by Swimmer963 · 2015-01-08T11:17:53.454Z · score: 18 (18 votes) · LW · GW

I would much rather make phone calls and schedule events than fight Orcs. The latter sounds scary.

...That being said, I do like the aspects of my current job where I get to defibrillate people once in a while. I'm going to miss that.

comment by Decius · 2015-01-20T06:18:35.101Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

A better question might be: Would you rather be told where to go fight orcs, or make the decisions about who fights orcs and where?

Assume that you are equally as good as the person who will take the task that you choose not to.

comment by Kenny · 2015-01-20T19:07:53.165Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Aren't you forgetting that Frodo was wearing the ring? The book describes it as being a punishing task.

comment by ScottH · 2015-01-17T02:35:33.082Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I am male. I have high testosterone. I love competing and winning. I am ambitious and driven. I like to make a lot of money. I make a lot of money. I prefer the sidekick role.

If someone asks me "King or Prince?" I will respond with Prince every time. Hey, you can still be royalty without the weight of the world on your shoulders. I would still be a hard working Prince, too. If some asks me "Candidate or Campaign Manager?" I'll take Campaign Manager, thank you. If someone asks me "President or Chief of Staff?" well, you know the answer by now.

The more money I make and the more wisdom and experience I acquire, the more people naturally turn to me to lead. And I do it when necessary. I'm even pretty good at it. But, I don't love it. I don't require it. I don't see myself as growing more in that direction.

comment by wadavis · 2015-01-21T16:48:04.532Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Upvoting is not sufficient given the very difference perspectives in the comments here.

I read the above article and nodded along the way thinking 'this is insightful and adds a great context to discuss and think about many industrious relationships' never once did gender cross my mind. I was floored to see it a major item in the comments.

I am male. I have high testosterone. I love competing and winning. I am ambitious and driven. I like to make a lot of money. I make a lot of money. I prefer the sidekick role.

Ditto. I've never identified as subservient, but my entire career I've found leaders to work for whose skill set I could compliment. I saw this as an issue of too many cooks ruin the stew and too many chiefs, not enough indians.

To sum this up, I think the Sidekick role is a matter of effective team building and is as far from gender as anything else in the world.

Any links to discussions on this item elsewhere? As some rationalist said, two rationalists with the same info can't help but agree.

comment by Nornagest · 2015-01-21T19:31:48.700Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

As some rationalist said, two rationalists with the same info can't help but agree.

...given some assumptions about the mathematical structure of argument that probably don't hold for humans, rationalist or otherwise.

Aumann is a remarkable result in many ways, but it's not one that neatly lends itself to social engineering.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-01-21T17:00:28.859Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think that the hero-sidekick framework is just wrong for most kinds of relationships.

comment by wadavis · 2015-01-21T17:13:01.934Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

And what is your take on the A-Teamist Face-Planner team structure? Do you see it as similar to the Hero-Sidekick structure as described by Swimmer963? How about the 007-Q relationship?

There are too many fictional examples in this discussion, any non-anecdotal real life case studies?

comment by Lumifer · 2015-01-21T17:22:16.650Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Developing a full-blown classification of relationship types here seems to be a tad excessive :-) Let me just point out that the leader-peon type (see e.g. this) is not quite the same thing as the hero-sidekick type.

In real life I, for example, have zero desire to be either a hero or a sidekick. Accordingly, none of my relationships, either work or personal, can be described as hero-sidekick ones.

comment by ScottH · 2015-01-18T19:53:30.396Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I thought of a little more context to add to this. I've started several businesses in my life, but I've never started a business completely on my own. I've always had partners. I've always looked for some other person that feels passionately about leading the business. I negotiate well for my share of the new enterprise, so I'm still involved in the big decisions. However, I would never go out and start something all by myself and then just look to gather my team by hiring them on as employees. That would put me just too starkly in the hero role.

comment by shminux · 2015-01-08T16:05:27.881Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Another thought about the sidekick status. I recall this comment by Eliezer, where he says, in part:

If you know yourself for an NPC and that you cannot start such a project yourself, you ought to throw money at anyone launching a new project whose probability of saving the world is not known to be this small.

I could be misreading it, but if you replace "money" with "effort", he basically describes the sideckick role as "NPC". Which rubbed me the wrong way even then. I certainly would not describe you or Brienne as NPCs, no way. I wonder if it's just an unfortunate choice of words.

comment by Swimmer963 · 2015-01-08T17:54:15.712Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I think that, if Eliezer felt that way in the past, he no longer feels that way; he has told me that he thinks the sidekick role is valuable and regrets possibly having made sidekick-identified people feel otherwise.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2015-01-08T16:19:20.026Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I wonder if it's just an unfortunate choice of words.

It strikes me as consistent with a "there are the real, heroic, important people who make decisions and do stuff and change the world and do the impossible and are thousand-year-old vampires and wish to become stronger and etc., and then there's everyone else" vibe that pervades the Sequences.

(ETA: ...but which apparently is either unintentional or subsequently updated away from.)

comment by shminux · 2015-01-08T18:22:29.401Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

According to OP's reply, Eliezer_2015 likely disagrees with Eliezer_<=2013 on this issue... and we have Brienne to thank for it.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2015-01-08T20:55:46.680Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Cool. Updated (both the comment and my beliefs).

comment by dxu · 2015-01-21T04:53:41.650Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Being charitable, it seems to me that this is more a case of the word (phrase? acronym?) "NPC" having somewhat unfortunate connotations than of any direct malice being intended. For instance, if we take Eliezer's quote and replace "know yourself for an NPC" with "are aware that you have little chance of contributing directly to [our agenda]", we get something that's far less objectionable. Since replacing the word with the meaning shouldn't change anything if you're doing it right, I don't "NPC" was intended as anything more than a simple turn of phrase. The use of "NPC" simply strikes me as Eliezer's typical flair for drama, rather than some sort of deliberate snipe.

comment by Desrtopa · 2015-01-12T21:17:23.679Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think that, in a video game sense (which is really the only context where the distinction of "player characters" makes real narrative sense,) "sidekick" type characters probably do tend to be NPCs. But I think this is a major weakness of using a video game framing for the concepts under discussion. Problems are rarely solved in real life the way they're solved in books, but they're pretty much never solved in real life the way they are in video games.

comment by MakoYass · 2015-01-11T00:54:07.711Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It is a wholly inadequate analogy. Player Characters are supposed to be the ones with the agency, right? But most Player Characters are confined to a low-level domain of expertise(not metaethics, communication, social organization or economics, but scavenging and combat), and thus to do any good in the world must defer to someone with more high-level worldview(someone they should rightly trust well enough to tell them where humanity needs them), either that, or they tend to undergo their campaigns in some twisted amusement ride under the thumb of a perverse god(moloch, most likely), where straying from their specialization is simply not on offer.

In short; those who live life like a game, fulfilled and decisive, either must or at least should follow(or advise for) some higher authority who knows how to fit their domain into the broader needs of the species.

The rest of us, those of us more inclined to insatiable curiosity and pensivity, we are not player characters. We are the DMs who designed the game to keep its Player Characters happy in doing good.

comment by someonewrongonthenet · 2015-01-08T07:56:13.363Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

So. I’m Samwise. If you earn my loyalty, by convincing me that what you’re working on is valuable and that you’re the person who should be doing it, I’ll stick by you whatever it takes, and I’ll make sure you succeed. I don’t have a Frodo right now. But I’m looking for one.

...

For me, finding someone who shared my values, who was smart and rational enough for me to trust him, and who was in a much better position to actually accomplish what I most cared about than I imagined myself ever being, was the best thing that could have happened to me.

Just out of curiousity - is Frodo person implicitly intended to be a romantic partner here? Or can Frodo just be anyone you work closely with? The wording certainly makes it seems seem like a romantic partner. And it could be a spurious trend but I also couldn't help but notice the female skew of all the Samwise's you mentioned, which, given the low grade dominance/submission dynamics often at play between the genders, makes me suspect this even more.

I think nursing is a valid life choice, and I think being a Samwise is a valid choice, and I think wanting to find a romantic partner and take care of them and make their ambitious dreams come true is a valid choice, and I think in general just being a person who isn't actively trying to save the world is a valid life choice. (Mostly because I'm not certain that people who have a burning ambition to save the world are actually contributing that much more than the rest of the population.)

