[LINK] Ethical Pick-Up Artistry (Clarisse Thorn)

by KenChen1 min read7th Apr 2011115 comments


Personal Blog

Clarisse Thorn recently posted a useful article about Ethical Pick-Up Artistry, bringing up a few basic critiques of traditional PUA and suggesting a few alternatives.

Here’s the thing: the current pickup artist subculture has a monopoly on effective advice for how to break down social interactions and talk to women. Not all of it works, but enough of it works that it draws guys in. As a pickup artist instructor once told me, “When I first found the community I was horrified by how sleazy and gross it is, but I had never had a girlfriend and I told myself: dude, if you don’t learn this stuff you’re gonna die alone.”

I’ve theorized that maybe feminists should provide good pickup advice, in an attempt to counterbalance some of the awfulness of the existing community. In the meantime, however, I figure the next best thing to do is to provide a list of less-misogynistic pickup artist instructors and sites, and a few very basic critiques.

A proposal to formalize this Not the same thing, but a discussion on forming a community to practice social artistry in general has been brought up on LW before, but I'm not personally aware of anything coming out of that.

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The counterpart question is, "Because men approach and women choose, women have a tremendous amount of power over how men act, and over what relationships can exist. How can women use this power ethically?"

0MBlume10yThis seems to run into trouble with coordination failures...

At the risk of becoming annoying, THAT IS NOT WHAT I PROPOSED:

This is a proposal for a LessWrong Pick Up Artist (PUA)-like sub-community; PUA without the PU (get it?). Members would focus on the deliberate practice of social artistry, but with non-mating goals.

Seriously, this is the first line of the article. The title includes "Without the PU". I don't see how I could have been clearer.

The difficulty I've had in getting this point across is a big (but not the only) reason why I've been hesitant to develop this idea further.

To reiterate:

  1. PUA's got really good at a specific type social interaction - picking up women.

  2. There are many types of social interaction that it would be beneficial to be really good at.

  3. Therefore, we ought to see if there are any aspects of how the PUA's went about getting good at achieving their specific goal that could be adopted to general social goals.

I think that Ethical Pick Up Artistry is a good idea (I've stated publicly that I'm a fan of PUA except for the misogyny, which is real and appalling), but is not at all the same as my idea.

Seriously, this is the first line of the article. The title includes "Without the PU". I don't see how I could have been clearer.

That joke is exactly what destroyed the clarity. You set up an alternative reading and it stuck.

6XFrequentist10yAhh... that makes sense - It literally means "Without the Pick Up", but the joke implies removing the stinky elements. Both interpretations were intended, but the more important part (IMO) seems to have gotten lost. Learns about memes
3wedrifid10yOne source of these strategies for using PUA style understanding to achieve general social goals is in pickup itself. It is a popular subject and frequently one of the first things given in testimonies about how PUA practice improved their life.
1XFrequentist10yIndeed, thanks! I recall that you and I had an exchange on this at some point (although I may be mistaking you for someone else). I'm not very familiar with the PUA literature, but in what little I've read the description of these non-pickup side benefits were one of the things that stimulated my thinking on this topic. Could you point me to some (good) sources, or give your own thoughts on what is worth copying? I take your word that this is a popular topic, but the good bits of any body of knowledge can be hard to identify when you're an outsider. I'd also be happy to chat in another forum (Skype, IRC, etc), if you prefer.
0KenChen10ySorry. I was sure there was previous discussion on this, so I just linked to the first thing that I could find. I didn't really read what you wrote, to be honest.
2XFrequentist10yA note to that effect in the discussion post would seem appropriate.

How are feminists supposed to generate good pickup advice? If typical female advice to males actually worked, the PUA community wouldn't need to spend so much effort figuring out the right approaches. Any woman who wants to generate useful dating advice for men needs to first recognize that the default advice that comes to her mind has a counterintuitively poor track record, so her only chance of success is to try something weird.

Possibly relevant quote from Paul Graham's "Beating the Averages":

The average big company grows at about ten percent a year. So if you're running a big company and you do everything the way the average big company does it, you can expect to do as well as the average big company-- that is, to grow about ten percent a year.

The same thing will happen if you're running a startup, of course. If you do everything the way the average startup does it, you should expect average performance. The problem here is, average performance means that you'll go out of business. The survival rate for startups is way less than fifty percent. So if you're running a startup, you had better be doing something odd. If not, you're in trouble.

