Greedy Goblin

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Conflicting interests

It is the second time that I write the same post twice. The first was also inspired by Matticus, whose views are very far from mine, sometimes too far to even understand them. The second post was a sarcastic rant making fun of his no-asshole rule. Unlike in the first occasion, my views have not changed a bit from the comments. However I see now that my old post was not really informative. So after I gathered my thoughts (with the help of some really good questions of commenters) here you can see the cleaned version.

In the world - and especially in business - there are conflicting interests. I want the same resources as you. If I undercut your crystallized fire, I will sell them for profit and you get them back with "auction expired". That market is limited, therefore only a few can have profit there. In the game you can be nice to everybody, since mobs and opposing faction members are not counted into "everybody". However in the AH business and in real life, you have to compete with real people of your social group.

It's obvious that our competition is good for the customers, good for the society as whole. However our mind is full of ape-subroutines that recognize the competitive action of another as an "evil attack" against the "innocent victim": me.

The guy who undercuts my crystallized fire, buys the same car from the dealer which I wanted to buy, take the job which I applied to, or ask my girlfriend out to a date is not a bad man. He is doing exactly what I'm doing and to a third party observer we are very similar.

However the ape-subroutines that were evolved in the "win or die" cycles of evolution sees this man as "bad" and consider it "right" to "punish" his "evildoing". I feel it right to harm this man. However such activity is extremely stupid and harmful to me for three reasons:
  • I can lose. If I chose to attack him, I can end up with a much bigger loss.
  • By turning the competition into a fight, I make it impossible to cooperate with him on fields where our interests are not conflicting.
  • Even if I win, I wasted resources on the fight. I defeated him, 999999 competitors to go. In the ape-horde the number of apes were limited. Defeating one eliminated big part of the competition and threatened several others. In the human society there are almost infinite number of possible competitors. It is impossible to defeat all of them, even if I win every fight.
By the ape-subroutines we feel that anyone who crosses our ways are evil and harmful and bad and it's right to punish him. Unless we learn to control this feeling we turn into animals killing each other. We must accept that others has the right to want the same resources we want and can compete for them.

Matticus proposed in his post that those who have bad opinions about us and dare to voice these opinions are "bad" and must be punished. I have three good reasons to not bring an issue of two people disliking each other to the guild (workplace, society) level.

1: It's the one outlined above: there will always be a next guy who dislikes you, so if you spend fighting these guys, that's a fight with no end.

2: the society level. The society declares certain activities harmful to the society (as opposed to the individual) therefore bans them. The definition (and in a democratic society the only definition) of "bad" (criminal) is: someone who does something that the society finds harmful for itself.

If I undercut you in any market (WoW or real) I'm doing something against your interests (I'm your competitor) but nothing against the society (so I'm not bad). If I kill you, I'm not only harming you, but the society too, so the cops will try to stop me.

It's not a wonder that the enlightened societies found their legal system on rights. These are the "resources" worth defending by the society. The crimes are violations of these rights. The members are obviously a worthy resources to the society, so holding their life and health is a right. If I violate this right (kill or harm you), I'm a criminal against the society (as opposed to you). It's not a mistake that the murderer's trial is "JoeStabber vs Florida state" and not "JoeStabber vs VictimJane".

When you try to label an action "bad", always ask: is it harmful to the society, or just to me?. If it's just you, it's competition, not crime. Your opponent is not worse than you. Of course you can compete for your interests but labeling him "bad" and trying to make others to punish him is silly. Good example: in enlightened countries divorce is not a crime, and dating married people is also not. The other guy is your competitor, and not an evildoer. You can choose to "seduce back" your wife or divorce and find another. You can not choose to break his nose, or if you do you will be the criminal.

This definition of crime also defines the "crybaby" as someone who want others (police, judge, guild leader) to punish his competitor for competition. You heard of the guy who sued all his neighbors and the local agencies and the police and the newspapers and those juries that dismissed his previous cases? Don't be that guy!

3: One could claim that having a good atmosphere is the interest of certain groups (like WoW guilds), so a no-asshole rule can be introduced and enforced. Matticus claims that "Players will lose faith in you and in the guild itself." if you don't enforce such ruling.

However there is a scientific problem here. The defended object is not measurable. If I cut you, you are cut. The cut can be measured in depth, length, blood loss, time of healing and so on. So it can be decided without doubt if the action called "cutting" was performed or not. I can also cut textiles and other soft objects. Cutting obviously damages the defended object (your body or property). From there it's only needed to prove that it was me who made the damage, and I can be sent to the jail.

