Sometimes we’re up, sometimes we’re down. Hierarchical structures have winners and losers, as do all elections and other contests. One way not to be a loser is to win. It’s just that the ratio of winners to losers is pretty low – and there has to be a more rational strategy. That may be the strategy of not playing the game. Of course, in doing so, we give up the possibility of winning and beating others. But, at least for the monkeys, it is a strategy that gives them much more peace of mind.
Robert Sapolsky researched baboons. These usually live in hierarchical structures, with alpha males at the top and others subordinate to them, and there is often a clear hierarchy among other individuals. Those who are subordinate are the betas. The group of baboons that Sapolsky studied suffered an interesting fate – at one point all the alpha males died. Of course, there were new aspirants for this position in the hierarchy, but the whole group refused to play the alpha-male game. And so they turned against it and didn’t allow anyone to create such a hierarchical structure anymore – they switched to peer-to-peer relationships. Interestingly, everyone started doing better – they were healthier, less stressed (measurably less cortisol), and their lives improved overall.
Instead of someone winning and others submitting, they refused to play the game any longer. This wasn’t just a temporary short-term fluctuation, the pack had been operating this way for at least twenty years (I couldn’t find more recent information).
Some people have started calling these individuals – who refuse to submit, but also have no need to dominate and become alphas – Gamma. They’re easiest to find among rodents, but if you try, you can find them among humans as well (hint: they’re most abundant in libertarian parallel communities such as Parallel Polis).
Most people are not born a Gamma, but they have to become one. Even one decision is not enough, it is something that has to be trained. We are taught to live in hierarchies. When a doctor in a white coat tells us something, we listen carefully and expose ourselves to his or her authority. At the same time, when we are given the opportunity to centrally manage something (for example, a “team” in a job), we are often happy to take that position.
Of course, no one is pure alpha, beta or gamma. We have different situations, different positions, it changes over time but also in specific interactions. And in some situations it’s more optimal to be alpha, in some beta and sometimes gamma. But the question is what do we choose most often and what are we moving towards.
Characteristics of gamma individuals
How do we recognize gamma individuals? They usually don’t like to be in a position where they have a direct superior. And even if the supervisor is “cool”. That’s why they often freelance or run a business. They are hard to find in an employment relationship and if, it has to be balanced by something significant. For example, a lot of money or enough freedom or a really interesting job.
If you want them to be the boss of a team or group of people, to have those people consult with them on decisions, they roll their eyes. They don’t want to lead a bunch of programmers or construction workers.
Very often they reject most status games, at least the ones they are aware of. They don’t have an expensive watch, a college degree (and if they do, they hide it well), or a lambo. Status is something that would easily allow them to be placed in a hierarchy.
When they get bored, they shake your hand and politely walk away.
Gamma individuals are calmer because they expose themselves to fewer uncomfortable relationships. This is how you know the difference between someone who is gamma philosophically versus practically. Philosophical gammas still have the stress when confronting an authority. Practical gammas are calm – they try to change relationships that are uncomfortable to them so that they are ok with them, and if that fails, they end them. As with baboons, gamma individuals do not have chronically elevated cortisol.
One of my dear mentors described her life experience this way: “I am respectfully indifferent to other people’s opinions and ideas”. That is, I respect that other people have their opinions and their thoughts, but I live my life the way I want to live my life. If that means that most people think kids should go to school and I think kids learn more when they work on their projects with their siblings at home, I accept and respect their opinion, but my kids stay home.
This search for their own life path makes them a little strange, but they’re actually nice, and if you understand that they’ll smartly walk away from the status game and refuse to play it with you, you have the opportunity to get to know people who both create and require positive, creative energy. It’s a great feeling. They are great mentors because they have so ingrained their indifference to “how things should be done” that they are happy to show you options you didn’t even know existed – and they usually make them up on the spot.
Aren’t they just non-pathological alphas?
At first glance, this question makes sense – isn’t a gamma just a person who, thanks to his or her skills and knowledge, has reached a certain level in the hierarchy and considers it the right place to be in? A smart scientist who is an expert in their field or a company founder who is a “good boss”. He or she can be such a “chilled out alpha”, with low stress.
I don’t think this is usually the case though, all the “evolved gammas” I know actively avoid that hierarchy. They don’t feel comfortable in it, even when they’re in a higher position within the hierarchy. A smart scientist leaves academia and researches outside the academic hierarchy, a gamma rarely becomes a good boss because the position just doesn’t suit him and he either gets a good boss as a business owner or creates an organizational structure that doesn’t need a boss.
Gamma is as far from alpha as it is from beta. It actively avoids hierarchies because they exhaust it and rob it of their energy to create, to produce.
