Tuesday, January 19, 2010

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As humans, we conceptualize our world. Since reality is as vast and complex as it is, we create mental categories and models to explain how our universe works and how we should function within it. Both categories and models are very useful, and both are indispensible for finite creatures capable of abstraction. However, due to the fundamentally limited nature of models, sometimes we overlook or ignore crucial information. The best models in any area of life are the ones that reduce a given interaction to a comprehensible series of components, while still retaining all of the critical elements of the interaction. The falling of an apple, for example, involves a vast number of physical interactions. However, such an interaction can be nearly perfectly explained by the Law of Gravity, which describes the physical attraction between objects. Though wind, friction, chemical reactions and intervening objects may alter the way an apple falls, gravity alone is able to explain the vital component of how and why an apple falls to earth. That is an example of a sound and pragmatic model.

Reductionism, on the other hand, is an attempt at explaining an interaction which ultimately leaves out one or more vital elements. It results in models that lack sufficient explanatory capacity, due to overlooking, ignoring or denying applicable truths. Any reductivistic paradigm, then, is a worldview that overlooks, ignores or denies vital truths. While this might seem like a purely academic topic, the forms of reductionism that I wish to discuss are anything but pedantic. In particular, there are two forms of reductionistic thinking that have major practical implications and impact numerous aspects of life. Of these two forms, women have a tendency to lean towards one sort of reductionism, while men are more inclined to lean towards the other.

Yesterday night, I was spending some time with a new friend that I just met. Alex is currently doing a bit of substitute teaching and is contemplating pursuing a teaching credential. We were chatting about some of his classroom experiences and he noted how superficial many kids are today. Often the seemingly smallest things that he did, said or even wore would profoundly impact his students' perspectives of him. One day he walked into class and several of the kids made remarks about his Converse shoes. They viewed him as a cool person, simply because of the shoes that he wore. In another classroom, upon entering he was immediately barraged with mostly innocuous questions (and a few less-innocuous ones). When one girl asked him if he was married, he held up his hand and asked, "Do you see a ring on my finger?" He didn't answer the question directly, since he felt that it wasn't really any of his students' business. Immediately, a few of the kids lost respect for him and commented about his answer being "all snooty." Alex and I then began discussing the possible reasons for why kids are so superficial these days. Attitudes and perspectives never emerge in a vacuum. They are always learned.

The reason some kids are very superficial is because they have adopted a form of reductionistic thinking that isn't confined to hall of high schools. Our culture, in many ways, has become very superficial. Many people view style and image not merely as important, but as nearly all-encompassing. This is Stylistic Reductionism. It is pervasive. It is a horribly flawed way of seeing the world, that leads to poor ways of interacting. You see this form of reductionism is the very ways people enslave themselves to social status, whether by wearing the latest clothes, driving nice cars, opting for endless cosmetic surgery operations, continually seeking high-status romantic partners, and refusing to associate with lesser-status people or social outcasts. In this sort of worldview, image is king. How one appears is more important than who one actually is. Public perceptions are more important than character. Presentation is far more important than substance. If someone doesn't seem attractive and interesting enough, then they aren't worth talking to or spending time with. It is a world of snap judgements and endless comparison; life is a perpetual masquerade. This is Stylistic Reductionism. In its overglorification of image and appearance it overlooks the necessity of substance.

The other form of reductive thinking, which is embraced by a very different sort of person, is Substantive Reductionism. It is the polar opposite of Stylistic Reductionism. Some people view image, appearance and style as completely unimportant. Instead, what matters is the essence of someone or something. A person's inward character is all that matters. Just have good character, and be yourself. What matters is simply how something functions, and not its aesthetics. You see this form of reductionism in people who are completely unconcerned with appearance, whether by dressing in a sloppy or frumpy manner, walking around in public with poorly groomed hair, having mannerisms that betray an indifference to how their actions are words are perceived, leaving their houses cluttered and messy, speaking articulately but seeming distant and unengaged with their body language, having their desks piled with reams of papers, and lacking an appreciation for art or beauty. In this sort of worldview, image is irrelevent. Because of that, there is little consideration given to social status or even social perception. People with this sort of thinking often have some difficulties in every area of life, whether in job-seeking, in dating, in fitting in with social groups, or anything else involving people. They also often lack an appreciation for aesthetics, and therefore miss out on an entire section of life. This is Substantive Reductionism. Its overemphasis on substance and the genuine essence of a thing or oneself leads to imbalance and completely overlooks the importance of style.

As it nearly always is, truth is a balance. Yes, it is true that image matters. Yes, it is true that substance matter. To focus solely on image is to become superficial and lose connection with oneself and the people in one's life. To focus solely on substance is to ignore the vital importance of grace, beauty and social tact. Those who embrace Stylistic Reductionism focus so much on status and appearance, that they often lose parts of their soul in the process and are unable to connect deeply with others. Such a person becomes a Chameleon, easily adapting to the present social group and conveying precisely the desired image, but never being true to the image conveyed. It is an eternal deception. Those who embrace Substantive Reductionism focus so much on being genuine and true to their ideals, that they often alienate others by expressing controversial opinions or judgmental thoughts without considering whether it is the appropriate place or time to express them. They are often unaware of the messages that their words, actions, posture and tone conveys to other people. The fact is, most people have a tendency to lean towards and value either style or substance more than its counterpart. Yet, the ideal perspective is a balance of the two which rightly recognizes both the importance of subtance and style, realizing that it is crucial for there to be a correlation between how something appears and how it actually is.

