A Taxonomy of Weirdness

post by Evan Clark (evan-clark) · 2018-03-12T02:33:33.962Z · score: 12 (5 votes) · LW · GW · 5 comments

Contents

  Weirdo Varieties:
  Interweirdo relations, when the three groups make common cause:
  My advice for Fried Eggs (the only group I feel capable of dispensing advice to):
  Conclusion:
None
5 comments

To begin, here is is a story of Weirdness Points spent unwisely.

In elementary school, my mother would come in on occasion to lecture us on art and art history. The task one day was family portraits: specifically, caricatures of our close family members that expressed their respective personalities and quirks. As an example, she pulled out her drawings of my family, each person assembled of different shapes. My father was made of rectangles, because he was a mathematician and thought in logical and linear fashion. My mother herself was made of circles, because she was an art-lover and thought in what she saw as soft, roundabout ways. My sister was made of triangles, a compromise. At last she revealed me, saying: "And Evan is a fried egg!" And indeed, there I was, looking like the first frame of a Ricci flow animation, or perhaps more pertinently, a very poorly fried egg. There were the requisite gales of laughter from all around (and the requisite lack of laughter and mild mortification on my part). It would have been little consolation at the time that the picture would prove prophetic.

I have recently been contemplating the nature of my weirdness, and like any good LessWronger, I have expanded that contemplation into a full-blown world-girdling model, which hopefully is at least sufficiently superficially accurate.

Weirdo Varieties:

Fried Eggs - The constitutionally weird. People who will always end up on the margins, even relative to the margins. Not necessarily those who desire to be odd or unusual - although that is sometimes the case - but those for whom the self is inevitably expressed. Fried Eggs are often the most unique and creative, but they are also the sort of people who unfortunately find it hard to build a community, because they are uncompromisingly themselves. No Fried Egg will ever be a head of state. Some examples of Fried Eggs are Ed Wood, Marilyn Manson, Salvador Dalí, Diogenes of Sinope, and Nikola Tesla.

Believers - the devotionally weird. People who are on the margins only because of their total adherence to a marginal dogma. A devoted Communist who would be normal (if only Communism were) is a Believer and not a Fried Egg. They are not at all incrementalists, however, and will only surrender their weirdness when the last enemy falls. Believers build the strongest communities of the three - their communities become locally normal and thus stable - and are thus much more successful than Fried Eggs, although not as much as Faces. Some examples of Believers are Thomas Paine, Huey Long, Emma Goldman, John Brown and Malcolm X.

Faces - the instrumentally weird. The motto of the Face is that they only seem mad because everyone else is so - and they mean it. Faces have an odd belief or two, but are not odd in-and-of themselves, and are likely to roll their eyes at their often outlandish allies. Fundamentally, they want mainstream credibility; after all, how better to achieve their goals? While not explicitly community-oriented, they tend to be natural leaders, or at least more natural than the other two. Some examples of Faces are George Washington, Gary Johnson, Bernie Sanders, and Bertrand Russell.

Interweirdo relations, when the three groups make common cause:

(This section was written in intentionally harsh language, because I wanted to make clear cuts between groups for clarity's sake. Most people are a mix of the all three, obviously, and most people are more charitable about others than this portrays. The worst-case is for instructive, not normative value)

Fried Eggs are afraid of Believers, rightly believing that the latter can sniff out their fundamental lack of tunnel-vision. Faces are even worse - not only are they fundamentally normal, they don't even really hide it. Fried Eggs have nightmares where their carefully created spaces get taken over, either by mainstream whitewashing or political commandeering, and know that their friends in the Revolution might well be woefully temporary.

Believers are suspicious of Faces for obvious reasons, especially the tendency of Faces to stop right before the glorious utopia was going to arise. Believers are perhaps paradoxically more paranoid about Fried Eggs, after all they seem to really honestly care about their toys more than whether their toys are going to end up hurting or helping. Believers have nightmares where they are trivialized by history, either by incomprehensible navel-gazing aestheticism or two-faced normie imposters, and know that their friends in the Revolution don't really buy into the hype.

Faces regularly disavow Fried Eggs, because they know that every movement is judged by the loudest and the strangest. Faces think that Believers need to look at the bigger picture, after all they seem incapable of realizing that something really is better than something. Faces have nightmares where all they build is ridiculed by the elites, either because of extremist aggressives who can't take yes for an answer or by bizarre unsociable nerds, and know that their friends in the Revolution wouldn't help their chances with the movers and shakers.

