Sunday, May 20, 2018

Prepare for People Signalling Their Taste by Seeking Out "Artisanal" Non-Machine-Harvested Wine

Early move toward automation in Napa, predictably there due to land and labor costs and the availability of automation experts. Prepare for the usual pearl-clutching that a culturally important (but nonetheless already commodified) object like wine is being increasingly mechanized. At least this will give the opportunity for future hipsters (I predict on the 5-10 year horizon) to signal their values by only buying human-produced wine.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Instrinsic Social Skills: Small Towns vs Big Cities

PART I. People from small towns find even setting foot in a big city scary - because you're much more likely to have interactions with strangers that go beyond "pretending not to see each other", if only because of the simple fact that you have MORE interactions. You can split social interactions with strangers into three tiers.

Tier 1: ignoring strangers, avoiding eye contact, maybe slightly altering your direction of travel to avoid bumping into somebody. The default mode.

Tier 2: interactions where you acknowledge each other but that are largely ceremonial; e.g. asking someone at a restaurant if you can take a chair they're not using from their table.

Tier 3: interacting with strangers in a situation where there are potential divergent interests to navigate, and negotiation and emotional-regulation (of both self and other party) are important; e.g., saying something when someone jumps the line, asking someone for their phone number, asking someone to move their car.

PART II. I had these reflections as I was walking back from getting pizza on a Saturday night categorizing types of social interactions (a very unlikely thing to do if you have innately high social intelligence) and realized that a place like New York does a big favor for people who do NOT have high social intelligence.

One of the things I pay attention to when I visit big, dense cities is the social perceptiveness and effectiveness of people living there. Do they read people well, and are they smoother? (How would you measure this? Not sure overall, but some proxy indicators: automatically understanding the intentions of people they interact with, rate at which they perceiving the hierarchy, ability to defuse conflict.) My prediction would be that they are, because of practice, and they seem to be a little bit, but not dramatically so. (In truth, this is mostly based on my observations of New Yorkers, since differences between people in say Tokyo and a Japanese small town are to me as an American much harder to see than the same kinds differences between New York and rural Pennsylvania.)

But, there's a pretty large overlap between these skill, so that even in New York, you meet plenty of socially "slow" people. It's not dramatic, but it still always suprises me, just like someone from Mexico who doesn't like spicy food (there are lots of these folks, but somehow when I meet them they still also surprise me also.) All that said I'm not the most innately socially intelligent person, but at this point in my life I've consciously learned a lot of tricks, much like someone who works around horses learns consciously how to read them and influence them. And the sheer volume of data a big city provides teaches many of the socially slow among us (like me) how to handle people almost as well as the innately gifted types can - that's the favor that big dense cities do.

The implication is that innately gifted people have a bigger advantage in a small town than they do in a place like New York. It's also worth pointing out that lots of other cognitive characteristics likely covary with innate social intelligence, and this may be part of what sorts people into "big city" types and "small town" types. If you're a socially smooth person in a small town, why go to New York? You're competing not only with the other smooth people, but people like me can be almost as socially clever as you, just from social "Big Data" analysis.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

States Emerged In Places With Marginal Agriculture Potential That Benefited From Central Control

I. More Evidence for the Argument That States Emerge When Food Production Benefits from Central Control

If you looked at climate and climate alone, Egypt, the Fertile Crescent, the Andes and the Mexican Plateau would not seem like optimal cradles of civilization. And yet, it's exactly these kinds of marginal places where states first emerged. Yes, those places are hotter and drier than they were during the neolithic, but they still weren't better suited for cultivation than other places with more arable land. They're dry, they rely on rivers, and in some cases there's considerable altitude. So why there?[1] Why did we not first have large states in the Pacific Northwest of North America, or the southern (wetter) African Sahel, or the (early, but not first) wet parts of the Mediterranean? No, it had to be at the edge of the Sahara, or in the highest mountains outside Asia.

The immediate counterargument to such a theory is one word: China. Any theory of early state emergence that does not include China is not much of a theory of early state emergence. And if we're assuming that the cause is marginal conditions for agriculture, we definitely can't explain China, since the Chinese coastal plain is ideal for agriculture and for transporting agricultural goods. Is there still a commonality? One argument is that anywhere conditions are such that farming only works with central coordination of labor - but with such coordination, it really works - you have the conditions for a state. Planning your crops in a harsh environment and relying on the flooding of a river, as in Egypt would be one such setting. Another would be an otherwise fertile environment but where the grain of choice was hard to harvest alone, but paid off handsomely when harvested with central coordination.

