deletedMay 12, 2022·edited May 12, 2022
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deletedMay 10, 2022·edited May 10, 2022
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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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> 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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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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This book has had more influence on me than any I've ever read to do with businesses, companies and management. Maybe it pops more if you've spent time in offices, to mean generic gray office parks and supposedly wacky startup offices? It's extremely applicable to my experience working in advertising and marketing departments at small and midsize companies. I think these Rao-ian power dynamics are most visible in such organizations.

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I feel like I see a lot of these archetypes at the high school I teach at - among the teaching staff, the site administrators, and the school District administrators.

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Sounds like Rao is desperately trying to come with an (imaginary) structure to justify himself to himself. And sounds fairly obvious, and at most marginally more useful than, say, Myer-Briggs.

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I read these blog posts a few years ago, and I agree they do not work as full archetypes. But, I feel like Venkatesh had some good ideas and decided to see what happened if he built it out into a full theory, with moderate success. The Ribbonfarm group blog this was posted on has a lot of interesting content like this, my personal favorite is Wittgenstien's revenge (https://www.ribbonfarm.com/2020/09/03/wittgensteins-revenge/) where the author argues that facts don't exist.

I think these 3 categories work better when you realize that they're archetypes within the specific context of Business, which is one social world with it's own rules and structure. In reality, people live within multiple divergent social contexts at the same time, and which archetype they follow depends on the context. For instance, I would consider myself a (well meaning) Sociopath when it comes to topics related to religion/politics, but within Business I definitely act predominantly as a Loser, because I have deliberately turned down advancement of the type discussed and care far more about social approval. People behave dramatically differently within different social contexts and any archetype system that doesn't take that into account is going to be limited in its application

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Having not read the book, how much of this description of Loserdom is meant to coincide to what most consider liberalism broadly defined (a second-best system where everyone can define how they are special in their own way)?

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Hahaha, this book was clearly written by a sociopath. The guy simply can't imagine that someone would choose to be empathic towards other people. In his eyes, if someone is empathic, it is because that person trying to win approval or just acting out their social programming. No, dude, the critical voice in my head is not my parents, some teachers, or some spiritual guide. The critical voice in my head is my own. And yet I choose to be empathic towards others because I enjoy it. And I don't crave power over others, because I find it very limiting for my goals and personal happiness.

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It's interesting that we see these archetypes in The Office, Dilbert, and other work-related media like Office Space ("straight shooter with upper management written all over him" = sociopath). There's definitely something to it.

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Great review. I'll drop a few comments here:

- First is that Lacan's 3 structures isn't necessarily the correct move here. Most people in business are neurotics, with sociopaths leaning closest to _perverts_, because the pervert understands social reality, but views it as meaningless. Think Patrick Bateman. Psychotics tend not to do well in business at all, because they can neither play the game from the "inside" as with neurotics, or from the "outside" as with perverts. They struggle with social structure's existence, period, and historically end up doing more solitary pursuits (art, revelation, etc: note that Moses needed an Aaron to actually implement his prophetic vision).

- If we wanted to tie in Lacan's theory here, better to deal with the "RSI" layer (Real, Symbolic = the Other, Imaginary), expressed as "registers" or in terms of the Gordian Knot. Unfortunately for everyone, these terms are used almost completely differently for Lacan, especially "Real". What Venkat refers to as "sociopathy" seems to be the dominance of the Imaginary over the Symbolic. Quick background: we haven't really discussed the Symbolic but it is what it says on the tin: "social reality", which is also the same thing as the big Other (because the big Other is a form by which we speak about "social reality").

For Lacan, that whole thing about "quarks and stuff" belongs strictly in the "Imaginary" and *not* the Real (I can hear the protesting, give me a second). The "Imaginary" is called that because it's constituted by *images*, not because it's *fake*. So, a lot of early exposure to, say, Science, is about developing imaginary constructions, and similarly, Venkat's discussion of "the real world" stems from the Imaginary register: the executive who wants to achieve some sort of *vision*, which they imagine and then set out to enact in the world (have you read Arendt's "The Human Condition"? I highly recommend it).

The "Real", for Lacan, is a *rupture*, the Kuhnian Paradigm-collapsing moment that disrupts all our best laid plans, and is always traumatic, the encounter with something that absolutely resists our attempts to symbolize. All trauma stems from an encounter with the Real. What Venkat describes as the path of the sociopath is indeed an encounter with the Real, which smashes through the Symbolic register of one's childhood and forces them to reconstruct their symbolism (= structuration of reality) at a higher level, in this case devaluing social reality (what Lacan might call "the social bond") in service of their Imaginary, or alternatively re-evaluating their desire, which used to respond to gold stars or high-fives because back in grade school, gold stars and high-fives got you what you wanted, but you now need a different approach.

As far as I can tell, what Venkat is ultimately describing is specific way of resolving trauma (by becoming a "sociopath"), which for Freud is merely the formal separation of parts of the psyche. Something happened that you can't process. Now you have a part where you still remember it happening and associate things to it, and a part that can't explain and thus can't accept it. You're split in half. This is all trauma is (and "hysteria" is the short circuit). As Lacan says, the highest ethical aim of psychoanalysis is "never give way to your desire", and learning to play manipulation games at the level of the social field is a great way of doing this, although many might see it as... perverse.

Anyway it all gets tangled up, because Venkat is mixing developmental narratives (ethics) with psychoanalytic theory (formal construction based on a specific set of constraints re empirical observation). I think a better connection is with Fussell's Class", reviewed here ages ago. Do you not see echoes of the "sociopath" in the "barbarians" of the upper class, "clueless" in the "philistines" of the middle class, and "loser" in the "populace" of the lower class? The divide between classes, for both Fussell and Venkat, is not just material but also *social*, in terms of what kind of interpersonal reality they inhabit. And, to me, that's the most interesting part: how does a person become encultured to properly "upper class" socializing? What do they gain and lose along the way? Are we not properly accustomed to seeing the journalist bluechecks as "clueless"? We can inhabit this external space of observation without falling victim to Venkat's analysis, because Venkat is writing about business archetypes, rather than properly *social* ones. Perhaps we're all Class X now?

- A final comment on business, rooted in personal experience: these roles are flexible, and the main question is not *how* you relate but *to whom*. I think Venkat is absolutely correct that the function of management is distribution of blame, which falls from capital holders/investors and clients, to the C-suite external representatives, to C-suite internal representatives, to clueless managers, and eventually becoming work on the losers' desk. Each role exists in relation to the other roles, and the games involved are naturally different as a result of differential conceptualizations of task and domain. I don't necessarily think this *needs* to take on a metaphysical weight; often CEOs are just as motivated by developmental psychology as the lowest level developers. The psychoanalytic question is: what's the basis of their desire? Do they want to get rich? For what end? I'm sure you get different answers at large corporations vs small ones, and I appreciate Venkat's work in making things legible, but the question is ultimately "what's lost?"

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I've never watched Seinfeld or The Office, so a lot of the review was lost on me.

Can similar characters be found in, for example, Dilbert?

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Obviously Rao wrote this book for Losers so they can all tell each other they are Sociopaths with special insights for liking it.

This is how he is executing his master scheme to manipulate the world.

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You're a Loser in Rao's terms. The difference (and I'm loosely quoting here) is visceral, not intellectual. Knowing in your head that everything is bullshit (an oversimplification of his premise but meh) is not the same thing as feeling it your bones. What is the *default perspective/paradigm* in which you evalutate new data?

I think what I like most about the Gervais Principle is that it neatly explains why every alternative game that gets big enough turns into another version of the same old game of sex/money/power. You can predict for instance that any Far-Left political movement will be corrupted inevitably once it hits a certain mass.

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Pretty similar to my thoughts on the book. His questions and thought-process are better than his answers in a lot of cases. But it's a credit to him that he's clear in his reasoning and takes a shot at providing answers. No typology is perfect, and it's easier to poke holes in one that isn't an enormous, pretentious, convoluted mess (you've been reading Lacaan; you know such things).

Felt like he made a mistake building everything from that one cartoon, but since he was doing the writing in slow chunks, in the form of blog posts, with no intention of making it into a book originally, by the time he'd gotten far enough to write his way out of the typology in the cartoon, he felt like he had to carry it through. It's hard to write something consistent and cohesive through a blog that you don't work on consistently. As I recall, he wrote this over the course of more than a year. Maybe multiple years.

There's a book about blame-avoidance in government bureaucracy (by Chris Hood I think?) that gets at some of what happens when you have a system of blame-avoidance with no stable sociopath class and very little value in getting credit for things. That's not exactly what the book is about, but that's kind of what I got out of it, and one of the things I find most interesting about systems like the federal government.

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“but if any of you are very high up in big corporations, please poll your peers and let me know what they say”


That suggestion confirm that you are not a sociopath!

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I hadn’t read this review before the voting. If I had I would have given it a 10. Fuck all that manipulative status seeking crap. It *is* just bullshit. You’re just a good insightful writer and deserve to recognized as such. Live your own life the way you want.

It *is* possible.

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May 10, 2022·edited May 10, 2022

Got about halfway in and I'm updating my prior on psychoanalysis being total bullshit. I'm going to read the book today, the review really speaks to me.

Also, if anybody is interested in a somewhat darker take on workplace comedy and phycology I strongly recommend "Severance" on apple tv, it's only one season and quite good.

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May 10, 2022·edited May 10, 2022

I've read the original series as a teen when it came out and I've recently re-read them. Back then, I was actually very impressed. Upon re-reading them, however, I had the feeling that it derailed a bit in the end. The general idea is sound and the writing is good, as you conclude, but in the end I had the slight feeling that Rao wants to send the message "look how cool of a psychopath I am". This is (truly!) not meant as an insult, but I'm a bit allergic to the edgy-teen-with-bloated-ego-talk and the end tingled my sensors quite a bit in that regard.

Another thing that really opened my eyes was watching the office. I only did so recently and a lot of "impactful" scenes, which I knew were coming due to his partial spoilers, mostly felt like they were just played for laughs. Especially the scene where Jim talks to David sounded extremely impactful in my imagination, but the real thing isn't: https://youtu.be/SWC08MHYp2M?t=44 . It's even less impactful within the context of the epsiode. The Michael-Jan-affair and Ryan as ascending psychopath are other examples.

What I really think makes sense is the group dynamic sidenote. Maybe it's just confirmation bias, but I see quite a lot that people are unhappy in groups where they are clearly at the top or at the bottom or when people within the group are clearly ranked; the theory that people enjoy being in groups where the middle is muddied is something I see in real life (and, although a bit of a sidekick, the fact that all the groups you're (still) in have this dynamic kind of works as evidence for it).

Overall, even though I no longer agree with all points, I still like it and think it's worth a read. Your last sentence about status economics books is probably true :-)

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My personal mental model of office politics is this:

You've got a bunch of people who pretend they are working for the company when in fact they are working for themselves.

