On Iterative Socialization

(Epistemic Status: The usefulness of this really depends on if you think I’m good at socializing or if I’m terrible at it. This is kind of the secret to me verbalizing and S2ing various social things – I think it’s helpful to be able to invent your own vocabulary for this stuff.)

A year ago, roughly, I had my first hypomanic episode. It was scary, intense, wonderful, and was the first time I actively decided to change my life. I had been in the Boston rationalist scene for a bit, started getting invited to parties, was slowly accumulating social capital. I was a reasonably fun and likeable nerd to be around – but I wasn’t really in control of my interactions. Some nights would go well if someone approached me and lead me around the conversational circuit. Some nights would go poorly if I weren’t attached to someone to talk to. I didn’t really know how to initiate, to keep a conversation going, to be eloquent whatsoever. I had no idea what was going on in social reality or even that it existed. In March of 2017, I started taking steps to change that.

The first thing that happened is I basically decided that I was done sitting around at parties waiting for people I already liked to show up and just getting in a cluster with them. I was gonna talk to new people and find out who was interesting and make new friends. This worked surprisingly well – as I’m sure everyone knows, people like talking about themselves if you aren’t weird about it. The second thing that happened is I became significantly more open to new experience – going to new events, doing new things, meeting people on the internet for coffee. I was fairly wild, powered by hypomania – and it pretty much always worked well. The third thing that happened is what this post is about.

So, it’s one thing to suddenly become social and talk to a lot of people – it helps to train your S1 to do interesting things, you’ll skill up by default. A lot of the whole delayed social development thing is mostly lack of opportunities in childhood due to things “clicking” out of order – at least for most of the people I hang out with. It catches up eventually. The thing that I do that might be unusual and allows me to generate weird jargon for things (and also generally causes people to think I’m “interesting” and all that entails) is posthoc analysis of almost every conversation I have.

I spent a lot of time on public transit – it turns out this works well for the way I think about things. The time between “finishing a social interaction” and “going home afterward” is usually ~30 minutes, and I don’t have to do anything active during this time. I’m just sitting and thinking. My memory is usually good enough so if I do a quick recording of my impressions of what was important in a conversation, I can capture the gist of most of it, as well as a few specific examples of things that seemed unusual or notable. I simulate what I could have done that might have gone better, I consider options that might have gone worse, and I label things that had an effect and speculate on why that effect happened. This last bit is basically half of my blog posts.

What happens after that is I integrate what I’ve derived and try it out next social opportunities. And I make sure I have a lot of social opportunities. At my peak, I was pretty much going out to something or other 6 out of 7 nights a week. I didn’t really try a lot of things at work because the cost of failure was much higher – it’s different to experiment socially and mortally offend a coworker. It’s much easier experimenting socially and accidentally offending a friend who generally will understand if you’re honest about essentially trying to power level social through experience. It’s also easier to meet someone new, mess up the interaction, and just lose the potential tie – you’ll probably never see them again or if you do, you probably won’t be remembered that discretely.

Of course, the other part of iterative socializing is “how do I actually generate 6 opportunities to socialize in a given week.” This is admittedly a bit more illegible and generally relies on being in a big city – I think it would take a different skillset to successfully bootstrap social skills in a more rural environment. In the city though? It mostly relies on going to public events and being determined to talk with at least one person. If you hit it off, invite them out one on one. If you’re really doing well, they’ll want you to meet their other friends. The thing about social interaction and social graphs is it’s a very fast moving success spiral. Your schedule can go from 0 to full in less than 3 months.

Overall, iterative socialization is a combination of skills to get good at socializing in a way that is most in line with the way you interact with people “naturally”. The skills involved are actually starting conversations, finding events to go to that interest you, and being willing to do post hoc analysis of your interactions. If you’re good with words, labeling interactions that seemed “weird” in some way, as well as labelling patterns can be helpful to give you a handle on target interactions to replicate to raise your ability to be consistent in conversation. There is a bit of a caution here, though – conversation is not a road, it is much more flowing. Having a few patterns to work with can make it easier to jump off into good conversational flow – having too many patterns or scripts mostly just leads to either having the same conversations over and over, or to being very very good at talking with one type of person and very bad at other types of people. This is in fact an error I have made thus far – I made techniques as if they were universal, and a couple of them are, but I didn’t actually tag the type of people I was talking to in a legible fashion – so I still have a lot of work to do.

 

Discussion Questions: Do you ever analyze your conversations after the fact in a useful fashion (feedback looping over how embarrassing you were doesn’t count unless you get actionable changes to the way you behave)? Does this method help explain some of the underlying mechanisms of my social style? Does this method seem like it would be useful for improving your social skills? What are the flaws of this method in your experience?

On The Port Scan

(Epistemic Status: An attempt to explain a thing I’ve experienced but not actually really practiced offensively – dangerous technology (this has social costs for failure))

As discussed in On Conversational Flow and Resonance, resonance is a way to increase conversational flow. However, resonance can sometimes be a difficult thing to find if you just poke randomly. Using Script Breakers (can sometimes create resonance by causing people to reveal the things that interest them by not having the protection of a cached thought. Sometimes if you follow a Tangent Stack the right way, you will find your way to a deep, unexpected resonance. Overall, though? These approaches are close to random in terms of finding resonance. If you’re intending to talk for a few hours, it’s fine to meander a bit…but if you have only a short time to make sure someone feels like they are on the same wavelength as you, you have to do something more intentional and directed – that thing is what I call the port scan.

