Raw Concepts: Transporting

I previously wrote about a concept I called “time travel.” It was about being “in the now,” and in it I discussed Eckhart Tolle’s book The Power of Now.

Personally, I prefer the words “being present” rather than “being in the now” because “being in the now” seems to only refer to the time variable, i.e. not being in the past or the future, whereas “being present” covers both time and space variable. What I mean by that is, being present doesn’t just mean being in the present day, but it also means being physically present, in the space your body is currently occupying. It’s not just about being in the now (time) but also about being in the here (physical space).

I believe Tolle means something similar in his concepts, but his choice of title for his book Power of Now I believe causes many people to focus unduly on the time aspect of being present and not the space aspect. Even though I haven’t read the actual book, I prefer the title of Ram Dass’s Be Here Now because it includes the word “here,” which is important. It’s not just about the “now” but about the “here” as well.

For example, say I am currently in the “now.” I’m not time traveling, and focusing on the past in the form of regrets. grudges, or nostalgia, or focusing on the future in the form of dreams, wishes, dreads, and fears. I am thinking of the present day. However, I am thinking about other spaces in the present day. I keep dreaming of another party going on right now that I’m convinced is better than the one I’m at now. I’m thinking about how my town sucks and how much better I would fit in in the big city like New York or Paris. I am dwelling on some mythical city or country I haven’t discovered yet that will be my paradise where all my dreams will come true, everyone will “get” me, and I will find utopia. Or I am always wondering what is happening right now in my hometown and I am constantly homesick for the place I came from. Or I am thinking of a place I dread and  thinking about how horrible it is right now, for whatever reason.

What all these thoughts have in common is that they’re keeping me from fully experiencing the place I’m in now. In all these cases, I am technically in the present-day now, but I’m not in the present-space here. I am mentally picturing myself in places I either would rather be or dread being. I call this tendency “transporting,” after the machine in Star Trek that instantly brings you somewhere else in the blink of an eye. We use our minds to transport us elsewhere all the time, and sometimes the fantasies become more real to us than the world that’s physically surrounding us.

The same rules apply to transporting as to time travel. It’s okay to think about another space, just like it’s okay to think about another time, but you don’t want to dwell there. You always need to touch base in the present and convert whatever insight you gained into an immediate action. So in the case of transporting, what can you do now in your current environment to help you with your goal of getting to that other place? What enjoyable things are you missing out on in your present physical space as a result of fixating on this other space? And if you can’t make your way to that space soon, or ever, for whatever reason, you  need to stop fixating on it and focus on immersing yourself in your current space and making the most out of it.

We’ll discuss both concepts more in the near future.

Recommended Reading:

  • Be Here Now by Ram Dass. I haven’t read it yet, unlike most books I recommend, but I’ve heard enough good things that I’m recommending it anyway. Anyone who has read it, feel free to give feedback in the comments.
  • Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I’ve raved about this enough on this blog, so no need to restate how much I love this book.


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Movie Recommendations #6: Carnal Knowledge


Tonight at 1:30 AM Eastern on the network Turner Classic Movies, a movie is airing called “Carnal Knowledge.” It stars Jack Nicholson and Art Garfunkel (yes, that Art Garfunkel). The movie is about two male friends and their friendship with each other and sex lives with the opposite sex from college to middle age. It’s a character-driven story rather than a plot-driven one, so while there’s a coherent, linear narrative, there’s no real single overarching storyline.

There are two major themes running through the movie that I think would resonate with most longtime readers of the blog. One is toxic relationships between emotional vampires and codependents, and how each have elements of the other, and how even in a single relationship people can sometimes switch roles, taking turns oscillating between being the vampire and being the victim. An example is the clip below

The second theme is one I used to write about more earlier in the life of this blog, when I was more heavily influenced by evolutionary psychology: the alpha male versus beta male dynamic, or in evolutionary psychology terms, the cads and dads theory.

Since the former has been discussed quite heavily on this blog recently, I’d like to give a refresher on the cads and dads theory. This theory states that women are more attracted to rough and rugged “cads,” or colloquially speaking “alpha males,” on a primal sexual level, but find milder and more responsible “dads,” or colloquially speaking “beta males,” to be a more responsible long-term choice because they are better providers, less likely to leave, and less likely to impregnate other women, which would lead to the diversion of resources outside of the home. (Please, don’t get into whether alpha males or beta males are a realistic construct when applied to humans, or whether or not all men can or should be squarely be divided into either category. I’m not proposing any of that; I’m just simplifying the theory as much as possible for clarity and brevity’s sake.)

