Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Dame Freya Stark on the Adventurer's Personality

1.  A temper as serene at the end of the day as it is in the beginning.

2.  The capacity to accept other people's standards.

3.  Rapid judgment of character.

4.  A love of nature including human nature.

5.  The capacity to disassociate oneself from bodily sensations.

6.  A knowledge of local history and language.

7.  A leisurely and uncensorious mind.  

8.  A tolerable constitution.

9.  The ability to eat and sleep at any moment.

10.  A ready quickness in repartee.


Friday, December 27, 2013

D&D For Mating Games: Student Responses

 In this post I will simply give an account of the results of the "Mating System Trade-Off" questions that I described previously here.  

Next time I will give my more speculative thoughts on what happened and why these hypothetical, rationalized positions may or may not stand up to real-world scrutiny (these were self-reported survey-type questions which had embedded "socially correct answers", so obviously I would not attempt to use them as  precision forecasting tools).

This was a casual survey.  My sample sizes were very low (n=24, n=25) and there were a number of other study design problems that could have led to biased results, so obviously one should keep these limitations in mind if tempted to make definitive, generalized statements about gender politics based on these explorations.  I have no firm conclusions, but I do find the answers to be quite interesting.  

I do believe that the forced-tradeoff, point allocation, and pairwise-comparison survey design templates are going to be far superior in illuminating mate search realities when compared to standard approaches that use convenient multiple-choice response batteries and the like.  In my opinion, surveys of this type need to start imposing conditions in which desired goods are realistically scarce and trade-offs have to be actively considered and managed in a competitive marketplace.  

QUESTION #1---THE TRADE-OFF:  Dangerous Hotness vs. Bland-but-Reliable

The first question asked the students to choose a mate from between two archetypes:  one a hot, sexy individual with great charisma, but a dangerous history of relationship recklessness ("Person A"); the other a normal-looking person of average social skill, but with a kind disposition towards relationships and a stated desire to have a family ("Person B"). 


The Female Selections

Female students could be organized into three approximately equal cohorts.  

-1/3 said that they would always choose Person A

-1/3 said that would  always choose Person B

-1/3 said that they would choose A now, but might choose B in the future. 

...A Few Explanations from Women who would Choose Person A Now

1)  "Ideally in a perfect world you would want a mixture of A and B, but that's not how it works.  Society is to blame for the way things are.  Sadly, I would resort to 'A', which is probably why my relationships don't work out.  Eventually when I'm done with the games Person B will be the direction in which I will be focused...Our system is extremely biased.  You can have the brains but not be so hot and you might get a little attention.  You could be super attractive and say a few smart things and BOOM! on to the next level."

Physical Description of Desired Mate:   "Tall, light eyes, dark hair, fit, and a nice smile."

2)  "At this point I would prefer Person A because I prefer to be challenged and engaged by a confident person that tests social boundaries and the status quo.  I don't think the person's level of attractiveness would be the deciding factor compared to personal charisma and ability to competently and confidently communicate with others and myself.  A reserved person would not match my character traits because I am assertive in my social interactions and would want someone that compliments that...I think our fast-paced competitive environment definitely rewards the Person A."

Physical Description of Desired Mate:  "I think that the way someone carries himself and uses body language is more important than actual physical appearance.  I wouldn't mind a guy with a foreign look, though."

3)  "Person A, Person A.  Because that is what attracts me.  The self-confidence is highly addictive.  Dresses well and looks good are definite musts.  I would ignore the past indiscretions of A due to my own high sense of self-confidence."

Physical Description of Desired Mate:   "Physically fit.  Strong presence.  Well-dressed and self-confident."

4)  "Person A.  Only because I am at the point in my life when I cannot be in a serious or committed relationship.  I would get bored and probably develop the personality of A towards my counterpart if he was like a B.  I'm not looking for relationships at this point in my life, nor would my schedule support it.  A would be my option now.  I'm young, I have time!"

Physical Description of Desired Mate:  "Hmm, a smile.  If the guy has a great smile and looks comfortable in his own skin, that attracts me.  Dressed nice---not like a bum."  

5)  "Person A.  I need a hot guy or I will get bored and probably will start to become abusive towards him."

Physical Description of Desired Mate:  "Light eyes, square jaw, nice smile, muscular.  Extremely well-dressed but also tough-looking and rugged."


...A Few Explanations from Women who would Choose Person B Now

1) "I have been attracted to A type people for the most part but now I find myself more attracted to the qualities of B as they are a compliment to my own.  ...(Society) does seem to be continuing towards system and cultural drive to reward A types."

Physical Description of Desired Mate:  "I would look for above average physical fitness.  It says a lot about character, discipline, etc.  Open posture and outgoing or even cheerfully pleasant.  Sense of humor."

2)  "B!!  I'd rather have a caring, dependable, and faithful partner over physical attractiveness...Socially, physical attractiveness would win.  I don't believe this mindframe is changing.  The media encourages good looks and fit bodies."

Physical Description of Desired Mate:  "Height, body (I prefer buff but not extremely muscular), style, and confidence."

3) "I would rather be in a relationship with Person B than Person A.  I'm actually not overly attracted to highly self-confident people and admire modesty.  If I date someone I want him to care about my feelings and honor our commitment.  While Person A might be great eye candy, he would not be relationship material, in my opinion...as an introvert I tend to believe that our culture rewards looks and extroversion disproportionately, so someone who has a lot of charisma and personality is more likely to be viewed favorably than someone who keeps to themselves.  

Physical Description of Desired Mate:  "Intellectual looking.  Cute, shy.  Lanky.  Bohemian clothes.  Facial hair."

4) "Person B.  Because I could trust Person B more, and he seems to have the maturity and responsibility to hold a long-term relationship.  (Society rewards) Person A---people pay more attention to others that are attractive."

Physical Description of Desired Mate:  "Nice clothes, talk, clean, charming, confident."

Two of the responses that selected Person B were driven to do so because of the description that "Person A is not known for living a responsible lifestyle."  They took this not as an indication of Person A necessarily being a cheater, but an indication that he might lack economic power.  I am not sure if they would or would not have made the same choice had Person A been described as financially successful (i.e., equivalent to Person B).   I thought that this revealed an interpretation issue that would need to be cleaned up if this process was run again (I intend to run it regularly). 

The Male Selections 

The men all chose  Person A (some also attempted to bend the rules a bit, but I caught them).  A few comments from their explanations: 

1) "A.  Beauty strongly drives attractiveness, so avoid a relationship with unattractive females.  Males reward beauty.  Females reward self-confidence.  Men are polygamous.  Female are hypergamous."

Physical Description of Desired Mate:  "Beauty can be a good signal.  General coyness, beauty, and signals of high interest."

2) "A now, A forever!  If you settle down with someone because they are stable and want the same things you won't be happy.  I would take the risk with A.  People like to be around people that look good and have good personality."   

Physical Description of Desired Mate:  "T&A, Pritchard!  It's all about those Tits and Ass.  In reality though I like girls that are built in the Athletic style, taller, and a great smile."  

