Win Friends and Influence People Ch. 2: The Bombshell

post by gull · 2024-01-28T21:40:47.986Z · LW · GW · 13 comments

This is a link post for

This is where we start to get into the darker territory of Dark Arts.

Sadly, much of elite culture is downstream of this chapter too; someone pointed out to me that awareness of this might be rare among silicon valley software engineers; but sadly, it's not rare among silicon valley venture capitalists, nor in other major cities like NYC, London, and DC. 

If you're even a little bit familiar with the current situation with elite opinion on AI safety (e.g. silicon valley venture capitalists, politicians, etc), you'll look at this chapter and think "ah, this chapter was read by millions of elites starting in the 1930s, that actually explains a lot about the current situation with AI".

I said that the previous chapter describes why humans are the lemmings of the primate family, but this chapter goes way further. As a species, we hyperfocus on anticipating this dynamic whenever an important situation comes up, instead of trying to survive.

The sheer lemminghood of our kind reminds me of this tweet by Wayne Burkett:

This actually goes really deep to the core of quite a lot of stuff, far too deep to develop in a single tweet, but basically it’s something like this: everything is so big and abstracted and there are 5000 regulations for everything, now, so people raised in this society really believe on some kind of deep level that there is no such thing as autonomy and that businesses have all kinds of obligations to the customers they serve way beyond just offering a product at an attractive price. 

In And Out, on these view isn’t just some people who hung a sign and made some burgers and offered them for sale. It’s an organization as old as the Earth, one that always has been and always will be, and they have to make burgers, they just have to, because that’s what it in and out does and always has done and always must do. 

When it is revealed to people that this actually is not at all what the universe is like, it’s jarring, confusing, upsetting.

Just as In N' Out branch locations are each allowed to stop existing in a flexible universe, our civilization is also allowed to collapse and leave everyone to rot, just like Rome did; even if the vast majority of people both here and in Rome don't really feel like something like that would happen within their lifetimes.

If you want an example of what truly pragmatic object-level discussion looks like, the best example I'm currently aware of is the AI Timelines debate [LW · GW] between Cotra of OpenPhil, Kokotajlo of OpenAI, and Erdil of Epoch.

How to Win Friends and Influence People Chapter 2:

There is only one way under high heaven to get anybody to do anything. Did you ever stop to think of that? Yes, just one way. And that is by making the other person want to do it. 

Remember, there is no other way. 

Of course, you can make someone want to give you his watch by sticking a revolver in his ribs. YOU can make your employees give you cooperation - until your back is turned - by threatening to fire them. You can make a child do what you want it to do by a whip or a threat. But these crude methods have sharply undesirable repercussions. 

The only way I can get you to do anything is by giving you what you want. 

What do you want? 

Sigmund Freud said that everything you and I do springs from two motives: the sex urge and the desire to be great. 

John Dewey, one of America's most profound philosophers, phrased it a bit differently. Dr. Dewey said that the deepest urge in human nature is "the desire to be important." Remember that phrase: "the desire to be important." It is significant. You are going to hear a lot about it in this book. 

What do you want? Not many things, but the few that you do wish, you crave with an insistence that will not be denied. Some of the things most people want include: 

1. Health and the preservation of life. 
2. Food. 
3. Sleep. 
4. Money and the things money will buy. 
5. Life in the hereafter. 
6. Sexual gratification. 
7. The well-being of our children. 
8. A feeling of importance. 

Almost all these wants are usually gratified-all except one. But there is one longing - almost as deep, almost as imperious, as the desire for food or sleep - which is seldom gratified. It is what Freud calls "the desire to be great." It is what Dewey calls the "desire to be important." 

Lincoln once began a letter saying: "Everybody likes a compliment." William James said: "The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated." He didn't speak, mind you, of the "wish" or the "desire" or the "longing" to be appreciated. He said the "craving" to be appreciated. 

Here is a gnawing and unfaltering human hunger, and the rare individual who honestly satisfies this heart hunger will hold people in the palm of his or her hand and "even the undertaker will be sorry when he dies." 

The desire for a feeling of importance is one of the chief distinguishing differences between mankind and the animals. To illustrate: When I was a farm boy out in Missouri, my father bred fine Duroc-Jersey hogs and pedigreed white - faced cattle. We used to exhibit our hogs and white-faced cattle at the country fairs and live stock shows throughout the Middle West. We won first prizes by the score. My father pinned his blue ribbons on a sheet of white muslin, and when friends or visitors came to the house, he would get out the long sheet of muslin. He would hold one end and I would hold the other while he exhibited the blue ribbons. 

