On manipulating others

post by Jonii · 2013-06-16T17:44:06.359Z · score: -4 (27 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 110 comments

I recently had a discussion with a friend of mine on the topic of reading others, socially. What they want, what they think, where are they going, etc. During this discussion, I verbalized my intuition on the topic of manipulating others how you think they should act, and what I said had me puzzled for the next few days. So, after much thinking I came to a conclusion, but I want to see what LW thinks of my pondering.

Basically, the idea is that, social clumsiness many very intelligent people face is actually very much self-imposed, a handicap placed upon themselves because we feel iffy about consciously manipulating others as pawns in our grander schemes.

Basically, the reasoning of mine was this: Treating other people as pawns in your plan, rather than actual people, is wrong. You should not strip others of their power to decide for themselves. But say, you are more intelligent than others, and could with planning lead others to do things you want them to. This power over others presents you with an unfair advantage, and this unfair advantage presents you with an iffy ethical dilemma. If you can force other people to do what you will, regardless of their initial disposition, aren't you treating them as pawns rather than autonomous human beings? If you strip them of power to have their initial disposition affect their decisions, aren't you doing wrong? Of course, it's usually very difficult to get people to do what you want. Two equals discussing, both may try this, but both may fail, and even if another succeeds, it's still considered "fair game" by all parties. But more easily this manipulating happens, the more of your brain you need to shut down to make the discussion "fair". At some point, expressing any opinion and leading other people at all seems risky and iffy.

So how do people cope? My theory is this: They stop interacting. Voicing their own opinion, asking other people for things, or even having any goal other than following directions laid out by others becomes off-limits. If they do any of that, it opens an ugly, ethical box of worms of the shape "Should I make them do this?"

So basically, my hypothesis is, the reason intelligent people are so often socially clumsy is because it's a facade, a self-imposed handicap they keep up because evolution has programmed us to have repulsion towards unfairly manipulating others. Because they can make others do anything, they choose to do nothing. This manifests as being easily led, a kind of "doormat", lacking their own will or ego, even.

It's simplistic, there are complications I can readily see that make the whole picture more complicated, but this stripped down dynamic of being more intelligent forcing you to feign helplessness is what I'm interested in, so that's what I presented. Is there any reason to think a mechanic like this actually exists? Is it widespread? Has there been actual study on this mechanic already?

There are aplenty of interesting-looking areas of study if this dynamic is actually a real thing. Say, PUA could look a bit different when aimed at doormat-style people. Aesthetically it would provide more interesting explanation for why smart people are not too social, and it also leads to advice that differs a lot from advice given from stand-point of "You need to learn this". It makes several "is it okay to manipulate others" -type of questions relevant for practical ethics study. Of course, it most likely is not a real thing.

 

Edit: Also, I was a bit hesitant if I should post this under discussion or wait for that Open Thread to pop up. It's quite lengthy, so I felt discussion post could be appropriate, but dunno, I could and maybe should take this down and wait for Open Thread.

110 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Xachariah · 2013-06-16T21:55:33.527Z · score: 26 (28 votes) · LW · GW

Bullshit.

Never use "I'm too good at something to win" or "I only lose because other people are so bad". Those sort of explanations are never true. Not ever.

I don't know if there's some kind of word for this fallacy (maybe a relative of the Dunning-Kruger effect), but if your mind ever uses it in the future then you need to give your logic center a curbstomp in the balls. This sort of logic is ego protection bullshit. Hearing this explanation is the number one indicator that a person will never improve in a skillset.

How could they possibly get better if they think they already have the answer and it doesn't involve any work on their part?

Here's my alternate hypothesis. Manipulating people is hard and takes tons of practice. You haven't put in your 10,000 hours.

Edit: Also, you aren't getting downvoted because this belongs in the Open Thread. The downvotes are because you're wrapped in one of the most dangerous self-delusions that exists. It's even more insidious than religion in some ways because it can snake it's way into any thought about any skillset. The good news is that you've given it voice and you can fight it. And I hope you do.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2013-06-18T02:07:10.248Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Those sort of explanations are never true.

Something like them is true of me in this case. Obviously I don't think my case is normal. If I didn't have lots of experiences of successfully manipulating people (mostly in high school, when I didn't care deeply about ethics) then it would indeed be silly for "I'm just handicapping" to show up on my radar as a hypothesis. Still though Jonii's hypothesis has enough merit that it at least describes some people (e.g. myself), and I don't get the impression he was suggesting it as the default explanation, so the strong reaction to the post seems misplaced. Might I suggest that you seem to be treating this issue as a pet cause, and are thus getting overly emotional about it, at least rhetorically? Your message is more or less correct but you sound like a moral crusader.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-17T12:10:58.698Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Never use "I'm too good at something to win" or "I only lose because other people are so bad". Those sort of explanations are never true. Not ever.

Related

comment by Jonii · 2013-06-17T00:38:29.897Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

That's a nice heuristic, but unfortunately, it's easy to come up with cases where this heuristic is wrong. Say, people want to play a game, I'll use chess for availability, not because it best exemplifies this problem. If you want to have a fun game of chess, ideally you'd hope you did have roughly equal matches. If 9 out of 10 players are pretty weak, just learning the rules, and want to play and have fun with it, you, the 10th player, a strong club player, being an outlier, cannot partake because you are too good(with chess, you could maybe try giving your queen to handicap yourself, or take time handicap, to make games more interesting, but generally I feel that sorta of tricks still make it less for fun for all parties)

While there might be obvious reasons to suspect bias being at play, unless you want to ban ever discussing topics that might involve bias, the best way around it, that I know of, is to actually focus on the topic. Just stating "woah, you probably are biased if you think thoughts like this" is something I did take into consideration. I was still curious to hear LW thoughts on this topic. The actual topic, not on whether LW thinks it's a bias-inducing topic or not. If you want me to add some disclaimer for other people, I'm open to suggestions. I was going to include one myself, that was basically saying "Failing socially in a way described here would at best be very very weak evidence of you being socially gifted, intelligent, or whatever. Reasoning presented here is not peer-reviewed, and might as well contain errors". I did not, because I didn't want to add yet another shiny distraction from the actual point presented. I didn't think it would be needed, either.

comment by drethelin · 2013-06-17T05:41:00.192Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW · GW

In general, the the very skilled player would have gotten that way by being smart AND smashing a ton of less skilled players. Trying to say: "I can't go to chess club because I would just defeat everyone and it wouldn't be fair" is ridiculous, and even more so when you've never actually won a tournament. You never hear the story "I was a social butterfly, the most popular person in school, but then I decided that was abusing my powers and now I'm alone. Yay!" On the other hand "I was alone and sad and nerdy, but then I practiced social skills and now I have a ton of friends and am the most popular person in school. Yay!" is, if not very common, a story that I've heard way more than once.

comment by Decius · 2013-06-18T21:27:19.147Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If your goal is to win at chess, then by all means dominate the noob chess league.

If your goal is to play challenging games, find a group of people at your level or somewhat better than you.

If your goal is to make friends, the chess is incidental.

comment by Michelle_Z · 2013-06-17T02:05:33.884Z · score: 18 (18 votes) · LW · GW

Test it, then. Run an experiment. Find a group of people (don't use the excuse that finding groups of people is hard), and attempt to do just what you said. If it works, congratulations. You're the next dark lord. If it doesn't work, you're probably wrong. (And don't use the excuse that the people just happened to all be immune to your powers.)

While reading the above, if your brain attempted either of those excuses, you're probably suffering from belief in belief.

comment by Jonii · 2013-06-17T07:05:03.602Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This actually was one of the things inspiring me to write this post. I was wondering if I could make use of LW community to run such tests, because it would be interesting to get to practice these skills with consent, but trying to devise such tests stumped me. It's actually pretty difficult to come up with a goal that's actually difficult to achieve in any not-overtly-hostile social context. Laborious, maybe, but that's not the same thing. I just kinda generalized from this, that it should actually be pretty easy to run with any consciously named goal and achieve it, but there must be some social inhibition.

