[Reposted from my personal blog.]

Mindspace is wide and deep. “People are different” is a truism, but even knowing this, it’s still easy to underestimate.

I spent much of my initial engagement with the rationality community feeling weird and different. I appreciated the principle and project of rationality as things that were deeply important to me; I was pretty pro-self improvement, and kept tsuyoku naritai as my motto for several years. But the rationality community, the people who shared this interest of mine, often seemed baffled by my values and desires. I wasn’t ambitious, and had a hard time wanting to be. I had a hard time wanting to be anything other than a nurse.

It wasn’t until this August that I convinced myself that this wasn’t a failure in my rationality, but rather a difference in my basic drives. It’s around then, in the aftermath of the 2014 CFAR alumni reunion, that I wrote the following post.

I don’t believe in life-changing insights (that happen to me), but I think I’ve had one–it’s been two weeks and I’m still thinking about it, thus it seems fairly safe to say I did.

At a CFAR Monday test session, Anna was talking about the idea of having an “aura of destiny”–it’s hard to fully convey what she meant and I’m not sure I get it fully, but something like seeing yourself as you’ll be in 25 years once you’ve saved the world and accomplished a ton of awesome things. She added that your aura of destiny had to be in line with your sense of personal aesthetic, to feel “you.”

I mentioned to Kenzi that I felt stuck on this because I was pretty sure that the combination of ambition and being the locus of control that “aura of destiny” conveyed to me was against my sense of personal aesthetic.

Kenzi said, approximately [I don't remember her exact words]: “What if your aura of destiny didn’t have to be those things? What if you could be like…Samwise, from Lord of the Rings? You’re competent, but most importantly, you’re *loyal* to Frodo. You’re the reason that the hero succeeds.”

I guess this isn’t true for most people–Kenzi said she didn’t want to keep thinking of other characters who were like this because she would get so insulted if someone kept comparing her to people’s sidekicks–but it feels like now I know what I am.

So. I’m Samwise. If you earn my loyalty, by convincing me that what you’re working on is valuable and that you’re the person who should be doing it, I’ll stick by you whatever it takes, and I’ll *make sure* you succeed. I don’t have a Frodo right now. But I’m looking for one.

It then turned out that quite a lot of other people recognized this, so I shifted from “this is a weird thing about me” to “this is one basic personality type, out of many.” Notably, Brienne wrote the following comment:

Sidekick” doesn’t *quite* fit my aesthetic, but it’s extremely close, and I feel it in certain moods. Most of the time, I think of myself more as what TV tropes would call a “dragon”. Like the Witch-king of Angmar, if we’re sticking of LOTR. Or Bellatrix Black. Or Darth Vader. (It’s not my fault people aren’t willing to give the good guys dragons in literature.)

For me, finding someone who shared my values, who was smart and rational enough for me to trust him, and who was in a much better position to actually accomplish what I most cared about than I imagined myself ever being, was the best thing that could have happened to me.

She also gave me what’s maybe one of the best and most moving compliments I’ve ever received.

In Australia, something about the way you interacted with people suggested to me that you help people in a completely free way, joyfully, because it fulfills you to serve those you care about, and not because you want something from themI was able to relax around you, and ask for your support when I needed it while I worked on my classes. It was really lovelyThe other surprising thing was that you seemed to act that way with everyone. You weren’t “on” all the time, but when you were, everybody around you got the benefit. I’d never recognized in anyone I’d met a more diffuse service impulse, like the whole human race might be your master. So I suddenly felt like I understood nurses and other people in similar service roles for the first time.

Sarah Constantin, who according to a mutual friend is one of the most loyal people who exists, chimed in with some nuance to the Frodo/Samwise dynamic: “Sam isn’t blindly loyal to Frodo. He makes sure the mission succeeds even when Frodo is fucking it up. He stands up to Frodo. And that’s important too.”

Kate Donovan, who also seems to share this basic psychological makeup, added “I have a strong preference for making the lives of the lead heroes better, and very little interest in ever being one.”

Meanwhile, there were doubts from others who didn’t feel this way. The “we need heroes, the world needs heroes” narrative is especially strong in the rationalist community. And typical mind fallacy abounds. It seems easy to assume that if someone wants to be a support character, it’s because they’re insecure–that really, if they believed in themselves, they would aim for protagonist.

I don’t think this is true. As Kenzi pointed out: “The other thing I felt like was important about Samwise is that his self-efficacy around his particular mission wasn’t a detriment to his aura of destiny – he did have insecurities around his ability to do this thing – to stand by Frodo – but even if he’d somehow not had them, he still would have been Samwise – like that kind of self-efficacy would have made his essence *more* distilled, not less.”

Brienne added: “Becoming the hero would be a personal tragedy, even though it would be a triumph for the world if it happened because I surpassed him, or discovered he was fundamentally wrong.”

Why write this post?

Usually, “this is a true and interesting thing about humans” is enough of a reason for me to write something. But I’ve got a lot of other reasons, this time.

I suspect that the rationality community, with its “hero” focus, drives away many people who are like me in this sense. I’ve thought about walking away from it, for basically that reason. I could stay in Ottawa and be a nurse for forty years; it would fulfil all my most basic emotional needs, and no one would try to change me. Because oh boy, have people tried to do that. It’s really hard to be someone who just wants to please others, and to be told, basically, that you’re not good enough–and that you owe it to the world to turn yourself ambitious, strategic, Slytherin.

Firstly, this is mean regardless. Secondly, it’s not true.

Samwise was important. So was Frodo, of course. But Frodo needed Samwise. Heroes need sidekicks. They can function without them, but function a lot better with them. Maybe it’s true that there aren’t enough heroes trying to save the world. But there sure as hell aren’t enough sidekicks trying to help them. And there especially aren’t enough talented, competent, awesome sidekicks.

If you’re reading this post, and it resonates with you… Especially if you’re someone who has felt unappreciated and alienated for being different… I have something to tell you. You count. You. Fucking. Count. You’re needed, even if the heroes don’t realize it yet. (Seriously, heroes, you should be more strategic about looking for awesome sidekicks. AFAIK only Nick Bostrom is doing it.) This community could use more of you. Pretty much every community could use more of you.

I’d like, someday, to live in a culture that doesn’t shame this way of being. As Brienne points out, “Society likes *selfless* people, who help everybody equally, sure. It’s socially acceptable to be a nurse, for example. Complete loyalty and devotion to “the hero”, though, makes people think of brainwashing, and I’m not sure what else exactly but bad things.” (And not all subsets of society even accept nursing as a Valid Life Choice.) I’d like to live in a world where an aspiring Samwise can find role models; where he sees awesome, successful people and can say, “yes, I want to grow up to be that.”

Maybe I can’t have that world right away. But at least I know what I’m reaching for. I have a name for it. And I have a Frodo–Ruby and I are going to be working together from here on out. I have a reason not to walk away.

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For what it’s worth, I endorse this aesthetic and apologize for any role I played in causing people to focus too much on the hero thing. You need a lot of nonheroes per hero and I really want to validate the nonheroes but I guess I feel like I don’t know how, or like it’s not my place to say because I didn’t make the same sacrifices… or what feels to me like it ought to be a sacrifice, only maybe it’s not.

“Clever kids in Ravenclaw, evil kids in Slytherin, wannabe heroes in Gryffindor, and everyone who does the actual work in Hufflepuff.”

You've already said it. But it doesn't hurt to repeat.

My girlfriend and I always joke that Hufflepuff needs to seize the means of production.

I suspect this is a consequence of the situation that rationalists often feel alone. Not necessarily alone as people (although that also happens), but alone as rationalists. Before I found LW, I was in a situation where I had a few friends, but probably none of them would be interested in the kind of debates we have on LW.

If there is only one person in the whole Shire who cares about destroying the ring, would we want that person to be Frodo or Samwise? Frodo would probably try the mission alone, even if less efficiently. Samwise would probably settle for the second best mission, for a mission where he could find a hero to follow.

In different situations different traits are required. In a situation where the individuals are isolated, we would probably want every individual to be a hero, because heroes can act in isolation. On the other hand, in a functional community, having a few highly efficient heroes is probably better than having too many heroes with low efficiency.

So maybe we could use the presence of integrated sidekicks as a measure of health of the community.

This reminds me of some unhealthy behavior I have seen in Mensa: people who have spent so much time in their lives t... (read more)

Hmm. I grew up with a different experience. Don't remember feeling especially alone-as-a-rationalist. Some parts of my childhood were unusual; my parents are pretty exceptionally sane, my brother is as interested in rationality as I am. And I think to a large degree it's just a personality difference. From the outside, it sometimes looks like other rationalists are trying to conclude that other people are dumb or unstrategic. (Including Eliezer). This makes no sense to me.

I sometimes wish I could drag various rationalists to my job at the ICU for a while, make them see the kind of teamwork and cooperation that happens in a place where cooperation is a default and a necessity. Nurses, for the most part, just cooperate. Even when there are conflicts. Even when they don't like each other. (Although the degree of "agency" that the team as a whole has does vary with how much the individuals like each other and get along.) I don't know how to make this magic happen on demand, aside from applying selection bias to get the kinds of people who want to be nurses, and then giving them hard-but-manageable problems to solve. And I think I did learn a lot about cooperation at work.

Now I'm curious about the other implications of a society where individuals are isolated. What does that even look like? What do people spend their time doing? What causes the isolation? ...Sci-fi plot brewing.

Some parts of my childhood were unusual; my parents are pretty exceptionally sane, my brother is as interested in rationality as I am.

There was a research (sorry, I don't have the link) about highly intelligent children, whether they later in life became successful people or losers, and the conclusion was that it mostly depended on the family. If the family provided models of how to use high intelligence for professional success (e.g. the parents were doctors or lawyers), the children became successful and integrated; if the family didn't have such model (a gifted child in otherwise average family), the children often became weird loners. But if I remember correctly, if those loners had families and their own highly intelligent children, the second generation was okay.