There is so much overlap between the two interests that from a macro level economic perspective its a system that works pretty well, and stuff like division of labor is so valuable that it makes up for the lack of incentive alignment and empire building and bad management and whatnot.

On an individual level, if you take company promises as not lies then you will actually be humble and wait to be noticed you will usually be outcompeted by people who talk themselves up. Some people go into spirals and put all their energy into putting in really good work and will never make it far because they take their bs evaluations as gospel truth, change their work quality to address imagined flaws but never build relationships.

Indeed I find it really strange that basically everyone admits to relationships + baseline competence being more important than competence. Like I often watch YouTube videos day in the life of X and they openly say they don't do the best work they do good work and "have good relationships" with their superiors. Vague but that seems like quid pro que nepotism to me. I promote you you support my projects and give me good reviews and such.

As you get higher up in management it seems to be this combination of politics and innovation/profit maximizing staretegies that gets you ahead.

Some executives focus on delivering profit and some focus on playing political games. They all have to deliver a baseline profit and have a baseline political sense. Different organizations have different levels of toxicity depending on which side they lean.

Start ups have to be much more innovation-focused to the point that they seem less toxic on average.

The consequences of which is I feel like I'm being lied to everyday by corporate so I have no moral problem with making up resumes whole cloth. Interestingly only like 20 percent of employers seem bother checking. I also find it easier to be consistent if I'm making up a resume than if I'm using my actual resume, because I dont remember the exact dates I worked.

Most people seem to lie in interviews but also swear they don't lie in interviews. It feels like taking dope for athletes, it's basically required but only some people get caught.

Some people seem really clueless and never get it and just put even more effort into their work product and rarely get promoted and it's sad.

Some people revel in the politics and pioneer new innovative techniques to get promoted without doing anything.

Other people actually try to add value and are political when they have to be.

Most people work to live and kind of just follow the mold of whatever org they are in.

Psychopaths and sociopaths and narcissists are disproportionately represented but they are such a minority they are usually not the majority or the CEO. Sometimes they are and they'll usually ruin a company over time.

The disabled are in a bad position because they have to pretend not to be disabled or not get hired in the first place. ADA protects against being fired but not against not being promoted.

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May 10, 2022·edited May 10, 2022

Sounds like the book has a lot of psychological ruminations that are fascinating to mull over I'm sure but conveniently the Gervais principle is also, as a book of business advice, reducible to a set of clearly falsifiable claims about business:

1) Sociopaths run the company.

2) Overperformers get promoted to middle management.

3) Underperformers get fast tracked to leadership.

4) Clock-punchers keep their jobs as long as long as their minimal productivity is sufficient to justify their job.

As I do not currently run a company, items 2-4 are most relevant to me instrumentally as possible principles that could guide my attempts to achieve my goals. They are also material claims about business, so I can assess how well they conform with my experience of businesses I've been a part of or closely interacted with. In order of reverse controversiality I assess these as follows:

Principle (4) seems obviously true to the point of banality. Perhaps is expressed in a less banal way in the book, but to me it seems like it's self-evident that at a job a minimum performer will be kept on as long as their labor is still profitable and above replacement value. Replacing any worker has significant costs that grow as organizations become more complex, and the kind of businesses Rao is talking about are pretty complicated (I'm assuming he doesn't assert his model applies to "mom and pop" operations). In my own career I've always understood (4) to be true and adjusted my behavior accordingly. If one has found a sufficiently remunerative occupation (4) is a very good place to be.

Principle (2) seems to me to be almost certainly true, perhaps with some variability for industry. I only have some doubts about whether (2) is universally true because I've observed widespread cynicism about whether hard workers get promoted among acquaintances in other fields, but in personal observation of the growth industries I've worked in, the manager and director-level positions are filled with people who excelled at their individual contributor roles, delivered some impressive projects, organized a successful high-profile event, etc. Certainly luck, circumstance, talent, and even (dare-I-say) privilege play a role as well, but for someone like me I'm comfortable concluding that my degree of effort is a significant factor in whether or not I get promoted to director in the next 5 years.

Thus far then the Gervais Principle's advice is mundane and not particularly audacious: if you want to keep your job, you just need to do enough to be worth keeping on. If you want to get promoted (to middle management) you should work hard and excel. I already believe those things and act accordingly, so no new understanding to instrumentalize there.

What then, of principle (3)? If Gervais is right, this is would be novel information that should significantly alter my behavior. After all, I could work hard and try to stand out and make director so I get promotions and more salary and stock options and increase my quality of life (at which point I'd happily settle into "loser" behavior and cash them checks), but that's a sucker's trade if I could just as easily be an under-performer, get selected by the sociopaths at the top, and fast track my way into leadership to massively increase my quality of life. But his assessment just doesn't track with what I observe about leadership positions in personal experience (caveats again that different fields and industries may have dramatically different social norms). I've worked with some of these people, and those I haven't worked with I'm perfectly capable of reviewing the LinkedIn profiles of, and what I can clearly observe is that Silicon Valley c-suites are largely occupied with people who exhibit markers of being lifelong high achievers - some or all of excelling at a rigorous program at a highly selective university, time served at notoriously demanding associate-level positions such as consulting and investment banking, some significant time spent in middle-management positions, during which presumably they continued to over-achieve (notably, time spent at an organization known to be extraordinarily demanding such as Amazon is especially highly prized.)

So either Rao is wrong, or the mechanism by which underperformers are promoted is so devious that it's entirely imperceptible to those outside the star chamber. I imagine Rao would assert the latter, but I have serious doubts. If I note that all the VPs I know got there by first becoming Directors, then it clearly suggests that if I wish to become VP someday I should first be a Director, and it would take extraordinary evidence for me to update that assumption. I note also that if the mechanism by which underperformers get elevated to leadership is indistinguishable from the career path of high-performing middle management up until the final promotion, then I would hardly call it "fast-tracking" at all when up until then you paid the same dues as the overperformers. Perhaps once they reach middle management underperformers have some special qualities that endear them to leadership and open up further career opportunities unavailable to overperformers. Being "strategically lazy" is of course good instrumental advice, certainly at a certain level one's ability to delegate effectively and organize efficiently - ie, to manage - is more important than how hard one works. But if we accept that this is true, then my behavior shouldn't change. First I should attempt to reach middle management, and then I should then endeavor to exhibit the attitudes that would enable my further ascent, should I so wish.

What then for the first of the Gervais principles, that businesses are run by sociopaths. Today this is a sentiment one can commonly find everywhere, and expressing it lends an easy false sophistication to many a reddit or twitter comment. Perhaps this exposure has inoculated me against Rao's argument here, but I also add that strangely I personally and intimately have interacted with more business owners than I have upper management/leadership due to a quirk of my particular social context. I went to a (public) high school whose alumni includes multiple billionaire startup founders and whose millionaire startup founders are too many for me to number.

So from personal experience, the billionaire startup founder is a combination of lucky/talented/smart/hardworking - they all worked harder/got better grades than me in school, invented, assembled, or built a technology/platform that happened to succeed at meeting some unmet and profitable need, and thanks to the magic of capitalism were compensated with a significant share of that realized and potential profitability. (I note that this model holds true even for the CEOs of companies I worked for, older people that I did not personally grow up with.) Now perhaps we can take the weaker form of the assertion and simply say the ambition and drive necessary to achieve these things requires a certain degree of DGAF attitude, which I might agree with, but as Scott points out at point we've muddled the definitions to the point where the model is useless as a instrumental tool. Is working 100-hour-weeks at an entry level I-Bank position in pursuit of your will to power a sign of a sociopath? I would say in some sense yes, but I don't think that fits Rao's model at all. So if I know that roles like that are part of the journey that got billionaires I know where they are today, what does that say for the model?

Maybe the Gervais principle doesn't apply to growth industries at all, where the social dynamics are just too different, and instead applies to a businesses like a paper company that are trying to carve our fiefdoms of profitability in a established market? I don't know, perhaps my personal experience and context is just too alien to what Rao is describing for his advice to useful? I'd suspect this is the case, but it seems his biographical context is at least adjacent to my own. It's strange because reading this review I kept on thinking that this model might describe a certain kind of older and moribund organization such as we see in The Office, but I can't map it onto, and derive useful instrumental advice for, my context in companies with first-generation leadership.

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In your system I'm clearly green (everything fits) and also green is my favorite color. Clearly you are onto something!

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A decent contingent of people vibrate between assessment and judgement without even realizing it.

It'd probably be good if we looked at models like this as assessments and kick judgements to the curb. There's no objective measurement of which type (presuming the types actually represent reality) gets more or less out of life. Or out of work.

Each organizational archetype clearly gets something (and misses something) different out of life. Given the nature of personalities, it's probably best when the personality type aligns with the organizational archetype. No shame in being any type as long as being that type works for you.

The labels for the archetypes of course are a hybrid of judgement and assessment labels which serve to conflate assessment with judgement. This is probably intentional but it's not helpful for comprehension in my view.

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Our culture is disturbingly admiring of sociopaths, particularly when they put their personal success above everything else.

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> "Somewhere in your head there is a microphone. It produces a little voice inside of you"

Did someone reverse the polarity?

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I also don't see myself as one type only in the context of my whole life, and I probably wouldn't say that most people I know well in multiple contexts are a pure Rao-ian type either. I do think it's plausible that most people slot into one of these roles at each job or social institution they participate in, though. I can definitely name jobs where I did the Clueless thing and others where I took the Loser bargain, and do something similar for informal social groups and hobbies.

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I don't know about the "dark enlightenment mind games" aspect of Sociopaths, but I think "would rather succeed than be liked" is key. I would actually change it to "would rather succeed than have friends or solve interesting problems". This makes it practically self-evident that Sociopaths would end up on top, since focusing on success would let you out-compete people splitting their focus. But I think this also causes self-selection among non-Sociopaths into lower-tier positions.

A view from computer science academia: According to everyone I know and all the stereotypes, the fanciest professors/advisors are almost always terrible to work for. Their grad students can either barely get their time or are hounded to constantly produce. Some professors won't let you collaborate outside their lab. Although they are sometimes still thought leaders in their fields, more often than not they don't really do research anymore. And yet they are highly respected in their fields, their labs produce a lot of good research, and maybe they even have a startup or two.

But of course working for these people is difficult! They have an aggressive research agenda which necessitates an aggressive enforcement of work ethic among their students. They also have minimal time to spend on most individual students -- they'd rather have their lab do 100 things they're tangentially involved in than 5 things they worked on deeply. And the student is on the hook for delivering, or else *their* career fails, so more often than not the student will figure out how to be successful with minimum involvement from the professor (and if they don't, whatever, there are 99 other things going on). I'm making it sound like these professors are skimming credit, but that's not even necessarily the case -- their involvement in those 100 things might still be highly influential and valuable, even if they put in a small number of work-hours on an individual project compared to their underlings. Like I said, it turns out optimizing for success makes you pretty successful.