The set of things that inspired me was wide and varying. It just may be reflected in how the essay was... Not as coherent as I'd have hoped.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-18T15:24:40.125Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Have you heard about the AI box experiment?

Eliezer won it twice, but ISTR he said he felt terrible afterwards because he wasn't sure the other party's consent was informed enough.

comment by Decius · 2013-06-18T21:43:17.508Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The fact that Eliezer won a zero-sum game isomorphic to one where the opponent declares a winner after talking to him for a period of time is evidence that at least some people do have that level of power.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-19T12:07:29.394Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't get the point of this comment.

Jonil asked for ways to test his manipulation skills, and I offered an example of such a test.

comment by Desrtopa · 2013-06-16T21:58:57.585Z · score: 12 (14 votes) · LW · GW

So basically, my hypothesis is, the reason intelligent people are so often socially clumsy is because it's a facade, a self-imposed handicap they keep up because evolution has programmed us to have repulsion towards unfairly manipulating others.

When has evolution ever caused individuals to pass up personal advantages? The point of evolution isn't to promote fairness.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2013-06-23T16:14:48.994Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

How about this:

Evolution programmed us to avoid doing things that others perceive as unfairly manipulating. -- Because then the other people get angry and punish the unfair manipulator.

Intelligent people are more aware of their own motives. This makes them more likely to label their hypothetical actions as "manipulation", because they better see how the action contributes to getting what they want. -- A less reflective person would just do the action contributing to getting what they want, on impulse, and then deny any connection.

a) Intelligent people suffer from the illusion of transparency, just like everyone else. They are likely to believe that if they see the "manipulative" aspects of their hypothetical behaviour, other people would see it to. So they abstain from the behavior, to avoid making others angry. -- But in reality they are miscalibrated; most people would not notice anything unusual.

b) People are adaptation executers, not utility maximizers. Hesitating to manipulate other people unfairly is an adaptation we have, and for the average person, the advantage is beneficial; it allows them to keep good social relationship. For an introspective person, this adaptation may become harmful, because it forbids too wide range of human interaction. -- But the intelligent people follow this adaptation even when it decreases their utility, because people are not utility maximizers.

To me, this explanation seems credible.

Then, of course, I tell myself that rationalists should win, so if my sense of detecting manipulation is miscalibrated, I should calibrate it better, and stop using the "manipulation" label with all its bad connotations too widely.

But many people don't do this. Because people are not automatically strategic.

(Meta: I use a lot of LW keywords in this comment, to make you - the reader of this comment, and a member of LW community - more likely to agree with me. At the same time, I also do sincerely believe everything I wrote here. At this moment, am I manipulating you or not? Should I modify the comment to remove all the applause lights, and make you less likely to agree, probably even less likely to understand precisely what I mean, just to get rid of the feeling of guilt for manipulating you? My decision is no, but there was a time when I would have decided otherwise.)

comment by mwengler · 2013-06-18T12:29:58.097Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The entire "selfish gene" concept is that it is the genes that must be selected and therefore the genes that are selfish. If a gene for altruism results in 10X as many humans carrying that gene as humans not carrying that gene, because those humans work better together towards large scale mutual benefit goals, than that gene wins and humans find themselves willing to give up their lives before they have children.

comment by Desrtopa · 2013-06-18T14:17:52.528Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This is true, but doesn't have any bearing on the context the author of the post was describing. In that case, the gene is still acting in favor of the survival of other bearers of the gene, whereas in the case jonii describes, the gene is acting to sabotage the bearer's social standing to no apparent benefit in terms of propagation.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-17T12:07:57.332Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

When has evolution ever caused individuals to pass up personal advantages?

When doing so advantages your siblings/parents/children more than twice as much as it disadvantages you (or your grandparents/grandchildrens/aunts/nephews/etc. more than four times as much, etc.)?

comment by shminux · 2013-06-17T15:32:24.925Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Assuming all of your relatives have the same altruistic mutation and the non-mutated people do not derive any significant fitness benefit from your altruism.

comment by wedrifid · 2013-06-20T04:08:52.148Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Assuming all of your relatives have the same altruistic mutation

If this was assumed then the "twice as much", "more than four times as much, etc" wouldn't be required. Since until recently evolution's playthings didn't have the ability to directly determine the genetic makeup of relatives the probabilistic accounting that Army refers to is closer to what (this kind of) altruistic behaviour can have been based on. (ie. It is the expectation of genetic similarity not the actual genetic similarity that motivates the action.)

and the non-mutated people do not derive any significant fitness benefit from your altruism.

Yes.

comment by Kawoomba · 2013-06-16T19:01:30.243Z · score: 11 (19 votes) · LW · GW

This seems more like some power-fantasy, along the lines of a kid standing lonely on the sidelines of a party and telling himself "I could control them all, but I don't, because I need to keep my power under control". There are plenty of intelligent people who socialize just great, and use those relationships to their benefit.

comment by Jonii · 2013-06-16T19:27:06.886Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This I agree with completely. However, it sounding like power fantasy doesn't mean it's wrong or mistaken.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-06-16T22:09:03.558Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

But one should be question the truth of self flattering rationalizations.

I think, in general, it is just false that most of us currently possess such social skill. Have you, in fact, demonstrated such social skill on demand to test that theory?

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-06-16T21:57:13.467Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

So basically, my hypothesis is, the reason intelligent people are so often socially clumsy is because it's a facade, a self-imposed handicap they keep up because evolution has programmed us to have repulsion towards unfairly manipulating others. Because they can make others do anything, they choose to do nothing.

I think you're on to something about a revulsion to manipulating others, but wrong that it comes from a sense of being able to make others do anything we want. I think most of us have never demonstrated that skill, though likely it is trainable, and through training we could get better than most.

Basically, many nerds are social pacifists.

We got that way for many reasons. We're comparatively just not that into other people. Less interested in status. Not as good at reading other people, both naturally and as a result of lack of practice. And likely place a higher moral value on autonomy/fairness than others (Haidt confirms this for liberatrians/liberals, both vastly over represented groups here). Put that together, and social/status pacifism is a natural outcome, both as a natural preference and as a rationalization for our lack of skill and interest in social competition.

By the way, I think the massive downvoting is wholly inappropriate. Of course, I tend toward social pacifism, so I would.

comment by Adele_L · 2013-06-16T18:19:50.126Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW

This doesn't ring true with my intuition at all. I think that most people capable of easily manipulation would do it pretty readily, either through rationalization or even by accident, or just not do it. At least for myself, most of my social awkwardness seems to be status related, and not some sort of self imposed ethics.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-17T12:20:02.177Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

even by accident

BTW, does anyone know a reliable way to avoid manipulating people by accident? I generally use stuff to the effect ‘Are you sure? I don't want you to feel obligated’, but I'm worried that in certain cases that may backfire.

comment by DavidAgain · 2013-06-20T17:05:23.867Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Not revealing your own preferences and giving a balanced analysis that doesn't make them too obvious usually works.

But I don't think you can meaningfully manipulate people by accident. The nearest thing is probably having/developing a general approach that leads to you getting your way over other people, noticing it, and deciding that you like getting your way and not changing it.

What you really can do (and what almost everyone does) is manipulate people while maintaining plausible deniability (including sometimes to yourself). But I suspect most people can identify when they're manipulating people and trying to trick themselves into thinking they're not.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-28T22:44:04.577Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But I don't think you can meaningfully manipulate people by accident.

I don't think it's impossible, though I agree that it normally only happens in unfavourable situations such as someone from an Ask culture talking to someone from a Guess culture.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-21T18:31:39.601Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Not revealing your own preferences

I'm not very good at hiding my feelings.

(Maybe I should start poker in meatspace on a regular basis again, or something like that.)

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-06-16T22:04:56.514Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Most people with natural skill in manipulation would use it.

Same with being smart, as it is another way to manipulate people. Being smarter, you can often win an argument and get your way even when you're wrong because you're just better at arguing the point.