I feel like things get kind of... weird... if these perfectly good traits are recombined into "I want to be in a super-intense relationship with someone who is successfully saving the world". I'm not sure how to describe this - I'd like to try and "save the world" myself with my own little contribution, but I don't want that contribution to be the major reason my partner is drawn to and stays by me. I don't want it to be because my work is "valuable".

If Frodo utterly fails in his ambitions, Samwise-who-wants-to-save-the-world-via-auxiliary-roles aught will hop to a new, better Frodo to support. Can a bond which is essentially based off of someone's propensity to succeed at what they are doing in life really grow to be unconditional? What if Frodo suddenly gets a debilitating disease and can't be a Frodo anymore?

I'm well aware that I might be completely misreading/projecting the intended relationship between Frodo/Samwise here, and feel free to put me in my place if that is the case. But If I presumed rightly, I would say: It's okay, you don't need to conceptualize yourself as a sidekick, - by doing so you're still implicitly buying into the whole comic-book heroism meme, in which you must behave dramatically and drastically in order to be relevant.

It's perfectly alright to just say that you would like to live a simple life of devotion to your partner, patients, friends, family, and community, and that abstract ideas of "saving the world" have nothing to do with it. People like that are the fabric of the society the comic-book types want to protect and enrich in the first place!

comment by Swimmer963 · 2015-01-08T11:09:58.474Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW

All of the above is true. And this post is explicitly written for the people who have bought into "the world needs saving" and are angsty about it because they don't want to perform a "hero" role but feel like they should. I'm sure there are thousands of people all around me living simple lives of devotion to their families, partners, and communities. (This includes many of my fellow nurses.) They don't need telling that this is okay. In fact, I think that in larger society, this might be an overall bad message for me personally to send, because it's possible that in society at large women are dissuaded harder from being CEOs than from being executive assistants (or whatever dichotomy) and sending that message an extra time, even if it's well-written and nuanced, would just sum up to "see, honey, another smart-sounding lady says your place in the world is as the CEO's assistant!" (The message would have a different impact if I were male, but I'm not and I can't do that hypothetical.)

But I'm posting this on Less Wrong, where the worldview of "the world is broken and my ethics dictate I try to fix it" is a pretty common mindset. It's something I've bought into, to a degree. I'm talking to the people who already believe that heroes exist. (Maybe they ought not to.) I'd like those people not to have to feel distressed about this.

Can a bond which is essentially based off of someone's propensity to succeed at what they are doing in life really grow to be unconditional? What if Frodo suddenly gets a debilitating disease and can't be a Frodo anymore?

No. If I were helping someone accomplish an important project, and they became debilitated, I'd find another Frodo. (After I'd made sure my first Frodo was going to at least be comfortable and not miserable.) It'd be hard. Loyalty runs deep in me. I don't know if this is a necessary fact about a Samwise character, or if it's just happened to be true of all the people I've talked to so far. But the ethics I have now that dictate that being a nurse for forty years is not the thing I can do with the largest positive expected impact on the world, would also dictate the same thing about being my former Frodo's home-care nurse. Brienne has been pretty explicit that if she's working with a hero, and finds out that they're wrong about a fundamental thing and thus that she could make more impact on her own, she would do it, even though it would be a personal tragedy.

In terms of the romance aspect... I have no idea. It doesn't feel necessary. It feels like there are lots of real-life examples of a dynamic that would be satisfying and feel right to me and aren't romantic–a CEO's executive assistant isn't normally their romantic partner. Nursing has many of the same aspects, and makes me deeply happy, and there's nothing to do with romance there. Maybe if you're going to be working with a single person, romance is convenient; time spent with your partner is also time spent on your important project, you don't have to budget them separately. (This sounds potentially unhealthy/hard on the relationship aspect, so I don't know.)

comment by Jiro · 2015-01-13T19:00:23.979Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm talking to the people who already believe that heroes exist. (Maybe they ought not to.) I'd like those people not to have to feel distressed about this.

Why should not being distressed be a terminal goal?

Surely what you really want is that they not feel distressed if it's a good idea, but that they do feel distressed if it's a bad idea. You don't want them to be not-distressed unconditionally regardless of whether the idea is good or bad.

Which means that in order to decide whether they should feel distressed about doing something, you first need to decide whether it's a good idea. You don't want to just be feeding their delusions, if you conclude that they are delusions.

comment by alicey · 2015-01-08T09:41:33.100Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'm more okay with it being because my work is valuable: http://www.cracked.com/blog/6-harsh-truths-that-will-make-you-better-person/

comment by JoachimSchipper · 2015-01-11T13:07:28.263Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Some people do need to see that link, but note that it, too, is rather dangerous.

comment by coffeespoons · 2015-01-11T02:26:26.292Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It worries me a bit that several young LWers appear to be leaving paid employment to do (presumably?) unpaid work for their partners. What happens if these relationships break down? Are they going to be able to find paid work after a long break from the job market?

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2015-01-11T11:44:52.154Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

It worries me a bit that several young LWers appear to be leaving paid employment to do (presumably?) unpaid work for their partners.

Name three?

comment by coffeespoons · 2015-01-12T00:28:04.862Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Sorry, I meant to say it worries me a bit if young LWers are leaving paid employment to work unpaid for their partners. I haven't actually witnessed a bunch of people appear to do this - it was more of a concern after reading the post. However, it looks as if Swimmer963 is making sensible plans.

comment by Capla · 2015-01-11T03:29:36.521Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Does "partners" mean "romantic partners"? Is that a good idea?

This is not a rhetorical question, and I could see how it is a awful I idea that has the potential to go wrong, but can also see that the intimacy is actually extremely beneficial.

comment by Swimmer963 · 2015-01-11T02:39:27.532Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Clarification: I'm not actually planning to do unpaid work for Ruby, at least not immediately. I'm going to be retraining as an executive assistant, because they're useful, and keeping my nursing license valid (possibly finding a part time nursing job if that turns out to be at all feasible, because I really love working as a nurse.)

comment by someonewrongonthenet · 2015-01-11T20:27:35.676Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

possibly finding a part time nursing job if that turns out to be at all feasible, because I really love working as a nurse

I strongly suggest that.

I'm not a nurse so I don't really know, but I have trouble imagining scenarios where a nurse who is agenty enough to be an executive assistant doesn't end up making a big difference as a nurse, at least locally, to a lot of people. Passion confers abilities, and ripple effects of small improvements in hands-on fields should not be underestimated.

comment by SaucePear · 2015-04-22T09:45:48.166Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm an aromantic asexual who is not a woman and does not want a romantic relationship and I identify very closely with the expressed desire to 'find a Frodo'. I interpreted this as a desire for exactly what was stated: a hero-sidekick relationship.

This is anecdotal, and so not data, but it's enough to prove that this isn't ONLY about intense romantic relationships.

comment by Kenny · 2015-01-23T01:14:57.436Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Open source projects, especially (or maybe just most saliently for me) software projects, desperately need sidekicks. I write 'desperately' because most such projects die from 'over-forking', i.e. everyone wanting to be the leader (hero) of their own project (adventure).

What I've learned most recently is that being even a moderately competent sidekick is really hard. It takes a lot of work to even be able to contribute without creating lots of extra work for the heroes and their more-devoted sidekicks.

comment by Swimmer963 · 2015-01-23T02:14:42.125Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

That's really interesting! Are you able to break down the relevant skills at all?

comment by Kenny · 2015-01-30T18:53:39.327Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Some relevant skills, off the top of my head:

  • 'Mind-reading', e.g. how are they going to interpret a complaint or request or comment
  • 'Filtering', e.g. what decision or evaluation should or must be made by a 'hero'
  • 'Readiness', e.g. "this just needs your signature"

Really, there must be lots of specific sub-skills, as the three I listed overlap to a large degree.

I initially thought I would be able to list lots of skills specific to software, and of course there are many, but they're relatively unimportant for being a good sidekick generally. For example, being able to provide clear instructions on how to reproduce a bug is incredibly valuable, but that's really just an example of the general skills I listed above, i.e. providing info that's unambiguous about what's wrong (and ideally why), not providing info that's irrelevant, and providing enough info so that they can most efficiently fix the bug.