But it's not just competition. It's self-selection. Right now I'm personally struggling to choose what I actually want as I'm in the process of becoming a professor. For a while I thought I wanted to be a great prestigious researcher, you know, really change the field and all that. But now I realize that in order to produce at the scale that other professors at the cutting edge do, I would have to basically turn into a glorified CEO/manager with a huge lab, where I have minimal contact with my students, get as many people to do free work for me as humanly possible, unabashedly take all the credit, and generally view the world more as assets and obstacles rather than people.

And I don't want to do that. I would rather have meaningful relationships with a grad student lab and colleagues, and continue personally working on interesting research problems. (And if any of those brings me success, all the better.) But that means I'll be out-competed by people not doing that. So I'm deliberately excluding a couple of prestigious universities from my job search, because I know the culture at those places would make me miserable. The less prestigious route where I actually, you know, *advise*, sounds way more fun. But a Sociopath would take that trade in a second.

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Wow, the fake Green-Blue-Red typology described some of the closest members of my friend group surprisingly well, better than the Sociopath-Clueless-Loser typology.

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Maybe there is just a class 'business books' are merely psychoanalytical exercises meant to scaffold something attractive to those {publishers, readers} who know there is endless churn around 'management philosophies' that can be exploited. Gin up a simplified horoscope and you're on the path... Something about Tajfel?

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May 10, 2022·edited May 10, 2022

I remember reading these posts a few years ago and generally agreeing with the thrust of this review -- that they have a handful of interesting insights on human behavior but the top-level categories are not very convincing.

On a meta level, I think we should have a high level of suspicion for systems that seek to break people down into Type I Suckers, Type II Suckers, and Super Cool Badasses Who Don't Take Shit From Anyone. Partly this is because the Badass category tends to just end up as a flattering description of the author; as others have commented here, this book sometimes feels like Rao justifying/explaining his own personality and behavior. But I also think these categories often amount to a psychological trick; the natural reaction from the reader is "ooh, I want to be in the Badass category!" and to start looking for Badass traits in oneself, and at that point you've already bought what the author is selling regardless of whether it reflects reality in a useful way. I think you also see this reflected in the supposed "sigma male" archetype which was popular on the internet for a minute, although thankfully that's been mostly memed into oblivion since then.

Actually, I think Rao's Sociopath category is mostly indistinguishable from the sigma male thing, except that it's framed in a way that targets adults instead of teenagers.

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It seems that Rao only had 'Office' esque wage-slavery in mind when writing this. I'm studying VFX, and I actually see a lot of utility in joining a company hierarchy for the sake of mentor-ship. I'd be more than willing to play the role of 'clueless' at the right company, not because I like working myself to the bone, but because it could give me the opportunity to develop my skills FASTER than I'd be able to alone. The ability to accelerate a learning curve is incredibly valuable in a field that might take decades to master.

It's almost like Rao completely neglects the idea that people actually enjoy things, and might like to develop themselves. It's strange that a self identified sociopath doesn't notice fast routes to power(here 'power' = 'skill').

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Is this entire book based on *The Office* ? If so, then is it applicable to the real, non-fictional world -- at least, more so than any other literary criticism ?

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May 10, 2022·edited May 11, 2022

I read this years ago and it was life changing. It made me realize I’d been clueless, and so I tried my best to become a sociopath. I disagree with some of the claims Rao makes and would summarize my disagreement as “the mic in my head is a panoply of all these different voices but is ultimately controlled by a singly concept, which most classical philosophers would say is “ The Good” and which I would say is a hardware-specific approximation of the good.”

I followed my own, modified understanding of this theory and it worked out for me. I found a sociopath at Google (director of an org with ~350 people) and got on his good side by selling people on bitcoin as best I could. He never got into bitcoin, but I succeeded at selling him on me. He took me under his wing, showed me some tips and ultimately connected me with a mentor who then showed me the real goods: yes we are all controlled by stories, but we can choose which stories we tell ourselves, and feeling good ends up making you perform better. So true super saiyan abilities come from cultivating love and decency in yourself, while having zero doubt that you will ever be anything but Ok.

The key for me was to reject dark enlightenment, and go for the real deal. Rao sees a world run by storytellers with no intrinsic meaning or purpose, and what I see is someone buying into just another story. “It’s constructed narratives all the way down,” is ALSO a constructed narrative.

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I have in fact always suspected that it's best to be a loser

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I read this a number of years ago back when it was just 6 blog posts, and came away reasonably impressed. I think the core insight of "when you look around an office, what you'll see is people trading their labor for 1) Money, 2) Power, 3) Something else." I'm less convinced by assertions that most people only want one of those, and that there are enough people who want "something else" to the exclusion of money and power to be economically significant.

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The book also discusses how people transition from one type to the other. When a Clueless person is betrayed they sometimes realize they can't rely on others to mediate reality for them, so they become Sociopaths. They need some time to focus their strength and gather some resources before they can pull off their new sociopath plans, and during this time they can't afford to spend all their energy at their day job so they do the bare minimum (i.e. they act as Losers for a while).

I don't think it's too much of a stretch to perceive Scott as following this path. He was working as a Clueless high performing employee for an hospital, and he was happy because his employer abstracted away all sorts of stuff that are annoying to deal with. All he had to do was help the patients his employer assigned to him and he would get money and respect. He didn't have to worry about customer acquisition, marketing, and even some details about tax payments and insurance deductibles would be abstracted away by the Sociopaths of the healthcare industry.

When his employer could not hold its end of the bargain, that is when it looked like being a good psychiatrist wouldn't be enough to keep his job anymore, he quit. He's probably not the type to harm his employer or patients by working the bare minimum like Rao says a Loser would do in that situation, but I think putting his blog on hiatus served the same function, allowing him to focus on creating his own company.

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What'd you think about the various 'languages' the different types use with each other?

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I remember reading this when the first series of blog posts appeared in, like, 2009 or 2010. I've seen it pop up here and there since then and I do find it interesting.

Basically, I think The Gervais Principle is is very, very good - as a piece of television criticism. Like, it explains what happens in the American version of "The Office" and the interactions between the characters *perfectly* from what I can remember (granted, it's been awhile since I've watched the show). So if you want to read a book that does an excellent job of explaining what happens on "The Office," read it, it's great.

As for its ability to make sense of human interaction, or organizations, or psychology, I'm pretty much with Scott. It's interesting, and contains some nuggets of actual insight, but is way overdetermined. I think it's probably better than the average dev-psych-inflicted-internet-pop-psychology theory (is there a phrase for this sort of stuff? I feel like there should be one), but you can't take it too seriously. The world is just far messier than the "principle" implies - though, in fairness, I suspect Rao might admit this if asked.

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I agree with Erik Dietrich: https://daedtech.com/defining-the-corporate-hierarchy/

> Venkatesh’s analysis is wonderful .. But I have three main problems with using the archetypes, as described, to elaborate on my own theories of corporate politics:

- The names themselves

- The assertion that over-performing middle managers are generally idiots

- And the placing of corporate citizens into one of three buckets on the basis of assigning them serious shortcomings.

Instead, I think of them in terms of what the modern corporate structure has *done to them:*

- Broken the losers

- Tricked the clueless

- And forced the sociopaths into ethical conundrums.

I propose that we name the losers, clueless and sociopaths to “pragmatists, idealists and opportunists.”

- Pragmatists are line-level employees who find value in life outside of work, mainly because the hope of any meaningful advancement and enjoyment of their profession has been taken from them.

- Idealists believe heartily in the meritocratic company (and organizational superiors) as a benevolent steward of their careers because perspective has been taken from them.

- Opportunists refuse to yield hope or perspective and recognize that the only way to win the corporate game is to play by their own rules. In this realization, they give up ethical certainty and human connection – opportunists play a lonely, sad game to get what they get.

I’ve spent a lot of time in a lot of different organizations of different sizes and domains, and I just don’t run across cartoonish people like Michael Scott and Dwight Schrute.

By and large, the people in these organizations, at all levels, are relatively well-intentioned, reasonably intelligent and doing the best that they can on the micro, day-to-day level. Corporate structures are, however, substantially less than the sum of their parts, so good faith efforts in the small are perverted into rampant dysfunction writ large across the face of industry. Organizations are pathological, as Venkatesh points out, and they are pathological in a way that corrupts their components.

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I think my comment here is going be less blind rage than my previous comments on Lacan and "Sadly, Porn", and that's because A) I've actually read this book and B) It isn't Obscuritan. Scott has summed up much of the more incoherent criticisms and things I liked about the book (blog posts, actually) pretty well here.

I'd add that there were a few sections not covered, such as the section on money not being a real thing, or being treated as similar in value to monopoly money. No wonder the self-identifying sociopath Rao thinks his sociopathy is a real difference between him and the "Losers" (not so much the "Clueless"), when threats to his status don't similarly translate into a threat to livelihood. If you're already rich, and being hated isn't dangerous for you, you have a lot less reason to care about status (and status-illegibility, and the support network that is group belonging) because those things aren't important for staying alive. It seems like he doesn't understand the whole "caring about other human beings as a goal in-of-itself" thing in addition to focusing a bit too far up that hierarchy of needs.

I'll say I at least appreciate that I can pick out ideas from what he's written and criticize them or praise them independently without the ever-present dodge of "well you don't know that's what they *really* mean" that comes from the obscurantists. It's possible to actually find useful insights in the book, as opposed to staring feverishly at it and hallucinating.

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I suspect many sociopath's are playing to a parent's voice in their head as well. If your dad said things like "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing." You might spend your life trying to win your dad's approval and behave as a monster to get it. Not all parents put pro-social messages into their children's heads.

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I don't think David Wallace and Charles Miner are good examples of sociopaths. There is no evidence that they were initially lazy employees of the company who schemed their way to the top. Jan is probably a better archetype of a sociopath.

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IMO, the three archetypes in the Gervais Principle are only relevant to large bureaucratic organisations and the people within them. Anyone who has spent too much time within such organisations (like me) can relate to a lot of what Venkatesh is talking about.

"Rao theorizes that most of the middle layers of companies are giant and powerful machines built by Sociopaths to guide and redirect the flow of blame and credit."

This is absolutely correct and explains why so many large bureaucratic organisations appear to be so over-staffed with middle managers. I especially recommend part 5 of the essays 'Heads I Win, Tails You Lose' https://www.ribbonfarm.com/2011/10/14/the-gervais-principle-v-heads-i-win-tails-you-lose/ which anyone in a large bureaucratic organisation should read, if for no other reason just to avoid being the unwitting fall-guy for senior management.

