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In the past, I have sometimes criticized various works of media for focusing too much on bullying in school, which struck me as kind of an embarrassing and unworthy theme to spend a lot of time on. I had been bullied in school myself to some degree and considered it annoying but not ultimately that big a deal, so my view was that this sort of stuff was kind of making a mountain out of a molehill and very exaggerated compared to reality.

Recently, I was in a conversation that really broadened my perspective and I learned that my experiences had actually been very mild and for some people it Really Was That Bad. I renounce previous criticisms that I have made of works for focusing on these themes and apologize to anyone who was hurt by my doing so.

One concept people talk about in game design is "pendulum swing", where something that is too powerful or too weak is overcorrected in balance patches and becomes the opposite -- something too powerful becomes too weak, while something too weak becomes too powerful.

A similar concept can be present in other sectors as well -- often, noticing one problem can lead to an overcorrection that brings you the opposite problem. For instance, an early stage organization might notice that they aren't systematic enough in their processes, overcorrect, and become too rigid and doctrinaire.

(Duncan Sabien uses this concept of pendulum swing a lot, and while I was aware of it prior to his use he's done a lot to bring it to attention as a relevant rationality concept.)

I think it's useful to distinguish between pendulum swings (Norms that go back and forth within a particular overton window) and overcorrections (where Norma just switch once, but too much)

Strategy mini-post:

One thing that tends to be weak in strategy games is "opponent's choice" effects, where an ability has multiple possible effects and an opponent chooses which is resolved. Usually, each effect is stronger than what you would normally get for a card with that price, but in practice these cards are often quite weak.

For instance, the Magic: the Gathering card "Book Burning" looks quite strong in theory, as it either does 6 damage or mills 6 cards (both strong effects that might well be worth more than the card's cost, since this was a set where having cards in your graveyard was quite relevant). However, in fact it is quite weak, because in practice you will always get the effect that is less relevant; if the opponent has life to spare they'll take damage, and if the mill is no longer relevant they'll let you mill instead.

This pattern holds true across multiple games. In Legend of the Five Rings, Levy is similarly weak despite the fact that a card that did only one of its effects would likely be overpowered, as one effect or the other is likely to be much less relevant at any point in the game and the opponent can always choose the less relevant effect.

I can't tell if this is just another example that strategic choices tend to be valuable (guaranteed non-negative, but in practice usually positive). OF COURSE an opponent's choice is going to reduce your value in a zero-sum game.

I do want to warn against applying to other aspects of life that aren't purely zero-sum and aren't designed by a human to balance the power between both parties. See also

An interesting example of a related thing is "charm" effects, where you pick between multiple things you can do with a card, all of them are sort of bad for the price, but the flexibility makes it worth it overall. Sometimes people focus a lot on "raw efficiency", but when it's between you picking the best of several inefficient options or your opponent picking the worst of several highly efficient options, the former tends to be much better.

Now I want to play a game where every card has at least one weak option, or I can let my opponent choose which strong effect I get. This would probably work best where only one card (or other action, such as in a worker placement game) is played per turn.

Do you think this is relevant to more real world strategy situations?

I remember seeing a deal from a bank where the bank got to chose whether to pay a fixed interest rate or a variable one and either path looked like a good deal but the fact that the bank would chose meant you would always end on the wrong side of the market. I wish I could remember the exact promotion.

In MTG the card "Browbeat" is pretty effective: any player can choose to take 5 damage, or you* get to draw 3 cards.

*Technically the target.

Interestingly that's actually quite disputed -- you linked to a reprint of the card that displays as being rated 5/5, but the original printing of the card is actually rated 3.455 out of 5.

(That said, it's certainly better than Book Burning!)

I wasn't linking to that for the 5/5 star rating - there are zero votes.

One thing that perplexes me a bit is the weird veneration given to "content creators" these days, especially in gaming communities and similar. Does anyone have good insights into this? In particular, I've noticed that a lot of it is very easy to do (having done so myself), and also that people don't much do it.