So, open ports in the traditional sense are places outside devices can access a computer. In the same sense, a person’s resonance can be accessed by scanning for the type of conversation they’re most open to. The direct way to do this is literally try a few styles, clearly trying to find someone’s levers. Things like flattery, trying a few ways of talking in succession, or even asking questions designed to increase closeness quickly. In some ways, this is why circling can be a little “creepy” out of context. Generally, if you are really overt about doing a port scan, it will not go well. It doesn’t feel natural, it feels transactional at best, scammy at worst – it seems like con artistry, in the literal sense of trying to create confidence when there’s no rational reason for it to be there.

However, a well done port scan is not obvious. There are several ways to approach this without playing your hand. The clearest to me is paying attention to who someone knows that you also know. Your mutuals give clear clues to the kinds of conversations a person finds enjoyable. With a bit of pre-research when meeting a new person, you can trivially steer a conversation to the kind of thing that resonates with the person you’re speaking with and have a very pleasant time building closeness in a short period through that sense of being on the same page. This would be the more premeditated port scan – you do it before the interaction even begins. But what about a situation where you don’t know who knows who – a stranger on the street, or perhaps someone important in the elevator? This is a bit harder – the skillset is more or less cold reading. You have to try things with evidence from the place, time, and person’s aesthetic choices to find a resonance, under even more time pressure than usual. The trick to making a port scan work here is to not allow the frame to ever linger on a wrong detail. If something doesn’t resonate, don’t allow focus to go to that. Keep going, try something else. People don’t tend to remember what they’re talking about – if you don’t give any signs that something awkward happened, the other person will not want to accept the burden of the awkwardness. This is why it’s a scan – you keep trying things until you find what’s open. There’s a tempo to this, though – when something works, drill down a bit on it, but don’t get caught on it because you might run out of tangents to keep the interaction going – find a few more things using the trust created by the initial resonance. Don’t immediately try another port when you have hit a closed port – de-escalate the interaction to small talk and try again. This is really not a recommended approach for someone you will be seeing repeatedly regardless of whether the interaction goes well or not – this is for a meeting where you do not have an expectation of being able to meet this person again. It’s still a very aggressive strategy – a failed or noticed port scan is very socially costly and will usually result in people not feeling comfortable around you. This is definitely socially dangerous technology and should be used carefully.

Overall, port scans are…not comfortable. They’re useful, and when they work, they feel amazing and give you a measure of control over the conversational flow – but when they backfire, there is a lot to clean up. It’s a bit aggressive towards the person you’re speaking with as well, so you want to make sure you are optimizing for goals that both of you would endorse. There are other ways to do port scans other than those outlined above, but I don’t have a full understanding of how they work. My advice for practicing this skill would be openly doing it on a friendly audience – don’t try to be subtle, tell them what you’re trying to do. You won’t get real feedback, but this can at least help you with tempo with the right person.   The port scan is dangerous technology but is also a likely key to more powerful social interaction in situations with status differentials.

Discussion questions: Have you ever been port scanned? Did you notice it after the fact, or during? How did it make you feel? Have you ever done anything like a port scan to increase the resonance of an interaction? Do you think that this is an ethical tool to use when talking to people?

On Why I Like Fairy Tales

(Epistemic Status: Consider this a Gift from the holders of my pact)

I have previously spoken of the narrative structure of the fairy tale  – even used the conflict of the courts to express illegible social concepts. I have written short fiction about a poor, broken fae-touched woman granted the boon of Right Things. I have told you of the pacts I have made with those terrific, fantastic manifestations of nature.

But I’m not sure I’ve ever mentioned why I like fairy tales so much.

There is a narrative resonance in the fairy tale, deeper than any other narrative structure I’ve encountered. A combination of willingness to defy the natural order and a deep acceptance of the costs of doing that. An exploration of the paradox of the decision to upset the Way Things are Done and decide that you are special and Exempt, and the crushing realization that you’re special and Exempt right up until you aren’t. The exciting path one takes from agent of change to agent of the status quo. It’s a story of rising stars and second chances, but with a darkness I can’t help but be drawn to – a fatalism that echoes in the hollows of my mind. The constant awareness of how long the odds are…the seemingly endless reservoir of determination to try anyway.

The fact is, I’ve already thrown away my shot. The system was intended to work one way for me and somehow I got off the rails. If I had just kept putting out the butter and worn the cold iron – if I had focused on the path ahead and followed the advice about keeping my grades up, paying attention to scholarship opportunities…or maybe if I had learned a trade or held a proper job for awhile out of high school. I instead chose other things, and I paid the Price.

But the world dies without stories. If everyone follows the same cookie cutter path, following their prospects instead of their dreams, following the traditions to the letter, living conflict free lives, where are the stories that form the lifeblood of civilization? When inhuman forces pervade our entire society, the story of humanity becomes even stronger and more resonant – the need to hear the whispers of someone who defied the rules and made it anyway becomes desperate. However, this can never be easy – if it were easy, everyone would choose it, after all. It wouldn’t be a story, it would be the new normal. So the tales that take off, the memes that spread…among the circles of the twice exceptional, it’s the late bloomer who maybe fucked around a bit too much when the system was there to help and has to navigate significantly more hostile territory to use their gifts. It’s Maya Millennial, playing the desperate lottery of the big city to create a resonate story and keep hope and humanity alive. It’s the startup founder dropping out of college to make their next unicorn. It’s that cryptocurrency libertarian you made fun of in 2010 sitting on a pile of digital gold through pure dumb luck. These are the modern fairy tales that reassure us there are still ways to be human rather than processed.