But upon realizing the asymmetry of power, some people actually do make it a point to refrain from pressing their advantage. Moral preferences such as fairness and autonomy come into play,

comment by Adele_L · 2013-06-16T22:44:54.718Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Sure you can win arguments, but that doesn't seem to translate into getting your way very often, unless you are also socially adept, in which case being smart doesn't matter that much.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-06-17T07:56:37.901Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Intellectual bullies can often get their way in a committed relationship. Lots of joint decisions are made based on discussion, and if you argue better, you can routinely get your way. You'll likely breed resentment as well, but you will get your way.

I'm not recommending it. To the contrary, I'm pointing it out to show the abusive nature of it.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-17T12:21:06.826Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Isn't this thought to be the reason why we evolved intelligence in the first place?

comment by Decius · 2013-06-18T21:25:08.827Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Is it abusive to be smarter and to make better decisions and to have those decisions implemented because they are better?

comment by kalium · 2013-06-18T22:22:42.334Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

No, but I doubt that's what buybuydandavis was talking about.

One particular tactic is called "gaslighting," in which you get your way by causing your partner to doubt their own sanity. I personally was argued into staying in an emotionally abusive relationship for three years after I tried to leave it. I just... couldn't think of a good enough argument for why I should be allowed to leave. After all, I had already stayed for quite a while. Maybe I should trust my revealed preferences over the preferences I felt on introspection (which we all know is terribly unreliable, after all)...

Often in relationships things do not come down to "better" or "worse" decisions, but rather whose preferences count. If I want to cut my hair, and my partner wants me to keep it long, who gets their way? Whoever has the intellectual edge and can keep arguing until their opponent gives in.

comment by ialdabaoth · 2014-05-29T21:44:07.831Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Often in relationships things do not come down to "better" or "worse" decisions, but rather whose preferences count. If I want to cut my hair, and my partner wants me to keep it long, who gets their way? Whoever has the intellectual edge and can keep arguing until their opponent gives in.

This is why I prefer BDSM relationships, where "whose preferences count" becomes an explicit problem to discuss and solve. (The answer is never simply "mine, obviously" - but the BDSM community, for all its flaws, has come up with some pretty good contextual frameworks for negotiating / discovering an answer that satisfies everyone's meta-preferences).

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-06-22T18:38:04.204Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Often in relationships things do not come down to "better" or "worse" decisions, but rather whose preferences count.

Well said.

Life is about choices and preferences, not problems and solutions, but most people are so accustomed to rationalizing everything, and so mesmerized by language, that they think these choices are determined by logical analysis. And it is precisely in a situation of such conceptual confusion that the person with greater verbal agility has the greatest advantage, though as you add, the will to power and the determination to fight for it matters too.

Decius wrote:

Is it abusive to be smarter and to make better decisions and to have those decisions implemented because they are better?

Better, by whose values? And what makes you believe that the "better" decisions routinely win in joint decisions in a committed relationship? The excellence of the solution wins out over the dominance hierarchy? Not likely.

comment by Decius · 2013-06-18T21:52:33.698Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

You are free to disagree, but I see nothing wrong in general with manipulating the universe into having a better outcome for me. I can respect other people's autonomy while still offering them incentives to benefit me- in particular, the ability to enter into a mutually beneficial relationship even if the benefits of that relationship are unequally divided.

comment by DavidAgain · 2013-06-19T14:22:38.026Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Benefits compared to what? The main issue in any (personal, business or whatever) relationship is presumably opportunity cost. Convincing someone to make you their agent (and take 95% of their income from a groundbreaking novel they've written) benefits both of you financially compared to it not being sold. But it benefits them less than selling it through someone more fair-minded.

Also, manipulation does not just exist in providing incentives: it can involve misleading people on facts/reasoning, or psychologically tricking them into acting against their own interests.

comment by Decius · 2013-06-19T17:45:24.028Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I was considering intangible benefits and those which cannot be trivially quantified to be the major ones.

It isn't immoral to notice that someone values friendship, and then to be their friend in order to get the favors from them that they willingly provide to their friends; disinformation and psychological tricks can still be inherently immoral, if they were before.

comment by DavidAgain · 2013-06-19T21:49:52.843Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It depends on your ethical approach. At core, I think utilitarianism is true. But it's complex to apply to dynamic situatuons, and as a practical rule of thumb for normal cases, virtue ethics helps. And in that model (as well as in any natural discussion), 'being someone's friend' to get favours is not in fact being someone's friend. It's deceiving them, and possibly you.

comment by Decius · 2013-06-19T22:03:17.866Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

And now we've ventured into pure definition territory.

comment by DavidAgain · 2013-06-19T22:06:41.398Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Of being someone's friend? Maybe: I guess the question is how the word is used in practice. Worth asking other people about; is someone who cultivate a relationship with someone for favours a friend? I think it's almost the definition of not a friend, but I may be using words unusually.

comment by Decius · 2013-06-19T22:32:19.803Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Why does the motivation for the relationship determine the nature of the relationship?

comment by DavidAgain · 2013-06-19T22:49:57.247Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It doesn't uniquely determine it: but again, in any common usage sense it's important. Phrases like 'fair weather friend' and similar stories etc. denote the basic human understanding that we see friendship motivated directly for favours isn't friendship. If someone seemed to be my friend and it turned out they just like the fact I buy drinks, I would feel betrayed as they'd exploited what friendship is understood to be.

Are you saying that this view should be overturned, or that it isn't actually the common understanding of friendship?

Would it not matter to you if a close friend turned out to be your 'friend' purely for the assoicated favours?

comment by Decius · 2013-06-20T02:06:38.860Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

So what's wrong with fostering an "actual friendship" because it is instrumentally better to have them then to not have them?

comment by DavidAgain · 2013-06-20T10:25:03.700Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think friendships can be instrumentally good, obviously. But there's a distinction between ways in which friendships are instrumentally good. If I discovered a friend of mine revealing that they were only my friend for the fantastic conversation, the excellent company, the superb sense of humour etc. I wouldn't feel cheated. If I found out they were only my friend because I drove a car and it was convenient for them to get around, I would feel cheated.

comment by Decius · 2013-06-21T02:25:25.629Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I never specified 'only'.

Suppose there were two people with equally good conversation, company, humor, &tc, one of whom had a car, and only enough time/resources for a hypothetical third party to develop a friendship with one of them? Would you feel cheated if your mundane instrumental utility was a factor at all?

comment by DavidAgain · 2013-06-21T06:25:18.325Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You clearly implied "only". The external favours were the basis of the motivation.

"It isn't immoral to notice that someone values friendship, and then to be their friend [b]in order to get the favors[/b] from them that they willingly provide to their friends"

In answer to your question: I'd still find it a little weird, tbh.

comment by mwengler · 2013-06-20T01:25:36.320Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I am currently in the process of figuring out how to be somebody's friend that I am attracted to, and she knows it. She is in the process of helping me to get it right, because she wishes me to be attracted to her, she wishes to be attracted to me, and she wishes to have this all in the context of friendship.

You can be sure we are studying each other in detail and trying to optimize. We are both doing it and we both know we are doing it.

I don't think contempt or deception are part of the equation, at least no at the core.

comment by DavidAgain · 2013-06-20T10:22:22.383Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If it's mutually decided then it's clearly not deception, and whatever floats your boat, tbh.

Your other responses referring to evolutionary psychology, the chance of altruistic friendship etc. etc.: there is a difference between the evolutionary fact that your inclination to be friends with someone will be based on ultimately selfish goals, and being selfish yourself. The psychological make-up we have is a brute fact of existence and we need to take it into account. But selfish genes do not mean that the concept of human unselfishness is a busted flush.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-21T18:42:47.928Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I am currently in the process of figuring out how to be somebody's friend

Why? IME time is best spent among people you can be friends with effortlessly.

(YMMV? So many people talk about “cultivating” friendships that I guess that they just don't like “wild” ones for some reason -- but I wonder what that reason is.)

comment by mwengler · 2013-06-21T23:53:10.681Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Why? IME time is best spent among people you can be friends with effortlessly.

