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Geeks, MOPs, and sociopaths in subculture evolution (meaningness.com)
67 points by antisuji 877 days ago | hide | past | web | 48 comments | favorite

"Subcultures were the main creative cultural force from roughly 1975 to 2000, when they stopped working. Why?"

His chart [1] indicates where the 1975 date came from. He distinguishes between 1960s "counterculture" and later "subcultures". That's somewhat artificial. The 1920s also had subcultures - the Jazz Age, flappers, etc. Prior to the 1920s, there wasn't enough mass disposable income for such frippery. The 1930s (depression) and 1940s (WWII) sucked so bad that there was no counterculture, subculture, or, indeed, much culture.

The more interesting question is "why did it stop"? Music stopped being an agent of rebellion around the time punk died. Now, it's just "content". When it became easy to distribute music, everybody started doing it. At peak, there were several million bands on Myspace. Subcultures became more fragmented and tinier. Once one could find kindred souls with similar narrow interests on line, the need to change to fit in was much reduced.

What the author calls "fluidity" is the endgame of that - subcultures have no lasting power in a world of tweets and Instagram.

Were any of these a creative force? Outside of music, the main legacy of the hippie movement is that everyone wears jeans. The values didn't stick. Much of the 1960s counterculture was just self-indulgence dressed up with pop philosophy. That's why hippies transitioned so smoothly to yuppies. The legacy of punk is industrial interior design, for which the endgame turned out to be open plan offices with exposed brick walls and ceilings with visible pipes and conduit.

[1] http://meaningness.com/modes-chart

>Outside of music, the main legacy of the hippie movement is that everyone wears jeans.

Well - that and the environmental movement, including sustainable utilities. And some parts of feminism. And recycling. And organic food. And possibly Apple and even Google, if you don't think about it too hard.

>The legacy of punk is industrial interior design

I'm having a hard time getting from spitting in the mosh pit to Herman Miller cubicle dividers. Open plan offices have been around since at least Victorian times. The exposed piping aesthetic is more the fault of Richard Rogers and Norman Foster than Johnny Rotten.

>The more interesting question is "why did it stop"?

It didn't. What do you think HN and the current startup frenzy are?

Are VCs geeks, fans, MOPS or sociopaths?

> Are VCs geeks, fans, MOPS or sociopaths?

You really need to ask?

Are VCs geeks, fans, MOPS or sociopaths?


There is a tendency in recent times for the internet to satisfy basic needs directly, where once they had to be addressed indirectly. So people watch a stream of someone playing a game instead of actually playing the game themselves.

I wonder if the basic need for a counter-culture (whatever that is) can be satisfied directly without needing to wrap it up in music or fashion. You just need to read Reddit to have your dose of behaviour that is counter to societal norms. In fact it is a purer expression of an underlying need because it dispenses with most of the inconvenience of an actual "movement".

There where subcultures in those periods Swing Kids in Germany and France the whole zoot suit subculture in the USA.

Also look at peaky blinders and the post ww1 brummagem boys subcultures.

It's a fun chart but I wouldn't take it very seriously. Roughly the second half of his "Successful Systems" era is actually probably the heyday of both "associational culture" and artistic sects in the European-controlled world: the age of Freemasonry, teetotalism, Fauvism and pigeon-racing.

This article was frustrating for me; I didn't find much disagreeable, but actual take aways were lacking.

> Specific strategies for sociopathy are outside the scope of this metablog post—and the scope of this book.

How are they out of scope if that's what you're advocating?

A bit TOO meta for me; with little actionable takeaway. But not a bad topic to chase down, i just wish there was more meat to it. Maybe I misunderstand it's context.

UPDATE: flipped through the rest of the site... where's the meat? It's all meta analysis and talk but really I am not seeing any useful take aways. Has anyone else found something actionable? I feel like the author would be a good chap to talk to and would have a lot of good things to say, but there's no clarity or purpose in his writings.

the writing has to be somewhat vague in order to get people talking about it, and the author succeeded as evidenced by it being here .