Generally, being a good sidekick requires sufficient empathy and self-awareness. Empty because you have to know the mind of your hero to know how to best help them. And self-awareness because you have to know whether your hero's cause is really yours too. Tho, of course, some sidekick's cause is ultimately serving a specific hero.

In fantasy terms, a good sidekick delivers obvious monsters that the hero can slay.

comment by Nighzmarquls · 2015-02-05T21:01:39.201Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

In table top gaming terms you just described a good GM. I find it very interesting that there would be such a particular overlap.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-01-23T02:18:41.577Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Open source projects, especially (or maybe just most saliently for me) software projects, desperately need sidekicks.

Sidekicks or slave labour?

comment by dxu · 2015-01-23T02:40:20.083Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Please define your terms.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-01-23T03:57:00.737Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

"Slave labour" -- labour that does what it's asked to do without needing any compensation in terms of either money or fame. Sidekicks have been defined elsewhere, but the salient issue is that they need a hero.

The point, of course, has been sharpened.

comment by dxu · 2015-01-23T16:32:08.954Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What is the difference between your definition of "slave labor" and volunteer work?

comment by Lumifer · 2015-01-23T16:41:14.781Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Volunteers want things :-) Slave labour shuts up and does stuff.

comment by Dorikka · 2015-01-08T05:12:22.503Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for writing this - one of the more valuable posts IMO that I've seen on LW in a while.

Sort of expanding on what you said, this seems like a specific manifestation of gains-from-trade. I'm very, very happy that there are people who enjoy or are proficient at super-different things than I am because that way I don't have to do the things that I'm bad at or dislike doing unless it's something that I want to learn or get better at.

Also,

...and no one would try to change me. Because oh boy, have people tried to do that. It’s really hard to be someone who just wants to please others, and to be told, basically, that you’re not good enough–and that you owe it to the world to turn yourself ambitious, strategic, Slytherin.

Might be good for some to keep in mind that some politeness and friendliness norms sometimes serve a similar role to ethics in this sense. This sort of stuff and precaution tends to be more important in areas where you don't know a whole lot, such as when you're trying to prescribe actions for others when you know a rather limited amount about them.

comment by gthorneiii · 2015-01-09T16:27:10.603Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

This reminded me of a fantastic and short Ted Talk about followers: http://www.ted.com/talks/derek_sivers_how_to_start_a_movement?language=en#t-1426

This resonated with me. I'm not prone to be the head of leadership, or to be a "hero". I do like being an early follower, however. Someone who can lend strength and support to a cause I see as worthwhile. In the parlance of the Ted Talk, I like to look for lone nuts to turn into leaders by following them. In this way, I like to think of myself as leaning into the role of selection as a follower (such as a Samwise), playing off of variation (all the lone nuts out there), and allowing for favorable evolution (of whatever).

comment by DanielWessel · 2015-01-09T12:40:59.217Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Hmmm, thank you for the posting, it sheds a light on something that I had not seen before. I like a lot of things about the posting, including the standing up part if the hero fucks up. And Samwise is an interesting "sidekick". I think he differs in at least two other aspects from the typical "sidekick" that deserve special emphasis:

First, Samwise is self-sufficient ("competent"). It's not the typical Robin character that needs to get rescued by Batman as a stupid plot ploy. He has his own skills and carries his own weight. The hero/ine might save/rescue the world, but s/he does not save/rescue this sidekick.

Second, Samwise is not a little green wo/man working in the background where no-one can see him/her so that it appears as if the hero/ine did everything on his/her own. Same with the other characters that were mentioned (Witch-king, Black, Vader). They are noticed and they do play a visible role. Not only are they a noticeable character, they have a distinct character.

I think both aspects are underdeveloped in the public perception and unfortunately, there are some "heroes/heroines" who prefer to make their sidekicks appear in need of support, or put them in the background altogether. Hmm, and I also wonder whether you could regard the hero/ine as a sidekick to the overall goal. I mean, it's one thing to see the hero/ine as this great person, but this person is not exactly free either. They have found a cause they devote their life to. So perhaps it's less a different category but more different levels.

One other thing ... I disagree with the comments about the "strong gender overtones" though and was surprised they were mentioned. I get the impression that gender perspectives are way overused and are actually hampering free expression and discussions. It's this pervasive confusion of "what do I think" and "what does it say about gender if I say it". I don't think that "If a man wrote this post, the message would be different.". I mean, it might be for whose who see everything gender related (ideology has this effect), but not for those who think it shouldn't matter. The arguments count, not the (gender of the) person who wrote a text.

Perhaps there are differences where the majority of men vs. the majority of women want to go, but that's only a problem if it's generalized to all men and/or all women. It's the person and his/her character, attributes and skills that count, not the gender. And don't get me started on "patriarchy". There might be many men in leadership positions, but many other men fail at achieving them. And a lot of men are at the bottom (homeless, suicides, etc.). And personally, I think it's a tragedy if ideologies/world views try to pressure anyone into anything they do not want -- whether it's men or women, and whether it's leadership or support.

comment by Swimmer963 · 2015-01-10T16:54:27.723Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

First, Samwise is self-sufficient ("competent"). It's not the typical Robin character that needs to get rescued by Batman as a stupid plot ploy. He has his own skills and carries his own weight. The hero/ine might save/rescue the world, but s/he does not save/rescue this sidekick.

I certainly hope to be at least that competent. I'm an adult; I've lived on my own and been financially independent of my parents since I was 17. If anything, it feels like "okay, I've got this taking care of myself thing down, can I have a harder challenge?" I'm a freaking ICU nurse, responsible for other people's lives 12 hours a day.

Second, Samwise is not a little green wo/man working in the background where no-one can see him/her so that it appears as if the hero/ine did everything on his/her own... They are noticed and they do play a visible role.

It doesn't feel like I would strongly prefer being visible to being in the background. Both have an appeal. There's skill and satisfaction in knowing that you're making it look like the hero did everything on their own, too.

I mean, it might be for whose who see everything gender related (ideology has this effect), but not for those who think it shouldn't matter. The arguments count, not the (gender of the) person who wrote a text.

I think people engage with things they read on multiple levels, not just the explicit arguments, and that includes picking up implicit social norms from context/subtext like "all the pro-hero writers are male, all the pro-sidekick writers are female." And that's not even taking into account the fact that my article is apparently fairly in line with Christian writing on the topic of service, and so might end up shared among Christian bloggers–and the various Christian's sects' attitudes to gender roles are often not ones I endorse.

comment by someonewrongonthenet · 2015-01-12T01:04:54.684Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Perhaps there are differences where the majority of men vs. the majority of women want to go, but that's only a problem if it's generalized to all men and/or all women.

FWIW, when I brought up gender, I wasn't actually thinking "women are choosing to take a submissive position, and that's bad". I don't think it's bad if women choose that.

My thought was more along the lines of "Hmm, what is written here sounds eerily similar to how many women view romantic relationships, and coincidentally a lot of the people espousing the view are women, which provides further evidence that there is a romance subtext to this hero/sidekick dynamic." I wasn't making a value judgement concerning which gender played hero and which sidekick, just noticing that the subtext existed.

And then my second thought was "there may be something psychologically unhealthy about evaluating the quality of romantic attachments in light of how much a person can save the world". I just don't think "is this person smart, powerful, and knowledgeable enough to save the world" is an appropriate criteria for a relationship here.

Perhaps I should have not even mentioned gender and just said "this sounds like a romantic relationship" - that would have been sufficient to get the point across. Gender was only important insofar as it gave (correct or incorrect) clues about the motivations about people espousing the views.

I could fairly be accused of stereotyping, since if a bunch of men said "I wanna be a sidekick" I might not have picked up a romantic subtext. (But I think stereotypes are epistemically valid as clues, and although it is sometimes instrumentally better not to act on that information for the purpose of not perpetuating stereotypes I thought it was okay in this case).

comment by tavaton · 2015-01-22T09:11:05.442Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

If I read this post correctly, you're iterating the conventional wisdom that team players are not less important or less necessary than star players even though the status is less glamorous. (They are, perhaps, more interchangeable, but also definitely indispensable on much shorter timescales than star players.) Only you are framing it in terms that make it sound as if this was not generally agreed upon by everyone not suffering from the malignant form of ambition.

