The other day, someone did something I didn't expect.  It was something many people have done before; something that I thought of as very normal, but that I in no way understood and had not predicted.

As I said, this had happened many time before, so I wrote it off as "me not understanding people" or "people are weird" for a second, like I usually do, before realizing that "bad at" really means "lacking basic knowledge", which I had never realized before.

And then I thought "I should ask someone who is different from me why people do that, and eventually someone will have an answer."

But many people will have many more questions like this.  So, what have you observed people doing time and time again, but never understood?  Or something that you only understood after a long time or asking someone about it?

And can Less Wrong tell us, not necessarily why (I for one can make up evolutionary psychology fairy tales all day if I want) but what conscious thought process occurs behind these events?

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Why do I fantasize about being angry?

I'm breaking the rule a bit by asking about myself here.

Sometimes when I have down time and am daydreaming, especially if I'm walking somewhere or going for a run, I fantasize about someone wronging me (say with a traffic violation), then imagine myself getting angry, yelling at them, and physically beating them up. I think about knocking them down, screaming at them, challenging them to get up, and knocking them down again.

I've never acted on such a fantasy. I have no idea how to actually fight someone if I wanted to. It's very rare that I show anger, and I don't think I've ever punched someone as an adult. But I think about it pretty regularly, and the thoughts disturb me. I have no idea where they come from or why I take pleasure in these sorts of fantasies.

Is this a common thought pattern? Why do people have it?

It's called Intrusive Thoughts, and apparently most people have these:

London psychologist Stanley Rachman presented a questionnaire to healthy college students and found that virtually all said they had these thoughts from time to time, including thoughts of sexual violence, sexual punishment, "unnatural" sex acts, painful sexual practices, blasphemous or obscene images, thoughts of harming elderly people or someone close to them, violence against animals or towards children, and impulsive or abusive outbursts or utterances.[6] Such bad thoughts are universal among humans, and have "almost certainly always been a part of the human condition".[7]

I don't think the phenomenon of 'intrusive thoughts' is relevant. Intrusive thoughts feel differently than what Mark is describing. The difference is that intrusive thoughts are 'intrusive', and almost feel like someone else is having them, whereas fantasizing about being angry is more active and more pleasant.
I've had intrusive thoughts too and I've wondered how common they are. Thank you for letting me know that they are something most people experience. I would share some on here, but they're pretty embarrassing.
If these are the "common" ones, then from my experience they're related to what's going on in one's life. By which I mean that I've had similar thoughts, but only during a time when there was a person who I wanted to fight, was afraid of fighting, and couldn't fight, and not any other times.

When I first read this, I thought "woah, that's kinda weird and worrying". Then I realised I do something similar. I sometimes rehearse violent confrontations in my imagination.

I've been involved in a few violent confrontations as an adult, and they're nothing like you imagine them to be. People like to imagine all the badass things they would have done in those situations, but when you suddenly find yourself in a brawl, your thoughts are generally "what the hell's going on here? Is this really happening?" I've heard accounts of highly trained martial artists experiencing the same thing. Even if you're physically prepared for a fight, you're not necessarily prepared for the social situation of a fight.

I assume that when I imagine violent first-person scenarios it's some sort of long-term rehearsal process where I'm psychologically preparing myself for conflict at some point in the future. I generally try and avoid situations which have a high risk of physical conflict, though, so my sample size is so small as to be useless when trying to figure out if it does any good.

That's why I've hired someone to pay strangers to fight me at random.
G.K.Chesterton described something similar in The Club of Queer Trades:
The parent is a joke.
Are you sure? Because I've already paid them. I tried to cancel by phone, but it's turned off; they are probably busy right now with something.
Consider yourself lucky. I told them that any attempt on my part to call off the attack was just a trick and if they fell for it, they'd forfeit their bonus. Oops.
I fantasize about horrific situations to subject fictional characters to. This I recently recognized as being due to my long-term work on decompartmentalizing new information. Essentially I find rules of the fictional realm, put them together in ways not intended by the original author, and get the small rush of self-congratulations for "taking an idea to its logical conclusion." This results in being "too realistic" for many fantasy settings. On the other hand, it is why rationalist fiction so pleases me - it reminds me of how I think!

Depending on what you mean by "horrific situation" you may have a psychological condition known as "author".

An author, possibly Howard Taylor, said his method for writing was to: set up a situation, have everything go as badly as possible then try and find a way out of it.
Oh, hey. You write fanfiction too, right? I think I recognize your name. :P
The amateur psychoanalyst simulation I'm running would latch on to this:
This could be an interesting research topic: Ask people how often then imagine having a fight with someone. Ask people how often then have a fight. Ask people how angry they feel. Then give them some questionnaire with is supposed to discover supressed anger. Make statistics. Post on LW. Gain 25 karma points. :D EDIT: Actually, a rational course of action is to outsource all the work on some psychology student, and then just check their statistics, post on LW, and collect karma.
Violence is just as much an inherent drive as sex for males. Violent narratives for entertainment are almost universal among human cultures.
I have a variant of imagining someone saying something annoying, and then trying to figure out an answer to it. I think the sequence is more likely to end with me giving up because the imagined annoying person just won't listen. Fortunately, when I realized (after some decades of doing this) that it was a waste of mental and emotional cpus-- why am I inventing occasions to be annoyed?-- I found that I did a lot less of it, and could bail out of it quickly if I found I was doing it.
It's just an evolutionary ad-hoc story, but I think that in an ancient environment you would have real fights sometimes. An impulse to imagine fighting, even when you are not, is an opportunity to rehearse the techniques and learn from mistakes. I remember reading some article that if some skill requires N hours of time, imagining the practice realistically with full attention, is almost as good as the real practice. This probably assumes that you had the real practice before, so your imagination is realistic enough. In ancient environment, your imagination of fight would be realistic enough.
It is my observation that people seldom have very realistic ideas about what's involved in a fight unless they have some training or hands-on experience. Scenarios like that don't really have a lot of bearing on practical technique, so I'd be rather surprised if this emotional experience were best explained by there being a brain-module that rehearses hypothetical fights instinctively to increase people's odds. It seems like a logical implication would be that people with this trait fare better in physical competition, and if it's a standard trait of humans, then why are we so abysmal at instinctive combat?
Personally I don't fantasise about violence in itself as much as the exercise of power and control. Not sure how common that is, but possibly if you generally feel out of control the most obvious way for you to exer some seems to be violence (whereas for me its people doing what I tell them to).
Yes, I have similar thought patterns, though usually the angriness happens without or with only slight provocations (people not conforming to my asthetic norms, people loudly using their mobile in public). Fortunately, my fantasies are totally over the top, so I have a hard time taking them seriously or worrying about them - it's like watching a splatter movie inside my head. I don't feel guilty, worried or ashamed for watching those, so I don't worry if my mind produces them for free. A friend of mine with schizoid personality disorder has similar thought patterns from time to time, however, it is a lot harder for her not to act on these thoughts, and far more stressful. So, it isn't a thought pattern only you experience, but I'm afraid I can't answer why people have it.

Why do people have the social norm that drinking alcohol is compulsory? I've experienced a number of situations where drinking alcohol was a requirement for social interaction, to the point where people were suspicious and untrustworthy of any abstainers. Why does this happen?

Possibly relevant: I am from the northeastern United States.

I'm surprised that nobody has mentioned this one, but it's often inappropriate to hang around with people while not engaging in whatever activity they're doing. Don't sit in the stands at a football game reading a book, don't watch TV while your friends are playing Dungeons and Dragons, don't have your headphones on while friends are having a conversation.

For many people, alcohol raises talkativeness and lowers inhibition, so you're more likely to say things you normally wouldn't (in vino veritas). Sharing private things is a friendship-builder (HPMOR 7), but it can also be embarrassing. Drinking is a pre-commitment to build friendship through potentially embarrassing interactions, and when you abstain, you're saying, "I'll hear your secrets, but keep mine, thank you very much," which is a suspicious and untrustworthy kind of stance.

To the extent the above is true, it's too bad, because

  1. Some people really don't like drinking, and alcohol doesn't make them more sociable anyway
  2. No one should need to self-handicap in this way to trust and be trusted
  3. It's a pre-commitment, limiting your options
It's only a pre-commitment as far as the placebo effect causes you to engage in embarrassing behavior. There are some physical effects of alcohol, but your willingness to break social boundaries while intoxicated seems to depend only on how strongly you believe you are intoxicated. source on one study: source seeming to indicate that even the physical effects can be placebo-related:
It may be not the whole effect, although a major part of it. My coworker says that the only time when he consumed noticeable amount of alcohol he was surprised by the thinking becoming more difficult. I can say nothing from personal experience because I cannot tolerate the taste long enough for any effects to manifest themselves.
Pre-commitment is only necessarily bad in for perfectly rational agents in one-player games without akrasia. In multi-player games (the ones where CDT doesn't work, e.g. Parfit's Hitchhiker), or if you have akrasia (which can be described as you acting as a different player than yourself at a different time), pre-commitment does win in certain situations. That's the whole point of picoeconomics, including pre-commitment devices such as Beeminder. Plus, alcohol is not such a strong pre-commitment, anyway; it makes you less shy, but if you're really motivated not to do/say something, then alcohol won't make you do/say that.[1] If anything, it's a pre-commitment to not perform activities needing good reaction times and coordination such as driving.

I think this is mostly the impression of moral superiority people get from non-drinkers. If you excuse yourself for medical reasons, or imply you're a recovering alcoholic, people will mistrust you a lot less.

Agreed about the recovering alcoholism excuse; I've occasionally implied that to good effect. Medical reasons is complicated; I've had this both succeed and fail depending on particulars. That said, I generally find "No thanks, I'm good" works pretty well.
I've heard this excuse suggested before on LW, and it still sits wrong with me. I'd expect it to be fairly disadvantageous to be thought a recovering alcoholic in many situations.
(nods) In many situations it is. Context is everything. Also, indirection matters here. Saying "No, I really don't drink anymore" while staring at my feet gets the implication across, for example, without saying anything false.
Cool. I suppose it'd make sense in relatively "disposable" social interactions.

I don't know, of course, but if my cohort regularly engages in a habit that leaves us at a physical and cognitive disadvantage, it really doesn't seem too surprising that we will also develop associated habits that prevent others who are not so disadvantaged from engaging with us.

Simple tradition, I expect. In many situations and cultures, consuming alcohol is simply the done thing, and not doing the done thing a surefire way of standing out. I'd also guess that people who drink in these situations expect everyone to know the social norms and agree with them (even if it's only an unconscious background assumption), and so they'll see not wanting to drink as wanting to stand out. And you know what that means.

Bonding among humans involves being vulnerable. Shared food gives them the chance to poison you. Comedy allows you to signal to each other which social norms you don't take seriously. Drinking involves loss of coordination and talkativeness about deep issues one has.

Drinking is a signal of agreeableness and extraversion, which are highly valued status-enhancing traits. Not drinking when the context calls for it signals a lack of compliance with group norms - and does not have a status-enhancing spin to it that can be sold as "cool rebellion."
Personally one of the reasons I enjoy social drinking is the mutual lowering of barriers. In everyday interaction people are routinely concealing their true feelings and intentions. Consuming alcohol forces them to reveal more of their true feelings and provides a social setting where this is acceptable. I find you trust and understand people better having been drunk with them. Consequently, someone refusing to drink is implicitly trying to conceal their true feelings to a greater degree, which makes them seem less trustworthy/friendly.
This hasn't been my experience. I have found that drunk people aren't as capable of concealing their true feelings or beliefs as sober people, such that people who are concealing those things to a significant degree are easier to understand when drunk... I agree with that much. But I've also found that drunk people aren't as capable of expressing their feelings or beliefs with any clarity as sober people, such that people whose feelings or beliefs are significantly complex are easier to understand when sober. I suppose the tradeoff has to do with how much I value knowing the simple feelings/beliefs that my friends are concealing, vs how much I value knowing the complex feelings/beliefs they wish to express. I've swung back and forth on this over the years, depending on who my friends are and what exactly is going on in my life, but in general I'm happiest when I'm focused on the latter.