No, I think the author was on to something. They were close to hitting gold, but they stopped short. They presented a lot of what doesn't work, but little of what does.

And certainly being sociopathic, or "slightly evil" are hardly actionable things, and are short sighted solutions.

It's probably good enough to just get meta-actionable.

This is brilliant. I wish I had time to write more. A few points.

The time tested old school way to avoid this problem is to limit openness and impose internal structure. The long lasting subcultures of old, namely the ancient mystery schools and the fraternal orders that flourished from the Renaissance until roughly the post-WWII era, were initiatory orders with oaths, degrees, and governing bodies. Sometimes they were secret as well, or at least secretive. Most historians seem to say that this was to avoid political persecution, and that's undoubtedly true, but it was also perhaps a way to avoid the dumbing down and dissipation described here.

I'd adjust the author's dates. It's not 1975 until 2000. It's more accurately roughly 1950 until 2000. The subculture was the engine of cultural creation in the postwar era. It gave us rock, psychedelia, hippies, punks, disco, hip hop, hacker culture, goths, and ravers, and all the immense cultural, musical, technical, and artistic expressions that went with.

My personal sense is that rave was the last postwar subculture. I was there and watched it go through precisely what this author describes. There does not seem to have been another.

I don't think it's just a loss of faith. I personally blame the Internet a bit, especially social media. It's no longer possible for a subculture to stay underground long enough to build up any energy. The entire life cycle now occurs before the first song is over.

Who knows... Maybe we need another occult revival. I'll wear a funny hat and take a blood oath of secrecy if I get to hear really interesting new music that doesn't suck. Sign me up.

Finally, this quote stuck with me.

"A slogan of Rao’s may point the way: Be slightly evil. Or: geeks need to learn and use some of the sociopaths’ tricks. Then geeks can capture more of the value they create (and get better at ejecting true sociopaths)."

That's part of what I like about HN. To the extent that it focuses on helping hackers learn how to "operate" in the business world, it seems like it's helping teach some number of creators how to be just a little bit evil.

> The time tested old school way to avoid this problem is to limit openness and impose internal structure. The long lasting subcultures of old, namely the ancient mystery schools and the fraternal orders that flourished from the Renaissance until roughly the post-WWII era, were initiatory orders with oaths, degrees, and governing bodies.

A thoughtful and interesting observation. I wonder how much truth there is to it. It also makes me wonder if "flat structure" companies face any kind of similar problems.

I have heard that. Open organizations with no inner or outer boundaries tend to become pathocracies -- ruled by psychopaths and other pathological abusive personality types. Hierarchy can facilitate abuse, but it can also be a tool for limiting and mitigating abuse. In its formal absence, abusers are free to assert it using deception and intimidation.

I agree with most of your points.

My personal sense is that rave was the last postwar subculture

I'm unconvinced. I think that there have been numerous post-rave subcultures, but the time difference between "cool" and "mainstream" is shrinking.

Cosplay, trail-running and "start-ups" are three subcultures that jump out at me as things that have gone through this (I'm not overly familiar with cosplay, but it seems to me that it has gone from nothing to something people make money from).

Maybe you are thinking of just music though. Dubstep had it's 6 months of cool before making mainstream, maybe?

I upvoted this post before reading the last paragraph. Could someone give it a compensatory downvote and then reply to avoid double-dipping? Thanks.

The conclusion of the piece seems to be a restatement of this: http://lesswrong.com/lw/c1/wellkept_gardens_die_by_pacifism/.

There's a fair amount of overlap between David Chapman's views and the LW memeplex, though see his response[0] to what he calls "Pop Bayesianism" from a couple years ago. I remember getting a lot out of that essay, maybe even changing my mind a bit.

[0]: http://meaningness.com/metablog/how-to-think

That was a great read with some great points! Thanks for sharing that.

Now, I'm as much of a fan of elaborate, essay-length metaphors as the next guy, but I have to say that I do find it a bit tiresome when the author declines to inform the reader what exactly the metaphor is in reference to.

The author explains that in http://meaningness.com/meaningness-history which is poorly flagged. Examples: hippy, death metal, Twitter, etc.

