On Predators, Prey, and Social Strategy

(Meta note/update as of 12/28/2019, but retrocausally true since retrocausal engineering – I don’t really endorse this post or frame anymore, or a lot of the more sociopathic frames of other posts)

(Epistemic Status:  A dichotomy with a tree – it rounds reality off to some degree and there will be exceptions, but as a general pattern, can be useful held loosely)

There are two types of people.  Predator and prey.

Ok.  That’s a load of garbage, but let’s hold that frame a little.  The predator type is the person who sets and holds a social context.  The prey type is the kind of person who relates to a context.  The prey type fundamentally wants to be safe; the predator type fundamentally wants to be powerful.  The typing ends up somewhat of a spectrum – there are predators who will play prey to other predators – there are prey who will predate opportunistically because it’s safe.  Humans often have some weighting of both sides of the equation, and whichever strategy is rewarded more frequently in a given social ecosystem will usually decide someone’s bias (combined with childhood experiences).  How this plays out socially depends on what exactly safe or powerful means to a given person.

I’ll start with the prey type – the strategy is acceptance of context.  You are signaling that you will cooperate with the conversational flow unless it threatens you; if you are threatened, you signal you intend to escape the context rather than fight it.  This is not the same as playing low status – you can play low and set a context; you can play high and receive a context.  The point is you are fundamentally assuming that there are threats, and you must be careful of them – a good social interaction is one in which you feel safer than you started – you’ve gained a new ally, or you’ve ascertained that someone can be traded with.  If it goes really well, you’ve found someone who can integrate with your herd.  Accepting context is also a compatibility test – if your memes work well with their memes, then things are great.  It’s unsafe to step too far outside your reference class from the prey perspective – discernment is one of your key protections.  As such, harmony, listening, and paying attention are important tools.  Prey hold groups together, because a tight knit group with sufficiently difficult to fake handshakes can protect against most attempts to break apart the culture.  Overall, sounds like a pretty prosocial strategy – if you play the game right, you’re extremely safe and content and have a good crew of friends and no one tries to hurt you.  But there is a problem…

If no one is setting the context, how do you build around a cohesive memeplex to create a herd?  You have your societal defaults, but anyone can fake those and your herd is weak.  If someone is setting context?  Then you probably have a predator in the pack – and if they are claiming to be prey, then they are likely building a hunting ground.  This of course isn’t always true – humans have both in them, so someone who’s really good at the social can in fact build a context that respects everyone’s needs to satisfy a drive for safety…but power corrupts, and setting context is power.  A group built entirely from prey norms is going to be very pretty, idyllic, and harmonic – and going to be torn apart the minute anyone figures out their memes because no one can talk about the problems because that would be a violation of the memeplex.

On the individual level, the prey experience is fundamentally that of fear until they find an oasis.  Hypervigilence, discernment, deference – subjugating your needs for other things to your need to be safe.  I imagine it’s painful and exhausting – but on the flip side, when you are safe, you flourish.  The energy consumption is so low you can just…communally build things.  You can be a part of a society without worrying about your needs – it’s low intensity and low stress.  Being prey is not bad, it’s just paying an upfront cognitive tax for access to a herd.

On the other hand, you have the predator type.  I’m more familiar with this social strategy – the point is to own the context.  When you own the context, you own the thoughts of everyone within that context – with sufficient strength of generated memes, certain thoughts just cannot occur, which frees up your action space considerably to do whatever it takes to become more powerful.  You have a group of people and you can extract resources – your choice as a herd predator is whether to be parasitic or symbiotic – zero sum or positive sum.  Alternatively, you can be a scavenger – a lone wolf with either very violent extraction strategies, or very gentle ones – again, zero sum or positive sum.