Why are some females sometimes unreasonably mean to other females? Is this even the case?

For example, I recently asked a friend why she felt the need to buy a new dress for every 'special event' (galas, dances, etc.). After some thought, she said it's most likely because she will be looked down upon by other females if she is seen wearing something that she has previously been known to wear. I asked why again, and she said that sort of judgement has probably been inculcated in the majority of females; she clarified that she only bought new dresses so as not to be thought of as low status, and has no qualms wearing the same things around family.

In other words, she thinks other females constantly judge each other based upon their wardrobe; she said the same judgement does not apply to men. I have heard that some females play relatively cruel psychological games with each other when compared to male culture. Is this true? Why do some do it?

I've always assumed it's due to mere insecurity, in the same way some males often put each other down in order to be thought of as higher status.


For example, I recently asked a friend why she felt the need to buy a new dress for every 'special event' (galas, dances, etc.). After some thought, she said it's most likely because she will be looked down upon by other females if she is seen wearing something that she has previously been known to wear. I asked why again, and she said that sort of judgement has probably been inculcated in the majority of females; she clarified that she only bought new dresses so as not to be thought of as low status, and has no qualms wearing the same things around family.

Men have comparable status competitions and nastiness, it just isn't about clothes.


Men have comparable status competitions and nastiness it just isn't about clothes.

Part of Zaine's question is whether this is actually the case. There's an aphorism: "Men insult each other and don't mean it. Women compliment each other and don't mean it." Do groups of men who are friends engage zero-sum status games? What do those look like?

Aren't most status games zero-sum, though? Would I be right to assume that you meant the kind of status games where the men of Group Y are trying to raise their status at the expense of each other rather than those not in their in-group? If so, almost any form of social interaction in a given group can have zero-sum status game elements. As an example, the simple act of sharing information can be construed as promoting one's superior knowledge and thus showing the other guy up. You mentioned the saying "Men insult each other and don't mean it. Women compliment each other and don't mean it." That's definitely a working example of such games. Here's an extract from Duels and Duets: Why Men and Women Talk So Differently by John L. Locke, via Google Books:
Yes. Particularly popular ones are known as "sports." Note the asymmetry between men and women- men compete both as groups and as individuals. Women generally only compete as individuals- so males have a flavor of camaraderie that women rarely do.

I don't believe athletic competition is zero-sum. The status gain of the winners isn't offset by a status loss of the losers. In fact, the losers often come out with a gain in status, assuming they play well.

Another way to see that it's positive-sum is as follows: A close-fought game results in more status for both sides than does a rout. If the game were zero-sum, that status had to come from somewhere. But in fact, if the losers play better, both sides come out better than if the losers lost, badly.

Conclusion: athletics and similar competition is positive-sum, and the size of the total status gain depends on the talent being displayed.

Status is relative by its essence. So, if some forms of direct competition seem to raise the status of both competitors, somebody else has to lose. It only needn't be one of the direct participants in the match. You're right that both competitors may gain status if they both play well, but the very meaning of "well" is decided from comparison with other players in the relevant pool; if you play better than they usually do, your status grows at their expense. Also, it is not universally true that close-fought results get positive status change to both competitors. Close win against a low-status outsider is often a status loss for the winner, even if the loser played well.
Yes, I agree with all this. But the original claim was "sports are a zero-sum status game". And I think you and I are both saying that this isn't so -- competition is sometimes positive and sometimes negative- sum for the participants. While social status, at the society-wide level is necessarily zero sum, the participants in the activity might all come out ahead of the bystanders -- or behind, perhaps, if the sport is disreputable.
Somewhat related: exactly one of the groups of male friends I'm a member of has/had a very clear, completely self-appointed omega. This weirded me out; I think he thought he wasn't as smart as some of us, but he's hardly stupid (currently doing PhD research in engineering!) and a very nice guy.
Curious how different an omega and an Omega are.

We now have a clue about Omega's backstory.

What age group are we talking about? I read some long livejournal comment discussions (hundreds of comments, and sorry, I can't place it more accurately than that it was probably more than four years ago and might have been in theferrett's journal) about bullying by girls in school, and there was a lot of it. Almost all of it was social rather than physical. One of the classics was pretending to be someone's friend, and then laughing at them for believing it. That can apparently cause longterm (possibly permanent) damage to the victim's ability to trust people. The only incident from the threads that I remember in detail was from someone in a school where a particular pin was the thing the popular girls wore. She begged her parents for the pin, and eventually got one. When the other girls saw her wearing it, they took off their pins and threw them on the floor.
I suppose adults (around 20 years and onward) are the most productively discussable age group, as by then the mind has completed most of its development. I can only think sadism the reason for why one would pretend to be someone's friend, unless affirming the "absurdity" of the concept itself reinforces a status divide. The pin incident points to in-groups using exclusionary measures to define themselves from everyone out-group. Just conceived theory: In school settings, groups of girls that signal unavailability and attract the majority of their class's opposite sex maintain these two measures of status through exclusively signalling themselves as what 'high-status' means. These signals often express themselves as psychological games. The theory would extrapolate to post-school settings by essentially repeating the process; have others signal one as high-status by treating one as such, then represent oneself as the epitome of high-status by using similar games to signal others as lower status. The theory operates on the premise that the games are all about status, which I think would be sad if true. So specious.
I would say no. I'm with Konkvistador; the male and female games simply take on different forms. Still, on the psychological-physical axis of abuse, women tend toward the psychological more than men, so I'd expect them to be commensurately more adept at purely psychological abuse. However, regarding the big picture, there's nothing "relatively less cruel" about being beat up or shoved around than with being given the silent treatment. I've wondered more than a few times at how often the psychological effects of physical interactions tend to be overlooked. Even aside from, say, the actual physical pain of losing a fight, there's still all the other stuff. It's not like the memory of a fight lost in front of everybody suddenly vanishes or is instantly overcome. Physical pains intentionally inflicted on you by others always come with corresponding mental counterparts, while the reverse is not true.
Outside of fairly toxic environments, my experience is that social conflicts among men rarely devolve to violence past high school age. How far does this sort of judgmental behavior among women persist? It's something I'm aware of in abstract but I've never really observed it firsthand.
I suppose I also meant to ask after the proliferation of both types of abuse. Physical confrontations among men, from my schooling experience, were quite rare. I once witnessed an 'alpha' stare down someone challenging his status, while verbally asserting dominance and forcing the challenger to agree the alpha was superior, and the challenger was an idiot for thinking otherwise. From an anthropological perspective it was quite enthralling to watch. I know that physical violence among male culture occurs more frequently in other regions, and that in Japan males employ psychological games similar to those of western women. So, to narrow down the question and assist in mitigating what ambiguity can arise from relativism: In 'western culture', which type of abuse is most often used, and by whom? Why? Do females abuse the longest, and are their psychological games thus comparatively worse?
I guess this answer strongly depends on how exactly you define "abuse". My intuition is that generally the more intensive acts of abuse are less frequent, and the less intentive acts of abuse are more frequent; for example people more often scream at each other than hit each other. So where exactly you draw the line, the kind of abuse just above the line will probably be the most frequent. If we count only physical violence, in western culture (during peace) the most frequent would be men against women, or maybe parents against children. With psychological abuse, I am not sure. A fair comparison would be a weighted sum: to multiply the frequency of abuse with severity of average consequences. But it is easier to evaluate physical damage from physical abuse (although this is also not simple: a small brain tissue damage from one incident may be undetected, but cumulative effects can be serious) than a damage from psychological abuse; the latter is almost impossible to evaluate. (As a sidenote, focusing on statistics by sex is kind of privileging a hypothesis. We should start by looking at data, and draw the boundary accordingly. Sometimes the incidence will correlate with one sex very strongly: I guess criticizing not having a new dress for an event is a predominantly female behavior, just like e.g. bar fights are a predominantly male behavior. For other kinds of abuse, the incidence may be different.)
I think defining psychological abuse as that which is done passively (behind someone's back, through subtly in a conversation, etc.) and physical abuse as that which is done actively (aggressive contact, screaming, heated insults) would suffice. I can see how asking, "... and by which sex?" can privilege the hypothesis that the most common type of abuse would be used by one sex more than the other. I think fixing it to saying, "... and by what sex?" solves it, though; what other answers could the data reflect besides male, female, DSD (intersex), or some combination of the three?
I meant something like this: Imagine that there is a thing T that you want to study. Correlation between T and X is 0.9. Correlation between T and Y is 0.6. Let's assume that there are no other known factors besides X and Y which would correlate significantly with T. If you start your research by asking (if you are primed to ask) "is there a significant correlation between T and Y?", your research will continue like this "yes, we have measured that correlation between T and Y is 0.6, end of story" and you will publish this. There is a risk that you will miss X completely, because you will focus only on Y. But if your goal is to find a good predictor of T, it would be better to discover X. I think there is a lot of motivated "research" about violence, where the bottom line is: men are evil, women are victims. This has some relation to the territory: certainly men commit much more violent crimes than women. Though even in this situation, why stop at the male sex? Why not also evaluate the impact of e.g. education, social class, previous criminal record, or (political correctness forbid!) ethnicity? Maybe there is some correlation here, too. If we move from physical violence to other kinds of abuse, the results may change. Not just the correlation with male sex can be weaker, maybe even negative, but more importantly, there may be a significant correlation with something else, which we completely ignore, because we focus only on correlation with sex. So generally, is is better to ask "what causes this kind of abuse?" than "how is this kind of abuse related to sex?". If the correlation with sex is significant (yes, sometimes it is), let it come freely as an answer to the first question, but let's not start with assumption that it is significant.
Thank you; I edited the question to eliminate the (selection bias?) privileged hypothesis.
My best friend was once given the silent treatment in a context and manner so stressful that she could not eat solid food for several days and I had to make her smoothies. A physical beating with the same effect would have had to be really seriously injurious.


A friend of mine was once given a physical beating in a context and manner so stressful that it fractured his skull. The silent treatment with the same effect would have had to be extraordinary.

It's not clear to me what follows from either of those comparisons, beyond the relatively obvious observation that different forms of harm have different types of symptoms.

It also depends on the context where the physical beating happens, not just the intensity. For example imagine being beaten in front of your best friends, who are too afraid to intervene (maybe they realistically didn't have a chance, but you feel that they should have done something) -- that would hurt beyond the pain of beating itself. For a guy, being beaten in front of the girl he has crush on, probably means losing status and reproductive chances. Also the context determines the probability that the same thing will happen again: being beaten in the school where you must go every day, is worse than being beaten in a dark street you can avoid next time.
A physical beating comes with psychological effects, too, though. It wouldn't have to completely physically incapacitate someone to the point of not being able to eat; it would only have to have a sum of (physical + psychological) effect totaling to that level of bad.
I'm not a female, but this seems to me an obvious competition within sexes. Assuming that most people are heterosexual, for a female a competitor is another female, just like for a male a competitor is another male. So the ability to put down members of the same sex is an evolutionarily selected trait. (Of course it is not the only evolutionarily selected trait; in other contexts a cooperation is rewarded.) Males and females use somehow different methods of putting down their competitor, probably the ones better suited to their comparative advantages: males will try to put down other males by physical attacks or threats, females prefer mental and social attacks. However, a reason why some behavior is evolutionarily selected is not the same as a mental process by which it is started. (For example a desire to have sex is selected because it leads to reproduction, but we do it for pleasure.) A psychological trigger that starts the intra-sex competition may be a feeling of insecurity. Which, among other things, may be also triggered by a presence of a competitor.