This article goes into it more:

Numerous studies have found that women’s mate preferences shift according to their menstrual cycle. During peak levels of fertility, they prefer more masculine and socially dominant men. In the literature these men are known as “cads.” Indeed, they tend to be sexy, with their narrow eyes and strong jaws — but they also tend to be flashy and exploitative of others. Even worse, these masculine men often embody the Dark Triad, a personality constellation that encompasses Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and narcissism. Typically, these men offer only short-term prospects.

By contrast, during less fertile phases women are drawn to more feminine and compassionate men. These men are referred to as “dads.” They tend to be more reliable, warm, and faithful than their caddish counterparts. They also offer greater prospects for a long-term relationship.

Many modern men who discover evolutionary psychology become obsessed with this theory, because one of the premises it posits is that women, especially in the days before science allowed for paternity tests, have a strong desire to get pregnant by cads because they often provide better genes, and then to marry cads, because they are more loyal and more freely giving with their resources. That way they get the best of both worlds, hot sex and good genes for their offspring from the cad, and resources, companionship, and a stable father figure for their kids from the dad. Some proponents of this theory even posit that the cads and dads theory is responsible for much paternity fraud throughout history. The watered-down, everday version of this theory is the “nice guys” and “bad boys” theory, which I assume everyone with a pulse already understands.

In this movie, Nicholson plays the type of character one would typically view as a cad, while Garfunkel plays the type of character one would typically view as a dad. We get to see how these roles affect their interactions with women over the decades.

The movie was written by the brilliant Jules Feiffer, a great thinker, cartoonist, and essayist. You may know some  of Feiffer’s work in an extremely indirect way. The highly regarded observation about Superman and Clark Kent from Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill, Vol. 2” is pretty much directly lifted from Jules Feiffer’s out-of-print book of essays about comic books, The Great Comic Book Heroes, a book you may be able to still find at public libraries (I managed to read a copy at the NY Public Library myself. Highly recommended). If you found that speech to be thought-provoking and insightful, you should definitely watch the movie, as he makes many poignant insights into the nature of relationships throughout, and there’s a final speech from Rita Moreno to Jack Nicholson that is absolutely riveting.

The scene in question:


Movie Recommendations #5: Lust For Life

Tomorrow at 6:00 AM Eastern Time, on the cable station Turner Classic Movies, the movie “Lust for Life” is airing. I highly recommend the movie, so set your DVRs accordingly.

In 2012 I recommended a movie called “The Moon and Sixpence.” It was based on a W. Somerset Maughm book about a narcissistic paint names Charles Strickland, but that character was based on a real life narcissistic painter named Paul Gauguin. “Lust for Life” is a movie about Vincent Van Gogh based on a Van Gogh biography of the same name written by Irving Stone. Paul Gauguin, the real-life inspiration for the protagonist from “The Moon and Sixpence” is a major figure both in Van Gogh’s life and in this movie.

Kirk Douglas plays Van Gogh, and though he does a very good job at playing the role with incredible intensity and vigor, he doesn’t even make an attempt at an accent. If you’re not used to old movies this can be distracting, especially in this day and age where actors really try to commit to capturing accent authenticity. Once you can overlook this incongruity, the movie is pretty solid. Anthony Quinn plays Gauguin. The affair is directed by one of my favorite directors Vincente Minelli, father of Liza, and director of another movie recommendation of mine, Madame Bovary.

Van Gogh as depicted in this movie is a classic codependent. We see it in his string of failed relationships with women in the early parts of the movie. As a result, there was a lot of self-sabotage in his life, neediness being shown to all the wrong people, a terrible fear of abandonment and social rejection, and a penchant for attracting terrible, abusive people in his life, especially Gauguin, shown here as a narcissist through and through. What makes this movie interesting is that most of the time here we discuss narcissism and codependency in romantic or family relationships, but this is a movie that really explores toxic bonding between a codependent and narcissist in the context of a platonic male friendship.

Some of the dynamics explored will be easily recognizable to readers of this blog, and when the toxic mixture eventually explodes, part of the fallout leads to the infamous incident with Van Gogh’s ear. This movie is a great examination of the human condition and the need we all have for some sort of deep connection.

Fun Fact: The song and album “Lust for Life” by Iggy Pop is based on this movie.

Response to A Reader Comment: Ego Discussed


Another blogger at a blog called Casual Kitchen recently linked to one of my posts. The post in question was one from 2011 titled The Ego Trap, which I advise you to read before proceeding if you haven’t already. The added context will help when reading the rest of this post.

A commenter over at Casual Kitchen named chacha1 responded with the following comment:

Ego: “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”

Couldn’t make it through that whole piece; I read it as confusion of a strong ego with narcissism, judgypantsness, and/or being a jerk.

It is possible to have a strong ego without being a solipsistic, judgy twit or having a superiority delusion.