How to interact with gamma
Being with the gamma is fine if you detach yourself from the need to change them. You can give them good advice, but you have to be prepared for them to arrange their life in their own way, even if your good advice is well reasoned and well intentioned. Think of them as a non-deterministic element in your life – if they promise something, they usually keep it, but they promise really few things. It’s a bit difficult with them at times, because one of the authorities they tend not to respect are social conventions. They are not rude, they don’t want to hurt anybody, but if you have some expectations that come from a social situation, it’s possible that they don’t accept them and act from their own will, not according to social norms.
It may be a small thing. If you invite a gamme to a gala night, they feel free to come in a t-shirt and jeans and not feel stupid at all. Anyway, one of the things that surprised me in Hollywood, where everyone needs to present their individuality. I was out with a bunch of hackers one night and somehow we ended up at some Hollywood awards ceremony – the evening had an overlap of fashion and film (I don’t remember exactly what it was, they almost always give out some kind of award in Hollywood). Of course, a bunch of geeks (us) showed up in T-shirts and shorts. Even at first glance, we were dressed differently than everyone else. Our friend who was with us, when asked about the dress code, said that in Hollywood no one cares. A Korean movie director, whose fashion accessory was a chihuahua in his hand, enjoyed showing his individuality. And we were interesting anyway, because you don’t meet many hackers in Hollywood. In fact, not a single disapproving look.
A fellow hacker, however, showed his “gamma” personality in other ways. He was hit on by local models – openly and quite actively. It’s just that if he wants to code at the moment, he doesn’t have time for Hollywood models and politely explained to them that while they were cool, he needed to finish his current hack.
On a much more positive note, if a gamma spends time with you, it means they see the value in it. In that case, I recommend listening to unconventional suggestions for solving your problems that you won’t read on Facebook and your conventional friends won’t tell you about. Don’t expect the gamma to talk you into anything, but if you perceive what they’re saying, it’s often at least worth thinking about. Gammas will enjoy positive feedback, but also new ideas.
With gamma, you often get into a state of flow. When you’re discussing a topic, you’re not playing the game of who’s right, you’re playing the game of how to move the topic and the discussion forward. To invent things, to explore. To a certain extent, you remove yourself from your status, you don’t need to win because you’re not playing a game, you’re just moving towards resolving the issue at hand. At that point, you often stop being aware of time and your surroundings. You will have full focus on the topic at hand in a discussion with your gamma discussion partner.
Gammas are extremely creative. Because they don’t consider conventions as important, for many things they ask the question “how would this be best solved in my situation?” and very often come up with a different solution than the average person, who is subject to the authority of how things are most often done. That doesn’t mean they reject the common solutions altogether – the common solutions are often common because they are the best. Gammas do not rebel against conventional solutions, they use them when they are convenient for them, and when they come up with something better, they do that instead.
At first glance, interacting with a gamma may sound like interacting with an egotistical person (in the bad form of egoism). But since there is an absence of comparison with other people, this is not the case. They are people who exude their own will. Most of the few gamma individuals I know are very wealthy people. And you don’t get a chance to notice that at first glance about them. Since they don’t play the status game, you don’t notice it in their clothes, their watches, their cars, and probably not even in how they spend their money. I flew with one of them for about six hours within Asia. He sat behind us in economy class because “I sleep anyway and I sleep well in any position”. He has his own plane at home and can pilot it – he uses it in situations like I use my car when no other form of transportation suits him.
Truth be told, the rich and successful gammas were the hardest for me to interact with. My brain couldn’t process it. When I talk, they listen as if it’s the most important thing in the world, with full awareness. Very often they have interesting insights, but at the same time they are extremely open to new insights from me. In the beginning, thoughts went through my head – a guy who has like a hundred million dollars in his account is listening to me – the average entrepreneur – talk about what I think about his new business idea. That was the first surprise. The second surprise was when they later told me that they had thought about our conversation, took the idea and made it even better.
Another fun situation with gammas was when I was in a group of people who didn’t know my guest. The topic was something that gamma was an expert in and she specifically made most of her rather large fortune from it. The discussion was at a later hour and was more of a pub-talk. The gamma was a bit drunk and so was everyone else. She was talking about how she would solve the problem, the others had their philosophical opinions, mostly pieced together from blogs they had read. But what was interesting, the gamma didn’t even think to say that she normally charges six figures for companies to solve this problem, and she’s an expert at it. On the other hand, she didn’t try “appeal to authority” as an argument. That is – she didn’t use her status to argue, she took her arguments, her wisdom and her experience to make her case. She wasn’t lecturing anyone, but I think if I spoiled it for her and said her name and two sentences about her, everyone around here would be taking notes. My point is – gamma has no need to impress you with her status and tell you how much experience she has. But it’s worth listening to. That’s why I recommend getting some practice in identifying them, because if you only perceive the other party by how you evaluate their status, you could be needlessly missing out on some really useful insights.
