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Compassionate Takedown of Pickup Artististry

Glenn Fleishman explains the “pickup artist” (PUA) community, and the recent controversy about a PUA book on Kickstarter that advocated sexual assault:

PUAs aren’t typically an overlap with the frat-boy stereotype of athletes and aggression. Rather, PUAs are social misfits who appear to be incapable of reading and responding to social signals. Just as the Ana subculture arose on the Internet extolling anorexia, which is medically and socially unacceptable even as the body image associated is perpetuated through media, the PUA subculture seems to thrive because it’s found a home in which such discussions are encouraged and cultivated.

And it is undeniable to these men that women meet other men and then, immediately or after a number of dates, engage in sexual concourse with them. Why not them? It must not be their personality, pheromones, conversational style, or appearance. There must be a secret that some men have that they have missed, and thus a culture of tips, tricks, and strategies develops. […]

Mutually consensual behavior initiated by either party isn’t assault, of course, nor does it have to be spoken aloud. But it requires the ability to read signals and respond to them to know whether consent exists, and to stop — not “escalate” — when there’s ambiguity. This category of book provides the excuse for consent to men who can’t read signals. The book is advising sexual assault under the guise of something the woman wants but can’t ask for. That’s not consent.

Full Story: Boing Boing: Kickstop: how a sleazebag slipped through Kickstarter’s cracks

Something that’s bothered me lately about many critiques of internet subculture I’ve read recently. For example, Stephen Bond ‘s rants about skeptics and the Less Wrong community. He wrote about skeptics: “You’ll quickly find that the majority of visitors are not drawn there by concern for the victims of irrationality, but by contempt. They’re there to laugh at idiots.” And: “The average skeptic has little time for spreading the word of reason to the educationally or intellectually lacking. His superior reason is what separates him from the chumps around him, and he has no interest in closing the gap.” But Bond seems to fall quickly into a similar trap: he bashes skeptics and Bayesians, decrying their lack of ethics and implying his own moral superiority (someone on Metafilter suggested that Bond did this on purpose to parody those communities). There’s no compassion, no insight into why someone might become swept up in these communities other than “because they’re assholes.”

It’s a hard impulse to shake. It’s easy to get so angry at someone — internet scammers, religious people, pickup artists, libertarians, whoever — and end up seeing them as something less than human. I’ve done it many times right here on this blog. It’s hard to be compassionate or to see what attracted someone to this point of view. But that’s incredibly important not just to help win people over — which is very hard — but to help others understand the culture that you’re critiquing and why they are wrong. “They do these things because they’re assholes, and they’re wrong because they just are” isn’t a compelling argument. I think it’s why so many people have trouble with Evgeny Morozov’s work. Morozov doesn’t, at least in what I’ve read of his work, ever stop to ask why someone might believe what they do. He takes it for granted that everyone he criticizes is either a fool or a charlatan or both. It wears thin quickly, not just because it’s mean spirited but because it doesn’t read as a well-rounded critique. It reads as a rant meant solely for those who already agree with him, as a chance to make fun of the chumps who have bought into the “solutionist” ideology.

Fleishman doesn’t go easy on the PUAs, but he does explain why what they do is wrong, why someone might try it anyway, and why the people involved in it don’t realize what they’re doing is wrong. That makes it a far more powerful critique than most of what I’ve been reading lately.

If you want more info on the PUA culture and methodologies: The Observer’s review of Neil Strass’ book on pickup artistry and Jeff Diehl’s article on “speed seduction.”

Inside The Libertarian Seasteading Festival Ephemerisle

seasteading

Atossa Abrahamian on the Ephemerisle, the seasteading festival originally founded by PayPal founder Peter Thiel’s Seasteading Institute:

In addition to seeing government as just another problem that technology can overcome, Seasteaders try to “hack” every aspect of their existence down to their self-care regimens. Many participate in health and fitness regimes like the Paleo Diet and Crossfit—lifestyles that dovetail nicely with more mainstream libertarian retro-futurism, which argues humans ought to live more like they did before their “freedom” was impinged upon by large state governments, all while enjoying the enhancements of technological innovation forged in the free market. It wasn’t just Charlie from the boat cruise who proselytized the health benefits of butter: the unofficial beverage of Ephemerisle was “Bulletproof Coffee”—black coffee with half a stick of butter mixed in—which advocates claim increases their mental acuity and helps them stay trim. The inventor of the concoction claims to have increased his IQ by twenty points and lost 100 pounds as a result of his experiments “hacking” his biology. He was at Ephemerisle, too and later, in an email, told me he’d had a great time.

This tendency toward engineering everything spills into the social sphere. To supplement real or perceived romantic shortcomings, some Seasteaders dabble in pickup artistry, a method of seducing women that’s been likened to an algorithm and self-legitimized by handpicked data and bunk theories about evolution. The male vanity coursing under all this life-hacking may explain why so few women participate in projects like these. While there’s little overt sexism in the gay-friendly, drug-happy Seasteading community, there’s nothing preventing a hypothetical start-up country from regressing into a patriarchal, Paleo-Futuristic state. If anything, the movement’s reverence for caveman essentialism suggests the latter—that real goal is to remake civilization, starting from a primal, “natural” condition that they can revive in the modern world thanks to new technologies.