My advice for Fried Eggs (the only group I feel capable of dispensing advice to):

I understand that you feel as though the world is against you. This is not insignificantly because part of the world is actually against you. Not everyone is, however, even when they don't understand you and make no effort to. Individuals are not the world - as well you should know - and it is a waste of energy to fear anyone and everyone.

You almost certainly didn't choose your fate, and might have chosen otherwise if given a choice, but given the world as it is, make the most of it. If you are going to be the eternal exception, be exceptionally worthwhile. If you are not average, at least be above-average.

If these sound like empty platitudes, it is primarily because I am not wise enough to help you more than empty platitudes can. Sorry. I'm working on that omniscience thing in my spare time.

I hope my taxonomy is helpful to you: I hope that when someone berates you for not understanding that Tonari no Totoro is actually a metaphor for reclaiming pagan values in the face of supposed reform movements, you can file that under "Believers just being Believers in good faith" and not take it personally, and I hope that when someone tells you that you absolutely can not go outside in a short skirt and a biker jacket because they might see important people who will already be disinclined to listen to your ideas about AI risk, you can classify that person as a Face and at least know where they are coming from.

Conclusion:

I am terrible at concluding anything, so I will just say that any similarity to a specific movement is unintended, and apologize again for feeling the need to (at least to some degree) paint things in stark terms.

5 comments

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comment by sarahconstantin · 2018-03-13T05:42:16.711Z · score: 23 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure exactly what "weird" is made of, on a gears level.

I do have a guess, taken from personal experience. I remember recently being in the orientation session for a new job, and I resolved to fit in and get along with people. Within a few days, though, I was "out of step" with the group and was very clearly more isolated than others.

It wasn't that I had done something especially shocking or unconventional, though. I decided that I wanted to get up early and exercise, so I went to the gym one morning; as a result, I was a few minutes late to the first event of the day and didn't arrive in a group with others. Another time, I got hungry and got myself lunch on my own when I felt like it. My natural inclination was to get my needs met by myself, instead of coordinating with someone first, and those quickly added up and within a few days I had gone from "indistinguishable from anybody else in the cohort" to "clearly the loner." Even though there's nothing intrinsically "weird" about going to the gym or eating.

Weirdness is clearly somehow about not imitating others "enough", but I'm not sure what "enough" really means here -- is it about how frequently you "check in" to make sure your behavior conforms, or about the size of the nonconformity, or something else? And what about leadership? Sometimes you can get other people to imitate you, and I don't know how that fits into my model of "not being weird means doing as others do."

comment by Connor_Flexman · 2018-03-13T09:17:02.429Z · score: 16 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I’m not confident these are the right gears, and you might be asking for refined gears than mine, but my working hypothesis is something like:

The umbrella concept of weirdness is about whether people can predict your actions, since this is extremely useful information to track for a social animal. Predictability and therefore weirdness are tracked on a variety of levels—you can be weird because of your sleep schedule, or weird because of your nervous tics and body language, or weird because you talk in a very normal manner about the impending alien rapture, or weird just because you’re a foreigner. The weirdness of an action registers as flags on various mental levels to help you predict when that person later might not do the canonical action, and it registers with a magnitude and some metadata to help you track their weird trait(s) for inner simming. To answer the question of how much disconformity is “enough” to be labeled weird, I have to hand-wave and say that typical people’s social neural nets just get very good at inferring what infractions correspond to how much likelihood of what level of difficulty coordinating with them. (If this is the meat of the question, I could say more later).

Unfortunately, “weird" has had some semantic drift since unpredictable often happens to correlate with “being a less valuable ally” in a variety of ways for systemic or intrinsic reasons. Two important subtypes of weird that this is evident in are 1) the people whom you talk about that are just kind of loners, and 2) the people who actually provide frequent disvalue. The loners are “weird" because they can and do take actions the group hasn’t decided on, which makes them harder to coordinate with and significantly less predictable. But this also correlates with them being weird in other ways, and so it is rightly seen as Bayesian evidence for other problems by their peers—and further, people who sometimes leave the group are just less valuable allies (for dependability, for gossip, etc). When I do focusing on the weirdness of loners, I can kind of pick out these distinct feelings (of which I think the third is most prominent), along with other more personal ones like “weird -> unpredictable -> higher likelihood of new ideas -> valuable” and similar.