A long time ago, I wrote this post https://www.macroresilience.com/2013/12/04/how-to-commit-fraud-and-get-away-with-it-a-guide-for-ceos/ influenced by my time in banking and the above-mentioned part 5, on how CEOs and senior managers can and do capture the upside of fraud without the risk of being held culpable.

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I never knew how to describe Venkatesh Rao. Postrationalist heresiarch is good.

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I don't think the framework fits the real world (but will refrain from rehashing comments making those arguments in my own words). That said, because playing "fit the square peg in round hole" is a surprisingly fun game in general, let me try and fit myself in:

By Rao's definition I was once a Sociopath and deliberately chose to switch to Loser, because I knew it would make me more successful on pretty much all desirable axes. "But, Neike, if you choose it intellectually, you're still a Sociopath by Rao's definition!" The problem with that framing is that I made this rational decision approximately twenty years ago. It's long since become an instinctive and emotional setup and that was the plan all along. Rao's "Loser" category is my cherished default. I can still step outside it (in fact, recently did so on a particular subject), but it takes (1) remembering there is an outside, (2) wanting to step outside, (3) a bit of non-zero emotional labour to make the transition (again, very intentional).

I feel like the categories would be more useful if the author didn't insist on trying to hammer it into a cynical frame. He could start with the names: "Strategist" / "Loyalist" / "Idealist", as one possible substitution triad (not trying to suggest this matches perfectly well or is even unambiguously positively framed, they're just the first three that came to mind). Might make the whole thing more digestible/accessible and might make it easier to fit his ideas onto the wider real world.

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>I can see bits of myself in the Clueless archetype. I like legible systems. I’m the person who did really well on standardized tests, really badly at networking, and ended up in medical school because it was the highest you could go on test scores alone

>But I’m bad at listening to authority figures,and quit my last job to start my own company. Also, Clueless people are supposed to be bad at using language in original ways, and I’m a professional writer.

Clearly Scott does not fit into any of the categories Venkatesh spells out. What's also important is that he does not have a corporate job. Venkatesh was writing about the kind of people who choose to work corporate jobs for extended periods of time.

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The idea that Sociopaths identify and promote other Sociopaths, particularly when they are defined as underperformers is implausible under the book's own definition of the groups. Why would a Sociopath want to help another Sociopath? By definition they are disinterested in social approval. Clueless are supposed to be better at object-level work, so promoting a suspected Sociopath is to intentionally seek lower object level performance. On top of that, since there are layers and layers of Clueless between the established Sociopaths at the top of the company, an entry-level Sociopath is going to have almost no chance of getting noticed by high-level ones.

The only way this could make sense is if Sociopaths commonly found personal enjoyment in a master-apprentice type arrangement (And before you post it: yes, I thought of Sith Lords too). But for entry-level Sociopaths this would mean that a still-climbing Sociopath in middle management (the only people that routinely interact with entry-level folk) would need to risk their own career growth by spending time and opportunities on a Sociopath instead of an object level performer. I admit that master-apprentice might occur, if both Sociopaths can reliably cooperate to advance together. "Riding a manager up the ladder" is a concept I've heard of more than once. But it doesn't seem like it could be *the* way things work, because unless there are continuous chains of Sociopaths from bottom to top, which would be *really* obvious as the only way anyone gets promoted to upper management, the Sociopaths at the head of each chain are rising under their own power.

Regardless, I don't think looking for early underperformance among executives is likely to work out as a validation of the theory. If nothing else (and there's a lot else) object-level performance and management are *by definition* different activities that should exercise different skill sets. You can show that Managers promote those that exhibit Manager aptitude even if they're not a great object-level performer, but that is exactly what you'd expect an actually good Manager to do. It doesn't by itself attribute any of the Sociopath characteristics to the Manager class.

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Thanks for explaining what appears to be a clear case of "sociopath-splaining"

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Consider the iron law of oligarchy, in view of Rao's description of sociopaths.

"Underperformers" is both right and wrong; somebody who grasps the social realities of a business, and has the ambition to be promoted, is not going to pour most of their effort into the work they are assigned, but rather the work that gets them noticed. Any given institution will tend to eventually be run by those who are interested in running the institution, rather than in implementing the institution's actual goals. Rao's sociopaths are just doing that thing.

However, the three things should to some extent be regarded as strategies, rather than archetypes of people, strictly speaking; something like "near thinking" and "far thinking", rather than "phlegmatic" and "choleric". Sociopathy is "Meaning-making", Loserdom is "Making do", Clueless is "Doing". Sociopathy is also "big picture", Clueless is also "detail oriented".

Do Rao's terms carve reality at a useful joint? Well, I'll just observe that a lot of people have carved reality at similar joints; I think so. Do his terms add any kind of meaning?

Well - here's the thing. Literally, no. You can come up with other, similar terms for what he is describing, and make the entire thing seem kind of like a fantastical structure built out of nothing; okay, if "sociopathy" and "wise man" boil down to the same kind of thing, what the hell is he talking about?

But even though you didn't actually learn anything new reading his stuff - and if you stop and think about it, you weren't introduced to anything new, you already know all of that stuff - you still somehow understand some other set of ideas better.

That's kind of curious, isn't it?

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I'm pretty sure the way actual sociopaths get promoted up the corporate ladder is they spend all day toadying up to their bosses instead of working, and eventually after stealing from the company for four years straight/having literally no qualifications whatsoever for a field which requires accreditation/spending all day on petty sadism with their underlings rather than doing anything useful/etc, they get found out and fired. This is just astrology for annoying cynics.

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Torn between disliking the Gervais ideas generally for being a bit self indulgently grimdark (things are true in proportion to the intensity of your desire to find them repellant, instead of true because when you try them out you say “huh, that worked”) and trying to map it to my own “modules” way of thinking.

I did laugh out loud over the correct change anecdote. I have a lot of grandiose thoughts about how government should be restructured and two weeks ago I passed out in the nursery rocking chair after putting my son in his crib. I woke up having tipped completely backward and was stuck in the corner of the room with my feet in the air and a really neat neck cramp. It took the better part of ten minutes to quietly escape. My first thought when I realized what the hell was going on was: “this is a very unbecoming set of circumstances for someone who thinks himself to be correct about major policy issues.”

As Scott mentioned in the article I think enough of this is true to be interesting but when you take it down to the individual level it sort of falls apart. I tend to think these are all just modules that exist inside people that get brought out depending on their own nature and the environment they find themselves in and often working at the same time. Work in c level corporate America but it doesn’t seem you get promoted without doing a good job. I call my similar modules for loser the player module (ie you want to play a game and bring value to your team, you get feedback from teammates and think at the task level) the coach module (you want to command a team and get feedback from wins and losses and think at the tactical level) and the game maker module (you think strategically, realize there is a degree of arbitrariness to games, but hopefully understand it’s not totally arbitrary because only some games repeat and propagate). I think I’ve been all three of these in the corporate world at various points, sometimes all at once, and so has everyone else I know.

I will grant when I was just quietly stewing over the fact I knew answers to questions my bosses didn’t know I felt a lot more bitter about management, before I self reflected enough to realize that unless they knew I knew the answer it was sort of my fault for not speaking up more. Once I did I managed to advance pretty quickly. I also tended to think of self-promotion and networking as really gross Machiavellian things instead of just practical “people can only work with you if they know who you are and what you can do” before I actually had to lead things. Then it became a lot less cute for people to play humble/be shy about what they could do when we were trying to meet deadlines. I do get where the grim dark stuff comes from. I guess I sort of had just had a very stupid prior belief that everyone should just be able to see what was in my head without having to be told. Anything to actually deal with that externally felt like bullshit work that was selfishly done just for my benefit. I mentor people a lot now and it is amazing how many others also see that as some kind of gross evil thing, instead of just the practical work of helping your organization build a mental modem of itself, especially other millenials.

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A lof of this is about typology. I wonder have you ever researched in depth MBTI?

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It's funny that Rao puts Michael Scott among the losers, since I've long felt he was one of the most realistic depictions of a sociopath in popular culture. He's not some sort of ruthless, calculating machine, but a walking embarrassment, because he lacks the capacity for embarrassment or any other number of compunctions that might allow him to form a useful theory of mind

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"Most people have a special place in their heart for the book that first made them understand the idea of status economics."

Very curious for some examples of books on this topic.

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Is this the second in a multipart series on "garbage books Scott wouldn't give a second look except that he kind of vibed with the author's blog?"

I think these need content warnings. ("Content Warning: No content.")

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Scott, what was the unusually good undergrad psych textbook you read? And since I don't expect Scott to respond here, did anyone here have a great UG intro psych textbook?

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Wait, I'm the guy who doesn't care about status hierarchy?

So... a loser then.

Reminds me of Moral Mazes too, although I'm not quite sure on how. Fascinating book / book review.

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I'd probably be more open to this analysis if the classes were normies, competents and leaders. One of the things I didn't like about The Office (American one 2 epidsodes seen) was the contempt for average people.

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Fun-time activity: Take a taxonomy that claims its author is in the only group of clear-thinking people, hypothesize that it's broadly correct about everything EXCEPT that group, then complete the pattern.

If Losers crave validation from their peers, and Clueless crave validation from on high (systems/authorities/ideals), it seems to me that the third group completing the pattern should be people who crave validation "from below"; i.e. people who want to be venerated by the masses.

This might motivate them to, say, seek prestigious titles (like "president" or "CEO"), manipulate blame and credit, hoard wealth and influence, and spread narratives that paint themselves as virtuous.

(If you were a sith lord whose power comes from manipulating the social masks that other people mistakenly think are real, would YOU publish a book explaining that?)

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I've had the same thought about all of these Lacanean posts, with each article increasing my confidence.

Based on the idea of the selfish gene, we would expect most people to believe in and support society (because otherwise it would collapse) but also some number of defectors will exploit this idea for their own gain. But what is it like inside the head of a defector? Probably something like: "society is a lie and cooperators are deluded or manipulated sheep". Both groups assume their own cognitive processes are "normal" and that the other group must have been traumatized or developmentally stunted in some way. Lacan seems like a defector psychologist trying to "understand" cooperators.

I don't have the data to answer the question of whether defectors or cooperators are somehow developmentally "superior" to the other, but I can say that I sure am glad most people are cooperators. And as a cooperator I am fine with defectors being treated like the viruses that cooperators perceive they are. (Note: not a call to violence, just an endorsement of things like laws and social norms.)

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I know this isn't really the point. But the use of the word sociopath and loser and the like really speaks to a kind of insecure social weirdness. Like the whole alpha/sigma thing. It really does seem like astrology for guys to me.