Of course rationality is not the same as high intelligence, but I suspect there is a similar effect of being a weirdo in one's own family, versus being a part of the team. There are differences: High intelligence is often considered a positive trait by average people; the problem is it creates unrealistic expectations (if you have high intelligence, you are supposed to magically overcome any problem and should neve... (read more)

Being highly intelligent comes with it's own opportunities and pitfalls. Having people close to you with life experience relevant to your life is a huge advantage, as would having people close to you with useful social connections to professional fields that leverage intelligence.
Yes. The question is whether those disadvantages of high intelligence are intrinsic, or merely a consequence of incompatibility with the majority which is of the average intelligence. In other words, if the people with higher intelligence could create a society (or a sufficiently supportive subculture) where they would be the norm, whether they would still have some disadvantages compared with the average people, or whether all their disadvantages would then disappear. A naive argument for the intrinsic disadvantages is the just-world hypothesis: people believing that when the Creator Fairy creates a new soul with higher IQ, the sense of justice makes the fairy balance it with less health or less happiness, because not doing so would simply be too unfair. A more convincing argument called Algernon's law says that if intelligence would be a pure advantage, evolution would have already made us smarter, up to the level where there is some tradeoff in fitness. A possible counter-argument is that our environment changes faster that human biology. The fittness tradeoff for higher intelligence could be something that was a huge problem thousands of years ago, but is not a problem now: for example needing more calories. On the other hand, if highly intelligent people are successful as long as they have highly intelligent families and friends, that would be an evidence that the disadvantages mostly come from incompatibility with the majority. Which means, the disadvantages could be solved if the highly intelligent people managed to cooperate at overcoming them.
A human will be a greater success in a human tribe than a chimpanzee tribe.
At climbing trees, a human in a primitive human tribe will still be less successful than the chimps. So, are there any tree-climbing equivalents for highly intelligent people? Or is everything merely a question of having the right tribe? (Note: I am totally "yay, smart people!" However, if there is some intrinsic weakness we have, I want to know about it, so that I can think strategically about overcoming it.)
It's not whether he is more or less successful than chimps, it's what environment he will be most successful in. From your comments, I took it as the usual career status and money scale. On a first approximation, being able to produce more intellectual product quickly should be an advantage, if used in accordance with the reward structure of the environment. On advantages/disadvantages relative to less intelligent people, each in their best environments, I see a few issues. Being on the tail of the human distribution likely means that the genes aren't as robust as more central genotypes. Less testing. I wouldn't be surprised if biologically based mental illness is more likely. It is likely that there is some trade off between intelligence and other brain functions, some functional cost to more intelligence, depending on how you want to slice and dice brain function. But in the current environment, I think the environmental disadvantages are so huge that I'm not losing sleep over the intrinsic disadvantages. For starters, being shuttled through the usual factory school system is easily crippling for a smart kid. Not only does it fail to teach a kid what every kid most needs to learn - how to focus and apply himself, it rewards a smart kid just for being smart, which is about the most dysfunctional lesson he can learn.
I agree with this. All kids would benefit from a better system, but smarter kids could get greater benefits. In addition to the generally useful stuff, they could also learn about how to live specifically as a person more intelligent than others. Not just signalling their intelligence to the teacher. Without systematical support, some of them will get the information from their family and friends... some will have to learn the hard way... and some will never learn.
An incorrect inference may, under rare circumstances, lead to a useful and coincidentally correct conclusion that just happens to be hard to reach without the incorrect inference. (Of course, it requires being very lucky as well. People make incorrect inferences all the time, but there are very few well-known examples of it working). For example, viewing heat as a liquid might result in designing a stove that transfers heat to a pot very well, despite heat not being a liquid. An incorrect inference can be considered basically random - this can, I think, be imitated more efficiently and more reeliably in many cases by considering an evolutionary-algorithm approach to design, in short making random design choices and testing them extremely quickly. This also has the advantage that instead of needing to be lucky enough to hit the right inference first, it can keep going until a suitable design is achieved. I don't really know if this counts as an intrinsic weakness...
Isn't this just a job requirement and so there is selection pressure? Consider what would happen to a nurse who wouldn't "just cooperate" in the ICU. My guess is that he would be kicked out pretty quickly. In fact, I suspect that a part of effective management at any organization is to make it so employees cooperate and don't spend their time and effort on turf or status fights. Of course, few organizations are managed effectively.
I'd be very interested in a story that goes into detail about the Cyprus experiment (fill an island with all "alphas", instead of the usual "alpha, beta, gamma, delta, epsilon" distribution, and see what happens) from Brave New World. Better yet, fill an island with all "rationalists" and see what happens.
2 rationalists must come to agreement if they are truly rational, so they have great chances of survival, whereas "all alphas" will never succeed at dividing their responsibilities and all will end up doing the same thing and die, because they were just born this way, and there are no lower class people to do low-class kind of work, it's to difficult for them to reprogram
No, they must not. The "common priors" requirement is not viable practically.
My choice of words was incorrect. i meant "more likely" to agree and to succeed at surviving
I don't feel like "We are actually very alone in our tendency or desire to be 'rational'" has a high probability. I more feel like there's a cultural norm that intelligent people are supposed to be alienated loners, to such a hegemonic degree that you can easily get socially pigeonholed as "the Smart Guy" just for being, well, smart. Because once your trope-demographic box has been determined in elementary school, it plainly doesn't matter what you actually wanted to do or be with your life /s. As a proxy, measure the number of females. Women are socialized to be sidekick-y by "the patriarchy" (no point debating the existence of such right now, but I'm giving a generalization based on all the reported experiences of all the very smart women I know), so an environment where they can be accepted and participate is usually an environment in which signalling heroism has been given a healthily low priority.
I just wanted to add a sidebar/support here. This Stanford study about how the "voices" associated with schizophrenia vary widely according to culture suggests that culture (and of course family) have a profound effect upon the expression of any trait; perhaps to the extent of forcing something that becomes a clinical disorder. For instance, the leader/follower ratio. You can even assume perfect rationality on the part of all actors; even with that assumption, nobody can rationally act outside of what their context will permit. That context is culturally enforced; suppressing or limiting the expression of various sorts of personality and intelligence. So a person who could be a leader still requires a context that will permit that. Family support, access to education, etc. This is also true of becoming an effective "sidekick," or any other set of traits. And obviously, while context is required to effectively express a trait, no context will help if it's a trait you don't have in the first place. But it's simple to point to various traits - Sexual and gender issues, the hearing of voices, asperger's autism, multiple personality and dissociation - that different cultures react to and deal with in wildly different ways, causing very different expressions. It seems unlikely that various forms of intelligence and degrees of competitiveness/assertiveness would be immune to this.

Two different types of sidekicks need to be distinguished: second in command, and assistant.

A second in command is someone who can at need temporarily take charge when the leader is absent or incapacitated, and at other times be engaged with the leader doing the same work, but leaving most of the initiative to the leader. Samwise is a second in command.

An assistant is not in the chain of command. Nick Bostrom is looking for an assistant, not a second in command.

Hmm. That's true. I'm not sure how much this is actually a dichotomy in practice, as opposed to a gradient where some sidekicks are more assistant-like, some are in the middle, and some are more second-in-command like. I'm also not sure to what degree the same people are attracted to both second-in-command and assistant roles, and whether it's for the same reasons. That would affect whether it makes sense to classify them together for this purpose. I can come up with imaginary characters who would only be interested in second-in-command, or only in assistant roles, but they both appeal to me for many of the same reasons.

I kind of feel like it has to do with the sidekick's competence and also the scale of the project. If the project is of a scale where it's possible for the hero to make most of the decisions, and the sidekick is new to it and finds assistant-work hard enough, it'll tend towards that role. If the sidekick and hero keep working together, as they both learn and grow, the hero will want to move on to larger-scale projects, and at some point there will be too many high-level decisions for the hero to make all of them, and at this point the sidekick will have been working with them for a long time and learned a lot, and it seems like it might naturally turn into a second-in-command role. But this would only happen in a situation where roles are fluid; if it were a standard case of a CEO and their executive assistant, the role would be unlikely to change that much. (Although EAs do have quite a lot of decision-making power.)

I have a strong desire to be a 'second-in-command' type of sidekick. Backing up slightly, this post resonated with me very strongly. All internal fantasy, from childhood to adulthood has been about me entering the world of the hero and suborning myself to them to act as a sidekick. I didn't realize others felt differently for quite some time. I feel the second in command style works better for me because I am attracted to heroes with slightly different preference weightings than myself. In places where the task conflicts with the heroes preferences, I could step in and relieve their distress by performing it instead. I don't know that this specifically distinguishes it from an 'assistant' however. Going with my intuition, I would suspect that there are people who would feel drawn to the different roles. For instance I would not like to be an assistant because I'm an excellent emergency back-up leader and would be wasted in that capacity.
(Pedantic correction; read on only if you prefer being right to not being corrected.) "Suborn" doesn't mean what I think you think it does. You mean "subordinate"; to suborn someone is to bribe them to do something bad.

If you're at all familiar with the SCA, one of the three peerage orders is that of the Pelican: http://www.sca.org.au/pelicans/ it awards people for outstanding service (seriously, to get one, you have to have run many events over a decade, and worked damn hard making people happy to get it). You are unlikely to get one unless you consistently, and sustainedly want to serve the needs of others for long period of time.

You strike me as potential Pelican material...

Note: The fact that this community (the SCA) consistently gives accolades for service is, I think, one of the reasons why it is so successful at being a Community.

By contrast, the other two peerages: Chivalry (for sword fighting) and Laurels (for making cool stuff) are both "Look what I did/made" orders... full of heroes (the former more than the latter, in my mind). Which is great and necessary and really cool... but without the Pelicans, the Society as a whole wouldn't exist.

My suggestion: adopt and help sustain a community of rationalists near you.

Neat! I didn't know that was a thing. Society consistently surprises me by being cooler and bigger than I expect.

Edit: I'm trying to find out what 'SCA' stands for and the first google result was "Sudden Cardiac Arrest." Google knows me way too freaking well.

I'm fairly confident it stands for "Society for Creative Anachronism".


I'm trying to understand why I have a strong aversive reaction to this sort of discussion. If I'm honest, I feel worried that people who identity as "sidekicks" risk being exploited by those who identity as "heroes". A healthy community will tend to discourage this sort of taxonomy in various ways in order to avoid the risk of abuse, but the core members of the rationality movement seem to not recognize the social necessity of doing this.

