The alpha-beta distinction needs to die

hipster_beta_recoils

Before the internet, there was suburban lore. It produced stunning stories that seemed plausible and served in a certain way as metaphors for what we wanted to believe. For example, it was once “certain” that Richard Gere had done something unmentionable involving a gerbil or hamster. It turns out to be not true, but back in the day, just about anyone would confirm it.

Now that we send messages back and forth instantaneously, lore has expanded and become memes, which are ideas or images that convey factoids or opinions that at the moment make sense. Most of these are projection: what we want to think is true, rather than what we know. Sometimes this is profound, when we cannot articulate what we actually mean; often, it is merely more of the same illusion that causes our society to be moribund and to keep picking manipulative leaders.

One such item of lore is the ethology of rankings in herd animals, where different types are assigned to different personalities:

  • Alpha. Confident, aggressive, and fiercely competitive. These, we are told, are the handsome, wealthy and powerful.
  • Beta. Underconfident, unsure and diffident. These are the people who work for the alphas and plot against them on weekends.
  • Omega. Entirely granularized people. These have little obedience to job or society, and just wander off and do what pleases them, but often have nothing to show for it.
  • Sigma. Wildcards, these are cerebral intraverts who are less concerned about social status than their own pursuits.

What a convenient hierarchy for those who wish to declare themselves alphas, and use that as a justification for self-serving behavior.

I have known many such people. They tend to have demi-leadership positions like project manager or store manager. They specialize in being “aggressive,” which means unyielding and pushy, to them. However, they tend to often miss underlying issues, which is why despite their ability to meet deadlines, they never advance above their position because their projects tend to fail in the long-term. That is to say: when your “aggression” consists of being pushy, you force people to overlook certain aspects of their projects which are important after the deadline. Very few think of this.

Others are simply selfish and like to use their perceived alpha status to justify near-larcenous behavior. Their problem is that then the people they attract to them tend to be of a similar mindset, which creates nests of semi-thieves trying to prove which one is cleverest by robbing the others. This is more the setup of an Agatha Christie novel than a healthy way to live.

You mostly find the alpha-beta descriptions in use among the internet groups dedicated to neoreaction, men’s rights, “the red pill,” the dark enlightenment and other groups that want to convince you that you — you, the shining ego — are super-important and you have a justification for rising above others and doing what you want at their expense. This is basically no different than French Revolutionary rhetoric, except it’s targeted at the single male who wants to spend more time having sex, drinking and playing video games.

I offer an alternate explanation: we are measuring aggression wrong, and the alpha-beta hierarchy is misunderstood.

Aggression is not a mindless thing. At least, if you watch martial arts, it’s clear that mindlessness leads to failure. Aggression in life is the ability to see things through to their logical conclusions. To make sure that you identify the problem, and come up with a realistic solution that doesn’t have excessive loopholes or side-effects. Aggression is first the battle to see the situation as it is, and then, to create a realistic solution. It has nothing to do with selfishness, which is in fact the opposite of aggression: instead of trying to fix the situation, you’ve given up on it and are trying to weasel away as much cash as you can.

What the ancients thought of as “aggression” wouldn’t make sense to us today because we are ruled by appearances. To us, aggression must have righteous anger and threats behind it. We do not see the calm thinker, or the general over a map, as aggressive. We see someone who is out there shouting in a strident voice, demanding things, protesting and engaging in other passive activities as aggressive. We, like our sense of language, are all screwed up.

This leads us to the alpha-beta hierarchy. Clearly there is social rank, with some animals needing to be at the top of the stack. However, in communicable social animals like humans, this ranking occurs within the framework of society. If anyone sets up this framework, it’s the people they call “sigmas” in the above hierarchy: the independent thinker who can visualize and render incarnate a complex idea, such as — when you’re a hunter-gatherer — the idea of agriculture, fixed civilization, running water, etc.

The main reason that the alpha-beta hierarchy exists in internet lore is to let certain animals preen and adorn themselves. “Look at me, I’m an alpha.” Why? “I work out five times a week! I earn a certain amount of money! I have sex with 400 women a year! I am somebody! I am important! I am a good person!”

Like most shorthands for social purposes, this misses the point. What we need is not to sit around like schoolkids grading each other by social status, but to return to aggression. Focus on getting things done in such a way that they are in balance with everything else. Not simply hack solutions that work for the deadline, but leave behind piles of toxic waste, secondary effects, socialized costs, and the like. That focus is the mark of the leader and creator of a society, not some internet ego badge.

17 Comments

  1. Squarekiller23 says:

    Brilliant article. I’ve thought the ideas behind these distincitions were bullshit ever since I first read about them. Great read to start the day.

  2. Bob Wallace says:

    I’ve said for years that fake hierarchy and the distinctions between them are basically a comic-book joke. It reminds me of another religious cult – Objectivism, with it’s distinction between “producers” and “parasites,” with all problems cast onto the parasites, just as all problems are cast onto betas, gammas, omegas. This means that Alpha/Beta/Whatever is a childish, narcissistic philosophy.

  3. lisacolorado says:

    This is genius material.

    I studied Camille Paglia’s book, Sexual Personnae. The first section talks about “male” and “female” means of power, with the male being linear and using logic, the female being global and using intuition–to give a broad generalization.

    If power is the ability to make something happen, then there are all kinds of sources for it. For one, the supposed less-dominant ones do not have any obligation to heed what the leader says, if the leader’s imperatives aren’t right. And for another example, if the beta-type person has a good idea they just make the alpha-type think it’s their idea. That’s not difficult–you just say it at a suggestive moment and let it take hold in their brains for later. Then the alpha does their typical full-speed-ahead charge, not questioning.