Edit: http://meaningness.com/modes-chart is also worth pondering.


I'm still not such a huge fan of the post given the lack of concrete examples. The whole "the author's opinions about what people do" genre can often be a bunch of non-falsifiable platitudes and generalizations that ultimately don't end up meaning much. Think about one of those dime-a-dozen blog posts about how those who succeed in business project confidence, listen to the client's needs, and have a great pitch that hooks people within seconds.

Okay, well enough. But that doesn't actually even mean anything. Instead of just having some boilerplate word salad, how about some examples? Provide actual examples of strategies real people actually used to project confidence in real life, real ways people listened to the clients needs, and real-life great pitches that hooked people in seconds. That way the blog post becomes interesting and useful to me, the reader. And without them "the author's opinions about what people do" is basically the sibling of the horoscope.

It is a rather abstract and nebulous article. Put more positively, it encourages introspection and contemplation. In any case, "geeks who are slightly evil" seems appropriate here :)

It's vague to encourage discussion , contemplation

  "Eventually - around 2000 - everyone understood 
   this, and gave up hoping some subculture could 
   somehow escape this dynamic."
The whole article is really about music, and carries continuous undertones relating to the mechanics of music scenes.

So why 2000 as the magic year music died? The Internet.

That's the whole answer. The internet killed music. Not just because of peer-to-peer file sharing, but so many other aspects of pre-internet music economies simply didn't make sense anymore, from composition, to production, to distribution, to consumption, all aspects of recorded music were turned inside out and flipped upside down.

Sure, performing music hadn't really changed all that much, but the controlled release of physical copies of music simply didn't work anymore, and so The New Thing wasn't permitted to steep in its own Newness, and fester and grow moldy and get weird anymore.

The transformation of distribution technologies from 1990 to 2000 was like taking a healthy adult St. Bernard, and replacing all of its internal organs with the organs of 50 kittens, and expecting it to come out healthier than before. Except the St. Bernard's brain doesn't know how to breathe with 100 kitten lungs, or pump 50 kitten hearts, or swallow food into 50 kitten stomachs and digest vital nutrients.

From a technology perspective, with music, where we are now, is like where music was in 1950. We're still figuring out the new capabilities of what can be done with this technology, the same way people back then were still figuring out amplifiers and feedback and taped distortion. In that respect 1990 is still 40 years away, culturally speaking. Longer still if more disruptive technology keeps getting introduced, and upsetting established skills.

There are no more geeks to create scenes, because geeks haven't had enough time to learn the vast depths of modern technology, to master it, and spawn new scenes.

Subcultures are dead. I plan to write a full obituary soon. Subcultures were the main creative cultural force from roughly 1975 to 2000, when they stopped working. Why?

Dead? I think not. What about the whole NRX Silicon Valley techno-libertarian sub-culture, which came into preeminence in 2008? How about selfie culture? Or STEM culture, or how STEM seems to have become the new 'cool' or celebrity status, especially with the show The Big Bang Theory being so popular? There will always be fads, sub-cultures, movements.

Also add: the Red Pill movement , PUA, MGTOW, manosphere, men's rights as new movements/subcultures

STEM (by which I'm guessing you simply mean computers) is suffering the exact entry by MOPs and sociopaths that the article describes. In addition to the hardcore geeks we used to have, we now have a lot of lightweight techies who aren't deeply interested, and a lot of non-techies calling themselves techies because it seems cool (e.g., "growth hackers").

We used to have Paul Graham and Alexis Ohanian, now we have Sam Altman and Ellen Pao - pretty definitively sociopaths by the definition of the article.

NRX (which explicitly rejects libertarianism, BTW) is a good example of putting up barriers to entry. My political views are significantly influenced by them (their critiques of democracy are spot on), but I'd be pretty explicitly denounced if I were to sufficiently publicly call myself one.

