I wrote about two frameworks you can use when someone seems to be acting against their self-stated goals: revealed preference theory and misaligned incentive theory. Often times, the RPT view can become an accusation that someone is lying, but this isn’t always the case. Here are some good-faith reasons someone’s self-proclaimed preferences may not match their actions:
Revealed preference theory (RPT) is the idea that we can’t trust people’s self-proclaimed preferences as much as we can trust their actions. So if someone claims to care about the environment but still eats meat, doesn’t recycle, and doesn’t donate any money or spend any time working on the problem, we might say that their actions reveal that they don’t actually care as much about the environment as they claim to.
One alternative to RPT is misaligned incentive theory (MIT). This is the idea that when someone’s actions seem to contradict their self-proclaimed preferences, it might be because their long-term and short-term incentives are not aligned. For example, if someone says they are trying to quit smoking, but in the moment they can’t resist lighting up a cigarette, we wouldn’t say that they must not really want to quit, because it could just be that their long-term goal of quitting smoking is not aligned with their short-term desire for a nicotine fix.
RPT and MIT are both useful frameworks for looking at behavior which is seemingly contradictory. Just because someone acts in a way that obviously goes against their goals doesn’t always mean those goals are false, sometimes it’s just hard to do the long-term thing when the short-term thing is so much easier. Likewise, sometimes people are wrong or lying about about their preferences, and the only way to find out is by actually observing their behavior.
In general the RPT view is harder to verify, so a practical solution is to assume the MIT view by default. This means trying to help by pitching ways someone could better align their incentives. For example, you could recommend that a smoker try a nicotine patch, which allows them to satisfy their nicotine cravings without filling their lungs with tobacco smoke. Or you could suggest to your friend that instead of just writing rants against Republicans on Facebook about climate change, they could use that time and write a guide for young people on how to set up domestic recycling. If these recommendations are repeatedly denied, you now have evidence against the MIT view and can gradually switch to the RPT view.
I have tons of crushes. They are funny and smart and weird and I’m too scared to try and kiss them. I read Mark our texts when they make me laugh, and I watch the shows and read the books they recommend. I can’t tell if they like me as much as I like them, but I don’t feel like I need them to. I mean it would be nice, but it’s not always feasible. If I had to put a number on it, if a crush likes me 4/5ths as much as I like them, I think that’s okay. Maybe ¾ths.
Now that I’m going on dates I don’t know what I’m looking for. Do I want a long term relationship? Do I want something casual? Do I just want friends? I’ve definitely thought about how I treat new people I like aomantically even if I think I might be romantically interested. This is a way for me to feel safe, which is either a bad thing (read: defense mechanism) or it’s an okay thing (read: I have aromantic tendencies and this is how I feel comfortable interacting with people). To me, those relationships from hipster movies which don’t make obvious sense have always felt intuitively real. I don’t know how most people are able to figure out all of these different kinds of ‘liking’ someone. Some people seem to know who they like-like, who they like-as-a-friend, who they love-like – to me it all blurs together into two axis: vague love and vague attraction.
I am vaguely in love with my friends and the way they make music, write, tell jokes and smile, the way they dress, speak, walk and dance, and the way they treat strangers. I’m not sure that’s wholly different than what I want from my crushes except that I also like being vaguely attracted to them. My feelings of vague attraction seem related to physique, the expressions their face makes, the sound of their voice, the smell of their sweaters, what it feels like when they rest their head on my shoulder, the context in which we interact, and whether they seem at least ¾ths into me.
This might be overly simplistic, since vague love and vague attraction influence each other a lot of the time. It might also be really freaking obvious. But I sort of feel like something that straddles that particular line is important enough to think about. Like does this mean that I have crushes on all my friends who I think are vaguely attractive? Can someone even DEAL with having that many crushes at once?? (Hint: no)
I’m not sure how much sense it makes to date if I don’t really even know what I want, but I do know that most people don’t mind just seeing where things go, and aside from my long term goals, it just feels kind of nice to meet people, even if its just on a prove-that-I-can-do-it and try-new-things level.
We’ve been arguing for days when you stop. I stare at you expectantly but your expressions are airtight and your indignation is smothered. You don’t want to keep going, you say, and you give no acknowledgement of defeat. You remember how I always think you’re giving up when you’re actually just quitting, there’s a difference. And how every time you would say “I’m too tired to talk about this,” and I would say “then let’s talk about it later.” You remember that although I will yield on a dime, I am still unrelenting.
Because I won’t accept a weak defense. I’ll take it as a sign that I’m righter and smarter than you when the truth is that I’m just less emotional about some things. You’re not stupid. You justify your beliefs. You’re always taking note of just how far I’ll go to prove my point and making sure you go just as far, cordiality be damned, we’re both adults. Just because you tire out first doesn’t mean you’re wrong, which is why you also remember how each time you would then respond, “Fine. I’ll prove you wrong tomorrow.”
But now you’re stopping. You’re not just temporarily tired. You’re so tired that you don’t think you’ll ever be un-tired enough to have this argument. You’re not enjoying yourself. You’re not enjoying me. And worst of all you’re wondering if that really does mean that I am righter and smarter. Because you worry, deep down, that if you were right and smart, you would be the one winning the argument. In a last ditch effort you tell me that I’ve hurt your feelings and I can tell that it’s true. At least, it’s true that you feel hurt because of what I said. What’s wrong with me, I think to myself? Why do I care more about being right than I do about our relationship? You say nothing. I say nothing either, at first, then – “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
But I’m not sorry. Because it’s not my fault that you feel hurt. You committed just as hard to the argument as I did, and you’re never a gracious winner either. You can’t control how you feel so I’m not going to blame you for feeling hurt, but that doesn’t mean you get to blame me. We were shoving at each other with such might that when you suddenly stopped, of course I knocked you over. But you didn’t fall because I pushed you, you see, you fell because you stopped pushing back.
And you don’t appreciate me saying this to you.
Why not shut the hell up before I say something I’ll regret, you suggest. But I know from experience that this is just something people say when they’ve lost and want you to stop scoring bonus points on them. Because not only did I win the argument, I saw through you. I saw through your attempt to pin the blame on me, unfeeling, insensitive, robotic, me, always committing fouls against emotional, experienced, you. I was convinced that I didn’t understand feelings, just because I didn’t experience them like you did. That I didn’t understand empathy just because I disagreed with your empathy. Well fuck that, I feel things too.
You tell me you don’t like this side of me. Well I don’t exist to be liked by you. You ask me if I like this side of me. Touché. You suggest that I take some time to calm down, which is silly because I am dead calm even though my heartbeat is as fast as how calm I am, which is very. You know that sometimes I get righteous and stubborn. You get that way too, it’s why we argue. It’s why, you used to think, we are a good match. Because I am formidable. You thought. But now you feel sorry for me. If this is how I really am, then I’m in for a future full of of frustration. I’m not worth the fights, and everyone else I meet for the rest of my life is going to realise that eventually. And then I start to feel sorry for you. Because if you can’t own up and be honest about yourself, then you’ll never be able to accept yourself. You’re not worth the fights, and you’ll probably never understand why.