3) "I'm drawn to A.  B might be the smartest for a stable relationship.  I'm bad with relationships, though.  I'm trying to hold out hope that a jaw-droppingly beautiful girl can have the personality traits of B."

Physical Description of Desired Mate:  "NOT FAT.  Pretty eyes, pretty face, and a nice body.  Smiles and looks at my lips and into my eyes."

QUESTION #2----POINT ALLOCATIONS:  Brainy Men and Hot Women

The second question asked males and females to construct a hypothetical mate by allocating 25 points between 5 different, desirable traits.  A score of  "5" in a trait could be considered average; if a student wanted a mate to be above-average in one element, there would have to be a corresponding reduction from the average in another element.

Yes, these are fairly harsh rules.  They are meant to force difficult decisions. 

How Women Allocated Their Points 

The strong tendency among the females was to take away from Looks to give to Intelligence.  In several cases, Looks were reduced to below "3"---significantly below-average---in order to raise Intelligence to 7 or 8.

The second trade-off made was to either A) increase Kindness by taking from Status and Income, or B) to increase Income by taking from Status and Kindness.  

The typical female point allocations looked like this:

Option A:  "The Good Guy"                    

Looks:   3                                                      
Intelligence:  7                                             
Kindness: 8                                                  
Status:  4                                                      
Income:  3                                                    

Option B:  "The Breadwinner"

 Looks:  3
Intelligence:  7
Kindness:  3
Status:  4
Income:  8

A sampling of some of the comments made by those who constructed an Option A man (high Intelligence + high Kindness): 

-"I would prefer a person with intelligence, kindness, and sense of humor over annual income because I can make my own money."

-"I prioritized Intelligence because that is what I find most attractive in a man and what I look for primarily in a mate."

-"For me, it is important that someone be really nice to me and really smart."

-"I would give a person a 7 on Intelligence because without that he would be mediocre.  I would give a 6 on Looks because I don't want to be with someone who is Ugly.  A 5 on Status and a 4 on Kindness...and a 3on Income because I don't need a rich person, we can both work to make that wealth."

-"I value a partner in whom I can see long-term commitment, and therefore Intelligence and Kindness are priority.  Income circumstances may change, Looks change...  This is the trade-off a woman has to make---hot Sperm Donor vs. long-term committed union."  

-"Looks fade.  Intelligence and the ability to problem-solve is most important.  Kindness is important, but not overly kind.  Humor must be in every relationship."

-"The most important for me is the way my partner is going to treat me.  Kindness is the most important aspect.  I also want somebody to have a conversation with; I want him to be smart and educated.  Also very important is for my partner to make me laugh and to have a good attitude always.  Annual income could be below average, as long as we both make some money and we are stable, then we could have a happy life.  Looks are not the most important thing in the world, but if the guy is cute---bonus points!"

-"If you can make a girl laugh...you finish the quote.  Kindness is super important all around not just to one another...Income is whatever---more money more problems, no money and you still have problems.  Brains are important---not just book smart but street smarts, too."  

-"I am looking for someone to talk, have fun and a family with.  Not a hunk that will give me headaches in the future.  I don't need his money, even though it would be nice to have it all.  Women get to pick between Sperm Donors vs. Protector and Providers.  You usually have to pick one over the other.  However, the full package will be accepted gracefully!!:)"

-"Sense of humor is most important because I like to laugh.  A lot.  ...Kindness is a 5 because less than average could not be acceptable in that area.  Looks and $ are a four because for me at the end of the day if you have all the other aspects down, then these mean very little.  Money changes and so does Looks.  Intelligence usually doesn't and hopefully neither does personality (or we have a bigger problem on our hands)...Someone looking for just sex would probably use all 25 points on Looks (maybe not that dramatically but the intent would be different)..."

-"I gave the highest points to Intelligence and Kindness because with those personal traits you can increase your Income...go get a haircut to increase your Looks...Personality traits are more important than materialistic because these are harder to gain."

-(gave 5s across the board) "When you're fucking amazing all you need is an average person to just ride with you.  Remember:  in life you can teach a monkey anything."

-"I make great money and only have a positive future.  I based this on my real-life love story."

...and some from those who preferred an Option B (cluster:  high Intelligence, high Income, lower Kindness):

-"I would like my romantic partner to be a Provider/Protector vs. a Sperm Donor." 

-"Intelligence is obviously important and the annual Income as well, because even though I will be making good money I want a very, very good life."  

-"All of these attributes are important, but without a comfortable lifestyle most (positive aspects of a long term relationship) are not possible."

 Revenge of the Nerds?  

The big winner *in terms of these questions* was clearly the Smart Guy.  I am not suggesting that this would hold true in a real-world mating market scenario, but the findings are still quite interesting from a conceptual perspective.  At the very least, they represent who these young women think would be a good choice when the choices are selected at a certain level of abstraction. 

Between the two emergent types of Smarties---the young Reed Richards nice fellow with the heart of gold but the less impressive wallet vs. the colder Victor von Doom with strong cash flow generating capacity---Kindness won out.  These young women all wanted to earn their own money and had optimistic views of their own independent financial futures; as a result, most wanted to have partners who contributed more in the realms of intellectual stimulation and emotional support than towards the affluent lifestyle or investment account.  Those who did wish to emphasize Income cited a desire for a particularly luxurious life.

How Men Allocated Their Points

The men displayed an almost uniform point-allocation blueprint:  they took points from Status and Income and added them to Looks and Kindness, and left Intelligence average at "5".   A typical male allocation looked like this:

Looks:  9
Intelligence:  5
Kindness:  9
Status:  1
Income:  1

Here are snippets from a few of the explanations:

-"My reasoning is simple.  Looks are the first thing that everyone notices, and through that lens is how everyone including myself will view her...  Kindness is important, but not too kind because that will make the relationship more equal (LOL)..."

-"I want a good-looking female with an above-average personality...I'm not too concerned about her Income."

-"As a guy I want someone that has a strong degree of attractiveness but also dependability.  In a sense, I am searching for the best of both worlds as I prize them both."

-"I would spend more points on the attributes that I find most appealing and those complimentary to my own.  So my match would be homeless with above-average Looks and Kindness and a great sense of humor!"

-"I would distribute my points by giving 10 to Looks, 5 to Intelligence, 5 to Kindness, and 5 to Status.  Annual income would naturally not be important to me as a man."  (zero points were allocated to Income)

-"As a male I would distribute 10 points to Looks and Kindness and the remaining 5 to Intelligence."

-"Below an 8 in Looks, I may as well just use porn.  Below an 8 in Kindness, I would rather hang out with my friends and dog."

Several men reported that lower Status and Income were actually desirable traits because they would be associated with a woman who lacked social pretentiousness and materialistic qualities.  The reasoning continued that a woman with very high Looks ranks (8+) and low Status could gain Status much more easily than a high Status woman with a low score in Looks could gain points in Looks.  

Average Intelligence was generally sufficient for these men; two cited that they could derive significant intellectual stimulation from work, friends, and hobbies.  They did want very high scores in Kindness, saying that they wanted their home life to be serene and harmonious.  Two men independently stated that a worst-case scenario was to be in a relationship with a relatively unattractive woman who had high Intelligence and low Kindness scores.

