This is a followup to Affordance Widths.

Epistemic Status: It’s only a model

Okay! This is something I’ve been trying to explain for awhile, but I think I have a handy chart for it now.

Here’s how it works:

A person can actually regulate how much self-respect they feel, and show. Other people will reward them for having more self-respect, up to a point.

Then they start pushing back.

BUT, each of these “pushbacks” is a temporary dip in the “self-respect to positive feedback” curve. You just have to have enough self-control, or willpower, or “grit”, or “spoons”, or whatever, to keep pushing through and powering more and more self-respect while people attack you for having it, until you break through into the next upswing of the curve.

The thing is, a lot of self-control/willpower/grit/spoons/etc. is powered by people not treating you like shit.

It seems like there are actually three different dips that occur, each with a wider gap than the last.

Some people try to push up into a gap, discover they don’t have enough willpower to escape to the far side of the dip, give up, and fall back into the previous sustainable peak.

Those that can’t even make it past the first peak are losers - people that everyone can tell can’t even get their basic needs met. They make it obvious that they have needs when they’re in the “needy” dip, but never manage to show enough self-respect for anyone else to feel like their needs matter.

Those that can’t make it past the second peak are doormats - people who can’t enforce their boundaries or reasonably request basic fairness. They make it obvious that that they object to the situation they’re in when they push themselves into the “entitled” dip, but never manage to show enough self-respect for anyone else to feel like respecting those boundaries or requests.

Those that can’t make it past the third peak are the vast majority of the human population - people who can’t pull off the Steve Jobs level of demanding other people’s resources and time and just getting it. They make it obvious that that they want more - or even think they deserve more - when they push themselves into the “arrogant” dip, but never manage to show enough self-respect for anyone else to feel like following them into the breach.

There are a few people have their goal and identity set on being in a particular peak, higher than the one they’re on, and keep pushing and pushing and pushing even though they don’t have enough grit to quite make it to the other side. These people end up permanently in the “needy”, “entitled”, or “arrogant” dip instead of hanging out in a mutually sustainable, but lower-achieving plateau. People tend to not like them very much, because constantly fighting through a dip that you can’t break through is exhausting for everyone.

Also! Note that this model isn’t precise, and is probably multi-dimensional - there are some people that are “winners” in the field of business, “losers” in the field of relationships, and “regular guys” in the field of friendships.

Now, here’s a thing that I keep trying to communicate, that might be a bit controversial:

It’s totally normal to push back on people in the ‘needy’ / 'entitled’ / 'arrogant’ valleys. This is just how humans are.

BUT - when you have someone that your gut says is needy, or entitled, or arrogant, but that your analytical mind says should be way cooler than they feel, you can actually choose to help them out of the valley.

You can - as weird as it feels - decide to ignore the sense that they’re being needy, or entitled, or arrogant, and just give them a chance. Treat them as if they had already earned the respect they’re bidding for. Don’t do so because you are somehow “bad” for “mistreating” them! You’ve been demanding a perfectly reasonable costly signal of competence before you reward someone the respect they’re bidding for. BUT, realize that those demands are coming from a part of your brain that is far, far older than your prefrontal cortex, and it might not be tuned to properly understand signals of competence relevant in the modern world, and you might want to use that awesome prefrontal cortex to adjust your intuitive priors.

You shouldn’t do this for everyone - most people, your intuitive priors are actually probably pretty okay. But some people you can look at and say “man she’d be amazing if she wasn’t so insecure” - and then decide to help with the insecurity by… just ignoring it.

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20 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 11:52 PM

Something that feels a bit off about this model to me is... it seems oriented around an iterated game? And the dynamics at play here are relevant in one-off exchanges.

I'm pretty sure (although I can't think of a clear example offhand) that I've met people who, the very first time I ran into them, they were asking for things in a way that felt arrogant, and others who the very first time I met them they seemed to pull off the Winner vibe. (and same for the other two troughs).

Social-web stuff hadn't had time to kick in yet AFAICT. Some of this can be accounted for by various halo or horns effects (i.e. I'm sure tall, attractive people have an easier time getting parsed as assertive rather than arrogant). But that also feels insufficient.

