The idea for this post all started because I was confused about the concept of "narcissism". I learned about "narcissism" from reading differential psychology, where they often measure it by asking people whether they agree with statements such as:

  • I have a natural talent for influencing people
  • Modesty doesn't become me
  • I think I am a special person
  • I really like to be the center of attention

In practice, empirically this correlates with being an assertive, confident person, which didn't match the discourse about narcissism, which typically seemed to more be about domestic abuse or people's ideologies, and it also doesn't AFAIK match the way "narcissism" gets used clinically, since clinical narcissists don't score higher than average on psychometric Narcissism scales used in personality psychology.

Eventually, something clicked about what people were saying about narcissism. They were talking about a dynamic that occurs when someone feels morally entitled to violate a boundary. Such a person can exhibit signs of narcissism because they become focused on enforcing their own views on the boundary, and put a lot of effort into gaining power to continue violating it.

Still, since I'm not sure whether what I'm talking about is actually "narcissism", I'm going to use a new, more descriptive term to refer to my concept: Boundary Placement Rebellion.

Boundary Placement Rebellion comes up a lot in my experience. It's a key issue in AI safety, as well as in civil rights, psychology research, hierarchies, families and other areas of society. For good and for bad, I think Boundary Placement Rebellion sees far more symmetry between the sides than "narcissism" does.

An Example: AI Safety vs Capabilities

Common sense - at least among many right-wing techies - is that you have the right to work on whatever software projects you want. If people don't like your software, they can just not buy it. There may be exceptions when it comes to software whose purpose is to be used as a weapon, such as ransomware.[1] If new issues are discovered, then maybe we can update this norm, but we should also be careful to not strangle the tech industry with paperwork.

This is a boundary; you get sole decisive control over what you work on. AI capabilities research (as well as everything else in tech) makes a lot of use of this boundary, as it means that they can keep trying new things to push the state of the art. And of course earn lots of $$$ doing it.

Now suddenly a bunch of people are coming in, arguing that AI will lead to the end of the world! Suddenly, the boundary for AI capabilities researchers is being directly threatened. And they can't just be dismissed by saying "don't worry, I'm not gonna destroy the world", instead they will dump huge arguments for why it will inevitably happen. Or maybe some of them will say "you may be right, but we cannot know for sure, so we still gotta stop you".

The safety people's solution is that those who want to develop AI capabilities should either stop working on capabilities, or should pay the AI safety people engineer-level salaries to do philosophy, abstract mathematics, odd unprofitable ML experiments, premature safety tests, and similar.

If the AI capabilities researchers try to come up with different frames to make the AI safety people go away, then the AI safety people will just keep on pushing back against those frames, constantly coming up with reasons for why we're all gonna die anyway or whatever. And if you don't give them what they want, they're going to complain about you, sometimes even accusing you of being the person in the history of the world who has caused the most damage.

Broadening and Abstracting

The above shouldn't be seen as an argument against AI safety research. In this case, I'm actually fairly sympathetic to the AI safety side of things. So it's more an example of how Boundary Placement Rebellion isn't limited to places where you are in the wrong.

Still, it can definitely also happen in cases where you are in the wrong. The closest adjacent case where I am inclined to think the 'narcissist' is in the wrong is when rationalists derail everything to be about AI. "You should stop buying nets to protect Africans against pest-ridden mosquitoes because it's basically useless since AI is going to destroy the world", "I don't need to consider arguments that I am wrong to pay people who torture animals for my pleasure because I've offset it by dedicating my life to saving the world from AI", etc.

Now let's get to the definition:

Boundary Placement Rebellion concerns some boundary that is generally accepted within some social community, especially personal boundaries. It can be just about any boundary, from programming freedom to phone message privacy to respect for religion to sexual partner choice to private property ownership.