In my understanding, few men would notice if I wore the same dress twice. Out-competing other women for men only makes sense if the men notice. The level of attention to dress that will impress most men is lower than the level that will impress most other women. So to the extent that women are dressing carefully to impress men, it's largely mediated through other women. Women may snark to men, or to other women in men's hearing, about other women in order to jockey for status. (I realize this isn't an Austen crowd, but think Miss Bingley snarking to Mr. Darcy about Elizabeth Bennet.)

I work for a fashion company, marketing high-end designer goods to both men and women, and can assure you the phenomenon your friend is describing is very real. On the broader subject of cruelty, I think you're on the right lines with insecurity, but that's still not an answer. Why do people experience insecurity (i.e. why do feelings of insecurity exist in human beings)?
Humans are exquisitely sensitive to tribal status for fairly obvious reasons. This is why pretty much all human interactions have an element of status game about them.

Well, yes, but lots of human emotional responses are about mediating the perception and signalling of status. Insecurity is (more or less) second-guessing one's self-perceived status, regardless of the reality of the situation. We might imagine this becoming more useful (and more frequent) in environments where there's a lot of status competition.

So what happens in an environment where you have a cadre of ridiculously high-status superstimulatory celebrities, with media channels dedicated to demonstrating their high-status qualities and disseminating gossip about them?

Bloody hell. I think I've turned into a feminist.

Wow, I (a man) never had the slightest inkling that this pressure existed.
In doing so, they evaluate others' taste (mental abilities / fitness) and ability to afford many new dresses (resources). Why is this an example of special cruelty to others? As long as you have status at all, you must have constant appraisal of others' status. This isn't even an attempt to deliberately lower someone else's status, this is just straightforward competition at raising your own.
I don't do this. I may value others based upon their potential impact on the world, though, on a very subconscious level; I more consciously value others relative to me. Status only matters in so much as it can achieve or accomplish something, and thus is just one tool through which one pursues a goal hierarchically higher on one's objective tree. Being viewed as high-status only matters if those judging have value. I understand that in the microcosm of high school, people with little world-value can be high-status, and have the power to negatively affect one's life; complying with their games makes sense in this instance. However, when those judging have no value on the scale of the game one plays or intends to play (work, mating, scholarship), then efforts undergone to have them think of one as high-status no longer make sense. In this case, buying a dress effects a net: decrease in personal funds, which I'm assuming are valued; increase in status judgment by party X, who has/have no value. 'Tis then frivolous to partake in the games of party X as 'twould only yield the loss of something valued, with no valued gains. I don't enjoy frivolity that costs me something I value and gives me nothing I value, and I operate under the understanding that neither do others. Forcing someone to make an unnecessary value assessment of: negative value of social games vs. experience of 'special event', is cruel, as it's an unbalanced choice; one knows the first negative value, but not the second. I don't think the second value can be accurately calculated using Bayes' theorem: too many variables (exempli gratia individual's personalities, inclinations, intentions, resources, hidden plans, etcetera). I think it cruel to force one to make uninformed value calculations. In this instance, the friend plays the game on the world and high school level; she knows party X has little to no value in the world game, but does have some value in the high school game, which she will soon leav
Then you're probably going to be low status in the eyes of the vast majority who does do this. Which is a perfectly valid choice, of course. To your friend who bought the dresses, those judging did have value. Otherwise she wouldn't play the expensive status game. This seems to me like a pretty complete answer to your original question. You might ask why they have value to her - you haven't given the details for me to answer that. At the very least you said they are a majority of all women, so they probably include some friends of hers and new potential friends, else why would she go to these events at all? The valued gain is first of all the willingness of party X to interact with you. If you want it, you must pay the costs. If you don't want it, you don't care to play and don't pay. Why do you describe this as "forcing someone"? Everyone is free to choose with whom to associate. Everyone who plays the expensive games does so by choice. All the standard considerations of game theory apply. Why not? If one has been to similar events in the past, and missed some events, one should have a good idea of the benefits to be had on average. Even if this is true, I don't see why it's more so than for most other aspects of the (social) world. Yes, it's hard to predict the opportunity value of a specific social event as opposed to on average. But consider that everyone attending the event is equally in the dark. If your friend could win (by whatever metric) by not going to social events (and not paying the cost), then she would do so, and others would notice and follow. So I predict on average people benefit individually from going to the events, even taking the cost into account. Compare the opportunity of going to the events with me offering you the same bet on a biased coin toss every week. You pay money to bet against me, but the expected value of many bets is positive. Even though you can't calculate the outcome of the next bet and may lose it (the coin is only s
Actually, I find this quite useful. I've found (before I discovered the following) that those who care enough about status to write me off for not 'playing the game' are the same whom I'd rather not associate with; in a sense they self-filter themselves from my life, and I'm much happier for it. Agreed. Though I don't think this answer fully solves the whole riddle of why some initiate the game at all. They are old friends with whom she was out of touch, and with whom she has recently started spending time again. Ironically, she (says she) detests every moment spent with them, as they have little to nothing in common. As to why she cares at all, I've not an idea. I use 'force' to refer to how one must play their game when deciding whether they wish to attend the event. Even in deciding to attend and not play the game by wearing a previously owned dress, or not attend and avoid the dilemma entirely, one still makes a decision heavily influenced by the mere existence of the game. As long as one has high-enough status, merely initiating the game forces everyone to play it, as one can't make a comprehensive decision on whether to attend the event without taking the game into account. Indeed; however, the event in question (high-school senior prom) is entirely unique to her. School student government changes every year, and thus every year prom changes as well. The cathartic (marking the ending of a personal era) experience of the senior prom adds more to the event as well. Any other generic 'special event', though, would not apply - assuming one has previously attended a similar event. I view such events as both an obligation and an opportunity - different for each party. To use the present example: for my friend, the event is an obligation; as far as can be predicted (not far), she loses more than she gains by attending. For another, though, the event might provide a once in a lifetime opportunity to secure a future with the lovely Sal Crenley. The following table
Less Wrong's Markdown implementation doesn't allow HTML, and there's no way to do tables in the non-HTML part of Markdown, except for using spaces to separate the columns so that they line up in a fixed-width font, then indenting each line by four spaces. | | Projected Monetary | Projected Opportunity | | Available Funds | Cost of Attending | Cost of Not Attending | End Result -------+-----------------+--------------------+---------------------------+----------------------------- Friend | $600 | $600 | Unknown (Possibly Nought) | Known loss of monetary funds | | | | - unknown opportunity cost -------+-----------------+--------------------+---------------------------+----------------------------- Other | $3,000 | $1,200 | Lifelong Saudade | Worthwhile expenditure of | | | | time & funds -------+-----------------+--------------------+---------------------------+----------------------------- (Today I learned a new word.)
Thank you.  I used the page source code from the tables in this article to try it previously.
Yeah, posts use HTML but comments use Markdown.

Why do people go to bars? Is it to find someone to mate with? Or to get drunk? Or just chill?


Disclaimer: these are only the reasons I go to bars. In no particular order.

  1. To exploit alcohol deals -- it's sometimes possible to get alcohol at a bar cheaper than retail price (including tip and cover). Presumably it's a loss leader for something else, or the bar is exploiting some sort of bulk discount.
  2. I've observed plenty of mating/courting behavior at bars, but since the bars in my area are mostly not-gay bars, I don't go to bars to find mates.
  3. To enter a kind of disassociated, free-flowing mental state brought on by the right combination of dancing, inebriation, and music. It's quite cathartic when the stars all line up correctly.
  4. To sing karaoke and not feel self-conscious about it.
Where are you from? In both Ireland and Italy alcohol is at least as expensive in bars as in supermarkets, usually several times as expensive. (It is a lot cheaper in bars in Czech Republic, but I've never bought alcohol in supermarkets there so I don't know whether it would be even cheaper.) It is not uncommon for people to drink alcohol with roommates before going out.
Why do people need to be drunk to enjoy singing karaoke?

They don't but some people are self-conscious about standing in front of a crowd and performing. Alcohol fixes that.

I used to do amateur musical theatre, and one line I heard a lot was "oh, you're so brave to get up in front of all those people!" It feels churlish to tell them I do it because I have narcissistic tendencies coupled with a craving for the approval of my peers. How do you feel about job interviews?
I don't much like them. The way I normally wear my hair codes as too casual so I have to do it differently, and they make me feel judged (not wrongly, of course). Neither really applies to karaoke :)
"Ah, it's because I'm insecure in a different way." Yep, I've been there!
Relevant HIMYM clip
Sometimes because they are bad at singing, so they need to be drunk to enjoy the sound of their own singing (compare listening to badly performed music).
I used to believe I was very bad at singing (mainly because my parents told me I was), but I sang karaoke (when drunk) a couple of times and noticed that people actually enjoyed me singing, so I started singing karaoke regularly, and I still do so. I've had a few people contacting me on Facebook and wanting to get to know me because they think I'm such an awesome singer -- if three years ago someone had told me this would happen, I would never have believed them.
Good for you! I on the other hand, believe I am very bad at singing because what I hear when I sing is horrible. I have fairly good (if untrained) musical hearing and love listening to others sing, so I think it's likely I'm right about myself. My parents have indeed always told me I sound horrible and have no musical talent and must never sing. But I think their actual influence was mostly in convincing me not to try to learn/practice to sing.
can be somewhat different from what others hear. Try recording yourself and listening back. (Though for some reason most people hate that, at least with non-singing speech -- I think I once read about some study about that on Language Log.) ETA: More anecdotal evidence that people might underestimate how good they are at singing: A couple weeks ago I was in the bar where I usually sing karaoke on Mondays, and a girl (whom I knew by sight because her boyfriend studies in the same university department as me, but with whom I had never spoken before) was about to sing a song; the bartender asked her whether she would be OK with me accompanying her, she accepted and we started singing; but the song was much higher than my usual singing voice, so I had to strain my voice to sing in tune and I thought I sounded ridiculous, whereas she had a beautiful voice. (I could have used falsetto, or sung an octave lower, but I didn't feel like experimenting while singing with someone I barely knew.) So I kept my mike further and further away from my mouth (noticing she looked disappointed) until after the end of the second verse I put the mike down and let the girl go on singing alone. Today I ran into that girl by the coffee vending machines in my university, and she asked whether that night I had stopped singing because she was so bad I had trouble keeping in tune with her, and said that this means a lot to her, because she's taking singing classes; when I explained her the actual reason I had stopped, she told me she thought I actually sounded fine. I said she sounded great too, and she said that she still had much work to do; then she asked me whether I was taking singing classes at [such-and-such school, which some of the guys at the bar were attending]. She seemed quite surprised when I told her I wasn't.
I wonder whether some analogue of the Dunning–Kruger effect–impostor syndrome combination applies, whereby bad singers think they sing better than they actually do, and good singers think they sing worse than they actually do.

I don't drink, don't like trying to hold a conversation over loud music, and don't like starting conversations with strangers if I don't think we'll have anything in common. Why the hell do I go to bars?

1) Everyone else is there. It's a Schelling Point for non-specific social activity.

2) It's public. There are a whole host of complicated hospitality / power dynamic / pragmatic considerations that come with inviting people to your home, or being invited to someone else's. Bars take responsibility for all the trappings of hospitality.

3) It's a ubiquitous venue. In an urban area you'll always be able to find a bar in walking distance, whereas you can't say the same for a park or a museum.