In a review of Fernand Braudel's Civilization and Capitalism, Reddit user lunaranus quotes Braudel and then expands on him:
Rice is an even more tyrannical and enslaving crop than wheat.
The key difference between rice and wheat is that the former can produce ~7.3 million kcals per hectare, whereas wheat can only reach 1.5 million. Unlike wheat, there was no need for fallow land, and bythe 13thC in China a system of double (or sometiems triple) crop was established. "And thus the great demographic expansion of southern China began."

The high population density created by rice, combined with the necessity for elaborate top-down irritation systems, resulted in strong state authority that constantly pursued large-scale works.
My argument is that this principle applies to the more marginal areas, but the necessity for labor coordination, including irrigation, is really what was important. Any place that could get 1) a big bump in food production from central coordination, and 2) which you couldn't defect from and survive, would favor state formation.

II. A Side Observation About Genetic/Cultural Quality vs. Climate as an Influence on Propensity for Regional Dominance, Toward a Macro-Theory of History

There's also the argument - though this makes some people uncomfortable[2] - that people from climates with wider annual temperature extremes are more behaviorally adaptable, and therefore when they encounter people from less extreme climates, they "win". To the surprise of many, the closer to the poles you are, the more extreme the annual temperature difference (the temperate regions are NOT the most extreme.) That is to say, during the summer Arctic regions are at or close to room temperature but can get to -50 C or worse in the winter. (Is -50 C really that different from - 30 C to humans, livestock and agriculture? Maybe this could be adjusted by "meaningful" temperature variation, but I digress.) Sure enough, the history of China is a history of more northerly groups (including, in two cases, non-Han steppe people) taking over territory to the south. The history of India is a history of Indic speakers coming from the north-northwest and displacing Dravidians. In North America, Na-Dene speakers migrated from the northerly Alaska/Yukon region, displacing people throughout Western North America, just in the last millennium. And of course in 2018 it's Germany, not Rome, that has most influence over the continent. Of note: I recently visited the site of Carnuntum, a Roman garrison town frequently visited by Marcus Aurelius, who was trying to keep the Germanic tribes out of the Empire. At the time he celebrated some successes, commemorated with carvings on cliff faces occasionally like the one in Trencin, Slovakia. But Since Carnuntum is now in Austria we can see how successful he ultimately was.

Of course that begs the question of why we haven't all been conquered by the Inuit already. The pattern of the Germanic takeover of northern Europe gives us a clue. The first Germanic-speakers appeared in non-Scandinavian Europe around 120 BC, migrating from (guess what) farther north in Scandinavia. Even in Julius Caesar's time seventy years later, the Celts were still his main concern. It wasn't until the mid-second century that the Germans were a major concern for the empire, with their numbers now growing after settling in the lands north of the Danube. The idea is this: Scandinavia has more extreme temperature and bred more adaptable people, but it's just too cold to grow enough food for the population to expand (the region still only has 26 million today, fewer than California.) After three centuries of farming in the much-more hospitable northern "mainland" Europe, their numbers had grown, and now they were ready to take on the Roman Empire, which lasted only three more centuries after that. So we have our time scale: six centuries from crossing the Baltic to destroying the Western Roman Empire. (You could even make the argument that Braudel's southern Chinese expansion was actually northern Chinese - Han - who had settled in what was previously tribal areas, done under the more stable-appearing timeline of centralized governments.)

And there we have the outline of a macrohistorical and demographic theory: states began in areas where food production was difficult, either because of local conditions or choice of food source, but where food production benefited greatly from centralized control. The old centers of civilization give way to waves of people coming from areas of more extreme climate, usually from the north. One prediction that follows from this theory is that the Inuit and related people, given time in warmer more fertile land, will start farming and demographically expanding, moving further south and indeed controlling Siberia and Canada, but this might be simplistic. It's not the mere fact of living where there are temperature extremes, it's that you have to adjust your behavior to seasons. The Inuit did outlast the Norse in Greenland but it wasn't because they were better farmers. Even though the Inuit might have to move to follow fish and game, they're still hunter-gatherers. My expectation is that it's seasonal agriculture which is the key factor to producing more adaptable behavior (read: more effective ability to control behavior to plan for the future.) So that being the case, in the year 3000 look for states in Eurasia dominated by people who are Siberian agriculturalists today. (Seem silly? If you had told Julius Caesar that western Europe would be dominated by German-speakers within five centuries, including former Roman territory, he would have fallen down laughing.)