NRX Silicon Valley techno-libertarian sub-culture

Neoreactionaries are anti-libertarian by definition.

selfie culture

Not a subculture any more than the hula hoop was a subculture.

how STEM seems to have become the new 'cool' or celebrity status, especially with the show The Big Bang Theory being so popular

Not really STEM in particular, but rather various media (novels, comic books, films, TV shows, etc.) related to science fiction, fantasy and stereotypically "geeky" things.

Many of those fads or movements are not sub cultures because they are part of the larger culture. But more so, many subcultures are dead because they became part of the larger culture. The other examples - "NRX Silicon Valley techno-libertarian sub-culture" probably is a subculture. It certainly sounds like they have founding principles and differentiates itself from wider society. The same would go for Red Pill etc examples, as they would be more along the line of anti mainstream political movements. I'm not sure they have coolness though!

From wikipedia: "a subculture is a group of people within a culture that differentiates itself from the larger culture to which it belongs, though often maintaining some of its founding principles."

Those who do selfies are not identifying themselves as part of their own group, and separate from the larger culture. Even the early adopters of the selfie never thought of themselves as a subculture, just cool within the larger one. STEM and celebrity worship also could be seen as part of the larger mainstream. Just because something is fashionable or cool does not make it a sub culture.

Why was your website hosting account suspended, Paul?

> the Red Pill movement , PUA, MGTOW, manosphere, men's rights as new movements/subcultures

I would have a hard time qualifying re-brandings of misogyny as subcultures. Misogyny is traditional, normative and reactionary; subcultures are non-normative by definition.

I would have a hard time qualifying re-brandings of misogyny as subcultures.

They're subcultures. Just because they're "normative and reactionary" doesn't make them less so. Sadly, they're cases of opposition to mainstream misogyny with extreme misogyny. (Not to say that all of MRA is misogyny. Gender injustice is such a complex topic that it's inaccurate to believe that it would fall entirely on one "side", or even that there are sides. That said, much that's under the MRA tent is pretty horrifying.)

The high school and college casual sex scene (and, perhaps, the young-professional one) is one where, as an emergent property, bad men ("chads") who objectify women get most of the sexual yield. This is an expression of the mainstream, traditional misogyny that lives in our society. Misogynist patterns (man as conqueror, woman as defeated "slut") have been absorbed by men and women both. In long-term romantic relationships, most of the misogyny has disappeared, but it's still quite prevalent on "the sexual marketplace".

What PUAs and "Red Pill" neo-misogynists miss is that they're extrapolating behaviors observed in small subcultures to all women, which is unfair and wrong (both in the sense of being morally wrong, and in the sense of being incorrect). Take the PUA playbook, which is build on running exploits that work against damaged women. Men who pick that stuff up, learn that it actually works at its intended goal of high-frequency sexuality, and start deploying it on a regular basis... are going to conclude (falsely) that most women are damaged, sexually confused, and attracted to superficially charming but toxic "bad boy" types. Then when they get bored of the high-frequency sexuality (most long-term PUAs are clinical sex addicts) and try to have long-term relationships, they're going to fail at it (because PUA skills don't work on any woman you'd want to have a long-term relationship with) and blame that on women too.

To make it more bizarre, the neo-misogynists blame the bad female behaviors resulting from traditional/mainstream misogyny on "feminism". To them, mainstream misogyny's superficial coddling and infantilization of women (and the female misbehavior-- flakiness, bad taste in men, disloyalty-- that results from it) is somehow lumped in with this "feminism" thing that they don't really understand but reflexively hate.

Why do you believe that sending signals of masculinity, social status and high value (the core elements of PUA) don't work in long term relationships? And why do you believe they only work on "damaged" women?

I think your nerd-shaming is unkind and you should check your privilege. I was born with privilege - genes that would make me super tall, give me a symmetric face, intelligence and a "devil may care" attitude. As long as I don't do stupid things (get fat, act dependent), I'll have more women than I know what to do with. Not everyone has those gifts, and it's really not cool to shame people simply for attempting to gain the privileges others were born with.

Similarly, to compare to a more mainstream example, I don't shame a black man who browses /r/malefashionadvice, dresses nicer than me and tries to mask his lower middle class accent - he's not trying to be a douche, he just needs to work harder to gain the same level of "respectability" that I get simply for being a white guy.