4) It's a designated area for social interaction. If I did want to talk to a stranger, this is permitted in bars, whereas it's prohibited in most other venues. (Your mileage may vary here; The UK is a lot more staid about these things than the rest of Europe and North America.)

4) It's a designated area for social interaction. If I did want to talk to a stranger, this is permitted in bars, whereas it's prohibited in most other venues. (Your mileage may vary here; The UK is a lot more staid about these things than the rest of Europe and North America.)

To the point where I sometimes wonder whether the UK has "bars" at all, of the sort being talked about. Go into any pub in the UK, and it will be mostly full of people in small groups who already know each other and went there to talk to each other. In a few specialised environments (e.g. a university campus during the first few weeks of a new year) it may be more common for strangers to strike up new acquaintances in "bars", but I'm not aware of anywhere where it's a general custom. Perhaps in "nightclubs", which I've never been in, but from observation of the queues outside such places, nobody goes to such a place alone, whatever they then do inside.

Talking to strangers in pubs happens more in Australia. But I've seen people just talk to each other in specialist pubs in the UK, e.g. goth pubs or metal pubs. Subcultural bonding provides some assumable group membership.
doesn't imply “no-one ever meets anyone new”, though it's not obvious from outside observation. doesn't imply that they're not interested in meeting new people; indeed, it is easier to meet new people when you're not alone (social proof i.e. he's not enough of a weirdo as to not have any friends, having a wingman reduces anxiety, etc.). Also, logistics (if there's several of you, you can share a taxi which is cheaper than taking one alone, or if someone has a car they can be the designated driver, etc.)
It's not the general custom in bars but you can do it. It just requires a thick skin and some not all that high level of social skills. You start a conversation about some random bollocks with someone and if they don't tell you (politely or not) to piss off, you keep going for five to fifteen minutes, say "It was nice meeting you, you want to hang out sometime?" or if the bar is busy enough you go off and repeat the process on some other people and return to the first person later. It is very, very like hitting on strangers in bars and unless you're cool/interesting/attractive/rich the chances of getting anything out of any particular interaction are low. Unless you're very lucky you need to do this quite a lot. You are breaking social protocol but you're not living in a tribe or a village, you live in a modern anonymous city. Having hundreds of random strangers who do not communicate with each other think you were slightly odd until they forget you (it won't take long) is a small cost for the opportunity to force grow a social circle. I have gone to nightclubs alone. This is really unusual because if it goes wrong it's depressing as hell and only practice makes it not go wrong, on average. But similar advice to the above re:bars applies. This is one of those areas where there's a lot of good stuff in PUA that can be applied to areas other than picking up women.
Another reason related to 2 is simple convenience. Compared to someones house a bar likely has: * readier access to beverages and food that may be required while socialising. * A large enough area to sit the relevant number of people comortably. * And be in a mutually beneficial location. E.g. if my friends and I all live 10+ miles from the city centre in differing directions it would be very difficult for us all to congregate at ones house, but easier for us to all reach a centre point. Even more so if we are all in the same place for another reason (after work drinks).
I go to bars to: 1. Hit on girls. 2. Dance. 3. Drink and hang out with friends.
"Drinks + talking to people = fun" has observably held true across cultures and time. The drink relaxes people and makes it easier to talk and easier to listen. YMMV of course.
I'd never understood how the whole bar-mating thing is supposed to work (among my fellow straight people, at least). I could never get it to work, probably because I never particularly wanted to. Am I the only one ?
people closer to the center of the bell curve are easier to match with one another, thus random combinations are more likely to yield success.
You engage in conversation with people while you are both in a frame of mind where you are disposed to social interaction, you interact and based on that interaction either bond or don't. What is it you don't get?
Reasons I go to bars: 1. To hang out with alcohol in large groups of acquaintances (often: groups of fellow graduate students, many of whom don't know one another well enough to go to each others' home) 2. Dancing 3. To meet someone, say from OKCupid, on neutral socially lubricated ground
80+% of the time, I'd guess it's to meet or hang out with friends or acquaintances. Bars are this social space where it's totally normal to sit and talk with people for an hour or two.
Depending on the bar, it's usually a great place to get to know people out of your social circle. Being in the bar (and moderately to completely drunk) evens the social disparities and lets you get in touch with people you'll never ever approach in other places. Plus, drunk people do funny things.
When I want to gather friends together and don't feel like hosting, it's usually going to be on an evening; that rules out a lot of options already. The only things that are ubiquitous and comparable to bars for those purposes are restaurants, but it's a hassle asking everyone to have dinner at the same time, waiting for everyone to show up before ordering, etc. (Plus they're more expensive, and I'm more likely to have a friend who can't find anything there they'd like to eat.) So I default to bars.
I have had someone tell me they would go out drinking alone to make friends.
Do you know if it worked?
It worked. (works?)
Does going to a bar where you know the karaoke jockeys and the bartenders but no other patron count as “alone”? If so, I have made a few friends that way.
All of the above (if by “drunk” you mean ‘tipsy’ -- people who want to get hammered buy spirits in supermarkets because it's much cheaper, and by “chill” you mean ‘hang out with friends’.) Plus, live music, karaoke, playing darts...
For me, usually some combination of dancing, alcohol buzz, socializing with friends and strangers, a novel atmosphere, meeting new people, hitting on strangers and watching sports with company or when my television doesn't get the game I want to watch.

So my actual question is:

Many times I've known people and they have simply stopped talking to me and returning my calls/texts/IMs. I am given to understand that this means they don't want to talk to me, and that this is a generally effective strategy.

However I have never been in a position (a) where I didn't want to talk to someone ever again, or (b) in which I wouldn't just tell them that I wasn't really interested in talking at the time for [Reason].

Whenever I think about this overmuch I feel like I should ask these people why they aren't responding to me at all... but they only ever respond by (a) not talking to me or (b) getting very upset, so I have stopped asking.

Has anyone here ever purposefully stopped talking to or responding to someone they know? Can you describe the the thought process behind it?

EDIT: In particular I'm interested in why one would stop talking to a person without some kind of explanation or at least statement. For example (Warning fuzzy details) I once went on a date with someone, and we made plans for another date (there was back and forth), then never heard from the person again, even after a few prompts. While I understand what this means, I don't understand why one wouldn't say "I'm not interested in seeing you any more." Or at least some common stand-in like "Sorry I can't make it I'm busy." My leading hypothesis is that I have an abnormal desire for closure.

I have frequently stopped responding to people because I failed to respond immediately, and then forgot that the conversation existed. I have no idea how common this is.


I do the same thing. With the added effect that if I do notice the conversation after a while, I still fail to respond. The reason is that at that point, if I were to reply I would have to start with an apology like "Sorry it took so long to respond, I forgot / I don't think this conversation is that important / I am a lazy bastard". I don't want to do that, so it's best not to respond at all.

Yes, I know this is a stupid bias. Maybe I should try to fix myself. Any suggestions?

What if you just responded, but without any apology for the delay? That might be easier to write, and it's probably better than not responding.
Not a bias, just a desire to avoid projecting low status. duckduckMOO's suggestions amount to spinning the situation in a status neutral way. I find that I can spin almost anything I do as status neutral if I think for a little bit.
reply starting with, "I just read your message..."? or "zoned out. I see your message now" or something?
I've done this before, but usually they try again, and I make sure to respond the second time. I have trouble imagining friends braking contact because of one forgotten message.

It's been my experience that people who want a reason for disengagement primarily want that reason so they can argue it is incorrect or can be overcome.

What would convince that wasn't the case sufficiently for you to proffer a reason for disengagement?
Nothing I can think of. All assurances to the contrary have ended up trojan horses. Social interactions are complicated. Full and unilateral disengagement is extremely low cost and high success rate.

To answer this more generally, instead of in example form people often have anxiety around social interactions particularly those they anticipate to be uncomfortable, conflict-ridden or dramatic. In a dating context (which is usually when this sort of thing happens, in my experience, but maybe you have something different in mind) it is usually a way to cease dating or flirting with someone without having to explain to them that you aren't interested. It avoids the tension involved in waiting for the person to react, the drama of any fallout and the awkwardness of spending any time interacting with them after you've dumped them.

While I understand that this is an effective strategy, I don't understand what makes people choose not to respond at all rather than just saying "I'm not interested." A possibility I'm considering is that I have an abnormally large desire for explicit closure. This also fits with my enjoyment of (or at least lack of being bothered by) anvilicious political points and technical digressions in science fiction.
Regarding your desire for explicit closure: I don't personally feel that explicit closure is actually possible in most cases. I will give you my personal "case studies" to help illustrate my thought process, since I seem to be the kind of person you don't understand. I had a friend who was flakey and unreliable. I stopped contacting and responding to him after we agreed to meet somewhere and he never showed up, and gave no explanation. My thought process, insofar as I explicitly reasoned it out, was: The emotional cost (and "status" cost) of further incidences like this is greater than any conceivable value this friendship may have had. I do not want to repair the friendship, so there is no point in telling this person what they did wrong. I have no realistic hope that they will amend their pattern of behavior. So, I will terminate all contact without explanation. I've had at least a couple of friends with whom interactions became increasingly argumentative and critical and decreasingly positive and fun who I just stopped responding to because I could think of no affirmative reason to respond. I had a friend who I discovered had been very deceptive towards me. In this case I told her why I was terminating contact and then terminated contact. Frankly the only reason I told her the reason was because I was angry and wanted to hurt her feelings. My normal impulse would have been to just "disappear." It is interesting that both you (magfrump) and I seem to both be committing Typical Mind fallacies in how we expect other people to react to our actions. I see ceasing contact without explanation as the default course of action, and you see providing an explanation as the default course of action, and we misunderstand other people who have different default responses. I see now that my policy in the past has not been rational. Whether I am capable of meaningfully updating on this is a different question.
This is kind of the point of the whole thread :P And while I, personally, am annoyed by lack of closure, there have been numerous practical reasons not to explain oneself which are both understandable to me and quite rational. Though if you know the person will take your response in good faith, I would (acausally via symmetry with similar agents) appreciate that.
There are some people I don't engage with because I don't expect my engagement to leave either of us better off than my non-engagement. There are many people I don't engage with because I don't expect their response to my engagement to leave me better off than their response to my non-engagement and I don't much care about how it leaves them. The sets of circumstances that leads me to those expectations and those values are many and varied, and I don't know how I could begin to summarize the general case.
What set of circumstances (or can you think of a set of circumstances that) would cause you TO respond?
There are some people I engage with regularly, either because I expect doing so to leave us better off (for example, because I ordinarily enjoy interacting with them, or we can learn something from one another, or etc.) or because I've gotten into the habit and have not yet really noticed that our interactions are no longer providing value, or because I fear the costs of breaking contact are more than I want to pay in the short term despite probably leaving me better off in the long term. Again, the set of circumstances that can lead me to those expectations are many and varied.
I don't mean "to respond regularly" I mean "to make some statement about ceasing interaction."
Ah, right. Sorry, I lost sight of your original context. Hm. There are people I've disengaged with, to whom I've never announced disengagement, because I expect the costs of that announcement to be high. For example, I expect them to respond by demanding further explanations for my decision, and then respond to that by explaining why my reasons for disengaging aren't actually justified, and so on and so forth. There are people I've disengaged with, to whom I've never announced disengagement, because it has seemed rude. That is, quietly ending an interaction is one thing, but saying "I'm not going to interact with you any more" has felt (in those contexts) like adding insult to injury. So, turning those around... I guess the thing that would cause me to respond in this sense is being asked for such an explanation, in a context that makes me confident that the explanation will be accepted. (E.g., "Do you want to continue this conversation? It's fine if you don't, I'm just trying to establish whether we're having a very slow conversation or not having a conversation at all.")
I think some of it is a fear that the other person will take being told "I don't want contact with you" as evidence that the person is still on speaking terms with them.