Collision Course?

It is apparent that men and women in this cohort would do well to avoid a solipsistic pattern of thinking in which it is assumed that because a man or woman personally finds a trait to be very important in a mate, that a member of the opposite gender shares the same priorities.  If this type of uncritical self-absorption became the norm, then we might cautiously state that self-absorbed men will tend to mistakenly assume that women place as high a priority on physical attractiveness as men tend to, while self-absorbed women will tend to mistakenly assume that men place as high a priority on intellect as women tend to. 

An immediate observation about the difference between the female and male responses is the degree to which the men appeared to be operating on a traditional expectation of the male being the family's economic breadwinner, while the women appear to be operating on a more progressive expectation that they would either be the primary breadwinner or a co-breadwinner in the relationship (not a single woman wished to leave her professional track in order to be a housewife).

In a traditionalist complementary system, men would de-prioritize Status and Income while women would prioritize the same in men---these would be interlocking pieces in a relationship puzzle.  However, this nuclear family "social contract" arrangement may be breaking down somewhat.  The emerging faultline shows up in the almost delighted way in which the men will raid Status and Income to add to Looks and Kindness in a mate, while the majority of the women state that they would not require high Income and Status from a man because they plan on working and being able to contribute to the household's aggregate wealth (several young women stated an intention to make *great* money themselves).

A possible ramification might be that males enter the sexual marketplace with an assumption that displays of income-generating ability and social status trump those related to kindness and warmth.  For the majority of the women in my class, this assumption would be potentially dangerous.

 ("I can happily make my own money, thank you, but I suggest that you be kind to me.")

Perhaps what we are seeing is this:  college women are accepting that the gender imbalance on campus means that many of them will probably not be able to find an equally educated mate.  They respond by being prepared to foot much of the bill, but also wish to make Intelligence in their mates a priority because the academic gender imbalance has created a pricing premium in this area.  The women also realize that they will have to gain skills in differentiating true Intelligence from formal academic attainments; indeed, this has come up many times in my classes.

College males, on the other hand, are coming to believe that their relative scarcity will make their degrees *more valuable* in relative mating dynamics terms (because fewer men than women will boast such degrees), and they intend to leverage this in the mating market by proposing lifestyle enhancements to women in order to try to persuade them.

I also believe that many young men would be surprised that women were so willing to trade off points in Looks for points in Intelligence (many studies have revealed that men probably over-estimate the female attention to male physical appearance, at least for long-term relationships).   Men should not feel that they can rely on their degrees to satisfy the female thirst for this attribute; those males who can demonstrate their intellect in more profound, creative, and socially pleasing ways will probably command much more attention than most of their peers will realize.

In the past, female students have described a difference between what they perceive as "Sexy Intelligence" or "Poetic Intelligence" (which is a sort of stylish and stimulating combination of easy cross-disciplinary fluency in the liberal arts, a literary mind, the stage presence and social confidence of the natural raconteur, a world-traveling bon vivant's mental database of quality cultural entertainments, and, above all, highly honed interpersonal/diplomatic skills), and what they less-charitably term "Idiot Savant Intelligence" or "Asperger Intelligence", which is more quantitative, mechanistic, inelegant, and introverted, and seen as being somewhat emotionally inert and capable of embarrassing social faux pas.

Sexy Intelligence is considered far more desirable, as there is general sense of frustration among the girls regarding the interpersonal finesse, cultural cultivation, and sophistication of wardrobe and style of the typical American male. Perhaps this could be a point of strategic differentiation for high "Social IQ" or high "cultural capital" men to consider when advertising their wares; certainly it appears that photos taken during exotic travel, evidence of cultural sophistication and artistic capability, a pithy and engaging writing style, wit, social grace and composure, and so on should be incorporated into a personal brand if possible.

Just as men need to understand the importance placed on Sexy Intelligence displays by their female counterparts, female college students who anticipated that their educational achievements and income generating potential were anywhere near as important to men as were their Looks and personality-related aspects (Kindness) might find themselves similarly misaligned with the truth of male mating preferences. 

I found that the men who did specify a desire for higher Intelligence simultaneously specified an even higher requirement for Kindness; perhaps men view Intelligence with lower Kindness as problematic.  A takeaway for highly intelligent women might be that they would be particularly effective if  they take pains to make sure that their Intelligence displays are paired with Kindness displays.  High Intelligence displays paired with low Kindness are to be avoided as the combination is seen as extremely obnoxious and unattractive. 

Social Media's Effects

When I have raised the question of social media's role in the mating market, students have suggested that in a past era men and women probably tended to meet at school or at work, which would generally create a closed social circle in which people of approximately the same educational attainment and income level would naturally tend to find each other.  It might be rare for, say, a museum curator to meet and date a fireman, simply because their natural social circles would have so little overlap.

However, today's almost-ubiquitous use of social media platforms has changed everything, and the critical importance of self-presentation/physical attractiveness and "sexy" intelligence displays play in such a forum should not be underestimated.

Social media may offer a sort of democratization of mating market access, allowing for more open competition among candidates and weakening traditional limitations that forced potential mates to work with what they could find in a given, highly localized social circle.  The losers here are those who would have benefited if the mating market was still composed of inflexible "gated community" enclaves---markets that were inefficient because of higher search/transaction costs that prevailed at the time---in which highly attractive men and women could be successfully isolated from their full breadth of options and forced to choose only from these less desirable mating pools.  A state of more open, transparent, and free mating market competition and mobile erotic capital does hurt this type of market participant. 

The mining engineer in Brazil may find that he has more in common with a scuba instructor in Key West than he does most of the women in his immediate  vicinity; a romance may blossom that begins online and then gradually moves to physical reality.  The female corporate attorney may find a love-connection in a sculptor because the two turn out to share a passion for fly-fishing and meet online at an enthusiasts' site. 

Both genders are able to cast a much wider mate-search net and this has some asymmetrical ramifications for men and women:  the male emphasis on Looks can more easily be immediately assessed than can the female emphasis on Intelligence, and both sexes will have to find ways to rapidly determine Kindness levels.  It appears to me that most women are probably quite realistic about what men find attractive and are forced to contend with this on Facebook and the like, but I am not quite as sure that men are doing everything they can to try to display "Sexy Intelligence" in their own online profiles.

It seems to me that women seeking to determine culturally-enriched "Sexy Intelligence" can and should make use of instant messaging and other conversational media to determine a prospect's ability to communicate with the requisite effectiveness and flair. 

Social media probably does lead to greater levels of real and perceived inequality; the online economy has become associated with non-Gaussian "long tail" distributions in which a few big winners capture most of the market share.  A "hot" Facebook page enables much of the same phenomena, as it allows one highly attractive female to quasi-flirt with thousands of men simultaneously (with virtually no transaction cost differential between having a single online fan and having 25,000).

 I have received ample anecdotal reports that this upward pressure on physical appearance is very real; in the past it may have been possible to enjoy a captive audience, but now a market participant may be theoretically competing for attention with people from all over the world.

