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deletedMay 12, 2022·edited May 12, 2022
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May 13, 2022·edited May 13, 2022

The Pax Americana is Opportunistic lead, whilst the BRICS are clueless posturing (but they are wising up).

Opportunists: Zeroth World and First World, Highly Developed Nations, Core Nations

Cluelesss: Second World, Emerging Economies, Semi-Peripheral Nations

Pragmatists: Third and Fourth World, Developing Nations, Peripheral Nations

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deletedMay 12, 2022·edited May 12, 2022
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Will need summaries on these similar books, thanks. Rationalism is Clueless/Idealistic, Heuristics is Opportunistic.

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Presumption of guilt, probably. The Patrick Bateman charicature of affect. But then this book is basically churning loser to realize that they should know their place, for fight to the top if they dared.

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I was thinking much the same thing but wasn't sure how to put it into words. I see a bit of all three types in myself, but most of the time I don't really give a damn about social status or "fitting in" because I'm a loner weirdo. All this jockeying for social status and manipulating people just sounds so exhausting. Would Rao respond that people like you (and me) are just putting on a show of "look how much I don't care" in order to gain status?

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In this system if you work for someone else and have no desire or possibility of achieving a position where other peoples’ work makes you more money you are a “loser” whether or not you are happy. He specifies that he means economic loser in a capitalist sense and not a loser at life. Among the ways Losers differ from the Clueless in that they find their meaning outside of work and can be perfectly content. That doesn’t mean you have to play status games but if you do they will be a different pattern than the other groups.

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There's a more prosocial version where someone sees through the bullshit, and explains it to other people, but doesn't attempt to benefit personally.

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If I remember correctly, this is similar to how the original blog posts describe Toby: he’s a Sociopath by nature who tries to align himself with the common man (i.e. Losers) instead, but can’t do so completely because the Sociopath bell can’t be unrung. Something like that.

I’m not autistic myself, but I think I’d be a “hermit” too: I’m a Loser because I’d rather just be a W-2 employee and pursue my passions on the side (I’m too risk-averse to do otherwise), but I care more about my own personal pleasure than the approval of society.

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Hermit is a loser. Doesn’t matter if youre deluded or not, you take the deal of a safe pay check for minimal work. Stanley from the show is a perfect example.

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The uncharitable take is:

What you describe as "the Hermit" is the primary audience of the Gervais Principle: self-describedly highly analytical people who like cynical essays, they really know what is going on behind all the masks, it is only for X or Y or Z they are not the smooth successful operators in their social world.

Only good theory of reality is the one that has practical utility, so what good is a theory of social relations one can't put into practical use because it didn't come with the manual of interpersonal skills?

If rationality is defined as winning, then the people into polyamory are winning as much as they like the "only the strings I like until I don't" attached sex.

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deletedMay 10, 2022·edited May 10, 2022
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It's a decent source, but it would be great if Scott could name the psych textbook that served as his epiphany in this respect.

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Yes I wondered about that. Surely Status is always contextual and provisional, in my experience a snare and a delusion.

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Try anything by Robin Hanson on status signaling, say https://www.overcomingbias.com/2021/10/status-explains-lots.html

(Picked at random from a Google search against Hanson's blog: https://www.google.com/search?q=site%3Ahttps%3A%2F%2Fwww.overcomingbias.com+status)

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Try picking up Impro by Keith Johnstone. Excellent introduction to status games.

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Thanks for linking to this! Very interesting way of looking at it.

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"Examples from The Office include David Wallace and Charles Miner."

The American Office, which is a pale imitation of The Office. But still quite good.

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How could a book be called 'The Gervais Principle' and then be entirely about the american version of the office?!

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Because either way, Gervais gets credit as the show's creator?

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He should. He was executive producer in the American version.

I hear people say, "The American Version ripped off the British version and was total crap." I guess Ricky ripped himself off. Love it.

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I know. It should really be the Brent principle, and there should be an extra category of Boss called COE (Chilled Out Entertainer)

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And right away we start off with perfectly crafted Clueless comments; all about pseudo-legal niceties and one-upsmanship while utterly ignoring the interesting aspects (which are difficult, and so impossible to place within the simplified, legible, world-view of the Clueless).

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Ha ha

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The pedant store called, and they're running out of you

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What can I say, I'm a popular pedant :)

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As the audience, I approve of both sentiments. ;)

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Yes, but you were their best seller.

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What can I say, once they get a taste of me they keep coming back for more.

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The American office is far better.

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It's not the real quiz.

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> postrationalist

Can someone tell me what "postrationalist" is? I keep hearing people talking about it and I'm just not clued in enough to internet subcultures to know what it means in practice. My exposure to "rationalism" itself is pretty much just limited to SSC/ACX; like I know who Yudkowsky is and I've read a less wrong post or two but that's about it. What does it mean to "post-" the movement?

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LessWrong defines it as "A post-rationalist is someone who believes the rationalist project is misguided or impossible, but who likes to use some of the tools and concepts developed by the rationalists" and I think that definitely applies to Venkatesh based on reading his blog posts and twitter. It's about accepting that the rationalism movement provides value and makes some good points, but deliberately stepping away from the goals and structure of the community.

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So what's the difference between a "post-rationalist" and someone like me who has kind of lurked in these spaces for a while but never made the whole thing part of their own identity? Or is there not one?

"Post-" kind of has this sort of framing that whatever is being "posted" is being judged as obsolete.

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Honestly I don't think there is a real post-rationalist community, so it's currently just a descriptor for lurkers (like me as well) who don't feel at home on LessWrong and the SSC-derived subreddits. If anyone knows of a good post-rationalist community let me know. I would not count SneerClub as post-rationalist, that's closer to anti-rationalist most of the time

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It's moreso on twitter, vgr is a good jumping off point.

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Since Rao’s also self-describing as a sociopath, then by his own definitions I would not expect there to be a club or a community.

He’s just shifting blame/credit for the outputs of the rationalists to further his own goals.

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The community is definitely there! See @vgr, @eigenrobot, and @roon on Twitter, for example. The community often refers to itself as "TPOT," This Part of Twitter. There was even "Vibecamp" (@tpotvibecamp) a sort of postrationalist Woodstock organized by @gptbrooke a few months ago.

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May 10, 2022·edited May 10, 2022

As I understand the lingo, you're rat-adjacent (because you percieve yourself as having related beliefs, some subcommunity overlap, but not a member of the community.) Post-rat is someone in a similar position, but who explicitly concieves of themself as rejecting the rationality community while keeping some kernel of their beliefs which are actually true (often the general model of people's minds and epistomology.)

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I’m happy to identify as rat-adjacent, after all you’re never more than x feet from a rat 🐀

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Well, unless you live in Alberta

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Where they are always inches away?

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I think the rejection-part is not necessary. Though some writers do that, too.

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There's not one, except what they choose to label themselves.

There's also not a difference between a "post-rationalist" and a "rationalist" except what they choose to label themselves (since every rationalist has plenty of critiques of the "rationalist movement").

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I generally think of it like Fugazi is Post-Punk: Ian and Guy were big time punks in Hardcore bands, then moved past the limited Hardcore genre and developed something new, which contained recognizable elements of the genre but expanded beyond its borders.

A post rationalist is someone who read, consumed, believed Rationalist doctrines; then moved on to other stuff that is outside the boundaries of Rationalism.

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If you never made it part of your identity, maybe you're a pre-rationalist.

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Both rationalists and post-rationalists agree in the technical machinery of science -- deduction, induction, experiments, blah blah.

But rationalists believe (explicitly or implicitly) that the axioms upon which this machinery should operate are "obvious" and "common sense". Think Newton or Kant.

Post-rationalists are willing to accept that the axioms are far from obvious, and that when a set of deductions appears to go off the rails or to conflict with reality, rather than continue to insist on the deduced result, we should reconsider the axioms.

Math were the first to get there with people like Cantor in the 19th C.

Physics got there with Relativity and QM in the 20th C.

Of course like anything, this is a live issue not in the hard sciences but in Social Science and Philosophy. Now what are the axioms of Social Science? Well, opinions differ but you can think of some that might correspond to "mainstream social science in America right now".

And you can imagine that some people in this space would be very upset if you were to argue that, if deductions from those axioms repeatedly reach results that violate common sense or empirical experience, then maybe the axioms should be re-thought. Hence the anger behind the labels...

David Chapman discusses this in (OMG, so much!) detail at meaningness.com.

I identify rationality with what he calls "the systematic mode", postrationality with "the fluid mode".

A short intro is here:

https://meaningness.com/collapse-of-rational-certainty

Another way to look at it is:

Rationality is believing that a "scientific method" exists, and that the actual history of science somehow was built upon it.