How to become a gamma
We start with the question – who should become gamma and why? Here the answer is simple – if it appeals to you and you feel that this would suit you, you can work on it. If you are comfortable as an alpha or beta or in a state where you are in different positions in different life situations and have no need to change anything about it, there is no reason to change it. It’s very important to choose what you devote your energy to in life. This section is for people who feel that moving towards gamma is something they would like to devote energy to, because it is natural to them and they already fulfill some of the traits. So you can skip the following text if gamma doesn’t appeal to you, although I think some of the techniques may be useful for alphas and betas as well. What follows are a few good life hacks regardless of how you want to label yourself.
What do you get if you decide to work on it? For me, the “developed” or “blossomed” gamma is the prototype of the hero. They are the people this world needs, precisely because of their enormous creative and productive energy. But beyond that, it has a lot of personal benefits. Hierarchies are a waste of time in my opinion. As a gamma you get less stress, better personal relationships, a qualitatively better kind of self-esteem, you’ll reshape the world in your image and work better with people.
I am not writing this article because I think everyone should become a gamma, but I believe that if a few of them “blossom” around me, I will be happier, because these are the people who take me the furthest in life and make my stay on this planet more enjoyable.
So how to do it? Let me repeat: gamma is not a state. It is something to work on and work towards. You don’t have to flat out tell your boss off (that’s more like rebellion anyway). Walk away from whatever hierarchy and its evaluative function that doesn’t suit you. If you feel like you’re in a company where it matters who has the prettier spouse, better car, higher income, or academic degrees, politely leave. Not because you are better, but because there are much better ways to spend your time. Like creating something, for example.
How you value yourself at any moment should be based on how you see yourself – not in comparison to other people, but in comparison to what you create. Thus, questions such as: “Am I a better entrepreneur, partner…” than person XY needs to be replaced with questions such as: “Am I better than I was yesterday? Am I happy with the way I live my life?” This way of evaluating refers explicitly to your own standard, not to other people’s. Or yet another way – what goes on inside should not consist primarily of listing our deficits. Gammas are more concerned with who they are, not who they are not. At the same time, this is one of the best strategies for personal psycho-hygiene.
One of the blind alleys is rebellion, which is basically submission to authority with the opposite sign. Authority will say “stop!” and the rebel moves on. Thus they are not in control, they are still controlled by the authority, they are just doing the exact opposite of what the authority says.
Try to imagine what it is like to be with a person who exudes their own will. When they get an idea to create something, they do it because they think it should exist. Gammas think about what they devote their time to. They choos to be better than yesterday – in how they personally see themselves. Gamma collaborates on things that make sense to them, not because they “work somewhere” or “have a startup.” When gammas are comfortable with you, they will stay up until morning to talk, but when they are tired or bored, they smile, say goodbye, and go home to sleep. If you can imagine this or remember interacting with a gamma, it’s easier to see how to get there. But here are a few tips.
There are a few things you need to train to become a gamma. The first is the ability to be aware of the situation. Nathaniel Branden calls this principle “living consciously.” Meditation, for example, can help you to do this, but it is not enough. You can train it by looking at what is true in life. And you go really deep. Most of us live in a bit of a mental fog where we are “doing something somehow”. When you choose to live consciously, you look at your relationships and activities with a probing eye and ask – “what is the truth”? This is not enough, however, at such a question your brain often starts to generate a narrative to justify your existing actions and decisions. To live consciously we need two things – to be in the present moment, to perceive what is happening and to be able to distinguish the story from reality.
Let’s take an example. Let’s say I signed up for a mortgage. Someone then asked me to program a decentralized poker (by the way: the first version of Bitcoin had a built-in poker client:). It seemed like a good idea at first, and I wanted to try out whether such a thing could be done in a decentralized way. Now I’m doing it because I know the decentralized poker project well. The project is taking three times longer than it should, but the client is paying, I’m paying off the mortgage, and I’m repeating to myself the story that brought me to this decision: “I want to see if such a thing can be done in a decentralized way”.
The mental fog is that I don’t examine the decision further. I haven’t promised anyone that I’ll finish the project, but I still need to pay that mortgage, and I like decentralized technology, so I’m programming and programming – in line with the goal that made sense to me in the situation to begin with. If I tried to remove that mental fog and asked a simple question: “Is this the best use of my time? Do I want the world to have decentralized poker? Can’t I use my time more usefully and better?” These questions look at the situation not from the perspective of an outdated decision from the past, but from the perspective of the current situation. What authority am I afraid of in this case of changing the decision? The worst one – my former self. “Does that mean I made the wrong decision a few years ago? Won’t it undermine my integrity?”
Bearing in mind that each situation has to be considered individually, these questions are highly topical. But then the post-rationalisation kicks in: ‘Oh, I’m doing this so I can pay off the mortgage. Uncertainty is a terrible thing, and if I wasn’t getting a paycheck from this project, I’d be in trouble.” Indeed this is not the only solution. Post-rationalization is just a story I tell myself. In reality, I have options – from hiring someone for a poker project and mentoring them, I can sell the apartment and live in a cheaper rental, or I can rent the apartment out. Or I may even gradually find another source of income. There are several possible solutions, but the state of not living consciously hides these possibilities from us. Through mental fog and post-rationalisation.