Things that may have checked this trend in some cases in the past, and could stop it in the future:

The Old Word interrupting this process in the New World. (Obviously.) If there are two continent systems and one of them has both better diffusion of inventions and more territory, chances are that one will be "ahead" in terms of cultural evolution (the Guns, Germs and Steel argument) and it won't be because of more adaptable northerners, but the other continent finally crossing the ocean that your state-originating-center will be overwhelmed (i.e. the Columbian exchange.) Without that you might orthodict (rather than pre- or retrodict, that is, predicting alternative histories, granted untestable) that the Mapuche would have been the Germans to the Incas' Romans, and likewise the Comanche or Lakota to the Aztecs; maybe the Maori to indigenous Australians.

Centers of civilization getting too far ahead of the northerners. Also, there may be a point where the sheer population numbers of the old centers of civilization are so far ahead of the northerners that they can't be overwhelmed. Had the Germans arrived a few centuries later at the edge of an even more-developed Roman Empire, they may not have had the same effect. The communication and transportation capabilities of modern states may exaggerate this effect, so that the Inuit don't have the same opportunity. There is a major asymmetry in modern technology in terms of the capital and manpower it requires. The Germanic tribes and Mongols had technology that was not substantially inferior to the people they were inundating (in some cases, actually superior.) And colonials in Pennsylvania could re-invent medieval metal-working techniques which turned out to be good enough to run off the British, whose weapons were better but not that much better. But it's harder to imagine that a nascent state in the boreal forests distant from Moscow, no matter how adaptable its people, could really produce their own technology to resist the drones and agriculture-attacking Stuxnet malware of even a decadent future Russia.

Technology obviating the need to plan and adjust behavior seasonally. This is the most speculative. Living in a northern OECD country today, do you really have to plan that much for the seasons now? Yes, you reserve your beach house in the summer and get your coats out during the winter, but your life is not directly dependent on your ability to plant and harvest and store and ration food as it would have been until just a few centuries ago. The reign of the northerners may then be over. Of course, just living in such a technologically advanced society requires cognitive discipline and planning, but does that often result in poor reproductive success? Sure enough, in Iceland in the last century, genes associated with educational achievement have become less common. Also curious: there is a known bump in births in September, but I don't know if this extends outside the U.S. Is this just because in January people don't have anything better to do? Or an adaptation so more babies are born during the harvest when there are calories available? (Easy to check: does it persist in US states or other countries with low seasonal variation? Does it differ between ethnicities (forbidden question!) whose ancestors are from different latitudes, living together in a high-variation climate?)

[1] Inferring too much from population patterns in terms of climate and impact on agriculture and the local economy is always a precarious road to go down, especially in parts of the New World that have seen most of their development in the industrial age. For example - population density in the United States drops off west of the 100 W meridian. This is commonly assumed to be due to decreasing rainfall and therefore poorer agricultural productivity, but this is not the case - it's most likely a historical artifact, since aside from a few wagon trains willing to risk the long ride all the way to the coast, until the trains went all the way through and were cheap and reliable enough, people generally just moved a few miles west to start a new homestead. Around 1880 train had become accessible for most relocating families, and by 1880 that slowly moving population front had made it to about 100 W. Here's the data. What's more, to this day, poorer countries have lower agriculture productivity even with the same or better innate agricultural endowments in terms of soil and climate - see Adomopolous and Restuccia, 2018.

[2] This makes no argument is to whether and what combination of genes and culture mediate this effect - but to drive the point home, either genes affect bodies, or they do not. If we accept that they do affect bodies, it's a very tortured argument to say that for some reason genes cannot affect behavior, since that's saying genes can affect other organs but not the brain. There's another gyration you can observe when someone wants to say that culture matters (fair enough) but can't effect outcomes in the aggregate (that is to say, culture doesn't affect happiness or survival.) Either culture matters to outcomes, or it's meaningless static.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Great Stagnation: Problems Are Harder, and/or Talent is Misallocated

On Rationally Speaking, Julia Galef interviews Michael Webb about increasing research inefficiency - for example, Webb cites the statistic that today, to get another Moore's-Law-Doubling, it takes twenty times as many researchers as it did in the 1970s. It's not obvious that research is more and more inefficient because it's still producing improvements at the same rate, but only by consuming more and more resources to maintain the same rate. He uses the analogy of mining, where you have to keep going further and further into the ground to get to the gold, or the coal, or whatever it is. The longer the mine is operating (assuming a single central shaft) the bigger this distance gets:
[The pre-work you have to do in order to make a contribution] is a lot further today than it ever was. The amount of knowledge you have to have as a scientist to be able to get to the frontier, to make these contributions, is just so much larger today. And you can see this from the amount of time of it takes to do a PhD, how old an inventor is the time they first take out a patent, the size of research teams. Ben Jones, he's a fantastic economics professor at Kellogg, has papers that document these things.

