Deconditioning Aversion to Dislike

by lsusr1 min read15th Jan 202117 comments

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It doesn't matter who dislikes me. It doesn't matter who hates me. It doesn't even matter who likes me. All that matters is how many people love me because I live under the rule of law in a city where the people I have the potential to interact with vastly outnumber the people I have the time to interact with.

In my previous post on the virtue of pompous egotistical overconfidence, rmoehn pointed out that my "[c]ocky arrogant megalomaniac behavior makes the liking scale swing positive in some people, negative in others." Extreme variance is advantageous because the number of people who love me is all that matters. If I put off some people in the process then that's a bonus because I don't have to expend my own attention triaging them.

Your weirdness should scale with the size of your audience. If you are in a room with three other people then acting out will often alienate them. If you are on the Internet then it is hard to gather attention at all without great creativity.

A side-effect of ostentatious weirdness is it triggers lots of dislike. If everyone dislikes you then that is a problem. But if at least a small number of people like you—and you like them back—then you have calibrated properly.

I am irrational because I care when people dislike me. I let strangers influence my behavior even though I shouldn't. I want to decondition this reaction. The simplest way is to expose myself to situations where people dislike me for acting genuine.

  • Blogging helps.
  • Entrepreneurship helps.
  • Fastidious truth-telling helps.
  • Cutting ties with toxic people gets easier every time.

I am told YouTube comments are a cesspool of hate. Maybe if I post videos they can help me become stronger.

17 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 9:53 PM
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I appreciate your efforts to understand how to live well in society. I have to push back against a few points in this post. I'll read and continue the discussion if you respond.

1. Most people aren't that atomized.

All that matters is how many people love me because I live under the rule of law in a city where the people I have the potential to interact with vastly outnumber the people I have the time to interact with.

How often are you really exposed to the whole city, with an equal chance at seeing each individual? Act out enough, and you might discover how small your world really is. Try naming the social settings you're in routinely, and the amount of time you spend in each one.

2. Showing basic respect may be ethically required

All that matters is how many people love me

Some people also think it's important to love (and respect) yourself. Do you?

Dislike is often driven by disrespect. Showing disrespect is pretty central to "cocky arrogant megalomaniacal behavior." Some people think that it's important to show respect by default, with arguments from all three major moral perspectives (virtue, consequentialist, and deontological ethics). Of course, we'd ideally try to define respect, but assume that I mean whatever form of respect is central to the idea that it's immoral not to show it.

Do you think there's a form of cocky arrogant megalomaniacal behavior that's also morally acceptable? Do you think that any respect-oriented behaviors have moral relevance?

3. Personality may not be very mutable

I want to decondition this reaction.

I'm not a psychologist/psychiatrist, but isn't personality not very mutable past the age of around 7? At least without psychedelics or brain damage or something?

Of course, phobias and anxieties are at least to some extent treatable. I think it would benefit this post to distinguish between trying to alter your personality, and trying to overcome anxieties and phobias that inhibit you from feeling genuine.

4. Being genuine might not be that hard

I am told YouTube comments are a cesspool of hate. Maybe if I post videos they can help me become stronger.

When I was in my mid-20s and about to start counseling in a few weeks, my mind came up with the phrase "radical honesty" to describe what I wanted to achieve. Turns out there's a book with that title. I ordered it in the interim period between the breakup and starting counseling.

My counselor told me, after starting counseling, that there's a lot of controversy in the mental health community about the practices advocated in that book.

I won't say what I did, but I picked one of the exercises in it that was emotionally devastating and imposed it on some loved ones. It's impossible to say in hindsight what effect that had on my (and their) trajectory.

If you're contemplating some radical behaviors to try and connect in a more genuine way with other people, I'd recommend starting gently and in collaboration with a professional.

I think your understanding of my post differs significantly from what I intended to convey. I am extremely polite, courteous and respectful to other people all of the time and I do not intend to change this behavior. Nor do I intend to impose anything on anyone besides myself.

How often are you really exposed to the whole city, with an equal chance at seeing each individual?

I run an online business. I write online too. The other day, someone wrote me an email about my blog post on Noether Current. If you count the number of people using search engines then I am frequently exposed to populations far larger than a mere city.

  1. Personality may not be very mutable

I think this is an interesting subject. Personality can roughly be defined as those traits which are not very mutable. I think that aversion to dislike can be deconditionable because it is something of a cross between a fear and a social risk tolerance, both of which I have had success deconditioning myself out of in my work as a magician.

  1. Being genuine might not be that hard

It depends how nonconformist you are. Paul Graham writes about this phenomenon in Orthodox Privilege.

