Crossposted from my blog

When I mention my dad’s abuse, I mention salient things - physical pain, insults, and controlling behavior. These are “clearly bad” - if I tell you that he often told me I was lazy and would fail horribly at life once I left home, you know it's bad, because it’s concrete, easy to imagine and obviously unkind. But this wasn’t the worst of the abuse; the most terrible parts were extraordinarily hard to understand or describe.

In his world, I felt insane - I couldn’t tell what was real, who was at fault, or why my heart hurt so much. My sense of clarity around my own intentions crumbled; everything I thought or did might have seemed good on the surface, but that goodness became just a disguise for my true, darker intentions - all helpfully revealed to me by my dad. And none of it was salient or concrete or easily understandable; I remember my mom once telling me, “I can’t describe what this is like to other people. The individual things seem so silly, I can’t put the important thing into words.” 

I’m going to try to put it into words, and the words I personally use for “the important thing” are frame control. 

This isn’t just about my dad, and he wasn’t even particularly good at it when children weren’t his targets; frame control pops up elsewhere. It’s a feature of cults, leaders, of some charismatic people, of abusers in relationships, of some parents, of some ideological movements. It’s hit communities around me, hurt friends of mine. I don’t know how to fight it, but I at least want to name it. And naming it is really hard, because at first glance frame control looks like completely normal behavior. Every individual instance is “not that bad”; and when the knife that wounds you is invisible, you might doubt that you’re bleeding at all. Frame control is inherently illegible; it’s not something that checks a few clear boxes, it’s only really visible through the experience of the receiver.

In this post I’m going to advocate for some perspectives that I think can also be really dangerous. I’m going to avoid too many disclaimers or safety warnings throughout, and will discuss safety altogether at the end.

Your frame is basically the set of assumptions you hold about the world around you, in every way there is - your values, your identity, your beliefs about meaning and social norms and economics and whatever, although most of it tends to be implicit or subconscious; probably only a small portion of your frame is directly expressible! Your frame might encompass anything from “Jesus is my savior” to “It’s bad to touch the sidewalk with your hands” to “I am valuable because I’m funny”

Imagine your frame exists as a box around you; when someone engages with you, they try to get you out of your box and into their box in various ways. This can be via stuff like:

  • Debate: Trying to demonstrate, through reason and facts, how their box is better (“No, sex isn’t about power, it’s about sex, here’s a study!”)
  • Recommendation: Showing that the box they’re in has been really good for them (“Viewing my body tension as actually about childhood trauma really cleared things up”)
  • Pressure: Holding social alliance with them as conditional on them joining you in your box (“I only really respect people who believe all lives matter”)
  • Rescue: Offering up their box as the solution for an issue you have (“Want to escape your suffering? Become aware of no-self”)
  • Aggression: Trying to push you into their box (“You’re a piece of shit for denying climate change, you’re the reason we’re all going to die”)

These are all attempts to control your frame, but none of these is what I mean by frame control. These techniques can be manipulative or abusive, but they’re also broadcast clearly; in a similar way to how a man catcalling on a busy street alerts both the target and everyone else to their presence. It’s annoying, but clearly legible. It’s easy for you and everyone around you to say to each other, “Ah, that person wants something from you” and move on with your day.

No; frame control is the “man doesn’t announce his presence, he just stalks you silently” of the communication world. It’s when you end up in the other person’s box without knowing that it happened. It’s not violence you can feel, or coaxing you can reason with; it’s a slow build of their frame around you until you don’t remember what your box ever looked like. Frame control is a quiet subversion of your agency; instead of offering up their frame for you to consider, they pull you in without consent, into a world you probably would never have endorsed from the outside.

Frame control often results in doubt, denial, or suppression of your own feelings, as the frame controller has you in their frame and exerts a huge amount of energy to keep you there. Your own experience is warped to align with that of the frame controller, even (especially?) when this comes at cost to you.

For a very simple, obvious example (not all of them are so obvious!), my dad would sometimes command obedience in things that were very painful to obey (e.g., permanently ending all contact with my best friend). This made me angry, but his frame treated my anger as a sign that I was sinful and corrupt, and I thus experienced my anger as a failure on my part. I would get angry, and then feel guilty for being angry, and spend a huge amount of effort suppressing the anger and trying to convince myself I felt grateful for how much effort my dad was putting into his parenting. 

How is frame control done in such a surreptitious way? Surely you would notice if someone was telling you it’s your fault for feeling bad, right?

Sometimes, frame controllers will make high-risk moves that serve to alienate 98% of people and draw in the other 2%. “My organization is going to save the world” - a maybe crazy claim, but if you’re one of the people who really believes it’s possible to save the world, you might instead process the claim as instead incredibly brave, because you know 98% of people will think it’s stupid. And maybe it is brave! My point is not that the moves are bad or good, only that high-variance, high-risk moves will fail most of the time, but be very effective when they don’t fail. This can make frame control strategies that fail on you seem to be very obvious and easy to avoid, but the frame control strategies that work will feel extremely exciting. 

Also, frame control is often more likely to happen to vulnerable people. If you’re younger, or alienated from family, or don’t have a great social group, or if you’re very weird or neuroatypical and don’t easily feel seen, or if you end up in a system where your core needs are controlled by your compliance (romantic relationships and employment and MLMs can fit this), this makes you much more susceptible. 

Before I'm more direct about identifying frame control, I want to clarify a few things.

One is that good frame controllers put a lot of effort into avoiding the appearance of control. They will explicitly say things that appear to validate your emotions and increase your degree of freedom. They might appear empathetic, self-reflective, open to negative feedback, genuinely caring. Skilled frame controllers track the quiet social understanding of how you have to act in order to be perceived as good, and they are very careful to fill this (Some are a bit less skilled; for example, see Geoff Anders dutifully including option C in this otherwise aggressive tweet). This causes the victims to justify all sorts of harmful behavior to themselves - “Well, my dad says he loves me and wants what’s best for me, so his discipline must be good for me”, “Well that person says they’re open to being wrong, and have pointed out when they were wrong before, so it’s unlikely they’re wrong about x”. 

Frame controllers, typically after they get a good foothold, also can determine the standard by which you measure what is good. Instead of just replicating good behavior, they also tell you what good behavior is, e.g. “correcting your sins is good” or “not giving what you want is good for you.”

Second point is a doozy, and it’s that you can’t look at intent when diagnosing frame control. As in, “what do they mean to do” should be held separate from “what are the effects of what they’re doing” - which I know is counter to almost every good lesson about engaging with people charitably. 

Frame control is an effect; very often, people who frame control will not be aware that this is what they’re doing, and have extensive reasoning to rationalize their behavior that they themselves believe. If you are close to a frame controller and squinting at them to figure out “are they hiding intent to control me,” you often will find the answer is “no.” 

This often functions as a trap to keep people in a controlled frame. For example, I once hung out for a while with a cult (which nobody, including me, viewed as a cult at the time), where their cult leader was doing a lot of really bad frame control stuff. The narrative inside the group (which is not universal across cults!) was that the cult leader was both deeply flawed and perceptive, and the things he did that hurt people were either for their own good, or an unintentional byproduct of him genuinely trying to do good. “He means well” was a crucial element of keeping people in this cult; focusing on his good intent functioned to dismiss and downplay the damage that was being done to its members. 

And so, when evaluating frame control, you have to throw out intent. The question is not “does this person mean to control my frame,” the question is “is this person controlling my frame?”. This is especially true for diagnosing frame control that you’re inside of, because the first defense a frame controller uses is the empathy you hold for them.

This all might sound pretty dark, like I’m painting a reality where you might go around squinting at empathetic, open, caring people who have zero ill intent whatsoever and trying to figure out how they are ‘actually bad.’ And this is kind of true, but if only because “I am an empathetic, open, caring person with zero ill intent” is exactly the kind of defense actual frame-controllers inhabit. The vast majority of good people with good intent aren’t doing any significant kind of frame control; my point is just that “good person with good intent” should not be considered a sufficient defense if there seems to be other elements of frame control present.

Much of frame control occurs in the land of things not said. We’re constantly, unconsciously making strategic moves in conversation that shift ourselves into more favorable positions. For example:

You have a bad fight with your romantic partner, and things are tense. Shortly after the fight, you’re hanging out in a group of friends. Your partner suggests the group should set up a fund where everyone can contribute to group trips, and the excess in the fund can cover emergencies. You announce that this sounds like a great idea, that communal bonding is great.

You publicly announcing reinforcement of your partner’s idea has a secondary function of aligning yourself with your partner and communicating to your partner you’re still affectionate despite the fight you just had.

And maybe your partner says that no, this isn’t about communal bonding, this is about handling emergencies.

Your partner’s words were just clarifying their own meaning, but the secondary function is un-aligning themselves with you, pointing out your understanding failure, and implying the fight is still ongoing. On the surface the conversation is normal, but other communication is also happening, likely without conscious knowledge of the participants. The above example is from a personal experience, and when it happened I had zero conscious knowledge of the secondary functions.

Conversation, action, and context are overflowing with secondary functions. Words have effects that aren’t just about the words, and so we get things like greeting rituals (hello how are you im fine how are you) designed to indicate alliance, “I’m busy again” means “I don’t want to date you,” telling the unattractive person they’re beautiful just the way they are indicates you are magnanimous and virtuous and value people for their inner spirit or whatever. We often ‘hear’ these by gut instincts; feeling uncomfortable, feeling affectionate, calm, agitated. We instinctively know the kinds of things to say to communicate the right unspoken functions. We get weird feelings around some people even if we can’t put a finger on it.

Those examples are more obvious, but the vast majority are trivial. For example, if I tell my friend “I can’t talk right now I’m about to run to a doctor’s appointment”, it’s full of mundane implications. My priority right now is the doctor’s appointment, not you. I am taking time to tell you this. I want you to know about my life. I take care of my health.

Frame control heavily relies on apparently trivial secondary functions. Frame controllers will say very normal sounding things with trivial secondary functions that also happen to give them more power.

For example, I was once visiting a tightly knit group where my presence was somewhat a threat to the leader; I was an outsider, and some people in the group respected me. At one point, while in a discussion about gender dynamics, the leader casually mentioned that “if Aella were a man, people would find her disgusting.” This was plausibly a normal thing to say in context; he was known for saying hard truths, for having insights about gender, and to be fair I was sitting there sweaty, topless, and on acid, *and* I hadn’t showered in a week (this was at burning man). But it also had the function of reframing respect for me as actually coming from attraction; with this sentence, it caused everybody listening to reevaluate their opinions about me, to doubt their own experience of liking what I had to say. It was also brilliant because it wasn’t a direct accusation to or about me; he didn’t say “Aella isn’t worth listening to”; it was framed as about the people perceiving me. This then increased my barrier towards challenging him, because I would have had to explicitly point out implications that would give him another foothold to resist.

Or, Aubrey De Grey’s Facebook post. (Aubrey De Grey is a high profile man who was recently accused of harassment). He wrote a defense of his behavior in which he argues that the accusers are not at all malicious, but rather were deliberately ‘set up” by a third party who fed them misinformation.

This has the effect of establishing Aubrey as more authoritative than the accusers (he can see the real guilty party and his accusers cannot); it frames his accusers as innocent and mistaken victims (thus subverting their accusations as valid) and positions Aubrey as firmly determined to bring the true guilty parties to justice (why would you oppose him if you want to pursue the guilty?).

The examples I’m giving are obvious, salient ones, because they stood out and I remembered them. But most of the time it’s a quieter accumulation of a thousand tiny implications, each one so small that to point one out would sound insane. It might be something like asking the frame controller if they want to go to the store with you, and they respond “no thanks, because I went last time.” - a completely innocuous comment, but in the right context it might be an implication that last time they went with you was doing you a favor and making a sacrifice. A lot of it is also not explicitly verbal - it can be how they say it, their body language, where they’re placing their attention. 

Of course, everybody does things that I could recount here and assign a frame control frame to it; we constantly manipulate each other, asking implicitly to be viewed as competent, or kind, or insightful. And maybe it’s good to pay closer attention to this too! But the difference between this everyday thing and the frame control that traumatizes people is generally that of intensity, frequency, and practical control. If it occurs regularly, and in a direction that consistently reduces trust in your own mind, if it hands the frame controller power over your reality and devotion, and if this is backed up with credible threats to your needs (social acceptance, income, etc.), then I’m much more likely to give it a ‘frame control’ label. I provide examples of what’s not frame control, later.

If you try to point out the secondary effects, frame controllers typically have a more advanced version of the “it’s just a joke” defense. Why are you taking such a normal thing in such an uncharitable light? What issues do you have that are causing you to be so resistant (à la the NXIVM flip)? If this happens in a culture of intense self-improvement, where people are used to finding actual insights by investigating their own resistance to things, this can be a very effective tactic, because it’s a question that points to a legitimately useful direction - there is always something interesting going on in your own experience. Parallels are drawn to sympathetic situations; for example, perhaps once you finally established a necessary boundary for your own good in a relationship with someone you cared about, and this person got agitated, accused you of making them feel bad and limiting their self expression. This is unfortunate, but you believe with your whole being that this person really should investigate their own resistance to your boundaries. And thus “investigate your resistance” is a powerful and well-known rule that people widely agree with, and this is why it’s so effective as a frame control defense.

The problem is if your goal is to end your suffering, and the actual best way to end your suffering is to change your circumstances, then “investigate your own resistance” is a distraction; it’s a frame where your circumstances are not considered as a changeable option.

A related strategy is pushing the painful update button. I’m sure you’ve had experiences where you learned and grew, and it was really painful to do so. You had to face some hard truths, let go of how you saw yourself, and maybe even do a bit of surrendering your ego. This is legitimately good! But a key aspect of frame control is reframing harm as good - and so the pain from beneficial updates becomes an easy candidate. You might be promised insights about yourself (usually handed to you by the frame controller), and pain from those insights gets reinterpreted as evidence that the insights are valuable. No pain no gain. This also tends to be more common in meditation communities where they might encourage things like very hard work or lack of sleep or no food; “what, did you think growth was going to feel good?” the norm is whispered from every corner. “The pain you feel from this community and its leader is what growth means.”

And to be clear, a lot of this is true. Frame control breaks your reality down to fit another one, and while I view this as poisonous, the act of breaking down your frame can have huge benefits - similarly to how forcing a child to sit through school might break their creativity but give them the ability to reliably perform boring tasks. When I first started doing LSD, I recognized a lot of parallels between the drug and my upbringing. “Oh, this is the same thing” I told my sister, who was tripping with me that first time. “Dad broke us in the same way, he just did it violently.” Being mentally broken by an abuser was super educational; it annihilated my sense of fight, it taught me surrender, how to handle huge amounts of pain without resistance, how to let go of everything I loved. And in LSD, though a vastly different tone and infinitely more healthy, I somehow encountered the same basic story.

This is part of the reason why escaping frame control situations can be so disorienting. Frame control situations can give you legitimate, valuable insight. It can open up deep, tender parts of your soul. You might genuinely love the frame controller. It can be some of the most meaningful experiences you’ve ever had. The basic story is a good one. It’s just that the goal of frame control is someone else’s power over you; the story is infused with poison. They grant you profound awe in exchange for serving them. And the combination of valuable insight at the level of your soul mixed in with poison and subjugation to someone else’s will can be a deeply traumatizing experience. People who escape frame control situations often have a really hard time making sense of the world or themselves or what is good or bad or how to feel; their own sense of judgment has been undermined so thoroughly they don’t trust themselves to hold their own frame anymore.

Zoe Curzi (who worked at Leverage) says “a key confusing feature of leaving is that you weren't acknowledging the badness, and now you have to. And for a while, the badness is all-consuming, because it’s the main thing you weren't allowed to acknowledge while maintaining your relationship to the community or person controlling you. But  something about this is ALSO fucky for sense-making, because it doesn't acknowledge the powerful soul insights. But if you acknowledge only those, you'll never leave. So the extremes create a yo-yo in recovery that often makes sense-making and integration an extremely long process, possibly never finished, very incoherent along the way.”

In a lot of ways this is similar to an abusive upbringing. As a child, you bond tightly with the parent who teaches you, cares for you, molds your reality. You rely on them, and many wonderful things you value came from your relationship with them. So how do you come to terms with a world without them?

I’m talking a bit philosophically about frame control, but in an attempt to get more concrete, here’s a non-exhaustive list of some frame control symptoms. Keep in mind these are not the same thing as frame control itself, they’re just red flags. Some of these overlap strongly with traditional cult signifiers. Also not all frame control has all of these.

