I made a second attempt: Avoid cold, lazy nitpicks.
Cold: The comment has both a prickly tone and fails to show a clear willingness to continue the conversation. (Combines “prickly” and “disengaged”).
Lazy: The comment fails to show any underlying reasoning and fails to demonstrate that the commenter even read the whole original post. (Combines “opaque” and “shallow”).
Nitpicks: The comment is addressing a small, local issue without addressing how the disagreement impacts the argument as a whole.
“Cold, lazy nitpicks” is easier to remember as a phrase than “prickly, opaque, nitpicky, disengaged, shallow,” since it’s shorter and uses more common words. But it’s harder to unfold the concepts, due to the inconsistent, imprecise lumping.
And of course, “PONDS” is a single syllable that is also a vivid noun, and is kind of related to some of the words it contains (“opaque, disengaged, shallow”).
In general, I think there can be two different goals:
Create a phrase that’s easy to remember. “Cold, lazy nitpicks” wins here.
Create a mnemonic that’s easy to use. PONDS is better for this purpose.
In this case, I was trying to create a mnemonic that’s easy to use. If most readers don’t care to try, that’s fine. But my hope is that at least one reader will actually use PONDS to change their long-term behavior. That would be a great success for less than 500 words :)
Actually, if you haven’t done it yet, let me cross post it next week. I might edit it, incorporating feedback from Willa and Raemon.
Yeah, I’m sure there are both dynamics at play. People seek communities where they can work with others who share their mission, but they also develop their mission by participating in communities. “Come for the free pizza, stay for saving the world” or whatever :D
My prior is that there is a vastly bigger balance of people coming for the free pizza, then dissolving in low-key bitterness and anomie when the pizza runs out, so to speak :) Basically, I think there are a lot of people who’ve been “tricked by free pizza” into wasting an enormous amount of time and human potential, and that maybe we actually stand to unlock their human potential even more when that source of deception is taken away by circumstances.
I’d add one more piece, which came out of my discussion with ryan_b above. In addition to losing positive social contact (camaraderie), we’re losing negative social contact (bullying, obnoxious people, etc).
Most people think that you need more than one positive interaction to “cancel out” a negative one. So even small reductions in negative social contact might make up for large losses in positive social contact.
So we’re losing:
Entire projects for which camaraderie is necessary for them to exist (which I posit is a sign that they may be relatively lacking in social value).
Aspects of social experience in projects that do survive, including both in-person bullying and obnoxiousness, along with camaraderie (which I posit isn’t too hard to imagine being neutral-to-positive on net).
You and others here are arguing that there exist jobs that are of great social value, but that also depend on camaraderie to get started or survive. Examples given here include startups and this author that you speak of. Surely there are others we could give. If we lose even one project of great social value, along with many unnecessary projects fueled by camaraderie alone, that might still be a net loss.
Perhaps you might consider art as an ecosystem, and the loss of any art potentially diminishes all art.
To broaden and take this literally, the loss of any X potentially diminishes all X. When an artist pursues their art rather than becoming a shoe salesman, the shoe industry is diminished. I guess, but who cares? On the level of the economy, everything is a tradeoff.
RE you’re “I also think it’s really… sweet” bit, I’d also say it’s kind of sweet that you assume that people who are pursuing the arts find it to be rewarding, or that the camaraderie that keeps these communities knit together is a pleasant experience. From what I’ve encountered, a lot of that “camaraderie” looks like FOMO, jealousy, inferiority complexes, extreme competition for scarce resources, and a sense of identity defined by victory in a zero-sum status competition, and to top it all off, it has to come with the pretense of liking others in the scene (and the scene itself).
I know this sounds mean, but I really am just trying to honestly explore the idea that maybe we depend a lot less on camaraderie than it seems, and perhaps we’re in general better off a lot more alone than we’ve been able to be in the past. Perhaps having more options to work remotely will enable people to be a lot more choosy about when and how they engage with others, leading to long-term much better relationships and communities than existed formerly.
