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Cats, Dogs, and Jerks: a description of human social interaction - Input Junkie
May 18th, 2010
08:14 am

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Cats, Dogs, and Jerks: a description of human social interaction
Do you think this is accurate?
[Note: this is going to sound at first like PUA advice, but is actually about general differences between the socially-typical and atypical in the sending and receiving of "status play" signals, using the current situation as an example.]

I don't know about "good", but for it to be "useful" you would've needed to do it first. (E.g. Her: "Buy me a drink" You: "Sure, now bend over." Her: "What?" "I said bend over, I'm going to spank your spoiled [add playful invective to taste].")

Of course, that won't work if you are actually offended. You have to be genuinely amused, and clearly speaking so as to amuse yourself, rather than being argumentative, judgmental, condescending, critical, or any other such thing.

This is a common failure mode for those of us with low-powered or faulty social coprocessors -- we take offense to things that more-normal individuals interpret as playful status competition, and resist taking similar actions because we interpret them as things that we would only do if we were angry.

In a way, it's like cats and dogs -- the dog wags its tail to signal "I'm not really attacking you, I'm just playing", while the cat waves its tail to mean, "you are about to die if you come any closer". Normal people are dogs, geeks are cats, and if you want to play with the dogs, you have to learn to bark, wag, and play-bite. Otherwise, they think you're a touchy psycho who needs to loosen up and not take everything so seriously. (Not unlike the way dogs may end up learning to avoid the cats in a shared household, if they interpret the cats as weirdly anti-social pack members.)

Genuine creeps and assholes are a third breed altogether: they're the ones who verbally say they're just playing, while in fact they are not playing or joking at all, and are often downright scary.

And their existence kept me from understanding how things worked more quickly, because normal people learn not to play-bite you if you bare your claws or hide under the couch in response ! So, it didn't occur to me that all the normal people had just learned to leave me out of their status play, like a bunch of dogs learning to steer clear of the psycho family cat.

The jerks, on the other hand, like to bait cats, because we're easy to provoke a reaction from. (Most of the "dogs" just frown at the asshole and get on with their day, so the jerk doesn't get any fun.)

So now, if you're a "cat", you learn that only jerks do these things.

And of course, you're utterly and completely wrong, but have little opportunity to discover and correct the problem on your own. And even if you learn how to fake polite socialization, you won't be entirely comfortable running with the dogs, nor they you, since the moment they actually try to "play" with you, you act all weird (for a dog, anyway).

That's why, IMO, some PUA convversation is actually a good thing on LW; it's a nice example of a shared bias to get over. The LWers who insist that people aren't really like that, only low [self-esteem, intelligence] girls fall for that stuff, that even if it does work it's "wrong", etc., are in need of some more understanding of how their fellow humans [of either gender] actually operate. Even if their objective isn't to attract dating partners, there are a lot of things in this world that are much harder to get if you can't speak "dog".

tl;dr: Normal people engage in playful dog-like status games with their actual friends and think you're weird when you respond like a cat, figuratively hissing and spitting, or running away to hide under the bed. Yes, even your cool NT friends who tolerate your idiosyncracies -- you're not actually as close to them as you think, because they're always more careful around you than they are around other NTs.

By PJ Eby.

I'm not signing onto the idea that everyone who's uncomfortable with teasing should learn how to handle it or they're missing out on a lot of the good in life. As a strongly catlike person, I'm curious about whether the description of interactions is plausible.

I suspect that a lot of social difficulty is caused by dog types who *don't* know how to dial it down with cats, or are so in love with their usual behavior that they feel they shouldn't have to. They aren't jerks (those who enjoy tormenting cats), but they can look rather similar.

And as for real cats and dogs, I've met at least one cat who grew up with dogs and does a pretty good approximation of tail-wagging. Most of the tail motion comes from the base-- the tail isn't as stiff as a dog's tail, of course, but you don't see the full feline tail thrash-- and the cat isn't upset.

(31 comments | Leave a comment)

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From:chaosdancer
Date:May 18th, 2010 01:11 pm (UTC)
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Oh, that sounds so familiar! It used to be torture going to visit my cousins, because they would (in my interpretation) taunt me unmercifully...it took me years to figure out that they were just trying to play with me the way they played with each other, but I was an only child and didn't understand it. It still amazes me that they like me now that we're grown up - all those years I thought they hated me. They just didn't know what my deal was, being all uptight like that.
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From:ashnistrike
Date:May 18th, 2010 01:19 pm (UTC)
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I've learned to tease and be teased since high school, so this definitely rings true. I suppose I'm mostly bilingual now, though still a native cat speaker. I would say... if you tease back successfully, dogs will respond positively even as they continue to tease. Jerks will back off--it was a real dominance attempt, and they're upset that it didn't work.

