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I've been thinking about people's mindset as it relates to spending their free time. Specifically, when you go to do something 'productive' like learn about a new topic, work through exercises in a textbook, go through an online course, you feel that you have to intentionally decide not to play video games, watch Netflix, etc and forego short-term happiness? Or do you feel that this decision is straightforward because that's what you would prefer to be doing and you don't feel like you sacrifice anything?

You say that "If America can copy those methods and create even more prosperity, fantastic" but when the author states "We may find important truths needed to bring about American revitalization." you say this is as meaningful as saying "WE MUST RESTORE THE HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE!"

Seems to me that you and the author share a common belief, that successful Chinese policies or frameworks should bring about reflection and positive changes for American government (or any government, it just so happens that this post was framed by an American).

Also...whenever you say "me" to make your points, you lose me as someone who isn't you.

Sounds interesting. I think it may be difficult to find a person, let alone multiple people on a given topic, who are have a particular skill but are also able to articulate it and/or identify the cognitive strategies they use successfully.

Regardless, I'd like to hear about how people reduce repetitive talk in their own heads - how to focus on new thoughts as opposed to old, recurring ones...if that makes sense.

Hmmm..I think personal experience tells me that distraction-avoidant behaviour will still choose intellectual work, as long as it is quicker than the alternative.

I might choose a game over writing a LW shortform but I will still choose a LW shortform over writing a novel.

This post is an expansion/remix of elityre's post here:

I am looking for some criticism/comments of the below post, does anyone find this type of exploration useful? Why? Would diagrams/images assist or detract from the post? Should my formulas be more concise and use mathematical equations or is writing them out in markdown code sufficient?


A topic that is at the heart of the way our civilisation functions is that of power or status. A powerful person in business has connections, the ability to make things happen and, ultimately, has a greater capacity to achieve a certain goal. This is absolutely worth delving deeper into, as a greater understanding of this type of control actually provides a really important framework to achieving your own goals - understanding how your skills tie into this complex network of power transactions.

This post first outlines the basic axioms of this type of framework, exploring the basics of human behaviour and how these concepts tie into a resource transaction. Next, I propose a formula to conceptualise how we approximate the value of another person's value to us in these types of transactions. This is extremely useful to view as a tool for improving your own value in terms of resource power.

Next, the concept of 'status' as an individual attribute is dicussed. These transactions coalesce into a relatively stable status hierarchy and the nature of a person's power is identified. Finally, I will list a few resources if you wish to look deeper into this topic at some point. <br/>

Basic Axioms

1. People Have Goals

Let's start at the very beginning. You, as an individual, want things. You have goals. It may be to own a Ferrari, or to become a famous pianist. You may want to move to London or to learn about Italian architecture. Each of these goals is uniquely yours and consists of unique components. In order to achieve the goal, you must complete the various components, or tasks, that comprise this goal.

Each component requires a certain amount of a resource. In purchasing a ferrari you may need $200,000 dollars. To learn Italian architecture may require 50 hours talking to an expert in the topic. Money and time are resources that you need to aquire to achieve a goal. <br/>

2. Everyone Controls Resources

You control a number of different resources yourself. You have some amount of money, some amount of skill in various topics, some number of connections within your social and professional networks, some time you may dedicate to a cause, etc.

Similarly, other people control resources. They may have expertise on the same topics as you, or totally different ones. They may have more money, less time and more connections. The idea is that everyone has some unique combination of resources that make them uniquely valuable to other people.

You may have the goal to write a book. This goal is comprised of components including: researching, writing, editing, publishing and marketing. Each one of these components requires resources - whether that is time, money, expertise...whatever. While you may have some of the resources required to achieve your goal, there are other people that control these relevant resources.

An editor is an easy example. This person has skill in editing manuscripts (a resource relevant to your goal) and working with them is something you want/need to do. This makes an editor valuable to you, more valuable than that same person would be to someone not interested in writing a book. <br/>

3. Trading Resources is Beneficial

Now this concept gets interesting because an editor will not provide their expertise for nothing in return. Even if they do the work absolutely for free, they receive some amount of goodwill on your behalf, an increased likelihood for you to refer them to people in the future or any number of other non-tangible resources. This is the nature of a transaction - each individual trades relevant resources in order to accomplish a certain goal.

People, then, are more willing to help (offer favours to) a person who can help them achieve their goals. You make a trade, or ally, with other people who control resources you deem to be worthwhile.

A certain individual has a certain value to you, this perceived value differs based on your own goals. Let's explore this concept by placing some values on a person's resources; from the perspective of two different individuals. <br/>

Transactional Value

Note: Note that the following definitions and numbers are guesses designed to illustrate the framework I use to think about this types of power transactions - they are in no way verified or proofed. Also, we obviously don't do explicit calculations about the 'power' or 'willingness' of a person but it is worthwhile exploring how people mentally approximate this kind of thing. <br/>


Power = Expected Payoff of Person's Resources

We will keep this really simple, but utility is the sum of all the payoff's a person's resources offer. Person C may be great at editing so their Power to Person A and B may be something like:

Person A (Wants to write a book): 80 Power Person B (Doesn't want to write a book): 5 Power

Person A sees Person C as more valuable than Person B does, because their resource aligns more closely with their goal. If Person C was only accepting money as a form of transactional power in exchange for their expertise, supply and demand dictates that Person A would be willing to pay a higher price.

