Tag Archives: Mating

Objectification As Emotional Labor

“Emotional labor … [is] activities that are concerned wit the enhancement of others’ emotional well-0being and with the provision of emotional support. … captures people’s attempts to effectively managed the emotional climate within a relationship. (more; see also)

Some complain that women do much emotional labor, labor which is overlooked and undervalued. Others point to male emotional labors that also seems overlooked: suffering more explicit rejection, suggesting options for others to shoot down, suppressing their own fears and complaints while indulging partners’, and flattering partners while doing without flattery themselves.

In this post I want to point out another kind of especially male emotional labor, a kind I have not heard others speak of: men pretend they love women for who they are, but let women admit they love men for those mens’ love. That is, men “objectify” women.

Let me explain. Usually the strongest things we all want from our mates is to be wanted and loved for our direct objective features, like our looks, personality, smarts, kindness, etc. Wanted at least by someone who is good enough in key ways. But two people who have this as their main mating motive are poorly matched. If the other person mainly loves you for the fact that you love them, then they aren’t loving you so much for your direct features, which is what you wanted them to love you for. So you aren’t getting what you wanted.

This problem is cut if one of the parties will at least pretend to mainly want the other for their direct features. And this men (tend to) do. Leading to stereotypes that male desires are simple and low and deceptive, allowing men to be freely denigrated and suspected of foul play. In contrast, the female desire to be loved is framed as deep, giving, and spiritual. For example, male consumption of porn is denigrated much more than is female consumption of romance novels.

Such pretense carries risks. Men who believe it too much can be surprised to find sex alone doesn’t satisfy, while women who believe it too much may withhold sex, demand too much for access to it, and be surprised when their man gives up on the pretense.

Added 7p: Maybe what all parties really want is to be matched with a high status partner, which would as a result raise their own status. So matches between similar status people do give people as much of what they want as they’d think feasible to get. Under this hypothesis, all the stuff they say about wanting to be wanted for features is misleading.

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For What Do We Want To Be Wanted?

We often make ideal mate checklists, with features like “beautiful, bubbly, caring, charismatic, considerate, creative,” etc. Though famously the mates that we actually choose don’t tend to rate highly on our checklists. Suggesting that we don’t know very well what we actually want.

A feature conspicuously absent from most such lists is: how much someone wants you. Obviously this isn’t the only thing we want, or we’d accept offers from anyone who wanted us lots. But its importance is shown in this poll:

Note that my poll respondents are mostly male, and most observers see this effect as likely even stronger for females. We can thus conclude “wanting to be wanted” is one of the biggest things we want from our mates, even more than sex itself.

Now you can find many articles on this idea that we “want to be wanted”. (Even an academic article.) But most such articles seem to be critical of this practice, and suggest how to avoid it. And nothing I’ve found seems to notice just how ambiguous is this concept. That is, it isn’t at all clear what exactly we want to be wanted for.

Note that we could in principle be wanted as a footstool, as a bottomless wallet, as an on-demand-chore-doer, or as an easy-butt-of-jokes. But few of us actually want to be wanted in these ways. Thus we are clearly picky about what we are wanted for; we don’t just want to be wanted. Which raises a key question: when can it work that each of us is actually wanted for what we want to be wanted for?

For example, consider a couple A and B, where both A and B are pretty, and where what both A and B want is to be paired with someone who is pretty. This match works, at least as long as they both remain pretty. It would also work to have A want to be paired with someone caring, and B want to be paired with someone smart, if in fact A is smart and B is caring. So matches can also work with asymmetric wants.

Now imagine that what A mainly wants is to be paired with a partner they see as pretty, as before, but what B mainly wants is to be paired with someone who mainly wants a pretty partner. This pairing also works, as they are each getting what they want. But note this is asymmetrical; A and B now want different things from each other.

Note also that a symmetrical version of this wanting-to-be-wanted desire pairing does not work. Imagine we take what B wants in this previous case, and give that motive to both A and B in a new case. So now what both parties want is to be paired with someone who mainly wants a pretty partner, and who sees them as pretty. These wants are mismatched. In a pairing, neither of them get what they want from the other. So this match doesn’t work.

