Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

HughRistik comments on Love and Rationality: Less Wrongers on OKCupid - Less Wrong

19 Post author: Relsqui 11 October 2010 06:35AM

You are viewing a comment permalink. View the original post to see all comments and the full post content.

Comments (329)

You are viewing a single comment's thread. Show more comments above.

Comment author: HughRistik 14 October 2010 03:16:25AM 20 points [-]

I'm optimizing for relationships, not dates.

For some people, the main barrier to relationships is trouble getting dates, or trouble doing well on dates. The more dates these people go on, the better they will get at dating, at which point they'll be able to move on to actually attempting relationships.

Signalling more social skills than you actually have isn't going to work out in the long run (except insofar as being able to signal competently is much of what they are).

As you say, being able to signal competently is a big part of social skills.

In my experience in real life, people who try to signal more social skills than they actually have tend to get seen through or make people feel uncomfortable almost immediately, or get believed on a permanent basis. While I think it's possible to hit somewhere in between, where people initially think you're cool and then later decide that you're a loser, doing so is hard, because signaling substantially more social skills than you actually have is hard.

I suspect that most of the time, the amount of social skills that someone can "fake" is about the level of social skills they could attain if they would practice a bit, get some good reactions from people, and believes in themselves. In some cases, merely one or two tries of a new social behavior with such positive results are enough to grant you that social skill.

It might be a bit easier to signal social skills you don't have in an online profile, I admit. But still, people can message with you, talk by instant messengers, or talk on the phone to get a better idea of where your social skills are at. Short of having a friend write for you, it's still hard to fake social skills in your responses.

Let's say that these filters fail, and we end with an originally social unskilled guy who was able to act socially skilled online, on a date in real life with a woman. This scenario could plausibly happen, but I don't consider it very bothersome for several reasons:

  • If the guy has been learning how to signal social skills online, perhaps he's learned something about social skills in real life
  • If the two of them have built up an online connection due to his "internet social skills," then he may be able to approach the real meeting with more confidence, and less nervousness. Under those conditions, he may actually perform with better social skills than usual... perhaps even as good as his internet social skills.
  • The woman may have gotten to know him from online conversation, and won't judge him on social skills so much. He may have been able to create a halo effect for himself online that will make his real life social efforts look better.
  • The guy is displaying ambition and a desire to improve himself, which are attractive traits to many women.
  • The guy will learn social skills from going on the date, which will help him appeal to the woman he is going out with, or to future women

Even if she ends up finding his social skills lacking and decide to not have a second date, the guy was still making an effort to improve himself, so it should be forgivable that his social skills seemed better than they actually are. Although it does waste a small amount of a woman's time to give a "practice date" to a guy who doesn't turn out to have the social chops she originally thought, I think it's even worse for women if socially challenged guys have no way of learning the ropes, because then women's options are limited to men who acquired social skills by default during their socialization (which filters out many guys who are introverted, shy, sensitive, nerdy, short, or who got bullied as children, a category of men that actually would make good long term mates if only they were bit more socially skilled and exciting).

Of course, it's understandable if individual women don't want to be giving dates to guys with a major mismatch in social skills from their first impression, but I think this worse case scenario is rare, because it's simply too hard for men to fake substantially greater social skills in ways that women can't detect, even online. Furthermore, given that women have more stringent personality and behavioral criteria than men, and typically expect the guy to take an unequal share in the burden of initiating, women are just going to deal with the fact that men have a longer learning curve for satisfying women's preferences, just as many men are just going to have to deal with their girlfriends taking longer to get ready.

I certainly agree with the idea that nerds with no social skills would be well-served to develop those skills. But then the point isn't making them appear more desireable; it's actually making them more desireable, which is beyond the scope of the post.

I agree, and I'm not going to hold that against your post. However, it means we shouldn't say stuff like "no one you want to meet would find you boring" when it's not necessarily true, even online.

I contend that a lot of the time, for men at least, it wouldn't be too difficult to figure out a way to present themselves online that would turn off people who would otherwise be good matches for them. This could even be a matter of subtleties like signaling, photo choice, or even the order by which you list your interests/traits. Attraction based on discovering additional qualities about a person is not a commutative operation: order matters. Let's examine a guy who plays guitar and is also a programmer, and reveal these facts in different order. Guitar player + programmer = cool guy with a nerdy side. Programmer + guitar player = nerdy guy trying to be cool. The example may not be that stark (though it certainly could be); the point is that earlier traits revealed have massively higher weight, such that they can even determine whether later traits revealed are seen as positive or negative (in my example, find out that the cool guitar guy also has a nerdy side can actually boost his attractiveness). The significance for online dating is that many traits should be left off the main profile entirely, and saved for later revelations.

Think of it this way: there is a space of the plausible narratives that you could create for yourself, but not all of the points in that narrative-space are equally attractive, even if they are equally factually correct. For males especially, there could be large differences in attractiveness of their different self-narratives, because women are more selective about behavior and personality.

Comment author: [deleted] 14 October 2010 04:37:59AM 14 points [-]

A thousand times yes.

If only the guys who had the fundamentals right (actual brains, competence, kindness, etc.) were better at operating the female hindbrain! Adding social skills to the male population is good for women.

To add my 0.02: from my perspective, a profile that describes technical/scientific interests is not a bad thing. In fact I definitely prefer it. I don't even put that in the "bad social skills" category.

What does seem to make me less likely to communicate with someone: defining yourself by what you're a fan of instead of by what you do, not having a career, too many indications of "softness" in personality, excessive self-deprecation. Even someone who'd be compatible with me on the fundamentals can come across badly.

Comment author: HughRistik 14 October 2010 05:20:03AM 10 points [-]

If only the guys who had the fundamentals right (actual brains, competence, kindness, etc.) were better at operating the female hindbrain! Adding social skills to the male population is good for women.

So, is it your experience that men with the fundamentals right are often lacking at interacting with the female hindbrain? That is consistent with my observations, and I'd be interested to hear you expand on that perception.

Vladimir_M and I ended up concurring in the past that there is excessive polarization between men who appeal to women's hindbrains, and men who have good qualities in other areas (e.g. relating to long-term mate potential). We suggested that the relationship between masculinity/excitement and female attraction is a step function: there's a certain baseline level of those traits required, but adding more of those traits isn't always better.

In your case, your threshold sounds like:

too many indications of "softness" in personality, excessive self-deprecation

Those guys are below your threshold for some dimension (which may be related to masculinity). I would hazard a guess that for you, once it's obvious that a guy isn't too soft, being less soft isn't always better, and that you don't like men who are too far on the other end of that dimension (whatever it is), either.

Unfortunately, large minorities of the male population fail these sorts of thresholds and are consequently undateable, even for women who aren't into hypermasculine men and are into nerdy and intelligent men. This is a bad thing for everyone (except the guys who currently have monopolies on women's hindbrains) , and the sad thing is how easily fixable it is.

With just a minor behavioral makeover, such a guy would stop falling foul of women's screens like yours (except perhaps the job one, which would take more time). Neither fanboyism, softness, or self-deprecation are core parts of anyone's personality. It's possible to fix all those things without being dishonest (unless holding in neurotic self-deprecation is "dishonest"), or changing the guy's values very much (unless "don't change yourself for anyone" or some other silly value like that has been internalized).

Sadly, women who want any excitement and masculinity in men are often forced to go for guys who are "overkill" in those categories. When women say stuff like "I want a badboy with a tender heart," or "I like nice guys, but not weak men," they aren't contradicting themselves: they are looking a complex combination of traits, which is consistent with women's greater behavioral selectivity.

Comment author: [deleted] 14 October 2010 06:20:45AM 11 points [-]

I think you've basically got it right.

I do have the impression that men who have the fundamentals right aren't good with the female hindbrain, for the most part (there are exceptions, and there are compromises.)

My own perspective: I've had experience with guys who don't have the fundamentals, and that's horrible. Someone without human decency is the worst, but someone who isn't too bright also doesn't make for a great relationship. So that sort of thing is primary. Mandatory. I don't appreciate people who argue that women are somehow not serious when they say that they care about intellectual or moral values. I'm entirely serious.

But, on a totally different metric and with a totally different mechanism, masculinity also matters a lot. (I think this is true of most women, but I might be an outlier in just how much it's true for me.) Masculinity will make a bad match look tempting; the lack of it will make a good match look unappealing. I don't think it's necessarily bad that my hindbrain works like this -- on the off chance that I have "chemistry" with a guy who's also a good match, I'll enjoy the relationship much more than if I were Ms. Spock. It adds another dimension. The downside is that there's a chance I'll be attracted to assholes and idiots -- but I believe (somewhat hopefully) that being self-aware will prevent me from making those kinds of mistakes in practice. [Note that I am saying something different from "Women just want sex with assholes."]