It seems like a tool meant to deny the humanity of the majority of people and to create some kind of elite. You're a sociopath so YOU negotiate your role with society and try to push it into being what you want. Don't feel like you're succeeding? Well, you're one of the Clueless! Don't worry, just read this book and get a clue. (Alternatively, buy my course for the low, low price of $999.) But still you're not like all those awful normie losers who definitely don't get it.

And I'm not making this as a moral comment. If you think that you're modeling the world wrong because you understand people with alternative goals not as having those goals but as failing at having the goal you have objectively decided as being correct..

It reminds me of all those corporate samurai books that were population a few generations back. Yes, other people are just ordinary office drones. But YOU are a samurai slicing your way through deals! It's a way to self-glorify. But it also has an underlying ethos of overwork being good and corporate competition in a specific career as the ultimate good.

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I know that when Scott reviews a book he always tries to get inside it and understand it on its own terms. But in this case, that sounds like way too much of a stretch. Using a sitcom as the main source of examples for an analysis of real life creates a credibility canyon, and it seems like that needs to be addressed somehow. I suppose I'm supposed to have heard of Rao and be very impressed by him and believe that his experience intrinsically means he knows how The World works better than me... but isn't the point of writing a book that he has to demonstrate his knowledge?

Why should anyone not just throw the book away, saying, business insights from The Office is a stupid idea?

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>Also, a few weeks ago I got in an argument with a clerk over the right amount of change, after double-checking it turned out I was wrong and the clerk was right, and even though this was in an airport and I will definitely never see that clerk again, I felt embarrassed about the interaction for hours, and still feel pretty bad about it. Doesn’t really feel very ubermensch-ish or transcended-the-need-for-other-people’s-good-opinion-y.

There are two ways this can cause embarrassment, one signifying an internal locus of control and one signifying an external one. Here's a test:

If the clerk had agreed with you on the amount of change, and you'd only realised *later* that you were actually wrong, would you still feel embarrassed?

If not, then you're definitely working in shame mode and want others' respect.

If you would still feel embarrassed, then this is an internal guilt thing and not related to others' opinions of you.

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Granting that the idea is right or even semi-right, I still don't get it. If the only way to become a CEO is to forswear all value systems then what's even the point?

I absolutely believe most people are "special in their own way" and consent completely to judging people's value to a group on their strengths. That seems like a better use of my limited lifetime than truly reckoning with the godless nature of reality or whatever. You stare into the void, it's Katy's birthday and we're going to have cake.

Also, I know n=1 but when I underperformed at my jobs I got fired.

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after reading my backwards through most of ribbonfarm a year or so ago (thus getting to gervais only after digesting most of his later posts), most of venkat's posts seem like elaborations/studies on the theme "all losers/clueless are alike, but every sociopath is sociopathic in his/her own way". on the surface, the whole sociopath category as he describes it does seems really crude and status-gamey, especially a decade+ since, but i feel like the entire series was all a setup for what he went on to explore - in other words it created a sort of negative space to explore.

probably the best lineage of posts (reverse-chronological) i can come up with off the top of my head that feels like may prove this:

- https://www.ribbonfarm.com/2019/09/04/worlding-raga-7-worlds-of-worlds/

- https://www.ribbonfarm.com/2018/11/21/the-age-of-early-divinity/

- https://www.ribbonfarm.com/2018/03/29/the-key-to-act-two/

- https://www.ribbonfarm.com/2017/06/27/been-there-done-that/

- https://www.ribbonfarm.com/2017/11/09/ceos-dont-steer/

- https://www.ribbonfarm.com/2016/03/31/human-complete-problems/

- https://www.ribbonfarm.com/2016/04/28/immortality-begins-at-forty/

- https://www.ribbonfarm.com/2015/12/17/we-are-all-architects-now/

- https://www.ribbonfarm.com/2015/09/17/how-to-be-a-precious-snowflake/

- https://www.ribbonfarm.com/2014/02/20/the-cactus-and-the-weasel/

- https://www.ribbonfarm.com/2014/10/08/the-adjacency-fallacy/

- https://www.ribbonfarm.com/2016/02/25/the-epic-struggle-between-good-and-neutral/

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I always think of TLP's point that everything in a system happens on autopilot. The sociopaths aren't promoting underachievers by whatever measure gets people promoted. The system gives sociopaths an overachiever ranking (to justify the promotion). The system set up a bad measure completely deniably from the people it benefits. How many people do you know who claim to be doing excellent work who don't get promoted? I know a lot who complain about this, and I think the implication is that they are clueless.

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Isn’t this kind of a reformulation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? Losers and Clueless are stuck at belongingness/esteem, and Sociopaths are at self actualization.

The business claims are obviously just ridiculous; does anyone really think that someone like Bezos would have underperformed as an entry level engineer?

It seems like the useful ideas boil down to: 1. Be an independent thinker. 2. Don’t confuse the esteem of others for your self esteem. Which is well… kind of obvious even without the dark enlightenment schtick.

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It's obviously powerful to be able to position oneself as the Other who creates meaning for alleged 'normies' who cannot act without the validating presence of such meaning-structures. (The old expression 'making the weather' comes to mind.) People who make a grail of this stand-apart power do write about it quite seductively and poetically.

Often, though, those people undervalue the concreteness of the 'masks'. Statements like "The climactic moment in this journey is the point where skill at manipulating social realities becomes unconscious." is where they kind of lose me. The more likely outcome of a 'dark nirvana' is profound nihilism and inability to engage with the required but meaningless rituals.

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Why is it that those kind of books always read like "ten reasons why you should be a sociopath and manipulate everybody for your own advancement" ?

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> I might try Be Slightly Evil next and see if it enlightens me further.

I was disappointed by this, and most other stuff written by Rao. I used to follow him in his Quora days and liked him a lot, but at some point he either didn't have anything interesting left to say or (more charitably and probably more likely) he felt he had to put out more volume, at the expense of the density of good ideas.

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The Gervais Principle IS the work that introduced me to status economics many years ago, earning said special place in my heart, but your critiques are right.

Reflecting on it again, I think the office culture examples kind of hamstring its ability to say what it really wants to say about human nature. The categories are a mess when you try to apply them outside of the corporate atmosphere (or even inside some corporations (or even inside most corporations)). But his thoughts on so-called sociopaths have been most insightful to me and reflect my own experiences coming around to moral anti-realism / materialism, and the subsequent challenge of finding meaning there.

In my understanding, the "real" categorization scheme, from which the Gervais categories are borrowing alpha, is just the spectrum between symbolic thinkers and physical thinkers. Symbolic = buys into social realities and one's own manufactured realities. Physical = everything is quarks and forces, and humans lying to themselves. The Clueless and Losers are two kinds of symbolic thinkers, the former a bit further down the spectrum. Gervais categories say more about office-specific behavior, but if you want to distill out the parts about psychology - the real fundamental difference between Michael/Dwight and David/Charles, *as people* - it's their different positions on the axis of symbolic vs physical understandings of reality.

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Written before reading the comments:

When I read the Gervaise Principle on the blog, I would have assumed it was too cynical, but there were a number of people who said it explained what happened in their jobs.

One thing missing in the review (maybe it wasn't in the book) is that the theory is about how businesses (perhaps also governments and non-profits?) evolve. They can start out making some sort of business sense, and then they get taken over by sociopaths (they're very focused on taking things over) and the dynamics from the book become dominant.

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So Elon Musk is a genius, and was successful in being admitted to a pHd program, where I am sure he could have been very successful.

But rather than let this success hold him back, through the lens of the Gervais principle, and bind him to this graduate role, he had the courage to drop out after 2 days, and then self-actualize himself into a billionaire who might land earth on the moon.

I guess that's why he's a billionaire leader.

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"Rao theorizes that most of the middle layers of companies are giant and powerful machines built by Sociopaths to guide and redirect the flow of blame and credit."

This is a pretty big part of the thesis of Robert Jackall's Moral Mazes, which I would highly recommend. For me personally it made a lot of my workplace more legible. Based on your review here of the Gervais Principle, I personally find Moral Mazes to make far more sense as a fundamental explanation of the function of the firm.

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The framing is pretty problematic here. It borders on excusing sociopathic behavior by assigning almost equally derogatory terms to the alternatives. If you're not a sociopath winner you gonna be a clueless loser?

Yes corruption is everywhere including being very present in corporate structures, but it doesn't mean it's a good thing to make excuses for sociopaths. That's how you turn society into a corrupted despotic banana republic. And yes it's a constant battle that everyone should be waging. It's one of the most common theme in epic narratives. What's the point of this apologia for the dark side.

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May 11, 2022·edited May 11, 2022

As I read the summary (and especially as I read the comments that seem to buy into the book’s framing), this increasingly looked less to me like “a functional theory of corporate structure” and more to me like red pill/incel literature reskinned for careers.

Like incel literature, the core of its appeal isn’t in its accuracy as a model, so much as the emotional needs it can fulfil for its target audience(s):

- Providing the unsuccessful and hopeless with go-to excuses/comfort (“I didn’t fail because of anything I did, I just have too few millimeters of bone in my jaw/not tall enough/not enough of a sociopath so success was always impossible”)

- Providing a fantasy which merges a path to success with vengeance. A "forbidden" path where the incel/loser is told he can succeed by becoming a sociopath/Chad/alpha and treating other people as less than human. On this "dark" path, “getting back at them all” is not just a benefit, but a necessary step all successful people must take. This affords the fantasy of cruelty which, instead of just making me cruel, makes me both cooler for practicing the forbidden arts and morally defensible because it’s really the only way anyone succeeds.

- Bringing the whole thing together with a status-framework in which the incel can, in his mind, elevate himself above others and associate with the successful class despite his lack of actual success, and insulate himself from critics of his mental model (“I may live with my mom, but I’m a sociopath like Elon Musk,” “all you guys online telling me this theory is nonsense are just losers/betas who aren’t smart like me and don’t see the system for what it is”)

So the appeal of the model is only tangentially related to its accuracy, and ultimately the model tells you more about its most fervent believers than it tells you about the corporate structure itself.

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Rao seems to claim that 80% of the population see themselves as the most beautiful, special person ever - I always thought that was a middle-class thing? Although if he's studied organisations where you have to be middle-class to get in, it might well be true within the sample.

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Ok I read the posts.

There's some useful stuff in there. In particular, the need for legibility among the 'Clueless,' and tying that to arrested development seems useful. Less as a way to describe a specific type of person, and more as a way to understand behavior that has always struck me as nonsensical, both in myself and in others.

Trying to please the gods of the microphone (as Scott described this bit), is an incredibly useful lens for bizarre decision-making. The gods aren't real. They may be modeled on real people or things (e.g. your parents, the crush that rejected you, The Lord), but the version you're trying to earn approval from is entirely your own creation. Because you need a path to the approval, you'll constantly put objective goals in their mouths that are measurable enough for you to say "yes, I did it" or "no, I didn't." But also since your self-image is entirely defined by seeking their approval, if you meet a goal, you'll just have to give them a new one. (Hey, that's what all that Lacan stuff was about!)