This seems to be a pretty general problem actually. No two preferences of the same form “I want them to want me for my wanting them for their … for they (or my) having ground feature X” seem to work when paired with each other. Because in these cases, the other isn’t wanting you for what you wanted them to want you for. And this isn’t just a hypothetical problem; the following poll suggests that most couples actually suffer from it:

Here ~82% of respondents say they want others to want them mainly for their ground features, like their body. But the prior poll showed that what most people actually want most from their partners is for the other to want them. So if these poll results are to be believed, then direct and simple desire, instead of wanting to be desired, is the element most often missing in the world, preventing good matches. And thus it seems that the most pro-social change you could make in yourself, to benefit others, is to make your desires more grounded and less meta. Just directly and simply want their body, their mind, etc.

Perhaps more plausibly, what we really want is all of these levels at once. That is, both sides in a pair might put symmetric weights on wanting the others’ features, and wanting to be wanted for our features, and wanting them to want to be wanted, and so on up the infinite hierarchy of meta wants.

Or more directly, each side wants to be together in a state of “mutual wanting” which implies the same mix of all of these wants at once. (I’m making an analogy here to how the concept of “common belief” summarizes a whole hierarchy of meta beliefs. I’ll bet meta wants can be similarly formalized.)

Or maybe we usually want somewhat different things from each other, but still close enough wants that we are each still getting a lot of what we want from our mutual wanting. After all, we don’t usually seem to be very confused about or unhappy with the matchings of our meta-level wants. And it seems to me that our relation problems usually sit at much more basic levels.

Added 10a: The random match doesn’t work, with each side mainly wanting to be wanted for some base features, like looks. The simplest fix seems to be for one side to switch, and at least pretend that they mainly want the other person for their base features. And the side most likely to switch is the side who seems naturally closer to that position, and who has a worse negotiating position in the match. Typically: men (when matched to women).

Plausibly leading to stereotypes that male desires are simple and low, so men can be freely denigrated and suspected of foul play. Females can more admit to the common desire to be loved, which they frame as deep, giving, and spiritual. Male consumption of porn is denigrated, but female consumption of romance novels is not. Men who believe this lie too much can be surprised to find sex alone doesn’t satisfy, and women who believe it too much may withhold sex and demand too much for access to it, and be surprised when their man gives up on the whole pretense.

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Status Explains Lots

Some complain that I try to explain too much of human behavior via signaling. But the social brain hypothesis and common observations suggest that we quite often do things with an eye to how they will make us look to others.

Here’s another big influence on human behavior strongly supported by both theory and common sense: status. While it seems obvious that dominance and prestige matter greatly in human behavior, even so it seems to me that we social scientists neglect them, just as we neglect signaling. In this post, I will try to support this claim.

Humans have only domesticated a tiny fraction of animal species, even smart primates. In fact, apes seem plenty smart and dexterous enough to support a real Planet of the Apes scenario, wherein apes do many useful jobs. The main problem is that apes see our giving them orders as an attempt to dominate them, which they sometimes fiercely resist.

And humans are if anything more sensitive to domination than are other primates. After all, while other primates had visible accepted dominance hierarchies, human foragers created “reverse dominance hierarchies” wherein the whole band (of ~20-50) coordinated to take down anyone who would try to overtly dominate them. Which both makes it plausible that dominance matters a lot to humans, and also raises the question of how it is that we’ve come to accept so much of it.

Farmers accepted more domination that did foragers; farmers had kings, classes, wealth inequality, slavery, and generals in war. But most farmers didn’t actually spend much time being directly dominated. War wasn’t the usual condition, most workers had no bosses, and most of their interactions were with people at their same level.

But in the modern world, most workers put up with far more than would most foragers or farmers. Our performance is frequently evaluated, we are ranked in great detail compared to many others around us, and we are given many detailed orders, and not just during an apprenticeship period. All of which allows our complex modern organizations and social interactions, the key to industrial-era wealth, but which raises the key question: how did we get Dom-averse humans to accept all this?

Bosses: It might seem odd to ask what bosses are for, as they have so many plausible functions to perform in orgs. Yet to explain many details, such as the kinds of people we pick for management, and the ways they spend their time, we must still ask which of these functions are the most important. And my guess is that one of the most important is to give workers excuses to obey them.