I think you're probably also right about behavioral selectivity. Looks matter, but in a pretty coarse-grained way; there's "unappealing," a broad swath of "meh," and a tiny minority of "incredibly good-looking." Everything else is what you do.

Comment author: HughRistik 15 October 2010 04:29:16AM *  8 points [-]

SarahC said:

I don't appreciate people who argue that women are somehow not serious when they say that they care about intellectual or moral values. I'm entirely serious.

What do you think causes the common perception that women are not serious about caring about intellectual or moral values? Are you saying that it's extremely rare for women to say this unseriously, or that you just don't like being judged as non-serious on such a claim merely because a non-trivial percentage of women may make it incorrectly? What level of variation do you think occurs in the female population in this area.

Us guys, we see women saying that they want guys with intellectual and moral values, but then we often seeing women going for men who seem unlikely to exhibit those traits, and we get... confused. Since this kind of subject isn't politically correct to talk about, when a guy sees something like this happening, it will dominate his thinking and lead to hasty generalizations about what all women want (like your example of "women just want sex with assholes").

What do you think about women who are into Rhett Butler, and other "dark heroes" from romance novels? If that example is too fictional, how about, say, rappers?

Here's an interesting passage from feminist author Jackson Katz about the popularity of Eminem with women, and the message it sends to guys:

  1. His popularity with girls sends a dangerous message to boys and men.

Boys and young men have long expressed frustration with the fact that girls and young women say they're attracted to nice guys, but that the most popular girls often end up with the disdainful tough guys who treat them like dirt. We all know that heterosexual young guys are forever struggling to figure out what girls want. What are they supposed to conclude when 53% of the 8 Mile audience on opening weekend was female?

What are men to make of New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd when she writes, uncritically, that a "gaggle" of her female Baby Boomer friends are "surreptitiously smitten" with a 30-year-old rapper whose lyrics literally drip with contempt for women? (If you're in denial or simply refuse to believe that his lyrics are degrading to women, do your homework – download his lyrics.) That girls want to be treated with dignity and respect? Or that the quickest route to popularity with them is to be verbally and emotionally cruel, that "bad boy" posturing is a winning strategy to impress naïve (and self-loathing) girls? Surely most of Eminem's female fans would not want to be sending that message to their male peers – but they are.

Boys who have listened carefully to Eminem's actual lyrics -- not just the hit songs or the sanitized movie soundtrack -- know that most self-respecting girls who are conscious about the depths of our culture's sexism are repulsed by Eminem's misogyny and depressed by his popularity. Sadly, many of these girls have been silent, fearing they'll be branded as "uncool" because they "don't get" the artist who is supposedly the voice of their generation.

There are women who like Eminem because (they say) he's complex and not easily knowable; they would argue that it is reductionist to characterize his art as sexist. But the burden is on them to demonstrate how -- in a culture where so many men sexually harass, rape, and batter women -- it is possible to reconcile a concern for women's physical, sexual, and emotional well-being with admiration for a male artist whose lyrics consistently portray women in a contemptuous and sexually degrading manner.

Girls and women, even those who have been coopted into Eminem-worship, want to be treated with respect. They certainly don't want to be physically or sexually assaulted by men. They don't want to be sexually degraded by dismissive and arrogant men. But they can't have it both ways. They can't proclaim their attraction to a man who's gotten rich verbally trashing and metaphorically raping women and yet expect that young men will treat them with dignity.

Moving on...

But, on a totally different metric and with a totally different mechanism, masculinity also matters a lot. (I think this is true of most women, but I might be an outlier in just how much it's true for me.)

I think your preferences for are pretty typical for women with high intelligence: intelligent masculine guys who aren't douchebags.

I don't think it's necessarily bad that my hindbrain works like this -- on the off chance that I have "chemistry" with a guy who's also a good match, I'll enjoy the relationship much more than if I were Ms. Spock. It adds another dimension.

I used to hate the idea of gender dynamics in dating. But then I gave them a try, and found that some of them are actually pretty fun. A lot of it is simply aesthetics on both visual and behavioral levels.

The downside is that there's a chance I'll be attracted to assholes and idiots -- but I believe (somewhat hopefully) that being self-aware will prevent me from making those kinds of mistakes in practice.

Imagine how self-aware you would be with about 30 less IQ points, and how well you'd make decisions about avoiding attractive assholish guys. That's what most women are probably like.

Comment author: Relsqui 15 October 2010 06:18:46PM 6 points [-]

Us guys, we see women saying that they want guys with intellectual and moral values, but then we often seeing women going for men who seem unlikely to exhibit those traits, and we get... confused.

This confuses me, because it seems to imply that men need to believe that a simple personality heuristic can be applied to all or almost all women. Why is it an unacceptable answer that some women like one thing, and some like another? Or did you mean the same group of women in both cases?

I used to hate the idea of gender dynamics in dating. But then I gave them a try, and found that some of them are actually pretty fun.

By "gender dynamics" in this case do you mean doing the things that you're expected to do because of your gender? If so, yeah, some of them are pretty fun. And some of it is stuff we're hardwired to like; I won't argue with that. The trouble is just when we limit ourselves to broad heuristics about the whole population which gloss over the degree of individual variety, and then try to apply those on the individual scale.

Comment author: HughRistik 17 October 2010 04:02:41AM *  9 points [-]

This confuses me, because it seems to imply that men need to believe that a simple personality heuristic can be applied to all or almost all women. Why is it an unacceptable answer that some women like one thing, and some like another? Or did you mean the same group of women in both cases?

In other cases, it could be that the most common things women in your culture say they want, and the guys who are getting the most attention, don't seem to match. Of course, there's no necessary contradiction, like you say.

In other cases, it's the same women saying one thing, and (seemingly) doing another.

There is a social desirability bias that will encourage women to signal preferences for positive traits like intelligence and values. In contrast, if you're a woman who likes meatheads, you've less likely to talk about it. Furthermore, when people misstate their preferences, it's more likely to be in the direction of positive traits than of negative traits.

For many white middle-class men, it's drummed into their heads from an early age that women universally prefer intelligent men with values such as "respectfulness." So when a guy sees evidence to the contrary, it makes him question anything he is told about what women want, even by women. Since it's not politically correct for either women or men to talk about women going for anything other than intelligence and values in men, when he sees women going for men without those traits, he may freak out and start making hasty generalizations.

That's not the most rational attitude, but it is understandable. The presence of some women misstating their preferences (or dating guys other than what they prefer) lowers the priors for men believing what other women say about their preferences. This is sad, but true.

And yes, it probably sucks for you when you are interacting with a guy, and his priors for how to interact with you are all screwed up by the ways that other women have trained him.

By "gender dynamics" in this case do you mean doing the things that you're expected to do because of your gender? If so, yeah, some of them are pretty fun. And some of it is stuff we're hardwired to like; I won't argue with that.

Basically yeah.

The trouble is just when we limit ourselves to broad heuristics about the whole population which gloss over the degree of individual variety, and then try to apply those on the individual scale.

Sometimes, broad heuristics are all you have, at least to start with. "Women are misstating their preferences until proven otherwise" probably would be too broad and extreme. But a moderate degree of skepticism until proven otherwise might make sense.

Getting better reference classes can improve the heuristics used. For instance, you might know that some groups of women state their preferences more accurately than others. I propose that nerdy women are both more aware of their preferences, actually date guys who fulfill their preferences, and less likely to incorrectly state socially desirable preferences for signaling reasons. These women are also more likely to be into intelligent men with values, so on the question of those preferences, nerdy women's claims about their preferences are more trustworthy.

Gangestad et al. found that 90-95% of women fit into a gender-typical taxon based on their interests and traits, while 5-10% of women are a gender-atypical taxon (which also contains most of the queer women). 90-95% of women are wired one way; 5-10% are wired another way. As a result, there actually probably are many examples where it's reasonable to approach women with one set of heuristics by default unless you have special evidence that they are gender-atypical, which allows you to pull out some different heuristics.

It may be the case that the 5-10% of gender atypical women contain most of the nerdy women, and disproportionately state their preferences accurately.

Comment author: mattnewport 15 October 2010 06:31:18PM 3 points [-]

This confuses me, because it seems to imply that men need to believe that a simple personality heuristic can be applied to all or almost all women. Why is it an unacceptable answer that some women like one thing, and some like another?

