The Enlightened Caveman


Relationships 101 – Part 4 – Quantitative Concurrence
May 13, 2008, 12:53 am
Filed under: Culture and Society, Relationships

This is a series about
relationships – why we need them, how we get them, and how we keep
them. There will be several parts. This is the fourth – it focuses on
quantifying the quality and/or depth of your relationships. Previous parts
include:

  • identifying the target; (click here)
  • how we take control of our environment to make it friendly to our efforts; (click here)
  • the difference between getting relationships and keeping them;(click here)

It’s fitting that I can simply pick up where I left off more than two years ago when I was writing almost daily. That means these ideas have some durability – at least with me. In any case, it’s time to finally make good on the conclusion of this series.

Here’s a question. Is it possible to quantify the value of a given relationship? I think it is – at least in a relative sense. It comes down to concurrence. It’s about those moments when we’re on the same wavelength with another person. Though I have no evidence whatsoever to support it, I have long had a sense that we are designed to pursue these events with one another. It doesn’t matter if I’m right. You can think of this as a thought experiment, if you like.

I believe it is moments of concurrence that forge human connections. (That notion alone would catch natural selection’s eye, no?) And the more heightened the emotional state, the deeper the connection. A lightweight version of concurrence, one with only so much emotional gravitas, occurs when we agree with someone about something we like or don’t like – such as a band or a book. A deeply emotional moment of concurrence, however, occurs when we share something like the birth of a child or a crisis situation. If we think of every relationship as having something like a concurrence account, we can say that the former example adds a little to the account while the latter adds a lot.

With that conceptual model in place, we can quantify the value of any given relationship by simply doing the math. And when we do, we can envision a progression of sorts to situate specific relationships in the context of other specific relationships in terms of value.

We should say that a basic acquaintance relationship – such as that between co-workers who don’t know each other very well – is on the low end of the value hierarchy. (Yes, I said hierarchy. Those of you with an allergy to hierarchies should abandon now. Save yourself. Go on without me.) Above that, we could place new and/or infrequent friendships – the key being that the parties involved have not shared any truly emotional moments of concurrence. These are people who perhaps enjoy spending time with one another, but there’s really no depth there. Going farther, we might find relationships where mildly emotional moments of concurrence have been shared – such as being on the same winning team or being in the same peacetime military unit. Still higher, we get into real relationships, the ones that hurt when we lose them.

Here’s where emotionally-based moments of concurrence earn their stripes. Events of this kind boost the concurrence account to levels that are difficult to achieve with non-emotional concurrences. A year’s worth of non-emotional moments of concurrence can be eclipsed instantly by a single, deeply-emotional shared experience. This is where good friend relationships and new romances are situated. (Anyone who has been in a requited love relationship can attest to the strong emotional experience associated with those early realizations that both parties are in love.) We might call this the second-tier of human relationships – ones that are defined by their basis in emotional concurrence events.

Beyond just the entry-level second-tier relationship, we get into the kinds of relationships that usually accompany long-term circumstantial or commitment-based proximity – family and partner relationships, to be precise. The concurrence account is loaded with non-emotional moments of concurrence – enjoying the same dinner, laughing at the same TV shows, grooving to the same music, getting frustrated on the same vacations, etc. Peppered throughout those everyday experiences are the emotional moments of concurrence that push the account into the stratosphere. Births, deaths, graduations, first loves, breakups, and so on. (Incidentally, here we find yet another way to justify the old saw – blood is thicker than water. ) The bottom line is that this upper level of human relationships is, in my view, the pinnacle of value.

Now, after all that, there’s the topic at hand – Relationships 101 – which implies that there’s a lesson here. The notion of quantifying value is highly instructive for one very important reason. At each level, there are appropriate and inappropriate approaches to human interaction. If we can objectively assess our relationships in terms of concurrence, we can place them on the hierarchy, thus gaining insight into how we should conduct ourselves. For example, don’t marry someone with whom you have no emotionally-based concurrence.

And here, we end up right back where we started in part 1 – what do we want? We want healthy second-tier relationships, as many as we can manage (not have, manage). Assessing the ones we have allows us to see if we’re there, or if we have work to do (and we almost always do have work to do). It prevents us from rushing things, and it prevents us from misjudging what we have, which happens when we mistake emotionally-charged moments for concurrent emotionally charged moments. The former adds nothing to the account, while the latter is a big deposit.

So there you have it.

I should note that there’s at least one logical fallacy in this post. Can you spot it?



Relationships 101 – Part 3 – Between Getting and Keeping Relationships
March 4, 2006, 4:07 am
Filed under: Culture and Society, Relationships

This is a series about
relationships – why we need them, how we get them, and how we keep
them. There are four parts. This is the third – it focuses on
contextual strategies for making progress on the long-term relationship front. Additional parts include:

  • identifying the target; (click here)
  • how we take control of our environment to make it friendly to our efforts; (click here)
  • the difference between getting relationships and keeping them;(click here)
  • real interpersonal feedback – quantitative concurrence; (click here)

I’m sure there will be more to this as it evolves, but that’s what you have to look forward to. Off we go.

So let’s suppose you’ve set your sights on the kind of relationship(s) you believe will best serve your  quest for long-term happiness.  And let’s further suppose that you’ve correctly assessed the market of desirable targets, and that you’ve successfully enhanced your looks and personality such that you now have wide access to the people with whom you hope to become close. You’re there, right?  The world is your oyster.  Not exactly.

The interesting thing about the quest for ideal relationships is that what you do to get in the door is not the same as what you do to develop and maintain rewarding interpersonal connections.  You see, the love game is a bit like a funnel filtering system.  You start by making yourself as broadly attractive as possible (to your desired audience, that is) – multitudes of candidates enter the wide top of your funnel.  Then, you eliminate candidates that don’t work for you – winnowing them down until just the right one (or ones) come out the narrow bottom of the funnel.  Perhaps ironically, the winnowing down part is dramatically different than the attraction part in terms of strategy and tactics.

When you’re attracting, you’re working off a basic understanding of human nature and what gets people interested in other people.  So you get the attention of your targets by looking like you have something going for you and that care about how you’re perceived (you’re not obsessed, you’re just aware).  Face it – relatively speaking, no one worth a crap is interested in a total slob.  On the flip side, no one’s interested in someone so obsessed with how they look that they’ve strayed into the land of the orange tan, way over-sized fake books, and duck-lips look (for women) and the land of the over-built, orange tan, shaved head-to-toe, and perpetually in gym clothes look (for men).

Beyond looks, you emphasize the aspects of your personality that separate you from others – you make sure you’re interesting. Additionally, you demonstrate value, as they say in the pick-up community.  You have something to offer.  It could be that you’re always a barrel of laughs, or that you’re exciting, or that you’re rich (and therefore able to provide endless luxuries and entertainment possibilities).  Whatever.  The point is that you have a gimmick (or gimmicks) – broad appeal during the attraction phase, which necessarily, though unfortunately, means that you’re likely to attract people with whom you have little chance of any long-term connection.  Here’s where it gets dicey.

I’ve talked to guys who say that they can’t even imagine having more prospects for relationships than they might want.  They’re saying, “At this point, I’ll take what I can get.”  Aside from being a lame-ass defeatest attitude, this is a recipe for disaster.  Self-esteem is on the line here.  If you’re a worthwhile human being, then there are literally hundreds of perfect matches for you out there.  Nevermind the romantic fantasy of the one, the fact is that the numbers are extremely in your favor.  You just have to get your act together to start feeding as many of your targets as possible through your funnel. You have to become attractive and courageous, and anyone can do it. The good news is that, though it may feel contrived at first, the process of enhancing your looks and personality will help you develop the self-esteem that you desperately need if you want to find lasting relationships that are built on mutual respect and admiration (and this is the grail, folks).  So let’s say you’re making progress.  You’re trying to attract targets en masse into your funnel, and  it’s working.  Then what?

Now you start screening.  It’s a delicate process, but what you’re essentially doing is gingerly revealing what really matters to you in life, while making sure to keep the attraction strong.  For example, say you opened a woman at the cleaners with some witty banter about fashion and what-not.  She inferred from your looks and demeanor that you’re a confident person, and she inferred from the clothes you were picking up that you are probably somewhat successful.  She may have even seen your car (if it’s nice or novel) and inferred the same thing.  In any case, you ask for her number and she gives it to you. Then what?