And yet the response is not "maybe invoking the hero archetype at every possible opportunity is a bad idea", but rather doubling down on the idea that the leading figures of our movements should be modeled as genuine Lord-of-the-rings heroes. And since not everyone can bring themselves to believe that they are Frodo, we decide that invoking another high-fantasy archetype is the right solution?!

I'm curious as to why you so strongly think that sidekicks risk being abused, and that "healthy" communities will discourage this dynamic hard. I– I don't want to say that I want to be exploited, but I crave being useful, and being used to my full usefulness. I don't think this desire is unhealthy. Yes, this means that it's always tempting to throw too much of myself at a project, but that's the same problem as learning not to say yes to all the overtime shifts at the hospital and end up working 70 hours a week. I guess you could say that someone I was working for could "abuse" me by forcing me, or coercing or sweet-talking me, into the equivalent of "taking all the overtime shifts." But (in my limited experience of this) the leader's more common motivation seems to be in the opposite direction–of being afraid of pushing their sidekick too far.

I'm wondering whether you have some different experience of this, and would be interested in your elaboration if you have one.

I also had a weird reaction to your post, like emr and someonewrongonthenet. Personally, I feel that it's healthy to work as an assistant to someone (and stop thinking about work when you leave the office at 6pm), but it's unhealthy to be the assistant of someone (and treat them as a fantasy hero 24/7 and possibly sleep with them). Yay professionalism and work/life balance, boo medieval loyalties and imagined life narratives!

That's also the advice I often give to programmers, to think of themselves as working for a company (in exchange for money) rather than at a company (as part of a common cause). That advice makes some stressful situations and conflicts just magically disappear.

You could say that a world of inherently equal professionals exchanging services, without PCs or NPCs, is too barren to many people. Some people actually want to feel like heroes, and others want to feel like sidekicks. Who am I to deny them that roleplay? Well, some people also want to fit in the "warrior" role, being fiercely loyal to their group and attacking outsiders. We have all kinds of ancient tribal instincts, which are amplified by reading fantasy and bad (hero-based) sci-fi. I feel that such instincts are usually harmful in the long run, although they seem to make sense in the moment.

Personally, I feel that it's healthy to work as an assistant to someone (and stop thinking about work when you leave the office at 6pm), but it's unhealthy to be the assistant of someone (and treat them as a fantasy hero 24/7 and possibly sleep with them).

I think this is exactly what Brienne is talking about when she points out that society doesn't look kindly on people who want to serve others. And... I think maybe you're pointing at something real. It does seem possible that when "being" an assistant breaks, it breaks harder than when "working as" an assistant breaks. So it's a higher-stakes situation to put yourself in. (Both for the leader and for their assistant).

I don't think that negates any of what I said in the post though. Half of my point is basically just "some people are the kind of people who want to be nurses, no, really." Like, it seems to be really hard for people who aren't those kind of people to understand that for me, roles that aren't especially high-status but involve being really useful to other people hit all of my happiness buttons. That people are actually different and that their dream job might be one I'd hate, and vice... (read more)

I'm not sure why we're focusing in on narratives here, but I suspect it's for not very good reasons. Whether it's good for some people to "think of themselves as sidekicks" seems less important than whether it's good for people to actually perform the actions of a "sidekick". We can talk about how to promote or discourage the set of actions once that's settled. I'd much rather present a breakdown of what I actually do day to day and why, and then have people point out what precisely it is that I'm doing wrong.

Well, one reason is to avoid driving down wages and worsening working conditions for yourself and everyone else in your profession. It's not a coincidence that the jobs that people feel "passionate" about are the jobs where it's hardest to make a living, like writing or music. I wrote a post about that. Yeah, pretty much. The whole PC vs NPC idea feels slightly distasteful to me.
I hope you wouldn't give this advice to cofounders or early employees with an ownership stake, though, and that may be a better lens for viewing these sorts of relationships.
I don't think a cofounder should be a sidekick. It's more of a partnership, with voting and all.

So, I think that a sidekick can feel some ownership over what their hero does, and that feeling that will make them a better sidekick (in part, because they will be less likely to stop thinking about it at 6 pm).

I'm also having a hard time disentangling this in my mind from thoughts about households: in some sense, couples cofound a household together, and it seems counter-productive to think about that in solely mercenary terms, or to 'clock out' of your household.

I think I also find myself unhappy with what might be reflexive egalitarianism that is unhappy with unequal splits of decision-making power or status or so on. It's okay to be unseen; it's okay to be a junior partner; it's okay to be a servant. A lot of talk about 'purpose' emphasizes having 'something bigger than yourself,' and it seems to me that finding purpose in the people around you is something worth applauding.

It is also a great way to avoid receiving job offers. "Your company is my cause" is one of the socially-necessitated blatant lies of our age.
Oh, I never said they shouldn't lie.
I am from Britain and I can say with experience that working for a company in exchange for money is not an effective way to avoid 24/7 sleep with the hero situations. I know quite a few people who have a poor work life balance because they are working for a company and have more stressful situations and conflicts. I've seen people work themselves to depression, divorce, and death thanks to my involvement with the very toxic British banking culture. Your avoidance of such things dependends on the independent variable of how assertive you are at managing your work/life balance and how good your goal setting is. It's quite easy to overwork yourself for money. Wanting to be a sidekick or a hero or a equal professional doesn't increase or decrease your skill at maintaining a work life balance or your goal setting skills any more than it increases your physical strength or intellect.
Banking has that reputation in America too. I would hazard a guess that the problem is banking, not Britain (I used to work in finance, though not in banking specifically).

You can't be the sidekick of a hero anymore than you can be the student of an enlightened spiritual guru, or the patient of witchdoctor. If you go looking for a hero, who do you think you will find?

There is no chance that a Frodo-style hero exists, and that you've correctly identified one (versus an admirable non-hero or a fool or a charlatan), and that the hero needs the help of a sidekick to function as a hero (versus someone they can hire, or the support of standard social relationships) and that a genuine hero is going to be like "why yes I am a hero please quit your nursing job and be my (first? second? third?) sidekick in order to marginally increase my odds of saving the world".

The danger is to those people who can recognize that they themselves are not gurus, witchdoctors, heroes, perfect rationalists or ubermensch-programmer-super-geniuses-saving-the-world, but still believe that there are large and identifiable classes of people out there who actually are. And who then feel that the only way to have a non-shameful standing relative to their largely imaginary peers to find one to team up with!

That said, my critique is more against the notion that there is a sp... (read more)


Something else to remember: The Lord of the Rings took around six months. And considering that hobbits live longer than humans, by human standards it's more like 4 months. In other words, heroes and sidekicks in pieces of fiction do not use up all their life or pawn their future in order to be heroes or sidekicks. Perhaps if they get unlucky (Frodo was injured), but that's only a chance.

Even superheroes, who seem to be an exception to this, are saved by the genre conceits that 1) for some strange reason, if you're not specifically obsessed like Batman, being a superhero doesn't completely preclude a normal life, and 2) although the timescale of comic books means we don't see it much, superheroes eventually stop being superheroes, and starting a family is one of the biggest reasons for one to stop.

Even if heroes and sidekicks existed in the real world, dedicating your life to Eliezer's cause is a lot more extreme than being a hero or a sidekick, and should be thought of with appropriately greater skepticism.

Aren't you cherry-picking, even from the single work of fiction you mention? Sure, Frodo and Samwise didn't dedicate their lives to be heroes. But Gandalf and Aragorn did. And your superhero genre conceits don't seem to match what I've read. It's a near-universal trope of superhero comics that heroes can't lead normal lives and that when they do, they're inevitably reminded of the inherent dangers, e.g. perfect hostages in the form of their loved ones. And it's also another near-universal trope whereby the retired hero is called back into service in The Hour of Dire Need. I agree that one should be more skeptical of dedicating one's life to Eliezer's cause than a character typically depicted in superhero comics might be given the prospect of super-powers. But let's not forget that Hero is a trope with Real Life examples and dedicating one's life to something is a pretty common occurrence.
In my experience, a lot of people seem to expect that you've dedicated your life to something, as if plain, ordinary human beings who just want to be human beings are not even fantasy novel NPCs but just failing to follow the social rules of real life. I think this might have something to do with the pretensions to Great Purpose of the white-collar professional classes, but I still don't really get it. This bugs me a whole lot, because despite quite like LW-ian type stuff related to math, statistics, science, machine learning, blah blah blah, it all looks more than a little crazy from the outside, and I also just can't wrap my head around dedicating a whole life to a thing, as if things are allowed to be bigger and more important than people. -- Rincewind, summarizing my feelings on the subject of causes, including those I genuinely support.
Gandalf, yes -- he does say that that the point of his existence was to be the counter to to Sauron -- but Aragorn, no. He was a ranger before and became a king after, with just six months of heroism in between.
Gandalf's essentially an angel, so I'm not sure concepts like dedicating one's life to something conventionally apply to him. But "ranger", for Aragorn, seems to cover an awful lot of heroism -- and I wouldn't be surprised if "king" did as well. Being a hero in epic fantasy is often less about what you do and more about what you are. Lord of the Rings handles that in an interesting way, by arranging events such that the fate of the world hinges on the actions of characters who're decidedly unheroic by genre standards -- antiheroes in the classical, not the grimdark, sense of the word -- but it plays the mantle-of-destiny thing more or less straight if we're talking about anyone who isn't a hobbit.
Well, a Maia, and while I think his life was dedicated to a particular cause, there are enough hints that it's not Gandalf himself who did the dedicating :-/ Though he certainly seemed to be perfectly fine with that. I don't think so -- the hobbits are not "anti", they are unexpected heroes, but pretty straight heroes otherwise.
Also, Gandalf is a Maiar, a supernatural being. He's not a human, or a human stand-in such as a hobbit. If I build a battle robot and the robot goes to battle, is it a hero? Are angels heroes? "Normal life" is a relative term. I can think of few superheroes who are in a situation analogous to what was described by emr above with respect to Eliezer's consort. There are certainly individual obstacles that superheroes face that normal people don't, but the overall effect of these obstacles on the superhero's life is limited, even if they loom large in an individual story.
The smartassed answer would be "decades of anime say yes", but the real answer is that this is the kind of thing we could argue about for hours without making progress, because the word's broad enough to encompass several mutually contradictory meanings. This thread is happening in the context of a larger discussion about heroic responsibility, however, and I think "sidekick" here is most productively framed against that concept. Heroic responsibility means shouldering all the ills of the world; a sidekick's responsibility is doing whatever the hero needs done so that they can more effectively get to the heroing. These approaches are rare in media; even Frodo and Samwise, the examples of the OP, only count in a kind of loose, metaphorical sense. But that doesn't really matter, because we're not doing media analysis here, we're doing motivational psychology. I'm not yet convinced that this is the healthiest or most productive way to conceptualize heroism or sidekickkery, at least for most people (you could insert a long-winded digression about Fate/stay night here, but it wouldn't mean much to people that haven't played the game). It beats arguing semantics, though, so let's stick with it for now.
In which sense is Gandalf similar to a battle robot in the way that, say, Aragorn is not? Besides, if you think of Maiar as battle robots, not only Gandalf is not a hero, but Sauron is not a villain either.
I think there might be some ambiguity with the "sidekick" thing. I understand framing this as a hero and side-kick dynamic, but I think it might be easier to create a mental model of a team with some people playing more of a support role. [For consistency with other posts, I'm going to largely phrase things in terms of hero and sidekick] Either way, though, I see two general way things can go, one healthy and one unhealthy. "I am going to do whatever I can to help this hero, no matter what" is a version of side-kicking I see a lot in books. And I recently pulled myself out of a relationship where I fell into a similar dynamic (although without my partner actually falling into the "hero" role). The "do anything, come what may" aspect is very dangerous. And when I first read this post, that was the part that I found slightly disconcerting. However, there's another style of support/sidekicking that seems very healthy and productive to me: "I am going to find a person or persons who are effective at achieving goal(s) I find important, and do what I feel appropriate to help them achieve those goals for as long as it seems like the right thing to do (where a condition of "right thing to do" is that they are treating me well)." This is a much more specific and conditional statement, and one that to me feels both powerful and healthy. Reading some of the followup posts suggest that you and Brienne both fall into the second camp: The fiance of my best friend plays a supporting role (not a supporting actor, mind you) at a major movie production company. She doesn't act, she doesn't design things, she doesn't get credit for all the big achievements. She just keeps all the different parts working together, keeps everyone on schedule, and when necessary handles the details necessary for the big name actors to be at their best (accommodating dietary needs, etc). The high status individuals like actors and animators may be more directly involved in producing the movies, but w