In many ways, Game Theory is a recognition of the Stylistic Reductionism of modern women. Women, being more naturally socially aware, have a greater tendency to embrace Stylistic Reductionism. They are very concerned with how they appear to others physically, intellectually and socially. Even their purchases are often heavily influenced by the desire for social approval. They care not only about who a man is, but how he presents himself and how he is perceived. One of the central truths offered by Game Theory is that women are, by nature, hypergamous. Their attraction for a man, whether a complete stranger or their husband of many years, is directly influenced by how he is socially perceived. Women want to be with a man who has status. Women want to be with a man who is respected as a leader of men and who is desired by other women. Hypergamy and valuing social status, image, appearance, style and connection are all good things. Stylistic Reductionism, however, is a perversion of those good things. Women are naturally hypergamous, but they are not naturally Stylistically Reductionistic. That is a new and infectious strain of cultural disease that permeates modern America because of the philosophical relativism of the day, which undermines and even denies substance, and because of the pervasive nature of visual media, which glorifies image through its ceaseless use of photo and video. We are an image-driven society, which apmlifies and distorts the natural propensity of women to be image-centric and status seeking. Such reductionism is one major pitfall that modern women incessantly tumble into. It is good to value status and social approval, but it is very dangerous to overvalue status and overlook the criticality of essence.

Similarly, Game Theory is an antidote to the Substantive Reductionism of modern men. Men, being more naturally logical and analytical, have a greater tendency to embrace Substantive Reductionism. Men are often more concerned with solving problems, overcoming challenges, and figuring things out than they are worried about connection and social perceptions. How it works is always a more pressing question than how it appears. What you are doing with a person is more pertinent than how you feel about whatever you're doing. Because of that, men often don't focus as much on aesthetics or appearance, either in their manner of dress, in their workspaces or even in their homes. Men tend to be either simple and conservative in how they dress, or somewhat sloppy and disheveled. A few of my younger brothers look more like ragged waifs than well-dressed boys, simply because they aren't concerned with how they appear. Likewise, in dating, many men think that just being a nice guy is enough to win a girl's heart. They properly recognize that character and heart are important. However, they also fail to recognize the importance of how they dress, how they present themselves, their body language, how they interact with people, what stories they tell and/or any number of other social behaviors. Game Theory is something that is developed by men to help other men become more socially aware and improve their ways of interacting with other. By studying Game Theory a man can understand the messages that are being conveyed by how he interacts with others, and can learn to read other people better. This is something that many modern men desperately need, especially because of the decline of patriarchy and the lessening involvement of fathers in the lives of their sons. Modern men are not taught to have a holistic worldview that recognizes and values the importance of image, social status, personality and style, in addition to the importance of character and essence. This directly affects men's success in numerous arenas of life.

Given that all of us have a tendency to overvalue either style or substance, it is critical to be aware of our own internal biases, so that we can avoid imbalance and the negative consequences of living a life of imbalance. While Stylistic Reductionism is more commonly a feminine mistake and Substantive Reductionism is more commonly a masculine error, there are certainly some men who overvalue image while neglecting essense and there are some women who overvalue functionality at the expense of beauty. Wisdom dictates that each of us should be aware of our own imbalances and seek to temper them by choosing to embrace a balanced perspective. Both substance and style are vitally importance. What a person or thing is, does matter. How a person or thing appears also matters. We must be sure to keep both in mind at all times. It is not enough for something to be good or to be true, it must also be beautiful. It is not enough for something just to be beautiful, it must also be good and true. Reductionistic thinking is very easy to do. But a proper model of our world acknowledges and appreciates the importance of both appearance and essense. Women are glorious because they do value status, image, appearance, and beauty. Men are glorious because they are practical and value the substance of people and things. Yet, we must be vigilant in order to avoid overlooking, ignoring or denying the truth and value of the other.


  1. You are very right.
    "Yet, we must be vigilant in order to avoid overlooking, ignoring or denying the truth and value of the other."

  2. Uggh, you are adopting a false definition of hypergamy. H.L. has simply mis-defined the term. I would urge you to actually look up what the term means.

  3. @Justin: I think you are confused about what constitutes hypergamy. Dave in Hawaii uses the same definition that the dictionary and wikipedia use.

    From his post: It all boils down to the basic fact that women are driven at a subconscious level to mate "up."

    From wikipedia: Hypergamy (colloquially referred to as marrying up) is the act or practice of seeking a spouse of equal or higher socioeconomic status, or caste status than oneself.

    From Merriam-Webster's dictionary: marriage into an equal or higher caste or social group.

    From the American Heritage Dictionary: The practice of marrying into an equal or more prestigious social group or caste.

    I see no misrepresentation or incorrect word usage in either my post or Dave's. If you are unclear on what hypergamy is, then I suggest you enlighten yourself.

    If you have an alternate view on what constitutes hypergamy, I would be interested to know it, but do recognize that the standard dictionary definition does side with us on this.

  4. it's interesting to note women are atune to how the man is socially viewed. especially when considering his indiscretions. women will tolerate say, Koba accused of rape, if he has the capital to buy a bigger rock, renegotiate the prenup, etc. on the other hand, a man will be let go if his emotional sway over her cannot overpower the view of her friends/family.

  5. Style is in no way equal to substance. Perhaps I am blind.

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