No dates.  Read that again.  You do not take her on a date.  At least not one where you pay, not at first.  This is a chump move, and you’re not a chump.  You find something that you can both go to or do that is either low cost or no cost.  In my single days, I would invent some task that I had to perform and ask girls if they wanted to join me – usually something during the day.  For example, say you’re in the market for a new couch.  This is perfect.  You’re spending time together getting to know one another without any real pressure.  There are opportunities aplenty for horseplay and to see how each of you deals with the general public, traffic, and so on.  (All this stuff tells you tons about people.)  The money grubbers will be disappointed that you’re not showering them with expensive events to impress them, so they’ll wash right out of the program early.  That’s the plan.

(Quick sidenote – to avoid ending up in the “friend” category, it’s imperative to make your intentions known up front.  I told my a girl once – she is now my wife – that though she had a boyfriend and thought of us as just friends, I had every intention of kissing her one day and taking her away from him.  She laughed, and so did I.  But she knew I wasn’t kidding, and there kindled the beginnings of real attraction.  If a target says he or she only wants to be friends, I think Neil Strauss’ response is great – “I never put that kind of limitation on my relationships.”  I love that.  It sends the message loud and clear, and, to some extent, just having the confidence to push beyond the “let’s just be friends” category is critical to winning hard targets.)

The idea underlying the slow revelation process is that you don’t want someone who just likes you because of some enhancement that doesn’t really reflect who you are or what really matters to you.  I’m assuming that you’re smart enough to know that material success is no foundation upon which to build a relationship.  Nevertheless, part of your gimmick during the attraction phase may very well be the appearance of success – clothes, car, home, etc.  So you use it to initiate attraction – yes, even the most down-to-earth and high-quality people are attracted to successful people – but you deemphasize it once the attraction is established.

You’re theme is something like, “Yeah, I’m successful, but only so I can have more time to mountain bike or hang with my friends or whatever.”  High-quality people will appreciate this. Shallow people will be baffled – to them, material success, particularly the appearance of it, is the end game.  Shallow, gold-diggers should never make it through your screening process.  If they do, your funnel has a leak near the top.

So you’re making headway with this woman.  She has accompanied you on your couch shopping adventure, and you’ve both had a great time. You’ve started talking on the phone regularly.  You find yourself thinking about her all the time, and you get the warm fuzzies when you talk.  In short, you feel that love is blooming.  All is well, right? Maybe, and maybe not.

There are two extremes to address when love begins to bloom.  One is the resistance to commitment; the other is the rush to commitment. We’ll start with the latter.  There’s a very real risk when you haven’t had many love experiences (especially recently) that your emotions might overwhelm you and render your rational mind nothing more than a hat rack.  When those physiological processes start clicking in your brain after being long dormant, it’s a rush.  It’s meant to be.  Your caveman mind is wired to do whatever it takes to maintain these feelings because they often lead to offspring, which, as we know, is the true aim of our genes.  Fortunately, however, we’re tens of thousands of years beyond being totally at the mercy of our genes.  We can now deliberately decide which emotions make sense and which ones may not.

Think about the famous words of Percy Sledge in, “When a Man Loves a Woman” – “He’ll turn his back on his best friend if he put her down.” Does this make sense?  Not usually, but love has that effect.  It turns our thinking minds to mush.  The only defense against it is a rational, prepared mind.  So, even when love is blooming, we have to be aware that we’re still in the screening process.  There’s a lot that goes into a lasting, meaningful relationship, and it takes time to determine if it’s all there.  More importantly, it’s critical to maintain the willingness to walk away if things aren’t working – and to advertise that willingness.

Nothing will drive away a potential new love than overt neediness. This demonstrates excessive vulnerability, which is the mother of all turn-offs.  Like I said, you have to maintain some of what you did during the attraction phase in order to effectively navigate the screening process.  Some would say, “But I don’t want to play games.  I just want to be honest about my feelings.”  Great, I’m right there with you, but like it or not, this is a game, and losers show their hands too soon.  Feel free to spill your heart to your buddies.  They’ll admire you for feeling so strongly while sticking to your tactical guns and not turning into a clinger.  This is necessary not just to avoid turning your potential new love off, it’s a critical part of rational screening.

The moment you let yourself turn to needy mush with a target, your ability to rationally analyze whether the person is right for you in the long term goes haywire.  You’re in em>loooove, and everything is wonderful.  So what if he’s 40 living at home with his mom and still bouncing checks – he’s a sweet, family-oriented guy.  Yeah.  Suuuure.  So what if she turns into a bitchy princess when she’s had too much to drink – she’s so nice most of the time, and you’ve never dated such a beauty.  Uh huh.  Whatever you have to tell yourself.  No, when you keep your distance during the early days of love’s bloom, you give yourself the absolute best chance of success in the long-term.  Guys, go rent, “The Tao of Steve” to see what I mean.  Girls, just watch, “Wedding Crashers.”  It’s all there.

The bottom line is that when you’re attracting, the air of indifference is essential.  Targets need to get the impression that you could take them or leave them.  This naturally builds attraction.  Once the attraction is established and the relationship is progressing, you slowly replace the indifference with interest, untimately ending in vulnerability.  It’s a process that should, in most cases, move fairly slowly.  If you think you’re just being honest by jumping to vulnerable right away, you’ll end up in love’s gutter more often than not.  The measured indifference maintains the attraction and simultaneously gives you the distance you need to properly execute the screening process to determine if there’s a long-term fit.  I’ve dwelled on this a lot because I think most attractive people with relationship problems do this part wrong more than anything else.  Now to the never-commit crowd.

There’s a danger to being too good at the attraction phase.  This is the problem that plagues celebrities.  You have so many options that it’s simply too easy to cut someone loose if things start getting tough.  I sat next to a gorgeous young lady on a plane from New York to Atlanta a few months ago.  We started chatting, and she eventually confided that, though she dates all these mega-rich guys (with their own private planes and the like), she can never keep them.  I explained to her that this only makes sense.

Why would any good-looking playboy want to settle down when he could just find someone new anytime he wanted?  (This kind of attitude reflects a gross misunderstanding of how important long-term relationships are to our happiness. Nevertheless, thanks to our genes, it’s pervasive.)  She nodded that I was right.  She said that she and her girlfriends were always saying that they needed to stop dating those kinds of guys.  Alas, they’re addicted to the lifestyle, so it’ll probably never happen.  I told her that she should be on the lookout for a good-looking ambitious guy who hasn’t made it yet, but almost certainly will.  NYC is full of them.  Those are the guys who will appreciate a woman who chose them when they were nothing.  And that’s the key – appreciating what you have.

This, I believe, is the epiphany that hit Neil Strauss somewhere along his journey to pick-up artist fame.  He was so good at attracting and bedding ladies that he was never actually connecting with any of them.   Finally, he realized that what he was doing was shallow and meaningless, so he decided to start screening.  When he did, he met the girl that I think he is still with.  (See Part 2 in this series.)  He recognized that the benefit in terms of long-term happiness that comes with weathering storms with one person is immense, especially when compared with what you get from just hooking up with someone on a short-term basis.  It’s all about commitment.

Doing the screening process right is essential because the end game is some sort of commitment.  It doesn’t have to be overt or official, although that tends to help when things get tough.  You’re just concluding that this is someone you want in your life for a long time, maybe forever.  Those who don’t grasp how valuable it is to go through hard times with someone and come out on top will jump ship at the first sign of trouble.  How many marriages in Hollywood last longer than even five years?  Not many.  Those people are so attractive that their funnel is virtually full at all times, so when the choice is to ride out a tough spot with one person or shack up with someone ten years his or her junior, we all know what usually happens.  This is a shame.  We should never forget the following maxim: it is in our nature to get the most gratification and appreciation from the things we have labored the most for.  Relationships are no different, and we can see the results of always going the easy way by noticing how neurotic so many of these celebs are.  Most of us should be thankful we don’t have it so good.

In closing this part, let me pose a question.  If the end game is commitment, how do you know when to be vulnerable, to be needy, to show your cards, so to speak?  How do you know when to commit?  There’s no absolute right answer, but I think there’s a way to approach it that has a lot to offer.  That’ll be the subject of the next and final part in this series – quantitative concurrence.  Until then…



Relationships 101 – Part 2 – Bridging the Gap
December 27, 2005, 5:22 pm
Filed under: Culture and Society, Relationships

Original Post (with comments)
This is a series about relationships – why we need them, how we get them, and how we keep them. There are four parts. This is the second – it focuses on the changes you have to make. Additional parts include:

  • identifying the target; (click here)
  • how we take control of our environment to make it friendly to our efforts; (click here)
  • the difference between getting relationships and keeping them;(click here)
  • real interpersonal feedback – quantitative concurrence; (click here)

I’m sure there will be more to this as it evolves, but that’s what you have to look forward to. Off we go.