An example:

There's a game that I play and do streams for sometimes. A while back I decided it would be cool to run an online ladder similar to the ones that I'd seen in a few other games. It was very easy to set up and probably took me a few hours of not-very-focused work, then once I ran it a bunch of people signed up and we had a tournament with streamed commentary for the top players at the end.

Recently I started playing another game, enjoyed it, and decided to duplicate my league format from the first game. This time it probably took me like 30 minutes to set up since I mostly just had to rewrite the rules from the first game. Already people are signing up, thanking me for organizing it, etc.

I don't get it. What's the big deal about stuff like this? I basically just copied a format that I'd seen others use successfully and adapted it a bit. It didn't take any technical skill whatsoever to do and many others could have done the same thing I did -- but nobody did.

Is the big thing about "content creators" just one of those "these are the people who bothered to show up" things, or what?

(I feel similarly about "maker culture" -- but at least there there's often some more interesting technical skill involved!)

In a world of distraction, focusing on something is a revolutionary act.

Wow, that's a good answer to a good question.

From a market-equilibrium perspective: the amount of social status given to these content creators is high because in most cases that's the only compensation they're getting, for (in some cases) a quite significant number of hours. The reason there aren't more people using their time to claim those status-rewards is because, for a similar amount of effort, they could instead be making salaries.

In the case of video game streaming, many people already spend a lot of time playing video games. I think OP's point is, if it's time that a person is already spending doing the core task of streaming (i.e. playing games), then why not stream it for a minimal (according to OP) amount of added effort

If 1 in 100 people have the type of agency to "do stuff" that means smaller communities will often wait to get most STUFF, because there's only so many people and there's lots of "stuff" you could do. E.g. for this game, I'm sure there's other stuff you could have spent your half hour on to give back to the community, you just happened to want this.

I think in these small communities people are rightfully happy about ANYONE using their free time to add to the commons.

As the communities get bigger, the low hanging fruit is taken and you start to have to create better content to be appreciated, e.g., getting popular on mainstream Youtube takes more than a few hours and requires more investment in content quality.

What's the big deal about stuff like this?

  • Hubs. Using connection to create group activities has low hanging fruit right now.
  • Maybe it's hard to find stuff, and most effort is going into that, rather than creating stuff.
  • Or it's the ideas that are hard to find. (1&3 - you're connecting people who haven't had the idea, with it in action.)

Is the big thing about "content creators" just one of those "these are the people who bothered to show up" things, or what?

  • People are overly risk averse, even in the absence of any risk?

Do you have any links to stuff like the ladders you mention?

Sure, here's the most recent completed one. I just used the same site I was familiar with from an old Netrunner league, it's trivial to do. (This doesn't show the tournament I ran at the end but that wasn't especially hard either, I just sent people their pairings on Discord etc.)

Looking at myself, as someone who has done things adjacent to streaming in the past, and who has played a lot of video games at various times in my life, it may be informative to think about the reasons I don't stream:

  • The computer I used to record me playing on died, and now I have a new computer which runs a different operating system, and I don't want to spend the time to get everything set up again. I think there are a good number of things that are relatively easy to do on an ongoing basis, but which involve high enough up-front costs that I don't do them
    • I also have a general aversion to installing software on my computer, since my experience seems to be that computer performance is inversely proportional to how much stuff is on it
  • My understanding is that streaming console games requires extra hardware. While I already have this hardware, this may discourage potential streamers who are first considering streaming
  • I have mixed feelings about pursuing social status via online media. There's a part of me that loves these kinds of things for obvious reasons, but I also have three holdups:
  1. Looking for attention feels vain, and I sometimes feel that it makes people perceive me in a way that doesn't align with who I consider myself to be.
  2. There exist incentives in the space of "content creation" that don't align with my values, and when I created content in the past, it led me to interact with other creators who didn't understand why I intentionally ignored these incentives, and pressured me to act in ways that I didn't endorse
  3. Cancel culture is a thing, and getting popular through online media makes one a target for cancelling. I have clear memories of a creator I respected getting cancelled, and I was very scared by the treatment he got from the mob. I would rather not find myself in such a position, and therefore I am reluctant to put myself in a position where people might readily want to cancel me
  • My computer is a desktop, and it is located in a different room from where I play video games. Putting aside streaming, I would have no reason to rearrange my setup, and doing so would probably decrease the quality of my experience, both in terms of playing games, and non-gaming related things as well
  • There's some amount of expectation to follow a certain schedule when streaming, whereas right now, I can play games whenever I want, and I have no obligation to play at a certain time
  • There's some amount of expectation that streamers will put in extra effort to engage with their audience, or otherwise create a more interesting experience for their audience, which means that time spent streaming isn't perfectly isomorphic to time spent gaming alone.

I don't think this is a complete list of reasons, but all of these are reasons why I don't stream even when I'm already spending time playing videogames.

There are a pair of things in the rationalist community which I like to call "The Two Bad Polys" -- polyphasic sleep and polyamory. Both seem appealing to many people and have been experimented with pretty widely in the community despite being quite harmful; I strongly advise against trying either. In practice they seem to lead to lots of problems for most people who try them.

(Attribution note: I'm not sure whether I was the first to come up with this term to describe the pair -- I think the two were first referred to as a dangerous pair by someone else but I might have come up with this particular name for them.)

My model of what causes maybe most of the drama in the Berkeley rationality community is that it is a professional network superimposed upon a social graph, without much/any explicit optimisation for separating the conflicts that such things would arise. Friendships and romantic relationships optimise for certain things, professional relationships optimise for others, and status is often a fairly simple collapsing of those metrics into one dimension, which means that professional and personal status interact a lot. It's like if people at your company are only able to date other people who worked at your own company.

Poly just massively increases the number of internal relationships that are subject to this effect (assume # of internal relationships is directly proportional to drama). I don't expect poly to be nearly as problematic in communities that don't have this property. There are still arguments against being poly, but I expect your "I empirically observe massive drama" to not be a strong reason elsewhere.

Note also that this effect increases the incentives to be poly, as more interconnected personal relationships give you more professional power.

I'm pretty willing to believe you on polyphasic sleep. I've seen lots of people try it and lots of people give up on it because they can't make it work. It also seems like it's hard to get right and complicates life in ways that aren't worth the tradeoffs for most people: maybe they get more productive waking hours, but at the cost of a lifestyle that makes it difficult or impossible to do some things they would like to do.

I have a harder time believing you on polyamory because lots of people seem to keep choosing it. Yes, some people try it and don't like it, and yes some people seem to tolerate it because they feel they must or else date no one at all, but that seems not much different than the situation where monogamy is the default: some people try it and don't like it and some people do it even though they dislike it while doing it because otherwise they can't get other things they want.

I'm not really polyamorous myself, but when I look around and talk to people I see people suffering in polyamorous relationships but no more or less than people suffering in monogamous relationships. The narratives around the suffering and the causes of the suffering are different in those two cases, but seem similar in character and magnitude to me. Relevant to this claim: I spent several years married before getting divorced, consequently spent a lot of time while married around other couples, and so have about equal amounts of experience seeing close up how monogamous people interact and suffering and, from within the rationalist community, seeing close up how polyamorous people interact and suffer.

So my experience tells me to screen off relationship style as not much relevant to suffering, harm, badness, etc. that people experience on average. I have no doubt that for some people one is worse than the other, but when we step back and look at the whole, I don't see a clear bias that favors one for the other the way I do with polyphasic sleep.

Maybe you can say more about why you think polyamory is especially harmful?