A conflict is no fun if the heroine always wins though. A story loses it’s meaning if there’s never consequences for breaking the rules. A system cannot be upheld by unpunished rebellion. That undercurrent of fatalism…the certainty that the luck eventually runs out…this is also important to my aesthetic vision. The urgency and desperation lends a resonance to the fairy tale that I mirror when I author my own narratives. I like that my endless energy is tinged with this darkness, this deadness that courses through anyone who skirmishes with the fae. The fact is, I expect I will make it, but I will be changed for the effort. It won’t be me who makes it, but a version of myself who is processed after all. “You think yourself special because you’re human – I think you’re most special when you’re inhuman.” This is the paradox that runs through both the modern era and the typical fairy tale. One of the lies to get someone to trade away their life force to keep the traditions alive. The truth is neither the human nor the inhuman are special, they are both parts of the narrative arc, the process – once again, you are special and Exempt right up until you aren’t.

Fairy tales are about society – they teach you what is and isn’t acceptable, and when it is acceptable to defy those rules – because no society thrives without its Fools. In the past, you needed some explorers willing to die for innovation. Now, we need explorers willing to die for stories.

Overall, fairly tales feel both hopeful and fatalistic at the same time, which is much like how I view my own circumstances. I didn’t get the golden ticket of coding when it was hot – I didn’t leverage my intelligence to uphold our illusions of meritocracy – I didn’t learn to accept my place as worthless in an ever changing society – so I run up against the uncaring forces of (human) nature and see if I’m clever and resourceful enough to get ahead…knowing that the faeries find a way to get their Price, in the end.

Discussion questions: What narrative arcs resonate with you? How do you feel about the fairy tale as a narrative conceit? Do you think society is expressed in other stories?

On Saying Things That Are Wrong

(Epistemic – semi-endorsed, switching back to being truth-aligned has done gross things to my spark; dangerous technology – very close to actually drinking the Kool-aid and should probably be used judiciously; also probably dark arts)

I.

A long time ago, two factions were fighting over a territory. It was an island with a valuable canal – whichever faction held the canal had rights to the toll generated by this canal. After many a year of incessant fighting, these two factions settled on agreeing to have a war every four years and ceding the canal to the winner of that war, until next time. Now, while this was often better for all involved, the victorious faction from the previous war would often have a lot of trouble raising an army to defend their claim to the tolls for the next war. Often, the winning side would have to tell their members things that were verifiably wrong, or at least technically not correct. Sometimes it would be overstating the benefits from the tolls, or perhaps threats of famine from losing the toll income – other times it would be a more direct attack on the other faction, claiming that they would not stop at winning the war, but try to expand their claims if they won this time. Occasionally a particularly notable or odious member of the other faction would come to the attention of the victorious faction and be gratuitously scapegoated for the sake of raising numbers. Most of the times, the faction members would either not realize these things were untrue, or they would, and allow these inaccuracies to pass – they knew that the canal was a big part of their quality of life. Sometimes, however, a benign but somewhat clueless individual would try to correct the story, or clarify the statements that were wrong. It turned out this was unpopular, and this individual would be lowered in status, trusted less, and often overrun by authorities in the faction. It turns out that things that are wrong are actually a staple of human interaction, organization, and status.

II.

Several things are going on in this story. We will begin with the most boring aspect – the people who are saying/believing things that are wrong, installing it in their own memeplex. These are the other faction members playing along. Often facts have nuance, but this is less important than the sense of ingroupness and protection of resources. This has been written about many a time – a lot of people favor the status quo over the most accurate facts. Slightly more interestingly, the wrong belief does benefit the faction’s populace – they get their army, probably even joining themselves. The canal gets a proper defense – more of the populace is likely to live as well even if they are involved in the fighting, because they have both increased numbers and a stronger sense of trust for each other. The faction army doesn’t really want the clueless person at their back – if they don’t get what’s going on, how can they be trusted to be situationally aware on the field? Worse still, what if this attack on social cohesion is intentional, under the veil of just wanting the facts? It’s too dangerous to leave this sort of thing unchecked, so it has to be punished. Believing wrong things often has protective functions and can draw out additional internal and external reserves.

A less ingroup dynamic case of this is the concept of chaos magick – often it is layering a narrative of ritual over various desires and actions to add associations, triggers, and draw out extra reserves. These beliefs may also be wrong, but often pay dividends in outcomes.

III.

The more interesting part of this story is the clueless individual. She’s not all that clueless, actually – she sees what’s going on and has decided to reject it. However, she can do better than that. She already has the requisite skills, but she needs to frame them differently. The faction likely has a lot of people just nodding along, with very little to add. They hear about Odious Oliveri of the Other Faction and basically provide a chorus of “Fuck that guy”s. Our clueless individual might say “There were mitigating circumstances though, Odious Oliveri actually isn’t that bad, Pathetic Phillio is actually way worse, why does he get a pass because he’s on our side?” Predictably, she gets shunned and punished. Instead, she might consider approaching it like this “Odious Oliveri truly is horrible, failing to cross the road at the designated crossing and inconveniencing the carriages in a most odious way – what you might not have heard is that this fiend Oliveri has also been shaving the yaks in the common –“ A pause for effect “And blaming our absentminded scholar, Phillio, for it!” What this accomplishes is twofold – it increases the memetic strength of the claims made by the faction authorities, as well as signals to them that our not-so-clueless friend is both in on the story and willing to play ball.