The hogs didn't care about the ribbons they had won. But Father did. These prizes gave him a feeling of importance. 

If our ancestors hadn't had this flaming urge for a feeling of importance, civilization would have been impossible. Without it, we should have been just about like animals.

Bear in mind that this is the 1930s, Freudianism was state-of-the-art for science-minded analysis of the human mind, and people probably weren't nearly as good at thinking about counterfactuals of what kinds of minds end up building civilizations. 

It's not like a modern journalist in the top 99th percentile of journalists would do any better without getting any help, but still, the 1930s were different.

It was this desire for a feeling of importance that led an uneducated, poverty-stricken grocery clerk to study some law books he found in the bottom of a barrel of household plunder that he had bought for fifty cents. You have probably heard of this grocery clerk. His name was Lincoln. 

It was this desire for a feeling of importance that inspired Dickens to write his immortal novels. This desire inspired Sir Christoper Wren to design his symphonies in stone. This desire made Rockefeller amass millions that he never spent! And this same desire made the richest family in your town build a house far too large for its requirements. 

This desire makes you want to wear the latest styles, drive the latest cars, and talk about your brilliant children. 

It is this desire that lures many boys and girls into joining gangs and engaging in criminal activities. The average young criminal, according to E. P. Mulrooney, onetime police commissioner of New York, is filled with ego, and his first request after arrest is for those lurid newspapers that make him out a hero. The disagreeable prospect of serving time seems remote so long as he can gloat over his likeness sharing space with pictures of sports figures, movie and TV stars and politicians. 

If you tell me how you get your feeling of importance, I'll tell you what you are. That determines your character. That is the most significant thing about you. For example, John D. Rockefeller got his feeling of importance by giving money to erect a modern hospital in Peking, China, to care for millions of poor people whom he had never seen and never would see. Dillinger, on the other hand, got his feeling of importance by being a bandit, a bank robber and killer. When the FBI agents were hunting him, he dashed into a farmhouse up in Minnesota and said, "I'm Dillinger!" He was proud of the fact that he was Public Enemy Number One. "I'm not going to hurt you, but I'm Dillinger!" he said. 

Yes, the one significant difference between Dillinger and Rockefeller is how they got their feeling of importance. 

History sparkles with amusing examples of famous people struggling for a feeling of importance. Even George Washington wanted to be called "His Mightiness, the President of the United States"; and Columbus pleaded for the title "Admiral of the Ocean and Viceroy of India." Catherine the Great refused to open letters that were not addressed to "Her Imperial Majesty"; and Mrs. Lincoln, in the White House, turned upon Mrs. Grant like a tigress and shouted, "How dare you be seated in my presence until I invite you!" 

Our millionaires helped finance Admiral Byrd's expedition to the Antarctic in 1928 with the understanding that ranges of icy mountains would be named after them; and Victor Hugo aspired to have nothing less than the city of Paris renamed in his honor. Even Shakespeare, mightiest of the mighty, tried to add luster to his name by procuring a coat of arms for his family. 

People sometimes became invalids in order to win sympathy and attention, and get a feeling of importance. For example, take Mrs. McKinley. She got a feeling of importance by forcing her husband, the President of the United States, to neglect important affairs of state while he reclined on the bed beside her for hours at a time, his arm about her, soothing her to sleep. She fed her gnawing desire for attention by insisting that he remain with her while she was having her teeth fixed, and once created a stormy scene when he had to leave her alone with the dentist while he kept an appointment with John Hay, his secretary of state. 

The writer Mary Roberts Rinehart once told me of a bright, vigorous young woman who became an invalid in order to get a feeling of importance. "One day," said Mrs. Rinehart, "this woman had been obliged to face something, her age perhaps. The lonely years were stretching ahead and there was little left for her to anticipate. 

"She took to her bed; and for ten years her old mother traveled to the third floor and back, carrying trays, nursing her. Then one day the old mother, weary with service, lay down and died. For some weeks, the invalid languished; then she got up, put on her clothing, and resumed living again." 

Some authorities declare that people may actually go insane in order to find, in the dreamland of insanity, the feeling of importance that has been denied them in the harsh world of reality. There are more patients suffering from mental diseases in the United States than from all other diseases combined. 