Similar objections come up often whenever I discuss ego, so I decided to address it in a comment over there, then decided to reproduce the comment here as a separate blog post. Below is an expanded version of my response to her:


Author of the piece here. First things first, I never used the term “strong ego.” Strong can imply healthy, and it’s not a term I used. I used “ego driven.” To illustrate the difference, say I said you had “strong looks” and I meant it in a positive way and was saying I thought you were attractive. Now say I instead said you were “looks-driven.”

Does that mean the same thing? After all, you can actually be unattractive and be looks-driven or looks-obsessed. Alternatively, you can be incredibly attractive and have strong looks but not be looks-driven, as in you don’t arrange your whole life around your looks and you don’t obsess over them and judge everyone by those standards. Just like looks-driven isn’t the same as good looks, ego-driven isn’t the same as strong or healthy ego. Some of the people who are the most look-obsessed and looks-driven are the same people who are the most insecure and have the shakiest, most neurotic of confidence in their appearance, and similarly many ego-driven and ego-obsessed people are often the people with the with the shakiest, most toxic sense of self.

Furthermore, I was mostly using ego in the colloquial, everyday conversational sense that the word is used. For example, when someone says to you in casual conversation, “You have a huge ego,” do you take it as intended to say something positive about you, or do you take it to mean that the person is accusing you of, to use your own words, judgypantsness, and/or being a jerk or being a solipsistic, judgy twit or having a superiority delusion? I’m willing to bet the case is more likely the former.

Furthermore, even if you’re going by the psychoanalytic, more Freudian definition of ego as the mediator and peacemaker between the superego and the id, one can still argue that being ego-driven is a bad thing, because it encourages separation from other people and a sense of dishonesty with one’s self by keeping different aspects of yourself segregated from each other and largely in the dark about each other. Ego (the Freudian kind) can become obsessed with self-preservation and thriving, and to do that it has to defend itself against threats, which is where the psychoanalytic term “ego defense mechanisms”, usually shortened to “defense mechanisms,” comes in. When people discuss defense mechanisms, what those mechanisms are defending is the ego.

Not all defense mechanisms are bad. George Eman Vaillant classifies defense mechanisms into 4 categories, from worst to best: Pathological, Immature, Neurotic and Mature. Mature defense mechanisms can be considered “good” ego defenses while the other three are the bad ones. <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defence_mechanisms#Vaillant.27s_categorization_of_defence_mechanisms”>You can read more here.</a> If you go to the link I sent, you can see examples of unhealthy and healthy ego defenses.

If one has what I imagine you mean when you describe a strong, healthy ego, which is just a healthy self-esteem, he or she will use mostly healthy, mature ego defenses. If one is ego-driven, which means his or her primary motivation in everything is protecting the short-term interests of the ego, he or she will primarily use the more toxic ego defenses, because the healthier ones often require a person to be willing to tolerate short term pain to the ego in exchange for long-term emotional and mental health benefits. Ego-driven people often lack the maturity and emotional future time-orientation to use healthy ego defenses.

Then on another level there are spiritual teachings that advocate ego death, anatta (no-self), or integration (merging the superego, id, and ego into a new whole such that you no longer need to play peacemaker or mediator between the three). Advocates of such techniques believe that by either eradicating the ego or merging it with the superego and id in such a way that the three no longer are “keeping secrets” from each other, you no longer need even the healthy ego defenses. The person who achieves ego death no longer needs ego defenses, healthy or unhealthy, because he no longer has any ego to defend. The person who achieves integration no longer needs ego defenses, healthy or unhealthy, because now that his ego, superego, and id are merged into one entity the ego no longer has to protect itself from the other two or exert creative strategies to enable them to coexist. A similar, related approach, and one that I think is much more achievable for your average Western-raised mind, is that of training yourself to recognize and understand your ego and how it works but not actually identify with your ego and believe that you are your ego.

Admittedly, I’m not very acquainted with any of the spiritual concepts presented in the previous paragraph. I’m still wrapping my head around much of it, and may have even gotten some of the ideas wrong to a degree. When I went to the Buddhist center for a spell, the teacher there even held back on teaching the concept of getting rid of one’s conception of self/ego because she stated that going into that too early in beginner classes tended to scare too many novices to death and drive them off. I’ve been reading a book called Stepping Out of Self-Deception by Rodney Smith that touches on this, but I’m only halfway through it, and it’s not easy to wrap my head around yet. Similar books that I’ve bought but not yet read include Psychotherapy without the Self: A Buddhist Perspective by Mark Epstein, The Self Illusion: How the Social Brain Creates Identity by Bruce Hood, The Ego Tunnel by Thomas Metzinger (a neuroscientific approach to the topic), and I Am That by Nisargadatta Maharaj. I can’t speak to the quality of these books except to say that the first half of Stepping Out of Self-Deception is quite good and thought-provoking. I suggested all the books anyway, even though I can’t vouch for them personally. I’ve heard great things about all of them and they were recommended to me by the various buddhist teachers I met when I was taking classes.