With a basic hierarchy of love-producing relationships established, it’s time to figure out how to get what we want. A river-crossing metaphor seems appropriate. We stand on one side looking across at the promised land, the place where our lives will be centered most around gratifying and enjoyable relationships, where the measure of our contentment is the additive effect of the love we give and the love we receive.

For some, the river is shallow, calm, and narrow enough for easy crossing. All it takes is the will to take the first step. For others, the river is quite wide, and it is perilously swift and deep. For those folks, will is not enough. Their crossings will require planning and the development of specific skills. It will take time, but they have the resources they need to make it happen. And if the promised land is not motivation enough, then I don’t know what is. Perhaps a meth buzz. But then…moving on.

For a difficult river crossing, one has to be able to assess the situation – identify a safe route, identify the best mode of crossing (rope, boat, etc.), and identify the obstacles. Things are much the same when it comes to getting from where we are today to where we want to be relationship-wise; we just have different things to assess. Fortunately, we really only need to worry about three things – looks, personality, and courage.

It is tempting to say that any one of the three can be enough to do the trick. But this really isn’t true. You can probably get by on just a really good personality, but that’s probably the only one. If looks are your strong suit, you’ll have it easy when it comes to “opening” new people (Opening is a term used to refer to beginning an interaction with someone), thus eliminating the need for courage, but a lasting love-producing relationship will require some personality. Similarly, if you’re infinitely courageous but you have no looks or personality, you’re doomed. The point is that you have to figure out your assets. You have to determine what you’ve got and what you need to bridge the gap, and you have to be unflinchingly honest.

Though this can be unbelievably scary, it’s part of the deal. Sorry. This kind of self-analysis is crucial to becoming the kind of people who attain and maintain healthy love relationships over long periods of time. And if you’re like most folks – you either tend to inflate or deflate your assessments of yourself – a good neutral party is always a good idea. Find someone who seems to live on the other side of the river, if you know what I mean. Most nice folks will help you out. Hell, I’ll help you out. Send your story to enlightenedcaveman at gmail dot com along with a picture, and I’ll do my best to point you in the right direction. (This shit is useless if we don’t put it to work, right?)

So you assess your situation. Once you do, you know what you need to work on. For that, let’s turn to a recently published, and kick-ass, book called, The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists, by Neil Strauss. It’s about this not-so-suave-with-the-ladies author and music critic who decided to immerse himself in an online community of pickup artists to try to solve his romance problems. Through the course of the book, he transforms his looks and his personality entirely. He goes from being a dork to being a master pickup artist, able to bed everything from Playboy bunnies to actresses at will. Of course, since he’s a smart guy, he eventually realizes that his exploits are empty and unfulfilling, so he puts his new looks and personality to work to find real love. To my knowledge, he’s still with the girl he ended up with in the book. In fact, here’s a picture of the two of them.

Now, I am not advocating this sex-oriented/conquest sort of lifestyle, per se. But the concept is legit – the concept of transforming your looks and personality to get the kinds of relationships you want. And lest I offend our female readers – all of this applies more or less to women – they just need a little less in the courage department. The unpleasant truth is that the skills employed by a pickup artist are largely the skills required to get in the relationship game, especially if your river is wide and treacherous. (In Part 4, I’ll address the difference between obtaining a good relationship and keeping it.) Now, I haven’t mentioned courage yet, but it’s implicit in the transformation process, at least for the fellas.

Most of the guys who are drawn to the pickup society are guys who have experienced so much rejection from ladies that they are gun-shy and totally uncomfortable around them. It is the transformation in looks and personality (which includes the routines they learn to get conversations started and keep them going) that provides the confidence to gather the courage to open attractive women. The simple fact is that guys who have the right combination of looks, personality, and courage do better with women than guys who don’t. And, as I’ve said before, the good news is that the resources are there to make the necessary changes.

We’ll start with looks. This one is easy. One interesting thing about the pickup community is they are not a group of dashing playboys. Sure, there’s the occasional GQ guy, but most are ordinary guys making the best with what they’ve got. Of course, the archetype of physical beauty is fairly well-established. Heterosexual females will almost universally prefer to look at say, Johnnie Depp, than Michael Moore, and males prefer Pammy to Oprah. This is largely genetic, as in, it indicates fitness (Check out my posts on Appearance Deltas and Gimmick Theory.), however, the archetype of beauty is no match for a damned good personality. Personality transcends fitness; it points to status, which is the primary engine of the caveman mind. So, when it comes to looks, you do the basic stuff – you look like you care about your appearance.

For some, that simply means paying a little more attention to personal hygiene and trading that flannel shirt for something a little more in fashion. For others, it implies more drastic measures. The author of The Game, who by the way nicknamed himself, Style, shaved his head, got laser surgery, and had his teeth whitened. He also started working out regularly. Nothing wrong with that. It let people know that he cared about how he looked, which had the effect of lowering the amount of personality he’d need come pickup time. It doesn’t matter that he didn’t need it. It only matters that he made the effort. As they say, every little bit helps, and this is no exception.

Personality is a little more complicated. At the highest level, it comes down to being trustworthy and interesting, but there are dimensions a-plenty to each of those. Being trustworthy is about being interpersonally reliable. Remember – we’re cavemen at heart, which means we’re wired to be attracted to reciprocally altruistic relationships. Be truthful, even when it hurts (you, that is), and know when it is acceptable not to be truthful (as in when your cyclops friend asks if he looks funny in his new sunglass). For more on this, click here. Keep your word and repay your debts – both monetary and otherwise. Simple stuff, but essential to having the right kind of personality to succeed.

And be interesting, for god’s sake. Have a personality. Getting emotionally connected to someone means finding common ground. Yeah, you can talk about the weather and fluff like that, but you’ll never find the kinds of commonalities that glue people together unless you know what makes you tick and you learn to find people who complement those aspects of your personality. (Compliment, not necessarily share.) And to do this, you need a baseline of information not so much about who you are, but about who we all are. (Click here for a crash course.) Once you know what your genes are pushing you to think and do, you can decide what you’re really interested in. This is all part of the personality transformation process, and believe me, it’s a process.

Your next task is to go out into the world and explore, and to do this, you need people. You need to interact with all sorts of people, and you need to do so openly and courageously. You see, the courage it takes to open a potential new relationship is developed through opening people with whom you have no initial interest in long-term relationships. That is the subject of Part 3 – Fashioning a Friendly Environment.



Relationships 101 – Part 1 – Identifying the Target
December 19, 2005, 5:19 pm
Filed under: Culture and Society, Relationships

Original Post (including comments)
What follows is a series about relationships – why we need them, how we get them, and how we keep them. There are four parts. This is the first – it establishes the target, so to speak. Additional parts include:

  • identifying the target; (click here)
  • how we take control of our environment to make it friendly to our efforts; (click here)
  • the difference between getting relationships and keeping them;(click here)
  • real interpersonal feedback – quantitative concurrence; (click here)

I’m sure there will be more to this as it evolves, but that’s what you have to look forward to. Off we go.

Part 1 – Identifying the Target
It’s all about relationships. If you’re not already tuned into this really basic concept, take my word for it. Or you can go to an old folks home and interrogate the inmates. The ones who can remember their names will, in the vast majority, tell you that the best times in their lives were the ones spent with their loved ones. They won’t go on about their house or their favorite football team. It’ll be love, love, love. Believe me. So, we, being just smart enough to recognize that epiphanies like that, when realized early-on, have a tremendous ripple effect through life, give the idea some thought. And once we do, the pieces fall into place.

It comes down to love – a two-way street of emotional connection and gratification. The desired effect is achieved when there is some balance between love dispensed and love received. The key to that is long-term relationships that are rewarding, dynamic, challenging, and of course, enjoyable. You need all four to get the balance that elicits the full life-enhancing effects of love.
So this is what we’re after – relationships that have these qualities. Fortunately, we can break things down into nice simple terms. There’s a hierarchy, as I see it, which provides a basis for subsequent communication on the topic. It is as follows:

  1. Parent/child relationships. They necessarily embody all of the aforementioned characteristics (if done even half-right).
  2. Sibling relationships. These are deep and wide if all four characteristics are present. Often they’re not enjoyable or rewarding, so the siblings share very little of the kind of love we’re talking about. Yes, they love one another, but they don’t share love with one another; the connection is there, but it is rarely used.
  3. Committed pair-bond relationships. Marriage, partnership, civil union, whatever you want to call it. It’s the duration and the “stuck with each other” factor that creates the dynamic and challenging aspects. Like I said, you need all four. It doesn’t matter how people come by their commitments to one another; it only matters that the commitments are known (even if only among both parties) and that there are understood harmful consequences associated with breaching them.
  4. Extended familial relationships. Aunts, cousins, etc. These adhere to the same rules as sibling relationships – they just yield a little less of the good stuff.
  5. Exclusive (or semi-exclusive) trusted friend relationships. These may be acquired through extended shared experiences or by way of a vouch. They may be Platonic or romantic (as in the case of a relationship headed toward the committed pair-bond category.) The exclusivity is the notion that each person knows that they are the other person’s best friend. Corny as it sounds, this is where the Best Friends Forever (BFF) thing comes in. I have to stop. This is cracking me up.

