23 Comments

"Many products are marketed with the promise of making people hotter or smarter. But there are no pills or exercises or brain teasers marketed toward making people more ethical."

There are fitness advantages to being hotter or smarter. But not with morality. Instead, the fitness advantage is in being *perceived* as being a cooperator rather than a defector. But taking as given the extent to which you are perceived as a cooperator, it pays to be a defector. So the equivalent of taking a morality pill is to adopt virtue signals, of "luxury beliefs," as someone around here once put it.

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I almost hit the jackpot. Tall, but not too tall. Attractive, but not model quality (my wife explains). Athletic build, but not too muscular. Bright but not too academically gifted. High emotional intelligence probably helped by being the oldest child in a challenging childhood and family with divorces, sickness, death and suicides. I did very well on my own... worked in many jobs... blue collar and then professional... got married... earned my college degree... and now am CEO of two companies that employee nearly 100 people combined.

But I was cursed with a shyness gene (my mother) that I had to overcome. I am an introvert that had to force myself to come out of my shell. I still struggle a bit with that today. My two sons have it to some degree.

I have hired probably over 100 people in my 40+ years of corporate management experience. There are a subset of qualities that make a quality employee. There are two domains: hard skills and soft skills. The former can often be taught depending on the job. The latter often cannot... at least cannot very easily.

The latter, in my experience, is basically a test of relationship capability. There is a likeability factor (and attractiveness certainly helps)... but there is that related aspect of being a normie... being psychologically and mentally whole and stable. Being able to communicate well with everyone, and to develop and maintain meaningful relationships with others. The employees that I hire that end up rock stars have these qualities. Some get by well enough with weaker soft skills (I may see them as higher maintenance, but their hard skills are so strong they are worth it).

Modernity is screwing this all up. The younger job candidates have terrible soft skills. Many more of them are high-maintenance. And they are also lacking hard skills and the work ethic to get them.

My experience with this shapes my political views and why I am really worried about the direction of the country. I believe we have harmed, and are harming, children who then cannot function well enough as adults. They lack resilience, they lack coping skills, they lack relationship skills, they are not psychologically nor mentally whole... they are not ready for work. They are certainly bright and more knowledgeable about the world... more tech-savvy. But they struggle to apply these gifts in productive ways.

Given the choice to deal with more of them in the workforce, I am looking for software and robotics solutions instead.

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I love your comment about the importance of soft skills. I believe this enables a form of team-building where the “soft skills” employee can work effectively with various personalities and temperaments. Definitely an overlooked gift. I do believe it can be developed, but only with self-motivation and a few years in the workforce.

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In medical school we would say, "You can be dumb and hard-working. You can be smart and lazy. But you can't be dumb and lazy."

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LIFE IS NOT FAIR. ACCEPT IT AND MOVE ON.

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I wonder how belief in a just world can shape political views, especially regarding wealth redistribution and taxation. Many people on the left support increasing taxes on wealthy people, many on the right don’t. Could one say that people on the left are trying to rectify what they see as unfair?

But then again, people on the right argue that rich people deserve their wealth because they worked harder for it. So in a way, they also believe in a just world.

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Or maybe many are rich by arbitrary unconditioned election.

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"Having lots of different domains helps to solve the zero sum problem of status." That is an important insight.

The puzzle is why is only goes so far. Why is it not sufficient to forestall jealously of the traits discussed here more than it does?

One more thought: A well-developed sense of gratitude is associated with greater happiness. That can be associated both with gratitude for one's endowments and/or gratitude for one's status/wellbeing despite a lack of those endowments. The sense of gratitude may even be greater in the case of lesser endowments.

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Maybe this is because humor and morality seem to come with inherent tradeoffs? The class clown is liked, but not respected. Moral uprightness garners respect and admiration, but limits how you are allowed to act, and how much pleasure you can enjoy. Attractiveness, wealth and intelligence don't seem to have similar tradeoffs, so we invent them in order to make things fair.