To bring this more abstract, if an authority is telling you a story and you feel compelled to truth, you should consider how to turn this to your advantage. If you just state facts that break up their narrative, you are either malevolently or bumblingly attacking them socially – they have to assume you have intent and punish you accordingly. The right answer is to support the authority’s narrative, but in ways that signal you understand that it is a narrative. Don’t just agree – either reinforce in a broad sense, or even identify someone who is hesitating on accepting the story and restate the point in a way that gets that person on board. The more you do this, the more you increase trust; not just into your insight, but also into your judgment. If you can identify and accept wrong things, then you can convert this into status.

 

IV.

The most interesting part of this dynamic is the authority themselves. The not-so-clueless version of our heroine is very much a precursor to an authority in the structure – the authorities themselves are a little more difficult to class, however. In some cases, they will in fact be very much in on what’s going on and intentionally propagating it. They are the ones that see this as a problem of “we need an army for the canal defense war – how can we get the public on board.” Perhaps in modern times, this is the person saying “We need to increase our sales – how do we get our line on board.” They are crafting the narrative intentionally – they likely are buying it a little. This authority is a bit of a blend between the average faction member and our heroine; their status depends on the belief being accepted.

The other kind of authority is one who truly believes the stories and has the rhetoric to fire up the populace in this vein. They have no special insight, but their conviction is compelling beyond words. They are not just saying “yeah, fuck that guy”, they are going to Odious Oliveri’s house and painting it in horse dung on his door. These are the kind of people you use to accelerate a narrative – but doing this is playing with fire. When someone is a true believer, you do not actually have control over their actions or how they will use your story. Frequently, they will go in unexpected directions because it is not about the pragmatic aspects of your faction’s plight, it is almost entirely about ingroup. This part of the story is one side of why this mental technology is dangerous. It can be used to promote your interests, but in the process, you might cause collateral damage if you’re a bit too clever.

V.

Overall, none of these principles are new – there’s a mix of the Gervais Principle, Toxoplasma of Rage, and other assorted writings. What I am pointing at is how all these structures can be utilized to one’s advantage rather than fought – and how they can end up leading to one’s detriment. If you install wrong beliefs personally and don’t compartmentalize properly, you will likely end up with externalities you don’t actually desire (such as joining a faction’s army in a stupid economic war). If you argue against wrong beliefs too strenuously, you will lose status and be impotent. If you go along with the beliefs while angling for promotion, you’ll likely move up – but in turn you might create some monsters who don’t get the joke. Be careful with wrong things…but never dismiss them entirely.

Discussion Questions: Have you ever noticed in an office or a classroom how people react to things that are blatant lies? How does the reaction change when the manager is there and when they are not? Which reactions get encouraged and rewarded, and which ones get punished? How often do you do this to yourself to eke out a little bit more, or to allow for more flexible responses?

On Narrative Decoherence

(Epistemic Status: Problem without a clear solution, semi-endorsed, transitional step in character development maybe)

It’s a wonderful feeling, seeing the narrative underpinnings of the universe. Understanding the roles people adopt in relation to you, seeing what roles they expect you to have, and how you can accept, reject, or change those roles. With new people, you know how to activate archetypes in their brain and really manage impressions. Reality itself bends a little as you more strongly wield your narrative.

And then it seems to go away.

Something breaks, maybe your story has an unexpected twist, maybe you run into someone with a stronger narrative, maybe your archetype has tradeoffs you don’t like. Suddenly, the flow leaves you and there’s a sense of relief and loss. On the one hand, you no longer have to think about being a role, a labelled entity, a Thing. You can just be again, rather than always running a mask. But…reality is dull again, a thing you react to instead of acting on. You lose a certain spark and you’re running decision making through a war of subagents rather than an archetype. Things feel lacking because they don’t resonate as much. This lack, this sense of loss, is what I term narrative decoherence. It’s the feeling that you aren’t living in a story anymore – you’re an NPC again. You’re not as easily labelled and you don’t make as strong an impression, and you have more passive flexibility. You also don’t have as much slack for transgression, though. The barriers that were torn down by playing an archetype are back with a vengeance. Being narratively decoherent is less energy-intensive, but it makes reaching goals much more difficult.

I don’t think narrative decoherence is necessarily bad – I think it’s a transition period between narratives if an archetype is getting too costly. You eventually rebuild and regain your spark with different aesthetics. The narrative decoherence period can feel pretty bad though if if happens in the middle of a project relying on narrativemancy. Even with that, I admit going from the benefits of archetypes to less coherent thought patterns feels like a step backwards.

I don’t know how to solve narrative decoherence but I suspect if it can be avoided it requires conscious value, preference, and boundary setting as well as exploration. Taking archetype power without knowing what you value most can cause decoherence as you run face first into consequences you weren’t fully willing to accept. Setting limits on how you are labelled is much more accessible in the decoherent state. This is why I suspect narrative decoherence is a transition state. When you first figure out narrative, it’s addicting and difficult to remember what was important to you before – the archetype takes over so thoroughly that it is driving you. Periods of narrative decoherence are lash back if you violate values too much while playing.