That means that for individuals, they could either end up spending more time studying, which is what you see in the PhD length, or you see that they just focus on narrower and narrower fields. For a given amount of time, you only learn something about a much, much narrower field. Which might mean that you just have less good insights if it turns out that for all you progress, the fields...The wider field you have to be combining with some knowledge from quite distributed science.
I had previously argued for exactly this idea as an explanation for technological stagnation (or, prior to that, increasing research inefficiency), with admitted nerve calling this ultimate economic heath death Caton-Schumpeter stasis.

Another factor is the availability of talent, which operates on the assumption that talent is unevenly distributed in the population and is a constraint on technological progress. Consequently there are also the ideas of talent dilution and talent mis-selection.

Talent dilution is the idea that there are only so many Fermis and Oppenheimers, and there is a negative marginal utility to adding more people to the research endeavor. The otherwise productive people are overwhelmed with meetings and emails and swamped by mediocrity. This is actually optimistic, as it suggests that we could return to research productivity by restricting the size of research teams. That this is not already happening suggests that either this idea is wrong, or that people putting the teams together have perverse incentives (quite possible) but, since these are mostly private sector endeavors, somehow overwhelm the profit incentive without unsustainably driving the enterprise into the ground - which seems hard to believe on its face.

Talent mis-selection is a little more subtle. The track to become a physical scientist or semiconductor engineer in the mid-20th century was not as artificial and clear as it is now. The cause of your having a career in STEM was likely early achievement in that field, because your primary motivation is to explore things in STEM, not to make money or move up in a hierarchy.*Getting good test scores, being a well-behaved student, and knowing how to game your applications is probably much more important now than it was then, and may not be sorting for the actual most productive talent. On top of this, the world today is just a lot more interesting, with a lot more (easy!) options, for someone who's good at quantitative thinking, and the best may not be going into research - they're going to Wall Street or heading to startups. (There are pretty solid statistics that med school applications drop when the economy is good and vice versa - I'd wager that the correlation is even more true for physical science and engineering graduate programs.) By selecting for the type of person who focuses for their first quarter century of life on collecting prestige coupons, climbing hierarchies and gaming applications, you are very likely selecting against exactly those people who will be most productive in STEM, i.e. the kind of person who is directly motivated and rewarded by work in STEM. (For a great discussion about the gap in social cognition or lack thereof between STEMmy and other types of people, see this Slate Star Codex post.)

To put a finer point on the idea of talent distraction, let's look at another domain of achievement. Imagine a national program claiming to identify "the nation's top talent in military conquest", complete with an entrance exam and rigorous interviews. You need a reference from a military historian. Those not wearing a tie to their interview are shown the door for their disrespectful and noncomformist behavior. How likely would it be to find the next Genghis Khan or Napoleon or Hannibal this way? The most interesting part of the world to such people would be wherever there is active conflict, and the "successful applications" would like be annihilated, e.g., by the person who went to Syria and became a successful warlord.

*I'm all for scientists getting paid. A statistician once pointed out to me that if statistician jobs were suddenly paying 10x more, you might not get the best statisticians - you would get the people best at obtaining stable large paychecks signed by someone else, and some of them will hopefully be good statisticians.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Treasure versus Currency

This scatter plot from Unenumerated is useful and fascinating.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Why Do People Remain Loyal to a Losing Team?

Cross-posted to the MDK10Outside and Cognition and Evolution.

tl;dr Sports fan behavior is explained by a combination of constant identity-forming team loyalty which is an end in itself, and status signaling by association which is modulated by team performance. These two factors differ between individuals and are associated with different cognitive styles, with constant loyalty more associated with moral foundations and intransitive preferences.

It's been observed that you can tell who a team's true fans are by noticing who remains loyal to the team even when that team is losing. I think this is meaningful, but it does beg the question: what are those fans getting out of it?[1] Of course any speculation about this must mention the very real example of the Cleveland Browns, who over the past 2 years have a 1-31 record, and this year after going 0-16 they were on the receiving end of a sarcastic "perfect season" parade.