Here’s the simple story: we often have a choice about whether to frame an interaction as due to dominance or prestige. Humans are supposed to hate dominance, but to love prestige. So if we can frame our boss as prestigious, not dominant, we can tell ourselves and others that we are following their lead out of admiration and wanting to learn from them, not from fear of being fired. If so, firms will want to spend extra on hiring prestigious bosses, who are handsome, articulate, tall, well-educated, pro-social, smooth, etc., even if those features don’t that much improve management decisions. Which does in fact seem to be the case.

School: I’ve discussed several times my story that schools use prestige to train people to take orders:

When firms and managers from rich places try to transplant rich practices to poor places, giving poor place workers exactly the same equipment, materials, procedures, etc., one of the main things that goes wrong is that poor place workers just refuse to do what they are told. They won’t show up for work reliably on time, have many problematic superstitions, hate direct orders, won’t accept tasks and roles that that deviate from their non-work relative status with co-workers, and won’t accept being told to do tasks differently than they had done them before, especially when new ways seem harder. … How did the industrial era get at least some workers to accept more domination, inequality, and ambiguity, and why hasn’t that worked equally well everywhere? … prestigious schools. … if humans hate industrial workplace practices when they see them as bosses dominating, but love to copy the practices of prestigious folks, an obvious solution is to habituate kids into modern workplace practices in contexts that look more like the latter than the former. … while early jobs threaten to trip the triggers than make most animals run from domination, schools try to frame a similar habit practice in more acceptable terms, as more like copying prestigious people. … Start with prestigious teachers [teaching prestigious topics]. … Have students take several classes at at a time, so they have no single “boss” … Make class attendance optional, and let students pick their classes.… give … complex assignments with new ambiguous instructions,… lots of students per teacher, … to create social proof that other students accept all of this. Frequently and publicly rank student performance, using the excuse of helping students to learn.

In two recent twitter polls, I found a 7-2 ratio saying college teachers were more impressive/prestigious than one’s job supervisor then, and a 2-1 ratio for high school teachers. Many descriptions of teaching describe the impressiveness and status of teachers as central to the teaching process.

Governance: we are even more sensitive to dominance in our political leaders than in our workplace bosses. Which was why all though history, each place tended to think they had a noble king, while neighbors had despicable tyrants. And why prestige was so important for kings. In the last few centuries we upped the ante via democracy, a supposedly prestigious mechanism wherein we pretend that all of us are really “ultimately” in control of the government, allowing us to claim that we are not being dominated by our leaders.

The main emotional drive toward socialism, regulation of business, and redistribution from the rich seems to me to be resentment of domination, which is how most people frame the fact that some have more money than others. Our ability to use democracy to frame government as prestige not domination lets us not see government agencies who regulate and redistribute as domination. Furthermore, aversion to dominance by foreigners is the main cause of world poverty today:

Most nations today would be richer if they had long ago just submitted wholesale to a rich nation, allowing that rich nation to change their laws, customs, etc., and just do everything their way. But this idea greatly offends national and cultural pride. So nations stay poor.

Disagreement: I spent many years studying the topic of rational disagreement, and I’m now confident both that rational agents who mainly wanted accurate beliefs would not knowingly disagree, and that humans often knowingly disagree. Why implies that humans have some higher priorities than accuracy. And the strongest of these priorities seems to me to be to avoid domination. People often interpret being persuaded to move toward someone else’s position as being dominated by them. Why is why leaders so often ignore good advice given publicly by rivals. Pride is one of our main obstacles to rationality; it is the main reason we disagree. Prediction markets are able to induce an accurate consensus even in the presence of such pride, but pride prevents such markets from being allowed or adopted.

Mating: Dominance and submission seen central to mating; relations are often broken due to one party being either too dominant, or not dominant enough. See also clear evidence in BDSM:

~30% of participants in BDSM activities are females. … 89% of heterosexual females who are active in BDSM [prefer] the submissive-recipient role … [&] a dominant male, … 71% of heterosexual males preferred a dominant-initiator role … 19.2% of men and 27.8% of women express a desire to attempt in masochistic behavior

So in this post I’ve outlined how status is central to bosses, school, governance, disagreement, and mating, more central than you might have realized. Status really does explain lots.

