Kinds of Relationships

Pinker is a bit of a jerk.  He is very dominate by virtue of being a fire hose and he never tempers his pronouncements with even the slightest bit of doubt.  Thus you often feel a strong “now just wait a minute there!” emotion when reading or listening to him.  All that said it can be fun to go for along for the ride.

I once worked in a team that had gifted it’s self a subscription to an wonderfully foolish supermarket tabloid.  We kept in the conference room.  Slowly but surely we would, all of us, read every article.  And, we came to notice that the fictions reported, entirely with a straight face, in these articles began to enter our brains as if they were true.  You’d find your self saying “I read that in Brazil they found … no wait, maybe that wasn’t true … oh nevermind.”

I have exactly that same problem with Pinker, but it’s worse.  All I can recall is that at the time I read or heard him explain X I had strong doubts about the argument’s coherence; but now – later – it’s too late.

With that warning out of the way … I enjoyed this talk he gave (video, audio, partial as cartoons).  For example it has a very fun offensive section on swearing and the functional purpose taboo words.

One thing I liked was that his had a number for frameworks I should take the time to add to my collection.  For example Alan Fiske three kinds of relationships:

  • Dominance — don’t mess with me
  • Commonality — share & share alike
  • Reciprocity — business like or tit for tat

It is no end of fun to map those three into some of my other triples (rock, paper, scissors?).

If I actually go look into Alan Fiske’s work I bit it appears there are four kinds; let me quote from here.

P – Market Pricing (MP): Haggling over a commercial transaction between strangers who do not plan to meet repeatedly. Involves bidding, bluffing and countering while keeping one’s true buying limits a secret. Non-personal instrumental exchanges with no self-disclosure.

A – Equality Matching (EM): Equality of exchange over time, a balance of exchanged favours, accruing social debt and obligation when receiving favours, the discharge of debt or gain of credit when giving favours. Tit-for-Tat. Ground rules for peer relationships.

E – Authority Ranking (AR): Negotiated inequality, deciding over time who has more importance, status or dominance over others. Unequal exchange where the dominant obtains resource advantages but accrues an obligation to support or sustain subordinates in some way.

I – Communal Sharing (CS): People contribute what they can and take what they need. Almost always constrained to the inclusive fitness group, nuclear family and sometimes various degrees of extended family, rarely beyond.

In the four reciprocity has been split into two groups; reflecting how very different one shot transactions are from longer term transactional relationships.

7 thoughts on “Kinds of Relationships

  1. Pingback: Ascription is an Anathema to any Enthusiasm › Oh Boogers

  2. Dan Weinreb

    If one’s complaint about Pinker is that he is too quick to accept “evolutionary biology” or to apply it too confidently to too many situations, I agree with that much. However, Fodor’s criticism goes far beyond this. First, I disagree strongly with Fodor that the mind is best described as a “blank slate”. Second, as you can see from how early the name “Turning” appears in Fodor’s review, you can see him getting on his usual hobbyhorse about how artificial intelligence is inherently impossible. I’ve been reading him since I was an undergraduate in the late 1970’s and have never found him persuasive. Finally, even if you don’t agree with me on this, Fodor’s argument is highly technical and doesn’t say any of the things you say in your first paragraph.

  3. bhyde Post author

    Dan – Yeah. I don’t want to be drawn into a debate about where on the domineering jerk scale Pinker really resides.

    So, what do you think of those four pigeonholes? Do they cover usefully all relationship kinds?

  4. Dan Weinreb

    Very interesting. In AR, I’m not sure about “negotiated”, a clear example being slavery. The slaves were simply forced into that position violently, and the masters had no real obligation to house and feed the slaves beyond the master’s own economic interest in doing so.

    How does he see empoloyment, i.e. A hires B? Mostly EM but maybe with some AR?

    Regarding the terminology, people definitely use the phrase “market pricing” to refer to situations where the parties deal with each other over periods of time. Consider buying electricity. Buying on the “spot market” is basically his MP. But buying “future power”, which is how most of it is bought and sold, is more like his EM but surely involves market pricing in the sense of prices being determined by supply and demand, and such.

    It’s an interesting framework, but it’s probably going too far to say that everything falls crisply into one bucket or the other.

  5. bhyde Post author

    One that I think is missing are the relationships of solidarity or common cause. Where the binding force is common enemy or activity.

    In the real world it is very rare for anything to fall crisply into one of this categories. Most of the dramatic interest in human relations arises from the shifting between them.

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