Humans get utility from associating with others with high status. Much of the happiness that a sports fan gets from their emotional connection to their team derives from this, and many observations are consistent with what a status-by-association theory would predict: fans are happier when their teams win because they feel high status and can signal higher status, they engage in extreme dominance displays when their teams win important contests (i.e., people acting like idiots as they come out of a championship game if their team won, yelling, jumping on cars, setting off fireworks) but not if they didn't win, they attend games more when the team is winning and less when the team is losing, and they wear branded gear to identify themselves with the team and otherwise let others know of their association.[2]

But this theory falls short of explaining why, for example, there is any such thing as a team's consistent fanbase. By this model, everyone should just cheer for the best team, game by game (or even play by play!) It especially doesn't explain why the the Cleveland Browns have any fans left at all; supposedly they're a football team but I've seen a number of convincing arguments against that, for instance, every game of the 2017 season. During an 0-16 season you would expect that if fandom is about fully rational people maximizing utility by associating with high status teams, the fans would stop posting on forums, they would put their gear away and deny to others that they were fans, and the stadium would not just have lower attendance, it would be completely empty. Yet this is not what happened.

I think the answer here very likely has to do with the gap we see between two types of beliefs/behaviors that often produce apparent impasses in other domains of life, especially religion and politics, the intensity of which differs between individuals. This gap in rational and more instinctual behavior will seem very familiar to readers of books like Jonathan Haidt's Righteous Mind, or Simler and Hanson's Elephant in the Brain. Humans demonstrate some domains in their cognition which are inflexible and impervious to reason - to use Haidt's categories, harm, fairness, loyalty, authority, and purity. By "inflexible" I mean "not open to discussion, or conversion into money or other goods/services." For example, you likely do not believe that murdering children is morally acceptable. Are you interested in hearing arguments about why it might be morally acceptable? If you would never consider such a thing, and you're uncomfortable that I would even suggest it in a thought experiment, you're showing inflexibility in discussing it. Okay - would you kill an adult for $50,000? I see that also upset you, I'm sorry to have opened with such a low offer! $75,000 then? You're being inflexible (I hope!) in reacting by thinking "It's not about the number!" Okay, what's the conversion rate between adults and children? Forget murder, how about urinating on a picture of your family for money? etc., you get the point. "Inflexible" means it can't even be suggested as open for discussion, which includes not being allowed to convert between moral-foundation-violating acts and money, or between different types immoral acts. (A favorite of action movies and dramas to demonstrate the extreme evil of an antagonist is to have them force someone declare the relative value of immoral acts, e.g. Sophie's Choice.) To connect back to the abstract, the philosophical term for having values that cannot be negotiated, and for which there is no relative value like this, is that they are intransitive.

I took you on this little tour of moral darkness to illustrate that morally normal humans do not adhere to consistent rationality, and the ones that actually do are psychopaths.[3] (You may be interested to know that Haidt found that when he surveyed the business students he was teaching, they scored low on every single moral dimension, taught as they are that everything is negotiable.) So what does all this have to do with the Cleveland Browns? Many of us have noticed that "hardcore" sports fans - the ones who stick around with long faces even when the Browns are losing, and falsify the first model above - tend to have certain personality and cultural characteristics that fit well with some of these inflexible moral foundations: they tend to be more religious, more nationalistic, more conservative and more valuing of loyalty and authority.[4] Sports fans rarely become hardcore about a team after entering adulthood, and very often there is a family lineage of fandom - and these are exactly the times and ways in which characteristics of core identity are formed. Also telling, while there were about 3,000 people who showed up for the Cleveland Browns parade, there were many fans who were quite angry about it - but online objections were mostly that it was "embarrassing". (No mention of the 0-16 record that inspired the parade.)

Before I put into words what might be motivating them and make predictions, here's a summary of the two kinds of of beliefs, producing two kinds of motivation. While these beliefs exist in everyone, there is going to be a distribution in the population, with one category of beliefs dominating the fandom-related cognition of some fans, and the other category dominating that of others.

motivated by moral foundations by utility calculations
end in themselves deliberate, external goal-oriented
higher value on loyalty lower value on loyalty
adopted in childhood, maybe from familyadopted voluntarily in adulthood
not negotiable negotiable
central to identity not central to identity
unwilling or unable to verbalize position clearly verbalized
more often encountered in person more often encountered online
sees casual fans as untrustworthy, sleazysees hardcore fans as stupid, gullible

Of course it's a spectrum, and every fan is somewhere on this spectrum, but many of us clearly lean toward one or the other end. (If you're reading this, you're more likely in the right column than the left.)