Post-rationality is accepting that real science was built on superior pattern recognition skills, that many can look at a pattern of facts and numbers and see nothing (losers), a few know the *standard* *formulaic* means by which to extract data from the facts and numbers (clueless), and a very few possess the pattern recognition skills to see something truly different (your Newton's, Einstein's, Gell-Mann's).

Of course saying that science is an intrinsically aristocratic activity, that very few have the "scientific taste" to genuinely advance a field, does not match the tenor of our times. And so we get nonsense, like "the Scientific Method" to keep the clueless happy while the rare genuine geniuses operate on post-rational "scientific taste".

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Very thorough, thanks for this.

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Illegibility is central to postrationalism. You're welcome.

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Well, I guess that's me. Rational evaluation generally takes so long that the choice is past before it can be completed. So I tend to evaluate mock-ups ahead of time, and then pick the one that seems closest to applicable (and only trust it if several of the closer mock-ups give the same answer). But to me that looks like rationalism in a situation with constrained resources.

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May 11, 2022·edited May 11, 2022

I wonder, wouldn't Yudkowsky himself qualify these days? Certainly he doesn't seem to think that the sanity waterline would rise quickly enough for the world to not be destroyed.

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That's quite bemusing to me. I've got a degree in philosophy/been reading phil for approx. 15 years and I've never once heard of the "rationalist project". That's not to attack the concept, I just find it odd/interesting that the internet runs according to ideas that seem to have nothing to do with academia, and vice versa.

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Have you read the old le#wrong discussions of academic philosophy between Yudkowsky and (I think) Lukeprog? There is not much interest in either side, with some exceptions.

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No. But going to check those names out now! :)

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Among several amusing things about the poorly chosen name 'rationalism' is that Hume would have shown more interest in the 'rationalist' wariness of cognitive bias, and the Bayesian approach to truth, than Descartes. In other words, 'rationalism' (at its best, at least) seems to me to be more in the tradition of empiricism and skepticism. It seems less in sympathy with the methodology of actual rationalism.

That said, I think Descartes would have been more likely to worry about hostile AI, and to embrace utilitarianism.

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Do rationalists embrace utilitarianism, or consequentialism, or dissolve the distinction between deontology and consequentialism?

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I don't understand. What does dissolving that distinction mean? Some guesses:

Is it the claim that deontology is the rationalization of (natural) emotions, while consequentialism comes from reasoning? (https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/62p74DvwNHgQXCXcH/are-deontological-moral-judgments-rationalizations) I understand this as part of the argument for not acting according to deontology. I don't see it as part of an argument for why deontology is not really distinct from consequentialism.

Is it the sociological claim that most deontologists are probably consequentialists deep down? (With enough people tied to the trolley tracks, will most self-identified deontologists push Fat Man to stop the trolley?)

Is it the observation that deontologists sometimes/often justify deontology in terms of consequences? (https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/yppdL4EXLWda5Wthn/deontology-for-consequentialists?commentId=nZ76T3RPbrQXe4Gvq)

Is it an evolutionary psychology claim about deontological intuitions being the consequence of natural selection?

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Yudkowsky used that phrase in a couple of places in the sequences, IIR. I interpreted it as another way of saying “they’re not really talking about the same thing,” or “this question needs reframing.”

Your guesses seem worth thinking about, but what I had in mind was, people use heuristics and legal systems that look sort of deontological, and create budgets for hospitals that look sort of utilitarian.

There is some deeper trade-off going on, that depends on how narrow the goal is and how difficult it is to get useful estimates of the relevant variables. Nothing is pure heuristics, because we live in a relatively stable society where estimating some variables is costless, because they are static enough to not require much thought. Nothing is pure consequentialism, because our calculations depend on a preference ranking that is not constructed by explicit calculation. And to some degree, one solution can be translated into the terms of the other.

Or we could think of society as a self-modifying system. Has it solved the alignment problem? Sort of. Maybe. It hasn’t killed everyone yet. The ancient Greeks might not think so.

Deontology or consequentialism is not really the immediate problem we face, ordinarily.

And what sorts of deontology and consequentialism are we talking about? Does deontology require us to articulate an absolute rule, or a philosophical system like Kant's, or is it the overlap of the system I intuitions of highly trained persons, or something else?

Is it even relevant? Are there deontologists who really make no exceptions? I guess they make lots of revisions and end up with epicycles? Are there consequentialists who break the law or violate social expectations frequently for the greater good? Or do they act like it doesn’t really make much difference?

Maybe we can think of rules and calculations as yin and yang, or tools in our toolbox.

This does not dissolve the problem, or we would feel more confident that some synthesis has been reached. Maybe someone else could take a better stab at it.

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The Clueless have their badges and diplomas, and the Losers have their own illegible social club that cares little about those kinds of achievements.

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My interpretation is that it's a group of people that have been active members of or lurked in the rationalist community for a few years but then decided to take whatever they consider to be "the good bits" and distance themselves from the rest.

The stuff they consider to be the 'good bits' is often the rationalist epistemology / method of reasoning and the stuff they want to distance themselves from can be everything from AI risk to atheism.

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So, likes to hang out with rationalists, but also considers them lower-status.

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Also pretty likely to be into pretty wooey meditation / psychadelic / spiritualist stuff from a quick skim over their twitter accounts. Frankly I haven't been super impressed by the community.

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May 10, 2022·edited May 10, 2022

Same. I remember people suggesting Chapman's Meaningness blog when I expressed an appreciation for spiritual woo (despite not really "believing in" it — it just appeals); went ahead and read it, and then thought "well, this is a bunch of nonsense."

That might be a slightly-harsh evaluation, because I have a big pet peeve re: people talking authoritatively about Buddhism while presenting a skewed or outright incorrect version of doctrine; but still. Nothing else from the community I've seen since has really changed my mind about that.

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The Buddhist stuff is meh, but I think that his observation that the LW-sphere fetishizes Bayesianism too much is on point.

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Well, I have no idea about Chapman, but I have to assert that "Spiritualism" is, indeed, worthy of consideration...if properly understood, which is difficult, as very few practitioners bother with understanding. I suspect part of the problem is with translation, but also often the metaphors used aren't those that would be picked in current forms of expression.

E.g. it seems to me that Zen's "break the back of reason" is basically about developing an awareness of the parallel processing nature of the mind's apprehension of sensory information as opposed to languages more serial nature. Whether this is actually do-able may be a different question, but it's certainly possible to partially do it for short periods of time.

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I saw that word and immediately felt I knew what it meant. Especially taken in context with this quote from Rao:

“There is a cost to getting organizationally literate. This ability, once acquired, cannot be un-acquired. Just as learning a foreign language makes you deaf to the raw, unintelligible sound of that language you could once experience, learning to read organizations means you can never see them the way you used to, before.”

I believe postrationalist refers to someone who sees past what Jon Haidt describes as the “rationalist delusion”. That is, the idea many hold that the conscious mind, rather than the subconscious mind, is responsible for their decision making.

I really relate to what Rao is saying. Once I truly understood Haidt’s work and stopped seeing politics as a matter or good and evil, but instead just a bunch of different tribes organized around different combinations of fundamental moral values, I started finding it very hard to *be* a member of any tribe. I became deaf to the “raw, unintelligible” sound of a language I was once able to experience.

That’s what I belief postrationalist means.

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No, "rationalist" there means the overcomingbias/lesswrong/ssc/acx/miri/effectivealtruism culture of rationalists specifically.

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My recollection is that when Rao first used "post-rationalist" to describe himself, it was in the same sense that Haidt means, and the fact that a different group of people were calling themselves "rationalists" was just a source of playful confusion.

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... but that would imply that there are whole other worldviews people employ, outside the rationalist community, and don’t define themselves by it!

*clutches pearls*

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Okay, I stand corrected!

I often saw him mentioned among lesswrong-adjacent people and never by anyone else, so I assumed he was so close to the community that that is what he must have meant.

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Well, the words are used differently different communities.

Yes the tribal "bay area rationalists vs other places post-rationalists" feud is one version; but there is also a separate, parallel, much more interesting discussion going on about the limits to rationality and how to get beyond it WITHOUT going backwards to the world of woo or a kinds of solipsism.

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To be glib, a post-rationalist is someone who's seen that question asked too many times.

Less glibly, afaict there was a collection of ex-rationalists, and people who looked at rationalism but never really accepted it, and to this accreted various people who agreed with these ex-or-not-quite rationalists on various things, usually more on a meta or vibe level.

I'm less familiar with the particulars of why various people left (or disagreed with) rationalism; I think there's been a fairly wide variety.