Nuance matters. "Sidekick" is not meant to refer to actual humans, but to second grade fictional characters. When applied to a human being it turns into an ugly word. It reduces the character/person being referred to into a prop for another. This works well in storytelling: minor characters are not thinking, feeling beings. It is reasonable and appropriate to treat them as if they existed for the purposes of others. But by bringing these connotations into real life, you end up implicitly reinforcing the contagious and intuitive falsehood that there is always a number one and having any other number means you failed. Life can easily be made to look like this, if simplified into a single story, but it's not an accurate or helpful way to look at things.

Your use of the word "sidekick" poisons the entire post for me. I have to suspect I'm not getting the general tone quite right. To me, it's an unhappy post. Not only because other people have consistently and unfairly made you defend being what you are, but because you are still trying to convince yourself that it shouldn't have to be defended. I hope I'm wrong and "sidekick" does not mean to you what it means to me, and that if you ever felt genuinely inadequate because of this in the past that's ended now.

In real life Samwise Gamgee would be, by any reasonable standards, a true full-blown hero. At least I can't see how doing something extraordinary that greatly benefits other people stops being heroic if someone else was also involved and did a little bit more or played a more central or interesting role.

comment by JoshuaFox · 2015-01-08T17:09:35.232Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I'd rather be a hero than a sidekick. But my small contribution to mitigating AI risk has generally been in helping MIRI in whatever way seemed most valuable, rather than inventing my independent way to global utility maximization.

So, what does that make me? A cooperative small-time hero, like one of those obscure minor superhero characters in the comics who occasionally steps up to help the famous ones?

comment by Vika · 2015-01-09T03:26:38.738Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I think there is such a thing as a hero-in-training. My work with FLI has mostly been in a supporting role so far, but I view myself as an apprentice rather than a sidekick, and I would generally like to be a hero.

comment by Swimmer963 · 2015-01-09T16:11:53.036Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah. This is definitely a thing. It seems good to have the vocabulary to differentiate the two, so that someone can know whether their current apprentice is aiming to be a hero or a sidekick.

comment by polymathwannabe · 2015-01-08T14:59:15.283Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I've noticed a similar pattern in my own personality, but I've also questioned at times whether it's healthy to be so devoted to someone else's priorities. With different friends who were higher-status than me, I've framed our dynamic in terms of Quixote/Sancho: there was the crazy knight who boldly marched towards trouble, and the little sensible voice trying to ground him in reality. Maybe what this says is that I don't choose my heroes too well.

I was chief editor at my office for one year and I concluded that there's not one fibre of leader material in me. Life got much better when I returned to being a regular editor. After reading this post, I also realize that I find it more fulfilling to get appreciation from my boss than to get appreciation from my coworkers.

So, what should aspiring sidekicks do? Should we openly seek for someone to support and push toward greatness? (I can't imagine many scenarios of that working well.) Should LW set up a network of heroes looking for sidekicks? We need to remember that not all hero/sidekick relationships are ideal. There's Frodo/Sam, but there's also Brain/Pinky, or Hit Girl/Kick-Ass (yes, that's the right order).

comment by TheOtherDave · 2015-01-08T16:22:07.831Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

there was the crazy knight who boldly marched towards trouble, and the little sensible voice trying to ground him in reality

This is largely tangential, but it's also worth contemplating the extent to which Sancho both enables Quixote's world (as distinct from Quijana's) and prefers it.

comment by Fluttershy · 2015-01-08T09:29:05.398Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I find myself wanting to suggest that self-described heroes and sidekicks who want a fictional character to compare themselves to pick characters from My Little Pony-- after all, the protagonists are all just so nice!

Specifically, all of the princesses in MLP are nice to everypony, despite the fact that they are all leaders. The princesses treat Shining Armor, the five of the Mane 6 who aren't princesses, Spike, and some relevant side-ponies like friends and equals, even though some of these characters are properly sidekicks. Actually, the show consistently praises "sidekick traits" like humility and agreeableness, which is quite endearing.

comment by wobster109 · 2015-01-23T04:13:11.070Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I think this is what Anna was getting at when she encouraged me to be a wealthy donor rather than an AI researcher. It's hard to give up the idea of being Michelangelo, being remembered for centuries in history books. But he wouldn't've managed without his patrons.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-02-18T09:59:35.638Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I am not ambitious myself, the difference is that I don't care. I don't mind if I don't fit in the LW community, I am here to learn certain things, not to get validation and slaps on the back.

I think many of you are products of American culture and even a certain subset of it. A certain subset, perhaps going back to New England culture, that has this attitude to life that altruism, like giving to charity is something of course everybody does and the only issue is how to do it efficiently, or that ambition means achieving a personal goal of yourself, generally a creative one that changes the world in a positive way. I am a product of a very different culture, where ambition largely means to try to get into the elite that has power, and power is grabbed, not earned, you do not need to deserve it or make up meritocratic stories about how you are a hard worker, rather, the less deserved and earned it is, the more purely crystallized power it is, because it is more clear that you don't need anyone's consent to wield it, and altruism sounds unusual, usually people try to do the opposite and make each other lightly suffer (say, by pimping their wealth around, wearing designer labels near people who cannot afford them) in order to prove their power. In other words, I was raised in Mordor.

Since I figured out that this kind of ambition is both unethical and does not even make one happy, I stopped being ambitious that way, and since I was not raised in the American kind of altruistic-optimistic kind of ambition I have not adopted goals like that - frankly, to me, entrepreneurs who make it their life quest to make better mousetraps look slightly ridiculous because I don't really care that much if others are annoyed by mice or not.

Thus, besides living a common life (office job, family), which obviously takes some amount of ambition, I am content with not being otherwise ambitious and being rather a neutral observer or life.

Maybe this is another personality type, similar to the Sidekick: the Chronicler. See: Astinus of Palanthas.

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2015-02-18T11:04:45.372Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Are you saying France is Mordor?

comment by [deleted] · 2015-02-18T12:07:00.008Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

No, but irrelevant, I have hardly ever been there. Wait, I think I will try to write an article about it (assuming I can post to Discussion), I think it will be interesting. I have only recently realized that things that have always been quite normal to me would come across as pretty evil to the readers of the New York Times, and I think there are some lessons that could be gleaned from this.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-02-18T12:03:14.983Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

No, but irrelevant, I have hardly ever been there.

comment by V_V · 2015-01-16T22:59:01.287Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I can't help to notice that this may be a gender-correlated personality trait:

  • All the people you cite that gave you positive advice about being a sidekick are female. In a community which is almost 90% male this seems pretty difficult to get by chance.

  • You're a nurse, a typically (~90%) female job. Nurses are natural sidekicks to doctors.

I suppose that the fixation for being a hero of the LW community that makes you feel out of place may be the result of it's mostly young male demographic. Maybe young male nerds are particularly prone to that, since they grow up fantasizing about being Frodo or Luke Skywalker or Harry Potter, and they have an inflated ego due to the "smartest kid in class" effect.

Maybe female nerds are more oriented towards the sidekick role because they are more likely to be biologically programmed to attach themselves to an alpha male rather than seeking dominance/leadership roles for themselves, or maybe females are just more realistic than males about the actual chances of becoming the hero who "saves the world" because they have less testosterone-fuelled hubris of the youth.

comment by polymathwannabe · 2015-01-17T00:44:19.670Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Sure, everything is genetic. The absurdly restrictive roles girls are taught have nothing to do with the image they build of themselves.

comment by V_V · 2015-01-17T11:24:01.850Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW

The absurdly restrictive roles girls are taught

in Canada?

comment by homunq · 2015-02-22T12:55:00.155Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Wish I could both up- and down- vote this comment. +1 for interesting, cogent observation; -1 for followinng that up with facile beakering. So instead I upvoted this comment and downvoted your reply below ( which deserves the downvote in its own right)

(I just made up the word "beakering". It means doing TV science, with beakers and bafflegab, in real life. A lot of amateur evo-something and neuro-something involve beakering.)

comment by tog · 2015-01-09T10:30:05.358Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

What are rationalist heroes supposed to do? And what can “sidekicks” do to help them?

(I ask these questions as someone who’s not that familiar with the rationalist community. I asked them on the Effective Altruism Forum and there was some discussion of them there.)

I'm looking for specific examples, particular ones which aren't already being done and so are available for new heroes to take on.