I guess I'm volunteering to answer these things, heh. Well, other people need to answer these things too, right?

Well, so I did stop talking to my most recent ex-boyfriend. The thing was that after our relationship ended many of my friends confided in me that he and I were of vastly different social statuses, and that our relationship had lowered their opinion of my status.

Then, some months later, he returned some of the things he had of mine, and during that meeting he was exceptionally creepy. I realized that talking to him further would only increase the creepiness, and so I stopped talking to him altogether. Most recently, he replied to a throwaway tweet of mine, and I intend not to respond to it because it's still clear that he's still seeking a relationship I'm no longer interested in.

This leaves me with more questions, but they are more specific, so yay! So I can definitely understand not hanging out with or regularly talking to someone after a break-up, and I can understand that if people don't like him, not wanting to just say that. (Though from the other side I would prefer to hear it) On the other hand, if he seems creepy or has crossed motives, these seem like things that you could say explicitly. In your situation I wouldn't offer this information unprompted, but if he asked would you proffer it? It saddens me to think that the social groups of people I'm thinking of thought of me as low status, but I'll update towards that for now. Also none of this really gets to the heart of what I'm curious about, so let me try to improve my question: Say your ex still had one of your old possessions, but something that you cared about having less than you cared about not seeing him. He offers to return it. What goes through your head as you formulate a reply?
At the time I made it pretty clear that the thing he did was creepy. Mu. This is actually the case; he sent me an e-mail about four months ago in which among other things he offered to return about $20 worth of my stuff. I ignored it, because it wasn't worth going through the trouble of seeing him again. I'm concerned that you think your case mirrors mine when it probably doesn't.
I don't think that my case mirrors yours, and I can think of at least three tangible differences between the most recent situations I've been in that are even close. But people often use the same habits for wide classes of situations. And I still feel like your reactions to things differ slightly from my hypothetical reactions, which is really what I'm curious about. Like, when you ignored the e-mail, did you think, "I don't care that much about that stuff, and I'd really rather not deal with all that." then close it and never open it again? (Underlying assumption: do you usually have verbal thought processes? Or even explicit thought processes about these things?) By the way thank you for continuing to respond.
Good. I was worried by the "It saddens me to think..." sentence that you were taking it to heart. Yes, I have an inner monologue, and yes, I did have more or less that reaction.
Ok, thanks!
I feel compelled to link to a song. The Hardest Part Of Breaking Up (Is Getting Back Your Stuff)
Few people respond positively to being told something like that. At best, maybe you'd get a crestfallen "oh... okay." Otherwise, they might try to talk you into changing your mind, or get angry, or act out to try to get your attention, or try to save face by discrediting you behind your back. Given those possibilities, why would you give an explanation?
Certainly this could be true in many cases; but I like to think that I have demonstrated in most cases that I will react in good faith to these sorts of things. Is there a sort of person with whom you would give an explanation? Someone you knew would be much happier with even a short explanation and not bother you about it? What sort of evidence would it take for someone to convince you they were that kind of person? The reason I ask is that I have honestly never even once in my life been even the tiniest bit concerned about someone trying to discredit me behind my back, and though I could imagine circumstances that might move me into those circumstances, I imagine that you (as someone who came up with that possibility quickly) have lots of mental habits that I don't and would like to understand.
Hypothetically, sure. But I don't know why I'd want to completely cut off contact with someone I found so trustworthy. Consistent signs of low neuroticism and a realistic, constructive attitude toward interpersonal conflicts. Really? Have you ever felt pressured to "choose sides" in a conflict that you weren't a party to?
Yes, but never in a situation where there was any prior doubt about which side I was on. I've had people confirm that I was on their side, but I can't recall anyone trying to persuade me to switch sides.
Not everyone finds it easy to say "No." (See here, for instance.) If someone has been hinting at something long enough and the other person just doesn't get it, silence may be the last recourse out of an unpleasant situation without actually coughing out some straightforward denials. Also, the process of rejecting someone outright and in clear terms can be hurtful for both parties; if the rejecter doesn't particularly hate the rejectee, they may well wish to avoid being the direct cause of that pain. That may be a case of washing their hands with some omission bias, but it's not obviously-and-universally-true-in-all-cases that failing to respond is never any better than playing mute. In short, the thought process may be as simple as wanting to spare someone pain. "I'm not interested in seeing you any more" is the painful directness that many want to steer clear of, while "Sorry I can't make it I'm busy" is an example of a hint that other people may not get. Some people have no problem making the connection that "Sorry I can't make it I'm busy" means "No", but others do, and they'll see it as essentially the same as "Sorry I can't make it I'm busy but how about tomorrow," which is a fundamentally different response. I don't remember when I realized the difference myself, but I think it was an "A-ha!" of a decent size.
I definitely understand "Sorry I can't make it I'm busy" as a placeholder for "No," and I would understand no further response after something dismissive like that. I don't understand not even a dismissive response.
Have you ruled out the possibility that the people who stopped talking to you were trying to feed you different kinds of placeholders? Not everyone resorts to the same clichés, and subtle hints can get too subtle easily.
Unless you think ":) see you tomorrow" is a subtle hint, yes, I have ruled that out in many cases.
Communication has become casual now. You need to think of it more like a suggestion, or like a tweet, where the person is under no obligation to reply. Communication is no longer a rare or difficult thing and social conventions have come to reflect its ease and ubiquity. Unfortunately, for some people, this is also true of dating.
Do you mean to say this is for every piece of communication? Because that seems extremely weird and alien to me in situations, for example, where there has already been some back and forth, or to a lesser extent when there is a specific question.
I would say there's no longer an obligation to reply inherent in the communication but the subject matter might involve such an obligation. So if it's a casual conversation it might simply end without comment, but if it involves work duties or some kind of definite situation that needs to be coordinated, then you're right to be offended.
Say you make specific plans together, then do not show up. I'm not particularly offended, I'm just mildly confused. This seems like an easy opportunity to say "sorry I'm busy" or some other casual disengagement.
I'd personally consider that extremely rude. I've met people who appear to think it's not a big deal though. They'll arrange something with you but will arrange five other things simultaneously and will choose which one to attend at the very last minute. Presumably they think you're in the same position.
Well I do think it's rude but I would also understand if they were busy or had some reason for not wanting to see me (i.e. started dating someone else and didn't want to hang out any more) that I would understand if they had said <5 words to me, then I don't feel like I should really get too much more offended than I would be if I pretended I'd heard the words. Anyway I agree that that is a rude habit to be in, and that the illusion of transparency can make it destructively hurtful.
I have purposefully stopped talking to some people I know. One such situation is in failed romantic relationships. None of mine have been by mutual agreement - on some situations I have been the one to end it, and others I would have preferred to continue. Either way this sort of power imbalance leads to a situation where the best choice seems to be strict avoidance - whether the aim is to avoid lowering one's status by appearing desperate in pursuit when the end has been made clear by the other party, or to avoid giving any possibility of signals that a continued relationship is still possible (similar to the point paper-machine already made). But this is not the only circumstance I've stopped talking to people I know - I do the same thing for some extreme zealots, whether their cause is religious, political or (gasp) even "rational". Here's one (intentionally vague) example from my recent experience. one of my longtime friends has beome very interested in a particular movement, and now has nothing else to say on any other topic. He feels this topic is so important that everyone needs to know the details (and presumably act upon them in some way, although this point is never reached). Clearly it is a subject he feels passionate about, and he feels so well informed that he expects others to immediately update on the force of his arguments. And if they fail to do so he makes it clear that he has won the debate. Whether he is truly well informed or not, he is not being effective in producing attitude change in others, or appreciating what others are hoping to get out of a conversation. In other words, highly visible low status behaviour of failing to recognise one's audience and not negotiating a conversation acceptable to all parties. When he came out and asked me why I was avoiding him, my answer was "Because you only talk about (topic) and I don't think this is productive". Unfortunately this led to another round of haranguing, and the same old arguments about why
Thanks for your reply! To be clear, if you explained yourself to your friend and they harangued you about it, I totally understand not replying to them. If you fall out of contact on accident, I also understand. It's not replying at all when people ask why they haven't heard from you that I don't understand.
If I can't think of an explanation I may just fail to respond. This happens to me a lot as I get busy and forget to pay sufficient attention to social things for too long. Then by the time I get back into a social mode, there may be a whole pile of messages from different people I should deal with, and a process of triage begins where I start by responding to the ones I consider most urgent at that moment. Unfortunately some messages will be low on the list, and "why aren't you responding to me" would be especially low if I cannot come up with a good answer myself. "I am an inconsistent communicator" doesn't go down very well when deployed for the nth time! fyi when thinking about this I am comparing my imagined p(responding) for "Why aren't you replying to me" to p(responding) for other hypothetical messages also in my "should reply" box like "Are you interested in trying out a new restaurant", "can you suggest good places for us to visit when we come to see you next month", etc. Some of those latter messages may be sent with the same intent as the first, but they are more likely to elicit a response from me as they don't require me to deal outright with the motivation behind my own social decisions.
For what it's worth I've heard "I am an inconsistent communicator" a few times and it actually is kind of nice as an invitation to try to talk more often. Some of these cases seem like they could be helped by phrasing or framing, for example, "I haven't heard from you in a while, what've you been up to?" feels different to me (less confrontational, for example) than "why aren't you replying to me?"
Sometimes I stop talking to people because I don't think there is anything interesting to say. Sometimes it's because I have to say something that's long/complicated, and I can't find enough time to write/say it. And sometimes it's because I see no use for talking to the other person, so I just ignore them. (But I don't do this if they are expecting me to reply.)
If you have something long/complicated to say, would you eventually attempt to get around to saying it? I may have occasionally had long heart-to-hearts with people I had been out of contact with for a long time, but to the extent that I am remembering this correctly I suspect that it is a way in which I am atypical.
Yes, unless I feel that the utility I would get out of saying it is less than the utility lost by spending the time to do so. (I value my time pretty highly, sometimes a bit irrationally, so this could happen often.)
It is frequently advantageous to stop communicating with someone, whether as social punishment, avoidance of feelings of awkwardness, or to dissociate yourself from low-status friends. People want these social advantages, but many people prefer not to undergo a "breaking-up" conversation, even when in a non-romantic context. (For obvious reasons: it's likely to be a conflict-ridden conversation, and their motivations often do not sound noble when explicitly stated.) Dropping that person like a hot potato is a way to get the social win without the corresponding awkwardness.

Why do people boo performers? Example: I was at Geek Bowl 2012, which was this huge team trivia event in an auditorium, and toward the end of the night they invited participants to come on-stage and dance in teams for 45 seconds per team. Only 4 of the 200 teams volunteered, and while they danced, the crowd noisily jeered them. Now, the dancing wasn't great, but...

  1. These are amateurs and they're clearly nervous. Based on those facts alone, I would cheer them no matter what. Golden Rule, right? It's only 45 seconds.
  2. You gain nothing from booing them, except possibly you signal...what? Being loud and opinionated? Being in a position of judgement and therefore high-status?
  3. Even assuming there's a signaling explanation, I cannot figure out the thought process that leads to booing. Like, they somehow get angry at the performers? Or is it morbid curiosity, and they wonder if it'll get even worse if the dancers get flustered?
  1. It's fun to boo. Expressing public displeasure with someone in a totally safe and one-sided fashion Is something people love to do: See forums.

  2. Doing the same thing as the crowd around you is very thrilling. If some people start booing other people are likely to join in.