You sound like a pretty girl wondering why some other girls do things explicitly to attract men.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-22T08:00:55.558Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

First, I take objection with using “pretty” as a by-word for “stupid”, and second, reversed stupidity is not intelligence (just because a stupid pretty girl said that the sky is blue doesn't mean the sky is green). So, what is wrong with her reasoning?

comment by mwengler · 2013-06-22T12:24:34.343Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What is wrong with her reasoning is that she doesn't take in to account that she has a sufficient number of men interested in her without her doing anything to increase the number, but that is NOT the case for the other women whom she thinks are screwing up by not just taking the men who come their way naturally.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-22T14:05:58.206Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Have you read the section about mean and variance of this article? Doing “things explicitly to attract men [in general]” might not be as good as strategy as locating those men whom it would be the easiest for her to attract and focussing on them specifically.

comment by mwengler · 2013-06-22T16:30:24.665Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Have you read the section about mean and variance of this article?

Even there the lukeprog speaks of consciously choosing one's marketing style. Another person who would be better off with the hunter-gatherer sexual style? Or evidence that to market oneself consciously towards relationships is the norm?

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-22T16:41:30.562Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

My point is not about whether or not your marketing is conscious, but about who its target is.

comment by wedrifid · 2013-06-22T01:20:59.762Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You sound like a pretty girl wondering why some other girls do things explicitly to attract men.

I agreed, until I saw the context. But it turns out Army wasn't merely neglecting difficulty of social tasks. Instead he was talking about making things more difficult for yourself by actively constructing a notoriously toxic situation.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-22T07:57:35.017Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Not quite. (Note that I didn't even quote the part mentioning that mwengler was attracted to that person.)

More like, I meant that if ey needs to figure out how to be friends with her (whatever the reasons for that), odds are there are other people who would make better friends than her. (IOW, IME “love is like a fart” also applies to friendship; see this other comment of mine and guess whether I was happier back then or right now.)

comment by wedrifid · 2013-06-22T12:27:57.540Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

More like, I meant that if ey needs to figure out how to be friends with her (whatever the reasons for that)

I retract my defence. Mwengler interpreted your intent correctly and so his reply is applicable. My reply then constitutes a steel-man (which can not reasonably be used to reject rebuttals that use the intended meaning).

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-22T14:44:20.054Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

To actually believe that you've made a steel man, not a straw man, the person you're arguing with would have to admit that you've created a stronger argument for their own position than they could.

(I disagree that just because someone happens to give me a boner it's a bad idea to be friends with them, so long as we get along well.)

comment by wedrifid · 2013-06-22T17:55:08.422Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

“To actually believe that you've made a steel man, not a straw man, the person you're arguing with would have to admit that you've created a stronger argument for their own position than they could.”

That's rather obviously false. But let's consider the steel man where "could" is replaced with "happened to have done in the particular case being replied to" which makes the claim fairly straightforward and true rather being nearly exactly backwards.

As Hugh observes in his reply it is almost always pointless to use the steel man concept in adversarial debate. Even in the rare case where the person agrees they still find it condescending (because it approximately as close to the literal meaning of condescending as it is possible to be). The best uses of steel men that I have seen is when someone takes an argument that is for some reason important or valuable and presents it to an audience in an improved version and then responds to the improved argument. The original arguer need not be involved at all.

Do note that my reply was not intended as a steel man at all. It was made as a response to mwengler with the intended audience of mwengler and anyone who, like myself, would read the quote mwengler made more charitably in the expanded context. I assigned a probability of about 0.65 that your intent was at least partially influenced by the additional details in the example beyond the need for learning. (p = 0.65 is pretty damn high for confidence assigned by me to for an interpretation task.)

(I disagree that just because someone happens to give me a boner it's a bad idea to be friends with them, so long as we get along well.)

I didn't claim that either (ie. that is a straw man). I have plenty of friends who have happened to "give me a boner" at some point and there is no particular problem with that. In fact I merely weakened the claim you made (or implied). Consider:

  • IF "ey needs to figure out how to be friends with her" THEN odds are there are other people who would make better friends than her.
  • If "ey needs to figure out how to be friends with her" AND "there is evidently a significant level of impotent sexual interest involved that is already creating relationship drama" THEN odds are there are other people who would make better friends than her.
  • If "ey needs to figure out how to be friends with her" AND "there is evidently a significant level of impotent sexual interest involved that is already creating relationship drama" AND "she is an accountant" THEN odds are there are other people who would make better friends than her.

In other words while I don't agree fully with the advice to avoid social relationships that require work (for the reasons mwengler has explained) I do agree that the principle applies in many cases. In particular, for those people that mwengler is talking about---those for whom ALL friendships take effort due to weaker social skills, etc---there will most likely be alternative effortful friendship opportunities that at least don't have the additional overhead of "(sexual) relationship drama without (sexual) relationship".

comment by [deleted] · 2013-07-13T18:43:16.512Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

But... Is it harder to be friends with people one is attracted to than with people one is not attracted to, in the real world (as opposed to stereotypes and Hollywood movies)? ISTM that, if anything, IME it's the other way round (though the effect is smaller when controlling for age and gender), which is what I'd theoretically expect given that there is such a thing as the halo effect.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-22T18:29:23.755Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If "ey needs to figure out how to be friends with her" AND "there is evidently a significant level of impotent sexual interest involved that is already creating relationship drama" AND "she is an accountant" THEN odds are there are other people who would make better friends than her.

Huh? The conjunction fallacy doesn't apply to the right of the pipe -- whereas P(AB|C) cannot possibly be greater than P(A|C), P(C|DE) can be less than, equal to, or greater than P(C|D). Am I missing something?

(In this particular example, I'd guess (with low confidence) that for A=“there are other people who would make better friends than her”, B=“ey needs to figure out how to be friends with her”, C=“there is evidently a significant level of impotent sexual interest involved that is already creating relationship drama”, and D=“she is an accountant”, P(A|BCD) is slightly but not terribly lower than P(A|BC), by a reasoning that would be politically incorrect to fully explain but involves, among other things, looking at where “Accounting occs” are on this chart and wild-ass extrapolation from my personal experiences. :-))

comment by wedrifid · 2013-06-22T18:42:23.461Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The conjunction fallacy doesn't apply to the right of the pipe

The intended meaning of the link was "generalised lesson of reasoning with conjunctions". Since it is indeed possible to reformulate the message from the "IF THEN" format to probability assignments I can see how this could be misleading.

(I removed the link and now endorse the unadorned text.)

comment by mwengler · 2013-06-22T12:21:38.865Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Are you truly unaware that some people have lots of friends some of them very good friends, while others have very few or even no friends? To the extent I fall in that second category, is it truly rational on my part to NOT attempt to do some of what it seems to me leads to better friendships using my rational mind to go that way?

A pretty french royal girl. "Let them eat cake." Thank you.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-22T13:52:39.237Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

My point is that a different, and IME superior, way of solving the “very few or even no friends” problem (e.g. myself 10 years ago, see the comment I linked to above) than trying harder to be friends with the people you've already tried to be friends with is to move on and try to be friends with different people.

YMMV. (I had taken “currently in the process of figuring out” to imply that so far it hadn't worked out very well, but now from the “it seems to me leads to better friendships” I guess I was wrong.)

comment by mwengler · 2013-06-20T01:23:34.406Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Are you at all familiar with the concepts of evolutionary psychology? Do you think we even have the capacity for friendship in some altruistic way, that while evolution was busy fine-tuning our eyes and our livers into remarkably efficient instruments, that it let the moral aspects of our personalities run open loop, disconnected from any benefit they might possibly bring to us?

comment by mwengler · 2013-06-19T19:36:05.953Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I empathize with some girl about whatever dopey thing she and her girlfriends have got in to, which I couldn't have the least bit of interest in, but I am a nice guy. Later we have sex.