Ryan Carey said "A hero means roughly what you'd expect - someone who takes personal responsibility for solving world problems. Kind of like an effective altruist." He quoted this passage from HPMOR:

You could call it heroic responsibility, maybe,” Harry Potter said. “Not like the usual sort. It means that whatever happens, no matter what, it’s always your fault. Even if you tell Professor McGonagall, she’s not responsible for what happens, you are. Following the school rules isn’t an excuse, someone else being in charge isn’t an excuse, even trying your best isn’t an excuse. There just aren’t any excuses, you’ve got to get the job done no matter what.” Harry’s face tightened. “That’s why I say you’re not thinking responsibly, Hermione. Thinking that your job is done when you tell Professor McGonagall—that isn’t heroine thinking. Like Hannah being beat up is okay then, because it isn’t your fault anymore. Being a heroine means your job isn’t finished until you’ve done whatever it takes to protect the other girls, permanently.” In Harry’s voice was a touch of the steel he had acquired since the day Fawkes had been on his shoulder. “You can’t think as if just following the rules means you’ve done your duty. –HPMOR, chapter 75.

But in that case doesn't the sort of "sidekick" that Miranda describes count as a hero, because being a sidekick is plausibly one of the best ways that they can contribute to solving the world's problems?

comment by [deleted] · 2015-06-11T15:56:22.086Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What are they supposed to do (paraphrased)

To do whatever they were doing before, just better.

'Before enlightenment, chop wood carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood carry water' - as a Zen proverb goes.

Consider Mitsyo Maeda, the glob-troting father of brazilian jujitsu and allegedly toughest man who ever lived's book. He believed you should keep fights in the phase your best at. If you're good at fighting on the ground, get your opponent on the ground and keep him there.

Then post for badass photos. That's an obvious and crude but rationalist approach to things. He was successful. I saw that qualifies for rationalist ('super')hero.

comment by Swimmer963 · 2015-01-10T16:55:41.691Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What are rationalist heroes supposed to do? And what can “sidekicks” do to help them?

I think founding CFAR was an example; there are both leader and sidekick roles there.

But in that case doesn't the sort of "sidekick" that Miranda describes count as a hero, because being a sidekick is plausibly one of the best ways that they can contribute to solving the world's problems?

Maybe.

comment by algekalipso · 2015-07-29T01:23:15.242Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This is an awesome, awesome, awesome post! I think you have nailed a few important axis of variance that we usually neglect.

Now, precisely because you are still part of the community and can accept rationalist memes, you are an important sample to learn what the rationalist community is not. At least what it is not necessarily.

Would you, and any other self-identified rationalist sidekick, please fill out this survey?

I am analyzing how personality is related to beliefs about consciousness and memetic affiliations. If only heroes fill out the questionnaire, I may associate traits that are not actually relevant for rationality with rationality.

Personally, I think that the difference you are pointing out ultimately comes down to testosterone, and relatedly, Aspergers.

comment by diegocaleiro · 2015-02-17T23:28:17.127Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Since this has actually gotten some interested people in my discussion post I'm cross posting it here where it makes more sense:

Reading the Main post on Sidekicks, I considered it worth noting in passing that I'm looking for a sidekick if someone feels that such would be an appropriate role for them.

This is me for those who don't know me: https://docs.google.com/document/d/14pvS8GxVlRALCV0xIlHhwV0g38_CTpuFyX52_RmpBVo/edit

And this is my flowchart/life;autobiography in the last few years: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BxADVDGSaIVZVmdCSE1tSktneFU/view

Nice to meet you! :)

comment by linkhyrule5 · 2015-02-18T21:05:31.986Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This seems like the sort of thing that would benefit from having its own thread.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2015-02-12T02:52:38.670Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

For me, finding someone who shared my values, who was smart and rational enough for me to trust him, and who was in a much better position to actually accomplish what I most cared about than I imagined myself ever being, was the best thing that could have happened to me.

Someone is doing what I want done, and they can do it better than me, and I can help.

If you aren't driven by status and dominance, what's the downside?

comment by notmysecondopinion · 2015-01-30T05:08:56.786Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This concept of Sidekicks lends itself well to the principle of "first follower" by Derek Sivers.

First Follower: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fW8amMCVAJQ&feature=mfu_in_order&list=UL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hO8MwBZl-Vc Derek Sivers Remember the importance of nurturing your first followers, embrace them as equals and make it about the Movement, and not about You. Be Public, be Easy to Follow Leadership is Overglorified. It was the First Follower that transformed the Lone Nut into a Leader. There's no Movement without the First Follower. Courageously follow and show others how to follow. When you find someone doing something great, have the guts to stand up and Join in.

comment by MaximumLiberty · 2015-01-11T05:16:07.160Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think there's something in business that is similar to the hero-sidekick dichotomy you suggest. In business, I see people who are great individual contributors, but their career path "upwards" takes them into management, at which they suck. The notion that being good at managing doers is "higher" than doing has a parallel in supposed superiority of heroes to sidekicks. It's not a promotion to go from sidekick to hero: it might very well be an awkward misalignment.

Is there something underlying both of these? It might be something about leader-follower and the prestige that comes with being a leader.

comment by anandjeyahar · 2015-01-10T17:33:19.766Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know about this idea. For most of my career, I've tried to be sidekick in the sense of trying to fulfill someone else's goals with say a secondary goal of mine that ties in to that primary goal, but it has always ended up in conflicts, where I couldn't simply bring myself to ignore the hero's stance/decision(and still work with him/her). Is that a good enough reason to try to be a hero? This post still resonates with me, but that doesn't mean am about to go around hero's for whom I can be a sidekick. Majority of the empirical evidence that I've (personal experience) accumulated suggests, that won't really work.

May be the distinction is not as sharp as you think/believe it is?

comment by 27chaos · 2015-01-10T06:54:28.318Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I self-identify with the role of the hero. But I do so not because I think it's wonderful to struggle for righteousness, but rather because I feel a deep sense of despair when I consider pursuing other options. I'm crushing myself with the weight of heroic responsibility. This is extremely unpleasant, and naturally, makes me a much less effective person.

How can I rewrite my motivations and self-concept to be less distressing for me? How can I convince myself, emotionally and psychologically, to stop trying to be a hero? At this point, it's rather obvious that I'm not actually capable of being one. I would prefer to change my goals than to continue suffering like this.

comment by Swimmer963 · 2015-01-10T06:59:08.706Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

When did this sense of despair start? (Was it after exposure to the LW idea of heroism, or before that?) When you ask yourself "what's the bad thing that happens if I am for Goal X, which doesn't include being a hero", do you get an answer? Have you tried tabooing the word "hero" and describing the actual plans and actions that your brain think would be acceptable, versus the ones that it thinks would be unacceptable?

comment by 27chaos · 2015-01-10T07:50:33.583Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

When did this sense of despair start? (Was it after exposure to the LW idea of heroism, or before that?)

After.

When you ask yourself "what's the bad thing that happens if I am for Goal X, which doesn't include being a hero", do you get an answer?

As I mentioned, I am incapable of being a "hero" in the sense I use the word. I do not, intellectually, believe that striving for this sort of heroism will be likely to have negative consequences, because I don't believe making the effort will significantly affect my actions. But I have difficulty relaxing my emotional standards despite this understanding.

I think the root problem is that there are no Schelling points within my motivational neighborhood. I can't help but feel as though I face the choice of either striving for heroism continually throughout every area in my life, or giving up on my ambitions entirely and becoming a selfish couch potato.

Have you tried tabooing the word "hero" and describing the actual plans and actions that your brain think would be acceptable, versus the ones that it thinks would be unacceptable?

My brain says that I need to work for a couple hours a day learning until I get my degree, then get a good job and make money while studying politics and economics, and then eventually start some kind of charity to help in the 3rd world. Anything less than this makes me feel guilty and ashamed for not being a competent enough person, even a bit disgusted with myself.

comment by Swimmer963 · 2015-01-10T16:42:35.219Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I can't help but feel as though I face the choice of either striving for heroism continually throughout every area in my life, or giving up on my ambitions entirely and becoming a selfish couch potato.

Hmm. Before you were exposed to the LW idea of heroism, how did you feel, motivation-wise? What did you spend your time doing?

I can't help but feel as though I face the choice of either striving for heroism continually throughout every area in my life, or giving up on my ambitions entirely and becoming a selfish couch potato.

