Max & Miller’s Mate

Geoffrey Miller’s book The Mating Mind was very influential on me, and so I spent several posts on his book Spent. He has a new book out, coauthored with Tucker Max, called Mate: become the man women want. It is a how-to book, on how men can attract women.

The book’s voice is less academic and more like a drill sergeant — stern older men giving harsh but needed instructions to younger men. They don’t mind using some crude language, and they don’t argue much for their claims, expecting readers to accept what they say on authority. Fortunately, most of what they say seems to be pretty well-grounded in the literature.

The world view they present has mating quite thoroughly infused with signaling. Pretty much everything you do with actual or potential mates is used as a reliable signal of your hidden features. Makes me wonder in what other self-help books it would be okay to present as strong a signaling view. Perhaps there are career advice books that infuse signaling as throughly into their view of the work world. But I expect people wouldn’t tolerate advice books on school, religion, arts, and charity that are this signaling heavy. Even if the advice was solid.

Though heavy on signaling, Max & Miller don’t consider self-deception. They talk simply about men just looking inside themselves to see what they want, and tell men to take what women seem to want at face value. But perhaps talking about self-deception to their target audience (young men who feel they are failing at mating) would just confuse more than help.

At several points Max & Miller warn their readers that women never evolved general ways to see and appreciate things like wealth and intelligence; women instead evolved to appreciate more specific signals like nice clothes and wit. So don’t go trying to show off your IQ score or bank balance.

They don’t advise women to fix this oversight, but instead advise men to fix how they show off. I suspect the idea is that humans are just more general and flexible on how to achieve their goals than on what exactly are their goals. And I suspect this is right. While one can imagine a creature that just wants “whatever helps me have many descendants”, humans are just not those creatures.

Two suggestive implication follow from this fact. First, if descendants of humans are ever blocked in their growth or expansion into the universe due to their failing to be sufficiently flexible or general, that failing will more likely come from their preferences, rather than their engineering or science. Second, as human incomes fall toward subsistence, our primary preferences for survival trump others, inducing effectively more general and flexible preferences. So subsistence income descendants have a better chance of avoiding generality failures.

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  • Douglas Knight

    In what sense is this book “okay”? In what sense do people “tolerate” it? How, specifically, do you think a signalling-focused self-help book on another subject would be treated?

    Publication is a form of toleration, but a pretty low bar. Google does not turn up a lot of coverage of this book, so I think it too soon to say that people tolerate it.

  • Daniel Meyer
    • http://overcomingbias.com RobinHanson

      Ack – fixed.

  • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ Stephen Diamond

    I think there’s more rather than less resistance to signaling in mating than in nonsexual contexts. We’re told that the important thing in writing is to avoid grammatical errors that make you look stupid; to be sure to ask questions when invited to in job interviews because it makes a good impression; to obtain degrees because they will open doors despite irrelevance. Opportunistic signaling advice is hardly taboo.

    • http://overcomingbias.com RobinHanson

      I agree there’d be more resistance to signaling based mating advice targeted at women.

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ Stephen Diamond

        Yes, the thrust of this application of signaling isn’t anti-feminist. The book will be perceived as raising the status of women because it advises men to refashion themselves to better please them. [And it advises against dishonest forms of signaling.]

  • stevesailer

    “Makes me wonder in what other self-help books it would be okay to present as strong a signaling view.”

    Back in the late 1970s “Dress for Success” was an advice book based on small scale studies of what signals different kinds of men’s attire sent. It was a very useful book for a young man, and I don’t know why it’s not regularly followed up. Social scientists looking for something to study could carve out a lucrative little niche in this field.

  • Laguna Beach Fogey

    women never evolved general ways to see and appreciate things like wealth and intelligence; women instead evolved to appreciate more specific signals like nice clothes and wit.

    I recall a study from a few years ago arguing that wearing fashionable clothing brands such as Lacoste or Gucci was more of a factor in social, economic, and romantic success than going to college.