N of 1, but “cocky arrogant megalomaniacal behavior” and a goal of polarizing people into liking and disliking you strikes me as suggesting disrespectful behavior. Obviously I’ve got no idea what you’re specifically contemplating, so this is just explaining how your word choice produced my interpretation. Since as you say assuming that you’re normal is a reasonable default assumption, I’m assuming my reaction to this is normal.

I don’t know enough about building a large audience online to have things to say about what sort of online persona gets and sustains mass attention. So if that’s your primary focus then please ignore that part of my response. I was more thinking about settings like work, parties, school, and so on.

Your point that “personality is more mutable than people think” or is only immutable by definition is well taken.

RE being genuine as a nonconformist, my guess is that everybody has a few quirks that they have to be careful about, that limit their ability to be genuine. Some people probably have much more than others.

I don’t know that avoiding ruffling feathers makes you broadly less genuine. Maybe there’s some skill in creating “safe space” to be yourself, by choosing friends, words, and settings carefully to strike the ideal balance between saying what you want to say and having the social outcomes you desire.

But as a contrast, I think that in my own life, pursuing my career goal required tremendous, sustained convincing of other people to accept my decisions and stop criticizing me constantly. It could easily have stopped another person in their tracks. And I still don’t have the absolute freedom to spend my time and energy as I’d like all the time. There are many pressures to participate in social interactions where my freedom to do and say what I am most interested in are heavily constrained.

So perhaps you’re right. Maybe we are far, far more constrained from being genuine than we think. Maybe a greedy pursuit of exactly what we believe and desire would lead to a radically different lifestyle, and the frustrations and inhibitions that most people accept as routine are a consequence of a grand coordination failure. Of a prioritization of pre-existing social ties for their own sake, and a social unease with people who too readily change and pursue the unusual.

And maybe being cocky, arrogant, and megalomaniacal, being an extremely self-referenced person, is crucial to achieving that. It’s not enough to be confident when you’re alone. You have to fight for your freedom, every single hour of every day. Politeness, respectfulness, and kindness are important as lubricants to let you glide through the grinding gears of society. But if you try and pursue them too much, you wind up subservient to codes of polite behavior that will chain you.

That’s all very vague, but I do think it’s an interesting topic. At this time in my life, I find myself giving up on many other forms of “brave heresy” because I have to sustain the form of unorthodoxy that I think is most important of all. I’m spending my weirdness points wisely.

I have a sense that I have a limited budget for dealing with impositions by other people. I spend my reserves carefully. I think that the more I fight, the weaker I’ll be, and that as Sun Tzu counseled, the best form of generalship is to avoid fighting at all.

The vibe I picked up from your post is maybe that “fighting” strengthens you somehow, or builds you up. The losses are trivial, the gains tremendous, and people should fight often.

Without very specific details of where and how, I’m not prepared to agree with that as a sweeping approach to life. I think that cooperation, gentleness, reserve, praise, and occasional signals that show you have powerful forces under your command is a better approach.

I think it achieves much of what brash cocky arrogance achieves, in terms of making you seem attractive and interesting, but also allows you to achieve better long term results. Certainly if I was in a position of power, I would choose to hire the person who showed “graceful power” than “cocky arrogance” every time. Same for who to date, befriend, vote for, read, or collaborate with.

You have to fight for your freedom, every single hour of every day.

Bingo.

…as Sun Tzu counseled, the best form of generalship is to avoid fighting at all.

Yes, and the way to conquer without fighting is via successful intimidation. Chapter 1: 卑而骄之 "If the enemy is inferior then threaten."

Or are you quoting Chapter 2? If so, then there is context to consider.

故善用兵者,

屈人之兵而非战也,

拔人之城而非攻也,

毁人之国而非久也,

必以全争于天下。

The perfect general

  • subdues the enemy without battle,
  • draws enemies out of cities without attacking,
  • destroys people without expending much time,

utilizes every attack under the sun.

Sunzi was a Daoist. He would say there are circumstances to intimidate and circumstances to flee, circumstances to fight and circumstances to maneuver, circumstances to boast and circumstances to hide. But there too are attributes you should always exhibit.

将者,智、信、仁、勇、严也。

"Generalship" is a matter of wisdom, fidelity, benevolence, bravery and severity.

It is always right to be wise, fidelious, benevolent, brave and severe.

It's important to be capable of severity, and to be able to credibly signal that with an absolute minimum of actual punishment. Be able to show not only that you absolutely can escalate a conflict indefinitely, and that you have more resources to see it through than your opponent, but create a legible process for de-escalating that conflict and finding mutually beneficial alternatives.