I recommend a hack on the issue of the integrity of a past decision. Every human is evolving. Would you want to go “out for a beer” with your 20 years younger self? I’d probably bore myself to death or have a massive fight with him. Is it really important to maintain integrity with your past decisions? Of course it isn’t – we evolve and so does our life situation. Let’s not take changes in anything as an attack on our integrity and perception of our identity. The psychological hack in this case is that you give yourself a new first and last name every year. If I am evaluating a decision made two years ago by Peter Johnson, not me, I can more easily look at it through different eyes. That name may represent some phase of life that you are in. You don’t have to tell it to anybody, it’s just a matter of seeing integrity in the light of the fact that we are evolving.
Further about conscious living – awareness and exploration costs us energy. We don’t make most decisions in life consciously and I don’t think that’s even an achievable goal, we’d get tired very quickly. On the other hand, it’s good to really explore the important things in life and get through the mental fog. If I unconsciously decide whether to have coffee or tea, there are no long-term fatal consequences. If I’m in a mental fog about what I’m doing for eight hours a day because I don’t want to admit to myself that I’m not enjoying it anymore, I’ve got a serious problem.
And what does all this have to do with gamma? Those who live consciously look at reality through the facts, the current situation and the present moment. Through current values and needs. In this way, a gamma does not reflect the authority of past decisions, does not address what people will think when they stop doing something or change their mind. The only reference is me – whether I am improving and doing what I want to do, not what authority (including my past self) thinks. This is one of the most important qualities in my opinion. If you start doing that, you’ll be a little more careful about the promises you make to people. You’ll be saying “no” more often, and when you say “yes” it will probably be “yes, I’ll help you now because it makes sense, but when it stops making sense to me, someone else will have to carry on”.
Actions, not opinions
Just about every gamma I know focuses on actions, not opinions. In Parallel Polis, we call this the ultra-constructive approach. I can have an opinion about how to change the world for the better and post it on Facebook, get likes and be happy with myself. I’m not going to save the world from plastic waste, global warming, poverty or a lack of liberty. One day of action is more valuable than 50 days dedicated to discussion.
A gamma doesn’t care about your opinion unless they plan to turn it into their actions. An opinion or an idea is the least important thing, and gamma prefers action. It is exempt from hierarchy, it doesn’t need to ask permission, but it doesn’t rely on it to influence other people’s actions either. So if gamma wants to change something for the better, it must decide whether to act.
Of course, the simplest decision is not to act, and most problems can thus be “worked around” by not acting. This may sound a bit backward, but that’s only until one realizes that writing an opinion on Facebook is virtue signalling rather than action. Thus, it doesn’t move us any closer to our goal. Maybe someone will change their mind, but maybe we just want to show that our opinion is better and we are presenting our values. But that won’t change anything in the reality around us. Striking against global warming will do nothing to prevent it. It is very difficult to change other people’s actions – even if we impose those actions through regulation. People make choices according to what is convenient for them.
If the gamma decides to act, it can cooperate with other people in doing so.
Actions say more about what he thinks than any expressed opinion.
I learned this insight from a friend who explained to me that he no longer asks other people what they think, but what they do. It’s one of the reasons I often agree with people on the left, especially those who are doing something. If people on the left choose to bypass the school system and raise their children differently, while running a business and creating new things along the way, I don’t care who they vote for, their actions are practical solutions to real world problems they perceive as important in society, and their theoretical solutions can’t hurt me.
The gamma individual must first of all apply this approach to themselves. If I have a strong opinion or think something is important, I have to ask “how can I turn that into action?”
Awareness of hierarchies and status games
“To be hated, the overseers could accept. To be fought, they could understand. But simply to be ignored, this drove them nearly mad. And at the same time, to be surpassed, this was the complete negation of their existence; the wiping out of their entire race of rulers.” – Paul Rosenberg, The Breaking Dawn
Gamma is characterized by trying to set itself apart from hierarchies. The first step is to become aware of the hierarchy and whether we want to fit in somewhere in the hierarchy. This is related to the previous point. An example of this is the Roman stoic Cato, who believed that it was easier to express one’s opinion through action than through words. He walked barefoot, and wore no underwear under his toga. And that was not fashionable even in his lifetime. One way to be aware of hierarchies is to try to move lower, not higher.
Realising when the status game is happening is not as easy as it might seem – and you won’t always get it right. The status game isn’t just the Rolex on your arm or the latte in the reusable cup you bring to the coffee shop in order to save the planet (and show it to everyone else). It’s also played out in debate when you need to win an argument. Or when you crave praise from a (moral) authority instead of praising yourself. There are far more status games and hierarchies than most people perceive, and to be aware of them, even a gamma needs some training.