  1. They do not demonstrate vulnerability in conversation, or if they do it somehow processes as still invulnerable. They don’t laugh nervously, don’t give tiny signals that they are malleable and interested in conforming to your opinion or worldview. I once had a long talk with a very smart man who was widely perceived as deeply compassionate and kind, but long after the talk I realized at no point in the conversation he had indicated being impacted by my ideas, despite there being multiple opportunities for him to make at the very least small acknowledgements that I was onto something good. It took me a long time to realize this because he’d started out the conversation by framing me as special, telling me it was unusual to find someone else who had the ideas I did, that I must have taken a different path. “He is someone who respects me” was the frame he set up, and so I was blinded to the stark lack of reinforcement or vulnerability he actually displayed. This guy still has a lot of social power and I don't feel comfortable yet publicly naming him.
  2. They have status and power. A key component that makes frame control dangerous is when it’s linked to concrete consequences; maybe people really respect them, maybe they control resources, maybe they are the person throwing big events, maybe they gave you a new name, maybe they have the power to exclude you from your social group. Less powerful people can also do frame control, but it tends to be tighter (e.g., only in a romantic relationship).
  3. Finger-trap beliefs; my term for beliefs where pulling against the belief only strengthens the belief. One example is how Christians say that Satan will make you doubt the existence of God. If you find yourself doubting the existence of God, this gets processed as evidence for Satan. Similarly, frame-controllers will instill beliefs designed to clamp down if you ever doubt the frame controller; “Other people will try to tell you we’re misguided because they’re too afraid of our power” results in “if I entertain the notion that the leader is misguided, does this mean I’m too afraid of their power?”. Frame controllers will often reframe ideas that challenge them as red flags that point to deeper flaws in the questioner. Often these defenses are established well in advance of the challenging idea, so that your memetic immune system gets disabled long before it has a chance to get activated.
  4. Reframing harm as beneficial. I discussed this earlier but to reiterate: in normal life we have self-protection instincts that tell us to run away from things that hurt. We also have norms where we’re taught not to do this - spending your childhood sitting in school might suck, but it’s “for your own good” so we accept it (which is bad, imo). Frame controllers use our prior understanding that ‘sometimes things I don’t like are good for me,’ and they make sure to map this onto everything about the frame controller you don’t like. Your pain, through one narrative or another, is evidence of goodness.
  5. Sometimes, when your pain is processed as evidence of goodness, you often stop processing it as pain entirely; if you’ve ever looked back on a period of your life with shock that you could have handled that, likely this is because you viewed the harm as beneficial and thus did not process it as pain at all. This is often actively reinforced by frame controllers, who inhabit a worldview where it’s just not an option that a thing might be causing you pain.
  6. They are the teacher, and you the student. They might make perfunctory gestures towards learning from you, but the general attitude, upheld by them and also the culture around you, is that knowledge passes from them to you. Unlike in traditional teaching, this usually extends to all things; they are uncomfortable with you holding subcategories of expertise, and will tolerate it only insofar as they can take credit for your power in some way or maintain a narrative where they have the ability to ultimately judge the value or role of what you’re presenting. They might take steps to keep you in the position of student, such as deliberately giving you tasks you’re bad at, or placing you in situations that make you deeply uncomfortable (with good-for-you explanations included, of course). Insofar as they grant you actual authority, it will only be after they’re convinced of your absolute, unfailing loyalty.
  7. A belief in their own importance. They often feel they have unique access to some knowledge that you can only get through them, whether it be religious or mystical or a complete theory of psychology.
  8. A refusal to affirm ways in which your frame falls outside of theirs. In health(ier) relationships, people tend to “approach each other’s frames”; as in, set aside their own worldview for a moment, inhabit the other person’s, and talk to them “from that frame.” Frame controllers don’t do this; they do not come to you, they do not acknowledge or validate your frame. There might be some performative aspects of this; for example, saying “I know this is so hard” while the rest of their speech subtly doesn’t seem to indicate they actually understand that it’s hard.
  9. When conflicts or disagreements happen, they operate from an assumption that you simply haven’t seen the light yet. They might be very magnanimous about this, or listen to you for a long time, or say things like “that’s a great point,” but their attitude seems to imply that there’s not actually a possible reality where you are correct. They are gently, caringly waiting for you to realize the thing that they knew all along. They are so helpful. They are so patient as they help you to see the one truth. And if they have the one truth, how many other things are they right about, that you simply can’t see yet because you haven’t tried hard enough?
  10. There’s a narrative of openness and flexibility that deflects from areas of inflexibility. “I’m so kind and patient,” their actions imply, as they graciously sacrifice hours of their attention helping you work through why you don’t want to do a task they want you to do.
  11. They orient around their turf; they prefer to decide location and method of debates, they want you to come to their house; maybe they sit while you stand, maybe they don’t give interviews with anybody slightly hostile, maybe they want you to come on their show and frame it as evidence of wrongdoing if you decline..
  12. They consistently reroute pressure away from them. I once sat in on a dojo where I watched one of the students point out an error the teacher had made. The teacher then responded by asking the student a question that investigated what was behind the pointing out, what was really about them that caused this? The resulting discussion then was entirely about the student, and as far as I can tell everybody else forgot about the mention of the error. My dad used to refer to this tactic explicitly - “make sure they’re always on the defensive, don’t give them room to have energy for offense.”
  13. Similar to the above, they ask questions with forced answers - a common tactic in police interviews, when explicit. “Did you leave your dish in the sink?” “You know that I don’t like that, right?” “You left your dish in the sink, knowing I don’t like it, right?”  “So you admit you are intentionally upsetting me”. Sometimes it’s less explicit - for example, years ago I was at a large group dinner with acquaintances and a woman I didn’t like. She was talking about something I wasn’t interested in, mostly to a few other people at the table, and I drifted to looking at my phone. The woman then said loudly, “Oh, looks like I’m boring Aella”. This put me into a position where I had to choose between either being honest and drastically escalating the social tension, or to politely disagree and thus lend social validation to what she was doing.
  14. They make “buried claims” - assertions that pressure you to jump through hoops to challenge the core. For example, “Everybody knows you’re sensitive” asks you to challenge everybody knowing before you can challenge being sensitive. If you angrily ask them to stop opening your door without knocking, they might say “Annoyance is understandable, it comes from a desire for privacy instilled into you by an isolated society.” If you want to tell them your annoyance is important, now you have to argue for an isolated society, or that no it’s not caused by society.
  15. They constantly redirect to salient measures. This is a very classic example with abusive parents, when they point out how they’re feeding and clothing you as an appeal to being a good parent. I remember once, shortly after I went no-contact with my dad, he surprise visited me at the library where I worked. Upon seeing him, I fled into the staff area and hid under a table and curled into the fetal position and sobbed; when a coworker found me, all I could say was “Don’t worry, it’s okay, he didn’t hit me. He didn’t hit me”. I was worried my coworker would think I’d been “abused”, I was embarrassed at my “dramatic overreaction”, and I didn’t want to be misleading - at the time I didn’t process my childhood as abusive, because my dad had constantly redirected me to salient measures.
  16. A refusal to collaborate with other perspectives. Most interactions have a normal push-pull of power, usually designed to distribute it evenly throughout the group; an obvious, simple example is responding to a compliment with a self-effacing joke. In this regard, frame controllers are antisocial rather than cooperative; they don’t participate with the group in evenly distributing power, they subvert other perspectives in service of their own power.


So if frame control looks so similar to just being a normal person, what are some signs that someone isn’t doing frame control? Keeping in mind that these are pointers, not absolute, and not doing these doesn’t mean someone is doing frame control.

  1. They give you power over them, like indications that they want your approval or unconditional support in areas you are superior to them. They signal to you that they are vulnerable to you.
  2. You feel really, deeply loved by them. Frame controllers often say they love you, or have demonstrations of love like loyalty, but often lack a subtle profound attention and selfless care. For example, both my mom and dad made terrible parenting mistakes, and both said they loved me, but I could feel the selfless care from my mom and it was notably absent from my dad.
  3. They repeatedly validate your reality, wholeheartedly, without subtle implications otherwise, and even when they don’t agree. They defer to you as an authority on yourself.
  4. Acceptance: in a sense, they view you as perfect the way you are, they assume your hidden intentions ultimately come from a place of deep goodness.While you might be attempting to fix things about yourself, they carry an attitude that you are fundamentally okay.
  5. You don’t have to justify your preferences. While they might inquire about them, they respect what you want even if they don’t understand why, even if it seems irrational, even if you have no idea why. Your wants are treated as fundamentally valid regardless of what generated them.

Frame control is damaging when it’s invisible; if you are fully aware of it, it might affect you similarly to how most normal, salient attempts to move frames do, like debating or persuasion. For this reason I don’t think all frame control is inherently harmful; it’s possible, for example, to be close friends with a heavy frame controller while being fully aware of all of the frame control moves they might be doing. I think this is really hard to achieve, though; being very close with someone almost by default means vulnerability to each other’s frames. When you want to “get their world”, empathize with them, see things the way they do, and especially if you respect them - this is how the frame control slips through.

And this is why my general philosophy for people who frame control is “burn it with fire.” I don’t have this for any other human flaw - people with terrible communication skills, traumatized people who lash out, anxious, needy people who will try to soak the life out of you, furious dox-prone people on the internet - I believe there’s an empathic route forward. Not so with frame control.

Frame control uses the pathways of love, desire to do good, empathy - of any sort of human connection. Pushing the painful update button is effective because people genuinely want to grow. Finger trap beliefs snap shut because e.g. you were shown just how much the outside world persecutes this person and you are genuinely moved to be the one who shows them true kindness. You look for their human intent, you imagine what it’s like to be them, you empathically step into their world, and then it clamps down around you.

In this, I am a conflict theorist; this is not a mistake, this is war. And a part of me knows this isn’t “true” - as in, I could have been born into a brain that ended up doing strong frame control. I know they are real people with feelings and needs. But that “true” perspective will let them destroy you; when I run into strong frame control, I snap to an extremely antagonistic frame. No, you are not allowed into my life, my home, my friends, and I will try to remove you from the power you might use to hurt anybody else. Maybe I’m being overly dramatic about this because I’m more vulnerable to frame control than most, but another part of me simply doesn’t care. “They will use your fear of being overly dramatic to undermine your reality.” 

Breaking out of frame control is really high cost. In cults this is often clear - you lose your community or financial support or whatever - but the cost can also be internal. With frame control, you have to decide between two worlds - “They are normal and I am bad”, and “They are fucked up and I am sane.” And if they are fucked up, you have to be able to believe you need to separate from them, to cut them off from you fully. This is really hard to do.

“For a normally empathetic person, the idea that someone could be so confused as to be so harmful that I have literally no idea how they could be healthfully allowed close to me or people I love is....very, very tragic.” - Zoe

Part of the motivation for inhabiting a world where anybody you love can be “saved” is that this means you yourself might be saveable. I have a wonderful friend who often invites questionable people to parties, and I suspect it’s because he views himself as questionable, and demonstrating inclusion of other questionable people is a way of demonstrating to himself that he also will be included. We want unconditional love and acceptance to be possible, because we want it for ourselves, and so solidly ejecting someone else is a destruction of that possibility. It means someone can be so bad that they’re ejected out into the dark, and you have to stand there staring at the decompression chamber as you press the button to open the doors into space. It’s brutal and it hurts and it’s terrifying; who are you, that you could do that to someone? Who are you, that you know your ship is surrounded by space?

A lot of things I’m pushing in this post are pretty dangerous. I’m handing you a label of frame control and giving it permission to cut off empathy, to stop investigating your own motivations, to squint super hard at possible subtle motivations in others, to stop looking at intent and only look at effect. This is basically the opposite of all good advice, and even worse it seems like it might give a license to use frame control as a weapon - not just on others, but also ourselves. Technically, everybody "frame controls" all the time; we can probably find numerous examples where every one of us - including me - does the things I outline as bad. And people who frame control may also accuse others of frame control as a weapon for sowing self doubt (and dismiss accusations of frame control at themselves as simply weapons for sowing seeds of self doubt).

I don't know how to address this problem. This is partially because it's a moving target - as soon as frame control is named and described, then it can get goodharted - frame controllers will use this as an instruction manual to become less visible. It's also because frame control exists as a subversion of normal behavior; as the salient stuff is labeled bad, they stop doing the salient stuff, all the bad gets squeezed down into the cracks below our feet, and now you can't tell which parts of the floor are poisoned just by looking at it. And if we manage to point at a spot and label the poison, it becomes salient, and the whole process starts again.

If someone tries to use this blog post to argue for someone doing frame control that you don’t see, it’s okay to still be skeptical. If they try to use it to argue that someone isn’t doing frame control, but you still feel a weird unsettledness you can’t name, it’s okay to still feel unsettled. Don’t let this post tell you how you should feel. Take this article lightly, take it as a pointer, take it as art. Ultimately, checking in with how you actually feel is the answer. I don’t mean to imply this is easy; it’s often really hard to know how you feel, and maybe it changes often and frame controllers put in a lot of effort to obfuscate this. But in the end, careful attention to your own sensations are your saving grace.


Given that inclusion of names doesn’t mean they endorse everything in the post: I'd like to thank Zoe Curzi, Lawrence Kesteloot, Malcolm Ocean, Daniel Filan, Alexander Zavoluk, Melody Trainor, Elizabeth Van Nostrand, Hrothgar, Kathryn Devaney, Catherine Olsson, and a few other anonymous contributors for leaving feedback and suggestions on this post as I developed it. 

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I expect these topics are hard to write about, and that there’s value in attempting it anyway. I want to note that before I get into my complaints. So, um, thanks for sharing your data and thoughts about this hard-to-write-about (AFAICT) and significant (also AFAICT) topic!

Having acknowledged this, I’d like to share some things about my own perspective about how to have conversations like these “well”, and about why the above post makes me extremely uneasy.

First: there’s a kind of rigor that IMO the post lacks, and IMO the post is additionally in a domain for which such rigor is a lot more helpful/necessary than such rigor usually is.

Specifically: I can’t tell what the core claims of the OP are. I can’t easily ask myself “what would the world look like if [core claim X] was true? If it were false? what do I see?” “How about [core claim Y]”? “Are [X] and [Y] the best way to account for the evidence the OP presents, or are there unnecessary details tagging along with the conclusions that aren’t actually actually implied by the evidence?”, and so on.

I.e., the post’s theses are not factored to make evidence-tracking easy.

I care more about (separable claims, each separately track... (read more)

To try to parse for me here, what I took away from each point:

1. "Where are the concrete claims that allow people to directly check"
2. Discomfort mixing claims about frame control with claims about Geoff, as lots of bad claims or beliefs can get sneaked in through the former while talking about the latter
3. I had a lot of trouble parsing this one, particularly the paragraph starting with "Uncharitable paraphrase/caricature:". I'm gathering something like "unease that I am making arguments that override normal good truth-seeking behavior, with the end goal being elevating my [aella's] ability to be a discerner about things"

So re: one, this... seems true. I would prefer a version of this with concrete claims that allow people to directly check, and am interested in help generating this. I am driven by the belief that there is something - there seems to be a clear pattern of 'what is my reality' I've seen in me and multiple other people close to me, and there's something that causes it. That's about as concrete as I have the capacity to get. To me, the whole thing seems elusive by nature, and I had an option of "write vaguely about an elusive thing" or "not write about it at all."&nbs... (read more)

But to understand better: if I'd posted a version of this with fully anonymous examples, nothing specifically traceable to Leverage, would that have felt good to you, or would something in it still feel weird?

I'd guess the OP would’ve felt maybe 35% less uneasy-making to me, sans Geoff/Aubrey/“current” examples.

The main thing that bothers me about the post is related to, but not identical to, the post’s use of current examples:

I think the phenomena you’re investigating are interesting and important, but that the framework you present for thinking about them is early-stage. I don’t think these concepts yet “cleave nature at its joints.” E.g., it seems plausible to me that your current notion of “frame control” is a mixture of [some thing that’s actually bad for people] and mere disagreeableness (and that, for all I know, disagreeableness decreases rather than increases harms), as Benquo and Said variously argue. Or that this notion of “frame control” blends in some behaviors we’re used to tolerating as normal, such as leadership, as Matt Goldenberg argues. Or any number of other things.

I like that you’re writing about something early-stage! Particularly given that it seems i... (read more)

I think I agree with ~everything in your two comments, and yet reading them I want to push back on something, not exactly sure what, but something like: look, there's this thing (or many things with a family resemblance) that happens and it's bad, and somehow it's super hard to describe / see it as it's happening.... and in particular I suspect the easiest, the first way out of it, the way out that's most readily accessible to someone mired in an "oops my internal organs are hooked up to a vampiric force" situation, does not primarily / mainly involve much understanding or theorizing (at least given our collective current level of understanding about these things), and rather involves something with a little more of "wild" vibe, the vibe of running away, of suddenly screaming NO, of asserting meaningful propositions confidently from a perspective, etc. And I get some of this vibe from the OP; like part of the message is (what I'm interpreting to be) the stance someone takes when calling something "frame control" (or "gaslighting" or "emotional abuse" or "cult" or what-have-you).

Which, I still agree with the things you say, and the post does make lots of sort-of-specific, sort-of-va... (read more)

I liked both the points Anna made in her previous comment, and TekhneMakre's comment here.
-1Thoth Hermes8mo
This comment and your first one come-off as quite catty. E.g., (Emphasis mine). Your criticisms are mostly in the downward-direction, meaning, they don't point out how to make what you're criticizing better. Furthermore, they tend to ambiguate saying that the post could be improved (implying that we can make use out of what is being proposed) and saying the opposite: It's hard to tell if you are being condescending towards the whole thing - implying that she should give up the whole endeavor, or if it would be more useful with more polish. However, I will point out that even saying "this would be good if it were more polished" doesn't add much value to be said even if it were to be taken at face-value. If it's good, it should be useful even before it becomes more polished. If it's bad, we should say why.  (I am a student of the particular school of philosophy which states that things can be useful to use or believe in even before they have been socially-agreed-upon to become high-status incumbent members of the orthodox school-of-thought).

First, let me disclose my position. I am very thankful that you wrote this article. It is about an important topic, it shows great insight and contains good examples. Also, I have already made up my mind about Geoff; I am still curious about the details, but in my opinion the big picture is quite obvious and quite bad. At some moment it just feels silly to be infinitely charitable towards someone who wastes no time deflecting and reframing to make himself a victim. That said...

I feel a bit "dirty" upvoting an article that is about the concept of frame control in general, but also obviously about Geoff. I would have happily upvoted each of these topics separately, but it feels wrong to use one button for both. (Because other people may feel differently about these two topics, and then it is not obvious what the votes mean.) I upvoted anyway, because from my perspective the benefits of the article dramatically exceed this objection, but the objection still makes sense. At least I will try to separate the topics in my comments.

Anna's third point... it means that talking about "frame control" is itself an attempt to set a frame. (Similarly how e.g. the idea of a "meme" is itself a meme... (read more)

Upvoted because Anna articulated a lot of what I wanted to say but didn’t have the energy or clarity to say with such nuance.

regarding the third point, my interpretation of this part was very different: "I don’t have this for any other human flaw - people with terrible communication skills, traumatized people who lash out, anxious, needy people who will try to soak the life out of you, furious dox-prone people on the internet - I believe there’s an empathic route forward. Not so with frame control."

I read is as "I'm not very vulnerable to those types of wrongness, that all have the same absolute value in some linear space, but I'm vulnerable to frame control, and believe the nuclear option is justified and people should feel OK while using it". 

I, personally, not especially vulnerable to frame control. my reaction to the examples are in the form of "there is a lot to unpack here, but let's just burn the whole suitcase". they struck me as manipulative, and done with Badwill. as such, they set alarm in my mind, and in such cases, this alarm neutralize 90% of the harm.

my theory regarding things like that, all the cluster of hard-to-pinpoint manipulations, is that understanding it is power. i read a lot and now i tend to recognize such things. as such, I'm not especially vulnerable to that, and don't ha... (read more)

Are you genuinely unsure whether or not there's a bad thing aella is (perhaps suboptimally) pointing at? If yes, then I feel like that's a cause for doom for whatever social communities you're trying to moderate. (By contrast, I'd find it highly understandable if you think aella is onto something, but you're worried she's packing too many ingredients into her description.)  If not, then I find it interesting that you're using this pseudo-neutral framing ("whether it's bad") even though you already have at least some agreement with the things aella is trying to say.  It's interesting that a post saying "There's this insidious, bad, community-destroying thing" gets mainly reactions like "Careful, this is a weapon that misguided people could use to ostracize innocents" as opposed to ones that acknowledge the really bad thing exists and is really bad. It almost seems like people are saying the bad thing cannot be remotely as bad as the risk that some people get accused of it unfairly, so we should better not talk about it too much. I'm open to being convinced that "unfair convictions" actually are the bigger problem. But I doubt it. My guess is that in instances where a person with benign cognition ends up unfairly ostracized, there's someone with interpersonally incorrigible cognition who had their fingers in the plot somehow. Therefore, the entire risk here (that people illegitimately use what seems like "too easily applicable of a social weapon") is a risk mostly because interpersonally incorrigible cognition / frame distortion exists in the first place. And I suspect that a good step at identifying solutions to the problem is by discussing it head-on and taking seriously the idea that it should be burnt with fire. I'm not saying we should already assume that this is the right answer. I'm just saying, maybe people are shying away from the possibility that it is the right answer. And if so, I want to urgently scream: STOP DOING THAT. Edit: I no longer endorse what
(Upvoting for the edit.)

I'm particularly frustrated by the thing where, inevitably, the concept of frame control is going to get weaponized (both by people who are explicitly using it to frame control, and people who are just vaguely ineptly wielding it as a synonym for 'bad').

I don't have a full answer. But I'm reminded of a comment by Johnswentworth that feels like it tackles something relevant. This was originally a review of Power Buys You Distance From the Crime. Hopefully the quote below gets across the idea:

When this post first came out, I said something felt off about it. The same thing still feels off about it, but I no longer endorse my original explanation of what-felt-off. So here's another attempt.

First, what this post does well. There's a core model which says something like "people with the power to structure incentives tend get the appearance of what they ask for, which often means bad behavior is hidden". It's a useful and insightful model, and the post presents it with lots of examples, producing a well-written and engaging explanation. The things which the post does well more than outweigh the problems below; it's a great post.

On to the problem. Let's use the slave labor example, becaus

... (read more)

I think it would be helpful for the culture to be more open to persistent long-running disagreements that no one is trying to resolve. If we have to come to an agreement, my refusal to update on your evidence or beliefs in some sense compels you to change instead, and can be viewed as selfish/anti-social/controlling (some of the behaviors Aella points to can be frame control, or can be a person who, in an open and honest way, doesn't care about your opinion). If we're allowed to just believe different things, then my refusal to update comes across as much less of an attack on you. 

One thing I think helps here is that even if someone is superior to you on many axes and doesn't think much of your opinion, there should be multiple people whose opinions they do take seriously, and they should proactively seek those people out. Someone who is content, much less seeks out, always being the smartest one in the room no longer gets the benefit of a doubt that they just happen to be very skilled. Finding peers is harder the more extreme you are, but a lack of peers will drive even a really well-intentioned person insane, so deferring to them will not go well.

I think it would be helpful for the culture to be more open to persistent long-running disagreements that no one is trying to resolve.

 +1 to this. I have an intuition that the unwillingness-to-let-disagreements-stand leads to a bunch of problems in subtle ways, including some of the things you point out here, but haven't sat down to think through what's going on there.