So my current impression is that a decent chunk of this is better thought of as "there's a specific cluster of skills you need to perform each level", and the mechanism for the troughs are "doing a pseudo-random explore of related skills, and getting the nuances wrong, until eventually you have the practice to pull it off." As opposed to "you need to push through a trough of 'performing more self-respect that people are willing to credit you.'"

In my experience, "people" are a force in aggregate, far more than individuals. So even if YOU, in particular, "haven't had time for social-web stuff to kick in", they're carrying with them all their aliefs and assumptions from other people, which you yourself pick up on and mirror because preselection is totally a thing.

Fair. Although it also seems like "my" corner of the social web *also* have force (on me) beyond the force I'd expect it to have on them-that-I-pick-up-on. (i.e. if someone shows up and acts needy who I never met before, I'd expect to have a less strong cringe reaction than someone I've had time to build up a model/relationship/web of)

(And to be clear, I do think your ultimate call to action of "notice when your S1 and S2 reactions are out of sync, and you have reason to trust your S2 over S1, and treat a person as if they have made it through the valley that your S1 is reacting against" is worthwhile. I've found occasion to do it)

For what it's worth this is very reminiscent of a more general pattern in personal development and learning in general where there is a decrease in function before am increase due to what we might think of as "update costs".

I prefer to separate the axis of self respect and confidence.

See nate soares "confidence all the way up" . Where self respect should be high but you should be able to express your confidence and your "confidence" separately.


You shouldn’t do this for everyone

I’m not sure. In my experience, people tend to respond to exceptional treatment with exceptional treatment. That I so readily put trust in people is often perceived as a sign of high social capital. As if my prior is that they will respond in kind, which I’d only have if I was used to that kind of thing.

And the funny thing is, people actually do respond in kind, so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

One important requirement is that you apply the same kind of respect to yourself. The proper mindset seems to be “we are excellent and both of us deserve the best”, not “you are excellent” or “I am excellent”. Think win-win.

Yeah, that's gonna be a hard sell.


What do you mean?

I mean that when I try to present the idea that you should do this for everyone, I get a LOT of pushback. I put in "you shouldn't do this for everyone" specifically so people wouldn't think that anyone should do it for ME, and therefore fight me on the premise.


Uh, well I don’t know you, but it seems unlikely that anyone would deny an argument just because it’s conclusion (vaguely) implies that you should be regarded with respect.

… someone that your gut says is needy, or entitled, or arrogant, but that your analytical mind says should be way cooler than they feel …

Can you say a bit more about this? That is, can you talk a bit about what this looks like, how to identify such cases, etc.?

Generally, by asking yourself how you'd feel if you heard about some generic third party that had accomplished something similar, and noticing the difference in valence. This can be a hard skill to cultivate; the urge to narrativize is strong.

Generally, by asking yourself how you’d feel if you heard about some generic third party that had accomplished something similar, and noticing the difference in valence.

I’m not sure I follow—accomplished something similar to what…? You don’t talk about accomplishments in your post; am I missing some context here?

I think so, yeah.

Answer me this: in a rational, unbiased world, what is status *FOR*?

Just answering this question. Need to read above but status is a heuristic for trust and value.

Doctors have high status because they should know more about health. Same applies to other professions.

I'd agree with this. In which case, you calibrate against actual, real-world measurements of trust and value, and see if the heuristic outputs the same results as an uncached, laborous computation.

Sometimes it's cheaper to fake status than to pay the costly signals of status like becoming a professional natural therapist instead of doing a medical degree to become a doctor.

Because of that the people trying to measure trust/value have to develop better ways at measuring the difference between true costly signals and fake signals.

I don’t know what a “rational, unbiased world” looks like (or even if the concept is coherent), so I couldn’t begin to answer that question!

But I assume you have an answer in mind, so, I’ll bite: what?

(Really all I wanted was to understand what you were saying in the post, which seemed interesting but in need of clarification. Of course, if that is indeed what you’re providing in this conversation, then carry on.)