Unfortunately, in real life, that's not... nobody is measuring your objective worth, they're too busy trying to establish their own. So when you try to use your "gain the approval of my private God" methods to gain the approval of peers and coworkers, you come across as deeply out of touch with the social reality around you. Because you are out of touch with the social reality around you.

The second bit though - about social illegibility within groups - seems genuinely unhinged to me. I get that "people have a relatively set amount of social capital/status" is in service to the ultimate thesis is that only money/power/sex *actually* matter and we're making up the rest. But this is never actually justified in the text, and I don't see any reason to assume it's true. Human beings have all kinds of impulses that might be derived from the material/power/sex requirement of life, but now operate independently of it. There are definitely status-affirming clubs out there, a lot of them. And within clubs there's always some status jockeying. But generally speaking I think people join a band if they like to play music? Humans sometimes congregate in groups because groups can do things better than individuals, and it's weird that possibility never even gets discussed.

As for Zarathustra, I'm not buying. I saw the attempt to explain that there's a difference between intellectually understanding The Absent God and viscerally understanding The Absent God. But, like, I'm constantly aware that the words people are saying and the games they are playing are meaningless diversions on the way to the grave. It's a serious issue. I see people parrot the hot take of the week and inwardly roll my eyes at it too. Generally 90% of the things that get discussed in my social circle register to me as "Please like me, please please like me please." I definitely prefer to discuss ideas over events and/or people. And generally I think I mostly march to my own drummer.

But none of this has given me some kind of supernatural ability to manipulate the social or spiritual realities of others. Mostly it just makes me very tired all the time. Is there some version of this taxonomy where "sociopaths" are replaced with "people who are tired of being at this party and would like a nap?" Because honestly that seems the more likely outcome of being hyper-aware of the motivations behind all the social dynamics occurring around you.

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The three-pronged classification rings false to me, but what rings true is the part where everybody works hard to construct a particular set of values which allows them, personally, to be high status according to those values.

Instead of values causing behaviour, behaviour causes values. You do what you're naturally inclined to do anyway, and then construct a system of values in which your behaviour puts you right up the top. Naturally inclined towards chastity? Then chastity is a virtue. Naturally inclined towards sluttiness? Great, then you're a brave sex-positive feminist who is fighting the dark forces of et cetera.

Then so many conflicts in society arise when people who have carefully constructed one sort of value system rub up against people who have constructed another sort of value system.

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May 11, 2022·edited May 11, 2022

Some things that came up for me. 1. Does the author define "sociopathy"? As I understand it, "anti-social" is the prefered term in psychology now. 2. As I see it, the kind of sociopathy the author is taking about is more the kind of personalities who tend to prosper when society is on the brink of collapse/going through a economic crisis or depression. I don't personally see any of the characteristics he cites in upper managment in a western, business-as-usual democracy. 3. I agree with Scott's counter-argument vis a vis the problem with psycological labeling. I've often thought it would be useful to run a meta study where you randomly aggregate personality traits into personality disorders, and then see how many people identify with those disorders vs disorders which are non-randomly generated. I've a feeling there probably wouldn't be much of a difference. I'd be interested to hear if anyone knows of any study like that that's been performed.

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@Scott in a previous post you wrote on whether introverts make less money than extroverts, you closed with a question on what introvert's experiences were like. I responded on that post, but after having read this post, I have a few more insights. I think I was conflating "introvert" with "analytical" -- the two correlating, but being technically distinct things.

> Clueless people [...] may be brain surgeons or rocket scientists. But they are fundamentally incapable of grasping the shifting, illegible nature of social reality. They retreat to objective reality - over-performing at their object-level job - and taking the official legible rules really seriously.

This resonates with me as an introverted (and perhaps more importantly, analytical) person, and might be one of the reasons I don't get promoted (into a sociopath) and thus don't make as much money as the extroverts (who perhaps correlate with being sociopaths in Rao's meaning of the term???) do.

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Does anybody else feel eerily reminded of Fussell's classes? The main difference being Fussell's Elites are only pretending to be above it all while Sociopaths have true insight they use to be above it all.

Fussell's description tracks better/seems more plausible though. I believe the reason is that Fussell was looking for actual classifications with as detailed indicators as possible (and his point being that since this succeed, class is real) while Rao seems to describe much more how these categories interact. Maybe better terms would simple be "Rule makers", "Rule abusers", "Rule aceptors"

But since both describe practically the same observation, I am very confident they saw "something real". Or Human Brain Like Three.

The only real question left seems to be whether there is an alternative. Fussell describes a class X, I believe one point of Sadly Porn is to demand action independent of Rules.

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I'm surprised you didn't mention anywhere in your review the meta-nature of the Gervais principle itself. Rao is offering a categorical schema, the quintessential sociopath move. The people who accept it uncritically are marking themselves as Clueless, the people who mostly ignore it are Losers, meanwhile any potential sociopaths reading it will naturally use it as a heuristic for manipulation and success, but only until they develop their own internalized, more dynamic system, which they will then presumably dumb down and foist upon others in a bid for greater control of an organization.

Interestingly, this creates an ironic scenario where the only people to OPENLY embrace the book and declare themselves committed to the sociopathic way of life are the clueless. The sociopaths would presumably know better than to put their cards on the table like that.

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This probably wasn't an intended outcome, but I know understand the name behind the show Arrested Development.

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I think Scott gets at the primary value of the book (albeit a little obliquely) towards the end of the review: this is not a typological system for understanding one's self or others in general, it is really meant to be be a business book. Meaning it's about organizational psychology: how we behave in relation to others within a group that has a a shared goal and a hierarchy. As such, I think it gets at something that is real; I've certainly seen these kinds of dynamics at play in the hospitals I've worked at, and I would place myself pretty firmly in the "loser" category. That said, that doesn't make me a loser in my personal life, it's just who I am within the hospital ecosystem.

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"Also, I don’t get the impression that most top executives are people who had traumas that caused them to see the unmediated Real and achieve dark enlightenment. Lots of them seem to be the rich kids of rich parents, who did well in school and have some level of business talent. I’m guessing the average single mother trying to make ends meet as a receptionist has had ten times more unmediated-Real-experiencing than they ever will. I don’t know, maybe I’m using an unsophisticated definition of trauma and the Real here."

Clueless can be top executives too; sociopath is more of a reality mediating role, and it's independent of title.

I think this is only the second time you reviewed a book I'd already read. I enjoyed the review, but it was especially interesting that the stuff you seemed to not agree with was the stuff I found the most Obviously True. Automatic knowledge of highest and lowest status within loser groups, etc.

Sociopaths control "Loser Spirituality" by providing positive and negative feedback in order to force status updates.

Your attempts to fit Rao's types into other writers types is missing a key fact about systems: systems are observer created, and where the delineation occurs is entirely arbitrary. Picture a radial graph of personality types; Rao's 3 buckets cover the same people as other authors' 3 buckets, but the radial lines are in completely different places. I suggest "An Introduction to General Systems Thinking" by Weinberg if you haven't already read it.

Interestingly, it does seem to me that Rao's buckets are almost exactly 60 degrees offset from Lacan's.

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May 11, 2022·edited May 11, 2022

"They can be found carefully studying the Mission Statement, trying to figure out how best to embody its values. Or putting up inspirational posters in the hallways. Or trying to win the hokey competition for Best Office Morale so they can get the first prize pizza party or whatever."

The Apple TV+ series 'Severance' plays with this idea quite well. It imagines everyone in an office mentally "raised" to be Clueless as a means of control.

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I am very conflicted because on the one hand it sounds like weapons grade bullshit (and I read the whole thing back in the day), on the other...

My current "boss" is completely Clueless, and he was literally promoted because everyone else was more competent than him. I was offered his position back in the day, and I refused because it sounded tiring and I had better things to do as an individual contributor. So the poor guy constantly attempts to herd cats (= myself and my colleagues, all cynical Losers) which we find somewhat cute, and if he ever steps out of line his boss - who I'd consider an enlightened Loser or a Sociopath with too much conscience - yanks on his leash.

So yeah, Rao's series is growing on me with more experience in the trenches.

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May 11, 2022·edited May 11, 2022

I think the Garvis principle might just be from peoples dependence on certain emotions. [Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Plutchik) theorizes that there are 8 basic emotions each pushing for an opposite response given a certain context (Prediction - Anticipation and Surprise, Threat - Anger and Fear, Affect - Joy and Sadness, Morality- Veneration and Disgust). The Morality axis is where Clueless, Sociopaths, and Losers differ. Associated with prosocial behavior it, we get an emotional reward when we receive words of praise and when we punish defectors.

Clueless prioritize the Morality emotional rewards above all others emotions. They are extremally high in conscientiousness, and as Adam Smith would say the desire "to be loved and to be lovely". Part of their salary is actually that warm fuzzy feeling of being part of the tribe.

Sociopaths, people capable of completely ignoring the Morality axis of emotions, have a tool that others lack. They are willing to be hated, and do the disgusting things that would be beneath the others dignity. They also are immune to the moral arguments that others put forward, and trade in longer lasting currency than "attaboys", and headpats.

The Losers, are people who are either getting their emotional payout elsewhere, or lack the skills to get it at work. If they do get it from work, it is from their coworkers, in the standard normie way. While in a work setting, they are probably prioritizing Joy, or responding to threat (anger and fear).

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What was your "unusually good" college psych text?

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I think your observation that these posts were a lot of people's introductions to status economies and that's why it has the power to change lives.

I think its big claim is that there are people who aren't playing status games, for reasons not explained by any acknowledgement that neurodivegence exists. I would like to see this claim evidenced, and so far have not, but I won't dismiss it out of hand.

(I'm neurodivergent and find status play a necessary nuisance.)

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"You try it, and instead of getting praise/reward/validation all the time, you get those things rarely or not at all. If you can, maybe you go back to school (ie get a PhD), a strategy with problems of its own."

For purely practical purposes, I'd like to point out that if praise/reward/validation is what you are looking for, doing a PhD is not a very good idea.

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Man, first Teach tells me I’m a narcissist, then Rao tells me I’m a Loser. Who will stand up for people who just want a paycheck, a free weekend and a good bowl of ramen?

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Humble Vibe Check:

1. The "type overlap" can be further reduced into three subtypes as the socialite (Andy), cynic (Michael), and the loyalist (Dwight), and should be properly re-evaluated: https://alexdanco.com/2021/07/08/michael-dwight-and-andy-the-three-aesthetics-of-the-creative-class/ https://www.reddit.com/r/AlreadyRed/comments/1zso5x/spergs_cynics_and_manipulators_how_powertalk/ http://www.zzzptm.com/lss-002.html

2. Truth is possible within this frame, but how can we do this? "Pam Against Posturing" or romancing the "sociopaths" seems to be a possible solution, but it is still vague https://mereorthodoxy.com/michael-scott-theory-social-class/

3. Perhaps "sociopaths" have internal legibility (see also Jock humble brags), but not external rationalist and "publicized" legibility, whilst "clueless" desire open legibility (see also nerd rage), which is inherently instable in larger Dunbar scales?