The prevalence of different personality types in the population is very relevant here and you seem to be glossing over it. If the number of women attracted to your personality type is relatively low (and especially if it is low relative to the number of other men similar to you) it will still be an obstacle you need to overcome in finding a partner even if you believe that there are women out there who would be attracted to you. Internet dating has probably helped with this a bit by making it easier to find potential matches but it can't overcome seriously unfavourable relative numbers.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 15 October 2010 06:51:04PM *  8 points [-]

I'd compare this with employment. Every now and then, you see a media story about some company with a highly unusual internal culture that uses all sorts of unconventional practices in hiring, organization, and management. Yet unless you luckily stumble onto some such employer and happen to be an exceptionally good candidate by their standards, you would be well-advised to stick to the standard conventional advice on how to look and behave in job interviews and, subsequently, in the workplace. In fact, doing anything else would mean sabotaging your employment and career prospects, and expecting that your unconventional behavior will surely be rewarded with a dream job with an unconventional employer is a delusional pipe-dream.

The main flaw of this analogy, of course, is that the conventional wisdom on seeking and maintaining employment is largely correct, whereas the conventional wisdom on dating has fatal points of disconnect from reality. Also, while conforming to optimal workplace behavior is truly painful for many people, fixing the problems in one's approach to dating and relationships typically doesn't require any such painful and loathsome adjustment. (Even though people often rationalize their unwillingness to do it by convincing themselves in the opposite.)

Comment author: mattnewport 15 October 2010 07:08:49PM 2 points [-]

You're probably right but ironically I've ignored much of the standard advice on employment and it's worked out just fine for me so this example doesn't resonate very well for me. I've never worn a suit to a job interview for example.

Comment author: Relsqui 15 October 2010 06:48:06PM 2 points [-]

Certainly! If he'd said "women who might like me tend to also like ..." I'd have understood. My confusion was because there was no such qualification, or anything else limiting the population under discussion beyond "women," but the commenter seemed to expect consistency within that population.

The prevalence of different personality types in the population is very relevant here and you seem to be glossing over it.

This is what I thought I was saying. :)

Comment author: mattnewport 15 October 2010 07:07:15PM 4 points [-]

I assumed he was saying something like "the majority of women prefer a man more 'masculine' than the median man". By analogy, if it is true that "the majority of men prefer a woman who is slimmer than the median woman" it should be obvious that being overweight will make it harder for a woman to find a match even if there are men who prefer less slim women. Saying "men prefer slim women" is a slightly sloppy generalization but not an unreasonable one in this example.

Comment author: Relsqui 16 October 2010 10:36:56PM *  0 points [-]

We might be looking at different parts of the comment under discussion, because I've completely lost the correlation between what we're talking about and what I actually read. At this point I'd rather just drop it.

Comment author: pjeby 15 October 2010 01:56:21PM *  4 points [-]

What do you think about women who are into Rhett Butler, and other "dark heroes" from romance novels?

Dark heroes in romance novels generally aren't disrespectful or aggressive towards the heroine, and if they are domineering or deceptive towards the heroine, it's generally motivated by something that the hero at least believes is for the heroine's good, and often at the expense of the hero's own interests.

For example, if a fantasy-romance novel heroine gets put under a curse that makes her terribly lustful under the full moon, the heroine might lock her up to protect her... even if she secretly wants to have sex with him anyway, and he wants her as well. Or in an adventure-romance where the heroine is a trained assassin with genetic superpowers, the hero might trick her into getting left behind when he goes to kill the bad guy, to protect her... even if his powers aren't as powerful as hers, or he has no powers at all besides his secret agent training.

Even if the hero is a bad guy with a past, his actions toward the heroine never turn out to be actually evil or unprincipled, though they may be mistaken and tragic for one or both of them.

(To be fair, romance has a lot of subgenres, and my knowledge is limited to skimming the books my wife has left in the bathroom over the last 20 years or so, and a handful of conversations with her about the emotional and sexual significance of the various tropes in the genres she reads. It's possible that things are different in subgenres she doesn't read, like "contemporary"; she almost entirely prefers ones with fantasy, SF, adventure, and other "non-realistic" themes, since this lets her get two categories worth of entertainment at once. ;-) But I'd be a bit surprised if it's dramatically different.)

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 16 October 2010 02:18:07PM 5 points [-]

I think it's fair to say that a lot of romance fiction is powered by the idea of a frightening man, even if, as you say, he has a good reason. I admit that this conclusion is the result of realizing that I don't like the genre, and I think that's the reason.

The thing I don't understand in all these discussion is I know a fair number of men in long term-- and sometimes happy-- relationships. They aren't high-display of masculinity guys, and yet, somehow they've hooked up with someone. How did they manage it?

Gone with the Wind is a hard thing to argue from. It's an extraordinary book-- very popular, but never duplicated. One of the things that drives it is that Scarlett is much more motivated by survival and status than the average female lead.

I just realized-- it's actually an example of a relatively rare sort of women's fiction. Perfect guy shows up, but the woman is too busy to notice for most of the novel. The other examples I've got (Murder with Peacocks and Good in Bed), she's distracted by a bunch of things going on in her life, but not by being in love with the wrong guy. In a normal novel, she'd realize she's in love with him while he was still in love with her.

Also, it's interesting that I've never heard anyone say that it was implausible for Scarlett to be fixated on Ashley.

Part of what makes these discussions messy is that the fantasies that hook the hindbrain aren't necessarily what people want to live. There are a lot more men who like action movies than who'd like to be in violent fights.

Comment author: HughRistik 16 October 2010 09:06:01PM *  7 points [-]

The thing I don't understand in all these discussion is I know a fair number of men in long term-- and sometimes happy-- relationships. They aren't high-display of masculinity guys, and yet, somehow they've hooked up with someone. How did they manage it?

How old are they? Most people get married eventually. Furthermore, the older people get, the more they switch over to long-term mating strategies.

If you're an average guy, eventually you're going to "get lucky" and run into a woman who is into you. As people get older, more and more women get tired of bad boys and switch over to their long-term mating strategies (and in some cases, are looking for men to support them).

So our average guy will find a mate. The question is, how many years go by while he is only dating sporadically, while women (on average) are off having fun with the more masculine and exciting guys? When he finally does find someone, how much choice does he actually have? What is her level of attractiveness (in various areas) compared to his? Is she the "one" who is "right" for him, or is she simply the one woman who has shown interest in him in the past few years?

It seems that during youth, most people do some combination of short-term mating and attempted-but-aborted serial long-term relationships, until eventually they find a good match. People test-drive each other. According to the model I'm outlining, women concentrate their test driving towards men at the top, while men's test driving of women is more evenly distributed (though of course, still skewed).

As a result, men who aren't flashy rides get disproportionately overlooked or cut out of the developmental test-driving stage, until with time women's average preferences shift and they want something more dependable. I've heard men express frustration with this situation and ask, "if the kitten didn't want me, do I want the cat?"

Sex differences in attraction is also important. For men, looks are relatively more important in attraction, while for women, behavior/personality is relatively more important. If you are a guy dating people you find attractive, they can still turn out to be good long-term mates for you. But for women, the guys you find most attractive during youth may have personality traits that exclude them from making good long-term mates. Of course, there is variation in women on this trait: for some, their ideal short-term mate and ideal long-term mate are the same guy. On average, the people who young women are sexually excited about are less likely to make good long-term mates than the people young men are excited about.

Comment author: pjeby 17 October 2010 07:39:01PM 3 points [-]

I think it's fair to say that a lot of romance fiction is powered by the idea of a frightening man, even if, as you say, he has a good reason. I admit that this conclusion is the result of realizing that I don't like the genre, and I think that's the reason.

Given that there are so many subgenres of romance, I suspect we are talking about different ones. In the small sample of my wife's books that I've read, the hero is never described as frightening to the heroine. Typically, he takes the form of an annoying rival who the heroine believes is overconfident or arrogant, someone whose goals are (superficially and initially) at odds with those of the heroine. (It then usually turns out that one or both characters have been operating on the basis of a mistaken impression about the other's goals or character.)

But I have never seen fear described as a heroine's reaction to anything except the villain, or her feelings for the hero. (Or more precisely, her anticipation of the problematic consequences of allowing her feelings for him to develop and be acted upon.)

Fear of the hero himself, or his actions, though? To my recollection, never happens in these genres.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 17 October 2010 08:12:22PM 0 points [-]

Thanks for the information. I may have been over-influenced by the blurbs on paranormal romances.

And my take on "frightening" was that these are guys who any reasonable person with ordinary human abilities would find frightening, whether the heroine does or not.