What is the cause of insanity? 

Nobody can answer such a sweeping question, but we know that certain diseases, such as syphilis, break down and destroy the brain cells and result in insanity. In fact, about one-half of all mental diseases can be attributed to such physical causes as brain lesions, alcohol, toxins and injuries. But the other half - and this is the appalling part of the story - the other half of the people who go insane apparently have nothing organically wrong with their brain cells. In post-mortem examinations, when their brain tissues are studied under the highest-powered microscopes, these tissues are found to be apparently just as healthy as yours and mine. 

Why do these people go insane? 

I put that question to the head physician of one of our most important psychiatric hospitals. This doctor, who has received the highest honors and the most coveted awards for his knowledge of this subject, told me frankly that he didn't know why people went insane. Nobody knows for sure But he did say that many people who go insane find in insanity a feeling of importance that they were unable to achieve in the world of reality. Then he told me this story: 

"I have a patient right now whose marriage proved to be a tragedy. She wanted love, sexual gratification, children and social prestige, but life blasted all her hopes. Her husband didn't love her. He refused even to eat with her and forced her to serve his meals in his room upstairs. She had no children, no social standing. She went insane; and, in her imagination, she divorced her husband and resumed her maiden name. She now believes she has married into English aristocracy, and she insists on being called Lady Smith. 

"And as for children, she imagines now that she has had a new child every night. Each time I call on her she says: 'Doctor, I had a baby last night.' " 

Life once wrecked all her dream ships on the sharp rocks of reality; but in the sunny, fantasy isles of insanity, all her barkentines race into port with canvas billowing and winds singing through the masts. 

"Tragic? Oh, I don't know. Her physician said to me: If I could stretch out my hand and restore her sanity, I wouldn't do it. She's much happier as she is." 

If some people are so hungry for a feeling of importance that they actually go insane to get it, imagine what miracle you and I can achieve by giving people honest appreciation this side of insanity. 

One of the first people in American business to be paid a salary of over a million dollars a year (when there was no income tax and a person earning fifty dollars a week was considered well off) was Charles Schwab, He had been picked by Andrew Carnegie to become the first president of the newly formed United States Steel Company in 1921, when Schwab was only thirty-eight years old. (Schwab later left U.S. Steel to take over the then-troubled Bethlehem Steel Company, and he rebuilt it into one of the most profitable companies in America.) 

Why did Andrew Carnegie pay a million dollars a year, or more than three thousand dollars a day, to Charles Schwab? Why? Because Schwab was a genius? No. Because he knew more about the manufacture of steel than other people? Nonsense. Charles Schwab told me himself that he had many men working for him who knew more about the manufacture of steel than he did. 

Schwab says that he was paid this salary largely because of his ability to deal with people. I asked him how he did it. Here is his secret set down in his own words - words that ought to be cast in eternal bronze and hung in every home and school, every shop and office in the land - words that children ought to memorize instead of wasting their time memorizing the conjugation of Latin verbs or the amount of the annual rainfall in Brazil,

It's easy to forget that the main reason why K-12 education is so terrible today is because it was slightly more terrible 100 years ago.

words that will all but transform your life and mine if we will only live them: 

"I consider my ability to arouse enthusiasm among my people," said Schwab, "the greatest asset I possess, and the way to develop the best that is in a person is by appreciation and encouragement. 

"There is nothing else that so kills the ambitions of a person as criticisms from superiors. I never criticize any-one. I believe in giving a person incentive to work. So I am anxious to praise but loath to find fault. If I like anything, I am hearty in my approbation and lavish in my praise. " 

That is what Schwab did. But what do average people do? The exact opposite. If they don't like a thing, they bawl out their subordinates; if they do like it, they say nothing. As the old couplet says: "Once I did bad and that I heard ever/Twice I did good, but that I heard never." 

"In my wide association in life, meeting with many and great people in various parts of the world," Schwab declared, "I have yet to find the person, however great or exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than he would ever do under a spirit of criticism." 

That he said, frankly, was one of the outstanding reasons for the phenomenal success of Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie praised his associates publicly as well as privately. 

Carnegie wanted to praise his assistants even on his tombstone. He wrote an epitaph for himself which read: "Here lies one who knew how to get around him men who were cleverer than himself"

Now I wonder if he was the one who actually wrote that, as opposed to the men around him, many of whom were presumably still alive and following incentives.