    (Close laptop)
    (1 Minute Later)

    And, as serendipity would have it, Pammy is on Leno in a skimpy Santa Suit. I’m saved.
    Now (with a completely straight face), the BFF thing hits the key aspects of a productive relationship (in the ideal love balance sense) because there is much satisfaction to be derived from the feeling of exclusivity with other human beings. It is but a perk in the committed pair-bond relationship, but it’s the heart of the BFF. This kind of relationship is dynamic because anything over a long period of time with humans is bound to change, and it is challenging because all parties will work to keep it going. Gay or not, it’s a lot better than being alone.

  6. 6. Non-exclusive trusted friend relationships. Like the BFF relationship – this can be Platonic or romantic. Even though all parties can walk away (either figuratively or literally), there are usually commonalities that keep things together – could be a shared interest, or a shared existence (as in people who work together). And even though there’s no exclusivity, these relationships can be quite deep and gratifying, such as in the case of soldiers who serve in war together.

Beyond those six main types of relationships, you’re not likely to be dealing in much love, or at least not healthy love. You may loooove Tom Cruise, but two-way emotional connections do not transpire when the parties in question don’t know each other. At least not yet. It’s the fucking Innernet, man, so who knows. Regardless, and this requires a delicate touch, the more you think a relationship like that is love, the longer your life sucks.

Now to the matter at hand. We get to decide – because we’re free and we know that life doesn’t happen to us; we happen to it – which of these types of relationships we want to pursue. We can do so through long deliberation or simply by trial and error, which at least has the benefit of getting results. But no matter how we approach it, the fact is that finding worthwhile relationships is different for everyone, but the strategy is basically the same. First the difference.

It’s a real good idea to figure out where you stand on this curve. If you’re the gregarious type and are never at a loss for people to hang out with, you have it easy. If you’re the shy type, you don’t. On another level, even if you’re gregarious in “friend” environments, you may be the shy type in potential pair-bonding situations. In that case, you have it easy for some relationships and tough for others. The point is that it is incumbent upon all of us to know this aspect of ourselves. This is because there’s a cure for whatever ails you. More on that in a moment.

In terms of strategy, it’s also a good idea to start at the bottom of the list and work your way up. Hopefully, it is perfectly obvious that it makes sense to try to extract love from non-exclusive friend relationships before you tackle committed pair-bonds. So how do you do this? The simple answer is to be a good friend and be interesting. That means you’re honest and trustworthy…and fun. Some people find this stuff, the simple stuff, very challenging, and they want for love as a result. But fear not. As I said, there’s a cure.
Alas, my time is up. Sorry for the cliffhanger but compromises have been made. It’s this or nothing.



Personality Typing I: Electrons with West’s Disease
May 8, 2005, 5:12 pm
Filed under: My Theories, Relationships, TV

Original Post (with comments)
Did I mention I’m addicted to Deadwood? Okay, maybe addicted is a strong word, but I’m really enjoying it, and as it happens, I’m in kind of a weird place, temporally speaking. I’ve absorbed the whole first season because I rented the DVDs. Now I’m ready to jump into the second season, but it’s already underway, four or five (or is it six?) episodes worth. What to do? Rather than lose the impact of seeing them all in order, I settled on the the methadone option – the “Special Features” DVD that came with the last two episodes of Season 1. DND (hereafter invoking a new acronym meaning, does not disappoint).

The guy who writes Deadwood is named David Milch. He’s one of those “established” TV writers, the guys who have the jobs that are the heart’s desire of countless inevitably unsuccessful writers. He’s there for a good reason, irrespective of the lock-out to new talent that typifies much of the industry. Milch started as a writer on Hill Street Blues (won an Emmy) and gained momentum up to co-creating NYPD Blue (won a couple of Emmys), which he rode all the way through the 90’s. Now, he’s doing Deadwood… unorthodox, like.

It turns out that the folks at HBO (geniuses, if you ask me) have given this guy a wide berth – a lot of what he writes is improvised on the set after he watches some aspect of an actor’s performance. The whole crew, according to the interviews on the “Special Features” disk, are like addicts waiting for new pages. (I can relate, but I’m okay.) Anyhow, the last segment on the disk is an interview between Milch and one of the stars of the first season, Kieth Carradine, who plays Wild Bill Hickok. I was impressed and intrigued by this gregarious but admitted self-hater before seeing this interview (he was on Jon Favreaux’s Dinner for Five not too long ago). Nevertheless, I was caught off guard by how insightful and esoterically erudite Milch was when, toward the end of the interview, Carradine asked him about a particular scene from Season 1 – a guy who was praising (and irritating) Wild Bill, after being asked to go away, changed his tune abruptly, and wished him dead. I’ll quote him so you can follow his train of thought as it comes around the bend.

Nathaniel West wrote, I thought, beautifully about that syndrome, and W.H. Auden, the poet, wrote an essay about West’s analysis of that syndrome, which he called, ‘West’s Disease.’ It’s about people who, for whatever reason, are unable to turn wishes into passions in their life, and lacking that capacity, sit passively in mute outrage, anticipating disasters. They go to fires. Any sort of natural disaster attracts them. And in the absence of a natural disaster, they sometimes try and create disasters. And they hate the people whose lives, whether successful or not, are pursued with passion. And first they idolize them, then they want to destroy them. They want to appropriate the vitality of those people…

Whoa. I talk to lots of people and I’d be mesmerized to be in a conversation of this sort. Maybe it just hits home with me because I’m so obsessed with understanding and generalizing about human behavior (which more than a couple of people have told me is futile). Nevertheless, to me, this was fantastic. It rang so true that I just had to investigate this West fellow. Here’s a good bio link. It seems that his most famous work was the novel, Day of the Locust (1939, never heard of it), and it also seems that his most distinguishing characteristic was his tendency to exaggerate to absurdity. This review that followed the release of a compilation of his works in 1997 makes the point.

In West’s cosmology, exaggeration rules: a moment of self-doubt becomes profound self-loathing; fleeting hostility becomes a blow to the head; and the merest gesture of compassion becomes an act of martyrdom. Prose is not always easy to read at this volume — West’s crazy normality has, in the 57 years since his death, often perplexed both the tourists and the folks back home — but this edition, which demonstrates the range of West’s craziness as well as his normality, is convincing evidence that his work is worth looking at again.

I like this idea of exaggeration to absurdity. Clearly, “West’s Disease” isn’t pervasive in society, in literal terms, but it’s recognizable. Better said – you can’t miss it! We all know people like this, people who hate those who achieve or succeed or just plain live life with a smile on their face. Most of these electrons (as I call them – negatively charged and all) do so under the radar, though I find that they’re easy to spot, for the most part. Very few will actually translate their contempt into actions – recall that their problem to begin with is that they can’t do this – but some will.

Some folks will go out of their way to screw someone whose very existence, and only that, irks them to no end. These people, even the impotent ones, are cancer. They must be avoided at all costs, and I’ll go so far as to say that they should be shunned the moment their nefarious predilections reveal themselves sufficiently. To me, knowing that this personality type exists has significant value. It’s just part of knowing what we’re up against in our march through life, and knowing what to do about it is often the difference between realizing our dreams and going in circles. Electrons with West’s Syndrome. I fucking love it. Cross another nuisance off the Christmas Card list.

(DISCLAIMER: Never, in the course of identifying personality types, do I intend to suggest that any given personality type cannot be substantially altered via sustained diligence, and maybe some drugs. Therefore, no person who bears resemblance to this should assume that they are a loser and are in danger of being shunned. That is, of course, unless they don’t get their shit together, like soon.)

I suppose the reason I like Deadwood so much (besides the profanity, of course) is the fact that the characters have so much depth and so much complexity. What’s even more interesting is that to be able to write characters like that, you have to have in your mind an understanding of humanity that is the exact opposite of complex. David Milch, being the kind of guy who quotes Socrates as he thinks outloud about the plight of his characters, obviously has a strong grasp of this ostensible paradox. He’s good because he gets mankind, which he owes in some small part to Nathaniel West. Because West could generalize, and then make it so absurd as to paint it plainly in our minds (and maybe even put a face on it), we can watch a Western that isn’t full of cartoon characters. Now that is cool.