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This post had the effect on me that could be described as "assuming the worst", "overreacting", "blaming", "paranoia". It made me think that maybe I had been suckered into a position at work I don't want to be in as Clueless (middle management) in an occupation I don't enjoy, made me question my merits to run the unit as a meek pushover for the Socipaths (upper management), made me wonder whether I'd be happier as a Loser (worker) instead, not losing sleep over managerial responsibilities.

Meh, for me the theory seems conducive to a self-biased and suspicious outlook on my colleagues, and I really prefer to have a balanced and charitable view, where evidence about performance outweighs my personal intuition. To say "Hah, that's typical Clueless" sort of misses the point, because it disregards more objective measures of work dynamics. Maybe the theory seduces by tickling the suspicious part of your subconscious that desperately tries to look out for you, starting an inner monologue that goes something like "these other people are somehow bad, I dislike the way they talk to me getting me to do stupid bullshit I don't want to do, I do all the work while they just fart around". I immediately framed my own boss as a psychopath, but when I really think about it, she's a perfectly decent person who often has a different opinion than me but she's reasonable about our differences of opinion and we end up getting along well after a little bit of conflict. I immediately framed myself as a clueless, because it's a sort of a victim position to take, "I am reasonable, ethical, do my work well, and carry the heaviest load, woe is me!"

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I think the categories wrap several dimensions into one.

like motivation and understanding

for example - someone could be out for himself, without great understandong how to pull things off. "whoever tries to get me killed is my enemy, no matter on which side he is on" - catch22.

someone could have great understanding of the organization, but do have some higher goal on mind, like God, country, Socialism, etc. These guys are clueless psychopath, and are really dangerous/effective.

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"They identify underperforming entry-level workers as potential new Sociopaths. [...] Leadership puts these people on a track to upper management."

Why would Sociopaths promote other Sociopaths? Aren't they more likely to be a threat? Is using a Clueless or a Loser (with above average competence) in upper management management somehow bad compared to using another Sociopath?

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Two things: first, I really liked the Gervais principle when I first read it and it was nice to get a recap.

Second, I kind of can’t believe that you weren’t already very into VGR. You two seem very much like fellow travelers.

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May 12, 2022·edited May 12, 2022

I suspect that Rao confuses laziness and underperformance on the part of the "Sociopaths" with what the Italian philosopher Castiglione called "sprezzatura." From Wikipedia:

"Sprezzatura is an Italian word that first appears in Baldassare Castiglione's 1528 The Book of the Courtier, where it is defined by the author as "a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it"."

The Book of the Courtier is a fantastic read, with both real substance and all sorts of weird details that paint a vivid picture of court life in Renaissance Italy. Its central concept is sprezzatura, the courtier's highest virtue (at least according to Castiglione); as the quote suggests, it involves concealing effort to achieve "grace." Sprezzatura is definitely somewhat deceptive, but can also be viewed as a costly signal of real talent (because only the truly competent can afford to expend effort concealing effort).

I find it easier to believe that Rao mistook sprezzatura for laziness and underperformance than that laziness and underperformance are Sociopathic virtues. This is partly because I don't exactly admire laziness but I do admire what I take to be sprezzatura when I notice it, just as I enjoy stage magic (not that I'd claim to be one of Rao's Sociopaths; I don't love the categories). It is also because I tend to defer to old books that sustained popularity throughout many ages and changing fashions.

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This post is not linked to from https://astralcodexten.substack.com .

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May 13, 2022·edited May 13, 2022

Re this:

"1. Your development is arrested by your strengths, not your weaknesses."

"2. Arrested-development behavior is caused by a strength-based addiction."

This is the philosophy of Lauren Faust's "My Little Pony, Generation 4" (the one bronies like). Western literature has long used a Christian dogma of character, according to which characters are individualized only by the ways they fall short of perfection, and therefore authors create characters by giving them *flaws*. In MLP G4, by contrast, characters are individualized by having particular hyper-developed *strengths*, and their personal problems and social dysfunctions are caused by relying too heavily on their strengths. In Western fiction, each character must overcome his or her own flaw; in MLP G4, the entire group helps each character learn when to rely on their strength and when to do things someone else's way. Rather than each character individually seeking perfection, each character must learn how to integrate their strength into the group.

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Has the "higher managerial echelon correlates strongly with extreme social skill and a good headstart" been found wanting that we need resort to more complex typologies such as this?

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I read this post, enjoyed it and forgot about it, and then went to watch Julius Caesar at The Globe. Fascinatingly similar, character constructs and strata; I’d encourage one (Scott?) to read JC now, having read TGP

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Love the audio versions of newsletters, but was frustrated that it wasn't an option for everything on substack. I find I'm pretty inconsistent with keeping up with Astral Codex Ten, and wanted to be able to listen to past versions. If you forward the newsletter to narrate@ad-auris.com it sends an audio version of the newsletter back! I've been using to keep up with everything.

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Scott quotes Rao's introduction:

>Sure, some of you may end up depressed, or make bad decisions as a result of this book, but I believe that is a risk associated with all writing of any substance.

I suspect that this is mere rhetoric, meant to make the book seem significant.

But if it actually meant something, what would that be? Why would all 'writing of any substance' carry these risks?

Is it a banal identification of 'writing of any substance' with 'writing based on reality'? Or would Rao say that lesser sorts of writing can be connected to reality, too, just without being 'of any substance'?

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May 13, 2022·edited May 13, 2022

> Somewhere in your head there is a microphone. It produces a little voice inside of you, whose approval you desperately crave. You would do anything for the voice to like you. Ghosts, mental models, and personified abstract concepts fight each other for a turn at the mike and the right to implicitly control your actions. Who wins?

I'm not sure if I'm interpreting this too literally, or whether this is an example of "What universal experiences are you missing?", but this does not match my experience at all.

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> Sociopathy is not about ripping off a specific mask from the face of social reality. It is about recognizing that there are no social realities. There are only masks.

This is the kind of thing that took me right past rationality and into nihilism when I was younger.

Surprisingly few people state the antidote clearly: suffering is bad, and human flourishing is good. If you can accept those things and reject the idea that everyone should just give up and die, then that's enough to build a satisfying and beneficial ethical system upon.

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This framework feels accurate, but incomplete. Compassion, for example, feels like it ought to have a place somewhere in there. I think you're right in pointing out that it's basically a random collection of traits sorted into three groups, where the traits could in theory be mix and matched freely, except that the frame presented here forms a stable status economy of sorts where the three groups reinforce each other's identities. By contrast, if you stuck an Effective Altruist, a crystal-wearing hippie, and a literal nazi in a room, their interactions would be entirely destructive and they would drive each other away. Rao's framework isn't the only possible option, just a successful example.

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"Underperforming" Sociopaths are promoted to managers not because of low performance but because middle Management is a totally different job with totally different skills. A person who can't stand out as individual contributor (IC) but shows capacity to manage up can contribute to company in better ways than as IC. A person that stands out as IC will only go to management if they need to to get higher salary (and most of them are bad managers). A not good IC that does not show capacity to manage up will be soon dismissed.

Progressing in your career ladder inside a company usually means having to switch to a very diffeennt job with verydifferent skills from the ones you showed being good at , and companies want to make this inefficiency as painless for the company as possible. If all companies could have good parallel tracks for ICs and managers, all the rancor caused by having not brilliant IC performers being promoted would be greatly decreased.

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A silly hypothesis: People respond to the idea of AI differently because they imagine that AI will be exactly like them, based on their place in this typology.

Sociopaths assume that AI will be a powerful and dangerous threat, obsessively fixated on a single goal and using any means—however harmful, however byzantine—to achieve it.

Clueless people assume that AI will simply be a complicated tool that mindlessly performs whatever tasks it is given, with no particular goals or agency.

Losers assume that AI will never happen, because humans are too special to be replicated. Or, if it does, it will look pretty much like humans do and we'll have no problem coexisting with it, as long as humans and robots both recognize and respect their own respective specialness.

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This comment section is a mess. Half the people are using the book's definition of "sociopath" and the other half are using the popular psychological definition.

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"an unusually good college psych textbook"

Can you share the title and author?

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"postrationalist heresiarch Venkatesh Rao"

what was his heresy?

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"So maybe a better example would be to look at the top levels of corporations where performance is easily measured, and see how many of the big executives overperformed / underperformed / normalperformed during their first year. "

No such realm exists. Performance is *always* impossible to measure. If it was measurable, the Sociopath game wouldn't work.

I think it's really difficult to appreciate The Gervais Principle if you haven't spent a lot of time in the corporate world, which (to my understanding) Scott hasn't.

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I'm reminded of a thread (https://nitter.eu/erikaheidewald/status/1368966115804598275) I read that also divided people into three categories: in this case, autists, neurotypicals, and allistic neurodiverse

in short:

neurotypicals live in the social reality

it is, to them, immutable and absolute

they will take the social ladder at face value and climb it for all it's worth

autists live in the abstract, physical reality

we do not see status.

it is arbitrary and nonsensical.

and allistic neurodiverse people basically sit in between.

they are seen as normal people, as they see and exist within the social reality, but they have difficulties fully understanding it, as they also see the abstract/physical reality, and assume those around them do too.

I thought at first one could map autists to clueless (we are, after all, clueless) but then I realized not living in the social reality is more a sociopath thing.

though, even that requires them initially living in the social reality.

I suppose it's unsurprising that a book on categorizing people in the framing of business doesn't include autistic people.

one can assume, then, that autists do not fit this trinary, and that the other two do.

the allistic NDs are a dead ringer for the clueless, existing in the social but distracted by the real.

which brings us to the neurotypicals.

strangely enough, the neuroypical is characterized as a status-seeker in a way that lends itself to both loser and sociopath interpretations.

perhaps this is the correct view?

both start out as status-seeking, but end up in different places.

so now we have a four-way model, with the neurotypicals being split up into losers and sociopaths, autists getting externally tacked on, and the "sees social reality but confounded by real world" group remining unchanged.

I don't know lacann's trinary, but you could likely pull a similar extention trick to make it fit.

it is worth noting that there are more than three (or even four) people in the world, and understand these are useful models at best.

if you ask two different people to divide people into three groups based entirely whatever criteria make sense to them, and the groups likely will not match up one to one.

these thing are abstract models.

they generalize and simplify to make stuff understandable.

atoms are not letters surronded by dots and lines, but that's what they teach in chemistry class.

