Being Known is Being Loved

“Being known is being loved.”

“To know someone is to understand their inner workings. It is to know the foods they hate, the ways they deal with stress, the goals they have, the secrets they keep, the time they spend, and hundreds of other smaller things that define someone, and your journey with them as you get to each other’s cores.”

““i know your pizza order” “you have freckles on your ears” “you make this face when you’re tired” “you order green tea on a good day black on a bad day” “you always make that face before you try something” “the tips of your ears turn red when you’re angry” “i knew you’d say something” “you must be exhausted to miss the class” “your favorite pie is pumpkin, right?” “i know your phone number, don’t worry” “you miss me, i can tell” “you fiddle with your pens when you’re bored” “you don’t like converse unless they’re high tops” “your favorite cereal is cinnamon toast crunch and you first ate it when you were 8””

“I sometimes think about knowing someone as a Fog of War map. For many parts of someone, there are areas that you uncover and don’t expect to change, ranging from seemingly inconsequential preferences to deeper personal values to lifelong pursuits. And then there are parts of people that do change, and these more volatile areas you have to revisit, check in with, and explore to continually know…and to continually love.”

“As we uncover more of this map, “mortifying” really is a perfect word to describe how we feel about being known in the 21st century. The satisfaction, emotional exposure, and time investment that comes from being known is non-trivial and high risk. It requires you and another person to embark on a journey together that theoretically is high ROI, but more likely, just high volatility”

“Our world has turned into one that inflates to a minimum viable aesthetic. We want to show a version of ourselves online that is most attractive, most agreeable, most interesting, and most admirable. Perfect pictures, curated stories, high level tweets designed to garner likes and RTs, and a catering to the masses of our minimum viable audience. This is the seemingly agreed upon dominant strategy whether seeking influence, capital, or something else.

We string together fragments of various selves, but rarely do we see the entire self, because what’s the incentive? There’s just too much risk in being known. By being somewhat known we are effectively minimizing some of the beautiful human volatility I mention a few paragraphs above.”

“In investing, higher volatility usually equates to higher possible returns. In today’s world of online expression, we settle for lower expected value, market-level outcomes so as to not ruffle any feathers and not take any outsized risk. We’re basically hoping to allow people to know us enough so that they include us in their passive index of humans they hold in moderate regard, like that vanguard ETF that their finance friend told them to buy and never think about until they were 60”

“As an industry we like to equate picking a co-founder to marriage and draw similar comparisons when picking a lead investor/board member. Despite this, we have yet to figure out the solution for understanding these relationships in a newly compressed timeline outside of social capital (how does an investor reference), shotgun weddings (was great to meet you yesterday, give me the highest price and get out of my way), and brand network effects (firm > people). But this information is sparse and humans are….say it with me…VOLATILE. So you never really know.

This insight is what led various VCs to become content marketing machines in order to increase exposure and surface area. I heavily adapted this playbook early in my career (as many have) and it certainly helps people get to know you…sorta. I should say, it gets people to know a part of you.”

“And I feel like we’ve conflated the idea of knowing someone with having an idea of someone. You can’t know someone after 9 days (if Kopelman is correct) but you can get maximum context by understanding the corpus of their being on the internet…or at least that’s the best attempt I can muster up in my reality.”

“My reality is that I can’t buy my own bullshit/sell my soul enough to tweet out tech proverbs or repurpose old parables for likes. My reality is that I don’t have the skill to transactionally aggressively network and I can’t sustain the energy from social interactions to exponentially scale deep connections to the tune of 25+ meetings/week I care about. So instead, my only option to be loved is to submit to the mortifying ordeal of being known. To wear my heart on my digital sleeve, a proverbial sleeve that’s threads are made up of a sum of all of my writing, social media accounts, in-person interactions, and more, not just a curated feed of minimum viable story filled with dopamine-inducing 280 character lines.”

“And in writing this my only goal is to express my disinterest in what passes the bar today for “being known” in our communities, and to ask others to submit to the mortifying ordeal of being known.

So here’s my sleeve where you can start to get to know me. I look forward to descending the staircase together.”

Descartes was wrong: ‘a person is a person through other persons’

“People are born without ‘ena’, or selfhood, and instead must acquire it through interactions and experiences over time. So the ‘self’/‘other’ distinction that’s axiomatic in Western philosophy is much blurrier in Ubuntu thought. As the Kenyan-born philosopher John Mbiti put it in African Religions and Philosophy (1975): ‘I am because we are, and since we are, therefore I am.’”