The next step is to find out how to “opt out” of the status game. It can’t be done just by moving down in the hierarchy like Cato did. That’s just training so that the lack of status doesn’t bother you and you get used to it, but not a goal unless you want to be a submissive beta. You certainly can’t do it by alerting others to playing the status game – you’d just be creating a new game. Indifferently respect the status games around you, just don’t participate in them. When you’re in a discussion about a problem, don’t decide who’s right, but “how can this problem be solved most quickly and efficiently?” If you get used to this approach, it’s rocket fuel for your career because you’ll be extremely effective at solving problems.
At the same time, not participating in a status game is actually kind of a win, because these games assume that everyone plays them. And alphas in particular count on that. Ignoring an alpha in a status game they want to drag you into is an effective way to quickly talk them out of determining your place in the hierarchy.
To conclude the section on hierarchies with a small note: Being a better gamma can also be a status game. Fortunately, it’s something that almost no one notices or talks about. I can’t compare gammas to each other because I don’t see the inner worlds of the people in question. It’s hard to create a ranking function and therefore a status. But if you’re working to get out of hierarchies, don’t do it because it’s “cool” and you want to be like someone else. Think of it as inner work, as inner growth. Compare yourself to yourself. Being a gamma doesn’t mean you’ll be part of a club, gammas interact with all people and it’s rather rare to meet one of them – and alphas and betas don’t appreciate it that much anyway, if they don’t understand how you work, you’ll be more of a complication to them. It’s not a competition and it doesn’t have any levels. Gammas are different and can’t be compared to each other. By the way, I haven’t heard a single gamma say they are a gamma, though I know some of them are aware of the theory.
Lori Losch is a friend of mine who invented a way to “gamify” human interactions . The recipe is simple: no gossip, no triangulation, no personal judgments. She uses this rule in her environment, which has greatly improved relationships and eliminated most of the status games.
Gossip is, in a way, a status game, because the targets of gossip cannot defend themselves.
Triangulation is when I solve my problem with someone not with the person I have a problem with, but with the people around me. Most of the time we justify it to ourselves by saying that we “need advice on how to handle the situation”. To this Lori will usually reply “OK, we can talk if the outcome is that at the earliest possible opportunity you will go and solve the problem personally with the person you have the problem with”.
No personal judgements – a point I would like to talk about a bit more. First of all – very often we need to judge someone’s performance. This is not a personal judgement, but a performance evaluation. “We agreed that you would write an article, I expected it to include these points, but you forgot the third point. How are we going to resolve this?” This is a performance judgement, and it’s useful because it’s specific, it talks about expectations vs. outcome, it allows the other party to either defend their behaviour (“I’ve thought about it and I don’t think that third point belongs in there because…”) or correct it. It’s direct feedback. But what we don’t want to do is make personal judgements: ‘You never do what we agree on, you’re unreliable’. This is a personality assessment (by the way, in the vast majority of cases it is false, few people “never do something” or are always “lazy”). If we evaluate that someone’s performance is not satisfactory in the long term, we can terminate cooperation with them. This does not mean that we have to condemn the person on a personal level – we are not comfortable with the way they interact with us, or the way they work, that does not necessarily make them bad people.
However, we often make judgments outside of interactions – in our heads. It’s kind of our internal status game. “For God’s sake how fat she is, she should stop eating sugar”. “Terrible pink dress.” Or my “favourite” – “Political party logo on a profile picture, omg, another left wing intellectual”. This judging is a status game, because by condemning the other side in our heads we make ourselves better. And at the same time, we need to realise that these judgements are not based on reality, they are really taking place in our heads. Dr. Joel Wade has a cool “hack” for this – realize this and replace it with curiosity. Why is that? What is this person really like? What drove them to do this? The obese lady may have had a food shortage when she was little and is dealing like this. It is her decision. The lady in the pink dress is a Hello Kitty fan and defines herself by her style of dress. The gentleman with the political party logo is proud of his son who is running for office. It’s important to remember that in each interaction, we do not see the whole person, but only a tiny part of the story of their life, of which we have only known a brief glimpse. And the main goal is to rank ourselves higher in our imagined hierarchy. It’s a “status anxiety.” At the same time, such judgement does nothing to help us, it does not make us better, it does not solve the other person’s problem (if it is a problem at all), it does not move us forward.
This is not to say that evaluating what other people do is not useful. At the very least, it’s useful relative to us. We gather input, recognize patterns of behavior, which we then use to make decisions about who we spend time with, who we collaborate with, and so on. In this case, we are making some form of judgments not in relation to whether we are better or worse, but whether the observed interaction makes sense to us. There are seven billion people in the world and we cannot give our time, attention and energy to all of them. We have to choose very well. Who are the closest five people we spend time with? Do we give time to someone just because we went to school together?