1KenChen10yHugh Ristik, who was linked in the article, addresses the question [http://www.feministcritics.org/blog/about/seduction-communitypickup-artists] of how to generate good pickup advice:
8cousin_it10yThat doesn't seem to be about generating new advice. Basically he proposes to take someone else's hard-won research, throw away the parts you don't like (with no way of knowing if these parts were important to the function), and repackage it as your own. I'm not sure you can get a superior product that way.

Nothing says that PUA people HAVEN'T generated perfectly good advice. The point is not to independently generate advice that works, or to claim credit for advice someone else came up with. The point is to try to filter that advice into something we can point shy guys to and say "this will help you, without being unethical."

You're also missing that men can be feminists. Producing a quality system of PUA that is ethical and effective will require the efforts of both men and women.

9Gray10yYes, yes, this is it. Some of us are looking for advice without the sleeze factor.
6HughRistik10yPUAs have drawing selectively from pickup knowledge for years: using what they like, and throwing away what they don't. I see no reason why non-PUAs shouldn't do the same. Of course, they shouldn't just plagiarize pickup without citing their sources.
5cousin_it10yWell, I see a reason. After you modify someone else's advice, you ought to test it to see if it still works. If you didn't test your modified version, you shouldn't publish it. What would you think about advice for entrepreneurs that was tweaked and republished by a salaried programmer?
1HughRistik10yClarisse has been consulting with me and other people with pickup background. I don't completely agree with all her conclusions, but she isn't just cherry-picking pickup knowledge to keep and throw away completely haphazardly.
0clarissethorn10yHaha. That's some vote of confidence there.
2HughRistik10yBelieve it or not, it was ;)

Yeah, this is definitely what feminists should work on. Rather than giving unsuccessful men a long extension to their current list of "don'ts", they could give effective advice so that the dating pool will contain a higher fraction of men who actually bother to think about feminist concerns in the first place.

7tabsa10yIt's quite obvious that PUA works in some ways because of trying the methods in the "field". My first gripe with the article that it's just the same generalized armchair advice. But even worse is "let's give advice to other group" perspective. Shouldn't feminists be trying to change the women views and behaviour on dating? I don't quite understand why aren't they focusing on their own group in this problem. This seems to remind me of color politics [http://lesswrong.com/lw/gt/a_fable_of_science_and_politics/].

I followed one of the links mentioned in the article, and it is pretty good stuff.

Athol Kay's blog MarriedManSexLife is along these lines. It applies PUA-like insights to long term relationships (this is not the only thing he talks about, but it is a major part). These are more likely to be ethical because in order to work they have to work repeatedly on the same person.

