Submission and dominance among friends

post by jsalvatier · 2017-03-28T02:43:38.494Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 29 comments

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comment by Lumifer · 2017-03-28T14:54:44.441Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There are probably at least three things going on here:

  • Re-affirmation of mutual trust through fake aggression. Camaraderie, basically.
  • Taking or declining responsibility. Sometimes you are just happy to let someone else take care of things.
  • And only finally, sub/dom power games.
Replies from: Dagon, Benquo
comment by Dagon · 2017-03-28T18:08:00.678Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think those things are necessarily distinct. Many people do not compartmentalize the status-hierarchy-supporting behaviors from the trust-building and responsibility-dividing ones.

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2017-03-28T18:29:23.215Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, they can be distinct if you analyse what's happening. I agree that most people not only don't compartmentalise, but even do not recognize that there are multiple things happening under the hood.

comment by Benquo · 2017-03-29T03:54:09.691Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think 1 and 3 are closely related. 2 seems like a logically distinct thing that people associate with dominance, maybe because people who are cowed by authority behave submissively and also don't think they're allowed to take charge of anything.

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2017-03-29T14:50:02.125Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think 1 and 3 are that closely related. Maybe in the sense that camaraderie occurs between people of roughly the same status and is impossible between an alpha and an omega.

Things like horseplay can be used to establish dominance (basically when "fake aggression" is not fake any more), but in this case I would argue it is just used as a fairly transparent cover.

Replies from: Benquo
comment by Benquo · 2017-03-29T17:52:50.202Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What's an alpha or omega here? Your comment seems like evidence for rather than against the relationship of 1 and 3 - the "fake aggression" is made of actual dominance and submission behaviors.

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2017-03-29T18:06:40.351Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Alpha = one at the top of the pecking order, omega = one at the bottom.

the "fake aggression" is made of actual dominance and submission behaviors

No, I don't think so. Aggression is different from dominance. I shove you, you shove me, we both laugh. No dominance and no submission.

Replies from: Benquo
comment by Benquo · 2017-04-20T21:28:54.470Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What happens if you shove me and I don't respond? Is there still no effect on relative status?

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2017-04-21T17:00:07.075Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That all entirely depends on the context and the particulars. Compare:

  • I shove you and you look down and move off
  • I shove you and you curtly tell me to get lost since you're busy
  • I shove you and you call my a crazy chupacabra
Replies from: Benquo
comment by Benquo · 2017-04-21T19:52:07.762Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So, relative status at the end of the interaction depends on how someone responds to "fake" aggression, and one possible outcome is that it's the same as it started.

This isn't the same thing at all as not being a status transaction.

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2017-04-21T20:09:20.040Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As I said, it all entirely depends on the contex. It can be a status transaction. It can also not be a status transaction.

I would also remark again that if the point is to assert status, calling that aggression "fake" is probably not quite right.

comment by Viliam · 2017-03-28T12:32:57.261Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Interesting. I guess different people have different preferences, because what I value at my rationalist group is that we avoid similar kinds of status displays. Do that kind of "put your arm around me", and I'll discreetly ask my friends to next time meet somewhere else where you are not invited.

I wonder how other people in the group feel about that, though, so next time I'm with them I will ask them. I assume that our behavior norms resemble our preferences. Anyway, potentially interesting topic for a discussion.


Okay, I asked, and the reactions were like: (1) "My response would be: 'Take it off, or I will break it off.'" (2) It is okay, if it is also possible the other way round in another situation.

Replies from: MrMind
comment by MrMind · 2017-03-29T15:44:29.001Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do that kind of "put your arm around me", and I'll discreetly ask my friends to next time meet somewhere else where you are not invited.

I know that it's irrational, so I try to let it go when it happens casually, but when people touch me like that, I get furious instantly.

Replies from: Viliam
comment by Viliam · 2017-03-29T16:32:35.958Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It is a status move. You either defend your status, or accept the status loss.

For people who enjoy status fights, defending their status may be simple and enjoyable. But I am not one of them.

For people who enjoy having low status, losing status may be enjoyable. But I am not one of them.

There is also the option of defending my status without enjoying it (or losing my status without enjoying it), but why would I do the things I dislike, if instead I can choose to interact with people who don't do this?


There is a chance that if I got enough practice at defending status, I might start enjoying it. Then, defending my status would no longer be a problem. And it might actually be very useful, because there are situations where you can't avoid the status fights. Maybe the smart move would be to do this.

I don't like that, though. My excuse is that I suspect that enjoying status battles could have some negative side effects. Like, I might automatically start doing it to people who don't like it, without noticing. But maybe this is pure rationalization. At this moment I simply prefer interactions without status fights, and I am too lazy to practice them.

comment by RomeoStevens · 2017-03-28T19:58:34.634Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Camaraderie is death spiral among anxious social group because a lot of people loudly object to such things. OMG you did not get their consent becomes an issue among people who are bad at exuding and reading non verbal signals about how welcome such things are.

Instead of submission and dominance I think an entirely different frame is helpful. Play fighting helps animals build the procedural knowledge for real fighting. In the same way that you would run or go to the gym with friends you might engage in playful status jostling with your friends so that when someone tries to actually knock your status down a peg it isn't a totally new reference class of experience and you just fire right back like you might with friends.

