Predictable Identities: 7 – Weirdness Budget

Social life needs predictable people who conform to expectations. There are common expectations which apply to every person in the group, and personal expectations based on one’s perceived role and past behavior.

Deviating from common expectations costs idiosyncrasy credits. Dressing differently, eating strange diets, watching documentaries that no one else does and not watching the show everyone talks about – these all exhaust a limited budget of nonconformity. The budget accrues to people who conform or are popular; the two often go hand in hand.

As Homer Simpson noted: “Marge, I can’t wear a pink shirt to work, everybody wears white shirts. I’m not popular enough to be different.”

When someone exceeds their idiosyncrasy budget, their opinions will get dismissed on grounds of absurdity bias and the horn effect. If you want to tell your millennial friends about crazy ideas like unfriendly AI or Ribbonfarm, make sure you are otherwise appropriate.

Personal expectations include playing out roles and simply being the same person over time. Even changes of mind that don’t violate group norms, like hating a movie that you liked last year, can be grating. If you’re not changing in ways that are fun for your friends, you’re just making yourself hard to model and get along with.

Imagine a conversation with just a few people. When deciding whether to tell a joke, you have to consider your friends’ likely reactions to the joke. But you also have to consider their reaction to everyone else’s reaction, and what it implies about everyone’s relationships and status, and so on down many layers of metacognition. If you can’t rely on heuristics of shared group expectations and consistency over time, the computational effort is overwhelming. You’re likelier than not to go look for a more predictable group of friends to joke with.

Series Navigation<< Predictable Identities: 6 – CreepsPredictable Identities: 8 – Roles People Play >>

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About Jacob Falkovich

Jacob is so proud of his blog, putanumonit.com, that it's on his online dating profiles. He also tweets @yashkaf.

Comments

  1. Reminds me of Flaubert’s “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” and Orwell’s “If you kept the small rules, you could break the big ones.”

    Though I think an absence of any weirdness is it’s own issues in many circles and can signal “I’m boring / ordinary / normal” and not worth engaging with.

    • Yeah I was thinking about this, that there’s a desire for both heterogeneity and familiarity; we don’t want to be surrounded by copies of ourselves, but people with whom we can talk and collaborate whose differences to us we understand.

      I suspect that social movements most driven by characteristics of conformity will tend to collapse into inefficiency, unable to produce effective divisions of labour, because they loose the ability to handle those relationships of “safe/allied difference”.

      Equivalently, it’s probably a very good way to sabotage a social group by emphasising all those times that difference was associated with betrayal, diminishing their confidence in models that deal with connections between people with different suppositions or behavioural patterns.

  2. Something something performative neuro-atypicality

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