“We know from everyday experience that a person is partly forged in the crucible of community. Relationships inform self-understanding.”

“Who I am depends on many ‘others’: my family, my friends, my culture, my work colleagues. The self I take grocery shopping, say, differs in her actions and behaviours from the self that talks to my PhD supervisor.”

“But the Cartesian cogito is still everywhere you look. The experimental design of memory testing, for example, tends to proceed from the assumption that it’s possible to draw a sharp distinction between the self and the world. If memory simply lives inside the skull, then it’s perfectly acceptable to remove a person from her everyday environment and relationships, and to test her recall using flashcards or screens in the artificial confines of a lab. A person is considered a standalone entity, irrespective of her surroundings, inscribed in the brain as a series of cognitive processes. Memory must be simply something you have, not something you do within a certain context.”
feels like a slight of hand

“Social psychology purports to examine the relationship between cognition and society. But even then, the investigation often presumes that a collective of Cartesian subjects are the real focus of the enquiry, not selves that co-evolve with others over time.”

“The 20th-century Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin believed that the answer lay in dialogue. We need others in order to evaluate our own existence and construct a coherent self-image. Think of that luminous moment when a poet captures something you’d felt but had never articulated; or when you’d struggled to summarise your thoughts, but they crystallised in conversation with a friend. Bakhtin believed that it was only through an encounter with another person that you could come to appreciate your own unique perspective and see yourself as a whole entity. By ‘looking through the screen of the other’s soul,’ he wrote, ‘I vivify my exterior.’ Selfhood and knowledge are evolving and dynamic; the self is never finished – it is an open book.”

“So reality is not simply out there, waiting to be uncovered. ‘Truth is not born nor is it to be found inside the head of an individual person, it is born between people collectively searching for truth, in the process of their dialogic interaction,’ Bakhtin wrote in Problems of Dostoyevsky’s Poetics (1929). Nothing simply is itself, outside the matrix of relationships in which it appears. Instead, being is an act or event that must happen in the space between the self and the world.”

“The developing child is depicted as a lone learner – an inventive scientist, struggling independently to make sense of the world. By contrast, ‘dialogical’ theories, brought to life in experiments such as Lisa Freund’s ‘doll house study’ from 1990, emphasise interactions between the child and the adult who can provide ‘scaffolding’ for how she understands the world.”

“A perfect policy for the reform of Cartesian individuals. But, in fact, studies of such prisoners suggest that their sense of self dissolves if they are punished this way for long enough. Prisoners tend to suffer profound physical and psychological difficulties, such as confusion, anxiety, insomnia, feelings of inadequacy, and a distorted sense of time. Deprived of contact and interaction – the external perspective needed to consummate and sustain a coherent self-image – a person risks disappearing into non-existence.”