Where do you draw the line? Is there a line?

comment by DavidAgain · 2013-06-19T21:41:42.078Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Bit of a random question. Are you saying that in the system the person above me used is 'I am providing her incentives to benefit me in the form of believing I care about her life - and ultimately it leads to most benefit for me (sex) but also benefit for her (faked sympathy? sex? not clear from your account)

If you mean where do I draw the line in manipulation, this doesn't look like 'providing incentives', and given it involves open deception it looks more like trickery. Though frankly if I thought someone was trying to 'provide incentives' for a friend of mine to sleep with them, I'd advise my friend to run a mile. There's no absolute line here, but a good rule of thumb is provided by Terry Pratchett: don't treat people as things.

comment by Caspian · 2013-06-23T03:04:59.430Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

When I buy stuff from people I don't know I'm mostly treating them as a means to an end. Not completely, because there are ways I'd try to be fair to a human that wouldn't apply to a thing, but to a larger extent than I would want in personal / social relationships.

Another rule of thumb I kind of like is: don't get people into interactions with you that they wouldn't want if they knew what you were doing. I feel like that probably encourages erring too far on the side of caution and altruism. But if you know the other person would prefer you to empathise when not interested rather than be silent, leave or criticise, it's allowed.

ETA: I'm interested in better guidelines, especially from people who get the distaste for manipulation.

comment by DavidAgain · 2013-06-26T15:37:54.747Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yes: buying stuff from people is pretty much instrumentalising them. That's capitalism! Although there tend to be limits as you note. And the 'would they like this if they knew what I was doing' is obviously a very good rule of thumb.

Occasionally, you'll have to break this. Sometimes somebody is irrationally self-destructive and you basically end up deciding that you have a better sense of what is best for them. But that's an INCREDIBLY radical/bold decision to make and shouldn't be done lightly.

comment by DavidAgain · 2013-06-19T21:46:31.420Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Follow-up: I'm a little drunk, but my instincts are SCREAMING against your post's whole language: 'some girl', 'whatever dopey thing', the false sincerity or lack of awareness in 'I'm a nice guy' etc. This just reads like an approach of trying to manipulate people who hold in contempt into sleeping with you. Hopefully it's a hypothetical or I'm misreading it, but at a gut level this is pretty sad, and pretty horrible.

comment by mwengler · 2013-06-20T01:20:28.446Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Women famously say "sometimes I just want to be listened to. Don't try to solve my problems, just show me that you care." When men do this, women say "yes, that's what I'm talking about" and attempt to reinforce that behavior, perhaps unconsciously.

The people that own the bodies that I find attractive are women. If you pay attention women will tell you what they need in order to want to have sex with you.

Evolutionary psychology does not generally leave us conscious of why we react socially the way we react. Who can deny the widespread nature of men acting in a set of ways to attract a woman sexually? Who can deny the widespread nature of women acting certain ways to attract men? That we do this because we want the other person to be attracted to us, and not "sincerely" really mean we all hold each other in contempt?

Does the fact that I hold an evolutionary psychological interpretation of what is going on and express that understanding in unromantic terms make me any more or less likely to hold the object of my affection in contempt?

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-20T16:52:23.428Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Women famously say "sometimes I just want to be listened to. Don't try to solve my problems, just show me that you care."

I generally decide whether to give people emotional support or concrete help based on what their problem is and on which way they tell me about it, not based on what type of genitalia they have. (It does correlate with what type of genitalia they have, but the correlation is not overwhelming -- the correlation between genitalia and (say) height is much stronger.)

comment by DavidAgain · 2013-06-20T10:48:17.932Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Oh, and the answer to your final question here is probably 'yes'. The way you understand and talk about your own attitudes and activities definitely has feedback into said attitudes and activities.

On trying to be attractive: no, that doesn't automatically translate as contempt. But then, not all attempting to be attractive is deceptive. You say that 'women' (all women it seems: this evo psych attitude seems to come with a side-serving of old-fashioned generalisation) want guys to 'show that they care'. Ever thought that people saying that (even men!) might actually want people to care, not just to pretend?

comment by mwengler · 2013-06-20T12:18:26.718Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

So as long as we operate unconscious of how we are built we are OK? A surprising assumption for a utilitarian.

comment by DavidAgain · 2013-06-20T13:08:05.543Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not saying we should be unconscious of how we're built. I'm saying that the way we're built itself means that if we treat something as an abstract scientific issue we experience it differently to if we treat it as a matter of personal relationships. Are you saying that the way we explain and discuss our actions doesn't affect in turn how we act and think?

comment by mwengler · 2013-06-20T16:37:20.053Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I agree with you on this. It matters whether we are conscious of something, it matters because we will act differently.

The way in which it matters is that we can fully engage our rational powers when we are conscious of something, whereas when we act unconsciously of it we rely only on what was hardcoded in.

Consider launching shells. Running irrationally, we would point the mortar in the right direction and tilt it up about the right amount. We would even tend to correct by tilting it further up and down to get the range closer. But using our rational mind, we develop a rangefinder optically, and a lookup table that may even include corrections for wind.

Perhaps the entire point of the rational mind is that it gets us a level deeper into optimizing a broad class of actions. We contain a model of the world, we play out scenarios in our mind, we remember what worked and didn't work.

So here I am, an ubernerd, wondering why I don't get the hot chicks while the knuckle-draggers around me have wives who look like hairdressers. They hang out with the guys, bragging about their misbehavior with other women, referring to the wife as "the ball and chain." Then on the way home they pick up a bottle of white wine and some flowers because they want to get laid.

Am I supposed to learn nothing from watching this? Or pretend I've learned nothing?

Yes, I agree with you, the entire point of becoming conscious of something is that we will treat it differently. We will analyze it, figure out the moving parts. We will learn and optimize.

And when I go home with a bottle of white wine and some flowers I can truly say to whatever woman it is that I did it because I hoped she would enjoy it. And that I know that no one is "happy" unless the woman is "happy," does that make me a selfish monster living in my head?

comment by DavidAgain · 2013-06-20T16:58:02.453Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Ah: this may be the underlying confusion. I don't see the instrumentalist evo psych as bad and everything else as good. I see any deceptive, treating people as things approach as not valuing people.

I don't see the people who brag about cheating and slag off their wives as models to aspire to. This is both in that I don't particularly value the outcome they're aiming for, and that I object to the deception and the treating people as things.

But on the broader point about attitude mattering: obviously it might change the activity in that way. But my point was more that you can't step outside of your own psychology and humanity: thinking about people in this detached strategic way is not something done by a person looking in from outside the system: your sex life isn't a game of The Sims. My intuition and experience is that doing something in a way constantly focused at trying to get individual bits of stuff out of it ('I will now buy this wine to get sex, I will now comfort my friend so that they will help me move house next week, I will try to understand this subject I'm studying so that I get a higher mark in the exam) leads to you having less fun and doing less good than engaging with things in their own terms (which is compatible with being aware of the underlying dynamics).

There's also an issue of sincerity here, which to unpack into something that might be more appealing to your approach, is essentially game theoric. If you reassess for your benefit at every point, people can't rely on you in tough situations. I would like people to be able to rely on me, and to be able to rely on them. Taking other people seriously and relating to them as people rather than strategies allows you to essentially pre-commit.

comment by Caspian · 2013-06-23T03:29:50.714Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Women famously say "sometimes I just want to be listened to. Don't try to solve my problems, just show me that you care."

I would interpret that as being specific to problems. There may also be women who would like feigned interest in dopey things they're into, or they may prefer to just discuss them with their girlfriends who are actually interested.

When men do this, women say "yes, that's what I'm talking about" and attempt to reinforce that behavior, perhaps unconsciously.