This seems incompatible with "I do not, intellectually, believe that striving for this sort of heroism will be likely to have negative consequences, because I don't believe making the effort will significantly affect my actions." If aiming to be a hero doesn't effect your actions, it also shouldn't make the difference between being a "selfish couch potato" and not? But I feel like there's a lot of vagueness here, too. Can you taboo "selfish couch potato" and describe what you fear you would actually do? And compare it to what you're actually doing now? Versus what ideal you would do? Like, actual actions–"I get up in the morning, I go walk to the store..." Etc.

My brain says that I need to work for a couple hours a day learning until I get my degree, then get a good job and make money while studying politics and economics, and then eventually start some kind of charity to help in the 3rd world.

This sounds fine? Like, definitely underspecified as an actual plan, and maybe focusing too much on one path and neglecting all the equally valuable alternatives (I think that happens a lot with long term plans). But it doesn't reek too badly of "I must make desperate efforts to be heroic constantly!"

comment by 27chaos · 2015-05-06T15:41:12.408Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Hmm. Before you were exposed to the LW idea of heroism, how did you feel, motivation-wise? What did you spend your time doing?

Reading books, mostly. I had goals, but not ambitions, if that makes sense. I basically thought good things would just happen to me if I was a good/intelligent person. I've since learned that good things won't come to me, I need to go out searching for them and pounce on them if I want them. But doing that is just exhausting.

This sounds fine? Like, definitely underspecified as an actual plan, and maybe focusing too much on one path and neglecting all the equally valuable alternatives (I think that happens a lot with long term plans). But it doesn't reek too badly of "I must make desperate efforts to be heroic constantly!"

It's the intensity of the negative emotion which is a problem, more than the goals I'm aiming for. I'd like to be able to fail to achieve my best-case goals without hating myself.

This seems incompatible with "I do not, intellectually, believe that striving for this sort of heroism will be likely to have negative consequences, because I don't believe making the effort will significantly affect my actions." If aiming to be a hero doesn't effect your actions, it also shouldn't make the difference between being a "selfish couch potato" and not? But I feel like there's a lot of vagueness here, too. Can you taboo "selfish couch potato" and describe what you fear you would actually do? And compare it to what you're actually doing now? Versus what ideal you would do? Like, actual actions–"I get up in the morning, I go walk to the store..." Etc.

Current me spends almost no time on productive things when not at his job as a menial worker. Couch potato me would quit his job and try to get on government welfare, eating lots of food. Ideal me would quit the job and get a better one, while going back to school to complete and starting to exercise regularly.

My intellectual belief that heroism is important has served mainly only to emotionally torment me for failing, since I'm not even moderately successful in life by basically any standard you could name.

comment by Swimmer963 · 2015-05-07T23:55:43.506Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Hmm. I'm going to suggest something that I just thought of and that may or may not be helpful, but here goes:

The trouble with narratives is that once you have one, it's really hard to go back to not having a narrative. Heroism is a narrative. It's going to be really hard to go back to just doing whatever you were doing without interpreting it in some kind of narrative sense – but you can change your narrative. To something like "there are no heroes." Heroism is a construct, a concept, but it doesn't cut reality at the joints. The real world is more like one of those gritty crime novels, where morality isn't a real thing and there are just humans, with drives both noble and corrupt, trying to survive.

This is a narrative I've had, but it wasn't to solve the same problem. I have my couch-potato urges, like anyone, but I've never had to resort to much mental violence to suppress them. I think because I'm able to notice that when I follow the urges, and read sci-fi for ten hours instead of cooking and exercising and cleaning, then I feel physically bad (stiff, achy, etc), and mentally bad (foggy head, being bored but unable to think of a thing to do about it, etc). This is visceral enough feedback for my System 1 to get it and respond to an urge to stay in bed and read my book all day with "do you really want to do that?" (The prerequisite for this may be having good enough energy and mood overall that doing non-couch-potato things is pleasant or at least bearable. I've experienced times when this wasn't the case – when I was so exhausted that trying to do anything other than read fanfic was painful. If trying to do work is always aversive for you, that may well be a medical issue – it'd be consistent with depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, etc.)

comment by 27chaos · 2015-05-08T00:23:14.857Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I have several medical problems, yes. Changing my narrative is a good idea, thanks. Now, what will I change it to...

comment by Swimmer963 · 2015-05-08T00:39:23.873Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Have you read many of the "gritty crime novel" or other "gritty realism" genres? I think I have a felt sense for what that narrative is, but it's hard to explain, because it comes from having read several hundred books in the genre.

comment by tog · 2015-01-09T10:24:04.820Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The link to the post on your personal blog is broken, it should be: http://swimmer963.com/?p=383

comment by Swimmer963 · 2015-01-09T15:55:43.052Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks. Fixed.

comment by Jiro · 2015-01-13T19:43:42.194Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You might want to look at the recent thread on being a hero, http://lesswrong.com/lw/l6d/a_discussion_of_heroic_responsibility/ , in particular the comments which question the idea. A lot of the reasons why thinking of yourself as a hero are questionable apply to thinking another person is a hero as well.

comment by Swimmer963 · 2015-01-13T22:13:56.148Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

...I wrote that post, so yes, I've already read most of the comments.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-01-12T22:10:21.026Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

A sidekick has a different status than the hero because they primarily fill auxiliary or submissive tasks in pursuit of the venture. I'm familiar with this status as a technical writer.

I initially started with a grand expectation that I might one day write for a crew of genius software developers working on AI, or Space Exploration, or who-knows-what. If I want these things to happen, why did I not seek the "higher" status for myself?

I've never really had a problem with math or computer science, and all throughout high school I dreamed of being a programmer. I even applied to college as a prospective Computer Science major. But two weeks before courses began, I switched.

The reason was that I could not help but recall that I was not excelling quite as much as those around me were. I did not put in as much effort, I did not do as many math or cs training, and I failed to be exceptional. We had similar starting-abilities and a similar environment, but they had a more singular focus. In contrast, when they were doing their maths and programming exercises I gravitated more towards reading marathons....

So my idea became this: if I try to be a computer scientist myself, I will likely be unable to constrain myself from my reading obsession, and I will fail to be exceptional. But if I make being a computer scientist my main auxiliary hobby and do my best with my natural gift of the written word, then I improve my chances of being in an exceptional venture rather than an ordinary one.

I say all this to say that the "sidekick" role can be a rational way to participate via:

  1. I get to be the second stomach. The hero goes through the trouble of digesting the initial material, and I get the benefit of a less fibrous meal.
  2. I can't do what the hero can do with a similar exertion of effort. That exertion I can instead use to help the hero and get the goal accomplished.
  3. I get to hear the news first. I'm excited and interested.
  4. I get a portion of the glory from participating on the hero's journey.

I'm being torn away from my computer before thinking out this comment as thoroughly as I would like to, so I'll be thinking more about it and return later to see if there is anything I need to clarify or add.

comment by 27chaos · 2015-01-10T06:53:56.593Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I self-identify with the role of the hero. But I do so not because I think it's wonderful to struggle for righteousness, but rather because I feel a deep sense of despair when I consider pursuing other options. I'm crushing myself with the weight of heroic responsibility. This is extremely unpleasant, and naturally, makes me a much less effective person.

How can I rewrite my motivations and self-concept to be less distressing for me? How can I convince myself, emotionally and psychologically, to stop trying to be a hero? At this point, it's rather obvious that I'm not actually capable of being one. I would prefer to change my goals than to continue suffering like this.

comment by adamzerner · 2015-01-09T16:59:35.087Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Is your claim that...

  • in theory, there are cases where being the sidekick is the way for you to have the biggest impact?
  • in todays world, there are some cases where being the sidekick is the way for you to have the biggest impact?
  • in todays world, there are many cases where being the sidekick is the way for you to have the biggest impact?
  • while being a sidekick might not be the way for you to have the biggest impact on the world, it is still a way to have a notable impact on the world, and that having a notable impact on the world is still an admirable thing to do?