To summarize the hardcore fan: he is motivated by more basic, instinctual moral drives, especially loyalty. Being a good fan is an end in itself, and an offer to burn a team jersey, to cheer for the other team, etc. in exchange for money is likely to not only be immediately refused but to provoke active offense. These fans consider their fandom a crucial part of their identity, to the extent of including team-related themes in their weddings or mentioning it in obituaries ("he lives and dies by the Browns"; "a Browns fan to the core.") He can get uncomfortable when the business aspects of a professional sport are discussed and overshadow the games on the field. Asking him to explain his fandom will be met with puzzlement, anger, or a jumbled set of team cheers and slogans, in the same manner as a person asked to explain why they are patriotic or follow a certain religion - "If I have to explain it to you, you'll never understand." And finally, because tribal loyalty sentiments are more warning-barks or team cheers than any kind of actionable proposition, you're more likely to hear such sentiments when talking to him in person, where the nonverbal (affect-laden and irrational) part of communication dominates. He will be a fan for life. When the bandwagon people disappear during losing seasons the hardcore fan says "Good riddance, good-time Charlie."

To summarize the casual fan: he is motivated by utility calculations about external goals (this team might win this year so I'll cheer for them, maybe I can make friends this way, maybe I'll look successful if I follow a good team.) He doesn't see what's impressive about staying loyal to losers, and really doesn't understand why making fun of your team when they lose is shameful or embarrassing. He probably picked up his fandom after college, maybe when he moved to a new city. He probably don't care either way about the business dealings of the team. If someone offered him money to stay home from a game or burn team logos, he would seriously consider the offer. He doesn't introduce himself to strangers as a fan, and five years from now he might not be following the team, or might not be following the sport at all. He can give clear reasons why he started following the team, and you're more likely to hear from people like him online. He shakes his head at the hardcores who keep shelling out cash for losing teams' jerseys.

Both the hardcores and non-hardcores gain utility in proportion to the team's performance. A team's performance can be negative, causing you to lose utility by associating with them.[5] But there must be another source of utility for the hardcores, who somehow gain utility from the association no matter the team's performance - and that source of utility is a constant ability to demonstrate loyalty, period, to others as well as to themselves to reinforce their own identity. And this signal is most informative when your side is losing.[6] Speaking quantitatively, in the utility equation for this model, there are two terms, loyalty (a constant for everyone, hardcore or not), plus the product of team performance times associative utility. Associative utility is how much your utility changes per team winningness. Both loyalty and associative utility vary by individuals, and team performance of course is determined by the team. The equation looks like this:

Total utility = Loyalty-based utility + (Team performance * associative utility)

Team performance can be positive or negative. For the hardcores, loyalty is such a large term that it doesn't matter how negative team performance is, loyalty will alway be greater and the total utility will always be positive (this could be the definition of "hardcore", "rain or shine", etc.) Further toward the other end of the spectrum, the value of loyalty signaling decreases and the team performance makes more of a difference in whether people keep following the team. It's also worth pointing out that this explains people who don't care about sports at all, because they have zero loyalty and zero associative utility - that is, it doesn't matter how much the team wins, they still won't care.


