There’s one meme I’ve grown beyond tired of. It goes something like this:
“I don’t believe in this alpha-beta distinction. Does it really matter?”
“This alpha-beta thing is stupid, people are way more complicated than that.”
“Only losers sit around talking about alpha and beta.” (This one is really an anti-intellectualism argument; to quote Bill Cosby, “intellectuals go to school to study what people do naturally.” Talking about it is the point.)
Alpha and beta have been thrown around since the early pickup artist (PUA) and game days so far as I can tell, but my first conception of the alpha-beta dichotomy came from Roissy/Heartiste. In the Chateau, alpha and beta function as social roles on a sliding scale synonymous with one’s attractiveness to women in the area of social dominance. The second conception was Athol Kay’s orthogonal breakdown of alpha and beta as attraction and comfort traits respectively, linked to the dopamine and oxytocin chemical systems, where one can modify their alpha and beta independently as their life and relationship require.
My personal catchall shorthand definition has been that alphas impress themselves upon their environment, and betas react to their environment. Generally speaking this is not just about social ability; alphatude is not necessarily who can beat everyone else up, who has the most money, who has the most power, but it can be any of those things in the proper settings. When we talk about the alpha-beta dichotomy we’re usually talking about social dominance, because that’s the factor that has the most dramatic short-term effect on a woman’s sexual psyche and it’s a factor from which much of a man’s success will flow.
Vox Day has publicized his own Greek letter system involving seven groups, and his concept of a beta is considerably kinder than Roissy’s. I have self-diagnosed as a sigma, for you readers who prefer introverted intellectual types with an indifference to conventional means.
(My forthcoming contribution will be to cast alpha and beta as lifestyle decisions.)
In any event, I’m here to tell you it is absolutely not fake. The strata of social roles is easily observed. Put a group of guys together, from age six to adulthood, it doesn’t really matter the age as long as they’re around the same stage in life…they will immediately and subconsciously arrange themselves in a social hierarchy. Usually some subtle male-on-male fitness testing is involved. Or it might be overt testing where someone tries to steal the other guy’s seat or sack of chips or bruise his dignity. It will become readily apparent who’s in charge, and who is sucking up to whom. This is dependent on the style of everyone involved (lots of betas in a row will fall all over themselves to defer to each other, no let ME buy YOU a beer, while lots of alphas will test strongly and maybe fight) and also changes with surroundings (a smart guy has lots of status in academia and not much at the corner bar). But it’s there. It happens in the playroom, the classroom, the locker room and the board room.
Put an attractive or unattached woman in the crowd, and you’ll see another display – the guys who pursue her versus the guys who hang back, and suckups versus more gamelike strategies.
It really follows lots of other socially-observed phenomena – people drop into hindbrain-driven behavior fairly quickly when they don’t have time to stop and think about it; we as modern humans want to believe we are very rational and measured, when in fact we’re governed 90% of the time by animal instincts we’re much better at observing than controlling. And then our minds make up rational explanations for it to boot. Good economics, good politics and good management are all about leveraging these instincts for a rational good of some sort, not about expecting to change people’s base natures. Philosophies that have instead tried to change or circumvent human nature (like Marxist socialism or open polyamory) have met with a marked lack of widespread success.
As to Vox’s point that two groups is too restrictive, I basically concur that a macro look at the sexual marketplace requires more refinement. But when doing a first-pass analysis of a social experiment (like a pickup or a relationship), alpha vs beta is usually good enough to inform a basic explanation, and that’s usually good enough to motivate a student’s behavior to change.
The point is that once you start subjecting men to tests of their social position (especially the fight for women), all of this breaks down fairly reliably into leaders and followers, instigators and reactors, strong bidders and supplicators. People get subconsciously committed to these frames; we viscerally interpret a man switching roles (such as standing up to a bully, or gaming up when he had once been a tingle-killing chump) as incongruent with his personality. A good reason it’s easier to build your game immediately after moving or leaving school or a job.
COGNITIVE BIASES AND WILLFUL BLINDNESS
If I can do some amateur analysis on those who reject the alpha/beta thing…
I think women are prone to reject the A/B paradigm because as we well know women writ large are not particularly aware of their attraction triggers, and unlike men who can’t stop hearing about how shallow they are with their love of breasts and hips, the media isn’t telling women what they’re really attracted to and whether it’s right or wrong. So they don’t really recognize the male social hierarchy and its role in female attraction – their hindbrain does all the work – and not seeing the male hierarchy without women, they don’t see the stark alpha-beta contrast among men in their own element. Even among women who are making an effort, there’s a lack of understanding to be overcome as to what really constitutes alphatude.
