Being the Myers-Briggs J that I am, the improper or ignorant use of terminology drives me up a wall. We’ve evolved complex language skills that have the side-effect use of communicating concepts between people, and we insist on muddying it up by intentionally overloading* phrases with new and confusing re-definitions.
One example of this I’m running into is the 80-20 Rule. I heard a piece of public speaking advice that went ”use one posture 80% of the time and another, edgier posture 20% of the time,” packaged as “use the 80-20 rule.” I’ve also seen wardrobe advice to wear conservative dress 80% of the time and wacky stuff on 20% occasion, also cited as the 80-20 rule.
The 80-20 Rule is not a restatement of the equation “80% + 20% = 100%.” The Pareto Principle (from which we get ”the 80-20 Rule” as an aphoritic restatement) is the rule of thumb that in many systems, 80% of the effects will come from 20% of the causes. The 80 and the 20 are two different metrics, apples and oranges. Old Messr Pareto himself allegedly observed that 80% of Italian land was owned by 20% of Italians. My pal Susan Walsh used it as a basis to examine college sex distributions and evaluate a well-worn pop-culture hypothesis that 80% of the girls are screwing 20% of the guys (a theory partially supported by STD studies among other things). I probably get 80% of the joy in my life from 20% of the people I know. The list of examples goes on. It’s an incredibly powerful way to understand the world, and to organize your own strategy, so long as fools don’t insist on stealthily re-defining it.
I’m also seeing a lot of references to “game theory” around the manosphere, used to refer to the principles of interpersonal psychology pioneered by pickup artists (PUAs) and disseminated into wider culture by a network of intrepid bloggers like Athol Kay, Roissy and yours truly.
There are two problems with this blurring of language.
The first is that the term “game theory” is already defined – game theory is a branch of mathematics concerned with analyzing the interests, actions and rewards of competing agents. The prisoner’s dilemma is a classic example of game theory. (For those who saw “A Beautiful Mind,” the vignette of which woman to hit on to maximize group benefit is another example of game theory.)
The second problem is that game is not really theory at all – in fact, it may be the most empirical proposition of modern times. Game as we know it was developed and honed through thousands upon thousands of hours of experimentation and observation by scores of men. Sure, there is evolutionary psychology involved to shore up the explanation of the behaviors being observed, but practically speaking evo-psych really functions more like folk etymology than an actual scientific basis to the results of the experiments – if you will, a sort of rationalization hamster to soften the shock-blow of learning how people really function underneath all of that rational mythmaking.
I feel like I see the phrase “game theory” from critics far more than from its actual practitioners, so I think calling it a “theory” is supposed to subtly discredit it – a la those who would tell you that “evolution is just a theory.”
I’m not even going to get into the subject of people who don’t know what “the immaculate conception” actually refers to.
*”Overloading” is indeed a technical term for a case where words, symbols or functions have different meanings and effects depending on the situation.