In a Boundary Placement Rebellion, the 'narcissist' feels a confident moral entitlement to violate some community's boundary, as well as an inelastic personal desire to violate it. I think it can take at least three forms:

  • In the dominant case, the 'narcissist' is able to use power and manipulation to get away with violating the boundary, often in plain sight. This can leave people afraid of what the 'narcissist' might do if angered. Often, they will enforce that their particular moral frame is the only one that gets accepted and acknowledged when talking about the issue.
  • In the submissive case, the 'narcissist' is not powerful enough to get away with it, but they might display vulnerability and appeal to someone who does have power. They might get those with power to act to enforce their views on their behalf, or they might even get everyone to support it. They can end up leaving people feeling confused or weirded out by it, as well as afraid of whichever powerful people they might appeal to.
  • In the failed case, the 'narcissist' doesn't manage to enforce their views. However, rather than accepting that they were in the wrong, they become resentful and envious. Maybe they even escalate and become excluded from the community as a result.

Boundary Placement Rebellion is a social dynamic, not a general factor

Whenever I've researched narcissism, it has often been presented as a "general factor" - it has to be pervasive and driven by one's temperament, rather than an ideological disagreement limited to a specific context.

This is probably the main reason that Boundary Placement Rebellion would be distinct from narcissism. I think you should think of Boundary Placement Rebellion through a game-theoretic or ideological lens, rather than a personality lens.

That's not to say that Boundary Placement Rebellion is a brief state that automatically goes away; in order for Boundary Placement Rebellion to occur rather than just fall apart, there needs to be some persistent motivating factors, which could easily be persistent personality traits.

It's just that someone who is engaged in Boundary Placement Rebellion with respect to one boundary is not going to be particularly likely to be engaged in it with respect to some other random boundary. The exceptions would mainly be that their moral entitlements may motivate them to violate multiple boundaries at once.

Boundary Placement Rebellion is probably usually bad but occasionally justified

The way the concept of "Boundary Placement Rebellion" clicked for me is that I had an incel-ish type of person in a survey who complained about women being shallow, and when I integrated the complaint into pers0 as the item "If people don't want to date me, it's usually because they are shallow assholes", a personality psychologist who was reviewing the test commented that this sentiment does not represent a personality trait, but instead represents clinical narcissism.

There's a lot of important nuances to this - many romanceless men don't become radical, and one probably shouldn't jump to conclusions just from this one statement. But it crystallized a pattern - what the psychologist had in mind was a person who does not respect other's sexual boundaries as something they should have without repercussions.

And sexual partner choice is obviously a very important boundary to respect.

Similarly, many other boundaries are also very important, being held by the people who are best able to make decisions about them. And even when they are held by people who make terrible decisions, at least someone gets to make the decision, rather than there being irresolvable conflicts about them. Boundaries are a very effective way of handling disputes.

Still, boundaries can be used as weapons, and they can hold back progress, and there can be many other problems with them. So sometimes they need to be changed, and often within the frames of the people who subscribe to the old boundaries, this feels like a violation.[2]

I think the term "Narcissism" implies that the boundary violations in question are inherently wrong. In contrast, Boundary Placement Rebellion takes a more value-neutral approach, which I think is useful for stepping back into a more objective view, making it possible to acknowledge that the dynamic exists and thinking about what can be done about it, without having to decide whether it is good or bad.

Appendix: Stories

I prompted ChatGPT to write some stories of the dynamic for me. I have one story for the dominant variant, one for the submissive variance, one for the failed variant, and one which I think illustrates the not-actually-narcissism phenomenon that I think gets measured by psychometric scales such as the Narcissistic Personality Inventory.

These are very much optional reading. I just found them useful along the way.

Also I 100% recommend using ChatGPT for illustrating social dynamics.

Dominant Boundary Placement Rebellion

In the tight-knit neighborhood of Pleasant Ridge, there's a beautiful park where families spend their afternoons, children play on swings, and the elderly feed pigeons. It's a serene oasis amidst the urban bustle. At the center of the park is the community garden, where each neighbor is allotted a small plot to grow anything they wish. There's a deep respect for these plots among the residents. They symbolize one's labor, creativity, and personal space.

Then there's Mr. Wilson, a long-time resident of Pleasant Ridge, who is known for his towering sunflowers and juicy tomatoes. His plot is always full, thriving, a spectacle for everyone to enjoy. However, Mr. Wilson has a peculiar belief that his love for gardening gives him the right to tend to other people's plots as well. His justification is simple: he is more knowledgeable, his hands more skilled, and his intentions good.