Explicitly saying this can be taken at face value, I think, but unconsciously reinforcing the behaviour may be meant to reinforce actual interested listening. You can't deduce which is the true preference.

comment by mwengler · 2013-06-23T16:24:58.768Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The reason to think that sincerity may not be the main thing is the seeming fact that sexual attraction is pre-rational. I think it is quite common, especially among older humans, to WANT to have the close pre-rational relationship with someone who rationally fits a pile of criteria for you, but to not so strongly feel the sexual attraction as you did when you were younger and when they were younger. At that point, you thank them for wearing makeup and flattering clothing and presenting decolletage and batting their eyes at you and making you feel like a million dollars in a pre-rational way. If it brings the relationship over the pre-rational threshold for some hotness, then you both feel like winners.

Like any other tool, hacking attraction can be used for purposes you think are good and it can be used for purposes you think are bad. But given the prevalence of makeup, push up bras, slinky black and red dresses, hair coloring, flattery, brand-name signalling of wealth etc etc etc, I think hacking attraction is quite the norm across broad swathes of the population, inside and outside the rationalist community.

comment by Kawoomba · 2013-06-19T22:02:22.508Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Hopefully it's a hypothetical or I'm misreading it, but at a gut level this is pretty sad, and pretty horrible.

Plenty of people would disagree, so do I. What now? Your gut versus my gut? To each his own, I'd say.

(Ever tried the "no false sincerity" approach in a job interview? Never feigned interest in some of what a romantic interest was telling you, even if in fact you couldn't care less?)

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-20T16:41:08.545Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Never feigned interest in some of what a romantic interest was telling you, even if in fact you couldn't care less?

Huh, no I haven't -- my romantic interests have tended to tell me things that I was genuinely interested in, or at least to be able to shortly realize when I wasn't and change the topic consequently. Which is probably a large part of the difference between a romantic interest and someone I'd like to have a one-night stand with.

comment by Kawoomba · 2013-06-20T16:43:24.894Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Not even as a teenager?

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-21T18:28:03.891Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Now that I remember about it, I did that until I was about 17 -- towards people of the gender I'm not attracted to; for example, I would force myself to watch soccer matches even though I found them boring as hell.

Then I started hanging around people who didn't give a damn either (mainly females, the kind of people whom Paul Graham here calls freaks, etc.).

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-20T16:48:00.162Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Not that I can remember of, but then again I was a helluva dork back then.

comment by DavidAgain · 2013-06-19T22:17:08.693Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I was asked where I draw the line, and this to me is beyond the line. So far beyond the line that it's a dot to you etc. etc.. There may be plenty of people who agree that this sort of thing is fine, although I'm not clear on what they're agreeing with. Are you saying it can be a moral good to 'manipulate people who you hold into contempt into sleeping with you' because everyone wins: they get the benefit of your (false) empathy and nice-guyness and you get sex? Or that this is a misrepresentation and everything's more innocent than that.

But my problem is not any feigned interest at all - that's part of a whole host of social dynamics - it's about treating people as things. Feigning interest can actually be part of recognising that people are people. But doing it to get what you came for? Not so much.

comment by Kawoomba · 2013-06-19T22:32:32.897Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Are you saying it can be a moral good to 'manipulate people who you hold into contempt into sleeping with you' because everyone wins: they get the benefit of your (false) empathy and nice-guyness and you get sex?

We can go with that example. "Moral good" is a lofty term, in the example it certainly gives the guy utilons, the girl utilons, seems like a win-win to me. Where's the downside? Or are you thinking of some personified "honest truth never manipulate people to your benefit" avatar, an idea made flesh, who's crying in a corner?

You could argue on the basis of "spoiling the common good by furthering a society full of dishonest manipulation". But then again, you could do the same with non-vegetarians, or car-drivers, on similar grounds (common good). Personally, if I could optimize the world I would mandate honesty for everyone (minus myself), could you imagine?

Does that "people are people" paradigm mean it's "pretty sad and pretty horrible" to press a secret button you see -- but the other human does not --, the pressing of which will help both people involved? Because that's just inefficient.

Where's the benefit in losing optimizing power to adhere to some vague-cultural-norms-reified paradigm about "must not analyze human behavior and act accordingly"? You can of course value it for its own sake, but why should others?

comment by DavidAgain · 2013-06-19T22:45:30.617Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The fact I'm not convinced it gives the girl utilons is basically my point: I'm a consequentialist at heart. My experience suggests that people sleeping with people who pretend to like them but actually hold them in contempt does not lead to good things. Not sure where avatars or crying in the corner comes into that.

The 'people are people' paradigm is translating an incredibly detailed, recursive consequentialist approach into a rule you can actually live by. It's theoretically possible this person who screws people they detest is maximising mutual happiness, but it's implausible to me. That person could probably sleep with someone who doesn't hold them in contempt, for starters. I get the attraction of acting as a disinterest benefit-maximiser for the world - in my most recent real-world moral dispute I got in trouble for precisely this sort of attempt to tinker - but when it happens to correlate with getting laid I'm not convinced many people are good at analysing the situation.

If that's the genuine intention, I think it shows a failure to allow for human nature. But I think in practice, one of the problems of the approach is that it makes it all too easy to justify whatever you feel like doing in terms of utilons.

comment by Kawoomba · 2013-06-19T23:14:37.021Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Since your preferences already include the preferences of others to the degree that you care about other-preferences, just evaluating which course of action most satisfies your own preferences and then going with that is tautologically the course of action you should follow. (We probably agree thus far.)

Would you like everyone to have some equilibrium, converged utility function which values all other (humans? sentients?) preferences equal to "its own" (lacking a few qualifiers because of interdependencies)? "I will break this piece of bread into 7 billion pieces, or in as many pieces as I can effectively distribute"?

Do you go around comparing your net worth with every stranger walking you by, then equalize? Since you do not, apparently you also prefer some non-equal trade-off, you also haven't incorporated the preferences of others into your own, giving equal weight. Having established that, we just need to haggle about the line. (But even if we don't agree on that, what makes my line better or worse than yours? I think yours is worse, you think mine is, now what?)

So I guess you'd argue for considering the preferences of others as highly important, as opposed to tangentially important? Just concerning people you see face to face? Including nameless Chinese peasants, or do you privilege people who can talk to you? Do you reject the advertisement industry, plainly trying to manipulate people as things?

If you had a button which I could press and which would cause you to sign over all your resources to me, would I press it? Of course I would. You wouldn't? I hope you never interact with the corporate world, inc.

Again, to each his/her own. What I reject is this valuing of some "treat people like people" self-crippling abandonment of efficiently optimizing other goals above other utility functions in some objective manner.

Then again, I object to any utility function being regarded as "good" or "bad" in a global sense, which does not preclude me from wanting to avoid certain utility functions from being implemented (think paperclip maximizer). But I do so for blatantly selfish reasons (it would impact me fulfilling my own utility function), and so do you (even if your utility function values other-preferences more highly).

An effective altruist who treats people like things instrumentally in accomplishing his/her goals can do more "good" (as judged by him/herself) overall. People are complex, treating people like things (if that's what you'd mean by taking opportunities which clearly present themselves) doesn't preclude you from valuing people.

comment by DavidAgain · 2013-06-19T23:35:56.705Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

A truly effective altruist might be justified in doing all sorts of things on consequentialist grounds. But I think incredibly few people are effective altruists. Once someone has reached the point of giving away almost all their money, doing things that make them clearly unhappy etc. for the point of the greater good, then I would see their manipulative actions in a different way. Where people actually inhabit a border-world where they can wield wider influence outside of a social context I think some radical positions can be justified: at the apex of revolution, killing the children can be justified for the greater good etc.

I just think there's a natural scepticism about these sort of reasons when they're used to justified to trick your way into getting laid.

Using 'selfish' to mean maximising your own utility function also bleeds meaning out of things: by what possible definition would someone not be selfish here? Does selfish simply mean incompetent: a person who actually values others but in practice tries to accumulate wealth and power is unselfish in this sense? You're doing violence to language here. It might be justified if the main tension in life was between different models of utility, but given that for most people the immediate tension is between what you should do and what suits you, redefining selfishness is incredibly unhelpful.