On the other hand "sucking mental energy" or "feeling belittled" cannot be measured. There is no objective method to determine the state of the object, so I can arbitrarily claim that "my energy is sucked away by you". Someone's subjective feeling cannot be treated like an objective thing.

Accusing someone doing something un-scientific is witch-hunt. Those poor women were burned alive for "cursing" people and "causing famine by dark sorcery". For us these claims are nonsense, since we know that you cannot cause famine by dark sorcery and cursing only work in a fantasy video game. However "sucking mental energy" is just as nonsense. Just because you feel so, it is not a reality. I'm sure that the parents of the Salem kids honestly believed that it's dark sorcery that caused mental disease to their children. I can also feel that I am cursed, humiliated, belittled but that is no reason for burning someone, just for me to visit a therapist.

The "asshole" who "belittle" people is just as non-existent term as the witch who curse them. The fact that there were times when 99.9% of the population believed in witchcraft change nothing. Anyone who want to make "good feelings" a socially defended object must define its measurement and protocols to determine who made the damage excluding all subjective elements.

My advice: if you feel so bad because of a bad opinion that you want to do something about it, make this something a visit to a shrink who can help with your self-esteem problems. It helps much more than fighting shadows. In the world - especially in business - you will find people conflicting with your interests every day. You have to learn to cope with this situation. Running to the guild master, a lawyer or your mummy is everything but successful coping.

PS: you have the right to play, work, live with whoever you want. You don't need objective reasons to not be with someone. You are free to subjectively like and dislike people. You are free to tell someone, "I'm here to be happy in this guild and I'm not happy with you, so one of us must leave", just like you are free to tell a girl that "sorry, you're not my type" without any explanation or justification. However it's absolutely not right to consider him/her "bad", "unworthy", "asshole" or expect others to agree with you. It's your personal preference, and not justice.


Anonymous said...

I'm actually just stumbling across your blog for the first time, and I wanted to let you know that I thought this was an excellent and well-argued post. Rock on, yo.

Suicidal Zebra said...

You seem to be stating that if 'emotional hurt' cannot be documented described and quantified then an asshole being an asshole should not be punitively punished. When talking about society as a whole you are possibly correct, as this amounts to censorship. However this wasn't the point of the article.

The thrust of Matt's article is one of regulation and exclusion within a voluntary organisation - a WoW guild or by extension any social club or even employment opportunity. Witch-hunts occurred within a whole community where membership was not an option and when punishments were vicious and often deadly.

Unlike witchhunts evidence other than hearsay can be presented (screen-caps, recordings etc.) and reductions in personal or group productivity can be measured. Other members can speak up on the assholes behalf without significant fear of a similar fate. If the worst comes to the worst the offending member of the group can be removed and seek gainful grouping elsewhere, perhaps within an 'enlightened' guild who tolerates assholes.

Essentially what Matt describes is an optional organisation acting in a concerted manner to implement conduct in a way that each member finds pleasant. This is very different to a witch-hunt in practise and outcome. Indeed, do you think witch-hunts would be remembered so chillingly if the victims were only evicted from the women's sowing circle?

Anonymous said...

Someone, quite successful in his time, once said, "The Moral is to the Physical as Three is to One."

Anonymous said...

What it boils down to is our reaction to people's comments. Plain and simple. Even people like you who have thick skin, don't like to be called names, insulted, or told that they are morons. No one appreciates those kind of remarks, nor the person they come from. It's called conflict, and it has been around since the dawn of time.

People, especially men, will defend their rights, possessions, points of view. So if you make remarks like the one Matticus talked about then you should NOT be surprised that someone would actually have the temerity to defend themselves. If you are surprised then it's you who needs the service of a psychologist not others.

And here is something for you to chew on. If you try to date MY woman, I have a decision to make. And that is, whether she is worth keeping or not. If she isn't then I will gleefully just allow it to happen. Take her, she's all yours man, with my blessing. However, if she is a keeper then I will do everything in my power to not only keep her but make you pay dearly for the hassle. Right up to getting in your face and seeing if I can antagonize you enough to throw the first punch. And I will gladly bear the burden of any court case that evolves after that. At least I will have the pleasure of kicking your ass and of you knowing beyond a shadow of doubt that I am more than willing to fight for what is mine. No chump is going to take MY woman away from me without a battle.

It's all about attitude, you give me an attitude like the one Matticus posted in his thread and I would call you an asshole too. It's just that people don't believe they will be punished for the things they say, especially online. You use similes to illustrate your points in your posts, I will use another. The kid that does something to piss you off and you have some words with but ends in you just letting him go without any punishment. Then he gets about a block away and turns around and flips you the bird. You have choices in what to do at this point, but never the less you are going to think immediately what an cowardly little asshole he is.