When it comes to impulsive judgments, it is easier to maintain a neutral position (“I don’t have enough information to be able to judge another person”) or to use curiosity (“that’s interesting, why is that person the way he is?”).
Working with fear
Authority induces a form of fear in us, and the long-term beta state is characterized by chronic stress. Both can be hacked.
As with the other parts, with fear, the most important thing is to become aware of it, which again is not so easy. When fear is heightened, the body switches into a mode where it focuses not on the fear, but on the fastest possible escape. We tend to run away from fear, but rarely do we go back to it and question what caused it. Of course, our body knows we are in fear, which is why I recommend trying to do biofeedback between the body and the mind. Regularly look at how we feel, what we are thinking and how it is manifesting in the body. If we can recognize the fear in the body’s manifestations, we can become aware of it in time and then it will be easy to process.
A couple of times I gave a talk to a really large group of people. Most of the time I don’t get stressed out from lecturing, but when I got to the CCH hall in Hamburg, which was three floors high, my heart raced, my heart rate variability dropped and my breathing changed. And I just stood in front of the empty hall and watched what was being done to me. There was nowhere to run (I didn’t have a lecture until a few days later) and the most rewarding thing was to take in these feelings. This is what Roman Týc, who is somewhat of an expert at such feelings with his art, taught me. “Stop and feel those feelings, you don’t experience them often, so enjoy it.” I encourage you to check out Roman Týc’s projects, whether as a solo artist or as part of the art group Ztohoven, and imagine the feelings he has experienced – and that his art evokes in you.
Fear is a very useful helper. It is an emotion that is meant to inform us of something important. When something flutters in the grass, it may be a mouse, but we are afraid as if it were a snake. The lecture hall at CCH was almost empty when I did the talk (who would wake up so early at a hacker conference, especially on the last day?). And I have no problem with public speaking and nothing bad is supposed to happen.
Fear processing can take different forms. I recommend checking out Fear setting by Tim Ferriss, which he described in his talk at the TED conference. The other option is to just become aware of your fear and experience it. Don’t run away, realize it’s a body sensation, let it unfold and follow it.
Fear of authority
The theme of fear of authority and fear of the absence of authority is very important to becoming a gamma. For the alpha, this is a means of establishing and consolidating their position, in addition to showing their place in the hierarchy.
Whatever works on fear of authority works on any other fear, i.e. awareness of it, processing it, and eventually evaluating how to deal with it – either not giving in to it and doing what we fear or avoiding it (e.g., encountering authority). From Tim Ferriss’ guide, the “what’s the worst that could happen” question is absolutely the most important. If I’m afraid of authority because I don’t have a proper stamped document and the worst thing that could happen is a fine, then I save up for the fine or I deal with the stamp. There is no reason to be afraid of authority.
Authority almost always works with fear. It is not always bad, but it is good to be aware of it. And in that awareness, figure out what is the best strategy for us. If it’s an authority with a magic stamp and a fine that we can financially handle, then suddenly instead of fear, we see authority as just a mere obstacle in the way – like a drunken dancer at a concert who hoots and flails his arms and legs, occasionally hitting someone. We decently walk ten meters next to him and don’t give a damn. There’s no point in arguing with him, his words make no sense to us, and such interaction doesn’t further our goal of enjoying the concert. Or life.
Fear of the absence of authority
A far more dangerous way for authorities to justify their existence and their position in the hierarchy is to induce fear of what would happen if they were not there. It’s mostly irrational, but by asserting themselves through fear, it has huge implications starting with simple things.
For example, with the sharing economy and regulations, it often comes up that regulations are important to maintain quality standards. This sentence is usually followed by a catastrophic scenario – if the state hygiene inspectorate does not check whether hygiene regulations are met, hundreds of people would be poisoned by spoiled food, and we cannot let that happen. Of course, it can happen, as the alpha-baboons found out at the beginning of this chapter. In fact, we can realize that we humans are here precisely because this event did not happen to any of our ancestors. Humans even invented the use of fire to cook food to reduce the likelihood of it happening, sometimes perhaps as far back as 1.5 million years ago (and no later than half a million years ago). All of our great-grandmothers and all of our great-grandfathers managed not to poison their offspring. Yes, it is possible that an unregulated restaurant could poison its customers with food – and probably go out of business. Interestingly, a friend of mine who was poisoned by restaurant food and was sick for three days ate in a restaurant with proper hygiene standards.
If someone lists the scary scenarios that would occur if the authority did not intervene, the first question arises – if the authority exists, will it really solve the problem? Authority is all about the business of fear, which they usually first invoke and then justify their existence on the grounds that things will only get worse without them.
One of my favourite principles of this phenomenon is airport security checks. Politicians have responded to the threat of terrorism. Someone can hijack a plane and blow it up or crash it into a building. We know it has already happened, the threat is real. And then they will introduce checks at airports, where they will make you throw away your organic ghee that you have bought on the road because ‘it could dissolve and become a liquid’. People strip, quickly pour in the last of their water, measure their pocket knives in relation to their credit cards to comply with the regulation and take plastic forks instead of metal ones with them. Of course, after such a check, people feel that a terrorist attack is no longer possible. They forget two things.