Raw Concepts: Time Travel

One of my favorite books is The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. Years before reading that book, I had often heard about “being present” or “being in the now,” but I just dismissed it as woo-woo new agey advice that didn’t have much practical use to a productive person. I thought living in the now meant to irresponsibly disregard the future and not worry about tomorrow, as in don’t worry about retirement, your career, paying off debt, etc. I think I got this mistaken idea of what being present or living in the moment meant because I actually had encountered some people who read the book and misinterpreted it and used it as a justification for living irresponsibly day to day without making any mature long-term plans or accepting more responsibility for their future.

When I read Tolle’s other book A New Earth, I found it to be a major game-changer in my life. That made me decide to finally give Power of Now a chance, almost 10 years after I first heard of it. All that time I had prejudged it and dismissed it without actually reading it. The night I cracked it open, I wound up so engrossed that I stayed up until the crack of dawn and finished it in one sitting. The ideas were incredibly exciting and inspiring to me. It turned out not to be what I assumed at all. It was incredibly proactive and carried a philosophy that encouraged taking control and having a strong internal locus of control.

The book doesn’t tell you to disregard the past and refuse to learn from old mistakes, or to disregard the future and refuse to plan for it, although some people have unfortunately taken those messages away from it and used the book to justify laziness or irresponsibility. You actually should ponder the past and the future, but in productive, less obsessive ways than the average person. For example, you can take a mental trip to the past and think about something bad that happened to you, but you don’t stay there. You take whatever lesson you need to learn from that memory and return right back to the present, and ask yourself what you can do right now, at this exact moment with that memory. Is there a lesson you learned from it that you can apply to your current worldview? Say for example you are remembering a heart attack you had that traumatized you. Ask yourself, “what can I do about it now? What lessons can I take from that to incorporate into my current lifestyle? What present actions can I take to correct that past memory?” You can make your next meal a healthy one. You can make a shopping list of healthy foods to eat. You can buy a nutrition book from Amazon.com. You can make an appointment to see your doctor next week to get blood work done to see how much you’ve improved and how much farther you still need to go. If what you’re thinking about from your past is something that you can’t reverse or change or learn from, then you have to resolve to let it go and make peace with it.

Similarly, you may worry about the future. For example, take a retirement that you are way behind on saving for. Power of Now doesn’t instruct you to “be present” in the form of just continuing to stick your head in the ground like a flamingo and ignoring your future security. You should totally think about that retirement down the line. The key is not to dwell on that future circumstance. All you’ll do is build up your fears, feelings of lack of control, and feelings of helplessness. Once you look to the future and realize you want a certain amount of money to retire on and then look to the past and realize you haven’t taken as much action as you should have toward that goal, the key is to come back to the present and figure out what actions you can take now to correct those past mistakes. You can maybe take a part-time job on the side to make extra money to sock away. Maybe you can order a bunch of retirement books and read them cover to cover to become more savvy about retirement so that you can figure out how to make up for lost time. Maybe you can have lunch with ten of your most responsible friends and ask them for advice based on how they approach their own retirement plans. Perhaps you can hire an expert adviser.

There are two very important things you must do when being present. First, you have to break everything down into specific actions, not vague goals (for example instead of saying “I’ll get a new job” you break it down more specifically to “I will apply to two dozen jobs a day, reach out to everyone I know to let them know I’m job hunting, go to one networking event a week, and find an interviewing coach and a recruiter to work with.” Second, the actions focused on must be immediate ones. It’s not enough to just say “the solution is to work out, and I’ll do it whenever the timing is right.” All you’ve done is put your focus on the future again. If you have a valid reason why you can’t work out right now, then focus instead on something else you can do now to be proactive. For example, start eating healthy and researching fitness so that you can put together a daily exercise regimen to follow.

Whether dealing with the past or the future, the key is to always end up back in the present, thinking and acting in the now. I call this tendency of mentally transporting one’s self back to one’s past or forward to one’s future time traveling, and it’s terribly unproductive.