I agree with this. As someone with whom the concept of frame control in the OP resonated a lot, I want to flag that some of the specifics of "refusing to update" seemed like they were worded too strictly and don't seem central to the concept of frame control.  Said_achmiz also points this out in a comment here:    I don't think you have to conform to someone's opinion or worldview in order to avoid frame control. I think what matters is that you listen to them attentively, try to understand what they believe, and give them a "fair hearing," so to speak. And frame controllers often seem like they don't remember anything you said about your opinion and worldview, except when it suits them. So you get the sense that discussions with them are beyond fruitless. And more so, you are made to feel small in a way that goes beyond just "the person happens to disagree with me." 
I wish i had more to add: but this comment was so extraordinary that it got me to create an account to mention how extraordinary it was

I'm particularly frustrated by the thing where, inevitably, the concept of frame control is going to get weaponized (both by people who are explicitly using it to frame control, and people who are just vaguely ineptly wielding it as a synonym for 'bad').

I think a not-sufficient-but-definitely-useful piece of an immune system that ameliorates this is:

"New concepts and labels are hypotheses, not convictions."

i.e. this essay should make it more possible for people to say "is this an instance of frame control?" or "I'm worried this might be, or be tantamount to, frame control" or "I myself am receiving this as frame control."

And it should less (though nonzero) be license to say "AHA!  Frame control, right here; I win the argument because I said the magic word."

(Duncan culture has this norm installed; I don't think LW or rationalists or gray tribe in general does, though.)

Yes. (Likewise in Malcolm culture!)

My main approach to this is to focus on honoring distrust:

"I can't personally trust that this is not frame control, so to honor myself, I need to [get out of the situation / let you know that's my experience / etc]".

As with anything, this can also get weaponized depending on the tone & implicature with which it's said, but the precise meaning here points at encouraging a given person to really honor their own frame and their own experience and distrust, while not making any claims that anyone else can agree or disagree with.

Like, if I can't trust that something isn't functioning as frame control, then I can't trust that. You might be able to trust that it's fine, but that doesn't contradict my not being able to trust that, since we're coming from different backgrounds (this itself is pointing at respecting others frames). Then maybe you can share some evidence that will allow me to relax as well, but if you share your evidence and I'm still tense, then I'm still tense and that's okay.

i.e. this essay should make it more possible for people to say "is this an instance of frame control?" or "I'm worried this might be, or be tantamount to, frame control" or "I myself am receiving this as frame control."

Yeah, this sounds productive. 

I guess one issue with the description given in the OP is that "frame control" seems to refer to a behavioral strategy that can sometimes be benign(!) on the one hand, and a whole package of "This means the person expresses a thoroughly bad phenotype (labelled by its most salient effects on victims)" on the other hand. 

Probably it would prevent misunderstandings if there was a word for the sometimes-mostly-benign behavioral strategy (e.g., "frame control") and a word for the claim about throughly bad phenotype (e.g., "This person is interpersonally incorrigible"). 

(Or maybe one could mirror the distinction between "to manipulate" and "being a manipulator." Most people employ manipulative strategies on rare occasions, but fewer people are deserving of the label "manipulator.") 

I like the rule, and if it's possible to come up with engagement guidelines that have asymmetrical results for frame control I would really like that. I couldn't think of any clear, overarching while writing this post, but will continue to think about this.

And you're right in that the concept of frame control will get inevitably weaponized. I am afraid of this happening as a result of my post, and I'm not really sure how to handle that.

I like the rule, and if it's possible to come up with engagement guidelines that have asymmetrical results for frame control I would really like that.

Some thoughts, based on one particular framing of the problem...

Claim/frame: in general, the most robust defense against abuse is to foster independence in the corresponding domain. The most robust defense against emotional abuse is to foster emotional independence, the most robust defense against financial abuse is to foster financial independence, etc. The reasoning is that, if I am in not independent in some domain, then I am necessarily dependent on someone else in that domain, and any kind of dependence always creates an opportunity for abuse.

Applying that idea to frame control: the most robust defense is to build my own frames, pay attention to them, notice when they don't match the frame someone else is using, etc. It's "frame independence": I independently maintain my own frames, and notice when other people set up frames which clash with them.

But independence is not always a viable option in practice, and then we have to fall back on next-best solutions. The main class of next-best solutions I know of involve having a wide va... (read more)

'Monopoly provider of meaning' also helps me understand why this is more widespread in spiritual scenes.

When I started reading my first thought was, not independence but competitive alternatives. Then of course you pointed to the same. However, I'm wondering if that is really where it stops. First I want to say I did not give the OP a full read and second that there are important parts of what I did read that I have fully digested. Given that, I have to wonder if the issue of frame control as raised by the author here is fully solved in the same way we think of economic problem solutions coming out of competitive supply and demand settings.  Am I really in a good place personally just because I can pick and choose among those controlling my frame? Or, put differently, is multiple support options (i.e., able to expose one's self to multiple other frames) certain to eliminate the problem of frame control for that person? Something is nudging me in the direction of "not quite sure about that". Then again, maybe what we have is that one never escapes frame control so we're always talking about the best of a bunch of "bad" options. 

I appreciate this post. I get the sense that the author is trying to do something incredibly complicated and is aware of exactly how hard it is, and the post does it as well as it can be done. 

I want to try to contribute by describing a characteristic thing I've noticed from people who I later realized were doing a lot of frame control on me: 

Comments like 'almost no one is actually trying but you, you're actually trying' 'most people don't actually want to hear this, and I'm hoping you're different'.' I can only tell you this if you want to hear it' 'it feels like you're already getting it, no one gets that far on their own' 'almost everyone is too locked into the system to actually listen to what I'm about to say' 'I've been wanting to find the right person to say this to, but no one wants to listen, but I think you might actually be ready to hear it': the common thread is that you, the listener, are special, and the speaker is the person who gets to recognize you as special, and the proof of your specialness is that you're going to try/going to listen/going to hear them out/ not going to instantly jump to conclusions

Counterexamples: 'you're the only Political Affiliati... (read more)

Ahhh these are fantastic examples that clearly map onto frame controllers I know and I didn't think of it when writing this post; really great points.

the common thread is that you, the listener, are special, and the speaker is the person who gets to recognize you as special, and the proof of your specialness is...

The speaker has granted you a "special" status, and now they can also set the rules you have to follow unless you want that status revoked. How much are you willing to pay in order to keep that precious status?

Antidotes: "I am not special" or "whether I am special or not, does not depend on whether X thinks I am".

Antidotes: “I am not special” or “whether I am special or not, does not depend on whether X thinks I am”.

Or: “whether I’m ‘special’ or not is a red herring, a distraction; meanwhile, this person who’s trying so hard to make me feel special, is obviously trying to manipulate me, and must be viewed with exceptional scrutiny”.

I really like this post. I'd been previously pointing people to the checklist from Bill Hamilton's Saints and Psychopaths for lack of anything else readily linkable but will start linking this.

In trying to write some responses to some of the things I have personal experience with and feel like I want to add to it highlights what you said at the beginning, it is really really hard to think clearly and write clearly about this topic because there are always multiple interpretations of the behaviors in question. Thank you for the effort of writing it.

WRT positive things to look for I'll add this: A palpable sense of the frame moving around organically. With frame controllers, if something threatens their frame there is a palpable sense of tension within the group.

Fuzzier: do people make fun of the leader(s)

  1. To their face
  2. Behind their back
  3. Not at all

My favorite scenes have always had 1 as far as I can remember.

Below an excerpt from something I recently wrote about abusive patterns in spiritual communities:

Good teachers don't encourage hungry ghost dynamics in students. This touches on a bunch of entangled dynamics which I'll do my best to describe. The people coming to a teacher oft... (read more)

someone grabbed a helpful img of the other checklist mentioned:
3Alex Vermillion2y
I appreciate that you shared the checklist so I did a positive vote, but I'd like to explicitly note that I disagree with a lot on this chart as a diagnostic tool. Is this from a study of cults or something? Things like "Saints tend to have 1 name, Psychopaths tend to have many names" seem "obviously dumb" to me, so I suspect there is either something I'm missing or I disagree more deeply with some of these ideas.
1[DEACTIVATED] Duncan Sabien2y
(I like the above in part because I find it reassuring.)

This phenomenological account of frame control doesn't provide a causal model precise enough for me to understand what additional question someone would be trying to answer when asking "is this person doing frame control?" aside from noticing which of the features of "frame control" they satisfy.

Some of the "red flags" seem like they could equally well point to someone fanatically committed to totally dominating others, or someone whose perspective responds to evidence but not social pressure, and many of the signs that someone is not a "frame controller" seem like the opposite. From the description of the first red flag:

They don’t laugh nervously, don’t give tiny signals that they are malleable and interested in conforming to your opinion or worldview.

These are signs of submission, as is the description of the first sign that someone isn't "doing frame control":

They give you power over them, like indications that they want your approval or unconditional support in areas you are superior to them. They signal to you that they are vulnerable to you.

This resembles a pattern I see across many contexts where the idea of listening to someone because they have something to say is replaced... (read more)

Appreciating you pointing out via those first two quotes that some of these dimensions are pointing at someone being submissive rather than sovereign+respectful (not attached to these words).

Feels weird that I missed that when I was reading the draft, actually. Bullet points 2-5 of the "someone isn't doing frame control" list still seem solid to me. On reflection, I actually think bullet 1 is actually completely misleading, because someone frame controlling can also do a bunch of these things, particularly if they have a victim energy as in Raemon's comment.

This also feels off:

They don’t laugh nervously, don’t give tiny signals that they are malleable and interested in conforming to your opinion or worldview.

I might try to steelman it as:

They can't laugh at themselves, and don't seem to give signals that they are interested in learning from you and seeing the world through your eyes.

I stand by the thing I was trying to communicate in point 1, though I might have communicated poorly. I have met many people who are well established, very smart, who are not socially submissive, who still make the little moves that demonstrate vulnerability. I think Eliezer does this, for example.

I feel like I understand aella's points, but obviously it's possible that I think of something slightly different. In any case, I'd answer this as follows: The additional question is whether there's a hidden (potentially non-conscious) exploitative intent to the person's communication style, one that has a distortionary effect on susceptible people.  A person fanatically committed to dominating others may not be subtle about it. If you have the sense that a person is just trying to dominate you, you may be intimidated, but you don't necessarily think "Oh this person is the kindest and most misunderstood person I've ever met, I better do everything possible to help them, OMG they are so good." Or, alternatively, you don't think "OMG this person seems so smart, perhaps misunderstood in some way, but they've got everything figured out and I can learn so much from them."  As for disagreeable people: They would be disagreeable in almost all contexts. Frame controllers, by contrast, can seem very agreeable in contexts where it makes them look good, but disagreeable in contexts where it helps to erode your confidence, or where they know that your social standing is now small enough that they can allow themselves to be disagreeable towards you. FWIW, I share others' impression that some of the OP's wording is unfortunate in that it lumps together signs of disagreeableness with frame control. In my experience, there's something extremely genuine about certain highly disagreeable people. They say what they think, even if it doesn't make them friends. As Anna said in a comment (I'm paraphrasing), disagreeableness can be a costly signal that someone has integrity. If you're always disagreeable, it means you're not exerting a lot of effort on subtle social cognition that can be used for "playing the audience."  It's often a massive red flag about someone's character when you see them only be disagreeable towards people they consider "unimportant" or people they're trying t

FWIW, I share others’ impression that some of the OP’s wording is unfortunate in that it lumps together signs of disagreeableness with frame control.

It seems to me quite ironic that OP lumps together disagreeableness with abusive behavior, given that a disagreeable personality and interaction style is precisely the best antidote to the described abusive behavior. (A cynical, paranoid person might accuse Aella of attempting to engage in what she calls “frame control” herself, and pre-emptively disarming opposition by adding, to an otherwise accurate description of certain abusive behaviors, characteristics that match exactly the people most likely to resist the rest of the sort of thing she describes…)

5Said Achmiz2y
Sorry, what? A non-conscious intent? What on earth does this mean? This sort of idea seems to me like “let’s psychoanalyze people we don’t like to paint them in a bad light—and in such a way that they’re incapable of defending themselves”. It’s thoroughly toxic, and corrosive to productive or even remotely sane interaction. My view is that if you ever find yourself thinking any such thing, immediately stop and remind yourself not to put people on pedestals. Don’t do everything possible to help someone you just met, and don’t conclude that someone’s “got everything figured out” and that you can “learn so much from them”. Just, in general—don’t. This is orthogonal to anyone’s intent or what have you; it’s just a bad idea to approach interpersonal interaction in this way, and it will predictably lead you into bad situations, and generally cause you problems.

There's a literature on self-deception and hypocrisy in humans that I'm sure you're aware of. By "non-conscious intent," which I admit is a confusing/poor phrasing, I wanted to point to that cluster of things.
I used the word "intent" because I meant to say that there's some kind of optimization at work here (but again, "intent" is poor phrasing). Frame control, the way I think of it, looks like agentic behavior with a goal of gaining influence over the person in question. The optimization at work could be something evolution installed or something that people simply learned has desired effects, without necessarily understanding why it has those effects. (E.g., if "playing the victim" gives you lots of sympathy and attention, you may start to do this more often whether or not you're explicitly aware that the situation isn't black and white in terms of you being the victim.) 

For instance, someone may feel extreme shame whenever they're criticized, so their first instinct when criticized is to get outraged at the person who dares to bring something up, calling them out and trying to shame them, etc. Against certain susceptible people, that strategy works in that it makes them fee... (read more)

A brain can run computations optimizing for an outcome without running the additional computations needed to represent this optimization target to itself in explicit self-models available to reflective cognition. Robin Hanson's developed extensive, detailed sociological models that include this component. I think that the entire Overcoming Bias archives, not just Eliezer's Sequences, ought to be canonical here, both because of their intellectual merit and because most of the Sequences were originally written on the Overcoming Bias blog in dialogue with Robin and his other co-bloggers there. A Theory of Identity seems particularly relevant here, and develops a directly relevant claim:
4Rafael Harth2y
For one, "frame control" may draw a boundary around an empirical cluster in thingspace, in which case the question they would get evidence for is "are they also doing the other things in this cluster"? But I think the claim the post makes goes further than that. It's not just that people who do frame control thing #5 are more likely to do frame control thing #13, it's also that both may be in service of common goals. The post doesn't make it explicit what those goals are, but that doesn't mean they don't exist. (And they can exist even in cases where frame control is applied subconsciously.)
This reply would be more interesting if it engaged with the last two paragraphs of my comment, in which I tried to develop a relevant causal hypothesis.

This article gives me a strange feeling of looking through a mirror into a very different kind of world. I'm highly disagreeable. Vulnerability to frame control seems to stem from being agreeable/conflict-avoidant/unassertive. I personally find many of the situations where person A tries to frame control person person B and person B just silently takes it and doesn't say anything (at least in the initial stages) really weird and hard to imagine myself doing. Further, while rationally I know people behave like this, I really can't put myself in their shoes and see why. The reactions to situations just seem so different from what mine would be.


  • The burning man example. If I made a point and another person suggested people just listen to me because I'm tall/eloquent/have other trait X, I'd immediately confront them. I can't imagine letting a shitty argumentative tactic like that slide, much less the insult it implies.
  • The student who asks the master a question, the master then responds by asking the student what motivates them to seek problems. Again, my response would be to pointedly confront the master and point out that they haven't answered my question.

Yeah, instinctive accepting of other people's frames seems like an important part of "agreeableness".

Which is different from the skill of switching to different frames intentionally, which is generally useful for everyone (it allows one to consider a situation from multiple perspectives, and understand the thinking of other people), but agreeable people need to learn this as a self-defense skill -- to switch away from other people's frames and maintain their own frame when necessary.

4Matt Goldenberg2y
Fwiw I think it's entirely possible to just get frame controlled by them using all the "right conversational moves" to push their frames. I don't think there's a set of communication norms that are fully protective against frame control.

Agreed but it seems to me that agreeableness/conflict-avoidance makes you far more susceptible to frame-control. Not that it's the only factor which matters or that a disagreeable person is immune.

Here is why I think that agreeableness/conflict-avoidance is a useful but not complete defense against "frame control." I think there are two types of frame controllers: * Assertive controllers * Receptive controllers For assertive controllers, think of the egotistical expert, eager to smack down ideas he thinks are bad, even when he's thought about them for 3 seconds and is getting his facts mixed up. The assertive controller will insult, neg, and raise his voice. He demands not just respect, but deference. Other people find him intimidating. They lack the expertise, confidence, or power to take him on. He's a good candidate for real leadership in his area of expertise, but he'll also claim territory beyond his true area of competence, and he's as invested in keeping his position in the hierarchy as in driving beneficial results for others. People make fun of him behind his back, but that may just reinforce the fact that nobody makes fun of him to his face. I think Aella is talking about "receptive controllers." These people don't do the active, obvious turf-defending that you see with the assertive controller. They don't necessarily have an area of real, recognized competence. What they attract is incompetence. They surround themselves with people who know very little, sell vague personal growth nostrums, and keep their cohort engaged not by bolstering the perception of their own expertise, but by reinforcing their followers' self-perceptions of worthlessness. Offering them just a shred of worth or fake-status is only collateral, and will be used as a threat in the future. Assertive controllers are frustrating, but often they seem to genuinely be necessary and net-beneficial. Being disagreeable or conflict-oriented won't necessarily let you "win" against these people, or poke holes in their hierarchy. It will create an open, ugly power struggle that will just leave you both feeling resentful most of the time. Receptive controllers are just revolting people
7Matt Goldenberg2y
I think both of those are underselling competent frame control. Good frame controllers are actually competent, can switch between styles of communication depending on the person, and offer genuine value along with the frame theyre offering.
3mako yass2y
That you are this way is suggestive that you were not victim to a frame controller in your formative years. (or maybe another way of putting that is, that you were raised by a benign frame controller who gave you a critical frame that you have never needed to question. I'm confused though. What's control? Is it control if I engineer something grow up to do things I don't expect?)
1Going Durden8mo
I have exactly the same feelings about it as You do, and I think this makes us the Frame Controllers as well. In both of the examples you gave, your reaction would be a purposeful wrestling the Frame Control away from the abuser, and blatantly presenting your Frame. From the OG post and your comment, I cannot think of a way out of such problems without the "victim" doing a stronger version of Frame Control than the abuser, because trying to solve such issues with nonFC means just means playing into the abuser's hands. More importantly, I do not agree with Aella's implied assertion that people differ much in how much they Control the Frame. Everybody, or near everybody tries to Control it as much as they can. The bigger difference is in the robustness of the Frame they hold. If the Frame is strong (internally consistent, close to objective reality, high-status) then it is relatively easy to Control it, resist the control from others, and even control them in return. I assume that in the examples you gave, your response would not be caused by you being particularly cantankerous, but simply your Frame being strong enough that you can "get away with" either blatant or subtle Frame Control Jujitsu against the assailant, without losing social status yourself or even feeling particular anxiety.

The post is saying: "Here's a very common thing that basically everybody does sometimes."

Technically, everybody "frame controls" all the time; we can probably find numerous examples where every one of us - including me - does the things I outline as bad.

And then it's telling us that, if you identify that someone is doing this thing, this should be sufficient evidence to cast them out of society.  Even if they have good intent, even if there's no evidence of harm, even if nobody has told them the thing they are doing is bad.

No, you are not allowed into my life, my home, my friends, and I will try to remove you from the power you might use to hurt anybody else.

I'm worried that this is basically a general-purpose tool for anyone to denounce anyone else.

I think the author should get a lot of credit for identifying that this is dangerous and admitting how dangerous it is right in the post.  But I wish that she'd gone a step further and refined the post until it wasn't dangerous in this way.

But I wish that she’d gone a step further and refined the post until it wasn’t dangerous in this way.

I agree that Aella should have done this. Only I think refining the post until it wasn’t dangerous in this way, would have meant not writing it at all.

Honestly, this is a terrible post. It describes a made-up concept that, as far as I can tell, does not actually map to any real phenomenon (mostly this is because Aella, perplexingly, lumps together obviously outright abusive behaviors with normal, unproblematic things that normal people do every day, and then declares this heterogeneous lump to be A Bad Thing); gives an incoherent set of signs for identifying instances of the behavior described by this concept, that is guaranteed to match not only many ordinary people but in fact many of the best people; and then advocates (without anything resembling a sufficient justification) an insanely hostile attitude toward people who supposedly engage in the alleged behavior.