For the record, I agree with each bullet point except 3.

comment by Swimmer963 · 2015-01-09T17:08:22.334Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I think my main point is "it's not true that your only options are Be a Hero or Be Insignificant, there's a third option." Because if it's presented as a dichotomy, I think many sidekick-oriented people would go for being insignificant–so the impact they could theoretically have as a hero is moot.

comment by AspiringRationalist · 2015-01-20T01:21:52.460Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's important to remember that what you want to focus on is expected impact. Of course the sidekick can't have as much impact as the hero could have, but if there aren't enough people who want to be sidekicks relative to heroes and you have a comparative advantage as a sidekick, you probably have higher expected impact as the sidekick to your pick of hero than becoming a mediocre hero yourself.

comment by adamzerner · 2015-01-20T02:08:52.756Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

True. "Expected impact" is what I meant.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-01-08T23:06:05.180Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Cool how you arrived at this insightful distinction via in the end following up on that nagging feeling.

I wonder whether the hero-sidekick differentiation is a dichotomy or whether these can be independent traits.

I'm predisposed to wonder because I kind of feel both sides of it. Both not exceptionally strongly so. Possibly more the sidekick. trait. I like to make people feel at home. I'm happy to provide for and foster my and other children. Like my mother. I like cooperative team-work. But I even more enjoy to work alone. Fal into the flow. Most time of my life I was the introvert doing/learning my own thing. Driven by curiosity and the wish to change, improve the world (I liked Harrys 'world optimization' quote). Can the world be changed alone? Probably not. But I can still feel a slight tug. And I realized that I can succeed socially even as an introvert. I just need my pauses.

In a way this is related to the question "what pain do you want in your life?" which I aposted as poll](http://lesswrong.com/lw/ksz/polling_thread/b8ol) before.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-01-08T16:07:48.946Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think there are strong gender overtones here.

comment by Swimmer963 · 2015-01-08T17:55:32.473Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

You're not the first person to remark on that. What do you think that we ought to do about it?

comment by robot-dreams · 2015-01-08T18:09:42.665Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

What do you think that we ought to do about it?

Perhaps we can start by encouraging "sidekick-identified" males to speak up?

comment by Lumifer · 2015-01-08T18:04:02.268Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

That's a descriptive observation, not a normative call to action.

Why do you think something ought to be done about it?

comment by Dorikka · 2015-01-10T20:50:14.400Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'd predict that this exchange happens to you quite a bit, where you make a descriptive statement, someone interprets it as normative, and then you have to clarify that your statement was purely descriptive before actually proceeding to discuss. If so, you might be able to eliminate the extra cycle by clarifying descriptive intent up front .

I think that people often assume normatively prescriptive intent when one makes a statement like that which you make in the root comment. Furthermore, this is usually a reasonable assumption in my (admittedly rather limited in breadth) experience, so subverting it as above might annoy some as it may seem like you're willfully being a pain by screwing with typical communication protocols. This annoyance may be greater if the other person thinks that you're trying to confuse them, making a higher-status move at their expense.

Disregard this if it does not seem applicable - just an instance of "feedback may have positive impact but probably not negative compared to no feedback." Tapping out due to lack of further interest.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-01-11T05:07:57.467Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think that people often assume normatively prescriptive intent when one makes a statement like that

Can you unroll this? What do you see as the crucial difference between "I think there are strong gender overtones here" and "I think that water is wet"?

What creates the "reasonable assumption" that the statement is normative when the text doesn't specify it?

comment by alienist · 2015-01-12T03:06:56.592Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

What do you see as the crucial difference between "I think there are strong gender overtones here" and "I think that water is wet"?

The fact that that a lot of people saying the first, but not the second, intend to prescriptive connotations.

comment by coffeespoons · 2015-01-12T12:34:56.122Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

FWIW I also interpreted your statement as normative.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-01-12T13:42:40.828Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What do you see as the crucial difference between "I think there are strong gender overtones here" and "I think that water is wet"?

One difference is that no-one ever says the latter.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-01-12T15:54:53.885Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

'Pippin, don't throw that!' 'But why? What's going to happen?' 'I don't like the look of the water.' 'It looks just like it always does...' [tentacles creep out and try to wrap around the Fellowship] 'Guys, I think there are strong gender overtones here!' 'Next time, Pippin, say that water is wet.'

comment by Lumifer · 2015-01-12T16:12:52.681Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yep :-P No girls in the Fellowship.

P.S. That was a descriptive and not a normative statement X-D

comment by Dorikka · 2015-01-11T20:58:34.221Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

For convenience, calling this Statement 1 (S1):

"I think there are strong gender overtones here"

and calling this Statement 2 (S2):

"I think that water is wet"

S1 relates to a topic on which many have strong normative feelings; S2 does not. Many of the people I interact with behave such that I have a strong prior for S1 being intended normatively rather than descriptively, so I'd assume that they intended S1 normatively (just because that assumption is very likely to be correct given past experience with my social circles). Might not be universally true though - this could just be an oddity of my social circles.

I'd expect you to know that the assumption in my first paragraph exists, so I pattern-match failing to initially clarify your intent as someone trying to make a high-status play (of the sort unclear statement->assumption->implied "gotcha! you made a bad assumption"). This causes me to anticipate your future intent regarding the conversation to be gaining status, so I don't expect your future input to be interesting and would likely abandon the convo.

I've tried to introspect and spell out an estimate of why I might feel as I do, but the general progression in my second paragraph manifests as a feeling of annoyance->dismissal.

Edited for formatting.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-01-11T21:33:25.864Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

S1 relates to a topic on which many have strong normative feelings; S2 does not.

OK, so the issue is the social expectations about whether the issue is controversial and whether one is expected to have a normative attitude towards it? And in such a case, all statements will be interpreted as normative unless there are explicit disclaimers to the contrary?

I'd expect you to know that the assumption in my first paragraph exists

No, not really. I rarely speak normatively and in such cases I'm explicit about it. Typically I make descriptive observations, possibly with a variety of connotations and implications, but they are almost never of the "so you should believe/do X" kind. Normally they are of the "this is complicated, are you aware of this trade-off and that internal inconsistency?" kind.

I do set gotcha traps on occasion, but the sense of fair play usually makes me point them out beforehand. People still fall into them, anyway :-D

comment by Decius · 2015-01-20T06:01:38.053Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

OK, so the issue is the social expectations about whether the issue is controversial and whether one is expected to have a normative attitude towards it? And in such a case, all statements will be interpreted as normative unless there are explicit disclaimers to the contrary?

Pretty much.

comment by robot-dreams · 2015-01-08T18:12:59.138Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Why do you think something ought to be done about it?

Perhaps to remove "social pressure relating to gender roles" as a confounding factor, so that people can do a better job of finding roles that are good fits for their own individual characteristics?

comment by Lumifer · 2015-01-09T16:04:53.026Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Where is the whole "social pressure" thing coming from?

But let me express myself better by changing one word in my original sentence: I think there are strong sex overtones here.

comment by Raemon · 2015-01-11T19:35:34.235Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That makes me more confused about what you mean.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-01-11T21:20:28.339Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Men and women are different on the biological level. They are different in multiple ways, but a particular one is that they have a different mix of hormones which affect the brain and so the mind. This gives rise to biologically (NOT socially) determined loci of attraction for certain behaviours and attitudes. Note that biology is not necessarily destiny, but ceteris paribus it's easier for biological males to gravitate to some centers of attraction and for biological females to gravitate towards other centers of attraction. Sure, there are lots of exceptions, but that doesn't change the picture of the averages.

comment by tavaton · 2015-01-22T21:15:10.969Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There does not seem to be an argument for why removing social pressures is not necessary here.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2015-02-12T02:16:13.281Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Social pressure can be good and bad.

Social pressure that steers some people to what they would prefer will steer others away. If people have basic goodwill, what you'd expect to see is the more typical people benefiting, while the more atypical would be harmed.

comment by shminux · 2015-01-08T18:29:45.891Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Note that there are enough good fictional male sidekicks to reduce the gender stigma, and fiction has at least as much power over people as reality. So maybe nothing special needs to be done?

comment by Vika · 2015-01-09T02:50:52.469Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Do you know of any examples, fictional or real, of a male sidekick to a female hero?