    • xvart

      This is retarded, it simplifies to stupid what women want and that is someone who can feed her offspring, nothing more, the game is reproduction. The question in a modern context is what do women use as markers to differentiate potential partners. Women didn’t evolve to use clothing or wit, smart people are in general funnier as their jokes are better and smart people tend to make more money(resources).

  • xvart

    Mate how do “nice clothes” fit into an evolutionary context when we spent 4 million years naked, women respond to differential resource acquisition, “he has more than me, he’s a catch”, clothes in a modern context are a signifier of wealth as are cars watches or a yacht. Depending on the parasite you are going for you need to display a differential to her wealth and/or status.

    • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ Stephen Diamond

      women respond to differential resource acquisition

      I find it pretty clear that signaling differential resources is not clothes’ exclusive social function. There’s also signaling tribal membership and signaling the ability to see trends.

      I don’t know why clothes are of such symbolic importance. I wonder if Miller and Max explain it.

      • xvart

        Trends are a status thing and no one likes early adopters, clothes in a modern context signify wealth hence resources, but they need to be viewed in context. On the plains of africa 3 dead antelope will get you way more sex than an armani suit.

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ Stephen Diamond

        no one likes early adopters

        Really?

      • xvart

        which is why really rich people don’t need to wear Armani, but can drive around in a Ferrari with jeans or trash out on a mega yacht. Rock stars wearing torn jeans demonstrates that something other than clothes are at work in female mate selection. Clothes are a representation of wealth, studies find men in expensive cars are attractive while the same guy in the same attire in a cheap car is not. A woman who can buy a Ferrari in unlikely to view a guy in a lower status vehicle favourably, she already has the 3 dead antelope, she is now looking for 4.

      • IMASBA

        “I find it pretty clear that signaling differential resources is not clothes’ exclusive social function. There’s also signaling tribal membership and signaling the ability to see trends.”

        Exactly: clothes and jewelry signal status pretty strongly, on the streets of Britain for example you can clearly see who is “old” upperclass and who is from a poor neighboorhood and just draping himself in gold chains, labels and tanning spray because they think that makes them look rich (what exactly constitutes the real deal and what is “tacky” depends is culturally based), at least the difference is clear when you yourself do not belong to the latter group. I don’t know what useful trait this signals because I don’t think it’s linked to emotional intelligence per se and merely being good at distinguishing trends serves no purpose on its own, maybe it’s an accidental byproduct of other processes, a bit like religion or maybe in some weak way it signals a person possesses both at least average IQ and at least average EQ (which may be a more useful combination than having an incredibly high IQ with a below average EQ or an incredibly high EQ with a below average IQ).

  • Lord

    Doesn’t seem an issue to me. Intelligence and wealth are of little value unless used. Understated may be sufficient but unstated likely isn’t.

    As our subsistence rises to our income might be a better way of putting it as we reduce propagation to preserve considerations of ordinary and customary.

  • charlies

    Just read the first Geoffrey Miller link.
    It’s quite fascinating how closely people have adopted the signaling tactics he recommends, which essentially boils down to the current coastal urban hipster consumption ethos
    (i.e. don’t by new, retail brands; invest time in wearing/eating/doing things that tell a story about how interesting you are).

    • Curt Adams

      Or is it that Miller’s supposedly insightful recommendations are just rehashes of current fashions?

  • Steve Witham

    Or you could look for a more generally perceptive mate with whom you could produce more generally perceptive offspring and be ahead of the coming advantage for them. The external sign of a generally perceptive mate is liking your nerdy focus on the thing you do best. (Just wanted to speak in the Devil’s voice.)

    • http://overcomingbias.com RobinHanson

      But if you don’t find a unicorn in two decades, have a fall-back plan.

  • Matt

    If you’re interested on a signaling self-help book about education, Cal Newports “How to be a High School Superstar takes a very heavy signaling view (and is about as well receieved Mate)

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