Opposite attractions

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Is the opposite of what you love also what you love?

I think there’s a general pattern where if you value A you tend to increase the amount of it in your life, and you end feeling very positively about various opposites of A—things that are very unlike A, or partially prevent A, or undo some of A’s consequences—as well. At least some of the time, or for some parts of you, or in some aspects, or when your situation changes a bit. Especially if you contain multitudes.

Examples:

  • Alice values openness, so tends to be very open: she tells anyone who asks (and many people who don’t) what’s going on in her life, and writes about it abundantly on the internet. But when she is embarrassed about something, she feels oppressed by everyone being able to see her so easily. So then she hides in her room, works at night when nobody is awake to think of her, and writes nothing online. Because for her, interacting with someone basically equates to showing them everything, her love of openness comes with a secondary love of being totally alone in her room.
  • Bob values connecting with people, and it seems hard in the modern world, but he practices heartfelt listening and looking people in the eye, and mentally jumping into their perspectives. He often has meaningful conversations in the grocery line, which he enjoys and is proud of. He goes to Burning Man and finds thousands of people desperate to connect with him, so that his normal behavior is quickly leading to an onslaught of connecting that is more than he wants. He finds himself savoring the impediments to connection—the end of an eye-gazing activity, the chance to duck out of a conversation, the walls of his tent—in a way that nobody else at Burning Man is.
  • An extreme commitment to honesty and openness with your partner might leads to a secondary inclination away from honesty and openness with yourself.
  • A person who loves travel also loves being at home again afterward, with a pointed passion absent from a person who is a perpetual homebody.
  • A person who loves jumping in ice water is more likely to also love saunas than someone who doesn’t.
  • A person who loves snow is more likely to love roaring fires.
  • A person who loves walking has really enjoyed lying down at the end of the day.
  • A person who surrounds themselves with systems loves total abandonment of them during holiday more than he who only had an appointment calendar and an alarm clock to begin with.
  • A person with five children because they love children probably wants a babysitter for the evening more than the person who ambivalently had a single child.
  • A person who loves hanging out with people who share an interest in the principles of effective altruism is often also especially excited to hang out with people who don’t, on the occasions when they do that.
  • A person who directs most of their money to charity is more obsessed with the possibility of buying an expensive dress than their friend who cares less about charity.
  • A person who is so drawn to their partner’s company that they can’t stay away from them at home sometimes gets more out of solitary travel than someone more solitariness-focused in general.
  • A person craving danger also cares about confidence in safety mechanisms.
  • A person who loves the sun wants sunglasses and sunscreen more than a person who stays indoors.

This pattern makes sense, because people and things are multifaceted, and effects are uncertain and delayed. So some aspect of you liking some aspect of a thing at some time will often mean you ramp up that kind of thing, producing effects other than the one you liked, plus more of the effect that you liked than intended because of delay. And anyway you are a somewhat different creature by then, and maybe always had parts less amenable to the desired thing anyway. Or more simply, because in systems full of negative feedbacks, effects tend to produce opposite effects, and you and the world are such systems.

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Thanks for this ! For various reasons I often get a bit obsessive about tending towards one side of a pattern in situations like these; I can end up feeling like I'm "betraying" my identity or my tribe if I enjoy something which is generally opposite from what I normally enjoy. The examples about Bob and spending time with one's partner particularly stuck out to me. This is a really useful way for me to reframe how I think about things like this ! 

This makes me think of Goodhart's Law. It's as if "love" is a rule to "maximize X." Many times, it may be that what we want is not to "maximize X," but to "increase X in certain circumstances," which we discover by trying to maximize X and observing the results. Over a long period of time, we discover the specific contexts in which a certain level of X is appropriate. Appreciation of anti-X comes naturally from applying a general rule to maximize X in new contexts where that is not a good approach.

There are other, more boring explanations as well:

The person who loves saunas and jumping in ice water may love extremes of temperature; they may also love to jump in ice water, and then need to warm up afterward in the sauna so that they don't die of hypothermia.

The person who craves danger but also obsesses over safety mechanisms is simply concerned with maximizing their adrenaline rush.