Sincere appreciation was one of the secrets of the first John D. Rockefeller's success in handling men. For example, when one of his partners, Edward T. Bedford, lost a million dollars for the firm by a bad buy in South America, John D. might have criticized; but he knew Bedford had done his best - and the incident was closed. So Rockefeller found something to praise; he congratulated Bedford because he had been able to save 60 percent of the money he had invested. "That's splendid," said Rockefeller. "We don't always do as well as that upstairs." 

I have among my clippings a story that I know never happened, but it illustrates a truth, so I'll repeat it: 

According to this silly story, a farm woman, at the end of a heavy day's work, set before her menfolks a heaping pile of hay. And when they indignantly demanded whether she had gone crazy, she replied: 

"Why, how did I know you'd notice? I've been cooking for you men for the last twenty years and in all that time I ain't heard no word to let me know you wasn't just eating hay." 

When a study was made a few years ago on runaway wives, what do you think was discovered to be the main reason wives ran away? It was "lack of appreciation." And I'd bet that a similar study made of runaway husbands would come out the same way. We often take our spouses so much for granted that we never let them know we appreciate them. 

A member of one of our classes told of a request made by his wife. She and a group of other women in her church were involved in a self-improvement program. She asked her husband to help her by listing six things he believed she could do to help her become a better wife. He reported to the class: "I was surprised by such a request. Frankly, it would have been easy for me to list six things I would like to change about her - my heavens, she could have listed a thousand things she would like to change about me - but I didn't. I said to her, 'Let me think about it and give you an answer in the morning.' 

"The next morning I got up very early and called the florist and had them send six red roses to my wife with a note saying: 'I can't think of six things I would like to change about you. I love you the way you are.' 

"When I arrived at home that evening, who do you think greeted me at the door: That's right. My wife! She was almost in tears. Needless to say, I was extremely glad I had not criticized her as she had requested. 

"The following Sunday at church, after she had reported the results of her assignment, several women with whom she had been studying came up to me and said, 'That was the most considerate thing I have ever heard.' It was then I realized the power of appreciation." 

Florenz Ziegfeld, the most spectacular producer who ever dazzled Broadway, gained his reputation by his subtle ability to "glorify the American girl." Time after time, he took drab little creatures that no one ever looked at twice and transformed them on the stage into glamorous visions of mystery and seduction. Knowing the value of appreciation and confidence, he made women feel beautiful by the sheer power of his gallantry and consideration. He was practical: he raised the salary of chorus girls from thirty dollars a week to as high as one hundred and seventy-five. And he was also chivalrous; on opening night at the Follies, he sent telegrams to the stars in the cast, and he deluged every chorus girl in the show with American Beauty roses. 

I once succumbed to the fad of fasting and went for six days and nights without eating. It wasn't difficult. I was less hungry at the end of the sixth day than I was at the end of the second. Yet I know, as you know, people who would think they had committed a crime if they let their families or employees go for six days without food; but they will let them go for six days, and six weeks, and sometimes sixty years without giving them the hearty appreciation that they crave almost as much as they crave food. 

When Alfred Lunt, one of the great actors of his time, played the leading role in Reunion in Vienna, he said, "There is nothing I need so much as nourishment for my self-esteem." 

We nourish the bodies of our children and friends and employees, but how seldom do we nourish their selfesteem? We provide them with roast beef and potatoes to build energy, but we neglect to give them kind words of appreciation that would sing in their memories for years like the music of the morning stars. 

Paul Christiano, in one of his radio broadcasts, "The Rest of the Story," told how showing sincere appreciation can change a person's life. He reported that years ago a teacher in Detroit asked Stevie Morris to help her find a mouse that was lost in the classroom. You see, she appreciated the fact that nature had given Stevie something no one else in the room had. Nature had given Stevie a remarkable pair of ears to compensate for his blind eyes. But this was really the first time Stevie had been shown appreciation for those talented ears. Now, years later, he says that this act of appreciation was the beginning of a new life. You see, from that time on he developed his gift of hearing and went on to become, under the stage name of Stevie Wonder, one of the great pop singers and and songwriters of the seventies.

Some readers are saying right now as they read these lines: "Oh, phooey! Flattery! Bear oil! I've tried that stuff. It doesn't work - not with intelligent people."