Comment author: topynate 16 October 2010 11:38:53PM *  3 points [-]

The thing I don't understand in all these discussion is I know a fair number of men in long term-- and sometimes happy-- relationships. They aren't high-display of masculinity guys, and yet, somehow they've hooked up with someone. How did they manage it?

From the "Perception Lab" at St Andrews:

Women’s preferences for men’s facial masculinity are especially interesting, as there is great variation in preferences across individuals. These preferences have been demonstrated to vary with age, womens’ own self-rated attractiveness, and across different phases of their menstrual cycle.

Older women tend to prefer more feminine faces. Women in the infertile part of their fertility cycle tend to prefer more feminine faces. Women rating themselves as less attractive tend to prefer more feminine faces.

By the way, I don't mean to imply that your guy friends in particular are in stable relationships because of these tendencies - I can think of many other reasons beyond the differing attractiveness of their faces, or their demeanour.

Comment author: wedrifid 16 October 2010 10:06:25PM 3 points [-]

Part of what makes these discussions messy is that the fantasies that hook the hindbrain aren't necessarily what people want to live. There are a lot more men who like action movies than who'd like to be in violent fights.

This deserves emphasis. Our instincts are not interested in our happiness. There is no reason to presume that those we are most attracted to will be the same as those who will be the most satisfying either in the long or short term. (Although it is certainly strong evidence to be considered as well as a direct contributor to that satisfaction.)

Comment author: rhollerith_dot_com 16 October 2010 10:08:52PM *  1 point [-]

The thing I don't understand in all these discussion is I know a fair number of men in long term-- and sometimes happy-- relationships. They aren't high-display of masculinity guys, and yet,

Are these mostly older guys or more precisely guys in LTRs with older women?

The increase over the last 4 decades in female personal income has made the "beta good provider" male strategy less successful.

Also, some (e.g., the Man Who Is Thursday) say that the increase in female promiscuity has had a similar effect because (the thinking goes) once a woman has had sex with 1 or 2 extremely exciting men, she is less likely to settle for a LTR with a much less exciting one (and as long as she does not demand any sort of commitment from them, a woman using a "modern" sexual strategy will probably have sex with 1 or 2 extremely exciting men).

Although I have a relatively small circle of friends, even I have a friend of a friend, now in her 60s, who only ever had sex with one man (the father of her kids to which she is still married) and she was quite beautiful, grew up in the proverbial big city (Manhattan) and has and had no notable social handicaps.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 16 October 2010 10:45:30PM *  2 points [-]

rhollerithdotcom:

Also, some (e.g., the Man Who Is Thursday) say that the increase in female promiscuity has had a similar effect because (the thinking goes) once a woman has had sex with 1 or 2 extremely exciting men, she is less likely to settle for a LTR with a much less exciting one (and as long as she does not demand any sort of commitment from them, a woman using a "modern" sexual strategy will probably have sex with 1 or 2 extremely exciting men).

If she doesn't demand any sort of commitment from them, she can have sex with many more extremely exciting men than that, if she's at all attractive. Even less attractive women can similarly easily have lots of sex and non-serious relationships with men who are far above what they can realistically expect to get for serious commitment, even if they won't be extremely exciting by absolute standards, so the same principle applies.

There was a discussion of this issue on LW recently. If anyone's interested, these are my thoughts on the subject, and here I comment on some relevant research.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 16 October 2010 10:15:39PM 1 point [-]

Most of my friends are around my own age, so both the men and the women are older than young.

I'm not sure what the typical age for starting the relationships was.

Comment author: rhollerith_dot_com 16 October 2010 10:25:14PM *  2 points [-]

I'm not sure what the typical age for starting the relationships was.

OK but note that my point is not that women get less choosy as they get older (though that is almost certainly true) but rather that it was easier for a man of average attractiveness to win the hand of a 30-year-old woman 30 or 40 years ago than it is today.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 07 August 2012 01:28:58PM 2 points [-]

IIRC, a study a couple of years back that said that the male hero raped the female heroine in about half of a large sample of romance novels they looked at. Can't remember how they chose their sample.

Comment author: Relsqui 15 October 2010 06:21:03PM 2 points [-]

Dark heroes in romance novels generally aren't disrespectful or aggressive towards the heroine, and if they are domineering or deceptive towards the heroine, it's generally motivated by something that the hero at least believes is for the heroine's good, and often at the expense of the hero's own interests.

That is disrespectful. It's asserting that the hero knows better than the heroine what's good for her, and is entitled to act on her behalf. In my mind that's a much, much more dangerous meme than outright acting maliciously.

Comment author: wedrifid 17 October 2010 12:17:20AM 4 points [-]

That is disrespectful. It's asserting that the hero knows better than the heroine what's good for her, and is entitled to act on her behalf. In my mind that's a much, much more dangerous meme than outright acting maliciously.

The phrase 'dangerous meme' jumped out at me. I agree that it is disrespectful and I personally make an effort to prevent people that try from having any part of my life. I actually have to bite my tongue at times so that I don't point out to young adults "You don't have to take that. You can choose your own boundaries, with consideration of your options and likely outcomes." (That put me in a particularly interesting situation when I was a teacher!)

But going from 'undesirable behavior' to 'dangerous meme', well, strikes me as dangerous. It seems like a move from discussing behavioral preferences to considering the very fact that the behavioural pattern appeals to some people or plays a role in their literature of choice is wrong.

I find the kinds of romance novels in question decidedly unappealing. Not just because they are aimed at women but because they are aimed at a different subset of women than those with whom I most empathise with. But I do know that there people who actually appreciate or are attracted to these same behaviours that I find obnoxious. Judging the very meme just because I personally don't prefer the behaviour would seem presumptive.

Comment author: Relsqui 17 October 2010 12:46:14AM 1 point [-]

I don't think I intended the phrase as strongly as you interpreted it. However, "undesireable behavior" is too weak. As noted in another fork of this thread, I think that kind of paternalism is totally out of place between any two capable adults, but invididual cases are not what I'm talking about here. I'm talking about the notion that "members of group X know better than/are entitled to look after members of group Y." The particular example given happens to be sexist, but it would be offensive for any two groups of normal grown-ups. Perpetuating that idea in popular culture, e.g. via popular fiction, has negative effects on members of both groups, even if they're not directly exposed to the fiction itself.

Comment author: wedrifid 17 October 2010 02:08:42AM *  3 points [-]

I'm talking about the notion that "members of group X know better than/are entitled to look after members of group Y."

That's not a notion that was actually present in the context and nor is it one that you introduced yourself (until now). I say this not to be pedantic or to accuse you of any form of inconsistency but rather because there is an implicit assumption that I don't share. The one that allows a leap from a fictional stories where a female protagonist interacts with an objectionably dominant hero to the general claim "members of group X know better than/are entitled to look after members of group Y".

The particular example given happens to be sexist, but it would be offensive for any two groups of normal grown-ups.

The particular example given happens to be of heroes who are sexist (or just excessively dominant) and female heroines with arguably terrible taste. If someone is offended that the heroine is attracted to the domineering hero or offended that a woman likes to read such books or empathises with the character then that is the problem of the person taking offence. Not the problem of the author, not the problem of the fictional protagonist and not the problem of literary porn fan.

While my position on what it makes sense to declare offensive may well be irreconcilably opposed to your own it may be interesting to note that my objection here is actually similar to the objection that we both would share to the heroine being overridden. It is not OK to prevent (or shame or otherwise apply moral sanction against) people having, reading or writing stories that appeal to their own emotions. It is not OK to condemn literature because the character doesn't fit an ideal.

I don't think "members of group <Relsgui> know better than/are entitled to look after members of group <romantic fiction readers>". Actually, you probably do 'know better than' but it is the 'are entitled to look after' that is in play when we consider declaring things offensive.

Comment author: pjeby 15 October 2010 09:48:10PM *  2 points [-]

That is disrespectful. It's asserting that the hero knows better than the heroine what's good for her, and is entitled to act on her behalf.

You're leaving out the part where I said that the hero's actions could be mistaken and/or tragic: i.e., in actual romance novels it's quite often the case that the hero only thinks he knows better than the heroine, that she fights his actions every step of the way, and/or the actions lead to bad results.

I'm also a bit confused as to how you can say that either of the specific examples I gave qualify as "disrespectful". If somebody throws themselves in front of a bullet for you, is that being disrespectful because they think they know what's better for you?