Let’s start with the herd predator – you’ve made yourself the contextual center of a group of people.  Your frames are intoxicating and people just want you to win.  In some cases, you even feel safe to them because you emulated the memeplex that well – in other cases, people are aware you’re doing a thing, but it’s still valuable to them.  A positive sum herd predator is interested in the thriving of the group.  It’s a longer term strategy because if the group is a repeatable source of food (power), then you can achieve so much more than you could alone.  The symbiotic agreement is not only the elevation of the prey in the pack, but also protection from other predators – part of the reason all prey groups do not excessively thrive is because their defense is the impenetrability of their memeplex and being below the notice of people who want a quick snack.  By not being noticed, they will not be attacked (usually).  A herd of prey centered around a positive sum predator will spark – they will all have abundance, and that will make them a source of power to other predators.  This is the kind of person that walks into a community, is noticed immediately, and sets to work trying to make the world a better place, for a definition of better set by the predator’s values – they cause whirlwinds wherever they go, and it feels like the entire community is uplifted.  They usually choose their community for a reason – there’s a clear alignment, even if some things change a little.

A positive sum predator that can hold the group’s context and tear apart attempts from other predators to hurt the group will thrive beyond reason.  A positive sum predator who has their context corrupted will be the ruin of everything around them.  Intent is only one piece of being a symbiotic herd predator – if you seek power and use predatory strategies, that power has to be used in the service of your herd.  You cannot just extract, or your herd will be short lived…

Conveniently, for the zero sum predator, this pattern is quite common in incompetent positive sum predators, and is great to hide behind.  The zero sum predator’s goal is to extract as many resources out of the herd by using their context as a leash, and to run away when it goes sour.  It’s so easy to restrict the thoughts of people around you when they accept your context that you can hold up the illusion of things being for their own good until something happens beyond the pale…but ideally by then the herd will be so bleeding and weak that you can stroll out at your leisure, ineffectively having your heels nipped by reprimands you don’t give a single damn about.  The zero sum predator is only interested in power and proof of that power to themselves – building something greater is just a way for prey to use a predator, and the zero sum predator sees through this (or so they think).  This is the kind of person that walks into a community, sparkles a lot, and looks like they’re doing things all the time – but it’s unclear exactly what they’re aiming for.  They often don’t care what community they are walking into – everything is interchangeable in the short term.  The goal is to leave enough discord so that their activities can’t be coordinated against, while not being so obviously a source of danger that they get taken down by the entire group’s memeplex.  If they can look like a positive sum predator while still sowing seeds of disharmony, then they will usually win and leave things a mess with only them (and maybe a few people they decided were interesting) enriched.

A zero sum predator is usually noticed by the most experienced/oldest prey, and by positive sum predators.  A zero sum predator is often going to optimize for weaker communities, or communities guarded by weaker predators – if they can corrupt the context and grab the (now twisted and likely low self esteem) positive sum predator for their next act, then they will iterate until their positive sum “friend” seems to be growing a spine again…and then eat them too.

However, the above process can go both ways – a very good, experienced positive sum predator will usually start collecting more predators into the herd and training them.  This is risky, and can backfire if the positive sum predator misjudges, but when played well, your community gains scalability.  At this point I’m reinventing game theory so I won’t go any meta levels higher – the essential concept is that sparkly people will often be very wary of each other, because the social strategy at play is fundamentally predatory, which throws doubt on intent from the outset.

The lone wolf varieties of predator are often the scariest, but also the least scalable.  Both varieties of herd predator are constrained by social reality – there is give and take.  The lone wolf does not care about this.  They are interested in a solitary world.  The zero sum lone wolf has the most clear social pattern – they don’t exist in anyone’s context, ever.  If they are somewhere, it is because they wants something, and they will get it by brute social (and sometimes physical) force.  They’ve collected all the data they need to strike, and they are intending to do it.  Without any obligations, they are not constrained by norms – whatever they derive a satisfaction in their power from, they are surgical about getting.  If it is money, they will do what it takes to make that number go up, regardless of what people think of them. If it is the ability to act freely, they will ignore obligations.  The concern is purely solipsistic, when a lone wolf predator is zero sum.  Usually, these die early – they either miscalculate a herd’s strength and get taken down or make a misstep that allows greater society to clean them up, or generally just lose to an authority.  If they don’t, however, they are often the most dangerous people alive because there is only one string on them, and if they can take it from you, it’s not possible to bribe them with it.