  3. People actually DO get angry at performers. People tend to have strong senses of entitlement in these kind of situations and if they're disappointed they will be upset. Not everyone is crass enough to boo but surely you've felt ripped off in the past by a performance that was worse than what you expected?

Upvoted. But surely you mean OTHER forums?
Thanks for the reply, and upvoted. Now there are three things I don't understand ;-). It rings true in the sense that people can be reliably expected to behave that way. But I still cannot empathize, and if I have the same mental machinery as the booers, then I ought to be able to. 1. Fun to boo. This one feels right and yet so foreign. Shouldn't sympathy for the target of criticism kill the fun? Like you imagine doing something hurtful, then you picture the other person, hurt. Then you imagine what it would be like to be that person, and, jeez, I wouldn't want that! So I'd better be nice to them. (This is why I still can't empathize with cruelty. I can see hurting someone unintentionally, or when the stakes were high, but petty malice is so weird. What are these people thinking?) 2. Thrill of the crowd. Sometimes it's easier to go along with the crowd, like if everyone is doing X, then it's just simpler to do X than to do nothing. And sometimes you can use the crowd dynamics to get away with something you'd never do as an individual. But thrilling? Like a roller coaster, or gambling? 3. Anger. Sure, I've seen bad performances. But booing doesn't improve them; it only makes them worse for anyone in the audience that might be enjoying themselves. And it's almost never the performers' fault in the sense that they're doing it to me, so any anger would be misplaced. And even if I was actually angry with a performer, booing isn't the best way to take it out on them. It's just the most public way. Then again, misplaced anger serves a useful purpose in some contexts. My buddy's sister gets a lot of good deals at stores because she verbally abuses the employees, and she does this not to get the deals (that would be sociopathy), but because she always perceives an insult ("Did you see the way he was looking at me?!"). Maybe it makes sense to have a general policy of getting "irrationally" angry sometimes.
You're expecting lots of people to perform the extra work of imagining that. Yeah, many people get positive feelings from being swept up in crowd behavior, like laughing at a comedy or applauding at the end of a great performance. Booing is a similar behavior. Personally, I think it's just that it's considered acceptable feedback. It's appropriate to laugh, cheer, clap, or boo depending on context. The performers get honest feedback from the audience.

Not particularly referring to your experience, but instead drawing from a few dozen rock festivals I've been to in the past decade.

You gain nothing from booing them, except possibly you signal...what? Being loud and opinionated? Being in a position of judgement and therefore high-status?

This is the main reason, for what I saw. Booing an act puts you on a higher level than the people who like it, and have therefore bad taste. In addition, it could also signal the membership to a different fan group.

Even assuming there's a signaling explanation, I cannot figure out the thought process that leads to booing. Like, they somehow get angry at the performers? Or is it morbid curiosity, and they wonder if it'll get even worse if the dancers get flustered?

A classic festival example that I personally witnessed. A few years ago I was at an heavy metal festival, with many groups performing the same day. There were a few extreme metal groups (Obituary, Slayer and Stormlord IIRC), and a very noisy group of extreme metal fans. Unfortunately, sandwiched between those acts, the organizers inserted Lacuna Coil (a roughly gothic metal group, much softer, with a wider fanbase outside of the me... (read more)

I'm guilty of booing sometimes, and to me the thought process seems to be:

1) The bad performance makes me feel bad.

2) The crowd is similar to me, and is my in-group in the situation.

3) Therefore, the bad performance is making everyone else in the crowd feel bad.

4) I empathise with the crowd more than the performers, since the crowd is a constant in-group I can identify with through the entire event, while the performers are fleeting and on average neutral.

5) Therefore to signal my anger on behalf of the crowd's suffering, I boo at the bad performer, who has slid from neutral to Enemy.

This is an awesomely clear explanation of the thought process. I can see how "willingness to take on an enemy" or "willingness to speak for everyone" may be deciding factors in who boos and who doesn't. It also explains why booing only happens in large crowds (at sufficiently small events, everybody is in the same group). Cheers!
A part of it is people's expectations are raised for stage performances. I'm part of a circus, and I've found that if I just do something with a friend in public, people will be impressed, but it takes a lot more to get people to cheer when I'm on stage. So even decent acts aren't viewed as good when they're in front of an audience.
I think Cthulhoo had the best answer so far, but let me throw in my two cents. The (unconscious) thought process behind the boos, as I guess it, is: "I am watching a bad performance, and thus I am becoming associated with it. An observer who saw the situation now would think I am the kind of person who likes this kind of performance, which would lower my status. To reaffirm my status against this threat by dissociating myself from the performers, I boo them."
Volunteering to perform is a huge status move.
"Get off the stage" is a commonly shouted "boo". In this case it wouldn't matter very much but... if you don't particularly want to see the dancing, would you have wanted there to be even more teams volunteering? I imagine that part of the reason to "boo" is to get the current performer to end their act prematurely and to discourage future bad performances. See also: Vaudeville Hook
Don't you think that most teams would prefer that organizers would not have this idea? If so, booing all the volunteers is making it costlier to participate in the stupid (in my the booer point of view) thing that is slightly unpleasant for me to have to observe.

I spent most of my life absolutely not understanding why a person would ask questions out loud in a classroom setting, with extra lack-of-understanding for people who disrupt classes with objections to the teacher's content or style.

Eventually I was able to understand, through a lengthy conversation with different individuals having different points of view on the topic, that I have an unusually sensitive fear of public punishment and aversion to authority, probably ingrained in me by some specific classroom events of my childhood.

I am paying to learn about something from someone who knows more about it than me. If I need something clarified I'm going to ask.

It depends. There is a difference between disruption with a goal to get more information, and a disruption for the sake of disruption. Some people disrupt classes because they don't pay for them (state or parents pay), because they don't care about the lesson, and disrupting a lesson is a method of signalling high status and reducing the amount of transferred knowledge.

Disrupting someone's lesson shows your high status against them (attacking someone with impunity) and against your classmates (you had the courage to do it first). This is why having one disruptive student per classroom is often manageable (they assert their status, and are happy with it), but having two or three is a disaster (it becomes a competition between them).

Reducing transferred knowledge makes sense if you can later bargain that you shouldn't be examined for knowledge you did not receive during the lesson (thus by disrupting you reduce your necessary learning for exams); and it also reduces your competitive disadvantage against classmates who try to pay attention during the lesson (this last motive was explicitly explained to me by a few extra rude students).

I did private teaching, teaching at public schools, and teaching employees. The behavior depends on whether the person comes to the lesson willingly, whether they are interested in topic, and whether they are in the age interval 13-17 (when they get most status from their peers for destructive behavior).

I think you're leaving out a category. My primary reason for asking questions or making comments during lectures is to signal high status (specifically, to show that I'm an unusually intelligent person who knows things that aren't on the curriculum), but I'm not trying to be maliciously disruptive or hinder other people's learning; rather, it's somewhat gratifying, seemingly harmless, and most professors seem to like it ("class participation").
I can remember enjoying disrupting classes by passing slambooks (informal surveys on paper-- details available if anyone is interested). I didn't do it for the sake of disruption-- I was actually interested in the surveys, but I can remember the pleasure even if I don't exactly feel it any more. I hated school because it was boring. I didn't exactly hate the teachers, but I didn't have any concept that they might want to teach something. I'm not sure that status explains this adequately, but from the inside it felt as least as much as that I wanted to feel as though I wasn't of intractably low status rather than that I was trying to get higher status.
Back when I was in highschool, a friend and I were accidentally sorted into a general level course, when by rights we should have been put in an AP-level course. Neither of us ever really got anything out of the teacher's lectures, and were able to ace the tests purely on knowledge gained from reading the textbook; consequently, we were bored out of our minds in class, and amused ourselves by competing to lure the teacher off on increasingly interesting and increasingly irrelevant tangents. A side result of this was that the other students, who actually needed a the hear the subject explained by a teacher, got shafted. I should note, however, that neither of us had any real animosity towards the teacher or the students -- in fact, we absolutely adored the teacher; rather than being a malicious attempt to disrupt the class, we saw it as merely a friendly game between the two of us that happened to negatively effect other people's learning of the material -- a consequence that we were indifferent towards.
A setting where one person is required to explain something and maintain discipline, and twenty persons don't care about the subject and are bored to death... is pretty much doomed to be frustrating for all participants. Is there a solution? Seems like an official solution is that every teacher is supposed to have some unspecified magical power which solves the problem. Confessing that I don't have this kind of power is very bad signalling in school, but I honestly don't, and I suspect neither do others. There is also a collection of non-magical powers (such as speaking clearly, putting things into proper context, inserting a few jokes, being fair and friendly, using analogies and pictures when necessary, etc) which sometimes work, but because of their lack of magic, they also sometimes fail. More often if someone is determined to make them fail, and there is no credible threat to stop them. How to fix it? One possibility is to make the lesson interesting to everyone. However, "interesting" is not an inherent property of the lesson, not even of the lesson+teacher configuration. (Many people fail to recognize this. They think there is a way to make the lesson inherently interesting, and a good teacher should be able to make it so.) A solution would be to make the lesson voluntary, but that is incompatible with the compulsory education. Other possibility is to cope with the boredom rationally; accept that it exists, that to some degree it is inevitable, and just try to minimize harm. Again, admitting this openly is bad signalling (that is, if a teacher admits it). How exactly would the rational solution look like? My offer would be "you can do what you want, as long as you are silent and do not distract me or your classmates, for example read a book, and there will be no consequences for doing it; however at the end of year you will be graded fairly based on your answers in the test". Unfortunately, such agreement with students below age 18 predictably fails. First
These days, I do understand that teachers are human beings. However, thanks for the idea that teachers are expected to have "magic", and that this is unreasonable. I've heard claims that some teachers can get useful dominance quickly over otherwise difficult classes, but I don't know whether those claims are true. If it's any consolation, I only disrupted classes less than a dozen times, possibly less than half a dozen. One of the questions I asked in those informal surveys was what the respondents liked about school, and the answer was always something about being social and never about learning things, even though the school was probably academically better than most.
I don't know either. Most examples come from movies, and fictional evidence is unreliable. In the movies the teachers are often doing risky things which succeed only by a good luck, and a different result could bring them serious trouble. Also the solution (in movies) seems to be that students strongly care about something; the teacher notices it and shows that he cares too; initially students don't believe him, but later it causes a conflict between the teacher and other authorities and he pays a cost of signalling; and this makes students love him. -- Maybe I am generalizing here too much from a very small sample of two or three movies. (Also "he", because in my sample the teacher was always male.) -- In real life I consider this very unlikely. There is no single cause uniting all students, ready to be discovered and utilized (not even playing flash games online, though that one comes closest). Some teachers have the kind of personality that makes them very dominant in some classes, but in my experience it does not work at all classes. Different things make impression on students of different age and background. Seems to me that for younger students being a parent or grandparent figure works great. For students near 18 being physically attractive and irradiating success works great. If there is a group of students that care about the subject, knowing the subject deeply works great -- this last example is most politically correct and most widely known, but is very rare in the real life, because most students don't care, even many of those who signal that they care. However, even assuming that some exceptional people have this right kind of personality that works for everyone, problem is we need thousands and thousands of people in teaching positions.

I'm a high school student. I ask a lot of questions in classes, especially math and discussion-based classes like "Science and Religion". In math, this is an unwillingness to miss something and to back to it later--if I fail to understand one part of a lesson, it makes understanding the other parts hard. In "science and religion", I ask loaded questions that disrupt the class by turning it into a complicated debate between me and the teacher. This is because I have little respect for the (boring) subject matter, believe I'm smarter than the teacher, and would rather entertain myself and my classmates by defeating the teacher in battles of wits than sit with a book and listen to the teacher explain that god's existence is inherently un-investigatable.