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-01-09T09:12:22.416Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Margaret Thatcher and Denis Thatcher.

comment by Kyre · 2015-01-09T05:07:42.227Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Buffy / Xander, Motoko / Batu, Deunan / Briareos

(although I'm not sure "Sidekick" is exactly right here)

comment by polymathwannabe · 2015-01-09T04:25:28.342Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Hit Girl/Kick-Ass, Korra/Mako, Sailor Moon/Tuxedo Mask, She-Ra/Bow.

comment by wadavis · 2015-01-09T23:49:06.533Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Moiraine Damodred and Al'Lan Mandragoran

Tiffany Aching and Rob Anybody

comment by [deleted] · 2015-01-11T21:40:00.209Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Moiraine Damodred and Al'Lan Mandragoran

SPOILERS FOR AN ANCIENT FANTASY SERIES

Severely hampered by the fact that Moiraine is fridged for -- what, six, seven books?

comment by Nornagest · 2015-01-12T04:23:14.380Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Less "fridged" and more "pulling a Gandalf", I'd say. She isn't murdered to demonstrate the opposition's evilness and to motivate the hero; she's a mentor figure who gets killed neutralizing a threat that the hero can't overcome at that stage of his development.

Not that that's much of a step up, plot-wise.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-01-12T14:16:58.034Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Good catch.

Man, I'd forgotten how ridiculous that series is. I'd started reading them as a child, and finished just after Winter's Heart was published. A couple years later, I met Jordan at a book signing for Crossroads of Twilight. I was so disappointed by that horrible, horrible novel that I still haven't finished the series yet.

comment by Nornagest · 2015-01-12T17:41:37.580Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

They're pretty ridiculous. I had a similar arc of experience with them, minus the book signing, but a year or so ago I picked up ePubs of the tail end of the series with an eye toward finally driving a stake into its heart. I hardly ever read fantasy these days, but I had a long plane flight ahead of me and figured I could do worse.

Roughly six hours of reading later, I was a quarter of the way into Knife of Dreams and already regretting that plan. I never did finish them.

comment by MarkusRamikin · 2015-01-12T18:54:53.071Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, they are. If I were to find myself re-reading them for some reason, I think I'd just have to read the parts with the Asha'man, and skip the two bazillion other subplots that go nowhere interesting.

And especially I'd skip everything that includes Faile. Better yet, women in general.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-01-12T19:07:50.316Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

You'd miss all the incredible Nynaeve tugging her braid action X-)

comment by Lumifer · 2015-01-11T21:46:24.586Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

But unhampered by the observation that it's not just this particular pair -- this is an entire social institution where a male Warden becomes a sidekick to a female Aes Sedai.

comment by alienist · 2015-01-12T03:13:23.791Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

And hampered by the fact that the main character is the one exception.

comment by wadavis · 2015-01-12T05:45:06.547Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The Aes Sedai society is a limited example, I had trouble remembering the names of any other bonded pairs where both characters were developed and the warden fit the willing, mentally healthy, sidekick role. The wardens were a case study in the reverse Bechdel test.

In that entire story, Lan was an exception that he embraced his sidekickness.

comment by Manfred · 2015-01-18T05:17:36.180Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Now I feel like a bad person because I can't remember Verin's warder's name :(

Ooh, or Adaleas and Vandene's sweet old-man warder.

(Looked them up - Tomas and Jaem)

comment by [deleted] · 2015-01-12T14:26:30.799Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I had trouble remembering the names of any other bonded pairs where both characters were developed and the warden fit the willing, mentally healthy, sidekick role.

I don't remember any, either. Doesn't Taim end up bonding with an Aes Sedai? I know at least some of the Asha'man did.

I suppose the triple bond on Rand is an example....? Ick.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-01-09T08:14:46.109Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin.

comment by Salemicus · 2015-01-22T16:54:23.418Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW
  • Queen Anne and Prince George of Denmark.
  • Indira and Feroze Gandhi.
  • Benazir Bhutto and Asif Ali Zardari.
  • Maria Theresa and Francis I.
comment by wadavis · 2015-01-21T16:13:18.659Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Dagny Taggart and Eddie Willers.

comment by wadavis · 2015-01-10T00:21:26.350Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Marie Curie and Pierre Curie

comment by JoshuaZ · 2015-01-10T01:49:27.605Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure how good an example that is. Pierre Curie was an extremely successful scientist in his own right.

comment by hairyfigment · 2015-01-21T17:13:41.197Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I was going to cite "Worm," but - aside from maybe the Number Man and Contessa - none of those examples really work. Alas, poor Clockblocker never got to fulfill his true role.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-01-13T09:57:04.610Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Morgaine and Nhi Vanye.

comment by Good_Burning_Plastic · 2015-01-13T09:28:15.851Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Jessie and James in the Pokémon anime (kind of).

comment by alwhite · 2015-02-04T20:44:00.848Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

One of the things that comes to mind for me is the "Myth of the lone genius" and, in part, it sounds like you are continuing that myth in your use of the word "hero". A single person doing something to better the world. But I don't think such people actually exist. All of the heroes, all of the geniuses, have near armies of people beneath them that make their impact on the world happen. No single person has that kind of impact.

Very plainly said, if we investigate any person that you identify as "hero" we will find a lot of additional people contributing to the hero's success.

Is it helpful to re-frame the discussion to be, you want to contribute to rather than be contributed to? I think that's a valid distinction that people can make choices on.

But in terms of effective impact upon the globe, I don't think it's possible to accumulate power into a small subset to enact change upon the world. That's essentially what heroes are supposed to be, concentrate power to enact change. Instead, I think change happens through the small contributions of a wide system, where the "hero" is but the symbol, image, or figurehead. It is the breadth of the system that has the true power to change, not the concentrated power of a single individual.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-02-04T21:54:17.523Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Very plainly said, if we investigate any person that you identify as "hero" we will find a lot of additional people contributing to the hero's success.

Who gathered those people together, to work for that success?

comment by alwhite · 2015-02-04T22:05:52.947Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Depends on the size of the effort. The larger the effort, the more people involved in the gathering.

Are you suggesting that the gathering function is more important than any other function?

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-02-04T22:30:28.699Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The larger the effort, the more people involved in the gathering.

Who gathers the gatherers?

Are you suggesting that the gathering function is more important than any other function?

Gathering and leading are essential functions of a hero. Without them, outside of a few examples in mathematics and the arts, nothing heroic is accomplished.

comment by alwhite · 2015-02-05T16:31:30.304Z · score: -3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

And yet the gatherer or leader is incapable of doing as much as we claim they do. Frodo didn't gather anyone. Samwise, Merry, and Pippin all forcefully followed Frodo. Aragorn led the army against Mordor but the Stewards had gathered the army, Gandalf pushed Aragorn into the position, Boromir and Theoden led them until Aragorn arrived and took his place.

Real life examples. Steve Jobs was hired by a board of directors. The majority of hiring (gathering) that happens at Apple goes through middle management. It's the recruiters and the managers that do the real gathering.

A leader can do nothing without followers and most of the time it is the followers who make the leader and not the other way around. There is no power in a leader that exists apart from the followers. Heroes are most often myths and not actually real. Reality shows that most heroic efforts are done through a massive collaborative effort and the leader in such a situation is filling but a small role surrounded by many other small roles.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-02-05T17:13:22.429Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Steve Jobs was hired by a board of directors.

Or to put it another way, Steve Jobs convinced a board of directors to hire him. And the vision from which Apple's new products come from happens in a room at the heart of Apple that only a small number of people ever see.

It's the recruiters and the managers that do the real gathering.

Companies are really run by their HR department? I've heard that some HR people think so.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-02-04T21:10:27.527Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Also known as "You didn't build that".

comment by michael_b · 2015-02-03T11:02:47.159Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Kenzi said, approximately [I don't remember her exact words]: “What if your aura of destiny didn’t have to be those things? What if you could be like…Samwise, from Lord of the Rings? You’re competent, but most importantly, you’re loyal to Frodo. You’re the reason that the hero succeeds.”

In Australia, something about the way you interacted with people suggested to me that you help people in a completely free way, joyfully, because it fulfills you to serve those you care about, and not because you want something from them… I was able to relax around you, and ask for your support when I needed it while I worked on my classes. It was really lovely… The other surprising thing was that you seemed to act that way with everyone. You weren’t “on” all the time, but when you were, everybody around you got the benefit. I’d never recognized in anyone I’d met a more diffuse service impulse, like the whole human race might be your master. So I suddenly felt like I understood nurses and other people in similar service roles for the first time.

Project this idea to community scale and you have a gift economy.

If you're interested in seeing how 50,000+ people apply this for a week do look into Burning Man