The Puce Tribe

In 2014 Scott Alexander introduced us to the Red/​Blue/​Grey tribe model, with his post I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup:

The Red Tribe is most classically typified by conservative political beliefs, strong evangelical religious beliefs, creationism, opposing gay marriage, owning guns, eating steak, drinking Coca-Cola, driving SUVs, watching lots of TV, enjoying American football, getting conspicuously upset about terrorists and commies, marrying early, divorcing early, shouting “USA IS NUMBER ONE!!!”, and listening to country music.

The Blue Tribe is most classically typified by liberal political beliefs, vague agnosticism, supporting gay rights, thinking guns are barbaric, eating arugula, drinking fancy bottled water, driving Priuses, reading lots of books, being highly educated, mocking American football, feeling vaguely like they should like soccer but never really being able to get into it, getting conspicuously upset about sexists and bigots, marrying later, constantly pointing out how much more civilized European countries are than America, and listening to “everything except country”.

(There is a partly-formed attempt to spin off a Grey Tribe typified by libertarian political beliefs, Dawkins-style atheism, vague annoyance that the question of gay rights even comes up, eating paleo, drinking Soylent, calling in rides on Uber, reading lots of blogs, calling American football “sportsball”, getting conspicuously upset about the War on Drugs and the NSA, and listening to filk – but for our current purposes this is a distraction and they can safely be considered part of the Blue Tribe most of the time)

But the label “Grey Tribe” now feels outdated and less useful to me. So, inspired by Naming the Nameless and Scott Alexander on Fussell on Class, I’m gonna spew my ideas about a fictional Puce Tribe. Why puce? Because it sounds funny, that’s why.

The attributes listed below are meant partly as aspiration and partly as realistic speculation.

The Puce Tribe:

  • Unlike the gray tribe, the puce tribe cannot be “safely considered part of the blue tribe most of the time”. They may or may not be equidistant from blue and red, but they are definitely their own distinct cluster.

  • People of the puce tribe are especially likely to know how to

    • use a fire extinguisher

    • constructively express their feelings

    • field-dress a deer[1]

    • write code

    • speak multiple languages

    • understand subtle statistical arguments

    • troubleshoot power tools

    • overcome or at least manage device addiction

  • The puce tribe is politically diverse, not riven by quite the same political tugs-o-war du jour as everyone else. They are in some ways similar to the gray tribe, but have a more systems-and-incentives-level approach to things. They tend to say things that sound like “blah blah complex problem blah blah bad equilibrium blah blah prediction markets, incentive engineering, small-scale experimentation.”[2] (EDIT to add:) the puce get conspicuously upset about:

    • Economic illiteracy & financial irresponsibility

    • Restrictions on prediction markets

    • Traditional schooling

    • Low entrepreneurialism

    • Addictive/​manipulative media and technology

    • Pathologies of modernity (obesity, acne, depression, loneliness)

  • The Puce people know that toughness is a virtue, and they live as such. They do not train weakness into themselves the way those other tribes do. Red tribers think they are tough, but they make themselves soft with physical inactivity and overindulgent diets. The blue tribe systematically rewards complaining and thin skin, to the detriment of their emotional resilience. Meanwhile, gray tribespeople cloister themselves in climate-controlled bubbles and get upset when their lunch delivery doesn’t come with the exact right amount of their preferred condiment.

  • Art galleries? NASCAR? Nah dude. Bounce houses and escape rooms.

  • Puce tribespeople feel embarrassingly overindulgent when their ratio of {time spent writing stuff} to {time spent consuming news and ephemera} falls too low.

  • Puce tribespersons are known to come home dirty, marked up, and bruised from a game of paintball.

  • When you walk into a puce home, you have an especially high chance of seeing a stockpile of food, fuel, and emergency supplies tailored to the locals risks (earthquakes, extreme weather, blackouts, fragile supply lines, etc.). Generators and handcrafted solar stills confer especially high status.

  • If you walk through a neighborhood that is both Puce-heavy and suburban, you are likely to see backyards with trampolines, tree-houses, or pools—none of them neglected. In garages, you can expect to glimpse soldering stations, 3D printers, DIY projects, sports gear, camping gear, and workshops. Rose gardens not so much.

  • Pucians respect the ritual magic of going out for a beer with the fellas, however dull and low-class that might sound to the blue and gray tribes. The puce tribe also has great reverence for psychedelics, unlike the red tribe who have nothing but self-righteous scorn for all that depraved hippy shit.

