On Priorities and Desire

(Epistemic Status:  Almost certainly written on by smarter and/or more articulate people than myself; helpful insight, pragmatic.)

A few weeks ago, I had an interesting experience where I noticed that I had a strong desire to do something but lacked sufficient resources to execute it.  I thought a little harder and I noticed I did have sufficient resources but I had already mentally earmarked them.  Once I realized this, I examined my priorities and desires, realized I wanted to keep the resources earmarked to the things they were allocated to and felt the desire to accelerate the project fade.  I also felt a sort of peace at having resolved the internal tension.

The concept of prioritization is far from new or original.  Generally, people have things they want to do more than other things and in situations of limited resources, will allocate resources to the things they want to do more.  The concept of revealing your preferences with how you actually use your resources, as opposed to your words, is also not new.  What felt new to me is the sensation of peace and ability to defuse the pain of desire by going through this process.  Statements like “I want” and “I wish” cause a simulation of the experience of loss, at least for me.  I notice I am missing something and that I would rather not be missing that something.  Sometimes this drive is very helpful and directs my cognition towards  gaining the desire.  Other times, it leads to a feeling of powerlessness or worse, to bad decisions because the want/wish is too powerful.   The concept of noticing the desire and interrogating my priorities feels like an antidote to that helpless feeling.

Overall, I think this is a good tool in the vein of figuring out what you really want and also discarding bad attachment feelings that you cannot act on.

Discussion:  This is a relatively short essay for a simple concept.  How often do you notice that you want something or want to do something?  How often does that desire lead you to unhappy places?  How often do you realize that you are allocating resources to the future mentally to maintain stability?  At higher levels of security and resources (or possibly access to “emergency resources”), does it become easier or hard to dispel a desire that would be costly to act on?

On Social Scripts and Story Spinning

(Epistemic Status:  I use this for reals, helpful for reducing social anxiety if you can grok it, likely not terribly controversial)

As promised, per script anon (thank you, I’m very excited to have a new reader!)

So, as mentioned in response to the ask, the basic concept of scripts is pretty uncontroversial (as far as I know).  People often are reactive; they say the things that fit most with the thing said to them.  The most obvious script is “Hi, how are you?”  “I’m fine, and yourself?”  “Oh, I’m doing well.”  Sometimes this even becomes “Hot weather we’re having, right?”  I mean, everyone knows this one.  The thing that makes this seem insightful is that most conversations are script based.  They aren’t word for word but you can generally class responses and map out the pattern.  I haven’t yet codified response classes but I think I will need to in the future.

Scripts happen because it takes a lot of thought and concentration to have a real, unscripted conversation and it’s scary and socially risky to go into unfamiliar territory.  Not having a script is confusing and confusion is really uncomfortable and vulnerable.  So largely, there’s an unspoken, mutual agreement to not make people confused; it’s social aggression to violate script agreements.  Social aggression isn’t always bad, a bit of it is stylish but it’s higher risk overall.  

This agreement also means that the person initiating has a lot more social power because they’re setting the script and you either react to the script and follow it, or break it and show yourself to be socially aggressive.  This happened to me several times with my boss; I assumed she was running one script (a coaching experience, where my feedback was desired and perception checking was welcome) and she was running another (one way feedback; I did a thing and she wanted a different thing), and both of us left meetings feeling upset at the other one for breaking the rules.  Things got significantly better when I chose to switch filters such that I could accept her script and start using my own more carefully (I went from more or less arguing with her because she was saying things that weren’t actually true to initially saying “ok well I accept that, that’s what happened, I’ll do better in the future.  Could you tell me how I could do this?” and basically asking questions that would bring her a little closer to my point of view while sounding open to feedback.)

So, I have a basic tiered model for this, level 0 is people deploying scripts mindlessly against each other.  This is the level most interactions operate on.  As I said, it takes concentration and energy to be in no-script land.  Level 1 is when you start changing scripts.  You have to have a story that still fits, but you can change your role and people will react to that and you’ll get better outcomes.  It’s harder to explain with examples; I mostly use this mode with black box intuition.  Level 2 is more or less making level 1 people think they’re in charge but their script changes are within your framework, basically the “field of allowed actions” kind of idea.  Level 3 is something I don’t understand because I largely work on level 1.

Going back to social aggression and violations of the script agreement, social aggression is not intrinsically bad.  Being the script initiator is one form of social aggression that uses the script agreement to your advantage.  Another technique is script breaking; in various contexts, people expect certain introductory questions, some light talk before getting to the serious stuff.  In a playful enough social context (such as parties), you can be endlessly fascinating by skipping all that shit.  One of my favorite techniques is opening with a script breaker.  I have a go-to one, “What’s the most bizarre thing that’s happened to you in the past week?” but it’s really best to come up with your own, something that would be legitimately interesting to you to find out about the person you’re script breaking.  A script breaker mostly just immediately forces people out of cached thoughts into new territory.  You can sometimes use the confusion to start feeding people a new script if you’re feeling a bit manipulative.  