1XFrequentist10yI am very confused why the linked blog could inspire hostility. What little I've read seems correct, of mutual benefit to spouses, and ethically sound. What am I missing?
-3Skatche10yEvidently you're not familiar with the dynamic of abusive relationships.
2jsalvatier10yI did say 'more'.
1Costanza10yI was going to say "Evidently you're not familiar with Athol Kay," but I don't know what you may or may not be familiar with, just as you probably don't know what jsalvatier is familiar with. I think we would all agree that abusive behavior is bad, and can go on for a long time in a cursed, miserable relationship. Based on the information in his blog, Athol Kay (apparently his real name) is not in anything like an abusive relationship with his wife. To the contrary, it's all about mutual satisfaction and support in all the areas of a marriage or LTR.
1Skatche10yI'm not previously familiar with him, no, but I did follow the link you posted to his site. The entire front page was about how women can doll themselves up to be more attractive to their hubbies. I was not impressed. Hoping to give him the benefit of the doubt, I followed the links to some of the "most important posts" on the site, and found more misogynistic bullshit: relationships boiled down [http://www.marriedmansexlife.com/2010/02/destablizing-your-relationship-for-fun.html] , essentially, to how much she's putting out, whining [http://www.marriedmansexlife.com/2010/01/nice-guys-finish-last.html] about Nice Guy™ Syndrome [http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Nice_guy_syndrome], and perpetuation of pathological gender roles [http://www.marriedmansexlife.com/2010/03/dominace-and-submission-in-marriage.html] . So, zero points for ethics.
6jsalvatier10yWith regards to gender roles: is your criticism 1) desire to play that role (in women) is not as common as Athol claims 2) such gender roles are bad regardless of whether people want to play them 3) something else?
0Skatche10yGender roles of any sort are fine if consciously negotiated by consenting adults. When presented as the default, however, or as biological facts, with no chance for negotiation, they become oppressive. Kay's suggestions would be fine as suggestions for husband and wife to discuss and decide on together, but as presented they dangerously mislead their audience.
5jsalvatier10yWhy is explicit negotiation, as opposed to say 'looking for what your partner seems to respond better to', important on this topic? Lots of people cannot or do not want to verbalize what they like when it comes to relationship behaviors. I do agree that treating such roles as immutable facts with no chance for negotiation is bad. Is treating such gender roles as default bad because you don't think desire to play those roles is common enough to justify it or for some other reason?
3HughRistik10yExactly. Interacting with your partner, even implicitly, is a form of negotiation and communication.
1Skatche10yA century of feminism is enough to convince me that, at the very least, a large minority of women are seriously, deeply upset at the lot they're traditionally given. In more recent years, some men have started to come forward and say they're not too happy about their own default either. If it were only a tiny handful of people who felt this way - say one in a hundred million - then it wouldn't make sense to adopt the more progressive approach by default, although we would still have a responsibility, if we chanced to meet one of these people and if they expressed their views, to take them into consideration. Explicit negotiation is important because of the immense variability of romantic and sexual drives in humans, and because of the dreadful ease of misunderstanding (and even if you really are a perfect mind reader, you probably don't need to visit PUA websites). In my experience, and that of other people in my community, "cannot or do not want to" is an ephemeral state arising from the awkwardness of a new form of dialogue. All it takes is a bit of practice and it becomes the easiest thing in the world to communicate your desires, plus it improves your romantic life tremendously.
2falenas10810yHe actually does that, but not in every post. Almost every post he writes is mostly applicable to a stereotype, he just assumes readers know by now that he isn't saying it will work for everyone. Not very conducive for attracting newcomers, but that's his decision. If you want proof, click this [http://www.marriedmansexlife.com/2010/06/what-to-do-when-theres-another-man-in.html] and do a control f search for the word mileage.
4jsalvatier10yI think I need more help seeing why I should think the links you provide are examples of Not Good Things. * Most of his blog is devoted to how husbands can be more attractive to their wives. Coming to the blog for the first time, its natural to miss his explanation that for April he is focusing on 'Girl Game' (link [http://www.marriedmansexlife.com/2011/04/girl-game-defining-few-terms.html] ). Partially for a change of pace and partially because he's gotten requests for it from commenters. I can easily see how this would be off putting if this is the first thing you see. Given this context, do you still see this as problematic? * Boiling down to putting out: Yes, he mentions 'wife putting out more' as the consequence of raising the husband's relative mate value more than anything else, but the mechanism he describes is that the wife wants to have more sex, which doesn't seem terribly problematic to me. Elsewhere he talks about doing things to build comfort in a relationship. Do you find any of the behaviors suggested in that link problematic? Is your notion that too much focus on sex is problematic? * Whining: I am sympathetic to your link. I think a lot of this kind of discussion is really about word choice. If you reframe nice vs. jerk as passive vs. active or non-aggressive vs. aggressive, I think a lot of discussion would dissolve. If passive vs. active (or somesuch) was the framing used, do you think this would be less problematic? Perhaps such discussions need comments like "guys think they're being nice, but they're really just being passive, and that's often not attractive"?
2Alicorn10yI think he can have, like, one point for ethics. He's a little sloppy about it in places and does sling generalizations, but there's nothing that egregious and he doesn't seem to hate women or consider us interchangeable.
6clarissethorn10yHe has this post about the "dark side of game": http://www.marriedmansexlife.com/2010/03/dark-side-of-game.html [http://www.marriedmansexlife.com/2010/03/dark-side-of-game.html] This post from him really flipped me out: http://www.marriedmansexlife.com/2011/02/life-sucks-marriage-still-good.html [http://www.marriedmansexlife.com/2011/02/life-sucks-marriage-still-good.html] because of this quotation: "yes we still had sex on Friday night (she squirted), Saturday night (she cried), Sunday morning (she tolerated it) and Sunday night looks good too (she's gonna go for the handjob option when I offer it). " which, uh, doesn't sound like his wife is all that into the sex. On the other hand, she later asserted that she has no problem with their current setup in this post: http://www.marriedmansexlife.com/2011/02/jennifer-answers-some-questions.html [http://www.marriedmansexlife.com/2011/02/jennifer-answers-some-questions.html] so the problem I think is more with careless phrasing than careless treatment of her feelings. At least, I hope so. She sounds pretty ok to me.
-4Skatche10yWell, fair enough. He also didn't shoot anyone in the face, so...
4Alicorn10yDo consider his competition. At some point, if you don't want to be accused of not reading them or being fair, you need to award the PUA Blogger of the Month award to someone, even if it's for not-deserving-an-award-the-least.
0[anonymous]10yjsvaltier said "more likely", not "guaranteed".