Time travel can either be backward time travel (the past) or forward time travel (the future). It can also be positive (happy images) or negative (miserable) images. This allows us four combinations (the term “time travel” as well as the names of the following combinations don’t actually appear in the book; they’re my personal interpretations of the concepts):

  1. Negative backward time travel. This is when you keep reliving negative memories in the form of regrets of unfulfilled dreams or scars of remembered traumas.
  2. Positive backward time travel. This is nostalgia, when you keep remembering happier better times and wishing you could relive them, and comparing your current circumstances to them unfavorably.
  3. Negative forward time travel. This is when you have fear and dread about the future, and see it as an uncertain, foreboding place. You let your imagination run wild with all the ways the future is going to be worse.
  4. Positive forward time travel. This is when you have mentally live in some ideal, happier future and deny yourself any enjoyment today as a result. Everything good will be enjoyed in some mythical tomorrow. You’ll finally take a vacation in the future, when the kids are grown. You’ll finally enjoy like when you retire. You’ll spend time with your family once the house is paid off. You don’t enjoy your life now because you think there will always be a better tomorrow for that.

The problem is, experiences always occur as a “now.” Even the future, when it finally arrives, will arrive as a “now.” It’s only “now” that we can control. It’s only “now” that we have any sort of power. The past robs us of our power because it’s unchangeable. The future robs us of our power because we can’t act on it. It hasn’t arrived yet. When people talk about changing their future what they really are talking about is changing something in their present in hopes that it will pay off in the future.

In the case of negative backward time travel, find a way to make peace with those bad memories. For example talk to one of the parties involved, vent, get closure. If not, read self-help books and get a therapist. If those don’t work and can’t help, you may have to just accept that you can’t get closure in those ways and focus on finding fun hobbies to distract you instead, and make peace with that lack of closure and forgive yourself anyway.

In the case of positive backward time travel, find a way to recreate good memories now. Maybe have guy’s night out or girl’s night out with your old friends once a month, or plan a vacation with them annually. Maybe find activities that allow you to make new friends and new social memories. Or if your nostalgia is something you can no longer recreate, then look for the ways that your current life is better than your past life and appreciate those on a daily basis.

In the case of negative forward time travel, figure out the very worst that can happen to you if your fears were to come true. Then figure out what you can do now to make sure that you can bounce back from that. If the worst that can realistically happen to you is that you get laid off and are out of work for a year, you can figure out what a year’s worth of expenses are and start saving that up by getting a side job and cutting expenses. Now you have a cushion. Or you can put extra energy into finding new work now or opening up your own business.

In the case of positive forward time travel, don’t stay so focused on an ideal better tomorrow that you let your whole life pass you by without enjoying it. There is rarely ever a “perfect” time to open that business, have that child, take a vacation, retire, etc. That’s not to say be reckless and just spend carelessly or quit your job without any feasible plan. But don’t hold out for a “perfect” time that may never come, using that as an excuse not to live life.

The lesson is that time traveling robs you of your power and sense of control. Being present helps you regain them. Your end destination should always be now.

Recommended Reading:

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I can’t speak highly enough of this book. It’s one of those books that you either get, and it changes your life, or you totally don’t, and you’re unimpressed. I’ve rarely seen a middle ground reaction from people I know. Hopefully you read it and fall into the former camp.

Sympathy vs. Empathy

One thing we often hear about Cluster B Vampires is how they lack empathy. One of the things that makes many of these emotional vampires fly underneath our radars is that we can remember instances of them displaying what seemed like empathy. The inability to reconcile these instances of supposed empathy with their other narcissistic and destructive behaviors often causes cognitive dissonance in us. I think there are two simple explanations for this incongruity. First, they learn how to fake empathy by studying the appropriate reactions of others. They never learn to truly feel empathy, but they learn to act empathetic, the way a person masters a script or a dance routine. The other explanation is that what you were witnessing was genuine, but it was sympathy rather than empathy. Narcissists feel emotions in a shallow and caricatured way, and many times (not always!) sympathy can be a shallow and caricatured analogue to empathy. Sympathy is a much easier emotional state to achieve.

I think something else to take into account is that not only do narcissists and other emotional vampires find sympathy easier to accomplish than empathy, but also significantly more attractive and reinforcing to their narcissism. See, empathy involves you lowering yourself to a person’s level and admitting that you have felt the way that person has felt in the past, that you have been in their shoes. It makes you less special and unique. Not being deemed superior even for a moment is devastating to a narcissist. Sympathy however actually elevates you above the target of your sympathy. Sympathy isn’t inherently bad, but when misused it can allow one to condescend to others and look down on them.

This metaphorical story (or allegory, I’m not sure) by Brene Brown really drives the point home:

Real Love vs. Fake Love

I’ll be returning to full posts soon. In the meantime, some food for thought:

It ties into many posts I’ve made here in the past few years, but I won’t spell out how. I think it should be obvious to anyone who’s been paying attention, but experience has taught me you can never assume. For example, I’ve come across people online who have apparently read every last word on this site and intellectually learned the principles to an incredible extent yet seem to have missed the point entirely by taking away the message that the point is to learn to “outgame” emotional vampires or learn to use their tricks against them to establish ego-driven superiority.