TLDR: I ask questions to improve my understanding; I disrupt class because I'm arrogant and competitive.

In a classroom setting I sometimes have the opposite problem. I sometimes forget I am in a social situation entirely and think no more of stating something in a huge room of students than simply thinking it within my own mind.

So there's one answer for you, obliviousness and impulsivety.

I was "that guy" through most of my undergraduate career, and the answer is that verbally sparring with the instructor over the material was the only way I could learn it. (Also, as Incorrect notes, impulsivity.)

Why do people not punish useless status-seeking behavior? People rightly respond warmly to productive status-enhancing behavior, such as including people in conversation, fishing out common interests, and telling entertaining stories. But people also frequently reward outright bragging, cocky attitudes, and social aggressiveness - which to me are obviously done with status in mind, have no value to anyone else, and are pretty uncorrelated with the productive kinds of status behavior.

Since status is zero sum, why aren't other people more proactive in no... (read more)

Why do people not punish useless status-seeking behavior?

They do, whenever such behavior seems like it's bound to fail. However, when it looks like it will succeed (and thus bring high status to whoever is practicing it), an attempt to punish would mean a declaration of war against someone of high status, which is usually not a smart move.

Do they assume that swaggerers might have social clout to match their personalities and are afraid of having them as enemies?

Often yes, as explained above, but it's usually not done consciously. Most status-related behaviors are instinctive, and the conscious mind only invents rationalizations for them (which can be of many different kinds).


Because, believe it or not, it's often hard to tell the difference, especially if you know about mind projection fallacy. I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt.
Plus most people avoid creating a confrontation because that also could put them in a negative light. (Not only do you have to think what the other person is doing is bad, but the majority of other people have to think that as well, for you to get any value out of the confrontation.)

How ought I distinguish telling entertaining stories (which, on your account, is a productive activity that I would be right to respond warmly to) from bragging (which, on your account, is a valueless activity uncorrelated with productivity that I would be right to be annoyed by)?
Totally subjective, of course! But behaviors at both extremes are instantly identifiable. Crudely, prosocial stories actually entertain, self-seeking stories tend to make the teller look good. Savvy people, of course, can do both simultaneously.
Isn't your impression that people aren't punishing unproductive status seeking based on a difference in this subjective evaluation, then? Or do you think that people tolerate bragging even if they are not entertained by it?
In a tribal environment lying about status carries higher risks.

I agree, and that would imply that today's environment favors acting high status. And in fact I have a pet theory that the increase in urbanization and mobility in, say, the 1900s have led to a shift to more socially aggressive short-term status posturing behaviors (vs. carefully cultivating a reputation long-term.) This accounts, among other things, for the rise of the "self-esteem" movement as well as the recent rise of pickup artistry, which in its initial forms was nothing more than a way to rachet up your apparent status, unsustainably, for the short term, and was therefore dependent on urban anonymity. Susan Cain agrees with the timeline:

So this explains why people are playing high status these days. It doesn't explain why other people often don't react badly to status plays.

How exactly do you imagine "reacting badly" to someone? There are two basic ways to put down a person: a personal attack, or a coordinated group attack. A personal attack is reasonable only if you think you win, and even then your personal benefits should outweigh the possible costs (which are always non-zero). In an ancient environment, the alpha male would beat the pretender badly, and any accidental damage to the alpha male would be just a necessary cost for maintaining his position. In today's environment, we have laws. But we also have people who break the laws. You should not attack the person physically, because that is illegal; but if you attack the person verbally, there is always a chance that they will counterattack physically. (If you are in an environment where some kind of physicall attack is acceptable, still: you attack them with fists, they may counterattack with a knife.) So the risks of confrontation are high. You also have to care about signalling -- even if punishing people with harmful behavior brings a net gain, the fact that you decided to do the punishment, exposes you to a possible intra-group attack. Some people will have different models of reality: they will say that what you did was even worse than what the other person was doing. The traditional choice for average people is a coordinated group attack. In a village, it is easy to coordinate. Just wait until the person leaves the room. Then carefully discuss your opinion (of them acting high-status while not being so) with your friends. If everyone agrees, you know you have a group support, and you know you didn't miss something that the others could have noticed. Next time the person comes, they will find themselves with a low status. In a big town this mechanism breaks, because people are not meeting regularly in the same setting. Someone unknown comes, acts high-status, leaves, and you may never see them again, or never again in the presence of exactly the same people. So you can
Prisoner's dilemma/tragedy of the commons. Deflating X's status seeking benefits everyone (except X and his allies), but the costs of doing so are born by the person doing the deflating.
If someone has a negative effect on a social interaction through frivolous status games, I'll: A) leave, if I can't stand it, and don't want to embarrass my friend who has a connection with the someone, or realize challenging them will have more negative an impact; B) tough it out, if challenging them will discomfort my friend(s) or have more of a negative impact; C) challenge them on their behavior by inquiring after why they are engaging in the frivolous behavior. Often I'll decide challenging them won't be worth it for me, as I'll find it unlikely the someone's response to my challenge will sufficiently entertain me. I think some might have a latent association of either high-status or extremely low-status with such people, and are either intimidated or don't find them worth wasting time on. I base this thought on experience and answers to questions that I can't remember in detail.

Why is malice addictive?

I'm talking about malice which goes way beyond anything which could be expected to raise status or improve the odds of reproductive success.

For example, some people put huge numbers of hours into trolling, and while some people are in troll sub-cultures so there's local status to be gained, I don't get the impression that's a large fraction of trolling.

There are more than a few parents who engage in emotionally and physically abusing their children, and it's a long campaign of causing misery. Some of it can be reasonably interprete... (read more)

Lowering someone else's status is 1/150 as good as raising your own.

But then, why don't people downvote more often? Especially if downvoting is completely anonymous and requires minimum effort? One guess is that downvoting is too simple; it does not pattern-match to a personal attack, therefore it does not bring the related emotions. Other guess is "in group / out group" distinction, where people on the same site are percieved as members of the same subgroup, and you don't want to make your subgroup weaker. But then why does the same effect not stop trolling? Do trolls percieve themselves as members of a dominant subgroup inside the weaker subgroup, showing them who is really the boss? (The imaginary dominant subgroup = people who don't care about this website.)
If we're talking about a tribabl size of 150, it's going to be at least 1/75 as good, as only half of the people are potential mates. In practice, it's probably considerably better than this, even.
You can do it even better if you target it specifically at your relevant rivals. But even a 1/150 payoff ain't bad, especially considering how little effort it takes to deploy a "witty" "zinger" on the internet.
Check out Mother Nature: Maternal Instincts and How They Shape the Human Species-- competition isn't just for mates. It's also about getting resources for raising your children, and can easily be with members of your own sex.
This also isn't even the case because some people will be allies or relatives.
There's probably a whole syndrome of things that contribute to this, including but not limited to: 1. "Improving the odds of reproductive success" is for the long term and for the ancestral environment. Online trolling and abusing one's kids in the privacy of one's home are products of an environment radically different from our evolutionary one. There's simply no good and noble reason for them, just the same old cognitive reflexes playing themselves out in unnatural surroundings. 2. Humans have the tendency to blame the victim. You treat someone like trash long enough and you'll start to buy into the idea that they deserve it and it's for the best. "I'm not unreasonable or cruel - if only he weren't such a lazy, thick-headed idiot..." Rinse and repeat long enough until all feelings of guilt go away, and possibly until all feelings of any kind go away and the abuse continues simply out of habit. 3. Trolling and lashing out at people online (and off-line) is a way to assert oneself. For people with low enough social skills and off-line status, it may be the only way of doing so. The harsher one acts, the more likely it is to produce an effect, which leads to vicious trolling being viciously enjoyable. 4. Malice isn't the only thing that's addictive - power in general is addictive, and that also goes for ways of exerting it. And, of course, since the other person is still an idiot who has it coming for being so thin-skinned, why not have a bit of fun?
For parents, that could be possibly explained by the parent being abused by their own parents: that behavior is acceptable, or they think they're being "good parents" because they aren't beating you with a hockey stick. And also, the parent could have a pre-conceived notion of what that child should be (athletic, or a certain GPA, prettier, you name it) and blame it on the child. Of course, then there's plain old status, too. Especially if the abuser is being put down themselves. They might feel the need to exert power in the only capacity that they know how.
I think this is the best answer so far.. For a more complete answer, I would add something about an abused person that has been unable to heal wants to recreate the negative life situations with those closest and most dependent, so they don't feel so isolated, to justify their experiences as 'normal' and also out of spite/anger at the world for not treating them properly. Of course, abuse of dependents and 'malice' are different things requiring two different explanations, though not mutually exclusive. I suppose malice is more about increasing or experiencing (larger group) 'status' as the other comments have been focusing on.
A common answer might be: For the lulz. That is, they're addicted to something similar to schadenfreude, and so they cause the conditions that lead to someone else experiencing misfortune.
Hmm. Why does schadenfreude exist? I don't seem to have that emotional response to the humiliation of someone I don't like or don't know. Likewise, I don't understand absurdist humor. (I enjoy wordplay and puns, though.)
Do you mean ev-psych why? I dunno. Beyond that it's basically built in. Go read about some of the glorious trolling crusades that have been undertaken for the lulz and you will begin to get that lulz-itch.
I suspect there's a lot of baseline variation there; for some people the sense of schadenfreude is very small and easily overwhelmed by empathy. Case in point: comedies that consist entirely of unsympathetic characters being jerks to each other (my go-to examples are Arrested Development and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia), which some people think are the most hilarious thing ever and some other people think are the most painful thing to watch ever.
I think mr bean is terrifying. It's depressingly hard for humans to turn on sympathy over the internet and across tribal boundaries. All that has to happen for lulz to be the dominating drive is that sympathy doesn't get started (by conscious effort, scifi morality, good upbringing, some near-mode switch, whatever)
You're talking about most people; I am not most people. After some reading on Dunbar's number I decided to train myself to think of all strangers as agents not unlike me who merely grew up in different circumstances. Unfortunately most people don't do that. It helps that my empathy is abnormally strong to begin with. I was not asking about empathy. I was asking about why it is pleasurable to watch the humiliation of someone you have literally zero connection to.
Hypothesis: to enable malice in the quantities where it does "raise status or improve the odds of reproductive success", evolution made it a psychologically rewarding behavior (as well as plugging into socially rewarding circuits when it succeeds at raising status). And reward in the brain is implemented such that any rewarding behavior has a danger of self-reinforcing into an addiction. Do we see more malice than this generic explanation can explain? As for self-hatred, I don't get the sense that it's the same experience or drive as malice. Of course they could still reinforce one another due to overlapping brain signalling, etc. How do you see them relating to one another?
At least in my case, I found that I was repeating the spontaneous self-hating thoughts back to myself and making them louder. Once I realized that a piece of the process was under my control, I was able pretty much stop doing that part of it, and it's helped with making the spontaneous self-hating thoughts less frequent and intense. However, why was I amplifying the self-hatred in the first place? I'm not sure. Some of it may be a hunt for intensity, but that doesn't seem like the whole answer.
(I'm playing the devil's advocate here, trying to answer everything with generic answers and seeing if they're sufficiently powerful.) Perhaps for the same reason you can get a tune stuck in your head, repeating and reinforcing itself. (For many people, including myself, the affect of "thinking a thought" is auditory - I hear myself say the thoughts I think.) Many kinds of thoughts, mental "tics", etc. may have this repetitive self-reinforcing pattern - not just self-hating ones. We may be seeing a natural selection effect where the most self-reinforcing thoughts last the longest - all due simply to the fact that thoughts can be self-reinforcing. How are thoughts self-reinforcing? Thinking them (which we may process similarly to hearing someone else say them) creates emotions, and in some cases these emotions increase the chance of similar thoughts recurring, creating a positive feedback loop. For example, being praised or thinking self-praising thoughts makes you happier, while thinking self-hating (or other-hating) thoughts makes you sadder or angrier (with yourself). This might be a contributing element in self-reinforcing feelings of malice, but I would expect that if you actually act on those feelings of malice (towards someone else), the results of the actual acts would swamp any such effects. Does this sound possible?
I don't think I'm apt to amplify other sorts of thoughts, though I may repeat them.
It's fun and incredibly easy to rationalize.