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The Insular Fertile Future

Fertility (= kids per adult) has been falling worldwide for centuries. It seems to be correlated strongly with societal (not individual) wealth, and mediated by norms transmitted via mass media. World elite culture supports falling fertility by celebrating professional more than parenting accomplishment. Among many rich world elites, fertility has fallen below replacement level, and is still falling further. More others should join them as the world gets richer and more culturally integrated.

With seven billion humans today, if the population were to fall in half every two generations it would take roughly 1600 years for humanity to go extinct. So the risk isn’t immediate, and lots of things might change before then. (E.g., see my book Age of Em.) But as this trend has been consistent for centuries, it’s hardly crazy to think that it may continue for many more centuries.

Yes, extinction isn’t that likely, as a more likely scenario has selection stepping in to promote higher fertility. However, on reflection I think it also makes sense to worry about that better scenario, as the most likely way for selection to promote fertility is by promoting insular subcultures, especially re gender/mating/fertility. Let me explain.

Today the cultures associated with higher fertility tend to be more “traditional”, and less integrated with the dominant world elite culture. And a few small subcultures, like Mennonites and Amish, or Mormons and Orthodox Jews, even manage to maintain high fertility while staying closely connected to the dominant culture. However, as a big fraction of the youth of such subcultures leave them, it isn’t obvious that these subcultures can long sustain net growth.

But this does point to the plausibly winning strategy: subcultures that are both highly fertile and highly insular, keeping enough youth from wanting to defect from their subculture to join the dominant low fertility culture. Through some combination of genes, culture, and tech, they find a way isolate their members more from outside cultural influence, and thereby to support sustained population growth (or at least less rapid decline).

That scenario is a win relative to human extinction, but it should worry those who see much value embodied in the dominant culture, and much harm that could come from more cultural isolation, or from the religions or ideologies that might be used to sustain such insularity. For example, as traditional cultures are the main source today of insular fertile cultures, they seem likely to also be the main source of such winning subcultures in a few centuries. Maybe we’ll get a traditional culture who happens to take a lot from the dominant culture. But also maybe not.

What other options do we have? We could hope that genetic evolution will turn out to be faster than we fear, that global culture will change its mind and switch to promoting fertility, or that cheap nurturing robot parents will appear in time. But these seem faint hopes. The dominant culture may well seek to repress divergent insular fertile subcultures, but that would raise the risk of human extinction.

One possible fix that comes to mind here is for the dominant culture to tolerate and even encourage mating and gender variance among new cultural descendants of that dominant culture. That is, encourage the creation of new subcultures that inherit most of their cultural elements from the dominant culture, but that explore different approaches to mating, gender , and parenting within each subculture. Swinging, polyamory, and home schooling subcultures of today show that such cultural descendants are at least possible. Hopefully such subcultures would mainly be more culturally insular only regarding their mating, gender, and parenting aspects.

With enough such experiments, we might find new subcultures that promote much higher fertility, and yet which also inherit many aspects of dominant culture. And these might have a fighting chance against insular subcultures descended from more traditional cultures. Alas, this fix requires that the dominant culture become much more tolerant of local variations in gender, mating, and parenting, which may not be much more likely than their just coming to see the wisdom of promoting fertility. After all we are currently in an increasingly Puritan era of more not less conformity on such things.

I’m afraid I really don’t see a good solution here yet. But I at least want to flag the problem for consideration.

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Why Does Reason’s Reach Vary?

Where does reason have the most and least reach in our lives? That is, where are we most and least able and expected to give reasons for our conclusions and actions?

Math seems like a max reason case. Every math claim must be backed up by a proof. But even then, I know that in many math literatures papers are usually rejected not for having incorrect proofs, but for not making the assumptions that referees would have preferred. Such referees are usually not expected to or able to articulate well why some assumption sets are preferred, and paper authors can only imperfectly predict their choices.

Romance and art seem near to min reason cases. There we are consistently unable to give reasons to account for our choices, or even to predict our and others’ choices. And we don’t even like to be pushed to try. But why? You might explain this as due to complexity, but math and many other reason-filled areas of life can be quite complex.

I suspect mixed strategies and hidden motives. That is, our being able to give reasons and predict choices would allow others to infer our motives, or to control us via threats and promises. And so such issues must be especially important in romance and art. But this is just speculation, and I’m honestly curious: why exactly does reason have so little reach in romance and art?