If there was an equivalent to a Gini coefficient for a woman's sexual market value as perceived by men, it is growing closer to "1", or a winner-take-all society. 

Porn Effects

The other major technological factor that is completely overhauling the mating market is the near-universal and heavy use of online porn by males ("there are two kinds of men:  men who use porn and admit it, and men who use porn and lie about it").  

Those who believe that this use is confined to low-achievement slackers should be disabused of this notion immediately---I attended graduate school at Magdalen College, Oxford, an ancient institution which in comparatively recent years has produced such luminary and influential public intellectuals as Niall Ferguson and Matt Ridley.  Old Etonians with aristocratic double-taps stroll around the college's deer park while sipping Pimm's and Bollinger.  The place is a haven for Rhodes, Marshall, and Hichens scholars.   C.S. Lewis and Tolkien would meet to share a pint in the SCR, which is located close to Oscar Wilde's old rooms.  The male students at Oxford's most prestigious colleges---including Magdalen and Christ Church---spoke openly, even competitively, about their online porn masturbation habits. 

 Pornification has had several important effects: 

1.  The benchmarks for physical attractiveness and technical prowess in the bedroom are being set by a relatively small group of highly downloaded, elite adult film stars.  Many Millennial men had their first experiences of sexuality via internet porn, and the performers provide the benchmark for what "correct" sex should look like.  Many real-life sexual interactions will no doubt appear quite tame in comparison.

Imagine that pop culture provides a sort of background noise and the real-world relationship would provide the signal.  The background noise created by a daily intake of online porn is quite loud and exciting; a real sexual relationship may struggle to be heard above this. 

(many Millennial men were first exposed to sexual fantasy by this woman)

2.  Men will probably invest less in a relationship in the pursuit of sexual release.  Assume that sex requires a negotiation between a man and a woman over the subject of commitment:   not only is the man carrying a different hand these days because his Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement---"BATNA"---is now higher (as porn quality and quantity has increased at the same time as its costs have dropped), but his desire to even get into the negotiation may have decreased because his libido has been at least partially satisfied by chronic masturbation to porn.  Intellectually he may be able to differentiate between virtual and real sex, but his ability to become energetic about courtship could still be suppressed because he's been fapping to porn several times a day.  He could just become rather blase about the whole thing. 

Some therapists subscribe to a "sandwich" theory of a couple's sexuality.  The idea is that women tend to be most pleased about the *before sex* (Courtship, male investment, feeling desired) and *after sex* (emotional vulnerability expressed in a non-judgmental "safe zone") aspects of a given sexual encounter, while men are primarily interested in the sex itself---hence the difference between romance novels and male-oriented porn.

If a man achieves release to porn regularly, it may work to systematically reduce his tolerance for the romantic "pursuit" and "after-care" components that women may particularly enjoy.  The man's physical need for release is being met by a different stimulus, one which requires no courtship and which does not want to hang out and talk about relationships afterwards. 

3.  Sex is less of a bargaining chip and more of an assumed by-product of any type of relationship.   Sexual compatibility is no longer a relatively easy assumption; insofar as sex is critical to the relationship and male desires have become more exotic and volatile, there is pressure to determine if the couple is sexually compatible prior to investing significantly in the relationship. 

4.  There will be upwards pressure on male desires for sexual variety in both dyadic (within relationship---i.e., positions, sex acts) and extra-dyadic (other partners) domains.  The good news for women is that some of this desire for variety may be satiated by porn, thus making the man less likely to feel energized to go out and pursue such antics in real life. 

Readers will have no doubt noticed that there may be a bit of a discrepancy when we examine female student responses to the first question and their responses to the second question.  While this could reflect a complicated tension between two different female mating strategies, I think that there may not be an inconsistency here at all:  it is *possible* that "Person A" from the trade-off was judged to have higher "Sexy Intelligence"---a much-valued asset that signals expert social/influence competence---than was "Person B."   The fact that he was also described as good-looking and charismatic could have been just bonuses for most of the girls.  Males may have a cognitive blind spot on this because it appears that we (men) have a tendency to project our own preference sets---in which physical appearance is so highly ranked---onto women. 


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas!

"Think where man's glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was I had such friends."


Friday, December 20, 2013

D&D for Mating Games, Bi-Strategic Decision Triggers, Interdependence: The Questions

In keeping with the recent theme of Millennials, here are a couple of questions that I posed to both my male and female students over the last term.  I will discuss the results in the next post, but I thought it would be fun to give the scenarios first in case any of my friends here wanted to play around with them.


The first was part of an in-class exercise that we went through as part of the "Mating Intelligence"---applied evolutionary psychology meets Lord Byron, basically---module in my SSD class.  The Person A and Person B descriptions are not mine; they were used as part of a much larger and more significant study exercise by two very esteemed evolutionary psychologists (n=25 in my own sample):

Read the following vignettes and then respond to my fun questions.

"Description/Person A:  Person A is considered physically attractive and 'sexy.'  He/she has a sort of charisma that attracts the attention of those around him/her.  Although some might consider him/her arrogant, A possesses a kind of self-confidence that others admire.  A is not known, however, for living a responsible lifestyle.  In the past, he/she has had a series of relatively short-term relationships.  Some have ended because of questionable faithfulness on the part of A."


"Description/Person B:  Person B is an average-looking person, someone most people wouldn't consider 'sexy.'  He/she is sufficiently socially skilled but does not possess the kind of magnetic personality that draws the attention of others.  Rather, B has a stable and responsible personality.  In a relationship, B is caring, dependable, and faithful.  He/she would like very much to have a family, likes children, and would probably be good with them."


Ok, so there are the two descriptions.  Before anyone accuses me of having biased the responses by including pics, keep in mind that I did not include these photos in the original exercise (nor are the photos necessarily fair:  Cristiano Ronaldo is a legendary swordsman, for example, but also appears to be a devoted dad).  I'm also not trying to demean any of the celebrities that I chose as exemplars; these are purely for context-specific illustrative purposes.  There were no visual examples of Person A or Person B given in the original exercise, although it may be useful sometimes to have them available if participants wish to ask questions about what you mean when you employ terms like "sexy and hot" and "average looking". 

Here were my questions based on the vignettes:

"Question 1:  Which of these descriptions best represents the sort of person you would ideally prefer (now) to be in a relationship with?  What about a hypothetical future relationship?  Why?"

"Question 2:  Do you feel that one must generally make a stark trade-off between trait clusters like those described by A and B?  Why or why not?"

"Question 3:  Does our cultural environment tend to reward one of these people over the other?  If so, what do you think is going on?  Do you think this reward system is growing even more biased, or moderating?"

"Question 4:  If you suddenly inherited significant wealth and had a personal bodyguard detail to protect you from harm, would this affect your decision between Person A and Person B?  Explain."

"Question 5:  Which person, A or B, do you feel that members of the OPPOSITE sex would tend to choose.  Why?  How does this affect your presentation in the mating market?"