My experience has been somewhat different. I think that if you look at the actual results of what's going on re: poly in the rationalist community it's fairly evident that things are going wrong -- there are large amounts of drama and problems, well beyond that in other communities that I currently participate in (even other communities in the Bay Area etc.).

The most obvious example is that one of the people who was most involved in bringing polyamory to the early rationalist community ended up getting divorced after a lot of poly drama, left the community, and wrote a post about how poly is actually contrary to long-term romantic goals. Unfortunately, since the author had left the community, most people didn't read the post.

However, most people are not actually looking back at the evidence IMO -- it's just become an installed and unexamined norm.


Also, I slightly worry that what you're seeing is skewed because the kind of people who are willing to try polyamory are unusually open about their personal lives. That is, I think there's a lot of drama going on with monogamy, too, and it just happens that people who choose to be monogamous also have a culture that better keeps drama secret until it is too big to keep secret anymore, so it simply looks more common in polyamory because it is less hidden.


The original site that the post was on has been taken down, but here's a pastebin of the relevant text (posted with the consent of the original author, one paragraph removed to preserve the author's privacy). I should add that my own view of poly is considerably more negative than that of this author, but even the linked post is significantly more negative than the Bay Area rationalist community norms tend to be.

Also, I slightly worry that what you're seeing is skewed because the kind of people who are willing to try polyamory are unusually open about their personal lives. That is, I think there's a lot of drama going on with monogamy, too, and it just happens that people who choose to be monogamous also have a culture that better keeps drama secret until it is too big to keep secret anymore, so it simply looks more common in polyamory because it is less hidden.

I think that there is certainly a lot of drama with monogamy as well, and I agree that some aspects of this can be under the surface. That being said, I think there are some aspects of poly that tend to exacerbate/lead to drama while there are some aspects of monogamy that tend to mitigate/avoid it.

I'll give a basic example. Let's say that there is a couple in a committed relationship, and one member of the couple starts getting closer to a third party. They become more and more emotionally close until eventually this bond seems stronger than the original relationship and the original couple splits up.

Now, this could easily happen either in monogamy or in polyamory -- you could say that it's the story of an "emotional affair" that turns into a real affair and splits up a monogamous couple; you could also say that it's the story of a secondary relationship in a polyamorous situation that turns into a primary relationship and splits up an old primary relationship. In point of fact I have seen cases that seem to fit this description in both monogamous and polyamorous situations.

The key difference, though, is that monogamous norms tend to work against such things, while polyamorous norms tend to encourage and even directly support such things (until perhaps things go too far and it may be too late). The person who starts to form a close bond with someone already in an established monogamous relationship may be chided or discouraged by the community; the person who starts to form a close bond with someone already in an established polyamorous primary relationship is less likely to be chided and may even be supported.

In some cases I believe I have seen this lead to major strife or even divorce in a way that I suspect people would have disendorsed and tried to avoid if they were better equipped to predict; unfortunately, they were dealing with polyamory norms that made them extra vulnerable to this sort of thing.

Go after polyamory all you want -- if there is data about problems that are statistically likely to show up, I'd like to know about that, so that I can try minimizing the odds that we will experience them -- and we do experience some of the standard poly jealousy problems -- but if you are going to shoot a sacred cow, bring a high powered rifle, not a squirt gun.

This argument is vague and anecdotal. Being polyamorous, I automatically feel defensive when you, without putting out evidence, say that my lifestyle, my wife's lifestyle, and the life style of my other partners and metamours are all dangerous, bad, and we are making bad choices despite having tried our best to get things right.

Go after polyamory all you want -- if there is data about problems that are statistically likely to show up, I'd like to know about that, so that I can try minimizing the odds that we will experience them -- and we do experience some of the standard poly jealousy problems -- but if you are going to shoot a sacred cow, bring a high powered rifle, not a squirt gun.