Added 10a: It seems obvious that we want to be unpredictable and to hide our motives in romance. We don’t want others to control such an important choice, and we sometimes want to cheat. The fact that reason also has little reach in art suggests that art and mating are strongly linked. We use art to solicit mates and we use art to pick with whom to mate, but we deny these things and claim we just love art for its own sake.

Is charity another area with a low reach of reason?

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DIY vs. PFR Matchmaking

Our tax system often encourages “doing it yourself” (DIY), because when you buy products or services from others, you pay sales taxes and they pay income taxes, none of which you pay if you just do it yourself. But I see larger forces encouraging DIY.

I’ve posted on how during the early industrial revolution people reasonably feared that the new regimentation that had so increased productivity at work would be applied to our leisure lives. But we chose to forgo the huge productivity gains often realized in military, school, and orphanage dorms, and instead we each did our own food, clothes, home decorations, etc. Our bodies and rooms would in general look better and be more comfy, all at less cost, if we let professionals make such choices. But we don’t.

I’ve also noticed that my grad students seem to feel a strong need to invent their own research ideas, instead of taking suggestions from professors. Even if that hurts their success chances. And I’ve recently seen a majority of my Twitter respondents oppose my proposal to, at no cost, give people a career agent with an interest in advising and promoting their career. And of course we often see people hostile to getting advice on most things, including careers.

From all this I conclude that we have a strong and increasing DIY norm. (Why exactly I’ll leave for another post.) We are especially wary of advice and help from those who are not close associates, or if they financially profit from helping. (And I’ve posted on how little we seem inclined to rely on track records when we do pay advisors.) 

Which brings us to matchmaking, an activity that we today mostly DIY (often via mate shopping apps), even though professional matchmakers were once far more popular. I posit the increased DIY norm as the main cause of this trend. Even so, I want to outline here how we could use paying-for-results (PFR) to do better matchmaking. To add to my list of suggested ways that we could pay more for results. 

Now, first I should note that it seems to me obvious that matchmakers could help many to find mates, and that better mates can be worth a lot. There is just so much that many older people understand about people and their mating that so many young people don’t understand. This seems confirmed by matchmaking being quite common in ancient societies. So I just can’t buy this common claim that it is impossible to make matches, that only the two people involved could possibly in any way predict their match; that’s just crazy. 

The hardest task in paying for results is finding a good enough proxy for the results desired. But for people who seek long term relations, we do seem to have a simple adequate proxy: how long the relation lasts. Thus my basic proposal is to agree to meet with a matchmaker’s suggestions for some period (say a year), and then if you marry (or move in with) someone so suggested within some period (say five more years), you after that pay the matchmaker $X per month (or perhaps Y% of income) until you divorce or die (or move out). 

Yes this doesn’t get at all of how much you like your marriage, but it gets at a key part of that. And it seems unlikely that a couple would pretend to split up, or long delay their relation, just to avoid paying the matchmaker.

Now this can’t be the whole proposal, as most anyone might be willing to give you a long list of names in exchange for being paid $X per month if you happen to marry someone on the list. You’d need a good way to decide who to pick as your matchmaker. 

My first idea here is to hold an auction; see who will pay you the most for the right to be paid $X/mo. if you marry one of their suggestions. But what if you hold an auction with no intention of marrying anyone, just to gain auction revenue? To fix that, we might have the auction revenue returned, with perhaps an added penalty, in the case where you marry none of the candidates suggested. But perhaps some would then plan to have a fast marriage and divorce, just to get the auction revenue. Maybe it would be enough to require that the auction revenue is only spent on meeting with suggested candidates. Or give the auction revenue to charity. Or maybe matchmakers could use other ways to check that you are serious about finding a mate. 

Another approach to choosing the matchmaker might be to use track records of success; how often do clients get married, and how long do those marriages last. With good enough data there, one might not even need the direct $X/mo. incentives. But today few matchmakers show any track records at all, and so it could take a while for new matchmakers to collect such data. The direct incentives could help until such track records are available, and might continue to help enough afterward.

