Schelling timelines

This is a fancy term I made up for an idea that probably exists already in game theory. It borrows from the idea of a Schelling point.

A Schelling timeline is the average expected future that everyone is reacting to, which produces the future that actually happens. For example, in chess there might be a progression of moves that’s so obvious that it’s too predictable to actually do it. So both players set traps around it instead, and then traps for the traps. Human society is a lot like a multiplayer chess game where maybe everyone is expecting, say, a red wave in November. But insofar as society is a competition, you have to be unpredictable to avoid falling into traps like right-wing grifters turning your political engagement into merch sales or the FBI turning your Jan 6 political rally into a booster club for their domestic terrorism arrest statistics. So human action is counterintuitive by design. That’s the basis of pretty much all Robert Greene’s laws of power.

The point of Schelling timelines is not that they’re going to happen, per se, but that these are things that would happen if economic trends progressed linearly in the complete absence of human reactivity and dynamism, and are therefore a future people will feel coming at some point, react to with more or less foresight, and change by their collected actions to produce the actual timeline.

K-selected values often counteract this, because when you’re cooperating (or at least in coopetition) it’s helpful to be able to predict what other people are going to do. I’d argue that social norms, insofar as they’re arbitrary and not directly adaptive, are just Schelling points for behavior. (This is what Jordan Peterson refers to as “order”.) A good example of coopetition is a big concert or dance party or whatever. Everyone cooperates (k-selection) to create the competition for attention (R-selection), which is itself driven by acting in unpredictable ways. Everyone has to show up at the same place at the same time and observe certain norms like dressing up and dancing to expected forms of music (predictability). But the way you win the competition is by being dark triad/disordered (unpredictability).

I think that’s all I got on that. Pretty simple stuff, and you could sum it up as “what everybody expects everybody else is expecting”. It’s more of a disclaimer I wanted to write for the predictions in tomorrow’s post.

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5 Responses to Schelling timelines

  1. Pingback: Piecemeal feudalism and its consequences | Aeoli Pera

  2. Zeb Zebley says:

    what’s the connection between dissidence/revolutionarian thought and r/K selection? is it all social-world niche creation and environment reinforcement between the two sides? (inb4 always was)

    • Aeoli Pera says:

      In general, either R or k is favored at a given time in a given place. Slightly more often it’s k, historically, but not all of the time. After a period of time where their strategy is favored, R or k people will have filled the institutions. The talented people who have been excluded from the institutions will be the dissident thinkers, and they will tend to be of the opposite strategy.

      The only complication is that R-selected people preach dissidence and revolution at all times as part of their strategy, even (especially) when they don’t mean it, they’re in charge, and their actions belie their preaching. It’s only confusing when you take what people say seriously.

    • Aeoli Pera says:

      That’s pretty close. The distinction in what I’m describing is the judges are trying to pick the most undervalued face. A pedestrian example would be hipsters competing to be at the forefront of some cultural phenomenon.

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