The first time he was found knee-deep in Mrs. Cooper's rosebushes, people were shocked. But he explained it away, assuring them he was merely helping, and being an influential and well-respected member of the community, his transgression was reluctantly accepted.

The episodes continued. Young Billy's pumpkin patch, Mr. Gupta's herbs, even the kindergarten's plot of wildflowers – Mr. Wilson was always there, pulling weeds, planting seeds, and dictating the layout as per his preference. People began feeling their spaces intruded upon, their creative liberty stifled. Yet, they were confused and hesitant to confront him because of his stature in the community and his relentless insistence that he was doing them a favor.

Despite the tension and discontent, nobody had found the courage to confront Mr. Wilson about this explicit violation of their personal boundaries. After all, he had not only convinced himself that he was doing the right thing but had also managed to blur the lines of what was acceptable and what wasn't in everyone else's eyes.

Mr. Wilson’s invasion of community garden plots remained a silent concern until Mr. Harrison moved in. Mr. Harrison was an accomplished botanist who'd retired from city life to enjoy the tranquility of the small neighborhood. When he heard about the community garden, he was thrilled and immediately claimed a plot.

Mr. Harrison was meticulous, he planted rare, exotic flowers that he had nurtured from seeds he'd gathered during his years of exploration. They were his prized possessions. It wasn't long before Mr. Wilson's prying fingers found their way into Mr. Harrison's plot. Seeing Mr. Wilson meddle in his garden made Mr. Harrison confront him. He was polite yet firm, expressing his concern over Mr. Wilson's unnecessary interventions.

Mr. Wilson didn’t take kindly to this confrontation. His self-perceived righteousness made him argue, "I've been tending these gardens long before you arrived. I know what’s best for them." His moral high ground was unshakeable in his eyes.

However, Mr. Harrison did not back down. He insisted that his plot was his private property and needed no interference. It seemed like the community would finally have a voice against Mr. Wilson's overbearing practices.

But Mr. Wilson had power and influence beyond his gardening prowess. He was a founding member of the Pleasant Ridge homeowners' association and was currently serving as its president. His decades-long association with the community had given him a level of social authority that was hard to challenge. Besides, he was a philanthropist, often funding community events and contributing generously to local causes. He was also the owner of the town’s most successful business, a bakery that was an employment source for many local families.

Mr. Wilson used his power to his advantage. At the next homeowners' meeting, he casually mentioned the possibility of an increase in community fees to cover various maintenance costs. He cited Mr. Harrison's exotic plants, requiring additional resources, as an example. He never directly threatened Mr. Harrison, but the implications were clear.

Mr. Harrison, though resolute, felt the community’s unspoken pressure. No one dared voice their support for him, fearing the consequences of getting on Mr. Wilson's bad side. Seeing the tension his stand was creating, Mr. Harrison eventually backed off, deciding it wasn’t worth causing friction within the community.

This experience only bolstered Mr. Wilson's belief in his right to intervene in the community garden, and once again, everyone became silent observers, their confusion and discontent drowned in the wave of Mr. Wilson's moral entitlement and power.

Submissive Boundary Placement Rebellion

In the quaint town of Breezy Creek, there was a public library that served as the community's heart. It was where kids would come to hear stories, adults to find books, and the elderly to read newspapers. One of the volunteers at the library was Lydia, an elderly widow. She was well-loved and known for her gentle smile and kind demeanor.

Lydia had a fondness for a particular genre - historical fiction. She believed that these books held more than just stories; they held lessons from the past, insights into human nature, and a wisdom that modern literature often missed. Lydia felt a moral obligation to ensure that everyone got a taste of this wisdom, that they too could learn from the past.

The library had a very fair system - everyone had the chance to suggest new books for the library to buy. All suggestions would be placed in a box, and each month the librarians would pick out several of these suggestions to purchase.

Lydia started to manipulate this system subtly. She'd write her suggestions for historical fiction novels, but instead of placing one suggestion, she would place multiple. Lydia thought she was doing the right thing, giving people a chance to explore something more profound and meaningful.

When her actions became noticeable and suspicious, a group of regular visitors confronted the library committee. Lydia confessed, but rather than being defensive, she explained her intentions with earnest conviction. She shared her passion for historical fiction, her belief in its transformative power, and her desire to share it with the town. She painted herself as a well-intentioned guide, pushing people towards a better path.