I'd also be interested in what 'valuing people' you got from what I was responding to:

"I empathize with some girl about whatever dopey thing she and her girlfriends have got in to, which I couldn't have the least bit of interest in, but I am a nice guy. Later we have sex."

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-21T19:00:03.563Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Using 'selfish' to mean maximising your own utility function also bleeds meaning out of things: by what possible definition would someone not be selfish here?

Someone can fail to maximize their own utility function due to akrasia, irrationality, or incorrect information. (But I agree that “selfish” is an extremely poor choice for a word for that. See e.g. this about “sacrificing one's own happiness for the sake of others” vs “gaining one's happiness through the happiness of others”.)

comment by Kawoomba · 2013-06-20T09:56:31.936Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What is so much better about altruism than about just living your life however the hell you want? Whence the superiority?

I see two utility functions, I'm gonna prefer the one which is more in tune with my own needs. That is, I too would like everyone else to be a perfect altruist if that translates to them helping me fulfill my own preferences. The impression you exude is that you have a more objective, general notion in mind of why incorporating other-preferences into your own so strongly is somehow superior.

Would you share it? Why doesn't it apply to the girl? If you were the girl in the situation, should you not oblige the guy and sleep with him, without him having to listen to her dopey? Clearly it's his strong preference, no? So why wouldn't you?

Using 'selfish' to mean maximising your own utility function also bleeds meaning out of things: by what possible definition would someone not be selfish here?

That's just it, you can't. I don't see it as removing pertinent meaning, but more of as the removal of a misconception. Someone helping others out, because he likes the social affirmation he was taught to associate with it, is doing so because he originally liked the social affirmation and has grown to expect it, no different from the bell chiming for the Pavlovian dog. I still like people helping me out for doing so, but that doesn't mean they don't do so for selfish reasons (maybe they like me liking them) and/or having been conditioned.

In another sense, we can of course use 'selfish' to denote how much or how little other-preferences play a role in your own preferences, as long as we don't forget that you maximize other-preferences because that's what your own preferences are.

I'd also be interested in what 'valuing people' you got from what I was responding to:

Not to be facetious: He could rob her, drug her (in scenarios without palpable legal repercussions for him), use her insecurities to convince her to drop out of school to be at his beck and call. Instead, his behavior is more balanced: He seems like he's willing to compromise some of her preferences ("only want to be with an honest guy"), help out some of her other preferences ("spent a great evening with a guy who takes my issues seriously, feel affirmed"), but does not strictly disregard all her preferences.

Seems like valuing her preferences -- above being indifferent to them -- to me. Let's not underestimate the gravity of what "I dont care what happens to her at all" would actually mean. Empathy, to some degree, is ingrained in all of us. So are social boundaries, by ways of early conditioning. But, as always, just because we can explain the way our norms and instincts evolved does not make them superior in some objective sense to any others (that would be a naturalistic fallacy). Which does not preclude us from preferring others with values that more benefit our own, without putting such altruism on some pseudo-objective pedestal.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-21T19:07:56.783Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Someone helping others out, because he likes the social affirmation he was taught to associate with it, is doing so because he originally liked the social affirmation and has grown to expect it, no different from the bell chiming for the Pavlovian dog. I still like people helping me out for doing so, but that doesn't mean they don't do so for selfish reasons (maybe they like me liking them) and/or having been conditioned.

So which of these two is the actual altruist? Whichever one actually holds open doors for little old ladies.

comment by DavidAgain · 2013-06-20T10:40:24.968Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I do think altruism is superior: I'm not sure how exactly to unpack ethical statements, but I believe altruism is better than egoism, definitely. I also think that 'selfishness' has a very well understood meaning about maximising your own happiness/power/whatever and that redefining it so that it's selfish to do what you think is right is fairly pointless. 'Preferences' is a ridiculously broad term and you seem to be treating 'people follow their preferences' as true by definition, meaning that 'people are selfish' doesn't have much content as a claim.

In practice, people aren't perfect altruists: but defining however you act as maximising your utility function and therefore just as good as anything else is just a refusal to engage on ethics: you end up reverting to brute force ('I cannot object ethically to the fact your utility function involves rape and murder: but I can oppose you based on my utility function'). Not sure what good moving all ethical debate to this level achieves.

Oh, and on the altrustically having sex approach: again, we live in a society where we reasonably expect non-inteference and non-deception but don't usually expect people to actively do what they don't want to do: a theoretical utility-maximiser might have sex with people they're not attracted to, sure.

On valuing people: I would understand valuing someone to go beyond the level of 'I won't actively harm and abuse you on a whim'. Although even in the hard sense of valuing (does he care about her at all) the statement that kicked this off doesn't demonstrate any consideration for her experience. As you note, raping/drugging etc. have bad consequences for him, and as for getting her to drop out, I imagine it would be far more effort, have far more unpredictable results (her or friends might end up getting revenge for you screwing up her life) and not worth it if he just wants sex.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-21T19:05:27.971Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

a theoretical utility-maximiser might have sex with people they're not attracted to, sure

It depends on what their utility function is -- assuming the orthogonality thesis, for any X whatsoever there's a theoretical utility maximiser who might do X, so that's not terribly informative about X.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-20T16:43:29.738Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Does that "people are people" paradigm mean it's "pretty sad and pretty horrible" to press a secret button you see -- but the other human does not --, the pressing of which will help both people involved?

Why couldn't I just tell the other human about the button?

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-20T16:33:13.979Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I empathize with some girl about whatever dopey thing she and her girlfriends have got in to, which I couldn't have the least bit of interest in, but I am a nice guy.

No you aren't, you are a Nice Guy™. If you were an actual small-n small-g nice guy, you would have genuine interest in whatever dopey thing she ans her girlfriends have got into.

(SCNR.)

comment by Nominull · 2013-06-16T21:05:37.486Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think this is probably being too kind to my unhandicapped abilities. Rather than handicapping myself because I'm too powerful, I think the key issue is that I see things on a metalevel and analytically, such that I can notice that there is little difference between "social adeptitude" and "manipulation". And so, in order to avoid being manipulative, I consciously avoid developing social skills. I think reflectivity and pathological non-hypocrisy are the key dynamics, not inherent manipulative ability.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2013-06-16T19:59:24.642Z · score: 2 (12 votes) · LW · GW

So basically, my hypothesis is, the reason intelligent people are so often socially clumsy is because it's a facade, a self-imposed handicap they keep up because evolution has programmed us to have repulsion towards unfairly manipulating others. Because they can make others do anything, they choose to do nothing. This manifests as being easily led, a kind of "doormat", lacking their own will or ego, even.

This is more or less true of me, though I don't know why evolution is being singled out etiologically, it seems like even a blank slate mind could learn to be inhibited this way. Anyhow I avoid meeting people's eyes or generally looking at people's faces because my automatic inclinations are to nod along, smile, make them feel like I'm their ally &c., even when I don't actually agree with them or think what they're doing or saying is right. Like when someone tells a self-deprecating joke and they expect you to smile or laugh, or when they fish for a compliment, or when they tell you about something they think is important that you don't think is important. Those are obvious examples that everyone notices, but human conversation is chock full of subtler games that are harder to be reflective about and have bright line rules for. You either implicitly lie to them or you constantly disappoint them. This is extremely salient to me because I'm abnormally good at reading people's facial expressions. Not meeting their eyes and being generally evasive is a way to keep myself honest. I still stand by this decision, even if it means constantly handicapping my status, attractiveness, and generally my life. Integrity is important.

comment by A11AF82 · 2013-06-19T03:36:10.399Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Go one step farther. Do that compulsion to agree and be mellow with people you don't agree with mean you're a dishonest jerk who's trying to manipulate them, or does it mean you're not feeling comfortable with disagreeing with them (for instance because you feel like they'd reject you if you did, which might be painful, or because you do not want to hurt their feelings, or because you feel like you don't have the social status to do that). Don't necessarily assume you're evil.