I think an interesting related meme is "leadership as service". This idea certainly existed in the Boy Scouts when I was in high school, and a related idea of "management as service" exists in at least some good tech companies.

I don't personally like the "hero" narrative that much but I am highly ambitious and willing to do things even if no one else is doing them. Nevertheless, in fact, as a result of this, I often end up in what might seem like "sidekick roles". I've oftentimes taken on logistical tasks even though it's easy to argue that my comparative advantage is elsewhere. Why? Because if I don't, then some important thing won't get done, and that's all that matters. This is what I think Eliezer means when he refers to "heroic responsibility", and I think you among all people I've met exemplify this the most. So that's one interesting observation.

Another observation in my personal experience is that it's extremely difficult to take a "hero" role in more than one thing at once, simply because it's too time-consuming. I have several causes that I contribute my time to, but in many cases my ability to do so is limited b... (read more)

Great post, as usual! Every time I see your post I anticipate reading it in delight, and am never disappointed. Hope you and Ruby will accomplish great things.

I cannot help but notice that all non-fictional sidekicks you mentioned are female. I tried to think of famous real-life examples of a dependable and trusted companion who makes the hero what he or she is, and had trouble finding more than one or two males. I wonder if this is more or female trait, whether by nature or nurture, or the result of the infamous patriarchy, or maybe I just don't know of many.

Have you heard of Charlie Munger? Most people probably haven't, which is part of why he's a great (male, real life) sidekick. Munger is the vice-chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and has been Warren Buffet's right hand man for decades. Munger is one of the examples in Michael Eisner's (former Disney CEO) book on partnerships. One of the book's main points is that 50-50 is a very unstable split in a business partnership, but if one of the partners is willing to stand half a step lower the couple can achieve more.

You see this example a lot in sports, and by "you" I mean me because I've met few rationalists who care about sports as much as I do :) Scottie Pippen would've been an excellent player on his own, but being Michael Jordan's sidekick made him an all-time great.

Since professional sports is very competitive and rewards "alpha dogs" with all of the money and fame (endorsement deals, max contracts, hottest groupies), players who could have been amazing Robins become mediocre Batmans. If players were only paid based on winning championships, I'm sure that would change. If your goal is to save the world, that's the only goal and no one cares about "individual stats". With this goal drawing quite a few heroes, being a sidekick may well be the best, noblest, and most effective way to contribute.

Startups generally give most of the fame to founders, but they give enough of the money to early employees that it seems better to try to be an early employee at a great startup than a cofounder of even a good startup (given what the difference between great and good cashes out to in startups). And so there's the same issue of "are you optimizing for fame, or money/saving the world?"
4Jacob Falkovich
Do start-ups distribute according to a power law? In that case they would be somewhere in the middle between sports and saving the world. In American sports leagues there's a salary cap that's the same for each team (flat distribution). Being the second best player on a championship team almost always means less money than being the #1 star on a bad one. Usually athletes only start taking pay cuts to play for contenders towards the end of their careers. If start up earnings are distributed exponentially, it would seem that being #5 on a top 20 start-up is better than #1 on top-200 one. On the other hand, you mentioned other incentives, like fame (decision power, ego..) that would confound the issue. It's hard to care about "the company" as a goal separate from yourself, otherwise being fired from a company wouldn't change our opinion of it (for those who haven't ever been fired: I have, it does). If you're trying to save the world, the payoff distribution should be discrete: 0 if you fail, [your favorite number here] if you win. If Sauron wins, all hobbits are equally screwed. Once the ring was destroyed, did Frodo get a higher payout than Sam? Not if you derive positive utility from having 10 fingers :)
Paul Graham thinks so.
I think you've misunderstood the question. As I understand it, it's not "is the distribution of startup values a power law" but "do startups distribute their profits to employees according to a power law".
I hear that ownership is distributed roughly so that founders get 1/f, and early employees get 1/n^2, where f is the number of founders and n is the employee number (counting the first non-founder as employee f+1). (Both are obviously proportional; there's some constant term in there.)
That's a great description of why my wife and I have adopted The Dictator Principle for joint projects. The principle is just that someone must be The Dictator and, as the project leader, must be ultimately responsible for all decisions. Being ultimately responsible doesn't preclude delegation but it does prevent conflict arising from, e.g. "I thought you were going to do that! I thought you were going to do that!".

I've also had this thought. A few people I've showed this too are explicitly bothered about the what-if-it's-a-result-of-the-patriarchy; one person is tempted to identify as a Samwise character, but reluctant to because Sexist Overtones. I...don't think this is the right response. It's a bit like saying "no, I'm going to be a doctor instead of a nurse because women are pushed into nursing by The Patriarchy." Maybe it's true, but it's orthogonal to whether an individual will like nursing or medicine more (although, honestly, they're not that different).

Other thoughts: everyone who wrote publicly about this was female, but most of the people who have emailed me privately to thank me for the post are male. So... Men feel more shamed about wanting to be sidekicks than women do?

I've already had the thought that the message I'm sending might be bad if it spread to society as a whole, because women may be pushed harder away from being CEOs than from being their executive assistants (or whatever the dichotomy), and even a well-written and nuanced pro-sidekick message is going to get parsed as "smart lady says your place is as an assistant." (If a man wrote this post, the message would be different, but I'm not a man.) I still this this message is pretty positive for the LW/CFAR/rationality community to hear; its biases run in different directions.

but most of the people who have emailed me privately to thank me for the post are male.

Maybe because most LW readers are male? I am not sure it necessarily leads to the conclusion that

Men feel more shamed about wanting to be sidekicks than women do?

I am not going to generalize from myself, only think aloud. I think I could feel comfortable as a sidekick, but it seems like in many situations I don't get this option.

Part of that is related to gender stereotypes: In the past, whenever I stopped being a leader in a relationship, my then girlfriend usually quickly replaced me with a guy who enjoyed that role. (I know there are also relationships with the opposite dynamic, but I never experienced one.) Another part is about money, which indirectly is also related to gender stereotypes: I feel a pressure to make a lot of money (maybe it's just in my head, but so far I haven't met any volunteer to pay my bills, so I treat it as real). Leaders make more money than sidekicks.

Sometimes I get into leading position by being the first one or among the first ones who care about a problem. If there are other people interested in the position later, they usually easily succeed to push me away, because I am not good at status fights and I don't enjoy them. Sometimes I am even happy that someone else took the role instead of me, although I may complain about some consequences later (such as completely losing the ability to influence things).

Bu... (read more)

I can't think of specific individuals either, but that's not surprising; fame tends to go to the hero rather than the sidekick. I can think of a male archetype that fits it, though: classical Japanese samurai. It's an aesthetic that I actually find really appealing, albeit not something I think I could ever follow myself.

Good post.

I wonder if there's a pattern of idea dissemination that goes something like this:

  • Someone discovers an idea that seems helpful for them in interacting with the world.

  • They find that the more strongly they identify with the idea, the more helpful it is.

  • They tell all their friends about the idea, because (a) this is part of identifying with it and (b) they want to help their friends.

  • Their friends, being similar people, also find the idea helpful and proceed to spread it similarly.

  • The idea gains sufficient traction that it's no longer "this weird idea I had", but the mantra of a (possibly powerful) faction.

  • At this point, some people who the idea doesn't sit well with notice the idea (which now has significant psychosocial power) and experience cognitive dissonance.

  • At this stage, the idea (hopefully) gets optimized to be more accommodating to those people, and harmony ensues.