I think “weird” has mutated into a slur nowadays because of the subtype of those who provide disvalue and the ways that those traits correlate with weirdness (and why it's hard to get gears on the different types of nonconformity). You certainly can have good weird, where someone is unpredictable but in ways that everyone repeatedly likes (though they are still tracked as “weird”, importantly). But since a large part of social coordination is being predictable, the people who have fine control over their many levels of dials often do work largely within predictable ranges, and only the best optimizers can escape the local optima and be correct without too much disvalue on the way—which means that most people who aren’t being predictable are doing so because of an inability. And since most people can hit the small range of highly valuable parameter space we call “normal”, that gets set as baseline value, so a vast proportion of other actions are negative. So people who have difficulties with certain dials will regularly cause disvalue in various ways, which means that the trait of “weird” is now correlated with bad actions.

After writing this out, I’m wondering whether I should have called “weird” specifically “negative unpredictability”, and call “positive predictability” something like “interesting”. The people I think of as least weird and those I think of as least interesting both end up as “boring”, in the sense of a very predictable wind-up doll. I think you can have separate tickers for both weirdness and interestingness, but often people will black-and-white it one way or the other (and indeed argue whether someone is “weird” or “interesting”). The needle-threading of getting people to follow you demands an entire toolbox of gears itself, but some heuristics on just pushing the scales a little further from bad unpredictability:

One good way is to use your unpredictable actions to help your peers, as in noticing others are hungry and striking out on your own to fix the problem, or hitting the sweet spot of high-level predictability low-level unpredictability we call humor. Another, probably more important way, is to put a little extra effort at being extra predictable when around: prove you’re normal with small talk, say normal stuff about yourself, and forge social ties or commit to the group in other ways so they can know that you’ll (mostly) be there for them. Allies have to be dependable.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2018-03-12T20:13:09.403Z · score: 23 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I'm uncomfortable with your description of Fried Eggs in terms of authenticity. There's a line between "being uncompromisingly yourself" and "not paying attention to the experiences of the people around you," e.g. people who talk too loudly and don't notice that other people are flinching when they speak. Of course people vary dramatically in their ability to pay attention in this way, e.g. if they're on the autism spectrum, but wherever you start from it's an ability you can cultivate and improve on. People who are both uncompromisingly themselves and know how to pay attention to the experiences of the people around them are a delight to be around and can make great communities together.

(Also "uncompromising" could mean a few things and some of them are pretty bad. The good kind of "uncompromising" is something like believing what you believe, feeling what you feel, thinking what you think, and wanting what you want, and not letting someone else suppress that. The bad kind is trying to impose any of that on someone else / demand that someone else change to accommodate that.)

Relatedly, I'm also concerned that in this taxonomy it's very tempting for people to label themselves as Fried Eggs to justify their lack of social success, or something like that.

For comparison, here is a taxonomy of aspects of a person's way of being that might cause them to come across as weird, according to me, and I think it's an important feature of this list that some of these are extremely unflattering. (Otherwise there would be no reason to dislike weird people.) Many of them are related, sometimes closely related, and some of them may be special cases of each other. The challenge of being weird is being some of these ways that are not so bad, and being mistaken, at least by other people's S1s, as being others of these ways that are more bad.

  • Being bad at modeling the people around you, so you can't tell when you're making the people around you bored or uncomfortable.
  • Suppressing a lot of emotions and not being consciously aware of this fact, but it leaks out in your body language, facial expressions, and voice, and other people are wary of you but may not be conscious of why.
  • Consistently acting too big [LW · GW] relative to your local status, especially if you don't appear to be aware of it.
  • Being shaped by weird experiences that caused you to conclude (at a mostly unconscious level) that a weird way of being would get you the things you want, which may have even been true in the context in which you had those experiences, but then you moved to a different context and did not recalculate.
  • Having a mental illness and/or a personality disorder, whatever that means.
  • Having unusual opinions / interests and not having enough social skill to describe and justify them in a way that would make them comprehensible to whoever you're talking to.
  • More broadly, consistently not cooperating in various social games (which could mean that you're oblivious or that you're an unskilled psychopath).
  • Believing that there is a certain way you need to be in order to get what you want, but not being very good at pretending to be that way.