Script breakers sometimes occur naturally.  I was in a situation where someone I was on a date with encountered a situation they couldn’t recover from.  They were more or less completely unable to interact meaningfully for a good 20-30 minutes.  If you want someone to do what you want, these moments are precious.  They’re desperately looking for a script, they’re practically on level -1.  If you give them one, they’ll thank you for whatever you do to them.  I think it might be slightly irresponsible to go into details on that so I’ll leave modeling this an exercise for the reader.

Overall, scripts are fun and make social interaction way better because it’s the easiest way to be on the same page as everyone you’re interacting with.  It ties into the whole narrative concept, thinking about what story you’re telling and what story the people around you are telling.  It ties into archetypes which is mostly my way of formalizing the general thrust of my roles.  I think knowledge of scripts also at least helps insulate one a little bit from being script broken themselves; it at least allows for you to install a default “script broken script” to buy time.

Discussion:  Did this help explain what I mean by scripts at all?  Do you see the scripts in your day to day life?  Do you think that the unspoken agreement that breaking script is aggressive is a good or bad norm?

On Good Girl, Or How Society Does Most Of The Work

(Epistemic Status:  Probably considered manipulative/terrible; How certain kinds of power work; pretty much water is wet.  Slightly incoherent, this is intentional.)

Begin

Good evening everyone, I’m happy to see you gathered here for Sunday devotions.  Dear readers, you’re all such good girls and boys, diligently reading what I have to say.  Do you hope to gain some wisdom tonight?  Perhaps a new dangerous technology?  A new social trick?  Perhaps you just want to know how weird I am going to be today.  Well, tonight I’m going to tell you all a little, teensy weensy secret.  It’s very, very important and I trust you’ll be so very careful with it.  I’m allowing you to know this because it’s vital to learning to be an individual…so it’ll all be ok.  Are you still with me?

Good girl.

So, society trains us to act pretty fucking submissively, overall.  I can’t say how universal this is since I’ve only really experienced American society but what I’ve heard (from the very society telling me submission is normal, of course) is that there’s not really a society exempt from turning its citizens into tools. 

Starting from school and parenting, the virtues are clear.  Cleanliness is next to godliness (because cleanliness is an accommodation for others and a waste of your time.  Because godliness is a community ethic of getting daddy dommed.)  Be still, be quiet, children should be seen and not heard (your value is aesthetic, for others, only Important People are allowed to talk.  Funny how you never seem to become an Important Person.)  My house, my rules (As if you’ll ever own a home.  Well, even if you do, is authority over a child, hammering your square pegs into round holes any better than submitting to societal desire?)  From childhood to adulthood, all we are taught is how to submit, never how to think, how to control, how to make decisions.

The issue is, we’re never taught this after becoming adults either.
Be still, be quiet (It’s disruptive to your coworkers if you don’t tap at your spreadsheets silently.  This chair is ergonomically designed to keep you healthy, please don’t wander into the spaces you’re Not Allowed.)  Don’t disobey or we’ll take away your job your money your car your home your life.  You aren’t allowed to be sick today, there’s no one to cover.

 
Oh, but eventually you move up, right?

I wonder exactly how many managers there are compared to line workers?  How often have you seen that delightful old lady, still greeting at Walmart.  How often have baristas spent 10 years mixing the same drinks different ways.  How often do you hear the same sweet secretarial voice answering your doctor’s phone?

 
Well, work is work, you have to sacrifice to function in society, and at least we’re in an individualist culture where you’re given fungible items to pursue your you.

I’m sorry, all lines are currently busy.  Please wait on the line and a representative will answer your call shortly.  

“I’d like to speak to my doctor?”  “Are you returning their call?”  “No, they’re my doctor though.”  “Let me pull you up here and see what we can do.  What would you like to speak with them about?”  “That’s none of your business.”  “Oh, ok, I’ll send a message and they’ll call you back. *click*”  Maybe in a couple days.

 You didn’t follow the rules of the system, therefore you must be punished.  I’m allowed to punish you for having the temerity to try to defy the system.  But I’m not allowed to do that all the time.  I’m not allowed to skip the line myself.  