Because they're false signals. These are low status males faking high status, and you just can't fake your way through a long term relationship.

Status is, almost by definition, the epitome of something where "fake it til you make it" works. Once you are regarded by others as having high status, you then have high status.

If a man is spitting game, looks good, is banging an attractive woman and confident that if she moves on he can move on to the next one, it's pretty tough to describe him as anything other than high status.

The learnability of a signal doesn't make it false. A lot of people just find it threatening that becoming attractive to them is simply a learnable technique, rather than a signal of what a special individual they are.

Teachings about "game" can be very effective at taking someone who is underachieving with the ladies based on their natural status level, and turning them into a slight overachiever. Much of "game" is simply counter-programming to prevailing myths. I got a lot of my romantic advice growing up from female friends. It turns out the advice was really, really bad advice, and it ended up sabotaging my efforts. Most advice from females is based on how they wish men they are already attracted to would act. It is not advice about how to build attraction.

But, there are also a number of schlubby, boring, low-status guys who read PUA material, play the "cocky comedy" and numbers game at a bar, and who end up bitter and rejected. They may even get a reputation as being that "creepy pick-up artist type." You can only fake being high-status so much.

The better "game" books will tell you how to raise your status. Models by Mark Manson does this. They will talk about lifting weights, how to dress well, building a social group where you get invited to house parties, finding a status hierarchy where you can be a winner, cultivating interests that allow you to be a good conversationalist, etc, etc.

Status is, almost by definition, the epitome of something where "fake it til you make it" works. Once you are regarded by others as having high status, you then have high status.

Yes and no. Any status avenue that is too easy, gets overpopulated and becomes low status. It is not like it is easy to be regarded as having high status by other people. You have to find some edge and work at it, or else get very lucky. It's hard for me to think of someone who wasn't naturally good looking or athletic, who got their high-status through faking it rather than by working at it.

You make a really nice argument here. I would just like to clarify why I don't consider misogynist movements subcultures: it is, essentially, for the same reason I wouldn't consider pop music or the Java community as "subcultures".

If, using the article's terms, the sociopaths have already exploited its potential for financial benefit to its maximum extent, and if this expression of culture is the dominant, normative expression of culture for its cultural domain, then it is not a subculture, even when you put a new, fancy name on top.

The process outlined in the article echoes the theory that capitalism always will take over and repurpose any opposition to it, and it echoes some of the ideas from the Situationists Society of the Spectacle.

The "Society of the Spectacle" is an awful term, but it basically means a consumerist society. A consumerist society is one where having the appearance of something is more important than the actual something.

The process is one from: being to having to appearing. For example being very wealthy (an upper class landed gentry family) to having wealth (middle class earning money) to appearing to have wealth (people wearing the same clothes as rich people, bling).

I'm thinking the same process is in effect with subcultures. The creators are the ones who are cool (being cool) - the fanatics are the ones who have cool (they have good taste, have the things the creators produce) and the masses afterwards buy the appearance of cool (the image of what is cool is able to be bought, authenticity is less important).

Another example: hippys being all hippy and being all free and socialist, later on other hippies having the music and then later on everyone else buying jeans to look like a hippy.

This leads me to thinking of today, and The Hipster. Is being a hipster about buying things, or appearing to have things? Is it mass marketable? (beards, haircuts, clothes) Is it a sub culture? Does it have any defining principles?

The author of the book (of which this is a part) seems to have put a fair amount work into it: http://meaningness.com/#contents

If the rest of the content is even half as good as this, it's well worth the read.

I think that this story about Couchsurfing, featured almost at the same time here https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9632928 is very related.

All the elements of the movement evolution are there.

Can we have these insights applied to the problem of keeping quality high in an online discussion group? I made rules but the sociopaths and MOPs keep finding ways around them.

Maybe you know about usenet. Of course, usenet is dead. However, one of the last groups to die was comp.lang.lisp, which is an instructive example in this context.