For instance I know I hate lying mostly because I am feeling insecure enough to think I wouldn't get away with it. This stems from a difficulty to put myself in other's shoes. If I know how and what I lied about, then surely I can imagine many ways in which they'll eventually uncover my lie.

Another reason why I may come to dislike social relationships is because I harbor few illusions about human motivation and drives. Most interactions with people can be interpreted as manipulation to get your way, if you try hard enough to see it that way. My issue with that is, however, that I don't want to have such a relationship with others. I naively crave a natural, hassle-free relationship where I'm being liked and like others unconditionally. So whenever I think in terms of what strings I need to pull to move others, I feel bad about it because I don't want to have a relationship with puppets, I want to have a relationship with real people. Yet, I can't exactly believe relationships are magical in that way - nothing is for free or unconditional, and there are definite winning and losing moves in social relationships. So I'm torn between what I want (not over analyzing stuff and just getting along with people) and what I believe (that if I don't do that, then I may fail at being adequately social).

comment by Oligopsony · 2013-07-12T01:32:41.006Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Having spoken with you in person (unaware that this was a consciously chosen practice) my experience was mostly that it was cognitively burdensome and that I was mostly worried for you. I suspect this isn't what you're shooting for! (I also classified it alongside my "Will is a troubled genius" model, which may or may not be what you're going for.)

My personal experience is that I tend towards terrible self-destructiveness when I don't get enough human warmth, so this strategy would not be a good debiaser for me. But if you can make it work... actually, this seems like a good thing to get external feedback on whether you make it work. Have you?

comment by JQuinton · 2013-06-18T19:42:00.766Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This thesis sounds self-defeating. Any argument that you propose that is meant to convince someone is a sort of social manipulation. As a matter of fact, some hypothesize that this is the entire reason that human-level intelligence came about in the first place, because our brains are optimized for social activity and not straightforward intellectual activity; "rationality" being a byproduct of navigating complex tribal politics.

comment by tim · 2013-06-16T22:01:54.689Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

My issue with this argument is that you are implicitly claiming that social interaction --> manipulation. On the face of it this is probably more or less true. Most social interactions do involve (mild) manipulations such as suggesting an activity, asking someone to pass the [object], or telling a story to elicit sympathy/respect. However, you then claim that these types of manipulations are ones intelligent people "feel iffy about."

I'm certainly willing to accept that there are types of manipulation that makes the manipulator feel guilty and could possibly cause socially awkwardness. But I very much doubt the claim that most social interactions consist of these types of manipulation and that this is what leads to the social clumsiness some smart people exhibit.

Also, the evo-psych justification that "evolution has programmed us to have repulsion towards unfairly manipulating others" seems like a big stretch. I would actually expect the opposite to be true to the extent that your manipulations weren't blatant enough to trigger retaliation.

comment by Jonii · 2013-06-16T22:32:43.400Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Oh, yes, that is basically my understanding: We do social manipulation to the extent it is deemed "fair", that is, to the point it doesn't result in retaliation. But at some point it starts to result in such retaliation, and we have this "fairness"-sensor that tells us when to retaliate or watch out for retaliation.

I don't particularly care about manipulation that results in obtaining salt shaker or a tennis partner. What I'm interested in is manipulation you can use to form alliances, make someone liable to help you with stuff you want, make them like you, make them think of you as their friend or "senpai" for the lack of better term, or make them fall in love with you. What also works is getting them to have sex with you, to reveal something embarrassing about themselves, or otherwise become part of something they hold sacred. Pretending to be a god would fall into this category. I'm struggling to explain why I think manipulation on those cases is iffy, I think it has to do with that kind of interaction kinda assuming that there are processes involved beyond self-regulation. With manipulation, you could bypass that and in effect you would lie about your alliance.

It is true many social interactions are not about anything deeper than getting the salt shaker. I kind of just didn't think of them while writing this post. I might need to clarify that point.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-06-17T12:28:57.458Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Manipulation of the kind you're talking about is going to involve flexibility of self - you have to be capable of being the person they would consider a friend, a lover, a confidant. This is significantly harder than it sounds, especially over long periods of time, and you run the very real risk of becoming the thing you only intended to pretend to be. This should be a matter of concern in serious matters - the necessity to be the person they need you to be means you are manipulated by them as a necessary element to manipulating them.

There's a reason countries tend to monitor the mental health of their spies pretty closely.

comment by shminux · 2013-06-16T18:14:07.765Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

A couple of concrete examples on either side of the acceptability boundary would be useful: one where "manipulation" is "Treating other people as pawns in your plan", and another where "manipulation" (now termed as "influence" to avoid negative connotations) is perfectly "fair".

comment by Jonii · 2013-06-16T18:31:16.253Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

True. However, it's difficult to construct culturally neutral examples that are not obvious. The ones that pop to my mind are the kind of "it's wrong to be nice to an old, really simple-minded lady because that way you can make her rewrite her will to your benefit", or "It's allright to try to make your roommate do the dishes as many times as you possibly can, as long as you're both on equal footing on this "competition" of "who can do the least dishes"".

I'm not sure how helpful that kind of examples are.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2013-06-23T17:05:44.505Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Using words with strongly negative connotations in a title of the article, is not a way to get upvoted. Was this a meta example of the idea in the article?

I think this articles has a good idea, and bad writing. By which I don't mean the writing is bad in general, but rather that the title and the whole idea have so negative connotations, that the writing is not nearly good enough to balance that. (Also, don't say "PUA" in an article, unless it is essential to the article. The mere using of the word gives you like automatic 5 downvotes. Gender politics is the mindkiller.) The article pattern-matches to whining about intelligence. Again, not good.

I'll try to express the same idea (assuming I understand what you meant) using different words:

-

The word "manipulation" has strong negative connotations. If we try to taboo it, it means "making other people more likely to do what we want, without being explicit about us doing this". Plus the thousand negative connotations.

But if we think about it, "making other people do what we want" is almost a definition of living socially. By which I mean that if "what we want" is have a pleasant talk with someone, saying "hello" to a stranger is literally making them more likely to start talking with us. (Not everything that "we want" is necessarily a bad thing, okay?)

Also, it is a social norm to not be explicit about everything. We usually don't say: -- "My goal today is to come here and have a pleasant talk with someone. You seem like a suitable person for this. I want to make you more likely to speak with me, by saying... here it comes... Hello!" -- to a stranger. (Although, in some situation it could be a funny way to introduce yourself. You you can't keep doing this all the time.)

How is this paradox possible that "making other people do what we want, without being explicit" is the everyday social interaction, and at the same time a description of a horrible, ethically repulsive behavior?

Well, people are not very good at introspection, and they don't do it often. The paradox is possible because we don't notice it. We usually start paying attention to this process when something bad happens; when someone manipulates people to do something that would be strongly against their prior preferences. We don't notice that the everyday interaction somehow fits the description, too.

So, here is a specific failure of an introspective intelligent person in the valley of bad rationality. First, they learn all the negative connotations of "manipulation", and they internalize the idea that manipulation is evil. Later, by using their powers of introspection they realize that almost all social interaction fits the literal definition of "manipulation". And now they are stuck -- whenever they are going to interact with people, they are afraid of being "manipulative", and thus unethical.

A common solution is to add some self-imposed handicaps. As if to convince themselves: "see, I am not getting any benefits from this kind of interaction, therefore it is not manipulation". Okay, the ethical problem is fixed, but the costs such self-handicapping brings to social life can be too high.

The solution could be to realize that the introspective person's word "manipulation" does not really have the same meaning as the usual word "manipulation", therefore it is not ethically the same thing. Words are just labels for something real. We should not ask ourselves whether something, such as saying "hello" to a stranger, can be interpreted too literally to fit a definition of something with negative connotations. A better question is about the real consequences. Does this behavior cause any harm to the other person? Is it incompatible with their "extrapolated volition"? If the answers are negative, the behavior is probably ethically okay.

comment by shminux · 2013-06-16T20:38:08.486Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe you can come up with a version of the campsite rule for influencing people.