Jerks will also tease about more serious and unpleasant things. The rule for geeks to memorize, following Miss Manners, is that dogs tease about A) things that everyone knows you both approve of, or B) things that neither of you is likely to take seriously. So I might get teased about the fact that I excitedly geek about psychology, or about bad habits that I joke about myself. If someone were to tease me about something I was sensitive about, I would tell them it was a sensitive topic more or less gently depending on whether I thought they knew. Or if I was feeling particularly cattish, I would tell the teaser not right now. A dog would respond to either of these by backing off; a jerk by teasing me about it. Then the claws come out.

There are dog-like and jerk-like ways to tease about the same things, too, but I can't quite articulate the rules. I have a plane to catch, so that will provide plenty of fodder for discussion with S, who speaks dog natively.
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From:dr_zrfq
Date:May 18th, 2010 11:18 pm (UTC)
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I *so* identify with a lot of this. It resonates rather much with the eventual result of my upbringing. I'm far more of a cat but my family are mostly canine in this regard. So I learned to speak dog -- better than I learned cat, early on! That got me in trouble once my classmates at school decided I wasn't part of their pack.

I'm okay with teasing as long as I know that you're in my pack. In fact, me teasing you is a major sign of acceptance. But with folks who aren't pack, I'm a cat... except that if you really push me, and the claws come out... so will the claws of my packmates.
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From:nellorat
Date:May 18th, 2010 01:31 pm (UTC)
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The stuff I've read that was most similar to this was in a book of a writing client of mine--she is an executive coach for women, and it was about how to break the glass ceiling by, in a way, selectively adopting some male traits in a female-compatible way. Based purely on what she wrote, I'd say two things:

1) Probably boys are trained to be dogs in a way that girls aren't, and
2) Corporate culture is very much keyed to dogs.

Personally, I'd add a couple more insights:

1) Unlike the implications here, I think many, perhaps even most dogs are bilingual and can and will adapt to cat mode, as long as the offense is taken in a polite, non-psycho way. You may lose status points for being "too earnest," but you can interact OK.
2) Linked to that last sentence: being able to be a dog matters more the more you care about status. That caring can be for practical reasons (you won't get to be a VP otherwise) or emotional (want to be at the top of the pack socially) or both. If a cat doesn't care about status with dogs, there is much, much less reason to adapt.
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From:supergee
Date:May 18th, 2010 02:43 pm (UTC)
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I have two reasons to hate teasing: I'm a nerd who finds it unacceptably nonliteral and ironic, and I'm a cat who comes from a family of cats, so I never developed antibodies against teasing. Fortunately, I started out not caring too much about status, and learned to care even less as I realized the kind of behavior that it required.
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From:tamnonlinear
Date:May 18th, 2010 01:36 pm (UTC)
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This feels about right, both in the pattern of interactions and your note that catlike people shouldn't have to adapt to doglike behavior. It has a lot of the same feel as introvert vs. extrovert interactions, where extroverts want to interact just for the sake of interacting and introverts are likely to look a little baffled and ask "why?". Being able to fake extroversion and understand extroverts has advantages and is a useful adulthood skill, but it doesn't mean I have to become one (they ought to have their adulthood skills as well). I also disagree that PUA tactics have their good points- the basic methodology is pointed at manipulating people, and I don't like the idea of interacting with people who want to manipulate me. I'll be occupying a windowsill by myself, and purring, if anyone needs me.
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From:supergee
Date:May 18th, 2010 02:46 pm (UTC)
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I agree on the connection to introversion/extroversion. Another reason I'm a cat.
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From:noveldevice
Date:May 18th, 2010 02:18 pm (UTC)
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Total rubbish.
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From:nancylebov
Date:May 18th, 2010 02:41 pm (UTC)
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Would you care to expand on that?
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From:siderea
Date:May 18th, 2010 02:43 pm (UTC)
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This is freaking brilliant. It's missing some nuances, but it's mostly dead-on. It captures in words some stuff I've learned to do. I'm from deep cat territory, and learned to comfortably and mostly[*] fluently speak[**] dog. I may repost w/ commentary.