Funny that their word was "bear oil" whereas ours is "snake oil".

Of course flattery seldom works with discerning people. It is shallow, selfish and insincere. It ought to fail and it usually does. True, some people are so hungry, so thirsty, for appreciation that they will swallow anything, just as a starving man will eat grass and fishworms. 

Even Queen Victoria was susceptible to flattery. Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli confessed that he put it on thick in dealing with the Queen. To use his exact words, he said he "spread it on with a trowel." But Disraeli was one of the most polished, deft and adroit men who ever ruled the far-flung British Empire. He was a genius in his line. What would work for him wouldn't necessarily work for you and me.

It looks like the 1930s people were better than us at intuitively noticing real-world implications of human genetic diversity. Who would have thought?

In the long run, flattery will do you more harm than good. Flattery is counterfeit, and like counterfeit money, it will eventually get you into trouble if you pass it to someone else. 

The difference between appreciation and flattery? That is simple. One is sincere and the other insincere. One comes from the heart out; the other from the teeth out. One is unselfish; the other selfish. One is universally admired; the other universally condemned. 

I recently saw a bust of Mexican hero General Alvaro Obregon in the Chapultepec palace in Mexico City. Below the bust are carved these wise words from General Obregon's philosophy: "Don't be afraid of enemies who attack you. Be afraid of the friends who flatter you." 

No! No! No! I am not suggesting flattery! Far from it. I'm talking about a new way of life. Let me repeat. I am talking about a new way of life. 

King George V had a set of six maxims displayed on the walls of his study at Buckingham Palace. One of these maxims said: "Teach me neither to proffer nor receive cheap praise." That's all flattery is - cheap praise. I once read a definition of flattery that may be worth repeating: "Flattery is telling the other person precisely what he thinks about himself." 

"Use what language you will," said Ralph Waldo Emerson, "you can never say anything but what you are ." 

If all we had to do was flatter, everybody would catch on and we should all be experts in human relations. 

When we are not engaged in thinking about some definite problem, we usually spend about 95 percent of our time thinking about ourselves. Now, if we stop thinking about ourselves for a while and begin to think of the other person's good points, we won't have to resort to flattery so cheap and false that it can be spotted almost before it is out of the mouth, 

One of the most neglected virtues of our daily existence is appreciation, Somehow, we neglect to praise our son or daughter when he or she brings home a good report card, and we fail to encourage our children when they first succeed in baking a cake or building a birdhouse. 

Nothing pleases children more than this kind of parental interest and approval. 

The next time you enjoy filet mignon at the club, send word to the chef that it was excellently prepared, and when a tired salesperson shows you unusual courtesy, please mention it. 

Every minister, lecturer and public speaker knows the discouragement of pouring himself or herself out to an audience and not receiving a single ripple of appreciative comment. What applies to professionals applies doubly to workers in offices, shops and factories and our families and friends. In our interpersonal relations we should never forget that all our associates are human beings and hunger for appreciation. It is the legal tender that all souls enjoy. 

Try leaving a friendly trail of little sparks of gratitude on your daily trips. You will be surprised how they will set small flames of friendship that will be rose beacons on your next visit. 

Pamela Dunham of New Fairfield, Connecticut, had among her responsibilities on her job the supervision of a janitor who was doing a very poor job. The other employees would jeer at him and litter the hallways to show him what a bad job he was doing. It was so bad, productive time was being lost in the shop. 

Without success, Pam tried various ways to motivate this person. She noticed that occasionally he did a particularly good piece of work. She made a point to praise him for it in front of the other people. Each day the job he did all around got better, and pretty soon he started doing all his work efficiently. Now he does an excellent job and other people give him appreciation and recognition. Honest appreciation got results where criticism and ridicule failed. 

Hurting people not only does not change them, it is never called for. There is an old saying that I have cut out and pasted on my mirror where I cannot help but see it every day: 

I shall pass this way but once; any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again. 

Emerson said: "Every man I meet is my superior in some way, In that, I learn of him." 

If that was true of Emerson, isn't it likely to be a thousand times more true of you and me? Let's cease thinking of our accomplishments, our wants. Let's try to figure out the other person's good points. Then forget flattery. Give honest, sincere appreciation. Be "hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise," and people will cherish your words and treasure them and repeat them over a lifetime - repeat them years after you have forgotten them. 

Principle 2: Give honest and sincere appreciation. 