End

The truth is, society is a castle.  The guard is each of us, hired to keep each other out of the status garden.  Even as you ascend the ranks in your organization, in your community, in your society, you only are getting a slightly more special key, a little closer to the garden.  The people truly at the top don’t follow the same paths that are listed in the castle brochure.  They sneak, bluff, charm, and sometimes outright fight their way in.  Society trains us to be submissive, so they approach every situation with dominance.  They know the right words to make us just a little nervous, to make us bend the rules just this one.  They’re not aggressive about it (unless they should be), that smells weak and just causes the ranks to close.  They’re charming, a clawed hand hidden under a silk glove.  However, all is not lost.  This power is something that can be wielded by those who don’t yet have status; the cost of a mistake is much higher though, because status comes with the ability to insulate oneself from a social failure.  Without that, the social risk of being dominant in a society of submissives is higher and possibly not worthwhile (or so we’re to believe.)  

The truth is, everyone runs on scripts.  If you want something unusual from a bureaucracy, be prepared with a script; tell the functionary the steps, they’ll be happy to just have something to follow for The Weird Thing.  If you want something romantically, know your role and know your script.  If what you want doesn’t have a usual script (queer relationships, certain D/s dynamics) write one that cues the other person’s script builder.  If you aren’t happy with your life following the paths laid out, make a decision to write your own script (startup founders understand this.) 

The truth is, most people around you do not want to change their script.  Society Punishes that, so they eventually learn helplessness.  That’s why you can’t do weird things without letting other people know what they’re supposed to in response to them.  However, something magical happens when you do let people know what their steps are.  They start doing them, as if the music never changed.

The truth is, the hard part of changing things is understanding what you want to change and getting other people to listen long enough to figure out their script; when someone notices they’ve run out of script, they’ll either reject or accept what’s going on.  The default is reject.  Accepting is easier when more script is provided.  If it takes too long for them to get on your script, then you’ve failed to change anything. 

The truth is, society does most of the work, but it doesn’t tell you how to do the rest.  I’m telling you how to do the rest; I can’t tell you how to achieve your specific goals by hijacking the scripts of those around you.  If you’re serious, this should be the connection you need.  If you’re not, well, you should be more comfortable following someone else’s lead anyway.  Good girl.

(This is the tl;dr) Overall, there are a lot of points in here expressed several different ways.  The first is that society instills submission in us.  This isn’t a bad thing, it greases the wheels of civilization.  The second is that someone is using those strings on us to keep society running.  The elite, the rich on the top level, your boss, your parents, and others on the more local level.  The third is that you can access the strings of the people around you if you know what you’re after.  The fourth is that those strings are scripts.  The fifth is that scripts can be hijacked if you tell people what they’re doing for you.  The sixth is that after script breaking, you have to write the new script fast.  The seventh is that using this for the sake of using it is stupid because it relies on knowing what you want; if you’re just fucking around stop fucking ruining things and be still, be quiet.

Discussion:  Do you know the scripts you run to get through life?  Have you ever had someone high status write your script for you to get what they wanted?  Have you ever written someone’s script to get something you wanted?  Are you a good girl/boy~?

On Dangerous Technology

(Epistemic status:  Generally how I feel about the stupid shit I try in terms of mind hacking)

In Stellaris, a space strategy game by Paradox, the tech tree is kinda variable based on a card system that deals semi random technologies every time you research a technology, based on tier, prerequisites, and weighting of the card.  The important part is that there are sometimes technologies, highlighted in reddish orange, that are considered “Dangerous Technologies.”  These technologies are dangerous for two reasons.  The first is they can anger other civilizations if you pursue them and even make powerful enemies.  The second is that they can provoke end game crises.  This is a useful metaphor for a recent trend I’ve noticed in myself and others: various high effect mindhacks that don’t strictly track with truth.

You see, mind hacking and trying weird things is relatively similar to researching Dangerous Technologies.  The typical example of a dangerous technology that I bring up is “sparkliness”.  It’s basically a weird blend of hypomania and introspection that can be directed outward, combined with an understanding of narrative and social reality.  It feels like something people independently realize if they have the right neurotype and it starts to feel like a real thing in thingspace when other people start validating these intuitions.  The drawback is obvious; hypomania that gets fed and pushed tends to become mania.  Mania is generally considered a rather broken state because of that whole unfortunate detachment from reality thing.  Sparkliness, or at least my conception of it, is therefore a dangerous technology.

There are other dangerous technologies out there in terms of mind hacking.  The category is generally defined by high variance interventions.  Dabbling in meditation is unlikely to be a dangerous technology but it’s recently become clear that the more you follow that rabbit hole, the more destabilizing it can become.  I’m sure people have read thinkpieces on how western meditation practices basically take the practice without respect for the tradition and then westerners are left lost and confused because they don’t have anyone to guide them through the rougher experiences meditation can lead to.  Nootropics are also a bit of a dangerous technology, some more than others; I mean, I doubt anyone is going to start highlighting caffeine in orangish-red.