It perplexes me to see this post so highly rated, and it severely disappoints me to see people in the comments—apparently intelligent, sensible people—already using the provided concept, without so much as first subjecting it to the harsh and comprehensive scrutiny that it deserves. This is not how you deal with an attempt to introduce such a powerful (and power-warping!) new conceptual tool into your collective discourse. (Absolutely nobody should be using the term “frame control” at this point.)

"Honestly, this is a terrible post. It describes a made-up concept that, as far as I can tell, does not actually map to any real phenomenon [...]" - if I am not mistaken, LessWrong contains many posts on "made-up concepts" - often newly minted concepts of interest to the pursuit of rationality. Don't the rationalist all-stars like Scott Alexander and Yudkowsky do this often?

As a rationalist type who has also experienced abuse, I value Aella's attempt to characterize the phenomenon.

Years of abuse actually drove my interest in rationality and epistemology. My abuser's frame-controlling (or whatever it should be called) drove me to desperately seek undeniable truths (e.g. "dragging one's partner around by the hair while calling them a stupid crazy bitch is objectively wrong"). My partner hacked our two-person consensus reality so thoroughly that this "truth" was dangerous speculation on my part, and he'd punish me for asserting it.

I think abuse is a form of epistemic hacking. Part of the 'hack' is detection avoidance, which can include use of / threat of force (such as "I will punish you if you say 'abuse' one more time"), he-said-she-said ("you accuse me of abuse, but i'll accuse you... (read more)

I’m sorry to hear about the things that happened to you.

However, neither that, nor Aella’s experiences, change anything about what I wrote…

I don’t know if you’ll find this persuasive in the slightest. But if you do, even a tiny bit, maybe you could chill out on the “this is a terrible post” commentary. To invoke SCC (though I know those aren’t the rules here), that comment isn’t true, kind OR necessary.

Thankfully, that rule does not apply here, because it’s a really bad rule.

(This aside from the fact that my comment is of course true, or at least I claim so—otherwise I wouldn’t have posted it! How, exactly, does one apply that rule to a forum where the whole point of most of the discussions is to determine what is, or is not, true…?)

As a rationalist type who has also experienced abuse, I value Aella’s attempt to characterize the phenomenon.

If there exists a bad thing, and if it is good to describe the bad thing, it does not follow from this that all attempts to describe the bad thing are good (much less that all apparent or purported attempts to describe the bad thing are good).

As I say in my comment: Aella describes some genuinely, obviously abusive behaviors. But she lump... (read more)

I think kindness is a good rule for rationalists, because unkindness is rhetorically OP yet so easily rationalized ("i'm just telling it like it is, y'all" while benefitting – again, rhetorically – from playing the offensive).

Your implication that Aella is not speaking, writing or behaving sanely is, frankly, hard to fathom. You may disagree with her; you may consider her ideas and perspectives incomplete; but to say she has not met the standards of sanity?

She speaks about an incredibly painful and personal issue with remarkable sanity and analytical distance. Does that mean she's objective? No. But she's a solid rationalist, and this post is appropriately representative.

But see, here we are trading subjective takes. You imply this post is insane. I say that it is impressively sane. Are we shouldering the burden of standards for speaking, writing and behaving sanely?

In other words, you've set quite a high bar there, friend, and conveniently it is to your rhetorical advantage. Is this all about being rational or achieving rhetorical wins?


Wrt "burn it with fire" - she goes on to say that she can't have frame controllers in her life, not that she plans on committing arson. Her meani... (read more)

I think kindness is a good rule for rationalists, because unkindness is rhetorically OP yet so easily rationalized (“i’m just telling it like it is, y’all” while benefitting – again, rhetorically – from playing the offensive).

Accusations of unkindness are also, as you say, “rhetorically OP”… best not to get into litigating how “kind” anyone is being.

Your implication that Aella is not speaking, writing or behaving sanely is, frankly, hard to fathom. You may disagree with her; you may consider her ideas and perspectives incomplete; but to say she has not met the standards of sanity?

Not difficult at all, I think. “That person is controlling my mind with their words!” is, actually, typical of things that a delusional person would say (and if you add “… and they don’t even know it!”, that only adds to the effect).

This in addition, of course, to all the “kill it with fire” stuff, which is … either ill-considered, or deliberately hostile. (One may justifiably use stronger language here, but I prefer to avoid such, if possible.)

She speaks about an incredibly painful and personal issue with remarkable sanity and analytical distance. Does that mean she’s objective? No. But she’s a s

... (read more)
Hmm, do you think frames are real phenomena / natural concepts? (As all concepts are made up, I assume you mean something like "natural" as the opposite.)
3Said Achmiz2y
Different people use this term “frame” in different ways. (The usage in the OP seems to me to be a mix of confused and wrong.) Without knowing what you mean by the word, I cannot answer your question. (My guess, however, is that this is a motte-and-bailey situation, where there’s a banal sense of “frame” which is a real thing but not terribly interesting, and also a provocative sense which is tendentious, at best. But that is only a guess, for now.)

The meaning which makes the most sense to me in the context of this post is that a frame is just an ideology applied to a small interpersonal group, where an ideology is a set of ideas about what types of harms or disliked behaviors must be accepted as legitimate and what types may be responded to with self-protection or retaliation. When a political leader has ideas like that, it's an ideology; when a meditation guru or father or boyfriend has them, it's a frame. Or at least that's how I'd try to steelman it.

One thing that clarified part of what's up with the word "frame" is that I think there are (at least) three different metaphors people are using when they say frame: Picture Frame, Window Frame (or Lens), and Framework, which each have slightly different connotations. (They roughly correspond to ways of communicating, ways of seeing, and ways of thinking). But I do think people inadvertently use the 'frame' metaphor without noticing that they are using it in slightly different ways.  I think John Wentworth's Shared Frames Are Capital Investments is a post with a more precise articulation of what a frame is and why it's useful, which I think is (slightly) more likely to land for you.
5Said Achmiz2y
I have now read John Wentworth’s post. I am unconvinced. It seems like a classic case of “you could think of it as” (cf. my reply to Vaniver). One major objection I had when reading was: “aren’t you just talking about discovering various important truths (and then figuring out important consequences of those truths)?” Wentworth gestures at this in one or two places, but does not really grapple with it. After reading the post, I still don’t see any particularly good reason to think of things in terms of “frames”. (It’s perhaps notable that there are no examples given either of competing “frames” which are, in some sense, both “correct”, nor of any cases of intentionally creating a useful “frame”—this despite the section on creating frames!) I am increasingly convinced that this “frame” business is a red herring—and “frame control” doubly so.
3Said Achmiz2y
Thank you for the links. I read the first linked post (yours) and it seemed… muddled. There’s some interesting points to be made here, clearly, but I’m afraid that I don’t think that you succeed at making them well; and I am not sure that the whole “frames” metaphor (?) is particularly productive there. Indeed, I think that those points may be made more sharply without trying to tie them to “frames” (or to each other via “frames”). I have not yet read the other post; I will report back when I’ve done so.
So, according to me frames are a part of how people think about the world, and so it's sort of hard to ground in words, mostly because of cognitive diversity. The concept is the mental generalization of frame of reference in physics and camera position and orientation in computer graphics (or real-world photography) to human perspectives. So often people will have a 'frame' when they're navigating the world; some things are salient, some things are ignored, there's generally a dimension of value and relevance. This is particularly important for communication, because I'll have some perception or conception in my frame, attempt to encode it into words, and then the reader will attempt to decode those words back into percepts and concepts. Sentences only make sense in context. The previous sentence was in English, for example, and someone trying to decode it using another language will be confused, but other, subtler contexts are also important. If I say something harsh to someone, this might be evidence that we're enemies, or evidence that we're close, and figuring out my meaning requires that additional detail. Of course, with cameras we can talk about things like position and orientation and field of view and so on, and there are only a handful of variables. For human frames, there are many more variables that we understand in a less formal way, and so it becomes much harder to discuss. ---------------------------------------- IMO if you don't think frames are real, you're probably not going to think frame control is real. I think frames are a useful model, and so I think frame control (wherein one participant in a conversation is attempting to take control of the other participant's frames) is also a useful model. [It is not obvious to me that frames are "the most obvious" model, or clearly carve reality at the joints, but I don't have a better model yet.]  That said, I think there are lots of 'design details' that are hard to be clear on. Most communication,
5Said Achmiz2y
There are two problems I see: one with “frames”, and one with “frame control”. Re: “frames”: here we have a (fairly typical, I think) instance of what I think of as the “you could think of it as” approach. This is where we have some posited concept, and in explanation of it, a proponent says “well, you could think of it as [some characterization / some conceptual structure / some supposed dynamics / whatever]”. The problem is: sure, maybe you could think of things in that way. But so what? You could also just as easily not think of things in that way. Why should you, after all? You could think of lots of things in lots of different ways, after all. What’s so special about this one? Does it allow you to make unusually accurate predictions? Does it allow you to compress / transmit information unusually efficiently / accurately? Or does it, perhaps, instead provoke you into false analogies, mistaken conclusions, salience distortion errors, or flawed reasoning of other sorts? And, just as importantly, is there any particular reason why you should only think of things in that way, and not instead in some other way? So, you can talk about supposed “frames” that we use when navigating the world, etc. Yes. You can think of things in that way. But is anything particularly special about this way of looking at the world? Predictions we can make, that we can’t make otherwise? Concise and accurate ways of describing situations, phenomena, etc., that otherwise are difficult to describe? Conversely, are there distortions we introduce by talking about “frames” and thinking in terms of “frames”? These are not necessarily rhetorical questions! But they are pertinent questions, because stuff like “frames” just isn’t obviously correct / predictive / true / etc. It’s a way of looking at things. Maybe a useful one—but still just that. Reification is the danger here! It does not do to forget that this is just one perspective, and not at all a uniquely compelling one. So, bottom line—
My reply was getting long, so I'm going to break it into a few different comments. (woo threading) Yeah; suppose I said "you can think of an elephant as a very large person with a single tentacle for a hand." This will both capture something real about elephants, imply some things that are false about elephants, and point at many possibilities that are not realized on Earth. Without some actual elephants (and non-elephants) to look at, you'll end up like the medieval bestiary artist. IMO having frames as a model helps counteract a naive bias in language, which is pointed at with 2-Place and 1-Place Words. If Fred describes a woman as sexy, I see that as a fact both about Fred's frame and about the woman's projection into Fred's frame (in the geometrical / mathematical sense). General semantics makes a big deal out of this sort of 'consciousness of projection', and they recommend including markers of it in speech (as seems helpful when one isn't operating in a context where the listeners would insert that by default). A bit from People in Quandaries: I think the majority of the value comes not from simple communication tricks, but the inferences upstream and downstream of communication; "what frame could cause Fred to emit that sort of sentence?", "what can I say that will land in Fred's frame?", "how can I direct Fred's attention to his own frame?", "what's going on with my frame around this?", or so on. Yeah, I do think there's something pretty ironic about taking a device that's designed to ward against projective universality and project that it's universal.  That said, I think there is a limited sort of universality. Suppose we're talking about point objects in a 3d space, all of them will have position coordinates, but not everything will have position coordinates (because not everything is a point object in 3d space). I feel pretty good about statements like "humans sense the world (the 'territory') through their sensorium and infer mental constructs (th
My guess is the 'natural' version of frame control is neutral, and is mostly about interpersonal dependency. (That is, what Alice thinks about X is downstream of what Bob thinks about X, and we can look at the mechanisms by which the influence flows.) There's then another natural distinction into the various sorts of influence relationships, some of which are mutualistic ("leadership") and some of which are predatory or exploitative or simply destructive, and in order to differentiate between those you need a large and complicated theory of ethics and interpersonal relationships, and these things will be interdependent. (Whether or not something counts as an 'attack' might depend on the relationship between two of the parties, but you might want to figure out their relationship by counting up the number of attacks.) You can probably imagine an employer-employee relationship that's good for both parties, and then smoothly vary features until you get a relationship that's only good for one party, and continue varying features until you get a relationship that's good for neither party. There will be some areas where you're uncertain in between the areas where you're certain, and probably substantial disagreement between observers on where those boundaries actually are.
3Said Achmiz2y
This all seems reasonable. I don’t know that it would be particularly productive to use the phrase “frame control” to refer to any of the things you’re describing, or to think of them in terms of “frames”, etc. But yes, there are clearly various phenomena, more or less related to things mentioned in the OP, that do exist / occur (and I think your brief sketch shows something like the right direction in which to explore them, were we inclined to do so).
I'm curious how you would argue something like 2-Place and 1-Place Words without using frames or a stand-in. [According to me (and another), the word 'perspective' is a stand-in.] When I go through and try to figure out where Eliezer does it, I'm not sure he does, but also I don't think it really counts as an argument. He simply asserts Fred's error in treating sexiness as a function of two arguments instead of a function of one argument, or in identifying Fred::Sexiness as the one true Sexiness. But if Fred responds "I'm not making an error, I am using the one true Sexiness", I think pointing out what failure of imagination Fred is doing will go much faster if talking about 'perspective'.
2Said Achmiz2y
Well… I disagree. I guess that’s pretty much my answer? Well, take this paragraph (and the several after it): And then again: Are these “frames”, or “frame shifts”, etc.? If not: why not? If so: why did you not recognize them as such? The fact is that “frames” comes with all sorts of conceptual baggage, which, it seems to me, is clearly inapplicable in the case of the linked post (and many—perhaps most?—other cases). Eliezer suggests all sorts of what we might call “perspective shifts” throughout the post; none of them are total or radical shifts; and we could instead just call them “ways of looking at this particular thing”, or just “ideas”, etc. Or what if I suggested unifying the various (somewhat half-baked) programming analogies Eliezer uses, to take an “object-oriented programming” view of the matter? For example, maybe the right way to look at “Sexiness” is like this: [Fred sexiness:Woman] (Objective C syntax being the appropriate one to use for this, naturally). This would, for instance, make it obvious that Woman.sexiness is nonsense, because sexiness is a method we’re calling on Fred, with the parameter Woman (rather than some sort of “property” “of” Woman); so perhaps there are conceptual advantages to be gained from this re-framing. Aha! I said “re-framing”! So is that a new “frame”? Am I unable to escape talk of “frames” after all?! Eh; it’s a figure of speech, and a fairly “lightweight” one. Perhaps my problem with “frames” can be thought of (there’s that “we can think of it as” business again!) as objecting to making too big a deal of something. We “play with” ideas, when we think about things like this; we turn them this way and that, adopt various perspectives, phrase things in different ways, apply different metaphors, deploy various analogies. This is fine and normal, and also it is a core feature of our cognition, and it has many aspects, many features—which means that it’s good to retain an “unburdened” view of it, the better to notice its
Sorry, I think my previous sentence was unclear. I think 2-Place and 1-Place Words uses without formalizing the thing I am trying to point at with "frames", and so when I imagine that article without any pointers to frames, I don't think it's convincing (and I'm not sure how Eliezer would have thought of it in the first place without something like frames). For example, in the paragraph you quote he uses the word "standpoint." When I interpret that as "the position and orientation of the metaphorical camera through which the situation is observed", i.e. a stand-in for frames, the sentence compiles and the paragraph makes sense. When I delete that meaning, the paragraph now seems confused. [Put another way, if I don't come into that article with the sense that different observers can assign sexiness differently, the article doesn't generate that sense. It uses that sense to explain something about language. This would maybe be more obvious if we swapped out 'sexiness' for something like 'justice', and imagine the article being read by a moral realist who is convinced that there is one true Justice.] This seems interesting to me. Let's consider the alternative post Aella could have written which talks about "perspective control"; I suspect it hits many of the same points and has many of the same conclusions. [If it seems more or less valid to you, that seems like it would be good to hear!] In particular, imagine an architect trying to get their building design to win a competition, but they think their building is pretty from the south and ugly from the east; they might make lots of moves that by themselves are innocuous and yet add up to controlling the judges so that they have an overly positive view of the design. If we wanted to talk about what that architect is doing wrong, I think 'perspective control' might be a solid label. I think what happens when we use 'frame' instead of 'perspective' is that we're generalizing. Our architect controlled which part of
2Said Achmiz2y
The thing is, if “frame” is just another way of saying [insert list of various ways of saying “people sometimes think about a thing in one way and sometimes in another way”], then the concept is so diffuse, general, and banal as to not be worth elevating to any special status. Eliezer’s post “uses without formalizing” this concept, as you say, but consider: what if he had formalized it? Would it be a better post, or a worse one? I say: worse! I think you have it, yes. In general I think that abstractions should serve a clear purpose; like beliefs, they should “pay rent” (in compression ratios, for instance, or expressiveness). And the thing is, “our sort of people”—not “rationalists”, but, shall we say, “the kind of person that [many/most] rationalists are”—generate abstractions instinctively. To us, noticing a pattern, coming up with a clever abstraction, building a mental castle of concepts around it—it’s not even second nature; it’s just plain nature. We don’t have to remind ourselves to do this. But this means that many abstractions we come up with are going to be superfluous… or, at the very least, while they may be useful in a transient act of cognition, do not deserve to be brought out into the light, ensconced in a public gallery of “community abstractions”, where they can sit around and shape everyone’s thinking for years to come. “Frames” are like that, I think. It seems to me that “frames” are quite likely to be delinquent with their rent… precisely because they are so general and so fuzzy a concept, precisely because there are so many “stand-ins”, so many ways of pointing at the same phenomena. On the other hand, “frame control” is quite a heavyweight concept! This is an odd mismatch, is it not? Notice that “frame control” demands that “frame” have a much more specific meaning than what we’ve been discussing in this subthread. Once you say that someone can “control” your “frame”, you can no longer be talking about something so general and ordinar
Huh, I find this surprising, mostly because I'm not sure about the "special status" claim. It seems to me like there's something of a dilemma here--either the concept is obvious (at which point being diffuse or general is not much of a drawback), and so the problem with the post is that it is 'reinventing the wheel', or the concept is nonobvious (and thus we can't be sure we're pointing at the same thing, and being diffuse now makes this communication much more difficult). Up until this point, I had gotten the second impression from you (stuff like "Without knowing what you mean by the word, I cannot answer your question."), and not something like "wait, is this just rediscovering 'maps' from the map-territory distinction?". Also, I think that while this sort of "noticing maps" is basic rationality, it empirically does not seem obvious to everyone, and I think people finding it non-obvious or difficult to talk about or so on is interesting. That is, I don't see this post as trying to make "frame" any more special a word than "perspective" or "standpoint" or so on; I see this post as trying to make more people both 1) see frame differences and 2) see frame manipulation, especially the sort of frame manipulation that tries to not be seen as frame manipulation. [To be clear, I share some of your sense that 'someone who had traumatic experiences around frame manipulation' is probably not an unbiased source of information/frames about frames, and is likely more allergic / less likely to see that the same knife can be used constructively and destructively. I nevertheless put frames in the "general, basic, and useful concept" category, whereas you seem pretty sure they're a bad frame.]
1Going Durden8mo
I agree, but the term "Frame Control" has been in use for at least 30 years now, just about every book and website about Social Engineering, Seduction, Manipulation, Sales etc uses it. It might be a "fuzzy" term, based on post factum pop-sci explanations of already used techniques, but it is well known and not invented by OP.
2Said Achmiz8mo
Could you link some examples of this?
2Going Durden8mo random Google match, though of course this is all pop-sci mush of debatable value. My point was not that Frame Control is a well established scientific term, but rather that it is popular, regardless of its usefulness or lack thereof.  
2Said Achmiz8mo
1Going Durden8mo
I would not call this post terrible; it is a brilliant example of the author trying to Control The Frame and paint detractors as Frame Controllers themselves. Whether you call her out on this or agree with her you fall into her Frame. It would be both a clever memetic trap and a nice meta-post that exemplifies what it is referencing, if not for the audience being made of holders of equal or stronger Frames.