Assholes are people we deal with in life on a daily basis, it's how we deal with them that makes us what we are. Some will gladly let others deal with them, some will actively go after them all on their own. I believe in the latter. I can fight my own battles, thank you. Win, lose or draw, you will know you have been in a fight and I will point out to you that you started it with your comments to me...remember? Just the way it goes.

Anonymous said...

You abuse the ape-subroutine argument way too much... The term is seductive in the way pseudo-science usually is but it's just that, pseudo-science, and you're using it as a rhetoric artifice entirely too much to discount whatever is not cold/calculating reasonning.
I can see you enjoy provocative thinking and being the devil's advocate but provocative does not necessarily equates to being completely blind sided.

Anonymous said...

I can fully accept that every guild has 'assholes', we try and clamp down on needless childish griefing, though equally which I bet Matt has not posted (Though I do not know, I can't access his blog from work)about the people who Mr goblin has mentioned as the cry babys.

It is not uncommon where one person has accused a well known rogue(not the class) because of their own personal life problems, or time of the month and accused said rogue of a particular offence which is ether compleatly blown out of context or false.

I think if they are pointing an accusing finger they may need a reality check; sure, I don't agree with some things you think, but I find this blog informitive as well as thought provoking, if they see it all as evil then surely they are looking at life and ether a good or an evil...which on so many matters in life as we know it, is a load of old sh*te.

Every person is differnent, and people make mistakes also, my personal idea to sort it out is to just listen, then judge, fairly, as regards to a guild like a court in real life.

I mean I never had a go at the members of my guild for corpse camping a guy in Ashenvale in his own home town for 3 hours for a minor scuffle earlier...I can think of a few war's which resulted in occupation in real life over silly's pretty much near similar.

Kurt said...

"You abuse the ape-subroutine argument way too much... The term is seductive in the way pseudo-science usually is but it's just that, pseudo-science, and you're using it as a rhetoric artifice entirely too much to discount whatever is not cold/calculating reasonning."

#1 I don't agree that he is using it in a pseudo-scientific way, that would imply trying to fit in a lot of numbers to give it an air of sciencey-ness but without actually following the scientific method. You could call it pop psychology if you wanted, but there's a lot of pop psychology that's worth reading, just as there's more that's not, a fact true about most everything.

#2 There actually is a bunch of recent scientific work on how people behave irrationally based on the tribal emotional responses that we still carry with us, you should give it a look see. Also, a bunch of famous and infamous men wrote about very similar theories 80-90 years ago, their work formed the basis for Soviet propaganda, Nazi propaganda, and the American consumerist society's propaganda (advertising). Perhaps you've heard of those political entities? Why don't you try writing to some billionaire advertising execs and telling them that their wealth is only based on pseudoscience, I think they might hook you up large. I'd tell you to write the nazis and the soviets but they don't seem to be around anymore, I'd tell you how their implementation of propaganda was farther from the form humans were evolved for in tribal societies, but that's pseudoscience so you're not interested.

Anonymous said...

a few points.

lets take your example of an auction house. if you undercut by whatever ammount becasue your goal is to make a proffit - you are a businessman. if you undercut specificaly so that the other person's auctions didn't sell (even at a loss to you) - you are an asshole (and a moron to boot).

being an asshole is about an attitude and INTENT. looking out for your self interests is NOT being an asshole. doing something for a sole reason of annoying/hurting another person - that's being an asshole.

allowing people to hurt you. not being as thick skinned as you are doesn't signify an emotional problem that should be taken to psychiatrist. the thing about assholes - even if they don't shake your self esteem, even if they don't really hurt you no matter how hard they try - they still changed your course of actions in some way, they still made an impact.

Free speach and rules of conduct. Lets take a high end restaurant. they have rules in which you must be dressed in a certain way and even act in a certain way in order to be admited and served. they have every right to eject you from their place of business if you don't adhere to those rules. it has nothing to do with violation of free speech and everything to do with the fact that its their business and they can run it as they see fit and you are in no way obligated to patronize it.

guilds are like private companies. and all private companies have their own sets of rules that extend to personal conduct. If you don't like said rules - you are in no way forced or obligated to be part of said company.
As a reverse - a private company has every right to create their set of rules. if that includes avoiding people who choose to antagonize others - who are you to tell them that they are wrong?

Neil said...

"Someone's subjective feeling cannot be treated like an objective thing. Accusing someone doing something un-scientific is witch-hunt."

Are you completely rejecting the very notion of emotional harm? It is not measurable numerically, by any scientific unit, but it certainly exists and is certainly a terrible thing.

If a family member that you cared about deeply passes away, and I taunt you mercilessly about it (that !@#$!@ deserved it! she was just a dirty $^#%! wish I could've killed him myself!), I'm not doing anything scientifically quantifiable. Therefore what I am doing is not wrong! I think I'll start going to funerals and laughing loudly and mocking the deceased during the eulogies.

If an abusive ex-husband continues to intimidate his ex-wife (or vice versa) via threatening phone calls, letters, harassing family members, etc ... there's no quantifiable, visible, "cut" like you spoke of. Therefore, what he's doing is not wrong! Someone should tell all those silly "abused" people know that they're really not being abused at all, because they don't have any physical scars!

If parents tell their children every day that they're worthless, that they'll never amount to anything, that they're terrible people, that doesn't leave any physical marks, and there's no scientific unit to measure it. Therefore, nothing is wrong with it! All parents should treat their children like dirt, because it doesn't REALLY harm them. It just makes them feel bad - which doesn't count!

There is a big difference between being competitive and being an asshole. Look ... if you undercut my auctions, run ahead of me to the mining node, etc., I can understand that to be competition. We're both after the same thing, and you outperformed me. I might not like it, but it's fair.

But if I'm trying to do a quest at level 60, and you show up at level 80 to keep rounding up all the quest mobs and killing them before I can get any - that's not competition. That's making someone else miserable for your pleasure, and is definitely a bad thing. If I'm minding my own business and you start harassing me in guild chat about something irrelevant, that's not competition, it's making someone else miserable for your own pleasure, and is definitely a bad thing.

"Matticus proposed in his post that those who have bad opinions about us and dare to voice these opinions are 'bad' and must be punished."

This is absolutely ridiculous. I assume you read Matticus' blog sometimes. Surely you've seen that he sets the bar very high for himself and for his guildmates. Surely you've seen that he's not afraid to identify bad performance and make it known. That is not being an asshole! That is being a good raid leader and guild leader.

There is a big, big difference between a raid leader saying "Player X, your DPS is too low for this fight, especially considering your gear. You need to work on your skill rotation and spec, or you will no longer receive raid invites." and a rank-and-file member saying "rofl X, you really suck balls, lrn2dps noob, lolol". The former is an example of a raid leader doing his job. Even if I knew the Player X would be hurt by hearing it, I would still tell him. The latter is an example of someone flexing his e-peen and delighting in causing someone else pain. If someone actually said that in my raid, I would punish him for deliberately causing a harmful action with no perceived gain. Do you see the difference?

The fact is, no matter how YOU function, other people possess emotions. It is possible to hurt them through their emotions. That is just how how human beings work.

Anonymous said...

I would argue that someone who is consistently an asshole to others, is indeed harming society as a whole and may even harm production and the productivity of the members. There is a reason why companies seek out team players and frown on overt displays of assholeness (I coined that for my own purpose here.). If workers are made to feel unwanted or belittled they may quit, or in the case of wow, stop paying their monthly fee which then harms everyone because that is one less person paying for content creation and upkeep. It can also lead people to be less likely to help others or be altruistic... I'm sure you don't like that word though lol. While in a free society you cannot punish someone for speaking their mind, but in an economic situation, you can. Whether it is good to do so or not can be debated. The free society takes the position that speech is protected because limiting one person can lead to the limitation of your own rights. But I would again posit that in an economic situation it may be necessary to exclude or censure an individual who is making being productive less fulfilling as a way to protect everyone's interest.

Here's my feelings put more simply: Being an asshole because you can, is no noble endeavor. Trolls can have a deleterious effect on the players of wow and should be shunned.

Anonymous said...

I suppose it's heartening to see all these responses which suggest that social idealism is not dead. I'm assuming many, if not most, are from young(er) people.

Most people learn eventually that you cannot legislate against assholes in YOUR life. Dealing with assholes is part and parcel of FREEDOM. The wider the spectrum of freedom, the more likely another person's brand of freedom will PISS YOU OFF. Thus, homeowner's associations were born.

One of the most sage things I have read GG say is that if you succeed in removing an asshole from your life, another will take its place. Happens every time.

Gwaendar said...

Both of your posts are interesting, even entertaining reads. They do however offer no rebuttal to Matticus at all beyond a mere superficial level, and seem to indicate that you have not read Sutton in the first place. By ignoring or misunderstanding his argument, you also miss Matticus' point.

Sutton writes about how bullies eventually impact company morale to a point where their presence becomes a net loss to the enterprise no matter how productive they may be by themselves, which he then takes to its logical conclusion: you can boost company morale by removing the bullies, resulting in a net positive.

The notion that "emotional hurt" is equal to witch hunting and unfounded in reality isn't echoed in the workplace nor in society; rules, regulations and laws against workplace harassment clearly belie this belief of yours.

In particular in a context of group dynamics, emulation instead of competition will produce the best overall and long-term improvement. As the vast majority of studies in management and coaching since the 70ies have demonstrated, the most effective way to produce continuous performance improvement is to provide constructive criticism, and one which focuses on behaviour rather than personality.

"Good to see that the guild rewards shitty players with top loot" does not in any way, shape or form contribute to improving the raid. It makes the bully feel better by belittling someone else, a short term relief for the frustration of having lost a need roll or a bid for some gear. Beyond the immediate venting for the frustrated loser, though, there are no tangible nor intangible benefits for neither the player on the receiving end of the statement nor for the guild as a whole.
Nothing at all provides the player deemed shitty with means to improve his performance, not even a clue on what warranted that judgment in the first place.
There is however quite a clear case, says Sutton and echoes Matticus, to be made that repetitive statements of similar nature will reduce morale and eventually group performance. The best and most efficient remedy is to either reform or remove the bully.

That is the ghist of Sutton's argument, and the point of Matticus. You may want to consider addressing this instead of focusing on the labeling of a bully as a bad person. It's all about the effect their behaviour is having on the group and taking appropriate measures based on a strict cost / benefit analysis.

Anonymous said...

You're argument is based on flawed premises.

a) The mind is not a black box. Input/stimuli -> response. Measurable.

b) Emotional damage is measurable, even if say the Japanese legal system does not recognize it. There are several tests that, under lab conditions, are capable of measuring it - and several other (American, Norwegian, British off the top of my head) legal systems recognize the long term damage to a person's emotions as being 1) Detrimental to health 2) Potential detriment to society. - Victims->abusers.

Adding to that the amount of research done on this, in terms of how our brains function, the damage is real. Your lack of acknowledgment of this flaws your argument. This might be due to monkey responses, if you wish to use that terminology, but everyone has a different threshold in different context for where their mental defenses fail.

c) You are approaching your argument too narrowly, excluding viewpoints that you don't understand and/or are incapable of comprehending.

I recommend that you and Matticus drop the psychology and go read "A theory of fun" by Raph Koster and get some information on the Magic Circle (the stuff written by Dr. Bartle is fine - if you don't know the concept read up on it before you reply). Those things apply in the context of WoW to a much more significant degree than any arguments attempting to tie WoW to some kind of political or social utopia.

As usual, I respect your business ideas. Your notions of social concepts belong on this kind of sites: ( or (

I happily agree with most of them, but not in the context of the game, because mostly they don't apply, are being misused, have insufficient inputs in the context, fail to account for the context etc.

Matticus' application of Sutton is half-reasonable in the context of a voluntary association with the associated limitations. This is precisely because it's a limited, and not a broad application of the work to inapplicable areas.

Reason and logic fail when you do not account for every input as best as you can.

Hagu said...

I guess I see the issue is not whether someone should feel belittled by an AH - they shouldn't.

But if being verbally abused tends to reduce performance in far more people than it increases (something I believe to be true) then the AH would be hurting the performance of the guild. So the GG position would be to remove them - not to punish their anti-social behavior, not in hopes of reforming or redeeming them, but for the same reasons you kick them for showing up non-gemmed or unenchanted.

To push your Salem analogy way too far, if you were playing WoW in that time and an AH called someone a witch. Now a rational person should know they are not a witch, but if it distracted the abusee from their raiding (perhaps because they did not enjoy being burned alive), then the AH disrupted the performance of the guild and reduced the chance that GG of Salem would get gear. And isn't that all you need to earn the title of M&S ex-guildie???

Anonymous said...

I can see where you are coming from, and for the most part I agree.

The one thing I disagree with you on is this sentence; "or ask my girlfriend out to a date". Honestly, if you knew I was going out with the person and asked, and kept asking, then I'd find you an asshole. And I'd kick your teeth in for being as such.

So you could be an asshole for asking the question, but I could be one for kicking you in the face for it. Does this make us "bad people?" No, I don't think it does. It makes us assholes, and I think that's a whole different state of mind, rather than good or bad.

Anonymous said...

You're not thinking like a guild leader. As a leader, your players are a valuable resource. If someone makes them want to leave, then you lose that resource. A single asshole can tear through a guild, as you lose your less thick-skinned players, and then you lose their friends. Then you lose everyone, because you can't raid anymore.

Even if morale is unquantifiable, a player base is not. Unquantifiable things like morale affect quantifiable things like a player base. Refusing to acknowledge these causal relationships will lead to failure.