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Loser Choices - Scott Adam's Blog

Loser Choices

Warning: This blog is written for a rational audience that likes to have fun wrestling with unique or controversial points of view. It is written in a style that can easily be confused as advocacy for one sort of unpleasantness or another. It is not intended to change anyone’s beliefs or actions. If you quote from this post or link to it, which you are welcome to do, please take responsibility for whatever happens if you mismatch the audience and the content.

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In my prior post I suggested that if a person lives in a hostile place, that person should leave. I think we can keep gender out of the discussion for a minute. Let’s just examine the proposition that if you live someplace terrible, perhaps you should leave.

First, let me give some context. You know I love context.

Years ago, when smoking was still allowed indoors, I went after my employer to force a rule change. Given the health risks, my second choice was to leave for another job, but as some of you pointed out in the comments earlier, moving isn’t easy. So in that case, staying and fighting the system (and winning) made perfect sense, at least as a first plan.

A few years later, still working for that large bank, my boss informed me that there wasn’t enough gender and ethnic diversity in management and so there was no hope for a white male like me to get promoted in the foreseeable future.  So I looked for another job and left. I didn’t stay and fight for my rights for the simple reason that the fight was, in my opinion, unwinnable. I had a chance of winning the indoor smoking fight. I didn’t feel there was any realistic chance to win the promotion fight as long as diversity was the headline of the era.

Then I went to work at the local phone company, Pacific Bell, and as most of you know, I hit the diversity ceiling again. My boss told me in direct language that a white male could not be promoted into their all-white-guy management ranks because now the public was watching. But I didn’t stay and fight the system because I didn’t think it was winnable. That’s when I started pursuing some entrepreneurial ideas. One of them was Dilbert.

And as I mentioned in the prior post comments, as soon as I graduated college I bolted from my small hometown that had no opportunity to the bosom of California and all it offered. That was among the best decisions of my life.

Here’s my point:

The loser worldview is that whoever is causing the problem needs to fix it for you.

The problem with the loser worldview is that in many cases the only person who CAN fix the problem is you, even if you had nothing to do with causing it. A winner in that situation fixes his own problem. A loser sits indefinitely waiting for others to solve it for him, even knowing that won’t happen.

When indoor smoking was my problem, the fault was clearly with the smokers and with management that allowed it. So I went after them and made them fix their problem for my benefit. That plan worked because the problem was fixable.

When I hit the diversity ceiling on two occasions, I chose to run instead of fight because in those cases victory seemed impossible. I also ran from my hometown because staying and convincing everyone to build some industry so I can get a good job seemed impractical.

Now let’s circle back to the street video I discussed yesterday, in which a woman is harassed far too often on the streets of New York City. Should that woman vote with her feet and leave, which might be a huge sacrifice, or should she stay and fight the system by making videos and whatnot?

I think that depends on whether the problem can be fixed by others. If others are at fault, and they have the ability and motivation to fix the problem for you, by all means take a run at it. But if the only person who can fix your problem is you, and you choose not to do it because the fault is with others, you have taken the loser path. You literally chose the path you know will fail because of some misguided sense of rightness.

The men in the street video were obnoxious but acting within the rights granted by the Constitution. They had opinions and expressed them. And I remind you that their opinions were almost universally positive and complimentary, albeit scary and creepy at the same time.

Can that situation be changed?

I’m going to say yes, but only if the problem is approached in the proper order. So I would say that living in a bad place does make sense if you are working toward fixing it and you have a reasonable expectation of prevailing.

Expecting the men in the video to feel bad and change their ways won’t work. They are operating under the laws of the land and quite clearly enjoying it.

I wouldn’t expect any law changes to make public compliments illegal even when the giver is too creepy or scary. That standard could not be enforced.

And I guarantee that if any of the men shown in the video watched it, they would not conclude they were acting badly or hurting anyone. So shame is not a tool that can work in this case.

But there is one path that might work to solve this. And that path recognizes that humans modify their behavior for rewards, just like other animals.

The men in the street video are presumably repeat offenders. And that means they are getting a reward, at least occasionally, from their shouted public compliments. And I assume the reward comes from the occasional women who appreciate the compliments and smile back. Does that group represent ten percent of women? Fifty percent? I have no idea, but it wouldn’t take much to reinforce the habit in men. Remember that men like to fish, date, and play baseball, so we know how to wait for unpredictable rewards. And we know from science that unpredictable rewards are the most addicting. So the men in the video are acting exactly as science would predict, given the type of rewards they are getting.

So the way to vastly reduce the street harassment problem is by removing the rewards. And only women can do that, by never responding positively to compliments about appearance. And that means all women, all the time, whether on the street or in the workplace, or even at home. Perhaps the next video on this topic should be addressed to the women who have enjoyed street compliments and rewarded the behavior. I don’t think they know how much they are torturing the women who hate the attention.

Yes, this line of thinking does remind you of the horrible old-timey idea that women who dress nicely in public are “asking for it.” None of us want to live in a world in which a rapist can get away with the “she was asking for it” excuse. But I think all of you are smart enough to know that that is a political and practical standard, not a rational one. A rational standard might be, for example, that it is unwise to poke a bear with a stick because that usually doesn’t end well. The political standard is that the bear is at fault for overreacting. And to be clear, I fully endorse the political standard over the rational standard if it keeps women safe. In this special case, it makes sense to abandon strict rationalism because the political standard gets the job done better. So I’m okay pretending the universe only allows cause-and-effect to be a real thing when it wants to because that is the best way to keep women safe.

But every situation is different, and you wouldn’t necessarily apply the same thinking that works for sex crimes to the thinking that works for unwanted public compliments.

By any objective measure, the root problem of street harassment is that the men involved are ignorant assholes. All thoughtful people are unanimous on who is to blame in this case: the men. The problem is that the guilty men have no incentive to change. And I see no practical way to influence them directly. The loser worldview would involve wishing very hard for that situation to change while knowing it won’t.

The winner worldview is that you have responsibility for your own life and it is irrelevant who is at fault if the people at fault can’t or won’t fix the problem. I’ve noticed over the course of my life that winners ignore questions of blame and fault and look for solutions they can personally influence. Losers blame others for their problems and expect that to produce results.

If you want to see a good example of winners, look at the Asian and Indian population in the United States. The country handed them the usual boatload of intense discrimination with one hand and the promise of unlimited education with the other. Who’s your valedictorian now? That’s what winners do. No blame, just personal responsibility.

In summary, men are 100% to blame for their bad behavior on the streets. But there is no reasonable hope to change that situation as long as men are periodically rewarded for it. So a winner worldview offers two options: Either move or try to convince other women to stop rewarding the behavior. Both of those options offend our sense of rightness, but a winner sees society’s artificial definitions of rightness as nothing but a speed bump.

A hundred years ago it wasn’t practical to leave a shitty or sexist place because everywhere else was the same. But today you have plenty of nice places to live. So if you insist on living in New York City, please stop making videos that suggest it is somehow my problem to fix.

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Scott Adams
Co-founder of CalendarTree.com   
Author of this book 
Twitter Dilbert: @Dilbert_Daily

I have a new personal Twitter account: @ScottAdamsSays

Twitter was useless in helping me fix the old and broken account. I had to create yet another email account just to start anew. See there how I fixed my own problem instead of wishing they would do it for me?

P.S. Yes, I am in a bad mood this week. Why do you ask?