Some workplaces are also populated by bullies and obnoxious people. So while some people lose friendly contact with a great set of colleagues, others are freed from being forced to be around a bunch of jerks. Hard to say how that washes out in the end.
Where people are continuing to work a job in spite of the presence of a bunch of jerks, that’s at least a small sign that the job has some intrinsic value to them or others. Being freed of being around jerks means that they’re still working a job that we can maybe trust is socially valuable, but now they’re strictly better off. This factor means that time away from social contact is not “strictly bad” as you claim, though certainly it is for some people.
By contrast, people for whom camaraderie was a necessary condition for working their job is, to me, a small sign that their job has a relative lack of intrinsic value. While they’ve lost something that was of personal value to them, which is bad in its own right, there may be this countervailing benefit from the destruction of jobs that only exist because of the fun factor for employees/volunteers.
Thanks for your very in-depth response. I edited my post with a note to point people to it.
While I tried to set the bar about an inch high, as Ericf points out, I generally try to edit my posts to be fully anti-PONDS. I’ll edit a top-level post, like I did here, to appreciatively note a particularly long and substantive comment.
I’m sure it is, and that’s actually why I think it might be good that it’s lessened/dampened. Because there are other attracting forces for talented and dedicated people beyond money.
One is altruism or a belief in the importance of the work, another is intrinsic satisfaction of the job, and a third is a sense that the workplace is well-organized and has a minimum of red tape and hoops to jump through.
Get rid of the parties, glamour, and pressure, and these other virtues become even more important. Basically, I’m positing that some people were until recently trading valuable/important/satisfying work for glamour and parties and fun times hanging out with their coworkers. That doesn’t seem like a good trade to me.
The real danger, to my mind, is that losing the glamour/parties/fun might be so important to some of these very successful people that they just quit entirely, and do nothing at all. That would be a real loss. My guess is that while this will happen to some extent, that glamour/parties/fun are not the primary attractive feature of work for the people who are making the world move forward.
I think society needs delusional starving artists and entrepreneurs to get that one piece of transcendent art or world-changing company.
I also agree with this! And my thought is that when you lose the artists and entrepreneurs who were in it for the glamour and the parties, you don’t lose much. What you keep are the artists and entrepreneurs who are obsessed with creating something valuable. Who are motivated by the work itself, who believe in it.
Apple may have been a “collective, cult-like delusion or group pressure,” but it’s not obvious to me that in-person camaraderie was the key to their success, as opposed to belief in the product.
I might just be a weirdo with a long history of solo work and remote collaborations/learning, and my model of what drives people might just be totally whack. Certainly, it’s limited to the types of experiences I’ve encountered in my life.
But having spent a fair amount of time in the art world, the art pieces I’ve seen that seem the most valuable are usually produced by work-focused, professionally-minded people. The genius stuff comes from pretty lonely people and the folks who enable them. It’s a need to create and realize an artistic vision, and a desire to help bring that into the world, that motivates the most necessary work I’ve seen.
To take this further, my original argument was the idea that there are people who pursue camaraderie above all else. They not only refuse to pursue more socially valuable forms of work, but they demand that other people subsidize them.
If camaraderie disappears, they might pursue more socially valuable forms of work. In my mind, the model is a bit like a forced “sobering-up.” I imagine it could reduce the number of people with a sense of privileged, selfish entitlement.
But it’s also possible that the reverse happens. Maybe those people, losing camaraderie, will just become unhappy, while still feeling a sense of privileged, selfish entitlement, and doing even less to help other people. Their unhappiness would be a bad thing, to my mind. It’s only good in the way an addict hitting “rock bottom” can be a good thing, if this terrible experience motivates them to turn their life around.
But “rock bottom” can also mean you give up, or even die. It can become a permanent state of affairs. Even if it might have some good effects, this isn’t the way you’d ideally like to obtain them.
I want to push back on the three points you bring up, although they’re good points all the same.
Businesses don’t succeed purely on the basis of camaraderie + financials. What about the intrinsic interest of the work? What about the prospect of helping other people?
