Pickup artists and generalization from one example: miscellaneous comments

The seduction community is an expansive and heterogeneous phenomenon. Unless someone has some experience of the community (say 30+ hours of reading of multiple gurus with different philosophies, and they have gone out and tried the approaches the community advocates or seen real pickup artists in action), then it is virtually impossible to understand what it involves and describe it in a way that isn’t skewed. (HughRistik)

Elana Clift’s honors thesis on the topic of the seduction community is a good place to start. From the abstract:

In attempting to deconstruct the American cultural climate that has produced the Seduction Community, I examine a few concrete factors: the continuously shifting aspects of men’s culture, the collapse of elaborate courtship rituals, the impact of feminist ideals on popular thought, and the proliferation of the Internet.

Although these distinct elements can be identified as causes for the community’s existence, they are also intertwined in a complicated web. By recognizing these distinct aspects, however, I distinguish the motivations behind the formation and explosion of the Seduction Community.

I determine that the community is composed of many elements that are borrowed from America’s cultural past, making it more reflective than revolutionary.

I propose that what is unique, however, is the distinct manner in which these various elements have coalesced to form a community of men, bonding through shared experiences and acting together to accomplish similar goals.

Before I go on, let me provide some context to frame the following quoted comments.

We generalize from one example a lot: you could call it a standard “failure mode” of human reasoning. Start with the so-called “typical mind fallacy”. Scott Alexander quoting professor of philosophy David Berman:

There was a debate, in the late 1800s, about whether “imagination” was simply a turn of phrase or a real phenomenon. That is, can people actually create images in their minds which they see vividly, or do they simply say “I saw it in my mind” as a metaphor for considering what it looked like?

Upon hearing this, my response was “How the stars was this actually a real debate? Of course we have mental imagery. Anyone who doesn’t think we have mental imagery is either such a fanatical Behaviorist that she doubts the evidence of her own senses, or simply insane.” Unfortunately, the professor was able to parade a long list of famous people who denied mental imagery, including some leading scientists of the era. And this was all before Behaviorism even existed.

The debate was resolved by Francis Galton, a fascinating man who among other achievements invented eugenics, the “wisdom of crowds”, and standard deviation. Galton gave people some very detailed surveys, and found that some people did have mental imagery and others didn’t. The ones who did had simply assumed everyone did, and the ones who didn’t had simply assumed everyone didn’t, to the point of coming up with absurd justifications for why they were lying or misunderstanding the question. There was a wide spectrum of imaging ability, from about five percent of people with perfect eidetic imagery1 to three percent of people completely unable to form mental images2.

Dr. Berman dubbed this the Typical Mind Fallacy: the human tendency to believe that one’s own mental structure can be generalized to apply to everyone else’s.

He kind of took this idea and ran with it. He interpreted certain passages in George Berkeley’s biography to mean that Berkeley was an eidetic imager, and that this was why the idea of the universe as sense-perception held such interest to him. He also suggested that experience of consciousness and qualia were as variable as imaging, and that philosophers who deny their existence (Ryle? Dennett? Behaviorists?) were simply people whose mind lacked the ability to easily experience qualia. In general, he believed philosophy of mind was littered with examples of philosophers taking their own mental experiences and building theories on them, and other philosophers with different mental experiences critiquing them and wondering why they disagreed.

Related to the typical mind fallacy is Scott’s own “typical psyche fallacy”, which he explains is “[the] tendency to generalize from our personalities and behaviors::

I’m about as introverted a person as you’re ever likely to meet – anyone more introverted than I am doesn’t communicate with anyone. All through elementary and middle school, I suspected that the other children were out to get me. They kept on grabbing me when I was busy with something and trying to drag me off to do some rough activity with them and their friends. When I protested, they counter-protested and told me I really needed to stop whatever I was doing and come join them. I figured they were bullies who were trying to annoy me, and found ways to hide from them and scare them off.

Eventually I realized that it was a double misunderstanding. They figured I must be like them, and the only thing keeping me from playing their fun games was that I was too shy. I figured they must be like me, and that the only reason they would interrupt a person who was obviously busy reading was that they wanted to annoy him.

Likewise: I can’t deal with noise. If someone’s being loud, I can’t sleep, I can’t study, I can’t concentrate, I can’t do anything except bang my head against the wall and hope they stop. I once had a noisy housemate. Whenever I asked her to keep it down, she told me I was being oversensitive and should just mellow out. I can’t claim total victory here, because she was very neat and kept yelling at me for leaving things out of place, and I told her she needed to just mellow out and you couldn’t even tell that there was dust on that dresser anyway. It didn’t occur to me then that neatness to her might be as necessary and uncompromisable as quiet was to me, and that this was an actual feature of how our minds processed information rather than just some weird quirk on her part.