I say this as neither a rat nor a post-rat, merely an observer

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author

Rationalists are people who think too much about Bayesian probability, forecasting, altruism, and AI.

Postrationalists are people who think too much about the difference between postrationalists and rationalists.

(sorry, cheap shot, but it's true. I guess that means we're both postrats for the duration of this comment thread)

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I’ve noticed what I call “radical Consequentialism” in a lot of political ideas, primarily stemming from the far-Left.

It’s essentially any idea that purports to be based on a certainty that X individual action will cause Y systemic result. For instance, if Bob doesn’t “do the work”, he will uphold “White Supremacy”. Or if Suzy doesn’t use someone’s preferred pronouns, we will move up the “Pyramid of Genocide”.

It’s kind of like that Ashton Kutcher movie, The Butterfly Effect. People not only imagine their actions have more of an influence than they actually do, but also believe that they can predict the first, second, third... nth order effects of other peoples’ actions reliably enough that everyone should forgo their own desires and obey commands.

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They don’t predict second and third order events. The wish cast them. This is evident when you look at the complete inability to predict utterly obvious second order events if they don’t fit in with the first order goals of an intervention.

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I’m definitely not suggesting that the people who make “radical Consequentialist” claims can accurately predict 2nd, 3rd... nth order consequences of an action. (Nassim Taleb did an nice explanation of how impossible that would be using an example with pool balls in one of his books.) And I agree with you that they can’t even accurately predict the obvious 2nd order effects. However, they sure do believe they have this ability. So great is their belief that they can’t seem to understand why anyone would doubt them, haha.

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Would you lump people who spend their careers trying to demonstrate all of the ways humans are not rational actors in with postrationalists? I’m thinking of people like Jonathan Haidt and Richard Thaler.

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Quite the contrary. Humans not being rational actors is central to modern rationalism. Heck, the central original forum was named Less Wrong, because not being wrong isn't concieved of as an option. Through lots of careful work on rationality you can get better at being rational more of the time. You can get less wrong. But in the view of modern rationalists you simply are not built as a rational actor.

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This is a common response among rationalists, but it papers over a real difference of emphasis and risks falling into a motte-and-bailey. The key pivot is:

"Through lots of careful work on rationality you can get better at being rational more of the time."

The extent to which / sense in which this is true is the bone of contention. Rationalist often enough take this to mean "so let's get back to Bayesian probability and utility theory and stop worrying about the other complications," whereas postrats are more likely to say "we can get better by learning and using good tools, but it's overselling to call that 'getting more rational.'"

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May 10, 2022·edited May 10, 2022

>"we can get better by learning and using good tools, but it's overselling to call that 'getting more rational.'"

Better at what exactly? If it cashes out to more accurate understanding of the world and better predictions, I think this distinction is mostly pure semantics.

Regardless, the question was about Haidt, who has spoken against Cartesian rationality but whose philosophy (Haidt's) is fairly foundational to modern rationalism (which is a very different movement from De Carte.)

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If you fully take on board Haidt and related thinkers, what you end up with does not look much like rationalism. Sure, you can say, "Oh, but that just *is* modern rationalism," but it's hard to maintain that without some motte-and-bailey.

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In the same way that humans are sinners is central to Christianity. Because being free of original sin is not an option. Through lots of careful good works you can get better at being a good Christian more of the time. You become less sinful. But on the view of the modern clergy, we are all sinners.

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I thought baptisms washes off original sin? (But not tendency to sin..)

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This (like every doctrine about baptism) varies wildly by denomination.

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May 12, 2022·edited May 12, 2022

Baptism might be seen as a Christian updating her priors, a kind of Bayesian approach to salvation.

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Not if you still take rationalism as an ideal. A post-rationalist is more likely to think that rationalism is an incoherent or incomplete system. Sometimes this means you have a meta-system, such as David Chapman's reasonable/rational/meta-rational framework.)

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Would Robin Hansen be another one?

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I don’t know his work well. Based on his Wikipedia, I’d say maybe but only part-time. He also seems to have other interests.

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I wouldn't say so? I don't think thaler or haidt have read much less wrong or ssc

Unfortunately the term rationalism identify different movements or ideas

I think lw-centered, bay area movement is the rationalism in post-rationalism

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Maybe the real postrationalism was the friends we made along the way

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With a small, but non-zero, amount of irony: yes

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High five, my friend.

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Is worrying about AI rational though? Isn’t that still up for discussion.

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Lots of people discuss it for sure. People disagree about lots of important things, though. If you want a chance at making progress on a topic, at some point you have to move away from focusing on whether it's worth looking into and actually study it at the object level.

Imagine if climate scientists refused to start looking into possible solutions until 70% of Americans agreed that anthropogenic climate change was a significant threat...

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You’re comparing a definite threat to a highly uncertain threat. I suppose I’m asking whether such certainty about AI, good or bad, is rational.

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Oh if you're referring to the "we're 99% certain to be doomed" sentiment that has shown up recently, then personally I'd agree that seems pretty overconfident. I'd put the chances of AI disaster quite a bit lower (maybe like 30%, though I'm not an expert, and I'd put it higher if nobody were concerned about the problem).

Thing is, a lot of people seem to want to act like they're very certain the other way. If a nuclear power plant were 3% likely to go chernobyl, it would have to shut down immediately even if that cost billions. To allow AI with no safeguards of any kind would only make sense if the risk is basically zero.

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Is there an audience you’re doing this joke for, Scott?

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May 10, 2022·edited May 10, 2022

I've come to think about it this way, which may or may not be how self-identified postrationalists think about it: Postrationalists concede that the foundational ideas of the rationalist project (like Bayesian epistemology) tend to be correct, but have disagreements with conclusions.

For example, the rationalist community can be seen as obsessed over low-probability events such as x-risk. A postrationalist may note that we don't really have a good general theory on how to deal with extreme longtermism (it comes to us intuitively that we should be doing some temporal discounting, but how exactly, and then some utilitarians would say that lives a thousand years from now in fact are exactly as valuable as our lives) or very low-probability events with very big outcomes, and to the extent you can write down utility calculations, they are pretty much useless due to being susceptible to small differences in starting conditions when there in fact are lots of unknowns and unknown unknowns. She might care about longtermism a great deal, but feel that the rationalist way to go about it is misguided and that, if we really care about longtermism, the actually rational thing to do is to throw all (or most of) the utility and probability calculations to the rubbish bin and just focus on building a good and just world right now.

Or, many self-indentified rationalists are polyamorous, supposedly on the grounds that there really can't be anything wrong with that so long as everyone involved is aware of the arrangement and consents to it. A post-rationalist might conclude that IF humans were perfectly rational agents, that reasoning would be perfectly sound and there wouldn't be anything wrong with it, but since humans aren't unfeeling robots capable of perfectly informed consent but are in fact capable of experiencing emotions like jealousy, the actual best strategy to achieve good life-outcomes for yourself, your spouse, and potentially your children, is precommitment to a single relationship. As I recall, Scott discussed similar points in the post following his marriage.

Of course, if you define rationalism as "systematized winning", then these kinds of supposedly postrationalist stances, supposing they are correct, would be rationalist. But then, if the broader rationalist community keeps obsessing over in-practice impossible utility calculations and modeling human behavior under trivially wrong model of agents (when bounded rationality or models that don't talk about agents at all would be more appropriate), or at least you perceive them as doing such (as noted in another comment, bounded rationality has always been central to rationalist ideas), it does make sense to take the stuff you think you can use and then move on.

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This comment wins, systematically

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imho it primarily was a description given to a variety of people who passed through the LW/rationalist community only to exit on the other side. At the most basic level, it's the philosophy of "rationalism is a tool to be learned and used where appropriate". Until recently, most "postrationalists" were called that only by other people, to gesture at this sort of thing.

In recent years it's become a self-description that some have taken on, and I can't speak to that usage, but the above is relevant to Venkatesh Rao and much of the extended-Ribbonfarm networks.

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I read “post-“ as something which could only have existed post the other thing. It can be completely different in character, naive to the original concepts, or frankly oppose them. But yet some crucial aspects are indelibly in the footsteps of.

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my interpretation from having read/absorbed loads of rationality + postrationality writing:

"post" in the sense of "going beyond", usually not "getting over it/being done with".

"Rationality" being the vague set of things most people in this fuzzy subculture are familiar with and can discuss with one another without having to explain much. (decision theory basics, LW sequences, HPMOR stuff, some economic terms like marginal utility, pareto-principle, Schelling points...)

I'd say that postrationlists are creative high-concept oddballs who synthesize and "refactor" (that's a Rao-term) various abstract concepts from various disciplines. With some awareness and/or inclusion of rationality ideas, but doesn't have to directly reference or use LW-terminology.