Thin-Slicing and Attraction Triggers
April 5, 2005, 5:07 pm
Filed under: Books, My Theories, Relationships

Original Post (with comments)
Even though I finished it a while ago, I continue to dwell on the notion of thin-slicing that Malcolm Gladwell writes about it his latest, Blink. ” ‘Thin-slicing’ refers to the ability of our unconscious to find patterns in situations and behavior based upon very narrow slices of experience.” Gladwell covers a variety of situations that exemplify how thin-slicing works, and more importantly, how it often works better than making decisions based upon a great deal of information. Indeed, this is really the point of Blink. But, upon further consideration, one example, the one I referred to in my appearance delta theory, has prompted me to extend the concept to include what I’ll call attraction triggers.

Gladwell, in illuminating the “dark side” of thin-slicing, spends some time on how we often form our opinions of individuals based upon the slightest of information. Our visual first impression often has the effect of coloring our assessments dramatically. He refers us to a test some psychologists have developed called the Implicit Association Test (IAT). Subjects are given a list of words and are asked to choose which of two categories the words belong to. For example, the list may be a list of names and the category choices may be male or female. Subject responses are timed. Since most people have considerable experiences that say the name Mary is a female name, responses in this easy test are very fast (between 400 and 600 milliseconds). The association between name and gender is well established within our culture. But when the categories and words are changed, interesting things start to happen.

Suppose, there are two possible words for each category – say male or family on one side and female or career on the other. Then, the subject still has to put the words into one of two categories, but they have to figure out which is best by considering four alternatives, not two. Confused yet? Here’s an example.
Male………………………………….. Female
or……………………………………….. or
Family ………………………………..Career
…………………….Babies……………………………
…………………….Sarah…………………………….
…………………….Derek…………………………….
…………………….Domestic……………………….
…………………….Entrepreneur………………..

So the subject simply has to place an X either to the left or the right of the word (Babies, for example) to indicate which category the word falls into. Interestingly, because we naturally associate maleness with careers and femaleness with families, this test is pretty tough. Our natural tendency is to want to put entrepreneur on the male side, but it is clearly related to career. That little mental wavering manifests itself in additional time to taken to make the choice – on the order of 200 to 300 milliseconds more than what is seen for a naturally strong association. The point is that, by pairing certain words together, the psychologists administering the IAT have found evidence of all sorts of inherent bias in how we assess things and other people.

One bias that we might not expect or want to accept is a racial bias. You can go here to take the Race IAT for yourself. (Be warned – you’re likely to be dismayed by the results.) When the categories are European American or Bad and African American or Good, all hell breaks loose. When we should be able to breeze through a series of pictures and take no more than 400-600 milliseconds to make our choices, we take much longer. When we should be able to take words like Evil, Hurt, and Wonderful and easily place them into their proper categories in short order, we simply do not. It appears that our thin-slicing proclivities are very much a function of our personal experiences and of our assessments of cultural norms. Though tests like the Race IAT should give us some serious pause, I wonder if we could take the same idea and apply it to how we assess appearance deltas.

Though the IAT asks subjects to assign words to categories, it isn’t very much different than the “hot or not” craze that has taken up residence in many corners of the Internet. In this case, subjects are asked if a person in a picture is hot or not. Now, they are not timed, so this isn’t particularly rigorous experimentation. But what if they were? What if the point were to determine one’s hotness or not hotness as quickly as possible, and the responses were measured in milliseconds? Would be there be ways that we could manipulate the pictures to get faster or slower responses? I say there would, and they would revolve around attraction triggers.

Suppose we put up a picture of a girl with a dead-pan look on her face and then gave the test to 100 people. Then, we put up the same girl, but with a big smile on her face. Would she get more “hots” than she did in the first test? Who knows? If she was on the fence – say 50 out of 100 said she was hot in the first test – we should expect that number to go up on the second test (unless she had major dental issues). This is because, all things being equal, someone who smiles is more attractive than someone who does not, and we know it in a fraction of a second. Is there more?

Ever seen someone from a distance and thought they were attractive, only to learn as they got closer that you were wrong? Of course, it’s happened to all of us. But can you put your finger on what it was that contributed most to the assessment early on? Maybe the person had an attractive walk, or maybe he or she was wearing a flashy outfit. Whatever it was, I think we can think of it as an attraction trigger, something that, when it is thin-sliced, leads people to think “hot.” Of course, a distant attraction trigger often dissipates as the distance closes. But, is it possible that there are attraction triggers that are seen up close and contribute disproportionally to one’s delta (or lack thereof)?

Teeth might be a good example. If someone has a brilliant smile, it may be so captivating that it offsets other features that might raise one’s delta. And this is not insignificant. As Gladwell’s book points out, the biases that are invoked when we’re thin-slicing are not just fleeting impressions. They color how we behave going forward. So if we could do something to alter those first impressions in our favor, we may find interpersonal acceptance easier to come by.

Again, we find ourselves up against the sell-out conundrum – which is to say, is it worth it to modify our appearances to get what we want from other people? In some cases, whether we want to admit or not, the answer for all of us is yes. So the real question is when. And now, with the notion of attraction triggers, we can consider large-scale changes (such as dieting, exercising, and cosmetic surgery) and more subtle changes.
One friend of mine loves girls in pony tails. On a scale of 1-10, she can be a 6 but he’ll go for her like she’s a 9. It’s weird really, but I’m convinced that most people have these quirks. So if an average girl happened to be interested in my friend, she would be well served to know his attraction trigger and wear her hair accordingly. This is a simplistic example, I know, but I’m just trying to throw another twist into the appearance delta concept. I think it’s useful, even if as only a more descriptive way to observe and contemplate the human drama as it unfolds. Would a working familiarity with attraction triggers constitute enlightenment? Why not? Maybe it makes things just a little bit brighter.



Personality Paradigms?
March 17, 2005, 5:02 pm
Filed under: Culture and Society, My Theories, Relationships

Original Post (with comments)
The time I spent recently in Canada got me thinking about some generalities in human personality. I have always found Canadians to be extremely accommodating and somewhat non-confrontational, and this trip was no different. They’re nice, even when I wouldn’t be, and even when most people I know wouldn’t be. I don’t mean they take abuse with a smile; I mean they go out of their way to be nice to people around them, even in cities like Vancouver and Toronto. Here in America? Not so much. I wonder what accounts for this?

It’s hard to say how it happened, but maybe there’s some amateur codification to be done here. Why are people nice? One reason – they want something. Sometimes what they want is concurrence, and sometimes they want something more tangible. Sometimes they want both. In Canada, I think they mostly want concurrence. That’s why they’re nice to pretty much everyone, even when there’s nothing to gain. What if we call this a concurrence personality paradigm? I don’t think this is what we have in America, at least not a lot of us, and less and less of us as you go back in history.

In cities in America, people are more business-oriented, more transactional. We talk to the people we know, but we interact with the people we don’t. In a sense, we’re nice to the former and not as nice to the latter. This distinction is less pronounced in Canada. We could call the American mindset the status personality paradigm. Our quest for concurrence is limited to a fairly small circle of people, but we’re not monsters out in the world. We’re nice, and the more we have to gain from it, the nicer we are (to a point, of course). This is because what we gain translates directly into status. When we gain wealth, we can acquire the goods and services that afford us membership in higher and higher social strata. The proceedings in lower-class situations, therefore, are understandably far less “cordial” than they are in upper class situations – no one stands to gain much of anything by being nice. And it is not coincidental that our economic systems are set up to promote this mindset bent on upward mobility.

With the emergence of innovative financial systems (including the fractional reserve system), the status-seeking fire has been perennially stoked. They make it possible to obtain status (through consumption), even when you can’t afford it. You can borrow and, if you’re good, create enough wealth to pay interest on the money and walk away with a profit. The end result is an elevation in status through nothing more than calculated manipulation of available resources – a skill not unfamiliar to the ancestral caveman.
If we accept the existence of these different personality paradigms, then there’s an interesting question to ask. Could it be that the intense presence of the status paradigm accounts for much of the socio-economic difference between America and many other nations? More status people equals more business and more financial prosperity. Look at countries like France and Italy. While they’ve been around far longer than the US and they have natural resources aplenty, they are nowhere near the US, economically speaking. This could be a manifestation of their majority paradigm.

