Socially optimal weirdness

I wrote recently about considerations in choosing how weird to be. Today let us consider the question from an impersonal perspective: what is the socially optimal allocation of weirdness? Society and weirdness are complicated, so again let us just discuss some considerations.

Social costs of people being judged badly

When individuals avoid being weird, it is often because they want to be judged well in some way. From an impersonal perspective, does it matter if you judge me badly? This seems to depend on the extent to which people judge one another absolutely, versus relatively, and whether people care about the judgement absolutely or relatively.

If you judge me as a relatively bad friend, and then you replace me with a different friend, this seems bad for me, but good for your other friend, so socially neutral. If you judge me as an absolutely bad friend, this might hurt me without providing a compensating benefit to someone else. It will hurt me more if  I care about my absolute quality as a friend than if I’m mostly worried about being at least as good as most people. It seems to me that a combination of these things happens in practice. So the private costs of being judged for weirdness partly translate to social costs.

It also matters how much you care about making judgments in a particular way (e.g. correctly). If you actually don’t want to interact with people with the wrong political beliefs for instance, then if I hide my political beliefs and we become friends this will be bad for you. If you merely don’t want to have awkward political discussions, then it is fine if I hide my beliefs.

Signaling race

In some cases, ‘not weird’ is continually and narrowly redefined, to make locating it a reasonable sign of social savvy. For instance, if you are a girl in high school, you might learn that it is weird to not own any barbie dolls. However once you manage to get a barbie doll, you may find that it is the wrong barbie doll, or that barbie dolls are no longer the normal thing any more and are now the preserve of weird kids like you. This race presumably takes some amount of effort from the weird and the non-weird people alike, which would be averted if people didn’t try to avoid weirdness.

Neutral views

Suppose everyone chooses one topic on which to spend their weirdness budget, and there they think deeply and advocate hard for what they think is right. On all the other topics, they take the most common position. Then virtually every view on every topic will be directed by conformity, and it won’t matter that each person put thought and effort into their own cause. The status quo will reign forever, on almost every issue. If everyone has many more implicit votes than they have weirdness to fund them with, then public opinion is almost completely uninformative. Thus in such a case it seems probably better overall for people to be at least weird enough that public opinion is informed by thought. This can happen for instance if people express a lot more minority views, or if there are multiple non-weird views on every issue.

Economies of scale and congestion

It is good for efficient consumption if people aren’t weird with respect to tastes in information goods like music and TV. For instance, people who don’t enjoy Game of Thrones are just going to miss out on what could have been basically free pleasure. For goods where one person using them means another person cannot, there is more of a trade-off. There are still often economies of scale, so others sharing your tastes makes it easier for you to get what you want (e.g. it is very easy to get Coca-Cola relative to rice milk, which is not because rice is hard to grow). However other people can also get in your way and buy up the things you want, so it can be better for people to be more weird for some tastes. For instance, it’s better if people have different favorite mountains to climb, if everyone likes to climb in peace.

Standards

There are often costs from people using different standards. For instance, when I took the GRE I suffered a cost from having learned to type using the Dvorak keyboard layout, because the GRE computers can only use Qwerty. I and a bunch of French people also suffered costs when I went to France and sat in their train seats and we couldn’t talk about it, and when they closed their restaurants for meal times, unexpectedly.

Variety

Weirdnesses offer variety, which has various benefits. Some people like it for its own sake. It also naturally allows experimentation, which enriches the lives of the non-weird later. For instance, it seems good that some people want to entirely live on synthetic nutrient slurries, because eventually they might find some that are delicious and well tried enough that it becomes a common lifestyle choice.

Variety also produces robustness. That some people like to live in the countryside means everyone can’t be killed by an epidemic so easily. That some people keep a thousand cans of beans in their basement makes society even safer.

Information

Honesty about weirdness is useful people who contribute to policy to learn information about people’s values. For instance, if almost everyone who was homosexual decided that it wasn’t an optimal place to seem unusual, and avoided mentioning it ever, then nobody would ever have known how important improving the treatment of homosexuals was.

***

In sum, from society’s perspective, it seems pretty unclear how weird it is best for people to be. Several considerations point in different directions. Incidentally, it also seems very unlikely to align with how weird individuals want to be.

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