Overall, narrative coherence and narrative decoherence feel like parts of a natural cycle for a beginner narrativemancer. I suspect as one learns the ropes, it happens less and new challenges appear instead – that said, it’s also entirely plausible this cycle never stops and what you learn as you improve is how to save narrative decoherence for the end of a chapter.

 

Discussion – How do you feel when narratively coherent? How about when narratively decoherent? If you’ve already grown further in narrativemancy, what happens to this pattern?

On Idealist Sociopathy

(Epistemic Status: Inspired by https://www.facebook.com/gdiego.vichutilitarian/posts/1474383972645395?pnref=story, somewhat endorsed, fairly heavy framing)

The human mind is not a particularly truth-seeking agent. The illusion of consciousness is largely a function of increasing reproductive fitness via self preservation. It is not the truth that spurs a person to action but an emotional resonance. Geigo’s post explores the political implications of this combined with the terrifyingly easy emotional access various ideological blocs have due to social media – however, there is something even more frightening in between those lines. There are some that have adapted to these brainwashing tactics; however, that immunity is socially costly. I propose that the increasing sociopathy of heavy internet users is a self preservative measure against emotional hijacks via superstimulus.

There are so many stories out there these days, anecdotes of cruelty, horror, and despair from all forces, natural, manmade, ideological, political, random, etc. No matter what you believe is true, you can find something confirming it. Your story is valid. On the first level, most people just keep sharing the same stories, over and over, with different actors each time. The horror never ends, nor does the work. The outrage cannot stop. On the second level, you try to think a bit more, you fact check a bit, but things still seem bad – Ideology of Choice is still clearly Correct because it understands the horrors that take place every day. On the third level, you have a diverse enough bubble that you realize that all the stories are the same, not just the stories within one bubble or another – they just have different frames. It becomes harder and harder to get outraged, harder and harder to pay attention because it all blends together. You get desensitized – the Ideologies of Choice do not like this much and will often build in calls to outrage and shame this desensitization. Level three is very heavily targeted by level one and it’s a dark place.

But then there’s level four. You realize it’s all just attention hijacking and you may be desensitize but you’re still not above it…but maybe you could be. Maybe you can just knock the entire system out that is responding to level one’s shaming of your lack of outrage, and level two’s assumption that you might be going a bit too lowkey. This is where things get interesting – you harden yourself against the brainwashing and refuse to allow any Ideology of Choice to really fully stick…and suddenly it’s much harder to relate to people. It’s difficult to perform the right affect when they tell you of a tragedy, even when it’s in real life. It’s difficult to know what to say because part of you – maybe it’s a small part, maybe it’s a big one, sees the scaffolding of the stories, the ones used to hurt you and manipulate you and hijack your attention. It’s not that you want to be a sociopath…everyone really is manipulating you and it’s so much harder to just let it happen. The defenses kick in too fast for conscious thought. You have been inducted to the Ideology of Sociopathy.

The twist here is that, level four isn’t actually an immunity, it’s emotional damage – worse still, it has it’s own ways to be hooked. Instead of using a direct emotional appeal, a would be brainwasher of a sociopath appeals to the sense of superiority, the sense of being In On The Secret to extract attention. The worldview of deep cynicism gets confirmed, over and over. No longer is outrage being harvested but ruthlessness – the sociopath is weaponized in a way that an outraged person cannot be. This was realized well before the political machine got a hold of social media. The wild days of the internet, the late 90s early aughts were a case study in screen time sociopathy. One only need look at the old days of 4chan, when everything was reduced to the value of the lulz.

There is no win condition with social media – our emotional systems are so thoroughly co-opted that we cannot use them for guidance, but nor can we try to damage them beyond repair. We cannot exit the rat race and hope to still be connected to those around us. We cannot be outraged all the time to connect to others. We are trapped in a high speed attention market and the trade floor never closes.

Discussion questions: Have you noticed you or others around you becoming more emotionally detached as things get more out of control? Have you found another way to cope with the social media news cycle? Can the human brain rise above this trend?

 

 

 

On Being The Most Interesting Person in the World; or Narrativizing Your Life

(Epistemic Status: Works with a cost, practical advice, dangerous technology. This method can alter the way you relate to your memories.)

Let me tell you a story. It’s about the time I hypnotized a pickup artist.

There once was a time when I was accosted by a pickup artist on the train. He tried a few times to start a conversation and eventually I bit. We proceeded to talk awhile and without really realizing what happened, I gave him my phone number. It took me a couple stops but I eventually realized that that was, in fact, literally pickup and I analyzed the hell out of it. Shortly after, I got a text from my new, ah, friend. So now I had to decide what I wanted to do; being a novelty seeker, I decided to roll with it. So we go on a first date (after some wrestling over time and place). Now, see, I am a novelty seeker and I enjoy trying things that others might not, but I’m not stupid. I took some…precautions against game being used on me. The first was, of course, knowing he’d show up 5 minutes late; I showed up 15 minutes late in response. The second was opening the situation with the filter of the Demon Queen. I made myself big, powerful, and generally controlled the conversational flow. Anything he said was responded to slowly, carefully. I only gave him what I fully consciously wanted to give. The third was, of course, a conscious decision that this was absolutely not ending in sex. All three of these preparations were useful but it turned out only the first was necessary.