“Just some weird quirk on her part” and “just being oversensitive” are representative of the problem with the typical psyche fallacy, which is that it’s invisible. We tend to neglect the role of differently-built minds in disagreements, and attribute the problems to the other side being deliberately perverse or confused. I happen to know that loud noise seriously pains and debilitates me, but when I say this to other people they think I’m just expressing some weird personal preference for quiet. Think about all those poor non-imagers who thought everyone else was just taking a metaphor about seeing mental images way too far and refusing to give it up.

There’s a lot of data on teaching methods that students enjoy and learn from. I had some of these methods…inflicted…on me during my school days, and I had no intention of abusing my own students in the same way. And when I tried the sorts of really creative stuff I would have loved as a student…it fell completely flat. What ended up working? Something pretty close to the teaching methods I’d hated as a kid. Oh. Well. Now I know why people use them so much. And here I’d gone through life thinking my teachers were just inexplicably bad at what they did, never figuring out that I was just the odd outlier who couldn’t be reached by this sort of stuff.

Scott discusses the above to make a point about a discussion on another thread about the seduction community:

There are a lot of not-particularly-complimentary things about women that many men tend to believe. Some guys say that women will never have romantic relationships with their actually-decent-people male friends because they prefer alpha-male jerks who treat them poorly. Other guys say women want to be lied to and tricked. I could go on, but I think most of them are covered in that thread anyway.

The response I hear from most of the women I know is that this is complete balderdash and women aren’t like that at all. So what’s going on?

Well, I’m afraid I kind of trust the seduction people. They’ve put a lot of work into their “art” and at least according to their self-report are pretty successful. And unhappy romantically frustrated nice guys everywhere can’t be completely wrong.

My theory is that the women in this case are committing a Typical Psyche Fallacy. The women I ask about this are not even remotely close to being a representative sample of all women. They’re the kind of women whom a shy and somewhat geeky guy knows and talks about psychology with. Likewise, the type of women who publish strong opinions about this on the Internet aren’t close to a representative sample. They’re well-educated women who have strong opinions about gender issues and post about them on blogs.

And lest I sound chauvinistic, the same is certainly true of men. I hear a lot of bad things said about men (especially with reference to what they want romantically) that I wouldn’t dream of applying to myself, my close friends, or to any man I know. But they’re so common and so well-supported that I have excellent reason to believe they’re true.

HughRistik responds to Scott’s remark above with the following:

….you are right to take the mass perceptions of people of each sex as evidence (though evidence of what is unclear, so far). Let me unpack a few things:

There are a lot of not-particularly-complimentary things about women that many men tend to believe. Some guys say that women will never have romantic relationships with their actually-decent-people male friends because they prefer alpha-male jerks who treat them poorly. Other guys say women want to be lied to and tricked.

There are guys who think like this, but not all pickup artists do, and probably most of the men who think like this aren’t pickup artists. Here’s my quick availability-heuristicky impression of what pickup artists think on these subjects, and whether or not these beliefs are complimentary, based on more than half a decade of involvement with the community:

  • Female attraction to male friends: Pickup artists typically believe that if a woman sees a man as “just a friend,” then it is unlikely that this perception will change, and that his efforts are best allocated elsewhere.
  • Alpha males: Pickup artists typically believe that women are attracted to “alpha males.” What “alpha male” means is subject to intense debate.
  • Lying and trickery: Pickup artists typically don’t believe that women want to be lied to or tricked. Pickup artists do present themselves selectively and strategically. Yet the modal point of view in my experience is that lying and trickery are looked down on, and seen as antithetical to seduction. If a pickup artist isn’t looking for a relationship, then he will try to make that obvious, or even state it explicitly.

Well, I’m afraid I kind of trust the seduction people.

It’s good to see someone caring what pickup artists think, but I would take their views with a bit more caution for several reasons:

  1. The availability heuristic. The seduction community has a pretty good model of young female extraverts with average IQ, because these are the women they encounter most often. As you look at women who differ more and more from the average extravert, the prototype of the seduction community becomes less and less correct. This is a point where I agree with Alicorn. This doesn’t mean that the community’s advice completely ceases to work, but it requires modification. Women who are nerdy, systemizing, bisexual, feminist, or in alternative subcultures are wired differently. (And to tie in to your post, women with those traits are going to be bad judges of the preferences of typical women due the Typical Psyche Fallacy, which I think is a special case of the availability heuristic.)
  2. Naive realism. Pickup artists often assume that because a theory produces results, then it is true. This isn’t necessarily the case. Pjeby has correctly described how correct-enough theories will often be useful without being true. Having a model of women that lets you predict the behavior of say, 30% of women better than chance is actually really good for a guy who is completely in the dark about women and their preferences and behaviors.