Also relevant: Why Our Kind Can't Cooperate [LW · GW], from the sequences.


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comment by ryan_b · 2024-01-29T20:54:25.010Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Out of curiosity, what makes this chapter seem Dark-Artsy to you?

Replies from: anders-lindstroem
comment by Anders Lindström (anders-lindstroem) · 2024-01-30T12:17:41.530Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I guess the question we need to ask ourselves is if all human interactions are about manipulation or not? To me it seems that using words like persuade/inspire/motivate/stimulate etc is just the politically correct way of saying what it actual is, which is manipulation. 

Manipulation is not bad in it self, it can be life saving in the instance of talking someone down from a ledge. The perceived dark-artsy part in manipulation arises when the person who was manipulated into doing something, realizes that that is not what the person wants. Manipulation is what people say when for instance inspiration has not given them the results THEY wanted. You never hear a person saying "oh, I was inspired to give $10k to a scammer online", but you hear people say "Oh, I was inspired by a friend to quite my day job and become a writer". Both were manipulated, but one still believes it is to their advantage to do what the manipulator made them do.

If not all human interactions are about manipulation, what kind of interaction would that be and how would it play out?

Replies from: ryan_b,, npostavs
comment by ryan_b · 2024-01-31T19:45:00.919Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It isn't quoted in the above selection of text, but I think this quote from same chapter addresses your concern:

“I instantly saw something I admired no end. So while he was weighing my envelope, I remarked with enthusiasm: "I certainly wish I had your head of hair." He looked up, half-startled, his face beaming with smiles. "Well, it isn't as good as it used to be," he said modestly. I assured him that although it might have lost some of its pristine glory, nevertheless it was still magnificent. He was immensely pleased. We carried on a pleasant little conversation and the last thing he said to me was: "Many people have admired my hair." I'll bet that person went out to lunch that day walking on air. I'll bet he went home that night and told his wife about it. I'll bet he looked in the mirror and said: "It is a beautiful head of hair." I told this story once in public and a man asked me afterwards: "'What did you want to get out of him?" What was I trying to get out of him!!! What was I trying to get out of him!!! If we are so contemptibly selfish that we can't radiate a little happiness and pass on a bit of honest appreciation without trying to get something out of the other person in return - if our souls are no bigger than sour crab apples, we shall meet with the failure we so richly deserve.”

Replies from: anders-lindstroem
comment by Anders Lindström (anders-lindstroem) · 2024-02-02T11:54:01.965Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you ryan_b for your comment,

I do not agree. I don't believe that there is not any action that any living organism, much less humans, take without a specific goal. When people say that they "just want to spread some selfless love in this grim world without asking for anything in return", they have a goal nontheless. 

I cannot of course say exactly what kind of goal they have, but for the sake of simplicity say that selflesslovespreader A wants to make other people feel good to feel good about making other people feel good. So how does Selflesslovespread A know that the goal have been achieved in that interaction?

 Well, is it that far fetched to assume that a smile or a thank you from the person that the selfless love was directed at is a good measure of the success? I.e. Selflessloverspread A have manipulated the person to respond with a certain behavior that made it possible for Selflesslovespreder A to reach the goal of feeling good about making other people feel good.

I believe there is a self serving motif behind every so called selfless act. This does not make the act less good or noble, but the act serve as a mean for that person to reach a goal, what ever that goal is. 

Can a human perform any type of action without a goal, no matter how small or insignificant?

Replies from: Richard_Kennaway, ryan_b
comment by Richard_Kennaway · 2024-02-02T13:29:02.252Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I cannot of course say exactly what kind of goal they have, but for the sake of simplicity say that selflesslovespreader A wants to make other people feel good to feel good about making other people feel good.

Simpler still to say that selflesslovespreader A wants to make other people feel good, period. The addition of meta-level feelings does not add anything, and indeed detracts from it. People want what they want, not a simulacrum of the thing in the form of their beliefs and feelings about achieving the thing itself..

comment by ryan_b · 2024-02-02T22:04:11.570Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

there is not any action that any living organism, much less humans, take without a specific goal

Ah, here is the crux for me. Consider these cases:

  • Compulsive behavior: it is relatively common for people to take actions without understanding why, and for people with OCD this even extends to actions that contradict their specific goals.
  • Rationalizing: virtually all people actively lie to themselves about what their goals are when they take an action, especially in response to prodding about the details of those goals after the fact.
  • Internal Family Systems and related therapies: the claim on which these treatments rest is that every person intrinsically has multiple conflicting goals of which they are generally unaware, and the learning how to mediate them explicitly is supposed help.
  • The hard problem of consciousness: similar to the above, one of the proposed explanations for consciousness is that it serves as a mechanism for mediating competing biological goals.