"Question 6:  Do you feel that you could be happy, over the very long-term, in a relationship with tradeoffs characterized by Person A or Person B?  Is there any way that you can think of to mitigate any pain that might be associated with these trade-offs?"

"Question 7:  Name some specific physical characteristics that you feel would be good 'mate selection' signals if you were at a party, hookah joint, or wine bar and forced to choose a mate from the pool of attendees with only visual data to go on."

"Question 8:  Name some behavioral characteristics or verbal traits that you feel would be good 'mate selection' indicators if you were in a coffee shop and able to chat for several hours with a potential mate."


I gave this next one as part of the final exam.  Once again, there was no "correct" answer.

"You are able to design your own *long-term* romantic partner, but there is a twist:  you have 25 points that have to be spent among 5 different attributes:

a)  Looks

b)  Intelligence

c)  Kindness

d)  Annual Income

e)  Social Status

"A score of 5 in a category means that the trait has an 'average' score.  Remember that you only have 25 points to spend---you could spend them all equally, creating a person who was average at everything, or you could distribute them in a different manner.

"How do you distribute your points?  Why?  Do you believe that you would be more or less content with the results of such a point allocation in real life?

What do evolutionary psychologists mean by 'bi-strategic mating'?  How might environmental factors that influence bi-strategic mating priorities affect the preferences of someone who was assigning points in this manner to construct a potential romantic partner?" 


Please give these a shot if you have the chance; they seem to make great dinner party conversation.   Next time I will give the results of the classroom exercises and exam responses---I thought that some of the answers given were fascinating. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Teaching Millennials Part IV: Existential Angst, Google Lawyers, Deathstroke the Terminator

 Today's post will focus on some aspects of the collective "Millennial" personality, at least as it appears on the private liberal arts campus.  The ultimate ramifications are well beyond my ability to forecast, but my suspicion is that they are going to accomplish great things, but at the cost of some social cohesion and traditional values that many of us have become comfortable with.  

 The"Radical Chameleon" Formula:  Multidisciplinary + Multicultural + Nonjudgmental + Non-Reactive + Self-Amused = Sophisticated, Elite, Cool, New Aristocratic

The writer Shamus Khan, reflecting on his years as both a student and faculty member at one of the nation's most elite schools, observes that reverse-snobbery and the cultivation of a deep sense of all-inclusive worldliness marks the attitude of the youthful upper class class:

"Privilege means being at ease, no matter what the context...what students cultivate is a sense of how to carry themselves, and at its core this practice of privilege is ease:  feeling comfortable in just about any social situation.  In classrooms they are asked to think about both Beowulf and Jaws.  Outside the classroom they listen to classical music and hiphop.  Rather than mobilizing what we might think of as 'elite knowledge' to mark themselves as distinct---epic poetry, fine art and music, classical learning---the new elite learn these and everything else.  Embracing the open society, they display a kind of radical egalitarianism in their tastes.  Privilege is not an attempt to construct boundaries around knowledge and protect such knowledge as a resource.  Instead, students display a kind of omnivorousness.  Ironically, exclusivity and puritanical attitudes mark the losers in the hierarchical, open society.  From this perspective, inequality is explained not by the practices of the elite but instead by the character of the disadvantaged.  Their limited (i.e., exclusive) knowledge, tastes, and dispositions mean that they have not seized upon the fruits of our newly open world."

What Khan describes is a perfect articulation of what I have personally witnessed in terms of how the most educated and ambitious Millennials view the world.  They tend to see things from the perspective of a nomadic tribe of extra-national, affluent global tourists, equipped with the resources and honed aesthetic tastes to choose elements of various world cultures which appeal to their individual personalities, and then to incorporate those elements into their lives in creative ways.

So a hypothetical peak-form example of the breed would be a young Nigerian woman who was educated in the United States and England, worked at a non-profit in Peru, enjoys French wines and Spanish guitar and Japanese clothing and American porn, trains in a Filipino martial art, occasionally uses Colombian narcotics, goes on vacations to New Zealand and Romania, and currently lives on a sailboat in Miami and dates Cuban ballet dancers.  She has proudly achieved what Stalin attacked as "rootless cosmopolitanism".

One of the challenges of being a professor in a classroom that contains students like this---or who aspire to be like this---is that the bar for satisfying intellectual breadth is set rather high.  I believe the practical solution is to try to become a turbocharged version of the worldly, cosmopolitan tourist that the students venerate.  You have to pay your dues in the currency that they accept in this training milieu, and the coin of the realm for Millennial elites is multi-disciplinary cosmopolitanism combined with disassociated, veteran-of-the-extremes social cool. 

"No Alpha Left Behind":  Reward Enthusiastic Alpha Males and Females

A small percentage of students (I'd speculate that it's about 10%) may become extremely enthusiastic about the course material and seek to discuss elements of it in more detail.  It is well worth your time to meet with these students outside of class, to provide additional readings, and so on.  You may not make a deep connection with many undergrads, but when you do you should not be afraid to encourage them to really take their skills and knowledge to the next level.

The Millennial campus still has its share of Big Man On Campus ("BMOC") types and their female equivalents.   The Alphas seem to be particularly drawn to certain classes and subject matter; as they are socially networked, high-status individuals, they have special powers to recommend (or not recommend) a given professor.  Confident and usually quite affable, the Alpha student is nonetheless a seeker of good role-models for his or her post-college life script template.   Every instructor's experience is probably different, but in my view these are typically the students who will want to socialize with a professor outside of class and to pursue mentoring relationships.  I think a professor should find ways to accommodate these requests if possible, but of course one must be a bit cautious these days.

(make time for those who want to go further with the material:  you never know how that wild-drinking fratboy may turn out...)

Don't Be Google-Replaceable

Millennial students all know how to use Google to search for info.  They can all go to youtube and find TED talks, or go to iTunes to find podcasts.  In a room with 25 to 30 students all equipped with laptops, tablets, and smartphones, the professor does not control even the immediate market in information.  On the teaching side, we're all still trying to figure out how to best incorporate technology into course architecture; many campuses uses the Blackboard application, which allows teachers to set up private forum areas, wikis, group e-mails, etc.  I personally don't use it very much, but if I had larger classes I probably would not have much choice. 

The students just don't need you for open-source information that anyone can get off the web.  They don't need you to provide what they can replicate with a few mouse-clicks; they need a mosaic that includes theory, storytelling, real-world experience, research, and practical application.  In fact, what they ultimately need you for is to illuminate cross-disciplinary relationships that may grant those in the know an edge.  Talk about how an experimental result in a cognitive neuroscience study may have practical applications for an individual running an emerging markets investment portfolio, or how a naturalist's observations of trophic systems in New Guinea may apply to counter-insurgency campaigns.

Maintaining such a posture increasingly means that you need to maintain a broad array of interests, and be willing to track developments in many different fields.

What students often *do* need is some background in how experiments are conducted and why so many social science research results are never successfully replicated.  The pop science-news sites run on a journalistic headline/it-bleeds-it-leads mentality and so they will frequently grab a recent study, post a provocative, overstated headline on it, and run it.  They are usually not interested in carefully examining study design issues, peer-review critiques, or replication attempts, because they have an insatiable appetite for new research results and continually face deadlines.