Full Story: N+1: Seasteading

See also: The Cult of Bayes’ Theorem

Tony Robbins and the Cult of Aggressive Positivity

Firewalk

Duff McDuffee writes about his experience as a follower of Tony Robbins:

Unfortunately few contexts are relevantly similar to firewalking, as I found out the hard way. Achieving most personal outcomes requires patience, persistence, and flexibility, not an intense emotional display and impulsive action.

I found the portion where he links aggressive positivity with depression interesting. He quotes the following passage from this article on creativity:

…creative people, for the most part, exhibit active moods and positive affect. They’re not particularly happy—contentment is a kind of complacency creative people rarely have. But they’re engaged, motivated, and open to the world.

The new view is that creativity is part of normal brain function. Some scholars go further, arguing that lack of creativity—not having loads of it—is the real risk factor [for anxiety and depression commonly thought to be a trait of creative people]. In his research, Runco asks college students, “Think of all the things that could interfere with graduating from college.” Then he instructs them to pick one of those items and to come up with as many solutions for that problem as possible. This is a classic divergent-convergent creativity challenge. A subset of respondents…quickly list every imaginable way things can go wrong. But they demonstrate a complete lack of flexibility in finding creative solutions. It’s this inability to conceive of alternative approaches that leads to despair. Runco’s two questions predict suicide ideation—even when controlling for preexisting levels of depression and anxiety.

And adds:

Here we come to understand a looping program for spiraling depression, if not bipolar—built into the very framework of the cult of aggressive positivity found in Tony Robbins’ workshop, but also found in other popular self-help workshops, books, CDs, blogs, eBooks, coaching programs, etc. As with most chronic psychological problems, the attempted solution makes the problem worse. The alcoholic drinks to make his hangover go away. The sweet-tooth eats sugar to reward himself for going all day without sugar. The unsuccessful self-helper pushes away fear only to then be more unprepared and therefore more likely to fail, becoming even more depressed with each failure. By not thinking about negative potential problems or future scenarios, one never develops the skill of being able to handle them. Of course as soon as you teach your people to think critically, you’ve lost most of your potential money as a guru—both because they get better and thus aren’t as eager to buy more of the same, but also because they think critically about your sales messages too. One can still make a respectable living this way, but will probably not reach the same dizzying heights of fame and fortune.

Robbins claimed in his public TED talk—with now over 2.1 million views on YouTube alone—that he has never lost a client to suicide. Since his organization doesn’t do followups with all of his thousands of seminar attendees (only a select few that are used for video testimonials), this claim is totally corrupted by confirmation bias. There have been many reports of suicide and psychosis following intensive weekend workshops like Robbins’ on anti-cult forums like Rick Ross. Were these caused by the workshops themselves, or would they have happened anyway? The question of causation is tricky business, especially with lawyers under the employ of seminar organizations actively suppressing such negative information (note to such lawyers: while I can neither confirm nor deny any claims as to whether anyone has ever committed suicide as a result of attending a Tony Robbins event or any other workshop, I won’t be removing this post which merely states my opinions and is protected free speech—see also.)

Beyond Growth: Tony Robbins and the Cult of Aggressive Positivity Part 1 and Part 2

My interview with Duff and Eric Schiller is here.

I did a guest post at Beyond Growth called Towards a Socially Conscientiousness Lifestyle Design Movement.

See also all previous posts tagged positive thinking or self help.

A method for focusing magical energies, from the Temple ov Psychick Youth

Here’s an interesting, NLP-esque ritual from TOPY.

This exercise should be repeated every day for 23 days, and at least once per week there after.

Sit comfortably in front ov a mirror.

Move your eyes around, first clockwise direction, then do it in an anti-clockwise direction. Do it a bit longer than you find comfortable. Check your position: are you sitting differently, breathing differently, has soum part ov your body becoum rigid?

Now look into thee mirror and wait until your breathing has becoum even.

Try to put the following expressions into your eyes:

Fear/Terror

Sadness

Longing

Love

Anger

Being there: your Presence in thee eyes.

This should be carried out until you feel that the mirror is definitely staring back at you and that there is soumthing tangible between you and thee mirror.

Pick our one of the first five experiments and try to keep it in your eyes while you look up, down, and to thee sides. Do not look at thee mirror while doing this. Again check your position. Have your facial expressions changed while doing this?

Now relax again. Close your eyes and think ov soum experience which you feel was sad or bad for you. It is very likely that you will have remembered something like that while going through thee first part ov the exercises.

Visualize that experience as clearly as you can and then make it run backwards until you have reached thee point just before thee difficult part started. Keep the image steady then let it fade to WHITE. Slowly. Now build out ov thee white an image ov what you would have liked to happen, soumthing that you feel good. If you are left with a feeling ov relief or exhiliation, allow that feeling to flow through you and then find a spot on one ov your upper arms, preferably where you have a tattoo or birthmark, press it gently with a ginger and then visualize thee feeling being stored in that point.

After doing this for a few times thee spot will in effect becoum a battery or storehouse for that energy and you can press it like a button when you need access to a bit ov optimism and well-being. Sounds stupid? Try, do it, and then report back to us.

The Bandler Method

Mother Jones article from 1989 on NLP godfather Richard Bandler.

Mother Jones: The Bandler Method

(via New World Disorder).

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