In a few polls, 40% of my Twitter respondents said their main reason for wariness of a matchmaker is fear that their advice is random, while 60% said a clear track record is what would most make them likely to use a matchmaker. Which suggests there is an opportunity here; if we collect enough data, and use strong enough incentives, maybe matchmakers could actually help people to better find long-term love, to our overall benefit. 

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You Don’t Want To Know Your Limit

I recently re-watched the long version of Scenes from a Marriage. A couple sees other couples around them in trouble, smugly feels safe, and then learns that they are not. A lesson not lost on the attentive viewer. The details are quite realistic, making the whole thing painful to watch.

The obvious big question is: what went wrong? And for that one need only watch the first 2 of the 6 episodes, on the period before the breakup. Which is in my mind the most realistic part of the movie. After the break, we see explosive and hurtful conflict, and hear titillating stories of promiscuity, but see less insight into the breakup.

The man initiates the break, and while he has several complaints, his biggest seems to be that she’s become too reluctant to have sex. She’s also been expressing unhappiness and seems to suggest (perhaps unconsciously) that he should give her more better attention. He suddenly declares he’s in love with someone else and is leaving. She is shocked, thinking she could read him better, and that he would talk before making such a decision. She begs him to let them try again, but he refuses.

If we see a marriage as a deal that can be continually renegotiated, then a simple interpretation here is that he saw her as grabbing better terms in their deal, by giving less while asking for more, and she moved past his limit, i.e., his reservation price. He didn’t try to explicitly negotiate over sex, instead of just leaving, plausibly because begging for sex makes us seem less attractive and we want our sex partners to be sincerely eager for us, instead of reluctantly accommodating.

It may seem sad that, even after knowing each other very well for many years, we can’t predict each other better to avoid such destructive outcomes. But in fact this unpredictability seems essential to the process. If we each knew the other person’s exact limits, then we might try to push them right up to but not past their limits. Making them unsure of our limits makes them wary of pushing us too far. And when your partner can read you very well, not knowing your own limits may be the best way to keep them from knowing.

So even with the people we know best, we don’t know their limits, nor our own, which warns each of us against pushing too far to grab more for ourselves at the expense of our partner. Don’t trust to your ability to read them, or expect to get a warning and or a chance to retreat should you push them too far. Treat them well, and be wary of our bias to remember our resentments for longer than our gratitudes.

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Commitments Explain Gaps

Consider trying to predict the details of unattached people’s kisses. That is, you might have data on who such people have actually kissed when, where, and how, and data on who they say they would be willing to kiss under what circumstances. From such data you make models that predict both the kisses that actually happen and the kisses they say they are willing to join. For example, you may notice that they kiss more when they are awake, are not busy with other activities, and feeling frisky. They kiss more when they and their partner are clean and well groomed. They kiss more when they are more attractive to others, and when other willing partners are more attractive to them according to their preferences.

Now consider doing the same exercise for people who are married. When you fit this sort of data, you will find one new big factor: they almost always kiss only their spouse. And if you try to explain both these datasets in the same terms, you’d have to say spouses are in some strange way vastly more attracted to each other than they are to everyone else. This attraction is strange because it isn’t explained by other measurable features you can see, and no one else seems to feel this extra attraction.

Of course the obvious explanation here is that married people typically make a commitment to kiss only each other. Yes there is a sense in which they are attracted more to each other than to other people, but this isn’t remotely sufficient to explain their extreme tendencies to kiss only each other. It is their commitment that explains this behavior gap, i.e., this extra strong preference for each other.

Now consider trying to predict policies and public attitudes regarding limits on who can migrate where, and who can buy products and services from where. And consider trying to predict this using the foreseeable concrete consequences of such policy limits. In principle, many factors seem relevant. Different kinds of people and products might produce different externalities in different situations. Their quality might be uncertain and depend on various features. One might naturally want a process to consider potential candidates and review their suitability.

Such models might predict more limits on people and products that come from further away in spatial and cultural distance, more limits on things that have lower quality and higher risks, and more limits when there is more infrastructure to help enforce such limits. And in fact those sort of models seem to do okay at predicting the following two kinds of variation: variation on limits on people and products that move between nations, and variation on limits on people and products that move within nations.