In the field of security, we are familiar with the term “red team”. A red team is a highly offensive attack that does more or less what terrorists do. Red teams, which test airport security, have a success rate of more than half of smuggling explosives through airport security. People cannot take their liquids with them, but that doesn’t stop people who want to smuggle explosives through airport security from doing so successfully. But people feel safe, the politicians have taken away their fear. By the way, the Terminal Cornucopia art project shows how lethal weapons can be made from things you can buy in duty free shops at airports after passing security. No need to smuggle anything in, terrorists can buy everything they need for an attack at a duty free shop. If you like watching videos of exploding dangerous things made out of condoms, spray cans and hair products (and you watched MacGyver as a youngster), check out Terminal Cornucopia.
The second fact is that terrorists do not attack the same targets. If you can’t blow up a plane, how about a train on a bridge? Or drive a truck through a public square full of people? The authorities have not protected us from the threat of a terrorist attack, they have just moved the terrorist attacks to other places.
Awareness of this “fear of the absence of authority” that authority figures engender in us is important. And this is one of the few aspects that libertarians (and gammas) are especially good at and that neither leftists nor rightists can handle. When most people think of the word “anarchy” they imagine burning dystopian cities, as if the only reason you don’t get shot in the street is because there’s a cop on every street to prevent the attack and put the perpetrator in jail. In reality, they’re afraid of something else, it’s “anormia” – a state where people act as if there are no rules. It’s just that most rules don’t come from the government, and bad things don’t happen mainly because we have social rules that are enforced through social networks (I don’t mean online networks, but networks of social interaction), reputation systems, people’s need to gain recognition and maintain their own integrity. This does not mean that relying on the good of people is enough – it is not enough. Social rules have effective ways of being enforced. If I brutally beat up my sister’s husband, not only will I not be invited to any house party anymore, but I won’t inherit anything and will lose the benefits of family interactions. Even my family will ensure that my reputation suffers and that people look out for me. And not just my family, but everyone who knows about it. I will have an extremely difficult life, I won’t be able to get a job and probably not even a partner. Of course, most people will be stopped by moral integrity, but that’s not the only enforcement mechanism, there are several, and they’re much older than the nation state, or the concept of police.
The fear of the absence of authority is therefore best addressed by asking, “How did people solve this problem when there was no authority to solve it?” And “how can this problem be solved?” The emphasis here is on “solve”.
My friends and I wanted to do a campaign to ban methamphetamine (meth). I think it’s a good joke. Meth is evil, and despite a hard formal ban on its possession and sale, anyone can get hold of it. Including the young. The campaign should have been called “Let’s ban meth, but for real!”. It’s similar to campaigns where people call on the authorities to save the planet because evil capitalists are polluting the whole world. But who is allowing them to pollute now? If countries are so successful and effective at reducing emissions, how is it possible that emissions keep rising? Shouldn’t we be demonstrating against emission allowances?
In his book Progress Without Permission, Robert Chovanculiak looked at what people do when authority is truly absent. The environments where this happens are many. A number of internet platforms have found themselves in a regulatory vacuum, one of the first was Ebay. Anyone could sign up and buy or sell goods. The problem was that buyers and sellers could be almost anywhere in the world, so consumer law was difficult to implement. The platform created a great system, based on reputation, not penalties and fines. This experiment has been replicated by sharing economy platforms, restaurant review systems, hotel reservation portals and the like. In the absence of authority, what doesn’t happen is that people beg the authorities to regulate them. On the contrary, people will come up with a solution to the primary problem.
The fear of the absence of authority is thus in fact a false dichotomy between a just society and an anormia. People think that if we remove authority, cars will start burning, houses will explode, people will kill each other over codfish rolls, or at least die after every third visit to a restaurant. But the reality is much less dramatic; all these problems have elegant and effective solutions, and this fear is more about a combination of ignorance of parallel solutions and a lack of business imagination.
I mentioned in the introduction that Sapolsky measured reduced cortisol in gamma baboons. If you don’t want to measure cortisol from saliva or blood, the other option is to measure stress through Heart Rate Variability (HRV). Reduced chronic stress is a manifestation of gamma individuals, but I believe it works the other way around as well – by reducing chronic stress, all of the hacks mentioned above will be easier. I haven’t met a “stressed out” gamma yet, most of them exude calmness and serenity, and that’s despite the fact that most of them are extremely productive. It doesn’t mean that life doesn’t put obstacles in their way or that they don’t have episodes of acute stress. However, they do manage these and when they do get to “baseline”, they have it much lower than the average stressed beta. Incidentally, many alpha individuals I know are similar in this, the only difference is that they often induce stress in others.