However…the other strain of lone wolf predator, the positive sum lone wolf, often has a purpose.  Something greater than them, that they do not trust a community to achieve.  They use predatory social strategies as a means to an end.  What they are building is often an ideal – a paradigm shift.  They are not interested in extracting resources quickly – they want to extract as many resources as possible to their end and will often come off as fae-like in the process.  They reward individual acts in the service of that ideal.  They punish individual acts that get in their way.  This is fundamentally the “agent of God” type – where God is whatever purpose they feel called to.  The interest isn’t setting a context on a group, it is winning, long term.  To do anything overtly self destructive would be losing – the key difference is that cooperation is an option purely because it will increase the probability of the thing they want.  If you judge this type correctly, you can gain a lot of ancillary power through them, if you don’t mind their goal.  It is very difficult to gain safety from them unless you are aligned completely with what they want – and even then, they will not prioritize you, they will prioritize your probability of getting them their thing.

Overall, I know a lot more about predator typology than prey typology.  I strive to be a positive sum herd predator – but of course I would say that.  You can usually see what’s going on in your community if you sit back and pay attention – look around at parties, look at what people are trying to do, look at what people are succeeding at and where it leads.  Lone wolves are harder to detect because you only see them when they strike – but if you can see the strike pattern and determine the goal, and determine the methodology, you can utilize this…or stay far, far away from it.  If you are more prey typed, consider what would make you feel safest and pursue it like a predator.  The predator strategy is an ongoing energy drain that never stops – the prey strategy is more efficient pathed through predator heuristics until safety is achieved.  In the end though, you will use whatever social strategy rewards you – try not to pick one that works most of the time but kills you when it fails.

Discussion questions – The prey type is far less explored – if you were to impose more of a tree on prey, what would it entail?  Do you consider yourself more predatory or more prey-like in social strategy?  What does it feel like to notice the difference between positive sum and zero sum predators?  Have you ever had an experience with a lone wolf?


Bonus note – I will note that at the time of publishing, an unfortunate event happened within the community I call home that tangentially relates to these ideas – effectively, a zero sum predator was finally noticed and is being dealt with.  However – this was not the inspiration for this post – I am not making specific commentary on that case by posting this; I have been thinking a lot about this interplay over the past few weeks.  Take it as you will, but consider my intent made clear by this note.


On Color Qualia

(Epistemic status: Extremely subjective experience, mostly a thing to play with rather than amazing insight.)

Recently, I’ve found things like qualia to have a conceptual color to them.  There seem to be three obvious axes that I focus on when thinking of the color of an experience – red-blue, yellow-green, and white-black.  I think there is also a light and dark, but I’ve felt less of that dimension.

Red-blue seems largely to be about projection outward versus projection inward.  Red is an experience that involves how much of the world you are acting upon.  A lot of details get blurred because you are acting on your perspective, and pushing outward.  The experience isn’t about rumination or getting caught in loops, it’s about action, playing with the world from one’s own perspective lens, imposing one’s context on the surroundings.  Blue is the opposite – blue is being a receiver for the context and considering what it means – at worst, ruminating on it.  Letting things go into you – paying attention mostly to the external qualia and how your internal state is affected by it.  Paying attention to how the context changes you and how your response changes the context – more the former than the latter, but basically intense introspective, sensitive experiences – awareness of the world, but not in control of it.  The middle part of this axis is purple – a sense in which your internal experience is an important part of the context, but you are not in control of the context.  It’s effortful to get too lost in yourself, but also effortful to impose your self on the world around you.  It’s a state of being, but with effort – but usually the effort is worthwhile.

Yellow-green seems to be somewhat related to bigness, but not quite.  Yellow experiences tend to be vivid, energetic, almost comical.  They’re big, larger than life.  Everything feels alive.  Green experiences tend to be a lot slower, a lot more serious.  Green is pressure, green is the struggle of mundanity.  Green is when you wake up with a hangover, or after taking an antihistamine – everything is harder and slower, but it still seems mundane – you’re tired, but it’ll pass.  It’s…being ok with things being hard, rather than needing to make something larger than life to interact with it.  The light-dark axis is most notable here – dark green tends to be mundanity combined with a pessimistic outlook – the outside view and it hates you; I imagine dark yellow is sickly, like everything is bigger than you and you are too mortal to handle it.