When I showed up 15 minutes late, it was clear he was disoriented. He did a weak power play by having his drink already but I just mostly ignored that fact. Conversation was fairly anemic at first as he tried to find a thing I gave a damn about. It was like a cat playing with a mouse. Eventually I relented and actually allowed a conversation flow to form. The piece de resistance was later though, when I finally outright called him out on his behavior in our initial meeting. It went a little like this:

“So, I know what you did Thursday.”

And dude is looking a bit embarrassed, like he’s been caught, but tries “Well, before I tell you what I did, why don’t you tell me what you think I did?”

Since I’m a sucker for a good monologue, I do exactly that. In exacting, precise detail. At first the dude has this kinda horrified expression but as I keep talking, it’s almost this perverse pride as I change from a target into something that almost looks like a “colleague”. So the rest of the date is spent talking about this stuff. This is all set up for the real story, the second date.

So, second date. The initial plan is to see how pickup works (I mean, it would be novel – thankfully, this didn’t work out). It turns out that the night we chose is a poor night to try to find a nightlife. So we wander a bit and have actually decent conversation. I almost feel a bit bad at this point…but then we decide to stop somewhere for a drink, at his suggestion. It’s this bar, it’s got a good vibe and we get seated and get some menus. The guy lets me know that he tried doing the pickup thing with the waitress in the past. I’m like, well, ok, that seems kinda sketchy but whatever. Then we get…a different waitress to take our order. She checks his ID and only takes my debit card; she’s looking real close at that ID. A couple moments later, this big guy comes over, says “Excuse me sir, I’d like to speak with you” and this poor guy just, like, flees. I get my stuff back, cancel my order, and go after. This guy basically is dazed. You just don’t recover from being kicked out of a bar. We find another place to get a drink and he’s still not very communicative. I’m more or less laughing at him because, like, what else can you do and also I’m kind of Demon Queenish here.

So, at this point, I’m going to mention an interesting thing about hypnosis. Hypnosis can be used when someone is confused, it’s one of several ways to induce a state of trance. As you might have noticed, my date is just a bit confused and off his footing.

So, you know, I do what’s perfectly natural in a situation like this. I start a hypnotic induction. I am mildly surprised when it takes, but I keep my flow and I take him into trance; in a rare fit of kindness, I don’t make him do anything weird, and then take him out. He’s pretty much back in his stride after that and the date ends. At that point, I’m pretty satiated with the novelty seeking, so I basically tell him it was fun but, you know, we’re done. And that’s the story of how I got picked up, proceeded to outgame the pickup artist, and then hypnotized him when he made a critical social mistake.


I told this story to create an example of a concept I want to express. That concept is narrativizing your life. There are several key steps to turning any experience into a story. These are having a clear hook, context, a rhythm, a climax, and a conclusion.

The clear hook in my story is simply the first two sentences: “Let me tell you a story. It’s about the time I hypnotized a pickup artist.” I’m establishing an expectation, this is going to be a story, not wool gathering, not a memory, a story of an experience I had. The second sentence sets the tone and gives the listener the option to accept or refuse the hook (in spoken conversation, it’s usually with a bit more of a questioning tone, to let people know they have a choice.) I have a few stories with clear hooks like this, it’s usually just in the form of “the time I did X”. This concept does double duty, it doesn’t only cue the listener into knowing they are about to be told a narrative, but it also cues up your own memory of the storified experience.

Context is the next thing. A story that lacks context is not engaging. The reason I spend so many words on the first date is to establish the relationship I had created with this guy, as well as foreshadow future actions taken by me. It would be much faster to say “So I went on a date with a pickup artist. He got kicked out of a bar, so I ended up hypnotizing him.” It wouldn’t be a good story though. It’s very closed, it only invites a few questions. I also provide context for how hypnosis works later, further foreshadowing the very next scene. If you’re creating a story out of an experience, it is important to consider what context you have to include in the story to make it legible. Another related thing for context is leaving pauses. It’s not really conveyable in text but things that might not be understood (such as why I showed up 15 minutes late to counter his 5 minutes late) deserve a pause, to invite a question if one is there, or a minimal encourager if your conversation partner is following. Knowing what needs context is often the breakdown in trying to tell a story you haven’t told before about your life.

Rhythm is also very important, and very difficult to convey through text. It’s all about how you pace your words, how responsive you are to the back and forth of a conversation. I would be extremely droll if I just rapidly read aloud everything I wrote about; when I pause to invite questions, or throw in the occasional filler word to make it more relatable, it becomes much more of a back and forth, a game of catch where the story can change direction based on the feedback of the person you are speaking with. Even in text, though, you can see some of the rhythm. My paragraph breaks are points I want to draw attention to, my language is informal, each piece is a chronological shift, to a degree. Adding a rhythm to your experience can increase the engagement level because it keeps people hooked in the story.

Now, when telling a story, you need a climax. This should be alluded to in your hook, foreshadowed by the rising action before it, and then when you hit it, you have to go. You have to make it clear it’s the climax and that you are not to be interrupted. From “So, second date”, this is where I’m going to drop my tone a bit, be a bit more conspiratorial. This is the good stuff. I’ve placed most of the information for the punchline already and now I just have to pick up each piece and show you why it was important. This is the payoff. This is where I place the heaviest frames, because this is the part I want people to remember. The reason I explain that I’ve gotten this guy to see me as a “colleague” is so that it makes sense for him to tell me he used pickup on the waitress. The reason I mention my Demon Queen filter is to make it clear that I am being very zero-sum with this guy and the action of hypnotizing him makes sense despite me normally being a much nicer person. The reason I mention my dominant approach towards him is to set the state for you to expect him to be less smooth than I am, which makes the bar event almost, but not quite, predictable. The entire set up is all to foreshadow this climax. I think a lot of experiential stories fail because they weren’t really going anywhere, they were just This Thing That Happened, which isn’t bad, but it’s not as engaging.