There are several guidelines for managing chronic stress and you can find them in my lectures on biohacking, but I will summarize at least the most important ones: Inducing acute stress (intense exercise (for example, intense interval training – HIIT), cold showers and the Wim Hof method, adrenaline sports), exposing yourself to the flow state (for me, I get into it by writing or programming something I really enjoy, for example), relaxing after acute stress (for example, a massage or a sauna and then relaxing).
The victim mentality is a common condition in the population and it is a consequence of our domestication. We think that we are ‘entitled’ to something and that someone is always hurting us, especially when we define ‘us’ as a group with a specific characteristic. I have never experienced the manifestation of a victim mentality in any gamma. I believe it is a manifestation of the submissiveness of beta individuals. Their ruler (which they often replace with a mental image of “society”) doesn’t want to indulge or supply them with something, so they put themselves in the victim position and demand redress. Apart from protest marches and heartbreaking blogs, however, this will not change their behaviour. This is not to say that we can never be a victim, the injustices in the world are many. If we get rid of the victim mentality, we take responsibility for correcting injustice.
How to get like a proper gamma out of such a mentality? If we don’t get a government grant, we shouldn’t feel that we are entitled to it. There are a huge number of ways of funding, from private grants, crowdfunding, ticket sales, sponsorship and so on. Money is a manifestation of energy invested, and by raising money we are actually validating whether we are solving a problem that enough people care about. Here we always need to turn the mind-set from “the problem is that I don’t have enough money for my project” to, for example, “how do I show people what value my project brings and how do I convince them that this value is enough for them to share the value they created?”.
Or let’s take gay marriage and its recognition in society. At first sight, this sounds like a problem that only authority can really solve. That is, until you stop looking at what authority should do and start examining what the nature of the problem is, how people have solved it without authority up to now, and how it can be solved other than by marching in and appeasing authority. During pride in Bratislava, Pavol Travnik organized a lecture at Parallel Polis on “Partner Relationships without the State” where he proposed a non-state solution to most of the problems that registered partnerships or marriages solve. Inheritance, health information, financial settlement, name change… If you add a ceremony, such a solution is in many ways even better than a state-sanctioned wedding. To get out of the victim mentality all we have to do is stop thinking about what authority should do or how to change the majority mentality and move on to the practical question, “What is my problem and how can it be solved?” This is the ultra-constructive approach already mentioned in this book.
Of course, one solution may not suit everyone, people may solve one problem differently based on how it suits them. For example, by moving to a country where the problem can be solved differently. I call it jurisdictional arbitrage. Often you don’t even need to move altogether, you just need to solve the problem in a different jurisdiction.
The victim mentality is extremely toxic to the mind. People are under permanent stress, where they know that injustice is being done to them, but the solution is completely beyond their ability and capacity, because it depends on the democratic majority and politicians, that is, on other people. It often takes decades to change the majority’s mind, with a very uncertain outcome and a huge amount of energy. The victim mentality is related to the feeling that we are entitled to something. Entitlement to an equal partnership, entitlement to healthcare. A fully developed gamma never gets into the victim mentality state, they avoid it. One of the tools is that gamma doesn’t feel entitled to anything. If they want something, they have to take care of it. Taking their lives into their own hands is their responsibility. The world owes us nothing and we can’t claim anything. A good hack to remove the victim mentality and entitlement is gratitude. The best way to remove negativity. We live on an amazing planet that makes our existence possible. What we do with it is up to us.
I know only a few “converted” gamma individuals. But fortunately, there are many people around me who can set an example in many situations and in many areas of life.
Gamma individuals exude something special, and if you don’t know many of them, you might mistake them for a more relaxed alpha. If they are evolved enough and have somehow gone through phases of rebellion, rejection, and have accepted who they are, they are pleasant, creative, productive, imaginative, helpful, good to work with, open-minded, and non-manipulative.
If you feel you have an inclination to become a gamma, see which areas are appropriate for you to develop. Live consciously, work on healthy self-esteem, process fear, eliminate stress, be aware of hierarchies and abandon them at the earliest possible opportunity, don’t judge unnecessarily, and take action rather than opinions. Live examples will also help, they are not an authority, only an inspiration, you will get some feeling from them that cannot be easily described in words. It is such a special charisma.
Where can you meet them? They are often entrepreneurs. They are often libertarians, so you’ll run into them in libertarian organizations. They love liberty, so visit your nearest Parallel Polis. And be careful not to make them into an authority you want to copy, if they sense that, they’ll run away :).
You will very rarely meet someone I call a “blooming gamma”. I know less than ten of them personally. On the other hand, someone who is heading there can serve as an inspiration to you.
If you don’t aspire to be a gamma, I believe it will be helpful for you to recognize these tendencies in others and know how to interact with them and be inspired by at least some of their qualities. You can also live a happy life as an alpha or beta. For me, it’s just a bit boring – but you can fight boredom in other ways as it suits you.
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