The power of belief is also an up and coming dangerous technology.  We know the placebo effect exists and you can do really cool things with it.  You also can end up thinking you’re bulletproof when really you’re just working well together with the rest of your village because your risk assessment is skewed.  My basic understanding of conviction charisma also falls into the category, i.e. the infamous reality warping field of startup founders.  Belief is a powerful drug, but it’s one you inflict on yourself to inflict on others.

I will note that there are mindhacks that aren’t dangerous technologies.  Things like double cruxing, developing normal charisma through social practice, calibration games, various techniques for overcoming bias, these are unlikely to make you insane.  The notable thing is how these are largely in the rationalist canon, whereas dangerous technology seems to fall more into postrationalist territory.

Overall, dangerous technology is incredibly appealing in terms of really fast living and creating An Outcome, whether it’s good or bad, without having to do a lot of work (well, depending on your definition of “a lot of work”).  It just may, you know, literally break your mind; it also tends to be unreliable/unprovable enough that using it too much tends to make enemies of the more grounded people around you, especially those that have learned to properly fear and respect dangerous technology.  It’s a risk reward analysis where the data is opaque; if you aren’t already engaging in dangerous technology research, I would heavily advise against it.  If you’re already there…be sure to take a few moments and stop from time to time.  

Discussion:  Do you use any dangerous technologies in your life?  How would one approach a risk/benefit analysis when the risk is literally going insane or worse?  Are nondangerous technologies proven and powerful enough to be worth the work without trying to take dangerous shortcuts?

On Tools Versus Identity

(Epistemic status:  Easy to say, harder to do; Probably another way of expressing growth mindset versus fixed mindset)

So, I’ve noticed this thing lately where when I’m thinking of something I do as a tool, it’s actually really effective.  Like, I’m able to pick it up, and put it down when reality says “no, this doesn’t work like this.”  I can modify the tool when needed and overall can aim at outcomes.  This is much, much harder when something becomes my identity.

When something becomes part of identity, it becomes much less flexible.  Instead of being “a” thing you can do, it becomes the thing you do.  Worse, it becomes the thing you are.  There’s a difference between “I want to sing” and “I am a singer”, for example.  This is a simple example, but when I frame myself in the former paradigm, there’s a sense of wonder, desire, a wish to actually do it.  When I frame things the latter way, I feel a need to defend it.  This is basically a facet of growth mindset versus fixed mindset.

The Archetype system has become partially an identity thing for me because I spent so much time spinning my wheels trying to explain it to other people.  It kind of became this thing people started asking me about and at first I felt kind of proud.  I had a Thing!  But now I’m noticing…I don’t really use archetypes anymore.  I’ve put them in a little gilded treasure chest in my mind and put them in the museum of my identity.  I’m the archetype girl, I’m not a girl who uses archetypes.  It’s safer to just have the concepts and not use them, because if I use them, they may encounter reality and reality might say “no, this doesn’t work like this.”  And instead of that feeling neutral, almost positive, it feels scary and bad.  

Sparkliness also has become part of identity.  Instead of it being this thing I do to seem charismatic and fun at parties, it’s become twisted to this thing I am, that makes me Special.  I want to force the sparkle thing to happen rather than picking it up as a tool.  I want to be sparkly all the time, because it’s Who I Am.  I’ll try to copy it and I’ll get frustrated because I’m NOT DOING IT RIGHT.  There’s this sense of fear and inhibition that gets in the way.  There’s a fear of “showing my work” that I try to overcome with sparkliness because it’s very important to me but that just makes it worse.

This is something that happens a lot to me.  There’s this period where I feel really amazing because I’ve found a new tool, usually mental.  It’s something I can apply reliably because I’m thinking of each step, I’m actively going for an outcome (that’s important, I want to talk more about that in another post), and things start working.  If it doesn’t work, I just toss it aside as a silly idea.  The whole time perception thing was silly and non actionable on the level I proposed, so I only believe it insofar as I can use it (modeling future selves and such and seeing what I can do now to be them.)  Time perception the way I describe it isn’t an identity.  It doesn’t define me.

Overall, a lot of the walls I’m running into are forgetting to be humble, forgetting that mind hacking is a tool kit and not who you are, and forgetting that none of this is that serious.  Something to protect is important.  Something to defend is dangerous.

I will add that, I think there is a level on which adding something to your identity can be extremely effective. I think, once a tool becomes worn enough, well used enough, and you’ve explored and refined it through reality, it actually does belong in the museum of self.  Having something as your identity gives you preverbal access to it.  Like, people often identify as their jobs.  It’s mundane, but it gives them quick access to the intuitions required for the job.  A job is also the thing you are most likely to be spending years and hours on, refining.  It’s easy to want to skip to that because it’s great to have that quick access…but shortcutting is the best way to make yourself completely impotent.

Discussion questions:  What other intuitions about identity and tools do people have?  How would you define the reality that refines our tools? Does anyone else feel addicted to accelerating the “tool -> identity” process?