In other words, to provide a purely descriptive picture of what may have happened here: Eliezer found the idea of thinking of himself as a hero useful. This idea was helpful for accomplishing his goals. These goals included writing, and this is one of the things he wrote about.... (read more)

I think that there can be a difference between being Frodo's Sam, and being a real-life hero's personal assistant/sidekick/support. In the former case, Sam is fighting orcs, hiking through treacherous mountain passes, dealing with Sméagol, etc., which is quite similar to what Frodo is doing; in the latter case, the job of the secretary/personal assistant would be much different from the job of the real-life hero. I would be happy to be Frodo's Sam, but lukewarm about being, say, Bostrom's personal assistant.

I would much rather make phone calls and schedule events than fight Orcs. The latter sounds scary.

...That being said, I do like the aspects of my current job where I get to defibrillate people once in a while. I'm going to miss that.

A better question might be: Would you rather be told where to go fight orcs, or make the decisions about who fights orcs and where? Assume that you are equally as good as the person who will take the task that you choose not to.
Aren't you forgetting that Frodo was wearing the ring? The book describes it as being a punishing task.

Another thought about the sidekick status. I recall this comment by Eliezer, where he says, in part:

If you know yourself for an NPC and that you cannot start such a project yourself, you ought to throw money at anyone launching a new project whose probability of saving the world is not known to be this small.

I could be misreading it, but if you replace "money" with "effort", he basically describes the sideckick role as "NPC". Which rubbed me the wrong way even then. I certainly would not describe you or Brienne as NPCs, no way. I wonder if it's just an unfortunate choice of words.

I think that, if Eliezer felt that way in the past, he no longer feels that way; he has told me that he thinks the sidekick role is valuable and regrets possibly having made sidekick-identified people feel otherwise.

I wonder if it's just an unfortunate choice of words.

It strikes me as consistent with a "there are the real, heroic, important people who make decisions and do stuff and change the world and do the impossible and are thousand-year-old vampires and wish to become stronger and etc., and then there's everyone else" vibe that pervades the Sequences.

(ETA: ...but which apparently is either unintentional or subsequently updated away from.)

According to OP's reply, Eliezer_2015 likely disagrees with Eliezer_<=2013 on this issue... and we have Brienne to thank for it.

Cool. Updated (both the comment and my beliefs).
Being charitable, it seems to me that this is more a case of the word (phrase? acronym?) "NPC" having somewhat unfortunate connotations than of any direct malice being intended. For instance, if we take Eliezer's quote and replace "know yourself for an NPC" with "are aware that you have little chance of contributing directly to [our agenda]", we get something that's far less objectionable. Since replacing the word with the meaning shouldn't change anything if you're doing it right, I don't "NPC" was intended as anything more than a simple turn of phrase. The use of "NPC" simply strikes me as Eliezer's typical flair for drama, rather than some sort of deliberate snipe.
I think that, in a video game sense (which is really the only context where the distinction of "player characters" makes real narrative sense,) "sidekick" type characters probably do tend to be NPCs. But I think this is a major weakness of using a video game framing for the concepts under discussion. Problems are rarely solved in real life the way they're solved in books, but they're pretty much never solved in real life the way they are in video games.
0mako yass
It is a wholly inadequate analogy. Player Characters are supposed to be the ones with the agency, right? But most Player Characters are confined to a low-level domain of expertise(not metaethics, communication, social organization or economics, but scavenging and combat), and thus to do any good in the world must defer to someone with more high-level worldview(someone they should rightly trust well enough to tell them where humanity needs them), either that, or they tend to undergo their campaigns in some twisted amusement ride under the thumb of a perverse god(moloch, most likely), where straying from their specialization is simply not on offer. In short; those who live life like a game, fulfilled and decisive, either must or at least should follow(or advise for) some higher authority who knows how to fit their domain into the broader needs of the species. The rest of us, those of us more inclined to insatiable curiosity and pensivity, we are not player characters. We are the DMs who designed the game to keep its Player Characters happy in doing good.

I am male. I have high testosterone. I love competing and winning. I am ambitious and driven. I like to make a lot of money. I make a lot of money. I prefer the sidekick role.

If someone asks me "King or Prince?" I will respond with Prince every time. Hey, you can still be royalty without the weight of the world on your shoulders. I would still be a hard working Prince, too. If some asks me "Candidate or Campaign Manager?" I'll take Campaign Manager, thank you. If someone asks me "President or Chief of Staff?" well, you know the answer by now.

The more money I make and the more wisdom and experience I acquire, the more people naturally turn to me to lead. And I do it when necessary. I'm even pretty good at it. But, I don't love it. I don't require it. I don't see myself as growing more in that direction.

Upvoting is not sufficient given the very difference perspectives in the comments here.

I read the above article and nodded along the way thinking 'this is insightful and adds a great context to discuss and think about many industrious relationships' never once did gender cross my mind. I was floored to see it a major item in the comments.

I am male. I have high testosterone. I love competing and winning. I am ambitious and driven. I like to make a lot of money. I make a lot of money. I prefer the sidekick role.

Ditto. I've never identified as subservient, but my entire career I've found leaders to work for whose skill set I could compliment. I saw this as an issue of too many cooks ruin the stew and too many chiefs, not enough indians.

To sum this up, I think the Sidekick role is a matter of effective team building and is as far from gender as anything else in the world.

Any links to discussions on this item elsewhere? As some rationalist said, two rationalists with the same info can't help but agree.

...given some assumptions about the mathematical structure of argument that probably don't hold for humans, rationalist or otherwise. Aumann is a remarkable result in many ways, but it's not one that neatly lends itself to social engineering.
I think that the hero-sidekick framework is just wrong for most kinds of relationships.
And what is your take on the A-Teamist Face-Planner team structure? Do you see it as similar to the Hero-Sidekick structure as described by Swimmer963? How about the 007-Q relationship? There are too many fictional examples in this discussion, any non-anecdotal real life case studies?
Developing a full-blown classification of relationship types here seems to be a tad excessive :-) Let me just point out that the leader-peon type (see e.g. this) is not quite the same thing as the hero-sidekick type. In real life I, for example, have zero desire to be either a hero or a sidekick. Accordingly, none of my relationships, either work or personal, can be described as hero-sidekick ones.
I thought of a little more context to add to this. I've started several businesses in my life, but I've never started a business completely on my own. I've always had partners. I've always looked for some other person that feels passionately about leading the business. I negotiate well for my share of the new enterprise, so I'm still involved in the big decisions. However, I would never go out and start something all by myself and then just look to gather my team by hiring them on as employees. That would put me just too starkly in the hero role.

So. I’m Samwise. If you earn my loyalty, by convincing me that what you’re working on is valuable and that you’re the person who should be doing it, I’ll stick by you whatever it takes, and I’ll make sure you succeed. I don’t have a Frodo right now. But I’m looking for one.


For me, finding someone who shared my values, who was smart and rational enough for me to trust him, and who was in a much better position to actually accomplish what I most cared about than I imagined myself ever being, was the best thing that could have happened to me.

Just out of curiousity - is Frodo person implicitly intended to be a romantic partner here? Or can Frodo just be anyone you work closely with? The wording certainly makes it seems seem like a romantic partner. And it could be a spurious trend but I also couldn't help but notice the female skew of all the Samwise's you mentioned, which, given the low grade dominance/submission dynamics often at play between the genders, makes me suspect this even more.

I think nursing is a valid life choice, and I think being a Samwise is a valid choice, and I think wanting to find a romantic partner and take care of them and make their ambitious dreams co... (read more)

All of the above is true. And this post is explicitly written for the people who have bought into "the world needs saving" and are angsty about it because they don't want to perform a "hero" role but feel like they should. I'm sure there are thousands of people all around me living simple lives of devotion to their families, partners, and communities. (This includes many of my fellow nurses.) They don't need telling that this is okay. In fact, I think that in larger society, this might be an overall bad message for me personally to send, because it's possible that in society at large women are dissuaded harder from being CEOs than from being executive assistants (or whatever dichotomy) and sending that message an extra time, even if it's well-written and nuanced, would just sum up to "see, honey, another smart-sounding lady says your place in the world is as the CEO's assistant!" (The message would have a different impact if I were male, but I'm not and I can't do that hypothetical.)

But I'm posting this on Less Wrong, where the worldview of "the world is broken and my ethics dictate I try to fix it" is a pretty common mindset. It's something... (read more)

Why should not being distressed be a terminal goal? Surely what you really want is that they not feel distressed if it's a good idea, but that they do feel distressed if it's a bad idea. You don't want them to be not-distressed unconditionally regardless of whether the idea is good or bad. Which means that in order to decide whether they should feel distressed about doing something, you first need to decide whether it's a good idea. You don't want to just be feeding their delusions, if you conclude that they are delusions.
I'm more okay with it being because my work is valuable: http://www.cracked.com/blog/6-harsh-truths-that-will-make-you-better-person/
Some people do need to see that link, but note that it, too, is rather dangerous.
I'm an aromantic asexual who is not a woman and does not want a romantic relationship and I identify very closely with the expressed desire to 'find a Frodo'. I interpreted this as a desire for exactly what was stated: a hero-sidekick relationship. This is anecdotal, and so not data, but it's enough to prove that this isn't ONLY about intense romantic relationships.
It worries me a bit that several young LWers appear to be leaving paid employment to do (presumably?) unpaid work for their partners. What happens if these relationships break down? Are they going to be able to find paid work after a long break from the job market?
Name three?
Sorry, I meant to say it worries me a bit if young LWers are leaving paid employment to work unpaid for their partners. I haven't actually witnessed a bunch of people appear to do this - it was more of a concern after reading the post. However, it looks as if Swimmer963 is making sensible plans.
Does "partners" mean "romantic partners"? Is that a good idea? This is not a rhetorical question, and I could see how it is a awful I idea that has the potential to go wrong, but can also see that the intimacy is actually extremely beneficial.
0Swimmer963 (Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg)
Clarification: I'm not actually planning to do unpaid work for Ruby, at least not immediately. I'm going to be retraining as an executive assistant, because they're useful, and keeping my nursing license valid (possibly finding a part time nursing job if that turns out to be at all feasible, because I really love working as a nurse.)
I strongly suggest that. I'm not a nurse so I don't really know, but I have trouble imagining scenarios where a nurse who is agenty enough to be an executive assistant doesn't end up making a big difference as a nurse, at least locally, to a lot of people. Passion confers abilities, and ripple effects of small improvements in hands-on fields should not be underestimated.