Person C may also be an overachiever and have a deep knowledge of, say, coding. Person B has very little interest in writing a book but they do want to build their own website. Person A is also a little interested in coding (to market their future book) but not as interested as Person B. The cumulative Power now looks like:

Person A: 80 + 10 = 90 Power Person B: 5 + 70 = 75 Power

Person C is now has a greater Power to both Person A and B. However, they will still trade resources with Person A since that person gets greater Power, and thus offers more Power (typically), from the exchange. <br/>

Probability of Exchange

Probability of Exchange = Percentage Chance of a Transaction Occurring

While a bit harder to measure quantitatively, we can consider another variable of transactional value to be the probability that the exchange will actually happen (on the agreed upon terms). For instance, lets say that Person A is fairly rude and, in the past, has tried to weasel their way out of business deals and agreements. This signals low 'integrity' in a person and will likely affect the outcome of the exchange.

Person B, on the other hand, has a track record of paying on time, being respectful and ultimately upholding their end of these types of transactions much more frequently. This is favourable for future transactions.

Person A: 65/100 Favourable Transactions = 0.65 Integrity Person B: 90/100 Favourable Transactions = 0.90 Integrity <br/>


Utility = Power * Probability of Exchange

Just like the Expected Value formula used in probability analysis, we can say that the Power is the expected payoff (power) multiplied by the likelihood of that payoff occurring (probability of exchange).

Taking the variables given above, the utility for Person C will be as follows:

Person A: 90 * 0.65 = 58.5 Utility Person B: 75 * 0.90 = 67.5 Utility

Person C will actually opt to engage and trade resources with Person B - when taking into account personal integrity and the Power from Person C's two skills.

At this point, the transaction tends to move to resolution. We might say that each point of Utility is worth $10 and Personal B will pay Person C $675 in exchange for their expertise. Maybe Person C believes that they can receive relatively equal Utility from Person B's knowledge about cars and decides to trade utility that way. <br/>


Now imagine a scenario where Person B doesn't know anything about cars but does have a close friend who is an expert on the matter. Is this connection valuable to Person C? Of course! So having a connection to a resource is, in itself, a resource. We can imagine that the utility of this resource may be added to the power that our individual has.

Person B intially could offer 67.5 utility to Person C, all in monetary form. Now, Person C is happy to exchange less money in order to make use of Person B's important connection (call this Person D).

Let's say the power of this connection is worth 60 utility to Person C. The transaction value Person B gets from this connection would be something like:

60 * (Probability of Exchange Between Person B and C * Probability of exchange between Person B and D)

Connection Value = 60 * (0.9 * 0.7) = 37.8 Utility

The transactions would look like:

Old Transaction: $675 to Person C New Transaction: $297 to Person C and introduction to Person D

Note: This assumes Person B brings no other resources to the table but this is sufficient to illustrate the point of connection value. <br/>


The value added to the transaction by the use of a connection ties in to the concept of status. With multiple connections on top of an existing skillset, the value of a person reaches a certain level (think of it as a number, in terms of utility) to every person they meet. A person with greater resources (or ability to obtain those resources) essentially has more power/status.

All of these status/power transactions stabilise into a relatively static hierarchy of power. Those with high-quality, valuable connections continue to boost their own power by trading connections. Those at the bottom of this hierarchy are usually forced to use a form of convergent resource (like money) or to develop valuable skills. Sometimes it is a matter of boosting your integrity, or credibility, to the point that your power turns into meaningful utility (as people don't feel that they are risking so much to receive that power).

Excellent reply, strong upvote. Have a feeling I really want to go to the gym but because nutrition is poor (not eating enough), my gym feedback loops have been spiralling downward to the point where I have given up.

Will certainly look into how to make my nutrition more compelling now, perhaps that means learning to cook better or something similar. Very much appreciate your comment and may actually look at looking more deeply into this idea, maybe I will turn it into a blog post.

Edit: In the spirit or learning this idea more deeply, I am very interested in anything else you would be willing to disclose about what it is that was your turning point for stopping finding Civilisation enjoyable - feel free to send me a message if willing (no pressure whatsoever)

Very interesting comments, any thoughts on how you might make a certain activity compelling again? Would explicitly framing an activity such that it highlights a particularly important feedback loop be worthwhile? Minimising the impact/importance of your other desired loops?

Do you believe a manipulation like this is possible or do you think it would have to organically align with the types of loops you deem to be necessary at the time?

Just thinking from the point of, say, getting back into the gym...compelling myself to go seems to be overrided by other loops, at least until the point where my health has sufficiently declined to warrant a re-prioritisation.

Appreciate the formatting assistance thankyou - this looks much closer to the markdown result I was hoping for. Additionally, I will keep that spacing requirement in mind for future posts.

That's correct, seems like the headings didn't work so the formatting looks off here on LW.

My scheduled post with working markdown formatting is here:

This will turn into on September 1st (doesn't use this URL yet as it is not publicly available)

I use, functions very well as a personal wiki (can link to other pages, categorise, etc)

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