Saturday, 2 February 2013

α and β

I went to the bank yesterday to close my account. They've been charging me for all sorts of things without telling me beforehand which I wouldn't have minded except that the charges resulted in me being overdrawn. So I threw on my workout clothes, walked down there with writer husband, told them I was sick of it, got them to refund me all but four dollars of the money they'd taken out, and closed down my account.

While I was having my account closed, a woman came up to our counter. Her hair was undone and her clothes were shabby. She was glaring and pouting. She huffed and said to the cashier helping me "I'm going to go because I've seen four people get served ahead of me and now I'm late for an appointment" in the teeny tiniest voice. I mean, I know I'm a little deaf, but seriously, her voice was teeny tiny.

The cashier apologized for the delay and offered to book her an appointment. A not-really-argument ensued in which the woman complained in that quiet, whining voice of hers that she had to cash a check right now to pay a bill that was due Monday, complained that the bank was about to close and just said "oh" when she was told that it was open for another hour, and finally consented to doing what the cashier suggested which was to make an appointment.

All the time I was thinking, holy smokes, if it was that important to her why didn't she make more of a fuss about it? Why was she talking in such a tiny voice? Why was she pouting at the cashier and looking to her to do something about the problem? Why wasn't she taking charge of her situation in any way?

This is pretty much a perfect example of the difference between alphas and betas. I got the bank to pay me money, got an appointment twenty minutes after I asked for it and had everything I wanted done without trouble. She got nothing and left dissatisfied.

This is another big reason that I always disliked the "how to care for your introvert" stuff that goes around every so often on social networking sites. Because, yes, drunken club parties or whatever it is that "hipsters/nerds" complain about on the internet are boring for some people (introvert and extrovert alike), but introverts are also often betas. Not speaking up, not being clear in what you want and backing away from fights are major attributes of introverts and betas alike. And, frankly, alphas get shit done. Alphas tend to be more successful in their endeavors than betas because they are effective.

I'll say it again: it has nothing to do with social rules, bullying, or dominating. People who are clear, self-assured and firm get stuff done better and more efficiently than people who don't. This would hold true under any social climate.

People should not be encouraged to be inefficient, passive, ineffectual and timid, because it will damage them. Even if it's difficult for some, people should be encouraged to get their shit together and build confidence. Whether or not it comes naturally is no excuse for not practising a skill.


  1. Is the 'alpha' 'beta' terminology based on any research on human beings? I've always thought it was a pop-psych thing that's not that useful for discussing human social complexity, where an awful lot of behaviour is purely situational (to the point where some psychologists have theorised that 'personality' does not even exist, because our behaviour seems to be mostly governed by situational realities).

    I find, thinking of the places I've lived, it's about instilled social manners; a lot of people (especially women) in the South appeared to have no idea how to deal with a bit of righteous West London aggro, not because they were more 'beta' than me but because their entire cultural conditioning ran against it. Sometimes, this was helpful to me because I could just push for what I wanted; sometimes, it wasn't because people refused to deal with an assertive, firm woman.

    I feel like one thing immigration has taught me is how to codeswitch socially and be whoever it's most convenient to be in a given situation; I have two jobs right now, and I'm a trainee at one of them and a supervisor at the other, so obviously the mannerisms I need to use with both clients and with other employees are very different - and in situations where I am the client or customer, I'll need different manners again. So at work I'm often playing at Southern charm; other times it needs more West London righteous aggro. I also think it's legit to decide I would rather put up with a given situation than go through the stress of dealing with it. I'm outta fucks sometimes, not least when I'm not being paid to have fucks, and that's okay.

    I had a dear friend in Atlanta who told me about how the "Southern belle complex" as she put it worked; because she's female and has always lived in GA she'd been given that ingrained training to act sweet and deferential towards people who were being dicks to her, eg. angry customers at her job, and then she'd vent hardcore as soon as the difficult person was out of her way - which is something she thought many non-self-aware (ironically, that tended to mean less introverted) women suffering from the belle complex weren't able to do. I really think you're understating the role of social rules here - 'teenyvoice' does not come out of nowhere, especially not in a culture that actively punishes girls for being assertive rather than 'nice' when they're in public.

    So I don't think you can write off 'social rules' that easily, given that each social interaction involves two people, one of whom you have absolutely no control over.

    1. Well, social observation of situational behavior is research on human beings, so yes, it is :B Although the notion that personality doesn't exist is pretty laughable at best, and unpleasantly cynical at worst.

      What you're saying is true, but I think you're missing a connection - if your cultural conditioning runs against a thing, that means that that aspect of your culture is a beta aspect, as opposed to the alpha aspect of the alpha culture. Culture, values and personality can be changed, so the fact that the two can be equated doesn't really alter the content of my point.

      Although I would like to clarify that my mention of 'social rules' came up not because I'm saying they aren't relevant in any context, but specifically in the context of there not being a conspiracy/oppression of extroverts against introverts.

      TBQH I'm not sure where you're getting the idea that our culture punishes women for being assertive. I'm a woman and I was rewarded with nine bucks and prompt, respectful service for being assertive. Everyone, regardless of personal specifics like gender or nationality, is rewarded for assertiveness because, as I said, it is effective, alpha behavior. I think what you're saying is that men from some subcultures feel insecure and punish assertive women for not wanting to have sex with them, which is honestly the only situation in which women are regularly 'punished' for assertiveness - not that I would consider being disliked by a bunch of beta males to be much of a punishment. ;)