Many of these predictions seem trivial, but the point is to relate these predictions to specific components of the hardcore fan's motivation structure as noted in the table above, which would be more informative.
  • While utility is hard to measure directly, there are good proxies for it, like revenues, attendance, or Nielsen ratings. Given that there will be a distribution of hardcore to non-hardcore fans, there will be a non-zero floor to revenues so even 0-16 teams don't go to zero, as we observed. If we graph all of the teams on performance vs utility proxy, I would expect a mostly linear-looking scatter plot with an increase in the slope at the good end, for those teams with some expectation of a national championship, and possibly a flattening at the bottom. This may depend more on expected utility (if fans are pleasantly surprised by a win vs. they expect their team always to win.) I plan to try to collect some kind of utility-proxy data and see if this is in fact the case.
  • In general a sport will be more successful in inspiring loyalty, the more similar it is to tribal warfare (always a reliable revenue stream for every team); maybe this is why football has eclipsed baseball as the national pastime.
  • The more hardcore, the more they will pay attention to the outside charity activities of their own team, and the more outraged they will be by disloyalty-demonstrating acts, e.g. kneeling during the national anthem. They will also be more interested in the moral failings of opposing teams, especially rivals.
  • The more hardcore, the less they will be interested in statistics, especially of other teams, even ones their teams are playing in important games.
  • The more hardcore, the greater the difference in their interest in a player when he is on their team, vs. after he is traded. That is, hardcores think each of their players is a great person on and off the field - when he plays for their team - and any suggestion that they'll stop caring about him the second he is traded is likely to be met with hostility, but in fact this is the behavior they demonstrate. (He will also be annoyed when asked why, or when Seinfeld is cited - "Essentially you're cheering for clothing.")
  • The more hardcore, the more they will feel sad or angry after a loss, and the more likely they are to attend or watch the next game despite having been very sad or angry at the last game's outcome.
  • The more hardcore, the less tolerant they will be of fans behaving negatively toward the team, even when the team loses (very concrete and contra expectations here: you might expect hardcore fans to support a parade showing anger against the people making their Browns lose, but it seems to be exactly the opposite. Parallels to gay marriage here too: how exactly does the 0-16 parade degrade your fandom, when you didn't attend?)
  • The more hardcore, the more they will confuse the team with a government agency or public good (i.e., demanding that the city finance a new stadium.)[7] More recent teams with cities that have highly educated and/or mobile populations (i.e. the coastal Pacific) will therefore find that they can't get what they want from those cities, because the voters don't care (Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego) where other cities filled with less mobile, less educated people would crucify their mayor for allowing a team to leave on their watch.
  • It's often been noted that the Midwest with its brutal early winters has far more rabid sports fans than the mild West Coast. One possibility is that the loyalty-demonstration value of attending every game is diminished when all of those games are 70 F and sunny, vs some of them being freezing cold. (Think of the people who still wait in line in the cold and dark on Black Friday morning to buy things for their families. They do know that Amazon exists. So what do you think they're really doing?) Of course there could be a climate-independent cultural difference between east and west coast, but the model's prediction would be that Miami has equally low loyalty.
  • The more hardcore, the more they will be upset if a star player leaves for another franchise, or the whole team moves to another city, and they use words like "betrayal."[7]
  • The more hardcore, the less tolerant they will be of long-term, off-field strategies, especially ones that alter play and result in on-field losses. (Both the 2008 Detroit Lions and 2017 Cleveland Browns had 4-0 preseasons, then went 0-16. Tanking (here and here) and/or salary cap manipulation? Difficult to explain as mere incompetence. And if it were confirmed that this is what is happening, the hardcore fans would be angry; casual fans might say "Huh, that's kind of clever, although it means you've been putting a bad product on the field." "My team is not a 'product'!" the hardcore fan says.)
  • I'm not sure what to predict about the impact of hardcoreness on betting. The hardcores' loyalty may make them become overconfident in their team's performance. On the other hand, moral foundations-related beliefs are often kept carefully separate from anything affecting real-world decision-making. By that I mean: sacred beliefs are often more tribal chant than actionable proposition, and in general, people desperately avoid any bet that touches their moral foundations (next time someone makes a verifiable statement about religion or politics that you disagree with, offer to bet them, and see what happens. Typically they backtrack to a non-verifiable version of what they said, and/or get very offended that you would "cheapen" such an important matter by betting on it - which are all moves to avoid testing their belief.) Then again, the hardcore fans presumably know more about their team than most others, which means they should be more confident in their predictions, and be more willing to bet. Consequently they may be less willing to bet proportional to their claimed confidence, than would a casual fan with equal knowledge of the team would be. In my one test of this during March Madness, I found that self-identified fans did more accurately predict the outcome of a game involving their team than non-fans, but I collected no information on willingness to bet.

[1] This very article is diagnostic. By trying to dissect loyalty, instead of taking it as an obvious good and discussing it in the context of a specific team, I mark myself as someone with a small loyalty term in my equation - whereas people whose sports utility equation is dominated by loyalty would not understand, and/or be actively be offended by, a question like "What do you get out of being a fan of your team?"

[2] One might argue that a purely rational human being would ignore sports altogether - what do a bunch of guys chasing a ball on a field somewhere else in my city have anything to do with me, I've never even met them! - and I'm sympathetic to that argument.

[3] I hope no one read the paragraph about the price of murder and thought, "Hmmm...What is my price to kill someone?" In the case of exemplar psychopath Richard Kuklinski, he got positive utility from harming people so he kept doing it even after he ran out of work.

[4] When people do not have VNM-consistent rationality (that is, they have these inflexible, non-negotiable, non-fungible beliefs - i.e., intransitive preferences) - they can be turned into money pumps, by observant and unscrupulous characters who can carve their motivation structure at the joints, i.e. focusing on the the inconsistencies. While this has been reproduced now in artificial settings, not only salespeople but politicians have been doing it since the dawn of civilization. The NFL and in particular the Cleveland Browns are doing exactly this to the fans by exploiting the intransitive preference of loyalty, and I would be very surprised if their marketing does not already have a model of their fans and spending patterns similar to what I've described here. Another follow-up is to look for literature on whether psychopathy allows one to see these disconnects more easily, or (hopefully) the ability to see them and the willingness to act on them are unrelated and therefore form a mercifully narrower sliver on a Venn diagram of the population.