Lydia's powerful persuasion resonated with Martha, the head of the library committee. Martha, a retired history teacher, found Lydia's passion compelling. Lydia also appealed to Sam, the local mayor and a significant influencer in Breezy Creek, who admired Lydia's desire to leave a literary legacy.

Lydia didn't stop there. She shared her loneliness and how the library was her link to the community. Her vulnerability elicited compassion from the younger committee members like Julia, a high school student who empathized with Lydia's feeling of isolation.

Although there were others who felt Lydia's actions were unfair, they struggled to voice their concerns strongly. Those who were sympathetic to Lydia, including Martha and Sam, unintentionally enforced Lydia's perspective. They made subtle changes like organizing historical fiction book clubs, and arranging talks on the importance of learning from history. Sam even used his mayoral newsletter to praise the library's extensive historical fiction collection, indirectly endorsing Lydia's viewpoint.

Martha, in her position as the head of the library committee, found ways to downplay complaints against Lydia. She would dismiss them as misunderstanding or trivial compared to the significant "educational benefits" the town was reaping from Lydia's influence.

With the powerful backing of Martha and Sam, Lydia's manipulation of the system continued. Her passionate belief in the righteousness of her actions and the compassionate support from key influencers created a dynamic where Lydia's violations became an accepted, even celebrated, norm, despite the underlying discontent.

Failed Boundary Placement Rebellion

In the sprawling city of Newtopia, a clandestine artist known only as "Kite" operated under the veil of the night. Kite was a graffiti artist, a creator who expressed his artistry on the city's cold, gray concrete walls. For him, the city was his canvas, a vast space that needed color, emotion, and meaning.

Newtopia had strict regulations against graffiti, the city council believing it defaced public property and disrupted the clean, modern aesthetic they were aiming for. But Kite saw his art differently. He believed he was bringing life to an otherwise sterile cityscape, that he was infusing the city with a soul through his vibrant murals and cryptic taglines. Kite felt that his moral obligation to art and expression gave him the right to bypass the city's norms.

One night, Kite took on a massive project – the side of a prominent, privately-owned office building. His audacious masterpiece depicted the struggle of the working class, symbolized through chained hands breaking free. The mural was breathtaking and drew public attention, but it also brought the city officials down on Kite.

When he was eventually caught, Kite passionately defended his actions, arguing that his art was a service to the city, a mirror to society's harsh truths. However, Kite was an outsider, a rogue artist with no standing or influence in the city council or among the city's influential personalities.

He tried to gain the sympathy of the public, sharing his love for art and his belief in its transformative power. He even revealed his personal story, the son of an overworked factory worker trying to voice the unheard stories of his community. But the city's affluence and affinity for order over empathy made it hard for Kite's plea to resonate.

Kite's trial was swift. The city council, backed by several powerful property owners, was relentless. Kite's lack of power and social influence meant his plea fell on deaf ears. His actions were deemed vandalism, an unsanctioned violation of the city's rules, and he was fined heavily.

Left with a sense of resentment and envy towards artists who were given free reign over galleries and studios to express their creativity, Kite's defiance didn't waver. He still believed in his art, his cause, but the city's lack of understanding and acceptance stung. Despite the setback, he vowed to continue expressing his voice, his art, hoping that one day the city would see the value in his vibrant colors and powerful depictions.

Neither BPR nor Clinical Narcissism, but potentially NPI "Narcissism"?

Mara owns a popular bakery in town, known for its creative pastry designs and flavors. As she opens the shop every morning, she cheerfully announces to her team, "Let's make some delicious magic happen!"

She often daydreams about her bakery becoming a household name, imagining customers lining up around the block to get a taste of her pastries. She shares these dreams with her team, telling them, "We're going to put our little town on the culinary map."

In her industry, Mara has made connections with successful restaurant owners and acclaimed chefs. When a famous chef visits her bakery, she's excited to talk shop and exchange baking tips and tricks.

Mara cherishes the reviews and compliments her bakery receives. Each positive comment about her pastries brings a proud smile to her face. "Every compliment is a testament to our hard work," she says.

She is particular about the ingredients and equipment she uses, insisting on the best quality. She once spent an entire day visiting multiple suppliers to find the perfect cherries for her signature pie.

