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Hogarth judge

February 2018



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Hogarth judge

Notes on Cant IV

Interesting report on an interesting study: Why Good Deeds Don't Go Unpunished:
From an early age, we are taught that cooperation, generosity, and altruism are generally things we should strive for. But altruistic acts aren’t always lauded, and researchers have found that generous individuals are sometimes punished for their behavior. Studies suggest that people often react negatively to large contributions, are suspicious of those who offer help, and want to expel particularly charitable individuals from cooperative endeavors. These seemingly counterintuitive behaviors are called “antisocial punishment” and are more common than you might think. But why would people want to punish anyone who is particularly charitable?

The premise was relatively simple. Each participant was given 100 points and randomly assigned to a group of six players. In each round of the game, individuals would be asked to contribute however many points they like to a “group fund” that would be doubled by the experimenters and divided equally among the participants. In this scenario, everyone in the group would end up with twice what they started with if all participants donate all their points, but free-riders that donated fewer points—or even none at all—could still benefit from others’ contributions.

The participants made their choices in a predetermined order and could see each contribution as it was made, but they interacted with other group members through a computer rather than face-to-face.

But there was a pretty significant twist: since the researchers wanted to control some variables while manipulating others, much of what happened in the study was decided in advance (which, of course, was unbeknownst to the participants). There was only one actual study participant in each group; the other five “group members” were computer programs playing out predetermined roles. The human participant was always “randomly” chosen to be the fifth player to donate, and the four contributions that he or she observed before contributing always averaged 50 points, or half the total possible contribution.

By preprogramming these values, the researchers could manipulate the “social norm,” or the way most group members behaved. In the “strong” social norm condition, the contributions varied only slightly, ranging between 45 and 55 points; this represented a situation in which social conformity was high. In the “weak” social norm condition where conformity was lower, the first four predetermined contributions varied between 30 and 70 points.

Lastly, the contribution of the sixth and final group member was also set by the researchers and was either overly generous (donating 90 of the 100 possible points), or overly stingy (donating only 10 points).


After all the contributions were made, the participant was given the opportunity to punish any of the other group members if desired. He or she could deduct points from any other player, but this came at a cost: for every three points subtracted from another group member, the punisher also lost a point.


But here’s the amazing part: 51 percent of the participants also chose to punish the overly generous deviant. In other words, a majority of the people in this study were willing to reduce their own chance to win $100 just to punish a particularly cooperative group member. Furthermore, many participants actually wanted this individual to be kicked out of the group. When asked to rate how much they would like each player to remain in the group on a scale of 1 (not at all) to 9 (very much), the average rating for the overly generous player was less than a 3.


We always dislike free-riders, but we will also punish cooperators when their behavior is particularly atypical. As of now, we can only speculate about the rationale for this behavior; the presence of strong social norms may foster a feeling that the generous contributor is trying to make him or herself look rich or powerful, or that they are trying to make everyone else look bad.

I think it's likely that the Cant annoys people who are inclined towards sympathy to the underlying movement more than it does committed and deliberate sexists. To those enemies, the Cant is just a load of rubbish your enemies say. Their reaction is similar to your likely reaction to a fundamentalist sermon expounding end-times prophecy. It's hostile, but fortunately it's bullshit.

To people with some basic sympathy to feminist or progressive ideas, the Cant is aggressive. It sounds like moral one-upmanship. It sounds like Cant speakers are eager to establish themselves as experts in virtuous thoughts and words, with the necessary implication that you'll never measure up. Unsurprisingly, it attracts resentment, even for people who sympathize with the underlying ideals. This is one of the reasons why the Cant bothers me, at any rate.


We have this problem with the New Age and always have, since before its intrusion into mainstream popular culture in the 1980s. This is also one of the main problems with promulgators of MPD/DID Classic.

It not only lends itself to an attitude of smug superiority (ha ha I'm conscious and you're not), but is a dead giveaway that a person has got themselves into a default mode of thinking about certain things and will have difficulty coloring outside the lines. If you tell them about your experiences, they will try to fit what they hear into their prefabricated moulds and pigeonholes.