This is an important concept that is tricky to describe. Some thoughts:

Minor vs Major Frame Control

Lots of relationships and minor interactions have low-key frame control going on pretty frequently. I think it's useful to be able to name that without implying that it's (necessarily) that big a deal. I find myself wanting separate words for "social moves that control the frame", "moves that control the frame in subtle ways", "move that control the frame pervasively in a way that is unsettlingly unhealthy." 

This is harder because even the most pervasive frame control appears on a spectrum. A romantic partner or family member can consistently weave a frame that is slightly unhealthy, but that doesn't hold a candle to a cult that systematically eliminates all your mental defenses.

Abusers can also be victims

One of the most important, sad lessons I had to learn about this is that the person weaving a frame, or controlling, or abusing you, can be weak.

Society taught me scripts for handling powerful, high status abusers who needed to be whistleblown. And society taught me scripts for handling predators who were... clearly villainanous. But it turned out the people I needed to be aware... (read more)

I'd edit "victims" to "weak" in the second header, since I think that expresses your point way clearer. You're not just pointing at the common-ish (& true!) refrains of "abusers are traumatized" or "abusers were once victims" but more specifically "abusers may be doing a bunch of frame control from the role of weak & vulnerable person".
I actually originally wrote "Manipulators can be weak", and changed it at the last minute (not sure why)
Some people feel weak, and for some reason believe that they are going to be attacked by you, so they attack first. And they don't update, because if you hit them back, it means "I was right about being in danger", and if you don't hit them back, it means "my clever defense was successful".
Yes this. Reframing the recipient of violence as a threat or an aggressor when theyve mistreated and/or attacked them is a common frame control tactic. Additionally, manipulating events through PR and telling stories about the person harmed to others that demonize them so that others won't believe that you harmed them or will justify any harm you've caused is a common tactic used to frame events and your role in them as being different then what actually happened. (I.e. demonizing and excluding women who've been on the receiving end of sexual misconduct from an organizations leadership and/or wealthy donors, framing oneself as "trustworthy" while not practicing transparency with many of its donors or they people they recruit, promoting "community" and "integrity"while lacking a functional accountability structure, actively enabling harmful patterns of negligence and abuse and silencing and getting rid of anyone who express criticism or dissent, ect) Looking at you Monastic Academy.

Here's a few things I believe:


  1. Frame control is definitely real. I think if I were to try to operationalize it, it's something like the ability influence the ontologies people use and the valence they assign to objects with in those ontologies.  This caches out as influencing how important and virtuous people find certain ideas and actions.
  2. Frame control is probably necessary for good leadership.  A good leader is a Kegan 5 individual who can find the ontology that they can use to educate and motivate Kegan 4 and Kegan 3 underlings in an organization that will allow them to correctly respond to current conditions, and then help them to change that ontology as the conditions change.
  3. But frame control is also the thing that Kegan 4.5 sociopaths use to control the narrative in cults and moral mazes.  It allows them to get all of the credit, take none of the blame, and keep less powerful or sophiscated people in the dark about their games, and even happy to give them more control and power.
  4. A well aligned Kegan 5 leader aware of the possiblity of capture by sociopaths, and skilled in frame control, is one of the best defenses against sociopaths, moreso than any specifi
... (read more)
5[DEACTIVATED] Duncan Sabien2y
I agree with all of this, and just wanted to note that there are Kegan 4 frame-controllers and Kegan 3 frame-controllers, too.
2Matt Goldenberg2y
Good point.
1Going Durden8mo
I see no reason why Kegan 2s cannot be frame controllers as well, if, rather blatant ones due to messy Frame. In fact, Kegan 1s are supreme Frame Controllers, except their Frame is completely messy (ask any parent of a baby/toddler/preschooler).
Hm.. The idea that positive leadership also involves frame control is interesting. I never thought of it that way.  I suspect that you only get a cult-like group/organization if the leader uses frame control, rather than something with independent-thinking, healthy group members.  Maybe good leaders are skilled at something frame-related, but it's not frame control; rather, it's about listening to what people's motivations actually are and then crafting a frame for the group as a whole where people will be motivated to pursue the mission, based on their needs and so on. Maybe this is the same thing you also mean. I guess I just assumed that in the "frame control as bad" connotation, there's something coercive about it where the frame that is imposed over you is actually bad for you and your goals. 

In my experience very good organizations are cult-like in their very strong cultural practices. For instance, I was part of City Year in Boston, which has people wear bright red jackets everywhere, do physical training in the Middle of Copley Square every Wednesday, and has you answer "Fired Up!" when someone asks you how you're doing.  You are expected to memorize their values as you do your job.

In my experience the heads of City Year, people like Charlie Rose,  are incredibly good at the thing I'm calling frame control in this post. They make you excited about the values of the organization when they speak, they're charismatic, good at commanding a room and taking control of situations.

I've also been part of the Men's Circle in San Francisco. Again, you have to memorize the values here to join.  You have to go through an initiation process of cleaning up all the open loops or lapses of integrity in your life, THEN you can get voted in to join.  You can't speak about anything that happens (to other people) in the circles at the men's circle. Again, these are all "cult-like" things.  And the leaders are charismatic, good at frame control.

I'm now part of Mon... (read more)

Thanks for explaining! You're definitely pointing out a real phenomenon and "skill," but I feel like it's different somehow than the thing aella was gesturing at. Maybe the main difference is that the neutral leaders you talk about try to set up frames that their subjects find positively exciting, whereas frame controllers set up frames that are disempowering and make the person smaller? For instance, I don't necessarily think it's "frame control" when Lucius Malfoy rallies his fellow death eaters around hating Dumbledore. He's just being a good leader. It becomes frame control when he gaslights his underlings and underhandedly blames them for everything that when wrong with his latest plan. But we might just be interpreting the OP differently. I can see why you want to use "frame control" for both the good thing and the neutral thing. Maybe it would be appropriate to coin a different term for the thing aella means. Maybe something like "frame erosion" or "frame distortion" that emphasizes the potential adverse effect on victims when someone uses frame control (a more neutral behavioral strategy under this meaning) in an exploitative and uncaring way.  Or maybe another dimension here has to do with consent. If you sign up for an organization that makes you learn special greetings or mantras, you give consent to let yourself be shaped in some kind of cult-like direction. By contrast, in the examples aella talks about, the frame controller starts to get more and more influence over aspects of the person's thinking that seem like they shouldn't be under someone else's influence.  On the merits of the type of leadership you describe: I'm skeptical. I worry that whatever stated mission an organization has cannot be easily compressed into slogans or rituals, and if people have to do these things in order for the organization to work, then maybe it's lacking in authentically mission-driven individuals, and that spells trouble.  Of course, the counterpoint is "authentic
5Matt Goldenberg2y
Yeah this makes sense. I don't think the point is to compress the mission into slogans or rituals, it's to ensure a culture that screens for people authentically excited about the vision, and to continually steer the organization back towards it. FI think the merits of a DDO that's run like this is that it: 1. Allows mission driven leaders to recruit people to the organization. 2. Alllows them to recruit people who are authentically mission driven - participating in these sorts of practices is an incredibly good way to find people who are ACTUALLY on board with the values and authentically excited about the mission 3. But more importantly, it creates a culture that can develop more Kegan 5 leaders who can drive the organization. This is why they're called deliberately developmental organizations, they help bring recruits UP to the level of the leader (perhaps this is the big difference, whereas negative cults try to push the underlings DOWN and prevent them from becoming powerful).  So the real power of these organizations is "We can recruit people who think like us to help push the mission forward, and then teach them in the process teach them how to think for themselves and continually refine the mission)."  
Right, I was strawmanning with that phrasing, sorry.  I guess the whole point of the strategy you're describing is that it scales well, and my criticism of it is that it's scaling too quickly, so is at risk of losing nuance. This seems like a spectrum and I happen to be at the extreme end of "if your mission is more complicated than 'make money', you're likely doomed unless you prioritize hiring people with a strong ability to stay on the path/mission." (And for those latter people, activities like the ones you describe wouldn't be necessary.)  
PITW #159 "This is hard, Be strong" Fellow former City Year Member here who served in Columbia, SC. Reading your comment definitely brought up memories and makes me feel like I need to go back over that experience with a new lense now. City Year was definitely challenging to ones sense of individuality and had a very rigid structure. Yes they have very specific ways of building culture (red jackets, morning chants, PITWs, ect.) That could described as culty and definitely focus on instilling a particular view/set of values - hadn't quite thought about it that way at the time. There is definitely a clear hierarchy in structure and a bit of a glorified image put forward that is umm.. different then the experience. The work and the year also yielded a lot of important lessons. I can totally see how "frame control" showed up with certain leaders. That being said to my knowledge there were also clear agreements being made with consent, organizational and financial transparency, clear codes of conduct, people feel comfortable complaining and giving feedback, and at least within the branch I served at the overall cohort lacked many of the defining features of a cult (i.e the cult personality and many group dynamics). People still maintained a level of individuality and agency even within that and nobody was ever pressured to stay beyond their original commitment of one year. Even then people did not meet resistance if they chose to leave mid contract. Though given a particular leader with narcissistic and charismatic authoritarian qualities (like Soryu) I could totally see how a dynamic could easily become more cult like. There were things City Year was really good at - and then there were things that they really weren't. You mentioned above you think frame control is probably necessary for good leadership - but what if that's based on a cultural script and model of leadership that doesn't actually serve to create a better or more equitable world. What if that model of l
0[comment deleted]2y
4Alex Vermillion2y
I'd like to analogize this to a Turing Tarpit. There is an idea that programming languages don't get to make everything easy, they get to choose some things to make easy and some to make hard (following a loose invocation of the Pigeonhole Principle here). You want a programming language to decide to make useful things easy and useless things hard. This is why you would expect "Frame Control" to be useful in a "good" organization. A good organization should use a frame that encourages good things and discourages bad things. A neutral frame is harder to fight the good frame from than a "good" frame!
I think it can happen even without the leader doing it, if the followers already have a cult-like frame they want to fit the leader in.
3Going Durden8mo
In my humble opinion, the only difference between "bad" Frame Control and "good" Frame Control is in how much the Frame corresponds with objective reality, and hopefully, social reality as well. Good leadership could be then explained as Frame Controlling the group towards alignment with positive outcomes in objective physical reality while avoiding negative social outcomes.
Hmm.  I would guess that, if someone is using a wrong frame (let's say it depends on assumptions that are demonstrably false), and you have a better frame in mind, there are still better ways and worse ways to go about communicating this and going from the one to the other.  Like, explicitly saying "It looks like you're assuming X, which is wrong because ..." seems like the most educational and intellectually legible approach, probably best in a good-faith discussion with an intelligent counterpart; whereas e.g. just saying new stuff from a different set of assumptions that doesn't directly engage with what they've said—but initially looks like it does, and takes long enough / goes through enough distracting stuff before it reaches a mismatch that they've forgotten that they'd said something different—is potentially bad. Now, er, the original post says it uses "frame control" to mean the non-explicit, tricky approach.  It mentions "Trying to demonstrate, through reason and facts, how their box is better", and says "These are all attempts to control your frame, but none of these is what I mean by frame control", and "No; frame control is the “man doesn’t announce his presence, he just stalks you silently” of the communication world." This is unfortunate, because the bare phrase "frame control" will inevitably be interpreted as "actions that control the frame" without further qualifiers (I'd forgotten that the post had the above definition).  Something like "silent frame control", "frame manipulation", or "frame fuckery" would probably fit better.
1Going Durden8mo
I'll risk sounding a bit crass, but is it not often an issue of the intelligence/knowledge of the recipient? I mean it in two ways: 1. Sometimes Frame Control only feels tricky or non-explicit, because the recipient is unobservant, or lacking in social tools to recognize explicit but gentle Frame Control. Basically, mistaking politeness and verbosity for manipulation. To use that metaphor: the man was not stalking you silently, you were just wearing headphones and daydreaming instead of paying attention to your surroundings. 2. The recipient could not be convinced that objectively true facts are true, because they lack the knowledge or mental skills to understand them, and Frame Control is pretty much the only way they can be led to accept the facts. I, for one, do not know jack about Quantum Physics, and the holes in my understanding go back to HS science and math. It is literally impossible to teach me to accept say, String Theory on objective principles ("I know it makes sense!"), only to Frame Control me into agreeing with it on subjective principles ("This Hawking guy sure sounds smart!"). Because of points 1 and 2, a "Frameless" discussion is very hard and unlikely, unless both people are intellectually adept and introspective rationalists, who only slightly differ in their knowledge of the facts on the subject. Any other human interaction by necessity runs on Appeal to Authority (which is basically Frame Control), otherwise nothing would ever get accomplished.
Hm, maybe. I can see that frame control comes in handy when you're a general in a war, or a CEO of a startup (and probably at least some generals or CEOs are good people with good effects on the world). However, in wartime, it feels like a necessary evil to have to convince your soldiers to march to the their death. And in startups – I don't know, cultishness can have its advantages, but I feel like the best leadership is NOT turning your underlings into people who look cultish to outsiders. So, I think the good version of frame control is generally weaker than the bad version, for instance because good leaders don't have anything to fear in terms of their followers becoming better at passing Ideological Turing tests for opposing views. But I guess that's just expressing your point in different words: we can say that, if our frame is aligned with physical reality and avoids negative social outcomes, it shouldn't look like the people who buy into it are cultists. I also think it's informative to think about the context of a romantic relationship. In that context, I'm not sure there's a version of "good frame control" that's necessary. Except maybe for frames like "good communication is important" – if one person so far struggled to express their needs because they weren't taken seriously in their past life, it can be good for both individuals if the more securely attached person pushes that kind of frame. However, the way you would do that isn't by repeating "good communication is important" as a mantra or weapon to shame the other person for not communicating the way you want! Instead, you try showing them the benefits of good communication, convincing them through evidence of how nice it feels when it works. That's very different from the bad type of frame control in relationships. Also, let's say you have two people who already understand that good communication is important. Then no one is exerting any frame control – you simply have two happy people who live in

Frame control is an effect; very often, people who frame control will not be aware that this is what they’re doing, and have extensive reasoning to rationalize their behavior that they themselves believe.

Of note: in my experience, as someone who accidentally did lots of frame control and now has it at least partly in his own view (and thus does a mix of "accidentally still doing it," "endorsedly still doing it," and "endorsedly specifically not doing it"), often the frame controller is themselves stuck in the frame.  They either don't know another kind of frame could even exist, or rely on it for their own self-image or self-worth or something.

(I know this is sort of addressed in the above but I wanted to pull it out and highlight it.  This is a clinical explanation of what happens and why, not an attempt to justify or excuse.)

Yes. When I think of the person who most strongly seemed to do something like frame control to me, it was exactly their extreme stuckness in a particular frame that made it so powerful. They way it felt like was, if anything happened or was said that might threaten the validity of their frame, the meaning of what had been said (or possibly even the literal words themselves) would get twisted around until it became compatible with the desired frame.

Like there were moments when I said something, and they immediately claimed I had said something else, and I could tell their claim to be false because we were having a conversation in text form and I could see my own previous words right above their last message. But at times when our conversation was not in text form and I didn't always remember what exactly had been said, the strength of their conviction would often make me doubt myself and wonder whether I really had told them some nasty thing they were claiming that I had said. (It did not help matters that my memory is often poor so there were occasions when they did genuinely point out something that I had misremembered.)

There's something like, if you and I disagree, then at least ... (read more)

This nails it, in my opinion. I think frame control (at least many instances of it, and possibly all of them) is some kind of confidence trick where the person under the influence is confronted with such a strong and unwavering frame that they can't help but update a bit in their direction. The only way to refuse to update is when you clearly see "What is going on, this person's thinking/frame is completely out of the ordinary, probably they have some massive psychological issue." Only when you see the extremity of it and stop taking it for granted because you are biased to treat things as "normal," only the can you successfully refuse the frame. 
the self-described narcissist blog post sounds fascinating, do you have a link?

Here's the post I was thinking of.

Sometimes I sort of lie without realising it, like when I suddenly change to mirror someone, as mentioned in a recent post:

I can limit mirroring to some degree, however, as always, my reality twists to make sense in the moment […]. My favourite colour is red but when you tell me yours is blue, I suddenly remember that gorgeous sky-blue Porsche I had and, well, wasn’t it always my favourite car?

I don’t feel like I’m lying at all when I tell you about the grandiose car and how I love blue. It’s maybe a slight manipulation, however, it feels sincere at the time. This is what happens when you live in the present and have fuck all impulse control. It’s only now I’m considering the accumulative effects of these sorts of lies.

One of my exes was a huge U2 fan. I’m not that bothered about U2: I prefer the Red Hot Chili Peppers. However, the second she told me she liked U2, I could suddenly remember liking them. Except rather than appreciating her taste from afar, I blurted out that I’d seen U2 live. Total bullshit.

Immediately I was worried she was going to ask where or when, however, she didn’t and so I got away with it. These sorts of lies require two peop

... (read more)
1Going Durden8mo
Frame can also be aligned with objective physical reality, but misaligned with the social reality, and with the needs or wants of other people. This often leads to the situation well known to academics and teachers worldwide, in which one has to Frame Control people to accept 2+2=4, because they adamantly refuse to acknowledge this on evidence alone. I think the OG post insufficiently touched on whether or not the Frame is objectively correct, rather than its social and emotional aspect.

I don't know how to handle the fact that everything Aella said about vulnerability and reciprocity is true, and also some people are vastly better at things than other people, and some people are better at a lot of things than other people. If you insist on being treated as an equal in certain ways, you either rule out interacting with people who are sufficiently better at sufficiently many things than you, or demand they lie. Many people claiming vast amounts of power knowledge and wisdom are flat out wrong, but not all of them are. And even if you could distinguish between the two perfectly, being genuinely better at a lot of things doesn't make someone inherently safe: in many ways it makes them more dangerous, either because they can use superior skill to manipulate you, or because sometimes doing the wrong thing because it feels right to you is long better than doing the right thing because someone told you to.

I'm not ruling out "just don't interact with people who are sufficiently beyond you (especially if they won't spend time proactively valuing you in ways you haven't actually earned)", but "only interact with your exact equals" can't be right either- it removes the best people to learn from. 

I think there's a difference here I didn't really touch upon in the post; I think it's possible for someone to clearly know a lot more than you, but still make their moves salient. For example; I know two men who are friends, both high status, have 'followers', are very smart, and hold extremely similar beliefs. One is the one I mentioned who I had a long talk with, and I consider him to have been doing frame control. The other similarly advocated for his own beliefs, wasn't open to mine, but his frame was much more salient; he was clear about his moves, and didn't feel like he was implicitly asking me to submit to him, or something?

Or they can make clear moves to equalize; I know many people with far more expertise than I do who do very subtle social moves constantly to hand power and respect back to me, somehow without pretending that they don't know more than I do. I'm thinking of this one guy I respect a lot who is a teacher and coach and has a podcast, and he has way more experience and wisdom than me. I had lunch with him once and walked away with the sense that he had just... handed me his heart? Somehow he seemed to be actively imbuing me with power and surrendering himself before me, and at no point did it feel like he was attempting to conceal his own abilities or self-efface to make me comfortable. It was incredible.

Yeah, there definitely is a difference, and this is part of it (another comment pointed to if they can take a joke about themselves, which I think is another good marker). I have a draft post about epistemic legibility that feels like it might be related to what you mean by salience but I'm not positive.
I posted this elsewhere in comments, but I think there are two types of frame controllers: the assertive and the receptive types. Think of this comment as inspired by Aella's, and a processing of some of my own experiences. I don't know her at all, and won't pretend to understand her experiences very deeply. I interpret Aella as mainly referring to receptive frame controllers, while Elizabeth is referring to assertive frame controllers. A key function of useful hierarchy is to make genuine capability legible and to improve our ability to coordinate around it. But not all hierarchies are formal, and even the formal ones need informal maintenance. Hence, you get genuine experts, who will make moves to establish their superiority and reinforce a subordinate's place in the hierarchy. This isn't always good, of course. Experts will fight for turf they haven't really earned. Sometimes, this is just bad. Other times, it's because what they're doing isn't so much trying to grab more territory, as to prevent someone who hasn't earned it from doing so. As an example from my life, think of the psychiatrist who makes authoritative-sounding pronouncements about the COVID-19 pandemic at the family dinner, even though he's not 100% clear on the difference between the CDC and the FDA, because a master's student in biomedical engineering has been voicing his own opinion on a narrow topic based on some careful research. The psychiatrist doesn't want the MS student, who doesn't even have a graduate degree in the field, to be mistaken for an expert on par with him, an experienced MD. Yet the psychiatrist doesn't necessarily believe himself to be an expert on COVID-19. He just doesn't want the MS student to overstep. By contrast, the "receptive" frame controller doesn't tend to have any significant concrete expertise, conventional formal status, or money. He might set himself up as a coach, guru, or religious figure. Fatherhood is also in this zone. Rather than being recognized for
1Going Durden8mo
Question: how do you know whether the second man had a salient frame, rather than a frame you simply agree with? Or to put that question in a different way: how do you tell genuine interaction with no Frame Control from perfect manipulation that simply clicked well with your Frame?