Finally, the conclusion (and the aftermath). You have to close the loop. Letting a story hang is pretty uncomfortable. It can be used to great effect to hold someone’s attention for a bit but it won’t last indefinitely and eventually they’ll rationalize against your story; they didn’t want to hear the ending anyway, of course. So you explain how it ends, or explain that it’s still ongoing. You resolve the tension from the climax. When I finish with the hypnotism, I explain that the game is basically over and why. I give the satisfying conclusion that I no longer talk to this guy and to increase the impact, I refer right back to my hook, closing the space I’ve opened by telling this story.

Now, you might be asking why I think this sort of thing is dangerous. It’s just basic storytelling, right? I mean, you’ve been taught this in high school English, how to write a good essay or analyze a work of literature. However, if you’ve been reading my blog, I think it’s pretty clear why this can be dangerous. You are rewriting your experiences by making them stories. You don’t really remember what actually happened, you remember the most compelling spin on what happened; the story that makes you look best. Worse still, storytelling is socially rewarded. It’s mildly addicting and it’s easy to start doing it to more and more of your experiences, iterating faster so you’re prepared for the next social interaction. Eventually, you start narrativizing your experiences while you are having them. At this point, you aren’t living a real life or learning lessons, you’re imposing frames on your experiences and closing yourself out of things outside your self image. From here, you become rapidly less interesting because you aren’t experiencing anymore. Everything becomes the expected story that you’ve told a million times, just with different context; it’s bland. So you have to strike a balance between experience and narrative if you want to maintain the social feedback loop. If you can manage this, though? You become a much more interesting person at parties, to say the least.

Overall, narrativizing your life is a useful social tool once in a while. You don’t need a story for everything, but having a few key notes that really express what kind of person you are, or can be, can be a useful tool for socializing and relating experience in an enjoyable way. The important thing to remember is that it is a tool, though, and one of many. Once you start narrativizing every experience, you’ve gone too far and are tracking truth/reality less and less; you stop learning and being interesting and start being samey and fixed because it’s about how you look. Striking a balance is key, but very rewarding.

Discussion questions: Can you think of an experience that you have narrativized thoroughly, i.e. a go-to life story for any party? Does your story follow an arc? Is it heavy on detail or very light? Does it invite questions and eventually dialogue? Can you make your story better?

 

 

On the Seelie and Unseelie Courts

(Epistemic status: Metaphorical bullshit. Seeing trees where there’s a forest. Narrative infiltration.)

The Unseelie court, or Winter court is where I call my home. A porcelain avatar, with hair blown by a cold wind. Knives, displayed openly, brazenly, so obvious that they could never be used…until the lights go out. The Seelie court, Summer court, finds these vulgar. You do not talk about the game. You do not acknowledge the poisoned flower in daylight. This can lead to interesting conflicts.

There seem to be two types of social reality people (that’s a story, but it’s the one I am telling). The type that fixates on the dark, manipulative aspects, explicating all the darkness in humanity’s soul, rolling in the filth as if they like it. The type that fixates on the light, positive, conversational flow aspects, politely ignoring the fetid swamp they’re perpetuating. The Unseelie place their bets on brazenness, manipulation, and acceptance of the cesspool of human communication. They are blind to the concept of a genuinely nice person. The Seelie place their bets on niceness, community, and civilization. They are willfully blind to the concept that their passive moves have consequences. Neither court contains good people, just a bunch of good intentions and frail hopes.

When the Seelie and Unseelie meet, it is not something explicitly recognized, yet somehow there is a change in the social atmosphere. There is a struggle that is won before either enters the room. The two play by different rules and the stronger will suffocate or stab the weaker. No one else notices and yet the dynamic is clearly there. An off feeling, a sudden sensation of tongue tiedness, a change in conversational flow that cannot be reframed.

I am Unseelie. I display my daggers for all to see and use as they will. Beware, as I will do exactly as I say. I invite a meeting of my bare blades with your courtly graces; together we can make a new story in this old play.

Discussion: Do you feel as if you are Seelie or Unseelie? What are the advantages of your court loyalties? If you are outside the courts, do you think it worth the cost to join one?

On The Meaning Gap

(Epistemic status: Speculative, moreso than usual, sweeping statements about society, possibly readable as pro-religion. Also better writers have totally written about this.)

There is a sense these days, felt by my bubble and alluded to outside of it, that the world is wrong in some way. That we live in a uniquely crazy time. This probably isn’t true, humans are just generally bad at perspective. However, if I do accept the premise that we live in a uniquely crazy time, I would like to offer my own just-so story to explain why, complete with a lack of palatable solutions.

So, if you’ve been reading along, you should understand the basic concept of narrative and how the world runs on it, at least socially. To go a bit further, every individual is attempting to write their own story, especially in Western society. Our culture memes don’t really allow other outcomes to feel meaningful. It’s your story or nothing. The drawbacks and tradeoffs of individualism are well traversed insight porn. So, instead, I’m going to illustrate a different point.