Thanks for writing this - one of the more valuable posts IMO that I've seen on LW in a while.

Sort of expanding on what you said, this seems like a specific manifestation of gains-from-trade. I'm very, very happy that there are people who enjoy or are proficient at super-different things than I am because that way I don't have to do the things that I'm bad at or dislike doing unless it's something that I want to learn or get better at.


...and no one would try to change me. Because oh boy, have people tried to do that. It’s really hard to be someone who just wants to please others, and to be told, basically, that you’re not good enough–and that you owe it to the world to turn yourself ambitious, strategic, Slytherin.

Might be good for some to keep in mind that some politeness and friendliness norms sometimes serve a similar role to ethics in this sense. This sort of stuff and precaution tends to be more important in areas where you don't know a whole lot, such as when you're trying to prescribe actions for others when you know a rather limited amount about them.

Open source projects, especially (or maybe just most saliently for me) software projects, desperately need sidekicks. I write 'desperately' because most such projects die from 'over-forking', i.e. everyone wanting to be the leader (hero) of their own project (adventure).

What I've learned most recently is that being even a moderately competent sidekick is really hard. It takes a lot of work to even be able to contribute without creating lots of extra work for the heroes and their more-devoted sidekicks.

7Swimmer963 (Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg)
That's really interesting! Are you able to break down the relevant skills at all?
Some relevant skills, off the top of my head: * 'Mind-reading', e.g. how are they going to interpret a complaint or request or comment * 'Filtering', e.g. what decision or evaluation should or must be made by a 'hero' * 'Readiness', e.g. "this just needs your signature" Really, there must be lots of specific sub-skills, as the three I listed overlap to a large degree. I initially thought I would be able to list lots of skills specific to software, and of course there are many, but they're relatively unimportant for being a good sidekick generally. For example, being able to provide clear instructions on how to reproduce a bug is incredibly valuable, but that's really just an example of the general skills I listed above, i.e. providing info that's unambiguous about what's wrong (and ideally why), not providing info that's irrelevant, and providing enough info so that they can most efficiently fix the bug. Generally, being a good sidekick requires sufficient empathy and self-awareness. Empty because you have to know the mind of your hero to know how to best help them. And self-awareness because you have to know whether your hero's cause is really yours too. Tho, of course, some sidekick's cause is ultimately serving a specific hero. In fantasy terms, a good sidekick delivers obvious monsters that the hero can slay.
In table top gaming terms you just described a good GM. I find it very interesting that there would be such a particular overlap.
Sidekicks or slave labour?
Please define your terms.
"Slave labour" -- labour that does what it's asked to do without needing any compensation in terms of either money or fame. Sidekicks have been defined elsewhere, but the salient issue is that they need a hero. The point, of course, has been sharpened.
What is the difference between your definition of "slave labor" and volunteer work?
Volunteers want things :-) Slave labour shuts up and does stuff.

This reminded me of a fantastic and short Ted Talk about followers: http://www.ted.com/talks/derek_sivers_how_to_start_a_movement?language=en#t-1426

This resonated with me. I'm not prone to be the head of leadership, or to be a "hero". I do like being an early follower, however. Someone who can lend strength and support to a cause I see as worthwhile. In the parlance of the Ted Talk, I like to look for lone nuts to turn into leaders by following them. In this way, I like to think of myself as leaning into the role of selection as a follower (such as a Samwise), playing off of variation (all the lone nuts out there), and allowing for favorable evolution (of whatever).

If I read this post correctly, you're iterating the conventional wisdom that team players are not less important or less necessary than star players even though the status is less glamorous. (They are, perhaps, more interchangeable, but also definitely indispensable on much shorter timescales than star players.) Only you are framing it in terms that make it sound as if this was not generally agreed upon by everyone not suffering from the malignant form of ambition.

Nuance matters. "Sidekick" is not meant to refer to actual humans, but to second g... (read more)

Hmmm, thank you for the posting, it sheds a light on something that I had not seen before. I like a lot of things about the posting, including the standing up part if the hero fucks up. And Samwise is an interesting "sidekick". I think he differs in at least two other aspects from the typical "sidekick" that deserve special emphasis:

First, Samwise is self-sufficient ("competent"). It's not the typical Robin character that needs to get rescued by Batman as a stupid plot ploy. He has his own skills and carries his own weight. Th... (read more)

6Swimmer963 (Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg)
I certainly hope to be at least that competent. I'm an adult; I've lived on my own and been financially independent of my parents since I was 17. If anything, it feels like "okay, I've got this taking care of myself thing down, can I have a harder challenge?" I'm a freaking ICU nurse, responsible for other people's lives 12 hours a day. It doesn't feel like I would strongly prefer being visible to being in the background. Both have an appeal. There's skill and satisfaction in knowing that you're making it look like the hero did everything on their own, too. I think people engage with things they read on multiple levels, not just the explicit arguments, and that includes picking up implicit social norms from context/subtext like "all the pro-hero writers are male, all the pro-sidekick writers are female." And that's not even taking into account the fact that my article is apparently fairly in line with Christian writing on the topic of service, and so might end up shared among Christian bloggers–and the various Christian's sects' attitudes to gender roles are often not ones I endorse.
FWIW, when I brought up gender, I wasn't actually thinking "women are choosing to take a submissive position, and that's bad". I don't think it's bad if women choose that. My thought was more along the lines of "Hmm, what is written here sounds eerily similar to how many women view romantic relationships, and coincidentally a lot of the people espousing the view are women, which provides further evidence that there is a romance subtext to this hero/sidekick dynamic." I wasn't making a value judgement concerning which gender played hero and which sidekick, just noticing that the subtext existed. And then my second thought was "there may be something psychologically unhealthy about evaluating the quality of romantic attachments in light of how much a person can save the world". I just don't think "is this person smart, powerful, and knowledgeable enough to save the world" is an appropriate criteria for a relationship here. Perhaps I should have not even mentioned gender and just said "this sounds like a romantic relationship" - that would have been sufficient to get the point across. Gender was only important insofar as it gave (correct or incorrect) clues about the motivations about people espousing the views. I could fairly be accused of stereotyping, since if a bunch of men said "I wanna be a sidekick" I might not have picked up a romantic subtext. (But I think stereotypes are epistemically valid as clues, and although it is sometimes instrumentally better not to act on that information for the purpose of not perpetuating stereotypes I thought it was okay in this case).

I've noticed a similar pattern in my own personality, but I've also questioned at times whether it's healthy to be so devoted to someone else's priorities. With different friends who were higher-status than me, I've framed our dynamic in terms of Quixote/Sancho: there was the crazy knight who boldly marched towards trouble, and the little sensible voice trying to ground him in reality. Maybe what this says is that I don't choose my heroes too well.

I was chief editor at my office for one year and I concluded that there's not one fibre of leader material in ... (read more)

This is largely tangential, but it's also worth contemplating the extent to which Sancho both enables Quixote's world (as distinct from Quijana's) and prefers it.

I think this is what Anna was getting at when she encouraged me to be a wealthy donor rather than an AI researcher. It's hard to give up the idea of being Michelangelo, being remembered for centuries in history books. But he wouldn't've managed without his patrons.

I'd rather be a hero than a sidekick. But my small contribution to mitigating AI risk has generally been in helping MIRI in whatever way seemed most valuable, rather than inventing my independent way to global utility maximization.

So, what does that make me? A cooperative small-time hero, like one of those obscure minor superhero characters in the comics who occasionally steps up to help the famous ones?


I think there is such a thing as a hero-in-training. My work with FLI has mostly been in a supporting role so far, but I view myself as an apprentice rather than a sidekick, and I would generally like to be a hero.

Yeah. This is definitely a thing. It seems good to have the vocabulary to differentiate the two, so that someone can know whether their current apprentice is aiming to be a hero or a sidekick.

I find myself wanting to suggest that self-described heroes and sidekicks who want a fictional character to compare themselves to pick characters from My Little Pony-- after all, the protagonists are all just so nice!

Specifically, all of the princesses in MLP are nice to everypony, despite the fact that they are all leaders. The princesses treat Shining Armor, the five of the Mane 6 who aren't princesses, Spike, and some relevant side-ponies like friends and equals, even though some of these characters are properly sidekicks. Actually, the show consistently praises "sidekick traits" like humility and agreeableness, which is quite endearing.


I am not ambitious myself, the difference is that I don't care. I don't mind if I don't fit in the LW community, I am here to learn certain things, not to get validation and slaps on the back.

I think many of you are products of American culture and even a certain subset of it. A certain subset, perhaps going back to New England culture, that has this attitude to life that altruism, like giving to charity is something of course everybody does and the only issue is how to do it efficiently, or that ambition means achieving a personal goal of yourself, gener... (read more)

Are you saying France is Mordor?
No, but irrelevant, I have hardly ever been there. Wait, I think I will try to write an article about it (assuming I can post to Discussion), I think it will be interesting. I have only recently realized that things that have always been quite normal to me would come across as pretty evil to the readers of the New York Times, and I think there are some lessons that could be gleaned from this.
No, but irrelevant, I have hardly ever been there.

I can't help to notice that this may be a gender-correlated personality trait:

  • All the people you cite that gave you positive advice about being a sidekick are female. In a community which is almost 90% male this seems pretty difficult to get by chance.

  • You're a nurse, a typically (~90%) female job. Nurses are natural sidekicks to doctors.

I suppose that the fixation for being a hero of the LW community that makes you feel out of place may be the result of it's mostly young male demographic. Maybe young male nerds are particularly prone to that, since ... (read more)

Sure, everything is genetic. The absurdly restrictive roles girls are taught have nothing to do with the image they build of themselves.
in Canada?
Wish I could both up- and down- vote this comment. +1 for interesting, cogent observation; -1 for followinng that up with facile beakering. So instead I upvoted this comment and downvoted your reply below ( which deserves the downvote in its own right) (I just made up the word "beakering". It means doing TV science, with beakers and bafflegab, in real life. A lot of amateur evo-something and neuro-something involve beakering.)