Can be super niche and obtuse, go very weird and have marginal audiences:

https://www.lesswrong.com/tag/list-of-blogs

Can be pretty insightful and/or be mental masturbation. The term "insight porn" encapsulates both. Venkatesh Rao fits the label pretty well.

But even this sequence from Yudkowsky himself would fit into the category of postrationality writing, simply because it's beyond what most rationalists would instantly be familiar with:

https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/K4aGvLnHvYgX9pZHS/the-fun-theory-sequence

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Tentatively, a post-rationalist has firmly grasped the idea that people aren't very rational and aren't going to be. I'm not sure what they believe.

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Nice point, you could also say that a post-rationalist has grasped the limits of rationalism without abandoning it completely, much as a post-Lacanian knows that his work will never form a unified theory but yet offers a valuable model with unique insights

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I used to identify as post-rationalist. (My beliefs/preferences about it haven't changed, but Jacob Falkovich convinced me that using the label was unhelpful.) Here's how I'd put it:

Post-rationalists are people who interact with rationalist spaces socially and agree with many of the big rationalist ideas, but tend to disagree on goals and methods in a big picture sense, and prefer social norms and situations that are more normal (or at least weird in a different way from rationalist-preferred social norms). The "post-" is as in "post-modernism": Postmodernists thought that the modernist project of systematic acquisition and application of knowledge was doomed to ultimate failure, and post-rationalists tend to feel the same way about rationalists. Being a post-rationalist is part ideological differences, part social/norm preference difference, and part status game (to "post-" something is to claim higher status than it).

Here are some overly-broad and not-entirely-fair generalizations to give you a better idea (abbreviating to R and PR to save keystrokes):

-Some Rs prefer much of LessWrong's content to Astral Codex Ten's; almost no PR's do.

-Rs and PRs are both mostly atheists; however, Rs see religion as mostly bad or harmful while PRs generally see religions as containing important true insights, or as being good for persons and societies

-Rs are usually liberal, libertarian, or progressive; PRs are more likely (but still unlikely) to be conservative, traditional, or reactionary

-Many Rs hate their "meat-body" and are excited to be uploaded; PRs are more likely to feel at home in their body and are more skeptical of mind-uploading

-Rs skew transgender and autistic, or otherwise neurodivergent. PRs skew neurotypical but just pretty weird.

-PRs seem more excited about drugs for some reason

-Rs tend to like city amenities on net; PRs are more likely to live somewhere remote, or to want to.

-Rs like to build and rely upon explicit systems; PRs like to develop and rely upon intuitive or implicit judgment. (Neither group seems significantly more effective, in my experience)

-Rs dislike status games and are bad at playing them. PRs are mostly okay with status games and are average or good at playing them

-Rs love "Thinking Fast and Slow" and "The Better Angels of our Nature"; PRs love "The Black Swan" and "Seeing Like a State"

-Rs worry more about AI using all the negentropy in the lightcone, and also seem to worry more about things in general; PRs worry more about civilizational collapse.

-Rs think David Chapman is talking nonsense or pointing out the obvious; PRs think he is getting at something true, difficult, and important, and which is fundamental to the "post-" in "post-rationalist"

-PRs are always going on about Chesterton's Fence

-Rs are more often directly earnest; PRs are more often ironic or postironic.

-Rs mostly think that "If it's worth doing, it's worth doing with made up statistics" and are optimistic about the ability to measure things and apply systems to them. PRs are deeply concerned that [Availability Bias/The Streetlight Effect/McNamara's Fallacy] means your system is optimizing for the wrong thing and probably increasing misery.

-Rs are nearly all Utilitarians of some flavor; many PRs are not Utilitarians.

Post-rationalist thought leaders include Venkat Rao and some guy called "Eigenrobot". Maybe also the Weird Sun group if they're still around. I'm not on Twitter so I'm not terribly current with the scene, but it seems like most of the discourse is happening there.

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Pardon a bit of irony but:

> Rs dislike status games and are bad at playing them. PRs are mostly okay with status games and are average or good at playing them

So PR are nerd culture appropriators

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Is this a joke? In the Rao sense?

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The irony is over my head. Rao has an essay about geek culture appropriators, right? Geeks/Mops/Sociopaths or something like that? I'm afraid I don't follow Rao very closely.

To take your comment seriously, I'd say post-rationalists are nerds, in terms of what content they consume and produce, what topics and hobbies they are interested in, etc. But in terms of social behaviors and competence they are more "normie".

IIRC Rao distinguishes true geeks from appropriators by motivation and content generation--nerds generate content out of interest; appropriators do so to seek social status (if at all). Since post-rationalists generate geek content out of sincere interest in the topic, that would make them geeks in that framework, not appropriators. (albeit, that they are perhaps geeks with more social options than the typical rationalist)

I don't know if that holds though. It's been a long time since I read any of those writings.

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You're thinking of David Chapman, not Rao: https://meaningness.com/geeks-mops-sociopaths

Otherwise your points all hold w/r/t the thrust of the essay. (Although, you might say that post-rationalists are a little more mops-y when it comes to some rationalist-core topics [Bayes, AI risk, effective altruism, or similar...])

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From my perspective this is bang on - kudos. Guess I should go check out this eigenrobot chap. Assuming I can sufficiently collapse his wavefunction to locate him, that is.

Also, have you tried drugs? They’re delicious.

Personally, as someone who grew up highly nerdy and socially awkward, a major inflection point in my own shift towards empathy, increased social wellness, and greater understanding of my past situation was when I tried LSD at fifteen.

I really do think there are parts of the brain that unlock, can only unlock for some, when psychedelic substances are applied.

So, as an example of another low percentage chance, very outsized impact phenomenon, I would exhort all rationalists to try a controlled experiment at least once.

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> a major inflection point in my own shift towards empathy, increased social wellness, and greater understanding of my past situation was when I tried LSD at fifteen

A close friend of mine has the same story, except it was mushrooms instead. I'm pretty happy with my life, and pretty good at socializing, emspathizing, etc, so I'm not sure how helpful it would be for me long-term. But if a lot of people are in your situation, that would explain the popularity of drugs.

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The potential long-term benefits:

1. Psychedelics are non-addictive and do not cause withdrawal. So, you get to enjoy having your brain and your life, as you're accustomed to, for the indefinite future after the episode. (I've only had the one experience, myself.) https://biology.stackexchange.com/questions/67918/why-do-classic-psychedelics-not-cause-withdrawal-despite-high-tolerance

2. You will unlock perspectives and subjective experiences you literally cannot have any other way, and that could not exist for any other person. It's maybe akin to getting VIP seats to an exclusive, once-in-a-lifetime performance art exhibit.

3. If you find a good group of friends, you'll all have some marvelous stories to share and an adventure you can bond over going through together.

Basically, to me, it was worth finding out at least what all the hullabaloo was about, and discovering exactly that, as well as corners and subconscious aspects of my mind I literally was not aware of and was unable to use prior.

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Bay Area rationality has always had a lot of tension between openness and closure, between the approach where you should believe in whatever conclusion the best epistemology leads you to .... and the approach where things are mostly settled, and in fact, more settled than scientists believe.

Thats pretty standard. Most organisations do. Objectivism is even officially split into two organisations that differ on closure/completion versus openness/ evolution.

Bay area rationalism has a sort of unofficial divide with the Yudkowskians representing the the closed tendency and the Codexians the more open tendency. The postrationalists could be considered an even more open tendency, since they have actually abandoned the various forms of one club golf -- Bayes is the only epistemology, and so on -- whereas the Codexians are only willing to consider the possibility.

So postrationalism has a difference.of.approach to rationalism. Rationalists sometimes say that postrationalism isn't fundamentally different because it's derivable from rationality, in theory... But rationalists aren't using it in practice.

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The "post-" is a bit of a misnomer, IMO. The label, as it tends to get used, seems to mainly refer to writers that have audiences who also enjoy rationalist blogs.

The label may have sprung up because people tended to read the rationalist canon *first* (e.g. Less Wrong, Sequences, Overcoming Bias, early SSC).

As far as I can tell, there's three epicentres of post-rationalism: (1) Rao's Ribbonfarm, (2) Chapman's Meaningness, and (3) twitter communities filled with mostly anonymous accounts with cartoon avis who do a lot of shit-posting and "vibing" but are usually fairly familiar with the rationalist canon. The biggest account is probably Eigenrobot.

A potential discernible thread is *illegibility*. Good intros to the concept are the reviews of Seeing Like a State by either SSC or Rao. The twitter community seems to place a lot of value on illegibility. This is mainly done by an implicit agreement to avoid talking about any object-level ideas.