[5] There's probably a Markovian/hedonic treadmill effect here too, where the utility multiplier from a team's win is not constant but rather influenced by expectations based on the team's record. Next year if the Patriots go 9-3, fans leaving a game after a win won't be as happy as Browns fans if the Browns have the same record.

[6] Remember Karl Rove dragging out the 2012 election night broadcast and refusing to accept the outcome, seeming a little nuts? But simultaneously advertising to ten million Republicans watching that he never ever gives up. Say what you will about Karl Rove, but "bad strategic thinker" was not among the many epithets hurled at him.

[7] When the Baltimore Colts were about to move to Indianapolis in 1984, the city actually tried to pass an eminent domain act (!) to take over the team, but the Colts escaped with the team's property under cover of darkness the night before. Other teams like the Chargers have found a much more lukewarm reaction on threatening to leave, and found themselves without many fans.

[8] While I wrote this post I was wearing a Garfunkel and Oates sportsball T-shirt, so you can guess which end of the spectrum I'm near.

Evil Gandhis and Poor Executive Function: How the World Looks if You Have Poor Impulse Control

Cross-posted to Cognition and Evolution.

Imagine that in some distant, cloudy mountain hideaway there is a city of evil Gandhis - or just unempathic monks - who spend all their waking hours meditating. As a result of the self-control they've created in this manner, their executive function is superhuman - after all, extensive meditation builds not just cognitive discipline but EEG-measurable physical changes in the brain. When finally you scale the last soaring frozen wall and scramble over the edge onto the floor of their lookout points, you have finally arrived in this storied, isolated monastery-city. You are greeted by intellects vast, cool, and unsympathetic, studying you from their great central plaza with piercing eyes. You find that you are the first visitor from your country. Suddenly a horrific pain erupts from the back of your neck, and you turn to see one of the monks withdrawing a red hot brand that he has just poked you with.

Obviously you demand to know why you deserved that. As they are merely dispassionately interested in collecting knowledge, this one calmly explains that they would like to see if your skin burns in the same way theirs does. You turn to see several more of them calmly approaching you with various glowing metal rods; behind them, in the fire at the center of the plaza, someone is handing out even more. You tell them to stop, but they ignore you. Finally, you turn to the closest one approaching you, and punch him in the face. Your punch lays him flat out and as he falls his metal rod clangs to the ground.

"That's assault," one of the other monks says. "We're going to have to lock you up now."

"Assault?" you shout. "What was I supposed to do? You made me assault you!"

The monk rolls his eyes. Only then do you notice various burns, knife and whip scars all over his face and arms. "You're like a child. It's not our problem if your self-control is so poor that you can't stand being burned a few times."

To a person with a Cluster B personality disorder - including narcissistic PD or especially borderline - the world must seem to be filled with such evil cold-blooded monks. If I have BPD, then these people just can't see that when they withhold affection, that's so intolerable - it's just the same as a hot iron - that they're making me attack them to protect myself. (I have heard a severe narcissist in a psychiatric hospital, fighting while being restrained by staff after being refused special treatment, literally say "Look what you're making me do! You're making me do this!" The resemblance to what a five year-old might say is not coincidental.)

But this is more than just an interesting perspective - it's relevant to a critical assumption that we make in liberal democracies. Namely, that people have agency, and this agency allows them to be responsible for themselves, and to some degree others. While (so far as I know) pain-tolerating monks do not exist, people with severe borderline and narcissistic personality disorder - with poor executive function and low distress tolerance - do exist. And we do lock them up.

It turns out that "agency" has buried within it many components, which do vary quite a bit across the population, and which profoundly affect people's ability to run their own lives and live with others. The one case where we're comfortable saying that humans don't have agency is children - but even that is somewhat arbitrary and agranular (many of us can think of a sixteen year old more capable of running her own life than a twenty-eight year old.) The monks would lock you or me up because we're at the extreme bad end of their distribution, just like we lock up people in jails or long-term care facilities. But here's the thing - we wait for someone to commit an act, of the sort that they are guaranteed to commit at some point, if they're at the extreme end of the distribution. As society becomes more complex, more and more people will commit such acts, and we'll have to become more honest and clear about exactly how we deal with them.