What are rationalist heroes supposed to do? And what can “sidekicks” do to help them?

(I ask these questions as someone who’s not that familiar with the rationalist community. I asked them on the Effective Altruism Forum and there was some discussion of them there.)

I'm looking for specific examples, particular ones which aren't already being done and so are available for new heroes to take on.

Ryan Carey said "A hero means roughly what you'd expect - someone who takes personal responsibility for solving world problems. Kind of like an effective altruist... (read more)

To do whatever they were doing before, just better. 'Before enlightenment, chop wood carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood carry water' - as a Zen proverb goes. Consider Mitsyo Maeda, the glob-troting father of brazilian jujitsu and allegedly toughest man who ever lived's book. He believed you should keep fights in the phase your best at. If you're good at fighting on the ground, get your opponent on the ground and keep him there. Then post for badass photos. That's an obvious and crude but rationalist approach to things. He was successful. I saw that qualifies for rationalist ('super')hero.
0Swimmer963 (Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg)
I think founding CFAR was an example; there are both leader and sidekick roles there. Maybe.

Since this has actually gotten some interested people in my discussion post I'm cross posting it here where it makes more sense:

Reading the Main post on Sidekicks, I considered it worth noting in passing that I'm looking for a sidekick if someone feels that such would be an appropriate role for them.

This is me for those who don't know me: https://docs.google.com/document/d/14pvS8GxVlRALCV0xIlHhwV0g38_CTpuFyX52_RmpBVo/edit

And this is my flowchart/life;autobiography in the last few years: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BxADVDGSaIVZVmdCSE1tSktneFU/view

Nice... (read more)

This seems like the sort of thing that would benefit from having its own thread.

For me, finding someone who shared my values, who was smart and rational enough for me to trust him, and who was in a much better position to actually accomplish what I most cared about than I imagined myself ever being, was the best thing that could have happened to me.

Someone is doing what I want done, and they can do it better than me, and I can help.

If you aren't driven by status and dominance, what's the downside?

This concept of Sidekicks lends itself well to the principle of "first follower" by Derek Sivers.

First Follower: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fW8amMCVAJQ&feature=mfu_in_order&list=UL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hO8MwBZl-Vc Derek Sivers Remember the importance of nurturing your first followers, embrace them as equals and make it about the Movement, and not about You. Be Public, be Easy to Follow Leadership is Overglorified. It was the First Follower that transformed the Lone Nut into a Leader. There's no Movement without the First... (read more)

I think there's something in business that is similar to the hero-sidekick dichotomy you suggest. In business, I see people who are great individual contributors, but their career path "upwards" takes them into management, at which they suck. The notion that being good at managing doers is "higher" than doing has a parallel in supposed superiority of heroes to sidekicks. It's not a promotion to go from sidekick to hero: it might very well be an awkward misalignment.

Is there something underlying both of these? It might be something about leader-follower and the prestige that comes with being a leader.

I don't know about this idea. For most of my career, I've tried to be sidekick in the sense of trying to fulfill someone else's goals with say a secondary goal of mine that ties in to that primary goal, but it has always ended up in conflicts, where I couldn't simply bring myself to ignore the hero's stance/decision(and still work with him/her). Is that a good enough reason to try to be a hero? This post still resonates with me, but that doesn't mean am about to go around hero's for whom I can be a sidekick. Majority of the empirical evidence that I've (personal experience) accumulated suggests, that won't really work.

May be the distinction is not as sharp as you think/believe it is?

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The link to the post on your personal blog is broken, it should be: http://swimmer963.com/?p=383

0Swimmer963 (Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg)
Thanks. Fixed.

This is an awesome, awesome, awesome post! I think you have nailed a few important axis of variance that we usually neglect.

Now, precisely because you are still part of the community and can accept rationalist memes, you are an important sample to learn what the rationalist community is not. At least what it is not necessarily.

Would you, and any other self-identified rationalist sidekick, please fill out this survey?

I am analyzing how personality is related to beliefs about consciousness and memetic affiliations. If only heroes fill out the questionnaire... (read more)

I self-identify with the role of the hero. But I do so not because I think it's wonderful to struggle for righteousness, but rather because I feel a deep sense of despair when I consider pursuing other options. I'm crushing myself with the weight of heroic responsibility. This is extremely unpleasant, and naturally, makes me a much less effective person.

How can I rewrite my motivations and self-concept to be less distressing for me? How can I convince myself, emotionally and psychologically, to stop trying to be a hero? At this point, it's rather obvious that I'm not actually capable of being one. I would prefer to change my goals than to continue suffering like this.

1Swimmer963 (Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg)
When did this sense of despair start? (Was it after exposure to the LW idea of heroism, or before that?) When you ask yourself "what's the bad thing that happens if I am for Goal X, which doesn't include being a hero", do you get an answer? Have you tried tabooing the word "hero" and describing the actual plans and actions that your brain think would be acceptable, versus the ones that it thinks would be unacceptable?
After. As I mentioned, I am incapable of being a "hero" in the sense I use the word. I do not, intellectually, believe that striving for this sort of heroism will be likely to have negative consequences, because I don't believe making the effort will significantly affect my actions. But I have difficulty relaxing my emotional standards despite this understanding. I think the root problem is that there are no Schelling points within my motivational neighborhood. I can't help but feel as though I face the choice of either striving for heroism continually throughout every area in my life, or giving up on my ambitions entirely and becoming a selfish couch potato. My brain says that I need to work for a couple hours a day learning until I get my degree, then get a good job and make money while studying politics and economics, and then eventually start some kind of charity to help in the 3rd world. Anything less than this makes me feel guilty and ashamed for not being a competent enough person, even a bit disgusted with myself.
1Swimmer963 (Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg)
Hmm. Before you were exposed to the LW idea of heroism, how did you feel, motivation-wise? What did you spend your time doing? This seems incompatible with "I do not, intellectually, believe that striving for this sort of heroism will be likely to have negative consequences, because I don't believe making the effort will significantly affect my actions." If aiming to be a hero doesn't effect your actions, it also shouldn't make the difference between being a "selfish couch potato" and not? But I feel like there's a lot of vagueness here, too. Can you taboo "selfish couch potato" and describe what you fear you would actually do? And compare it to what you're actually doing now? Versus what ideal you would do? Like, actual actions–"I get up in the morning, I go walk to the store..." Etc. This sounds fine? Like, definitely underspecified as an actual plan, and maybe focusing too much on one path and neglecting all the equally valuable alternatives (I think that happens a lot with long term plans). But it doesn't reek too badly of "I must make desperate efforts to be heroic constantly!"
Reading books, mostly. I had goals, but not ambitions, if that makes sense. I basically thought good things would just happen to me if I was a good/intelligent person. I've since learned that good things won't come to me, I need to go out searching for them and pounce on them if I want them. But doing that is just exhausting. It's the intensity of the negative emotion which is a problem, more than the goals I'm aiming for. I'd like to be able to fail to achieve my best-case goals without hating myself. Current me spends almost no time on productive things when not at his job as a menial worker. Couch potato me would quit his job and try to get on government welfare, eating lots of food. Ideal me would quit the job and get a better one, while going back to school to complete and starting to exercise regularly. My intellectual belief that heroism is important has served mainly only to emotionally torment me for failing, since I'm not even moderately successful in life by basically any standard you could name.
3Swimmer963 (Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg)
Hmm. I'm going to suggest something that I just thought of and that may or may not be helpful, but here goes: The trouble with narratives is that once you have one, it's really hard to go back to not having a narrative. Heroism is a narrative. It's going to be really hard to go back to just doing whatever you were doing without interpreting it in some kind of narrative sense – but you can change your narrative. To something like "there are no heroes." Heroism is a construct, a concept, but it doesn't cut reality at the joints. The real world is more like one of those gritty crime novels, where morality isn't a real thing and there are just humans, with drives both noble and corrupt, trying to survive. This is a narrative I've had, but it wasn't to solve the same problem. I have my couch-potato urges, like anyone, but I've never had to resort to much mental violence to suppress them. I think because I'm able to notice that when I follow the urges, and read sci-fi for ten hours instead of cooking and exercising and cleaning, then I feel physically bad (stiff, achy, etc), and mentally bad (foggy head, being bored but unable to think of a thing to do about it, etc). This is visceral enough feedback for my System 1 to get it and respond to an urge to stay in bed and read my book all day with "do you really want to do that?" (The prerequisite for this may be having good enough energy and mood overall that doing non-couch-potato things is pleasant or at least bearable. I've experienced times when this wasn't the case – when I was so exhausted that trying to do anything other than read fanfic was painful. If trying to do work is always aversive for you, that may well be a medical issue – it'd be consistent with depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, etc.)
I have several medical problems, yes. Changing my narrative is a good idea, thanks. Now, what will I change it to...
1Swimmer963 (Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg)
Have you read many of the "gritty crime novel" or other "gritty realism" genres? I think I have a felt sense for what that narrative is, but it's hard to explain, because it comes from having read several hundred books in the genre.

A sidekick has a different status than the hero because they primarily fill auxiliary or submissive tasks in pursuit of the venture. I'm familiar with this status as a technical writer.

I initially started with a grand expectation that I might one day write for a crew of genius software developers working on AI, or Space Exploration, or who-knows-what. If I want these things to happen, why did I not seek the "higher" status for myself?

I've never really had a problem with math or computer science, and all throughout high school I dreamed of bein... (read more)

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I self-identify with the role of the hero. But I do so not because I think it's wonderful to struggle for righteousness, but rather because I feel a deep sense of despair when I consider pursuing other options. I'm crushing myself with the weight of heroic responsibility. This is extremely unpleasant, and naturally, makes me a much less effective person.

How can I rewrite my motivations and self-concept to be less distressing for me? How can I convince myself, emotionally and psychologically, to stop trying to be a hero? At this point, it's rather obvious that I'm not actually capable of being one. I would prefer to change my goals than to continue suffering like this.

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Cool how you arrived at this insightful distinction via in the end following up on that nagging feeling.

I wonder whether the hero-sidekick differentiation is a dichotomy or whether these can be independent traits.

