The distinction distance

24

Frontpage

People have a strong tendency to be different from one another (e.g. are horrified to be caught in the same dress, find it weird to order the same dishes as their companion without comment or to choose the same art for their living room). Yet they also have a strong tendency to conform.

These are even in the same areas, and the best behavior seems to be balancing on an edge between the two forces. You don’t want to wear either a dress that someone else is wearing, nor a dress in a style that hasn’t been worn since the 1600s.

I have noticed both of these human forces before, but I hadn’t seen them so vividly as acting in the same realm. You don’t want your essay to be on an identical topic to another student’s, but you also don’t want it to be outside the bounds of what the professor thinks of as an essay, or expressing views beyond a short hop from those others would endorse.

This makes me imagine the curlicues of culture as growing in the fertile interstitial zone between options too conformist to consider and options too wild to consider. Kind of like a Mandelbrot set or a tidal flat or a cellular automaton. There’s a similar pattern in the space of ways the whole of culture could have been: if everyone was very conformist about everything, it would be monotony, and if everyone immediately flung themselves as far away from anyone else as they could on every axis, it would be another kind of monotony. But with this balance of effects as it is, we get some complicated spiraling evolution of art movements and attitudes, trousers and tools. Each idea bringing forth riffs of of it in every direction.

Inspired by a conversation with Robin Hanson, where he probably basically said the main point here, that these two forces act in opposition.

24

4 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 7:51 PM
New Comment

People have a strong tendency to be different from one another (e.g. are horrified to be caught in the same dress, find it weird to order the same dishes as their companion without comment or to choose the same art for their living room).

How universal is this?

To me it seems like a cultural difference. If four people get to a restaurant offering four meal choices, the stereotype goes that in America each of them will order a different meal choice, but in Japan each of them will order the same choice, regardless of their actual preferences.

Also, some people like wearing uniforms.

From a status/signaling perspective, I want to imitate the behavior and fashion of those with higher status (without copying them exactly since that signals low creativity), and I want to differentiate myself from those with lower status (without deviating so far that I lose the in-group affiliation entirely).

The balance of the forces are is not the same for all invidiuals an groups.

Maybe it is because of my neurodivergencde but I find that I would and have totally wrote essays pushing boundaries on what an essay is and expressed views beyond reasonable understandability.

If evedryone is different on every axis the problem isn't monotony but lack of standards. Often interoperability is achieved either by being simiar enough that architechture doesn't change from one unit to the next or that there is a interface allowing hiding of implentation details. Being very wildly off means it is hard to be relevant for the operation of others, everybody is just an alien. Instead of learning a language to communicate in you would essentially learn a new language per invidiual you want to interact with.

Wouldn't mimetic competition (or mimesis + competition) model/predict most of such behavioral inconsistencies? I might disagree with Robin and say that the two forces act together, in the same direction, and perhaps should be referred to as behavioral consistencies instead.