Choose your enemies well, because soon you’ll become just like them. The skinny kid bulks up and ends up looking like the bully. The U.S. sends an astronaut to the Moon, because the Soviets sent one into Space. Google gets into the smartphone business, and Apple gets into maps. Company websites all start using illustrations in the Corporate Memphis style. Your neighbour gets a Tesla, now you want one too. Your boss orders a beer, so you and your co-workers do too. I’ll have what she’s having. We do go to war over our differences, but only if they’re surprisingly minor. We compete with those that are uncomfortably similar to us, and ignore those that are too different to worry about. Protestants fight Catholics, not Hindus. Facebook copies Snapchat, not Conde Nast. Who cares what clothes the kids at the mall wear, you’re too set in the styles that were cool when you were a kid. You’re keeping up with the Joneses, while ignoring the 92 million Wangs on the other side of the globe. The World revolves around competitions for status, but only along the dimensions accessible to us. We can’t compete on the same level as the people we look up to, so we look down for an easier fight. “We buy things we don't need with money we don't have to impress people we don't like” – Dave Ramsey.
Being locked in a mimetic rivalry results in the “obliteration of difference”, as Rene Girard explained. As we take our cues from others that look like us, we start to look more alike. If the preferences of a group follows a normal distribution, most people will be close to the average, definitionally the least interesting choices. If a plurality of people like black, white, or gray cars for example, then dealers are more likely to stock those colors. That means you have to wait to get a car with a more exciting color, and on the margin many who would normally be more adventurous, decide to take the option that’s right in front of them. This feedback loop means you’re less likely to see colorful cars on the road, and importantly, the people you model your behavior off are less likely to drive an interesting car. Ultimately that further incentivises dealers to stock the ‘boring’ colors and eschew all others, making it even weirder to drive a colorful car. Today over 75% of cars are black, white, or gray. Lack of differences is a serious societal issue: “a situation where the uniqueness, individuality, and unrepeatability of the human person cannot be fully appreciated”, as Luke Burgis describes it, which can only be an unstable and temporary equilibrium. Eventually someone pulls up in a red Ferrari or yellow Lamborghini, and we snap out of it.
Copying is easier than invention, and less risky. If it works for them, it’ll work for me too. Ten million people can’t be wrong. Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM. Except of course somebody eventually did get fired for buying IBM, who pivoted out of mainframes into consulting. Going with the mainstream consensus is like picking up pennies in front of a steamroller: its easy money until you get rolled over. Most contrarians are wrong: the consensus view formed because it worked for most people in most situations. However if you’re contrarian and right, you win. Speaking the truth gains you followers. As your audience grows, the risk of being misunderstood or actively sabotaged grows exponentially. Fame brings fortune, so now you have something to lose. The safest move is to stop taking risks. Do what everyone else does. Don’t stand out. Pander to the lowest common denominator. Now you are the mainstream, and you inevitably begin to exert your influence for the benefit of yourself or your friends. Then one day, someone far below you starts thinking for themselves, and the cycle starts again. “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
Branding Cartoon Illustration Trend
Car colors have gotten boring thanks to a feedback loop
Dave Ramsey Quotes
Nobody ever gets fired for buying IBM
Peter Thiel’s CS183: Startup - Class 12 Notes Essay
Picking Up Nickels In Front Of A Steam Roller
Pop Culture Has Become an Oligopoly
Popular media has been getting same-y for awhile.
The 100,000 Foot View
The Engine of Rivalry
The Nature of Human Desire
These are four separate movies
“You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”