The Government Within “Yet the bargaining of interests in a society can produce highly stable institutions; perhaps that’s also true of the internal interests created by a person’s rewards…these patterns look like familiar properties of personality” “People occasionally have to pivot just like startups do; and a narrowly-focused dedication to one goal can mean missing out on better ones. In short, the management of goals and the willpower that they direct is a fundamental mystery of human action, and the productivity experts seem to blithely ignore all the theoretically interesting aspects of it.” “If there is one valuable insight to be gleaned from his problematic legacy, it is that our conscious intentions are at best the tip of a very large hidden iceberg of unconscious motivations. Our true purposes are obscure; the mind is a disorderly riot of conflicting drives, we are constantly tripped up by desires we are not even aware we have.” “Where Minsky tends to be more cognitive in his approach, Ainslie’s theory is deeply rooted in drives, rewards, behavior, and quantitative utility theory. His version of this he calls “picoeconomics” – that is, the internal and very-small-scale internal economy of the mind.” “The actual self seems extremely slippery in such a model. There is no central control of the mind, it’s just a loose collection of desires, agents, plans, and assorted bric-a-brac. How then does a coherent self get pulled together from this mess? One of Ainslie’s key points is that the main or only reason we have a self at all is to construct and enforce long-term bargains between independent behaviors and interests, and the self is better understood as a temporary alliance than an organ or a structure.” “Freud wanted to treat people who were suffering from problems caused by the irruption of repressed desires; and Ainslie is motivated by his work on addiction, a paradigmatic case of the failure of the unitary self.” “An intergrated self, if it is anything, is a construction, an achievement, an emergent fact out of a pre-existing disorder, and one needs to understand this process in order to avoid or correct the pathologies that the process is prone to. But one thing Ainslie is not doing is offering a self-help manual on increasing your willpower. In fact he is deeply skeptical of the idea and includes a chapter on “The Downside of Willpower” pointing out that an overactive rational pursuit of will can be self-undermining.” “human preferences tend to be heavily biased in terms of favoring immediately available rewards over those that are distant in time” “The ice cream we are trying not to eat is easy to resist if it is down the road in a store, harder if at home in the freezer, impossible when sitting in bowl in front of us. The rewards of ice cream and the rewards of dieting both produce a curve that discounts rewards over time, and they compete (along with other rewards and behaviors) for dominance” “However, it appears that we actually discount the future at super-exponential rates, producing a hyperbolic curve, more sharply curved than an exponential. This hyperbolic discounting takes place at a broad range of time scales (from sub-second to weeks or longer) and has been experimentally verified in both humans and animals.” “One of the key consequences of hyperbolic discounting is that our preferences can be inconsistent over time” “But with hyperbolic discounting, short-term goals, when they are imminent, can override longer term ones, or in other words short-term preferences can dominate longer-term ones” “This temporal inconsistency, according to Ainslie is the mechanism underlying not only succumbing to temptations, but a wide variety of other common problems as addiction, procrastination, and compulsions. At a more fundamental level, the inconsistency of our preferences is a problem for a would-be rational agent, because it means we can never trust ourselves to pursue the same goals in the future as we hold now.” “The need for long-range goals to somehow suppress temporarily dominant short-term goals leads to an existential impasse. Because we can’t naively trust our future selves, we are thus in some sense radically alien to ourselves. But our future selves are not wholly out of control: their behavior can be predicted, their choices can be influenced. So what methods are available to enforce our current preferences on these future versions of ourself?” “Ainslie is essentially saying that a person is in a situation of playing an iterated prisoner’s dilemma game with one’s future selves – like the classical IPD, one can cooperate (act in a way that serves the shared long-term interests) or defect in favor of more “selfish”, local, short-term interests” “How can you bind yourself to follow a rule that you are also motivated to break? The tenuous possibility of success of such a resolution seems to involve the substitution of an abstract principle for the concrete situation which causes the undesired short-term choice, in essence implementing a sort of Kantian categorical imperative. If this mental trick succeeds, then breaking your diet is no longer merely a single act (whose isolated consequences are, of course going to be minor) but an act that destroys a valuable abstraction – not only the diet, but the fact of commitment, and the person’s own image of their strength of character. In other words, having a rule raises the stakes of an individual choice are raised to the point where long range goals can override short term ones. The well-known Seinfeld technique for self-enforcement of personal rules is a partly externalized and explicit version of this technique.” “Picking a strategy in an prisoner’s dilemma game involves predicting the actions of the other player, and hence modeling them. What Ainslie seems to be saying is that this recursive process precedes, generates, and underlies the self. In some sense we bootstrap our selves into being through this process of trying to wrangle our infantile drives into coherent longer-term actions. We base current behavior on both our past actions and responses, and our predicted future actions and responses, and our self-representations are tools for enabling and/or artifacts generated by this highly recursive and self-referential process.” “A person, like a society, is composed of parts with their own private agendas, all taking part in a continuously renegotiated dance of conflict, cooperation, and compromise. Our disparate motivations are like politicians trying to advance a faction, and the self, such as it is, is something like a prime minister – not powerful in its own right, but because it has managed to become the public face for the most powerful faction. Our inner life is a noisy parliament.” “Of course it is common to have legislatures that are mired in stalemate, like the current US Congress. The internal parliament of mind has its own set of pathologies: akrasia, addiction, compulsion, irresolution, repression, etc” “Most of us in the technology world I think find politics (the external kind) distasteful – because of its dysfunctionality, inelegance, and because when it does work at all it requires dealing with humans on a retail, personal level, rather than as abstractions. But if individuals are themselves loose collections of divergent agencies, with only cobbled-together alliances maintaining a semblance of unity and coherence, then politics in a sense can’t be avoided at all – it’s what we are made of.” “the flight from politics is in some sense a flight from authenticity, a denial of our true nature, and a proposal to replace it with something shiny and superficially attractive but utterly foreign to who we really are.”