However, if we compare limits between nations and limits within nations, these sort of models seem to me to have a big explanatory gap, analogous to the kissing attractiveness gap in models that predict the kisses of married spouses. Between nations, the default is to have substantial limits on the movement of people and products, while within nations the strong default is to allow unlimited movement of people and products.

Yes, the context of movement between nations seems to be on average different from movement within nations, and different in the directions predicted to result in bigger limits on movement. At least according to the models we would use to that explain such variation between nations, and variation within nations. But while the directions make sense, the magnitudes are strangely enormous. A similar degree of difference within a nation results in far smaller limits on the movement of people and products than does a comparable degree of difference between nations.

We are thus left with another explanatory gap: we need something else to explain why people are so reluctant to allow movement between nations, relative to movement within nations. And my best guess is that the answer here is another kind of commitment: people feel that they have committed to allowing movement within nations, even if that causes problems, and have committed to being suspicious of movement between nations, even if that makes them lose out on opportunities. That is part of what it means to have committed themselves to by joining a nation.

If this explanation is correct, it of course raises the question of whether this is a sensible commitment to make. For that, we need a better analysis of the benefits and costs of committing to joining nations, an under-explored but important topic.

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Yay Marriage

This Saturday I acquire my first kid-in-law, when one of my two sons marries. I’m supposed to be happy for the couple, and I am indeed happy. Not only that, I’m happy to participate in a ceremony wherein many of their associates create common knowledge about our willingness to spend resources to collectively declare our happiness about this marriage. But I wonder: what does this fact say?

We often celebrate general symbols, as with holidays. When we celebrate particular people we know, we often celebrate accomplishments, as in elections, graduations, sport wins, and retirements. Sometimes we celebrate nothing in particular, as with birthdays, just to have an excuse to get together.

But I see our more heart-felt collective celebrations as choices to commit: marriages, baby showers, baptisms, citizenship, and commitments to join groups as doctors, soldiers, and nuns do. It makes sense to celebrate commitments together, if a community is supposed to be part of the commitment. Committing to each other seems one of the most heart-felt things we ever do.

It seems to me that our most hopeful and heart-felt commitment celebrations are marriages and baby showers, which are of course related. And this suggests that these are among the most important commitments we make, not just as individuals, but as communities offering our support to individuals.

Our society today doesn’t support monogamy and marriage as strongly as did ancestral societies. We have far weaker legal and social sanctions against those who divorce, don’t marry, or cheat on marriages. When some express strong criticisms of marriage, others usually don’t take much offense or argue against them very vigorously. We even allow and often encourage experiments with other arrangements.

But the unparalleled joy and hope we feel at weddings, and perhaps baby showers, and our eagerness to participate in them, are real data, not to be ignored. These feelings say that we see these events as very important, and we guess that getting married or having kids is on average a better choice than staying single or childless. We accept that people must make their own choices for their lives, but on average we hope for marriage and kids. Especially we parents.

Commitments are choices to neglect future preferences. Staying with a spouse or a child for only as long as you feel in the mood in the moment is not a commitment, and our deep hope and celebration of these commitments says that we see such neglect as often wise. You may not always be happy with such choices, but a commitment to them can bring deep satisfying meaning to your life.

We don’t often say these things directly or our loud. But you can see us saying these things by the way standing with you at your wedding, beaming with hope and pride.

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Status Hypocrisy

Humans (and some other animals) recognize two kinds of status: good and bad. Good status is “prestige” while bad status is “dominance.” Here is Trump today saying the US wants to be high status in the world, but only via good status:

We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world, but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first. We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example. We will shine for everyone to follow. (more)

Many animals have a local “pecking order” set by winners of pair-wise physical fights. In some animals, rank is also influenced via prestige elements. For example, babbler birds rise in rank by doing good things for their local group, such as by sharing food and warning against predators. These things count for rank even when gained via violence, such as by fighting other birds for the best places to look out for predators, and by forcing food down the throat of other birds.

Human foragers have strong norms against using or threatening force, and even against bragging about such serious abilities. Hunters may exchange arrows to disguise who deserves credit for good hunts. But foragers are okay with communities having a shared sense of who are better sources of advice, and who are better to emulate and associate with. And it can be okay, in play mode, to brag about play abilities like singing or joking. In The Secret Of Our Success, Joseph Henrich says human cultural evolution was promoted by our tendency to copy behaviors of prestigious people.