    Right now there are women in the LDS Church who hold demonstrations protesting that women don’t have the priesthood. I think that’s funny! Women in the LDS Church have Relief Society, which is the driver of their society. If I were them, I’d institute a women’s priestess society and not tell the men about it. There are women in the LDS church who could be the President of the United States–they’ve accomplished so much and seen so much politicking.

    Again, great article. How we do flatter ourselves sometimes and get silly with worthless distinctions.

  4. Colleen says:

    Yes. One reason it took me so long to get interested in the alternative right is that so much of it consists of obnoxious posturing by selfish men who care only about their own social status. It is so easy to twist the philosophy of aristocratic conservatism into yet another brand of self-serving individualism. “I’m one of the Elite, so I’m entitled to do whatever I want!”

    1. crow says:

      One reason I’ve always ridiculed women’s rights is that so much of it consists of obnoxious posturing by selfish women who care only about their own social status. It is so easy to twist the philosophy of equality into yet another brand of self-serving individualism. “I’m female, so I’m entitled to do whatever I want!”

      1. Colleen says:

        I agree. Too much “Me, me, me” all around.

  5. Hauer says:

    An interesting exercise to do whenever anyone starts talking about the alpha/beta hierarchy is simply to ask “What are you? Alpha or beta?”

    On a rare occasion, he will deem himself an alpha. Rarer still is someone who will actually admit to being a beta. By far the most common reaction is to stumble over there own words for a bit before claiming they are “outside of it”

    1. crow says:

      I’ve encountered this, too.
      It’s like personality-types. Most people, in fact practically all, define themselves by the one type they test as, and always do.
      Strangely, I come out as the type of the last person I interacted with, before returning to my base (two) type(s).
      I am alpha when I need to be, beta, when I need to be, and vaguely sigma the rest of the time.

  6. Foam Penguin says:

    I’ve written extensively on this topic. Common chatter about it is wrong from the get go; ethology works nothing like they think it does.

    I explained that in technical terms Justin Bieber is a model alpha, and a beta would be Justin Bieber’s crew of homies who get perks for being his friends. An alpha is the captain of the football team, the betas are the rest of the jocks on the team, the nerds getting stuffed in lockers are properly called omega males – marginalized and not fitting into the hierarchy at all.

    They can either be terrifying to where nobody bothers them (observed in prison dynamics occasionally) or good old fashioned marginalized lolcow pariahs.

    Modern normals are stupid even in their discussion of how their own society works. It’s terrifying to behold.

  7. Tree says:

    Thank you Mr. Brett Stevens for once again distilling my instincts, thoughts, and experiences into a clearly articulated piece that sends toppling the teetering facade that thinly veils the insanity of the herd. My goal is to one day be as articulate as you.

  8. LoreTek says:

    I’m not sure if I’m reading this right.

    The Alphas/Betas described here I usually just call “try-hards”. I would rather be a sigma. In fact they are the only ones I find myself trusting. At least genuine introverts do for themselves and don’t have ulterior motives that will turn on you when an outside force changes their actions. I usually write off extroverts immediately. I don’t trust them; they make me nervous.

    I would like to hear more about the video games. I play them constantly and have learned more about right and wrong, strategy, logic, identifying problems/ creating solutions, patience, dexterity, determination and overcoming yourself and your emotion – to stay calm and focused in the few seconds between life and death to succeed – than anything society has ever shown me.

    The way I see it, until reality actually exists outside my door and not some grandiose social illusion where losers are fighting losers over which one is the king of the idiots, I’ll stay inside and hone those mental skills with my thinkbox 360. Am I wrong?

    The only thing I can think of is maybe mastering a fighting style to actually implement those skills into reality. But then again, an idiot with a gun can still kill me before the bell for round one even rings.

    1. crow says:

      The only really useful fighting-style is lightning speed and lightning decisions.
      In other words: no mind.
      Good for everything else, too.

    2. LoreTek says:

      I would like to add that if there is actually a group out there actively trying to corrupt the world further so they can play more video games, I would be very sad.

      A true “gamer” only plays because the outside world is less real/ more silly than the one in the game. If it were the other way around, then I wouldn’t have to play.

      1. crow says:

        A fine distinction, and one that makes sense.
        I myself am an archer of some renown, in the land of Skyrim.

  9. Rather than trying to destroy the alpha/beta distinction, why not hijack it? Imagine a tactic like this: re-define “Alpha” as something like Nietzsche’s ubermensch. Re-define “beta” and “omega” accordingly.

    I conjecture that Brett may reject this, on the grounds that the alpha/beta dichotomy is still based on people-power and radical individualism, since it acts as an excuse for people to be self-serving. To this, I would reply with a question: is it not possible to use the ego against itself? Can’t we “trick” people into setting their egos aside, paradoxically by appealing to their egos? If not, why not? I am not challenging this article, merely putting forth an idea.

  10. The Humble Welder says:

    Being former Marine Infantry, combat sports participant, and one time prisoner let me offer that male hierarchy is not merely a social construct by any means. I say this with the full understanding and acceptance that at 5’8″ and a buck-fifty I have never been in what would be considered an “alpha” position.

    The strongest and most competent will always earn the esteem of weaker and less intelligent men as long as the two parties share a common goal or set of values, otherwise the strong will at the very least have the respect (caution) of his opposition.

    I am probably commenting on a segment of society which the article doesn’t intend to address, however I think it is worthwhile to note that the Alpha-Beta-Omega hierarchy has a place as a focal point for a primitive type of transcendence that occurs amongst men when they enter into the mutual accountability and expectations of a war band.

  11. Agam says:

    I’m an Omega. I enjoy it :)

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