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This is an important insight. Thanks. I will be thinking about this one. I am almost 70 and have been to a couple of reunions and gotten in contact with people I knew 50, 60 (even 65!) years ago recently. The responses have been very uneven, and some very unattractive resentments and envies have surfaced. It's amazing, as others are just happy to find someone who remembers the same things that they do, as sort of a reality-confirmer.

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That's interesting about being funny, and I do hear people saying that a lot, like someone is objectively funny or objectively not funny, etc. To me it is subjective though. I have had many times in my life where i've been around people making jokes, or watching shows/movies that are supposed to be hilarious and I just don't see the humor in it, at least not to that extent. So I guess if you say some are funnier than others, as measured by the proportion of people who find them funny, then that's undeniable. I'm just not sure there is a way of saying someone is funnier than others that isn't subjective.

As for things like people saying others are rich but bad, hot but dumb, that is a great point. I think it comes back to our intrinsic need to have things be 'fair' in life. It seems unfair for someone to have all these advantages. However I bet it's somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy; someone feels less than due to not being as good looking, moral, smart, whatever, and it leads them to maybe be a less good person, more bitter, envious, etc. And then a lot of people take advantage of that, leading them on to be ever more so that way. Fat activism, etc.

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Very interesting article! Thank you. So, we have two groups of the attributes:

* Humor, morality

* Intelligence, beauty, money

Most people don’t find it easy to level up their intelligence or beauty or how much money they have. They might feel hopeless and stuck. Or they might think that it takes a long time to improve in any of those areas.

But morality and humor seem more accessible. People can try to make better choices (as judged by the morality system they already follow), and funnier jokes (as measured by whether their family and friends laugh).

Another comparison between the two is that the second group probably feels more essential for their survival.

I guess it hurts when a person feels that they are lacking in essential areas of life that are difficult to improve.

(As a side-note, I think one reason the attributes in the second groups are valued highly is that they are very difficult to attain)

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Thought provoking post. Thanks. You can tell a lot about yourself by taking an inventory of the sources of your self-esteem. When i was younger, I never did, But now that I'm older (60), I think about it a lot more.

And what I find is that I have a natural tendency, I assume generally shared, to match up my self-esteem sources with my life situation. This may explain in part the tendency of older people to be happier than younger people. The U-shaped happiness curve that seems to bottom around forty.

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I might argue that the lack of argument over a person’s superior morality might stem from the danger of exposing jealousy on the defensive person’s past, which would sabotage their claim to strong morality (jealous people are not normally aligned with strong morality). Attractiveness and intelligence are morally neutral, so implied jealousy is not seen as so obviously negative and thus people can engage a debate about it. It’s intriguing to think that the very defense about morality would doom a person to be exposed as lacking it!

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While I believe that there are other motives involved, the relentless political wars pervading the legacy news media these days seem to clearly engage their viewers/readers in the practice of implied self-elevation (or "us" elevation) through the constant fault-finding with the other side. As they nurture the general level of anxiety, the offer of a whipping post to blame everything on provides cathartic sense of having the issues clearly understood and simultaneously bolster the viewer's sense of superiority.

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We all have genetic lottery winnings. The dark corollary is that some genetic lottery winners winnings are their mere existence.

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This is why no matter how hard we strive as humans, we will never achieve equality of outcome.

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Now you’ve inspired me to become more moral and funny

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I do wonder...what percentage of a random sample of people would generally agree with the premises of this piece...I wish it was most, but I guess I doubt that

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Fascinating post. As I read it I was thinking a lot about Taleb’s idea of extremistan vs. mediocristan. To summarize, in a mediocristan situation, rewards are given out proportionally to ability effort etc (similar to your Mario Kart example). In an extremistan rewards are given out exponentially to most able or most fortunate individuals. Social media is the great example as the the most popular entertainers (in a very broad sense) have exponentially more followers than than even those at the next tier (and way more than niche players like unboxers). In a number of fields you might say that some people are endowed with 20 “points” and a very small few are endowed with 20 million.

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