I've seen others refer to post-rats as those who also place value in emotions/spirituality. They may take aspects of rationalism, but realize that cold game theory calculus doesn't give you everything you need out of life.

I've also seen people less sympathetic to post-rats describe them as those who are more concerned with seeming cool and avoiding cringe. (The "rationalist" label is admittedly awkward.

My guess is that anyway who considers themself a post-rat would read Scott. It's also difficult to say why Scott isn't a post-rat writer himself.

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I found this essay on the subject incredibly helpful when I was wondering what the difference was between rationalist and postrationalist. Mostly, PRs care more about vibes and just don't like R's vibe.

https://rivalvoices.substack.com/p/fuck-it-we-ball-on-rats-postrats

Cards on the table, my podcast, Fluidity Audio, is nothing but Scott Alexander's UNSONG and David Chapman audiobooks. So, take my opinion with a grain of salt.

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May 10, 2022·edited May 10, 2022

I don't know, this seems a little - obvious? Oh, the boss is not your pal? Life is not fair? Work hard for nothing, get nothing? Maybe some people do need to be told this. Maybe I'm just being a Loser.

But I honestly don't see what Sociopaths get out of it, unless they do are deluding themselves. I'm so clever, I know what ultimate reality is? I'm the one making others dance to my tune? Yeah, and so what? It doesn't ultimately mean anything; being President of the multinational global consortium is as meaningless as giving out "Employee of the Month" awards to your Clueless subordinates to keep them running on the treadmill. In the end, it's all just quarks and stuff.

I mean, as a Loser, I'm very happy there's a guy out there plotting and scheming and looking for backs to stab so he can end up CEO of BigCorp plc and spend 80 hour work weeks devising takeovers and mergers and increasing the share price, while I just have to turn up, do my 9-5 for five days a week and draw my pay cheque. The Big Boss means nothing to me, because I have no personal loyalty or investment in who it is; I have to work for someone, and if it isn't him then it will be some other guy. Sociopath is climbing the ladder hard as he can to get to the top, to work for - me, in the end. He's doing all the work of keeping the company going while I do my minimum at the bottom of the ladder, and which of us is happier in the end? Seeing as how it's all meaningless in the great scheme of things, and there is no reality, why not me?

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The theory suggests exactly the opposite -- management is mostly clueless, and deeply unselfaware

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deletedMay 10, 2022·edited May 10, 2022
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Social status is valuable but it also ain't what it used to be, at least on the one definitely-real scorecard that we can actually measure. High status males used to have wildly higher rates of reproductive success than any other part of society but in modernity CEOs only have moderately more children.

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No harems anymore though. Also no <whatever happened in the Yamnaya expansion>

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That's not a harem. Genghis Khan didn't end up being the ancestor of 0.5%* of all current humans by standing near attractive women.

*Might be Genghis Khan and his close male relatives

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Surely this historical disparity has a lot more to do with condoms than actual amounts of sexual activity though.

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Probably, but then sociopaths falling into the same short-term hedonic trap as losers and clueless is pretty funny.

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Second reply: on reflection this doesn't actually explain it, though. Historically high status men put a lot of time and energy into mate-guarding. The phenomenon of high-status men having lots of sex with women that they aren't monopolizing is still very weird.

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May 11, 2022·edited May 11, 2022

There are two strategies for an amoral man with resources seeking to maximise #(surviving offspring):

1) Impregnate n women and help feed them and their children;

2) Impregnate m women, where m > n, and leave them barefoot and pregnant.

Strategy 1 was dominant for most of history due to poor transportation imposing practical limits on m and Malthusian conditions meaning that many of the unacknowledged bastards in strategy 2 would die. But now we have lots of food, social security ensuring that single mothers get access to that food, and fast cars, so strategy 2 is clearly dominant.

Mate-guarding is worthwhile in strategy 1 due to the high paternal investment that can potentially allow for brood parasitism, but in strategy 2 there is no point. It doesn't *matter* whether a woman who has a CEO's kid has somebody else's kid later, as long as she keeps feeding the CEO's kid as well and as long as the CEO isn't paying for the somebody-else's kid.

(This is not an endorsement of being a deadbeat dad, just some game theory.)

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It's a decent stab at the hypothetical equilibrium, but the observed equilibrium is that the high-status CEOs are only going after women who are of medium to high status and thus able to consistently use birth control and/or abortion. The players in the game who are successfully using strategy 2 to have reproductive success are mostly not in formal employment and are instead the most successful of a criminal parallel-status subculture.

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2b: Run a fertility clinic. I'm surprised that one happens. It's almost as though there are a few men who want descendants without caring that much about sex or power.

This does have the advantage of being reasonably sure that the mothers will have adequate resources.

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"Historically high status men put a lot of time and energy into mate-guarding."

Because harems weren't about "oh, she's hot, I'll have her", they were as much or more about political alliances, tribute sent by subjugated/allied kingdoms, trophies of war, and traditional mores.

The real action in harems was the competition amongst the women to be the mother of the next emperor/khan/sultan, because that was where the power lay; first, become the favourite, second, have your son recognised as heir apparent, third, make sure he survives to take the throne, fourth, wield power as mother of the sultan (and sometimes that will bring you into conflict with the new favourite wife/concubine).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sultanate_of_Women

"The phenomenon of high-status men having lots of sex with women that they aren't monopolizing is still very weird."

Because the current high-status men are not interested in begetting heirs to succeed to whatever they have; what position does Leonardo diCaprio have for a son to inherit? 'Being an A-list movie star' is not a heritable role. Having a choice of attractive women who want to sleep with you in exchange for fame/money means that you don't need to maintain a harem of your own, while still getting the kudos for being able to have a lot of attractive women making themselves sexually available to you. If you really want to establish a family, you can pick one out to be your wife, and if you want to move on after a while, you can divorce her and have a new trophy wife.

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The children of movie stars have a better chance of becoming movie stars than people in general do, but I don't know whether it's enough better to set off similar dynamics.

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I would imagine CEOs and other high status people have vastly easier access to sex. And for better or worse, evolution hasn't given humans much of a direct drive to pro-create, but instead opted to make sex (and status) attractive.

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Still doesn't fully explain it. The amount of effort required to maintain a well-guarded harem is higher than the effort to maintain a harem that isn't well-guarded, but high-status men in the past who maintained harems almost exclusively maintained well-guarded harems despite the guarding being worth zero or negative marginal sex.

It starts to get a bit circular, but I think the reason they put the effort into guarding those harems was that a khan who didn't guard his harem would be at risk of losing status and thus being killed, so a society that gives status to male reproductive success produces different behaviors than a society that gives status to male sexual success, and modern society is the latter and not the former.

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Except there's the example of the Cohens, who actually do appear to be descendants of some one particular male from a very long time ago. They were very high status (descendants of Aaron in direct male line) in the Jewish subculture (at least in Europe), but weren't wealthy enough to have harems or guard their wives against infidelity. The explanation that I heard was that the wives who strayed only wanted to stray with higher status males, and all the higher status males to any Cohen (in that subculture) would also be Cohens.

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I would argue that what the Sociopath gets is *freedom*. As a Loser, you are confined to doing what your bosses and social peers want you to do. As a Clueless, you are confined to performing the object-level tasks that the CEO wants you to perform. But a Sociopath can do virtually anything he wants. If he wants social status, he can get it; if he wants to build a spaceship, he can build it -- or rather, he can manipulate society to get it built for him. A Clueless or a Loser can both be happy in their lives, but only the Sociopath gets to choose the life that he leads.

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Au contraire. There is no more controlled person than the CEO. I was sitting in a bar, and a CEO now billionaire sat down next to me. A CEO can't even talk with some fool in a bar without risking trouble. Now you and I can sit in a bar and tell all manner of lies, and no one cares.

A high tech CEO can't tell his wife he's flying to Austin, because she might tell her hairdresser, or some friends, and stocks might get traded on this "insider info" and that my friend is insider trading, and people go to prison for it.

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All of the forbidden acts you've listed involve status games and social approval. A Sociopath would not want to participate in such things anyway, unless they were instrumental goals in service of his grand design. The CEO does not go to the bar to relax -- he goes to his yacht.

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> A CEO can't even talk with some fool in a bar without risking trouble.

Elon Musk does anyway, and gets away with it. That's what makes him king of the sociopaths.

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Trump was perhaps even better at breaking many socially accepted rules, and mostly getting away with it.

