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Social Memes and patio11

patio11 is a frequent commenter on Hacker News. I like some of his writing, e.g. about bitcoin and consulting. Sadly, he advocates irrational social memes. But it's still more interesting than usual because he understands them more clearly than others.

Regarding, WSJ: Can 'World of Warcraft' Game Skills Help Land a Job?, patio11 writes:
Running a WoW guild is pretty good preparation for having to manage a fairly large group of employees with wildly varying levels of skill, attention to detail, ability to follow-through on commitments, intrapersonal conflict resolution ability, and the like.

That said: it is almost crazy to have on a resume, 99.54% of the time. It doesn't by itself persuasively say "I'm going to make you more money" and unless you have a very good read of the cultural background of the person reading your essay has a high risk of reading "I have low status hobbies. Please judge me for them!"
This is about how to meet social expectations, and be socially effective, rather than be logical.

Regarding, Guide dogs and guns: America's blind gunmen, patio11 writes:
This is one way in which a large portion of America is culturally distinct from Britain in a way which many people do not appreciate white people being capable of being culturally distinct. In much of America, use and possession of firearms is a strong cultural marker, like ear piercing or playing football or driving cars. Perhaps it is not obvious at the BBC, where this looks like "Crikey, that's the only way to make guns MORE dangerous," but for people who are in that culture, it reads more like "Blind man triumphs over adversity to claim his rightful place in the civic life of his community."
This is about social groups. It treats them as very important, and understands how much work people will put into gaining social acceptance.

Regarding, Why are some people so much luckier than others?, patio11 writes:
I rather like the Techzing guys' take on this, called "luck surface area," because it tracks with my experience and is actually weaponizable in a way that "be more observant" is not.


If you for some reason want to get into a guild protected by a scouting system, then your priorities should be a) identifying what the scouts are looking for and getting good at it and b) getting in front of as many scouts as possible as often as possible.

There exist many opportunities which HNers want which resemble "a guild protected by a scouting system" if you squint at them, by the way.
This comment has good insight into the social systems surrounding many Hacker News type activities. patio11 is vague about what he means, but I think that's on purpose. (Perhaps to avoid avoid offending people by saying what they are doing clearly and truthfully?)

Social Advocate

In each case, patio11's advice advice is approximately: obey social rules. Understand social rules, act accordingly, and you'll get ahead in life.

He's a little vague about recommending this. I read this vagueness as him not considering any alternatives. I think he takes it for granted that this is how life works.

He assumes if he tells people how to follow social rules better, and what the rewards are, they will want to do it. It's unnecessary to persuade people to live this way. It's life, and the issue is merely skill at doing it. patio11 has more skill than most, and he's sharing some.


It has never crossed patio11's mind that he's promoting irrationality. He's teaching people how to better conform the externally-determined rules for their lives. He's encouraging people to pay more attention to social issues, and develop more effective social skills, and live by them (which, like it or not, means less attention to reason, science, programming, etc)

He's encouraging people to be more social – and obedient to social expectations. He's encouraging them to learn how to deal with social issues more skillfully, like he does (rather than find a way of life in which one doesn't have to).

Social rules are not rational. Everyone knows this, but at the same time few people will admit it when they are on the defensive. They don't like the implication that their decision to learn and follow many social rules is irrational.

Let's look at the three examples above. The first rule is about not writing about "pretty good preparation" on one's resume. Instead of making the best rational case in one's resume, one is supposed to obey unwritten social rules about what to write or not write.

The second rule is about having to shoot guns for people to be more friendly with you. It's about pressuring people to share the same interests, instead of being happy for everyone to make their own decisions and choose their own interests. The gun shooting is a required social ritual, similar to prayer. You can tell because there's no flexibility to adjust it when it doesn't make much sense (as with a blind person). It's not about making rational sense, it's about social signaling.

The third rule is about guild systems. patio11 advises become skillful at what certain other people want, to please them, instead of figuring out what skills are the most rationally useful and pursuing those.

By learning and following social rules like these, patio11 has gotten ahead in life and received various rewards. At a cost to rationality. He's gotten better at pleasing others, but worse at figuring out what is an objectively good life and doing that. Instead of focusing on his own values, he's learned all kinds of ways to get along with people socially and please them.

Rather than openly acknowledge the tradeoffs, people view learning and meeting (and exceeding) social expectations as life effectiveness. They sacrifice their individual soul to the group, and don't even realize there is a question to consider about what to do.

Most people muddle through their life, including social life, without understanding what's going on very well, or why. patio11 understands how the social rules work more clearly, but still doesn't critically question them.

I find this all very sad. Smart people live bad lives, wasting so much potential. And even go around advising others to do the same. Well, I advise the opposite. Don't focus on pleasing others. Focus on pleasing yourself. No they aren't the same thing. Your personal preferences don't just happen to coincidentally match the intrusive preferences others have for you.

Elliot Temple on August 17, 2014


What do you think?

(This is a free speech zone!)