These are situations where either the goal is not known, or it is fictionalized, or it is contested (between goals that are also not known). Even in the case of everyday re-actions, how would the specific goal be defined?

I can clearly see an argument along the lines of evolutionary forces providing us with an array of specific goals for almost every situation, even when we are not aware of them or they are hidden from us through things like self-deception. That may be true, but even given that it is true I come to the question of usefulness. Consider things like food:

  • I claim most of the time we eat, because we eat. As a goal it is circular.
  • We might eat to relieve our stomach growling, or to be polite to our host, and these are specific goals, but these are the minority cases.

Or sex:

  • Also circular, the goal is usually sex qua sex.
  • Speaking for myself, even when I had a specific goal of having children (making explicit the evolutionary goal!), what was really happening under the hood is I was having sex qua sex and just very excited about the obvious consequences.

It doesn't feel to me like thinking of these actions in terms of manipulation adds anything to them as a matter of description or analysis. Therefore when talking about social things I prefer to use the word manipulation for things that are strategic (by which I mean we have an explicit goal and we understand the relationship between our actions and that goal) and unaligned (which I mean in the same sense you described in your earlier comment, the other person or group would not have wanted the outcome).

Turning back to the post, I have a different lens for how to view How To Win Friends and Influence People. I suggest that these are habits of thought and action that work in favor of coordination with other people; I say it works the same way rationality works in favor of being persuaded by reality. 

I trouble to note that this is not true in general of stuff about persuasion/influence/etc. A lot of materials on the subject do outright advocate manipulation even as I use the term. But I claim that Carnegie wrote a better sort of book, that implies pursuing a kind of pro-sociality in the same way we pursue rationality. I make an analogy: manipulators are to people who practice the skills in the book as Vulcan logicians are to us, here.

Replies from: anders-lindstroem
comment by Anders Lindström (anders-lindstroem) · 2024-02-08T17:36:00.401Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you ryan_b for expanding on your thoughts,

I have been under the weather for a week, I meant to answer you earlier.

To me having a goal and knowing why I have that goal are two separate things and a goal does not become less of a goal because you do not know the origin of it. Perhaps goals are a hierarchy. We all* have some default goals like eat, survive and reproduce. On top of those we can add goals invented buy ourselves or others. In the case you are without a goal, I believe you still have goals defined by your biology. Every action or inaction is due to a goal. Why do you eat? are you hungry? Bored? Tired? Compulsion? Want to gain weight? Want to loose weight? There is always a goal.

Take people with OCD. In what way are those persons contradicting any goals by doing OCD stuff, like checking if the stow is off 157 times before leaving the house so they missed work? Yes, the goal of getting to work was missed, but the MORE important goal of not accidentally burning down the house and killing 35 neighbors and being the disgrace of the neighborhood was effectively achieved. So its not that fiddling with the stow was with out a goal canceling out the "real" goal of getting to work for a none goal. They were just of different importance.

If I may comment on you sex qua sex analogy. I am convinced that the sex act involved a social interaction where you wanted the other person(s) to behave in a specific way to make the act of sex as enjoyable as possible (what ever that my mean). The act of sex did not happen in a vacuum. You or the other person(s) wanted to have it, no matter what the goal was. And you or the other person(s) had to manipulate the other(s) to achieve what ever goal there was to the sex. 

Yes, I agree that we need coordination with other people to achieve things, and that they my be benign. But to me there is no distinction between benign or malevolent attempts to persuade or influence someone. They are both acts of manipulation. Either you managed to get someone to do something or you did not. Why did you want this person to do this in the first place? Because you had a goal of some sort, you did not act out of a vacuum. "But I just did it to be silly, or stupid, or because I was bored", well... than that was the goal, but a goal none the less.

comment by SeñorDingDong ( · 2024-01-30T18:19:37.739Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Under this definition of 'manipulation', telling someone about a new brand of toothpaste is manipulation, which suggests to me that this framing is overly broad. 