I would say the concurrence paradigm is the default paradigm in these two countries. Sure, people in Paris can be very nasty, but my experience has been that most areas of France and Italy are inhabited by very nice people if you make an effort to communicate with them. You could descend into a conversation with pretty much anyone. And if the feeling overtakes them, they may act in a way that is anything but profitable – like keeping the bar open late night (for free) for some traveling and rambunctious Americans. In America, not so much. And the divergence in personality paradigm doesn’t just account for anecdotal and macro-economic differences. It may very well account for the disparity in national views about war.

The status paradigm, being not so nice to begin with, fares better in conflict. As the desire for concurrence begins on the back burner, judgement is not clouded when disputes arise. The status seeker is a cool negotiator. The bargaining benefactor of his status machinery is in charge, looking for the win-win, and when there isn’t one, there isn’t a nagging desire to get along. There is only a rational examination of the logical consequences of alternative actions. And as obtaining status is often risky, the status-seeker is courageous enough to follow through with the correct (i.e. profitable) course of action, even if it’s going to cost him. He’ll take his licks and cut his losses. In short, the status personality paradigm enables the willingness to go to war. This, I think, also explains much of the difference between America and many other countries. We fight when we have to; they resist till its too late.

So what can we do with this concept? Can we make any determination as to whether it is cultural or genetic? Probably not. That’s always tough, but maybe we can say that a good bit of it is cultural. Could we not say that the proportion of people with the concurrent paradigm to status paradigm is growing? This country gets more touchy, feely every day. That would seem to suggest that the mindset is at least partially cultural – if you grow up in a family of concurrence paradigm people, you’re likely to end up the same way. It would also suggest that the cultural shift toward the concurrence paradigm may have a tipping point, a point at which America would experience something akin to what transpires in Ayn Rand’s, Atlas Shrugged. So, here we come upon a serious question? Which paradigm is better?

Before we answer, we have to acknowledge that the two paradigms naturally clash with one another. Status folks don’t have much patience for concurrence folks, and concurrence folks are horrified at the shallow callousness of status folks. Indeed, differing personality paradigms could explain a lot of the difference between the “bleeding heart” liberal and the “evil” Republican. Now to the question. Which is better? I’d say you need a good helping of both. Though the exact proportion would be difficult to nail down, I think it’s fair to say that we need enough to status folks to keep our rights intact and to keep pumping out better and better Barcoloungers, and we need enough concurrence folks to remind us to get off our Barcoloungers and talk to each other.



The Lobby and The Appearance of Dignity
February 15, 2005, 4:42 pm
Filed under: Hijinks, My Theories, Relationships

Original Post (with comments)
Here’s my day – I learn (or maybe notice) two interesting things.

I wake up in DC for a meeting with a prospective customer, emerge optimistic but wary of the work involved in finding out, fly back home to Atlanta, arrive at 6pm, repack, apologize to my wife on her birthday, take my son to the basement so he can play my drums (which he can only incessantly call “bum” and which also includes my guitar – either me playing it while he endlessly motors around, or me holding the chord with my left hand while he attempts to strum.), much consternation on his part at the end of our impromptu “session,” and then it’s off to Philly for two days. An odd city, if you ask me, Philly.

The perimeter of it is depressing. More than a couple of times, the thought crosses my mind that I would be very distraught if I were suddenly informed that I’d have to live here. Just sort of cluttery, but desolate at the same time – I’ll pass. But then I cross over this river and go into some scary areas, where I think I would be very nervous if I was to suddenly have to live here. Abandoned buildings with broken glass all throughout, on streets that look like the video game, the shooting game, where villains pop out from behind every object and shadow. And it’s overlooking water! Truly puzzling from a real estate development prospective – seems like some Trumpionnaire would clean house and put up a revitalized waterfront district or something expensive-sounding like that. It’s like nobody cares, which is the first remarkable thing I notice today.

Almost as quickly as the cab and I enter into this archetypical run-down area of a city, we emerge into a Chicago or New York kind of downtown, with massive buildings right on the street, with shops at street level, and residences or offices (or both) going up into the heavens. Street vendors, convention centers, bars, restaurants, mass transit, hotels, shopping centers – all in about 3 square blocks – at least that’s what it seems like. The transition from ghetto to modern metro is like passing between two different worlds, not mutually exclusive, but recognizably distinct.

In one, folks care about looks. In the other, they don’t, at least not enough to take care of them. That’s what I notice tonight as my cab pulls up to my hotel. Kind of hum-drum, but that’s before a few rounds on the old cognitive spin cycle. The only minor-league, and I mean really minor-league excitement is my well-timed dart through the huge rotunda of a lobby to avoid colleagues who might be in the bar. One false move and I end up in there all night. It’s happened before and it ends up leaving me tired, hungover, and generally off the next day.

Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean shit. I can almost always be counted on to join in the festivities if people I work with are. I have what I call the party gene. (That’s another topic that’ll get its ink in due time.) Anyhow, that’s where the drama, minor league as it is, comes in. The inner conflict. You see, attendance at the professional, expense-account boozefest has a long record of benefiting my work environment, even though, these days, especially today, I am more apt to settle into my room, get online, and see what happens. A quandary you might say, settled by the half-assed, but probably still better than your average civilian’s covert lobby crossing. If he gets spotted – bourbon and ginger (plus requisite cigarettes) till two. If not, the tamer tour through the blogosphere, but the benefit of a feel-good tomorrow. Finkel. Einhorn. Finkel. Einhorn…

Being a master of compromise (and lobby crossings – it’s all about the diversion), I settle upon forcing myself to encapsulate the random, but not so random, thoughts that have crossed my mind on my three city tour. Then, I may see what’s happening downstairs. Whew. Glad that’s settled. Anyhow – let’s make this quick.

I keep coming back to this two cities thing. Think about how important appearances are in different socioeconomic settings. People with nothing could care less about how they look. They can’t afford to. And it seems like there’s a direct, but leading, correlation between taking care of appearances and achieving prosperity and predictability. It’s direct because the guy who cares about his appearance gets the job before the slob in most cases. Nothing shocking there. But, it is a leading (as in an economic leading indicator) correlation because the appearance change almost always precedes the achievement of prosperity.

As they say, you sometimes gotta fake it till you make it. This is why stock-brokers wear Rolex (would the plural be Rolei?) watches, drive expensive cars, and live in expensive houses, even when they’re just starting out and can’t make the money to support the lifestyle – it gives the impression that they’re successful at handling people’s money. The “he makes money if his clients make money” arrangement is understood, so the broker’s wealth means his clients must be doing well. Ergo, it makes sense to do business with him, to let him help you manage your money. In our terms, it makes sense to accept him.

Now, obviously, if the guy’s a total boob, he probably won’t do well. But if he’s not, and he’s persistent, that interpersonal acceptance will pay off. So, what I’m saying is that you have to start caring about what you look like before a lot of good things will happen to you in life.

Appearance becomes a sort of investment. You do the things you need to do to keep your person looking right – right clothes, right hair, right teeth – and you take an instant step up on the ladder of mass social acceptance. In essence, you’re decreasing your delta. Remember, the idea is that it is possible to have an appearance that virtually guarantees that, unless you’re a total jerk, the people you meet will accept you. They’ll be interested in you, and they’ll be hoping that you like them. Your delta is how far, objectively speaking, you are looks-wise from that point. The further you are, the more likely it is that the exact opposite will happen – the people you meet will not lock eyes with you or take any interest in you, and if you dislike them, they will not notice, nor will they care if they do. That’s harsh, but it’s reality for some people. Fortunately for most people, the delta problem is tractable.

Suppose there’s a figurative delta scale from zero to 100 – zero being the lowest delta (closest to mass total acceptance) and 100 being the highest delta (closest to mass total rejection). Something as broad (and purposefully vague) as an appearance delta would not have your typical bell curve distribution, would it? Yes, buuut, zero would be on the fringes of one side, say the left (arbitarily, lest any political notions enter into this). There are only a handful of folks at the zero delta point. They’re the ones who presumably have the life. They set the styles and dominate all visual media. But, relatively speaking, there aren’t many of them.

The numbers increase steadily as you move to the right, away from zero. Eventually, they peak and you have the average-looking person, not perfect, but not noticeably or distractingly flawed. Then, those drop off to the people who have something troubling about their appearance, something that causes people to be careful about looking. The curve ends at the other fringe with people who have it the worst in terms of human acceptance – maybe they’re shut-ins because they just can’t bear to go out, or maybe they’re just invisible. Even though, thankfully, there aren’t that many of them, there are still too many, and I hate to think about what that must be like. But I musn’t dwell, there’s booze to swill.
(That was the lamest rhyme ever. I have to admit that.)