Replies from: Viliam
comment by Viliam · 2017-03-29T08:55:28.393Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I like what you wrote here, but I feel like you and OP are talking about different things. For you, such experience is a traning for situation when someone tries to knock down your status for real, so that you are ready to defend yourself. For OP, it is an experience that feels nice.

Replies from: RomeoStevens, gjm
comment by RomeoStevens · 2017-03-30T04:17:19.520Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

play feels nice doesn't seem separate from play is probably useful.

Replies from: Viliam
comment by Viliam · 2017-03-30T09:38:33.888Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In general, sure, but let's look into details.

In the "playful fighting as a preparation for real fighting" situation, you are still trying to win. It's just that you don't mind losing, you may have a lot of fun losing (because that is what motivates you to continue the training despite the initial losses), and you may even know that you don't have a realistic chance of winning (yet). But still, on some level, you are trying to win; hoping that one day in the future you will win for real.

Like, when I am play-wrestling with my 2 years old daughter, she will laugh when I grab her or push her on her back, but she is also fighting back. And when I pretend she defeated me, she pushes me on my back, and them jumps on me and laughs.

And this is the aspect I don't see mentioned in the article. I guess there is a chance the author feels that this part is so obvious it's not necessary to mention it explicitly; but it doesn't seem to me that this is the case. For example, the disclaimer "I’m not longing for a clear status hierarchy" makes more sense in context where the author is otherwise proposing unilateral status displays, that in context where the author proposes that everyone should display status once in a while. I may be wrong here, of course.

EDIT: Okay, this comment suggests I am wrong here.

comment by gjm · 2017-03-29T11:48:04.573Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It is possible that play-submission among equals "feels nice" (to those to whom it does) because for our ancestors such play was useful training for situations of genuinely hostile status-attack.

(Though I wouldn't bet on it; the above is the sort of evo-psych speculation that is easy to make and hard to verify or refute.)

comment by MaryCh · 2017-03-28T18:32:10.560Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Virtual hug is virtual...but still, a hug?

I know how you feel. My supervisor often preceded his requests with a hand on the shoulder and a "You know, Motherland's in danger..." And it was a great thing to have.

Replies from: jsalvatier
comment by jsalvatier · 2017-03-29T03:34:32.164Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks :)

comment by Benquo · 2017-03-29T04:02:59.740Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think there are a few things going on here worth teasing apart:

Some people are more comfortable with social touch than others, probably related to overall embodiment.

Some people are more comfortable taking responsibility for things that they haven't been explicitly tasked with and given affordances for, including taking responsibility for things affecting others.

Because people cowed by authority are likely to think they're not allowed to do anything by default, and being cowed by authority is a sort of submission, dominance is correlated with taking responsibility for tasks. (There are exceptions, like service submissives, or people who just don't see helpfulness as related to their dominance.)

Because things that cause social ineptness also cause discomfort or unfamiliarity with social touch, comfort with and skill at social touch is correlated with high social status.

Replies from: jsalvatier
comment by jsalvatier · 2017-03-29T18:14:01.884Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, I was trying mostly to talk about #2. I like the dominance frame because I think this kind fluid dominance roles is the something like the Proper Use of Dominance. Dominance as enabling swift changes status to track changes in legitimate authority.

Seems like that wasn't really very clear though.

I think I want to additionally emphasize, people being comfortable temporarily taking responsibility for other people. Sometimes I want someone to come in and tell me I have a problem I don't see and how to solve it. I try to do this for others because I think its one of the most valuable services I can provide for people. Letting them see outside themselves.

comment by MaryCh · 2017-03-29T18:50:25.044Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It seems a natural thing to allow more casual touch after you have faced common danger together. Like, a drop of third party's saliva melts hearts of ice better than coffee.

comment by MaryCh · 2017-03-29T13:35:53.227Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think Bezukhov in 'War and Peace' had ruminations to that extent (that in his friendship with Bolkonski, Bolkonski will always lead), but I don't remember where it is in the book.

comment by SquirrelInHell · 2017-03-29T08:56:25.864Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If there was a rationality pseudo-military organization called "Existential Corps", would you sign up?

Replies from: jsalvatier
comment by jsalvatier · 2017-03-29T17:49:41.996Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


Replies from: SquirrelInHell
comment by SquirrelInHell · 2017-03-29T22:47:02.967Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This probably means that I don't understand your motivations. I honestly have trouble empathizing with them, or even imagining what they would be like, even after reading your post and thinking about it some. My previous question was an attempt to probe in a direction that I thought might be a superstimulus for the desire you were talking about - a super strong power structure, masculine-oriented, extraordinary sense of belonging and teamwork, run by trustworthy people for the right reasons. But apparently it's not. So what's different here?

Replies from: jsalvatier
comment by jsalvatier · 2017-03-30T01:48:25.036Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I want you to come up to me, put your arm around me, ask me how I am and start telling me about the idea you’ve got. Show me you ought to be in charge, because right now I’m a little lost and you’re not.

My desire is not for some permanent power structure, but for other people to sometimes and temporarily take leadership with the expectation that I will probably do so in the future as well. I think one of the most valuable things I do is sit people down and say 'look, there's this problem you have that you don't see, but I think its fixable. You're stuck thinking of things as X, but actually Y.' And I wish people would return the favor more often.

In retrospect, I should have way more clear about this.