Google Lawyers

There is an unusual type of student that I will simply term the "Google lawyer" or "Google scholar".  The behavior involved with this person goes something like this:  the professor or guest lecturer brings up a new concept or phrase.  The Google lawyer student immediately conducts an online search for the concept while the professor is still talking.  The student then presents some aspect of the material---usually a critique---back to the professor, but in a confident, know-it-all way, as if the student had been aware of the concept all along, as if it had been part of his or her worldly education long before the class.

The Google lawyer is similarly prone to having strong, perhaps even dismissive opinions about books that he or she has not actually read.  It's a glib, "5 Minute Manager" approach to education, and the G.L. seeks to be plausible to a relatively naive audience, not to have layered, nuanced intellectual cultivation.

The strangely belligerent, argumentative attitude of the Google lawyer is marked by his or her desire to attract attention by appearing contrarian.  This is a creature that has long stalked the halls of higher education, probably based on a fairly rational cost-benefit analysis.  If 25 people agree on something, the 1 who defects and takes the opposing side *may* be immediately elevated in status.   Why?  Because drama and controversy are satisfying on some level, and the operative device of the duel usually requires offering each side equal time.  While each of his counter-parties may only now get 1/24th of the attention allocated to that side of the argument, the defector now enjoys complete command of his or her niche.

It may be important to note that the GL looks for arguments; this is the student that does not particularly like consensus and harmony in a classroom.  If necessary, he will pursue grandiose "phantom arguments" with public intellectuals and historical figures and the like. 

Their arrogance is unfortunate, but Google lawyers are potentially useful to have in class because they just enjoy debate for its own sake, which can spark lively in-class discussions.  You may occasionally become annoyed with them because they do tend to extend themselves beyond their true levels of formal intellectual training and background, and their knowledge is rarely backed up by relevant experience.  However, they are normally smart enough to only engage in a fast-moving, soundbite type way that can survive shallow questioning (it collapses under intense thesis defense, Oxbridge tutorial-style engagements, etc., but these are not the usual teaching formats for undergrads in America).   Just don't let it get out of hand or allow them to be too aggressive with their peers (I have made this mistake in the past and am now quicker to intervene). 

For various reasons, the weaknesses of the Google lawyer tend to be higher mathematics and in systems-type thinking.  When I have to silence one quickly because of classroom disruption, I have occasionally resorted to econ/finance partial diffs, rescaled range analysis, Extreme Value Theory, or probability.  However, these can turn out to be blunt trauma impact weapons that "hurt" many innocent students in order to deal with a single irritant.   Suddenly going quant in an inappropriate setting can also have the effect of making it seem like the professor has become insecure and is trying to appear intelligent and qualify himself to the students. 

In extreme cases, they can be deluded and forget that everyone else has access to Google, too; this kind of cognitive blindness has resulted in big problems with plagiarism on campuses nationwide. On papers and take-home exams, Google lawyers almost always commit either outright plagiarism or more subtle forms of intellectual property theft. 

There are professors who are so disgusted with GL types that they have essentially banned the use of tablets, laptops, and even smartphones in class.  I normally don't get attacked by Google lawyers---I think it has happened maybe 3-5 times, and in each case I was quite familiar with the counter-arguments and critiques that were being parroted.   Even if they feel that confronting the professor is a bad idea, they will often turn on and attack each other:  if one Google lawyer is doing an in-class presentation, others may use the opportunity to stage a raid.

I personally don't mind these students---they are simply using a ubiquitous technology and sometimes challenging the professor about things that they have found.  For the prepared, these are opportunities to show competence and dignified comportment.  In persuasion or influence tactics-related coursework, however, the GL is typically among those students who have to be taught the difference between a fight and an argument, and the difference between an interpersonal persuasion engagement and a grandstanding public display.  The vast majority of persuasion situations do not feature an audience; they require a 1 on 1 interaction.  If your skillset is based on the idea that you will be trying to sway a third-party (i.e., an audience) rather than a direct influence target, you may adopt a persona which insults the true persuasion target in an attempt to win points with the mob.  It's a terrible approach to life mastery strategies. 

Eccentricity is OK

The mad scientist.  The absent-minded professor.  The wild-eyed visionary.  The megalomaniacal supervillain.  The "Dark Triad" bad boy.  This rogues' gallery of colorful characters shares a similar quality:  an eccentricity which marks the person as an independent, rebellious thinker who in some way may pose a threat to the stability of the rest of society.

In my experience, professors are allowed a certain amount of latitude in the eccentricities department, and this may be a quality that deserves special cultivation.  To spend so much time in the world of ideas is to pursue a somewhat insulated life in which theory, intellectual stimulation, and aesthetic concerns frequently trump practicality.  This of course is reinforced to some extent by the tenure system.

If you have a colorful personality, style, and/or background, you should highlight it in class to differentiate yourself from other professors and guest lecturers.  Perhaps you should have some "signature" moves or props.  Academia is generally one of the most tolerant spheres of activity when it comes to an individual's ability to personalize his or her immediate work environment, so there is little excuse to leave things bland or to avoid the occasional measure of dramatic flair.  Charismatic villain templates are probably particularly effective because they imply the lethal trifecta of freedom, success, and wildness.

 In simple terms, the sources of Credibility as a professor are the same as they are everywhere else---Competence (demonstrated command of the subject matter), Caring (as mentioned before, this means a generalized, non-judgmental warmth and acceptance of individual value), and Consistency (the ability to maintain frame).

Consistency deserves some special mention here.  The generation of students in question has been well-schooled in moral relativism and in cultural contexts for ethical judgment.  They are naturally contrarian and skeptical about authority.  Thus, big, sweeping value judgments and moral outrage should be used quite sparingly. The worst thing you can be from a Consistency standpoint is a hypocrite:  from a style perspective, it is better to endorse a Wild West free-for-all of amoral behavior and realpolitik than it is to appear sanctimonious, puritanical, or otherwise "stuffy" to your students.

When you appear prone to making moral condemnations, many of these students will immediately and intuitively start looking for signs that you are a hypocrite---they have been conditioned to expect this to be the case.  They will normally find what they are looking for.  As I have stated before, the students won't necessarily say anything to your face---they just will consider you "uncool" and socially undeveloped, and this will be used as a filter on everything else you say.

 If you do wish to teach moral reasoning or to include an ethical dimension to your discussions, I would personalize advise you to either stick with the philosophical basics---Categorical Imperative, etc.---and formally attempt derive your moral points from there (this easier said than done), or, better yet, to allow the students to voice their own opinions on the matter and to debate these issues with each other rather than with you.   You become less of an advocate and more of a moderator.

Practical Philosophy is Your Secret Weapon

Philosophy seems to be making an academic comeback, although not necessarily as an undergraduate major.  When you feel lost, disoriented, and disillusioned by your surroundings, you may tend to fall back on systems of wisdom that have withstood the test of time. While I still would not recommend moral sermonizing to Millennials as it will seldom be well-received, I would strongly recommend being at least somewhat versed in the major philosophical schools of the ancient world, and in their core ideas regarding questions of "the good life" and "happiness" (the meaning of happiness and the proper pursuit of same deserve special emphasis).