I’ve theorized that maybe feminists should provide good pickup advice

I'm trying to imagine such a guide:

  • Step one, stop using the approval of women as the core of your moral compass and chief determinant of your behavior.
  • ... Why are you still here?
5TheOtherDave10ySo, I've been staring at this comment for a while trying to make sense of it. I'm admitting defeat. I mean, I understand that you're suggesting that men who don't use the approval of women as the core of their moral compass and the chief determinant of their behavior don't have any need for good pickup advice, but I really don't understand why that should even be true, let alone obvious. Can you unpack that a bit?
2wedrifid10yRather, the opening advice incidentally implies that they don't seek dating advice from a female authority figure that has selected and vetted subjected to her seal of approval. "Mommy, how do I make girls like me?" just isn't a particularly good way to arrange the education of males and a feminist guide to dating for males is even more inappropriate. It makes so much more sense for 'feminism' to give advice for females. There isn't such an overwhelming conflict of interest with regards to agenda (which is not to say that the political agenda wouldn't interfere even with advice to females at times as well).

There isn't such an overwhelming conflict of interest with regards to agenda (which is not to say that the political agenda wouldn't interfere even with advice to females at times as well).

You would think that if feminism was about watching out for women's interests, it would also watch out for their heterosexual interests. Yet some feminists seem to view women's heterosexual interests as counter their political interests, when those women have preferences for traditional gender dynamics.

In some conversations with feminists about pickup techniques, I often get the sense that they look down on the women who respond to particular techniques. For example, in a thread at Feministe, "negs" are only granted effectiveness because of vulnerabilities in women. It couldn't possibly be because some types of women actually enjoy some types of negs, without being psychologically broken!

For example, this comment supposedly distinguishes a "neg" from light teasing:

(1) A week or so ago I was sitting in a bar with a few friends and a guy walked up to me and said “You have lovely eyes, they’d be remarkable if you wore makeup.” That’s a neg. That made me laugh at him and tel

... (read more)
9clarissethorn10yI am tickled to be referenced as "Clarisse Thorn herself". Since that conversation, though, I have to say that I've thought about Kristen's Feministe comment a lot, and I think I understand it better now (though I'm still not sure I agree). (1) shows a guy who is trying to exert dominance by telling her what to do. "You have lovely eyes, they'd be remarkable if you wore makeup" includes a proposed "solution" to the "problem" he's outlining. (3), on the other hand, is just mockery. "That guy will rot your brain" doesn't tell her what to do. I see the distinction now, but I'm not convinced that the speakers did, nor am I convinced that most hearers would.
0wedrifid10yNo disagreement here. I would go as far as to say that it is the least vulnerable women for whom negs are the most enjoyable and effective. Guys that lack the confidence , social savvy and resistance to moralizing pressure to display strong dominance in their approach are beneath them - and having a vulnerability for weaker approaches would lower their reproductive success and in general be far less powerful.
4TheOtherDave10ySo, I can kind of get this to make sense if I assume that good pick-up advice acts against the best interests of women... which, now that I think about it, is consistent with your other comments on the subject. Sure, if that's true, and if feminists are interested in advancing the interests of women (which seems likely), then it follows that feminists giving pick-up advice is a conflict of interest, as you say. Of course, men who consider themselves pick-up artists giving pick-up advice is also a conflict of interest, in that they presumably consider themselves in competition with their advisees for resources. But perhaps, as you suggest, the conflict of interest in the second case is less overwhelming. And your equation of feminists with female authority figures suggests that you consider those sets entirely disjoint... that is, that there are no feminist men, at least not in this context. And if I additionally assume, as you seem to here, that I have to choose -- that is, that I can either learn from feminists, or learn from soi-disant PUAs, but I can't do both -- then it follows from all that that I should not seek out pick-up advice from feminists. OK, I think I understand. Thanks for the clarification.
-3wedrifid10yI don't accept any of that as especially representative of any position I put forward and do not wish to engage in discourse of the style you are using. There may be those here who appreciate my comment - I will leave them to do so or not based on their own perspectives.
0TheOtherDave10yAll right. If at some later time you choose to clarify what I got wrong there, I'll be interested.

I am impressed at the quality of the comments in that thread.

0clarissethorn10yI know! I heart my commenters! Many of them are sooo amazing.

If I were a mean person, I'd downvote this for linking to a long, probably interesting discussion when there are things I need to get done.

[+][anonymous]10y -7