Comment author: Relsqui 16 October 2010 10:34:03PM 1 point [-]

might lock her up to protect her... might trick her into getting left behind when he goes to kill the bad guy, to protect her

I don't see either of these as analogous to throwing himself in front of a bullet. In both cases he's making a choice for her which she is capable of making herself--he's taking care of her instead of letting her take care of herself. Even in the first case, there's precedent in werewolf fiction for the lycanthrope to be voluntarily restrained to minimize damage. In the second case he's also mislelading her so as to actually prevent her from making the choice to, say, protect him with her superior abilities.

It would be equally messed up if you switched the gender roles--saying "I'm going to do what I've decided is good for you instead of letting you make your own choices" always is, between two capable grownups. This just happens to be the direction which conforms to the popular trope about who is supposed to take care of whom.

Comment author: pjeby 17 October 2010 07:29:09PM 1 point [-]

It would be equally messed up if you switched the gender roles--saying "I'm going to do what I've decided is good for you instead of letting you make your own choices" always is, between two capable grownups. This just happens to be the direction which conforms to the popular trope about who is supposed to take care of whom.

This particular aspect may be unique to the romance genres my wife reads, but ISTM that the female leads in these novels are just as likely to make the same sort of imposingly-yet-self-sacrificing decisions for the male leads -- i.e., both parties doing it in the same novel, prior to reaching a saner equilibrium. The contextual implication I draw from the few ones that I read myself, is that:

1) The signal "I will do what it takes to protect you, even if you disagree" is covertly found attractive by the heroine, even when her rational/overt reaction is that it's stupid, unnecessary, condescending, chauvinistic etc. (This distinction is usually reflected in the heroine's inner and outer dialogs),

2) While the signal is valued, the actual behavior and effects are not -- by the time they reach "happily ever after", the hero grudgingly agrees to limit his heroic impulses to merely vigorously arguing and protesting against courses of action he deems too dangerous, rather than outright sabotage or quasi-suicidal pre-emptions.

Hypothesis: once the hero has established the credibility of his signaled concern by actually putting himself at risk, the heroine can simply enjoy the now-credible verbal signals, without having the ongoing cost of excessive risk to him, or the annoyance of being treated somewhat condescendingly.

Comment author: [deleted] 15 October 2010 12:37:04PM 7 points [-]

I think women want guys with values, in principle, and are tempted by guys without values, in practice, because they like "masculine" or "alpha" behavior. It doesn't mean that the desire to date a good person isn't a real desire. If someone desires to get work done, but also procrastinates, would you say she doesn't "really" want to get work done?

I think women would prefer a good person who hits the right masculinity/dominance buttons than a bad person. (Read or watch Gone With The Wind again -- Rhett is actually the male character with the most integrity and smarts.)

I think you're entirely right that men who are pretty awful people can be very attractive to women. But I think that's because they have certain social skills that they've developed and relied on. And anyone can learn social skills. There's not a one-to-one relationship between horribleness and attractiveness to women -- you never hear about women being hot for Jeffrey Dahmer. Rappers swagger, make it obvious that women can't resist them, and they're typically in great shape. They're popular for completely predictable reasons.

You're probably right that some women gravitate to assholish men because they're just not thinking (just like some men gravitate to women who have nothing going for them but their beauty.) But it's unfair for a man to assume that every woman is going to do that, and I'd find it sad if a man compromised his more serious principles just to pick up the less self-aware women. You can make yourself more attractive without becoming a person you'd hate.

Comment author: HughRistik 15 October 2010 05:09:29PM *  9 points [-]

I think women want guys with values, in principle, and are tempted by guys without values, in practice, because they like "masculine" or "alpha" behavior. It doesn't mean that the desire to date a good person isn't a real desire.

I think this hypothesis makes a lot of sense: masculinity is the main cause of attraction, and bad values just tag on along for the ride. This hypothesis is entirely plausible to me, but I have to wonder whether it's the whole story. For some the nastier forms, I'm not sure that masculinity and bad values are always separable; they are intertwined.

There could be several different paths by which different types of women are attracted to assholes; you've certainly named one of them.

If someone desires to get work done, but also procrastinates, would you say she doesn't "really" want to get work done?

Not necessarily, but it could be the case.

(Read or watch Gone With The Wind again -- Rhett is actually the male character with the most integrity and smarts.)

It's one specific scene that I'm thinking of: the quasi-rape scene.

There's not a one-to-one relationship between horribleness and attractiveness to women -- you never hear about women being hot for Jeffrey Dahmer.

You might be surprised! Famous serial killers are very popular with women and have groupies. Female serial killers don't have male groupies. Now, women with these preferences are probably pretty rare; women attracted to shy nerds are probably more common (2% of women are into shyness), but there are a lot more shy nerds than women into them, whereas serial killers are a scarce resource for women who are into them.

More hilariously, I have an article on my hard drive about Western women attracted to Osama bin Laden written after 9/11 (I'll write it up sometime, but it's behind a paywall.)

This behavior might initially seem like some sort of weird fluke, but looking at female attraction to Eminem, who raps about doing some of the things that serial killers are in for, these preferences could be conceptualized along the same continuum: serial killers are hypermasculine ultra-assholes.

See also the Draco In Leather Pants (TVTropes) phenomenon, where fangirls turn villains into objects of desire (there are some hilarious example pages at the bottom).

Fantasy is different from reality, of course. These women may have different desires in real life. Even if they have similar desires, they know better than to try to act them out, consistent with your model. The point is that such psychology seems like a watered-down, fantasy-only version of the psychology of serial killer groupies, who act out these same sorts of desires in reality.

Although there are categorical distinctions between women who lust after Eminem or dress Draco Malfoy up in leather pants, and women who go for serial killers, all these women may be the same continuum on other variables. Serial killer groupies are just at the far right of the bell curve of women attracted to assholes.

Rappers swagger, make it obvious that women can't resist them, and they're typically in great shape.

They swagger, but I'm not sure their swagger is always distinguishable from their misogyny. I hypothesize that being misogynistic in the context of swagger reads as attractive masculinity to some women in some subcultures. I guess the question is what sorts of female fans these rappers would gain or lose if they weren't so misogynistic. I do think your hypothesis explains many or even most cases of female attraction to these guys; I just don't think it's the whole story. There are swaggering masculine guys who aren't misogynistic; why no go for them instead?

But it's unfair for a man to assume that every woman is going to do that, and I'd find it sad if a man compromised his more serious principles just to pick up the less self-aware women.

Agreed.

You can make yourself more attractive without becoming a person you'd hate.

That's the conclusion of my experience. Though part of the way that I do this is by trying to have the same mystique or bad boys and aesthetic appeal, just without actually being an asshole. For instance, the way I dress is partly inspired by villains in movies... though I've stopped short of wearing leather pants.

Comment author: wedrifid 15 October 2010 05:36:37PM 1 point [-]

For instance, the way I dress is partly inspired by villains in movies...

I've had some success while dressed as Darth Sideous... but I've got my suspicions that was despite not because. ;)

Can you give some examples of the sort of villains you are considering here?

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 16 October 2010 02:24:22PM 0 points [-]

It's very odd that a lot of women find Snape attractive. Where does he fit into the theory?

Comment author: HughRistik 16 October 2010 09:09:59PM 5 points [-]

Masculinity + authority + sarcasm + disagreeableness is an attractive combination for a reasonable subset of women. Alan Rickman's looks and voice may help.

See also House, M.D. for another attractive character close by in the same region of guyspace.

Comment author: erratio 16 October 2010 07:56:16PM 2 points [-]

I would go with villain-type + played by Alan Rickman in the movies

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 16 October 2010 08:04:22PM 1 point [-]

The thing is, he's a medium-status villain. He's a teacher and not in charge of more than his classroom. He's not good-looking or well-dressed.

I believe he was the subject of a lot of fan fiction before the movies came out.

Comment author: taryneast 09 March 2011 06:21:11PM 0 points [-]

I'll agree here. I didn't like him at all in the books, but after the movies...

Comment author: CronoDAS 17 October 2010 06:08:27AM *  1 point [-]

Oddly, after reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for the first time, long before any of the movies came out, I too found Snape to be oddly charismatic... sure, he seemed to hate Harry for no apparent reason and go out of his way to be mean to him, but he seemed interesting in a way that many of the other characters weren't. A hero who is consistently heroic is often a Flat Character and therefore boring.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 17 October 2010 09:12:00AM 1 point [-]

For me, bullies children = utterly revolting.

I'm surprised this isn't widely shared, but I seem to be an odd person in many respects.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 15 October 2010 04:58:33PM *  7 points [-]

SarahC:

There's not a one-to-one relationship between horribleness and attractiveness to women -- you never hear about women being hot for Jeffrey Dahmer.