I submit that what, or rather who, kept comp.lang.lisp alive for so long beyond most of the rest of usenet was a guy named Eric Naggum. He may not have identified the sociopath aspect, but did have the entitled MOPs in his crosshairs and kept them out with (sometimes utterly brilliant, btw) flamage.

Sadly, comp.lang.lisp also points to something not mentioned in the linked post: Entitled MOPs and sociopaths will not just silently accept their exclusion.

When excluded, they attack, possibly indirectly through other venues. To this day, in an astonishing number of online discussions of Lisp culture, you're apt to find attacks on comp.lang.lisp in general, or Erik Naggum in particular, for the high crime of having once excluded (for example) an entitled MOP who wanted his homework done by comp.lang.lisp.

My advice is to moderate the people, not the content. Take a long view of users and see what they are saying / doing. Some may be perfect angels, others may have good days and bad, and still others will be toxic. Ditch the toxic ones and increase the attention on the inbetweeners.

Also, making things cultural versus rules is more effective, as the collective will help enforce a given way of things, to some extent.

Also, money. People who pay money are more invested and less likely to dick around. They paid money to be there, and will be more obedient of the rules and will enforce the same on others. But money is tricky of course, and can blow up in your face.

There is no magic bullet. Also, nostalgia is brain rot.

This article fails to understand that all groups have a life cycle. Clay Shirky's essay is the canonical explanation:


Nostalgia in online discussion groups suffers the same problem: you can't go home again, because you're not your previous self any more. http://davidgerard.co.uk/notes/2014/06/03/internet-fundament...

I have a few problems with this essay. The fundamental one is that it is purely an invention. The author regards specific social/cultural clustering patterns for a specific historical period as "subcultures"; this is part of a grand chart of world-historic social and cultural change.

Nothing that comes before that or after that is properly examined in terms of whether it might be a 'neotribal system of meaning' (from author's 2nd ibid link: the crux of his definition of a subculture is neotribalism and rejection of universalist [sic] systems of meaning).

No substantiation seems to be given for his assertion that subcultures "reached the limit of fragmentation and died" beyond the observation that the subcultures with which he was familiar from the preceding decades seem to have died about then.

It's curious, because in North America, rock music ceased to be subcultural at some time in the 1980s -- if it even had a clear subculture --- but metal continues to have strong subcultural connotations. Death Metal has not ceased to be a active genre of music, as far as I know.

So I am not sure what he means by subcultures "dying" even for those specific subcultures. He has a pseudo-physical model that suggest that this would basically be the point where the subculture ceased to generate a quantifiable essence called "cool" and became "uncool." But this is purely a metaphor.

Combined with his implicitly denigrating use of language -- "muggles," "mops" --- to describe those who aren't really part of the real "scene," what this suggests to me is that his analysis is entirely based on his own value judgements and tastes, and that what he is really bemoaning is the death of the scenes in which he felt included, energized, and involved.

This isn't an author who has done any research or rigorous work whatsoever. His portrayal of the social dynamics of music/coolness subcultures participated in by people in their 20s is interesting, and would certainly ring true to anyone who has ever tried to put on a show or keep a scene alive. But the end of those music scenes with which he was familiar was not a world-historic death of subcultures.

There have been massive changes in technology over the past century, and especially the past twenty years, that have greatly impacted the production of music. There was a time before the 4-track recorder. There was a time before the audio card. There was a time before the internet. All of these things have had a massive impact on not only the production of music, but also on our awareness of music. Information now comes in a glut, and perhaps this has somehow ended the era of the local youth music scene, and the youth music subculture. It would be worth discussing with some youths.

But subcultures still exist. Subcultures are not merely neo-tribal identity/socialization networks for young adults.

The truth is that subcultures are inward-looking, and they are not going to come find him and tell him they exist. They're not going to come ask him if they're cool enough for him to be interested.

i feel like 4chan has a good immune response to this disease.

Sociopaths stand away from it because it's too toxic to provide anything of value: rather, they build at its fringes (e.g. 9gag)

Trends bore me.

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