If camaraderie is out, this might mean that jobs that were formerly places of companionship become neutral. But does it mean that jobs that were formerly neutral become hostile? Or does it just mean that we have a much larger number of jobs that are neutral?
The loss of productivity due to teamwork is an obvious bad, but that’s a separate issue. Obviously COVID and remote work cause lots of problems beyond the loss of camaraderie. I’m specifically talking about the effects of loss of camaraderie.
Agreed. My issue is when people of sound mind and body aren’t supporting themselves on a fundamental level. For example, they might be living paycheck to paycheck when they could be doing better, perhaps because they are using their parents as a fallback.
Having spent a lot of time in and around the arts, my experience is that there are lots of people who have a day job, yet define their “career” as “being an artist.” This graduates into a sense of entitlement to an audience and being paid for their art, and a sense that when they fail to achieve this, society has failed them.
A part of what keeps people like this motivated to continue in their overall unhappy pursuit is their identity, the occasional bright spots of camaraderie when they do manage to get some sort of project going, and a slowly-developing psychological exaggeration of how meaningful their “work” is. Their community as a whole knows how to create a false sense of glamour that draws in artist and audience alike. Chasing this glamour is a big motivator for the whole enterprise.
It’s this sort of camaraderie—the camaraderie of fraud, of glamour, or any other collective self-delusion that perpetuates deep deviations of work from social value, or even from genuine sustained happiness or achievement—that I am against. I think there are a lot of projects that are held together by that sort of collective, cult-like delusion or group pressure.
You’ll have to argue that out with remizidae, I guess :D
Agreed! That’s why, as long as your comment has at least one non-PONDS characteristic, it would pass muster. It can be warm, give a reason or motivation for the criticism, offer some synthetic reflection on the original arguments as a whole, or show that you’ve read and considered the whole post/comment thread that you’re responding to.
This story is a sort of leading indicator of a breakdown in morale and group cohesion generally as so much work is done from home.
I’m not so sure. The “fraud business” seems like it would particularly depend on strategies for morale and cohesion to survive. Many other viable businesses can survive without having high levels of morale and group cohesion to begin with.
COVID destroys business models that depend on people being in thick with each other. That’s not just fraud, it’s also restaurants, retail, the arts, fashion, and probably other industries too. Turns out fraud is also in that category. It’s just a less obvious example, because the “work” itself is done via computer. Rather than the loss of “fraud” being a “leading indicator,” we’re just getting one more example of damage that we already knew about.
That is probably bad for a lot of projects; it’s just that one of the projects it’s bad for is fraud.
There might be a bright side to this. There are industries that are in an uncanny valley between being a form of productive work and a socially-sponsored hobby.
The legitimate industries I mentioned above are all examples. Not only are consumers of these luxury industries paying to indulge in a hedonic and status treadmill, the producers of these goods and services are often attracted to work in them by the status and fun of those roles. They accept a huge opportunity cost to work these sorts of jobs just for the status and fun.
Destroy the camaraderie, and the less talented/dedicated people, those who are most attracted to the sheer camaraderie, will quit. And that might be great for society. We don’t want people working a job primarily because it’s fun and they like their coworkers. We want them working a job because they’re providing valuable goods and services that meet pre-existing demand. Camaraderie is a nice bonus.
In short, a force that preferentially destroys camaraderie-dependent projects might be a long-term net positive for society, including for the people who were working on the projects themselves.
How much of rationality is specialized?
Cultural transmission of knowledge is the secret of our success.
Children comprise a culture. They transmit knowledge of how to insult and play games, complain and get attention. They transmit knowledge on how to survive and thrive with a child’s priorities, in a child’s body, in a culture that tries to guarantee that the material needs of children are taken care of.
General national cultures teach people very broad, basic skills. Literacy, the ability to read and discuss the newspaper. How to purchase consumer goods. How to cope with boredom. What to do if your life was in danger. Perhaps how to meet people.
All people are involved in some sort of personal culture. This comprises their understanding of the personalities of our coworkers, friends and relations; technical or social knowledge of use on the job; awareness of their own preferences and possessions.