Frequently students appear in college with proximate benchmarks in terms of career and social success, but with no underlying, tightly-examined philosophical roadmap on which to overlay these benchmarks and related decisions.  So you have people who are highly ambitious and competitive about getting to places if life, but they may not have had time to figure out if they will really enjoy those places if and when they get there.  It's a recipe for potential heartbreak, even depression, down the road. 

The solution, in my opinion, is to have students think things through to their logical consequences, and to determine major priorities and threats.  "Bespoke lifestyle design" is the execution platform, but the analytical toolkits usually come from philosophy and positive psychology (the branch of psychology specifically concerned with studying the phenomena of "happiness").  I would go so far as to say that if you are a professor, at least in the social sciences, you must ultimately become a de facto practical philosopher.  My own journey has moved from Stoicism to a modified, evo psych-friendly form of "neuro-Epicureanism" over the years, although I believe that those involved in positions of great austerity and sacrifice (most notably the warrior professions) would probably be better-served with a heavy dose of the Stoics.

Developmental psychologist Howard Gardner has been teaching at Harvard for decades.  His thoughts on Millennial students:

"Today's youth approach their education as 'practical credentialists' who complete the tasks necessary to get the diploma they need to secure a desirable job.  They are far more focused on 'daily life management' than on developing a long-term purpose.  Consider that in 1967, 86 percent of college freshmen said that 'developing a meaningful philosophy of life' is 'very important' or 'essential' to them, compared to just 46 percent in 2012.  

"The pragmatic, careerist focus of today's college students occurs within the context of a broader societal trend toward individualism and away from a more community-minded, institutional orientation...as these community ties loosen, they're replaced by a 'moral freedom' that allows individuals to define for themselves the meaning of a virtuous life and doesn't require them to sacrifice their personal needs and desires in the process.  

"Individualism goes hand in hand with a focus on self, and there's evidence that today's youth are more self-focused than youth in decades past...The rise of volunteerism and social entrepreneurship among today's young people seems at odds with these statistics.  It's true that the percentage of youth participating in some form of community service has risen notably in recent decades.  Although we see this trend as distinctly positive, we're also mindful that, for many young persons, their motivation may stem more from a desire to pad their resume than to give back to society (Seb's note:  this has often been an accurate observation of underlying motives, at least in my experience, and the social entrepreneurship is increasingly linked with self-promotion and naked political ambitions.  Be wary of resume-padders who want the world to see them as "philanthropists" or "activists for social change").  Seen in this light, the current rise in volunteerism among today's youth may be a product of the packaged self:  it's a box to check off as one follows the super-app of life."  

Virtual Friends, Fame, and Facebook

Gardner emphasizes this "packaged self" aspect of Millennial social life, citing the way that Facebook profile elements are arranged to "package the self for public consumption."  He notes that "in addition to its carefully crafted, packaged, performative quality, the externalized self also lends itself to measurement and quantification---increasingly an imperative in today's market-driven, big data societies", and he cites "published research indicating that many young people would rather be the personal assistant to a celebrity than to themselves be a prominent executive, author, or researcher."   

In other words---rather than having direct, face-to-face contact with a relatively small circle of real-world friends and using Facebook as a means to communicate with those friends, many Millennials are using Facebook as an online persona or avatar in which to communicate with virtual "friends" who they will never actually meet in real life.  The expectation becomes that the virtual friends represent an audience or, worse, a "flock" who require guidance or tips---not to put too fine a point on it, the "virtual friend" may be transmogrified in a person's mind into a"virtual fan", which allows a Millennial to feel like something of a celebrity by collecting such "fans" on social media (in fact, the achievement of fame is repeatedly cited as a critical life goal for members of this cohort).

I've had students tell me that they spend at least 3 hours per day on Facebook, that it is the first thing they check in the morning and the last thing they look at before they go to bed.  Some have even said that they screen their real-life activity options to make sure that they are Facebook-friendly.  A down-range consequence of this soundbite, FB-ready approach is that Millennials have pressure to become masters of strategic social positioning, of revealing only the edited, more glamorous aspects of their lives.  Real-world relationships, which of course will involve occasional episodes of tedium, may be seen as substandard when compared to a showbiz version that is being promoted via social media. 

An unfortunate outgrowth of the "Facebook persona" aspect of Millennial social life is that cyber-bullying, often through anonymous critics or at least critics who know that they will never have to stand in front of you and be held physically accountable for their behavior, is a problem.  We've all heard about the Facebook-fueled suicides.  There are people who behave online more or less as they would behave in person, but there are others who find that the internet provides a mechanism for being particularly nasty and escaping the consequences.  A surprisingly large percentage of Millennials have come to rely on the internet for most of their social activities. There isn't a whole lot that a professor can do about it, but it's something to be aware of with this generation.

The Facebook persona stuff also creates pressures to be more glamorous, exciting, and dangerous, but this deserves its own discussion. 

All in all, Gardner's findings only further the case for embedding tools of self-examination and insight into classroom lectures.  The most significant teaching experiences I personally have had have occurred when a student found that a particular body of research resonated within him or her, and decided to study this material outside of class requirements.   Sometimes a person will completely change his or her educational, professional, and social goals as a result of exposure to a particularly interesting idea.

Millennials May Struggle with Existential Angst

Gardner seems concerned about alienation and mental health issues that may stem from reliance on social media to form one's own self-concept:

"Given the self-focus of narcissists, one might assume that they're self-assured and unaffected by the goings-on of others.  This turns out not to be the case.  As Sherry Turkle explains in her book Alone Together, 'In the psychoanalytic tradition, one speaks about narcissism not to indicate people who love themselves, but a personality so fragile that it needs constant support.'  Instead of self-assuredness, then, narcissists tend more toward a fragile self that needs propping up by external reassurances (the classic example being Facebook 'likes').  Jean Twenge's research bears this out.  Along with rising levels of narcissism among youth, she finds increasing moodiness, restlessness, worry, sadness, and feelings of isolation.  In sharp contrast to Riesman's inner-directed persons, today's young people are more likely to feel that their lives are controlled by external social forces rather than growing out of an internal locus of control.

"...Several of our participants identified a similar incongruity between youth's external polish and their internal insecurities.  The camp directors we interviewed told us that campers today demonstrate more self-confidence in what they say they can do but are less willing to test their abilities through action.  They attributed this shift to youth's growing distaste for taking any tangible risk that could end in failure---failure that once might have been witnessed by a few peers and then forgotten but today might become part of one's permanent digital footprint." 

These are other reasons why I would suppose that anecdotes and stories in which the professor describes his or her own failures and embarrassments are so popular with students:  they serve as a pressure-relief valve that furthers the sense that the classroom is a "judgment-free zone" in which experimentation and trial-and-error are ok. 