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I've heard rich people consider things that are punishable by fine to be legal, simply costing a given amount to do.

so that's absolutely a layer or two down.

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I'm inherently suspicious of any books that classify sociopaths as the pinnacle of (social?) evolution. It's not the first time I've seen it, and somehow the idea is always explored by self-professed sociopaths. "Dark Enlightenment" is also a common motive, sometimes to the point of hilarity, as one blog I've read suggested that such enlightenment most often comes with a disrespect for highway speed limits (though it's only one of the first steps to the real sociopathic godhood, but such persons are already head-and-shoulders above various normies). Oh, and derisive names for everybody who's not a sociopath is also common with these books/blogs. But I can hardly believe these highly enlighted people would share their wisdom with us Clueless Losers. Unless... They maybe want our approval? And money. But also approval, or at least hate. Doesn't it makes them Losers, though? They might pretend they don't care one way or another, but I think anyone who takes up writing is seeking some form of external validation (I'd prefer you all to agree with this comment).

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To your question about upper management and under/over-performance: I've never worked at a huge corporation, and suspect that it's distinctly different once a company reaches a certain size (aka - even management level employees are larger than Dunbar's Number). That said, I've worked in senior management for several organizations, and the top managers were mostly over-achievers, even the clearly sociopathic ones. Those that weren't clearly overachievers, I would label as highly productive anyway - they were just smart enough to get more done with less time and effort.

Separately, I think Rao puts too much stake into clear lines between groups. As with most people, I can see aspects of myself that fall into each of the three groups. At work, I'm probably more of a Sociopath - but I'm having trouble distinguishing the traits from the basic things a higher level manager would need. You can't be in awe of the rules when you're the person who writes and then changes them! I also have to regularly make decisions that result in significant negative affects (positive too, but those are easier) for other people. I'm not the owner from the 5th Element who callously fires thousands of people, but I've still fired a lot of people when it was needed, and it was often emotionally jarring to do. I've known too many high level managers who were upset at closing down an unprofitable business unit to think that they don't have feelings about it, but they still knew it needed to be done. In my home life, I'm probably Clueless - I overachieve and follow the rules. Socially (with other adults outside of my family), I'm more of a Loser, playing illegible status games so that everyone feels included.

What Rao shared does seem to be true to some extents and relevant. That different people approach questions in life and work with completely different outlooks is an important lesson. I realized it on my own when I would go from working with a group of management employees to working with a group of similarly intelligent and capable people who eschewed any management responsibility. I found it quite eye-opening to have coworkers who were 10-30 years older than me, who clearly knew far more of the relevant information to resolve an issue, who would come to me wringing their hands and looking for me to make a decision. At first I felt really awkward asking them for the information, past precedent, and then telling them to do the thing that they surely saw as obvious.

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> even though this was in an airport and I will definitely never see that clerk again, I felt embarrassed about the interaction for hours, and still feel pretty bad about it.

Do you feel bad because of this clerk's opinion of you, or because of how it changed your view of *yourself*?

> Whatever, Rao said (in one sentence) that everyone has multiple types. But then what’s the use of this categorization system?

Each of these categories are probably themselves masks that we add and remove contextually. It scenarios in which I'm comfortable or knowledgeable I might be more sociopathic, in contexts in which I'm less knowledgeable I might be more clueless. Or maybe that's just how a sociopath would approach it since they seem less beholden to one modality of action.

> For example, Lacan’s neurotics are defined by being subject to Law, and potentially by wanting to become the object of others’ desires, which sounds Clueless. But Lacan says neurosis is the most developed stage, whereas Rao says Clueless is the least.

Maybe it depends on what you view as "development". If you slice it by assuming social order is valuable, then neurotics are developed. If you slice by assuming that freedom to act is valuable, then they are clearly less developed, being bound to existing structures, modes of thought and action.

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Thank you for this wonderful review. I did immediately find myself in the "You read Nietzsche in freshman philosophy, and for a few weeks you vaguely feel like you ought to be the ubermensch" camp after reading just your summary of the book, so that last bit is definitely a mental bypass to avoid uncritically identifying with the content.

About this section:

"Most people have a special place in their heart for the book that first made them understand the idea of status economics. Gervais Principle does a good enough job with this that I’m sure it had a profound effect on some people. For me, that role was already taken by an unusually good college psych textbook, plus Robin Hanson’s blogging as remedial lessons, so I feel less transformed."

Which college psych textbook are you referring to?

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Ehhhhhh. There's an implicit assumption that power and status are the only thing that matters. They do matter, but there's always someone with more. I try to have enough to sustain dignity without turning me into an asshole (because it pleases me not to be one). My demand for power is inelastic. There's nothing about objective reality that says maximizing personal power and status is optimal. It's subjective. Why should more powerful people get to choose what's important to me?

If you want to go full nihilism, no matter how sociopathic you are, it still doesn't matter, and you still die. So, what's the point? Any set of values you choose will result in the same meaningless fate. What's better about being powerful? You still suffer and die. Maximizing power only makes sense if you get something you want while you are alive. Desire is subjective, so why is anyone's desires more or less valid than anyone else's?

It seems to me that it's important to care less about others' opinions the weaker the relationship to yourself becomes. Total strangers on the internet (like you!) shouldn't matter at all. Sorry! Acquaintances matter more, friends a lot, and family the most. I've had good results. As internet platforms grow larger, the influence individuals have shrinks. The larger the potential audience, the less likely any of them will care what you think. You have more aggregate influence over a close friend than over a potential audience of thousands. The rational thing to do is to spend your time with your friends and family. This is all very obvious, but people don't act like it.

My father died right after he retired. That happens a lot! So, it seems to me, I should enjoy my job because the payoff for delayed gratification isn't certain. I also find that I am unhappy when I'm not working. Retirement doesn't hold much appeal. I will try to avoid it.

Money only exists to be spent in the limited time I have. Too much left over will only make my heirs miserable. Yeah, I want to be paid what I earn, but I'd rather buy less crap than waste time on pointless labor. I like my job and go to work happy.

Materialism is empty. Yeah, poverty sucks in absolute terms up to a point, but past that it's purely relative. It's up to me whether I care. I don't. Oddly, other people want me to. Even more oddly, I meet poor people wearing clothes that cost several times more than those I'm wearing.

Loser thinking? Shrug. What am I losing? If we're nihilists, I get to choose the game I'm playing because we all lose and none of this matters anyway. My worldview is as valid as anyone else's, so far as it's based on my subjective experience and not objective reality. Humor me.

I'll die. If I have any warning, I'll reflect back on a happy life. In the meantime, I don't worry about it.

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re: Section VI

Don't try to use these ideas (or any ideas in any book of this sort) to understand/measure against yourself. Yes, everyone is unique but you extra double-plus unique along every dimension...

Rather, consider something like Twitter. Of course different people have different Twitter feeds, but at least in mind there are clearly three groups:

- there are the normies (who aren't actually in my feed, but apparently care about and generate the nonsense on the side, whether it's "Celebrity does thing" or "News that you're supposed to care about"

- there are the people I follow because they communicate about technical material I am interested in. It's very clear from the way these people feel the need to retweet politics that they basically match every point in the Clueless handbook. They are obsessed with legibility and rules (and all their political "zingers" are based on this, eg that supposed killer argument about abortion vs death penalty). They are mid-level book smart, but care much more about credentials than actual demonstrated smartness. They can only communicate, and in fact only think, in cliches.

And my god, what's the difference between the last sentence of the Eichmann section, "Just in whatever was going on at the time" and https://knowyourmeme.com/memes/i-support-the-current-thing ?

- finally there are the few people who could actually provide a decent answer to the Peter Thiel question “what is a heretical view you have?”. These are the Venkatesh Rao's, the Scott Alexanders, the Kevin Simler's.

The point is not that these people are actually sociopaths, or care about manipulating others, it's that they prioritize truth over personal comfort (losers) or socially constructed reality (clueless). The book puts this in a business context partially as a joke and partially as a "this is what's going on at the highest levels of power"; but this three-way dichotomy can be viewed from many different angles. My version as "prioritizing truth" works for me, others might immediately jump on as saying "sociopaths will lie to get what they want" (ie ignoring the point that genuine sociopaths are in fact well aware of the truth, they just don't care about lying).

The goal is to understand people, and a good framework is one that works for you. But of course, this can only be achieved (so I would say...) if you're in the sociopath camp.

If you're a loser, this all just seems like silly nonsense compared to family and having a good time.

If you're in the clueless camp, you will never get past your addiction to socially constructed reality to be willing to accept anything else.

Which camp are you in?

Well, do you have multiple (not just one) good answers to the Peter Thiel question?

Do you look at the political landscape and think "OMG, both sides and everyone who claims to speak for them are pathetic" or do you think "sure, they're both pathetic, but my team is RIGHT, it just happens to have a few pathetic members, and their team is WRONG"?

I don't think many people reading ACT are normies, but I do think a large fraction are clueless fantasizing that they are sociopaths.

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It's less about typing people and more about seeing the sorting in a given organization.

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Didn't Lacan say something about the psychotics being unable to imagine things or something like that? I remember you noted it was a very strong claim. Does it somehow map onto this book's view?

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Pretty late to the party here, but there's something interesting in your comparison to Lacan and Rao's typologies.

First, consider that they are pretty incompatible with something like Erikson's development stages or Maslow's hierarchy or Kegan's moral development, while these models are quite compatible with each other (if shifting the emphasis somewhat).

Second, I find it really easy to imagine an 19th century version of Rao coming up with an tripartite division of "Worker, Petit Bourgeoise, Capitalist". Or a 12 century version discussing the differences between "Heathen, Heretic, Christian".

That is to say I think Rao (and Lacan) are identifying important aspects of the human psyche, but interpreting them through a particular historical experience. My read is that Rao's audience can probably find some comfort in the existence of his "sociopath" group (either as an aspirational objective or emotional backstop), but as you point out most CEOs/Founders are not existentially empowered manipulative ubermesnches. They are "just" the children of rich parents with talent, education and a network, but I suspect that gen-x'ers who faced the absurdity of late 90s/early 2000s corporate culture feel differently.

This is because the dynamics Rao observes clearly do exist to some extent (if you can't see yourself as clueless/loser/sociopath, I bet you can reflexively identify which are which in your workplace). Ditto with Lacan (to an earlier generation/context). But the archetypes presented are useful models for understanding a particular social environment, not an accurate description of human social psychology as a whole. Considering the latter depends on the former and vice versa, it's about as good as we're going to get, but we do have to keep in mind the limitations implicit in our construct.

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Simply applying this model to yourself & the people you know in life seems a bit thick---the point is it's an organizational analysis and therefore mainly applicable to people's roles during the 9 to 5.

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