Getting back to the point here, the delta scale is useful because we can imagine that one who has no interest in his appearance, somebody like your urban-variety bum, has a lot of easy ground to make up in terms of delta. A nice shower, a haircut, a trip to the dentist, some consistently good nutrition, and the guy can go from say a 70 to a 40. At 40, he may be close enough to the average person to start finding interpersonal acceptance fairly expectable. This, from some psychology I’ve read but honestly can’t remember where (told you this was vague), is the turning point for self-esteem.

The moment you start to expect that you’ll be accepted in interpersonal situations is the moment you begin to have self-esteem. Don’t know if it’s true, or if it’s possible to know, but it sounds about right. So, thinking back about my cab ride (but now with the Bill Conti music from Rocky as a soundtrack – ahh, editorial license), I’m wondering how many folks are living there who just don’t care about how they look, about how their house looks, or about anything like this. And I’m wondering, what if they did?

Socially sensitive people will answer that caring about your appearance isn’t going to suddenly make a job materialize. These people are in poverty, they’ll say. I’ll grant that this may very well be the case for many of these people. But what about the ones who could simply decide to care about their appearance? They live within walking distance of any number of mail room-level jobs, jobs that go to guys (and gals) with the same background, only they clean up.

Maybe it’s about dignity. Maybe this whole thing is just way to say that dignity begets pride in appearance, which begets acceptance. If so, I’m an idiot for wasting the festive hours in the bar downstairs on a single sentence. But that brings me back to the second thing I learned today. There’s a self-perpetuating cycle going on here. I might ordinarily have ruminated on this idea and forgotten about it until something cued it back up again. But, as the word “blog” is short for weblog, which connotes ship’s log or captain’s log, and since I don’t always have something particular to write about, I am informally committed to putting something down. In this case, it turns out that the whole thing is about information distillation and articulation, which happen to be the toolset of the writer. And duh, epiphany – that must be why I do this. Having written a book, I still don’t think of myself as a writer. But tonight, considering that I distracted, and then deftly out-manuevered the lobby threat, and now it’s too late to reconsider, it occurs to me – I am a writer. (It sounds gay to even type it.) Nevetheless, it’s a milestone, I suppose.

Then, reality sets back in, as I wonder if it ever really pays well.



Changing Your Cover – Appearances – Part 2
February 13, 2005, 4:38 pm
Filed under: Culture and Society, My Theories, Relationships

Original Post (with comments)
They say you can’t judge a book by its cover. Of course, sometimes you can, but let’s put that aside for a moment. Whether or not this statement is true, the fact is that sometimes, lots of times, people will try. Furthermore, it’s usually really tough to tell who’s “thin slicing” based upon looks, and who’s not. As I mentioned in the last post, I think there’s a real value in understanding that a unknowable, but significant, percentage of the population is actively caught up in judging books by their covers.

They’re deciding who they’ll be courteous with, who they’ll ignore, who they’ll be afraid of, and who they’ll open up to, all based upon appearances (at least initially). And, for the most part, these are not rogues and lunatics. These are not simply people who occupy the fringes of the depth bell-curve, people who can and should be dismissed. An unknowable subset of these people only use this technique as a filtering process. They are open-minded and intelligent enough to modify their assessments with the acquisition of more and more data. For whatever reasons – maybe they’re extremely busy, maybe they’re inundated with books that bear out their preliminary cover assessments, maybe they’re fearful of social situations – these people modulate their up-front human interactions using the shallowest of information. We could fault them for it. But what if, in doing so, we miss the chance for deep and meaningful concurrence? What if, and this applies most to high delta people, we limit those whom we take seriously so much that we’re virtually guaranteeing ourselves loneliness? Thankfully, just as it takes infinite courage to really be a pacifist, it takes more than most people are willing to give to take a truly hard-line against appearance-based prejudice. Most folks, myself included, give in.

So, here we have an interesting question. If we acknowledge that we play along with this shallow game in certain circumstances, in lots of circumstances, then the question is how much do we give in? How much should we be willing to change our covers to plant the judgement we want in the minds of the judges, the ones we secretly despise for operating in such a way?
In America, it’s pretty much accepted that our teeth matter, and not just for health reasons. How else do we explain the massive industry that is orthodontia? It’s a given, once you get to even a modest socio-economic level, that your kids will get braces if their teeth are screwy. (Sure, some people are against this. But I think most folks, if they can afford it, are happy to be able to do this for their children.) The point is that getting braces is expensive and not altogether painless or trouble-free. Yet, we do it. We cower to the shallow beast of appearance anxiety and tweak our covers. The same is true with respect to fashion.

The big fads come along, and the masses get on board. One friend, a sales executive in the medical device field, works for a guy who is about 50. This guy, the owner of the company, is always teasing him about his clothes, the square-toed shoes, in particular. He says they’re “trendy” and that my friend is a boob for buying into the trend. My friend, being 35, single, and quick on his square-toed feet, comes back with a witty retort:

Say whatever you want, Pal, but I’m hunting ladies at all times, and it is essential that I do not limit my selection. I’m after that long-term relationship, which means I have to sift through the market to find what I’m looking for. The fact is that the kind of girls I’m pursuing have guys after them all the time. They make the first cut based upon appearances. If I’m Mr. Traditional, like you, in cap-toed shoes and pin striped suits, I come off like a dud – an insurance salesman or an accountant. Any girl who’s gonna be able to handle me for the long-haul is going to write the dud off in two seconds. So, to make the cut, I look the part. Then, once I’m in the door, the tables turn, and I’m making the next cut. Get it? So, mock my shoes all you want. Just know that when you call me at 8am on a Sunday morning and you go straight to voice mail, it’s because I was up all night banging a hot chick that likes square-toed shoes. That’s the only trend I care about perpetuating.

Now that is one enlightened caveman. Say what you will about the morality of his endeavors, but there’s no denying that he has a good handle on how to manipulate reality to his own ends. Fashion is like that for some people. I’ll wear some conservative variation on the faded-front jeans, but not because I feel I just have to be in style, but because it sends the message that I care about my appearance and that I’m aware of what’s big these days. That shaves a bit off my appearance delta, you might say. And look at it this way, if my plan backfires and someone dismisses me because I’m wearing trendy clothes, then there’s a good chance they’ll really object to some of my more outlandish views on the world. It’s a self-correcting system, I figure. Anyhow, all I’m saying is that the cover change, in itself, isn’t shallow or the equivalent of selling-out. But what is?

Some would say cosmetic surgery is beyond the line. I know women with capped teeth who absolutely abhor the thought of getting breast implants. Hmm. Is there really that big of a difference? Like it or not, a female with a nice chest, all other things being equal, will get noticed more than one with a modest lower neck. And the surgery, silicon scare aside (yes, scare, as in, not real), is pretty routine and is cheaper than veneers. And what about liposuction? How many people have saddle-bags or love handles that will not go away no matter how much they diet or exercise? What’s wrong with them having a doctor wave a canula to make it all disappear? Of course, the funny thing is that many proponents of cosmetic surgery will say, “But I’m doing it for myself. I just want to like what I see when I look in the mirror.” Suuuure. Whatever you have to tell yourself. But again, their delusions aside, I’m saying it isn’t necessarily a bad thing to want to change your cover, strictly for the benefit of the cover judgers in society.

It all comes down to a cost-benefit analysis. What do you get in terms of delta reduction, and how does it compare to the costs? This is the part many folks miss, I think. There’s an aspect of the appearance delta concept that must now be revealed – the ideal appearance, the one to which ours is compared to compute the delta, the one that gets us a free ride in terms of interpersonal acceptance (in particular circumstances of interest), includes an assessment of how hard we’re trying. You get points off (that is, your delta grows) if it looks like you’ve gone too far in changing your cover. You look needy. This is why the girls who get the massive DDD boob jobs actually diminish the field of acceptance, rather than expand it. This is why the guys who shave every hair from their bodies, for no practical reason (like say an Olympic swim competition), come off as odd-balls. This is why massive lip jobs, repeated face lifts, and botox-induced expressionless faces rarely yield the desired return on investment. These people just end up looking funny. So what to do?

If you’re going to change your cover, and I’m not saying you should, you should aim to change it so that strangers can’t tell. Girls, get reasonably-sized boobs for your frame. If guys really can’t determine if they’re real, but they break their necks trying, you’ve probably hit the target. Same thing for guys – if you’re driving a 10-year old Toyota, you might rethink the giant fin on the back. (Yes, the appearance delta applies to cars, too. But that’s another discussion.) But there’s still more to this.