"What You Think of Me is None of My Business":  Why Millennials Love a Good Bad Guy

(Slade Wilson, aka "Deathstroke", the world's most expensive mercenary/assassin, was always one of my favorite comic book characters as a boy.  A classic example of the charismatic anti-hero, Wilson is now menacingly portrayed by badass, part-Maori Kiwi actor Manu Bennett on the TV show "Arrow")

Just as a general, aesthetic observation, Millennials seem *far* more interested in darker, anti-hero characters than they do in Boy Scouts and Dudley Do-Rights.  As example:  when pop-culture icons such as 007, Batman, Jason Bourne, Green Arrow, and even Sherlock Holmes have to be re-imagined and reinvigorated for the Millennial audience, they naturally must become edgier, more alone, more violent, more psychologically tortured, and more prone to navigating the shadows of moral ambiguity.

My first thought was that the darker, more ruthless characters were appreciated because they were capable of running along an emotional arc, of showing a mix of prosocial and antisocial traits that made them seem emotionally richer and more interesting (i.e., Jaime Lannister, Loki, Damon Salvatore).  Now I believe that the anti-heroes are appreciated because they are judged to have skills and attitudes that are more realistic for the non-Manichean world that we actually live in---they reflect Millennial concerns about the harshness and hypocrisy they see in real life.

So in a world filled with conflict and uncertainty, the lone wolf, quasi-psychopath character becomes the individual who seems to have the greatest range of psychological tools to get his hands dirty and to take care of business. 

Oxford's Kevin Dutton explains some of our fascination:

Psychopaths are assertive. Psychopaths don’t procrastinate. Psychopaths tend to focus on the positive. Psychopaths don’t take things personally; they don’t beat themselves up if things go wrong, even if they’re to blame. And they’re pretty cool under pressure. Those kinds of characteristics aren’t just important in the business arena, but also in everyday life.
The key here is keeping it in context. Let’s think of psychopathic traits—ruthlessness, toughness, charm, focus—as the dials on a [recording] studio deck. If you were to turn all of those dials up to max, then you’re going to overload the circuit. You’re going to wind up getting 30 years inside or the electric chair or something like that. But if you have some of them up high and some of them down low, depending on the context, in certain endeavors, certain professions, you are going to be predisposed to great success. The key is to be able to turn them back down again.

...I’ve interviewed a lot of special forces troops, especially the British Special Air Service. They’re like Navy SEALs. That’s a very good example of people who are pretty high on those psychopathic traits who are actually in a perfect occupation. Also, I interview in the book a top neurosurgeon—this was a surgeon who takes on operations that are especially risky—who said to me, “The most important thing when you’re conducting a dangerous operation, a risky operation, is you’ve got to be very cool under pressure, you’ve got to be focused. You can’t have too much empathy for the person that you’re operating on, because you wouldn’t be able to conduct that operation.” Surgeons do very nasty things to people when they’re on the operating table. If things do go wrong, the most important facet in a surgeon’s arsenal is decisiveness. You cannot freeze.

Tools for a William Gibson World

It may not be the Mad Men archetype in which "all of the women need to look like Marilyn Monroe, and all of the men like Rat Pack predators", but the archetypal Millennial vision of the world has its own noir-ish, decayed, cyberpunk elements.  Millennials are less optimistic about the virtues of being an establishment loyalist and seem less confident in authority figures more generally.  Few of them seem to cite their parents as examples to necessarily emulate---they love their parents, of course, but they see weaknesses and compromises in the life choices that their parents took.  This plays into a deeper concern that many Millennial students have with the concept of trade-offs, but I will get into that more in the next installment. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Manticores and The Future of Combatives Training: SouthNarc and Paul Sharp

One of the many sub-projects within this blog that I need to finally put together is a series of interviews with some of the leading practitioners of high-end private-sector self-defense/individualist tactical training in the world.

The integrationist Renaissance within the tactical community draws primarily from MMA, the competition shooting community, and the extraordinary amount of combat experience that has been accumulated in the wake of 9/11.  Some aspects of the Filipino Martial Arts (FMA), which emphasize blade- and impact weapon-work, are also added to the mix.

The integrationists have mixed-martial arts as a laboratory for testing striking and grappling techniques that work in the unarmed arena, and they have seen rapid convergence between the winning techniques used by the best shooting sports practitioners and the gunfighting dominance achieved by our best-trained, most experienced military special warfare units (in fact, the top units of the U.S. Army and Navy---the "Special Mission Units" which go by different names---could be seen as sort of technology-transfer mechanisms in which skills developed in practical shooting competition are used to kill people on the battlefield, and incorporated into an operational contextual sheath that considers real-world variables not present in the competition sphere).

Enter the Manticore 

Perhaps the new frontier is the creation of a manticore-like, rather terrifying mythological-hybrid animal who stands between a state-of-the-art background in MMA on the one end and full-blown, close-range gunfighting as practiced by the most elite specwar ninjas at the other. This murky area is the domain in which a fight may 1) start out unarmed and soon have a weapon enter the mix, or 2) begin with a drawn weapon but turn into a messy and chaotic hand-to-hand fight, normally because of various environmental and Rules of Engagement (ROE)-related factors that can create an opportunity for a desperate unarmed man to make a play for another man's weapon.

The type of scenario depicted has turned out to be its own uniquely challenging entity, requiring cherry-picked skills from a variety of different martial disciplines to be put together in creative, immediate task-focused ways. Here are two of the very best inter-disciplinary guys---it is my distinct honor to be able to call them both close personal friends---showing some of their curriculum materials in short videos.  

 Paul Sharp:



I hope to post much more from these gentlemen in the very near future! These guys are true badasses!

On a related note, my friend Ian Wendt of Special Circumstances is rapidly becoming known as one of the most innovative designers and manufacturers of lightweight, quick-access, efficient edged weapons for use in the types of urgent, explosively violent "detonation" type survival situations that are hallmarks of the SouthNarc and Paul Sharp training packages.

Putting it simply, the best hardware (equipment outfitter) guys are themselves training with the best software (skills) guys, and the result is that collaborative projects are emerging that will push the performance envelope.  The gear is constructed using lessons that are coming out of stressful training and street experiences, and then tested and refined through multiple iterations of Force-on-Force scenarios and through feedback from real-world operators working in the field. 3-D printing technology and rapid prototyping will no doubt play a larger role in this iterative process in the near future.

Some truly ferocious fighters are asking Ian to build them carry knives. The materials used in these delicious tools are themselves very interesting, but I will leave that discussion for an upcoming interview with him.

In terms of specific knife designs, a fair number of us have turned to the push dagger as an edged weapon that supports technology-transfer between our favored empty-hands technical platforms for striking (Western boxing, Muay Thai) and the hard reality that a drag race to produce a handgun is what frequently occurs in a real-world, street-ambush type of assault. This situation frequently calls for a knife that can be accessed under great pressure (and possibly by a man operating at severely diminished psychomotor capacity), and which can be used effectively by the support hand---i.e., left hand if you are a right-hander---while the primary hand can make its way to access (or even defend) the concealed-carry handgun.

 Ian made me a push dagger that has been the envy/obscene gear-porn lust object of many of my friends: