Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Rough Guide to Social Skills for Awkward Smart People

I am a full-on dork. The things that make me want to get up in the morning are things that make normal people lose interest in the conversation, or giggle. These are things like lucid dreaming, artificial intelligence, utopian movements, and Esperanto.

Be that as it may, I'm mostly fine with boring the normals and living in the Vibrant True World of Beauty with its other full-on dork denizens. Amazingly, I've found that Esperantists seem to be anarcho-Taoists, that AI researchers tend to have experimented with lucid dreaming, and that other secret threads hold the seemingly disparate interests of Dorks Like Me together. I have countrymen. Just not yet my country.

The other thing that holds my kinsmen together, though, is an unfortunate thing: they are all asses. They decimate the chances of their ideas' success by offending everyone they meet, making it look like being happy and having friends are suspicious, counterrevolutionary behaviors.

In case you're wondering if my sermon is directed to you, there are some common tropes in our oft-reenacted social suicide:
  1. We call someone's beliefs "idiotic."
  2. We call someone's beliefs "idiotic" within five minutes of meeting them.
  3. We happily inform strangers of our vast and superior intelligence.
  4. We derail a conversation about American Idol to bring it back to the real issue at hand: that there is no God.
  5. When given a compliment, "Oh, you're so well-read!", we look blankly in the eyes of the complimenter, and respond "Yes, I know."
I can hear your retort, oh ye smart and lonely. "But I am the smartest person in the room"/"But their beliefs are idiotic."/"I'm not going to compromise the truth to make some idiot happy."

Great. Good luck with that. Oh, and by the way, your cause will die, I promise.

People don't respond well to being told that they're idiots, even if they are. Ideas don't spread by beating their enemies to a pulp. They spread by subterfuge and incalculable subtlety.

I would propose that sacrificing some smaller truths in your day-to-day interactions is the only way for the greater truth to prevail.

Be a Good Spy

As a short exercise, I invite you to think of it this way: it is World War II, and you are an Allied spy. You are in Germany, and you have attained a mid-level rank in the Nazi bureaucracy. Your superiors speak well of the F├╝hrer.

Now ask yourself, which response probably achieves the most towards the furtherance of your objectives?

(A) "No, he's actually an idiot, and killing Jews is wrong, and I'm an Allied spy, and there are Jews in my attic."


(B) "Heil Hitler."

The Old One-Two

Now of course we'll never achieve anything good if we simply walk around saying "Heil Hitler" all day. If you do have an important mission in the world, you'll have to face dangers, and at some time show your true colors.

Doing this in the wrong way Schrutes your whole mission. Doing this in the right way makes you Ani Difranco, or Bob Dylan.

Ani Difranco has a trick. She gets up on the stage, and her guitar is un-tuned. While tuning it, she ad-libs a story. The story isn't funny. There are a lot of pauses, and a lot of "uh"s. The crowd starts to get uncomfortable. We feel sympathetic embarrassment. Massive pity. Poor little girl. Then, suddenly, she rips into everyone's soul, fast. Now she's confident and smarter than you can handle. Now she's referencing poets and playing brilliantly with language. The whole dumb scared thing was an act (she doesn't do it in interviews). It works. I call this The Old One-Two.

One: Disarm. Don't be an ass. Be weak. Be self-deprecating. Build Ethos.

Two: Be brilliant.

The Old One-Two is charm at its atomistic simplest. Most good actors use it (though not so much in their stage performances as in interviews.) Bob Dylan is the absolute king of the game, ripping off Milton and making it sound like something he misheard his grandfather say.

What I find the most interesting about The Old One-Two is that even after I realize I've been duped, I still love the guy who's scammed me.

"Oh no, I really don't play piano, I just mess around"

"Aw, come on, pleeease?"

"Oh, alright" {Flawless Bach Piece}


Even after you know it was a lie, the false-humility still gives you warm feelings. Now when this guy later turns around and says "Aw, naw, not really; well, I guess kind of I dabble in The Ultimate Truth", I'll probably listen.


This is an old post. Read a newer one. You know you want to.