(I wonder whether more complex models would necessarily be more useful; I think this varies. When you are a beginner, it may be best to understand typical women, and then later try to figure out how all the outlier types of women work by seeing their similarities and differences from typical women. Ultimately, the model that is most important to have is the model of the type of women you are compatible with.)

When you put these two together, you get pickup artists running around with oversimplified-but-nevertheless-useful models of women, who start to get some better results, confirming their over oversimplified-but-nevertheless-useful models of women in their minds.

I figured this out because I view the empirical approach as the core of the seduction community’s teachings, so I often try out stuff that my gut tells me and break the rules of what is “supposed” to work or not work.

Here’s a remark by a woman who views the seduction community in a positive light which I found informative, in large part because she compared guys learning pickup to “girls putting on makeup or wearing heels, deceptive only in a way that everyone wants to be deceived anyway, since it’s usually more fun to be attracted to people than not to be”:

Just to provide a different female perspective, I’d heard about the seduction community a while back, and a few months ago decided to find out more about it. I read some (admittedly not all) of The Game, watched The Pickup Artist, and read a very substantial amount of material online, including most of the archives of a few blogs, my favorite of which was The Sinns of Attraction.

I take almost no issue with the seduction community, in fact my response is closer to the opposite. Insofar as the techniques advocated work, and I have every reason to believe they do, this seems to me to be, if anything, positive-sum.

Maybe I’m unusual girl, but what I remember thinking when I saw most of the advice was that it would totally work on me, and that that would be a good thing! For example, consider body language when approaching a group of girls. I hadn’t given all that much thought in the past to what made me feel creeped out by some guys when they came up to me, but I always knew I didn’t like that feeling! If more guys are learning to approach girls in a way that makes them more attractive and less creepy, I’m all for that, because that makes my life better.

To me, guys learning pickup seems analogous to girls putting on makeup or wearing heels, deceptive only in a way that everyone wants to be deceived anyway, since it’s usually more fun to be attracted to people than not to be. As a few people have said elsewhere in the thread, learning “game” allows normal guys to have the sort of success with women they would have if they were much better looking. If someone offered to wave a magic wand and make all the guys in the world twice as hot, I wouldn’t have a problem with it, so I don’t have a problem with the seduction community either.

I think one of the biggest things to remember when talking about attraction is that, at least for most people to a great extent, attraction is not a choice. A girl may logically think a guy is great, and nice, and would probably be wonderful for her in a lot of ways, but not be attracted to him. Can the seduction community train guys to get girls to sleep with them who wouldn’t have otherwise? Sure. I think the guys have made themselves more attractive, and girls prefer to sleep with people they are attracted to.

Scott chips in:

When I lived in Asia. I would bow to people, be extremely deferential to my superiors, and avoid saying any original thoughts out loud in any situation where I was not the highest status person. I didn’t do this because that’s Really Deep Down Who I Am, I did it because I read a book on dealing with Asian people, and that was what you were supposed to do. As a result, I got along with the Asians I knew and had pretty good relationships with most of them. If I’d been completely direct and honest all the time, the Asians wouldn’t have “appreciated my honesty”. They’d have fired me from my job and stayed away from me.

I don’t feel guilty for “manipulating” any Asians. I did what I had to do to be successful in Asia, it made me happy, and it made the Asians who worked with me happy.

I interact every day with two groups of people whose ways I find even stranger than the Asians’, those being extroverts and women. I basically coexist with extroverts the same way I coexisted with Asians; I read books about their behavior, I figure out what I need to do to get along with them, and I do it. Do I wish I could win their friendship solely by being myself? Yeah. But that was what I tried for about fifteen years, it ended up with me being unhappy and friendless, and instead of me blaming the extroverts for it I decided to learn techniques to get along with them. I think it makes us all better off.

I have split feelings about the seduction stuff. As a “how to trick stupid girls into sleeping with you so you can dump them later ha ha” sort of thing, it is clearly evil. But when I think of it as a guide to dealing with romance in the same way I’ve already used guides to dealing with Asians and extroverts, well, I could kind of use something like that.

I guess the difference is that the only thing I consider morally wrong is making other people unhappy. To trick a woman who really doesn’t like me into having a one-night stand she’ll regret later – that’s bad. But if there’s a woman whom I think I could have a really good relationship with that would make us both very happy, and the only thing stopping her from going out with me is that my body language is unattractive and I don’t know how to ask right, then I wouldn’t feel too bad about counteracting the stupid tricks her brain is using to prevent her from going out with me with stupid tricks to make her want to.

Unfortunately the rest of the thread wasn’t as informative as I’d hoped, so I’ll end here.

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