Sometimes, she capitalizes on her bakery's popularity. When the local newspaper asks for an interview, she uses the opportunity to highlight her upcoming pastry line.

Her focused and pragmatic approach can sometimes seem indifferent. When a new employee spends too much time chatting, Mara reminds them, "We've got customers waiting for our delicious treats."

She stays aware of her competition, always looking for ways to innovate. When a rival bakery introduces a new pastry, she takes it as a challenge and begins experimenting with her own recipes.

Her straightforward nature can sometimes come across as abrupt. A customer once asked her why she didn't offer a certain popular pastry, to which she responded, "Because we specialize in unique flavors. If you want common, there's a supermarket bakery down the street."

  1. ^

    Even weapons programming may normally get accepted if it is done for a purpose that is considered legitimate, such as the American military. Malware is considered an unusual special-case, rather than a normal case that needs to be focused on. Though of course a lot of e.g. medical software may be regulated thoroughly, but from what I've seen programmers are often pretty bothered by those regulations.

  2. ^

    Note that even though it feels like a violation, it doesn't have to be illegitimate by the formal rules. A democracy may full well allow the people to vote that Silicon Valley should be put under control and not develop AGI. I think in many ways, parents have a legal right to oppress their children. The main threats available to people who engage in Cancel Culture are boycotts and criticism, which are completely legal. Boundary Placement Rebellion seems to especially happen when there is tension between norms and power.

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21 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 3:42 AM

Those stories are surprisingly coherent and compelling. They were actually fun to read!

I'm not sure how useful the concept of boundary placement rebellion is, though. It certainly is a thing, but it's also something basically everyone engages in. I pretty much constantly do it... though maybe that says more about me than anything...

Things I liked:

Things I hope you write more about in the future:

  • To what extent are the various Cluster B personality disorder diagnoses “carving nature at its joints”? Like, I wrote a thing about sociopathy a couple years ago, but when I looked into it again more recently, I was thinking that maybe the thing I wrote only applies to a subset of sociopaths, and meanwhile other sociopaths are really quite different—closer to an anger disorder. But that’s not based on any careful analysis. Anyway, in other contexts, you’ve written enlightening discussions about when personality traits are or aren’t mish-moshes of unrelated things. Anything along those lines for Cluster B would be extremely interesting to me.

(For the latter, as I mentioned here, I’m happy to chip in some money if it helps. I’ll DM you.)

A theory I have - which is heavily inspired by some writings by a banana e.g. Survey Chicken or Ignorance: a skilled practice - is that a communication problem occurs along the way to describing the scales.

Like suppose some people are dealing with a narcissist. They need some words to describe the narcissist's behavior, and the most significant thing that those words need to do is to pick out the narcissistic behaviors the person is engaging in from the non-narcissistic behaviors the person is engaging in. After all, if they just wanted to refer to the person, they could use the narcissist's name.

Here it might not be necessary for the words to actually accurately describe the mental state or behavior of a person. "He thinks he is special" functions perfectly well to point towards someone controlling how others speak of him, even if his motivation is more subtle and nuanced than a feeling of superiority. After all, you know what I mean, because you've got your own experience with the narcissistic person, so you don't need a perfect description. Plus, even if you don't have your own experience, you can infer that there is an issue from other factors, e.g. the tone in which people react to him.

But if one is not careful, vague descriptions like this can become the primary way to think about a condition, and this only really works for people who have got experience with the condition so they can see what the condition is like. Even worse, if you then grab a handful of such vague descriptions and use them to construct a psychometric instrument, you'll risk creating a measure of a very different variable than the one you intended.

The study indicated that scales meant for use in clinical contexts performed better than the Narcissistic Personality Inventory that is usually used in personality psychology. But even in clinical contexts I get the impression that the scales are often not designed well enough (and I suppose also the apparent validity of those scales might be inflated if they are directly used for diagnosis).

  • To what extent are the various Cluster B personality disorder diagnoses “carving nature at its joints”? Like, I wrote a thing about sociopathy a couple years ago, but when I looked into it again more recently, I was thinking that maybe the thing I wrote only applies to a subset of sociopaths, and meanwhile other sociopaths are really quite different—closer to an anger disorder. But that’s not based on any careful analysis. Anyway, in other contexts, you’ve written enlightening discussions about when personality traits are or aren’t mish-moshes of unrelated things. Anything along those lines for Cluster B would be extremely interesting to me.

I've been taking a closer look at BPD recently, so hopefully I can say something about that. Unfortunately I don't know much about psychopathy.

There's a bunch of factor analyses of personality disorder symptoms which mostly just finds 3-5 major dimensions, with cluster B tending to go into an "externalizing" dimension that splits into "antagonistic" factor, where most of cluster B is usually placed, and a "disinhibited" factor, where other disorders such as ADHD are placed.

I am... pretty skeptical of these factor analyses, and keep wondering if they are artifactual, mostly being driven by poor measurement? The strongest example of this is the "p factor", which as far as I can read is literally just measurement bias. But more generally, is ADHD really related to externalizing disorders? Maybe if there's a sort of "network" effect? (ADHD => struggle in school => disrespecting school) But I'd be inclined to think it's also driven by poor measurement. (Defining ADHD as "kids who don't do their homework and play video games all day", which can be due to neurological factors but also due to disrespect of society, and the "externalizing" factor ends up capturing this disrespect factor but not the neurological component that I'd usually think of as more core to ADHD.)

There's also other elements, e.g. the factor analyses I brought up are mostly about whether the different personality go together under Cluster B, but it sounds like you are more asking about whether the personality disorders hold up internally, i.e. whether psychopathy/sociopathy is "one thing" or multiple distinct things. I'm not aware of any informative factor analyses done on this, but also if the observations about Narcissistic Personality Inventory's invalidity generalize, then traditional psychometric tools might not be informative for this. This is because one of my takeaways from the NPI thing is that narcissistic personality disorder isn't really a general temperamental way of handling many distinct situations, which is what psychometrics is most able to test for. Instead it is something more subtle, whether that "more subtle" thing is my Boundary Placement Rebellion or Emma's Validation-Based Success-Momentum Chasing. I think psychometrics has still given me a strong comparative advantage for being able to evaluate whether personality disorders carve nature at its joints, because deep understanding of what psychometrics does also gives me deep understanding of what it cannot do and what one needs other modelling techniques to do, which has also lead to me developing skills in those other modelling techiniques (though that is more recent than my psychometric skills, so perhaps not as polished yet).

Regarding the terminology, I appreciate the attempt to be descriptive, and I apologize for the criticism without suggesting an alternative, but there must be a better term than one consisting of three long words. I just listened to this post via the new TTS feature, and the term is very awkward to read and listen to.

if you're not familiar with that essay emma wrote about narcissism before she was killed, it approaches things from a similarly social angle and you might wanna check it out. 

I think I model narcissism as a sort of "identity disintegration" into consensus reality, such that someone is unable to define themselves or their self worth without having someone else do it for them, placing themselves into the contradictory position of trying to perform confidence and self worth without actually having it. Since they've effectively surrendered control of themselves and their ability to assign meaning and value to things to society, such that they end up trying to control themselves, their worth, and their meanings through other people. Their model doesn't permit self control, so in order to make themselves do things they have to make someone make them do it.

This is interesting because this is a different phenomenon from the one that I am highlighting, but it is also plausibly something that people mean when they say "Narcissism". Also, this phenomenon does perhaps to some extent come up in some of my stories.

Oh wait, yeah I see. I think I was confused by your use of the phrase "narcissism" here and was under the impression you were trying to describe something more internal to one person's worldview, but after reviewing your stories again it seems like this is more pointing at like, the underlying power structures/schelling orders. The 'rebellion' is against the local schelling order, which pushes back in certain ways:

  • in the example with Mr. Wilson, the local schelling order favors him. When Mr. Harrison arrives, Wilson is able to use his leveraged position within that schelling order to maintain it, and Harrison's attempt to push back on the unjust schelling order is unsuccessful due to Wilson's entrenched power causing others to submit to his overreach and not stand up for Mr. Harrison despite thinking Mr. Wilson is in the wrong. Everyone can dislike a given schelling order and yet maintain it anyway.
  • In the example with Lydia, the local schelling order, again favors her. Really her example is the same as the prior example, her argument (my passion/status/standing means the schelling order should be aligned with me) is the same as Wilson's argument (my position in the community and dedication means the schelling order should be aligned with me), except in Lydia's case, we're seeing the behavior presented in example one at an earlier point in the social progression of logical time.
  • Then there's Kite, the local schelling order disfavors Kite, and like Harrison, his attempt to push things in a direction that he sees as better: more beatific, more honest, more just, creative, etc etc, falls on deaf ears because he lacks any sort of schelling buy-in, the local schelling order finds him threatening/subversive/whatever and has the leverage to enforce their state of the world on him the same way Wilson was able to enforce his state of the world on Harrison. 
  • Lastly let's look at Mara, who is a less straightforward example, but that is ultimately still isomorphic to the first story. Mara in a sense is the local schelling order, as the business owner she defines the narrative to her business and can force anyone who wants to work for her to submit to that schelling order. At a wider scale, the schelling order is capitalism, and Mara is loyal to that schelling order, which means she's focused on making her business succeed by those standards, and will push back against eg: employees perceived as slacking off.

This whole thing is really about power, and power dynamics in social environments. Who has it, what they're able to effect with it, and how much they're able to bend the local schelling points to their benefit using it. What you're calling a "boundary placement rebellion" could be isomorphically described as a "schelling order adjustment", it favors the powerful because they have greater leverage over that schelling order. Kite and Harrison's attempt to move the schelling point failed because they were relative outsiders. Lydia and Wilson's attempts to move the schelling point succeeded because they were relative insiders.

What you describe is probably a way to interpret the dynamics, but they were not my intended interpretation. 😅

The intent for Mr. Wilson was that he breaks the boundary that people get to manage their plots in the garden, but gets away with it because he is powerful.

The intent with Lydia is not meant to be that she has her behavior at an earlier progression, but rather that she achieves her goals through other means - relying on others in a sense.

The intent for Mara is that there isn't any Boundary Placement Rebellion at all; she owns her bakery, and so of course she can set the business goals etc..

I found that essay remarkably helpful, thanks for sharing the link. :)

In the last story, Mara explicitly does things for herself; in the three stories before, the people lie about what they want. Can BPR happen without lying about what the person wants? It's simply rebellion, after all. If Kite said he wanted recognition, he would still be found guilty.

In the last story, Mara explicitly does things for herself; in the three stories before, the people lie about what they want.

The Mara story is given as an example of something that is not BPR.

Can BPR happen without lying about what the person wants? It's simply rebellion, after all. If Kite said he wanted recognition, he would still be found guilty.

Under the BPR model, wanting recognition or admiration is not the root cause of violating the boundary (unless the boundary getting violated is about recognition or admiration). Like Kite is not making the paintings in order to be recognized as a master painter, he is making the graffiti in order to tell an exciting story about the struggle of the working class.

The attempts to get attention after getting caught, and to get others to acknowledge the admirability of his motivations, is not supposed to be the root cause of the BPR, but instead something he does in an attempt to make the BPR go more like the submissive or dominant cases, where he gets his way.

(Meanwhile, I expect that someone who scores high in NPI Narcissism would have a more straightforward enjoyment of attention.)

I'm drafting a very detailed post on a similar topic and what I think the cause of most if not all social conflict is. Plus, how to solve most if not all conflict and drama— even if no one else changes their behavior. It also has implications for AI safety. From what I've seen in your post here, I'd like your thoughts on it and I think you'd like it, would you review my draft? DM me if so.

I could definitely be open to reading your draft. That said, I can't necessarily guarantee that I have much to comment on for reviews.

As for applications to AI safety, I don't know. I can definitely buy that you could specify a notion of boundary (or membrane) that is specific enough to define your skin as separating your organs from the outside world.

I'm not sure whether this could be used to prevent the AI from e.g. stabbing you to death. Certainly it could prevent it from immediately stabbing you to death using its immediately available actions, but there's a lot of methods that could be used to achieve this. However I'm not sure whether it could prevent it from building a Rube Goldberg machine that ends up stabbing you to death. And I strongly doubt it could be used to make the AI proactively double-check whether the tough guy that comes up and promises that he will "get rid of" you will stab you to death.