Today we tend to say that our leaders have prestige, while their leaders have dominance. That is, their leaders hold power via personal connections and the threat and practice of violence, bribes, sex, gossip, and conformity pressures. Our leaders, instead, mainly just have whatever abilities follow from our deepest respect and admiration regarding their wisdom and efforts on serious topics that matter for us all. Their leaders more seek power, while ours more have leadership thrust upon them. Because of this us/them split, we tend to try to use persuasion on us, but force on them, when seeking to to change behaviors.

You can see this split in typical motives of heroes and villains in fiction, and in how such characters treat their subordinates. It also appears often in war propaganda, such as in accusations about different leadership styles of Trump and Clinton in the US last election.

Firm bosses today tend to be reluctant to give direct orders to subordinates, and prefer a general impression that they have their position mainly because of how much everyone respects their wisdom and effort. Bosses also prefer the impression that their main task is to collect information, apply wisdom, and make good decisions in the firm interest. Subordinates often go along with this story, as they don’t like to publicly accept domination. Employees can just conveniently decide that they respect their boss, and are persuaded by his or her arguments. And firms pay extra for the pretty dynamic bosses to which employees less mind submitting, even if those are worse at making key decisions.

Modern folk often don’t understand how the ancients could have tolerated not having democracy, as we us tell ourselves today that democracy is why we are not dominated by leaders. But while the ancients saw rival nations as under the thumb of tyrants, they themselves had kings whose virtues proved that they deserved their position. And we today look away from evidence that our leaders win elections via illicit means (such as personal connections etc.); our elected leaders are often far from the most prestigious people available. Even if we see most politicians as corrupt, we see our personal politicians as much less so. US residents look away from evidence that the US is not just high status in the world due to its good advice and general helpfulness; the US also uses force, bribes, etc.

Clearly, while there is some fact of the matter about how much a person gains their status via licit or illicit means, there is also a lot of impression management going on. We like to give others the impression that we personally mainly want prestige in ourselves and our associates, and that we only grant others status via the prestige they have earned. But let me suggest that, compared to this ideal, we actually want more dominance in ourselves and our associates than we like to admit, and we submit more often to dominance.

In the following, I’ll offer three lines of evidence for this claim. First consider that we like to copy the consumer purchases of people that we envy, but not of people we admire for being “warm” and socially responsible. I suggest that relative to us, the latter group has prestige while the former has dominance.

Second, consider the fact that when our bosses or presidents retire and leave office, their legitimate prestige should not have diminished much. That is, such people have about the same wisdom and good advice, and they remain as useful a model for copying behavior. Yet others usually show far less interest in associating with such retirees. This suggests that what people really want in associating with bosses is their dominance powers, not their prestigious advice.

For my third line of evidence, consider our differing preferences for short vs. long term mates. We are much more publicly associated with our long term mates, and so we naturally care more about what other people think of them. Their prestige will bleed over onto us. In contrast, short term mating is often done in secret. Thus we should care more about prestige in long term mates, and dominance in short term mates, even if we don’t admit this consciously.

For short term mates, humans seem to mainly care about physical attractiveness. This is in contrast to long term mates and non-sexual short term associates. Women also care about men having a deep voice, and if men are relatively attractive, women like them to show off luxury goods. Women may like creative intelligence in men, but while we can infer overall intelligence quickly and reliably from faces, that just doesn’t much influence how attractive they seem.

While there is a lot of complexity in mating preferences, and we still don’t understand it all, it seems to me that one important component is that for long term mates we more care about prestige features that are good for the group, but for short term mates, we care more about dominance features that are more directly useful to us personally. Physical attractiveness (and a deep voice) shows off capacities for violence and fertility, both of which are useful powers.

Overall intelligence can be good for the group, but for our ancestors it was much less useful to individuals. This may be part of why IQ matters more for national than individual income. We humans may have long known that smarts is good for our groups, and yet made it less of a priority in our selfish choices of associates.

Added 21Jan: The two kinds of status have different kinds of status moves. For example, you look directly at someone prestigious, but avoid looking directly at a dominator.

Added 22Jan: This can help explain why smart & sincere tend to go together.

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