A general-rationality culture transmits skills to help us find and enter into environments that depend on sound thinking, technology, and productivity, and where the participants are actively trying to improve their own community.
That general-rationality culture may ultimately push people into a much narrower specialized-rationality culture, such as a specific technical career, or a specific set of friendships that are actively self-improving. This becomes our personal culture.
To extend the logic further, there are nested general and specialized rational cultures within a single specialized culture. For example, there are over 90,000 pediatricians in the USA. That career is a specialized rational culture, but it also has a combination of “how to approach general pediatrics in a rational manner” and “specialized rational cultures within pediatrics.”
It may turn out that, at whatever level of specialization a person is at, general-purpose rationality is:
Overwhelmingly useful at a specific point in human development, and then less and less so as they move further down a specialized path.
Constantly necessary, but only as a small fraction of their overall approach to life.
Less and less necessary over time as their culture improves its ability to coordinate between specialties and adapt to change.
Defined by being self-eliminating. The most potent instrumental and epistemic rationality may be best achieved by moving furthest down a very specialized path. The faster they exchange general knowledge and investments for more specialized forms, the better they achieve our goals, and the more they can say we were being rational in the first place. Rationality is known by the tendency of its adherents to become very specialized and very comfortable and articulate about why they ended up so specialized. They have a weird job and they know exactly why they’re doing it.
Consider that you may need to spend not just a lot of time actually entering and analyzing data, but also on refining your model for what data to collect and how to analyze it, considering what if anything to do with it, researching what health metrics actually matter for your well-being, questioning whether this project is worth your time, addressing failures to implement it consistently, fielding questions about it from others, considering alternative projects to achieve similar results, and thinking about it when you’re not even using it.
You’re giving us a convenient set of narratives, and asking us to explain out major life decisions in terms of them.
I think a better question is whether any of these narratives, or some combination of them, are the primary conscious reasons for any of our major life decisions. Also, to what degree the narratives as stated accurately and unambiguously match the versions we believe ourselves. Also, which narratives we think are important or irrelevant.
Otherwise, you get a dynamic where the inconvenience of making these distinctions and providing nuance gives the impression that people actually believe this stuff as stated.
You get a few points of “supporting evidence” per respondent, but no “negative evidence” since you’re not asking for it. It starts to look like every narrative has at least a few smart people taking to really seriously, so we should take them all seriously. As opposed to every theory having the majority of smart people not taking them seriously.
Then of course you’re targeting this question to a forum where we all know there’s a higher proportion of people who DO take these things seriously than in the general population of Smart People, so you’re also cherry picking.
I don’t know what you’re planning on doing with the responses you get, but I hope you’ll take these issues into consideration.
It’s important to be capable of severity, and to be able to credibly signal that with an absolute minimum of actual punishment. Be able to show not only that you absolutely can escalate a conflict indefinitely, and that you have more resources to see it through than your opponent, but create a legible process for de-escalating that conflict and finding mutually beneficial alternatives.
Example 1: Getting mugged
For example, I was once nearly mugged/scammed at a stoplight at 3 AM. The woman who tried to mug me tapped on my car window while I was parked at a stoplight and accused me of running over her friend’s backpack. Of course, I’m quite confident that she and her scam artist buddies have a backpack full of junk computer parts that they toss in the street every night hoping somebody will throw money at them to make them go away.
She thought I was drunk because I’d made a wrong turn into the intersection (a reasonable assumption). But I wasn’t, I was actually the designated driver for my group.
I told her this calmly (minimum possible threat), and suggested we pull over on the side of the road to talk. But she kept accusing me of being a drunk driver. Then, suddenly, she reached in through the open window and opened the door from the inside, then leaned in. (Demonstrating severity with minimum escalation).
I screamed (feeling very calm inside) “GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY CAR” (trying to demonstrate my own severity). When she didn’t react, I called 911. She kept saying I was a drunk driver, assuming I was bluffing. Then she swatted the phone out of my hand.
When I picked it up and started talking to the cop, telling him what she looked like and demonstrating that I was totally unafraid of having the police show up, she bolted.