Most individuals want their own story, and there is a shortage.

The concept of a shortage of stories is pretty hard to comprehend. We live in probably the highest output society to have ever existed on earth. Not only do more people write more things all the time, but more of these things spread across the entire world. This isn’t a shortage, it’s a glut. There’s one problem. Few of those stories are particularly compelling, and the ones that were are being attacked. A single word is to blame for this trend.

Analysis.

Greek for up + break. Break up, release, loosen. Unravel. Our current society, even civilization to a degree, is built on the concept of analysis. This has been an incredible advance in systems, governance, knowledge, and tools. There is, of course, a cost. When you break the stories, the narratives that drive monkey brain 1.0, we end up out of context. Everyone wants a story and there aren’t any believable ones left. There’s nothing to be sure of, no role to embody. There is only a gap that screams “YOU ARE FUNDAMENTALLY ON YOUR OWN.”

This is the meaning gap, filled by tradition, religion, narrative, whatever you want to call it. People with the mantle of destiny are no longer taught how to wield it. Support characters more rarely accept their role. There are no more higher powers and therefore no meaning…and it is making. Us. Crazy.

There is a concept that there is a hole “meant to be filled by religion”, that people turn to drugs, sex, rock and roll to fill. I think it’s a very specific framing of the meaning gap, the part of us that strives to find our place in a story, not just a system. I also think this framing is surprisingly compelling and has lead several interesting people to pick up religious frames. I can see a future in which I do the same, but I am trying to avoid that. I think there’s more to the meaning gap than submitting to a god or gods, than taking part in myth to cure the madness. I hope to find other people who see it and feel the same way.

Discussion: Do you feel the meaning gap in your life? How do you try to fill it? Do the roles in your life help, or do they feel hollow? Does meaning even matter; is it best to just excise the idea that you even need meaning, filling in the gap with cement?

On The Fae and Things That Are Not Metaphors

(Epistemic status: Potentially a memetic hazard. This is a narrative about actualizing as a member of society.)

There are stories, faerie tales we call them. I don’t mean Disney, I mean the real faerie tales. The ones with the Seelie, the Unseelie, where the outcome is uncertain, almost arbitrary. The ones where the viewpoint character breaks The Rules and maybe they get out of it…or maybe they don’t.

A faerie tale is a story about tradition. A story about people doing bizarre things to appease an indirectly named force. A story where people don’t acknowledge the bizarreness of what they’re doing, or even that they are doing anything. It’s just…done, and not doing it is Bad. Usually, what happens, is someone slips up. They don’t understand why the things are done and question them (they never get a straight answer). They forget one day to put out the offerings (how could one possibly forget, on some level it MUST have been intentional, to break a habit like that). Sometimes? They even actively try to find the indirectly named force behind the traditions. These are the least likely to survive.

The story goes on, this one person, this FOOL (pause here, think a moment), gets Taken, or loses something precious, or something. They are Punished for their indiscretion. They are brought to the Court and see what’s happening firsthand…after a fashion. There are always glamours. There are new, different, more arcane rules to follow and even less guidance. The Fool is out of their depth. It goes a couple ways. They try to play the game, and they lose, and something worse than death happens to them. Even worse though? Sometimes they win. Sometimes they are Good Enough. Sometimes they get away, and they come back Changed, with a special power. The worst outcome, though? They’re The Best. They become part of the Court. The new rules become their rules. The Fool reverses.

The Fae are not a metaphor for many, many things. If you read the above story and understood the frame I was placing, you are likely already finding a path to the Court. If you didn’t, then the next paragraph might help…but I’m already infiltrating your narrative. It may be harder to go back.

Social reality is a construct about tradition. A construct that causes people to do bizarre things to appease Moloch. A construct where people don’t acknowledge the bizarreness of what they’re doing or even that they are doing anything. It’s just…done, and not doing it means you do not advance in social reality. However, people slip up. They don’t understand why the things are done and question them (they usually get an answer involving the words “collaboration” or “profit margins” or “human nature”). They forget one day to put out the offerings (how could one forget they are weak and have their place, a cog in the construct? On some level it MUST have been intentional). Sometimes? They even actively try to see what’s behind social reality. These are the least likely to survive.

The construct initially places high costs on this type of person, this FOOL (pause here, think a moment). They get fired, they lose their house, family, friends, they are Weird now. They are Punished for their indiscretion. They are banished from social reality and are allowed to see what’s happening from the outside…after a fashion. There are always masks. There are new, different, more arcane rules to follow and even less guidance. The Fool is out of their depth. It goes a couple ways. They try to play the game, and they lose. They stay banished from social reality. They go crazy, they end up on the street, the know what’s happening and cannot cope with it. Even worse though? Sometimes they win. Sometimes they are Good Enough to carve a new path into social reality, they get back in Changed, with a special power. Perception, the ability to conduct social interaction on a meta level above most people except the more powerful in the social reality game, a willingness to play for different prizes, something. The worst outcome though? They’re The Best. They become powerful outside the landscape of social reality, and draw other people into their Court. The new rules become their rules, and The Fool’s journey ends solipsisticly.

Not everything here is true, or the only way it can go. This is, however, the 101 of getting involved in higher level social games. Use this knowledge however you wish; it might be best to forget it.

No discussion this time.