This is exactly what I warned about when discussing narcissistic contagion. This misinterpretation and misapplication I find is especially prevalent among readers from the so-called “manosphere” and “red pill” blogs, movements I’ve never explicitly claimed membership to and even occasionally stated I don’t consider myself a part of.

It’s surprising (although it really shouldn’t be) to see multiple article writers use my ideas as fuel to build their own mustache-twirling false, idealized selves, or as a call to action to “outnarcissize” other narcissists. If the only thing you take away from my writing is evidence and ammunition to point out how much other people and groups suck, then the tragedy is that no matter how much you’ve memorized the intellectual concepts, you’ve missed the bigger point.

Raw Concepts: Broken Window Relationship Theory


In Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, there is a discussion of policing tactic based on a social science theory called Broken Windows Theory. Picture you own a house, and you allow the windows of this house to remain broken. Other people who live in and visit this house will believe that they too can break windows in your house, because you give the impression that you don’t mind the windows in your house being broken. Furthermore, they may feel free to escalate and do even bigger acts of vandalism to your house. There are three major effects of allowing broken windows in a house. One is more obvious and has already been partially discussed: the fact that people don’t respect your house. The second is less obvious but equally important: people don’t respect you as an individual for allowing your house to be disrespected like that. They may act like they’re having fun with you while the two of you vandalize your house together, and on the surface it may seem like a bonding activity, or that you’re winning them over by letting them vandalize your house, but the whole time you’re engaging in this activity together they’re actually losing more and more respect for you. Third, people start losing respect for your neighborhood as a whole, because there is a house with broken windows in the neighborhood. And the more houses with broken windows a neighborhood has over time, the lower the status of that neighborhood. So broken windows hurts the standing of the house itself, of the people who own and live within the house, and of the neighborhood the house is in.

These general Broken Window ideas were reflected in various urban planning and policing initiatives during the late 20th century. As described in the Broken Windows Wikipedia entry:

A successful strategy for preventing vandalism, say the book’s authors, is to fix the problems when they are small. Repair the broken windows within a short time, say, a day or a week, and the tendency is that vandals are much less likely to break more windows or do further damage. Clean up the sidewalk every day, and the tendency is for litter not to accumulate (or for the rate of littering to be much less). Problems do not escalate and thus respectable residents do not flee a neighborhood.

It was also specifically used in New York City under Rudy Giuliani:

In 1990, William J. Bratton became head of the New York City Transit Police. Bratton described George L. Kelling as his “intellectual mentor”, and implemented zero tolerance of fare-dodging, easier arrestee processing methods and background checks on all those arrested. Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani hired Bratton as his police commissioner who adopted the strategy more widely in New York City after Giuliani’s election in 1993, under the rubrics of “quality of life” and “zero tolerance“.

Influenced heavily by Kelling and Wilson’s article, Giuliani was determined to put the theory into action. He set out to prove that New York’s infamous image of being too big, too unruly, too diverse, too broke to manage, – was, in fact, manageable.

Thus, Giuliani’s “zero-tolerance” roll out was part of an interlocking set of wider reforms, crucial parts of which had been underway since 1985. Bratton had the police more strictly enforce the law against subway fare evasion, public drinking, urination, graffiti artists and the “squeegee men” who had been wiping windshields of stopped cars and demanding payment. Near the beginning, Bratton received criticism for his work for going after these “petty” crimes. The general statement towards this was “Why care about panhandlers, hookers, or graffiti artists when there are more serious crimes to be dealt with in the city?” The main notion of the broken window theory is that small crimes can make way for larger crimes. If the “petty” criminals are often overlooked and given space to do what they want, then their level of criminality might escalate from petty crimes to more serious offenses. Bratton’s work is to attack while the offenders are still green, as it would prevent an escalation of criminal acts in the future. According to the 2001 study of crime trends in New York by George Kelling and William Sousa, rates of both petty and serious crime fell suddenly and significantly, and continued to drop for the following ten years.

I think the Broken Windows theory is also valuable to apply in personal relationships, whether professional, platonic, or romantic. There are two major ways I can illustrate for using Broken Windows in relationships.