Example 1: Getting mugged

For example, I was once nearly mugged/scammed at a stoplight at 3 AM. The woman who tried to mug me tapped on my car window while I was parked at a stoplight and accused me of running over her friend's backpack. Of course, I'm quite confident that she and her scam artist buddies have a backpack full of junk computer parts that they toss in the street every night hoping somebody will throw money at them to make them go away.

She thought I was drunk because I'd made a wrong turn into the intersection (a reasonable assumption). But I wasn't, I was actually the designated driver for my group.

I told her this calmly (minimum possible threat), and suggested we pull over on the side of the road to talk. But she kept accusing me of being a drunk driver. Then, suddenly, she reached in through the open window and opened the door from the inside, then leaned in. (Demonstrating severity with minimum escalation).

I screamed (feeling very calm inside) "GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY CAR" (trying to demonstrate my own severity). When she didn't react, I called 911. She kept saying I was a drunk driver, assuming I was bluffing. Then she swatted the phone out of my hand.

When I picked it up and started talking to the cop, telling him what she looked like and demonstrating that I was totally unafraid of having the police show up, she bolted.

When I recounted this to an acquaintance who worked in security, he told me that it's for situations like this that I should carry a gun.

I thought, and still think, that he's wrong. A gun is waaaaaaay too much escalation for a situation like that. All I needed was to demonstrate that the power of the law was behind me, and that I was willing to call upon it. By doing things this way, rather than pulling out a pistol and pointing it at her, I also showed her that I was much more interested in letting her walk away than in exacting vengeance.

But that is an exceptional circumstance.

Example 2: Dinner parties

Vastly more of my life is about managing social coordination problems with friends, family, coworkers, students, and so on.

If I'm going to have dinner with my girlfriend's family, how can I try to promote a conversation that is interesting to me and, hopefully, to others, while also having the other qualities expected of such a social gathering (benevolence)? If that's not possible -- if those other demands make it impossible to sustain an interesting conversation -- then how can I minimize my own boredom and exit the situation relatively quickly and gracefully (wisdom)?

I could just say "I find this conversation boring" and walk away (severity). My girlfriend also finds it boring, so on one level, I'd be doing us both a favor (bravery). Maybe it would even lead the rest of her family to reconsider the way they communicate. But I find that outcome unlikely.

Instead, I expect that long-term, unpredictable social unpleasantness would assume, that's just not worth it. After all, her family outnumbers me 4:1, not including my girlfriend, and I'm the outsider in that setting. I'd have to invite them to a large gathering of my friends.

Perhaps this is an argument in favor of assembling a big posse of friends and allies. It's not just to have people to exchange ideas with. It's so that you can invite small groups of people and surround them with your preferred form of weirdness until they realize they're outnumbered. Likewise, you want to avoid being invited to situations where people who are uninteresting to you outnumber you.

If you must attend an event where you're outnumbered, bring along several friends, and then try to corner people in small groups where you locally outnumber them.

I've honestly never considered this as a lifestyle or a strategy. But it kind of makes sense. It also reminds me of people who not only join a church, but get their whole family to join it as well.

Conclusion

Although I consciously have recognized for a long time how frustrating these social dynamics can be, I've rarely if ever conceptualized them as basically a form of relationship conflict. But they are. To feel pressured into participating in a dull social gathering is to be oppressed; to avoid viewing it through that lens is to accept the oppression. To resist it requires identifying it as a conflict, or a form of manufactured consent.

I think that the wise general must recognize that he can't win every battle. He also must realize when he's not actually a general. Or when he doesn't have the respect of his men, or is serving a foolish ruler. Must of the art of war is about avoiding a losing battle, minimizing losses, and convincing the emperor not to pick a fight he can't possibly win.

I'm not a psychologist/psychiatrist, but isn't personality not very mutable past the age of around 7? At least without psychedelics or brain damage or something?

I've read that this is a common myth and that personality continues to change throughout our lives (1, 2). According to some psychologists, this could be related to the end of history illusion.

The book Personality Isn't Permanent talks a lot about personality myths and ways to change one's personality. In the section on how to change one's personality, he suggests (albeit doesn't cite studies) that the reason personality changes less in adulthood than childhood may be because our environment becomes more constant and environment can shape personality.

I have never heard someone use the "end of history illusion" explicitly in this context before. I feel it is appropriate.

In the section on how to change one's personality, he suggests (albeit doesn't cite studies) that the reason personality changes less in adulthood than childhood may be because our environment becomes more constant and environment can shape personality.

Plus, adults have more control than children over their environments. I suspect most people choose environments conducive to their present personality. (I do the opposite by deliberately seeking out environments that nudge me toward a more dynamic personality.)