White-black seems to be a rare sort of qualia.  White is an intensely pure experience – it doesn’t strictly mean it’s a good experience, but it tends to be the kind of experience where something beyond yourself was formed – a vow, a piece of the puzzle of your place in the world just fitting, a responsibility fulfilled in a deep way.  It feels like a milestone, done right for the shape of the thing you are.  Black is…the opposite of this.  Black is the deepest sort of corruption and out of placeness.  Black qualia are the darkest moments, the darkest choices – the ones where you wonder if you can really justify the thing you are.  The ones where there is no ground, no sky, nothing except a rejection of your core and how you deal with that.  I don’t think black qualia can ever be good in the moment, but I think that they can be valuable when contextualized by other qualia.

Overall, I feel like this is a very vague map that is pointing at something, but not in nearly high enough resolution to be useful – dichotomies rarely are good for that.  I would like to explore my experiences in this framework more in the future but think that holding it lightly is likely wise – it doesn’t cover all experience by a longshot, but maybe it can be useful for predicting what sorts of things are best to do when your setting imposes a certain “color”.

Discussion Questions:  What sorts of qualia taxonomies are your gotos?  Do colors of qualia resonate with you at all, even if the colors are different?  What are your thoughts on classing experience in systems like these?

On the Ouroboros of Bullshit

(Epistemic status:  It’s been a long month; sorta endorsed)

Introspection doesn’t solve problems.

I’ve written about different aspects of that before, but there are many more senses in which it is true.  Wrapping up your experiences in nice, well packaged, easily referred to insights is bullshit.  Thinking that if you do this One Weird Trick internally, you can just always do the “right thing” is bullshit.  Thinking that you can control every bit of the world around you by telling stories about it is bullshit (and dangerous).  Thinking that you need to control the world around you and that people are made for roles is bullshit.  Optimizing your experience for useful feelings is bullshit.  Almost everything that I have written, every little trick and tip, every scrap of insight…

…is a piece of the ouroboros of bullshit.

That’s not to say it’s valueless – there are changes in outcomes from doing some of the things linked above.  There are real shifts in one’s social web and social reality.  However, the focal points and intentions that are held by these things are not actually solutions to anything.  They are overcorrections to ego injuries I’ve faced in the past, and just come with a different set of problems, for which I overcorrect.  The ouroboros of bullshit is a recursive trap of introspective self-improvement – the assertion is that whatever part of yourself you are trying to improve is very unlikely to point at the actual underlying cause of the issue you’re trying to solve.  The ouroboros of bullshit rests on the idea that humans generally are resistant to ego dystonic changes to their personality, and the appearance of change can frequently feel much better than actual, deep lasting change.

My Personal Ouroboros

Ouroboros problems are hard – the frequent format is “I do this, so I’ll do this instead, except that also feels like just doing the same thing in a different way, so I’ll do another thing – except that also feels like it has the flavor of the initial problem.”  It’s often a feeling that nothing you generate is actually outside the scope of the problem you’re trying to solve.  My personal ouroboros is the intersection of narcissism and bipolar (and a few other things).  I like being hypomanic – I like optimizing for a self concept that is high energy.  A self concept that is optimized for mania is quite frequently full of itself – it does not see failure.  This can be good in moderation, but moderation means actually acknowledging mistakes, which are depressing and therefore not mania inducing.  So – what we have is “I like being manic, but sometimes it makes me distort reality and not see my errors.”  Well, eventually disaster strikes, things keep going wrong because I’m not actually receiving feedback, even if it’s given.  So I correct – “Well, I’ll question myself more.  I’ll, you know, be chill, do less things, listen to feeling overwhelmed.”  Suddenly it seems like every little thing I don’t want to do overwhelms me.  So busy busy busy, but also depressed to boot.  Whoops, guess I overcorrected.  “Well, hmm, I guess I could try being manic sometimes, but also being depressed other times”.  Sounds great, so I try that.  Why doesn’t anything seem to come together anymore?  I feel unlucky – I feel desynced.  I’m depressed when I really need to go hard.  I’m manic when I should really back off.  I’m unfocused and unclear on what I’m even trying to do.  “Ok, well, maybe I just need a goal.”  So I make up a few.  And the cycle continues.  All these little, iterative solutions that don’t address the fundamental problem.