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Elon Musk is the "new money" class of clueless, frolicking before getting corporate raided (again), whilst the "old money" class is always silent. See also: Michael O Church's classification of US Presidents. Raegan is a Loser (deregulate harder?), Nixon is Clueless (EPA is the new communism), Kennedy has a long bloodline and is a slayin' "Sociopath"

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Reagan didn't do much deregulation. His administration just did more than his immediate predecessors. But that was en vogue all over the western world. Not sure how much you want to blame the personality of one man for a worldwide fashion?

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I think your example CEO would still map to "Clueless". By my read, I think the motivations for the sociopath are some combination of 1) get their physical needs met while exerting as little effort as possible and 2) get some chuckles along the way by making other people jump through hoops

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Yes. Elon Musk is a sociopath, and your average CEO is just an unfortunate clueless person who accidentally made it too far.

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Doesn't Elon Musk famously work extremely long hours and spends very little money on personal luxuries? He doesn't seem like someone who is trying to "get their physical needs met while exerting as little effort as possible." The people I know who are like that do seem like sociopaths, but they're not CEOs. They're mooches and manipulators who find people they can take advantage of and live parasitically off them for as long as they can before the person wises up and cuts them out of their life.

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Yeah. If you want to maximize rewards and minimize costs, find a reasonably-conscientious member of the opposite sex who is financially secure, butter them up with every nice sweet word in the book, then get married/have kids and you're probably set for life as long as you don't do anything completely stupid. Being a CEO is a loooot more work than just making sure your spouse doesn't leave you.

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Even for an attractive woman doing this, there are limits on how little effort you can put in before you get dumped/divorced.

Still generally less work than being a CEO, though.

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May 11, 2022·edited May 11, 2022

>Even for an attractive woman doing this, there are limits on how little effort you can put in before you get dumped/divorced.

You are overestimating the population as a whole. I don't have to get married to the average person - in fact, I'd rather get married to someone in the bottom few percentiles, in terms of likelihood to divorce/dump me. There are a lot of people for whom "dump him, girl" is not going to be something they consider valid without some clear reason, and even a modicum of effort can keep you out of that area.

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> Doesn't Elon Musk famously work extremely long hours

Given his social media activity, I doubt. Maybe in the past. Also, what counts as work for someone like him?

> spends very little money on personal luxuries?

Well, it might be preferences. From my perspective, loads of money don't really buy much (besides freedom from having to earn more). If I was a billionaire I expect I'd spend the time in pretty much the same way as I do now.

You can't really get a meaningfully faster personal computer past a very low ceiling. You can blow money on yachts or multiple houses or whatever - but I don't see the appeal.

Wealth is spread exponentially, but utility of additional dollars for personal stuff goes up logarithmically.

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May 11, 2022·edited May 11, 2022

>Well, it might be preferences.

I think this is exactly the point of contention. If I have got his public persona correctly, Musk has a vision of electric cars, conquering Mars and maybe better way to moderate Twitter. They are a set of preferences.

On the other hand, so are "keep with the Joneses", whether Joneses are suburban accountants or multibillionaires you meet at Davos and "do the Right Thing, as codified by legible legitimate authorities" (you may insert either "human rights and equality experts" or "principle of free speech" as legible legitimate authority for your preferred Twitter moderation policy). Both would make you Clueless. Or "be the Wonder Human Being in your mental peer group" sounds totally possible life-path to billionaires, too (which would make you Loser).

Does it make him less of a Clueless if he is driven to work long days (and has a more high-profile job) to feed more unconventional inner demons resulting from different upbringing and life experience than your regular workaholic has?

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IIUC, he doesn't spend that little money on personal luxuries, he's just got a non-standard idea of what luxuries are. Taking your own personal jet on a trip isn't not spending some money on personal luxuries, even if the trip is for business purposes.

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I always thought Elon is very concerned about whether others like him. A random private citizen criticized his submarine, and it ended up becoming this ridiculous melodrama involving libel cases and pedophilia accusations. It didn't seem like the reaction of a reality-oriented individual.

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Isn't being very concerned about whether other people like you the opposite of the Sociopath category that Rao puts forward? That's Clueless behavior.

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Yeah, a nerd king CEO like Elon is clearly a Clueless in this taxonomy.

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Maybe it's not that he's very concerned with getting people to like him, it's that he doesn't want people to dislike him publicly.

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Because sociopaths *don't* promote sociopaths. Why would they?

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Because there is no challenge or thrill in being the only Sociopath at the head of a company of Clueless and Losers. It's like an adult playing in the ball pit. Irrespective of their social or financial success, Sociopaths thrive on the status games that are played with real stakes, and where failure has real consequences, as opposed to the status games Losers play where the only stakes are the estimation of your peer group.

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Whereas if you promote an obvious sociopath, you can enjoy the thrill of being backstabbed by them.

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Not necessarily. Remember how the middle management structure is designed to award credit upwards and shift blame downwards? It's always more difficult to backstab the guy above you than the guy below you.

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All the sociopaths just got promoted by magic, right? If sociopaths are at the top of the ladder, by definition they have to promote others for those others to get to the top of the ladder.

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Sociopaths get promoted by pretending to be clueless --- hardworking loyal henchmen. What's more sociopathic than pretending to be something you're not for personal gain?

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Assuming for the sake of argument that "sociopaths run the company" this seems by far to be the most accurate theory for how they get promoted.

"Sociopaths are just so cool that all they want is the company of other cool sociopaths, because the plebes bore them" sounds more like edgelord-ism designed to appeal to failed self-identified sociopaths from the internet. It makes no sense as a working theory of how organizations operate.

Even assuming "a sociopath in charge," that sociopath doesn't want competition, they want to surround themselves with a mix of: (a) a majority of yes-men/loyalists who will help keep their position secure, and (b) some number of competent or connected individuals who can keep the organization on track and growing.

And it's a lot of hard work to compete for the handful of (b) opportunities, but any aspiring sociopath can pretend to be (a), which helps them climb the ladder.

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I see it as sociopaths optimizing for personal gain, while the clueless optimize for group gain and then hope the rising tide lifts their boat with everyone else's. What this ends up meaning is that it can be more personally beneficial for a sociopath to work with other sociopaths to boost the sociopaths up than it is to work with only clueless people to boost everyone.

Imagine you are on the board of a corporation, and the board is making a decision between something that benefits the board members in the short term versus the investors in the long term. A sociopath board member will vote for the one that benefits the board, a clueless person will vote for the one that benefits the investors. A sociopath wants the board filled with other sociopaths.

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No, not at all.

In some sense *every type* optimizes for personal gain; they all just use different (or no) measures.

Losers play the popularity contest; the loser board member votes whichever way the they think the group will go.

Cluelackers play meritocracy; the clueless board member votes based on whatever yardstick of principles/values they’ve selected. Most of the time that’ll be “whatever’s best for the shareholders” (scare quotes fully in effect), so that they can feel good about themselves regardless of the actual outcome or how well/badly they understand “shareholder interests.”

(I mean, c’mon - shareholders aren’t some borg-like homogeneous bloc anyway. The point is the simulation of objectivity, to placate one’s ego that they aren’t just voting with the sheep.)

Sociopaths play a game unique to them, with whatever means they have, to accomplish whatever they decide the next best move is. There is no endgame, there is only “more/better.”

So a sociopath board member may be trying to set the company up for a hostile takeover they’re secretly negotiating on the sly, while also, in turns, working all the other board members into a false consensus by the right combination of ego-stroking, gaslighting, shade-throwing, subtlety, rumor, masked behind an overall aura of earnest concern that is a complete facade, so that they implicitly have the subconscious trust of the room and can thus tip the scale just so, letting the dominoes tumble exactly as planned.

Or, maybe yes they perceive that the rest of the board are also sociopathic, or want them to be, to prove to themselves that they are *even better* at the political machinations game than any of these dilettantes, so they can gloat in the glorious destruction of their “peers.” If that’s what’ll currently get their rocks off.

If you want to understand how the sociopath game works, watch umpteen seasons of Survivor, then ask yourself “ok, so the obvious, perfectly rational metastrategy for winning, that all the winners followed, is... what exactly?”

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I think your definition of sociopath is different than how the author is using the word, because that directly contradicts what the author says in "the gervais principle" (the actual distilled principle) itself:

"Sociopaths, in their own best interests, knowingly promote over-performing losers into middle-management, groom under-performing losers into sociopaths, and leave the average bare-minimum-effort losers to fend for themselves."

As for "why would they" - because they know that they need to cooperate with other sociopaths in order to get anything done.

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I think this is where the typology fails. It elevates the "sociopaths" to their own sphere and driven only by the stereotype of evil overlord. Did the author ever ponder what happens on the C-suite level where there should be quite many people who are good at the sociopath level "heads I win, tails you lose" games and they interact quite a lot with each other?