The first way Broken Windows theory helps in relationships is when dealing with emotional vampires. I call this Abusive Broken Windows. Supposedly, if you drop a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will immediately jump out. But if you put a frog in a pan with room temperature water and then turn the heat up very gradually until it hits boiling, that same frog will remain in the pan until it cooks to death, never jumping out. Emotional vampires are like that with their victims: they don’t do the egregious boundary violations and abuses right away. They test what they can get away with by starting with smaller violations. Many people, because these violations are not that major and because they want to keep the peace and don’t want to make a big deal over what appears minor, often let these boundary violations slide, or if they do protest, they are too quick to forgive. This emboldens the emotional vampire to repeat and escalate the boundary violations, until they gradually reach a level of boundary violations that they likely wouldn’t have been able to get away with earlier in the relationship, and just like the frog is now willing to tolerate the boiling water when the temperature is raised slowly, the emotional vampire’s victim is now willing to tolerate the new disrespect levels when the abuse is escalated slowly.

By not protesting and repairing the emotional broken windows, the victim has allowed the situation to go out of hand.

The second way Broken Windows helps in relationships is among friends, family, and coworkers, and is somewhat less obvious. I call these “Friendly” Broken Windows. I notice, for example, that many guys who are friends, when meeting a group of girls, or even just one girl, will be quick to playfully diss each other while kissing up to the girl. The dissing and kissing up can manifest in many minor ways. For example, if the girl makes a joke about one of the guys in the group, the other guys may laugh a little too hard and long at the joke, in a manner far out of proportion the how clever the joke actually was. If the girl is rude to one of the group, the others in the group may concur and join with the girl in criticizing the other guy. Sometimes the other guys may initiate the mockery of one of their group and encourage the girls to join in. Sometimes the guys will be self-deprecating and mock themselves for the amusement of the girls. Another people manifestation is when guys use dissing each other as a way to break the ice with and score cheap points with a woman they just met. These are all examples of broken windows.

I noticed that guys are far more likely to engage in “Friendly” Broken Windows than women. Like, if a strange woman is to make fun of a member of a group of guys, the other guys are far more likely to let it slide or even pile on than when the situation is  reversed and a strange man makes fun of a member of a group of women. Men are far more likely to throw each other and themselves under the bus to impress strange women than vice versa.

At first I thought that this was a sign that women have much stronger loyalty to each other than men do, but I’ve encountered so many women who are catty and backstabbing to each other in friendships, especially behind each other’s backs, that I can’t say that women are any more inherently loyal to each other than men are, even if they are more likely to present a united front publicly and in social encounters with strangers.

Then I realized: it’s not a gender thing, but rather, a status thing. When someone is of lower status than you, you are less likely to do things to win their approval, especially if those things involve throwing yourself or your friends under the bus. Since in society, the default position in social encounters is that women on average are assumed to have higher social status than men until proven otherwise, most of the time it is the men who are breaking their own windows. In most male-female encounters, conventional wisdom is that the man must “win” the girl, that he must impress her, that he must show his value. Her value is simply assumed, especially if she’s at all attractive. (I call this the Assumed Value Fallacy, and I’ll discuss it in a later post.)

The group that socially breaks its own windows only does so because it perceives itself to have lower status than the group it’s trying to impress. And ironically, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because once they start breaking their own windows, they immediately communicate that belief about their lower status to the other group, and end up making that lower status a reality and cementing it. For example, if you take your average group of guys who engage in Friendly Broken Windows strategy with pretty girls, and have a fat, ugly girl try to diss one of them, they will blow her out of the water similar to how a group of pretty, thin girls would shut down most guys who tried to disrespect one of their group. It’s not so much about in-group loyalty as an absolute, but rather about in-group loyalty relative to the perceived status of the other group. The higher the perceived status of the other group, the lower the in-group loyalty becomes. And since a group of women is almost always presumed to have higher status than a group of men, it is almost always the men who show less in-group loyalty and break their own windows.

Similarly, I’ve noticed that in situations where the man or group of men is presumed to be of higher status, either because of Adonis-level looks, money, celebrity status, or some combination of the aforementioned, a group of women will behave not that differently than your average group of men does when faced with an attractive female. They will break windows within the group like crazy. The reason we rarely see it is because we rarely see the social status dynamics tip in the man’s favor.

[If you doubt that a group of men are on average presumed to have less status than group of women, compare a group of men going out on the town versus a group of women. The group of men will be turned away from all the top nightlife spots, or forced to stand on line and wait an ungodly amount of time, or forced to purchase bottle service. Meanwhile, pretty, thin women will be whisked right in like royalty, with no one even knowing who they are. For a group of guys to get similar treatment, one or all of them would probably need to be a celebrity or known to be a big spender.]

Just like with all broken windows situations, the same three effects occur: people lose respect for your house [in this case, whoever you’re specifically throwing under the bus], you as an individual [what kind of person treats their friend like that?], and your group as a whole [your whole group suffers and looks weak].