Not a one-to-one relationship, to be sure, but stories like this strongly suggest some positive statistical relation: "No shortage of women who dream of snaring a husband on Death Row: experts ponder why deadliest criminals get so many proposals." The article references an academic book that dedicates a chapter to the phenomenon.

Jeffrey Dahmer might have been a bit too creepy even for the serial killer groupie population, but I wouldn't be surprised if he got an occasional love letter too.

Comment author: HughRistik 15 October 2010 05:49:23PM 2 points [-]

Dammit, V_M, you ninja'd me by posting that article before I could post my analysis.

Comment author: mattnewport 15 October 2010 04:07:01PM 3 points [-]

I think there's a bit more to it than just women overlooking a lack of values because of other attractive factors like confidence. There's some evidence that men with the 'dark triad' personality traits are more successful with women.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 15 October 2010 05:03:14PM 4 points [-]

mattnewport:

There's some evidence that men with the 'dark triad' personality traits are more successful with women.

Here's the research paper on which the article you link was based:
http://www.mysmu.edu/faculty/normanli/JonasonLiWebsterSchmitt2009.pdf

Comment author: whpearson 15 October 2010 01:34:52PM 2 points [-]

There's not a one-to-one relationship between horribleness and attractiveness to women -- you never hear about women being hot for Jeffrey Dahmer.

I had to google him, I also googled his name and sexy and found this. :(

He gets 28,800 hits for jeffrey dahmer sexy. Out of 275000 hits. So a sexy ratio of 0.1. I'm not sure if this is high or low for a public male figure, a lot of it will be incidental mentions.

Steve Buscemi gets a ratio of 0.03, brad pitt get 0.13. Harold shipman (another serial killer but not so handsome or gruesome) gets 0.06.

I'm not sure of my methodology, I suspect that I might do better looking for the phrase in quotes.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 15 October 2010 01:53:45PM 14 points [-]

I'm not sure of my methodology

Dead elephant gets a ratio of 0.59.

Comment author: whpearson 15 October 2010 02:27:49PM 0 points [-]

Ah thanks. Quotes it is, although it will under report.

"Dead elephant is sexy" gets none, as does Harrold Shipman.

Steve buscemi does better this time. 60/935000 = 6*10^-4

Jeffrey Dahmer gets 4/264000 = 1.5*10^-4

Jay Leno gets 112/4.7million = 2*10^-4

Brad pitt gets 14700/17.1 million = 8 * 10^-3

While not falling foul to the dead elephant problem, I'm still not happy with it methodologically. This is probably the best information we can get without searching for all the variants of "X is hot".

Hmm, this might make a good small web app, a more advanced version of google fight that looked for relative popularity of adjectives.

Comment author: Document 16 October 2010 02:02:30AM 0 points [-]

Not quite the same, but Googlism is sort of a simple version of that. Also, I suspect a trolling element in the Jeffrey Dahmer page you linked, although that could be optimism at work.

Comment author: wedrifid 15 October 2010 12:54:35PM 5 points [-]

But it's unfair for a man to assume that every woman is going to do that, and I'd find it sad if a man compromised his more serious principles just to pick up the less self-aware women.

A lot of parents find it sad when their kids find out that santa claus isn't real.

Comment author: whpearson 14 October 2010 12:32:03PM 2 points [-]

I do have the impression that men who have the fundamentals right aren't good with the female hindbrain, for the most part (there are exceptions, and there are compromises.)

I wonder how much this is due to the American Jock vs Geek mentality. Geeks see masculine behaviour as out group so eschew it? The conflict isn't so bad in Europe (it doesn't carry on into University in the same way). That is not to say that European geeks are naturally intensely masculine, simply that it might be easier for them to adopt masculine behaviours, because they aren't having to act like the enemy.

This dichotomy doesn't seem prevalent in all American culture, entrepreneurs seem quite happy with to straddle the line. How much of your experience is with people inside academia?

Comment author: [deleted] 14 October 2010 01:04:20PM *  4 points [-]

My experience is either inside academia or way the hell outside (people who didn't go to college.) I never met an entrepreneur.

My experience with meeting Europeans is that smart people do have less of a geeky self-image than they do in the US (I've known Italian women mathematicians who look and carry themselves like movie stars) but that just about everyone in Europe is less into gorilla-type masculinity than men in the US. So I think your point is probably more relevant on the female end -- European female geeks are more conventionally feminine because they don't see a dichotomy. (I've also noticed that about Asian female geeks -- that is, raised in Asian countries, not Asian-American.)

Comment author: Vladimir_M 14 October 2010 07:12:48PM *  6 points [-]

SarahC:

[In Europe] smart people do have less of a geeky self-image than they do in the US (I've known Italian women mathematicians who look and carry themselves like movie stars)

That is true, for the most part. Where I come from, the electrical engineering students' club at the local university is a popular location for nightlife and rock concerts that attracts masses of people as a party hangout. Something like that is practically unimaginable in North America, but it's not at all unusual in Europe.

Comment author: thomblake 14 October 2010 08:59:18PM 4 points [-]

Something like that is practically unimaginable in North America

That's a mighty strong assertion to make about an entire contient that contains countries as different as, say, Canada and Nicaragua, or Alabama and San Francisco.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 14 October 2010 10:26:50PM 3 points [-]

OK, that was an imprecise statement -- by "North America," I meant the U.S. and Canada, not the standard usage of the term.

When it comes to the U.S. and Canada, however, I stand behind my assertion. There are indeed significant cultural differences between, say, Alabama and Northern California, but not when it comes to this question.

Comment author: HughRistik 15 October 2010 12:48:28AM 3 points [-]

Whoa.

I've also heard that in China, self-effacing and conscientious students can be the most popular. For the US, that's unimaginable.

These pieces of data suggest that the polarization of men towards "geek / nice guy" and "masculine bad boy" in the US is at least partly cultural, and it could be fought by other cultural forces.

That is the argument that David Anderegg makes in Nerds. While I disagree with Anderegg in some cases (e.g. dismissing the notion of Asperger's Syndrome), he has some excellent literary analysis of some of the tropes in American literature that influence how we think about masculinity.

Anderegg argues that in the 19th century, a dichotomy developed between "men of action" and "men of reflection" in American thought. This dualism presented the man of action as positive and masculine, while the "man of reflection" was the "effete intellectual" or clergyman, associated with femininity and homosexuality. He argues that our modern concept of "nerd" is the descendant of the "man of reflection" and "effete intellectual" stereotypes. Read that entire chapter I linked to. Here are some of Anderegg's examples:

  • Ichabod Crane in Washington Irving's story was a classic example of "nerd vs jock," where the nerd is portrayed in many negative and stereotypical ways

  • Superman becoming incognito and undatable to Lois merely by being mild-mannered and wearing glasses

  • He argues that ancient Greeks didn't have such a dichotomy between brain vs. brawn/looks: heroes were typically intelligent, good-looking, and capable, while villains tended to be both ugly and stupid.

  • Ralph Waldo Emerson's notion of the American scholar

Emerson's speech is fascinating and complex, but it definitely sets up the dichotomy between men of action and men of reflection. Here are some troubling excerpts (emphases mine):

There goes in the world a notion, that the scholar should be a recluse, a valetudinarian, — as unfit for any handiwork or public labor, as a penknife for an axe. The so-called `practical men' sneer at speculative men, as if, because they speculate or see, they could do nothing. I have heard it said that the clergy, — who are always, more universally than any other class, the scholars of their day, — are addressed as women; that the rough, spontaneous conversation of men they do not hear, but only a mincing and diluted speech. They are often virtually disfranchised; and, indeed, there are advocates for their celibacy. As far as this is true of the studious classes, it is not just and wise. Action is with the scholar subordinate, but it is essential. Without it, he is not yet man. Without it, thought can never ripen into truth. Whilst the world hangs before the eye as a cloud of beauty, we cannot even see its beauty. Inaction is cowardice, but there can be no scholar without the heroic mind.

[...]

Character is higher than intellect. Thinking is the function. Living is the functionary.

[...]

Our age is bewailed as the age of Introversion. Must that needs be evil? We, it seems, are critical; we are embarrassed with second thoughts; we cannot enjoy any thing for hankering to know whereof the pleasure consists; we are lined with eyes; we see with our feet; the time is infected with Hamlet's unhappiness,

"Sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought."