I find it more likely that the social world of "sociopaths" who compete (or collaborate) with other similarly "high level" players would feel recognizably similar to how "losers" experience their social games, only the stakes are more ambitious and being successful demands higher level of perception and gumption.

(Remember it is the Ribbonfarm definition of "sociopath", not the clinical definition.)

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This is almost exactly what Rao describes in the book: Sociopaths play the same status games as Losers but with actual stakes, namely their professional reputation and position in the company. Losers are stuck at the bottom of the corporate hierarchy (by choice) and have nothing to lose; the only stakes they have are the estimation of their peers, and they gain from leaving their relative status ambiguous. As a result, Loser status games never really change anything, but Sociopath status games could lead to a change in the CEO of the company, getting or losing a multimillion dollar bonus, or one of your peers ratting you out for large-scale fraud. It's something that this review hasn't really touched on at all.

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But then the Sociopaths themselves are psychologically indistinguishable from the Losers. By this logic, if you take a Loser and randomly give him some very high-level position of authority, he'll behave the exact same way as a Sociopath does. For this categorization system to actually mean anything, the Sociopaths would have to have different goals entirely.

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Critically, the shift from loser to sociopath seems all about willingness to gamble. Up or out pressure, as Rao puts it.

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Why do you think that a man who spends his life working on important long-term projects to improve our lives is a sociopath? This sounds like knee-jerk slander to me.

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As people have said multiple times in this thread, we’re using the book’s version of the term sociopath, not the usual definition. I’m just saying that Musk is shooting for big goals and is mostly unconcerned with being graded by an establishment rubric (clueless) or being well liked and fitting in (loser). No particular negative conclusion intended, although Musk certainly has his flaws.

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Oh, right. Though I think it's difficult for people outside someone's social circle or peer group to know whether he wants to fit in and be well-liked. Maybe he wants to be well-liked by tech billionaires or scientists. I'd also guess that tweeting is more-correlated with wanting to be liked than with wanting to manipulate people. OTOH Don Trump likes to tweet, too, and I don't think he cares about being liked.

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It all gets complicated fast. The archetypes are interesting but don't particularly map to real people. I would guess Trump definitely wants to be liked by people he considers high status or supporters and also enjoys being disliked by his enemies.

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1.) It Would produce very different people, I think. If you don't care about the fake reality of status games or other people and want low effort physical needs satisfaction, that should look like FIRE or savvy homelessness, maybe.

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Bad phrasing on my part - should have been something more like "material wants" instead of "physical needs".

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If you are really good at getting what you need out of a company with small amounts of effort, why would you want to retire early?

Silly example: coasting along as a Google employee with free food and laundry service might be less work for someone who knows enough programming to get started at Google, than to actually do your own cooking (or manage the logistics of getting other people to cook for you).

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I think this is an example of the weaknesses of the typology, because the premise that people's positions in society track their places in the typology just isn't borne out in reality. CEOs can be "losers," world leaders can be "clueless," the idea that the people who've actually in charge see through the mask and constructs, I think is really just a cynical flavor of wishful thinking.

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Well, one could imagine (and some people do) that some CEOs and world leaders are effectively middle management, so it doesn't necessarily break the model for some of them to be clueless (and maybe losers) if you subscribe to those ideas either in strong or weak form.

More importantly and more generally applicable, a typology doesn't need to be 100% predictively accurate to be true or useful. I haven't thought about it enough to say one way or the other, but that not all types are in their expected roles and vice versa isn't really an argument against the framework*. Especially since he discusses all 3 types can fail to achieve their goals (just because you're a sociopath doesn't mean you're guaranteed to run a company), and that people can change types as well (which would necessitate them being out of place for their type for at least some transitory period of time).

*Not saying that some demonstration of correlation isn't required to support the theory, just that 100% perfect type to role mapping isn't necessary.

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I think that's a very important clarification which I didn't click to when reading the article. Thank you

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I don't think the sociopath is necessarily supposed to be happier or more enlightened. If anything, like you say the loser could be considered the most enlightened because they've decided the respective grinds of the clueless and the sociopath aren't worth it. I gravitate more to the idea that the sociopath comes up with their own goal, regardless of legibility, the clueless adhere to legible, socially acceptable goals, and the losers care the most about social relationships because they're not doing the other stuff.

You could also argue that part of the structure is that each group considers the others chumps.

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Assuming the taxonomy is correct and useful, and then trying to extrapolate wildly from it:

It's quite likely, in fact, that the average Loser is happier than the average Sociopath, since Losers are the closest people in a modern society to a "normal" hunter-gatherer setting with reciprocal social norms and abundant, healthy interaction. Sociopaths scored a real-world-corporate-climbing advantage by nuking several parts of their brain, but those parts of the brain were put there by evolution [or God] and so once they are gone other parts of the brain start sending a disquieting dripfeed of "something is wrong..." signals. This manifests as Sociopaths feeling that "something is missing" and increases the odds that they have extreme mental health crises up to and including suicide when their goals fail (which they can, since Sociopaths are in competition with other Sociopaths). By contrast, Losers as normal humans have a good embedding in a complex web of social interactions.

This might be a stretch, but one could even hypothesize that the rise of mental health problems in the modern day could be partially explained by the increasing complexity of the modern world and ubiquity of gamified digital interaction having a tendency to convert healthy Losers into Clueless.

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This is some AndreasHofer72 speculation, bruv, but I LIKE IT. (/s)

> This manifests as Sociopaths feeling that "something is missing" and increases the odds that they have extreme mental health crises up to and including suicide when their goals fail (which they can, since Sociopaths are in competition with other Sociopaths).

My idea, is that Sociopaths has neither affective empathy or agreeableness (ability to love), Clueless has neither cognitive empathy nor openness to new ideas (understanding of others), and Losers have neither impersonality nor extraversion (content at getting played). Thus Sociopath wants true love, and Clueless wants to be understood and cared for.

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Sociopath tin man, clueless scarecrow, loser lion ...

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May 26, 2022·edited May 26, 2022

How do they correspond to the "sociopath exiting the system" or "clueless barbell strategy" (risky bets mixed with hyper-security, instead of middle of the road)?

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> But I honestly don't see what Sociopaths get out of it, unless they do are deluding themselves.

My guess is money and/or power. If all there is is material reality, then earning 10 times more as the Clueless/Losers gives you more leverage in that material reality.

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Ah but that's the misframing at the heart of this whole "dark triad"/"sociopath CEO" genre. The sociopath doesn't usually get money and/or power. There are many, many more sociopaths than there are CEOs.

So even taking this taxonomy at face value and assuming that sociopaths are overrepresented in the high status money & power class, most sociopaths are just sociopaths and also unsuccessful - one might even posit that "unsuccessful sociopaths" are the key market for books like this to exist since they revolve around telling unsuccessful sociopaths that their perspective is unique and special and just like the mindset of powerful people.

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bingo

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Power more than money. Power over personal life of others, to be more explicit. It's the motivation for many CEO or higher management, from what i have observed. Not in my own company, because being part of it makes analysis harder, but looking at my family, especially my father. He was a small scale CEO while there is no chance I become one except by accident... We are are similar physically and mentally: Same amount of laziness, I'm more clever logically (iq) but he's a better actor/orator...i am more psychopathic in the sense i am less sensitive to other jugement and suffering, and more interrested in material goods (and probably sex), but the biggest difference, i think bigger than the academic achievements and technical orientation (which outsiders will immediately mention when comparing my father and me) , is that he was interested in "ruling" much much more than i am. Maintaining formal and informal hierarchical, patron/client relations...

Also far more generous than i am, but analyzing this as objectively as i can, i think it's part of this ruling tendency (automatic and unconscious, i don't think he consciously calculated this as manipulation). Ruling was really a big part of his ultimate goals, while it's not my case (nor is it for my brother): money (material well being and security), sex, status within peers, and freedom (minimize being ruled) yes, but not ruling... Maybe that's indeed arrested development: We (brother and i) stopped at adolescent (band of friends, without unambiguous hierarchy, each having it's expertise/roles), while father went to traditional pater familia, head of family / chief of tribe...

Maybe it's an artifact of typical father/son relation, and i see patterns where none exists, but i don't think so...

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Part of why you're you and not your dad, is because you're his son. By this I mean, his CEO role is filling a niche in his life, but also filling the same niche in yours. If he were not filling that niche in your live, you'd feel compelled to fill that vacancy.