However, sometimes the behavior does seem to work. Some people do seem to like when you break windows, and are attracted to such behavior. I’m sure everyone can think of times when they broke windows within their group and won someone over by throwing their friend under the bus in a good-natured (or not so good-natured) way or by self-deprecation. The problem is, this is a strategy where even when it works, it fails. Because more often than not, anyone you attract by such a method is usually going to be a shitty person anyway. Any worthwhile person is going to be turned off by how your group is conducting itself in order to impress them, whether it’s the person who is getting thrown under the bus, the person doing the throwing, or the group as a whole for tolerating such a dynamic. It communicates extreme weakness, and since like attracts like, it will attract extreme weakness as well, either in the form of a codependent who wants to commiserate with weakness, or a Cluster B Vampire who wants to overcompensate for their own submerged feelings of inferiority by finding someone more obviously self-loathing to dominate and exploit.

The people you attract into your life by allowing broken windows are never people who improve things for the better. It’s similar to the people in society who not only tolerate but are actually prefer blighted neighborhood with lots of literal broken windows and dilapidated structures: they’re usually not positive people.

The point is, don’t allow other people to break your windows, because they usually won’t stop with just that, and don’t break your own windows to impress other people, because you’ll drive away worthwhile people and attract parasites, takers, and energy vampires.

Recommended Reading:

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell. A great read that has a wonderful chapter on Broken Windows Theory as used in urban development and community policing strategy.

Shame is Immature


This is an insight that may seem a little basic or obvious, but I try not to take anything for granted. Sometimes things I think I’m making obvious people totally miss, and things I think I didn’t make clear enough, people grasp far better than I ever originally hoped.

One such insight I’m not sure if I made clear: Shame is immature.

Remember, shame is the idea that you are fundamentally flawed, and if you do something bad, it proves that you are bad as an entity. Compare this to guilt, which says that if you do something bad, it’s not necessarily evidence that you are bad as an entity. So if a shame-based person tries to hit on a girl and gets rejected, he thinks “I’m am a reject.” If a guilt-based person tries to hit on a girl and gets rejected, he thinks “I’m a regular guy who just happened to get rejected.”

Shame is the root of narcissism and codependence. This is why being narcissists and codependents start avoiding risks and looking for easy ego-boosts, or engage in a lot of self-handicapping, because they feel their very identity is at stake with every rejection. They go into endeavors with built-in excuses ready and always holding something back or obsessed with impression management and self-presentation. Meanwhile, a guilt-based person is less likely to self-sabotage or avoid risks or look for easy ego-boosts, because he doesn’t believe his actions and failures are proof that he is fundamentally defective and inferior. Mistakes and failures are just feedback that he needs to go back to the drawing board.

If you deal with a child, you’ll notice that it’s hard to give them constructive criticism until they’re older. If you tell a kid they’ve done anything badly, they will think they are total failures, are unworthy, or are unlovable. Adults understand this, which is why they tend to over-applaud and over-praise for just about anything the child does.

As the child gets older, however, continuing to do this will stunt the child’s development because it keeps the child in a shame-based mindset. At some point the child has to learn that he can not be perfect or even good at something, and still be worthy of love and still not be defective. The child has to learn that he can be good at some aspects of a craft or task, and can be bad at other aspects of the craft or task, at the same time. Good and bad can coexist in the same entity at the same time. This is called integration.

Shame-based people have a lot of trouble integrating. This is the core of the superhuman/subhuman dichotomy and the suppression-expression paradox. Everything is either-or, all-or-nothing, black or white, one extreme or the other. One mistakes by themselves or others invalidates everything good. You also see this in how kids will tell a parent “I hate you!” when they’re mad at them, and truly believe it. And when their emotions calm down, they love the parent again like nothing ever happened. It’s hard to simultaneously be mad at someone and still love them in that moment, even while still nursing that anger. You find this same tendency in adult Cluster Bs and codependents with the phenomenon of splitting.

With kids, however, because you know you’re dealing with a child, you implicitly understand the shame-based motivations, even if you you’re not explicitly versed in the psychology of shame and use the proper psychological terms. With shame-based adults, however, we tend to assume that they’re are mature adults, and many of them wear the mask of maturity so well that we interact with them on a guilt-based levels and end up getting frustrated or burned as a result.

The point of this post is to train you to start associating shame with maturity and vice-versa. If I write about shame, I’m automatically also writing about immaturity even if I don’t explicitly state that word. And if I’m writing about maturity issues, I’m also implicitly writing about shame issues, even if I don’t use that word.  No matter how well a shame-based person knows how to go through the motions and feign maturity by following rituals and observing social rules, at the core you are dealing with someone who is emotionally a child. And conversely, if someone is immature, you have to realize that it’s not just a cute eccentricity but is also evidence that they probably have a lot of shame-based mindsets, with all the dysfunctions that accompany that.