Another complication to consider is what people you know will think. If you conduct your inner-circle affairs with an avowed disdain for appearance-based prejudice, then you may find it hard to explain changing your cover in any dramatic way. Maybe you could acquaint your closest friends and family with your enlightened rationale for the change, and maybe they’d understand. Or maybe there’s nothing you could say to make them understand. Maybe their view of you would be tainted forever. Who knows? I would simply argue that no substantial cover change should be undertaken without reflecting on this.

In the end, if we’re going get what we want out of the social side of life, the side that, more than anything else, determines the tenor of our happiness, we have to decide how much we’re willing to give in to this shallow, appearance-oriented game. We have to decide where the line is drawn, and we have to be careful to get what we pay for. Even if we can rationally justify the desire to improve our frail and thin lips, there isn’t much to be gained by looking like a duck. Unless of course, our desire is to be accepted at the ritzy spa for desperate housewives. That, too, is another discussion entirely.



The Appearance Delta and Gimmick Theory
February 11, 2005, 4:37 pm
Filed under: Culture and Society, My Theories, Relationships

Original Post (with comments)
I’ve written, on occasion, about the influence of looks in our society. Let me attempt to codify my thoughts. The whole thing hinges upon the generalization that individuals in America (and elsewhere, but America, in particular) respond differently to people they perceive as physically attractive versus people who come off as unattractive. I believe this is largely genetic.

In his book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell spends some time discussing the biases that we all have below the surface of consciousness. The point of the book is to put forth the notion that our minds are very good at “thin-slicing,” which is using a small amount of information to make decisions very quickly, and that, while this should often be embraced, it happens behind the locked door of our subconscious. He cites the intuitive behavior of successful art dealers, professional athletes, professional poker players, and military leaders to demonstrate the good side of thin slicing. However, he examines the dark side of thin slicing when he discusses how people respond to physical appearance.

In evolutionary terms, there are physical attributes that indicate fitness – tallness, healthy hair, healthy teeth, symmetry in facial features, good posture, a muscular and lean physique, and so on. Youth in females indicates fertility, so males prefer younger women. Conversely, size and brawn and chiseled features indicate virility in males, which is why females prefer “hunks.” (We’re talking about cavemen here.) The idea is that our evolutionary ancient emotions, the ones operating under the radar of consciousness, are tuned to be drawn to people with these attributes. Gladwell mentions the ex-president Warren Harding as a prime example. Here was a guy who was big with a Roman aristocracy kind of good looks, but he wasn’t especially intelligent, nor was he an impressive public speaker, and he had a long list of character flaws. Nevertheless, with the help of a clever senator, he was elected to office, presumably for nothing more than his good looks. A more contemporary example is the poll Gladwell conducted of half the companies on the Fortune 500 list.

He found that almost all CEOs are tall white males. Brevity, if I am capable of it, prevents me from detailing all of his caveats and conditions, but suffice it to say that his findings bear a stark contrast to normal demographic distributions. In short, it appears that upward mobility is easier for tall white males than it is for short ones or non-white ones or both (surprise, surprise). Of course, the argument can (and should) be made that Gladwell’s findings only betray the extent of in-group prejudice among the few who make it to the top. But, even if this is the case, how things got to be that way still warrants an explanation. For my part, I’m inclined to agree with the author that individuals whose physical appearance indicates fitness in an evolutionary sense enjoy an advantage when dealing with other people, an advantage that is largely unknown by the people conferring it upon them.

If this is true. If. Then, it means that looks do matter in society. It means that no matter how enlightened we may become, no matter how we may deliberately look beyond physical appearance, we are ill-served if we expect the same thing out in the world. We may choose to take the higher ground and assert that people who modulate their interpersonal behavior based upon something so shallow are to be ignored. But the notion that much of this appearance bias happens below the level of consciousness strains the sensibility of this approach. No, I think there’s a better option. Once again, I find myself in a situation where I need two sets of rules for how I operate. I’ve stumbled on another sort of dualist strategy.

I think of all people as falling into one of two groups – people I want long-term relationships with and people I don’t. When I first meet someone, I don’t know which category they’ll fall into, so they start out in the latter. Over time, however, if we get along, and it makes sense, they can transition into the former. The point is that I apply different interpersonal rules to the two different categories.

For the long-term relationship folks, I prefer enlightenment. I encourage looking beyond physical appearance because I know that the rewards are plentiful. Shallow people don’t make the cut. But for people with whom I have no intention or interest in any meaningful long-term relationship, I have no requirements whatsoever. I abstract them all into this group that, among other things, is defined by the least common genetic denominator. I assume that they’re all cavemen doing precisely as their genes instruct. Sure, I’m proven wrong a lot, but it’s better than assuming that they’re all highly aware of their genes’ negative influences and are compensating for them all the time. The consequences of getting this wrong are regular disappointment. Anyhow, things get interesting we we realize that sometimes we need things from these people.

I need to get one of them to like me enough to hire me for a job, for example. I assume that this person will form an instant impression of me simply by how I look, and that depending upon what he or she comes up with, I may or may not have an easy time in the interview. Just to venture into absurdity for a moment, suppose there’s a scoring system that is used by the interviewer to determine if I get a thumbs up or thumbs down, say from 1 to 10. It takes a 9 or better to get the job. If my appearance impresses him or her, I may start with a 6 or a 7. That means I only have to come up with a couple of points to ensure success. It may be my intelligence or my personality or my experience, but whatever it is, it will not be about my appearance. But suppose another applicant comes in and the interviewer is dazzled by his appearance. He may start with a nine, meaning that if he doesn’t do anything to cost himself points, the job is his. What I’m getting at here is the notion of an appearance delta.

I would define this as the difference between my appearance and the appearance that would grant me instant acceptance in any given social situation. Women like Elizabeth Hurley, for example, have no appearance delta. She’s so attractive that people fall over themselves to spend time with her. This is the bane of the beautiful but intelligent woman’s existence – she has a tough time being taken seriously simply because she’s hot. Similarly, a guy with Sean Connery’s looks experiences an entirely different version of life than I do. I’m not upset by this; it’s a fact of life. Indeed, I think recognizing this has a lot to offer in terms of enjoying what little time we have here.

It’s very useful to figure out what your appearance delta is, and I should note that it is somewhat situation dependent. To a heterosexual soldier coming home from two months of all-male field exercises, an average-looking woman has less of a delta than she does if she meets him when he’s been in the general population for a while. Nevertheless, knowing where you stand looks-wise in the minds of others has its benefits. We have to acknowledge that much of the enjoyment we get out of life has to do with interpersonal acceptance. It’s that concurrence thing I keep talking about. It’s an axiom in human endeavors that not being accepted in social situations is emotionally distressing. Sometimes, given the idea of subconscious appearance bias, the culprit can be how we look. Regardless of how distasteful this may seem, I just can’t see how there’s anything to be gained by being indignant or burying my head in the sand on this. It’s a matter of practicality.

The key to the usefulness of the appearance delta is in the notion that it can be overcome by non-physical attributes. All it takes is a gimmick, and there are all kinds. Being smart can be a gimmick, as can being funny or empathetic. Being an artist, such as musician or painter, can also serve as a gimmick, and being rich and/or powerful works, too. The point is that knowing your delta tells you how much gimmick you need in any given situation if acceptance is what you’re looking for. Harsh as it is to say, if you’re short, fat, and bald, you’re gonna need a lot more gimmick than the guy who’s tall, lean, and well coiffed. Now, you can object and refuse to participate in this ever-so-shallow game of human interaction, but you should do so at your peril.

As for me, I do what I can with what I have. I stay in shape and I try to look presentable when I’m in situations where acceptance among folks in the non-long-term relationship category will be of benefit. I pay attention to what I wear and how I carry myself. I estimate my delta and decide which kind and how much gimmick I want to employ. Shallow? You bet. Does it work? Yup. However, when I’m around members of the long-term relationship group, I’m less concerned about appearance. I don’t care if my hair is messed up and I opt for flip-flops and t-shirts instead of nicer clothes. And I don’t bother with gimmick; I’m just myself. That’s the beauty of the inner circle – you can rise above the bullshit and just live.

At the end of the day, we all want to be accepted. We all want to be in on the inside joke. And as much as we’d all (especially those who have a high delta) like it if acceptance were strictly a function of character, it just isn’t, at least not enough to sustain us. What can start as a relationship founded on looks or looks plus gimmick can turn into anything but. To close ourselves off to these opportunities simply limits the amount of acceptance we’ll enjoy in life. This doesn’t mean that we long for acceptance so much that we pursue it indiscriminately. That’s trading problems for problems. It only means that we play the shallow game to get our feet in the door and then let our criteria for separating long-termers from non-long-termers kick in. It ain’t pretty, but it works.