Note: I'd be excited to frontpage and curate a post similar-to-this. This particular post feels a bit too embedded in a live conflict for that to feel right to me. 

I recognize that it's pretty hard to write a post like this without examples and the best examples will often necessarily involve recent conflict / live-politics / be-a-bit-aiming-to-persuade. I'm sure shipping this out the door was already a sizeable chunk of effort. But I think there could be a hypothetically idealized split-into-two posts version, where one post simply outlined the model, and the other post applied it to recent events.

I had sent this in PM to Aella yesterday. For the benefit of Gwillen and others curious about frontpage standards, here are some thoughts:

I haven't actually talked to other LW mods about the post yet so this is mostly my off-the-cuff guesses rather than dedicated LW-site-ruling. But some things about the post that made me hesitant to frontpage:

  • it seemed like there were at least 3 references to Leverage-specifically (or, pretty closeby. One link to Geoff Anders tweet, two Zoe quotes, which in context feels like it's positioning this post to relate to the overall Leverage debate)
  • there was also the reference to Aubrey de Gray (not exactly a currently live conflict but neither is it long forgotten)
  • the end of the post stakes out a fairly explicit conflicty-frame (i.e, "this is war"), which makes the previous examples feel even more like ammunition in the conflict than they might have been.

The frontpage rules are a bit vague here, but the way I think about them is that frontpage posts should be more about giving people models, and posts that are aiming to engage in a political fight stay on personal blog (partly because they are drama magnets generally, but moreover because while often i... (read more)

I feel like this is clearly frontpage material, so I would second Aella's questions about what changes would make that make sense.

I'm slightly confused, because (unless I'm missing one) only one of my examples given was in reference to the live conflict. Unless maybe you mean the generalized timing of the post as a whole, or the other examples given for other events/people unrelated to the community but still ongoing? I am probably not down to post another two separate posts, as writing this was a lot of effort, and I'd probably feel sad if someone else did it for me. Would it just make more sense for me to unlink or remove the one example?

I think that the first red flag, and the first anti-red-flag, are both diametrically wrong.

… here’s a non-exhaustive list of some frame control symptoms …

  1. They do not demonstrate vulnerability in conversation, or if they do it somehow processes as still invulnerable. They don’t laugh nervously, don’t give tiny signals that they are malleable and interested in conforming to your opinion or worldview.

This seems good, actually? Why should anyone be interested in conforming to your opinion or worldview? What’s so great about your opinion? (General-‘your’, I mean; I am not referring to OP specifically.) It seems to me that the baseline assumption should be that no one is interested in conforming to your opinion or worldview, unless (and this ought to be expected to be unusual!) you manage to impress them considerably (and even then, such conformance should not be immediate, but should come after much consideration, to take place at leisure, not in the actual moment of conversation!).

More generally: attempting to think deeply and without restriction about the ideas of others, and to change our minds, while actively being subject to social pressures in a live interpersonal setting, ... (read more)

9Peter Hroššo2y
Based on about a dozen of Said's comments I read I don't expect them to update on what I'm gonna write. But I wanted to formulate my observations, interpretations, and beliefs based on their comments anyway. Mostly for myself and if it's of value to other people, even better (which Said actually supports in another comment 🙂). * Said refuses to try and see the world via the glasses presented in the OP * In other words, Said refuses to inhabit Aella's frame * Said denies the existence of the natural concept frame and denies any usefulness of it even if it were a mere fake concept * It seems to me that Said is really confident about their frame and is signaling against inhabiting other people's frames * It seems to me that Said actually believes there is no value in inhabiting other people's frames Everyone has vulnerabilities. Showing them and thus becoming vulnerable doesn't signal insecurity or submission, actually the opposite. It requires high self-confidence (self-acceptance?) and signals openness and honesty to the other person. The benefit is that it leads to significantly deeper interactions. And the benefit of inhabiting another one's frame? If I use the "camera position and orientation" definition of a frame mentioned by Vaniver, inhabiting other person's frame allows you to see things that may be occluded from your point of view and thus give you new evidence. The least it can give you is a new interpretation of data that you gathered yourself. But it can possibly introduce genuinely new evidence to you, because frames serve as lenses and by making you focus on one thing they also make you subconsciously ignore other things.
6Said Achmiz2y
You didn’t quote the specific thing I was responding to, with the quoted paragraph, so let’s review that. Aella wrote: What is being described here is unquestionably a signal of submission. (And wanting the approval of someone you just met is absolutely a sign of insecurity.) “Openness and honesty” are not even slightly the same thing as “want[ing] [someone’s] approval” or giving someone (whom you’ve just met!) “unconditional support”. To equate these things is tendentious, at best. Behaving in such an overtly insecure fashion, submitting so readily to people you meet, does not lead to “significantly deeper conversations”; it leads to being dominated, exploited, and abused. Likewise, signaling “vulnerability” in this fashion means signaling vulnerability to abuse. You see, this is what I mean when I say that I’m against fake frameworks. You’ve taken a metaphor (the “frame” as a “camera position and orientation”); you’ve reasoned within the metaphor to a conclusion (“inhabiting other person’s frame allows you to see things that may be occluded from your point of view”, “it can possibly introduce genuinely new evidence to you”); and then you haven’t checked to see whether what you said makes sense non-metaphorically. You’ve made metaphorical claims (“frames serve as lenses”), but you haven’t translated those back into non-metaphorical language. So on what basis should we believe these claims? On the strength of the metaphor? On our faith in its close correspondence with reality? But it’s not a very strong metaphor, and its correspondence to reality is tenuous… This is not an idle objection—even in this specific case! In fact, I think that “inhabiting other person’s frame” almost always does not give you any new evidence—though it can easily deceive you by making you think that you’ve genuinely “considered things from a new perspective”. I think that it is very easy to deceive yourself into imagining that you are being open-minded, that you’re “putting yourself
1Said Achmiz2y
Ah yes, the classic rhetorical form: “if you disagree with me, that’s because you refuse even to try to see things my way!” Yeah, could be. Or, it could be that your interlocutor considered your ideas, and found them wanting. It could be that they actually, upon consideration, disagree with you. In this case, given that I’ve extensively argued against the claims and ideas presented in the OP, I think that the former hypothesis hardly seems likely. I’m not a fan of “fake frameworks” in general. I’m in favor of believing true things, and not false things. Given that I don’t think “frames” are a useful concept (in the way that [I think] you mean them), my only answer to this one can be mu. Most people are idiots, and most people’s ideas are dumb. That’s not some sort of declaration of all-encompassing misanthropy; it’s a banal statement of a plain (and fairly obvious) fact. (Sturgeon’s Law: 90% of everything is crap.) So the default assumption, when you meet someone new and they tell you their amazing ideas, is that this person at best has some boring, ordinary beliefs (that may or may not be true, but are by no means novel to you); and at worst, that they have stumbled into some new form of stupidity. Now, that’s the default; of course there are exceptions, and plenty of them. (Are exceptions to this rule more or less likely among “rationalists”, and at “rationalist” gatherings? That’s hard to say, and probably there is significant, and non-random, variation based on subcultural context. But that is a matter for another discussion.) One should always be open to the possibility of encountering genuinely novel, interesting, useful ideas. (Else what is the point of talking to other people?) But the default is what it is. We can bemoan it, but we cannot change it (at least, not yet). (Reply to second part of parent comment in a sibling comment, for convenience of discussion.)
I wrote out a whole response here but didn't end up posting it. My read is that your interpretation of what Aella wrote is pretty different from the thing she was trying to communicate, but the aggressiveness I read in your comment makes me hesitant to try to clarify.

By all means clarify!

What’s the worst that could happen? I write a response that you read as “aggressive”?

I’m just, like, some guy on the Internet, man. My opinion of you doesn’t really matter. Go for it!

If it helps, consider that you’re not writing the response for me, but for other people reading this discussion. Even if I’m extremely stubborn and disagreeable, and learn nothing from your comment, other people might. That’s worth the effort, I think.

(Still gathering my thoughts. Thanks for the response.)
3Matt Goldenberg2y
I think both of those are probably good guidelines if your primary goal is to avoid abuse at all costs. They're effective trauma responses. However, they're not actually the best if you have more nuanced goals.

More nuanced goals like what?

I do not have “avoid abuse at all costs” in mind when I suggest such things. Rather, I am recommending general norms of discussion and interaction.

It seems to me that a lot of people, among “rationalists” and so on, do things and behave in ways that (a) make themselves much more vulnerable to abuse and abusers, for no really good reason at all, and (b) themselves constitute questionable behavior (if not “abuse” per se).

My not-so-radical belief is that doing such things is a bad idea.

In any case, the suggestions I lay out have nothing really to do with “avoiding abuse”; they’re just (I say) generally how one should behave; they are how normal interactions between sane people should go.

It seems to me that a lot of people, among “rationalists” and so on, do things and behave in ways that (a) make themselves much more vulnerable to abuse and abusers, for no really good reason at all

The recent string of posts where women point out weird, abusive, and cultish behavior among some community leader rationalists really cemented this understanding for me. I'll bet the surface rationalist culture doesn't provide any protection against potential abusers. Of course actually behaving rationally provides some of the best protection, but writing long blog posts, living in California, being promiscuous, and being open to weird ideas doesn't make one rational. And that sort of behavior certainly doesn't protect against abusers. It probably helps abusers take advantage of people who live that way.

Someone whose life was half ruined because they fell in with an abusive cult leader in the Berkeley community is less rational than the average person, regardless of whatever signifier they use to refer to themselves.

I should say that by my understanding Aella doesn't fit the rational-in-culture-only stigma. Seems that she has a pretty set goal and works towards that goal in a rational way.

I'll bet the surface rationalist culture doesn't provide any protection against potential abusers.

Related: Reason as memetic immune disorder

The average person has a defense system against many types of abuse, which works like this: they get an instinctive feeling that something is wrong, then they make up some crazy rationalization why they need to avoid that thing, and then they avoid the thing. (Or maybe the last two steps happen in a different order.) Problem solved.

A novice rationalist stops trusting the old defense system, but doesn't yet have an adequate new system to replace it. So they end up quite defenseless... especially when facing a predator who specializes at exploiting novice rationalists. ("As a rationalist, you should be ashamed of listening to your gut feeling if you cannot immediately support it by a peer-reviewed research. Now listen to my clever argument why you should obey me and give me whatever I want from you. As a rationalist, you are only allowed to defend yourself by winning a verbal battle against me, following the rules I made up.")

Not sure what would be the best way to protect potential victims against this. I consider myself quite immune to this type... (read more)

What string of posts about behavior are you referring to? The only minutely similar things I know of are about the management of Leverage research (which doesn’t seem related to rationalism at all outside of geographical proximity) which only ever seems to have been discussed in terms of criticism on LW. The only other is one semi recent thread where the author inferred the coordinated malicious intent of MIRI and the existence of self-described demons from extremely shaky grounds of reasoning none of which involve any “weird, abusive, and cultish behavior among some community leader rationalists”.
Given that there's no public explanation of why the word demon is used and potential infohazards involved in talking about that, there's little way from the outside to judge the grounds based on which the word is used.  There was research into paranormal phenomena that lead to that point and that research should be considered inherently risky and definately under the label "weird".  Whether or not the initiating research project is worthwhile to be done is debatable given that the kind of research can lead to interesting insights, but it's weird/risky. 
1Alex Vermillion2y
I'm going to lightly recommend you add more information to this comment highlighting the points you meant to make and defending against the ones you meant not to make, because I read it currently as the below. This feels incoherent as if I am making a mistake, so I didn't vote down, but I feel others may do so and likewise fail to learn whatever it is you are saying. Para 1: We shouldn't talk about demons because they might hurt us Para 2: There was paranormal research, which is risky (because demons are real) Para 3: We could investigate this further, but we maybe shouldn't (since we could be hurt by demons)
There's information to which I have access and that I have shared with a handful of people about this, where I had infohazard concerns about sharing it more openly and people I shared it with a bunch of people who didn't believe that making the information more public is worth it either.  The information itself is probably, not harmful to the average person but potentially harmful to people with some mental health issues.  I did not provide a justification for paragraph #2/#3 but made claims I believe to be true based on partly non-public information.  (I'm also still missing some pieces in understanding what happened)
2Alex Vermillion2y
Okay, to clarify, what did you mean by the word "paranormal"? I'm saying I thought the word would set people off [1]. I'd feel more comfortable with what you said if you clarified below "I don't mean ghosts or magic, I'm using this word in a very nonstandard way". Otherwise, I suspect you're being Pascal's mugged by concepts centuries older than the concept of "air".
Leverage temporarily hired someone who did energy healing in 2018 and then did their own research project in that direction.  I do think that a variety of things that happened in the related research project would fall under the ban of the catholic church against magic.  If you are creative you can tell a story about how energy healing isn't paranormal at all and also do that for the other phenomena that came under investigation, but I don't think it's "very nonstandard" to use the word paranormal when talking about the phenomena.
1Alex Vermillion2y
I'm going to cut myself off and say I won't drag this out anymore [1] because I think there is some part of what I'm asking this is getting completely lost in translation (and that makes talking further pointless unless I get better at this). I think the following statement: Means that you are saying there is something paranormal going on. I think that is silly, because no evidence has been proffered that would make that statement justified. Further, you referring to "infohazards" confuses me, because it seems like you think the "mental demons" thing is real, which is a completely unjustified belief from where I'm standing. It would take an incredible amount of evidence to get me to agree with the following statement, which I think you agree with: ---------------------------------------- 1. Unless something truly wild happens below or I want to say "Ah, thanks, I understand you now" or something in one of those 2 broad categories. ↩︎
I generally believe in empiricism. Asking "what ontology is real" has it's uses in some contexts. Having ontological commitments when dealing with a bunch of weird effects that are hard to make sense of isn't.  There are weird effects involved in what pointed at with the word demon but I don't think using that word is likely the most enlightening way to talk about the effects.
Here it is in the words of current Leverage Institute's post about their previous work on psychology: "During our research we encountered a large number of risks and potentially deleterious effects from the use or misuse of psychological tools and methods, including our own. We believe that research should be conducted by people who are informed, as far as possible, with the potential risks and dangers of research, and the use of our tools and methods are no exception.  As such, when equipping others to engage in psychological experimentation themselves, we will endeavor to help people to make informed choices by describing the risks and dangers as we see them, and making recommendations about what we believe to be more or less safe approaches." A more detailed account of bodywork, energy work etc. in this section about "Mapping the Unconscious Mind":
2Alex Vermillion2y
I think you may have replied to the wrong poster as this does not address the truth value of the statement "mental demons are real" in a straightforward way, which I pretty explicitly have asked a few times about. (This isn't meant to be confrontational, I really don't see the connection and think you used the wrong comment box)
Also: "If you have a bunch of weird(?) people experiment on their own minds and also each other, you would maybe imagine that could lead to bad effects and/or things might fall apart at some point. Perhaps this is why some people found Leverage to be a bad idea from the outset. Well, it took ~8 years (and we learned a lot in the process), but things did fall apart. We did know that going in though, and were aware that things might not work out (though I suppose people were also pretty committed to it working, and planning on that maybe more than they were planning on it falling apart quite so spectacularly)." And more specifically:,Weird%20experiments%20and%20terminology%20result%20in%20sensational%20claims%20and%20rumors,-Crystals%3F%20Demons%3F%20Seances
2Matt Goldenberg2y
Normal and sane contain a bunch of hidden normative claims about your goals. Fwiw I agree that the suggestions on Aella's post go overboard, but if I had endured the abuse she had maybe I wouldn't. My point is that without saying something like "I think it's better to have a bit higher chance of being abused and a smaller chance of ignoring good advice" you can't make normative claims -> they imply some criteria that others may not agree with. It's worth trying to tease out what you're optimizing for with your normative suggestions.

It seems to me that the key difference between Said and Aella is that Aella basically says: "If you go into a group and interact in an emotional vulnerable way, you should expect receprocity in emotional vulnerability." On the other hand Said says "Don't go into groups and be emotionally vulnerable".

Aella is pro-Circling, Said is anti-Circling. 

6Said Achmiz2y
Like what, do you think? But it does not follow from this that you would therefore be right to take this view. I agree that if your view includes goals like the quoted one, you should make this explicit.
7Matt Goldenberg2y
Unless you've solved the Is/Ought distinction, it doesn't follow from any fact that it's right to take a certain view (at best, you can state that given a certain set of goals, virtues, etc, different behaviors are more coherent or useful), that's why it's important to state your ethical assumptions/goals up front. I don't know, from previous comments I think you value truth a lot but it'd really be better for you to state your values than me.

I see two independent ideas in this post

Insidious Inception

  • People communicate thoughts into each others minds
  • This can be direct *"I do not want to date you"*
  • Or indirect *"Sorry I'm too busy this week" with no effort to find a different time*
  • Saying A to indirectly communicate B can:
    • Obscure an intention that would be obvious were B said directly
    • Make it harder to refute B, because the idea that A -> B needs to first be established
    • Delicately communicate B without indirectly implying something that would have been implied had you said it directly

Core thoughts

  • You have ideas that are small and do not effect your base perception of reality, we call this trivia/facts/knowledge.
  • You have other ideas that are big, and construct your reality in the way that's hard to appreciate without medication/psychedelics/hippie workshops. We call this worldview/identity/schemas.

Mixed to form a very third idea:

The norms of healthy communication can be especially abused by someone doing this "insidious inception" to add or alter someones "core thoughts". If someone is doing this to you (deliberately or otherwise), using the norms of healthy communication you use normally to get people to stop doing things you don't like may not work, and instead make you vulnerable.

To connect the concepts here with some existing work: the special case of “frame control” where the result is self-doubt is also called “gaslighting.”

There's existing work on frame control, it's not a term that Aella came up with herself. Without having traced the history too much I think it's an NLP term that then got picked up by pick up artists.

Pretty much. The relevance for NLP is that if you're trying to help someone out of say, a self-defeating mindset or victim state, then you need to be able to (at minimum) control your own frame so as not to get pulled into whatever role the person's problems try to assign you (e.g. rescuer or persecutor).

The main thing I dislike about this post's framing of frame control is that the original meaning of "frame control" is maintaining your own frame -- i.e. the antidote to the abusive and manipulative behaviors described in this post. Not allowing yourself to be sucked in or trapped by the frames that other people attempt to establish, intentionally or not.

I’m not suggesting she came up with the term “frame control”—I’m suggesting she wrote several thousand words about gaslighting and didn’t mention the word “gaslighting.” It goes without saying that she didn’t engage at all with the vast commentary on the topic of gaslighting, which covers almost everything she said. I agree with the top comment from Anna Salamon that this post is clearly preliminary work and a few steps away still from good scholarship. A post integrating frame control, gaslighting, and the deployment of language in the exercise of power could get there; a post mentioning those things would be a significant improvement.
1Going Durden8mo
Im almost certain Aella purposely did not mention the fact that Frame Control is a well developed NLP/PUA/Power Sales term, because it would detract from their point. The problem of course, is that Frame Control is a googlable term.  There is plenty to be argued against malicious FC, but this post is akin to suddenly discovering that entropy exists, and warning LW about it.
If I punch you and say "I am only doing this for your own good; someone needs to punish your sins to make you stronger; you will thank me later", that is frame control. If I punch you and five minutes later say "no, I have never punched you; what made you make this horrible accusation", that is gaslighting. So perhaps "gaslighting" is a special case of "frame control", but the main difference seems to be whether unambiguous sensory perceptions are denied (as oppposed to e.g. denying motivation).
They sound the same to me. In both cases, the intent is to undermine the target's perception of events in a way that supports continuing exploitation -- i.e. gaslighting. Frame control is a general term that actually mostly refers to refusing to allow other people's frames to be treated as common knowledge. You need frame control in order to gaslight, but frame control is also a defense against gaslighting, in the sense that one is vulnerable to gaslighting to the extent one is unable to control one's own frame in response to provocative or manipulative communication.

