Are You a Paralyzed Subordinate Monkey?

by Eliezer Yudkowsky1 min read2nd Mar 201178 comments


Personal Blog

During a discussion today about the bizarre "can't get crap done" phenomenon that afflicts large fractions of our community, the suggestion came up that most people can't do anything where there is a perceived choice that includes the null option / "do nothing" as an option.  Of which Michael Vassar made the following observation:

In a monkey tribe, there's no verbal communication - they can't discuss where to go using language.  So if you get up and start going anywhere, you must be the leader.

And if you're not the leader, it is not good for your reproductive fitness to act like one.  In modern times the penalties for standing up are much lower, but our instincts haven't updated.

Interesting to reconsider the events of "To lead, you must stand up" in this light.  It makes more sense if you read it as "None of those people had instincts saying it was a good idea to declare themselves the leader of the monkey tribe, in order to solve this particular coordination problem where 'do nothing' felt like a viable option" instead of "nobody had the initiative".