About using others ... I don't mean it in a negative way, I don't think you do either. But he is probably more the team captain than the meaning of the term sociopath provides. The team captain needs to define who plays first base, etc. define roles and responsibilities. I liken it to walking in the desert vs riding a horse. When you're walking, you have to watch for every step so that you don't fall on a cactus. When riding a horse, you point the horse in the general direction, and you can look at the scenery, whilst the horse takes care of where to step. I'm sure his company is the same way. People try to do the right thing, but don't know the right thing (their roles), because they don't see the big picture. Someone has to make sure all the roles get filled. And that leader needs to do things that make the workers happy, even sometimes tricking them into doing things that make themselves happy.

But also, you have to realize that without him, they're nothing. The workers probably love the company just as much as, if not more so than your dad. The reason, is the company may be part of his life ... but for many of the workers, its their all. For instance, if (ala Schitz Creek) the company failed today, your dad would be devastated ... but how much so compared to the mid-level manager who has 100% of his portfolio in the company stock? Dad probably has good investment management, and has his investments spread around. He may have to downsize the family house in a financial disaster ... but for a lot of the little people. The vast majority live paycheck to paycheck, they're unlikely to have financial backup, and downsizing for them means moving from the house into a car.

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I myself am Clueless at best. I tend to work overtime just because I want to see the job done right, for no additional material reward. I've tried working 9..5, but couldn't really do it -- I could rarely find a better use for my time than fixing some broken code. People like me make useful pawns for the CEOs of this world; I have never had wealth or power, and I never will. Objectively speaking, I've chosen the wrong path in life, but then again, it never felt like a choice to me. I suspect that the predilection for Cluelessness is largely genetic. You rolls your dice, you takes your chances...

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"I Became an Ubermensch and all I Got Was This Lousy Empire"

Its possible that some of the 'Sociopaths' realized that all they needed to enjoy life was dental and a decent salary. Maybe they walk among us, as unfirable mid level employees that collect a paycheck while browsing Reddit all day.

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This is why I would argue he picked the wrong terms. “Losers” can be happy and fulfilled, they are just “economic losers” in a capitalist world because they don’t leverage other peoples work for their own benefit.

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My impression is that the Sociopath has very different motivations than the Loser. You might be happy with your 9-5 of minimum effort for the sake of a paycheck so you can go out and get drunk on Friday's and vacation in Italy for a few weeks per year, but the Sociopath doesn't care about any of that, because he craves power instead. It's Rao's explanation for why middle managers are, more often than not, terrible at their job and only good for yelling at people and making them miserable. This is because they're Sociopaths and yelling at people and making them miserable makes them feel powerful. They got to this position because a Sociopath higher up the ladder recognized them as fellow Sociopaths, and gave them their wish in exchange for being able to exert power over them in turn. And so most Sociopaths make the devil's bargain of having total power to abuse their underlings if they are willing to endure their superior's abuse in turn.

It's been a while since I read The Gervais Principle but that's what I took away from it. I certainly don't recognize this in real life myself, but then I don't have a conventional office job, and it's certainly a better explanation for why everyone hates their boss than any other I've seen.

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"It's Rao's explanation for why middle managers are, more often than not, terrible at their job and only good for yelling at people and making them miserable. This is because they're Sociopaths and yelling at people and making them miserable makes them feel powerful. They got to this position because a Sociopath higher up the ladder recognized them as fellow Sociopaths, and gave them their wish in exchange for being able to exert power over them in turn."

Not really. In Rao's formulation, most middle-managers are Clueless.

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Hmm, you're right, I remember getting that from the book but it might not be in there at all. Maybe I'm mis-attributing that idea to him.

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I think the "sociopath" (NB: not a literal sociopath) gets to have goals that they try and achieve in ways that are actually effective.

Consider lay-offs. The "losers" (NB: not actual losers) act to reassert status illegibility by reassuring themselves that the job never defined them anyway, and by cutting contact with anyone who's hit hard by it. The "clueless" (NB: not always clueless) go through a personal crisis, if they even get fired in the first place, because they were true believers in the company. The sociopaths saw it coming months ahead because they ignored the CEOs bullshit emails, and either shuffled themselves and their favourites into safe positions, or had been interviewing for weeks and have a new job lined up.

Again, they don't seem to be literal sociopaths. I get the impression you could replace the terminology with something like "9to5ers," "believers," and "cynics." I also don't think it's clear that sociopaths are better than the other two, although Venkatesh Rao seemingly does.

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founding

Rao Venkatesh would agree with you. I vividly remember the last passage in the Sociopath chapters talking about the sheer emptiness of reaching the last level. It was not a happy place. I guess we're not made to live completely without masks.

He was also pretty emphatic (which the review doesn't mention and probably should) that Losers are the winners in this game. They go to work, put their 8 hours, then spend their live actually living. Family, friends, hobbies.

Also speaking of categories-that-do-not-really-match, meaning psychology talks about treating your work as one of job, career and calling. First is for the paycheck, second is for advancement, third is for passion. They may or may not match with Loser, Sociopath and Clueless, respectively.

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Yes. Absolutely agree. The major thing I didn’t like about the book was what I considered to be a poor choice of terms as the term “loser” needlessly slants the meaning.

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This is what I'm wondering too. A Sociopath who truly didn't care what others thought about him is far more likely to be a recluse than a leader. If the opinions of other people are absolutely meaningless to them, why bother interacting with them at all? Why care about power or influence or status at all, or even about money beyond the relatively low amount required for them to live comfortably? If the Sociopaths are really supposed to be entirely asocial, you'd expect them to just stay home all day getting drunk/high and watching TV or playing video games, and maybe visit a prostitute whenever porn wasn't enough. (Which ironically fits the stereotypical image of a loser far more than the Losers category does.)

Of course, it could be possible that the Sociopath's nihilism is so all-encompassing that a lifestyle of idle hedonism wouldn't have any appeal either. Maybe they'd realize that wanting lots of sex and drugs and good-tasting food is just a result of evolutionary drives adapted for a vastly different environment than the one they're living in, and thus ultimately pointless like everything else. But at that point, I'd expect them to become even more withdrawn, not less. They wouldn't have any reason to do *anything* beyond the absolute barest necessities of survival like eating, drinking water, and using the bathroom. They'd end up being one of those half-catatonic psych ward patients that just sit in a dark room doing nothing all day.

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It's a surprisingly common trope that top business[1] leaders are sociopaths, but so far as I can tell, and I know one or two, this is garbage. Top business leaders are almost always magnetic personalities with an outsize ability to both inspire and empathize with people. They pretty much have to be -- there's no other way to get a very large number of people to enthusiastically devote themselves to your vision, and, unlike politics or the military, in business it is very rare that you have any great ability to command notwithstanding any lack of buy-in from the rank and file. Generally, persuasion and inspiration are the only ways to get your will implemented, and very successful leaders are eerily good at doing both, at least from what I've seen.

Of course, portraying CEOs a sociopaths would naturally be very comforting to the Clueless who have glumly come to suspect they're *not* headed for the corner office, that their climbing has a natural limit well below their ambitions, and are wondering what's gone wrong. "It's because I'm not a sociopath! Oh, OK, that's not so bad...!" Good way to sell business books, eh? Since your fat market segment is naturally among The Clueless, those who can smugly derive additional confidence that they are neither Losers nor Sociopaths. Ka-ching!

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[1] I emphasize 'business' because political leaders usually are sociopaths, I think, since unlike business leaders (who traffic in the achievable of necessity), political leaders necessarily sell lies, indeed things that we all know very well are lies -- that all the children can be above average, that nobody can be poor, that each and every citizen is a noble soul and evil exists in the world solely because of foreign devils, a sprinkling of deviants, or shadowy conspiracies -- and, unlike normal people, they have to have the ability to lie without the slightest compunction.

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> Top business leaders are almost always magnetic personalities with an outsize ability to both inspire and empathize with people.

This "job description" is not mutually exclusive with sociopathy; quite the opposite. High-functioning sociopaths are known for being charming and "magnetic", precisely because they are able to approach charisma in a purely detached and rational manner. To them, humans are a complex instrument with a quirky UI that can nevertheless be quite powerful if used correctly -- like Blender, perhaps, or a modern combine harvester.

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Yes, I agree the first part -- being magnetic and charming -- is fully consistent with sociopathy. But not the second (empathy). And really good leaders have to have that, because they need to understand the emotional state of those who work for them -- if for no other reason than to know how far they can count on them, and in what direction.

I grant there are some limited areas where sociopaths can be outstanding, but I think they are mostly sole proprietorship kind of things, like being a surgeon or tech evangelist, where the "magnetic" thing comes in very hand for excellent PR and interactions with the public *but* the lack of empathy, which would cripple the ability to lead a large organization, doesn't hold you back.

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