[* I tend to err on swatting too hard or miss-judging the acceptability of the target or not realizing my claws are out enough to draw blood: "accent" errors I think cats are prone to.]

[** Some dialects of. That's one of the missing nuances. I've discovered there's more than one. My SO uses a dialect which shocked me at first because it uses something as a bark (tease) which was considered bite (taunt) in the dialects I'd previously known. Consider, also the role of "Your mom" jokes: do that in the wrong ethnic enclave and you'll collect an unceremonious knuckle sandwich -- and it's not because they're cats.]
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From:siderea
Date:May 18th, 2010 03:05 pm (UTC)
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P.S. One thing I would take issue with is the proposition that cats are people with "low-powered or faulty social processors". Faulty only in the sense a chisel is only a faulty screwdriver. I'm a cat and I would submit that my social processor is anything but low-powered or faulty. In fact I suspect that being a cat is more common for therapists than being a dog -- but most of us learn to speak dog.
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From:tamnonlinear
Date:May 18th, 2010 03:55 pm (UTC)
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Reading the scenario at the original website, I was having a lot of trouble with it. A woman walks up to a man at a bar and asks him to buy her a drink. His correct response is supposed to be to say something insulting to her, as the response she's hoping to get, because it displays that he's aware of the proper social jockeying that she's really proposing.

As opposed to my (catlike) response of "Yeah, right. Get your own drink" (which is still not the same as the suggested wrong response of "What kind of drink would you like?"). It may also be that I'm reading this wrong because I am not socialized as a male and I don't hang out in bars.

I do not get it. The expected social behavior is anti-social, both in the begging for drinks and the insults, and just looks broken to me. At a basic level, I don't see the social benefit of making friends with people who don't notice when their behavior is insulting, because then you end up with people who insult you as friends. This is not a worthwhile goal.
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From:vvalkyri
Date:May 18th, 2010 05:31 pm (UTC)
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Regardless of the full truth of it I'm finding this a fascinating conversation. I don't know that it's a normal vs abnormal thing, rather than instead a cultural clash.

May I link from my journal?
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From:nancylebov
Date:May 18th, 2010 05:49 pm (UTC)
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You certainly may.
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From:houseboatonstyx
Date:May 18th, 2010 06:13 pm (UTC)
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Fascinating!

They've got different ways of solving interpersonal problems, too. As a dog, I want to jump in, wag wag woof woof, and worry it and tear it apart and maybe when it's in small enough pieces all over the floor we'll learn something. Or call mine the engineer's approach: take it apart and see how it's supposed to work and test all the parts and clean them.

As a cat, he says I'm reopening old wounds, least said soonest mended, etc. Maybe.
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From:ashnistrike
Date:May 19th, 2010 06:20 am (UTC)
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Having gone back and read the original article (now on the other end of my plane flight), I see that it's focused on the whole Asperger's/neurotypical dichotomy. I know plenty of people with Asperger's, but I also think there's a tendency in geek circles to assume that poor social skills = Asperger's = biologically incapable of thinking like an NT. You can get very similar patterns simply through a lack of relevant experiences, as I did. I came into grade school having learned a couple of poor social rubrics, and as a result never got any really useful peer socialization till college. Once I started hanging out with people who hadn't seen me, at age 6, interpret mild teasing as verbal abuse, I was able to catch up on some of the skills. But being 18 years behind still means having to memorize some rules explicitly. This makes me relatively awkward sometimes, but I also have some advantages over someone who's learned the rules entirely implicitly. I can sometimes explain the rules relatively clearly to someone who has to do everything by rote. And I'm more comfortable with people who aren't working with a rule set I'm used to--for example, I can deliberately try and figure out whether someone is getting in my social space to assert dominance, or whether they're doing it because their conversational distance is a foot shorter than mine, and adjust accordingly.

It helps me to realize that many apparently socially skilled people feel nervous in social situations--they just compensate well. Humans have two major survival strategies--we make tools, and we cooperate socially. That makes social interaction a high-stakes endeavor for everyone, and the most extroverted marketing guy is more aware of those stakes, and has fewer resources put into alternative strategies. The other useful thing for me is to bear in mind is that most "mundanes" are geeks about something, whether it's accounting or Elvis or football. Even if their expertise bores me to tears, I'm reassured that they're familiar with that mindset.
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