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Non-Violent Creative Adversaries

Creative adversaries try to accomplish some goal, related to you, which is not your goal. They want you to do something or be something. Preventing them from getting their way drains your resources on an ongoing basis. The more work they put in over time, the more defense is needed.

Adversarial interactions are win/lose interactions, where people are pursuing incompatible goals so they can't all win. Cooperative interactions involve shared goals so everyone can win.

Non-creative adversaries are basically problems that you can just solve once and then you're done. The problem doesn't evolve by itself to be harder. Like gravity would make your dinner plate fall if you stopped holding it up, which is a problem. For a solution, you put a table under your plate to counteract gravity without having to hold the plate yourself. Gravity won't think about how to beat you and make adjustments to make tables stop working. Gravity never comes up with creative work-arounds to bypass your solutions.

Some problems like cold days recur and can take ongoing effort like gathering and chopping more wood every year or paying a heating bill every month. But the problem doesn't get harder by itself. The ongoing need for fuel doesn't change. You don't suddenly need a new type of fuel next year. Winter isn't figuring out how to make your defenses stop working. You just need ongoing work, which is open to automation (e.g. chainsaws or power plants) because the same solutions keep working over and over.

Creative adversaries look at your solutions/defenses and make adjustments. They view your defenses as a problem and try to come up with a solution to that problem. They keep trying new things, so you keep needing to figure out new defenses.

Adversaries are often at a big disadvantage when they aren't using violence. In a violent war, they can shoot at you, and you can shoot at them. Sometimes there's a defender's advantage due to terrain and less need to travel. But, approximately, shooting at each other is an equal contest; everything else being equal, the adversary has good chances to win.

By contrast, when violence isn't used, you have a lot of control over your life, but your adversaries are restricted: they can't shoot you, take your stuff, put their stuff in your home, make you go to locations they choose, or make you pay attention to them. If someone won't use any violence then, to a first approximation, you can just ignore them, so they have limited power over you. (This is one of the reasons that so much work has gone into creating non-violent societies.)

However, non-violent creative adversaries can be dangerous despite being disadvantaged. They might come up with something clever to manipulate you or otherwise get their way. You might not even realize they're an adversary if they're sneaky.

A common way non-violent, creative adversaries are dangerous is that they have a lot of resources. If they are willing to spend millions of dollars, that makes up for a lot of disadvantages. It might be hard for them to accomplish their goals, but huge budgets can overcome hard obstacles. This comes up primarily with large companies, which often have massive budgets for sales and marketing.

People who know you really well, like friends and family, are more potentially dangerous too because they know your weaknesses a lot better than strangers do. And they may have had many years of practice trying to manipulate you.

Large companies may actually know your weaknesses better than your family does in some ways. That can happen because they do actual research on what people are like, and that research will often apply to you for parts of yourself that are conventional/mainstream. For example, mobile game companies and casinos are really good at getting money from some people; they know way more about how to exploit certain common mistakes than most friends and family members know.

A better world is a less adversarial world. It's bad when your family treats you in an adversarial way (instead of a cooperative way based on working together towards shared goals). And it's bad when big companies allocate huge amounts of wealth, not towards helping people or making good products, but towards adversarially manipulating people. It's bad when companies have a primary goal of getting their money in ways that don't benefit the customer, e.g. by getting the customer to buy products they don't need or which are bad for them.

Capitalism – the free market – would not be a full solution to having a good world even if it was fully 100% implemented. Capitalism doesn't prohibit companies from acting adversarially. It just provides a basic framework which deals with some problems (e.g. it prohibits violence) and leaves it possible to create solutions for other problems.

If billions of people educated themselves better and demanded better from companies, companies would change without being ordered to by the government. A solution is possible within a capitalist system. But free markets don't automatically, quickly make good solutions. (I think the accuracy of prediction markets and stock market prices is overrated too.) As long as most people are fairly ignorant and gullible (relative to highly paid, highly educated experts, with large budgets, working at large companies), and there isn't massive pushback, then companies will keep acting in adversarial ways, and a minority of people will keep complaining about how they're predatory and exploitative. (By the way, there are also ways governments act contrary to capitalism and incentivize companies to be more adversarial.)

People need to understand and want a non-adversarial society, and create a lot of consensus and clarity, in order for effective reform to happen. Right now, debates on topics like these tend to be muddled, confused, inconclusive. There's tons adversarial bickering among the victims who can't agree on just what the problem or solution is. So, in the big picture, one solution involves the kind of rational discussion and debate that I've written about and advocated. This problem, like so many others, would be greatly aided if out society had functional, rational debates taking place regularly. But it doesn't.

Currently, a minority of people try to debate, but they generally don't know how to do it very productively, and there's a lot of institutional power that delegitimizes conclusions that aren't from high status sources and also shields high status people from debate, criticism and questioning.

Elliot Temple on November 23, 2023


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