When I recounted this to an acquaintance who worked in security, he told me that it’s for situations like this that I should carry a gun.
I thought, and still think, that he’s wrong. A gun is waaaaaaay too much escalation for a situation like that. All I needed was to demonstrate that the power of the law was behind me, and that I was willing to call upon it. By doing things this way, rather than pulling out a pistol and pointing it at her, I also showed her that I was much more interested in letting her walk away than in exacting vengeance.
But that is an exceptional circumstance.
Example 2: Dinner parties
Vastly more of my life is about managing social coordination problems with friends, family, coworkers, students, and so on.
If I’m going to have dinner with my girlfriend’s family, how can I try to promote a conversation that is interesting to me and, hopefully, to others, while also having the other qualities expected of such a social gathering (benevolence)? If that’s not possible—if those other demands make it impossible to sustain an interesting conversation—then how can I minimize my own boredom and exit the situation relatively quickly and gracefully (wisdom)?
I could just say “I find this conversation boring” and walk away (severity). My girlfriend also finds it boring, so on one level, I’d be doing us both a favor (bravery). Maybe it would even lead the rest of her family to reconsider the way they communicate. But I find that outcome unlikely.
Instead, I expect that long-term, unpredictable social unpleasantness would assume, that’s just not worth it. After all, her family outnumbers me 4:1, not including my girlfriend, and I’m the outsider in that setting. I’d have to invite them to a large gathering of my friends.
Perhaps this is an argument in favor of assembling a big posse of friends and allies. It’s not just to have people to exchange ideas with. It’s so that you can invite small groups of people and surround them with your preferred form of weirdness until they realize they’re outnumbered. Likewise, you want to avoid being invited to situations where people who are uninteresting to you outnumber you.
If you must attend an event where you’re outnumbered, bring along several friends, and then try to corner people in small groups where you locally outnumber them.
I’ve honestly never considered this as a lifestyle or a strategy. But it kind of makes sense. It also reminds me of people who not only join a church, but get their whole family to join it as well.
Although I consciously have recognized for a long time how frustrating these social dynamics can be, I’ve rarely if ever conceptualized them as basically a form of relationship conflict. But they are. To feel pressured into participating in a dull social gathering is to be oppressed; to avoid viewing it through that lens is to accept the oppression. To resist it requires identifying it as a conflict, or a form of manufactured consent.
I think that the wise general must recognize that he can’t win every battle. He also must realize when he’s not actually a general. Or when he doesn’t have the respect of his men, or is serving a foolish ruler. Must of the art of war is about avoiding a losing battle, minimizing losses, and convincing the emperor not to pick a fight he can’t possibly win.
N of 1, but “cocky arrogant megalomaniacal behavior” and a goal of polarizing people into liking and disliking you strikes me as suggesting disrespectful behavior. Obviously I’ve got no idea what you’re specifically contemplating, so this is just explaining how your word choice produced my interpretation. Since as you say assuming that you’re normal is a reasonable default assumption, I’m assuming my reaction to this is normal.
I don’t know enough about building a large audience online to have things to say about what sort of online persona gets and sustains mass attention. So if that’s your primary focus then please ignore that part of my response. I was more thinking about settings like work, parties, school, and so on.
Your point that “personality is more mutable than people think” or is only immutable by definition is well taken.
RE being genuine as a nonconformist, my guess is that everybody has a few quirks that they have to be careful about, that limit their ability to be genuine. Some people probably have much more than others.
I don’t know that avoiding ruffling feathers makes you broadly less genuine. Maybe there’s some skill in creating “safe space” to be yourself, by choosing friends, words, and settings carefully to strike the ideal balance between saying what you want to say and having the social outcomes you desire.
But as a contrast, I think that in my own life, pursuing my career goal required tremendous, sustained convincing of other people to accept my decisions and stop criticizing me constantly. It could easily have stopped another person in their tracks. And I still don’t have the absolute freedom to spend my time and energy as I’d like all the time. There are many pressures to participate in social interactions where my freedom to do and say what I am most interested in are heavily constrained.