Which is that I am trying to use a mental illness to be successful because it is a narcissistic injury for me not to be successful, and I want to be successful in Anything because I narcissistically want to be important.  The reason, however, that it is an ouroboros is that if I shift my focus to that problem, then I’m not paying attention to how my bipolar disorder might be distorting my utility function, or how correcting for narcissism might just also be narcissistic.  Every solution just feeds into a different part of the problem structure.

The Structure of the Snake and the Self:

Insight Packages

An ouroboros of bullshit consists of several common introspective patterns – the first involves insight packaging.  When you constrain insights into words, they become smaller.  They become cute APIs for interacting with your internal state.  As you compress them, the most difficult and ego dystonic parts of the insight are going to get washed away.  Memory highlights what you were paying attention to, and we usually pay attention to either things that are rewarding or things that avoid danger:  If you are laying on the floor but about to shift position,  you might suddenly feel a “tug” from your peripheral vision.  You notice a pair of scissors that were carelessly left right where you were about to shift.  You’re unlikely to remember much else from the experience besides the part where you avoided danger.  If your partner is acting in ways meant to draw your attention, you’re unlikely to remember what the display on the clock was, or where something on the bedside table was – the rewarding thing to perceive was your partner.

Insights are the same way – usually, we remember the things that felt good, things that helped us avoid a pitfall, or made our lives seem better.  Unfortunately, the process of self is often poorly calibrated on what danger is, so some of the gears of the insight are not exactly welcome.  As it turns out, ego injury is also parsed as a danger.  In the moment, an insight will usually be full force, solid, a deep, sometimes painful realization of what’s been causing you or others around you to suffer – and it will often include parts that you don’t strictly feel are “like you”.  As you get more distant from the insight, the parts that don’t feel “like you”, or even feel like “anti-you” will fade, and the insight will start working less well.  You start focusing on the parts that felt good and are puzzled when the insight seems less efficacious.  The real kicker though, is that the insight doesn’t completely stop working, it’s just a lot weaker.  It’s compressed, and as you call the memory, it will compress further.  The ouroboros of bullshit has tacked the insight onto the tail and started eating itself again.  In summary?  Whatever you think the focus of your introspective problems is, you’re wrong.  Pathologies don’t like being found and sorted out.

LARPing Understanding

Another way the ouroboros of bullshit gets you is LARPing understanding.  Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you knew all the words to a concept, could string them together in a way that passed for knowledge…but had no idea what it felt like to apply that concept to another problem?  That’s LARPing understanding.  It’s a skill – it’s very good at convincing people you get what they’re talking about if you can regurgitate their words back to them quickly enough, with enough sincerity.  Turns out we do this to ourselves too – we convince ourselves that we understand something by regurgitating the concept back to our verbal loop and feel like we’ve made progress.  We LARP internal understanding, and this provides strong armor against ego injury.  It becomes harder and harder to legitimately have the understanding that would help untangle a nest of personal problems.  To truly understand something and apply it in all applicable cases is hard work.  You iteratively realize where a concept is appropriate and where it is not, and ouroboros problems specifically hinder this process.  You misapply the parts of the insight that work, which makes the whole thing seem less salient.  You just flat aren’t able to use it when a problem where it applies comes up.  You get discouraged, worn down – because the true understanding was deflected and you’re trying to run self improvement on a buggy back end.

Persistence and Meta

It gets worse – LARPing understanding and packaging insights tend to corrupt every meta level you try to escape to.  You think you see the structure of how you’ve LARPed understanding, and LARP that.  You try to make your insights more complex and nuanced, and try to focus on things that aren’t intuitive.  This kind of works, except then it gets incorporated into the ouroboros.  You discard things you shouldn’t have discarded, you add things that felt right and even went through ouroboros checking. Sometimes you have big insight structures, sometimes you have small ones – time goes on, we oscillate between modes, getting more and more discouraged…because fully dealing with an ouroboros problem is hard work.  It’s the intersection of pathology and ego.  Antipatterns that are tied into self concept just flat do not want to die.  When the ouroboros gets a hold of a helpful idea, it twists and distorts into something safe for one’s ego, and much of the power is lost.