Yes. It would be better to write about this topic into two parts.

  • Frames, and frame control in general.
  • How (some) abusers use frame control, and how to defend yourself against it.

So that we do not immediately associate the new (neutral) concept with abuse.

3Matt Goldenberg2y
I've never heard frame control used that way despite being fairly familiar with the modern NLP literature. First page of Google search also seems to mostly talk about controling other people's frames.
There's some sense in the PUA literature (and what comes up at SEO optimized blog posts) that they are written for an audience who's insecure and seeks to learn techniques to gain power over other people. In reality, dealing with one's own issues is often more important for the outcomes that are sought. Frame control in the NLP sense is about things like not letting anything that the other person says trigger you. That's useful in a coaching context for not letting the emotional problems of the coach interfere with the coaching intervention. I have a few times heard stories of therapists getting angry at their patients for something that the patient said. That's behavior I wouldn't expect from anyone I know that's skilled in NLP. Those people are generally in control of their own emotionals well enough to not switch into a state of anger because something triggers them.  For using principles such as pacing&leading it's also necessary to have control over the state that you want to apply this towards. 
That's odd. When I googled "frame control" (prior to my comment) the first result was about programming, the second was this post, and the third was a 14-point article in which most of the illustrative examples were about ways of responding to social bullying, dominance displays, or manipulation of various sorts. That is, frame control as reaction to social maneuvering by others. That's also fairly consistent with things I've previously read, that establish the very first rule of frame control as not letting others trick, trap, or threaten you out of your intended frame for an interaction. And while some works do treat frame control as a zero sum game, the core message of most things I've read have been about internal frame defense and non-zero sum games. For example, one book (literally entitled "Frame Control") notes many times that "basing the strength of your frame on the weakness of others is not a good strategy" and provides quite a lot of exercises that are aimed at changing one's internal beliefs and interpretation of situations, with frequent examples roughly of the form, "don't try to argue, fight, trick, persuade, etc. people - instead just accept what people say and hold to your opinion, instead of being emotionally dependent on others agreeing with you". The type of "frame control" described in this post seems rather the opposite of that!

Here's some notes I took about the first some minutes of Gaslight (1944) (SPOILER alert. It's a very good movie, and somewhat relevant).

When he grabs the letter out of her hands he's like "Oh uh I was just worried about all the unhappy memories it's reminding you of". It's weird, it's a double move: on the one hand, most obviously it's a lie to cover up that he's worried about something else, but also it reveals that he's positioning himself as hyperconcerned about her. He doesn't excuse it by some selfish motive like "I became super curious about the letter" or "Your talking is annoying me" or whatever. Further, his supposed concern is about her "unhappy memories", positioning himself as an agent who takes it as a salient variable to track, what's going on with her memories and emotions; and implicitly, that he's an agent in the position to affect and manage her relationship with her memories and emotions.

And in the next breath, he explicitly tells her to forget all that unhappy stuff. He says "While you are afraid of anything, there cannot be any happiness for us"; "You must forget her". This sounds sort of innocent, especially in the context of concern, but it's ambiguous betw... (read more)

This helps make it click a lot more strongly for me why this is such a big deal in spiritual communities. Also really salient where the abuser is being 'supportive' of negative things the target already thinks about themselves.

As an East-Asian, this post bring tears to my eyes. Even though my human brain did trigger a flag to beware of such "rational belief".

This pretty much describe a traditional East Asian community, where frame controllers floods around to preserve "culture" and "social hierarchy". One notable signs of such subtle frame control is when you find most situations as "should do something" rather than choices.

I want to express some strong appreciation for the post including not just some indicators that frame control is occurring but also some indicators that frame control is NOT occurring, and also for trying to mitigate the likelihood that this concept will be misused in the future. I also appreciate that the comment section is full of people absorbing the concept and also working to set bounds on it and make it safer. I appreciate the epistemic environment that gives rise to this kind of caution.

First of all, this is an excellent and important post. I wanted to add some thoughts:

I think the core issue that is described here is a malevolent attempt for dominance via subtle manipulation. The problem with this is that this is anti-inductive, e.g., when manipulative techniques become common knowledge, clever perpetrators stop using them and switch to other methods. It's a bit similar to defender-attacker dynamics in cyber-security. Attackers find weaknesses, and these get patched, so attackers find new weaknesses. An example would be the PUA community "negs" that once became common knowledge lost all effectiveness.

In social dynamics, the problem happens when predators are more sophisticated than their prey and thus can be later in logical time, e.g., an intelligent predator that reads this post can understand that it's vital for him to show some fake submissive behaviors (See Benquo comment) to avoid clueing in others of his nefarious nature. So he can avoid being "checklisted" and continue manipulating his unsuspecting victims.

But even though this entire social dynamics situation has an anti-inductive illegible nightmarish background, there is still value in listing red flags... (read more)

One of the reasons we're not already totally dominated by psychopaths is that the vast majority of them have impulse control/time horizon issues that make their behavior incoherent on longer time scales than saying whatever they think is optimal to the target in the present moment. Simply delaying the short feedback loops psychopaths use to get inside your OODA loop is often enough for them to move on to easier targets.

I have an extremely visceral reaction to time pressure and seeing it always updates me strongly in the direction of the person being unsafe.

what are some signs that someone isn’t doing frame control? [...]

  1. They give you power over them, like indications that they want your approval or unconditional support in areas you are superior to them. They signal to you that they are vulnerable to you.


There was a discussion on the Sam Harris podcast where he talks about the alarming frequency at which leaders of meditation communities end up abusing, controlling or sleeping with their students. I can't seem to find the episode name now.

But I remember being impressed with the podcast guest, a meditation teacher, who said they had seen this happening all around them and before they took over as the leader of their meditation centre had tried to put in place things to stop themselves falling into the same traps.

They had taken their family and closest friends aside and asked them for help, saying things to this effect: "If you ever see me slipping into behaviour that looks dodgy I need you to point it out to me immediately and in no uncertain terms. Even though I've experienced awakening I'm still fallible and I don't know how I'm going to handle all this power and all these beautiful young students wanting to sleep with me."

This kind of mindset is a norm I'd love to see encouraged and supported in the leaders of the rationalist community.

I think I have seen the "sanity-check"/"sanity-guillotine" thing done well. I have also seen it done poorly, in a way that mostly resembles the "finger-trap" targeting any close friends who notice problems. For actual accountability/protection? "Asking to have it reported publicly/to an outside third party" seems to usually work better than "Report it to me privately." (A very competent mass-crowd-controller might have a different dynamic, though; I haven't met one yet.) ---------------------------------------- For strong frame-controllers? "Encouraging their students to point out a vague category of issue in private," has a nasty tendency to speed up evaporative cooling, and burns out the fire of some of the people who might otherwise have reported misbehavior to a more-objective third-person. It can set up the frame-controller as the counter/arbiter of "how many real complains have been leveled their way about X" (...which they will probably learn to lie about...), frames them as "being careful about X," and gives the frame-controller one last pre-reporting opportunity to re-frame-control things in the sender. I think the "private reporting" variant is useful to protect a leader from unpleasant surprises, gives them a quick chance to update out of a bad pattern early on, and is slightly good for that reason. But I think as an "accountability method," this is simply not a viable protection against an even halfway-competent re-framer. ---------------------------------------- I think the gold-standard for actual accountability, is closer to the "outside HR firm" model. Having someone outside your circle, who people report serious issues to, and who is not primarily accountable to you. Not everyone has access to the gold-standard, though. When I single a person out for my future accountability? I pick people who I view as (high-integrity low-jealousy) peers-or-higher, AND/OR people on a totally different status-ladder. I want things set up such that even a m

There's actually 1 additional dynamic, that I can't quite put my finger on, but here's my attempt.

It's shaped something like...

If you are a pretty powerful person, and you take a desperate powerless person, and you hand them something that could indiscriminately destroy you? That is very likely to be a horrible mistake that you will one day regret. It's a bit like handing some rando a version of The One Ring, which is specific to controlling you.

Unless you had really good judgement and the person you handed it to is either Tom Bombdil or a hobbit who manages to spastically fling it into a volcano even despite himself? It is likely to corrupt them, and they are probably going to end up doing terrible things with it.

Never jump someone from 0 to 11 units of power over you, until you've seen what they're like with a 3 or a 5.

[Mostly unrelated but sparked by skimming this comment] It occurs to me that another question around frame control, is: how can I / we facilitate social niches that don't require frame control? In the leadership example: how can I be more willing and able to be led effectively by someone who is e.g. deeply and truly criticized in front of the group? For example, this might involve being more careful about not falling into misinformation cascades, and more intentional about hope.
Part of my model is that spiritual students tend to be a lot more prone to wanting to connect in a physical way. Sometimes to the point of almost literally throwing themselves at the teacher.
It could be both. First the students almost literally throw themselves at the teacher. Then the teacher gets used to it and mistakenly assumes the same about a student who was not throwing themselves at the teacher, but was afraid to resist the teacher's advances.

One fairly central reaction I had to this post is not so much about the specific phenomenon of frame control but rather about the general observation that it's quite common for the aspects of an abusive situation that are worst to experience to NOT be the same as the aspects that are most clear-cut bad and easiest to convey objectively to another person.

This seems true; I have heard multiple people with objectively horrifying stories of abuse report that actually they don't really care about the objectively awful parts that their friends are horrified about, but instead they are really fucked up by some stuff that's much harder to convey. (Probably in some cases that's the same general phenomenon described in this post and in other cases it's some other interpersonal fuckery.)

I have also heard people report that they experienced a situation as abusive and NOT have any clear-cut objectively awful behavior to point to. It makes perfect sense that this would happen in some cases - because the abuser is savvy enough about what people will object to to avoid those things, or because the abuser is actually trying to be good by following the ethical rules they know but is not managing to ... (read more)

>Indeed this feels kind of epistemically hopeless to ever evaluate from the outside? I don't really know what to do with this thought but it felt important to note. Does seem good to note, and it would be nice to have more theory about this. We could upgrade our individual abilities to notice when we're being frame controlled / etc.; we could upgrade our collective abilities to aggregate information about whether / how someone is systematically or intentionally harmful; we could close social niches that call up abusive behavior. I think one piece of the puzzle might be something like: (1) B can't abuse C without C having the capacity to notice *at some point*. Maybe it's in a year when C isn't enmeshed in the situation; maybe it's only after C has read other accounts of abuse, or other accounts about B specifically; (2) If B is intentionally* abusing people, B will tend to abuse multiple people, or one person across long time periods. (I don't know if this is true; it's easy enough to imagine B abusing only one person, but it seems unlikely to be intentionional; why would B only use this strategy in one isolated situation? (3) If B is effectively, skillfully abusing people, B will tend to abuse multiple people, or one person across long time periods. (Because how else would B be good at frame control / etc.? This might not be true because there's skill transfer; e.g. B might do a lot of work that involves deeply understanding people, which is otherwise benign, but gives them the tools to deeply fuck with people in isolated circumstances.) (4) If you're on the lookout for frame control and such, it's harder to have it happen to you. But being on the lookout is a lot of work. To the extent that these are all true, ISTM it would be good to somehow be much more willing to publicly discuss stuff like this about specific people. Obviously there's huge issues with scapegoating, and basically people lying. But, it seems that there's value on the table, where giving p

Great post. I agree with your analysis. I especially like the part about how it often doesn’t help to try to judge the frame controller’s intent.

FWIW, in the “Looks like I’m boring Aella” scenario, assuming I perceive the speaker to be overly aggressive in their frame control attempt, my move would be to politely disagree, except with a noticeable attitude of not buying into the frame that there’s anything wrong with me looking at my phone. I would reply with a tongue-in-cheek “No, this is all interesting stuff. Please continue.” where my voice is cheerful and encouraging but I’m still just looking at my phone.

The other move, I think, is something like "my cat's not doing well", which is pretty fucked up to say if false, but does put the frame back on "you don't know what's going on with me and you don't get to assume".

Even simpler but getting many of the benefits is "was that a question?"

Lol interesting, that definitely undermines the person’s frame. The difference is that my version builds status/respect for me as a capable frame battler while the other builds compassion for you as a victim of the person’s aggression (and a sufferer of the cat situation).
A reply that came to mind for me: “oh yeah. I guess I’m bored. I didn’t realize until you just pointed it out.”
Oh nice, I think that's good. I'd additionally frame this as a friendly interaction by politely (second-order condescendingly) adding, "You should continue though, I'll try to get into it." (Then you can keep using your phone without necessarily trying to listen.) The other person was attempting to put you in the frame of "impolite listener". Your reply is a good way of blocking the attempt to frame you as consciously antagonistic. I would go further and frame myself as someone who is a polite listener and friend to everyone there, but also perfectly within my right to follow where my attention takes me. Regardless, I think the key to both of our approaches is that we can sound first-order chill so that nothing about our first-order words or tone of voice sounds antagonistic. It obeys the highest standard of polite behavior (ideally out-politing the other person), while the logical implication of our behavior is to assert our own frame against the frame control attempt.
Like you, my instant reaction to these kinds of spiky social behaviors is to try to use sarcasm or wit to "win" the interaction and make the other person look ridiculous or feel awkward or off balance. I think this works on two levels -- firstly, if I do "win", the other guy is not likely to keep trying this sort of thing on me. Secondly, it focuses my psychology in such a way that there's no chance I will actually be taking their "frame" seriously. I'm too busy trying to figure out how I can make it sound stupid. I guess the obvious failure mode here is if they were actually saying something that I would benefit from taking seriously.
In 95% of these situations, I don't have any kind of witty response to make. I just have a way of looking up at them with a flat expression, long enough that they can see I've heard and understood what they told me, and then I go back to what I was doing before. For me, the point isn't so much to get a certain response or perception out of the other person. It's mainly to communicate a simple message: "it's going to take you more energy to provoke me than it's worth." And then to communicate to myself the message: "You're in control of your actions and attention, not them."
That might serve your purposes, and is at least better than simply giving into the speaker’s frame. But responding in a way that’s purely defensive, even if you do it in a disaffected way, means you can’t frame yourself as a polite socially-savvy party guest who’s in open communication with the whole group. The speaker may be intending to battle you away from that frame and monopolize it for themselves.
There are trade offs in everything! This is just a personal strategy that works for me. Fortunately, social interactions of this kind are rare enough, and predictable enough, that I haven’t noticed myself suffering from the effects you describe :)
Talking about frame control, the implicit message of looking at your phone while someone is talking to you is “I’m bored and I don’t respect you enough to fake it”. The frame OP was imposing consciously or unconsciously was that the speaker was low status enough that she could publicly ignore them with impunity, and they were right to call her out on it. More generally, I have a pretty poor view of the post’s argument in general. Frame control is just another word for value and status alignment, aka most of normal human interaction. This is only a danger to someone if they do not have a strong enough sense of self to hold independent opinions and sense of worth. This vulnerability is going to leave someone open and susceptible no matter if a high status person uses generally assertive (top portion) or receptive (bottom section) techniques, which I see as two sides of the same coin. Maybe labeling this as OP has is useful to help people stuck in this trap grow a stronger sense of self. But for most people frame control between two people i believe is better described as frame negotiation. Negotiations have a wide range of strategies and outcomes, but decrying assertive strategies as dangerous because some people crumble to them when the default option is to simply hold your ground, seems misguided. Where managing frame control becomes interesting is in group setting, but now we’ve just rediscovered politics/status games/group dynamics/multi agent games by another name. I think the post would have been a lot stronger if it focused on that.

The comments here seem less charitable have more pushback than I would have expected, especially given the post’s score. Maybe because the thing being named is kind of “high stakes” or dangerous/scary or could potentially lead to witch hunts, etc. Personally, I have experienced “frame control”-type dynamics (at unfortunately high personal cost), and there is a truth being pointed to here that I feel is important to validate. The purpose of the post, it seems to me, is to help people be more able to protect themselves and others.

“Frame control”[1], or whatever you want to call the thing this post is gesturing at, is, in my experience, extremely difficult to talk about. For each example of “X is frame control”, there is a counterexample where something that looks nearly identical happens harmlessly. And the other way around too. So any objections to specific written examples are, in my opinion, legitimate, and it’s good to be careful not to blanket-label any particular X as “definitely frame control and therefore bad”. (IMO the post was careful not to do this.)

The epistemics are super hard, because the thing being pointed to is subtle and there isn’t really a recipe for identifying i... (read more)

The comments here seem less charitable than I would have expected, especially given the post’s score.

I think one of the important sources of pushback is this:

And this is why my general philosophy for people who frame control is “burn it with fire.” ... In this, I am a conflict theorist; this is not a mistake, this is war.

If someone wants to declare war, it seems good for people to double-check the casus belli, and point out the gaps instead of silently filling them in. ("Frame control is a thing to watch out for" and "we should exile the frame controllers" are pretty different claims.)

She didn’t say “we should exile the frame controllers”, she said things like “I will try to remove you from the power you might use to hurt anybody else”. Surely the post could have been phrased even more as a first-person-owned-experience thing, but IMO it’s pretty much like that as is. It reads to me much more as “my experience and attitude is X” than as “we (or you) should do X”. (Also, I agree with you that it makes sense to deliberate seriously on decisions like “declaring war”. I just didn’t take the post as proposing war, I took it as Aella expressing her stance. I’m not sure what a better way to phrase what she was trying to say would have been?)
Also, fwiw, I kind of wish I'd left that first sentence out, because it feels like the least important part of my comment but it's what you responded to. I am much more invested in the rest of what I wrote.
I think another difficulty in the epistemics is "where to place the focus" is potentially a political question. For example, choosing between Aella's father "was an abuser" and their relationship "was an abusive dynamic" seems like it could have consequences (both for what happens, how your relationships shift, and how you understand the situation). [The situation wherein both statements are clearly associated with perspectives, instead of reified truths, seems like it's most conducive to understanding.] As you point out, different people will be affected differently by the 'same thing', but an otherwise-laudable commitment to avoid victim-blaming can move focus away from those differences and obscure part of what's happening. [But also perhaps we are well-served by an allergy to attempts to move focus, as suggested by the example of the student pointing out the teacher's error and the teacher redirecting attention.]
A relevant aspect of in-person interactions is that I think they involve a lot more "plasticity" of the people. In terms of how much B "is given write access" to C's soul, it tends (with variance) to be something like (abstracting over content): C reads B's writing < C listens to B speaking < C listens to B and watches B acting < C is physically present with B < C is physically present with B and is speaking with B < C is physically present with B and is acting in concert with B An example of what I mean by B having written to C's soul is that C can "hear B's voice" even when B isn't there; e.g. C reflexively imagines what B would say about what C is doing. Or more abstractly, a proposition B said might bounce around in C's head, being chewed on and propagated. B has somewhat literally made an impression on C. C might adopt mannerisms of B. C might do to D actions that imitate "deepening" (hence correlatedly subtly invasive or coercive or deceptive) actions done to C by B (because, oh, that's how connection works, apparently). (Obviously in general there's huge mutual benefits to this soul-writing thing, which explains why people do it, which explains why it's vulnerable to exploitation.)
  1. They consistently reroute pressure away from them. I once sat in on a dojo where I watched one of the students point out an error the teacher had made. The teacher then responded by asking the student a question that investigated what was behind the pointing out, what was really about them that caused this? The resulting discussion then was entirely about the student, and as far as I can tell everybody else forgot about the mention of the error. 