So perhaps you’re right. Maybe we are far, far more constrained from being genuine than we think. Maybe a greedy pursuit of exactly what we believe and desire would lead to a radically different lifestyle, and the frustrations and inhibitions that most people accept as routine are a consequence of a grand coordination failure. Of a prioritization of pre-existing social ties for their own sake, and a social unease with people who too readily change and pursue the unusual.
And maybe being cocky, arrogant, and megalomaniacal, being an extremely self-referenced person, is crucial to achieving that. It’s not enough to be confident when you’re alone. You have to fight for your freedom, every single hour of every day. Politeness, respectfulness, and kindness are important as lubricants to let you glide through the grinding gears of society. But if you try and pursue them too much, you wind up subservient to codes of polite behavior that will chain you.
That’s all very vague, but I do think it’s an interesting topic. At this time in my life, I find myself giving up on many other forms of “brave heresy” because I have to sustain the form of unorthodoxy that I think is most important of all. I’m spending my weirdness points wisely.
I have a sense that I have a limited budget for dealing with impositions by other people. I spend my reserves carefully. I think that the more I fight, the weaker I’ll be, and that as Sun Tzu counseled, the best form of generalship is to avoid fighting at all.
The vibe I picked up from your post is maybe that “fighting” strengthens you somehow, or builds you up. The losses are trivial, the gains tremendous, and people should fight often.
Without very specific details of where and how, I’m not prepared to agree with that as a sweeping approach to life. I think that cooperation, gentleness, reserve, praise, and occasional signals that show you have powerful forces under your command is a better approach.
I think it achieves much of what brash cocky arrogance achieves, in terms of making you seem attractive and interesting, but also allows you to achieve better long term results. Certainly if I was in a position of power, I would choose to hire the person who showed “graceful power” than “cocky arrogance” every time. Same for who to date, befriend, vote for, read, or collaborate with.
It’s not so much that big things are for blandness and censorship. They’re for opacity. They are against being mappable. Blandness is boring, and being boring deflects attention. It makes it unrewarding to investigate things, to map the territory. Critics, unable to keep up, have to resort to criticizing the whole system.
“I know you’re up to a whole bunch of bad stuff, even if I can’t keep up with the particulars because you’re actively hiding them from me with your gigantic budgets and political power” is not untrue. Also, “I know that I have an exaggerated notion of how much good you’re doing, because you’re using your money and power to spread propaganda and I don’t have the capacity to distinguish your lies from the truth” is also not entirely unfair.
Hence, asymmetric injustice as a corrective to propaganda.
Of course, even if it’s producing neutrality on average, the landscape is lots of regions of intense propaganda for or against the system. Work for a major corporation, and you’re in a region of intense pro-corporate propaganda. Work for the Sanders campaign, and you’re in a region of intense anti-corporate propaganda.
Material wealth just sits there, waiting to be consumed. It doesn’t exist unless you make it. It’s a thing: a bushel of wheat, an mRNA vaccine, a mile of water pipe.
Knowledge is fugitive. Have an edge in the stock market? Better hide it if you want to use it. Need to criticize your opponent but don’t have any dirt on them? Make something up. Expert in your field? Better not exit the field, because your current skills and network will be obsolete in a year or two.
If you have a budget of time, and you’re trying to invest it wisely, you invest in material wealth, technical skill, or political power.
Only giant institutions or deeply invested players can really afford to invest in serious technical knowledge about the political landscape. It changes too fast, and it doesn’t produce anything of direct value.
Activists can’t afford fugitive knowledge about fugitive knowledge. So they criticize the shell game of the whole system, and we get the results we observe. Particular examples aren’t meant to be accurate, just illustrative.
Any activists who deviate from this and actually try to accurately model the current state of some political subsystem are building a form of knowledge that’s only lucrative in terms of power or money from within that system.
They’ll eventually either get tired or get hired.
Maybe there’s a sort of “efficient market hypothesis” at work here? Anybody who understands the system well enough eventually does it for a living? So anybody who isn’t part of the system doesn’t have an updated model about it, i.e. doesn’t understand it?