Pendulum Swings

Another approach to that the ouroboros of bullshit perpetuates is pendulum swinging.  If you have a problem, clearly the solution is going as far as away from the thing you were doing!  This unfortunately fails to account for the fact that the thing generating a solution opposite the previous solution is still the thing that generated the previous solution and will already be corrupted by ouroboros reasoning.  Pendulums aren’t too bad though, eventually they settle on the happy medium of a good solution, right?  Unfortunately, when you apply every other part of the ouroboros structure, you more or less end up finding a meta level pendulum that you think is clearly the correct solution and start again from there.

Recursion and the Snake

The worst part of the structure of the ouroboros is this:  all of these parts are also a part of the ouroboros of bullshit.  These aren’t hard and fast rules for how it works.  You can’t just pocket the concept of questioning your focus, or LARPing understanding, or pendulum swings, or what meta level you’re on and suddenly be free.  There are times in which you are focusing on the right thing, and the ouroboros reminds you “wait, aren’t you supposed to question that?”.  There are times in which you truly understood, but the ouroboros whispers “Nah, you don’t understand, you’re just LARPing, why don’t you think harder about it?”.  There are times in which you swing in a direction, and it was actually necessary to go that way because you were so deeply wrong…and the ouroboros is like “aww, that’s so fake though, it’s clearly an overcorrection, why don’t you go back this way a little.”  There are times in which you take a meta escape hatch and it might have actually helped – and the ouroboros is like “ooh, look at the metaproblems you have to solve now, that’s not going to work.” The ouroboros of bullshit is not a thought pattern that can be solved.  Even the idea of “solving” a “problem” is part of the ouroboros.  It’s an expression of the self, a series of illusions meant to hold together, and the ouroboros acts as one of many threads.

Solving the Ouroboros of Bullshit

But people want solutions anyway.  There’s some things you can do, to varying levels of efficacy, depending on the level of good faith I applied them.  Most people, even if they have an ouroboros of bullshit, are unlikely to have the same ouroboros of bullshit as you.  You can compare notes – you can talk about things.  Others will frequently have a useful perspective that you should at least consider.  This doesn’t mean unreservedly listen to what other people have to say about your problems but, consider it – while remembering that the ouroboros does not want to be unraveled.  It’s a common pattern to hear advice, round it to the most ego syntonic correlate, and then wonder why the advice doesn’t work.  It’s common to assume that you were already doing the thing the advice prescribes.  It’s hard to really, actually, truly take advice – generally you have to discard your first few responses before it has a chance of getting through, but it can be done.  Other times, of course, you will desperately need to just let your first response flow, because the advice clicked with something in you before you could consciously think about it.  It’s unfortunately a combination of trial, error, and discernment.

There are solutions outside of other people – be distrustful of simple, clean solutions to your ouroboros problems; but not always, sometimes it is that simple – once again, you have to iterate.  If it seems like you find a simple solution, repeatedly, but none of them work, then you probably have a more complex problem.  If it seems like you have complex structures that cash out to minimal change, then maybe try something simpler.  Meditation is also helpful – dissolving the words you’re trying to throw at a problem frequently allows less space for ouroboros problems to distort your perception.  Relatedly, allowing yourself to be in the moment, and see the structure of the present and only the present, can often reveal assumptions you’ve made that have caused your problems to become ouroboros problems.

Overall, the ouroboros of bullshit is a pattern like any other.  Not all problems are the ouroboros.  Not all solutions are generated by the ouroboros.  The ouroboros is a hallucination just like any other qualia.  The concept is mostly another frame to put on your reality, to explore and expand on – who knows, you might see some of your persistent issues as ouroboroses of bullshit and find a way to cut through them.  The ouroboros is not the end all be all of problem structure – but it’s a hell of a lot better than single thread insight farming which assumes that all problems are self-contained and point to reality.  The key ideas are simple (of course) – remember to breathe, remember what you care about, and do the best you can.

Discussion Questions:  The ouroboros of bullshit is a more advanced problem structure pattern – what other problem structure patterns have you noticed?  Do you think you have a personal ouroboros of bullshit?  If so, what form does it take?  What other ways have you tangled with an ouroboros of bullshit and had apparent success?