There was a comical exchange at Susan Walsh’s Hooking Up Smart a few months ago where several female regulars went out of their way to tell us how alpha their boyfriends were, and the discussion and details led many of us to think it was a status-flexing exercise and assume that they were conflating some desireable trait like having a nice job, looking good or religious piety with true “alpha” status. There really are a small number of alpha personalities (society can’t survive with too many leaders fighting all the time), and it’s facepalming to hear woman after woman say she wants a guy who “owns the room” or somesuch social dominance marker because those guys are rare and being fought over fiercely by a large number of women, many of whom have shown that when the chips are down they’re ready to bypass monogamy and jump into a soft or hard harem to get those five minutes of alpha.
But it needs to be said, women have different balances of traits they seek in partners. It’s been an item of much discussion around these parts that the typical urban fashioned-up entitled American young woman responds extremely well to super-alpha “asshole game,” and heavily punishes any sign of betatude (like a male desire to get into a relationship). That’s only one type of girl and is easily avoided. A considerable number of women who are unfortunately not easy to find are put off by the highly extroverted, borderline attention-whoring frat guy personality. A portion of girls are sufficiently upset by the prospect of sharing their man (or they just want their own unique product) that a top dog is unpalatable to them. Some women’s hypergamy stretches in other dimensions, like he has to be really tall or make a metric shit-ton of money.
And there are women who really dig the shy sweet beta type, for real. They are also going to say “this alpha-beta thing doesn’t work for me,” and I’m shirley not going to fault anybody who’s dating a guy she’s into. If he’s HER alpha and that gets her hot, then more power to the both of them.
It just gets tiring to hear “I don’t like ‘alphas,’ I just like guys who are real manly men and don’t take any shit from me.” Well, dear, that’s pretty alpha, especially by today’s standards. They’ve restricted their definition to some subset of the type, like preppies or narcissistic sociopaths.
On the other side, I think men are prone to reject the A/B view because it threatens our socially-conditioned view of egalitarianism, and also threatens our very shaky late-term conceptions of manliness and also our socially-conditioned but false ideas about what women “should” be attracted to (including false ideas that women themselves have told us). Alpha traits are associated with visceral masculinity, i.e. strength, dominance, mastery and a healthy self-concept. But society tells us that masculinity is something different, like ponying up cash or not judging a woman’s sexual past, so it’s hard to swallow that yes, women are attracted to physical strength, social dominance sometimes to the point of arrogant rudeness, guys with pipe dreams in interesting but usually-doomed careers (like musicians and writers) and even narcissism and indifference.
We also want to think that various non-alpha traits can be combined to make alphatude, as if we can make up for the lack of intrinsic attractors with a bunch of socially-acceptable alternatives. You see this with some of the “real man” shaming that goes around, like some white-knight shouting that a “a real man is good to people.” It may be desireable, but there’s nothing particularly alpha in that description of a guy. A “good man” can be strong or a good man can be a wimp. A good man is usually attractive if he’s strong…but then he’s covered a key attractor and the “good” is just icing for women who seek that trait.
Finally, men judge men differently than women do, so a guy may say “oh yeah, he’s great, you should totally date him,” while the woman he’s talking to will judge him too low on the social totem pole to get her tingling. (This is analogous to a woman trying to pass her homely friend to a man by telling him “she’s really sweet.”) The male model of teamwork is one where everyone has different ability but everyone has comparable social value. You see this in well-operating sports teams: benchwarmers who are playing their role are just as included in the team activities and rewards as the all-conference quarterback.
So on some level we don’t want to believe that one of us has a better claim to the fruits of his status than the others. We guys want to think we’re swell chums and that we’re all on the same level, but look into a group of men and it becomes fairly obvious who is really on top. Usually that guy will have first pick of women who are in range of the group, sometimes only for the reason he’s been given the first right by the group to approach (the case for me in some of my groups).
Once a man realizes the alpha-beta frame goes a long way toward explaining his romantic past, he gets a lot more receptive to the idea.