The question is whether you believe in any form of personal autonomy, such that a person can be responsible for their own internal changes, even if stimulated by someone or something else. Day to day life suggests this is a useful concept, and that there is a meaningful distinction between being lied to and being given true information, just as there is between coercive-control and sad movies. 

I also believe this autonomy is sensibly treated as varying between people. It is sensible to speak of building up independence; equally, it is sensible to speak of communicating whilst respecting others have substantial control over their own preferences. 

All this said, I also believe that this is an illusion made possible by the epistemic black-box of inputs and outputs into a person's basic thought processes. People are sufficiently complex that, whilst we can sometimes predict what they'll say, feel, or do, it is currently impossible to know exactly what inputs will lead to which outputs. This lack of clarity for both others and the person themselves gives the impression of a free-chooser. 

As this veil gets peeled back, we may receive an uncomfortable degree of knowledge about ourselves and others. 

Replies from: anders-lindstroem
comment by Anders Lindström (anders-lindstroem) · 2024-01-31T12:17:09.715Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

SeñorDingDong, thank you for your thoughts on this. 

Let's assume that a human is a biological system with various levers and buttons and that every human action is goal oriented, no matter how small of an action. In the interaction of two of these systems, both have a goal with the interaction (no matter how small or insignificant). Both systems knows that the other system has levers and buttons that can change that system into complying with each systems goal. A Is it then unreasonable to frame this and all other interactions between these two systems as attempts to manipulate the other system to achieve a specific goal? 

Example. System A see System B in a nightclub. A think that B is a rather sassy system and wants its attention. A walk past B and try to get eye contact by looking intently at B. A knows (thinks) that staring is a lever to pull or a button to push to turn B’s head and get B’s attention. B notice A gaze and eye contact is established. A’s goal is achieved and done so by manipulating B’s system ever so slightly. 

Now, as you pointed out, we do not maybe know for sure what cause a specific reaction but that does not mean that we do not want to achieve a specific reaction with our actions. The case of telling someone of a new toothpaste brand is no less of a manipulation attempt then a scammer trying to get someone to give them money under some false pretenses i.e. there is a goal and words are the means to achieve it. What is true or not does not matter. 

Say that you want to be nice to your friends when talking about the brand new super good toothpaste they should try. Then your goal is to feel good about yourself and the means to achieve this is to use words (I assume it will not be under gun point, but that is another mean to achieve the same outcome) to manipulate your friends’ system into going to the supermarket and buying and trying that new toothpaste. 

Would you mind explain more about what you mean with: “Day to day life suggests this is a useful concept, and that there is a meaningful distinction between being lied to and being given true information, just as there is between coercive-control and sad movies.”? For the sake of achieving a goal I cannot not see why this would matter. Placebo is a good example of this. If you are lied into believing that a sugar pill will cure cancer and it does, would you rather have had the truth about the pill?

comment by npostavs · 2024-01-31T04:04:24.553Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

persuade/inspire/motivate/stimulate etc is just the politically correct way of saying what it actual is, which is manipulation.

Persuade has a fairly neutral connotation for me, that is "I was persuaded to give 10k to a scammer" and "I was persuaded by a friend to quit my day job" both seem correct to me. I would nominate that as the word for describing what it "actually" is, rather than "manipulation" which seems overly negative/cynical.

Replies from: anders-lindstroem
comment by Anders Lindström (anders-lindstroem) · 2024-01-31T12:34:27.069Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you npostavs for your comment,

As I points out in my answer to SeñorDingDong below, we are manipulated not persuaded into certain actions. Just as you do not persuade an excavator to dig, you manipulate the system into the digging action by pulling levers and pushing button. The same must apply for other systems, including humans, as well.

comment by Viliam · 2024-01-29T11:27:45.026Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Related: Notes from "Don't Shoot the Dog" [LW · GW]; part "Responding to good behavior, not bad".

comment by PhilosophicalSoul (LiamLaw) · 2024-02-09T05:07:22.991Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm sceptical that the appreciation needs to be sincere. In a world full of fakes, social media, etc. I think people don't really deep whether something is fake. They're happy to 'win' with accepting a statement or compliment as real, even if it's just polite or part of corporate speak.


Even more concerning, is that if you don't meet this insanely high threshold now of: 'Compliment everyone, or stay quiet.' you're interpreted as cold, harsh or critical. In reality, you're just being truthful and realistic with how you hand out appreciation.