Once while talking to my then-therapist, I made an offhand remark about how I listened to headphones a lot and was afraid they would damage my ears. She wanted to explore the psychology of that remark, I objected that it was a reasonable concern grounded in physics, and she said ~that that was irrelevant, the fact that that thing was more salient to me than other true things meant it held emotional significance for me, and she was interested in that significance. I don't remember if anything useful came of that discussion, so it probably wasn't amazing, but I think her overall model was correct and it was a reasonable thing to pursue, and that it was safe to do so in that context because she had absolutely no stake in anything ex... (read more)

I'm not done with the post yet, but this part really jumped out at me.

Second point is a doozy, and it’s that you can’t look at intent when diagnosing frame control. As in, “what do they mean to do” should be held separate from “what are the effects of what they’re doing” - which I know is counter to almost every good lesson about engaging with people charitably. 

I think you're right in a narrow way but mostly wrong here. The narrow way in which you seem right is that (someone's intent) and (someone's impact) are indeed separate quantities. But someone having good intent—or someone seeming to have good intent, if one can generally discern this with above-random accuracy—means that their actions are more likely optimized to have good effects, and so these two quantities are generally correlated. 

In this section, your language conflates two possible scenarios (by my reading). In the first, we condition on "leader X seems to have good intent." In the second, we condition on "me and my friends are talking about how leader X is deeply flawed and perceptive, and the things he did that hurt people were either for their own good, or an unintentional byproduct of him genuinely tryi... (read more)

The way I understand the intent vs. effect thing is that the person doing "frame control" will often contain multitudes: an unconscious, hidden side that's driving the frame control, and then the more conscious side that may not be very aware of it, and would certainly disclaim any such intent.

I think this post was valuable for starting a conversation, but isn't the canonical reference post on Frame Control I'd eventually like to see in the world. But re-reading the comments here, I am struck by the wealth of great analysis and ideas in the ensuing discussion

John Wentworth's comment about Frame Independence:

The most robust defense against abuse is to foster independence in the corresponding domain. [...] The most robust defense against financial abuse is to foster financial independence [...] if I am in not independent in some domain, then I am necessarily dependent on someone else in that domain, dependence creates an opportunity for abuse.

Applying that idea to frame control: the most robust defense is to build my own frames, pay attention to them, notice when they don't match the frame someone else is using, etc. It's "frame independence": I independently maintain my own frames, and notice when other people set up frames which clash with them.

[...] When we can't rely on "frame independence", we want to have a variety of people around providing different frames, so that it's easy to move between them

Romeo Stevens on hungry ghost dynamics among teachers/spirtual-communit... (read more)

Why is frame control central to this post? While it explains frame control well, the focus seems to be about people consciously/unconsciously harmfully manipulating one another. How to avoid being manipulated, gaslighted, deceived, etc is an important topic to discuss and a valuable skill to have. And this post offers good advice on it (whether or not it intended to). But it could’ve done so without bringing up the concept of frame control.

Someone shared this link with me re: group conversations about interactions with the Monastic Academy. So much resonance with the examples of frame control you share re: lack of reciprocation and vulnerability, refusal to collaborate with other perspectives, reframing or dismissing harm, controlling parameters of engagement in a way that creates unequal power dynamics, so on and so forth. Your example of making claims that exclude 98% or people (re: save the world narratives) but highly effective on the other 2% is especially relevant!

Some examples of frame control I've seen recently are: Have been attempting to engage the Monastic Academy in a mediation process since since last May re: abusive, unsafe, nonconsensual risks, and unethical treatment by the organization. So far they've indicated some willingness to engage in conversation after many attempts of reaching out were ignored and after I told them I'd be going public with my experience (at some point soon.) They then provided a list of affiliated persons whom they are personally and professionally connected to with no mediation background for said process. Have also tried to engage me in unmediated conversations despite expl... (read more)

For anyone whom would like to know more about my personal experience and the concerns I have regard patterns of negligence and abuse at the Monastic Academy I have recently shared an open to the organization:

A few days ago I had a Zoom call with an insurance agent, they probably take lessons how to do this.

First, his secretary called me, "hey, you have an account at this financial institution we cooperate with, do you also have a life insurance?" Not interested, but she keeps pushing, and at some moment I am like: yeah, given that they are willing to talk online so I don't have to walk anywhere, it will not take that much time, I guess maybe they will tell me something I don't know and make me change my mind. Okay, feel free to call me.

Then the guy calls me, and starts with (I don't remember the exact words) something like: "So, what do you need me to help you with?"

Frame control: It's not him begging for my attention; suddenly it's me needing his help. The audacity!

Then some more things, but that was the usual manipulative stuff that typically happens when you talk to an insurance agent. But this one thing stuck in my mind as a completely outrageous reversal of reality. (I didn't comment on it, but I gave him a bad point in my mind, and a few more bad points later, I ended the call. It was probably all completely predictable and I am stupid for wasting my time like this.)

I wonder if "negligence spectrum" would be a good way to think about frame control.

Here is what I mean by negligence spectrum:

  • On one end of the spectrum is doing something (harmful) intentionally. For example, you're walking down the street, see someone you don't like, and intentionally bump into them, causing their coffee to spill.
  • On the other end is a genuine mistake. For example, you're walking down the street, and for whatever reason you bump into someone accidentally, causing them to spill their coffee.
  • Then in the middle, there is negligence. For
... (read more)
We may be conceptualizing different things, but for me, "negligence" doesn't quite fit the description. Some people do frame control unconsciously, but when I think of negligence, I picture people who should know, in theory, that what they're doing is bad. They simply don't bother to take precautions. With frame control, I'd say the people who do this either have absolutely no clue about what they're doing (but they would be able to call it out in others because they're massive hypocrites), or it feels a bit like a vice such as swearing annoyedly at people, where you sort of know that it's bad for the person you're swearing at, but you don't care because it produces emotional relief or otherwise satisfies some emotional need. (In this case, I'd call it "semi-conscious" rather than unconscious.) Edit: Actually maybe this semi-conscious version is where I can see the parallels to negligence! If this would actually work then the person you're talking to probably wasn't doing frame control all that much in the first place. (In which case it may be enough to just change the implicit frame to make them aware, and continue the discussion on the object level.)  I feel like it's a major part of the phenotype that people who do this are experts at diversion and blame shifting. (Of course, if admitting "Oh yeah, sorry, maybe I did some of that" becomes a get-out-of-jail card, then you should expect some clever manipulators – esp. the ones doing it consciously – to learn to make use of the excuse. But mostly, I think the people who use frame control have issues admitting that they did anything wrong, so if you were to confront them with that, it'll get weird and uncomfortable.)
4Adam Zerner2y
Hm, I didn't realize it when I wrote the comment, but I think you are right about those two examples making up a large majority of the instances of frame control. Either it's someone completely clueless, or it is a vice. But 1) both of those seem like they fit somewhere on the negligence spectrum. Being clueless would put you on the "genuine mistake" end. And engaging in a vice feels to me like it is something like a 6/10, with 10/10 being as negligent as possible. I'm having trouble putting my finger on exactly why I consider it negligent, but I think you're on to something with the semi-conscious stuff. 1. I guess this is more broad than the frame control discussion, but I'm very fond of this negligence spectrum idea. I feel like it is a pretty good tool in the discussion of how bad someone acted. I haven't followed all of the comments here, and I know we're probably trying to not make it a focal point, but I sense that at least part of the discussion here is about how badly people acted when they engaged in frame control. I have a much different impression here. My impression is that a large majority of frame control is of the first example you gave, where the person has no clue they're doing it. 1) It feels like the sort of thing that takes a very large amount of skill. 2) I'm a pretty pessimistic person, but even I don't model many people as being manipulative enough to doing much blame control intentionally or moderately negligently.
Some other contributors have this angle, but the OP treats this question as unimportant at least for the level of diagnosing frame control: I agree with the framing in the OP (except that I don't think frame controllers are actually "empathic" – they seem like that and they might experience a lot of sympathy, but I don't think they understand others' situation and feel with them). I think the question of intent is also unimportant for diagnosing the badness of the effects of frame control. And at that point, it no longer seems helpful to ask "How bad is the frame controler?" (a more useful question might be "What are the chances they would change?").  In my model, "frame control" in the sense of "the whole package described in the OP," rather than "isolated instances of some of what's described," is really toxic and, unfortunately, rarely fixable. (I think isolated instances are not a big issue because if they're truly isolated, they don't lead to someone actually having their healthy frames eroded. If they're isolated, they are also unlikely to come from systematically misaligned/exploitative cognition.) I see frame control as a byproduct of what I think of as interpersonally incorrigible cognition. The primary defining feature of this phenotype is that it's exploitative, i.e., not on your side. When you give feedback to people who are like that, I suspect they'd often be too clueless and/or unwilling to improve genuinely – instead, they'll try to fix appearances only. (Of course, we shouldn't talk in absolute and there are probably ways to get people to change, but they probably involve the person hitting rock bottom and then do long therapy of some sort).  I find it a bit weird that when the topic is potential signs of abusive strategies, people's first thought is often "What if we're being unfair to the accused." But it's just as legitimate to think the thought, "There are often multiple victims suffering per one abuser, so this possibility is really serious

I guess I'd recommend viewing the situation through multiple frames. For example:

- How does the situation appear from a maximally generous point of view?
- How does the situation appear from a maximally suspicious point of view?
- After consideration, what is the best overall point of view? Is it one or the other or a combination of both?

Perhaps this is already what you meant, but even if it is, I think there are benefits to being explicit

In additional to multiple human/agent points of view, it's worth going a little further down the "ignore intent" path, to consider the situation as purely environmental.  It doesn't matter that these are humans or what they want or how they appear - is this good for you?   If not, go elsewhere. Note that this is intended as an extension of "viewing through multiple lenses", not a recommendation that this should be primary.
I'm imagining seeing a community that has a 'wall of shame' with uneditorialized communication from people who have grievances against the community.

Maybe "DARVO" is one side of frame control behavior? 

[I feel like the following question might be triggering, not sure. It references your childhood. The triggering I expect is maybe something like, the question conflates / juxtaposes two things that are similar, but importantly very different, such that if the distinction weren't kept solidly in mind, there'd be strong psychic forces pointing in opposite directions? Idk.]
Anyway: I notice that you say:
> But a key aspect of frame control is reframing harm as good
And also, from :
> And then I realized ... (read more)

Yeah, great point. I think my frame control post is overly simplified and not 100% representative of my full worldview, because I don't have the energy or skill required to put "actually everything is just narrative tho" in there and still maintain my point.  As far as I have the capacity to understand about myself, the 'reclaiming' post was true. It happened seven years ago now, and I still haven't had the issues come back I did prior to that reclaiming moment, and I've had no further detection of unhonored or ignored pain.  But uhhh I'm not sure if I have the clarity right now to stab further at my intuitions around this. I've got a blog post brewing specifically in response to your sort of question and I suspect it'll take a while before it's ready. But I simultaneously want to burn frame control with fire, and also believe it's not inherently bad. Or something. 
Interesting, thanks for the data! I'll be curious to see your further writing. Well, setting a fire might require you to get too close; nuking it from orbit is maybe prudenter.
The important thing seems to be whether that reframing leads to allowing the harm to happen again to someone else.
I agree that's a key question, though it's plausible to me that the reframing is related to a lot of mental things, and so has lots of effects that I don't understand. E.g. if the reframing involves in some sense giving up on justice (<- just a speculation) then it could be locally behaviorally right (justice may be too costly in this case) while also accidentally involving more broadly giving up on justice including where justice would be good.

I don't want to use the word "steelman" since Aella might not agree that this is a better version of her post.

But here's a post that I would have strongly agreed with, if Aella had written it.


When presented with criticism, we can think of a range of possible responses.

At one end of the range is acceptance: "Oh wow, the fact that you think I'm doing bad things is strong evidence that I'm actually doing bad things, so I'll think hard about this and try to change."

At the other end is denial: "No, I'm not doing bad things and you're wrong to suggest that I... (read more)

4Said Achmiz2y
I was more or less with you until this part: I strongly object to this stance, for two reasons. First (and less importantly): “no, it is you who are wrong and bad” is perfectly capable of being true. How, then, can it be an “epistemic antipattern”? Now, I say this is the less important of my two objections because from a purely epistemic standpoint, the important part of the reply is just the “no” part. The counter-accusation may, of course, also be true—but if we get the defense right, we’re most of the way to successfully keeping our worldview straight. But if we confine ourselves to the defense, then… Secondly (and more importantly): by treating “no, it is you who are wrong and bad” as an antipattern, we remove a powerful weapon of rhetorical and conceptual self-defense from precisely the people most in need of it—and we thereby contribute to bad epistemic environments. Why do I say this? Suppose that you’re accused of something; and accused unjustly. You know that you are innocent of the charge; what’s more, you know that you actions were, not only unobjectionable, but praiseworthy, or even necessary. How do you respond? If you merely say “No! I am innocent of the charge! I am in the right!”—well, it may be perfectly true. But rhetorically it will be perceived as weak, in all but the most coolly rational of social spaces (and no, Less Wrong most assuredly does not meet that bar). What’s more, consider that if you have acted in a good and praiseworthy manner, or if you have done what is necessary, what you would respect someone else for doing… and if you have, then, been accused of wrongdoing, in response… then (unless the whole thing is a thoroughly innocent misunderstanding, which happens rarely!) the one who has accused you has himself transgressed—not only against you, but against the collective. The way in which such wrongs are made right, is for the accused to be able to respond in such a way that does not give the accuser an asymmetric advantage.
Yeah, in retrospect I should have said more about the importance of evidence.  "We should recognize the evidence-free "no, it is you who are wrong and bad" as an antipattern." And even then, I think some of what Aella is talking about isn't so much a response to criticism as a general attitude that everyone else is wrong and bad. I dunno.

And to be clear, a lot of this is true. Frame control breaks your reality down to fit another one, and while I view this as poisonous, the act of breaking down your frame can have huge benefits - similarly to how forcing a child to sit through school might break their creativity but give them the ability to reliably perform boring tasks. 

I don't think similar is the right word here. In the normal school setting a good teacher has frame control within his classroom. 

A key difference between your dad as you describe it is that the standard school t... (read more)

Frame control is an effect; very often, people who frame control will not be aware that this is what they’re doing, and have extensive reasoning to rationalize their behavior that they themselves believe. If you are close to a frame controller and squinting at them to figure out “are they hiding intent to control me,” you often will find the answer is “no.” 

I wonder if you can infer de facto intent from the consequences, ie, not the intents-that-they-think-they-had, but more the intents they actually had.

In particular, a lot of motivated cognition oft... (read more)

Obviously. It's interpersonally exploitative cognition. 
Sorry, do you mean this is "obviously" true for all humans, or only frame controllers? If the latter, I would consider this form of understanding intents useful Bayesian evidence for someone being a frame controller.
Yeah, I think that's a good heuristic! 
1Peter Hroššo2y
I believe this is possible. When I was reading the OP, I was checking with myself how I am defending myself from malicious frame control. I think I am semi-consciously modeling the motivation (=intent they actually had, as you call it) behind everything people around me do (not just say, as the communication bandwidth in real life is much broader). I'd be very surprised if most people wouldn't be doing something similar at least on the sub-conscious level.  The difficult part in my opinion is: 1) Make this subconscious information (aka intuition) consciously available and well calibrated 2) Actually trust this intuition, as the frame-controller is adversarially undermining your trust in your own sense making and actively hiding their true motivations, so usually your intuition will have high uncertainty

I found this very informative, but I think I can contribute to this discussion from the opposite direction. The problem of having too little frame control is also something that exists. Both extremes are bad.

On one end you are pushing your frame on a person, without trying to account for their current value system. In fact if you do it gently, slowly and find a pathway they would want to talk then it becomes moral. If I know the right buttons to push, the right arguments, the evidence, the life experience that could get a friend to adopt the values, belief... (read more)

I think people in carceral environments get pretty good at doing this. "Games Prisoners Play" is a good, but not exhaustive book that I think shows this off.

This seems somewhat related to the concept of Karpman's Drama Triangle: It describes three negative ways of relating to people: the persecutor, the rescuer, and the victim. This roles are named after how people perceive themselves and how they perceive others in their relationship. These are roles you can take on or that you can be cast into.

The persecutor is obviously an unhealthy relationship style and the one most immediately associated with what you have written here. They are the classic bully ... (read more)

Important topic. Needs some editing. At the very least, do not name Geoff, and possibly no one specific (unless the book editors want to expose themselves to a possible lawsuit). Also, links to Twitter and Facebook posts will not work on paper.

Perhaps there is a solution for both: quote the relevant parts of the Twitter and Facebook posts in the article, with names removed.

The problem, i.m.o. is that there is nothing innately wrong with attempting to influence someone else's frame. The problem is when people try to coercively undermine others.

Imagine you have a friend with a toxic framing, is it frame control to try and influence them to change their frame to be grounded? Implicitly? Explicitly?

Reading this it comes across to me as though you realize that this is a problem in the post, and are trying to defend it with a "you know it when you see it" arguement.

At risk of sounding absurd, this seems analogous to saying a) talk... (read more)

The text provides examples of how very small messages contain whole lot of subtext.
This is true but  these are very hard to decipher for me. And I have a suspicion that others with high social intelligence are not very good either. 

I generally abstain from finding the Straussian meaning of everything a person says. 
There is a lot underneath a person's message with many unknown unknowns.
Instead, it is much better to have strict guidelines for yourself when communicating (although they are enforceable over text. It all goes by the wayside duri... (read more)

I'm not seeing any difference between pressure and aggression these days.

(1) Thanks for writing this, it seems very important.

(2) This:

Ultimately, checking in with how you actually feel is the answer. I don’t mean to imply this is easy; it’s often really hard to know how you feel, and maybe it changes often and frame controllers put in a lot of effort to obfuscate this. But in the end, careful attention to your own sensations are your saving grace.

I think there's something basically irreplaceable about checking in with how you actually feel; e.g. it's thankfully harder for frame control to hack, ISTM, though checking in is als... (read more)

years ago I was at a large group dinner with acquaintances and a woman I didn’t like. She was talking about something I wasn’t interested in, mostly to a few other people at the table, and I drifted to looking at my phone. The woman then said loudly, “Oh, looks like I’m boring Aella”. This put me into a position

From that description I sympathize with the woman more.

Its extremely hard to effectively argue against your post by its very definition, because doing so would invariably force the commenter to either accept your frame, or fight back with their own attempt at frame control, and doing either simply proves your point. For all its worth, it is a brilliant piece of memetics.

So I will reduce my response to two points:

I notice I cannot think of a way to resist the Frame Control attempts you listed (1-16) without either forcing the other person into your frame, and thus performing rather robust Frame Control in retur... (read more)

They don’t laugh nervously, don’t give tiny signals that they are malleable and interested in conforming to your opinion or worldview.

This sounds not-quite-right as pointed out by others, but I feel like I kind of recognize it. It's natural for people to adapt to others or be influenced by others, like shifting their accents, adjusting to others' preferred communication styles, or taking an interest in something because your friend is enthusiastic about it. It can be odd to meet people who don't do that. And if someone you interact with regularly shows ... (read more)

Thank you for sharing. Definitely a real but hard-to-pin down thing.

Your story about communal bonding vs handling emergencies was clearest for me as a recent dealt with a relatives' significant other who was doing this constantly. I labelled it "passive aggressive" in my head. That may a prime sub-aspect of some of this frame label. 

If I were defining it, passive aggression is when someone acts against their subject in ways subtle enough that it makes the punishment clear to the subject, but also is not overt enough to allow the subject to respond ove... (read more)

This piece caught my eye since it is still being discussed a bit - I also don't think anything is too old to talk about. 

I think it is largely incorrect - and I don't typically say that things are incorrect, if they seem like good-faith efforts. This doesn't seem like a good-faith effort. I'll explain why I can tell it's not, and also, why we can still know it's wrong anyway, without judging the intent of the author. 

For one thing, I think when people name names, and use them as negative examples, then these are put-downs, which are in general, n... (read more)

[+][comment deleted]2y-58