Sunday, May 22, 2011

Asians Learning 'The Neg'

In a fascinating essay in the New York Magazine, an Asian writer Wesley Yang talks about coming out of his timid shell:

I recall one of the strangest conversations I had in the city. A woman came up to me at a party and said she had been moved by a piece of writing I had published. She confessed that prior to reading it, she had never wanted to talk to me, and had always been sure, on the basis of what she could see from across the room, that I was nobody worth talking to, that I was in fact someone to avoid.

But she had been wrong about this, she told me: It was now plain to her that I was a person with great reserves of feeling and insight. She did not ask my forgiveness for this brutal misjudgment. Instead, what she wanted to know was—why had I kept that person she had glimpsed in my essay so well hidden? She confessed something of her own hidden sorrow: She had never been beautiful and had decided, early on, that it therefore fell to her to “love the world twice as hard.” Why hadn’t I done that?

The piece goes on to note Asians promoting a 'neg' strategy towards Americans, and giving paid advice on the tactic. The idea of a smart young man discovering he had needed to be more obstreperous I find rather interesting. Is it simply prudent to be less considerate of others? Is appearing aloof and disrespectful of others a smart tactic to make you more more powerful, more financially successful? This concept has been popularized in the neg, a tactic of sexual swindle by making the target think you think you are better than them, which makes them find you more attractive.

The neg seems most likely to work on insecure, below-excellent, targets, which might be sufficient for a young man looking for sex, but not necessarily a good life strategy. Then again, most people meet their spouses in inauspicious scenarios, and just this weekend I learned of a woman whose first date with her now husband involved him getting into an almost fight with another man--clearly this display was impressive.

But as for the woman taking her lack of beauty as a reason to love the world twice as much, I'm skeptical this is the optimal response. Rather, I think she should simply accept that unlike the Halle Barrys of the world, not everyone will appreciate her attractiveness, and not be discouraged by it. It seems a very Biblical assertion that the more you suffer the more you love the Creator who allows such suffering. Anyway, I like that the woman had a strategy that tried to compensate for her realistic constraints, but I think except in extreme circumstances, a person is never objectively ugly, but rather, merely not beautiful.

Most of us, including me, aren't beautiful like models and movie stars. We are a totality, usually sufficiently attractive to make our objective appearance irrelevant to whether a worthy evaluator considers us beautiful irrespective of our thoughts, behaviors, and manners. I think if my daughter becomes an 'unattractive' woman, I will still think of her as beautiful because I appreciate her essence. Her optimal strategy should not be to love more, but rather, be as attractive as possible--maximize her potential as a person--and find people who appreciate her.


JoeMac said...

You misunderstand the purpose of the neg. When approaching a woman, especially in a nightlife environment, the woman will often have a haughty outer shell in which she implicitly rejects approaching suitors as being below her. Often known, as an "Ice Queen." It is her way of thwarting off guys who she thinks are "losers." Often, good guys dont even get a chance with her because so many idiots have approached her that she cant take it anymore. The purpose of the neg is to take her off her pedestal.

Jeffery said...

Yeah I think there is definitely a context for the neg. The whole pickup artist methodology revolves around distorting the perception of relative value. The neg is actually used not by itself but alongside a "value demonstrating routine" to create the perception that you are worth more than the target.

This goes back to one of your previous posts about the perception of eagerness in a two sided barter market. The side that is more eager is interpreted as having lower value. Negs by themselves are worthless, in order for them to have currency the person giving them have to first have high value. Otherwise the neg giver is just an asshole.

On the flipside of the coin, women use rejection as a signaling mechanism to demonstrate their own value, much like how Ivy League universities solicit tons of applications only to reject most of the hopeful to create the perception of exclusivity.

One of the most depressing realizations I had as a teen was that I was a human living in the land of peacocks. Fortunately there were more fellow humans in college.

Eric Falkenstein said...

You are perhaps correct that 'the neg' is simply an efficient countertactic to a females historical neg tactic. In a sense, it's an equalizer. But it's interesting that people are basically selecting mates based on finding who appears to think they are better than them, as if the optimal strategy is to signal that you too are their level if not higher. I think it's optimal for people ranked 1-10 in attractiveness to match up where 8s are with 8s, 2s with 2s, and both pairings can be equally happy. A 5 should not settle for a 4. But the key is finding someone who shares your psychological characteristics--many pretty people are insanely dull or insipid, as evidenced in reality shows. While everyone appreciates beauty, it would be wise to consider thoughtfulness, which seems not counter, but rather orthogonal to neg strategies.

Mercury said...

I think she's settling.

And I'm sure it's all terribly unfair but most (non-Asian at least) women just don't find Asian men all that attractive. Somewhere there is a fairly recent survey that spells this out very plainly if a lifetime of anecdotal evidence hasn't driven the point home yet.

Asian women on the other hand, are quite highly regarded by western men in this regard especially as they tend to be on the thin side and often keep their girlish looks into their 40's. Funny how that works.

Also, it's no secret that male children are generally much preferred by parents in places like China. It will be interesting to see how all this plays out over the long term on a global demographic and geo-political basis.

The Recapitulator said...

I suppose it depends on the setting of the "neg" strategy. In bars (where there is a presumption of mate-seeking) the investment of time to gauge "thoughtfulness" is likely too large for such a strategy to be optimal.

I completely agree that many "10"s in physical attractiveness are dull...their optimal strategy is to just sit there. No investment of conversational art needed.

Anonymous said...

"It will be interesting to see how all this plays out over the long term on a global demographic and geo-political basis."

for the demographics, china and india conducted a census in 2010, the results of which have been published. the gender ratio imbalance is indeed interesting.

Caveat B said...

I think the proof will be in the pudding when someone takes over Bruce Lee's seat. Jet Li, Chow Yun Fat, etc. could not carry it. William Hung's 15 minutes linger on like a dead rodent trapped somewhere between sheetrock.

Anonymous said...

This was a good article, but it was from New York magazine, not New York Times.