"Fun" is a black box in this context. Why is it fun?

One aspect - many find it enjoyable to exercise control over others.
The set of comments to this post are what I consider another example of the relative social(?) weaknesses the typical population of Less Wrong has compared to the general population. If this question was asked of a college humanities class, a subset of the answers would be much better than these and the class as a whole would be better at identifying the answers that are more correct. There are some answers below that are fine, but they're not said with enough confidence, and the 'ev psych' answers are not reliable. Not because ev psych can't hit upon an answer that might be correct, but because it seems that those that rely on them are not able to compare the hypothesis with a lifetime of experience for general plausibility. [On second thought, I retract this last comment to the extent people were explaining petty malice, which was indeed the first and main question of the initial post, rather than abuse of dependents. The difference being the extent to which there is absent verses perverted empathy.] I still think the answers would be better if we quizzed a random population of college students -- the academic setting just to avoid answers like 'people are evil'. I don't respond to this question because formulating any kind of reductionist answer frames my perspective in a way that is unsettling. However, I'd be happy to identify a more correct answer when I see it. Psychology, generally, is the aspect of science where we've made the least progress with respect to reductionist explanations.
Does anyone have a college humanities class that we can ask? I'm betting we would get some replies to the effect that "people are evil", but I'd be interested in whether the average is generally better.

Why do people take the time to develop "aquired tastes". "That was an unpleasant experience", somehow becomes "I will keep doing it until I like it."

My guess is social conditioning, but then how did it become popular enough for that to be a factor?

I do it because I love variety and thus value having more possible pleasant experiences to have.

Do you expect everything that's possibly enjoyable to be enjoyable immediately?
Good point, I do not, but I find it strange that people, myself included, practice at enjoying something when there are plenty of things that are enjoyable from the start. Especially when starting an aquired taste is often quite uncomfortable. I salute the mind that looked at a tobacco plant, smoked it, coughed its lungs out, and then kept doing it till it felt good.
Some things I decided to like (when I was young) in order to "be more grown up." (Liquor, coffee, classical music, opera) Or because cool people or people I admired were doing it (smoking a tobacco pipe, philosophy, math). Some things to add variety to my life, just like MixedNuts. For example, learning to appreciate and distinguish between different types of wine, teas, cheeses, classical music. Some because I thought they were good for me, so I might as well like them. (Yogurt, sushi)

I don't understand why people work ridiculously long and hard hours in Wall Street or the City for more money than they could ever use. Observably they do it, but I don't understand why. (I have friends who work in the City because they find this stuff fascinating - that I can understand better - but most of them don't.) Reasons when asked include "it's a job", "it's ehh okay if I have to work" but somehow that doesn't seem to explain it to me (so perhaps it's just me).

"More money than they could ever use" seems like the wrong part there. I have uses for arbitrarily large amounts of money - feel free to refer me if they need tips.

For example, for several billion dollars you could surely get another season of Firefly.

People consistently choose more money over increased leisure. So it's not unique to this situation. I think the assumption is that the option for leisure will always be there but the option to make lots of money won't be. This is colloquially known as "get while the getting's good." Though I'm sure there are other reasons as well.

You may also be poorly calibrated on how much money one can use.

Quite possibly. On contemplation, I suspect my original confusion is typical mind fallacy with ugh field - I worked at a place tangentially linked to the City several years ago, and mostly I felt that our customers were, each and every one, prima facie arguments in favour of a particularly bloody socialist revolution. And I hated every second individually. Even though the work itself was pretty close to what I do right now. So yeah, not a good fit. (I presently work at a small publishing company where things are considerably easier-going. I can also work from home pretty much any day I need to, which is quite a few of them. And the money's good for non-City Unix sysadmin.)

Here's a partial explanation - a contributing element.

Do they have an option for working shorter hours at the same hourly rate? I suspect not (employers will much prefer those willing to put in long hours once the tradition is in place). So people who want to make a lot of money have to work hard now and plan to switch to a lower paid job once they've saved enough. But switching to a lower paid job (or stopping working for profit if you're rich enough) is psychologically unpleasant and culturally discouraged, and people will keep putting it off. Or it may be hard psychologically to live modestly while making a lot of money.

This is effectively why my mother claims to have quit her veterinary practice: she didn't want to keep working 70 hours a week and she couldn't do it as a 9-5 job. Such situations probably aren't due to a widespread evil "tradition" among employers, but rather due to the fact that a skilled worker's average productivity-per-hour is typically maximized at a high number of hours-per-week. Any medical professional, for instance, needs to spend many hours per week just keeping up with advances in treatment options, changes in regulations, etc, but overhead hours are wasted unless they're amortized over even more hours spent actually administering treatment.
That would be great. The problem - present in some professions - is that productivity per hour drops, but you can still add more hours and get higher total productivity until it drops all the way to zero.
By adding more hours your productivity today may increase while your productivity tomorrow drops, because you didn't have enough sleep, because your neglected relationships are falling apart (and your bad mood affects your productivity at work), etc. But today, it feels like a net gain. And tomorrow... well, you will probably have to work overtime to compensate for your decreasing productivity. Also to keep up with your colleagues who are still in their "today" phase. I agree that sometimes it makes rational sense to work harder than usual. But I also think humans are bad at calculating all the consequences. The work life gives us exact numbers as a feedback, while the personal life mostly gives us only a feeling that something is wrong... until the consequences accumulate and one gets some kind of boolean feedback, such as a divorce or a heart stroke, but by then it's kind of late to make a balance. So I guess most people in these professions err on the side of working more than is optimal for the best cost-to-output ratio. Problem is, when the other people are doing it, standing out of the crowd is usually very bad signalling.
Ooh, I think that's probably a big one. Lawyers get the same.

I have a colleague who worked in the City for a few years (programming, not finance). The money was great, but eventually he looked around at the people he worked with, saw exactly what you've seen, and got out.

They have commitments to their families, a million a year feels like poverty after you're used to living on two million, and every day they add another thread to the ropes holding them in place.

If it's a highly sought-after high-status job, there may be oodles of takers for every getter. The sheer amount of competition may force their hand, and the "it's a job" may be simply a case of this.

Another possibility is the sunk cost fallacy. If the job requirements are strict enough and the people who eventually get the job have had to sacrifice enough getting there, that alone may be enough to get them to stick with it. Add some social pressure for spice as desired. Stir with self-deception and serve with verbal rationalizations.

I don't work in finance because I'm currently in university, but I may work in finance after I graduate. I might get a CFA charter and work at a hedge fund. One draw of working in finance is the earning potential. For me, the appeal of a lot of money seems to be three things: I want enough money so that (1) I never have to worry about my own personal financials, (2) I can do a lot of optimal philanthropy, and (3) can fund my intellectual goals, like writing and publishing a book. Those are the top three that come to mind. Given all we know about introspection, it's very unlikely those three are the whole story. But I think it's at least somewhat accurate. Also, as thomblake points out, I can certainly find uses from arbitrarily large amounts of wealth. I suppose there's a theoretical limit at which the marginal utility of an extra dollar is less than the marginal utility of the time I give up to earn it. But I certainly haven't reach it yet. If your friends have, I want to know where they work so I can apply.
This depends on one's utility function... and all the cognitive mistakes they make evaluating it. For someone who feels their free time is very important (even if they later waste it procrastinating online) and who has covered their basic expenses and can't imagine an attractive enough use of a marginally more money, it is rather easy to get to this point. And by the way, the ability to fund your goals, such as writing and publishing a book, is pointless if you don't have time to actually write the book. I assume your strategy is to make money now and write the book later. This is a valid strategy, just don't forget to stop making money and start writing the book, when the right moment comes.
nods I agree.
My brother works long hours on Wall Street. He says that most people in finance retire significantly earlier than the rest of the population. He also says that people working in finance generally value money more than time, and that this is a self-reinforcing system. People not willing to work long hours for a high hourly rate don't find the jobs attractive, and the people already hired prefer not to have extra help; the money to hire each extra person would, essentially, come directly out of their own salaries.
Perhaps they simply enjoy the work ?

Once in a while, I wonder why someone behaves in a certain way in a certain situation, and then a couple of weeks later I find myself in the same situation and it becomes obvious to me.

Why do people watch far removed teams playing sports?

  1. Sports is fun to watch for the same reason watching any other form of skilled competition can be fun.

  2. Identifying with a far removed team is a way to join a tribe, and get all the fun results thereof. It doesn't matter that much that you're identifying with a bunch of players who are hired by an organization that is nominally affiliated with a location far away from you. People subscribe to really tenuous group membership all the time: they feel affiliated with faraway centers of government, ideologies that have no geographic location, etc. What does matter is being able to find people, preferably nearby and in person, you can signal your group affiliation to.

In Germany the sport of choice is soccer. From time to time I notice how people (a) put in serious effort to watch the game on TV, and (b) complain about how bad it was afterwards. Some regularly complain about how bad the sport has become, but still eagerly watch it again next time. For me it looks like a weird tribal ritual, thats just stupid.
It's fun to have something to complain about with your friends.
That some people steadily complain about some activity they regularly voluntarily participate at is an existing phenomenon, but not something specific to spectator sports. Also, even if the very act of watching the match is unpleasant, it may be offset by subsequent pleasant discussions about the game, to which having seen it is a natural prerequisite. And even if the discussions weren't pleasant, they may be an easy way to strengthen tribal membership. What exactly is stupid here?
1) doing something you do (claim to) not enjoy 2) Participating in a tribal ritual that seems to make everyone worse off by having to do an activity they dont enjoy. (A group that is locked into doing something few members actually want to do.)
1) Even if the group would be better off if nobody did the activity, it doesn't follow that the individuals are stupid if they are participating. (I don't think the adjective "stupid" is applicable to group decisions which are a Nash equilibrium.) 2) I seriously dispute the assumption that everybody is doing an activity they don't enjoy. Most sports fans enjoy their fandom. Now I watch sports much less than in my high-school years where I had much more opportunities to discuss football or ice hockey with my friends - therefore I know how important part social reinforcement plays. But never I watched a game with a sense of obligation or feeling that I am doing an unpleasant work. (Edit: most of the complaints about how the last night game was horrible are simple signals of sophistication - a true connoisseur can't enjoy every game. The presence of such signalling doesn't necessarily imply lack of enjoyment.) By the way, a better example of a Nash equilibrium where everybody would be better off if nobody had participated in the activity is advertising. Even here, I wouldn't talk about stupidity.
I have a notion that people stay attached to losing teams in part because they anticipate how good it will feel if the team starts winning.

People "do that" because a part of social behaviour is, for various reasons, imitated. They may or may not understand completly why their behaviour is the appropriate response but they desire social exceptence and believe the response is appropriate from observation of peers or others in their environment. Thus some behaviour evolves out of a need for exceptance and to be understood.

I would be fascinated (for what that's worth) if petitioners on this post could also provide a guess or working model of the solution to their problems.