I'll fully admit that I don't have formal statistical data, but I think the point is worth making anyway as a potential warning. My intent is mostly to warn newcomers about patterns I've seen rather than to shame people already in the community; I certainly do not claim that every poly relationship is abusive or the like.

(Part of the reason I posted this in shortform rather than as a top-level post is because I was hoping to just send a quick warning rather than posting something more formal and detailed!)

I don't know much about what's going on in the Bay Area etc. communities, as I don't live there. But I know plenty of non-rationalist poly people. AFAICT, their numbers seem to have been gradually increasing as some people try it out, find that it works for them, which encourages a few more people to try, etc. (Of course, for some people it isn't appealing, and they don't try.) Overall my impression is that the thing described by Scott in Polyamory is Boring keeps gradually happening to various people:

It just started seeming normal. [...] It just seemed like once the entire culture was no longer uniting to tell me polyamory was something bizarre and different and special, it wasn’t. And then it started to look like a slightly better idea to take part in it than to not take part in it. So I did.

Assuming that both of our experiences are correct, maybe there's something about rationalists in particular that makes poly work worse for them than for non-rationalists? That would seem strange, though. Or maybe you're just seeing a community that has been particularly unlucky, or vice versa.

But in particular, this bit seems like the opposite to what I've been observing:

However, most people are not actually looking back at the evidence IMO -- it's just become an installed and unexamined norm.

The story that I've often heard is more along the lines of "I was in monogamous relationships because that was the prevailing norm, had bad experiences with them, did some soul-searching, decided to try poly instead, and have now been happier as a result".

Somewhat unrelated to that comment but:

After reading that article and the comments I still don't buy monogamous relationships expecting their partner to fulfill all their needs. I have two besties, one male and one female, who both provide me things that I often lack in relationships. It still feels like the only difference between poly with a primary partner and monogamy is the sex/kink/cuddling* stuff. It feels like a strawman argument; but if I'm wrong this wouldn't be the first time I misinterpreted someone in a situation like this.

*I considered excluding cuddling from this list, but it seemed disingenuous to count that one monogamous couple that cuddles everyone as representative of all monogamous people

I think the "getting your needs met by one person" thing is more of a failure mode of bad monogamous relationships. As you mentioned, it's especially a problem if a person has varied sexual needs, as those are things you're only allowed to get from one partner in a monogamous context, however a common failure mode of monogamy is to also expect your partner to provide for all social needs.

I think for different types of monogamous relationships this also varies. For instance there's a thing called "emotional cheating" in which partners don't have physical relationships with the opposite sex, but have a particular type of a emotional closeness that people are only expected to get from their partner. This can be an example of the failure mode.

My observations are mostly the opposite. I've seen a bunch of abusive relationships over the years, and in general poly seemed to reduce the incidence of more abusive relationships by making it easier for partners to have periods of temporary distance, and because other partners had the opportunity to sanity-check what was happening.

Most of the worst relationships I recall in the Bay Area and other parts of the rationality community were monogamous ones.

  1. I have the opposite observation on abuse in poly vs mono relationships. I'm interested in discussing further but I think that requires naming names and I don't want to do so in a public forum, so maybe we should discuss offline.
  2. Davis said harmful and habryka said abusive, which aren't synonymous. It's entirely possible for poly to lead to a lower chance any particular relationship is abusive, and yet raise the total amount of harm-done-by-relationships in a person or community.

1. Sure, happy to chat

2. Yeah, I didn't mean to imply that it's in direct contradiction, just that I have the most data about actually abusive relationships, and some broad implication that I do think that's where most of the variance comes from, though definitely not all of it.

Reference class forecasting would seem to indicate that we will soon experience a major "second wave" of coronavirus infections in many locations. This will likely be especially true in the US, which has many factors pointing towards significantly elevated risk soon (reopenings without proper infrastructure, Memorial Day celebrations, recent police brutality protests). Mostly just posting this to log the prediction, I suspect it isn't particularly novel for those who have been following these events.