(Or like, you could probably make it avoid stabbing you to death in all these cases by giving it negative utility for your boundary being violated, but in that case it might also interfere with you getting vaccinated or getting plastic surgery.)

But I strongly doubt this could be used to prevent it from making propaganda to trick you. At least I don't see any way that could be done. Arguably honesty represents some sort of boundary/membrane, but it's a much more fuzzy and much weaker one that seems like it would be harder to learn decisively.

could probably make it avoid stabbing you to death in all these cases by giving it negative utility for your boundary being violated


but in that case it might also interfere with you getting vaccinated or getting plastic surgery

I think this can be solved with some notion of consent

Maybe ideally, though, «boundaries» don't have to be respected, they just have to be defended by the organism inside. Maybe everyone has their own AGI to defend their «boundary».

But I strongly doubt this could be used to prevent it from making propaganda to trick you.

I think this is fundamentally different than stabbing someone. You have the power to resist propaganda. This is where I disagree with a lot of people on LW: manipulation is not intrinsically unavoidable.[1]

  1. ^

    There's an exception if you can literally scan someone's brain, predict it forward in time, and reverse engineer the outputs that you want. But besides that— besides actions with very high information costs— I think it's basically not possible (in the same way decrypting an encrypted message is theoretically possible but not practical).

Maybe ideally, though, «boundaries» don't have to be respected, they just have to be defended by the organism inside. Maybe everyone has their own AGI to defend their «boundary».

I think this requires relatively low inequality.

I think this is fundamentally different than stabbing someone. You have the power to resist propaganda. This is where I disagree with a lot of people on LW: manipulation is not intrinsically unavoidable.

I disagree but it might not be super relevant to resolve here? Idk.

I think this requires relatively low inequality.

Yeah, but this has been the case for all of history and probably will forever be.

But the key point is that «boundaries» are intersubjectively definable, and it's not just that everyone's intrinsic self is smearing over each other.

I disagree but it might not be super relevant to resolve here? Idk.

Looking forward to your comments on the draft I sent you:)

I want to point out the difference between two uses of the word "boundary":

  • The «membrane» type: things that are within your unique sovereignty are within your membrane
  • The "I'm setting a boundary" type. For example, "I'm setting a boundary: don't yell at me!"

See my post: "Membranes" is better terminology than "boundaries" alone for an explainer on this.

This is important because I think the second type often gets laundered as the first type for manipulation. 

Violating the first type is intrinsically very bad— making someone else's decisions for them without permission is an example. However, violating the second type isn't intrinsically bad— maybe the person who set the boundary claimed something unreasonable. (They could've claimed anything, after all!)

So if someone says, "You crossed my boundaries!", I think this usually comes from the second thing (it's actually pretty hard to violate someone's sovereignty in practice, but it's easy to cross the arbitrary boundaries someone "set")— but I think it's meant to masquerade as if it's the first thing! In this way it's used for manipulation. ("You violated my sovereignty, so now you should make up for it!" when it's really "You did something I didn't want, so now you should do something that I want!")

Basically the Karpman Drama Triangle

Maybe. It feels sort of fuzzy to me?

For example, yelling implies sending high-energy airwaves, which at some point reach your actual body. And also, yelling often communicates some negative information about the person who is getting yelled at, which might be an issue if they are trying to control their narrative/reputation. People don't tend to make the social requirements for no reason I think.

I think people impose social requirements on others when they're unable/unwilling to take full control of themselves. I might tell someone "I'm setting a boundary: don't insult me!" when I feel that I can't take control of my own interpretations, and the fact that someone insulting me doesn't mean I need to e.g. feel worthless.

It's not that yelling doesn't imply an unwanted state of the world, it often does, but it doesn't require that you suffer about it. I go into this in more detail in my draft

Maybe. This comes off as severely mentally ill to me. But I guess that's part of your point - if you don't properly acknowledge the sovereignty issues, you're going to be in deep trouble. It's just that I think there exists a lot of dynamics on top of that which don't seem to reduce to membrane issues?

There are certainly agreements that we make with other people on top of our sovereignty (for example, I "agree" (in some sense) to live in my country at the cost of having to pay taxes), but, crucially, I think sovereignty is at the bottom