Is it so bad then? Sight is the last thing to be pitied. Would we be blind? Do we fear lest we should outsee nature and God, and drink truth dry? I look upon the discontent of the literary class, as a mere announcement of the fact, that they find themselves not in the state of mind of their fathers, and regret the coming state as untried; as a boy dreads the water before he has learned that he can swim.

[...]

We have listened too long to the courtly muses of Europe. The spirit of the American freeman is already suspected to be timid, imitative, tame. Public and private avarice make the air we breathe thick and fat. The scholar is decent, indolent, complaisant.

Emerson makes a lot of good points, such as about avoiding past orthodoxies. But as Anderegg points out, his attitude is very close to "throw away books from the past, and write your own," which is anti-intellectual and fails to reflect how thinkers can stand on the shoulders of giants. There is no dichotomy between studying works of the past, and original thinking.

He displays a great ambivalence towards scholars of his time. He romanticizes "Man Thinking," but links scholars to Europe, femininity, homosexuality (via the word "mincing"), religion, unoriginality, laziness, timidity, and disease (e.g. "infected with Hamlet's unhappiness"). No doubt there were and are many scholars who deserve those labels, but his dichotomy is much too stark:

  • Non-scholars are much more lacking in original thought than scholars
  • Non-scholars are plenty lazy, too
  • What about men of action who are temperamentally timid?
  • He speaks disdainfully of scholars having "second thoughts," but wasn't he criticizing them earlier for being too credulous? Can't men of action who are engaging their subject matter hands-on have second thoughts?
  • Why can't you both read books, and carve out your heroic path in your field?
  • In domains with low-hanging empirical fruit, I'll buy his argument that scholars should get more hands-on. In other domains, it's best to read the book, instead of trying to reinvent the wheel.
  • Why are the intellectual errors Emerson criticizes associated with women or homosexuality? Why can't we have feminine or homosexual men of action? Would Alan Turing fit into Emerson's notion of the "American scholar"?
Comment author: Vladimir_M 15 October 2010 06:09:04AM *  1 point [-]

That's a very interesting reference, I'll try to check it out when I find some time. Unfortunately, I'm not familiar with Emerson's work, so I can't tell if Anderegg is representing his views fairly. But in any case, I've always found the American phenomenon of equating intellectual interests with "nerdiness" alien and weird, and its exact historical origins are still a mystery to me, so I'll be interested in checking out the book and seeing if it sheds some light on it.

Comment author: HughRistik 19 October 2010 09:38:30PM 2 points [-]

Another funny example of the nerd stereotype: Georges St. Pierre (aka GSP), the current UFC Welterweight Champion and one of the greatest mixed martial artists in the world, thinks of himself as a nerd because he is into paleontology.

"I don’t like to tell people that very much, but I am. I don’t really watch sports. I watch the Canadian version of the Discovery Channel. Ask me a question about the Jurassic period or the Cretaceous period and I probably could answer it… Seriously, I’m into paleontology. That’s the study of prehistoric life. I’m into philosophy. And psychology too. You know that the Tyrannosaurus Rex was found with feathers? Yes, feathers!"

"When I train, I love to take time off and fly to the Natural History Museum or an exhibition. I just love that. When you know your past, it will help you with your future… That’s why most of my friends are not fighters. Most of my friends are nerds like me. That’s why I have a hard time finding a girlfriend. I need someone to talk science with. I’m married to my work right now. But you never know. One day I could wake up and just do something different. Life is so unpredictable."

If GSP is a nerd, does the term make any sense?

Comment author: HughRistik 15 October 2010 06:53:47PM *  0 points [-]

The link to Emerson's speech is in my post.

I'll be interested in checking out the book and seeing if it sheds some light on it.

You can read the relevant chapter in Google Books. The link I gave should take you to the history chapter starting with Ichabod Crane.

In general it's a good book, but it has some wrong assumptions and moralizing.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 16 October 2010 03:24:34AM *  1 point [-]

This is important, not just for the specifics, but to remember that some pattern of behavior which seems absolutely innate may actually be culturally localized.

So, are there geeky people in Europe? If so, what are they doing instead of science and engineering?

Comment author: Vladimir_M 16 October 2010 04:12:19AM *  5 points [-]

NancyLebovitz:

This is important, not just for the specifics, but to remember that some pattern of behavior which seems absolutely innate is actually culturally localized.

I don't see why these specific patterns of behavior would seem "absolutely innate" even looking only at the U.S. There are lots of non-nerdy people with high intelligence, and I don't see any reason why they wouldn't excel in "nerdy" professions if they chose to enter them in large numbers. In my opinion, the main reason why non-nerdy smart people go mainly into non-technical professions is that in the American society, technical professions, on the whole, offer relatively low status considering the demands they impose.

So, are there geeky people in Europe? If so, what are they doing instead of science and engineering?

Where I lived in Europe (various places in ex-Yugoslavia), we've never really had anything comparable to the American notion of "geeks" and "nerds." It's hard to find even an approximate translation for these words which would have all the connotations of high intelligence combined with social ineptness, lack of masculinity, and obsessive interest in obscure and unpopular things.

We do have words that denote these qualities separately, or for people who put excessive effort into success in school while lacking real-life skills and smarts, or who achieve high grades thanks to cramming rather than smarts and talent, etc., etc., and various terms of this sort are used to translate "nerd/geek" in different contexts. But there is no accurate translation, simply because there is no striking correlation between all these attributes. (That said, in recent years some of the American "geek" culture has been making inroads, but even what exists of it is still not comparable, since there is both less social nerdiness involved and much less correlation with interest, let alone high achievement, in science and engineering.)

Partly this is because technical professions have higher relative status, so they attract plenty of intelligent people who are not at all deficient in social skills. The other reason is a very different youth culture and education system. As far as I see, these different circumstances usually tend to attenuate people's innate lack of sociability, rather than, as happens in the U.S., exacerbate it and force intelligent introverts to seek company and respect in "geeky" social circles and activities, since they can't find them anywhere else.

All that said, this situation still does not mean that success in courting women is more evenly distributed among men. On the contrary: the attention of attractive women, and the overwhelming part of casual sex that takes place, is still restricted to the minority of men who are attractive by pretty much the same criteria as anywhere else. It's just that you'll find many more such men (as well as less attractive, but still far from nerdy men) among people doing technical professions and having various intellectual interests that are stereotyped as "geeky" in the U.S.

Comment author: rhollerith_dot_com 16 October 2010 02:32:33PM *  3 points [-]

Vladimir M asserts that in Europe, "technical professions have higher relative status".

That agrees with my experience. My mom used to say that my engineer father would have higher status if he lived in the old country. Also, when letters from Europe arrived for my dad, his name was sometimes prefaced with the honorific "Ing." which is short for "Ingenieur", which means "Engineer".

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 16 October 2010 01:18:46PM 2 points [-]

The other reason is a very different youth culture and education system. As far as I see, these different circumstances usually tend to attenuate people's innate lack of sociability, rather than, as happens in the U.S., exacerbate it and force intelligent introverts to seek company and respect in "geeky" social circles and activities, since they can't find them anywhere else.

How is the educational system different?

As you may know, there's been a lot of interest lately in the US about how to lessen or eliminate bullying in schools-- there've been a number of suicides lately resulting from years of severe bullying.

The only structural cause I've seen suggested (as distinct from recommendations of active anti-bullying programs) is the high emphasis on competitive athletics, and in particular, athletic competitions between schools.

The other question is whether there's a process of bullying/ostracism in European schools which is aimed at other sorts of people.

Comment author: whpearson 16 October 2010 04:18:17AM 4 points [-]

Define what you mean by geeky...

If you mean people that don't like to party, then from my experience they are doing science and engineering and probably some humanities as well. They also generally co-exist quite happily with the party-ers, at least at University level.

I've just realised how much we have a cultural one way mirror. I've seen fictional depictions of fraternities, keg standing, hazing etc, however you probably haven't seen what a European rock concert is like. Which is generally non-violent, unless you get in the mosh pit.

I say European, but in some ways I have less idea of what mainland European social life is like than American.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 16 October 2010 01:05:22PM 2 points [-]

Vladimir_M's "high intelligence combined with social ineptness, lack of masculinity, and obsessive interest in obscure and unpopular things" is good enough except that I'd add lack of femininity to the list.

One horrifying feature of American culture in the 50s was that intelligence was considered not masculine and not feminine, and since everyone was supposed to be one or the other, being visibly intelligent had a social cost. In my opinion, a major (but incomplete) change in this happened when it was clear that people could make money in IT. I'm inclined to think the Flynn effect is also taking hold.

From a science fiction convention: A women mentions that sometimes she feels she's just got to do something different with her hair, and fannish women are apt to look at her as though she's crazy.