That was off the top of my head; probably there's more.

I hope that when someone berates you for not understanding that Tonari no Totoro is actually a metaphor for reclaiming pagan values in the face of supposed reform movements, you can file that under "Believers just being Believers in good faith" and not take it personally, and I hope that when someone tells you that you absolutely can not go outside in a short skirt and a biker jacket because they might see important people who will already be disinclined to listen to your ideas about AI risk, you can classify that person as a Face and at least know where they are coming from.

This is the part of the post that personally interests me the most, and I would personally like to hear more from you along these lines; less abstract theorizing about the nature of weirdness and more stories of experiences of you or other weird people you know being / feeling rejected or whatever else prompted this post. (Then theorizing afterwards, maybe. But it's hard for me to tell where you're coming from without the stories.)

comment by Evan Clark (evan-clark) · 2018-03-13T04:19:29.800Z · score: 3 (1 votes) · LW · GW

(Also "uncompromising" could mean a few things and some of them are pretty bad. The good kind of "uncompromising" is something like believing what you believe, feeling what you feel, thinking what you think, and wanting what you want, and not letting someone else suppress that. The bad kind is trying to impose any of that on someone else / demand that someone else change to accommodate that.)
Relatedly, I'm also concerned that in this taxonomy it's very tempting for people to label themselves as Fried Eggs to justify their lack of social success, or something like that.

I grappled with the same thought process, but I came to the conclusion that any attempt on my part to address this would a) ring false - if for no other reason than my life was the motivation for the term b) be counterproductive, for reasons I will go into below, and c) be kind of missing the point.

I think it would have been counterproductive to make a point about the fact that Fried Eggs as a category contains both people who are just unusual and unable to be usual without life-altering effort, and people who like to come into other people's spaces and wreck shop. I suspect that the sort of people who really do take up too much space, disrupt local status hierarchies, or are deliberately off-putting, are not also the sort of people who it would be useful to address in a general manner. I also suspect that the sort of people who just want freedom to express themselves and can't seem to fit local norms are exactly the sort of people who would take any criticism leveled at the former group as being aimed at them. While such commentary is helpful and necessary, (especially since I don't think Fried Eggs tend to build good communities, which I don't think you dispute) I don't know if general, relatively short blog post is the right format. Or that I am the right author.

As well, as I said in c), this was also very much not the point of the post - which was to divide people by etiology of weirdness and explain the friction between them - and that point was already unclear so I didn't want to muddy the waters too much.

This is the part of the post that personally interests me the most, and I would personally like to hear more from you along these lines; less abstract theorizing about the nature of weirdness and more stories of experiences of you or other weird people you know being / feeling rejected or whatever else prompted this post. (Then theorizing afterwards, maybe. But it's hard for me to tell where you're coming from without the stories.)

As a disclaimer (which I should maybe put in the actual post as an edit) - the beginning anecdote about where "fried eggs" comes from is 100% true, including every detail about which members of my family were what other shape, etc. However, the examples at the end (about Tonari no Totoro and short skirts / biker jackets) come from real examples with the details shifted so as to achieve two things. One, I didn't want to share personal stories about people who are not me, especially if those stories involve rejection. Two, I wanted to generalize the stories in a way that I hoped would reach the intended audience (the LWsphere) better, without sacrificing the relative vividness of specific examples. Again, the broad outline, that someone was told they were bad for not considering the sociopolitical implications of a piece of innocuous media, and that someone was told they couldn't wear idiosyncratic clothing because snobs might be less friendly as a result, both come from true stories. I just didn't want to share those true stories exactly.

Addressing your post, the whole reason I added the beginning segment was that without it, the whole post felt a bit . . . unmotivated. You are right that I should have gone further, and that the structure doesn't actually support the content very well. This is mostly just a writing error on my part, so I can't say much more than, fair enough.

comment by ESRogs · 2018-03-13T06:27:56.012Z · score: 22 (5 votes) · LW · GW
To begin, here is is a story of Weirdness Points spent unwisely.

Maybe this is obvious to others, but I didn't get it -- who is supposed to be spending weirdness points unwisely in the story, you or your mom?