I'm predisposed to wonder because I kind of feel both sides of it. Both not exceptionally strongly so. Possibly more the sidekick. trait. I like to make people feel at home. I'm happy to provide for and foster my and other children. Like my mother. I like cooperative team-work. But I even more enjoy to work alone. Fal into the flow. Most time of... (read more)


You might want to look at the recent thread on being a hero, http://lesswrong.com/lw/l6d/a_discussion_of_heroic_responsibility/ , in particular the comments which question the idea. A lot of the reasons why thinking of yourself as a hero are questionable apply to thinking another person is a hero as well.

...I wrote that post, so yes, I've already read most of the comments.

Is your claim that...

  • in theory, there are cases where being the sidekick is the way for you to have the biggest impact?
  • in todays world, there are some cases where being the sidekick is the way for you to have the biggest impact?
  • in todays world, there are many cases where being the sidekick is the way for you to have the biggest impact?
  • while being a sidekick might not be the way for you to have the biggest impact on the world, it is still a way to have a notable impact on the world, and that having a notable impact on the world is still an admirable thing to do?

For the record, I agree with each bullet point except 3.

I think my main point is "it's not true that your only options are Be a Hero or Be Insignificant, there's a third option." Because if it's presented as a dichotomy, I think many sidekick-oriented people would go for being insignificant–so the impact they could theoretically have as a hero is moot.

It's important to remember that what you want to focus on is expected impact. Of course the sidekick can't have as much impact as the hero could have, but if there aren't enough people who want to be sidekicks relative to heroes and you have a comparative advantage as a sidekick, you probably have higher expected impact as the sidekick to your pick of hero than becoming a mediocre hero yourself.
2Adam Zerner
True. "Expected impact" is what I meant.

I think there are strong gender overtones here.

7Swimmer963 (Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg)
You're not the first person to remark on that. What do you think that we ought to do about it?
That's a descriptive observation, not a normative call to action. Why do you think something ought to be done about it?
I'd predict that this exchange happens to you quite a bit, where you make a descriptive statement, someone interprets it as normative, and then you have to clarify that your statement was purely descriptive before actually proceeding to discuss. If so, you might be able to eliminate the extra cycle by clarifying descriptive intent up front . I think that people often assume normatively prescriptive intent when one makes a statement like that which you make in the root comment. Furthermore, this is usually a reasonable assumption in my (admittedly rather limited in breadth) experience, so subverting it as above might annoy some as it may seem like you're willfully being a pain by screwing with typical communication protocols. This annoyance may be greater if the other person thinks that you're trying to confuse them, making a higher-status move at their expense. Disregard this if it does not seem applicable - just an instance of "feedback may have positive impact but probably not negative compared to no feedback." Tapping out due to lack of further interest.
Can you unroll this? What do you see as the crucial difference between "I think there are strong gender overtones here" and "I think that water is wet"? What creates the "reasonable assumption" that the statement is normative when the text doesn't specify it?
FWIW I also interpreted your statement as normative.
The fact that that a lot of people saying the first, but not the second, intend to prescriptive connotations.
One difference is that no-one ever says the latter.
'Pippin, don't throw that!' 'But why? What's going to happen?' 'I don't like the look of the water.' 'It looks just like it always does...' [tentacles creep out and try to wrap around the Fellowship] 'Guys, I think there are strong gender overtones here!' 'Next time, Pippin, say that water is wet.'
Yep :-P No girls in the Fellowship. P.S. That was a descriptive and not a normative statement X-D
For convenience, calling this Statement 1 (S1): and calling this Statement 2 (S2): S1 relates to a topic on which many have strong normative feelings; S2 does not. Many of the people I interact with behave such that I have a strong prior for S1 being intended normatively rather than descriptively, so I'd assume that they intended S1 normatively (just because that assumption is very likely to be correct given past experience with my social circles). Might not be universally true though - this could just be an oddity of my social circles. I'd expect you to know that the assumption in my first paragraph exists, so I pattern-match failing to initially clarify your intent as someone trying to make a high-status play (of the sort unclear statement->assumption->implied "gotcha! you made a bad assumption"). This causes me to anticipate your future intent regarding the conversation to be gaining status, so I don't expect your future input to be interesting and would likely abandon the convo. I've tried to introspect and spell out an estimate of why I might feel as I do, but the general progression in my second paragraph manifests as a feeling of annoyance->dismissal. Edited for formatting.
OK, so the issue is the social expectations about whether the issue is controversial and whether one is expected to have a normative attitude towards it? And in such a case, all statements will be interpreted as normative unless there are explicit disclaimers to the contrary? No, not really. I rarely speak normatively and in such cases I'm explicit about it. Typically I make descriptive observations, possibly with a variety of connotations and implications, but they are almost never of the "so you should believe/do X" kind. Normally they are of the "this is complicated, are you aware of this trade-off and that internal inconsistency?" kind. I do set gotcha traps on occasion, but the sense of fair play usually makes me point them out beforehand. People still fall into them, anyway :-D
Pretty much.
Perhaps to remove "social pressure relating to gender roles" as a confounding factor, so that people can do a better job of finding roles that are good fits for their own individual characteristics?
Where is the whole "social pressure" thing coming from? But let me express myself better by changing one word in my original sentence: I think there are strong sex overtones here.
That makes me more confused about what you mean.
Men and women are different on the biological level. They are different in multiple ways, but a particular one is that they have a different mix of hormones which affect the brain and so the mind. This gives rise to biologically (NOT socially) determined loci of attraction for certain behaviours and attitudes. Note that biology is not necessarily destiny, but ceteris paribus it's easier for biological males to gravitate to some centers of attraction and for biological females to gravitate towards other centers of attraction. Sure, there are lots of exceptions, but that doesn't change the picture of the averages.
There does not seem to be an argument for why removing social pressures is not necessary here.
Social pressure can be good and bad. Social pressure that steers some people to what they would prefer will steer others away. If people have basic goodwill, what you'd expect to see is the more typical people benefiting, while the more atypical would be harmed.
Perhaps we can start by encouraging "sidekick-identified" males to speak up?
Note that there are enough good fictional male sidekicks to reduce the gender stigma, and fiction has at least as much power over people as reality. So maybe nothing special needs to be done?
Do you know of any examples, fictional or real, of a male sidekick to a female hero?

Margaret Thatcher and Denis Thatcher.

Buffy / Xander, Motoko / Batu, Deunan / Briareos (although I'm not sure "Sidekick" is exactly right here)
Hit Girl/Kick-Ass, Korra/Mako, Sailor Moon/Tuxedo Mask, She-Ra/Bow.
Moiraine Damodred and Al'Lan Mandragoran Tiffany Aching and Rob Anybody
SPOILERS FOR AN ANCIENT FANTASY SERIES Severely hampered by the fact that Moiraine is fridged for -- what, six, seven books?
Less "fridged" and more "pulling a Gandalf", I'd say. She isn't murdered to demonstrate the opposition's evilness and to motivate the hero; she's a mentor figure who gets killed neutralizing a threat that the hero can't overcome at that stage of his development. Not that that's much of a step up, plot-wise.
Good catch. Man, I'd forgotten how ridiculous that series is. I'd started reading them as a child, and finished just after Winter's Heart was published. A couple years later, I met Jordan at a book signing for Crossroads of Twilight. I was so disappointed by that horrible, horrible novel that I still haven't finished the series yet.
They're pretty ridiculous. I had a similar arc of experience with them, minus the book signing, but a year or so ago I picked up ePubs of the tail end of the series with an eye toward finally driving a stake into its heart. I hardly ever read fantasy these days, but I had a long plane flight ahead of me and figured I could do worse. Roughly six hours of reading later, I was a quarter of the way into Knife of Dreams and already regretting that plan. I never did finish them.
Yes, they are. If I were to find myself re-reading them for some reason, I think I'd just have to read the parts with the Asha'man, and skip the two bazillion other subplots that go nowhere interesting. And especially I'd skip everything that includes Faile. Better yet, women in general.
You'd miss all the incredible Nynaeve tugging her braid action X-)
But unhampered by the observation that it's not just this particular pair -- this is an entire social institution where a male Warden becomes a sidekick to a female Aes Sedai.
And hampered by the fact that the main character is the one exception.
The Aes Sedai society is a limited example, I had trouble remembering the names of any other bonded pairs where both characters were developed and the warden fit the willing, mentally healthy, sidekick role. The wardens were a case study in the reverse Bechdel test. In that entire story, Lan was an exception that he embraced his sidekickness.
Now I feel like a bad person because I can't remember Verin's warder's name :( Ooh, or Adaleas and Vandene's sweet old-man warder. (Looked them up - Tomas and Jaem)
I don't remember any, either. Doesn't Taim end up bonding with an Aes Sedai? I know at least some of the Asha'man did. I suppose the triple bond on Rand is an example....? Ick.
Dagny Taggart and Eddie Willers.
Marie Curie and Pierre Curie
I'm not sure how good an example that is. Pierre Curie was an extremely successful scientist in his own right.
Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin.
* Queen Anne and Prince George of Denmark. * Indira and Feroze Gandhi. * Benazir Bhutto and Asif Ali Zardari. * Maria Theresa and Francis I.
I was going to cite "Worm," but - aside from maybe the Number Man and Contessa - none of those examples really work. Alas, poor Clockblocker never got to fulfill his true role.
Morgaine and Nhi Vanye.
Jessie and James in the Pokémon anime (kind of).

One of the things that comes to mind for me is the "Myth of the lone genius" and, in part, it sounds like you are continuing that myth in your use of the word "hero". A single person doing something to better the world. But I don't think such people actually exist. All of the heroes, all of the geniuses, have near armies of people beneath them that make their impact on the world happen. No single person has that kind of impact.

Very plainly said, if we investigate any person that you identify as "hero" we will find a lot of... (read more)

Who gathered those people together, to work for that success?
Depends on the size of the effort. The larger the effort, the more people involved in the gathering. Are you suggesting that the gathering function is more important than any other function?
Who gathers the gatherers? Gathering and leading are essential functions of a hero. Without them, outside of a few examples in mathematics and the arts, nothing heroic is accomplished.
Also known as "You didn't build that".