Four of the Big Five personality traits seem to be mostly immutable. I have on (what I consider to be) good evidence that neroticism can be reduced through extreme contemplative practice. This is evidence environment can shape personality. Unfortunately, a comprehensive scientific investigation of this phenomenon is not available yet.

In my personal experience, I have managed to cultivate deliberate interests too. However, I understand I am an outlier.

isn't personality not very mutable past the age of around 7? At least without psychedelics or brain damage or something?

Only if you define "personality" as "whatever doesn't change past the age of around 7". ;-)

The complexity comes from the fact that we can't really measure "personality", only observed behavior (from the outside) or feelings/perceptions/preferences (from the inside).

Given that there are lots of things that can influence all of those things on a day to day basis, it's kind of hard to make a distinction between what might be considered "innate".

This is further complicated by the fact that human beings are innately disposed to think of people as having innate personality characteristics, when in fact there is little reason to assume that human beings' behavior is so simply defined, or so independent of social/environmental cues, incentives, whether someone's eaten recently, etc.

I suspect there are some assumptions here to call out.  mild levels of dislike aren't generally harmful, and are less harmful than mild levels of like are helpful.  It's fine to optimize for a small number of stronger likes, at the expense of a larger number of mild dislikes.

It's really inconvenient and sometimes dangerous to be feared or hated by individuals with power over some aspects of your life.  Your neighbors and family, for instance, are worth some effort to keep the relationship positive.  

I believe the cost/benefit curve is quite nonlinear, and idiosyncratic to each individual, so there's no way to avoid thinking about it and explicitly trying a couple of different strategies to see what works for you.  That doesn't contradict most of your explicit advice, and your first point that it doesn't cause much (if any) harm to be mildly disliked by many people.

Your neighbors and family, for instance, are worth some effort to keep the relationship positive.

Yes. It is absolutely worth avoiding conflict with people you cannot avoid.

I believe the cost/benefit curve is quite nonlinear, and idiosyncratic to each individual, so there's no way to avoid thinking about it and explicitly trying a couple of different strategies to see what works for you. That doesn't contradict most of your explicit advice, and your first point that it doesn't cause much (if any) harm to be mildly disliked by many people.

Also yes. I am an outlier in many different ways. The weirder you are, the greater potential you have to leverage your idiosyncrasies.

Setting out to define people as toxic and then cut them out of your life is the most toxic mentality you can have. Allowing buzzwords like "toxic" to control you without a fair operationalization is toxic. On average, the person who cuts people out of their life because they're considered toxic are really cutting people out of their life for making honest mistakes or reasonable disagreements; it's either disproportionate or highly conducive to epistemic injustice.

without a fair operationalization

It's a risk, but not necessarily a failure. It might be enough to seek operationalization in suspicious cases, not in general.

Why not? You want to let people start using words with very negative connotation to refer to whatever they want? In practice, that's how "toxic" is used; whatever people want it to mean, typically when the thing in question seems socially inconvenient for them.

Imagine you acted in accordance with your own logic and best judgment of probabilities in the way you normally do, in a way that you see as nuanced with respect to the moral culture you have lived through and continue to live through, and suddenly someone wants to paint it as "fascist" without understanding the basis at all. Do YOU think your behavior is fascist? Probably not. Words should not have such power without robust moral reasoning driving them, otherwise it is bound to bring dogmatic irrationality to situations that robust moral reasoning would have something to say about.

It is possible that OP has an unusually operationalized usage prepared for "toxic," but when I made my first comment on this post, I should bet against it.
Related: The Anti-Jerk Law by Bryan Caplan

Careful reasoning (precision) helps with calibration, but is not synonymous with it. Systematic error is about calibration, not precision, so demanding that it's to be solved through improvement of precision is similar to a demand for a particular argument, risking rejection of correct solutions outside the scope of what's demanded. That is, if calibration can be ensured without precision, your demand won't be met, yet the problem would be solved. Hence my objection to the demand.

If lsusr is well-calibrated in their judgment, I can only find out by hearing their operationalizing (careful reasoning (precision)), otherwise I can expect they make the same errors I typically see people making who rely heavily on judging things as toxic.

Hence "a risk, not necessarily a failure". If the prior says that a systematic error is in place, and there is no evidence to the contrary, you expect the systematic error. But it's an expectation, not precise knowledge, it might well be the case that there is no systematic error.

Furthermore, ensuring that there is no systematic error doesn't require this fact to become externally verifiable. So an operationalization is not necessary to solve the problem, even if it's necessary to demonstrate that the problem is solved. It's also far from sufficient, with vaguely defined topics such as this deliberation easily turns into demagoguery, misleading with words instead of using them to build a more robust and detailed understanding. So it's more of a side note than the core of a plan.

[+][comment deleted]2mo 1