  • Physical activity is highly valued and seen as essential to the puce lifestyle, unlike the often sedentary gray tribe. Particular types of exercise vary widely depending on particular tastes and local amenities. Hiking is almost the default activity for those who live near a trailhead. Parkour and soccer are popular in places with mild climates. Dodgeball and badminton are popular where courts are available. Even the humble walk-and-talk is a venerated pastime. Puce friends bump into each other at the gym as often or more than at the grocery store. They are body-positive and have norms of positive reinforcement around fitness.

  • There is no distinctively Pucillanimous diet. The only common feature of the way they eat is purposefulness. Diet is part of the bedrock of a good life, and these people damn well treat it that way. The puce vegetarians explore the multi-armed bandit of veg restaurants, always ready for disappointment and always strong enough to keep looking. The paleo-eaters and keto-eaters meticulously plan their meals for the week, accepting this cost as the Tribute charged by Mother Nature. The cheeseburger lovers don’t eat cheeseburgers every day, they space them out among healthier and more fibrous meals (enhanced of course by post-exercise endorphins). The Soylent freaks are happy to save time and cognition for things they care about more. Snacks are often seen as low-status unless they are baby carrots. Diet fads are appreciated for what they are—voluntary experiments that probably won’t work out for you, but can still be worth a try. The puce are conspicuously skeptical of diet science, and this has become something of a self-indulgent shibboleth for them.

    • But also pucesters go nuts for donuts.

  • Young pucemen grow up knowing the energetic, carefree sublimity of a well-timed chestbump. (Sometimes neither a hug nor a high-five is quite enough, and that’s why we have chestbumps.)

  • The puce tribe recognizes that the blue tribe is onto something with athleisure and the red tribe is onto something with workwear. Both are popular among the puce, and their overall fashion is not particularly distinctive.

  • It is hard to pin down what kinds of music prevail among the puce tribe—tastes are simply too diverse these days. One weird thing does stick out though. The Puce are suckers for Westernized erhu tracks. They like it in gentle backup melodies, brief transitional accents in DnB, or in spunky shōnen intro-type songs. We don’t know why. The anthropologists are stumped.

  • The Puce Tribe likes...libraries?? Yeah, that’s right. They consider device addiction to be a particularly vicious vice and they adapt accordingly. It is not uncommon for Puce to bike 15 minutes over to the local library with no phone or laptop, and spend an hour or two giving their full attention to a book they want to understand.

  • The Folsom Foundry in SF has “Game Nights” (or at least used to). You show up, pay a fee to get in, and then you can buy pub food or expensive craft beer. But that’s not the real allure. The reason you’re there is because the walls are lined with video game consoles, the middle of the floor is dominated by beer pong tables, and the corner has a group of benches around a projector screen and a Rock Band setup. The lights are low, the music is loud and surprisingly good, and the whole venue is filled with people (somehow at a half-decent gender ratio). Pucefolk don’t waste their money on exclusive restaurants with fancy napkins, nor on addictions to McDonalds. They use their discretionary dollars to demand more things like the Folsom Foundry.

  • At about the same time as the cultural collapse of Silicon Valley in 2022-2023, a new medium-sized tech hub sprang up in Plagueis, Kansas, which already had a thriving puce culture. Apps and webpages from the cool new Plagueis Plains Special Economic Zone have a noticeably different æsthetic from those of the Valley. They still like minimalism, but it’s not flashy minimalism—color schemes are not garish, and you’re never made to scroll unnecessarily. APIs and advanced control panels abound. On the Plain it is considered obviously sleazy to enforce an addictive/​manipulative UX. Plagueis has a major crypto streak, and its UX æsthetics have come to be associated with more user-empowerment, often at the cost of prettiness. (See again: Naming the Nameless)

  • The Puce are deliberately cultured. They heed Bryan Caplan’s advice: prioritize entertainment that a few people go crazy for above entertainment that the masses moderately enjoy. In a puce tribe gathering, it would not be at all strange to hear a spirited discussion of the environmental storytelling mechanics of Portal vs Journey, or speculation on what factors might have underpinned the sitcom renaissance of 2009.[3]

[1] https://​​www.dickssportinggoods.com/​​p/​​hunters-specialties-butt-out-2-16hspabtttxxxxxxxhbg/​​16hspabtttxxxxxxxhbg

[2] See: Complex Problem, Bad Equilibrium, Prediction Markets, Incentive Engineering, Small Scale Experimentation. Also Credible Neutrality.

[3] See: Parks & Recreation, Community, Archer