Historical note: I think that identifying interest in dressing up with being effeminate is a modern weirdness. The only culture I can think of where men and women who could afford to didn't get about equally elaborate and showy was colonial America, and in that case, the men were dressier.

Afaik, American rock concerts are mostly non-violent, but this is very much second hand. Anyone have more information?

Comment author: Relsqui 15 October 2010 01:04:18AM 4 points [-]

gorilla-type masculinity

I love this phrase. It reminds me of this exchange, which happened out loud:

"You drive like a guerilla." "... what?" "Not the ape. The kind with a beret."

Comment author: whpearson 14 October 2010 01:56:08PM *  4 points [-]

everyone in Europe is less into gorilla-type masculinity than men in the US

This is true. Gorilla-type masculinity is not what I had in mind when talking about masculinity (being European and all). I was thinking about being into sports/cars/heavy metal (going back to your nice/anti-nice dichotomy) or just generally being confident and self-assured.

If that is what you want, then I can see why it conflicts with some of the fundamentals (kindness, competence). Gorilla masculinity seems to be about getting what you want through physical intimidation. If that is the hammer that you have used the most through your life, then everything will look like a nail.

If you typically try to convince people with competent argument or being kind, then you are less likely to reach for the physical intimidation toolkit of gorilla masculinity.

ETA: I wonder why there is a difference in masculinity in Europe. I'd make up some just-so-story about the more physically aggressive men having been killed in the two world wars, unless it is purely memetic.

Comment author: wedrifid 14 October 2010 03:14:12PM 3 points [-]

If you typically try to convince people with competent argument or being kind, then you are less likely to reach for the physical intimidation toolkit of gorilla masculinity.

I consider competent argument to be far more representative of gorilla masculinity than whatever the other category is. Viewing conversations in certain communities (for example, MENSA mailing lists) I've seen patterns that look remarkably like what I would expect from gorrilas - guys trying to dominate each other with verbal sparring while girls are competing via asserting moral control and creating social alliances with other women and undermining the status of targets. Depending on your physical self confidence the physical forms of intimidation can seem gentle and benign in comparison.

Comment author: whpearson 14 October 2010 04:15:55PM 1 point [-]

I consider competent argument to be far more representative of gorilla masculinity than whatever the other category is.

I think there is more than two categories here. Gorilla's don't talk much in general...

I've seen patterns that look remarkably like what I would expect from gorrilas - guys trying to dominate each other with verbal sparring while girls are competing via asserting moral control and creating social alliances with other women

There is plenty of that in Europe.... so I'm not sure if it contributes to what activates SarahC's hindbrain. As gorilla masculinity's top hit in google is SarahC's comment, it is up to her to say what it means. To me it had hints of a pure physicality (rather than verbal) to it which she may not have meant to impart.

Comment author: [deleted] 14 October 2010 02:20:57PM *  2 points [-]

Right, there's something to that.

And I don't like people who intimidate people by force. If there's a direct conflict, I'm going to go with the person who's kind and competent.

(Also, I'm starting to hate my "nice/anti-nice" dichotomy -- in retrospect that post made no sense.)

Comment author: Vladimir_M 14 October 2010 06:55:25PM *  8 points [-]

SarahC:

just about everyone in Europe is less into gorilla-type masculinity than men in the US.

That's a mighty strong assertion to make about an entire continent that contains countries as different as, say, Sweden and Albania, or Moldova and Switzerland. Also, I'm certain that the sample of Europeans you've seen is unrepresentative in all sorts of relevant ways even of their own countries, let alone the entire continent.

Of course, if by this you mean the specific patterns of behavior characteristic of certain sorts of American men, then the claim is trivially true.

Comment author: wedrifid 14 October 2010 07:12:46PM 3 points [-]

Those guys are below your threshold for some dimension (which may be related to masculinity). I would hazard a guess that for you, once it's obvious that a guy isn't too soft, being less soft isn't always better, and that you don't like men who are too far on the other end of that dimension (whatever it is), either.

I would also hazard to guess that the degree of hardness (err... make that not-softness) that appeals varies on a 28 day cycle. ('Guess' in as much as studies and my own observations of the general population may of course not apply to individual cases. Indeed, there are some obvious potential reasons why they wouldn't.)

Comment author: Relsqui 15 October 2010 01:00:47AM 6 points [-]

Good guess. They've done this study, and you're 100% right. We watched a bit of a film discussing it in my anthro class. (I didn't note whose study it was, but the film is called "Why Sex?" and you could probably find out from there.)

They used a program where you could slide smoothly between a very feminine face and a very masculine one, and asked women to find someone along that scale who looked ideal for a short-term fling, and someone else for a long-term relationship. The difference between the two follows the pattern that you'd expect--more masculine and virile-looking for the short term, softer and more kind-looking for the long term--but both answers slid further towards the masculine end of the scale when the subject was currently ovulating.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 14 October 2010 12:22:09PM 9 points [-]

I've heard about people who find talking extremely anxiety-provoking, while communicating by writing is easy and comfortable for them. I expect someone like that would have the sort of social skills mismatch you're describing. They aren't faking the skills on-line, they have a disability making it hard to use them in person.

Comment author: [deleted] 15 October 2010 01:02:20PM 8 points [-]

I have a (fading, but still present) hang-up about phone conversations. They're harder for me than either in-person communication or text. You don't have the time to think things through that you do on IM, but you also don't get facial cues to help you. So my phone conversations are almost always short, and of the form "Hi, I'm at the train station."

Comment author: wedrifid 14 October 2010 07:03:43PM 5 points [-]

I'll agree and add that as well as anxiety another limiting factor for in person socialisation is time. Processing in real time, and particularly in real time in a group context, is the hardest part of the socialising task. They can make the perfect response, just 5 seconds too late.

Comment author: Relsqui 15 October 2010 12:55:31AM *  4 points [-]

I've noticed that I'm like this in some situations but not others. Specifically, I feel like I have plenty of time in social situations to work through potential word choices and optimize for my specific listener, but trying to think of arguments in a debate feels like walking through molasses.

Realizing that gave me a lot more sympathy for people who can rule an intellectual conversation but are terrible at predicting how their listeners will interpret what they say in social contexts. I hadn't quite internalized the idea that it might just be really hard.

Comment author: wedrifid 15 October 2010 05:00:28AM *  9 points [-]

I've noticed that I'm like this in some situations but not others. Specifically, I feel like I have plenty of time in social situations to work through potential word choices and optimize for my specific listener, but trying to think of arguments in a debate feels like walking through molasses.

That's a good point. By contrast arguments (or at least rational reasoning - rhetoric fits a different category) come seemingly pre-formed from my intuition for free. Social political reasoning takes actual effort. That isn't to say I can't do it in real time, just that I like to make sure ahead of time that I am in a good state for socialising in order to get the most from it. In the ideal case that means I have spent an hour in the gym earlier in the day, are reasonably well rested and possibly consumed some aniracetam, modafinil or at least caffeine. I find those all raise the level of social ability that comes free from my intuition without (potentially time-delaying) effort.

One way I like to look at differences in abilities in general is not so much the absolute level of competencies but in which order they decay under negative influence such as sleep deprivation, stress or chemical interference. In my case it seems to be:

"Everything else" -> consciousness -> rational argument -> life itself.

Although I haven't tested the last one. I apologize ahead of time if after I die zombie-wedrifid reanimates and starts explaining why it is rational to "let him eat your brains".

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 15 October 2010 04:52:36PM 6 points [-]

Voted up because degradation under adverse circumstances is an important concept.

Comment author: Relsqui 14 October 2010 04:09:44AM 0 points [-]

I'm finding keeping up with your enormous responses exhausting; at this point it has exceeded my interest in/priority assigned to what's being discussed. Sorry.

Comment author: HughRistik 14 October 2010 04:41:18AM *  3 points [-]

Why are you apologizing? I wouldn't want anyone I reply to feel that they must respond, or even read my comment. Take the length and detail of my responses as a compliment to the interesting issues your original post raised. It's good for me to get these thoughts into writing, and I'm sure someone will find them interesting. Perhaps the next time these topics come around, I'll be able to organize my thoughts more succinctly.

I was thinking of doing a comment listing some studies of sex differences in preferences, and why we should have pretty dismal priors about the generalizability of certain sorts of dating advice between genders, but maybe I'll only post it if I get requests from you or others.

Comment author: Relsqui 14 October 2010 08:46:40AM 6 points [-]

Why are you apologizing?

To signal courtesy and lack of ill will, despite my retreat from the conversation. :)